Debate (2nd Day)
Moved on Wednesday 21 June by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is a great honour to open this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, knowing as I do that when it comes to the subjects of defence, foreign affairs, international development and trade, we have experts on each topic present in this Chamber, so I very much look forward to a constructive and lively discussion.
Providing a succinct summation of the Government’s priorities in these areas is eminently straightforward: we are here to protect our people, preserve the international order and promote the UK’s global prosperity. However, delivering on these ambitions is a far more complex task, since we are faced with a geopolitical situation that is getting progressively darker and more dangerous.
In the past few months we have witnessed close up a succession of terror attacks. Earlier this week, worshippers at the Finsbury mosque were shockingly mown down by a van driver. Several weeks before that, innocents at London Bridge were cruelly knifed. Before that, teenagers were massacred in Manchester and tourists savagely struck on Westminster Bridge. Yet the spread of terror, as perpetrated by the likes of Daesh and its ilk, is far from our only problem. We are also contending with a raft of state aggressors: Russia menacing Ukraine and her eastern European neighbours, North Korea persistently flaunting its nuclear capability, and a rising China in the South China Sea. On top of that, we are coming to terms with the threats of cyber warfare, most vividly demonstrated recently by the global disruption caused by the WannaCry virus. Taken together, such dangers, in their multiplicity, diversity and concurrence, imperil not just our own security but the entire rules-based system underpinning our values.
That is why our 2015 strategic defence and security review recognised the need for stronger defence. We responded in three ways, the first by investing in world-class kit. We chose to grow our defence budget year on year. It was £35 billion in 2016, £36 billion in 2017, and it will be £37 billion in 2018. Consequently, we are not just meeting NATO’s 2% target but spending £178 billion on new equipment: from Ajax armoured vehicles to Apache attack helicopters; from our two mighty aircraft carriers to our Dreadnought submarines; and from fifth-generation F35s to state-of-the art unmanned aerial vehicles.
Secondly, we are investing in a world-class workforce. Our brave service men and women are our greatest assets. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, they are working on our behalf. However, in a more competitive marketplace, we must do more to recruit and retain the right mix of individuals and skills. We are therefore modernising our employment offer, introducing a Bill to make it easier for our regulars to work flexibly. In future, our personnel will be able to change temporarily the nature of their service, working part-time or being protected from deployment to support an individual’s personnel circumstances where the business need allows.
We are going further. Today, not every soldier wishes to live on the barracks; nor should we expect them to. We are therefore opening up more opportunity for our people to own their own homes and live in private accommodation, nearer to their families or to their partners’ places of work. Finally, at a time of acute skills shortages in critical trades such as engineering, we will make it easier for people to switch between the public and private sector so we can hang on to those essential talents.
We are conscious too of the need to strengthen our Armed Forces covenant, going out of our way to ensure that those who lay their lives on the line suffer no disadvantage. For too long, those who suffered the consequences of conflict, whether through injury or bereavement, had to waste time pursuing legal claims through the courts like some modern version of Dickens’s Circumlocution Office. We have consulted on proposals to introduce a new scheme for better compensation, and I hope to bring forward our response and plans for taking those forward shortly.
There is also more to do to ensure that our veterans can make a smooth transition to civilian life. Veterans often run the gauntlet of myriad organisations before getting the precise help that they need. Therefore, besides working with charities to establish a veterans’ gateway—a first point of contact and a signposting system for veterans seeking support—we will introduce a veterans’ board, based in the Cabinet Office, to improve the co-ordination of these services.
So there will be better kit and more personnel support. The third element of stronger defence is stronger international partnerships. Solving complex global problems demands international co-operation, so even as the UK steps back from Europe you will see us stepping up around the world. Today, we are strengthening our commitment to NATO, the bedrock of our defence. As we speak, UK forces are leading the Enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia, working alongside their US counterparts in Poland and heading up the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (Land) to ward off Russian aggression. The legendary 3 (Fighter) Squadron, which earned its wings in two world wars, is currently in Romania protecting Black Sea skies, and our ships are rescuing migrants and protecting sea lanes.
NATO aside, the UK is accelerating its efforts as part of the counter-Daesh coalition. The number of UK strikes remains second only to the United States and our troops have trained tens of thousands of local forces to push back the Daesh death cult. Lastly, we are doubling our United Nations peacekeeping efforts. We are sending soldiers to South Sudan to help alleviate the humanitarian situation and training Somali forces to push back the al-Shabaab extremists. We are also modernising the institution itself so that it has the resources, leadership and training vital for facing the future.
Turning to development, our work with the United Nations is a reminder that defence and development are two sides of the same coin. Early engagement with countries in crisis can prevent regional catastrophe down the line. That is why we became the first country to meet the International Development Act by spending 0.7% of our gross national income on international development. In fact, we are the only major country in the world meeting both the NATO and IDA targets. That money is being put to good use. It is giving more than 60 million people in fragile countries access to clean water, better sanitation and hygiene; it is transforming the lives of millions of children, who, having been immunised and protected from disease, are also receiving an education; and it is continually being drawn on to assist in disaster relief—for example, creating education, skills and job opportunities for Syrian refugees in their host communities. Recently, DfID announced a new £60 million package for Somalia and £30 million for Ethiopia to prevent a repeat of the ferocious famines that have blighted those nations in the past.
Acting alone we can achieve much; acting together with international partners can achieve much more. That is why we have pressed the World Bank to improve the way it delivers development assistance—doubling investment for fragile states, increasing support for poorer nations dealing with prolonged crises, and strengthening its focus on job and wealth creation. For the first time, the International Development Association will leverage borrowing from the market. Every £1 of UK investment will now deliver £3 of development assistance.
The activity that goes hand in hand with defence and development is diplomacy. Our approach to combating extremism is a case in point. Just as we continue striking Daesh night and day in Iraq and Syria, so our diplomats are working with our counter-Daesh coalition partners to achieve the political settlement that guarantees a better future for all. Meanwhile, the FCO is also building the international networks that are so vital if we are to dissipate the insidious ideology of extremism, depriving the fanatics of their safe spaces in the physical and virtual worlds. However, as a beacon for democratic values and freedoms across the world, our Government are going further, using our soft power, as a leading G7, NATO and Security Council member, to uphold human rights, prevent sexual violence, address the causes of mass migration and spread opportunity.
That outward-looking approach will not change after Brexit. Our aim is to develop a deep and special partnership with the EU and strengthen our international ties. As noble Lords are aware, Brexit negotiations have begun. Our priority for this phase is to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in EU member states, including those of Irish and Northern Irish nationals.
The second phase, expected to run until late 2018, will cover the future UK-EU relationship and implementation of a future agreement. The third phase, until 29 March 2019, will cover ratification of the withdrawal treaty and preparation for UK exit. The final agreement requires a majority vote by the Council of the European Union, consent by the European Parliament and agreement from our own Parliament. We will now introduce a Bill to ensure the UK exits the UK with certainty, continuity and confidence.
I beg noble Lords’ pardon: the UK exits the EU with certainty, continuity and confidence. I am pleased that noble Lords are listening.
Our approach to commerce will be key to unlocking the opportunity that Brexit brings. When it comes to trade, our challenge is to forge an independent framework enacting our priorities and ambitions, so the Government will introduce a trade Bill, preserving, as far as possible, existing trade access and arrangements for UK businesses on exit, while developing an independent trade policy outside the EU.
To deliver our goals, the Department for International Trade is expanding. Since the department’s formation, its head count has increased by more than 20% to create a global workforce of more than 3,100 people. Its trade policy team has quadrupled in size and it has hired New Zealand’s former trade head, Crawford Falconer, as chief trade negotiation adviser to manage the UK’s free trade deals once the country leaves the EU. All the while our Ministers have been travelling the globe, banging the drum for British business and cementing bilateral ties. A series of nine working groups with 15 countries and high-level dialogues have been established to explore the best ways of progressing our trade.
The challenges our nation faces today are unprecedented. We do not underestimate what lies ahead, yet we also have no doubt that the bold reforms set out in this gracious Speech for defence, development, foreign affairs and trade will lead to a stronger global Britain, facing up to its responsibilities, reaching out to old friends and new, and opening up the opportunity to secure a better future for our people. I beg to move.
My Lords, I begin by expressing my condolences to the families of all those who tragically lost their lives in the terror attacks in Manchester and London. We owe a great debt to the police and our security services, who work tirelessly to keep all our communities safe. I also pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who patrolled our streets in the immediate aftermath of the awful tragedy in Manchester. At the end of the debate, my noble friend Lord Touhig will wind up for these Benches and focus on defence and our Armed Forces. I therefore leave these for him to address.
“The truth is that UK development influence is massive, greater than our foreign policy, and this isn’t just about money, Britain is saving lives and bringing stability and security, and that’s good for our economy”.
These are not my words; they are the words of Priti Patel in her interview with the Guardian earlier this week. I repeat them as today’s debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech is all about Britain’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable planet that is free from the fear of hunger and poverty.
I welcome the consensus on spending 0.7% on development. However, I have concerns that the Conservative manifesto, challenging the internationally agreed definition of what constitutes ODA, represents a shift away from this. If this is pursued, will the Minister undertake the widest consultation process with NGOs and development charities before the Government commence international talks to change the rules?
After President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris agreement, I welcome the commitment in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech for Britain to be in the lead in creating a sustainable planet. Will the Minister give us more details on how we strengthen work with our allies, particularly in the EU, on delivering the climate change agreement?
Poverty and bad governance are still holding back too many countries and their people. Many women, disabled and older people, and too many minorities, are discriminated against and denied access to their fair share of goods, services and opportunity. Economic growth has the potential to be the engine to drive change but growth without jobs, inclusion, healthcare, education, human rights—growth without power—will not deliver for the many. The universal nature of the sustainable development goals and the principle of “leave no one behind” are vital tools.
Decent jobs are a key part of goal 8 in the SDGs, yet DfID’s review at the end of last year made no mention of trade unions. As an Opposition holding the Government to account we will put human rights at the heart of our work—civil and political rights. By supporting trade unions, women’s associations and other civil society groups, we give them a voice in mounting their own advocacy challenges to their Governments in defence of human rights.
We will push the Government to tighten the rules governing corporate responsibility and accountability for abuses in the global supply chain. We will push for a fairer tax system for the world’s poorest countries, demanding decisive action on tax havens, including Crown dependencies and overseas territories, ensuring a public register of owners.
On global trade agreements, there are opportunities but principles must govern them. The most important is a pro-poor and pro-development policy. Labour will demand the maintenance of high social and environmental standards in trade agreements post-Brexit to guarantee continuing access to the EU market. The Government have a poor record when it comes to respecting parliamentary sovereignty and have failed to meet Labour’s commitment to an international trade White Paper. We demand provisions for proper parliamentary scrutiny of all proposed trade deals and treaty obligations in the future.
A multilateral approach to global engagement, working with our allies, as the noble Earl said, is essential to counter and confront terrorism. The challenges are great and include securing peace and stability in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, defeating ISIL and addressing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programmes. Further missile tests and the death of Otto Warmbier, the US student, have heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. The Government have made it clear that they see military action as undesirable, working with the US in the UN to ensure that there are stronger sanctions. What is the Government’s assessment of the current sanctions regime and what dialogue has there been between the Prime Minister and President Trump on developments in Korea?
In the Middle East we need to continue to press for a two-state solution. However, we have also seen increased tensions in the Gulf region. What steps have the Government undertaken with the Gulf countries to de-escalate the situation? What action have they taken to encourage Qatar to engage with its neighbours on their concerns about extremism? Leaders cannot act with impunity. The use of chemical weapons in Syria is a crime and those responsible must be held to account. I hope that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whom I welcome to his new responsibilities, will update the House on the actions that this Government have taken since April when we discussed this matter.
The Government’s commitment to passing new legislation setting a framework for the UK to implement sanctions after we leave the EU is both necessary and welcome. When does the Minister expect draft legislation to be published? Can he confirm that the Bill will set out specific criteria for imposing sanctions? Can he assure the House that a clear process will be established to provide that sanctions are properly targeted, ensuring that those responsible for the grossest violations of human rights and international law face consequences for their actions? Human rights are universal. Mature democracies should support the development of free societies everywhere, while upholding their own legal and moral obligations.
Gender-based violence remains all too evident globally. With the departure of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, from the FCO, who will take on her role as the Prime Minister’s special representative on preventing sexual violence in conflict?
We are now seeing a world where LGBT+ people face not only discrimination and anti-gay laws but increased violence. The killing, torture and arbitrary detention of people in Chechnya due to their actual or perceived LGBT status is the most horrendous example. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government will make regular inquiries regarding progress in the investigation of the anti-gay purge in Chechnya, and will the Government publicly demonstrate support for journalists and human rights defenders working to expose and counter abuses by Chechen authorities? Is it not time for the Government to appoint a Minister with cross-departmental responsibilities for the human rights of LGBT+ persons?
Her Majesty’s gracious Speech mentioned preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April next year. The summit provides an opportunity for the Commonwealth to demonstrate its commitment to democracy, transparency, the rule of law and human rights as laid down in its charter. Will the Minister guarantee that the Government will put as a major theme the promotion not only of women’s rights but of those within the LGBT community? In outlining plans fully to engage parliamentarians and civil society, I hope that the Minister will also include worker representatives and the international trade union movement so that we strengthen advocacy for delivering on improved labour standards throughout the Commonwealth.
The Prime Minister recently underlined the UK’s steadfast support for the process of negotiation in Cyprus. In April, after eight weeks of suspended negotiations, both sides agreed to resume the talks. On 5 June, after a dinner hosted by the UN Secretary-General, both leaders announced a new Geneva conference which is now scheduled for 28 June. What is the Government’s assessment of those talks and of any potential breakthrough?
This generation has the opportunity to eliminate aid dependency for good by empowering the powerless. That is Labour’s vision and we will press the Government to do it as well.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing condolences to those who tragically lost their lives and, as the son of an emergency worker—my dad was an ambulance driver all his life—I pay tribute to our emergency services, which have played such an exemplary role over recent weeks.
As Her Majesty said before the Queen’s Speech, the country is in many respects going through a very sombre period. However, there are some areas of common ground which I think this debate will highlight. My noble friends Lady Sheehan and Lord Chidgey, Lord Sharkey and Lord Bruce will highlight many areas where Liberals and Liberal Democrats have for many years taken a stance on international and development issues.
When much of the visualisation of the British constitution is based upon the ceremony of formal occasions, yesterday’s imagery spoke volumes. The last year there was a reduced Queen’s Speech was also the year I was born, the year a Prime Minister called an election on the question of who governed Britain. The 2017 version was a Prime Minister calling an election on the statement, “I govern Britain and want a large enough majority to ignore all opposition”. However, the people said no. Not only is this House a House of minorities, so is the other place. The 1970s also saw the last time a minority Administration introduced a Queen’s Speech—an Administration who would be largely dependent on votes from Northern Ireland Members. Perhaps when some of the press said that one of the party manifestos proposed to take us back to the 1970s, they had it round the wrong way.
It was welcome to hear from the Leader of the House yesterday that the Government will seek to govern with humility and to forge cross-party agreement where they can. Many issues raised in the Queen’s Speech and the Government’s agenda give us the best opportunity to have that wider consensus. When the Government make progressive moves on the international stage, they will receive support from these Benches. Humanitarian assistance, maintaining the legal requirement for the UK to meet its commitment to provide 0.7% of national income for international development, the delivery of the Paris Agreement and—more so—unswerving support for meeting the global goals for development are all issues on which we share common ground with the Government. We pledge to work with the Government on advancing them all.
Furthermore, the preparations for a successful Commonwealth summit next year, focusing on young people and with a greater visibility for human rights and LGBTI issues, will also be one of common cause. I pay tribute to the outgoing Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her work in seeking the global abolition of the death penalty and tackling sexual violence in conflict-affected areas, issues which we unreservedly supported and will continue to support. In that respect I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to his post as he takes on many of these important issues. We look forward to working with him. While he does not represent a Government who command a majority in this House, he commands respect across all parts of the House and will make a significant impact on the department.
On the global stage there is much common ground among us. For as long as this minority Government are in office, we will use our votes to support, strengthen and enforce a progressive international humanitarian, developmental and human rights-based agenda. However, in this context it is correct to highlight our concern that the UK has been less visible in 2017 than it should have been on major global challenges. I serve on the International Relations Committee in your Lordships’ House, so ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. Our report in May on the Middle East called for fresh thinking from the Government. It highlighted a lack of consistency in the UK’s approach, especially on Syria.
Over the last 12 months—I refer to my entry in the register of interests—I visited the region 15 times, with most visits to Iraq during the military offensive in Nineveh. The imminent military destruction of Daesh in Mosul now needs to be met with a whole-government response to support an environment where a successor to Daesh is not formed. This means the people there need to see local government in the area work for them and have services restored as soon as possible. I press upon the Minister the need for humanitarian assistance to be delivered as soon as security allows—I stress the urgency of this—to the people in the right side of Mosul who have been prisoners of Daesh. They have literally been prisoners, in the basements of their houses, and are starving to death as we debate this week. I know the work of the UK in that area intimately and I admire many of our staff on the ground. UK humanitarian assistance literally saves lives and I hope the Minister may respond positively. Upwards of 70,000 civilians are trapped in that part of Mosul this week.
I also welcome the announcement of a commission to look into extreme ideology. I have the privilege to serve with the British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group, alongside my noble friend Lady Suttie and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, in its work on tackling extreme ideology and developing the resilience of young people in the MENA region. I hope that when this work is published in the autumn it will form the basis of cross-party consensus on the need for further thinking on extreme ideology.
On Syria, the committee’s report highlighted confusion over the Government’s policy, outwith their commitment to humanitarian assistance. In summing up, can the Minister be clear on the Government’s position on Assad and whether he would be free to continue to play a role in the future leadership of Syria? Can the Minister also state how much of the £12 billion committed to the conference on support for Syria and the region, which took place in London, has actually been secured and how much has been delivered to the people who need it most in this ongoing humanitarian catastrophe?
In a much-publicised speech, the Foreign Secretary said that the UK was “back east of Suez”, and the Prime Minister said in Bahrain that the UK’s new Gulf strategy would deepen further our relationship with the Gulf states, but what is the UK’s current position on this tense situation? Does the UK agree with President Trump that Qatar funds terrorism, or does it have a distinct position? What is the UK’s position on the most recent developments in Iran? As we abstained from being involved in the outgoing French President’s initiative for discussing the Palestinian question, what active steps are the Government taking in challenging Israel on its recent moves in the Occupied Territories? The committee’s report said:
“The balance of power in the delivery of peace”—
the two-state solution—
“lies with Israel … The Government should give serious consideration to now recognising Palestine as a state, as the best way to show its determined attachment to the two-state solution”.
I would welcome the Minister responding to that in his summing up.
I mentioned our steadfast support for the UK meeting its international obligation on 0.7% for developmental aid. This was a welcome element in the Queen’s Speech, as it was in the Conservative manifesto, as it was in ours. In fact, it has been in ours since the 1970 general election, so while we may not meet the heights of the numbers of Conservative MPs, at least we have consistency on our side. I greatly admire the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and I think he is an excellent Minister in the department. I hope very much that the Government will not countenance the abolition of the Department for International Development and I hope that the Minister can state that unequivocally in his closing remarks. We have led the world in having a distinct department, setting in many respects the standard for the delivery of development aid and assistance. I hope very much that it will not be subsumed into the Foreign Office.
One area where there will be some equivocation is on what arrangements the UK will have on international trade. The Government sought a mandate for a hard Brexit, where leaving the customs union was a key part of that approach. They did not receive it. If humility was to be on display, it would be the recognition that maintaining membership of the customs union should be in the best interests of British business. Many warned that it was simply unfeasible, as outlined in the Prime Minister’s letter triggering Article 50, to negotiate both the terms on leaving and the new trading arrangements simultaneously. This has been the first quite significant defeat for the Government with regard to their negotiating stance.
It also seems that the “no deal is better than a bad deal” rhetoric has been ditched, gladly. When during the campaign Ministers were asked to outline what a bad deal sounded like, they defined what “no deal” actually was. The rhetoric has now moved away from “no deal is better than a bad deal” but now what has seemed to creep in is “no deal is better than a punishment deal”. It is an odd week indeed, when negotiations have started, when the Brexit Secretary’s first move is a retreat on the Government’s previous position on the process of the negotiations, but the prospect of a punishment agreement being forced upon us is now real. It is just not the right approach to commencing these important negotiations with our European friends.
The speeches this week by the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England have stated in stark terms the economic reality we are now facing and the likelihood of people being poorer and the economy being impacted. Of course the people did not vote for themselves to be poorer; nor did they want the economy to be less developed. But the real admission from the Government of the challenges ahead is a welcome move. The Chancellor has now said that it is in the interests of Britain that we have a significant transitional arrangement for trade. This was not really mentioned in the Minister’s speech. The Chancellor said this morning that he could not rule out that this would be for a number of years. Can the Minister confirm that this is the Government’s position and whether the European Court of Justice jurisdiction will apply over this period? The Chancellor said that once this was agreed, business could breathe a huge sigh of relief and investment could start again: is this an indication that there is significant business concern?
Overall, there is much that we will agree with—on humanitarian, diplomatic and aid support—and we will provide those elements to the Government. But when it comes to issues of Brexit and our separation from the European Union, we will be forensic in our scrutiny and we will hold this Government to account.
My Lords, I join in welcoming—indeed, in rewelcoming—the noble Earl to his portfolio of responsibilities. Off and on he has spoken on defence issues since I first entered your Lordships’ House in 1991. He surely deserves the descriptors “strong and stable”, to which I would add “enduring and likeable”.
I welcome the information about ongoing defence issues outlined by the noble Earl. I had hoped to welcome the intention to legislate on combat immunity, a topic dear to my heart, and on some form of time out—a statute of limitations—for bringing historic cases that have arisen during operations. Maybe when the current clouds of uncertainty disperse, these may yet be considered as they surely ought to be. I welcome his references to a flexible employment scheme for the Armed Forces. This deserves strong interest and support.
I turn to whether we should have a further defence and security review. I, for one, would not press for it now. Maximum effort is called for in dealing with the complexities and ramifications of Brexit. The MoD will surely be involved as well. If a defence and security review were to be done thoroughly, it would need the most serious attention and consideration. Would that really be available at this time? I would further argue that the 2015 review was a well-considered effort pointing the way ahead, in particular for the three armed services. I would not consider that any less capability is now called for, rather the opposite. Indeed where there is failure, it is in achieving the aspirations and output of that review in a comprehensive and timely manner. Criticism—serious and informed criticism—has been voiced in recent months and weeks by the Defence Select Committee, for example about Army and Navy shortcomings. For all three services, the critical issue is weakness in equipment strengths and so little resilience if engaged against a well-armed foe.
There are many historic examples of economies and savings assumed to be achievable in defence spending but proving unrealistic and undeliverable. Even the assurances that the UK was meeting the NATO minimum of 2% of GDP are based on challenged and dubious attributions to that budget. The adverse move in the exchange rate for the pound has compounded the problem. Surely it is the output achieved that needs to be measured, not merely the 2% or whatever input, nor the putative efficiency savings assumed.
For those with long experience of defence reviews and their outcomes, I fear it is no real surprise that intentions and aspirations are underfunded. Personally, I go back to the reviews of Duncan Sandys in the 1950s and Denis Healey in the 1960s. This time appears no different: a reluctant Treasury agrees a future programme for defence, but only if underpinned by a massive and demanding programme of efficiencies and economies elsewhere in the defence budget. The MoD, desperate to get its future major equipment programmes sanctioned, feels it has to offer overly ambitious savings to attempt to balance the books to the Treasury’s satisfaction. Inevitably, aspiration and achievement are not realised. As we have seen on previous occasions, programmes have to be adjusted, slowed down or modified to attempt to balance the books year on year. Not only does the defence programme suffer, it costs the taxpayer more overall to achieve some if not all of the requirements. Surely, faced with the problems and dangers of the present world, which were well outlined by the noble Earl, this is no time to continue with this pattern of false and fanciful accounting. Indeed, as I mentioned earlier, there are real and justifiable concerns that current front-line strengths are far from adequate were we to become involved in hostilities with an enemy that had better defence and combat capability than any we have faced since the early 1990s.
Examples of what might happen are our considerable losses at sea and in the air against the Argentinians in 1982. We lost, to their air attacks, half a dozen fighting ships, with as many badly damaged, more than one-third of our deployed fighter aircraft and numerous helicopters, but we had sufficient strength in numbers to ride out those considerable setbacks in battle and in the immediate future thereafter. That added strength had been procured many years previously and was operationally capable. Against the Iraqis in the first Gulf War six Tornados were lost, five in a single week. Losses today, from a very much smaller ORBAT than that of the 1980s, on a scale or rate such as those would all too rapidly decimate our combat power, our resilience and our stamina. Surely, too, the credibility of the deterrent lacks realism unless there is a sustainable conventional hard power capability to underwrite it.
We will continue to remain weak unless decisions on increasing numbers and funding are taken to reduce these most serious shortfalls. A step in the right direction is the commitment of extra procurement funds over the life of this Parliament, which was mentioned by the noble Earl. I hope that, for once, this will prove to be an Administration who hold their nerve and live up to this fiscal promise.
My Lords, I welcome the outward-looking emphasis in the speeches made so far, especially in the Minister’s speech and in that of the noble Lord, Lord Collins. What makes this such an exceptional time is that for perhaps only the second or third time in a couple of centuries, we find ourselves needing, as we come to Brexit, to redefine our whole approach to foreign policy and our place in the world. It should be a principal place, not only defined primarily by GDP, although that is important, or by military adequacy, although that is essential, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, set out just now, but by respect internationally for our values, vision and determination and our capacity to deliver those things we promise.
Our aims, as set out by the noble Earl, may be clear, but it is not evident that the combination of vision, values, means and ends is adequately aligned to deliver them. The gracious Speech spoke of taking British values around the world. For that to happen, we need to know what we mean by British values, and they must be based on far more than self-protection in defence and self-interest in trade. They must spring from values lived clearly and coherently at home. Our approach to the international will be defined by the values that we practise within our borders. This is more than ever true in a post-imperial world of free flow of information. Security, trade, commerce and financial transactions are necessary components of a comprehensive approach to the wider world, but they are not sufficient.
In a powerful speech this week, referred to already by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the Governor of the Bank of England said:
“A decade of radical financial reform was not an end in itself, but rather a means to serve households and businesses better. We must ensure that the real economy reaps its full benefits”.
But we must hold the same understanding as we approach Brexit: trade deals, customs unions, single markets, financial passports are all without use unless they are seen as a means to serve individuals, communities and our society. Society and economy are not coterminous, and the values that direct how we act domestically and that we seek to project internationally must recognise that.
Over the past few weeks, it has felt as though we have been overwhelmed by a storm of events that have tested our deepest values with an almost unrelenting ferocity. We are being tested in how we handle not only security but also diversity, integration, social mobility and inequality. The aftermath of the horrific fire at the Grenfell Tower in Kensington has given us particular need to reflect on how we respond. There is no doubt that the response from the emergency services and civic society has been, and continues to be, remarkable. Communities have been revealed as effective. Many however, including the Prime Minister herself, have recognised that the support from the state has been inadequate in its response to those urgently and desperately in need. Such failure is ultimately a failure of values. The worshippers at the Finsbury Park mosque, which I visited the night before last, remind us that freedom to worship without fear is a value we cherish as a nation, which was won at great human cost over many years.
The values that we practise at home reflect our history—good and bad—and are the foundation for the values we take to the world. In numerous ways, we are already of course doing this. I was recently on long visits in the Middle East and Africa, where I saw many examples of the remarkable work being done by the UK Government—by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DfID and the armed services in particular—in South Sudan and other places. UK forces are protecting deeply fragile communities on behalf of the United Nations. DfID staff tend often to live hard and work hard and effectively. The FCO does remarkable work, but the noble Earl must recognise that it does it on a shoestring.
The responses we make come from our recognition of our history, and our commitment to being that outward-facing country that we must be and our confidence that what we have to offer the world is transformative. But values must be applied and practised consistently, and with an understanding that in all that we do, we recognise the dignity of every human being, regardless of wealth, status or influence. In that context, I refer especially to the poorest and most marginalised, and welcome the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the LGBTQ communities. With equality, confidence and justice at home comes the ability to contribute effectively around the world. Without them we will fail.
To apply our values to Brexit, as the process of negotiations begins and develops over the next two years, like many others, I want to argue that we need a structurally based approach in our politics to arrive at cross-party positions that unify us in front of the European Union and have the long-term flourishing of this country at their heart, as well as the urgent need for a process of internal reconciliation between social groups, faiths, generations and regions. The future of this country is not a zero-sum, winner-take-all calculation, but must rest on the reconciled common good arrived at through all our normal debates and diversity. A good Brexit will fulfil the aspiration of a partnership with Europe—spoken of in the gracious Speech. British values and European values are rooted in the same soil, and the great tests of 65 million refugees and the vast effects of climate change will require European partnership if those values are to be effective for the poorest of the earth and for our own futures. Partnership requires first that our parting is carried out well.
Above all, in our domestic and external polices we need vision if we are to reimagine the future of this country. To quote the Old Testament, Proverbs says:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish”.
I hope your Lordships would expect one quote from the Bible. I look forward to the opportunities ahead of us in the coming two years when we in this place can hold the Government and each other to the commitments made in the gracious Speech so that all, whether in this generation or generations to come, especially the weak, poor and powerless, might benefit from the decisions made at this time.
My Lords, it is always an honour to speak after the most reverend Primate, whom we have really come to regard as almost invariably speaking silver-pure common sense. He has given us some vision in what are undoubtedly sombre times, and perhaps we could do with a few more quotes from the Bible to guide us through the difficulties we face.
I am a bit puzzled that we in this House are in effect debating the changing world order beyond Brexit, the consequences of Brexit and how we adjust to them, but will not be coming to the issue of Brexit itself until later next week. It should really be the other way around, since Brexit is of course part of the much wider global transformation taking place. How we handle Brexit will lead to how we meet and cope with the entirely new world ahead.
If I had been drafting the gracious Speech, which no one asked me to do, I would certainly have added at the end of paragraph 1, after the bit about,
“our future outside the European Union”,
the words, “and stepping into entirely new and volatile international conditions which present our nation with great opportunities as well as great dangers”. This is indeed a time of fast-rising world tensions, as the noble Earl set out very clearly in his opening speech. Russia and America seem to be drifting into an unnecessary war in the hell on earth that is Syria today; there are major tensions in the Far East and the Pacific Rim that could easily escalate into some kind of nuclear exchange; there is renewed instability in the Balkans; the Gulf states are splitting apart; the USA is turning inward to protection and proving an unreliable guide in Middle Eastern affairs; Ukraine is festering; and the rules-based international order, which since World War 2 has brought prosperity through trade to billions, is now under direct threat. These are all tinderbox material. Any one of them could get out of hand in ways that could do more damage to the lives, safety and welfare of the British people than any Brexit outcome, hard, soft or middling, any election or even Mr Corbyn and his plans for economic reform. If we want to stay secure and prosperous and to check the horrors of terrorism, which tragically we have experienced recently in London and Manchester, then we must contribute and deploy all our influence, our soft power and, where necessary and effective, an agile hard power, to the limits of our considerable skills, in all these smouldering situations.
As the most recent report from the International Relations Committee, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, tried to explain, we need a new strategy in the volatile Middle East. We can no longer always rely on American policy to underpin and maintain balance in the region.
There is indeed a new world order, or disorder. Technology and the digital age are unravelling the past global system and the old pillars of international stability: open markets, democracy and the rule of law are all under attack. Fake news and cyberattacks are proliferating, as the noble Earl mentioned, while yawning inequality, or at least the perception of it, is growing all round the world.
The Prime Minister has urged that in these new circumstances we must focus on finding, in her words,
“old friends and new partners”,
to adjust to the new conditions. It may be slightly conceited to see that as a gratifying echo of the book I wrote four years ago, Old Links & New Ties.
This is a time when whole industries are being destroyed by shifting world power and new technology, with jobs vanishing and incomes being squeezed or lost altogether. How we conduct ourselves with Europe and how we manage and adapt to the national repositioning demanded by these great outside forces is all of a piece. I greatly welcome the words of the new lead Brexit negotiator, Mr Crawford Falconer—no relation, I assume, to our dear friend in this House, the noble and learned former Lord Chancellor—who sees the Brexit step that we are now taking as opening up a “huge strategic opportunity” and a pathway to major reform of the near-moribund World Trade Organization to meet all the new threats and conditions. He is right.
The same applies, in fact, to most of the 20th century institutions, from the UN and Bretton Woods bodies such as the IMF and the World Bank down to and including NATO itself. They have all served us well—but all are now struggling to change. We have to build and join the new networks that are emerging in this age of total connectivity, with the centre of world power and the world economy having shifted. I refer to non-western entities such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is going ahead without America, the BRICs and IBSA working groups, and many more: it is a new pattern.
China is creating what looks like a new order of organisations and structures to parallel the western or Atlantic model. We have to work with this new partner. I am glad that we are taking a lead in working with China’s new international development bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. But we shall have to be more energetic still in involving ourselves in China’s gigantic plans for new Silk Roads and trade routes right across Kazakhstan and other central Asian countries and into the heart of Europe—always taking care not to weaken our links with our other great ally in Asia, Japan, which is the third-largest industrial power in the world, with China being the second.
This is where the main growth, the main technological advance and the main markets are going to be. In nearly all these areas, one finds that the prospect of fresh and expanded direct bilateral links with Britain is regarded as most welcome—better in some cases than trying to deal with the cumbersome collective bureaucracy of the EU’s other 27 members, with their widely varied interests.
Of course, we now need as well to develop what has been described as the “deep and special relationship” with our European neighbours in innovative and constructive ways. I hope that we are getting on fast with that. I see major scope for far closer links, particularly with France, which is the one truly experienced world power in Europe and in the Middle East. It seems to me to be a no-brainer that we should do this step by step over the coming years.
Obviously, the first stage would be an EEA-type arrangement, to which we are already a contracting party, which allows wide national intervention in border controls. Free movement is being watered down throughout the EU anyway as millions more refugees threaten to come north into Europe from the Maghreb and the Middle East. The EEA allows us to open trade negotiations and deal with many other countries. It is not within the locus of the ECJ and does not cover agriculture and fisheries, which should please our Scottish friends, and is the perfect place to settle for a while before moving on to new relations—by which time the whole pattern of European and world trade will have gone through further revolutions.
In particular, we are going to see the domination of international trade by services of all kinds, in data of all kinds and in information flows—all areas where the single market has not been much good. As an 80%-services economy, this suits us mightily.
That will be especially so with the Commonwealth network of nations, big and small, which use English as the working language. That is certainly one of the old/new networks that we have to strengthen in every way. It is very good news that my noble friend Lord Ahmad is the new Commonwealth Minister, although my noble friend Lady Anelay was excellent, too—and even more that the whole Commonwealth cause is now at last a serious government strategic endeavour, being run from the Cabinet Office, with a team that was formerly a mere six to eight in the FCO and is now expanded to 60 to 80 personnel, at the highest government level. That is real post Brexit repositioning in action, in preparation for the Commonwealth summit and beyond. In all this, we need to prepare and streamline our government organisations, as well as our business sector, to pack far more punch in new trading conditions. DfID should certainly combine more closely with the Foreign Office—and I am extremely glad to see we now have a Minister, the excellent Alistair Burt, who covers both.
In addition, the business visa policy needs changing, and students should be taken out of the immigration figures. It is madness that we have halved our student intake from the dynamic India, to the benefit of America and Germany. Our universities are our spearhead of influence across the world; weaken them and we weaken our whole trading and commercial future.
We have talked of strong and stable government. That is not quite what we have at this precise moment—but we need to remember Charles Darwin. He was the one who said that we need not so much the strongest to survive as those who adapted successfully to changing conditions. So we need to be strong and stable and ready to adapt at every level of government and society to survive and prosper.
The Brexit process is a part of that adaptation but, frankly, only a small part. Our new priorities have to be much wider. As I have said and written, we need to rebuild old links, the Commonwealth network included, and establish new ties, here in Europe and right across the globe. How we set about this is something on which I hope your Lordships’ House, for all our faults and problems, can make a really useful contribution. We will try.
My Lords, we regularly hear the mantra that the security and defence of the nation is the first and most important duty of any Government, yet, once again, as with the last three Queen’s Speeches, those charged with our nation’s defence forget that truth. Defence and security are first mentioned in paragraph 21 of 28 paragraphs of the gracious Speech—hardly in pole position. The myriad threats beyond our shores do not disappear because of the domestic difficulties we face—and, goodness me, we face a lot of them. If anything, they have worsened, which makes us less safe.
Paragraph 25 of the gracious Speech states:
“My Ministers will ensure that the United Kingdom’s leading role on the world stage is maintained and enhanced as it leaves the European Union”.—[Official Report, 21/6/17; cols. 6-7.]
We are deluding ourselves. Our soft power is formidable but it is as nothing if not backed by hard power, as has been true for decades. Indeed, it is our military capability that has allowed successive Prime Ministers and Foreign Secretaries for those decades to stride the world and punch above our weight; it no longer does. The implications for the security of Europe are severe. We and the United States—we should be proud of this—have ensured Europe’s defence and security for 70 years. We are able no longer.
Since the 2010 SDSR, the Government have responded to growing concerns about defence, raised by all parties in this House and in the other place, with comfortable words about increased money for defence, meeting NATO’s 2% commitment, talk of future orders and so on. That is no longer good enough. As regards money, we all, particularly those who have been in government, know what games can be played—and there is dispute about the validity of the 2%, which is of course a minimum, not a target. The Government must face up to the fact that our forces are underfunded. New money is in theory being produced by efficiencies. These efficiencies are impacting on the lives of our sailors, soldiers and airmen, and on the fighting power of our Armed Forces, which is reducing.
In particular, the Navy has too few ships and men and is having to make incoherent cuts to keep within the budget—for example, paying off “Diligence” and HMS “Ocean”, and not having any surface-to-surface or air-to-surface missiles for the next few years. This is not an abstract issue. For a number of years, we will have ships deployed around the globe that may suddenly come across an opponent because things have escalated, and they will have to fight. I have done this, as have many of us here. We will have ships sunk and people killed. I have been in that position. We are standing into danger.
The paying off of HMS “Ocean”, it having just been given a £65 million refit to run for another five years, means that we no longer have a full amphibious capability. Does our nation really understand that? The Navy’s desperate need for 4,000 more people—they were cut in SDSR 2010—is part of the problem, which is also impacting on such things as commando numbers. Going back to SDSR 2010, there was a one-third cut to our military capability. Not another department in this country suffered such a massive cut in its capability. Can you imagine if a third of all NHS hospitals had been closed?
We have only 19 escorts. This is a national disgrace for our great maritime nation— I have touched on it before. Two of them are tied up alongside because of lack of manpower. Our destroyers have major intercooler problems and there is no rapid-fix programme for that, although something is in train. The reality is that we have only 12 escorts fully capable for operations, one of which will always be in for a major refit. These are the Type 23 frigates. The oldest is 26 years old, the youngest 15, and the ships were designed for an 18-year life. The Government have yet to explain fully how they will replace all these ships, which are due to leave service at the rate of one per year from 2023 onwards, let alone increase the total number of escorts by the 2030s, which the noble Earl kindly confirmed is the Government’s aim.
When will the shipbuilding strategy be produced laying down the steady drumbeat of orders promised by the noble Earl to be issued in the spring? Is it still the Government’s intention to increase frigate numbers by the 2030s? Will the “Queen Elizabeth” meet this tidal window, which started yesterday, to sail for sea trials? The tidal window is open for only about 10 days, I think. If not, when will she sail for sea trials?
Far from increasing in numbers, the Navy is actually shrinking. I fear that the Royal Navy is not capable of doing what our nation expects of it. I say that because I go round and talk to people and they think it can do things that it no longer can. Preventing war, and defending our nation and people if war happens, are more important than any other government spending priority. If Ministers get that wrong, the nation will never forgive them. The costs in blood and treasure are enormous. Studies have shown that the plan to pay off “Endurance” for a saving of £16 million prompted the Argentinian junta to invade the Falkland Islands. The final cost to this nation was £6 billion and almost 300 lives. The Government have a choice of whether to spend what is required to ensure the safety of our nation, dependencies and people or not. At present, I believe they are getting the choice wrong.
The talk of a fisheries Bill is of interest. Never have we been less capable of protecting and controlling our exclusive economic zone. The control of our inshore waters, ports and coastline is problematic at the moment. The National Maritime Information Centre, established as a result of a National Security Forum recommendation in 2010, is a national treasure. It is wonderful that it has happened, but its job is to produce a clear surface picture—of what is going on all round our coast and, indeed, the world—and facilitate information exchange between government departments and agencies. There are insufficient ships and no centralised command and control of assets to protect and patrol our inshore waters based on the intelligence that NMIC gives.
The Royal Navy has ensured the survival and wealth of our nation over several hundred years. We need to wake up to the fact that successive cuts have gone too far. No matter how good our people—and, my goodness, we have good people in all three services; they are splendid—without sufficient ships, in the case of the Navy, it is nothing. We are taking risk upon risk and suddenly, quite unexpectedly—I can promise that this will happen, because it always does in this very chaotic and nasty world—it may affect our nation’s survival.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part today in this first day of debate on the gracious Speech. I will restrain my remarks to those relating to the brief on which I speak on behalf of the Lib Dem Benches: international development.
That the 0.7% of GNI to be spent on international development featured in the gracious Speech pleased but did not surprise me. The Government have shown that they recognise that, as Britain leaves the EU, it will need to pull together all its friends and influence around the world—and how better to maintain and enhance the UK’s leading role on the world stage than through the depth of knowledge and network of global decision-makers that DfID has developed over many years? The Government have acknowledged that influence, backed up by funds, will be a potent weapon in their arsenal to curry favour around the globe as they seek trade deals. Indeed, the Overseas Development Institute recently published a paper, entitled Aid, Exports and Employment in the UK, showing that the giving of development assistance has a positive effect on the economy of the donor country, too. It shows that direct bilateral aid in 2014 led to the creation of 12,000 UK jobs, illustrating yet again that targeting aid to alleviate the suffering of some of the poorest people in the world not only is the moral thing to do but ultimately benefits us here at home.
While I welcome the safeguarding of DfID’s budget, I hope that the Government do not lose sight of the need to meet internationally recognised standards on what constitutes aid. Given that the Conservative manifesto gave cause for concern, as it opened the door to redefining development spending, I am seeking reassurance from the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whom I welcome to his new post, that the recently announced structure of joint DfID and FCO Ministers is not indicative of a step towards watering down the focus of aid spending to alleviate poverty. I hope that this reassurance will be forthcoming. The FCO needs to be held accountable for its use of aid money, just as DfID is. I would like to know how DfID will work to ensure that aid spending by other departments meets the standards of transparency, accountability and development impact that DfID sets itself.
I will not keep your Lordships much longer; the only other subject that I touch on today is the iniquities of our relationship with Saudi Arabia and, in doing so, I thank Amnesty International for the information that I cite. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that more than 4,000 civilians, including 1,200 children, have been killed and more than 7,000 civilians wounded since the conflict in Yemen began in March 2015. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that, by October 2016, more than 3.27 million people had been forcibly displaced in the conflict and nearly 21.2 million people—80% of the population—were reliant on humanitarian assistance. The UK is the fourth-largest donor to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and yet that work is severely undermined by the UK itself continuing to supply the Saudi-led coalition with military equipment that has been alleged to have been used to destroy or disrupt that very same humanitarian aid—where is the sense, or even the morality, in that?
Not only are the lives of Yemeni civilians at risk from coalition air strikes, but so, too, are those of British-funded aid workers. Coalition air strikes have hit an Oxfam warehouse and two MSF hospitals as well as destroying transport infrastructure such as roads and bridges, which disrupts the flow of food, medical equipment, supplies and other aid from ports. On the one hand, the UK funds aid workers to send into this crisis and, on the other, sells arms to the regime implicated in serious violations of international and humanitarian human rights law. I ask again: where is the sense in that? Select Committee reports by the International Development, Foreign Affairs and BEIS Select Committees have all raised serious concerns about the legality of UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia in the context of the war in Yemen and the widespread reports of the use of air strikes in violation of relevant international law.
United Nations sustainable development goal 16 speaks of peace. Without peace there can be no prosperity and no well-being for any of us. The dreadful terrorist events of the last few weeks have brought home to us here in Britain how precious that peace is. If we are to fulfil our commitments to meeting the sustainable development goals, we must do more than pay lip service. Surely it is time to suspend UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia and re-establish the Committees on Arms Export Controls to ensure adequate parliamentary oversight over such a complex area.
My Lords, this is the first debate on the Address since last June’s referendum resulted in a narrow majority in favour of leaving the EU. It is also the first since the assumption of office by a new US president, Donald Trump, whose “America First” slogan, and, even more so, policies on climate change, trade issues, NATO, the UN and human rights, put him at cross purposes with our own policy objectives. Therefore, I make no apologies for focusing my remarks on these two matters and their consequences for our own foreign policy-making.
Much of the debate about Brexit concentrates on important, but often quite narrow and technical, questions of trade in both goods and services, the status of EU nationals, including our own, and our future domestic policies on regulation, immigration, agriculture and fisheries. That is, of course, exactly as it should be, and those aspects will be debated later in this debate next week. They are important matters. We must not, however, overlook the wider strategic consequences of our decision to leave the EU in terms of Europe’s security and the future direction of the European Union’s foreign policies. It seems to have been almost completely overlooked at the time of our vote last June that we risked turning our backs on something like 500 years of British foreign policy, during which we played an integral—often crucial—part in the formulation of policies relating to European security and the balance of power among our nearest neighbours—an area you could describe as stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals, to coin a phrase. Now we risk becoming not just semi-detached but fully detached from that tradition, and that to our cost, I suggest, as we found in earlier periods when we occasionally drifted off into isolation.
It is no good thinking that these risks can be avoided simply by repeating meaningless mantras such as, “We are leaving the EU, but not leaving Europe”. Nor is NATO a full answer to the problem, although it is certainly part of the answer. It seems that the problem requires us to fashion a close, operationally effective relationship on foreign and security policy with the European Union, and in particular with its principal members, France and Germany. Several other previous speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Howell, concentrated on that point. I hope that the Minister will say something about how we plan to set about doing that when he replies to the debate, because so far we have heard nothing but aspirations in this area.
Then there are the challenges we face from across the Atlantic, not just from the erratic and intemperate policy pronouncements which have so far been the hallmark of the Trump Administration. There are more fundamental problems than that. The policies of that Administration are already undermining the whole structure of a rules-based international community, which successive British Governments have, over the last 70 years, worked so hard to create and on which our own future prosperity and security will rely to an even greater extent if and when we leave the European Union. An adequate response cannot simply consist of the rather feeble kinds of triangulation which presumably motivated our refusal to sign up to the statement of France, Germany and Italy when the US notified its decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement on climate change, nor the rather pusillanimous attitude we have taken to supporting a two-state solution to the problem of Palestine. Nor is—I am afraid that I agree with my noble friend Lord Ricketts—the untimely invitation to President Trump to make a state visit to London this year likely to help very much. Perhaps the Minister could elucidate what the absence of a reference to that in the gracious Speech is meant to mean. However, of course we must not fall back into that knee-jerk anti-Americanism which has so often been a feature of the left in British politics. That relationship of the United States will be of crucial value to this country long beyond the tenure in office of a particular US President.
The two themes I have mentioned criss-cross when one examines the chaos in the Middle East, a set of issues which were addressed in the report of your Lordships’ International Relations Committee, which several other speakers have mentioned and which I very much trust we shall have an opportunity to debate in full before the Summer Recess. The intemperate nature of US policy-making has been clear in the Middle East most recently in the rhetorical onslaught against Iran, which took place only two days after the very welcome re-election of President Rouhani, who said that he was committed to greater engagement with the outside world. To stoke up Saudi-Iranian rivalry is not in Britain’s interest. Plenty of criticism can be levied against some aspects of Iran’s external policy. However, I hope that we will work for a kind of modus vivendi between these two important regional powers, not organise a Thirty Years’ War between Sunni and Shia. Perhaps the Minister can say how we view the current tensions between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which have broken out in the bans on travel between a number of Qatar’s neighbours and that emirate. That, too, does not seem to be likely to move the region into a better place.
My Lords, I have decided to concentrate on things that I have said in the past, not because there is anything new that I wish to say but purely to add strength to the things we have considered in previous debates.
First, perhaps I may bring up a point that I raised months ago. The very first sentence of the gracious Speech contains the words,
“my Government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal”.
I think that in all respects that last word is a shocking one to use. Anybody who does a business deal knows that that is not the right word. If you really want to continue in friendship and in partnership, as we emphasise that we do all the time, you come to an “agreement”. You do not want to leave the table feeling that—I could use stronger words—“Somehow or other, I’ve got my leg over. I’ve got the best out of it”, and so on. You carry on on the basis of, “I want to do it again—I want us to be together”, and I implore the Government and the media to stop using that term. When I heard it on Her Majesty’s lips yesterday, I was sure that others in this House must have felt the same way.
We are very fortunate in having my noble friend Lord Howe leading this debate. His experience and knowledge of defence and foreign affairs—and if I may say so, just his sheer common sense—are known by us all. We are also fortunate in having the Chancellor because, as far as I am concerned, without a strong economy nothing happens—a strong economy dictates everything. Of course, the Chancellor has the advantage of having a background in defence, having been the Defence Secretary. Therefore, I hope that our all-party approach, particularly in this House and certainly in the other place, will lend weight to what we are talking about.
The National Security Council—I had the honour of being one of the founding members of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy—is certainly a worthy enterprise, but does it work properly? In my view—a view shared by others—it does not. It is not set up properly, and a key factor that I would like the Government to consider is that the chiefs should be invited to form a very important subordinate committee of the National Security Council in the years to come.
Points about foreign policy have been raised today. We need vision and clarity. Several noble Lords have talked about our values and what they stand for. Many small countries look to us for the sorts of values that they too treasure.
As many of your Lordships are aware, I am a strong supporter of achieving our aims in the Brexit negotiations. However, as time goes on, I am troubled by one aspect of them. They cannot dominate everything. As has already been mentioned, it is events that dominate, and the Brexit negotiations cannot be the key factor for the next two, three, four or five years. In my view, the defence of the realm and security on all fronts—cyber or whatever—are more important, because events could push Brexit completely to one side if things get out of control. Therefore, I feel, and have requested, that we should have a debate on defence—in particular, to ask whether the Government will have a full defence review, although I know that some will ask whether it would serve much purpose. However, we need more money, and if our armed services are to do the job that is expected of them in this new, global world, a full defence review in the round will demonstrate their needs very clearly. I suggest that a big factor in the negotiations in Europe—certainly with the eastern European countries—will be that enhancing our hard power will play an important part, to say the least, in our role in NATO and, unquestionably, with the Americans in Washington.
I do not have much more to say other than to ask the Ministers to seriously consider not allowing events to dictate our future, although unfortunately we will have no control over that. Perhaps I may leave it to my noble friend Lord Howe—and of course I very much welcome my noble friend Lord Ahmad to his new role—to look at the depth of our foreign policy and to bear in mind that defence is still a key factor for any Government.
My Lords, looking back to 22 February 2016—the day that David Cameron announced the referendum—Britain was flying. We were the fastest-growing economy in the western world. We were the envy of Europe. Four months later, on 23 June, we had the 52:48 referendum result. Our world has changed since then. Look at the turmoil we are in a year later. Far from flying and being the envy of Europe, we are now the laughing stock of Europe.
Just look at what is going on. The Brexiteers said a year ago, “Look at Europe. They’re doing so badly. We’re doing so well. It’s in a mess”. Today, Europe is growing faster than Britain. The pound has weakened. Inflation is six times higher than the 0.5% that it was a year ago. Today, inflation is 3% and wage growth is 1.7%. Over the whole of the past year, Brexit overshadowed everything in Parliament and took up so much of our time.
The Prime Minister tried to sideline Parliament to implement Article 50. It was only with the big defeats suffered by the Government here in the House of Lords that the Prime Minister had to call the election, which has exposed a Prime Minister who, quite frankly, has not listened. She has not listened to Parliament, business or the people. The gracious Speech talks about establishing new policies on immigration. The Prime Minister has not listened on immigration and the target of tens of thousands. She has not listened to universities. I am proud to say that the University of Birmingham, where I am chancellor, and the Cambridge Judge Business School, where I chair the advisory board, have just been awarded gold in the new teaching excellence framework. International students bring £25 billion into the UK. They are one of the strongest forms of soft power in this country, yet they are still treated as immigrants in the net migration figures. The Prime Minister refused to listen and take them out of those figures.
Yet the Prime Minister is completely unlike Margaret Thatcher, the lady who was not for turning. She has U-turned time after time, whether on national insurance for the self-employed, no election until 2020 and calling a snap election, or social care measures in the manifesto. The Prime Minister does not just U-turn; she pirouettes more than Darcey Bussell.
The gracious Speech talks about new Bills on trade and customs which will help to implement an independent trade policy. The noble Earl the Minister told us that the Department for International Trade is having high-level dialogues. Liam Fox, our illustrious Trade Minister, speaks of “going global” and opening up to the new world. How naive is this? It took the Canadians eight years to secure an EU-Canada free trade agreement. In a BBC radio programme, the lead negotiator for Canada said he does not think that Brexit will happen.
During the visit in November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought up with Prime Minister Theresa May that movement of people is important for India. We talk about trade deals, but there can be no trade deal without looking at the movement of people as well. The Indian High Commissioner here, Mr YK Sinha, has said very clearly that India is open to a bilateral trade deal but there will be no trade deal without looking at the movement of people. Look at the realities of a country such as India, with 1.25 billion people. How many bilateral trade deals does India have with the rest of the world? Nine, and not one with a western country.
These trade deals are meant to support the UK in making a smooth exit from the European Union, ensure that UK businesses are able to benefit from trade with the rest of the world and cement the UK’s leading role as a great global trading nation. What a contradiction this is. On the one hand, the Brexiteers say, “You do not need a free trade deal with Europe—look at America and India, they deal with Europe and they do not have free trade deals with Europe”. On the other hand, they say, “The solution to all our problems is to do free trade deals with the rest of the world, which we can do once we leave the European Union”. Why do people not see though this nonsense? People have got to wake up to this. We are already one of the most open economies in the world. Trade already makes up 65% of our GDP. We are already the third-highest recipient of foreign direct investment in the world and the highest recipient of foreign direct investment in the EU. To leave the EU would be to leave 50% of our trade—45% of our exports and 55% of our imports.
The noble Lord, Lord Sterling, talked about defence. I am delighted that we are continuing to commit to the 2% NATO spending target. We are not going to join any EU army. On the other hand, I would go so far as to say that we owe so much to our EU membership that I would pay the £8 billion a year net to the EU just for the peace that we have had not only because of NATO but because of our EU membership.
Regarding security, Governments over the past years have been absolutely negligent given the tragic events that have taken place. We have cut our police forces by 20,000 officers. The number of police we have now is at the level we had before 9/11. On top of those 20,000, we have also cut the 26,000 neighbourhood policing officers. I do not see them around the streets anymore. They are the ones who were a deterrent, who picked up information and gave security, and they are gone. We also hear about 1,500 more armed police. At the time of the IRA problems in the 1980s we had 5,000 armed police officers in London alone. Today, we have barely 5,000 in the whole country.
The Prime Minister said after the awful attacks that we are going to give more power to our security and police forces. However, did she say immediately, as she should have, that we are going to bring back the 20,000 and the 26,000 and put more armed police officers on our streets? That is what should have been done straightaway.
On the negotiations, David Davis has spoken about the summer of battles that will take place. We all know what happened on the first day of the negotiations. The Minister spoke about exiting the EU with certainty, continuity and confidence. Although I am sure his intentions are good, one of the sad realities of Brexit is that Britain is losing its standing and respect in Europe and the global community. This puts us in a much weaker position. We are negotiating against all the odds. We are one country against 27. We are 65 million whereas the rest number 500 million. We are up against the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council, and we also have a weak Government right now. We need the respect and confidence of the world.
We have seen clearly that public opinion is changing swiftly. In its latest survey—with the Mail on Sunday, of all papers—Survation, one of the few polling organisation to correctly predict a hung Parliament, suggests that 69% of the British public oppose the Prime Minister’s hard-Brexit approach and 53% back a second referendum. This supports what I have been saying since 24 June 2016, that Brexit may never happen. An analysis of MPs suggests that if there were a free vote in the other place, there would be a 44% majority in favour of remain. As we know, probably 70% of the membership of this House is in favour of remain.
The silver lining, one hopes, is that people will wake up. People were fooled by the claims about £350 million on the side of the bus, and some are being fooled to this day. They think that there is no turning back. The Prime Minister said that there will be no turning back after she triggered Article 50, whereas the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—the person who wrote Article 50—has said time and again that we can turn back at any time simply by saying, “We do not want to do this. Unilaterally, we withdraw”. I suggested doing so when I was interviewed on LBC by Iain Dale and he laughed. However, he who laughs last laughs loudest. It was thrown at us last year that we have to respect the will of the people. Following an election—even if a party gets into government with 50.001% of the vote—you respect the will of the people. The reality, however, is that in five years’ time, the people will be able to change their mind and throw that Government out. But in this case the people are not being allowed to change their mind. Where is the will of the people in that? What will the people think in 2019—if that is when the decision is made—when they have all the information in front of them? What will happen when the youngsters turn out to vote? They did not do so earlier but did in the recent election. It is the will of the people at that time that will need to be respected, not something that happened the year before.
Bill George, who taught me at the Harvard Business School, recently wrote about the strategy for steady leadership in an unsteady world. He said that in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, leaders have to have vision, understanding, courage and adaptability. It is that adaptability that we will need in order to get through Brexit.
The Minister spoke about creating a secure and better future for our people. In reality, it is only a matter of time before the people see that the Brexit emperor has no clothes. Given the option of a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit, the opinion of the British people at that time will probably be: “Why not just stay with what we’ve got, which is the best of both worlds?”. As President Macron has said and as the rest of the EU would welcome, it would be much better for us to end up staying in the EU, and there may well be no Brexit whatever.
My Lords, I adopt many of the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and indeed of his mentor, Bill George. As always, Shakespeare had the right words for it. In “Macbeth”, Macduff admirably sums up the state of our nation:
“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece”—
or “turmoil”, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has said.
The Queen’s Speech comes in the wake of two failed government gambles: first, the EU referendum and, secondly, the recent and unnecessary general election. The Government proposed; the people disposed. As we start the EU negotiations, we now have what Mr Osborne, the former Chancellor, described as “a dead woman walking”, yet further weakened by the insensitive response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. I understand that there will be a Statement on that later. That tragedy is a further sad illustration of the state of our nation: a widening social divide and government complacency. The Government have sacked the chief executive of the local authority, but, despite accepting mistakes, all their Ministers remain in office.
I have lived in Swansea all my life, but I have also been a resident of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea for almost 60 years. I was a councillor in the neighbouring, adjoining ward of Golborne, which also suffers from multi-deprivation. I was a member of the first neighbourhood law council in the country there and of the first urban parish council. No borough has such extremes of wealth between north and south as Kensington. There is a difference of 13 years in life expectancy between the north and the south. There has been Conservative rule from time immemorial in the town hall. They are decent people but unaware of the realities of the north of the borough. The council has amassed huge and increased surpluses. It has kept council tax levels the same for years, and I and other council tax payers received a rebate of £100 in 2014. Last year, the council received a quarter more in local authority rent income than it spent on council housing. Faced with such glaring inequalities, is there anything in the Queens’s Speech, I ask rhetorically, which might reduce them? Brexit, which is obviously the main theme —the leitmotif—of the Queen’s Speech, will certainly mean higher food prices as a result of the depreciation of sterling. We know that the poorest people spend a higher proportion of their budget on food.
Mention is made of improvements in our housebuilding, yet in Kensington and Chelsea property prices rocket. Young people have no hope of starting on the ownership ladder but can only rent, often from foreign buyers who buy off plan. I commend the Government for their initiative in instituting a register of beneficial ownership of property for UK buyers and committing to a similar scheme for foreign buyers, in part to counter money laundering of the oligarchs and others. Often, the properties are simply investments and remain empty. Here, as everywhere, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Obviously, these inequalities did not start with this Government and are replicated nationally and internationally.
At least the Government have a good record on overseas aid. I join my noble friend Lord Collins in commending the continuation of the 0.7% of GNI. Like him, I question the possible danger of vacating the high ground: the Government are now seeking the agreement of OECD member states to revise the definition of aid so that certain military expenditure is included. I recognise that there is some merit in this—without security there would be no development. It is an arguable case. However, others fear that this will be the thin end of the wedge. What has been done? What has been the response from OECD members? What are the prospects of evolving a new definition?
The effects of the “confusion”, in Shakespeare’s terms, are apparent also in the Government’s approach to Brexit. The Government started on the wrong foot. Their objectives are not clear save, as in the first line of the Queen’s Speech,
“to secure the best possible deal”.—[Official Report, 21/6/17; col. 5.]
Is that Mr Hammond’s deal or Dr Fox’s deal? There is certainly no consensus in the government party. Should the priority be on jobs or immigration? The Prime Minister herself lacks credibility. Before the referendum, when she emerged from her fugitive and cloistered corner, she argued for remain, clearly seeing it then as being in the UK interest. Now she espouses Brexit with the zeal of the convert, treating our partners as though they were enemies.
On foreign affairs generally, we retain many advantages from the post-Second World War settlement. We remain members of the P5 of the Security Council and of NATO, which is ever more important, and we have excellent Armed Forces and intelligence communities. Yet let us be brutally realistic: whatever form Brexit takes, it will mean a much diminished international status. We will be weakened by ceasing to be part of the EU team at the UN, in international trade negotiations and by leaving the directoire of France, Germany and ourselves. We will be forced to move, inexorably, more into the orbit of the United States. We clearly must retain the best possible relationship with the United States, preparing for an eventual post-Trump US. We will be less relevant in the Middle East, Ukraine and Iran. Any lingering illusions about our role as a bridge between the EU and the US will be undermined by our withdrawal. No doubt the Daily Mail will trumpet that, at last, we have an independent foreign policy. That concept ended with our glorious retaking of the Falklands some 35 years ago. Now we increasingly need alliances. Even an associate status with the EU is not the same as being a full team member.
How do we best work closely with the EU and wider Europe? Perhaps the nearest parallel was almost 60 years ago. I was in the Foreign Office when the door to the Common Market seemed to shut. To avoid isolation, we hastily searched around for institutions that brought us together with the six. Coupled with the cul-de-sac of EFTA, we looked at the Western European Union, which was looking for a role. We used it in ways well beyond its original concept. The Commonwealth is only marginally relevant in this context. We have a similar dilemma today. Is there any equivalent to the Western European Union? EFTA may assume a new importance. Of course, an additional benefit for the Government is that the EFTA Court will allow them to escape from their undertaking to their right wing not to be subject to the European Court of Justice. Frankly, that is no more than a conjuring trick because the EFTA Court has broadly the same jurisdiction as the European Court of Justice. Let us look at the 47 members of the Council of Europe—obviously a weaker institution. It is puzzling that the Government flirted with the idea of withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights, which would effectively mean leaving the Council of Europe as a whole.
Finally, the only case that at the moment proves difficult for us in relation to the European Court of Human Rights is the Hirst judgment on prisoners’ voting rights. I urge the Government to look again at this. There may now be a majority in the House of Commons that would allow the Government to follow what has been our excellent record so far in implementing judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and to accept one of the possible, pragmatic options in complying with the Hirst judgment.
My Lords, it is with great sadness that we recall all the tragic events that have occurred since your Lordships’ House was last in session. As is often the case, whatever the nature, whether in this country or overseas, deliberate or negligent, the loss of life can bring out the best and worst in people. We still have much work to do on community cohesion, addressing all kinds of inequalities and building common value systems.
While the Government’s focus is the legislative consequences of leaving the European Union, we must continue to analyse, monitor and review existing legislation. I am referring to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and, more specifically, Section 54 on transparency in supply chains. Thus I was pleased to see modern slavery appear briefly in the Queen’s Speech. Much has been said about regulation and private enterprise recently and no doubt this debate will continue as the Government’s legislative programme progresses through the coming Session. Often, business demands that there be less red tape. However, this is not always or inevitably the case and I hope the Government will listen to the responsible businesses that understand very well that further regulation is needed in some instances.
As many noble Lords will know, I tabled a Private Member’s Bill last Session with the aim of strengthening the Modern Slavery Act, particularly Section 54 on transparency in supply chains. Sadly, the Government did not appear keen to adopt my amendments and we withdrew the Bill as we recognised that one way or another it would run out of time in the other place. With some refinement and adjustments, I again entered the ballot for Private Members’ Bills. I wrote this speech last night but now have the result of the ballot: I am number 55. Clearly my luck ran out because last year I was number 2. However, that does not mean I will give up on this.
During the time we have been away from the House, I travelled to a number of venues in the UK and overseas, and had conversations via phone, email, face-to-face et cetera, discussing the legislation on transparency in supply chains. A wide range of people from businesses, NGOs, law enforcement, unions and civil society are concerned that the current political climate is a challenging one in which to be trying to make this ground-breaking Act work as it should. A significant proportion of these concerns are connected to the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.
Even leaving aside the potentially damaging economic and cultural impact on the creative industries in general, and in particular the fashion industry, with which I have been working, there is the question of how we are to maintain efficient and effective relations with our European neighbours when it comes to ethical and sustainable practices in the industry. There is a fear that the progress made, for example in promoting and enabling transparency in supply chains, will suffer a setback. Working across jurisdictions is never straightforward. How much more complicated is it about to become in this climate of uncertainties?
With regard to modern slavery, there are positive indications that other jurisdictions are seriously investigating potential legislation similar to our Section 54. As well as the pioneering work of the California Act, with which many of us are familiar, France, the Netherlands and, shortly we hope, Australia have also committed to legislation in this area.
The key feature of Section 54 is that each commercial company operating in the UK with a turnover of £36 million or more must produce a statement that demonstrates how that company intends to address unsafe and abusive labour practices in its supply chains. That statement must be uploaded annually to the company’s website in a prominent place and signed off by a member of the board of directors. As the cut-off point for submitting statements for the end of the first year approaches, I am mindful that although we have made some progress we are nowhere near where we need to be if we are to make significant in-roads on the scourge of modern slavery in our businesses’ supply chains. Some 2,000 statements have now been uploaded but this is out of, potentially, between 12,000 and 17,000 companies. What efforts are being made to improve compliance with the law in this regard? When will monitoring and reviewing the implementation of Section 54 be made available for us all to see?
As I said, I have been working with the fashion industry—now worth $3 trillion globally—for some years. More recently I have been trying to engage with the Premier League—it contributes a whopping £3.4 billion to the UK economy—and some of the clubs. Every one of the 20 top-tier clubs should have a modern slavery statement. It is clear that there is quite a wide gap between clubs in the quality of their statements. I have started working with these two sectors principally because they both have a global reach and their activities encompass a whole range of things from garments to, in the case of football, kits, security, stewarding, hospitality, catering, construction, cleaning and IT—all services where there is a risk of hostile labour conditions, both here in Britain and overseas. There is also a real opportunity for the English Premier League and the constituent clubs to help raise awareness of forced labour and other abuses in supply chains, as well as to address their own issues. Given that some clubs are clearly struggling to compile their statements and a feasible implementation strategy, which is also the case with some fashion companies, I hope that the Premier League has plans to help raise the bar on this with its member clubs.
Certainly, the British Retail Consortium has been working hard with a number of the major retailers, along with organisations such as Electronics Watch, the Ethical Trading Initiative, the Institute for Human Rights and Business, the UN Global Compact Network and, of course, Anti-Slavery International, of which I am a patron. All those organisations, among many others, not only passively support strengthening this area of the Act but are actively working with members and colleagues to ensure that this innovative piece of legislation fulfils its potential.
Business-focused organisations are working towards forming coalitions and alliances to make faster, deeper progress towards substantially diminishing modern forms of slavery in supply chains. For example, the UN Global Compact Network modern slavery workshop covers a wide range of businesses from security to retail, and the BRE, formerly known as the Building Research Establishment, has brought together professional bodies within the construction industry—another major area of risk of abusive practices—including architects, builders, surveyors and engineers, to try to address this issue. This is particularly important with regard to major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Hinkley Point. It is vital that the Government ensure that public bodies take every possible precaution to ensure that their supply chains are free of labour abuses. In addition, World Vision Canada and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association are fully engaged in working with Governments internationally to introduce analogous legislation.
Next year’s CHOGM—the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting—affords an opportunity to raise a number of human rights issues, including, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, the persecution of LGBTI individuals and communities. I want to add modern slavery to the list of urgent subjects that should be discussed at that meeting.
The many offers of help and active support demonstrate that most reputable companies do not see Section 54 as a burden or unnecessary red tape; rather, I am being pushed by those companies to urge the Government to introduce stronger and more robust regulation and monitoring of that legislation. That has become absolutely apparent over the months I have been working on this. I look forward to working with colleagues, including Kevin Hyland, the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, and the Government to make sure that Section 54 does what it was intended to do; that is, contribute to the reduction in gross labour abuses in supply chains both in the UK and internationally.
My Lords, I see that the House is filling up but I doubt it is because I am speaking. I will speak about defence and then foreign and Commonwealth affairs, but I will preface the whole thing by welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to his new role. I dealt with him extensively in his previous one, when he looked after the regulating of aircraft. He will now be spending his time getting on them so he will be doubly pleased that he put so much work into making sure that they are safe and efficient.
I do not think I have ever quoted the DUP before but I will start with a quote from its manifesto:
“When the public finances improve we believe it will be appropriate to have a new National Security and Strategic Defence Review. The 2015 Review demonstrated a lack of strategic ambition and was too much a product of expenditure limitations”.
I echo that sentiment. In the post-EU world that we are moving into, the security and defence capacity of this country will be our unique selling point on the world stage, and it is absolutely vital that we get it right.
I believe we have become far too obsessed with the 2% target. We are a P5 power. We should not be setting our defence targets alongside those of nations that are, frankly, less prepared to engage in military operations than we are. We need a first-class defence force. We look at the United States and we see defence expenditure at 3.61%, even after substantial reductions, and I would like to feel that our defence review, if we have one, will not be aimed at how little we can spend but at how much we need to spend to play an effective role in the defence of the western world.
I welcome the points made by the Government on legal claims against the Armed Forces. I do not have the length of experience of the noble Lord, Lord West, although I had a few years in the Territorial Army many years ago. If you are in a battle situation, you cannot be wondering whether some firm of lawyers is going to be chasing round after you. I welcome the decision by the Defence Secretary to seek to opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights prior to future military operations. I hope that will be maintained and we will continue to do what we have said we will do, which is to stop vexatious claims against the Armed Forces. This is not helping us to be a decent defence country with a decent defence capacity.
I welcome what is being done for veterans but if you look at the situation of veterans in the United Kingdom compared with the United States, where they are honoured members of society, we still see instances where soldiers are asked not to wear their uniforms in public. In the United States soldiers are encouraged to wear their uniforms and given priority in certain public services, and I would like to see this. We see many examples and last weekend we saw a particularly petty one:
“‘Blinkered’ MoD prunes hoes for heroes”.
This was a gardening project—horticultural therapy for people severely disabled in war. What is the saving? Just £350,000. This is peanuts to the department, and I quote the Ministry of Defence’s words—I am not making this up—in the article:
“There will always be some instances when we’re not able to use public money to support their services”.
Are we living in the real world? “Their services”? These are people who have had their limbs blown off and for whom we are asking for a minor contribution to help them settle into a better life. When I was in Washington not that long ago, Congress ran a golfing tournament where members of Congress and the Senate went out and played golf to raise charitable money for the veterans’ association of the United States, for limbless ex-servicemen. If we could do something more in that way, we would be doing a lot better.
I turn briefly to a couple of matters where we need to sort out what to do on foreign policy and defence. First, what is to be our attitude to continuing to participate in joint EU affairs in a military capacity? For instance, will there continue to be a naval input into Operation Sophia and the Navfor operation against piracy off the Somali coast? There is a precedent: Norway is a participant in the Somali operation. I hope that we will not only continue but make a fairly strong statement as to our policy on future operations of this nature, because when the EU plans its joint efforts we will not be at the table. But those countries will wonder whether we will be there and we need a fairly strong statement of principle about our attitude to future operations of this kind. I would also be interested—this is where we stray on to an FCO point —to know what our planned disengagement is from the European External Action Service. A lot of able Foreign Office personnel are serving with the External Action Service. Will they all be withdrawn by March 2019? Will there be a phased withdrawal? Will we continue to give any support to the External Action Service or not?
Finally, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, about the importance of keeping trade unions involved. We often forget the contribution of our trade union movement through the TUC international committee, through its commitment to human rights and through its solid support for this Government—as well as previous ones—when intervening on the world stage through the ILO and many other bodies, whether it is working to help improve the conditions of workers in Bangladeshi factories, people in prison or the like. I hope the Government will be able to commit to continuing our help for the trade union movement’s operations and fully utilise them in driving forward our foreign policy.
My Lords, the gracious Speech had just one paragraph on defence—
My Lords, it is time for the Statement.