Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Import of agricultural goods

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 5th March 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge 12:45 pm, 5th March 2020

I have listened very closely to the Minister addressing a range of complicated issues. In responding, I will work backwards.

We fully accept that drafting the detail in these proposals was a complicated process, and we pay tribute to the current Secretary of State for the work he did in attempting to deal with this conundrum. I have to say that I think the Bill—this is the part the Minister was not really able to address—in effect takes apart what the Secretary of State was trying to do, which we think was really important. I invite the Minister to reflect on whether it would be possible to work cross-party before we get to the next stage of the process to amend some of the detail. That would seem to me to be a good way forward, and it would reflect what I suspect we can probably all agree on. Knocking this down on the basis that there are problematic points of detail—I do not dispute that it is complicated and difficult—is not the right way to go.

That leads us to the Minister’s point about our relationships in the WTO. We know that the WTO is a troubled organisation at the moment, but we also know that there is plenty of opportunity all the time for people to challenge. The question is why they do it at some times and not others. That goes back to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West.

There is a political set of questions about how trading blocs deal with disputes. The sad truth is that we are now outside one of the big trading blocs and we do not have the power of an umbrella that would probably prevent others from making challenges that we might not think reasonable. We have seen that in the new world order, with Trump and so on, quite spurious challenges may be made that generate a whole raft of legal procedures, which take time and are difficult to deal with. A small player is much more vulnerable than a big player to being picked off, because big players have more resources in their armoury to fight back with.

I am afraid that is the difficult situation that the Government have got us into. On the WTO rules, I recognise that there is some potential for challenge, but that is where we are at. We must ensure that we do everything we can to protect our people in this new world. The clearest and most helpful way of doing that in negotiations would be to put what we have proposed in the Bill; if we did so, the others in the negotiations would know it was non-negotiable.

That goes back to the basic point that the Minister made at the beginning of her speech. I am afraid the harsh truth is that when the Prime Minister makes a series of promises, they are not believed. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East made some excellent points: for all the reasons we have heard about today, including the piece that the current Secretary of State wrote all those months ago, how can we believe the Prime Minister when—