I have received a lot of correspondence on the different clauses and proposed amendments to the Trade Bill. I thought it best to explain my decision and to answer your queries and concerns in one statement.
First, it is important to bear in mind that the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. The powers within the Bill could not be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the United States. Instead, the Bill only allows for trade agreements that we have been party to through our EU membership to be transitioned into UK law. The Trade Bill is an important piece of legislation which has a number of practical functions.
Clause 17 - NHS
I recognise the strength of feeling about the provisions in new clause 17. However, for what I believe are sensible and practical reasons, I did not support the clause. That’s because the NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations in these trade agreements. It has been made continuously by my Ministerial colleagues that there is no intention of lowering standards in transitioned trade agreements. As I mentioned above, the purpose of the agreements is to maintain and replicate the existing commitments in EU agreements. Furthermore, I can reassure you that none of the 20 continuity agreements signed have resulted in standards being lowered. If you want to read more about my views on the NHS and the Trade Bill, please find my statement here.
For those of you who had further concerns about ISDS, I also want to stress that Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) does not, and cannot, force the privatisation of public services or oblige the Government to open the NHS to further competition. There has neither been a successful ISDS claim against the UK, nor has the threat of potential disputes affected the Government’s legislative programme.
I want to be clear here that the Trade Bill will not undermine food standards. Although, as I stated above, future trade agreements are outside the scope of the Trade Bill, the Government has made a clear and absolute commitment to uphold the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, food safety and food import standards in any future free trade agreement. I know Ministers do not intend to compromise the UK’s domestic welfare production standards either. You can read more about my views on the importance of maintaining our high food standards here.
Without exception, all animal products imported into the UK under existing or future free trade agreements from all trading partners, including the EU and others, will have to meet our stringent food safety standards, as they do now. As I say in my statement on UK food standards, our independent food regulators will continue making sure that all food imports into the UK comply with those high standards.
In contradiction to the fears that have been stirred up by the Opposition, not one domestic standard in relation to animal welfare, the environment, human rights or labour has been eroded by any of those agreements.
Clause 4 – Parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals
I do appreciate the strength of feeling about this Clause and I agree with those who expressed concerns on the importance of effective Parliamentary scrutiny. However, I do not believe that the provisions outlined in New Clause 4 are necessary.
Regarding future trade agreements, public consultations have and will continue to be held prior to negotiations to inform the Government's approach. Ministers have also published their negotiating objectives prior to the start of trade talks and held open briefings for MPs and Peers. Regular updates are provided to Parliament on the progress of negotiations and I know that my Ministerial colleagues at the Department for International Trade will also be engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the Lords International Agreements Committee as negotiations progress.
I also want to note that all treaties requiring ratification are subject to the scrutiny procedures laid out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Government has also made repeatedly clear that where necessary it will bring forward primary legislation to implement new free trade agreements, which will be debated and scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way.
Overall, I personally believe this approach strikes an appropriate balance. It respects the UK constitution, ensuring that the Government can negotiate in the best interests of the UK, while making sure that Parliament has the information it needs to effectively scrutinise and lend its expertise to trade policy.
I do hope that this statement provides some clarity as to why I voted against the amendments above and thank you to all those who contacted me about this.