Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:15 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 5 and before going any further I want to associate ourselves positively with its spirit. We are probably going to hear the word “continuity” many times over the next four days, but I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has forfeited the right to use it. The clue is in the word “revisit”, which, by its nature, is not continuity but is proposing what he and we believe to be a beneficial discontinuity. It is quite clear that for the economy in this country and in other countries—as the noble Lord set out, this covers not just UK SMEs but SMEs in general, and certainly that is the wording in his amendment—economies and employment flourish where SMEs flourish. That is a good thing and we would ask the Minister whether this amendment is necessary for the future, to make sure that we do not fall foul of our own rules in terms of discriminating in favour of small and medium-sized companies.

I reiterate the fact that, as well as trade policy, commercial policy is central to this. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned the government strategy: it is about how the Government choose to drive these policies home, through their commercial strategy and through the size of the packages they put out to bid, for example. We saw a recent example around the broadband structural bidding, in which it was quite clear that the overall size of the package militated against small and medium-sized companies bidding. That is nothing to do with trade policy, it is to do with the commercial policy of the Government at the time. So we support this with the proviso that the Minister comes back and says whether it actually achieves what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, is hoping to achieve. I also enjoin all members of the Government to deliver the commercial part of the spirit of this amendment.