Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 4:30 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, we begin this first day in Committee with a discussion about some really important matters. I recognise the vast experience of your Lordships on many of these matters and am clear that this experience will be invaluable to the process. Even before we began this debate today, I held a number of meetings with noble Lords from all sides as—I want to underline this from the very beginning—I am very keen to hear all views and to ensure we have a full and proper discussion on these issues. I want that to continue. My door is open to any of your Lordships who wish to speak to me. I look forward to working closely with noble Lords as we scrutinise the Bill’s provisions.

The Trade Bill will put in place the necessary legal powers and structures to enable us to operate a fully functioning trade policy. This will ensure that the UK is ready for exit. It provides continuity for individuals, businesses and our international trading partners; it also ensures that we can protect them. With the leave of the House, I will say that some of the comments made relate to future trade policy and others are about continuity, which is really the purpose of most of the clauses of the Bill. Therefore, I will try in these early amendments to focus on the continuity aspects of what we are discussing. Later in Committee we will look at future trade agreements and will have some time to discuss those.

In the previous debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, my noble friend Lord Lansley made the point that this is about continuity. I want to stress that point: we need continuity for our businesses and for our people. The Agreement on Government Procurement, or the GPA, is an element of that continuity. As noble Lords will know, it is a plurilateral agreement within the framework of the WTO. Not all WTO members are party to the agreement. However, the UK has been a participant since its inception through its EU membership.

I turn now to Amendment 1, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and underline the purpose of subsections (1)(e) and (1)(f) to which it refers. These give a power that is intended to be used to make regulations that reflect technical changes to a list in the UK’s GPA annexe 1, made to ensure that it provides an accurate picture of central government entities. These changes would be made only after machinery-of-government changes and the transfer of functions from one to another. They would therefore be strictly technical changes—such as, for example, BIS becoming BEIS.

We recognise the importance of appropriate transparency. Officials have been liaising and will continue to liaise with the devolved Administrations in preparation for notifying GPA parties of updates to the list. We have already shared the UK’s draft GPA schedule with the International Trade Committee and the devolved Administrations. Officials will continue to work in conjunction with the devolved Administrations as we operate as an independent member of the GPA, and will ensure that the devolved Administrations are engaged in creating modified lists. I want to record on the Floor of the House my gratitude for the work of officials in the devolved Administrations on the UK’s accession to the GPA.

Speed is of the essence. Therefore, as the powers in subsections (1)(e) and (f) will be used only to update the list of central government entities, it would be disproportionate to consult local authorities, trade unions, consumer groups, businesses and NGOs on this clause as these would be small technical changes made to the UK’s annexe to reflect machinery-of-government changes. The noble Lord, Lord Monks, raised the issue of trade unions being involved in future policy. They have already been included in the consultation on the future, but this is about the continuity of subsections (1)(e) and (f) of the GPA. As noble Lords will know, the GPA mutually opens up global procurement markets among its parties. It opens up procurement activities for our businesses worth an approximate £1.3 trillion annually. We are seeking to maintain continuity for business by remaining a participant of the GPA. Clause 1 allows for the UK’s independent membership of the GPA rather than its membership through the EU, and that needs to be implemented in domestic regulations.