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Britain's Place in the World

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 15th October 2019.

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Photo of George Hollingbery George Hollingbery Conservative, Meon Valley 4:47 pm, 15th October 2019

It is a pleasure to speak on the Gracious Speech for the first time in my parliamentary career. I will focus narrowly on the trade Bill, which made its way through certain stages in the last Session.

The outline of the Bill looks moderately familiar—one might even say it is groundhog day—and we need measures to adopt the provisions of a transition agreement, to set up the trade remedies authority, to accede to membership of the agreement on government procurement and to collect data about importing and exporting. Well, that is pretty much what the last Bill did. This time round, if we need the Bill to proceed, I hope those core parts will be passed by both Houses reasonably quickly.

Plainly, we have achieved rather more than Opposition parties thought we would in renegotiating the terms of EU trade agreements into a UK form, with some 70% of those agreements now on the books. Most of those agreements, because they have been passed and adopted by the EU, are on the UK books anyway, so I do not believe these measures should be particularly contentious.

The trade remedies authority currently operates in a shadow form, which cannot be the right way of handling things. The trade remedies authority is incredibly important to all of us in this House in the context of a long-term trade policy. Labour Members who represent industrial constituencies and who see unfair competition from abroad on ceramics, steel and building materials should be keen to see this provision on the books. World Trade Organisation rules on this are extremely complex. They demand enormous amounts of evidence on the breach of the terms of trade and, quite rightly, they impose high barriers in the way of restrictions to trade. Part of that is about having a stand-alone body that can do this to show independence from Government and that there are no political issues that the proposed measures are to satisfy. I urge all Members to make sure that, as and when this Bill comes to the House, they take due regard of the industries they would want to protect if this Bill does not pass with that measure included in it.

After that, I would hope that the measures to adopt the general procurement agreement and our accession to it will be easy for everyone to understand: access to $1.3 trillion of international procurement opportunities seems to me to be very worth while. The information sharing across Government about what people might or might not be exporting is also extremely important. I stress now that at least in the last Bill that was a voluntary issue and was included so that exporters and importers knew as much about themselves and their sectors as did government. That is all in the context of what derailed the Bill last time around, and we need to be plain about that.

It is clear to me that the rights and responsibilities of the devolved nations are recognised when we start to negotiate free trade agreements. Devolved nations have clear responsibilities. Certain parts of trade—of the economy, at least—that are devolved to those nations will have an impact on how we frame FTAs. It is clear to me that the devolved Governments must have their say as we put together our mandate and the negotiations with third party countries. I met the Ministers in the devolved Governments several times and worked extensively in the Department to try to ensure that we came up with a decent offer. I believe that offer was the right one, and I hope very much that the Department will note that we cannot lose sight of this issue. We work much more strongly and produce much better FTAs if we can be sure that the devolved Governments will come with us on that journey. I am convinced that they will, as long as they are treated fairly and properly.

Secondly, we have to address the way in which we scrutinise FTAs in this place. Once again, it is time for the House to look carefully at itself and its rules, and understand that these are important issues that will bind this country for the long term into arrangements with third party countries. These things have effects in the British economy that are not even necessarily directly related to what is in the agreements themselves. Furthermore, lots of them have 20-year run-off periods, so these arrangements cannot easily be undone, even by this House, even if it wants to do so. The Command Paper put to the House of Lords when we brought this Bill into the Lords last year detailed clear scrutiny mechanisms and a dedicated Committee for treaties. This was backed up again by the Constitution Committee of the House of Lords, which was recommending that the way forward that the Command Paper had outlined was the right one, and it is the one the Government should be pursuing. I add one rider: it seems to me that in this circumstance there is still debate to be had about whether the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and the way in which we ratify treaties in this country is sufficient for FTAs, which are a very different sort of international agreement from many others. One has only to look at the complexity and the amount of paper involved in any one of these agreements to understand that further scrutiny might well be required.

I have a few more notes for the Department and for the House. We must continue to understand that market access negotiations with third party Governments, outwith FTAs, about difficulties in trading in their countries are every bit as important, not just to individual companies, but to the economy as a whole, for our trading internationally as FTAs. We must not lose sight of the fact that most trade Departments dedicate two thirds of their resource to market access and one third to FTAs. We must also take account of the environment and our 2050 targets when we strike new FTAs. How we can possibly reach our 2050 target if we pursue endless new FTAs that endlessly increase GDP—after all, that is what they are there to do—is a conundrum that the Department and this House will have to crack.

Should we get to a point where we are trying to pursue another trade deal with the EU, please let the Government not forget that we have very experienced trade negotiators in the Department for International Trade who could well assist—believe me, that has not been the case so far. Finally, for the whole of Africa our representation through the DIT there is paid for by £3 million-worth of spending. Do we really think that is right? I do not and the DIT should have more funding.