Trade Bill

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Excerpts
Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 View all Trade Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-R-III Third marshalled list for Report - (22 Dec 2020)
Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Altmann. I join her in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hain, on the ingenuity of his important Amendment 26. As he and others have recognised, Amendments 17 and 18 have, to a large degree, been overtaken by events, but I believe that something along the lines of Amendment 26 must be incorporated in the Bill to give reassurance in Northern Ireland. I would go so far as to say that the success of the deal concluded on Christmas Eve, which I welcome, hinges to a large degree upon Northern Ireland.

In his very moving words, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, indicated that the fact that the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is also the border between the United Kingdom and the European Union is a matter of great significance. He also pointed out the sensitivities in Northern Ireland, sensitivities of which I became acutely aware during my five years as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in another place and which, for me, were seen at their most acute and most moving at a meeting I had the privilege to address in Crossmaglen village hall in 2009, following the brutal and sadistic murder of Paul Quinn.

Northern Ireland is a precious part of the United Kingdom. The Belfast agreement must not be put at risk. Free passage across that border, with its 300 points of crossing, must remain and anything that can give reassurance where, at the moment, there is uncertainty, as the noble and right reverend  Lord, Lord Eames, so graphically outlined, must be to the betterment of our relations not only within the United Kingdom—which I pray remains the United Kingdom—but between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Anything that can give such reassurance must, surely, add strength and purpose to the Bill.

I am not going to attempt to rehearse the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Hain. He put them succinctly and graphically and I believe they should command the support of your Lordships’ House. I therefore have pleasure in supporting these amendments, particularly Amendment 26, and I beg my noble friend on the Front Bench to give a reply that means that the noble Lord, Lord Hain, does not need to divide the House. We should not be divided on an issue that, above all, should unite us—the future of the Belfast agreement. If this amendment cannot be accepted for some technical reason, then I beg the Minister to undertake to introduce an amendment at Third Reading that will encapsulate the fundamental points of this one and underline its purpose. I am glad to give my support to the noble Lord, Lord Hain.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to offer the Green group’s support to all these amendments, particularly Amendment 26. It is a pleasure to follow the detailed, highly informed expositions of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. I do not feel there is a great deal to add, so I will be very brief, but I want to ask two questions of the Minister. First, what assessment have the Government made of the understanding and ability to deal with this of small businesses, particularly in Northern Ireland but also those exporting goods and services to Northern Ireland? How are they dealing with, and how will they be able to deal with, the trading co-operation agreement arrangements? Is the Minister confident that there is sufficient support for those, given the uncertainties that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, just referred to?

Secondly, venturing into a very complex area but one that I know is of great importance to some people, as I understand it there is a hard border down the Irish Sea for seed potatoes and possibly also for fresh potatoes. Can the Minister explain the situation with potatoes going to and fro across the Irish Sea?

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and to support very warmly the vital point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who has shown such great commitment to Northern Ireland over the years and continues to do so, particularly in the dimension of the Brexit process. I also warmly support the comments made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie and Lady Altmann, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. I address these remarks particularly to subsection (1)(b) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 26, relating to goods originating in, or moving from, Northern Ireland and entering Great Britain.

Assurances were given to business in Northern Ireland by the Prime Minster that there would be no bureaucratic hindrances whatever on the goods they trade with other parts of the United Kingdom. It now appears that in some circumstances there can be documentary imposition placed upon them. This has serious implications for those selling such goods and those operating ports such as Holyhead. I remind the House that many of the products from Northern Ireland destined for UK markets have in the recent past been coming via Dublin and Holyhead. This is a matter I have repeatedly raised here in the Chamber. If trade such as this requires documentation, whereas trade directly from Northern Ireland to English ports does not, clearly this represents discrimination against Holyhead whether the goods, or part of them, originated wholly in Northern Ireland or were partly imported from third countries.

Holyhead has already suffered in recent days since the conclusion of the Brexit deal, with shipments that previously would have come from Dublin via Holyhead to English markets or on to continental markets now shipped from other locations in Ireland and not coming via Holyhead. Some, indeed, are going directly to the European mainland. We need clarification, so I hope that the Minister will accept Amendment 26 and can give some assurances, which are needed by those operating the port of Holyhead.

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Lord McNally Portrait Lord McNally (LD) [V]
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My Lords, as ever, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I also want to speak in support of the amendment. My intervention is based on a long-term commitment to seeing age-appropriate design embedded—as it was in the Data Protection Act 2018—activated and written into future legislation. That commitment owes much to the efforts and persistence of the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, as has been noted by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones and others.

My fears for the future of that commitment have not been helped by awaiting the implementation of the long promised internet harms Bill. The harms identified by the 2018 Act are real and present now, and delay leaves ongoing harms unchecked. For over a year I have been working with the Carnegie UK Trust on a paving Bill intended to ease the passage of the online harms Bill. In its briefing for this Bill, the Carnegie team had this to say:

“At Carnegie we remain concerned about the opaque nature of the discussions on the UK/US Trade Agreements and the risks that the wholesale imports of provisions relating to section 230 of relevant US legislation”—


that is, the legislation referred to earlier in the debate—

“may significantly restrict the ability of the UK to enact the systemic online harms regulation it intends”.

My concerns were further increased by the briefing from the 5Rights Foundation, which warns that the US tech lobby is working to ensure that US domestic legislation protects big tech companies from liability, and that that is written into all US trade agreements—a warning that Lord Sheikh emphasised.

If such clauses were to appear in a future UK-US trade deal, they would have a chilling effect on all the advances the UK has made to protect children online. So I believe that this amendment is necessary to protect safeguards already in law or proposed in future law, but which could be voided by clauses written into trade treaties.

I believe the good intentions expressed by the Minister, but we are only six days into our new liberties, so claiming that there are no problems is a little premature. I am a little worried about the self-styled buccaneers in his party, whose idea of behaving in accordance with commitments to the law may be equal to that of the old buccaneers.

Although the amendment would be a valuable addition to the Bill, we must also address the wider issue of the use of the royal prerogative in making treaties. There is an urgent need to review how Parliament deals with trade and other treaties. The 2010 Constitutional Reform and Governance Act—the CRaG Act—is now not fit for purpose. It was drawn up when we had already spent 30 years in the EU, which then had responsibility for our trade treaties. The CRaG Act is out of date, but so too is the concept of the royal prerogative, which is a useful fig leaf for giving Ministers power and preventing Parliament from having power.

A Government who came to power promising to return power to Parliament, not to the Executive, should really examine the CRaG Act, the royal prerogative, and how we handle trade treaties. As has been said, there are lots of Governments, chiefly the US Congress, who have powers to scrutinise. American Ministers, and other Ministers in the same situation, simply have to live with that kind of scrutiny. Let us pass this amendment, but let us then put down a firm marker that there is other work to be done before Parliament can regain sovereignty over treaties.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for tabling Amendment 23. My noble friend and I do not usually speak on the same amendment, but there is a particular range of issues that I want to speak to on this one—issues that no other noble Lords have addressed. I am talking about controlling advertising, a fast-rising area of concern.

When I talk about advertising I also mean some of the broader online issues such as product placement and payments to influencers, which are effectively indirect forms of advertising. This is where I agree with a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, yesterday, which may surprise the House. He expressed concern about differential controls on advertising for broadcasters in the UK, which do not apply online. Yet we know that consumption of media is very much blending now; indeed, the divisions between broadcast and online material, from consumers’ point of view, are pretty artificial these days.

In some areas we already have quite tight controls in the UK for broadcasters and others—on smoking advertising, for example, as well as some controls on gambling advertising, and limited controls on alcohol advertising. We have also seen, particularly in the London underground, controls on the advertising of unhealthy food. As we start to face up to our role as chair of COP26, and face the climate emergency and the nature crisis, a broader concern about advertising is rising, in relation to its place in driving consumption, and driving the destruction of our planet.

The amendment is about children in particular. It is Green Party policy that all advertising directed at primary school age pupils, who psychologists tell us cannot distinguish between advertising and programmes, or editorial content, should be banned. In the online context, it should be possible to create a situation in which we can protect children up to a certain age from online advertising.

I note that just before Christmas, on a question about gambling advertising, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, speaking for the Government, said:

“We very much welcome moves by the major platforms that give individuals greater control”.—[Official Report, 14/12/20; col. 1518.]


over gambling advertising. Should a future Government decide to enforce even the rights of users to block advertising, I suggest that we do not want to see trade Bills stopping that happening.

I conclude by referring to what the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, said. What we are talking about here is giving guidance and democratic control—sovereign control—to our trade negotiators in future trade deals.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all speakers for their contributions to this rather important debate. I was happy to sign up to Amendment 23, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, because surely ensuring online safety for children and otherwise vulnerable people is one of the key issues of our time. Secondly, while the age-appropriate design amendments your Lordships’ House made to the Data Protection Act 2018 have made a start in ensuring that the UK is a safe place for children to be online, much still hangs on the progress of the as yet unpublished online harms Bill. Sadly, there is still rather a long way to go before that become law. If, and when, the online harms Bill, assuming it retains its present ambitions, becomes law, it may provide a bulwark against any tendency the Government may have in future to trade away current or future protections for our children and other vulnerable users. But we are not there yet.

The points made by my noble friends Lord Knight and Lord McNally about the way in which the US tech giant lobby has been forcing changes on recent trade deals are, frankly, chilling. This is not the time to weaken current protections for children online. We must ensure that future trade deals protect our current, and prospective, domestic legislation, and we can do that by taking this issue off the negotiating table.

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Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Portrait Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Amendment 24 is in my name. Although devolution is a settled fact in our constitutional arrangements, it is odd how often we find that legislation brought before Parliament either ignores it completely or makes token gestures in that direction. The recent experience of those involved in this Bill and the then United Kingdom Internal Market Bill has made this abundantly clear.

The proposed new clause is offered to the Government as a template that I hope they might find of interest as they consider matters relating to the devolved settlements. Building on successful amendments that were made to the then United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which were accepted by the Government, they propose a two-stage approach: where devolved competences are engaged, there is a separate process, and, where they are not, committing to consult and seek consent from the devolved Administrations should be combined with setting a one-month time limit for the consent process. This proved successful in what became the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, and, as far as we are aware, it is acceptable to the devolved Administrations. I hope it will be of interest to the Minister when he comes to respond, and I thank others who have decided to support this amendment in this debate. I beg to move.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, and to back his amendment. As the noble Lord said, this is territory that we have covered over and over again, so I will not take a great deal of time. The sections of this amendment say that the devolved Scottish Government should not be overruled on matters within their purview; that the Welsh Ministers should not be overruled on matters devolved to them; and that the Northern Ireland Government should not be overruled on matters devolved to them.

We have here something of a reflection of what happened on 30 December, when many noble Lords participated, in one way or another, and in one day both Houses passed a Bill to which we had no consent from the devolved Administrations—indeed, there was opposition from two of them. This amendment aims to create, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said, a blueprint for the way forward. It is a balanced amendment. Clause 5 says that if the Westminster Government seeks to overrule the devolved Administrations, that has to be explained to both Houses of Parliament.

We hear an enormous amount about sovereignty and taking back control. This Bill seeks to ensure that the nations of the UK are in control of their own destiny in the areas where they have been given powers. I very much hope that your Lordships’ House will back this amendment.

Baroness Humphreys Portrait Baroness Humphreys (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for tabling this important amendment and presenting us with the opportunity to debate, yet again, the issue of powers and responsibilities in areas of devolved competence being overlooked or ignored—in this Bill and, as we have seen, in other Brexit Bills that have recently come before Parliament.

I acknowledge, as does the Senedd’s External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee, that the regulation of international trade is a matter reserved to the UK Government, and that on the other hand the implementation obligations arising from international agreements are primarily the responsibility of the devolved Governments and legislatures. Another of the Senedd’s committees—the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee—agrees with this analysis, pointing out that the international trade agreements covered by this provision will encompass a wide range of policy areas that fall within the legislative competence of the Senedd, including agriculture and fisheries.

It is of some comfort that Clause 2 of this Bill confirms the respective responsibilities of the two Parliaments by confirming that non-tariff regulations can be made by UK and Welsh Ministers, alone or concurrently, and are then subject to the affirmative procedure in the appropriate Parliament. Nowhere in this clause, however, is there a recognition of the role of the Welsh Government in trade agreements in their areas of devolved competence. I accept that the agreements themselves are a reserved matter, but omitting the devolved Administrations from playing any part in the process indicates the desire of the UK Government to control and create trading agreements in their favour—agreements that might not meet the needs of the devolved nations.

Sadly, we are faced once again with an example of the UK Government ignoring the powers and responsibilities of the Senedd and the other devolved Administrations, and the lack of a reference to them in Clause 2 makes their omission obvious to all. It is another example from this Government of what I have referred to before as “attempted constitutional change by stealth”.

Actions such as these are perceived in Wales as making a mockery of the promise of taking back control. Control is now seen as being consolidated in Westminster, and evidence is mounting that these omissions act merely as a recruiting sergeant for those who wish to promote an independence agenda.

This amendment seeks to provide that, if trade agreements contain provisions relating to the devolved competences of Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland Ministers, the consent of those Ministers is required to authenticate that agreement, and it has my full support.

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Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I apologise to the House; clearly the message that I had scratched from this group has not got through. I reflected on the fact that three Liberal speakers on this group would spoil the House too much, so I have nothing to add after the very able way in which my noble friend moved this amendment.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the very humble noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. I shall speak to Amendment 27, which stands in their names and to which I have added mine. I shall also speak to Amendment 47, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, to which I have attached my name, and to Amendment 48, which I think might best be described as a friendly amendment to Amendment 47, as it makes just a small addition to it.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said in introducing this group, these amendments very much fit together. Amendment 27 refers to the fact that the TRA should listen to a wide range of representative groups. That very much relates to the debate on the preceding group, where the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and many others made a powerful case for the importance of food standards and labelling standards. If consumers were listened to by the TRA, it would certainly be very helpful. As we are in a climate emergency and a nature crisis, we need to make sure that expert voices from that area are listened to as well. It is something that perhaps we do not always see traditionally as part of trade, but it is becoming very obvious that it is a crucial part of the whole issue.

On Amendments 47 and 48 in particular, we know that we have a huge problem with the bodies or organisations that are appointed, particularly by Westminster, being representative of all parts of the country in terms of region, background, knowledge and skills. As has just been highlighted by the appointment of the new chair of the BBC, it would seem that, under this Government, there are very few positions in UK society that a long career in the financial sector does not qualify you for. Crucially, we need our government institutions and bodies to be far more representative of our society as a whole. That means including different voices, genders, backgrounds, regions, educational backgrounds, et cetera. These three amendments taken as a package are a modest but important attempt to ensure that, when we formulate and make decisions about trade policy, a range of voices is heard.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I shall speak to Amendments 28, 29 and 30, which are intended as probing amendments. I refer in passing to the report on the Trade Bill from the Select Committee on the Constitution, published in September of last year. The committee says at paragraph 11:

“We remain of the view that the Bill’s skeletal approach to empowering the Trade Remedies Authority is inappropriate.”


It goes on to say at paragraph 12:

“We recognise that there continue to be significant uncertainties regarding the UK’s trading relationships at the end of the Brexit transition period”,


which of course has now passed, and it concludes:

“However, it is not clear why, more than two years after the previous version of the Bill was introduced, the functions and powers of the Trade Remedies Authority cannot be set out in more detail in this Bill.”


Therefore, I gently nudge my noble friend the Minister to say, when he responds to Amendments 28, 29 and 30, what the intention behind the original Clause 6 was.

With Amendments 28 and 29, I seek in particular to focus on understanding better what limits might be appropriate to a request to the Trade Remedies Authority to provide advice on matters of international trade, and, with Amendment 30, to clarify the purpose of the initial consultation before proceeding to a request. At this stage, I should say that I am most grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for its assistance in briefing me and preparing these amendments.

With regard to Amendment 30, it is not immediately clear from the legislation why the Secretary of State would consult the Trade Remedies Authority under Clause 6(3) and how this is different from issuing the original request under subsection (1). I might be missing something but, if you are issuing a request, that seems a little odd. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for raising this with me and, in turn, for the House this afternoon. Surely, if you make a request to the Trade Remedies Authority, you do not need to consult the authority beforehand on the nature of that request.

Can my noble friend clarify whether there is any distinction between the two actions, making it clear that the duty to consult in Clause 6(3) relates to framing or scoping a request to the Trade Remedies Authority, just so we can understand why it is appropriate to shape that request when, in fact, the Trade Remedies Authority is meant to be independent and impartial? By going through this process of consultation, I am slightly concerned that that impartiality and independence may be impugned or compromised.

Amendments 28 and 29 point to the fact that the Trade Remedies Authority has already existed, and exists in abstract, having been incorporated by reference in the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018, although we are formally constituting it in the Trade Bill before us today. If it is the case that the Trade Remedies Authority is responsible for carrying out investigations and advising on remedies as set up under the cross-border trade Act, while it is an essential aspect of international trade, it is only one part of that. The proposed amendment therefore would ensure that requests for advice are limited to matters on which the Trade Remedies Authority is competent to advise, having regard to its remit and functions.

The purpose of this group of three amendments is simply to explore a better understanding from my noble friend and the Government through the department as to what the remit of the TRA should be and to ensure that the independence and impartiality of that body will not be infringed through the present drafting of Clause 6(3).

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This amendment is therefore intended to keep the Government honest in their approach to the GPA by ensuring that each House has the opportunity to examine, debate and vote on measures proposed by the Government. An affirmative resolution of each House would be required before proceeding to introduce proposals to the GPA. This would allow each House to carry out its proper function. In the case of this House, that would be scrutiny of the proposals to consider whether, if taken to the GPA, they will fulfil the Government’s ambitions. I beg to move.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, for tabling Amendment 46, to which I was pleased to attach my name. I also thank the noble Lord for setting out some very clear and important questions that have not been answered, even at this very late stage of the debate on this Bill.

I note the thinness of this part of the debate. It is very clear that, despite the hard work of the Minister and noble Lords still engaged in this debate, at this late hour, the ability of this House to scrutinise the Bill line by line has been greatly damaged by the disjointed manner in which it has been progressed. We can only do our best.

The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, set it out clearly: we find ourselves saying essentially the same things, again and again. Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House want statutory protections for hard-won environmental standards, workers’ rights, food standards and public health standards. We keep hearing from the Government, again and again, “Oh yes, we want to keep these things”, but we encounter thumping resistance to any attempt to put that in writing so that they can be held to account in the courts for their promises—in the way in which the Government have so often been held to account in recent years. Empty words and hot air cannot be taken to court.

It is late, so I will be brief. I have three bullet points to conclude, outlining the reasons why this amendment should be included in the Bill: sovereignty, democracy and taking back control. For the benefit of Hansard, there is an implied question mark at the end of that last bullet point. It seems that, day by day, in your Lordships’ House, in Parliament and in the country, we are losing control, handing it over to executive authority and all too often to the vagaries of the market. We are seeing a society run for the benefit of the few, not the many.