Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 4:45 pm, 21st January 2019

I will confirm this, but my understanding is that the schedules will be exactly as they are now. The procurement agencies in Wales will be able to put in their own procurement rules in that context, provided that they meet the GPA rules and are done on a level playing field. That will continue. The whole purpose of this is to make those changes and to have continuity—but if there is any change in what I said to the noble Lord I will revert.

Amendment 2 would require the regulations under Clause 1 to make provision to amend retained direct EU legislation only in accordance with the provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. As I understand it, the amendment seeks to ensure that the powers in Clause 1 cannot be used to amend retained direct EU legislation in a way that is contrary to the provisions of the EU withdrawal Act. This is a concern that I have sympathy with and which the Government have considered carefully. I am therefore happy to assure the noble Lord that the powers cannot be used in this way. I hope that noble Lords will take reassurance from this and will agree that the amendment is unnecessary. Paragraphs 10 to 12 of Schedule 8 to the EU withdrawal Act cover powers to make subordinate legislation on or after the day the Act was passed, so they will bind legislation made under Clause 1 of the Trade Bill without further provisions being made. In addition, I inform the Committee that the Government intend to bring forward an amendment on Report to include the same definition of retained direct principal EU legislation used in the EU withdrawal Act in this Bill to clarify the position even further.

I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for bringing forward Amendment 3. Parliament’s ability to scrutinise the UK’s independent accession to the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement prior to ratification is incredibly important and one that the Government have considered. I can assure noble Lords that it is entirely the Government’s intention to comply with their legal obligations under CRaG to offer Parliament the opportunity to scrutinise the UK’s accession to the GPA. In the light of this assurance, the Government believe that it would be unnecessary to have an amendment that compels this. However, to provide further reassurance to the Committee I will state clearly that the UK’s accession to the GPA is to be on the same terms and with the same rights and obligations that we currently enjoy as a participant through the EU. As with all the Bill, this is about continuity. The UK’s GPA schedules, which have been accepted in principle by the GPA parties, can be viewed publicly on the WTO’s GPA website under the UK portion of the EU schedules.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised some issues about Canada and how we might think about our policy in future. Again, that is for the future and not related to this clause and the Bill.

Amendment 100 was tabled by the noble Lords, Lord McNicol of West Kilbride and Lord Purvis of Tweed. It seeks to change the regulation-making powers in Clause 1 from being subject to the negative procedure to being subject to the affirmative. As drafted, this power would apply only when the powers are exercised by a Minister of the Crown. They would remain negative when exercised by one of the devolved Administrations.

I understand entirely and share the House’s desire to ensure that due parliamentary scrutiny is given to the use of any statutory instruments. However, the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not raise any issues with the power, which I hope provides further reassurance that the Government are using appropriate procedures under the power in Clause 1.

A similar amendment was laid in the other place. That was defeated in Committee with two votes for and nine votes against. We and they believe that the negative procedure is appropriate for Clause 1, because Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the GPA before the powers in Clause 1 are exercised. The power in Clause 1 allows for changes to domestic procurement regulations in order to reflect the UK’s independent GPA membership, rather than membership through the EU.

The Government are committed to their legal obligation under CRaG before the UK can accede to the GPA as an independent member. The negative procedure would then allow Parliament to scrutinise the resulting amendments to domestic regulations to ensure that UK regulations are compliant with our obligations under the GPA.

Time, as noble Lords will be aware, is short. We must be able to make these regulatory changes quickly and avoid the UK being in breach of its international obligations. The other limbs of the power ensure that the UK’s independent GPA membership is operable, allowing changes to domestic regulation to reflect new accessions to the GPA and withdrawal from it—and, as we have discussed, to update the UK’s list of central government entities.

Prior to the accession of a new party being agreed by the GPA committee, all parties, including the UK, would need to agree to the prospective party’s offer. The GPA committee would reach a decision inviting the new party to accede, after which it would deposit its instrument of accession. Thirty days later, the GPA comes into force for the new party. The UK therefore needs to be able to act swiftly to implement any new accessions and the negative resolution procedure is the only way to ensure that that takes place in time. Without it, the UK could be in breach of its commitments under the GPA and at risk of a dispute. Parliament will have the opportunity to scrutinise the SI when it is laid under the negative procedure. As I said, Clause 1 also allows updates to be made on the list of the UK’s central government entities, included in Annexe 1.

These, as I hope I have shown, are mere technical amendments to reflect machinery of government changes. The negative procedure will ensure that any such updates to our lists are reflected in domestic legislation in a timely fashion. As before, Parliament retains the opportunity to scrutinise the resulting SI when it is laid before both Houses. I am also happy to confirm that the Government have carefully considered the Constitution Committee report referred to in the previous debate. The Government will respond to the committee tomorrow—and, therefore, before the House next meets in Committee to discuss the Bill.

I genuinely appreciate noble Lords’ concerns but hope that this House has found the Government’s response to each of the amendments reassuring. Clause 1 is about ensuring continuity, and ensuring that UK businesses enjoy the same opportunities in future as they do now. That is something that I believe the whole House supports, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.