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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 8, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 08 October 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan, Reducing Covid-19 Transmission, Trade Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


Trade Bill

The next item of business is consideration of a legislative consent motion. I invite Ivan McKee to move motion S5M-22970, on the United Kingdom Trade Bill.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament agrees that the relevant provisions of the Trade Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 19 March 2020, which relate to the implementation of the Agreement on Government Procurement, the implementation of international obligations arising from UK trade agreements, which stem from existing EU trade agreements and the sharing of trade related information by public bodies, so far as these matters fall within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament or alter the executive functions of the Scottish Ministers, should be considered by the UK Parliament.—[Ivan McKee]

I believe that Patrick Harvie would like to speak to the motion.

17:31  

Yesterday, every member in the chamber who is not a supporter of Boris Johnson and the Brexit ultras joined together to reject the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. From that debate, it was apparent that most of us see clearly the fundamental connections between that bill and the United Kingdom Government’s trade agenda.

The Trade Bill that is the subject of today’s legislative consent motion might be narrower in scope than its predecessor, which was an earlier iteration, but it is absolutely not an approach to the negotiation of trade policy within these islands to which we should sign up. Neither is it a bill to which we should consent.

I want to acknowledge the constructive work of my colleagues on the Finance and Constitution Committee, who have been scrutinising all the legislation, and of our clerks, who have recently had to work very hard on a complex and interconnected set of reports. Some of my concerns are shared by the majority of members of the committee, who agreed, at paragraph 52 of its report on the LCM, that in the bill

“there is no role for devolved legislatures to scrutinise ... new parts”

even of roll-over agreements

“which impact on devolved areas.”

Although the committee welcomed the Minister of State for Trade Policy’s commitment to work on that, we said that that work

“should have been done prior to the passage of the Bill”,

but it has not been done.

The committee also noted that the UK Government has committed—using the old familiar phrase—to “not normally using” its powers under the bill

“in areas of devolved competence without ... consent”.

We know very clearly that the UK Government is willing to use its legislative power in devolved areas—not only without the consent of this Parliament, but in defiance of a refusal of such consent. Therefore, I do not think that we can take its commitment seriously. The committee has made it clear that the bill should be amended in that respect. However, I see no prospect that we will get the kind of amendments to the bill that the committee’s report has called for.

In its report, the committee also highlighted the evidence of Ivan McKee, the minister who I presume will seek to defend the bill in a moment. He explained to us that the engagement that he has seen from the UK Government

“fell short of what the Scottish Government expected”.

He said:

“Irrespective of the extent to which UK trade policy engages with and impacts on areas of devolved policy and competence, the Scottish Government has had no meaningful involvement in trade negotiations, nor has it had any input into the identification of priority partners for trade negotiations.”—[Official Report, Finance and Constitution Committee, 23 September 2020; c 48.]

If the approach of the UK Government is to freeze out Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from those matters in the run-up to the development of legislation, why should we think that it will not take exactly the same attitude once the bill has passed?

The committee has recommended, at paragraph 66 of its report, that

“it is essential that the devolved institutions are involved at all stages of the trade negotiation process.”

It is abundantly clear that we are not going to be involved in that way. The bill fails to create a framework for that involvement. It should do that—it should be giving an opportunity for input to the negotiating priorities of the UK Government, scrutiny of draft agreements while they are under negotiation, and approval of completed agreements, especially in respect of devolved impacts. The bill does none of those things.

Finally, the thing that I find most frustrating is that we have the opportunity to speak for only a few minutes—I repeat, a few minutes—on the issue. The bill and devolved scrutiny of the LCM have not been accompanied by the kind of broader debate that we ought to be having about trade policy and how it can be developed in an open, deliberative and democratically accountable way, involving this Parliament as well as the Welsh Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly, rather than simply being imposed by a UK Government that is not democratically accountable for the devolved policy areas on which trade agreements will impact. Trade agreements will impact on sustainability, human rights, and trade justice. None of those principles is embedded in the legislation.

I welcome the fact that the Scottish National Party Government often seeks to distance itself from the free market extremism that we see from people in the UK Government, but it is not willing enough to stand in opposition to it. More trade is always seen as a good thing, whether it is in relation to environmentally damaging industries such as fish farming in the UK, in relation to the arms trade—the UK is the world’s second-biggest arms dealer; some of that activity happens in the UK and the Scottish Government’s enterprise agencies have funded it—or in relation to the First Minister’s refusal under questioning today to do what Ivan McKee should have done at Westminster yesterday, which was to rule out free ports, which are a licence for money laundering, tax avoidance and organised crime.

We should be standing four-square against the UK Government’s free market extremism, and we should be voting down the legislative consent motion on its Trade Bill.

17:38  

I want to make it absolutely clear that the Scottish Government does not support the UK Government’s approach to trade policy, which, among other things, excludes any meaningful role for the devolved Administrations. Nor do we support the UK Government’s limited and unsatisfactory plans for parliamentary scrutiny.

However, it is important to recognise what the bill does. It is a largely technical, narrow bill that seeks to secure current trade agreements. The provisions that require legislative consent will enable full implementation of rolled-over trade agreements that Scotland benefited from through European Union membership. The provisions will also avoid potential gaps in Scotland’s ability to access current and future procurement markets.

Our key consideration is to do all that we can to provide as much certainty as possible for Scottish businesses and sectors that need stability from continuity trade agreements, which will allow them to continue to benefit from agreements that the EU already has with third countries. That is why, after careful consideration, we are recommending that Parliament give legislative consent to the relevant parts of the bill.

I am pleased that the Finance and Constitution Committee, in its report that was published yesterday, also recommends that consent be given. I will write to the committee on the detailed points that are raised in the report, but I am happy to confirm now that we agree that there should be a greater role for devolved institutions in order to allow us to develop a consensual position on trade negotiations.

I want to provide some reassurance to members, and outline what the bill does not cover on trade policy. It does not cover new trade deals such as the one that is currently under negotiation with the US, nor does it set out any wider framework for how future trade policy should be conducted.

I understand why some people are concerned about the bill on the basis that it does not go far enough in involving devolved institutions. We agree, which is why we will continue to argue for a greater role in the development of UK-wide trade arrangements. We have also made clear our red lines for trade negotiations on future agreements, and we are forthright in promoting and defending Scottish interests in correspondence and in engagement. We are also developing our own vision for the future of Scottish trade policy; I will be happy to share that with members in the coming weeks.

The UK Government’s approach to trade policy has left businesses, consumers and the devolved nations out of the loop, but withholding consent to the bill where it is required will not benefit anyone. Our interests will not be served by refusing to consent to essential technical provisions that will provide some protection and certainty for our export businesses and sectors. It is the responsibility of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to protect Scottish interests. I believe that consenting to the bill, albeit in the unwelcome circumstances in which we find ourselves, is the best way to do so.

The question on the motion will be put at decision time.