Trade Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:29 pm on 11th September 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 9:29 pm, 11th September 2018

My Lords, I am grateful for the insightful contributions from across the whole House to this evening’s excellent and wide-ranging debate. We are fortunate to have heard so many well-articulated, informed and expert contributions from noble Lords with considerable interest in and experience of trade issues, including my noble friends Lord Lilley, Lord Tugendhat, Lord Cavendish of Furness, Lord Trenchard, Lord Lansley, Lord Horam and Lady Neville-Rolfe. I loved the point that customers need to want to buy what we make or buy our services.

The debate was also well informed by our trade envoys, my noble friends Lord Risby and Lord Astor of Hever. We are well served by trade envoys across this House. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, focused in particular on services, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, has extensive knowledge of this area. This considerable experience will be invaluable in helping us to put in place an effective independent trade policy after we leave the EU. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Purvis of Tweed, for the very active engagement that we had before this debate.

I confess that I join the horde of instant admirers of my noble friend Lady Meyer, and I am delighted to welcome her. She made an exceptional and utterly compelling maiden speech, and I have no doubt that this House will benefit greatly from her unique experience, her vibrancy and her tireless work against injustice. I am grateful for her recognition of the importance of the Bill and for supporting its speedy passage—and I loved her assertion that she is a true Brit and a true European.

I am pleased to have heard support for the Bill from a number of other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Brockwell. I am grateful also to my noble friends Lady Hooper, Lord Astor of Hever, Lord Cavendish of Furness, Lord Lansley, Lord Elton and Lord True for their support.

A number of issues have been raised in this thoughtful debate and I will try to cover as many as I can. I may not be able to respond to each point, but of course my door is open.

I am aware that many noble Lords hold strong views about the wider Brexit issues. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, that is not for this Bill, so I will try to focus primarily on your Lordships’ questions that have direct application to the Bill, and I will put them in the following blocks: continuity; the GPA; readiness for no deal; standards, including on medicines; devolution; the TRA; the World Trade Organization; and the Northern Ireland border situation.

The Bill is about providing continuity. That is our overriding objective and clear ambition, and I welcome the support expressed by many noble Lords for the importance of maintaining the effects of the agreements which we currently benefit from as a member of the EU. Almost no one who contributed to the International Trade Committee’s inquiry into continuity suggested that that objective was wrong. I also welcome the suggestion from my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering about the practices in Denmark. I promise to pick those up with her at an early stage.

As well as having the legal power to provide for the continuity of existing agreements, we must also agree to do so with our trading partners. This point was raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord Fox, as well as my noble friend Lord Tugendhat. The Government’s aim is supported by our partner countries, whose own businesses and people will benefit from keeping the arrangements in place. We have had positive discussions with our trading partners about how best to continue these agreements. That is why we agreed that our continuity programme is a technical exercise, not an opportunity to renegotiate terms.

Of course, it is not surprising that some can see ways in which the agreements might be improved when we are no longer a member of the EU. But our partner countries agree with us that it makes practical sense, in the first place, to provide continuity. The negotiations are in different phases, but I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who raised concerns. One example is Canada, which has agreed that our bilateral trade and investment relationship will continue to go from strength to strength, has welcomed the approach to provide continuity during the implementation period and envisages a swift transition to a new bilateral arrangement once the implementation period has passed.

We are confident of securing continuity during the implementation period, under the terms of the draft withdrawal agreement. However, we of course continue to prepare across government—this is a cross-government initiative, with the FCO, DIT and DfID all working on these agreements—for a range of possible scenarios to maintain continuity, including one in which we do not reach an agreement with the EU on withdrawal.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, raised the important area of rules of origin. In the debate today we have heard many detailed points. Rules of origin are a vital and very complex part of most trade agreements. Noble Lords raised detailed, technical questions that are difficult to cover fully in this debate.

We are, however, confident that we will be able to put in place provisions relating to rules of origin in our continuity agreements. They will seek to achieve maximum continuity for exporters in the UK and in our partner countries, who will continue to benefit from preferential trading terms. During the implementation period we will operate as if we were in the EU. The rules of origin in each agreement are a matter for agreement between the parties, including the EU and third countries. A number of noble Lords talked about diagonal accumulation, whereby we act as if we were part of the EU.

On a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, on rules of origin—