Thank you for contacting me about parliamentary scrutiny of future free trade agreements.
I welcome the Secretary of State for International Trade’s announcement that the Government is fully committed to being transparent and enabling effective parliamentary scrutiny of its trade agenda. The starting point, of course, is that all MPs have been fully briefed in Parliament re. the Government’s remit and approach to trade negotiations, and on its efforts and intentions to achieve free trade agreements with other countries and trade blocs around the rest of the world, and the Government continues to enjoy the support of a large majority of MPs.
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 each trade agreement. I welcome the Government’s assurance that these committees will have at least ten sitting days to examine the texts of trade deals.
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 provides the legislative framework by which international agreements are scrutinised by Parliament. Under the Act, the Government must lay any agreement before Parliament for twenty-one sitting days and provide explanation of the treaty’s provisions and the reasons for seeking ratification. If Parliament is not willing to support a particular agreement, it can resolve against ratification and indefinitely delay any primary or secondary legislation which would implement an agreement.
Regarding British food standards and environmental protections you mention, the Government has been clear throughout that our high standards of animal welfare, workers’ rights, and environmental protections will not be undermined in any future trade deal. The Trade and Agriculture Commission has been put on a statutory footing whereby the body will produce a report on the impact on animal welfare and agriculture arising from each new free trade deal. This report will then be presented to Parliament at the start of each twenty-one day scrutiny period, a process that has been reflected in the trade agreements that the UK has already signed with 63 partner countries to date, covering trade worth £217bn.
You may also be interested to know, in relation to the NHS, that the Government is wholly committed to ensuring that our NHS remains universal and free at the point of service. The NHS, including the price it pays for drugs, is off the table in each and every negotiation and that constitutes a clear red line for the U.K.
As the UK continues to redevelop and expand its trade policy capacity following our exit from the European Union, I am very pleased to see increased engagement between the Government, Parliament and other interested parties to develop and strengthen means of scrutinising future trade agreements.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me about these important matters and I hope this response has provided some useful information and assurance.
With best wishes.
Jonathan Lord MP
Member of Parliament for Woking