My Lords, I am bringing forward amendments designed to maintain UK levels of statutory protection when implementing continuity trade agreements using the power in Clause 2 of the Trade Bill. The fact that I am able to do so is testament to the cross-party working that makes this House so valuable, and I have no doubt that this process has enhanced the legislation. I will speak to this amendment first and will respond to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering once we have heard their contributions.
The Government are clear that we will maintain our domestic standards as the UK leaves the EU—an objective shared by so many of your Lordships. As we have stressed during its passage through this House, the fundamental aim of the Trade Bill is to achieve continuity in our trading relationships. A key aspect of that continuity is to ensure that UK statutory protections are maintained. These protections are highly valued by our businesses and consumers and are an important component of the UK’s offer to the world.
Noble Lords will recall the productive debate on this issue on Report on
This amendment restricts use of the power in Clause 2. It makes it clear that the power can be used only in a way that is consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in the listed areas. The term “UK levels of statutory protection” covers all UK domestic legislation relating to the protection of human, animal or plant life or health; animal welfare; environmental protection; and employment and labour. This includes retained EU legislation that is being brought into our domestic law as we leave the European Union. I will explain in a little more detail why we have fixed on the wording of these four categories.
First, we have chosen the formulation “protection of human, animal or plant life or health” because it is a broad description that includes, but is not limited to, the areas of food safety and public health. The purpose of this is to safeguard all legislative protections affecting human, animal or plant health. It may also be helpful to observe that this form of words is well understood in the WTO context, thus ensuring consistency with our wider international obligations.
Secondly, this amendment will ensure that environmental protection is secured. This is in line with the Government’s position on the environment, as reflected in the draft environment (principles and governance) Bill. Thirdly, it also ensures that the UK’s animal welfare legislation will be protected. Our animal welfare protections are held in high regard across the world, and we are clear that our trade policy should maintain them.
Lastly, we are making a statutory commitment in this amendment to uphold employment and labour protections. The Prime Minister is clear that we will not only protect existing workers’ rights but will, in time, seek to build on them. I again thank all noble Lords who have helped to shape this amendment. It achieves an important goal, which is both consistent with our trade policy and an improvement to the Bill.
My Lords, I find myself in unfamiliar territory—I might even say unknown territory—here, because I am supporting a government amendment. I am grateful to the Minister for having tabled the amendment, which is a rewritten version of some amendments from Report and Committee. We now have in the Bill protection for environmental, employment and animal welfare standards. That is a real success. Obviously, it does not go as far as I would like, but I am not sure how many Members of your Lordships’ House would support me on all the things that I would like to see in legislation.
I would like to check the phrasing in new subsection (4A), which I find a bit convoluted. Was that intentional? I would appreciate the Minister explaining the reasoning behind it. In particular, is she completely satisfied that it replicates the full extent of the Government’s promises about protecting standards and leaving the environment in a better state than we found it?
Those questions aside, this amendment is a very important development, and I hope that it provides a framework that the Government will build on in their future legislation—for example, in the Agriculture Bill, the Fisheries Bill and the environment Bill. It has taken a lot to get to this point. The Commons considered the issue in its consideration of the Bill, and it has taken your Lordships’ House until Third Reading to come to any kind of resolution beyond warm words. I hope that the Minister will confirm today that we will not have to battle over this in future Bills, and that it will be government policy to write it into legislation from day one.
Many Greens and progressives have been highly critical of international trade and globalisation because it has, to date, represented a race to the bottom. The failure of TTIP, for example, shows the level of public feeling against shadowy trade deals that threaten our hard-won standards. Some of the proponents of Brexit, of course, have suggested that the biggest advantage of leaving the EU is that we can have a bonfire of “red tape” so that we can strike new trade deals. Many of us shudder in fear at that prospect.
This amendment stops that thinking in its tracks. This really is the baseline level of protection that we should have in our trade deals. Our negotiators should be going into trade talks with these very clear red lines that cannot be up for debate. Going forward, I will be working with noble Lords to enshrine the principle of non-regression in the environment Bill and other Bills, so that the only way is up for environmental standards. I realise that the environment Bill is outside the Minister’s brief, but I would appreciate it if she could encourage her ministerial colleagues to pre-empt all our amendments by writing this stuff into the Bill in the first place.
As the Minister has described repeatedly in this process, British standards are highly regarded across the world and are part of our British brand. I thank all the people who have written to me and supported my work on the Bill. Compassion in World Farming was particularly helpful, alongside the Trade Justice Movement, Greener UK and Liberty. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has worked hard outside the Chamber to negotiate with the Minister to get us to this point—and it has been great fun to work with two passionate campaigners here in your Lordships’ House, the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Of course, I also repeat my thanks to the Minister and her officials for their generous time spent discussing these issues and bringing us to where we are today. This is the first step on a long journey, but I am happy to support the Government’s amendment today.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow a fellow campaigner and the sole Green Party representative in this place. I congratulate the Minister on taking her first Bill through this House and thank her for the graciousness and openness that she has demonstrated in the meetings and exchanges that we have had. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Henig, for supporting my amendment and for reaching common ground on this issue, as we have witnessed today. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for showing his support, for his charm and graciousness and for not roaming in the gloaming as we did last week on the mobile phones SI. Above all, I acknowledge the work of the Minister in this regard.
I hope the Minister will not think me churlish of the spirit that she has shown in the text of the amendment, but it would be remiss of me not to say why I have tabled Amendment 4 for the purposes of debate today. I accept that it is a matter of language and semantics but, in the law, language is important. I understood her to say that guidance would be issued once the Bill had received Royal Assent, but guidance does not have statutory effect and I wonder what its legal status be. I do not take issue with her as much as the parliamentary and legal draftsmen in this regard.
As the Minister said in moving her amendment, we wish to maintain domestic standards when we leave the European Union. I point to the retained EU law—which I think we now call primary or principal law—on sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, in which it is generally understood that standards of food safety are paramount. That has been reflected in the campaign carried out by all the farming organisations, not least the NFU. However, the wording of the World Trade Organization and its committees states that:
“For all of these agreements, the WTO encourages international standards as it believes they are ‘less likely to be challenged legally in the WTO than if it sets its own standards’”.
That is the reason for tabling the amendment. It is a serious omission.
My noble friend said that proposed new subsection (4B)(a) to (d) covered food safety but, having seen epidemics almost every 10 years such as BSE, foot and mouth disease and the horsemeat scandal that could easily have been a food safety issue, I think that it is better to get it on the statute book.
I reiterate what the Minister said: there have been constructive discussions which have permitted us to coalesce around her Amendments 1 and 2. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has done, I put down a marker that we will return to this issue when the Agriculture Bill reaches this House. However, I again thank the Minister and congratulate her on getting us so far to Third Reading.
My Lords, perhaps I may make what I hope are reassuring noises about food safety. There has been much discussion here about the fear that our food safety will decline once we have left Europe. Across Europe there are 23 million cases of food poisoning a year and 5,000 deaths.
In the global food security index we tie, at number three, with the USA. Only Ireland and Singapore are ahead of us. Most European countries are way down that list, including, for example, Poland and Bulgaria. In other words, they should be keeping up with us. We would have an awful long way to fall before our food safety record could be compared with the very low standards prevailing in much of Europe. While one welcomes this amendment, in practice there is very little to worry about.
My Lords, this is the first time I have intervened on this Bill and I do so without any interests to declare, although back in the 1980s we had great discussions about the criteria for dealing with protected areas in the United Kingdom. This was because in the classification of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, UK national parks were regarded not as category 1 protected areas but as multi-use areas. The meaning of national park here was different from what it was in the United States, Australia or many other countries.
There used to be a three-legged approach to what happened in protected areas in the UK, based on the principles of environmental, economic and social balance. It seemed to me then—and still does—that that encapsulates all that one might expect without skewing the outcome in one direction or another. None of the four items in proposed new subsection (4B) in Amendment 2 refers to business economics or to the leisure and cultural activities of those who may be living and working in protected areas. This is an omission of some significance in regard to protected areas in the UK. Can the Minister say, therefore, whether the three-legged approach is still meant to be encapsulated in the four-legged one in proposed new subsection (4B)?
My Lords, I join the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, in congratulating the Minister on her work in bringing forward this amendment, which commits us to maintaining high standards of food production, welfare and environmental protection. I have, however, a few questions that I hope the Minister may be able to answer and thereby clarify certain small areas of concern.
The first question is on whether Amendment 2 applies only to trade deals that are rolled over from existing EU third-country deals, or to all future trade deals. Secondly, does Amendment 2 include all provisions in rolled-over regulations? My third question is about the phrase “levels of statutory protection”—does that include levels set out in policy guidance? Fourthly, following a comment by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, can the Government provide at this stage a commitment to non-regression on standards?
As an addendum, I echo a point made by my noble friend Lady Deech: the high standards of food safety in this country are at least in part attributable to the role of the Food Standards Agency, of which I had the privilege of standing as its first chairman. My final question to the Minister is: can she reassure this House that after Brexit the independence and powers of the Food Standards Agency will not be eroded, and will continue to provide regulatory effectiveness—and reassurance to the public that our high standards of food safety will be effectively assessed and managed by an independent body?
My Lords, those who have followed the progress of the Bill in this House will have seen that the Government have acted with integrity in recognising that some of us felt that an extra level of protection for the continuity agreements should be recognised in statute. Across the House, we are genuinely grateful to the Minister for the manner in which she has responded.
I shall raise a couple of points for clarification. I welcome the amendments. The House will be aware that, in the early stages of our consideration, the amendments that I tabled, which were supported by other noble Lords, sought that our obligations under the international agreements in these areas be recognised. From the discussions we have had with the Minister and the Government, we now have the Government’s settled view, which is to maintain UK levels of statutory protection. That is satisfactory, but aligning ourselves to the obligations in the international agreements would have addressed the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, about the different agencies and bodies operating under the obligations of the international agreements rather than those that have been transferred into UK statutory or regulatory provision. I understand that the former is harder to do and the latter is clearer in legislation.
We need clarification about maintaining UK levels of statutory protection. The level of statutory protection in Scotland or Wales in some of these areas may be higher than the level in England, and in some of these areas there will be interaction with devolved legislation. In some areas there will be Scottish legislation or Welsh regulations and English regulations applying only to England. Which is considered of higher status? We do not know yet. I will be interested in the Government’s view.
My second point perhaps addresses the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. We know that these regulations will be for the continuity agreement, and by definition they will be limited to the agreements to which we are already signatories and which we have already put into UK legislation. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and other noble Lords that this sets the framework we would like to see in the non-regression provisions in future trade agreements. In the Urgent Question just before this debate, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, was very keen to use the words “mandate in Parliament” with reference to the position of UK Ministers and making decisions with the European Union. In the way forward for these regulations, we are in effect starting to see an emerging set of parameters for a mandate for future trade agreements.
I have added my name to Amendment 3 on human rights. The complexity and sophistication of trade agreements are such that human rights are a key element that needs protection. Whether they relate to our commitments on modern slavery or to supply-train issues of human trafficking, trade agreements and our trading relationship with other countries bring in elements of human rights beyond purely trading relationships. That is why I was happy to put my name to this amendment, so that the Government can clarify how human rights are captured within it. The helpful briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission indicated that while the Human Rights Act 1998 does not fall within the scope of the delegated powers in this area, it is broadly satisfied with maintaining current levels of protection. It believes that sets a wider precedent that can be taken into consideration on issues such as human rights. I will be grateful if the Minister can confirm that the Government agree with that interpretation. It would be a great reassurance for us that human rights provisions are maintained in the continuity agreements and will set a precedent for future trade agreements.
I welcome the Government not only listening but acting in bringing forward their amendment.
My Lords, I would also like to thank the Minister for introducing this amendment and the following one—Amendment 2 —which she also spoke to. That amendment combines the thinking from Report stage Amendments 3 and 4 with further discussions that the Minister alluded to, which took place offline. These discussions have led to a broader understanding, reflected in the debate today, that it is worth having a clear and unambiguous statement in the Bill about our current standards for activities including,
“the protection of human, animal or plant life or health … animal welfare … environmental protection … employment and labour”,
and—to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—ensuring no regression can occur as result of trade deals which are being rolled forward. The lead name on this amendment is the government Minister’s, and she has been joined by the Green, Labour and Conservative parties in that. This suggests that we have struck a feeling in the House that needs to be reflected in the wording.
Having said that, there is an amendment in my name, which I would like to raise for discussion although I will not press it, and there is an amendment on food safety in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, which has already been referred to. That points to three things that I would like to get on the record.
In working through how to address the non-regression of standards in trade conversion, the officials—with whom we had good and robust discussions—pointed out very strongly not only the need to ensure that the list provided in the final legislation was rooted in statute and justiciable but that it would fit with the WTO regulations, to which it was being addressed at least in part. The wording before us would perhaps not normally be expected in this House, given the argument being made here that good standards already exist and should not be diluted; that better ones should be adopted in some cases, if they exist; and that we should look forward to an increase in the quality provided through this system. It meets the difficulty that words such as “standards” are apparently not admissible in the way we were trying to use them, and, as I have said, the WTO language is somewhat different.
Having said that, the reason for having the amendment on human rights—which the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has joined and spoke to earlier—was simply that, if the argument is made that statutory protections require or can benefit from a statement allowing that to be seen very clearly on the front of the Bill, why does that not apply to human rights? With food safety, one can never be more vigilant than we already are. None the less, we should make sure that it is available for future reference that this matter was considered and thought to be so important that it was part of that arrangement. I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to both of those points when she comes to them. As I have said, we will not be pressing this amendment.
I think this is a good day for the issues that people such as the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and McIntosh, have campaigned for. My noble friend Lady Henig has also been very persistent in making sure that we got something about that into the Bill. I am very happy to support that.
My Lords, I would like to add to what the noble Lord has said on human rights. I thank him for bringing forward the amendment specifically to add human rights, but I am satisfied with his decision not to move it. The powers conferred on Ministers under Clause 2 would not, as I understand it, permit Ministers to act in breach of the Human Rights Act—primary legislation—in any event. I would be very grateful if the Minister could confirm that understanding. It would also be inappropriate to include human rights in the main amendment because many pieces of legislation do not expressly refer to human rights. This is because we have primary legislation, which has a particular force. Therefore, including human rights in the amendment to Clause 2 might possibly cast doubt in those other areas.
My Lords, I turn first to Amendment 3, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I thank them for their contributions to the debate, and for the detailed and—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, correctly said—robust discussions that we have had on this critically important matter.
Let us be clear that the protection of human rights is important; in fact, it is fundamental. That is why it has been given its own legislative framework through the Human Rights Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, stated. Not only that, but we have been consistent and are clear about our position on human rights as we leave the EU. Simply put, we will continue to uphold human rights and meet our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The rights set out in the ECHR are already effectively and extensively protected in our domestic law by the Human Rights Act. The effect of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act is that regulations made under Clause 2 must be consistent with ECHR rights. Further, Ministers are required by Section 19 of the Human Rights Act to make a statement about a Bill’s compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights, and this appears on the face of the Bill.
I am happy to confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that there is no power under the Bill to modify the Human Rights Act, because there is no power to modify any primary legislation which is not retained EU law. That is made clear by Clause 2(5)(a) of the Bill. Regulations under Clause 2 must therefore be consistent with maintaining the UK levels of statutory protection provided by the Human Rights Act, and no amendment is necessary to provide that. This is why the Government consider it neither necessary nor appropriate to include human rights in the list of protections in our amendment to the Bill.
In fact—noble Lords have referred to this—we were worried that including human rights in the list could have unforeseen, unintended and, frankly, unwelcome consequences. It might, for example, suggest that the Clause 2 power could have modified our domestic human rights protections but for such an explicit reference. We are clear that that is not possible. It could also have implied that existing powers in other legislation, where there is no such express restriction, could be used in a way that is not consistent with our domestic human rights protections. Again, we are clear that they cannot. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for his agreement on this; I know that his expertise carries enormous weight in these matters.
I turn now to Amendment 4, tabled by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Henig. The Government agree with the spirit of this amendment: we must maintain UK statutory protections for food safety, including the protection granted by retained direct EU legislation. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for confirming in hard data the excellence of our standards. That is testament to the standards that we have in the UK. As I have previously said, and for the reasons I have given, we propose the broad formulation of,
“the protection of human, animal or plant life or health”.
I appreciate that this House will want to have confidence that this category includes food safety, and I am happy to provide that. The whole purpose of food safety regulation is to provide protection for human life and health. I am also happy to commit to publishing guidance that explains that this broad term should be read as encompassing all EU food safety and public health laws that will be retained in UK law, as well as being compatible with our international obligations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked whether proposed subsection (4A) reflects the Government’s commitment to the environment. The UK is committed to upholding its high environmental standards around the world. As with other EU trade agreements, our aim is to replicate the effect of the existing agreements, restricting any changes to technical fixes deemed necessary. The UK continues to be a global leader on climate action, as demonstrated by our ratification of the Paris agreement last November, and as part of the UK’s Climate Change Act agreement of the UK’s fifth carbon budget in July 2016. The 2008 Climate Change Act commits the UK to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 over the 1990 levels. We want to ensure that economic growth, development and environmental protection can go hand in hand. Wherever UK legislation protects the environment, this amendment requires that our Clause 2 regulations are consistent with maintaining that protection.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, also asked about the wording in proposed subsection (4A)—she asked about the protection of protections. I am advised by our lawyers that, in drafting legislation—and I believe this to be true—it is important to be legally precise, even where this means that a clause might sound slightly odd on a plain-English reading. Our amendment effectively sets up a two-stage test. First, do Clause 2 regulations make provision in any of the listed areas? Secondly, if so, is that provision consistent with maintaining UK levels of statutory protection in that area?
I turn to other questions asked by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about the impact of the government amendment in devolved areas. Proposed subsection (4C) makes clear that the protections given through this provision apply to the levels of protection that have effect in the UK or part of the UK which are in place when the regulations are laid. If higher levels of protection are in place in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, these will be the levels that are maintained.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, asked how businesses and economic factors will be taken into account in the exercise of these provisions. This amendment is all about maintaining UK levels of protection in continuity trade agreements. We therefore think that this is outside that, because this is all about continuity.
My Lords, I declare an interest, as recorded in the register. I was very interested in the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton. The Government, of course, have constantly been committed: indeed, it has been on the face of relevant legislation. In any disputes about the national parks, scenic beauty and kindred issues take precedence. Will the Minister reassure us that what she is saying takes that point on board?
I am happy to make it clear that whatever exists now will continue to exist. This really is regarding continuity of the trade agreements that we are replicating as we leave the EU.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, asked some very specific questions that I will try to answer. The first was whether these applied only to the continuity trade deals, and the answer to that is yes. He asked whether it included all the provisions in transitioned trade agreements. The answer to that is yes: it includes all the provisions that we implement in our domestic law using the Clause 2 power. He asked whether the level of statutory protection includes published guidance, and the answer is that it includes all protections provided under primary legislation, subordinate legislation or retained direct EU legislation. Just to be clear, it includes all guidance that has statutory force.
I believe that the final question concerned the Food Standards Agency. It is our intention that it will continue to provide effective public reassurance. Again, the answer to that is correct. We might talk about the Food Standards Agency a little later on a following amendment.
I hope that I have addressed the questions, and I am very grateful for the constructive debate and the support the amendment has been given. Having addressed the two amendments, I ask the noble Lord and the noble Baroness not to press their amendments. I commend the amendment to the House.
Amendment 1 agreed.