“(6) No regulations may be made under this section unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.”
This amendment requires regulations under Clause 12 to be subject to the affirmative procedure.
I am pleased that the Minister is getting the drift of our line after several hours—[Interruption.]—I hear the Minister saying “with much repetition” from a sedentary position, but I do not think it is as repetitive as the Government’s refusal to give Parliament scrutiny. It is a persistent “No, no, no” from the Government, and that is dangerous. I do not say that as a Labour Member per se; I say that as a democrat. It is crucial that Government Members recognise that. I am sure some of them do, because these things come back to bite Members when they are in a different position. I exhort them to listen to what we say—no matter how often I say it.
I understand that, Mrs Main. Amendment 5 is another amendment pertinent to the clause, in that it continues to wish to hold the Government to account. That is not just the view of the Opposition, but of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which I have referred to before. It says that the Bill involves a “massive transfer of power” that gives Ministers over 150 powers to make tax law for individuals and businesses. Those laws will run to thousands upon thousands of pages, with little opportunity for us to scrutinise them. The Treasury’s delegated powers memorandum alone, which sets out in detail all those law-making powers, runs to 174 pages.
The Fairtrade Foundation has raised concerns over the use of delegated powers in the Bill around the setting of tariffs and the establishment of rules of origin. That relates to developing countries—we touched on them earlier—where, in some instances, there is a high dependency on the UK market and where there are products with tight margins, so changes to tariffs could make or break the livelihoods of producers.
The Hansard Society also rightly pointed out in its evidence that unless the Government can give a compelling reason, all Henry VIII powers should be subject to the affirmative procedure, which the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is also in full agreement with. Mr Blackwell from the Hansard Society does not see any evidence in the delegated powers memorandum that justifies the Government avoiding an affirmative procedure. Nor does the Hansard Society understand the Government’s justification and distinction between the use of urgent and non-urgent powers.
I will continue to repeat that this House is entitled to scrutinise the Government appropriately and as much as it wants within the confines of procedures. I wish that the Government would listen not only to the Opposition but to virtually every organisation out there who tells them that in these times of significant change, the Government should open their arms to scrutiny and challenge and not shut the door in our faces.
Clause 12 provides for an exception to the application of the standard rate of duty as set under clause 8. It allows some or all of the import duty that would otherwise be charged on specified goods to be waived for a specified period of time. The primary purpose of a tariff suspension is to facilitate domestic production by ensuring that businesses have access to the supplies that they need. A similar exception to the application of the standard rate of duty exists under the Union customs code. A suspension could be introduced on the Government’s own initiative, or after a request for one: for example, from a business.
Suspensions are usually applied to certain types of goods. Any goods that will be subject to a suspension will be specified by regulations. For example, under the current arrangements suspensions are generally granted only where the good is a raw material or unfinished product, which will be used by UK manufacturers; where no competing domestic product exists; and where the goods covered by the suspension are subject to a significant amount of duty. In other words, the suspension would have a material benefit for UK industry.
A suspension of duty would apply for a given period of time that could be extended. Where a continuation of a suspension implies a lasting need to import a certain product at a reduced or zero rate, the Government would look to reduce the standard rate of duty. To be consistent with WTO rules, a suspension on any given good must be granted equally to every country and supplier. Regulations made pursuant to the clause will be subject to the negative procedure.
Amendment 5 and consequential amendment 9 to clause 32 change the proposed parliamentary procedure for regulations relating to tariff suspensions from the negative procedure to the draft affirmative procedure. The Government believe that the scrutiny procedures that apply to the exercise of each power in the Bill are appropriate and proportionate, taking into account the length and technical complexity of the regulations and the frequency with which they are likely to be made.
For tariff suspensions, the negative procedure is both appropriate and proportionate. The power in clause 12 only permits the standard rate of import duty to be temporarily lowered and could not be used to increase the rate. Delays in implementation of suspensions owing to the use of the draft affirmative procedure would only be to the detriment of UK manufacturers.
I will provide an example that might be pertinent to our debate. The suspensions are likely to be numerous and detailed. For example, in the last round of EU suspensions, a UK business successfully applied for a tariff suspension on a specific type of gearbox with a hydraulic torque converter, with at least eight gears and an engine torque of 300 newton metres or more. It is the kind of gearbox I might have in my Rolls-Royce car, perhaps. It is not clear that such a level of detail would benefit from a greater level of parliamentary debate, despite the fact that we have debated Rolls-Royces, and by extension gearboxes, to some degree in this debate today.
In short, the clause is a crucial part of the overall import duty regime, allowing the Government to take action to support manufacturers in the United Kingdom. I therefore move that the clause stand part of the: Bill.