Wednesday 2nd December 2020

(1 year ago)

Grand Committee

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Department for International Trade

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Export Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020.

Relevant document: 32nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument)

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Department for International Trade (Lord Grimstone of Boscobel) (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to be able to open this debate. These regulations, which were laid before the House on 15 October, are necessary to ensure a functioning export control regime at the end of the transition period on 31 December this year. Their aim is to complete the process of transposing the existing system, which is reliant on European Union law, into purely UK law. At the same time, they implement certain EU regulations in Northern Ireland to the extent required by the Northern Ireland protocol. They do not make any change in export control policy.

As noble Lords know, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 enables a functioning statute book at the end of the transition period by providing Ministers with the tools to deal with deficiencies in domestic law arising because of our exit from the European Union. Noble Lords with good memories will remember that this House has already debated and approved legislation to ensure the continued functioning of retained EU law in the UK in respect of export controls. The Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 were debated here on 26 March 2019 and the Trade etc. in Dual-Use Items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 were debated here on 8 May 2019.

These new regulations are necessary because under the Northern Ireland protocol, which forms part of the withdrawal agreement, the EU regulations and directives relating to export control of dual-use items, civilian firearms and goods usable for capital punishment or torture will continue to apply directly to and in Northern Ireland. The provisions of the EU directive on the intra-community transfer of defence-related products will also continue to apply to the movement of military goods between Northern Ireland and the EU. Therefore, these regulations amend provisions of retained EU law to accommodate the Northern Ireland protocol.

Let me explain in more detail how this will work. Beginning at 11 pm on 31 December 2020, the export control rules applying in Great Britain will be derived solely from domestic law, which will include retained EU law. In contrast, the export control rules applying in Northern Ireland will continue to be derived from EU law as required by the protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland in the European Union withdrawal agreement. My department will continue to be the licensing authority for strategic exports from the whole of the United Kingdom, but items exported from Northern Ireland will do so technically under a licence issued under European Union regulations.

To make this work these regulations, the Export Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, amend existing legislation. First, they amend the Export Control Order 2008, which has been the centrepiece of domestic export control legislation since April 2009. Next, they amend two instruments, the Export Control (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 and the Trade etc. in Dual-Use items and Firearms etc. (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which were made last year in preparation for EU exit. In addition, they amend the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020. These regulations were debated and approved by both Houses but have not yet been made. It is necessary to amend them to remove a dependency on the now non-existent Customs Tariff (Establishment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019.

Let me be clear: these regulations do no more than is necessary to ensure the continued functioning of export control law, and therefore the continued effective operation of our export control system, in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Without them, our ability to control the export of these goods would be undermined. This legislation will enable the Secretary of State to continue to control exports from all parts of the United Kingdom of dual-use items, firearms and goods that could be used for capital punishment, torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Government believe that the procedures for assessing licence applications and our decision-making processes are robust, and will remain so following the end of the transition period. The eight criteria used to assess export licence applications, as set out in the consolidated criteria, will remain the same. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence will continue to provide my department with advice and analysis of the relevant foreign, defence and international development policy aspects of each licence application. A licence would not be granted if to do so would be inconsistent with any of the criteria. My department will also continue to provide detailed advice and guidance about export controls and the end of the transition period in order to support legitimate exporters.

I take this opportunity to remind the Committee that these regulations are solely about preparing for the end of transition and ensuring that we have a functioning statute book after the end of the year. These amendments must happen, and Parliament needs to ensure that these controls remain in place. Negotiations about the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union or the wider world are of course a separate matter, and I hope I may say to noble Lords that they play no part in this debate today. I hope that the House will work in the interests of the nation to ensure the passage of this legislation, which is essential to ensuring that we are prepared for the end of transition and continue to control the trade in strategic exports.

This legislation is necessary to ensure that we are prepared for the end of transition and continue to have a fully functioning export control regime on 31 December this year. I commend the Motion to the Committee and I beg to move.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for taking us through this statutory instrument this afternoon, and I am delighted to see him back in his place.

Rather than comment on what is set out in the regulations, I will first comment on what is not set out. In preparing for today, I am grateful to the House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the conclusions in its 32nd report, on which I will rely heavily.

In particular, I will quote two paragraphs and how the conclusions were reached. In paragraph 5.4, the committee concludes:

“The Committee accordingly reports regulation 7(9) for defective drafting, acknowledged by the Department.”

This could have been put right. The committee states that

“it would have been open to the Department to withdraw the instrument and re-lay it before Parliament with the defect in article 42N(2) corrected”.

Apparently, the department chose not to do this because it intends to include the correction in amending legislation to be made early in 2021. It considers the likelihood of the defect in the legislation having any practical impact before the correcting legislation in 2021 to be very low.

The Joint Committee in its 32nd report states:

“The Committee is not convinced by this explanation. In the view of the Committee, the Government should not make legislation which it knows will have an effect which is significantly different from what is intended, unless doing so cannot reasonably be avoided. Nothing is said in the Department’s memorandum to indicate that laying a corrected draft would not have been practicable.”

So, with regret, I argue that the statutory instrument before us today will not lead to a fully functioning customs and excise move. Why did the Secretary of State for Trade choose not to submit a corrected statutory instrument for today’s purposes? Why was the procedure open to the department in this regard not used?

I understand that the department entirely acknowledges the error. Paragraph 5.3 of the 32nd report of the Joint Committee states:

“It appeared to the Committee that the exception in article 42N(2) may have been drawn too narrowly in requiring both the conditions in sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) to be met. It is inconsistent with the position under article 12 of the 2008 Order as it currently has effect before IP completion day. The current position is that a transfer to a destination within the EU customs territory is allowed if either the final destination for the transfer is within the EU customs territory, or the software or technology will be subject to processing or working within the EU customs territory.”

So we seem to be in the very unhappy situation where there will be a hiatus between what is currently on the statute book and what will be on the statute book early in 2021, which is highly regrettable. Will my noble friend explain why we are in this unhappy position and why the Secretary of State and the department chose to go down this particular path?

Equally, paragraph 5.7 of the 32nd report states:

“The Committee is not convinced by the Department’s explanation. It seems to the Committee that Government should as a matter of general principle avoid making legislation which it knows to be defective. In this case, the Trade in Torture Regulations were approved in draft by both Houses more than 18 months ago. Since that time there has been a significant change in circumstances in that the EU withdrawal agreement has been entered into, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. The amendments made by Part 5 include amendments in regulation 15 which are needed to take account of the effect of the Protocol. Accordingly, the Committee reports Part 5 of the Regulations as making an unusual or unexpected use of the enabling powers.”

In a previous paragraph of the report, paragraph 5.5, the Committee states why that is the case:

“Part 5 of the draft Regulations amends the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 (‘Trade in Torture Regulations”). The Trade in Torture Regulations have not yet been made and accordingly the Committee asked the Department to explain why Part 5 of these Regulations is being used to amend another statutory instrument which has not yet been made, rather than making that other instrument with the necessary changes incorporated in it.”

So, for the reasons set out in the report, with which I entirely agree, I ask my noble friend to explain why the department has drafted a defective instrument. Why has it opted for an unexpected use of enabling powers which have been overtaken for the reasons I have given, as set out in the 32nd report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, with which I entirely concur. We seem to find ourselves in an extremely unfortunate position. I repeat my question: why have the department and the Secretary of State put us in the position that we find ourselves in today? With those few remarks, I ask him to explain the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

Lord Bhatia Portrait Lord Bhatia (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, this statutory instrument has been prepared by the Department for International Trade. It will make the necessary changes to maintain the United Kingdom’s robust export control regime at the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

The export control regulations in Northern Ireland will continue to be EU law; in Great Britain, export control regulations will be domestic law at the end of the transition period. The domestic law needs to be amended before the end of the transition period so that it continues to function effectively in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The SI will also amend the Export Control Order 2020 to correct the existing reference to EU law. It will ensure that EU regulations relating to export control and listed in Annexe 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol will continue to operate effectively in Northern Ireland after 31 December 2020. It will also make major amendments to the Export Control Order 2008 and amend the trade in torture goods regulations.

From 1 January 2021, part of the law controlling strategic exports in Northern Ireland will be EU law, which in accordance with Section 7A of the withdrawal Act is

“without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom”.

From 1 January 2021, the control of strategic exports in Great Britain will be through domestic laws, which include retained EU law at the end of the transition period.

This instrument is being made in part to address deficiencies in retained EU law and to accommodate the NI protocol. It relates to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. In my view, exports from the UK to the world over will be important when we have exited from the EU. I would like to ask the Minister what plans are being made to reach agreement with countries all over the world, including the USA and the those in the EU.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, this is a short debate on necessary measures, as the Minister indicated, and I am grateful for the clarity with which he outlined them. We cannot have gaps, uncertainties or confusions in the issuing of export licences and in the interaction between UK law and European law. I need not refer to the 32nd report, because the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, outlined the issue so clearly; I look forward to the Minister’s response to her questions.

As the Minister indicated, we have debated dual use and export control in the past—I took part in some of those debates. Given that dual use potentially applies to the civil and military use of goods and intermediary goods, this could be a delicate and controversial area. It is delicate because sometimes it is not easy to draw lines for component goods that can be exported for civil purposes but where the recipient country does not share the same high standards in its approach to human rights as the United Kingdom and can use those goods for different ends. It is not always easy for the Government, when issuing licences, to have a clear understanding of all the potential uses of some of these goods. I sit on the International Relations and Defence Committee, where we have debated areas of controversy around export licences. We know that the Government have changed their position on certain export licences and have paused licences when human rights abuses have been raised. Ensuring that there are no gaps or uncertainties is vital, as the Minister said.

This is even more complex because, for the first time in our country’s history, I think, the licensing system will operate under two systems of law: European Union law and United Kingdom law. That adds a greater burden on those businesses that are seeking a licence for export from the United Kingdom, whether from GB or from Northern Ireland. We know that there is a huge amount of trade between Northern Ireland and GB in intermediary goods, so there is complexity around component parts.

That leads to the wider issue that I wish to raise with the Minister, with which he will be familiar from our discussions on the Trade Bill and other measures. The noble Lord, Lord Empey, and others have also raised this issue. Businesses and people in Northern Ireland will be operating under continuing EU law, without democratic accountability for those who are making the decisions, while the United Kingdom Government will operate for GB, so in this area there will need to be good communication between the European Union and the United Kingdom and clear ways of working between the Minister’s department and the European Commission.

A situation that will almost inevitably arise in the future, although not necessarily under the measures that the Minister has indicated are being reformed, is when there are differences of approach between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Almost by definition that will happen, because one of the motives for leaving the European Union is for the United Kingdom to be able to make its own decisions. I would like the agreement with the European Union, which we hope will be signed this weekend, to ensure close working on how the licensing system will operate and on definitions for goods relating to torture or execution or goods with a civil or military use. I hope that there will be specific ways of working between the European Union and the United Kingdom so that a situation does not arise where the Government are operating a licensing system in which there are two different sets of policy purpose. As the Explanatory Notes indicate, some of these measures fall under UN obligations that we have adopted, so I hope that that will not arise, but I would be grateful if the Minister could offer that reassurance.

My second question is linked to the movement of goods—they could be component parts or intermediary goods under the licensing regime—between Northern Ireland and GB before they are then exported. We do not need in this short debate to rehearse the export procedures from Northern Ireland to GB, but it is likely that some of the goods for which export licences will be sought for export from Northern Ireland and/or Great Britain will contain components manufactured in different parts of the United Kingdom. The original source of a component could be Northern Ireland; when that component is moved to GB, it would be exported from there under UK law—or, vice versa, it would be exported under a licence under EU law. If we are to have unfettered access, which is the Government’s policy, and there are no checks, will the Minister say whether specific mechanisms are in place to ensure that there is no unintended loophole with regard to component parts?

My final question is on a point of clarity. If the Minister cannot answer it today, I would be happy for him to write to me. We still do not know what the border operating model for Northern Ireland will be. We hope that we will get a degree of clarity from the European trade agreement. We know what the border operating model is for Great Britain, but we are still waiting for that information for Northern Ireland. What role will the European Union have in checks on goods leaving exit ports in Northern Ireland? We need clarity so that exporters know with a high degree of certainty what the procedures will be. What has been beneficial in the past is that NGOs, human rights organisations and others have been able to observe and monitor the trade and know that proper rules are being followed and that there is a degree of accountability. I am aware that that is probably broader than what these proposals aim to correct and amend, but if the Minister can reassure me that there will not be loopholes in this area, I would be most grateful.

There may be a period after January next year when we can review the relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom in the interaction of legislation on export licensing. We have raised these questions in the past, so I know that the Government always say that they keep the licensing regime under constant review—that is the terminology the Government always use. I hope that part of that constant review will be an ability to come back to Parliament within a set period to ensure that this is one area where there is no benefit for either the European Union or the UK in not having close working relationships. I do not need to remind colleagues that the licensing of these goods is to protect people from the worst excesses of human rights abuses from Governments in countries that we do not wish to have these products. If the Minister could respond to those points, I would be grateful.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I always know I am in good company when I am on the same speakers’ list as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh. Their eye for detail and content is almost a legend in the House.

These regulations make amendments to legislation relating to the export and transfer—including other trade controls—of military and, more importantly for the purposes of this debate, dual-use goods. The Government have estimated that, on a rolling 10-year basis, the UK is the second-largest global defence exporter and a major exporter of arms, so it is extremely important that the UK must have a robust export control regime now and after the transition period ends. Any steps taken to guarantee its robustness are obviously welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made the point well: we must not have gaps and holes in this regulatory system. That is extremely important.

This instrument will make changes at the end of the transition period, when export control regulations will be domestic law in Britain while export control regulations in Northern Ireland will, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, pointed out, continue to follow EU law. Although the changes are mainly technical, I have some broader questions for the Minister on the specifics of the regulations.

The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“Regulation 7(4) provides for an exception to certain prohibitions to continue in relation to a certified person who is a part of the armed forces, a police force, or a public authority … who is a hunter or sport shooter, or who holds a Manx firearms certificate.”

How many people is this in total? How many people will it affect?

The Explanatory Memorandum also states that Regulation 9 amends the Secretary of State’s

“regulation-making powers in the Export Control Act 2002”.

I want to find out from the Minister whether these regulations are made under the affirmative or negative procedure. Also, who will the Secretary of State consult before using the powers?

The Explanatory Memorandum also states:

“Regulation 15 provides for certain authorisations granted by the Secretary of State under the Torture Regulation that have effect before the end of the transition period to continue to have effect after”

the end of the year. How many authorisations does the Minister expect to be granted between now and 31 December?

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has already gone through the report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and raised serious concerns about the SI. As she said, the committee says in its report that the regulations are defectively drafted. The noble Baroness also pointed to Regulation 7(9), which has the effect of inserting new Part 6A into the Export Control Order 2008. That part includes new Article 42N(2), concerning the transfer by non-electronic means of software or technology intended for weapons of mass destruction purposes, which, the committee says, has been too narrowly drafted. The Government say that they recognise this mistake, so, along with the noble Baroness, I have to ask: why have these draft regulations not be withdrawn and relaid if they are defective? Surely this cannot be right.

The committee also said that the Government must

“not make legislation which it knows will have an effect which is significantly different from what is intended, unless doing so cannot reasonably be avoided.”

I appreciate that we are coming to the end of the transition period, but what is the urgency with these regulations? Why can they not be corrected in time? I must ask when these errors will be put right. When will they be corrected in amending legislation? If we are told “early in 2021”, frankly, that is not good enough as an answer. We must have a more specific date because we need certainty in the process. Certainty and clarity are what people in the export markets want at the forefront.

The committee also highlighted that Part 5 of the draft regulations amends the trade in torture regulations. These regulations have not yet been made, as far as I am aware. Perhaps the Minister can explain why. As I understand it, they are currently approved in draft only and do not yet take account of the Northern Ireland protocol. That seems a significant failing and gap. Again, the committee said this was “defective” and reported that Part 5 of the regulations makes an

“unusual or unexpected use of enabling powers”.

We need an explanation for that. Why are Ministers using powers in this way and when will the trade in torture regulations be published, so that they can be considered by both Houses?

We recognise that we have left the EU and have a domestic export control regime in Great Britain, but these regulations, especially in how they relate to Northern Ireland, are interesting in the context of developments with our European friends. In November, the German presidency of the EU Council and Parliament agreed to new rules for the trade of dual-use items. This could lead to stricter export controls, including in Northern Ireland, on cyber surveillance technology and items, and cryptographic items. Such items could include facial recognition and spyware. This could introduce greater safeguards to minimise the risk of human rights violations. Do the Government want to expand controls to cover new and emerging technologies, as part of the UK’s export control regime? Will they hold a consultation on this?

We also have to put our export control regime in the context of the Government’s actions concerning arms sales to Saudi Arabia, where the true robustness of the UK’s regime has often been called into question. Last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that the Government had acted unlawfully by approving arms sales to Saudi Arabia without any assessment of whether the coalition had breached international law. The ruling was dismissed by the Government in July, when the International Trade Secretary said that more than 500 alleged incidents of war crimes by the coalition in Yemen were “isolated” and showed no pattern or trend.

I know that noble Lords are aware that the UN has described the war in Yemen as the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 100,000 people being killed. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade said that

“the government has provided very little information on how it reached the conclusions it did, including how it decided there was no ‘pattern’ of violations.”

Will the Government now provide detailed information relating to their decision-making process? The public need answers on this and we, as Members of the Lords, do too. It was also reported recently that the Government approved a backlog of hundreds of applications to export arms to Saudi Arabia. How many has the DIT approved since July?

As the transition period ends, we need to make sure our export control regime is fit for purpose in recognising human rights violations and new technology. These technical changes do little to reassure on these points. That the Joint Committee has described the SI as “defective” in several regards worries me more. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to these questions.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel Portrait Lord Grimstone of Boscobel (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. It is always a pleasure to respond to these debates when noble Lords speak with the expertise displayed today. I thank my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for drawing our attention particularly to the comments made by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in this regard. I say without reservation that it was regrettable that a situation arose in which this will have to be corrected in due course.

As we have heard, at its meeting on 25 November, the JCSI scrutinised the instrument in accordance with Standing Orders, and it was, rightly and properly, agreed that the special attention of both Houses should be drawn to this instrument on two grounds. These are that the instrument in one respect is defectively drafted and makes unusual or unexpected use of the enabling powers in another. Of course, for the former point, I apologise unreservedly.

Let me go into more detail about the drafting error, its impact and what the Government intend to do about it. It is a drafting error in new Article 42N(2) of the Export Control Order 2008. The purpose of that new article is to re-enact in relation to transfers from Northern Ireland an existing exception that allows the transfer of software or technology for WMD purposes from the United Kingdom by non-electronic means if: the final destination of the software or technology is the customs territory of the European Union; or processing or working is to be performed on the software or technology in the customs territory of the European Union—in which case the law of the destination member state will be responsible for the control of any subsequent transfer.

The problem is that re-enactment is necessary because the existing exception, which applies in relation to the United Kingdom, is to be removed at the end of the transition period. The error was the insertion of the incorrect conjunction in new Article 42N(2)—an “and” was inserted instead of an “or” between sub-paragraphs (a) and (b). This makes the exception less permissive in relation to transfer from Northern Ireland after the transition period than the existing exception. Nothing is weakened by this error; indeed, the situation is strengthened for this particular category of software that might be used for weapons of mass destruction.

The department thought about this carefully—I have discussed it with officials—and does not consider the error to have sufficient impact to warrant the withdrawal, correction, and re-laying of the draft regulations. That is because it could not have been done in time for the regulations to be effective by the end of this year. I think all noble Lords want to avoid a gap between the existing and future systems. The department has assessed very carefully the consequences of that, and I reassure my noble friend that we believe there is a very low likelihood that a person would wish in early 2021 to transfer software or technology from Northern Ireland to the customs territory of the European Union by non-electronic means despite awareness that that software is, or may be intended, in entirety or in part, for WMD purposes.

I hope that if noble Lords take a step back from the regrettableness of the error, they will realise that the chances of that happening early in 2021 are very low. We undertake—I do so unreservedly—to correct this error in early 2021, when we will be making routine amendments to the Export Control Order 2008. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, talked about urgency and the importance of there being no gap. I am sure that noble Lords will monitor this situation very carefully to make sure that we live up to our undertaking to correct it early in 2021. Again, I apologise to noble Lords and the House that the error arose. Regrettably, these things sometimes happen, and we took the view that the lesser of the two evils was to continue in this way with this very small error so as to avoid a gap, and to correct that very small error early in 2021.

The second point raised by my noble friend and drawn attention to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was what was described by the JCSI as the

“unusual or unexpected use of enabling powers.”

Part 5 of the draft regulations contains amendments to an instrument that has not been made: the draft Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations. These regulations have been debated in the House; they were ready to be laid but they have not yet been laid, so they have been through the normal scrutiny processes.

Our intention is for the unmade instrument to be made the same day, so that instrument will be made before this instrument is made, which will mean it will come into effect before these regulations come into effect. The making of the instruments in this sequence will allow the draft regulations to correct the deficient commencement regulation in the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations before it comes into force.

This was not an error; it was done deliberately, but it came about because those regulations were approved by Parliament in April 2019—noble Lords will know how long ago that seems in the history of negotiations with the European Union—before ratification of the agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. I assure noble Lords that there are precedents for a draft instrument requiring affirmative approval to correct a deficient commencement clause in an earlier draft instrument that has been approved by Parliament but not made by making both instruments on the same day and in sequence.

I humbly submit that Part 5 of the draft regulations is appropriate considering the precedent and, more importantly, the additional parliamentary time that would be required if the Trade in Torture etc. Goods (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations had to be relaid following, I stress, technical but not substantive amendment and debated again in their entirety by each House of Parliament. I am the first to admit that this is a messy situation. It would have been far better if it had not arisen, but we believe that the path we are taking is the best way to correct it.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised the important question of dual use. I absolutely agree with him on this. He made the comment that the underlying importance of the regulations is to protect excesses of human rights abuse. I am sure that every noble Lord would agree with his sentiments on that matter.

We are right that, at the moment, on 1 January the same laws will apply in Northern Ireland and GB, but there is of course a theoretical risk that divergence will occur. I stress that this is how it will operate: there will have to be close co-operation between the European Union and the United Kingdom on this matter. It would be far preferable if there was no divergence, but because the matters to which these regulations obtain often come about due to wider considerations in the United Nations context, or others, the risk of divergence is low. However, we will do all we can to ensure that divergence does not occur between these two sets of regulations. The protocol is, of course, subject to the continued consent of the people of Northern Ireland, who must approve its continued application every four years.

I will quickly refer to the arguments that the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, made. I assure him that promoting trade is an important feature of our new free trade agreements.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked about intercept and cybersurveillance equipment. All cyber, cryptographic and intercept exports are subject to the same thorough risk assessment against the consolidated criteria as other controlled exports.

I appreciate that I have not answered a couple of the detailed points raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bassam and Lord Purvis. I commit to answering those by letter as soon as I possibly can. On that basis, I hope that these matters find favour with the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 5.30 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.

Sitting suspended.