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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 9:00 pm, 4th February 2019

I am happy to take that back. I have heard the point. I asked whether there was a practice and was advised that this was the view we had arrived at, but I will certainly reflect on what the noble Lord said and take it back for further consideration.

On Amendment 104, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, it is important that the Secretary of State has the ability to ensure that the TRA has the right leadership in place. Again, I reassure the noble Lord that the practices and procedures will be followed.

My noble friend Lord Lansley speculated on whether we could use an existing arm’s-length body rather than create a new one. There are two reasons why we believe we need to create a new non-departmental public body. First, no existing NDPB possesses the required pool of talent and expertise, or, secondly, offers the right balance of independence and ministerial oversight, to deliver the trade remedies framework as set out in the TCBT Act. I can confirm that we reached that decision following a thorough review of the arm’s-length bodies landscape.

Amendments 105 and 106 refer to the Secretary of State, rather than the chair, appointing executive members of the TRA board, and would therefore expand the Secretary of State’s appointment powers. We believe that might undermine the TRA’s independence. It would also be undesirable to include a statutory requirement to have regard to this set of criteria, as it might be unnecessarily restrictive. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe has great expertise in this area. As she knows, it is important to have the right skills and the right blend on a board. For example, it may be important for some executive members to have HR or finance experience to ensure the TRA’s smooth operation. This would be a decision for the TRA chair.

Turning to Amendment 107, under paragraphs 9 and 10 of Schedule 4, the TRA chair is able to remove an executive member of the TRA board, and the Secretary of State a non-executive member, if they consider that person,

“unable or unfit to carry out the functions of the office”.

This already allows the TRA chair and the Secretary of State to determine whether to remove board members in the event that they become insolvent, receive a criminal conviction or are otherwise deemed unsuitable. We therefore do not believe that this amendment is necessary. In addition, all members of the TRA will be required to comply with the Cabinet Office’s Code of Conduct for Board Members of Public Bodies, which sets out the seven principles of public life that should govern the behaviour of public officeholders.

Turning to Amendment 108, let me assure noble Lords that the TRA will be required to follow the relevant provisions in Managing Public Money, which sets out that arm’s-length bodies must maintain a register of gifts. We would also expect the TRA to record in its annual report any gifts it receives.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for tabling Amendment 109. We welcome the devolved Administrations’ interest in the TRA and understand the need to ensure that they are able to engage with it in the right way. I can confirm that the Secretary of State has committed to sharing the TRA’s annual report with the devolved Administrations once he has received it. I can also confirm that we have been in contact with, and will shortly be writing to, the devolved Administrations setting out further commitments.

On Amendment 110, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, there are certain situations where the Secretary of State will need to issue guidance to the TRA. That is why it would not be appropriate to set out certain detail in legislation. Issuing guidance instead of legislation would give the TRA the operational flexibility it needs to be able to decide how to deal with matters on a case-by-case basis. However, to protect the TRA’s independence, and to ensure that this power is used only in appropriate circumstances, we have placed clear statutory restrictions on the Secretary of State’s ability to issue that guidance.

I am aware that I possibly have not fully answered the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge. We recognise the critical role played by producers and manufacturers: that is exactly why we have put a system in place and engaged extensively. We look forward to continuing to do so.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh suggested that it was not adequate that the Secretary of State was required only to have regard to the independence, impartiality and expertise of the TRA. The imposition of a duty on the Secretary of State is a common approach and can be found in other relevant legislation. For example, the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to protect the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers when issuing guidance to the Office for Students. These are statutory requirements and cannot be ignored.