Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill [HL]

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Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Cameron on taking on the role of Foreign Secretary. Let us never underestimate overseas Governments: they know who has influence in foreign affairs and who does not. They also know when they meet somebody who has influence in this country and overseas, so it is really great news. I have also had a lot of opportunities to see my noble friend Lord Johnson at work on the investment side. I can tell your Lordships that it is mightily impressive.

I welcome this Second Reading, as the CPTPP provides the UK with a truly unrivalled opportunity to deepen our economic ties with some of the world’s most dynamic and progressive economies. Like others here, I am a true believer in free trade. I have therefore felt a lot of excitement in following the UK’s accession to the CPTPP as it has progressed through your Lordships’ International Agreements Committee; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, went into that in some detail.

There are a couple of points that I want to pull out. I think we need—and I welcome clarity on—rules of origin, specifically in areas where existing FTAs are in place, so that UK businesses can ascertain more easily whether there would be more benefit in them trading under localised bilateral agreements or through the CPTPP itself. Further to this, I have highlighted that the Government need to take bolder action in securing more generous local content thresholds in order to protect UK manufacturers. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide some reassurance that mitigating industry’s concerns in these important areas will remain a priority for this Government as the Bill progresses.

By fostering an environment of free and open trade, the CPTPP promotes economic growth and encourages innovation, benefiting UK businesses both large and small. It opens doors for collaboration in areas that are important to the UK economy, such as innovation, technology and research. It is my hope that, through connecting with economies that are at the forefront of technological advancement today, the CPTPP will allow the UK to stimulate innovation and create high-skilled jobs, and allow us to remain a competitive force in the global marketplace.

Picking up on conformity assessments, I am pleased that the Bill will enhance regulatory co-operation between the UK and other countries, for trade agreements of any kind are pointless if they do not seek to reduce costs and bureaucracy for our domestic businesses at every possible opportunity.

We have touched a little on consumer rights. It is important to acknowledge that, as we are acceding to an existing agreement, the Government were limited in seeking the types of amendments that some would have sought; many people have made this point. I, for one, remain entirely satisfied that the Government have proven that they remain committed to ensuring that our high standards and protections, and the rights of the consumer, will be safeguarded in this agreement. However, I urge the Government to seek further joint statements on a bilateral basis, like the joint statement on sustainable agricultural commodity trade with Malaysia, to demonstrate that the United Kingdom’s reputation as a socially responsible and forward-thinking trading partner remains intact.

That is all the good stuff. Now, if I may, I will offer a bit of criticism; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, picked up on this point. We live in an era when technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate. Business needs quick access to the latest information for trade. It is therefore disappointing that our Government’s website, GOV.UK, falls well short in providing easy, accessible trade-related information. My request to my noble friend Lord Johnson is that he will get his department to ensure that our website equals the gold standard of other countries’ websites. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Frost will not be happy to hear this, but even the EU is better than the UK at this—but the accepted gold standard seems to be Australia. Trade agreements are absolutely pointless if businesses are not able to go through the door and trade. It must be easy to trade and get information; it is essential for SMEs that this is the case. This is a real plea that we make sure that all the information we need is easily accessible and understandable.

As we attempt to navigate the choppy waters of international affairs and the increasing complexities of global trade in an increasingly dangerous world, it is important to acknowledge the strategic importance of our accession to this agreement. Although, by the Government’s own assessment, the economic benefits of the UK’s accession will initially be small, our accession to the CPTPP signals our long-overdue tilt to the Asia-Pacific region and, in my view, the starting point of forging stronger bilateral economic and security ties with other major economies, including Japan, Canada and Australia. For the United Kingdom, the CPTPP ensures that our businesses will have increased access to markets that were previously characterised by high tariff barriers. By reducing these barriers, promoting regulatory co-operation and leading the CPTPP nations in promoting innovation and sustainability, our accession offers a significant opportunity for this country. I therefore very much support what I believe to be an exciting journey that we are on.

Ethiopia: Humanitarian and Security Situation

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Tuesday 6th September 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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The noble Lord has a long track record on these issues and I appreciate the very regular updates I get from him, all of which I transfer to my colleague in the other place in whose portfolio this sits. I know it is appreciated there as well. Millions of people in Ethiopia have been lifted out of poverty in recent years; it was a development success story. We all remember the horrors that created much of what we now regard to be the aid movement, but those gains that we saw are massively at risk today. The reality is that millions upon millions of people are now facing a return to base poverty—actual starvation —so this is of course a priority for us. We are working with all the international bodies that have a role to play, whether that is in preventing sexual violence or alleviating the immediate threats of starvation, and we are working through all the UN agencies. We are and remain an international development leader in Africa, notwithstanding the pressures on the ODA budget in the UK, and Africa will remain a priority for us.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, would the Minister look again at the situation in the Horn of Africa? There is instability in northern Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia, yet Somaliland, which is not recognised as a country—the British Government will still not look at recognising its Government—is after all the only stable place in that region.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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The noble Lord makes such an important point. I am tempted to depart from the current line to take on Somaliland, but I will simply say that it is one of the most extraordinary success stories. It is a plucky country and a place that has defied all the odds. It is one of the only countries in the world that has almost eliminated electoral fraud through the use of iris technology. It is a country where, following a democratic election, candidates shake hands and power is transferred peacefully. It is an area in one of the most troubled regions on earth which has managed to rid itself of the problems of al-Shabaab, which were mentioned in a previous question. I cannot think of another country that has succeeded or flourished more against all the odds. In my view, it is a country that we should be supporting, and we should ramp up our support in the months and years to come.

Working Practices (International Agreements Committee Report)

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Thursday 19th May 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to be a member of International Agreements Committee, albeit a reasonably new one. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for securing this afternoon’s debate and noble Lords who have contributed to the publication of the report on working practices.

This is an important area of work, and I welcome the steps that Her Majesty’s Government are taking to ensure that we strengthen Parliament’s ability to scrutinise effectively. That is not to say that government could not do more, but at least we are seeing movement in the right direction.

While I acknowledge that there are both practical and trade secrecy issues to overcome, it is imperative that government does that much more to collaborate better with the devolved Administrations, a point just picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. Government should involve the devolved Administrations at the earliest opportunity possible. On the flip side of the coin, I would like to see the First Ministers playing their part in supporting government with early engagement on the matters which concern their citizens.

The union depends on government securing agreements that work in the interests of every nation of our United Kingdom, and I hope that in moving forward Ministers will seek to strengthen how they work with the devolved nations on perfecting international treaty agreements. I am keen to understand more from Ministers about what the Government are doing here and whether they have looked into the possibility of facilitating co-determination in areas of devolved competence.

A significant criticism of this Government’s approach to trade agreements has centred on their engagement with external stakeholders. I am reassured by the Government’s recent positive approach to establishing new trade advisory groups. As noble Lords will be aware, these 11 trade advisory groups cover a range of key sectors. I hope they will provide the Government with an enhanced understanding of sector-based needs which will in turn inform and strengthen the UK’s negotiating positions.

We know that the UK is an innovative nation, and that our businesses are rich in expertise and ideas. I therefore welcome greater collaboration between those in government and the private sector, and I am sure that the committee will keep a watchful eye on the effectiveness, scope and delivery of the trade advisory groups as they continue to meet.

I feel, however, that these groups would benefit significantly from an injection of views from civil society, and I would be grateful if Ministers would comment on what the Government are doing in this regard. Further to this, I believe that government should consider whether the non-disclosure agreements currently in place with members of the trade advisory groups are hampering the ability of experts to advise properly. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House that NDAs will be used as sparingly as possible and only when absolutely essential, so that consultation may be strengthened.

The UK has made significant progress under the Government in establishing better governance structures and processes, and I look forward to the Government’s continuing attention to perfecting matters of transparency, consultation and scrutiny.

Queen’s Speech

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Wednesday 18th May 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, I rise to support the Motion for an humble Address, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to a bold legislative programme which will set us back on a track that will allow us to move forward to unlocking the full potential of this country.

Russia is now on the back foot in its completely unjustified and heinous attack on the sovereignty of Ukraine, and history will remember kindly the role that Her Majesty’s Government have played and continue to play in taking the early initiatives and mobilising global support for our Ukrainian allies in their hour of need.

In acknowledging that the first duty of a Government is to protect and safeguard the lives of their citizens, I am pleased that through the National Security Bill the Government have committed themselves to a complete overhaul of the espionage law, with tougher measures to tackle state-backed sabotage and foreign interference. I welcome that, as part of that Bill, the illicit acquisition for or disclosure to a foreign power of sensitive trade, commercial or economic information will be made an offence. Similarly, I have high hopes that the Bill will strengthen our democracy by disrupting disinformation and preventing foreign attacks against our electoral process.

There is a geopolitical crisis at play. To the east, China continues with its zero-Covid lockdowns, and across the globe the legacy of Covid continues to wreak havoc with our financial markets, the logistics of trade and even the stability of some states. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine are just two examples which demonstrate that the international order of old, and its institutions, are crying out for reform. Therefore, I hope that, in moving forward with the legislative agenda, the Government will be both enabled and emboldened to assert some influence on the world stage and cause the much-needed reform of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and NATO to accelerate with speed. The importance of NATO cannot be stressed enough, and we must work harder to encourage other members of the alliance to honour their obligations to this organisation.

I look forward to supporting the Government as they bring forward the “super seven” Brexit Bills. If recent events such as the vaccine rollout have taught us anything, it is that Britain thrives and leads when red tape and bureaucracy are eliminated. Through these Brexit Bills the Government will have an unparalleled opportunity to take every part of the United Kingdom forward to better times, to strengthen our union and to protect our cause of freedom around the world. However, before these Bills are given consideration, the Government must face up to and address the situation in Northern Ireland, even if this means triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol in its entirety.

The United Kingdom must continue to capitalise on its strengths as a global trading nation, forging ambitious trade agreements with like-minded regions and nations that value innovation, ease of doing business, investment in skills and technology, and entrepreneurship. In commenting on this, I draw attention to my declared position as co-chair of the UAE-UK Business Council. To give one example, nearly 13,000 British companies are currently exporting their goods and services to the United Arab Emirates. They are attracted not only by the strength of commercial opportunity there and the business-friendly environment, but because the country has free trade agreements in place with numerous other countries, most recently India and Israel. That means that the UAE can also be a gateway for British exporters to these other markets, and that is why it is essential that we start getting the same kind of free trade agreements in place.

Our reputation as an attractive place to do business has also encouraged large flows of investment into the UK, which has significant social benefit. Again with reference to the United Arab Emirates, Mubadala Investment Company last year invested £800 million in our national digital infrastructure, which will ensure that people in all parts of the UK will have access to fast and reliable internet services, ultimately creating 16,000 jobs down the supply chain.

There are many other parts of Her Majesty’s gracious Speech that I would like to have addressed but I fear that time is against me, so I conclude by welcoming the programme with my full support.

Ministers: Overseas Travel

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Tuesday 1st February 2022

(2 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 have listened very carefully and let us be quite clear: this is not an FCDO plane. It is leased, as my noble friend pointed out, through the Cabinet Office and it is open to all Ministers at senior levels to make a considered decision for their department. On the important point the noble Lord makes, every flight contributes to the UK’s emissions trading scheme, and we pay a voluntary carbon offset credit for each flight taken.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that not only do these planes uphold the dignity of the state, but they are no more than workplaces for Ministers and their staff to discuss and manage things diplomatically and securely on long journeys?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great insight about the serious decisions taken at the heart of government. Just for noble Lords’ interest, the Royal Air Force—as I said, this is government-wide, including planes provided for the Royal Family—has one A330, one commercially operated A321 and one BAE146. The United States has two VC-25s, eight C-32As and two C-40 Clippers. France—the list goes on. In the United Kingdom, the decisions taken on travel for every Minister of course take value for money into account. However, the Foreign Office, the Department for International Trade and a number of other departments undertake vital work internationally, and sometimes, as I have already said, when the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary travel, they not only travel with security but conduct business on those planes. This would not be possible on any commercial flight.

Afghanistan: Food Shortages

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Tuesday 9th November 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I totally agree with the noble Lord, and that is exactly what we are focused on.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, it is quite clear that one of the reasons for starvation in the country is that so many women and girls are now no longer able to work and are being deprived of that. One of the conditions that must be imposed on the Afghan Government is that those women and girls can go back to proper employment and not be barred, as they are today.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Again, I agree with my noble friend, who speaks with great insight on this issue. Let me assure him that we are focused on dealing directly with women leaders in identifying which provinces we have seen real progress in. Indeed, in certain provinces we have seen girls returning to higher education and to work and employment. We are focused on ensuring that the objectives that he just highlighted are part of our discussions.

Iran: British-Iranian Prisoners

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Monday 7th June 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we will continue to work very constructively with our key partners to ensure that the obligations Iran has under the JCPOA are fully met and upheld. On future sanctions, the noble Lord will of course be aware that I will not speculate on what we may or may not do in the future.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, the plight of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and others held by the Iranian authorities is truly terrible. We can only imagine how ghastly it must be serving time in one of their prisons or under house arrest; as has already been said, it is a very repressive regime. Can the Minister therefore confirm that, as the negotiations proceed in Geneva on the JCPOA, they will deal with the nuclear issue and also the export of terrorism and the seizing of hostages—both of which were omitted under the original JCPOA arrangements?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My noble friend is right to highlight the limitations of the JCPOA—specifically on arms, for example, ballistic missiles are not included. As I said earlier, we continue to work with partners in asking Iran to uphold its obligations. I assure my noble friend that we are working at the highest level, including through the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, to ensure the early release of all dual nationals under detention and their return to the UK.

COP 26

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Tuesday 25th May 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con) [V]
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At the G7 just a few days ago, we were able under UK leadership to secure commitments around phasing out fossil fuel subsidies internationally. We also secured commitments from some members of the G7, as well as countries not part of the G7, that we will use our collective leverage to ensure that the multilateral development institutions align their policies and portfolios not only with Paris but with nature. We know that there is not enough public money in the world to deliver the solutions we need for either climate or nature, so we need private finance and we need the multilateral institutions to step up much more than they have so far.

Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that, after setting carbon targets and the road map, the next most important policy area is finance and, in particular, the development of green finance in all its different forms? This must be part of the investment criteria for government and business; unless it is achieved, those targets will not be met.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con) [V]
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The noble Lord is right. Of course, developed countries need to make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100 billion in public finance to tackle climate change and a big chunk of that needs to be spent on nature-based solutions, but we need international financial institutions to play a part as well. We need to unleash trillions in addition to that in private sector finance. As part of this, we are doing what we can to complete negotiations successfully around Article 6, which would pave the way to functioning, high-integrity carbon markets as just one solution. Finally, Governments need to shift the subsidies, which dwarf anything that is available via aid agencies, and ensure that instead of funding destruction, as most of them currently do, they fund renewal and sustainability.