Motion A

Agriculture Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 3:33 pm on 9th November 2020.

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Lord Gardiner of Kimble:

Moved by Lord Gardiner of Kimble

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 16B and 18B, to which the Commons have disagreed; and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 18C and 18D in lieu of Lords Amendments 16B and 18B.

18C: After Clause 39, Page 36, line 24, at end insert the following new Clause—“Reports relating to free trade agreements(1) A free trade agreement that includes measures applicable to trade in agricultural products may not be laid before Parliament under Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 unless the Secretary of State has first laid a report complying with subsection (2) before Parliament.(2) The report must explain whether, or to what extent, the measures referred to in subsection (1) are consistent with the maintenance of UK levels of statutory protection in relation to—(a) human, animal or plant life or health,(b) animal welfare, and(c) the environment.(3) In subsection (2) “UK levels of statutory protection” means levels of protection which, at the time the report is made, are provided for by or under any legislation which has effect in, or in any part of, the United Kingdom.(4) In preparing the report, the Secretary of State may seek advice from any person the Secretary of State considers to be independent and to have relevant expertise.(5) When the Secretary of State lays the report before Parliament the Secretary of State must also provide a copy of it to—(a) the Scottish Ministers,(b) the Welsh Ministers,(c) DAERA, and(d) any Committee of the House of Commons or the House of Lords or any Joint Committee of both Houses that appears to the Secretary of State to have an interest in the subject matter of the report.(6) This section does not apply in relation to a free trade agreement if—(a) each party to the agreement (other than the United Kingdom) is a member State or the European Union, or (b) the following conditions are met—(i) the negotiations for the agreement were concluded before the second anniversary of IP completion day,(ii) each party to the agreement (other than the United Kingdom) and the European Union were, immediately before exit day, parties to another free trade agreement which includes measures applicable to trade in agricultural products, and(iii) the other free trade agreement was, immediately before exit day, in force for, or being provisionally applied by, each party to that agreement.(7) In this section— “agricultural products” means products of a kind which, at the time this section comes into force, is listed in—(a) Annex 1 to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union;(b) Annex 1 to Regulation (EU) No 510/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2013 laying down the trade arrangements applicable to certain goods resulting from the processing of agricultural products and repealing Council Regulations (EC) No 1216/2009 and (EC) No 614/2009;(c) the first two columns of Annex 2 to that Regulation;“free trade agreement” means an agreement that is or was notifiable under paragraph 7(a) of Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, part of Annex 1A of the WTO Agreement (as modified from time to time);“legislation” means primary legislation, subordinate legislation or retained direct EU legislation;“the WTO Agreement” means the Agreement establishing the World Trade Organisation signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994.”

18D: Title, line 11, after “carcasses;” insert “to make provision for reports relating to free trade agreements;”

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Lords, I beg to move Motion A. At this juncture, I should declare my farming interests, as set out in the register.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for the time and thought he has spent on Amendments 16 and 16B. The Government have listened and come forward with an amendment requiring a report to be made to Parliament on whether, or to what extent, provisions in new free trade agreements relating to agricultural goods are consistent with maintaining our existing levels of statutory protection in relation to human, animal and plant life and health, animal welfare and environmental protection. A report must be laid before any new free trade agreement is laid before Parliament under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act procedures. An FTA containing measures applicable to trade in agricultural products may not be laid unless a report has first been laid. The report will explain whether and how FTAs negotiated by the Government are consistent with our ability to maintain our domestic standards, materially enhancing transparency during the ratification process and accountability for what has been negotiated.

The Government have also carefully considered Amendment 18 on the Trade and Agriculture Commission, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Curry. The Government will go further than the noble Lord’s amendment and put the Commission on a permanent statutory footing, subject to review in three years. We will implement this by tabling an amendment to the Trade Bill on Report. We are preparing the terms of reference for the prolonged commission, and there will be more detail shortly when the amendment to the Trade Bill has been tabled. The commission will complement existing scrutiny provisions, ensuring Parliament is amply equipped to hold the Government to account.

I will turn to Amendments 18E, 18F and 18G, with which I will also discuss Amendment 18H. As I have explained, the Government’s new clause will enhance scrutiny by ensuring that Members have clear information on each FTA and its impact on our standards to inform their actions under the CRaG procedure. Moreover, the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be able to feed into these reports, as seeking independent, expert advice in this manner is provided for under subsection (4) of the new clause. Parliamentarians will therefore have a range of sources of evidence to enhance their scrutiny of FTAs under CRaG. These include reports under the duty I have described, reports of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, reports from the relevant Select Committees of both Houses, and of course any other reports produced by our expert bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency. Together, these reports will shine a spotlight on the negotiation of agri-food products in FTAs. Any concerns raised by these reports will inform the decision by Parliament on whether to ratify a treaty under the CRaG procedures.

I should be clear that the Commons already has the power to block ratification of an FTA indefinitely, if the majority of its Members vote to do so. If the Commons resolves against ratification and the Government lay a statement indicating that they still wish to ratify the FTA, a further 21 sitting day period is triggered from when the Government’s statement is laid. During this period the Government cannot ratify the FTA. If the Commons again resolves against ratification during this 21 sitting day period, the process would need to be repeated in order for the FTA to be ratified. It is also important to stress that any FTA would almost certainly require some form of implementing legislation to be made before it is ratified, providing further opportunities for debate.

Amendments 18E and 18H would narrow the scope of our reporting through requiring reporting on equivalence. Our new clause allows us to consider equivalence where relevant, but, importantly, it requires the Government to look at measures applicable to trade in agricultural products in the FTA in the round, along with their impact on our ability to maintain our standards. This means that reports under the new clause as drafted could consider further issues relevant to UK levels of statutory protection, such as the impact of the FTA on our right to regulate, which focusing only on equivalence would miss. We believe this matches our manifesto commitment not to compromise on standards, which was similarly wider in scope than just equivalence.

Furthermore, Amendment 18H would in practice set the Government the task of seeking to negotiate equivalence across all agri-food standards in order to satisfy the requirement of the amendment for the Government to confirm that this is the case. As we have noted before, this is unrealistic to negotiate given the complex and time-consuming nature of making determinations of equivalence.

Seeking, and then reporting on, consistency with the maintenance of our standards is a much more pragmatic approach and ensures that we can secure trade agreements with a wide variety of countries. For example, it may be immensely challenging for developing countries to prove that all their agri-food standards are equivalent to or exceed our own. This is due to matters outside their control, such as differences in our respective economic situations, climates and environment. However, lack of equivalence across all standards with such countries does not automatically mean inconsistency with the maintenance of UK standards and, as such, we believe equivalence is the wrong concept on which to judge this.

I should say that I think the Government have listened very carefully indeed not only to your Lordships but to others, and it for those reasons that I beg to move.