I have been contacted by a number of constituents about parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals.  This is an important issue and proper scrutiny of trade deals is essential.

The Government has introduced a Trade Bill to allow the UK to pursue an independent trade policy when we leave the EU.  We should have used this opportunity to ensure meaningful parliamentary scrutiny of future trade deals but the Trade Bill fails to do this and instead leaves trade policy entirely in the hands of Government Ministers. I don’t believe this is acceptable in a modern democracy.

At the 2017 general election, I stood on a manifesto that promised proper transparency and parliamentary scrutiny of all future trade deals.  This means parliamentary approval of negotiating mandates and consultations with trade union, industry and civil society stakeholders. It would also mean comprehensive impact assessments of social, economic and environmental risks and involve a parliamentary committee to scrutinise treaties before the Government agrees to them, unrestricted access to the texts of trade treaties as they are being formulated and a rigorous ratification process, with debate and votes in the House of Commons chamber.

I was disappointed that the Government’s Trade Bill did not include such measures when it was published and I opposed it at second reading. I was unhappy that, at committee stage, the Government voted down amendments that would have ensured proper parliamentary oversight.  I’m therefore pleased that new clause three has been tabled prior to report stage of the Bill and that it replicates many of the Opposition amendments tabled at committee stage. If new clause three is selected at report stage I will be supporting it.

I will continue to press for proper transparency and scrutiny of trade deals both in the Trade Bill and when the Government sets out its policy on future trade deals.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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