Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 5:45 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, first, I apologise to the Committee that this amendment was tabled on Friday, so colleagues did not have much notice. In many respects it was as a result of the Minister being open and meeting opposition parties and the discussion we had. No doubt we will find out in due course how persuasive I was on my amendment in that private meeting.

The purpose of the amendment is to probe and to seek information. As I mentioned earlier in Committee, the statement by the WTO on 27 November was very clear that there was agreement in principle for the UK’s final market access offer to take part in the GPA after exiting the European Union. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentioned that Australia has announced that ratification of its GPA accession is under way. I think this is the last group of amendments on the GPA, so before we leave it I hope the Minister might be able to expand a little on the point that she made in response earlier, which, if I took it right—she or Hansard can correct me—was that Parliament could decide whether countries could join. What procedure do the Government think Parliament will have to bind the Government in a position on other countries acceding to the WTO GPA once we become a full member? If I got that wrong, no doubt she will correct me; those in the Box can try to assist also.

The agreement was made on the basis of the UK and the EU agreeing a withdrawal agreement and would come into effect after the end of the implementation period. As I mentioned earlier, the UK committed to update its proposed GPA schedule of commitments within three months of it coming into effect. The GPA regular meeting to clarify all those points is scheduled for the end of February this year. My desire is to seek from the Government the latest position. The very significant defeat of the withdrawal agreement in the other place suggests that there has been dialogue with the WTO on the impact on the 27 November decision. I cannot see any situation where would not have been dialogue between our office in Geneva and our colleagues. It would be inconceivable if there had not been any follow-up discussions since the defeat in the House of Commons, so what are the implications for the UK of not entering into a withdrawal agreement? If there has been more recent discussion since 27 November or the position at the WTO has changed, I would be happy to receive that clarification and reassurance from the Minister, but if there is no deal, what are the implications for our membership? Also, what are the timings of the updated proposals for any schedules? Do they continue to be at all relevant?

The amendment is meant to be helpful, to allow the Government to give the Committee an update on the current position and clarify what our relationship with the GPA would be on the basis of there being no deal. On that basis, I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify and I beg to move.