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Lords Chamber

Volume 827: debated on Monday 23 January 2023

House of Lords

Monday 23 January 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Durham.

REUL Bill: Trade Unions and Workers’ Rights


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with trade unions concerning changes to workers’ rights proposed in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

My Lords, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is responsible for labour relations and works closely with trade unions. Engagement is essential for developing and delivering our policies and, during the pandemic, helped to support jobs and keep workers safe. For example, the unions and business worked together to help to deliver a package of economic support through the job protection retention scheme, which protected millions of jobs.

I thank my noble friend for his reply but it is not an Answer to the Question, which was whether the Government had discussed this proposed legislation with the trade union movement, 2 million of whom vote for the party on this side of the House. Does he agree that it would be a good idea to talk to the trade union movement about this? Until that has happened, would it not be a good idea for those parts of the legislation that provide for worker protection not to be revoked without further representation?

We engage with the trade unions regularly. There have been a number of meetings in recent weeks, particularly about strike action, but the retained EU law Bill is not about workers’ rights; it is about retained EU legislation and the consequences that will flow from that. However, there will be a full opportunity to debate that in the House in the near future.

My Lords, the Explanatory Notes for the Bill when it was introduced in September last year said confidently in the overview at paragraph 16 that there were 2,400 pieces of legislation involved. The Explanatory Notes for the introduction to this House say that there are 3,200. First, I wonder whether any of the 800 bits of legislation that have turned up in the interim affect workers’ rights. Secondly, how confident is the Minister that 3,200 is the final number?

We are of course continuing to do detailed work on this matter. There will be an opportunity to debate that in full in the House in the near future, and I am sure that the noble Earl will want to make his contribution on that. We will update the dashboard shortly.

I will follow on from the question from the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. How many members of the Minister’s team are currently out there working on this Bill? How many of them are looking for the lost legislation that seems to be appearing every day? How many members of his department are being used for that purpose rather than working on industrial strategy, which is what it is there to do?

I do not have a precise number but there are of course a number of civil servants working on the legislation that is before Parliament and has been discussed extensively in the House of Commons. Every department is engaged in looking through its EU legislation to see what is there. Obviously most of the main pieces have been identified, but sometimes there are obscure Acts and regulations that they are still discovering.

My Lords, unfortunately the Minister has selective amnesia, and that is very worrying. This appalling Bill places many of our precious and hard-fought-for employment rights on the chopping block to be axed at the whim of the Secretary of State and, frankly, that is shameful. The Tory manifesto promised that Brexit would allow us to raise our standards in workers’ rights and not diminish them at all. Can the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee that, come 1 January, workers will keep their rights to holiday pay, TUPE protection, parental leave and of course protection for pregnant part-time workers? In fact, will he confirm that no existing employment rights will be weakened or, worse, scrapped?

The noble Lord has a good line in hyperbole but, as normal, he is absolutely wrong. UK employment rights do not depend on EU law. I will give him some examples. UK workers are entitled to 5.6 weeks of annual leave; in the EU, it is only four weeks. We provide a year of maternity leave, with the option to convert it to parental leave; the EU minimum is just 14 weeks. Our labour standards are some of the highest in the world. We are proud of that, and it does not depend on what the EU does.

My Lords, we placed an arbitrary date on Brexit, and we got the Northern Ireland protocol. Did we not learn the lesson that to place an arbitrary date and say that all this must be done by the end of this year is flying in the face of common sense?

I thank my noble friend for his view on that. I am sure we will have a full debate on the proposed sunset date for regulations. I do not think the system with the Northern Ireland protocol is the same as the Bill.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, rather than the sledgehammer approach that this Bill takes, it might be more sensible if the Government simply proceeded with bits of law where they could produce better law than exists in the European Union? Could that criterion be imbedded in all the choices?

That criterion is imbedded in all choices. The whole idea of the REUL Bill is that we can have a proper look at EU retained law, change its status, see what is appropriate for the UK and what is not, and what can be removed and improved. That is the fundamental purpose of the Bill, but I am sure we are going to have all these discussions as the legislation proceeds.

My Lords, why are the Government so obsessed with making workers’ rights worse than they are now? Will he answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Woodley? Why will he not give a guarantee that no workers’ rights will be diminished by this legislation?

I thought I had answered the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, but let me repeat the point for the noble Lord, Lord Watts, who obviously was not listening closely. UK employment rights do not depend on the European Union. Let me give him some more examples of how our rights are better than in the EU. The right to flexible working for all employees was introduced in the UK in the early 2000s; the EU agreed such rules only recently. The UK introduced two weeks of paid paternity leave in 2003, but the EU has got around to that only recently.

My Lords, given that most of the directives and regulations within the EU retained law Bill fall within the brief of Defra, will my noble friend commit to employing more experts in this field, even on a temporary basis, who will be able to take a view as the Bill proceeds and before its implementation?

I will leave the appropriate Ministers to commentate on what is happening in Defra. The noble Baroness is right that a lot of retained EU law belongs in Defra. I am sure Defra is looking very closely at what can be changed, modified or repealed as we speak.

My Lords, this is a dangerous way to proceed. It is very unlikely that the Government have thought through what they want to do with these 3,000 or maybe 4,000 pieces of legislation. It is also unlikely that in this House, in the three days the Government have so far suggested that we should have to consider them, we should be successful in doing our jobs as effectively as we might like. Will the Government please think again about the rash, foolhardy way they are going about rewriting important rules on workers’ rights?

I can see that we will have lots of interesting debate when this legislation arrives. The noble Baroness is wrong; we are not just considering all the regulations in the timescale she identified. If the regulations need to be updated, then each will of course come to this House for consideration, as all secondary legislation does.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister probably needs a touch of support on this matter. Is it not the position that, if we were to take these 3,000 to 4,000 regulations and really examine the aspects of each one, after 40 years of being members of the European Union, that would take us years and not one year? Also, do we even have the capacity as a Parliament to deal with the complexities of such an enormous range of law changes?

My noble friend makes an important point. The concern now from the Opposition for all these regulations is touching, but of course they did not show such concern when they were introduced into UK law without any consideration in the first place.

My Lords, has the Minister recently read or listened to the speeches of Tony Danker, the director-general of the CBI? He is very clear that his members do not want this legislation; that they find it, even as potential legislation, damaging to their markets; and that, should it go ahead, it will undoubtedly shrink the market further for British exports, which have suffered enough already.

I have not seen the comments which the noble Baroness attributes to the director-general of the CBI, but I will certainly look at them. However, I am not sure how our repealing redundant pieces of legislation in this House affects overseas markets.

My Lords, as there are different ways of encouraging growth, is it not absurd to carry out an exercise that adds uncertainty to both sides of industry and creates a barrier to initiative?

All new legislation provides some uncertainty until it has been agreed by Parliament. I will put it another way: if there are redundant acts on the statute book and overregulation, that is good for business and industry. Of course we will consider each of those items of regulation in turn and look at them closely. We will repeal those that can be repealed and will improve and modify those that can be improved or modified.

Afghanistan: Girls and Women


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the Taliban concerning its commitments to allow Afghan girls to go to school and Afghan women to work.

My Lords, the latest announcements banning Afghan women from universities and aid work represent a further violation of the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls, and they have no religious or moral basis. We are working with the United Nations, NGOs and other donors to understand the impact of the bans and to ensure that lifesaving humanitarian assistance continues wherever possible. Alongside international partners, we will also continue to press the Taliban directly to lift those draconian decrees.

I thank the Minister for his response. While we are waiting for the Taliban to shift their stance on women’s rights, what is plan B? Women are being erased from public life and are starving. My understanding is that there are some in the Taliban leadership willing to talk about women’s rights. Are there plans for the Government to make an official visit to Afghanistan, to talk directly with the Taliban on women’s rights? Also, are there plans to talk to the countries that have a good relationship with the Taliban, for example by convening a meeting with the various stakeholders? Ambassadors in London, particularly from Muslim-majority countries, could be brought together for a meeting. Are there plans to convene such a meeting?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are doing all the above. Indeed, from the time of the Taliban’s takeover, we have engaged directly with neighbouring countries. We are working directly with the United Nations. In fact, earlier this morning, I met with Sima Bahous and Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, who had just returned from visits to Afghanistan and the near neighbourhood. I am dealing with various Muslim countries directly, including the OIC, on engagement. We are also engaging directly with the Taliban; a number of visits have been made by our chargé from Doha, and those will continue.

I recognise that the Minister addressed this issue in the Statement last Thursday, in which he mentioned the visit of the Deputy Secretary-General. Could he tell us a little more about her reaction to her meetings in Afghanistan and what possibility there is to pursue dialogue? He also mentioned the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which is critical to reaching out to other Islamic countries. Can he tell us whether he has met that organisation directly on this issue?

On the noble Lord’s second point, I have met Tariq Bakheet directly in Jeddah—“Tariq” is a good name to have on these things—and we continue to engage directly with the OIC. The Deputy Secretary-General and the director of UN Women were both there, together with the SRSG. They went to Herat, Kabul and Kandahar and met a range of Taliban Ministers. About 40% of 50% of those involved with the NGO sector, for example, are women, so they made the case very powerfully for the need for that to continue. There has been some progress; for example, we have seen women doctors and nurses returning to the health sector. However, the situation is quite dire and they left Afghanistan very clear about the picture there. As we have said before, much of the power centres on the Emir in Kandahar, and his edict seems to be final.

My Lords, widows and women who head households are now confined to their homes because they are unable to go out without a male escort. How can we ensure that aid will reach them, because people are starving there at the moment in this very cold winter?

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend’s contribution in the field of working with Afghan women. I know that she recently met a series of Afghan women leaders, as did I. We are working with the United Nations and other agencies. There has been a pause on non-essential, non-humanitarian support, but we are also looking at workarounds. For example, in certain provinces—about 26 of the 36—there has been some movement where health workers have been allowed back. Martin Griffiths, the head of OCHA, is currently in Kabul and we will also be meeting him to establish what channels are open to us.

My Lords, I commend the Minister for being personally very committed and active on this issue, but can I probe him a bit further on the ban by the Taliban on women being seen by male doctors? Of course, women are being banned from education as well. The impact of that will literally be a death sentence for many women and their children, as well as elderly dependants. What is happening about women who need medical assistance and help? How is medical help reaching those women and families if they are being denied treatment by male doctors?

My Lords, first let me tell the noble Baroness what we are doing with certain NGOs which are still operational. The concept of mahram is where a woman has to be accompanied by a male relative or near-relative. Even some of the NGOs have been working through that as a workaround while there have been restrictions, to ensure that women are seen and provided with the support that they need. The Deputy Secretary-General made another point that is particularly pertinent; I do not think we will see the Taliban retracting on the decrees, but they certainly seem open to workarounds, where I think there is some progress to be made. That said, the situation remains very dire.

My Lords, the Minister said in his earlier reply that the cruel and arbitrary treatment of women and girls had no religious justification. In view of that, and knowing what the Taliban are doing with their misunderstanding of Islam, could the Minister and the Government prevail on Muslim leaders around the world to condemn this sort of behaviour in forthright terms? The silence is deafening.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are doing exactly that. What better example could there be, perhaps, than seeing the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations—the second most senior person in international, multilateral organisations, herself a hijab-wearing Muslim—together with Sima Bahous, the leader of UN Women, also a Muslim, being part of the UN high-level delegation that attended? What that demonstrated to the Taliban directly was not just that they must engage women but that women must be pivotal to any society progressing. In every progressive society, irrespective of what the religion is, that is essential to ensure that society is progressive and that people prosper.

My Lords, the Taliban are still hunting down women who held public positions. Recently, the ex-MP Mursal Nabizada was killed. Can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether there is anything we can do to help these women—these human rights defenders—who are in such danger in the country?

My Lords, I join my noble friend, and I am sure all of us, in expressing abhorrence at these actions, which, literally, as my noble friend said, identify individuals. First and foremost, we must protect their identity. That is why, with some of the NGOs we are supporting on the ground, particularly some of the women’s charities, we are we working directly with them, but, in the detail we sometimes provide, at their behest and for their protection, we do not share those details. We are also working directly with women leaders. My noble friend Lady Hodgson and I met separately with some of the women leaders who were directly involved with the Government. I think that also provides a very important conduit to the kinds of priorities that are needed for woman representatives, be they human rights defenders or, indeed, ex-politicians within Afghanistan.

My Lords, the UK is one of the biggest funders of the World Bank’s Afghan trust fund, which is the means by which the Taliban govern and are delivering services. What reassurance can the Minister provide that British funds are not being used directly by the Taliban for their discriminatory policies?

My Lords, we have to be stringent in that. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to ensure that there is due diligence on the ground to ensure that that happens. I cannot guarantee that every single pound and dollar from that trust fund has not been utilised in some shape or form by the Taliban, but that funding is getting through. We are working with international partners on the ground. We can further enhance this by ensuring that the partners we are working with also have their verification processes. This is a strange conundrum: providing humanitarian support, health support and educational support is vital. Why should the people—the woman and girls of Afghanistan—suffer? We need to work through the barriers that the Taliban are putting in front of us.

I thank the noble Lord. First, is the Taliban group that undertook negotiations in Doha still intact, does it still have any power, and are the Government in touch with it? Secondly, would the Minister say whether the FCDO is prepared to increase the number and amount of cash transfers to those most in need, given through the various NGOs, local and otherwise?

My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, I also reflect on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. We must ensure that any money or support we provide, particularly when it comes to cash transfers, gets through to the people who need it. The systems and structures in Afghanistan at the moment are extremely fragile. We must look at innovative ways to ensure that we can get over some of these barriers. Technology provides an example, and perhaps that pre-empts the question of my noble friend Lord Johnson, who was going to come in. We need to look at innovative way of delivering both cash transfers and education as well. I think that may well be the way forward.

Levelling Up: Funding Allocation


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with the allocation of Levelling Up funding.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I declare my interest as a member of Cumbria County Council.

My Lords, levelling up is one of the driving missions of this Government. We are delighted to announce the outcome of the second round of the levelling up fund, which has seen £2.1 billion award to 111 bids that we know will stimulate growth and benefit communities across the United Kingdom. This builds on the success of the first round, which saw £1.7 billion award to 105 successful projects across the UK, to drive regeneration and growth in areas that have been overlooked and unappreciated for too long,

I thank the Minister for her reply. I think many of us on this side of the House were delighted that the Government were making levelling up a priority to deal with the growing regional inequalities in our country. However, the Prime Minister made no reference to levelling up as one of his priorities in his new year speech. The announcement last week was slipped out without any Statement in the House of Commons, as though it was slipped out in shame. The grants awarded appear to have no coherence or consistency and owe much to political jobbery. Do the Government still believe in levelling up? If they do, what on earth do they mean by it?

My Lords, we absolutely still agree with the whole project of levelling up. I just need to say that, of all the bids, the north-west—this will please the noble Lord opposite—had the highest number of successful projects and was second in funding per capita; Wales was top and the north-east was third. I suggest that that is putting the money where it is required.

My Lords, I quite understand why the Government wanted to kick-start the levelling-up policy with these centrally allocated grants, but looking ahead, and given the commitment in the levelling-up White Paper to usher in a revolution in local democracy, should not these funds in future be added to the block grant given to the increasingly large local authorities set up under the Bill and then local people could decide what their priorities are, with local councillors accountable to their local electorate?

My Lords, competitive funding can be a very effective tool for protecting value for taxpayers’ money. Competitions such as the levelling-up fund can also support fair and transparent awards of funds and drive innovation, but I understand my noble friend’s concerns and the Government have committed, within the levelling-up White Paper, to reducing the complexities of local government funding.

The Minister has just said that competitive funding is an effective way of accessing this funding pot. There were 525 bids in this latest round; only 111 were successful; that means 80% were not successful. Each bid is estimated to cost £30,000 to make; that is £12 million of hard-pressed council funding basically wasted on bids. Can the Minister not find a more effective way, such as devolving the money to local authorities, so that this money is not wasted when it is desperately needed?

My Lords, this is capital funding. There were 111 successful bids this time; before, there were 105 successful bids; and there will be a third round. If we added all this money and gave it to local authorities, I do not think there would be enough for the large infrastructure projects—projects that people are very happy to be delivering and projects that local authorities have put forward because they are important to their people. I think this is the way to do it.

My Lords, is the problem here not so much a social one as a constitutional one? Is it not, in fact, an abuse of the power of prerogative that Governments should hand out money in this party-political way, a way that is not transparent?

My Lords, we give this money out in a very transparent way: it can all be seen on GOV.UK, and 45% of all funding from the first two rounds was given to local authorities run by the Opposition parties. I would have thought that was quite fair.

My Lords, I welcome the new devolution deal that has been done for the north-east and look forward to the appointment of an elected mayor for the region. If this devolution deal goes ahead, which I trust it will, can His Majesty’s Government clarify what proportion of the estimated £4.2 billion of investment into the region will be truly new money that the local new mayor can allocate out?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question and I will have to give him a written answer: I do not have that information on the north-east devolution deal.

What are the implications for Northern Ireland? Is it receiving its fair and proper share of the funding? Will it be spent in Belfast and throughout the Province for the benefit of all sections of the community?

My Lords, a very fair amount of money went out to all the devolved authorities across the country and it will be up to the local authorities that put in a bid as to how that money is spent, according to the projects that they bid for.

My Lords, local authorities have recently complained about the Government’s proliferation of competitive funding pots creating a system beset by fragmentation, inefficiency and complexity. Does the Minister really think that the best way to do levelling up is to force struggling councils to constantly compete just to get the investment they desperately need?

My Lords, we do not know of a better method for capital funding. There is not just the levelling-up fund but a suite of funding going out to local authorities for capital projects, including the towns funds, the community ownership funds, the freeports and the UK shared prosperity fund, which is given out in terms of percentages.

My Lords, many people see child poverty as the measure of where levelling-up funding should be targeted. Why then in the north-east did no authority north of the Tees get anything? What do authorities such as County Durham have to do to be recognised by the Government?

My Lords, the north-east got the third-highest level of funding per head of capital across the country. It is up to local authorities to bid for their priorities; I am sorry if they did not get them, but if they did not bid for them then I hope they will do so in the third round.

My Lords, the very fact that so many local authorities tried to bid for levelling-up funding shows that there is an appetite in the country for it and for these projects. Will His Majesty’s Government ensure that the successful schemes are shovel-ready and that we will see them delivered in a timely manner?

My noble friend is absolutely right. That is one of the issues that the Government will have looked at. We wanted projects that were ready to go so that services and infrastructure would be delivered for people as soon as possible.

I will follow on from the number of questions about the methodology for levelling up. This funding is allocated according to criteria set by the Government and is judged by government Ministers in Westminster. Is this what they call devolution?

My Lords, the devolution part of it is that local authorities have the money to put forward their specific issues for which they need funding. It is not necessarily Ministers; they are tested against criteria that have been set up, and those that come highest up against the criteria will get the funding.

Rape: Operation Soteria


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what are the most recent rape (1) reporting, (2) prosecution, and (3) conviction, rates in England and Wales; and how many forces have rolled out Operation Soteria.

My Lords, the most recent statistics show that 70,600 rape incidents were recorded by the police in the year to June 2022; there were 2,326 prosecutions for rape and 1,019 convictions. Nineteen police forces and nine CPS areas are participating in Operation Soteria and informing the development of new national operating models for the investigation and prosecution of rape. These models will be available to all forces and CPS areas from June 2023.

I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but recent Home Office research, including under Soteria, revealed a dismal picture of police attitudes towards rape complainants and whether they are at fault for the crimes committed against them. British women are reeling from Couzens and Carrick. Is it not time that the Government took this problem out of the long grass and legislated for police vetting, training and disciplinary reform?

My Lords, I spoke from the Dispatch Box last week on the review into dismissal processes. We talked a lot then about vetting and the various changes that have been made to both the vetting processes and the vetting verification processes, which are being advanced. Operation Soteria pioneered a new model which will effectively put the needs of victims above those of suspects. The initial evidence is that it is working. Avon and Somerset Police was one of the pioneering forces; it has reported an increase in its adult rape charge rate from 3% to over 10%. I do not think that is good news but it is progress.

Does all this not underline the need for urgency in sorting out the deep-seated problems which are constantly coming back from the Metropolitan Police? My noble friend referred last week, and has mentioned again today, to a review lasting four months, I think it is. We need changes now. Home Office officials should have been working towards a conclusion—a conclusion that we should reach before the lapse of four months.

I thank my noble friend for that. As I explained from the Dispatch Box last week, the Home Office believes it is necessary to obtain evidence and make sure this is an evidence-based review in order to deliver the correct outcome for those police forces. As regards the Met, I attended a speech given by the Met Commissioner last week. He indicated the change in the Met’s thinking towards serious sexual offences, saying:

“we are targeting men who prey on women and children. The figures are far from where we would like them to be but the number of rapists we bring to justice is increasing.”

He went on to expand on some innovative use of data and technology which is helping him. I think the Met is making serious progress.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree with me and Professor Betsy Stanko, who carried out a review of rape investigation in the Metropolitan Police, that victim satisfaction is the most important measure for judging police performance against rape? Is it being measured?

My Lords, I can only go back to quoting the statistics that I just gave to the noble Lord. I have not heard of the professor who the noble Lord refers to. As I said earlier, the pioneering police forces in Operation Soteria are reporting an improvement in these cases, though I think it is probably a little too early to tell. I of course agree that the victims should be paramount in this.

My Lords, Operation Soteria sounds fantastic and I support all of its aims, but the fact is that there is a long way to go, is there not, particularly within police forces? For example, in the year up to last April, nine in 10 formal allegations against Greater Manchester officers resulted in no misconduct action. That is a huge gap in culpability and responsibility. Are the police getting more funding for this?

My Lords, we have put a lot of funding into the police, as the noble Baroness will know. The Ministry of Justice has allocated significant funds towards victims’ groups, and so on and so forth. In the year ending June 2022—and this comes off the back of the last rape review—the police recorded an increase in rape offences of about 20% compared to March 2020. Eighteen months into implementing the rape review action plan, we have seen some improvements: the number of adult rape cases referred by the police to the CPS was up 96%; the volume of adult rape cases charged by the CPS was up about two-thirds; and the number of adult rape cases reaching court was up 91%. Progress is being made—not quick enough, I agree.

My Lords, for the Minister’s information, Professor Betsy Stanko wrote the Operation Soteria report. One of the things she recommended in that report was the improvement of data quality. It may sound mundane, but it is at the heart of improving police force quality and the response to sex and rape allegations. One of the central points she made was that the data was unevenly recorded across the country. Does the Minister agree that this should be seen as a priority to try to do better for victims, who are not getting the justice they deserve?

I agree with the noble Lord and thank him for the clarification—the professor predated me, obviously. Operation Soteria is bringing together all aspects of policing and CPS work with regards to rape cases. It is elevating the status of the victims above those of the suspects, which I would argue is long overdue. As part of that, and in order to validate the work of the operation, it is clear that data collection has to be uniform across the country. It will be available to be rolled out in June, as I say, across all police forces, but it is showing signs of improvement.

My Lords, Operation Soteria is described as having exposed the underbelly of policing, which, as we know from the David Carrick statement only last week, is not a pretty sight. I welcome the Minister’s comments about the national rollout. I also endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, said about proper policing and vetting. In addition to that, would the Government please consider discipline reviews, taking the legal process out of it and restoring discipline back to police chiefs themselves?

As the noble Baroness will be aware, that is part of the terms of reference of the review into dismissals that was announced last week, as I talked about at the Dispatch Box. It will deliver its results in four months. I have to tell the noble Baroness to wait until then.

My Lords, following on from a question that several noble Lords have asked, could the Minister give us further assurance in this House about the importance of victims’ voices being heard, and that they are heard to be satisfied with what is being done by the police force investigating the crimes against them? If there is an issue with the quality of data, can he advise the House that, when we are looking at that, we will look at what the victims are saying?

Absolutely—I can give that assurance. I am also going to go on to one of the reasons why it was a little difficult in the past to prosecute some of these cases; it was to do with the attrition of victims from the process. In the year ending June 2022, 62% of adult rape offences ended up not being supported for further police action because the victim withdrew. There were a number of complicated reasons for that but, obviously, it is necessary to collect the data which supports that.

My Lords, Professor Betsy Stanko’s report on Operation Soteria, which was published on GOV.UK last month, had two other key findings in addition to those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. She found that investigators and other police staff lack sufficient specialist knowledge about rape and other sexual offending. She also found that disproportionate effort has been put into testing the credibility of the victim, and that there is a need to rebalance investigations to include a more thorough investigation of the suspect’s behaviour. Can we see action on both of those points?

Action is being taken on both of those things. The noble Lord is completely right about specialist knowledge, and this finding is now being applied in South Wales Police and the Met, two of the pioneering forces in Operation Soteria. Structural changes have been introduced in Durham, another of the pioneering forces. That has improved shift patterns, supervisor ratios and so on, which will enhance officer and organisational capability.

My Lords, one reason why so many victims pull out of proceedings is the backlog in cases being heard. Could the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and point out to them again that the danger of these backlogs and the damage they do go right back to why the figures on rape are so poor?

Children Seeking Asylum: Safeguarding

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to safeguard unaccompanied children seeking asylum, and prevent them going missing from hotels.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, and in so doing point out my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

The rise in small boat crossings has meant that we have had temporarily to accommodate children in hotels while local authority accommodation is found. When a child goes missing, a multiagency missing persons protocol is mobilised. Many of those who have gone missing are subsequently traced and located. We must end the use of hotels, and as such we are providing local authorities with children’s services the sum of £15,000 for every eligible young person they take into their care from a UASC—that is, an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child—hotel by the end of February 2023.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. As the chief constable of Great Manchester Police has said, these vulnerable young people are going missing after they have been snatched by those involved in drug crime and child sex trafficking. Experts indicate that the present system is not working as well as it should and suggest one major change that the Home Office could implement. That is that the Home Office becomes the corporate parent of those young people until such time as the local authority has completed the assessment and arrangements have been made. Will the Home Office look into that and implement it?

There are many reasons why children go missing from care generally. This is true also of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We are not in a position—and it would be wrong—to make generalisations regarding the reason for their going missing. I will take back to the department the suggestion that the Home Office could become a corporate parent.

My Lords, is it not deplorable that over an 18-month period, some 600 unaccompanied children have disappeared from this hotel and some 79 are still missing? What can the noble Lord tell us about the fate and the plight of those missing children? What were their countries of origin? What safeguarding is now in place at that hotel? Most importantly of all, the noble Lord has said the use of such hotels will be phased out, so how long will that take?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. Clearly, the statistics he cited are not entirely correct. Let me put on record what they are. The Department for Education collects data annually on the number of looked-after children in England, as well as missing, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Home Office has no power to detain unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in those hotels, and we know that some of them go missing. Many of those who have gone missing are subsequently traced and located, as I have already said. The numbers are as follows. Over 4,600 children have been accommodated in hotels since they were opened in July 2021. Of the 440 missing episodes—the term “episode” is used, as some children go missing and are then located but subsequently go missing again—all have been male save for four who have been female. Two hundred of the children remain missing, and only one of them is female; 88% are Albanian nationals and 13 are under the age of 16. The average length of stay in hotels for UASCs is 18.23 days. I am afraid I cannot give an exact answer to the second part of the noble Lord’s question, on how long it will be until we can phase out the use of hotels. Our hope is to phase them out as soon as we can.

The people I have spoken to who have been to visit the hotels have come away very anxious about the lack of knowledge or ability of anyone around or outside the hotel in safeguarding; and, as the Minister has just said, they cannot detain children. They know that predators are around, and we know that predators are one step ahead in terms of trafficking and indeed child sex abuse of most of the organisations that are around to safeguard. This is a huge issue. It is a shaming issue, and I hope the Government take it very seriously and work very hard to make sure that trafficking, as we now know it, is not being fuelled by the policy around children unaccompanied in hotels.

I can assure the noble Baroness that the Home Office takes very seriously the safeguarding of the young people who are in the hotels. Their safety and well-being are our primary concern. As I have already said, we have no power to detain them; however, children’s movements in and out hotels are monitored and recorded. They are also accompanied by support workers when attending organised activities and social excursions off site, or where specific vulnerabilities are identified.

When a young person goes missing, the missing persons protocol is followed, led by our directly engaged social workers. We have a protocol called “missing after reasonable steps”, which enables children’s homes and supported accommodation placements to have more ownership over the missing episodes of children in their care. It is a set of forms that helps with safeguarding, planning and prevention prior to a child being reported missing; it also encourages lines of inquiry, as is expected of a person with responsibility for that child. When used correctly, similar protocols in police forces have safely reduced the number of missing episodes from placements by 36%.

My Lords, as I speak at this minute, thousands of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children across Europe are suffering. They are being abused and trafficked. They are self-harming; indeed, as a report from the Council of Europe, which I took part in, showed, a number have taken their own lives. These refugee children not only need our protection; they are entitled to it. Can the Minister say whether he agrees with that and whether this issue will be at the core of the Government’s approach to looking after them?

I can assure the noble Lord that, as I have already said, the safeguarding and welfare of these children are among the department’s top priorities.

As I hope I have made clear, responsibility for the inspection of the hotels rests with the borders inspectorate. The hotels have been inspected in the past year. It is appreciated that hotel accommodation is a temporary means of accommodating children. As I hope I have made clear, we try to make those stays as short as possible and ensure that the accommodation is of the highest quality possible.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the care with which he is responding today; it is appreciated. Can he say how well qualified the social workers and others are to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, because there are particular issues around them? Would it not be better if we had a system of placing an advocate for each child, who could help them through the system, as soon as they arrive?

Clearly, the move into hotels is as swift as we can make it once the unaccompanied asylum-seeking child comes to the attention of the authorities. The hotels have staff consisting of team leaders and social workers, all of whom are fully trained and able to work with the young people. All the children receive a welfare interview, which includes questions designed to identify any potential indicators of trafficking or safeguarding issues. I assure the right reverend Prelate that the steps are taken seriously among the staff of the hotels to assist the children in so far as they can.

My Lords, I think it is the turn of the Liberal Democrat Benches, then we will be delighted to hear from the noble Lord.

I thank the noble Baroness. I hope that the Minister will be confirmed in his pursuing of my noble friend’s point about corporate parenting by the chorus of approval that the suggestion received. Sadly, children going missing from care is not a new issue, as the Minister said. What is being learned from the two situations? What information and experience are being swapped, including on identifying the fact that traffickers, criminals and other dodgy people are hanging around outside different establishments hoping to catch a hold of their victims, as I shall call them as well as children?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. An important feature of the hotel accommodation specifically provided for UASCs is the security for each hotel facility. Clearly, that security then matches the layout of each hotel and, as I say, residents are asked to sign in and out. Any suspicious activity identified by the security contractors is reported to the police and should be investigated by them if they think that there are grounds to do so.

My Lords, the Minister has just told us that, on his own figures, hundreds of children have gone missing. Has he asked his officials what investigations that department has made to find out where they have gone, who they are with and what risks they face?

I hope that, as I have already set out, as with children’s homes more generally, when there is a missing person episode, the missing person protocol is followed, which involves investigation by the police. The Home Office is obviously not in a position to replace the police in that investigatory task and, accordingly, that is how the children are identified when they can be.

We are all horrified by what we have heard and read about these cases of children going missing—I will say “kidnapped”—from some of these homes. Is it true that the Home Office were warned months ago about these problems? Is it true that the Home Office ignored those warnings and failed to act? If so, that is a failure of the state to act as a parent. With Home Office sources denying that these children have been kidnapped, can the Minister at least confirm that the department accepts legal responsibility for their safety now, even if it did not in the past?

Certainly, the department does not know of any cases of kidnap. The reports in the media over the weekend are of course the subject of investigation within the Home Office but, at the moment, nothing like that has been reported to us to my knowledge.

My Lords, as a matter of law, the children are in the care of the local authority of the particular hotel, so I am not sure about corporate parenthood. It may be a very important situation, but I suspect that it is not a legal situation. What is perhaps more important is the Government giving additional money to the local authorities where these hotels are to get foster parents and homes for the children so that they do not stay in hotels.

I entirely agree with the legal analysis by the noble and learned Baroness. As I hope I made clear in my earlier Answer, further money is provided—I mentioned £15,000—to each local authority in relation to the unaccompanied asylum-seeking child.

My Lords, I have listened carefully to the answers given. Having read the lurid headlines and newspaper reports, I was under the impression that people trafficking of these young people was a given. It is possible that I am confused, so can the Minister clarify that there is no evidence of what has happened or why these children have gone missing? If there is no evidence, is it not attendant on all of us in this place not to allege what we do not know to be true as though it were fact?

The noble Baroness is very perceptive. Unfortunately, there is a temptation to adopt the most lurid interpretation but, as I said a moment ago, there are many reasons why children go missing. There is no basis on which to make generalisations as to those reasons.

Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Employment (Allocation of Tips) Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Pensions Dashboard (Prohibition of Indemnification) Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Shark Fins Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Government of Wales (Devolved Powers) Bill [HL]

Order of Commitment

Moved by

My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

Electric Vehicle Battery Production

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 18 January.

“Britishvolt entering into administration is a regrettable situation, and our thoughts are with the company’s employees and their families at this time. The Government are entirely committed to the future of the automotive industry and promoting EV capability. As part of our efforts to see British companies succeed in the industry, we offered significant support to Britishvolt through the automotive transformation fund on the condition that key milestones, including private sector investment commitments, were met. Unfortunately, the company was unable to meet these conditions and as a result no ATF funds were paid out. Throughout the process, we have always remained hopeful that Britishvolt would find a suitable investor and we are disappointed that this has not been possible. We want to ensure the best outcome for the site, and we will work closely with the local authority and potential investors to achieve this.

The automotive industry is a vital part of the UK economy, and it is integral to delivering on levelling up, net zero and advancing global Britain. We will continue to take steps to champion the UK as the best location in the world for automotive manufacturing as we transition to electric and zero-emission vehicles.

Despite what the party opposite may claim, we are not giving up on the automotive industry: on the contrary, our ambition to scale up the electric vehicle industry on our shores is greater than ever. We are leveraging investment from industry by providing government support for new plants and upgrades to ensure that the UK automotive industry thrives into the future. Companies continue to show confidence in the UK, announcing major investments across the country including: £1 billion from Nissan and Envision to create an EV manufacturing hub in Sunderland; £100 million from Stellantis for its site in Ellesmere Port; and £380 million from Ford to make Halewood its first EV components site in Europe. And we will continue to work through our automotive transformation fund to build a globally competitive electric vehicle supply chain in the UK, boosting home-grown EV battery production, levelling up and advancing towards a greener future.”

My Lords, 12 months ago, £100 million was made available by the Government to Britishvolt to help unlock the necessary private finance and the company’s future. Ministers were falling over themselves boasting about how they were supporting 3,000 highly skilled direct jobs and a further 5,000 jobs in the supply chain in the north-east of England. But the money never materialised, and we all now know the consequences. Does this signal the end of the Government’s green industrial revolution, at the expense of these jobs and the key role they would have played in the electric vehicle industry and the wider decarbonisation of the UK’s economy?

No, is the short answer to the noble Lord’s question. Of course, before we make any government money available, we do the appropriate due diligence. As a result of this work, the funding was designed so that agreed milestones had to be achieved for the company to draw down substantial amounts of taxpayers’ funds. In the event, it was not able to meet those milestones, so the money was not handed over. I am sure the Opposition would like us to be careful with public money. If the alternative had happened and we had handed over the funds and the company had still gone into administration, I am sure the noble Lord would have been on his feet demanding an inquiry into why we had been so careless with public funds.

My Lords, given that, as I am sure my noble friend agrees, gigafactories are a vital part of our industrial infrastructure going forward, is there not a case for publicly stating that they must be home grown and for calling together successful UK companies such as Rolls-Royce and BP, and entrepreneurs such as Sir James Dyson, to try to find a structure that will take this forward? Unless something like that happens, is it not a fact that it will result in imports from China?

The Government stand willing to talk to any manufacturers that want to establish such facilities. There have already been a number of excellent investments in the UK, supported by the automotive transformation fund. The site in Cambois that was going to be developed by Britishvolt remains available. Subject to the decisions of the administrators and the local authority, we very much hope that a project can be taken forward there.

My Lords, the collapse of Britishvolt is a symbol of the Government’s failure to create an industrial strategy to fill the void left by Brexit. It is about much more than the loss of one potential factory, because it threatens the future of the UK car-manufacturing industry as a whole. The SMMT and the Advanced Propulsion Centre estimate that we need 90 to 100 gigawatt capacity by 2030 to supply the electric vehicle industry. Current capacity is 2 to 2.5 gigawatts, so rapid expansion is urgently needed. There is a forest of gigafactory projects throughout Europe. Why does the Minister think those Governments have succeeded, while our Government have failed to create the industry needed? What discussions have the Government had in recent weeks with UK-based vehicle manufacturers, which are seriously concerned about the current void?

We have constant discussions with UK motor manufacturers and of course, we are always available for further discussions with companies that want to bring forward projects. The noble Baroness, as usual, is completely wrong. Already there have been substantial investments in this country. On 1 July 2021, Nissan and Envision announced a £1 billion investment to create a north-east EV hub. The site will produce a projected 100,000 battery-electric cars each year. Ford has committed a total of £380 million to make Halewood its first EV component site in Europe. Pensana received an in-principle offer of government support for its £145 million factory near Hull to make metal for magnets. So, this investment is coming. Of course, it was disappointing that the Britishvolt project was not successful, but the site remains an excellent one for this investment. Subject to discussions with the local authority and the administrators, we hope it can be taken forward.

My Lords, what does the Minister anticipate the future of Jaguar Land Rover to be if there is no battery factory to supply it in the UK?

Jaguar Land Rover has an exciting future. It is an excellent company, providing brilliant vehicles that are exported all over the world. I am sure that it wants to make sure that its supply chain is appropriately robust.

What would the Government do differently in future? What have they learned as a result of this failure—or is the Minister’s position genuinely that it is just one of those things, and these things happen?

I think we acted appropriately. We agreed a grants award with this company, and we very much hoped that that project could be taken forward. It was a substantial amount of grant aid, but appropriate due diligence was done. The company produced a business plan and we set out an agreed series of milestones that it needed to meet, including securing the necessary private investment, before the public funds could be released. Unfortunately, it did not manage to achieve that. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, noble Lords would have criticised me if we had released the funds and the company had then gone into administration.

Jaguar Land Rover and Mini are iconic examples of British culture and manufacturing. How can the Minister be satisfied with new Jaguar Land Rovers only being supplied with one key because the company does not have chips, and with electric Minis being made in China? Surely this cannot be right, and the Government need to get a grip on this.

I know that my noble friend has personal experience of problems with his keys, and I hope they are resolved. That is not intended as an obscure comment—his is a genuine complaint, and I know it will be resolved. Of course, it is always regrettable if manufacturing is outsourced overseas, but the UK car industry has been successful in the past, and we have one of the biggest car industries in Europe. A massive programme of transformation is required in the industry as we move towards more electric vehicles, but I am sure that the industry will rise to the challenge.

My Lords, the Minister, given his intimate knowledge of the trade and co-operation agreement, will know that there is an important clause relevant to this. In 2024, the rules of origin for electric vehicles change, increasing the need for local content. Because batteries make up so much of electric cars, we cannot achieve that local content without batteries being built in this country. Will the Minister tell the House whether his department speaking to the other relevant departments in government to reopen this negotiation? Is it this Government’s intention to push back the commencement date of this clause, because without doing so, we have a really serious problem here?

Like the noble Lord, I am familiar with the rules of origin provisions of the TCA. There was a lot of debate about this at the time, and we continue to keep an eye on it. Of course, there are discussions across government. One of the reasons for setting up the automotive transformation fund was to attempt to get more of these gigafactories into the UK, and we stand ready to talk to any other prospective investors to do that.

My Lords, since 2016, UK car production has nearly halved. Honda has closed its factory in Swindon and BMW is moving production of its electric Mini from Oxford to China. We really need to make sure that we have good infrastructure, especially when it comes to electric batteries. With that in mind, would the Government consider bringing Britishvolt into public ownership? That is the only way to make sure we have a viable local player.

I note the noble Lord’s nostalgia for the great, successful British industries of the 1970s under public ownership, but I do not think that is a viable suggestion. Government has proved that it is not good at running businesses and industry—we should leave that to the private sector, with appropriate government support where required.

My Lords, the Minister loves the north-east, just like I do, and has noted that this is an extremely suitable site. Is not part of the problem that the return on investment is a very long way forward, so will the Government consider upping the amount they are willing to commit upfront to enable production on this site?

The amount of money on offer here was very considerable. I am not going to get into details of commercial negotiations but as I said, we stand ready to talk to any potential investor in that site or any others. The right reverend Prelate is right that this is one of the best sites in Europe for such a facility: it has the right shape, connections and location. We are optimistic it will be taken forward, but as the right reverend Prelate will understand, I am not going to get into commercial negotiations at this point.

Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill


Relevant document: 11th report from the Constitution Committee

Clause 1: Power to implement government procurement Chapters

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 10, leave out subsections (2) and (3)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment prevents regulations being made in relation to cases falling outside the scope of procurement Chapters of the FTAs.

My Lords, Amendment 1 would prevent regulations being made in relation to cases falling outside the scope of the procurement chapters of the free trade agreements. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will speak to Amendments 6 and 19 in this group.

Amendment 1 would remove subsections (2) and (3) from Clause 1. Clause 1 provides a power for appropriate authorities to make regulations for two purposes. Subsection 1(a) allows an appropriate authority to make regulations for the purpose of implementing the government procurement chapters in the FTAs. Subsection 1(b) allows an appropriate authority to make regulations for the purposes of making other changes for matters arising out of, or related to, the government procurement chapters in the FTAs.

The Explanatory Notes state:

“Clause 1(2) allows the regulations under subsection 1(b) to be made also for cases falling outside the scope of the government procurement Chapters to provide for general application”,

and that

“Clause 1(3) clarifies that a case is outside the scope of a government procurement Chapter if that Chapter does not impose an obligation on the UK in respect of that case, i.e. it is not an obligation owed specifically in the Chapter … The effect of subsection 1(b) read with 1(2) is that certain changes made to domestic law to implement the UK-Australia FTA, i.e. in respect of the rules in the text of the government procurement Chapter … can apply generally and not only to suppliers from Australia. This will ensure procurement regulations remain uniform and coherent by not imposing different or conflicting procurement procedures on contracting authorities for procurements covered by the FTA, and ensure the UK can implement its obligations in the FTA in a way that is consistent with the UK’s other international procurement obligations.”

This explanation makes sense; it is of course important that procurement regulations remain uniform and coherent.

Our intention with this amendment is simply to probe the scope of this, as it reads as almost limitless. Can the Minister tell me whether any case could be outside the scope of the Government’s procurement chapters? Are there any limits on this? What is a “case” defined as?

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 6 and 19 in this group. The questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, in moving Amendment 1 are very sensible. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

According to today’s press, we are now 15 years behind on the commitment that we would reach £1 trillion of trade within a decade. It is now estimated that the target set by the coalition in 2012 will not be achieved until beyond 2035. This highlights the fact that we are starting to see the consequences of the significant non-tariff barriers introduced by this Government over recent years. Therefore, it is vital that mechanisms are as streamlined as possible for procurement and the rest of the trade agreements.

Amendment 6 is designed to probe the discrepancies in threshold levels in the Government’s procurement legislation, currently going through the House of Commons and which has been through scrutiny in the House of Lords. It probes why they are different for those seeking procurement opportunities for Australia as compared with those seeking them here at home. If you are a business seeking to bid for procurement in the UK, you now have to operate under quite a markedly different approach from that if you are looking for procurement opportunities within Australia.

I welcome the Minister’s letter to noble Lords, which he promised at the end of Second Reading and fulfilled. It highlights what we knew: that, factually, there is a difference in the threshold levels. The letter simply states that Australia was not willing to have the same thresholds as us, and so we simply said that we would have its thresholds. What did we get in return? If this is a concession to Australia then surely we got something in return as far as access is concerned.

The report on the agreement from the Australian Parliament’s treaties committee makes for interesting reading, as does our own report from the House of Lords International Agreements Committee. The Australian report is 225 pages long and can be summarised as: “We got a good deal.” Our House of Lords report, which is 36 pages long, can be summarised from our point of view as: “No, we didn’t.”

The Australian report highlights the fact that the Australians wanted to maintain their levels of thresholds—that was very clear. Thresholds are important; a considerable amount of scrutiny that we did on the procurement agreement was about whether the procurement would be below or above the threshold. If it is below the threshold, the reporting mechanisms, the contracts approach, and the way that schemes or pooled contracts can be put together are different. So we now have a higher rate for Australia.

At Second Reading, I raised the fact that this was done by subcentral contracting bodies. The Minister’s letter to me says that in effect I was wrong in saying that Australia was unique, because Canada has the same approach as Australia’s—but not for subcentral levels. The agreement that we rolled over for Canada for the CETA agreement, has the lower threshold, and we have now gone to the higher one. We are simply trying to find out what we got in return for providing a concession to Australia over the threshold levels. The higher threshold means that there will be extra complexity for businesses.

Amendment 19 is simply a probing amendment on the point that was raised earlier on the Procurement Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, which was simply trying to seek protections. If we try to change this Bill and its mechanisms for the good, those changes will be protected by the Procurement Bill, which, as the Committee will be aware, will automatically repeal this one. We have the rather ridiculous situation that we are in Committee for a Bill that will be automatically repealed by a Bill that is going to go into Committee in the House of Commons. This is a mechanism to try to protect any of what we do. On that basis, I hope the Government might be minded to accept Amendment 19, or indeed they might have their own mechanisms or commitments, so that we are not wasting our time in Committee.

My Lords, three important issues arise from the limited number of amendments here, and I want to say something about each of them.

I shall start with the last amendment, Amendment 19. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, referred to the debates on the Procurement Bill, in which many of us participated. We are in a situation where the Procurement Bill will in due course repeal this legislation. We can see the timing a little more readily now: all being well, we should complete the passage of this Bill and I hope it might reach Royal Assent if not by the end of February then certainly very early in March.

The Procurement Bill in the other place still has a substantial amount of work to be done, and doubtless it will return here with amendments. That being the case, I suspect it would be rash to assume that it would pass before late May at the earliest, especially since the Session is to run longer. The Procurement Bill brings its provisions into force two months after the Bill itself is enacted, so in my view we could be in July at the earliest, and maybe in August or September, before the relevant provisions and the repeal take effect.

That being the case, there seems to be a perfectly good rationale for this Bill being used to create the necessary regulations. One matter that we did not get quite clear in our previous discussion is that this Bill, once enacted, can be used to make regulations. Those regulations will subsist even though this Act will subsequently be repealed by the Procurement Act, as it will become. So there is a purpose in passing the regulations in the meantime. There is a particular purpose, which I will not trespass into, relating to the relationship with Scottish legislation. The fact that this Bill can be used to make those regulations is particularly helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, knows that I agree with the proposition that, if an amendment were to be made in this House to this legislation, it would be inappropriate for it to be automatically repealed. However, we secured assurances from my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe to the effect that the Government under those circumstances would make whatever changes might be necessary to the Procurement Bill in another place. I am hoping that my noble friend Lord Johnson of Lainston will have a similar briefing and a similar reassurance to give us.

As it happens, I do not think we need to amend this Bill. I do not see the case for it and so far the amendments I have seen probably do not warrant it. If we can pass it unamended, it can reach Royal Assent—the sooner, the better. I do not subscribe to the view that our International Agreements Committee’s report can be characterised quite as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, put it. There are things we know could have been asked for and potentially secured that were not secured. My particular hobby horse, as members of the committee will know, was geographical indications. It seems absurd that we are waiting on the European Union to secure GI protections in Australia and then we might have the benefit of them subsequently.

The structure of the FTA shows that we believe in tariff liberalisation and in the liberalisation of and greater market access for services trade and the mobility of persons. We secured some significant progress on that. The overall benefit relatively to the Australian economy is anticipated to be greater than for our economy. It does not mean we have lost out, just that there are limitations on the access and the market benefits we might secure. With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, I do not think that Amendment 19 is necessary. I hope that the reassurances will show that.

Amendment 1, which was well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, gives a power for the regulations to extend beyond the cases in the procurement chapters. From what I understand, changes are called for through these two FTAs which would impact the way in which the UK exercises its procurement activities to other countries.

There are three areas. The first is where there are unknown contract values. I have managed to track this down in the Australia deal. It makes it clear that, where there are unknown contract values, it should be regarded as a covered procurement. Secondly, there are notices relating to procurements. I assume that this is about the structure of electronic notices, but it is not very clear what it relates to. Clearly, there is some updating on electronic notices for procurement in any case. I found substantial references to that in both procurement chapters. The third relates to the termination of awarded contracts. I hope that my noble friend, if he has not got it immediately to hand, will reference where the changes to the termination of awarded contracts are. These are required under one or the other of these two FTAs, which would require us to change our overall procurement practices. I cannot see them in either of the two procurement chapters in the FTAs.

I will respond to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. Since the Government are very clear on the reasons they might want to go beyond the Australia and New Zealand cases and make the rules non-discriminatory, because they will be the same for other treaty state suppliers in due course, that is a logical extension of the power. Of course, if Ministers were to misuse the power—the implication of the amendment is that they have a power and could misuse it—it is our responsibility to look at statutory instruments presented. If they are a misuse of that power and go beyond what is necessary for the purpose stated, we can pray against them. It is not our job simply to pass them, and we might choose to do that. But I suspect that this is not the Government’s intention, nor should we really be that worried that it will happen. What is proposed in the legislation seems very straightforward.

Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, is about thresholds. Unlike with the other amendments, now things do get complicated. As far as I can see, the point that the noble Lord did not make is that the thresholds set in a procurement Bill are aligned with the thresholds under the government procurement agreement—a WTO agreement. To that extent, they apply in relation to the entities in the parties to that agreement, which are central government entities. It seems to me that the point about the Australia and New Zealand procurement agreements is that they go beyond what is available to us under the WTO GPA; for example, with Australia in particular, that means regional entities.

I cannot speak for the Australians, but it is clear that they decided that they wanted the availability of procurements in their regional entities to have a higher threshold applied to them, to which we would then have access. Of course, the same thresholds would then apply back to our subcentral entities. I do not really need to judge whether that is reasonable on their part; what is sufficient for these purposes is that that is what they asked for and they get the same benefit in relation to us. We therefore all get a benefit in access to procurements below the federal level in Australia—and, to some limited extent, in New Zealand—for additional entities. It would be, in my view, impossible for us, through the legislation, to seek to impose on Australia or New Zealand thresholds that are different from those that were agreed in the FTA. Indeed, if we were to try to do what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, is suggesting, we would effectively constrain ourselves back to what is available under the WTO general procurement agreement and remove a significant part of the available benefit to us—so I just do not think we can go down that track.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord; as usual, he is extremely perceptive. The point I am seeking to make is that, under the GPA, subcentral and regional bodies are covered. We have existing arrangements under the previous EU rules for subnational bodies, and we currently have subnational special drawing rights with the EU. My question is: what impact will the higher threshold that we have conceded to subregional bodies within Australia have on those businesses? I fear that it means a great deal of complexity, so, for us to say back to the Government that they should be having discussions with Australia to bring the thresholds down, rather than just give up, would make sense for British businesses.

Well, obviously, if we were in the course of further discussions through the Joint Committee arrangements on the free trade agreements to modify the agreements so as to reduce the thresholds, I imagine that there would be some benefit to our businesses—but that is not the position we are in at the moment. I certainly do not see that we can arbitrarily and unilaterally impose different thresholds through our legislation. The Minister will have to confirm if I am correct, but I did not understand it to be the case that the WTO general procurement agreement gives us existing access to entities in Australia’s procurement below the federal level. I stand to be corrected if I am wrong about that, and I have no doubt that the Minister will have the briefing to tell me if I am wrong. For those purposes, I just do not agree with Amendment 1 as moved.

My Lords, I am delighted to be speaking in what is my first Bill Committee in your Lordships’ House. I start by saying how grateful I am for the engagement that I have had with the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Purvis, since Second Reading of this important Bill. I am also grateful to them for tabling the amendments in this group. I also thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for those extremely helpful interjections.

As we have heard, this group deals with how the Bill impacts on the UK’s procurement rules, both now and under the Procurement Bill, which is currently awaiting Committee in the other place, once it is enacted. I recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords on protecting UK contracting authorities and the importance of the discussions we are having in this Committee. Having listened to the contributions of noble Lords today, I hope to reassure the House that these amendments are not required. Perhaps I may begin by thanking this House’s International Agreements Committee for its valuable scrutiny of the Australia deal, the report on which stated:

“The Government has been broadly successful in incorporating its objectives on procurement into the agreement and we welcome the procurement chapter.”

On Amendment 1, on general effect, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, I reassure the House that these powers cannot make changes beyond what is necessary to implement the procurement chapters of the Australia and New Zealand agreements, while ensuring that the UK procurement system continues to function. I think my noble friend Lord Lansley covered that in his comments. Rather than conferring unnecessary powers on the Government, Clause 1(2) and (3) ensure that, when the regulatory changes are made, they do not have the effect of creating a separate, parallel set of regulations for Australia and New Zealand suppliers alone. This is the concept of conformity.

As a member of the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement—the GPA—the UK, as has been discussed, has a most favoured nation obligation to not discriminate in its treatment of businesses from different parties to the GPA. To meet this obligation, the changes needed to the procurement rules resulting from the Bill need to apply to all GPA parties, as I think we have also discussed. This is laid out in the Explanatory Notes, which, for useful repetition, I restate:

“This will ensure procurement regulations remain uniform and coherent by not imposing different or conflicting procurement procedures on contracting authorities for procurements covered by the FTA, and ensure the UK can implement its obligations in the FTA in a way that is consistent with the UK’s other international procurement obligations.”

The Bill will lead to a wider range of protections for tendering parties and, ultimately, better value and choice for our procuring entities. The changes will make the system simpler, which is something all parties desire.

Turning to Amendment 6 on the equalisation thresholds, I understand the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about these agreements placing additional burdens on suppliers—and, frankly, contractors or contracting parties—by having a different threshold to that in the UK’s procurement regulations. I have great sympathy with his objective. However, I hope to persuade the noble Lord that his amendment is unnecessary and, in doing so, show that the UK can meet its market access commitments in both the Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements and can bring these agreements into force.

Amendment 6 proposes that no regulations can be made in respect of subcentral procurements that are valued above the threshold amount specified for such procurement in the Procurement Bill. The value I have here is 200,000 special drawing rights. By not allowing any regulations to be made for subcentral procurement with a value in excess of the threshold amount, the UK would not be able to give effect to its market access commitments—my noble friend Lord Lansley covered this very successfully—for all subcentral procurement under the UK-Australia FTA, because the threshold for subcentral procurement is 330,000 SDR; or any subcentral procurement under the UK-New Zealand FTA, valued at 200,001 SDR or more.

Having different thresholds—after our discussions, I took this away and investigated it—between parties is commonplace in the GPA, as we have discussed. For example, as I believe I mentioned in the letter sent to the noble Lord, at subcentral level the UK has a threshold of 200,000 special drawing rights, as do New Zealand and Japan, while Canada and Australia have a threshold of 355,000 special drawing rights.

On the question of whether the different threshold values between the UK rules and the FTA present a burden to UK contracting authorities, let me reassure the Committee that, under the current UK procurement rules, the only threshold that contracting authorities need to worry about is the one in the UK rules. That is the core point. This is because the SDR thresholds set out in the FTAs themselves determine the contracts that, in the event of an Australian or New Zealand supplier wanting to challenge a UK procurement procedure, are eligible to be addressed by UK domestic courts. So, effectively, this simply allows the concept of challenge.

If the procurement in question is not covered by the UK-Australia FTA, including by not meeting the SDR threshold in the FTA, then an Australian supplier would not be eligible to make a challenge. To explain further, and this is important, the measures involving procurement thresholds do not involve in any way, any changes to the activities of procuring parties. They are simply levels at which Australian suppliers can challenge procurement processes in the event of so-called unfair, or what we may describe as discriminatory, treatment. I think we can assume that procuring parties would not wish to design tenders that need to be challenged in this way, since that would go against any practice of good government in any event.

In our trade agreements, the UK wants other countries to match the threshold level that we have in our domestic system, so where a party keeps a higher threshold in the GPA or in an FTA, as has been discussed, the UK typically raises the corresponding threshold in the trade agreement in response. This is the case in the UK-Australia FTA. To reassure the noble Lord again, this does not increase the burden on UK suppliers or government bodies.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving that information. I would just like to get this clear in mind. If a local authority in the UK—a combined authority, say, or subnational authority—sets its procurement scheme, operating under the Procurement Bill, at the £213,000 level, which is 200,000 SDRs, it can operate below or above the procurement threshold. Is the Minister saying that an Australian firm can challenge that regional authority on the basis that, under the agreement, for the Australian firm the threshold is higher? Is that understanding correct?

I thank the noble Lord. I am not 100% clear on the point he is making. Thresholds are set at whatever is negotiated. Any contract above the level of the threshold is protected from discriminating or unfair practices. Any contract below the threshold is not protected in the same way, in terms of challenge in the courts. It would be unusual for any contracting authority to design its tender to make sure it was not allowing an Australian or New Zealand contactor, or indeed any other contractor, to be below the threshold. The point is it does not make any difference to their thresholds.

I will not pursue the point much further, but as we discussed during the Procurement Bill, one of the points about thresholds is that companies will not know that the procurement exists; they can be exempted as far as the Procurement Bill is concerned—that is the point of the thresholds. So an Australian firm could challenge an entire scheme on the basis that it would not be aware of the procurement that is happening in that area because of the non-reporting requirements below the threshold. I will not pursue the point any further, but I hope that, as a result of any regulations that come out of the Bill or the Bill itself, there will be guidance to businesses on how to operate with procurement. If those areas could be spelt out in guidance, I think that would be quite helpful. I will certainly read the guidance, because I am finding part of it difficult to understand myself.

I thank the noble Lord. As I say, this does not change the process in any way. It is simply about protection for people bidding for contracts. In terms of advertising for contracts, the UK threshold levels remain the same—whatever they may be, given the various national or subnational governmental entities. That does not change. So for a local council tendering for, say, printing services, it makes no difference to its actions whatsoever. The only thing it does, from an Australian or New Zealand tenderer’s point of view, is that they may decide the threshold for them that affords additional protection to not incur unfair or discriminatory practices. Frankly, I think it is a highly unlikely situation that any contracting authority would try to bend the rules in order to ensure that Australian and New Zealand contractors could be excluded. That simply would not occur, in my mind. It does not require any additional work; it is simply about the challenge on unfair practices in tendering. That is the reason why the thresholds are set, and they reflect the same thresholds that were offered at national and subnational levels in Australia. That is the reason they are set at that level.

I am happy to go into more detail at a later date. Certainly, I am delighted to work with any Members of the Committee on this but, as I say, it is much simpler than it sounds. It is, in some respects, given the efforts prescribed for local authorities and authorities tendering, not relevant from their point of view.

Amendment 19, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, addresses concerns around what would happen to any amendments to the Bill that might be passed during scrutiny by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raises an interesting point, and I was extremely pleased that my noble friend Lord Lansley explained the position very clearly and takes a strong interest in this—I am very grateful for his interventions. I have enjoyed the intellectual discussion, by the way, and I think this is precisely the sort of matter that this House is purposed to investigate: these are complex issues and we are absolutely right to be discussing them.

I understand the noble Lord’s point that this may appear, on the surface, an unconventional way to legislate; however, we have pointed out the importance of getting these agreements into force, as my noble friend Lord Lansley mentioned. No one in this House would want to delay the benefits conferred on our consumers, business and government by waiting unnecessarily for a later piece of legislation. It would be unfair to our citizens and also, in my view, against the spirit of the FTAs with our sister nations of Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, I met the Australian Agriculture Secretary and the high commissioner last week and they both expressed their keen desire to see this agreement brought into force as soon as possible. I also know that the Labour Front Bench met these individuals, I believe on the same day, to discuss the agreement.

The sense of urgency is also present within industry. I am sure noble Lords will remember the clear and powerful message from the British Chambers of Commerce during the evidence it presented before the other place’s Public Bill Committee:

“Overall, we want to see the agreements ratified as quickly as possible.”—[Official Report, Commons, Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill Committee, 12/10/22; col. 8.]

Returning to the core point, and recognising this novel approach, I repeat again the quotation given earlier. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe made an important commitment that, if noble Lords were to amend this Bill, the Government would look to ensure that any necessary changes might be made to the nature of the repeal during the passage of the Procurement Bill in the other place. I personally reiterate this clear commitment today.

I hope I have provided the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Purvis, with enough reassurance on the Government’s position on these matters, and I therefore ask them not to press these three amendments.

Before the Minister sits down, I ask for a final point of clarification and then I will shut up on this group. If the Bill passes, does that mean that we have implemented our domestic legislation in order to say to the Australians and the New Zealanders, through a diplomatic note, that we have put in place our domestic legislation so that this agreement can come into force? Or is that at the point when the regulations under the Bill are made? If it is the regulations, then, as I understand it, one of them will depend on what the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament will want to do, because there will be a concurrent power. Just for clarification, is it this Bill or the Procurement Bill, whichever the sequencing, or is it the time when the regulations are made?

I thank the noble Lord for his comments. This is one reason why we are pressing ahead with the Bill: it is part of the process that will lead to the agreement coming into force. I will cover this later in Committee, I am sure, but there are other legislative acts that need to be brought into force, to enable the entire agreement to function, at which point we will have the entry into force of the FTA—a moment we are all, frankly, much looking forward to.

Before the noble Lord sits down, can I ask him about his reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, on Amendment 1? He said we need not worry about Clause 1(2) because Clause 1(1) can be used only in cases arising from these two trade agreements. I think I follow the Minister’s argument—until I turn to Clause 2. Clause 2 seems extremely permissive and says one can make provision, general or specific, or

“make provision for different purposes or areas”.

Can the Minister expand on his assurance to the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and assure me that the Bill as a whole, not just Clause 1(2), cannot be used for purposes other than to deal with cases arising as a result of the two free trade agreements?

I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I think I have made my position clear that any concomitant actions following on from this Bill will relate specifically to the matters necessary for bringing it into force. Pursuant powers—this is an important commitment—are very much linked to what we would describe as minor and specific issues. They could relate to changes in government departments’ names, such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport adding “Digital” to its name. The effective implementation of that in the agreements is relevant in these texts, so it would be confined to errors such as that. I know that we will discuss the concept the noble Lord raised regarding Scotland later in Committee, so I will be delighted to go into more detail on that then.

My Lords, the problem is that the Bill does not say that. That is the point being made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. I thank noble Lords who have spoken: the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on his two amendments and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for a lot of helpful clarification. Given any future misuse of power through statutory instruments, our super-affirmative proposal later will no doubt be supported, because that will make the scrutiny of the Bill that much more thorough than is intended as we speak. The Minister said that no powers beyond these FTAs are proposed by the Bill, but it does not say that—it indicates that there may be powers in other places that we need to watch for. However, with that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (1) may not be made before completion of such public consultation as the appropriate authority considers appropriate with the relevant—(a) Scottish Ministers,(b) Welsh Ministers,(c) department of the Northern Ireland Executive, and(d) representatives of the English regions.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires a consultation before regulations implementing the procurement Chapters can be made.

My Lords, this amendment would require a consultation before regulations implementing the procurement chapters could be made. It would require that consultation to involve the relevant Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers, the department of the Northern Ireland Executive, who are not currently sitting, and regional representatives in England, as the appropriate authority considers appropriate.

Colleagues in the Welsh Government have stressed the importance of improving the process by which the devolved Administrations are consulted and formally engaged in trade deal negotiations. Labour is committed to working to improve the negotiation process to better engage with them and we are calling for a commitment from the UK Government to undertake nation-specific impact assessments on trade deals. These two steps would ensure a clear understanding of the implications and opportunities for each part of the country from any new deals—a common-sense step to make sure that new deals are as good as they can be for the whole of the UK in the era of individual trade deals.

My Lords, I will make one brief observation. It seems a deficiency in our processes for negotiating important agreements of this kind that there is no mechanism, as in so much else, for ensuring that we remain a united country. The Government of the United Kingdom also represent the views of the devolved nations. Although it is very important for the United Kingdom that it is seen to be an honourable state that carries through what it negotiates, and although I support this amendment, I also support what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie—that this has been designed after the horse has bolted. Hopefully, we can do something before the horse bolts next time.

To follow that intervention, we seem to be crawling along the edge of the quagmire, which arises all the time, between reserved powers and devolved powers: whether reserved powers have implications for devolved powers and whether some devolved powers and the actions following from them have implications for the whole of the United Kingdom.

I would like clarification on one point. As I understand it, the Scottish and Welsh Governments have refused to give consent for this Bill. In order that we can steer the Bill in the right direction, can the Minister clarify what he thinks the basis of the withdrawal of consent is based on? Is it just the procedure: that the consultation ought to have taken place, even though industrial policy is a reserved matter and even though external treaties and their implications are reserved matters—because it is reckoned that something creeps over, as it were, into the devolved area? Or is it because there is a basic objection rooted in the idea that Scottish farming, Scottish industry and Scottish trade are separate and should have some separate considerations under a treaty of this kind? Or is it because there is a general objection to these things being in the reserved area when they should be in the devolved area? Unless we can get a clear view on that, I think there is going to be a difficulty. The requirement which we are going to come to, I think, in other amendments about when consent should be given and how consultation should be applied and pursued is going to continue to colour and taint this Bill and its proceedings.

My Lords, this has continued to be—and I am not just talking about the words we have exchanged today—a very important debate on devolution and the role of the devolved Administrations in our trade agenda. I am grateful for the interventions from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. They were very helpful in order to clarify the mind and work through some of the rationale behind the situation we are in.

I will make an important point that may help answer some of the questions. We do not operate a federal structure. We have one Government where there are devolved powers to nations, regions and other authorities. Treaty-making and foreign policy is necessarily a national endeavour, benefiting all. It is this coherence of a national structure that gives us negotiating strength and desirability as a single market access point which enables us to pursue our free trade agenda—something which, I believe, this whole House is united behind. All regions benefit from this process, above and beyond their own specific interests; the sum of the parts is greater than the constituent. We should not confuse the actions here, either. Treaty-making is the reserve of the UK Government. Finally, it would be unfair on our treaty partners not to act in good faith in taking forward legislation which implements these agreements by the most efficient means possible.

Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, would require public consultation with devolved Administrations and representatives of English regions before making the secondary legislation which implements the UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand FTA procurement chapters under Clause 1. I know the noble Lord also mentioned the impact assessment, which, if it is okay, I will address in the following section.

Your Lordships will be aware that the Minister for Trade Policy chairs the Interministerial Group for Trade, previously known as the Ministerial Forum for Trade. This forum provides an opportunity for discussion on all matters of trade policy, including the implementation of UK free trade agreements. This group, by the way, last met on 9 January, so very recently. It is not the only opportunity for ministerial discussions and there are frequent bilateral meetings between Ministers. In addition to ministerial engagement, discussions with devolved Administrations at official level have totalled hundreds of hours across both the UK-Australia and the UK-New Zealand FTAs. This includes frequent updates by chief negotiators and detailed discussions on draft text. We are aiming to create—and believe we have—free trade agreements that benefit our nation in its entirety, and factoring in the requirements of each nation is at the very core of our work. In the case of procurement chapters, in both the UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand FTAs, we have found common ground between the UK Government and devolved Administrations in our objectives in the negotiations on this matter. I believe the honourable Member Dame Nia Griffith remarked during the Public Bill Committee in the other place:

“On procurement, the Welsh Government go as far as to say that there may be scope for businesses in Wales to take advantage of the provisions included in the UK Government procurement agreement, and that some Welsh interests in procurement were protected during the engagement with the Department for International Trade.”—[Official Report, Commons, Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill Committee, 18/10/22; col. 77.]

As we move toward implementing these agreements, there have already been preliminary discussions on the drafting of secondary legislation. This Government will continue conversations with the devolved Administrations as drafting progresses, in keeping with the Bill’s passage. I also remind the House of the commitment we have made never to use the power in Clause 1 without consulting the devolved Administrations first. I restated this commitment at Second Reading, and I assure noble Lords that this is a sincere commitment that His Majesty’s Government will honour.

On consulting the English regions, they do not have the same role in implementing legislation and these agreements as the devolved Administrations. Given our approach, as demonstrated to date, to engagement in all areas and with the industry and other stakeholders, and given our commitment to continue to consult with appropriate authorities on the use of the power in Clause 1, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary. This was also the conclusion when similar amendments were tabled in the other place. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Before the Minister sits down, may I ask about the interaction of this Bill and the Procurement Bill and the commitments on consultation? We know that Clauses 1 to 4 of this Bill address devolved areas for Wales and Scotland, and that this Bill introduces the concurrent mechanism. The former Secretary of State, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, said that regulations made under these powers that relate to devolved competencies would not be made concurrently without seeking the consent of the devolved Parliaments or, at the very least, consulting with them. If this Bill is repealed by the Procurement Bill and these elements of the Procurement Bill do not apply to Scotland, what is left of the consultation mechanisms for the devolved Administrations in this Bill? They would be repealed by the Procurement Bill.

I always thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his academic approach to these debates, and I am grateful to him for those points. The former Secretary of State was right when she said that we were seeking consent; the Government have sought consent, and we have consulted. Regarding the relationship between this Bill and the Procurement Bill, I am not sure what the relevance of consultation is in relation to Scotland. A number of the actions in this Bill will continue, since they are not being cancelled by the Procurement Bill. I understand that the Procurement Bill will retain the other parts of this legislation. Certainly, we have committed very clearly to making sure we seek consent and consult.

Without prolonging this debate, I think it is essential—I have said this before—that we engage with everyone in this country and all the devolved nations to ensure that we create trade deals that benefit them. I am sure the noble Lord will be aware of and celebrate the opportunities that his own food and drink industry will have under these new agreements. We are reducing tariffs on a great variety of spirits so that industry can sell more at lower prices or use that additional income to market its goods. All the manufacturers I have spoken to were extremely positive about those measures, which will, I am pleased to say, directly benefit Scotland. The intention here is to create powerful free trade agreements that work for the entirety of the United Kingdom. As a result of that, it makes absolute sense—not just in the specific legislative format but in a fundamental negotiating sense—that these are reserved powers for the United Kingdom, and that we have the opportunity to implement them.

I do not want to be academic, but I am still not entirely clear on what basis the consent is being withheld from the Scottish or Welsh Governments, even though I gather that it is not necessary—in the end, it will just go ahead anyway. What can be done to overcome some of the inevitable additional ill feeling that seems to wander generally over the division between reserved and devolved powers, in order to make this Bill sweeter than it will otherwise be? Otherwise, we will just be left with a bad feeling in the air and a sense that things are being steamrollered through because the precise letter of the law of the devolution agreements, devolution law and all the preceding legislation of preceding centuries says so. I am not sure that this is good enough if we are going to build a good relationship in the future between the two nations of England and Scotland, and the Principality as well.

I thank my noble friend for his comments. Consent is either given or not given. For the reasons why, he must make inquiries of the various Assemblies that have not given their consent and ask them why they are not supporting this free trade agreement, which I think will bring them enormous benefits. We remain committed to the consultation process in all our activities. Frankly, it would probably be impractical not to do so in any event.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for their contributions. On the question that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, asked and the Minister tried to answer, the withdrawal of consent is probably a consequence of the lack of consultation—not necessarily the quality of the agreement but the lack of involvement in its development. This amendment is trying to obviate that for the future, so that if there is a formal consultation, it is seen to have taken place, and then an agreement on behalf of the UK is reached and can be properly explored—or not—throughout the UK. However, consent could not then be withheld by Parliament or an Assembly in one of the parts of the UK. That seems to me the main benefit of the amendment, but for now, I will beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) Regulations under subsection (1) may not be made before completion of a review by the Trade and Agriculture Commission of the potential impact of the procurement Chapters on industry in the United Kingdom.” Member's explanatory statement

This amendment requires a review by the TAC before regulations implementing the procurement Chapters can be made.

This is a bit like a jack in the box; I apologise. There are a number of amendments in this group in my name, which I will briefly run through. There is also an amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and four, I think, from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. They will explain theirs as we get into it.

Amendment 3 requires a review by the TAC before regulations implemented in the procurement chapters can be made. Amendment 4 requires an impact assessment on employment and human rights and climate change to be published before regulations implemented in the procurement chapters can be made. Amendment 5 requires a regional impact assessment to be published before regulations implemented in the procurement chapters can be made. Amendment 8 requires an impact assessment within 12 months, and every three years thereafter, of regulations made under Clause 1. Amendment 9 requires a regional assessment of the impact on farmers of the procurement chapters. Amendment 11 requires an NHS impact assessment of the procurement chapters. Amendment 12 requires a review of the negotiation of the procurement chapters. Amendment 13 requires a climate change impact assessment of the procurement chapters. The final Labour amendment, Amendment 14, requires a labour rights impact assessment of the procurement chapters.

All these amendments require impact assessments addressing different areas of the procurement chapters of the Bill. While predictions can be made, they are generally vague and broad, and specific impact assessments would not only give better insight into the deals but help learn lessons for future deals. We have tabled amendments requiring assessments across specific areas that are particularly pertinent to the deals. On employment and labour rights, while agreements do make reference to workers’ rights and labour standards, a prospective Labour Government would seek to establish a gold standard of workers’ rights in trade deals. Also, it is unacceptable that the Government have failed properly to engage with workers’ representatives through the negotiation process, as union members are best placed to outline many of the tangible impacts of trade policy.

The TAC has noted that the agreement

“does not contain commitments to ILO core conventions and an obligation for both parties to ratify and respect those agreements. Rather it contains a much weaker commitment to just the ILO declaration”.

Labour is concerned about the precedent this may set, especially for ongoing and future trade deals with countries that have significantly worse protections than the UK. UK agri-food producers are concerned that

“the Agreement increases UK market access for food produced in ways that would be illegal in the UK, making for unfair competition.”

The National Farmers’ Union has been critical of the impact the trade deal may have on farming, saying:

“We see almost nothing in the deal that will prevent an increase in imports of food produced well below the production standards required of UK farmers”.

It continued:

“There is little in this deal to benefit British farmers.”

It is little wonder that Australia’s former negotiator at the WTO said:

“I don't think we have ever done”

a deal as good “as this.”

The Government’s own impact assessment shows a £94 million hit to our farming, forestry and fishing sectors, as well as a £225 million hit to our semi-processed food industry. The Government claim that they are trying to mitigate this with tariff-free access being phased in over several years but what is being done is totally inadequate. For beef and sheepmeat, the phasing-in period is 15 years, but the quotas being set by the Government for imports from Australia are far higher than the current level of imports. On beef imports, for example, Japan negotiated a deal with Australia where it limited the tariff-free access in the first year to 10% on the previous year; South Korea achieved something similar, limiting the increase to 7%. However, this Government have negotiated a first-year tariff-free allowance of a 6,000% increase on the amount of beef that the UK imports from Australia. On sheepmeat, in the first year of the deal, the Government have conceded a 67% increase in the tariff-free quota.

The cross-party International Trade Select Committee set out that it is

“disappointed that the Government has not acted on the suggestion that liberalising agri-food trade under UK trade agreements should be conditional on imports meeting … UK food production standards.”

It went on to call on the Government to say

“what it will do to monitor unfair competition for UK producers resulting from agri-food liberalisation—and how it will act to mitigate adverse consequences for UK producers’ interests, and UK consumers’ wishes and choices, from such competition. We are concerned about the potential undermining of voluntary food production standards in the UK as result of agri-food liberalisation under the Agreement. The Government must say what it will do to monitor, and potentially act on, this.”

I turn to climate change. It is deeply concerning to see that vital commitments made to this House on climate change in relation to the Australian trade deal are not being upheld. Alok Sharma, the COP 26 president, said in the Commons that the Australia deal

“reaffirms both parties’ commitments to upholding our obligations under the Paris agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5°.”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/12/21; col. 903.]

However, the final deal as negotiated does not uphold this important direct commitment. There is a damaging climb-down by the Government that represents a significant missed opportunity. The UK must be a world leader in tackling climate change, not only to deliver on our own environmental obligations but in recognition that this is a key, growing market for international trade. As a result, all our trade deals would be greatly enhanced through properly addressing the issue and setting out an ambitious joint plan for action. Britain should seek to be a world leader on climate technology; this must be a core part of our trade policy.

On the NHS, the general stance is that we think it should be off the table. Any assessment to be made is about making sure that this is the case, and not just going through the back door. Can we have some reassurance on this?

I turn to negotiation. On 14 November, in a general debate on the Australia free trade deal, George Eustice—who as Secretary of State for Defra was involved in the negotiations on the deal—said:

“since I now enjoy the freedom of the Back Benches, I no longer have to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed … unless we recognise the failures the Department for International Trade made during the Australia negotiations, we will not be able to learn the lessons for future negotiations … The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK … it has to be said that, overall, the truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return … In my view the best clause in our treaty with Australia is that final clause, because it gives any UK Government present or future an unbridled right to terminate and renegotiate the FTA at any time with just six months’ notice … What lessons should we learn? First, and most important, we should not set arbitrary timescales for concluding negotiations.”—[Official Report, Commons, 14/11/22; cols. 424-25.]

Those are damning criticisms from the Minister of the outcomes achieved by his then Government of this trade deal and of the wider strategy being pursued by the Government on international trade.

The chaos in the Conservative Party has caused severe delays to the promise of free trade agreements. It has cost the UK economy billions in potential export opportunities. The 2019 manifesto pledged that, by the end of 2022, 80% of UK trade would be covered by free trade agreements, including an agreement with the USA. The reality now is that these deals are far from complete, damaging exporters and the wider UK economy. Lessons must be learned around how the Government have conducted these negotiations and the lack of voice given to vital stakeholders in the UK, including the trade unions, during negotiations.

All of this is vital. We have learned from the UK Government that they are starting negotiations with other countries and trading blocs, including the CPTPP and its 11 countries, which the UK applied to join in 2021. The negotiations were to be concluded by the end of 2022; I do not know how far on we are, but an update would be helpful. Negotiations with the US started in May 2020, but a federal agreement is not expected soon. The Government have signed up to a memorandum of understanding. There is no current trade agreement between the UK and India, and negotiations started on 17 January 2022. We do not have a free trade agreement with any of the six states in the Gulf Cooperation Council—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE; negotiations started in 2022. Negotiations were launched with Israel on 20 January 2022, to update the existing UK-Israel agreement which largely replicates the agreement that Israel has with the European Union. When new deals are not in place, the majority of trading arrangements largely replicate those agreements that were in place when we were a member of the European Union.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will speak to the other amendments in the group, but I would welcome the Minister’s observations on these critical points.

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, who moved so eloquently his amendment. I lend my strong support to his Amendment 3, which encapsulates a discussion that was held at Second Reading by a number of noble Lords around the Chamber and previous legislation that we debated a year or two ago. I warmly welcome my noble friend the Minister to his place and am glad he has the opportunity to present this Bill in Committee.

It was very clear that the Trade and Agriculture Commission should have a role, and that the timing and sequence of that role in relation to trade agreements, or in this case procurement agreements, is absolutely vital. I look forward to my noble friend’s response to Amendment 3 and the other amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. I particularly associate myself with Amendment 3.

Amendment 7 in my name is a probing amendment. I draw the Committee’s attention to the Department for International Trade’s impact assessment for this free trade agreement, particularly page 32, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, also referred. Having been in touch with the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, I accept that it will be a beneficiary of this agreement going forward, provided that a chapter is included after the association agreement. It harks back to when we joined the European Economic Community in 1973 and were told that we would get cheap booze. Here we go again; it seems to be a relic of that time.

What is stark about table 3 on page 32 is the figures on food. Agriculture, forestry and fishing will take a change of minus 0.35%, a tumble of £48 million over 2019 figures; and, furthermore, semi-processed foods will take a tumble of 1.16%, which is a £97 million fall in equivalent growth value added. What is the issue that this Government have with farmers’ role in producing food, particularly in increasing the level of self-sufficiency? We are hovering around the 60% mark. Given the fact that we have a war on our borders, it is absolutely vital that we look to improve our food self-sufficiency. This has been recognised by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who remarked at the time of the leadership contest hustings last summer, which seems an awfully long time ago:

“We know that farmers are concerned by some of the trade deals we have struck, including with Australia. A Rishi Sunak-led Government will make farmers a priority in all future trade deals … We will maintain the highest standards of animal welfare, environmental protection and food safety.”

The problem that I have with the procurement aspect of the Bill—and with the Procurement Bill itself and the trade agreement with Australia and New Zealand—is that it is completely asymmetrical on farming, forestry, agriculture and processed foods. As the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, suggested, this goes to the safeguards. Normally, we have infinite safeguards: they are not time-barred. The noble Lord referred to these being between 11 and 15 years in length. For what reason are these safeguards time-barred? This breaks with tradition in other trade agreements, procurement agreements, or whatever the Minister wants to call it. It has been incredibly difficult to table amendments, so I really feel quite pleased that I have an amendment that passed go on this.

The reason that I referred particularly to lamb and beef in proposed new subsection (1) in Amendment 7 is that they are the two sectors where our farmers stand to lose out. Also, for 18 years I represented an area next door to where these are the prime products, and I grew up in the even more upland area of Teesdale. I am concerned about these two products in particular, as well as the other £48 million that we are going to lose in this sector.

We were told at the time of the general election that our food standards in this country would be respected, and not lowered for imported food. For what reason are we seeking to reverse that commitment given in 2019? In the next group of amendments, we will talk about the concerns of the Food Standards Agency, which were flagged up in its annual report for 2021—but why should we accept products, particularly lamb and beef, that do not meet the production and food safety standards in this country, and why are we not having permanent safeguards instead of those that are time-barred? I have a further question before I get too carried away: why are the tariffs harmful to British farmers and favouring New Zealand and Australian farmers?

My Lords, I apologise for not being present during Second Reading. At that time, I was suffering from Covid and was confined to my home. Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that I am now recovered and testing negative.

Amendments 7, 9, 15 and 17 in this group deal with the impact on British farmers and the environment. I will speak to Amendments 15 and 17 in the name of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, to which I have added my name and which relate to the chapters on farming and the environment.

The farming community in the UK is undergoing a period of considerable change and stress. Some of that is due to the effects of the war in Ukraine and the supply of grain, and it is also due in part to the shortages of chemicals and fertilisers. Mostly, however, it is due to the changes in farm payments on the withdrawal of the CAP, coupled with the slow rollout of the environmental land management scheme. We on these Benches fully support the aims of ELMS. A change in the system of payments for farming is long overdue. However, the way in which it is being handled by the Government, with the CAP being phased out before many aspects of ELMS are fully published and costed, has led to confusion and uncertainty among the farming community. Many farmers are keen to enter aspects of ELMS, but find insufficient information available for them to make a decision.

The UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world. These standards are not mirrored in other countries. In Australia and New Zealand, some animal- welfare practices exist that would not be acceptable here. Excellent animal welfare comes at a cost, and our farmers are extremely diligent in maintaining standards. There is extreme concern that imports of inferior animal products and goods from Australia and New Zealand will be cheaper and will therefore undercut our excellent British farming produce. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has already referred to the effects of this on farmers. Are the Government so desperate to have trade deals with countries outside of Europe that they are prepared to see our British farmers go to the wall in order to fulfil their ideology?

Amendment 15 would provide a safeguard in the form of impact assessments for livestock, arable and upland farmers, including those who are tenant farmers and those who run family farms. I am sure that the very large and conglomerate farms will be able to adjust to the import of cheaper, lower-quality produce. They have the quantity and capacity to do this, but it will be much more difficult, if not impossible, for those farmers who currently operate on the edge of viability, especially upland farmers. The production and publication of impact assessments will be vital to provide assurance for the farming community.

As a current member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, I am aware of the Government’s reluctance to provide impact assessments if they can possibly avoid it. However, in this case, it is absolutely essential—a necessity—that impact assessments be very fully drawn up and published. If the Government are committed to ensuring a thriving agricultural industry of our own, the Minister will agree to this amendment. I have also added my name to Amendment 17, which calls for impact assessments on environmental standards, food standards, animal welfare standards, and biodiversity.

Environmental standards, supported by the environmental targets, are currently the hot topic in this House. There are no fewer than three regret amendments tabled against three of the six environmental targets. Water will be debated later this evening, biodiversity later this week and particulates next week. The remaining three will be debated tomorrow afternoon. It is clear that all four of the categories in Amendment 17 are high on the agenda of both national and local politicians. The public are also extremely concerned. Both animal welfare and food safety feature high up the public agenda. Young people across the board feel that they have been let down by previous generations in loss of biodiversity and environmental standards. It is important to reassure the public and give them confidence in this vital aspect of the Bill by committing to impact assessments, with a publication date within six months of the passing of this Act.

I do not see this group of amendments as doing anything other than enhancing and improving the Bill. They will not wreck the Bill, but they could make a considerable difference to how the public and farming communities view the implementation of the Bill, and I hope the Minister will agree.

My Lords, it may be that I am not paying sufficiently close attention, but it struck me as rather odd that the starting point was a discussion of the advice that was given to the Secretary of State on 13 April last year by the Trade and Agriculture Commission in relation to the Australia deal and on 16 June last year to the Secretary of State on the New Zealand deal. The purpose of that advice was to answer a number of questions. To characterise them generally, they were, “Do these agreements undermine our statutory protections and our ability to protect animal welfare and human health?”—and, to characterise again, the short answer in each case was “No, it does not”. So it seems me that the starting point, not least of Amendment 3, is undermined. It seems wholly unreasonable to ask for a report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission when the TAC has already had the opportunity to give its advice to the Secretary of State.

The second thing that is missing from the debate so far is that Ministers have been very clear, not least in the letter that I think was sent to the International Trade Committee in the other place and to our International Agreements Committee, that they are committed to a monitoring report on both these agreements every two years and to a comprehensive evaluation five years after the coming into force. Some of these amendments look for earlier and more frequent reporting. I have to say, earlier reporting seems to be misplaced. It is going to take time to understand the impacts of these agreements, not least because, for example, the tariff rate quotas that are available for some of these products have not yet been absorbed, so the starting point for thinking about what is the base case for the impact of the agreements must at least allow for the possibility that, in the absence of the agreements, there might have been some increased importing from Australia and New Zealand using existing TRQs.

The third thing I want to say is about George Eustice, who I like. We have worked together, and I enjoyed working with him, but I have to say two things. Number one, if you subscribe to my view of collective responsibility—I see former Ministers in their places—it does not stop when you leave the Government subsequently. You subscribe to collective responsibility when you enter into government and you enter into collective decision-making. In my view, I stick to that—even, in my case, extending it to my coalition friends. If George Eustice did not agree with the decision that was made in relation to either of these agreements, the time to leave the Government and to leave collective responsibility was then, not at a subsequent point when he is on the Back Benches.

The second point to make about him—clearly, he said things that people will say are interesting for the future, not least on the setting of deadlines, while the Government have moved away from that idea—is that the principal argument he made about the risks associated with the agreement and food standards was the risk of the importation of hormone-fed beef. His argument that this was a risk was only because we might subsequently enter into the CPTPP and, under it, we might be subject to an investor state dispute resolution that would force us to dispense with our ban on the import of hormone-fed beef. These are extremely unlikely propositions. As the TAC made absolutely clear, despite the fact that a proportion of beef cattle in Australia are fed hormone growth promoters, none of them—nor their products—may be imported to this country, because we have a ban. So the risk presently does not arise.

That is the heart of the problem—as we will go on to consider in the next set of amendments. Since we left the European Union, there have been no checks at our frontiers to show to what extent the meat coming into this country observes the criteria to which my noble friend referred.

My noble friend simply makes the point that the Government should implement the legislation that exists. We have no need to change the legislation to ban the import of hormone-fed beef or the use of hormone growth promoters on beef imported into this country, since the legislation already exists. The point is its implementation—and messing about with this Bill does not change that at all.

I have one final point. As I turn to the CPTPP and sheep farmers, I should say that my sister-in-law is a sheep farmer in north Wales. She may take a view about the New Zealand agreement, principally because of lamb imports, but she has never mentioned it to me. She probably thinks that it is a pretty remote risk compared with the many risks that she has to put up with on a daily basis.

I am UK chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group; my noble friend Lord Howell, who is sitting on the Front Bench, was one of my predecessors. My Japanese friends tell me that we are making good progress on our potential accession to the CPTPP. There are clearly issues. In this context, if one were critical of the Government, it would be on the risks associated with the precedent of tariff liberalisation—to the extent that it was offered in these agreements—being used by other counterparties as a basis for their negotiations, not least through the CPTPP. They may seek that in the schedules that they are looking for from us before we are allowed to accede to the CPTPP. Notwithstanding that reservation, in the view of my Japanese friends, other aspects of the negotiations stand a fair chance of being completed in the first half of this year.

On the basis of what the Government have already said about impact assessment and reporting in the future, I think the amendments in this group in particular are not required.

My Lords, I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. There are two points to bear in mind, particularly about the agricultural concern. First, Australia is a very long way away; and, secondly, the big market for Australia and New Zealand is due north of them in East Asia, not over here.

I do not see even the hill farmers in Britain suffering seriously. I do not think that this will be a major target market for Australia and New Zealand. Let us remember the scale. This is a very marginal agreement. It is not a bad deal, but it is certainly not a big deal. It will not change much in our economy; even on the Government’s own estimates of the increase in GDP that might result as a consequence of these two agreements, it is really marginal.

So I am very doubtful about calling for a raft of impact assessments; it seems to me that that is not really necessary. The one amendment that might be necessary is Amendment 18, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, which takes us back to procurement standards. I can see a case for that, but not for looking sectorally across the agreements and calling for impact assessments in every case.

It would be reassuring if the Government could say something about the non-precedential nature, in their view, of the agricultural agreements with Australia and New Zealand. We read that the Canadians and the Mexicans are pricking up their ears and asking for the same terms that we have given to Australia and New Zealand. Those countries are much closer, and a major target market for both is Europe. If one were to look beyond them to, say, Brazil, Uruguay or Argentina, then I would say that the hill farmers in Britain would have a real reason to be concerned, if the Government were to follow the precedent of their deal with Australia and New Zealand, which is going to come in slowly, over time, and will be pretty marginal in its economic effects. If that were to be applied to trade with Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, there would be very serious effects on UK agriculture.

What we most need from the Government is not an impact assessment of the effect of the deals that they have done but an undertaking that, since very different considerations would apply, they would do very different deals with other future partners.

My Lords, I am going to focus on Amendment 5 as well, regarding the impact issue. I agree very much with the conclusion of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who has just spoken, but—I hope this does not sound too contrary—for the opposite reasons to those that he gave as to why we should not put too much faith in impact assessments. My opposite reason is that, far from this being a tiny issue that will not lead to very much, I think this opens a gateway into the gigantic trade expansion that is now going on throughout Asia, in which we simply have to be more deeply involved. I know we are trying to get into the CPTPP and other trade arrangements. We have to do so, and this is part of the gateway. I think this is a very big issue, not a very small issue.

At the same time, one’s faith in impact assessments in this House is pretty limited. Your Lordships will all have seen the report from a Select Committee, about a year ago, saying that impact assessments left a lot to be desired. They are particularly difficult when dealing with speculation and suppositions about how trade may develop in a very fast-changing world, and that has been recognised for some time. If we are now moving on, as Amendment 5 suggests, to impact assessments not only for the devolved nations but for the entire packet of English regions, the chances of getting anything in these assessments even faintly right in relation to the different regions in this country, with all their variety, is very slim indeed. The need for this huge exercise, which would take a great deal of work and a great deal of speculation, is not the point at all; we just want to get on with the purposes of the Bill.

I must apologise to noble Lords: I should have said when I spoke earlier that I have a sort of interest in all this, in that I am a member—just about coming to the end of my membership—of the excellent Constitution Committee, which produced a very interesting report on the proceedings in which we are involved now. It really is worth reading, and worth reiterating that that committee said that your Lordships should call on the Government and the Minister

“to explain during the progress of the Bill, rather than at third reading, what efforts it has made to secure consent and the reasons why, in its view, this has so far proven impossible.”

It does not say so but I think that is referring to Scotland. I do not know what kind of informal or other kind of consent has been achieved in the differental discussions with the regions, and with people outside England, that the Minister has already mentioned, or what prospects there are of getting those turned into good support and consent.

The Constitution Committee report also concluded that we ought to

“encourage the Interministerial Group for Trade to endeavour to ensure that, where devolved matters are affected, the making of any statutory instruments designed to implement these agreements, and any future free trade agreements”—

that is very relevant to what my noble friend Lord Lansley has just referred to—

“adhere to the principles of intergovernmental relations set out by the review.”

These are important matters and they ought to enter into our discussions at an early date, because if we do not get these things right this time then we certainly will not get them right on future occasions either.

My Lords, I apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading on this Bill. I am afraid that, like many others including my noble friend, I failed to dodge a couple of viruses and their aftermath recently.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly on this group, and in particular to support Amendment 15 in the names of my noble friends Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. This amendment reflects the concerns of UK farmers and has a particular relevance to Welsh farmers. It seeks to ensure that the Secretary of State reports on the impact of the procurement chapters on different types of farmers and farms. Here, for the first time in my nine years in this House, I find myself slightly at odds with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr.

With the trade deal set to provide a mere 0.08% boost to the UK economy, it appears that both New Zealand and Australia, with economies many times smaller than ours, are set to benefit. New Zealand, for example, will have access to a UK market of some 67 million people if it chooses to, whereas our farmers will find New Zealand, with its market of some 5 million people, a much less attractive prospect. Both New Zealand and Australia will have almost unfettered access to UK markets. This places UK and Welsh farmers at significant risk, with apparently almost nothing gained in return.

For those of us who live in Wales, there is an additional impact that will not appear in the list contained in this amendment but is nevertheless important to us—the impact on the Welsh language. Some 42% of our farmers speak Welsh, as opposed to 19% of the general population. They are the guardians of our language, traditions and culture. Anything that impacts on the viability of our farming communities will eventually impact on our language.

Our farmers are concerned about their futures and, as a recent edition of Farmers Weekly reported, this concern has resulted in a large reduction in the level of support for the Conservatives among UK farmers. Where 72% of farmers in 2020 said that they would vote Tory, now only 42% would do so. One supposes this result reflects the reality of “getting Brexit done” on our farming communities and fears for the future of farming. However, this is an opinion poll; what we need is hard evidence.

The Minister can perhaps suppose that this trade deal will be a great success; I can suppose that it poses a significant threat to our farming communities. Only a comprehensive impact assessment, such as the one called for in Amendment 15, can provide us, as legislators, with the evidence we need to justify our positions and decisions. Like my noble friend, I hope the Minister will agree to this amendment.

While I have the Minister’s attention, could I ask him to further comment on his assertion that eating New Zealand lamb is better for the environment than eating lamb from around the UK? Imported lamb from New Zealand can be produced to lower standards than our own foods, using methods that are unacceptable here. This is why my preference has always been for the taste and quality of Welsh lamb over New Zealand lamb. I fail to see how importing lamb from half way around the world makes that lamb better for the environment than locally produced and sourced lamb. Welsh lamb is among the most sustainable in the world, produced using non-intensive farming methods and high standards of husbandry. When the Minister responds to this group, would he care to take the opportunity to offer Welsh and UK farmers a few words of support in recognition of the work they do to produce such high-quality produce?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend. I agree with 99% of what she said—the 1% is that lamb from the Scottish Borders could even just edge Welsh lamb. But I will allow the Minister a life-raft after what he said at Second Reading: he does not necessarily need to choose between Scottish and Welsh lamb, he just needs to say that he will back British producers over Australian and New Zealand producers. He is the British Trade Minister, so he needs to bang the drum for our sectors.

We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, on whether George Eustice’s comments were in breach of the compact made in accepting everything bad that is done by your Government once you leave office. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is scrupulous in doing that and protecting the previous record.

I turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, on impact assessments. When it comes to the impact on some of our sectors, the Government themselves have touted the protective measures. They have indicated that this could go wrong and therefore that protective measures could be triggered. The NFU is quite clear that they are insufficient; nevertheless, Boris Johnson and others have said that there are protective measures and that we need not worry. So we need to know the baseline information about that—it needs to be transparent and open—otherwise we will not know whether we are getting close to understanding whether a triggering mechanism will be required or not.

As my noble friend Lady Bakewell indicated, we are starting from the basis that cattle and sheep production in the UK are having difficult times. I noticed, just this morning, from statistics on GOV.UK that this is the first time since 2012 that total UK meat production has

“decreased by 0.8% to 4.1 million tonnes.”

That is a reduction in cattle of 4.6% and in sheep of 9.5%. The sectors are having a difficult time, for a whole set of reasons that have been indicated, and therefore the last thing that they needed was an agreement that did not sufficiently offer a degree of protection that there would be like-for-like competition.

As we all know, this was an agreement of liberalisation, but it was a liberalisation from our end and not theirs, because they were already liberalised. So the only opportunities that could arise would be if Australia or New Zealand either seek or want to capitalise on that. The Minister made the point at Second Reading—he made it very clearly—that it was unlikely that they would want to take all the quotas and capacity they have now secured; he said that it would be unlikely that that would be the case. However, that does not recognise, as the NFU and others have said in very clear briefings, that it is not just the overall volume of imports; it is also what kind of cuts and meats they are and what kind of competition exists.

One thing that, I confess, I had not noticed—it was subsequently drawn to my attention—is that, unlike normal practice, this is an agreement on shipped product weight; it is not an agreement on carcass weight equivalent. That is absolutely desirable for the Australians and New Zealanders; they want to ensure that the good cuts for our markets will be shipped in a way that is super-efficient and is not an overall carcass-equivalent weight. That means that every percentage point that they increase on shipped product weight that comes directly to our markets will have a disproportionate impact on our own ability to compete with that, because our farmers are ordinarily trading on a carcass weight equivalent basis. Unless I am incorrect, I understand that we trade with the EU on carcass weight equivalent, but we are giving Australia and New Zealand the advantage of trading on shipped product weight. I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether that is the case.

My second point is about the Government’s own estimates, which say that we are likely to see a 5% contraction in the sheep sector and a 3% contraction in the beef sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, indicated when putting that in GVA terms, the NFU has calculated that that would result in £464 million lost to GVA. That is not an insubstantial sum when it comes to a sector that operates in some of our most remote and rural areas and, as indicated before, in areas that have received considerable challenge over recent years.

That is notwithstanding the point that there will of course be some exporters who seek to take advantage of the Australian aspect. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who spoke earlier in the group on an area on which I did agree: geographical indications. The point was raised at Second Reading, with faint hilarity, that we are going to be able to protect our geographically indicated goods only once Australia has signed its agreement with the EU. I wonder whether the Minister is encouraging the talks between Australia and the EU to hurry up that agreement in order to accelerate the protections that we are looking forward to securing. I would be grateful if the Minister could state whether that is so.

I mentioned earlier the really rather impressive report from the Australian Parliament with regard to environmental aspects, and why we need an impact assessment in this area. Just to preface this, I noted the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, when it comes to trade and agricultural advice. I read that advice, as he would expect; it was carefully worded with the questions that the Secretary of State asked for advice on—including, for example, whether the FTA mandated a change in our law. Well, it does not, so when the TAC says that this FTA does not mandate a change in our environmental laws beyond what we have committed, of course it does not. But that is not necessarily the question that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and others have been asking. What they were asking was: what is the space between the bar we have set, which is high, and the level that Australia has, which some argue is lower, that we will trade within?

For example, the TAC indicated that it was unlikely that we would have hormone-growth beef imported, but it did not exclude it. Similarly, it did not exclude the possibility that pesticides and fungicides that we have banned but are used in Australia could be imported. It is about this space where they are able to export to us by using practices which we have banned, but we have not changed our legislation. It is just that the space which exists is that difficult area, and the TAC was more cautious in its conclusions concerning that area.

Let me quote from the Australian Parliament’s report. Paragraphs 7.44 and 7.45, headed “Negotiating Objectives”, are quite interesting. They state:

“Australia’s negotiating objectives with regard to the environment were succinct: to ‘ensure high levels of environmental protection, consistent with international agreed principles, standards and rules’.

Paragraph 7.45 states:

“The United Kingdom’s … strategy for the AUKFTA was more comprehensive—stating it would use free trade agreements … to pursue strong environmental commitments and support the UK’s aims in the low carbon economy. The strategy reflected a view Australia’s environmental standards are not as high as the UK’s. Many of the UK’s identified negotiating objectives have been incorporated into the text of Chapter 22, though most were provisions often found in environment chapters, or incorporated using language such as ‘shall endeavour’ or ‘shall strive’, or committing the Parties to recognise the importance of such matters”.

I am not sure how much hard bargaining was required—although I will defer to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, who has done this a lot more than I have—to have agreement on both sides to recognise the importance of such matters, but it is there.

This led the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network to tell the Parliament that

“the commitment to address climate change did not contain any specific targets on emissions reductions and is a soft, aspirational commitment … new articles on the circular economy, air quality, marine litter, and sustainable forestry were aspirational and not enforceable …the process for proving a breach of commitments on not weakening environment protections to encourage trade and investment had a high barrier”.

So, where there is a concern, there is a high barrier to doing anything about it, while in other areas there are simply aspirational commitments. It is very important, across the whole breadth of these areas for our really important sectors—for beef and sheep in particular, as well as for the environment—that it is clear what the impact assessment is now and that we have clear reporting mechanisms.

This leads on to my Amendment 18, which I will jump to at the moment, which seeks a means by which one of the areas in the agreement that I welcome—the ability, quite particular to the Australia FTA, to include within our procurement social, labour and environmental standards—a mechanism to understand what those standards are and how they can be policed and clarity in guidance for our procuring authorities. The agreement also includes an environment working group; its processes must be public and it must regularly report on these issues, so we are seeking to help the Government facilitate that.

In Amendments 15 and 16, I refer to the impact on procurement. This is related because, currently, about 30% of Australia’s procurement goes to SMEs, and under the new Albanese Government the policy is that it should be 20%—they overshoot that by a considerable degree and they are very happy with that. This is relevant to the threshold question because, if a sub-regional authority has maintained a high threshold, below which it does not need to advertise—say, an education authority in New South Wales with a contract for food or any kind of crop—how will our businesses know about it? That 30% carve-out for SMEs reduces the space where we will be able to compete. The Minister referenced that in his letter to me, and I am still scratching my head as to why the Government think that British SMEs will equate to Australian SMEs. I do not think that is the Australian policy; I think it is to encourage Australian SMEs, not British SMEs. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that point.

Finally, I agree very much with the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Rishi Sunak simply cannot get away with making a commitment and, when faced with the mechanisms to deliver on that commitment, ignore it. So clarity from the Government on how this Bill, with this procurement, will support British farmers is fundamental. I hope the Minister can be crystal clear on that when he winds up this group.

My Lords, I begin with an apology that I did not at the beginning declare or direct noble Lords’ attention to my register of interests. There was a comment at Second Reading, and I hope I have ensured always that I am entirely transparent about my personal holdings, which I do not believe come into conflict with this debate. It is certainly worth ensuring that there is always full transparency, and I welcome any comments or question around that.

This has been a wide-ranging debate, and I thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions, particularly my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord Howell, for their helpful support, and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. This has been a broad debate about the free trade agreement between Australia and the UK and New Zealand and the UK. I am happy to cover some of those important points, but I start by taking the noble Lords back to what I said at Second Reading: that this is a Bill about procurement specifically. It seeks to change the UK’s current procurement regulations in a number of ways to implement commitments arising from chapter 16 of the UK-Australia and UK-New Zealand FTAs.

If noble Lords do not mind, I will go through them, because I think it is very relevant and important for this debate: after all, that is what we are debating in these amendments. These changes provide guaranteed legal access to Australian and New Zealand suppliers to the procurement opportunities covered by the FTAs, as we discussed earlier. They streamline the options for local government issuing notices for future procurement opportunities, which I think is current practice in large part and is right, in any event, for our own procurement update. They clarify that contracts of undefined value are in scope of the trade agreements. Again, I think most of us in this House will agree with that; contracting authorities trying to get around making sure they are covered by the procurement chapters by having unspecified contract amounts seems unreasonable, in my view. Having been, in my past, part of a small business tendering for these sorts of contracts, I think it is very important that that is clarified: it is extremely helpful, regardless of any trade agreement we enter into.

The Bill ensures that contracting authorities cannot avoid international commitments by terminating the contract process. This effectively means that if you think you are going to award a contract to a party that you do not like, for whatever reason, that is not according to the law, you can be challenged for that. Again, we would want those privileges afforded to us, and we, as good-government enthusiasts, would not want not to extend those privileges and rights to all contracting parties, frankly.

I think it is important for us to absorb those specific measures: it helps put the rest of these discussions in context. All these measures are logical improvements to our procurement system. They align with the Procurement Bill; they do not create additional work for tendering authorities, in the main; and they ensure that Australian and New Zealand suppliers are protected by our laws of fair play and good governance. They prevent unfair discrimination in contracting, and I believe the whole House approves of their ambition.

I turn to what noble Lords have raised in their amendments. On impact assessments, the Government have already published impact assessments. We have been discussing them. I have them here in my hand: they are weighty documents. These assessments, which were independently scrutinised by the Regulatory Policy Committee and rated as fit for purpose, include: assessments of the potential economic impact on UK GDP; the impacts on the nations and English regions; analysis on sectors of the economy and business, including small and medium-sized enterprises; and additional assessments on consumers, labour markets, environmental impacts and more. I am glad we have done these impact assessments: it has allowed us to have the debate, and we are well aware of the issues these impact assessments raise, which is why we have these debates. It has helped us, in turn, to ensure we negotiate the best possible deal for this country. So we have the impact assessments; they are alongside me now.

Additionally, as I reaffirmed at Second Reading, the Government have committed to undertake monitoring reports, and to an evaluation report within five years of entry into force of the agreements. These evaluation reports will cover a broad range of impacts across the whole agreement and will not be limited to the procurement chapters; it is very important that this is an impact assessment of the entire free trade agreement. To perform an assessment before two years, which I think has been suggested and was covered by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, would clearly be of little value and would also be costly to the taxpayer. If we are to have impact assessments, they have to have enough time to run so that we can see what the impact is. Clearly, the Government and all of us as individuals are keen to learn what those impacts will be, and I believe that they will be extremely positive for this country. To perform another impact assessment now would simply replicate work we have already done to no effect. It would cost the taxpayer and would delay implementation of our agreements. I think that position is made relatively logically.

The scrutiny arrangements we currently have in place also cover procurement. By way of example, I repeat the eloquent words of the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House, which remarked in its report on our trade deal with New Zealand,

“We welcome the inclusion of a procurement chapter that extends commitments above those provided for under the WTO Government Procurement Agreement.”

I note that some of these amendments—specifically, Amendments 3, 4 and 5 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, Amendment 7 in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Amendments 15, 16, 17 and 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—are seeking further review prior to the regulations being made from the Bill. I will address this point later on in my remarks after setting out what we are doing in the thematic areas raised in this group. I think that is important: it is right to have a debate.

On agriculture and farming, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling Amendment 7. She has illustrated her passion for UK farming over the years and draws on her extensive experience of chairing the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the other place. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, for tabling Amendments 3, 9 and 15, which similarly focus on farmers. I hope that I can provide reassurance to them all as to why these amendments are unnecessary. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, for her comments on this. Importantly, I encourage all noble Lords to enjoy locally sourced, grass-fed, delicious lamb, as I did last weekend in preparation for this debate.

It was locally sourced—that is my focus, but lamb from anywhere in the UK is delicious, as is all our produce.

I reiterate my personal passion for and commitment to this important sector of our economy and the people in our farming and rural communities who work in it. This is one of the most special and unique features of our nation. As someone who grew up on a farm—many of my family are farmers and I spend what time I have, when not here working with noble Lords to promote our free trade agenda, on a farm—I can say that there is no one more sensitive to and aware of the effects of these changes on farmers and their communities. I continue to bang the drum for our agricultural products whenever I travel around the world.

It is important to emphasise that this Government consider agriculture a key part of UK trade policy. We have made this a key focus in designing these deals. British farmers are among the best in the world, and we want to ensure that farmers and producers benefit from the opportunities provided by UK FTAs, while ensuring that appropriate protections are in place for the most sensitive products. This is why we have invested so much in concepts such as farming advocates around the world and why I spend a great deal of my time trying to get investment into agricultural technology developments that will ensure that our farmers are equipped for the future and can profit fully from this work. We are a world leader in agricultural technology and new methods of planting, harvesting and husbandry. We need to repoint this important discussion—I hope to do so in future—to focus on the possibilities for the future as much as to protect the treasure that we already have.

I acknowledge the concerns that noble Lords have raised, most recently at Second Reading, pertaining to the liberalisation of agriculture, in particular that of beef and lamb. The Government have sought to balance the benefits of free trade for UK businesses and consumers with robust protections for our agricultural industry. Within the Australia and New Zealand agreements, the Government have secured a range of measures to safeguard UK farmers, which my noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, wanted me to focus on in particular. I apologise if this is too detailed, but they include tariff rate quotas for a number of sensitive agricultural products, such as cheese and butter as well as beef and sheepmeat, product-specific safeguards for beef and sheepmeat from Australia, and general bilateral safeguard mechanisms that provide a safety net for industry.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, raised the very important point of whether this is a template for other free trade agreements. I stress that we look at every free trade agreement on its own merits; it is absolutely right that we should negotiate each one separately. What is in this agreement will not necessarily be replicated in other agreements, but I think that we have been very successful in the way we have structured these deals to provide safeguards and, as I have said in this Chamber before, the flexibility built into these FTAs to enable us to evolve the specifics over time. I hope that the broad concept and structure of how we enter these FTAs will be replicated and continue to be appointed as successfully as possible.

On agreements around agriculture and sensitive industries, we are clearly aware that every trade deal must be negotiated specifically to ensure that we get the best deal for this country. It is very important that we take the right amount of time to execute them. I hope noble Lords will join me in wishing our Secretary of State all speed in coming to sensible conclusions, while always ensuring that the quality of the deal is not sacrificed to try to conform to some arbitrary timeline. We want the best deals for the future, and it is important that they are specific to each country with which we sign treaties.

Within the Australia deal, the first measure—known as the tariff rate quota—lasts for up to 10 years. There was some discussion around this, so I would like to clarify it. Depending on the product, higher tariffs are automatically applied to imports above a certain volume threshold, known as the quota. The second measure—this is for the Australia deal—from years 11 to 15, is known as a product-specific safeguard, which has a broadly similar effect. It allows the UK to apply significant tariffs—for example, 20% for beef and sheepmeat—above a volume threshold. Additionally, on sheepmeat, if volume thresholds under tariff rate quotas in years 1 to 10, or product-specific safeguards in years 11 to 15, for sheepmeat are consistently filled, there will be an automatic reduction of the quota safeguards by 25%. That is very important. If we see a continued excess of imports in those products, we can then reduce the quota allowances to ensure that more pay higher tariffs. That is quite an innovative measure that has been put into these mechanisms.

My Lords, I think this goes to the crux of my amendment. The NFU has specifically requested an answer to why it is time-barred. It is 15 years, as my noble friend said, for beef and lamb, but for sugar it is only eight years and for dairy it is lifted after six years. Have there been time limits in previous agreements? I think probably not, given the EU.

I thank my noble friend for those comments. I do not know our previous treaty structures—those that were pre-EU were long before I was alive, but I am happy to see whether these have been replicated in other trade agreements. The point is that they are innovative, and they are designed to ensure that we can protect ourselves over a prolonged period of time, which I think is very important. We are not looking at immediate liberalisation in these sensitive areas; we are looking at having complex and well-thought-through mechanisms that protect our agricultural industry while allowing for the gradual liberalisation of our trade.

If I may carry on, it may clarify the answer to my noble friend’s question. The third measure, a general bilateral safeguard mechanism, will provide a temporary safety net for industry if it faces serious injury from increased imports as a result of tariff liberalisation under the FTA. This applies to all products. This protection is available for a product’s tariff liberalisation period plus five years, in order to allow domestic industries time for adjustment.

I hope the Committee is reassured to know that the New Zealand deal includes a range of tools to protect sensitive agricultural sectors in the UK. Tariff liberalisation for sensitive goods—for products such as cheese and butter, as well as beef and sheepmeat—will be staged over time to allow time for adjustment. There are tariff rate quotas on a range of the most sensitive agricultural products. These limit the volume of duty-free imports permitted and, in the case of sheepmeat, will be in place for a total of 15 years. A general bilateral safeguard mechanism, which provides a temporary safety net for industry if it faces serious injury, or threat of serious injury, from increased imports as a result of tariff elimination under the FTA applies to all products.

I raised at Second Reading why we do not expect products from Australia or New Zealand to flood the UK market from the current low levels at which they are imported. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, also raised this. The fact is that, in kilogram terms, 80% of Australian beef and 70% of Australian sheepmeat exports in 2021 went to markets in Asia and the Pacific. We would expect any increase in imports into the UK to displace other imports, probably those from the European Union, rather than compete with UK farmers. I think this is very important in the sense of where we see these exports going. We can be reassured that the main market for Australia and New Zealand absolutely is, at the moment, Asia. Further, diversifying the potential source of imports will help UK food security.

I point out that New Zealand already has a significant volume of tariff-free access into the UK for sheepmeat, but last year used less than half of that quota. That means that New Zealand could already export more sheepmeat to us, tariff-free, but chooses not to. I think that is something that we should bear in mind. In many instances, the quotas—particularly for sheepmeat in Australia—are not being utilised by a significant margin. That should give us some reassurance.

During this debate, noble Lords—my noble friend Lady McIntosh in particular—have also raised concerns over standards of production in Australia and New Zealand, particularly in relation to animal welfare and the environment. This is a very important point on which I want to reassure noble Lords. We are proud of our standards in the UK, which, importantly, we have retained the right to apply and to regulate in future. The deals do not provide for any new regulatory permissions for imports. All animal products imported into the UK must continue to comply with our existing import requirements—including hormone-treated beef, which was and remains banned in this country.

I am very aware of my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s comments about the Food Standards Agency. I will look into that, but I believe she is implying that there are no checks at our borders for imported meat products, and I would be completely surprised if that was the case. I will certainly look into it, but I am reassured by my officials that we run a coherent inspections regime, and that will not change. It is very important that we feel reassured that we have this regime. In fact, the reports I have read from the Trade and Agriculture Commission have referred specifically to that.

On animal rights and welfare—which is a particularly important issue to me personally—I spoke to Minister Watt, the Australian Minister for Agriculture, last week. In particular, I went to see him to discuss his commitment to this area, which he reiterated to me significantly. He also updated me on the progress of appointing a new inspector-general for animal welfare; I think the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, will be pleased to hear that.

The independent Trade and Agriculture Commission —a body my noble friend Lady McIntosh was instrumental in establishing—concluded on this point that the UK-New Zealand and UK-Australia FTAs do not affect the UK’s statutory protections for animal and plant life and health, animal welfare and the environment, and in some areas actually strengthen the UK’s right to regulate. It concluded in relation to the UK-Australia deal specifically that

“the FTA does not require the UK to change its existing levels of statutory protection in relation to animal or plant life or health, animal welfare, and environmental protection.”

I raised these points at Second Reading, and I believe I used that quote then. I hope I have made it very clear that our standards and protections do not change on account of our FTAs with Australia and New Zealand—I ask all noble Lords, please, to hear this. The TAC continued:

“even to the extent that the FTA imposes greater trade liberalisation obligations on the UK, as it does, for example, by reducing customs duties, the UK not only has the same rights as it would under WTO law to maintain and adopt protections in the areas covered by this advice, but in relation to animal welfare and certain environmental issues it has even greater rights than under WTO law.”

I take this opportunity to say that this is not the end of the agreements but the beginning. These deals also establish a forum for the UK to raise concerns, co-operate and share information under the FTA committee structure. This structure spans the whole of the FTAs. For example, the UK-Australia FTA provides for sub-committees covering technical barriers to trade, working groups on animal welfare, dialogues on legal services, and numerous other sub-groups and committees that will allow us, if we feel at any point that these FTAs have issues, to raise this with our trading partners formally or through other mechanisms to ensure that we come to a resolution.

I appreciate that I have gone into some detail—

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Since the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned the TAC letter to the Secretary of State when it reviewed the agreement, let me quote just one part, because I am having difficulty squaring what the TAC said and what the Minister has just said on environmental aspects of the agreements. The TAC report says that

“we determined that it was likely that products affected by the practice at issue would be imported in increased quantities under the FTA. This was true, for instance, of plant products produced using pesticides and fungicides that are not permitted, or being phased out, in the UK.”

If the Minister is so clear, I do not know how it is possible that we will import under the FTA increased amounts of products which use things we have banned here.

I always appreciate the noble Lord’s interventions. Hopefully, I will cover this issue as I go through my notes. I will continue to go through these points because they are important, and it is important that noble Lords hear from me the relevance we place on these discussions. This really is the meat, as they say, of the free trade debate, although I do not see that it relates specifically to this Bill. I appreciate that I have gone into a lot of detail, but these are important issues. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his comments and to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh for tabling their amendments in the interests of our frankly brilliant farming communities. I hope I have to some extent been able to reassure them that their amendments are not required.

Turning to Amendments 4, 13, 14, 17 and 18 from the noble Lords, Lord Lennie and Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on environmental, social and labour considerations, I want to reassure the House that both the Australia and New Zealand FTAs include comprehensive chapters that cover labour and animal rights and commitments not to derogate from environmental and labour laws, to reaffirm our climate commitments under the Paris Agreement and to strengthen co-operation in a number of areas. The Government are committed to upholding the UK’s high environmental standards, and we will continue to ensure a high level of environmental protection in our trade agreements.

These chapters also include commitments not to derogate from laws, regulations and policies in a manner that weakens or reduces the level of animal welfare protection as an encouragement for trade or investment between the parties. For example, the UK-New Zealand agreement contains the largest list of environmental goods with liberalised tariffs in any trade deal, supporting both countries’ climate and environmental goals through trade policy. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, touched on that—the importance of trying to ensure that we benefit in the area of net-zero in particular. We have that specifically in our treaties. Provisions included under these FTAs went further than both Australia and New Zealand had previously gone before.

I turn to the review of negotiation and Amendment 12 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. This would create a duty of the Secretary of State to undertake and publish a review of the lessons learned from negotiating the procurement chapter. I agree that learning the lessons from negotiations is crucial to the UK getting the best outcome from them. Indeed, we already do this, so it is not necessary to create a statutory requirement to undertake such a review. All negotiations are different, as I have said, but my department is committed to learning from each negotiation and applying those lessons directly to its work, both in chapters and across negotiations. DIT has a continuous improvement team dedicated to learning lessons from trade negotiations. I am confident that this approach towards negotiating procurement chapters allows for high-quality chapters that work well for British businesses and consumers. I hope this provides reassurance to the Committee.

On SMEs, which are very relevant and relate to Amendment 16 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, I reassure the Committee that the procurement chapters of both agreements include articles on facilitating the participation of SMEs in procurement. Both chapters also include provisions on continuing to co-operate with Australia and New Zealand to facilitate participation of SMEs over the lifetime of the agreements.

We worked very hard to ensure that SMEs were engaged before and during the negotiations. Indeed, Lucy Monks of the FSB gave evidence to the Commons on the engagement the Department for International Trade has carried out with SMEs. Hopefully, what she said is heard:

“The Department for International Trade has been talking to us and other bodies about encouraging opportunities. It is an ongoing process.”

I know the department is extremely keen to see these agreements brought into effect. We are very serious about our ambitions to support SMEs in trade, and we seek a dedicated SME chapter and SME-friendly provisions throughout all our trade agreements, as we have done in these ones. I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this issue during the passage of the Bill; however, I do not believe his amendment is necessary, given what the Government are doing to support SMEs and appropriately assess the impact of our trade deals on this vital part of our economy.

In concluding, I wish to return to the point on impact assessments being required prior to any regulations being made. In addition to the reasons I gave earlier in relation to what the Government have already done on impact assessments in each area raised, requiring further assessments to be done before regulations can be made would delay the entry into force of these agreements, as I am sure noble Lords will agree. This would delay the point at which UK businesses and consumers could benefit from the advantages of these agreements with Australia and New Zealand—an outcome to which I simply do not believe your Lordships’ House aspires.

We have covered a lot of ground in this debate, but I hope I have been able to demonstrate in each important area the wide range of work and analysis that the Government and other groups independent of government have done and will do to ensure that these specific issues are addressed. I ask noble Lords to withdraw or not press their amendments.

My Lords, that was a long one. We have been here for half an hour listening to the response on what is essentially a fairly simple set of amendments about impact assessments and reviews.

I start with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who brought up the behaviour of his right honourable friend George Eustice. I am quite grateful to George Eustice, because he wrote my speech for me when he was critical of this agreement to the degree that he was, but I would say that you are going to get that kind of discipline back into the Tory party only when it becomes a single party. There are at least three Tory parties continuously at war with each other. It seems to me that, as long as that continues, it is good for us but not so good for the Tories. We have been there before ourselves; we are not in that position now, thank goodness. We will see what happens with that one.

The Minister listed the areas where impact assessments have already been undertaken or are no longer necessary, but Labour’s stand is that climate change, the NHS and the regions were missing from that list. It seems to me that the purpose of an impact assessment in a trade agreement is to give a more precise prediction of what is expected in these areas from the agreement, then the reviews measure whether the impact assessment proved to be about right, wide of the mark or different. The Minister said that this does not set a precedent for other agreements, but it does, whether he likes it or not. Everyone will be looking at this agreement, as it is the first one, and will be looking to make predictions about their own position in relation to the UK as we come to trying to make agreements with those countries. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, is right: the nearer we are to import products, the higher the risk for the UK. It is an obvious statement, but Australia is as far away as we can get. It does, however, have an impact. This agreement has a bigger impact than just the pounds and pence that it will produce for the UK and Australian economies.

With those remarks, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment; we will probably return to this issue at a later stage.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Amendments 4 to 6 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

Debate on whether Clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.