Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Trade Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 3:32 pm on 2nd February 2021.

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Lord Lansley:

Moved by Lord Lansley

At end insert “and do propose Amendment 1B in lieu—

1B: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—“Parliamentary approval of international trade agreements and treaties(1) If a decision has been made by the Secretary of State to commence negotiations towards a free trade agreement, a statement must be made to both Houses of Parliament.(2) Negotiations for that trade agreement may not proceed until the Secretary of State has laid draft negotiating objectives in respect of that agreement before Parliament, and an amendable motion endorsing the draft negotiating objectives has been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.(3) Prior to the draft negotiating objectives being laid, the Secretary of State must consult each devolved authority on the content of the draft negotiating objectives, and seek their consent.(4) The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is amended as follows.(5) In section 20 (treaties to be laid before Parliament before ratification), after subsection (1)(b) insert—“(ba) where the treaty is an international trade agreement as defined in the Trade Act 2021, a Minister of the Crown has published an analysis of the requirement for the treaty to be implemented through changes to domestic legislation, and(bb) where the treaty is an international trade agreement as defined in the Trade Act 2021, the House of Commons has resolved, within period A, that the treaty should be ratified, and”(6) In section 21 (extension of 21 sitting day period), after subsection (2) insert—“(2A) Where a relevant Committee of either House of Parliament has recommended that a treaty constituting an international trade agreement as defined by the Trade Act 2021 should be debated in that House, the Minister of the Crown must ensure that the period does not expire before that debate has taken place.”””

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, it is Groundhog Day and we are debating the Trade Bill. We have nearly concluded it, I hope, but it is in fact more than four years since we first debated the original trade Bill. I earnestly share my noble friend the Minister’s hope that we will bring it on to the statute book soon.

Your Lordships sent two amendments to the other place concerning the parliamentary scrutiny of international trade agreements, and the other place disagreed to them both. I am therefore grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, who have enabled us to combine and somewhat simplify those two amendments, and to focus their provisions in one amendment in lieu. Noble Lords will find it as Amendment 1B on the Marshalled List. It shows clearly that we wish to find common ground with the Government on the issue. As my noble friend the Minister has said on a number of occasions, we are not far apart, as demonstrated in our positive discussions last week, for which I am grateful to him.

Amendment 1B would provide that prior to entering the negotiations on a trade agreement, Ministers would be required to lay the negotiating objectives and that those would need to be approved by a resolution in the House of Commons. In preparing those objectives, Ministers would have to consult the devolved Administrations and seek their consent. Also, when the Government have signed a trade agreement and it is to be scrutinised under the CRaG process, Ministers would have to publish an analysis of the changes required to domestic legislation; and if a committee in either House called a debate on the treaty, Ministers would not be able to ratify it until that debate had taken place.

The House will be aware that the Government are now moving ahead with negotiations on new trade deals, not just continuity agreements. That is very welcome but it means that now is the time, and this is the legislative opportunity, to strengthen Parliament’s role. The amendment does not impinge on the prerogative power. The Executive can still determine whether to enter a trade negotiation and the Government can propose the objectives. They conduct the negotiations and sign the agreement; only then does the Commons—not this House—have the power under the existing CRaG statute to stop ratification, or, technically speaking, to delay it.

The amendment would ensure that the Government consult the devolved Administrations. Given the breadth of trade issues, who could seriously argue that they should not, and that they take the Commons with them on their objectives? Many trade experts argue that this explicit support from Parliament, and occasionally Parliament’s explicit red lines, give force to the trade negotiators’ position.

The debate on our amendments in the other place was interesting. The Government’s argument came down to two things: a debate before the negotiations would bind their hands, and they already provide the information in time for scrutiny. I am afraid that neither point is persuasive. For government to enter negotiations with objectives which the House of Commons could not support is asking for trouble. The suggestion made yesterday by the Government in relation to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on genocide, for example, is presumably recognition of the reality of this fact, whichever Government are in power.

On the 21-day period, the CRaG process has a clear loophole. If time is not found for debate within 21 days, the Government can go ahead and ratify, giving the other place no final say. That simply should never happen. The loophole must be closed, and the wording of the amendment has been chosen quite carefully. The onus is on Ministers not to ratify an international trade agreement unless and until a requested debate has taken place. There is no statutory obligation or restraint being placed on business managers. If they have to ratify it urgently without a debate or scrutiny, Section 22 of the CRaG statute allows them to do that, citing exceptional circumstances.

In the other place a fortnight ago today, 11 Conservative Members of Parliament voted for what was Amendment 1 to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny. More than that were sympathetic. One Member who spoke in that debate was Liam Fox, who said that when he was Secretary of State his preference

“was for us to have a meaningful debate on a motion that was amendable at the outset for the mandate of trade discussions. That would have enabled the House to set the ethical parameters within which we would operate, and then the Government would have gone ahead and carried out the negotiation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/21; col. 811.]

That was the former Secretary of State speaking. This amendment in lieu provides for that; it is a reasonable accommodation between the royal prerogative and parliamentary scrutiny. We in this place have not had the responsibility for scrutiny of trade agreements for over 40 years. They are a new and substantial responsibility, and Parliament must have its say.

The existing CRaG process will continue to apply to treaties that are not international trade agreements, so the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office can be content. But the CRaG structure is insufficient to carry the weight of the trade deals in prospect and the expectations of public and Parliament, so it has to be strengthened. The business managers—I was formerly one of them—are not required to provide time for a debate but Ministers are not able to go ahead and ratify unless such a debate has taken place. As a former leader of the Commons, I think that they too have no grounds to object.

As noble Lords can see, this is not a party issue but a parliamentary issue. I urge my noble friend the Minister to acknowledge this and accept the principles at stake—and give Parliament its say. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees 3:45 pm, 2nd February 2021

Two Members have requested to speak in the Chamber, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I support Motion A1. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on his introduction, because I thought it was very calm, considered and thorough—and, above all, it was reasonable, which is something I care very much about. The Government’s attempt to throw out all our amendments epitomises the problem that we have. This is not a democracy. The Minister is very well respected and extremely honourable, but his speech made me laugh out loud. The Government have enhanced their transparency, he said. In what world have they done that? He was good enough to remind us of the rule that we should not overrule the elected Chamber and so on, and the will of the other place. But let us face it, with an 80-plus majority the Government just decide what is going to happen and stamp on those Members of the other place who choose not to follow the party line. What the Government are trying to do is to limit scrutiny of this.

There was something else—oh yes, the Minister said that this Motion would limit the Government in getting the best deals. Judging by the way in which they have handled the deals that they have done so far, I would argue that they are not very good at getting the best deals anyway. Perhaps they would benefit from your Lordships’ House getting involved in giving scrutiny to their so far abysmal deal-making.

I strongly support this Motion and hope that the Government can see sense about it. It is not a democracy when you have two Chambers but the second Chamber is left not to comment when, let us face it, the other place does not have the time to scrutinise in the same way as your Lordships’ House does. We have the time and the expertise to scrutinise things, and that is what we should be allowed to get on with.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, before I comment on the amendment, I join the growing list of people who are very concerned about the procedures of the House. In the last week, we received a letter from the Clerk of the Parliaments, telling us to stay at home, and we had another missive from the Lord Speaker telling us to stay at home, yet the Procedure Committee insists that we break all the rules that the Government want us to obey to come here to speak on an occasion like this. I hope that the Lord Speaker, when he returns tomorrow after his birthday—and I wish him many happy returns of the day—comes back reinvigorated, with the determination to persuade the chairman of the Procedure Committee to bring the rules up to date, although I know that he himself is not in charge of that committee. It is ludicrous that we are put in this position.

I am very happy to support my noble friend Lord Lansley. Modern trade deals are much more complicated than they used to be and cover huge areas of public policy—areas of concern to all of us. It is a different world from when we used to do trade deals, before we went into the EU. My noble friend the Minister, in typically emollient fashion, put forward a good case, but it was not good enough. He said that it was the first opportunity for the UK to decide its own trade deals for 45 years. Yes, that is true, but it is not the first opportunity for Parliament to have a guaranteed say in what is going on. Surely my noble friend the Minister has absolutely nothing to fear from Parliament. I take a different view from my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I think that the Government’s trade deals are very good, and I am confident that they will get even better, so my noble friend has nothing to fear, if he continues to produce good trade deals.

It is perplexing to many of us that there is no guaranteed vote by the House of Commons on a trade deal, whereas there is for the Parliaments of America, Japan and the European Union. We are portrayed as undemocratic, which is a sadness. This is a great opportunity to enhance the role of Parliament and the House of Commons, and one that ought to be seized with both hands. As I said, my noble friend the Minister has nothing to fear.

My noble friend Lord Lansley has moved considerably to try to meet the Government’s concerns on this issue. He has listened and adapted his amendment and I hope that your Lordships will support him, to give the other place a chance to look at a different amendment and a hugely important one for the way in which our constitution works.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? No—good. That is that “name that Peer” round over, so that is excellent. I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. On this issue we share a great deal of common ground, although on other issues perhaps not, and I agree with his remarks about the procedures on these stages.

It has been a pleasure to work with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who suggested that this was like “Groundhog Day”. That fantastic film had an element of things changing in each of the days that the character relived. If that was the equivalent of the Trade Bill, we would see the incremental changes that make for a happy ending at the end of the movie. If the Government see sense and accept the noble Lord’s wise words, we will see that incremental change with a happy ending, as in “Groundhog Day”.

The noble Lord referenced previous stages, and I quote from a previous stage in Hansard, where it says:

“We talk about taking back control, but Parliament has got to stop giving its decision-making powers away. If we want to be respected in this Parliament, we have to be the ultimate arbiters of the decisions and direction of travel of our country. We can have those powers. I say to the Minister for Trade Policy that we have had these discussions. I hope that the Government will bring forward mechanisms that allow the House to have much greater scrutiny at the outset of a trade negotiation to set those ethical parameters”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/21; col. 812.]

That was not from me, although I have called for similar during previous stages in the Trade Bill. That was from Dr Liam Fox on 19 January, when the Government rejected Lords Amendments 1 and 5 and gave the same reasons for rejecting both. I hope that, as there is growing consensus on this issue, the Government can at least listen to Dr Fox, if not to myself or to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

Dr Fox also said:

“Those who had discussions with me when I was Trade Secretary will know that my preference … was for us to have a meaningful debate on a motion that was amendable at the outset for the mandate of trade discussions. That would have enabled the House to set the ethical parameters within which we would operate, and then the Government would have gone ahead and carried out the negotiation”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/1/21; col. 811.]

That is very interesting to have learned. There has clearly been a position within the Government whereby they look to see how open they are at the stage of setting the parameters or mandates for opening negotiations. So I hope that the noble Lord’s amendment is not that far from a great deal of thinking within the Government, if that had been the position of the Trade Secretary then.

It is not just Dr Fox—yesterday, on the very good and open Zoom meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, hosted on the amendments that we will discuss in the next group, Sir Iain Duncan Smith said that Parliament should give the go ahead on a trade deal. He made it clear that it would not affect the prerogative power. So I think that there is cross-party support in this area, on a greater setting of the mandate. Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Dr Liam Fox and many Members of this House during the passage of this Bill have expressed a belief that it is in the Government’s and our country’s interest, so that these negotiations are stronger.

On the next element of the consultation, I welcome what the Minister said about the new page on GOV.UK on the ministerial forum, which we have debated during previous stages of this Bill. What the Minister mentioned is to be welcomed, but I think that the Government could still, in looking at legislation for international trading agreements, move the same mechanism that they put in place in the internal market Bill for our domestic trading relationships. In that Bill, there was a time-limited period of consultation with the devolved Administrations for regulations for the implementation of trading arrangements. However, I hear what the Minister said, and I hope that aspect is something on which, at this late hour, the Government could still think again.

I turn to the final stage, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to very well, with regard to debating agreements that have been negotiated by the Government. The Government believe that the prerogative power to start, negotiate and conclude trade agreements is a restricted prerogative power. This is the Government’s policy, not mine or anyone else’s, because they support the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. They are not set to amend it. They believe that there is a restriction on the prerogative power. The Minister referred to that restriction in his speech today and in the letter regarding genocide that he sent to noble Lords this afternoon, which says that the Commons are capable of

“effectively acting as a veto” under the power in the CRaG Act. That power is beyond that which exists in other Westminster-style democracies. Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been cited. They do not have this power, so the UK has decided to be different from other Westminster-style democracies. I think the Minister referred to it as a UK proposition. So this is our starting point, not a new position.

The issue then becomes operability—as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, indicated, whether there are loopholes now that we are operating the CRaG Act for trade agreements, which we had never done. When Jack Straw, then Leader of the House of Commons—one of the noble Lord’s predecessors—was introducing that Bill, he indicated that there were separate procedures for EU agreements, so it has never been tested for trade agreements. So how operable is this veto power, as the Government say? Incidentally, I never said that the House of Commons has a “veto power” over trade agreements; I simply asked for a resolution in the Commons for a vote. I have never used that term but this is the Government’s language so I will accept it.

The Minister said that that power operates subject to available time, so how operable is a veto if it is subject to available time? It is not an operable veto if it is up to the business managers to make time available for it. That is clearly a loophole. I think that is an unintended consequence which the noble Lord’s amendment is seeking to resolve. I believe that it would resolve it because his amendment states that if a committee has asked for there to be time it has to be provided and, in effect, the clock cannot be run out on any of the agreements. The mechanism is for the agreement to be debated on a Motion—not a take-note Motion or a neutral Motion, but a Motion on which there can be a Division so that MPs can decide.

It is interesting that from information from the International Agreements Committee and its predecessor committee I have found out how many times trade agreements have been drawn to the attention of the House and are still awaiting debate. It happened on the Japan agreement and we debated it. The Motion was neutral and we took note. On the agreement with the United States on spaceports, no debate has been granted yet. On Norway and the Faeroe Islands on fish, no debate has been granted yet. On Canada and the FTA, no debate has been granted yet. On Singapore, no debate has been granted yet. On Kenya, no debate has been granted yet. There is a bit of a backlog. Given that we debated the International Relations Committee report in Grand Committee yesterday, 18 months after the committee published it, we are justified in considering the mechanism proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to make the CRaG veto operable.

There is one final aspect. As the noble Lord indicated, in extreme and exceptional circumstances Ministers would be able to ratify outwith this situation, which we would fully support because ultimately there may have to be exceptional circumstances.

I want to close on one element which the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, mentioned. He said that there was a further parliamentary power, which was, in effect, not to bring forward implementing legislation for an agreement the Government had signed. If our amendment had given an indication that we would block legislation implementing an agreement that a British Government had signed in the international arena, it would be scandalous that we would seek to use that as a mechanism. None of us wish to be in that situation. I hope that the cross-party consensus is that there is a greater voice for Parliament at the outset, that during negotiations there is greater input, that once those agreements have been reached we guarantee time, and that ultimately the House of Commons, as the elected Chamber, is able to form a view. I hope that this House sends a signal that we ask the House of Commons to consider this very carefully.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Labour 4:00 pm, 2nd February 2021

My Lords, first, we are sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, is not able to be present for the debate, but we know that he is following his Government’s rules by self-isolating.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for introducing the amendment, which, as he very kindly said, is the result of discussions and debates among Members of the House from all sides, but most closely with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who has just spoken, and me, in order to try to reach out to the Government with a corporate approach which is not party political but tries to reflect what this House has a responsibility for, which is to ensure that we have good governance.

We have moved considerably if we consider our starting position, which was set out in the Bill that left your Lordships’ House in March 2019, as has already been said. It had a detailed and lengthy description of the sorts of processes which could underpin the approval of international trade agreements. It was done largely in a vacuum because the Government decided not to play. They had published a Command Paper but they were not interested in detailed discussions at that stage. It was very much a product of a “What if?” mentality in the sense of putting to the other place a proposal which we confidently expected to come back and on which we hoped there would then be discussions, which have indeed transpired, albeit at a year’s distance from that time.

I want to put on record that we recognise that the Government, particularly under the Minister, have moved, but I point out that it has been mainly on the practicalities of scrutiny, not on the principles, and this amendment before your Lordships’ House today is about the principles that should underpin the approval of trade deals on behalf of the United Kingdom. The changes that have been made constitute primarily a huge increase in the information provided to the committee set up to look at trade deals, and the engagement there seems to be going well. We took the view that since that was a work in progress it probably needs more time to bed down. It certainly needs more time in discussion with Ministers and the Government about exactly what information is going to be provided and how it is going to be disseminated and discussed. It was probably not appropriate to seek primary legislation at this stage, but we do not rule out the idea that it is something that should be codified properly as we go forward.

Again for the record, it is important to say that we have agreed, perhaps reluctantly, to accept the Government’s red lines in relation to any constitutional changes that might be envisaged in relation to trade deals. We are not challenging the Government’s power to initiate and carry on their trade negotiations under the royal prerogative. Many would argue that that is outdated and should be changed and that Parliament should have a role in that, but we have not chosen to engage with that at this stage. We are not challenging the relationship between international trade agreements and the CRaG Act 2010. Again, the point has been made very well already that it does not seem fit for purpose, but in the meantime it is the mechanism we have. The changes proposed in our amendment are appropriate for where we want to go. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, just talked about that and I agree with what he said. As I have said already, we will leave the committees to work through the procedures and processes to cover all the elements of a trade deal because there are many different styles of trade deal, many of which have not yet surfaced in terms of scrutiny, and we need to learn lessons from that. Time will tell, but in the interests of making progress we have framed an amendment within the Government’s red lines.

We are not the elected Chamber but, as I have said already, we have a responsibility to look at the constitutional proprieties. I am very confident that this proposal before your Lordships’ House, while I recognise that it is a major shift from where we started in 2019 and earlier on in the progress of this Bill, is an appropriate way of carrying on the dialogue with the other place in the hope of persuading them that there are issues here.

The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, did an excellent job of summarising the amendment in lieu, but I want to put on record again that this is not just something that has been dreamed up by a few of us in the confines of your Lordships’ House. Everybody in your Lordships’ House knows that there is an outside group of people—many organisations, individuals and companies—who would like to see a change in the way in which the scrutiny of trade deals is carried out. They want open and transparent procedures and they want scrutiny to apply to all our trade policy—not just the rollover deals, but for the future as well. They include, as has already been mentioned, the former Secretary of State Liam Fox, and indeed—not that much reference has been made to it—there was a very powerful speech in Committee in your Lordships’ House by the former Trade Minister the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead. They both urged the Government to seek a way forward by engaging with the proposals before your Lordships’ House today.

I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, for their comments. They were very supportive, and I think they take exactly the tone that we want. This is a reasonable, measured and appropriate proposal which builds on the work that has been done in committees and gives Parliament its appropriate place. Parliament needs to have its say. What on earth are the Government afraid of? In closing, I just want to say that we do not regard this conversation as being closed. Should your Lordships’ House agree with this proposal today, we will be very happy to engage in further discussions with the Government, because we are not far apart on this.

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, I would like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. I have listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Lansley displaying his normal forensic skills and to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and his references to Dr Liam Fox. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, who I think courteously acknowledged the progress we have made in scrutiny, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. At least I made the noble Baroness laugh out loud, even if she does not think much of our negotiating skills. I have to say I think that was rather unfair to the officials who have been conducting the negotiations. Last, but certainly not least, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, displayed his normal wisdom.

As I mentioned, the Government have significantly strengthened the scrutiny and transparency arrangements in place. I fully acknowledge the pressure from noble Lords which led us to do that. I am sure that, over time as we consider more free trade agreements, there will be a continued strengthening of scrutiny and transparency. I am very pleased that the Government have undertaken to publish objectives and scoping assessments at the outset of negotiations for new free trade agreements with Japan, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and in due course—if the admissions process triggered by my right honourable friend the Trade Secretary is successful—the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Additionally, the Government will continue to keep Parliament and the public informed of progress on these negotiations through the publication of “round reports” as we call them, alongside regular briefings for parliamentarians so that they are kept informed and can ask questions of Ministers. I confirm that the Government will continue to work with the International Trade Committee and the International Agreements Committee to ensure that they have treaty text and other related documents or reports, on a confidential basis, a reasonable time prior to them being laid or deposited in Parliament under the CRaG procedure.

I would respectfully remind this House that your Lordships’ Constitution Committee recommended in its 2019 report Parliamentary Scrutiny of Treaties that

“existing parliamentary mechanisms, supplemented by the work of the proposed treaty committee, should be sufficient to provide effective scrutiny” and that mandates for treaties should not be subject to parliamentary approval. Now we are not talking about a report that I am dredging up from the long-distant past. This was a report as recently as 2019. On the first point, as I have just set out, we have comprehensive engagement with the relevant Select Committees and, on the second point, we do respect the recommendations of the Constitution Committee, and the Government have ensured that comprehensive information is published ahead of negotiations, including our negotiating objectives and the initial scoping assessment—and I say yet again that of course we will be continuing to do this.

When a signed text is laid in Parliament, it will be accompanied by an Explanatory Memorandum. The Government will publish an independently scrutinised impact assessment covering the economic and environmental impacts of the deal, which I know are so important to noble Lords. Parliament will then have 21 sitting days to scrutinise the deal. Should the International Trade Committee or the International Agreements Committee recommend a debate on the deal, the Government will seek to accommodate such a request, subject to parliamentary time. Personally, I would find it disappointing if parliamentary time was not found for these debates.

It is also important to restate that it is not “one size fits all” in relation to the scrutiny of FTAs. All countries must tailor their processes to their own constitutional systems. The UK has done that as well, and our scrutiny arrangements are as strong as—and I do believe in several areas stronger than—those of comparable western- style democracies. I will also come back to the fact that Parliament already has the ability to veto the implementation of any FTA that the Government sign.

The other place has considered scrutiny amendments during the course of this Bill and its predecessor, and it has been consistent in its view that such amendments are not appropriate for this legislation. So, in light of the views expressed by the other place, and of the steps the Government have already taken, I ask that this House does not insist on this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:15 pm, 2nd February 2021

My Lords, I see that there have been no requests to ask a question of the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, which illustrated the issues well. I am grateful in particular to my noble friend Lord Caithness and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for their support.

The noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Purvis, and I have worked together. We are not insisting on the previous amendment sent. I want to be clear that we are looking for a reasonable compromise, but one which gives Parliament its say.

I make no criticism of the way in which the Government have gone about the processes of scrutiny and partnership with both Houses in relation to the continuity agreements, but we are about to enter the process of negotiating wholly new deals. That brings one forcibly to the question: should the Government enter negotiations with the confidence that at least the House of Commons has approved the negotiating objectives? On that, the quoted remarks of the former Secretary of State, who launched the previous Trade Bill four years ago, are relevant—he did not vote for Amendment 1 in the other place because there were other parts of it he did not agree with—so I think we can find a compromise that recognises that there is a democratic deficit which is best met by giving the two Houses a debate but, certainly, by giving a role in approving negotiating objectives to the elected House. That would strengthen the negotiating hand of government rather than bind it.

My noble friend Lord Grimstone was clear about all the ways in which the Government will work with the House, but by at one point saying “personally” I think he recognised the loophole that exists; namely, that if Ministers want to ratify a treaty without scrutiny and debate in the House, they can do it by laying a Statement under Section 22 of CRaG. If, however, they do not want to do that explicitly, they can allow 21 days to pass without a debate and ratify anyway. There is nothing in CRaG to stop them doing so. The purpose of this amendment is simply to close that loophole. If the International Agreements Committee in this House, of which I am privileged to be a member, or the International Trade Committee in the other place were to seek a debate, this amendment would provide that Ministers could not ratify the treaty prior to such a debate. If Ministers agree that there is such a loophole, I am afraid to say that they should agree with the amendment. Disagreeing with the amendment and leaving the loophole open simply affords the possibility for mischief at some point in the future—maybe not by this Government but by another Government at another time.

The need for the other place to have an opportunity to look at this issue on the basis of a new, more restricted amendment on which we can reach a reasonable compromise gives us a basis for asking the other place to think again. I therefore seek to test the opinion of the House on Motion A1.

Ayes 304, Noes 260.

Division number 2 Trade Bill - Commons Amendments — Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Aye: 304 Members of the House of Lords

No: 260 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Motion A1

Motion A1 agreed.