Amendment 81

Part of Trade Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 15th October 2020.

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Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 2:30 pm, 15th October 2020

My Lords, I am glad to follow my noble friend. My amendment in this group is Amendment 113, which I shall come to at the end, where it is listed. However, there are two other areas that I shall briefly touch on.

First, Amendment 81, and those linked to it, cover appointments to the Board of Trade, or indeed to the trade advisory groups. I have a disinclination, I have to say, for statute or, indeed, the Select Committees of either House to be reaching into government departments and telling Secretaries of State who they should have to advise them. Amendment 81 probably misses the point, in that there are, as I understand it, very few appointments to the Board of Trade as such; most of the appointments being discussed are appointments of advisers to the board rather than members of the board itself. However, that is neither here nor there from my point of view. If Ministers are able to give the Committee assurances about the balance they will bring, I would be perfectly happy that they are getting balanced advice—that is terribly important.

Secondly, on Amendment 107, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh are venturing back into the territory I ventured into on Tuesday. I said that there should be a pre-appointment hearing of the International Trade Select Committee of the other place for the appointment of the chair. I await a letter from my noble friend the Minister explaining why I am wrong. I may well be wrong, but the point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker: we are dealing here not with the appointment of those who advise the Secretary of State in his own department but an independent body. That independent body is accountable to Parliament, and Parliament should have a say, although not a determining say, in who is appointed to chair it.

I am not proposing, as Amendment 107 does, that these appointments of non-executive members of the Trade Remedies Authority should be subject to consent—that goes further than I would—but the appointment of the TRA chair is important. It has impact and, if not wide public importance, very wide business importance. It is something that should be clearly commented on by Parliament. That does not mean that Ministers cannot go ahead and appoint whom they wish. Indeed, even where there is a pre-appointment confirmatory hearing in other cases, Ministers, when I last looked, on nine occasions made recommendations to which Select Committees objected, and on six of those occasions, Ministers went ahead anyway. It would not prevent Ministers doing what they want to do, but it would give them Parliament’s view, so I am rather sympathetic to that amendment.

Amendment 113 is not about appointments or the membership of the TRA; it refers to Clause 6, which gives the Trade Remedies Authority the power—indeed, the obligation—to give advice to the Secretary of State in a number of respects, and the Secretary of State can request such advice. The Trade Remedies Authority is an independent body; there is a statutory relationship with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State may ask for advice. For example, and I make no apology for coming back to this, let us say that we are talking about the Airbus and Boeing dispute, and the Secretary of State has asked the Trade Remedies Authority for advice on the “trade remedy measures” adopted by the United States in relation to that dispute, as both sides have secured World Trade Organization consent to the imposition of additional duties. When the Secretary of State asks for that, it is something on which the Trade Remedies Authority should expose for accountability purposes that it has given advice when it comes to the annual report.

It is important, and the fact that its advice has been sought is also important. I do not expect the annual report to go into obsessive or spurious detail, but, when one makes an annual report for an independent body accountable to Parliament, it should tell us how and when this statutory provision has been deployed during the year.