Andrew Lansley – 2023 Speech on the Australia/New Zealand Trade Deal (Baron Lansley)

The speech made by Andrew Lansley, Baron Lansley, in the House of Lords on 9 January 2023.

My Lords, I am glad to follow my noble friend for these purposes, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, as we are fellow members of the International Agreements Committee. I ask noble Lords to bear with me, as I am the fifth member of that committee to speak in this debate. I hope not to repeat too much of what my colleagues have said but, in so far as the scrutiny of these two agreements is concerned, the committee in this place was able to produce a report in June last year, which was debated here on 11 July. To that extent, I think that many of the criticisms of the scrutiny of these deals were of the other place, rather than here. They have been scrutinised here, as was demonstrated by that debate, in a timely fashion under CRaG.

My friend the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred again to the importance of the Government having a trade policy document, and referenced the New Zealand Trade for All strategy. This was the first agreement entered into by New Zealand after the publication of that policy document. That demonstrates the benefits of a high-quality document. I was rather struck that noble Lords have been quoting George Eustice, the former Secretary of State at Defra, who I will refer to later. It was important when he said that we should look at strengthening the role of Parliament in scrutiny and perhaps even agreeing the negotiating mandate. My noble friend Lord Frost referred to that. As he said, countries such as Japan and the US, and the European Union, all use their parliamentary processes to their advantage. As my noble friend said, we do not want disagreements to be suppressed within government and then erupt afterwards, with Ministers saying, as George Eustice did, that we gave away far too much for far too little in return. I do not happen to agree with him but that is not the point. We should be able to see what the Government’s objectives are in trade policy—not necessarily the detailed negotiating trade-offs but certainly the objectives. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, said, we can illustrate that by reference to examples. We ask about matters such as the Government’s approach to investor-state dispute settlements but all we get in reply is, essentially, the conclusion that they have reached on any individual negotiation, not what the Government’s approach is in general.

The result was different in different agreements, depending upon the approach of the other counterparties. There are a number of illustrations of that. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, chair of the EU Affairs Committee, was here a moment ago. That committee and the International Agreements Committee have a right to expect that we are consulted soon about what the Government’s policy is in relation to carbon border adjustment mechanisms and the implementation of emissions trading schemes, not only between ourselves and the European Union but on the impact that the policy will have on our trading policy more generally. If we do not do that, we will find that, as a consequence, it is potentially one of the largest non-tariff barriers being erected across the globe, alongside the issue that the noble Earl raised about the Inflation Reduction Act in America.

This has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. In the rest of what I have to say, I want to focus on the Bill itself. This has been a great debate, and I have much enjoyed it, not least the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Swire. We overlapped for only 14 years in the other place. I hope that perhaps we will overlap a little longer in this place—who knows, as he is not 74? It is a great pleasure to have him here and the benefit of his experience in our debates.

It is not in my register of interests, but I should say that my sister-in-law is a sheep farmer in north Wales. Even over Christmas, she did not raise the question of the Australia or New Zealand trade agreements with me at all, so I do not know what her view on these may be—just as well, perhaps.

Those of us on the International Agreements Committee welcomed these agreements as being of high quality and demonstrating what can be achieved; that is also my personal view. There is a feeling that some of the 32 chapters were included without sufficient substance and that the substance will have to be added over time. For example, I thought that the innovation chapter in the agreement with Australia was a very good thing, but we will not know what it is going to mean for some time to come. I hope it will mean something pretty substantial.

This Bill simply provides the power to implement the procurement chapters—chapter 16 in each of the two agreements—and it is necessary because the powers are not there already. Once the Procurement Bill passes, the powers will be available in that legislation to do this by statutory instrument in the future; the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, made this point earlier. The Procurement Bill means that we will not see primary legislation for purposes such as this in the future. I think that is probably correct, because the changes in our domestic legislation are relatively modest. In future, this kind of thing should be done by statutory instrument, as long as—taking the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—it is done by an affirmative procedure, because there will be a whole range of changes. The other place implements the tariff changes, and this place looks at things such as the procurement changes and a whole raft of others, but we should be doing such things by affirmative procedures wherever possible. That will enable us to exercise some control if need be—if there is a serious problem—at each stage. I hope that the ratification process will be under way by then; we will have seen it under CRaG. If there are serious problems associated with an agreement, we should know beforehand.

I said I wanted to refer to George Eustice again; I am going to mark the card of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, in advance of his speech, because he referred to George Eustice’s speech at Oral Questions. The point that George Eustice was making was that he believed a problem with the agreements was that they could lead to hormone-fed beef coming to this country but that this would also be possible under the CPTPP. I do not think he is right about that. In any case, it is not a problem associated with the Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements; it is an issue we need to address in the CPTPP. That is when it comes up. What is the dispute resolution mechanism under the CPTPP? If necessary, that would need to be addressed by our Government in the context of that agreement itself.

I took part in the passage of the Procurement Bill and tabled amendments which would have limited the nature of the repeal of this Bill by that one in due course. The problem is not that the Procurement Bill will take future powers instead of this Bill but the way it repeals it. The Procurement Bill will repeal:

“An Act of Parliament resulting from the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill that was introduced into the House of Commons on 11 May 2022.”

So if we amend this Bill, it will be repealed by the Procurement Bill in due course. This is not a satisfactory procedure. The assurances that we received in this House from my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe during the passage of the Procurement Bill were that, if we amend this Bill, the Government will look to ensure that any necessary changes might be made to the nature of the repeal during the passage of the Procurement Bill in the other place. I ask my noble friend Lord Johnson of Lainston simply to reiterate, if he may, that same reassurance.

I am not aware of a necessity for amendment. In the other place, the Official Opposition supported the Bill, and the amendment they were looking for was for further impact assessments. As my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister rightly said, the Government have committed themselves—and I hope my noble friend will further commit the Government—to two-year monitoring reports and a five-year comprehensive evaluation of both agreements. Frankly, that should be sufficient for this purpose, so I do not think we need to amend the Bill to make that happen.

From my point of view, there are issues that we have raised and issues that I feel strongly about in the agreement. For example, there is the fact that we managed to get an agreement with Australia before the European Union did; perhaps that is one of the benefits of Brexit. However, is it not ironic that, for example, the geographical indications element of our agreement is wholly dependent on the European Union securing changes in the Australian geographical indicators regime so that we might take advantage of it? It is ironic and regrettable. It is just one more of the many illustrations of how we want to see what our trade policy should be and, in future, to see that we scrutinise not only the deal that the Government return with but the negotiating mandate that they take with them in the first place. In those circumstances, I think we would find our overall scrutiny and the support we were able to give to the Government’s trade policy all the better, all the stronger and probably all the more effective internationally.