Motion to Approve
My Lords, I was unable to be present when this SI was considered in Grand Committee, and I am very grateful for this opportunity to comment briefly. If the UK is indeed to leave the EU, this is an area in which we must put in place our own arrangements. The Kimberly process is an extremely important certification scheme to address the appalling abuses involving so-called blood diamonds which drive conflict, particularly in Africa. The Kimberley process seeks transparent and fair practice in this sector, and we are rightly signed up to it. I note and share the concerns expressed in Grand Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about exactly what would happen if we were to leave the EU with no deal. Nevertheless, on behalf of these Benches, we welcome the Government’s continued commitment to the Kimberley process as expressed in this SI. Whether we are in or outside the EU, this commitment is vitally important.
My Lords, I endorse what the noble Baroness has said, and what my noble friend Lord Collins said in Committee. Can the Minister give us a categorical assurance that there will be no gap when Britain is no longer a signatory and supporter of this scheme? I declare an interest as I was the British Foreign Office Minister who initiated this treaty and Britain’s involvement in it. Britain led the way to get the international treaty, and we got the rest of the European Union signed up to it—initially against resistance from the World Diamond Council but, ultimately, with its support. This is a very important scheme, making sure that conflict diamonds do not enter the international arena illegally and fuel conflict, as they once did in Angola, Sierra Leone and the DRC.
There was someone in the Chair too, yes indeed. This is symptomatic of what is going on at the moment. I believe the noble Lord, Lord Collins, described it in Committee as an “SI stampede”. I have described it on occasion as a veritable tsunami of statutory instruments. I think we were told yesterday that 740 statutory instruments have been laid, but most have not yet gone to the committees, let alone to the Grand Committee and to the House. This is an astonishing situation. As my noble friend Lord Hain said—as did the noble Baroness, Lady Northover—this is a very important statutory instrument. We have important statutory instruments, Lord Speaker—sorry, I mean noble Lords, but maybe one day we will be able to address him properly; we have them simultaneously in Grand Committee and here. How can we possibly carry out our proper duty of scrutiny?
This is being pushed through because one woman is so adamant and determined to have her own way and treats both Houses of Parliament like rubber stamps. She appears more like an elected dictator than a Prime Minister in a Cabinet Government in a parliamentary democracy. It is getting totally out of hand.
My Lords, before the Minister rises, how can I resist making a contribution? The debate in Grand Committee lasted for some considerable time despite there being only the two of us; we were able to debate the issue in quite a lot of depth. One point raised, which the Minister ought to address today, is that we may await the consent of the other nations to join the convention: is there a potential gap, if we fall out of the EU, in not being a full member of the convention?
I think we are at risk of having as long a debate as we did in Grand Committee. I am glad to see that the diamonds issue is creating a lot of interest in your Lordships’ House, in contrast to that day in Grand Committee.
I welcome and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for her support of the Government’s position. We are agreed, irrespective of the differences and questions that have been raised, about the importance of continuing the Kimberley process. As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, himself has said—I acknowledge that he was instrumental in starting this process—successive Governments have continued with our membership because, plainly and simply, it is the right thing to do. Certainly the Government’s planning and programme is a reflection of the fact that there should be no gap. When we leave the EU, there should be a continuation of our membership of the Kimberley process, and appropriate programmes have been set up to ensure that that happens.
I cannot leave this Dispatch Box without responding to the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, who raised the issue of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is leading our country at perhaps one of the most challenging times that our history has faced, certainly in my lifetime. What is needed right now is a good deal to allow us to leave the EU. The more time that we spend debating SIs and prolonging the process through unnecessary debate, the more that we will not achieve that end. What is required now is for the whole country, this House and the other place to get behind the deal, do the deal and get behind the Prime Minister, who is leading our country in most challenging times. I say to the noble Lord that I know the Prime Minister; I have known her for 27 years. She is a lady of principle and passion, and she is showing both.