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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 7:00 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I rise more in hope than expectation of being able to persuade your Lordships. I pick up the sense from the Committee that this is probably something that your Lordships will want to return to in more depth on Report. Perhaps the best service I can offer at this stage is to put on record the Government’s position, respond to some of the precise points and then await further developments as they may unfold between now and Report.

Amendments 77, 78, 79 and 80 relate to changes passed in the other place during the passage of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018. This Act is important legislation as the UK leaves the EU. It enables the Government to create a stand-alone customs regime by ensuring that the UK can charge customs duty on goods, set and vary the rates of custom duty, and suspend or relieve duty in certain circumstances.

I turn now to the substance of the original amendments to the Act, which these amendments seek to remove. Amendment 77 relates to Section 31(5), which requires further parliamentary scrutiny in the event that the power under Section 31(4) is used to implement a customs union with the EU. The Government support the principle of further parliamentary scrutiny in this case. My noble friend Lord Lansley suggested that this was perhaps reflective of the politics of the movement. As a distinguished former leader of the House in another place, he will be very familiar with how that side of things works. However, as this House is aware, the Government have made it clear that they are not seeking to be in a customs union with the EU as part of our future economic partnership—I say that without wishing to reopen the many debates we have had on “a” and “the”.

It is important to reflect why the Government have taken this view and to consider what leaving the EU means. It means the ability to strike out on our own to forge new trade deals. In order to do this, one important element is to have the ability to set our own tariffs. Being in a customs union would deny the UK this ability and fundamentally undermine our capacity to negotiate new trade deals with old friends and new partners.

The noble Lord kindly outlined, as he saw it, the way in which Amendment 78 arrived, referencing first the Bill and then the amendment. The Government have been clear in their White Paper that the arrangement they are seeking will ensure that both the UK and the EU get their fair share of the revenues from the rest of world trade. Section 54 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act is in line with the proposals that the Government set out with a view to achieving just that.

Turning to Amendment 79, Section 55 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 requires a single UK customs territory. This is a statement of government policy and ensures that the Government will not act incompatibly with the commitments made in the joint report of December 2017, where they committed to protect the constitutional integrity of the UK.