I have been contacted by many constituents regarding the Trade Bill progressing through Parliament today. While I would have preferred to be in Parliament to speak, I am currently shielding. I do however have a proxy, so rest assured my vote will be counted.
I remain concerned about several areas, my thoughts on some of the most crucial:
Parliamentary Scrutiny of Trade Deals
In the past, we have seen trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that have sought to erode the rights, standards and institutions that people value most. I do not believe this is acceptable. The Government needs to set out clearly how it will ensure we will not lower our food, environmental, health or labour requirements due to trade agreements. It is disappointing that the proposals it has set out for parliamentary scrutiny of trade policy so far do little to ensure trade deals will be transparent and reflect the democratic will of the people.
During the Trade Bill’s passage through the House of Commons, I supported amendments to ensure all new free trade agreements are subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny and consent. I also voted to require the Government to publish and consult on the text of each free trade agreement before ratification. Unfortunately, the Government voted down every amendment to the Bill that would have ensured proper parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of our trade agreements. Then, after the House of Lords successfully amended the Trade Bill to give Parliament a meaningful role in debating and approving post-Brexit trade agreements, it delayed bringing the Bill back to the House of Commons, before finally abandoning it at the end of the last parliamentary session.
Trade Agreements and the NHS
The UK Government says the NHS and the price it pays for drugs will not be on the table in talks with the US. We must hold it to this pledge, but also consider what is being left unsaid. There is a real threat that trade deals with the US and others could include clauses entrenching existing privatisation in our public services. This would be unacceptable, particularly for Wales and Scotland which could end up subjected to the same levels of privatisation that we see in England. Governments must retain the right to legislate in this area. I will be monitoring this matter closely.
We must ensure all parts of the NHS are fully protected under any trade deals, either through explicit wording ruling out liberalisation measures from applying to it or, better still, a positive list system where parties must actively include different sectors in the deal, rather than exclude them.
The Government also needs to provide proper procedures for scrutiny of future international trade agreements, so we can hold it to account on this. I am disappointed that its current Trade Bill does not do this, and I, therefore, opposed it at Second Reading. I am also disappointed that efforts to protect the NHS and public services at the Bill’s Committee Stage were defeated. The Government needs to bring a proper Trade Bill before Parliament, one which deals with all future trade agreements rather than just so-called “rollover” ones, and that guarantees proper scrutiny and consultation powers for both Parliament and key stakeholders.