Trade Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

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

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:30 pm, 30th January 2019

My Lords, in moving Amendment 33 I will introduce some of the discussion topics raised by the other amendments in this area. I look forward to the response from the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, who is standing in on this issue. The subject of the amendment is, as previously described by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, a key—probably the most important—part of the Bill. I take his advice and am happy to try to man up and make sure that I establish the case in the sorts of terms he would like to see. We have also had contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, which have set out some of the scene, so I do not think we need to go right down to the very basics of it. I would like to focus on some of the principles that are important in trying to assess this issue.

We are talking here about how Parliament and wider civil society get engaged with a process that we in this country have not really had much direct involvement with since 1972 because the function we are talking about—trade—has been a sole competence of the EU. Yes, there have been occasions when issues have come back but, as we heard in earlier discussions, they have not been very detailed and there has not been proper scrutiny. I think there is a general feeling that the procedures set out in the CRaG Act 2010 do not now satisfy those with an interest in this area.

I have eight principles that I think should inform our discussion. These are: how do the Government intend to ensure that formal consultation with external stakeholders, in advance of any negotiation mandate being drawn up, is exercised? How do the Government intend to ensure proper transparency of trade negotiations and negotiating mandates, and what role will Parliament play in that process? How do the Government intend to ensure maximum transparency in advance of those consultations? Obviously, they are constrained to some extent by issues that would be regarded as necessary to be taken under some level of secrecy if they involved security or other issues, but how will that transparency happen? In particular, how will the Government prepare proper impact assessments and make these available to inform the debate?

There is a general question about reviewing reporting on trade agreements after a specified time period, but also in relation to progress—we touched on this earlier, but it is part of a principle that we need to build in from the beginning. How do the Government intend to ensure that parliamentarians are able to access the negotiating texts? Without knowledge of the texts, very little scrutiny can take place. Some texts will be very sensitive, but nevertheless it is important that there is a mechanism under which they can be reviewed and discussed.

What will be the formal process or procedure for the ratification of trade agreements? The current arrangements under CRaG are not satisfactory. What will be the formal procedures for changes that need to be brought forward—not new trade agreements but how, particularly in light of the need for broader discussion and debate, we amend and change agreements found to be deficient, unfair or working badly in relation to any aspect of our economy or our part of the country?

Those are the issues the amendment seeks to open up. Again, it is gold-plated—I accept that—but it is important that we see the full range and depth of the issues raised and I hope to have a good debate around that. I beg to move.