Trade Bill - Committee (3rd Day)

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

My Lords, Amendment 54 is in my name. As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, pointed out, the division of the tariff-rate quotas is of great importance to parts of the UK economy, especially the rural economy, but it is also important to our trading partners. Some likely trading partners when it comes to agriculture have already stated their concern about the agreement the UK and EU have reached.

I admit that this amendment was prepared with the expectation that there would be more than a month between the Act coming into force and exit day. That was a naive hope. I thought that the Government might have been able to have this legislation on the statute book long before, but with the delays that have occurred I admit that one month would be tight between the Act receiving Royal Assent and potential exit day. Nevertheless, the core element of the amendment, which seeks to get clarity on the UK’s position, is important. Clarity is sought in two areas: first, what our current position is regarding discussions with third countries about the division of the tariff-rate quotas; and, secondly, how the Government would consider the impact of these decisions on our economy.

As the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, indicated, agreement was reached between the UK and the EU in 2017. He was right that that provoked immediate objections. The countries considered that the changes proposed by the EU and the UK for the division of the tariff-rate quotas amounted to more than simple rectification of the schedules. The European Parliament said in a report to its own committee that the changes had,

“involved less flexibility and market access for their exporters”.

Its stated objections to the EU-UK quota subdivision, saying that,

“other concessions should compensate for the loss of market access”.

These are the questions that the European Parliament is asking the Commission about what concessions there are likely to be. The questions the European Parliament is asking the Commission are ones that this Parliament should be asking our Government.

The expectation might be that we will want to trade on certified WTO schedules. As the Minister said previously, it is not necessary for us to trade under these, but they are desirable because they mean that the negotiations, on which concessions could be provided, are not ongoing, and that concessions have either been provided and then accepted and settled, or that there are ongoing negotiations in which we have to monitor what concessions are being offered to secure the prize of certification. My amendment asks for a report from the Government to be clear about what that position is.

As with the debate we had on the previous group, I was able to secure information about what had happened at the WTO market access committee in October, and the position of the other countries and of the EU. I was able to see the text of a Council regulation, EC32/2000—the proposal to modify the implementation of the tariff-rate quotas bound in the GATT. The discussions that took place between the Council and the European Parliament have been reported on. On 14 November the Parliament decided to enter into inter-institutional negotiations based on the Council’s report on its proposal. In none of that has it even been suggested that there could be a role for our Parliament in discussing with the Government the potential impacts of the concessions offered to secure approval for our TRQ division. The provisional agreement reached with the Council at the Parliament on 10 December to discuss what the European Union’s position would be is in stark contrast to this place, where there have been no equivalent proceedings with the British Government.

If we are not going to be involved as the European Parliament is on the European side, at the very least we need a report on what the likely impact will be after the Bill becomes an Act, if it does so. On that basis, I hope the Government will accept that we need much more information not only about the current standpoint but, similar to what the European Commission has provided to the European Parliament, on what the likely impact will be.