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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 9:30 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I want to raise what probably feels like a niche issue from a slightly different angle; it seems relevant when we are talking about amendments dealing with the regulation of performance and the environment. If I may, I will do so through an example, although I think that the example probably applies in many other areas.

When I was a Minister at the Department for Transport, I dealt briefly with a niche industry in the UK: specialist car manufacturers, sometimes known as small and ultra-small volume manufacturers. Noble Lords will know their names: Lotus, Williams, Aston Martin and so on. The industry is almost uniquely British; a few Italians may play in the same arena, but globally the industry is essentially British. It has managed to thrive because the EU has recognised the significance of the industry through its turnover of around £3.5 billion per year. That is not insignificant, although it is not on the same scale as agriculture.

The EU has been willing to carve out special provisions for this group of manufacturers, which often cannot meet performance and environmental standards in the way that mass automobile manufacturers can and should. It has managed to open up global markets for those cars by incorporating those niche provisions in its trade agreements: 65% of these cars are exported. The largest market is the United States, where environmental and performance standards are never really an issue; it starts from a very low base. The manufacturers get permission to sell these cars in the EU, which is the next-biggest market, followed by South Korea and Japan. It is only because of the EU’s size that it has been able to create those niche opportunities for this industry. I am interested to know whether the UK believes that it can continue, in its rollover arrangements, to provide that ongoing protection to what one might describe as a somewhat resented industry, even though it is rather successful.

The other achievement of the EU because of its power, breadth and size is its vigorous and strict standards for mass market cars, despite its significant exception to deal with this essentially British industry. The EU will have no interest in continuing that arrangement post Brexit; as I said, some cars are made in Italy, but no Government anywhere else in the EU will be concerned about this issue. The industry is already very concerned that, following no deal, it may find the EU quick to eliminate the carve-out. That is possible and it is a serious question, but another question concerns whether the carve-out can be preserved in these rollovers and continued in future arrangements when the UK will be negotiating from a much weaker position.

Can the Minister help us work our way through this? I suspect that this industry is not the only niche one. As the Minister will know, the EU has been very good about providing opportunities for highly specialist and select industries that are specific to one of its member countries. I suspect that my experience with the automotive sector is repeated elsewhere. The EU uses its large heft to protect the relatively small. Can the Minister give us some clarity, since these deals are being negotiated as we speak?