Regulations under Part 1

Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade) 2:00 pm, 25th June 2020

I beg to move amendment 18, in schedule 2, page 11, line 26, leave out from “section 1(1)” to the end of line 27 and insert

“may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

This amendment would specify an affirmative resolution procedure for regulations under section 1(1).

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the amendment in my name and those of my hon. Friends. Let me make it clear that we have tabled this amendment recognising that the affirmative resolution procedure is not a perfect process by any means. It is, nevertheless, better than the annulment procedure, which Ministers currently have locked into the Bill. An affirmative process is vital, as without it the Government will have carte blanche to introduce regulations to implement the obligations arising from our independent membership of the GPA—the agreement on government procurement—without the slightest hint of anything resembling parliamentary scrutiny.

The negative resolution procedure the Government propose for regulations under clause 1(1) is the least rigorous of all the parliamentary procedures for scrutiny available to the House. The main point of the negative resolution procedure is to allow the Government to have their way without any need to bother with parliamentary democracy. Indeed, I am told that the last time a negative instrument was successfully annulled in the House of Commons was the Paraffin (Maximum Retail Prices) (Revocation) (No. 3) Order 1979.

International treaties cannot be easily repealed, but domestic legislation can be repealed much more easily. If ever there were an example of secondary legislation crying out for proper parliamentary scrutiny and oversight, surely this is it. I remind the Committee of the evidence we heard from Rosa Crawford of the Trades Union Congress. In response to Question 70 from my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central, she pointed out:

“The GPA as it stands has no requirement for members to promote social standards in their tendering process.”––[Official Report, Trade Public Bill Committee, 16 June 2020; c. 49, Q70.]

The TUC is worried that, once we leave any kind of relationship with the European Union and no longer have to rely on the EU’s contract regulations, the UK Government may well roll back on those commitments to promote social standards through the tendering process that are currently locked into our law by EU directives.

Opposition Members remember—indeed, Rosa Crawford reminded us all as a Committee—that the Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet have talked many times in the past about wanting to repeal EU-derived rights on working time and agency workers, and other important protections for workers’ rights. Not surprisingly, the TUC is worried that that may well be the direction of travel with procurement regulations in the future.

It is therefore sensible to make sure we have a proper parliamentary process that allows us to explore whether, under the cover of minor technical changes to the GPA—no doubt the Minister will suggest to the Committee that that is all he intends this process for—our contract regulations and the standards associated with them are gradually being undermined and a race to the bottom on standards is under way. We consider the affirmative resolution procedure to be more appropriate than the annulment process in the Bill. However imperfect the affirmative resolution process, it at least provides Members with the possibility of a debate and a vote, and it is then of course up to us to make proper use of that opportunity. That is the spirit of amendment 18.

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

I begin by welcoming you to the Chair this afternoon, Sir Graham. I appreciate the concerns that there should be adequate parliamentary scrutiny of regulations made under the clause 1 power. I am satisfied that that is the case, and let me explain why.

As I have said, the power is intended to allow the UK to make technical changes—for example, to reflect new parties joining the government procurement agreement or existing parties withdrawing from it. In the case of a new or withdrawing party, it is important that the UK is able to respond quickly and flexibly. Once a new party deposits its instrument of accession, there is, under the rules of the World Trade Organisation GPA, a period of only 30 days before that accession comes into force. The UK will then be under an immediate obligation to provide that new party with guaranteed procurement opportunities covered by the GPA, and of course vice versa. If the UK failed to offer the new party this guaranteed access, we would be in breach of our GPA commitments. Equally, a party to the GPA can decide to withdraw unilaterally. When a party notifies the Committee on Government Procurement that it intends to withdraw, it will cease to be a GPA member just 60 days later. It is therefore vital that we are able to react quickly to such a notification, either to join or to withdraw.

If the power to amend UK legislation to reflect a party’s withdrawing from the GPA were subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, we might not be able to legislate in time to remove the party within the 60-day time limit. This could result in UK contracting authorities continuing to give a party that has left the GPA—companies from that country—guaranteed access to the UK’s procurement market that it is no longer entitled to have. Furthermore, the former party would have no obligation at the same time to give UK businesses reciprocal access to its procurement markets. I am confident that Members will agree on the need to regulate quickly in these instances, both practically so that UK businesses are not disadvantaged and to show good faith to the other party.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The Minister made great play two years ago of the idea that the affirmative resolution procedure takes 30 days longer than the negative resolution procedure. However, that is not an issue because the Government are notified months in advance that this is coming, and Government officials are able to put in place the necessary regulations, whether negative or affirmative. There is plenty of time to get ready to avoid the catastrophic outcome that the Minister describes.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. In fact, accession to the GPA typically take some years, so in that sense it would have been telegraphed quite far in advance—the most recent party to join is Australia. But it would be inappropriate for us to ratify someone joining the GPA in advance of them actually depositing the papers, so although joining is a lengthy process, the actual ratification process is very short. That is the key difference in this case.

The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report on the Trade Bill 2017-19 raised no concerns, nor made any recommendations, about the use of the negative procedure in relation to this power. However, let me clear: when new parties are seeking to accede to the GPA, we will ensure that Parliament is kept informed. Parliamentary scrutiny is more effective before an accession is agreed, because that is when the views of Parliament can be taken into account.

Where a WTO member is seeking to join the GPA, it is our intention to notify Parliament, to keep the relevant Committee—in this case, the International Trade Committee—informed as the negotiations proceed, and to allow further discussion where desired. That is the right time for Parliament to be actively involved in a debate, for example, on Australia’s accession to the GPA—although the case of Australia is backward looking, of course, to when we were covered by the GPA through our EU membership. If there were such a case going forward, the right time would be during the discussions to the accession, not after the accession had been agreed.

I remind Members that there has already been parliamentary scrutiny of the UK’s market access schedules and the text of the GPA, which were laid before Parliament in line with the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. That process concluded without objection in 2019. Any further changes to the GPA, including the UK schedules prior to our accession, will again be scrutinised in line with CRAG.

I hope my comments provide reassurance to the Committee. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment and commend schedule 2 to the Committee.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I was toying with being persuaded by the Minister until the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central. Given what he said about the amount of telegraphing that Ministers will have about the changes and given the scale of scrutiny provisions that were included in the last Bill come the end of Report stage in the Lords and the Commons, which have now been taken out of the current Bill, I fear that on this occasion, I need to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 11 Trade Bill — Regulations under Part 1

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 6, in schedule 2, page 13, leave out lines 13 to 16 and insert—

“4 (1) A statutory instrument containing regulations of a Minister of the Crown acting alone under section 2(1) in respect of an international trade agreement which meets the criteria under section 2(3) or 2(4) may not be made unless all provisions of sub-paragraphs (1A) to (1D) have been satisfied.

(1A) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament—

(a) a draft of an order to the effect that the agreement be ratified, and

(b) a document which explains why the Secretary of State believes that the agreement should be ratified.

(1B) The Secretary of State may make an order in the terms of the draft order laid under subparagraph (1A) if—

(a) after the expiry of a period of 21 sitting days after the draft order is laid, no committee of either House of Parliament has recommended that the order should not be made, and

(b) after the expiry of a period of 40 sitting days after the draft order is laid, a motion in the terms of the draft order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(1C) If a committee of either House of Parliament recommends that an order should not be made under subparagraph (2), the Secretary of State may, after the expiry of a period of 60 sitting days after the draft order is laid, make a motion for a resolution in each House of Parliament in the terms of the draft order.

(1D) If a motion in the terms of the draft order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament under subparagraph (1B)(b), the Secretary of State may make an order in the terms of the draft order.

(1E) A free trade agreement to which this paragraph applies shall not be deemed to be a treaty for the purposes of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

(1F) In section 25 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, after subsection (1)(b), at end insert “but does not include an international trade agreement to which paragraph 4(1) of Schedule 2 to the Trade Act 2020 applies.”—

This amendment would establish a form of super-affirmative procedure for scrutiny of an international trade agreement before ratification and before regulations implementing the agreement could be made.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 12 Trade Bill — Regulations under Part 1

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: 7, in schedule 2, page 13, line 25, at end insert—

“4A (1) A statutory instrument containing regulations of a Minister of the Crown acting alone under section 2(1) in respect of an international trade agreement which does not meet the criteria under section 2(3) or section 2(4) may not be made except in accordance with the steps in subparagraphs (1A) to (1D).

(1A) The Minister shall lay before Parliament—

(a) a draft of the regulations, and

(b) a document which explains why the Secretary of State believes that regulations should be made in terms of the draft regulations.

(1B) The Minister may make an order in the terms of the draft regulations laid under subparagraph (1A) if—

(a) after the expiry of a period of 21 sitting days after the draft regulations are laid, no committee of either House of Parliament has recommended that the regulations should not be made, and

(b) after the expiry of a period of 60 sitting days after the draft regulations are laid, the draft regulations are approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(1C) If a committee of either House of Parliament recommends that the regulations should not be made, the Secretary of State may—

(a) lay before Parliament revised draft regulations, and

(b) after the expiry of a period of 40 sitting days after the revised draft regulations are laid, make a motion for a resolution in each House of Parliament for approval of the revised draft regulations.

(1D) If a motion under subparagraph (1C)(b) is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Secretary of State may make the regulations.”—

This amendment would establish a form of super-affirmative procedure for scrutiny of regulations implementing all trade agreements covered by the bill. The procedure would apply to agreements other than EU rollover trade agreements if amendments extending the application of the bill were agreed to.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 13 Trade Bill — Regulations under Part 1

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.