Foreign Affairs

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, with all his experience.

I have five minutes in which to make two points about a part of the world that has not yet been discussed in this debate. My first point is about central Asia, where I believe that increased investment in soft power now could make a real difference. There is a clear appetite there for greater engagement from the United Kingdom. I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register: my work in central Asia since 2017 and, more recently, as a trustee of the John Smith Trust. I believe the UK should be both a reliable long-term partner and a critical friend to central Asia. Geopolitically it is an important region, with a young and dynamic population. For example, more than 60% of Uzbekistan’s well-educated population are under 30 years old. Younger people in central Asia want an alternative to both Moscow and Beijing. They want greater access to our English language and our universities. They want to strengthen their civil society and free media. The Minister will also probably know that, currently, many Uzbek workers help every autumn with our cherry harvest in Kent.

People I speak to in central Asia would also like greater assistance in establishing a genuinely independent judiciary and modern legal structures. These would assist in the fight against corruption and help to embed reforms. I know that many in Kyrgyzstan in particular would welcome this.

We should learn from the lessons of the recent past and from some of our mistakes in the region. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin and the current Russian leadership were able to adopt a pick and mix of unregulated free market economy with pretend so-called managed democracy, without ever allowing genuinely democratic structures and the rule of law to take hold.

Our soft power influence is absolutely key, through the BBC World Service as well as leadership and critical-thinking programmes such as the John Smith Trust and the British Council. For example, having a British Council staff member in the British embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, would make a very real difference very quickly. As I understand it, Kyrgyzstan has just chosen to invest in a 30-year contract with Cambridge University Press for its core school textbooks—we should celebrate that. The Foreign Secretary clearly has many calls on his time, but I strongly recommend a visit to central Asia.

My second point is one that has been mentioned already by many other noble Lords. This is a critical year for Ukraine, especially in the context of the elections in the United States. The series of additional sanctions announced by the Foreign Secretary two weeks ago are very welcome, but we now have to do so much more to inflict real and meaningful damage on the Russian war economy, and I hope that we will continue to work with our G7 and European partners to that effect. Last week, I was at an event in Canterbury with many Ukrainians who asked me whether it was right to continue to provide enough so that Ukraine does not lose but not enough for it to win. I ask the Foreign Secretary the same question.

Putin cannot be allowed to win—that view is shared by all mainstream political parties in the UK. No country should ever have the right to declare that another sovereign country does not have the right to exist. Putin’s world view is based on a distortion of the truth, a reinterpretation of history, populism, authoritarianism and the accumulation of his own personal wealth. It has been hugely convenient for him to use the truly awful wars happening now in Sudan and the Middle East to stir up feelings of resentment against Ukraine in the global South. Just because Putin might not be directly responsible for those other awful wars does not mean that he has not been indirectly involved.

More or less exactly a year ago, I was working in Khartoum, Sudan, just before the dreadful civil war started there. The presence of Russian Wagner mercenaries was clear for all to see; they have caused untold misery for the people of Sudan, so many of whom are now living abroad as refugees. President Zelensky is right to say that this is not just Ukraine’s war; it is now a war against authoritarianism and in favour of the international values of justice, freedom and the rule of law. We must keep supporting Ukraine in this war, however long it takes.

Ukraine

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Friday 26th January 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for tabling this timely and extremely important debate and for his powerful and comprehensive opening speech.

The UK’s response has been powerful and united, and I know it has been very much appreciated in Ukraine. The generosity of many people in the UK in opening up their homes to Ukrainian families has shown Britain at its best. Equally, the cross-party support for the provision of military support to Ukraine, the introduction of sanctions against Russia and interventions through the International Criminal Court have all been extremely welcome and powerful.

There is, however, more that we can and should do to hurt the wealthy and the ruling classes in Russia. My noble friend Lord Purvis will say more about this. I would like to concentrate my remarks on the human cost of the war and I hope noble Lords will forgive me if, at times, some of them are of a rather personal nature.

From 2017 to 2019, I had the privilege of working on a variety of political and public health projects in Kyiv and Odesa. I worked on a project in the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada; as a result, I have kept in very regular contact with a great many Ukrainian friends throughout the war. If Ukrainian friends are now inevitably battle-worn and weary, they are also very wary that the political consensus in the West could change at any time. From Victor Orbán in Hungary to the change of mood in America, they are, I fear, right to be concerned. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said, Ukrainians are also right to be deeply fearful at the prospect of another Trump presidency.

Exactly two years ago today, in January 2022, I was in Moscow attending a British Council conference at Moscow State University. In the margins of that conference there was much discussion of whether there could or would be a war with Ukraine. The general consensus among all the Russians whom I spoke to at that time was that it was just inconceivable that they would invade their Slavic brothers. Two years on from the illegal invasion of Ukraine, one or two of my brave Russian friends in St Petersburg and Moscow have publicly criticised the war. But for many, especially among the metropolitan elite, the war seems a distant and far-off event that has given them little inconvenience —perhaps just to their travel arrangements. The war has not directly impacted on their lives. They have just turned to doing their business to the east and south.

Putin has mostly avoided recruiting his front-line soldiers from the more powerful middle classes in Russia. He has recruited from the provinces, the migrant communities and the voiceless as well as, notoriously, recruiting prisoners through the Wagner organisation. There is fear in Russia of what the future might bring, especially for those who dare to speak out. They face an increasing number of laws that prevent any kind of public criticism of the war, so the majority of Russians, I am afraid, are doing what they have often done throughout history, which is to keep their heads down to avoid trouble.

Unlike in Russia, in Ukraine the lives of virtually every Ukrainian have been impacted by this war. Many of my male friends in Ukraine have served, and continue to serve, on the front line. Friends whom I used to work with in the parliament when they were political advisers are now in uniform and serving their country. Studies and careers are on hold as they fight to save their nation. Families are physically divided but united in their shared battle for the survival of Ukraine.

Some Ukrainian friends who initially left have now returned to Kyiv because, as they tell me, it is their home and they would prefer to stay there, whatever the risks. The psychological impact of air-raid sirens and sheltering in the Kyiv metro, night after night, is hard for us to comprehend. People have had to adapt and find new ways of surviving in the new normal that is life in Ukraine. As my friend Ostap Kryvdyk said to me the other day, the psychological impact of the war on the elderly has been particularly severe, as so much of what they have known for their whole lives has now been removed and they lack the desire to start again.

I have had the honour of getting to know many Ukrainians who have settled in this country through an extremely positive organisation called Canterbury for Ukraine. It has mobilised the local community to welcome Ukrainian refugees and assist them in adjusting to life in the UK. When the various schemes such as Homes for Ukraine were established, we obviously did not know how long this war would last. I have, however, been hearing from Ukrainians in Canterbury about some of the uncertainties that they now face. I heard of a lady who has been working as a cleaner in Canterbury since the beginning of the scheme. She is renting her own flat and her son is now at university, but she is now faced with uncertainty as to whether she will be able to stay and whether her son will be able to continue with his studies.

I appreciate that we do not have a Home Office Minister present today but it would be useful for those Ukrainians already in the UK, and making such an active and valuable contribution to our country, to have greater clarity about their right to remain, should they wish to do so. If the Minister feels unable to respond to that in his closing remarks, I would be grateful if he could write. Similarly for those children who are now well established in schools across the UK, what is our thinking about whether they can stay to finish their schooling? Will they have to go back to Ukraine at some point in the future when there is, as we hope, peace in their country?

In addition to the military support which we are giving, I hope that we will continue to assist Ukraine in other ways. The Minister laid some of these out in his remarks, but it is important that we continue to promote business and trade links. We should also help with PTSD and on mental health issues, as well as through leadership programmes for future generations of Ukrainians, such as through the John Smith Trust: I have to declare an interest as a trustee.

As we approach the second anniversary of this truly awful war and Putin continues with his ruthless strategy of hoping that the West gets tired, I hope we will remember that behind the statistics and military strategies that we will debate today are the lives of ordinary people in Ukraine whom we must continue to support. However difficult it becomes, we owe it to the brave Ukrainian people who just want the freedom to live their lives in peace and to build a free and independent Ukraine.

International Atomic Energy Agency (Immunities and Privileges) (Amendment) Order 2023

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Wednesday 28th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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To conclude, correcting the omission in the 1974 privileges and immunities order will allow the UK to meet its internationally agreed obligations and ensure the successful delivery of the IAEA Fusion Energy Conference in the UK. It will also facilitate the continued hosting of a wide range of agency events in the UK, allowing the UK nuclear industry to continue its close collaboration with nuclear researchers and operators from around the world. I commend the order to the Committee.
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his brief but comprehensive introduction to these regulations. I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, who is currently in the Chamber dealing with other matters. We broadly support these measures.

My noble friend was quite keen to ask a question about paragraph 4 in the Explanatory Memorandum, about the situation vis-à-vis Scotland. It says there that a separate Scottish Order in Council would be prepared. Will the Minister say whether there is yet a timetable available for that, and have these proposals already been agreed by the Scottish Government? Otherwise, we welcome these regulations from these Benches.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his introduction. I am extremely grateful for his very helpful letter of 12 June explaining why such agreements sometimes differ between different international organisations in how they are set out. I hope that a copy was placed in the Library of the House.

The noble Lord quite rightly pointed out that this instrument corrects discrepancies in a 1974 order which implemented a 1959 immunities agreement giving immunities and privileges across a range of events. I have one basic question: I looked in the Explanatory Memorandum to better understand why it has taken almost 50 years to realise the error. Could the Minister offer an explanation? It may be rather straightforward, but I could not see it in there. This struck me: if this error has been brought to the department’s attention, was anyone impacted by it, and do we need to address anything around detriment to an individual?

I was also grateful to the Minister for pointing out the importance of the 29th Fusion Energy Conference, which will be hosted by the IAEA in London in October, and the range of people who will be attending. Can he tell us a bit more about what the Government are doing to prepare and to offer support to ensure that the conference is successful? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Sudan

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Wednesday 19th April 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I too recognise the importance of religious communities. Again, reflecting on my last visit to Sudan, and as the right reverend Prelate will know, I regard inviting in religious leaders as an essential part of how we build sustainable peace. I remember there was great hope at that time. There were discussions about the suspension of Sunday as a holiday for Christians. I was delighted that, through our interventions, the then governor in Khartoum issued a decree that provided for the reinstatement of Sunday as a holiday rather than imposing Friday as a universal holiday for everyone across the country. That showed the importance of faith leaders as well as civil society leaders in finding sensible, practical and workable solutions. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the current situation does not allow an effective assessment of which civil society actors can play a part and where, because of the vulnerability of and the front-line attacks on diplomats and humanitarian workers. The right reverend Prelate talked about back channels. Of course, they are important in conflict resolution—be they long-standing or new conflicts—and should remain open. We are working through our very senior officials, who know the parties and the personalities, including our special envoy, who has engaged extensively. As someone who has been Minister for a while, I know that those relationships matter to be able to unlock some of the more difficult issues.

However, we have made our own assessment with key partners. As I said to the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, in my earlier response, we are working with Gulf partners and recognise their important role and influence—and Egypt’s role—in bringing about an immediate ceasefire for the short term, and then bringing parties together.

Of course, there are many levers open to us, not just diplomacy but strengthening, for example, some of our key messaging. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, there can be no winners. If one or the other of the two sides is thinking that they can prevail because they have air power, or because they have control of the airport and so forth, we are making things clear in all our engagements, and consistently through the troika and quad and engagements with our Gulf partners. That is done in a very structured way. So, whether it is one of our Gulf partners having those conversations, through back channels or directly, or it is us or one of our other key allies such as the United States, the message received by all sides is a consistent one: put your arms down now, cease fire immediately and then let us talk peace and negotiate a truce on the ground.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I refer noble Lords my entry in the register of interests and my work in Sudan. I want to associate myself closely with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Purvis, particularly regarding the urgent need to establish safe channels for injured civilians and foreign nationals to leave. I welcome what the Minister has said in that regard. Does he agree that there is a very real risk that this conflict could become a regional proxy war? Can he also say whether we are working with others in planning to provide essential humanitarian aid such as medicines and water? I know that he said a little on that just now, but I wonder whether he could say some more.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I recognise the important work that the noble Baroness had done in Sudan. Of course, I recognise her commitment. On her second question, yes, but it is planning. As I said earlier, we have humanitarian aid workers being attacked indiscriminately for doing their jobs in providing support, be it food supplies or medical supplies. Of course, we are working very closely with our UN partners in particular and, as I said, with IGAD and the African Union. Indeed, the SG of the AU has also suggested an intervention, but at the moment the situation on the ground means that Khartoum airport cannot be accessed and accessibility through land routes is equally challenging.

On the widening of the conflict, tomorrow we have a Question on the situation in South Sudan. Let us not forget that South Sudan is heavily reliant on access routes from Sudan, be it through the air or through the River Nile. So, we are cognisant that this issue of lack of accessibility for humanitarian support is not limited to ordinary Sudanese civilians; it has wide-ranging impacts across the region. Certainly, we are monitoring the impact that is having in the immediate neighbourhood, particularly in South Sudan, which itself is continuing to suffer from immense political and economic vulnerabilities.

Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol: Scrutiny of EU Legislative Proposals (European Affairs Committee Sub-Committee Report)

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Friday 20th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and I agree with so much of what she has said this morning. I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jay, on his skilful and diplomatic chairing of the Northern Ireland protocol sub-committee. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, said, it is a committee with a wide range of views, and it is testament to the committee and its staff that, once again, it has produced such an important report of great substance. The sub-committee should also be congratulated, I believe, on carrying out its scrutiny function so effectively. It would be very welcome if the Government would now engage more proactively, and across all departments, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, to ensure that the effective processes of scrutiny can be introduced across Whitehall.

The Northern Ireland protocol is far from perfect and, to use the well-worn phrase, many of us speaking in the debate today would not have wanted to start from here. But we are where we are and, for the sake of businesses in Northern Ireland, it is vital that we now make it work. When I was reading this excellent report and the House of Lords briefing note ahead of the debate, it was hard not to feel a sense of frustration, and even anger, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland that so much time has been wasted in sorting all of this out. It is now nearly seven years since the EU referendum and over three years since the 2019 election, which was fought on the basis of getting Brexit done. These issues should have been resolved a long time ago. I appreciate that there is now a subtle change of mood music from the Government and a more business-like attitude to finally getting this sorted.

It is also welcome, as the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, said, that on becoming Taoiseach once again Leo Varadkar acknowledged a week ago that the implementation of the protocol

“was too strict and too rigid and that created real difficulties”.

This indication of greater flexibility is very much to be welcomed. But Brexit was a British decision, so we really should not expect our EU partners or the Government in Dublin to have to sort it out.

In my remaining remarks, I will raise a number of specific points, some of which have already been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, on the scrutiny of EU regulations by this Parliament. The first is on the Commission’s non-paper on engagement with Northern Ireland stakeholders and authorities. That paper contains several proposals for initiating a more structured approach for dialogue. Can the Minister say whether the Government are looking at some of these proposals with a view to implementing them?

The Minister will know, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, has already said, that the sub-committee wrote to the Foreign Secretary on 6 December last year about the proposal of creating a log of regulatory divergence. That seemed to me like a very realistic and sensible proposal. Can the Minister say in his concluding remarks whether this is something they are now actively considering?

I worked for 10 years as a policy adviser and then press secretary in the European Parliament. For three of those years, I worked as an adviser on the research and energy committee. I know just how much work was done influencing the course of legislation at the drafting stage. Information and access were key elements of this. Can the Minister say what thought has been given to assisting Northern Ireland businesses at a much earlier stage of the EU legislative process, especially given that Northern Ireland no longer has MEPs to be involved in these very important early stages of drafting legislation?

In conclusion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, has said, I feel that the continuing lack of a Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly is a tragedy at this time. A strong, functioning Assembly and Executive could have done so much to provide necessary scrutiny and oversight of EU legislation. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, I hope we can finally move on and make genuine progress.

Lord Lisvane Portrait Lord Lisvane (CB)
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To follow the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I wonder whether one route might be for the Minister to give us a glimpse behind the veil. What were the instructions given to parliamentary counsel? In other words, what were they asked to achieve by means of Clause 18(2)?

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak in favour of Amendment 38, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, to which I have added my name.

My noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed has already spelled out in great detail the potentially huge increase in power that Clause 18 could grant to a Minister of the Crown, and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, has further explained the total lack of clarity as regards this clause.

I was reflecting on the many debates we had on this Bill last week and on the general and frankly astonishing lack of clarity from the Government as to why such sweeping powers should ever be deemed necessary—the Rumsfeld “unknown unknowns” clauses, as my noble friend has coined them. Later this week, I believe we will be hearing a Statement from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on progress—or, indeed, lack of progress—in bringing back the Northern Ireland Assembly and a functioning Executive, and whether there will be elections imminently in Northern Ireland to overcome this impasse.

The Government and other noble Lords have stated that one of the Bill’s main purposes was to deal with the understandable concerns of the unionist community, particularly the DUP, about the impact of the Northern Ireland protocol. One can hope that the talks taking place in Brussels and at the climate summit in Egypt will lead to genuine negotiations and a potential framework for agreement. It has also been stated that one of the Bill’s purposes was to facilitate the DUP’s return to the Northern Ireland Executive, yet it remains far from clear that passing this legislation in and of itself would achieve this. It is therefore increasingly hard to understand why we are pushing ahead with this very bad Bill, which sets so many dangerous precedents, if it does not, in itself, achieve even one of its so-called “main objectives”—namely, a much-needed return to a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

When the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, replies to this group of amendments, I would be very grateful if he confirmed that re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive remains one of the Bill’s primary purposes. If it is, does he not agree that other much more productive approaches, such as genuine negotiations and a change of tone, could be taken that would achieve exactly the same goal, but more effectively?

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, here we are again. I could not disagree with anything that has been said by anyone who has spoken. I would like the Minister, for whom we all have real affection and high regard—

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Moved by
40: Clause 20, page 10, line 32, at end insert—
“but this section does not have effect unless it has previously been approved by a resolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would prevent the Bill’s proposed departure from the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol, or from any related provision of the EU withdrawal agreement, in respect of the previously agreed role of the European Court (CJEU) unless Clause 20 had first been approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, Amendment 40 in my name is co-signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. Like so many of the earlier and similar amendments, it aims to ensure that the democratically elected Northern Ireland Assembly would have the final say on whether Clause 20 is to be implemented. In many ways, this is a probing amendment following what I felt was a very constructive and useful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Empey, who I am very glad to see back in his place after an absence. In doing this, it is incredibly important that we make sure that there is greater involvement of the Northern Ireland political parties at every stage. Perception is all in politics and, whether or not the Minister says that meetings are taking place, the representatives here from Northern Ireland do not feel that they are taking place. Therefore, they are obviously not working as they should be.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who is not in his place, spelled out so clearly on an earlier group of amendments, Clause 20 would mean that domestic courts and tribunals cannot refer any matter to the European Court of Justice in relation to the Northern Ireland protocol. Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Hain, also spelled out very clearly the potential impact of this clause on the single electricity market on the island of Ireland. My honourable friend Stephen Farry MP, when speaking in the House of Commons about a very similar amendment, made the point that if the ultimate jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is removed, Northern Ireland’s ability to access the single market for goods will be jeopardised or destroyed. A level playing field overseen by the European Court is surely in the interests of many Northern Ireland businesses and can protect access to the market in years to come. It will also protect such businesses against situations that may arise in future if any EU member state were to attempt to refuse goods coming from Northern Ireland.

Politically, it is worth stressing once again that the majority of businesses in Northern Ireland have adopted our somewhat pragmatic approach to the protocol and that the jurisdiction of the European Court has not previously been seen as a major area of concern. It is therefore hard not to draw the conclusion that Clause 20 has more to do with Conservative Party divisions and the ERG than it has to do with genuine political and business concerns in Northern Ireland. For those businesses that primarily deal with north-south trade or with the EU, any reduction of the jurisdiction of the ECJ would potentially have a profound impact on them. It is for that reason that it is very important that the Northern Ireland Assembly should be able to have its say on these matters. I beg to move.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, I will speak in favour of Amendment 40 in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and will refer to Amendments 42 and 43A in my name.

In many ways, Amendment 40 seeks to protect the role of the European Court of Justice and to ensure adherence to the accountability mechanisms of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Adherence to the provisions in the GFA—the Good Friday agreement—are of vital importance, and any change in the protocol with respect to Clause 20 can go nowhere unless approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

While this is a probing amendment, like the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, I go back to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, about the role of Assembly Members in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Absolutely no account, recognition or acknowledgement has been taken of the role of locally elected Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly in relation to this Bill. He is absolutely right when he says that, if they have buy-in and ownership, there is greater likelihood that the UK Government and the EU will achieve a degree of resolution on many of these vexatious issues.

Many elements of the protocol are already working well for business in Northern Ireland; for example, in relation to dairy, beef and agri-food industries. But it is important to note, as the noble Lord, Lord Empey, and other noble Lords have said—and I think the point has been made by my noble friend Lord Murphy—that negotiations succeed in Northern Ireland only when the parties are sitting around the table with the UK and the EU. So I ask the Government, in their discussions with the European Union, to try where possible to exercise a degree of flexibility that would facilitate such discussions taking place in a more all-encompassing manner.

I move on to Amendment 42, which seeks to ensure that, when the UK-EU joint committee has discussed regulation of goods in connection with the protocol, there is a full report to Parliament detailing those discussions within 21 days of the meeting. In the previous discussion on the first group of amendments, when queries were put by noble Lords about the nature and content of the negotiations with the European Union, I am afraid we did not get very much back about the actual content or level of solutions. Therefore, we are left with a query in our minds about what progress is actually being made in those technical discussions; hence the need for renewed vigour in continuous, senior political engagement at a UK/EU level.

Amendment 42 rightly emphasise the role of the Assembly and the north-south institutions of the Good Friday agreement. That is further emphasised in Amendment 43A, which requires adherence by a UK Minister in the UK-EU joint committee meetings

“to respect, reflect and support proposals made by the Strand 2”

GFA implementation bodies. That goes back to the fact that many of the implementation bodies are inextricably linked to membership of the European Union—I am thinking of InterTradeIreland and Tourism Ireland. It is important that Ministers support proposals on the regulation of goods made by the strand 2 bodies in the joint committee meetings.

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Lord Stewart of Dirleton Portrait Lord Stewart of Dirleton (Con)
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I think this perhaps overlaps with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, raised, but I reiterate our commitment to Article 2. That will be covered in a letter we are presently framing to the noble Baroness. At an earlier stage, she raised the point and gave the Government until the commencement of Report to furnish her with an answer. That answer is now being drafted.

There is a Clause 20 stand part notice. I will summarise what I have said. This clause allows for the proper functioning of domestic court proceedings following the removal of the domestic effect of CJEU jurisdiction under Clause 13. Domestic courts will no longer be bound by CJEU principles or decisions when considering matters relating to the protocol. I emphasise that restoration of these democratic institutions is what we seek to accomplish. Subsection (3) provides a further power to make new provision in connection with this. Regulations made under this power could set out how the UK courts are to regard CJEU jurisprudence or provide a procedure to refer questions of interpretation of EU law to the CJEU if a domestic court considers it necessary to conclude proceedings. The clause is important to ensure that the Government can provide legal and judicial certainty for domestic courts considering proceedings relating to the protocol without being subject to CJEU jurisdiction, in line with the general principles of the Bill. For those reasons, I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister—not least because, as a fellow Scot, he pronounces my name correctly. The constant repetition of “Baroness Sooty” at the beginning was very pointed. Unfortunately, the rest of his reply was somewhat disappointing. However, I am very pleased that he now has on record that the pronunciation is Suttie, not Sooty.

This was a very interesting debate. It split into two distinct sections. There was a powerful debate about the negotiations taking place in Northern Ireland. The noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Cormack, expressed the frustration that many of us feel, that this has to be done at the highest possible level. When the Prime Minister returns, I agree that he must go to Northern Ireland. I am sure that we will return to these matters on the Statement that we expect later this week, perhaps tomorrow or on Wednesday, where we can look at these issues in more detail. The points are very relevant, and there were some extremely good speeches.

The second major concern is around Clause 20. I listened carefully to what the Minister said, but it seems very unclear to me how the clause will protect Northern Ireland businesses, especially those that work north-south, and the single market in the future. I did not feel that we got an adequate reply to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and his DUP colleagues raised the important point about consent. That is part of the wider principle of how we make sure that Northern Ireland politicians feel that they are involved and included in this process.

This was a probing amendment. The wording is not necessarily right. However, we should look at this again on Report, perhaps in a broader amendment on the general principle of consent. We would want to look at exactly how that was worded. None the less, on the basis that we may return to it on Report, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 40 withdrawn.
Moved by
4: Clause 2, page 1, line 17, at end insert—
“(A1) This section is subject to section (Limitation of general implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol: approval of Northern Ireland Assembly).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is linked to Baroness Suttie’s new Clause after Clause 2 (Limitation of general implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol: approval of Northern Ireland Assembly).
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I will also speak to Amendment 5, in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, as well as to Amendments 68 and 69.

These amendments aim to require the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly before the measures contained in the Bill can be used to limit the general implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Clearly, we are debating these amendments against the backdrop of the 28 October deadline having been missed and the continued absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as well as the continued stalemate, with the DUP refusing to allow the Assembly to function since the elections in May of this year.

It is very hard not to feel deeply frustrated and indeed angry on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. The lack of an Assembly and functioning Northern Ireland Executive has meant for ordinary people across Northern Ireland a deteriorating healthcare system, a lack of strategic economic planning, and little or no progress on legacy matters or on issues such as developing an integrated education system. The stop-start nature of devolution over the last 25 years in Northern Ireland has meant that we have seen only fleeting periods of stable government there, and the Government’s attempts to overcome their own internal divisions since 2016 have been at the expense of the people of Northern Ireland.

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Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, we will deal with this subject in the fourth group of amendments. I shall be responding for the Government, so if he can contain himself, we will deal with it at the appropriate point—if we get there this evening.

In summary, we do not think that it would be right to make implementation of measures in this Bill contingent on the restoration of the institutions, given the urgency of the situation in Northern Ireland to which the Government must respond.

I turn briefly to Amendments 68 and 69, also in the name of the noble Baroness. Taken together, these would make the commencement of all operational aspects of the Bill dependent on the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly. At the risk of repeating myself, it is because of the operation of the protocol that the Assembly has not sat since February. We do not know how long this state of affairs will persist. The situation in Northern Ireland is urgent, and we cannot allow addressing the problems with the protocol to be delayed indefinitely.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew—I should really call him my noble friend—rightly referred to the fact that trade has been a reserved matter ever since the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The amendments would essentially prevent the Government making secondary legislation in a reserved area. That is another reason why we cannot accept them.

Given the urgency of the situation—the need to fix the protocol—it would not be right to make the implementation of the vital measures in this Bill contingent on the restoration of the Assembly and Executive. For those reasons, I ask the noble Baroness not to press her amendments.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by echoing the Minister’s comments on May Blood. On behalf of these Benches, I pass on our condolences to her family. I heard about her when I first went to Belfast, and she was held up as a role model for so many in Northern Ireland.

At the outset, I said that this would be a probing amendment. It would be fair to say that it has provoked and probed quite extensively. We have covered a variety of topics, with some very interesting and thought-provoking speeches. In particular, I single out the very measured speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and that of my noble friend Lord Bruce, who perhaps displayed his irritations and frustrations with the situation a little bit more clearly than I did.

As ever, I found myself agreeing entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. They are both absolutely right in their analysis that things are being done to Northern Ireland rather than for it. That is, in essence, the purpose of these amendments: they are probing amendments about the principle of consulting, and not just with one part of one community.

I totally agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It was a wonderful piece of common sense. Would that we could all now finish what could perhaps be described as a waste of our collective time. There was an interesting series of contributions none the less.

I want to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, who rightly said that the amendments are about the principle of consultation—consulting the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and, in their absence, making sure that they are properly involved in the process. I fear that the Minister did not really expand on how that will happen in the weeks and months ahead.

It is, perhaps, one of the peculiarities of this Bill that no one department ever seems to want to take ownership of it. However, it was very welcome to have the Minister from the Northern Ireland Office today because, with all his experience, he was at least able to speak first hand about the consultation and the details of this legislation.

To repeat, the Northern Ireland protocol is a problem of this Government’s own making. Finding practical solutions needs to be their responsibility. However, it is important to listen to all voices in Northern Ireland and, as I said earlier, not just those of one part of one community. It is hard to see how creating further ill will through this legislation will achieve that aim. However, I will not press these amendments this afternoon but reserve the option of re-tabling them on Report, depending on what happens in the weeks ahead in Northern Ireland around the possible elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Wednesday 18th May 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow that powerful speech on war crimes from the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn.

Two days ago my friend Ostap headed east from Lviv in Ukraine, armed with his AK47, his helmet and his body armour. I worked with Ostap in Kyiv when he was the foreign affairs adviser to the speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament. A few years ago, he studied here in this country at the Royal College of Defence Studies, and I was able to give him and his two little boys a tour of Parliament. Now he is in the east of Ukraine, trained as a military fireman. When we were in touch at the weekend, he was understandably extremely apprehensive yet proud to be serving his country.

My friend Olena’s brave young son Nikolai has left his studies at Cambridge University to fight for his cultural homelands. Yuliya, a very dear friend who is now living in Toronto, is facing the dilemma of whether to move her elderly parents and mother-in-law over to Canada from Ukraine. These are the ordinary lives, shattered by this appalling war, of Ukrainian friends with very different backgrounds. The thing they all have in common is that they just want Ukraine to have the right to be a modern, democratic European country without interference from Moscow.

The response to the war in Ukraine has so far been powerful and united: from Ukrainian flags in our gardens, towns and villages to the amazing response of people offering to open up their homes to Ukrainian families. The stance from the UK has been hugely appreciated in Ukraine, even if at times our Home Office has been tragically slow and bureaucratic in matching the response of the British people. The worry is that people will become tired of hearing about this war and move on with their lives but, for the sake of Ukraine, we must remain focused and keep up the pressure.

In the limited time left for me today, I would like to raise four political points. First, when I studied Russian in Voronezh University back in 1988—at the very tail-end of the Cold War—we had a great many Russia experts and Kremlinologists in this country. They were people who understood the language, political culture and psychology of Russia, a country where I worked and studied and still have a great many friends. I believe it would be a mistake to conflate Vladimir Putin and his delusional authoritarian entourage with the ordinary Russian people. Putin’s views and plans about Ukraine were set out fairly clearly over a decade ago, but I fear we took our eye off the ball. Following the same kind of question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, can the Minister give a commitment to encourage greater emphasis in the FCDO on studying the Russian language and Russian politics again? I believe that is going to be hugely important in the future.

Secondly, for sanctions to work it takes time. Friends in Moscow tell me that, as of yet, it is hard to feel their impacts. There should be no talk of lifting the sanctions until the Putin regime has gone.

My third point is about greatly strengthening our relations with other former Soviet states. In particular, I stress the importance of our bilateral relations with Moldova and Georgia. Strengthening bilateral relations is also of key importance in central Asia, in particular in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. I have been working regularly in central Asia for the last five years—I refer to my register of interests—and know that those countries are extremely keen for our relations to be strengthened at all levels, including in capacity-building and academic ties. If we do not do this, Moscow or Beijing will fill that void. I should add that soft-power initiatives through the British Council in the region would hugely benefit from increased funding in that regard. Can the Minister say whether there are plans to develop a new strategy for central Asia? It is an often neglected but strategically important region, perhaps especially now.

What the war in Ukraine has demonstrated all too clearly is the importance of working effectively with other countries and the strength and impact of multilateralism. When we work effectively with others, it enhances our reputation as a nation on the world stage. This is a lesson I believe this Government would do well to adopt in their approach to resolving the issues surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol.

Shawcross Report: Compensation for Victims

Baroness Suttie Excerpts
Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I believe I have already answered the noble Lord in part. I do not agree with him that we have been dragging our feet. As I said, the report is wide-ranging, and we are giving it careful consideration. On the asset freeze that he specifically mentioned, he will know that UK regulations prohibit any dealings with assets owned, held or controlled by designated persons, as specified in law. I note what the noble Lord has said, but I assure him that we are looking at this across government.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD) [V]
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As others have said, it is now over nine months since William Shawcross submitted his report to the Government and over a year since new wider commitments to legacy issues were set out in New Decade, New Approach, yet victims are still waiting for action. Even given the complications caused by Covid, does the Minister not accept that this is an unacceptably long wait for the victims, who have already waited for so long?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, at the risk of repeating myself, as I have said, yes, I accept the premise of the noble Baroness’s question about the delays caused by Covid, but equally the report needs a measured response. I assure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords that we are looking at it very carefully.