Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 8:45 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 9, 15, 25 and 26 which are in my name. I also want to support the many other excellent amendments which are contained in this group. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has already said, this seems to be an area that is causing widespread concern. I hope the Government can see sense and perhaps rewrite the Bill to accommodate our concerns. In fact, I have quite a lot of concerns about the way the Bill is written; I wonder whether it needs a fairly substantial rewrite in some places. We will come on to that later.

The starting point for me in approaching this Bill is to recognise that trade deals and free trade agreements are entirely different beasts from those of times gone by when it was simply a question of reducing tariff barriers between nations or ensuring physical access to each other’s ports.

Modern trade deals are deeply political, needing decisions and agreements about interacting with one another’s laws and even overriding national laws. Trade deals are of great concern to many environmental and social justice campaigners because they can be used as a bulldozer for corporate interests to override the rights and interests of communities. As we transition from our established position in the European Union to an uncertain and undecided future, those concerns are front of mind for many of us. I first tabled some of these amendments in October last year. When I did that, even though there were then six months to go to Brexit, it felt as if time was running out. Now, only two months away from Brexit, we are no closer to averting disaster than we were back then.

I was grateful for the meeting with the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, and their officials. Although it was an interesting meeting, they were unable to resolve my fundamental concern about the Bill. The Minister told me that amendments such as mine are not necessary because the Bill is only about rolling over existing trade deals and it is not the Government’s intention to renegotiate any of them, and we have heard that again today, The Government’s intention is all well and good, but good intentions are quickly broken down by the harsh realities of international negotiations. It seems obvious, as we have already heard, that other countries will take this opportunity to renegotiate terms that are more favourable to their interests, perhaps slipping things in that the EU would not allow but that the UK might be more inclined to accept, particularly if we were feeling desperate.

I ask the Minister again now: can she guarantee that none of these trade deals will be renegotiated? It is possible that things were unclear during our meeting but we must know now. We are only weeks away from the Government needing to sign on the dotted line, so this should now be a much simpler question to answer. If it is guaranteed that none of our existing trade deals is being renegotiated, and all of them are simply being rolled over with the exact same terms, then most of my amendments become obsolete. That would be a great situation, and I would be perfectly happy. However, without a clear and unequivocal statement to this Committee that there will be no renegotiation and no change in terms, we must make clear and unequivocal amendments to the Bill.