Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 25 February).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered global human security.
It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair, Sir Christopher. First, I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting me this debate. The extraordinary experience of the pandemic that we have just lived through has shown us, if anything, that we need an honest discussion about the threats that put all our lives at risk. For years, we have thought that security is about the risks to our nation from hostile actors. It is, of course, important that we are properly aware of and knowledgeable about those risks and equipped to tackle them, but as long as we continue to define security in those narrow terms, we risk neglecting our duty to our constituents to keep them safe now and for generations to come. The world around us is changing, and we must scrutinise our core conventional security assumptions. Ranging from emerging artificial intelligence, cyberwar and organised crime to pandemics and the climate emergency, threats to our security are becoming more complex and more diverse.
The term “human security” was first championed by the United Nations Development Programme in its annual report on human development. It is about security for people: it covers economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security; it puts the experience and wellbeing of the individual at the centre of security policy. Because the challenges that we face are increasingly transnational, human security prioritises international co-operation over competitive national strategies and emphasises the shared security of all humanity.
We cannot continue to seek 20th-century solutions for 21st-century problems. There is no starker reminder than the past year of the impact of the growing range of security threats on people’s lives. It was a virus, not a hostile actor, that brought our lives to a standstill overnight. It was a virus, not a hostile actor, that threatened businesses, jobs and livelihoods. It was a virus, not a hostile actor, that killed more than 120,000 British civilians in the space of a year. With more than 134 million cases worldwide, the truth is that many countries were simply not prepared for the covid pandemic. Our Governments, institutions, policy making and planning need to focus on how we become a lot better at detecting and responding to pandemic threats.
Conflict and crisis prevention are even more important than crisis management. Scientists are already warning that we face an increased threat from pandemics, in terms of both their size and their frequency. Many agree that our behaviour—from deforestation to our encroachment on wildlife habitats—is helping to spread diseases from animals to humans more frequently. In the past 20 years alone, there have been no fewer than six significant threats: SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza, swine flu and covid-19. In the words of Professor Matthew Baylis,
“We dodged five bullets but the sixth got us.”
As the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response says, we must now learn the lessons of covid-19.
The human security approach is about addressing the root causes of vulnerabilities and taking early action on emerging risks. With the tragedy of covid still in our minds, we must use this opportunity to prepare ourselves better against the biological threats that we face. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office should use the G7 and other international gatherings as an opportunity to transform biological security across the board. After all, we do not know what the next covid-19 will look like.
By now, we have had plenty of warnings of the climate and ecological emergency, which has the potential to be even more devastating than covid-19. It is nearly 50 years since the UN’s first major conference on international environment issues in 1972, yet successive Governments have failed to take the climate emergency seriously. In just under 30 years we need to cut all our carbon emissions worldwide to net zero. Although we have known about the threats for decades we have failed to act decisively for far too long. Rises in temperature are now accelerating at a faster rate than most scientists anticipated. It might already be too late to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5° C.
Rising temperatures will lead to widespread natural disasters, environmental degradation, food and water insecurity, rising sea levels and shrinking amounts of land for humans to farm and live on. They will further exacerbate the huge inequality between the global north and south and could lead to large-scale migration and become a catalyst for new conflicts that will threaten international peace and security at a level as yet unknown and unquantifiable. Here in the UK there will be more frequent and severe extreme weather. Higher temperatures will mean increased flooding, property damage and pressure on public services. Crucially it will be those in the poorest communities who will suffer the most.
We are not just in the middle of a climate crisis. Nature is in crisis too. Our way of life, especially in developed nations, is exploiting our global resources in a way that is becoming increasingly unsustainable for our planet. As nature declines, so does the quality of human life. Pollution and poor air quality alone cost millions of lives every year across the globe. We in the UK are not excluded. Those things all beg the question whether the way we currently look at security policy limits the extent to which Government can keep us safe.
Threats to human security such as climate change are predictable and are incrementally destructive, but consecutive Governments have failed to do anything meaningful about them because the worst impacts of climate change stretch well beyond average election cycles. Short-termism leads to long-run costs for short-run savings. Issues of widespread consequences are neglected in the agenda in favour of matters that seem to be more immediate and easier to manage before the next election comes along. That is why the UK should lead the way by looking beyond short-term political cycles and should introduce a wellbeing for future generations Bill. That would reset our approach to the way we plan for long-term crises.
As the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for future generations, I am a champion of the Wellbeing of Future Generations (No. 2) Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). It has the support of more than 100 organisations. That Bill would enshrine in legislation a long-term approach to security so that we could foresee and plan for growing risks, including nuclear proliferation, climate change, and risks from future technologies such as artificial intelligence and synthetic biology. It would ensure that Governments would publish a long-term vision for a better UK and put together a national risk assessment, looking forward to the next 25 years after each general election.
Many countries have already started to address damaging short-termism. Examples are the Finnish Committee for the Future and the Singapore Centre for Strategic Futures. Closer to home is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. However, there is no such body in Westminster. Adopting a Bill designed specifically to mitigate the worst effects of climate change would set the UK up as a trailblazer at COP26—the first UN country with such legislation. An Act dedicated to safeguarding the wellbeing of future generations would set a gold standard for having preventive safeguards in place before it is too late.
During the pandemic we have seen the UK’s health and wellbeing inequalities playing out in real time, and threatening financial and health insecurities. We Liberal Democrats believe that someone in the Cabinet must be responsible for the wellbeing of the British people. A wellbeing budget, following New Zealand’s example, would help to inform the Government’s decisions on what would improve the wellbeing of people across the country. This year’s integrated review has come at the middle of one of the most disruptive global crises in living memory. It is encouraging that for the first time it defines whom our security policy is trying to keep safe. However, for all its talk of long-termism, co-operation and future technology, it is deeply rooted in the old logic of competition.
It is hugely disappointing that the review reneges on previous decisions to reduce the UK’s nuclear stockpile. Instead it increases our stockpile by more than 40% only a month before the next non-proliferation treaty review conference. This not only undermines our record on nuclear disarmament but makes it significantly more difficult for us to make a compelling case in encouraging other NPT-recognised states to reduce their nuclear stockpiles, let alone states outside the NPT.
Today I urge the Minister not to allow this integrated review to be a missed opportunity for setting a course for a sustainable future, and to provide an operational plan that assesses the implementation of the integrated review, based on how it improves global human security. Such a plan must permit us to monitor and evaluate who will benefit from the review, and what impact it will have on their security and wellbeing.
The scale of global human tragedy is alive in our minds. There is no better time than now to put in place long-lasting protections to safeguard current and future generations, focusing on the security and well-being of the individual worldwide, abandoning strategies based solely on competition between nations and ensuring long-lasting global co-operation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.
I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on securing this debate. We could not be further apart politically speaking, but she is right to raise this issue in a Westminster Hall debate, so that we can discuss how we can go forward in creating new ways to tackle this matter and to deliver on behalf of not only our own citizens but citizens around the world.
It is interesting to read United Nations resolution 66/290 from 25 October 2012, in which the UN outlines human security as something that tackles “survival, livelihood and dignity”, with an interest in restoring communities. I want to talk about dignity because, free from poverty and despair, having a people-centred approach and ensuring that we can provide peace, prosperity and development around the world is an important issue and one that I think the United Kingdom has been a global leader on.
Of course, that is somewhat in contention at the moment, because of some of the other issues that have been raised over the course of this pandemic, most specifically that of gender-based violence. I apologise to the Minister, because I think that every time we have come across each other in a Westminster Hall debate, I have raised this issue. However, what we have seen in the course of the past 13 months is a systematic rise of gender-based violence—the persecution of women, of men, of boys and of girls across the world. It is a pandemic that was here before the current Covid pandemic and it will be here long afterwards. Gender-based violence is an issue that is not just dealt with by or due to the nation state; it is a crisis that impacts humanity across the world and it must be addressed.
I make the point that the United Kingdom has shown global leadership on this issue, because we helped to pass the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. However, in recent years we have seen the systematic increase of gender-based violence becoming all the more pronounced. In 2017, 87,000 women were killed, which equates to 137 a day, and the UN has suggested that last year alone about 242 million women and girls would be victims of sexual abuse. Of course, at the moment there is no remit to bring perpetrators to justice. We rightly talk about dignity and about the ability to help those most in need across the world, but where is the dignity if we stay silent on this issue? Where is the dignity in our responses and our ambitions if we fail to tackle this pervasive and increasing horror, which is a gross human rights violation?
We have been retreating on these issues, and I have heard time and time again from the Government about the fact that the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative continues to thrive from place to place, and continues to involve itself in different regions of the world. Yet at present in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, where some of the most appalling human rights violations—including sexual violence—are going on, the PSVI has not been deployed. The PSVI is no longer being used for the very purpose that it was set up for, so I have to question in this important debate on this important subject why we are not using the tools that we have at our disposal to help those who are most in need.
My second point should not be a surprise, given the point I have just made. It is the fact that one of the ways in which we can tackle this issue, and one of the ways in which we can show global leadership, is by retaining the 0.7% target. This is something that I have long seen as a tool in Britain’s diplomatic arsenal, a tool that allows us to be a global leader in development, and a tool that we have been able to use in our diplomatic network. To be able to tackle the valid points raised by the hon. Member for Bath, which I am sure others will raise as well, we must retain that number so that we can show our commitment to the world and continue to fund programmes and show global leadership
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, given the current signals from the Government, we are setting ourselves up against other nations rather than wanting to work with them? That is not a good way of seeking co-operation across the board on such important issues as women and violence.
The hon. Lady makes an incredibly important point. I think we are stepping back where we should step forward. The UK has form in leadership, but we are not doing that. The Minister can shake his head—I am sorry to be against him on this issue—but when it comes to sexual and gender-based violence and aid, we are expected to play a part. Nations do not accept that we are doing that at present, so we must take a step forward.
I know many Members wish to speak in this debate. We have a duty to the world’s poorest, a duty to those in despair, and a duty to those who are suffering. As conflicts and crises rage around the world, we are seen to be mute. I hope the Minister can correct me on where I am wrong and can tell me that our units are going out to Ethiopia to help victims of gender-based and sexual violence, but nothing has shown me anything different from what has been suggested already. We often confuse movement for action. Following this debate and many others that we will have in this Chamber, I hope we will be able to address this issue and recognise that it is not just about the nation state, but about how we respond to human crises around the world in a way that we can rightly be proud of.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. My heartiest congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) on securing this debate. As is typical, she has covered most of the points that I intended to make, including the one about the number of nuclear weapons that this country proposes to have in future.
My hon. Friend made the point that human security is not just about armed forces, but about what has happened recently. She pointed out that the huge number of deaths in this country has been due to the virus, and that has led, we think, to a 20% drop in our GDP. As my party’s defence spokesman, I want to pay real tribute to our armed forces and the role that they have played in recent times. I have on several occasions pressed the Secretary of State for Defence on their deployment in terms of testing and the roll-out of the vaccine, and I give credit where it is due. I have had straight answers from him and have seen with my own eyes the good work that has been done.
Having served, not with any particular honour, as a private soldier in the Territorial Army, I know that the armed forces, once they have been trained and are ready, spend a lot of time waiting when nothing much happens. From the conversations that I have had, I know that the armed forces personnel who took part in testing the vaccination actually enjoyed the work. They saw it as something different and felt proud that they were playing a role in defeating the deadly virus.
As I represent a constituency that is subject to more extreme weather than many other parts of the United Kingdom, I know all about global warming, which has already been mentioned. The armed forces also have a big role to play when we have a landslip. God forbid that we do, but, alas, when we do and something goes wrong—when a railway line is blocked or a road goes over the edge—they too can help out, and indeed they do. Again, as in fighting the deadly virus, they actually enjoy the work, and it gives them experience of using their machinery to see what they can do with it.
For that reason, I am bound to make this one political point: I deplore the proposed cut in the number of military personnel. Yes, we can do things very cleverly with computers, to which I will turn in a minute, but at the end of the day we need the human bodies and the skills out there to fight and defend our human security in the widest possible sense, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bath has outlined.
I turn now to cyber-security. As I have mentioned before, during the armed forces parliamentary scheme the year before last, when I joined the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment in Estonia, it was made clear to me by a colour sergeant that it would be extremely dangerous for me to turn on my iPhone that close to the Russian border. He said, “Quite simply, they will triangulate in on you right away and in no time at all hack into your iPhone”. We were told in almost blood-curdling terms, “Do not use social media. If you take a picture, don’t send it anywhere at all”. Despite my TA experience a long time ago, this shook me and showed that the threat to this country via cyber-attack is very real indeed.
I want to take this point one step further. It is easy to think of Russia attacking us in this way, but let us remember other enemies are out there—China, North Korea and others have been mentioned several times. Alas, we live in a dangerous world and we have to defend ourselves.
This is not just about an attack on an institution, such as the House of Commons and our own defence systems. It can, sadly, be on an individual. We have seen the spread of antisemitism and all sorts of unfortunate messages being pushed, possibly from Russian bots, possibly from other countries, we know not, but it is done with malevolent intent, make no mistake of that.
I close with two small examples of the connected-up nature of this. It is no accident that RT—Russian Television—uses its services to try to undermine some of the things that we hold most dear in the United Kingdom. I want to put on record today that I absolutely deplore Mr Alex Salmond’s refusal to accept the disgraceful, horrific nature of the murder and attack in Salisbury. I do not think this man realises that he is the unwitting pawn of Russia’s chess game to undermine the United Kingdom. I know that the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), has lived in Northern Ireland. As we see events unroll in Northern Ireland right now, how do we know that the hand of cyber-security is not in some way linked to this? Perhaps I am scaremongering, but I am also realistic as to the threat that this nation and the world face.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply with great interest. What does he feel about the connected nature of cyber-defence, not just in defending our institutions such as the House of Commons, the banks and defence systems, but also at the lower, individual level where somebody could be taken out via a nasty cyber-attack? How can we manage with fewer armed forces personnel?
This debate is very valuable and important. It should have been held before the Government launched their review of this country’s security arrangements and before their statements about future levels of expenditure on overseas aid and defence. We put defence expenditure up by £24 billion and cut overseas aid expenditure, which surely gives a very bad message to the rest of the world.
Issues of real security need to be addressed in a fundamental way. What is security? Security for a human being is the ability to be able to live peacefully, to eat, to be educated, to have health care for them and their children, and to live a full and fulfilling life. That is surely something that we all want for ourselves. The UN recognises it is an important benchmark for human development. Indeed, our Ministry of Defence recognises that as well, because it has a department dealing with issues surrounding human security.
However, we then have to look at the reality of the world as it is at the present time. Broadly speaking, western countries have a fairly high standard of living, albeit with massive inconsistencies and inequalities, but other countries, mainly in the global south, have less access to health care, almost no access in some cases to free education and shorter life expectancy. Surely those factors are major drivers of world insecurity and the conflicts we presently have. We should be looking at human development in the future and how our overseas aid expenditure can help that; how a fairer trading system could reduce tensions around the world and raise living standards; and how we can deal with the food distribution crisis around the world that results in so many people living in hunger.
We must also look at the human rights crisis in many parts of the world in which women’s rights, children’s rights and the rights to free speech and assembly are denied. Those, too, are drivers of injustice and inequality.
The other factor in global affairs has to be the overwhelming need for us to take the present issues of environmental disaster and climate change very seriously. The rate of global warming is not slowing—it is increasing. We are not going to reach net zero by 2050 at the current rate of affairs, yet we need to reach net zero by 2030.
The opportunities coming up for us to contribute to this are numerous. One is COP26 later this year, at which we need not just to set an example of our activities in this country—where, yes, we are generating more electricity from renewable sources—but to go a lot further. We also have to ensure that we do not export pollution by importing goods made from polluting sources. COP26 is a huge opportunity that we must not miss to reach net zero by 2030, if at all possible, and to ensure that the technology to achieve that is universally shared.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference and the UN proposals on a global ban on nuclear weapons are also coming up. Yet instead of fulfilling our obligations under the NPT, we are proposing to produce even more nuclear weapons in this country. That will not make us safer, it is illegal within the terms of the NPT, and we ought to be leading the way towards a nuclear-free world by co-operating with the UN proposals, and with other countries.
The third area of great insecurity is the number of refugees around the world. There are 70 million refugees who are products of environmental disaster, of wars, and of human rights abuses. They demand somewhere to live; they demand the right to contribute to our world. Instead of using threats against them, we should recognise the problems that have led them to seek refuge in the first place. There are major issues around the world: a war in Yemen, a war in Afghanistan—albeit relatively low level—and the huge number of arms sales that we make to Saudi Arabia and other countries, which actually contribute to those conflicts.
I would hope that we could have a more thoughtful approach to the longer term. I have no truck with human rights abuses anywhere in the world, be they in China, in Russia, in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else. Our contribution ought always to be arguing for the UN universal declaration and for human rights-based foreign policy. That, surely, would help to bring about peace in the future.
However, if the rhetoric from Government is always about ratcheting up a cold war with China, ratcheting up a cold war with Russia and pouring more arms into every area of conflict around the world, that will not bring us peace, and our armed forces could be put in harm’s way.
To follow what the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) said, I have met some of our armed forces who saved lives in the Mediterranean by pulling refugees out of the sea off the coast of Libya who were in danger of drowning while they were seeking a place of safety, or helped people dealing with the Ebola crisis, and they told me it was the most useful thing they had ever done. Our armed forces have enormous skills to protect us from cyber-security attacks, but we also need to ensure that those skills are used to bring about a more peaceful world.
Lastly, there is now a real danger of an even worse conflict developing in Myanmar, where there has been a coup to take over the Government and where the army is now in charge. Surely we must do everything we can to bring about a political solution for all the people of Myanmar, including the Rohingya people who have been forced into exile in Bangladesh, so that we can make our contribution to bringing about a much more peaceful world. Surely the crisis of the environment, of human rights and of refugees around the world ought to be the big signal that, post covid, the world needs to work together to conquer disease, poverty and inequality. Increasing arms expenditure and arms sales will not bring about that more peaceful world.
I want to record my thanks to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for her thoughtfulness in introducing this debate and for her excellent early-day motion. She has made a great contribution to the House today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I very much welcome today’s debate and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for tabling this discussion, in which I want to raise a number of key points.
Fundamentally, this is about a reconceptualisation of security, away from essentially—in some respects, almost purely—national security towards human security. Historically, international law and security have largely been framed through the lens of the nation state. Threats have been considered in terms of the effect of aggression, or things such as economic warfare, on the autonomy of states. Obviously those are still realities in many respects, both for the UK and other states around the world. None the less, it is important that we change our assessment of threats and do so in a way that reflects our changing values.
Many speakers have referred to the importance of human rights. If we are to conceive human rights as genuinely universal, that cannot be just a theory. We must try to live that out in practice, and that means having a serious conversation about what it means to be secure. There are multiple dimensions to that, including someone’s personal autonomy and dignity, their economic prospects and prosperity, the most fundamental of which is their food security, and their opportunities, not least in education—educational opportunity for girls is a theme that many Members have been keen to stress—as well as basic freedoms and rights, and also more recently, with the realities of climate change, environmental security.
But this is not simply a question of altruism. We have to recognise our interdependence with what happens in the rest of the world—with our closest neighbours, but also with those much further afield. There are three major interlinking themes, which we are all very conscious of at present. One is the looming climate change and the climate emergency, and what we need to do by 2050 to ensure carbon neutrality. We cannot simply view that through the lens of the UK alone; we have to ensure that the world is moving at the same pace. The UK has a particular responsibility, as one of the states that industrialised first and that has historically been one of the greater polluters, to show leadership and bring others with us. We also have issues with migration flows and how destabilising they can be, so we must understand the reasons why people are often pushed to flee from their own societies.
Then we have the issue of pandemics. We do not know what lies in the future, even whenever we think beyond covid, but that reinforces the importance of seeing health security in a global sense, because the UK can never be fully safe unless the rest of the world is properly vaccinated. It is therefore important that the UK builds upon what I acknowledge to be strong leadership through COVAX and does more to try to ensure that the rest of the world is keeping pace with the UK.
Over the last number of decades, we have seen a range of conflicts and war zones around the world, and many of those have involved gross abuses of human rights right through to ethnic cleansing and genocide. We have to be honest that at times there has been a certain selectivity in terms of how different states around the world have responded.
I remember growing up in the 1980s and seeing the images from Cambodia on TV screens, and how that conflict was essentially parked by the great powers because it did not suit anyone’s interests to get involved. In effect, genocide occurred as we looked on with a degree of futility. More recently in the 1990s, we saw the situation in Rwanda where it was blatantly obvious what was happening and a full-scale genocide took place within a matter of weeks, but the world looked away because it was not viewed as an issue of national interest or people had been exhausted by interventions that had taken place elsewhere.
Other conflicts, even the situation in eastern Congo through to Yemen today, have not received the same degree of attention that other war zones have received from the international community because other interests have come to pass. Often where we have intervened or sought to use our influence, these have not been the ones where the greatest loss of life has occurred. Of course, where we have taken action has been important and was the correct decision to make, but we have at times turned a blind eye because we did not have either the capacity or the will to address certain situations. When we have intervened, it has been due to overspill issues or where the UK has had historical interests and relationships, or what used to be termed the CNN effect where TV cameras have shamed the world into action—leaving other situations where TV cameras perhaps have not been present without proper due attention.
I am not being naïve in suggesting that we move away entirely from the traditional national security lens. Clearly, there are huge threats out there that we would have to be alert to and address, and those are in many respects state-based threats from both Russia and China. However, the balance needs to change and the integrated review should be a pivot in that respect. We need to see a greater focus on international aid and humanitarian assistance, as well as on UN peacekeeping.
It is important that we return to the responsibility to protect doctrine that was developed by the United Nations in the early 2000s. Intervention has become somewhat scarred and undermined by a number of missteps that have occurred in more recent years, but it may be important that we return to that concept and see how it can be reapplied. We need to look at how we can ensure the sustainable development goals are properly developed and fully implemented by 2030.
On a more conceptual basis, we also need to think through what needs to happen in evolving international law, moving away from its roots in national security and issues around nations. We need to reform the United Nations and reconceptualise the concept of national interest.
I apologise for not being here on time, Sir Christopher. I am dependent on the flight from Belfast. We had to de-ice and as a result we did not get away from Belfast in time. I have let the Speaker’s office know and I apologised to the Minister in advance as well.
I am very happy to speak in this debate and I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for setting the scene. I am sorry I was not here for it, but I am quite sure that I would endorse her comments as I am very interested in this subject.
We do not know what future threats to human security will look like. It might be another pandemic or something completely different. However, the good news is that if we know what many of the most extreme risks are, then we know how to best prepare for them—I am the eternal optimist and believe in the glass half-full. That is why I am looking forward to the Minister’s response and—putting no pressure on him—I am seeking some assurances, which I understand other speakers have asked for as well.
One thing that I would underline immediately is that people need each other. We have to realise that and that is where I come from. Nations need nations. We all depend and can support each other, and with that being the premise for where we are, we can start from that. Human progress does not go in straight lines, instead there are rare moments in which decades worth of progress can be achieved in a matter of months. The supreme example of that is one we have lived through in the last year—the covid vaccine. Our scientists and those with expertise and knowledge were able to come up with the vaccine to save lives and preserve lives. That has been a marvellous achievement within how we have dealt—and how the Government have dealt—with covid-19.
Technological progress since the industrial revolution has ultimately increased the risk of the most extreme events occurring, putting humanity’s future at stake through nuclear war, climate breakdown and other events. We cannot survive many centuries without transforming our resilience. We cannot ignore—I will not, and I hope that neither the Government nor anyone else would—the issues of the environment, climate change and all those things that are real to the people in my constituency who contact me on a regular basis.
I am also the human rights spokesperson for the Democratic Unionist Party, and often speak on these issues. Other hon. Members that I have heard so far, and those who will speak after me, also talk about human rights. Human rights are critical for me as an individual and for my constituents—it is one of the biggest mailbag issues—so I get questions about them and there are issues to speak out on. I have spoken out on those issues and will continue to do so.
Covid-19 has given us a sense of the devastating impact that extreme risks would have on our health and our economy. We do not know what the next extreme risk will be—we do not yet know whether we are out of the present one in its totality, although we are going the right way—but the odds that we face, or that our children will face, are uncomfortably high. As a grandfather of five, I very much want to put in place a system that preserves for them a future that we can all endorse. That is why we are all here—to meet that issue.
The good news is that we know what many of the most extreme risks are and how the Government can best prepare for them, both at home and internationally. That is why we are here today, and why I and others are calling for an international treaty on risks to the future of humanity. I am concerned, as others are, about what those risks will be.
Some of the most serious risks, such as climate change and nuclear weapons, are covered by at least some international law. However, there is no regime of international law in force commensurate with the gravity of extreme risks such as global pandemics—I wonder whether that is something we might need to look at right now; I believe that we cannot ignore it, because we have lived through 13 months of it, and are going into the 14th, so we need to look seriously at those issues—or that has the breadth needed to deal with the changing landscape of risk, as there are so many other things happening as well.
A new treaty on risks to the future of humanity has been recommended by—this is an Italian name; I will try to get it right, but am sure that in my Ulster Scots accent it will sound totally alien to most people—Guglielmo Verdirame, a QC and professor of international law at King’s College London. We need a new global framework for identifying and addressing those risks. That is what he asks, and I ask the same.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that so many of the issues that he describes are linked to our short-termism? Will he therefore consider the Bill on wellbeing for future generations, which I am supporting, as something he would support, so that we can ensure that Governments look to the long term and get away from short-termism?
I thank the hon. Lady for her wisdom and for her intervention. She makes a valid point, which I would endorse. Of course, I would need to go over the Bill, and I serve under a Whip, as the hon. Lady does, and I must follow that whatever my own inclinations may be. However, I have every sympathy on the matter that she has mentioned. If it was up to me, then yes, but we have to discuss these matters, as we always do.
We need the new global framework to identify the risks. We know that this is not a challenge that can be left to a specialist institution or a body of experts, and international diplomacy and domestic politics must be engaged at the highest level.
I say to the Minister that these are not things to do on our own. We cannot do them on our own; we need to do them with others. That is why I said earlier that this is about nations working with nations; it is people working with people. Those might be people who have very diverse politics and diverse cultural and historical views, but who are working together to the greater good of everyone. I would like to hear what we are able to do on that, and I recognise that the Government, and the Minister in particular, have made a commitment to it.
Global Britain also has a diplomatic ability to make this happen. We are held in high esteem across the world and, with that in mind, our position, our role and our influence will be important. Such a treaty would provide a framework for identifying and addressing such risks, and international diplomacy on domestic policies must be engaged at the highest level to achieve that. How do we do it? Perhaps the Minister can tell us.
A new treaty should be linked to UN Security Council resolutions to place this new framework on the strongest legal footing, so it is not just words, but actions—a legal framework that can actually make changes for everyone, for their betterment, with penalties for those who choose to remain outside the new legal regime or to flout it, so that the legislation has teeth.
I commend the Government’s recently published integrated review, which announced a much needed new approach to preparedness and response to risks. In the light of that, I urge the Minister to follow the encouraging promise of global Britain and lead calls at the G7 for a new treaty on risks to the future of humanity. There is, I believe, scope for the UK to take up a position of global leadership on the issue, and start to build an alliance, moving towards a treaty with like-minded countries with which we could do things. Will the Minister tell us whether there have been discussions with Australia, Japan, New Zealand and other great powers?
We should use the opportunity to forge a new pact between nations, to ensure that none are committed to jeopardising the whole of humanity. This is about accountability. If we all move forward in a spirit of co-operation, we can find a solution. We also have a duty as individuals; I say that for myself, for others and for Government. We have a duty to be good stewards. I believe that we need to step up and I look to the Minister to underline the next steps.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee and the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for enabling this timely and hugely important debate.
As many have noted in the debate, the way in which our lives, and the lives of everyone across the world, have been turned upside down over the past year has brought the need for global human security into sharp focus. However, it should not have taken a virus that, worldwide, has resulted in nearly 3 million deaths and counting, inflicted vast economic damage at home and abroad, and exacerbated inequality globally to force us to take more seriously the challenges and threats the world faces.
Furthermore, our renewed attention on health security and the necessity for pandemic preparedness, having been caught off guard this time around, cannot mean that we take our eye off the ball in the other dimensions of human security. If there is one lesson to learn, it is that the pandemic illustrates the interconnectedness of the modern world and the interdependence of health, environmental, economic, food, political, community and personal security.
What began as a health crisis in China has had previously unimaginable impact on the livelihoods of each of our constituents and on the wider world. Surely we must now know that we cannot pick and choose which threats to take seriously, prepare for and attempt to prevent. A holistic approach, based on the UN sustainable development goals, a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people on the planet, now and in the future, is the only way forward, building back better from the pandemic and ensuring that, truly, we are leaving no one behind.
For too long, security has been seen through the lens of traditional models of defence and military strength. That led to decades of prioritising a narrow concept of security over a whole-of-society approach. Defence is a vital component of our national security, but it forms only one part of this. We must look to re-evaluate what security means.
The UK Government’s recent integrated review could have provided an opportunity to do that, and the forthcoming G7 summit, to be held in Cornwall, and the UN climate change conference, to be held in Glasgow, provide the UK with an opportunity to bring the issue of global human security to the forefront. At this watershed moment, prioritising global human security cannot be just something that is proclaimed and paid lip service to; it has to be the lived reality.
What have the UK Government decided to do instead? The complete opposite. Any effort to improve global human security has been fundamentally undermined by the UK Government’s decision to cut aid spending from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5%. The reality of that cut is a reduction in the UK’s aid budget of £4.5 billion, or a 30% reduction relative to 2019. That is money that has saved lives and supported the poorest and most vulnerable people living in the most fragile places in the world, yet at the time of greatest need in the midst of a global pandemic, the UK Government are pushing through this ideologically driven desire to reduce aid and development spending. They are prioritising a windfall for the defence budget and look to use what is left of the aid budget to further trade.
Yemen was described by the UN as the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. There are 16 million people being put in hunger, 5 million civilians facing starvation and more than 3 million people being displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict, yet the UK Government are cutting their aid contribution by 50%. Mark Lowcock, head of the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, was blunt in his assessment of that decision as an act of medium-term and long-term self-harm. He warned that to balance the books on the backs of the starving people of Yemen has consequences not just for Yemenis now, but for the world in the long term.
In Syria—a country ravaged by a 10-year civil war on terrorism and a contributor to the global refugee crisis—the UK Government have slashed by a third their funding for the Syrian refugee programme. According to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, more than 13 million people need humanitarian assistance to survive this year, yet the UK has decided to make devastating cuts.
How can the Minister seriously stand here and talk about global human security when the Government condemn millions to hunger, provide the weapons used in Yemen and create fertile ground for extreme poverty, increased violent extremism and conflict over control of scarce resources? No matter the amount of polish that is applied, the direction taken by the UK Government is not going to shine.
As a result of covid-19, development trends are being set back decades, with 2020 witnessing the first rise in global poverty since 1998. The UK’s integrated review recognises that. It also adds that it is estimated that absolute poverty will be almost eliminated in Asia by 2030, although Africa will increasingly be left behind, and by 2045 it is likely that around 85% of the poorest billion people will live in Africa. Despite that, the UK Government are intent on pursuing an Indo-Pacific tilt to their international outlook.
Furthermore, a leaked Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office report last month revealed that officials are considering slashing aid programmes to Libya by 63%, to Somalia by 60%, to South Sudan by 59%, and to Nigeria by 58%. That will not increase global human security; it will undermine it. By abandoning their moral duty to assist the world’s most vulnerable, the UK Government are increasing the likelihood of hunger, disease and political stability in the most fragile places in the world—risking instability not only abroad, but at home. Therefore, the Scottish National party will continue to oppose the aid cut and the devastating impact it will have.
As an independent country, Scotland will act as a good global citizen, committed to the internationally agreed 0.7% percent target and following the UN’s sustainable development goals to peace and prosperity for people and the planet. Indeed, Scotland is already proving itself a world leader and contributor to global human security through its international work on climate change. Climate change is the greatest security challenge we face, and it is an urgent and complex global problem that no one nation can tackle alone. It increases natural disasters and competition for basic resources.
The destruction of habitats will lead to famine, disease, conflict and displacement, which threatens to undo decades of development gains and increased prosperity throughout the world. The poor and most vulnerable are the first to be affected by climate change and will suffer the worst, yet they have done little or nothing to cause the problem. The least developed countries and the most vulnerable people will be hit first and hardest by climate change, and many are already suffering devastating impacts. We therefore cannot be serious about global human security if it to be is undermined by the destruction caused by climate change.
The SNP-led Scottish Government have put biodiversity and ecological strength at the very heart of their policy making and in 2012 were the first Government in the world to set up a dedicated climate justice fund. Climate justice was put front and centre in the International Development Committee’s 2018 climate change report, as a recommendation to the UK Government, and the UK Government must focus on that type of global human security challenge going forward. They should follow Scotland’s lead, rather than pursuing cuts and vanity projects.
Finally, there is no greater illustration of the UK Government’s disjointed approach to global human security, and of how their priorities differ from those of the SNP and an independent Scotland, than their recent decision to increase the number of nuclear warheads by more than 40% while cutting life-saving aid around the world. Rather than investing in global health and human rights, providing support to fragile and conflict-affected areas, providing nutrition to those who are starving or helping the poorest in the world, the UK Government have decided to increase their weapons of mass destruction. That not only demonstrates the UK’s complete moral failure, but perfectly illustrates the UK Government’s inability to comprehend the threats in the modern world and the need for global human security, and highlights a desperate clinging on to the idea of the UK as an imperial global superpower.
If the past year has shown us anything, it is that we must consign those outdated models of security to the past. Indeed, to honour the millions who have lost their lives and livelihoods to the pandemic, we must put people and our planet first, and take seriously the very present threats that we face.
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Sir Christopher, and I thank the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for securing this important debate on global human security. The world has entered a period of rapidly accelerating insecurities. From the climate emergency to infectious diseases, and from conflict to the subversion of human rights and persisted poverty, catastrophic crises now occur simultaneously, putting at grave risk the health, wellbeing and security of people around our interconnected world.
The hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) made an incredibly strong argument focused on dignity. He challenged his own Government on their appalling cuts to the aid budget, and on observing our duty to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, rather than turning away from the provision of desperately needed leadership. Multiple crises across the world combine at catastrophic human cost. From climate and conflict to covid, those crises all need action. There has never been a more important time to think strategically about how we approach them.
The hon. Member for Bath spoke of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. I am proud to have been instrumental in introducing that ground-breaking Act in Wales when I was a special adviser to the Welsh Labour Government. We introduced the Act to focus on the social, economic, environmental and cultural wellbeing of Wales. In delivering the Act, I saw at first hand how it can help to bring about the changes we need. It puts in place seven wellbeing goals, and forces decision makers and organisations to think more about the long term; work better with people, communities and each other; look to prevent problems; and take a much more joined-up approach, which is desperately needed across the UK. The Act helps us to create the country that we all want to live in, now and in the future.
Unfortunately, the cornerstones of human security—freedom from fear, want and indignity—are being chipped away, and there appears to be little appetite in this Government to change course. The gap between the Government’s rhetoric and their actions is large and growing. We do not have to delve far into the catalogue of Government errors to find the cut of a third in the aid budget. Aid is our first responder to crises and our last line of defence, so the cut is dangerous and costly. Instead of the Government’s hasty retreat, we must shoulder responsibility and pool resource, knowledge, expertise and finance if we are successfully to reverse the drivers of those crises and chart a course to a sustainable and restorative future that protects the health of people and planet, and reduces the inequalities and insecurities that threaten us all.
In recent months, I have spoken to Rose and Eva, remarkable women from Uganda who shared with me their horrifying experiences of devastating extreme weather, with families uprooted from homes and their livelihoods lost. Just last year, I had similar conversations with constituents of mine who had been affected by flooding. Climate change affects the most vulnerable, wherever they are in the world.
As we have seen with covid, what happens in even the most distant communities reverberates back to our shores; what happens in Kampala is felt in Cardiff. That means confronting the challenges of our time, abandoning outdated assumptions about security and playing a responsive role in the world—unlike this Government’s approach, exemplified by the “Competitive Age” integrated review.
Labour is aligned with President Biden, but we cannot afford a strategy focused only on competition. When the threats to our world are felt equally, we are either all winners or all losers. It is a zero-sum game. As covid has taught us, only through co-operation in science, research and development, and data sharing have we been able to get a grip on this virus, to develop a vaccine and now, we hope, to be on our way to defeating it. Collaboration not competition—that highlights the nonsensical, ridiculous £250-million cut in aid to vital UK and global health research amid a pandemic.
When we talk about security, that must include climate, food and health. As the Secretary-General of NATO said recently, we need a “broader, more integrated approach” to security and resilience to keep people safe. The challenges that we must overcome are existential threats to humanity. Our approach must be more human-centred and holistic. We are all less safe as health and climate challenges aggravate existing forms of insecurity and as new forms of insecurity are created. They require different forms of action that this Government are failing to meet and which, with the aid budget, in effect they are abandoning.
Climate breakdown, with devastating drought and scarcity, drives conflict and is central to the humanitarian crisis in places such as Nigeria and Lake Chad. According to research conducted by the International Red Cross, the planet has witnessed a 35% increase in the number of climate-related disasters since the 1990s. There is also health breakdown, where biodiversity loss threatens not only the species with which we share the planet but our own health, forcing parasites to look for alternative hosts—75% of emerging infections in human populations come from animals. Professor Peter Piot from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warned of an “era of pandemics”, brought about by humanity’s treatment of the natural world. That is what makes this Government’s cuts to aid, their abandonment of principles and alliances in their willingness to break international law, and their shocking lack of political will to foster long-term strategic thinking in policy making so very dangerous.
Do not take it just from me. Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute, said that the Government’s current approach to security fails to acknowledge fully the depth of challenges—economic, political and military—that will face the UK in the coming years. Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief, who was instrumental in the Paris climate agreement, warned:
“There are raised eyebrows among world leaders watching the UK.”
Achim Steiner of the UN Development Programme said that the cut to aid “does not enhance” confidence in the UK internationally.
I therefore hope that the Minister can explain what the Government are doing to ensure that long-term thinking is taken into account. Will his Government consider introducing, as in Wales, a measure similar to the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? What assessment have his Government made of the short-term impacts of aid cuts on immediate crisis response and associated threats and of the long-term impact of that failure to prevent future risks or build resilience? Crises overlap and combine to drive poverty, and health and climate insecurity. They cannot be solved in isolation, so will the Minister explain how the Government concluded that structuring the UK’s development response into seven siloed core priorities will tackle overlapping crises?
Finally, Labour would introduce statutory duties to plan, audit and invest in pandemic responses. Will the Government confirm whether they will introduce a more human-focused and holistic health security policy to ensure that we address all those challenges? We are experiencing an abundance of shattering threats, but a shocking scarcity of necessary action from the UK Government. We must maintain our commitment to holistic forms of security, which protect people at home and abroad, and tackle insecurity and injustice at their root.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Sir Christopher. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for securing this debate and also for the contributions made by Members across the House. I will try and cover a number of the points raised. Even though we have a fair amount of time, because the contributions have been wide ranging, I am not necessarily going to be able to give all elements the justice that they deserve.
As a number of contributors have mentioned, we live in an increasingly competitive, dangerous and, as the hon. Lady said, complex world. The integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy highlighted three broad and significant challenges including, first, the challenge from autocratic regimes that seek to undermine human rights and open societies; secondly, the challenge of rapidly developing technologies which, while often bringing huge benefits, also bring new dangers from states, from terrorists, from criminal groups and individuals who would do us harm; and thirdly, the challenge of existential threats, such as pandemics and climate change, both of which have been discussed significantly this morning.
In response to this challenging context, the integrated review sets out the Prime Minister’s vision for a stronger, more prosperous Union in 2030. It has, at its heart, the protection of the interests of the British people, our sovereignty, our security, our health and our prosperity. It sets out a comprehensive and holistic approach to our security. We should not forget, however, that the threats from terrorism and conflict remain. That is why a hard-edged security and intelligence capability is a recurrent thread in the integrated review, which we have underpinned with our increased investment in defence to 2.2% of GDP and our cherished security and intelligence agencies, particularly our work with NATO and Five Eyes.
A number of Members have mentioned our Official Development Assistance commitment. I remind them that despite the unique and extreme financial pressures imposed on us by coronavirus, the UK remains, in both percentage and absolute terms, one of the world’s most generous aid donors. The world is changing and we need to adapt to it. We must ensure that we have the capabilities and systems, not only to respond to today’s threats but to anticipate and respond to the threats of tomorrow. Our integrated review commits us to work to solve global challenges, to invest in science and technology, to act as a force for good, championing free trade, individual freedoms, global prosperity, and to take a more robust approach to security and deterrents.
After all the Minister has heard this morning—we could only touch on so many of the issues—does he not agree that the balance we have to strike about global security has to shift away from just arming ourselves again as a country, as if it were about the national threat, and looking at how we can work together globally and internationally? The signals we have been setting out in the past year or so about our strength and using international aid for our advantage as a country are going in the wrong direction. Does he not agree?
I will address the points that the hon. Lady has raised in my speech, if she will bear with me. On the point about how she frames our use of international aid for the UK’s advantage, it is completely wrong. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, in fact, the whole of Government have made it very clear that we are committed and determined to be a force for good in the world and to work with partners to address global challenges. Our foreign policy is on behalf of the British people, but our development work is to be a force for good in the world, not for narrow self-interest.
We had a debate in Westminster Hall before the recess to do with non-governmental organisations and faith groups. There is a role for Government to partner with faith groups, Churches and those who want to help, and perhaps fill the gap or shortfalls between the moneys that the United Kingdom gave in the past and what it gives now. Will the Minister indicate, either now or by sending all of us details, how faith groups can partner Government to help, and how they can engage and achieve a better result for all of us?
The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of formal and informal faith groups, and the huge role that they play around the world in alleviating poverty and addressing difficulties and harm. The Government absolutely recognise the important role that they play. We work through a number of partners around the world, some faith-based, others secular, to try and deliver on that “force for good” agenda. He is absolutely right: faith organisations play a huge and important role in delivering humanitarian policy.
To help us deliver the agenda that we set out in the integrated review, we have brought together our diplomatic network of 281 posts in 178 countries with our aid budget and development policy to create the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. That joined-up approach is helping to build partnerships and secure the opportunities that we need to tackle global challenges as part of the global community. We are making good progress against many of these challenges. The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to covid: helping to protect others and, in doing so, helping to protect ourselves. UK scientists developed the first effective and widely affordable vaccine. Our Prime Minister, Ministers and diplomats have consistently pushed for equitable global access to vaccines and therapeutics, and we have pledged £548 million of our aid budget to help to distribute 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine to 92 developing countries. To support the fastest route to national and global recovery, we have committed £1.3 billion of UK aid to help cushion the health and economic impacts of the pandemic around the world. We must learn the lessons of covid-19. Last year, the Prime Minister outlined his five-point plan for preventing future pandemics.
The Minister is absolutely correct that the roll-out of the vaccines is good news and is a success story. As I said in my contribution, our armed forces played a role in that. The point I want to make is a money point: the help with testing and vaccination provided by our armed forces takes the pressure off health professionals. It means that the money spent on the armed forces actually helps to relieve a budget in other parts of Government. I intend to explore that argument in the future, with regard to my unhappiness about the number of armed forces personnel being cut. If they are maintained and deployed properly on other things, that can help other budgets.
I hear and understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman. While it goes beyond the remit of this speech, I draw his attention to the Defence paper that was published and its focus on the greater agility, adaptability and deployability of the armed forces that we have. I hope that that goes some way towards addressing the concerns that he has expressed.
In March, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister joined leaders from more than 20 countries who, alongside the World Health Organisation, called for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response. That would be an important step towards increasing global co-operation and strengthening global health security. We will use our G7 presidency to work with other Governments, with industry and with international organisations to cut the target for developing and deploying new vaccines to just 100 days, addressing the point made by the hon. Member for Bath about working in co-operation, not in competition, with other countries.
I would also like to address the claim that the hon. Lady made about short-termism, which I have to reject. Climate change is a much longer-established existential threat than the pandemic to which we are currently responding. I remind her that in 1990, at the second world climate conference, Margaret Thatcher said:
“The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”
I remind the hon. Lady that the Conservatives have a multi-decade track record of thinking about future generations. We are using our presidency—
I will make more progress. We are using our presidency of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year to get countries to commit to credible plans that will enable them to meet the commitments that they made under the Paris accord. We are also using the summit to boost co-operation and climate finance so that countries can adapt and build resilience to the evolving climate threat. The UK has pledged £11.6 billion of international climate finance over the next five years, and we will spend a significant proportion of that on building resilience in vulnerable countries. In January, the Prime Minister launched the adaptation action coalition to galvanise momentum on climate adaptation ahead of COP26 and beyond it.
We have also worked to secure more international attention on the overlap between climate change and security threats. In February, the Prime Minister chaired the UN Security Council open debate, which was the first-ever leader-level discussion on climate change in the Security Council. We are also addressing the interlinked climate and security challenges through NATO.
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) raised the issue of cyber. Unlike pandemics and climate change, advanced technologies bring with them significant benefit, but they also have embedded in them significant risks. Artificial intelligence, for example, has the potential to help to tackle global challenges but, as AI technologies such as facial recognition continue to develop in sophistication, we need to ensure that such technologies are not used as a tool of repression. The UK Government believe in responsible technological innovation that benefits everyone, but this is a fast evolving area, with a dearth of international agreement. That is why we are working with industry and like-minded countries to enhance responsible development of AI and to ensure that the use of data is safe, fair, legal and ethical. The UK Government will soon launch a national AI strategy, which will help to make the UK a global centre for the development and adoption of responsible AI.
The UK is also at the forefront of demonstrating that there are meaningful consequences for malicious cyber-activity. Last year, working with the EU—this is another example of the international co-operation that we engage in—we imposed cyber sanctions on 12 entities and individuals from China, Russia and North Korea through the EU cyber sanctions regime. We will continue to work closely with international partners to impose sanctions through our own autonomous cyber sanctions regime. The National Cyber Security Centre has played a pivotal role in responding to cyber-incidents and is acknowledged as a global centre of excellence. The resilience of our allies is also critical, which is why, since 2012, we have invested up to £39 million in international cyber-security programmes and projects, working with more than 100 countries to build their cyber resilience.
The integrated review is a blueprint for navigating this more competitive and dangerous age. It identified the need to build our resilience, which we will address in greater detail in the new UK resilience strategy to be developed this year, looking at domestic and international challenges.
The Minister talks about the integrated review providing a blueprint for a long-term strategy to deal with the conflicts and crises of the world. Will he tell us how he thinks cutting the 0.7% aid budget fulfils that long-term strategy, or that commitment to the world’s poorest, or that commitment to some of the most challenging regions in the world?
The integrated review makes a specific commitment to get back to the 0.7% as quickly as possible. The Conservative Government are immensely proud that we were committed to that 0.7%. I remind my hon. Friend and others that even 0.5% makes us one of the most generous aid donors in the world and is higher than in almost all years under the previous Labour Government. The most important way to get the UK back to the position where we can be as generous as we would naturally wish to be is to ensure that the UK economy recovers quickly. The faster the economy can recover, the more quickly we can get back to 0.7% and, in absolute terms, the larger that 0.7% will be.
Let me conclude by making a pledge on behalf of the UK Government to continue to defend and promote the interests and wellbeing of the British people. The integrated review provides a framework to address the manifold threats that imperil our nation and our national security. While the challenges are significant, the UK is playing a leading role in finding global solutions. The diversity of our economy, the depth and breadth of British expertise, our targeted investment and the reach of our international networks mean that we are well placed to adapt and respond to the challenges ahead. As the host of G7 and the COP climate summit later this year, with our international allies on our side and the blueprint provided by the integrated review in hand, we are well placed to help the world to build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, fairer, more prosperous and more secure future for us all.
Many Members have made good and important points today. I am grateful for all the points that have been raised. I hope that this debate is not the last that we have, but the beginning of a discussion about how we view national and international security in the round. This is about tackling the climate emergency, the threat of global pandemics, upholding international human rights, global inequalities, and how we help poorer countries and do not exploit them.
As the hon. Member for North Down (Stephen Farry) said, this is about a reconceptualisation of how we think about security. The UK could be a global leader in this, but I fear that the current Government have not recognised this opportunity. Here in the UK, the Wellbeing of Future Generations (No. 2) Bill would be a good start. I urge the Government to consider bringing forward legislation that reflects the ideas that are embedded in it. Will the Government look at a wellbeing budget, as supported by the Liberal Democrats? That would be a good start. Abandoning the plan to increase our nuclear weapons arsenal would also be a good start.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate. I hope it is only the beginning of a debate on how we rethink global security.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered global human security.