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 Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 5:00 pm, 30th January 2019

My Lords, these amendments strike at the heart of the issue, because the Bill contains no provision for greater parliamentary involvement in trade agreements. Parliament’s role in UK treaties is much more limited than the democratic scrutiny given to EU trade agreements. It has no formal role in negotiations, does not have to debate, vote on or approve them. I follow on from what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said: for EU trade agreements, the Council gives the European Commission a mandate to negotiate on behalf of member states and authorises the signature and conclusion of agreements. The European Parliament does not take part in the negotiations but is kept fully informed at all stages, questions the Commission and can issue non-binding but politically important resolutions. The European Parliament’s consent is usually required before trade agreements can be concluded. National parliaments also scrutinise EU trade negotiations through their own EU scrutiny processes. In the UK, draft Council decisions on signing, provisionally applying or concluding an agreement are deposited and scrutinised by the EU scrutiny committees in both Houses, and may be debated on the Floor of the House or in committee.

We are now considering our own treaty negotiations but no obligation to inform or consult Parliament. Parliament has no formal role, structures or procedures for scrutinising treaties, does not have to debate, vote on or approve treaties and has limited and, as yet, unused power to delay ratification. This is really dangerous. EU trade agreements require the consent of the European Parliament and, in some cases—what are called mixed agreements—ratification by member states. We are talking about our trade with the European Union which, whichever way you look at it—the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said that trade outside the European Union is increasing at exponential rates—makes up almost 50% of our trade.

On top of that are countries that account for 17% or 18% of our trade. That is a list of, whichever which way you count them, more than 50 countries around the world from Albania to Ukraine, including Morocco and Egypt. We have European Union free trade agreements with those countries. In total, that makes up two-thirds of our trade, but we are living under the magical illusion that if we give the Government the power to negotiate and roll over all those agreements, many of which have taken many years—the Canadian agreement took eight years—we as one country of 65 million people will try to negotiate on the same basis as the largest trading bloc in the world of 500 million people. We expect countries to just roll those agreements over.

I ask the Minister: how many countries have agreed, at the stroke of midnight, to roll over those agreements? It is utter nonsense. They will renegotiate with us full-time and it will take a long time. For our proportion of trade with the European Union to decrease will take a long time.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. Amendment 32, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, includes in its proposed new subsection (2)(k) “the sovereignty of Parliament”. That is what we are talking about here. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentions in her Amendment 64 trade agreement impact assessments at the end of a five-year period:

“the impact and effectiveness of each international trade agreement implemented”.

Amendment 31, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, suggests a new agency for compliance monitoring. All this is about giving Parliament more of a say—more power over the Government, rather than their having unfettered rights to do these trade deals. This is the problem with Brexit: the Henry VIII powers in Bills that we have already debated, where the Government have power to just push through legislation without going through the normal stages, which are so thorough, in both Houses. Now they are trying to do the same thing with trade agreements.

Of the UK’s 10 biggest trading partners, seven are from the EU and eight are from Europe. Under the gravity model, there are two variables: the distance between two countries and the size of their economies. There is no surprise that we do a lot of our trade with the European Union. Yes, China’s trade is increasing, but the gravity rule means that it will take time for it to come anywhere close to the trade we do with the European Union. Look at it historically, before we joined the EEC; look at the decline in EU trade as a proportion of our trade and the increase of other trade. Whichever way you look at it, the EU 15 or 20 years from now will be at least 40% of our trade. The Commonwealth countries in total make up less than 10% of our trade. That includes India, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

What are we asking for? We ask for the right of Parliament to set a thorough mandate to govern each trade negotiation, the right of the public to be consulted as part of setting that mandate, transparency in the negotiations, and the right of Parliament to amend and reject trade deals. Other developed countries incorporate many of those elements into their negotiations.

In the US, our biggest single trading partner, the US Government must undertake meaningful public consultation before negotiating, release all negotiating text to a large representative panel and subject deals to an affirmative vote by Congress. Congress is also entitled to amend deals unless it waives that right. What are we doing sitting back and allowing the Government to take control? Parliament and the people of this country need to take back control.