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 Lord Fox Lord Fox Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:30 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, I agree with much of what has been said in the debate and your Lordships will be pleased to know that I will not repeat the arguments. I shall also try not to be one of the dreamers referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. In speaking to Amendment 10, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, talked about services and I agree with much of what she said. She stressed the need to ensure that the Government retain the right to decide where services are delivered from. Unfortunately it turned into a double-edged sword when she then conflated that with the removal of much of the substance of the amendments proposed by my noble friend. Having heard the debate, I hope she feels that perhaps it would be as well to leave it in.

The Prime Minister has today singled out two elements of what we find in the general thrust of the amendments before us. She has said,

“we will embed the strongest possible protections on workers’ rights and the environment”.

That concedes a weakness in that area where there was a perception that the Government were perhaps seeking to water down those standards and presumably that is what the Prime Minister is seeking to avoid. But only those two areas have been chosen although there are many other important elements which have been considered in this debate. That puts the areas which are not on the Prime Minister’s list at a disadvantage. That is why it is important to ignore the advice of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and seek to put the elements set out in these amendments into the Bill. They would add food quality, animal health, hygiene and welfare, ethical standards and so on.

The noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Hooper, were quite right to point out that our food is sold on the back of our high-quality agriculture. It is special, but you cannot be special if you are producing food to a lower standard. I think that we should be a little worried and suspicious if these standards are not included in the Bill.

We have heard some warm words from Defra which have been quoted by other noble Lords, but we have also heard some disquieting words coming from other departments, particularly that of the Minister herself, the Department for International Trade. However, I exonerate her from being one of the people saying these things.

When it comes to negotiating other standards— I know we are on a continuity kick here—what we say on continuity counts for what comes later. That is absolutely central and is why this debate has been really important. There have been noises off around deals with the United States and other things, and standards will be a key part of that negotiation. Unless we draw firm lines here in this Bill and beyond, those standards will be in play. I do not think we want them to be in play.

Finally, I come back to Amendments 8 and 53 in the name of my noble friend Lord Purvis. Proposed paragraph (c) of Amendment 53 states that,

“the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament an assessment of the potential economic, social, human rights and environmental impacts of the international trade agreement on the contracting parties”.

This, and nothing else, is the single most important part of this debate. We need to ensure that the DIT has the competence and people who can do that work, and we need to support these amendments.