Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement: Scrutiny

– in the House of Commons at 12:39 pm on 19th July 2022.

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Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 12:39 pm, 19th July 2022

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Trade if she will make a statement on the Australia-UK free trade agreement and the scrutiny process.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I have been asked to reply. Our Anglo-Australian trade deal will play an important role in levelling up the United Kingdom. It is expected to increase trade with Australia by 53%, boost the economy by £2.3 billion and add £900 million to the wages of hard-working households across our country in the long run. Her Majesty’s Government have stated on a number of occasions that the agreement will be ratified only once it has passed its statutory scrutiny period under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 and, in addition, the necessary implementing legislation must have passed.

Her Majesty’s Government have made extensive additional scrutiny commitments, which include allowing a reasonable amount of time for the Select Committees to produce reports prior to the statutory scrutiny period under CRaG. We further set out that, for the Australia deal, this would be a period of at least three months. In actual fact, double the amount of time has now been provided: the agreement has been available for scrutiny for over six months. I should also point out that, before starting CRaG, Her Majesty’s Government published two reports to support scrutiny: the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report on 13 April, and the Government’s own report under section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020 on 6 June. Both reports were provided to the relevant Select Committees prior to publication to support their scrutiny work.

Her Majesty’s Government have now started the CRaG process, following this six-month scrutiny period, which was in addition to the statutory period provided for by CRaG. By the end of the CRaG period on 20 July, the treaty will have been under the scrutiny of this House for over seven months. The House will undoubtedly have benefited from reports from three separate Select Committees—the International Trade Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and the International Agreements Committee in the other place.

In addition, the agreement can only be ratified once Parliament has scrutinised and passed the implementing legislation in the usual way. The agreement requires primary legislation, and the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill is currently before the House of Commons and will have its Second Reading in due course. This legislation will be fully scrutinised and approved by Parliament in the usual way. I should point out that we expect Australia to conclude its parliamentary process before we do. Therefore, any delay to our process slows the deal’s economic benefits from being felt across Britain.

Let me say this to my hon. Friend: he knows that my brief usually covers other markets, but the principles remain the same. In my view, it is important to strike the right balance between the scrutiny of trade deals and bringing them into effect in a timely way so that our consumers and businesses can reap their full rewards. I believe that the balance is right, and that this House and my Department should continue to harness the power of trade to create jobs, boost wages and secure prosperity.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question on the Australia free trade agreement. The UQ is supported by the whole International Trade Committee and the Chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil, who cannot be with us but is here in the guise of his favourite Scottish export spirit—whisky, of course. The Chair of the Select Committee and I have very different perspectives on the Australia free trade agreement, but despite that we both wholeheartedly believe in the need for scrutiny in this place of that agreement.

This is the first wholly new trade agreement that we have signed since leaving the European Union, but unfortunately it has not had the scrutiny it deserves. On 8 October 2020, the then International Trade Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, said that

“we will have a world-leading scrutiny process, comparable with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. That will mean the International Trade Committee scrutinising a signed version of the deal and producing a report to Parliament, a debate taking place and then, through the CRaG…process, Parliament can block any trade deal if it is not happy with it.”—[Official Report, 8 October 2020; Vol. 681, c. 1004.]

I ask the Minister whether the Government are still committed to that point of principle. The Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, the Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food and the Secretary of State for International Trade have made those commitments to right hon. and hon. Members of this House, and we deserve our say on a trade agreement that makes a significant difference. On the Australia free trade agreement, the Government began the 21-day CRaG process before the International Trade Committee had even produced its report and even before the Secretary of State had come before us to defend the agreement in the first place. The Government refused to grant the Committee’s request for 15 sitting days between the publication of the section 42 report and triggering CRaG, thus denying us more scrutiny. As I have already said, the Government have failed to provide a Minister in good time and good order. In relation to the first report the Committee wrote on this, the Secretary of State was asked eight times to come before the Committee to discuss the agreement. She only did so a week and a half ago. The Government have failed to provide a debate and a vote on the agreement, so will the Minister, as the Liaison Committee and many other Members across the House have asked, delay ratification for the further 21 days and allow us to have a proper debate on this issue? Will he ensure that every future free trade agreement is signed and drawn through the CRaG process, as you have suggested, Mr Speaker? Will he ensure that Ministers are made available to discuss trade agreements ahead of time?

We are asking for nothing that we have not been promised at the Dispatch Box. It is time we are given that.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

We have a system that compares very well with other parliamentary systems around the world. We will not be extending the CRaG period, given the extensive scrutiny time that Parliament has had—as I set out earlier, seven months by the end of the period—and we will not be able to offer a debate. The Secretary of State said that she felt the agreement could benefit from a general debate, but that is a matter for business managers in this House. The Labour party was very keen to have another debate yesterday, which took a whole day of parliamentary business from this House.

The section 42 report is there to inform the scrutiny period, not create an additional scrutiny period above and beyond CRaG. We published that report on 6 June. As my hon. Friend says, it was sent to the International Trade Committee, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the International Agreements Committee in the other place on 27 May to ensure they had ample time to consider the report. There is a balance, as I say, between ensuring sufficient time for robust scrutiny and ensuring agreements come into place quickly. I think we have got that balance right.

On CRaG, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 was introduced by the Labour party. It gave the opportunity for parliamentary disapproval of treaties statutory effect and it gave the House of Commons the power to block ratification. Members across the House will know the answer to that. I am more than willing to set out the process, but in the interests of time and allowing people to come in I shall sit down for now.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

I am grateful for the granting of today’s urgent question and I congratulate Anthony Mangnall on securing it.

The Government’s failure to make adequate parliamentary time available for a debate on this trade deal is completely unacceptable and a clear breach of promise. Lord Grimstone wrote in May 2020:

“The Government does not envisage a new FTA proceeding to ratification without a debate first having taken place on it”.

The Select Committee has, rightly, been scathing about the way the Government have handled scrutiny on this issue and about their premature triggering of the 21-day CRaG process without full Select Committee consideration being available to Members. Today’s clear rejection of an extension to the CRaG process is, yet again, unacceptable behaviour from the Government.

The truth is that Ministers are running away from scrutiny. Might Ministers be running away because of the Select Committee’s report stating they lack a “coherent trade strategy”? Or might the Government be hiding from scrutiny because of the chaos at the Department itself? Members do not have to take my word for it. Yesterday, the Secretary of State was saying of her own Minister of State for Trade Policy, Penny Mordaunt, that there has been a

“number of times when she hasn’t been available which would have been useful and other Ministers have picked up the pieces”.

That is her own Minister. Maybe the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, Mr Jayawardena, is one of the Ministers who has been picking up the pieces. Or might Ministers be hiding because of the lack of progress in their trade policy, with no comprehensive trade deal with the US in sight?

There are profound consequences for our agricultural sector from the Australian deal that Ministers should be open about and accountable for. Is it any wonder that Australia’s former negotiator at the WTO said:

“I don’t think we have ever done as well as this”?

To put it quite simply, when are Ministers going to stop running away from their own failure?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I think that, actually, we have a very good deal that the Government should be proud of and which will benefit the British people. As I said—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not listening—this will increase trade with Australia by 53%, boost our economy by £2.3 billion and add £900 million to household wages in the long run. In fact, £132 million of exports already go from Wales to Australia. We want to boost that even further to benefit the people of Wales and his constituency.

As for what my noble Friend Lord Grimstone said, processes for the other place are a matter for the other place. It is clear that the Labour party is so focused on process that they are not focused on securing the benefits for the British people of Brexit.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Mid Sussex

The Minister recently joined the second SussExport event at Wiston House, which aimed to boost Sussex trade and our global reach. This is a vital first trade deal. Does the Minister believe that its positive delivery will boost crucial further success, including more jobs, meaning that it can deliver on the SussExport objectives?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

My hon. Friend did a great deal to create jobs across the United Kingdom in her previous role and she continues to bang the drum for her constituency. It was a pleasure to visit the SussExport event. I believe that tariff-free trade for all British exports will deliver great benefits for businesses in Sussex, including the Bolney wine estate, which I look forward to visiting with her in due course.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade)

This deal will punish the food and farming sectors—that is not my conclusion; it comes from the Government’s departmental advice. Those civil servants join the National Farmers Union of Scotland, the National Farmers Union, trade experts and academics. The Prime Minister’s former food tsar has outlined Australia’s

“abysmal record on deforestation, animal welfare and climate”.

The benefits of the deal are pennies compared with the amount that we are losing from not trading as much with our EU neighbours. The Minister is a temp, in place under a lame-duck Prime Minister in a dysfunctional Government. Why is this deal not being brought forward for parliamentary scrutiny, as was promised in this Chamber? Why are the Government flouting their own advice? Why are they happy to sacrifice the food and farming sector? Why would they press ahead with the prospect of job losses, higher food bills and fewer safeguards on food standards? This deal should be halted until we get answers. Scottish households, farmers and businesses deserve better than these acts of wilful harm. They must be given the chance to choose better than this place.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I see that the hon. Gentleman is in his usual mood, talking about trade in one way in the Chamber and the opportunities of trade outside it. The truth is that £333 million of exports from Scotland go to Australia. We want to boost that in the years ahead, and this deal is the way in which we can do that. He refers to me as a temp, but he might want to look at employment law, because I have been in this role for 26 months. I am very pleased that we have now secured trade agreements with 71 countries around the world, covering trade worth £800 billion. That is how we are delivering for the British people. He talks about Britain’s departure from the European Union. Of course, he wants to depart from the United Kingdom, breaking away from the British internal market, which delivers for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the impact on agriculture of this deal, with reference to our need to maintain our domestic food production as a strategic sovereign capacity?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

My hon. Friend is rightly thoughtful in this area. Food security remains important. As a result of the challenges faced in the last 26 months because of covid and the war in Ukraine, I have seen this for myself. It is right that we back our farmers. It is really important that we seek new markets in which they can secure greater value for their products, which will encourage them to continue to farm more land more productively. I assure the House that the Trade and Agriculture Commission said that the deal does not require the United Kingdom to change her existing levels of statutory protection in relation to animal or plant life, or health, animal welfare and environmental protections, so there is no threat in that regard.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

I sit on both the International Trade Committee and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The latter is doing an inquiry into CRaG. We heard clearly from legal experts last week that it is unprecedented for the Government to ratify a treaty before the implementing legislation has been passed. The fact that the Government are trying to ratify the treaty through the CRaG process before that is surely problematic. In addition, the fact that CRaG only allows a treaty to be stopped through a debate and then a vote in this Parliament means that the denial of a debate is the denial of the CRaG process, in the spirit in which it was written. I beg the Minister to reconsider his foolish urgency on this matter, delay CRaG by 21 days—that would not delay the ratification of the treaty, because the implementation legislation is still needed—and give us a debate.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I do not think that seven months is rushing anything. This agreement can be ratified only once Parliament has scrutinised and passed the implementing legislation in the usual way.

Photo of Jack Brereton Jack Brereton Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent South

There are huge opportunities from the Australia trade agreement for the ceramics industry in Stoke-on-Trent. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that we get on with delivering that and delivering the jobs and opportunities for industries in the midlands and the north?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

My hon. Friend has done great work at the Department for International Trade and I am delighted that he has championed the Potteries today. The wider region and the west midlands as a whole make £37 million-worth of exports to Australia. He is absolutely right that this deal, unlocking the benefits of Brexit, will secure new opportunities for businesses across his region and beyond.

Photo of Mark Hendrick Mark Hendrick Labour/Co-operative, Preston

In October 2020, the then International Trade Secretary—the current Foreign Secretary—set out the CRaG process for Parliament to have a say in the scrutiny of international treaties. This procedure should allow Parliament 21 sitting days to scrutinise the final text. It is disgraceful that adequate time has not been allocated for proper parliamentary debate in this Chamber and scrutiny of the first trade deal to be negotiated from scratch—the Australia-UK free trade agreement. Is it not the case that the Government are becoming arrogant and no longer feel that they need to be accountable to Parliament for their actions? What sort of precedent does this set for the scrutiny of trade agreements?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

Officials from my Department and the Secretary of State have given evidence to three separate parliamentary Committees on six occasions since the Australia deal was signed in December. There is clearly a lot of scrutiny and this Government are making themselves accountable to the British people through Parliament. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act allows the Commons to resolve against ratification. He will know that process because it was introduced by the last Labour Government.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

I congratulate my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall on securing this important urgent question. The Minister knows that I have enormous respect for him—he is one of the most diligent and effective Ministers—and there is much to commend in this deal, but many of us made a great number of reassurances to our farmers and food producers that there would be a debate on the Floor of the House following promises that were made at the Government Dispatch Box. What am I meant to say to farmers across Rutland, Melton, the Vale and Harborough villages when they ask why I was not given the chance to have my say in a debate on this important trade deal?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

My hon. Friend champions food production, including the opportunities for pork pies to be exported around the world. I look forward to making sure that the tariff-free arrangements from this deal deliver for farmers in her constituency and beyond. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade Policy also believes that this is really important—as the Minister responsible for this deal—and the Secretary of State has long talked about the opportunity, as has the Foreign Secretary, for food production across the United Kingdom in seeking new eaters around the world.

Photo of Sarah Green Sarah Green Liberal Democrat, Chesham and Amersham

It is not too late: the Minister can extend the period for parliamentary consideration by another 21 days, and I call on him to do just that. UK farmers are facing ongoing labour shortages and rising costs on farms. These problems have been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, and this deal will open our doors to imported food while doing nothing to support farmers in the UK. What protections have been put in place to ensure that imported food meets the high animal welfare standards in the UK?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

The first part of the hon. Lady’s question has been asked and answered, and the Trade and Agriculture Commission has answered the second part, on statutory protections. As I said earlier, the TAC says:

“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.”

It goes on to say—I am sure the hon. Lady has read this, but perhaps, given the time that has passed in the scrutiny of the deal, she has forgotten it—that the FTA

“goes beyond WTO rights and obligations” in some instances, including the requirement for

“the UK and Australia to aim for high standards of protection in their environmental and animal welfare laws”.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough

I chair the all-party parliamentary group on CANZUK, a campaign group that presses for closer relations between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. I welcome this free trade agreement with Australia and want it to be in place as soon as possible. At the same time, we want a trade deal with New Zealand and accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, and hopefully we will see something big and bold with Canada soon. However, does the Minister recognise that this is just the start for us, and will he commit himself to a multilateral trade agreement between all four CANZUK countries as soon as possible?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work in support of bringing the CANZUK nations closer together. He is right that this is just the beginning. Not only have we secured trade deals with 71 countries around the world plus the EU, covering trade worth £800 billion, but we are now applying for accession to the CPTPP, which includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to deepen our trade ties even further. In his region, the east of England, there are already £498 million-worth of exports to Australia and £81 million-worth of exports to New Zealand. With his championing of business in Peterborough, I am sure those will increase even further.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Rochdale

The Minister is deliberately choosing to miss the point of the urgent question. However much he grins at the Dispatch Box, it will not alter that fact. This is not about whether the deal is good or bad; it is about the fact that this is the first trade deal to come before the House, and about whether scrutiny has been delivered in an acceptable way. As you know, Mr Speaker, the scrutiny belongs to the whole of this House of Commons, not simply to a Select Committee. The Minister must explain how we will get that scrutiny, because he is not doing it in a UQ.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I am very happy to set out the process of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, introduced by the last Labour Government. For the first time, it gave statutory effect to the opportunity for parliamentary disapproval of treaties, and the process is—

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I am very happy to set out the process, Mr Speaker, if you allow me the time. There are four points. First, the Government may not ratify the treaty for 21 sitting days—days when both Houses are sitting—after it was laid before Parliament. Secondly, if within those 21 sitting days either House resolves that the treaty should not be ratified by agreeing a motion on the Floor of the House, the Government must lay before Parliament a statement setting out their reasons for nevertheless wanting to ratify. Thirdly, if the Commons resolved against ratification, regardless of whether the Lords did or did not, a further period of 21 sitting days is triggered from when the Government’s statement is laid. During that period, the Government cannot ratify the treaty. Fourthly, if the Commons again resolves against ratification during that period, the process is repeated. That can continue indefinitely, in effect giving the Commons the power to block ratification. Of course, that is what the Opposition want—to block the opportunities of Brexit from this trade deal.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

The first thing that leaps out from the stats on the website of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the export of 159 billion Australian dollars-worth of goods and services each year to communist China. The integrated review of 2021 stated that China posed a “systemic challenge” to UK interests, yet here we are attempting to sign a free trade deal with—I will be blunt, Mr Speaker—a state that has been enabling communist China to build capacity, clamp down on dissent and tighten its grip on Hong Kong with exports of raw materials for its economic needs. Can we assume that the Secretary of State will be ignoring the findings of his own Government in the integrated review and supporting China’s application to join the CPTPP alongside the UK and Australia, as he mentioned at the Dispatch Box only a moment ago?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I welcome that question, actually. The challenges—[Interruption.] Opposition Members heckle, but the challenges posed by those who do not play by the rules are challenges we should face head on. We are not currently a member of the CPTPP, otherwise known as the trans-Pacific partnership—the TPP—so it is not within our gift to support or block anyone from joining it, but what is clear is that we are first in the queue, we are looking forward to joining it, and we believe that like-minded nations who play by the rules should trade more with one another.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Labour, Leeds Central

The Government made a promise to the House that there would be a debate, and the Government have broken that promise. That sets a very bad precedent, precisely because this is the first trade deal that was not rolling over a deal we had previously. Although the Minister has rejected a debate for the scrutiny of this agreement, can he give the House a commitment today that for any subsequent trade deals, there will be a debate on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I think the balance that we have is right. We have already been clear that we—[Interruption.] They ask the questions but they do not want to hear the answers. We have been clear that we would seek to accommodate a request for a debate if one were made by the Committee, subject to parliamentary time being available. The Secretary of State reinforced that before the International Trade Committee on 6 July—the right hon. Gentleman is right to talk about what we have said—saying that she felt the agreement could benefit from “general debate”. However, the business managers have not been able to schedule a general debate before the CRaG period ends on 20 July.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister seems to think we should all just calm down about standards, but the text of the deal does not set out crucial conditionality or equivalence on imports based on animal welfare standards used in production. The absence of such equivalence language means that products produced to lower standards will enter the UK market. That is a fact, not spin, so I will ask again: what support do the UK Government intend to offer our farmers and food producers so that they can fairly compete?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

That question has been asked and answered, but I will answer it again. The Trade and Agriculture Commission has set out that this deal

“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 hope that provides the hon. Lady and her farmers with reassurance.

Photo of Clive Efford Clive Efford Labour, Eltham

I congratulate Anthony Mangnall and the other members of the International Trade Committee on standing up for this Parliament. The way the Government are behaving is a disgrace. The Minister knows that there is widespread concern about the lowering of standards in this trade deal, particularly around the use of antibiotics on livestock and harmful pesticides. That is one of the key reasons why it is right that this House should have the opportunity to debate what is in the trade deal. Will the Minister give an undertaking that we will be able properly to scrutinise it and other trade deals in the future?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

Asked and answered, Mr Speaker, but the truth is that the deal removes tariffs on all British exports to Australia, which will make us more competitive and able to sell iconic products such as cars, Scotch whisky and fashion to Australia more easily. Flexible rules of origin will also mean that British businesses can use some imported parts and ingredients and still qualify for nil tariffs when exporting to Australia. The Committee and the House have had the opportunity to scrutinise that for seven months.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I remind the House of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I congratulate Anthony Mangnall not just on securing the urgent question, but on the vigour with which he prosecuted it. What the Minister has told us today is not what we were promised by way of scrutiny, and it is not adequate, especially since we now know that the current Foreign Secretary, when she was Secretary of State for International Trade, was warned that this deal would be bad for British farmers and food producers. Will the Minister take back to Government business managers the message that the House needs to be given the debate and vote that we were promised, and that in order to inform the debate, all the advice that was given to the then International Trade Secretary and her successor is required to be published?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

Again, that question has already been asked and answered, but I will provide the House with a little additional information. This deal—and I am sure that the House has looked at it over the past six months, which will be seven months by the end of the CRaG process—goes further than Australia has ever gone in giving services companies access to the Australian market, which means that firms from architecture to law to financial services to shipping will be able to compete in the Australian market on a guaranteed equal footing. That is great news for every part of our United Kingdom, and I am sure that the House has looked at it over the past six months—seven months by the end of the process.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business and Industrial Strategy)

Promises were made during the passage of two trade Bills, and those promises—for a debate on the Floor of the House before ratification—have been repeated ever since by Ministers. The Minister knows only too well that scrutiny after ratification is no scrutiny at all, so why have the Government not used the seven months that he keeps talking about to bring a debate to the Floor of the House, and why are they so against scrutiny of an agreement with such profound consequences for farming, food production and animal welfare?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I am afraid I disagree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are not against scrutiny, and indeed we have been open to scrutiny for six months—seven months by the end of the process. I would ask the hon. Gentleman why Scottish National party Members are so against this trade agreement, which secures a benefit of Brexit for people of our country.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Is it the lowering of food standards, is it a couple of pence off a bottle of wine, or is it perhaps a colossal 0.08% of GDP growth that should most excite the people of Scotland about the fact that we left the European Union in order to sign this trade deal?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

Once again, SNP Members demonstrate that they are anti-trade. I do not think they have ever supported a trade deal in the House, but they will correct me if I am wrong. These are the figures that should excite the people of Scotland, and indeed the people of our whole United Kingdom, given that the UK internal market is Scotland’s biggest trading partner. This deal will increase trade with Australia by 53%, boost the economy by £2.3 billion, and put £900 million into the pockets of people across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton

We have heard criticism today not just from the Opposition Benches but from the Government Benches—and I say to Anthony Mangnall that in my years in this House I have heard few such forensic and detailed assessments of the way in which the Government are ignoring the importance of scrutiny and democracy. The Minister, and the Government, did promise that there would be scrutiny by the House—that was made very clear—so may I ask the Minister why he thinks it is a good idea for the House not to scrutinise and debate this trade agreement before the Government ratify it?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

This House, and the Committees of this House and indeed the other place, have already had six months to scrutinise the agreement, and they will have had seven months by the end of the period.

Photo of Dave Doogan Dave Doogan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Procurement)

This deal was signed in December 2021, and Parliament has never had an opportunity to scrutinise it properly and vote on it prior to ratification. The Secretary of State for International Trade has bottled it twice at the Select Committee, and she has clearly bottled it today, which is why the Minister is here: he has already admitted that this is not his brief. What is it that the Government do not get? Why are they opening up Scottish farmers to a country that is 30 times larger than the United Kingdom? Although the Trade and Agriculture Commission has said that we do not have to review our standards, it is not our standards we are worried about; it is Australian standards.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I am not sure that that question really made sense, but let me try and draw some points from what the hon. Gentleman said. The truth is that the Government gave a commitment that the CRaG process would be followed. As I made clear earlier, the Government said that we would seek to accommodate a request for a debate, but that that was subject to the availability of parliamentary time. If the hon. Gentleman wants to read other words into what was said, that is up to him, but that is what the record shows.

Photo of Helen Morgan Helen Morgan Liberal Democrat, North Shropshire

When l have spoken to farmers in my constituency, they have said that they are very concerned about the deal. They have used phrases such as “sold out” and “bargained away”. They want us to come here and represent their views, because they feel that this deal sets a precedent for all the future trade deals that will come along. It is important for us to have the opportunity to reflect their concerns in this place, and I ask the Minister to reconsider.

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I am delighted to represent some great farmers as well, in North East Hampshire. Across the United Kingdom, our famers need to have the opportunities to export to the world. For instance, some meats are twice the price in Asia as they are in Europe. The ability of our farmers to access these new markets through CPTPP, of which Australia is a core member, is a great opportunity, which we should be seizing.

Photo of Paul Girvan Paul Girvan Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Education), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport)

We have not had an opportunity to discuss this deal in detail with the Minister, either in Committee or on the Floor of the House, and there are many other deals on the table. Will this be the form for the future, or will we be addressing the matter after today?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is the statutory footing on which treaties are looked at and ratified and provides for a scrutiny period. To ensure that the House has the opportunity to look at future deals, we have made additional offers, as the House has had on this occasion. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade appeared before the International Trade Committee recently, and she and the Committee were able to follow up these questions and others. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House also wrote to the Committee on 18 July to confirm that there would not be a debate before the summer recess owing to intense pressure on the parliamentary timetable.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

The Minister laughed when Brexit was mentioned earlier, but it is no laughing matter for the Scottish seafood sector, which has been hammered by Brexit, and it is no laughing matter for farmers who have no access to labour to pick the fruit and veg in their fields. The Government’s own impact assessment on this free trade agreement shows that the British agriculture, forestry and fishing sector will lose £94 million a year and the food processing sector will lose £225 million a year. Given how important Scotland is to the overall UK food and drink sector, when will we see the publication of an impact assessment that shows the actual impact in Scotland of that hit of more than £300 million a year?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I sometimes fear that some Opposition Members have a permanent sense of humour failure. The facts about the deal are these. It will deliver the benefits of trade to people, businesses and communities in every corner of our United Kingdom: this is how we level up the country. As I have explained, it is expected to increase trade with Australia and put money into people’s pockets, including the pockets of people in Scotland. It means that 100% of tariffs on British exports have been eliminated—and that includes Scottish businesses, which now have guaranteed access to the Australian market, and indeed the ability, across industry, to bid for public sector contracts worth about £10 billion. This is a great opportunity for businesses across Scotland and our whole United Kingdom; and let me just remind the hon. Gentleman that we have secured the best deal that the European Union has ever secured with anyone—a zero-quota, zero-tariff deal.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat, Tiverton and Honiton

Jilly Greed farms near where I live in Devon. She is a co-founder of Ladies in Beef, and this is what she wrote about the trade deal:

“This is like Christmas all over for Australia. There are currently 3,700 tonnes of product coming in from Australia. The agreement will increase it to 45 times that in 15 years.”

Are the Government afraid that the true extent of the damage to west country farmers from this trade deal would be laid bare by full parliamentary scrutiny?

Photo of Ranil Jayawardena Ranil Jayawardena Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for International Trade)

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to this place, even though I perhaps disagree with some of his principles. None the less, I hope that I will convert him to the cause, because of the opportunities that lie ahead for farmers in the west country and beyond. The truth is that this deal secures new opportunities for those farmers to export to the world. It is part of a plan, as my hon. Friend Paul Bristow mentioned, that secures access to the CPTPP, and that involves the new trade deals that we are negotiating right now in the Gulf, which the NFU has welcomed, and India.

Photo of Martyn Day Martyn Day Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

I just dinnae like this deal, on top of which it sets a dangerous precedent for our future trade deals with nations such as India, Mexico and Canada, where we will be dealing with far more sensitive products such as eggs, pork and chicken meat. Why is the Minister pressing ahead with it without the promised scrutiny?