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 Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 3:30 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, it was good to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and to be reminded of the days when everything worked swimmingly. I do not know if he was here on Second Reading, when the Government were perfectly honest and straightforward in admitting that there was a big lacuna in the Bill. They accepted that there was and said it would be filled in at a later stage. We were talking of a two-Bill scenario at that stage; we were also thinking of an implementation period.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay: we are now in a completely different scenario. The modesty of the Leader of the Opposition’s proposal is admirable. She is not saying that we should not proceed with the Committee stage, and she is right. We should not down tools. We should go on doing our job trying to improve this Bill. However, the lacuna is still there. We do not know what the machinery will be for legislative scrutiny of future trade negotiations.

I would add to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about the Council. Yes, this country and interests in it will be less informed about trade policy if this Bill with the lacuna in it goes through and we leave the European Union, so losing our voice and vote in the Council. The Council is pretty transparent. However, even more transparent is the European Parliament, where the relevant committee follows trade negotiations extremely closely and a vote in plenary in the Parliament is required before the conclusion of an agreement. We will not have a voice; we will not have a vote; we will not know in this country anything about what the Government are planning to do.

Trade negotiation is no longer just a matter of the import and export of widgets. It is about social rights, environmental rights, the provision of healthcare and investment protection. There are trade-offs between dossiers. The public are entitled to know what the Government are doing. We here are duty bound to have a role in scrutinising what the Government intend to do. On Dr Fox’s current negotiations on the 36 or 39 successor agreements or whatever it is that are going to be ready one minute after midnight if the foreigners get their act together and start doing some work, even our closest friends in places such as Australia and New Zealand sense our vulnerability. They are not happy just with the pro rata division of quotas. They see a chance of gaining a concession. That concession will affect interests in this country; for example, the hill farmers or the dairy trade. What do they know about what Dr Fox is planning to do to them? They know nothing. What is our job? It is to pin down the Government on what they are going to do. That seems a reasonable request by Report stage. We should not down tools, but we should vote with the Leader of the Opposition in her amendment.