Amendment 81

Part of Trade Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:15 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 2:15 pm, 15th October 2020

My Lords, this group covers a lot of ground, including some more discussion on the Trade Remedies Authority, on Board of Trade appointments and on trade advisory groups. In rising—not literally—to move Amendment 81, I shall speak also to the other amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Bassam.

I think that we were all surprised and somewhat shocked at recent appointments to the Board of Trade, but the key issue here is accountability and transparency around appointments to such important bodies. Amendment 81 seeks to establish a public process for board of trade appointments, including advisers to the board. When the Minister comes to respond, I would like him to explain why such appointments do not follow the recruitment processes set out in the Governance Code for Public Appointments, why they are not made under the supervision of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and why prospective appointees —and certainly the senior ones—do not appear in front of the International Trade Select Committee.

Amendments 83 and 106 seek to broaden representation on the trade advisory groups and the TRA. Over the summer, the Government, rather surprisingly, cancelled all their previous arrangements for discussion about trade and launched 11 new trade advisory groups

“to support the UK’s ambitious trade negotiations.”

Apart from the agri-food trade advisory group, there is a considerable lack of wide representation, particularly for the trade unions, which Amendment 83 seeks to address.

Amendment 83 also refers to NDAs—non-disclosure agreements. In June, the Government requested that members of the expert trade advisory groups sign an NDA for seven years to be able to see confidential material relating to trade negotiations. One appreciates that there will be confidential material, but seven years seems out of proportion. Many groups, including the TUC, said that they simply could not sign such an NDA because it would limit their ability to consult their members. That is an important point to bear in mind. The sharing of documents is obviously not to be encouraged while trade negotiations are continuing, but can the Minister say when he comes to respond that the process of reviewing the NDA will end, why seven years was selected and why he thinks it so important that it should be in place?

In previous debates, I have said that Labour is also worried about the Trade Remedies Authority lacking effective stakeholder engagement across sectors and regions. Therefore, Amendment 106 would:

“ensure that the Trade Remedies Authority includes, among its non-executive members, representatives” of

“producers … trade unions … consumers, and … each of the United Kingdom devolved administrations.”

On the TRA, the TUC has said that without trade union representation

“There is no guarantee provided that the non-executive members will represent the interests of workers in manufacturing sectors who will be severely affected by the dumping of cheap goods such as steel, tyres and ceramics.”

Such dumping has already happened recently. Amendment 108 would also ensure five-year terms for members of the TRA, renewable for a further term, to ensure a reasonable turnover.

Ultimately, we need to ensure a degree of transparency and accountability for trade advisers and trade negotiations. The Government insist on trying to hold these away from public scrutiny. These bodies are part of the process and they could, with advantage, listen to these arguments and open them up to a wider group of people. I hope the Minister will view these amendments as proportionate and see them as offering solutions that actually strengthen the Government’s hand in negotiations. I beg to move.