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House of Lords Hansard
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Continuity Agreement: Kingdom of Morocco
09 March 2020
Volume 802

Motion to Regret

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That this House regrets that, in agreeing a continuity agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Morocco, laid before the House on 20 December 2019, Her Majesty’s Government failed to consult adequately with the people of Western Sahara; and calls on the Government to ensure a trade agreement conforms to international law in relation to the people of Western Sahara.

Special attention drawn to the treaty by the European Union Committee, 4th Report

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My Lords, I shall speak about the UK-Morocco association agreement. I also intend to make some remarks about the underlying issue here: Parliament’s continuing inability to scrutinise UK trade deals in a meaningful way. As your Lordships’ House will be aware, although there will be no direct parliamentary involvement in the UK, a UK-EU trade deal needs the approval of some 38 individual EU national parliaments and regional assemblies before it can come into force; and if we are able to negotiate a free trade deal with the USA, it will come into force only if it is approved by Congress—both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The UK-Morocco Association Agreement is a good example of why the current situation is, to my mind, untenable.

The UK-Morocco association agreement was laid before Parliament on 20 December 2019 and, as it is a treaty, it is subject to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. However, it is a negative instrument, so the only meaningful debate possible is the “nuclear option” of a vote to strike down the instrument in either of the Houses of Parliament within the statutory period, which has now passed—a piece of Gilbertian nonsense if ever there was one. The UK-Morocco association agreement is one of the Government’s continuity agreements designed to replace EU trade treaties after Brexit. It replaces the EU-Morocco association agreement, as well as the accompanying EU-Morocco dispute settlement mechanism agreement. The Lords European Union Committee drew the agreement to the special attention of the House, with particular reference to Western Sahara as, in the view of the committee, the inclusion of that territory

“raises important questions, especially about how the UK should balance its commitment to Western Sahara’s ‘undetermined’ status.”

Western Sahara is categorised as a non-self-governing territory under chapter XI of the Charter of the United Nations. A 1975 International Court of Justice ruling recognised Western Sahara’s right to self-determination and, in 1991, the UN launched a mission to hold a referendum for the Sahrawi people to decide whether it should be an independent country or become part of Morocco. That referendum has still not been held. The EU signed a trade treaty with Morocco in 2012 which covered Western Sahara. The European Court of Justice has twice ruled, in 2016 and 2018, that Western Sahara is a “separate and distinct” territory from Morocco under international law, and that no agreement with Morocco can be applied to the territory of Western Sahara without the consent of the Sahrawi people.

The internationally recognised legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people has rejected every proposal that the EU’s trade agreement with Morocco should apply to them. A coalition of 93 Sahrawi civil society groups also stated that the people of Western Sahara reject the inclusion of their territory in any agreement concluded by Morocco. The EU amended the wording relating to Western Sahara in its agreement, so that it applies only to products from Western Sahara that are

“subject to controls by customs authorities of Morocco”,

and the UK agreement notably includes this phrase. However, the EU Committee report draws the attention of your Lordships’ House to the fact that the Sahrawi national liberation movement, the Polisario Front, does not consider the consultation which preceded this compromise to have been sufficient. A letter signed by the general secretaries of the major trade unions and NGOs, including the Trade Justice Movement, War on Want, Global Justice Now and Traidcraft Exchange, was sent to the Government in January this year. The Swedish Government have also made a formal objection.

Last year, the High Court ruled that the territory of Western Sahara is separate from Morocco under international law and that the UK Government are therefore acting unlawfully by failing to distinguish between Morocco and Western Sahara. From my argument so far, I hope it is clear that your Lordships’ House owes our EU Committee a considerable debt of gratitude for its work in flagging up this issue. There is, without doubt, a sensitive political decision hidden within this seemingly simple rollover agreement, but the committee’s report raises wider questions of how this House and Parliament should deal with ratification of treaties. If we do nothing, surely we are complicit in undermining UN-led efforts to achieve a political solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. Yet if we raise this issue, as the committee suggests, we are constitutionally unable to do anything, short of the nuclear option of voting down the treaty as a whole. Am I alone in thinking that this situation is unsatisfactory? If we do feel that, what can we do?

The only statement we have on record about how the Government intend to involve Parliament in future trade deals is the Command Paper that was produced by the Government during the passage of the Trade Bill that was lost just before the last general election. The Command Paper was a rather unsubtle attempt to head off support for an amendment to the Bill, which this House subsequently inserted by a large majority, which proposed a system under which committees of both Houses would take on the responsibility for approving mandates for trade agreements, reviewing progress, and making recommendations to Parliament for the approval of trade deals—a system in which the Commons would of course have the determining voice. Despite the fact that virtually every other major country in the world welcomes the involvement of its parliament in approving treaties and trade deals, why do this Government not wish to concede any authority for trade deals to Parliament? The Command Paper says all the right things, such as:

“the Government is clear that we must have a transparent and inclusive future trade policy that delivers for all parts of the United Kingdom”,

that

“there must be a strong and effective role for Parliament in scrutinising our trade policy and free trade agreements”,

and:

“We recognise that the best free trade agreements will be those that draw on the extensive expertise and experience of both the House of Commons and House of Lords and have its full support.”

But, at the same time, the Government remain of the view that making, amending and withdrawing from treaties are functions of the Executive, which are carried out in exercise of the royal prerogative. I thought we took the view that the royal prerogative power should never trump the powers of Parliament, particularly after the Supreme Court ruling this summer.

Trade negotiations are no longer just a matter of the import and export of physical goods. They are about societal rights, environmental rights, good regulation, the protection of standards, the provision of healthcare and the securing of investment protection. There are trade-offs to be made between all these issues, which means that key societal values are at risk. All treaties dilute our sovereignty to some extent.

As I have argued today in relation to Western Sahara, trade agreements can also engage with geopolitical policies and human rights; these are surely matters in which parliaments have a right to be directly involved. The public are entitled to know what the Government are doing in their name. Ironically, with STAG and sub-groups, it could be argued that the Government are going out of their way to engage with the general public and using that engagement to avoid the fact that they are deliberately side-lining parliamentary scrutiny. Surely, we in Parliament are duty bound to have a role in scrutinising what the Government intend to do, and there will be considerable added value in ensuring that both Houses are fully engaged with trade negotiations and scrutinising what the Executive are doing.

In truth, there is very little difference between us. The Government say that they want to draw on the expertise of Parliament, via a close relationship with specific parliamentary committees in each House. We say the same. But we would like Parliament to operate a modern approach to the approval of trade agreements, with proper roles identified for the Executive and for Parliament, and a system which is appropriate for our representative democratic system.

The trade Bill is due to be introduced—or perhaps I should say reintroduced—shortly, so we can run these arguments again. It would, however, be much better if the Government asked the International Trade Committee in the Commons to lead on this matter, in concert with the soon-to-be formed treaties committee here in the Lords, and for these committees to be responsible for advising their respective Houses on the three-legged stool of mandating, reporting and recommending the approval of trade treaties.

As the case of the UK-Morocco association agreement shows, there is a role for the parliamentary scrutiny of trade treaties which can add value. Just about every other Government in the world involve their parliament; why is the “mother of parliaments” being left on the sidelines? I beg to move.

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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for tabling this regret Motion. He has raised some very important issues about the process for considering trade agreements with which we would concur.

I say at the outset that I have huge respect for the people of Morocco. Theirs is a wonderful country to visit and it feels very much a part of Europe. But with that international standing comes a responsibility to respect international legal judgments and to respect and promote democracy.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the occupation of the Western Sahara by Morocco. I want to pay tribute to the work of the Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham, who was a Back-Bench Liberal, and then Liberal Democrat, Peer for over 20 years until 1997, and who campaigned strongly to promote the interests of the Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara, many of whom became refugees.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, in 1975 an International Court of Justice ruling recognised Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. In 1991, the United Nations promised a referendum for the people in Western Sahara to decide whether they wished to be an independent country or whether they preferred to become part of Morocco. That referendum—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, pointed out—has never taken place.

Further, in its World Report 2020, Human Rights Watch stated:

“Moroccan authorities systematically prevent gatherings in the Western Sahara supporting Sahrawi self-determination, obstruct the work of some local human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including by blocking their legal registration”.

Could the Minister tell the House what discussions Her Majesty’s Government have had with Morocco regarding safeguarding the capacity of NGOs to work effectively in the Western Sahara?

The Court of Justice of the EU has ruled that Moroccan territorial jurisdiction does not extend to the territory of Western Sahara or to the territorial sea adjacent to Western Sahara. The consequence of that ruling seems to be that Defra could not lawfully grant fishing quotas to British fishing vessels in waters off Western Sahara. What consideration have Her Majesty’s Government given to this ruling? Will there be robust guarantees that all trade to and from Western Sahara is taking place only with the full consent of the people of the Western Sahara? The Minister will understand that the natural resources of Western Sahara are important in this respect. He will be aware that some 15% to 20% of Moroccan exports can be traced back to Western Sahara.

In the current EU-Morocco fisheries agreement, registered vessels, including some from the UK, are allowed to fish extensively off the coast of Western Sahara. For these access rights, I understand that the Moroccan Government receive a €30 million contribution over a four-year period. This is in clear violation of a 2002 UN opinion on the matter, which stated that any such activities must benefit the people of Western Sahara. Could the Minister tell the House what benefit the people of Western Sahara receive from these access rights?

The European Court of Justice, in a judgment of 21 December 2016, determined that the 2012 agreement between the EU and Morocco concerning reciprocal liberalisation measures on agricultural products and fishery products provided no legal basis for including Western Sahara within its territorial scope. This decision was confirmed by the UK High Court in April 2019, yet the UK Government are now seeking to roll over the EU-Morocco association agreement into UK legislation.

I hope the Minister will agree that the UK Government should now enforce the judgment of the High Court so that no goods should be imported into the UK from the Western Sahara under the presumption that they are from Morocco. Only once the people of Western Sahara have expressed their right to self-determination will the UK be able to trade legally in goods produced in the Western Sahara. The UK Government should now use that High Court judgment as a basis to support the UN supervised process of self-determination. I hope the Minister will agree.

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My Lords, I admired the stoicism of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, as he sat waiting for his eagerly awaited speech in your Lordships’ Chamber for such a long period, while what I can describe only as a lot of wet fish filibustering went on during the preceding proceedings. Then, lo and behold, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, gets up and gives us another barrel of wet fish off the coast of Morocco.

All that said, while congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, on his interesting speech, I have decided to make myself his Official Opposition, as noble Lords can see in this crowded Chamber tonight. That is, I regret this regret Motion very much indeed, first, because of its lack of procedural timeliness and, secondly, in case perceived messages coming from your Lordships’ House during this debate harm Anglo-Moroccan relations and the perception of other countries on the north African-Mediterranean littoral which are vital to our security, such as Algeria and Tunisia.

On my first point, Labour did not, I think, at any stage in either place try to force a proper debate or find a way to get the issue raised during the objection period for this excellent UK-Morocco association agreement, which ended on 11 February. The simple facts on the ground are that the agreement, under our procedures, is now deemed to be ratified. The debate on the regret Motion is therefore no more than a bit of interesting virtue signalling and has absolutely no effect on what has happened with this excellent agreement. We must recognise the facts on the ground: the Moroccan Government are in charge of the Western Sahara and have been since the hopelessly failed decolonisation by the Spanish of the area in decades past. What a muddle the Spanish made of that whole process.

It is not just this House that wishes to have a trade association with Morocco; the EU—our neighbours and friends—has also canonised, recognised and re-recognised the reality on the ground in its recent agreements with Morocco. This is despite the fact that the Spanish—I should not have got myself going on the Spanish—still occupy two areas. I am not quite certain what they are properly described as. Enclaves? Exclaves? They are Spanish city states on the north African coast, on Moroccan territory, which Morocco wants back—and quite rightly too. They are called Ceuta and Melilla. The last of those two enclaves/exclaves/city states on the north African shore still has a statue of Generalissimo Franco standing. There is not one of those in Spain, but it certainly signifies the Spanish attitude and pinpoints the strangeness of their attitude to British Gibraltar in comparison.

Morocco says that the disputed territory belongs to it. I have had no connection at all on this with either the Moroccan Government or any special interest groups. The Polisario problem, which is real and which I do not dispute, will take decades, if not generations, to sort out. In the meantime, I do not wish to see our growing bilateral trade with Morocco suffer. It is fast approaching £3 billion a year in visibles, which is a very substantial amount of money, while in invisibles—I work in the City, although I have no interest to declare in this debate—we have excellent and growing links between the bourse in Casablanca, which is growing fast in north African terms, and the London Stock Exchange, which I wish to see flourish. I do not wish to put anything in the way of this growth. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, does not really wish to either.

Secondly, I regard Morocco and its neighbours, Algeria and Tunisia, to be not just important economic partners but also very important strategic partners in defeating terrorism along the north African littoral. Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are, in their different ways, bastions against terrorism, whatever criticisms people wish to throw against their Governments. They should be much valued for that.

In a slightly wider context, in greater north Africa, south of the Western Sahara, there is almost a land border between Morocco and Mali, and there is a land border between Algeria and Mali. In the United Kingdom —I know we share similar concerns across the Chamber about security—we are thinking about sending troops and further help into Mali itself. We need to make quite certain that no messages come out of our debate tonight, from anyone, which cast any doubt on the determination of Her Majesty’s Government, and Her Majesty’s Opposition, to try to do all we can to help defeat terrorist threats along the Moroccan borders and across the whole of the Mediterranean littoral.

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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Stevenson on getting the opportunity to debate this, and I particularly congratulate him on his initiative in making a very interesting constitutional suggestion. A lot of colleagues will probably have seen the Order Paper and thought that this subject was slightly technical and esoteric, which may be why the Chamber is not in danger of bursting its seams, but my noble friend has raised a very general point, which is that we are bad in this country at ratifying treaties. It is an important legislative role in other countries and, of course, the United States does it with great thoroughness—with such thoroughness that the executive branch tries to avoid any ratification process starting in the first place. Nevertheless, that is democracy, and I think there is a great lack of democracy here, where the bureaucrats negotiate these agreements and there is no opportunity at all to call them to account, or for Parliament to express a view on the content of these agreements. So I thought it was a very good suggestion, and I know my noble friend Lord Stevenson is a serious and determined colleague. When he makes a suggestion, it is not just intended to be a nine-day wonder. I am sure that he will continue with this and take it further, and he will certainly have all the support I can personally give him.

The agreement with Morocco carries forward our market access which we currently have as members of the European Union—I say “currently have”, but that means only long as the transition period lasts. I have to make a confession: during the debates on Brexit over the past four years—we had an awful lot of debates in the media, in this House and in public meetings, and I have taken part in all three types of debate—I quite often attacked the Government, and indeed tried to mock the Government. I said how utterly absurd it was for the Government to say that they wanted to sign more free trade agreements with more countries around the world and to go ahead with Brexit, which involved us overnight losing our access to about 45 different trade agreements that the EU already has with these countries. In actual fact, I must congratulate the Government on having, in this particular case—and one or two others, such as with Jordan—managed to agree in principle to carry forward the existing EU agreement without the discussion breaking, as I suspected it would, into completely new fields, with new demands for new concessions that would make this a very long-winded process. So it is only fair to say that I congratulate them on making that progress.

However, I very much retain my view that it would be a great mistake to open negotiations on new free trade agreements with countries where we are not just carrying forward an EU agreement and with those with which we do not currently have a national free trade agreement before we have concluded the negotiations with the European Union or the United States. When I say “before we have concluded”, I mean before we have either concluded them or have determined that there is no purpose in pursuing that particular subject with those countries for the foreseeable future—which of course is another possible outcome.

My reason for saying that is that, whereas in an agreement like this, which carries forward the terms of the existing EU-Morocco agreement, there is no change in the competitive position of exporters from the United States or the European Union—they pay duties at the present time, if there are duties and tariffs, and they will continue to pay them, and they are not a party to this particular deal, so their position is unchanged—if you started to negotiate a new agreement with another country where there are tariffs and quotas, we may find ourselves in a position where perhaps we can negotiate a position in which British exporters will not be paying them while, presumably, exporters from other countries will. British exporters would then gain an advantage in that particular market vis-à-vis exporters from those other two countries—looking at the EU as a country. The EU and the US might be less than pleased, although of course the amounts involved may be tiny. I think that Morocco accounts for less than 0.5% of our exports, but this could happen on several occasions in several different places. It is possible that this could be a considerable factor in the negotiations we might have with the EU and the US.

Goodness knows, those negotiations are going to be complicated enough, and there is no way that the Government will achieve their aim of concluding them by the end of this year. Given that, importing this new complication would be completely crazy and really would be very foolish because, after all, the EU and the US account for three-quarters of our exports. We would be threatening their position, or at least making life more difficult in the context of those important negotiations, for the interests of our exports to countries that represent perhaps less than 1% of our trade. That would not make any sense. I therefore retain my view about the tactics of this, despite recognising that the Government have actually succeeded in carrying forward the EU agreements in these cases in a way that I did not anticipate. I hope the Minister will agree with that apologia on my part.

Before I finish, I have another question to ask. It is clear that on the last occasion, the Foreign Office did not anticipate that the Polisario Front would wish to litigate in order to try to stop the entering into force of an EU-Morocco trade agreement. It has done so and it has succeeded, so it has held up the whole process and we will see what happens. I am told in the briefing which has been produced for members of the European Union Committee:

“We note that FCO officials have told us that they are confident the UK Agreement is consistent with EU law and the Government’s position on the status of Western Sahara.”

It may be that they are confident and that they are right. Last time, they were confident, but they were not right; they were wrong. My question to the Minister therefore is: what confidence does he have, and why does he have it, that on this occasion the FCO officials have got it right and that we will not go back to where we started and find ourselves entering into further litigation?

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My Lords, I would very much like to hear the Minister explain the legal basis on which this matter rests, in view of the issues that have been raised in relation to Western Sahara. The issues raised are quite important, but at the moment I do not see exactly what the answer in which the Foreign Office will be confident is. I am willing to agree that I may be utterly wrong and that the noble Lord may be able to convince us all.

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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, made an important general point in his opening remarks. I want to take this opportunity to turn to the subject in hand. My only regret was not following through on a visit when I was in the region, particularly as the opportunity was presented to meet all the parties at the table.

The situation in Western Sahara rumbles on with all its complexities. There are suggestions that Western Sahara is a proxy arena for others. The Sahrawis are living in appalling conditions in Tindouf, with the Polisario Front criminalising any ability to leave the camps in favour of a return to their homeland. Various states are now opening consulates either in or in close proximity to Laâyoune and Dakhla. The UK High Court has implemented the ECJ ruling which recognises the self-determination rights of the Sahrawi people, this following that the EU partnership with Morocco should not include fishery grounds off the coast of Western Sahara. Mauritania has professed neutrality, while Spain’s Foreign Minister, Arancha Gonzáles, has reaffirmed the exclusivity of the UN-led political process. Additionally, the inadvertent words of the then UN SG in March 2016 that Western Sahara was “occupied” were inopportune and may haunt reconciliation, particularly as the issue evokes less emotion for Algerians than Moroccans as Algeria has no claim to Western Sahara.

President Bouteflika was considered too set in his inflexible ways, doing, some suggested, the army’s and deep state’s bidding. There has been hope and indeed expectation in certain quarters that, with the advent of President Tebboune’s quest for a “new Algeria”, change to his country’s foreign policy stance towards Morocco could be afoot. It is interesting to note that the former SG of the National Liberation Front party has recently intimated that the borders be opened, but went surprisingly further by advocating that “Sahara is Moroccan”. This may become relevant in that he might be being primed for high office, given that his coming from the same tribe as the President could have connotations in the preparation of the internal landscape, with a plan of strategy on the chessboard.

Across the way, I have been encouraged by King Mohammed’s indications of reconciliation through dialogue leading to the normalisation and opening of borders. His country rejoining the African Union will certainly have garnered momentum for this. It is to nobody’s benefit that the borders remain closed. Solution can be found when all sides adopt compromise, although attention might be given to the role played by Morocco subsequent to Spain’s withdrawal from the region.

Infrastructure investment, provision of basic services and economic and social development projects, which often go unrecognised, have improved the lot in many quarters.

We are not here to debate the benefits that can stem from tariff exemptions that can come only when Western Sahara’s status is determined. That discussion is in a different context, and so for another day. It is inconceivable that the UK’s position can differ from that of the UN and ECJ ruling. While ongoing aspects remain for consideration, this continuity ratification as presented is necessary.

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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, and in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for rightly raising issues of scrutiny and debate. It is right that the Government—as we have said repeatedly on the issue of free trade agreements—must come to Parliament, stand accountable to Parliament and justify any agreement that has taken place.

I welcome the opportunity for an informed discussion of the UK-Morocco association agreement and the Government’s wider work to secure continuity of our trading relationships with countries that have EU trade agreements, which is important to UK citizens and businesses. I noted that despite his scepticism on certain issues to do with rolling over agreements, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, acknowledged that the Government had surprised him in achieving our set aim. I hope that sense of surprise will continue as we move forward on negotiating free trade agreements.

I also thank—as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, did—the House of Lords EU Committee and its officials for its detailed examination of our continuity agreements, as set out in its reports scrutinising international agreements. They play a vital role.

I will cover the points that noble Lords have raised, but there are three principal points: the trade continuity programme, the UK position on Western Sahara—an issue raised by several noble Lords—and how the UK-Morocco association agreement relates to both. I am also mindful that my noble and learned friend is sitting on the Benches right behind me. He asked a very pointed question. When it comes in a succinct form from a former Lord Chancellor, you try to make sure you have all your facts in front of you. I hope I will be able to satisfy him in this regard, if not totally.

Before addressing specific questions on the UK- Morocco agreement, I will first address noble Lords’ interest in the progress of the wider trade continuity programme as a whole. The cross-Whitehall programme led by DIT seeks to replicate the efforts of the EU trade agreements to provide continuity once these agreements cease to apply to the United Kingdom at the end of the transition period. The Government decided on a mandate of continuity because it was the right approach, providing businesses with certainty; many noble Lords raised the issue of certainty. We felt—rightly, I believe—that this provides businesses with certainty and honours the UK’s obligations while still an EU member state, when the programme started.

Under the withdrawal agreement, current EU trade agreements can continue to apply to the UK for the duration of the transition period. By the time we left the EU on 31 January 2020, the UK had successfully concluded and signed agreements with 48 countries, accounting for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018. We continue to work with partner countries to secure further continuity agreements. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that we will ensure that Parliament is well informed of this programme of work, laying a report for each agreement to detail our approach to delivering continuity. Where there are significant changes to trade provisions, we have explained these in those very reports.

Across the board, where changes have been made, these are of a technical nature to ensure the operability of the new agreement in a bilateral context. The agreement with Morocco is no exception to that. As the noble Lord acknowledged, the parliamentary report for the Morocco agreement was laid in Parliament on 20 December 2019 and the parliamentary scrutiny period ended on 11 February 2020.

The noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Davies, raised issues of scrutiny of FTAs. I assure noble Lords once again that the Government are committed to transparency and appropriate scrutiny of our trade policy. We will continue to ensure that Parliament and the public are given an opportunity to provide input as we take forward our independent trade policy. As I said, once negotiations are under way, the Government will continue to keep the public and Parliament informed via regular updates. There is a specific process of scrutiny that stands within the parliamentary committees, which have done an excellent job in this respect.

A number of noble Lords rightly raised the UK position on Western Sahara. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, mentioned, we continue to regard Western Sahara’s status as undetermined. We have consistently supported United Nations efforts to achieve a pragmatic and enduring political solution that provides for self-determination of its people. We are clear that this agreement is without prejudice to that position. We welcomed and voted in favour of the extension of the UN peacekeeping mandate in Western Sahara for a further 12 months beyond 30 October. As Minister for the United Nations, I took special interest in that. It is for the parties to the dispute to agree a resolution on the final status of Western Sahara. We strongly encourage co-operation to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay rightly raised the basis of the new bilateral UK-Morocco association agreement. I assure him that this agreement replicates the effects of the existing EU association agreement. In line with the mandate of continuity, it incorporates the full text of the existing EU agreement—modified where necessary to ensure operability in a bilateral context, as I said earlier. I assure noble Lords that the new agreement provides, among other trade benefits, tariff-free, two-way trade in industrial products, with selective liberalisation of trade in agricultural, agri-food and fisheries products.

My noble friend Lord Patten made an important point about ensuring that, as we move forward in a post-Brexit Britain, we demonstrate to our friends that we are looking to increase bilateral trade and strengthen trading relationships. The new agreement covers £2.4 billion in trade of goods and services between the UK and Morocco, and benefits major UK sectors such as the automotive and aerospace industries. The agreement also provides a platform to deepen our bilateral trade and investment relationship going forward. It sends a clear message to businesses, consumers and investors in both countries that our aim is to secure continuity in existing trade arrangements, so that trade continues to flow freely between our two kingdoms.

The noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Shipley, among others, specifically raised the point of Western Sahara. I assure noble Lords that the territorial application of the agreement, which we have in front of us, mirrors the EU-Morocco association agreement, as most recently amended in this respect. I assure noble Lords: it does not apply to the territory of Western Sahara. The UK agreement, once in force, will extend some trade preferences to certain products originating in Western Sahara, in the same way as the EU association agreement. I assure my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay that it will be in line with the European Court of Justice ruling in 2016.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, and my noble friend Lord Patten mentioned the issue of the ongoing litigation raised by the Polisario Front in the European Court of Justice. I am sure noble Lords accept that it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on the outcome, at this stage, because it is ongoing litigation. However, we are satisfied that the EU-Morocco association agreement, and therefore the bilateral UK-Morocco equivalent, accords with international law.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, raised the issue of consultations. Certainly there were consultations in advance of the amended EU agreement. We believe that the rollover of this agreement encompasses the same consultation.

Specific questions were raised on the UK’s policy on Western Sahara. To reiterate the point I made earlier: the UK considers the final status of Western Sahara as yet to be determined. The UK, as I said earlier, will consistently support the UN Secretary-General’s efforts in this respect. UN Resolution 2494 is clear that there is a need for realistic, practicable and enduring political solutions based on compromise. A solution must be just, lasting and mutually acceptable, and provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. I assure noble Lords that the UK supports UN-led efforts to reach a lasting solution in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked about NGOs and the broader issue of human rights. I assure noble Lords, more broadly on trade agreements and on this specific issue, that as the United Kingdom’s Minister for Human Rights, I am looking closely at this. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that human rights form part of our bilateral dialogue with Morocco, and we raise concerns with the Moroccan authorities as we deem appropriate. We have made this case regularly in our discussions with Morocco. We have consistently supported language in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions which, as I said earlier, encourages the parties to continue their efforts to enhance the promotion and protection of human rights in Western Sahara. The protection of NGOs, which the noble Lord talked about, very much forms part of our dialogue.

Notwithstanding my noble friend Lord Patten’s remarks that we have had a great dose of fish on the menu this evening in your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the issue of fisheries. The UK has not transitioned the EU-Morocco fisheries equivalent, but the UK-Morocco agreement covers trade in fisheries and not access to fishing rights.

The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, asked specifically about Western Sahara being under occupation, and I think I have already covered that in my remarks.

My noble friend Lord Patten rightly talked about the importance of other trade agreements across north Africa; he mentioned both Tunisia and Algeria. I can inform my noble friend that the Tunisian agreement was signed on 4 October 2019, and we are in discussions with Algeria.

To conclude, the UK-Morocco association agreement replicates the effects of the EU-Morocco association agreement. We believe that it provides certainty and confidence to business and consumers, enabling them to continue to benefit from preferential terms. The UK-Morocco association agreement does not prejudice our policy towards Western Sahara. Its status remains undetermined, and we support the United Nations efforts towards a peaceful resolution to this dispute. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to encourage parties to engage with the United Nations political process, and we support the overall goal of a just, lasting and mutually acceptable solution, which will—I stress this point—allow for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

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My Lords, I thank all who participated in this wide-ranging debate. I make no apology for that: we will inevitably have to confront the question of how Parliament and the Executive can get closer together and come to a proper arrangement for the review, scrutiny and justification of treaties. But this was never going to be the occasion on which that was settled, and I understand that the Minister was unwilling to get too deeply into the bigger issue. Riding towards us is the relaunched trade Bill, under which we will have the opportunity to do so, so I will hold back any further comments until that time.

A lot of ground was covered in the individual contributions. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Davies for his support. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, gave an interesting insight into the detailed politics of the region—not something I know that much about, but I have certainly learned a little in preparing for this debate—and their knowledge and experience have taken us further.

As my noble friend Lord Davies wanted us to say, it is good that there is an outcome to the rolling forward of the agreement. It is good that the Government have done that, and we should recognise that. Having said that, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, made a very good point: there is a much bigger context, including terrorism, of which this is only a part. However, as the Minister mentioned, the relationship we have through the trade agreement will help to cement things in that part of the world, and we should welcome that as well.

Nothing the Minister said led me to think that there will be a change in how the Government are hoping to roll forward other trade agreements. The Executive will rely on the royal prerogative and Parliament will be excluded, even though there will be a lot of consultation. Consultation is good, but it is no substitute—we will come back to that.

We are left with the narrow question of whether, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, the Government have drilled down and got to the bottom of the legal niceties of the point. These were raised in paragraph 20 of the document published by the European Union Committee.

I do not expect the Government to respond to this, but it seems to me that the only point the Government are holding on to is that they have rolled forward the existing arrangements made by the EU on Morocco, including on Western Sahara, and recognised in that the issues around the future of the area, support for the United Nations and the need to ensure that there is an eventual settlement to the benefit of the people there. I do not think that this quite does the trick.

The noble and learned Lord asked: are the Government sure that they have got the legal advice right in doing this? The report said that the Government have committed to

“consider carefully the implications of any future ruling from the CJEU.”

I understand that presumably that will not exist beyond 31 December 1920—December 2020; I must get the date right, although the Minister is nodding, so I am sure he has picked me up correctly anyway.

There is rather a strange point that I marked out when I first read the report. It said:

“They also explained that conducting any further consultation on the 2019 EU amendment”—

this was the one that reflected the worries of the Western Sahara region about the treatment of its goods in relation to being part of Morocco when it felt it should not be—

“was deemed inconsistent with the UK’s mandate to ensure only technical replication of EU agreements while still an EU Member State.”

I do not think there is time for further exploration of that but I would be grateful if the Minister might consider writing to us and to those participating in the debate to give us a better understanding of exactly where they get their confidence on this point.

If it is true that there is an emerging jurisprudence that suggests that the Western Sahara area is not part of Morocco and has independent rights and applications, and as no specific consultation was undertaken by the UK Government before achieving this agreement, it seems to me that we are underprepared for the reaction that may come back at us. However, particularly after so many fish, this is not the time of night to discuss that and I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, if he wishes to write. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

House adjourned at 9 pm.