PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY OF FUTURE TRADE DEALS
Thank you for contacting me to indicate your support for the Amendment made to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords and registering your continued concern about parliamentary scrutiny of future trade agreements.
I agree that Parliament should be able to scrutinise trade policy and free trade agreements as part of its important role in debating and scrutinising the Government’s domestic and foreign policies. I therefore welcome the International Trade Secretary’s announcement regarding the shape of arrangements for the scrutiny of international trade agreements.
Beginning with the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, the House of Commons’ International Trade Committee and House of Lords’ International Agreements Sub-Committee will receive advanced copies of trade agreements. These committees will have at least 10 sitting days to examine the texts of trade deals.
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 provides the legislative framework by which international agreements are scrutinised by Parliament. Under the Act, the Government must lay any agreement before Parliament for 21 sitting days and provide explanation of the treaty’s provisions and the reasons for seeking ratification. If Parliament is not willing to support a particular agreement, it can resolve against ratification and indefinitely delay any primary or secondary legislation which would implement an agreement.
The Government is putting the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing and has confirmed that the body will produce a report, to be laid in Parliament at the start of each 21-day scrutiny period, on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture arising from each new free trade deal.
As the UK continues to redevelop its trade policy capacity following our exit from the European Union, I am very pleased to see increased engagement between the Government, Parliament and other interested parties to develop and strengthen means of scrutinising future trade agreements.
I would add that it is important to make the distinction between the Government’s future trade agreements programme and the Trade Bill. The Bill’s functions are largely distinct from the Government’s future trade agreements programme, and the process of negotiating future trade deals is not primarily a matter for the Bill. It is however an important piece of legislation which has a number of practical functions, including the transitioning of EU trade agreements with other countries from which we benefitted when a Member State.
Although future trade agreements are therefore 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 future free trade agreements. I also want to reiterate that the NHS will be protected in future trade agreements, including one with the USA. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table, and nor will the services the NHS provides.
In terms of the Amendment made in the House of Lords, there is concern that this could place restrictions on the Government’s ability to enter into treaty negotiations and to ratify treaties. Ministers have said that giving Parliament a veto over negotiating objectives would curtail the royal prerogative and would limit the flexibility to negotiate in the best interests of the UK.
The Government has confirmed to MPs that it is committed to a transparent trade policy with comprehensive engagement with Parliament. I cannot therefore support the amendment, but would assure my constituents that, as former Minister of State for International Trade, I am confident that a combination of the Constitutional Reform & Governance Act and the arrangements outlined above will ensure that Parliamentarians have the opportunity to scrutinise new trade policy in detail in the future.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.