All 1 Lord Harries of Pentregarth contributions to the Trade Bill 2019-21

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Thu 8th Oct 2020
Trade Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Trade Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 8th October 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-V Fifth marshalled list for Grand Committee - (8 Oct 2020)
Finally, these amendments recognise that all UN member states have committed to the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. It follows that all trade agreements entered into should recognise that commitment and demonstrably keep to it. The implementation of these agreements should be conditional on that fact.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, first, I apologise as for various reasons this is the first time I have been able to speak on the Bill or this series of amendments. I speak now strongly to support the two amendments before us. I am grateful for all the powerful reasons that have been put forward beforehand, particularly by the proposer, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.

Briefly, there are three reasons why I support both these amendments. The first is that, in policy matters, it is always important to think holistically, and the Bill gives us an opportunity to do so on one of the most crucial areas of human endeavour, which is trading. The danger of not thinking holistically is that one aspect of policy may be prioritised above all others, causing an imbalance and consequent diminution of other worthwhile goals. To maximise trade deals with other countries, at all costs, would seriously harm other goods that we greatly cherish. The Bill therefore has many amendments to ensure, quite rightly, that issues of the environment, human rights, labour relations and so on are properly protected and safeguarded.

Secondly, as part of our holistic thinking, it is right to consider the effect of trade deals on the UN sustainable development goals, to which, as we know, the UK is committed and to which we are fully committed as a member of the European Union. We have promised that. As other noble Lords have reminded us, there will be continuity with those commitments. We hardly need reminding that the need is still desperate. While good progress has been made on some goals, for example on primary education, others, such as reduction of extreme poverty, will go in the other direction by 2030 unless present policies change. One in 10 of the world’s population still lives on less than $1.25 a day. Malnourishment, leading to millions of deaths, especially among children, is stark: 3.1 million children a year still die of malnutrition.

Thirdly, despite recent reactions against globalisation, it is simply a fact of life. We are bound up with one another, economically and socially. Trade deals in one area can have effects worldwide, so we have to watch that the desperate search for trade deals, now that we have left the EU, does not damage the developing world, especially the poorest countries. We need safeguards in law to ensure this. As the apostle of the free market famously proffered:

“People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

These amendments give Parliament a watching brief that the new trade deals do not result, however inadvertently, in a conspiracy against the most vulnerable people on earth.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of Amendments 39 and 97 in the names of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed and others. Clearly, any trade deals that we agree must be in keeping with our international commitment to the sustainable development goals. We keep our agreements, do we not?

The MDGs agreed in 2000 pledged to halve extreme poverty by 2015. We know that economic development and trade played a major part in that being achieved. The SDGs were put in place in 2015, building on the previous period, and pledged to eliminate extreme poverty by 2030, at the same time leaving no one behind—so you were not dealing with averages. As my noble friend Lord Chidgey has just pointed out, the SDGs recognise that ending poverty must go along with human development through improving health and education, reducing inequality and increasing economic participation, while tackling climate change.

My noble friend Lady Sheehan pointed out that we in the UK led on this. Indeed, Andrew Mitchell, as Secretary of State, worked very hard to ensure that Prime Minister David Cameron led on this internationally. Much of the framing of the SDGs was carried out by DfID, in particular by one of its directors. I had the privilege to be a DfID Minister in the coalition during this period, and was the Minister in the Lords when my noble friend Lord Purvis took through the 0.7% Bill as the last piece of legislation by the coalition.

There have been long years of engagement by the EU on trade agreements with developing countries. There was an important shift in the realisation of how the EU, as a major economic power and the biggest aid giver in the world, could either damage the poorest around the world or assist them. Major engagement now goes into seeking to benefit developing countries and if we are to have continuity, we have to have continuity here too.

As we seek to agree trade deals with such countries, the UK must address the SDGs too. They apply in the United Kingdom, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has pointed out, as well as internationally. We know that this is right, and that it is in our interests. Can the Minister say, for example, which African countries have yet to agree rollover arrangements and what the sticking points are? What happens if these are not agreed by the end of this year? Will the Government guarantee existing market access for developing countries and undertake thorough and timely assessments of the impact of any changes, looking at this through a development lens?

The Government have said that any trade deals with developing countries will be in keeping with our commitments to the SDGs. I expect the Minister to reiterate this. The safest and easiest thing to do would therefore be to put this commitment in the Bill. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says.