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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 8:15 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, if we are going to anticipate the longer group of amendments, which impact on Schedule 4, I will say a word about Amendments 103A and 107A, which are in my name.

I shared, I confess, the view of my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe for quite a long time. The conclusion I came to is that we pretty much have to accept the structure which says that we have an independent Trade Remedies Authority, rather than one integral to the Department for International Trade. The analogy is with competition activity. The European Commission runs its own competition regime from a directorate-general of the Commission, with a commissioner in charge. We may think that is right or wrong, but the point is that it is internationally recognised that in that respect, the Commission operates at a significant remove from the day-to-day political pressures in a single country. In this country, we do not operate on the basis that we have a government department providing the competition authority; we do it independently. There is a better analogy there. There is also the analogy of the International Trade Commission in Washington, which is recognised as operating independently of the day-to-day political pressures that otherwise might be exercised in the US Administration or if it were subject directly to Congress. There are analogies that cut both ways, but I am persuaded that having a separate Trade Remedies Authority is best.

It is tricky, because we do not have that many people who are very good at managing trade remedies. We are going to end up with one set of them in the Trade Remedies Authority and another set sometimes in the Department for International Trade having to judge the recommendations being made by the Trade Remedies Authority. I am not quite sure that we shall have enough people to do all those tasks. I hope we do, but it will not be immediately obvious.

Paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 states that a chief executive of the Trade Remedies Authority is to be,

“appointed by the Chair with the approval of the Secretary of State or, if the first Chair has not been appointed, by the Secretary of State”.

My Amendment 107A would simply leave out paragraphs 17 to 23, which all relate to the circumstances where a chief executive is appointed by the Secretary of State. We do not want to leave in statute for the longer term that the Secretary of State may appoint the chief executive. It should be the responsibility of the board. That is generally true for most other independent bodies of this kind. I do not see any reason why we should trespass across that if the independence of the Trade Remedies Authority is integral to its function.

All this seems to have been written in the expectation that it would become law at about the same time as the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill did back in September. Back then, there was not a chair-designate of the Trade Remedies Authority, nor was there a chief executive-designate. We now have both. There is no practical reason why the chair cannot be appointed alongside other members of the board, so that they can take responsibility for the appointment of the chief executive. I see no grounds for leaving in the Bill this statutory provision compromising the body’s independence.

My Amendment 103A would specify that, when the Secretary of State came to approve the appointment of a chief executive as proposed by the chair of the board, that should be subject to a report from the International Trade Committee of the House of Commons. I looked at the January 2019 updated guidance from the Cabinet Office on the 50 leading appointments made with pre-appointment hearings by Select Committees. Back in 2008, when I was Secretary of State in the Department of Health, we had seven such appointments, which I think was the largest number of any single department. The Department for International Trade has no such appointments—it is quite a new department—but this is its principal body. In so far as the Select Committee on International Trade is to have a view, it seems that it should have a view about the chief executive and the chair of the Trade Remedies Authority. To be honest, I may have got the amendment wrong; it may be that it is better that the chair be appointed by the Secretary of State following a report by the International Trade Committee—forgive me if I have got it in the wrong place—as the chair is more likely to be the person who should be the subject of scrutiny by the committee. I may reserve that point, as distinct from what is written in Amendment 103A.

I cannot see a good reason why there should not be such scrutiny. The criteria seem threefold: is it important, does it have impact, and does it require independence? All three seem to apply in the case of the Trade Remedies Authority. The amendment would not require the approval of the Select Committee; it would simply require a hearing to take place and a view to be expressed. We know from precedent that on nine occasions Select Committees have made a negative report on appointments proposed by Ministers. In six of those cases, Ministers have proceeded in any case. The amendment is not to prevent Ministers making the appointment that they wish to make; it is to give the Select Committee in another place an opportunity to make a report on the proposed appointment of a chair.