Thank you for contacting me about Parliamentary scrutiny of the Trade Bill.
The Government does not believe that the provisions outlined in New Clause 4 and Lords' Amendment 6 are necessary.
There is some concern that the amendment made in the House of Lords 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. Moreover
At its core, the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. It cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. Instead it can only be used to transition the free trade agreements that the UK has been party to through EU membership. All these agreements have already been subject to scrutiny as underlying EU agreements, through the European Scrutiny Committee process or equivalent.
Regarding future trade agreements, public consultations have and will continue to be held prior to negotiations to inform the Government's approach. Ministers have also published their negotiating objectives prior to the start of trade talks and held open briefings for MPs and Peers.
Regular updates are provided to Parliament on the progress of negotiations and I know that my Ministerial colleagues at the Department for International Trade will also be engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the Lords International Agreements Committee as negotiations progress. Furthermore, 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. I welcome the Government’s assurance that these committees will have at least 10 sitting days to examine the texts of trade deals.
It is important to note too that all treaties requiring ratification are subject to the scrutiny procedures laid out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Government has also made repeatedly clear that where necessary it will bring forward primary legislation to implement new free trade agreements, which will be debated and scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way.
Overall, I believe this approach strikes an appropriate balance. It respects the UK constitution, ensuring that the Government can negotiate in the best interests of the UK, while making sure that Parliament has the information it needs to effectively scrutinise and lend its expertise to trade policy.
I hope this response has provided a measure of clarity and reassurance.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP