Trade Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 30th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 5:00 pm, 30th January 2019

My Lords, I have great sympathy with Amendment 81 in the noble Lord’s name. It struck me, as a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, that one result of our leaving the European Union will be that we have, in effect, a single market within the United Kingdom, while, for the implementation of trade agreements, some elements of those agreements will be under the auspices of the devolved Administrations. Therefore, if it comes to compliance, the body that has entered into the agreement with the third country will be the United Kingdom if the United Kingdom Government are also a regulatory body to the devolved Administrations for areas for which they have executive and legislative competence. That is potentially an uncomfortable situation. There is merit, therefore, in considering how the United Kingdom might have, in effect, the equivalent of the European Commission. What will be the bodies that operate across the United Kingdom that will consider compliance with trade agreements? It sits uncomfortably if the UK Government are that body when it comes to the component parts of the UK that have both ministerial and legislative competence for those.

Turning to my Amendments 52 and 60, one of the issues concerning what the Government call continuity agreements, which they are seeking, is that they might not just be temporary rollover agreements: they might last a long time. They will be treaties in their own right which, by definition, will be permanent, but the regulations that come with them to translate them for ratification could well be permanent or, at the very least, operate for three-year terms, which could be indefinite if they are renewed. On the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, made about a five-year period, the option I have put forward is that, in advance of Parliament being asked at the end of the initial three years about the impact on the United Kingdom, before decisions have been taken on whether they should be renewed or whether the Government might seek to go back and consider the contents of those agreements, that is the appropriate time for reporting to be carried out. Therefore, it is important at that stage, in advance of the end of the initial three-year period, that a review is carried out of the impact on the UK and specifically on the nations and regions. We know from both Governments’ data, information from the devolved Administrations and academic research that trade deals with countries that have a particular bias in certain sectors affect some parts of the United Kingdom more than others, whether car manufacturing in the north-east of England or food and drink in Scotland. Therefore it is very important to specifically mention the nations and regions.

It is also important, as suggested in subsection (2) of my proposed new clause in Amendment 52, that we have a means by which we can test what has been said repeatedly—that we could trade with those countries better if we were not part of the single market than if we had continued to be part of it.

Amendment 60 looks forward to any proposed future trading relationship between the UK and the EU and its impact on the British economy. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to this amendment because it has already been agreed in principle to publish modelling of what the impacts on the British economy would be for some of these areas, even if—and this is the most charitable way of describing it—the Government had to be persuaded to publish this information rather than allowing MPs to enter a darkened room to study it in private. Now that this information is out in the public domain and the principle is there, economic modelling of the impact of our relationship with the EU, depending on the way forward and the options taken on that trading relationship that are to be negotiated, is very important. After last night’s vote in the House of Commons, it is even more important, given that whatever alternative arrangements are considered which have an impact on our future trading relationship, we will need to know what kind of impact they will have on the British economy and its different parts.

Regardless of that, it is necessary now for us to consider what architecture we put in place to consider the impact of our trading relationships with countries around the world on the different parts of the United Kingdom and then on the United Kingdom as a whole. It will be even more important given that the European Union has been and will continue to be our biggest trading partner, so that we do not repeat the process we have had over the last two years and try to reverse engineer what the likely impact will be. We are starting to establish some of that framework now, which is why Amendment 60 has been tabled. I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to it. If it is not accepted in this precise language, I hope that the Minister may be able to present in some form of language that there will be consideration of the architecture of how we look at the economic impact across the UK of the future relationship with our biggest trading partner.