Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 1st February 2018.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 79, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert
(e) the impacts on sustainable development.”
This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the impacts on sustainable development in considering the rate of export duty.
Amendment 119, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert
(e) the public interest.”
This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the public interest in considering the rate of the export tariff.
Amendment 142, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—
“(e) the interests of producers in the United Kingdom.”
This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the interests of producers in the United Kingdom in considering the rate of export duty.
Amendment 143, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—
“(e) the desirability of maintaining United Kingdom standards of food safety.”
This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the desirability of maintaining United Kingdom standards of food safety in considering the rate of export duty.
Amendment 144, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—
“(e) environmental protection.”
This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to environmental protection in considering the rate of export duty.
Amendment 145, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—
“(e) the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings.”
This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings in considering the rate of export duty.
Welcome to the Chair for the final sitting of the Committee, Mrs Main.
As is explained in the explanatory notes, the Bill does not establish the rate of export duty, but the power to do so is contained in it so that it can be introduced subsequently through regulations made by the Treasury. As we discussed when considering amendment 1 to clause 8 during my first speech in Committee, it is vital to pay careful attention to the needs of manufacturers for the future of our economy. The Committee will be pleased to hear that I will not repeat that speech in its entirety, although I am sure colleagues would like to hear parts of it.
The representatives of the manufacturing industry to whom we spoke in our helpful evidence sessions on Tuesday
As we draw towards the end of the Committee, I am only too aware that we are becoming increasingly committed to the process of adding detail by secondary legislation. That makes it even more important for the vital consultation with manufacturers to be enshrined in the Bill. We will not necessarily seek to press the amendment, but I hope that the Minister, through his comments, can provide reassurance for manufacturers at this stage.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mrs Main.
The amendment would add the interests of manufacturers to the list of factors the Secretary of State and the Treasury respectively must have regard to when recommending or imposing a rate of export duty. The Government acknowledge the wide-ranging impact that any future imposition of export duty could have on the UK economy and that of our trading partners. We would consider imposing an export duty only in wholly exceptional circumstances. Of course, in practice the Secretary of State and the Treasury would have regard to many factors. The provision requiring the Secretary of State and the Treasury to have regard to productivity, trade, consumer interests and competition is sufficient and broad enough to encapsulate the economic and strategic interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.
Taking into account the interests of manufacturers will often form part of the Secretary of State and Treasury’s duty to consider how export duty will maintain and promote productivity in the UK, but it would be inappropriate to specify an exhaustive list of factors in the Bill. The Government believe that the scrutiny and procedure set out in the Bill are proportionate and enable us to respond quickly to exceptional circumstances to implement an export duty.
Amendment 79 would add the impacts on sustainable development to the list of factors the Secretary of State and Treasury must have regard to when respectively recommending a rate of export duty or considering whether to impose export duty, and the rate of duty applicable. Where relevant and possible, the Government will take into account the impact of export duty on sustainable development. However, it would be inappropriate to specify an exhaustive list in the Bill. Certain factors will be relevant in certain cases, and their importance may change over time.
Amendment 119 would add the public interest to the list of factors the Secretary of State and the Treasury must have regard to when respectively recommending a rate of export duty or considering whether to impose export duty, and the rate that should apply. The provision requiring the Treasury and the Secretary of State to have regard to productivity, trade, consumer interests and competition is sufficient to encapsulate the public interest by considering the economic and strategic interests of the whole of the UK.
Amendments 142 to 145 provide additional factors that the Treasury and Secretary of State must have regard to respectively when considering whether to impose export duty and the rate that should be applied. Clause 39(4) is broad enough to cover the economic and strategic interests of the UK. In particular, I question the necessity of considering food standards, environmental protection and the welfare of animals when setting a tax on goods leaving the United Kingdom. The amendments would not achieve the presumed aim of preserving standards in the UK. Lastly, the interests of producers are intrinsically linked with competition, productivity and the promotion of trade, which are already included in the Bill. I therefore urge hon. Members not to press the amendments.
Thank you for chairing the Committee this afternoon, Mrs Main. I appreciate having the opportunity to speak, and want to speak in favour of all seven amendments in this group.
Amendment 13 is about the Government giving consideration to the interests of manufacturers, which we spoke about at length in relation to import duty. I have previously made the case about the disproportionate or differentiated geographical implications of some of the changes the Government are making and some of the rules that they will have. That is particularly important in relation to manufacturing interests, given that those are mainly in the north of England and in Scotland, rather than further south. I therefore feel that it is relevant to take this consideration into account.
We have received written evidence from organisations about sustainable development. They say that it is important for the Government to consider sustainable development when making decisions about import or export duty—we are obviously talking about export duty in this case—and the Government should do that.
Amendment 119, which appears in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, relates to the public interest. I am not sure that I agree with the Minister when he says that consumer interest and the interests of promoting external trade, productivity and competition adequately cover the entirety of public interest. I think that consumer interest is different from public interest in this regard, and a number of our constituents would agree if they came to discuss this issue with us.
Amendment 142 relates to producers. Again, there is a geographical bias towards the north and the more rural parts of the four nations of the United Kingdom. Producers are generally in places that are a bit further away from London, and they have a significant positive benefit on the areas that they are in. People tend to be employed in agricultural produce, for example, in areas where there are few other types of employment, so having regard to the interests of producers is important.
I take the Minister’s point that the clause is about export duty rather than import duty, where food safety regulation may be more relevant. However, it is still relevant that the Government ensure that food safety is high up the agenda, given our conversations about trade deals, chlorinated chicken and the possible erosion of food safety now that the United Kingdom is planning to leave the EU and the food standards that come with it.
Amendment 144 is about environmental protection. Again, it would be a good statement of direction if the Government explicitly included environmental protection in anything that they do, given that America is not looking at implementing the Paris agreement. It is making negative changes that will impact on the future of the world for us, our children and our children’s children. I would not want to see the United Kingdom go down a similar route in the erosion of environmental protection standards, so it is really important that this proposal is included.
Amendment 145 relates to the welfare of animals as sentient beings. Given that we have had discussions in the House about the sentience or otherwise of animals, and it seems that a number of Members across the House are less keen to stress that animals are sentient beings, it is important that we have this written into the Bill.
Although the Minister’s comments were a bit helpful, they could have been more so. It would have been more helpful for the Minister to say, if he were so minded, that those factors will be considered when making the decision. In fact, we have a list of four factors that will be considered, and there is no opportunity for that to be wider. If the Bill said “any other relevant factor”, for example, that would encapsulate them all and the Minister could stand up and say, “We will of course consider the public interest and the interests of food safety and of environmental protections when we are making these decisions.” We would have a level of reassurance that those things will be taken into account.
All the amendments are important. I accept that they are specific to export duty, which is relatively unusual and pretty niche, but to have those things explicitly stated by the Minister in Committee or in the Bill would be incredibly useful, rather than the short list of four factors that does not allow for a wider consideration of the issues.
I will respond because, as ever, the hon. Lady made some helpful comments.
On taking into account sustainable development and the interests of producers, I refer the hon. Lady to the point that she made herself, which is that the clause does not prohibit any of those matters being taken into account. The point I made earlier was that the Government certainly do not see the need to specifically reference those matters—or, indeed, the many other matters that the Committee and individual parliamentarians may feel are important in this context—in order that we do not have an exhaustive list, but rely on the common sense and good public policy making of the people who make such decisions.
Duties, whether they are import duties or export duties, which are potential though unlikely, are a slightly strange instrument to use in the food safety context. It would be much more appropriate for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look at those issues and use its powers to take action where clear breaches of food safety have occurred or are likely to occur.
It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mrs Main. I am grateful to the Minister for those remarks. I want to focus on amendment 79 and press him a bit on sustainable development.
There is an important consideration here, which relates to our discussion earlier about what will happen if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and falls back on World Trade Organisation provisions—something I hope will not happen, but that the Government have not ruled out. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North asked the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade exactly where the powers are to create WTO schedules. I do not know if the Minister has the answer yet—perhaps we will find out later. There is a pertinent issue when it comes to laying those schedules if we have to accede to the WTO as a new member—that is, if we do not conclude a customs and trade arrangement that means we do not need to join separately. A number of the countries that have joined the WTO recently have found it difficult to apply the provisions of the general agreement on tariffs and trade that enable sustainable development, environmental considerations, human health and so on to outweigh having low or non-existent tariffs. When that has been offered to one country, it should therefore be offered to all.
China’s recent dispute about raw materials is a pertinent example. As with all the most recent accessions to the WTO, when China acceded, it was required to submit commitments on export duty that bound it to keep export duty at its current rate or to reduce it in relation to different product lines. If that had been part of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, China would have been able to invoke the WTO’s GATT provisions that say that human health can trump those other considerations, but because there were separate agreements, it was not allowed to invoke environmental considerations.
That is relevant to this debate because if our Government ended up having to do the same kind of thing that China has had to do—to enter separately and to offer separate commitments around export duty—it is very important that they are able, within that, to adduce environmental considerations. Obviously, we are in a very different position to China, so we are not going to export raw materials to the same extent. I would also hope that our environmental protections would operate so that we would not have to rely on export duties to try to constrain the amount of raw materials that we export, which is effectively what China has been doing. It has been using export duties to try to bump up the costs of its exports, so that rare earths, for example, are not exported to the same extent.
Hopefully, we would have environmental rules that would stop us having to use the export duties system in that way, but I again recall—I am sorry to bore colleagues —that the tax system was used recently to compensate for the deficiencies of some of our environmental legislation. Presumably, it was not possible for the Environment Agency to apply a stiff enough penalty to stop people dumping waste illegally, so tax measures were used.
It could well be that at some point, we will want to use export duty to accomplish environmental goals. It is therefore important that the Government are aware of the significance of this issue. They might need to include a commitment to sustainable development as an explicit consideration in future trade policy, particularly if they have to make separate agreements with the WTO.
I want to follow up on the point about the WTO schedule. I appreciate that the Minister wrote to the Committee about it, but he did not answer the question that was asked, which was: where do the Government have the power to lodge schedules with the WTO? The question was not: where do the Government have the power to implement such schedules? That is the question that he answered; I appreciate that he answered it fully, but it was the wrong question.
As far as I am aware, the UK Government have not legislated to give themselves the power to lodge schedules with the WTO in this Bill, the Trade Bill or the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not about the implementation of them; it is about the lodging of them. As my colleague on the Labour Front Bench, the hon. Member for Oxford East, mentioned, there are concerns about the impact on sustainable development and such matters. It would be useful if the Minister were to follow up his letter with a further one that answers that question.
I thank the hon. Members for Aberdeen North and for Oxford East for their contributions. On the issue of sustainable development, I can provide the Committee with reassurance that the Government take that area of policy extremely seriously. As the Committee will know, the UK Government have stated their commitments to the UN sustainable development goals that were agreed in September 2015. A publication released on
The hon. Member for Oxford East asked me about the letter regarding WTO scheduling, upon which I believe she may still be waiting.
Oh, it has been received. I was going to say that if it had not been, she would receive it imminently. I am pleased that my desire has already been put into effect. I would also be very happy to write to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North about the various issues she raised regarding WTO accession.
All the amendments relate, as ever, to the lack of detail in the Bill. The Minister has provided some words of reassurance, which are appreciated, but in the end it comes back to the point that very important details, which industry needs to plan, are missing from the Bill. However, I think that that point has been made, and for that reason I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 39, page 27, line 20, at end insert—
“() by a relevant select committee of the House of Commons, or
() contained in a resolution of the House of Commons.”
This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to recommendations of any relevant select committee of the House of Commons or contained in a resolution of the House of Commons in considering whether to exercise the power to impose export duty.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clause stand part.
Amendment 15, in clause 40, page 27, line 35, leave out subsections (2) to (4).
This amendment is consequential on NC8.
Amendment 16, in clause 40, page 28, line 6, leave out
“other than regulations to which subsection (2) applies”.
This amendment is consequential on NC8.
Clause 40 stand part.
New clause 8—Setting export duty: enhanced parliamentary procedure—
“(1) This section applies to—
(a) the first regulations to be made under section 39, and
(b) any other regulations to be made under that section the effect of which is an increase in the amount of export duty payable.
(2) No regulations to which this section applies may be made by the Treasury in exercise of the power in section 39(1) except in accordance with the steps set out in this section.
(3) The first step is that a Minister of the Crown must lay before the House of Commons a draft of the regulations that it is proposed be made.
(4) The second step is that a Minister of the Crown must make a motion for a resolution in the House of Commons setting out, in respect of proposed regulations of which a draft has been laid in accordance with subsection (3)—
(a) the rate of export duty applicable to goods specified in the resolution;
(b) any proposed export tariff (within the meaning given in section 39(3)(a)); and
(c) any measure of quantity or size by reference to which it is proposed that the duty be charged.
(5) The third step is that the House of Commons passes a resolution arising from the motion made in the form specified in subsection (4) (whether in the form of that motion or as amended).
(6) The fourth step is that the regulations that may then be made must, in respect of any matters specified in subsection (4)(a) to (c), give effect to the terms of the resolution referred to in subsection (5).”
This new clause establishes a system of enhanced parliamentary procedure for regulations setting export duty, with a requirement for the House of Commons to pass an amendable resolution authorising the rate of export duty on particular goods and related matters.
I am sorry about the complexity of all the different amendments, but they reflect the Members’ concerns about the Bill as it stands in these particular clauses. I will not speak at length, because many of the issues have already been covered in our previous discussions.
In relation to amendment 14, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has already detailed why we think it would be appropriate to use the expertise and the opportunities for consensus building provided by the Select Committee system in the Bill. I will not go over those arguments again; suffice to say, I hope the Government will consider the arguments that my hon. Friend made, take the opportunity afforded by the Select Committee system and apply it here when it comes to setting export duty and scrutinising the setting of it.
We have covered many of the principles underlying amendments 15 and 16 and new clause 8. Again, we are asking for greater parliamentary scrutiny—this time in the area of export duties. I was thinking about how else I could try to persuade the Government of our arguments, and one issue I decided to focus on was that we have often heard the word “technical” applied to many of these measures. Of course, they are technical when they are about minimal changes to rates, or just alignments between different measures, but we need to appreciate that they can have a significant impact on our constituents, because there are winners and losers when we change the parameters of trade.
Capital is largely mobile, but workers often are not. Academic evidence shows that there can be considerable dislocation when there are changes to trade rules. It may well be the case that, in the past, those matters were often seen as technical, but they have had real-world implications. That is particularly important in our country, where the kind of active labour market measures that might have enabled labour to be more mobile when there are changes to duties that affect working patterns do not exist to the same extent that they do in many countries. Recent research by the Resolution Foundation suggests that people have become less mobile in their jobs, potentially because they do not have that help to alter jobs. It is important to consider these issues carefully when there are not those compensatory measures there for people who might be negatively affected by trade measures that alter the pattern of economic activity in our country.
It is absolutely right and proper that we seek appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of measures that could have a significant impact on the availability of manufacturing jobs, especially in our constituencies. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind. Yes, some of the measures could be described as technical, but they will certainly have impacts on our constituents, and we should all be aware of that while we discuss them.
Clause 39 enables the UK to establish an export duty if it is considered appropriate to do so. Clause 40 sets the parliamentary procedure for doing so. An export duty is, as the name suggests, a tax on goods leaving the country. I used the term “considered appropriate to do so” quite deliberately. The EU has no standing export duty. Indeed, I believe the last time the EU imposed an export duty was in the late 1990s, in respect of wheat.
However, the revised Union customs code, which came into force only in 2016, maintained the EU’s ability to impose an export duty. The EU decided it still needed to maintain the option to impose one in the future. Therefore, in an implementation period, where the UK may be following the EU’s common external tariff for a limited period of time, we may need to retain the ability to impose an export duty in case the EU chooses to apply one. In the longer term, it is right to maintain at least the option to establish one if the circumstances demand, just as the EU retained that flexibility when it overhauled its customs code. In allowing for an export duty, but not introducing one, these clauses reflect the status quo, except with a stronger role for Parliament in approving any future export duty.
Clause 39 allows for the imposition of a new export duty tax and for replication of any part of the customs regime in part 1 as may be necessary to administer it. In recognition of the exceptional nature of export duties, clause 40 specifies that the first regulations made under clause 39, imposing an export duty, are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
Amendment 14 would require the Treasury to consider recommendations about the imposition and rate of export duty made by a relevant Select Committee or contained in a resolution of the House of Commons when considering whether to impose export duty. The Treasury will listen closely to recommendations from a range of interested parties, including relevant Select Committees and Members of the House. In addition, Select Committees already have the power to question Ministers on the policy within their departmental remit. The Treasury will answer any questions from the relevant Select Committees.
The Bill will ensure that the Government can respond quickly to exceptional circumstances and impose an export duty, while still giving the House a vote through the made affirmative procedure. Therefore, the Government believe that it is not necessary to include this additional requirement in the Bill.
New clause 8 and consequential amendments 15 and 16 seek to put in place additional parliamentary processes for the introduction of, and any increase to, the rate of export duty. For indirect tax matters, it is common to have a framework in primary legislation supplemented by secondary legislation. The Bill introduces a comprehensive framework for a new stand-alone customs regime, which will be underpinned by the detailed and technical secondary legislation.
The Bill ensures that the scrutiny procedures applied to the exercise of each power are appropriate and proportionate, taking into account the technicality of the regulations and the frequency with which they are likely to be made. As currently drafted, the House of Commons would have a vote on regulations introducing export duty under the made affirmative procedure. The Government believe that to be appropriate and proportionate.
To sum up, although an export duty should be applied only in exceptional circumstances, it is right that the UK has the ability to impose one if it becomes necessary, including if the EU decides to impose one for a limited period while we may be aligned with the common external tariff.
I am grateful to the Minister for his commitment to respond to any questions that are levelled by Select Committees in this area. That is a positive commitment. It is an area that we will keep an eye on, but after the discussion we have just had, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
On a point of order, Mrs Main. I indicated earlier that I wanted to speak on amendments 142 to 145 to clause 39, on animal welfare and sentience. I have tried to get in, but if the opportunity has passed, so be it. We may therefore have to pursue it on Report. I want the Committee to recognise that I did wish to speak and did indicate that.