Amendment 5

Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 16 January 2024.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool:

Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool

5: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—“Report: accession of the People’s Republic of China to the CPTPP(1) Before any decision is made by the Government of the United Kingdom on the accession of the People’s Republic of China to the CPTPP under Chapter 30 of the CPTPP, the Secretary of State must publish a report assessing the impact of China’s accession on the United Kingdom.(2) Both Houses of Parliament must be presented with a motion for resolution on the report under subsection (1).”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment seeks to allow for parliamentary scrutiny of the prospective accession of the People’s Republic of China to the CPTPP - the Government of which has already applied to join, and whose application is to be considered. Scrutiny of future accessions is not provided for in the bill or through the CRaG process.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships’ House for giving me the opportunity to address this issue again. It is an amendment which I laid before Committee, and it was very ably moved there by the noble Lord, Lord Leong. I was grateful to him for doing that. I also thank the Minister, who was good enough to have a meeting with me only last week to discuss the terms of the amendment to see if any agreement could be reached. I should also express my thanks to the co-sponsors of what is an all-party amendment: the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, who is on his way from Cumbria but hopes to be here before the conclusion of the debate; we shall see. I also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that this is something that the Greens support, and I see that a letter has been sent to Conservative colleagues today by the former leader of the Conservative Party Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP. He says that the amendment remedies the problem in a proportionate way that goes with the grain of government policy.

What is the problem that we are trying to solve? That is what I want to address. When the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Purvis, made excellent interventions from their respective Front Benches in Committee, they underlined the need for parliamentary scrutiny. That is what this amendment is all about. It is straightforward and non-binding on the Government, but it enables both Houses of Parliament to debate, vote and give their advice on an issue of considerable importance involving geopolitics, strategic dependency and national security.

For the purpose of transparency, I should refer to my non-financial interest in the register that I have been sanctioned by the People’s Republic of China, along with six other parliamentarians, including the current Security Minister, a former leader of the Conservative Party, and a current Minister from the department of the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, Nusrat Ghani MP. Of course, in your Lordships’ House, my colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has been sanctioned too. In my case, it was for speaking out against the Uighur genocide, the use of Uighur slave labour in Xinjiang, the destruction of Hong Kong’s democracy and the incarceration of more than 1,700 pro-democracy supporters, including the British citizen and businessman Jimmy Lai, a case that I raised earlier today with the Foreign Secretary. Therefore, I guess that I am not agnostic about the PRC and its mendacity.

As I indicated in a recent debate, I believe that our parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, reflecting the work of this House’s own International Relations and Defence Select Committee and the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, was right to warn us of the dangers posed by the People’s Republic of China. In truth, the Government have still not resolved the problem of what the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, calls “cakeism”. He used that word in evidence to our International Relations and Defence Select Committee. What he meant by that was that we wanted to deepen our trade links—something that the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, pursues with great alacrity—but simultaneously we want to identify the threats and challenges to our security, including infiltration and subversion of institutions, even CCP spies operating across Parliament. This amendment would provide parliamentarians with the opportunity to probe whether the Government have acted with due regard to questions of national security and our long-term interests.

To be clear, as an admirer of Richard Cobden, I believe in free trade. It is generally a force for good but, as Cobden himself noted in his opposition to both the slave trade and the opium trade, it is not to be practised without regard to other considerations. His outstanding opposition to the moneyed interests that profiteered from the misery of the iniquitous opium trade led to a major debate in Parliament in the 19th century. It lasted for several days. With the combined efforts across the House at that time of the young Disraeli and Gladstone, it led to a parliamentary victory that upended government support for the trade. Given the long-term consequences of the opium trade for the UK’s standing in China and the Far East, it is a pity that they were not listened to earlier.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I support the principles that underpin the CPTPP, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, and I support the Bill. But, as a parliamentarian, I believe we have a right to be heard on the subject of the accession of the PRC to the CPTPP. This is not merely hypothetical. The People’s Republic of China applied to join in 2021 and is the next country in line. It is not possible, as the noble Lord suggested to me when we met, for Parliament be able to vote on this under the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010—CRaG, as it is often known. Regrettably, that process cannot be applied to future accessions to a treaty that has already been entered into and is in force. It was an issue which the House highlighted during the debates on the genocide amendment to the Trade Act.

What other arguments might be deployed against this amendment? First, it specifically applies to China. Yes, because China and the CCP present unique challenges. Let us imagine for a moment that a new golden era dawns and that, instead of threatening Taiwan with an invasion, the PRC decides to emulate it and to introduce the sort of multiparty politics that led to the election of President-elect Lee last Sunday. Let us assume for a moment that Chairman Xi Jinping runs for election in a free and fair election. That certainly would change the situation and would mean that this hypothetical would never have to come into force.

But it is more likely that the PRC will continue to threaten or maybe invade Taiwan, continue to be in breach of the Sino-British treaty guaranteeing Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” democracy and continue to carry out genocide and use Uighur slave labour in Xinjiang. It is uniquely accused by resolution of the House of Commons of perpetrating genocide in Xinjiang, and serious human rights abuses continue to be embedded in PRC supply chains. So China is not a likeminded CPTPP partner. It has made clear its intention to replace the despised liberal, open and rules-based order by authoritarian hegemony. If it is admitted to the CPTPP, it would be the largest economy and the dominant actor and could block the future accession of other democracies. China has the largest economy by a mile. It accounts for 53% of global GDP and 30% of trade.

Secondly, PRC entry would add to dependency and diminished resilience, with the dangers we saw during Covid and the dangers Europe has experienced during the war in Ukraine. Imagine how membership would enable it to withstand sanctions in the event of an invasion of Taiwan. Thirdly, those with vested interests argue that PRC membership would be a driver for economic and political reform in that country. It has not done so so far, and nor would it do so in the future. Believing that is like believing in Alice in Wonderland. China’s membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council has not changed its attitude towards breaches of human rights the world over.

Fourthly, Ministers say that this is hypothetical. The PRC applied to join in 2021 and is next in line to be considered. It has been lobbying hard. Now is the time to make it clear that, although the United Kingdom Parliament may not be able to block accession, we will miss no opportunity to signal and speak about the consequences.

Fifthly, I have already explained why CRaG would not give both Houses a debate and a vote, but, despite the Minister’s protestation that this is an innovation being proposed in this amendment—heaven forbid—that is not entirely the case. Free trade agreements and bilateral agreements are often subject to parliamentary approval. In 2021, in response to the criticism of CRaG, the Grimstone rule, named for the noble Lord’s predecessor, was introduced. It allows for debate when the International Agreements Committee has published a report. This is also an, albeit inadequate, provision based on my amendment to the Trade Act, which would allow for an FTA—a free trade agreement—to be considered where genocide has been alleged.

None of this applies in the case of a plurilateral trade agreement involving a state that is accused of being in breach of the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide. CRaG would not require the Government to produce an impact assessment, nor allow, crucially, as this amendment does, for a parliamentary vote.

The movers are not seeking to change the long-standing United Kingdom policy not to tie the Government’s hands on trade. Whatever one may think about that, it is not what this amendment does. It does not tie the hands of the Government. Hence the amendment is not binding, but it does allow Parliament—this place and another place—to speak and to vote. This is in accord with Article 30.4 of the CPTPP, which says that accession may be subject to

“applicable legal procedures of each Party and acceding State or separate customs territory”.

So this amendment is compatible with the CPTPP. It is compatible with government policy and, indeed, I would argue, with the best traditions of parliamentary scrutiny, oversight and accountability.

Many of us were privileged this morning to be at the memorial service for a late Member of this House, the revered Baroness Boothroyd. I served under Baroness Boothroyd when she was Speaker in another place. She was quoted this morning, in the memorial service, as giving advice to parliamentarians to always stand up for the principle of free speech, whatever the price may be—to always stand up for free speech and ensure that the privileges of parliamentarians are not undermined. This amendment would allow Parliament to speak. It would allow Parliament to vote. It would be in the best traditions of parliamentary scrutiny, oversight and accountability.

We are not alone in thinking that this needs to be addressed. This is what the Japanese Minister of Finance said:

“China ... is far removed from the free, fair and highly transparent world of the CPTPP; the chances that it can join are close to zero”.

Why? Because it disregards labour law. It disregards environmental obligations. It would be unable to meet CPTPP data transfer obligations and standards—a point the noble Lords, Lord McNicol and Lord Purvis, made in Committee. It would certainly block Taiwan’s participation. It will continue to act coercively and against the interests of the free world. Its track record at the United Nations and at the WTO shows that it is derelict in embracing the values of those organisations and the values that this House stands for.

Maybe it is understandable that, 20 years ago when it joined the WTO, we were prepared to give the PRC the benefit of the doubt. But, like the Bourbons, we have learned nothing if we still think we can give it the benefit of the doubt. Today is an opportunity for Parliament to stand up for its rights to be able to speak on these issues, and to be able to vote to do so as well. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour 4:45, 16 January 2024

My Lords, I support this amendment. I should declare a number of matters. One is that I am the director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, and we have taken quite strong positions with regard to China’s abuses of human rights, particularly in recent years with regard to the persecution of the Uighurs and in relation to its behaviour and conduct with regard to Hong Kong and its breach of the Sino- British agreement.

I declare also that I am the chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, which is proud to have among its professors Laura Murphy, an American who lives here in Britain with her husband and who is one of the most well-recognised experts in the field of forced labour.

Professor Murphy’s work on China has been extraordinary. Others in this House who have read it will be aware of the depth of her work and the reliability of her research, which has informed the State Department in the United States and has been used by government departments here. Her work shows that forced labour is part of the problem of contemporary China. It is certainly part of the problem of the abuses of the Uighur people.

I support this amendment. Most of us in this House would agree that we have to avoid any dependence on authoritarian states. It is for that reason that some of us have deep concerns about not having the opportunity in future to scrutinise the ways in which China might be embraced in some of the multilateral—plurilateral—institutions, which it is very assiduously seeking in our contemporary world. The China of today is not the China that joined the World Trade Organization 20 years ago, as described by my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

China is displaying, under the presidency of President Xi, that it is seeking regional hegemony. The belt and road programme has shown the extent to which it has created an indebtedness among many nations which is then reflected in other things. We saw it happening recently in the motion that was placed before the United Nations General Assembly in relation to the crime of aggression committed by Russia with regard to Ukraine. We saw it in the vote that was taken on that issue, with all those countries that are indebted to China and that are in its purview because of the ways in which it has been involved in the building of infrastructure and so on across Africa and other places. I am afraid it is an example of that long arm affecting issues that should concern all of us, such as an illegal war. The extent to which China is seeking to enlarge its hegemony should be a source of concern to all of us.

I am not a hawk with regard to China. I believe that we must continue to have dialogue and that it is fruitful to have dialogue. However, we should be very cautious about being drawn into something which will give opportunities to a nation that is not respectful of that rules-based order which was being discussed earlier today. It is being very inventive and innovative in the breaking of the rules that we thought should apply to all nations.

The arguments have been very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton—the importance of us having the opportunity to debate, scrutinise and raise issues that are not known to everyone, particularly with regard to the abuses of human rights. We like to imagine that engagement can lead to a raising of standards. At the moment that does not seem to be happening with regard to China. We have been seeing it, as was just referred to, in what is happening with the introduction of national security laws and so on that are being used against trading people such as Jimmy Lai, a great entrepreneur himself. So I endorse and adopt the arguments that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

I just mention that in applying to join the CPTPP there can be exceptions allowed and one of them is national security. When I see national security being referred to as a potential reason why there might be some opt-outs for some of the commitments one would expect in any agreement, it worries me because of what we have seen China doing with its national security law that it has been using in Hong Kong.

I adopt the arguments that have been made. I press the House to agree that this is a very sensible amendment. It is not asking very much; it is asking us to do what we normally do, which is to scrutinise and question some of the things that might be being done by our Government.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative 5:00, 16 January 2024

My Lords, I received the email from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, trying to persuade me to support the amendment, and I must say that I am very reluctant to do so. The fact is that all trade agreements are a compromise. That is one reason why there is no veto in Parliament over a trade agreement—you would start to unpick the whole thing if Parliament objected to some aspect of a trade agreement —and there is no reason why we should want to change that now.

The other point is that the real prize for the CPTPP would be not the membership of China but the membership of the United States. It is clear that neither country wants to join at the moment, for particular reasons, but the agreement is going to last a very long time, and there may well come a moment when things change in China and the threat of China joining might well force the United States to join in order to keep China out. So we do not want to tie any Government’s hands on this in any way. We have to bear in mind that if the United States was to join the CPTPP, it really would become a massive trading bloc, and that prize would be well worth achieving.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

My Lords, while I have enormous sympathy with the purpose of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, he has explained perfectly clearly that the CPTPP members would all have to agree not just that China would join the CPTPP but that a negotiation with China would be entered into. The benchmarks against which that would be measured are laid out in an annexe to the CPTPP, and there is a great distance between where China is today and the benchmarks that would have to be met, so I see no immediate process for that.

The terms of the amendment, in creating a different legal process for the accession of one potential applicant economy as compared with any other applicant economy, represent an unwelcome position for us to have taken. It might be construed as unwelcome in other countries as well; it seems to me that it would set a bad precedent. The question that would be put to the Government is what position we should take as to whether a commission should be established to look at an aspirant economy, and the United Kingdom Government could take a position on that. While I join my noble friend in resisting the amendment, it would be helpful if he could say that there was nothing to stop the Government from potentially laying a Statement under CRaG for that purpose and asking the relevant committees to comment on it.

That would not enable Parliament to veto it—indeed, a veto would be unwelcome at that stage because it would be a decision whether or not to enter into a negotiation—but, as in other cases, the Government would be well advised to take full account of what Parliament might say in relation to any such notification and any such report by the International Agreements Committee here and the Business and Trade Committee in the other place. I wonder whether my noble friend might suggest that, if there were such a potential decision to be made by the UK Government, they could go through that process and it would be perfectly reasonable for them to do so.

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Conservative

My Lords, I am sympathetic to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I approach it from a somewhat different angle, on which he himself touched, which is the use of economic tools to gain hegemony geographically. We are talking about the wide area of influence that China already commands, not just in the Indo-Pacific. Already 20% of Chinese goods are destined for CPTPP countries; 50% of them are intermediate products. Of those countries, Malaysia, Vietnam and Mexico have the highest level of imports from China. When we join, that figure will go up because 13% of our imports come from China.

Whatever the outcome of the decision on this amendment, I urge the Government to consider very carefully some arrangement so that there can be collaboration between Parliament and government on the very important business aim of the UK, which is to prevent economic tools being used against UK interests, including those to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and did so very happily. I will comment on a couple of points that have been raised in this short debate and then, without adding to what I said in Committee, highlight the reason why strategic debates about the UK’s trading relationship with China are important.

One of the reasons I was attracted to my party was that the Liberals were part of the founding movement for free trade. At that time, we traded with China and we will trade with China in the future, but this is a debate not about trading with China but about the UK’s resilience and our strategic trade interests. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, made the point that Parliament’s role is not to assess trade negotiations or assess whether China would meet the benchmarks for accession to the CPTPP. His argument was rejected by his noble friend Lord Lansley, who came to the conclusion that China is a long way from meeting the benchmarks. I cannot second-guess what the other members of the CPTPP will say, and nor can we hold them to account, but we can hold our Government to account for the assessments that they make. There will have to be a public process because the difference—I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton—is that China’s accession is less of a negotiation; it is an accession process, which is different from a bilateral FTA process. On that issue of substance, it is quite different.

The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, also said that it would be wrong if we sought, by approving this amendment, somehow to provide a veto or to bind Ministers’ hands. It would not be a veto: there is nothing in the amendment that would allow it to be a veto. I refer also to the comments of his noble friend Lord Lansley, who said that there would be nothing to stop the Government bringing a report anyway. Opposing something that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, suggested was in the Government’s interest to do is a bit of a stretch, but the Government have the ability to present a report, and this amendment says that they should. We have argued consistently for this in the Trade Act and on other trade negotiations.

The reason why China is particularly important, as was alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, is not just the scale of the UK’s trade with China but how resilient we are in relation to it. It is absolutely right that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issue of Taiwan. I have just written to the President-elect, whose DPP is a sister party of ours on these Benches, to congratulate him on a remarkable victory. UK trade interests with Taiwan and shipping coming from that area are of critical importance. It is not just that British consumers enjoy the benefit of buying Chinese products, but we have the biggest trade deficit in goods with one country in our nation’s history. The trade deficit of £40 billion with China comes at a time when the whole narrative of UK government policy is that we would do trade with other countries in Asia, not China, that would offset any theoretical reduction with trade with Europe. We know that is not the case; it has proven harder to replicate the trading arrangements that we had with our European partners with those in Asia. We also know that the growth in trade in Asian economies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, said, is because of their trading relationship with China. We cannot have it both ways.

If there is anything that suggests why we should have more of a strategic debate about how resilient the UK is when we have the biggest trade deficit of any nation on earth with China—I remind the House that Germany has a trade surplus in the export of goods to China—it is last Friday’s actions by the Royal Air Force. The shipping of goods from China, which we depend on for our consumers, comes through the very area where we have deployed military assets in the last few days, which we discussed last night in this House. It is in our geopolitical and strategic trading interests that Parliament debates our relationship with China. Given the potential for interventions in our trading and shipping through the Red Sea and through Suez, interruptions to our trading through the Taiwan Strait or other interruptions—because China can, without notice, change its national security profile and how it seeks to impact on a country such as the UK—we are uniquely vulnerable to another nation state’s decisions about its strategic position on exporting to the UK.

On the one hand, one might argue that the more that China being more of a part of the rules-based WTO mechanisms is in our interest—that is right, but it is a separate debate. Here, we are discussing how our Parliament will hold any Government to account for decisions that they may take on an assessment of whether it is in our strategic interests to support China acceding to the CPTPP. Asking for a report and for it to be debated in Parliament is the very least that could be asked for, and I hope that will not cause any big division across the House. We should all support this, and the Government should perhaps accept the need for a report and a debate in Parliament. That is what this amendment seeks to do.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is to be commended for this amendment. I will briefly develop one point made by my noble friend Lady Kennedy, who referred to the work of Sheffield Hallam University on trade, which I have read in considerable detail and previously raised in this House. That work clearly shows that, while China is one of the world’s biggest growers of cotton, it is also the world’s greatest cotton launderer, hiding where its cotton products are grown by laundering them around the world. The work at Sheffield Hallam has shown this, and, as a result, the Americans stopped importing the cotton.

As I have said previously, the Government have taken no action whatever to check the source of the cotton, but it is possible to do so. A lot of the cotton in China is grown in the Uighur area—this is a slave labour issue. I say to noble Lords, and to ladies and gentlemen, that any cotton in the clothes they are wearing at the moment can be analysed to show where it was grown and whether this was in Xinjiang or in another part of China or Egypt or somewhere else. Paper-based monitoring systems are worthless simply because China is hell-bent on laundering the cotton in its products and hiding where it comes from. Therefore, although we talk about free trade, it is not free trade if you are laundering your cotton to hide where it has come from. The Government have repeatedly been asked to do something about the products they buy on behalf of the British public. Have they used any of the element-analysis processes organised by Oritain to check the source of their cotton? The answer is no.

They have never taken any steps whatever to source the cotton and see whether it was grown in Xinjiang or not. Is that because we do not care about the use of slave labour or the source of materials? Well, I think we should and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has given the House a further opportunity for this issue to be raised.

Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench 5:15, 16 January 2024

My Lords, on the whole I tend to support the idea of having one’s sparring partners join the club, because there is then a way to communicate. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, made this point. Communication is incredibly important, such as through cultural and sporting exchange.

However, the points made by my noble friend Lord Alton seem to me to rather trump that consideration. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said that we would be making an exception in the case of this country. But why would we make an exception? I suggest that the answer lies in my noble friend’s point that the country has behaved exceptionally and therefore that we have to take that into account.

Finally, I say that we must learn from the Post Office affair, for example, which we will come on to, that we can never probe enough—we need to look at things in depth, especially something such as this where there are clearly areas that we could consider more thoroughly. I repeat what the noble Lord said: this is a plea to look further. It is not doing anything else at this stage. It asks the Government to allow us to look further at something that has considerable consequences.

Photo of Lord Leong Lord Leong Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for presenting this amendment calling on the Secretary of State to publish a report assessing the potential impact of China’s accession to the CPTPP on the United Kingdom and saying that both Houses of Parliament must be presented with a Motion for resolution on the said report.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, indicated earlier, we on this side of the House would have preferred this amendment to cover all new accession countries—but for the purposes of this amendment I will refer just to China. Several noble Lords spoke in Committee on the case for this amendment and I do not propose to repeat what was said. However, I will make noble Lords aware of China’s non-market trade practices and its history of using economic coercion against CPTPP members, which must be considered in any valuation of its prospective accession.

First, there are aggressive military exercises and drills in the Taiwan Strait that threaten peace and stability in the South China Sea. This could be destabilising to regional trade. In addition, China has ongoing territorial disputes with other CPTPP members, including Japan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. Its willingness to use coercion against countries that disagree with it has often strained relationships with several CPTPP members. For example, it halted imports of Canadian canola and meat products in response to the arrest of a Huawei executive in Vancouver. Japan was denied access to rare earth materials in 2010 and Australian exports have suffered from Chinese import bans. Furthermore, several CPTPP member states have expressed concerns that China’s subsidies of state-owned firms and arbitrary application laws would be likely to make it hard for the country to join the trade pact.

I wanted to quote two examples, but the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the Japanese State Minister, so I will leave it at that and bring in another example of our very own British CPTPP trade negotiator, Graham Zebedee. Without commenting specifically on China’s application, if a country’s economic rules are really quite far apart from what CPTPP says, inevitably there is quite a big question about whether they could undertake really massive reforms. These concerns alone seem to provide sound justification for the commissioning of a report and Motion for resolution, as required by this amendment, so that both Houses of Parliament have the opportunity to fully consider the case for and against China’s accession to the trading bloc.

Recent newspaper reports have shown the lengths to which President Xi will go to crack down on companies when strengthening his control of the economy. Business leaders in China are under immense pressure. Last year, more than a dozen top executives from sectors including technology, finance and real estate went missing, faced detention or were accused of corruption practices. China’s national security law, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Kennedy, is dangerously vague and broad. Virtually anything could be deemed a threat to national security under its provision and it can be applied to anyone on this planet. This law has provided little or no protection to people targeted. Lawyers, scholars, journalists, pastors and NGO workers have all been convicted of national security offences, simply for exercising their freedom of expression and defending human rights. Business leaders may face the same treatment.

China’s current policies and practices are at odds with many of the provisions and requirements of the CPTPP, and it is unlikely to be able to conform to them unless current members agree to significant concessions in the negotiations. This is why concerns about coercion are particularly relevant. Without considerable concessions, it is hard to see how China would qualify for accession. Equally, China is highly unlikely to make the changes to its laws and regulatory systems that would be required to gain the acceptance of CPTPP.

We are obviously sympathetic to the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others in support of this amendment. However, there is not yet any agreement for any other country to join the partnership. It would be improper to single out any one of the possible new members at this stage, including China. At Second Reading and in Committee, we put on record our strong concern about China’s human rights record, but we believe that our human rights concerns should be universal and that one country should not be singled out. Should the noble Lord, Lord Alton, decide to divide the House on this amendment, we will abstain.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

My Lords, I am grateful for this debate and I have the greatest respect for my noble friend Lord Alton, who, over the years, has demonstrated his significant level of passion on this very important matter, as have many other noble Lords today. I do not want to deviate from the important points I wish to make relating to this CPTPP Bill, so forgive me if I do not necessarily answer all the questions that have been presented in relation to some of the topics raised. However, I would like to say, very importantly, that I clearly personally strongly reject the sanctioning of our parliamentarians. We have made it very clear before that China’s attempts to silence those highlighting human rights violations at home and abroad, including, and specifically, their targeting of MPs and Peers here in the UK, are unwarranted and unacceptable. I begin discussion on this amendment with that very important statement.

I turn to the debate around the CPTPP. As I have made clear throughout the last few stages of this Bill, in joining CPTPP, we are securing our place in a network of countries that are committed to free and rules-based trade, which has the potential to be a global standard setter. CPTPP acts as a gateway to the dynamic and fast-growing Indo-Pacific region and delivers on last year’s integrated review refresh to continue to enhance our relationships in that region. I stress this point, which was raised, I believe, by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. Expansion of this agreement’s membership will only bring further opportunities for British businesses and consumers.

On potential new accessions, there are currently six economies with applications to join the group: China, Taiwan, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Ukraine. China’s application, alongside the applications of the other five economies, is at the outset of the application process and has certainly not been determined. As noble Lords are already aware, the CPTPP is a group of 11 parties and will become 12 when the UK accedes, and decisions must be taken by consensus of the CPTPP parties. However, it has been agreed within the group that applicant economies must also meet three important criteria: they must meet the high standards of the agreement; they have to have demonstrated a pattern of complying with their trade commitments; and they must command consensus of the CPTPP parties. These are very strong criteria, and I hope that all Peers on all sides of the House hear this very clearly.

As a new member of the CPTPP group, it is right that we work within the principles of the group to achieve a consensus decision, rather than give our own individual narrative on each applicant, such as through the report proposed in this amendment. My kinsman and noble friend Lord Hamilton made a very strong point in support of that. As I indicated previously, the UK is already closely involved in discussions on this topic but will have a formal power to oppose an application only post-ratification. It is therefore crucial that we ratify the agreement and become a party, so that we can work with CPTPP members decisively on each current and future application. I stress that to be drawn in on individual applicants now, ahead of the UK becoming a party to the agreement, could risk significant repercussions to our own ratification, which is why this is such a sensitive and important issue.

The UK becoming a party of the CPTPP is dependent on CPTPP parties individually choosing to ratify the UK’s accession, so it is not in our interests to step outside the group on such a sensitive issue. As I have been clear throughout our debates, we must join first so that we are on the inside judging other applications, not vice versa. It is therefore crucial that the UK ratifies the agreement, which will in turn trigger other ratifications that will allow us to become a party.

I want to be clear that our own accession working group was successful because we are demonstrably a high-standards economy with a strong track record, we made a market access offer of the highest standard, and we garnered the support of every party for our accession. Our accession process has set a strong precedent: the robust experience the UK has been through has reinforced the high standards and proved the bar is not easy to meet.

Comments were raised about state-owned enterprises. I will give noble Lords an anecdote from the negotiating team, as I understand it. We received a great degree of scrutiny over the relationship between Channel 4 and the Government, which few people, I think, would necessarily equate with the concept of a state-owned enterprise. I hope that that demonstrates the sort of inquiry that was behind our own accession.

I also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and everyone else who participated in this debate, that the accession of new parties after the UK has joined will entail a change in the rights and obligations of existing parties. Any new agreement requiring ratification by the UK would therefore be subject to the terms of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. So, if he will allow me, I push back against the noble Lord and his suggestion—I think the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, also suggested it—that there is no track for the CRaG process to be triggered should a new party be able or about to accede to the CPTPP.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

The Minister made an important point, so I will press him on it, as I did during the meeting we had with officials. Can he confirm that the CRaG process does not provide for a vote in either House of Parliament?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am grateful to the noble Lord, but, if he will allow me, I will continue with my comments on what this process will involve. As noble Lords are aware, the CRaG process requires that the treaty text and an Explanatory Memorandum be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification can take place. Under CRaG, either House can resolve against ratification of a relevant treaty within the 21 sitting days of the treaty being laid before Parliament. The House of Commons can continue, indefinitely, to resolve against ratification, in effect giving the Commons the power to block ratification. I hope that that answers the noble Lord’s question.

These are clearly quite dramatic actions to take on behalf of both Houses in relation to the CRaG process, but the point is that the levers are available. While there is no explicit up/down vote built into the CRaG process, there are multiple ways in which a debate can be brought to the Floor of the House. Should it be the will of the House to have a substantive debate, I am sure that Parliament would ensure that it would occur. I believe that that is referred to as the Grimstone principle.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:30, 16 January 2024

My Lords, on a point of clarification, the Minister told us that it would be wrong for a country to comment on another country’s application and gave reasons for that to be the case, but the Government sought in our application support from other countries, and indeed welcomed Japan’s public comments that it would welcome UK accession. Why did we previously seek and welcome support from other countries for our application if the Government are now saying it would be dangerous if we made any comment about China’s potential application?

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, but it may surprise him to know that we are not yet fully acceded or party to CPTPP. As soon as we are, it is absolutely right that we make comment on other countries, but only after the process and we have joined. To include an amendment in the Bill now would be completely inappropriate, as I hope I have made clear. I think it would cause significant issues in this overall process.

I return to the point on which it is important to reassure the House. The House is looking for reassurance about whether any country can be sneaked under the wire to join CPTPP, and the clear answer is that it cannot. We have made clear commitments to clarify the process from the Dispatch Box to ensure that we know, as Members of this House and of the other place, that there will be a robust process around any new party joining CPTPP.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

I am very grateful to the Minister, but I am trying to get clarity to see whether we need to divide the House. He has not answered the question I asked. He has said that there could be a process by which there could be a debate on the Floor of the House if the Government permitted it. All that would be welcome, if it was permitted. My question was whether such a Motion would be divisible. Would there be a chance for Members of both Houses to vote? When I asked that question during the course of our meeting, the answer I was given was no.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank the noble Lord for his comment but I feel he is being slightly unfair to me. I am describing the CRaG process, and the Grimstone principle makes clear what will happen if there is a desire for a debate and parliamentary time allows—I am obliged to use those caveats, as your Lordships can imagine, but frankly it would be astonishing if there was not a significant and strong debate over any country joining CPTPP. As I said, and as the noble Lord will know from his experience, the House of Commons can continue indefinitely to resolve against ratification, in effect giving the Commons the power to block ratification. I think that is a very significant and probably quite considerable device that would enable the noble Lord to feel reassured on that point.

The question is whether a new party joining CPTPP would trigger the CRaG process. In our view, it absolutely would, which gives enormous power and scrutiny to both Houses in ensuring that there is a proper debate on that. It is important to note, as I think was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that, in the event of the CRaG process being triggered, I would expect the Business and Trade Committee or the International Agreements Committee to request a debate, and that the Government would seek to facilitate this, subject to parliamentary time, as under the Grimstone principle, which we have covered.

I would like to come to a conclusion here. I note the important contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, in Committee. He commented that he did not believe that this amendment was “necessary or desirable”, and recognised the importance of unanimity among members. I want to bring us back to that point. We are now part of a group that has attracted interest across the world.

Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench

My Lords, I apologise for intervening, particularly when I have not taken part in these debates before, but I want to ask a question before the Minister leaves the issue of the CRaG provisions, which are very important for some of us who have listened to the debate and have an issue. He said clearly just now that the House of Commons could resolve against ratification, but the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was asking if it could have a vote. How would the House of Commons resolve against ratification without voting on the issue? That is what I struggle to understand.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her point. There is no explicit up/down vote built into the CRaG process; we are aware of that. I am talking to a House that has far more experience of the CRaG process than I do, so we know how the process works. There are multiple ways in which a debate can be brought to the Floor of the House. For reassurance, I will go through this point again. The CRaG process requires that a treaty text and an Explanatory Memorandum be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification can take place. Under CRaG, either House can resolve against ratification of a relevant treaty within the 21 sitting days of it being laid before Parliament. The House of Commons can continue indefinitely to resolve against ratification, in effect giving the Commons the power to block ratification.

To some extent, this is important, but it may be academic. As I said, the question is whether a new party to CPTPP can be snuck under the wire. We are very clear that this is not possible. The process is automatically triggered. Aside from that, there are also the reports written by the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and there has to be an impact assessment, and there has to be a significant amount of scrutiny and debate, as there is about the CPTPP Bill today. I am very reassured on the principles and mechanics around whether we have in this House the right level of control and security to ensure that we have control over our own destiny in relation to new parties joining a plurilateral treaty, which is of course completely different from the country-to-country FTAs.

Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative

I am grateful to my noble friend. As a former Leader of the House in the other place and as a member of the International Agreements Committee, I am pretty clear that, under CRaG, the International Agreements Committee here, and potentially the Business and Trade Committee in another place, might make a report to Parliament that could lead to a debate. That debate could be subject to a take-note Motion, but that would be amendable. If it were sought to be amended in the other place to say that a treaty should not be ratified, the Government could not continue to ratify the treaty if such a vote had taken place in the other House to say that it should not. I think that gives the comfort that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, is looking for.

Photo of Lord Johnson of Lainston Lord Johnson of Lainston Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am very grateful to my noble friend for that comment. He is absolutely right that the Business and Trade Committee and the IAC are able to request a debate, which, as I said, according to the Grimstone principle, we would always seek to facilitate, given parliamentary time.

I should like to come to a conclusion. I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. I have made extremely clear, I hope, the rigorous standards that CPTPP applies. This is a plurilateral trading group that wants to have the highest standards of trade among them. That is my first key point. The second is that we have a number of safeguards built into our own processes to ensure that, were another country to join CPTPP—it could be any of the countries applying or future countries over the coming years—there will be a proper process, as has been defined in the CRaG process. I would ask the noble Lord, given the complexities and sensitivities that I believe this amendment would present to our ratification process, to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister and all noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate. I felt we were quite close to agreement, as I felt we were during the course of the meeting that I had with the Minister. It comes down to the issue of whether or not such a report and Motion, were it to be laid in the House of Commons, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, just said in response to my noble friend Lady Hayman, would be divisible or not. It has been made clear that under the CRaG process that is not possible. That is why it was necessary to table this amendment.

As for some of the other arguments put before your Lordships, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Epsom, who raised the issue of the United States of America. If the USA were to seek to join—it is not even in the queue or the list of countries to which the Minister referred earlier—all of us would be very pleased about that. However, China is in the list referred to, so this is not hypothetical—China is in the list. We are not seeking to have the debate here and now as to whether or not China should accede. That is not what this amendment would do. Chronologically, we are getting ahead of ourselves. The amendment would simply empower this House, should we then be members of the CPTPP, to have the right in both Houses to query such an application on the grounds that I laid out at length, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the noble Lords, Lord Rooker, Lord Purvis and Lord Leong, in their remarks about the nature of the country that we are dealing with. Is China different from the others? Yes, of course it is manifestly different, not least, as the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned, because of the products that we buy from Xinjiang. The House of Commons has declared not that there are human rights violations but that there is a genocide—under the 1948 convention on the crime of genocide—taking place in Xinjiang against Uighur Muslims, who are used as slave labour.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is right about that, and we have this trade deficit that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, regularly refers to, of £40 billion, which makes us very dependent on that country and does not contribute to our resilience. Will the CPTPP help us? Yes, it will, and I am glad that we are joining it. That is why I support the Minister in that objective and support this Bill but, as others have said in the debate, we need to be in a position not only to be able to voice our opinions in both Houses but to vote on those things as well. Otherwise, how will we express our view? Will it be done through telepathy? Will it be done as a result of people getting up and saying, “We don’t agree with this”? If there cannot be a vote, it is impossible. All of us in this House or who have been in the other place know that to be the case.

As for the views that have been expressed about the desirability of China’s membership, my noble friend Lord Berkeley of Knighton said that this is exceptional because it is appalling behaviour that we have never probed enough. We must probe. That is what this amendment seeks to do, to give us rights. Look at the amendment. There are two parts to it. The first simply says:

“Before any decision is made by the Government … on the accession … to the CPTPP under Chapter 30 of the CPTPP, the Secretary of State must publish a report”.

That is all well and good. The Minister has accepted that principle, so why not accept the first part of the amendment? What does the second part say? It says:

“Both Houses of Parliament must be presented with a motion for resolution on the report under subsection (1)”.

This is hardly revolutionary. It seems to me perfectly reasonable. We are being invited to tilt at imaginary windmills. I know that some will be under pressure from their Whips but, as I did during the debate, I commend the remarks of the former Leader of the Conservative Party, who has written to members of his party today to say that the amendment remedies the problem in a proportionate way that goes with the grain of government policy.

I would like to seek the opinion of the House, and I hope that those on the Government Benches in particular will vote for this amendment.

Ayes 102, Noes 212.

Division number 1 Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [HL] - Report — Amendment 5

Aye: 100 Members of the House of Lords

No: 210 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 5 disagreed.