Amendment 7

Trade Bill - Report (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:16 pm on 7th December 2020.

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Baroness McIntosh of Pickering:

Moved by Baroness McIntosh of Pickering

7: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Trade and Agriculture Commission(1) A body corporate called the Trade and Agriculture Commission (“TAC”) is established.(2) The TAC must establish criteria for maintaining standards equivalent to 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) When the Secretary of State is undertaking negotiations for an international trade agreement on behalf of the United Kingdom with another state, the Secretary of State must consider any advice given by the TAC for the purposes of ensuring that the international trade agreement does not reduce or compromise standards.(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 Conditions A, B and C have been met.(5) Condition A is that the TAC has prepared a report assessing the extent to which the international trade agreement is likely to reduce the ability of the United Kingdom to maintain standards.(6) Condition B is that a Minister of the Crown has laid the report before Parliament.(7) Condition C is that each House of Parliament has agreed a motion, moved in accordance with subsection (8) by a Minister of the Crown, that the international trade agreement does not diminish standards within the meaning of this section.(8) So far as practicable, a Minister of the Crown must make arrangements for the motion mentioned in subsection (7) to be debated and voted on by each House of Parliament within a period of 42 days beginning with the day on which the report was laid under subsection (6).(9) In this section, “standards” means 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.(10) Schedule (The Trade and Agriculture Commission) makes further provision about the TAC.”

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, in moving Amendment 7 I will speak also to Amendment 44 and to the government amendments in this group. I take this opportunity to thank the Minister, my noble friend Lord Grimstone, for reaching out to those of us with an interest in this group of amendments with the meeting that was held between Committee stage and today, and for coming forward with the government amendments in his name.

At that meeting, there were a number of potential deficiencies in the anticipated amendments to the Trade Bill, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Grimstone, that we now have before us today. In particular, a number of us expressed concern about the absence of labour and human rights standards being upheld—as was contained in the original Fairhead amendment, now superseded by Amendment 6. We also expressed concern about the fact that the independence of the Trade and Agriculture Commission still seemed to be in doubt as, at the time, there was no reference to resources, staffing, offices, et cetera, and new appointments would need to be made, as the current members of the Trade and Agriculture Commission were initially appointed for a period of six months and are unpaid, as I understand it. We were also concerned about the extent to which Parliament would have a role in scrutinising these appointments and what form that scrutiny would take. There was also, again, a general lack of understanding about the exact form of scrutiny, and about the timing of the report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and further reports of individual trade deals as negotiated, that Parliament would receive and what the procedure was for looking at that.

Taking these points in turn, I will first go through my Amendments 7 and 44. As I say, I am grateful to my noble friend for coming forward with his amendments, which I believe will, for the most part, resolve many of my concerns. It was remiss of me not to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, for their support for Amendments 7 and 44, and I take this opportunity to do so—I am most grateful to them.

The thrust of Amendment 7 is that the Trade and Agriculture Commission

“must establish criteria for maintaining standards equivalent to 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 … When the Secretary of State is undertaking negotiations for an international trade agreement … with another state, the Secretary of State must consider any advice given by the TAC for the purposes of ensuring that the international trade agreement does not reduce or compromise standards.”

In subsection (4) of the proposed new clause, we set out that:

“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”— which we have called “CRAG” throughout these proceedings—

“that contains provisions relating to the importation of goods” unless certain criteria have been met. We set out those criteria in subsections (5), (6) and (7): first,

“that the TAC has prepared a report assessing the extent to which the international trade agreement is likely to reduce the ability of the United Kingdom to maintain” its own standards; secondly,

“that a Minister of the Crown has laid the report before Parliament” and, thirdly,

“that each House of Parliament has agreed a motion, moved in accordance with subsection (8) … that the international trade agreement does not diminish standards within the meaning of” subsection (8), where we state that that Motion should

“be debated and voted on by each House of Parliament within a period of 42 days beginning with the day on which the report was laid”.

This builds on the argument that we have had on the preceding Amendment 6 and subsequent amendments in this group. In my view, the period of 21 days is simply not enough time to take these arguments into consideration, and a period of up to 42 days—it need not take the whole of that—would be more appropriate.

We set out in subsection (9) what the standards mean. In addition to

“animal welfare … protection of the environment … food safety, hygiene and traceability … plant health”, we add, in paragraph (e), what I know is of considerable importance to a number of noble Lords: “employment and human rights.” I do not believe that those appear anywhere else. I would be interested to know the extent to which my noble friend is prepared to look at employment and human rights, as they are generally understood to be terms and standards that are met. I think it was involved in previous negotiations and possibly also in the Fairhead amendment.

The main thrust of Amendment 44 goes to the point that I raised earlier about the independence of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It is very similar to, but goes further than, that in the name of my noble friend Lord Grimstone: we suggest that we take the standard wording here, that:

“The TAC is not to be regarded … as the servant or agent of the Crown” and that its property is also not to be considered as such, but add that:

“The TAC is to consist of … a Chair appointed by the Secretary of State … other non-executive members appointed by the Secretary of State … a chief executive appointed by the Chair with the approval of the Secretary of State or, if the first Chair has not been appointed, by the Secretary of State”.

At this stage I have a question for my noble friend the Minister about both Amendment 44 and his government amendment, which we shall come on to. Is it his understanding—certainly it would be our wish, and my fervent desire—that all these future appointments will follow the usual procedures where they have a pre-appointment hearing, particularly for an incoming chair of the Trade and Agriculture Commission? It may be the present chairman; indeed, it is my current hope that the present chairman of the commission will be reappointed but, as this will be a statutory body in future, under this group of amendments they would be subject to the pre-appointment hearings by the relevant Select Committee. I hope the Minister will confirm that that is his understanding as well.

We then set out the terms of appointment and tenure of members. I understand that we took this from previous such provisions, not least for the Trade Remedies Authority, which is also part and parcel of this Act. So we do not mean to be prescriptive; we are literally lifting, for shorthand purposes, these provisions that exist elsewhere and are tried, tested and understood. I hope the Minister will understand the basis on which we have drafted Amendments 7 and 44.

I turn to the amendments that the Minister has presented and will shortly move today. He will be pleased to hear that I like government Amendment 31 but, as I indicated earlier, there are a number of omissions from what is generally understood. The obvious one is employment and human rights, but I believe that food safety, hygiene and traceability are also very important. That has been covered in debates in this House and in the other place.

Government Amendment 34 seems to cover a lot of the ground that is in Amendments 7 and 44, as previously discussed. I ask for clarification on subsection (2), which inserts the words:

“In preparing the report, the Secretary of State must”, and then goes on to say,

“except insofar as they relate to human life or health”.

There is a general understanding regarding this. I know that a previous amendment was carried in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that failed to mention the original Article 36 provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which refer to public health and safety, although I forget the actual wording. I seek clarification that that is in fact what the Minister is referring to here.

Obviously, I am delighted that, under subsections (3) and (4), there will be a report of advice received, which I presume will be laid. What appears to be missing here is whether that report will be debated. Does the Minister understand that to be the case, or is it not the Government’s intention that it would be debated?

Government Amendment 35 shares many of the provisions that we have set out in Amendment 44, giving a degree of independence that is most welcome, and I thank the Minister for tabling that amendment. Again, if I may seek clarification, in the new clause inserted by Amendment 35, subsection (1) is fairly standard, but subsection (2), which mentions

“staff, accommodation, equipment or other facilities”, omits any mention of resources, and I wonder if that is intentional. That omission has to be seen together with that in subsection (3), which says:

The Secretary of State may pay, or make provision for paying, expenses to any member of the TAC in connection with the preparation of advice”.

Again, that does not actually say if there is a limit to the resources or the extent to which those provisions will extend. Clarification there would be most helpful.

Then we come to government Amendments 49 and 50. I welcome the fact that Amendment 49 puts the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing; that is something that many of us have held dear and which I have specifically requested during the passage of this Bill and indeed the Agriculture Act, so I thank the Minister warmly for that. I presume that government Amendment 50 is consequential in that regard, so those two amendments are absolutely welcome and I am most grateful to him.

Now I would like to pause and turn to government Amendment 36. It potentially effectively repeals the very existence of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, not just as set out in the provisions that we are debating in this group of amendments as part of the Trade Bill before us today but, as the Member’s explanatory statement says:

“This amendment would empower the Secretary of State to repeal provision relating to the Trade and Agriculture Commission if the Secretary of State’s duty to seek its advice under the Agriculture Act 2020 is repealed.”

I may be misinterpreting and misconstruing this amendment but, if I take it at face value, I slightly fear that it makes a mockery of the government amendments and others in this group in my name and those of other noble Lords. I press my noble friend: what on earth is the meaning of government Amendment 36? We are coalescing around the amendments which my noble friend has brought before the House today, but they are spoiled by the fact that, as I understand it, a statutory instrument could be brought forward. We know that that does not carry the same level of scrutiny as primary legislation. By the wave of a statutory instrument, the Trade and Agriculture Commission, its role, its function, and its advisory commitment, could be removed. What does Amendment 36 mean?

I look forward to receiving the Minister’s responses. For the moment, I beg to move Amendment 7.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 5:30 pm, 7th December 2020

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, for her introduction to this group of amendments on the Trade and Agriculture Commission. We very much see this as unfinished business from the Agriculture Bill, a not entirely satisfactory outcome to the issue of food standards. A proper recognition of the maintenance of the United Kingdom’s food standards should have been inserted in statute through that Bill rather than just having it as a manifesto commitment. However useful as a mechanism, the TAC cannot block a trade deal that may lead to a lowering of standards. We see this as not entirely good enough, yet the Government are now agreeing that they should, and could, have brought this body into existence at any time, and they are doing it more proactively. With the outcome of the statutory enshrinement of a TAC, together with added improvements through other amendments, we can understand and agree that the non-regression of standards could be said to have been delivered. However, anxieties exist about the Government’s full commitment to the Trade and Agriculture Commission. As a method to monitor food standards and trade deals it is very precarious, but there are many crossovers and references to other amendments and we concede that, in conjunction with those, this is a satisfactory way to proceed at the moment.

Amendment 7, paired with Amendment 44 which introduces a new schedule, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and other noble Lords, has many similarities to the discussions in debates during the passage of the Agriculture Bill. If the noble Baroness will forgive me, the amendment would pre-empt the Government’s amendments, to which I will give more detailed attention, as the Government have already signalled that they will agree to put the TAC on a statutory basis in this Bill. On that basis, I will examine their proposals. As the noble Baroness has outlined, the Government’s amendments are far from ideal, in many respects, compared to hers.

Amendment 31 sets up the TAC to be an expert body, with which we are in agreement, but it is rather silent on precise membership recommendations. Will the Minister outline, in his response to these amendments, how far this statutory body will reflect what already exists in its present, rather weak, form, especially regarding membership? During the passage of the Agriculture Bill, many noble Lords thought that that membership should have been extended to contain consumer interests as well as further food and nutrition interests.

Amendment 32 mirrors further discussions on the Agriculture Bill in that full and precise considerations should be shared with the devolved Administrations. The Minister may be able to give fulsome answers to this in his response to the previous amendment on how the present TAC is set up. We would rather answer the question of membership and its extension though Amendment 33, in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson. This extends the possibility of trade commissions being set up for any other industries as may become apparent and necessary through other trade deals which the Government may wish to enter into. We do not necessarily see that the agriculture industry should be unique in having its own carve-out in appreciation of the effect on it of trade Bills. I would very much welcome the Minister’s response to that. There could well be opportunities and circumstances in future trade deals where there may be a severe imbalance in their outcome on different industries, with one industry feeling more imperilled than another by the measures brought about by a future trade Bill. We would not wish a balance of benefits for one industry to played against the detriment of another’s sacrifice.

I turn to further specifics in the Government’s proposals. Our concerns begin to mount with Amendment 34, on the commission’s advisory functions. This proposes an immediate restriction to the process, brought in by amendments to the Agriculture Bill, regarding the functions of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. We find it rather alarming that, when the Agriculture Minister was answering for the whole Government during the passage of the Agriculture Bill, he was very much alive to the aspect of human health, and the implication for that of food, yet in another Bill, barely a month later, a Minister from another department wishes to contradict that.

However, I am glad to see that, through those discussions, Amendment 34 now allows the Trade and Agriculture Commission to report directly to Parliament, independent of the process which the Government had previously been reluctant to stray from, by making the TAC report only through the Trade Committees of the Commons and your Lordships’ House. This gives better recognition to its work and the importance that the greatest percentage of the UK’s population places on food standards being maintained, as well as on plant health, the environment and animal welfare.

We also have severe reservations about the Government’s Amendment 36, which repeals the advisory body barely three years after its enactment. That amendment proposes that the TAC’s provision, set up in primary statute, could then be repealed or severely altered by secondary statutory order only, as soon as its third anniversary. This would diminish the TAC and its prime process—being part of the parliamentary scrutiny of Trade Bills—which we thought the Government had agreed. It hardly allows the Trade and Agriculture Commission to consider all the new major trade deals which the Government may wish to enact, in addition to the rollover deals that the UK is inheriting through its previous membership of the EU. It is still unknown when, and at what speed, new international trade agreements with America and Australia could come through. Indeed, the Government could time those negotiations to come to fruition exactly as they were disbanding the TAC. That would be a tremendous mistake.

Having proposed the creation of the TAC on a statutory basis, it should now be allowed to gain experience and expertise, and to be taken seriously in that role. It should be able to undertake further research and investigations into agricultural and trade matters in addition to providing momentary comments on each trade deal that the Government may wish it to advise on. Will the Minister outline how the Government intend the TAC to function in this regard?

We have resisted further amendments to the Government’s clauses, especially to the period of only three years before it could be disbanded, and reserve the option of bringing further amendments, following any replies that the Minister may provide, at Third Reading. It is crucial, as the UK begins to undertake its own trade policy, for these matters to be dealt with appropriately and robustly for many years to come.

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. I will speak briefly to Amendment 32.

There was a great deal of discussion during the passage of the Agriculture Bill on the importance of the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. All who took part will be relieved that the Government have decided to put the TAC on a formal footing, as set out in government Amendment 31. The NFU lobbied heavily for this, was disappointed that the measure was not included in the Agriculture Bill but, like others, is pleased to see it added to the Trade Bill.

I have added my name to Amendment 32, from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, as it is essential that the devolved Administrations have the opportunity to comment on proposed members of the TAC. It is also vital that those who have the expertise to ensure that the TAC makes informed decisions have a seat on the commission. While the list of areas of expertise in government Amendment 31 does not include the bodies that will provide that expertise, it is implicit that they will represent the views of animal and plant safety experts and the interests of the farming community.

In addition to these very welcome changes, the devolved Administrations must have the opportunity to comment. If they cannot respond within the timeframe given—one month—the Secretary of State may proceed with appointments. This is a reasonable timeframe and should not hold up appointments to, and operation of, the TAC.

I and some of my colleagues are engaged in reviewing a number of statutory instruments from Defra, to ensure that legislation operates effectively after 1 January 2021. It is clear from this legislation that there are very differing views and methods of operating among the devolved Administrations, not least those affected by the Northern Ireland protocol. There is little point in appointing people to the TAC if none of them has the knowledge or ability to represent the views of the devolved Administrations, especially when there are many instances of legislation on animal and crop farming differing between them. This is an important amendment that I hope the Minister will agree to.

Lastly, I share the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, about government Amendment 36, on repealing the Trade and Agriculture Commission. This is extremely worrying and undermines all previous discussions about the commission, both in this Bill and in the Agriculture Bill, and I look forward to reassurance on this point from the Minister.

Photo of Baroness Henig Baroness Henig Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:45 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville. I will speak to Amendments 7 and 44, and in doing so I welcome government Amendments 31 and 34 in this group. I and other co-signatories have been urging the Government to move in this direction for a considerable time, and I am very pleased to see this commitment to the establishment of a permanent Trade and Agriculture Commission.

Like previous speakers, I find Amendment 36 rather concerning. Can the Minister explain why it is included? It rather casts a large shadow over the Government’s intentions in this area, and I look forward to hearing what the rationale is for this clause.

Leaving aside Amendment 36, the Government’s new clauses are a tentative step forward in establishing the Trade and Agriculture Commission. It is, however, only a first step. What needs to follow is for the commission to establish itself as a credible body in terms of its membership, its leadership credentials and the impartiality and quality of its advice. I hope that the Minister does not mind me commenting that, thus far, too many individuals appointed to trade positions by the Department for International Trade are as likely to be chums and cronies of Ministers, or former Conservative politicians looking for a cosy berth, as to be independent and well-respected specialists on trade and agricultural issues.

This new body will only be successful to the extent that those appointed to it have, between them, a wide range of expertise and are well regarded in their fields for fully understanding the relevant issues in a non-partisan way. I agree, therefore, with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, that the appointment of commission members should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and approval.

There will be many important roles for this new commission. One will clearly be to give advice on the best way to uphold existing British food and animal welfare standards and to look at the protection of environmental and plant health. Another, I have no doubt, will be to act as an important champion of British agriculture, which would be very welcome. If it is possible for the commission to extend its scope to look at human rights and employment issues, I would welcome that.

Another role for the commission would be to consider and report on the impact of pending trade deals, which are likely to contain provisions put forward by trade competitors looking to access British markets and to undercut British product and food standards. One of the first agreements that members of this commission will need to consider carefully is the CPTPP, to which the Government have already announced they wish to accede. That would raise significant issues about food and agriculture standards, and about regulations, which would differ considerably from those by which farmers, manufacturers and traders are currently bound.

That is why it is so important that the members of this commission are highly respected and well-regarded experts in their fields: their advice could impact heavily on the future livelihoods and businesses of large numbers of people in many sectors of our economy. Their reports on potential trade deals should be of value not just to the Minister but to Parliament too, in the form, as we have heard, of committees in the Lords and Commons whose duties it is to scrutinise deals. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, mentioned this, I think, in an earlier debate.

There is a wider role, that urgently needs to be played, to which I hope that members of this new commission might be able to contribute significantly, namely to outline to the British public what the Government’s trade strategy is. Is it to do deals with any willing partner? Are there preferred options, and if so on what basis are they preferred? Why do we seek to join CPTPP, with its distinct set of trade regulations, while wanting to have nothing to do with European regulations? Are we happy to conclude a trade deal with China? I got no answer to that question when I raised it some weeks ago.

In addition to articulating a trade strategy, perhaps this commission could also help to clarify which sections of British commerce and agriculture we are seeking to prioritise in trade deals. Which sectors will be deemed less important? What will be the core principles of British trade policy? They are, at present, difficult to discern. It seems that safeguarding jobs in fishing—relatively few though they are—is at the moment considered more important than jobs in the automobile or chemicals industry or in agriculture. Those selling fish to Europe seem to be prioritised above those selling lamb to Europe. Does this make commercial and economic sense? These are the sort of issues and choices our new commission members will need to look at as a matter of urgency. After all, a new start requires a clear strategy that we can all get behind and support. Mobilising energies and support on a wide basis behind our trade strategies will be crucial to success in this area.

I welcome most of the Government’s amendments in this group as far as they go, but I strongly hope that the new Trade and Agriculture Commission will be able to help in articulating a set of coherent trade and agricultural priorities that we in Parliament, and the wider public, will be happy to support.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and to hear not only her very cogent arguments but also her questions. I do hope the Minister will answer them, particularly on trade with China.

I support Amendments 7 and 44 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. It is obvious immediately, from the way she laid things out at the very beginning, that the Government have done a little but not enough. It is a pleasure for me to speak in this group and have a tiny part in the Government’s compromise amendments. Although they are welcome, they just do not do the job. Why do they not guarantee the commission its independence? The weakness is exposed when compared with the non-government amendments in this group. While I would like to call a win a win, I do not think we really have a win here. I am worried that this welcome but small compromise will actually create nothing more than a talking shop, which can simply be ignored by the Government.

The Government have put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing, with Amendments 49 and 50, given it a degree of permanency and have even seemed to incorporate what we were pushing for in that it should have its own staff and facilities, but then government Amendment 36 throws all that out. A Secretary of State can ditch the whole thing with a statutory instrument. How is that sticking to a promise about making this a body that can properly do the job?

I hope that the Minister will think again before Third Reading, so that we do not have to compromise endlessly with a body that is too feeble and inconsequential to do the job.

Photo of Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Non-affiliated

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. I am a signatory to Amendments 7 and 44, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for her very accurate, extensive and comprehensive exposition of those amendments, as well as her critique of the government amendments in this group. While we welcome the establishment of the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a permanent basis in statute, there are certain distances yet to come. Obviously, like other noble Lords, I question the content, the purpose and remit of Amendment 36, which seems to nullify the impact of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Like the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Henig and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I ask the Minister to outline the purpose and remit to see whether he can provide us with any assurances that it is not simply there to negative what is already in existence by way of secondary legislation or in a statutory instrument.

Amendment 7 provides 42 days for parliamentary scrutiny, which is better because it allows adequate time for that scrutiny to take place. A new schedule outlined in Amendment 44 provides for a Trade and Agriculture Commission with greater independence to link in with the whole agricultural area. We should always remember that those involved in the farming industry need this independent body to advise on trade matters, agricultural and food standards, and environmental standards. Like other noble Lords, I would like to see references, and hope the Minister could provide us with some detail about the need for food safety, as well as for employment and human rights. Those are equally important requirements.

In submissions that we have received over the last few days, Greener UK has lobbied along with the farming organisations for the Trade and Agriculture Commission. Given that the UK’s food standards are high on the negotiating priorities of many of our prospective trading partners, stakeholder input and scrutiny of trade deals in relation to agri-food standards, it is important that the UK delivers the public’s expectation to maintain high standards. It has been recognised that the Government have taken a step in the right direction by putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing through the various government amendments, but again I question Amendment 36. I thank the Minister for the meeting he had, on a cross-party basis, with noble Lords on the various issues to do with the Trade and Agriculture Commission, but I believe that the Government could go a little further. Perhaps the Minister could specify if there are any additional details to be provided at Third Reading. The new schedule proposed in our Amendment 44 underpins the need for the independence of the TAC.

Will the Minister spell out how the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be required to produce an annual report with recommendations on how to improve food import standards and how to incorporate changes in domestic standards into existing and future trade deals? How will the Secretary of State be required to take all these recommendations into account when setting trade negotiating objectives, and how will the Government issue a response to the recommendations? Will the Minister provide some assurances in that regard and will he be bringing something forward at Third Reading?

We also note that the TAC’s scope in the government amendment is limited to agricultural goods and does not address wider scrutiny of regulations and standards pertaining to other goods and services that may be impacted by trade deals, such as chemicals, which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, makes provision for. This, from memory, has already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, in his submission.

I am very happy to support Amendments 7 and 44. I am pleased that the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be put on a permanent basis, but I plead with the Government not to negative the good work by having Amendment 36, and ask the Minister not to press that.

Photo of Lord Morris of Aberavon Lord Morris of Aberavon Labour 6:00 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, I wish to speak primarily on Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and other noble Lords. I also support Amendment 32 on the need for consent from devolved Ministers. In my Second Reading speech on the Agriculture Bill, I welcomed the setting up of the Trade and Agriculture Commission, particularly the appointment of the president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales as a member. I played a small part in the founding of the union 65 years ago—rather a long time.

I received an excellent briefing note from the NFU, and I hope that the Minister will give the assurances that it seeks in that note. The establishment of the commission as a statutory board is important and gives it a degree of permanence, and I welcome the thrust of the government amendments. The NFU has raised the issue of the range of necessary expertise required of its members. It is the word “expertise” on which we need further reassurance. I emphasise the obvious point that agricultural expertise is a vital requirement. I need not say anything further on that.

It also raises the issue of ensuring that devolved interests are properly catered for. I hope that the Government will accept Amendment 32. It was around 1 March 1977 when agricultural responsibility in Wales was transferred from the Government, of which I was a Member, to the Secretary of State for Wales. I tried to anticipate how experience in handling agricultural matters outside Whitehall would be important for a future devolved Government in Wales. Regrettably, this important step had to wait until 1999, but this is one example of the building bricks that were necessary to be transferred and that were so important to the future devolved Administration—hence it is vital that they are properly consulted.

When I was the Welsh Secretary, I also ensured that, when Brussels was concerned with Welsh interests, I attended with the Whitehall Minister of Agriculture. I would be particularly pleased to hear more about the scope of work intended for the commission. This should be spelled out before we leave this important issue.

Lastly, I believe that reassurance is needed about the intention of the Government to review the TAC every three years. It is vital to have wide consultations with relevant interests at this stage. This is a very important body. I welcome it and, in particular, its extended remit and degree of permanence. It will be there to give the views of agriculture to the Government of the day. I support the amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I had very much hoped to give three loud cheers to the Government for putting down this amendment but, at the moment, my noble friend has one and a half cheers. But I am extremely grateful to the Government for at least putting down this amendment.

A number of points have been raised, and the point which struck home was that made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who said that public expectation is high for the TAC. She is absolutely right. I fear that the TAC, as proposed in the amendments before us, will turn out to be a peely-wally TAC. As a result, it will give the Minister every opportunity to use the proposed new clause in Amendment 36 to repeal it by statutory instrument. That will lead to a huge loss of public confidence in the Government and in agriculture, which has been a matter of so much debate.

We brought the Government to this state, kicking and screaming, through the hard work on the Agriculture Bill. Could my noble friend tell me what membership he envisages for this commission? The point has been made that it is a bit vague, but unless the commission has experts and access to experts, it will not be able to report to the high standard that we hoped and expected of it. Can the commission do work other than looking at trade deals once they have been negotiated? Will there be a lull? If a negotiation is going on, the commission can look at it, and that might bring up other bits of work that it ought to do for future trade deals. But the Government could turn around and say to the commission that because there is no trade deal under negotiation, sorry, your job is finished. Could my noble friend be more specific on the workload he expects of the TAC?

The next point I want to raise was also raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh when she introduced Amendment 7. It is on the wording of the proposed new subsection (2)(4A)(a) in Amendment 34, which refers to “human life or health”. What happens around food security that affects people’s health? Will it be covered by the work of the commission? When we were discussing the Agriculture Bill, the quality of food that would be produced by and imported to this country was a huge concern. It affects human health and, if the TAC is not allowed to look at human health, will aspects of that be omitted?

My last point concerns the shortness of the TAC’s life. Is my noble friend convinced that he will get the right quality of people to serve on it, given that it is an intermittent body, with every likelihood that a Minister could wake up one morning and lay a statutory instrument for its demise? Before a Government decision is made and such a statutory instrument is laid, will my noble friend confirm that he will consult all relevant interested parties and publish their advice? If that is not the case, I fear that the TAC will not produce the quality of reports that we want and will not continue in existence for as long as many noble Lords have anticipated. I hope that my noble friend can change my one and a half cheers into three cheers.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. I greatly agree with what he said and want to amplify one of his points. I also support Amendment 7, but do not think that it is finished business yet.

When the Agriculture Bill passed through Parliament, many noble Lords advocated amendments about the UK’s food standards: that they should be written into law to protect us from lower food standards in the future. This was backed massively by the public, as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and many other noble Lords have said. Some 2.6 million people signed a number of related petitions, and 260,000 people took the trouble to write to their MP because they were concerned about this. The Government have instead opted to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on to a statutory footing, extending its lifespan and requiring it to look after these important matters. Is this enough? I think not.

We know that trade deals can put huge pressure on food standards and lead to the import of food produced to lower—or indeed higher—standards. Evidence shows that a number of prospective future trading partners want the UK to lower its food and animal welfare standards and to allow the import of currently banned products, including the well-known examples of chlorine chicken and hormone beef as well as others such as products containing residue of pesticides.

The TAC was formed by the Government in response to consumer and farming concerns. Its main aim is to consider the development of the Government’s trade policy, to reflect consumer and developing world interests and to consider how we engage with the WTO on animal welfare. However, as it stands, it will relate only ever to broad farming, food, environmental and animal welfare concerns. Food safety is considered, but not public health.

However, we now have it on a statutory footing and have expanded proposals for membership to include experts on trade, animal and plant health, and animal welfare. This is welcome but not enough. The Government’s amendment categorically excludes the TAC from considering the impact of agri-food trade on human health. Its reference to what the TAC reports on states that, in preparing the report for Parliament, the Secretary of State for International Trade must

“request advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission … except insofar as they relate to human life or health”.

If the TAC is limited to thinking about health very narrowly, within the confines of a sanitary or phytosanitary source, wider considerations such as impacts to diets, antimicrobial resistance or pesticide residues will be lost. If it is not the role of the TAC to consider this, who will consider it? We all know the long impact of bad diets—those heavy in sugar, fats and salts. We have seen this as Covid has torn through our communities this year. We legislate very well and effectively that food will not kill you today, but we have nothing on food that will kill you tomorrow or, more to the point, in your children’s tomorrows.

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics published a report just last week showing how future trading partners for the UK are giving livestock antibiotics to make them grow faster, a practice which has rightly been illegal in the UK and across the EU since 2006. When I raised this in this House the other day, the Minister was emphatic that we have good antibiotic rulings. However, in 2022 the EU will ban the importation of meat and dairy produced in this way but the UK Government have not yet committed to this. This new report shows that, overall, farm antibiotic use per animal is about five times higher in the US and Canada compared with us, with use in United States cattle being about seven times higher. Antibiotic use per animal in Australian poultry is 16 times higher than ours. These are very serious facts.

Where is public health? Somewhere between the Agriculture Bill, the Trade Bill and the TAC. Why is it not in a leading role as we go forward in these crucial debates? I understand, although I might not agree, why the Government chose not to put public health right at the top of the Agriculture Bill as a public good. I know it is impossible to recompense people for growing food which has a monetary value, but I do not feel reassured about where this is going to be. I am also not reassured that it will be left in the hands of the Food Standards Agency, much as I admire it, because I do not understand its relationship to the Trade and Agriculture Commission. At the moment we do not have a public health expert on that body. This is slithering through the cracks; if we do not catch it now, in future it could have very serious consequences for us all.

Photo of Lord Curry of Kirkharle Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench

My Lords, my interests are as recorded in the register. It is a great honour and privilege to follow my noble friend Lady Boycott, whose contributions are always thought-provoking and based on her immense knowledge of food and agriculture. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for her amendments and continuing commitment to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s purpose, in the Agriculture Bill and this Bill.

I will speak to Amendments 31, 34, 35 and 36 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone of Boscobel. I very much welcome these amendments and congratulate the Government on introducing them into the Bill. The future of the Trade and Agriculture Commission was the subject, as has already been mentioned this afternoon, of much debate on the Agriculture Bill. The amendments to that Bill—Clause 42, which the Government finally introduced under pressure—complement the amendments we are considering this afternoon.

When I stated that I welcome these amendments, it is not just I who is delighted to see them but hundreds of stakeholder organisations, and, as my noble friend Lady Boycott mentioned, a significant proportion of the British public demonstrated how concerned they were about this issue. All were concerned about the possibility of imported food being allowed to enter the UK which was produced to lower production standards than our domestic standards—not that ours are perfect, but they are among the highest in the world.

To give a bit of background, I chaired the Meat and Livestock Commission during the 1990s, when we had one food scare after another—E. coli, salmonella and BSE, to name a few—and consumer confidence in our food was at an all-time low. The Food Standards Agency was established at the end of that decade. Since then, we have slowly but surely restored public confidence through hard work and considerable investment. It has been hard won. As an example of recent activity, again mentioned by my noble friend Lady Boycott, we have reduced our antibiotic usage in farm animals by almost 50% in the past five years—a significant achievement—and the farming and food industry is very committed to continuing on this vital journey of continually improving our standards.

The Trade and Agriculture Commission’s role is not in my view a protectionist measure to support UK agriculture. It is a measure to ensure UK consumers continue to enjoy food produced to high standards— including in animal welfare—that is safe and nutritious but also allows UK producers to compete on a level playing field not just in our home market but, hopefully, increasingly in export markets too. Importantly, it is also evidence of the Government’s ambition to influence global trading standards.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his willingness to discuss this amendment and these issues. I thank him for his time. I am interested in two elements of these amendments, both of which have been referred to in one way or another this afternoon, which I hope he will be able to address.

The first is the process of appointing members to the commission. I would appreciate an explanation of the qualities and expertise the Secretary of State will seek to identify in potential candidates, bearing in mind the complexity of the task and the technical knowledge that will be needed to be able to evaluate the terms of trade deals. For example, I would have thought that an understanding of the technical aspects of food production will be a necessary requirement. Having established the TAC, the Government need to ensure that the range of knowledge and expertise in it allows them to broaden its role in providing advice on other issues if required.

The second is a concern that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, has already expressed very eloquently, and I now express it directly to the Minister. I refer to the exclusion of human life and health from the remit of the TAC—a matter also referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. There is a deep worry among many NGOs about this exclusion and the reasons for it. This concern relates not only to food safety and production standards but, importantly, to the nutritional standards of imported food. While we strive to address food-related diseases as a strategic priority in this country, as well as the impact of obesity on the nation’s health, excluding those things from the TAC’s remit seems odd, particularly as imported processed food products could be a serious contributor to, and a negative influence on, health.

I would also be very interested in hearing the Minister’s response to a number of queries about Amendment 36. It would be helpful if he could explain the reasons for the various issues that I have raised and, in particular, if he would reconsider the membership of the TAC as far as human life and health are concerned. I thank the Minister once again for his openness.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade) 6:15 pm, 7th December 2020

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. It is clear that the government amendments the Minister is bringing forward today have had a long gestation period—over many years—and the noble Lord, Lord Curry, played a significant role in developing the higher standards which we now take for granted in many respects but which we cannot take for granted in our trading relationships. We still need the existing level of protection.

I commend noble Lords who have shown great endurance and persistence and, ultimately, a degree of success in their work. Among them, I include very much my noble friend Lady Bakewell. Like her, I feel that, having sat for many hours on the trade Bills and the Agriculture Bill, it is nice to see, finally, the Government accepting and then acting on a case that has been made powerfully. In that regard, I welcome the way in which the Minister brought forward the amendments and his openness in discussing them.

He will be aware of the response that I and my noble friend gave, which is reflected in our amendment. My noble friend outlined that in clear terms, and I will simply refer to it before I close. However, before doing so, I want to say that I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, about the motives behind the Government putting this advisory body, but not others, on a statutory footing. We know that that is probably because of the strong campaigning that took place, and that is to the credit of the campaigners, who pressed hard for it. However, the Government have been slightly coy about saying why the agriculture advisory group will be put on a statutory footing but not the trade advisory groups that cover key sectors of the British economy: agri-food; automotive, aerospace and marine; British manufactured and consumer goods, telecoms and technology; chemicals; life sciences; the creative industries; investment; transport services; professional advisory services; and financial services. All those areas are covered by trade advisory groups. What interaction will there be when the trade agreement is being prepared but before it is laid before Parliament under the CRaG process? Why, uniquely, does a report on the elements in Section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020 have to be received from the Trade and Agriculture Commission but not from the other trade advisory groups?

If the intention behind this is, as the Minister will surely say, to enhance scrutiny, how will we know the views of the trade advisory groups for those other sectors of the economy at exactly the same time as the report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission is presented to Parliament? Perhaps the Minister could make that clear. The situation could be resolved quite straightforwardly: he could state at the Dispatch Box that the Government intend to make sure that the other trade advisory groups are able to submit, and we are able to look at, their views on the impact assessments of an agreement.

I hope that the amendment eloquently outlined by my noble friend does not fall foul of the castigatory remarks from the Minister that my amendment received on the last occasion. In this amendment, I have simply used the Government’s wording. I quite liked the wording of their amendment to the internal market Bill—consulting the devolved authorities on appointments to the office of the internal market. In fact, I liked it so much that I thought it should be used in this Bill too. If the Government appoint members of an advisory body for internal United Kingdom trade and consult the devolved authorities, they should also consult the devolved Administrations when appointing members of an external trade advisory body. That would be quite straightforward, and for the Minister to accept that quickly when he winds up at the Dispatch Box would not create any great problems.

My wider question on the period of three years for the life of the Trade and Agriculture Commission is a good one to ask, as that period slightly jars with the five-year period in this Bill for the regulation-making powers. We have the slightly odd situation whereby, under the regulation-making powers in this legislation, the Government have five years but the Trade and Agriculture Commission has only three. Why there is that disjoint, I simply do not know. It would make sense if, at the very least, the lifetime of the regulation-making powers was the same as that of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

The amendments on consultation should be straightforward. I am not being facetious but I hope the Minister can provide reassurance on the Government’s intention to consult before the appointments are made. I am not sure whether the amendment in my name and that of my noble friend will allow the noble Earl to have two or two and a half cheers. I think that they enhance this. I am grateful to him for allowing me to explain to my noble friend Lord Fox what peely-wally means. I hope that, with these amendments, the government amendments will be less peely-wally and that maybe there will be an improvement.

Photo of Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Lord Grimstone of Boscobel The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

My Lords, this group consists of government amendments, together with amendments from my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Purvis of Tweed. I will try to set a good example by keeping my comments tight and to the point, and I will of course write to noble Lords whose comments I do not do justice to in my response. I am convinced that one thing I have learned in taking this Bill through your Lordships’ House is that it is not possible to please all the people all the time in relation to the contents of the Bill.

I turn, first, to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh. Although their purpose and intent are similar to those underpinning the government amendments before your Lordships—to ensure that high standards of imports into the UK are maintained—my noble friend’s amendments go further. They would create a body responsible for setting criteria for assessing whether provisions in trade agreements on UK imports meet or exceed domestic standards on a very wide range of issues. This would, as a result, set restrictions on what goods could be imported under trade agreements.

It is not appropriate for the UK to impose our standards on other countries and prohibit imports of goods that do not meet our standards where there is no basis to do so. Not only could doing so put us in breach of our WTO obligations but, as we spoke about in Committee on a similar amendment, such action has the potential to harm the economies of developing countries and some of the poorest people in society, and to increase protectionism.

The amendment is unnecessary as the standards that it seeks to protect are already enshrined in domestic statute and the Government will uphold them. Any changes to existing standards would, of course, require new legislation to be scrutinised by Parliament. I believe that the Government have taken decisive action to uphold our commitments to high standards. Extending the remit of the TAC to areas such as human rights would run the risk of duplicating the functions of trusted bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I am sure that that is not something my noble friend would wish.

Similarly, my noble friend’s amendments apply to all trade agreements, including continuity agreements. Instead, the TAC should focus on only new free trade agreements and agreements signed with continuity partners from 2023 onwards. The UK’s continuity FTAs, as I have said previously, roll over existing EU arrangements that we now wish to hold on a bilateral basis. Those agreements were scrutinised under EU scrutiny procedures and simply replicate existing EU trade agreements, with necessary adjustments to reflect the UK context.

The Government have listened carefully to the concerns of the House with regard to independent scrutiny of FTAs. I am very pleased to bring forward Amendments 31, 34, 35, 36, 49 and 50, which will put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing. This step is integral to boost scrutiny of our new free trade agreements as we move on from continuity.

The current TAC had a different function. It was established as an independent advisory board in July 2020 to advise and inform the Government on their future trade policy. It aims to ensure that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined, that consumer and developing country interests are represented and that new export opportunities are secured for producers in all parts of the UK. The amendments today will not impact the role of the current TAC, which will still produce a report by February 2021. I put on record that the Government are thankful for the commitment, time, investment and hard work that current TAC members and representatives of its working groups have put in, and we commend the success it has had to date. We believe that the action we are now taking to put the TAC on to a statutory footing will be an important development in boosting the scrutiny of the Government’s trade policy.

Amendment 34 places the Secretary of State under a duty to seek advice from the TAC on matters set out in Section 42 of the Agriculture Act 2020, excluding human life and health—I know that this point is of concern to a number of noble Lords; I will come back to it in a moment—in preparing a report to Parliament to accompany relevant free trade agreements laid under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act procedures. I particularly reassure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, that the omission of human health from the remit of the TAC does not in any way diminish the importance that we will attach to it. It is just that, when we looked at the composition of the TAC and its range of duties, it seemed that expert advice relevant to human life and health would best be sourced separately from other, more expert bodies in that field. The report under the Agriculture Act will include both advice that comes from the TAC and advice that comes from other relevant bodies in relation to human life and health. The duty will be exercised, but not through the TAC.

Section 42 of the Agriculture Act places a duty on the Secretary of State to report on whether the measures in certain future FTAs applicable to trade in agricultural products are consistent with maintaining UK domestic statutory protections for human, animal or plant life or health, animal welfare and the environment. The TAC advice will inform that report. It will be laid separately before Parliament as an independent report, but it will not be the totality of the report under the Act.

The role of the statutory TAC will therefore represent an evolution of the current TAC. The statutory TAC’s purpose—to provide advice under Section 42 of the Agriculture Act—is set out in Amendment 31, and the TAC advice will ensure independent expert scrutiny of new free trade agreements. The request for advice by the Secretary of State and any guidelines will be published, and advice supplied by the TAC will be laid before Parliament. That is the role of the TAC. It is not a standing body producing advisory reports, as one might have deduced from the existing TAC; it is an independent expert body scrutinising new free trade agreements as and when they come along.

Amendment 31 creates a power for the Secretary of State to appoint members and, of course, a duty to have regard to the desirability of appointing members with expertise specific to the role of the TAC. The Government will work to ascertain the range of skills and knowledge required for the commission, noting that additional skills and expertise might be required and that the list in the amendment is not, of course, exclusive. The TAC must have those skills but the Secretary of State is free to decide that it might need additional skills other than those on the list.

I can absolutely affirm to your Lordships that the Secretary of State will make appointments in line with all the usual public law principles applicable to all ministerial decision-making and within the confines of the new statutory provisions. These will be direct appointments and will follow established protocols, demonstrating the department’s commitment to a robust process and eliminating any conflicts of interest. The steps required as part of this process will be reflected in the TAC’s terms of reference.

As a non-incorporated expert committee—I might just dwell on those words for a moment—the commission will provide the Government with independent external advice to deliver additional scrutiny of free trade agreements. It will comprise technical experts who can analyse complex treaty text and provide robust and balanced advice to Parliaments. Members of the TAC will be chosen to have knowledge of standards across the whole of the UK. To my noble friend Lady McIntosh, I say that what we are establishing is not a body with a CEO that produces annual reports; it is a group of experts who have a specified task to do, which is put in front of them every time a new FTA comes down the tracks.

Amendment 34 will require the TAC to be reviewed every three years. Of course, I can see from this debate that there is perhaps a misunderstanding among noble Lords about what exactly that means. In my experience, it is good practice for these bodies to be reviewed after a period of time, and three years is not an uncommon period. However, it in no way means that the body will be wound up after that time, because the TAC must stay in place unless the Government bring forward secondary legislation via the affirmative procedure to repeal the TAC’s provisions. There is a review every three years, but only if that review comes forward with recommendations that both Houses of Parliament accept can the TAC be discontinued.

I want completely to reassure noble Lords about the consequences of Amendment 36, which, I fear, has been misunderstood by Members. Amendment 36 is entirely dependent on Amendment 34. Only if the Amendment 34 process every three years resulted in a decision by Parliament that the TAC should be wound up would the provisions of Amendment 36 come into effect to pass the necessary statutory instruments to repeal the TAC. Amendment 36 does not stand alone so it could not be used for the Secretary of State to wind up the TAC on a whim; that would be a ludicrous proposition. I apologise if noble Lords have found the drafting of the amendment confusing in that respect, but I can give them complete reassurance on that matter.

I believe that the role of the statutory TAC complements other measures that the Government have taken to further enhance scrutiny of new FTAs and ensure that the views of the agricultural sector are taken into account during the negotiations process. Indeed, this will not be the only independent scrutiny that our new free trade agreement will receive: the International Trade Committee in the other place and our own IAC will also, of course, provide critical scrutiny and advice on our negotiated deals, just as this took place with the Japan agreement. I reassure noble Lords that the Government remain committed to listening to and engaging with consumers, farmers and industry in negotiating our free trade agreements, and we value the input that they provide in this process.

It is important to remember that our expert trade and advisory groups, representing businesses, consumers and civil society, already provide advice during free trade agreement negotiations—this is an essential difference from the TAC—and we will not seek to duplicate that important work. In particular, there is a dedicated agri-food trade advisory group, in which the agri-foods sector is represented; it does an excellent job of representing that sector.

I believe that these amendments will help the UK safeguard our current standards of agricultural products, put British farming at the heart of our trade policy and ensure that our agricultural sector is among the most competitive and innovative in the world. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support the amendments brought forward by the Government.

On the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, as I have already mentioned, the TAC will be an expert committee; members will be independent experts, appointed as individuals, not as representatives of academia, business or other organisations for which many of them may work. As I said before, the Secretary of State will make appointments in line with established protocols, following the usual public law principles applicable to all ministerial decision-making. The statutory TAC will represent an evolution of the current TAC to reflect its purpose as set out in Amendment 33. Of course, the membership will be considered accordingly. We are committed to ensuring that only expertise will drive the appointment of new members. It is critical for the success of the TAC that the advice is independent and underpinned by the expertise listed in the amendment.

As I have said before, the central purpose of the TAC is to improve scrutiny of FTAs prior to their ratification. Therefore, as I said earlier, it is related to a reserved matter: the ratification of free trade agreements. As such, the TAC amendment does not engage the legislative consent process under the Sewel convention. While we acknowledge, of course, that the work of the TAC will touch on the devolved matter of agriculture, this does not alter the fact that its function relates to a reserved matter.

However, the UK Government recognise that, as agriculture is a devolved matter, the devolved Administrations, of course, have a legitimate interest in the TAC’s work. Therefore, the Minister of State for Trade Policy has written to them, seeking their views on the statutory TAC, and he will discuss it with them at the ministerial forum for trade later this week. I hope that noble Lords understand that the commitments that we have made, when pulled together, create a further commitment to produce a report on standards in FTAs in relation to specific concerns, as outlined in Section 42 of the Agriculture Act. Through our amendment, we are proposing to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing—I sense that noble Lords welcome this—and to provide advice in relation to this. I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw Amendment 7.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

I have received a request to ask a short question from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, so I call the noble Lord to ask a short question of elucidation.

Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the Minister for his extensive explanations behind his amendments, although, obviously, I will look carefully at Hansard later, and we may further follow up aspects of this. I would like to draw out from him one further explanation. I listened carefully to his explanations, and I concede that due process would take place before Amendment 36 was invoked and after Amendment 34 had been implemented. But what could be the circumstances in which a review would give rise to an abandonment of the TAC process in future trade assessments?

Photo of Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Lord Grimstone of Boscobel The Minister of State, Department for International Trade, The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 6:45 pm, 7th December 2020

I thank the noble Lord for that question. Pragmatically, the most likely circumstance would be if a bigger and better idea came along. For a Trade Minister to come to this House or the other place and say they were winding up the TAC and nothing was being put in its place would lead to a difficult debate. This is, perhaps, part of the whole process. We are new to trade agreements, the way we are handling them is evolving, and matters may evolve with that.

I stress again that there is nothing Machiavellian about the three-year review point. It is certainly not Machiavellian to require both Houses to agree to any winding up of the TAC. Other noble Lords will be more expert than I am on this, but I would be surprised if either our House or the other place resolved to wind up the TAC unless something bigger and better was being put in its place.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to all who have spoken in this debate and in particular to the Minister for his response to the concerns that have been raised. His conclusion backs ours; nearly everybody who has spoken has spoken in favour of the permanency, beyond an initial three or six years, of the TAC. He himself just accepted that in his last few words.

To come back to the basic points: we all agree it is excellent that the government amendments put the TAC on a statutory footing. In the words of my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, that goes a little way but not far enough towards independence.

I am not sure I got an answer on which resources will be allocated. I realise it is not our place, in this House, to say that, but we did not get an answer on it. On the question of permanence, I will revert to that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, identified a gap in all the amendments—government amendments and Amendments 7 and 44—in a lack of understanding about what government strategy for trade will be. I agree with her on that. Why would we want to tie ourselves to all these commitments, which, inevitably, a CPTPP free trade agreement would involve, when we are tying ourselves up in knots regarding those with the EU? It also begs the question of why we have committed ourselves to a strict regime on state aid with the Japan free trade agreement, which goes further than what we are currently willing to agree to in a future trade agreement with the EU.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, put his finger on the point in his last question, but also on the fact that the matter of standards is unfinished business, which we have carried over from the Agriculture Act. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to all the farm organisations—the NFU, the TFA, the CLA and all the green organisations, which have been united with the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, mentioned the 1 million signatures we had that gave rise to amendments in this group, which were previously tabled during the passage of the Agriculture Bill.

My noble friend Lord Caithness was right to stop at one and a half cheers. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle, have identified the need to know more about what the membership of the Trade and Agriculture Commission will be going forward Although my noble friend the Minister has put a little more meat on the bones, it is still vague.

I did not understand entirely whether the relevant committee, especially in the Commons, will be entitled to do a public appointment hearing regarding the future chair, or the reappointment of the current chair, of the TAC. My noble friend may have misunderstood the role of human rights issues and employment law in this regard. These are now standard in agreements before the World Trade Organization and international agreements, so I am slightly surprised that he thought I was seeking to undermine the Equality and Human Rights Commission in this country, which of course was not my intention.

On independence, I am not sure that we are 100% where we should be, certainly on resources. It would have been helpful to have further clarification. I have made my point about how appointments should be scrutinised by the relevant committee and I stand by that. I am sorry if I did not hear my noble friend confirm that. Also, when my noble friend says that reports on agreements will be “laid before Parliament”, I presume he means that they will be debated and voted on in the usual way.

It would be more helpful than anything else if my noble friend would withdraw government Amendment 36 at this stage. I do not think that it has been drafted clearly and it does not sum up the debate that we have heard on this group. What compounds this is that, on a closer reading of government Amendment 34 on which my noble friend has relied in summing up his arguments, the review to which he has referred, in subsection (4) of government Amendment 34, allows that, in subsection (6B) of proposed new Section 42 of the Agriculture Act:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations repeal subsections (4A), (4B) and (6A), and amend subsection (5) to remove reference to advice requested in accordance with subsection (4A)”

That of course is the very advice that is the subject of this group of amendments: requesting advice from the Trade and Agriculture Commission on the matters referred to in subsection (2) of the new clause

“except insofar as they relate to human life or health.”

I also did not quite understand what the Minister said in summing up how the Government will report. He said that the TAC will report on so much as regards advice, but not on public health. He did not outline how or when that duty will be exercised in terms of future trade agreements, which body would be doing those, and to whom that advice would be tendered if it is not going to be tendered by the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

I think that the will of the House has been expressed strongly this evening that public health and food security should continue to be included. I do not know whether I have an opportunity to revert to my noble friend to answer those two points before I decide whether to withdraw my Amendment 7.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

Is the noble Baroness withdrawing her amendment? I cannot hear a response.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I am so sorry. I am seeking clarification as to whether it is the Government’s intention to withdraw Amendment 36 this evening.

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Perhaps I can help my noble friend. The Minister is happy with what he has said, and I urge my noble friend to draw her remarks to a close.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

I wish to press my amendment.

Amendment 7 disagreed.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 8. I remind noble Lords that Members other than the mover and the Minister may speak only once and that short questions of elucidation are discouraged. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate.