Implementation of international trade agreements

Part of Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade) 12:30 pm, 25th June 2020

I start by addressing new clause 22 in the name of my friends from Plaid Cymru. In one regard, it seeks to do something similar to our amendment 8, which the Committee has already debated: to lay down in statute respect for devolution. We witness that in (c), (d) and (e), which would require motions relating to a ministerial statement to be approved by the Senedd, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly prior to regulations being made to implement an international trade agreement. New clause 22 would also, at (a) and (b), empower Parliament by requiring a statement on the terms of such an agreement to be approved in the House of Commons and a take-note motion passed in the other place.

That is eminently sensible. However, I suspect that the Minister will say it is not necessary. He may suggest that it is not necessary because international agreements, including trade agreements, and the decisions to implement them are reserved matters. There is some merit in that. He may also make the case, as he did on Tuesday, that it is better if the UK speaks with a single, if not a united, voice in order to give our negotiating and trading partners certainty about what a deal may or may not deliver.

That, however, is rather to miss the point, as the hon. Member for Harrow West said. We know that some sectors or industries are disproportionately important to the economies of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, compared with their importance to the UK economy as a whole. I cannot remember the precise numbers, but it has been suggested on multiple occasions that the white fish industry is 10 times more important to the Scottish economy than it is to the UK economy as a whole. There are clearly sectors that are vital.

It is equally the case—this is probably accepted now—that modern trade agreements are by and large not about quotas and tariffs; they are about regulation, conformance and product safety. They have the ability to impinge directly on the reserved competencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is, therefore, sensible that we understand and respect why my friends from Plaid Cymru and others seek not just to empower both Houses of Parliament in the decision-making process on implementing an international trade agreement, but to give statutory voice to the devolved nations to ensure their legitimate interests are properly protected.

I turn to clause 2 stand part. I accept what the Minister said about the Bill being primarily about rolling over the pre-existing trade agreements that we had by dint of our very successful membership of the European Union, but I also take on board the serious point made by the hon. Member for Harrow West. He said that the Queen’s Speech described a Bill to facilitate trade, not just roll-over agreements. He also talked about the long title, which says that the Bill will

“Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements”.

That is rather wider than negotiating and implementing roll-over arrangements only.

In the previous debate, we began to touch on some of the key flaws in clause 2 that run to the heart of this legislation. As I said on Second Reading and in my introductory remarks last week, clause 2(6)(a) allows for the Government to make provision

“modifying retained direct principal EU legislation or primary legislation that is retained EU law”,

which runs to the heart of people’s concerns. Even if I accept—and, by and large, I do—that the provision is designed to roll over our current deals, the ability to modify in that way may well mean that we end up with an agreement that is substantially different from the one we started with.