Debate (3rd Day)
Moved on Monday 14 October 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, I must begin with the convention of saying what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, albeit some 20 hours after he sat down. Like him and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, I propose to address the main part of my remarks to issues of foreign affairs and defence.
In the course of his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, said that he often felt that his thunder had been stolen by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard. The truth is that by the time Kerr and Ricketts—the old firm of the Foreign Office—have finished, there is not much thunder left for the rest of us. In the course of yesterday’s debate, we had two quite remarkable speeches from the two noble Lords. They concentrated and drew on their extensive and much-valued experience from the Foreign Office and provided a quite remarkable tour de raison.
My views on Brexit are well known. I do not believe that there is any deal or subsequent political agreement which will offer the United Kingdom better advantages than those we enjoy today as a member of the European Union. We have the opt-out from Schengen and the single currency, plus the rebate; no other member enjoys those privileges. I have to say that the difficulties of the last three years corroborate my view that the best interests of this country are to be served by remaining a member of the European Union.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who I do not believe is in his place, who laid down something of a challenge to those of us who support remain. I will make the point this way, if I may: it is a privilege to be sent here, but with that privilege comes an obligation to exercise our best judgment. I venture to say that my best judgment is that remaining is the best solution to the constitutional, economic and political crisis in which we now find ourselves. I cannot for the life of me understand the logic of a position which says that we must observe the referendum result, irrespective of the consequences, in all circumstances. That is hardly sensible, nor indeed logical.
With that by way of a preliminary, may I say that I fear my contribution today may be more episodic than thematic? In the gracious Speech, we learned that the Government wish to continue playing a leading role in global affairs. The future of NATO is a global affair, and it is to that that I wish to address the main part of my speech.
Over the weekend, at the plenary meeting of the NATO parliamentary assembly, serious differences emerged among the delegates from Turkey and those from other members of the NATO assembly. These differences reflect the equally serious differences within the members of the alliance itself. Who could possibly think, and justify the notion, that the action authorised by Mr Erdoğan is an anti-terrorist operation? Who could possibly think that with air strikes and heavy armour, there will not be civilian casualties and—as we have seen to the extent of perhaps as many as 150,000 people— the mass displacement of thousands of civilians? This operation is an intransigent and opportunistic operation, made possible only by the ineptitude of President Trump; no doubt with an eye to re-election and having learned nothing from the adverse consequences which have flowed from his unilateral renunciation of the Iranian nuclear agreement. Neither the newly imposed sanctions by President Trump nor the dispatch of the Vice-President and the Secretary of State to Turkey can now rescue the position.
The truth is that, within NATO, Trump and Turkey have form. The United States’ failure to sell Turkey the Patriot missile defence system prompted Turkey to respond by buying from Russia the S-400 missile system, in the teeth of almost unanimous opposition from the other members of the alliance. Trump’s response to that has been to kick Turkey out of the F-35 aircraft programme. Who benefits from this? It is, of course, Mr Putin. I have said many times in this House that Mr Putin’s primary objective when it comes to NATO is to undermine it and to seek to cause circumstances in which there is established a European security architecture, in which he would expect Russia to play the most prominent part, all the while using energy as an inducement to members of the alliance or a threat. Now we see Mr Putin received with acclaim in the capitals of Middle East countries, where American influence is not even second best and where, it has to be said, the influence of the United Kingdom is at a very low ebb. It seems a long time since the expertise in Arab affairs of the Foreign Office was rather humorously described as the camel corps—the camel corps has been in substantial retreat for some time.
Mr Obama left a vacuum when he set down red lines and then chose not to take action when those lines were breached. In that, he was assisted by the indecision of the House of Commons which, when recalled in 2013, failed in the end to pass either the Government’s Motion or the Opposition’s amendment. One could almost say that, like nature, Russia abhors a vacuum.
In Europe, Trump’s capriciousness has caused European members of NATO to consider alternative structures for defence. That is understandable but it should be unwelcome. Assurances are made that this will not be at the expense of support for NATO but complementary. I fear I have doubts that that will be the case. The problem is this: the United Kingdom outside the European Union will have little or no influence over any such alternative structures. Within the European Union, the United Kingdom would have both influence and a veto. The truth of the matter is this: Brexit or no Brexit, deal or no deal, NATO now needs our Government’s attention.
There was a powerful section in the remarkable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, when he detailed the foreign policy inadequacies of the Government’s present engagement on a variety of issues. From that list, I pluck NATO, and the overwhelming need to ensure its integrity.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow a fellow Scot, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, who spoke with his usual authority on these matters. I apologise for the fact that you are hearing from me today; yesterday there was a direct clash with the European Union Committee—an important meeting with our sister committee from the Swiss Parliament. I am grateful to the Whips’ Office for enabling me to swap the time.
It was a great comfort to hear, in the second sentence of the gracious Speech, that the Government intend to work towards a new partnership with the European Union, and referred to “friendly co-operation”. That was important, because it was the theme that underpinned the Beyond Brexit report of the European Union Committee in March. I will return to that.
Other good news came in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, when he referred to the fact that 1,000 new diplomats were being “minted”, of which 500 would work in Europe. As he said that, I was thinking of the empty-chair policy: the policy, starting on 20 August, of non-attendance at EU meetings. The system is that the Government look at the agenda for a forthcoming meeting and decide whether it is in the national interest to attend. If they decide not to attend, they give any vote that comes up to Finland, as the rotating president. The net effect is that we now attend about a third of EU meetings.
I and the committee feel that this is badly wrong, for three reasons. First, it is not liked by our partners in the European Union. It is disrespectful to their institutions and is not in accord with the idea of moving towards a partnership with the European Union, or with friendly co-operation.
As I pointed out before, to create a deep and meaningful relationship one does not start with an empty chair.
Moving on to my second complaint, it is not clear that this test creates predictability about the UK’s appearances, either for us as parliamentarians, or for our EU partners. An agenda, after all, does not necessarily —in my long experience of meetings—reflect the eventual content of that meeting: meetings tend to wander around. Matters of national interest may well be discussed that were not on the agenda.
Given this lack of clarity, the whole thing is difficult to scrutinise. That brings me to my third point, which in many ways is the most important: the interaction of this policy with the scrutiny reserve resolutions made by both Houses in 2010. Not turning up to meetings to do with the 200 or so files that are held under scrutiny reserve by the EU Select Committee would be in neither the spirit nor the letter of the resolution. Certainly, handing our vote to Finland is not within the spirit or words of those resolutions. We are, in any case, undertaking a terrier-like correspondence, and the Minister has agreed to see me next week—I think—on this point.
There is one bit of good news: yesterday we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, that we had turned up to the General Affairs Council this month. Last month we did not, and 16 Foreign Ministers from other countries looked at an empty chair—Britain’s—alongside those deputy Ministers who had turned up. It would help the House if the Minister gave a quick update on the empty-chair policy, given the huge number of extra diplomats and that we are now turning up to the General Affairs Council.
I turn to our Beyond Brexit report, which was published on 25 March and is about how Britain conducts itself with the EU after the Brexit process has taken place. Since 25 March, we have had no response from the Government; indeed, the only thing that looked even vaguely like a response was read out in this Room by Her Majesty on Monday. When might we expect a response to Beyond Brexit, as it is a most important report? It may not have the answers, but it raises a lot of the issues that this House will be very interested to grapple with. It contains 60 pages of meat. The logic that it lays out applies equally in any Brexit deal and it also applies in a no-deal Brexit. I do not want to go through the whole report, but there were three general areas in it, and I thought that I might reflect briefly on each of them.
First, the formal structures perceived within the withdrawal agreement have on top a joint committee, which has hanging off it various specialised committees, or sub-committees, which deal with certain subject areas, including citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland, the sovereign base in Cyprus, and Gibraltar. At the Swiss meeting—it was a private meeting, so I am constricted in what I can say about it—it was interesting to hear that they run their affairs with the European Union via a joint committee. They have no deal, as it were, for it. The joint committee has stood the test of time and has been pretty active. We had an interesting exchange of views and were given quite a few useful tips about how one might run a structure like that—we intend to carry on our discussions with the Swiss as well.
We concluded that the joint committee conceived under the draft withdrawal agreement was a bit too powerful. It has the power, for instance—albeit slightly limited—to change the withdrawal agreement. We felt that it was not very transparent and would be hard to scrutinise. Unfortunately, in the absence of a government response, we have no answer to any of those questions and we are not able to make progress on these issues and raise the concerns here in the House.
The middle section of the report concerned the less formal structures; for instance, the EU agencies and the EU programmes. These are referred to in the political declaration, but with vastly different levels of detail. We name a few EU agencies that we are interested in joining; where the programmes are concerned, none of them is named and there is a just a sentence or two of warm words. Equally, the security partnership is laid out in considerable detail within the political declaration. On all those things we need a lot more detail; they are all matters we raise in the Beyond Brexit report and ask for comment on. We are still waiting, seven months later, for that comment to arrive.
I want to raise two other little questions relating to the less formal structures. On one, it appears there is an answer, but we have not been given it. We said that UKRep—now to be called, I gather, “UKMiss”—needed a lot a more resource. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, yesterday that a lot more resource is being pumped into Europe. I recently visited UKRep in Brussels and I think that the extra number of posts there was around 40, so that resource is being given. It is an easy answer to give to us formally: that UKRep is getting more resource to be able to cope with the increased work it will be asked to do.
The other thing—as a Scot, I feel strongly about this— is the recommendation that the devolved Administrations be heavily involved in matters of importance to them. Again, we need to hear back on that. At this very difficult time, certainly in Scotland at the moment, a clear statement about that would be most valuable, particularly in my area, Perthshire.
The final section of the report deals with inter-parliamentary relations and the scrutiny role of Parliament. There are two things to be scrutinised: the new governance structure for the relationship between the EU and the UK and the mechanisms for that, on which we made a whole set of recommendations; and the dialogue regarding the negotiations that will take place—over what I suspect will be many years—on the future relationship, on which we also made recommendations, but we have no answers. Parliament itself will need to do a lot more work. The European Union Committee is very lucky, in that we are invited to many inter-parliamentary meetings at the moment. That will no longer automatically happen, so we will have to work harder to maintain the relationships with the various parliaments. In addition, the European Parliament itself will undoubtedly set up one of its formal structures. It has under its rules of procedure a formal way of dealing with third countries. Forty-four third countries have a formal committee facing them, and we will be the 45th.
In closing, I return to the words of the gracious Speech:
“to work towards a new partnership with the European Union”,
and the “friendly co-operation” that it envisages. I urge the Government to engage with the Beyond Brexit report, as these are issues that the Government and Parliament need to work together on. Although today the press and media are occupied exclusively with the period up to Brexit, planning for beyond has never been more vital.
My Lords, it is humbling to be here, and the speeches in this debate so far have set a high bar. First, I want to address our ethical duty on the world stage in trade deals that we may enter into, and also ask how the Government will fulfil their obligations at home with the devolved nations over trade.
Yesterday was World Bioethics Day—I declare an interest as an instigator of this UNESCO day—which has taken off around the Commonwealth precisely in large part through the influence that we have globally in health sciences. But will future trade agreements live up to the standards that we have set, or will we fudge dropping standards in making trade deals, as my noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Hylton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised yesterday? One area is organ donation—no, we do not trade in human tissue. At home, Wales has led on opt-out organ donation, or soft presumed consent, and England and Scotland are following. We have set an international standard and we export our expertise and our training of transplant teams.
The Commonwealth Games will be an important launch pad for working with other countries in the Commonwealth on ethical practice. With India, a memorandum of understanding is in place between the MOHAN Foundation and NHS Blood and Transplant, but it needs to be expanded to those countries with poor or non-existent transplant practices. But it is not always easy to know what is going on further afield. There is alarming circumstantial evidence that some places with whom we have massive trading arrangements still have very worrying approaches to transplantation, including using taken—so-called “harvested”—organs from prisoners, including prisoners of conscience.
We trade with countries that still have the death penalty, and with countries whose respect for human life is deeply questionable, but we must not sink to their level. Why do we do so little when our loyal Kurdish allies and their babies and children are deliberately injured and killed? We must maintain and drive up ethical standards because, if we do not, we compromise our own civilisation standards. Others have already referred to our need, as the gracious Speech stated, to play a role in global affairs, defending our interests and promoting our values. When those values slip, we lose all moral authority.
We expect our Armed Forces to act based on that moral authority. We claim to maintain respect for human rights and values, and to do that we send our forces into terrible situations. They are young, and trained to be physically strong and react quickly, and many are deeply traumatised. When they return, they may have been injured physically, mentally or both. Thrown back into civvy street, some do not survive the stresses and end up with broken relationships, self-medicating with alcohol or other substances or escaping with gambling and so on.
For anyone in the country convicted of an alcohol-fuelled crime, the announced rollout of the sobriety scheme is very important and to be welcomed. It will be a fundamental plank in supportive rehabilitation, rather than compounding trauma with a prison sentence that is devoid of services that help the person tackle the underlying issues driving their behaviour. Amendment to legislation in 2011 to pilot the sobriety scheme has shown great success, with 92% fully compliant with the sentence and remaining in the community to address their underlying problems, free of the mind-clouding damage of alcohol.
The British Crime Survey shows that, year on year, alcohol-fuelled crime accounts for 40% to 60% of all violent crime. Overall, the economic cost of alcohol-related harm was £20.5 billion last year. Our hospital emergency departments are overflowing, and half are in crisis, yet our Brexit obsession has resulted in around one-third of our European doctors leaving or planning to leave, further exacerbating the workforce crisis. Yes, Brexit is breaking the NHS. More money and hospital beds are greatly needed—but the NHS also needs staffing. I caution against thinking simply that a revision of the Mental Health Act or other legislation will result in better care. The Treasury has to realise the damage to clinical care that has already happened in the last two years because of the pension cap change.
There are several major issues over trade that affect the devolved nations, particularly Wales. First, can the Minister explain how the business support project Kingfisher will provide support and funding specifically for Wales, and in particular how business sectors specific to Wales will be taken into account and not neglected? Secondly, how will the needs of vulnerable people be considered in a discretionary system that can provide benefits at a secondary level, particularly for those least able to withstand the predicted rise in food prices and those who are most vulnerable during the winter pressures on the NHS? Thirdly, what additional post-Brexit funding will be available to boost infrastructure investments and support public services, particularly to cover inflationary costs on public sector budgets, in the devolved nations?
Fourthly, what is the action plan to proactively involve the devolved Governments in negotiations over overseas deals, particularly in areas such as agriculture and fisheries, where the devolved nations will be required to implement the agreement on the ground and deal with all the practical issues that may arise when environmental standards differ or when the deal may threaten the environment? One example may be the use of glyphosate, the herbicide widely used in the US, the UK and across Europe and known commercially as Roundup, among other names. There is mounting evidence of serious adverse impacts on human health, and that it is contaminating food and also damaging pollinators. Will our coming environmental standards be so flexible in trade deals that they become meaningless, or will we drive food production standards higher than ever and lead the rest of the world? I hope the latter.
Our trade relies in large part on services of all types, particularly education and training, and the sales and profits from scientific and other inventions or creations. The original concept of copyright legislation was British—from the Statute of Anne 1710. It set the world standard, and now more than 160 states are parties to the Berne convention. However, a body of EU law deals with substantive and procedural rights over intellectual copyright. When negotiating future trade arrangements involving intellectual property rights, the Government must respect the United Kingdom’s existing domestic and non-EU international laws and obligations, including the Patents Act 1977, which gives effect to the non-EU European Patent Convention. Otherwise, any commercial benefits from our discoveries or creations may be jeopardised. Can the Minister assure the House that such consideration will be embedded in negotiations?
Whatever happens next, we are at the beginning of a journey that must be paved by high ethical standards. It must be respectful of the world and of the rich diversity of nature and people, and not be isolationist and selfish. The journey starts at home and we must live well.
My Lords, I intend to raise an issue that was not specifically referred to in the gracious Speech but should have been. I refer to the recent troubles in our former colony of Hong Kong, which must be taken much more seriously by the Government and need some urgent action. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, when delivering her first policy address in October two years ago, said she wished to enhance people’s livelihoods and foster a more inclusive and harmonious society under “one country, two systems”. However, her actions over the past few weeks hardly square up to that pledge. She went on to say that her Government would take concrete actions to resolve problems for the people. These words must have a hollow ring in the ears of those who are demonstrating for a freer and democratic Hong Kong on its streets today. We must recall the pledges of the Sino-British joint declaration, including that Hong Kong would have its own legal system, multiple political parties, and human rights including freedom of assembly. These pledges and the need to have them implemented are precisely what the demonstrations wish to see enacted.
I have a deep affection for Hong Kong and its people. I lived there during my national service days in the Royal Air Force, and I also had the distinction—some unkind colleagues may argue that it is perhaps my only one—of winning the colonial middleweight boxing championship of Hong Kong in the late 1950s. More seriously, however, in those days I was able to see a great determination by the then Administration to solve a massive housing problem not of its own making, which was little short of miraculous. This involved resettling some 300,000 refugees who had, as a result of both the civil war in China and the Japanese occupation, felt the need to flee to Hong Kong for sanctuary. The Hong Kong Government could have refused entry. They could have placed a duty on the citizens of the outside world, or they could have sent the refugees to their homelands, but they did not. They embarked on a resettlement programme of gigantic proportions, which would shame a number of countries faced with immigration problems, including our own, in the present world.
I raise this historical example to illustrate the ingenuity of that Administration at that time. Going back to Hong Kong some years later as a young MP with my colleague and now noble friend Lord Cunningham of Felling—he was in his place, but he is not there now—on a parliamentary fact-finding mission, one could see good progress in many areas, but it was painfully slow in others, such as law and order, human rights and industrial relations. However, we did meet some promising people who were doing their bit: a doughty, elderly Geordie and human rights campaigner called Elsie Elliott, whose work has been carried on since then by others—in particular, Emily Lau, the vice-chairperson of the Democratic Party; Henry Litton QC, who works on legal reform; and a Jesuit priest and member of LegCo who was the founder of the industrial relations institute. All these and others were forging ahead for progressive policies until of course the recent events brought the likelihood of positive advancements in jeopardy.
That is a very sketchy background to where we are today. What should the Government do? I have twice asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, in Parliamentary Questions what steps the Government are taking in relation to the United Nations, being a co-signatory to the declaration, requesting that they engage in directing the Hong Kong Government to honour the Sino-British joint declaration. Perhaps the Minister replying to this debate will do rather more than his colleague and answer that.
The Government should also follow the US Government’s legislation by introducing the equivalent of the Magnitsky Act, which would ban officials from Hong Kong and mainland China who are guilty of violating human rights and the rule of law from entering the United Kingdom and freeze their assets, sending a powerful signal to the regime and to the demonstrators. Furthermore, the Government should endeavour to bring forward legislation to ensure that all holders of British national (overseas) passports have the right to enter the United Kingdom to work, which would give an uplift to the young people of Hong Kong.
Finally, the Government must address a very up-to-date worry: supporters from mainland China are bullying and intimidating fellow students from Hong Kong in British universities who are merely carrying out legitimate activities in support of those demonstrating in Hong Kong in favour of the Sino-British declaration. What are the Government doing to stamp out this practice? I await the Minister’s reply.
The future for Hong Kong cannot be easily forecast. The words of Napoleon Bonaparte conjured up a feeling of uncertainty in many when he wrote: “Let China sleep, for when she wakes the world will be sorry”. Napoleon’s words ring true today, but the question is how we will move forward. Perhaps as a nation we should also bear in mind the words of a previous Conservative Prime Minister: “Hong Kong will never walk alone”. Let us hope not.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, and to be able to agree wholeheartedly with so much of what he said, with the importance of the issue he raised and with his final sentiments.
I hope that the British Government and the EU will, over the next 24 or 48 hours, reach an agreement that the United Kingdom can leave the EU on 31 October, with a free trade agreement with the EU, and allowing the UK to negotiate its own trade deals with the rest of the world. However, before discussing those issues, I must make a confession. As a Minister, I misled the British people in two respects pertinent to our discussion of those issues, and I want to set the record straight.
As Secretary of State for Trade and Industry under Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, I was responsible for negotiating the Uruguay round, which halved tariffs, began to pare back non-tariff barriers and, eventually, set up the World Trade Organization. I was also responsible for implementing the single market programme that made us part of the single market. When doing so, I made enthusiastic speeches about how both these agreements would boost Britain’s exports to the world and the EU. As a scientist by training, when I make a prediction, I subsequently try to check whether it has come true. If it has, I claim credit for it. If it has not, I usually keep quiet, though I try to learn from my previous failures, so that I can do better next time.
Looking back on both the Uruguay round or World Trade Organization and the single market, what effect have they had on our exports? In the quarter of a century since the WTO was established, our goods exports to those countries with which we trade just on WTO terms have risen by 87%. That is a fair amount, but anyone looking at it fairly must recognise that, on previous trends, a large amount of that growth would have occurred anyway. A small part of it only can be attributed to the near halving of tariffs between industrial countries and the removal of some non-tariff barriers. Growth of our exports to the EU single market over the last quarter of a century has been even more disappointing—20% barely, over 25 years, which is less than 1% a year, less than the trend before the single market was growing and less than most people would have expected had there been no single market to encourage and promote our exports. It is true that, over that period, our imports from the single market and the rest of the Common Market grew substantially and, as a result, our deficit in goods with Europe rose. All the figures I have referred to are for trade in goods. Our deficit in goods has reached nearly €100 billion, which wipes out the surplus that we earn with the rest of the world on all our trade.
My conclusion is not that trade deals are useless but that they are far less important than both sides of the debate about Brexit realise. Be they free trade agreements or the less conventional, but supposedly much more thorough, single market, they have much less effect on our trade than most of the discussion in this place would lead us to believe. They can be useful. I certainly prefer low or no tariffs to high or rising tariffs. I prefer the removal or reduction of non-tariff barriers, but what drives trade is not trade agreements; it is producing goods and services other people want to buy and getting out and selling them. And what drives that is much more than trade agreements; it is what Keynes called “animal spirits”, which are more likely to be stimulated by creating a competitive domestic environment, by reducing the regulatory burden—without reducing standards, by the way—and by better skills and more investment. It is that rather than trade deals, useful though they can be.
Be that as it may, the core argument of those who have been trying to persuade the people of this country to reverse the decision they took in June 2016 and remain in the EU is that our prosperity depends on us giving up our democratic national control of our trade, regulatory and economic policy. They assume there is a trade-off between prosperity and democracy. I do not think that is true. Prosperity and democracy normally go hand in hand because, in a democracy, if the Government do not deliver prosperity, you chuck them out and replace them with a Government that can do better. Unfortunately, that is not what the EU is like. Its effective Government, the Commission, is not elected and cannot be removed. Its main economic policy is the euro, which has been a disaster, particularly for southern Europe. Some 40% of young people in Spain are unemployed, 45% in Italy and 53% in Greece. Millions of people of all ages have lost their jobs, but no Commissioner has lost his or her job because they are not accountable in the way we expect.
My Lords, I think I heard the noble Lord say that the Commission cannot be removed. That is not true. The Commission has to be appointed by the European Parliament and sometimes it does not accept the nominee of the particular country, and also each country is itself ultimately responsible for appointing its own Commissioner. Moreover, it is possible for the European Parliament to sack the Commission as a whole. I do not know why the noble Lord has made this claim.
Theoretically it can, but de facto it cannot. The European Parliament did once sack the whole of the European Commission because of corruption when Madame Cresson appointed her dentist, but then the Commissioners were virtually all reappointed. If that is the noble Baroness’s idea of democratic accountability, I have to tell her that it is one of the reasons I am in favour of getting out.
It is indeed that lack of accountability which makes me—
I just mentioned that, so I wonder if the noble Lord was listening to me. The European Parliament did sack the Commissioners, but they were all reappointed—virtually all of them except for Madame Cresson.
I shall give way again so that the noble Lord can tell me what really happened.
The Commission exercised its power, just as it is exercising its power now, in the case of some nominees for the next Commission, not to appoint them. When there is a complete slate, it will vote on that slate collectively. The European Parliament has a good deal more say over the appointment of the Executive than we in this House have over the appointment of, say, the Civil Service. While it is a good thing that we do not have a say over appointments to the Civil Service, the structure in Strasbourg and Brussels is more democratic than what we have here.
I believe that what the noble Lord has just told me is that it reappointed the slate, and that is broadly my recollection. But in practice it does not. However, what I said about the experience of southern Europe not leading to anyone being removed is a simple fact.
That is exactly what I said. The desire to suggest that I did not say things that I did say is interesting.
I believe that it would be better if our laws are made in this country, that our borders are controlled from this country and that our money is spent in this country. That is because, over time, Ministers who are accountable to the people will adjust their policies, laws and regulations better to address the interests of the people. Of course, those with experience of Europe will say that that can be done at the European level, but it is more likely that the policies will reflect the interests of the people of this country if they are made by those who are accountable to the electorate. That, if you like, is the main reason that I and 17.4 million people voted to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money.
However, there is another respect in which it would be profoundly beneficial to our country if we did so, and it is one that may find rather more support among those who have just disagreed with me than they would expect. Once we are responsible for our own policies, Eurosceptics will no longer be able to blame Europe for all our problems. Europe enthusiasts will no longer be able to look to Europe for the solution to all our problems. We will know that our mistakes are our own and that we will have to make them and mend them, that our successes will be our own and that our responsibilities will be our own. That is something we should look forward to, and the sooner the better.
My Lords, in following the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, I suggest that he was far too modest when he recanted on his good work in agreeing the ending of the Uruguay Round and setting up both the World Trade Organization and the single market. I congratulate him. His success in that respect is not taken away by a selective quotation of trade figures that gave a very big number for our increase in trade with third countries—a rather small quantum when compared with the smaller figure for the increase in the much larger quantum of our trade with the European Union. I conclude my point by saying, “Well done”.
May I express my gratitude? Our trade with all countries outside the European Union is greater than our trade with the European Union and has grown faster than our trade with the European Union. That is why the share of our trade with the European Union has fallen from 60% to 45% and, on present trends, is set to fall to 30% by 2030.
I do not want to continue the battle of figures for too long but, of course, a large part of our trade with countries outside the European Union benefits enormously from the relationships which we, as a member of the European Union, have with those countries.
I was tempted to devote the whole of my contribution to the all-consuming topic of Brexit but I resisted that temptation. What is going on in north-east Syria and with the US’s green light to the Turkish military action there? However often it denies that it gave the green light, I am afraid that President Trump’s conversation with President Erdoğan and his subsequent tweet about the withdrawal of US troops was as green as green lights go. It was taken as such and quite a lot of people have now died as a consequence. It is not only a tragedy and a moral outrage; it also has serious negative consequences for our security and that of our European neighbours and partners. To play fast and loose with the handling of IS detainees and to destroy the one force that stood up for and shed its blood for our shared policies is not only morally reprehensible; it is, in policy terms, unconscionable.
I welcome the Government’s initiative at the UN to bring the matter before the Security Council and to state clearly there that we oppose Turkey’s actions. To its shame, the Security Council was struck by its usual paralysis when dealing with Syria and was unable to take any action. Now that the international opposition to what Turkey is doing has grown, is there not some scope for reverting to the UN Security Council and seeking agreement on action to stop this conflict and to bring about a ceasefire? Now that the US has adopted some—admittedly pretty inadequate—sanctions measures against Turkey, I would like the Minister, in replying to the debate, to let us know whether we too will go down that road, as surely we should. What is the scope of the decision taken by the EU earlier this week that its members would cease arms sales? I had a rather unsatisfactory exchange with the Minister yesterday because the words he used in his Statement were, as I described them, a little on the weaselly side. I hope we will hear that we will stop the sale of arms to Turkey and that the Minister will deal with these urgent questions, which need clear policy statements.
Turning to Brexit, I support and strongly endorse what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said about our policy of not attending European meetings. If I remember rightly, it was introduced in September—one of the greatest acts of bureaucratic vandalism that I have seen for a long time. Would the Minister be so good as to tell us one benefit that has accrued to this country as a result of that decision, apart from giving a lot of civil servants some more free time? I imagine that he and his colleagues would not consider that a benefit on the whole. Perhaps he could address that point.
In the current state of the negotiations, it would be pretty unwise to probe too deeply into the detail. I will not do so but here are one or two simple questions that I hope the Minister will be able to deal with when he replies to the debate. Do the Government now accept that, even if some sort of deal is struck by Friday this week with the European Council, there will necessarily have to be an extension of the Article 50 period to enable the processes of parliamentary approval on both sides to be completed and for the legislative processes necessary to bring our domestic law into line with any provisions in the deal to take place before we can ratify? Does he seriously believe that that can all happen before 31 October? If he says yes, I shall see whether his fingers are crossed behind his back.
Secondly, do the Government now recognise that any deal will require substantial changes in the deeply flawed proposals that they put on the table a little over a week ago, in particular with respect to the issue of consent by Stormont and the customs arrangements for trade within Ireland and between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK? It would be nice to be told that the negotiations are no longer in that place.
Thirdly, do the Government also recognise that their wish to junk the commitments to a level playing field that were in the political declaration will have serious consequences for our subsequent relationship with the European Union? By saying that we no longer wish to stay in step with it on regulatory issues and to continue to accept the work of Europe-wide rules-setting bodies, such as those for aviation safety, the environment, labour and other issues, we are raising issues of deep concern that go far beyond the current obsession with issues relating to Northern Ireland. The Government’s suggestion that a move in this direction, away from a level playing field, is designed to enable us to have higher standards has zero credibility. It is quite clear that it is designed to enable us to have lower standards.
The likelihood of any deal or agreement at this week’s European Council and what it might contain are, necessarily, a mystery. I fear that they will have to remain so at least until this Saturday’s emergency Session, if indeed that takes place. But what is no longer in doubt is that, in every area of policy, post-Brexit arrangements are either highly problematic—that certainly goes for the content of a UK-US trade agreement—or clearly less advantageous to us than the terms of our EU membership. That is the basis of the case for calling and holding a confirmatory referendum on any deal that may be struck or on leaving without a deal. The result of such a referendum would have to be accepted by all as binding on this occasion as it was not on the last one. It is the one way of cutting through to a real end game, not just bringing up the curtain on years of further negotiation in which the UK will hold very few cards. To those who assert that such a course of action would thwart the will of the people, I say this: well, you let this genie out of the bottle to settle an internal dispute within one party, which it evidently did not do. Why not join us now in putting that genie back into the bottle?
My Lords, I am afraid that that is very far from the truth. The reason it was not opposed here was because of the Salisbury convention, which says that, if a party wins an overall majority in an election with such an issue in its manifesto, this House will not oppose legislation on that issue. That was the sole reason it was not opposed in this House—none other.
My Lords, I want to talk about the constitution of Brexit, but I first make the point that my noble friend Lord Lilley is one of the few Members of this House who has been involved with all the technical issues, going back to our early days of membership, and, I think, knows more than most people and is well worth listening to. I agree very much with everything that he had to say.
Forty-five years ago, the Wilson Government introduced an important change to the unwritten British constitution. The first major referendum helped to address politically the then divisions on Europe, at the time within the Labour Party. More importantly, it established the precedent of putting an issue of major national importance above party politics for the people to decide upon directly by a referendum. Since then, Scotland’s position vis-à-vis potential independence and changing the voting system to a PR basis have also been decided by referenda. It seems, therefore, unfortunate that the elitist remainer cabal has chosen to ignore the constitutional position of referenda and the role of the referendum of three years ago, in which the British people decided by a clear majority that they wished to leave the EU.
Membership of the EU has already undermined our historic, unwritten constitution, such that we will need to codify how we are governed to protect individual rights and liberties and to ensure that democracy can no longer be routinely subverted or disregarded by an arrogant, know-it-all elite. This will be a key component of a rebooted, post-Brexit, newly again independent UK. We should never again accept the dysfunctionality that has overshadowed the past three years, with many MPs trying to cancel the most important referendum decision in modern English history and the Speaker creating a rival, useless Executive. We do not want a US-style Supreme Court, its members being encouraged to turn themselves into yet another set of legislators. Our catastrophic membership of the EU, the leftward shift of the UK governing classes, the Blairite legal reforms—including the 1998 Human Rights Act—the emasculation of other forms of local government and the creation of a separate Supreme Court have all conspired to undermine our unwritten constitution. This also requires leaders of political parties to allow unwritten laws to guide their behaviour; a principle which remainers have trashed.
The first and most important reform should be the repeal of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011; and, secondly, the power to conduct international treaty negotiations needs to be left solely to the Executive. The Speaker needs to be bound by clear rules. An MP who wants to change party should be obliged to call a by-election. Too many decisions have been taken by the courts rather than resolved by democratically elected politicians; the courts should not be unelected legislators. We need to allow direct and indirect democracy to co-exist, with voters able to force referenda as in Switzerland and the US, and with outcomes being legally binding.
During this period, we have also had the description of David Cameron’s period as Prime Minister in his recently published book, which, ironically, sets out a powerful case for Brexit. Cameron started out as a Eurosceptic who thought that the irritations of the EU were a price worth paying for the free trade advantages. In power, he soon found out the EU horrors to which we had become exposed—the directives, the stitch-ups and the knives out for the City. He voted against a eurozone bailout package, which threatened to cost Britain dear, only to see the rules changed so that the UK veto would not count. This is in contrast to Germany’s unfailing ability to get what it wants. Britain’s ability, by contrast, has been non-existent. We have opposed only 70 pieces of EU legislation during our membership, none of which has been accepted. The process under which Juncker became the EC President shocked Cameron. He also appreciated that the EU process of powers being transferred to Brussels is a formula to trap democracy, using complex laws and regulation to suck in powers which are never given back.
In short, Cameron learned how the EU grasped and exercised its powers and became the strongest candidate for reform. He never explains how, after so many failures, he thought he could possibly achieve the necessary EU reforms. It is even more difficult to understand how Cameron thought he could win the fight for reform by backing remain. Nothing in his book explains why he thinks that EU membership is a good thing; nor is there a single example of anything emanating from Brussels that benefits Britain.
The best possible outcome of Brexit would, I believe, be a Canada-style free trade deal applying to the bulk of mutually traded goods, together with a clean exit, restoring full British sovereignty. As Cameron’s book exposes, the latter is perhaps the most important. Britain’s great democracy has been squeezed inside an unaccountable EU bureaucracy, where no one else in Europe has been willing to challenge this or give their voters the chance to escape. The risk is thus that, to achieve a deal, full British sovereignty is not restored. Here, I believe that it would be better to leave without a deal. While the remain cabal continues to plot and abuse the constitution to seek to frustrate Brexit, it is extraordinary that it does not seem to realise that an even bigger and growing majority of citizens who voted leave in the referendum would not accept remaining in the EU.
My Lords, I do not intend to focus all that I wish to say solely on the question of Brexit, but there is one question that I would like to put to Her Majesty’s Government on that subject.
Before the referendum, I spoke on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House and in other places about my fear, as a supporter of and as someone committed to the European project, that people’s minds and hearts were turning away from that project, and that if there were not serious efforts by those of us who are supporters of the European Union and those who are functionaries of the European Union, that disenchantment would continue and become more serious. Sadly, it has been so. There was not the kind of reform that might have changed the course of history in the last few years.
We are now in a position where in this country there are now really only two realistic positions as far as most people are concerned. One is the position of my party: although we accept that people voted by a small majority to leave, we remain committed to the European Union and wish to persuade people to change their minds on that, and, if we were in government, we would revoke Article 50. That is an honourable and intellectually credible position. The alternative position, held by those committed to Brexit, is also honourable and credible, although it is not one with which I agree and the arguments against it are substantial.
Given the background that I come from, I have become increasingly concerned about polarisation in the community.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I apologise for interrupting when he has just begun his speech. A lot of people refer to the need for reform in the EU but never say what they mean or suggest individual details of that reform. Would the noble Lord care to enlighten us?
I have given a number of speeches setting out exactly what I would suggest, and have suggested, over the years. I suggest that I continue with what I have to say, rather than focusing entirely on the question of Brexit and matters that have been gone over repeatedly.
My concern is that our country has become increasingly polarised by focusing on this question. It is not just in this country with Brexit. It is the zeitgeist all around the world: countries and communities are becoming deeply divided and polarised. This is a very serious situation. Therefore, my question to Her Majesty’s Government—which I have discussed with some of my own colleagues—is this: whatever the outcome, remain or leave, what are we going to do subsequently to bring our people together? Whatever the outcome, a large percentage of the population will feel deeply unhappy. That is not a satisfactory situation. There is now no widely accepted public narrative in our country. We must work hard to recreate it. It will not happen automatically. I look forward to hearing what Her Majesty’s Government believe they need to do and can do if they have their way on Brexit.
That leads me to the wider questions laid out in a remarkable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, early in the debate yesterday. He mentioned a whole series of issues including the Kurds, Ukraine and Hong Kong. He described how we as a country cannot look with any great satisfaction or pride on our own role—or, in some cases, lack thereof—in those areas where we ought to have been able to take responsibility and have effect.
It is important not just to regret things but to try to understand why they have happened. One of the reasons is that, in today’s world—as is right—it is no longer acceptable to use overwhelming force against those with whom you disagree. It is also not effective. The United States has involved itself in a whole series of wars in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in assistance to us in Libya and in Syria. None of them has been successful. All have made the situation worse.
We must therefore really begin to reflect in a serious way on how the rules have changed. The rules of politics and intervention have changed. How we govern our world is changing in ways that we do not understand. In the Prayers at the start of the day, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry laid out from the scriptures how those who behave with integrity and virtue will be blessed. Yes, at times that has been the case. However, I think that the words of the psalmist in Psalm 37, verse 35, are more appropriate:
“I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree”.
It looks as though wickedness, arrogance and abuse are getting further than virtue at the moment.
We need to think about what is going on and why this is happening. The character of war has changed. We now have hybrid warfare, in which the old, accepted rules of international engagement have disappeared. New technology is being used in unprecedented ways. People are not in a position where they think rationally about decisions because they are so moved by how they feel, affected by social media and fake news. There are other changes in warfare coming down the track that are not even being discussed.
There was a time when this House would have preoccupied itself with the prospect of nuclear war, and rightly so. It is back on the real agenda, if not on the debate agenda. I was talking recently with a friend from Mumbai who said he was shocked and dismayed to hear many thoughtful middle and upper-middle-class people saying that a nuclear war with Pakistan would solve their problems; they had no concept of how global the problems would become. And it is not just India and Pakistan; it is Saudi Arabia and Iran, the situation with North Korea—and, of course, all China’s neighbours are becoming increasingly anxious about how that is developing.
Neither we nor the public have been debating these issues, so preoccupied have we been with the problem of Brexit. That is not good leadership because, frankly, if we find ourselves in a war of that kind—we are already in a global cyber war—so many of the issues that we debate will ultimately become secondary.
So how do we address these kinds of problems? We do not address them by simply trying to reinforce the old ways. My noble friend Lord Campbell pointed out how NATO, upon which we depend, is falling to pieces. The Minister referred to “our ally Turkey”; well, “our ally Turkey” is doing things that we absolutely disavow and do not agree with at all. “Our ally Saudi Arabia”, as Her Majesty’s Government have referred to it, is consistently doing things that we do not identify with or support at all.
The situation is changing, and we must think carefully about that. What are Her Majesty’s Government going to do, inside this building and beyond, to enable us to think and reflect on the changing character of war and the importance of engaging with that? It is not about how many ships we have, how many people we have in GCHQ or how many people we are devoting to fighting the old wars, but about how we can get a debate.
Before the referendum, I was asked by my colleagues if I would conduct a pro-remain campaign in Northern Ireland. I said, “No”. They said, “Do you not believe in it?” I said, “I do”. They said, “Well then, why do you not want to do this?” I said, “Because I know what will happen. If I, as a former Alliance leader conducted a pro-remain campaign, the Alliance Party, Sinn Féin and the SDLP would all vote ‘Yes’, the Ulster Unionists and the DUP would vote ‘No’, and I would have contributed to deepening a division that I have spent much of my life trying to heal”. They said, “So what are you going to do?” I said, “I am going to get together with colleagues to conduct a public conversation where we will let all sides have their say, and encourage people to think and engage with the problems”.
We did that. We gave a platform to Mr Farage, and the more times he came to Northern Ireland, the more the remain camp increased. Yet he and his colleagues felt that they were being given a platform and given respect. We need a public conversation, and not just about Brexit; we have come to a point where I do not think there is much enlightenment to be had on that. We need a public conversation on issues of war and peace—issues which could bring not only our economy to a shuddering halt but our civilisation to a disastrous end.
My Lords, since we first met in the 1980s, it has always been a great pleasure to be able to speak with—and, in this case, after—the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice. I entirely agree with the points he made.
I have three relevant interests to declare: I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, am vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uighurs and am a patron of Hong Kong Watch. I want to speak about north-east Syria and China.
How bitterly ironic it is that next week, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the universally applicable Geneva conventions. Along with the genocide convention, they represent two of the emasculated pillars of a rules- based international order, both of which are being compromised by Turkey’s invasion of Syria. Both conventions attempt to protect the most vulnerable: civilians, wounded combatants, humanitarian workers, prisoners of war and journalists. The Geneva conventions insist that even wars have limits and that where those limits are violated, it can constitute a war crime.
Consider, then, what has happened in north-east Syria, where 450,000 people live within three miles of the border with Turkey. Following President Erdoğan’s tweet announcing the invasion, and heavy bombardment of the Kurdish-held areas using NATO-standard army hardware, an estimated 150,000 civilians have been displaced and many killed, including children. Scores of Kurdish members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the West’s foremost ally in the fight against Daesh’s genocide, have been killed, along with members of religious minorities whom they had been protecting.
Some American servicemen have rightly described the betrayal of the Kurds as a,
“stain on the national conscience”.
Little wonder that betrayed Kurds have been repeating their belief that their only true friends are the mountains. How will history judge our dismal response to the long-standing Kurdish desire for a homeland? Consider that a female Kurdish politician, Hevrin Khalaf, secretary -general of the Future Syria Party, has been executed with others. Does the Minister regard these acts as war crimes? Who will be held to account and how?
Consider also our failure to stop the escape of hundreds of ISIS prisoners, prepare for the defeat of ISIS, establish arrangements to bring to justice those responsible for genocide or deal with thousands of foreign fighters and their children. Has the Minister been able to verify the evidence I sent to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, last weekend and which I referred to during the Urgent Question repeat yesterday, providing names of ISIS sympathisers now fighting alongside Turkish combatants and details of the camps from which ISIS genocidaires have escaped? How does the Minister respond to a report in today’s Daily Telegraph that a source at the United Nations says that there is now,
“no chance for a regional court, it was minimal before this, and is impossible now”?
Holding people to account in this region does not have a good track record. Turkey should be particularly mindful of its own history in this region, not least in the mass killings of minorities, including Kurds, Assyrians, Greeks and Armenians. The Ottoman Empire used the Syrian desert of Deir ez-Zor as the main killing fields for the Armenians. Our generation has a duty to contest any offensive which targets people because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion, race or orientation. I am pleased that my genocide determination Bill came sixth in the ballot yesterday. I hope the Government will consider supporting it and remedy our utter failure to prosecute those responsible for mass murder.
It gives me no pleasure to predict that what Turkey has done will result in ethnic cleansing and, potentially, genocide and war crimes. Inevitably, it will add to the unprecedented 70.8 million people currently displaced worldwide—a staggering 37,000 people forced to flee their homes every single day. Erdoğan has already threatened to push a further 3.7 million Syrian refugees into Europe if we dare to criticise him. He says that Turkish-controlled territory will be a “safe zone”. Recall that Srebrenica was in a United Nations “safe zone” in 1995. Would you want to stay in an Erdoğan safe zone? Would the Yazidis or Christians, who have experienced one genocide, want to stay there? Pre-ISIS Christians numbered 130,000 people; now they number around 40,000. Will this be the final blow to Christianity in its cradle?
In the context of the wider regional challenges, we need to question everything from our sale of arms to the implication for countries that look to us or the United States to guarantee their safety and security. Today’s Times is right to remind us of Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum to,
“speak softly and carry a big stick”.
In a polar opposite approach, the White House has done neither and left a dangerous power vacuum. As America lies diminished, Russia, Iran and ISIS are the beneficiaries. To at least partly correct this terrible blunder, we should get behind the bipartisan proposals of US Senators to sanction Turkey and target President Erdoğan’s overseas assets.
I will also say something about China. We have just observed another 70th anniversary, of the Chinese Communists ending a long-running civil war with the Kuomintang and beginning 70 years of one-party rule. I have secured a full debate on Hong Kong for next Thursday but, for now, let me reflect that 30 years ago, after the horrors of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese military murdered 10,000 people, mainly students wanting democratic reform.
Deng Xiaoping’s welcome decision to place China on the road to reform has now been superseded by President Xi Jinping’s decision to return to the omnipotent days of leaders for life. He may not have a Little Red Book, but in religious buildings he has replaced the Ten Commandments with his own list of Communist principles, and in China, a war has been declared on religious, faith and dissenting groups.
Noble Lords may have read this week’s reports that at least 45 burial grounds of Uighurs have been destroyed. A million Uighurs are in detention centres in Xinjiang, and with tombs now being opened and human remains scattered, it is part of a campaign to destroy their identity. There is no escape from persecution, even in death. How can we be indifferent to the immolation of Tibetan Buddhist monks, the bulldozing of Protestant churches and allegations of the forced organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners and others, referred to earlier by my noble friend Lady Finlay?
In China, a social credit system has been established that buys favours in return for blind allegiance, with reports of the Supreme People’s Court having a blacklist of 13 million people who can be punished if they fail to comply. The state intrudes into every aspect of life, including the taking of DNA, face recognition technology and vast surveillance. Simultaneously, aggressive propaganda campaigns are promoted overseas, and poor countries are forced into compliance as the price for economic aid through the belt and road initiative. This has been accompanied by the takeover of United Nations departments and agencies, and the rights of non-compliant Chinese citizens are trampled underfoot.
I have tabled parliamentary questions this week and written to the Foreign Secretary about the cases of two people—Lam Wing-kee and Lee Ming-che—that I recently heard about first-hand in Taiwan. I met one of them, and the wife of the other. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will give me an assurance that his noble friends at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will take these cases seriously and give us a full explanation of what we can say and do to help them. Cases like theirs help to explain why Hong Kong has seen up to 2 million of its people on its streets demanding that the international treaty lodged at the United Nations guaranteeing “two systems, one country” is honoured. In reality, few people believe it will be honoured, which is why over 170 parliamentarians—including 119 from your Lordships’ House—have signed a letter urging the Foreign Secretary to lead an international campaign, especially through the Commonwealth, to provide second citizenship and a second place of abode to all Hong Kong people who wish it, if the Communist Party of China disrespects the promises and commitments it has made. I pay great tribute to Luke de Pulford of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Ben Rogers of Hong Kong Watch for the role they have played in leading that initiative.
I am, however, disappointed by the Foreign Office response, from anonymous officials, which barely referred to the proposals in the original letter. Although the Foreign Secretary has said that this was “an administrative error”, I hope that his department will now seriously engage with an idea which might offer hope to the people of Hong Kong, quell the ferocity of the protests and challenge China’s increasing hostility to the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Like the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, I hope that we will use Magnitsky powers, including sanctions against officials in China and Hong Kong who undermine the city’s autonomy. I hope the Minister will tell us that we will be doing so.
I have mentioned the anniversaries of great international declarations and the anniversary of one-party rule and Tiananmen Square. Let me end on a more hopeful note, with the anniversary, on 9 November, of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For 28 years, families were torn apart and a city cruelly divided, with young people shot dead when they attempted to scale the wall or to escape to freedom. Is it too much to hope, as we commemorate the breaking of that wall, that human rights, democracy and the rule of law will come to the beleaguered people of the Middle East and the Far East?
My Lords, the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, are always challenging.
Never has a country been in greater need of leadership which demonstrates vision with muscle and soul. The Government’s programme, as set forward in the gracious Speech, fails lamentably on both scores. I find it incredible that with all the anxiety, stress and homelessness in our society, the gracious Speech had not even a sentence to say about housing.
We have, however, to look at our role in the world. The Government say that they want us to go on being a leading nation. They tell us that they will strengthen the Diplomatic Service. That needs our support: it needs strengthening—urgently. It will be a huge task for all those in the Diplomatic Service to rebuild Britain’s reputation and rehabilitate the constructive role we used to play in world affairs. A speech whose very first sentence says that the Government’s primary aim has been to leave the European Union by 31 October reveals exactly what I have been talking about: it is not a vision with which people can identify and move forward. It is what the Government intend to do, and are doing, that matters.
Next year—2020—will be the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. I was a young boy at the time, and I think back to all the vision and excitement that went into its creation in 1945: the meetings here in London, the celebrations and the commitment of the Government—a bi-partisan commitment, across the country, that it was an adventure that must not fail. We are a permanent member of the Security Council. Can any noble Lord suggest that if the Security Council were being created today there would be universal support for one of the seats going to the United Kingdom? We are not seen as a constructive, dynamic player on the world scene. We are not seen as a responsible player on the world scene. We are not seen as central to many of the problems that Governments are discussing.
I will focus for a moment or two on some specifics. First, I am glad that the Government have recognised the tremendous significance of artificial intelligence. I would like to hear a bit more from the Government—and to have seen more in the gracious Speech—about the UK’s role in the UK-based conference on this. It is not just a matter of recognising the issue: what do the Government want to achieve at the conference? Next month we also have the conference entitled “Time for Justice: Putting Survivors First”. What will the Government’s objective—their role and contribution—be in that conference? Similarly, what will our argument be at the UN climate change conference in Glasgow in 2020? We have done some very good things on climate change. We all know that there is further to go, but how are we proposing to gird the world up for the action necessary on an international scale?
The Prime Minister has indicated—and I am glad of that, even though at times it is implicit rather than explicit—his commitment to human rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As a young boy—I was 13 at the time—I was taken to Geneva by my father and had the privilege of meeting Eleanor Roosevelt. How that woman inspired me, as she did so many others. However, anyone who thinks that Eleanor Roosevelt, together with all the others involved, was making her contribution on human rights just as a nice way of organising society is misled. Certainly, it was going to be a better way of organising society to have the declaration as a basis of civilised behaviour, but she had a burning conviction, as did the others, with the experience of the Second World War, that human rights were fundamental to a secure and stable world community. If we are serious about the stable and secure world community to which we keep saying we are committed, what are we doing to strengthen the application of human rights within the world? As we have heard in this debate, there are the hugely important issues of Syria and Hong Kong. There are the ongoing, immense challenges for Palestine. There are also the thematic and wider issues of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and racial and religious prejudice in all its forms.
When we talk about the future of human rights, I wonder sometimes whether the time has not come to start examining the place of human social rights. For millions of people across the world, employment, health and education are every bit as important as the political rights. It is just possible that a cynic might ask, “What does this declaration of human rights add up to if it is not actually grappling with the immediate problems of humanity?”
I think that some of us recognise that we are a post-imperial nation and are not living in some sort of dream about being Churchill all over again. Incidentally, as a complete admirer of Churchill, I think that the misunderstanding of what he was all about is grotesque. Churchill was committed to the strengthening of Europe and the institutions that would be necessary for that. I was five at the time, but I can remember the excitement in my family when, at the beginning of the war, Churchill proposed that France and the United Kingdom should unite. Where has all that gone? Where has that dream gone? Where has that vision gone? Where is that sense of purpose in the world gone?
If we are to tackle these issues, multilateralism will be tremendously important. The international financial institutions have a great part to play in that. It is worrying that certain big issues are arising in the context of international financial institutions. We have a world which questions whether it should be dominated by the traditional powers, with the World Bank seen as a body whose chairmanship should always go to an American and the IMF seen as one whose chairmanship should always go to a European. Does this reflect the real the nature of the world community today?
I just want to finish on one other issue that has always concerned me and on which my thoughts about what is involved were very much strengthened as a Minister both in the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office, and indeed as Minister for Overseas Development. Arms control is an essential part of achieving stability in the world and of security. Can we hear a bit more about the Government’s priorities on arms control and biological and chemical warfare? My goodness, we have experience now in Britain of the dangers and hazards in the chemical sphere.
An essential element of negotiating the non-proliferation treaty was the undertaking by the existing nuclear powers that they would contribute seriously and committedly to the reduction of nuclear weapons. Work has been done in that direction but it is not being done very much at the moment, if at all, with President Trump in the driving seat. What are the Government doing about this? I put one last question to the Government in this context. The international community as a whole within the UN system has been doing a lot of work on a treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Our record on this is one of obstructionism and disdain, seeing it as a threat to the NPT. The reality of the world’s commitment is not going to go away, and surely the challenge to us in policy and diplomacy is to relate to the people who are so significant in this new treaty and to build positive relationships with them. There is no hope for the effective continuation of the operation of the NPT unless we have the good will and co-operation of the world as a whole.
If I have a dream, as an older man, it is that one day soon we will rejoin the world and spell out to the British people the excitement of belonging to and contributing to the world, and of effective governance in meeting all these challenges to which I have referred.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, whose championing of so many causes over the years I have greatly admired. As I have listened to this excellent debate, I have reflected on how refreshing it is to be debating the UK’s role in the full range of foreign policy and defence issues, not just Brexit. We had an inspiring prospectus of the UK’s opportunities from the Minister, who opened the debate, but more sobering assessments from others, notably the noble Lords, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard and Lord Ricketts. I feel, therefore, that I should apologise to the House for taking my eyes off that horizon and returning to the tripwire of Brexit before our feet.
As I have said previously, I hope that the Government can get a deal with the EU, although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that, for purely practical purposes, an extension to the deadline of 31 October looks inevitable. In that respect, I return to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, in yesterday’s debate. He pointed out that Article 50 requires that a withdrawal agreement should be negotiated taking account of a framework for a future relationship but not determining the details of that relationship. It would be presumptuous on my part to endorse the noble and learned Lord’s interpretation of the legal meaning of Article 50 but it seems to me, as it does to him, that the arrangements on the Irish border are part of the future relationship with the European Union. They turn crucially, for example, on the customs arrangement with the EU, which is surely part of the future relationship.
EU officials are quoted in this morning’s newspaper as saying that, if an agreement is reached in the next day or two, the technical details may take until 1 January to finalise. If this is right, it is in the interests of both sides to leave the arrangements for the Irish border and the backstop out of the withdrawal agreement—the very thing the Government have been asking for. The withdrawal agreement could then be signed, perhaps by 31 October, and the technical details of the border settled in accordance with the agreed framework in the implementation period.
Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was asked by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and myself whether this was a correct interpretation of Article 50. The noble Lord did not agree with us. He said that it would not be wise to finalise the withdrawal agreement with technical details of this sort remaining to be settled, and that it would not be likely that either side would want to do so. I am glad to see the noble Lord in his place; he will correct me if I have misquoted him. However, he, the draftsman of Article 50, did not say that the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord and myself was based on an incorrect interpretation of that article. If a deal is reached with the EU in the next day or two and only the drafting of the technical details threatens to hold up the settling of the withdrawal agreement and our departure from the EU, it seems that it would be worth considering going ahead with the withdrawal agreement without the backdrop and leaving the technical details to be turned into legal form in the implementation period. This is meant to be a helpful suggestion to the Government and it would be helpful if the Minister would give his reaction to it in his winding-up speech.
Now I will say something that I think will disappoint my old boss, the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine. Over the past three and a half years, my position on Brexit has evolved. I continue to think that membership of the EU is overwhelmingly in the UK’s and the EU’s interest. Immediately after the referendum, I argued that, when the terms of our departure were known, it was the Government’s duty to give the people a further vote on them. Depending on the result of a future election, or even of the legislation to implement an agreement, a further referendum has again become a possibility.
However, I regret to say that it is now too late for that. That train has left the station. Even if a further referendum resulted in a majority for remaining, it would not reunite our country. Those who believe in Brexit would not give up. We would be an internally divided and truculent partner in the EU, and that would not be in the EU’s interests or ours. I have felt for some time that our, and the EU’s, best interests lie in our leaving the EU with an agreement and turning our efforts to the new relationship. I supported Mrs May’s deal.
Like the majority of this House, I voted for an amendment to the EU Trade Bill seeking a customs union with the EU. Of course, that would remove the difficulty over the Irish border at a stroke. From the outset of these negotiations, it has been clear that we could not go our own way in making trade deals with third countries without having border controls with the EU. That means border controls between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, which would be contrary to our obligations under the Belfast agreement. That might be inconvenient but it is true. Our Government have repeatedly refused to face up to that point; they have not dared to take the Trade Bill back to the Commons for fear that the Commons would endorse the amendment passed in this House. If we are to get Brexit done while honouring the Belfast agreement, we have to make some compromises. That is what the Government are having to face up to at this very moment. If they compromise too far, they risk losing the support of their Members in the House of Commons. If they do not compromise enough, they will not get the agreement of the Irish Government or the EU. There is indeed a narrow path to tread.
To those who argue that remaining in the single market and a customs union with the EU is Brexit in name only, I say that it is much more than that. We would free ourselves from the federal ambitions of the EU. We would revert to the sort of trading relationship we entered into in 1972 but with the advantage of the many collaborative agreements that we have reached with our European partners since that time. We have enough economic power and other strengths to have an influential and mutually beneficial future relationship with the EU.
Over the past three and a half years, I have compromised in my views. If an agreement comes before the House of Commons on Saturday, I hope that others will do the same. It is overwhelmingly in our national interest and the interests of our children and grandchildren that we should do so.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this House and a particular privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I often feel like a student when I speak here and fear that I will not deliver when I speak in front of him. I am very impressed to hear that there is someone in this Chamber who has met Eleanor Roosevelt and heard Prime Minister Churchill in years past—someone whom I hugely admire.
I was always under the impression—and I believe it was justified—that the United Kingdom and, at its best, the United States were the engines of progress, democracy and the rule of law internationally; and that the standards that we and our allies set, however imperfectly applied, were the best route to a more stable, secure and equal world. I am thinking in particular of the role of NATO and the building of international treaties and institutions, from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to the International Criminal Court and the Arms Trade Treaty. However, Brexit has consumed our foreign policy for the last four years and profoundly affected the way we think and the manner in which we engage with other countries—which I hope will be only temporary.
Having left the Foreign Office four years ago, I am not privy to the instructions sent out to our diplomats. We can assume, however, that they spend the majority of their time explaining events in London to those in foreign capitals and urgently seeking trade deals to bridge the gap after our departure from the European Union. If we exclude Brexit and trade, it is hard to discern UK strategy in foreign affairs, or to avoid the impression that we are absent or distracted in areas where we have previously played a leading role.
I believe that this trend has been exacerbated by the constant change in leadership in the Foreign Office. Since mid-2014, we have had four Foreign Secretaries; on average, there has been a change every single year—with some consequences. The United Kingdom spent almost 20 years in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban alongside our NATO allies; yet today, the United States is negotiating its withdrawal with the Taliban directly, without our direct participation, and excluding the elected Afghan Government, who we so painstakingly helped come into existence. In Syria, our closest ally, the United States, has upended years of our collective efforts to defeat ISIS and maintain some leverage in the conflict, pulling out of north-eastern Syria without any apparent consultation with any Government other than Turkey’s, abandoning the very people we have supported and allowing the region to fall into Russia’s lap.
Here, the dangerous uncertainty surrounding the custody of ISIS terrorists and their families confirms the misguided decision not to address this question decisively with our allies last year, bringing those responsible for crimes to justice in their countries of origin, or in an international or regional court. I believe that anyone who leaves this country to join an organisation bent on inflicting harm and destruction cannot be excused and should face the judgment of law. But I am staggered that we have shown so little faith in the strength of our institutions, and that we have failed to find a legal and effective way to defuse this significant strategic threat in a manner that strengthens, not undermines, our moral authority. Stripping British nationals of their citizenship and leaving them in a security vacuum in the Middle East does not serve our security and is a danger to the citizens of the countries where they have brought so much misery and damage. We cannot wash our hands of this problem.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister can shed light on what the strategy now is to avert the risk that some of the hardest and most dangerous of these terrorists might once again be free to roam the region, to mount an insurgency of the kind we have seen in Iraq or Afghanistan, or to pose a direct threat to citizens in Europe. I also hope that he can confirm what the UK’s policy is towards the setting up of a regional court or international tribunal to prosecute ISIS terrorists.
I have sympathy for Ministers trying to chart a course in foreign policy, given the erratic nature of US policy under the current Administration. But I hope that on critical questions affecting the peace and security of the world, the UK will not try to split the difference between the US and other allies but will be absolutely clear where our interests and values lie and pursue those vigorously.
My noble friend opened his speech yesterday by warning that the rules-based international system is under attack, and I agree with him. But I respectfully note that it did not help that, when our German and French allies launched an alliance for multilateralism at this year’s UN General Assembly, it appeared that the UK initially did not join the joint statement or plan to send a Minister. I hope that, in the future, we will be strongly aligned with all efforts to uphold the international rule of law and its core institutions.
Over the last four years of our intense preoccupation with Brexit, Russia has carried out aggressive actions in Syria and on the streets of this very country; the Government in Myanmar carried out the ethnic cleansing of over 1 million Rohingyas from Rakhine State; the Indian Government have unilaterally stripped away statehood from Kashmir; there is talk of changing borders and swapping populations in the Balkans; Saudi Arabia has openly murdered a journalist and imprisoned women’s rights activists; the actions of some Gulf states have inflicted famine and starvation upon Yemen; China has imprisoned its Uighur population; and the number of displaced people and refugees has risen to over 75 million. This is in addition to the destabilising effects of the cyber era and other transnational threats, such as climate change. Some people will ask what we could have done differently to change the course of any of these crises. The answer is a little on our own, but a great deal with our allies.
I hope that, whatever happens at the end of this month, we have the strength as a country to rediscover our purpose, moral spine and diplomatic steel in foreign policy. There is an urgent need for a renewal of UK foreign policy, underpinned by the bipartisanship that, until Brexit, was a notable aspect of our strength. I hope that the Government move beyond the slogan of “Global Britain” to a much clearer definition of the United Kingdom’s international strategy and conduct an urgent review of our nation’s long-term foreign policy interests and capabilities, given that the last strategic defence and security review was published in 2015.
I also hope the Government will be clear that there will no weakening of our commitment to upholding human rights internationally. I want to particularly highlight women’s issues, which are always the first casualty of every crisis. I commend the Government for continuing their support of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which I look forward to debating in this Chamber. But I hope that this will be equally matched by support for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. Despite the great efforts of the Minister and my noble friend Lady Anelay, this has suffered from a lack of commitment and leadership from all four Foreign Secretaries since 2014, even though systematic rape has become a weapon of choice against women and girls, and men and boys, in the most complex conflicts we are facing today. I therefore hope that the PSVI conference planned for November, in London, will champion the creation of a permanent body focused on securing accountability for these crimes. We need prosecutions, not more awareness.
I also urge the Secretary of State for International Development, with whom I am yet to secure a meeting, to dedicate a small percentage of the overall development budget—1%—to fighting violence against women. I hope that the Government will also consider whether we need a women, peace and security Act in the United Kingdom, akin to that recently adopted in the United States.
Brexit is something we have done by choice. Foreign policy is what we must do from necessity and on behalf of every citizen of the United Kingdom. It is the most serious responsibility of any Government: on it hangs our security and our long-term prosperity. It cannot be seen through only the lens of Brexit, it cannot be driven by trade considerations alone and we cannot rely on aid to do the work of diplomacy. So I hope that, when we finally depart the EU—if that is where we end up—we take a deep breath, look critically around us and chart a course based on the totality of our interests, responsibilities and values as a nation, and one that rises to the severity of the challenges of our times.
My Lords, Her Majesty the Queen delivered her humble Address in your Lordships’ House on the same day as their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge began their four-day visit to Pakistan. The Pakistani nation has shown a very warm welcome to the visiting royal couple. Indeed, a royal visit shows the close relationship and level of understanding and co-operation between the two nations. I wish the royal couple all the best and hope that they enjoy every second of their trip to Pakistan. Her Majesty also spoke when the British nation is at a crossroads, with Brexit looming and uncertainty overshadowing the political and economic future of this country. I hope that this Government, which led this country into this mess, will take the nation out of this misery and uncertainty in the days to come.
This is a time when we may want to reflect on and review our foreign policy. Over the years of my political upbringing, I have witnessed war after war in one part of the world or another. I remember sitting in front of the television screen watching the mujaheddin fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan when the British Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, and the US President, Ronald Reagan, went all the way to Peshawar to show their support for the mujaheddin. Then, many years later, I watched the present war on Afghanistan, led by the US coalition, to fight the very force that it supported during the Soviet occupation. I watched nine years of the Iran/Iraq war followed by the Iraq/Kuwait war, then the US-led wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria. I wonder, which country will be next, and why? During these wars, millions of people, including our own service men and women, have been killed and many more injured. Hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless while many of them have been forced to flee their countries. Those countries have been left with devastating effects.
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a close ally of the United States, Britain had a huge role to play in these wars. If we look back and are honest with ourselves and our people, can we say what we have achieved that could not have been achieved without going to war in these countries? I would say: very little. If that is the case, is it not time to revisit our foreign policy and start playing a more effective role at the United Nations to help resolve these issues and bring justice to the world without going to war? A number of issues in this world need to be resolved. Some of them have been discussed at length in the United Nations and the UN has passed many resolutions to resolve them. However, if countries like Britain had played a more effective role, they would have been resolved a long time ago.
One of the long outstanding issues in the history of the United Nations is that of Kashmir. It is waiting to be resolved according to the United Nations resolutions of 1948 and 1949 along with many subsequent ones to bring justice to the people of the state and peace and prosperity to the whole region. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is going through the worst type of oppression. According to Amnesty International and the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Indian army is reported to have been involved in illegal detentions, torture, rape, killings and fake encounters, while there are thousands of missing persons and mass graves. Their reports clearly show that the Indian army is acting with complete impunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 in Kashmir. The UN Human Rights Commission, in its 2018 and 2019 reports, asked for free access to Kashmir to investigate the reports of these human rights violations. I believe that India has refused to entertain any of those requests. Kashmiris living inside the state and abroad, including roughly 1.3 million of them living in the UK, are looking to Britain for help to bring an end to their suffering and agony. What have the British Government done so far and what do they plan to do to help the UNCHR with regard to obtaining access to investigate human rights violations in Kashmir? Can the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to facilitate a dialogue between India and Pakistan to find a long-lasting solution to the issue of Kashmir in the spirit of the UN resolutions and the UN charter that is acceptable to India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir?
My Lords, the Queen’s Speech this year was perhaps the strangest one that I have experienced since I entered the House of Commons in 1987. In some ways, it seemed a very odd occasion, with a Government that do not have a majority bringing forward a programme that does not seem to be implementable and a Government, moreover, which have been at odds with Parliament over the illegal Prorogation as well as over one of the central aspects of their Brexit policy. Indeed, the speech read a bit like an election pitch, and I almost wondered whether the whole occasion should perhaps be charged to the Conservatives’ election campaign.
We have heard a couple of very interesting speeches, which makes me want to apologise, like the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for bringing us back to Brexit. We are all grateful in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for bringing in so many important foreign policy issues on which we ought to be concentrating, and I certainly hope we have that opportunity in the future. None the less, I do want to speak about Brexit, partly because it is the crucial issue and partly because I was not able to speak in our most recent debate on the subject, on 2 October, which I felt was a remarkable debate marked by some great speeches and some deep knowledge.
In the debate on the Queen’s Speech on Monday, the Leader of the House said that the views of the House of Lords were very important to the Government and to our political system. I would that this Government and their immediate predecessor had taken much more note of the views of the clear majority of this House on the Brexit issue. At the moment, we are all trying to focus on what is happening, on whether or not there will be a deal in the next few days, and what the nature of the deal will be. Will it be as good as Mrs May’s deal? Will it be as good as the deal that we have now? The signs are not very promising.
There are also a lot of questions about timing. Is a deal practicable by 31 October? What about the translation of texts and all the legal processes that have to be gone through? Yesterday, from the Front Bench, my noble friend Lady Hayter raised the question of the provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act, and I hope the Minister will respond to the point that she raised. If there is a deal, what do the Government envisage as a transition period? Originally, we asked for a two-year transition period and the EU offered us 20 months. What do the Government now envisage? Do they envisage a 20-month transition or, say, just 14 months, which would go on to the end of December 2020? We should be grateful if the Government could clarify this.
I am glad to see that the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, is in his place, because I would like to refer to some of the points he mentioned yesterday which rather alarmed me. He gave a wildly optimistic picture of striking new trade arrangements, helping UK businesses to expand into new markets and maintaining the UK’s leading position as,
“the number one destination in Europe for foreign direct investment”.—[Official Report, 15/10/19; col.37.]
How easy is that going to be while we are exiting the EU and not being part of its single market or customs union?
As regards trade figures, while I am a great fan of India as a country, none the less we export twice as much to Belgium as we do to India. Great play is often made by the Government of seeking new markets, particularly in China. Germany already exports five times as much to China as we do, and it does not need to have left the European Union in order to do that. Why is the European Union apparently such a barrier to expanding our trade?
I was also concerned about the comments on freedom —that, somehow, we will be able to set our own rules and follow without influence. I do not understand how we will continue to export to the European Union unless we adopt their standards of consumer safety, environmental protection and so forth. Some of the freedom that has been talked about seems entirely illusory and worse than that because we will lose our influence in setting those rules. In recent years, industry has made the point very strongly to me that, within the single market, British industry has been very influential in setting the rules and the agenda. I was particularly impressed by the evidence that the Creative Industries Federation gave to me on that subject.
I am also alarmed about the effect on my own area in the north-east of England. Government figures for the past three years show that that part of the country will be more dramatically affected than anywhere else. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, shares my passion for the north-east of England, but I do not understand how the north-east will flourish if the government figures are anything like accurate for the next few years. That worries me a great deal. When we talk about foreign direct investment, we know that a lot of that investment is linked to the fact that we are part of the European single market. Indeed, Nissan made that position very clear in recent days. That also worries me a great deal.
As well as being very concerned about trading issues, I am also deeply concerned about the consequences for the future of our union if we go down the Brexit approach that we have been pursuing. I do not know the details of the latest proposals for a deal. Some people have said that it means re-erecting a border in the Irish Sea. I hope that that is not the case. But the arrangement that we have at the moment suits the economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. To change that situation is something that we do at our peril. I worry about the future of Northern Ireland and the peace process as a result of this. I also worry about some of the other measures that the Government have been proposing. For example, how would the immigration Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech that aims to end freedom of movement affect the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic? I would like an answer to that question from the Government.
I am also very concerned about the situation in Scotland. I say that with some emotion. I feel British rather than English, having both English and Scottish forebears—and indeed some Irish forebears, come to that. I campaigned ardently for Better Together in the referendum campaign and I live in Northumberland, not far from the border. The thought of that becoming an international border in the future fills me with absolute dismay. Again, if there were an independent Scotland with its own immigration policy, I do not see how you could avoid some sort of border control in that circumstance, which would be tragic given the history of our union and the fact that so many people, like me, have mixed heritage and therefore a British loyalty rather than simply a loyalty to a country of the UK.
I would like to see the choice given back to the people. I do not like referendums. As far as I know, I have never actually voted in a referendum during my time in Parliament. None the less, the logic of it seems to me that if people had the vote at the beginning of this process, they ought to have the vote on the final option. I do not think it would be particularly easy for either side to win that referendum, so I certainly do not approach it feeling that there would necessarily be a foregone conclusion, but it makes sense.
However, a lot of nonsense is still being talked about the first referendum. The Government frequently say that it was the biggest democratic exercise in our history. My understanding is that that is not correct. There was a bigger turnout in the 1992 general election, and I think more people actually voted in that election, even though the population of the UK was smaller then than now. If we go back even further in time, the turnout was greater also in the 1945 election, so the claim that it was the biggest democratic exercise does not hold water. Also, the result was very narrow and two parts of our union, Northern Ireland and Scotland, both voted remain. That provides a lot of difficulties for the future.
I also hear the argument being made repeatedly that, “Oh, it was in the parties’ manifestos in the 2017 general election, so we must honour the result of the referendum”, but the Government did not win an overall majority as a result of that election. My own part did not win either, so the electorate hardly gave a ringing endorsement to the manifesto of any party in that election. I think the people should be allowed to think again. The idea that we can just say to them “Well, you’ve thought once, but we will never allow you to think again” does not make any sense to me whatever.
As someone who knocked on a lot of doors during the referendum campaign—I will not be alone in this—some issues, such as the Northern Ireland one, were never mentioned at all on the doorstep, even though that issue has taken up so much of the debating time in this House subsequently, and quite rightly so. For all those reasons, the people should be asked to have a think again about it and give their view. We will have to live with the result, which might be one that I will like, but it might be one that I will not. In the meantime, I wish those marching this weekend on 19 October every success. The previous march was a huge success in calling for a people’s vote and I hope that this one will be equally successful.
My final comment is a plea: if we do exit at the end of October or shortly afterwards, I hope we will not enter some phase whereby those on the leave side will be triumphalist about this situation. I was shocked that Jacob Rees-Mogg should talk about “remainiacs”, as he did this week. I am also shocked by some of the language that is being used. I was shocked, perhaps not surprisingly, by a tweet from Nigel Farage, which showed a photograph of a large number of union jacks flying outside Parliament. It said:
“Share this photo to wind a Remainer up”.
As a remainer, I am not wound up by the sight of the union jack. I am proud of it, it is our flag and it belongs to the whole country. I think the false patriotism that is being expounded by some people in this debate is absolutely contemptible.
We all care about the future of our country and the future of the parts of the country which we come from, so I hope that, whatever the outcome, triumphalism will be avoided. If my side won in another referendum and we stayed in the European Union, I can assure Members of this House that I would not be triumphalist. I might heave a huge sigh of relief, but I hope then I would be able to go on and tackle some of the other great issues of the day along with colleagues in this House—issues which have been raised in this debate—and look all together at the challenges and opportunities for our country as we move forward.
My Lords, it is always a great honour and pleasure—I say that deliberately and with emphasis —to follow such an excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. She is one of our champions of the cause of Europe and we thank her for all the work she has been doing in the campaign for us to stay in the European Union, which she would prefer, as I would. We may have to face an alternative outcome but, none the less, what she said was, as usual, very wise; if only the Government could listen more wisely to that and her points, we would be in a better state. Unfortunately, the Government still seem to have not only a lack of democratic support in all their antics and activities, but also a closed mind about this matter of our membership of the European Union.
I agree with the meaning of what she was saying about the union flag. We are all proud of the national flag, but it is not the only thing we are proud of. We can be proud of going down to our village or our town, our county, our region, our country—one of four in the United Kingdom, England being the biggest and with, perhaps, sadly, more of a Brexit component in its voting propensities last time than in other parts in terms of percentages—and proud of the European Union, which has been one of the greatest achievements of all. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, was reflecting the majority of speakers in this debate. If you go through the list, you will see how strong, once again, the majority for remaining in the European Union is in the House of Lords.
“Never since the second world war has Europe been so essential. Yet never has Europe been in such danger. Brexit stands as a symbol of that. It symbolises the crisis of a Europe that has failed to respond to its people’s need for protection from the major shocks of the modern world. It also symbolises the European trap. The trap lies not in being part of the European Union; the trap is in the lie and the irresponsibility that can destroy it. Who told the British people the truth about their post-Brexit future? Who spoke to them about losing access to the”,
huge EU internal market?
“Who mentioned the risks to peace in Ireland of restoring the border? Retreating into nationalism offers nothing; it is rejection without an alternative. And this is the trap that threatens the whole of Europe: the anger mongers, backed by fake news, promise anything and everything.
We have to stand firm, proud and lucid, in the face of this manipulation and say first of all what Europe is. It is a”,
“historic success: the reconciliation of a devasted continent is an unprecedented project of peace, prosperity and freedom. Let’s never forget that”.
I would like to say that those are my words but, sadly, they are not. I have to confess that they were the wise words of the President of the Republic of France, Emmanuel Macron, in an opinion piece in one of our more sensible newspapers on 6 March this year. That wisdom is needed now in this country as well. People have to answer those questions and search their minds, asking what people really think.
However, the dark clouds are there not only in the guise of the Prime Minister and the Government but in the British press, which we have to suffer. It has a very strange mixture of journals, as we know. Following the sinister and ruthless raid on the decent British press by Murdoch years ago and, subsequent to that, the activities of other non-UK personal-tax-paying owners—how convenient—many years ago as well as now, we have a cluster of increasingly neo-fascist comics masquerading as newspapers, with only a few credible papers left. The Daily Mirror has had to be a dramatic, colourful tabloid to keep up with the threat of competition from the Sun, but it has very sensible general, economic and political standing and opinions, and it is very keen on the European Union. Therefore, we have the Daily Mirror as a tabloid and at, I suppose, the other end of the spectrum the Guardian and the Financial Times, but we do not have any others.
It is one of the tragedies that the press’s effect has been so massive, understandably, on very disgruntled voters in this country. They voted as they did in the referendum mainly because they were disgruntled, fed up with their lot and wanted to give the Government a kick in the teeth. That is a natural habit of all voters in referendums, and it has been experienced in other countries across the world. That was the main thing. It was not really anything to do with the intrinsic nature of Europe, although that was part of it; it was mainly that they were just fed up with their lot, fed up with austerity and fed up with the then Conservative Government and their austerity programme. I could quote from other respectable papers.
We are now suffering from Boris Johnson and all his antics and activities, and it will get worse before it gets better. He appears to have become more reasonable in the last few days because he has had to surrender—what a terrible word—to the pressure and wisdom of the EU negotiators, who have pointed out to him the realities of the modern world. However, the Prime Minister,
“is not a consistent upholder of proper process at all. On the contrary, he is a shameless and serial abuser of it. This week, the damage being done to this country by this most untrustworthy of prime ministers is scattered as far as the eye can see”.
I agree with that and, again, I wish that those were my words but they appeared on 8 October in one of the more sensible papers that I have just mentioned. The next paragraph of that article continues:
“Only two weeks ago, do not forget, Mr Johnson suffered probably the most humiliating constitutional reprimand ever inflicted on a British prime minister, when the supreme court unanimously dismissed his five-week prorogation of parliament as unlawful. The judges found that his move breached the principle that a government must be held to account by a sovereign parliament. The embarrassing implication was that Mr Johnson misled the Queen”.
I do not know how others in this House felt about the State Opening on Monday. I thought it was depressing and sad. I felt very great sympathy for Her Majesty. I must not bring her into any political context at all, but she looked very sad and unsmiling. I felt sympathy for her too with this problem that we have in this country, which must now be dealt with properly and with proper action. The main things that we need to focus on again are the advantages of our membership of the European Union and what it really means.
I once again say to the House: what is the Brexiteers’ ridiculous, old-fashioned, 100 year-old obsession with getting back so-called national sovereignty? It is totally meaningless in the modern world, the world of interaction and interchange, with multinational, multiracial countries —as we are too, and becoming more interesting because of it—rather than the old-fashioned island we were even after the Second World War.
What is the intrinsic meaning of such old-fashioned sovereignty—150 years old, even—which no longer exists for any country, even the United States? I suppose that China might possibly think that it has that kind of sovereignty because of its huge growth and development in recent years. In reality, every country has to work with the others. The European Union provides that apparatus, machine and structure for giving rational interaction between member countries for the good of everybody. Sovereignty in the EU goes up as people make collective decisions within the system of sovereign countries working within integrated institutions that agree mainly through treaties and other things such as majority voting, with COREPER making decisions as well—all those things down below at the various stages. That is not losing national sovereignty and control of events in this country.
European Union legislation is only a minority of our total picture: most of our legislation is still national. The European issue was not really at all high on the barometers of this country until Cameron made the fatal mistake of becoming obsessed with it because he was terrified of UKIP—the Brexit Party more recently. That was his mistake. When he first became an MP, we had a long conversation—we were both Conservative MPs. He told me emphatically that any Tory leader must make sure that they did not get overly obsessed by the European issue. Look at the mistakes made by Cameron, May and—now, on a gigantic scale—Boris Johnson. We see the whole tragedy unfolding once again before our eyes.
There is only one solution. It is not even to say, “Let’s maybe accept some kind of gradualist deal”, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said—I sympathise with some of his arguments—but to say, “No, we resist this”, and see what the public say. The national march on 19 October will show a huge number of people who want to stay in the European Union. That is the only viable future for Britain.
It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, with whom I agree very much, as well as my noble friend Lady Quin, who made an outstanding intervention.
That great American philosopher, Neil Sedaka, used to say—indeed, sing:
“Breaking up is hard to do”.
My goodness, we have been exposed to that truth in the past three years. Debating the gracious Speech is a tradition that this House looks forward to. Whether one is in the Government or in opposition, aspects of the Government’s programme are normally worthy of serious consideration, if not agreement.
However, we have been presented this year, extraordinarily, with what has been called by some a political stunt, by others a fantasy wish list and, by me, the next scene in the Whitehall farce that British politics has become. While the Government may have been promoting this farce, we are all to blame for the bad acting in it, in a way. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, is right: there has been far more fury than focus in this Brexit debate over these past three years. That is coming from a committed remainer such as myself—or remainiac, as we have been called. We are seen to be sticking so closely to our red lines that the whole country is now beginning to see red. The nation’s dentists report that they have never known so many people to be grinding their teeth in their sleep.
As my noble friend Lady Quin said, we have had a draft Conservative manifesto put before us in a most elaborate and, I have to say, cynical fashion weeks before a probable general election—not usual, given the Government’s severe lack of a majority—outlining a programme of work that will not even get started, let alone completed and implemented.
Yes, of course, looking at the gracious Speech, it would be absurd not to want the UK to punch above its weight in global affairs, invest more in our Armed Forces, keep to our NATO commitments or honour the Armed Forces covenant. Yet, as other noble Lords have asked, how will all this investment and global activity be possible when the same Government are contemplating a no-deal Brexit that could, according to independent sources, knock more than 8%—or 6% under the Prime Minister’s deal—off our country’s gross domestic product, thus beckoning a recession? There is all this talk of investment when we are about to cut ourselves off from our largest world trade partner.
As my noble friend Lady Hayter said in her authoritative speech yesterday, the UK’s,
“relationship with our near neighbours, trading partners and close friends lies at the heart of our wider global defence, security, commercial and diplomatic relations”,—[Official Report, 15/10/19; col. 38.]
with the rest of the world. The world is looking askance at us and wondering if, as a country, we are having a spectacular breakdown. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, in an excellent speech yesterday, spoke about his uncomfortable conversation with an Australian taxi driver; we have all had those conversations, in Paris, Dublin, New York or Birmingham. If only, as the poet said, we could see ourselves as others see us.
The gracious Speech refers to,
“seizing the opportunities that arise from leaving the European Union”.
Will those opportunities, when they come to, say, farming, include the slaughter of livestock that cannot be exported in the event of no deal? Will they include the opportunity to remove ourselves and our future influence from European forums for vital research into science, medicine and technology, or the opportunity to see the possible end of our motor industry—I ask that as a former West Midlands MEP—or, perhaps, the opportunity no longer to share intelligence on much criminal and terrorist activity in Europe with our European partners? Of course, there is always the opportunity to mess up 20 years of peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland and a century of relations with our closest trading partner, the Republic of Ireland, which is at the moment staring at tens of thousands of job losses in the event of our no-deal Brexit. There may—as my noble friend Lady Quin said—be an opportunity to see the break-up of the United Kingdom.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for whom I have a great deal of respect, spoke yesterday about the “golden” trade opportunity of leaving the EU; he managed to say it with a straight face. This “golden” opportunity assumes that our trade with the world beyond the EU will quickly make up for our leaving. Yet, the ONS —the Office for National Statistics—tells a different story. It tells us that the EU accounts for 48% of goods exports from the UK, while goods imports from the EU are worth more than imports from the rest of the world combined. How long will that take to change?
This reminds me of a speech one Boris Johnson made to the Conservative Party conference in 2018 when he spoke about the fantastic trade opportunities soon to emerge between Peru—yes, Peru—and post-Brexit Britain. I do not know how much quinoa he expects us to eat per head of population, but because of geography —which even Boris Johnson cannot change—and because of the size of the country’s GDP and its capacity, Peru, for all that it is a wonderful country, will never be a major trading partner for us. Of course, his implication was that EU membership has corrupted our awareness of so many other exciting parts of the world. Yet here on our doorstep, we are deliberately turning our back on the maximum trade opportunities we could squeeze from our largest and nearest trading partner, the EU.
Deal or no deal, I cannot for the life of me understand what these so-called Brexit opportunities are. What I can see is a future of diminished opportunities and a poorer, less tolerant, less outward-looking country, where civilising regulation in the workplace, equality, consumer rights and the environment are sacrificed to a deregulation vision of the “Singapore on the Thames”, which my noble friend Lord Liddle referred to in his riveting speech yesterday. Perhaps it will be more like Armageddon-on-Sea. I see a future in which our grandchildren will not have the freedom their parents had to be British and European. Shame on us; this country and its young people deserve better. They deserve a confirmatory vote.
The last time I spoke on Brexit in this Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, whose patience has been much tried over the past few years, dismissed what I had to say by suggesting that I had taken too much sun during the Recess. I presume he was quoting Hamlet saying to Claudius that he is,
“too much i’ the sun”.
If the noble Lord can set out the sunlit upland opportunities of both a Brexit deal and a no-deal Brexit, I am willing to listen, but I cannot guarantee that I will be convinced.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Baroness will always remain in the sun, as far as this House is concerned.
International development is not listed in the title of this debate, but we have had some powerful speeches and it has of course cropped up from time to time. Our new Secretary of State led on it yesterday and our own noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, joined in. The Library briefing also made up for it. Incidentally, all cited the last Government’s record on girls’ education and climate change. When the noble Lord mentioned,
“our brave men and women”,—[Official Report, 15/10/19; col. 35.]
engaged in dangerous areas of the world, I know he was including the army of humanitarian workers in the NGO sector as well.
Like most of the Opposition, my noble friend Lord Butler and a string of splendid Tory rebels, including the noble Lords, Lord Jopling and Lord Cormack, I was all prepared to support a plan which set out a new relationship with the EU. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, was clear and right to remind us of the blurred distinction between the withdrawal agreement and the plan, which we have not seen. Where is it? At the last moment, the Prime Minister keeps putting on new emperor’s clothes to convince us that he has a plan, but we are still waiting. So how can we really comment today?
Some members of this Government are behaving like Little Englanders and not as part of a Government who regard the European Union as an equal partner to trade with in the future. Whether it is deliberate or not, they show an almost casual disregard for our combined history, mainly through two world wars but which goes back many centuries.
The empty chair issue is outrageous and does not recognise that, whatever the result, we still need to be present at the most critical EU meetings—the Foreign Affairs Council was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. It is a blinkered attitude and it is damaging to relationships that have been carefully built up over decades. My noble friend Lord Kinnoull has already made at least one strong complaint from the EU Committee, which he made again today. It is an attitude of mind in the present Cabinet that has to change and I do not see how our present Minister can answer it.
Today, however, I wish to talk about another third country and one of our most important allies over centuries. I was back in Delhi, in India, last month, and met a senior general serving with the UN. I asked him, rather angrily, why there was so little in the Indian press about Brexit. “You know”, he said calmly, “Brexit is not really of much interest here. Our young people have moved on from the UK. They are looking to America”. What a put-down. I felt humiliated but I knew he was right. Post-colonial India is not interested in our problems, unless we show that we are genuinely ready to rebuild that complicated relationship. My noble friend Lord Bilimoria keeps reminding us of this. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, said that countries such as India are not panting to get to know us. Lutyens’ Delhi is no longer fit for purpose and I hear that the parliament itself, the Lok Sabha, is out of date and, like this building, needs a complete refit. But will we be there? Are we still in contention for new architecture and other deals in India? We should be, because our image in India needs a lot of improvement and we have made technical advances that can be shared, especially with the younger generation.
During Brexit, we deserve to be ignored by young Indians, just as we have alienated young Britons. What are we doing for those young Indians and Nepalis who would like to learn more about the UK? Are visa and immigration rules now really more favourable to them? Here, I declare a voluntary interest in the British College in Kathmandu, which has direct links with two UK universities so that students can obtain British degrees without leaving Nepal—they still cannot afford to come to the UK.
I was encouraged to read the Foreign Affairs Committee report published earlier this summer, Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India Ties. It castigated the Government—I hope that the Minister has read it—for not developing stronger trade relations with India, including the promised but elusive FTA, and for restricting Indian students through crude immigration controls, while encouraging the Chinese. The Government’s response came back fairly vigorously in August, protesting that things were changing in both these areas. There is no doubt that the immigration message is getting across at last, and that some of the bad mistakes of the Cameron Government are being put right. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, mentioned, a country such as Belgium has more trade with us than India. India has somehow been downplayed by this Government, and not just in the universities. Will the Government make more effort to regenerate our relationship through more cultural exchanges and more dynamic forms of trade and aid?
When I first went to India in the 1960s, Noel Coward plays were still being offered and PG Wodehouse was on the curriculum—I would not be surprised if they were still there. Today, we and they have much more to offer and celebrate: archaeology, modern literature, museum collections, theatre and film. The Indian diaspora often takes a lead in this.
What about China? With Trump’s trade war with Beijing, the trouble in Hong Kong and other unsatisfied security and human rights concerns, there is a continual risk of rupture with China. Surely, therefore, it makes sense to rebuild our relations with that other Asian giant, which, while it may not have the economic muscle now, is one of the fastest-growing economies and must be destined to grow exponentially.
We know that Mr Modi is going to encourage the private sector and we should build on that. There will be human rights concerns about India too—notably the position of Muslims and other minorities, which we do mention in this House—but our shared democratic ideals will give us the strength to overcome those issues, if only we can get our act together.
I am pleased that some aid money—in line with the 0.7% target that we are very glad the Government are keeping to—is going to India’s infrastructure and communications. Without these, the very poorest and most isolated communities will suffer. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was in his seat just now. The Commonwealth Development Corporation, which he once led, is a useful bridge in this context, since it receives a huge proportion of the aid budget. It will, however, have to demonstrate that it can directly reach the poorest, and it knows that the Select Committees and the independent watchdog, ICAI, will be on its back if it does not. I hope, however, that the CDC and the Prosperity Fund programmes will not deter DfID from continuing to support non-governmental and faith programmes, which can demonstrate outreach to the very poorest. I have visited many of these programmes in the past and am concerned that the present climate among UK NGOs and their counterparts is unsteady, which means that some joint programmes may be at risk or unsustainable.
I compliment the Government on one particular scheme. The FCO—not DfID—is backing an extensive gender equality programme involving major textile companies in India. It is run by an Indian charity, Change Alliance, with backing from a UK NGO that has long experience of human rights and anti-slavery work in India. I am impressed that it is the FCO, and not DfID for once, behind this programme, because it has enormous potential and can be multiplied many times. Those are examples of good news.
Incidentally, this is in keeping with business practice in both countries. We should remember that in large Indian companies such as Tata and Shriram, philanthropy goes hand in hand with economic incentives. This surely provides an opportunity for UK companies that have similar moral, as well as financial, objectives.
Finally, the Foreign Affairs Committee also mentions India’s bid for permanent membership of the Security Council, which was strongly supported by the US and the UK when Barack Obama was President. What is the UK’s position now that both President and Prime Minister have changed and Kashmir has resurfaced as an issue in the Security Council? Do the Government still support the applications of India and all the so-called BRIC countries?
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. The noble Earl and I are usually in agreement, and he did not disappoint today. I pay tribute, too, to the other many fine contributions from noble Lords across the House. It is a privilege to take part in this debate.
This is obviously the international development slot and I intend to confine my remarks to it. The truth is that if we are to maintain Britain’s standing on the international stage and claw back the prestige that has already been jeopardised, we must use every lever in our arsenal, and there is none so powerful as the moral authority of our position as an undoubted leader in the humanitarian aid and development arena.
Curiously, or maybe ominously, the Tory manifesto masquerading as the gracious Speech is silent on dedicating 0.7% of GNI to the aid budget. We have heard some positive noises from the Government, but will the Minister give a sure undertaking today that this Government will match the Liberal Democrats’ unequivocal commitment to continue to dedicate 0.7% of GNI to the express purpose of alleviating poverty in the poorest countries of the world?
I wonder how many noble Lords took notice of the cover of the Economist just a few weeks ago. It showed a sort of stripy red, white and blue flag which colour-coded the average temperature for each year starting from the mid-1800s to the present day, as measured against the average temperature from 1971 to 2000. The colours range from deep blue, signifying very cold, to deep crimson, signifying very hot. It is, quite frankly, frightening to see the cumulative effect. Since the 2000s, we have been in red territory. Two out of the last three years have been deep crimson. The planet is warming at an accelerating rate. It is no wonder that people have taken to the streets. Like the suffragettes a century ago, they have right on their side.
Back in 1989, when I was doing my master’s in environmental technology at Imperial College, Gro Harlem Brundtland’s report, Our Common Future—I am sure that many noble Lords are familiar with it— was a sort of bible for those of us who wanted to make the world a better place. It recognised, even then, that environmental degradation had become a survival issue for developing nations and linked it directly to poverty and inequality.
Today, we see more starkly the catastrophic damage that extreme and unusual weather is wreaking across the world, and of course it is the poorest who always suffer the most. Their fragile existences are blown or washed away, often with devastating loss of life and livelihoods. Sometimes, the devastation comes with the slow but relentless drying out of the land that feeds them. Drought and famine stalk the Sahel, and recovery time between droughts is decreasing. All the while, the Amazon burns, destroying the lungs of the Earth that are vital carbon sinks and taking with them flora and fauna that have not even been catalogued yet. It is therefore right that the Liberal Democrats have undertaken not to ratify the Mercosur-EU free trade agreement until the Brazilian Government have put in place effective measures to protect forests and their indigenous peoples.
Here in the West, we shamelessly continue to support fossil fuel infrastructure in developing countries—infrastructure that will continue to pump out CO2 well after 2050 in contravention of the Paris agreement. Where is the sense and justice in that?
In June this year, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee’s report into UK Export Finance’s support for fossil fuel infrastructure in developing countries found that, over a five-year period, it spent £2.4 billion supporting fossil fuel projects in low and middle-income countries. Liberal Democrats will stop that and replace it with support for renewables. The argument for gas as a transition fuel is becoming less compelling by the day. The move in the West is to stop the use of gas, so why are we exporting production to developing countries? Let us face it: this infrastructure will soon be defunct, and stranded assets help no one.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in his opening remarks, mentioned both the International Development Infrastructure Commission and the Ayrton Fund for climate innovation. Turning first to the IDIC, I say at the outset that I welcome any honest initiative to encourage the private sector to invest in developing countries, because how else are we going to move from the billions to the trillions that are needed to achieve the sustainable development goals? These announcements are all well and good but often the devil is in the detail, so let us have the detail in the public domain. Can the Minister say when the website will be up? I have not been able to find it. Can he also say how the commission will deliver for the poorest people, which countries it will work in and, really importantly, how it will guard against corruption and make sure that tax receipts from the new enterprises stay in-country?
Turning to the Ayrton Fund, which I understand will be administered by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, I again ask the Minister: when can we expect the website? We need transparency to be sure that ODA money is not diverted from essential pro-poor programmes in developing countries. My concern is that it will be,
“poorly designed to deliver its primary purpose of addressing development challenges and advancing development for the poorest people and countries through research and innovation, and does not ensure its spending is a good use of UK aid”.
So said ICAI—the Independent Commission for Aid Impact—in its evaluation of the Newton Fund, a similar £735 million research and innovation partnership fund managed by BEIS.
It does not inspire confidence that the £1 billion Ayrton Fund is anything other than a ruse to keep aid money in the UK to make up for the dropping of EU funding for science and innovation. Let us face it: it should not cost £1 billion of UK aid money to research how to tackle climate change in developing countries—just stop backing new fossil-fuel infrastructure. There would be £2.4 billion straight away to fund the fight against climate change, going straight to the people who know what to do with it.
I am going to move off at a tangent to a different but equally important subject, as I want to say a few words about building longevity into DfID’s programmes. Too often, when I have visited projects in developing countries, the feedback has been, “That was a great programme while it lasted, but what next?” This “What next?” question is a vexing one. Would it not be sensible to design long-term sustainability into a programme as an integral and essential element at the outset, for all DfID-funded projects? I would welcome the Minister’s remarks on that.
To conclude, I will say a few words about the sustainable development goals. The SDGs are a transformational vision, one that recognises the interconnectedness of all life on Earth, from the Arctic to the Antarctic and every latitude in between. To quote Our Common Future:
“The environment does not exist as a sphere separate from human actions, ambitions, and needs”,
and we cannot “defend it in isolation”. Climate is a matter for the whole of government and cannot be shunted off to one government department. Can the Minister say what this Government will do to ensure coherence of policy across government departments to tackle the climate emergency? Will he also give an assurance that the autonomy of DfID will be safeguarded so that the UK’s much-respected expertise in the development arena is readily available in this crucial coming decade, in which progress to reach the SDGs must be accelerated? This will be of the utmost importance. In order to realise the SDGs, we will need leadership of the highest calibre, and it would be a wanton act if this Government were to sacrifice DfID on the altar of the right-wing press at this moment in time.
My Lords, given the hour, I shall be brief. No matter the outcome of the negotiations, which we await with keen anticipation, the complexity of political hoops still needs to be overcome. I hope that shortly we can move on, but it must be right to do so only when the time is right.
The UK is embarking into uncharted waters. Britain’s institutions have been, and will continue to be, tested to the limit. Regardless of the outcome, a new approach to the implementation of our foreign policy output is paramount. My attending the Speakers of Eurasian Countries’ Parliaments conference on Greater Eurasia in Kazakhstan last week, made up of 41 countries, was testament to that, given that I was the only person from the UK in attendance. That is wrong. Engagement is everything.
Our withdrawal from an interconnected world now demands to be reversed by a strategy of constant engagement. The role of parliaments must increase. I will encourage mechanisms in this new Session to enable more outward-looking mechanisms to assist us in embracing, defending or challenging our persona around the world. We have reconciled ourselves to the fact that Britain now needs to recalibrate its approach to one that fully accounts for a world of new realities if we are to neutralise the economic impact of Brexit.
However, let us gather fortitude in the knowledge that when the going gets tough, we need to, and can, get going. We will make a success of this. Decades will pass before the true results can be fully gauged. It is, after all, the gift of Governments of the day to tailor policy to suit the occasion.
Trade deals will have to be forged at breakneck speed, but not at the risk of cutting corners and forgetting what we stand for as a nation. I identify with the positive nature of the Minister’s opening remarks on trade but would counsel on the creation of partnership that it should be not just with Commonwealth members, for example, to which he referred, but internally in this country, recognising that the role of government is to create the environment in which our private sector-driven economy can thrive. Much more of a working relationship should be worked on between the public and private sectors in this country. I will press for the release of the trade commissioners’ assessments of the opportunities within their regions, together with their plans. I have attempted to do this on multiple occasions, with no success, but I really would encourage a degree of transparency—working together as a team with our civil servants to get this right in the national interest.
The concern is that the rules-based order as we know it is under threat in certain quarters. Threats to the nation’s security are no longer the sole domain of state players. Increased connectivity has exposed the vulnerabilities of critical national infrastructure. It should be remembered that, just a short while ago, China, France, the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom forged a programme.
In the years ahead, Britain has an important global role to play, with our influence being enhanced by the necessity of politics not just of confrontation but of constructive engagement. Our time will shortly be upon us, but we could do well to reflect also that a new set of nations are on the climb and that to be a global player in this interconnected world is to listen and to strive for positive engagement.
My Lords, this has been a most unusual Queen’s Speech and I fully agree on that with the noble Baroness, Lady Quin. Usually, a Queen’s Speech occurs after a general election or as a Government complete one annual or biennial cycle of work and prepare for the next. However, we now have a Queen’s Speech at a time of national crisis pretending that there is not a national crisis, as if it were intended that the rather scanty measures outlined here would now be taken forward. Nevertheless, yesterday and today we have debated foreign affairs, defence, international trade and international development, but arching over all is Brexit.
We had an interesting speech, as we would expect, from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, although he clearly felt less comfortable dealing with Brexit and trade and the international challenges that we face there. Of course, we would expect his colleague to do his very best to respond to the 43 speeches in the debate and to write to all of us with a very full response, answering fully any points that he had failed to pick up. Something tells me, however, that this might not quite pan out that way.
Let us look at this Queen’s Speech. Perhaps here I could recommend a new book by Ian McEwan, Cockroach. It introduces an interesting concept that he calls reversalism. There are parallels to Nineteen Eighty-Four and doublethink, with which noble Lords might be more familiar. The Queen’s Speech states that we are working towards a new partnership with the EU,
“based on free trade and friendly co-operation”.
Other noble Lords have made reference to that. However, we already have totally free trade with the EU through the customs union and the single market. Therefore, what we are aiming at—doublespeak-wise—is less free trade, as the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and others have pointed out.
Perhaps it means free trade with others. For most countries around the world, we have preferential arrangements by virtue of being in the EU, but maybe we want to improve these. No, largely we want to roll them over. How have we got on? The Government have just published where we have got to. Arrangement after arrangement was declared “not ready” for 31 October. This is just as well, when you look at some of the trumpeted new opportunities: Japan, 2.27% of UK trade; Canada, 1.41%. Those are the ones where there is something other than a zero to the left of the decimal point. There are others into which we have been putting lots of effort and resource: Albania, for example, which is 0.00% of UK trade, and so on.
I return to the Queen’s Speech. Its reference to “friendly co-operation” with the EU is presumably in keeping with the Downing Street memo, which states:
“We obviously won’t give any undertakings about co-operative behaviour, everything to do with ‘duty of sincere co-operation’ will be in the toilet”.
There is already evidence of that: pulling out of EU meetings and the policy of the empty chair. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, has spelled out quite how damaging that empty chair is. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what its benefits are. It is no wonder that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, noted that his party has behaved in a “shameful and stupid way”, particularly recently.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, bemoaned the “state … of my party” and spoke of an “extremist caucus” within it. That is not a reason to bow to it. The Queen’s Speech mentions “a sensible fiscal strategy”, yet the IFS says that we have become untethered as the Government seek to outspend Labour and at the same time damage our economy by leaving the EU.
The Queen’s Speech then says:
“My Government will bring forward measures to protect individuals, families and their homes”.
However, anyone who read the impact assessments of Brexit would see that those needing the most help—the poorest, in the poorest regions—would be hit the hardest by leaving the EU. Listen also to my noble friend Lady Miller on the situation of UK citizens in the rest of the EU, who do not know where they will stand on pensions, health or anything else, and of course those who are in our country.
What of the United Kingdom itself? Did the Minister hear Jonathan Powell speak this morning of a customs border in the Irish Sea as being a step towards a united Ireland? Did he note that Nicola Sturgeon, who previously has urged caution on her party, this weekend let it off the hook and demanded a referendum on Scottish independence in 2020? Did he hear the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, say yesterday that the time had come for Wales—not even mentioned in the Queen’s Speech—to plough its own independent furrow? Risks of tariffs of 48% on Welsh sheep farmers would kill that industry, which would even change the ancient landscape of Wales, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, would recognise.
Then the Speech says:
“My Government will be at the forefront of efforts to solve the most complex international security issues”.
Can the Minister explain therefore why his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary chose not to mention Syria or Turkey when he made a speech the other day at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly? Yes, he was asked about it in Q&A, but it was not in the speech he chose to deliver. At the forefront, was he?
Then we hear that the Government will,
“work alongside international partners to solve the most pressing global challenges”.
Noble Lords over the last two days have given very short shrift to that. For anybody who was not here yesterday afternoon, I recommend that they read the forensic speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Ricketts, on Britain’s role in the world. I hope that the Ministers have now read it. Both Front-Benchers were staring down at their phones throughout the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, noted that I got up just to check that as he spoke; she looked at me with a question in her eyes. The noble Lord, Lord Callanan, received an amusing thing on his phone that made him smile—it certainly was not what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, was saying.
The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, took apart the very notion that the UK still is playing a leading part in foreign affairs, let alone that it will in the future. He contrasted, for example, John Major’s role when the Kurdish area of northern Iraq was under attack—now the most settled area of that country—with what has happened just now in north-east Syria. On Syria, the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, stated that we do not have,
“any discernible impact at all”,—[Official Report, 15/10/19; col. 89.]
and my noble friend Lord Wallace said:
“A British foreign policy without European co-operation at its heart is like a polo: it has a hole in its centre”.—[Official Report, 15/10/19; col. 42.]
Those who have been here today will have heard the powerful speech of my noble friend Lord Campbell on how challenged NATO itself is today, despite global crises, including those in the Middle East, and how this is even now playing into the hands of Putin. There was the speech from my noble friend Lord Alderdice on what we must do to look at the character of conflict at all levels in the world today, and there was the most extraordinary contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, who said that she could not discern a UK strategy in foreign affairs and that we needed to rediscover our purpose—our moral spine.
The greatest crisis facing us today is surely climate change, as flagged up by my noble friend Lady Sheehan. The UK led in the EU in an ambitious approach to the Paris climate change agreement, which then had international effect. Had we the slightest ability to persuade the US not to pull out of that agreement? To what extent do we dare risk Trump’s ire—even when a poor boy is knocked down by an American, who then retreats to the United States? The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, points out that we do not even have an ambassador appointed in the US, and it is not as if they have to learn a new language.
What are we doing to defend human rights worldwide? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, takes his responsibility there seriously, but the Economist recently reported on an assessment of the UK at the UN. I quote:
“‘We’ve lost our marbles’, one diplomat is quoted as saying … Fearing defeat or retribution, Britain now champions fewer, less difficult causes. Wary of Chinese ire, it was loth to condemn Myanmar over the Rohingyas. It agonised over tabling a resolution on Yemen, fearing Saudi hostility”.
We can no longer count on automatic EU support. The UK, as everyone knows, failed to get a judge reappointed to the International Court of Justice in 2017, for the first time since we helped set it up. The Economist reports that there is,
“‘increasing nervousness’ about Britain’s chances of being re-elected to the Human Rights Council in 2021”.
Yet, as many noble Lords have said, there are many pressing human rights problems, including in Syria, which was raised by many noble Lords; Kashmir, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hussain and others; China; Hong Kong; and North Korea. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, as ever, flagged up some appalling challenges. The Queen’s Speech did not even mention sustainable development goals, which the world is supposed to be addressing. Why not?
Where are we on security and defence? They cropped up less often than our strategy on foreign affairs generally, but the Government were urged to do more by the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, indicated that we would be retrenching rather than expanding, and will no longer have the leverage of influence via the EU that we have had until now. Before 2016, Britain mobilised EU money to support the African Union mission in Somalia, but France has since lobbied for the EU to focus on the Sahel instead, which has forced Britain to contribute more itself.
The battle raging over our membership of the EU is about so much more than our economic strength or global influence. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry movingly recounted the story of his own family. His son married his German wife amid the ruins of Coventry Cathedral, with grandmothers there whose fathers had fought each other in the Second World War. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, made very clear, the EU has been an outstanding project for peace.
Right now, we are in a national crisis, with Brexit unresolved and no outcome considered to give the UK a better deal than we have now. We do not yet know what will emerge today or over the next few days, but it is essential that any deal is properly scrutinised and the full impact of leaving the EU assessed. At the moment, the focus is on the Northern Irish border, but it seems that the plan generally is to diverge further from the EU, with an even harder Brexit than Mrs May proposed—as laid out by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay.
The Government’s figures suggest the cost could be up to £49 billion a year, threatening jobs and public services. If, as seems to be the case, the Government are aiming for a low-regulation regime, access to our biggest market will be even more limited. The Government have been fearful all along of letting any information get out. They are right; the real impact of what they are doing would be revealed. Now is the time that it must be analysed and then—as has been said by my noble friends Lord Wrigglesworth and Lord Taverne, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others—any deal must be put to the people in a vote with the option to remain in the EU. After that, we can have a proper Queen’s Speech and move forwards.
My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I want to open briefly on Brexit. I cannot do more than repeat the words of Boris Johnson to the 1922 Committee an hour ago when he said:
“We are close to the summit … but it is still shrouded in mist”.
That is exactly where we are today. I hope that we will be able to have proper scrutiny of any proposed deal and that this House will have a full opportunity to scrutinise it properly. I do not really want to add much to the excellent introduction to this debate by my noble friend Lady Hayter and, like many other noble Lords, I feel very strongly that in the end it is the people who should have the final say on whether to remain or to leave with the best possible deal. By the way, I do not accept the rationale that a deregulated economy is one that will build success. We have had strong guarantees on consumer rights and workers’ rights, and it is really important that this country is able to see what the future holds in terms of those important issues.
I want to pick up a couple of points, especially the point made yesterday by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry in his excellent contribution and the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her contribution today. This is not simply about relationships with countries and Governments; it is very much about relationships with peoples. That is how we will be successful in our future relationships with many countries. Unfortunately, I recently had to spend a couple of weeks in hospital. Three of the nurses who treated me in the special care unit were from European countries. While we might give them guarantees, all three said that they felt rejected by this country. We must address that issue. I would also note that my husband is Spanish and that, for the first time in 22 years in this country, after the referendum he faced racist abuse while working in a shop: “Go back home”, he was told. I hope that the Minister will address the contribution made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. Whatever happens in terms of Brexit or remain, we have to focus on building trust with the people of Europe. It is vital that we do so.
This debate is about the gracious Speech and the issues of foreign policy, international development, international trade and defence. In the gracious Speech, the Government have said that they will be at the forefront of solving the “most complex international security issues” and “pressing global challenges”. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, argued, it is difficult to see the evidence for that. Where have we been in stopping the horrors unfolding in northern Syria, as the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Hannay, reminded us, or ending the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen? The Government have sat idly by as the President of the US wrecks the world’s efforts to tackle climate change and nuclear proliferation.
As we have heard in the debate, a successful foreign policy requires development, defence and diplomacy going together. As noble Lords have highlighted, including my noble friend Lord West, successive Conservative Prime Ministers since 2010 have cut our defence capability, undermining our ability to keep to our international commitments and obligations. We needed to see in the Gracious Speech the demonstration of a joined-up, whole-government approach. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, argued yesterday, the UK’s foreign policy is to be used to promote our values and not only our commercial interests, then I would have expected a greater focus on human rights and a review of the Government’s regime for arms exports.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said yesterday, we have an FCO condemning human rights abuses and a Department for International Trade supporting closer relationships—constant mixed messages. This is not joined-up government. In June, the Court of Appeal ruled British arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful. Ministers were found to have illegally approved arms sales without proper assessment of the risk this would cause to civilians. In September, the Government admitted that the UK had breached the court order three times by unlawfully issuing export licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia. I hope the Minister will give a clear assurance that there will be no more breaches.
At the Tory conference, Dominic Raab announced plans for a new Magnitsky law to place visa bans and asset freezes on those individuals deemed responsible for serious human rights abuses, including torture. It was this House that delivered amendments to the then Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, introducing these powers. I hope the Minister can tell us what Dominic Raab has in mind to ensure that those responsible for the grossest violations of human rights—as my noble friend Lord Pendry highlighted—face the consequences of their actions.
As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, put it, with Trump’s election and Brexit, we have seen the twin pillars of the post-war strategy completely undermined. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, our response should be to strengthen our commitment to the United Nations while acknowledging its shortcomings, particularly in the light of repeated abuses of the veto power by certain members of the UN Security Council.
Many noble Lords mentioned the role of the Commonwealth, and I certainly recognise its importance. It is a family of nations that, through its charter, provides the means to promote the values of democracy, transparency, the rule of law and human rights. The Minister the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, referred to our role as chair-in-office, but where are we on the commitments we made at the end of CHOGM? Despite some progress, we still have Commonwealth countries where LGBT people face not only discrimination and anti-gay laws but increased violence. I hope that, in the Minister’s response, we can have greater detail as to how we are supporting efforts to ensure the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
If the Government were serious about Britain’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable planet, free from the fear of hunger and poverty, then I would have expected a clear focus in the gracious Speech on the United Nations 2030 agenda, building a unified approach to deliver the sustainable development goals and to ensure that we leave nobody behind. The Government could have used the gracious Speech to signal a new approach to the SDGs by creating a new policy unit in No. 10 dedicated to them, with a Cabinet Minister responsible for co-ordinating across Whitehall.
There are various moments during the coming year when DfID and our Government can accelerate progress on tackling global poverty. I take particular interest in the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth summit. Here, I have to declare an interest as chair of the APPG on Nutrition for Growth. Malnutrition drives ill health and undermines the effectiveness of health systems. It prevents children, particularly girls, from meeting their educational and economic potential. In addition, food systems are a major driver of climate change and are extremely sensitive to climate shocks. DfID has taken some great steps in all of these areas, but in order to unlock the full benefits of DfID’s support for health, education, climate and economic development, nutrition must be a priority. I therefore ask the Minister to see that DfID delivers on its remaining 2013 Nutrition for Growth commitments and takes full advantage of the Tokyo summit in 2020.
After President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris agreement, I welcomed the commitment in the 2017 gracious Speech for Britain to be in the lead in creating a sustainable planet. I hope that the Minister will give us details on how we strengthen work with our allies, particularly in the EU, on delivering the climate change agreement. Loss and damage from climate disaster is already having a severe impact on vulnerable countries and diminishing their capacity to develop. Poorer countries have felt the impacts of climate change first and worst, yet they have done the least to cause it. Climate change has mostly been caused by rich, developed, industrialised countries that have developed their economies while burning fossil fuels.
On our own contribution, according to the Committee on Climate Change, the UK is way off target to meet its fourth carbon budget in 2023-27 and its fifth carbon budget in 2028-32. Last year, the committee set out 25 headline policy actions for the year ahead. Twelve months later, only one has been delivered in full, and 10 of the actions have not even shown partial progress.
International trade was a key theme over the past two days. I had hoped to see in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech clear proposals to tighten the rules governing corporate responsibility and accountability for abuses in the global supply chain. They were not there. On global trade agreements, there are opportunities, but principles must govern them. The most important is a pro-poor and pro-development policy. In the Trade Bill, we demanded in this House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, reminded us, the maintenance of high social and environmental standards in trade agreements post Brexit to guarantee continuing access to the EU market.
Sadly, the Government have a poor record when it comes to respecting parliamentary sovereignty. This House —certainly this side of the House—demands provisions for proper parliamentary scrutiny of all proposed trade deals and treaty obligations in the future. We must be involved and the people must have a say.
I want to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because he is absolutely right. We cannot just have words; we need clear action. In Manchester, the Foreign Secretary said 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 hoped to see specific proposals on how we would achieve this. I hope that the Minster, in winding up the debate, will tell us what they are.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be closing this debate following Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, which set out the programme of legislation put forward by this Government. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who is restored to full health and with a new beard. He is back enjoying his place on the Front Bench again and we are pleased to see him. He has lost none of his customary wit and influence on the legislation.
The Speech sets out a legislative agenda that seeks to protect our people, promote our prosperity and project our influence on the world stage. I am particularly grateful to noble Lords for their considered and thoughtful contributions made over the course of two days of debate. I will do my utmost to respond to as many points as possible, but I apologise in advance if I do not have time to get through everybody’s contributions.
I will commence, as so many others did, with Brexit and my own department—as expected, it was covered by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Wrigglesworth and Lord Wigley, my noble friends Lord Ridley and Lord Flight, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. The Government’s priority has always been, and remains, to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 October, with or without a deal, and without any further pointless delay. Brexit provides us with a range of new opportunities, including the ability to take back control of our money, borders and laws, including on agriculture and fishing, as well as to set out our own independent trade policy for the first time in nearly half a century. I will say more on that later. To seize those opportunities—and here I agree, as I so often do, with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and his excellent speech—we must get Brexit done. My noble friend Lord Jopling did not sound so convinced, but it remains the Government’s focus to get a deal this week at the European Council and to leave on 31 October in an orderly and friendly way.
The Government have had fruitful and constructive discussions with the European Commission over the last few days. I have been here in the House but I am told that, as I speak, the technical talks are continuing with the Prime Minister’s Brexit Sherpa, David Frost, and the UK negotiating team. Their talks last night were constructive and the teams worked late into the night. They met again this morning and are continuing discussions today. I agree that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry reminded us, it is important that throughout this process we must work constructively together and seek to nurture our relationships, both in Europe and further afield.
I will address the points made on EU meetings by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the noble Earls, Lord Kinnoull and Lord Sandwich. As I informed the House last week, it is now the policy of the Government that UK officials and Ministers will attend EU meetings only where the UK has a significant national interest in the outcome of discussions. This will enable officials to better focus their talents on our immediate national priorities—our top priority being work on preparations for Brexit. This decision is not intended in any way to frustrate the functioning of the EU. The UK’s vote is delegated in a way that does not obstruct the ongoing business of the remaining 27 EU members. I look forward to meeting the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull—I think we have a date in the diary for next week—and no doubt he will want to discuss the matter further.
The noble Baroness, Lady Quin, asked about the implementation period. We are still awaiting the final agreement but I remind her that the existing withdrawal agreement sets December 2020 as the end of the implementation period, and for good reason: it is the end of the EU’s existing multiannual financial framework. There is an option in there to extend. I am not aware that that will change, but let us wait and see what the final agreement says.
Putting together the last two points that the noble Lord has made, if we do leave and there is an implementation period that lasts until the end of next year, does it really make sense that we will be applying in this country laws which are written in rooms in Brussels in which there is no Briton present? How do these two points fit together? If there was nothing happening in that room that could be relevant to us, I can see an argument for us not being there. But if until the end of next year we will be applying rules and regulations written in the European Union, surely we ought to go on having a say in how they are written.
My response to the noble Lord is that we are. He will know of the slow decision-making process of the European Union. Most of the new directives and regulations that would be implemented during the implementation period are already being discussed, or indeed have been decided, so we are taking part in discussions on those matters.
My Lords, we have not discussed the future political declaration in much detail. There is a very large agenda to be negotiated once, as the Minister said, we have got Brexit done. Do the Government have an estimate of how long that will take? Are they confident that they really can negotiate and agree all those matters and get the treaty through during the implementation period, or are we talking about another two or three years before this is completed?
It remains our belief that we can get it concluded during the implementation period. We believe that the discussions on all the different areas can proceed in parallel, but of course we are awaiting the implementation of the new European Commission, which has now been delayed. We will wait to see how it wants to structure the negotiations from its point of view but of course, we are getting ahead of ourselves. We do not yet have a deal or an implementation period, but certainly from our point of view preparations in my department are well advanced for the co-ordination and construction of those negotiations.
A number of noble Lords—the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, the noble Lords, Lord Ricketts and Lord Anderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, who will always remain in the sun as far as I am concerned—raised what is probably this House’s favourite subject: the second people’s vote. I see that it has now morphed into a confirmatory referendum or confirmatory vote. No doubt the focus group testing of “second people’s vote” did not work too well. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, brilliantly pointed out, it is somewhat Orwellian to hold a people’s vote specifically to reverse the original vote of the people. If that does not work, we will no doubt get another name for it from the campaigners next week. However, I shall go no further on that subject other than to say that this Government will not support another referendum, whatever they call it.
On the subject of no deal, as I said—
The noble Lord speaks extraordinarily dismissively of having two referendums. Is that not a little insulting to the Government of Ireland and the Government of Denmark, who have done precisely that in various years? Might he not be a little more polite about that?
I listened carefully to the noble Lord make that argument during his contribution, in which—he will correct me if I am wrong—he effectively said, “Well, every five years we might have a general election. It’s been only three years since the referendum. Therefore, people might have an opportunity to change their mind”. The problem with that argument is that, when we have a general election, a new Government are installed and by the following general election people have the opportunity to see how they have performed. We have not yet implemented the results of the original referendum, so he might want to come back to the subject when we have left the European Union and people have seen how successful this country can be outside the EU.
Although our focus remains on securing a deal, the Government are ready to leave without a deal, if necessary, on 31 October. Last week we published a Brexit—
Can my noble friend explain how the Government reconcile that with the law of the land as it is at the moment? He has repeatedly told me that the Government will obey the law. There is a law that says that that should not, and cannot, happen. How does he answer that point?
Actually, the law does not say that that cannot happen. At the risk of returning to a subject that we have covered extensively, a decision on whether we leave on 31 October is now not a matter for UK law; it is a subject of European law. That is one of the great ironies of this process. However, I repeat what I have said to the noble Lord on many occasions: we will of course abide by the law. If he wants to look at the record, he will see that my right honourable friend the Brexit Secretary, appearing in front of the Brexit Select Committee this morning, said something very similar.
While our focus remains on securing a deal, we are still ready to leave without one on 31 October. Last week, we published the Brexit readiness report, which sets out the preparations that the Government have undertaken to ensure that the UK is prepared for 31 October. As I set out on that occasion, when repeating the Statement made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the other place, the report includes the steps that businesses and citizens should take, including to bring about the smooth flow of goods.
We have announced spending of more than £8.3 billion for Brexit planning. We have signed or secured continuity trade agreements with non-EU countries, as well as continuity agreements across many key sectors including aviation and civil nuclear power. We have launched a public information campaign—Get Ready for Brexit—to advise everyone of the clear actions that they should take to prepare for leaving with no deal. Of course, as always, we have given particular focus to citizens’ rights, which was raised by a number of noble Lords including the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Our message to EU citizens in the UK is clear, and I will repeat it: you are our family, our friends, our colleagues; we value your contributions to this country and we want you to stay. We are now working to gain reciprocal assurances from other European countries towards UK nationals living in their countries.
I highlight to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that the UK pushed hard in the negotiations for UK nationals living in the EU and for EU citizens in the UK to retain or have the right to stand and vote in local elections. However, the EU did not want to include these rights in the withdrawal agreement, so we are to forced to pursue—and are actively pursuing—bilateral arrangements with individual member states. We have written to every other member state seeking such an agreement. I am pleased that we have so far reached such agreements with Spain, Portugal and Luxembourg. We are in discussions with a number of others.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about support and funding in devolved Administrations. The Government have provided them with over £300 million since 2017 to prepare for Brexit. We continue to involve them in ongoing discussions on funding, including under the provisions of Project Kingfisher. Last week, I was in Edinburgh with my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for discussions with the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Civil Service. These covered ongoing negotiations and no-deal planning, in which the devolved Administrations are extensively involved.
I move on to trade. For the first time in nearly 50 years, the UK will have an independent trade policy. We will be able to set our own tariffs, take our own decisions on regulatory issues and create new and ambitious trade relationships around the world. My noble friend Lord Lilley—who spoke with great experience—touched on this, and I agree with many of the points that he made.
I am grateful to my noble friend for saying that. I take this opportunity to put the record straight and apologise to the House. I said that no Commission had ever resigned en masse. Actually, one did. I said that only Madame Cresson resigned. Actually, most of them were not reappointed, but she was the only one found guilty by the European Court of Justice. I wanted to correct that because I do not like misleading the House.
I wondered about that during the debate, but it was slightly before my time as an MEP.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, asked whether amendments to the Trade Bill will be retained in the new Bill. The Government welcomed the contribution of your Lordships during its debates on the Trade Bill in the last Session—it says here. No decisions have yet been taken as to the provisions to be included in the legislative package. However, I did hear the noble Baroness’s suggestion about noble Lords’ previous amendments on standards. I refer her to the Secretary of State for International Trade’s statement before the International Trade Committee today. It is the Government’s policy to maintain standards and enhance them where appropriate. We will bring forward legislation that will ensure that we can deliver certainty to business. This will include continuity—for after we leave the EU—of existing trade agreements that the UK currently participates in as a member of the EU, as well as establishing an independent Trade Remedies Authority.
Of course, this trade legislation does not deal with future free trade agreements, and the Government’s position regarding scrutiny of these agreements is outlined in the February 2019 Command Paper. We have not stood still in forging new trade relationships as we stand on the brink of a new era in our trading history, where we are finally in control of how we trade with countries around the world. We have established working groups and high-level dialogues, launched four public consultations on our future trade agreements and are using a range of other instruments, such as joint trade reviews, with a range of key trading partners including the United States, Australia, China, the Gulf Cooperation Council, India, Japan and New Zealand.
I highlight to the noble Baronesses, Lady Tonge and Lady Finlay, that we will not pursue trade to the exclusion of human rights; these can and should be complementary. The UK has a strong history of protecting human rights and promoting our values globally.
Many noble Lords used their great experience and knowledge of international affairs in their contributions on global Britain, including the noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Cormack, Lord Hylton, Lord Jopling, Lord Kerr, Lord Liddle, Lord Ricketts, Lord Sterling, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Cox and Lady Tonge. As my noble friend Lord Ahmad set out in his opening speech, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is preparing for our departure from the EU by strengthening our international relationships, reaffirming our commitment to the rules-based international system and championing our values abroad.
The Government want an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU. The details of this partnership, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, pointed out, are a matter for negotiations after Brexit. The Government are preparing for that negotiation, as I said in response to an intervention earlier, and we will work with a wide range of partners to ensure a successful outcome for UK businesses and citizens.
We are also proceeding with strengthening our partnerships internationally. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, raised doubts about our special relationship with the United States. It is, of course, true that we may not always agree—current examples of that being the Iran deal and the Paris agreement. However, we continue to do more together than any other two countries. Our unparalleled intelligence sharing has undoubtedly saved many lives. Beyond Brexit, we are determined to maintain a close partnership with both the EU and the US. In our view, this is a win-win and not a zero-sum game.
That is a matter way above my pay grade. When I next see the Prime Minister, I will pass on the noble Lord’s comments about the importance he attaches to this subject.
As my noble friend Lord Ahmad said, we are also determined to increase our co-operation with our Commonwealth partners. Some noble Lords seemed doubtful about this, so let me reassure them that Commonwealth member states including India, which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in particular, mentioned, are increasingly engaged and cognisant of what we can all achieve together .
As we leave the EU, we remain absolutely committed to playing a leading role in international security and to sustaining and strengthening vital alliances. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, who just intervened, rightly said that NATO is the most successful alliance in history. It has kept us safe for 70 years and it remains at the heart of UK defence policy. The UK is NATO’s leading European ally, our defence budget is the largest in Europe and the second largest overall. We are one of only a handful of allies that spends more than 2% on defence, and 20% of that on major equipment; it is a shame that the noble Lord, Lord West, is not here to remind us of the ship programme.
The noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, commented on the challenges facing NATO. The Government welcome the suggestion of a debate on the alliance and its future. Ahead of the leaders’ meeting in December, we will give this due consideration together with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, of a debate on defence matters. We will, of course, do that in consultation with the usual channels.
We remain committed to the rule of law internationally, to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the best way to prevent a nuclear Iran, to a clear, defensive and proportionate response to Russia and—as the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Pendry, raised—to de-escalation in Hong Kong. A number of noble Lords raised this subject. The Foreign Secretary has made our concerns clear to both the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, and the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, and will continue to do so. He has also spoken to a wide range of counterparts on this issue. We raised the situation in Hong Kong at the G7 and the UN. The way forward must be through meaningful dialogue with all communities that addresses the concerns of the people of Hong Kong.
The noble Lord might recall that, in my remarks, I referred to a letter that was signed by more than 170 parliamentarians of both Houses and sent to the Foreign Secretary, suggesting an international, Commonwealth-led initiative to give an insurance policy to the citizens of Hong Kong, based on second places of residence and second citizenship. If he cannot give a response on that now, will he undertake that a proper response, signed by the Foreign Secretary, will be available to the signatories of that letter before our debate next Thursday?
I know that my noble friend Lord Ahmad has taken close note of that. I am sure that he will ensure that the matter is addressed and that an appropriate reply is received.
The noble Lords, Lord Hylton, Lord Hannay and Lord Alton, spoke of the need for a peaceful solution to the current situation in northern Syria. Along with the US and others, we have made clear our opposition to the unilateral Turkish military incursion in north-east Syria. The offensive has seriously undermined the stability and security of the region.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Collins, Lord Taverne and Lord Kerr, the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and my noble friend Lord Randall mentioned climate change. We are proud of the world-leading action that the UK is taking as the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely by 2050. We as a nation should be proud of that major contribution, which will be taken forward under cross-party initiatives.
Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, mentioned the global girls’ education campaign, Leave No Girl Behind, which promotes 12 years of quality education for all girls. The campaign aims to lead by example to get girls learning, build international political commitment and boost global investment in girls’ education. At this year’s United Nations General Assembly, the Prime Minister announced a further £515 million to get help to more than 12 million children, over half of them girls, and get them into school, where they belong.
The noble Lord, Lord Hussain, raised the issue of Kashmir. We have expressed our concern over the current situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and the importance of lifting the restrictions currently being imposed. Our view remains that all matters should be addressed bilaterally between India and Pakistan, as per the Simla Agreement.
On the subject of Indian students, raised by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, 2019 saw a significant rise in the number of Indian students studying in the UK. I am pleased to tell him that, according to ONS figures, the number increased by 40% from 2018 to 2019. The number of students studying in the UK has doubled over three years.
We continue to support India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council—
My Lords, the Minister is repeating some figures that have been used again and again in this House and are completely worthless because the rise in the number of Indian students follows a drop of more than 50% in the previous years. If he does the arithmetic, he will discover that it does not mean very much.
I take the noble Lord’s point. However, we changed the visa regime and students are now being allowed to stay at the end of their study. We think that that has contributed to the rise in the number of students. We are proud of our world-class education system and hope that the number of Indian students coming will continue to increase.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the sustainable development goals. In June this year, the UK published its first voluntary national review of progress towards them—a comprehensive and credible report covering all 17 SDGs. It highlights some of the wide range of actions we are taking to support the delivery of the goals both domestically and internationally, with a focus on the domestic.
The noble Lord also raised the important subject of the Nutrition for Growth summit in Tokyo. We have been a global leader on nutrition since hosting the first Nutrition for Growth summit in 2013. Since 2015, the UK Department for International Development has reached 60.3 million people with nutrition services, and we currently have nutrition-related programmes operating in more than 33 countries. The UK Government are working closely with the Government of Japan to ensure that the next Nutrition for Growth summit in 2020 secures meaningful and transformational commitments from Governments, donor agencies, businesses and civil society.
I have been on my feet probably for too long. This has been a wide-ranging and thought-provoking debate, with nearly 50 speakers. We have touched on many aspects of this Government’s priorities. We have made clear our vision for a global Britain. We will be a good friend and ally to our European partners, an ambitious and outward-looking trading power and a leading voice on the world stage.
I hesitate to come in so late, but I have been listening very carefully to the Minister’s reply. Can he confirm—because I do not think I heard it—that in negotiations the Government will undertake to ensure that intellectual property rights are considered; and that where any implementation of any arrangements requires implementation through the devolved nations, they will have been involved proactively in negotiations rather than being informed later on?
The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, approves of that comment. This is something that we are in consultation with the devolved Administrations about. At our meeting last week, we discussed exactly how we would structure the negotiations, the involvement of the devolved Administrations, and how we can ensure that they get the opportunity to feed into negotiating mandates and the policy that negotiators will pursue. They are cognisant of that, as indeed are we.
Ahead of this week’s European Council, I emphasise that this Government’s priority has always been to honour the result of the 2016 referendum and secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on 31 October without any further, pointless delay. I thank noble Lords for their attention, and beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 7.28 pm.