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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:41 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:41 pm, 16th October 2019

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.