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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Stamford Lord Davies of Stamford Labour 3:45 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I think that this is a very good amendment and I will come to the substance of it in a second. I just want to make two points by way of introduction. First, here we are at the beginning of February—a new week and a new month—and we are still in an absolutely ludicrous position, presenting an almost unbelievable picture to the world of a country with a Government doing their best to damage their own economy. Every day we have new evidence of this. Today we had the worrying story from Nissan. Many of us who have focused on the mess the Government are in could speak on the subject for hours.

There is another example from the last few days. We say that when we leave the European Union we want to sign trade agreements with those countries which currently have trade agreements with the EU. One of those countries is Japan. Japan has just signed a trade agreement with the EU. At the very best, I suppose, if the Japanese were to give us exactly the same terms—which is unlikely because our bargaining power vis-à-vis Japan is nothing like the power that the EU has—it would take a minimum of five years, and probably nearer 10, to conclude this deal. So the Government are saying that we are walking away from a trade agreement in order to spend a vast amount of time and money and suffer a lot of uncertainty before perhaps, in many years’ time, finally reaching another trade agreement that may not be as good as the one we now have. I put it to the Government: what kind of reason or logic is that? What a way to run a state. What a way to look after not only this generation but future generations of British people and make sure that they have a viable economy on which they can actually base a reasonable standard of living and a reasonable level of public services.

The Government are already under attack in this place, quite rightly, for their delivery of public services. We had a very interesting series of Questions earlier about the health service. The Government are undermining the future ability of the British economy to deliver the wealth we need to maintain our public services at acceptable international levels. This is quite apart from the impact of their policies on individual wealth and prospects for individuals who want to travel or study abroad or benefit from all the other freedoms we will be giving up. It is a very serious matter. The muddle the Government are in about the damage that is being done makes the whole picture even more disgraceful—that is the only word I can use.

I think my noble friend’s amendment is excellent. I agree with everything he said when he introduced it—and by noble Lords on both sides of the House—about the importance of services. We all know that they are 80% of the British economy. But I have one question. Why has he not put goods in there as well? It seems to me that exactly the same principles apply to goods. I just looked at the amendment, and if you were to add the words “goods” wherever “services” are mentioned, you would not produce any particular anomalies or logical or linguistic problems. I do not know why goods have been left out of this particular picture. As I said, exactly the same principles apply. We want there to be no new barriers—that sums up everything. “Barriers” includes tariffs, quotas and non-tariff barriers, so the ground would be covered quite well by doing that.

My noble friend rather implied that he was putting forward this amendment in order to have a debate on an important subject—which is a very worthy thing to do in this place. Perhaps I have that wrong, but it sounded as though that was what he had in mind, and we are of course having that debate at the moment. However, it seems to me that it would be even better if we got this proposed new clause on to the statute book. We would be doing a very good day’s work for the country if we could manage to do that. Therefore, I ask my noble friend why he came to his decision. I am sure that there must be a very good reason, which perhaps I am being foolish in not anticipating, but I do not understand why we do not include goods.

These debates are becoming extremely unreal. One likes to think that one’s service in Parliament, whether in the Commons or in the Lords, is based on being clear in one’s mind and discussing and working out with colleagues what is the best policy for this country. But we have a Government who are not pursuing the objective of the best policy for this country. We have a Government who are destroying British industry and commerce where they can—so it is a very unreal situation. I do not know how much longer this country can go on in the hands of people who take that attitude when they have in their charge the very considerable, and in my view very important, responsibility of governing the United Kingdom to the benefit of our citizens both of today and of tomorrow.