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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:00 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative 8:00 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to debate whether Clause 9 and Schedule 4 should stand part of the Bill. I just want to raise one or two points that, as my noble friend the Minister will recall, arose during our meeting way back in October or November, for which I was extremely grateful.

I tabled my opposition to the clause and schedule immediately after Second Reading because a number of issues relating to the role and powers of the Trade Remedies Authority arise from the increasing threat from the volume of imported products. I am particularly concerned about bricks, tiles and ceramics due to my interest in, for example, the York brick company, which I had the honour to work with as the local MP. These products emanate from potentially unsustainable sources, often from developing countries, and they are having a negative impact on our domestic production, as seen through the latest retaliatory tariffs from the US and, subsequently, China. I have some general and some specific comments that I wish my noble friend to respond to. I am particularly grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for raising these issues.

Paragraph 12 of the report of the Select Committee on the Constitution sets out the concern that there is a singular lack of detail on the functions and powers of the Trade Remedies Authority and that enormous discretion is given to the Secretary of State in relation to the constitution of this body, the appointment of its members and its operations. In particular, I draw my noble friend’s attention to the committee’s conclusion that,

“in constitutional terms, creating and empowering an important public body in such a manner is inappropriate”.

In connection with Clause 9 and Schedule 4, can my noble friend indicate the length of appointment for members of the Trade Remedies Authority, and do the Government envisage these appointments being renewable and for a similar length of term? If we are inviting people to serve on this body, it is important that they are at least given security of tenure. That goes to the heart of their independence and impartiality, and it would detract somewhat from the ministerial discretion that currently lies with the Secretary of State. Under what conditions would the Government envisage the office of an official serving under the Trade Remedies Authority becoming inappropriate and how could it be removed? It would help the Committee to know that.

In addition, perhaps I may confirm with my noble friend that, in connection with the injury calculation which is the outcome of the Trade Remedies Authority’s conclusions, the regulation will be laid before the House by the affirmative rather than negative procedure.

I am sure that my noble friend does not need me to rehearse the importance of the bricks, tiles and ceramics industry. A total of 2.5 million people overall are employed in the UK manufacturing sector, and this is a very strong part of that industry. As regards ceramics covering tableware and tiles in particular, these have already been affected—or one could say protected—by the two EU trade remedies in place for ceramics. It is important to give a message to the industry this evening that we will create in the Bill similar provisions to those that exist in the European Union at present.

Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the injury calculation will be by affirmative procedure and—as some of the Commons amendments did not cover this point on the economic interest and public interest tests—that the Government will put on record how these tests will be interpreted in court and by the authority going forward? This is purely intended as probing. I obviously wish Clause 9 and Schedule 4 to remain part of the Bill, but I wanted to make some of these general points before we go on to discuss the amendments in the next grouping.