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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:44 pm on 16th October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 6:44 pm, 16th October 2019

My Lords, like many other noble Lords, I want to open briefly on Brexit. I cannot do more than repeat the words of Boris Johnson to the 1922 Committee an hour ago when he said:

“We are close to the summit … but it is still shrouded in mist”.

That is exactly where we are today. I hope that we will be able to have proper scrutiny of any proposed deal and that this House will have a full opportunity to scrutinise it properly. I do not really want to add much to the excellent introduction to this debate by my noble friend Lady Hayter and, like many other noble Lords, I feel very strongly that in the end it is the people who should have the final say on whether to remain or to leave with the best possible deal. By the way, I do not accept the rationale that a deregulated economy is one that will build success. We have had strong guarantees on consumer rights and workers’ rights, and it is really important that this country is able to see what the future holds in terms of those important issues.

I want to pick up a couple of points, especially the point made yesterday by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry in his excellent contribution and the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her contribution today. This is not simply about relationships with countries and Governments; it is very much about relationships with peoples. That is how we will be successful in our future relationships with many countries. Unfortunately, I recently had to spend a couple of weeks in hospital. Three of the nurses who treated me in the special care unit were from European countries. While we might give them guarantees, all three said that they felt rejected by this country. We must address that issue. I would also note that my husband is Spanish and that, for the first time in 22 years in this country, after the referendum he faced racist abuse while working in a shop: “Go back home”, he was told. I hope that the Minister will address the contribution made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. Whatever happens in terms of Brexit or remain, we have to focus on building trust with the people of Europe. It is vital that we do so.

This debate is about the gracious Speech and the issues of foreign policy, international development, international trade and defence. In the gracious Speech, the Government have said that they will be at the forefront of solving the “most complex international security issues” and “pressing global challenges”. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, argued, it is difficult to see the evidence for that. Where have we been in stopping the horrors unfolding in northern Syria, as the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Hannay, reminded us, or ending the civil war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen? The Government have sat idly by as the President of the US wrecks the world’s efforts to tackle climate change and nuclear proliferation.

As we have heard in the debate, a successful foreign policy requires development, defence and diplomacy going together. As noble Lords have highlighted, including my noble friend Lord West, successive Conservative Prime Ministers since 2010 have cut our defence capability, undermining our ability to keep to our international commitments and obligations. We needed to see in the Gracious Speech the demonstration of a joined-up, whole-government approach. If, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, argued yesterday, the UK’s foreign policy is to be used to promote our values and not only our commercial interests, then I would have expected a greater focus on human rights and a review of the Government’s regime for arms exports.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, said yesterday, we have an FCO condemning human rights abuses and a Department for International Trade supporting closer relationships—constant mixed messages. This is not joined-up government. In June, the Court of Appeal ruled British arms sales to Saudi Arabia unlawful. Ministers were found to have illegally approved arms sales without proper assessment of the risk this would cause to civilians. In September, the Government admitted that the UK had breached the court order three times by unlawfully issuing export licences for arms sales to Saudi Arabia. I hope the Minister will give a clear assurance that there will be no more breaches.

At the Tory conference, Dominic Raab announced plans for a new Magnitsky law to place visa bans and asset freezes on those individuals deemed responsible for serious human rights abuses, including torture. It was this House that delivered amendments to the then Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, introducing these powers. I hope the Minister can tell us what Dominic Raab has in mind to ensure that those responsible for the grossest violations of human rights—as my noble friend Lord Pendry highlighted—face the consequences of their actions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, put it, with Trump’s election and Brexit, we have seen the twin pillars of the post-war strategy completely undermined. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, our response should be to strengthen our commitment to the United Nations while acknowledging its shortcomings, particularly in the light of repeated abuses of the veto power by certain members of the UN Security Council.

Many noble Lords mentioned the role of the Commonwealth, and I certainly recognise its importance. It is a family of nations that, through its charter, provides the means to promote the values of democracy, transparency, the rule of law and human rights. The Minister the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, referred to our role as chair-in-office, but where are we on the commitments we made at the end of CHOGM? Despite some progress, we still have Commonwealth countries where LGBT people face not only discrimination and anti-gay laws but increased violence. I hope that, in the Minister’s response, we can have greater detail as to how we are supporting efforts to ensure the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

If the Government were serious about Britain’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable planet, free from the fear of hunger and poverty, then I would have expected a clear focus in the gracious Speech on the United Nations 2030 agenda, building a unified approach to deliver the sustainable development goals and to ensure that we leave nobody behind. The Government could have used the gracious Speech to signal a new approach to the SDGs by creating a new policy unit in No. 10 dedicated to them, with a Cabinet Minister responsible for co-ordinating across Whitehall.

There are various moments during the coming year when DfID and our Government can accelerate progress on tackling global poverty. I take particular interest in the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth summit. Here, I have to declare an interest as chair of the APPG on Nutrition for Growth. Malnutrition drives ill health and undermines the effectiveness of health systems. It prevents children, particularly girls, from meeting their educational and economic potential. In addition, food systems are a major driver of climate change and are extremely sensitive to climate shocks. DfID has taken some great steps in all of these areas, but in order to unlock the full benefits of DfID’s support for health, education, climate and economic development, nutrition must be a priority. I therefore ask the Minister to see that DfID delivers on its remaining 2013 Nutrition for Growth commitments and takes full advantage of the Tokyo summit in 2020.

After President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris agreement, I welcomed the commitment in the 2017 gracious Speech for Britain to be in the lead in creating a sustainable planet. I hope that the Minister will give us details on how we strengthen work with our allies, particularly in the EU, on delivering the climate change agreement. Loss and damage from climate disaster is already having a severe impact on vulnerable countries and diminishing their capacity to develop. Poorer countries have felt the impacts of climate change first and worst, yet they have done the least to cause it. Climate change has mostly been caused by rich, developed, industrialised countries that have developed their economies while burning fossil fuels.

On our own contribution, according to the Committee on Climate Change, the UK is way off target to meet its fourth carbon budget in 2023-27 and its fifth carbon budget in 2028-32. Last year, the committee set out 25 headline policy actions for the year ahead. Twelve months later, only one has been delivered in full, and 10 of the actions have not even shown partial progress.

International trade was a key theme over the past two days. I had hoped to see in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech clear proposals to tighten the rules governing corporate responsibility and accountability for abuses in the global supply chain. They were not there. On global trade agreements, there are opportunities, but principles must govern them. The most important is a pro-poor and pro-development policy. In the Trade Bill, we demanded in this House, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, reminded us, the maintenance of high social and environmental standards in trade agreements post Brexit to guarantee continuing access to the EU market.

Sadly, the Government have a poor record when it comes to respecting parliamentary sovereignty. This House —certainly this side of the House—demands provisions for proper parliamentary scrutiny of all proposed trade deals and treaty obligations in the future. We must be involved and the people must have a say.

I want to pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, because he is absolutely right. We cannot just have words; we need clear action. In Manchester, the Foreign Secretary said that he would, “relish not shrink from” our global duty to bring the perpetrators of injustice and war crimes to account. In this Queen’s Speech, I hoped to see specific proposals on how we would achieve this. I hope that the Minster, in winding up the debate, will tell us what they are.