Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 16 December 2020.

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Second Reading

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 2:52, 16 December 2020

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The UK will regain full control of its borders at the end of the transition period on 31 December. Irrespective of the ongoing negotiations with the European Union regarding a free trade agreement, the Government have been clear that there will be additional requirements for people and goods travelling to the EU. Since the Trade Bill is unlikely to pass and receive Royal Assent before the new year, we need to ensure that there is no gap in the Government’s ability to share the information that we already collect and hold in order to mitigate any temporary friction from the end of the transition period. That is what this Bill achieves, replicating the Government amendments made to the Trade Bill—clauses 8 to 10 —which is currently passing through the other place. These powers are critical to support the use and sharing of trade-related data between Government Departments and public bodies. They will ensure that there is no lapse in their ability to do this at the end of the transition period before the Trade Bill achieves Royal Assent.

In summary, the Bill will allow the effective use of Government data to ensure the smooth flow of people, goods and services after the end of the transition period. The Cabinet Office’s border and protocol delivery group—the BPDG—is leading work to ensure that our borders are robust and efficient, establishing a borders operations centre to monitor and manage flow through the border and support mitigation of any disruption.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

The Bill is relatively uncontroversial. However, the flow of information in itself will not be enough to deal with the situation we are likely to face in the new year. How concerned is the Minister by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs’ report that the Welsh ports, in particular, are at an unacceptable risk of not being ready for whatever faces them at the beginning of next year?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which was well put. I appeared before the Welsh Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry, and I read its report in some detail at the weekend. We are working flat out across Government to ensure that all our borders and ports are ready. It is the purpose of the borders and protocol delivery group and of the borders operation centre to make sure that we are ready. We are confident that we have done everything we can to ensure that we are ready on our borders for 1 January, but I have read the report and I noted what it had to say. The Government will be responding in due course.

These powers are critical to support the use and sharing of data related to trade. As I mentioned, a border operations centre will monitor and manage flow through the border and support the mitigation of any disruption. To facilitate that, the Bill will ensure that the Government make the best use of the data they already collect and hold, and reduce inefficiencies and bureaucracy for business. It will support better services by permitting data on the flow of international trade to be shared and analysed, and by helping to identify and resolve the root cause of disruption. It will allow the Government to use data more effectively to plan new controls at the border, ensuring that security is maintained, that new requirements are introduced seamlessly and that any temporary friction is mitigated.

We recognise that the Bill has been proposed on an expedited schedule, and that hon. and right hon. Members attach great importance to data security, so I would like to reassure the House that the Bill contains measures to ensure that the permitted use of the data it facilitates is discretionary and specific. The Bill does not create any additional powers to collect data, and it applies only to the public bodies specified and only where those public bodies are satisfied that the data use would support a Ministers’ functions relating to trade. It creates an offence of unlawfully disclosing information, and ensures that data sharing remains subject to general data protection regulation and Data Protection Act protection. Regarding the expedited schedule, I should emphasise that all these measures have already been subject to substantive scrutiny in both Houses during the passage of the Trade Bill, through the relevant clauses, without further amendment. The Bill also contains a sunset clause, which will ensure consistency with the powers being delivered through the Trade Bill.

Clause 2(9) provides the power for a Minister of the Crown to add public authorities to the data-sharing gateway. As this power would include the ability to add devolved Ministers, it has the potential to alter the executive competence of devolved Administrations. In accordance with the Sewel convention, we are seeking consent from the devolved legislatures, and I have written to Ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to begin this process.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I apologise for intervening on him once again. Is that the reason that the Welsh Government are not specifically included in clause 2? Are the Government waiting for the legislative consent motion to go through, after which the Welsh Government would be included as one of the groups that would be part of the data sharing? What is the reason for the Welsh Government not being included in clause 2?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Actually, I will have breaking news. I think that the Welsh Government have given legislative consent to the Bill this morning. Secondly, we have very good and constructive engagement with the Welsh Government, particularly with Baroness Eluned Morgan in the other place. I might add that we did not have that constructive engagement actually in the other place, but via Zoom. We have had very constructive engagement with the Welsh Government to ensure that we have the ability to work together to manage these aspects. Trade is obviously a reserved power, but it has an impact on devolved competences. For example, the management of highways around ports is firmly in an area of devolved competence, so making sure that the two Governments can work together is extremely important.

During the passage of the Trade Bill, we have undertaken a significant programme of ministerial and official-level engagement with the devolved Administrations. That has enabled us to respond to requests, including those related to data-sharing gateways, to assist them with their devolved functions. As the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill replicates clauses in the Trade Bill, I will be making the same two commitments to the devolved Administrations on data sharing that we made during Committee of the Trade Bill in the other place.

First, the data shared under clause 2 will be used by the border operations centre being established by the Cabinet Office to develop strategic insights about the flow of trade and functioning of the border. The Cabinet Office is committed to sharing strategic analysis related to flow of trade where it will support the more effective management of flow through the border. The Cabinet Office will continue to work closely with devolved Administrations to ensure that relevant analysis and information can be shared to support devolved functions relating to trade and management of the border. Secondly, the UK Government commit to consulting the devolved Administrations before any devolved authorities are added to the list of specified authorities that can share data under clause 2.

Regarding the expedited schedule that we are using today, I should emphasise that all these measures have already been subject to substantive scrutiny in both Houses during the passage of the Trade Bill through the relevant clauses, without further amendment. As I said, the Bill contains a sunset clause, which will ensure consistency with the powers being delivered through the Trade Bill.

This Bill is necessary to ensure that Government can use this information properly to minimise disruption at the border following the end of the transition period. It is limited in scope and contains specific safeguards to prevent inappropriate or excessive use of data. It is a procedural but vital Bill to support readiness for the UK to take back control of its borders, minimise any temporary disruption to the flow of people and goods, and support the development of smart processes and frictionless trade that will support businesses and citizens alike. That will, in turn, underpin the delivery of a world- class border fit for the UK’s future as an independent trading nation, protecting our country, strengthening our economy and growing our international trade. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (International Trade) (Brexit and EU Negotiations), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) (Brexit and EU Negotiations) 3:01, 16 December 2020

I am pleased to respond to the Bill for the Opposition. The Bill has only emerged within the last couple of days, so I would like to thank the Minister for his efforts to work co-operatively with us on it and for the virtual meeting that he had with me and the shadow International Trade Secretary, my right hon. Friend Emily Thornberry. I would also like to thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for his office’s liaison with regard to the legislation.

The Government are bringing forward this legislation at some haste, not out of choice, but out of necessity. They need these clauses on the statute book by the end of the transition period to prevent disruption and to best tackle any relevant issues. This, of course, was never meant to be a Bill, and it may not last on the statute book for more than a few weeks. These clauses belong in the Trade Bill, which is still in the other place, and it is simply because the Government have run out of time that they are shoving them through as a stand-alone Bill. This has certain echoes of the negotiations on our future relationship with the European Union, which are running a little too close to the wire too.

We welcome preparedness for the end of the transition period, and we support this effort to minimise disruption and allow data sharing between HMRC and other bodies, such as local councils and resilience forums. However, this is another case of the Government pulling together a last-minute attempt to paper over the cracks that they have created by their failure to conduct the negotiations within a suitable timescale or, indeed, to meet any one of the deadlines—I think there have been five—that the Prime Minister has set for their conclusion. The Minister’s letter to MPs on the Bill tells us:

“The backup vehicle for these clauses would have been the legislation to implement any deal, but without a clear outcome regarding trade negotiations with the EU, we are doing the responsible thing by putting forward standalone legislation to ensure clarity at the end of the year”.

No “clear outcome” is a mild way of describing the current chaos, and let us be clear: the responsibility for that lies with the Prime Minister.

The Trade Bill, of which clauses 8 to 10 more or less make up the Bill in front of us, was first brought to the House in 2017—more than three years ago. Since then, it has been reborn, it has been amended and it has been scrambled into some quick fixes. The Opposition would like the Trade Bill to make its way on to the statute book before it reaches another anniversary; we are looking forward to seeing it back, and I will come on to that point.

Essentially, the Trade Bill was written to provide for accession to the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on Government procurement, the rolling over of trade agreements with non-EU countries prior to 31 December, the creation of a UK Trade Remedies Authority and this data-sharing provision for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The Minister will recognise that the Government have achieved the first three on that list by various means, and the fourth with this Bill.

However, we are concerned that that might leave the Trade Bill itself in the long grass—as the Minister knows; we have talked about this informally—allowing the Government to avoid some of the commitments they have now made, as contained in the Trade Bill after the excellent work in the other place. Principally, those amendments enshrine protections for the national health service and social care in any trade deals, ensure that trade deals secured take into account the human rights record of our trading partners—something that is clearly of great concern to the House, as evidenced by the urgent question earlier today—and increase parliamentary oversight by providing improved scrutiny mechanisms.

Those amendments are welcomed by the Opposition and, I am sure, by the Government too. We look forward to debating them when the Trade Bill returns, so I invite the Minister to commit to concluding the passage of the Trade Bill by the end of January and allowing the sunset provisions in clause 4 of this Bill to take effect by then. That will replace this Bill and allow the Trade Bill’s clauses to supersede it.

The Trade Bill is on Report in the other place now, and I think that will continue in the first week of January, so we feel that is an appropriate target and a deadline that the Government might make this time. I ask the Minister to commit to that. That commitment would ensure that we do not lose the Bill and that we have proper scrutiny of the very many excellent amendments being tabled in the other place. I look forward to that commitment being made as we debate this Bill this afternoon.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 3:07, 16 December 2020

It is a pleasure to rise in support of this Bill. When I saw that we had six hours to debate this Bill and only 10 speakers down to speak, I thought that at last I might have just enough time to begin to outline some of my thoughts on this particular measure.

Behind that, there is a serious point, as we enter the Christmas and new year period: too often this year there has been very little time for anyone making a speech in this House. We are frequently limited to two or three minutes, and not all of us are, as Lincoln, able to summarise our thoughts in 272 words or less. If it is possible for you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to talk to the Speaker to see whether there are ways of amending that in the new year, it would be a very nice new year’s resolution.

While I am in that spirit, perhaps I may address a comment to the Minister. Frequently this year, and maybe for good purpose, the Government have come forward with measures a day or two ahead of their being placed before this House, and they have then gone through the House in a single day. For minor measures such as this one, there is very little to be concerned about, if questions are answered adequately by the Minister, as I am sure they will be. However, the Coronavirus Act 2020, and any potential free trade agreement with the EU, are very significant measures to be passed in a single day, and I am not sure the governance of this country is fully served by such oblique reference to the legislature.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

The hon. Gentleman stood last year and was elected, as were the majority of Members of this House, on a manifesto that included an unconditional guarantee of a free trade agreement with Europe. Do his comments of a few moments ago indicate that he now is not convinced that a free trade agreement with Europe is the best way forward?

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

No, I have full faith in my commitments in the manifesto and in the election, and full confidence in the Prime Minister. I only wish that the separatists from the Scottish National party would have the same full confidence in their words ahead of any referendum on their future, but that is not for today.

I want to press the Minister on some issues largely to do with information. I think he has mentioned some of them, but it would be reassuring to have them more fully expanded upon, because information is the currency of modern wealth creation in many instances, and it is certainly a source of competitive advantage.

I am not clear—perhaps the Minister could clarify this for me—to what extent the permissions in the Bill relate to sharing information solely within the borders and boundaries of the United Kingdom, and to what extent any such information will be shared with third parties. What reassurance can the Minister provide that the scope and format of data sharing, either within Ministries or externally, will not result in a loss of competitive advantage to an individual business, an industry sector or the nation state?

It would be helpful to have a little more clarity from the Minister on the scope of data. He explained that it is to do with trade, but that is a very wide-ranging remit. He said that it is to do only with data that is currently held by public bodies, but public bodies in this country hold almost every piece of data imaginable on us as individuals and on corporations and business activity. Perhaps he cannot say explicitly what will be included, but what sorts of things might be included? Perhaps he could also explain what might be excluded.

Will the Minister clarify that no demands will be made for new data disclosures, essentially protecting people from other burdens—additional data that may be required —in this short period? If there may be demands for additional data disclosure, what might they be?

What provisions are there for the anonymity of data, particularly in relation to the sharing of data with other nation states? Even if the data is at commodity level, that may be a concern. Some sectors have one or two main UK providers, so just because the data is at the level of a standard industrial classification code does not necessarily mean that it does not disclose information that may be relevant to a particular competitor.

I think the Minister was clear about the oversight of data rules in the case of a breach, saying that existing legislation will be covered. If that is not correct, perhaps he could advise us.

A particular bugbear of mine is HMRC’s influence over the Government, which is undue in many respects at the moment. Can the Minister assure me that the provisions of clause 2(4) will specifically restrict HMRC from cross-sharing data with other elements of its work, most explicitly to do with the taxation of enterprises in the UK?

I was interested to read that clause 2(11) defines a public authority as

“an authority exercising functions of a public nature,” which did not seem to take me very far at all. Will the Minister advise whether the phrase “a public nature” is a defined term in law? If it is not, will he explain what it might mean? Does it include, for example, regulatory agencies, private organisations that are fulfilling public contracts, or organisations that are recipients of public moneys, all of which one could claim are “exercising functions of a public nature”? It would be helpful to get some scoping of what is included here.

The Opposition spokesman and Peter Grant referred to a trade deal with the EU. There has been some press speculation—it is just speculation—that the European Union, in its discussions, has proposed pre-emptive tariff regimes as part of its approach to the UK. Can the Minister reassure me that no provisions of the Bill would require information to be disclosed to the European Union as part of a negotiation of any pre-emptive tariff regime in the intervening period? I think that is highly unlikely, but because there has been some speculation, it would be useful to have clarification.

When it comes to agricultural products—the Opposition spokesman mentioned this, but I emphasise it in particular —many people who are farming producers or who are interested in food standards are very reassured by the Minister’s amendments to the Bill, both in this place and in the other place, regarding food standards. As many farmers will be looking particularly intently at this Bill, will he provide reassurance that nothing in this Bill will do anything to undermine the measures under- pinning standards on agricultural products and trade in agricultural products?

I shall give up my ambition to fill six hours and retire, not hurt but early. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade) 3:15, 16 December 2020

The Minister, perfectly reasonably, described the Bill as, in essence, providing the legal basis upon which information can be disclosed and shared between public authorities to ensure that Ministers and those organisations can fulfil their obligations in terms of trade functions. That is perfectly reasonable—nothing wrong with that.

Indeed, the explanatory notes make it very clear that we need such a measure in any event, whether we have a deal—a good deal or a bad deal—or no deal in barely two weeks’ time, so this is absolutely necessary. I share the shadow Minister’s concern that the Trade Bill was not completed in its entirety. It is incomplete, and therefore we have to introduce a measure that may have a very short shelf life indeed.

I have one question on Second Reading, in relation to clause 1. The Minister rightly referred to the devolved Administrations potentially being added to the list of public authorities in clause 2, but clause 1(1)(b) already says that the Revenue may disclose information

“facilitating the exercise by a devolved authority of the authority’s functions relating to trade”.

That is already on the face of the Bill, so it does not need to be added in relation to the Revenue’s ability to disclose.

The Minister will be aware of the Scottish Government’s priorities in this regard. Ivan McKee’s letter to him on 12 August said:

“Our priority is getting timely and comprehensive access to the HMRC’s trade microdata, which sits behind the HMRC’s overseas trade statistics and regional trade statistics covering both exports and imports. This company-level data contains variables, such as: company reference number, date, flow, type, value of trade, quantity of trade, weight, commodity code, country of origin, destination, port of entry, dispatch, etc. These variables will allow the Scottish Government to analyse Scottish trade over time, sector, product and destination at a more detailed level than is currently published by the HMRC.”

That is a statement of fact, but given that clause 1(1) permits HMRC to disclose information connected to a devolved Administration to allow them to fulfil their obligations in relation to trade, can I just check with the Minister—I am sure this is correct, but I would be happy to have it on record—that this is not simply permissive, but that it is actually the Government’s intention to provide the data from the Revenue, as provided for by the Bill, to allow the Scottish Government to do accurate work in relation to their trade functions? I am sure that is the case, but it would be very helpful to have it on the record.

In case the Minister thinks he is going to get off with just that, it is worth pointing out that the letter of 12 August also says:

“That does not mean we support the UK Government’s proposed trade policy more generally.”

In terms of our demand for more parliamentary scrutiny, and so on, that is perfectly reasonable.

The Minister described the expedited timetable for this Bill, and my goodness, it is seriously expedited—just one day. Let me just gently say to him that, given that the explanatory notes said that we are going to need a measure like this in any event, if we had not wasted time on the pointless, meaningless, futile United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, whose avowed purpose is to break international law and engage in a power grab from devolved Administrations, we might perhaps have had time to have a rather less expedited look at this, including questions on access to and sharing of data, and where and who might have access to it. That might be quite difficult—although frankly, given how few people there are here, not so difficult—in the timetable that we have available.

I have no problem with supporting this Bill on Second Reading. There is one cause of concern that we will raise in Committee—and hopefully the Minister can provide good, strong answers to it—but, as it stands, we certainly have no intention of opposing, at this stage, the legal basis on which to share information.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 3:20, 16 December 2020

I echo much of what the Labour and SNP spokespeople have said. There is little that can be added, certainly with the Bill being brought forward in the manner that it is today and the time that we have. That is indicative of the shambles of the Government’s handling of our exit from the EU and the end of the transition period. I am not sure how the Government expect industry and business to be prepared for 1 January when this expedited legislation illustrates just how unprepared the Government themselves appear to be for the end of the transition period.

The Liberal Democrat party and I agree that we do need, upon leaving the EU, legislation to make trade deals with other countries, but perhaps we are in this situation because many of us do not agree that the Trade Bill—the original Trade Bill—is the way to do it. It has failed on several counts, but particularly in setting out proper procedures for parliamentary consultation, scrutiny and approval of future international trade agreements.

This Bill is, as the Minister said, necessary in order to allow our authorities to function properly on 1 January. However, if the Government expect, understandably, this place to recognise the need for flexibility to cope with this lack of preparedness, surely businesses and companies across the country should be able to expect a similar understanding. I appeal to the Government to recognise, and urge the Minister to take back to his colleagues, the need for an adjustment period for businesses to implement change, because if we are going to accept that this is a difficult period, as it is because of the lack of the deal on which we are still waiting for word, then surely business can demand the same sort of understanding that the Government are asking of the House.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary) 3:22, 16 December 2020

I am very pleased to be able to speak in this Second Reading debate. This is actually the first time I have spoken in the Chamber since I contributed to the debate on the Chancellor’s financial statement immediately before lockdown. The reason for that is that I believe it is incumbent on all of us not to be here unless we absolutely have to. I greatly regret the fact that the Government have not brought forward proposals to reactivate the full remote participation in debates that we had for a short time earlier in the year.

Obviously I did not travel down here to take part in this debate, because we did not know that it was taking place. I did so because of two important pieces of secondary legislation on the Order Paper that are no longer there. I was on the train yesterday morning on my way down especially to speak on those two items when I got an email saying that they had been pulled and asking if I would mind contributing for the SNP on this one. Rather than have a situation where the taxpayer was paying for me to travel from Fife, have a couple of nights in London, and then go back up again when I did not need to be here at all, I was tempted to make sure that they got their money’s worth, and every penny of it, by taking up the full three hours that is allocated to this Second Reading debate. However, my reading of the mood music is that that would not endear me to anybody here or to anybody else, so I will not do it.

That trivial example of the impact that this has had on my planning for today is a tiny fraction of the bigger picture. The only reason this Bill has had to come forward at all just now, and the reason it is having to be brought forward in such a hurry, is that the Government do not have control of the process. A process that was supposed to be about Parliament taking back control is now seeing Parliament having its business chopped and changed at a few hours’ notice. At the moment, the hundreds of people who work here—not just MPs but staff of the House of Commons—do not know whether they will have to come to work next week. The Prime Minister wanted to ensure that everybody had certainty as to the rules about visiting loved ones at Christmas, but Members and staff of the House of Commons do not know for certain whether they will have to be at work at the start of that period. Parliament is not in control of the process, and the Government are not in control of the process, and it is difficult to see whether anyone is in control of the process.

I fully understand that we now need to get this legislation through in a hurry. I was unhappy about some details of the coronavirus legislation, which Richard Fuller mentioned earlier, but I fully understood the need to get it on the statute book as quickly as possible. The emergency we face now is not of the same type; this emergency is entirely of the Government’s making. It is not the fault of those who voted in the referendum four and a half years ago. Those who voted to leave had a reasonable right to expect that the Government would have delivered on their wishes before the last minute, as is happening now. Not only are the Government not delivering on time; they are not delivering at all. They promised to deliver a free trade agreement with Europe—that was in the manifesto and was mentioned several times—but they have not delivered that.

The explanatory notes to the Bill indicate that parts of it would have been needed even if we had that free trade agreement with the European Union, but the vast majority of it would not have been, and we certainly would not have been under this exceptional time pressure if the process had been managed by a Government who were competent had some idea of where they wanted to get to, instead of being continually obsessed with where they were trying to get away from.

As the Minister said, and as others have alluded to, the Bill simply extracts a few clauses from a Bill that has already been through a detailed scrutiny process, and that eases the concern a bit, but the wider problem is still there. What other emergency legislation will the Government have to bring through, possibly before 31 December, if not very early in the new year, that we do not know about and that has not been through the full scrutiny process as part of another piece of legislation? This process is supposed to be about Parliament taking back control, but I have never seen so much legislation having to be rushed through Parliament, with little time for scrutiny and with some of that legislation possibly having a profound effect on the lives of people and on the way the economy gets back on its feet when the covid pandemic is finally brought under control.

As for the detailed content of the Bill, my hon. Friend Stewart Hosie, who speaks from the Front Bench, referred to some of the issues. I think the Minister gave assurances in his opening comments that all the requests the Scottish Government made in relation to this Bill and the main Trade Bill have been picked up. In effect, this Bill picks up parts of the Trade Bill as amended with the agreement of the Scottish Government. As my hon. Friend mentioned, the fact that the negotiation of international trade treaties is reserved to Westminster does not mean that the devolved Administrations have little or no responsibility for making trade work for their countries, their communities and their businesses. A lot of the decisions taken by the United Kingdom in the negotiation of trade agreements can be made to work only with the full involvement of the devolved Administrations.

I understand that there have been discussions—I do not know whether at Minister level, officer level or both —over the past few days about this Bill, and I would certainly commend that if it has taken place, but there needs to be much closer and much more co-operative working across the four nations than there has been until now on Brexit. Otherwise, we will find that legislation and trade agreements that are passed purely at the will of Government Ministers in London will have little relevance, or sometimes a negative effect, for Governments, Administrations and citizens in other parts of the United Kingdom.

When we, presumably, agree to the Bill later, I hope that those comments will be borne in mind. I would also appreciate it if the Minister could tell us in his closing remarks what other emergency legislation he is aware of that the Government expect to bring before the House between now and 31 December.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam 3:29, 16 December 2020

Clearly, this is a significant but quite straightforward technical Bill, as the Minister set out. However, last year the Government led people to believe that they had a deal ready to go. They said we were all set to sever ties with Europe and go our own way. In the last few weeks, we have heard Ministers spinning the airwaves, desperately trying to explain that the oven-ready deal they boasted about referred only to the withdrawal agreement and not the substance of the trade deal with Europe. Mr Deputy Speaker, if this is an oven-ready deal, please remind me never to take up an invitation to Christmas dinner with the Minister, because clearly this is just not good enough.

Today, after three long years and repeated promises that things would be sewn up by now, the Trade Bill has yet to pass into law. This House has yet to discuss the amendments from the other place, and the Government have yet to guarantee that in any future deal we will not see regression on our environmental, food, animal welfare and agricultural standards. There have been no guarantees on protections for our NHS, no guarantees on full parliamentary scrutiny of any future trade deals and no guarantee that human rights will remain enshrined in our future trading relationships across the globe.

Instead, just two weeks before the end of the transition period, we are discussing a non-controversial, technical proposal, which allows HMRC to share data with other bodies. People with an eye on this Chamber would be forgiven for thinking that Ministers are making this up as they go along. Either that or they are using this quick-fix, rushed legislation to kick the Trade Bill into the long grass and avoid tackling the amendments from the other place on protecting the NHS, parliamentary scrutiny and human rights. I hope that is not the case.

What assurances can the Government give that the Trade Bill will not be unduly delayed and kicked down the road, following this Bill? What assurances can the Minister give me that they will uphold any amendments on protecting the NHS and social care in trade deals? If, as Ministers claim, this Bill is not a replacement for the wider Trade Bill, when can we expect that Bill back in the Commons?

Enough of the spin and delay. Businesses are crying out for clarity on arrangements after the transition period. The Government must commit to the full passage and implementation of the Trade Bill, with full consideration of the amendments, support for human rights, and protections for our NHS and environmental, agricultural, food and animal welfare standards.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (International Trade) (Brexit and EU Negotiations), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) (Brexit and EU Negotiations) 3:32, 16 December 2020

With the leave of the House, I shall briefly respond to the debate on behalf of the Opposition.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. Richard Fuller disappointed me: I was so looking forward to him utilising the six hours. However, he made important points about scrutiny, additional data disclosures, anonymity of data, cross-sharing within HMRC, and food and agricultural standards, to which I shall return.

Stewart Hosie, speaking on behalf of the SNP, was right to highlight the time wasted, and the trust and confidence in this country consequently eroded, by the consideration of aspects of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. Christine Jardine made a good point when she asked how businesses can be prepared for our departure from the transition when the Government themselves clearly are not.

Peter Grant made an important point about our parliamentary proceedings during the pandemic, which the Opposition hope the Government will reconsider. He was more modest than the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire: he was aiming for only three hours. Again, however, he disappointed us by not taking them. However, he made the important point that the Government are not in control. The repercussions of that are felt not simply in this House, but by businesses and on jobs across the country.

My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour Olivia Blake made some important points, to which I will return, about the maintenance of protections and scrutiny.

This Bill is about the management of trading relationships and allowing that to happen as smoothly as possible. On those future relationships, I hope the Minister will agree that the amendments made to the Trade Bill in the other place strengthen it and that any delay in its continued passage would not be appropriate. The Labour amendment to the Trade Bill on the first day of Report, which protects the NHS and social care from trade deals, is clearly essential. Now the US President-elect has been confirmed, many may feel there may be some reduction in concern about that, but it remains of paramount importance that our public services are protected.

The urgent question that we considered before we moved to the Bill was on the appalling treatment of the Uyghur people. It demonstrates the serious concern about human rights abuses across the world that is felt on both sides of the House. It is vital that our trade deals recognise that, and in the other place colleagues have amended the Bill to require trade negotiations to be preceded by an assessment of the other country’s human rights record. That undeniably sensible and responsible check and balance is backed up by another check, which means that, before any deal is ratified, Ministers will be obliged to show that it will comply with the UK’s human rights obligations. Finally, the Government would produce an annual report on compliance with rights laws by trading partners, and all these would be presented to the relevant committees in the Commons and the Lords, with the possibility that the courts could be used to challenge trade deals that breached rights standards.

Just last night in the other place, the Trade Bill was amended to improve the accountability of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, providing for parliamentary scrutiny, which would much improve the process. We have to accept that CRaG is wholly inadequate, as it leaves whether there is a debate and vote entirely in the Government’s gift. Such a debate and vote in Parliament happen only after the agreement is signed. There is no scrutiny of negotiating objectives or texts during negotiations.

This is done far better in other countries. We talk often about being “world-leading” in circumstances where that transparently does not apply. In this context we must recognise that other countries conduct scrutiny of trade deals much better. For example, in the US scrutiny involves unions, businesses and civil society. The amendments made in the other place at least allow for debate through which those points can be raised and the voices of those affected can be heard. So this Bill must pass, but there are wider questions about scrutiny and trade policy across the Trade Bill that require attention. I look forward to the Minister’s assurance that that will happen early in the new year, and that we can look for the Bill being concluded by the end of January.

In the explanatory notes to the Trade (Disclosure of Information) Bill, the Government state:

“The Cabinet Office is establishing the Border Operations Centre to manage and mitigate potential disruption caused by the new border requirements at the crucial moment of transition. Without the data sharing clauses, Cabinet Office will be limited in the data it can receive from other departments, which will significantly hamper its ability to provide the single version of truth for flow of goods through the border, including a commodity level view of flow across the border (such as medicines and food supply).”

Does the Minister accept that, without the deal promised by the Prime Minister—the oven-ready deal for which the nation voted last December—which will deliver barrier-free and tariff-free trade, the potential disruption will be far worse? We are two weeks from the end of the transition period, but this Bill will not provide a silver bullet for managing trade smoothly after 31 December. It is the deal that the Prime Minister promised a year ago and signed up to in the political declaration at the start of this year that will deliver

“no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors”,


“workers’ rights, consumer and environmental protection”,

keep people safe with a

“broad, comprehensive and balanced security partnership” and indeed ensure the protection of the Good Friday agreement through the proper implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. That is where the Government’s focus should be right now, and should have been to ensure that we would have, as the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire said, the opportunity to debate in full the provisions of any agreement reached in good time, and to conclude that process to enable businesses to be ready.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 3:39, 16 December 2020

To respond to what I think has been a very constructive debate on Second Reading of this Bill, can I first welcome the tone that has been set? Paul Blomfield and his neighbour—I think she must be his neighbour—Olivia Blake, made similar points about the passage of the Bill. I have to say that nobody, I think, would be more pleased than I to see the Trade Bill finally reach Royal Assent, as during my previous time at the Department I was here at the Dispatch Box introducing that Bill in the spring of 2017. I am told that the overall passage of the Trade Bill then and now has involved some 130 hours of scrutiny and debate. Peter Grant, who did preface his remarks by saying he had not been here to debate for some time, and I understand his reasons for that, may have implied there had been insufficient scrutiny of some of these measures. I can reassure him that there has been very extensive scrutiny. But I do say a couple of things.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Could I just correct his understanding of what I said? I made it perfectly clear that I appreciated that this Bill in another way has had significant scrutiny. My concern is that there might be other emergency legislation on its way through the pipeline that we will not have time to give sufficient scrutiny. That was the point I was making.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I appreciate the hon. Member’s clarification. It certainly is not my job to outline whatever other legislation may be out there. That would be entirely a matter for the Leader of the House of Commons, who, as we know, made a statement on other legislation earlier this week.

The Member speaking for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, says that he supports the Bill, he supports the continuity agreements, he supports its procurement measures, he supports the trade defences, he supports the data sharing—but he has used every available opportunity to vote against the Bill. He voted against it on Second Reading, he voted against it on Third Reading and it has been voted against at every available opportunity by the official Opposition and by the Scottish National party as well. He says that the concern is that we might kick the Trade Bill into the long grass. No, we very much want the Trade Bill to get Royal Assent as soon as possible. It has very important provisions in it, such as allowing domestic law to remain amendable for continuity trade agreements and the Trade Remedies Authority. It is a very important piece of legislation.

But I did welcome the hon. Member’s commitment to conclude the Trade Bill by the end of January. I see the current Government Deputy Chief Whip here—the Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household, my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew. As a former Government Deputy Chief Whip, I and, as a former Chief Whip of the Opposition, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will know that that is not entirely in the hands of the Government and that, actually, it is very much as well in the hands of the whole of Parliament. But I will take that as a submission to the usual channels that the official Opposition want the Trade Bill to achieve Royal Assent by 31 January, which is what the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said. I will take that as a submission of the Opposition’s intent—good intent—to get it through as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member says he was against CRaG, but I remind him that it was the last Labour Government who introduced CRaG. His boss, Emily Thornberry, actually voted for CRaG. He also propagated this deliberate confusion about the oven-ready deal. It is quite clear that that referred to the withdrawal agreement that the House of Commons voted on a year ago. I would just ask him: is he going to support the further trade deal, if there is one, with the European Union? We have heard silence from the official Opposition on that.

To turn to Stewart Hosie, who also had a very constructive tone, in areas of devolved competence we have been clear. I am repeating the same commitments made at the Dispatch Box during the passage of the Trade Bill, including in the Committee stage of the Trade Bill, that he remarked on at the time and he will remember well. I am making those same commitments today. Overall, we wish to work with the devolved Administrations, particularly in areas of devolved competence, where they have a clear role, such as the management of highways, around ports and other things that relate to facilitating trade.

The hon. Member added, notwithstanding that, that he did not want me to think this was a sudden conversion, with him agreeing with the Government trade policy—definitely not. As I have pointed out from the Dispatch Box a few times, the Scottish National party has not supported a single trade agreement proposed either here or in Brussels.

I reassure my hon. Friend Richard Fuller that these are not new measures in any sense. They are taken directly from the Trade Bill. The HMRC powers were published in 2017. The further powers were published in July on Report. We are introducing this legislation purely because the Trade Bill probably will not get Royal Assent before 31 December.

I reassure my hon. Friend that there are safeguards on the data. It is data that is already collected. There is no new disclosure of data. Specific named authorities are discretionary to support a Government Minister’s function in relation to trade. In terms of such things as anonymity, the existing restrictions around the General Data Protection Regulation and the UK Data Protection Act 1998 kick in. On taxation, there are already strong measures in place to protect the data of taxpayers. The Bill is clear that data can be shared only where disclosure would support functions related to trade. It could not be disclosed for any other purposes.

My hon. Friend also asked about a private company performing a function on behalf of a public authority. That is possible, but it would operate under the same restrictions and the discretionary powers would apply—GDPR and so on. He asked me for a Dispatch Box commitment on agriculture and food standards. Our commitment is absolute. The commitment that he and I made individually and collectively in our general election manifesto this time a year ago continues as well.

Christine Jardine called for an adjustment period, which I think is a new term for a transition period. She is calling for a transition period from the transition period, which would increase uncertainty. The UK is leaving the single market and the customs union on 1 January, and an indeterminate postponement of that would, by definition, only increase uncertainty.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I am going to finish now. The purpose of the Bill is simple: it allows the Government to use data that they already hold, in order to ensure the smooth flow of traffic, goods and people across the UK’s borders at the end of the transition period. The Bill will support better services by permitting data on the flow of international trade to be shared and analysed. The Bill does not create any new powers, but brings forward critical powers that are needed from the end of the transition period to ensure that the Government and public bodies can use the information that they already collect.

We have had a good debate, carried out in an excellent spirit, and I thank all Members for their contributions. My thanks also go to the Government Opposition Whips, of course, who have ensured that the Second Reading has run effectively—particularly under your direction, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That will be it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).