Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A)

Trade Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 23rd February 2021.

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Lord Lansley:

Moved by Lord Lansley

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

1D: 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 a motion endorsing the draft negotiating objectives has been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.(3) The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 is amended as follows.(4) In section 21 (extension of 21-day 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 Motion A1 would insert Amendment 1D in lieu—it is on page 4 of the Marshalled List—which would do two things. It would require a debate on draft negotiating objectives in relation to future international trade negotiations where such a debate has been requested, and that Ministers would not be able to proceed with negotiations until such a debate had taken place. It would also require that where a relevant committee of either House seeks a debate under CRaG within the 21-day period, that period should be extended until the debate has taken place.

Noble Lords will recall that on two previous occasions this House sent amendments requiring additional parliamentary scrutiny to the other place. On each occasion, they were supported on a cross-party basis. I am very grateful for the support that I have received from all sides of this House for this purpose. In the other place, 11 Conservatives supported the amendment on the first occasion, while 13 supported it on the second occasion, and although they did not vote for it, both Liam Fox, the former Secretary of State for International Trade, and Jeremy Wright, the former Attorney-General, expressed support in particular for the proposition that there should be a debate on the negotiating objectives at the commencement of plans for an international trade agreement.

In preparing the amendment in lieu, we intended to narrow down simply to those two points, leaving out—not because they are not important but because we believe that the Government have already given assurances on this—first, that the Government would publish in their Explanatory Memoranda under CRaG details of the legislative implementation of any agreement and, secondly, that in the negotiating objectives they would consult with the devolved Administrations. Given those two issues, let me say how much I appreciate the support that I have received in this House and the constructive and helpful conversations that I have had with the Minister and the Bill team. I appreciate the positive way in which they responded.

Noble Lords will have heard the Minister say two things that are, from my point of view, of great importance: first, that where the International Agreements Committee, of which I have the privilege to be a member, makes a report on the Government’s draft negotiating objective for an agreement, the Government will facilitate such a debate; and secondly, that where a debate has been requested under CRaG within the 21-day period, Ministers will not ratify such an agreement until such time as the debate has taken place. In both respects—speaking as a former leader of the House of Commons, I should say that the Minister has, quite properly, reserved the position of the business managers—these things would happen only when parliamentary time allowed.

These assurances go a long way to meeting what we have been asking for. They are not technically everything that we are asking for. There remains a significant loop- hole: if a debate under CRaG takes place after the 21-day period has expired and Ministers have not sought an extension to that period, which they can do, then, strictly speaking, even if the other place passed a Motion that ratification should be delayed, there would be nothing legally to stop Ministers proceeding to ratification or, indeed, ratifying it before the debate took place.

Given what the Minister has said, I think we have moved to a happy position where, if I can put it in the context of this House, we have moved from what has been up to now, particularly where CRaG is concerned, conventional—that is that Ministers should not ratify until a debate has taken place and should legislate for implementation before ratification—to what I might think of as a rule. It is not in statute but, in the same way that the Ponsonby rule existed for quite a long time before the CRaG legislation was passed, we have now acquired—if he will forgive me—the Grimstone rule for debate on negotiating objectives and for ratification not to take place before a debate has taken place under CRaG where requested. So I am most grateful to my noble friend. I am especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, particularly because a debate on the negotiating objectives was in his original Amendment 1, which was sent to the other place with the Bill when it left this House in the first place. I hope that he and other noble Lords will join me in expressing satisfaction at the outcome that has been achieved.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has indicated that she wishes to speak in the gap prior to the rest of the listed speakers.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 1:45 pm, 23rd February 2021

I had not realised that there would be so few speakers in this debate; I would have written a much longer speech.

I try not to be rude when I speak in your Lordships’ House but sometimes it is incredibly difficult. I find it incredibly difficult to understand how the Minister kept a straight face while reading out those first couple of paragraphs about how the other place has rejected all our amendments and so on. It has not. The Government have let power go to their head. They have an 80-plus majority and think that they can just boot out everything that they do not like. I am afraid that that is just not true. We have spent four years working on this Trade Bill. For four years, we have been negotiating with Ministers and trying to make the Bill better, and it has been scrapped each time. Now it has come back and I am afraid that we are digging in our little pink trotters on some aspects. Telling us that it has been rejected endlessly by the other place does not wash.

I will go back to my speech now. Quite honestly, it is our responsibility to reject legislation that is inadequate or unlawful. That is our job. The Government expect us just to back down all the time because of the electoral majority but that will not happen. To think that you can bring a Trade Bill here with a sort of take-it-or-leave-it deal is neither believable nor credible. We should pass this amendment. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on moving it and believe that the Government should not oppose it in the Commons.

Photo of Lord Alderdice Lord Alderdice Deputy Chairman of Committees

Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? No? We will move on to the listed speakers. I call 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, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for moving this amendment and allowing us to debate this issue. I will turn to that in a moment.

When the noble Baroness was speaking, I reflected on the constitution arrangements that we have. I think that she and I both favour change in our constitution to change the mechanism of appointment to this place and make it a fully democratic House. Nevertheless, in his remarks the Minister referred to having trade scrutiny and decision-making that is appropriate to our constitutional arrangements. Our constitutional arrangements say that this is a revising Chamber, and we are doing our duty in asking the Government to think again. When the House has voted by large majorities on every occasion that it has debated scrutiny amendments in either my name or that of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, it has made its view plain. It is therefore incumbent on the Government to reflect on that, not simply to exercise the Whip.

One of the votes that the Minister referred to tested this point slightly. Last time round, the other place was not asked to have a separate vote on these amendments because, in the way that they scheduled all this, the Government bundled them all into one. Members of the Commons with a particular view on scrutiny, human rights, genocide or anything else were asked to support or oppose the Whip in one particular vote. I do not think that that reflects very well on the way in which the Government have approached the Trade Bill and these stages.

However, as people more famous than me have said, we are where we are. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for his work on getting us to this position. I have enjoyed working with him, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and others. It has genuinely been cross-party work. I also share the thanks expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to Jonathan Djanogly and others in the House of Commons for their work. In many respects, they have been courageous. Consistently voting or making a case against one’s own Government is a courageous thing in politics, but they are doing it out of a great sense of sincerity that going forward trade agreements for the UK are now deep and comprehensive by definition and touch on very wide aspects across public policy and regulation and therefore for parliamentary scrutiny to be effective, it should inform debate, and if accountability is to be operable, that debate should lead to votes. Ultimately, that is the approach about which we have sought to persuade the Government.

There have been indications of the Government being more flexible in certain areas. This is an interesting Bill which, as the noble Baroness said, has taken so long. A White Paper about trade policy appeared and disappeared mid-Bill; there has been no successor to it. The words of the Minister today are helpful and we now have the Grimstone rule, which is that ratification of a new trade agreement will not take place without a debate. That is important. It is not as much as I wanted or as much as the Government were going to give us at the start of this process, many years ago, but this is the third Minister who has handled this Bill and it is third time lucky, as far as the commitment that we will at least be able to vote on the agreements coming up.

There had been a rule for treaty ratification called the Ponsonby rule. It was replaced by statutory provision, because we were not satisfied that simply a ministerial rule, commitment or convention would be appropriate. While we may be putting this issue to bed in this Bill, at this moment, the issue has not been put to bed. Other Bills in the future will do as we did with the Ponsonby rule, which was to put it on a statutory footing. We will have to live with the Grimstone rule for the moment. It is perhaps, shall we say, a tweaking of the Government’s position. Nevertheless we accept it for the moment, as the House was clear, in all its votes, that more scrutiny, accountability and debating are required. I assure the Minister that we will come back to this at other times.

Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Labour

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments and the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for moving his Motion 1D on a cross-party basis. I put on record, as he did, how enjoyable it was to work with him, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and Commons colleagues of all persuasions to see whether we could progress this important issue. Although I have some sympathy with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I agree with the Minister and others who have spoken that the speeches we have heard draw discussions on the parliamentary scrutiny of international trade deals to a close, for the moment. This issue will not go away, although I believe that the Grimstone rule—if that is what we are to call it—will help us to work through a process to consider trade agreements in the future. That is for the good.

I will make three small points. First, it is difficult to make constitutional change. Anybody who has operated in either House of Parliament knows that to be the case. It should be hard—and it is right that it is—but it is sometimes frustrating if the pace of change does not match some of the aspirations and recognise some of the wrongs committed. As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, although we have not managed to set in statute that which a significant majority in this House, across all parties, would have liked, we have agreed a way of working with the Government for the future—the Grimstone rule—that strikes a workable balance between the rights and responsibilities of the Executive and those of Parliament. Time will tell. We are in the right place and no doubt will benefit from the experience to be gained in the next few years, but we should record that progress has been made.

Secondly, one key turning point to have emerged from the discussions is the need to ensure that we have a process, in any future agreement that we might make, which properly engages the devolved Administrations and civil society—and on a sensible timescale. I will come back to that. This Parliament will now need, in the way that it works, to address four major points in any future statutory system, although they will be covered by the Grimstone rule: approval of the initial objectives, review of the progress of negotiations, considerations of the final proposed agreement including changes to existing statutory provisions, and parliamentary approval of the deal and any subsequent changes to legislation that may be required. We have analysed that to the nth degree in our discussions during the last four years; now we have a model for how it can work. If there is good will on both sides, as I think there is, we should let that run for a while before returning to it.

My third point, on which I will end, is that in these debates over the last four years we have made it clear that UK trade policy and the trade deals that will be the basis of our future activity and prosperity are important. They deserve the sort of focus and interest envisaged under the protocols described as the Grimstone rule. We can be confident that, with the work of the Select Committees in the Commons and the International Agreements Committee in the Lords complementing the interests of a range of other bodies, including devolved Administrations and civil society, that debate will continue to be an important aspect of our public policy.

Finally, although we have gone as far as we can on this today, we will keep a close eye on it and look forward to resolving outstanding issues in the not- too-distant future. We have worked closely with the Government and with successive Ministers. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Fairhead, and the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, for their engagement since 2017. We have built a coalition of interest across parties in this and in the other House, which has been rewarding, positive and a model for how issues of this nature can be resolved in the public interest.

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 first unreservedly apologise if noble Lords thought that I was, in any way, disparaging the role of this House and the valuable work that it has done on scrutiny, by referring to the votes in the other place. Nothing could have been further from my thoughts, and I hope that noble Lords will accept that.

This has been a good debate and reflects the calibre of discussions that we have repeatedly had on the important issue of scrutiny. The Government have listened to the concerns expressed on this issue and we have moved significantly to set out enhanced transparency and scrutiny arrangements for free trade agreements. This has come almost entirely because of the quality of the debates and the points that have been put by Members of our House.

What have we done? It includes committing to allow time for the relevant Select Committees to report on a concluded FTA before the start of the CRaG process; strengthening the commitments, as I said earlier, which were set out before this debate in a Written Ministerial Statement; and placing the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing and ensuring that it is required to transparently provide independent advice to the Government on whether new FTAs maintain statutory protections in key areas, such as animal welfare and the environment. In addition, the Government have moved on other linked areas such as standards, which we will come to later.

While this is the last time, I hope, that we debate this issue in this Bill, scrutiny is an issue that we will return to when we debate the implementing legislation for future FTAs. The EU model of trade agreement scrutiny evolved over our 50-year membership. I assure noble Lords that we have no intention of taking that long but now, in only month two after the transition period, I urge your Lordships’ House to see the current arrangements as an evolution of our trade treaty scrutiny practices—no doubt an evolution that has further to go. As we find our feet as an independent trading nation, working with parliamentarians in both Houses, I am sure that we will continue to build upon our scrutiny processes, in ensuring that they remain fit for purpose.

As a concluding comment, I would be covered in embarrassment to think that my small contribution to this debate has led to a rule being named after me.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and to other colleagues who have spoken in this short debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, good will has characterised these debates, and it can be sustained—even in the case of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. It was never with ill will; it was controversial sometimes, but always well meant.

From my point of view, with good will, and the application of the Grimstone rule—he cannot get away from it now—I welcome the specific additions today that the Government will facilitate a debate where requested on draft negotiating objectives, subject to parliamentary time, and that the Government cannot envisage the circumstances in which they would ratify an international trade agreement when a debate requested by the relevant committee in either House had not yet taken place.

These are important additions to what I think we all agree are substantive and helpful arrangements that we have already seen in practice with the Japan agreement. But, as we move from what are essentially continuity agreements to new trade deals, it was important for us to establish that in this legislation, and I hope that we have done so. With good will, that will serve us well. If it does not, as the noble Lords, Lord Purvis of Tweed and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, quite rightly pointed out, there will be further legislation related to the free trade agreements to be implemented and we will return to that if these rules are not adhered to —but I hope that they will be. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw Motion A1 in my name.

Motion A1 (as an amendment to Motion A) withdrawn.

Motion A agreed.