Trade Bill (Grand Committee): Lord Lansley

Speaking at the Grand Committee of the House of Lords on the Trade Bill, Lord Lansley said:
Lord Lansley

I thank noble Lords for my first opportunity to speak in Committee. Since Second Reading, an all-party parliamentary group has been established on the subject of trade and export promotion, of which I am vice-chair. I raise that in order to signal that I have that additional interest which has not yet been entered in the register.

On this group, I thoroughly agree with what I took to be the import of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—that is, that he intends to have a substantive debate about the process for agreeing future trade agreements at a later stage. I agree with him about that; the group led by Amendment 35 seems to be more appropriate for that purpose, bringing, as it does, an amendment similar to that raised on Report in the other place by my former parliamentary neighbour, Jonathan Djanogly. So I will not go on at length about that.

At this stage we need to understand to what extent the Bill is purely for the purposes of securing continuity agreements following our exit from the European Union. Those who were with us on the debates on this subject on the Trade Bill in 2019 will recall that many amendments, just as they are this time, were put forward on the proposition that we are trying to establish what the future structure of trade agreements should look like, rather than seeking to establish what the continuity agreements after we leave the EU, carried forward, should look like.

Later amendments will look at how we might modify the constitutional reform and governance process. I think that is a better way of proceeding. I have my own amendment later for this purpose, and I think that CRaG is the basis for how we will look at future trade agreements. We can amend CRaG, and we will debate later how we might do that. I have my own proposal, but I will not go on about it now. I think it is important for us to distinguish between, on the one hand, the process of parliamentary approval of trade agreements and, on the other, separately from that, the implementation into domestic legislation of the obligations we enter into through international trade agreements and treaties.​

A treaty entered into by the Government cannot itself change domestic law. Therefore, legislation is required to implement it, so will the Minister tell us two things in response to this early debate? First, will he repeat at this stage what our noble friend Lady Fairhead said on 21 January 2019 in the first day in Committee on the then Trade Bill? She said:

“We have already been clear that we will introduce bespoke legislation as necessary to implement those future free trade agreements. The Secretary of State for International Trade has already launched four consultations on prospective future trade agreements and announced that the Government will introduce bespoke primary legislation as necessary to implement these.”—[Official Report, 21/1/19; col. 613.]

I am hoping that my noble friend the Minister will say that, whether the number is four or more, the same process will apply in future. Of course, from my point of view that means that we do not need to specify what should be in future trade agreements and, by extension, change the law in this country, because, when the time comes, if the Government seek such a thing they would have to secure the consent of Parliament in primary legislation to do whatever they wish to do under those trade agreements. We do not need to have all those debates now.

The second thing is that I am hoping, as my noble friend the Minister knows, that he will reiterate the Government’s commitments, given early in the passage of the previous Trade Bill, to the processes for the future scrutiny and parliamentary approval of free trade agreements, published in the early part of 2019. If he can do that, it would help a great deal from the point of view of simplifying scrutiny of these and future amendments.

As for this group, Amendment 7 is a matter, strictly speaking, of semantics. To Ministers, if certain regulations are necessary to implement an agreement, then, in their view, they would be appropriate. If Ministers think something is appropriate, they always think it is also necessary. That is why, although the dictionary may not regard these two terms as meaning the same, in the mind of a Minister, they are the same.

Amendment 9 deals with the question of ratification. It says that the agreements that have to be implemented should not simply have been signed but should be ratified. It relates this, of course, to exit day for these agreements. I remind the Committee that we have passed exit day. After exit day it was the case, for example—I do not know how many examples there are, but it is a rather compelling one—that all member states of the European Union that were required to ratify the comprehensive agreement with Canada, CETA, had not so ratified. So, for example, the Dutch parliament ratified that agreement in July of this year: it was after exit day. The example I would draw, which I think is a compelling reason not to accept Amendment 9, is that it would have the consequence that the Canada-EU agreement would not satisfy the requirements of the legislation.

I have a fundamental problem with Amendments 10 and 103. As far as I can see, they give Ministers the power, under this legislation, to implement trade agreements beyond those that are continuity agreements, and to ​do so by statutory instrument with a super-affirmative procedure. I do not think that that is what we are setting out to do. I think we have to have a full structure, not just the laying of a regulation, and that is what CRaG provides for. Amendment 103, although it is a super-affirmative procedure, relates to something which is wholly inadequate, which is that Ministers can secure parliamentary approval simply by the laying of regulations, so I do not agree with Amendments 10 and 103.

I remind the Committee that, when we reach that stage, I would be very grateful for two statements from my noble friend: the first, about how future trade agreements will be implemented into domestic legislation through bespoke primary legislation; and secondly, that the processes to which the then Government committed themselves in the previous Trade Bill for agreeing future trade agreements will be the basis—we hope, the complete basis—for the present Government’s approach to the approval of future trade agreements.

Lord Lansley  View in Hansard- https://bit.ly/3pOP6hF