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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 18th April 2018.

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Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 5:30 pm, 18th April 2018

My Lords, in proposing Amendment 6, I would like to remind noble Lords that in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, moved an important amendment, Amendment 12, on foreign policy and security. International development was mentioned only in passing, so I wish to make up for that today and I am grateful for the support of colleagues who have experience of development. I intervened only briefly in Committee and I promise not to take up more than a few moments of valuable time on Report.

International aid used to be an also-ran subject in Parliament, but the Blair Government and the Cameron-Clegg coalition changed all of that, although some are still restless about the 0.7% target. Foreign policy, security, trade and aid are all closely joined up these days and the aid programme now involves several government departments.

I believe that this country has enjoyed a long and beneficial period of EU membership, during which we have developed close ties with several European aid agencies, the most prominent of which are the European Development Fund, ECHO, the humanitarian fund, and the Commission’s own aid instrument. We have been paying considerable amounts into these funds and we have worked alongside them in our own aid programmes around the world. DfID has a significant EU department which manages these relationships over here, in Europe and in the many countries that benefit. As you would expect, these aid programmes are monitored by committees of both Houses such as our own EU Committee, which I hope we shall retain, as well as by watchdogs like the National Audit Office and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact. How are we going to continue to be associated with these EU programmes after Brexit?

I know that during the passage of the Bill there have been continuous hopes of association with all kinds of things European, but the Government are full of empty reassurances. That is why we have to keep reminding Ministers that they are important, even in a withdrawal Bill. In the words of the amendment, we need,

“continued coordination of international aid and development policy”.

I am sorry for those Peers with distinguished foreign policy backgrounds who spoke on Amendment 12 because they got next to nothing back from the Front Bench except honeyed words. For instance, my old friend the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, wanted to ensure that the UK is a full participant in the formulation of foreign and security policies, while others like my noble friend Lord Hannay warned that it might already be too late for the Government to set up any alternative framework for our future foreign and security policy. Why should we wait so long? The main excuse offered is that we would be showing our cards too early. Do we have to wait for the very final deal or beyond that to transition, or even no deal? How can Monsieur Barnier be expected to negotiate when there is nothing but air to negotiate with, and why should our sovereign Parliament have to wait in the meantime?

If you read the Lancaster House speech made in January 2017 or the partnership paper from last September Foreign Policy, Defence and Development, you might believe that the Prime Minister was already satisfied with our relationship with the EU and our present association with many EU institutions—and perhaps she is. From the vote we have just had, I believe that so are the majority of us here in Parliament. Yet she still delays, and despite all the talk of partnership, what you do not get is any sense that this fine association is going to continue. Instead, you get woolly phrases such as,

The UK would like to offer a future relationship that is deeper than any current third country partnership”.

I would like to think that the Commission is already making contingency plans for some kind of association agreement between the UK and the EU development agencies. However, the Minister may well say that it has enough trouble already in rethinking its own aid programmes, which is true. However, sitting at the edge of a table is not as good as sitting at the table, especially after you have somewhat ostentatiously kicked back the chair and given up your place.

Moreover, what about the people engaged on the ground—the aid workers and managers of aid programmes; what can they look forward to? Many aid agencies in this country which are receiving grants from various EU budgets are unable to plan ahead. What is being done to help them through this transition, because they cannot expect DflD to pick up the tab at short notice?

Another area is development education, a subject about which we have already heard a lot during the course of the Bill. A wide variety of NGOs are drawing on EU central funding to interpret development issues abroad through events and exhibitions about Africa and subjects in Asia. The Bond organisation has done a lot of work on future collaboration of civil society organisations in the EU which may help Her Majesty’s Government with their plans.

In conclusion, as I said at Second Reading, EU member states form the world’s largest source of development funding and, taken together, they make a huge contribution to poverty reduction and help to defeat epidemics. They are currently interlocked through the various aid organisations and, despite the UK’s prominent position in the EU during these two years of pre-Brexit meandering, we still have no idea how the structures can be dismantled and replaced. I beg to move.