Trade Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 30th January 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 6:30 pm, 30th January 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his extensive response. He has been attempting, within the constraints he is undoubtedly under, to give us as much information as he can. I will need to read Hansard to be absolutely sure what we have and have not been promised. I certainly heard the word “amendment” in one of his sentences, but it may have been a misunderstanding on my part. If there are not to be amendments to this Bill, I am intrigued—that is parliamentary language for “a bit confused”—about what exactly the Government are going to offer us to resolve the obligation placed on the House by the Motion passed in the name of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition relating to progress on this Bill, which is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has also raised.

We can hope that the two aspirations at play here come together, because despite the Minister’s valiant attempt to remind us that this is a continuity Bill—an aspiration negated in the second amendment after we started this process, and continually ignored in every amendment we have discussed so far—we should get real and understand that the mess we are in will not be helped by having an artificial distinction between what is a continuity issue and what will be a non-continuity issue, or, in other words, the real world in which we live. We need to get this right, and we on this side of the House have offered—I am sure the party on my left has also offered—to work through this with the Government, and that offer remains on the table. We will meet at any time, at the Government’s request, to see if we can come together to make something of this that will work for the future, because it is that important.

That said, I endorse what has been said by others: any attempt to rely on the procedures in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 will be doomed to failure. The Government have to get over that hurdle before we can make significant progress. The 2010 Act is inadequate as a process, and would be inadequate under any terms, because it allows the Government to use the negative resolution procedure for secondary legislation, so that the treaty we agree comes into law automatically, irrespective of any opposition or amendments Parliament might want to make, provided it has been laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days. That is not the right process, as we are talking about trying to get Parliament to engage with the process by bringing it back to the mandate arrangements, and allowing Parliament plenty of time, lots of information, a good process and a proper committee structure for proper decisions to be reached in the public interest. The Government should not play games with procedures and say, “We’ve got that already, so why are we bothering about it?” This needs to be dismantled and rebuilt in a way fit for the 21st century.

A new system is required, and the time has come. If there is any doubt about the interest in that, the Minister should be aware that six major business federations—the CBI, the BCC, the EEF, the ICC, the IoD and the FSB—have taken the unprecedented, in my experience, step of bringing forward a joint statement with the TUC, Unite, the Trade Justice Movement, the Consumers’ Association, Which? and other industry bodies calling for a proper model of consultation and scrutiny to govern the UK’s policy-making process in the future. The Government cannot ignore that; it has to be something that they will do.

We will come back to this, whether in the form articulated by the Minister, or in amendments we consider at later stages. I hope there will be a Report stage, because the Bill is important and needs to go through, but the danger is that delay or difficulty in coming forward with something clear enough for this House to respond to will mean the Government finding themselves in real difficulty on the Bill. I do not say that lightly; the last thing we want to do is use procedural issues to hold back what is, at its heart, a good piece of legislation, which we support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.