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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:28 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords) 3:28 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, Amendment 45 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for whose support I am very grateful. We are reaching the last quarter of our time on this Bill in Committee, and we have never touched, in any serious way, the question of services, which make up 80% of our GDP; they are an important part of our economy now and will be in the future. That curious absence of services has prompted this amendment; it is a probing amendment in the sense that I do not think there is any issue between the Government and us on this. We both recognise the importance of it and want to make sure that it is successful, but it is an opportunity for the Government to set out clearly what they intend to do in this area and to bring forward any thoughts they have about how the importance of services might continue, as the negotiations, which are currently with the EU and will return to the other place shortly, progress.

We hear a lot about, importantly, about manufacturing and the physical goods that this country makes and imports. We do not hear nearly as much about services, and that is curious. It is important to be clear why that is. Direct trading of services across borders by purchasing or selling architecture, legal opinion or forms of insurance is a well-known measure of activity. This area has grown considerably and the UK economy is strong and strengthened by that. Business services, financial services and other aspects such as travel, including the tuition fees of foreign students who study in the UK, transportation and telecommunication information services make up the huge proportion of our activity in this area. Most trading of this type is with the EU. It is over 50% if Switzerland is included in the figures, but we also have considerable trade outside the EU and we should not forget that.

It is also important to recognise that, in some senses, exactly how this takes effect is hidden from plain sight. I should explain: we know a lot about the physical movement of things like car parts, because we are told, time and again, that the issue in modern-day trade is not so much the individual purpose of creating a particular object, machine or type of equipment; it is the assembly of the various parts. In the case of a car, bumpers, injectors and all sorts of things that go into the modern car cross the Channel several times before being assembled, either here or elsewhere, in the final product, which is then sold. We are concerned about that and much of the Bill has this as part of its process, but the point is that this is not just about physical material. There is also a question about knowledge, intermediate input, services, financing and having the right people in the right place, which is necessary for this complicated pas de deux to work.

The single market, which underpins all this in the EU, plays a pivotal role in facilitating this process of increasing specialisation, because it includes as its basic point—this is derived from consideration within the GATS treaty under the WTO—the four freedoms for moving goods, services, capital and people. Hence, a focus on manufacturing the individual item sees only part of the story.

Why do services not feature more strongly in our discussion and debate? There are three reasons. First, services agreements are a relatively new form of trade negotiation. There are not that many around. They are difficult, because you have to negotiate and consider individual aspects, often regulatory and non-tariff barriers, to the way the trade happens. They cannot always be done by fiat from government; they have to involve large numbers of other companies and organisations. They are bureaucratic; they are not necessarily all organised from a particular aspect in government, such as BEIS or the Department for International Trade, because regulators and government departments will be involved in legal services and other areas. Finally, because different regulations belong to different bodies, it is more difficult to trade one sector, as it were, against another. There is not really an easy route through this, and that may explain why it is often left to the last.

I welcome the Government’s response on that, but it is a cynical response. We have done so well in services trade in recent years and our performance is one of the strongest in the world. We have more to lose in trade negotiations that focus on individual hardware and machinery parts if they do not also make sure that those trading in legal and other services are considered as well. We are in a quandary. We can argue the easy option of a goods-only agreement, because the rules for that are relatively straightforward: the tariffs are already very low anyway and we are not talking about substantial changes to the way in which we would do it. But if you include services then we are talking about a whole range of new activities, new players and the offering of new types of discretion. I will wait to hear the Government’s response, but it could be argued that we in Britain are not yet ready to engage with that successfully.

In that context, the opportunity is there for the Government to respond positively on how we are going to take forward this issue and how important it is to make sure that we get it right, and to make sure that we in this country do not suffer simply because the dog that did not bark—services—is still not barking. I beg to move.