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Queen’s Speech

Volume 801: debated on Tuesday 7 January 2020

Debate (2nd Day)

Moved on Thursday 19 December 2019 by

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.”

My Lords, it is a great privilege to open this debate on the humble Address. I am in no doubt as to the many valuable and insightful contributions from your Lordships, and that these will be addressed by my noble friend Lady Goldie with her usual panache and eloquence. We all look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. At this stage, I should declare my farming interests as set out in the register.

The general election has transformed the political landscape, and this Government will deliver the change that our country seeks, with vigour and ambition.

Our Diplomatic Service is the envy of the world. At this time of heightened tension in the Middle East, it is clear that we need diplomacy now more than ever. It is a timely reminder of why this Government have committed to expand our diplomatic network, enhance our relationships with our European neighbours and strengthen our global partnerships as the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

As we move beyond the EU’s common structures for the first time in over four decades, we have the opportunity to reassess, reshape and refine our strategic approach. That is why we have announced an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review, to ensure that we focus our international efforts to make the most impact and secure the maximum benefit. Whatever the outcome of that review, our diplomatic networks will continue to play a vital role in building and sustaining the United Kingdom’s network of international relationships.

The rules-based international system remains the best framework for defining and upholding acceptable behaviour at a global scale. It is a system that this country helped to build and one that this Government are determined to defend and strengthen. To this end, we will play our part in bolstering the United Nations, NATO, our Five Eyes intelligence alliance, the G20, the G7, the World Trade Organization and the Commonwealth, as current chair-in-office and beyond. We are also committed to strengthening the UK’s role as a global force for good. We are proud to maintain our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on international development.

We will continue to promote our values of democracy, equality, human rights and the rule of law as we tackle global challenges, including biodiversity loss and climate change, and make the world safer, healthier and more prosperous. We will defend these values robustly, including by protecting freedom of religion or belief and freedom of the media, and by developing a Magnitsky-style sanctions regime. This will prevent those responsible for gross human rights abuses living lavish lifestyles in the United Kingdom or siphoning their money through British banks and British businesses.

We are leading efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict, including hosting an international conference that will focus on strengthening accountability and justice for survivors. We will continue to promote 12 years of quality education for all girls.

We are also leading the fight against malaria and the global response to the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We are escalating efforts to end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborn babies and children in the developing world by 2030. We will boost our support for developing countries to ensure everyone has access to healthcare. We will invest more in vaccines and research, so that developing countries can benefit from the very best of British and international expertise.

This Government have renewed their commitment to spend at least 2% of our GDP on defence every year of this Parliament and to increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year. The UK has the highest defence expenditure in Europe and is the second-biggest financial contributor to NATO. The Government’s defence spending commitment will ensure that our Armed Forces can help keep the UK safe.

We must ensure that we support those brave men and women who serve or have served, as well as their families. That is why we have laid out the Government’s strong opposition to vexatious litigation and to our service personnel and veterans being subjected to repeated investigations and potential prosecution arising from historical military operations overseas. Veterans rightly expect the Government to pay the closest attention to this issue. We will bring forward comprehensive legislation to address this as soon as possible.

The Government will also further progress proposals to incorporate the Armed Forces covenant into law, to ensure that Armed Forces personnel are treated fairly and not disadvantaged in their day-to-day lives as a result of their military service. Our objective is to make the United Kingdom the best place in the world for veterans. The Strategy for our Veterans sets out an ambitious vision to achieve this by 2028, and the Office for Veterans’ Affairs will take forward the UK Government’s strategy action plan, which is due to be published early this year.

The first priority, as the Prime Minister has recently emphasised, will be to deliver Brexit on 31 January and to seize the opportunities it creates for the United Kingdom as a whole, both on a domestic and international stage. In the general election, the country re-elected the Government with the manifesto commitment to get Brexit done, and to take back control of our laws and money. The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will implement in domestic law the withdrawal agreement agreed between the UK and the EU.

We will have this golden opportunity to set our own independent trade policy. Within three years, we aim to cover 80% of our trade with free trade agreements. This will start with the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, all of which will be negotiated alongside a new trade deal with the EU. Our new free trade agreements will be tailored towards the needs of British firms and the British economy. They will give UK businesses enhanced opportunities to expand overseas, while giving consumers here more choice. We will also forge stronger links with the Commonwealth, which boasts some of the most dynamic economies. We will ensure that the agreements we negotiate are in the national interest of the UK. We will settle for nothing less.

Our export strategy will help increase exports as a percentage of GDP, and a new network of up to 10 free ports will help boost growth and create jobs across the whole of the United Kingdom.

We will ensure that the UK trade deals are not only free but fair, especially towards developing nations whose economies could be transformed by access to the UK’s markets and expertise. In doing so, we will do more to help countries receiving aid to become economically self-sufficient and to trade their way out of needing aid. In all our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.

By retaking our seat as an independent member of the WTO, we will support the WTO’s efforts to remove barriers to trade and maintain its role at the heart of the international trading order. We will introduce legislation to support a smooth transition as we leave the EU, providing continuity for businesses and consumers. A new independent trade remedies authority will give UK producers protection against unfair trade practices.

We are fully focused on retaining the UK’s position as the number one destination in Europe for foreign direct investment.

The Government are committed to unleashing the potential of the private sector for international development. Through hosting the UK-Africa Investment Summit on 20 January 2020 in London, we will bring together businesses, Governments and international institutions to deepen investment and business ties between the UK and Africa.

We will ensure that animals are recognised in domestic law as sentient beings, and that Ministers of the Crown have regard to the welfare of animals when formulating and implementing government policy. We will also increase sentences for those who perpetrate cruelty on animals.

Through the agriculture Bill, we will support UK farmers, who manage 70% of our land, to improve the environment while they produce more of the high-welfare, high-quality British food that is the backbone of our booming food and drinks sector. A new system of farm payments will reward farmers and land managers for their work delivering public goods.

The fisheries Bill will invigorate our vital coastal communities by taking back control of our waters so that we can manage our marine environments in a sustainable way.

This Government will tackle the two greatest environmental challenges facing the world: climate change and biodiversity loss. The UK has shown that we can grow our economy while reducing our emissions. We are committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. We have decarbonised faster than any other G20 nation since 2000, we are a world leader in offshore wind and there are now nearly 400,000 jobs in low-carbon industries and their supply chains. We are doubling the UK’s investment for international climate finance to £11.6 billion over five years. We will help protect 1 billion people from the impact of extreme weather and deploy the new Ayrton Fund to develop affordable and accessible technology to help developing countries reduce emissions and meet climate-change targets.

By embedding environmental ambition at the heart of government policy-making at every level, we will help everyone to tackle the greatest environmental priorities of our time. We will include ambitious legislative measures in our newly strengthened environment Bill to improve air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency, water resource management in a changing climate, and establish a new, world-leading independent office for environmental protection.

As hosts of COP 26 in Glasgow this November, we will build new international partnerships to set ambitious targets for nature, climate and ocean, and to tackle deforestation and protect vital landscapes and wildlife corridors. I spent a little while over Christmas planting a few trees, though nowhere near as many as our commitment to plant 75,000 acres of new woodland per year across the UK by 2025. We will establish a new £500 million Blue Planet fund to help protect our oceans from plastic pollution, rising sea temperatures and overfishing.

The gracious Speech sets out a clear legislative programme with renewed spirit to prepare this great country for the future; to help us build a stronger, greener and more prosperous Britain and to put a strong United Kingdom front and centre in the world, with the talents and qualities the people of this country possess. I am in no doubt that your Lordships will seek considerable activity with the legislative programme, and I very much hope that that will be the case.

We of this generation face an enormous challenge. I do not deny that dealing with climate change will test us all, but we must all play our part and, as the Defra Minister, I am absolutely determined. Climate change straddles all departments in so many respects. Future generations will look at us and say: “What did you do?” For the future of this country, it is vital that we address these matters.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this element of the debate on the gracious Speech. Three months ago, the Government said that they would be at the forefront of solving,

“the most complex international security issues”

and “pressing global challenges.” But, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, argued at the time, it is difficult to see the evidence for that. Where have we been in stopping the horrors unfolding in northern Syria, or ending the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen? Where was our voice when Trump wrecked the world’s efforts to tackle climate change and nuclear proliferation? Where was our influence when the US launched its recent attack on Baghdad airport? I know that there will be an opportunity during the Ministerial Statement to go into more detail, but we know from Dominic Raab over the weekend that he found out about that attack only as it happened.

The gracious Speech makes the case for a common strategy across development, defence and diplomacy through an integrated policy review. Such an approach is essential for a successful foreign policy. However, I was concerned to see that the lead departments for the review are the FCO, the MoD and the Cabinet Office—but not DfID. DfID is the leading aid agency, which is vital to Britain’s soft power, security and trading relationships, just as much as it is a force for ending global poverty. That must be reflected throughout this review. I also saw on Twitter a report that the review will not be used to fold the Department for International Development into the FCO. I hope that the Minister will give us a categorical assurance today that that is the case and that DfID will continue as a stand-alone department.

I welcome the pledge to meet our 0.7% target, but any spending that is counted towards that sum must truly contribute to sustainable development. I heard what the Minister said about ensuring that countries become self-sufficient—who would disagree with that? Obviously, private investment and countries developing their own economies and tax revenues are vital to that. No one can dispute that. We all want to work towards a world where each state can be self-sufficient and not in need of aid. That also requires help building capability, giving assistance and ensuring that there is no corruption, giving countries the tools to do the job as well as the means to develop their economy. But I am concerned that we do not use ODA funds for private development. We must ensure that the principle of ODA, which we agree internationally, is used for that purpose. Therefore, any moves on this part should be fully transparent and accountable.

The commitments on ending all preventable deaths of mothers, newborn babies and children by 2030 and the eradication of Ebola and malaria are welcome. So too is the action to help provide 12 years of quality education for all girls by 2030. Labour supports such commitments. However, they must be considered as part of a wider commitment to the sustainable development goals, on which we are failing domestically. In the UK, more than 500,000 children are now in supersized classes, which shows a lack of commitment to goal 4 on quality education.

I take this opportunity to repeat my disappointment that the Government have failed to use this opportunity to signal a new approach to the sustainable development goals by creating a policy unit in No. 10 dedicated to them, with a Cabinet Minister responsible for co- ordination across Whitehall. That is what the SDGs are about: ensuring that we are all responsible for delivering on them and that we are all equally committed to them.

Last October, I urged the Government to deliver on their remaining 2013 nutrition for growth commitments and to take full advantage of this year’s Tokyo summit. It was reassuring to hear the Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg—talk of the Government’s work with the Japanese Government to ensure a successful summit. I urge the Government to make a strong and early pledge, ideally at the July springboard event—I hope the Minister will be able to give us some hope—and to ask for the highest possible level of government attendance at the event. Nutrition is not only important in its own right, it unlocks the impact of DfID’s other interventions; for example, in health, education and economic development. Its importance should be reflected in this Government’s approach to the Tokyo summit.

I note what the Minister said on defence. The commitment on defence spending is certainly welcome, but since 2010 successive Conservative Prime Ministers have cut our defence capability, undermining our ability to keep to our international commitments and obligations. I am sure my noble friend Lord West will address how we have to catch up from the cuts we have suffered since 2010. Any review of the MoD procurement process should be used to boost the UK economy. We want boats built here and certainly as soon as possible—my noble friend has corrected me: I should have said “ships”. That is what we want: a boost to the British economy in determining good value.

There should be increased oversight of and transparency in the MoD’s use of technology and autonomous weapons. I know the human rights committee has been concerned about some of these issues and I hope the Minister will be able to address them.

I think that across the House we are concerned to ensure that the Armed Forces covenant is not just words but is deeds and actions and that we honour the commitment in realistic terms, not just make promises. We will certainly want to see those commitments and to scrutinise them as they develop over this Parliament.

The commitment to promote our values and the focus on human rights should be reflected in a review of the Government’s regime for arms exports. Last September I mentioned the failure properly to uphold international law on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. I hope the Minister will be able to give clear assurances that there will not be ongoing breaches. The Minister mentioned Magnitsky-style measures. This House, and this side of the House, were very keen to ensure they were included in the sanctions regime. Will the Government consider using those measures against Saudi Arabia for its human rights violations, which are extremely numerous and shocking in detail?

With an independent sanctions regime, the Government must ensure that any decision to impose new sanctions or revoke existing ones is subject to adequate parliamentary scrutiny and periodic review. In this context, I heard what the Minister said but I hope—this is vital —that the FCO will receive the resources and capability it needs to do that.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will refer to this, but the Foreign Secretary said not so long ago that he would “relish, not shrink from” our global duty to bring the perpetrators of injustice and war crimes to account. In this Queen’s Speech, I had hoped to see specific proposals on how we would achieve that, and I hope that the Minister will respond, because the current arrangements have clearly not been effective. We still see people who have committed the most horrendous crimes not being held to account. If we are to stop these abuses, we have to ensure that people know that in the end they will be caught and dealt with.

I heard what the Minister said about, and I welcome the commitment on, our lead in creating a sustainable planet, but this gracious Speech contains nothing of substance to deal with the colossal challenge of the climate and environmental emergency. The Government’s target date of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is too late. In any case, at the current rate of progress we will not reach net-zero emissions until 2099. The expected reintroduction of the environment Bill hints at a bold agenda, including through a framework for setting legally binding targets on air, nature, water and waste, yet the Bill still falls short, with current standards at risk and existing protections set to be weaker. It should include a legally binding commitment to maintain existing standards and prevent backsliding on environmental standards after Brexit. We need to ensure that the office for environmental protection is genuinely independent of government and equipped with the necessary resources and powers to hold government and public authorities to account.

My noble friend Lord Stevenson will be winding up for the Opposition and will focus on trade. However, in conclusion, I stress that, although trade deals obviously provide huge opportunities, they will certainly be very difficult to negotiate in the timeframe that the Minister has alluded to, and those opportunities should not be at the cost of social and environmental standards. I heard what the Minister said about environmental standards but there are other standards that we should be concerned about—particularly those relating to the change in the supply of labour and the exploitation of workers and children. We should not allow trade agreements to override those concerns. We must address them and ensure that they are included, and to do that we must have proper parliamentary scrutiny.

My Lords, the title of this debate must have been designed as an illustration of the Prime Minister’s erroneous claim that Brexit is done, since neither Brexit nor the European Union feature in it. Are we supposed to regard the EU already as part of “foreign affairs”?

I have to recognise the reality that Brexit is happening, although I cannot and will not accept it. I think it is a terrible mistake. I will never be reconciled to it; I hope that future generations will take the UK back into the EU—not least when they find that ending free movement not only destabilises and harms EU and EEA citizens but rips from British citizens the opportunity that their parents and grandparents have enjoyed to live, work and retire on the continent.

My colleague in the other place, Wera Hobhouse, put it very well in the Second Reading debate on the withdrawal agreement Bill, on 20 December, when she stressed that her,

“passionate belief that the UK is better off as a proud member inside the EU, rather than as an irrelevant outsider, has not melted away overnight.”

She went on to describe the withdrawal agreement as,

“damaging to our economy, our security, our international reputation and our ability to tackle the global climate emergency … it will put a border in the Irish sea and threaten our family of nations. Most of all, we will lose something profoundly British: being international, and leading in the continuous fight for liberal values, human rights and a rules-based international order. We Liberal Democrats will always fight for that.”—[Official Report; Commons, 20/12/19; col. 177.]

We have seen a major illustration in recent days of the challenges Wera Hobhouse enumerated in the crisis over Iran, which also encapsulates the warning of my leader, my noble friend Lord Newby, in his response to the Queen’s Speech on 18 December, that,

“the aspiration of having your cake and eating it is about to be dashed.”—[Official Report; 18/12/19; col. 21.]

But cakeism is exactly what the Prime Minister tried to continue to enjoy in the several days that it took him to come home from his luxury beach holiday in Mustique and address the Iran crisis. The killing of Qasem Soleimani has raised tensions throughout the Middle East while the Prime Minister stayed in the Caribbean, took three days to make an official response and now, I understand, will not be updating MPs in the emergency debate.

My Lords, I think the whole the House will regard those comments as unworthy of a great political party and quite inappropriate when we are discussing serious things today.

I thank the noble Lord for that intervention, with which I profoundly disagree. Frankly, there is a crisis over President Trump’s impetuous decision to assassinate Mr Soleimani, as unpleasant a character as he certainly was. It would have behoved the Prime Minister to be rather more visible sooner.

Apart from all the other potential threats, the crisis may well endanger further the situation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other Britons in Iran. What update can the Government give us in that regard? I heard Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, the outgoing—and hoping to be incoming—chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, say on “World at One” that the crisis might have a silver lining in allowing a reset of relations with Iran. He may be among few in thinking that there will be any kind of silver lining.

Mr Johnson has tried to bridge supporting the so-called right of the United States to defend itself—a doubtful justification which appears to have no support in international law—and aligning with his European partners to call on both sides not to escalate into a devastating cycle of violence. There is confusion as well as recklessness in Washington, with President’s Trump’s decision on the assassination having apparently been made on the spur of the moment without any strategic plan. Apparently, the letter announcing the withdrawal of US forces sent by the US military in Iraq to the Iraqi Government was issued in error and US forces are not withdrawing. What is the situation with UK forces?

Instead of being a bridge, the Prime Minister is falling into the gap. Were Iran to respond forcefully, how would the Prime Minister choose between the more aggressive US approach and the more conciliatory EU line? When EU Foreign Ministers meet on Friday, what will Mr Raab say? Will this, by the way, be one of the last EU Council meetings a UK Foreign Minister attends or will Mr Raab attend throughout this year?

The Minister talked of strengthening global relationships but the Iran situation highlights the story and tragedy of Brexit: instead of enjoying being part of an influential organisation, the EU, we will be required to tag along with Trump and his crazy schemes as the price of a trade deal. As the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, who I do not think is in his place—oh, yes he is—put it last night on “Newsnight”, the UK’s position is uncomfortable since President Trump will demand loyalty on Iran, Huawei and other issues as the price of a UK trade deal for the UK. He tweeted:

“I’m afraid that’s going to be one of the realities of post-Brexit Britain, constantly having to weigh our need for trade deals against foreign policy objectives.”

How and on what criteria will the Government resolve that dilemma? Another expert commented that the crisis between the US and Iran highlights how much of a lose-lose situation Brexit is in terms of geopolitical influence, both for the UK and for the EU 27.

On the economy, some Brexiters have made much of a Financial Times editorial last week about how the UK economy could thrive after Brexit. The editorial read rather as if it were drafted by a committee, or at least two people, but it had one striking conclusion:

“The UK economy will survive”.

If that is the benchmark for sunny uplands and all the amazing prospects that we are supposed to have, it is not much of an endorsement of Brexit.

Mr Johnson intends to tear us away from the EU single market and tie us to US standards and trade intentions, which many of the public are rightly wary of, from food hygiene to designs on the NHS. Even if a deal is reached, with Mr Johnson’s risky refusal to contemplate an extension to the negotiations very unwisely being written into the draft legislation, all that we are going to get, even with success, is a Canada-style trade agreement with, as my noble friend Lord Newby said in December, free trade in goods, where we have a deficit, but no equivalent deal on services, where we have a surplus. Indeed, services represent 80% of our economy. What about industries, such as the automotive industry, that rely on a long uninterrupted supply chain and on being part of a customs union with common rules of origin? What are their prospects under the Government’s intentions?

On fisheries, the Conservative manifesto promised that the UK would control its fishing waters, and the Minister repeated the pledge to take back control. That promise will definitely be broken if there is to be any prospect of the 80% of our catch that goes to the EU getting into its primary market on the continent without tariff and administrative hurdles.

The withdrawal agreement Bill includes a clause specifically about parliamentary sovereignty, stating:

“It is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is sovereign”

and that nothing in the Act derogates from that sovereignty. Not only does that contradict other clauses in the withdrawal agreement Bill and the withdrawal agreement itself since we are going to be a rule-taker—or, if you like, a vassal state—for at least a year, and for some aspects way beyond that, but it is of doubtful legal significance. Mike Gordon, professor of constitutional law at the University of Liverpool, has said that,

“it is difficult to see that it has any practical effect in terms of diminishing the actual legal status of the obligations flowing from the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law.”

Given the disastrous performance of the noble Baroness’s party at the general election and the loss of its leader, does she not think that instead of just repeating the same carping criticisms, she and her party should get on board and make a success of Brexit?

We will do our very best to make it the least worst Brexit, but the fact is that what the Government have already said and put in the draft Bill is making that prospect extremely difficult, on top of Brexit itself.

As I said, there is a declaratory clause about parliamentary sovereignty. That is then completely undermined by the removal of the clauses that were in the October version of the Bill which were going to give MPs a veto over an extension and control over negotiations on future relations. It seems contradictory, if not hypocritical, to declare parliamentary sovereignty and then take away its substance.

We also know that the Prime Minister tried to claim black was white when he said there would be no checks on goods going between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. All we had to do was read the Government’s own impact assessment which said that those moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be required to complete both import declarations and entry summary declarations, therefore completely contradicting what he tried to claim. The Government need to come completely clean on that.

Many people are already worried about Prime Minister Johnson being tied to the coat-tails of an erratic and unpredictable President Trump, but there was a curious speech a few weeks ago from No. 10 adviser Tim Montgomerie, which has further set alarm bells ringing. He said that the UK would forge a special relationship with Viktor Orban. He praised the “interesting early thinking” on “the limits of liberalism” of Mr Orban, who is of course a notorious authoritarian. Brexit is set to tear us away from our pole position as a leading member of the liberal, democratic EU into alliances with dodgy leaders across the world, because we are desperate for trade sweeteners. I will never, ever regard that as a good bargain.

Finally, the only wry amusement that might emerge from the situation will be watching the tensions between the little England nationalists who want a nostalgic return to the 1950s, such as Charles Moore, who wants to go back to imperial measurements, the creative destruction of Mr Cummings, as he recruits weirdos and misfits to Whitehall, and the global, buccaneering Singapore-on-Thames that the hedge fund backers of Mr Johnson desire. It will be funny, if terribly sad.