Debates between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Sheehan during the 2019 Parliament

Tue 15th Dec 2020
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Trade Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Sheehan
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 15th December 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 View all Trade Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-R-I Marshalled list for Report - (2 Dec 2020)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I shall focus my very brief remarks on Amendment 16 in this group—mainly because, when I saw Amendment 25, I had no idea what it was about. I have now heard what the noble Lord has said and I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will respond in due course. When I looked at Amendment 16, I really could not see what kind of problem it was trying to solve; not only is it unnecessary for a statute to repeat commitments that have been made but the environment for aid is now governed by the 2002 Act, which is pretty clear about where aid can and cannot be given.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, may have concerns about what the Foreign Secretary may or may not have said, but for something to change the law may have to change and the noble Lord would have plenty of opportunity to engage with that issue as and when such a change was made. The noble Lord was good enough to say that the UK has an extremely good record on tied aid and has had so for a very long time; this is not a new commitment needing to be made. I repeat what I always say: it is unnecessary to put in legislation things that noble Lords are worried about—things that might be changed in the future or commitments that might not be kept up. However, if the noble Lord is merely tabling a probing amendment, looking for my noble friend the Minister to reiterate where the Government currently stand on tied aid, obviously there is no real issue. Apart from that, I just say to the noble Lord that the amendment is pretty unnecessary.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will say a few short words about Amendment 16, which may enlighten the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, as to why I think it is very important. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed for putting it down.

The Pergau dam scandal of the early 1990s offers a timely reminder of how badly things can go wrong when tied aid becomes, as it did then, a regular feature of the aid budget—so much so that, in 1997, the UK’s aid budget was removed from the Foreign Secretary’s remit and placed with a newly formed Department for International Development. Maybe old habits die hard as this was followed in fairly short order by the International Development Act 2002, which tightly defined development assistance as two things: furthering sustainable development and improving the welfare of people in developing countries. It was designed to be pro-poor and, in effect, to ensure no more tied aid.

However, that and other Acts of Parliament on international development now have a sword of Damocles hanging over them. My noble friend Lord Purvis has outlined in quite a lot of detail the conflicting statements that we have heard with respect to the 0.7% target, which, as we now know, is to be reduced to 0.5%. He has therefore quite sensibly covered every eventuality in his Amendment 16 by invoking the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s recommendation on untying official development assistance. I hope the Minister will add his assurances to those of the Foreign Secretary and tell us that the bad old days of tied aid are indeed over. Trust is a hard-won commodity, and it is running in very short supply with this Government. I ask the Minister, whose word I have no reason to mistrust, to ensure that assurances given at the Dispatch Box are followed through.

Turning to Amendment 25, to which I have added my name, the Government’s early commitments post Brexit to protect current trading relationships with poorer countries, keep prices in check and help build our future trading partners are not turning out to be quite as reliable as we would have hoped, as with many other government commitments post Brexit. It now looks as though the world’s poorest countries will instead face additional challenges post Brexit. Quite a lot are being overcome, but not all.

Amendment 25 is necessary to ensure that developing countries do not lose market access or share, either because time has run out to agree continuity deals or because other arrangements have run into difficulties. Including some of those countries which could face higher tariffs in the list of least developed countries, as per proposed new subsection (2), would offer some protection.

My noble friend Lord Purvis has explained some of the issues surrounding our difficulties in agreeing a trading arrangement with Ghana. I hope the Minister will agree that insisting on a historic stepping-stone deal was unrealistic. As my noble friend said, Ghana asked that the existing ECOWAS EPA with the EU be used as a basis; I am delighted to learn from my noble friend that it will form the basis of ongoing negotiations. To have insisted that the stepping-stone agreement should form the basis of agreements going forward with Ghana was to disregard the fact that it is now a member of ECOWAS—the Economic Community of West African States—and as such has notified that agreement under the WTO. That would break international agreements, which I hope the Minister would agree is not a good look.

Ghana could have signed our agreement for the enhanced framework as a way out of the scheme but, as my noble friend Lord Purvis explained, it was presented with some difficulties in doing so because bananas are not included in the enhanced framework scheme. I hope this issue can be resolved so that other countries are not caught in the same trap. Had Ghana signed up to the enhanced framework scheme, about 30% of the bananas we eat in the UK, which come from Ghana, could not have got here. That would be a real shame, because a large proportion of them are Fairtrade; the Fairtrade Foundation has had great success in getting better working conditions and fairer deals for poorer farmers and the workers and communities that rely on them. I do not need to remind the Minister that the Fairtrade movement enjoys wide support in the UK. Proposed new subsection (3) is designed to overcome this difficulty for Ghana and other developing countries caught in a similar conundrum.

Time is tight, so I will move straight to the end. The regional economic unions in Africa—east, south, north and west—are now all pretty well established and the African Continental Free Trade Area, which represents a market of 1.2 billion people with a combined GDP of $1.3 trillion, opens on 1 January 2021. This October, just a few weeks ago, talks took place between the EU and the African Union on a modern relationship between the two trading blocs. What plans do we have for a modern trading arrangement with the African Union?