Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 3:30 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I support the amendment and point out, as have others, that this Bill is being brought forward in a totally different context from when it was debated and passed in the Commons last summer, and at Second Reading here in September. At that time, it was envisaged and presented by the Government as a minor technical measure which would complement an EU withdrawal deal and political declaration, and provide a 21-month transition to fill the gaps that are currently there and which prevent it being fully equipped to provide for an independent trade policy for a UK outside the EU. Those gaps remain and they are highly relevant given the Government’s unwillingness to rule out a no-deal exit on 29 March and the consequent need to operate an independent trade policy from that date.

For example, we do not even know—and more importantly, our businesses do not know—what tariff rates we would apply to imports from the EU and preferential trade partners of the EU on 30 March in the event of no deal. No satisfactory indication has been given of how parliamentary oversight of trade policy will operate in these circumstances. Currently, the situation is clear: the EU Commission can conduct exploratory talks with third countries but it can negotiate with them only when it has received a mandate from the Council; that is, the member states. That gives a measure of democratic control. What will we do to replace that? There is a complete absence of indication. It would be really poor if we went into a period like that without any parliamentary oversight at all; that is hardly a policy that could be called “taking back control” for this Parliament. Surely this gap needs to be filled before the Bill becomes law.

I believe it is being argued that this is unprecedented, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said. Perhaps it is, but we are dealing with an unprecedented situation, and unprecedented situations call for unprecedented solutions. Is the amendment unreasonable? I do not think so. It does not place any impediment at all on the completion of Committee, which should proceed precisely as planned. It gives the Government about a month to fill in those gaps in the Bill before Report begins. What is unreasonable about that? I hope the Government will accept the amendment, which I do not think stands in the way of this measure arriving on the statute book in time.