My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, for taking his place and for his performance today. Given his history, I am sure that negotiating procedures in your Lordships’ House will be less turbulent than in other places where he has worked. I thank both him and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for giving us the opportunity to, in my case, put questions to the Minister and probe the issue.
In particular, what will be the position in the interim period of our leaving the European Union? My noble friend the Minister pointed out in our debate— on Monday, I think—that there would be a period for these agreements, having been initialled, to be signed and approved by the relevant Parliaments. My understanding is that if we leave under World Trade Organization rules, agreements in this interim period will be on the basis of non-discrimination. So, if we, as a third country—my noble friend Lord Lansley correctly identified that we would be—chose to extend agreements to current European Union members and said, as many noble Lords have suggested, that we wished to impose zero tariffs, those agreements would have to be extended on a reciprocal, non-discriminatory basis. Is my understanding correct? In an interim period of what might be one or two years before such agreements are rolled over, whatever our preference, whatever we offered to our existing European partners would have to be offered to every other country with which we wished to trade, on the basis of non-discrimination. I do not think we have grasped that point. Obviously, it would be helpful to understand the implications for our trading arrangements.
There is deep concern among the farming community that tariffs imposed could be as high as 40% for certain products and 60% for lamb, at a time when we are exporting more meat than we ever have, historically. That would hit our producers particularly hard. It is causing real hardship in the hills because many of our farmers do not know whether to produce lamb; the supply of lamb to the home market could dry up. We would therefore import more lamb, beef and pork at a time when we should be increasing our exports there. I simply want to take this opportunity to seek answers to those queries from my noble friend.