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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 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) 10:15 pm, 21st January 2019

I am grateful to the Minister. She may have got the author of Amendment 53 slightly mixed up in her thorough summing up, but at this time in the evening, and speaking as one who is looking forward to sampling a wee dram of one of our country’s best exports at the highest standards, the Minister may be forgiven.

There is a paradox at the heart of this issue. I mentioned the complexity of some of the trade deals that the Government seek to take forward with Mexico, Singapore and Japan. They are either in force or agreed but components of them require further discussion. That means that it is relevant, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, and others have said, to bear in mind that they will be considering the future when we have asked for them to be rolled over.

To prove the point, we need to look at the only example that the Government have so far published: Switzerland. The Swiss themselves, although the Government have not said so, said explicitly that this agreement could serve as the basis for future economic trade relations. Interestingly—perhaps unhelpfully for the Government—they frame it as part of their “mind the gap” strategy on the basis of what they term the disorderly manner in which the UK may leave the European Union. We can rely on the Swiss to be frank and honest.

The paradox also exists that the rolled-over agreements will be on the basis of the existing EU regulations that the Government have committed to putting into law, which we could follow in three-year tranches under the Bill, again and again, but the Government have said that the justification for leaving the European Union is to change the way that we operate our trade policy. There is no surprise that when we are asking countries to roll over the trade agreement, but telling them at the same time that we are likely to want this agreement in place for us to have the flexibility to negotiate trade agreements based on separate regulations, they have been slightly resistant.

My amendment, and others in the group—I appreciate all the contributions from all the Members who have spoken—is an attempt to establish some basic principles and ethics. This is exactly the right moment to do that. Since 2010, the European Union has insisted on having sustainable development chapters in trade agreements. That has been positive for the world. It has been consistent in the contributions of colleagues who have tabled amendments that our argument is not just about concern that the UK would reduce its standards. One reason why we want to operate to the best standards is that if we are opening our markets to other countries, we do so to countries who are increasing their standards across the piece in environmental and labour law, and so on. It is an overt ambition of the Vietnam agreement that we use that clout as an economic market. That addresses the point of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, that we should move standards up.

Finally, I am still scratching my head about all the Minister’s comments about how unnecessary it is to have something in the Bill because the Government have given their assurances. When it comes to workers’ rights and the environment, the Government have said time and again that we need not worry, so why did the Prime Minister say just today that she would provide Parliament with a guarantee that we would not erode protections for workers’ rights and the environment? That is our concern: that the Government can give an assurance but when it comes to putting something in legislation they pull back until they have to.