Saudi Arms Exports
The decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia has been taken in line with the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. This means that the Government believes that any goods exported to Saudi Arabia will not be used for internal repression or in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
We have some of the strictest arms export criteria in the world, and I am satisfied that the Government have acted in line with that. I reviewed the contributions made during the recent Urgent Question on the resumption of exports, and I will continue to follow this issue.
I have received a large amount of correspondence from constituents concerned about the Trade Bill, and I was asked to support a number of amendments. I did not vote for any of the amendments to the Bill, and I will explain why below. Contrary to the claims made by some, this does not mean that I support lower food standards or NHS privatisation.
New Clause 4 (NC4). I voted against this for a number of reasons but primarily because I am satisfied with the existing powers available to me as an MP in scrutinising trade deals. These powers include the right to block a treaty from being ratified and the right to block any primary legislation required to implement a free trade agreement.
New Clause 7 (NC7). My position on the protection of standards, whether they are domestic production or import standards, is available on my website (https://www.selainesaxby.org.uk/environment-food-and-rural-affairs). However, our current import standards will prevent the importation of inferior food products such as chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef. Following multiple conversations with Ministers, I have been assured that this will not change.
New Clause 8 and New Clause 17 (NC8 and NC17). The NHS must remain publicly owned and free at the point of use. The Government has been very clear about these important principles. When we are negotiating trade deals, the NHS will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table. The Trade Bill is designed to provide continuity for existing trade agreements, and it cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements, e.g. with the United States. It was absolutely not about the content of future trade deals and the future of the NHS, and it is misleading to claim otherwise, and this amendment was therefore unnecessary.
New Clause 11 (NC11). This amendment was similar to a previous amendment to the Agriculture Bill and I have provided an explanation of my position on my website (https://www.selainesaxby.org.uk/environment-food-and-rural-affairs). However, as with my explanation of my vote on NC7, I will not support lower standards. Further, this amendment would have likely led to serious disruption of our food supply chains, including for domestic manufacturers.
I hope that this makes my position clear, I always vote in what I believe to be the best interests of my constituents.
I do understand why people question why I would not vote for certain opposition amendments but they rarely, if ever, propose something that would make the Bill better. We are, after all, making law and not ‘virtue signalling’ for the benefit of social media. If an opposition amendment were thought to be beneficial to any Bill then it would be considered for adoption by the Government.
In general, opposition amendments are put forward so that Government MPs will vote against them, giving the opposition a stick with which to beat the Government and its MPs with. This is often the way with Punch and Judy politics which we are all guilty of at times.
I do hope however that a greater understanding of the context of the way these opposition amendments work may help curtail some of the anger and frustration that seems to constantly fuel online anxiety and sadly, on occasion, abuse against MPs of all parties across the country.
We are a nation of animal lovers, so it is only right that we have some of the highest welfare standards in the world. In addition to fur farming being banned in the UK, I am pleased to note that the import of fur products is tightly regulated. It is illegal to import furs derived from cats or dogs, or products made from them. In addition, the fur and skin of endangered animals or fish cannot be imported without a valid permit.
As well as this, it is prohibited to import furs or fur products from 13 wild animal species originating in countries where they are caught in the wild by leg-hold traps, or trapping methods that do not meet international standards of humane trapping. Strict rules are also in place to ensure that animals kept for fur production are kept, trapped and slaughtered humanely.
I appreciate that there is considerable support for banning all imports of fur products. The UK continues to support higher animal welfare standards worldwide as the best way of phasing out cruel and inhumane fur farming and trapping practices that are banned here. Now we have left the EU, the Government has retained all the current regulations banning imports of cat and dog fur and seal products from commercial hunts, as well as controls on products from endangered species and humane trapping. Until the end of the transition period it is not possible to introduce additional restrictions on the fur trade, but at the end of that period the UK will have a unique opportunity to ensure we have the highest standards in every area of animal welfare.
The UK will also be able to press for high standards through international forums such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, CITES and others. The UK will retake our seat on these bodies and be able more effectively to promote and support improved animal welfare standards internationally.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)
The inclusion of investment protection provisions and associated ISDS mechanisms in trade agreements helps protect UK investors, both large and small, from discriminatory or unfair treatment by a state.
These kind of provisions are already in place within over 90 bilateral investment treaties between the UK and other countries, helping safeguard the interests of UK businesses trading across the globe. Despite the UK’s participation in these agreements there has never been a successful ISDS claim made against the UK and nor has the threat of potential disputes affected the Government’s legislative programme.
The UK will continue to ensure that the NHS is protected in all trade agreements it is party to, whether transitioned from an EU context or as a result of new negotiations. I have been reassured that the UK's future approach to investment policy will continue to protect our right to regulate in the public interest, including in relation to healthcare, climate change and environmental objectives.
Coronavirus and Bailouts
These are incredibly difficult times for the country and while it is paramount to protect jobs and the economy, questions are also being asked about the way the country does business. I have raised the points you mention with colleagues in the Treasury, including about supporting a green recovery.
As we recover from Covid-19, the Government needs to deliver an economy which is stronger, greener, more sustainable and more resilient. No government could expect to have all the answers itself. I was therefore pleased that, in June, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched five new ‘recovery roundtables’ bringing together businesses, business representative groups and leading academics, to unleash Britain’s growth potential and help the economy recover from the pandemic. The group will focus on: the future of industry; a green recovery; backing new businesses; increasing opportunity; and winning more high value investment in the UK.
I know questions have been raised about support for certain sectors. In the case of airlines, for example, firms can draw upon a range of financial support during this challenging time, including billions of pounds worth of loans and guarantees, tax deferrals and the furlough scheme for workers. The ministerial-led international aviation taskforce is looking at the best ways to support the industry, recognising the unique challenges they are facing. Rightly, any potential intervention would need to represent value for money for taxpayers.
In exceptional circumstances, where a viable company has exhausted all options and its failure would disproportionately harm the economy, the Government may consider support on a ‘last resort’ basis. As constituents would expect, sensible contingency planning has been put in place and any such support would be on terms that protect the taxpayer.