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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Conservative 9:00 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 10. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for his explanation. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that we know from history that trade is good for Britain and for other countries, including developing countries. I am nervous about writing too much into the Bill, as I will explain.

Noble Lords will recall from Second Reading that I very much support the Bill. Whether we have a satisfactory agreement or, less welcome, a no-deal Brexit, we need to write existing trade agreements into UK law. My noble friend the Minister has explained that all the necessary measures have not been included in previous Brexit legislation. This House rightly tries to support the orderly conduct of government and we have a duty to do so, whatever our views on Brexit. That must include preparing our statute book, either for 29 March or a later date, following a delay to Article 50 or a transition period. It would be irresponsible not to make preparations. Indeed, a lot of these measures should already be agreed, with commencement dates to be slotted in later.

I tabled this probing amendment, which is in effect an alternative to Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, for two reasons. We should avoid lumbering the Bill with detailed requirements that could put in question some existing trade agreements, might encourage costly legal challenge to agreements drawing on the criteria, and might fetter our ability to negotiate sensibly with third countries, either as we move from being a member of the European Union to being a third country or during future trade negotiations.

I recognise from discussion today that new FTAs will be the subject of future legislation, so I oppose Amendment 8 overall, although my amendment derives from it. However, there is one aspect of it with which I have some sympathy: the provision that specifies that agreements should not restrict the Government’s ability to determine whether public services are carried out by the private or the public sector. The reason is that, as a Business Minister, I was peripherally involved in the EU negotiations on TTIP and we—both the UK and the EU Commission—made a mistake by not making it clear right at the beginning that the draft did not require us to limit the NHS’s ability to keep health administration and procurement in the public sector; nor, indeed, did we have it in mind to use the agreement for that purpose. The understandable emotion around the NHS and confusion on that point led to widespread opposition to TTIP and made it impossible to conclude anything ahead of the 2016 US election. I support outsourcing—I draw attention again to my entry in the register of interests—but some operations are better kept within the public sector. At any rate, the Government of the day should have choice in that matter.

I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that we will not fall into the TTIP trap again, and will support my amendment or, if it is not appropriate, explain that she understands the thrust of the point I am trying to make.