Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will share the sadness of the International Relations Committee at the news that my noble friend Lord Howell was taken ill last night and is unable to be in his place today. I am sure we all join together in wishing him well.
We have two Motions on the Order Paper. The first is concerned with the United Kingdom’s changing international position in the post-Brexit era, while the second concerns itself with the United Nations and the tasks of the new Secretary-General. This is the first report of the new committee on international relations, for which many of us pestered for many years. It is most welcome that at last we have a proper International Relations Committee.
The Motions overlap, since the firm conclusion of the IRC report is that the UK’s role in the United Nations has to be revised. It will become even more important after Brexit, but could, if handled well, provide us with new leverage in the world. I am sure I speak for the whole committee in being very grateful to the clerks and the advisers for their admirable support in putting this report together. We are also grateful for the Government’s response, which seems largely in agreement with our recommendations. As my noble friend Lord Howell himself said in his notes, in fact it is “almost alarmingly” in agreement with our recommendations.
The United Nations has undoubtedly had a rollercoaster ride in recent years. There was, initially, the hope that the end of the Soviet Union would mean an end to constant Russian vetoes. The belief was fostered by some naive economists that throwing off the communist yoke would lead immediately to free markets and flourishing Russian democracy. Instead, we have ended up with oligarchs, crime, corruption and Vladimir Putin, and a new era of tension and turbulence in the United Nations.
Perhaps I can begin by dealing with the committee’s report. We all welcome the new objective way in which the new Secretary-General was appointed. The old system, which seemed to rely on it being Buggins’s turn, or on regional appointments, was clearly faulty. António Guterres seems to have very promising credentials, which we welcome. But the committee felt that appointment to the leadership of the United Nations and its agencies should be based on qualifications regardless of other factors, which should only come into effect when candidates have equal qualifications. The question is how we can be sure that the best people will be appointed. In the Government’s response, they refer to the influence of the Geneva group—of which the United Kingdom is a member—of 17 like-minded members which are major funders of the organisation. It is important that we use our influence there to buttress the Secretary-General and encourage him to bring about the changes which are so badly needed. It is through the Geneva group that we have one way of applying better practices. Many of these long-running problems are covered in the report and need to be addressed at last.
I am bound to say that before the inquiry I had not realised that the various United Nations agencies had such a degree of autonomy that they were de facto separate empires which sometimes were beyond the influence of the Secretary-General’s control. A classic example of this was UNESCO, which in the 1970s caused the United Kingdom and the United States to opt out of that body. The Government’s response was not, I thought, very specific on whether the United Kingdom intends to try to increase the Secretary-General’s influence and to co-ordinate better the work of the whole organisation, including the agencies. Here, again, the influence of the Geneva group in selecting appropriate leadership and trying to get people elected could be very important indeed.
I turn next to peacekeeping. The committee stressed the need for more investment in conflict prevention, pre-deployment training and more specialised equipment such as helicopters and drones. I have been concerned for many years about the sometimes ad hoc nature of United Nations peacekeeping forces and the sheer incompetence and unsuitability, on occasion, of some of those units. I remember being in Cambodia when part of the United Nations force, from a nation I will not name, had to be sent home for gross incompetence and illegality. I wonder whether the Government believe that there is work to be done in preparing and training regional peacekeeping units in a more positive way in advance of crises, so that they are available at short notice to answer the Secretary-General’s requests for help.
I began by saying that the arrival of President Trump seems to present the new Secretary-General with major new challenges, because we have had news overnight from Washington that the United States seems to be of a mind to propose major cuts in United Nations funding and support. I note that the BBC has used the figure of 40%. This situation is of great concern and we can only hope that our natural alarm is exaggerated. To sum up the views of the Select Committee regarding the United Nations, I can do no better than to quote from the report’s conclusion:
“This report is based on our firm conviction that the UN remains more than ever an essential global institution and a lynchpin of a rules-based international order”.
Perhaps I may turn to the other issues to be considered in our debate today, which concern the wider international situation. First, however, on the overall international scene, the immediate question is of course the one I referred to earlier: the way in which President Trump is going to jump, since he is an avowed protectionist while we in Britain are telling everyone that we are free trade enthusiasts. The meeting between Mr Trump and our Prime Minister is going to be interesting, to say the least. Most people would counsel extreme caution over signing any speedy deal with the new Administration and urge that we should first examine closely the small print. That, I think, is the experience of anyone who has been involved in what the President calls “deals” over the years.
The talks will be influenced by our Brexit approach, which now requires a vote in both Houses to get going. The media love to portray this as a coming punch-up, especially here in the House of Lords, but frankly I do not see any great problem. It may be that the Liberal Democrats will do their best to amend the forthcoming Bill by, as I understand it from their spokesman, proposing a second referendum. While I personally do not rule out a second referendum, this is not the time for us to be talking about one as it seems to fly in the face of the verdict of the nation in the first referendum. It will become relevant only when the terms of the Brexit deal are clear; if the deal appears to be a catastrophe, which it may be, and public opinion is repelled by the prospect of the outcome, that might be the time for us to consider the suggestion of a promised second referendum.
After the presidential inauguration last Friday, it occurred to me that I have never known a period of such uncertainty about United States foreign policy as that which confronts us now. Quite frankly, we do not know where we are and I do not think they know where they are in Washington. It is to be hoped that the visit of our Prime Minister this weekend will help to clarify some of these uncertainties. We can only hope that the Prime Minister will be able to point out that the 70 years of peace between the great nations of the world which we have been fortunate enough to live through, a time when these nations have not militarily been at each other’s throats, is due in large part to successive United States Administrations believing in a multilateral foreign and defence policy in conjunction with their friends and allies.
We had a dangerous wobble in our relationship with the United States several years ago, just before and during the second Iraq war, when the attitude and philosophy of the United States seemed to be one of, “We are going to do this. If you want to support us, by all means come with us, but if you do not, get out of our way”. We should remember in that context where such an attitude has got us to now in the Middle East. As one who has always been a friend of the United States–indeed, I ran the British-American parliamentary group for 14 years—it was my reservations about the then new attitude to the lack of post-military phased plans that caused me to speak in this House against the second Iraq war before it began.
The UK-US relationship is of crucial importance and we should do everything to support it. The Prime Minister is very fortunate to have the opportunity to influence the President and to try to lead him towards a constructive and traditional path. But given the uncertain trumpet call from the White House, we should remember that the United States constitution is based on a series of checks and balances, so I would guess that the Prime Minister’s meeting today in Philadelphia with Republican Members of Congress is of special importance.
Of course, the President has good reason to make some of the attacks he makes in his pronouncements. I am thinking especially of NATO. He has rightly criticised its European members for not taking part or taking a fair share of their responsibilities. Given the consequences of Brexit, it is vital that the UK strengthen its ties to and responsibility and enthusiasm for NATO. According to an article in the Times the other day, our defence budget is now approaching 2.2% of GDP—I wish people would understand that when they say it is just 2%—and, given Russia’s revived aggression, there is surely a good case for increasing that in future. However, we should certainly go heavy on those whom President Trump has rightly criticised for being lamentably below the 2% level they all solemnly agreed to at the Wales summit some years ago.
I hope today’s debate starts an important wider debate on international affairs. We live in very difficult and uncertain times. There has never been a time since the end of the Second World War when resolution on the part of our country and our allies was more important.
My Lords, like everyone else, I hope for a speedy recovery for the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, on standing in at such short notice in such fine fashion.
It is a truism to say that we are living in times of great change domestically, on our continent and globally. In the limited time available I want to keep my remarks focused on one or two aspects of that change which offer a huge challenge to the traditional manner and means of conducting our international relations. This applies both to single states and to institutions that are based on states, such as the United Nations.
To begin with, the sheer range of political entities with which we must, or should, engage in the course of conducting international relations has expanded enormously. For centuries, international relations have been conducted through, between, among, or at the level of nation states. That has more or less held true since 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia. In recent decades, however, powerful political, social and technological change has changed that reality.
First, the emergence of powerful political entities at the level beneath the nation state—regional government, devolved power, national entities inside nation states, including our own, and decentralised political structures—must inevitably add to the complexity of international relations. Of course, that is not an unfamiliar phenomenon in Europe itself, as we will no doubt discover in time when trying to develop free trade agreements with the EU, which will be dependent on the assent of numerous substate actors. It therefore should not surprise us that it is a trend that is strongly emerging in other parts of the world—in the Middle East, for instance, where existing national state boundaries were not so much organically grown from local conditions but, rather, are lines drawn on the map by former colonial powers, sometimes without due regard to ethnic, tribal or other historical factors.
Many of those substate actors now play a powerful role, especially within states undergoing rapid change, conflict or social turmoil. Many have no formal constitutional basis. They range from local power blocs to ethnic groups or NGOs. The question of how and to what extent we can develop the capacity for formal and complex arrangements in addition to our traditional means of international relations becomes a very important aspect. The Foreign Secretary acknowledged these changes in his speech at Chatham House on 2 December. When addressing the challenges, his answer was that,
“we need to redouble our resolve and to defend and preserve the best of the rules-based international order”.
I am always for redoubling our resolve. I was continually doing it as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; every time something went wrong, we redoubled and rededicated ourselves. However, a Canute-like defence of the past order hardly explains how we are to tackle the new one. Perhaps the Minister could respond to that later.
Secondly, in addition, technological change has undermined the hitherto unchallenged nature and sovereignty of the nation state. Cyberspace is not just an amalgam of technologies or a means of communication; it is truly the first man- and woman-made environment. It permeates and helps to shape new relations in economic, political and social spheres. Above all, it is transnational. Of course we have had reason to notice the domestic effects of cyber and social media, not least in the Arab spring, but we sometimes forget that it has also changed the nature of global transnational relations. Moreover, cyberwarfare and transnational industrial espionage, with all the difficulties of verification and attribution, present a new and unprecedented challenge to traditional state-based diplomatic solutions.
Thirdly, we have what is commonly called globalisation. Transnational commercial organisations now have an unprecedented mobility to transfer assets or taxable income from one state to another. Mass media and social media stimulate economic migration, lawful and unlawful, from poorer to richer states, while terrorists can communicate on a global scale. None of these renders state-to-state relations redundant, but they all challenge the traditional manner in which those relations are conducted.
Separately from that, I have a final point that bears on our relations with the United States. I do not intend to expound upon the special relationship; the Prime Minister is in Washington today, presumably making a lot of that. However, as someone who has worked closely with our American allies over the years, I believe we should not blind ourselves to the potential conflicting objectives that seem to be emerging from the new President. I do not need to mention them all but I shall mention three: a strongly protectionist trade policy, the legitimisation of the use of torture and the unravelling of the Iran nuclear deal. It is the nature of good allies that we tell our friends when we think they are making a terrible mistake, and I hope the Prime Minister will be doing so in that spirit. As they stand apparently in complete contradiction to the aims and objectives of Her Majesty’s Government, and it is difficult to see how they can be reconciled, I would be grateful if the Minister could respond when she draws her conclusions at the end of the debate.
My Lords, like the noble Lords, Lord Reid and Lord Jopling, I am a member of the International Relations Committee. I express my hope that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, recovers quickly, and my thanks to him for getting today’s debate on to the agenda. What a timely debate it is.
The International Relations Committee was set up in 2016. Our very first meeting was either just a week before or the week after the referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU. We decided that as our first piece of work we would look at the United Nations and the priorities for its incoming Secretary-General, but almost all our evidence sessions have taken at least one question on what Brexit is going to mean, whether for our relations with the United Nations, the Commonwealth or the United States, and what our role in the world is going to be.
One thing that came out very clearly from the evidence sessions was the importance of the United Kingdom working closely with our European allies. The government line was: when we leave the European Union, we will be leaning more closely to the other alliances, to the United Nations, to NATO. Other evidence-givers suggested that that is all very well, but the United Kingdom on its own, outside the European Union, is perhaps not as influential as it likes to think. Yes, we are a permanent member of the Security Council at the United Nations, but a huge part of our influence in the United Nations is because we are a member of the European Union.
Will the Government accept the committee’s Recommendation 197, which was that the United Kingdom should be working closely with the European Union in the United Nations even after we leave the EU? The security situation for the United Kingdom does not change when we leave the European Union. We do not suddenly become less or differentially vulnerable to security threats than our European colleagues, so it is vital that we find a way to keep close security links with the European Union.
The committee took evidence from the Foreign Secretary earlier today. He seemed to suggest that his Dutch colleague had said, “Well, when the UK leaves the European Union, we are going to lose 20% of the budget, 25% of defence and 30% of aid”. The Foreign Secretary, if I noted him down correctly, said: “But we’re not going to be leaving Europe in that way”. I was a little surprised, because I thought that, financially, that was the very thing that we would be doing. He seemed to be suggesting that the United Kingdom would indeed be trying to ally as closely as possible to the European Union in terms of the security relationship. That would clearly be most welcome to those of us who believe that the UK’s security interests are closely allied to those of the European Union. Is that indeed the Government’s position and, if so, will that be part of the negotiations for Brexit?
Beyond that, the Prime Minister has gone off to the United States—again, this debate is extremely timely. If we are to have an ongoing special relationship with the United States, there is a question about what it will be. The President appears to want to play Ronnie to the Prime Minister’s Maggie: to recreate an alliance of the 1980s. A problem that the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, mentioned in his introductory remarks and the noble Lord, Lord Reid, picked up on, is that some of the statements coming out of Washington are not those we would expect from allies. Do we suddenly believe that torture might be an appropriate method to get information out of people? Surely not.
The Prime Minister has said that she is willing to take on the President—effectively, to speak to truth to power, or to the President. Can we expect her to say that the United Kingdom will not accept some of the things that he appears to have said overnight? In particular, the President has suggested that NATO allies should be spending 2% of GDP on defence, as we have all committed to do. Will the Prime Minister be suggesting to him that the United States ought to be keeping up its expenditure to the United Nations and sticking to its commitments?
My Lords, the first report of your Lordships’ relatively new International Relations Committee has been most ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. I regret only that the indisposition of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has prevented him from taking credit for the way he has guided the fledgling committee, and I wish him a very speedy recovery.
The arrival of a new UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in that office on the 38th floor of UN headquarters which I know so well, is, as changes of Secretary-General always are, something of a watershed moment. It is not getting the same attention as President Trump’s inauguration or the triggering of Article 50, but it is nevertheless an important moment for a country such as the UK, whose permanent membership of the UN Security Council is even more salient in its foreign policy than it was before the referendum.
The Government’s response to our report shows that there is a lot of common ground between us when it comes to identifying the priorities of the new Secretary-General. It is particularly welcome that the Government share the committee’s view that the UN, for all its weaknesses and failings, remains an essential global institution and the linchpin of a rules-based international order which it is in Britain’s interest to support.
That might sound a little bit like motherhood and apple pie, but with the arrival in the White House of a new President who did not have a single good word to say about the UN in his campaign, it is nothing of the sort. President Trump has now expressed his disregard for a number of the US’s international obligations—specifically, on torture, on refugees and on paying the UN’s assessed contributions for regular and peacekeeping budgets—which puts him at variance with our Government’s policy. If followed up with deeds, it will bring us into sharp disagreement with our principal ally. That is in addition to the other disagreements over NATO and free trade. It will inevitably affect efforts to establish a good relationship with the new Administration, but I shall not go further into that matter today, with the Prime Minister in the United States.
On what points, then, does the committee not agree with the Government? I shall identify a few. The Government seem to be underestimating the number of threats to international peace and security expressed in no-go areas for the UN. There is Syria, of course, which they recognise as such. Who could not feel a sense of collective shame and despair after the agony of Aleppo? But there are also Ukraine and Crimea and the tensions in the South and East China Seas. It is surely important that those no-go areas be reduced, not allowed to expand and spread like ink blots to cover the whole globe, as they did during the Cold War.
Secondly, there is the process of choosing a new Secretary-General. The Government deserve a lot of credit for the major contribution they made to reforming and improving the process that led to the unanimous choice of António Guterres. That this was achieved with greater transparency than before, without any pre-emption of a regional or gender kind—desirable though it undoubtedly is that a woman Secretary-General should emerge before too long—was a major achievement. But why do the Government feel the need to dismiss the idea of moving to a single, seven-year, non-renewable term for Secretary-Generals, and with such weak arguments? In a rather dismissive way, they suggest that that idea has been circulating for many years. Well, so was the reform of the franchise; so was giving women the vote; so was abolishing slavery. It did not make them bad ideas. They also say that re-election after five years makes the Secretary-General more accountable. That is a polite way of saying that it makes him more subject to a veto from permanent members—not necessarily a good thing. I hope that the Government will think again about a seven-year term.
Thirdly, although the Government appear to agree that the UN’s capacity for conflict prevention needs to be boosted, they qualify that by saying that,
“spending more is not the only way to achieve this”.
The committee did not say it was, actually, but it is rather difficult to see the UN becoming more effective at conflict prevention at nil cost.
Fourthly, there is accountability for sexual abuse by peacekeepers. The Government first rejected the recommendation of the Committee on Sexual Violence in Conflict that an international jurisdiction be set up to help root this out. Now, they have rejected even the less ambitious idea of convening a group of experts to consider its feasibility. The primary responsibility for dealing with such matters lies, they say, with the troop-contributing countries. Precisely so, but perhaps the Minister can say when she winds up which countries exercise that duty. I think the answer is zero.
Lastly, on the implications of Brexit for our work at the UN, the habitual paralysis that seems to afflict every government department when it is asked to think beyond the mantra of “Brexit means Brexit”, seems to have afflicted the FCO. It seems to accept that we share values and interests with the other members of the EU, but it says nothing about drawing the natural conclusion that we need to go on working closely with EU members at the UN.
I apologise if I have sounded a bit grumpy, but it really would not do if we always pretended to agree with the Government when we do not, and the points that I have mentioned are ones on which the committee came to a considered view. What matters is that the UN counts more for the UK than it has ever done before.
My Lords, first, I humbly apologise for arriving late. I join noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for securing this debate, and I wish him well in his recovery. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for his speech.
It is a time of dangerous uncertainty in international relations. There is a deficit of predictability in our relationship with the European Union, over the future of the EU itself, and in the foreign policy of our single most important ally, the United States. While I have great faith in American democracy, it is deeply unsettling to hear a US Administration cast doubt over the value of NATO, the United Nations and even the European Union, downgrading human rights and contemplating policies that can only fuel religious intolerance. I fear that, when there used to be consensus on internationalism, populist politics in some western democracies are fuelling a fake patriotism that is in fact a narrow nationalism more suited to the last century than this one.
As someone who has lived through war, I am deeply sensitive to the appearance of a leadership vacuum, and the agreements and principles that we risk sacrificing at the altar of this new, skewed reality. I therefore welcome the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington, particularly in the light of Brexit, and her desire to reinvigorate US and UK leadership internationally. But I caution against allowing ourselves to be taken for granted or used to defend some rather dubious policies. For example, no one disputes that Daesh, or ISIS, must be confronted and eventually defeated, but the tools that we use and the choices that we make can have direct consequences for our own societies, as we learned through the painful lessons of the “war on terror”. I hope that we will always remember that we must defend our values as strongly as we defend our borders.
Let me be a bit more specific. Following President Trump’s latest pronouncements on torture, will the Minister assure the House that Britain will not accept or connive at torture, and that should the United States Administration pursue this path, it would have an inevitable impact on our intelligence co-operation? Let us not forget that we have the ability to influence US policies, and I hope we will have the courage to do so.
I fully recognise that in post-Brexit Britain, a free trade agreement with the United States is of enormous importance, but a free trade agreement amid a sea of disorder and insecurity would be a very narrow basis indeed for the future prosperity of our country. Will the Minister be clear that it will remain the United Kingdom’s policy, now and after we leave the EU, to strengthen rather than allow the weakening of the institutions that have underpinned international security for over half a century? In particular, I hope that our Prime Minister will discourage the new Administration from selling the exit dream to other EU countries. Twice, American and British soldiers fought for peace in Europe in the last century, and only after the EU was founded did we secure long-term peace on this continent—the Balkans excluded, as ever. The EU can and will move forward without the United Kingdom, but peace in Europe can be secure only in a union where the interests of Germany and France are balanced, and that can happen only within a wider union with common goals and shared values. Any other arrangement takes us back a century.
If there is one thing I could agree on with the new Administration in Washington, it is that NATO allies must share the burden more fairly. We cannot just consume security—we have to share the burden of providing it. But any suggestion that NATO is obsolete will not encourage this trend; it will instead sow doubt that US commitment to the alliance is continuing.
Finally, as the committee recognises in the report, the UN is in urgent need of reform. I hope that the Prime Minister will champion the organisation when she meets President Trump tomorrow, and remind him that the United Nations is not a bureaucracy imposed on us; it was created by us because of needs which remain as compelling as ever. In doing so, the Prime Minister will not only defend our country’s interests but speak in defence of wider peace and security, which surely must be at the heart of Britain’s global role.
My Lords, as the first non-committee member to speak, I will offer a few reflections on our relationship with the United Nations and the United States, and of course comment on the report itself. How might Brexit change our relationship with the United Nations? At one level, of course, it will be unchanged. We will remain a member of the P5 and still be active in the agencies—and we will still send our brightest and best ambassadors to New York. I look particularly in the direction of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, while sparing his blushes.
Will our weight be changed as a result of Brexit? Clearly, the UN works through caucuses—for example, the EU spokesman in New York has great weight, as part of a bloc, and in pushing our candidates for key posts and lobbying generally. Furthermore, membership of the EU acts as a shield. For example, when démarches are made on human rights issues, one member cannot be picked off for retribution. So if our weight is likely to be reduced, what thereafter do the Government envisage as our relationship with the United Nations? Will we be tagged as associated with the European Union, as Norway is? Are there any alternative alliances to maintain our influence? The Commonwealth is certainly helpful on climate change, but it is clearly not a lobbying group—pace the noble Lord, Lord Howell, whom we miss and who we hope will have a speedy return to health.
On our relationship with the United States, no doubt over the next day or so President Trump will talk of a special relationship—of a Scottish mother who loved the Queen. He will have seen our Prime Minister first and will make us feel warm inside. But we delude ourselves if we think we will have special favours. Certainly there were no special favours to Mrs Thatcher—I think of the invasion of Grenada. The President said that we would be at the front of the queue on trade—after two years, presumably—but that conflicts with the idea of America first, the repatriation of American jobs, and the creation of American jobs, or else, for corporate America. Furthermore, constitutionally, Congress has a major role in trade negotiations and is a bear pit of lobbying by corporate and agricultural interests. Now we are forced to try to position ourselves with the new Administration—but let us not delude ourselves. There will be key differences on the Middle East, Crimea, NATO, Russia and Iran. The UK and EU position on sanctions will be challenged and will possibly unravel.
I turn to the report itself and priorities for the Secretary-General. It is right, of course, that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, after his campaign for the committee—and he is much respected—should chair it. There are a few points to be identified. The UK had a key role in the process of selecting the new Secretary-General. Guterres was the wrong gender and from the wrong region, but the right person, as he knows the possibilities of the machine from the inside—but regional considerations still often prevail. Problems—which there is no time to develop—include indiscipline, whistleblowers not being encouraged, no collective memory of appointments, and stovepipe organisation, as stressed in the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, and Sir Emyr Jones Parry, regarding the independent UNDP and the very weak response to Ebola. Radical reform of the Security Council is unlikely; at best, there may be incremental changes.
On peacekeeping and the avoidance of conflict, we failed in Rwanda, we failed certainly in Aleppo, but I witnessed the UN at its very best in Namibia. No other organisation could do as well—though again there were allegations of indiscipline and corruption there. On migration, my one point is that there has been a failure, or unwillingness, of UN members to identify the underlying problem of the booming world population, which adds to desertification, climate change and armed conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded me that in the 1990s, there was a rather unholy alliance of the Vatican and Iran, which stopped discussion. So peacekeeping generally happens well enough in stable conflicts, such as Cyprus, but it is very difficult in a fluid situation such as South Sudan, where there are non-state actors who will not play according to the rules.
The conclusion can only be that the world has changed radically. The vision of those who created the post-war institutions is no more. Realistically, we can only build on what we have and adapt as best we can. I believe that the report is realistic, a model, and a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee, and should be warmly welcomed.
My Lords, I am privileged to serve on the International Relations Committee and I add both my good wishes to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and my thanks to the clerk and policy analyst who supported our first inquiry on the UN and the UK and the priorities for the new Secretary-General, António Guterres, who I most warmly welcome into his new role.
In this very wide-ranging debate I will focus just on some of the recommendations concerning the organisation and management of the UN, which is not nearly as dry and dusty, or as peripheral to the big issues, as it might sound. On the contrary, at a time when the role and actions of the Secretary-General could prove to be decisively influential in a number of scenarios around the world in a way that those of no other individual could be, it is important that he is able to operate with the strongest possible network of support and coherence within the leadership, culture and structure of the UN—but this is not currently what he has. He will need the active and committed backing of the UK to make some fundamental changes and I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the UK will build on its most welcome support for the limited reforms which so improved the process of selecting him, and go on to achieve the wider reforms which are now needed to allow Mr Guterres to fulfil the potential of his position and of the UN as a whole.
First, the increased transparency that we saw around the selection process should be made permanent, with agreed explicit criteria and qualifications for the role. The report recommends that the UK should take the initiative in getting this ball rolling, as well as looking carefully at the proposal that a single seven-year term should replace the current five-year renewable term. Like my noble friend Lord Hannay, I feel that the Government’s response is too negative on this last point and I ask the Minister to reconsider whether the Secretary-General really should be spending time and effort towards the end of a first term standing for re-election: whether this really does increase his accountability as the Government argue, or whether it is in fact an unnecessary distraction from the time and energy that should be devoted to world affairs, not internal positioning.
Secondly, the reforms in recruitment and selection should not stop with the Secretary-General. Greater cohesion and quality of leadership could be achieved if a whole range of positions within the UN Secretariat and agencies, and in senior leadership positions in UN peacekeeping, were also subject to more transparency and accountability. Many of these positions will be coming vacant during Mr Guterres’s first term, so it is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, said, that action be taken quickly. I hope that the UK will do more than express its support in principle, at the Geneva Group and elsewhere, and will table specific proposals designed to make change happen in time to be effective for this Secretary-General, not his successor.
Thirdly, our report recommends that the Secretary-General should be allowed more autonomy in managing the budget, while of course remaining accountable to member states. At present he has only limited authority over the size of the budget and is highly restricted as to how he may allocate it. This works to stifle accountability and puts process before purpose. Witnesses as distinguished and experienced in the affairs of the UN as the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, and Sir Emyr Jones Parry strongly advised radical reform in this area.
Finally, the UN should launch a new communications strategy, including a distinct focus on young people, and the UK should support this. People under 25 currently make up 45% of the world’s population and witnesses including the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, stressed that the UN needs to be much more proactive in its engagement with them in particular. It should not just be an information-giving exercise but a genuine strategy to create mechanisms by which they can be consulted about what the UN does. I would welcome from the Minister a little more detail than is mentioned in the Government’s response to the report about what the UK is doing to support this engagement, particularly through social media.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in sending my good wishes to my noble friend Lord Howell, and thank my noble friend Lord Jopling for the excellent way in which he introduced this debate.
I shall talk about the US, particularly its external relations. President Trump is probably coming to office with the biggest opportunity, and the biggest division between himself and his predecessors, of anyone since FDR in 1932. Unfortunately, unlike FDR, he does not have a vice-president of the calibre of Sam Rayburn to get things though the House. Therefore, I think he will face the difficulty of translating the enormous promises he has made into any sort of action. Much of the action, of course, we would prefer not to see.
We love Roosevelt but it is worth looking at the reality of his time, which we have glossed over. He was also very much an American President. We should remember that he did not declare war on Germany; he declared war on Japan. Germany declared war on him, so he had no option in that regard. Roosevelt was a tough negotiator. If we are expecting favours in Washington, we should read the memoirs of John Maynard Keynes and a few other people, and we will soon see that the United States is not unlike any other country in that it looks after its own national interest. That is what Foreign Offices do. As I am sure my noble friend Lady Anelay will confirm, the job of a Foreign Office is to get the best deal for its country. Therefore, we may get our equivalent of Smoot-Hawley in tariffs but the best way of resisting that is to point out the disastrous effect it had on the world and the world economy last time round. However, the prospect of infrastructure expenditure may well make it easier for the President to rebalance defence expenditure, because, when push comes to shove, it is how much public money goes into your district, not what it is spent on, that gets votes in the US Congress.
My next point will probably not find much favour in this House. I believe that the advent of President Trump gives us the opportunity to reset our relations with Russia. I think that we have fundamentally misunderstood Russia. Russia has not rolled back to communism; it has moved to a nationalist, Christian-based, fairly fundamentalist way of looking at the world. One of the factors about Russia is that it is very keen on getting its equivalent of a Monroe doctrine. It believes that it is as much its right to have at least partially on side the countries round it as the United States does. That, of course, does not stop us having views, opinions and interventions in countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. But after a lifetime of dealing with foreign affairs, I can tell your Lordships that the UK Government always pull their punches slightly further back in some areas than they do in others. Russia regards itself as having interests. That gives us an opportunity to reset our relations with it.
If we are to make NATO work, the countries of NATO have to start paying. You cannot expect the United States to spend 3.3% of its GDP on defence to defend Latvia, which, according to my research on Google, spent 1.1% in 2015. That is not on. There has to be a rebalancing. The United Kingdom’s priority should be to secure the borders of the EU and to relieve the pressure on them. I want to speak particularly about the Baltics, an area I have been to on several occasions. We have to say two separate things to the Baltic states. The first is, “You’ve got to make your Russians want to live here”. There is far too much discrimination against the Russian populations of these states. The second thing is, “If you want us to defend you we’re up for it, but you’ve got to put a reasonable amount of money into the pot. We’ve got to come to an agreement on what you want and you’ve got to pay a good proportion of it”. Otherwise, quite frankly, we are going to make commitments we cannot carry out. The Russians are not fools. They hear us saying, “We’ll defend this. We’re going to do this with Crimea”. They know that we cannot, and will not, deliver that, and that we will not spend the money to do so.
This is an opportunity for us to reset our relations in a way that works. We have to negotiate with our allies to make sure that they are prepared to put up the money and give the commitment we need to make an alliance work. In or out of the EU, I believe that we can offer our help and support, but we should take this opportunity to try to cast our relations in a more realistic way and get rid of some of the “drama queen” stuff that has been around in western European foreign policy for the last few years.
My Lords, before the next speaker commences, I invite the co-operation of your Lordships in this very well subscribed debate in observing the time limits. We have a serious bit of slippage, which will impact on other speakers unless we can gather it up. I seek noble Lords’ assistance in looking at the clock. When the clock says “five”, that is the time to reunite the noble posterior with the Red Bench.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in sending my best wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his speedy recovery. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for his excellent introduction.
In my brief intervention today, I want to talk about an issue which both Mr Ban and Mr Guterres feel merits the most serious effort: progressing work towards a world without nuclear weapons. On 23 January, Mr Guterres underlined his commitment to this work when he said:
“As Secretary-General, I am firmly resolved to actively pursue the abolition of all weapons of mass destruction and the strict regulation of conventional weapons. I am committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons”.
Of course, nuclear weapons remain the only weapons of mass destruction not yet outlawed in a comprehensive and universal manner, despite their well-documented catastrophic humanitarian and environmental impacts. Last year, in its 71st session, the UN voted to begin negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons: 123 countries voted for, 38 against and 16 abstained. It will not surprise your Lordships that the UK was one of those which voted against. The Government have explained why. Their official line is that,
“we firmly believe that the best way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is through gradual multilateral disarmament negotiated using a step-by-step approach and within existing international frameworks”.
I am sure the Minister will agree that the UK wants to see a world without nuclear weapons eventually, so my question to her is: what international framework, given that the Conference on Disarmament has made no progress in 20 years, and given that progress on Article VI of the NPT has been non-existent, which is a driving fact behind the resolution that was passed by the UN last year? Instead of progress being made, trillions of dollars are going to be spent on modernising and renewing nuclear weapons. It is against that background that non-nuclear weapons states see the ban as a positive step along the road to the realisation of Article VI of the NPT.
There can be an aspirational treaty with a long-term view without upsetting the current world order. Of course, the argument that our Government and the other nuclear weapons states always come back to is: we cannot admit to this aspiration in any treaty without it upsetting the current system of deterrence. Can the Minister say whether the UK Government will be part of the discussions in March and June on the UN ban treaty? That would be a tremendous step forward. The treaty is not asking for an unrealistic, overnight timetable. It simply firms up a goal that is widely agreed, including by the UK, but which is essential. Will the UK be at those negotiations? Will the Government start to take a more positive long-term view?
My Lords, I join others in very much missing the wise presence of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. I wish him well.
Brexit does not mean that Britain’s place in world affairs will diminish or recede. On the contrary, far from declining, we can now be a more influential voice for the maintenance of peace in international affairs and co-operation with like-minded countries. No longer 1/28th of a voice, whose aims and ideas are suppressed by others, Britain will have a strong independent position on the Security Council and in relation to NATO, and the opportunity to maintain good relations with the USA. No matter what views are held on President Trump’s record, any one four-year presidency should present little risk to the 100-year history of a close relationship between the two countries. It is a good sign that the Prime Minister is visiting and that the President has expressed keen interest in a trade deal, whereas the EU has never managed to conclude such a deal with the US.
In the United Nations the UK’s position could be even stronger for there will be no EU competition for influence in the Security Council. EU views can competently be put by France. Indeed, the whole idea of a seat for the European Union as a whole in the UN, or in other international bodies concerned with foreign affairs, has come up repeatedly against a real stumbling block: the EU’s inability to agree on a foreign policy or to have one at all. There is no sign of a unified EU policy towards Syria—Assad or no Assad—or Russia, and its meddling with the Israel-Palestine situation has not improved matters.
British foreign policy, once freed from entanglement with the EU, can make progress, and we can start to challenge Turkey on its serious breaches of human rights and the rule of law. Out of the EU, we will not need to flirt with Turkey or be blackmailed by it over migrants. Our Government should invest more in its relationship with the UN and should develop other relationships, including with, but not limited to, the Commonwealth, which should never have been neglected.
Brexit must allow NATO to flourish. It should not continue to be deprived of its rightful share of resources by the refusal of most EU states to pay their contributions. Their failure no doubt helped to create the impression in President Trump’s mind that it is obsolete. One hopes that the Prime Minister will be able to persuade the US President of the importance of NATO, and that it will be a vital channel of US-UK influence and interests without having to consider what the strategy of the other 27—if there is one—might be. Britain will have to step up to international defence, even on behalf of the other 27. Germany in particular, for understandable reasons, has failed sufficiently to express to its people European ideals and aims, and its Government have left a vacuum that is being filled by the far right. The far right and anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise in Austria, Poland, Croatia and Hungary. Walls are going up all over Europe, which has its own mini Trumps. Europe’s need to struggle against those movements will distract the EU from a more global role.
Next, on security, in the EU it seems to have gone from bad to worse. After the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and the 2016 terrorist attacks in Brussels, which showed how weak the measures were for sharing intelligence across Europe and how vulnerable the lack of borders made us when it came to tracing terrorists, the European Counter Terrorism Centre was set up. But then came the Berlin Christmas market attack, which is prima facie evidence of no improvement.
Being a member of the EU has undermined the UK’s relationship with other countries in security matters, because some of the member states are not trusted. Some have close ties with Russia or are plain incompetent. The former US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch warned that the planned EU data protection law would stand in the way of transatlantic information sharing, and a former CIA director said that the European Union,
“in some ways gets in the way”,
of security services. Not only is there little confidence in EU intelligence-sharing, but the EU itself has attacked Britain’s intelligence-sharing agreements with other countries, which have been at the heart of security policy since the end of the Second World War. Therefore, all in all, our international, security, United Nations and world position can only grow in stature once free of the impossible task of formulating foreign policy with 27 other countries with wildly different aims and standards.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in sending good wishes for a speedy recovery to our noble friend Lord Howell and I thank my noble friend Lord Jopling for his masterful performance in introducing this wide-ranging debate at short notice. I shall concentrate on the first of the two Motions, but I am glad that I have been able to hear so many well-informed contributions on that first report of the International Relations Committee.
Much has been said about the special relationship with the United States of America, especially in the light of the Prime Minister’s visit. However, I wish to draw attention to the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the countries of Latin America: that is, from Mexico, through to central and South America—countries with a combined GDP as great as that of China and a combined population of over 500 million. From the historic support given by George Canning and his Government to the independence movement led by Simón Bolívar, San Martín and Bernardo O’Higgins just over 200 years ago, to the development of infrastructure, especially railways, and considerable involvement and co-operation in agriculture, in particular cattle-breeding, which helped develop the trade in meat for which countries such as Argentina, Uruguay and even Venezuela are rightly famous—not to mention the introduction of football—British engineers and farmers, entrepreneurs and immigrants have been welcomed and appreciated in the 20 independent and sovereign democracies I am talking about. As a consequence, the British are regarded with esteem and affection throughout the continent. There are many open doors to push on.
Many of your Lordships will know that my vote in the referendum was cast in favour of remaining in the European Union. I was bitterly disappointed at the result. Nevertheless, I have been surprised and pleased by the way the Governments of Latin American countries are now showing great enthusiasm for building up new direct relationships and potential trade agreements with the United Kingdom. Their ambassadors on the ground here in London are working actively, looking at the opportunities and possibilities that follow on from Brexit.
Given that our allotted time is short, I shall concentrate on Mexico, since its Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs chose to come to the United Kingdom earlier this week as his first port of call in Europe. He delivered the message that Mexico remains a nation open to the world, competing in global markets with high-value products and services, and stands ready to start negotiations on a trade agreement with the United Kingdom once we formally leave the European Union. This is in spite of the fact that, as a result of the new Administration in the United States, it faces clear obstacles to conclude the long-negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a possible renegotiation of the NAFTA agreement, and the wall. Mind you, Ambassador de Icaza was adamant that the Mexicans would not pay a peso to the construction of that wall.
I hope my noble friend will take this message back to the Foreign Office and ensure it is heard in the Brexit, trade and other relevant departments. At the same time, I hope it will not be forgotten that countries such as Peru, Chile and Colombia also have economic growth rates to be envied; that Brazil, in spite of its apparent difficulties, has a huge and significant economy in world terms; and that our relationship with Argentina’s new Government is improving by leaps and bounds. In short, the Canning agenda, so clearly outlined by my noble friend Lord Hague of Richmond when he became Foreign Secretary, will be enhanced and revitalised so that the United Kingdom can enjoy the new opportunities offered in trade, investment and other long-term relationships with the countries of Latin America.
My Lords, I thank the committee for its excellent report, with which I find myself largely in agreement. I would like to say how much I appreciated the words of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. I have known him a very long time in politics. He spoke with the wisdom I have always thought was central to his life.
I know I keep saying this in this House, but the truth remains that the world is totally interdependent. That is the first reality of existence; we cannot escape it. It is demonstrably there in security, of course, and the threat from terrorism. It is there in climate change, economics, trade, culture—in every dimension we can think of. There is not one major issue I can identify that faces us, our children and grandchildren that can possibly be solved on a national basis. They all require international co-operation. I have no doubt whatever that if history survives as a discipline, this generation of politicians will be judged by our successors on the success we make of international governance. That is how we will be seen.
There are different approaches to what practical arrangements make sense and what do not. We have decided that we want to come out of the European Union, which I think is very sad indeed. I cannot say how sad I find that, but it has happened. That will not mean that the realities to which I have just been speaking will go away. Therefore, we shall have to work very hard at other means of promoting international co-operation and other ways of meeting the challenges that face the whole of humanity. Of course, the UN will be an important part of this, and with a new Secretary-General with a very impressive pedigree, we will need to work hard with him on this. We will need to work with him, of course, on strengthening the UN administration itself.
There is one thing that has always troubled me: it is the ability of politicians of all persuasions to talk about the UN as though it were a separate entity. When things get difficult, we like to be able to pile the blame on the UN. The UN is not a separate institution: it is us and all of its members. We must never forget that. It is no stronger than the commitment of the members themselves. We have to make very certain that, if we believe that the UN is indispensable—as I think many of us do—we are ensuring its success. As a member of the Security Council, we obviously have particular responsibilities in this context.
There are some immediate issues that need to be addressed: the successful new arrangements for the election of the Secretary-General must become the culture for appointments right across the UN system. That is essential: we should be supporting the Secretary-General in that. We should also recognise that, in a renewed concentration and priority on peacekeeping, mediation, conflict resolution and the rest, we take very seriously the reports—they are more than reports; they are evidence—of UN operations in terms of their personnel having gone very far awry and wrong, not least in sexual abuse. That needs to be tackled as a priority, because it is undermining the credibility of the United Nations across much of the world.
We are entering a difficult phase. We have talked a lot this afternoon about the United States. I find that situation very challenging; in many ways I find it grim. Let us remember, however, that in the popular vote, the majority of the American people did not vote for Trump. Among a majority of the American people, there are people who share our values passionately. We must not give up and start playing to Trump, because we know that in the United States, there are people who again, in the future, can become champions of the kind of world in which we would like to live.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, personifies internationalism and I am delighted to follow him in this historic debate, having long advocated an international relations committee in this House. I have also valued the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, over many years and his tenacity in adapting to changing times, ahead of most of us. He would have found the evidence on the Commonwealth from the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, and others, disappointing. She and others said that Commonwealth countries had little or no visibility at the UN unless they operated within their regional groups. Fortunately, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was more positive as a witness. The response of Her Majesty’s Government was that they were committed to encouraging a more proactive Commonwealth. Remembering the 1970s, it is evident that, in leaving the EU, we will surely be active in seeking closer co-operation with the Commonwealth.
Surprisingly, this seems to be the first Brexit debate on international affairs, excepting trade, security and defence. It is comforting that Europe, both in the report and in the Government’s muted response, remains centre stage, not only in the UN but in our own foreign policy. The report says in paragraph 196 that the UK,
“has strong reasons to continue aligning with the EU”—
at the UN, and that on some issues, the EU is,
“the bloc most allied to UK interests and values”.
The Government replies more cautiously that,
“we will continue to work closely with EU member states at the UN to support our mutual interests”.
I get the feeling, like the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and others, that the Government are unwilling to state the obvious: that our European neighbours will continue to be the first port of call for this Government, but are at present unwilling to say so. If the amber and red signals already coming from Washington are correct, our European friends are going to be needed even more on the major issues of human rights and diplomacy.
Following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, on Russia, I would like to ask the Minister about the EU’s enlargement policy after Brexit. Do we assume that HMG still support the applications of prospective member states in the Balkans, for example? Are we helping to nurture the historic agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, in which we and the EU have played a leading role? I shall be visiting Kosovo next month. Through the IPU I have already heard complaints from Albania and other Balkan states that, in leaving the EU, we may be deserting them too. Can the Minister assure me that the rule of law programme, policing and public administration in Kosovo will continue for some time ahead? And what about our support for the EU’s own peacekeeping programmes? Will we gradually pull out of these in favour of NATO operations?
I was glad to see that the Government intend to strengthen the UN’s capacity for conflict prevention. The other day we had a defence debate, during which I asked the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to what extent the UK will continue its EU and UN peacekeeping projects. I received some reassurance but the Minister may wish to expand on that.
On leadership, I was pleased that the Government singled out two British nationals, Ian Martin and Nick Kay, for their work in conflict zones. Ian Martin did outstanding work in Nepal during the civil war. Ex-President Thabo Mbeki is another name associated with tireless negotiation, most recently over South Sudan. In that connection, I am glad to see the Government continuing their concern over conflict-related violence against women, recognising the need for much more training within the United Nations system on human rights.
The United States remains an enigma. The new regime presents a threat in many ways to our established international liberal order, set up after 1945. We can be sure that we will now have to be more active in what I call the UN preservation campaign unless, as we hope, the new President is forcibly restrained by his own Congress colleagues.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. It is very helpful that this debate immediately follows the excellent debate that focused on the need for greater development support for women and girls in the world. It highlighted the context of where we are in the developing world. The need for an increased focus on that area is part of the changing global environment in which the new Secretary-General will be taking up his role.
With regard to the previous debate, I reflected that it was UK leadership within the European Union, at the financing for development conference in Addis Ababa, that led to an increase in EU support for aid. I was considering what the European Union’s position on the 0.7% target will be, given that it was UK leadership that increased EU aid year on year. Not taking part in future such conferences will be one of the consequences of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. However, it highlights that the global pressures are materially different from when the UN family and its agencies were established two generations ago, so I was very pleased that the committee chose as its first subject what the priorities of the new Secretary-General should be.
As a member of the committee, I wish to add to the best wishes expressed by colleagues to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for stepping into the breach. It is a real privilege for me to serve on the committee with far more experienced colleagues in this House and to learn a great deal from it.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, indicated, the material difference in the world community is the great pressures on the youngest generation. Unprecedentedly, the Middle East and north Africa have their youngest generation experiencing the highest employment pressures—especially those with an education. Globalisation is not only here and is having an imbalanced impact but it is irreversible. The fact that we have also an unprecedented number of internally displaced people within countries around the world puts huge pressures on individual UN member states, and we have unseen levels of movement of people, whether caused by those seeking refuge, those seeking employment or those affected by climate change.
A strong part of the committee’s report is where we highlight that one of the absolute priorities for the new Secretary-General will be to take forward the 2015 and 2016 global conferences, which offered solutions in these areas. I was very pleased to see the Government’s response to say that they agreed with paragraphs 161 and 162 of the report—there is overall consensus. I wish Amina Mohammed, the new deputy Secretary-General, well in the role that will be played in that position.
It is fair to say that there were questions in the committee about whether Brexit would provide the UK with a greater ability to play an increased role in meeting those challenges. The Government somewhat asserted that it would—it is fair to say that the Minister said it with a higher degree of enthusiasm than the officials did. Nevertheless, we need more evidence as to how that assertion will be backed up. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, when in her evidence to the committee she said that another element of Brexit would be that the UK would lose its role to,
“interpret to the rest of the world what is happening in the EU, and the rest of the world expects us to have a huge, positive influence on that”.
That is of concern. It is also the case that we will not necessarily be able to turn to the Commonwealth, nor does the Commonwealth necessarily wish us to, and be a leader in that community, which is so well established and has its own networks.
Finally, I turn to the UK’s relationship with the United States, which is pertinent. I cannot see, yet, how the position of the UK Government, with their “global Britain” approach, will sit comfortably alongside the “America first” approach. The fact is that on all the issues—international development, women’s rights and climate change—President Trump has a different view not only from the United Kingdom but from the consensus around the world. As he has said overnight, his preferred approach is based on how he feels about issues rather than the evidence presented to him. That is a very deep concern. I look to our Prime Minister to send clear signals that the UK is prepared to separate itself from US foreign policy, rather than simply adhere to it.
My Lords, I am sorry to be tiresome, but time is tight and there is still slippage. I invite noble Lords’ co-operation in trying to trim their contributions as much as possible in deference to the winding-up speeches. I thank noble Lords for their co-operation.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak for a very short time. I begin by looking at Britain’s maritime role in the world. When I first joined your Lordships’ House, I did not know what to do, and I was grabbed by the then Leader of the House and Leader of the Opposition and told to go and sort something out with the maritime sector as I had just come out of the Navy. Effectively, shipbuilding was being shut down, and so I did a bit that helped. What was nice was that although I did not do very much, the industry was kind enough to send me a chart, which I have on my wall. It was of British Empire shipping in 1937, the year of my birth, and it showed a little dot where every British ship was at sea around the world, followed by, should I so wish to know, a list of their trade. I still have that on my wall, and it moves me quite considerably. I realised that we are a maritime nation, which we have not mentioned much today, with global relationships and a global role. There are other countries that are also maritime nations, with which we used to fight.
I am looking at the continent of Europe and saying, “What can we do in the Mediterranean?”. It seems that an awful lot of the rows going on at the moment are water-related, due to illegal migration and things of this sort, and a lack of capability to do anything about it. It is migration that is causing the problem, although it was there historically.
If rather than looking at just the economic exclusion zones around—which EEZs, and we were not sure what they were—we looked at which of the maritime countries we could co-operate with, we would see that the most logical one is France. I have to declare an interest in that I have produced some quite good rosé in Provence, but the wild boar attacked us rather severely this year and they won. There are an awful lot of wild boar around in the world and life is not too easy, but if we could look at the ganging-up between certain countries on specific projects, we would see that it is logical that France, with her links to Africa and to her own territories, could be quite a good partner.
For example, if we look at the square kilometres of economic exclusion zone interests of the United Kingdom and the overseas territories, together with the Commonwealth, we see that it comes to 60% of the world. If you add in the French, that comes to 76%. I just raise this as a little issue: that maybe we should look at the maritime sector and see what we could do. I declare my interest as secretary and treasurer of the House of Lords Yacht Club, and we are solvent.
My Lords, in warmly congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and the committee’s other members on this excellent first outing, I, too, hope that he recovers swiftly from his illness.
The courageous Dag Hammarskjöld, the second of the United Nations Secretaries-General, has always been a hero of mine. I commend his book, Markings, to President Trump, who recently described the United Nations as a “club” for people to “have a good time” and yesterday reined in the US’s funding to the UN by 40%. Ironically, he included in his executive order the International Criminal Court, yet the US currently pays nothing to the ICC and is not a member. I hope that the Minister will say what this might add up to but also address the composition, competences and resources of the ICC in its capacity to bring to justice those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity in so many parts of the world.
Hammarskjöld once said:
“We should … recognise the United Nations for what it is—an admittedly imperfect but indispensable instrument of nations working for a peace evolution towards a more just and secure world”.
He also said:
“Setbacks in trying to realise the ideal do not prove that the ideal is at fault”.
So we must distinguish between agencies which need reform—such as UNFPA, which indirectly aided and abetted China’s grotesque one-child policy—and the reasons why the UN, or for that matter the EU, were created. The objective must always surely be to strengthen and reform international institutions and not to weaken them.
In this context, the Prime Minister was right to reassure our European neighbours that, as we leave the Union, we have no gleeful wish to see its collapse or unravelling. The only beneficiaries would be, for different reasons, Vladimir Putin and those parties of the far right which this year will campaign strongly in either general or presidential elections in some six EU countries. As occurred here, such parties will receive oxygen from Junckerism’s dangerous inflexibility, which played such a part in Britain’s decision to leave and now endangers continental European cohesion, yet the Schuman declaration disavowed one “single plan” and emphasised adaptability. So, for instance, a reform requiring an applicant to obtain a job offer before moving would not violate the Schuman declaration and would address a running sore. In this context, too, I welcome the Prime Minister’s bold and defining vision of what Britain must now do. Britain’s capabilities in many spheres—economic trading, intelligence, military—must be strengthened and directed towards open and free markets, with diplomats, politicians and civil servants working tirelessly to make a success of this.
If the elected House votes to trigger Article 50, we would have no right to try to sabotage this. Constitutional showdowns between this House and the House of Commons have never ended well and we must tread with great care and wisdom—I say that as someone who voted remain.
While these interminable arguments have been going on, the world has not stood still. Let us consider, for instance, Mr Putin’s new alliance with Turkey, now a semi-detached member of NATO, following the abandonment of Ukraine and the wave of fear now sweeping Baltic countries. All this should give us pause for thought.
The Select Committee report rightly identifies the shifting of power from west to east. One of the great imponderables of the Trump presidency is how he will deal with China. It was another US President, John F Kennedy, who famously employed the trope that the Chinese word for crisis contains two distinct characters, signifying both danger and opportunity. The region is full of both.
When the Minister comes to reply, I hope that she will address the stand-off over the Spratlys. My noble friend Lord Hannay referred by allusion to the situation in the South and East China Seas, where £3.4 trillion of trade passes over the Spratlys. There is also the dangerous nuclear expansionism of North Korea, with its horrendous violations of human rights and treatment of refugees. I declare my interest as joint chairman of the All-Party Group on North Korea.
Failure to resolve these issues peacefully would all undermine President Xi Jinping’s unlikely but welcome speech at Davos last week, in favour of free trade and against protectionism. At one with the Prime Minister, he said that we need to be “well connected and interconnected” and to learn to “share prosperity”. China is not in a customs union with the EU or a member of the single market, so the freight train that arrived at Barking on 18 January, having crossed seven countries and journeyed for 14 days on the new silk road from the Chinese city of Yiwu, pointed to new opportunities for the UK. In our generation, there are many dangers and opportunities, and in that context the Select Committee’s report is so welcome.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, for moving this important Motion, and of course I wish the noble Lord, Lord Howell, a speedy recovery.
In 1971, a young man from Liverpool named John Lennon wrote a song called “Imagine”. Your Lordships may be relieved to know that I am not going to sing it, but its last verse reads as follows:
“You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one”.
There remain many challenges to the international unity that the song “Imagine” aspires to. While I am not suggesting that Brexit will fix it overnight, I believe that a properly managed British Brexit will help and not hinder global relations. Despite Brexit, we will remain an influential permanent member of the UN Security Council, the second largest contributor to NATO after America, and a leading member of the G7, G20 and the Commonwealth—we must not forget the Commonwealth. We will remain an outward-facing nation, with a diplomatic network respected across the world.
This week, we have heard much about the special relationship between Britain and America. I am delighted about this because I have a special relationship with an American—my wife, Lady Taylor. It is true that while I say “to-mah-to”, Laura says “to-may-to”. In her home state of Texas, a cricket is an insect; in England, cricket is a summer sport played in between showers of rain. These are but superficial differences between our two cultures. More importantly, whenever we go to America for family reasons or if I am invited there to speak, it is clear that the British brand remains very strong in America. I recently had the privilege of being interviewed by Fox TV News about the referendum. It was clear to me from its questions that America is listening to and watching Britain closely, as we bring on Brexit. It is encouraging for us that the new American President, Mr Trump, has already declared himself favourable to Brexit and Britain. I am delighted to have been invited to President Trump’s forthcoming prayer breakfast in Washington DC and looking forward to my scheduled meeting with Dr Ben Carson.
Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will be the first world leader to meet the new President. She could of course discuss a number of issues with him, including defence, trade, security—including cybersecurity—human rights and the environment. But I hope that NATO and the UN are top of the agenda for their meeting. Our membership of NATO is at the heart of British defence policy and we must retain our commitment to it. We spend 2.2% of our GDP on defence, which is more than the 2% target, and 20% of our defence budget is spent on major new research and development.
We are also the sixth largest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping. I hope that the new President will set a new precedent for a stronger and more effective NATO and UN. Peacekeeping is not enough to create a more secure world. There is an often-overlooked passage in the Bible in Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers”. Peacemaking is over and above just peacekeeping. This is one of the recommendations in the report from the International Relations Select Committee concerning the future of the UN. Paragraph 91 reads:
“The UN needs to invest more in conflict prevention. Member states should consider awarding more financial resources, intelligence and analytical capacity to support the ‘good offices’ of the Secretary-General. The UK should take the lead in this field”.
I support that recommendation and I think the committee recognises that spending money alone is not the way to achieve those reforms.
As the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said, we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe. We are still geographically in Europe, but we will no longer be inhibited in our ability to forge new alliances globally. Last June’s referendum resulted in a Brexit breakaway from the EU which will ultimately improve international relations. Provided it is managed properly, Brexit will cause European and other international institutions to reform. Yes, Brexit is bold and brave. Britain will be the first country to withdraw from the EU but, as the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “Don’t follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you”.
My Lords, part of the answer to the questions of post-Brexit international relations and UK engagement with the UN raised in these Motions was stated by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. He said that the Commonwealth is,
“yet another forum in which Britain—our country—is able to express our values, to get things done and to get things moving.”
I declare an interest as I am working on a Commonwealth initiative on freedom of religion or belief. I, too, miss the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, because he would have been championing the Commonwealth as usual.
As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said in her evidence to the Select Committee that the Commonwealth has “little or no visibility” at the UN. This is not surprising given the lack of resources for the Commonwealth for such diplomacy. A multilateral network of nearly one-third of the world’s population, all democracies, is nearly invisible at the UN. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers represent the UK at the UN, and the Commonwealth as an institution is nearly invisible. Post-Brexit must mean enhanced Commonwealth engagement for the United Kingdom, but with a clear strategy and a clear plan to achieve that enhanced status.
The United Kingdom is the only P5 and current Security Council member from the Commonwealth. Twenty-three of the states which have never been on the Security Council are Commonwealth members, and many do not have the resources for permanent diplomatic presence. Commonwealth representation at the UN could be thematic outside the regional groups that Commonwealth nations rely on; for example, trade, anti-slavery, climate change or indigenous peoples. Will the Minister outline whether the Government will give increased resources for UN relations as recommended at paragraph 202 of the Select Committee report and, if so, will we ensure resources for the visibility of the Commonwealth, not just for the support we give to the Small States Office? Will Her Majesty’s Government’s strategic priorities include building the Commonwealth in this post-Brexit era? The UK is due to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2018, and I hope that the UN Secretary-General will be invited, but if there is no visibility at the UN, why should he? In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, when will we utilise this underutilised network? Many British citizens from Commonwealth diaspora are looking to Her Majesty’s Government to see whether the immigration we will undoubtedly need will come once again from their countries of heritage.
The United Kingdom was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, and this month we begin our two-year term. Among our commitments is to promote the universal right to freedom of religion or belief. This brings me back to thematic or transnational issues. The UN is often criticised for its interstate response to issues, but it is an interstate body, so that will be how it will respond. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, made the point that the rise of transnational communication by social media means that transnational phenomena, such as religion, are taking on a new dynamic and need to be understood by the UN. Rightly, the Select Committee says the UN should seek to engage youth and civil society. But a huge part of civil society is not NGOs but FBOs—faith-based organisations which deliver aid, development work, education and healthcare. The UN struggles to work out how to relate to religion, its leaders and these bodies which are vital to fulfilling the SDGs as well as reducing global terrorism and conflict. How will the United Kingdom fulfil its commitment on the Human Rights Council to freedom of religion or belief if the UN itself does not understand religion?
The United Nations should take its model from religious leaders. The leadership of the more than 1 billion Catholics recently passed to the global south. When one sees the United Nations on our television screens, it always seems to be based, obviously, in either New York or Geneva. That is undermining the universal nature of human rights as a global south phenomenon.
The United Kingdom should encourage the UN and its Secretary-General to engage with religion and with freedom of religion or belief. Generalisations are dangerous, but at a time in which anti-Muslim sentiment, along with anti-Semitism, nationalism and related movements, is rising in parts of the world, Britain has taken great pains to defend its Muslim population—although not always perfectly—from discrimination and persecution. The United Kingdom’s more nuanced voice and understanding as a P5 member will perhaps be better received by the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims than those of France, Russia, China and now, sadly, the USA.
My Lords, I will concentrate on two points: refugees and peacekeeping. I have visited Palestinian refugees from Gaza to Beirut, and others in Iraq and Syria. I congratulate UNRWA, the UN agency, on preventing all major epidemics and on providing schools better than many in poor countries, so that Palestinians have gained good jobs throughout the Middle East. It is now 70 years since the first Arab-Israeli war, and what were once temporary camps have become permanent, squalid townships, while UN members and neighbour states have prevented the return of refugees or their resettlement elsewhere.
It is crucial that this sad history should not be repeated for today’s refugees from Iraq, Syria and some African countries. The emphasis for all, whether in camps or not, should be on acquiring skills in preparation for return to their own countries. We will, however, need solutions in third countries for those who will not go home. The report rightly calls for a global plan, and large and developed states—for example, the United States, Canada and Brazil, along with Australia and New Zealand—will have a vital part to play. We should note that some cities in Syria and Iraq have been so destroyed that a huge input will be needed to make them habitable. I saw this for myself in Homs and Aleppo.
I welcome the new Secretary-General, since he has served as High Commissioner for Refugees. I hope Mr Guterres agrees with the report on the point of redefining who is a refugee. We should perhaps distinguish those with individual personal fears of persecution. There will be other people who have fled because of genuine fears of group violence, war or natural disaster—their plight is real, but different from the more personal kind.
The report shows that UN peacekeeping costs over $8 billion a year, employing 86,000 troops and a total personnel of almost 120,000. We can all agree that it must be possible to get better results from such massive resources. Sexual abuse and exploitation by so-called peacekeepers has been a long-running scandal which cries out for effective reform, given that protecting women and children should be a top priority.
I have two questions for the Government. Will they make the case for enhancing the use of the UN Secretary-General’s good offices, which have already been mentioned, in particular in order to prevent conflicts? Will they insist on Article 99 powers for preventing wars, genocide and refugee flows? Today, many wars involve non-state parties, so I would ask this. What relations does the Secretary-General have with groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, the PKK and the free cantons of northern Syria? I believe that they are too important to be ignored.
I trust that leaving the EU will not absorb all our energies. Surely we must try to help the UN to perform more effectively than ever before.
My Lords, like others I wish the noble Lord, Lord Howell, well, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, on his introduction to this debate. I want to talk about relations with the United States and the European Union of 27, of course, after our departure.
As others have said, our relationship with the US will be tested tomorrow when the Prime Minister meets President Trump. No doubt she will talk to him about a possible US-UK trade deal on which we can expect the Americans, like the Indians, the Australians and others, to negotiate as toughly in their own interests as I hope we shall in ours. The Prime Minister will also be able to say that we share the view of the US on the need to counter international terrorism and will want to continue to work together with it to do that, including through the sharing of intelligence. But I hope she will say that we do not countenance torture, which includes waterboarding; that we are not in favour of closing our borders to those who are fleeing from conflict and repression in the Middle East—here I agree with what my noble friend Lord Hylton has just said about refugees; and that we believe that the UN will continue to have a key role to play in an uncertain world. I hope that the Prime Minister will also seek to convince President Trump that the continued coherence and indeed strengthening of NATO is in western interests and, as she has promised, that the promotion and protection of western values needs a strong European Union, albeit without Britain, as well as that the break-up of the European Union and a retreat into a world of protectionist nation states is not in anyone’s interest.
It follows that Britain’s own interest lies in a continuing close relationship with the European Union even after we have left. We shall not be members of the European Union. We shall not be members of the common foreign and security policy and we will not be present when EU Heads of State and Government meet to discuss the crisis of the day. But it is surely in our interest as much as in the interests of the members of the EU themselves that we should continue to work closely with them, in particular bilaterally with France on, for example, the approach to and sanctions on Russia, on the Middle East and on north Africa.
None of that will be easy because the conduct of foreign policy seldom is, but I hope that the Minister is able to confirm that it will be a sense of our own national interest that determines our relations with others, including the US and the European Union.
My Lords, I welcome the report and the work of the new committee. I welcome, too, its reiteration of the UK’s commitment to the preservation and strengthening of the liberal global order, to the UN and the international institutions of the UN family, and to the extensive framework of international law, including the global human rights regime, in which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is so actively engaged.
International law, courts and institutions of course constrain national sovereignty. Successive UK Governments have accepted the trade-off that treaties and international norms share sovereignty and build an open international order. Now it appears that we have a US Administration who reject many of the constraints of global institutions and international law. That puts Britain in opposition to the current thrust of US foreign policy and I very much hope, as we all do, that the Prime Minister will be robust in warning President Trump of the dangers of his approach.
Although British Conservatives support global law and institutions, they reject the constraints of the strongest and most effective regional order. They uphold global human rights but passionately reject the invasion of British sovereignty by the European human rights regime. There are uncomfortable parallels between what drives the Trump Administration’s antagonism to the UN and the British right’s antagonism to the EU.
I was struck by the warnings in paragraphs 183 to 199 on the potentially negative impact of Brexit on the UK’s influence within the UN and the limitations of the Commonwealth as a potential alternative framework. The EU has evolved into one of the most effective groups within the UN and has thus been a valuable asset to the British global influence. We are now abandoning that diplomatic framework.
Since we are also debating the UK’s international relations in the light of Brexit, I have looked for declarations by senior Ministers on British foreign policy in recent months. There has been remarkably little beyond empty repetitions that by becoming a much less European Britain we will somehow become a more global Britain, which is a bit like saying “Brexit means Brexit”. Boris Johnson’s Chatham House speech on 2 December, however, promised that it was,
“the first in a series of speeches setting out our foreign policy strategy”.
However, it was not very strategic. It spent more time discussing the fate of the African elephant than the future pattern of co-operation on international issues with our European neighbours, and indeed more time on the resonance of Harry Potter novels for children in south Asia. There was much discussion of the British involvement in Afghanistan over the past 200 years, but no reference to the centrality to British foreign policy, since before the English state became the United Kingdom, of relations with France, the Netherlands, Spain and Scandinavia. The most he would say was that Britain would be a “flying buttress” to the European church—whatever that may mean, and I suspect he does not know himself.
However, Mr Johnson repeated the old Tony Blair line that Britain is,
“a bridge between Europe and America”,
and that we are,
“at the centre of a network of relationships and alliances that span the world”,
“people around the world are looking for a lead from Britain”.
Mr Johnson wrote a book on Winston Churchill, which had mixed reviews, and he should know that Churchill’s concept of the UK at the centre of a network of relationships depended on our retaining a key role in the European circle as well as in the transatlantic relationship and in what Churchill called “the British Commonwealth and Empire”. Cut the European dimension out of Winston Churchill’s “three circles” concept, and our position in the world is sharply diminished.
The only substantial speech by Mr Johnson that I can find since then was given at a conference in Delhi on 21 January. He made no mention in it of the Commonwealth, in the capital of what had been the jewel in the crown of the British Empire, probably because he had been told by his staff that the Indian Government are not enthusiastic about returning to a subordinate role in a British-led network. There was much in the speech on Scotch whisky exports and about the “pesky” tariffs that India imposes to limit them, but how nevertheless India and the UK stand together in their commitment to free trade. “Pesky” is a term that I last came across when I was a boy reading comics, and it is interesting that that is the language that our Foreign Secretary still uses. He continued,
“we have just decided to restore our military presence east of Suez with a £3 billion commitment over ten years and a naval support facility in Bahrain. We have a commitment to the whole world … And as our naval strength increases in the next ten years”—
the noble Lord, Lord West, will be very glad—
“including two new aircraft carriers, we will be able to make a bigger contribution. In the Indian Ocean, we have a joint UK-US facility on Diego Garcia—an asset that is vital for our operations in the region”.
It is exactly 50 years since Harold Wilson’s Labour Government announced the UK’s withdrawal from east of Suez on the grounds that it no longer made any sense to continue to defend an empire that had now been given its freedom. Boris Johnson is too young to remember that: he was only three at the time. We maintained our presence across the Indian Ocean then with a fleet that included between 35 and 40 frigates, against the 16 we have now, as well as bases in Aden and Singapore. The Foreign Secretary claimed that Diego Garcia is a vital UK, as well as US, facility. Perhaps the Minister can remind us how many UK military personnel we have there—the last time that I was told, I think there were two; perhaps there are now four—and whether any British military assets are based there. This image of the world is not about taking back control, it is about taking Britain back to the 1960s, boys’ comics included.
Now we have the PM going to the USA to tell President Trump, according to the media this morning, that “together we can lead the world”—a phrase straight out of Daniel Hannan’s book on how the Anglo-Saxons invented freedom and the modern world. Is Theresa May going to attempt the same subordinate relationship as Tony Blair pursued with George W Bush? Does she share the same illusion that Anglo-Saxon Americans love Britain above all others, and that clinging to American coat tails gives us global status superior to the international roles of Germany and France?
Independence from Europe; dependence on the United States. Commitment to a liberal international order, but dependence on a Republican Administration who are against many of the assumptions of that international order. That is not a coherent strategy for a post-Brexit foreign policy.
My Lords, I, too, thank all noble Lords who are members of the committee for an excellent report. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for initiating this debate and pass on my best wishes for a speedy recovery.
In one of our previous debates on the subject, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, in acknowledging that we face significant challenges to peace and stability ahead, asserted,
“that they are not ones brought about by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, nor do we assess that they will be exacerbated by our leaving the EU”.—[Official Report, 18/10/16; col. 2312.]
That is the crux of today’s debate, and it has been highlighted by all noble Lords. The question is how the Government will deliver on that assertion.
Man-made and natural humanitarian crises, poverty and climate change can be met only by international co-operation. The report highlights that 2015 was the year the international community faced up to its responsibilities by reaching agreements, including the Sendai disaster risk reduction framework, financing for development, the SDGs and Agenda 2030 and, of course, the Paris climate change accord. It acknowledges that the watchword for the UN and the new Secretary-General will be “implementation” of those agreements. Paul Williams from the FCO said:
“Implementation will be key to maintaining credibility in the Agenda 2030, Paris Agreement and the UN itself”.
As we have heard, the challenges to implementation are both political and economic, and not least, as all noble Lords have referred to, is our future relationship with the US and its new President. As we have heard, according to this morning’s papers, the Prime Minister will remind President Trump tomorrow that the United Kingdom is, by instinct and history, a great global nation that recognises its responsibilities to the world.
Downing Street sources say that Mrs May prefers to have a grown-up relationship with the new President to remaining aloof. The benefits of a close, effective relationship are that we will be able to raise differences directly and frankly with the President. Clearly, this week we will see in a little more detail what those differences may look like; we have seen a series of executive orders, beginning to honour pledges made on the campaign trail. On Monday, he reinstated the global gag rule that bans aid funding for groups that offer abortions or abortion advocacy, even if they use their own funds to do so. On Tuesday, he angered Native Americans and climate change activists by signing executive orders to allow construction of the Dakota access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. On Wednesday, he signed two executive orders to boost border security, including with reference to the wall and the crackdown on illegal immigrants.
This week, we have also seen television interviews in which President Trump said he will bring back torture as an instrument of policy. We have also seen leaked draft executive orders, one saying that there is to be a 40% cut to US voluntary contributions to international bodies and a second calling for a review of and possible withdrawal from certain forms of multilateral treaties that do not involve national security, extradition or international trade. Examples of potential targets, according to the New York Times, include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to the Washington Post, the proposed funding review is envisaged to take a year and be overseen by a panel, including the Departments for Defense, State and Justice. Some in the diplomatic world believe that campaign pledges by the President will be mitigated by Cabinet members such as Rex Tillerson at the State Department and James Mattis as Defense Secretary.
Heavy cuts to the US funding to the UN are likely, but with a review period there is still time for the new Secretary-General and our own Prime Minister to persuade President Trump that the US needs the UN to help it in places such as Syria. As the report says:
“The Secretary-General has the scope to rationalise the UN Secretariat. We urge him to … build more coherence between its various departments and offices”.
But if Guterres is planning to slim down parts of the UN Secretariat anyway, that may well play well with Trump. As we have heard in this debate, one fear over tomorrow is that the Prime Minister will prioritise the need for a public restatement about a trade agreement over publicly upholding our international commitments and responsibilities, particularly in relation to the rule of law. Will the Prime Minister make it clear that there are no circumstances in which she will permit Britain to be dragged in to facilitating torture? Will the Minister assure all noble Lords that high on the agenda tomorrow will be a discussion on long-standing US priorities, such as peacekeeping and development initiatives aimed at stabilising fragile states and combating extremism?
Today Gordon Brown launched a paper started by the late MP Jo Cox, which argues that Britain has a duty to stand up for civilians threatened by war. He said:
“In her last speech in the House of Commons, Jo Cox said that ‘sometimes all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.’ Nothing is more important than the responsibility of each state to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and the responsibility of the international community to act if a state is unwilling or unable to do so”.
These are principles that I hope the Prime Minister will express strongly to President Trump tomorrow, both privately and publicly.
My Lords, I add my good wishes to my noble friend Lord Howell and I hope that he is soon restored to good health. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Jopling for stepping in to lead our debate today, which gives noble Lords the opportunity to address some of the vast range of issues encompassed by the two Motions before the House. The heart of the matter is the role of the UK in the world once we have left the EU. I shall seek to reflect on some of these issues in my response today.
The history and culture of this country is profoundly internationalist. We have for centuries been an outward-looking nation—a nation whose success has been built on the alliances and relationships that we have made around the world. As the Prime Minister said recently, we want the United Kingdom to be more outward-looking than ever. We remain absolutely committed to maintaining—and in fact reinforcing—our links with old friends, and building relationships with new allies too. My noble friend Lady Hooper was right to refer to Latin America. In recent months, I have visited Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, though I am sad to say that, with Honduras, it was 17 years since a UK Minister had visited. My noble friend’s stricture has indeed been heeded. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, reminded us of the stark and important fact that we can no longer keep to traditional thinking about how international relationships work, because of the rise of non-state actors and the danger that they pose in so many parts of the world. I assure him that in the FCO we take that into account and it is certainly part of the way in which we discuss these matters with those in the diplomatic academy.
To our European neighbours, we will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We will support them as they take the EU forward to the next stage of its journey, because it remains overwhelmingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised a particular issue about a strong and stable neighbourhood in the Balkans. We certainly want to maintain that and we remain of the view that the EU accession process is fundamental to delivering security, stability and prosperity. So we will continue to support countries that are committed to the accession process, as long as they meet the necessary requirements.
Beyond Europe, we will maintain and strengthen our existing partnerships, above all with the United States. The special relationship is as important as ever. The fact that, tomorrow, the Prime Minister will be the first world leader to have a meeting with President Trump following his inauguration is testament to the strength of that relationship. It is a relationship based on shared values: a commitment to freedom, democracy and enterprise. That is why it is right that we engage fully with the Trump Administration to continue our work. There may indeed be areas where we disagree, but fundamentally the US and UK remain natural, strong and resilient partners and allies. I have been asked by several noble Lords to clarify one area where we will, it seems, disagree with the US—let us wait and see—which is the use of torture. The Brexit Secretary told Members in another place that:
“The British Government’s stance on torture is very plain: we do not condone it and we do not agree with it in any circumstances whatever”.
At a committee hearing in this House, the Foreign Secretary said that the Prime Minister was,
“clear that our principled position and our objection to torture remains unchanged”.
Indeed, the Prime Minister referred to this at Question Time yesterday and made it clear that we would not be dragged into a position where we condoned the use of torture.
As we leave the EU, our relations with the US will become more important than ever. We look forward to a strong special relationship continuing under President Trump. The economic relationship between our countries remains special, too. We should not forget that our exports to the US were worth £100 billion in 2015, a fifth of total UK exports, more than double those to our next biggest market, Germany, and five times those to China. The US is the single biggest source of inward investment to the UK, with a total stock of £253 billion. We look to the results of the Prime Minister’s discussions tomorrow with President Trump. Several noble Lords asked me to forecast what might be discussed and what might be the outcome. I think that I will leave that until I know the result and shall deal with it in future debates.
Many noble Lords have stressed the importance of our relationships with the United Nations. The UK has long been one of the most active UN member states, and that is as it should be. As we leave the European Union, we will continue to play a leading role in this vital institution. We remain a permanent member of the Security Council—the P5—a leading international donor and a strong champion of human rights. We are the only major country which will simultaneously meet the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence—I hear what my noble friend Lord Jopling said; it can sometimes be more than that—and the UN target of spending 0.7% of our GNI on development. I stress that we will continue to persuade other NATO members that they should increase their defence spending.
We remain a passionate advocate for the women, peace and security agenda and the sustainable development goals. We know that building prosperity for all is vital for long-term stability. That is why we continue to work hard to increase women’s participation in all areas of life, stamp out corruption, reduce poverty and tackle climate change. We work closely with a wide range of like-minded partners at the UN, including EU member states, the G7, members of the Commonwealth and other regional groupings.
Noble Lords were right to remind us of the importance of the Commonwealth and the importance of saying why we value it so strongly. The Commonwealth does not work as a recognised regional group in the UN. I discussed that with representatives of the Commonwealth at a special meeting I convened during the ministerial week last September. Nevertheless, there are areas where we can work more closely with Commonwealth members in a way that supports our shared objectives. As an organisation with immense global reach, the Commonwealth has huge potential to exert influence on issues of global importance. I am glad to say that we are offering support, including financial contributions, to the small states offices in Geneva and New York to enable some of the Commonwealth’s smaller members to participate fully in UN business. I am pleased to say that I am looking forward to the first ever meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers, which will be hosted in London in March this year, and to the next meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, which will take place in the UK next year. Last but not least, we take an active role in the Geneva group of major funders of the UN to push for continued reform and value for money.
At this point I turn to the Select Committee’s report on the priorities for the new UN Secretary-General. We welcome the Select Committee’s timely report and support most of the recommendations. The government response was published earlier this month and is available in the Printed Paper Office to be read in full. Indeed, some noble Lords quoted some of the recommendations. We absolutely agree with the committee that the UN is a vital institution to help resolve disputes peacefully, to preserve the rules-based international order, to protect human rights and to promote sustainable development. The Security Council, the General Assembly and the other bodies all play important roles. As we leave the EU, we will remain actively engaged in the full range of UN activity and will promote reforms to strengthen the UN’s ability to meet future challenges.
One of those challenges, of course, is on refugees and migration. The Prime Minister has set out three guiding principles: refugees should claim asylum in the “first safe country” they reach; states should exercise their right to protect their borders and commit to taking back their nationals; and there should be a clear distinction between refugees and economic migrants. We have made it clear that we must ensure we provide proper protection for refugees. We also want to allow global economies to enjoy the benefits of controlled migration, while providing protection for the most vulnerable migrants, including victims of that evil trade, human trafficking. We intend to take this forward in our engagement with the UN and other agencies. We agree with the committee that changes in geopolitics and other global trends present new challenges for the UN. We will work with other states through the UN system to ensure its continued relevance.
I will be delighted to do that alongside the new Secretary-General, whose appointment presents an opportunity for further reform of UN structures and delivery of its programmes, and to address modern challenges more effectively. We will continue to play a leading role in this regard, promoting reform across all the pillars of the UN’s work—a structure that has done so much to vitiate the best of attempts to bring the UN up to standard. It is vital to drive forward this reform. Our priorities, such as strengthening UN peacekeeping, preventing sexual violence in conflict and promoting the economic rights of women and girls, can be achieved only when there is strong UN reform.
António Guterres has made an impressive start to his tenure as UN Secretary-General. He is getting straight into the key policy issues and sending the right messages on UN reform, including on points highlighted in the Select Committee’s report. Mr Guterres has set out three high-level priorities, all of which have our full support: the UN’s work on peace; support for sustainable development; and improving the UN’s internal management.
I note the question from the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, with regard to the use of Article 99. The UK raised this point regularly during the General Assembly hearings with candidates who were seeking the position of Secretary-General, asking them how they would approach that, as I did when I met each of the candidates in advance of those hearings when they visited me here in London. We made it clear how important it was that the Secretary-General should make use of his power under Article 99.
During his first appearance at the UN Security Council on 10 January, Mr Guterres expanded on his idea of a “peace continuum”. His fresh thinking bears examination by us all and deserves our support as he develops it. I know that he will find difficulty in some areas. We have conflict prevention and resolution to tackle in countries such as South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen. The UK leads on many of these issues and we pledge to work closely with António Guterres’s team and other member states to strengthen the UN’s work on these matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised a specific question about accountability with regard to sexual exploitation and abuse, and asked which countries exercise the duty to prosecute. As he made clear, prosecutions are a matter for troop-contributing national courts, but I can say that Uruguay and Pakistan court-martialled their troops in Haiti for SEA, as did South Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Egypt claims to have prosecuted its troops, although I do not have further information on that at the moment. No doubt I will press Egypt on that.
On sustainable development, Mr Guterres has appointed an excellent deputy Secretary-General, Mrs Amina Mohammed, who was instrumental in building consensus on the 2030 sustainable development goals. The UK supports their reform plans, which include closer integration of humanitarian and development assistance. I wish the new deputy Secretary-General well.
On internal management, the Secretary-General has rightly highlighted the need to streamline procedures in areas such as staff recruitment and deployment. As UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he made efficiency savings by moving back-office functions to lower-cost locations. The UK will work with like-minded member states to support sensible reforms of this kind. The Prime Minister met the UN Secretary-General in Davos on 17 January. They had a substantive meeting, which included discussion of the recent talks on Cyprus. There was much common ground. However, there is much common ground for all members of the United Nations to pursue, and I am glad that we have to assist us the advice of the Select Committee.
I will now draw my remarks to a close. Although I am aware that in theory I have 20 minutes, that would mean that my noble friend Lord Jopling would have no opportunity to respond, as earlier speeches overran rather severely. In closing, therefore, I stress that we will use our departure from the EU as an opportunity to forge a new identity as an independent nation, ever more outward-looking and a force for good. We will continue to play a leading role in tackling the global challenges of our time: poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity, conflict and climate change. It is absolutely in the UK’s interests that we do so. That is our vision for a truly global Britain.
My Lords, the Minister could have gone on for another two minutes and still allowed me to say what I want to say. Members of the committee will be most pleased that so many noble Lords have joined in this debate, and particularly pleased at the welcome it has received. When my noble friend Lord Howell reads Hansard tomorrow morning, he will be particularly pleased by three things: first, the good wishes for his future health; secondly, the praise for the report; and finally, the number of noble Lords who mentioned the Commonwealth. I happen to have with me the words he would have used if he had opened this debate, with regard to the Commonwealth:
“My own view is that our links with other Commonwealth countries, with their common working language and common ethical, political and social characteristics will also provide increasingly rewarding. The May 2018 CHOGM meeting here in London could prove a milestone in that respect, and in cementing”—
as he used to say—
“old links and new ties—a phrase which may be familiar to some of your Lordships”.