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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lansley for moving this amendment. He has managed to get on to prime time in this territory. I once represented a seat on Teesside, which is very close to my heart. The idea has been advocated by the excellent mayor there, Ben Houchen, and by some of the local MPs, such as Simon Clarke and Rishi Sunak.
To reassure my noble friend, the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979—CEMA—allows for the designation of free zones, as he mentioned. The Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act, which the Government passed through your Lordships’ House last September, allows HMRC to make regulations regarding goods kept in a free zone. Under CEMA, operators are free to apply to become a free zone. The Government are open to any ideas that might deliver economic advantages for the UK and will continue to examine the role that free zones may play as part of this. Assuming that we will have an independent trade policy, we will be able to have these types of examinations and innovations.
Existing customs facilitations in the UK offer the same benefits as free zones, but are not geographically limited and can be accessed anywhere across the country, thereby potentially having more widespread benefits for the UK as a whole. For example, a manufacturer could import materials for its products and store them in a customs warehouse anywhere else in the country, without duties being paid on them. The manufacturer or its supply chain could then use those materials in its manufacturing process under inward processing relief and could export the finished goods without any UK customs duty ever having to be paid. Those existing facilitations, therefore, avoid the distortions to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies, referred, which can arise from free zones where a manufacturer or its supply chain would be required to locate on the same site to benefit.
The UK’s ability to formulate a free zone that diverges from the Union customs code will depend on the future relationship with the European Union. The Government have also been clear that it is a commercial decision for operators to make on whether they want to apply for designation of an area as a free zone, and we will review any applications made. I am not able to be more helpful than that to my noble friend at this point, much as I may wish to be.