Role of Joint Ministerial Committee

Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 1 February 2018.

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“(1) The Joint Ministerial Committee is to be a forum—

(a) for discussing—

(i) the terms upon which the United Kingdom is to commence negotiations with respect to any international trade agreement;

(ii) proposals to amend retained EU law for the purposes of regulations made under section 1 or section 2;

(b) for seeking a consensus on the matters set out in subsection l(a) between Her Majesty’s Government and the other members of the Joint Ministerial Committee.

(2) Before Her Majesty’s Government concludes an international trade agreement, the Secretary of State must produce a document for consideration by the Joint Ministerial Committee setting out—

(a) Her Majesty’s Government’s objectives and strategy in negotiating and concluding an international trade agreement;

(b) the steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to keep the Joint Ministerial Committee informed of progress in reaching an international trade agreement;

(c) the steps Her Majesty’s Government intends to take to consult each member of the Joint Ministerial Committee before entering into an international trade agreement and for taking the views of each member into account.

(3) Before concluding an international trade agreement the Secretary of State must produce a document setting out the terms of the proposed agreement for consideration by the Joint Ministerial Committee.

(4) In this section, ‘the Joint Ministerial Committee’ means the body set up in accordance with Supplementary Agreement A of the Memorandum of Understanding on Devolution, between Her Majesty’s Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive Committee”.—

This new clause would ensure appropriate consultation with the devolved authorities on international trade agreements.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I made brief reference to this new clause during our discussion of new clause 3, but let me set out in a little more detail why we believe it is required. We have heard from the Minister about the Government’s intention to engage with the devolved authorities in respect of matters that may fall within devolved competences. However, if the Government are to demonstrate that they are serious in this regard, they must ensure that such a consultation framework is established in the Bill.

Modern trade agreements are increasingly broad and comprehensive, and extend into all aspects of governance, public policy and commerce. Inevitably and invariably, trade agreements will impact on matters that have long been, and rightly are, considered to be matters of devolved competence, albeit that our obligations to date have been determined at European level. The Government need to give clarity in the Bill about when an obligation ceases to be a trade matter that is within the exclusive competence of the UK and becomes a matter that is within the competence of the respective devolved Administrations.

We have heard that this matter is not unique to the United Kingdom. It is an emerging issue around the world, so we must consider it from an international perspective and ask ourselves not just what satisfies immediate domestic policy objectives but what we would demand from would-be trade partners who face similar issues and, perhaps more importantly, what they would expect from us.

I again refer the Committee to Nick Ashton-Hart’s evidence:

“the political economy demands that you have the backing, as a negotiator, at home when you are sitting across the table from your counterparties and that they know that you have that. They can watch your processes of consent and agreement and evaluate where your weaknesses are—where there are buttons they can push, but also where you are likely to need support.”—[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 10, Q12.]

We would be nothing short of foolish to allow our trade negotiators to commence talks without first having consulted and engaged with our constituent interests, which absolutely must include the devolved authorities. Trade negotiations can be brutal. The Americans have no qualms in telling us that they refer to counterparties to such talks not as “partners” but as “adversaries”. Any weakness in position or failure to come prepared can be extremely costly and damaging—especially so if complications are presented later when the Government seek to ensure implementation and compliance with the obligations stemming from the concluded trade agreement. A whole-of-Government approach is required, not only to avoid later difficulties but to ensure the democratic will is represented fully in the determination of our international outlook and the relationships we will form with other states.

Other countries have sought to create a consultation framework to mitigate any such complications at the earliest possible stage of the process. The US has its Trade Promotion Authority, born of the fast-track scheme. There are problems and complications with it, but it is there. The Government of Canada have given a much greater role to the country’s provinces in setting mandates and consulting in negotiations, as a result of the EU’s refusal even to begin trade talks unless it had confidence that the provincial governments would ultimately agree to implementation. Will the Minister tell us whether any of the trade working groups and dialogues that the Government have established with would-be trade partners have yet covered that issue, or whether the issue has been raised in the provisional soundings taken of the third countries with which we seek a trade agreement that corresponds with one they might have with the EU?

It is rumoured that the Government’s preference is to mirror as much as possible the Australian trade policy model. In Australia, no such formal consultation exists with state governments. They have the same rights as any other lobbyist: they can submit responses to open consultation in advance of the conclusion of trade agreements. Of course, that approach presents entirely different problems, and it would be foolhardy to believe otherwise. We have seen the Queensland state government implement policy that ignores obligations under Australia’s trade agreement with New Zealand in order to deliver on Queensland’s public interest and economic performance duties.

Will the Minister tell us what discussions his Department has had with each of those countries in this respect? Have concerns been raised about consultation with our devolved authorities? Conversely, have we asked about theirs? Perhaps the Government have given assurances that they intend not to consult with the devolved authorities and will use the powers in the Bill to override devolved competence. Perhaps it is a case of “put up and shut up”.

Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South

On that point, is my hon. Friend aware that the Institute for Government found that in other countries, such as Canada, buy-in from provinces is crucial to make trade agreements such as the comprehensive economic and trade agreement work? The institute states that, otherwise, it is “political hell”. Does he agree that, similarly, the political buy-in of the devolved Administrations in the UK is necessary to implement trade agreements, and that early consultation and involvement is necessary to avoid political hell?

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Absolutely. My hon. Friend uses language that I would not wish to use in the Committee, but it is certainly a political mess. I think we can see that other countries have taken their responsibilities to their trading partners seriously, as well as their responsibilities to their constituent states, provinces and members. That is what we are seeking to do through the new clause.

The Minister may of course fall back on his plea that, “The Bill is not about that. These consultations are an unnecessary attempt to convince the Committee that the Bill is genuinely limited.” However, he cannot convince us that the Bill will not set the parameters and a precedent for our future approach to trade policy and trade agreements. One could hardly be expected to believe that an entirely different approach will be set out hereafter. Specifically in relation to the Australian example I gave, this is about procurement, which goes to the heart of part 1 of the Bill.

The Minister is obliged to seriously take on board these issues. That is why it is imperative that the Government stop codding us and start getting it right. They need to set out in primary legislation a formal consultation framework that engages the devolved authorities in the new corresponding trade agreements. Similarly, any future trade agreement is essential to our preparedness to commence formal trade talks with any other country.

That is why we on the Labour Benches have tabled new clause 11, which would see the Joint Ministerial Committee, as established under the memorandum of understanding between the United Kingdom and the devolved Administrations, established as the forum for such consultations. The Joint Ministerial Committee exists to consider non-devolved matters that impinge on devolved responsibilities and devolved matters that impinge on non-devolved responsibilities. When the UK Government and the devolved Administrations so agree, it considers devolved matters if it is beneficial to discuss their respective treatment in different parts of the UK. It keeps the arrangements for liaison between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations under review and considers disputes between the Administrations.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington 12:00, 1 February 2018

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I was particularly struck by what Elspeth Macdonald, the deputy chief executive of Food Standards Scotland, said. Perhaps my hon. Friend agrees with her. In giving evidence, she said:

“The principal issue with the Bill that causes us great difficulties is the way in which it constrains the ability of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers, and consequently our ability, to act and regulate in ways that are considered appropriate for businesses and the public in Scotland.”—[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 95, Q172.]

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

I thank my hon. Friend, because that evidence is absolutely apposite to the new clause. All we are seeking to do is assist the Government in any future negotiations they may have as they seek to roll over agreements to corresponding agreements. We want to make it easier for them to persuade a trading partner that there will be no problems in implementing the agreements.

The Joint Ministerial Committee has already been the vehicle for similar engagement in respect of EU negotiations on the withdrawal deal, by way of sub-committee, establishing a clear precedent for a similar sub-committee in respect of trade agreements. That would be extremely helpful. It is therefore entirely appropriate that the Bill ensures that a similar forum is legislated for to ensure that the democratic will of the entire population of the country is represented fully throughout the trade agreement process and without threatening the devolved competencies.

I take this opportunity to remind the Government that they must not allow the Bill to afford Ministers of the Crown powers that would undermine the competence of the devolved authorities and the devolution settlements. While instituting a formal consultation framework through the JMC would go some way to protecting the rights of the devolved Administrations, it would not and cannot be considered as addressing the other concerns presented by the Bill, which I have previously adverted to in our proceedings. If the Government fail to address those concerns, the Labour party will return with further amendments.

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

The Trade Bill fails to set out a suitable framework for future trade agreements. The arrangements included in the Bill are insufficient and leave a lot to be desired on several important issues that I and many MPs raised in the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Just like that Bill, the Trade Bill puts restrictions on the Executive capacity of the Scottish and Welsh Governments, while placing no restrictions on the capacity of the UK Government. Essentially, under the Bill, Ministers of the UK Government will be able to legislate in devolved areas.

Wales is an outward-facing, globally trading nation and remains open for business.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Could the hon. Lady outline to the Committee why she did not vote last week for the Welsh Government’s sponsored amendment in this area?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

I thank the Minister for asking that question. As he will recall, I spoke widely in support of that amendment. We will discuss that at a later stage.

In Wales, our economy offers great opportunities for both trade and investment. The Bill must not put that at risk. As I just mentioned, I spoke last week on the principles of devolution. Today, I want to reiterate that the Bill seriously lacks consideration of the principle of devolution and the appropriate frameworks to make it work. It is unacceptable that the Government expect the Welsh and Scottish Administrations to be content with handing over power on devolved areas to Whitehall.

The Bill in its current state hands over an unnecessary amount of power to the Government of the day, whoever they may be, and in no way does it safeguard the principles of devolution that people in Wales and Scotland have fought so hard for. I want to stress, once again, that my reservations with the Bill’s lack of consideration for devolution have nothing to do with extending the powers of devolution.

Photo of Faisal Rashid Faisal Rashid Labour, Warrington South

Mr Southworth of the International Chamber of Commerce said that the devolved Administrations have cause for concern due to

“vulnerabilities on a whole range on different industries.”—[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 35, Q80.]

Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that there is greater need for consultation with the devolved Administrations?

Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Labour, Cardiff North

That is exactly what I am saying. I absolutely agree that we need that consultation and agreement with the devolved Administrations, in order that we do not jeopardise future trade agreements on an international level.

Our concern is that devolution is being rolled back because UK Ministers would be allowed to use Henry VIII powers to reach across into legislation within devolved competence and make changes. The Joint Ministerial Committee was created with the purpose of giving the devolved Administrations the chance to give their input. So far, it has been used sparingly: there have been few meaningful discussions, it has met rarely and little has come out of it. That needs to change.

Good governance requires co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South just set out. That was also set out in the devolution settlements. The Bill as written is unacceptable. It must contain appropriate frameworks that respect the devolution settlement. We will not agree to the rolling back of devolution and to seriously risking damaging our future trading agreements. Unfortunately, that is what the Government seem to want to do.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

I welcome the spirit of the new clause, but from my perspective, we should have something stronger than just consultation; we would be looking for the consent of the devolved Administrations. That is in line with some of our amendments that have been defeated. I certainly welcome the hon. Member for Brent North’s saying that the official Opposition will revisit some of the amendments on Report. We will certainly look to co-operate on this matter.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

I hope that that will all be unnecessary, because I trust that the Government will see the error of their ways and introduce those amendments themselves. If they do not, I reiterate my assurance to the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition will.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

Far be it from me to suggest that the hon. Gentleman may be a tad naive, but he is certainly optimistic if he thinks the Government have seen the light on this. I have made this point several times, but the devolved Administrations have said that they will withhold legislative consent motions if the Bill is not amended, so realistically, the Government will need to consider further amendments.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

The Government have made it clear that we seek to maintain the effects of the UK’s existing trade agreements. We make that commitment in relation to all parts of the United Kingdom, which means that we do not intend Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or, indeed, England to be disproportionately impacted by the transitioning of those agreements. Given that we have committed to seeking continuity in the effects of existing agreements, the impact of the transition should be neutral on all parts of the UK.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade and Investment)

While I take what the right hon. Gentleman says with the greatest of respect—I want to believe him—can he not see that, from the perspective of those of us from the devolved nations, the written and oral evidence given to the Committee paints a very different picture from that which he paints here today? Our concerns are legitimate, yet we have nothing. The Government have supported none of our amendments, despite promises made on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I will come on to outline the engagement that we have had with the devolved Administrations and to talk about what that engagement might look like in the future. I stress to the hon. Lady that the Bill is about transitioning agreements that, in most cases, are already in place.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, the chief executive of Business for Scotland, put it very simply. He said that the Bill

“puts the power to act almost unilaterally in the hands of a single Minister… At worst, it looks like a deliberate attempt to delay the transfer of EU-held powers…until after the UK Government has had free rein to agree deals that you could say run roughshod over the devolution agreements”.––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 25 January 2018; c. 99, Q184.]

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Again, if I recall correctly, the evidence was almost all about future trade agreements that the UK may wish to enter into. To reiterate, the Bill talks about our existing trading arrangements.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Labour, Warwick and Leamington

Does the Minister not accept that they will technically be new agreements?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

As I have laid out frequently, the substance of the agreements will be the same. That is what we are looking to transition; that is the continuity factor of these agreements. There will of course be the opportunity in the future to come to new trade agreements with the same countries, but we are talking about the continuity of our existing trading arrangements—the 40-plus agreements with 70-plus nations.

On consultation with the devolved Administrations, the Department for International Trade ensures that its Ministers, as well as its directors and other senior officials, visit the devolved Administrations regularly and continually looks for further opportunities to engage with a range of stakeholders across the UK. Indeed, the hon. Member for Livingston knows that, because on a previous visit to Edinburgh I actually went to her constituency. The Secretary of State has engaged with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and with the Northern Ireland Executive.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade and Investment)

We were very glad to welcome the Minister to Livingston and I have been glad to engage with him on issues in my constituency. However, does he not recognise that engagement and consultation are very different from consent? The importance of consent and the devolution settlement being rowed back on are very different issues.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 12:15, 1 February 2018

I do not mean for us to keep throwing questions at each other, but I again stress that the Bill is about the existing trading arrangements of the United Kingdom as a whole. We will engage extensively with the devolved Administrations about what the future arrangements might be. We are being clear that we will continue to engage with the devolved Administrations as we transition these agreements as well. The devolved Administrations will, of course, have a role in implementing transitioned trade agreements in devolved areas, including, where appropriate, by amending retained EU law.

We have committed to consulting the devolved Administrations on the most appropriate way to implement the transitioned trade agreements and the agreement on government procurement in areas of retained direct EU law that have effect in otherwise devolved areas. We will welcome their input on the best way to do that so that the agreements are implemented effectively for the whole of the UK. We will also work closely with the devolved Administrations on the role they will play in shaping the UK’s future trade negotiations. It is right that we should have the opportunity to take these discussions forward and to engage the devolved Administrations to understand their views.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Infrastructure and Energy)

I welcome the fact that the Minister is outlining the engagement he has had with the devolved Administrations, but can he confirm what the views of the devolved Administrations are on the provisions of the Bill?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

I do not think the hon. Gentleman needs me to confirm that. He has said himself what the position of the devolved Administrations is, including on the legislative consent motion. We have listened to them and will continue to listen to them very closely. He has put his point of view on the record as to the perspective of the Scottish Government.

I will come back to some of the points raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Brent North wanted to put devolved Administration engagement on the face of the Bill. I stress again that these agreements are about continuity, not future trade agreements. We have been clear in the White Paper that we will engage. We therefore do not require statutory engagement structures in the Bill.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

One of the trade agreements that we have repeatedly come back to, which makes it quite clear that this is not the simple roll-over of the existing trading arrangements that the Minister is talking about, is the treaty we currently have with Norway. Fisheries are an important part of Norway’s economy. It is almost inconceivable that in the roll-over of that agreement, there will not need to be some provision in that regard. Surely the Minister must address those points, because they are pertinent to the Bill and to the Government’s capacity to do what they seek to do, which in large measure the Opposition believe to be right and proper: to try to make the transition as seamless as possible. However, there will be areas where it is not, and Norway is one of them. We must address that and not simply gloss over it by saying, “Well, we’ll have to deal with that once we know what we’re doing with the EU final deal.”

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

Of course we value our trade relations with Norway very strongly and closely. By geography alone, let alone the amount of oil and gas coming from Norway, we have incredibly strong trade relations. For the record, I met the Norwegian Trade Minister last autumn. I am perhaps going to sound like déjà vu all over again, but I repeat that the future trading relations with Norway will be very dependent on the future UK negotiations with the European Union. That is not a matter for this Bill; it is a matter that is being scrutinised on frequent occasions in this House and elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Brent North said that we need an engagement structure for future trade agreements. The Government agree that we need to engage the devolved Administrations in our future trade agreements for the benefit of the whole of the UK, as was made clear in the White Paper. We are talking to the devolved Administrations about what that will look like. The new clause would pre-decide that discussion.

The hon. Gentleman talked about international examples for consultation models with the devolved Administrations and gave us a quite interesting exposition of the position in Australia and other parts of the world. It was fascinating stuff, but our constitutional arrangement is very different from any of the international examples raised. As was made clear in our White Paper, we therefore need to design our own engagement structures, in consultation, that work for the benefit of the whole of the UK.

The hon. Members for Warwick and Leamington and for Cardiff North claimed that we were putting a constraint on the devolved legislatures. To be clear, the Bill will allow the devolved Administrations to make regulations that they consider appropriate for the purpose of implementing trade agreements in devolved areas, including in areas of retained EU law.

The hon. Member for Cardiff North said that devolution is being undermined. That is not at all the case. The Bill introduces new powers for the devolved Administrations to work collaboratively with the UK Government to secure continuity in our current trading relationships. Under the Bill, the devolved Administrations will be able to make every decision after exit that they can make before exit. We therefore do not need to commit to such a review or role for the Joint Ministerial Committee in legislation.

The official Opposition’s tabling at a late stage of this emergency extra new clause, which emerged earlier this week, seems to be more about Labour members of the Committee messing it up last week by controversially not supporting the Welsh Labour Government’s amendments, when everyone expected them to do so. When the hon. Member for Warrington South talked about a “political hell”, he might have been referring to the political hell we see all day, every day in the official Opposition in this House and elsewhere. On that basis, I urge the hon. Member for Brent North not to press the new clause.

Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade

Had I been disposed not to press the new clause, the Minister’s final remarks would have made me all the more determined to do so. However, I was not so disposed, and we will press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division number 36 Caledonian Pinewood Forest — Role of Joint Ministerial Committee

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

New Clause 12