Moved by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
54: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“International Trade Commission(1) The Secretary of State must by regulations made by statutory instrument establish a body corporate called the International Trade Commission (“ITC”) within one month of the passing of this Act.(2) The ITC must establish criteria for maintaining standards as high as, or higher than, standards applied within the United Kingdom at the time of import for goods imported under a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and any other state.(3) “Standards” under subsection (2) includes, but is not limited to, standards relating to—(a) animal welfare,(b) protection of the environment,(c) food safety, hygiene and traceability,(d) plant health, and (e) employment and human rights. (4) A Minister of the Crown may not lay a copy of an international trade agreement before Parliament under section 20(1) of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 that contains provisions relating to the importation of goods into the United Kingdom unless satisfied that the criteria established by the ITC under subsection (2) have been met.(5) The Secretary of State must allocate such sums to the ITC as the Secretary of State considers appropriate as required in order to perform its functions.(6) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
My Lords, I am delighted to move Amendment 54 and speak to Amendment 55, which is in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to whom I am grateful. I am also grateful to them and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for supporting Amendment 54.
“It would require a statutory process for these food standards to be altered.”[Official Report, 6/10/20; col. GC 198.]
I should like to place on record my understanding, which was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that food standards are set by statutory instruments, by regulation. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to one in particular. So the regulations could be amended or repealed by statutory instrument. The reason why that is important, and why I refer to it in the context of Amendments 54 and 55, is that because of what happened yesterday there is a greater need to put these issues into the Bill to become primary legislation that can be repealed only by further primary legislation. I do not wish to dwell on what happened, but it was extraordinary. Amendment 16, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was voted down, but Amendment 18, which was passed by an overwhelming majority in this place, was taken off the table.
That begs the question that I am exploring through these two probing amendments to see whether we take them further on Report. Can the Minister say what resources in terms of staff have been made available to the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which currently has only a six-month remit? My distinct impression is that it has no staff and that every meeting convened and every press conference held is staffed by members of the Department for International Trade. Does the commission have a separate budget? If so, what we are proposing in the amendment will be miniscule in comparison to the existing budget of the commission. If it has no budget and relies completely on the resources and staff of the Department for International Trade, it is—I am sorry to use the word—a sham, an empty vessel, there in name alone, purely as a sop to the farm lobby.
That is borne out by the fact that on
There was great dismay that yesterday’s amendment on international standards in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was not carried. I declare that I am an associate of the British Veterinary Association, as set out in the register, whose president, James Russell, said yesterday:
“If the Government won’t legislate to protect our standards it is vital that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is given more powers and stature to safeguard them in future trade deals.”
I am going slightly further in my probing amendments and I draw my noble friend’s attention—I know he does his homework and I am sorry if I spoilt his weekend—to the paragraph on page 79 of the Henry Dimbleby report. This is the only reference I am going to make to that report and the annexe. In its recommendations to the Government, he says:
“The Government should give itself a statutory duty to commission an independent report on all proposed trade agreements, assessing their impact on: economic productivity; food safety and public health; the environment and climate change; society and labour; human rights; and animal welfare. This report would be presented alongside a Government response when any final trade treaty is laid before Parliament. Sufficient time must be guaranteed for the discussion of these documents in the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and by the relevant select committees”.
Mr Dimbleby goes on to identify the procedures used by most of the jurisdictions with which we are seeking trade deals. I realise that with the exception of Japan they fall outwith the current agreement. However, the report refers to countries with international trade commissions and those with well-developed parliamentary procedures to review future trade agreements, as we are currently doing with Japan.
My question to the Minister is simple. While I understand that the conclusions are in Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy Part One report and that, regrettably, the Government’s response will not come before the Trade Bill leaves this House, what is the status of that report and of Dimbleby and others on his panel, including the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Will the Government follow that advice by establishing either a beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission or, as set out in Amendments 54 and 55, an international trade commission? In Amendment 54, I set out what the standards would be limited to but that they could go beyond animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene, traceability, plant health and employment rights. We go on to say that the international trade commission must give advice and report annually. I hope that the Government will come forward with amendments of their own and that the report on each future trade deal will be debated.
To conclude, I hope that my noble friend will take this opportunity to state what resources and staffing are available to enable the Trade and Agriculture Commission to fulfil its remit, and that he will agree that statutory protection of standards, including animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection, needs to be included in the Bill, as these amendments seek to do. Will he join his adviser, Henry Dimbleby, in recognising that we need either a beefed-up Trade and Agriculture Commission or a replacement such as an international trade commission, as suggested in the amendments. We do not want to revert to the situation in the mid-1990s, under a previous Conservative Government, whereby we unilaterally banned sow stalls and tethers to maintain our high animal welfare and environmental standards, at which point, imports were allowed from Poland and Denmark that undercut our high standards and put 50% of our pig producers out of business. I hope that my noble friend will agree that he does not wish to return to that situation.
These amendments are intended to be probing amendments at this stage, but I will listen closely to the debate and, in particular, to what my noble friend says in summing up. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure, as ever, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and speak to Amendments 54 and 55—I apologise for my voice, but I have a bit of a cold. This country has had a long and successful history as a trading nation. After nearly half a century as a member of the EU, we are about to embark on a new phase of that history. The question we are looking at here, following on from many earlier interesting debates, relates to the governance of our new trade policies. Will the control, design and execution of those policies be solely in the hands of the Executive or will there be a role, and, if so, of what kind, for Parliament, the Governments of the devolved Administrations and other bodies, such as that just described by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh?
At the outset, it is important to acknowledge that the world has moved on since the 1970s, even since last year—as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, reminded us. Therefore, government models that were appropriate in the 1970s need to be updated. The world is now a different place, and we can see that with the emergence of the devolved Administrations. Therefore, one question is how this needs to be reflected in trade negotiations, the drawing-up of trade mandates and the scrutiny of agreements.
Part of the dissatisfaction that has arisen over government policies in this area thus far is from the great secrecy in which they are being conducted. Future trade policies are being developed by the Department for International Trade, but in the utmost secrecy, with the help of severe non-disclosure agreements. This does not generate confidence. What have the Government and the DIT to hide? Why can they not consult openly and widely and share the results with us?
Amendments 54 and 55 suggest an alternative approach, one that has been adopted by other trading nations and found to be useful—the establishment of an international trade commission. It could play a role overseeing trade mandates and agreements, and could advise the Government and report to Ministers and Parliament. For example, as a newly independent trading nation, what rules should we be setting for our food standards and for our animal welfare and hygiene standards? What would be the impact assessment of a trade deal with, for example, the United States or Australia? How many farmers and businesses would those agreements put at risk? Such a commission could consider and report on these extremely important issues and calculations. It would draw in expertise and diverse views, and help to create a consensus that would power successive trade deals.
This is clearly a probing amendment, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on the details of how such a commission might be established and what its remit might be, but a growing number of voices in the United Kingdom are calling for the permanent establishment of such a body to operate independently of the Government and to marshal a range of expertise and trade knowledge for the Government to draw on. As we have already heard, there is already a body sitting—alas for six months only—the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will do some of this work. Members of that body have joined the calls for the permanent establishment of such a commission, having seen how useful and important such a structure could be.
I am not going to pursue the arguments about high standards covered in Amendment 54. As I said on the third day of Committee, it is my belief that the Government are preparing to reduce those standards to enable them to conclude new trade agreements with the United States and Australia, among others. That is why, I believe, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, was rejected in the House of Commons yesterday. As a trading nation, should we not, at the outset, be deciding for ourselves what our standards should be? Should we not be debating these issues widely? Should a trade commission not help us in that task? Surely we are not just going to roll over and accept whatever trade competitors demand of us.
One of the issues that worries me most at the moment is the way policy is being formulated. There is a line, which is agreed at the top, then enforced on Ministers, the Government as a whole and party MPs and supporters. No dissenting voices seem to be tolerated, either in ministerial positions or government departments, and Cabinet Ministers seem to compete for the approval of those running the system. The belief is that success will be achieved only by eliminating all critics and alternative views, and having only supportive or pliant Ministers in post, with a handful of people making key decisions. This was exemplified for me by the appointment of Tony Abbott to the Board of Trade. It seemed almost a two-fingered gesture to the effect: “We are laying down what is going to happen in this area of policy, and we don’t care whether you like it or not.” After all, there was no suggestion that Tony Abbott had any expertise in or detailed knowledge of British trade policies.
I fear that such an approach will not end well. Successful endeavours share many characteristics, but one major element of success is a broad range of views. Some dissenting voices are listened to. There is a need to be warned of possible pitfalls and to listen. It is important to be flexible and pragmatic. That is not how our trade policies are being developed at present, and perhaps it is why some of our negotiations are not going so well, thus far.
These new clauses in Amendments 54 and 55 set out one way in which the decision-making circle might be expanded, which a Government, embarking on a new course and needing broad support, might find beneficial and useful. I am not sanguine that they will find any favour with the Minister, the Government or, more importantly, No. 10, but I believe we have a responsibility in this House, as a revising Chamber, to suggest constructive ways of achieving and improving what the Government are seeking. I am therefore pleased to support these amendments.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and to act as a co-signatory to both Amendments 54 and 55, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Henig.
As we emphasised while the Agriculture Bill was in Committee and on Report, there needs to be an international trade commission and it needs to be permanent, not like the Trade and Agriculture Commission that is currently in place. Such an international trade commission needs to be given a budget and staff, if we are serious about it doing this job on trade. The international trade commission needs to be in the Bill and able to provide advice to the Secretary of State. There is a direct read-across to the Agriculture Bill. I regret what happened in the other place yesterday, because they missed an important opportunity to give this international trade commission the impetus and support it justly deserves.
While welcoming the temporary trade commission, I feel it needs to be made permanent and put in the Bill. There is a need for a body to consider trade agreements, as they are negotiated. This is new, charted territory for all of us, particularly for the Government and all those involved in such trade agreements. It is important to support our farmers, producers and all those in the supply chain.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said, Henry Dimbleby has produced his first report. He was appointed last year to undertake this study, and he proposes such a body. He makes comparisons with those jurisdictions that do not have one and with which we are trying to negotiate future trade agreements. The industry, as was referred to by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh and Lady Henig, has set up a shadow body to examine ways of protecting standards in trade deals. There has been progress since the Agriculture Bill, and we need to take note of that and that there should above all be parliamentary oversight and scrutiny, as exists in those other jurisdictions.
There is a need for strict adherence to standards of animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, plant health, employment and human rights; the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to this. It is correct that an international trade commission is required under statute to provide advice, assistance and support as and when the Secretary of State requires. It is important that the Executive are accountable to Parliament; that, quite simply, shows democracy at work.
As has been referred to, amendments to the Trade Bill were tabled in the other place to ensure that Parliament retains sovereignty of trade policy. A Conservative MP said that the failure of the Bill to secure this would be
“hard to reconcile with the idea of taking back control.”
I do not believe that having less scrutiny than existed when we were members of the EU is an acceptable position. I am clear in my unequivocal support for both these amendments, for the establishment of an international trade commission that builds on the work of the existing trade commission—which is temporary in nature—and for it to be put into statute in the Bill.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to say a few words about these two amendments. I can be a bit simpler than I had intended to be because my noble friend and the movers of the amendments say that these are probing amendments. To that extent, I want to add one or two questions of my own; I look to my noble friend the Minister for his response.
I have a feeling that, once again, these are amendments that fall into the category of trying to put into statute that Ministers should not do things that they do not wish to do. I am not quite sure why that is necessary. In this particular instance, the amendment proposes—in a number of areas relating to the environment, animal welfare and SPS—to take out of the hands of Ministers the business of negotiating the nature of the trade agreements that we are to enter into, largely tying the hands of Ministers. Ministers have been immensely clear, repeatedly, about their intention not to enter into trade agreements the effect of which would be to dilute the standards applicable by us in this country in all these respects.
What we have here says, in effect, that when we seek to enter into any agreement with other countries, we have an extraterritorial application of own standards to them. I fear that, in practice, that would mean an inability on the part of the United Kingdom Government to enter into trade negotiations with countries that apply different standards to our own. I am not sure that the signatories to the amendments have addressed the issue. They talk simply in terms of the impact in this country of the import of goods that are subject to different standards. That is a matter of domestic legislation; that is something we can stop. There is absolutely nothing that requires us to import goods that are produced to animal welfare standards that are different to and lower than our own, or that have environmental consequences that we would not accept. We are perfectly free to say no to that. The implication of these amendments, however, goes beyond that to the idea that we should not enter into trade agreements with countries that supply standards that are not our own.
I am not sure that noble Lords necessarily need to answer this, but I am not sure where the words “or higher than” have come from. What is this international trade commission supposed to do? Should it look at our standards and say, “They’re not good enough. We are going to apply higher standards to other countries than we apply to ourselves”, and seek to enforce them through the terms of an international trade agreement that we enter into with them? That seems inherently and deeply unlikely.
Finally, it was asserted by the noble Lords who put their names to the amendments that this amendment would put in the Bill something that is primary legislation and is therefore wholly applicable. What they are talking about are standards. They are not talking about regulations. In truth, what really matters is the implementation of international trade agreements in the form of regulations. For example, in a later debate, we will talk, I hope, about the implementation of our unilateral scheme of preferences with developing and least-developed countries, many of whom would find it intensely difficult to maintain standards—for example, of animal welfare or food safety and traceability—comparable to our own.
Is it noble Lords’ intention that the international trade commission should require that such regulations should have the same standards built into them, and that we would not accept goods from those countries if they were incompatible with the standards set by the ITC? That is not what these amendments say because they talk about international trade agreements. There is no international trade agreement required for us to offer unilateral preferences to these countries; therefore, perhaps it is their intention simply to exclude developing and least-developed countries from the issues they talk about. I do not think that that is their intention, but that is not the effect of their amendments.
I suggest that, in so far as these are probing amendments, let us recognise that there are some glaring deficiencies. If we come back, as I know we will on Report, to the question of how we maintain our standards in this country, let us think carefully about how we do it and recognise, with a degree of humility, that international trade agreements should not be a mechanism by which we seek to apply extraterritorial jurisdiction for UK standards to other countries throughout the world.
My Lords, I will take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, in a moment. In the meantime, I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to work with the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh, Lady Henig and Lady Ritchie. I am delighted to support these two amendments.
I really congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. It is almost like having a third member of the Green group sometimes. I am sure that she hates that thought and that the Minister might as well. It has been quite a slog for us during this Bill. We have repetitively talked about these issues and it is getting a tad boring.
This amendment is a mechanism to maintain trade standards that are as high or higher than domestic UK standards. For the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that means that it is okay to trade with countries that have higher standards, even though they are not the same as our standards; that is the point of this part of the amendment. He asked why this is necessary. It is necessary because we simply do not trust the Government. If he can put his hand on his heart and say that he trusts the Government—go on; no?—I will be astonished. We have fantastic Ministers here—we even have a fantastic government team—but we do not trust the Government.
This amendment addresses the criticisms raised in previous iterations of the Bill, when noble Lords suggested that defining UK standards and equivalent standards would be a difficult legislative exercise. The amendment would create a specific body to undertake that exercise, and would grant it the necessary resources to do so. That might be a bit of a sticking point but, quite honestly, it is possible to move resources around, so I do not see that as an essential problem.
My colleagues, the three noble Baronesses, have covered almost every aspect on which I should have liked to speak, so all I will say is: will the Minister commit to working with us, perhaps to find a compromise amendment ahead of Report? Otherwise, there will the inevitable Division and government defeat, which will obviously be quite exciting for many of us but probably less so for the Minister and his team. So it would be wonderful if we could see a positive way forward.
My Lords, first, I want to associate myself with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lansley. I agreed with absolutely everything that he said.
It should be up to the Secretary of State to decide whether she needs any advice on standards or the criteria to be adopted. But, of course, this amendment is not about giving advice; it is about imposing criteria on the Government. Even if it does not cross the line, it is getting very close to interfering with the Government’s use of the royal prerogative in negotiating trade deals.
As noble Lords will be aware, there is already an extensive array of bodies—the Strategic Trade Advisory Group and individual trade advisory groups with extensive memberships—advising the Secretary of State. The only purpose of this amendment is to try to impose something on the Government. Yet again we hear something that we have heard before in Committee; this amendment is coming forward because “We don’t trust the Government to do the right thing”. I have to say to noble Lords that Governments do not legislate because noble Lords opposite do not trust them. Noble Lords must accept the Government’s assurances as they are given.
I will just say something on the Dimbleby report, because we have heard a lot about it both here and in relation to the Agriculture Bill. As I understand it, this is a draft report; it is not yet final. The Government have not made any response so far, and do not intend to do so until after the final version. It would be extraordinary to try to legislate in this Bill for policy that is not yet made. I accept that this is a probing amendment today, but I hope my noble friend will not press it again on Report.
My Lords, although, as the amendment states firmly, it is not exclusively concerned with the issues of animal welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, plant health, employment and human rights, these are important in the context of this debate. We have repeatedly discussed them in the context of this Bill, as well as during the debate on the Agriculture Bill earlier this month. These standards matter desperately. The amendments are important because they provide belt and braces—a system whereby we can provide more effective parliamentary scrutiny.
This bears repeating as often as we like: when we came out of the European Union, the case that the Government advocated over and over again was to take back control. Well, that must mean that the representatives of the people in Parliament have control and authority. If this body helps us to take that control more seriously and to be more effective, it is a good thing, and we should not be wasting time explaining why it is not really necessary. It may be belt and braces, but it underlines the importance of the people’s representatives taking back control.
These amendments are very important indeed. Not for the first time I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, on introducing it. I was also very impressed by the speech made by my noble friend Lady Henig in support of it. I do hope we will give these amendments a fair passage.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, and I agree with him that we should advance these amendments. I will address them in the context of our debates on the Agriculture Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, said when she introduced this group so well—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that all the signatories have made a powerful case for this.
I wish to focus on two areas. The first is the continuous issue that the Government should be very careful with their language about statutory standards and the protection that exists for them. The second is the trade commission and where we might need to go forward on this. I want to do it also in the context of what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said about the least developed countries. The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, referenced this in debate on an earlier group. It was also referenced in the House of Commons yesterday. Last week, the Trade Minister, Greg Hands, was reprimanded by the Speaker for using it to make a partisan point during an Urgent Question on trade—so it is a hot topic.
I was going to say that there is a degree of misinformation, but I am not alleging that the noble Lord would seek to misinform. But the reality is different from what is being put forward about what the impact on the least developed countries would be if we were to insist on imported goods meeting our statutory standards and did not accept imported goods of a lesser standard from the least developed countries. I find that deeply offensive to the countries with which we have negotiated a trade agreement, on the basis of everything but arms and the global scheme of preferences. Those trade agreements have included measures to support countries to meet the standards at which we would then allow imports. To say that we would allow imports of less good products at a cheaper rate because they are from a poorer country would be both against the law and contrary to the trade agreements that we have reached with those countries.
The noble Lord is right that we will come on to talk about global scheme of preferences and GSP+. As he knows, this is where countries have an agreement that does go beyond simply tariffs and regulatory standards. It includes, for example, husbandry, environmental practices and labour standards in supply chains, so that we do not import goods from companies that would break domestic law in the treatment of their staff. This is now the norm in trade agreements. I do not know why the Government are wanting to argue that, by maintaining and not dropping our current standards, we are somehow acting against the least developed countries. There were zero imports of beef and poultry from least developed countries last year, for these reasons. If the thrust of the Government’s argument is that this is a bloc, and we will now open up markets for these goods which do not comply with British standards, let them say so—but I do not accept it. That, no doubt, is something we shall return to.
This leads me on to my next point. What is the correct terminology? I hope that the Minister will be very specific in the way he sums up. He has the virtue of having the entire Civil Service behind him to enable him to be very specific. So he will forgive me if I am less specific, but perhaps, when he responds to the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, he can be really specific.
Victoria Prentis, the Agriculture Minister, said yesterday in the Commons that
“our current import standards are enshrined in existing legislation. They include a ban on importing beef produced using artificial growth hormones and poultry that has been washed with chlorine … Any changes to that legislation would need to be brought before Parliament.”—[
As I understood it, the noble Baroness asked how the Government will consider what are statutory protections. Are they within the primary legislation, requiring primary legislation to implement them? Or is it the same as with chlorine, which I referenced in the previous group regarding information provided to me by the NFU?
The regulation states clearly that:
“Food business operators shall not use any substance other than potable water—or, when Regulation (EC) No 852/2004 or this regulation permits its use, clean water—to remove surface contamination from products of animal origin, unless use of the substance has been” prescribed by the appropriate authority. The Minister said that the appropriate authority was the Food Standards Agency, which is correct. But the change to allow imports of poultry that has been treated with anything other than potable water can be made in a regulation, using the negative procedure, put forward by an agency. On reading what the Government said—that they would be required to bring forward legislation to change that—most people will not infer that. A change to a regulation by an agency, using the negative procedure, does not afford us the proper level of debate about the consequences.
That leads me on to the issue of what is an appropriate body to be an advisory body and to allow debate among those who have an interest, both producer and consumer. I am not sure I agree with the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. She suggested that a body such as this would effectively prescribe actions to the Government. It certainly could be a body based on parameters regarding the maintenance of standards. That is not uncommon for those bodies that provide information to Ministers or for bodies that the Government consult.
It is not the case that it is only those far more cynical than I who do not believe the Government on such issues. I am always willing to give the Government a fair wind and to listen to their arguments—although yes, their record might suggest that we have to be that little bit more careful. But I do not think that the Conservative Member for Totnes, the honourable Anthony Mangnall, or the Conservative Member for North East Bedfordshire, the honourable Richard Fuller—who last night in the Commons challenged Victoria Prentis about the trade commission, asking for its life to be extended and for it to be put on a permanent footing—fall into the category of not trusting the Government.
We do not need to labour the point that the Government chose to utilise the fact that the trade commission would require money for it to be set up and therefore it was not even debated by the Commons—the lengths to which the Government seem to go to avoid considering a Lords amendment on the Agriculture Bill are quite extraordinary.
This exchange from Hansard is very informative. Anthony Mangnall asked:
“… will the Minister look to extend the purview of the Trade and Agriculture Commission to longer than six months? It should be a permanent body that is established to scrutinise our trade deals.”
That is a reasonable question. The Minister replied:
“I am afraid that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not within my gift; it is a matter for the Department for International Trade whether the work and life of that commission is extended”— and so I pass the ball to the noble Lord the Minister. She went on to say:
“It was set up in order to feed directly into our trade negotiations with the US, Australia and New Zealand. We remain open to listening to any concerns about the operation of the commission and will continue to co-operate with DIT to ensure that it meets expectations.”
Richard Fuller then pressed her on it being on the same footing, and asked whether it might be better if it was permanent, so as to cover all agreements. The Minister’s reply was very interesting indeed:
“Whether we want to set it up for future trade agreements is something to discuss another day, but I do not agree that it has anything at all to do with the Bill.”—[
Clearly, the Agriculture Minister thinks that it is over to the DIT now, with the option of re-establishing the commission when considering new agreements which are not with New Zealand, Australia or the United States. This is a very odd situation for the Government. Putting it on a permanent footing, as this amendment suggests, with a clear, forward-looking approach, is very sensible and far more pragmatic than the ad hocery of whether it should be set up again for new agreements. If the timing of the US, Australia and New Zealand agreements goes well beyond and into 2021, and the trade commission is wound up this December, will it be reconvened to look at a new set of circumstances on that basis?
The Government have unnecessarily got themselves into a bit of a muddle. This amendment, so powerfully moved by the signatories, shows the Government how they can think again and put the commission on a better footing.
My Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the points made by the movers of this amendment in their powerful speeches. What they propose ticks a lot of boxes. It is fair to say that, as we have just heard, this is closely modelled on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and it may therefore suffer from some of the problems it has encountered in recent hours, let alone days. However, taken together, it is a bit surprising that those who drew up these proposals think that they are necessary, given that the intention behind the Government’s move is presumably to try to make sure that this whole area is tidied up and organised in a way that minimises the number of quangos and additional bodies that they have to consult, and gives them as much authority and freedom of movement as they would want in carrying out their negotiating mandates. That is of course what happens under the royal prerogative.
I took from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, that this is really about trying to concretise the Government’s commitment—which they have made on many occasions, as we have heard—to our high environmental, labour, food production and animal welfare standards, and to protect our public services. A permanent commission, set up in the way that she talked about, adequately funded and properly located within the corridors of power, could contribute to that and allow a continuing review of how the Government are operating. Whether or not it is effective, I will come to in a minute.
I thank my noble friend Lady Henig for making the case for leading with our high standards. Despite the contention of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, surely we should be saying to the world that we are proud of our high standards and that we challenge those who want to trade with us and access our markets to match us in every aspect, or to persuade us to raise them even higher. If that means that we cannot do trade deals with countries that cannot match our standards for imports, then that is the situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, clearly pointed out. It does not change things, and in any case, it is a good thing.
Further to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, if it is true that food standards are set by secondary legislation—and, as he suggested, even by agencies responsible under the primary legislation to have power to change regulations—then, as my noble friend Lady Henig says, we do have a lower standard of scrutiny here. We have an obligation to do something about it. The question is what. I would prefer to see a firm commitment on the face of the Bill which sets our standards in a way that does not permit anyone to change them without full parliamentary scrutiny.
Can we see a way forward? I think we can. From what I have heard from the Minister so far today and in discussion with him, I am positive that we might be able to come forward with something. I would be happy to meet him, during the pause, to progress it. In the interim, I do not think that this amendment has got quite the essence that we are looking for. I believe that it would be perhaps better to focus more on other amendments that come forward.
My Lords, we have had yet another interesting debate where the expertise of noble Lords has been on full display, even if that meant repeating what have perhaps become familiar arguments.
Amendments 54 and 55 in the names of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would set up a new trade body, the international trade commission. This body would be responsible for setting criteria for assessing whether provisions in FTAs on imports of goods into the UK meet or exceed domestic standards of production and would, as a result, set restrictions for which goods could be imported under trade agreements. The other place has debated whether imports would need to meet our domestic production standards—a requirement which would be in addition to meeting existing specifications such as on food safety standards—and decisively rejected such a suggestion.
The Government absolutely recognise the strength of feeling around standards and imports of agricultural products into the UK. We have not only reaffirmed our commitment to maintaining high standards during debates on both this and the Agriculture Bill, and on many other occasions, but have taken clear action. I hope to explain this in more detail shortly. However, I first ask your Lordships to consider the real effect of Amendment 54. It would establish a new, permanent and unelected body, which would set criteria for assessing and scrutinising international trade agreements before they could be laid in Parliament.
The Government consider that this would be inappropriate and harmful to the due process of parliamentary scrutiny—a process which already includes an assessment of the impacts of the trade agreement and allows time for both the International Agreements Sub-Committee of our House, and the International Trade Committee in the other place to produce an independent report on it. The amendment would suspend parliamentary scrutiny of new trade agreements until this new body had been established and the criteria set. I believe that this would harm the interests of UK businesses and consumers. Importantly, it would also leave Parliament beholden to the terms set by the international trade commission. Moreover, the establishment of such a body would place it in direct conflict with existing bodies, which already have the remit and expertise to oversee and advise on standards, such as the food standards agencies, the trade advisory groups and the new Office for Environmental Protection. The creation of an international trade commission would only cause confusion with these trusted agencies, to the detriment of all. Furthermore, the amendment would require overseas countries to produce—and demonstrate that they produce—to UK standards before we would be able to import those goods. As I said, the criteria for such assessment would rest in the hands of a new, untested and unelected trade body.
Currently, the UK imports enormous volumes of food from overseas, including from the developing world. An amendment such as this could have far-reaching and, I am sure, unintended effects, preventing the UK being able to import a range of foods, with significant knock-on effects for supply chains, businesses and consumers within the UK, as well as, importantly, for developing countries and other export partners, which send agricultural products to the UK. For example, Vietnam, Ghana and Indonesia are major exporters of coffee to the UK, and we receive large volumes of bananas from countries such as the Dominican Republic, Belize and Cameroon. The impact of this amendment, requiring countries to meet the UK’s specific standards across a range of criteria, could ultimately prohibit imports from these trade partners and, in doing so, lose a valuable income stream for those developing countries as well as, frankly, affecting the British businesses and consumers who depend on them. My noble friend Lord Lansley made some powerful points in this regard about the damage that this would cause.
The standards that this amendment seeks to protect are already enshrined in domestic statute and the Government will uphold them. Of course, any changes to existing standards would require new legislation to be scrutinised by Parliament. Decisions around standards are a matter for Parliament and will be made separately from negotiations. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will agree with me, even as a new boy, that statutory instruments are a statutory process.
The Government have taken decisive action to uphold our commitments to high standards. First, we have established new trade advisory groups, including a dedicated agrifood group, which will provide technical and strategic expertise that will feed directly into negotiations. Members include such organisations as the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, the British Retail Consortium, the British Beer and Pub Association, the Scottish Seafood Association, UK Hospitality and Tesco, among others. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, will accept that it would be highly prejudicial to the United Kingdom if our negotiating stance became public when we are in the middle of negotiations. We want to draw on the expertise of the members of these groups during negotiations. This is not secrecy for secrecy’s sake but common sense in asking them to keep confidential the information they receive from their privileged position in these groups.
In June, the Secretary of State for International Trade established the Trade and Agriculture Commission, which brings together stakeholders from across the sector to provide recommendations that will inform the Government’s decisions and policy-making in relation to agriculture. The commission will produce a report with its recommendations and the Government have committed to laying this before Parliament. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the resources available to the commission; sadly, I do not have this information to hand but I will write to her.
The recommendations made in the Dimbleby report are under consideration by Defra and will no doubt be responded to by my colleagues there in due course; as my noble friend Lady Noakes reminded us, this report has not yet been finalised. Furthermore, we have listened to concerns around animal welfare in production and have committed to a rapid examination of what can be done through labelling to promote standards and high welfare across the UK.
Our various new initiatives and the setting up of new groups for exploring issues around standards and international trade policy are already looking to tackle some of the issues raised by this amendment. I would, of course, be very happy to meet the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to discuss these matters further. In summary, however, we consider that the creation of a further new body would risk harmful conflict with existing groups with similar functions. I hope that I have managed to reassure my noble friend and other noble Lords that there is no need for the body they propose. I therefore ask that the amendment is withdrawn.
I am grateful to my noble friend for his response to the debate. I want to make one point. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, may not have understood my point about the unilateral scheme of preferences in developing countries. It was simply that, since Amendment 54 bites only on those international trade agreements that are subject to the CRaG process, it would not bite on the unilateral scheme of preferences at all. So, it does not do what the mover of the amendment is looking for it to do; when they look again on Report, noble Lords should—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, suggested —take it away and think about how they can support the Government to maintain and deliver our standards, rather than seek to go around them.
My Lords, I have nothing to add to those perceptive comments from my noble friend.
My Lords, I am grateful for the clarification from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I think that we will come back to this issue.
The Minister referred to Ghana as a good example. I referenced Ghana in the previous debate. We are still engaging on whether we will have a continuity agreement with it; it has not been agreed yet. The disruption in trade with Ghana will come if we revert to a non-EPA basis at the end of the year, rather than from anything to do with anything in this amendment regarding standards.
Can the Minister state whether we currently import, or will import, any goods from GSP countries or LDCs that do not meet our standards? My understanding is that we do not and will not. We offer them tariffs that are preferential to those for other countries if they have goods to be imported into the UK that meet the standards, because that is under the unilateral trade preferences scheme, but it is not standards that we seek to reduce. The Minister said that insisting on maintaining UK standards would somehow act against least-developed countries, but that does not apply because they do not currently export to us if they do not meet our domestic standards. I wonder whether he can clarify that.
Given that, yesterday, the Agriculture Minister did not categorically shut down the requests from MPs that the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s life be extended and sent over to the DIT, is the Minister’s mind open to the longevity of this Trade and Agriculture Commission? One of the ways forward could conceivably be to extend the lifetime of that commission; we could progress on that basis.
I thank the noble Lord for his question. We will come to GSPs in a later debate; if the perceptive points he made are not answered then, I will perhaps write to him. Secondly, I always keep an open mind about the matters that we debate. We will reflect on the debate that happened in the other place last night.
I am grateful to those noble Lords who contributed. I would be most grateful if my noble friend could extend his invitation to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to myself and the other co-signatories of this amendment, and perhaps also invite the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. This formula worked extremely well with his predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, who I am sure would commend it to us.
I suspected, even though I raised this in the House yesterday, that my noble friend would not have the figures on the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s budget. He will be pleased to know that I have the topical Oral Question on Thursday, when I am sure he will be able to provide those figures because they are the subject of the Question.
The International Trade Secretary herself referred to Kenya as a wonderful new country that we are going to do deals with. It subsequently found itself in a spot of bother with avocado pears; we will certainly wish to revisit that.
I do not think that any of the signatories to these amendments intend to tie the Government’s hands; indeed, I do not. The purpose of the amendments was to understand the thinking on the role of, and resources available to, the current Trade and Agriculture Commission. I have no doubt that current members of the commission do not wish to carry on, so this is an opportunity to either reappoint new members to the Trade and Agriculture Commission or revamp it into a new body, such as the one in the US calling itself an International Trade Commission.
To help my noble friend Lady Noakes, Amendment 55 specifically calls for an international trade commission to give advice and reports to the department, the Government and Parliament. It was helpful that my noble friend again clarified, in summing up this debate, that he sees statutory protections as being statutory instruments. I beg to differ. I believe that we need, fairly urgently, primary legislation in this regard, which cannot just be swept away by a negative resolution, as was addressed earlier.
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage with the promise, if possible, of an amendment with my noble friend and the other co-signatories—the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Purvis—so that we can progress these matters.
Amendment 54 withdrawn.
Amendments 55 to 57 not moved.