“Mr Speaker, before I begin, I am sure that the whole House will join me in remembering that it is 80 years ago today that this country entered the Second World War. Although it is of course true that the horror of that conflict surpasses all modern controversies, it is also true that this country still stands, as it did then, for democracy, the rule of law, and the fight against racial and religious hatred. I know that this House is united in defending those values here and around the world.
With permission, I will make a statement about the G7 summit in Biarritz. As I speak, vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest are on fire, free trade is in retreat, 130 million girls worldwide are not in education and our oceans are being foully polluted, so it has never been more important for a global Britain to use our voice as an agent of change and progress. It is only by exerting our influence at a global level, only by sticking up for our values and beliefs, that we can create the international context for Britain to prosper and to ensure that this is the greatest place on earth to live, work, start a family, open a business, trade and invest. So, at the G7, I made the case for free trade as an engine of prosperity and progress that has lifted billions out of poverty. Yet the reality is that trade as a share of the world economy has been stagnant for the last decade.
In the leaders’ declaration, the G7 unanimously endorsed ‘open and fair world trade’; we are determined to reform the World Trade Organization and to ‘simplify regulatory barriers’. Britain is on the verge of taking back control of our trade policy and restoring our independent seat in the WTO for the first time in 46 years. We could achieve even more in our trade with the United States by using the powers that we will regain to do a comprehensive free trade deal—a deal in which President Trump and I have agreed that the NHS will not be on the table. Unlike some in this House, I consider the United States a natural ally and a force for good in the world, and I recoil from the visceral, juvenile anti-Americanism that would do such profound damage to this country’s interests.
I know that the House will share my concern about the gravity of the situation in Hong Kong. As a nation with a deep belief in freedom of expression and assembly, we stand firm in upholding Hong Kong’s way of life, guaranteed by ‘one country, two systems’. I welcome the unwavering support of my G7 counterparts on this vital matter.
The UK is at the forefront of a new campaign to end the tragic loss of species around the world. We cannot bequeath a planet where the Sumatran tiger, the African elephant and entire ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef, live in the shadow of destruction. So, I am delighted that the G7 accepted UK proposals for more ambitious targets to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity. Britain is responsible for 2.6 million square miles of ocean—the fifth-largest maritime estate in the world. Our Blue Belt programme will ensure that marine protected areas encompass 1.5 million square miles and, at the G7, I announced a further £7 million for this vital effort. I also announced another £10 million to protect the rainforest in Brazil, where 41,000 fires have raged so far this year—more than twice as many as in the same period in 2018. Britain is bidding to host the UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference next year. If we succeed, we shall focus on solutions that harness the power of nature, including reforestation.
There is one measure that would address all those issues—and if it thinks it is a waste of money, that tells you all you need to know about the modern Labour Party. That is ensuring that every girl in the world receives the education that is her right. That would not only curb infant mortality, eradicate illiteracy and reduce population pressures; it would strike a blow for morality and justice. In Biarritz the G7 therefore endorsed the UK’s campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world. I announced £90 million of new funding so that 600,000 children in countries torn by conflict, where girls are twice as likely as boys to be out of the classroom, get the chance to go to school.
As well as my G7 colleagues, I was delighted to meet other leaders, including President Ramaphosa of South Africa, Prime Minister Modi of India and Prime Minister Morrison of Australia, who heroically masked his emotions in the face of the historic innings of Ben Stokes. In every conversation I was struck by the enthusiasm of my colleagues to strengthen their relations with this country, whether on trade, security and defence or science and technology.
I was also able to use the G7 to follow up my conversations in Berlin and Paris with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron on Brexit, as well with Prime Minister Conte, Prime Minister Sánchez and President Tusk. I have since spoken to Commission President Juncker and many other leaders. I was able to make clear to them all that everyone in this Government wants a deal—we do—but it is a reality that the House of Commons rejected the current withdrawal agreement three times. That is why I wrote to President Tusk on
We have been clear that we will need changes to the political declaration to clarify that our future relationship with the EU will be based on a free trade agreement and giving us full control over our regulations, our trade and our foreign and defence policy. This clarity has brought benefits. Far from jeopardising negotiations, it is making them more straightforward. I believe that in the last few weeks, the chances of a deal have risen. This week we are intensifying the pace of meetings in Brussels. Our European friends can see that we want an agreement, and they are beginning to reflect that reality in their response.
President Macron said—Mr Speaker, they do not want to hear the words of our counterparts across the channel; they do not want to hear about any progress we might be making; I think they are wilfully closing their ears to the reality that our friends and partners are increasingly seeing the possibilities of a deal. President Macron of France said that if there are things which, as part of what was negotiated by Michel Barnier, can be adapted and are in keeping with the two objectives I have just mentioned—stability in Ireland, which we all support, and the integrity of the single market—we should identify them in the coming months. Is that the negative spirit of the Opposition Benches? No, it is not.
Speaking in Berlin of possible alternatives to the backstop, Chancellor Merkel of Germany said: ‘Once we see and say this could be a possible outcome—this could be a possible arrangement—this backstop is a sort of placeholder which is no longer necessary’. No longer necessary—that is a positive spirit we are not, I am afraid, hearing echoed on the other side of the House today.
I believe there are indeed solutions. There are practical arrangements that we can find which avoid anyone putting infrastructure on the Irish border. These have been well worked out and involve measures such as trusted trader schemes, transit provisions, frontier zones, reduced bureaucracy for small and local traders, and many others. In particular we recognise that, for reasons of geography and economics, agri-food is increasingly managed on a common basis across the island of Ireland. We are ready to find ways forward that recognise this reality, provided they clearly enjoy the consent of all parties and institutions with an interest. We will be discussing all this with the EU shortly, and I will be discussing it with the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, when I see him in Dublin on Monday.
It is simply wrong to say we are not making progress. There is a lot to do in the coming days, but things are moving. A major reason for that is that everyone can see this Government are utterly determined to leave the EU on
My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made all necessary funds available. We have already reached agreements with our partners to roll over deals worth around £89 billion of exports and imports. We have secured air services agreements around the world. We have increased the capacity of the Border Force, strengthened the resilience of our ports and our freight capacity and worked with meticulous detail to ensure the uninterrupted supply of critical goods, including medicines. We will be ready.
I returned from the G7 with real momentum in the Brexit discussions. I want to return from next month’s European Council in a similar way, with a deal that this House can debate, scrutinise and endorse in time for our departure on
Yesterday a Bill was published that the leader of the Opposition has spent all summer working on. This is not a Bill in any normal sense of the word. It is without precedent in our history. It is a Bill that, if passed, would force me to go to Brussels and beg for an extension. It would force me to accept the terms offered. It would destroy any chance of negotiations for a new deal. Indeed, it would enable our friends in Brussels to dictate the terms of the negotiation. That is what it does. There is only one way to describe this Bill: it is the Jeremy Corbyn surrender Bill. It means running up the white flag. I want to make it clear to everybody in this House: there are no circumstances in which I will ever accept anything like it. I will never surrender the control of our negotiations in the way the leader of the Opposition is demanding.
We promised the people we would get Brexit done. We promised to respect the result of the referendum and we must do so now. Enough is enough. The country wants this done and the referendum respected. We are negotiating a deal and, although I am confident of getting a deal, we will leave on
This House has never before voted to force the Prime Minister to surrender such a crucial decision to the discretion of our friends and neighbours overseas. This Bill would mean that, unless we agree to the terms of our friends and partners, they would be able to keep us in the EU for as long as they want and on their terms. I therefore urge this House to reject this Bill tonight so that we can get the right deal, deliver Brexit and take the country forward. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, I am a bit puzzled, because I thought this was a Statement about the G7. If anything underlines the change of tone in government, it is the Statement we have just heard. As we go on, the noble Baroness may find some difficulty in having to repeat such Statements if the Prime Minister plays that way much longer. That sounded to me very much like a pitch to continue the bullying of MPs considering voting against him this evening. It sounded like a Prime Minister in election mode for an election he says he does not want. It was hardly statesmanlike; it was not prime ministerial. We wanted to hear about the G7 and got a rant from Boris Johnson about what he thinks about legislation before the House of Commons. It is inappropriate for this House.
The noble Baroness talks about the Bill being about Jeremy Corbyn, but the Bill she has referred to in repeating the Statement today actually has the signatures of two recent Conservative Cabinet Ministers on it. I wonder if we ought to consider whether these Statements should be repeated in the way they are.
I concur with the noble Baroness on one point, when she reflects that it is 80 years since we entered into the Second World War. It is worth reflecting on the sacrifices made by those engaged at home and in action abroad. It was the horror of that war that brought European countries together to engage and work. That was about not just trade but peace, values and co-operation. Today, those issues are more important than ever. I am sorry that was not reflected in anything we heard from the Dispatch Box today.
Shortly before the Prime Minister began his first performance—I think that is the right word for it—for world leaders at the G7 summit, he made a speech insisting that, on his watch, the UK would no longer retreat from the international stage. It begs the question: how have we found ourselves in such a tragic state, in which all this Prime Minister can hope for is to maintain the diminished role on the world stage that nine years of Conservative Governments have left us with? During the weekend in Biarritz—probably not the normal kind of weekend that the Prime Minister spends in Biarritz—he displayed zero ambition to improve the UK’s standing in the world and completely failed to set out a vision of how we can use our influence and experience to promote peace and prosperity. While he may have set the bar spectacularly low, aiming only not to retreat further from the global stage, judging from his act at the G7 summit, it sounds like he will fail even in that lowly aim.
I turn first to the climate emergency and, as the noble Baroness referred to, the heartbreaking situation in the Amazon. We have all seen the shocking images of flames engulfing what President Macron referred to as the “world’s lungs”. The announcement of extra funding to tackle the climate emergency will always be welcome; we will never criticise additional funds to tackle this issue. But the Prime Minister’s £10 million is a paltry sum. I do not understand the Government’s pointed refusal to work with UK companies to ensure that they are not aiding and abetting the destruction of the Amazon. I hope the noble Baroness can give us an explanation. There is also no excuse for the Prime Minister’s reluctance to fully engage the UN Security Council and the international financial institutions to promote policies to tackle the wider emergency.
It is not just about money. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is here, who has regularly spoken in your Lordships’ House about soft power. If utilised correctly by the Prime Minister, the UK’s influence can be worth far more to the global campaign than £10 million. If we understand the importance of implementing our ideals and ethics in our trade policy, we can do far more than play our part in tackling the climate emergency. I hope to hear something from the noble Baroness to explain the Prime Minister’s reluctance.
On trade, I hope that the role of the UK’s arms trade in fuelling the Yemeni conflict was not the reason the war did not feature heavily in the summit. The Red Cross informs us that hundreds have died during air strikes in recent days, and while the UK continues to supply arms to be used in the conflict, we can only assume that this dreadful bloodshed will continue. Can the noble Baroness tell us whether any world leaders made representations to the Prime Minister with regard to the UK’s role in this conflict?
On diplomacy and conflict prevention, as well as minimising any contribution that we have to international conflict, we should also use our influence and experience —our soft power—to eliminate the risk of conflict elsewhere. I would like to have heard how the Prime Minister attempted to use the summit for exactly that.
If we look towards Iran, it was useful that Iran’s Foreign Minister attended discussions at the summit, but did the Prime Minister make any attempt to meet Mr Zarif bilaterally? If he did, did he take the opportunity to raise the issue of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who remains in custody in Iran? I would think that the Prime Minister would take a personal interest in that case, given the effect of his previous comments. The UK should play a role in defusing the situation in Iran and moving to get the nuclear deal back on track, but there is nothing to suggest that the Prime Minister has any interest in doing this.
While the situation in Ukraine may not have featured heavily at the G7 summit, we have learned that Chancellor Merkel and President Macron will convene a summit with Russian and Ukrainian leaders. In the past, we could assume that the UK Prime Minister would play a role in promoting peace in the region. Can the noble Baroness tell us of any interest—I am not aware of any—the Prime Minister has shown? Will he be attending the upcoming summit with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron?
I want to say something about Hong Kong. The joint statement from leaders reaffirming the existence and importance of the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 is very welcome. But given our historical connection and ties to the region, the Prime Minister should have used the summit to stand more firmly against the abuses taking place. Police brutality is unacceptable and must end. While the joint statement included a call for violence to be avoided, can the noble Baroness confirm whether the Prime Minister urged for any further text to be added?
I was slightly puzzled by the words on education, which were not in the circulated text, criticising the Labour Party with regard to international education for girls. That was clearly inserted either as an ad lib by the Prime Minister or after the text was circulated. To suggest in any way that the Labour Party has not consistently and for many years supported girls’ education across the world is incredible. Indeed, I had hoped that tribute would be paid to the work of Gordon and Sarah Brown who, since he was Prime Minister, have made this issue their mission; they should be congratulated on that.
Finally, as the Prime Minister talks of retreat, I ask only that the Government be more ambitious in the role we can play in the world, in particular through soft power. We have the potential for enormous influence and that can be utilised, not only to promote the interests of people and businesses in the UK but to build a fairer and better world. We may live, particularly now, in a divided country but we also live in a more divided world, threatened by conflict, extreme poverty and the climate crisis. Should the Prime Minister make it to the next G7 summit, at Camp David, I urge him to be more confident about the role that the UK can play in reshaping the world. We should not accept a diminished role but use our influence to try to create a better world.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement and hope that she enjoyed her short visit to Scotland last week.
We obviously share the sentiments of the Prime Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, in respect of World War II. However, we on this side fear that the Prime Minister has simply not learned the lessons. The Statement is very keen on the benefits of free trade, which we applaud, and mentions in particular the Prime Minister’s discussions with the President of the United States on this matter. He says that he agreed with the President that healthcare would not be on the table, which is welcome. Did he also agree not to include items that would water down food standards? Was chlorinated chicken discussed? Given that the Prime Minister has said that he does not think we can do a trade deal within a year, how long does he think it will take to reach such a deal? How long would it be, even in theory, before any such deal could begin to make up for the loss of trade that we expect to flow from a no-deal Brexit?
The Statement does not mention the allegedly prolonged and acrimonious session at the summit in which the Prime Minister joined forces with the EU in opposing the readmission of Russia to the G7. Can the Leader confirm that the Prime Minister opposed President Trump on this? If he did, does not that demonstrate that in this, as in so many issues, our interests are much closer to those of Europe than the US?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, pointed out, not only is more than half this Statement on Brexit but more than a third of it has absolutely nothing at all to do with the G7 summit and everything to do with the desperate plight in which the Prime Minister now finds himself. With the decision today of Phillip Lee MP to join the Liberal Democrats, the Prime Minister has lost his majority in the Commons. It is clear from statements and interviews given by Philip Hammond, David Gauke, Rory Stewart and Justine Greening, among many others, that he is going to lose the vote later this evening. The usual fate of Prime Ministers is that the longer they stay in power, the more hubristic they become. The current Prime Minister, as with so many other things, has turned convention on its head and has behaved, against all the evidence and from day one, as though old Etonian swagger and bombast will be sufficient to carry the day. The truth, however, is that it will not.
The Prime Minister in the Statement spends a large amount of time trying to give the impression that negotiations on an alternative to the backstop and withdrawal agreement are well advanced but, as Donald Tusk put it at the summit,
“we are willing to listen to ideas that are operational, realistic and acceptable to all EU member states, including Ireland, if and when the UK Government is ready”.
The key words there are,
“when the UK Government is ready”, for the truth is that the UK Government had not at the time of the summit put forward detailed proposals—or, indeed, any proposals—which would obviate the need for the backstop. As EU officials said, at the end of it there were,
“no new substantive elements from any side and obviously”— obviously—
“not from the UK side”.
They said that a week ago, so perhaps substantive new proposals have been made since then. Can the Leader of the House confirm whether any detailed substantive proposals have been made over the past week which would obviate the need for the backstop? If so, when were they made, what has been the EU response, and on what day will they next be discussed by the UK and EU negotiators?
The Prime Minister said that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has been working seven days a week to accelerate preparations for a no-deal Brexit, and we believe him. He says that we will be ready for such an eventuality. We are about to have a separate Statement on that issue so I will ask only two questions of the Leader of the House. When the Prime Minister talks of ensuring the uninterrupted supply of critical goods, does he include foodstuffs in the definition of “critical”? If so, on what basis does he believe he can guarantee the uninterrupted supply of all foodstuffs when the trade bodies representing the food sector simply disagree?
I was extremely pleased that the Statement covered the issue of species extinction, which was allegedly one of the Prime Minister’s three principal priorities going into the summit. That is a worthy priority. In recent times we have seen the extinction of the pig-footed bandicoot, the toolache wallaby and the indefatigable Galapagos mouse, among many others, and the world mourns their loss. The same will not be the case with the imminent demise of the present Administration.
I thank the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments. I can assure them both that the Prime Minister made very clear at the G7 summit that we will continue to be an energetic partner on the world stage and will stand alongside our G7 allies in addressing the most pressing international issues. He used the summit to show that Britain remains an international, outward-looking, self-confident nation, and said that we will remain at the heart of alliances that span the world. We will continue to use the breadth of our expertise in diplomacy, defence and development to uphold and safeguard the global order on which our peace and prosperity depends.
The noble Baroness mentioned the devastating fires in the Amazon. She is right. As the Statement said, we have announced £10 million of new funding, which is an extension of an existing UK project, Partnership for Forests, which goes to the longer-term efforts against deforestation. Our money is not going to the Brazilian Government but to rural communities and businesses to help them develop while protecting forests and managing land sustainably. The noble Baroness may also be pleased to know that, in addition, together with international partners we have pledged that by 2020 we will mobilise $5 billion a year to help reduce deforestation and promote sustainable land use in the world’s tropical forest basins, including the Amazon, working with local communities. We engage regularly with the Brazilian Government, businesses and communities on a range of environmental issues, including sustainable agriculture, low carbon growth and deforestation.
The noble Baroness asked about trade. We are and remain a champion of free trade and a rules-based multilateral system with the WTO at its heart. The Prime Minister underlined the need for the G7 countries to work together within the current framework to address and resolve rising tensions on trade matters. We all agreed that the WTO needs an overhaul and further work is ongoing there.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked whether the Prime Minister had discussed standards of food safety and animal welfare. I can confirm that the Prime Minister made it clear that, along with the NHS, those issues were not on the table for discussions in relation to a trade deal.
The noble Baroness asked about Yemen. I am not aware of any direct representations being made to the Prime Minister but I am happy to seek confirmation of that and, if there are, I will write to her.
The noble Baroness also asked about the Iranian Foreign Minister. Only President Macron met him, but she will be aware that President Trump later indicated an openness to talks with President Rouhani under the right circumstances; we will remain supportive of any moves to achieve that. We remain concerned about the welfare of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and particularly about reports of tougher restrictions in relation to her sentence. We are in regular contact with her family, and our embassy in Tehran has consistently requested consular access.
I shall have to confirm that. As I say, I do not believe he met anyone other President Macron but, when I check on the Yemen discussions, I will also check on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about the Prime Minister’s conversations about Russia. I can confirm that he made the point that Russia has not begun to meet the conditions that would be considered for its readmission to the G7. He made that point strongly both in conversations with Chancellor Merkel and President Macron and again in the full forum of the G7 summit when this issue was discussed. We are fully supporting French and German efforts to organise the Normandy format summit in the coming weeks. At this point it is not clear who the UK representative will be; discussions have not got that far yet.
On Hong Kong, the noble Baroness is right that millions of people have taken to the streets in Hong Kong to protest peacefully and express their concerns. We have consistently encouraged a peaceful resolution to the situation through meaningful dialogue. The Hong Kong Chief Executive’s office has said that it has full capability to deal with local affairs and maintain public order, and we expect the Hong Kong authorities to continue to be responsible for maintaining public order. The G7 leaders collectively expressed a deep concern about what is happening and want to support a stable and prosperous Hong Kong.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about ongoing discussions around the changes to the withdrawal agreement that we are attempting to agree with the EU. The Statement mentioned that the Prime Minister will be meeting the Taoiseach on Monday, so discussions will continue there. A team of our Brexit negotiators will sit down with their counterparts twice a week throughout September to discuss the issues and, as we have made clear, the main issue for discussion is the backstop and the need to change it. It is the key reason why the withdrawal agreement has not been able to get through the House of Commons. We want a deal, and that is why our focus over the coming weeks will be on discussions about that.
I am happy to pay tribute to Members across this House and more broadly for the work they have done on education. It is an area in which I am particularly interested, and I know that in order to improve our education system we all need to work together. I am happy to say that.
As my noble friend has made clear, many issues were discussed at the summit and it is a pity that it could not put together a communique showing some agreement on serious matters such as the polarisation of conflicts in Hong Kong, the Amazon burning and so on. So, we come down to the familiar issue of the unnecessary backstop. Here, I put to my noble friend a puzzle. Clearly, there has been some progress, but the puzzle is why there has not been more. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said, an enormous amount of detailed work based on experience of borders all around the world has been done, is being developed and is being further pursued. Special zones work all around the world and can be used in Northern Ireland. I am familiar with that border because back in the 1970s I helped to try to police it for security reasons—with very little success, I may say, because it is totally permeable. We have the common travel area. The Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom are both outside the Schengen area. Common provisions can be developed for livestock and all the necessary related checks. There is a huge amount of common activity already. It surprises many of us that, with all the work that has been done, progress is still very sticky and slow. Will the Leader of the House reassure her colleagues that those who have been involved with this border over the years understand that alternative arrangements are available, can be developed and can be pushed forward? If we do that, I think it would be understood by Mr Macron and other key players that—in his own words—it is unnecessary, and if it is unnecessary, why keep it?
I thank my noble friend. He is absolutely right that a range of technical solutions are already being used. He mentioned a few. Others include trusted trader schemes, transit provisions, frontier zones and electronic pre-clearing for goods moving across the border. There is a lot of work ongoing, looking at how these solutions can come together in order to mean that we do not need the backstop.
My noble friend mentioned that there was no communique. France had said all along that it wanted to move beyond the standard format, which is why only a statement was published rather than a communique.
My Lords, may I press the Leader further on the backstop? She just read out, “any future agreement must include the abolition of the anti-democratic backstop—which is, by the way, opposed on all sides”. These are the words the noble Baroness used and which were presumably used by the Prime Minister earlier. Is it now the position that the Irish Government are opposing maintaining the backstop?
That was in relation to the problems that the Government are having in getting the withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons and was in that context. It has been very clear that we will not be able to get the agreement through with the backstop. That has been one of the major issues that Members across the House of Commons have raised. That is why we are focusing on that issue with the Irish and our EU partners in order to ensure that we can remove it so that we can get the deal that we want and get agreement at the October Council.
My Lords, I remind my noble friend Lord Howell that
I am extremely perplexed about the backstop. My noble friend, valiantly and rightly assisted by my noble friend Lord Callanan and many on these Benches, supported the deal that was agreed by Prime Minister May. Her Cabinet did so, and at the last time of asking the present Prime Minister did so. Why are we further splitting and dividing people by threatening with expulsion from our party those who steadfastly supported the previous Government and who have given collectively decades of service to our party and to our country? If we really are going to come together, as I would wish, with those who supported the last deal and support another one, which I want to be able to do, for goodness’ sake, can we not have some charity?
My noble friend is right. Many of us valiantly attempted to persuade people that we should pass the deal, but, unfortunately, the House of Commons did not. It was rejected three times, and it was quite clear that we were not going to be able to get the deal through, which is why the Prime Minister is now focusing on the particular element which seemed to be the biggest area of concern for those in the House of Commons. We need to give him the freedom to do that. We need to make sure that we do not undermine his negotiating hand. He is confident that, from the conversations he has had with EU leaders and that his negotiating team has had, we can get a deal. That is what we are focused on. I have never stood here and said that I want anything other than a deal, and I believe that the Prime Minister is committed to trying to achieve that.
My Lords, growing protectionism is a great worry across the world, so it was refreshing to hear that the Prime Minister brought his energy to this area. As my noble friend the Leader said, he made the case for free trade as an engine of prosperity and progress and talked of the need to simplify regulation. Can my noble friend tell us a little more about WTO reform? I am reminded that the real progress was made in the Bali package, which was pushed through by my noble friend Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint when he was the Trade Minister. I very much hope those sorts of reforms can be extended. It was good to hear that the WTO might be being looked at again and pushed forward.
The G7 reiterated its commitment to open and fair trade and to an overhaul of the WTO. The priorities for that are to ensure the continued effectiveness of the dispute resolution and settlement mechanism, increase trust in the system by improving transparency and develop new rules on issues such as industrial subsidies and e-commerce. Modernising the WTO rules will also make them more relevant to current trade issues. We strongly support the informal process launched by the general council at the WTO to seek a resolution to the appellate body issues, and we have been urging all WTO members to engage constructively on these ongoing discussions.
I return to the question of girls’ education in the Statement. As it happens, last week I was visiting the tiny east African country of Burundi, and one of the most impressive pieces of work that I saw there was with adult women who had not had education when they were girls and who have now gone through literacy and financial and business training and were running small businesses in their local rural communities. I welcome the fact that more money is being put into the education of girls and of children in countries torn by conflict, because Burundi is one such. Will the Minister explain a little more about how that might be put into practice, particularly in a nation such as Burundi—and there are others—where at the moment there are restrictions on the Foreign Office giving it money because of its internal conflict, and will she promise that DfID will be able to put money into such countries through this kind of system?
I hope the right reverend Prelate will be pleased to know that, in addition to the £90 million for young people which was mentioned in the Statement, we also announced £30 million of support for women entrepreneurs through the African Development Bank’s programme of affirmative finance action for women in Africa. This programme will help women entrepreneurs grow their businesses and complements other UK aid programmes that support finance for women entrepreneurs, women in international trade and large corporates employing women in their supply chains. In relation to the £90 million of UK aid to help 600,000 young people caught up in crises around the world, one-third of that money will be earmarked for children living in the world’s forgotten crises, such as the current emergency in the Sahel region. Education Cannot Wait will implement this programme. It currently operates in 29 countries and provides multi-year programmes and short-term interventions, particularly when conflict and natural disasters strike.
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness can say a little more about the UK proposals for more ambitious targets to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity, particularly in the oceans around the British Isles. I am interested because we have probably the largest population of North Atlantic gannets of any European country. We have enormous numbers of puffins nesting on our islands around the country and they are dependent on the quality of the seas and the fish that are in them. It is very encouraging if we are going to be investing money to improve the quality of the seas. I am interested to know whether the noble Baroness can say a bit more about what the proposals really are and whether they are designed to assist our bird-life as well as the fish in the oceans.
Britain is responsible for 2.6 million square miles of ocean: we are the fifth largest maritime estate in the world. The Prime Minister announced £7 million for the Blue Belt programme to extend our work to protect the vital marine ecosystems in conservation areas, although that was overseas rather than within the UK. As for biodiversity targets in particular, for a number of reasons the current set of global targets have not reversed the global decline in biodiversity; therefore we discussed at the G7, which accepted our proposals, that we should seek to ensure that the ambition of the new global framework matches the scale of the problem, and that targets are measurable and time-bound, with strong accountability through monitoring and review mechanisms.
My Lords, I respectfully caution the Leader of the House when it comes to interpretation of the paragraph that begins:
“Speaking in Berlin of possible alternatives to the backstop, Chancellor Merkel … said: ‘Once we see and say this could be a possible outcome—this could be a possible arrangement—this backstop is a sort of placeholder which is no longer necessary’”.
The last part of that paragraph is a conclusion, not a statement of an unequivocal position, and the conclusion depends upon something that is regarded as a possible outcome or arrangement. Until the United Kingdom provides something that can be a possible outcome or arrangement, the conclusion is valueless.
As I said, the Prime Minister has had good initial conversations with Chancellor Merkel, President Macron and others, he is seeing the Taoiseach next week, and he has been encouraged by the fact that there has been a willingness to talk about alternatives to the backstop. We are picking up the tempo of the discussions between our negotiators over the coming weeks so that we can drill down into the issue that has really prevented MPs supporting the withdrawal agreement. That is what we will be focusing on, because we are committed to trying to get a deal.
My Lords, following up the right reverend Prelate’s question about the education of girls, it is to be commended that 12 years of quality education was endorsed. Can the noble Baroness tell the House how much money has been committed by other nations and how much commitment there is to ensure that it is quality education that will actually meet the needs of these girls, including reproductive health teaching? Many of these countries have very high maternal mortality as well as child mortality rates, and they also have the problem of practices such as female genital mutilation, which has its high morbidity and mortality.
I am very pleased that every delegation supported our campaign to give every girl in the world 12 years of quality education. Indeed, the Prime Minister also called on G7 countries to dedicate more of their aid budget to education, which currently stands at less than 2% of global humanitarian aid. It is obvious that, with more investment and support going in, all the very important issues that the noble Baroness raised can be properly addressed. I fear I will need to get more information on the details of the programmes we support and others: I will write to her, as I will on a couple of other issues.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reminded us that the Prime Minister voted earlier this year for the withdrawal agreement, which included the backstop. Yet he has said subsequently, and indeed repeated in the Statement, that the backstop is anti-democratic. Are we to believe, therefore, that we have a Prime Minister who is prepared to vote for measures that he believes to be anti-democratic?