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Trade Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 5:45 pm, 6th March 2019

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh for presenting this amendment and for giving us the opportunity to put on the record further remarks on where we are with regard to legal services. As she reminded us, legal services contribute around £25 billion to the UK economy, with a trade surplus of around £4 billion. They directly employ well over 300,000 people in the UK, two-thirds of whom are outside London. The UK is a world leader in the provision of legal services, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, also pointed out, and English law has a reputation for excellence across the world. We are determined to continue to build on this success.

We acknowledge that leaving the single market might have implications for market access and that some UK and EU service suppliers will not enjoy the same rights as they do today. That point was made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh when referring to Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on 29 March 2019, published by the Government on 26 February—specifically paragraph 40, which sets out a case study on legal services. In a sense, that underscores that the Government see this as a key priority in the future economic framework negotiations.

That is why, in the political declaration on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, there will be comprehensive arrangements on the trade in services, covering a wide range of sectors, including legal services. The political declaration includes a commitment to conclude arrangements for services and investment that go well beyond WTO commitments and build on recent EU free trade agreements, as well as a commitment to make appropriate arrangements for professional qualifications.

The Government want to secure positive outcomes for the professional business services sector, including legal services. However, as my noble friend will be aware, our future trade relationship with the EU is subject to negotiation with the EU. A trade deal must be negotiated before its terms can be set out in law. I am aware that this is perhaps a probing amendment that seeks to get some points on the record, but clearly the Government’s view is that what my noble friend proposes is not the correct vehicle.

I am aware that in previous debates on this Bill and on some no-deal secondary legislation my noble friend has raised concerns about the impact of a no-deal outcome for lawyers. We do not want a no-deal scenario but, as a responsible Government, we have to prepare for it.

The no-deal SI relating to the practising rights of European lawyers in England and Wales and Northern Ireland, which this House debated in January, and was made on 13 February, provides transitional arrangements for EU-EFTA lawyers. The purpose of this no-deal SI is to clarify the position of EU qualified lawyers who are practising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland immediately before exit day, so that they can be secure in the knowledge of what their position will be in the event that we exit without a withdrawal agreement.

The Scottish Government are also making the necessary preparations for a no-deal outcome and laid a separate but similar SI before the Scottish Parliament on 20 February. However, we cannot address the question of how the EU 27 will treat our lawyers going forward in our domestic legislation. We continue to be in discussion with EU member states on their no-deal arrangements.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, specifically asked what provision for rights has been set out in Switzerland. Individuals who have transferred into the UK legal profession would retain their rights. The UK-Swiss agreement goes further, providing rights for lawyers within the scope of the agreement to continue to provide services on a permanent basis under home title, while they remain registered with a relevant regulator in their host state. It also provides for continued service provisions under home title for 90 days in any given calendar year.

I hope that those responses offer my noble friend some reassurance and she will withdraw her amendment.