Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
16: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Regulations under section 2: state aid(1) If regulations under section 2(1) make provision in relation to the issue of state aid for the purpose of implementing a free trade agreement, then a statutory instrument containing those regulations may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.(2) The Secretary of State may not lay a draft of the instrument containing regulations under this section until—(a) he or she has consulted—(i) each devolved authority,(ii) public bodies, businesses, consumer groups, trade unions and non-governmental organisations which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, have a relevant interest, and(iii) the public, and(b) he or she has laid a report of the consultation under paragraph (a) before both Houses of Parliament.”
My Lords, Amendment 16 in my name deals with state aid and whether it will continue under any new arrangements brought forward by the Government. It is essentially a probing amendment. I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for his first response on the Bill. I look forward to working with him on this and related topics.
The reason for proposing the amendment is because we have very little information about what the Government’s intentions are on state aid, which is arguably a key component of all trading activity and can materially affect how and in what ways individual companies can operate and be successful within the home market and abroad. It has been operating since we joined the Common Market in 1972 and is a very strict and well-observed rule. It relates primarily to whether goods can circulate freely in the EU area, or the EEA, although there are some quite interesting exceptions, mainly on a cultural level, where changes are made relating to support for indigenous and widely spread cultures. Indeed, this country has benefited considerably from support for the arts, particularly film, theatre and television. State aid has also extended to fringe areas such as horseracing. For example, in France, it has been ruled that the support of a horserace betting levy system not unlike our own is a cultural exception to single market rules. That rule has been applied for the last couple of years, and is now being followed within the United Kingdom. It is an interesting area.
It appears that the Government have already decided that the existing rules will continue. Why was that decision made and on what statutory basis? Is there any opportunity for parliamentary procedure and process to be involved? It has also been announced that the Competition and Markets Authority will be responsible for ensuring trade rules within the state aid area. This was decided without any debate, discussion or consideration of alternative bodies. Again I ask: what was the statutory basis for that and is there an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny, now or at some future stage?
There are wider questions about state aid and any movement forward on trade. Will it be a single UK operating structure or will there be regional variations? It could be argued—and the arguments need to be made and heard before we make decisions—that conditions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are different from those applying in the south-east of England. Therefore, there may be a regional or even a national basis under which state aid rules could be developed. Again, what is the statutory basis under which that might happen? Do we have that power already and, if so, how would Parliament be involved? I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment is rather strange in the context of this Bill. It seems intended to restrict the Government’s ability to make changes to the state aid rules unless they have consulted a long list of bodies—and even the public. But as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, the Government do not intend to use this Bill to provide themselves with a device for making such changes. One of the benefits of Brexit is that we will be able to apply our own state aid rules, either based on an equitable free trade area with the EU or consistent with WTO principles. The present EU rules need to be much improved and made proportionate; on occasion, they discriminate against British business and have a negative effect on the economy and jobs.
The UK is, quite properly, a very restrained user of state aid compared with our continental neighbours, spending approximately €90 per capita against a range of €170 to €240 per capita in Germany, France and Belgium. The point is that in cases such as that of Sheffield Forgemasters, the UK Government should be free, with the agreement of another place and your Lordships’ House, to grant state aid under what will rightly be very narrow criteria. Another case in point might be the Horizon Nuclear Power plant, which has been suspended by Hitachi because of a failure to agree the financing structure. Does the Minister agree that Her Majesty’s Government should look again at the extent to which they might commit public funds to ensure the successful completion of a hugely important contributor to our future energy mix—especially against a background where the only other major new nuclear power station, Hinkley Point, is to be financed by the French state and the Chinese state? Does the Minister agree also that this amendment is in any event completely unnecessary, because the Government have no need or intention to implement state aid commitments in rolling over existing free trade agreements?
My Lords, had we debated this amendment during the last session, the night before last, we would not have had the benefit of yesterday’s report from the IPPR think tank on the subject of state aid. It reinforces the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that the United Kingdom is a restrained user of state aid when compared to other countries in the European Union. That gives the lie to some of those who believed that the European Union was restricting the UK Government’s decision on the scale of state aid in this country—and that message might be conveyed to some members of other parties in the other place who are alleged to believe that the European Union would continue to restrict industrial support activities.
I was surprised to hear the huge shopping list that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, presented for further state aid—his is not a voice that I had imagined would be making that point. That highlights the need for a state aid strategy. If we have an industrial strategy—which we do, whether some Members opposite like it or not—the purpose of state aid is to find strategic ways of delivering it in the best possible way for the best possible good of this country and its trading environment with the rest of the world.
Whether we trade as an EU nation, through FTAs or, as some people dream of, on WTO terms—which would be a nightmare for the rest of the world—there will still, sensibly, be restrictions and rules affecting what aid we can give and what restraints we have to apply. In spirit, therefore, I support the amendment, and I am interested to hear the Minister’s response.
I have a query that will probably reveal my ignorance of the process of legislation. Paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 2 contains a more general injunction around statutory instruments and consultation. I wonder whether that part of the Bill may pick up, to a large extent, what the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, seeks to achieve. I would be happy to be wrong about that, but it would be helpful if the Minister, either now or later, would fill us in on that.
My Lords, I understand the point the noble Lord is making and exploring on this issue, and when we explore that point, it is worth saying that much depends on our future relationship with the European Union, and how we incorporate state aid into that. If we were in the European Economic Area, we would apply EU state aid rules; that is what EEA members now do. If we were in a free trade agreement with the European Union—as Canada and South Korea, for example, are—we would do something different. State aid provisions are built into those agreements, but they are based not on EU state aid rules but on the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures. That will all entirely depend on what the future relationship looks like.
The point has correctly been made that we use state aid proportionately less—about half as much, as a proportion of GDP, as the French do, and a quarter as much as the Germans. So state aid rules themselves have not necessarily restrained us from doing things. The noble Lord will be aware of the report on competition and state aids by the committee of which I have the privilege to be a member—the Internal Market Sub-Committee of the European Union Committee. The Government’s approach is, essentially, that we will replicate EU state aid rules in UK law, but we will, of course, be repatriating them so that they are exercised by our authorities rather than by the European Commission. In that context, it will be the Competition and Markets Authority, rather than any other body, which does that in this country—and it will do so independently.
If I remember rightly from the evidence that we received—I stand to be corrected if not—the Government’s intention is for this to be done by the CMA on a UK-wide basis, and not to be disaggregated to individual nations or regions. Clearly, the state aid rules themselves may have geographical parameters, as ERDF and other EU funding has done in the past, but that is a different matter. The rules on the application of state aid would be applied in this country. So we will have something considerably beyond the WTO requirements. For example—this is probably the best example and the most important for businesses—EU state aid rules would require us to have processes of notification and prior approval whereas, where WTO rules are concerned, if the Government engage in subsidy then they do so at the risk of post-hoc challenge and complaint. That is quite a different structure.
I say all that simply because, while this is an interesting issue, I am not sure whether the amendment does the job. However, I put it to the noble Lord that he might suggest that if future trade agreements of this kind, which are generally with third-party countries, were to apply state aid rules in a UK and third-party country agreement which differentiated from the WTO subsidies and countervailing measures provisions, that should be the subject of consultation and approval in this House. I cannot see why we would want to approve an arrangement for a WTO agreement on subsidies, which would simply be applied in the normal course of events. I hope that those few remarks are helpful.
My Lords, a couple of the points made in the short debate on this amendment have been very wide and not actually to do with the amendment as such. Perhaps I may add a corrective: we discussed the mergers of railway companies, nuclear power companies and so on earlier today. The fact is that we look at one Chinese company against not one European company but sometimes more than one. Regarding the comment about the EEA, I am sure that the EEA will evolve while recognising that we often need one European company. It could be dressed up as something to do with either the nature of policy on mergers, competition and monopolies or with state aid policy. I put down that cautionary note because, when people say that this amendment does not do those jobs, it is clearly not intended to. However, many such wider commercial questions will have to be faced up to in the future.
My Lords, following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in moving this amendment, I would like to put a specific question to the Minister. In doing so, I declare that I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group on racing and have enjoyed the occasional day at the races as a result.
For 18 years, I represented a number of racehorse owners, trainers and stable lads and lasses in North Yorkshire, where racing is extremely important. My specific question relates not just to Amendment 16 but to Amendment 48, and looks ahead to the tripartite agreement on the movement of horses. I know that my noble friend the Minister is keen to talk in terms of continuity so, in those terms, what is the specific status of the tripartite agreement as of
On the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, state aid was deemed to be almost a barrier to the form of instrument used in replacing the racehorse levy which, as your Lordships will know, is the means by which most of racing is financed. The levy puts it on a sound financial footing, but it was prayed in aid that it would be deemed state aid. However, as the noble Lord said, that was specifically excluded for a similar levy that has been allowed in France, which is pertinent to the debate on this amendment. What is good for the goose has to be good for the gander, so if the French racing industry was allowed to be supported then we should be allowed to continue to support the British racing industry. This goes to the heart of the tripartite agreement, so what is the status of state aid, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson? What is the position of the tripartite agreement going forward from
My Lords, I support Amendment 16, which is a crucial amendment to debate within the Trade Bill. The general principle of state aid rules, which is that the Government do not go around doling out money to big business in ways that are unfair or anti-competitive, is a good one. At the same time, there are concerns about state aid rules being used as a vehicle for predatory capitalism to dismantle the state and override democratic control of quite important parts of our economy. This is particularly important for Greens, because Greens are not as concerned with the electoral cycle as with the future of humanity and this planet. If we are going to listen to the IPCC report, which says we have 12 years before we have to face dramatic climate emergencies, then we need to transform our economy and make it fit for the future.
And that is the role of this House. The other place deals very much with the day-to-day—what happens on Monday or Thursday mornings. We here have a responsibility to the future. A green new deal is one of the answers. It would create 1 million well-paying climate jobs and set us on a sustainable footing for future generations. It would require active fiscal and monetary measures that would favour more sustainable production and consumption over more ecologically destructive options. Sometimes the State would have to pick winners and losers—that would be part of it—particularly in relation to natural monopolies such as railways and the energy system. Even the Government are recognising that the market is failing on some of these important issues, and that state intervention is required. Much of this could be called state aid, depending on what definition is used.
For these reasons, it is absolutely essential that our hands are not tied in any way which might interfere with our ability to tackle the climate emergency that we are facing, as well as all the other big issues facing our economy.
My Lords, I seek some clarifications when the Minister responds, broadly in response to the constructive contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. With the withdrawal Bill, there was much debate in Committee and this House regarding how existing EU law will be migrated into UK law. There were 12 competences the UK Government believed were reserved and would therefore be fully within the competence of the UK Government, but that the devolved Administrations believed were either devolved or had a direct impact on devolved powers.
State aid was one of those areas where there was no agreement. That means that if there continues to be no agreement, then the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, is absolutely critical. It means that for regulations brought for the continuity agreements, there needs to be far more enhanced consultation with Administrations that believe this is touching on their direct competences. If there has been agreement, then perhaps the amendment is less necessary for the continuity agreements; but as we come to further amendments, this sets the tone for what will be necessary for future agreements. When the Minister responds to this group, I hope he will be able to provide clarification on where the discussions are, regarding whether there is agreement on where state aid lies within this area of competences.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for moving this amendment. In response to my noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Lansley, I think that the noble Lord intended this as a probing amendment, as he said, to give the Government the opportunity to put some issues on the record. It has been very timely, not least because under the EU withdrawal Act, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on Monday we laid the regulations on state aid before the House. That 77-page document will now make its way through the rigorous scrutiny of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and then the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Then, of course, it will be subject—because it is by the affirmative procedure—to scrutiny later in this House. For that reason some of the specific issues referred to by my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Lea, might be usefully dealt with in that area.
Clause 2 is not about making changes to existing agreements, and the regulations cannot be used for future free trade agreements, as my noble friend Lord Lansley rightly identified. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, we also need to recall that the Competition and Markets Authority has been given this responsibility domestically, across the UK jurisdiction. When it comes to free trade agreements and the EU, the Trade Remedies Authority would undertake that responsibility.
To provide further reassurance that we do not expect to need to use these powers to set up a domestic state aid regime, I can inform the Committee that we have laid the instrument I referred to. This instrument, the State Aid (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, will be made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and establish a domestic state aid regime that will work for the whole of the UK at the point that this is required. No doubt Noble Lords will be offered an opportunity to scrutinise this in detail.
Subsection (2) of the proposed new clause requires the Government to consult relevant stakeholders prior to laying implementing regulations under Clause 2 which make provision on state aid. We have been clear that proportional consultation is of the utmost importance to us. We have engaged with a large number of stakeholders through our programme of trade continuity. The Government will always consult stakeholders as appropriate, so to set out specific provisions concerning consultation on state aid is not needed at this stage. The Bill already requires the Government to lay reports before Parliament in which we will provide detail of any real-world changes to free trade agreements. These will be laid before the agreement is ratified or regulations are laid under the Clause 2 power in relation to that agreement, whichever comes first.
Any significant differences in agreements that are relevant to state aid would be identified in these reports and Parliament would then be in a position to take an informed decision in relation to the making of the regulations or the conduct of the ratification process. I say again that we do not expect to need to make regulations under this power in order to implement state aid commitments in existing free trade agreements.
I turn to some of the specific points that were raised. My noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the horserace betting levy and the tripartite agreement. This is something we will come to in Amendment 48 in a later group, so perhaps I can leave it to the lead Minister, my noble friend Lady Fairhead, to respond, but the relevant provisions of the horserace betting levy were notified to the Commission and approved by the Commission under state aid rules. I confirm that the TRA—the Trade Remedies Authority—will not be responsible for state aid prioritisations in FTAs. It will be a matter for individual free trade agreements to establish a dispute mechanism.
I was going to ask the Minister about the TRA—I am glad that he tried to clarify what he had said, because he did raise a doubt about what was arranged. Have I got it right? I would be grateful if he could confirm that we are proceeding on a continuity basis and using the withdrawal Act to ensure that, under the statutory instrument he mentioned, the existing set of rules that currently apply, because of EU directives and regulation, will be applied under UK law after exit day. Therefore, that process does not require any further discussion or debate, because of the reasons he has given, and he is not saying that in future trade agreements there will be a specific role for state aid rulings by the TRA—that will remain with the CMA—but there will be an opportunity to discuss that broadly when we get to the point at which we are, post continuity, talking about the real world and what is actually going to happen in trade. Is that right?
That is correct. I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting that out. My noble friend Lord Trenchard mentioned the Government’s commitment to the state aid system. That point is contained in Command Paper 9593, The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union, which says in section 1.6.1:
“The UK has long been a proponent of a rigorous state aid system—this is good for taxpayers and consumers, and ensures an efficient allocation of resources”.
Moreover, the political declaration which accompanies the withdrawal agreement points out in section XIV, paragraph 79:
“The future relationship must ensure open and fair competition. Provisions to ensure this should cover state aid, competition, social and employment standards”.
That will all be fleshed out as the future economic agreement is worked on. Again, I thank the noble Lord for the opportunity to clarify some points on the record.
Will the Minister clarify that since the Sewel convention continues to apply, the UK would not legislate ordinarily on devolved matters if the Government have brought forward this regulation? Last year, during the withdrawal Bill process, the devolved Administrations believed that this touched on their competences with state aid. Has there been agreement with the devolved Administrations that this is a fully reserved issue?
Perhaps I could write to the noble Lord on that to make sure that I get that absolutely correct. I will write to him. Does the noble Lord want to come back on that?
I wonder if the Minister is able to write before we get to the next grouping because this is going to be relevant. Whenever the Minister can provide clarification, it will be welcome to the Committee.
I have a sneaking feeling that some clarification may be coming via my noble friend Lord Younger by the time we reach the next grouping. I am sure the noble Lord will have an opportunity to respond to that. Failing that, I will be very happy to write before Report. I thank the noble Lord and ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment at this stage.
I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this debate. It was indeed a probing amendment and an attempt to elicit a series of responses from the Minister. We have those on record and I am grateful to him. Having said that, we have raised one or two issues that need consideration in the non-continuity mode, if we ever get to that point, about exactly why we are doing what we are doing, how it might be modified in future, and what the appropriate regulation would be. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is absolutely right. We have to avoid getting ourselves into the wrong side of the argument that relates to engaging those who have trade responsibilities. There will be significant and important trade responsibilities when they eventually end up with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and they should not be excluded from proper consideration and debate. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
17: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Regulations under section 2: Joint Ministerial Committee (1) In making regulations under section 2, the appropriate authority must have regard to, and take into account, the views expressed by a Joint Ministerial Committee appointed by the Prime Minister.(2) The Prime Minister may, for the purposes of this Act, determine that the Joint Ministerial Committee shall consist of representatives of the governing authorities of the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
My Lords, we are moving to a point that has already been raised and given a small trailer by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. We need a system in place, although I am sure that the response from the Government at this stage will be that this is not necessary for continuity issues. However, we have already seen that there will be issues around trade and related matters for which we need to be sure that structures are in place that will allow for those resolutions.
Amendment 17 seeks to place a duty on the Government to consider a formal structure under the joint ministerial committee system that would allow debates on trade—particularly future trade arrangements, but I think other issues as well—to be dealt with in a systematic, transparent and trustworthy way. In that sense, I do not think that we differ from where the Government would like to be. What we lack is any understanding of where the Government are on this matter and what negotiations are coming forward. This is a probing amendment to try to make sure that we have some sense of that as we go forward.
In an attempt to help the Government, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and I have also put down Amendment 76 as a way of expressing in the Bill what the different agencies involved in this can and cannot do. Currently this is dealt with by a convention known commonly as the Sewel convention, although it has been overtaken by other legislative approaches. It attempts to set out, in this Bill at least—although it may apply to other areas—a set of rules allowing certainty on under what conditions and with what powers the UK, in operating its reserve powers, may or may not legislate on devolved matters where it is agreed that responsibility lies with the devolved areas.
I understand fully that the Minister will feel that many of these issues are subject to discussions elsewhere that are probably way above his pay grade. I do not seek to diminish him in any respect with that, but we want to flag up the importance of this matter to our trading relationships, not just because trade is important but because we are moving into an era where, irrespective of how and under what conditions we move from our current position with the EU, trading responsibilities will be applied in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a manner that has not been seen before. Issues that are specific and germane to those countries will be raised. We do not have a robust structure under which this can be resolved, and it is time for us to move forward on that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for outlining the amendments so clearly. I want to add something in only a couple of areas. In doing so, I welcome the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, is in his place. He and other colleagues will recall discussing—in debates on the withdrawal Bill—translating EU retained law into domestic law in a number of areas that either impinge on or link directly to what are currently devolved competences. At that stage, the Government made a number of concessions and changed their position so that the presumption was to devolve powers—and that was welcome.
Therefore, the sticking points, to some extent, were issues in what the Government termed the “framework agreements” with the devolved Administrations, where there had been no agreement with the devolved Administrations on what was in the reserved or devolved competences basket. In the previous group, state aid was one such major issue. Of the 157 areas, there was no issue with 49 of them; in 82 of them, the Government and the devolved Administrations agreed that the common framework would be needed; 24 areas required further discussion; and in 12 areas, the UK Government believed that the competences were reserved but the devolved Administrations believed them to be devolved. That is relevant to discussions about how the regulations for the continuity agreements will take place and will give an indicator for the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said. I seek further clarification on the other areas.
These issues are not esoteric. The 12 areas are: equal design and energy labelling, which is an important part of trade agreements now, as we discussed in Committee on Monday; product safety and standards relating to explosive atmospheres; elements of the network and information security directive; environmental quality in the timber trade, which is considerable significance to the Scottish economy; data sharing; food geographical indications and protected food names, which are core parts of trading relationships; medical devices; migrant access to benefits; data protection; radioactive source notifications; state aid, as mentioned; and vehicle standards, including the various types of approvals and directives for roads.
Those 12 areas are part of existing trade agreements and will be key elements of future trade agreements, but in 2018 no agreement was reached with the devolved Administrations on them. It would be helpful if the Minister could update us on whether agreement has been reached on them, so that our concerns can be allayed, or whether discussions are continuing on them. This is important for both continuity and the future, because—as the International Trade Committee in the Commons has discussed and as the Scottish and Welsh Governments have published—there are proposals for how future trading arrangements would need to be put in place.
One of the options—as the Scottish Government have called for and as the UK Trade Policy Transparency and Scrutiny report called for—was a joint ministerial committee or intergovernmental trade committee to complement the advisory committee that the Government have established. The Commons committee made a very constructive set of proposals that it would be a mechanism through the devolved Administrations as part of the consultation process. There would be a formal advisory role through the mandate process and another formal advisory role throughout negotiations. No doubt there will be further discussions about any dispute resolution mechanisms and whether such measures have to be approved by the devolved legislatures in addition to consultation with the Administrations.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, put forward very constructive suggestions about how intergovernmental relations could operate. These are both necessary for the continuity agreements and vital for any future agreements. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, highlighted this area, and I hope that the Government will be able to give clarification on where we are with the understanding of where these competences lie and the role of the necessary consultation.
My Lords, in speaking in support of both these amendments, in a way I am dealing with the points I raised with the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, which she did not respond to—inadvertently, I am sure. Maybe both she and the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, could consider writing to me about this. As I described at the last sitting, it gives rise to concern that we will see an action replay of the power grab that Whitehall tried to pull on the devolved Administrations in the course of the withdrawal process. There was an attempt by Whitehall to repatriate to London those policy areas—for example, the environment and many others—that were devolved but held at a European level because of our membership of the European Union. That caused great aggravation with the devolved authorities, particularly—in the absence of Northern Ireland’s Government—with Wales and Scotland, which in the case of Scotland is festering on. An agreement was belatedly reached with Wales.
In this process, particularly when making regulations, we will potentially see these same issues arising. There is therefore a strong argument for the proposal put forward by my noble friend Lord Stevenson in Amendment 17 for the joint ministerial committee or some equivalent body to be given the overall supervising authority here. Having been a member of the JMC at various times in government, I was never very impressed with it. It was a bit of a talking shop. Since 2010, under the coalition Government and now, I hear from successive First Ministers of Wales and individual Ministers for Wales, with whom I am in direct and regular contact, that nothing has changed.
Yet the issues over Brexit are even more serious and of even more constitutional and policy importance than prior to this whole sorry horror show unfolding. The Government need to consider putting in place, preferably in this Bill and in the form specified by these amendments or some equivalent form, procedures that are recognised and have to be abided by, before we run into the same kind of problems that arose earlier in this whole Brexit saga.
My Lords, surely it is not necessary to set up a joint ministerial committee for this purpose. Insofar as the novation of FTAs affects devolved powers, the Government will in any event be bound to consult. Surely a joint ministerial committee, such as the amendment proposes, would make the process of rolling over the EU’s FTAs much more cumbersome and time-consuming, especially if the EU persists in refusing to enter into a reasonable, equitable agreement without a backstop.
On Monday, in the debate on the GPA, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to this matter, and has just spoken again in similar vein. He referred to a power grab by Westminster but actually, if the powers being returned to the UK from the EU relating to devolved matters were all to go immediately to the devolved Administrations, that would represent a power grab by the devolved Administrations. Surely the powers that were devolved relating to matters that are partly or wholly EU competencies preserve the need in many areas to maintain a UK-wide market; while we have been in the EU that has meant an EU-wide market. We are shortly to recover our sovereignty over our own UK market, I trust, but that in no way obviates the need to maintain the UK-wide market in many sectors. Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Hain, also pointed out, the amendment requires membership of the joint ministerial committee by a representative of the Northern Ireland Executive, which suggests that they might not be operational for some time.
May I clarify a number of points? First, the original Bill, over which there was the power-grab tussle, was actually amended by the Government in response to the Welsh and Scottish Governments’ complaints. They recognised that the original procedure, which the noble Viscount seems to want to wave through again, was the wrong procedure and that it was not right to set out on the course on which they originally set out. I hope that he will accept that point, because I was rather worried about the tone and the content of what he said.
Secondly, since the joint ministerial committee exists already, and its machinery is in place and operates already, the amendment is saying that these regulations under the umbrella of the Trade Bill would formally have to go through the JMC. It need not be a complete convening of a meeting which, I accept, is time-consuming and resource-consuming, but I recall well from my days in government that cabinet committees sometimes operated by a process of written consent and amendment between the different Whitehall departments. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and many others will remember that operating in that way. It could operate in that way for the purposes of these regulations, but there would be a statutory obligation to process these regulations in that fashion. As I understand it, that is the point that my noble friend Lord Stevenson is seeking to get cemented in.
I thank the noble Lord for correcting my ignorance about the joint ministerial committee already being in existence, although there is obviously no Northern Irish representative on it at present. On the other matter, I still do not understand why it can be sensible in the case of powers that are EU competencies today but which are also devolved. If those powers are repatriated to the UK, it is still necessary to maintain a UK-wide market because, by virtue of being members of the EU market, we have had a UK-wide market within the EU. Therefore, if the entire powers are delegated to the devolved Administrations, we effectively break up our single UK market.
My Lords, this is redolent of what we discussed much earlier. The powers that the EU has in the United Kingdom are of different types. Where they go when they are brought back to the UK, as we hope will come to pass—on my present appreciation of what is going on, that is rather a hope—does not just depend on the subject matter. It does not just depend on whether it is agriculture or whatever; it depends on the nature of the power that is devolved. A power that operates only in Scotland would be devolved to Scotland because in the constitutional arrangements there are two restrictions. The reserved powers are one type of restriction, but the other is the geographical restriction. You cannot make laws in Scotland for the rest of the UK. Therefore, if common market policy for the whole of the UK is in question, and that is the power in question, it has to stay with the Parliament in Westminster. But if it is a power related to agriculture, which is restricted only to Scotland, or Northern Ireland or Wales, it is remitted to the legislatures operating there—if a legislator is operating there.
That point was accepted by the Welsh Government. The Scottish Government refused to accept it, for reasons I explained at the time I did not understand. There were politics about power grabs and whatnot that I have read about since then. But the issues are clear. I see no reason why the joint ministerial committee set up to deal with these matters should not also deal with that aspect of them. One thing that has to be decided is the nature of the power in question. Once that has been decided, it is a question of which ministerial group in the Governments of the devolved Administrations has to deal with the matter. If it is a UK matter, it would be dealt with by the Westminster Parliament and Ministers under regulatory powers referred to them by the UK Parliament. If it is a question of purely Scottish legislation, it would be a Scottish ministerial order under powers delegated by the Scottish Parliament. The same would apply in Wales and in Northern Ireland. The issue is one that is appropriate for the joint ministerial committee to deal with in due course.
I apologise for prolonging this discussion. I urge the Government to reflect on this: given the trouble that we have already run into in this process with the devolved Administrations, if there were a process where these regulations automatically had to come under the umbrella—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, implies and which I agree with—that would impose a discipline on all the parties concerned to use that process to resolve any common issues that are outstanding. It is an established process, but it has not really been used. In the post-Brexit situation, which I think will be a nightmare, these procedures will be needed even more to ensure the constitutional stability, success and indeed viability, given what is going on in Scotland and Northern Ireland over Brexit, of the whole of the union.
My Lords, the Committee will notice that we have another change of driver—or perhaps a navigator having temporary control of the wheel. If I read the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Purvis, correctly, the intention behind the amendments is to ensure that the voices of the devolved Governments are heard in relation to trade agreements. That is something that the UK Government entirely support. Indeed, the Department for International Trade is in discussion with the devolved Administrations on their role in future trade agreements.
To give a little more information to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the UK Government are committed to working closely with the devolved Administrations to deliver a future trade policy that works for the whole of the UK. But it is important that we do this within the context of the current constitutional make-up of the UK, while acknowledging that international trade policy is a reserved matter. To go further, we are currently having detailed discussions with the devolved Administrations at official level on their role in future trade arrangements, with the aim of agreeing new working arrangements before EU exit. In fact, we are continuing this engagement later this week.
I am happy to provide assurance to the House that our clear intention is that there will be a formal and regular intergovernmental ministerial forum to consider future trade agreements. The devolved Administrations already participate in other ministerial forums, such as those for EU negotiations. Frequency and any terms of reference are subject to further discussions and agreement with the devolved Administrations. However, we expect the forum to include our Minister for Trade Policy and his or her counterparts in the devolved Administrations.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked some questions on this point. The UK Government view securing an agreement with all the devolved Administrations as the best possible scenario, and it is the one that we will continue to work towards. We are committed to securing LCMs for the Trade Bill and have worked closely with the devolved Administrations to understand and respond to their concerns. As a result, we have made amendments to the Bill that answer many of those concerns.
The requirement for Ministers of devolved Administrations to seek the consent of the UK Government when making regulations that come into effect before exit day, or that relate to quota arrangements, has changed to a requirement to consult, of which I suspect the noble Lord will be aware. We will continue to respect the devolution settlements as they relate to trade agreement continuity and future FTAs. We will not normally legislate in areas of devolved competence without the consent of the devolved Administrations, and certainly not without first consulting them.
The amendment, however, would apply to existing trade agreements only and is, in this context, not proportionate. Clause 2 will be used only to ensure the continuity of existing trade agreements that are already in force. It will not be used for future trade agreements. Therefore, Amendment 17 would add risk to the swift and timely rollover of existing trade agreements. Given that these agreements are or will be already in force and that the purpose is to ensure continuity, the amendment is, at best, disproportionate and could mean that we were unable to deliver crucial continuity for businesses and consumers throughout the United Kingdom. For that reason, the Government cannot support Amendment 17. I hope that I have provided sufficient assurances on our intentions for engagement with the devolved Administrations in trade agreements.
On the first point, it is very helpful to hear about discussions taking place through ministerial forums. This would be, I think, outwith the memorandum of understanding process in the joint ministerial committees, which have now been well established for 20 years as the intergovernmental framework between the devolved Administrations and the UK Government. I am sure the Minister is always very careful and specific with his language: I heard him say “forum” but I did not hear him say “joint ministerial committee” or “intergovernmental committee”. A little more information about that would be helpful.
I can help the noble Lord. I was very careful to use the word “forum”—but perhaps I should have used “fora”, which of course is the plural. The reason for that is that the process is designed to mirror what has worked with the EU up to now. We want to replicate the terms that are used for EU negotiations by not calling it a joint ministerial committee. But I understand the intention behind the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, using that term.
I am on the same page as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. Why is it so complicated? The joint ministerial committee system has, as he said, worked well for more than 20 years. It provides an opportunity for those who are required to be present around the table to sit down, discuss and arrive at conclusions. In a debate on an earlier Bill, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, suggested a way of developing that into a formal structure within which there would be appointed chairs or elected chairs and rotating responsibilities. We seemed to be heading down that route, but now we are talking about this rather curious IGMF, which I had not heard of before. It is nice to know that it does indeed exist and may be working on EU matters. But I have always understood the relationship around EU matters as being—as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, picked up rather cleverly—around a settled set of responsibilities, where there is not the problem of geography meeting functionalism. That is the problem here, because as soon as we have a situation where the responsibility is devolved because it is not reserved, and there is a need to arbitrate and barter out the various competing interests across the nations of the United Kingdom, there has to be some formal structure. I do not think a forum provides that.
We may be dealing with semantics here, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. My understanding is that there is a reason, but it is not a particularly big reason, which is that the difference between a joint ministerial committee—the expression that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has just used—and a forum is that for a forum the devolved Administrations are seeking and are getting more regular and frequent conversations with us in the UK Government. I think a letter should clarify that.
I am grateful that the Minister will be providing a letter. As the Commons committee and others have said, such a forum, which will include other groups, including representatives from the Administrations, should not be seen as an alternative to the mechanism of joint ministerial intergovernmental committees, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, are more about the discussions that take place about legislative competences. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, indicated, this is important now. The Minister said it is important that the continuity agreements are done swiftly. These continuity agreements may be in place for three years at the least, but they can be extended time and again. The agreements currently in place with the EU are permanent agreements, therefore we would be bringing into UK legislation what could well become permanent agreements. It is therefore important that if there are outstanding issues about where those competences lie, they are cleared through some form of intergovernmental process. If those points could be addressed in the Minister’s letter, I would be most grateful.
I will certainly address the extra points that the noble Lord has made. The point I want to emphasise to the Committee today is that this forum is being regarded as particularly serious in the times that we are in. I have mentioned some names to be included as part of that forum, but this is work in progress.
On Amendment 76, the UK Government recognise the important role each devolved Administration will play in the implementation of the Trade Bill. The Government are also committed to ensuring that withdrawal from the EU is a successful and smooth process for the whole of the UK. The use of concurrent powers is in keeping with existing devolution arrangements. It allows for regulations to be made once for the whole of the UK where it makes practical sense to do so. The intention behind this is legislative efficiency.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, asked about the implications for the Trade Bill of the freezing power in the EU withdrawal Act. We have been clear that the regulations to freeze competence to preserve our existing frameworks are not a mechanism for avoiding seeking legislative consent when creating our future frameworks. Without wishing to labour the point, I reiterate my earlier commitment that the UK Government will not normally use these powers to amend legislation in devolved areas without the consent of the relevant devolved Administrations and certainly not without first consulting them.
I acknowledge the mini-debate started by the noble Lord, Lord Hain. In essence, he asked whether the concurrent powers amount to a power grab—I think that is the expression he used. Under the Trade Bill, every decision that the devolved Administrations can make before exit they will be able to make after exit. The augmentation powers in the Trade Bill will be held by both the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This approach will provide greater flexibility in how transition agreements are implemented, manage legal risks where competence boundaries are unclear, and allow for a reduced volume of legislation. The noble Lord invited me to write, and if he is not satisfied with that answer, I will certainly follow up with a letter should he wish.
This follows a long-standing convention between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. However, to place this convention in statute, as the amendment seeks to do, would be legally unworkable. It would lead to numerous and complicated issues around the legal interpretation of “not normally”, as was found in the 2017 Supreme Court judgment on the Miller case. Along with my commitments to the Committee that we will abide by the existing convention, I hope that this provides sufficient assurance for the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for that full reply. I am looking forward to the letters, which I will read very carefully.
It is sufficient to leave the position on Amendment 17 as it is at the moment. It is more complicated than can be dealt with within the confines of the Trade Bill. It needs a much wider conspectus of views and to be informed by other debates elsewhere. The principles that we have been articulating are important. I hope the Minister recognises how valuable they will be within what appears to be the Government’s view that rolling forward existing trade arrangements on the continuity model will be uncomplicated and not difficult. I have my doubts—“I hae ma doots”, as I would normally say. Hansard will not necessarily pick this up.
The key is: how does it work in practice? It is really important to use our words carefully, as the Minister has done, to assure ourselves that we are not getting into exactly the same position as we did on the withdrawal Bill. In effect, he said that the Government will not normally legislate in areas that are devolved. Of course, the key is: what does “normally”’ mean? How exceptional does it have to be before we see an extraordinarily difficult situation leading to contests between the two agencies? He went on to say that they would not do so without the consent of the devolved Administrations. Consent is a crucial word. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, used the word “consult” as if that took both meanings, but it does not. Consult is one thing; consent is so different. We have to be sure exactly where we are. The discussion and debate around this would then result in an agreed position between both Parliaments as to how it would operate in practice. That is the Sewel convention.
If we accept everything that has been said in this debate—and we will get contributions on other Bills and issues of policy as they come forward—why do the Government not look very carefully at the wording of Amendment 76? It was provided to us by the Welsh Government as a proposal for reaching a point of unanimity on this issue. Why is it not appropriate to put it in this Bill, or, if not, in some future Bill very closely aligned to this? I think it will be required. My guess is that we will need it quite soon. It is not legally unenforceable. It is what we do. So let us get it right. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Moved by Lord Purvis of Tweed
18: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Status of the United KingdomBefore exit day, a Minister of the Crown must lay before Parliament a report specifying which countries and organisations must amend their own domestic legislation in order to ensure that the United Kingdom is treated by that country or organisation as if it were a member of the European Union for the purpose of free trade agreements or other international trade agreements during the period between
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 19 in this group. At Second Reading of this Bill, the Minister the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, said that this process was about transparency. Amendment 18, which is a probing amendment, and Amendment 19 seek some transparency in a rather opaque set of situations—I listened to the Secretary of State for International Trade this morning from Davos adding even more confusion to the current position on the continuity agreement discussions.
On Monday, I referenced the fact that, through our membership of the EU, the UK has a trading relationship in place with 35 countries; 47 are partly in place, and there are 22 pending country agreements. These represent 66% of UK trade. Some are extremely complex. Some have been split into trading arrangements and investor dispute mechanisms, and some are of critical importance to certain sectors of the British economy. It is incredibly important that, between now and
One of the reasons that Dr Fox has given for why we have not been presented with the trade agreements to roll over into our legislation is the reluctance of other countries. He has given a number of reasons why they are reluctant, which I will come to later, but one of the areas that Amendment 18 seeks to clarify is our Government’s understanding of what our partner Governments need to do. On a visit last year to a country in north Africa, I met with its foreign affairs and trade representatives and MPs. A representative of the British Government who was present asked them explicitly whether they needed to change any of their domestic legislation purposes if they were then going to respond to what the EU was going to ask them to do, which was to consider the UK as a member of the EU for the purposes of international agreements during the implementation period—that is, on the basis that we have an agreement—and they were not able to answer. I suspected that this was now a routine set of requests from British government representatives of our partner countries.
My amendment asks for a report on what our understanding is of the domestic processes that those countries need to go through. If we know that, we are able to take Dr Fox’s statement at face value: they are simply not carrying the weight or working hard. Or, if we know that their own domestic processes are more complex than one may have thought, then we may have greater sympathy with the Government that this may be a more complex process than we had been led to believe.
In 2017 and 2018, we seemed to be living in a much easier world, because Dr Fox suggested at the Conservative Party conference, reportedly to cheers from activists, that it would be a breeze to get all the existing trade agreements in place before March. I remind colleagues that he said:
“believe me, we'll have up to 40 ready for one second after midnight in March 2019”.
“All these faint hearts saying we cannot do it—it’s absolute rubbish”.
That was endorsed on Twitter by the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Price. When challenged on the basis that it might not be as easy as what Dr Fox had said, the noble Lord said on
“Ed we won’t only have WTO in event of no EU Trade deal. We will roll over the 60 odd other deals we are party to currently”.
Someone then responded that it would be difficult to do that. He then replied,
“All have agreed roll over”.
I just do not think that is correct. We now need absolute clarity because the clock is ticking.
When we debated this four months ago at Second Reading, I specifically asked the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, if the position of Dr Fox and the Government—that at the second after midnight next March they will all be ready—still stood. He replied:
“The Government’s position is exactly what the Secretary of State for International Trade said”.—[Official Report, 11/9/18; col. 2201.]
We need to know what the domestic processes are in those other countries and we need to know now very clearly, through a report, where we currently stand. That report should give the number, type, scope and extent of those agreements.
The agreements that we currently have in place are a mixture: free trade agreements; deep and comprehensive free trade agreements; economic partnership agreements; association agreements; stabilisation and association agreements; customs union arrangements—with Turkey and Andorra, which we will be discussing later on; interim economic partnerships; stepping-stone agreements; and modernisation agreements. We are also in the process, although they are not yet inked, of investor dispute mechanism agreements.
We have heard nothing at all from the Government about how we intend to roll over these different—in some respects, significantly different—types of agreements, and the consequences that that could potentially have on UK law. Dr Fox, in a slight moment of reality, said to the Commons committee that a simple rollover may not be as easy as previously stated. That is the only time—that I could find—where there was a degree of reality from the Government.
As I have said previously, the clock is now ticking. The Government still hold the position—if the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, is to be believed—that we are to transfer all of these agreements into UK law. They have not deviated from that position; indeed, Dr Fox did not even deviate from it this morning when he was asked, which is the latest information. So this report under Amendment 19 is necessary.
Because of the complexity of these arrangements and because some of them are very large—the totality represents 66% of UK trade—it is necessary, in subsection (2)(d) of the proposed new clause, for us to specify the consequences for the United Kingdom. In failing to replicate the terms of the existing agreements, it is necessary that we have a report which indicates the impact on the UK economy. Subsection (2)(a)(i) to (iii) in Amendment 19 means that there will be a much greater degree of clarity on what our partners need to do.
Finally, why is this even more important? At a lunchtime meeting that I had with colleagues in the House a delegation from the Canadian parliament, the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Canada had a very interesting row with another Conservative MP. As a Liberal Democrat, the only good thing I could do was be an observer. The trade envoy said that one of the opportunities of rolling over the CETA agreement was to change it. That was immediately slapped down by the other Conservative MP who said, “No, we just need to get this through”. Our very close Canadian colleagues were bamboozled by this. They were also bamboozled when I asked them the same question that I am asking the Minister: what is necessary for Canada to implement this into their domestic legislation? So far, the Canadian Government have not indicated to their parliament that this is in the pipeline or that this is to be ready. Therefore, all I am asking is for the Government to tell us.
Now is the time for clarity—absolute clarity—not only for Parliament but also for businesses that rely on this trading relationship. I remind the Minister of the resolution of this House on Monday: that if this clarity is not provided then this Bill will not proceed.
My Lords, when I first came to your Lordships’ House just over five years ago, I found some of the procedures absolutely incomprehensible. It has taken me a little time to find my feet. Quite honestly, a lot of those procedures lack common sense.
I do not understand why it was ever necessary to draft Amendment 19, let alone for it to be moved. It is common sense: of course we need this sort of information. It is asking for such basic information which, in any sensible universe, would be published as a matter of course. This is transparency which helps all of our businesses and our economy. We are now only weeks away from Brexit day, and we are still completely in the dark about all these things. There are many supply chains which depend on this sort of information. They depend on our existing trade arrangements. Businesses do not have the slightest clue whether they will be able to continue on existing terms in just two months’ time.
I would have thought that, if the Government had everything lined up ready to roll over these trade deals—which I very much doubt—then Ministers would be telling us about it and about what a great job they have done. The Minister would do a great service to the Committee, and to the country, by giving us a full account of where the Government are in these negotiations. It should not have to be an amendment to the Bill—it is so basic—but if the Government will not tell us then we have to compel them.
My Lords, the irony of this is that, if the EU was pursuing this activity, it would have to make all this information available and disclose it to the European Parliament. We are being put at a disadvantage in the so-called process of taking back control.
Could I just add to the points made by noble Lords? All this has been said before, when we discussed these matters a year ago. We were assured that everything was hunky-dory and that this process of rolling over existing trade agreements was going very smoothly. I recall one occasion when, after we had discussed it here, I was invited to a briefing by Trade and DExEU Ministers. They explained how easy it would be and took as an example one particular trade deal that I happened to know about because I had negotiated it as European Commissioner. I remembered how difficult the issues we had had to deal with were about rules of origin and surges in agricultural imports. Here I was being told that something that had taken us five or six years to negotiate would be negotiated, along with everything else, by the Department for International Trade.
Maybe between now and the end of March the department will get its socks on and go like the clappers, but somehow I do not think it will. I think that what will happen is it will redefine what the objective is, as Dr Fox was doing this morning. Dr Fox presumably knows the difference between a mutual recognition agreement and a free trade agreement, but this morning he was talking as though they were the same thing. I greatly sympathise with the Minister, because I do not think she will be able to enlighten us very much on the particular progress that has been made over recent weeks and months by our ubiquitous International Trade Secretary.
My Lords, your Lordships’ House has the privilege of having as Members a number of former European Union Trade Commissioners. I am very happy that a least one of them is here and able to contribute from his specialised knowledge to our debate.
My Lords, I will address Amendment 18 first. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and all who have spoken in the debate. The themes from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and my noble friends Lord Patten and Lady Hooper are similar points. I will try to address them as much as I can. I also recognise the assertion from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that this is a probing amendment.
This is an important issue and I fully understand the need to provide some reassurance. I will try, as much as I can, to do so. I start by reiterating that we value and benefit from our international agreements, and we want to continue to co-operate with our global partners across a range of issues—not just trade but air services, climate change, international development and nuclear co-operation. As such, we are working with countries and multilateral organisations worldwide to put in place arrangements to ensure continuity of those international agreements.
We have agreed with the EU that it will notify treaty partners that, during the implementation period, the United Kingdom is to be treated as a member state for the purposes of these agreements. We think that this approach is the best platform for continuity during the implementation period across all agreements, but it would be for those individual third countries and multilateral bodies to determine whether any domestic action, including amendments to domestic legislation, is required. We do not expect that such actions will be required in every instance, but we understand that some parties, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, will choose and be required to take some internal steps where they think that to be necessary.
My Lords, could I ask the Minister for clarification? Has she just said that she believes that, 10 weeks away from leaving, potentially under a no-deal scenario, the UK Government still do not absolutely know what steps are necessary in each of those countries with which we expect to roll over those continuity agreements, do not have them timetabled and are not tracking them in detail but have basically just stepped away and said, “We just hope, generally”? I would have hoped our diplomats were on the telephone daily to get these steps in place if they were necessary. But from listening to her, it sounds as though no such action, no such monitoring or pursuit, is taking place.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, for the further question, and will try to reassure her. The Government have been engaging actively with those third parties on that approach since it was outlined as part of the implementation period arrangements at the European Council of March 2018. But we must consider that a decision for those third parties, those countries themselves. Any action or internal measure taken is for them to consider based on their own domestic legislation and practice. Indeed—this is a critical point—some internal measures, given their very nature, may not even be public knowledge. For this reason, let me assure the noble Baroness that we agree it is right that we engage actively both with third parties and with multilateral organisations and encourage them to consider the steps needed for their own domestic legislation. This enables the continuity that, as the noble Lord, Lord Price, said, in principle they all fundamentally agree with, because it is in their mutual interest.
Moving into the future and the next 10 weeks, if we go to a no deal, this will have to be even more revved up, because we are hoping and planning for an implementation period. But as the noble Baroness will be aware, that would require an agreement, and therefore we must also have plans in place for a no deal. We do not think it appropriate for the UK Government to essentially monitor a list of the actions over sovereign countries and hold them accountable. It would also be practically challenging for the reasons I have set out.
I do not think anyone on these Benches has said that the UK Government should be holding the other Governments to account for these actions. We are asking whether you understand what the necessary actions are. Are you tracking them? Do we really know the critical path each agreement has to take in order to reach the golden point of Dr Fox’s magic moment when they all become reality? I think you are saying that you do not know what the path is, that you are not mapping that critical path and that therefore you cannot say how long it is going to take because you just do not know.
I say to the noble Lord that we are actively working and engaging with them. It is for them to decide. They have discussed with us what they currently believe. Some they are actively working through, some the third countries and bodies do not choose to make public—to us or anyone else. That is what I am trying to explain. I do not want this House to be in any doubt or to give the sense that we were just asking them and walking away. We are actively engaging with all the parties I referred to.
I now turn to Amendments 19 and 97. I will take those together, as they both—
Before the noble Baroness goes on to the next amendment, could she answer a question that I asked in the preliminary debate? In the event of us leaving without a deal, what tariff rates will the United Kingdom apply on
My Lords, I will try to do a little better than that. I can write to clarify, but my understanding is that in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act arrangements were put in place for the GSP, the GSP+ and the Everything But Arms preference terms. As I keep saying, obviously our aim is to have an agreement and then an implementation period. Should there be no deal—which is not the desired outcome—the UK will need to determine what its policy is. That is not something that I am at liberty to discuss, as it has not been disclosed. Clearly it is not a place we want to go, but we will have to take that into account if we reach that point.
I am sorry, but I must repeat a point that has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others. There are companies doing business that need to be signing contracts today, or fulfilling contracts on their books: they need to make financial provision, to put loans in place if suddenly they face unexpected costs, or to find alternative suppliers. There is a whole range of actions that those companies need to take. We cannot wait until we have gone over the precipice and then start to think about what we are going to do. We will have to have a regime in place at one second past Brexit. I do not understand the thinking behind all this. I do not know whether the Government have made a decision to keep this information from Parliament, for reasons that I do not understand but which may reflect some internal attitude towards secrecy and the way they want to handle Parliament, or whether they actually have not done the work and got any of the elements in place. Either is awful.
I believe that the noble Baroness has misinterpreted what I said. I did not say that we would wait until the end and that people would go into a chasm of not knowing. I said—I hope that I said it clearly—that our aim is to have an agreement and an implementation period. In the event of a no deal, which clearly is not the preferred outcome, speed is of critical importance in trying to roll over the effects of the agreements that we have, to give that certainty and continuity to businesses.
The noble Baroness asked what would happen a second after midnight. We have published technical notices on the programme, we have attended multiple oral evidence sessions with the International Trade Committee, we have exchanged letters with that committee, which are in the Library, we have responded to all parliamentary Questions and we have made Statements in the House.
May I try asking the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, another way round? Are the Government concerned that any of the countries with which we want to roll over agreements cannot complete, or have concerns about completing, the rollover agreements, through their own Governments and Parliaments, within the next 10 weeks? If so, we should take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, about the businesses and industries working across and with those countries. They will be put in jeopardy if there is no agreement in place by one minute past midnight on
My Lords, I can confirm that that is why we want to have an agreement with an implementation period. That is why it is definitely the Government’s plan A, while a no-deal scenario will bring real challenges. I hope that your Lordships would not accuse me of saying that there are not complications or that we do not need to go through many agreements. As I said in this House at Second Reading, it would be extraordinarily challenging to get everything done by
The noble Baroness referred to the future tariff policy and what happens if we get to no deal at one second past midnight. We are working to develop an independent tariff policy, but no decision has yet been taken on what the applied tariff rates will be post an EU exit, notably also in the case of no deal. We are looking at a full spectrum of options and will consider carefully all the evidence available before making a final decision in the interests of British industry and consumers.
I wish to have one final go on Amendment 18. It is predicated on what the Government are working to, which is to have an agreement. That agreement will come with a request from the European Union to those third countries to treat us as a continuing member of the international trading agreements. The Minister has told the Committee that the Government know of countries where that poses no difficulty but also of countries which have said they do have difficulties. This means that, even in the event of leaving with a deal, some of our trading arrangements will not be in place after exit because those countries cannot put them in place. Which countries have indicated to the Government that that poses no difficulty and they will treat us as a continuing member of the international treaty, as the EU has asked? Which countries have said that it poses difficulties, and which have said that they do not wish to make it public?
My Lords, if I may address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, if we leave with a deal there is an implementation period until the end of 2020. There is much greater confidence, as I believe this House would accept and appreciate, about getting all the arrangements fully continued and rolled over within that time period.
There are two issues here. The first is the notification by the EU that the UK is to be treated as part of the EU during the implementation period. The second is what third countries need to do to enter into continuity agreements. The first is a matter of third countries accepting that they will treat us in that way; on the second, we are engaged in detailed discussions with individual third countries to try to help them ensure that they are in a position to enter into the agreements on time. I stress, as noble Lords have highlighted, the difficulty of the timing if there were no deal.
I apologise, but can the Minister then confirm whether my understanding is wrong? I understand that they will be asked to consider us as being in an agreement during the implementation period—to carry on treating us as if we were a continuing member of that organisation—but the Minister has said that the Government do not know whether all countries will do that. So, even if there is an agreement with the EU and an implementation period, there may be countries where the international relationships that we will have will not be in effect after exit day because the third country will not be in a position to treat us as a continuing member. The Minister has said that to the House. So all we want to know is which countries they are, because it is very significant if, even in the context of leaving with an agreement, those relationships might not carry on.
My Lords, what I can say is that all the countries we have spoken to have agreed with the principle of continuity. Therefore, one could expect that if they agree with the principle of continuity, they would see that that was a key part of making sure that their businesses and UK businesses—their people and our people—are protected.
Amendments 19 and 97 both concern the publication of a trade agreement progress register, so I will take them together. As agreed in the other place, the Government have already committed to lay reports in Parliament to explain any changes made to continuity agreements. These reports are intended to aid Members of both Houses to understand our continuity agreements. It is critical—as the previous discussion has just highlighted—that we do not delay the ratification of the agreements and unintentionally create a cliff edge for our businesses through a process addition. There will simply not be time, particularly with no deal, to create a detailed progress register in advance of bringing the majority of provisions in the Trade Bill into effect. That would be the effect of Amendment 97. As I stressed, we want to keep Parliament informed. Although we are committed to transparency and clarity in what I have laid out regarding our process reports, we are also mindful that we need to deliver the programme to time, and this additional reporting requirement risks delaying it.
Our Clause 3 reports are proportionate and will provide Parliament the transparency it requires. I take fully the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about the number of agreements—FTAs, EPAs, MRAs and association agreements. I have also laid out to the Committee some of the more technical aspects that we will cover, such as what happens with tariff rate quotas and rules of origin. I believe we will discuss those later today. Extensive work has been undertaken to ensure the continuity of our agreements for more than two years. We are engaged with our international partners to deliver this in the event of no deal. We have been working to deliver successor bilateral agreements with third countries and treaty partners, which in the event of no deal we would seek to bring into force from exit day or as soon as possible thereafter. Progress has been encouraging. Ministers and officials are engaging regularly with those partner countries to support and complete the work. As I said in the previous discussion, all have supported the principle of rolling over, because it is in their mutual interest.
I reiterate that we are aiming not to have any significant changes. As such, we believe there is little benefit in having a report analysing our continued participation in the EU FTAs. The vast majority of the elements are already being implemented, and our businesses are already benefiting.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, would require us to provide detailed progress on private Government-to-Government discussions. To provide such updates would create a considerable handling risk with our partner countries. As the noble Lord will appreciate, there are commercial sensitivities, and regulations and procedures in third countries, and we would not be able to commit to providing those updates without first seeking the agreement of the relevant partner countries. Again, this could end only in slowing down the negotiations. We believe these amendments are inappropriate and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment 18.
Is the Minister familiar with the practice in the European Parliament which currently applies? The committees of the European Parliament are briefed in detail about negotiations being conducted by the Commission. During the negotiations, how do you think they overcome these insuperable problems which the Government seem to see about doing that here? Nobody is saying that it has to be done on the Floor in a plenary session of this Parliament, but surely there has to be some way in which the Government account to a committee, as they go along, as to how negotiations are going. That is what happens in the European Parliament.
My Lords, I know the European process in outline; I cannot say that I understand it in the depth that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, does, given his experience in that area. I want to differentiate between the continuity agreements and future trade agreements. Because we are talking about rolling over existing agreements, we expect to replicate the effects as closely as we can, so as not to disrupt trading patterns, so this is a different type of progress report. The noble Lord makes an important and valid point about the scrutiny of future trade agreements and we will discuss that later in the debate.
I go back to an earlier question asked by the noble Lord, about whether or not the Government are in a position to notify those who are directly involved in this in a no-deal situation, which we all hope does not happen but in which we are out of the EU at 11.01 pm on
My Lords, on the 11.01 pm—or one minute past midnight—point, technical notices have already been sent out and no-deal planning has been ramped up, as the noble Lord will have seen in the Prime Minister’s announcement. Communications are planned for businesses and there are training programmes to make sure that the Civil Service and various departments are ready with information as required. Clearly, our primary focus is on achieving plan A and a deal, and therefore this is contingency planning, but that planning has been ramped up in the event—that we do not want—that there is no deal. I cannot say the exact moment that those notices will come out but I understand the noble Lord’s concern, and businesses’ concern, about what will happen in the following hour. Obviously, that will be taken into account.
As for third countries and where they are, I do not think I can add to what I said, which is that we are actively engaged and if there is a deal followed by an implementation period, we will be an awful lot more comfortable about the process.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and to noble Lords who have taken part. The Minister said that the Government will keep Parliament informed. Parliament has not been informed until now. We have no idea, because nothing has been presented to Parliament, about notification of the status of the potential agreements. We were not informed in advance about Switzerland, which is the only one so far; we have been asked simply to ratify it and to consider whether or not we accept what comes with it.
I tried to probe the Minister’s comments on Amendment 18. She told us that in discussions with third countries, if there is an agreement and the EU asks them to consider the UK as a continuing member of the European Union for the purposes of international treaties and trading agreements, the Government will not provide the information to Parliament on which countries that poses no difficulties for, which countries have indicated that that may require them to change domestic law, and which countries are refusing to make the discussions public.
It seems as if our trade policy is now being run by Donald Rumsfeld. We know the known known of Switzerland; we know the known unknowns, which are countries which have said yes, but the Government are not going to tell us; and we have the unknown unknowns of the countries that are not telling the Government whether or not on exit day, with an agreement, we will be treated under the international agreement that we currently have a relationship with. That is not acceptable on our way to exit day. This started with a probing amendment. I think there needs to be considerably more probing if this Bill goes on Report. It is incumbent on the Government to give us this information. Even if there is an agreement, would all the countries that we have an international agreement with consider us to be continuing as a member of the EU during the implementation period?
On Amendment 19, it is not acceptable for the Government to say that they cannot provide information on the current status of discussions with third countries that we have an existing relationship with about the existing agreement. If the Government are saying that there is a handling risk or that confidential discussions are going on and these are simply about rolling over existing agreements, what is the new information which provides a handling risk that the Government cannot tell us? Everything the Minister has said so far at Second Reading and in Committee is that there will be nothing different in these agreements. It is simply a cut-and-paste job, as a Minister previously said.
Amendment 19 puts in place much greater clarity about the agreements, their scope, their impact on the United Kingdom, their impact if there is no agreement, and a current status register. That is absolutely doable by the Government. There is no confidentiality risk, no governance risk; we will not put any of our relationships with third countries at risk by doing so. In fact, it will enhance the relationships. I have been offended by hearing Dr Fox blame other countries for not acting quickly enough because, as he said this morning, they do not believe that there will be a new deal—presumably they were also on the conference call with the Chancellor of the Exchequer who said that Parliament will block no deal. Blaming other countries for not moving quickly enough is simply not acceptable. This information needs to be made public and Parliament needs much greater transparency—in fact, it does not need greater transparency, it just needs transparency.
My Lords, I have to rebut the statement made by the noble Lord that it would enhance relations with third countries if we reveal the status of the discussions and negotiations with them. It would be against the nature of most discussions with third countries. Many third countries have policies in which they do not permit disclosure of the discussions that are taking place. I just do not think that is a correct assertion. As for Switzerland and other—
All these countries have negotiated deals with the EU. In the process of those negotiations, there was full transparency and exposure. It is not a case of reporting to the European Parliament; it can be read on the website. In relation to these exact trade deals, they are used to providing full disclosure every step of the way. They are not being asked to do something that is out of the norm. The secrecy is out of the norm, not disclosure.
Again, when countries are in the middle of negotiations, blow-by-blow accounts or reporting stages are highly irregular. I hear and understand this House’s concerns and I will see what more information can be given.
With Switzerland, it will not just be a case of ratification, then all done. As we committed to, parliamentary reports will be laid before the House so that it can see whether any changes have been made and, if so, what their impact is. Today, it was announced that a free trade agreement has been reached in principle with Israel. I say this not because two out of 40 is the vast majority but because I want to provide reassurance that progress is being made. As noble Lords will be aware, the agreement with Switzerland is one of our most important FTAs with the EU—in fact, it is the most important.
I hear the concerns and challenges from noble Lords across the House. We have provided information and I cannot say that there has not been transparency; we have been reporting to the ITC and through ministerial Statements. I will seek to find out what further information can be provided before or during Report.
One element that concerns us is when Ministers move seamlessly from saying that this is merely a technical exercise to roll over existing agreements to, in the next sentence, saying that they are engaged in confidential negotiations—but what are they negotiating? If this is simply a technical legal exercise to ensure the translation of legal competences into UK law, what are the Government negotiating? As soon as Ministers say that confidential negotiation is needed, that should trigger the existing, proper processes of transparency. As the Government said, these agreements are existing agreements with the European Union. They could not have been made without regular updates to democratically elected bodies. That is what we are asking for; it is a modest request.
The Government’s response is concerning and has not provided the degree of clarity sought, especially since the public justification for why these agreements have not been brought forward to Parliament by the Secretary of State is to blame other countries. If we get to the next stage of the Bill, much more information must be provided by the Government because this issue is significant for our trading relationships. Until that point, we on these Benches will reserve our position. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Amendment 19 not moved.
Clause 3: Report on proposed free trade agreement
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 20 and speak to Amendment 21. Both amendments touch on the important issue of transparency, which has already been raised.
According to subsections (7) and (8) of Clause 2, the powers to be taken by the Secretary of State to implement replacement UK trade agreements for existing ones covered by our EU membership may last for up to six years after exit day. At present, as we have heard, the Government are not obliged to provide any indication of progress on the implementation of trade agreements covered by Clause 2. Businesses great and small have rightly complained that they have been given insufficient information about which agreements will be in place on exit day and beyond. The Minister has told me that there has been consultation between the Department for International Trade, trade organisations and businesses, but I am not sure that it has been on a sufficient scale to allay businesses’ concerns.
I acknowledge that the Department for International Trade has been working hard to ensure that no agreements are lost on Brexit day, whether we leave with a deal or not. But the fact remains, as we have already heard at great length, that there has been a failure to provide this House and the other place with information on the progress of the rollover of trade agreements. Surely we should not have had to learn from the Financial Times that there is a possibility that many, if not most, existing trade agreements will not be carried over after
However—again as we have heard—there can be no doubt that best practice requires the provision of regular progress reports. We heard on Monday, and have heard already this afternoon, about the information provided by the EU on its website, covering the progress of trade negotiations. For example, I have here a one-paragraph report on the 19th round of negotiations, held in October 2018, on an EU-China investment agreement, along with an expectation that the next round of talks will be held early in 2019. That is the sort of information being put out by the EU. I appreciate the issue of commercial confidentiality, but surely if the EU can provide such information on a regular basis, the United Kingdom should commit itself to doing the same, particularly given the concerns of businesses and the commercial sector, and the powers requested by the Department for International Trade in the Bill. That is the purpose of Amendment 21.
The second part of the amendment would ensure that the Government keep us up to date during each parliamentary Session by means of a fairly simple report. We are not talking about just this Session; this could go on for some years, so we are talking about every parliamentary Session. We should all be aware of plans and the likelihood of agreements being laid at particular times. We need early notice of issues that may prove controversial. I would have thought that any responsible Government would feel that this was a basic requirement for those who are tasked with scrutiny functions, such as this House, and for businesses wanting to know about progress.
The first part of the amendment is similarly based on the good practice we have seen in the European Commission. I am pleased that the Government propose to lay before us a report on the trade agreements they intend to implement, including the difference between existing and proposed agreements—but that does not go far enough in providing information to businesses and this House on the nature of the agreement. From what the Minister has told me I gather that, in the Department for International Trade, agreements will be scrutinised thoroughly by internal economic assessors. That is very good—but could the Government therefore be seen as marking their own homework? Might the Government not bring to our attention all matters of importance?
That brings me to Amendment 20. I would like to see the scrutiny also done externally. We should be provided with a full, independent report of the sort that would be typically be provided by, for example, the LSE or Sussex University, both of which have well-established trade policy expertise. That would detail the precise differences between existing and new treaties, if any, and—importantly—the expected economic impact of any changes. Without this information, it will be very difficult to judge whether an agreement is worth pursuing.
The Minister keeps saying that the treaties will be rolled over and will all be very similar, with no variation. I will give an example to illustrate my point. Let us say that a country covered by one of these agreements is prepared to sign a rollover only on the condition of a change in a regulation to allow a certain type of food to enter this country with reduced checks. This could have an impact on health, on United Kingdom domestic providers and, potentially, on other countries’ exports, including those of developing countries. In this situation, surely Parliament deserves to know the impact of the change and should be able to scrutinise its effects. The best way to do that, as far as I can see, is through the provision of an independent report.
Some years ago I sat on the TTIP inquiry on one of your Lordships’ EU sub-committees, under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. I am well aware of the potential for trade agreements to cause considerable controversy. This may well apply to agreements covered by this Bill. At that time our sub-committee felt that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as it then was, needed a much better communication strategy than it had in place at that time to address such problems—and I have to say that I think this remains the case with the Department for International Trade. It does not seem to be terribly interested in the views of Parliament or business on trade policy, and seems to think that it should be left to get on with its work as quickly as possible, as it sees fit. I am not sure that that is a tenable stance in 2019.
The Government and Ministers from the department are rightly banging the drum about the importance of trade agreements post Brexit, and about how leaving the EU will provide us with new opportunities, but these future trade agreements will not be a success until the Government lay down a clear strategy for how businesses, a wide range of stakeholders and Parliament will be involved and also ensure that this is clearly communicated so that we all know what is happening and what our own role will be. It is absolutely essential that the Government and the DIT set out their thinking about how they will keep Parliament, businesses and other stakeholders informed, both about the current negotiations and later about new trade negotiations and their likely effect. Thus far, I have not been very reassured about what is happening. I hope that the Government will think again about this aspect and that the Minister will come back, whenever Report takes place, with some more substantive provisions for this Bill, in keeping with the importance of trade agreements. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend has done us a great service in introducing this amendment with considerable verve and in such detail that nobody feels it necessary to pick it up. I put on record that we support what she is saying. There must be an advantage in having a proper external scrutiny system. These things should be done with independence and a wider concern for the issues than can be done from internally within the department. My noble friend makes the point—others have made it before—that we have a long way to go if we are to emulate the EU in its current practices, let alone try to get best practice going. I hope the Government, if they cannot accept the wording here, will at least take the sentiment behind the amendment and think about how that can be brought forward, both in the narrow work required in the department and its relations with Parliament but also in trying to improve the way this information is made available to the wider world.
Also in this group, I have given notice of my intention to oppose Clause 3 stand part. The reason is not directly related to the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Henig, because the substance of what she proposes is very much in line with the work done in the Commons to try to improve the reporting requirements, and I do not dissent from that. My reason for giving notice of my intention to oppose Clause 3 stand part is that later in the Bill we will discuss the broader question of what happens when we are talking not about continuity but about free trade agreements more generally. At that stage I have Amendment 33, which gives in some detail a possible way of doing this. It is certainly not in any sense meant to be the prescriptive answer, but it does raise all the issues raised within the terms of the current procedures under Clause 3. When it comes to later amendments, I will also talk about Clauses 4 and 5.
My Lords, I should have stood up earlier, but I was being polite. It seems the system set out in this Bill has been rendered obsolete by the passage of time and the sheer urgency with which the Government now have to act. The amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, do a good job of trying to plug some of the gaps, but I really think the Government have to go back to the drawing board on all of this. A government amendment is needed on Report that proposes a realistic set of procedures that can be used without undue delay while ensuring proper safeguards and accountability. This should not be a battle but something we can all work on together. This Bill has dragged on for so long that we all have the benefit of hindsight. A quite prescient question has emerged: where will the Government ever find time to use the procedure set out in Clause 3? I really think we need a lot more drafting on this Bill so that at some point we might get it on to the statute book.
My Lords, I begin by addressing Amendment 20, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. The Government agreed in the other place to lay reports in Parliament to explain the changes made to continuity agreements in advance of any continuity agreement being ratified or in advance of the Clause 2 power being used. This amendment, which requires an independent body—albeit one with the stature the noble Baroness refers to—would place a considerable time constraint on the delivery of these reports, which would in turn have a really serious impact on our ability to bring those continuity agreements into force. The reporting requirement placed on the Government is intended to be an aid to Members of both Houses to understand the continuity agreements as the agreement text is also laid in Parliament for ratification.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of standards and the potential to lower standards. We had a very long, detailed and comprehensive debate on standards on the first day in Committee on this Bill, and I want to reassure noble Lords again. EU standards come directly into UK law. We will remain party to international standards bodies under international law, as we are today. This Government have reiterated their commitment to high standards, which are both demanded by our consumers and the right policy for our country.
I turn to the idea of an independent report. Noble Lords with experience of trade matters will appreciate that these agreement texts are lengthy. The CETA text with Canada, including annexes, is about 1,600 pages long. The reality of the situation is that it is simply not feasible, in the time available, to generate independent reports before our agreement needs to be ratified. I again refer to what we have said: continuity is what businesses and our consumers are asking for. I appreciate the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, makes. Our reports will provide relevant analysis on the impact of any changes made to those agreements. I hope these reports are helpful, both to the noble Baroness and to this House.
My Lords, if the change is literally a cut and paste, I am not sure it would help your Lordships to have a report saying “‘EU’ changed to ‘UK’”. It would be changes seen to be of any significance. If there were any economic impact, that would be included in the report. The reports are designed not to take time in an exercise of proofing but to identify the significant changes and those of value for the House to be aware of. As the noble Lord correctly says, it does refer to “any significant differences” in “trade-related provisions”.
The continuity agreements will be subject to the procedure under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act. This House will be able to use the contents of these reports to inform their engagement with that process.
I turn to Amendment 21, which requires the Government to provide updates to Parliament on the status of negotiations. I stress again that we do not expect significant changes. I have referred on many occasions to the technical changes on TRQs, rules of origin and other such changes that we will need to cover later. That, together with this very tight timetable—as I think we all agree—would mean that the level of reporting is unnecessary in relation to that programme.
The continuity programme is separate from our programme to develop a future trade policy. On that, there has been very active engagement with businesses and trade associations. We meet on a very regular basis because it is trade policy for them and therefore it is absolutely critical. For example, we launched four consultations on possible future trade agreements. The window for consultations has recently closed and we are currently considering stakeholders’ views, so there is active consultation both in person and through that. Any future trade agreements with new partners will follow a separate scrutiny procedure. It was set out in outline by the Secretary of State for International Trade on
I understand that the Committee is keen to know what progress we are making on transitioning the continuity agreements. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to the ISDS update that was given by Europe. On the DIT website, we provide updates of the meetings that have taken place and of any working groups. I have a list here of all of the working groups and, where we can, we say what was discussed there. We are able to provide that level of transparency. I do not want to go back to the discussion that we just had about the private Government-to-Government discussions. I stand by the commitment that I made to the Committee on that last measure to say that I will look to see what further can be done. My understanding is that it could create a considerable handling risk for those countries.
I have listened with interest to the arguments and points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, concerning Clause 3. As has been set out in great detail and discussed over the course of these debates, the Government are seeking to roll over the effects of the EU’s trade agreements as much as is practically possible. This is particularly important in relation to pre-ratification reporting requirements, as any potential delay could risk a cliff edge in those trading relationships. In supporting this process, we are producing reports which will explain any significant changes—as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis— from the effects of our existing agreements to the new ones. We believe that this provides the transparency that Parliament has called for while also being proportionate. These reports will help Members of the House, businesses and the general public to better understand the impact of the programme.
I trust that the Committee will accept that this provides balance, but I repeat my commitment to see what further information we can give. Our amendment to produce these reports received support in the other place as a proportionate approach to providing transparency to Parliament. I hope that this reassures the Committee, and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. Additionally, I hope that noble Lords will agree that Clause 3 should stand part of the bill.
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what the Minister has said. I take the point about speed, but at the same time the department is seeking powers for up to six years. Therefore, on the one hand we are talking about speed and on the other the Government are saying that they might need these powers for some years. That is my concern. If we are talking about longer than a few months, we need a proper communication strategy and a proper strategy for scrutiny. In a sense, the department cannot have it both ways: if it is seeking powers over a period of years, then it is only reasonable for us then to be able to say, “Well, what are the arrangements for scrutiny?” If we are talking weeks, that is fine, but since the Bill is seeking these powers for this length of time, I do not think it is unreasonable for us then to say, “So what are going to be the arrangements for scrutiny and discussion?”
On the matter of scrutiny, it is quite obvious from everything that has been said by a whole number of people, on both this and previous amendments, that so far the scrutiny arrangements are by no means adequate. They really are not: we have to look at this and return to this. I hope that the department itself will come up with something on Report. Clearly, it is something that we will have to look at.
On communication, I take the point about the website, but the fact is that if you talk to businesses outside this House, if you talk to people who are trying to prepare for
I am not going to labour the points this afternoon, as we have already heard about them at great length before. We will have to return to this whole area on Report, but meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendment 21 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Reporting requirement not to apply in exceptional cases
My Lords, I will be extremely brief—I am sure that noble Lords will be happy about that—in moving Amendment 22 and speaking to Amendment 23. They are two very short probing amendments for the particular circumstances when Ministers do not feel the need to lay a report before the House. Once again, given the importance of trade agreements and the need for scrutiny, this is something that the Government need to consider carefully. Can it really be right for the Government to lay regulations before Parliament without informing us what they are and what impact they might have?
We can deal with the matter fairly straightforwardly. The Government will know in advance of the proposed changes to an agreement, not just at the point of laying it. There is therefore no reason whatever why we cannot be told what the change is at the time, as part of whatever reporting system there is. That is the purpose of Amendment 22.
In relation to Amendment 23, I say that the phrase “as soon as possible” is far too vague. I appreciate that the Government have many issues to consider and to juggle, but they should have the means to tell us what is being proposed. We need to know within a clear timeframe so that we can scrutinise the Government effectively. I have to hear a convincing reason from the Government as to why they need the wide-ranging powers under this clause. I therefore propose these amendments to seek further information from Ministers, and to signal the kind of openness and levels of scrutiny that I am sure Parliament will demand in terms of both these rollover agreements and the new trade agreements. I beg to move.
My Lords, once again I support the amendments of my noble friend Lady Henig; I will also speak against Clauses 4 and 5 standing part of the Bill. Counterintuitively, I will deal with Clause 5 stand part first, simply because it follows exactly in the same vein as the reasons I gave for suggesting that Clause 3 should not stand part. Clause 5 deals with reports to be laid with regulations under Section 2(1). In an expanded, more amplified and better and more rounded policy dealing with both the continuity of free trade agreements and the new free trade agreements, we would have a completely different system sitting in place, so Clause 5 would be otiose, which is why I put this forward. I will not press this and I do not need much response from the Minister because we will return to this issue later in group 13.
However, I wonder about Clause 4. It seems at a superficial level to give the Government a “get out of jail free” card in relation to any reports that they might feel obliged to make, particularly if they are expanded in terms of my noble friend Lady Henig’s original proposal under Clause 3. Clause 3 states:
“Before the United Kingdom ratifies the proposed agreement, a Minister … must lay before Parliament a report which gives details of, and explains the reasons for, any significant differences between—
(a) the trade-related provisions of the proposed agreement, and
(b) the trade-related provisions of the existing free trade agreement”.
But Clause 4 states:
“Section 3 does not apply to a free trade agreement if a Minister of the Crown is of the opinion that, exceptionally, the agreement needs to be ratified without laying before Parliament a report which meets the requirements”.
I stress that phrase,
“a Minister of the Crown is of the opinion that”,
and the use of “exceptionally”, which is an interesting word. In other words, you do not have to do it if you have sufficient gravitas and the ability to convince Parliament that you are not of that opinion and that it is exceptional, so you can get away with it. That is not satisfactory drafting.
This is not a good clause to be in a Bill of this nature. It certainly does not meet the questions that we have been raising about proper transparency, accounting and independence of reporting. When the Minister comes to reply, I hope that she will consider taking this away. If she cannot bring herself to agree that this needs redrafting, perhaps she can write to me explaining why it does not.
My Lords, I too will try to give a short response to the amendments before us, and first on Amendment 22 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. Clause 4 creates an exemption from the reporting requirement so that, in exceptional circumstances, the Government may seek to ratify an agreement without having first published the associated report on changes made to it. Let me categorically reassure noble Lords that we intend to draw on the reporting exemption provided for in the Bill only if we are in exceptional circumstances.
I am sure the Committee will agree that we may find ourselves in exceptional times. We cannot predict the speed with which continuity agreements will be ready for signature. Moreover, the exemption is narrow. It does not remove the requirement for a report to be laid. It simply provides a little leeway to enable a trade agreement to progress to avoid a cliff edge. The Government would still be required to lay a report as soon as possible following ratification. I hear the noble Lord, and will reflect on the drafting, but in a sense it was because of the uncertainty about the speed.
Amendment 23 would ensure that, if this exemption is invoked, the report would have to be laid no later than 10 days after ratification. Again, to be clear, we have drafted this exemption for use in only the most urgent of circumstances. If we were to need to rely on this, it would be necessary to ensure that we could continue to operate in the most uncertain of contexts, and avoid that cliff edge.
Clause 5 will ensure that the Government lay their report 10 days in advance of using the Clause 2 power to implement any obligations of a continuity agreement. That will ensure that Parliament is wholly informed about how we intend to deliver continuity for an agreement before it is required to consider implementing legislation. If we removed Clause 5, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, suggested, the Government would not be bound in any way to report, so we should set that aside.
Before I conclude on this point, I would like to inform the Committee about an amendment that the Government will bring forward on Report. As the Committee is aware, the purpose of the Government’s trade continuity programme is to seek continuity of the effects of existing EU free trade agreements as far as possible as we leave the EU. The vast majority of these existing trade agreements, which we are part of as an EU member state, are already in operation and have been scrutinised by Parliament. Let me make it clear to the Committee that we do not expect to need to change existing domestic equalities legislation as part of this programme. In the unlikely event that we choose to make minor or consequential changes to this legislation, we will aim to ensure that this does not result in reduced protection against unlawful discrimination or diminution of equality rights.
However, to ensure suitable transparency and accountability on this particularly important issue, we intend to provide that a ministerial Statement is made alongside any draft statutory instrument laid under the Clause 2 power. The Statement would outline whether the statutory instrument repealed, revoked or amended any provision of the Equality Acts 2006 and 2010 or any subordinate legislation made under them. In addition, I am happy to confirm that the reports under Clause 3 will explain any changes that would be required to equalities legislation as a result of our shift from an EU to a UK agreement if, and I stress if, any changes are needed. My officials have agreed to work together with the Equality and Human Rights Commission—and I put on record our thanks for its efforts in helping us to design the process so far—on designing the content and templates for these reports.
I hope that that reassures the Committee and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment. Additionally, I commend that Clauses 4 and 5 stand part of the Bill.
I thank the Minister for her response, and particularly for the additional information that she has just given us, which I am sure we welcome. As I said, they were probing amendments on my part and I was trying to get some more detailed information about the Government’s thinking, which I think we have had. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
Amendment 23 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5 agreed.
Moved by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara
24: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“Customs union It shall be the objective of Her Majesty’s Government to take all necessary steps to implement an international trade agreement which enables the United Kingdom to participate after exit day in a customs union with the European Union.”
My Lords, this amendment, for which I am grateful for the support of the noble Lords, Lord Patten of Barnes, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, has a long and distinguished history in that it has been discussed over a number of years. In moving it today, I first apologise for the drafting. It was devised by committee, which of course is never the right way to go about these things; it was a very good and small committee, but nevertheless the drafting reflects some of the tinkering involved. It probably does not stand the test of time and, if we were to return to this at a later stage—and we might want to do that—slightly different wording might emerge. But in proposing it I am in no sense worried about the central principle. I hope to spend a little time introducing the amendment and will then listen to the debate that comes forward.
The question of whether the UK should remain in a customs union has become an issue around which many people can agree. It does not involve them all, but includes many MPs, businesses, trade unions and the wider public. The reason is not hard to find. It would provide the certainty that we need to protect UK jobs, secure opportunities for our industries and create prosperity at home. It would also give us a voice, front and centre, at the world’s most powerful trade negotiations and help to ensure that global goals on development, climate change and the natural environment are met and continue to be met. On Northern Ireland, Ministers are bending over backwards to explain how exactly the backstop they have agreed to and have been supporting will actually work in practice. But at a stroke, a customs union would properly guarantee the peaceful legacy of the Good Friday agreement. That alone must make it a most important issue.
At present, the Government are steadfastly ruling out a new customs union. However, the trade unions, the CBI and other business interests are highly supportive of the idea, saying that a new customs union will protect jobs. The Scottish and Welsh Governments are also on board, as are a growing number of members of the Cabinet. At a time of seemingly insurmountable division in our country, the opportunity to unite in common purpose should be grasped with both hands. I beg to move.
My Lords, I can be very brief in supporting this amendment, which has my name on it. Saying that is a very ominous start; it usually means the exact opposite, like the phrase “with the greatest respect”. But I can indeed be very brief because, on
The economic case for a customs union if we leave the European Union is pretty well understood now. Business is explaining ever more volubly how damaging supply chain disruption would be. With the greatest respect for No. 10, I do not believe that the red line against a customs union would have been drawn in the 2016 party conference speech had there been any consultation with business, Parliament or the Cabinet beforehand. The political case for a customs union has become even more familiar as we think about the concept of a customs frontier across the island of Ireland and a backstop with a frontier down the Irish Sea. With great respect, I have to say that it was unfortunate that the 2016 announcement of the red line on a customs union, interpreted in Dublin as a declaration of intent to abrogate the Belfast treaty, was made without any advance consultation with or notification to the other parties to the treaty, and with no consultation with this Parliament or with the Northern Ireland Assembly, which at the time still existed.
Taken together, the economic and political case for a customs union, if we leave the European Union, looks pretty overwhelming—but I see no reason to labour the point now. I recognise that the Minister cannot accept the amendment, and we all know that much may have changed before the House considers this Bill again on Report. I simply urge the Minister, with the greatest respect, to ensure that her colleagues remember how this House voted on
I am happy to support this amendment—although I realise that happiness is a relative concept. We find ourselves going round and round these arguments, again and again, banging our heads against the same walls of confusion and obfuscation, and barely managing to avoid Brexit derangement syndrome as we make this tiresome journey. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, we have of course been here before—several times. The most notable is the debate we had, as he said, in April last year, when all of us were younger. Indeed, one or two of my noble friends are no longer here—permanently—since that debate. On that occasion, we won the amendment to the withdrawal Bill by 123—not 230, the sort of figure that we are used to these days, but by a pretty comfortable margin. As the noble Lord said just now, if our advice on that occasion had been taken, we would not be in the shambles that we are in today. One reason for discussing this issue again is that it is quite possible that a customs union, among other things, will be part of a way out of the shambles that we are currently in.
In an article in the Times a couple of days ago, the admirable commentator Rachel Sylvester reminded us that Einstein defined insanity as continuing to make the same decision on the assumption that it will get the result you want and therefore continuing to be disappointed. I suppose that, by that definition, one of the steps you take towards insanity is that you start quoting your own speeches, and most of us have made these arguments again and again.
I want to make four very brief points in the hope that we do not have to spend the rest of our lives talking about customs unions. My first point is this. The argument that we have to do this because of the referendum result—that this is a red line that cannot be painted any other colour—is an assertion. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, it was an assertion made in a party conference speech, where it is not always the case that objective truth or consensus is looked for. The party conference speech then became an item of sacerdotal interest. It was put into the manifesto before the 2017 election—in which our party did not do conspicuously well. We are told that we have to implement a proposal to get rid of any customs union because of that party manifesto.
I had a great deal of pleasure rereading that manifesto. Right at the beginning is the sentence:
“People are rightly sceptical of politicians who claim to have easy answers to deeply complex problems”.
I would certainly settle for that. There were one or two notable items in the manifesto, and my noble friend Lord Lansley and I have written more manifestos than most people have had hot dinners. I seem to remember that pledges were made that were dropped even before the election, including a very good proposal, which I supported, about funding healthcare for the elderly—a subject in which I am sure I will soon be much more interested than I am now. The idea that this is a tablet of stone, engraved with the absolute commitment, whatever happens, to deny the country a way out using a customs union, is ridiculous and risible.
My second point is about the belief that, somehow, we can manage everything as we go forward without any deal, and certainly without being part of a customs union. It is part of the Catch-22 situation that we find ourselves in now. If you say that there are problems in leaving the EU and the customs union without a deal, you are told that there are no problems. If you do not say that there are problems, you are told that there are no problems. It is rather difficult for us to find a way through this Catch-22 situation. The notion that we can manage in the future simply on WTO terms is, of course, ridiculous. No developed country in the world manages solely on WTO terms. We talk about Europe’s agreements with America being on WTO terms; they are not. There are 100 sectoral agreements with the United States, which go well beyond WTO terms. The truth is that, in addition to the WTO terms, other things are necessary to secure the best possible advantages for your exports and for your industry. That is why, since the WTO was established, 243 different trade agreements—substantial ones—have been made by countries to secure their economic interests. Crashing out and pretending that we can manage simply on WTO terms is, again, a ridiculous proposition.
The third thing one should recognise is the difficulty of putting together a trade policy at the speed that we are trying to now. That became apparent in a debate we had earlier this afternoon. I say without, I hope, being remotely patronising to the Minister that she has the impossible job of marking Dr Fox’s homework. On the basis of what we know so far, the House would not have given him a pass: he would not even have got into the margin of error.
The issue is so difficult. From the European point of view, it involves a great deal of transparency. If the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, was in his place, he would be able to confirm that. I used to do the political side of trade agreements. We would go back, again and again, to the European Parliament and to parliamentary committees to be quizzed about what exactly we were negotiating. Quite rightly, one of the most pressing invigilators every time was the British Minister: we were pressed on the details of the negotiations as we went along.
When we were told by Dr Fox, in between flights, that there would be 40 trade agreements ready for lift-off within seconds of leaving the European Union at the end of March this year, some of us were a little cautious in taking his word for gospel truth because we had seen what had happened with his previous prediction that negotiating with the European Union was going to be incredibly straightforward. Now, however, we know what the score is. It is not 40, not 39, not 29 and not 19 and a half—we have hardly made any agreements.
If we crash out of the European Union on
If we look beyond just rolling over those trade agreements, what else are we talking about? We are talking about capturing a huge share of the big markets: China, India and the United States. At the moment, China is not the easiest place to do business. The indebtedness is now 300% of GPD, which may look even more difficult in the future, and there are, alas, increasing security and political issues that we have to cope with. Then there is India. If he was in his place, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, would tell us, as he has done with great authority in the past, that what the Indians are interested in is visas, not concessional trade deals with the UK. Then we have the United States. If my noble friend Lord Deben was in his place he would give us a speech on American chickens that would make any sentient human being become vegan. He has done it two or three times, and it is a very moving piece of rhetoric, as one would expect from my noble friend. The idea that we can build a tower on the sand of President Trump’s meretricious and mercantilist policies is an absurdity. An independent trade policy was why we said we had to reject a customs union, so where is it? It remains an aspiration of our ubiquitous International Trade Secretary and one which, alas, we are not going to see consummated in the foreseeable future.
My final point is on Northern Ireland, which we have talked about again and again. Both previous speakers pointed out that the problems of the Northern Ireland border would not exist if we were in a customs union. In the referendum campaign, the Prime Minister, to her credit, made absolutely clear what she thought of the Northern Ireland border issue and how important it was for the future and integrity of the Good Friday agreement. She was right. The other day, my noble and learned friend Lord McKay explained with spectacular clarity why there would have to be a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Guess what: if you have one set of trade and customs arrangements in one country and a different set in the country next door, you have a hard border. It is the case everywhere. Search parties have been sent out to find an example of where it is not true and to find a technological solution—and answer came there none.
The truth of the matter is that the backstop in the agreement rejected by the House of Commons last week is a way to try to build an answer to a question which has proved so incomparably difficult, despite what two former Secretaries of State assured the world was the case during the referendum campaign. That was not a time when honesty was necessarily the order of the day. It was a time when, coming back to the question of a customs union, the last-but-one Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr Davis—how many have there been since; is it two?—said that, speaking for himself, there was quite a case to be made for staying in a customs union because if you were in a customs union you did not have to bother about issues such as rules of origin and all the complicated negotiations which the Minister was valiantly trying to explain to us earlier this evening.
Almost a year on, the Government are in what Ernie Bevin used to call a “clitch”, and what they call “listening mode”. I hope that the Government will listen. I hope they will follow the advice that the House keeps on giving them and accept that a customs union is a way out of this terrible mess. I hope they will recognise that they will be able to do that only if they are prepared to stand up to some members of my party who have shown their loyalty in previous days by drinking champagne when they beat the Prime Minister.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, especially when religious imagery creeps into his speech with gospel truth and sacerdotal approaches. His opening remark reminded me of Trollope’s definition of hell: an eternity of listening to one’s own sermons. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, has similar feelings about his speeches, but they are always wonderful to hear.
I wonder what this amendment really means. The noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, said that happiness is a relative concept, but it seems to me that the term “customs union” can mean more than one thing. The very fact that the amendment refers not to “the customs union” but “a customs union” prompts me to ask what it means precisely. If one looks, as I just have, at the WTO website and how it defines a customs union, it is not a hard-and-fast term and allows for exceptions, up to a point, to be made in an agreement. It refers to “substantial agreement” on issues of trade.
When one comes to the political declaration, what is the real difference between the following aspiration in the political declaration and a customs union?
“The Parties will put in place ambitious customs arrangements, in pursuit of their overall objectives … making use of all available facilitative arrangements … ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or”,
so on in the trading arrangements. It seems to me that that is not far from describing what might be called a customs union. No doubt the devil will be in the detail as to precisely what is included or excluded, but it seems to me that the Government’s intentions, and the agreement’s intentions in the joint political declaration, are not far off what one might describe as a customs union.
My Lords, I hope that the Government will listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said in his contribution. The difficulty is that, even those in Government who listen to such a sensible case, find themselves locked into a situation where even sensible ways of maintaining a relationship with the European Union outside the European Union have been defined by many as “not leaving”. So the scope for leaving the European Union has become narrower and narrower.
One of the slight advantages of the delay to this legislation and the opportunity to debate a customs union now is that many of the prior assertions have been utterly debunked. Many of the valid concerns raised about leaving the European Union and its customs union have now emerged in reality. The then proposed “max fac” solution has been laid bare as simply unworkable. The Chequers agreement would not pass any definition of a sensible way forward. The White Paper which was then published had major deficiencies, and we saw the result of the Commons vote on the agreement. So we are left with a number of differing perspectives on the future trading relationship and customs arrangements on which we will need to find some form of common ground.
In previous discussions, we have heard from the Government that all these concerns can be set aside because of our positive relations with our trading partners—Dr Fox said that on the radio today. Canada has often been cited as a country which finds it very straightforward to have a positive trading relationship with one of our closest possible allies, especially as CETA has already been agreed by this Parliament. No doubt, there will be good will on both sides in these discussions. This is beyond question. We will trade with our close allies. However, Canada has prevented our schedules application at the WTO from progressing. It has lodged an objection. It is looking after the interests of Canadian farmers and industry—the United Kingdom would do exactly the same.
If we leave without any agreement, and if Canada, New Zealand and Australia do not withdraw their objections to our goods schedules at the WTO, then not only will we leave the European Union without an agreement, we will leave without any certified WTO schedules. We will not only be trading on WTO rules, but we will not have certified rules with which to trade with the rest of the WTO. The same has happened this past week over our services schedule—services are two-thirds of the UK economy—because Taiwan has lodged an objection. So the dawning reality must be that a change of course is necessary.
It is of no surprise to anyone that Liberal Democrat policy continues to be, as it always has been, to retain membership of “the customs union”. It is Labour policy currently to negotiate “a customs union” with “the customs union”, such as Andorra and Turkey have. It is the Government’s policy, or at least the Prime Minister’s though not necessarily the whole Cabinet’s—it is difficult to determine, between the Chancellor and Dr Fox, who speaks for trade now; it is significant that, at Davos, in one week, you have two Cabinet Ministers from one Government saying two different things at a critical time in our country’s history—that we negotiate a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with a customs arrangement as part of it.
We propose that, ultimately, the people will have to decide on our preferred option. Under Labour, Article 50 would need to be revoked and a new negotiating mandate would have to be agreed at EU level, as the Prime Minister’s letter activating Article 50 is not competent—it states that withdrawal would be supplemented by a free trade agreement, not a customs union. The Commission’s negotiating mandate has not been on that basis. The Government’s position was defeated by the biggest majority in Commons history.
The Government’s position is predicated on making agreements with all other countries with which the EU has a trading relationship but without them knowing what our trading and customs arrangements will be. Reflecting on the previous debate in Committee, perhaps the biggest reason why those agreements will not be brought forward before exit day is the very sensible position that third countries are taking. They will not enter into agreements with us, even if we say they are simply a rollover, because these could well become permanent without them knowing what our relationship with the European Union is. Who can blame them? Perhaps Dr Fox can, but who really can blame them?
We know that the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration state that the future relationship will be based on the Northern Ireland backstop, which means that we would not deviate from the EU in our trading. It seems that the Prime Minister’s course of action now, in order to get an agreement through, is to remove the very thing that would offer reassurance to countries with which we have a third-party trading arrangement. The backstop would clearly break the “taking back control” mantra, so to some extent it is not surprising that many on the government side, in the Conservative Party, have said that this is actually not leaving the European Union at all. So it is hard to see how they move forward now.
Labour’s position is based on Turkey, where agriculture is excluded and where the country is obliged to use EU rules and abide by the European court’s interpretation of them. To some extent, this also means having the European court’s remit over our future relationship. Turkey’s agreement with the European Union explicitly excludes Turkey deviating from the EU’s internal regulations; it is bound by them. If negotiating “a customs union” with the European Union were to have any preferential terms over participation in decision-making, the European Union would then be bound to offer them to Turkey and Andorra, which it will not do. This is one of the difficulties about which we have to be open.
Labour’s position of being aligned with the single market but not part of it means that with the movement of goods comes the movement of capital, which also means some form of people movement. It has not said this so far, but I think we now have to be in a period of openness and honesty. This is clearly within the scope of the European Court of Justice—which Jeremy Corbyn has ruled out. Many people also say that this is not leaving the European Union. It does not remove the need for border checks. Some of the longest delays in border checks in Europe have happened between Turkey and Bulgaria—two countries which are part of a customs union. So, if we want British representation in a customs union, with British oversight and decision-making, and a seamless trading relationship with 49% of our trading partners and a further 17% of other countries with which we have trading relationships without tariffs, we have to retain membership of the customs union.
If the impossible government position is termed “not leaving”, and if Labour’s position is termed “not leaving”, then I think not leaving would be better done after the people have agreed it. Now the reality that we are embarking on is clear. For the first time in history, a country is seeking a trading arrangement with new barriers, additional regulations and enhanced restrictions. It is the first arrangement ever knowingly entered into that would reduce prosperity. This is the Government’s course of action outside the EU’s customs union.
If that were not bad enough, it is even worse. Our International Trade Minister is telling countries to prepare, for the first time well beyond living memory, for a country to knowingly generate additional tariff rates. If we leave on the terms of the WTO, even with the question mark raised earlier today about the schedules not even being certified, we would knowingly have trading relationships on most favoured nation status. That means the average rate of tariffs tripling from the average of 2% that we have now. He blames other countries for their incredulity that we would be prepared to do this and asks them to do major administrative changes to facilitate our self-damage. That is a course of action that should receive very little support from any political party that wants to develop the British economy.
If we want to ease the growth in non-tariff barriers such as rules of origin, customs checks, administrative costs, import quotas, state procurement contracts within the EU and services provision, and if we want to have a clear provision to facilitate the ease of trade across borders, then trading outside a customs union with the EU should be ruled out in its entirety. However, if we want to guarantee that we did not go down that route, then the route forward is to retain membership of the customs union. If we wanted to take that route, that would mean further levels of open discussions, and ultimately it would mean that the people had to agree.
I repeat that, if we maintained the Government’s stance on the withdrawal agreement, there are very many people in the governing party who would say that that was not leaving the EU. To maintain simply a customs union with the customs union would similarly not meet that test. The reality is that maintaining our trading relationships with 66% without the extra benefits—
I have been listening to this brilliant speech, and I am just wondering whether I can believe my ears. We are talking about an amendment to a Trade Bill in the context that the Government are trying to put through a withdrawal agreement. Given the complexity of the question of “the customs union” and “a customs union”—there is an element of angels on the end of a pin—if we in Parliament are having difficulty in thinking through its various intricacies, how does he think it is going to be easier for the people to do so? Is that what he has just said?
It is. Ultimately, I believe that the choice is going to be that we either stay in the customs union and the single market of the EU or we leave, either with no agreement at all, which I hope is ruled out in short order very quickly, or with some form of government agreement, which did not secure majority support in the other place, where one-third of those voting against it did not believe that it was leaving the EU at all. I think where the people will now be informed in the decision is as I started: many of the issues are now laid bare about the consequences of leaving.
I am very happy to be a co-signatory to this amendment. I am very pleased that we in this Chamber are debating what the consequences of the actions will be. We are also clear that we want to do the least damage to the British economy and to secure for the future all the relationships that we have at the moment without the extra burdens of regulatory addition.
My final point, which the OBR report in October made very clear, is that if we went down the Government’s course and left, then there would be at least five years of adjustment to a worse scenario for GDP, even on the basis of the agreement. I am seeking to avoid that. I hope there will be consensus, at least in the first instance, that a customs union is necessary. There is no doubt of our position on these Benches that the customs union is preferable to all of those. I hope that will ultimately be the future of our country, and I believe that that is up to the people, who ultimately will have to decide this.
My Lords, I do not want to go on at length about this issue, not least because I agree so wholeheartedly with what my noble friend Lord Patten of Barnes has already said. I am always loath to do it and I hope to make it a very rare event, but I voted for the amendment to the withdrawal Bill last April. To that extent, I think this House has made its view perfectly clear: it thinks, in the context of leaving the EU, that to retain membership of a customs union with the EU would substantially mitigate what would otherwise be the damaging economic effects of withdrawal.
I do not want to get into a debate about “the” customs union or “a” customs union but, on the face of it, if we are negotiating to leave but we are negotiating to have a customs union relationship with the EU, it behoves us to negotiate without necessarily subscribing to the customs union because the customs union is a product of the treaty. We would no longer be bound by the treaty, so we have the flexibility to think otherwise. That does not turn us into Turkey, because we might choose to do things quite differently. The EU has chosen not to have agriculture within the customs union with Turkey because it is in its own interests not to do so. We have very different interests and we might choose to pursue them differently. Indeed, as one can see from the structure of the backstop, we might choose to have an arrangement with the EU that was, as Ministers are fond of saying, a “bespoke arrangement” for the management of a customs union. And why not? If we could have such a thing under the backstop, surely we could have it without the backstop.
I do not want to go on at length. I hope that those in this House and beyond who are thinking next week about what is needed to make progress from the impasse that we appear to be in at present will read this short debate. While it exposes some of the difficulties in negotiating a future customs relationship with the EU, two things should become immediately apparent. First, many of the negative consequences of leaving the EU—most especially, leaving without a comprehensive agreement in place—will be dramatically mitigated by being in a customs union. When I talk to businesses, that is absolutely at the top of their wish list, and it is true for manufacturers as well. Secondly, I hope people will realise that this does not preclude us having a trade policy of our own. What are trade policies nowadays? They are generally called comprehensive economic partnership agreements because by and large they are not about tariffs; they are about broader relationships. Especially for the UK, given that we are predominantly a services economy, for the future those agreements should be about services. We should be negotiating trade agreements about services, the movement of capital and investment, and indeed we should have a negotiation with India that includes a discussion about the mobility of workers between India and other countries. That is happening in a very powerful way: the Indians are exporting skilled young people all over the world very successfully, and we should have that in mind as part of an economic partnership agreement with other major economies. If that is true and it also gets us out of having a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but without creating a new border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, why would we not want to do this? That is what everyone is trying to arrive at.
For the purposes of next week’s debate there are, therefore, essentially two questions. First: does offering to be party to a customs union with the European Union, as part of the future political declaration, enable us and the European Union to agree in way that would—as they say in Brussels—have legal force? Would it enable us to put into the political declaration, and have agreed by the European Council, the kind of language and commitments that would allow it to be said that we will not enter into the backstop, if we go down that path in the future treaty? That is what it is all about: not going into the backstop in the first place. We need some reassurance that that will happen. That will automatically solve the essence of the problem associated with the backstop. If we do not have to go into it, we will have solved that issue. We will also have solved the question of unilateral withdrawal or otherwise. If we are in a customs union, we have a right to leave it. If we go into the backstop, we have no right to leave it—as it is currently constructed— and that is a very unhappy place for many who are against the withdrawal agreement at the moment.
The second question is: can we avoid the Turkey situation? It is a bit like when people talk about entering the Norway situation: we do not want to be in a position where we are simply rule-takers. With a customs union, at least we are not rule-takers on financial services and our service industry, but we are none the less rule-takers. We do not want to be in that position. Can we arrive at a customs union where we genuinely have a shared responsibility? I hope we can.
The trouble is, I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Patten. Nearly a year ago, if only the Government had listened and put into the negotiation—at the time that led up to the White Paper and after it—a discussion about a customs union. Instead they put into the White Paper the suggestion that we could have a customs union, without calling it that, where the rules of origins are effectively waived so that anything that originates in the United Kingdom is treated as if it is European, and anything that originates in Europe is treated as if it is British. This, of course, is a nonsense; the European Union would never accept it. It would never accept that it would raise the money—
I am trying to understand the noble Lord. Obviously, the definition of a customs union is quite difficult and I was trying to follow his definition. Does he intend only the narrow definition of a customs union, where it essentially just deals with issues such as tariffs and excise duties, or does he intend it to include the regulatory alignment, as it often does because the terminology gets stretched? If there is not regulatory alignment there still have to be checks, which means we are back to the border problem. Would he explain what he sees as the content of “a customs union” because, if we are not removing the border problem, I struggle to understand his point?
When I talk about a customs union, I mean—as the WTO would interpret it—where we share a customs territory and an external tariff arrangement, and our tariffs are the same as the European Union’s. A customs union, in my book, does not necessarily imply having the same rules, regulations and standards. If we are in a customs unions with the European Union, it does not mean that we do not have a comprehensive partnership agreement with them. I hope we would do and that would embrace everything from data adequacy to having the same standards. Therefore, we would have to work on the basis that we start with and maintain standards at least as good as those inside the European Union, enabling the European Union and ourselves to operate on the basis of open borders. The most important part of that is the absence of a requirement to establish rules of origin, because one is in a single customs territory that allows goods to pass across borders in that way.
I will finish my point. I am losing quite where I was; I think I was just beyond talking about Turkey. We have got to know that we are going to be in a position to be able to negotiate a customs union, that we will be able to withdraw from it in future, and that it will obviate the need for us to have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland. That is a really important position. We need to know these things and we should have had months to negotiate them. As it is, we have to arrive at something in the political declaration in weeks rather than months.
My Lords, I will not go into the matter of the definite or the indefinite article, which I think is getting a little abstruse. The right reverend Prelate asked why there was a focus on the words “customs union”. It is because that is one of the two ways under article 24 of the World Trade Organization’s rules—a free trade area, or a customs union covering substantially all the trade—which permits a member of the WTO in good standing to derogate from the most favoured nation provisions. It is as simple as that. All that waffle in the political declaration, which had to be put in because “customs union” would have frightened too many horses, is quite meaningless. “Customs union” is totally meaningful.
That question should perhaps be addressed to the Prime Minster, who might find some difficulty answering it because it would cause such ructions on the Back Benches of her own party. I do not think it is a question for me: I would have no problem putting “customs union” in. That is why I am standing here now, suggesting that this legislation should contain that phrase. If we leave the EU—if—on
Why? First, because that option preserves, to the greatest extent possible, the frictionless trade—or something pretty close to it—which was originally the Government’s objective, but has not figured a great deal in government statements because it is not consistent with what the Government are now trying to do. There would be no rules of origin procedures, no VAT checks, no tariff or other problems which would arise. Investors in this country found this enormously attractive when they saw us as a gateway to the rest of Europe. I fear they will not see us as terribly attractive when we cease to be a gateway, with these friction-causing factors.
Secondly, I do not think that that a customs union would solve the backstop, because the regulatory issues are extremely important there, but—as other noble Lords have said—it would make a substantial contribution towards resolving that problem even if it does not totally remove it. Thirdly, it would be likely to ensure us access to the EU’s already hugely substantial amount of preferential trade agreements—both free trade agreements and, in the case of Turkey, a customs union—in a way that would probably be much better than anything we could negotiate separately. The EU not only has this huge panoply of free trade agreements and a customs union with Turkey, but is negotiating now with Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina and Mercosur, and there are reasonably recent agreements with South Korea and Japan. The one with Japan has not yet been brought into force. The one with South Korea has, I think, brought a quadrupling of our exports to that market. We would get all these advantages if we were in a customs union, without having to do anything about it at all.
What is there not to like about joining a customs union? The noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, quite rightly referred to the problems that might arise and the difficulties we would have negotiating new trade agreements with an independent trade policy. Those are very real, as those who have cited the size of these agreements have demonstrated rather clearly. But what do we have to show for all the rhetoric about the brilliant future that lies ahead of us from Dr Fox’s rather considerable travels, taking him this week to Davos, which is not noticeably a place for negotiating trade deals? Still, no doubt it is quite pleasant to be there. This idea that an independent trade policy is an instant answer to all our problems is simply a mirage that will float before our eyes for years ahead as we trudge through these extremely complex negotiations.
Who are the biggest fish in that pool? There is the United States. President Trump has already said that if we go ahead with the Prime Minister’s deal, which of course the House of Commons did not seem terribly inclined to do, he does not think that there would be much to negotiate with us about anyway. Do we really think China will be more interested in negotiating concessions to get access to our market than it would to get access to the much larger European Union market? India has been pointed out. That will put the whole issue of visas and access for people from India to this country on the table in the negotiations. That will drive another great coach and horses through that very odd immigration White Paper, which we will discuss in about half an hour’s time.
I really do not think that the objections to having a customs union stack up very well. The amendment should be given serious consideration and should figure in the Bill when we send it back to the Commons.
My Lords, I am not convinced of the merit of this amendment. Actually, I have taken comfort from the words of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on the detailed arguments. I know from my experience of operating in Turkey—both with retail outlets and as a source of agricultural, clothing and electronic goods for shops in other member states and in the UK—that it is not an entirely happy situation to be in a customs union and not in the European Union or a single market.
Turkey was at the time keen to get into the European Union properly, partly because of the problems that the arrangements caused. It is very frustrating not to have influence over the tariffs and rules at the border of your country. Essentially, you are a rule taker, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, acknowledged. I also recall the lorry delays that he mentioned—so not very frictionless. My recollection is that the rules on the common external tariff also restricted Turkey’s ability to renegotiate independent trade agreements with third countries. That is something that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, acknowledged. If we go down the road proposed in the amendment, we could be caught up in the EU system of protectionism—which, sadly, I expect to increase without the UK at the table.
On a brighter note, I was glad to see this afternoon that Dr Fox, the International Trade Secretary, had agreed in principle to a UK-Israel agreement—so he has been busy in Switzerland. Rather than going down the road of the amendment, I would prefer one last push to negotiate a good deal with the EU. There is more to do, but we should keep trying, especially on the backstop. Some parts of the Government have clearly not given up, as we heard in the EU Committee today from the Secretary of State, Steve Barclay, which is why, of course, I am afraid I missed some of today’s proceedings.
My Lords, to be brief, as some others have put it, and with the greatest of respect, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, would put it, perhaps I might probe the Labour Party’s position on this. I used to hear members of the Labour Party, including many of those on the Front Bench in another place, make the argument that the problem with a customs union was that it hurt developing countries because of the external tariff. I would like to know what has happened to the argument and why we do not hear it from the Labour Party any more.
My Lords, I will briefly express my support for the amendment. It is very important in the present political situation that we in the House of Lords demonstrate that, on a cross-party basis, there is some way forward out of the impasse we are in. For that reason alone, I support it.
The amendment obviously is not a complete solution to the Irish border problem. We would also have to have some arrangement of regulatory alignment. That, of course, is why the withdrawal agreement contains about 60 pages’ worth of EU rules that will apply in Northern Ireland but not in Great Britain, and why there would have to be some regulatory checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to make sure that rules on technical standards, health and safety, sanitation and that kind of thing would be adhered to. For there to be no border on the island of Ireland, that issue would have to be addressed, as well as the customs union. But the customs union is a large part, once you have made that step—and I do not think it is too far a step—of going on to deal with the regulatory questions.
On Labour’s position, it depends who you listen to. I am a great supporter of Keir Starmer, who talks about it in a very practical and common-sense way. But the truth is that sometimes people talk about a customs union as though it would be a relationship of equality between the United Kingdom and the EU 27 —which would, in effect, be trying to give the United Kingdom a veto over the Union’s autonomous trade policy. That will not work. It is not a runner. We could, as a big economy, negotiate very strong consultative arrangements, but I do not think that we would be granted a veto under any circumstances. Since we are in a position where we have to clarify these things in the next week—that is why have spoken frankly about this—it is important to acknowledge that that aspect is a non-starter.
So let us agree this amendment, refine it if we can on Report, and show that there is a spirit of co-operation in this House, which unfortunately there is not elsewhere.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating debate. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, was very brief and succinct in introducing it. I will try to be pretty much the same in winding up. With the right reverend Prelate’s presence here and his questioning of a customs union, this is one of those debates where, after the past two years, I am not expecting to create many converts. Positions have been stated with great eloquence by my noble friends Lord Patten and Lord Lansley, and the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay, but they are not ones that have differed, because of the veracity of the arguments and beliefs that they hold.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, came up with a great line which I scribbled down. I hope I have got it correct, because of course I do not have Hansard. He said that “on Labour’s position”—which of course my noble friend Lord Ridley asked about—“I suppose it depends who you are talking to”. I think I am right; I do not want to quote him incorrectly. It was an interesting point, because it would be fair to say that the Opposition’s position has differed between a customs union, a permanent customs union and a comprehensive customs union. It has oscillated between the crucial words “a” and “the”.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, applied a great deal of forensic scrutiny to this. His conclusion, and that of his party, is that they would be in favour of staying in the customs union, which makes it interesting that he has put his name to this amendment, which talks about “a” customs union. I cannot believe that there is now confusion even in the Liberal Democrats about what might be meant by this.
The positions are well established and well argued around the House on this, and as far as Her Majesty’s Government are concerned, our position is this. A customs union—my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, put this very clearly—means having a common external tariff. A common external tariff makes it impossible to negotiate independent trade agreements. We believe that there should be an independent trade policy, and that a customs union is not a solution because there would be a common external tariff.
What is not clear from the amendment is whether the terms of this customs agreement relate exclusively to manufactured goods, or whether they relate also to agricultural goods. The Turkish example which was given relates to manufactures but not to agriculture. But the problem with that example is that, in having a common external tariff, they have to abide by all the restrictions, rules and judgments of the European Court of Justice, but they have no say whatever in how those rules are concluded; they have no seat at the table. That would be the situation of the UK, too, and that is why we are opposed to it.
The Government’s position, already stated, is that it intends the future customs arrangement to be based on those aspects of Northern Ireland protocol which require agricultural and goods regulatory alignment with the European Union?
We have been very clear about this; we want a deep and special facilitated trading arrangement with the European Union which allows all the benefits of free trade while allowing us to take advantage of the new opportunities which are emerging. According to the EU’s figures, 90% of growth over the next 10 to 15 years will be outside the EU—in India, China and the United States. That is what we need to tap into. That is what we need to be focusing on. We need to have the freedom to negotiate those independent trade agreements. If you go for a customs union, you are going to surrender that opportunity, and we are not prepared to do that. You would also surrender the right to shape the rules that you are going to have to implement.
Surely the best alternative way of benefiting from the growth outside the mature economies of western Europe—remember, this is catch-up growth; it is not a criticism of the European Union—is to be participants in the EU and its extensive trade deals with the emerging economies of the world. Why would we have a stronger negotiating position as 60 or 70 million than as an economy of 350 million or 400 million?
Because 17.4 million people decided that they wanted to leave, and that is what the Government are committed to doing. I want to be careful not to be flippant about the subject we are dealing with; it is very serious, and the positions have been well argued. Nor do I want to be disrespectful to people for whom I have huge admiration, such as my noble friends Lord Patten and Lord Lansley, and the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, whose expertise I respect. But the position of Her Majesty’s Government is very clear. We have a deal. We should take advantage of that deal. A customs union would have all the disadvantages with few of the benefits. That is the reason we do not accept the amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, I wonder whether he could advance this clarity. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, states that we have now agreed with Israel to roll over our existing trading relationship with Israel. Israel does not have a free trade agreement with the European Union, or with us now. It has an association agreement, which has been in force since 2000. That is part of the pan-Euro-Mediterranean cumulation on rules of origin. This means that if we are replicating our existing relationship with Israel, we are replicating the rules of origin relationship that Israel has with the European Union. It also has common rules of origin procedures with Turkey, so if the Government’s position is that we are simply rolling over all of our current trading relationships through an association agreement with Israel, it means that we are now going to be bound by common rules of origin procedures with the western Balkans, the Faroe Islands and Turkey in the pan-Euro arrangement.
I am not sure why the Faroe Islands is part of that, but the reality is—and this is the point I was trying to make in my contribution—that we have to be open. If you want complete independence of trading relationships in the way the world trades now, that is impossible, so the Government have to have some limitations on it. If it is replicating the Israeli agreement, it is replicating exactly the same rules of origin alignment that we currently have with Turkey, and Turkey is part of a customs union with the European Union. That is quite simple, too.
The committee will come to rules of origin shortly, but on that point, that is the reason why, in the agreement that we are proposing—the deal that is on the table—we propose that to ensure that trading goods between the UK and the EU remains frictionless in the UK, there will be no routing requirements for rules of origin on trading goods between the UK and the EU. What we are talking about with Israel is consistent with that.
My Lords, it is impossible to summarise what has been a very wide-ranging discussion. It certainly ended up in a rather more heated and fetid atmosphere than I expected when we set off. I have to say to the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect, that it is fine to listen to what he is saying about what we ought to be doing and how we should do it, but he should point behind him when he is talking, because we do not get the arguments in the same way.
We started off with a description of hell, and what it might be to be listening to the same debates and discussions. I think we have justified the argument that we have moved on. The interesting thing that I took from this debate was how positions are being nuanced and changed as we move forward. There is an attempt from all sides to try and find what the common ground is, and I wish that had reached all of our speakers. We are in a place that might be redolent of hell, with the colours that surround us and the flames leaping around, but I actually quite enjoyed being here. I am bound to go to hell anyway because of my previous life, so if this is what it is like, I quite like the prospect. But not yet—not yet. I call on the aid of the right reverent Prelate at this moment.
So what have we got out of this? We have got a sense around the House that there is something here that needs to be pushed to the next stage, and the Government should take away from this that this is a matter that will not go away, irrespective of what happens next week. By the time we get to Report, I am sure this will still be bumping around. I hope that by that stage we will have picked up on some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. We are getting hung up on what we mean by “customs union”, when we should be thinking behind the name—thinking about the process. It may be that we are likely to be close to, if not necessarily aligned with, EU current practice—and we ought to be, because, as my noble friend Lord Liddle said, size matters in these negotiations. Size matters, and always will, in any trading arrangement.
We are not really talking about tariffs. Tariffs are probably the 20th-century problem. The 21st-century problem is the regulatory barriers, and working on services to try to ensure that there is proper and fair trading, and that the issues at the heart of negotiations are rights and responsibilities, and the opportunities for providing benefits all round—a sort of development agenda meets trade, and coming together for the benefit of both.
The short, sharp intervention by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, was the most difficult to answer. I hope that, if he has the time, he will come back for the next group, when we will talk about some of these issues in more detail, and I will be able to give him a response. However, the truth is that I am quite happy with where the EU has got to with some of these trade deals. They are very good, and they would not be achieved by any smaller country on its own. We must not lose them, whatever arrangement we finally come to.
The noble Lord has mentioned size twice. Can he explain why Chile, which is a smaller country than the European Union, has more trade deals with bigger countries than the European Union has?
Perhaps I can help the noble Lord. One reason why Chile has such good agreements around the world is that the agreement between it and the European Union—which is a very good agreement—was negotiated by your humble servant, as well as by others.
In a spirit of mutual congratulation, I think it best to say that on this occasion we will withdraw the amendment—but we will probably want to look at the debate carefully and think about the wording of a future amendment. The subject will come back.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.41 pm.