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Trade Bill - Committee (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 4th February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 9:45 pm, 4th February 2019

My Lords, I am delighted to allow the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to realise his ambition, but I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that this is important. Therefore, no torpidity is allowed, even at this late stage.

As this is the last group of amendments, I hope the Committee will indulge me with a short concluding comment, allowing me to record my appreciation to noble Lords who have taken part in all the debates. The quality and constructive nature of the engagement has been incredibly valuable—not just in the Chamber, but outside in meetings. I particularly thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord McNicol and Lord Purvis. On a personal level, I also thank the Bill team for some tremendous work, and my valiant and true noble friends Lord Bates and Lord Younger.

The Committee has provided us with a valuable opportunity to probe the detail of the Bill. It has also allowed all sides to listen to other noble Lords’ sometimes conflicting points of view. We now have some time in which to reflect on the views we have heard in these debates. We shall be using that time carefully, and I look forward to debating the Bill further on Report.

Before addressing the specifics of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, it is important to outline the Government’s approach to leaving the European Union in the light of recent events in the other place. As this House is aware, the other place rejected the proposed withdrawal agreement and political declaration, with just 202 MPs voting in favour. However, following the debate last week, a majority of MPs have now said they would support a deal with changes to the backstop.

Combined with measures to address concerns over Parliament’s role in the negotiation of the future relationships and commitments on workers’ rights, the Government are now confident that there is a route that can secure a majority in Parliament for leaving the EU with a deal. The Government will now take this mandate forward and seek to obtain legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement that deal with concerns on the backstop, while guaranteeing no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

As the Prime Minister said, we acknowledge that there is limited appetite for change in the EU, and negotiating it will not be easy. However, in contrast to a fortnight ago, Parliament has made it clear what it needs to approve the withdrawal agreement. Tuesday’s vote shows that Parliament does not want to leave the EU without a deal, and the Government are therefore working hard to achieve one. The noble Lord, Lord Hain, eloquently talked of the importance of the EU trade deal.

However, simply opposing no deal is not enough to stop it, and the Government must now redouble its efforts to get a deal that Parliament can support. The Prime Minister has agreed to discuss the best way the Government can deliver what I would call the Spelman amendment.

The amendment to the Trade Bill here today would not prevent a no deal. The only ways to prevent a no-deal outcome are either with a deal or by revoking or extending Article 50, which is not government policy. The Trade Bill cannot therefore be used as a sort of proxy to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal. This amendment, or other tweaks, will not stop a no deal, but will simply increase the risks of a worse outcome in a no-deal scenario. We are clear that the very best way to leave the EU is with a deal and an implementation period, and that is absolutely the aim of this Government.

I also repeat that, although leaving with a deal which ensures an implementation period is our clear aim, any responsible Government must also develop contingency measures in case of no deal.

I turn to Amendment 98, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Hannay and Lord Purvis, and my noble friend Lady Altmann. I have welcomed the debate and your Lordships’ scrutiny of the Bill, which really underlines the value of this House. The challenge has been constructive, extremely helpful and underpinned by the genuine knowledge of so many noble Lords. The Government will reflect carefully on the points; we have committed to come back with proposals and will do so before Report. Having gone through Committee, I hope the whole Committee will acknowledge the importance of the provisions in the Trade Bill, and the need for any responsible Government to bring forward these provisions whether or not there is a deal with the EU.

As the Committee will be aware, the Trade Bill covers four important and essential areas to ensure continuity for consumers, businesses and our international trading partners. The purpose, as we said—I was trying to keep the number of repetitions low—is continuity. The Bill provides: powers needed for the UK to implement the GPA, maintaining the access of UK companies to some £1.3 trillion-worth of business, and to ensure that we get the best deal for taxpayers; powers to enable the UK to transition trade agreements that currently exist between the EU and other countries, and to which we are currently a signatory via our membership of the EU to prevent any disruption to UK businesses or our consumers; critical powers to establish a new UK Trade Remedies Authority to provide that critical safety net to protect domestic industries from unfair practices; and powers to collect and share data on trade. This will help us build a richer picture of UK trading patterns to help the Government identify new opportunities, and provide data to support TRA investigations. I hope the Committee will recognise that these are sensible measures and that any reasonable Government would be legislating in these areas in the light of our exit from the EU.

Last week’s vote in the other place shows us that Parliament does not want to leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement and future framework. Although I recognise the position of many in this House is not to leave without a deal, as I said at the start, this mandate from Parliament is not enough on its own to stop no deal. That is why the Government will now redouble their efforts to get a deal that Parliament can support. It is for those reasons that I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.