Motion A

Trade Bill - Commons Reason – in the House of Lords at 2:01 pm on 23rd March 2021.

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Lord Grimstone of Boscobel:

Moved by Lord Grimstone of Boscobel

That this House do not insist on its disagreement with Commons Amendments 3C and 3D, on which the Commons have insisted for their Reason 3F, and do not insist on its Amendment 3E in lieu, to which the Commons have disagreed for the same Reason.

3F: Because Amendments 3C and 3D make appropriate provision for taking reports of genocide into account during parliamentary scrutiny of trade agreements, and because Amendment 3E would impose a charge on public funds; and the Commons do not offer any further Reason in respect of Amendment 3E, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

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, with this possibly—perhaps hopefully—being the final debate on the Bill, I will take the chance to say a few words before responding substantively to the amendments before us today. I hope that noble Lords agree that the overall tenor of the debates in this House and the other place has been positive. There will always be disagreements and different opinions on policy; that is the nature of politics. However, I believe that we have worked constructively and made this Bill into a commendable piece of legislation that reflects the will of Parliament.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He has been a force of nature over the past few months and shown us how determined advocacy can lead to real change. Again, while there are certainly disagreements about how best we should look to approach human rights around the world and in trade, he has brought to the fore an incredibly important issue, and we are all the better for that fact.

I turn now to Commons Amendments 3C and 3D. The Government have moved in response to noble Lords’ concerns and supported the process and approach set out in the amendment from the chair of the Commons Justice Select Committee, which passed in the other place again yesterday. The Government continue to support that amendment as a reasonable and meaningful compromise on this difficult issue; today, I ask noble Lords to do likewise. The Government agree whole- heartedly with the principle behind this amendment: that we must have robust and searching parliamentary scrutiny of proposed trade agreements, especially where there are credible reports of genocide in a prospective partner country. This amendment delivers on that principle by ensuring that the Government must put their position on record, in writing, in response to a Select Committee publication identifying such credible reports. The committee can then insist on a parliamentary debate if it is not satisfied with this response, and the Government will be obliged to make time for such a debate.

The amendment also gives to the responsible committee for the elected House the authority to draft the Motion for debate. This is a substantive concession. In light of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I can confirm that the Government expect that its production of a report and the scheduling of any subsequent debate would be undertaken swiftly and within agreed timetables. This approach allows us to ensure that Parliament is in the driving seat on this issue, and that it can hold the Government to account for their trade policy, debating the issues openly in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. It does this while respecting the Government’s long-standing policy that it is for competent courts to make determinations of genocide.

The other place yesterday debated the issue of legal expertise and how parliamentarians who have previously held high judicial office might be involved in deliberations over credible reports of genocide. While this proposal was disagreed to in the elected House for reasons of financial privilege, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the remarks made by the Minister of State for Trade Policy at the Dispatch Box. He made it clear that the Government are willing to work with Parliament to develop an approach that draws on judicial expertise, if that is indeed Parliament’s express wish. I repeat that undertaking in your Lordships’ House today. Implementing such an approach could be readily achieved through Standing Orders and we would support this.

Of course, it is ultimately up to Parliament how it wishes to organise its own affairs. It is possible, for instance, for the membership of a new Joint Committee to be made up of members of Select Committees from both this House and the other place. It would be possible for such a committee to be chaired by a former senior member of the judiciary drawn from the Cross Benches and, with the agreement of the usual channels, to appoint additional members with relevant expertise to this Joint Committee. The precise details remain to be worked out but the Government are supportive of working with Parliament on this issue within the bounds of the procedure agreed to—for the second time, I have to say—in the other place yesterday. I beg to move.