I beg to move amendment 1, in schedule 4, page 15, leave out line 14 and insert—
“(a) a member to chair it, appointed by the Secretary of State with the consent of the International Trade Committee of the House of Commons,”.
This amendment would establish the requirement for Parliament, through the relevant committee, to give its consent to the Secretary of State’s recommendation for appointment to the Chair of the Trade Remedies Authority.
It is a pleasure to see you back for the final sitting of the Committee, Sir Graham.
I know that the Minister sometimes forgets what we said in our reasoned amendment, so in case he has forgotten again, I remind him that we recognised the desirability of—indeed, the need for—the UK to pass
“effective legislation to implement agreements” and
“to set out the basis of a Trade Remedies Authority to deliver the new UK trade remedies framework”.
Yes, we do indeed support the creation of the Trade Remedies Authority. There it is again, for the avoidance of doubt, on the record. No doubt the Minister will claim otherwise, as he has done numerous times in the past two years.
Schedule 4 states that the Secretary of State will appoint the chair, who will in turn appoint the chief executive and non-executive members of the Trade Remedies Authority. The amendment is about how the appointment of the chair is carried out. The chair is appointed by the Secretary of State and in that process there is no recourse to Parliament or to other scrutiny of the appointment. The Secretary of State is therefore free to appoint someone in their own image, with the same political leanings and economic opinion—which is the more important point.
Indeed, although I have no idea of his politics, when Simon Walker gave evidence he gave every indication that he entirely agrees with the approach of the Secretary of State to trade remedies. I do not say that to denigrate Mr Walker. I have known him for a number of years and he is a well-travelled representative of business, who has had a number of different roles. The amendment is about not him as an individual, but the principle. It is about the opportunity to appoint someone with a particular approach to trade remedies and the appointment, in turn, of an unbalanced Trade Remedies Authority that looks only at the approach favoured by the Government.
The previous Secretary of State had advisers from Legatum and the Initiative for Free Trade. The current Secretary of State has an adviser from the Adam Smith Institute. It is clear what the main thrust of Government advice is on those matters.
Has my hon. Friend seen the evidence from the British Ceramic Confederation, which thought there was already a very strong ideological view on tariffs, protectionism and dumping? It highlighted, for example, the recent UK global tariff announcement and suggested that the Government’s pre-eminent view was that all tariffs are protectionist.
I am familiar with the evidence that my hon. Friend cites. It reminded us that the Minister has previously said in meetings—I believe he has put it in writing, too—that experts on trade would be appointed to these roles on a non-ideological basis. Yet the evidence on how the people are appointed to the roles suggests that the Government have one single approach, which is as my hon. Friend indicated.
The British Ceramic Confederation has set out concerns that include how global tariffs have been implemented. The way in which the Government tariff schedules have been set out causes a problem for many of the confederation’s members because of the small margins involved in the industry and because even small differences in tariffs between different countries creates a difficult problem for competitiveness.
The Government’s ideological direction of travel is about supporting consumers. The Minister will probably say that the Opposition are against the consumer interest, that we do not support consumers and that we do not think they should have access to good quality low-price imports. But that misses the point. Of course consumers are one of the interests and should be supported. Of course they have every right to be included, but they are one—not the only—consideration in these matters.
It is obviously important that we have the Trade Remedies Authority. Two industries particularly concerned to have it are steel and ceramics. Have there not been consistent concerns in the past about China and one or two other countries trying to dump steel products and ceramics into Europe for UK markets? We need someone robust enough to stand up to such practice, and perhaps only parliamentary scrutiny of that person will help tease that out.
My hon. Friend is right. We have discussed ceramics, and he has spoken in other debates about steel and how not having an international trade agreement with Turkey runs the risk, as we were told by UK Steel, of 15% tariffs being levied in one direction and creating a very uncompetitive situation in the streel industry.
However, this is a slightly different point. The point is about trade remedies and the example of steel. In the 2015 steel crisis, cheap imports of Chinese steel flooded the European market, often not of the same quality or standard, and our steel industry was in crisis. The steelworks at Redcar closed, despite the fact that it had world leading carbon capture and storage technology, which was lost for good. The international competitive advantage in that emerging technology has gone from this country, and the rest of our steel industry faced a very difficult time. There are difficult times again now, partly because of the covid crisis and because the Chinese economy has emerged more quickly. The Chinese went into it first and have come out of it first.
In the 2015 crisis, David Cameron’s Conservative Government were resistant to the use of trade defensive measures as part of the European Union. This country delayed the introduction of those measures and the lifting of the lesser duty rule, with the effect that we were very late to take the action needed. The loss of SSI at Redcar was one consequence. We took action too late and we did not take the same action as other countries, which were in a much stronger position to resist the dumping of Chinese steel as a result.
Absolutely, Sir Graham. I was merely going to say that the need for parliamentary scrutiny of the chair of the TRA is surely even greater given the point my hon. Friend made about the risk of China perhaps again trying to dump steel or ceramic products into our markets. The Government have an appetite for joining the transatlantic partnership, which China also wishes to join—it has made that wish very clear. Does my hon. Friend not think that amplifies his point about the need for robust parliamentary scrutiny to check that we have a genuinely robust chair of the TRA?
Yes, that is absolutely right, and of course there must be a chair who balances interests in exactly the right way to do these things; in his evidence, Simon Walker said he hoped that would be the nature of the make-up of the Trade Remedies Authority.
However, hope is not a recipe for success and there must be parliamentary involvement to ensure that, whoever the chair is, they take measures when they are appointed, including receiving representations from across industry, employers and unions, consumer groups—I say to the Minister that we recognise the importance of consumers in these matters—and the devolved nations. My hon. Friend was right to raise this issue. That is why parliamentary scrutiny of the appointment of the chair matters; it is so that these points are picked up.
I will talk about the economic interest test: further evidence given to us by the British Ceramic Confederation. The confederation made the point to us that there is no explicit presumption in favour of adopting the measures in the European equivalent to the economic interest test. The European equivalent balances the interests of producer, worker, and regional and consumer groups; the problem with the economic interest test is that it looks at only one. The EU is cited:
“The need to eliminate the trade distorting effects of injurious dumping and to restore effective competition shall be given special consideration.”
That is what the EU says. There is the explicit reference to “special consideration”; that is the presumption in the EU model, which is not there in the UK equivalent. Currently, the Bill only infers this, which is why something on—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I try to be generous, but with the best will in the world this is a very long distance away from the very tight wording in the amendment. I ask him to come back to the precise point of the amendment or draw his remarks to a close.
Absolutely, Sir Graham; I do apologise. The point that I am making is that there is this request to go on the record, and the Minister indicated earlier that this was the opportunity to do that. Perhaps he can put something on the record for the British Ceramic Confederation of the nature that they have written to him about and that I have just referred to.
I bring the discussion back to the amendment.
One of the issues that Parliament would surely want to scrutinise is the role of the chair of the TRA in the appointment of the other board members. Some of the evidence presented to us makes clear a fear that some of the trade remedy experts that a putative chair of the TRA might want to bring on board will not be enthusiastic about keeping competition fair. Rather, they might want to turn a blind eye to the dumping of products in the UK, to create unfair competition with British companies.
My hon. Friend is right, and that is what the amendment is about. It is about ensuring that, when cross-examined—presumably by the Select Committee—the chair is asked whether they will take a robust approach in their appointments to the Trade Remedies Authority, to protect British industries, including the steel sector, ceramics, dyers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, all of which trade remedies are likely to be involved in. That is the basis for the amendment. I hope the Minister will deal with the point that the British Ceramic Confederation asked him to deal with. Fundamentally, this is about ensuring that the chair is scrutinised properly, to ensure that there is a balance in the competing interests.
Another concern about trade remedies that it would be useful for Parliament to raise with the chair of the TRA is the chair’s attitude to the international dispute resolution process, because the TRA will not be acting in a vacuum—a case of dumping of products in the UK market might have to go up to the World Trade Organisation dispute resolution process, which is currently not functioning. Would it not be sensible to be able to hear from the putative chair of the TRA their view on the connection between the UK TRA and the WTO’s currently blocked dispute resolution process for dumping cases?
That is an excellent example of what a parliamentary hearing would be used for. The model that we seek to emulate is the one used for the Office for Students, although that is not the only example of where parliamentary hearings are used before a chair of a body of this nature is appointed. The Office for Students uses that exact process to ensure that the chair appoints people who have a wide range of interests, rather than a narrow approach. We advocate a model along those lines, with the chair interviewed by the Select Committee.
Were I involved in such a parliamentary scrutiny process for the putative chair of the TRA, I would want to know, as I hope my hon. Friend would, the attitude of the chair to the EU-led multi-party interim appeal arbitration process, which is an attempt to get around Donald Trump’s blocking of the appointment of judges to the WTO dispute resolution process. That is surely a sensible scheme for the UK to join, and we would want to hear that the putative chair was supportive of it. The Minister has, again, been studiously vague on whether the UK would want to be part of such a sensible anti-dumping process.
It would be important to ensure that, in the absence of the WTO functioning properly, international alternatives were being considered. Asking the chair their view of those proposed measures and our attitude to international co-operation is extremely valuable. I am glad my hon. Friend raised that point.
I hesitate to test my hon. Friend’s patience. Were I to catch your eye, Sir Graham, when schedule 5, on staff transfer schemes, is being debated, I would be interested to explore the scope for members of staff moving from the Department for International Trade to the TRA, to get some experience of both the WTO dispute resolution process and the new multi-party interim appeal arbitration process. Again, does my hon. Friend not think that we should find out the attitude of a putative chair of the UK TRA towards staff transfers so as to get such expertise before they need to deploy it in a UKTI context?
Sir Graham, I am guided by you. The Chair is always right and I completely accept your point. The Minister may choose to respond to the excellent suggestions that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West has made, but I think we have made the case that the chair of the TRA should be interviewed and there should be adequate parliamentary scrutiny of his or her appointment.
I would like to start by repeating what I said in 2018 when I first took this clause through a Committee and what I and others have said since: this Government are committed to creating an independent and objective investigation process in which businesses and consumers will have full confidence and to setting up the Trade Remedies Authority with the right pool of skills, qualities and experience.
I recall that broad agreement was evident for the principle of an independent impartial body during the previous debate on the TRA during the Trade Bill’s 2017 to 2019 passage. Without wishing to linger on the point, my startlement that the Opposition are so opposed to this legislation increases, although they claim to support all its parts.
Many will know that the World Trade Organisation allows its members to take action to protect domestic industries against injury caused by unfair trading practices, such as dumping, subsidies or unforeseen surges in imports. Quite to the contrary of what I think the hon. Member for Harrow West said, nobody wants to turn a blind eye to dumping. It is quite the opposite, but we can only do that with a functioning and legally operating Trade Remedies Authority.
Where there is evidence that dumping is happening, countries are permitted to put measures in place to remedy the situation, hence the term “trade remedies”. Measures usually take the form of an increase in duty on imports of specific products following an investigation. Establishing an independent trade remedies function is integral to the UK’s new independent trade policy. We must get it right. Decisions on trade remedies cases can have profound impacts on markets and on jobs, and that is why we need to create an independent, objective investigation process that businesses can trust. We will be appointing the best people.
The Minister is absolutely right. We need a functioning TRA and we need a functioning trade remedies system. However, decisions that the TRA makes can be challenged and taken up to the WTO. As he knows, there is not a functioning dispute settlement process at the WTO at the moment. Why is there still such resistance from the Minister to joining the multi-party system that the EU has proposed to try to get around Donald Trump’s objection to the WTO dispute resolution process?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and I think he is wrong to say that there is resistance, but I gently suggest that the matter is without the scope of the Bill, interesting though that topic and the future of the WTO might be.
We will be appointing the best people to the TRA, including the non-executive members of its board. As with any public appointments, the appointment of non-executive directors will be subject to the well-established rules that govern public appointments of this kind.
Amendment 1 seeks to give the International Trade Committee the statutory power to approve or veto the appointment of the TRA chair. It is established practice that decisions on public appointments are for Ministers who are accountable to Parliament and the public for those decisions. The Cabinet Office “Public Bodies Handbook” explicitly states that Ministers normally appoint the chair and all non-executive members for non-departmental public bodies.
Following the Liaison Committee’s report in 2011, further guidance was issued by the Cabinet Office setting out the tests for determining which non-departmental public body appointments should be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny. That guidance makes it clear that pre-appointment scrutiny should apply only in respect of three types of post:
“i. posts which play a key role in regulation of actions by Government; or
ii. posts which play a key role in protecting and safeguarding the public’s rights and interests in relation to the actions and decisions of Government; or
iii. posts in organisations that have a major impact on public life or the lives of the public where it is vital for the reputation and credibility of that organisation that the post holder acts, and is seen to act, independently of Ministers and the Government.”
In my view, none of those three requirements is met. The TRA is not a regulator, it does not protect or safeguard against the actions and decisions of Government, and, although we believe it is important for business confidence that it is seen as independent of Ministers, it is not an organisation that can be described as having a major impact on public life or the lives of the public.
I turn now to a few other points that cropped up. On EU remedy measures, we have been clear that we will transition appropriate measures into the UK. We have launched transition reviews of those, and we have consulted and will continue to do so. The economic interest test is a matter for the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, but there is of course a presumption in favour of measures in that Act.
On the engagement of trade unions, Simon Walker and the interim body—the Trade Remedies Investigations Directorate—met the Trades Union Congress yesterday and is engaging unions frequently. I remind the Committee that the board are not the decision makers on trade remedies; they set the strategy and hold the chief executive and the executive to account. There is no role for the TRA at the WTO or any involvement with the appellate body. I believe that I have responded to the British Ceramic Confederation letter, but I will study carefully what is in it.
Under the provisions of schedule 4, to which we will turn shortly, the TRA must produce an annual report, which the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament. The TRA will also be subject to the scrutiny of the National Audit Office and parliamentary Committees. In addition, complaints against it can be considered by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, who may also share information with Parliament. I hope that that reassures the Committee that the amendment is not appropriate, and I ask the hon. Member for Sefton Central to withdraw it.
The Minister made a number of interesting comments. He talked about businesses and consumers having full confidence in the Trade Remedies Authority. He did not mention workers, and he did not mention the devolved Administrations in that statement at the start of his response. I am sure that causes concern.
The Minister spoke about the need to act independently and repeated the point about business confidence. He has also made the point that the TRA needs to be an organisation that business can trust. But if it is to be independent, there needs to be scrutiny of appointments. He said that a reason why it does not come under the code for appointments to be approved, other than by Ministers, is that it does not have a major impact. Trade disputes have major impacts. I mentioned the SSI closure; that was 5,000 jobs. I am shocked that the Minister does not regard that kind of incident as having a major impact. I am sure that workers up and down the country would share my concern on that point.
I have checked exactly what I said. I said, “organisations that have a major impact on public life”. I did say that it would have a major impact on jobs, but I think “public life” would be considered more broadly than the immediate jobs of a particular workforce, important though they are. We are talking about the broader public.
The Minister is in danger of dancing on the head of a pin with his phrases. Honestly, 5,000 jobs is not a major impact on public life? I think the people of Redcar and the north-east would disagree with him strongly about that.
It is essential that we have this system of scrutiny in place. There are pre-appointment scrutiny sessions for many roles in public life. The Minister set out the rules—I think he set them out correctly—but he also gave us, in his description of what is independent, and in the phrase “major impact on public life”, an argument in favour of our amendment. For that reason, we will press it to a vote.
I beg to move amendment 35, in schedule 4, page 15, leave out lines 27 and 28 and insert—
“3 A person holds office as a member of the TRA for a fixed period of five years from the date of appointment.
3A A person is eligible for renewal of appointment for a further fixed period of five years upon the expiry of the first period.”
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 36, in schedule 4 page 16, line 11, at end insert—
“10A A person shall be considered unable or unfit if the Chair is satisfied as regards any of the following matters—
(a) that the person becomes insolvent,
(b) that the person has been convicted of a criminal offence,
(c) that the person is otherwise unable or unfit to discharge the functions of a member or is unsuitable to continue as a member
Amendment 35 would establish a fixed period of office for members of the TRA and make provision for one further period of office. The reason is rather obvious. Introducing a fixed term would give TRA members greater security of tenure and therefore reinforce their independence and impartiality, as their duration of service could not be—or certainly could not be perceived to be—at ministerial discretion.
Amendment 36 would insert wording stating that a person should be considered unable or unfit if the chair is satisfied regarding any of the following matters: that the member becomes insolvent, has been convicted of a criminal offence or is
“otherwise unable or unfit to discharge the functions of a member or is unsuitable to continue as a member.”
The effect would be to define, to a greater extent at least, the meaning of “unable or unfit” in paragraphs 9 and 10 of schedule 4. Introducing a definition of “unable or unfit” would provide greater legal certainty about the circumstances in which a person may be removed from office as a non-executive or executive member of the TRA.
In keeping with the amendments and new clauses that I have spoken to so far, I do not intend to divide the Committee on amendments 35 or 36, but I ask the Minister to consider carefully how the Government might bring forward amendments at a later stage to deal with the matters of a fixed term for, and legal certainty on dismissal from, the TRA. Doing so would remove the perception that a term on the TRA, or dismissal from it, might be based on any political consideration—a perception that would weaken the credibility of the TRA—and strengthen the independence of that body. That is vital, particularly as the TRA will be invited to consider the vexed issue of some questionable, and potentially illegal, trade practices. The TRA’s credibility will be incredibly important when that particular work is undertaken, especially in the absence of a fully functioning WTO appellate board.
The Government should look again, as the Bill progresses through the other place and on Report, at how a fixed term for members might be introduced and at how legal certainty on dismissal might also be written into the Bill.
Clause 5 will allow the TRA to be established as a new non-departmental public body, and schedule 4 outlines its governance arrangements. Those include detailing how TRA members will be appointed and how the terms and conditions of their appointment will be established. Such provisions should be familiar to those with experience of working with similar bodies.
It is crucial that the right people are appointed as members of the TRA. We are committed to appointing on merit following fair and open competition. That is why we are following standard Cabinet Office guidelines on the appointment of members of the TRA, as set out in the “Governance Code on Public Appointments”, which states that it is usual for Ministers to decide on the length of tenure. The code also sets out
“a strong presumption that no individual should serve more than two terms or serve in any one post for more than ten years”,
other than in exceptional circumstances.
Appointments will be independently regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments to ensure that the rigorous principles of public appointments and the “Governance Code on Public Appointments” are applied. Beyond that, the Government and the TRA will have regard to the need to protect the resilience of the board and to ensure that there is a managed turnover of members now and in the future. That may mean, for example, that it is sensible to make some of the initial appointments to the board shorter than five years to stagger any turnover in membership.
Specifying those details in the contractual terms for each appointment is the best way to ensure the flexibility to get the organisation off to the best start. The role of the TRA chair designate is crucial in shaping and forming the board. It is therefore only right that the Secretary of State does that through the terms and conditions for each role in consultation with the chair designate, rather than binding their hands in legislation. We are working closely with the TRA’s chair designate, Simon Walker, to start the recruitment of the rest of the TRA board members in due course. We will specify the duration of appointments as part of that process.
By contrast, amendment 35 would replace the contractual terms for all TRA members with a fixed statutory period of either five or 10 years, with no provision for any other length of tenure. That would deny the TRA the flexibility that it needs, particularly now when we are trying to ensure the best possible start for the new organisation, but such a rigid approach would be detrimental to its good governance at any time.
Amendment 36 seeks to specify a number of criteria that would deem a member of the TRA board unfit to continue in their position. Schedule 4 already provides for the Secretary of State to remove non-executive members, and for the chair to remove executive members, from the board should they be deemed unable or unfit to carry out the functions of the office. That approach will be familiar to hon. Members from the legislation establishing organisations such as the Competition and Markets Authority.
As with all public appointments, the terms and conditions for the non-executive members of the TRA are being developed in line with the “Code of Conduct for Board Members of Public Bodies”, which clearly sets out the standards expected from those who serve on the boards of non-departmental public bodies. The code provides that members of the board must inform the sponsor Department of any bankruptcy, unspent criminal conviction or disqualification as a company director in advance of appointment, or should any such instances occur during the appointment.
The code does not expressly specify that those issues determine an individual’s fitness to serve on a board or that they should be regarded as grounds for terminating an appointment, but I assure the Committee that the Government consider that that should be the case. That is why the terms and conditions of Simon Walker, the TRA chair designate, provide that the Secretary of State may terminate his appointment in those circumstances. It is very much our expectation that the relevant terms of appointment for other non-executive members will follow a similar approach.
The appointment of executive members is a matter for the TRA chair. It is therefore appropriate that the terms and conditions of their employment are managed by the TRA in a way that enables flexibility, while holding its staff to the necessary standards of integrity and professionalism.
I hope that the demonstrates to the hon. Member for Dundee East that we are establishing the TRA in accordance with the existing codes and in line with the practices adopted in other such bodies. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.
I have no intention of pressing the amendments. I listened carefully as the Minister rattled through that answer. I have no doubt that, with the exception of the specific point he made about staggering five-year terms at the very beginning, things are being done in line with guidance that has been used previously. However, that does not really answer the point that, because of the ministerial discretion, particularly on the removal of a member, there may still be a perception, real or otherwise, that members can be removed for considerations that are political and nothing to do with their actual unfitness to serve.
While I will not divide the Committee on the amendment, notwithstanding that the Minister read his answer very quickly, the Government may want to seriously consider how these matters are addressed. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to move amendment 2, in schedule 4, page 19, line 26, at end insert—
“no later than
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 3, in schedule 4, page 19, line 26, at end insert—
(2) The report must accompany the recommendation submitted to the Secretary of State.
This amendment would ensure that Parliament is kept informed, in a timely fashion, of the individual recommendations made by the Trade Remedies Authority to the Secretary of State in connection with cases of dumping, foreign subsidies and import increases causing injury to UK producers.
As with amendment 1, it is the lack of scrutiny that we are opposed to, not the creation of the Trade Remedies Authority. That is the subject of amendments 2 and 3, which are particularly important—as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West reminded us in the debate on amendment 1—in the absence of an effective WTO and given the concerns about international co-operation and collaboration on important matters that can lead to damaging trade disputes.
“no later than
and amendment 3 requires that a report is prepared for Parliament in a timely fashion on each recommendation made to the Secretary of State.
Parliament should be able to scrutinise the work of the TRA to ensure that it is working in the best interests of the UK economy and all of its components. Such requirements are nothing new in the realm of trade remedies. In the European Union, the Commission is obliged to report to the European Parliament. This is supposed to be a continuity Bill; the continuity in this case would be to apply equivalent processes in the UK to what we had in the EU.
The report to the European Parliament is obliged to give MEPs statistics on the cases opened and the number of measures adopted. MPs here should be given the same information by our TRA so that they may scrutinise its work. MPs should be able to look at the number of cases initiated and the number of measures adopted, and therefore be able to judge whether the TRA is taking measures to defend our industries and jobs, and is working with the devolved authorities—not just putting the consumer interest first, at the expense of producers, jobs, and the regions and nations of the country.
Industry would be more comfortable if there was a more rigorous approach for parliamentarians to get involved in the setting of the rules for the system—it is not just us saying this, but industry, and both sides of it. As in the rest of the Bill, the Government propose nothing on parliamentary oversight or scrutiny of the TRA. Yet again, they want to make decisions that will have profound impacts—on key sectors of industry, on thousands of jobs and on the regions and nations—behind closed doors, without scrutiny and without accountability to Parliament. Unless that scrutiny is there in law, there is no guarantee that it will happen.
Giving parliamentarians an oversight power over the work of the TRA would ensure proper scrutiny and accountability. A weak trade remedies regime is of benefit to nobody in our country. If anybody thinks that having a weak regime will open up trade opportunities with international partners, they are mistaken. Partner countries will take advantage of that, once again, and we will see the loss of jobs that we saw in the steel sector in 2015 and 2016. It is only right that this House gets to scrutinise the work of the TRA to ensure that it is doing its job properly.
I recognise the desire of Opposition Members to ensure that our trade remedies system is impartial, objective and transparent. Those have been our guiding principles, too.
That is why we are establishing the Trade Remedies Authority as an arm’s length body and why we will require the TRA to produce a report on the performance of its functions during each financial year, which the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament. The Bill requires that to be produced
“as soon as reasonably practicable” after the end of that financial year. That is in line with other arm’s length bodies, such as the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.
Imposing a fixed deadline by which the TRA’s annual report must be laid before Parliament is unnecessary. Prioritising an arbitrary deadline over ensuring a full and detailed report for Parliament and businesses to scrutinise is in no one’s interests. I am sure that the TRA, like all other NDPBs, will use its best endeavours to publish the annual report as quickly as possible following the end of the financial year. It is of course possible that that could be within the timeframe suggested in the proposed amendment. However, the TRA statement of accounts must be certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General before being laid, and that reliance on processes outside the TRA’s direct control makes it unreasonable to set a deadline for publication in statute.
The TRA’s annual report will follow best practice on openness and accountability as set out in the Cabinet Office publication, “Public Bodies: A Guide for Departments”, which provides a clear structure of best practice requirements, although we recognise that these will not be specific to each organisation that they cover. As with all non-departmental public bodies, we expect the TRA to follow best practice for an organisation of its type and to include appropriate performance indicators, rather than that being set by statute. As a new organisation, it is important to ensure that the TRA has the flexibility to develop and adapt these key performance indicators as it settles into its functions and continues engagement with stakeholders.
Amendment 3 focuses on the TRA’s provision of advice and assistance to the Secretary of State regarding international trade disputes. It would require the Secretary of State to share information related to that advice and assistance with Parliament within five days of the TRA’s submitting it to the Secretary of State. Clause 6 sets out the functions of the TRA, allowing it to advise, support and assist the Secretary of State in the conduct of an international dispute, but does not give the TRA responsibility for the handling of international trade disputes. These are, rightly, a matter for the Government to either initiate or to defend.
However, while the responsibility sits with the Government, we need to ensure that we can draw on the most relevant skills and expertise to best represent the UK’s interests. A large proportion of international trade disputes relate to trade remedies. We are setting up the TRA as an expert, specialist body to operate the UK’s trade remedies system, and it will therefore have crucial expertise to bring to bear. First, there may be cases where TRA investigations have led to the imposition of measures that are subject to dispute. In those instances, the TRA will hold much of the detailed information and evidence required to construct and run the UK’s defence.
Secondly, the Government will also need the TRA for advice and assistance in the event that we take offensive action against measures imposed on UK imports by other countries. In these instances, the TRA’s expertise will be significant in assessing whether the correct procedure has been followed in imposing measures against the UK. I am sure Committee members agree that it would be inappropriate and detrimental to the UK’s interests to require this information to be made public in such circumstances. Doing so could prejudice the UK’s position in sensitive international discussions. Indeed, the stipulation that information be shared with Parliament within five days of it being submitted to the Secretary of State could mean that it is made public before the Government are able to lodge our application or response with the relevant dispute settlement body or arbitral panel. That would be detrimental to the UK’s interests and cannot be what Opposition Members intend. I hope that what I have said reassures the hon. Member for Sefton Central, and that he will withdraw the amendment.
The Minister has certainly given us some rationale. I take him at his word on the practical reasons why the amendments would not do what we intended. However, it is important that we scrutinise the TRA’s work on individual investigations in realtime. I am sure there are alternative ways of doing that in Parliament—bringing reports before Select Committees, for example, where there is need to handle scrutiny sensitively if commercially confidential information is involved. Perhaps the Minister can bring some of those back to us.