On Tuesday 20 January 2021, the House of Commons considered Lords amendments to the Trade Bill. The Trade Bill will govern how the UK Government trades with other countries and is made necessary by the UK leaving the EU.
It is clear that we do not currently have the right procedures in place to allow proper parliamentary debate, scrutiny and approval of new trade deals. Currently the Government can sign and ratify agreements without Parliament having a chance to vote on them. I do not believe this is acceptable and therefore voted for Lords amendment 1. This would have provided processes for effective parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals, including approval of negotiating mandates, engagement throughout the negotiating process, independent impact assessments of deals on various issues and parliamentary approval before the signing of agreements. Unfortunately, the Government opposed this amendment and it was removed from the Bill.
I also supported Lords amendment 2, which sought to ensure that free trade agreements comply with the UK’s international human rights obligations, and Lords amendment 3, which would enable the revocation of trade agreements if the High Court determined that the state the agreement was with had committed genocide. Amendment 3 is particularly important in relation to the plight of the Uyghur people in China, who face mass incarceration, forced sterilisation and abortions, servitude and slave labour. It is absolutely right that if a UK trade deal with Beijing is proposed or agreed, representatives of the Uyghur community should be able to seek a ruling from the High Court that the crimes they face in China meet the criteria for a charge of genocide, requiring the UK Government to consider revoking that trade deal. I was therefore disappointed that the Government opposed and defeated these amendments.
I welcomed Lords amendments 9 and 10, which would have expanded the remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission to cover the impact of food on public health. It is disappointing that the Government removed the public health aspects of these amendments.
I supported an amendment to exclude NHS patient data from the scope of future trade deals. The best way to remove the threat to the NHS, from whatever direction it comes, now or in the future, is simply to legislate in the Trade Bill that the NHS should be outside the scope of any future trade agreements. The government’s reluctance to take that step is unacceptable.
I also supported amendments to prevent trade agreements we negotiate from undermining the domestic standards we apply on everything from environmental protection to employment rights; to protect the progress we are making in the UK to keep our children safe when using the internet, and to force major service providers to help prevent children from exposure to illegal content or harmful activity; and to stop future trade agreements from hindering market access for goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain and for services going either way between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Unfortunately, the Government defeated all of these amendments.
Consideration of Commons amendments will now take place in the Lords on 2 February, where I hope the Lords will insist on inserting these important amendments again. I assure you that I will continue to vote for these protections as I have done throughout the previous stages of the Bill’s passage through parliament.