Electronic Trade Documents Bill [HL] - Third Reading – in the House of Lords at 3:49 pm on 22 March 2023.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay:

Moved by Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay

That the Bill do now pass.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I will briefly take this opportunity to thank all noble Lords who have shown an interest in, and support for, this Bill. It was a Law Commission Bill, scrutinised through the Special Public Bill process, so I thank in particular the noble Lords who sat on the Special Public Bill Committee which examined it. It was chaired most ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and benefited from the membership of the noble Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Davies of Brixton, and my noble friends Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Lindsay and Lord Harlech. Our work was admirably assisted by our clerk, George Webber. I thank him and all those who gave evidence to the Committee.

Apart from the minor changes made to apply this critical legislation to the whole of the UK, the Bill before your Lordships remains the work of the Law Commission, so I record my thanks to Professor Sarah Green and her colleagues at the commission, Laura Burgoyne, Daniella Lupini and Siobhan McKeering, for their diligent work. I also thank Oliver Tones, the Bill manager, and Bobby Lawson, his deputy, along with the Committee’s government lawyers who have contributed to this, specifically Simon Brandon, Louise Dennison and Chris Callan, as well as Nausheen Khan from my private office.

This Bill has global transformational potential and will place the United Kingdom at the forefront of international trade as a thought leader for others to follow. One witness who appeared before the Special Public Bill Committee, when asked what, if anything, he would change about it, said:

“The only thing that I miss is the change from the word ‘Bill’ to the word ‘Act’.”

I hope that that change can be brought about swiftly. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee), Chair, Consolidation, &c., Bills (Joint Committee)

My Lords, may I add one word of thanks to the Minister and all the members of the Committee? I am afraid they had to work quite hard learning something that I had the disadvantage, probably, of having done for more than 50 years. The House also ought to thank so many from the industry, academia and the court who gave evidence to us because we scrutinised the work of the Law Commission to make certain that the Bill would meet the demands of international trade and, particularly, the convention produced by UNCITRAL to which this Bill gives effect. I thank all the members of the Committee again.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology)

My Lords, I add my thanks to those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. I certainly learned a great deal about the Law Commission process for scrutinising Bills, and a lot of that was due to the fact that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, was an expert and wise chair of our Committee. Great thanks are due to him and to the Minister. It is rather unusual to have a Minister sitting in on the Committee, but he was very welcome nevertheless, along with the noble Lord, Lord Harlech. I also thank the other members of the Committee who kicked the tyres very effectively on the Bill. Of course, I particularly thank Professor Sarah Green and the Law Commission.

The whole purpose of the Bill is to make digital trade a reality. We sometimes think that our job is done when a Bill goes through and we can think about something else, but it is important that progress is made on the single trade window which will result from this Bill. Can the Minister tell us when the first phase of the single trade window might happen? Will it happen in November 2023? After all, it is a very important part of what we should expect. It is quite complex. It is described as a multi-department programme, which probably sends quivers down the spines in Whitehall. It would be very good to hear that the Bill is going to come into effect very quickly and will lead in the very short term to greater digital trade, but it is a very good Bill and we have scrutinised it pretty effectively.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Net Zero), Shadow Spokesperson (Science, Innovation and Technology), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, it falls to me to add my general congratulations to the Minister, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his work on this, to the Bill team and the advisers who were behind them and, in particular, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, to Professor Sarah Green, who led the way in the evidence and cleared a great pathway for us. The Law Commission should be congratulated on constructing this legislation to which none of us wanted to effect an amendment, and we succeeded in that through many hours of deliberation and consideration, so that is something to be proud of in itself.

I want to add to a point the noble Lord, Lord Clement- Jones, usefully began. Many Bills meander their way through Parliament and disappear, sinking without a trace. I suspect this Bill might do that as well, but it does not deserve to. This is a really important piece of legislation which we should not just be proud of but make something of. Some estimates suggest we can save something like 50% in costs by moving to forms of electronic trade. That is not to be sniffed at in an intensely competitive international trading world. This piece of legislation, which puts us in the lead on electronic trade, is something we should celebrate.

I raised in Committee with the Minister that we should ensure we have a strategy which means that this Bill gets the opportunity to do what it says it is about: facilitating electronic trading. I asked the Minister about this when we were in Committee. He said:

“Following the Bill being passed, many of the precise steps taken to implement and fully harness the benefits of the Bill will be for business and industry to determine.”

That is fine, but we need a clear pathway and strategy from the Government for us to be able as a trading nation to reap the benefits of this legislation. I would like to hear from the Minister—it is something I am sure the House will want to come back to at some point—what that strategy might look like. He later said that there is

“a role for government to play”,—[HL] Special Public Bill Committee, 20/2/23; col. 17.]">Official Report, Electronic Trade Documents Bill [HL] Special Public Bill Committee, 20/2/23; col. 17.] which is the case. However, we and Singapore are the only two trading nations with the benefit of this legislation in prospect.

I congratulate the Government on bringing this forward. It is a fine piece of legislation. It may not be controversial, but it is potentially of great value. I hope this Government can aspire to give this piece of legislation the value it deserves.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport)

I am very grateful to the noble Lords, who have given the rest of your Lordships’ House a brief snapshot of the good scrutiny the Bill received through the Special Public Bill Committee. It may be unamended, but it is certainly not unscrutinised. I am very grateful to all the other members of the Committee for the work that they did and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, rightly said, to all the academic experts, those from the legal profession and, crucially, from the industries which stand to benefit the most and came to give evidence before the Committee. All of that was much appreciated.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, asked about the single trade window. It falls to colleagues at His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. If I may, I will direct the question to them and furnish him with an answer on the single trade window. Both noble Lords are right that there is work to be done across government. Colleagues at the Department for Business and Trade and at the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology will take the Bill forward in another place.

As noble Lords have heard me say before, through our presidency of the G7 recently and our role jointly chairing the Commonwealth digital connectivity cluster, we are in international fora encouraging other jurisdictions to follow our lead in this area to align with the model law and avail themselves of these opportunities. They are significant for industry in terms of the simplification and speeding up of trade, the environmental impact and resilience when it comes to unforeseen things such as the pandemic, which brought into relief the importance of this Bill.

This Bill is facilitative, but it will put the UK ahead not only of the G7 countries but almost the whole world. I am very proud that we are setting the approach which other jurisdictions will seek to follow. With gratitude to noble Lords who have scrutinised the Bill in your Lordships’ House, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.