– in the House of Commons at 1:52 pm on 6th September 2022.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Just over two and a half years ago, the UK set out as an independent trading nation and began a new future outside the European Union. That future would be shaped by rekindling old partnerships, striking up new ones and harnessing the power of free trade to create prosperity for every corner of the UK. The free trade agreements that we have signed with Australia and New Zealand represent the first significant successes on this journey, and they are the first from-scratch trade deals that the UK has signed in 50 years.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so promptly. I appreciate that it is a bit unusual to intervene so soon, but I wonder if she accepts that the process by which we are having this debate utterly undermines this House. It is deeply undemocratic that there has not been any way for us to have a full vote on the objectives of each future trade deal or access the negotiating texts, for example; there are no guarantees for the House on any of those things. Will she take away the anger that is felt certainly on the Opposition side of the House about that, and look to change the process in future?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I hope that as we progress the discussions today, we will be able to look at them.
Is it not the case that negotiations directly between Parliaments—that is the effect of what Caroline Lucas says—on any international agreement would be an absolute nonsense and would never get us anywhere? The right way is to use plenipotentiary powers in the name of the Crown to negotiate the deal and then have a serious engagement with Parliament, as this is.
I thank my hon. Friend. Both hon. Members highlight what is important about what we are doing today, which is bringing to the House, as part of our new free trade agreement powers, the opportunity for the UK to negotiate and complete really great deals with our important trading partners that will help us to grow our economy. That is the power and the freedom that our departure from the European Union brought us in trade, and I have been proud to drive that forward in the last year. The Australia and New Zealand trade deals are two of many that are now in train that will help our businesses to export more widely to the rest of the world.
These free trade agreements will eliminate tariffs on 100% of all UK exports to Australia and New Zealand. As I say, that will open up new trade opportunities for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and that is an important aspect of the opportunities that our free trade powers bring us for our businesses to take advantage of.
While Opposition Members focus on process, does my right hon. Friend agree that professional services’ ability to trade without requalification is a massive export opportunity for the sector in the whole of the UK?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and, indeed, for his incredible work in the Department over the last year to help us to grow our export opportunities for businesses. He is absolutely right: one of the key opportunities for our service sectors is negotiating that mutual recognition of qualifications, which removes a market access barrier to enable businesses to share their expertise more widely. Not only in the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, but as we work in places such as Canada and the USA, those are key areas where we can genuinely rocket-boost what our businesses will be able to do in taking their expertise across the world.
The right hon. Lady is talking about businesses, but is this not also about individuals in these jurisdictions who have the qualifications and skills? There will be a greater mutual benefit, not just a benefit to the UK. This will grow the economies of the free world and enable our citizens, and those of Australia and New Zealand, to develop their careers and opportunities.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. A key element of the Australia and New Zealand trade deals is the improved mobility arrangements, which will not only give those under 35 much more flexibility, but will mean that those with professional skills can move much more easily between our countries, for exactly that reason: to help their skills as individuals, as he says, and as part of businesses to grow those economies mutually. Our trade deals are all about mutual benefit and picking countries with which we have strong ties and want to grow our economies together.
In evidence to the Senedd’s Economy, Trade, and Rural Affairs Committee, the Welsh Government, the farming unions and the Welsh Local Government Association expressed concern that there was no published data about the impact on specific Welsh economic sectors and subsectors. Will the British Government publish that data—they must have it to have come up with the cumulative data that they have published—or are they guilty of hiding the impact of these trade deals on sectors such as Welsh hill farming?
We have done a great deal of economic assessment across any number of layers. I am very happy to share with the hon. Gentleman some of the detail in due course, and the team will pick that up with him.
It is important to remember that one key area, as we look beyond sectors and to the other side beyond business, is that the consumer will be able to enjoy many more Australian and New Zealand brands coming to the UK, in the same way as the UK will be able to share our brands with other countries. I was in Australia and New Zealand last week, and it was very charming to see which British products people were excited to have more of. I was also able to say that I would help personally to ensure that Australian wine is drunk more often at my own table as a result of this trade deal.
Further to the point made by my Welsh nationalist friend Jonathan Edwards, I understand from the Department that it has not granularly broken this down, but has made assumptions in the modelling across the regions of England and the nations that make up this current Union. I would be surprised if the Secretary of State has the data, which I think would give figures that were quite alarming to people in Wales, Northern Ireland and certain areas of Scotland, particularly those involved in livestock production.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the Northern Ireland beef and lamb sector is worth some £1.3 billion, employs 5,000 staff in processing and has some 29,000 farmers, and 70% of that produce goes to the UK. Her own Department has reported:
“If large local economic effects occurred, this could…result in a net GVA loss for Northern Ireland.”
May I ask the Secretary of State—it is the same question as others have asked, but about Northern Ireland—what steps can be taken to ensure that, if this is the case, Northern Ireland is not left behind in trading with Australia and New Zealand? I know it is an interest for the Secretary of State, and it is a big interest for me in my constituency.
The concerns that the farming community has raised are ones we have addressed many times, but I am happy to address them again. As part of the trade deals, and acutely aware of the sensitivities of our changing farming communities as we have left the European Union, we have built in—after quite a lot of negotiating effort with our Australian and New Zealand partners—a three-layered set of safeguards to ensure that there cannot be any unexpected surge of agricultural products coming in that would disrupt our markets, tapered over a 15-year period. That will give all the markets the chance to adjust to the opportunity to share goods, moving in both directions. The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend Andrew Griffith will set out in more detail, if necessary, what those safeguards are, but they are there to show that we have been absolutely cognisant of this and determined to ensure that our farmers will not have the risk of a surge of produce.
The Secretary of State will know that I represent a large beef and sheep farming constituency, and there is nervousness in the farming community about what will happen over the next 15 years, but also a broad welcome for the deal, and I congratulate her on her efforts so far. Can she say a little more about what she and her Department can do across Government, working with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to make sure that there is real confidence in this sector over the next 15 years?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. To give her reassurance, all our trade negotiating teams have Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs teams within them. They are the experts from the UK Government, and they are absolutely at the heart of our negotiating teams not only for these deals, but for those we are working on now.
Part of the challenge—I understand the anxiety that has appeared, about which I hope the safeguards for these two deals have provided reassurance—is that these are of course the first two of a large number of trade deals. We are looking to accede to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, under which we will have enormous opportunities for our agriculture producers to export to something like a £9 trillion marketplace. The Australian and New Zealand trade deals are the first two of many that will afford great opportunities for some of the finest products in the world. I think we are all concerned in standing up for our constituents and ensuring the opportunity to find new export markets for those goods.
My concern is not for the enormous farming conglomerates that we see across swathes of the countryside, but for the small tenant farmers in my constituency. They are a critical part not just of my constituency—which, incidentally, helps feed the country—but of our farming heritage. I think it is those smaller farmers that colleagues across the House are so concerned to understand, support and, if necessary, protect.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why we have built into these first two of our trade deals these very clear and robust safeguards, so that there cannot in the early years be the sort of surges that could risk the success of our important tenant farmers. That is also why the work that the National Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union of Scotland do is so important in helping our farming communities.
I too have many small tenanted farms in my constituency, and this is the opportunity for them to work together and to work in the new markets that will be appearing thanks to the continuing new trade deals we will strike. This is about how we can get the maximum benefit not only as they produce for our own domestic markets, but, if they choose to do so, as they export some of the finest meat in the world to new and growing markets across the world.
These two trade deals are very much the first two anchor points, as it were, of a broad and wide set of trade deals that will afford such opportunities to all our farmers, from the large farmers that are very good at fighting their own corner through to—exactly as my hon. Friend points out—our small but incredibly important farmers across our rural communities. Their importance is not only in the food they produce, but in land management and, indeed, in the wider community, so that is at the heart of the plan.
As I say, the negotiating teams that the Department for International Trade take to these negotiations have at their heart teams of experts from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as well as from other Departments as required for each of the chapters in the trade deals.
The Secretary of State is very generous in giving way. On that point, does she not recognise that the bottom line is that if we are rightly asking farmers to lead the way on more sustainable farming methods, yet at the same time allowing imports to come in that will undercut them—because they are not having to meet the same standards and are therefore cheaper—we are essentially handing farmers a knife to cut their own throats? It is simply not sustainable. Notwithstanding all her nice words about safeguards, do we not need to make sure that there are much stronger environmental regulations in these trade agreements so that we do not actually cut off the livelihoods of our own small farmers?
We have not only built in safeguards for that, but of course all the safety regulations in our own domestic requirements remain clear barriers to entry, so we are very clear that there will no dilution of or risk to any safety requirements on food.
Is my right hon. Friend not surprised by the point made by Caroline Lucas, since New Zealand is led by a Labour-Green coalition that puts enormous weight on environmental sustainability? Therefore, the suggestion that this trade agreement would undermine those standards seems very odd.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, which is that we have done trade deals with two partner countries that are very much of the same view as us on food safety standards, and we will continue to work with them. One of the beauties of these new trade deals is that they are very broad-ranging and much more ambitious, but are also cross-cutting in many areas. They are not static but have built into them the opportunity for dialogues in any number of areas. Where any business sector here or in those countries either has anxieties or wants to work together to grow those markets, we have factored such dialogues into the trade deals so that they will be able to do that.
To get on, if I may, over the long run our UK-Australia agreement is expected to increase annual trade by over £10 billion. This means a £2.3 billion boost to our economy and a £900 million increase in household wages. Beyond this, the agreement supports the economy of the future thanks to the first ever innovation chapter of any trade deal in the world. In addition, professional workers and those under 35 will enjoy new opportunities to live and work in Australia.
Turning now to our agreement with New Zealand, it will increase overall bilateral trade by 60%, providing an £800 million uplift to the UK economy on top of the £2.5 billion a year in bilateral trade we already do with our Kiwi friends. UK services and tech firms will gain deeper access to New Zealand’s markets, sustaining jobs in this country while also growing the high-value businesses of the future. Our analysis shows that this deal will provide real economic rewards to the 6,000 UK small and medium-sized businesses that already export goods to New Zealand, while opening new opportunities for those that have not yet begun that journey. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland will enjoy an annual economic boost worth over £50 million.
This Bill relates to a key element of our Australia and New Zealand deals: their measures to widen access to procurement opportunities for firms in both our countries. To give the House a sense of the possibilities on offer for UK businesses, the Australia deal will mean our companies can bid for Australian Government contracts worth around £10 billion a year, including major infrastructure projects such as road upgrades and railway constructions. The Railway Industry Association trade body recently praised the deal’s procurement aspects, saying that they will make it easier for our rail businesses to invest and operate in Australia. This Bill will ensure that our businesses can seize these opportunities as well as the free trade agreements’ broader benefits by putting us on the path to ratification.
Turning to the detail, this Bill is narrowly focused on enabling the Government to implement their obligations under the agreements’ procurement chapters. It will give the Government the specific powers they need to extend duties and remedies in domestic law to Australian and New Zealand suppliers for procurement covered by the free trade agreements and to amend our domestic procurement regulations so that they are in line with commitments in the Australia free trade agreement. The Bill will also give effect to potential changes over the free trade agreements’ lifetimes. They include implementing agreed modifications and rectifications to coverage and updating the names of Government entities
I assure the House that my Department has engaged constructively with the devolved Administrations throughout the Australia and New Zealand trade deal agreement negotiations, and I thank them for working so collaboratively with the Department. I am pleased that the devolved Administrations have indicated that they are satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations on the procurement chapters in both agreements. As procurement is a partially devolved matter, this Bill seeks a concurrent power. I remind the House that such powers are included in the Trade Act 2021, to allow the UK Government to make secondary legislation on behalf of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland when it is practical to do so.
I am glad there has been some progress. My understanding is that the Welsh Government were calling for concurrent-plus powers; have those been conceded by the UK Government?
I can update the hon. Gentleman: those discussions are continuing and our officials are continuing to work out the best way forward, and I will make sure they give him an update in due course. I also stress that we are committed to not normally using the concurrent power in this Bill without the devolved Administrations’ consent, and never without consulting the Administrations first.
While technical and narrow in nature, the Bill’s measures will help our businesses and citizens enjoy the enormous benefits offered by our Australia and New Zealand trade deals. Without this Bill we cannot bring these two landmark agreements into force. We want to unlock new trade for our businesses, support thousands of jobs throughout the country and provide a boost to our economy worth billions of pounds as soon as possible, so that we can strengthen both the bonds of commerce between our businesses and Governments and the bonds of friendship our countries share.
The Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements demonstrate in the most practical way what global Britain means to this Government and what we know the UK can achieve as an independent trading nation. This Bill is an essential step towards turning these FTAs’ extraordinary promise into firm reality. I commend it to the House.
It is a privilege to open this Second Reading debate on behalf of the Opposition—in what is evidently the biggest political event of the day.
I welcome the fact that we are finally here for a longer debate on trade, albeit after the ratification of the two deals we are discussing, and let me say at the outset that the Labour party is in favour of securing trade deals with countries around the world that deliver for communities up and down the country. We are in favour, too, of deepening our trade links with our friends in Australia and New Zealand, and I want to put on record my thanks to the high commissions of Australia and New Zealand for their openness to dialogue and to providing information throughout the process.
The trade deals are of course significant in themselves, but they are also crucial because they set precedents not only for what other countries can expect when negotiating with us but for the process of scrutiny provided by this House, and, frankly, that process has been wholly inadequate. Ministers have hidden away rather than answer to this House for what they have negotiated. Ten months after the Australia deal was signed and seven months after the New Zealand deal was signed, the Bill in front of us today is only a short Bill that gives the Government the power to implement the procurement chapters in the Australia and New Zealand deals along with the associated provisions about regulations and the devolved authorities. So today’s debate is not about ratification, as the Government have avoided that.
In respect of the New Zealand trade deal, no Minister from the Department even came to the House to speak about it and open themselves up to questions; instead, they just issued a written statement, so no questions could be put. The cross-party International Trade Committee has rightly been scathing about the way the Government have handled scrutiny of the Australia trade deal and their premature triggering of the 21-day Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process without full Select Committee consideration being available to Members. When pressed on that, the Government then refused to extend the process. The current Secretary of State has by my count swerved eight—eight—invitations to attend the International Trade Committee.
The Government’s failure to be open to parliamentary scrutiny and make parliamentary time available for debate is both a completely unacceptable way to treat this House and a clear breach of the Government’s own promises.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning the International Trade Committee, which I chair, and he highlights our frustration. Committee members have different political views, but they were united about the Government’s disappointing attitude to scrutiny. If we get these things right, more people win, but if we are slipshod and slapdash, more people lose.
I completely support what the Chair of the Select Committee says. It is a cross-party Committee, so this is not a partisan point. Whatever has been negotiated by Ministers, they should be willing to open themselves up to scrutiny from this House.
As I said, this is also a breach of the Government’s own 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.”
But that is precisely what has happened, and I think we are entitled to ask why.
Why are the Government so worried about being held to account on their own trade policy? Could it be because the 2019 Conservative manifesto promised that 80% of UK trade will be covered by free trade agreements by the end of this year when the reality is far short of that mark? Could it be because that same manifesto promised a comprehensive trade deal with the United States by the end of this year and it is nowhere in sight?
Or is it because Ministers have been letting down farmers? Members need not just take my word for that;
“raises questions about her willingness to listen to the needs of farmers and the wider food industry.”
I agree entirely with the former Chancellor; I could not have put it better myself.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his book, which was a page-turner. Will he not take comfort, as I do, from what was said by the Prime Minister a few days ago to the National Farmers Union about wanting to see an improved scrutiny process?
I thank the hon. Member for his congratulations on my biography of Harold Wilson; that is greatly appreciated. On scrutiny, if only the Prime Minister had held the trade brief in the past and been able to do something about it then.
Is not the truth perhaps that the Government are running away from scrutiny because they are failing to support exporters properly? The Opposition have been arguing that the Government are not doing enough to support exporters, and over the summer that became clear. The former Minister for exports, Mike Freer—he intervened on the Secretary of State but is no longer in his place—appears to agree. He argued that the trade access programme is underfunded and said of it:
“We support too few shows, we don’t send enough business, our pavilions are often decent but overshadowed by bigger and better ones from our competitors.”
Perhaps it is therefore no surprise that there has been failure in the Department for International Trade.
We then have what the Secretary of State said about her own Minister for Trade Policy, who I think is still the Minister for Trade Policy today. She said:
“There have been a number of times when she hasn’t been available, which would have been useful, and other Ministers have picked up the pieces.”
The former Chancellor says that Conservative trade policy is letting down farmers, the former Minister for Exports says that the Government are not supporting exporters as they should be, and the Secretary of State is criticising the performance of one of her own Ministers. This is not the good ship Britannia delivering trade for global Britain; it is more like “Pirates of the Caribbean”, with a ghost ship manned by a zombie Government beset by infighting, mutiny and dishonesty. The calamity might have been mildly amusing were it not so serious a matter for our country’s future, with people across our nation needing a trade policy that delivers for them.
In other negotiations and future negotiations, countries will look at what was conceded in these negotiations and take that as a starting point. We already have a UK-Japan trade deal that benefits Japanese exporters five times as much as UK exporters. On the Australia deal, the Government’s impact assessment shows a £94 million hit to our farming, forestry and fishing sectors and a £225 million hit to our semi-processed food industry. On the New Zealand deal, the Government’s impact assessment states that
“part of the gains results from a reallocation of resources away from agriculture, forestry, and fishing”,
which will take a £48 million hit, “and semi-processed foods”, a £97 million hit.
The Opposition will press four issues in Committee: farming and animal welfare; climate change; labour standards and workers’ rights; and, as has been raised in interventions, the role of the devolved Administrations in the process of negotiation and ratification, and the protection of geographical indicators. Let me deal first with farming and animal welfare. Labour is proud of our farmers and the high standards that they uphold, and we are confident in British produce to be popular in new markets, but we also recognise the need for a level playing field for our farmers.
The Government claim that they are trying to mitigate the impact of the two deals with tariff-free access being phased in. In the New Zealand deal, there are tariff rate quotas and product-specific safeguards that last 15 years. Similarly, in the Australia deal, the phasing-in period on beef and sheepmeat is 15 years, but the quotas set by the Government for imports from Australia are far higher than current imports. As I have previously pointed out in the House, on beef imports, when Japan negotiated a trade deal with Australia, it limited the tariff-free increase in the first year to 10% on the previous year. South Korea achieved something similar in negotiations and limited the increase to 7%. But the Government have negotiated a first year tariff-free allowance with a 6,000% increase on the amount of beef that the UK currently imports from Australia. On sheepmeat, they have conceded a 67% increase in the first year of the deal.
It is not as if other countries have not done significantly better—they have—so why did our trade Ministers not achieve the same as Japan’s and South Korea’s? Why have our Ministers failed to ensure that Australian agricultural corporations are not held to the same high standards as our farmers?
The Government have agreed to a non-regression clause on animal welfare. To be clear, that does not mean equality of standards across the two countries—it is not fair competition. What will actually happen is that meat produced to far lower animal welfare standards will get tariff-free access to the UK market.
Has it not been a long-standing problem—even within the EU—that different animal welfare standards have allowed our farmers to be undercut? On beef, might it not be farmers in the Irish Republic who face greater competition? After all, why would people want to send meat to the UK all the way from Australia rather than get it from just down the road? Should we not be looking at supporting our industry domestically, particularly through public sector procurement?
My right hon. Friend is right to raise what we should do domestically. He also illustrates another point. There is a history of trade negotiations, including on different standards of animal welfare, that Ministers could have taken heed of, sought to learn lessons from and put into these negotiations.
The now Prime Minister said that the Government had no intention of striking any deals that did not benefit our farmers, but the reality is that the vast majority of trade deals, which she trumpeted in her leadership campaign, were roll-over deals replicating existing EU agreements—not so much an exercise in driving a hard bargain as a national exercise in cut-and-paste with accompanying photographs on Instagram.
Perhaps it is no surprise that the Prime Minister’s own colleagues have been so critical of her approach to trade. George Eustice as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that he faced “challenges” in trying to get her to enshrine animal welfare in deals. No wonder the NFU said that it saw
“almost nothing in the deal that will prevent an increase in imports of food produced well below the production standards required of UK farmers”.
Is the right hon. Member aware of the article run by Politico in July indicating that the new Prime Minister was warned by her officials that the trade deals that she was negotiating with Australia and New Zealand would negatively impact on UK farmers?
I am grateful for that intervention. Yes, it seems that the Prime Minister ploughed on regardless, despite the clear advice that she was given.
The concerns that we are discussing must be taken seriously. We need to hear so much more from the Government about how they will support our farmers—that includes smallholding farmers, as were mentioned in an intervention by Victoria Atkins—about the robustness of animal welfare protections and about how we can prevent our farmers from being sold short for doing the right thing and upholding high standards. Ministers also need to be clear about what support farmers can rely on in the next 15 years so that they can navigate the transitional period. Those matters will be pressed by the Opposition in Committee.
Given the Government’s poor record in standing up for UK interests in negotiations, perhaps it is no surprise that Australia’s former negotiator at the World Trade Organisation said:
“I don’t think we have ever done as well as this”.
Is it any wonder that the National Farmers Union said, of the Australia agreement,
“there is little in this deal to benefit British farmers”?
As we consider the impact on our agricultural sector, why are the Government promising a monitoring report about two years after the agreement comes into effect and every two years thereafter? Why not every year? They could do that, particularly given the level of concern in our rural communities.
I turn to climate change. I realise that the Conservative party has a long-standing reliance on conservative allies from Australia, not least with the appointment of Tony Abbott to the trade board, but surely it has not signed up to some of the more extreme views that he and his colleagues hold on climate change, including that it is “probably doing good”. The current COP26 President, Alok Sharma—
“both parties’ commitments to upholding our obligations under the Paris agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5°.”—[Official Report,
Frankly, I would have cheered as the hon. Lady did if, a few weeks later, the deal had actually contained what the right hon. Gentleman said it would. However, the explicit commitment to limit global warming to 1.5° was not in the deal, despite what had been said. What went wrong in the final couple of weeks of the negotiation? Did Ministers simply give in for the sake of getting a completed deal? It is a lesson that tariff-free access to our UK market should not be given away easily. Looking at the concessions made by the Government in those final weeks, are people not right to worry that the Government are more interested in the press release announcing the completed deal than they are in standing up for UK jobs and livelihoods? It surely cannot be right that, as across the world we debate the devastating impact of climate change, we are not capturing that fully in deals like this. Not only is it dangerous to the planet, but it fails to recognise the huge business and export potential that climate change technology, innovation and services can create. It is not only environmentally unsound, but it also makes bad business sense. I implore Ministers to speak again with the new Administration in Australia to see what more can be done to take joint action on climate change, and to put it at the front and centre of the very well established and historic relationship between the two countries. I am sure that the recent change in Government in Australia will be beneficial in enabling that to happen.
In addition to climate change and the other areas that my right hon. Friend raises, the British Medical Association and the royal colleges are still very concerned about the impact on our NHS of the new trade deals being negotiated, with profit rather than patients being the prime focus. Is he reassured by the passage of the Bill?
My hon. Friend is absolutely clear that our NHS should never be on the table in any trade negotiation, but that is one of a number of significant issues that could have been properly raised and ventilated had there been a proper process of scrutiny.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the Bill, not just the trade treaty, allows, through the negative procedure, Ministers to change procurement rules? We can say here that the NHS is not for sale and not on the table, and Ministers can say that, but this House does not have a cast-iron guarantee that we would have a vote before any change in procurement rules. An amendment to the Bill to allow that to be done through the positive procedure would be one commitment the Government could give to ensure Parliament gets a cast-iron guarantee.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If the Government do not give that commitment, we will bring forward an amendment in Committee to seek that commitment.
Can we slay this particular red herring, which was also mentioned in relation to the US trade deal? It is not about privatising the NHS. All the Americans said, and in this they were right, was, “We are not saying what you should do with the health service; we are saying that if you decide to privatise it”—which we should not do—“then we want to be treated as equal partners.” That has nothing to do with trade; it is to do with the Government’s health policy. We should not mix up the two, following a political campaign on it.
It is not the threat of the American Government to our NHS that worries me; it is the threat of the Tory Government to the NHS. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that distinction.
I will give way once more and then I will have to make some progress.
I very much appreciate my right hon. Friend giving way; he has been very generous with his time. He mentions the threat of the Government to British agriculture—he is absolutely right on that—and the threat to the environment in some of the measures. Does he agree that there could also be risks for many small exporting businesses who face a series of hurdles to get over because of the Government’s trade policy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the position of small businesses. Support for small businesses, particularly exporters, is something on which the Government really have to do far better.
I will take one more intervention and then I will have to make some progress.
I am very grateful. I speak because I am genuinely passionate. I do not know how many Members have actually exported to Australia as a small businessperson, but I have. The trade agreement makes it easier and better. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree?
I sincerely hope it does; absolutely. I am glad I took the intervention, because of the hon. Lady’s experience of exporting. I am sure she agrees with me that businesses have different amounts of resources to spend on supporting their exports and getting information about markets around the world, and that the Government should stand by all those exporters and make that process as easy as possible. The trade deal is, of course, a step forward, but we also must support our businesses in taking advantage of the opportunities she is speaking about.
Returning to climate change, we really must use future trade deals to drive forward this agenda and recognise the mutual benefit of tackling the biggest challenge of our generation.
On the third issue, labour standards and workers’ rights, Ministers need to go further, especially given some of the rhetoric briefed to the newspapers about bonfires of workers’ rights, and ensure that the Bill will not undermine workers’ rights, particularly in relation to Australia. The TUC said, in relation to the Australia deal, that the agreement
“does not contain commitments to ILO core conventions and an obligation for both parties to ratify and respect those agreements”,
and that it provides
“a much weaker commitment to just the ILO declaration”.
That is a profound error. We should not be setting off on the road of establishing new trade agreements across the globe that sell short our workers here, or indeed elsewhere. A race to the bottom benefits no one. Put simply, it is self-defeating to think that Britain would prosper via deals in which labour standards are a trade-off. We should be promoting the highest standards here and around the world, in the interests of our workers here and as a force for good around the world. It is what a Labour Government would do, working with all trading partners, including Australia and New Zealand, to drive up protection for workers and to have a trade policy that truly delivers for working people.
On the devolved Administrations, an issue raised on a number of occasions, the Government have spoken about trade benefiting all parts of the United Kingdom. Central to that, however, is taking into account the strengths of different nations and regions, and listening to their democratically elected representatives. That needs to be done in overall trade policy, in the negotiating mandate and negotiation process, and in ratification. That could be—I say this to the Secretary of State—formalised in a concordat or agreement on how the Government interact with the devolved Administrations. I urge the Secretary of State to look at that. We are also calling for the UK Government to undertake nation-specific impact assessments on trade deals. That would ensure a clear understanding of the implications and opportunities for the whole country, and also ensure that the deals can best align with the economic strategies of the devolved Administrations.
There is also—if I may just mention it for a moment—an issue around geographical indicators. As the International Trade Committee put it, the
“Government has failed to secure any substantive concessions on the protection of UK Geographical Indications in Australia.”
We should be backing our fantastic national producers, from Stilton cheese to Anglesey sea salt and Scotch whisky, and not failing to achieve concessions in this way.
I will not hold the Government to impossible standards and of course there are aspects of the deals that I welcome. In particular, the provisions to advance women’s economic empowerment across the New Zealand agreement are to be welcomed. Chapter 25 enables collaborative work between the UK and New Zealand to support women business owners, entrepreneurs and workers to access opportunities for international trade, complementing other areas, such as small and medium-sized enterprises—mentioned in an intervention—services, procurement, labour, development and digital trade. I was pleased to meet the Prime Minister of New Zealand on her recent visit, and I know that the New Zealand Government share ambitious climate goals and the need to uphold workers’ rights. However, after looking at the two deals and the differences between them, I observe that they seem to be more a consequence of the political persuasion of the Governments with whom Ministers here were negotiating, rather than a deliberate strategy on the part of Ministers.
On procurement, the Government will need to show how businesses here can bid in Australia and New Zealand. In particular, support needs to be given to facilitate the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises in the procurement process and to promote the use of paperless procurement. Suppliers must have easy access to information about procurement opportunities. Words and promises on that are not enough; it has to be made a reality.
Is my right hon. Friend concerned about the fact that we should allow British authorities to put conditions on procurement that pertain to labour rights, trade union rights, local recognition and the employment of workforces at a rate that is higher than the national minimum wage? It is important that the Government do not provide foreign companies with easier access to bid for British contracts than that which British companies would have.
My hon. Friend makes two very good points: first, we should ensure that our British firms have the support that they need to compete in the procurement process; and secondly, this should not be some sort of cloak beneath which there is a race to the bottom on workers’ rights. Both those things are important.
The concerns that have been raised about these two deals and the process of scrutiny amount to a problem with the Government’s approach to trade policy. There is no core trade policy and no clear strategy or direction. That criticism has been echoed by the International Trade Committee.
There has been a lot of talk from the Conservative party, but the delivery on trade agreements has been noticeable by its absence. There is no US trade deal in sight, and we await the India deal—as promised by the now previous Prime Minister—and the meeting of the target of 80% of UK trade being covered by FTAs.
Does the right hon. Member recognise that we have started negotiations on the CPTPP and with the Gulf Co-operation Council, and that we have started negotiations and to look into the Canada agreement? It is not technically that fair to say that we are not ploughing ahead with signing as many trade deals as we can.
I am holding the Conservative Members to the standard that they promised in their manifesto. It is not the standard that I have set, but the standard that they set when they went to the electorate in 2019.
Is not the problem that, for too long, Britain has been led by a directionless and, frankly, distracted Conservative party? Conservative Members spent months propping up a discredited Prime Minister. They decided to leave him in office over the summer while they fought among themselves, leaving people up and down the country facing economic devastation.
A dynamic trade policy that aligns with a clear industrial strategy is vital to boosting our appalling levels of growth and averting recession, yet we find that the Australia deal does not even mention the specific target on climate change, despite that being one of the great challenges of our generation.
As an Opposition, we will of course not vote down this short Bill. However, if we were to attempt to change the deals that have already been agreed, or if anyone went back on their word on them, that would further sully our international reputation, which, frankly, has already been badly damaged by the conduct of the Conservative party. However, we will push a number of amendments in Committee to support our farmers and to ensure that exporters have the support they need. The Government must urgently learn lessons from where things have gone wrong in these negotiations.
An additional amendment that might be useful would be to change the requirement for secondary legislation so that we enable the Secretary of State to introduce it only when they “must” comply according to the trade deal and not at their whim, whereby they “can”. That change from “can” to “must” will be vital to ensure that there is not an open door for Executive action.
My hon. Friend makes another very good point about the inadequacies of the scrutiny process.
Access to British markets is a huge prize for many other global economies. The Government have to stop selling us short and put in place a proper, core trade strategy that will allow our world-leading businesses to thrive and, for once, truly deliver for communities across the country.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, Nick Thomas-Symonds, for his speech. Broadly speaking, I agree with a great deal of what he said—although not everything—and I think that his speech will probably set the tone for this debate, which is less about the content of the trade deal and more about the process of scrutiny of it. As a member of the International Trade Committee, I have been heavily involved in the process. It is no easy job to consider several tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pages of detailed documentation. The abridged version comes to eight volumes, so it is quite a challenge.
As a basic principle, I very much welcome the fact that we have signed these two trade deals. It is absolutely fantastic that, having got Brexit done, we are now delivering what Brexit has to offer. However, there will be an interesting argument, perhaps in relation to some of our constituents, that having taken back sovereignty from the European Union, we cede a bit of sovereignty every time we sign a trade deal with other countries around the world. That illustrates the point that we have taken back control from the EU, but we will give a bit of control to the CPTPP or the GCC. That is an interesting debate, but it is not what we will talk about today.
The trade deals are good. As we heard from the Secretary of State, on the Australian side, there will be an increase of £2.3 billion in economic activity, with increased income of £900 million to people working who benefit from it. As for New Zealand, there will be an increase in economic activity of £800 million, with increased income of £200 million for people working in the relevant sectors.
These two trade deals are incredibly important, because they are the first trade deals that we have signed ab initio since leaving the EU. All the trade deals that we have done until now have been roll-over trade deals, aside from the Japanese trade deal, which was a quasi-roll-over deal. When we were leaving the EU, it was incredibly important in the Department for International Trade—having been a Minister in that Department, I was very aware of what was going on—that we did not interrupt trade with all those countries around the world. That is why the shadow Secretary of State is right to say that they were cut-and-paste deals, because their objective was to not interrupt trade. I suspect that we will come back to some of the trade deals and renegotiate them, so that we get better outcomes for UK businesses.
I think that my hon. Friend and I met when the South Korean Trade Minister came to speak to members of the International Trade Committee. He said that the benefit of the roll-over trade agreement that the UK has with South Korea was that we could look to improve it. Indeed, South Korea had sent a letter to the Department for International Trade in August last year and it received a response shortly afterwards in September, and discussions were already under way in the Department, whereas the letter that it sent to the EU warranted no response. The roll-over deals already provide the opportunity to improve on them and, in the case of South Korea, that is happening. Does my hon. Friend think that that is what the Opposition should look at when it comes to trade agreements and roll-overs having real value?
Yes, I agree. It is incredibly important that we have a basis on which we can improve and that is absolutely the case. We would not be able to improve on these deals if we did not have them in the first place.
The Japan deal was a relatively easy one to scrutinise, because it was basically about looking at whether we had secured better terms than the European Union, based on the fact that we all started at the same time with that deal. It was a cut-and-paste deal with added lines, but the important point is that it was a modification of a roll-over deal.
These two deals are massively important, because there are two fundamental things that we need to consider. First, what are the UK Government’s negotiating objectives? We have never really understood what they are. A number of documents have laid out bits and pieces here and there, but there has never been a cohesive document to tell us what we are negotiating against or how we are doing relative to the outcome that we want.
The second important point is that this is the very first time that we are looking at the process of ratifying a trade deal, and it falls short of what we really need. I welcome this debate, which is an incredibly important one, but it is not the debate that we should be having. This is a debate about enabling certain legislation to ensure that the trade deal goes ahead. The Opposition have already said that they will support the Bill, but in the unlikely event that the Bill did not pass, that would leave us in breach of our international obligations under the trade deal. The trade deal has happened, so we would now be in trouble if we did not pass the Bill. It is incredibly important that we understand that this is an enabling Bill; it is not about how we scrutinise the deal itself.
The hon. Gentleman highlights the point that we have passed CRaG before passing the enabling legislation, which is quite an unusual thing to do; normally in this country we pass enabling legislation and then ratify treaties. Does he think that perhaps the Government should have done things in a different order to ensure that the right scrutiny would happen and that there would be no risk, not even a minuscule one, of our breaching international agreements?
My International Trade Committee colleague gives me a fantastic prompt for the next part of my speech, which is about that part of the CRaG process. The CRaG process allows 21 days in which Parliament can hold up the process of ratification of the trade deal. In the lead-up to the recess, the International Trade Committee was desperate to get more scrutiny. We went out and spoke to huge numbers of interested parties such as the NFU, we read countless pages of written submissions, we heard from experts and all sorts of people, and we went through the whole thing, but it was not until the final days before the recess that we heard from any Ministers.
The Secretary of State, to her absolute credit, came and spent some five or six hours giving evidence to the International Trade Committee, but it was too late for the Committee to publish a full report or get a debate in Parliament. My hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall went to huge efforts to secure a debate on the two trade deals in order to hold back, if necessary, the ratification by 21 days under the CRaG process. We even applied to Mr Speaker for a debate under
That means that the CRaG process is completely meaningless. If we cannot get a debate in Parliament, there is no way under the CRaG process to hold up—admittedly only by 21 days—the ratification of the deal. We cannot extend the process of scrutiny to get better scrutiny of the deals. That is a real problem, not just for these trade deals, but for Parliament and for its ability to scrutinise the Government properly under the CRaG process.
This is an incredibly important debate, because Parliament is an institution that learns by its mistakes, and we have made a lot of mistakes in the process of scrutinising these trade deals. We cannot afford to continue making mistakes. I am very disappointed by what has happened.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman: if people are not paying attention in their offices or wherever, what he says is a very gentle reminder to the Government and to Government Members that things could have been done better. He and I see scrutiny from very different political angles, but the point, which he makes eloquently and well, is that the scrutiny could have been far better than it is. I share his frustration, as do the hon. Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle)—we are all utterly frustrated. I praise him as a parliamentarian: he is in perfect flow and is doing an excellent job. This is a very important point, and I hope that Parliament will listen, because it comes from all sides and it probably comes best from him.
I thank the Chairman of the Select Committee for his kind words. In the spirit of collaboration, I think there is an opportunity for us all to work together. The Department for International Trade has reached out to us, and we have a visit to the parliamentary team coming up in the next couple of weeks.
There is a problem somewhere, but we are not too sure what it is. I was a Minister in the Department, and I found that the civil servants we worked with were second to none. As one of the Prime Minister’s international trade envoys—I believe I am on my fourth Prime Minister as a trade envoy—I continue to work with civil servants in the Department. It is important that we get this right. My experience with the Secretary of State is that she has been incredibly generous with her time and has been very engaging. I believe in her sincerity in trying to move things forward, but something fundamental has gone wrong with the interaction between the International Trade Committee and the Department. I do not know what it is, but we need to find out.
Something has also gone wrong with the process of scrutiny of international trade deals and with the CRaG process, so I urge the House to think hard about how to ensure that they run smoothly. At the end of the day, we have left the European Union and we ain’t going back. These are exactly the opportunities that are presented to this country. We must get this right. We must take advantage of global Britain.
This is a time when people and businesses across the nations of the UK are facing an absolute crisis. When it comes to our responsibilities for trade, it has never been a more important time to look at the detail and impact of the decisions made on their behalf about things like trade.
We should have the ability to look at the details. We should have the ability to scrutinise these things, see what the impact is, find out the granular effect and find out what is going to happen in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England. We should have details on all those things in front of us to make the correct decisions, but of course we do not. What we have today is this debate to approve the technical details to allow this trade Bill to pass. That is simply not acceptable: it is not what was promised, and it is not what people and businesses facing crisis deserve or want.
It is not too late for an epiphany. It is not too late for the Secretary of State to go away and say, “You know all those things that were said by all the various parties? We will take them on board today and get something done.” I am not holding out much hope, but it is not too late. Perhaps there will be a bit of listening.
Let us look at what the Government are publicising as the benefits for the people and businesses who are going through these pressures just now. They say that we will be able to get machine parts—I am sure that that will be good for some people—and Tim Tams, surfboards and boots. I am sorry, but none of my constituents is writing to me about the lack of availability of those kinds of items at the moment. There is a positive for Scotland—the export of Scotch whisky to Australia will be a benefit—but let us not forget that that market is three times smaller than the market for Scotch whisky in France, for example. All in all, there is a UK GDP opportunity of 0.02% with Australia, and not even that with New Zealand.
As my hon. Friend mentions whisky, it would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to stand up. It should be noted that one of the things we highlighted was that Australia has to get its definition of whisky together. That is a real problem.
Indeed, and I want to return to that point later. My hon. Friend makes a very good point about details and description.
The Government are trying to sign away the downsides of the deal—they are basically saying that there are no downsides—but when we listen to people who are actually affected, it is not the downsides that they are worried about; it is the cliff edge. First among them are the farmers in Scotland and across the other nations of the UK. This deal betrays Scottish and UK farmers—that is not my rhetoric, but a quotation from National Farmers Union president Minette Batters, who also talked about the detail causing “irreversible damage”. She was joined by Phil Stocker, the chief executive of the National Sheep Association, who said that the deal had “betrayed the farming industry”. Martin Kennedy, the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, has said
“Our fears that the process adopted by the UK government in agreeing the Australia deal would set a dangerous precedent going forward have just been realised.”
Those farmers face a flood of lower-quality, mass-produced, cheaper cuts of meat into UK markets.
Is the hon. Member aware that the biggest concern expressed by upland farmers in Scotland about the future of the sheep industry relates not to these trade deals, but to the SNP Scottish Government’s plans to allow tree planting over vast areas of agricultural land that is currently cultivated for livestock?
The right hon. Member is skating over the fact that the Tory Government have neglected their tree-planting duties in terms of their actions on climate change. [Interruption.] Perhaps—if he will stop chuntering from a sedentary position—he should also have a conversation with Irish farmers to see what their position is on this matter.
As we have already heard, but I will now repeat it, the Government’s own trade impact analysis shows that the Australia deal will mean a £94 million hit per year to farming, forestry and fishing, and the New Zealand deal will mean a hit of £145 million to agriculture and food-related sectors. The New Zealand media have been reporting that New Zealand farmers are jubilant about the deal. They are nonplussed; they cannot understand it; they are baffled by this, because, as they have pointed out, the benefits to the UK are negligible.
The UK Government are kicking Scottish farmers while they are down. Farmers are gasping for air, and they already face spiralling uncapped energy costs, crops rotting in fields owing to a lack of pickers, rising diesel costs, the loss of EU farming subsidies, and rocketing fertiliser costs. I can assure David Mundell that the sector in Scotland will not forgive this. Food and drink manufacture is twice as important to the Scottish economy as it is to the UK economy. As we have heard, even the recent Tory Chancellor, who lost the race to the new Prime Minister by the slimmest of margins, has said that the deal is bad for farmers.
The news for consumers is, of course, not much better. Because we do not know what the split is across the nations and regions of the UK, we cannot say what the impact on people will be, but the best that the UK Government can come up with as a justification for the deal is a prediction that UK households will save £1.20, on average.
I will in a minute.
Perhaps households can get together to buy a single cup of coffee at Starbucks if they pool their resources—
Or a unit of electricity, as my hon. Friend has chimed in to suggest.
I have said to the right hon. Gentleman that I will give way, but not at this particular moment. If he does not mind, I will continue with the point that I was going to make.
I have just talked about the risible benefits, in this crisis, to UK households. Perhaps the Government are counting on the fact that farmers, and others who are losing out, can drown their sorrows with 20p off a bottle of Jacob’s Creek. Now I will allow the right hon. Gentleman to intervene.
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Can he make it clear to us whether he thinks we should have free trade agreements on agricultural products with any countries? If he thinks we should have them, why should we not have them with our great ally Australia? If he thinks we should not have such agreements with Australia or New Zealand, which countries does he think we should have them with?
I think we should have free trade deals with countries—of course we should—but we should take into consideration whether we will win or lose from them. Those deals should be scrutinised by the parliamentarians who are elected to scrutinise them on behalf of their constituents.
Perhaps John Spellar misunderstands the idea of free trade. None of it is free; it is just that there are various degrees of restriction. How restricted or unrestricted we make that trade is the issue at hand. No one is opening trade carte blanche—certainly not the Australians. They may come before Select Committees and tell us that they are very open, but they are not, as we see from the various areas in which they are restrictive. Australia may say that it believes in free trade, but it does not practise free trade as we understood it in the free market and the single market of the European Union. That is not happening anywhere.
Indeed; my hon. Friend has made his point very well. However, this is also about the pluses and minuses of what is signed, and what the Government are prepared to sign away just for the purpose of getting the deal done. For example, it was noticeable during the leadership contest that the newly elected—by our Tory Members—Prime Minister again refused to agree to enshrine animal welfare and environmental standards in trade deals, so intent was she on signing away Scottish farmers’ livelihoods, as this is the key factor in imports undermining domestic products on price. As it stands, the UK has placed no—none, nada, nil, zilch—environmental conditions on agricultural products that it will accept into the UK. Of course, it is not too late to set robust core standards for all food to be sold in the UK, and I will wait to see if there is a response on that.
The hon. Gentleman will share my fear that this trade deal will allow the import of food products produced in ways that would be illegal here—for instance, on land deforested for cattle production, or through systems that rely on the transport of live animals—and that such an outcome will disadvantage UK producers, penalising them for abiding by better standards.
Indeed, and of course we should have the promised opportunity to go into the detail of this. As FarmingUK has pointed out,
“The Australian-UK trade deal has gone through its scrutiny phase without MPs having a chance to have their say on behalf of constituents.”
Unless this Government take action, we will see the opportunity for imports, as a result of these deals, of meat from animals raised on land that has seen 1.6 million hectares of deforestation, and from animals raised in sow stalls, intensive feed lots and battery cages and treated with steroids or antibiotics. As for pesticides, even the UK Government’s own advisers have conceded that pesticide overuse is a valid concern. Less than half the 144 highly hazardous pesticides that are authorised for use in Australia are allowed here. Many of those in Australia are of the bee-killing variety. Food standards are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, but, of course, the Scottish Parliament has no powers to stop imported products on the basis of how they are produced. I will say more about the Scottish Parliament in a while.
During the summer, the record hot temperatures caused by climate change should have caused the Government to think about the detail of trade business and how to incorporate protections and enhancements to ensure that we took measures to tackle that, but no. As we have heard, despite Australia’s huge reliance on coal and its less than impressive record on climate change, there is no reference to coal in the final text. Perhaps that is no surprise, given that Tony Abbott was involved in the process. This could and should have been pushed. The UK Government must go back and demand that specific parts of the Paris agreement references are reinstated in the pages that the UK removed just to rush this deal over the line.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point about climate issues and accords. The problem that I have with the suggestion he is making is that if we asked every country to put those terms into every trade deal, we would not end up with the eight volumes and 2,000 pages that we had to go through in the International Trade Committee. Australia and New Zealand have signed up to the Paris climate accords. They have come to agreements in COP26. They have looked at this stuff, and they stand by those treaties, those agreements and those statements. There is not really a requirement to put them into the trade deals, because those countries are already committed to them on an international stage.
I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman chose that for his intervention, because I have a great deal of time for him; he is a good speaker and very knowledgeable on this subject.
If we have seen one thing from this summer, it is that it should have been a wake-up call—an alarm bell to say that this is important enough to put into the detail of the agreement. The Scottish Government advised the UK Government to prioritise the Paris agreement in any deal with Australia, but as with all the Scottish Government’s other attempts to persuade the UK Government to add protections for Scottish consumers and businesses, including on the issue of climate, they were treated more as a nuisance than as a partner in this process.
There was no specific consultation on the content of the Bill, but—surprise, surprise—it includes provisions that constrain the exercise of powers afforded to Scottish Ministers and devolved competencies covering procurement. The Scottish Parliament’s legislative consent memorandum document states that
“there is fundamentally no reason why the UK Ministers need to hold this power in relation to devolved Scottish procurement.”
This Bill gives secondary legislation empowerment to Ministers in this place to undermine devolution without being required to seek further consent.
As if that were not bad enough, this Bill coincides with a deal that has just been signed by the EU and New Zealand. I note that this was not referenced by the shadow Secretary of State, Nick Thomas-Symonds, in his excellent speech. That deal has better terms and stronger farming conditions and safeguards than the UK managed to negotiate. In the first year, the UK will allow 12,000 tonnes of New Zealand beef into the UK, while the EU will restrict it to 3,333 tonnes across all 27 countries. By year 15, the UK will allow 60,000 tonnes into the UK, while the EU figure will be capped at 10,000 tonnes, again across all 27 countries.
The data that my hon. Friend has just read out helps to make a point. Although those two deals are both described as free trade agreements, anybody can see from those bits of data that the deals are very different. When people talk about free trade, they must remember that the devil is absolutely in the detail and that the headline usually bears no relation at all to what is going on or to the different levels of restriction.
Indeed, and with the safeguards and other measures in the EU deal, there is a similar position for sheepmeat, for example. There are also protections for butter and cheese. I am sure that that was the new Prime Minister’s favourite subject a while ago, but maybe she has moved on from dairy products to something else. As has been said, there are no agrifood geographic indicator protections in the UK deal—for example, for Scotch beef or Scottish salmon—but the EU has its own protections enshrined.
Let us recap the prospectus for Scotland. This is the UK Government checklist for Scotland: a betrayal of our farmers and crofters; job losses and reduced income in food production, forestry and fishing; no protections on environmental or animal rights; no inclusion of the Paris agreement requirements on climate change; and a further power grab on the Scottish Parliament. And, to top it all, a much worse deal than the EU. This UK Government continue, every day they are in power, to make a stronger case for Scottish independence than even we can.
I am not a member of the Trade Committee. I have listened to the technicalities with considerable interest, but having looked at the volumes that have been referred to, I shut them down and turned away. My interest in this, which I must declare, is—as my accent gives away—the fact that I am of dual nationality. I have a New Zealand passport and a United Kingdom passport. When I am in New Zealand, they all think I am a pom, and when I am over here most people think I am an Australian, which is an insult if ever there was one. My interest in this is not quite emotional, but it goes back to where I came from and where we are going, which I hope will be a vast improvement.
This new trade deal puts all three nations more or less back to where we were before the United Kingdom entered the common market. When we entered the common market, the people of the antipodes—Australia and New Zealand, for those who do not know the word—lost many of the trading advantages that they had at the time. To put it mildly, they were very upset. Many Australian and New Zealand professionals, especially in the medical and paramedical services, were effectively discouraged from emigrating to this country. It was very sad, because the net effect was that some of the brightest professional people from those countries—I can add lawyers and accountants to that list—left not for this country but for the United States. When I was chairman of my old university alumni, I ran a big dinner in the House of Commons to which we invited anybody and everybody from the university. Thirty high-class New Zealand professors came over from the United States. They would have come here, except for the restrictions. So this is going to be a really interesting side effect.
When I go back to Australia or New Zealand—I have not been back to Australia for quite some time, but I have been to New Zealand—I am shocked to see the streets and shops full of Asian vehicles and goods. The British cars that filled the streets in my youth are not there, because of the tariffs that were put on them. We have to change that. I look forward to their return, and not just on the streets, because I come from a farming background. When I go to the farms there, there are no Land Rovers; they have Mitsubishis and other vehicles like that.
Tempted though I might be to sell the hon. Gentleman my late father’s 1954 Morris Minor, which is still in my shed in Barra in the Hebrides, I just want to say that I think this is a worldwide phenomenon. I remember Land Rovers being about in my youth, but the vehicles my neighbours are driving now are generally Japanese, Korean and far eastern 4x4s, so I would tell the hon. Gentleman not to be too despairing: this might just be a global vehicle choice.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman mentioned a Morris Minor, because as a student I was taken backwards and forwards between university and home in a Morris Minor and it was the most hideous vehicle I had ever been in.
I know exactly why the car is sitting in his shed. It is because no one will take it out.
The opportunity is there. The last time I was in New Zealand, I was talking to people about British cars and I mentioned the word “Jag”. They all said, “I would love a Jag, but they are too expensive.” That is what this trade deal is going to turn around. Most New Zealanders and Australians would like to buy British. It still has that mark, and I am not just talking about cars. I have not seen an Aga stove in a New Zealand home for ages, but they would go right into the farming community given half a chance. The removal of tariffs and the consequential price drop will encourage the sale of our vehicles, and much more than that.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned small firms. I have a small firm in my constituency that I visited recently. It has only been going for three or four years. It is run by two or three people, and it produces gin. It is called Silent Pool, and it is becoming a niche and famous gin. When they started, they filled the bottles by hand. Now they have increased production such that it is all done by machinery. They have a huge warehouse on the edge of the property, packed with hundreds—if not thousands—of tonnes of gin, on pallets, wrapped ready to be exported to Australia. They are an example of what this trade deal can do for small firms in this country, because the British people have regained their ability to be entrepreneurs, and to work and to push forwards.
I am interested in the comments made from the Scottish Front Bench. Going back a couple of generations, the peoples that emigrated to Australia and New Zealand were Scots and English, almost entirely. Drew Hendry might recall that there is a place called Dunedin, the fourth city in New Zealand. I understand—although I will probably be corrected instantly—that the name means “new Edinburgh”. People there would be scathing at his comments about the absence of such a link. Even if they are second or third-generation, it is a truly Scottish town, and in the middle of the Octagon in the centre of the town they have a statue of Rabbie Burns. With good Scots thinking, he is placed there with his back to the church, and faces the pub. How Scottish can you get?
I am a member of the UK National Farmers Union, and this is where I have had some wobbles. In a Westminster Hall debate on free trade with Australia and New Zealand, I mentioned—as has been mentioned here time and again, and indeed my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade covered it—that free trade cuts both ways. We have, in the main, an excellent UK agricultural industry, although it is hampered somewhat; but we must recognise, as has been recognised by speakers today and will be again, that Australia and New Zealand are formidable agricultural giants.
I have many farms in my constituency. The biggest dairy farm has about 350 cows and my biggest sheep farmer has perhaps 1,000 sheep after lambing. Two dairy farms that I know of in the north of the south island of New Zealand are milking 1,500 and 2,500 cows twice daily. In the farm that I left in the high country of Central Otago—which is a bit like the hill country of Scotland, with hill farming—after lambing we had 50,000 sheep. The difference is staggering. The idea that has been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade of staggering and layering the approach must be the right one.
The difference for farmers in New Zealand is that they are free to farm. I was really disappointed and cross with the comments on the standard of farming and of animal welfare in New Zealand. It could not be higher; it is equivalent to here, but they do not work under all the restrictions, regulations and so on that our farmers here and in Scotland do—many of which come from the EU, and could be removed now that we have come out of Europe. So the chance must be taken now, as we move forward, as these layers change, for the Government to work with the NFU and our farmers—they are not always the same—to ease the strain and make sure that our farmers can farm better and freer.
The UK needs its farmers and food producers. The potential competition from Australia and New Zealand is an imperative that we must look out for, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, but we must use the time we have, because we must keep those farmers.
I am delighted with the trade agreement—obviously, for reasons of my background—and hence with the Bill. I will not read all seven volumes of the agreements—I leave that to the Committee—but for me, it means a return towards normality in our relationship with our nearest kith-and-kin nations and kith-and-kin people. It is a natural thing for us to do, and it is natural that we will get an understanding without the damage that has been predicted, I think incorrectly, by some on the Opposition Benches.
It is a great pleasure to follow Sir Paul Beresford. Despite my attempts to be a second-hand car salesman and flog a 1954 Morris Minor, the real reason I am here is not to turn the Chamber into a car showroom but to speak as Chair of the International Trade Committee. Before I say too much more on that, though, I can confirm, following the Antipodean mentions of Dunedin, a city of 117,000 souls, that it is indeed the Gaelic for Edinburgh; I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that. To reciprocate on his awareness of Scotland, let me say that Mole Valley is important to many crofters, because online shopping for many medicines is done at Mole Valley Farmers—that is a wee punt in his direction as well.
While I am throwing compliments about, let me praise the shadow spokesman, Nick Thomas-Symonds, for reading our report on the Australian trade agreement. It is a gripping read, and I have good news for him: a next instalment is coming out on New Zealand fairly soon. I am sure that he is looking forward to that and that all of us on the Committee will gladly sign a copy for him just to make that an extra special experience for him. I can see nods. [Interruption.] Some are looking for a paperback version; there is a cheapskate from Northern Ireland at the back there, But it is good that that has been read. While I am in salesman mode, let me say to those who are into trade agreements and looking for good-quality information tomorrow that we have our meeting on the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership at 10 o’clock. The exact Committee Room escapes me—
I thank my colleague very much for that.
I was reminded of something by what the hon. Member for Mole Valley said about the size of farming in New Zealand and the Scots exiles. I met a man named Andrew Morrison, who is from his part of the world, but originally from mine—his ancestors came from my constituency—and we talked about sheep, because he had sheep. I told him that I had 32 to 33 breeding ewes, depending on the year. He looked at me and said that he had 26, and there was a big pause. My chest was going out during the pause but, unfortunately, he went on to say, “Thousand”. So the hon. Gentleman is indeed right to say that the scale of agricultural production is massively different there.
We are here today to talk about these trade agreements and the legislation that is going forward. Trade agreements, on the whole, are to be welcomed. They are clawing back GDP that was lost by Brexit, although the Government figures do not say that. There are many nuances, and I will come to those by the end of my remarks, but I wish to start with the broad brush by asking why we are doing this. Surely we are doing this for our economic benefit and gain. We have then to set that in the context that the Government are doing it because Brexit is a damaging event to GDP, by up to about 5%.
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the reason we are now doing separate trade agreements, especially with the south-east Asian part of the world, a lot of developing countries and countries such as Australia and New Zealand, is that they are the parts of the world that are growing and where markets are going to expand, while Europe is in stagnation? Having the freedom to do that and be released from the EU is going to be good for GDP, business and employment in the UK.
I hear exactly what the right hon. Gentleman says, and he is right to an extent. However, let us suppose I were to give him £1 this year and £1.50 next year, and ask him how his income from the Member for the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar had changed. He could say that it had grown by a staggering 50%”, but it would have grown by only 50p. When you are starting with something very small and you say that the percentage is going to be very big as a result of the growth, you still have something very small at the end of it. We should bear that in mind.
I return to the point about the Brexit damage of 5% of GDP and the effect of this Australian trade deal, depending on which type of modelling we use. The first model gave us a 0.02% gain—that was on the Armington trade theory spectrum, which all members of the Committee know just like that. When we moved to the Melitz-style spectrum, we were given a figure of 0.08%, which represents growth of 400%. That is a fantastic bit of growth, but this was still only 0.08%. If Brexit is 5%, this is like saying, “I am losing £500 but the Australian trade deal is taking in £2, if I am using the pessimistic option, or £8, if I am using the optimistic option.” That still leaves the UK economy as a whole £498 to £492 out of pocket by this entire transaction. The joy and boosterism that comes from some parts of the former Government, at least, should be seen in that context. If we add in all the other trade deals—the American trade deal represents 0.2% of GDP, the New Zealand one that we are considering today represents about 0.1 % or 0.2% of GDP and the CPTPP represents about 0.08% of GDP—we might find ourselves up around the £40 mark. It is a bit like going to the races with £500 and coming back with 40 quid. That is basically what is happening here.
The hon. Gentleman is bamboozling us with some of the statistics, but is it not the case that in every trade agreement signed either by the UK or by other countries, every economic forecast has been underestimated? Trade deals evolve as they go on—professional services or manufacturing develop, which actually enlarges the benefit. So the forecasts are not accurate and they are usually a fantastic underestimation of where we end up.
The hon. Gentleman is a very fine member of my Committee, if not the finest, bearing in mind that there are at least two fine members in front of me. He is right that the modelling can be wrong, but it is not usually out by £492 to £500. It may be out by £2 or £3. I caution him that if those models say that the outcome could be better, the flipside is that Brexit could be worse than the 5% that has been modelled using the same sort of criteria. I hope it is not. I would rather the optimistic side, but let us be aware that this thing can go either way.
We are often told that there are winners and losers in these trade deals. We have certainly identified losers today, including the crofter I alluded to. Certain losses are hitting agriculture. I decided as Chair of the International Trade Committee to write to the Australian high commission to ask if it could identify some losers in Australia we could speak to. It wrote back and told us that everyone was a winner in Australia and nobody at all was a loser. We set that in the context of the figures that were mentioned earlier for Australia and New Zealand. For New Zealand alone, agriculture, forestry and fishing will lose between £48 million and £97 million.
The chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission Professor Lorand Bartels told us:
“I cannot think of another country that has significant agricultural production— so not the Hong Kongs or the Singapores of this world—liberalising fully in agriculture, even over what is almost a generation. … That is unusual.”
So the UK has done something very unusual here in opening up. It comes back to the point about free trade that was mentioned earlier. None of this is free trade. It is trade that still has restrictions. Rather than paying a tariff, now you need the paperwork. As people have found, paperwork itself is quite costly.
I am reminded of the man in the weekend paper—the brewer, I think from Kent. He had lost a large part of his £600,000 export market for beer to the European Union. It has now become a £2,000 market. He has lost 99.7% of his exports. He is now not exporting and cannot export to any country in the world. When he exports to the European Union, he is going to need paperwork, and the paperwork costs him. It is a hurdle to 99.7% of his trade.
On the question of farmers and agricultural producers here in the UK, the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. He says that there is an increased risk to those agricultural producers, but the one thing that has not come up in the debate so far is consumer choice. It is an interesting point. Ultimately, we have to look after our farmers—that is incredibly important—but we also have many constituents who may well feel slightly aggrieved that we are restricting the amount of food that can be brought in, which means people having to pay more Waitrose prices. Would it not be all right to get Kentucky Fried Chicken that comes from Kentucky?
Absolutely. This is the tension that there has always been in trade policy over the years—do you abandon your countryside and rural places? I use stark words deliberately, but it is a sliding scale between various points. Political judgments are made for various reasons, and people will come down on one side or the other. I do not belittle what the hon. Gentleman says, and is important that we recognise that spectrum. I am sure that he can argue the other way as well if he chooses. He is presumably making a devil’s advocate point or giving perhaps a strongly held viewpoint. It is a good point, but it is a point of debate. That is what we are here to do—to enlighten and illuminate that debate.
I will make a little progress and then come back to the right hon. Gentleman.
The point I was making earlier was that the UK now finds itself in the position of being outside the European Union, of talking about the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, which we will be debating at tomorrow’s Committee, and of not being able to export anything anywhere in the world without masses of paperwork. The proverbial prawn sandwich or the chicken leg cannot be exported without an equivalent weight of paper accompanying it. We know the difficulties that we have in sending that to the European Union, and we are talking about CPTPP and trade agreements. The reality is that it will still be easier to send stuff to the European Union under the EU–UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement than it will be under all those other trade agreements, so let us put trade agreements into some kind of context. They are not a panacea. They are not a replacement for the European Union. What we have done is raise our fences to the European Union to a certain height and lowered some of our fences to other countries, although they may still be higher or even at the same height as those to the European Union, but the global point is that exporters from the UK are finding it difficult to send stuff anywhere. Anything that has to go anywhere requires paper, admin or tariffs. That is a fact for the United Kingdom and a fact that is often missed in our understanding of trade.
The hon. Gentleman has rightly said that there are tensions between producers in the UK, who may well find themselves with greater competition as a result of trade deals, but that there are also benefits to consumers, who, of course, far outweigh the number of producers that might be affected and who will benefit from cheaper prices. Will he not also accept that we can help our producers be more competitive, especially now that we are out of the EU, by reducing their costs and removing some of the costly and unnecessary regulations, which push those costs up and make it more difficult for those producers to compete anyway?
I can kind of see a bit of what the right hon. Gentleman says. For example, perhaps we should not have to stick ear tags on lambs before sending them to market. At one time, we did not have that hassle of having to put a 50 pence tag in a lamb’s ear, but then consumers said that they wanted traceability; they wanted to know where the lambs came from. We then have a debate between this regulation that is costly to the farmer/crofter and the consumer wanting a bit of traceability. Again, there is a political decision to be made. Do we want to get rid of tags in sheep’s ears, for instance—that is the easiest example that I can think of. That is one of the problems of getting rid of regulations. Which regulations do we want to get rid of? That is a legitimate point of debate, but if we get rid of our regulations, we do have to understand what the impact will be, and who does not want that regulation to be got rid of. Certainly, getting rid of ear tags in sheep—if anybody is listening—would be a help, because they often get lost in the fences. However, I do not think anybody will be listening and we will still have ear tags in our sheep to deal with.
The shadow International Trade Secretary mentioned that, in the early days, there had been a lot of headline chasing. When Brexit was being done, the Government were scrambling around for ideas. Freeports was one such idea—let’s have freeports, they said—but GDP was unquantifiable, whereas, as I have said, the Government have quantified the GDP of Brexit. The Government then alighted on free trade agreements. I have said this often—members of the International Trade Committee are probably ready to fall asleep at this point—but it reminds me of Neville Chamberlain coming back from Munich talking about peace in our time. This is the equivalent; it is trade deals in our time. It is not about what they mean for the economy, but about them looking quite good.
A former Trade Minister—I will not mention his name—was telling me that he had a bit of boosterism from the former Prime Minister. He was told to get on planes and to sign these bits of paper. He was very, very positive. If it was a car he was selling, I would have bought it. When I asked him what was under the bonnet—or what was the GDP gain from this trade deal—he did not know. That goes back to the point about there being no strategy; it is very concerning that he does not know what his trade decisions are doing for the economy. Unfortunately, with all the difficulty and fluff, the economic gain of trade deals is not being looked at, which is disappointing. Certainly, Brexit has left the GDP of the UK weaker, and at a time when we face a cost of living crisis, things are more expensive and people have less money in their pockets.
The final point I want to touch on is food security and what is happening around the antipodean sale of meats. They will say that they do not fill their quota at the moment, but what they will be enabled to do is to fill it more than the European Union’s free trade deal, which is more restrictive than the UK’s—the UK’s is one of the most relaxed, or lax, trade deals. The best cuts can be sent, which helps them with what they call carcase efficiency, with certain parts sent to specific parts of the world, meaning they can take the top part of the market away quite effectively. As I have said, Professor Lorand Bartels found this the most liberal case that he could think of in the world of anybody opening up their food area.
The deal also enables what I would describe as a parachute market for Australia and New Zealand. If something goes wrong in another market, they now have somewhere else to put a big quantity into. That might have an effect in future of displacing and damaging production in the UK. If the current UK is used as a parachute market for a number of years and then the other market is re-established, we cannot turn on production as quickly as we can turn it off. That is a big problem.
I have mentioned that CPTPP will not be like the European Union. It is not a replacement; it is a smaller GDP and it will be more difficult still to sell into that market. In the CPTPP, I do not think that access into one country will be access into all countries, as it is for the European Union, although that will be clarified tomorrow for those who want to tune in to the International Trade Committee.
We have a situation where the Australians cannot believe they have done so well. New Zealand television is utterly amazed and asking, “How come it is so easy?”. It is because the UK Government have been seen coming. People know they are desperate to get into CPTPP and they think that if they get these trade agreements done, that will happen. That goes back to the point made by Sir Paul Beresford that the antipodeans were furious about the changes in the ’70s; this time perhaps they feel collectively that they have got one over the Poms, as they might describe them.
Having mentioned the hon. Gentleman, I will certainly give way to him.
The hon. Gentleman has to recognise that they are also looking for other things that we can produce and that we will send there. I mentioned Jags, but there are all the cars, all the farm machinery and those sorts of things, and that is the opportunity they see. They naturally would prefer to buy from here than from some other countries that I will not name.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In Scotland “jags” means something that goes into your arm, usually against covid—I think they are called jabs down here—but I think he means the Jaguar car. Of course it is in Australia’s power to buy the Jaguar car; it is then Australia that puts the tariff on the cars coming in. If Australians are moaning that they cannot buy Jaguar cars because of the tariffs, they need to see the Australian Government, who, despite what they say, are not producing any cars and whose very free and open market is not as free and open a market as they let on.
To give the hon. Gentleman a piece of good news, adjacent to my constituency there are already 150 new jobs making drilling machines for the mining industry exclusively in Australia. There are already benefits showing through in the manufacturing of goods and 150 people adjacent to my constituency are employed in a factory and enjoying those benefits.
That is fantastic news, and it has happened before the free trade agreement. That just goes to show that the fantastic people of Northern Ireland do not need Westminster to give them a free trade agreement.
I am coming to the end of my remarks. I will give several views to the Chamber on the vote tonight. This trade deal is globally good for the UK, as the figures show, but its level of goodness is very small compared with the badness of the Brexit debacle. Is it good for Scotland? The Scottish Government do not seem to think so. They were engaged with perhaps the way that the umbrella engages with the rain: more with disdain than any sort of welcome.
When it comes to fish and agriculture, we know that Brexit has been most damaging for the highlands and islands of Scotland, including my constituency. The Government cannot break down the effect of this agreement, but it looks like it will also be damaging. That means we have two events that are locally damaging. I am here as a constituency MP. I can weigh up the arguments as Chair of the Committee, but I am mindful that I vote as a constituency MP. All of Brexit—the entire process—has been economically damaging, but the final upshot of this deal is that in years to come, as we move towards independence, that damage will be used as an argument against Scotland being independent. It is a very disappointing state of affairs that this deliberate policy—chosen in Westminster—will do that to us, so we will not be listening to arguments like that in the future.
It is disappointing that this debate was not done properly, and that Members did not get to put their tuppence worth and argue the points that we have debated with Mark Garnier and my good friend from Northern Ireland, Sammy Wilson, because there are legitimate things to consider, to ponder and to change our minds about so that we can get a good—and a better—deal. Some people would say that the European Union has struck that better deal. Had we remained in the European Union, we would not have lost the 5% of GDP. We may well have got the GDP gains anyway from the trade deals that the European Union has just done with those two countries. The upshot might well be that there has been no gain whatever in these trade deals, because they would have come had we not decided to damage the beer producers and exporters of Kent and many others places that have been trading, as has been done.
I used to be a fine member—but not the finest member—of the International Trade Committee, so you have just inherited my mantle, Anthony Mangnall.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am honoured. I am delighted to follow Angus Brendan MacNeil, the second most humble crofter who is at home in this place. I pay tribute to him, because he has been and is an extraordinary Chair of the Select Committee. Despite some of the disagreements that we might have had throughout our deliberations on this deal, other deals and other trade matters, he has carried on and managed to get through a very lengthy trade agreement—at times with great frustration. It is right to pay tribute to him, as well as to the secretariat, who have done an extraordinary amount of work and have found it equally as frustrating as we have when we have not had the scrutiny or access to Ministers that we would like.
It should be no surprise that I support the Bill. Given the course of the debate, we have not spent a great deal of time speaking about the contents of the Bill, which is because it is remarkably uncontroversial in this instance. Wherever we have gone in our objectives and ambitions to sign new trade agreements, we are confounding expectations. It was not that long ago that, when we talked about signing a trade agreement with Australia or New Zealand, those on the Opposition Benches said that it would be impossible and we would not be able to do it in the timescale. Well, we have done it, and now we are looking faster than expected on New Zealand. As I said in an intervention, we are also already in discussions with the Gulf Co-operation Council, India, the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership and Canada, and we have the Singapore digital partnership and the Japan agreement under our belt. To discount those is an enormous mistake, because what the UK has done in terms of Japan and the benchmark for digital trade is truly remarkable. The world is now following our digital trade agreements, and that will be an enormous benefit to our businesses and services, and to this country.
The striking thing in the course of this debate has been the discussion of import impacts versus export opportunities. I am not remotely surprised to hear the Opposition talk about imports that will impact us in the most adverse possible way, but our export opportunities have been underestimated and not given the full attention that they should have been given. My hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford talked about such opportunities, including the exports of machinery and professional services. We have to look at this in the round and not just cherry-pick the bits we think are going in a good way or a bad way; we have to look at them as a whole.
When we look at the Australia trade agreement, we are saying that farmers may have been adversely affected. I do not believe that. What I want to look at is all the trade agreements that we will have signed by the end of this Parliament. When the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and I visited the middle east to study whether we should join the Gulf Co-operation Council, we sat with representatives of the small amount of farming done in that region who said that, actually, a trade agreement with them would be hugely advantageous. The NFU has gone on the record saying that an agreement with the GCC will be a massive boon for our farmers and food producers in this country. We cannot look at one trade agreement on its own.
Reflecting on the big dairy production we saw in the desert, did the hon. Gentleman not get the feeling that that was born of Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Qatar, and that Qatar might be keen to protect and defend that trade interest? For that very reason, it might not result in what we assume it will result in for farmers across the nations of the UK.
That is a perfect example. What we saw in Qatar was small compared with Saudi Arabia’s industry—a 30,000-strong herd milking parlour versus one in Saudi Arabia for a 200,000-strong herd—so yes, that is a fair point, but there also is a meat market there whose doors are opened to us, so I think the NFU’s insight is particularly useful. It is important that we do not cherry-pick; we have to look at the agreements in the round.
In an intervention on the Chair of the Select Committee, I made a point about the economic forecasts. One of the best examples of a fantastically low forecast that was a total underestimate relates to America’s membership of the North American free trade agreement. Initially, very low growth and very low opportunity were predicted; the reality has been very different because, over time, businesses evolve and take advantage of opportunities. The onus is now on the Department for International Trade to ensure that we reach out to businesses across the land so that they take the opportunities available to export and to benefit from imports of parts and anything else that comes under an agreement. The figures might seem low or insignificant at this point, but we must also think about our expectations—how we want our economy to grow and our businesses to develop, and how we want to be able to exchange the benefits of services and industries.
A related point was made by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, my right hon. Friend David Mundell, about professional qualifications and equivalence. We have an enormous opportunity to share and develop those sectors.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way to me again. You, Mr Deputy Speaker, may remember from your time as an august and esteemed member of the International Trade Committee that we discovered very early on in the negotiation and discussions with trade interests in Australia and New Zealand that one thing that could be done overnight was for the Home Office to ease up on work visas. This process requires Departments across Government to be aware that these things can happen if they are not being silly and obstructive in what I think is the most silly and obstructive Department in the Government, no matter who is in power.
I am delighted to hear the hon. Gentleman ask Whitehall and Westminster to sing a better tune and work better together. Truly, he will be a parliamentarian here for many years to come.
I am doing my best to fill your shoes on the International Trade Committee, Mr Deputy Speaker, but when it comes to farming, we have been talking about the impact of imports into this country but not about consumer choices. My hon. Friend Mark Garnier raised this point, and I pose this question to the House: what do hon. Members think the environmental, social and governance policies of any of the major supermarkets or purchasers of food abroad say about meat purchasing in the UK? Would Members think it acceptable if Tesco, Morrisons, Aldi, Lidl or Waitrose started importing lower quality meat that does not fulfil their ESG standards? That consumer choice already exists; the opportunity for us as members of the EFRA Committee or the International Trade Committee, or as constituency MPs, is to make the case and ensure that meat that does not meet those standards is not purchased. That very effective tool has been overlooked.
I am not saying that everything in this agreement is right for farmers. There are serious concerns. My hon. Friend Victoria Atkins was right to raise the issue of small farms. DEFRA has taken some steps and pushed in the right direction to ensure that small farmers work together more effectively to use their purchasing power, so that they can rival some of the bigger farmers. We need to continue to have that conversation and ensure that we are providing reassurance.
That brings me on to scrutiny, about which I have been quite animated in the past. I must begin with an apology to my hon. Friend Mr Djanogly, because when I was first elected to this place, in the early days of discussing free trade agreements, he stood up and vociferously made the case for why the CRaG process was not right. In my youthful enthusiasm, I stood up and said that he was wrong and that the Government’s system under CraG was absolutely perfect. Well, on the record, I say that I was absolutely wrong and he was absolutely right. I thank him for his time and expertise, and for talking to me about how we might be able to improve CRaG.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest said, members of the International Trade Committee of all political colours worked extraordinarily well to make sure that scrutiny was at the heart of what we were trying to do. The fact that we had to spend countless hours going through eight volumes and 2,000 pages of the Australia trade agreement to make sure that we could even try to produce a report on the UK’s first major trade deal was a tough challenge at best, but to not have access to Ministers at the beginning and as the process went on was not acceptable. I ask the Minister to make sure that the process is better in future, because that cannot be allowed to continue.
As was outlined under the Labour provisions for CRaG, and as has already been said, we asked for the House to essentially have 21 sitting days after CRaG was initiated to have a debate and a votable motion on whether to extend the CRaG process for a further 21 days. Members of this House would have had the power to continually do that if the questions were not being answered or if the Government decided not to table that free trade agreement.
Unfortunately, the clock has run out. We cannot legislate for the Government to find time. As I have said to the Chief Whip and any Ministers who will listen, the Government need to consider adding a new clause to the Bill that would enshrine the scrutiny process, because if this Bill does not pass, we cannot actually ratify the Australia or New Zealand trade agreements. I hasten to add that we have not even produced a report yet on the New Zealand trade agreement, so the House has not had time to see the expertise of the International Trade Committee and its secretariat or the Chair’s views on it. We need to consider that.
If I can put it as bluntly as this, I would like to hear some assurances in the Minister’s closing statement about what we will do on the scrutiny process. We in this House deserve a say on the free trade agreements. I happen to be very optimistic—not naively optimistic—about the trade deals that we are signing, because there are real opportunities for the services and producers across the country that we should welcome. In fact, even in the course of the debate, there have been a number of things that I suddenly thought that we might be able to export to Australia, such as signed copies of the book of the shadow Minister, Nick Thomas-Symonds, and vintage cars—or at least one of them, the price of which is perhaps coming down. We have to take the opportunities to our advantage.
Perhaps one of the greatest moments on the International Trade Committee, which the Chair is far too humble to mention, was when the Australian Trade Minister was sitting there talking about what he was doing. The Chair decided to pop outside to do some lambing and came back in with a newborn lamb that he decided to christen Dan Tehan in honour of the Australia trade agreement.
There is a big opportunity for us to ensure that we get our scrutiny process right and to improve it in Committee and in this place. As the excellent NFU spokesman put forward yesterday, the point is that Members have that right and that opportunity. We have to balance imports versus export opportunities. We have to talk about consumer choice and the competition within the market. The Australia trade agreement will deliver far more than people expect, and when we couple it with the many other things that will be done with the GCC, India and Canada, we will see enormous benefits, as I have already said. I thank the Secretary of State for her opening remarks and look forward to the Minister’s response.
I think we should initially recognise that trade does not exist in a vacuum. It is about relationships and trust, and which country is better to trust than Australia? In April, we have the Anzac Day commemoration in Whitehall, where we acknowledge and remember the hundreds of years of joint working and joint operations against tyranny and dictatorship. We have the long-standing and deep Five Eyes intelligence relationship, which also underpins our defence of our freedoms, and only this morning the Defence Committee was conducting an inquiry into the AUKUS agreement. We also have much wider relationships—family, political, trading, business, trade union, cultural and sporting—and of course a common basis in the common law.
Therefore, if we are going to do trade deals with anyone—and this is what has always surprised me about the opposition shown by some on the Opposition Benches—it should be a deal with Australia, as we have so much in common. That is why the contribution from the shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, was so welcome today. It had a very different tone from some speeches we have heard previously, and it is all the more welcome for that.
We have to recognise—and I forget which colleague mentioned this—that there is always a dynamic between free trade and fair trade. It is a debate that has dominated British politics from time to time over the last 150 or so years, and it has even twice torn the Conservative party apart. It is right to have such a debate, and we therefore need to focus on the details and on the principles, because such agreements cannot be an open door to pillage. We also have to make sure that the other parties are living up to the commitments they make in these agreements. Probably the most telling example is the accession of China to the World Trade Organisation, in that the great failure of the WTO and partner countries has been the failure to hold China to the commitments it made in joining that organisation.
At the same time, unlike some on the right and left of politics who seem to be opposed to trade in and of itself, we should recognise the huge benefits that trade has brought throughout history. Otherwise, we would have to go back to the days before the industrial revolution, when not only did trade drive the growth of Britain as the world’s leading industrial power, but imports of food from the new world fed the new urban masses running such industries. We cannot ignore that.
Equally, while we should not dismiss some of the particular impacts of trade—with sometimes the movement of work and sometimes the exploitation of those opportunities—we should recognise the huge reduction in poverty worldwide post war through the growth in trade. That is especially so, frankly, in China, where hundreds of millions have moved out of poverty in what is probably the biggest move out of poverty in history. Our starting point should be to encourage the development of trade, but with caution. We should not have predatory trade, and certainly not trade based on a race to the bottom on standards.
Does the right hon. Member agree that the trade pursued by the European Union with Australia and New Zealand, which will see economic growth, has on the face of it been done with less risk to certain sectors, including the agriculture sector? Yes, trade is good, but there is also what we are throwing away, and the UK Government have admitted that they are throwing away a few tens of millions on agriculture in the New Zealand deal alone. There was a better balance to have been reached, but in being too keen on getting into the CPTPP and other things, the UK has just thrown the baby out with the bathwater, unfortunately.
I have always believed in the basic principle in any negotiations: that it is the terms of the deal, not the fact of the deal, that matter. Too often in takeover bids in this country, the intermediaries are far keener to get the deal done than to make sure it is a good deal for the participants.
However, I also caution the hon. Gentleman that in terms of meat production, we ought to be looking more at the problems posed by, for example, Brazil, or indeed the EU—in many cases there has been EU competition with less favourable animal standards than we have in this country. We should recognise that this is not unique in any way to the Australian agreement. I also point out that some of the hon. Gentleman’s arguments about percentages may also apply in meat terms to these two trade deals.
Returning to the topic of basic standards, particularly workers’ standards, a welcome development in international trade discussions has been the strong position taken by the Biden Administration in making sure that the beneficiaries are the working class—middle class in American terms—who have built the trade union movement in America and built America, and also workers in other countries. The British Government should note that. I am pleased that the TUC has been brought along to the trade talks with the United States in both Baltimore and Scotland; I fear that was probably at the insistence of the United States rather than willingly from the UK, but it is a good precedent and I hope it will be applied in other trade talks, particularly with Australia and New Zealand.
Australia and New Zealand have strong trade union movements and high labour standards. This deal is not about making ourselves liable to face undercutting competition; this is about opportunity and the ability of firms to trade, perhaps on much more equal terms than with some other countries.
That was touched on earlier in the debate, in relation to the movement—particularly in services and professional areas, but also in manufacturing—of skilled and technical workers. The Minister must acknowledge that previous Home Office restrictions on visas have been a real point of friction with both the Australian and New Zealand Governments. It would be a welcome development if other Government Departments influenced and pressurised the Home Office about that, not just for the economies on both sides but for individual development and to give skilled and professional workers in all three countries the opportunity to move and develop their careers and experience.
Alongside that, I hope there will be mutual recognition of qualifications. Instead of, frankly, allowing professional bodies’ self-interest to override that, we should look at where there is enough common ground and make sure that retraining and recertification, if needed, is very limited rather than taking a blanket approach. As I said earlier, the fact that we are common-law countries should help to facilitate that.
Political, geopolitical and trade interests often meet. For example, China has launched a massive campaign against Australian wine to put pressure on Australia on policy issues. We should work with the Australians as much as we can to facilitate our ability to import Australian wine, although not to the detriment of the growing number of British vineyards, obviously. That would have the side benefit of getting the attention of the Australian trade Minister, Senator Farrell, who represents the great wine-producing state of South Australia.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a great point. Australian wine producers have argued that Treasury banding undermines the spirit of the agreement. To those who are exporting to another country, it would feel like a bit of skulduggery if that country’s Treasury undermined the agreement.
The Chair of the International Trade Committee makes the exact point made to me by Senator Farrell. I hope that that was heard by those on the Government Benches.
To broaden that point, with reference to AUKUS, following the Russian assault on Ukraine, there is a much deeper understanding across the world of the fragility of supply chains and the imperative of supply chain resilience. That is about not just physical industrial capacity, but a skilled workforce. Indeed, AUKUS is in part about the movement of skilled workers in the defence industry to sustain the agreement. It is also about critical materials, such as rare earths. Actually, they are not particularly rare, and Australia has the ores in abundance, but China has consolidated them—often through unfair competition and under-pricing competition —by dominating the refining capacity. Those are areas where we need to work with our security allies, but they also need to be our trade allies. Of course, that is also about trusted suppliers, so there could not be, for example, a “buy America first” policy. There is one level of understanding of that in the United States, but there needs to be greater understanding. That must be an objective of Government.
We should welcome the deepening of relations with our Australian friends and, in particular, with the new Government and Prime Minister Albanese. We look forward to building on that for a successful and shared future.
It is a great pleasure to follow John Spellar. I welcome the chance to speak in this important debate as a Member of Parliament representing a rural constituency up in Cumbria that has a huge agricultural and farming footprint. I also speak as a vet who has worked on farms in the UK and in Australia, and I am a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Quite rightly, there has been much talk about the International Trade Committee’s great work in looking at the trade agreements. The EFRA Committee has produced a report on the Australia trade deal, to which I refer colleagues. I preface my comments by very much welcoming the new Prime Minister and the new Government who are coming in. I am fully supportive of them. However, as a constituency MP and given my interests, I do need to speak out.
I am broadly very supportive of trade deals in principle, and I absolutely adore Australia. I cannot be the only Member in the House who welled up this summer when watching the last episode of “Neighbours”. I am very supportive of everything that goes on in Australia. However, as I have said in the Chamber before, trade deals need to be fair to both partners—as the Australians would say, “You would want a fair crack of the whip”—and the trade deal with Australia is, unfortunately, imbalanced.
Earlier this year, in our UK winter—the Australian summer—I spoke of the one-sided nature of the Australia trade deal, which was reminiscent of the one-sided nature of the men’s Ashes cricket series that was ongoing. We will all be well aware that the England cricket team are now doing a lot better—the New Zealand cricket team will testify to how England have really lifted their game. I firmly believe that we must take a lesson from that, apply a bit of the Ben Stokes “Bazball” technique and go back into bat on these trade deals to make them much more level between the two trading partners.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, for giving way. He makes a very interesting point. A trade deal depends on our own inputs and balances, and on where we stand in the world. The trade deal that one country might do with another will be very different from others, and they are all different in certain ways. I am pretty sure that if, for instance, an independent Wales, with its big sheep interest, was making this trade agreement with Australia, it would be very different. A Wales in the UK making this trade agreement is as it is, and a Wales in the European Union would have a different trade deal again.
The hon. Gentleman makes a point about where we strike a balance. Very often, it depends on where we stand and what our inputs are. I think his fear, which I share, is that the trade deal has been so good for Australia that it just cannot believe its luck. That is a bit disappointing and it is why we should have had parliamentary scrutiny earlier, because we might have reached a different deal that we could all have been happier with. We think free trade is a good idea, but it is just about where we put the balance. Where we stand as Scottish MPs, unfortunately, is that it is not as good as we would have wanted.
I thank the Chair of the International Trade Committee for his intervention, and I will come on to his point about scrutiny later. He makes fair points. Individual trade deals are tailored towards trading partners and the home country—they are bespoke. The important thing we need to think about with Australia and New Zealand is that they are the first trade deals through the gate. They set a precedent. That is why we need to get them right and why the scrutiny needs to be right.
We have heard talk about some of the products that might be involved. This trade deal is more than Tim Tams and some bottles of Hunter Valley shiraz coming over in exchange for Scotch whisky. There are key challenges for our home domestic market. Specifically, I will talk about the beef and sheepmeat sectors, which feel very much under threat. I speak regularly to my Cumbrian farmers in farms and in livestock markets, and they are relaying to me their concerns about what the precedent set by those deals will do for their futures. We have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the House about smallholding farms and tenant farmers—the people who are really on the edge with their profit margins. We need to keep a close eye out for them.
So, here we are today. The Australian free trade agreement has been through the CRaG process. We have talked about the CRaG process. Sadly, it ended on
Some of the concerns have been highlighted today. Some have been highlighted by the International Trade Committee and some by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The EFRA Committee produced a series of recommendations for the Government to take forward in future trade negotiations. Much of what we heard in the EFRA Committee was about speculation and forecasts, and we talked about the accuracy of forecasts. There are a lot of unknowns in relation to how much produce will, ultimately, come our way. When we questioned our experts, there was still a bit of crystal ball—“We still don’t know how much is going to come in.” That is why we need key safeguards for protection and to ensure we can slow down the supply of products if they come in at levels that were not predicted.
Currently, the Australian meat market is pivoted to south-east Asia. In global geopolitics, we have seen in recent months things that we did not predict, such as what has happened in Ukraine, and what that has meant for the world’s food security and the movement of food supplies around the world. We just do not know what will happen throughout the world in the future. At the moment, the Australasian market is pivoted to south-east Asia, but what if, for some reason, it needed to pivot to the west and to Europe? We just do not know. That is why we need strong safeguards.
As a rural MP and a veterinary surgeon, I am concerned and passionate about animal health and welfare standards. We should be very proud of the fact that our Cumbrian farmers and UK farmers farm to the highest animal welfare standards in the world. There is an animal welfare chapter in the Australian trade deal but, unfortunately, there is a discussion to be had about the fact that that is not subject to the dispute settlement mechanism. I believe that the teeth of that chapter are not sharp enough.
Members have touched on the concept of tariff rate quotas. As we have heard—we on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have looked at this issue—the levels of the tariff rate quotas are very high. Therefore, the levels are very high for the produce that is coming in during that phased period of the next 15 years. That period is time-limited and, at the end of the 15 years, all bets are off and we move to free trade. I postulate that the tariff rate quota mechanism needs to be more precise and sophisticated, so that if the flow of produce coming into this country is too high, we can turn it down. It is important to have safeguards through core standards and appropriate tariff rate quota mechanisms.
I have been labelled a protectionist, but this is not about protectionism; it is about standing up for our values and what we believe in. I believe that we in the UK can be a beacon to the rest of the world in the way that we farm and through our animal health and welfare standards. That is why these precedent trade deals are so important: we can send out the message, “If you want to trade with us, bring your standards up to those that the UK population wants from our UK farmers.” These deals are precedents, and this is not about protectionism, but about standing up for our beliefs and values.
I am very glad that, throughout this process, when I and colleagues have raised concerns about some of the products that could come in, the Government have confirmed that a ban will be maintained on hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed poultry so that it is illegal for that to come into the country. It is important that that is on record. That is brought into this debate a lot and it is a bit of a red herring, because those products will not come in through these trade agreements.
We have talked a bit about chlorine-washed poultry. It is important to mention that the chlorine washing process does not kill all the pathogens, as a study from the American Society for Microbiology in 2018 showed; it just makes many of them undetectable in the lab. That needs to be put on record.
There are practices that people use in farming around the world that we are concerned about in this country. We have heard much about mulesing in Australia. I firmly believe that if we had taken the advice of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and put core standards in our trade deals, that issue would have been resolved. If we put in a red line and said, “We do not find these certain types of products acceptable in this country,” that would influence production methods around the world.
There is competition between New Zealand and Australia in rugby, cricket and other sports, and it is a shame that the New Zealand deal did not land just in front of the Australian deal, because in many areas, the New Zealand farming systems are more akin to ours and are often ahead of the curve on many issues. New Zealand has banned such things as mulesing. It is also ahead of the curve on non-stun slaughter of animals, so it is a shame, strategically, that the New Zealand deal did not land first, because in setting a precedent it would have had a knock-on effect on other deals.
I also get very frustrated in this debate when people stand up in this Chamber and outside and give Australian farmers a real kicking. As I said, I am passionate about Australia. When people say, “The Australians have no concept of animal husbandry or animal welfare,” that is deeply offensive to the vast majority of Australian farmers. I have worked as a vet on farms in Australia. They have some fantastic farming systems and are passionate about animals, as we are, so to say that they have no concept of animal husbandry is deeply wrong and offensive. It is important that we bear that in mind. As we have heard today, because of geography, environment and regulation, it is cheaper to produce beef and sheepmeat in Australia than it is in the United Kingdom, so we have a competitive disadvantage for our UK farmers.
We have heard from many colleagues on both sides of the House about scrutiny of and input into free trade agreements. The first iteration of the Trade and Agriculture Commission made clear recommendations about inserting core standards for things like animal welfare and environment into our trade negotiations. Sadly, the Government chose not to take that advice.
The second iteration of the TAC is a lot narrower and more targeted in scope. Quite alarmingly, when we questioned it for our scrutiny report, we found that it is not very well resourced. Its chair actually admitted to us that he had to supplement the commission’s administrative support with university moneys from his own research allowance. Our report makes clear recommendations to the Government that the Trade and Agriculture Commission needs to be adequately funded and resourced. It has some big work coming up with the CPTPP, so it needs more administrative support. If we set something up, it has to be resourced properly.
We have also heard about a lot of the challenges that our UK farmers face. Throughout the pandemic, people in the food production sector were quite rightly acknowledged, recognised and clapped as key workers. Sadly, I feel that we are now moving away from that: people are forgetting how important farmers and food producers, deliverers and processors are to our communities. Food security was brought into sharp relief during the pandemic and has been brought into even sharper relief by the hideous war in Ukraine. It is so important that we acknowledge and support the people who are producing and providing food for us and those elsewhere in the world. We need to understand the huge challenges that they are facing with their fuel costs. All households and businesses across the country are facing the cost of living crisis in fuel and energy, but in the farming sector the costs of fuel, energy, animal feed, fertiliser and supply have rocketed.
Importantly, our Select Committee has launched an inquiry into food security. I have spoken about it before in this Chamber, but I am concerned about the resilience of the UK’s food security and about some of the inputs, such as labour. We need to look at a good, sensible and pragmatic visa system that allows people to come and work in different sectors. Another input is fertiliser. Last year we heard the alarming news that CF Fertilisers had mothballed its complex in Ince, and just three or four weeks ago it announced that it was ceasing ammonia production at its Billingham complex in the north-east. That has a huge impact on the production not only of fertiliser, but of carbon dioxide.
CO2 is so important for our food and beverage sector, but what really worries me as a vet is that it is needed for the humane slaughter of poultry and pigs. If we end up without adequate supplies of CO2, we may see more of what we have seen over the past few months: healthy pigs being culled on farms in the UK and put in the ground, not into the food production sector. Having been involved as a vet in culling animals during the foot and mouth crisis, I can tell the House from personal experience how upsetting it is and how deeply damaging it is to the mental health of vets, farm workers and abattoir workers if animals have to be killed senselessly. We have to ensure that we are resilient in our food and in all the inputs.
My hon. Friend is making a truly brilliant speech: it is a perfect reminder of why we should have had this debate during the CRaG process, and it shows why we might have wanted a delay to consider the points that he makes. Under the Agriculture Act 2020, the Secretary of State must come to the Dispatch Box every three years and report on the UK’s national food security. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should have that report this autumn so that we can take his points into account?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. He is right that the Government must report on food security every three years, but our Committee—the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—made a recommendation that the report should be annual. We need that report on the country’s food security, especially now that we are facing these awful crises with an impact on so many levels of the food production sector.
I have mentioned some of the inputs, including fertiliser, but our UK farmers face other challenges. The EFRA Committee has just launched an inquiry into the environmental land management transition, looking into uptake and asking for a status report on how it is going now that we have left the European Union, and the different way in which farmers and land managers will be rewarded for farming and looking after their land. We want to see how that is going, and whether we need any rethink or any adaptation because of the acute situation in which farmers find themselves.
My plea to the Government is this. In the context of the current deals and that of future trade deals, our UK farming and food production sector is under challenge and under threat. Let us not challenge it further with our international trade policy. So many other things can happen in rural communities, such as infections disease outbreaks, mental health challenges and isolation. In the EFRA Committee—I am referring to it quite a lot today, because we have already heard a great deal from members of the International Trade Committee—our inquiry into rural mental health is approaching completion. It deals with the stress factors in rural communities that affect farmers and livestock managers: the threats that they face have a real impact on their communities and on their mental health.
This debate seems more like a discussion at times, but a good discussion. The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. Let us say that we are negotiating a trade deal that will result in both winners and losers in our own country—forget Australia—and the losers happen to be in, say, rural Wales and the winners happen to be, say, City financial whizz kids. If there is then a demand for some sort of fiscal transfer within the country to offset the damage from the new policy, it will often be resisted by those who have benefited, and there will be no cognisance in the policy that has been negotiated of the more important point that the hon. Gentleman is making about the damage that the new outlook and the new policy will inflict on individuals who find that their industry has been undermined and kicked away.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think it important that when we are striking trade deals with other countries, all parts of the United Kingdom—all parts of the devolved nations, rural and urban—should benefit from those deals. I hope that the Government will take away the strong message that this comes down to individuals, it comes down to small businesses, it comes down to tenant farmers, it comes down to abattoir workers: a great many people need to be considered in this. We need to stop challenging our farmers and food producers, and help them along the way.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I welcome the new Government coming in today, and I was pleased that the new Prime Minister, during the leadership campaign, talked about unleashing British food and farming to improve food security. I was also pleased that my right hon. Friend
I am supportive of the Prime Minister and the Government, but on this issue—for my constituency and, speaking as a veterinary surgeon, for Cumbrian and for UK farming—I want to stand up and say clearly that I have real concerns about what we are doing as a country, and that we need to ensure that we do not make mistakes. I think the scrutiny process that has been mentioned so often during the debate would have helped us, and we would not be in this position today.
I apologise for not being here for the start of the debate. I was chairing a Bill Committee elsewhere.
I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. However, he mentioned a template for future deals. Does it concern him not only that the Australia and the New Zealand deals done were without proper scrutiny because of the way in which the CRaG process was bypassed, but—given that he is involved in agriculture through the Committee and, probably, through his own past as well—that farmers in this country in particular have been sold down the river? This is nothing like what should have been done; for instance, the consultation with the National Farmers Union and others was not as good as it should have been. If this is indeed a template for future deals, it does not bode well for the future.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. As we heard earlier, the paucity of scrutiny is something we are very much aware of.
I will stand up for my Cumbrian farmers and our UK farmers. If they are under threat in, say, the beef and sheep sectors, we have to stand up for them and ensure that we are looking out for them. As I have said before, this is not protectionism; this is about standing up for our values and what we believe in. I have been consistent on this since I was elected to Parliament, and I have voted accordingly on the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill.
As we have heard today and during the leadership campaign, things have changed in the United Kingdom and policy decisions are having to be made. The national insurance rise is going to be reversed, for example. I know that today’s Bill is narrow; we have talked today about what it means. It is about changing UK domestic procurement law, and this is enabling legislation, but what we have seen today is that the Bill and this debate have become a proxy for the scrutiny debate that many of us on all sides of the House are really calling out for. I note that in the other place there was a full three-hour debate and scrutiny. Hopefully this will be a lesson for the Government: please, please bring MPs from all sides of the House with you, because we want these deals to work for both partners. We want them to work for the UK, for Australia and for New Zealand in a mutually compatible way.
With regret, I will not be able to support the Government on the Bill today. I am asking them to think again. I started with comments on cricket. I know that the ink is drying on the Australian trade deal—I am mixing my metaphors now—and perhaps the stable door is bolted and the horse is way down into the next paddock, but the New Zealand deal is still chugging away. I ask the British Government to put their cricket pads back on and to go back into bat on these FTAs while the ink is still drying. I plead with them to drive a harder bargain and to back British farming. We have heard a lot about different cultures across the world, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if we did so, our closest allies and friends in Australia and New Zealand—our Australasian friends—would probably say to the negotiators, “Good on you, mate! Fair play, well batted.”
It is a pleasure to follow Dr Hudson. His contribution was incredibly reasoned and, as someone who grew up in a cricket-loving household, I appreciated his cricket references.
These are the UK’s first independently negotiated free trade deals over 50 years, and the agreements are being hailed as a Brexit success by those on the Conservative Benches. However, today we are left to scrutinise a technical Bill that does not work in the interests of Scottish farmers and does not reflect the Scottish Government’s vision for trade. Frankly, this Bill threatens the devolution settlement through provisions designed to constrain the powers of Scottish Government Ministers. These measures have forced the Scottish Government to lodge a legislative consent memorandum in the Scottish Parliament recommending that Holyrood does not consent to the Bill in its current form.
Procurement is of course a devolved matter—a power exercised by Scottish Government Ministers—but this Bill seeks to constrain those powers. It allows UK Government Ministers to make secondary legislation on devolved matters of procurement without further consent from the Scottish Parliament. Additionally, any future amendments made to the trade deals will not receive further consent. Crucially, this removes a level of oversight.
Under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, Parliament lacks an effective method of scrutinising as well as examining treaties and trade deals. Concerns over the lack of scrutiny of agreements are not limited to these Benches. Members on both sides of the House, alongside my good friend Angus Brendan MacNeil, Chair of the International Trade Committee, have expressed those concerns about being unable to debate the impact of trade deals, crucially, on their constituents. These deals will have significant consequences for people, businesses and the climate. There must be effective scrutiny of these deals to make sure that we have a positive impact on society.
Scottish farmers, including those in my constituency, are already struggling. They face a crisis of uncapped energy prices and labour shortages causing crops to rot in fields, as well as the lost EU farming subsidies. We now also face trade deals that will harm their interests and have been described by the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland as,
“very one sided, with little to no advantage for Scottish farmers”.
Of particular concern are the concessions on animal welfare and environmental standards, which could cause lower-quality produce to undercut farmers from across these four nations.
The lack of environmental and animal welfare standards in these trade deals risks food that is pumped full of pesticides and antibiotics entering our markets. The reality is that these goods fall short of UK standards, with Which? finding that 72% of people across the UK do not want food coming in through trade deals that does not meet current standards.
I have hesitated to interrupt the hon. Lady, because her speech is going really well—as well as I hope Celtic will be going tonight when they are cuffing Real Madrid after about 8 o’clock. But the point that she raised earlier, and the point I hesitated on, was that if this United Kingdom was a proper Union, we would not have a situation where the United Kingdom Government were imposing on the Scottish Government in devolved areas that it independently controls. It does not happen in the European Union; there is respect there. We see a sad lack of respect when it comes to the UK Union, when they think they can impose it. That aspect gives us a problem around this deal.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution and I must admit, as I said earlier, that I grew up in a cricket-loving household and football, sadly, is not my forte.
Once again Scotland is paying the price for being outside the EU, even though over 60% of the country voted remain. The recently negotiated deal between the EU and New Zealand saw stronger safeguards for farmers in comparison to the UK deal. Of course, as an independent country in the EU, Scotland will be able to regain stronger protections.
The Bill bypasses essential parliamentary scrutiny of the Australia and New Zealand trade deals. The elements of the Bill that are up for debate erode the devolution settlement, thus reducing the power of Scottish Government Ministers on matters of procurement. It puts Scottish farmers, along with food and drink manufacturers, at risk of being undercut by meat that potentially may be produced to a lesser standard than that which we currently enjoy.
The UK Government must achieve better protections for Scottish farmers or, crucially, grant the Scottish Parliament the powers to prevent goods of lower standards from being sold in Scotland.
These Australian and New Zealand free trade agreements are in the round, I believe, a good thing for the UK and they have my support and good wishes for their potential in binding our countries ever closer together.
I have heard various attacks on various aspects of the deals, but some of the complaints are a bit like comparing apples with pears—like those who complain about falling trade with the EU and then say that there will not be much coming in from Australia under this deal to compensate. Surely, given where we are, and now that we can negotiate our own trade deals post Brexit, we need to be getting out there and negotiating those deals, like we have with this deal, even if we also need to be organising a better deal with the EU. It might be more persuasive if opponents suggested that the EU had a better FTA with Australia than we do; but of course that case cannot be made—perhaps because the EU and Australia do not yet have a deal. Many provisions here are uncontentious and just good to have, for instance, procurement provisions that create the level playing field, developed beyond WTO minimums, to provide for non-discrimination and anti-corruption, meaning that bidders for contracts will not be put off by the likelihood of local businesses getting preference. Co-operation on the recognition of professional services, business mobility and the recognition of qualifications will be a great help, not only in enabling UK plc to promote our excellent professional services to Australia, but allowing Australian professionals to work here in areas where there is a crying need for such highly qualified workers, such as City law firms. The import of young talent will be a significant benefit to us. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on how these immigration provisions will impact on future free trade agreement negotiations. For instance, in our FTA negotiations with India will the Australian worker mobility provisions constitute the starting point?
Some people complain that the additional trade figures proposed are small, that Australia will sell more to us under this deal than we sell to it, at least in the short term, or that Australia has got a better deal. This is short-term political point scoring and it is short-sighted, because we need to look at the future potential to increase trade. If UK business is provided with anything like what the Government say will be approximately £10 billion of new legally guaranteed market access, this deal represents a huge opportunity.
Earlier in the debate there was a discussion as to how this FTA might help smaller businesses in practice. In that regard, I was contacted only a few days ago by a Huntingdon family-run mid-size company called Le Mark Group, which makes high-value work clothes, tapes and stage flooring. It is now targeting Australia and is already grateful for help from the international fund. Apparently, the Australians are very keen on its “Dirty Rigger” range of work gloves. The key point the company makes is that having the FTA in place has meant that it has had the solid platform to find a dealer that would truly commit to promoting and stocking a sufficient quantity of product. So this deal will help business, small as well as large, and I think more positivity in this debate would have been justified in that regard.
Representing a rural seat, I understand concerns about food and meat imports and ensuring that quality is maintained and that UK farmers are not left in an uncompetitive situation. Given that full market access will not happen for 15 years, there should be plenty of time to cater for the harmonisation of environmental and welfare issues, and we should be looking to ensure that that happens. I heard the Secretary of State confirm that that is the intention. In any event, all existing Australian beef and lamb is currently eaten domestically in Australia or in Asia; there is no spare capacity. One also needs to ask: whatever levels of imports are set or not set, given the increase in meat consumption in Asia why would Australia want to switch to exporting mass-market, high-volume, low-cost meat products to the UK, with ever more expensive transport costs? My hon. Friend Dr Hudson, in a thoughtful speech, suggested that Australia might stop trading with China and then start flooding our markets as a result. One can argue that, as it is possible, but it is highly unlikely, given the number of other meat-hungry countries that are close to Australia.
It is good to have these sorts of discussions. To paraphrase, the hon. Gentleman is saying, “The UK is opening the door to Australia but it is not going to come through the door because it has got so much going through other doors.” That raises the question, first, as to why Australia would want this door to be open, because it seems that it does not want it. Is it because of some of the cuts? Or is it because this is an insurance policy: a parachute market if something goes wrong in the future in some other sphere? If that is the case, it leaves somebody else very vulnerable.
I think it is because there are many people in this world, including myself, who fundamentally believe that the starting point should be free trade and that the peoples of the world improve their lot generally by having free trade.
In any event, we are facing a revolution in the meat sector and it is looking increasingly likely that within 15 years cultured meat will have almost replaced low-value minced meat, chicken and pork. Furthermore, I think it unlikely that UK producers of pricey high-end meat products, particularly ones selling to local markets with strong local followings, need to fear Australian meat imports.
The hon. Gentleman is putting a very brave face on this. Many commentators in the agricultural communities in this country see it far more negatively than he does. I take his point about the 15 years. The agreement will be phased in over 15 years. Many of them see this as a car crash in slow motion. If the hon. Gentleman had argued that the agreement was good for free trade reasons, fine. The minuscule GDP gain from it has been accepted. I see the most positive thing about it as access to the CPTPP, which will be coming on stream. Britain aims in the longer future to join that organisation, which I am sure he will agree is a good thing in itself. That begs the question that, if we can do that why not—
Order. Interventions, by their very nature, should be short.
I think 15 years is a very long car crash. There will be time to regularise, and the world will be a very different place in 15 years. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point on the CPTPP. It was made at the right moment, because I was about to come on to it.
A further reason for supporting the free trade agreement, as the Secretary of State mentioned, is the more strategic one. If we consider that world growth over the next century is going to be dominated by Asia-Pacific, we need to be in on the action there. Negotiations for the UK’s accession to the CPTPP have now started and Australia, New Zealand and Canada are parties to that agreement. Clearly, if we had not settled a deal with Australia and New Zealand, not least given their Commonwealth status, we could have had a much weaker pitch with which to start negotiations with CPTPP. I see this Australia FTA as helping to set out our Pacific stall, enabling us to then move on.
I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s philosophy and approach to trade. He said it was a 15-year lead-in to almost complete openness. Would he want that to be quicker? Would he want it to be 15 months? Would he want it to be slower? Would he have wanted the deal to be more like the Australian deal? I am genuinely interested in his trade philosophy, given what he said about free trade. He sounded like he wanted it to be open immediately.
I do not have any objection to the 15-year period. I would be interested to have heard from his Committee whether more or less would have been preferable, and I am going to come on to scrutiny right now.
I have explained why I support this deal in outline. We need to appreciate that with an FTA, the devil will always be in the detail—something that the hon. Gentleman said himself earlier. These deals do get very detailed, which is why scrutiny of them is so important. I wish now to explain why I believe that not only has the FTA scrutiny process been flawed within the current scrutiny system on this FTA but it has shown up an urgent need for reform of the system itself, as many of us predicted would be required during consideration of the Trade Bill 2021. I thank my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall for his kind and generous recognition of that.
At that time, the Government argued, as they do now, that the existing Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 process would be adequate. In reality, the process, which itself was based on an outdated 1920s convention, was little regarded before Brexit as our trade agreements were then negotiated and predominantly scrutinised and voted on by the EU. As has been described, the CRaG process basically provides a period of 21 sitting days, after but not before a Government have signed a trade deal, to debate and possibly delay ratification, although in practice no delay has ever been voted for.
Before the recess I wrote to the Secretary of State on the scrutiny process for the Australia FTA and she kindly sent me an explanation, but one that frankly did not fill me with confidence. Australia has not yet ratified so there is no pressing urgency here. At the time of the Trade Bill and before signing of the Australia deal, ministers said that there would be full Committee scrutiny pre-signing, and the CRaG consultation with a debate post signing; so why did the Government start the CRaG 21-day clock ticking before the International Trade Committee report came out - effectively stymying the opportunity for debate? The scrutiny of this Bill, I am sorry to say, has been a poor performance on behalf of Ministers. Surely we urgently need to review this outdated and inept system now and move to a similar scrutiny system as used in other democracies. In the US, Japan and the EU, for example, scrutiny, including a final vote on the deal in Parliament, is what happens before signing the FTA, not just before its ratification. The bizarre reality is that, post-Brexit, the UK has given more power to Ministers and has less accountability and scrutiny over its trade deals than when we were in the EU. Now we have a new Government in place, this should be the perfect time to move on and update this creaking system.
I wish to focus my remarks on the precedents being set and the signals being sent by this Bill and the two free trade agreements that it facilitates. The Government promised us an independent trade policy set by the UK’s representatives in Parliament. They claimed that agreements would be in the interests of small businesses, farmers and manufacturers throughout the UK. They reassured us that standards would be upheld. With the UK negotiating free trade agreements for the first time in decades, it seems that they are going back on these commitments. There are, however, three specific areas, which have been discussed extensively, that I wish to touch on today: the ratification process and parliamentary oversight; the concerns of the devolved nations; and the fears that certain standards are not being upheld by these agreements.
I am not the only Member of this House disappointed that the promised debate and vote on the Australia free trade agreement never materialised. It is true to say that the ratification process itself technically does not require such a debate or vote, but the Government gave Members of this House assurances on several occasions that one would take place. Trade affects us all and there are many who wish to participate in the shaping of these agreements. That is why it is so important to engage with them and get their buy-in. It would build trust in the process itself and in the treaties. The precedent that is being set is that free trade agreements will get no parliamentary scrutiny and it sends a signal that the Government will do the bare minimum to get them over the line.
The second area of concern relates to the devolved nations, which have so far declined to give their consent to this Bill. Both the Scottish and Welsh Governments have indicated their concern that this Bill will undermine devolved powers, and it is not difficult to understand why. For example, although the Bill gives Welsh Ministers powers to make regulations in devolved areas,
“it also gives those powers to UK Ministers without any requirement to obtain Welsh Ministers’ consent”.
This is not a precedent that should be set. It signals either a misunderstanding of the point of devolution, or a disregard for it. It would be helpful for this House to know what conversations are taking place with the Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru to address their concerns and reassure them that this Bill will not undermine them.
We have also been warned that these deals threaten to undermine high UK environmental standards, food standards and animal welfare standards. The president of the NFU has said that
“we will be opening our doors to significant extra volumes of imported food—whether or not produced to our own high standards”.
Australia continues to permit farming techniques and chemicals that have long been banned in the UK—battery cages for hens and pesticide use among them. These lower standards allow for lower production costs and cheaper goods, which undercut UK farmers. Here in the UK, we are rightly proud of the high standards that we uphold in relation to animal welfare and the environment. We must not allow them to be undermined.
Earlier this year, I spoke to farmers in Chesham and Amersham who told me that they are already facing rising costs for essentials such as fertiliser and fuel. These farmers are frightened for the future, and worried that their Government are selling them out. It is not only farmers who will suffer; the impact will be felt along the supply chain. The food and drink industry has voiced its concerns about the potential of UK producers to be undercut by Australian competitors.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and is speaking up well for her constituents in Chesham and Amersham as well as being understanding about the situation in Scotland and Wales. Is the point not that the Government really could have done this much better? They could have brought along the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the farmers in Chesham and Amersham by having a bit of debate, a bit of reflection and a bit of consultation and by securing a better deal that people could have united behind?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention; I think we are in agreement. In fact, I agree with the International Trade Committee that we need transparency on the real impact of these new trade deals and the Government to publish a full assessment of the winners and losers across all economic sectors and the nations of the UK.
There are also serious questions to answer about how this Bill will prevent cheaper and lower-quality food products from flooding the UK market, threatening our agriculture and food safety. The Government must outline how they will monitor the impact of that and what action they will take to minimise any damage done to UK business.
The trade-boosting deals promised by the Government have not yet become a reality. The impact assessment of the agreement with New Zealand shows only a 0.03% increase in GVA for the south-east. My constituents in Chesham and Amersham will see next to no benefits from the deals this Bill facilitates.
I agree with the general drift of the hon. Lady’s speech—it is very good indeed, and I agree with most things. There has been emphasis on the regional devolved Governments, but that applies to England as a whole as well. We see people from English constituencies complaining about this deal just as much. The whole problem is about transparency. The Government have bent over backwards to do everything they can to ensure that the Australia deal, which is a template for future deals, was not properly scrutinised, and in my opinion that was deliberate.
I think the precedent that is being set with these deals is important, and that point has been made quite eloquently by others.
The hon. Lady opened her remarks with this point and I am sorry to come back to it, but she asks what benefit there is to small businesses. This is a 100% removal of tariffs. That is an enormous benefit for businesses that are exporting, and even within our respective constituencies I know there are a number of businesses that export to that part of the world.
Of course there are benefits to be found in these agreements, but I want to focus specifically on areas of concern. The agreements will now set a precedent for the trade deals we negotiate with Canada, the United States and others. Given that parts of these agreements were negotiated by our newly appointed Prime Minister—I am not sure she has started her speech yet—I can only hope that she is not looking to make a habit of reneging on promises as she continues in Government. As the UK pursues a new trade policy, we must not abandon our high standards, we must not run roughshod over our parliamentary democracy or the voices of the devolved Governments, and we must prioritise the quality of the deals we strike over the quantity.
This Bill relates to an important agreement for our country as we establish new trading relationships, although in this case the agreements are with two countries with which we have very close bonds in many ways, as John Spellar mentioned in his contribution. One of the great controversies when we joined what was then the European Economic Community was that it weakened strategically important trading links elsewhere in the world, especially with Commonwealth countries. Opportunities are now open again.
My priority is to help my farmers and producers, and all our other industries, to make the most of these two deals and to export the brilliant produce of Meon Valley. We had an urgent question from my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall on
Since my hon. Friend is making a point on food security, I will take this opportunity to see whether she might be open to join the somewhat growing campaign to see a national food security report from the Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food this autumn, to ensure that we can address the point she is now making?
Absolutely. I am very happy to back that campaign and hope that we will have an annual report, because it is incredibly important.
In Meon Valley, we have some exceptional farmers, and I have listened carefully to their concerns about the future. I will watch the operation of all our trade deals closely, especially the impact they might have on smaller farmers, as some of my colleagues have already mentioned. As the chair of Wine UK, I am looking at the export of sparkling wine, which is growing in quantity—including in my constituency where Hambledon Vineyard and Exton Park Vineyard are growing fast—and I hope will soon match the success of Scottish whisky.
Everyone can be reassured that standards and protections are not being weakened to the detriment of producers or consumers—a fair and key concern of my constituents—but we must have more time to debate the provisions of trade deals during the CRaG process in the future, as others have mentioned. There is still the opportunity to do so with the New Zealand deal, and doing so would reassure many people about the process as we look to strike more of these innovative deals for our industries.
The Bill supports the completion of the two deals with Australia and New Zealand. As such, it is important that it passes its Second Reading today, so that we can plan for future deals. Even during these turbulent times, the pace of global trade and markets is relentless. We see some signs of the pandemic easing and freeing up world trade generally, even though the pressures of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are still felt. Freight rates are beginning to fall and some supply chain blockages are dissolving, although others remain. I support the Bill, and look forward to being able to scrutinise future deals and support our industries through them in the years ahead.
Speaking so late in the debate has been of real value, as I have been able to listen to so many contributions from both sides of the House. The debate has been a long time coming, perhaps even longer than many Members have alluded to. Its origins go back to the referendum campaign in 2016, when leave campaigners dangled before us the prospect of trade deals with Australia, the US and India as the main reasons for leaving the European Union, making extravagant claims about the economic benefits. The reality has clearly been very different. With a US deal off the agenda as long as the Government continue with their irresponsible approach to the Northern Ireland protocol, and other deals that have been much proclaimed in fact largely rolled over from those we had previously enjoyed as members of the EU, the Australia deal in particular was lauded, not least by herself, as the great achievement of the new Prime Minister during her spell at the Department for International Trade. It is therefore curious that the Government have been so reluctant to engage with Parliament on the discussion and detail of the deal.
When the deal was announced, Members on both sides of the House probed the Government about it. They brought their experience, as Dr Hudson did strikingly in his contribution, and they raised their constituents’ concerns, as others have done today, but they got nowhere. The Australia deal was signed last December and the New Zealand agreement in February. After several months, the Government laid the Australia FTA before Parliament under the CRaG process on
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; I know I have made a lot of interventions today. One of the reasons for Brexit, of course, was to leave the EU to make trade deals with the likes of New Zealand and Australia, which we are discussing today, but the EU has done a trade deal with New Zealand that is arguably better—[Interruption.] It is better, in fact. And the EU is heading for a deal with Australia as well. That might annoy the Brexiteers, but I really wonder what the future status of these deals might be if at some point the UK rejoins the European Union, or if, after Scotland becomes independent, it rejoins the European Union, and England and Wales trot in behind. Where will these trade deals be then? I do not think the Government have given that point any consideration. The deals are transitory.
That was a very long intervention.
I note the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and expertise on trade deals, but I do not think his question is really directed at me. He and others have made the point that the fact that the parliamentary scrutiny period for the CRaG process expired without debate means that there has been no real opportunity for us to look at the deal. The International Trade Secretary studiously dodged meetings of the Select Committee until it was too late for meaningful engagement. Today we are being asked to pass bare-bones legislation implementing an agreement that we have not been given the opportunity to scrutinise.
This matters because these deals set the scene for the way we approach post-Brexit trade negotiations. We have not done trade negotiations for many years, so it is important that we learn from the way this deal is handled and get it right in the future—we clearly did not get it right this time. Parliamentary scrutiny and oversight matter. As the Chair of the Select Committee pointed out, they are important not simply for the health of our democracy, but for our economy. Members have a valuable contribution to make, as we have heard in this debate.
The reasons for the avoidance of scrutiny are becoming clearer. I know the hon. Member for Huntingdon requested positivity, but we need honesty as well. The Government’s own estimate of the benefits of the Australia deal are that it will contribute 0.08% to GDP by 2035; their assessment of the New Zealand deal is that it will add nothing to GDP. As many Members have highlighted, for key sectors, the figures are worse.
The NFU is concerned that UK agriculture will suffer as a result of the Australia deal. Its president, Minette Batters, explained that
“Despite assurances that these sectors would be afforded some level of protection, we will see full liberalisation of dairy after just six years, sugar after eight years and beef and lamb after 15 years.”
That means no restrictions on imports and open market access, which leaves no protection for UK agriculture or our standards, rights and protections. She continued:
“Just as concerningly, the UK has agreed to beef and lamb quotas which will favour imports of high-value cuts, despite this being the end of the market where British farmers tend to derive any value from their hard work. It’s also difficult to discern anything in this deal that will allow us to control imports of food produced below the standards legally required of British farmers”.
Standards are not just important to farmers; 95% of British people think it is important to maintain British food standards through trade deals. There is also concern in the agriculture sector that Australia approves the use of almost three times the level of pesticides as the UK does.
I served with representatives from every party in this House and representatives from across business and industry on the UK Trade and Business Commission. As part of our work on this deal, we heard, for example, from a beef farmer, Jilly Creed, who explained that hormone beef and antibiotic use is a big concern in the sector. She illustrated the differences between UK and Australian practice in the industry in relation to animal welfare and environmental safeguards, telling us that
“Our cattle go 30 miles down the road and are slaughtered within two hours of leaving this farm. Cattle in Australia can travel up to 24 hours without food and water”.
Kieran Box, of Friends of the Earth, talked to us about environmental issues, saying that
“Prioritising a negotiating partner like Australia…with a lack of progress towards climate targets, with some fairly poor enforcement of environmental laws at the state level, and with the lack of enforceable commitments that we see in the FTA to progress on multilateral environmental agreements, it just feels that we have a set of multilateral environmental commitments on one side and we have a set of trade agreements on the other that pay lip service to those, but in practice they are contributing…to emissions.”
The TUC told us that the sanctions mechanism in these deals for issues such as workers’ rights degradation are so
“restrictive and difficult to be actually brought into action that we don’t think it’s going to be possible to use”.
It is clear that, desperate for a post-Brexit deal, the Government were willing to secure this one at any price, regardless of the damage to communities, industries and the environment. That underlines the importance of effective parliamentary scrutiny. There is real concern that the regulation-making powers in clauses 1 and 2 will enable existing legislation to be amended significantly without scrutiny, undermining parliamentary sovereignty and transferring yet more power to the Executive.
Is it not the case that the whole trick of Brexit was to pretend that trade deals with other countries could compensate for the loss of trade with the EU? We have seen the Government conducting a tick-box exercise where roll-over deals from the European Union were turned into so-called successes, when they were not successes—they were just a copy of what we had with the EU. Australia was the first opportunity to have a template for future deals, but the Government have fallen at the first hurdle.
My hon. Friend echoes the point that I am making.
I am drawing my remarks to a conclusion, but I will make a further point. Trade deals and their implementation must be developed with engagement from business and workers so that they can operate effectively.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s indulgence again. He has made some cracking points in his speech, including one about parliamentary input. We could argue that if we had a debate in Parliament beforehand, it would help our negotiating hand, because the negotiators at the table could tell their opposite numbers, “We won’t get this past Parliament, given the debate that we’ve had.” The involvement of Parliament might actually be—and have been—very helpful in those deals.
The Chair of the Select Committee makes an important point. In an early intervention from the Government Benches—I do not think it was representative of the views of Conservative Members in general—it was said that Parliaments should not be involved in negotiating trade deals. That is clearly nonsense. That sort of early debate in Parliament would have informed and strengthened the negotiating process, and many of the concerns that have been expressed today would have been avoided.
When the Minister winds up, I hope that he will outline his response to the points that have been made, and what steps he feels should be taken to improve the scrutiny of future deals. I hope he would also agree that the powers exercisable under clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill should be constrained by an objective test of necessity, or at least be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
The Australia deal in particular damages our farmers in return for little economic benefit, by the Government’s own measure. It weakens food and animal welfare standards. It falls short on protection for workers. It fails to meet the commitments on climate action that Ministers promised. It is obviously—this is the point that everybody is making—a done deal; it is the new Prime Minister’s flagship agreement. But we need to address its deficiencies and learn the lessons for future FTAs, particularly about the process that we adopt as a Parliament.
I echo the comments made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon about the approach that we need to look at, which is used by other countries. It would provide the engagement that the Chair of the International Trade Committee talks about at an early stage of the process, and it would provide genuine involvement as the deal is secured. It would ensure not only that we have effective parliamentary scrutiny, but that we exercise parliamentary sovereignty, as we should.
I will keep my remarks brief—mercifully brief, most people might think—because I do not want to repeat much of what has been said in the debate. I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend Sarah Green for her remarks and to Dr Hudson for his excellent speech.
I will put on record some of my concerns on behalf of my constituents. It is disappointing that there will not be a meaningful vote on the content of these trade deals, as we have covered at length today. My farmers have made it clear to me that they feel very much sold out by this agreement and that their interests have been bargained away for the sake of a good newspaper headline and an agreement with little forecast benefit to the UK.
I would like for a moment to touch on the concept of forecasts, having done them as a career before this one. Forecasts are by their nature not facts and are uncertain things, but there is no way that in my previous career I could have gone to my director with a forecast and said, “Well, it’s not as good as we wanted, but fingers crossed, as my last one was a bit on the low side, I’m sure it’ll turn out okay.” I do not think I would have walked away from that meeting with my job intact. I think we need to recognise that forecasts are always going to be wrong, but they reflect a range of possibilities and they are the best information we have. We should rely on the most likely outcome and bear in mind the upside and the downside provided. I do not think we should be dismissing forecasts as too pessimistic, because we do not have any better information to work from.
We have heard from many people who have said that the main point about farming, and it is a very good point, is that the failure to ensure that the world-leading environmental and animal welfare standards we are so proud of in the UK will be required of farmers who import to us risks undercutting our own farmers, and particularly our small family-owned farms. This comes at a time when the industry is being battered from all sides. The costs of doing business are spiralling, and we have heard today about fertiliser, animal feed and fuel prices. We are seeing the basic farm payment being reduced before its replacement is fully available, and we have an increasingly unpredictable climate for farmers to grapple with.
This is happening to such an extent that some of my farmers are now considering hanging up their wellies for good. I am sure that is not the Government’s intention—as Anthony Mangnall pointed out, many Conservative Members represent rural constituencies—but, along with the financial incentives to encourage farmers to shut up shop, I fear that it may be the result. In rural constituencies, agriculture may not be the biggest factor, but it is the backbone of daily life and food production and, certainly in my constituency, is one of the most significant employers. It is just not okay to take these rural voters and these constituencies for granted by allowing these poor deals to go ahead.
I want to pick up a point about food labelling and consumer choice, because food labelling in this country is already confusing. British consumers can go into a supermarket and buy bacon that has been processed and packaged here and has a Union flag on the package, and they believe they are buying British. In fact, that pork will have been reared overseas, probably in the EU, in a place where lower standards are allowed, for instance in the use of farrowing crates. I have met local pig farmers who have been forced to kill pigs on farm while European carcases are processed in the factory down the road because those carcases are cheaper to import. I can see the situation becoming worse for our farmers, particularly for the beef and sheep farmers we are talking about in respect of these deals, if we allow this to go ahead.
As many Members have said, this Bill sets a precedent, so even if the volumes from these two deals are relatively small, when we go forward into our new negotiations we could be opening the floodgates to a large amount of produce that will undercut our farmers. We have also heard from Members that this is a time when food security should be top of our agenda. We should be producing as much as we reasonably can to keep food on the table, not introducing extra risks into British farming. I am disappointed to see the Conservative Government doing that, because they made iron-clad commitments that new trade deals would not undermine British farming.
It is important to mention the environmental cost. Allowing food produced to lower standards simply offshores our responsibility to lead the world in sustainable food production. I am reminded of a very silly joke, and I am afraid it is not funny: “What is that farmer doing over there? Well, he’s out standing in his field.” It is silly, but it is true, because our farmers are outstanding in their field. Of course, we can do more in British farming to protect the environment and improve animal welfare, but we have already shown global leadership and we should proudly continue to do so by insisting on a level playing field in the trade deals we sign.
The new Prime Minister was personally involved in negotiating both these deals. They have been assessed as damaging to the British farming sector and as producing little benefit to the wider economy, and they have not been allowed the full scrutiny of Parliament and the meaningful vote on their contents. I think that is an alarming precedent for the future, so I hope she improves in her new role.
The chairman of the Farming Community Network in Devon wrote a column last year for the Devon Churches Rural Forum. John Wibberley wrote that he had collected agricultural postage stamps from around the world since he was a child, and one Australian stamp proclaimed that Australia should “produce food”. It seems that there is no such focus on food security from the UK Government, who are requiring British farmers to compete with exporting countries while eating away at the basic payment. The west country is home to more livestock than any other region of the UK. Can the Minister assure farmers in Devon that the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill will not trade off the benefits for professional services firms with farmers’ livelihoods when we see a significant increase in the imports of Australian beef and New Zealand dairy products next year?
This has been an interesting and important debate, and the frustration of the House about the lack of scrutiny of these deals to date has been marked, with interventions from the Labour Benches and across the House, most notably from members of the International Trade Committee across parties. They have expressed striking concerns about, in the words of Mark Garnier, the completely meaningless CRaG process that the Secretary of State allowed to unfold. It is also striking that there was absolutely no apology to the House in the Secretary of State’s speech for the process she had allowed to unfold. As my right hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds said, Ministers have hidden away whenever they could, rather than face sustained and serious questioning on the substance of these deals. The shadow Secretary of State also made it clear in his opening remarks that we will not oppose this Bill tonight, but we will seek to amend it in Committee.
Australia and New Zealand are two of this country’s greatest friends: allies in the Commonwealth; with us in the darkest moments of our shared history; and with shared values, similar governance and mutual security interests. We have so much in common. We should, and we will, want to work even more closely with both countries for our mutual benefit, as my right hon. Friend John Spellar underlined in his contribution, in particular in deepening our economic and other ties in the months and years to come.
The hon. Gentleman is in full flow, but I want to rewind to the CRaG process, on which he has shared the disappointment expressed across the Chamber and across parties. May I press him? Is he putting the House on notice during the current prime ministerial musical chairs that if Labour were to occupy the seats of power this would indeed change and there would be a more meaningful process than CRaG? That would of course put pressure on the Government to change it now.
Of course we will want a much more meaningful process of scrutiny of trade deals when we switch Benches, but we also want to make sure there is a much more meaningful process in the few months left of the Conservative party’s time in government.
As I have set out, it was deeply disappointing to hear and share so many concerns of Conservative Members about the scrutiny allowed to this House of the trade deals the Conservative Government have negotiated with such key partners. We know the ministerial team at the Department for International Trade was in crisis, with the Secretary of State at loggerheads with the Minister of State, open and clearly deep personal animosity, and then junior Ministers resigning in protest over lack of support for British exporters. The chaos was obvious and clearly profound. As with so much from Conservative Ministers, the difference between what was promised and what was delivered is considerable.
The now Prime Minister said when she was still the Secretary of State for International Trade:
“I can confirm that we will have a world-leading scrutiny process…That will mean the International Trade Committee scrutinising a signed version of the deal and producing a report to Parliament”—[Official Report,
Only then, she said, will the CRaG process start.
The reality has been somewhat different. The Secretary of State was asked eight times to front up at the Select Committee and only finally turned up to answer questions after being shamed into doing so by her rightly angry Back Benchers. Ministers have failed to publish in full vital analysis or modelling to justify key provisions in the agreement, not least on agricultural quotas. The Government began the formal 21-day CRaG process before the International Trade Committee had produced its report, and even before the then Secretary of State had had the courage to show up to defend the agreement.
The Government refused to grant the Committee’s perfectly reasonable request for 15 sitting days between the publication of that extra critical information and the start of ratification of the CRaG process. As my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State underlined, Lord Grimstone—then a trade Minister—confirmed in May two years ago that the Government did not envisage a new FTA proceeding to ratification without a debate having first taken place. World-leading it has not been.
It is similarly extraordinary the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not properly resourced. If that does not change, it will be clear that Ministers do not intend to allow serious scrutiny of future trade deals, either.
My hon. Friend mentions the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which it was promised would have proper trade union representation, but many months after it was set up, that has still not materialised.
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that ongoing concern. His intervention reminds me that it would be remiss of me not to praise the International Trade Committee, whose work on the deal, notwithstanding all the difficulties that it has faced, is an example of the very best of our Select Committee system at work. Indeed, I say gently to its Chair that perhaps his Committee’s work is one small example of how the UK is stronger together.
I sympathise with the frustration of cross-party Committee members that no cohesive strategy for trade negotiations has been published, making it that little bit easier for Ministers to be pushed and pulled in whatever direction those with whom we are negotiating want. I hope that whoever is confirmed as Secretary of State for International Trade will address that key issue quickly. Why has there been such a contrast between what was promised to the House for such key deals and what has happened? Is it just incompetence, laziness or poor performance from individual Ministers, or is there something more profound here? Is it that the implications for procurement, British agriculture and tenant farmers—Dr Hudson and others flagged up that issue—as well as for our food standards, for labour and human rights, for action on climate change, for buying British and for good digital regulation are so significant that Ministers felt it better to try to discourage a sustained look at the provisions in these deals?
The Australia and New Zealand trade deals are not going to deliver the sustained boost to economic growth that the country needs. Many have made that point. Welcome as the deals will nevertheless be, they will deliver at best marginal benefits for business, limited gains for consumers and few additional jobs. In the post-truth world that the Conservative party now sadly inhabits, the deals have been sold to us all as the start of a brave, amazing, fantastical post-Brexit era for British trade and growth. One can only wish that the same effort had been put into the actual negotiations as into the stories being told about these deals.
To be fair, there is genuine excitement from some about these deals: Australian farmers, Australian negotiators and New Zealand farmers were all delighted. On the upside, too, the deals have not led to the value of the pound dropping or a decline in foreign investment, and British farming and food businesses have not seen an immediate hit to their contracts. That, at least, is an improvement on the trade deal that the previous Prime Minister negotiated with the European Union. The overwhelming sense of the trade deals—with Australia in particular, and with New Zealand—is of deals done in a rush, with the now Prime Minister desperate for any deal, at almost any cost.
Some commentators have suggested—this point has been echoed by many in the debate—that in the rush to sign off the two new free trade agreements and bring the Bill to the Floor of the House, Ministers have failed to grasp how the deals leave Britain badly exposed for future negotiations with, for example, the US or Brazil. They argue that by undermining our food, animal welfare and environmental standards, the deals create difficult precedents in key parts of our economy, and that English farmers—and those in the devolved nations too—have been left most at risk of a long-term cumulative hit to their, and our country’s, economic interests, with the terms of these deals being used against us in even more significant negotiations.
It is, I have to say, extraordinary that Ministers made such a big offer to Australian farmers and got so little in return. The unconditional abolition of tariffs on Australian farm produce with few safeguards—a very big concession—is particularly surprising given that Ministers did not even negotiate basic protections for our most famous products, a point made by my right hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds and the SNP spokesman, Drew Hendry. Why did Ministers not prioritise protections of UK geographical indicators for our most iconic brands, such as Scotch whisky, Swaledale cheese, traditional Grimsby smoked fish, Yorkshire Wensleydale and Cornish pasties, to name just a few?
It is not just in Australia and New Zealand that Ministers cannot negotiate protections for our country’s best brands. Ministers still have not secured GI status in Japan for half the products they claimed they would. Indeed, ironically it appears Ministers are hoping their failure here will be partially put right through the knock-on impact of the EU’s negotiations with Australia.
My hon. Friend rightly concentrates on the Government’s deficiencies in handling the negotiations on agriculture, but, as a Member of Parliament representing the heartland of the industrial revolution, does he not see advantages for British industry in this agreement?
Absolutely, I see advantages for British exporters, which is why, in my praise for my right hon. Friend in the opening part of my speech, I underlined that we want to see increased trade with Australia and New Zealand going forward.
Given the huge concessions Ministers made on access to our agricultural markets, it is frankly also surprising that they did not insist on more protection against competition from food imports produced to lower standards. Human rights, labour rights and climate change have also been largely unmentioned.
Turning specifically and lastly to the Bill, it gives Australia and New Zealand better access to our Government procurement market, worth almost £300 billion, in return for our firms getting a little better access to their procurement markets, worth just £200 billion together. We will seek to amend the Bill in Committee to ensure there is better scrutiny of the procurement sections of both UK trade deals. The Conservative party has been missing while the people of our country are struggling to make ends meet and deeply worried about how their businesses and other businesses will survive. The Bill will make little substantial difference to those challenges. A more robust trade strategy to generate wealth and share it more fairly is long overdue, and much more robust parliamentary scrutiny needs to be one of the lessons that Ministers learn from the passage of these two deals. We want greater trade with both Australia and New Zealand. We will not oppose the Bill tonight, but we will seek to amend it during its remaining stages.
It is a pleasure to reply to what has been a serious and, if I may say so, well-informed debate.
The passage of the Bill will allow us to ratify the agreements and thereby unlock a new chapter in the proud and vital tradition of Britain trading freely with the world. These are the first trade agreements that the UK has negotiated from scratch in over half a century and it is wholly appropriate that they are with our friends in Australia and New Zealand. My hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford reminded us of the close links between our three nations, including his own dual nationality. My own brother lives in Australia and has an Australian family. According to the 2021 Australian census, a third of Australians have English ancestry. Similarly, 72% of New Zealanders are of European origin, with the majority of those estimated to hail from the UK. John Spellar reminded us of the Anzac memorial in Whitehall, the Five Eyes partnership and AUKUS. As my right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, now the Prime Minister—if I may be the first to congratulate her from the Dispatch Box—said when she launched the negotiations, these deals
“renew and strengthen our bond of friendship, help bring greater prosperity to our peoples, and send a clear signal to the rest of the world that like-minded democracies are prepared to stand up for free trade and the rules underpinning international trade.”
We have been listening to Members, particularly from the Opposition, saying that we need protections and so forth to be built in. This goes two ways: if we build in protections, Australia and New Zealand will want to build them in, so a free trade agreement will cease to live up to its title.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Although one has to work quite hard to find them, we have heard throughout this debate about a legion of opportunities that the Bill will open up. My hon. Friend Mike Freer, late of the parish of this Department, spoke about the importance of the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, and we heard the same point from my hon. Friend Mr Djanogly.
The nationalist spokesman, Drew Hendry, somewhat grudgingly accepted the benefit of the deal for Scottish whisky. My hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley conjured up an image of a warehouse full of Silent Pool gin waiting to be shipped down under. We heard from my hon. Friend Mrs Drummond about her opportunity, and she does great work as chair of the all-party group on English sparkling wine for Hambledon Vineyard and Exton Park in her constituency.
We heard from Sammy Wilson about the number of jobs in his constituency that are dependent on mining machines, with Australia, again, as the sole market for those. We even heard about the opportunity for Nick Thomas-Symonds to export his book down under.
I am hearing an awful lot of the typical boosterism from the Government—the spin and froth—but does the Minister accept the numbers? We need 62 and a half of these Australian-style deals to match the damage that Brexit has done to the United Kingdom economy.
We also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) and for Wycombe (Mr Baker) about the serial underestimate of the benefits of free trade. We Government Members are very clear about the benefits for consumers and producers and the competitiveness of this nation alike.
I will try to address as many of the other points as time allows. As is so often the case, I am afraid that Lloyd Russell-Moyle raised the prospect of the NHS being at risk. Let me be very clear: this and our other free trade agreements do not, and will not, cover healthcare services in the UK—neither will they threaten the standard of care nor the Government’s ability to decide how we and this Parliament organise our healthcare services in this country in the best way for patients. The NHS is not at risk from free trade agreements and I agree with the right hon. Member for Warley that the House should not conflate the two.
A number of serious contributions were made about agriculture. We understand fully hon. Members’ concerns—we heard from my hon. Friend Dr Hudson and, again, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes. British farming is vital to our trade policy. Any deal that we sign needs to work for UK consumers, farmers and food producers. I have many of those in my constituency and will always look out for them.
Like the Minister, I have farmers in my constituency; I met them last week and we discussed the trade deal and its likely impacts. Is he concerned, as they are, about the sort of economic impact that it will have? Will he confirm that the Government have undertaken a full economic impact assessment of the deal?
The Government have undertaken that and, indeed, the independent Trade and Agriculture Commission has given the deal a green light and a clean bill of health, in terms of its impact.
I will make some progress, but I will come back to many of the points that the nationalist spokesman made.
The issue of antimicrobial usage was raised. The TAC outlined in its report on the Australian deal that the free trade agreement will not lead to increased imports of products commonly produced using antimicrobials, largely because it does not reduce tariffs on those products. They are out of scope.
The nationalist spokesman and Ms Qaisar talked about the role of the devolved Administrations in the process. The negotiation of trade agreements is a reserved matter, whether the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey likes it or not, but the devolved Administrations are responsible for implementation in matters of devolved competence, which includes certain provisions relating to public procurement. The Bill applies, as it should, to the whole United Kingdom and will confer concurrent powers on both UK and devolved Ministers, or on a Northern Ireland Department, to implement public procurement provisions in both the Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements. They are limited powers specific to implementing these agreements alone.
Not for the first time, nationalists are promoting an act of self-harm. These trade agreements have the potential to deliver sizeable benefits across the four nations; the Australia agreement alone could mean an increase in GVA of about £200 million for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will be valued by their citizens. My Department is seeking legislative consent from each devolved legislature and is engaging with the DAs, building on the extensive engagement—acknowledged on both sides—that was undertaken during the negotiation of both trade agreements at ministerial and official level.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her opening remarks, we are committing not normally to use these concurrent powers without a devolved Administration’s consent, and never without consulting them first. The same commitment was made regarding the use of powers in the Trade Act 2021 and has been honoured by the UK Government.
The nationalist party spokesman—[Hon. Members: “National!”]—was positively wistful for a European agreement with New Zealand. What he talked about is much more protectionist, offers far fewer benefits for UK consumers, and if we were still in the European Union, he would have had no scrutiny or influence over it.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order to send this Government to Brussels to learn some lessons in respect and how to run a Union? This is not a way to run a Union.
That is not a point of order.
A number of right hon. and hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), for Huntingdon, for Totnes and for Meon Valley, raised parliamentary scrutiny. They made their points eloquently and in a collaborative way. I am sure that they will have been listened to, especially as they relate to the interaction with the Select Committee. It is clear—the point has been made across the House—that the Committee has done its work diligently and that its Chairman and members are effective.
The Government acknowledge the importance of parliamentary scrutiny of our ambitious trade agenda, and we want to get it right. Indeed, it is always a delight for this House to debate the life-enhancing virtues of trade. In human evolution, it must rank alongside language and the opposable thumb in its utility and impact. Free trade has vastly extended the length and quality of life of billions of people on this planet, many in the most desperate and impoverished parts of the world. That is why it such is a serial disappointment on this side of the House that Opposition Members seem so determined to place a spoke in the wheel of this country’s ability to set its own independent trade policy. With respect, we will take no lessons on scrutiny from those who voted again and again for the zero scrutiny that comes from British trade policy being decided not in Holyrood or Westminster, but by bureaucrats in Brussels.
The Minister is doing an excellent job at the Dispatch Box and is making a very good speech, but given what has been said in this debate, when the Committee has done a report on the New Zealand free trade agreement, will he commit to a debate under the CRaG process with a votable motion at the end?
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. He has made his point very clearly, and I am sure that the Government have heard it.
This Bill is the first step in the creation of the outward-looking, internationalist, truly global Britain that we envisage for our future. It is not the end of the Government’s ambition, but the beginning. It is our objective to place the UK at the centre of a network of values-based free trade agreements spanning the globe. Trade is an issue that transcends party politics. It is intrinsic to our way of life. Fewer barriers mean more opportunities for our business, more economic growth, better jobs, and higher wages for our people. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time.