Q I seek your thoughts on what seems to be an increasingly complex part of international trade agreements. As we have seen with Canada, negotiating partners are increasingly demanding that any potential difficulties with implementation, when devolved competence matters may be involved, are dealt with up front—for example, in the Canadian situation, the provinces were engaged right at the beginning of the process—and that there are assurances that the final agreed text of any agreement may be delivered. With that being the case, what is your view on the important role of consultation prior to agreements? Do you believe that the Bill sets out a suitable framework for such consultation? In addition, what would the implications be if the devolved Administrations had some measure of consent reserve that implied a veto on the implementation of our internationally agreed obligations? That is quite a complex question in two or three parts, but your response will be of considerable interest to the Committee.
I am not convinced I am able to answer either, but the consultation is definitely a good thing. There is a voice that needs to be heard and various parties look for representation, not necessarily to veto anything, but certainly to ensure that the best interests of all parts of the UK are represented.
Business for Scotland was founded in 1996 to campaign for devolution and to set up the Scottish Parliament, so protecting the powers of devolution is one of our key remits. It is an area we have been investigating. This is one part of the whole Brexit process. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill centralises about 100 Europe-influenced powers in Whitehall after Brexit, even though many of those cross over with the responsibilities of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies. The deadline to amend clause 11 of the withdrawal Bill was missed, and that means we are sitting here without proper protections in place. The Trade Bill seems to suggest that it puts the power to act almost unilaterally in the hands of a single Minister—a single Minister who has what has been labelled a “hard Brexit agenda”—without clear protections on the public right to consult, scrutinise or stop trade deals.
At best, that means that a great deal of confusion remains over how trade negotiations will be handled where they overlap with the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments, and that is damaging to business. At worst, it looks like a deliberate attempt to delay the transfer of EU-held powers in particular to the devolved Parliaments until after the UK Government has had free rein to agree deals that you could say run roughshod over the devolution agreements that currently exist in these islands.
To give a key example, if we are going to do an instant trade deal, which we want to do with the Americans and which has to be the highest priority, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is a great guide to what we can do with them. It is quite progressed; the key reason that TTIP did not make progress in the EU was that the EU wanted to put in protections to allow Governments to maintain public services such as the NHS, and our NHS is something that the United States is very likely to want to have access to.
I do not know much about trade negotiations, but I was trained in negotiation by a FTSE 100 company and by an American top 500 company, and the very first rule of negotiation is, “Make sure the person you’re negotiating with has the ability to say yes to the deal you’re presenting.” If we have devolved Parliaments who have control over the NHS, the Americans will look at that and say, “Well, you don’t have the ability to agree a trade deal with us,” so devolution is ipso facto incompatible with rapid trade deals, especially done under a World Trade Organisation agreement. I see that as being a problem and potentially creating constitutional issues not just in Scotland, but particularly in Northern Ireland.
Thank you. That was an extremely interesting response, and I am sure one that will help our deliberations this afternoon, when we come to the first set of amendments. You have raised a number of very serious constitutional questions. It may be that the Minister has clear answers to them, but I think we will all be keen to hear what they are.
Mr Scott, in the notes we have been provided with, there is a section titled “Your views on the Bill”. It says that you recognise thatQ
“the government is committed to maintaining the existing trade relationships, effectively preserving the status quo.”
You go on to say:
“It therefore seems that there is the potential to spend a significant amount of time, effort and expense to deconstruct the current processes” and introduce a new process to bring us back to the same place. The way I read them, those two statements are somewhat contradictory. Surely what we are looking at in the Bill is the provision to ease that transition to provide the status quo?
From my perspective—I speak for my company, which has 60 individuals in Scotland working in the pharma services sector—there are established regulations and ways in which we currently work with the European Union and with global pharmaceutical companies. The Bill would suggest that, while we seek to maintain those, we reserve the right to deconstruct them and come back to the same position. That is how I read it; I may be wrong, and I do apologise if I have misconstrued that. It is important, from my business perspective, that we maintain our relationship as it currently is, because that is a major way in which we trade with European countries on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry.
I appreciate that, but I do not believe that we can. I think the current system works in the best interests of the UK. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is regarded as a powerhouse within the regulatory sphere. If we tried to set up a secondary or different regulatory system, it would not be to the benefit of the UK in terms of how we operate in the global marketplace for some pharma services.
Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, can I come back very briefly to the question that you were answering from Barry Gardiner? You said that devolution was incompatible with the production of rapid trade deals. Does that also apply to what this Bill is attempting to do by creating corresponding agreements to the current EU free trade agreements?Q
Yes, and I think there is a great deal of confusion around it. I do not believe that there is sufficient clarity in the Bill about what is defined as a free trade agreement, for instance. If you do a deal with a nation that has multiple elements including an element of free trade, does that mean that the Minister would have full powers to do a deal that runs contrary to or overruns devolved powers? What is a specific trade deal? That needs to be defined, so as to limit the scope of the regulatory powers being granted by the Bill. A lot more clarity needs to come through in terms of the legal writing of it.
This is a question for all three of you. We have just been asking about consultation with devolved Governments. What about consultation with business, particularly sectors such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals and medical supplies, on non-tariff measures? What do you believe should be the consultation before a negotiation takes place, particularly on the provisions of the Bill, with the creation of corresponding agreementsQ ?
From my perspective, it would be good to engage with Life Sciences Scotland, the industry leadership group there, to understand the concerns and any wishes likely to be put forward. There is also the Scottish Lifesciences Association. There are a number of bodies in Scotland that should be spoken to and asked to come provide evidence from that perspective, so you can get a wider perspective on how Scotland’s life sciences community feels, not just in pharma and chemical but in animal health and across the broad remit of research and all these sorts of things, and get some information from the whole body of Scotland that is representative of the wishes of industry and business from that perspective.
I do not have a particular Scottish perspective on this. Generally speaking, the furnishing and furniture industry is keen to achieve what I am hearing from a lot of other industries: stability and consistency, equivalence and mutual recognition across the process. We are keen to advocate dialogue wherever we can have it to achieve that transition as smoothly as possible.
I cannot say that our industry is concerned at the moment that there will not be consistency; in everything that we are reading, we are told that attempts are being made to make that transition as smooth as possible. We do not currently endure any significant issues. There are some issues with policing and surveillance of some of the standards that we have mutually agreed; that is a current scenario and a problem now. I am hoping that the formation of the Trade Remedies Authority will allow for some more robust investment in policing and surveillance of the standards where we currently endure problems, but I would not say that we are suffering from dumping in the fullest sense of its description in this context, although we are a very substantial net importer. There is a big trade gap that we as a nation endure in our industry.
You have raised an important point. Business for Scotland represents mainly small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland. We surveyed 758 businesses and asked for their opinions on how the trade deals in Brexit have been processed and handled. There were 199,000 employees, half of the companies exported, and 41% had at least one non-UK-born EU national on their staff. We found that only 8% of Scottish business owners trusted the UK Government to deliver a deal that works best for Scottish business. Interestingly enough, 76.81% to 77% thought that calling a halt to Brexit would be beneficial to the Scottish economy. I think you have got an issue there: business does not really understand what is going on and there is a great deal of uncertainty. There is more uncertainty and more negativity towards Brexit in Scotland because Scotland voted to remain, and therefore there is less confidence in business as a direct result of that; so you will see that follow through.
I think the period between the point where we are still talking about deals and the point where we can actually start looking at trade deals has to be used for a massive consultation exercise with all the sorts of bodies that David mentioned before, but right across the UK. If we are going to do that we need to be preparing for it now. We need to be talking about it now. We need to be saying, “How are we actually going to deliver this?” Business for Scotland will be able to help, from a Scottish perspective, as much as we possibly can.
Q Again, when you are talking about trade deals, remember that the Bill is about the creation of corresponding deals. You are applying what you say to the provisions of the Bill as much as anything else.
Can I echo that? I think uncertainty is a killer at this point, specifically for my customers, whom I trade with on a global basis. They have a global supply chain and have to make contingency plans to ensure that whatever medicines they make are available to patients. Those contingency plans cannot wait until the eleventh hour or the last minute of any negotiations of any sort. I can tell you that they are starting to put those contingency plans in place now, and that they will have a massive effect on companies such as mine, and companies across the UK that support pharmaceutical R&D and the development and release of products on to the European market.
Q Thank you for attending, and happy Burns day.
Perhaps I can start with you, David, and pick up on what has been said about confusion. The way I read your comments was that you were talking about concerns about legislative change under the Bill, and the ability to make changes in primary legislation. As we know, the Law Society of Scotland has raised issues concerning the timescale that that might mean for your organisation and sector. Could you talk about that a bit? Also, I notice from your photograph that you are MHRA and Food and Drug Administration approved. On the impact of leaving, and potential disjoint—we have already lost the European Medicines Agency to Amsterdam—can you talk about the impact on your sector and company?
Yes, the potential impact is massive. The whole of the medicines regulation is about harmonisation and working under one single set of standards, which are beneficial and mean that the speed to market of life-saving medicines is reduced. If we try to come up with a different set of regulations or way of working, and have duplication of effort, which is what would happen under the current proposal if we became a third country outside the EEA, pharma will look at us and think, “Is the market big enough?”
We are now a net exporter of pharmaceuticals into the European Union and have a trade surplus. We want to avoid anything that puts us into a deficit. If we cannot get some harmonisation and cannot stick with the current harmonisation, I am concerned that we will lose our reputation—or not our reputation, because the MHRA is one of the best in the world, as far as I am concerned, but the ability to get joined-up connectedness. That would have a massive impact on my industry and my company, without question. I would then be forced, contingency-wise, to say “What do I do? I can’t serve some of my customers’ needs in a different regulatory system.” It is a massive thing for us.
Q Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, I know that you did a survey recently that said businesses—your members—did not have faith in the UK Government to act on their behalf. Can you talk about the findings of that survey? You mentioned some of the concerns earlier. The definition of free trade agreements was mentioned by the Law Society of Scotland in its briefing. We know from history some of the challenges and impacts on Scotland, for example on fishing, from trade being negotiated on Scotland’s behalf. Can you talk a bit about the importance of the Scottish Government and business having a say and an active role in those trade deals?
For sure. In the survey we did, we did not just want to survey our members; we surveyed companies across Scotland. The feedback was surprising to us as an organisation. We had sensed that Scottish business was not happy with how this was being handled, but we have some quotes from non-members of Business for Scotland. A director of a FTSE 100 company said:
“When the virtually inevitable car crash happens the Scottish end of the business will most probably be moved to Europe which is a crying shame as the expertise at home is unsurpassed in our market segment. However with no likelihood of stability it will be a logical step to move.”
A director of a New York stock exchange limited company with 800 employees in Scotland said:
“Stop now and ask the people, do they want to continue with this process, knowing what they know now?”
A director of a UK bank left a pithy statement. He just said: “Absolute bloody shambles.” That was the sort of feedback we were getting. Some 79% want a second EU referendum after the deal is done.
In terms of the Trade Bill itself, what I am finding is that Scottish business is not engaging with the detail of Bills such as this. The information they are being asked to understand is so confusing that the only answer they have psychologically is to keep their heads down and hope that it will all be okay. That is why I suggested that through the whole process there has to be a lot more consultation.
In terms of fisheries, food standards and health, which I mentioned before, there are lots of areas where promises have been made. There are issues around tariffs and protections. For instance, I was told during one debate that it is far better to do a trade deal with India because it is so big and so on, but the wages in manufacturing in India are about 79p an hour, and we are approaching £8 an hour here. If a trade deal is done that opens up markets without the right level of consent from devolved Parliaments and industry groups, that will not be a trade deal but a bonfire of manufacturing in the United Kingdom. There have to be checks and balances in that. Multiple sectors will have to feed that in, because if we do not know that, we are going to be signing trade deals that will have unforeseen consequences, and I think that will be very damaging to the UK economy.
Q I have just one final question for Jonathan on control over standards. I understand that standards are one of the key aspects for the furniture industry and the manufacturing of furniture, particularly in respect of fire retardancy and flammability. There have been many stories in the press over the years on the dangers of not maintaining those standards. What are your feelings on what the Bill does and the potential impact of leaving the European Committee for Standardisation? What are the threats or, indeed, the opportunities?
We have made recommendations to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for some updating of and amendments to the flammability regulations in particular. On a more broad basis, I understand that the British Standards Institution is looking to remain a member of the European Committee for Standardisation and the European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation, for example, to keep that continuity. That is what the industry is looking for. By and large, those standards, if they remain in place, are adequate. It is our ability to police, surveil and properly address transgressions that has much more been the issue for the industry. A plethora of products are making their way into the country that do not meet our stringent standards.
To Gordon’s point specifically, there is a complexity here that we do not really understand. As you said, my company knew nothing about the Trade Bill or these sorts of things until we were asked to look into this. We focus on our bits. I think that Gordon is absolutely right: if we put in a trade Bill, there will be unforeseen consequences for certain sectors that you cannot foresee at this point in time.
Part of that is the safety element. Regulated drugs are there for a reason. If we start to loosen those regulations to make trade easier, then we open ourselves up to all sorts of problems, in terms of the fitness for purpose of the products that are brought into this country for use by patients.
Q I have two questions, if I may. First, I just want to ask David a question. You said earlier that it would be a disaster if the pharmaceutical industry did not operate under the same regulatory framework as Europe—that would be a disaster for pharmaceuticals in this country. Correct me if I heard wrongly. However, is it not true that no matter what country you want to deal with, as an industry you have to comply with the regulation of whatever country you are dealing with anyway? So why on earth would you, as an industry, put yourself at risk anyway and not comply with EU regulations, whether we were in or out of the EU?
We would always want to comply with the highest standards of good manufacturing practices—GMP—for the pharmaceutical industry. What we do not want is to see any easing-up of the requirements of that to make trade easier with other parties. That is what I was trying to say. We need to be part of a harmonised system that works on a global basis, because if we have our own system then it becomes much more—not difficult to trade with us or to get things regulated, but we would set up an extra set of barriers. Currently, 60% of all medicines that are used in Europe are released from the UK.
Q So there is absolutely no reason why you as an industry would not conform to that regulation anyway, and consequently this is not really a trade issue.
No, absolutely—it is not a trade issue. We would continue to work to the highest standards, but I would be concerned that things being imported into the UK might not meet the same standards as we would look to use ourselves.
Q Which is a different thing all together. Gordon, may I just ask you a question? I fully understand your nationalistic views on why we should or should not be in the EU; like everybody, we are all entitled to our view and of course voted whichever way we felt at the time. For the purposes of today, though, that is not what we are here to talk about; what we are here to talk about, of course, is the Bill that we are considering. The Bill is a facilitating Bill for the current trade agreements that have already gone through a process of transparency through the EU system. My question to you is this: for the purposes of that and that alone, would it be fair to say that this Bill does exactly what is on the tin?
The Bill itself does not supply sufficient detail to be safe to pass, in my view. The evidence that I am offering is not based on any nationalistic principles; in fact, I think Brexit is also a nationalistic principle, but that is not what we are here to talk about, as you say.
There is one particular thing about standards, in that it is not really defined which ethics and standards will constrain trade Bills. You talked about pharmacy. I worked for Scottish Enterprise for many years and led a mission out to the States to look at poultry processing over there, and chlorine-washed chicken is one of the issues. Everyone was focusing on the fact that there was going to be chlorine-washed chicken as though that is a bad thing. Actually, it is not that bad a thing; it is just that their process is completely different.
If you wash chicken at the end of the process with chlorine, then you do not actually have to have all the high standards in every single process right through, until you get to the point that you have finished. You have then got a product that is a lot less expensive to create. If that is allowed to be imported into the United Kingdom, it will destroy poultry jobs, and therefore we have to think about this question: “Does this Bill actually have sufficient protections to mean that the unforeseen consequences will stop the loss of jobs in the UK as a result of the free hand that has been given?” I do not think it will.
Q Just for clarity, I do not understand what you mean by “free hand”. The Bills that we are talking about transferring over have already gone through all the European processes for identifying Bills. This is purely a Bill to enable the Government, when we leave the EU, to put into law what is already in law.
Except the wording of one of the points—I am sorry, but I do not have it in front of me—is that the Minister and the devolved Administrations will have the ability to act, where appropriate. That gives a huge free hand without the right level of scrutiny and professional input. That in itself is the danger of the Bill. That is very specific to this Bill, and the point is about what it allows and how it can be read.
I understand that this is largely about rewriting—or, if you like, cutting and pasting—from European rules into British law, but elements of the Bill are ill-defined and could, like the Henry VIII powers, direct too much power—
Q I understand that, but what I am trying to establish, Gordon, is this. You mentioned the Henry VIII powers—the SI process—and you are saying that it is not transparent enough. However, I am asking whether you understand that process so that you can make a judgment call about whether it is or is not transparent enough.
Q As you are probably aware, the Bill does not make provision for the involvement of Parliament or others in the scoping negotiations or any ratification of new trade agreements. What provisions do you think it should make on future free trade agreements?
A very quick answer from the furniture industry point of view is that we would want to see as much scrutiny as possible. You referred to parliamentary scrutiny; whether that is the most effective form of scrutiny is another matter. We would certainly want the TRA to be made up of appropriate individuals to provide good-quality scrutiny.
Q The Government always said that they would set out a major consultation mechanism for new free trade agreements. Do you not think that that should be provided for in the Bill?
As I said at the start, consultation is absolutely essential. You have to start with the industries and then bring it to yourselves from that point of view. If it being in the Bill would force that to happen, I would certainly say that that is a good thing from my perspective. I guess that what we do not want is one or two people making a decision for the populous.
Q Mr MacIntyre-Kemp, you spoke about your concern that the Bill is not clear on the Government’s powers to conclude trade deals, and you talked about chlorinated chicken from the United States. I just want to check that you understand that the Bill is perfectly clear that it would not give any powers to the Government to conclude any trade deal with the United States, regardless of whether it included any type of chicken.
You are talking specifically about it not allowing anyone to do a deal to do with chicken, but I was using that as an example to point out that the actual wording of the Bill seems to allow a significant amount of power in one particular place and to not have sufficient levels of consultation. Basically, afterwards, it would indeed be applicable across many different sectors, food being one of them.
Q I do not know whether I am not making this clear. You seem not to be quite answering the question. You do understand that this Bill covers only those countries with which the European Union currently has a trade deal, which does not include the United States? There is nothing in the Bill that would give the Government any powers to conclude any trade deal with the United States.
Q I have a question for David. Looking forward, as well as establishing the trade agreements that the Bill is meant to carry over, am I correct in thinking that your industry has an understanding of the licensing arrangements that will be put in place with the EU, and the research and access to labour issues that need to progress as well to give the industry an overall view?
Absolutely. I would refer you to the Industry Leadership Group position paper written by Dave Tudor, the chair of the Industry Leadership Group for Life Sciences Scotland. There are four key points. One is regulation, which we have talked about already: maintenance of regulation on a harmonised basis. There is trade and supply, which we are obviously talking about today. Access to talent is a key thing. In Scotland, we are a diverse community. Research and development are best done using a diverse set of people, so that freedom of movement and the ability to attract people not just into Scotland but into the UK is fundamental for us. That is not to downplay our abilities, but a mix of different people helps us bring the best ideas to the table.
Again, from a Scottish point of view, we have a heritage of innovation in the medical sciences that we are very proud of, and we want to continue to use our talent base and other talent to help us achieve that.
Q March 2019 is looming fast. In what kind of timescale does the industry need to see the other arrangements that you are looking for clarity on?
Q On access to labour, I assume that you would agree that perhaps some immigration arrangements need to be agreed on a sectoral basis. Would there also be merit in Scotland being able to control its own immigration?
Again, as much clarity as possible on that is good. I have some European nationals who work for me. They are concerned about their position and whether or not they will continue to work for me as we go forward. As soon as we can get clarity on that, an agreement would be fantastic. If that were within the powers of the Scottish Government, I would welcome it, but it is about understanding as quickly as possible how to get clarity so that we can allay the fears of our own people and go out to our customer base to allay their fears and stop any potential actions before they happen.
The furniture industry has a similar exposure to migrant workers. We have a high degree of Polish migrant workers in the industry, particularly with sewing and upholstery skills. The unknown quantities about all of this have meant that some of them are leaving, so there is concern in the industry to provide some clarity, once again, about how we would deal with migrant issues for industry.
Again, some of our members have expressed concerns. In particular, highland hotels are saying that 65% to 70% of their staff during the summer are EU nationals and so on. There are significant issues in Scotland. I think that this shows, in terms of the overall remain vote, that immigration is seen radically differently in Scotland in terms of an opportunity to engineer the age of our society and bring skills to Scotland.
Q I have a quick question for Mr MacIntyre-Kemp. The very first line of the Bill says that the Bill is to
“Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements”.
To elaborate on the point you were making earlier, what do you understand that to mean?
Sorry. What do I understand “international trade agreements” to mean? They are basically agreements between countries that facilitate trade, such as TTIP and CETA and so on, and they have significant impacts on the different sectors, in terms of what sectors are opened up to particular trade deals. Now, regarding the EU, it already has trade deals with South Korea, Canada and so on. I think that is kind of basic.
However, there could be difficulties if there is not an exact definition in the Bill of what a trade deal is; I refer to evidence from legal experts on this issue, as well. It could mean that deals that are not specifically seen as trade deals can come under the remit of the Bill.
Q I have a question for Mr Hindle, just in relation to the British Furniture Confederation. I want to explore rules of origin and the complexity of supply chains. I have a particular manufacturer in my area; I know that a lot of its components come from Europe and a lot come from the UK. I just want to explore something. If our European content is no longer under the same rule of origin, what impact do you think that will have on future trading relationships for these companies or for us in markets other than Europe?
Fairly limited, inasmuch as when most people look for certificates of origin in tendering processes and evidence of supply chain in that regard, they ask for either an EU reference or a UK reference. If we were to devolve to a UK reference as a source of origin, it would carry equal weight in the minds of those in the particular markets that I am familiar with who often require that evidence.
Regarding the quantities coming out of the EU versus the UK, normally we are asked to make a judgment on a split and err towards the country of origin being where the majority of the material originates or where the bulk of the manufacture occurs. There are some guidelines that we tend to follow, along those lines. I am not hearing any concerns from our industry that that will present any problems. We continue to adhere to the current remit for declaring origin.
Q So you do not think that if, say, there was 60% of material from Germany or Scandinavian countries going into the components of British manufactured furniture, that would be an issue for your members?
Offhand, I cannot see it impacting the ability to trade effectively, or our competitiveness, or how we are perceived in any way; no, I cannot see that and I am not getting anything from our industry, as we poll it, to suggest any specific concerns on that particular point.
Of course, we have all the problems that we have had with a weak currency and all the inflationary impact that that has had, because most of our industry relies for a large part of its materials on continental Europe and elsewhere in the world. Weak sterling has had an impact and countered, if you like, the benefits that we might otherwise have enjoyed as an exporter from having a weaker currency on the other hand. It has been a double-edged sword in that regard.
Q Very briefly, Mr MacIntyre-Kemp, I understood your example about chlorinated chicken not to be because you did not realise that this Bill was not about doing a trade deal with America, but to be talking about the need for the devolved Administrations to be involved in determining what are in those trade agreements, because of the way in which they may impact upon the implementation of what are devolved competencies. Do you believe—and do you believe that it is the Scottish Government’s position—that there should not only be consultation but consent at that level for the trade agreements before they are implemented?