Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:00 pm, 21st January 2019

I thank all speakers in this short debate. The early contributions were to do largely with devolved issues. I think that we will come back to them, but they raise exactly the thorny difficulties that can emerge from making this work in practice. My noble friend Lord Hain spoke of not wanting to see an action replay of the “power grab”—his words, not mine, but I understand where he is coming from—by the Government in relation to the withdrawal Bill. We do not want to see that repeated, so I hope that the Government are able to reassure us that progress has been made on this and that some sensible and effective negotiations will be in place to allow it to be done effectively and with support all round.

It has not taken us very long to stumble into areas which were exactly the point of the amendment to the committal Motion made by noble friend Lady Smith. We are talking about “what happens if” rather than just about continuity. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has stumbled across quite an interesting point—I am in no sense making a point about him; the noble Baroness the former Minister also picked up something about “what happens if” and how it is resolved. I am not saying that we are doing anything wrong here, but it illustrates the difficulty of trying to narrow down to a continuity mode without thinking about the wider context.

I draw from this several things. First, on whose powers we are talking about when the regulations are in place, the Bill uses curious phraseology:

“An appropriate authority may by regulations make such provision as the authority considers appropriate”.

That could be extended to the power being exercised by Ministers in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly or the Northern Ireland Assembly when it is reformed. There is nothing wrong with that—if they have the powers and the right to use them, they should do so—but it is a very different scenario from that pointed to by the Minister, about us always having the security of the negative resolution procedure when looking at how the regulations operate. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, made exactly that point: these things are live and moving. They will change quite rapidly and we will have to exercise some of these arrangements. I am not sure that the negative resolution procedure is right for that.

However, the Minister’s reliance on the procedures under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is surely misplaced. Much of our debate on this Bill will be about the inadequacies of the CRaG procedures at present. To rely on them taking us forward because they are already in statute is to deny a whole series of debates and questions raised by them. I will not go into this at this stage; it will come up later. But it surely cannot be right for this Parliament to accept that a simple Motion to approve a complicated trade agreement, a complicated set of arrangements around procurement, or anything else that falls into that category can be done without amendment, debate or the ability to go through them in the form of primary legislation. We will come back to that.

We have had a good debate on these issues; I shall read Hansard carefully, and I am sure that there will be things that we pick up later in correspondence. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 and 3 not moved.