Trade Bill: Bishop of Blackburn supports amendments on sustainable development goals, environmental, health and food standards

On 8th October 2020 the House of Lords considered the Government’s Trade Bill in committee. The Bishop of Blackburn spoke in support of amendments that would:

  • require parliamentary approval of both negotiating objectives and of free trade agreements before the UK becomes a signatory to any agreements, to safeguard food, environmental, animal welfare and health standards.
  • ensure trade agreements cannot be implemented, signed or ratified unless they are consistent with the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Bishops’ speeches are below and the full text of the amendments beneath.

The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, having made my maiden speech a week or so ago at Second Reading of the Bill, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for proposing Amendment 35, to which I wish to speak, without, I have to say, the expertise of other contributors, but I shall speak in favour of the amendment on two counts, only simply, as I do not wish to repeat what has already has been said.

First, the need for parliamentary support in both Houses at a preparatory stage of reaching a trade agreement by setting objectives is wise and prudent. If parliamentary support in agreeing those objectives is required only once work on an agreement has begun and is in its later stages, it will prove nearly impossible for Parliament to wind the clock back, debate the objectives and revise a carefully crafted piece of work that has already begun. Undoing what has been worked on over a period with the other party in that agreement could also do serious damage to relationships and could threaten the finalising and reaching of an agreement, so early scrutiny by both Houses on objectives is essential. I know the argument against that position is that it might delay the process with lengthy debates and endless amendments on all kinds of detail, but surely a mechanism could be found to speed up the process even, say, in this House, and enable a fair wind to be given to agreeing the necessary objectives. Once such objectives have been agreed in one instance surely those that follow will not prove to be very different and could proceed more speedily. Agreements will vary hugely, but objectives will remain much the same.

The second reason for my support for Amendment 35 is that paragraph (b) of subsection (2) of the proposed new clause calls for a sustainability impact assessment on

“food safety, health, the environment and animal welfare.”

Selecting just two of that list, the NHS and agriculture, both need to be protected from agreements driven solely by lucrative financial gains. No one can argue against shrewd business arrangements, but finance is not the only factor to be considered. The duty to ensure the future of our fragile farming industry is crucial. Any trade deal that strengthens the decline of that sector is unwelcome. Any trade deal that advocates or allows the further dismantling or privatisation of the NHS must be resisted, and this amendment gives a strong assurance that those protections are guaranteed and are in place for years to come. We have to keep in mind more than just the present. Those who follow after us will pick up the consequences of our decisions and it is because of the seriousness of these concerns that the Bill without Amendment 35 is lacking. I give my wholehearted support to the noble Lord’s amendment.


The Lord Bishop of Blackburn: My Lords, new to the work of the Committee, I am impressed by your Lordships’ stamina during this long, five-hour session, so I will be brief, as before. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for proposing Amendments 39 and 97. It must be obvious to any with eyes to see that this planet and the environment are struggling to cope with the impact of our poor stewardship of their natural resources—the beautiful natural world that we, too easily, have taken for granted and abused. Whether it comes from the dulcet tones of David Attenborough, the announcement of the Earthshot Prize with Prince William yesterday or the sight of the damage that plastic waste is doing to so many species in our oceans, does not matter. What counts is our response.

I start by echoing the words of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that:

“Reducing the causes of climate change is essential to the life of faith.”

It is the way in which we express love and concern for our neighbours. Despite the overwhelming contribution of many so-called developed countries to try to hold back the tide of climate change, less-developed countries will lose most from the increases of global warming, which the Anglican Church feels keenly, because 90% of our communion is from the global south. The sustainable development goals of 2015 pursue a bold and ambitious agenda to tackle poverty and provide a sustainable future for the benefit of all people, wherever they live. It is a moral duty not to abandon those who are suffering and will suffer from the influence, such as ourselves, that we may bring to bear on others elsewhere. Sustainable development goals are a matter of concern for the other. Trade with the UK is more than a simple monetary exchange enriching individuals, organisations and businesses; it is a moral co-operation for a brighter future for all.

Passing these amendments would be a statement and sign of the Committee’s commitment to the most vulnerable in the world. It would express our intent and priority to look after others before ourselves, and will strengthen our relationship with partners around the globe. I hope these amendments will be accepted and find their place in stating the way that we, as a nation, choose to treat others and the world that God has entrusted to our care.


Text of Amendment 35:

Lord Purvis of Tweed

After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—

“Parliamentary approval of trade agreements

(1) Negotiations towards a free trade agreement may not commence until the Secretary of State has laid draft negotiating objectives in respect of that agreement before both Houses of Parliament, and a motion endorsing draft negotiating objectives has been approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

(2) Prior to the draft negotiating objectives being laid, the Secretary of State must have—(a) consulted each devolved authority on the content of the draft negotiating objectives, and(b) produced a sustainability impact assessment including, but not limited to, an assessment of the impact on food safety, health, the environment and animal welfare.

(3) The United Kingdom may not become a signatory to a free trade agreement to which this section applies unless a draft of the agreement in the terms in which it was to be presented for signature by parties to the agreement has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

(4) Before either House of Parliament may be asked to approve by resolution the text of a proposed free trade agreement, the Secretary of State must—(a) consult each devolved authority on the text of the proposed agreement, and(b) lay before both Houses a report assessing the compliance of the text of the proposed agreement with any standards laid down by primary or subordinate legislation in the United Kingdom including, but not limited to, legislation governing or prescribing standards on food safety, health, the environment and animal welfare.

(5) In this section—“devolved authority” has the meaning given in section 4(1) of this Act, and“free trade agreement” means any agreement which is—(a) within the definition given in section 4(1) of this Act, and(b) an agreement between the United Kingdom and one or more partners that includes components that facilitate the trade of goods, services or intellectual property.”

Member’s explanatory statement: The new Clause ensures parliamentary approval is required of the Government’s negotiating objectives prior to negotiations commencing towards a free trade agreement; and requires parliamentary approval of free trade agreements before the UK becomes a signatory to any agreements.


Text of Amendment 39:

Lord Purvis of Tweed

After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—

“Conditions for trade deals: Sustainable Development Goals

(1) Regulations under section 2(1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing an international trade agreement only if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with, and are consistent with, the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.

(2) Any future international trade agreement not implemented under section 2 shall only be eligible for signature or ratification by the United Kingdom if the provisions of that international trade agreement do not conflict with, and are consistent with, the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.

(3) Within 12 months of making regulations under section 2(1) or ratifying a future trade agreement, a Minister of the Crown must lay before Parliament a report assessing how those regulations or trade agreement is making a positive impact towards the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.”

Member’s explanatory statement: The new Clause ensures that trade agreements cannot be implemented, signed or ratified unless they are consistent with the provisions of the Sustainable Development Goals.