The Trade Remedies Authority

Part of Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 30 January 2018.

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Photo of Mark Prisk Mark Prisk Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 3:45, 30 January 2018

I will not detain the Committee for long, but it is important when we establish a new authority to step back. Some of these issues will be raised in debates on amendments, so I will not get too far into the detail.

I strongly support the creation of the Trade Remedies Authority. As our trade policy is slowly developed in the months and years to come, we will need it to be underpinned by a robust remedies regime. Certain characteristics of the authority are very important, and it would aid the interpretation of the Bill in due course if the Government’s aims and intentions were set out on the record.

For an authority to be effective, it needs certain characteristics. First, it needs to be objective and evidence-based. I think that most Members would agree with that in general, but it becomes far more difficult when there is an acute case that is difficult in our constituencies or is of a totemic nature nationally. We need to be clear when we establish the authority that it should be objective and evidence-based in its deliberations and when advising Ministers.

Secondly, the organisation needs to have a broad base. It needs to be open and accessible. All stakeholders must feel that they are able to engage with the authority, and that they are listened to by its whole structure. We have heard examples of authorities in other countries. I simply say that I want to ensure that the consultation process includes not just the business world, but the workers whose jobs may well be threatened and consumers, whom we heard mentioned in evidence. I hope that the Minister can confirm that it will. Many of these issues require a balance between those two sides, and we need to ensure that we have such a balance. It is also important that the authority listens and is seen to listen. The characteristics I have touched on—objectivity, broadness and inclusivity—are important if the authority is to be recognised both here in the United Kingdom and by our trading partners abroad.

The third characteristic is efficiency—or timeliness, as some lawyers describe it. I always find it entertaining when lawyers describe timeliness. Efficiency is of course in tension with the idea of a broad consultation, but we are all aware that there will be cases where prompt action is required, so it is necessary to have good processes in place. Although those will clearly come later, it is important that we put that on the record at this stage, and we would benefit from hearing from the Minister about that.

The most important characteristic, however, is independence. We have heard on Second Reading and in Committee that we all want the authority to be independent and that, naturally, it should be at arm’s length from the Government—the current Administration and future Administrations—for many years to come. That is right, but if it is to be effective, the authority also needs to be able to withstand the media and political pressures that will arise when individual cases come forward. We must ensure that the structure that the Bill builds is robust enough to withstand those pressures. That is why the authority’s non-executive members must be appointed on the basis not of sectional interest but of merit.

We will debate in due course whether the non-executive members should include people from Wales or Scotland, or trade unionists. There are merits to ensuring that the authority listens to all such interests, but I worry that if non-executive members are appointed because they represent one sectional interest or another, the authority’s ability to give independent, objective advice to the Government will be limited. We will come on to the details of that when we debate amendments, but that is an important broad principle.

I strongly believe that if we are to have a remedies authority and an effective set of remedies rules, we need to ensure that those principles are clearly set out not just in legislation but by Ministers and those who are appointed to the authority, so that people both here and abroad can see that that is the intention. I think that would also answer some of the concerns about whether the authority will listen to workers through the trade union movement, by ensuring that consultation is broad and that the authority is clearly outward facing.

It comes back down to this last point: if we want others to follow the rules in trade, so that we have a free and fair system, we have to be seen to abide by those rules ourselves. There will come a moment when this authority reports to a Minister, when there will be a totemic business that is right on the cusp because of a particular practice, or there will be job losses that sharply affect a community that has already lost many jobs. At that moment, the test of the authority is whether it is objective. Is it giving its advice to Ministers on the basis of evidence? Is it genuinely independent and therefore able to be trusted by people here and abroad? Those are important principles and I welcome the Minister’s response.