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Volume 754: debated on Thursday 12 June 2014


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on last week’s G7 summit in Brussels.

This was a G7 rather than a G8 because of Russia’s unacceptable actions in Ukraine. Right from the outset, the G7 nations have been united in support for Ukraine and its right to choose its own future, and we have sent a firm message that Russia’s actions have been totally at odds with the values of our group of democracies.

At the summit, we kept up the pressure on Russia. We agreed that the status quo is unacceptable and the continuing destabilisation of eastern Ukraine must stop. We insisted that Russia must recognise the legitimate election of President Poroshenko, it must stop arms crossing the border into Ukraine and it must cease support for separatist groups. And we agreed that wide-ranging economic sanctions should remain on the table if Russia did not follow this path of de-escalation, or if it launched a punitive trade war with Ukraine in response to Kiev proceeding with the trade aspects of its association agreement with the European Union.

I made those points directly to President Putin when I met him in Paris on the eve of the D-day commemorations. The inauguration of President Poroshenko has created a new opportunity for diplomacy to help to establish a proper relationship between Ukraine and Russia. I urged President Putin to ensure that this happens. It is welcome, I believe, that he met President Poroshenko in Normandy and that Moscow and Kiev are now engaging each other again. It is important that we continue to do what we can to sustain the positive momentum. We also agreed to help Ukraine to achieve greater energy security by diversifying its supplies.

The G7 also continued the work we began last year at Lough Erne to deal with the cancer of corruption, with further agreements on what I call the “three Ts” of greater transparency, fairer taxes and freer trade. We made good progress in working towards common global standards of transparency in extractive industries. We agreed to push forward with establishing new international rules to stop companies artificially shifting their profits across borders to avoid taxes, and we agreed to make a concerted push on finalising bilateral trade deals as soon as possible. This included the EU-Canada and EU-Japan deals, but of course also the EU-US deal, which we launched at Lough Erne last summer. I believe this is one of the greatest opportunities to turbo-charge the global economy and could be worth up to £10 billion for Britain alone.

With these agreements, the Lough Erne agenda on transparency, tax and trade has been hard-wired into these international summits, I believe, for many years to come. There was also a good discussion on climate change, where the recent announcements by the US make a potential agreement next year more achievable, and we should do what we can to make that happen.

In my bilateral meeting with President Obama, we discussed what I believe is the greatest threat to our security: how we counter extremism and the terrorist threat to our people at home and abroad. We agreed to intensify our efforts to address the threat of foreign fighters travelling to and from Syria, which is now the top destination in the world for jihadists. And here in Britain, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will be introducing a new measure to enable prosecution of those who plan and train for terrorism abroad. In Libya, we are fulfilling our commitment to train the Libyan security forces, with the first tranche of recruits arriving in the United Kingdom yesterday. And on Nigeria, we reaffirmed our commitment to support President Jonathan’s Government and the wider region in confronting the evil of Boko Haram. We continue to help address the tragedy of the abducted schoolgirls.

Finally, in all my recent meetings with European leaders, and again at the summit in Sweden yesterday, there was discussion about the top jobs in Europe. The European elections, I believe, sent a clear message right across the continent: the European Union needs to change. It is vital that politicians across Europe respond to the concerns of their people, and that means having institutions in Europe which understand the need for reform. And it means having people at the head of these institutions who understand that if things go on as they have done, the European Union is not going to work properly for its citizens.

Quite apart from the entirely valid concerns about the proposed people in question, there is a fundamental point of principle on which we must not budge. As laid down in EU law, it is for the European Council to make its own nomination for President. This is the body that is made up of the elected leaders of the European nations, and it is not for the European Parliament to try to impose its will on the democratically elected leaders of 28 member states.

Prime Minister Reinfeldt, Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands, Chancellor Merkel and I also agreed on the work programme for the new Commission: completing the single market, energising trade deals and making further progress on deregulation—a clear focus on jobs and growth. We also agreed that the Commission must work together to address the abuse of free movement so that people move across Europe for work but not for welfare. These were important agreements from like-minded European leaders who share my determination to deliver a reformed European Union.

Finally, amid the various meetings of the past week, I was able to attend the very special commemorations for the 70th anniversary of D-day in Normandy. Attending the vigil at Pegasus Bridge—marking the moment the first glider touched down on French soil—was a fitting moment to reflect on the importance of our collective defence, something that will be at the heart of the NATO summit in Wales this September. Above all, it was a moment to remember the sheer bravery and sacrifice of all those who gave their lives for our future.

The veterans who made it to Normandy are quite simply some of the most remarkable people I have ever had the privilege and pleasure of meeting. I will never forget the conversations that I had that night and, indeed, the next day. Our gratitude for their service and sacrifice must never wane, and neither should our resolve to protect the peace that they fought for.

I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader for repeating the Statement, and the noble Baroness the Chief Whip for agreeing to take this short exchange today rather than yesterday. I am sure that the whole House will be grateful for this flexibility.

Just one week after the anniversary of D-day, I take this opportunity to pay tribute on behalf of my Benches to all those involved in the commemorations, especially the veterans, who are truly extraordinary. Their stories were deeply moving, their fortitude a lesson to us all, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to them, and to the thousands who lost their lives, for their courage in fighting against fascism to safeguard the freedoms which we enjoy but too often take for granted. They were remarkable people who risked, and too often gave, their lives for our country. It is now our duty to ensure that we continue to honour them and their memories so that our children, our children’s children and future generations know about the service and sacrifice of those who went before us.

Before turning to the G7, let me echo the comments made by the Leader’s right honourable friend the Prime Minister about the European Commission President. The message from the European elections was clear: we need reform in Europe, and we need people in top jobs in Europe willing and able to pursue that agenda. The appointments of a new Commission and President now provide a vital opportunity to pursue this much needed European reform, which must be seized and not squandered. The Prime Minister is right to acknowledge that, but he might have had more influence if the discussions had been less personalised and more diplomatic. The negotiations might also have been easier if his colleagues in the European Parliament had not joined forces with parties that hold dubious views, including some which sat with UKIP in the previous Parliament. I still hope that the Prime Minister will make the necessary progress in the appointment of that key post.

The central issues of the G7 communiqué were the global economy, international development, climate change and Ukraine, and I will briefly address each. On the global economy, trade is a key engine for achieving that priority. It is important to work to reduce trade barriers while respecting states’ rights to regulate, which is why we support the EU-US trade agreement. What discussions has the Prime Minister had with EU leaders and President Obama on whether the TTIP negotiations are on track and when they are likely to be completed? Can the Minister reassure the House that there will be no impact on our public services, and in particular on the NHS? Can the noble Lord say what specific discussions have been held to ensure that the NHS will be excluded from any future agreement?

On tax and transparency, I trust that the Government are doing everything possible to ensure that the bold promises of the Lough Erne declaration are not watered down in practice. Last year we welcomed the OECD’s work to tackle tax avoidance and it was promised that developing countries would be part of that process. Can the Leader assure the House that will be the case going forward?

We support the conclusions on international development, and recognise and welcome the actions that have been taken by the Government. However, we still look forward to the Government bringing forward a Bill to enshrine the 0.7% aid target and would give that measure our strongest support.

Climate change is an enormous threat to our planet and is inextricably linked to many of the problems faced by the world, including poverty and migration. The agreement of a new international framework for tackling climate change is hugely important, and the G7 statement on that is very welcome. Britain and the EU can play a leading role in achieving a deal. One of the keys to success in Paris in 2015 will be to make good on the promise of climate finance made in Copenhagen. Can the noble Lord inform the House of when the UK will make money available for that and assure us that the Government are working to secure timely contributions from the other G7 members?

Finally, on Ukraine, following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, it was right for G7 countries to boycott this year’s G8 summit, which would have taken place in Sochi. This crisis has been the West’s most serious confrontation with Russia since the end of the Cold War, and there had to be consequences for Russia’s actions.

Secondly, we welcome the swearing-in of President Poroshenko and his first act of offering political concessions to the Russian-speaking east. I also join the Leader in welcoming the initial engagement between President Putin and President Poroshenko. Following the Ukrainian President’s commitment to sign an association agreement with the EU, has the Prime Minister received any assurances from President Putin in his bilateral meeting that there would be no further Russian aggression in response to that action?

Thirdly, we see the continuing volatile situation in eastern Ukraine and the rising violence in south-eastern Ukraine with growing concern. During the Prime Minister’s conversations with President Putin, did he seek assurances that Russia will accelerate its withdrawal of troops from the border with Ukraine and stop the flow of weapons and pro-Russian insurgents into the country? This G7 meeting was a demonstration of the unity of international action. It was right for the G7 to call for a de-escalation of the situation, the need to work towards a diplomatic solution and continuing to maintain the pressure on Russia. In taking that action the Government have our full support.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. I very much agree with her opening remarks about D-day and the importance of continuing to honour the memory of those brave men and women. Perhaps there was a time a few years ago when people were worried about young people being unaware of the contribution people made in the past in the Great War and the Second World War, and that they might forget it. However, from the response there has been in the run-up to the commemoration of the Great War, and in particular from the response to seeing those veterans going to D-day, it is very clear that there is very little danger of that, which is extremely good news.

I welcome the support that the Leader of the Opposition gave to the principled stand that the Prime Minister is taking on the question of who should appoint the President of the Commission. I am grateful that the Labour Party made it clear that they support Britain’s position on that, as are my noble friends in the Liberal Democrat party. All three party groups are united in thinking that the proper procedure should be observed, and that that appointment should be made by the members of the Council and not by the European Parliament.

As regards whether progress on TTIP is on track, there have been a number of meetings between my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, his colleagues in the EU and the United States to take that forward. A specific deadline for making further progress was not agreed at the G7, but it was certainly very clear that the pressure is being kept up on that, and that will continue.

The Leader of the Opposition asked whether there will be any danger to the NHS if we conclude that trade deal—which would have a huge beneficial effect on our economy. The way that healthcare is delivered would continue to be decided by national Governments; TTIP would not weaken regulation or lead to the privatisation of the NHS, or itself increase the rights of access to the NHS for private providers of clinical services. I know that there are concerns about that, and I am sure that the party opposite and others will want to keep a close eye on that. However, pursuing the trade deal and its conclusion should not carry the risk about which the noble Baroness is concerned.

On tax and transparency, I can report quite good progress. The UK’s position is that we want to make sure that countries sign up to the tax tool that was created so that we can see where profits are being earned. That is going quite well. Led by Britain, 44 countries have signed up to that already. There are also other measures, such as the small business Bill in the Queen’s Speech, which will include measures to establish a public register of company beneficial ownership information, which will be welcome. The Government have also just completed a consultation on increasing transparency in the extractive sector. So we can report solid progress on that.

On international aid, our position is that the target of 0.7% is being met and Britain is leading the rest of the world in its contribution to international aid. I know that the whole House supports that.

Climate change is an extremely important issue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, reminded us. Britain and the EU can play a leading role in helping to achieve a deal, and President Obama has given some encouraging signs in that direction. I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to make sure that the EU has the political will to ensure that collectively we are in the right position on that. There is a push to make further progress on that by September.

I think we are in broad agreement on the position that the United Kingdom has adopted on Ukraine. I welcome the noble Baroness’s support for the decision to exclude Russia from the G8 and to have a meeting of the G7. There is hope with the election of President Poroshenko; this is a moment where one might try to make some progress. I understand that the Prime Minister, in his discussions with President Putin, emphasised some of the points that the noble Baroness raised about the importance of continuing to withdraw Russian troops. However, he also raised particular points about the supply of weaponry. Reports suggested that the kind of weaponry available to the separatists is quite heavy-duty military weaponry, and it is fairly obvious where that comes from; he certainly emphasised that point as well.

Overall, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I hope that I have answered the points she raised in all these areas and that we can continue to work in the same direction.

My Lords, I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in welcoming the decision to exclude the Russians from the G7 and G8 meeting, if only as a strong message, which I hope was firmly received, that we strongly disapprove of Russia’s behaviour in the Ukrainian situation. Nevertheless, I ask the Minister for an assurance that we and our EU colleagues will maintain a dialogue with the Russian Government, not least on the extremely dangerous situations in Syria and Iraq. Both the Russians and ourselves share a strong interest in warding off the infection that we are likely to suffer from that situation. In that context, can the Minister tell us anything about any movement to resume diplomatic relations with the Syrian Government in Damascus?

On the last point, I do not have any information to give the noble Lord. The Government’s position on the Assad regime has not changed. I take his points about the broader dangers across the region; we have all watched with great concern the developing situation in Iraq, which adds to those concerns. I take the force of the point that he makes.

As for discussions with President Putin, the noble Lord strikes the right note. We needed to exclude him from that meeting to send a very strong message, and to impose the range of sanctions that we did. With regard to the effect that they have contributed to the impact on the Russian economy, recent figures suggest that their economy has shrunk in the first quarter of this year. Capital flight has been considerable and projections of growth for the rest of the year are being reduced downwards significantly. So they are having an impact. But I also take his point that, at the same time as sending that strong message, to take an opportunity by having direct contact—partly to reinforce it but also to have a channel open on some of those broader issues—is the right way forward.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and add our tributes to the D-Day events in Normandy.

I have two questions for the Minister. The first relates to the Statement in relation to Boko Haram and President Jonathan in Nigeria. What is the involvement of other G7 countries in this matter? Since we have not received any further resolution on the abducted girls, what further action can we take to help Nigeria in that matter?

My second point relates to our involvement in the training of the Libyan security forces, which are in this country now. What assurances have we received from the Libyan Government about their co-operation in identifying those responsible for the fatal shooting of Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan embassy some years ago?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to raise the importance of the point about Libya and the training of security forces. The first group of Libyans to come to the UK for training arrived earlier this week; we will train 2,000 Libyans and help them to prepare for their role. On the point about Yvonne Fletcher and the nature of those discussions, I need to see whether I can provide him with any further information.

As for Boko Haram, Britain has been playing a leading role, along with others. I know that it was discussed in the margins of the meetings that have been going on this week, led by the Foreign Secretary, to deal with the whole question of violence in war and conflict. If I have any further specific information, I shall come back to the noble Lord. The general position is that we are continuing to do all that we can, but at the moment there is no further specific information on the latest developments.

I welcome the growing clarity on the G7’s reaction to Russia in relation to east Europe. Where I am much more troubled is on the lack of a clear foreign policy response by the G7 to developments in the Middle East, which are not new. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has been occupying parts of Iraq since the beginning of this year, and it is almost inevitably moving towards a wider regional war within the Middle East. Therefore, I am concerned that the G7 is not paying the sort of attention to this that it needs to pay. A number of western countries, including our own, need a clear foreign policy on this, which will take quite a bit of working out. It will not be easy, but we really need it, as it is a very serious situation.

I very much agree with the noble Lord on the importance of doing that. In the short term, I know that the Minister in the Foreign Office is meeting the Iraqi Foreign Minister today. Clearly, we need to do what we can to provide what assistance we can. In the first instance, this is very much the responsibility of the Iraqis to take the lead on; they have a properly elected Government and they have their own security forces. But on the noble Lord’s broad point about the need to focus on this within the G7 or EU or whatever, and to work up a concerted approach and devote energy to doing that, I agree with him entirely.

My Lords, clearly, the action by the Russian Government in relation to Crimea and Ukraine has totally changed the position on the G7’s relationship with Russia. That being so, it is obviously important to look at our defence position. While I hope that we have a clear position with regard to NATO and military matters, we appear to be absurdly vulnerable on economic matters, where President Putin is said to have shown a considerable interest in the ability of countries to use economic pressure to achieve their aims. That being so, was our response to the Russian actions not really very inadequate? Indeed, the only real sanctions were largely imposed by the markets, rather than by Governments. The vulnerability of Germany in particular, and other European countries, to the control by the Russians of gas to those countries, means that we have not been able to respond as would have been appropriate.

The Statement refers to diversification of supply of gas. I hope that my noble friend can spell it out a little more that we really are taking positive action to make sure that we are not dependent on Russian gas within the G7 countries generally, as we are at present.

I very much take the point about the importance of ensuring that there is diversification around energy supply, and a number of measures are in hand in the EU and through the G7 to try to take that forward. On sanctions more generally, I would argue that the steps taken so far have made a contribution. I understand my noble friend’s point about the importance of the power of markets to drive that, as well, but the combination of sanctions and markets is having the effect that I alluded to on the Russian economy. It is also the case, with regard to the adequacy of that response, that work is going on through the European Union. If Russia either destabilises the situation further or causes more difficulties with Ukraine over its signing of the accession agreement, urgent work has been going on to work up a range of sector-wide sanctions to hit various areas, whether it is defence, finance or energy. Therefore, I agree with my noble friend that we need to do that work and make it clear to Russia that, if we have to take further steps, we will do so.

My Lords, does the Leader of the House recognise the tactical problems and dangers to the national interest of this country in our taking such a strong personal lead against M Juncker? He is, after all, the favourite candidate, Chancellor Merkel still appears to be supporting him and he will offer us no favours if eventually he is elected. On Ukraine and relations with Russia, I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said. Yes, Russia annexed Crimea and is already paying a price economically in terms of market confidence and the rating agencies, and diplomatically in terms of its isolation. However, there are many areas where we need to engage with Russia, such as on arms control, Syria and Iran. During this difficult period, in what ways will we seek to engage with Russia on areas of mutual interest?

I will not reiterate the points I made to the noble Lord, Lord Wright, on striking the right balance between ensuring that there are consequences of taking action of which the entire international community disapproves and accepting the need to make sure that channels are kept open. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord’s basic point. On the point about the top job, I think it is fair to say that from the beginning the Prime Minister adopted a position of principle both on who should make the relevant decision and on the attributes that one should look for in selecting someone to do the job. His argument was that the recent elections clearly show that there is widespread appetite for a different approach. However, for there to be a different approach you have to have someone leading the Commission who is open to that. That is the argument that the Prime Minister has made. It is an argument based on principle, not personalities. I accept that the media have reported the issue as one of personalities, but it seems to me that it is quite right for a Prime Minister to argue for something that he believes is right. One needs to make those arguments in a number of ways and sometimes you need to lead from the front.

I agree with what the noble Lord has just said and I agree with the Statement that he was good enough to repeat. In particular I agree that the power of nomination rests with the Heads of Government meeting in the European Council. They get the first word. Everything that was said in the Statement is true and I support it. However, it is important to bear in mind also that the Parliament gets the last word. Whoever is nominated by the European Council does not take office unless they are approved by an absolute majority in the Parliament. It therefore follows that the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, is important. The company the British Conservatives choose to keep in Strasbourg may affect the chances of a nominee known to have British support securing the necessary absolute majority in the Parliament. My second point is that for the very first time the nominations of the European Council will be made by qualified majority, so tactics that were appropriate in the past when the decision was made by unanimity, and every Head of Government therefore had a veto, are not necessarily appropriate to the world of qualified majority.

My Lords, I know from my dim and distant memory of the Maastricht process, when fortunately I was sitting quietly in a little back room while the noble Lord did all the heavy lifting, what a wily tactician he is.

That was meant as a compliment, my Lords. Obviously the way the noble Lord explained the recent change in the process was correct. However, I come back to the point that the Prime Minister felt that he needed to argue from a position of principle in relation to the approval process and the kind of person one should look for. I am sure that the noble Lord’s successors and others made the same arguments about how to go about doing it. The Prime Minister thought that the right way forward was to set out his case and argue for it.

My Lords, on Ukraine, what assessment did the Government make of President Putin’s offer in 2010 to set up a free trade area from Lisbon to Vladivostok? Would that not have been the way forward? Do the Government think that the EU was wise to reply by instead offering Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Ukraine free trade and association agreements, with their defence implications for the road to NATO, when Russia had been saying for years that it could not tolerate Crimea coming under the sphere of influence of Brussels or NATO? So, was it not the EU’s specific later offer to Ukraine that sparked the unfortunate situation in that country? If, as I suspect, the noble Lord replies that Russia’s annexation of Crimea was illegal under international law, would he care to comment on the legality of our disastrous invasion of Iraq, when at least China and France were against it in the Security Council?

I simply do not accept the underlying point that I suspect the noble Lord makes—namely, that the current travails in Ukraine and Crimea were caused by the EU. If one is looking to attribute blame—if that is the right word—for recent behaviour, it is far more straightforward to consider the illegal and unrecognised referendum in Crimea, the other action that was taken and the support given to people to destabilise it than to lay the blame on the EU. I note the wish expressed by the people of Ukraine to have a closer relationship with countries in the West, which was restated in the recent election.

My Lords, the chances of Russia surrendering Crimea, short of by war, must be nil. However, it seems to me of the utmost importance to make it very clear to Mr Putin that there must be no more Sudetenland initiatives in relation to any part of the former Russian empire. I very much bear in mind what Mr Putin said some years ago concerning the G8—namely, that Russia’s accession to the G8 was the defining achievement of his public career. He may very well have been totally sincere in that. Therefore, there should be not only negative sanctions, if needs be, but positive allurements as well, which may result in him accepting that it is not too late to come to the stool of penitence and to show that he has respect for international law and international obligations.

I very much agree with that; it is what everyone would want. Whether it is the stool of penitence or somewhere else, I hope that we can get to a point where we normalise relations and Russia rejoins the G8. However, certain things need to happen before that can come about.