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Volume 722: debated on Monday 15 November 2010


My Lords, perhaps this would be a convenient moment to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister earlier today. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on my visit to China and the G20 summit in Korea. First, I am sure that the whole House would want to join with me in welcoming the liberation, at last, of Aung San Suu Kyi. Her tenacity and courage in the face of injustice has been truly inspiring. I spoke to her this morning to pass on the congratulations of everyone in this country on her release and on her remarkable stand on democracy and human rights. We must now work to ensure that her release is followed by freedom for more than 2,000 other political prisoners and that this becomes the first step towards the people in Burma being able to choose the person they want to run their country.

In China and Korea, my main focus was on jobs and growth. In China, I led one of the biggest and most high-powered British delegations ever. This helped to win new business for Britain worth billions of pounds, involving businesses all over the UK and cities across China. We strengthened our ties on trade, education and culture, all the while raising our concerns with China on issues like human rights where we have differences of view.

In Seoul, Britain had four priorities: first, to continue to win recognition for the importance of fiscal consolidation, with those countries with the greatest deficits taking the fastest action; secondly, to get a clear commitment from all countries to fight protectionism and take the steps necessary to boost global trade; thirdly, to help move development issues up the G20 agenda; and, fourthly, to address the global imbalances which were at the root of the global financial crisis and which still hold back growth in the world economy. We made important progress on all four.

Let me take each in turn. First, on fiscal consolidation, it is now perfectly clear what the consequences are if you ignore the dangers of deficits. You see markets questioning your economy, interest rates rising, confidence falling and the economy back in the danger zone. That is where Britain was only a few months ago, but because of the measures we have taken that is no longer the case. Countries with larger deficits need to act on them and to do so now. This is absolutely vital for the confidence and stability we need for businesses to invest once again.

That was exactly the view of the G20. In Seoul, we agreed that,

‘the failure to implement consolidation … would undermine confidence and growth’,

and we agreed to,

‘formulate and implement clear, credible, ambitious and growth-friendly fiscal consolidation plans’.

There can be no clearer statement of our collective intent than this. Big deficits are dangerous. We simply have to deal with them.

Secondly, on trade, as the world comes out of recession with some countries moving more slowly and others, including the new emerging powers, forging ahead, there are inevitable pressures in some quarters for protectionism. The G20 has been a vital forum in fighting to keep markets open. Increasing trade is the biggest boost and the biggest stimulus we could give to the world economy. It does not cost any money. It is not a zero-sum game. It creates wealth and jobs. So, against a background of rising protectionist pressures, the G20 reaffirmed its determination to learn the lessons of the past and avoid the trade barriers and beggar-my-neighbour policies that wrecked the economy in the 1930s. It refreshed its commitment,

‘to keeping markets open and liberalizing trade and investment as a means to promote economic progress for all’,

and it pledged to,

‘roll back any new protectionist measures that may have arisen’.

On the Doha round let me say this: it is incredibly frustrating that this trade round is almost 10 years old and that world leaders say again and again that it is going to be completed. Yet the situation still remains stalled. The longer it has gone on, the more difficult it has got, because the world economy has changed so fast that the deal has become outdated. Both developed and developing countries are looking for more from the round.

I do not want to raise hopes artificially but I do think that some real progress has been made. Vitally, the language of the communiqué says:

‘2011 is a critical window of opportunity’;

that our engagement to secure a deal,

‘must intensify and expand … to complete the end game’,

of the negotiations; and that, as I proposed at the Toronto summit, we have to make the deal bigger by having a wide ‘across the board’ negotiation. What changed at this summit was that the US said that if a good and fair deal comes forward, it will take it to Congress. All of us instructed our trade negotiators to put more on the table so a deal can be done. I am determined that Britain should do everything it can to push this forwards. That is why I have asked Leon Brittan to continue helping to co-ordinate our trade policies, an effort in which he will be joined by our new Trade Minister, Stephen Green, from January.

Thirdly, on development, it is right that the G20 is now playing a bigger role on this issue. As well as the richest nations, the new emerging powers have a great role to play in helping some of the poorest. There is a real recognition about the importance of trade, infrastructure and finance in the Seoul agreement, and I also raised the importance of continuing our aid programmes. Britain is keeping its promises on aid, and I pressed others to do the same.

On the trade agenda, together with South Africa, Ethiopia and Malawi, who were there to represent Africa, Britain mobilised the G20 behind,

‘the vision of a free trade area’,

for Africa. This was a fundamental pillar of a new approach to supporting economic growth and development in Africa set out in the Seoul consensus. Only 10 per cent of Africa’s trade is within the continent of Africa, so knocking down the trade walls between African countries will help to unleash economic growth. It is not just that we want Africa to be less dependent on aid; we want Africa to be a source of growth and new jobs for the world, including for Britain.

Fourthly, uneven growth and widening imbalances are fuelling the temptation to diverge from global solutions into unco-ordinated actions and, according to the IMF, those balances are forecast to get worse, not better. Alongside protectionist pressures, we have seen the signs of so-called ‘currency wars’. The G20 agreed the Seoul action plan. This includes agreeing to move,

‘towards more market determined exchange rate systems’,

and to refrain from the ‘competitive devaluation of currencies’. But the issue of trade imbalances goes beyond currencies. Just as countries with big budget deficits must cut public spending, which is right for them and right for the world economy, so countries with big trade deficits need to save more, consume less and export more. If that is not accompanied by higher consumption by surplus countries, world growth will be lower and protectionist pressures higher, and we will repeat the mistakes of the past. It is as simple as that.

By acting together we can maximise world growth and cut world unemployment. This is not some obscure economic issue; it is about jobs. Trade imbalances have led to an imbalance of funds: a wall of money in the east and a wall of debt in the West. This was part of the problem that helped pump up some of the bubbles which led to the crash that affected us all. As part of the Seoul action plan, we agreed that we would,

‘pursue the full range of policies to reduce excessive external imbalances and maintain current account imbalances at sustainable levels’.

We also agreed that this should include assessing imbalances,

‘against indicative guidelines to be agreed by our finance Ministers and central bank governors’.

The issue of imbalances is never going to be solved overnight, but the key thing is this: it is being discussed in a proper, multilateral way, with some progress being made.

The summit also delivered important progress on deepening co-operation on financial regulation and the reform of global institutions. We agreed the core elements of a new financial regulatory framework, including bank capital and liquidity standards, and more effective oversight and supervision of globally important institutions. The last Basel accord on capital ratios, Basel II, took nine years. With the G20 behind it, Basel III has been done in 18 months.

Reform of the IMF to make it more representative of the global economy has been discussed for years. The G20 has finally got the deal done. On climate change, President Calderon briefed the G20 on the plans for Cancun, and we received a report from the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing. We reaffirmed our resolute commitment to fight climate change and agreed that we would,

‘spare no effort to reach a balanced and successful outcome in Cancun’.

This summit delivered important progress in managing the tensions that are present in the global economy. In my visits to China and the G20 summit we protected and promoted our national interests. We have taken vital steps towards the strong, balanced and sustainable global growth we need. We secured recognition for acting on the deficit, support for more action on trade and development, and agreement on working to rectify the imbalances that threaten global economic stability. Ultimately, this will win more jobs and growth for Britain. I commend the Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement on the G20 made by the Prime Minister. We endorse wholeheartedly the congratulations that the Prime Minister has passed to the remarkable lady, Aung San Suu Kyi. However, we also agree that as we celebrate her freedom, there is still a long journey before there will be a free and democratic Burma. I also welcome the release of Paul and Rachel Chandler.

On the G20, I welcome the South Korean Government’s success in keeping development on the G20 agenda. Development aid is not only important for the lives it saves; it also makes an important contribution to global growth. I also welcome the fact that the Prime Minister pressed the G8 countries that were there in Seoul to keep their promises on aid.

On climate change, can the Leader of the House tell us how the promises made at Seoul will be turned into action at Cancun?

On banks, we welcome the continuation of work to reform the financial regulatory framework set in motion at previous G20 meetings. The increased stringency of the Basel Committee’s capital requirements is a welcome step in making banks across the world more stable. However, further work is needed to implement these reforms. We recognise that this is difficult. Can the Leader of the House tell us what he believes is the way to balance the need for financial stability with the economic recovery?

On growth, we all know that for the UK global growth is always important—we are a trading nation. Jobs in this country depend on strong exports, which in turn depend on a growing global economy. Does the Leader of the House acknowledge that dependence is even greater because of the decisions that his Government have taken on the economy here at home? Cutting public spending and increasing VAT will dampen domestic demands and hit jobs. The Office for Budget Responsibility has shown that because of the cuts he is making, Britain must increase exports by more than £100 billion to sustain jobs and growth. How can that happen if our export markets are failing to grow? Do the Government recognise that the global economy on which we are now even more reliant is fragile?

That is why this G20 was so important. The most recent figures show that growth in our largest export market—Europe—has halved and that the US is still facing high unemployment and slow growth. Does the Leader of the House acknowledge that with growing disagreements between major economies about currencies and trade restrictions, co-ordinated action through the G20 is more important than ever?

I suggest, therefore, that the G20 was a missed opportunity. No one expected the problems to be solved overnight, but there was no co-ordinated action to support jobs and growth worldwide; little progress on reaching agreement on currencies, particularly between China and the US; little assurance by way of anything practical to prevent a resurgence of protectionism over the next few years, but I hear what the noble Lord said on that issue; and no action to restart the Doha round of trade negotiations, however difficult that may have been.

This was the fifth G20 summit since the global financial crisis hit in 2008. During that time the UK provided leadership for co-ordinated global action. Can the Leader of the House tell us why the Prime Minister failed to offer that leadership in the run-up to Seoul, and at Seoul itself, at such a crucial time for jobs in this country and for the global economy?

Now that the summit is over, the questions that remain are: what was the Prime Minister’ strategy; what was he aiming to achieve; did he have any proposals for jobs and growth, and if so what were they? We are told in the media that tonight, in a speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet, the Prime Minister will talk about,

“a Britain at the centre of all the big discussions. Producing the ideas”.

What were the Prime Minister’s ideas for the G20 and what did he say in those discussions? Is it not the case that, because the Prime Minister has refused to take action on jobs and growth in Britain, he would find it difficult to lead in the debate about jobs and growth internationally? Is it not true that, because the Government refuse to recognise that the economic crisis was global, they find it difficult to engage with international efforts to tackle it?

No one expected the summit to be straightforward and it was not. It saddens me, however, to think that rather than showing strong global leadership—strong leadership in the search for global solutions to global problems—we in Britain looked as though we were on the sidelines.

My Lords, not surprisingly, I cannot agree with everything that the noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition said, but I certainly welcome her remarks about Aung San Suu Kyi and about development at the summit, which is to the advantage of us all, including those countries that are most affected.

I particularly cannot agree that the Prime Minister showed no leadership. Of course he showed leadership. On many of the achievements, which were common to many of those who attended the summit, we should all be extremely glad that they were agreed. There is a pledge to continue co-ordinated efforts to generate strong, sustainable and balanced growth, with an action plan setting out the policy actions that are needed to move closer to this objective. There are comprehensive quota and governance reforms to the IMF, instruments to strengthen global financial safety nets and so on. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that the meeting would not be an heroic summit, and it was not. The summit was meeting not against a background of crisis but against the background that the world needs to unite over growth, which is what I believe it did.

The noble Baroness asked about climate change. The summit reaffirmed the commitment to negotiations under the UNFCCC and to a successful and balanced result in Cancun. We very much welcome the work of the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, whose report was published at the beginning of November. We agree that its recommendations should now be considered by Finance Ministers. In the summit, we also recognised the ongoing importance of green recovery and green growth. Leaders committed themselves to stimulating investment in clean energy technology, to energy and resource efficiency and to developing long-term energy strands.

Of course the key to all this is growth. The noble Baroness and I will, I suspect, have to agree to disagree about the medicine that this economy has had to take and the reasons for taking it. She prayed in aid the Office for Budget Responsibility, yet it says that unemployment in this country will fall next year and every year after that and that employment will increase by around 1.4 million over the next five years. The OBR forecasts that public sector employment will fall, as it would have done under the previous Government, but by less than if we had not frozen pay and stopped the jobs tax. We will strengthen the economy by stimulating enterprise and jobs, by taking 880,000 people out of tax altogether, by having a £1 billion regional growth fund and the green investment bank, by cutting corporation tax and the small profits rate, by reducing new businesses’ national insurance in certain areas and by cutting red tape. We believe that this is the right policy to provide for the long-term growth, prosperity and employment prospects that this country needs.

My Lords, we very much welcome the Prime Minister’s statement about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the lone figure who suffered so much at the hands of the military rulers in Burma. We are thankful for her release, but we must ensure that the ASEAN countries do not recognise the recent elections in that country, which were a sham. Until such time as democracy and human rights prevail in Burma, we should take a tough stand against that political regime.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, before the visit to Korea, the Prime Minister visited China. On matters of human rights, different opinions are being expressed, but—although this was very much a trade visit—was the question of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to a person now languishing in prison discussed, and what was the outcome of that particular discussion? Secondly, China is constantly undervaluing its currency while competing so heavily with the rest of the world. Is there any solution to that matter to ensure that the rest of the world does not suffer because of how China behaves with its currency?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what he has just said. Of course, I echo his words on Suu Kyi and democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention has always been arbitrary and outrageous, with its sole purpose being to exclude her from political life. Now that the military leadership has released her, we urge it to continue to release other political prisoners immediately and unconditionally.

As to the China summit, my noble friend is right in saying that this was a dual visit—first, to China on a trade mission and then to the G20. Of course, the issues of human rights and trade are entwined. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that he was committed to engaging with China on human rights and that he was convinced that the free circulation of ideas, the development of independent civil society and the objective application of the rule of law are critical to China’s long-term prosperity and social stability, which is equally vital to the global economy and therefore to the United Kingdom’s interests. As for a discussion of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, such issues are raised in the sense that no subjects between our countries are off limits as part of the mutual understanding and respect that exists between our respective leaders.

My Lords, the Prime Minister and his team are to be congratulated on their work in Seoul with President Zuma of South Africa on promoting the initiative on intra-African trade, but will Her Majesty's Government continue to press the case for a rethink of the economic partnership agreements currently being promoted by the European Union in Africa, whose contents militate against further integration among the regional economic groups in Africa and in many ways make that integration more difficult? Will Her Majesty's Government also raise with the European Trade Commissioner the issue of the negotiation currently taking place with a number of African countries that seeks to persuade those countries to cease to protect indigenous industries such as the leather industry? Without that protection for that industry and a number of growing industries in Africa, there is no way that indigenous African producers will be able to develop their industries as we have developed ours. I offer congratulations on the initiative, but will the noble Lord accept that there is yet more to be done if Africa is to fulfil its potential?

The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, brings to our debates a very particular interest and expertise, which are very greatly valued by this House. I know that we will hear a great deal more from him on this subject. He is right to say that a great deal more needs to be done; he is equally right that we have taken another step forward in the process of providing for the long-term prosperity of the continent of Africa. Our view, which is well known and is a collective view across the parties, is that trade is the greatest wealth creator ever known and it is right that we should press hard to secure a strong, comprehensive and balanced trade pillar within the development working group’s multi-year action plan, including action on duty-free, quota-free access. For Africa’s small economies to achieve faster and sustained growth, they need to be able to trade better with each other and with global markets. African political leaders are increasingly recognising the importance of regional integration as a key objective of the African Union, with a view to the eventual creation of an African economic community. I agree with the noble Lord that there is still a great deal more to be done, but things are considerably better than where we were 10 or 20 years ago.

My Lords, it is very good to know that the Prime Minister raised appropriately the question of human rights on his visit to China, but could the noble Lord the Leader of the House give us some indication of what response the Prime Minister received?

My Lords, I cannot say what the answer was because a wide range of issues was covered in the discussion between my right honourable friend and the leadership in China, but that included an in-depth discussion on human rights. As I said earlier, no subjects were off limits. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said at the time of the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize that the decision to award the prize to Liu Xiaobo,

“shines a spotlight on the situation of human rights defenders worldwide”.—[Official Report, 20/10/10, Commons, col. 727W.]

My Lords, can I ask the noble Lord two questions? In the first place, I applaud the Prime Minister for taking a large delegation to China and for his dealing with the wider aspects of our relationship with China. After all, China is an emerging superpower and we should look after it. In regard to trade with China, and indeed with the rest of the world, our manufacturing industry has fallen as a proportion of GDP, from 32 per cent in 1973 to 10 per cent in 2008. Are the Government going to do anything to resuscitate and revive our manufacturing industry, especially in the north-west and north-east of this country?

My second question is about the discussions at Seoul on trade, particularly with emerging countries. Is the noble Lord aware that the greatest barrier to trade with those countries is the CAP? Will the Government do something about that? Unless it is reformed, people in Africa will find it particularly difficult to export their goods to Europe.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart of Swindon, raises two good questions. On the question of China and trade, he is right that the main purpose behind the visit was to demonstrate the degree of commitment that exists not only on a Government-to-Government basis but on a business-to-business basis, which is why so many people from business were pleased to join the Prime Minister as well as a substantial number of Ministers. That has shown our national commitment to developing our relationship with China, to pursuing our commercial interests and to co-operating more closely on global issues, as well as to raising the role of human rights in China’s development, in which this country has a vital interest.

The visit added momentum to our trade and investment relationship with China, with the agreement of a new trade target of $100 billion by 2015. The visit itself delivered over 40 agreements across the whole range of the bilateral relationship, from trade to low-carbon growth and cultural and education initiatives. The largest contract was Rolls-Royce’s contract of $1.2 billion, but others included an agreement on China’s first securities joint venture with the Royal Bank of Scotland, the geographical identification and registration of Scotch whisky and an education agreement to train 1,000 new teachers of Mandarin. All those were substantial achievements, but they are just building blocks in developing the relationship.

The noble Lord made a second point about trade with emerging countries and the effect of the CAP. I am not surprised that he should raise that question, which goes to the heart of the agreement that we are seeking on the completion of the Doha trade round. One of the best pieces of news to come out of the summit was that there was an international agreement that all countries should take the final step towards reaching agreement on Doha, and that may well include the European Union taking a fresh look at the role of the CAP.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that our fiscal deficit is actually the largest in the G20 and that the fact that the G20 is endorsing the action now taking place to tackle that deficit is very welcome? Does he also agree that the fact that we are reducing the corporation tax level to the most competitive level within the G20 is another reason why we ought to be encouraged about the direction going forward? Following the huge success of the trade missions to China and India, what plans do the Government have to send similar high-profile trade missions to Brazil and Russia?

My Lords, my noble friend’s last question is a good one, which I wish I had thought of myself when I was discussing such matters with those who know the answers. It is right that we should set up visits to other countries. I do not know where next in the world the Prime Minister’s eye will fall upon, but I am sure that he will be as gratefully received as he has been in China and India.

My noble friend is also right about the case that we have made for reducing the deficit—consolidation, as it was called at the G20—and that there was universal agreement that this was entirely the right direction to take. Equally, the reduction of corporation tax will make us more internationally competitive, will help our businesses to export and will also increase jobs in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, given that the Statement today was about the Prime Minister’s visit to China as well as to the G20, it is a little disappointing that it says so little about climate change. I welcome the Statement where it says that the Government’s intention is to fight climate change and that they will,

“spare no effort to reach a balanced and successful outcome in Cancun”.

That is precisely what was said at the Copenhagen summit, which failed largely because people attempted to enforce a legal agreement. That is the difficulty that we face at the moment. Having visited China and Japan in the past two weeks, I can tell the Minister that a legal agreement does not have a chance of being agreed at Cancun. Will the Government perhaps consider changing their policy and supporting the voluntary system embodied in the Copenhagen accord, under which nations commit themselves to cutting greenhouse gases and providing action plans? That would mean that we were likely to get some agreement at Cancun—perhaps a small step for mankind—whereas failure would be a disaster.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s words and his reporting back of his own visit to China. He is right that there are elements of the protocols on climate change on which we have to go a great deal further. As the premier economic forum, the G20 is right in recognising the importance of low-carbon growth in preventing climate change and creating a sustainable global economy and in sending positive signals ahead of Cancun, but the meeting at Cancun is the key forum for negotiation on climate change. None of us should have false hopes about what is going to happen at Cancun. Immensely difficult decisions need to be taken. It is only a few weeks away now, and we shall have to wait for the results of that to see whether we have succeeded in our objectives.

I welcome many of the Prime Minister’s comments, in particular those about protectionism and rolling back those areas where protectionist measures have already been taken. I take great encouragement from the Prime Minister’s positive statements about the Doha round and the need to address imbalances. On both sides of the House we accept the need for growth in global economic activity, although on this side we believe that the policies the Government are currently pursuing are alien to good growth outcomes.

However, the Prime Minister overstates the achievement in the banking industry. I express my grave concern at the lack of real progress. The Prime Minister referred to Basel III being completed within 18 months. With all respect to the Minister, nothing has been achieved under Basel III, which is not due to be implemented until 2018 and, in some respects, 2023. Not a single bank has had to increase its capital as a result of Basel III. We have seen no material progress on the identification and agreement of process for globally systemically important financial institutions. We have seen no progress on the agreement of a net stable funding ratio. These are all critical to creating a more stable banking system. Is the noble Lord pleased with the progress that has been made under Basel III? If so, could he identify the tangible things that have happened as a result of it?

My Lords, I very much welcome the early remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Myners. He was agreeing with me so, naturally, I agree with him. The right approach is about growth, getting the deficit under control, international trade and fighting the battle against protectionism—a path other countries would like us to head down. The noble Lord can easily make the case that it is still too early to decide whether Basel III has been a success. It is true that there is a long transition period between 2013 and 2019, when it needs to be put in place.

Having said that, a significant strengthening of capital and liquidity requirements and a binding constraint on leverage are essential to strengthening financial stability. Therefore, we welcome the G20’s endorsement of the Basel reforms to global capital and liquidity standards. Full, consistent and non-discriminatory implementation of these new international standards is now crucial to minimise the risks of regulatory arbitrage and the fragmentation of international financial markets. The UK, as the noble Lord well knows, has consistently argued for strengthened international financial regulation to address the failings that were laid bare by the crisis. The G20 has agreed major reforms to international financial regulations and we aim to move these forward. The key to this is to maintain the momentum that has come from Basel and the G20.

It is impossible at the moment to persuade China to be more flexible over its currency. What is the Prime Minister doing to develop a powerful consensus that surplus countries have a responsibility equal to that of deficit countries in dealing with global crises?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that one of the key issues has been the global imbalances. Part of what was discussed at the G20, and much of what was agreed on, was a protocol to reduce these global imbalances. The Prime Minister, in a speech at Peking University, said:

“We need a more balanced pattern of global demand and supply, a more balanced pattern of global saving and investment … We all share an interest and a responsibility to co-operate to secure strong and balanced global growth … just as China played a leading role at the G20 in helping to avert a global depression so it can lead now”.

That was the clearest signal to policy-makers in China that they need to play a full part in sorting out global imbalances. The recognition that we need to move towards more market-determined exchange rate systems was a vital ingredient of that and was agreed by all parties in the G20. I contend that that is a positive step forward.