Debate (2nd Day) (Continued)
My Lords, following the last debate on Iran, I think it is wise to take a step back from the detail, to which we shall shortly return, to consider culture and principle.
Twenty-twenty vision is something that, if claimed, proves only that the claimant is deluded. However, leaving fantasists to one side for a moment, we might take some wisdom from the late former Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, Helmut Schmidt. At the age of 91, he wrote a book called Ausser Dienst, or “out of office”, in which he advises young Germans considering a career in politics not to do so unless they speak at least two foreign languages to a competent degree. His reason? You can only understand your own culture if you look at it through the eyes of another culture, and to do that you need language; some things cannot be translated.
On the anniversary this week of Anthony Eden’s resignation in the wake of Suez, and as the UK plans to leave the European Union and unleash its potential on a waiting world, Schmidt’s advice is both prescient and apposite. The British Government should never take it for granted that living on an island generates a very particular, if not peculiar, psychology and that this has an impact not only on how we understand ourselves but on how we perceive the way we are perceived by other nations. This is why the first couple of years of the post-referendum Brexit debate led to incredulity and bewilderment among many of those looking at us from the outside.
Behind all the politics and trading technicalities of Brexit lies the ineluctable fact that, on this hyperconnected, small planet, no policy on anything can ignore its implications for the wider picture. Foreign policy is not primarily about “us” directed at “them”, but rather “us” behaving as part of “them”. Integral to this is the first rule of negotiation: to look through the eyes of the interlocutor in order to see ourselves as we are seen. In other words, we need our Government to go beyond easy slogans such as “Get Brexit done”, or even “Global Britain”, and consider how actual policy is to be worked out with real people and how the implications and consequences of that policy are to be understood and responded to by those with whom we claim to be interconnected partners. I am seeking here not to avoid the pragmatics of policy-making—no doubt other noble Lords will attend to that—but to argue that there is an urgent need for this Government to look beneath the political game-playing to the deeper, long-term dynamics of both ethical substance and communication.
I will not be alone in noting that the language of insulting other European Union countries, as if they were not listening or could not understand English, has now changed to the language of “our friends and partners” in Europe. That is good, but our friends and partners will not have forgotten and they are not stupid.
The UK’s response to the assassination of General Soleimani in Baghdad last week, as we have just discussed, further exposes both the interconnectedness of foreign policies and the particular impact of trade dependency on the United States of Donald Trump—something that will not be lost on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe or her family.
Daily reading of the Bible, which is in my job description, reinforces a sense of the transience of power in history. The Old Testament shows that quick and obvious defence alliances often led to terrible longer-term enslavements. Empires came and went, their hubris dribbling away into deserts of exiled misery, and powers and rulers never learned, even when they seduced their people into what turned out to be false securities.
Ethics is, first and foremost, an exercise in sympathy, looking through the eyes of others. The ethics of our foreign policy priorities must begin with an understanding of what drives other countries in their domestic and foreign policies, and a cultivated willingness to shape ours in the light of how we are seen by others.
I hope that the Government, with some humility and deeper cultural thinking, might just listen to those who wish to see global justice and peace worked out in this complex world by people who are not driven by claims to power but by the imperatives of mutual human flourishing.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to make my maiden speech on the gracious Speech. Allow me to introduce myself. I am from Downpatrick in Northern Ireland. I have been steeped in politics and have represented the Downpatrick area for decades: as MP for South Down, as a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and before that as a local councillor. I have also had the privilege of being the SDLP party leader and of representing my party in government as Minister for Social Development in the power-sharing Executive.
I have been delighted to be able to include Downpatrick in my title in this House. It captures the place where I live and where I have dedicated my political service to date. Downpatrick is also well known as the last resting place of our national saint, Patrick, and the place most closely associated with him. Patrick was a fifth-century pluralist who championed the Christian message in Ireland and whose heritage today belongs to everyone. His unifying message, which long predates any of our historical quarrels or divisions, can bring people together in our divided land. It also informs how I go about the business of politics. I believe that we have to transcend political, ethnic, religious and other differences to compromise and co-operate so as to bring about the essential healing that is required in our fractious world today. So that is Downpatrick—my origins and my title.
I am also an Irish nationalist of the social democratic tradition and a firm believer in pluralism, inclusion and building reconciliation. I am a firm supporter of the principles of the Good Friday agreement, and sit next to the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, one of the negotiators of that agreement. Indeed, the Good Friday agreement is the embodiment of my political philosophy—respect for difference, partnership, unity in diversity.
The Queen’s Speech deals with so many issues that it is impossible to address them in a short contribution. Today’s selected topics are all, shall we say, impacted upon by Brexit. Of course I want to deal with that and Northern Ireland. Brexit has now become one of the greatest political issues in, and between, Britain and Ireland. It has consumed all aspects of our lives in Northern Ireland since the referendum of June 2016, where in the majority people voted to remain. It has impacted on and reawakened controversy around issues of identity, nationality and sovereignty. It has also undermined the very principles of the Good Friday agreement in relation to reconciliation and building a shared society. It has deepened political divisions at a time when our political institutions were already unstable and has allowed some parties to characterise proposed trading arrangements as “life or death” constitutional determinations.
Like the majority in Northern Ireland, I prefer and want to remain in the EU but acknowledge that with the Government’s majority in this Parliament we will soon leave. But we will be leaving the one institution that has helped provide so much political, social and economic stability on the island of Ireland. Membership of the EU has contributed significantly to reconciliation and to the development of our economy and infra- structure.
I hope that in their forthcoming EU negotiations, the Government ensure that this international underpinning can be sustained in any new working arrangements. I come from an area that includes our two most important fishing ports in County Down. I have heard and understood the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, referring to the fishing industry and the fisheries Bill. However, the fishing industry has a great deal of insistence that our current unfettered access to the British market must continue. Put simply, we do not want borders in Ireland or the Irish Sea, or any increase in bureaucracy. I hope this can be addressed and resolved.
In my final few minutes, I want to address the pressing issue of the need to reinstall political institutions in Northern Ireland and the principal institutions of the Good Friday agreement. People abdicated the responsibility some three years ago. That led to the collapse of those institutions. At the door, the one thing that people said that they wanted was those institutions up and running, delivering for our people in health and education and dealing with the impact of Brexit. They also wanted people to take their seats in the other place, because they wanted all these issues to be urgently addressed.
Along with other noble Lords, my priority will be to work towards building reconciliation, fairness, equality and a shared society in Northern Ireland. This must include a plan to end division and to bring down the physical and mental walls of division. I hope that we can work across this House to support a process of moderation and peaceful politics in Northern Ireland, a comprehensive trading deal with the EU to assist our economy and a plan to end austerity and poverty, particularly the ongoing punitive nature of welfare reform.
Above all, I hope to contribute to a recovering politics in this Parliament, a politics that must recover from the battering it has taken from the intolerance, dishonesty and revisionism that have surrounded the Brexit discourse. Many of us are horrified at the state of politics today. We now live in a world of lies and exaggeration, of voter distrust and of fake news. We must pass on better politics to the next generation and get beyond slogans and spin. In this context, I am reminded of a quotation from a famous Irish thinker and poet, George Russell, who said:
“No blazoned banner we unfold—
One charge alone we give to youth,
Against the sceptred myth to hold
The golden heresy of truth.”
Along with your Lordships, I want to make my contribution to ensuring that we can make that plan towards reconciliation, within Britain and between Britain and Northern Ireland.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. We have listened with great interest and admiration, and in much agreement with what she says. She brings a unique experience to this House in all the fields that she has served, and she comes from a part of the United Kingdom which deserves her voice in its affairs. She was quoted recently in the Irish Times as saying:
“Politics… is about serving, it is about reflecting, it is about representing. And I believe the House of Lords offers that opportunity”.
In that, and in many other things, she is absolutely right. We look forward to hearing more from her in the future.
This Government came to power last month with a mandate and a majority gifted by, let it be said, the incompetence and stupidity of the Labour leadership. But even if the Prime Minister has power, he has serious dilemmas to face as well. Leaving aside the claim of “getting Brexit done”, which cannot be done in the promised timescale, he also has on his plate a series of promises and spending commitments that will require serious and very difficult choices to be made, and made very soon. He has promised inside a finite budget more money for education, health, the police and more for the north of England, and then Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will also make demands to keep the union together. He is also committed to at least 2% of GDP for defence and he has to live within the legal straitjacket of 0.7% for overseas aid.
What the Prime Minister does not have is any kind of national consensus on what the country thinks should be the priority on these often competing and occasionally contradictory ambitions. Without some form of consensus, someone, some group, some region, some special interest, some needy area or some raised expectation is bound to be disappointed and let down, and thereafter any popularity will vaporise.
A few weeks ago, I chaired a group of 20 distinguished experts, some from this House, appropriately held in the Cabinet War Rooms to discuss, under the auspices of the new Bletchley initiative, what should be our country’s role in a world of Presidents Trump, Putin and Xi. Each of our experts had to bring with them three specific ideas for the table, and the resulting discussion and report was fascinating and revealing. I am happy to supply a copy to anybody who wants it. But the main and unanimous conclusion was that there is an urgent need for a bottom-up national conversation on where our country is heading and its future place in the world. Brexit amplifies that particular need, but it is not its only driver.
If we want, as many in this debate will rightly demand, more money for defence, security and diplomacy, especially in what is an unpredictable, volatile and increasingly dangerous world, as we have seen even in the last seven days, the question is: what gives way in the shopping list of budget items to pay for it? If we genuinely need to spend, for example, more on education, the NHS and long-term care, crime and punishment, because all those items impact directly on every citizen, but we simultaneously need to spend more on defending and making safe those citizens, what do we give up to make it happen?
Some will say that the election fixed the priority orderings, but it certainly did not. Boris Johnson has an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons but based on only 44% of those voting. Indeed, given that turnout was 67%, he obtained only 29% support from the British electorate. So that, in our perverse way, provides a healthy Commons majority but not by any stretch of the imagination is there any consensus on national priorities.
Can a national conversation with unprecedented public consultation actually be had? The answer is “not easily”, but I believe that it should and can be done. In 1997 and 1998, I conducted with the late Robin Cook a strategic defence review based on building from first principles Britain’s defence on an agreed foreign policy baseline. We involved the public, Parliament, pressure groups, civic society and every level in the Armed Forces. The outcome was to be ambitious. It was trail-blazing and, most importantly, it was accepted. It lasted for an unprecedented 11 years.
Similarly, the Scottish Constitutional Convention was established in the early 1990s to build a consensus plan for a devolved Scottish legislature. It involved politicians—even from the two parties that boycotted the process—and a wide stratum of the public. At the end it provided a blueprint for the 74% endorsement in the 1997 referendum and 20 years of the Holyrood Parliament.
Then we can take President Macron’s radical consultation and conversation which followed the yellow vest protests last year. He and his Ministers went out to the country and engaged his citizens, putting the choices and listening to the answers. Notwithstanding some of the recent protests on pension reform, the yellow vests and their protests have now been marginalised, so it can be done, and in our divided country we desperately need to reach out with the dilemmas, the hard choices and the possible solutions which face us all and then to listen to what the people tell us.
My Lords, I rise to speak about the climate emergency and declare an interest as a member of the advisory board of the Environmental Change Institute in the University of Oxford. It is a privilege to share in this debate and particularly to welcome the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. Her commitment to her local community and depth of wisdom are very clear.
The Minister said in his opening address that climate change will test us all, and it will. David Wallace-Wells’s book, The Uninhabitable Earth, should be required reading for every Member of this House as we move forward. Wallace-Wells begins his graphic description of the future of the earth with the unforgettable words:
“It is much, much worse than you think.”
He goes on to describe the effects and the economic costs of bushfires, drought, mass migration, sea and air pollution, flooding and extreme weather. I read Wallace-Wells early last year and have now watched his words become the lived reality of people in California, Australia—as we noted earlier this afternoon—across South Africa and Indonesia and, closer to home, in the floods in South Yorkshire.
We are living through an environmental catastrophe and that catastrophe will increasingly shape our foreign and domestic policy, economic life and politics over the next decade. The science is clear. The needs are urgent. How will we respond? I welcome all that the Minister said. The Government are to be congratulated on embracing the target of net zero by 2050 and their ambition to lead the COP talks in November. The talks have the potential to change the world in the next generation. I welcome all that the Minister said about the priority of climate change and the range of measures we can expect.
The challenge now is to realise this vision with specific, planned action. First, we need a detailed, accountable plan of how our economy will reach net zero by 2050 or earlier. If we are serious, we must have a year-by-year accountable strategy. Secondly, Governments and responsible investors, including the churches, need to stop investing in and subsidising fossil fuels and invest in renewables here and across the world, as Mark Carney has recently argued very powerfully. Thirdly, let us have some further bold initiatives to show the world that the United Kingdom means business, that we can reach these targets and that we have the courage to bring forward the ban on petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030, to fund an ambitious new home energy programme and to give more detail on the projected investment in mitigation and flood defences here and overseas.
There is a moral imperative to act for the sake of the earth and for the sake of the poorest—those who have contributed least to climate change are suffering the most and will suffer most in the future—but this is one of those very rare moments when to do the right thing ethically is also doing the right thing for the economic prosperity of the country and our place in the world. The cost of acting slowly is increasing. The 2018 forest fires in California have so far cost $400 billion—the equivalent of the entire US defence budget.
Every year now counts. Your Lordships will remember the story in the Book of Genesis of Pharaoh’s dream, interpreted by Joseph: seven fat cows consumed by seven thin cows; seven years of plenty devoured by seven years of famine. We have no need of Joseph to interpret the impending disaster—we have the IPCC and the global scientific community—but we need a Government with the wisdom of Joseph to use these next seven years well and to put us on a pathway to recovery with a new agenda for the next decade for the world. We must not fail.
My Lords, after those wise words, I begin by declaring my interests as listed in the register: as president of the Royal Commonwealth Society and as an adviser to major Japanese companies and to the Kuwait Investment Office.
There are some very good and not-so-good aspects of the gracious Speech to be noted this time—of course, it is the second in the past year. To start with the best bits, it is obviously good to see the end of the Brexit deadlock in clear sight. The previously paralysed Parliament, which some of us had been pointing out for a long time could be cured only by a fresh election, has now duly been replaced and is a thing of the past. I agree that there are problems with our immediate neighbours to be resolved and arrangements to be harmonised after 31 January, but we plainly do not want to be tied to, or held back by, any kind of so-called dynamic alignment with an EU, which is so obviously stuck in the past and going through its own severe contortions, and which everyone recognises is in serious need of reform.
There is, of course, the usual crowd saying that the time made available to settle relations with the rest of the EU is impossible—that is the latest moan—but in many cases they are the same people who said that it was impossible for Mr Johnson to strike another deal, that the Irish border problem could never be resolved and that there would be another hung Parliament and that an election would solve nothing. So is there any reason to give their opinions now much weight? The answer is no.
The other sort-of-good-news bit of the Speech is that there is to be an integrated—I like that word—review of Britain’s place in the world and foreign policy. Frankly, this is long overdue. It should have been held at least a decade or more ago, as the digital age and the new networked world took hold and changed the entire pattern of international relations and power. Had we done that, we would long ago, and much sooner, have discovered, first, that we need to engage far more purposefully in Asia, where power now lies and where vast new markets, in which we must succeed to survive and prosper, have already arisen.
Secondly, we would have discovered that the United States of America stays a good friend but that the relationship has changed from the old pattern of 70 years past, and that even before Trump appeared it was clear that our world views no longer coincided. A new relationship should have been built up long ago. Meanwhile, we are subjected to dim-witted columnists who write about an alleged choice between Europe and America that does not exist. Have these people forgotten about China’s growing role in the Middle East and world affairs and that we now live in a network world, or that in any case we already have reasonably good trade relations with America? I fully share the view that Iran is a great nation that has been dragged down by the mullahs, from whose narrow, bigoted rule Iranians must be freed, but I do not believe that assassinations of their blood-soaked generals is the right way to go about it. The nuclear agreement with Iran finally having been finished off certainly makes the whole world a very much more dangerous place.
Thirdly, we should have realised much sooner that relations with China were becoming crucial, although they needed to be carefully balanced with our relations with the third richest nation on earth—measured by GDP if that means anything—namely Japan, which always saw us as its best friend in the West but which we keep overlooking. We might also have managed the Hong Kong situation better had we had better dialogue with Beijing.
Fourthly, we should have seen earlier that defence and security have come to change their meaning in the age of cyber warfare, drones, street terrorism and nuclear weapons development. We might then have avoided the disastrous decisions which have been made by those in charge of our defence procurement in recent years, which must now be corrected. We might have perceived earlier that NATO’s purposes and structures needed radical overhaul in this utterly changed digital age.
We might have realised sooner that, while we must continue to contribute heavily to the welfare of humankind, the idea of our enormous DfID budget being completely separate from our overseas power deployment and foreign policy is absurd and wasteful. Finally, we might have grasped quicker that all kinds of new networks have grown up across the planet, not necessarily between Governments but between professions, interests, young people, business and trade in services and knowledge products in which Britain should be seeking the closest possible involvement, not least with the Commonwealth, the biggest network of all, in which we are fortunate, although barely deserve, to be members.
That brings me to my final comment. Although the Commonwealth was rightly mentioned by my noble friend Lord Gardiner, there was, alas, no mention of it at all in the gracious Speech—either this one or the last one. That, I think, was a discourtesy to Her Majesty who, after all, is head of the Commonwealth to which she has devoted most of her reign. It may sound a minor omission, but it tells us clearly one thing: that the strategists and mandarins deep in Whitehall have simply not yet grasped the nature of Britain’s modern exceptionalism, new world role or potentialities in a shifting international order.
My Lords, I want to make a few comments on the integrated security, defence and foreign policy review, which is a welcome development in the Government’s plans for the next five years.
I note that the Government will consider the,
“freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law”
of foreign nations and how this interacts with our own interests. I hope that the Minister will agree with these Benches that any such review should also include religious persecution, drawing on the work and recent report of the Foreign Office, assisted by the Bishop of Truro, on the persecution of Christians.
Of course, this is not just about Christians being persecuted. Many Members of this House share my concern at the persecution by the Myanmar Government of Rohingya Muslims and the increasingly desperate situation facing Uighurs in Xinjiang province. The use of alleged detainment camps, the attempts by the People’s Republic of China to distract attention from the destruction of historic places of worship, and the suppression of Uighur culture is shocking.
I hope that any strategic review will be able to explain to this House and indeed the wider world, which looks to our democracy as a beacon of hope, how issues of religious persecution will be treated by any future UK Government. The nation’s withdrawal from the EU must not be a cause of pursuing “strategic interests” and commerce at the expense of challenging nations concerning issues of persecution. Can the Minister confirm that this will be considered and emphasised in the review?
Many in this House have shared my concerns about the Ebola crisis in the DRC. I have been pleased to meet with Ministers to discuss the matter and I was heartened by the comment of the Minister about Her Majesty’s commitment to tackling this dreadful epidemic. The situation is complicated due to the brutal massacres carried out by ADF and the subsequent breakdown of trust between local communities and the UN, leading to the latter’s withdrawal from some Ebola treatment centres. My most reverend friend the Archbishop of Canterbury—who was here earlier but sadly could not be here for the whole debate and was unable to speak—has had calls with the UN Secretary-General and the Vatican to explore ways to rebuild community relationships.
The UK Government’s support is needed to help MONUSCO’s reform, ensuring that it works more effectively with communities and the Congolese army, and to prepare for a post-Ebola period. As churches are often the only organisations left on the ground in these war zones, we are uniquely placed to deliver assistance, with the aid of the UK Government, and to use our networks to provide health education programmes. These are being rolled out at present through the churches in areas where some of the aid agencies are no longer able to operate.
I turn to the peace process in South Sudan. It has been encouraging to see some signs of progress in the last month, but sustained pressure from the UK Government is required to ensure that the transition maintains the ceasefire and benefits all the people. Pressure on the deadline alone without tackling outstanding divisive issues—particularly the number of states and boundaries, and unified security—risks a return to conflict and oppressive rule by the incumbent Government. Recently the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, along with the Pope and the former Moderator of the Church of Scotland, sent an unprecedented joint letter to the political leaders, four of whom participated in the Vatican retreat in April 2019, encouraging a
“renewed commitment to the path of reconciliation and fraternity”.
It is important that political pressure is added to this initiative. Can the Minister assure us that this will be followed up and that peacebuilding in the region will be part of this urgently needed review, to which we look forward in the coming months?
My Lords, we are in a highly volatile and dangerous world, but despite that I am afraid that Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech is rather light on defence. I have become used to what successive Prime Ministers have described as the most important responsibility for any Government, the defence and security of our nation and people—and of course it is—being consigned to the end of the speech, and on this occasion only 26 words nod towards the funding necessary to ensure our nation has the requisite Armed Forces.
The statement that:
“My Government will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces”
is meaningless. There are presumably idealists who would not wish to invest in our Armed Forces, but in this very dangerous world, while we may try to avoid conflict, the same, I am afraid, is not true of everyone whom we confront in this world. Hilaire Belloc captured the reality with his little rhyme:
“Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight,
But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.”
I do not want my nation to be killed.
The Government quite correctly plan to undertake an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review to reassess the nation’s place in the world. That is absolutely right and I am delighted that it is going ahead. We need clarity over our foreign policy now that so many of the old certainties have disappeared and been replaced by confusion. However, I am concerned about the basis on which the review is being conducted. Downing Street has started setting out parameters, one of which is that
“the new strategy will seek to modernise defence”—
“while reducing costs in the long term.”
The 2010 and 2015 SDSRs were incoherent cost-cutting exercises with little regard to strategy or strategic thought. It seems that our political culture recognises only as much threat as it is willing to spend money on, rather than the realities of the world. One of our many strategic delusions is to undertake reviews that set objectives based on an analysis of the strategic environment and then simply refuse to fund the consequent strategy.
Since the last SDSR in 2015, a growing number of defence experts, many of them in this House, have pointed out that there is not sufficient money in the defence budget for the planned defence force 2025. I personally have raised that issue on numerous occasions. Time and again we have been told that we are wrong and everything is fine. Lo and behold, on 20 December the Defence Secretary said that there was a shortfall in funding in the Ministry of Defence budget—what a surprise—and the military will have to
“cut its cloth to meet its ambitions.”
That is an insult. These are not the military’s ambitions but, rather, the requirement identified by the Government in SDSR 2015 to ensure the security of our nation and people, which has not been properly funded.
I am afraid that there is a large lobby, including senior officials in Whitehall. who are willing to take ever greater risks with the defence of our nation. As for spads’ advice, well, defence spending is not a vote winner, so we get no joy from them at all.
We have taken risk on risk, and I fear that trying to use cyber and the impact of the fourth industrial revolution as a way of saving money and pretending that our forces have the same effect is naive in the extreme. Yes of course there have been these huge changes. I was the first Cyber Minister in 2009; I am aware of these changes. But that does not mean you can save money on defence by using these other ways of fighting. Kinetic effect is still very important.
In the gracious Speech, the Government say they will promote and expand the UK’s interests and influence in the world, stand firm against those who threaten the UK’s values and try to encourage peace and security globally. All of this demands hard, as well as soft, power, and I am afraid that the Government are not investing in hard power. They will not achieve any of these things unless we have hard, as well as soft, power.
I do, however, Mr Cummings’s concerns about defence procurement, which needs a shake-up, but let us be clear: politicians have been guilty over the years of repeatedly seeking cost savings during build that reduce capability and push up cost; delaying main-gate decisions, again boosting costs; changing their minds about what they want an asset to do; and repeatedly changing their minds about the number of assets to be procured, then pushing up development and construction costs per unit. They have done this again and again, so it is not clear-cut. The aircraft carrier programme suffered all of these, but, despite that, Britain has now paid for and has in service two world-beating aircraft carriers—thank goodness —even though successive British Governments have done all they could to destroy our shipbuilding industry.
The Prime Minister recently stated that our nation requires
“a shipbuilding industry and Royal Navy that reflect the importance of the seas to our security and prosperity.”
Hurrah for that. The recent order of five frigates to replace those going out of service does not achieve this aim. Our shipyards and SMEs are collapsing. They need commitment and a large rolling programme, and the Navy is desperate for more ships. The shortage has already been felt in the Gulf. Should—God forfend—there be military action in the Gulf, we may find that we are wanting. Expansion of the fleet and enhanced defence spending are an urgent requirement.
My Lords, initially I want to note how little reference there is in the gracious Speech to the needs of children, except in the realm of education. There is nothing about children’s first 1,000 days, nor any firm commitment to tackle the iniquity of child poverty. How we treat children speaks volumes for where our priorities lie. Could the Minister please comment on this omission?
Before proceeding further, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her passionate and insightful maiden speech.
I welcome the focus of the gracious Speech on the United Kingdom’s international engagement. However, some of the language used concerns me. All people, in all nations, are loved by God. The commitment to uphold human rights globally recognises this and, as we leave the EU, we must look outwards to avoid isolation. I worry, though, that our international focus is on how the UK stands on the international stage after Brexit, rather than on how we use that position, particularly how we use it to alleviate crippling poverty in developing countries. We must not have a solely self-centred approach to our international affairs. If DfID is merged with the FCO, there is a worry that UK aid will be used to advance UK foreign policy as opposed to being invested in alleviating poverty. Can the Minister allay our fears on this?
I welcome the Government’s continuing commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on overseas aid, but will the Government confirm that this will be used not for our own gain but solely for the relief of poverty, tackling climate change and development?
In July, 1,142 bishops and spouses of the Anglican Communion across the globe will gather at the Lambeth Conference, many of them from nations tackling deep poverty and facing the direct impacts of climate change. They demonstrate that local church communities are excellent deliverers of sustainable development. Will the Government commit to continue to work with development agencies, such as Christian Aid and Tearfund, to deliver, through faith communities, the best use of development aid?
Aid alone, however, cannot tackle the task of lifting the poorest out of poverty. Trade will always be more significant than aid. So, with a fresh vision for trade, could we not seize the opportunity to lead the way in helping to improve trading for and with the poorest nations? We can surely offer a better model than the investment and support provided by nations such as China and Russia to nations such as Burundi and Rwanda, which often exploit natural resources and do not build the local economy, skills and knowledge in the long term. Let us look justly for trade deals with poorer nations which help them to develop, recognising that mutual benefit is better than exploitative practices.
I therefore note with pleasure the commitment in the gracious Speech to stop the export of polluting waste to countries outside the OECD. According to Tearfund, every 30 seconds someone dies because of diseases caused by plastic pollution. Many communities cannot adequately dispose of their plastic waste. Countries are themselves aware of the problem of multinational consumer goods companies selling single-use plastics, so the Rwandan Government were the very first to ban plastic carrier bags—way ahead of us. How will the Government ensure that life-saving aid money which is given to subsidise private sector investment in continents such as Africa is not used to commit environmental violations?
It was a shame that the gracious Speech did not commit to stop investing in fossil fuels. Our international development must be sustainable, investing in initiatives that focus on developing small community projects that create innovative off-grid access to energy.
Agriculture is vital in international development; it is also vital here. Along with hospitality, social care and other so-called lower-skill industries, agriculture requires good migrant labour. Any points-based immigration system must ensure these needs are met and uphold our value of treating all well. This includes refugees and asylum seekers. Here is one idea: if vulnerable refugees have skills we require, could we add points to assist them as migrants? This leads me back to where I began, on vulnerable children. The provisions dealt with in Clause 37 of the EU withdrawal Bill need to be retained to protect the most exposed children in our world.
My Lords, wishing to reflect those sensible calls for post-general election result renewal and reconciliation, I set about ransacking our party manifestos for any evidence that there might be a consensus between the parties. To my surprise but delight, the most striking evidence of consensus is on the need to plant more trees. Whatever the numbers, I believe we should plant trees early, plant well and plant native, by planting lots of broadleaf trees where possible and resisting the needless cutting down of trees and hedges in town and country alike. That is why I welcome so much what my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble had to say about the importance of trees when he introduced this debate.
The UK is certainly not well wooded by international standards. At one end of my Westminster and home commuting life, we live in one of the very least well wooded districts in England, South Somerset. We certainly need new housing but, alas, just as they simply do not make new land any more on which to build new housing, it is important that sites must be carefully chosen, with trees which are needed for health and wildlife. Trees are an integral part of not just a new place but creating a sense of place, giving people something to share and something to breathe. There should be at least two new trees planted for every new house or apartment built in this country, in addition to which every street should have some fruit trees—and not just those landscape architects’ street trees.
This should be paralleled by a national consensus that we need a complete moratorium on the needless cutting down of trees and hedges: no more chainsaw massacres, as alas we saw in Sheffield. I hope that the relatively new Sheffield city region, which I wish well, will now undertake to make recompense by replanting at least one tree for every one that was needlessly cut down. Replanting in cities is just like rewilding in the countryside, and greatly needed. In saying this, I know that I point a finger at one particular political party but I can also point it at the Liberal Democrats. For example, I live in a Liberal Democrat-run area in South Somerset. I am pretty unusual in this, just as their control is pretty unusual in the rest of the country, and I regret the way in which they permitted past developments to happen without adequate tree cover, and sometimes with such loose planning provisions that developers have been able to ignore those glamorous drawings which they put before councils. We have not seen those trees.
In the same way, I am quite prepared to criticise my own party—the Tory party—in Somerset. Over the years there, the highway authority has needlessly and grossly overlit the streets with ugly sodium and yellow lights, which has done no end of damage to nightlife and people’s sleeping. It has always been put forward as good for road safety but, as shown by the Department for Transport, there is no indication that there is any automatic link between reducing street lighting and an increase in road accidents. It is quite clear that the dumping into the night sky of unnecessary light pollution is just the same as the dumping on street corners, roadsides and highways of litter. All local councils should give this considerable thought. If it is good for children to see some fruit trees in the streets of new housing developments, it is very good for them to be able to see the stars as well. Local authorities have a major contribution to make in this respect.
I end as I began. It is good to see compromise, if it can be found, but of course I recognise that political parties come into existence to reflect and nurture different points of view, so compromise is never easy. But in seeking compromise, at least the body politic in this country can look at the Conservative Party and know what the nature of our conversation with the nation is to be over the next decade. Many commentators now say that with the lengthy elections we are to have for the leadership of the Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, and the possibility of more than one Labour or Liberal Democrat leader in the 2020s—we are only just in the foothills of the 2020s—we urgently need to know what sort of conversation the opposition parties want to have with the nation. For good or bad, we are entirely transparent as to what we wish to do. We have no idea at all—it is a bit of a magical mystery tour—what kind of national conversation Labour and Liberal Democrats wish to have. That is bad for democracy.
My Lords, I was glad to see Cyprus mentioned in the Tory manifesto in the context of resolving the long-standing and damaging division of that island. This division quite unfairly penalises the Turkish Cypriots, through no fault of their own. It has now continued for 50 years and the plight of the Turkish Cypriots gets worse. Economic output lags behind, trade is significantly embargoed and dependence on an increasingly erratic Turkey increases. The existence of a distinct Turkish Cypriot identity is also under real threat, as Turkish immigration increases.
Ever since the de facto partition of the island, however, there have been efforts to reunite it. The latest efforts began in 2015 with the election of President Anastasiades in the Greek south and President Akinci in the Turkish north. Talks continued until a final conference in Crans Montana in July 2017, when negotiations collapsed at the very last moment. The United Kingdom had been heavily involved in these talks, not only because of our long historical connection with Cyprus but because we remained—and remain—a guarantor power. Blame for this collapse was, of course, attributed by each side to the other. Things have not stood still since then. The entire eastern Mediterranean region is enormously more turbulent and less stable, while behaviour becomes harder to predict with any confidence at all. The north of the island continues to live under an unfair, unjust and unnecessary embargo; the south continues to be a magnet for Russian money and influence. The undersea oil and gas assets around the island are contributing to greatly increased tensions rather than to greatly increased prosperity. Turkey remains a significant factor in how and by whom these resources are developed. It has taken an increasingly assertive stance over drilling rights. Warships have been deployed.
Equally, proposals to build a new undersea pipeline from Israel to Greece and Italy via south Cyprus and Crete, signed last Thursday, have been condemned as unrealistic, provocative and needlessly expensive. Turkey has stated bluntly that no project can be successful that excludes Turkey and Turkish Cypriots.
Despite all this, there are some grounds for guarded optimism. In his report on Cyprus of last November, the UN Secretary-General says:
“I continue to hold out hope that a durable settlement to the Cyprus problem can be achieved … I have continually emphasized that natural resources in and around Cyprus constitute a strong incentive for a mutually acceptable and durable solution”.
He also notes the findings of the recent World Bank public perception survey financed by the EU. This shows that a majority of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots found that the status quo was unacceptable and that support for a settlement had reached an all-time high, with a clear majority of respondents being in favour. The same survey also confirmed that the only mutually acceptable solution remains the bi-communal, bi-zonal federation model.
What can the UK do to continue to help? I suggest three measures for the Government’s consideration. The first is to remove the requirement that all passengers travelling from London to Ercan in Northern Cyprus must deplane with all their baggage to undergo security checks in Turkey. We imposed this condition relatively recently and we could lift it. I know from conversations with President Akinci and his officials that they would install and allow monitoring of any equipment or security regime we thought necessary.
The second measure is to investigate and encourage with other interested parties means of improving access for the north to international capital and investment. The third is to build on the success of the limited number of confidence-building measures by providing help and advice on the implementation of the further 21 measures proposed by the UN Secretary-General in February 2019. Any of these would greatly help and I commend them to the Government.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. I join others in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her maiden speech. I much look forward to further contributions from her—and that is not just politeness.
I shall assume that we leave the European Union on 31 January and that—no doubt with a bit of turbulence towards the end of the year—we end the transition period more or less on time. The question is what Britain’s role in the world will be beyond that and how, to quote the previous gracious Speech, the UK is to
“play a leading role in global affairs … alongside international partners to solve the most pressing global challenges.”
The aim is admirable; achieving it is far more difficult, especially in a world increasingly dominated by an oscillating relationship between the US and China and by an irascible and unpredictable US President capable of taking unilateral and dangerous decisions, as with the assassination in Baghdad of Qasem Suleimani.
There are two precepts that we need to follow. The first is that we need a clear sense of our own interests and values. We should not associate ourselves with the United States if it is wrong and we should not distance ourselves from other Europeans if they are right. For example, the Government have been absolutely right not to condone the US action in assassinating Qasem Suleimani and to work with the French and Germans to try to defuse tension now. The Government have also been absolutely right to oppose any attacks on cultural sites.
The second precept, difficult though it may be now, is to work with others to strengthen the multilateral system and the role of international organisations. That will be tough for two reasons: first, because the tendency at the moment is away from multilateralism and away from respect and support for international organisations—and I greatly regret that—and, secondly, because it is not cost-free. Playing the active and leading role in global affairs envisaged in the gracious Speech will require, as well as active diplomacy and a properly funded Diplomatic Service, on which I greatly welcomed the remarks made by the Minister in his opening speech, maintaining or exceeding the 2% of GDP contributed to NATO, maintaining or exceeding the 0.7% of GDP allocated to international development, and—for which all these are necessary preconditions—playing an active and effective role in the UN Security Council and in equally important but often neglected other aspects of the UN’s work, particularly in the developing world.
Finally, and closer to home, I would be grateful for the Minister’s assurance that the integrity of DfID will be preserved. It makes sense, as others have said, to look at how foreign policy, defence policy and aid policy can be better integrated, complementing and not conflicting with one another, through a stronger role for the National Security Council or closer links between DfID and the FCO, or both. However, the FCO, despite its many strengths, is not good at managing very large sums of money, and foreign policy often has short-term objectives, while effective aid requires a long-term perspective. Whatever new foreign policy governance arrangements emerge from the review, DfID needs to remain responsible for managing its own budget. I hope, as others have asked, too, that the Minister will assure us that that will be the case.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in welcoming the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. How welcome it is to hear the voice of the SDLP after those of John Hume and Seamus Mallon, balancing out unionist voices. Those voices are important, but the constitutional nationalist voice has for too long been silent.
I also welcome the parade of Bishops that we have had in this debate so far. I hope that they will listen carefully to what I am going to talk about, because I think they have a particular contribution to make. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, talked about the United Kingdom continuing to play an important role in the world, and that is what the Queen’s Speech says:
“My Government will work to promote and expand the United Kingdom’s influence in the world.”
One issue on which the world must work together and which has suddenly had far greater attention—this came out clearly in my noble friend the Minister’s speech, in which he devoted an exceptional amount of time to it—is climate change. We recognise that, and a number of other noble Lords have talked about it. However, there is another issue which is every bit as important but about which too little is said—I may be the only person talking about it in this debate—and that is population.
When Queen Victoria delivered her Queen’s Speeches later in her reign, the population of this world was barely 1 billion—noble Lords know these figures very well. When I first came to Parliament in 1970, it had gone up to 3.5 billion. As I stand here today raising this issue, it is now 7.75 billion, and the forecast is that another 1 billion will be added in the next 10 years, with a further 1 billion in the subsequent 10 years, and that, by 2040, we will be up to 10 billion—trebled in our lifetime. As population grows, the challenge of preventing climate change becomes ever more difficult. There is one new coal-fired power station every week among eight Asian countries seeking to raise living standards for their growing populations. The high birth rate in less developed countries traps more and more people in poverty and devastates the local environment. The consequences are ever more obvious: more failed states; increased competition for food, and even more for water, with the tensions that that brings; and mass migration of people. These are not temporary phenomena. They will grow ever larger unless the world works together to agree positive remedies before it is too late.
I am helped in this by a very interesting article written 12 years ago by a promising journalist called Boris Johnson, headed “Global over-population is the real issue”; we should forget global warming. In it, he expresses his dismay that,
“no world statesmen have the guts to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.”
Some 12 years later, with his pledge to work closely with international partners, he should ensure that they do now all have the guts to put population high on the agenda. Then, his proposed remedies included greater literacy, female emancipation and access to birth control. The last line in the gracious Speech proposes sanctions against human rights abuses and ensuring that,
“all girls have access to twelve years of quality education.”
We need to make it possible for individuals to make informed choices for smaller families.
There is an opportunity here which is not always good in connection with our present problems over Iran. Social media can be a huge asset in getting to places that were previously impossible to reach. We see some countries with effective family planning programmes, but all must be encouraged to have them. Our aid programme should be increasingly directed to supporting this. In his article, Boris Johnson complained that certain words had become taboo and that,
“the very discussion of overall human fertility—global motherhood—has become more or less banned.”
More recently, David Attenborough has discussed what he calls the “bizarre taboo” among world leaders against discussing population. He has warned that the demands of mass humanity will destroy not only the natural world but humanity itself. We must break this taboo and I urge our new Prime Minister to read his great article again and give the lead that the world desperately needs.
My Lords, I declare three interests, as a trustee of the Disasters Emergency Committee, chair of Malaria No More UK and co-chair of the cross-party group Peers for the Planet.
Two important international meetings will take place this year. The first is the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June. Alongside CHOGM, there will be a summit on malaria and neglected tropical diseases to assess progress and stimulate action on the objective, set in 2018, to halve malaria in the Commonwealth by 2023. Achievement of that target would make a critical contribution to the bold ambition, laid out in last year’s Lancet commission report, to eliminate malaria entirely by 2050.
So I welcome the Minister’s words about the Government’s commitment to malaria. I hope that his noble friend can confirm, in winding up, that the UK will maintain its current level of investment in malaria at least until 2023 and use its final months as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth to persuade other countries to intensify their own efforts. I hope, too, that she will take on board the wise words of my noble friend Lord Jay of Ewelme, and others, about the importance of maintaining a strong and independent Department for International Development.
The meetings of CHOGM in Kigali and COP26 in Glasgow are far apart geographically, but the links between global health, international development and climate change are close and compelling. The WHO has warned of the risk of a 15% increase in malaria cases over 20 years because of climate change. Some of the poorest countries of the world are already experiencing the effects of droughts, floods and threat to the very existence of small island states. Extreme weather events affect rich and poor alike, as the fires in the United States and Australia demonstrate all too clearly.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford eloquently expressed the potentially catastrophic environmental, economic and social effects of the current trajectory, so I welcomed the obviously heartfelt commitment of the Minister in his speech today and Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to the UK achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. As I said, that is also the target date for the eradication of malaria.
I would love to see both things achieved. I will be 100 in 2050, so if we could speed up the timetable a little, I would be very much in favour of that. But I have to accept that achieving net zero in the UK, even by 2050, will be both complicated and challenging. It will require action not just by government, local and national, but by businesses and academics, citizens and communities, individuals and investors, and even rock bands when they go on tour. This House will have a very important part to play in scrutinising and strengthening relevant legislation and policies.
It will also require political leadership to unite the country in a common cause, and that is the polar opposite of the political climate we have experienced over the last five years. When asked to do their bit, many query why they should even bother when what we as a country can achieve in emission reductions shrinks into insignificance when compared to huge emitters such as China and India and the obduracy of leaders such as Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro.
My response is this: that this country’s contribution will be measured not only in the quantity but in the quality of our response, the quality of our imagination and innovation—from power generation to food production, to the harnessing of pension funds to support a new green economy—and the ability, the quality, of our leadership to provide tools that can be adapted and scaled up by others across the world. In this context, I very much welcome the initiatives by the Prince of Wales and Prince William to stimulate and reward such innovation.
There are reasons for optimism as well as fear about the future, but that optimism will be justified only if we recognise the urgency and scale of the challenge and embrace the need for comprehensive, coherent and collective action.
My Lords, I also welcome the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, and look forward to hearing her contributions to debates on Northern Ireland at a crucial time for the Province’s future. She is a welcome addition to this House’s debates, which have been unbalanced in recent times. I draw attention to my entries in the Register of Members’ Interests, because I will talk specifically and exclusively about the future of international development and the Government’s priorities for it.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to 0.7%. It is an important signal, especially at a time when many people see the UK turning in on itself. However, it does require that official development assistance conforms to both OECD rules and UK law. It is worth recording that we have four Acts of Parliament: the Labour Government’s International Development Act; Tom Clarke’s International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act, about development across departments; Bill Cash’s International Development (Gender Equality) Act; and Michael Moore’s ODA target Act.
This proves just how cross-party the support is for international development and for the continuing autonomy of DfID. I share concerns at the suggestion—not in the manifesto, but being mooted—that DfID and the Foreign Office should merge. I completely agree with other contributions that aid and foreign policy must go hand in hand and co-ordinate and work together, and that there is a political dimension to the delivery of aid and development. All that is true, but it does not in itself logically lead to deciding that we have to merge these two departments.
I suggest that while diplomacy is one thing, development is something quite different. It requires a completely different set of skills and a completely different approach. Where the embassies and DfID have been co-located in countries, it has worked well and been constructive, but if we have a commitment to untied, poverty-focused aid, we also have 20 years of expertise within DfID of managing aid and development programmes. There is a real danger that, if the lead went to the Foreign Office, this could compromise that integrity and actually lead to misspending that I suggest might cause the Government in the end very considerable political embarrassment.
I also want to get some clarification from the Government about how, as we leave the EU, we intend to manage our relationship on development with the EU, which has consistently been voted by the Government as one of their best development partners. Will we continue to have a relationship with the EU? Will we be practically involved in it, and how will we do this in a way that does not also mean that our withdrawal damages the EU’s own development projects? Will UK agencies continue to work with the EU and have government support and encouragement to do so?
Also, will the Government clarify the role of spending in middle-income countries, which actually seems to have grown in recent years? We still have operations in Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Brazil and other countries. Since the Syrian conflict, we have an operation in the Middle East, and considerable resource is going there. What will our priorities be for humanitarian support, for climate change and for development and capacity building? They compete with each other for resources and sometimes, as I have mentioned before in this House, I believe that development and capacity building have been undermined by the commitment to the other two. I am not against them, but I think the balance is important.
In the context of building capacity, I contest—and I declare my interests in this—that parliamentary strengthening and working with policy development in developing countries is relatively low-cost but can be extremely effective and should be encouraged. I have had first-hand experience of that. Funding for CDC has increased substantially in recent years. Again, I am not against that, but what are the Government doing to ensure that that development is actually building capacity and skills in developing countries that is sustainable in the long term? What are they doing to involve British businesses in the process of building those skills and that development in those countries? Will the Government continue to focus on building programmes to support people with disabilities? I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord King, that population is a crucial issue that needs to be addressed. In reality, the issues of population growth and family planning are essential. DfID has a particularly good record on this—in partnership, interestingly enough, with Canada—and I hope that that will continue and grow. I think the noble Lord, Lord King, is absolutely right.
We are far from being late in the debate—there is a lot more to come—but having heard the noble Lords, Lord King and Lord Jay, speak on those issues, I really welcome their contributions, because they speak with real experience and authority. As far as I am concerned, we need to ensure that, while they are co-ordinated, our development objectives can continue to be separate from our foreign policy objectives. We must recognise that population and family planning are crucial to the future of development, and indeed the rights and development of women and families in particular.
My Lords, I doubt that many people would dispute that Britain’s foreign policy—its role in the world—played only a minimal part in the recent general election and figured only marginally in the Queen’s Speech we are debating today, so this is surely a moment when we need to address those issues. This is all the more necessary because we are living through a period of considerable turmoil and disruption, some of it caused by our closest ally, the United States, and we will be embarking on these troubled waters in our new post-Brexit capacity, with less ability to influence policy developments in both Brussels and Washington than we had in the past. Power relationships are shifting, often in ways that do not favour us and our allies and friends. The framework of the rules-based international order, which we ourselves did so much to create over the past 75 years, is being challenged and shaken to its foundations.
During 2020 we will participate in four important international gatherings which will do much to shape the world we live in, for better or for worse, and determine our collective response to some of the main global challenges we face. These four are the nuclear non-proliferation treaty’s quinquennial review in May, which is incidentally the treaty’s 50th anniversary; the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization in Kazakhstan in the summer; the stocktaking on the UN’s sustainable development goals, five years into their 15-year span, in the autumn; and, at the end of the year, the COP 26 meeting in Glasgow on climate change.
The background to the NPT review conference in May is certainly not encouraging. The risks of nuclear war, whether by accident or design, are on the rise; the golden era, from the end of the Cold War in the 1980s until about 2015, when we felt able to discount any chance of nuclear war, has ended; arms control agreements are eroding, with the INF gone and New START, limiting Russian and US strategic weapons, needing renewal next year; and the NPT itself, a cornerstone of international peace and security, is living dangerously, with challenges from North Korea and Iran. How best can the world be moved back on to a path of incremental disarmament and arms control? Can a dialogue on strategic stability between the world’s principal nuclear weapons states, such as existed even at the height of the Cold War, be resumed? Can nuclear weapons states’ military doctrines be made more transparent? Can it be stated again that a nuclear war must not be fought and cannot be won? All these and more questions need to be addressed. I would like to hear how the Government plan to address them during our current rotating chairmanship of the P5 recognised nuclear weapon states, and in New York in May.
On the second event, world trade, for so long an engine of global economic growth, is in the doldrums, disrupted by trade wars, by the unilateral flouting of international rules and by the paralysis of the WTO’s dispute settlement procedures as a result of the US refusal to allow the appointment of new panellists. No part of the rules-based international order is under greater and more immediate threat than the WTO. What plans do the Government have to reverse that trend and to circumvent the paralysis of dispute settlement procedures if the US cannot be persuaded to relent? What prospects are there for plurilateral agreements on trade in services and on digital exchanges, on which so much of our economy now depends? A ministerial answer to these questions would be welcome.
On the sustainable development goals, it would be good to hear how the Government intend to put to good use our leadership role due to the commitment we have made to 0.7% of GNI. How do they see the main thrusts of that expenditure being developed? What are the main shortfalls in the SDGs which need to be remedied this coming autumn, and how will the Government set about doing it?
The task facing COP 26 in Glasgow is a formidable one, whose daunting nature has been underlined by the relative failure of COP 25 in Madrid last month, and it will have to be done without any help at all from our principal ally, the US. It will require advocacy and diplomacy at the highest political level, as was deployed by France when the Paris agreement was put together some years ago. It will also require us to set an example—in actions, not just in words—with our own domestic environmental policies. All the diplomatic advocacy we deploy in the run-up to Glasgow will count for little if we are not putting our money where our mouth is. It would be good to hear something of that in the Government’s plans.
All that is to come in 2020, as well as the 75th anniversary of the UN’s founding. How well we rise to these four challenges will certainly test the claims the Government have made that Brexit will enhance and not diminish our influence in the world. We shall see. That we need to address them with seriousness and determination is surely not in doubt.
My Lords, it is already well-covered ground, but I want to offer a few words on the interconnected issues of defence and security. During the election campaign the Prime Minister pledged the most profound review of Britain’s defence and security needs since the Cold War, and I welcome such an undertaking. As vice-chief in 2010 and as Chief of the Defence Staff in 2015, I experienced both of the last two reviews at close quarters. Both were very much creations of their time.The former was a response to the strategic shock of austerity. The latter was a far more hubristic affair, linking security to prosperity but, in respect of military capability, without ever closing the gap between ambition and resource reality.My honest view of both reviews is that they were exercises in prioritising the affordability of military platforms, garnished with a veneer of strategic insight. They were not that strong on intellectual analysis of a changing strategic context, nor on a redefinition of the UK’s place in the world. I sense most contributors thus far agree.
Permit me a few relevant observations. Contrary to the view currently peddled by some, we do not live in the most dangerous of times. Indeed, there is much evidence to suggest that there has never been a better time to be alive; that societies have become more peaceful; and that we are experiencing historic and sustained low levels of personal and interstate violence.
However, the raw statistics do not necessarily translate into how we perceive our own sense of security. This is partly because we now enjoy a media that is addicted to the sensationalisation of human anxiety but, more significantly, it is because the traditional format of war has been replaced by more insidious forms of interstate rivalry. New vectors of attack, as they are called, have supplanted formal warfare: such things as proxy terrorism, cyberwar, political assassination, disinformation and hybrid warfare, to name the most obvious. When combined with some of the mega-trends of our dynamic planet—climate change, urbanisation, increasing maldistribution of wealth and opportunity, the pace of technical change, the change in demography —we are left feeling very vulnerable at a personal and even at a collective, national level.
I am not so sure about whether this strategic shift from interstate warfare to interstate security malevolence is permanent. What I fear is that we may have started to forget that the relative peace we have enjoyed for the last 70 years or so is not naturally occurring. It is brought about only by the willingness of nations collectively to secure that peace.
The starting point for any profound review of the UK’s defence and security posture is to answer two questions. First, if we want to retain, by and large, the rules by which the world is currently organised, we need to decide how big a role we intend to play in the collective defence of those rules. Secondly, having recognised that, in the new security context, even a relatively peaceful world remains a dangerous one, how much national resource should we devote to ameliorating the new security threats to our people to an acceptable level of risk or societal tolerance?
The first question undoubtedly offers us some strategic choices, which will go a long way towards defining “global Britain” and may offer the opportunity to resolve some of the most serious incoherences of our current defence capability. The second question offers us far less discretion for inaction, and we are already well behind where we need to be in terms of organisation and capability.
Either way, I hope that this House does more to inform the debate than simply deploying nostalgia in support of military interest or supporting the view that some form of procurement alchemy will suddenly make all things affordable. I say this because the Armed Forces consist of sensible people. Institutionalised underfunding is not good for recruiting, retention or morale.
My Lords, there is no doubt either that our leaving the European Union will have profound effects across the board, particularly on our external relations, or that these effects will be felt for several decades to come.
I concede, of course, that the scale of these effects will depend in part on the coming negotiations, for example on the proposed free trade area with the European Union. Will this cover services so vital to us? Will any alignment of our trade policies with the European Union limit, or even block, other likely trade deals? Is the WTO really a valid alternative option, given its enfeeblement following the US refusal to appoint judges for dispute resolution panels, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay?
Obviously, many of the advantages we enjoy in foreign affairs will remain post Brexit, such as our membership of a range of international organisations. Equally, our hard power assets will remain, but the current strength of our Army at 74,000 means that we cannot be everywhere militarily and must surely re-examine our commitments. Our record on soft power is far more impressive. Since its inception in 2015, we have been either first or second in the Portland soft power index. The English language is a major asset for us; as is our vital British Council, which is not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech.
I welcome the long overdue review of all our external departments. I join my noble friend Lord Collins, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in raising questions about the danger of DfID returning to the fold of the FCO. Will HMG be giving evidence—as I assume they will—to the review, and will that evidence actually call for a reintegration of DfID into the FCO?
The decision to implement the Truro recommendations on promoting religious freedom overseas is to be applauded. Does this cover all the recommendations? For example, will all relevant external departments adjust their training policies at all levels, from new entrants to ambassadors? How can we influence the EU to follow our example if we are no longer members? I mention in passing that, many years ago, I went to visit an ambassador who I knew fairly well to press him on the human rights of a religious dissident who was imprisoned. He said rather loftily to me, “Well, human rights is the job of my First Secretary. Why don’t you have a word with him?” That would not be said nowadays, and I welcome the sea change in FCO practices.
The commitment that, once we leave the EU, we shall promote sanctions for human rights abuses worldwide and build on “existing Magnitsky-style measures” is somewhat puzzling to me. In what way are we constrained now from establishing visa bans and asset freezes? Can the Government say how many individuals have been sanctioned by us since the passage of the Magnitsky amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act? Far from the Government eagerly taking the lead in this respect, I recall that these amendments were forced on a reluctant Government by an all-party coalition led by Andrew Mitchell, Conservative, Margaret Hodge, Labour, and Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat.
Brexit will lead to major changes. Generations of our diplomats have become accustomed instinctively to co-ordinating policy with our EU partners. When we become, at best, decision-takers, EU policy will surely change and, for example, become much softer on Putin’s Russia. On trade, it is claimed that with one bound we shall be free to strike deals with third countries, but there are problems. Our bargaining power will be diminished. The pattern of trade has changed, and, as the FT showed in a recent article, Canada’s experience of CETA shows some of the problems. Our current exports to India and China are not encouraging; we export roughly the same as France to both markets, but to China less than a quarter of the exports of Germany and to India less than half of Germany’s exports, in spite of our vibrant Indian diaspora.
We have a choice between the EU and the US. Our position on most global challenges is closer to that of the EU, as is well illustrated by the recent assassination of General Soleimani. Our interests, military and civilian, are very involved, but the special relationship did not mean that we were consulted. How can the choice on different issues between the US and the EU still be available when we leave the EU? In particular, with the impulsiveness of President Trump, is there not a danger of our being drawn inexorably into the US orbit?
My Lords, one of the reasons why I was passionate about staying in the EU, imperfect though it may be, is that world peace is fragile. In a post-war, fractured world, the EU in its various guises played a crucial role in securing and holding together different factions so that never again would we face the horrors of a world war. I believe that the world would be a safer place with the UK in the EU.
Britain’s post-war role was carved with greater ease once it joined the European Communities in 1973. I am heartened that the Prime Minister wants to see a global Britain continue to exert influence in the world and be a force for good. Ours has been a strong voice —and a force for good—in the EU, and we should not underestimate the amplification of our global influence through it. Our voice in the UN, NATO, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth has carried the weight of our authority among the EU nations of half a billion people.
Despite the posturing rhetoric, which has now served its purpose and can be discarded, I hope that the Prime Minister will maintain the necessary alignment with the EU so that our economy does not hit the skids and so that we can continue to work together to meet the real challenges of the coming decade, rather than the manufactured ones. I wonder: is the Prime Minister up to the challenge of leadership on the climate emergency? We shall see. He has the opportunity to make his mark with COP 26 in Glasgow later this year.
On the domestic front, the Prime Minister’s commitment will be measured by the transformative nature of the infrastructure projects he is planning. Will his vision scan the horizon and move our country to a position of readiness to pounce on the opportunities that the green revolution will bring? We shall see. This is the really important question about his domestic environmental ambitions: will his proposed legislation give real teeth to its enforcer? Will the enforcement body be independent of government and accountable to Parliament? Will it operate openly? The answers to these questions will shed much light on this Government’s direction of travel.
I turn to international development. The indisputable fact is that those who are least responsible for the climate emergency—the poor and vulnerable in the world—will suffer the most from its consequences. The first nation to industrialise has a moral duty to help poorer countries that have not yet industrialised to deal with the impacts of the climate emergency, such as famines, extreme weather events, ensuing conflicts and mass migration.
I wholeheartedly welcome the continued commitment to 0.7% of GNI for international development. However, ODA—official development assistance—is defined as
“government aid … to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries.”
In answering, can the Minister say whether that will continue to be the definition of aid that this Government will abide by? If this is not to be the case, the 0.7% commitment becomes somewhat meaningless. It signals a return to the bad old days of tied aid and aid scandals such as the Pergau dam, which will diminish our standing on the global stage.
Britain was a leading architect of the UN sustainable development goals. Their universal acceptance by UN states was a moment of immense national pride. Yet neither the gracious Speech nor the Government’s briefing note makes any mention of them. Can the Minister reaffirm our commitment to the SDGs? If so, can she also explain how dismantling the globally respected department charged with delivery of the SDGs, both here and abroad, will further that commitment? DfID has an enviable record of openness and accountability far superior to that of the FCO and the MoD. In this decade of delivery for the SDGs, I urge the Prime Minister to keep the world-beating expertise within DfID intact and use it to lead the global transformation that the SDGs promise.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on being the first major economy to put a net-zero target into legislation, but we have to get on with it now. It would be fatal to think that we can wait for another 10 years and then see what needs to be done. Above all, we have to put the structures in place as soon as possible.
The public, especially younger voters, want action now. I believe that the 2020s are a do-or-die decade, when the green agenda could become a long-term economic opportunity for the UK. There is a massive new marketplace out there. The consumers and voters of tomorrow from all over the world are completely focused on climate change and are likely to remain so. With a clean UK brand, that image will give our products, over a wide range of goods and services, a huge boost in the world marketplace.
My main point is that this agenda is so multi-departmental that we need a specific Cabinet committee to drive it right from the heart of government—hopefully chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has previous good form in this field.
First, there is the transport agenda. Most people are agreed that electric cars are the way ahead. We need to drive this agenda. Every motorway station needs at least 100, if not 200, fast-charging points. Every car park in the country needs a minimum of 10 charging points per 100, if not per 50, spaces. Every street where cars can park needs charging points. Who pays for this needs to be discussed, but the Government must drive it. We also need all our trains and shipping to be electric, and we must incentivise the decarbonisation of our air industry.
Taking another area—there are many of them—we need more carbon-free heating systems. Some 30 million oil and gas boilers are currently installed in the UK, with more than 1 million new boilers going in every year. These will all have to go eventually, but there is no excuse for still putting them in new houses or offices. The Government need to incentivise their replacement with air-source or ground-source heat pumps.
Of course, in all this, we need more renewable sources of electricity. BEIS is currently fixated on offshore wind, with its relatively short lifespan, seemingly to the exclusion of all other forms of renewables. I fear that our net-zero target will involve hard choices; perhaps the current aversion to land-based wind power will have to be overcome.
Also, I have already sponsored a debate in this House on the fact that the UK’s single most powerful renewable source is our tides, which we almost completely fail to tap into. It seems a crying shame that BEIS cannot offer to support in principle the concept of these 120 to 150-year LIFE projects by offering the possibility of a specified contract for difference for an offshore marine lagoon if all the many other problems can be overcome. All it takes is a signal but, once again, it comes down to hard choices rather than procrastination.
Turning to the other side of the net-zero equation, this Cabinet committee will have to drive the planting and management of 1.5 billion trees, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Such a policy might fit in well with the likely post-Brexit agricultural economy. With beef and sheep farming threatened by Brexit and changing diets, a lot of land, especially on the western side of our country, might be ripe for afforestation, but it will happen only if it can be shown to bring sensible economic returns. Farming families need to be able to live. They need an annual income from trees starting in year one, not to mention years two to 50, before they get a return from forestry. The tax system might work for some, but small farmers, who are the most likely candidates for this change in land use, often fall outside the tax system and they need cash in hand. A national forestry fund, which I have just invented, need not all come from general taxation. Rather like the national lottery, it could be a charity into which we all pay to offset our travel and other emissions. I can see that being popular with some celebrities. I am also sure that there are many celebrities who would welcome such a scheme, which in my view should eventually become compulsory.
Our 2050 net-zero emissions target is a great idea, but if we are going to be serious players in this new positive economic agenda, we must drive it from the heart of government.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. We have entered a new international reality in which our fundamental principles are being challenged, facts are distorted, policies are conducted on Twitter and executed by drones rather than through diplomacy. Citizens are observers of the spectacle unfolding in front of their eyes, waking up to new realities with little control over their own security. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to tell us when our Government found out about the assassination of General Soleimani. If the Foreign Secretary really found out about the attack at the same time as many of us did, at just after midnight on Friday, then we are collectively in more trouble than I thought possible.
Avoiding being dragged into a conflict in the Middle East must be an urgent priority. I hope that the joint position the Government have taken with France and Germany on Iran will be maintained. The recent events also raise two fundamental questions that we have to consider: what kind of international law are we prepared to protect and respect, and what is our country’s strategic direction? We are living through what has been termed a “deepening geopolitical recession”, with a lack of global leadership, American unilateralism, the erosion of US-led alliances, Russia bent on undermining the stability and cohesion of the transatlantic alliance and an increasingly empowered China promoting its own model as an alternative on the global stage. Combined with the hostile use of cyber power, WMD proliferation, terrorism, migration, climate change and inequality, we face a perfect cocktail of negative trends at the very moment when we are preoccupied with decoupling from the European Union. I therefore strongly welcome the plan for a security, defence and foreign policy review, as well as the Government’s intention to promote and expand the UK’s influence in the world.
I would like to make three suggestions in that regard. First, I hope that particular attention will be given to funding for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and to ensuring that our intelligence agencies, both human and cyber, have the resources, oversight and permissions they need to meet a growing array of hybrid threats and challenges. In this context, I welcome reports that the Government intend to develop tougher measures to require the registration of so-called “foreign agents” in the UK, so that anyone representing the interests of foreign powers will be obliged to disclose the relationship. I hope that the Minister can update the House on these proposals.
Secondly, I know that, more than ever, in the post-Brexit era Britain will need foreign investment, but I hope that the proposals will be measured against the UK’s national interest. I hope that we can consider as a potential model Australia’s foreign investment policy, whereby the Government review major investment proposals to ensure that investment and sales decisions are not driven by any external strategic non-commercial considerations.
Thirdly, I welcome the Government’s ambition to develop a sanctions regime, to address human rights abuses, as an instrument of UK foreign policy. This is an ambition worthy of the highest praise. My hope is that the Government can live up to this noble ambition with consistency in a world where our trading partner China is erecting so-called re-education camps for the Uighurs and other minorities; where our ally the state of Saudi Arabia has been found responsible for premeditated extra-judicial execution, and where our Commonwealth ally India has introduced a new citizenship law discriminating against its Muslim population. As these examples show, we cannot pursue our economic interests in isolation from human rights. In that regard, I welcome the Government’s strong and clear commitment that all girls need to have access to 12 years of quality education, but I hope that we will not forget the importance of educating boys as well, if we are to address gender inequality.
Finally, while I welcome the fact that the role of the Prime Minister’s special representative on the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative has stayed intact, and that the review conference will be held in the spring, I hope that the noble Lord, who has done much to ensure that the initiative continues, will be given all the necessary support by both the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. So far, that support has been in short supply. If the Government are serious about wanting to help tackle the scourge of sexual violence, we have to be determined and persistent. So I put it again to the Minister that we should dedicate a minimum of 1% of DflD funds towards helping fight violence against women. Finally, I hope that he can also give an update on the Government’s efforts to set up an international accountability body that would ensure that those who commit this heinous crime bear the consequences.
Regardless of how we arrived at this point, Britain is leaving the European Union. Progress and success are possible, but they are not inevitable. I hope that, as we embark on this new era, we will never close ourselves to the world, that we will remain open and that we will make an effort to export not only goods but values too.
My Lords, I declare my environmental interests as set out in the register. For me, the Queen’s Speech felt a bit like Groundhog Day. It heralded an environment Bill, an agriculture Bill and a trade Bill—but we saw all of those last year, did we not? They are all vital for the protection of the environment and for fighting climate change: two existential issues for the UK and globally. The Government have given assurances about maintaining environmental standards, but a commitment to matching Europe’s future improvements in environmental standards has gone from the legislation. I am worried about the reliability of government assurances in these circumstances. So, over the next year, this House has a key role in scrutinising and challenging the Government to deliver on their promises in practice. Will the promised Bills do that or will they fall short?
For example, on trade, your Lordships must ensure that, when deals are done, the Government do not compromise on environmental standards, and we must ensure that the trade Bill gives Parliament a strong role in the negotiation and ratification of trade agreements. The agriculture Bill could be the opportunity of a lifetime, because it is the first time in 45 years that we can determine our own sustainable agriculture policy. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the payment of public money for public goods, but can the Minister assure us that they will also establish a strong baseline of regulation for environmental protections to which farmers and land managers need to adhere and that, again, future trade deals will not lower standards or undercut UK farmers by allowing imports of agricultural goods that do not meet our environmental standards.
There are similar challenges in the environment Bill, especially the need to ensure that the legally binding targets are ambitious, enforceable and, above all, delivered, and that a strong, independent environmental enforcer is produced to ensure that public bodies and Government, as well as the rest of us, act.
As chairman of the Woodland Trust, I could not not talk about trees. I very much welcome the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, in that respect, as well as his identification that during the election campaign it was gratifying to see a kind of arms war in tree planting, and the weaponisation of tree planting as a political tool. I also welcome the Government’s commitment to planting an additional 75,000 acres of woodland a year for biodiversity and to tackle climate change, and for all the other benefits that trees and woods deliver. But it is a big challenge when we consider that the previous commitment was to plant 11 million trees over a five-year period. We now need to plant more than 50 million trees per annum, which is a massive uplift.
Can the Minister assure us that we will have a statutory tree strategy that sets out a clear action plan for delivery and tackles three key challenges? The first is to make sure that we plant the right trees in the right place, with native broadleaf planting playing a strong role in climate change and biodiversity, so that we do not rely disproportionately on commercial conifers.
The second is that we will work with everybody who has access to land, including private individuals, companies, schools, local authorities, landowners, farmers and developers, to target the best areas for delivering woods that offer multiple public benefits. Land is limited and we are not making any more of it, so we need a land use strategy.
The third is vast scaling-up of the availability of UK-sourced and grown disease-free tree stocks, so that we do not import more tree disease in the way that ash dieback is now decimating our woodlands.
This House has a very important role to play in making sure that the commitments in the Queen’s Speech are actually delivered. On good days I get excited about the opportunities that the environment, agriculture, fisheries and trade Bills offer—then on bad days I remember how much the Government have already diluted the environmental provisions of the withdrawal Bill, and I remember who the Prime Minister is.
My Lords, our current foreign policy strategy includes a capacity to project power and influence throughout the Middle and Far East, yet—as has been pointed out many times in this House—we have neither the naval, air nor land forces to launch, let alone sustain, this.
Since the introduction of this strategy, significant changes have occurred to the political map. For example, the United States has given notice of the withdrawal of all armed forces from sub-Saharan Africa, which would impact on the viability of the UK presence there.
At the same time, however, Major General William Gayler, in charge of operations at the US Africa Command, was reported from Nairobi as describing the al-Shabaab terror group as a “global menace” in the wake of the Mogadishu attack that left more than 80 people dead. The general said:
“Since al-Shabaab’s first external attack in 2010, the group has ruthlessly killed hundreds. They have attacked and killed African partners, allies and fellow Americans. They are a global menace and their sights are set on exporting violence regionally and eventually attacking the US homeland.”
Meanwhile, in north-east Nigeria there has been an upsurge in the activities of Boko Haram, following past successful attacks in Abuja. During 2019 hundreds of insurgents were killed by security forces.
Elsewhere, the economic aggression practised by China, as an extension of her commercial and military expansion across Africa and Asia, is just as concerning. The aggressive terms of Chinese loans can leave borrowers at risk of forfeiting ownership if they default on debt service-to-revenue ratios.
Aggressive economic expansion can be just as destabilising as military dominance. The development of soft rather than hard power can rebut it. At present we have a wealth of soft power assets to draw on. There is no reason why the Government should not respond positively to Saferworld’s call to effectively reduce conflict overseas and respond to its consequences.
The Government can draw on external expertise to help shape international peace and security, recognising that this ability is not held by Governments alone. International peace and security should be prioritised at the highest level of national security objectives, to which all other aspects of foreign policy should contribute. In the face of state and non-state threats, the UK should champion its democratic values and support the causes of those seeking to build just, inclusive and accountable societies.
After the London CHOGM, the Commonwealth Journalists Association approached me, pressing the need to enshrine Commonwealth media principles in the forthcoming Rwanda CHOGM communiqué, after the failure to achieve this in London. More than 100 journalists were killed in eight Commonwealth countries between 2006 and 2015, mostly with impunity.
Perhaps the most influential vehicle for delivering British soft power is the BBC World Service—the frequency tuned to worldwide for the unvarnished truth in times of unrest and uncertainty. Edward Lucas’s article in the Times about life behind the Iron Curtain, listening clandestinely to the signature tune of “Lilliburlero” to announce the start of the BBC World Service news, brought back distinct memories for me. For example, I recalled my teams of engineers isolated in the west African interior—hundreds of miles from basic western comfort, I can assure noble Lords—keeping going to the jaunty strains of “Lilliburlero” heralding news from home every morning. I recounted this tale to an African journalist I met in Kenya recently. Remarkably, she responded by saying that, as children, she and her sister danced around the kitchen to the tune of “Lilliburlero” when their father, one of thousands of ardent listeners, tuned in for the news.
Today, the BBC World Service delivers news content around the world in English and 41 other language services on radio and TV and digitally. Out of a worldwide audience of close to 400 million, a quarter are tuning in from Africa, to 13 different languages. New government funding since 2014 has seen the biggest expansion in the BBC World Service since the 1940s, with new bureaux opening in Delhi, Lagos and Nairobi. The World Service is seeking further funding to continue the new services beyond 2021 and increase audiences further.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its success, the World Service constantly faces blocking and jamming, as well as restrictive regulatory issues and attempts to intimidate its journalists—for example, for the Iran service. We should applaud their stoicism, recognise it and bring back the instantly recognisable signature tune worldwide—which is, of course, “Lilliburlero”.
My Lords, happy new year. In welcoming a new decade, a new Parliament and a new Government, we also welcome a new relationship with the world in 2020. While looking ahead with ambition, noble Lords will forgive me looking back for some historical wisdom.
Five hundred years ago, Henry Courtenay, the Earl of Devon, marked new year 1520 with a gift of oranges to his king and cousin, Henry VIII. The rare and costly fruit was imported from Iberia to Exeter, evidence of the harmonious new European trading relationships to be celebrated that summer at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, Europe’s last great medieval tournament and yet its first modern intergovernmental summit. It would be ironic if failure to secure EU trading terms in 2020 rendered Seville oranges a rare and costly gift once more. Noting my interests in the register, I ask the Government to do all they can to secure trade in agricultural produce to and from the continent and not to negotiate away British agriculture and our incomparable rural landscape.
As torrential rain has sodden the sowing season and flooded the country, while wildfires torch Australia, the most pressing business of this Parliament will be to legislate the means of achieving net-zero emissions. Many of those means reside within our rural, agricultural communities. Farming cannot deliver the environmental land management required without clarity and confidence in its commercial viability. For years, British farming has operated in a haze of uncertainty in which investment and productivity have flatlined. Now we have autonomy in agricultural policy, will the Government undertake to do all they can to ensure a flourishing farming future? I note particularly Devon’s vulnerable and venerable uplands. Farmed for over 3,000 years, they produce healthy, free-range meat from ancient pasture that sequesters carbon, retains floodwater and supports remarkable ecological diversity. Does Brazilian soya do that?
Echoing the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, I note that the Government have committed to planting 75,000 acres of new trees each year to reforest our islands. As the Minister is only too well aware, disease and pestilence are rife in our broad-leaf woodlands and the heroically under- resourced Forestry Commission, in its own centenary year, has been playing a losing game of whack-a-mole in response. If the commitment is to be met, how will the Government ensure access to sufficient quantities of disease-free deciduous saplings? Will they commit the scientific resources necessary to ensure that the trees planted can survive to a healthy harvest?
Returning to history, the continental harmony seen at the Field of the Cloth of Gold was short-lived—much like our membership of the European Union. It took barely 20 years for Henry VIII to break with Rome, fall out with France, divorce his Aragonese wife and behead the poor Earl of Devon. For all its promise, pomp and pageantry, it achieved little.
A far more significant event occurred with far less fanfare exactly a century later, with the departure from Plymouth of a bedraggled, patched-up ship, barely 80 feet long and crammed with over 100 souls—radicals, adventurers, merchants and families. The sailing of the “Mayflower” in September 1620 is one of the world’s most significant voyages. Its quadricentenary resonates with contemporary themes of religious tolerance, migration, indigenous rights, international trade and thanksgiving for the environment. We have an unparalleled opportunity to commemorate the deep cultural and economic bonds between England, Holland, the Wampanoag nation and the United States of America. It is also a helpful reminder to the 30 million-plus “Mayflower” descendants in the US that they came from Devon and might like to return for a visit this summer.
As patron of the “Mayflower”’s 400th anniversary, I congratulate the team on this year’s remarkable programme and ask the Government to confirm the ministerial support they are willing to give to Plymouth and the 13 partner communities hosting these events.
The “Mayflower” provides a vivid backdrop to trade negotiations with the US, which are key to the Government’s international ambition. I lived for a decade in California, and so support this endeavour. However, while enamoured of America’s ambition and invention and the opportunity it promises, I did learn while there a fresh veneration for our imperfect but beloved NHS, for the fierce apolitical independence of our judiciary and for the remarkable flexibility of our constitutional settlement and this mother of Parliaments. I trust that all three will survive this Government’s international ambition.
My Lords, I am ever the optimist, so I believe that the UK can look forward to the new decade and a post-Brexit future. We must be ambitious but smart when we consider how to conduct ourselves on the global stage. We have an opportunity, at last, to give substance to the mantra of “Global Britain”.
It was refreshing to hear human rights mentioned twice in the Queen’s Speech, including a reference to developing a sanctions regime to address human rights abuses directly. I welcome my noble friend Lord Gardiner’s statement today that the Government will deliver on the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment to
“further develop an independent Magnitsky-style sanctions regime to tackle human rights abusers head on.”
Will legislation be required to establish that independent system and give it powers?
I welcome the announcement in the gracious Speech of an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review to reassess our nation’s place in the world. I sound a note of caution, however: there is always a temptation for Governments to seize the chance to hit a headline or two by making early pronouncements on widespread organisational change before they have taken breath to evaluate the evidence and develop proposals for change that will endure.
The challenge faced by the Government is all the more critical because the international landscape will keep shifting while any review is under way. There is no way to press pause on diplomacy and security matters, as recent events in Iraq show forcefully. The killing of Soleimani, complicit in mass murder in Syria and Iraq and the political mastermind of instability across the region, is significant for all of us. Our troops and our citizens in the region are more at risk now, so we must prioritise protecting them. We cannot yet know the full consequences of these events but, for now, the UK should continue to support our partners in the region and encourage steps towards de-escalation.
The challenges which lie ahead this year provide opportunities for the UK to show how it can play to its strengths. The big diplomatic opportunity will be COP 26, in Glasgow, in November. COP 25 was the longest in history, but still failed to reach consensus in many areas, pushing decisions into this year under rule 16 of the UN climate process. Matters including Article 6, reporting requirements for transparency, and common timeframes for climate pledges were all pushed into this year. The UN Secretary-General said that he was “disappointed” with the results of COP 25 and that:
“The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”
We must make every effort to ensure that COP 26 does not meet the same fate.
Other significant events this year give the UK the opportunity to show its mettle on the international stage. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned, in April and May, the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons meets in New York, against a rather bleak background. At about the same time, the UK will participate in the NATO Defender Europe 20 exercise, which plans to support NATO objectives to
“build readiness within the alliance and deter potential adversaries.”
I was pleased to hear my noble friend the Minister confirm today that the UK will not only honour the NATO commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence but will increase that budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year of the new Parliament.
The meeting of NATO leaders last month was an unpredicted success, in as much as the final declaration was agreed by all countries. It was a privilege to attend the reception for the leaders at Buckingham Palace. Our Select Committee carried out a short inquiry into the leaders’ meeting, and I look forward to receiving the Government’s response to the issues we raised in our letter to Ministers. Then, of course, there is the G7, in June, which will be hosted by President Trump at Camp David, in the full beam of the limelight created by the USA’s election year.
The challenges are there to be met. We must navigate a path that serves UK interests well and maintains the principles of the rules-based international system. The way ahead will be anything but dull.
My Lords, I can hardly be expected to welcome the new Government, but nevertheless I congratulate members of the Conservative Party on holding themselves together long enough to get a clear election result. Today, I will probably confine myself to a few words of caution for the Government in the light of that result. It is of course good to see so many familiar faces on the Government Benches—at least for now. I am sure we will be back to business as usual shortly.
I caution first against hubris. We now have a precise psephological and scientific definition of the difference between triumph and disaster: it is less than 1.3%. In other words, between the catastrophic outcome of Mrs May’s election two years ago and the last one, the Conservative Party has managed to convince one person in 100 to vote for it. That is a bit of a fragile mandate, but it is a mandate. Nevertheless, a clear working majority in the House of Commons is not a blank cheque.
In view of the events of the last three years, I also caution the Government to try to avoid factionalism within the Conservative Party—we never have that in the Labour Party, as noble Lords will know. I hope that the sense of direction given during the election can be maintained for at least a few more months. I understand that Boris got an oath of allegiance from all his candidates that they would support his deal and his withdrawal Bill. However, that does not go that far because, as we know, this is only the beginning of Brexit. I assume that no such loyalty oath was required by the now former Chief Whip—he is in his place—of Members of the upper House, because we know that there are vastly different opinions on Brexit within government circles, as there are in the country. That will be just as difficult over the next stages of Brexit as it has been for the last three years.
We have a new withdrawal Bill, and later in the week I will explain in more detail why I will not support it. In many ways, it is a worse Bill than that which Mrs May presented us with, but it will probably go through. It is a worse Bill partly because of its effect on Northern Ireland and partly because of its reneging on previous discussions on equivalence of regulation and alignment with our European partners. It is also only the first stage. In the next few months we will need to settle issues of trade with Europe, America and the rest of the world; issues of migration and citizens’ rights; and issues of agriculture and the environment. I was grateful to hear the words of the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, in his opening address, but our changed position in the world will require all of us—in Parliament and elsewhere—to face up to some serious issues. That will require co-operation and some degree of alignment, not maximising divergence from our European partners.
I also caution the Government against making reckless promises. During the election, there were many promises of money to be spent on public services, policing and defence. I understand that the Budget has been put back from February to March, presumably to allow the Chancellor enough time to work out how those sums add up. Promises made during an election are not easily deliverable, but they can be held against a Government.
My major message to the Government is to caution against isolationism. Our departure from Europe, which I now, with deep regret, regard as inevitable, is happening just at the time when there is a renewed threat of global quasi-religious war, and when the threat of the destruction of the planet through climate change now needs finally to be faced up to. Pulling out of Europe and moving to perhaps too close a relationship with the United States—particularly the regime there at present —means that we are moving away from international co-operation. On the one hand, we are isolating ourselves from Europe, or at least moving substantially away from it, and on the other we are undermining the degree to which Europe can affect progressive arguments and discussions on climate change and on other issues in the world as a whole.
I will quickly advise the Government against two other things. One is contempt for the Civil Service—whatever shortcomings it may have, we are still one of the best-governed countries in the world—and the other is contempt for Parliament. One of the effects of the redraft of the withdrawal Bill is to reduce scrutiny in this House and in another place of the developments on Brexit. That will prove to be a serious government mistake.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to see that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, has lost none of his fighting spirit in spite of the last few weeks.
For a generation, our foreign policy has been stuck on a road to nowhere—except Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria, where all roads and good intentions seem to end. What is our policy? We disapprove of a regime, we want to show our displeasure, so we bomb and blast away, and then we go back to sleep with our consciences. It was supposed to make the streets of London safe for our own people. Yet a generation after the invasion of Iraq, we have not made the streets of London safe for our own people, and neither are the streets of Iraq safe, or anywhere else, come to that.
We are told that we are spreading parliamentary democracy. How we might spread democracy on the point of a bayonet is an interesting question, but it is one that remains unanswered, because we have so obviously failed. What we have done is pursue a policy of regime change, even though Tony Blair assured us that regime change is illegal. We got rid of Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that he had already destroyed his weapons of mass destruction. We also got rid of Muammur Gaddafi, even though he, too, with our support and encouragement, had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction. Your Lordships will remember: one was dragged from a hole in the ground and hanged, and the other was dragged from a sewer pipe and shot in the head. So it is not much of a surprise that Kim Jong-un seems rather disinclined to listen to our suggestion that it is now his turn to rid himself of his weapons of mass destruction. In his place, I would not either.
But we are not alone in these failures. The poor old EU’s foreign policy is falling apart. China and Russia seem to see the EU as easy pickings. America ignores it. Our relations with Turkey are a complete catastrophe, even though it is far more important strategically than Syria. I am not suggesting that there are easy answers, but we do not even seem to want to ask the right questions.
What has gone wrong? Thirty years ago, the Cold War ended with scarcely a shot being fired, as the Iron Curtain was torn down. Then, we were a beacon of hope. Today, ask around the world, “What does Britain stand for?” They no longer know. We do not seem to know, either. Our voice is so uncertain, it is almost not heard. We pride ourselves on our values—of course we do—but what values, precisely? Despite the claims made earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, we can scarcely claim that it is all about exporting liberal democracy. Our foreign policy has been neither liberal, nor has it shown anything very much to do with democracy. As we have heard time and again in this debate, we do not seem to have a strategy.
Hands up, I might be wrong about some of this. But if I am right about any of it, we really need to stop and think before simply stumbling on. We no longer run the world, but we can help build a better world—something we have not got close to these past two decades.
This is not a criticism of individuals; my noble friend Lord Ahmad is a very fine and totally tireless Foreign Minister, and in that he follows in the formidable footsteps of his predecessor, my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns. It is not a failure of individuals; this is a systemic failure, and it is deeply rooted.
I hope that your Lordships will forgive this dark analysis; I am an eternal optimist, and Britain has already moved on. Brexit means change, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, alluded to in his powerful speech this afternoon. Let us therefore embrace that change. Let us have a new national conversation and build a new foundation for our foreign policy. We have so many tools at our disposal: our language, our culture, our educational system, the Commonwealth, our alliances, our many, many friends—smart power, to which my noble friend Lord Howell, who sadly is not in his place, so often wisely refers.
Identify more clearly British interests, extend British influence and adapt our alliances. Threaten no one who does not threaten us. That might not be a bad start. Perhaps it is a good note to finish on.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. I cannot believe that these words are coming out of my mouth, but on this occasion I agreed with much of what he said, which over the last two years has not been the case.
The key question is what will drive the UK’s role and place in the world after we leave the EU. As the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said—unfortunately, she is not in her place at the moment—it cannot just be based on a narrow agenda of trade. It has to be balanced with the environment, social justice and human rights.
Despite overtures made in the Queen’s Speech to the language of human rights, the UK’s proclaimed commitment to freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law appears not to extend to allied Governments in the Gulf. It is not just what you say but also what you do now and how we build on that that matters.
The UK provides Bahrain with a multi-million pound technical assistance fund—£5 million since 2012—without any accountability, and has routinely refused to disclose the beneficiaries or implementers of the programme. Since 2017, technical assistance has been channelled through the secretive Integrated Activity Fund, and the Government consistently refuse to disclose how this is spent. This is particularly concerning as technical assistance to Bahrain has failed to prevent significant rises in death sentences and executions, the restriction of freedom of expression and increased attacks against human rights defenders and dissidents.
Tomorrow, Bahraini death row inmates Mohammed Ramadhan and Hussein Moosa are due to receive a final verdict in a case review after their death sentences were overturned when evidence emerged indicating that they were brutally tortured into providing confessions. This appeal was granted only after it became evident that the UK-funded human rights oversight bodies had actively concealed evidence that the men were tortured, a position which the FCO initially refused to accept.
Britain’s commitment to freedom of expression also appears to wane when it comes to our “friends” in the Gulf. Bahrain’s most prominent human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab, continues to languish in prison on a five-year sentence for criticising the Government on Twitter, after being denied a non-custodial sentence. Even Bahrainis abroad are not safe. The family of the UK-based human rights defender Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei have been targeted through torture and imprisonment in reprisal for his work. Similarly to Nabeel Rajab, Mr Alwadaei’s mother-in-law, Hajer Mansoor, has repeatedly been denied an alternative sentence without justification and is currently being held in effective solitary confinement.
The UK has failed to take substantive action in each of these cases. Ministers have not only dismissed parliamentarians’ concerns but have also relied on the assurances of the Bahraini Government and directed victims to the very oversight bodies—funded by the UK taxpayer—that have been complicit in whitewashing human rights abuses.
Furthermore, the Government have consistently failed to monitor effectively the human rights impacts of their support for Bahrain, both before and after the implementation of training programmes. While the FCO is legally mandated to perform an overseas security justice assistance assessment before providing any training, recent freedom of information requests indicate that on a number of occasions this has not been conducted. Equally, there is no evidence to suggest that the British Government have implemented measures to monitor the efficacy of this technical assistance to Bahrain, rendering it little more than a convenient illusion of reform.
I ask the Minister: when will the Government reveal how public money is being spent in Bahrain on this Integrated Activity Fund? How will the Government monitor the effectiveness of their programmes to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not actively contributing to human rights abuses in Bahrain and the wider Gulf region? Before the Government talk about new powers on human rights and policy—as welcome as they are —they must start enacting existing policy to ensure that human rights abuses are not conducted when funded by British taxpayers’ money.
If the UK is going to have real moral authority and be able to use its soft power effectively to make the world a better place, it will have to start doing so in a way that is more open and transparent. It will have to be more careful about who it chooses as friends and what it uses taxpayers’ money for in trying to strengthen institutions abroad, and be more strident in standing up to those who abuse human rights, and not just follow trade deals as the first priority.
My Lords, in my brief contribution I will speak about climate change and the environment. I declare two interests, as a member of the advisory board of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit and as an independent adviser on sustainability to the energy company Drax.
I confess to having mixed feelings about the Government’s agenda for climate change and the environment. On the positive side, I join my noble friend Lady Hayman in her delight at hearing the Minister referring to the two great challenges for the Government as climate change and biodiversity. I could not agree more. However, climate change and the environment only make an appearance in paragraph 13 out of 16 in the gracious Speech and occupy only 4% of the background briefing.
The real test will not be in what the Government say, but in what they do. As the Minister rightly said, COP 26 later this year is an opportunity for this country to show global leadership in tackling the climate crisis. However, as my noble friend Lord Hannay pointed out, we must show that we are doing what we have committed ourselves to do to tackle climate change in this country. Sadly, we are not.
On 18 December 2019, the chair and deputy chair of the Committee on Climate Change, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and my noble friend Lady Brown of Cambridge, wrote to the Prime Minister, saying that
“the UK’s efforts to address the climate crisis have fallen short.”
Although the Government will meet the first three carbon budgets, which are legally binding targets passed into law, they have no published plans for how to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, even though those have also been passed into law. Later this year, when the Committee on Climate Change publishes its sixth carbon budget, the Government will be even further adrift from their legal commitment to net zero by 2050.
When will the Government tell us how they will achieve the necessary cuts in emissions from buildings, transport—as my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington alluded to—and from industry and agriculture? When will they tell us how they intend to make the country more resilient to the inevitable impacts of climate change, including flooding, drought and high temperatures?
The Government have announced their plan to create a new watchdog, the office for environmental protection, which will, among other things, ensure that climate action is taken. However, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Young of Old Scone, have mentioned, for this new office to be effective, it will need real teeth, be genuinely independent and be properly funded. As a minimum, it should have powers equivalent to the current EU system of imposing court fines on national Governments for failure to comply with legally binding standards.
Finally, I ask the noble Baroness the Minister for a clear response to the following question when she replies to the debate. Our biggest success story in reducing emissions is renewable energy generation through offshore wind. However, as we all know, wind cannot be relied on all the time, so the electricity supply system must have a back-up. A crucial part of this comes from the internal energy market, which enables us to buy gas and electricity on a spot market from other EU countries. I checked on my iPhone a few hours ago: at the moment, we are getting between 4% and 5% of our electricity from other European countries, notably France. After we have left the European Union, this internal energy market with no longer be available to us, as we are leaving the single market. Now 5% of our electricity supply may not sound very much, but to the 1.3 million homes that would not be able to turn on their light, their television, their electric kettle or their refrigerator, it is quite significant. How will the Government replace the electricity currently purchased through the internal energy market, and what will be the impact of this replacement on our carbon budget?
My Lords, today’s world seems ever more precarious, with conflict and instability proliferating in so many places. Today, there are over 75 million displaced people in the world—more than at any time since World War II—with many trying to come to Europe. While we in the UK have spent much time looking inward, debating Brexit, this world has not become a safer place, as we have seen from the events in the Middle East this week.
I hope that Brexit will give Britain more opportunities for influence on the world stage. Although the UK is no longer a stand-alone military power, we more than play our part through NATO, and the UK continues to be a world leader of soft power, promoting our values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance. This is not a time for us to change our international approach, but rather to bolster our resources, to ensure that we have adequate defence spending to counter today’s complex threats, invest more to strengthen our diplomatic service and continue to help the poorest across the world through UK aid, ensuring that developing countries can become more economically viable.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to my register of interests when I say that as a country we should be particularly proud of what we have done to help women and girls across the world through highlighting the importance of gender equality and female empowerment internationally. There is still no country in the world with true gender equality, and the threat of violence is a daily reality for millions of women and girls. In virtually every country, they still face discrimination: they are more likely to be paid less, be denied their basic human and reproductive rights, be unable to access justice and carry the burden of unpaid care work. For most, gender equality remains a distant, impossible dream.
This is a landmark year. Not only is it five years since the launch of the SDGs, with the standalone goal on gender equality, but also it is the 25th anniversary of the Beijing platform for action, and the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the UN framework supporting women and girls affected by conflict. However, in spite of this resolution, women continue to be largely excluded from negotiating peace. Between 1992 and 2018, women constituted only 13% of negotiators, and only 4% of signatories in major peace processes. You cannot build peace by excluding half the population.
Appointing an ambassador for women, peace and security, as Canada has done, establishing a dedicated women, peace and security fund to support work on gender equality and implementing a national action plan would help enormously. We know that there is a global rollback on women and girls’ rights and shrinking spaces for civil society, affecting the poorest and most marginalised the worst. So this is a year when the UK should be leading on highlighting these issues by helping to champion women in the poorest regions across the globe.
I was pleased to hear from my noble friend the Minister that we will continue to work in areas where we have already made progress such as girls’ education, working to end the preventable deaths of mothers, babies and children and in the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. These were always going to be marathons, not sprints, and it is vital that we do not lose focus due to the idiosyncrasies of our political system, but ensure that the mantle is passed from Minister to Minister.
Women particularly can be such powerful agents for change in their societies. I believe that the Government should provide dedicated, long-term, core, flexible funding for women’s rights organisations working at grass roots. Last year saw the 40th anniversary of CEDAW—the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women—known as the international bill of rights for women. How excellent it would be if, as one of the ways of celebrating this, the UK put forward a candidate for the CEDAW committee, which it has never done before. Will my noble friend confirm that that will happen?
Finally, I am concerned about rumours of rolling DfID back into the Foreign Office. Large, multifocused departments can be less effective. DfID has shown itself to be a world leader in aid delivery. We should be proud of its work and that we are the only G7 country with our commitment to 0.7% enshrined in law. UK aid helps to lift millions out of poverty across the world and tackles disease, terrorism and conflict, thus creating a safer, healthier and more prosperous world for us all. Let us not change what is not broken.
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register and I congratulate my noble friend Lady Ritchie on her maiden speech earlier this afternoon.
We have an opportunity today in this House to look at the promises that the Government made in the Queen’s Speech. It is for us to scrutinise that legislation and ensure that those promises are kept. I am a European. I am a child of Europe and I love Europe. I find it very difficult to say that we will no longer be in Europe, but, having accepted that decision, I am prepared to work hard with other people to repair whatever damage has been done between ourselves and other communities to ensure that we go forth in a much better way. At the same time, I am not prepared for us to give anything up. We must never give up.
I am reminded that it is the 25th anniversary of the events in Beijing. Women’s rights are human rights and a lot has happened to women. We have moved back and we have moved forward, but in the present situation we are moving back very badly. When one of the partners that we are meant to be trading with, America, is not prepared to accept CEDAW or allow any of its funding to go towards supporting maternal rights in any country, and goes around the world trying to persuade other countries not to put funding into maternal rights and family planning, it is not the best way to be going forward. So I hope that when we do these trade deals with America we can put some pressure on there.
Also, America refuses to accept the International Criminal Court. I hope that we can take a look at that court in future, because it does not have a good record at all in terms of prosecutions on PSVI and other human rights. I sometimes wonder whether that court is worth being kept or whether we should look at something completely fresh. I hope that we can discuss that or put it on the agenda of the G7 or the G20 in the next year or two, because it is a bad institution.
On the G7, I hope that Britain will take a lead on the issues that it has taken a lead on before, but I am concerned about where the G20 is taking place. We know that Saudi Arabia has started to play games about women’s rights and human rights. We know that that will be a plaster for only a few weeks, or a year or so. I hope that Britain is not taken in, as other countries might be, at the G20, or at the W20, in which industry will be taking part.
On the foreign service and Ministry of Defence inquiries, I hope very much that we will strengthen these departments. We should encourage people to come and work for us, pay them and give much better facilities than they have previously had, and we should encourage them to stay and not be headhunted off after a couple of years. We need to have a defence department, diplomacy and a foreign service that really care. Embassies abroad should be serviced properly and should have the right staff who can take in everything, from DfID to trade and the position of people who need help—the whole gamut—and soft power. At the moment, less is happening in embassies than before.
On the whole question of DfID, I would like an undertaking from the ministry about what I read in this morning’s Daily Mail, which you have to read to find out the Government’s policy. The political editor, John Stevens, said:
“The foreign aid department will escape the axe”
of the Prime Minister’s scaling back of the proposed Whitehall shake-up and the Prime Minister will largely concentrate instead on improving the Minister’s performance. Now this newspaper constantly attacks foreign aid, however it comes, so I have a proposal to ensure that we continue giving foreign aid. Maybe we should have better governance over aid. At the moment the governance is quite good, but it could be much better. There should be better monitoring. Nothing should be without measurement, so if the monitoring were done better and there were more transparency between the NGOs, INGOs and other organisations that we give funding to, we would see a difference in the attacks by the extreme right, by newspapers and by programmes such as “Panorama”. We would then see a whole difference and people would understand why we are giving aid to these countries and the conditions that people are living under.
Also, if we do not educate girls and boys, the world will be in a much worse state than it is now. It is vital. So I would like to hear an undertaking not only that DfID will stay but that it will be strengthened and given much more respect from the outside world and the inside of Whitehall. I sometimes feel that DfID is the poor relation, in particular with the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence.
On those three departments, the issues of PSVI and girls’ education both slip between departments, particularly PSVI. You cannot get decisions made because somebody is thinking, “Oh well, we will have to put this back or that back.” I hope that the conference in March will take place and that it will be more than a conference, and that Britain will come back to being the world leader that it was on this issue, and that the right sort of funding will be put in. The funding can be found. We must do this: it is absolutely vital.
On aid, my noble friend just mentioned that a large amount of aid goes to countries and is just given there, and then we find out four or five years later that it has been siphoned off by some member of the ruling family or something—I am sorry, I forgot the time. I was on my bandwagon.
My Lords, with a new Government in place and at a time of severe international tension, it must be right to start looking for a new foreign policy, as whatever passed for one before stopped working a long time ago—no more so than in that traditional cauldron of the Middle East. After years of drift, of reacting to events and of sheltering in the afterburn of the United States, the time has come for a new foreign policy based on genuine strategic forward thinking. For the first time in years, we should seek a vision and a strategy of our own.
To begin with, we should formally eschew the use of targeted assassination as an instrument of foreign policy. What happened in Baghdad last week was ethically unacceptable. This was no strategic military act. This was a foolhardy act of policy, which historical precedent teaches can lead to dramatic and dangerously unpredictable consequences. It was wrong and we should be no part of it.
We are already living with the consequences of a generation of misjudged and mismanaged adventures in the Middle East. Afghanistan 15 years on is still in bloody turmoil. After 14 years Iraq is still rocked by the aftershocks of violent civil war. After nine years, Libya is still racked by lethal division. Syria’s insurgency is still suffering from ill-judged western interventions, including almost complicity with terrorists, and the Middle East peace process is inexorably sinking into the sand. It has been a litany of failure.
In nearly every case, we chose military intervention over dialogue, despite the fact that in Northern Ireland, after a quarter of a century of armed conflict and against very strong political opposition, we decided to try dialogue with our enemies instead. I was part of those initial tentative exploratory steps towards dialogue, and I saw it beginning to work. Yet genuine exploratory dialogue has been the absent component in nearly all the expensive failures of policy since then.
We need rapidly to change this. We should begin swiftly in Iran to seek again the common ground on which understanding might be built—we already have something to build on from the JCPOA negotiations of recent years—and if the US continues with its confrontational policy towards Iran, we should again have no part in it. From now on we must make our own judgments and take our own course. Our shared values will mean that more often than not we will be together, but that shall no longer be taken for granted, and I think that that is right. As our relative military clout regrettably continues to diminish, we should equip ourselves to be masters of dialogue, always prepared to explore, even with terrorists, the options for peace before supporting military action. A serious and much respected elderly Israeli statesman once told me that at his age he had learned that it was a better use of his time to talk to his enemies than to his friends. I hope that it is not too late for us to learn that lesson.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her maiden speech. I should declare at the outset that I am a patron of Hong Kong Watch and visited Hong Kong in November to monitor the election and that last month I visited Kurdistan and northern Iraq.
Because of time constraints, I have given the Minister notice of several questions relating to Hong Kong, including evidence given in the House by Dr Darren Mann about attacks on and the arrest of medics there, which he says
“amount to grave breaches of international humanitarian norms and human rights law”,
the potential use of Magnitsky powers and a request for an assessment of the post-election situation in Hong Kong.
In the light of events in Iraq, I will use my few minutes mainly to speak about the role of Iran and the increasing belligerence and confidence of new insurgent militias. For 40 years, Iran has been responsible for proxy terrorism, hostage taking and egregious violations of human rights. Thousands of Iranians have long since seen through this theocratic terror state and have been publicly protesting against its leaders, while in Iraq more than 400 people have been killed while campaigning for a more open and democratic and less corrupt Government no longer manipulated by Iran.
Many people I met told me that Iranian Shia proxies and the re-emergent sleeping ISIS cells with Sunni affiliations will ruthlessly oppose any change and endanger the remarkable achievements of the Kurdish Regional Government, who have valiantly protected both Kurds and the minorities. In the north of Iraq, especially in Irbil, the KRG, whose parliamentary Speaker and Deputy Speaker I met, have created a glimpse of what a peaceful Iraq and a wider region respectful of difference and diversity could look like. I visited some of the multi-ethnic villages being rebuilt on the Nineveh plain, but Iran has already mobilised Shabak proxies, endangering the reconstruction of ancient Yazidi and Christian settlements such as Bartella, and is trying to create a destabilising Iranian canton strategically wedged between Kurdistan and Mosul. The parallel re-emergence of ISIS in northern Iraq’s Hamrin and Qara Chokh mountains led, in December, to the deaths or injury of more than 30 brave Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers, while its ISIS affiliate in Nigeria beheaded 11 Christians in retaliation for the demise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The signal failure of the international community to bring genocidaires such as Baghdadi or men such as Qasem Soleimani to justice or to challenge countries that arm proxies or bomb civilians creates a culture of impunity and erodes a rules-based international order. I saw the consequences of impunity at Bardarash refugee camp where, in increasingly cold weather, tents and makeshift shelters in a desolate location have replaced homes bombed by Turkish—that is, NATO—planes. Thousands of people who, until weeks before, had successfully supported themselves and their children, now queue up for rations, handouts and medical help. In Bardarash, a mother of four told me that, “As they dropped their bombs and chemicals many children were burnt. Some were killed. I just want to go home with my children, but everything was destroyed, and we would be slaughtered.”
When did it become acceptable to break the Geneva conventions, and potentially the Chemical Weapons Convention, illegally occupy territory, ethnically cleanse a population and face no investigation, little censure, no Security Council resolution and no consequences? What outrage must a NATO country commit before we declare it to be unfit for membership let alone seek its referral to the International Criminal Court?
If the rule of law is a casualty of international impotence, consider the phenomenal human consequences. A staggering 70 million people have been forcibly displaced, with 37,000 people forced to flee their homes every single day, while 17 years is the average length of time spent in a camp by a refugee. These camps are the perfect recruiting grounds for the exploitation of despair, hopelessness and betrayal. Bardarash is a symbol of the breakdown of global leadership.
In asking the Minister how we intend to fill this vacuum, I would also welcome her response to questions I have sent her about memorialising the Simele genocide site and the request of Baba Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the Yazidis, who I met, concerning the 3,000 still-missing Yazidi women. Genocide survivors from Mosul and Sinjar told me that they had never been approached by British or international agencies to give their evidence. How will trials ever take place if we fail systematically to collect witness statements?
There can be no lasting peace and reconciliation without justice and the rule of law, which is why a central plank of our approach must be the creation of a regional court to try those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide. Until we do, I echo the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, when I say that lawless militias and proxies will go on behaving with impunity and retaliatory assassinations and killings will be the order of the day, with unpredictable consequences for people who have already experienced appalling suffering and persecution.
My Lords, it is always a privilege to follow the noble Lord. I draw the attention of the House to my entries in the Register of Members’ Interests, particularly as a trustee of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum and president of the Colne Valley Regional Park.
The general election result has given us a welcome degree of certainty, and the gracious Speech has outlined some measures that are to be welcomed. The international situation is, of course, giving us all a great deal of concern.
The environment has rightly risen up the political agenda dramatically over the past 12 months, reflecting real public awareness of the gravity of the potential disaster facing our planet on many levels. I was very pleased to hear my noble friend Lord King of Bridgwater mention population. As he said, it is something we rarely discuss. We cannot but be appalled at the severity of the situation with the fires in Australia, and we must not forget that other precious places are on fire, notably the Amazon. While we are looking at the world, we must not forget about our own nature and biodiversity. The UK has overseas territories that are incredibly rich in diverse nature ranging from the Indian Ocean to the South Atlantic and from the Caribbean to Gibraltar. They are every bit as much of our biodiversity as the Chilterns or the Cairngorms. In fact, they have more diversity. We must not let them remain the Cinderella of the UK’s guardianship of nature, because they are our crown jewels.
The gracious Speech contains much ambition, but it will be up to Parliament to ensure that noble ambitions are turned into real, positive action. I do not doubt the genuine aspirations, but I am concerned that a certain amount of watering down might occur. This, I am afraid to say, is based on experience in various jobs that I have held, most recently in No. 10 as a special adviser. Enshrining the 25-year environment plan, launched by the then PM, Theresa May, will be paramount for our country. We must not let this opportunity pass. We must make it a real, meaningful change to the way we treat our nature, which we all enjoy and depend on for our very lives in so many ways.
One thing that I believe is of paramount importance is real, meaningful funding for both Natural England and the Environment Agency. I know that whenever we have these debates there is a request for more funding, but I have seen the funding for those two agencies go down. It is incredibly important that we give them the resources that they are desperately starved of, as both can provide the expertise and enforcement role that they should be offering. I was delighted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the environment would be a priority in the Budget. We shall see.
There will be ample opportunity during the legislative process to strengthen, if necessary, this landmark legislation, and today we have heard of several examples of where we have to ensure that that happens. We will be hosting the climate COP in Glasgow, and as hosts we must set an example to other nations. Therefore, I cannot understand how we can contemplate any further expansion of aviation. The plans to create what is ostensibly a second airport at Heathrow must be axed, not just for emission reasons but because clean air is a human right. I will be looking closely at the Private Member’s Bill on clean air which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is bringing to the House next week. I hope that suitable measures on air quality will be incorporated in the environment Bill if those measures are not already in place.
As we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Patten, in particular, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, there was something of a bidding war on tree planting during the election campaign, and planting the right species in the right place is of course very important. However, it seems the most utter madness that, while we are advocating the planting of more trees, HS2 is embarking on the biggest deforestation scheme since the First World War. Normally I do not encourage the culling of wildlife, but that particular white elephant should be put down humanely before it tramples down more in its terrible path. The opportunities for expansion of our rail system are not best served by this scheme, as expertly argued by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in the past few days. While we are speaking today, I have heard of the eviction of people in Harvil Road, while people try to ensure that the water supplies are not contaminated.
We are leaving the European Union. We have an opportunity to be among the best and most enlightened in Europe, and I urge the Government to be bold and grasp this opportunity with enthusiasm.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, on her excellent maiden speech. I should also like to say that I agree heartily with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, on HS2.
The gracious Speech raised many important issues but was tantalisingly vague on the details. We now have some understanding of the country’s future direction under Tsar Boris. Thus we will have a free trade agreement with the EU, although the deadline is very challenging. The commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 is welcome, together with legally binding targets. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, much remains to be done.
Similarly welcome is the commitment to spend 2% of national income on defence, although that includes pension provisions. I note the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, on that. I also applaud the promise to undertake an
“Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review”
to reassess the nation’s place in the world post Brexit. This should help the Government to work out how, in their own words, they can
“promote and expand the United Kingdom’s influence in the world.”
There has been much talk of a “global Britain” foreign policy. What does that mean? How would you define it? For too long there has been a disconnect between the UK’s foreign and security policy, as though each operates in different spheres. However, with an incoherent foreign policy it is difficult to design a security policy that should underpin it. As the Chilcot report pointed out, embarking on a foreign intervention without a clear plan or endgame is extremely dangerous. The same holds true for any conflict with Iran. Foreign policy should outline a country’s objectives, and only then can a security policy be framed to help achieve them.
British foreign policy since the Second World War has largely been contracted out to the United States as the ultimate security policy, yet at a time when US policy is itself incoherent—witness climate change and the Paris accord; Iran and the Middle East peace process; Syria and the Kurds, which we have recently heard about; world trade and so on—it is time for the UK to start thinking for itself. The security, defence and foreign policy review allows time for a rethink. Should the emphasis be on a global role east of Suez, using our two hugely expensive aircraft carriers to project British power in the Pacific, or should we focus on security threats nearer to home?
As foreign affairs and defence spokesperson in the European Parliament, I remember leading the response to the 1998 SDR under the then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson—now a Member of your Lordships’ House. As we heard earlier in his incisive speech, we very much led that process. It was a serious review that laid out the path for British defence for over a decade. We have a chance to do the same, this time seeing where the country should be by 2030.
The UK’s defence equipment budget will have a £15 billion shortfall over the next decade, and projects such as the aircraft carriers and proposed Tempest stealth fighter jet will take a chunk of that. However, with modern warfare evolving, including the use—
On the point about the aircraft carriers, as I mentioned, they have now been paid for, so they will not take a huge chunk of the budget. I just want to make that clear.
I appreciate that. They cost £6.5 billion and that has been covered, but there will obviously be operational costs and we have yet to kit out the aircraft carriers with aircraft, which will bring an additional cost. However, I note what the noble Lord says.
With modern warfare evolving, including the use of armed drones and hypersonic missiles, which will have an impact on the ability of the aircraft carriers to defend themselves, let alone issues such as hybrid warfare and non-armed conflict, is this the best use of taxpayers’ money? Arguably, the fight against climate change and for energy and water security carries far greater security risks than conventional warfare. Cyber threats grow by the day, and artificial intelligence can be a force for good or bad. More joined-up government thinking would help, and certainly a review of the Department for International Development and its role is long overdue.
Finally, the Government announced that they would stand firm against those who threaten our values. I presume that that meant China, Iran, Russia and North Korea. Apart from possible sanctions, it is not obvious how that might be achieved. It is not a war we are clearly winning. History has not yet ended with the victory of liberal democracies.
I finish with one interesting fact. A survey by the Journal of Democracy found that in the land of the free only 30% of US millennials agree that it is “essential” to live in a democracy. That means that 70% of US millennials do not think that it is essential to live in a democracy. The struggle for hearts and minds should never be forgotten, and winning that war is our best defence.
My Lords, as we depart the European Union, we should remind ourselves that in wide areas of mutual activity we have created structures that have enabled us to co-operate effectively with our neighbours on matters such as migration, aid, defence and security—that is certainly to the fore at the moment—and also mutual recognition of qualifications. I very much hope that that will continue, to our mutual benefit.
However, as has also been mentioned by other noble Lords, we have seen our soft power work very well over many years, and that includes the British Council, the BBC overseas service, Chevening scholarships and the English language. We are an open society and we have an incorruptible judiciary. However, as we chart our own new course, I find it perplexing that our Foreign and Commonwealth Office enjoys such meagre funding, past and projected. I hope that the Budget will begin to address the new realities of this matter.
There have been some announcements and discussion about forming a specific government body which would strategically embrace defence, trade, overseas aid and the Foreign Office. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can inform us further about this. Again, this is exactly the right time to be achieving such a structure. It should be a great source of pride to us that we have such a generous, well-regarded and focused overseas aid and development programme. Yet, in my view, there is some disproportionality in this. Out of a total managed government expenditure of some £840 billion promoting our national interest in countries abroad, even with some ODA funding, we have a budget of just £1.1 billion. This is, of course, a fraction of what we commit to overseas aid and development. I am not suggesting that the functions are to be aligned, but it seems disproportionate as we look to the future.
In the past, our economy has been less export-oriented than many others, but huge and imaginative efforts have recently been made to promote trade and investment. I happen to be one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys. All of us work very closely with our embassies abroad, and I have seen how British companies, even small and medium-sized enterprises, are being vigorously encouraged to enter overseas markets with a substantial increase in UK export finance provision. The results are frankly impressive, springing from a new professionalism which has been developed in the last few years.
However, many of your Lordships will know something very important: our visa system needs urgent reassessment. It is all too often hit and miss. Our ambassadors, almost uniquely and all too often, have very limited discretion, which causes acute embarrassment at times, even to those who hold diplomatic passports. Important foreign individuals and officials often wish to come here to examine our incentives and flexible employment policies, which have spurred on our admirable start-up rates, especially in the sphere of technology and particularly as we are so committed now to sharing our experience and expertise with them. This is something I have witnessed often, but I have to say that, frequently, ambassadors are left saying silent prayers as visa applications are submitted because the system is so erratic.
This month, we will see the fruits of some productive interdepartmental co-operation at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, with attendance at the highest level. I applaud the emphasis on Africa that is now taking place, with huge challenges, including some dreadful situations of famine and the effects of climate change, but with huge opportunities too. We can share our expertise with our friends in Africa; people are coming at a high level to increase their prosperity, and we can open up opportunities for ourselves.
I conclude by saying that the Prime Minister has rightly called for us to move on from what has seemed at times over the last few years to be a very unhappy period in our long history. It is now incumbent on us to support fully those who, directly or indirectly, are forging our new relationships, and all too often in need of our fulsome praise and gratitude.
My Lords, I join those who have congratulated my new noble friend Lady Ritchie on her outstanding maiden speech. Her counsels will be very important to us all in the events that lie ahead in the immediate future. I declare an interest as someone deeply involved in a number of NGOs working in the sphere that we are debating. There is no difference among us in acknowledging that General Soleimani was a cruel, calculating and brutal leader; no one laments his departure. However, the question is not whether his departure is a good thing. The question is: what will be the consequences of the manner of his departure?
We have spent all the years since the Second World War striving with our American friends to build up a system of collective security, international responsibility and human rights, as a cornerstone of stability and justice. Of course there have been immense mistakes and setbacks, but they have been part of the whole struggle of our people together. President Trump’s flat-footed, insensitive, impetuous action in the Middle East has set that all back by decades. This is a moment to regroup and stand firm. We must retain the friendship of the American people. Our history is deeply involved with theirs, going right back—as we should be celebrating again this year—to the Pilgrim Fathers, whatever the chequered stories that followed, as well as to the First and Second World Wars and the huge sacrifices made by the American people for the freedom of Europe. That must never be forgotten. They are our friends and we must work with them.
However, we must not fall into the trap of saying that this means we have to follow the diktats and lines of the present President. That is quite a different question. There comes a time in friendship when candour is crucial. It is time to say to our American friends, whatever they may be feeling—and goodness knows there are debates raging within the USA itself—that enough is enough. We cannot afford the policies and techniques that the President is following.
I found some of the words of the Minister, when he introduced this debate, mildly encouraging; it is not the first time that I have been persuaded by the rhetoric of the noble Lord. The question is what must happen to ensure that we stand firm, as is necessary.
So many other matters should be covered in this debate; I will mention a couple. Climate change is intimately related to security. Let us look at global migration and at the effects on the global economy. It is inconceivable that in the new approach to security policy—which we all want to see—these dimensions should be lacking. It is also crucial that we recognise that scrutiny of the detail of trade deals, not least with the United States itself, is vital for security. We cannot afford the consequences if things go wrong in trade deals, where elements of the deals detract from the very objectives that we are trying to achieve in fulfilment of our values.
As we go into the future, we will need scrutiny as never before, starting with Parliament but extending beyond it. We have a vital, vibrant civil society in Britain of which we should be proud. That civil society must be engaged and must feel a sense of ownership in whatever emerges.
My Lords, Her Majesty in her most gracious Speech reiterated this Government’s ambitious plans in the field of international relations. Many of the challenges facing the global community cannot be addressed in the absence of effective diplomacy.
I recently visited Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, where I spoke about the importance of diplomacy. I wholeheartedly welcome the United Kingdom-Uzbekistan partnership and co-operation agreement. This is the first PCA signed by Her Majesty’s Government with a central Asian country. The agreement facilitates broad co-operation in trade and investment, sustainable development, environmental protection, energy and human rights. The Economist magazine recently named Uzbekistan country of the year in recognition of the many positive developments made in the country. Noble Lords will be aware that Uzbekistan shares a border with Afghanistan and has been a reliable partner in combating terrorism and drug and human trafficking. I ask the Minister to inform your Lordships’ House whether the Government have any plans for further co-operation in these areas. Are there any plans to appoint a trade envoy for Uzbekistan?
I have spoken on several occasions, and led a debate in your Lordships’ House, on the importance of the Commonwealth. I shall speak particularly on one Commonwealth country: Sri Lanka. Britain has vibrant Sri Lankan communities which have made enormous contributions to this country. Sri Lanka’s location at the heart of the Indian Ocean means it is uniquely positioned to serve as a regional centre for trade and services. The World Bank has recently classified Sri Lanka as an upper middle-income country. FTAs are in place with India, Pakistan and Singapore. Comprehensive trade agreements are also being negotiated with China, Thailand and Bangladesh. It is worth noting that businesses based in Sri Lanka can market their products and services to 3.5 billion people on preferential terms. Through the Port City Colombo project, Sri Lanka is creating a new international financial centre that will function under its own jurisdiction. Will the Government be providing expertise or facilitating the adoption of an English legal framework for this region? I would like to see us investing more in Sri Lanka and expanding our trade with that country.
I turn to a country that has faced massive upheaval but has enormous potential: Sudan. I have visited Sudan on three occasions. As Omar Bashir has been deposed, the UK and the international community should endeavour to build a meaningful relationship with the country to achieve peace and foster harmony among the people with a democratic and prosperous future. There must of course be efforts to ensure respect for human rights. I therefore commend the Sudan peace talks that were held in Juba recently, organised by the troika that includes us, the United States and Norway. I hope that all interested stakeholders will work together to ensure that all the negotiations have positive results, which is what the people of Sudan deserve and expect.
Sudan is in a region where its neighbours face civil or political unrest. Sudan’s neighbour Libya is a transit route for illegal migration, human trafficking and terrorism. We need to work with Sudan to establish security in the region and combat terrorism and radicalisation. I would like to see us working closely with Sudan in helping it to build its agricultural and mining sectors. It was Lord Kitchener who established the University of Khartoum, following the death of General Gordon. We should therefore make efforts to build closer educational ties between universities in Sudan and in the UK. I ask the Minister: how can we strengthen our relationship with Sudan and assist that country in a positive way?
As we prepare for our imminent departure from the European Union, it is vital that we resurrect and strengthen economic and diplomatic relationships across the globe.
My Lords, I will speak about Turkey and Syria, starting from 2013, when three left-wing Kurdish women were assassinated in a Paris apartment. No one has been charged with that crime, but everything points to Turkish state responsibility. Early in 2015, the Dolmabahçe agreement could have ended 30 years of Kurdish insurgency in Turkey but instead the President tore it up, thus provoking the failed coup d’état of 2016. Turkey, however, deserves credit for hosting more Syrian refugees than any other country. By contrast, it provided arms and medical treatment for the most extreme Islamist factions.
In 2014 and 2015, the Turkish army stood by looking on while ISIS destroyed the frontier town of Kobane, which was saved only by American air support. Since then, Turkey has seized three slices of Syria: first, around Jarabulus, then Afrin province, and last year a 50-mile strip along the frontier of Jazira—all this with no UN approval or consultation with NATO, using as paid allies Islamist fighters, who have killed civilians and raped and extorted, as we can see from the death of one woman MP in Syria and the killing of Rezan Sido and four friends, as reported by Agence France-Presse on 6 December. It is no wonder that 200,000 people were displaced and some 4,000 killed in an attack that saw white phosphorus used on civilians.
I must ask why HMG did not call for a compulsory and verified ceasefire in both Jazira and Idlib. What is their response to Turkey’s new claim to an undue share of Mediterranean gas and oil at the expense of Greece and Cyprus in particular? With this claim goes the recruiting of yet more Islamists to fight in Libya. How have our Government replied to the damning report of 20 December by the UN Assistant Secretary-General, Ursula Mueller?
After eight years of war in Syria and chaos in Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan and Libya, our Government have lost much of the influence that they once had. Dialogue is essential, as was pointed out by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, in the Gulf region, both across it and within it. It should start unofficially and continue formally. Have the Government budgeted for dialogue in the region? Will they also reconsider their approach to British jihadis, especially to their widows and orphans, and rethink their failure to have any representation at all in Damascus?
I have raised these issues previously, but they have been rejected, I am sorry to say. I will keep coming back to them. If one surveys the ruins of British and American policies in so much of the Middle East, it seems clear that second thoughts and new ideas are urgently needed, if only because of the unusual demography and deep discontent that exists there.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her interesting and thoughtful maiden speech.
The gracious Speech confirmed that the Government’s priority is to achieve Brexit at the end of this month. Even the most ardent remainers now accept that it will happen, and that it will be a real Brexit. The strong mandate given by the voters to the Prime Minister and the manifesto on which the new House of Commons has been elected make it abundantly clear that the constant pleading by the remain lobby that the people did not know what they were voting for in 2016, and so the result of the referendum should be discounted or diminished in importance, was complete fiction.
I normally agree with the wise contributions to your Lordships’ House made by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, but in his remarks on voting share in the general election, he did not include the point that 78.4% of the electorate did not vote for the Labour Party. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats, those strong proponents of proportional representation, should take note that the 100 seats they occupy in your Lordships’ House overrepresent their share of the vote by 63%.
There never was any point at all in half leaving the EU, such as would have been the case if a so-called soft Brexit had been pursued. I am delighted that we will properly leave the EU and regain our freedoms to make our own laws and regulations, which may or may not be the same as those adopted by the EU, but which will be those that we consider most appropriate for our businesses and our people, providing necessary protections to consumers and workers, while not encumbering businesses with red tape which may protect businesses in other European countries but does nothing to assist British entrepreneurs and innovators as they respond to the new opportunities open to them as Britain resumes its place as an independent country on the global stage.
The election result also permits a start to be made in rebuilding the trust and confidence formerly held by the public in our political institutions. The obstruction of the people’s decision to leave the EU by another place, aided, abetted and encouraged by your Lordships’ House, is the reason why Parliament has come to be held in such low regard by the people. I am happy that the process of recovery has already started, given the clear and decisive direction in which the Government have moved since the election, as articulated in
“the most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation”—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/19; col. 44.]
to deliver on the priorities of the British people, in the Prime Minister’s words.
I welcome the Government’s statement regarding the trade Bill. To build opportunities for businesses and maximise the future prosperity of our citizens, we need our own independent trade policy. In his uplifting introductory speech, my noble friend Lord Gardiner gave me some comfort that the Government’s sights are set a little higher than their paper on the Queen’s Speech suggests. The paper lists four principal elements of the trade Bill. They are all entirely sensible and necessary, but they are defensive and have more to do with preserving our present trading arrangements and protecting British firms against unfair practices than with setting out an exciting new trading strategy for the country after Brexit. The negotiation of our future trade relationship with the EU is of paramount importance, but it is also important to start negotiations with our other major trading partners. I was delighted to hear the Minister confirm that the Government intend to start these quickly. This will doubtless assist our negotiating position with the EU.
In addition to this, I believe it is of enormous importance for our independent trade policy and our geostrategic place in the world that we should, as soon as possible, indicate formally our intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Since the withdrawal of the United States, Japan has provided much of the leadership of the CPTPP, six of whose 11 members are Commonwealth countries. The CPTPP could thus provide basic trade agreements quickly with 11 countries on the basis already negotiated in detail by the present members, while negotiations on deeper bilateral agreements proceed in tandem with Japan, Australia and others, which may take longer to finalise. The Japanese and Australian Governments have both on several occasions indicated their positive stance towards UK accession to the CPTPP. Again, I believe that an early application for accession by the UK would strengthen our position in EU trade negotiations.
My Lords, I declare an interest as an engineer in the energy industry and as director of the cross-party group Peers for the Planet. It was most welcome to hear in the gracious Speech the Government’s specific commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. There is a vast canvas of challenges that the Government need to think about to meet that target, so I will focus on a few key issues for our future energy system.
The 2050 energy system scenario of the Committee on Climate Change has two key elements: variable renewables—for example, offshore wind—and low-carbon baseload or firm power. There is a fairly low risk with renewables in that, if we keep on with our current build rate, we will get to where we need to be by 2050. However, there are significant risks with provision of the low-carbon firm power. The Committee on Climate Change recognises that we need firm power, and lots of it, to counter the intermittent nature of renewables and ensure that we have an economically viable overall energy system. There are two options for that firm power: nuclear, or gas turbines with carbon capture and storage—we need both.
I will make three overall points. First, carbon capture and storage is absolutely central to the net-zero scenario of the Committee on Climate Change, which envisages capturing around 176 megatonnes, or million tonnes, per year of carbon dioxide by 2050. That massive number is not even the main issue; it is that our capture capacity today is precisely zero. The technology itself is well understood but there are many uncertainties on cost and systems integration—between extraction, transport and storage of CO2—and the amount of CO2 that can be captured, the capture rate of the technology on a large scale. This is why we urgently need a carbon capture and storage demonstrator project to start deployment of that technology in this decade. Failure to provide CCS could be the single biggest risk in achieving the net-zero target. Can the Minister provide more detail on the scope of the plans to provide a carbon capture and storage cluster in the UK and the timescales involved?
Secondly, on nuclear, the key issue here is pricing and affordability. Government and industry need to do much more to reduce the cost of the technology. The key routes to doing that are looking at the finance model—the regulated asset base funding model that is being investigated is one of those—repeatability, namely producing the same design of plants over and over again and getting the efficiency gains from that; and finally, technological innovation, for example modular build, which we are seeing in the proposals for small modular reactors. All those provide a route to getting to the £60 per-megawatt-hour level which we need for the technology.
I believe new nuclear is essential for zero-carbon emissions by 2050; it is the only mature option for low-carbon firm power generation, and an urgent refresh of plans is required to increase nuclear capacity in the UK. After recent pauses and cancellations, we have only a single new nuclear project under construction in the UK. Can the Minister update the House on the actions the Government will take to increase new nuclear capacity in the UK?
Thirdly, we need to think about management and governance of the energy system as a whole because having the rapid period of change, and added complexity in the system, to achieve zero by 2050 is unprecedented. There have long been calls for an independent energy system architect, whose purpose would be to look at that system as a whole and flexibly deliver the optimum system for zero by 2050. Those arguments were developed in a report of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee back in March 2015. The Government should revisit this really important idea because business as usual will not be sufficient to deliver this incredibly complex system.
Others have made the case much better than I could on why we are pursuing this, particularly in the powerful contributions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and my noble friend Lady Hayman. Now we need to focus on the how.
My Lords, in the short time available in this wide-ranging debate, I wish to focus on Latin America. Last year I had the privilege of attending, as the Government’s special envoy, the inauguration of three new Presidents following fair and free elections in June in El Salvador, in July in Panama and in December in Argentina. President Bukele of El Salvador, at 37 the youngest President in the Americas, faces huge challenges but is determined to ensure that El Salvador should be a country in which people wish to live, remain and invest rather than looking north and emigrating. President Laurentino Cortizo of Panama seeks to increase Panama’s strategic geographical advantages by also ensuring good governance, rule of law, a competitive economy and inequality reduction. President Alberto Fernández of Argentina, in spite of references to sovereignty in the south Atlantic in his inaugural speech, seemed to me a person we can do business with to pursue many of the initiatives currently in place.
All three new Presidents expressed to me their hope and wish to increase and improve relations with the United Kingdom. The good will expressed in those three countries exists throughout Latin America, from Mexico through central America and down to the tip of Patagonia. In part, this is because of the historic support that Great Britain gave some 200 years ago for its independence movements. That support may be not thought of much here but is well remembered throughout the region. In part, it is also because the United Kingdom has always been seen as a solid, stable and dependable country, with values to be relied upon. There is tremendous respect for our institutions; I only hope that recent events have not diminished this view too much. But I also hope that we take advantage of these favourable signals because the opportunities for trade and investment, and for co-operation and partnership in Latin America, are considerable.
In the field of education, for example, it is not just about the teaching of English and the links between universities and other educational institutions. There is also enormous scope for our education supplies industry. On renewable energy, as my noble friend the Minister said in opening and as the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, has just said, we can contribute much from our knowledge and expertise. We can also learn because Brazil, for example, has made huge strides with biomass energy through ethylene being used not only to heat homes but to fly aeroplanes. There is plenty of scope on climate change, with Colombia and Brazil being the most biodiverse countries in the world while Amazonia provides the lungs of the world—that is, not just Brazil but Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia. Antarctica also gives us great scope for research and scientific co-operation. The launch of the Antarctic Parliamentarians Assembly in London last September to help co-ordinate research is an important step forward. In Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, as another example, the Charles Darwin Foundation is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary with great success.
The late Lord Davidson founded Canning House in 1948 because he understood that the British Empire was coming to an end, and had the foresight to recognise that we had to find a new role in the world. Canning House continues to work to fulfil this role and I am proud to be a former president, and currently a vice-president, of it. George Canning famously said 200 years ago:
“I called the New World into existence, to redress the balance of the Old.”
Those words seem very appropriate for us today.
Latin America is still the new world and it behoves the old world—that is, us in Europe and this country in particular—to see its countries on our priority list, especially when we think of the competition and, in that respect, of China. In spite of the fact that there was no direct reference to Latin America in the Queen’s Speech I hope that my noble friend the Minister, who has a mammoth task in winding up this debate, will be able to give me some reassurance and encouragement that Latin American countries and the region as a whole are firmly in our focus in post-Brexit Britain.
My Lords, I want to concentrate my remarks on some rather narrower defence issues, moving away from deep foreign policy and defence issues which have been well touched on today. We are given to understand that the Army is some 8,000 short of its manning target, due partly to recruiting difficulties and partly to lack of retention. Can my noble friend say what proportion of this figure, if it is correct, applies to the Regular Army and what proportion to the Army Reserve? We hear all kinds of reasons being given for the shortage: lack of fitness; lack of educational qualifications; turbulence; unwillingness to deploy, which is surely what the Armed Forces are for; family issues, and even the state of military housing. I want to dwell particularly on the last of these, relating to the defence estate in Scotland.
It is my understanding that more than 1,000 military homes in Scotland lie empty, a figure up several hundred from 2013. Is this figure correct and, if so, why should it be? What state are those houses in? Are they habitable? Are they maintained? Are they up to the accepted current standards of energy performance certification? If the houses are to remain empty, has any consideration been given to alternative uses for them that can perhaps be associated with past military use? Might they not be used to house, under whatever circumstances can be arranged, veterans, particularly perhaps those who have disabilities? There would be a cost implication of any adaptation necessary, which would fall to the Scottish Government to fund, but improvements in the EPC standards of those houses would seem to be an MoD responsibility to address weaknesses in its current Scottish housing stock if it is still on its books.
The upgrading of all properties in Scotland to EPC level C was one of the few Conservative-led and costed energy policies in Scotland which the SNP was initially against but for which cross-party support has now been achieved. The work necessary to achieve suitable upgrades of MoD housing would give an economic boost through delivering job opportunities and spending in rural areas.
Like my noble friend on the Front Bench, I live in Scotland and am very aware of the various dimensions of Scottish politics which impinge on our daily lives, but here we have a subject where the responsibilities seem to be shared. Improving Scottish MoD housing stock from Westminster sources would be an example of Scottish Conservative policies in action and, with its economic and social benefits, perhaps even give a taste of what a change in government in Holyrood in 2021 might look like.
After her many years deeply involved in Scottish politics and now with MoD ministerial responsibilities, I am sure that my noble friend Lady Goldie will understand the broader political point that I am making. She might accept also that we cannot allow military-owned houses to lie empty, inadequately insulated or in a state of poor repair, whatever the technicalities of their ownership. They should be put to full and imaginative use either for the military, for the veterans or, with suitable adaptation, for those with disabilities. They should not be left to rot.
My Lords, I will speak principally about the trade opportunities for the UK in health and health science, but I will also recognise the important work in health done by DfID and touch on the Government’s desire to be
“a force for good in the world.”
The UK is a world leader in health and health science and can strengthen that position still further in the coming months. Five years ago, the APPG on Global Health, which I co-chair, published a comprehensive report which mapped out the UK’s contribution to health globally. It showed that we are a leader in the four big sectors of: academia—by which I mean research and professional education; commercial activity, which is life sciences; government action through DfID and the NHS; and our great NGO sector. Overall, if we map out the UK’s entire contribution to health and health improvement globally, we see that we come second only to the US and beat it in some areas of research on some measures.
We will publish a follow-up, post-Brexit report at the end of this month. It shows that the UK’s position has strengthened in the past five years in many areas with, for example, a new life sciences strategy—a sector that is expanding very quickly, with a turnover of £74 billion; massively increased investment in research; importantly, new regional groupings outside the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London, in the north, Scotland, Wales and the south-west, which are linking NHS institutions and the great universities in those areas to develop more products and more research for the world; and recent ratings which show that we have the two top universities in the world and other ratings showing that we have three of the five best universities for medicine in the world, the best science journal in Nature and two of the four top medical journals in the Lancet and the BMJ. We also have enormous influence globally on health; for example, through tackling antimicrobial resistance and through international development. This is an impressive story.
These improvements are due in part to the very positive action taken by the Government as well as by health and science leaders in all parts of the UK. Of course, the one negative area is the risks associated with Brexit, of severing ties with European institutions and losing out on those research funds, and the difficulties in recruiting and retaining scientists and health workers. These are real risks, but if they can be managed successfully—I am being very positive about this in this speech—the scope for trade and exports from this sector, as well as increased influence and soft power, is truly enormous.
Our forthcoming report will call for the Government to work with health and science leaders to develop the UK as a truly global centre for health and health sciences—if you like, a go-to place for all aspects of health globally. I believe the timing for this is perfect. Health is the fastest-growing sector globally; science and technology promise new breakthroughs and the UK is very well placed, with its research base, to take advantage of them. However, this will require vision, leadership, investment and greater co-ordination to capture some of the synergies between these different sectors, as well as dealing with the risks I talked about and a whole host of issues, including the difficulty of getting visas for foreign scientists and others coming in to this country, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Risby.
If we get this right, the gains will be both financial and—vital in today’s dangerous world—in terms of greater UK influence as well as our commitment to achieving health for all and our work in international development. It is not always apparent that this is also about sustaining high standards globally in science and business which the UK upholds very forcefully; in other words, this is a demonstration of what the Minister talked about earlier—the UK being a force for good in the world.
The report makes a number of recommendations, but I will pull out just one: to realise the untapped potential of all those areas outside the golden triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London, all of which now have bodies trying to bring together research from the institutions, the NHS and the universities, to get this underdeveloped and underutilised resource into play.
Finally, the UK is already known as a world finance centre, and I see no reason that it should not become equally well known as a global centre for health and health science. In fact, this is within our grasp and it would be to the benefit of the world and the UK. I ask the Minister, first, if the Government will support this approach and build up the UK as a global centre for health and health science, alongside their existing commitments to developing and strengthening the NHS and international trade. Secondly, will they ensure that the UK’s enormous strengths in health and health science will be at the heart of their preparations and subsequent negotiations for new trade deals?
My Lords, I welcome the measures announced in the gracious Speech and look forward to debating some of the issues as the parliamentary Session proceeds. I shall concentrate on trade, climate change, food production and the environment. First, however, the withdrawal agreement Bill was given a resounding Second Reading in another place. I hope that the debates of scrutiny and revision in this House will work towards a positive new era. We must urgently engage in meaningful discussions. It has been implied that the EU is unwilling to co-operate, which I find surprising as it has a trade surplus with the UK of over £100 billion. It is surely in all our interests that progress is made in establishing new agreements.
Turning to climate change, the Met Office forecasts that our summers will become hotter, and droughts more likely; that rainfall, when it comes, will be of greater intensity. In Leicestershire, the average rainfall for the past eight years has been between 25 and 29 inches a year, but in 2019 the total was over 48 inches. We were so much more fortunate than other areas in the country where six inches of rain fell in two days and where families had to leave their homes and farmland was waterlogged. I welcome the Conservative manifesto pledge of £4 billion towards flood defences but I ask the Minister whether the current arrangements for flood management are adequate. I understand that responsibility falls partly between the Environment Agency, the local authorities and the drainage boards. Will this be reviewed? How is the finance allocated?
I turn to land management. How do we value the production of food against any other demands made upon the countryside, be that for renewable energy, growing trees, housing, infrastructure, biodiversity, wildlife, tourism or simply for the health benefits that being outside in the country brings? Some 70% of that land is farmed. We know that population growth will require more food and that more houses will need to be built, but somewhere a balance has to be struck. For my part—I declare our family farming interests as in the register—the first responsibility of any Government is to defend the country and the second is to feed their people. UK farmers produce healthy, affordable food. The Minister referred earlier to our high standards in animal welfare, crop growth and environmental protection. Those high standards of animal welfare, plus the valuable red tractor logo, and many other recognised assurance schemes, give confidence to consumers.
I welcome the commitment in the Conservative manifesto to buy British, especially through public procurement. In looking to future trade deals, we must ensure that the high standards I spoke of earlier are applied equally to imported food, and that UK producers can compete on an even basis—a fair deal for both. I understand that the Government propose to gather and share trade information to support UK businesses against unfair trade practices; this commitment is to be welcomed. Does the Minister have any additional information to share with the House today, or details of what is going to be established?
There are four Bills on my topic awaiting our deliberations: an agriculture Bill, a fisheries Bill, an environment Bill and an animal welfare Bill. I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on the setting up of the new office for environmental protection: it must be independent, must be financed properly and must have teeth, for without that, it will fail. I hope that these Bills will give us the opportunity to rethink the ways in which we tackle six additional issues: waste, especially food waste; packaging; plastics; fly-tipping; recycling; and renewable energy projects.
We have an enormous amount of work before us. It will require purposeful discussions and the will to pull together to ensure that people throughout Britain can look to a better future. I believe we have a great responsibility; we must not fail them.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s gracious Speech affirmed the UK’s commitment to
“work closely with international partners to help solve the most complex international security issues and promote peace and security globally.”
That was a very important commitment, yet I deeply regret that I have personally witnessed how, in Nigeria, British foreign policy has caused more harm than good.
In recent years, many thousands of civilians have been killed in attacks led by Islamist Boko Haram and Fulani militias in northern and central-belt states. The underlying drivers of conflict are complex, yet targeted violence and the perpetration of atrocities against predominantly Christian communities suggest that religion and ideology play a key part, as emphasised in the Bishop of Truro’s excellent report. Christian communities are specifically targeted. Reliable sources claim that more than 5,000 Christians have been killed since 2015, with 1,000 murdered in 2019. The Global Terrorism Index in 2016 and 2017 named Fulani militia as the fourth deadliest terrorist group in the world, with only Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Shabaab being accounted deadlier. During many of the attacks, the Fulani are reported by survivors to have shouted “Allahu Akbar”, “Destroy the infidels” and “Wipe out the infidels.”
The attacks have, on occasion, led to retaliatory violence, as communities can no longer rely on the Government for protection or justice. However, we have seen no evidence of comparability of scale or equivalence of atrocities. During a recent visit to Nigeria, in November, I met survivors of five villages attacked by Fulani militia, forcing an estimated 12,000 people to flee. In two of the villages, 116 people were killed. It was possible to meet only a limited number of survivors, but the consistency of their experiences is deeply disturbing and consistent with evidence from numerous previous visits. These are disturbing statistics, but behind every statistic is a human horror story. I give just a few examples of the suffering of the people: sadly, I could massively multiply them.
Antonia from Karamai said:
“I saw my brother-in-law’s body on the ground, hacked to pieces by a machete. Our home was destroyed. The hospital was burnt. They tried to burn the roof of the church by piling up the chairs, like a bonfire.”
A pastor from Madugrui said:
“Every day we carry new corpses to the cemetery. They kill farmers. They destroy our homes and churches. They kidnap and rape women.”
Ta’aziya from Karamai said:
“We could see bullets whizzing. Everything was destroyed. In our whole village, only two of the homes were not burnt. Almost 50 people were killed.”
As a final example, it was my agonising privilege to weep with and to hug Veronica, from Dogon Noma, who told me:
“They attacked me with a machete twice, once to the neck and once to my hand.”
I saw the scars. She said:
“They said they wanted my daughter to suck my finger. So they amputated my forefinger and I passed out. When I woke up, I saw my six year-old daughter on the ground, dead, with my chopped finger in her mouth.”
More recently, 11 Nigerian Christians were killed by Islamic State terrorists in a brutal Christmas Day attack. The beheadings of the 11 Christians, shown in a video by Islamic State in West Africa, ISWAP, were gruesome so-called revenge for the killing in Syria of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In addition to the deep concerns caused by the brutal killings, there are the disturbing implications of the allegiance pledged by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the sect leader of Boko Haram, to ISWAP, suggesting that ISIS has consolidated its hold on a new African frontier. This indicates a more internationally organised terrorist group bringing together Islamist militants to achieve their objectives in West Africa.
While the underlying causes of violence are complex, the asymmetry and escalation of attacks by well-armed Fulani militia upon these predominately Christian communities are stark and must be acknowledged. Such atrocities cannot be attributed just to desertification, climate change or competition for resources, as our Government have claimed. The situation fulfils the criteria of genocide as recognised by the Nigerian National Assembly and must be so recognised, with the international community’s duty to respond accordingly.
Given the Nigerian Government’s apparent complicity in the persecution of Christians, there is a strong argument that international aid should be curtailed until Abuja fulfils its duties to protect and provide for its own citizens of any belief who are subjected to such horrendous suffering, and to end the impunity with which the perpetrators of atrocities perpetuate their horrendous crimes.
Can the Minister give us an assurance that our Government will fulfil the commitment made in the gracious Speech and pressure the Nigerian Government to protect and provide for all their people, bringing desperately needed protection and help to over 2 million citizens now suffering displacement, the many thousands mourning the deaths of loved ones and all those living in acute danger of terrorist attacks? They have been pleading for help and protection, which have not been forthcoming so far. I passionately hope that the Government’s commitment will result in these pleas for help no longer being in vain.
My Lords, there are so many subjects that one could talk about after this Queen’s Speech, but I will talk about some rumours and speculation which are causing much concern among the people with whom I work.
We have heard from various sources that the Department for International Development is to be absorbed by the Foreign Office. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, referred to something in the Daily Mail this morning saying that this was not true and was not going to happen. If it were any newspaper but the Daily Mail, I might have torn up my speech and decided to talk about something else, but I am not going to as I do not trust that newspaper.
It was suggested most graphically by the Prime Minister nearly a year ago, who alerted me when he said to the Financial Times:
“We can’t keep spending huge sums of … money as though we were some … Scandinavian NGO … The present system is leading to inevitable waste as money is shoved”—
shoved—“out of the door.” He went on to say that aid should “cohere”
“much better with UK political and … commercial objectives.”
I found that very disturbing. I dispute whether his political and commercial objectives would be less wasteful than concentrating on improving the lives of people all over the world, many of whom are seeking asylum because of our mistaken foreign policy or migrating—some here—because we have wrecked the lands on which they depend through our overconsumption of everything. This has been mentioned by many during this debate.
I remind the Government that with our exit from the European Union they want us to become a force for good in the world. The work of the Department for International Development, since it was created in 1997, when I went into the House of Commons, has hugely enhanced our reputation worldwide. If we want the soft power we hear about, it is being exerted already by that department, a point emphasised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson.
Wherever I have been in the world in my development work since 1997, I have heard good things about the Department for International Development and the wonderful work it does—far better than any other country and possibly even better than some of those Scandinavian NGOs mentioned by the Prime Minister.
I remind the House that 25% to 30% of DfID’s budget is already being diverted to other government departments and cross-government funds with little accountability. These departments include the Foreign Office, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the interestingly named Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. This made me smile a bit, and I wondered whether this fund would be better spent on keeping Donald Trump permanently on his golf course up in Scotland instead of allowing him to further destabilise the Middle East.
I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the Department for International Development will remain and that the commitments made by our Government to family planning and maternal health—my pet subjects—will be honoured, especially those to UNFPA, IPPF and Marie Stopes International. The World Bank has said that providing universal family planning is the single most effective intervention we can make in developing countries for their economic progress; it is the single most effective measure we can take. In particular, I hope that the £600 million pledged by the Secretary of State, Alok Sharma, at the UN Assembly last September and the pledges to prioritise funding for sexual and reproductive health made at the ICPD conference in Nairobi in November will be honoured. Can the Minister please reassure us that the great work done by previous Conservative and Labour Governments through DfID will continue, and that women and girls will remain the top priority in the development agenda?
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, on her excellent speech, which stressed the importance of seeking unity and reconciliation.
I will briefly pick up on a few points from the Queen’s Speech concerning foreign affairs. The first concerns the scope to assist grass-roots democracy both here and abroad. The Government plan to invest to a greater extent in every part of this country, yet, while in the first place an internal economic objective to help our own communities, internationally this endeavour also stands to benefit other communities elsewhere.
My second point concerns the expectation about any immigration policy: that it should be evaluated not just by efficient management of population movements but against fair and humane standards. Although it is more restricted than it was, if handled properly, the Government’s currently revised immigration policy could prove to work well in all these necessary respects.
My third point concerns the distinction between the 28-state affiliation of the EU, which we are leaving, and the far larger one of 47 states, of the Council of Europe, which we are not leaving. Thus, correspondingly, through remaining in the Council of Europe, the opportunities for constructive adjustment and leadership in Europe now open to us.
Certainly, the more economic prosperity spreads out from London and the south, the more confident our cities and regions will become—equally, the greater their independence and ability to choose how to sustain and further develop such prosperity. One option is through economic and cultural partnerships, which are increasingly popular. They are formed directly between cities or regions in one country and those in another. Identification of mutual economic advantage comes first. However, political stability is a very welcome by-product.
My noble friend the Minister will recall that the central strategy of the United Kingdom’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe a few years ago was to build up local democracy in Europe, for this can provide valuable grass-roots protection against forms of extremism and imbalance if arising within the politics of different nation states. Does my noble friend thus acknowledge the useful part that direct international economic partnerships between different cities and regions already play in assisting local democracy? Can she say what plans the Government, along with local authorities, have to inform, promote and help facilitate them further? Does she agree that their prospects and advantages should be advertised and encouraged in the forthcoming outline structure for trading arrangements post Brexit?
On migration, the Government recently stressed the importance of international action against human trafficking and modern slavery. Last year, this subject was made a priority by the Foreign Ministers of Council of Europe member states. Here I declare an interest as current chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Refugee and Migrant Children and Young People. A new report focuses on necessary action against human trafficking and migrant smuggling. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Government will continue to support such action proposed by the Council of Europe?
Studying abroad is an essential part of modern education. The Council of Europe has drafted conventions for the mutual recognition of studies and degrees in higher education. The UK is already party to these. Nevertheless, can my noble friend tell us how, post Brexit, the Government will facilitate student mobility once the current versions of Erasmus and other EU programmes come to an end?
Then there is the triple paradox which obtains when foreign students are classified as migrants, for thereby they feel unwelcome and as a result go more readily to study in competitor states. To a lesser extent also will our economy then be able to benefit from their skills, if otherwise they might have studied here and then chosen to stay on. Not least, too, it becomes all the harder for any Government to reduce migration levels in general if foreign students are included within those numbers when they do not need to be at all. Does my noble friend the Minister therefore agree that foreign students should now be removed from official migration statistics?
Finally, through remaining within the large 47-state affiliation of the Council of Europe, there are opportunities for adjustment and leadership in particular that are now open to us. The EU has set up mechanisms for security and law enforcement co-operation. The last British EU Commissioner, Sir Julian King, was responsible for the security union. What plans do the Government now have to ensure that British law enforcement authorities can work properly with their European counterparts, and within the framework of the Council of Europe’s legal standards and actions, such as its cybercrime convention and its conventions against terrorism?
By leaving the EU, the foreign service will probably be restructured through deploying resources from departments which until now have been EU focused. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, and my noble friend Lord Risby have already referred to this. As a result, will the foreign service increase the resources it allocates to the Council of Europe and other international organisations?
This year, does the Foreign Secretary intend to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and share with parliamentarians from all over Europe the United Kingdom’s future vision and approach within Europe?
Brexit simply reflects our recent decision to change trading arrangements with our 27 EU partners; it has nothing to do with the priorities for Europe, which are democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Their consolidation was the goal of Winston Churchill when he launched an initiative in London leading, 70 years ago in 1949, to the formation, along with other like-minded states, of the Council of Europe.
The UK is viewed by our other 46 member state colleagues as a key instigator and custodian of such priorities. In responding to this trust, all the more so now must we protect those values.
My Lords, we heard in the gracious Speech about
“An Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review … covering all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy and development”.
Like other noble Lords, I ask the Minister if she would elaborate on the expected timeline for this review. I also hope that she can reassure the House that a full and proper consultation process will be forthcoming.
However, I would like to focus on the wider objectives of taking an integrated approach to foreign policy and development, because the right thing to do when scrutinising policy is to step back and consider the broader questions. What sort of world do we want to live in, and what should Britain’s role be within it? The response is surely this: a safe, prosperous, healthy world, and a well-respected Britain with a reliable network of security allies and trading partners. It is those objectives that should guide our international policy and that I will use throughout my speech.
Girls’ education and climate were the only development areas mentioned in the gracious Speech, so they are a clear priority for the Government. GAVI replenishment is an obvious priority for the Secretary of State, made clear by his ending preventable deaths strategy, as we have already heard. I congratulate the Government on their work in these areas. Education, climate and vaccines are key building blocks for creating a world in which we all want to live.
However, I am concerned that the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth summit is not being prioritised to the same extent. The summit is of such importance that the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, who is in his place, and I co-chair an APPG on it. Nutrition is the foundation of the health of every one of us. According to the WHO, malnutrition is the number one cause of illness worldwide and contributes to the deaths of almost half of all under-fives. Malnutrition causes irreversible physical and cognitive stunting. Thirty-three per cent of children across Africa are stunted due to malnutrition and are therefore unlikely to meet their full potential as adults.
Successive Conservative Governments have championed nutrition both domestically and abroad. The UK’s first ever national food strategy is being developed as we speak. It was David Cameron’s Government who hosted the first ever Nutrition for Growth summit back in 2013. The summit raised over £17 billion and stakeholders signed up to ambitious targets to end malnutrition. Sadly, we are behind on almost all targets, and at the end of this year there is no new UK funding for nutrition. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, that the Tokyo summit is an opportunity to put that right. The Government must grasp it if they want to meet their other global objectives.
Let us take girls’ education, for example. It is no coincidence that girls are disproportionately affected by malnutrition and face more barriers to education than boys. Girls often eat least and last, despite their additional nutrition needs, particularly during menstruation. The health problems caused by malnutrition mean that, despite our best efforts, unless we tackle malnutrition, many girls will never attend school and those who do are unlikely to meet their potential.
The same is true for GAVI, as the efficacy of vaccines is massively reduced if the recipient is malnourished. Without stepping up efforts to end malnutrition, the Secretary of State cannot meet his commitment to end preventable deaths by 2030, as mentioned by the Minister.
Agriculture and food systems are extremely sensitive to climate change, as many noble Lords have indicated. At the same time, they contribute 20% to 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We must take a holistic approach, developing food and agriculture systems that are both climate-friendly and supportive of healthy, diverse diets.
When done right, all these things contribute to the UK’s wider foreign policy objectives. Just listen, for example, to the head of the UN World Food Programme recount conversations he had in Syria:
“My husband did not want to join Isis but we had no food, we had no choice.”
Likewise, on trade and diplomacy, less poverty equals more trade and greater security. Being an active member of the donor community improves Britain’s standing with other aid donors, such as America, the EU and Japan.
We need a foreign policy that is not about box ticking. If Britain is to spend large sums of money on girls’ education, vaccinations or climate change, let us not just tick the box, let us accelerate the impact of those interventions and look at them in the wider context of our vision for this world and Britain’s place in it.
I kindly request that the noble Lord—
I remind the noble Baroness of the advisory speaking time.
I am just coming to the end. Would a DfID Minister be happy to meet the APPG to look at the summit in Tokyo?
My Lords, the die is cast in political terms. We are leaving the EU, but there is still a way to go before we cast off completely from Europe. I remain a remainer. I not only think the decision to leave was wrong, but I believe and hope we shall make every effort to coincide the interests of the UK with those of our European allies. That much I think the Minister could and will accept today. After all, our security—as well as our economy—depends on it.
It is early days, but fortunately this Government have not yet set their priorities in stone. There is much to be negotiated, not just on trade but on our relationship with the various elements of the Commission that have been an essential part of our foreign policy for over four decades. The sharing of data and intelligence in respect of both criminal activity and our defence and security is critical to our future identity. As a leader in international development, we are also bound to work with our European neighbours.
On defence, the US remains our key ally in NATO, despite its impetuous, disaster-prone and sometimes reckless President, as we have heard more than once today. France and Germany will become the key European axis, with the UK now at one remove. But we must stay close to President Macron, who seems to have a Gaullist streak—although the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said that he is a listening President. He certainly needs more external distractions at the moment and his position at home is precarious; nevertheless, he has done the rest of us a great favour in challenging Presidents Trump and Erdoğan simultaneously for their outrageous disregard for NATO and international co-operation in Syria. The Turkish invasion broke all the rules and our oldest ally failed to consult even EU and NATO members. Then came last week’s strikes against Iran, including the disproportionate killing of General Soleimani, and not even the signatories of the Iran nuclear treaty complained. NATO allies now have to patch it up with Turkey: they have to pay their 2% subs in full—Trump is right about that. As Jeremy Hunt recently pointed out, as long as the US pays double it will always call the shots.
The war between Russia and Ukraine following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea has cost thousands of lives. The election of President Zelensky has led to prisoner swaps and some hopes of peace in Donbass, but Russia’s continual bullying over the new gas pipeline and President Trump’s attempted investigation of the Biden family have muddied the waters still further. US sanctions and Putin’s attitude to the INF treaty have left the EU looking incapable. There is certainly no room for the UK in this multiple crisis, and yet, as a NATO partner, we have to remain on full alert and expect that the worst may happen.
The western Balkans remains another priority for NATO, and this time our own defence forces have an important ground role, only 20 years after the war in Bosnia and Kosovo. Once again, Russia’s dirty tricks must keep us on our guard.
While NATO’s role in the Middle East remains uncertain, its relations with Africa are more defined as a result of the agreement signed with the African Union in Naples on 4 November. This will lead to greater co-operation in exercises and training.
I am impressed by the British Army’s involvement in international development, especially in Unity state in South Sudan, which I have visited and where I have followed events quite closely. About 300 soldiers, some trained engineers, have been clearing roads and making aid more accessible, including helping women and children to reach the UN distribution centres. On one road near Bentiu, in the course of a fortnight, a number of women were raped on their way to collect food. It is one of the most dangerous areas in the world because of prevailing conflict over oil resources and the failure of government to reconcile different ethnic groups. Human security is becoming a normal target of aid missions such as this one, and the MoD and other ministries are to be congratulated on this joined-up approach. Nevertheless, many of us have concerns about the proposed merger of our aid programme. Conflict prevention is easily understood as a joint ministry programme, but integrating all our aid and diplomatic missions would be clumsy, impracticable and unaccountable.
Incidentally, I was pleased to hear the Minister mention special protection for developing countries against climate change. I look forward to hearing more details on that.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, on her maiden speech. At the same time, I refer the House to my non-financial registered interest as president of the Conservative Friends of Israel.
We live in a dangerous world, so it is right that the Government can now form their own foreign policy and stand firm against those who threaten our values—Qasem Soleimani unambiguously threatened our values.
I also welcome the Government’s commitment in the gracious Speech to ban public bodies from imposing their own direct or indirect boycott, divestment or sanctions campaigns against foreign countries. The Prime Minister talked of the “nauseating frequency” with which Israel is singled out. Your Lordships will permit me to continue this theme.
While we were engaged in a general election, the General Assembly of the United Nations was in session passing resolutions on hot spots around the globe, calling out countries that needed calling out. There was one resolution on North Korea, one on Syria, one on Iran, and two on Russia. There were no resolutions on China, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. But there were no fewer than 18 resolutions on Israel. That is totally unacceptable and, what is more, far too often the UK votes for these resolutions.
On Friday 13 December, as the final results of our election were being announced, a resolution was passed at the UN General Assembly on
“Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem”.
I would need more than the five minutes allocated to explain that the premise of the resolution is unacceptable. However, suffice it for me to say that the resolution totally ignored terror attacks against Israeli civilians in Israel, referring to them as “tensions and violence”. It negated the deadly attacks in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities, and it sought to strip Israel of its inherent right to self-defence by classifying every defensive measure as a violation of international law. In addition, it referred to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem only by its Islamic name, Haram al-Sharif. What did we do? We voted for the resolution, whereas our allies and friends in Canada, Australia and the US had the courage to vote against it.
I have no problem with legitimate criticism where it is due, but this obsession with Israel needs to be addressed. Israel is being singled out with nauseating frequency, to borrow a phrase, and we are joining in. This singling out of the Jewish state is wrong, unjustified and plays a role in the rise and rise of anti-Semitism. Whether it manifests itself in Monsey in the United States or just down the road in South Hampstead, it arises, as we have seen in the Labour Party, when there is a failure of leadership on the grandest scale.
As we began today’s debate it was a Jewish fast day: the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet. It marks the day when the siege of Jerusalem was begun by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon in 586 BC/BCE—the beginning of the battle that ultimately destroyed the first Temple. Yet there are resolutions at UN agencies that recognise no Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. I therefore urge the Minister to look very carefully before we sign up to resolutions at the UN and other bodies.
In conclusion, I am unapologetic for raising once again the issue of Palestinian prisoner salary payments. In contradiction of its assurances to the international community, the Palestinian Authority pays monthly salaries to Palestinian terrorists and their families. In 2018, the Palestinian Authority paid over £260 million—around 7% of its annual budget—on salaries to killers and murderers. In November 2019, the Netherlands became the first European country to discontinue direct aid to the Palestinian Authority due to its terror reward policy. I therefore urge the Minister also to look carefully at this. We must pay our way, but not when our aid is used to pay for slay. We must find a method by which aid payments serve the recipients who need our support in Palestinian society and at the same time serve the interests of the British taxpayer.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Polak, just reminded us, General Soleimani was a deeply dangerous man. However, the truth is that all America’s allies were caught short by his killing, and all now face an unpredictable situation in the Middle East, perhaps as dangerous as any since 2003. I know that officials have been working flat out since Friday to make sure that measures are taken to keep British people and interests as safe as they can. I listened carefully to the Statement made earlier this afternoon and welcome the immediate steps the Government are taking. However, whatever the intentions behind the attack, it has already damaged western interests. It has increased the prospect of terrorist attacks, including unplanned, opportunistic attacks. It has undercut the moderates in Iran and strengthened the hardliners. It has exposed the coalition military forces in Iraq—including British forces—to greater risk. They were doing vital work in the fight against ISIS, but there must now be a real risk that any western military presence in Iraq will become unsustainable. I fear that it has also removed any last prospect of keeping the nuclear deal alive.
This upheaval comes on top of President Trump’s decision before Christmas to pull US forces out of northern Syria—which left Turkey and Russia as the dominant players in the area—and his plan to pull remaining US forces out of Afghanistan. The upshot of all this could be an American military and political retreat from that whole arc of crisis from Turkey to Pakistan. That would leave Britain, the US and other western allies with powerful military forces and major interests in the Gulf facing a vast area to the north dominated by Russia, Turkey and Iran. That does not feel like a recipe for stability. If this is too apocalyptic, perhaps the Minister could tell me where my analysis is wrong. This feels to me like a major strategic shift.
The statement by the three European leaders on Sunday was remarkable for not making any mention of the US or the attack on General Soleimani. It shows how divided the West is as we deal with this crisis. Once again, Britain finds more common ground with our European friends than with Washington. The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Washington is timely and important, and it will be a real test of whether Britain can go on playing the traditional go-between role that we have played in the past. I very much hope that we can, but my goodness, it is a delicate operation.
The Middle East is not the only area of strategic incoherence in our world. President Macron’s description of NATO as brain dead was a bit on the strong side. The Government deserve credit for piloting to success the NATO summit at Watford, which showed that the military side of the alliance is in good shape. But is the Macron thesis wholly wrong? I do not think that it is. Look at Donald Trump’s impatience with multilateralism, his pursuit of great power competition and bilateral arm-twisting. Look at European leaders who are pursuing strategic autonomy for Europe as their confidence in the American defence guarantee wanes. As other noble Lords have said, Turkey is pursuing its own line, which does not square with our interests or values. Britain is left uncomfortably trying to bridge the gaps and find fixes within the alliance. Can the Minister tell us how the process of reflection about NATO’s future, which was announced in the Watford communiqué, will be taken forward?
The gracious Speech, as other noble Lords have noted, declares the Government’s intention to hold an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review. I was co-ordinator of the 2010 strategic defence and security review which got such low marks earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. I wish my former colleagues well with what will be the third review in a decade, but with the world changing so fast, we need to look again at the basic assumptions of British strategy. We need a new national strategy and a convincing narrative to back it up—based, as the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, said earlier, on a broad national conversation, to give us a base of public support. I hope that it would conclude that Britain is still an active global player, while recognising our limits and avoiding tub-thumping.
Here is my challenge for the strategists. Would it not be powerful if they could come up with a distinctly attractive British proposition to reinforce multilateralism? What better country to do that? We should aim for a group of like-minded, mid-sized democracies, not just the Europeans but Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Korea, all of which share the same world view as us. We could work through international institutions as they exist and think about new groupings. That will need action and political will. I believe that the Americans are capable of again recognising the importance of multilateralism to solve their problems.
I finish with a piece of breaking news. I was going to ask the Minister if we can look forward to there being a British ambassador in Washington in this troubled world. However, I find that the No. 10 spokesman today announced that the job of ambassador has been advertised. Before noble Lords send their nomination papers to the Minister, I should just draw attention to the last sentence of the announcement, which says that the Government expect to fill the role from within the Civil Service. I am sorry.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, with regard to thinking on Latin America. For my part, I have just returned from opening a hub in Mexico City to cover the Americas and the Caribbean. But it is to matters Russia and Uzbekistan that I wish to turn, before saying a word on events in the Middle East, with the common theme of the need for dialogue and engagement.
Following a chance but in-depth meeting in Nur-Sultan with the speaker of Russia’s Duma, Mr Volodin, I received an invitation to visit Moscow with two colleagues. The criterion that underpinned this invitation was that it should be parliamentarian to parliamentarian. All arms of government on both sides were aware, however, with funding arrangements made available by this House.
Time does not allow me today to go into the detail, other than to confirm that two full days’ straight-talk meetings, leaving no subject untouched, went well. Care was taken not to be perceived to undermine the interaction of government-to-government dialogue and to ensure that meetings were held across the political spectrum. I should refer to the constructive meeting with Speaker Volodin, as indeed with the International Committee of the Federation Council. A net outcome is that Duma and Federation Council members have requested to visit the UK to continue the dialogue as being a progression of things. I commend this initiative to the Government, although I recognise that this is not formally required. Parliament-to-parliament interaction is too often a missing component of bilateral relations.
Following the call to Moscow, I was invited to Tashkent. My visit coincided with Uzbekistan’s parliamentary elections, not so much to view the electoral process itself but to offer support to a country that is clearly in a positive transition mode. Uzbekistan is increasingly seen as the rising star among emerging and frontier markets—a view validated by the Economist ranking it as the most improved nation in 2019. Uzbekistan, as the most populous and strategically located nation in central Asia, is well positioned to play a leading role. It has come a long way in liberalising economic and monetary policies and opening to foreign and domestic private investment in the past three years. Decades of a controlled economy following independence are now being fulfilled through a more open and growing economy, with Uzbekistan fast emerging as a regional political power, underpinned by conducive policy and legal structures.
Fundamentals remain solid and investor interest will not fade so long as that Government’s commitment to reforms continues. I share the sentiment that the time has come for a Prime Minister’s trade envoy to be appointed. As for the electoral process itself, it can best be summarised by one professor of sciences, who explained that he was motivated to vote for the first time as a direct result of the improved environment.
Watching how the Middle East—a region with which I can identify for multiple reasons—plays out the aggression and sabre-rattling with all component actors will determine whether we are headed for direct warfare or a period of prolonged aggression, directly or indirectly through proxies. It is with proxies where the situation could easily get out of hand. Extreme caution needs to be taken. We must not behave in any cavalier fashion, particularly if associated for political gain, which could have the additional detriment of potentially reinforcing the East-West divide, playing into the hands of a China/Iran/Russia/Turkey axis. The region is complex and dangerous enough, where long-term de-escalation can be established only with matter-of-fact trust-building dialogue. Experience, a skill set and sensitivity to the present, historical, religious and cultural contexts—with engagement, not isolation—is key. Equally, the West must ensure that no double standards or lack of respect are displayed to ancient civilisations and temperament.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. I also wish briefly to stress the importance of autonomy for the Department for International Development. Before Christmas, 28,000 people signed a petition led by ActionAid UK stressing that point. It is a reminder of the importance of civil society in balancing our weak and outdated political structures.
In this speech, I shall focus on the climate emergency. Perhaps many of your Lordships were listening to the “Today” programme on 30 December—if you were not on holiday in a luxury Caribbean resort—when you would have heard 16 year-old Greta Thunberg interviewing 93 year-old Sir David Attenborough. I do not wish to make undue reference to the average age in your Lordships’ House, but I urge you to draw lessons from Sir David’s response. He thanked Greta and the huge number of climate strikers, young people, most of whom still do not have a vote, who have made a massive impact in raising the climate emergency up the global agenda.
Too often when we are talking about young people and the climate emergency, the terms are paternalistic. I am afraid Angela Merkel sounded very much like that in her new year message when she said, “We have to look after the future of our children and grandchildren.” That does not acknowledge the agency, power and impact that the young climate strikers have already had. It ignores the fact that the climate emergency is not something in the future but is here and now.
Public Health England today brought out figures showing that last year the heatwaves in the UK killed 900 people who would not otherwise have died. A very, very long time ago the Lord Speaker started today’s sitting by referring to the tragedy and disaster of the Australian bushfires. In 2009—a decade ago—I wrote a piece for the Guardian saying that the Australian way of life would have to change radically because of the climate emergency. That is now more evident than ever, but nothing has yet changed in Australia’s policies, actions and way of life.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the fact that we shall be debating our third effort at an environment Bill. That reflects a year of stasis, a year of failure when nothing happened when it was very clear that we were in a state of emergency. Of course, we have actually had a decade of failure, a lost decade of climate inaction since the failure of the Copenhagen UN talks. The need to act is clear, and our politics have failed. If you think about the young climate strikers in your communities and in your families, that decade is the entire world they have known. They have known nothing else but climate emergency, but it is to their great credit that they have not despaired but have acted.
So I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in saying to your Lordships that you also have to act. The young climate strikers of Britain need representation in Parliament. They have not got it in the other place. The 56% of Britons who are not represented in this Government do not have representation or a powerful voice in another place. Your Lordships have to be that voice.
As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, so powerfully demonstrated, we saw the impact of the one in 100 voters —44% of people—who put in place a Prime Minister who has a track record of much more than flirting with climate change deniers and a Government funded by big money from the City and the people who are benefiting from trashing our environment and our world. We have the politics they pay for.
So please, your Lordships, follow Sir David who, at the age of 93, continues to act, to make television programmes and to come to this House this month to speak to us about the climate emergency. Please step up for the climate strikers who need your representation, who need you to offer hope. It is in our hands; there are no other hands available.
My Lords, I will reflect briefly on the great office of state of Foreign Secretary and will try to see whether there is an opportunity in what is happening now for that office to regain the limelight that I believe it deserves.
One thing that is certain is that change takes place all the time, and the biggest change will be our departure from the European Union. If you put that together with the weakening of the special relationship, I think that we have the opportunity to develop a voice of our own. In fact, I am not sure that we have any choice but to develop a voice of our own, and I hope that we are not too unsure of our ability to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, pointed to one way in which we could develop a stronger position in the world. After all, we are one of the largest economies, even if the great shift of power to both sides of the Pacific has changed the status of Europe dramatically.
That takes me to the 16th paragraph of the gracious Speech, which has been referred to many times. I am not sure why it was right to make it the last paragraph. It is very uneven. It starts:
“My Government will work to promote and expand the United Kingdom’s influence in the world.”
Motherhood and apple pie come to mind. I am sure that Lord Salisbury, who was four times Foreign Secretary, would have said, “I don’t quite know why you would want to put that in.” The last sentence of the paragraph is a bit curious. It refers to
“working to ensure that all girls have access to twelve years of quality education.”
Quite clearly, that is a very good idea, and indeed why stop at 12? I thought that university was also open to the girls of the world, or it certainly should be. However, I wonder why that is tagged on to that paragraph. There are lots of other options for a single objective to be included. I was left thinking, “I wonder what Ernie Bevin would have thought about that sentence?”
That takes me back to the middle of the paragraph and the reference to the integrated review. I have two comments to make. First, I would prefer to have a Prime Minister and a Cabinet who told us what they thought our position in the world was. I am rather worried that they feel that they need somebody else to tell them. I seem to remember that Harold Macmillan was pretty good at telling us where we were, and I would have thought that that was something that should land on the Prime Minister’s desk.
My other comment is on the reference to development, which is tagged on to the end of that sentence. I understand why noble Lords have a certain hesitation about what it means. I used to work in development—for the Commonwealth Development Corporation—so I am committed to economic development, but there is a huge place for a conventional aid programme as well. The question is not whether we should have them both but how to balance the expenditure of the 0.7% between the two. When I was involved, I was the responsibility of a Minister of State at the Foreign Office—Chris Patten, for example—and I do not remember that being any great barrier to the way in which what was then called ODA worked. Therefore, I do not quite share the apprehensions of some of your Lordships about the realignment between DfID and the Foreign Office. Whatever that realignment may be, I hope that it will give more leverage and power to the Foreign Office, because that is our lead department. I look forward to a real recrudescence of influence in the world—of imagination and policymaking—coming from our Foreign Office.
My Lords, as we talk in this Chamber, the Middle East is once again a powder keg of extreme danger. I share all the apprehensions and fears that were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, in his very important speech. It is easy to say what to do. The Secretary-General gave a very good, precise order of priorities as soon as this crisis blew up. He said:
“Stop escalation. Exercise maximum restraint. Restart dialogue”
and avoid a new war.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—the JCPOA —the organisation that desperately tries to keep open a dialogue with Iran on nuclear weapons, has once again shown remarkable tenacity and determination to try to rescue something in that area, but we should not put too much on this issue. We have to ask ourselves now what mechanisms we have for restarting the dialogue; it has not restarted and shows no real sign of restarting. The UN Security Council will debate this issue.
The UN Secretary-General appointed an individual, a British person, to be his representative over Yemen, and he has done as much as any human being can do. What he lacks is the clout of the big players in the Middle East. Let us face it, those big players are now very clear. From the moment Putin responded to the plea from the President of Syria to rescue Damascus, which I believe was a very important and correct decision to take, Russia has restored its position. It was at one time very powerful in the Middle East, and it is a powerful player now. It is noticeable how frequently President Putin talks not just to Iran and Arab leaders but to Netanyahu; there is a constant dialogue.
The place where there is no dialogue, and I regret it deeply, is between President Trump and President Putin. We all know the reasons why it is difficult for that to happen during this presidency, but it has never been more urgent, and countries with many different positions on relations with Russia and relations with the United States should all try to encourage a dialogue between Putin and Trump—in particular, a dialogue between trusted representatives of the two of them. That is not easy to find, to be blunt, but we have had experience in the past of trying to develop new mechanisms. The contact group in southern Africa in 1978 proved to be remarkably successful over a long period of time on a resolution that was negotiated then. Namibia came to independence 12 years later. The contact group in the Balkans in 1994 also had some success, and it may be time for another contact group.
It is interesting now how China has a real stake in what happens to the tankers coming in and out of the Gulf. As they go through the Strait of Hormuz, more and more of them now turn left, figuratively speaking. The United States does not itself have much interest in oil coming out of the Gulf. The Iranians, the Russians and the Chinese formed a maritime group almost as a demonstration to those of us who also tried to form maritime groups to protect shipping. But I believe that the biggest danger, as was mentioned earlier, is a proxy starting this war. It could happen at any stage. It has become very clear that many Iranian troops go from Iraq into Syria and then into Lebanon. That pathway has been clearly marked for at least three years, and we have done practically nothing about it. We have to focus on that.
I believe that the Secretary-General and the UN Security Council have a very real responsibility, and it may be that the only thing they can do is to use the five permanent members and appoint people with weight and experience to tour around the Middle East and start a dialogue.
My Lords, I appreciate being able to participate in this debate following Her Majesty’s gracious Speech on 19 December. I intend to speak on defence. I totally support the analysis by the noble Lord, Lord West, of the last 10 years.
I have decided that what I said after the gracious Speech of 14 October 2019 has not changed in substance but needs serious emphasis, taking into account the very recent events in the Middle East following the assassination of General Soleimani. Our immediate responsibility is to protect British citizens and maritime shipping in key areas such as the Gulf of Hormuz and the Emirate states, but one has to accept that in this modern world revenge attacks could take place anywhere. The Royal Navy and the marine commandos will, of course, need to play an enhanced role in this endeavour.
I suggest it is worth remembering that in the gracious Speech in 2015 the Queen emphasised the following:
“My government will continue to play a leading role in global affairs, using its presence all over the world to re-engage with and tackle the major international security, economic and humanitarian challenges.”
Her gracious Speech of 14 October 2019 once again emphasised:
“My Government will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces. My Ministers will honour The Armed Forces Covenant and the NATO commitment to spend at least 2% of national income on defence.”
Most recently, on 19 December, she once again emphasised:
“My Ministers will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces. My Government will honour the Armed Forces Covenant, which will be … incorporated into law, and the NATO commitment to spend at least two per cent”.
“My Government will work to promote and expand the United Kingdom’s influence in the world. An Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review will be undertaken to reassess the nation’s place in the world”,
which has been commented on by many noble Lords today.
Transformation and innovation are now entering the bloodstream of our Armed Forces, led by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nicholas Carter, and the chiefs. This attitude of mind is transforming the future capability of our Armed Forces. The right leadership and a sense of urgency are crucial for these goals to be met, and of course this is a continuous process. However, it must be remembered and realised that, since the devastating cuts made in 2010, our Armed Forces are still very seriously hollowed out, despite doing their best to meet the demands of Her Majesty’s Government, increasingly east of Suez. China’s ambitions are, of course, such that we will consider them a long-term concern.
Truly serious extra financial resource will be essential to strongly enhancing our conventional forces’ capability. Further monies are required to finance areas such as intelligence, cyberspace and other new technology that will increasingly be involved in future warfare. It goes without saying that a strong economy is of crucial importance, but it is a matter of choice. Recent events have demonstrated that we need much greater flexible capability that will ensure a rapid response when required. Crucial to all this, of course, is to have the finest young men and women, highly trained and kitted out with the best equipment and totally prepared to serve our country, who may sadly have to accept the ultimate sacrifice.
The only thing fixed post Brexit will be our geography. We will still be an island nation, hugely involved in and dependent on maritime trade, as we have been for hundreds of years. Global Britain will need all its defence capabilities, particularly the Royal Navy, which is the only persistently globally deployed force. As I have said before, defence is like insurance: the policy that pays out is dependent on the premium that you pay. Currently, we are paying for value insurance and expecting a “gold” solution. Value comes from spending money more wisely, particularly through proper procurement policies. We need value for money, not cost, as dictated by the Treasury.
As I have said before, key to all the above is the following question, particularly now that we have a strong Government in power: what is our long-term foreign policy? Are we going to choose our destiny or have it thrust on us? At the end of 2019, I made a request to the Chief Whip, my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde, that a major debate on defence and foreign policy should be held and he has kindly indicated that such a debate will take place. Taking account of recent events, such a debate will be most timely and highly welcomed by all in this House, and indeed in the other place.
I finish by saying that the Prime Minister has great ambitions for the future of this great country, which I totally share. I ask the Minister, my noble friend Lady Goldie, to take into account that such ambitions require the level of support provided by our armed services if we are to meet the requirements for the security of this country.
My Lords, for 23 years, I was a Member of Parliament for the marginal seat of Northampton South. What a joy it is to see the majority in that marginal seat move from 1,000 to 4,400—it quadrupled. The reason for that was not just what was done on the ground but a reflection of the British people’s faith in the determination and leadership of our Prime Minister. I pay particular tribute to him for what he has done for our country.
It is also 23 years that I have been in your Lordships’ House, on the Back Benches. In that time, I have taken an interest in south Asia and a specific interest in a country that I first worked in when I had nothing to do with politics, which was then called Ceylon. It is a great friend of this country. Thousands of its people were killed over the two world wars. It was one of the few countries to speak up in our favour over the Falklands. It faced a huge problem of a quasi 30-year war against the Tamil Tigers, which became a real war on 1 January 2009, covered by the international humanitarian law conditions, and lasted until 18 May. I have in my possession the heavily redacted reports from Colonel Gash describing what happened on the ground.
A year after that, the UN decided to set up a three-man mission to investigate. It did not take evidence on the ground in Sri Lanka but asked for submissions to be made. Those submissions have never been made public and are covered by a 30-year rule, so nobody knows what they really were. However, the UN slowly took a greater interest in what was happening in Sri Lanka and the net result was that, in March 2012, it set up a body under the UNHCR that is chaired today by the United Kingdom. Its role is to promote reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka—I make no argument about that. However, this has to happen in the context of the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.
It started in March 2012 and here we are, eight years further on. Has Sri Lanka co-operated? Yes. Some 90% of the land that was used by the military during the war has been given back to the private sector. De-mining has nearly ended, with a big thank you to all involved. Around 300,000 people have been rehoused since the war. Infrastructure has been restored, and so on.
I have one further point. There are complaints about torture. I have seen the ICRC three times and asked it whether it has seen torture in Sri Lanka. Every time, the answer has been clear: no. It is fake news. Today, there is a shadow. That is the claim that the UN started with—of 40,000 killed.
I have spent 10 years looking at the reports by Gash and the Tamil university teachers, at the census and at all the coverage I could find. The net result is about 6,000 people killed, of which a quarter are Tamil Tigers. Despite all this, we now find that the UNHCR has decided that it wants to try to get war crimes pinned on the Sri Lankan army. Yet the reports of Colonel Gash made it clear that that army behaved admirably and looked after the civilians. If it had wanted to knock them off, then over 295,000 would not have been safely brought across the lines, would they? I believe that the time has come for the March review, when it takes place, to be the wind-up time for that phase of life in Sri Lanka.
We now have two new leaders: one here in the UK full of drive, determination and commitment; there is an almost identical philosophy in the newly elected Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a man of proven leadership and ability, with an agenda to keep the peace and have an inclusive policy for minorities, et cetera. I see huge opportunities for trade. My noble friend Lord Sheikh raised some of them and I concur. There is a huge opportunity, but only if the UNHCR project is wound up. I say to this House and to my noble friend on the Front Bench that this is the year for the UK to have faith in Sri Lanka and its newly elected executive President.
My Lords, I have the task of responding from these Benches after more than 60 speakers who have covered a huge range of areas across foreign affairs, defence, international development, trade, climate change and the environment. Who would have thought it would even have been relevant to touch on the Field of the Cloth of Gold and the “Mayflower”? But in the title of this debate there is a missing elephant. As my noble friend Lady Ludford noted in her brave and passionate speech, from within the Government there is, we hear, the stricture that no one should mention Brexit. I note that, perhaps in keeping with this, the debate was not opened—and will not be closed—by the Brexit Minister, even though our relationship with Europe will dominate this year and for many years to come, as well as every subject we have debated today and throughout this week. That takes nothing from the abilities of either the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, or the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, but it is striking.
The Government gained an extra 300,000 votes in the 2019 general election but thereby an 80-seat majority. Therefore, to my huge regret, like that of others, we will leave the EU on 31 January. However, that settles nothing beyond that point. Here we must all fully engage to make sure that the UK ends up in the best possible position, despite the reservations of many of us about what we are setting aside. Here I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, for her wonderful and unifying speech.
Foreign affairs were covered by many. I hear what the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said about the UK needing a new foreign policy. Interestingly, he thought that this could in fact distance us—rather than the opposite—in relation to the United States when we look at its actions in the Middle East. The noble Lords, Lord Ricketts and Lord Owen, and others noted the greater risks we now face as a result of Trump’s actions and the need to ally with others. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, stated with great clarity that we must not associate ourselves with the US if it is wrong, or distance ourselves from the EU if it is right. Yet this week we can see the agonies of the UK’s dilemma as we respond to Trump in relation to Iran. The Government know that they are potentially beholden to an unpredictable US President if they are to get the trade deal they seek.
The noble Baroness, Lady Helic, said that if the US did not involve us in its decision, it indicated that we may be in a worse position even than she had feared. Many noble Lords with great wisdom and experience warned of the global risks having been increased by Trump’s actions.
In the past, we have sought to act as a bridge between the EU and the US, but our membership of the EU has acted as a useful counterweight in our relationship with the US. Although I was glad to hear in the gracious Speech that the Government will,
“promote the United Kingdom’s interests, including freedom of speech, human rights and the rule of law”,
like other noble Lords, I wonder what will happen in reality. What will we be willing to say to China in relation to Hong Kong or the Uighurs, as flagged by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, or in respect of human rights in Gulf countries, as emphasised by my noble friend Lord Scriven? What action do we take if, as my noble friend Lord Chidgey pointed out, the US pulls out from parts of Africa where terrorism is being fostered? How will we deal with our long-standing commitments in the EU, such as that to Cyprus, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Sharkey or, for that matter, with Commonwealth countries which have depended on us to make their case in the EU?
In defence, we have long worked closely with our European allies such as the French so that we could maximise our effect. How will we maximise that now? We heard from noble Lords with huge expertise how overstretched we already are. Will the Government at last be open with the public and the press about working in complementary fashion with our European allies, or will we hear those familiar stories of European armies?
In international development, we heard that DfID, renowned throughout the world, might be merged with the FCO. Many noble Lords have expressed concern about that, and I was encouraged to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, was here and nodding in agreement. Today, the Daily Mail reveals that the Government may not do that. Like my noble friends Lord Bruce and Lady Sheehan and many others, and, most strikingly, the former Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I ask the Minister to confirm that DfID will not be rolled into the FCO.
I am glad that the largely cross-party agreement on DfID has been reflected here. It is what carried through the Private Member’s Bill of my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed in the last days of the coalition, committing the UK to the UN target of 0.7% on development. That commitment clearly still holds. DfID’s renown is deserved and I, for one, know just how much effort has been put into family planning, as rightly demanded by the noble Lord, Lord King, and others.
Many noble Lords have addressed climate change, which is very welcome. Noble Lords including the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, while welcoming the Government’s stated commitment, thought that we needed to be more ambitious. I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, could bring herself to welcome that commitment—she saw it as so weak. It is clearly vital that, at the very least, the body proposed by the Government can actually hold them to account. Will it have teeth? We were the major influence in making sure that the EU signed up ambitiously to the Paris Agreement. My right honourable friend Ed Davey as Secretary of State played a key role, acting with and through the EU. We were thus able to maximise what the UK alone could achieve. Now, as we come up to hosting COP 26 in Glasgow, jointly with Italy as we could no longer be sure of securing it by ourselves, can we be as effective? The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, warned of our reduced diplomatic power, yet we now need to achieve so much more in Glasgow, as is made crystal clear by fires in Australia and floods in Indonesia.
Where are we on trade? There is no trade deal with the EU that is better than being in the EU single market and customs union and being a voice at the table. I recall that, at first, we heard we would get all sorts of benefits from leaving. Then we heard that we would roll over current arrangements—so, no benefit from leaving the EU. Then we heard that countries were not prepared just to roll over agreements—it clearly was not just up to us—and they wanted to see what our relationship with the EU was first. Membership of the EU has never stopped Germany building a bigger trade with China than we have. In this area, much will need to be decided this year.
In conclusion, the Conservatives have the majority they sought, and the Brexit that so many of them sought. They must know that they bear a heavy responsibility now. It is clear that we cannot stand back. Our task must be to hold the Government to account, for the interests of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as an entity, for the poorest as well as the better off in our society, for the young, as well as those who are older. We must do this also for Britain’s place in a world threatened by climate change and conflict, as this debate has so amply demonstrated. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s comprehensive reply.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, for his comprehensive introduction of the topics under debate today on the gracious Speech. He covered the ground very well, which we appreciate. Like many noble Lords, I was struck by the excellent maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, including the information about where St Patrick is buried—something which we did not all know—and particularly by her analysis of the contribution of your Lordships’ House to making good some of the issues raised in her own Province and to the effective governance of the country as a whole. We look forward to her future contributions.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to today’s full debate. It is, I suppose, a sort of amuse-bouche—a point picked up by a number of noble Lords. It gives your Lordships’ House a sense of the Government’s thinking on their major policies, selected, as they are, from the manifesto. Like my noble friend Lord Judd, I was heartened by the tone set by the Minister in his opening speech but, rather like the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I wonder whether some of the issues outlined there are actually going to appear. As my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone said, the proof of the pudding will come when we see the actual text of the Bills which will carry forward those plans and get a sense of whether, in this Parliament, the Government are prepared to work with this House on amendments which will improve what they are wishing to do.
As some noble Lords have already said, the context is important here. As my noble friend Lord Whitty pointed out, we face a Government who have carefully crafted a majority of 80 seats over their single-issue election—get Brexit done. But they face two significant problems. Will that consensus continue once Brexit is done? Is there a lasting majority for the sorts of policies and spending plans that will be necessary if they are to retain the votes which were lent to them in parts of the country which have never supported the austerity and anti-welfare policies which were the hallmark of previous Conservative and coalition Governments? Many of the policies in the Conservative and Labour manifestos are similar and, if replicated in policy, we would support them. But we have lived through a curious period in British politics this past five years, with Governments in office but not in power. As a result of that, the Opposition have held a great deal of leverage, in the sense that the Bills which have come forward—there were very few of them, in fact—were either uncontentious or were often amended by the Government to avoid votes in the Commons. A classic is the Trade Bill, already referred to, which left this House with 40 amendments, virtually all of which were put in, or supported by, the Government. I will return to that Bill later.
Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, I would like to know more from the Minister, when she comes to respond, about the principles that will underpin some of the Bills which were received from the Government following the Queen’s Speech. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, are we really going to get down to basics on what, at the moment, seem to be fine words and aspirations—proposals for public consumption which will never see the light of day when the realpolitik takes away the rhetoric?
Moving to particular questions, the main driving force behind all this is the withdrawal Bill, which we will see a lot more of next week and the week after. As other noble Lords mentioned, the changes to the Bill, particularly the deletion of the regression of standards, are the main issue here and I would be grateful to hear from the Government what exactly the current position is. As we all know, the real crunch will come with the free trade agreement, to be negotiated in what looks like a ridiculously tight timetable, before December 2020, but in practice will have to be cleared by October 2020 to allow time for validations and verification.
The list of issues that are up for discussion is too long to go through in detail, but it includes financial services, where there are 26 specific areas and not one third country has yet been able to be judged as equivalent on all those. It includes fisheries, which are on a fast track to be decided by July 2020. It includes data, where we already know there are serious problems with some of the issues to do with homeland security. It includes Northern Ireland: who checks, and what tariffs and processes will be involved to make sure that that works? The free trade agreement itself will have a level playing field section covering environmental issues, labour, state aid competition and much more. We will have to deal with rules of origin. That leaves completely untouched and so far without any real examination the question of how we will maintain our services—the bedrock of our economy.
We have an extensive set of issues about which we have very little detail. The problem is the complexity, because if we add in the prospect of parallel negotiations, mentioned by several noble Lords, with the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, we are asking a great deal, particularly as it seems absurd to negotiate with third parties, all of which will need certainty about what our future relationship with EU is going to be before signing up with us.
Then we add climate change and biodiversity. If we are going to achieve the Government target of zero carbon by 2050, we are told we should already have started: we should have alternative fuels in plan and be thinking about them; we should be re-equipping our industrial infrastructure. Perhaps this is already ongoing. If so, can we have the detail? As we pointed out, we are also committing ourselves to new approaches to defence and security alliances in an ever more uncertain world. Will the Minister, when she comes to respond, tell us how that is going to be achieved? Those are all external or outward-facing activities brought on us because of the change in policy. What about the internal work, which we have been discussing for many years, not much of which seems to have been settled?
To take one example, in BEIS productivity has long been an ongoing consideration. When is that going to get sorted? Then there is training and skills policy, and competition policy. Changes are in place, but where is the legislation? What about the role of regulation, particularly in auditing and other functions? There is a new report out, but again no hint of legislation coming. There is also merger policy and late payments. These are all issues that will materially affect our successful British industry, but we have no detail about what is going to be done by our Government about them.
It is interesting that a lot of the issues raised in the debate today, many more than I have been able to cover in this speech, concern the role of Parliament in all this. One might assume that, with the return of majority government, the status quo ante might prevail; in other words, all decisions will be taken by Ministers and later ratified by Parliament. However, my sense is that this is no longer acceptable. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, it is absolutely crystal clear now that civil society needs to be brought more into the debates, particularly on trade and trade policy. Many of the issues raised by Brexit and this Queen’s Speech will bear on that. Why are we being so particularly sensitive about this? The European Parliament has had considerable discussion and debate with civil society for many decades, and even the United States has all its trade policy driven through Congress and the Senate.
The particular question of regression of standards, which I mentioned earlier, has actually been decided, in the sense that both it and the question of the role to be played by Parliament were among the amendments agreed by this House to the Trade Bill that we passed in March 2019. I put it to the Government that a way of opening up a new era of constructive engagement on these and related issues would be to include those amendments in the 2020 trade Bill.
My Lords, I was struck by something said by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. He said that this was an amuse-bouche. I can tell him that I feel as though I have sat through a three-day banquet with 24 courses on each day. I feel that I have a pile of papers here that reflect the assorted menus of that three-day banquet, but I am going to do my best to get through it.
First, I am honoured to close this day’s debate following Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, and what a debate it has been. It has been wide-ranging, characteristically well informed and, as it should always be for the Front Bench, challenging. I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner for so ably opening the debate with such a comprehensive speech. As my noble friend noted, this Queen’s Speech sets out a path to a stronger and more prosperous United Kingdom, one we shall achieve by being outward-looking to our partners and allies across Europe and beyond.
A number of your Lordships commented on the perhaps improved clarity of the political direction of travel. It is the Government’s priority to secure the UK’s departure from the EU with a deal on 31 January, but our ambitious programme goes far beyond our exit from the European Union.
We have had a stimulating debate, and I am grateful for the thoughtful questions that noble Lords have posed. I, too, thank in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, for her reflective and very interesting maiden speech. I know I speak for the whole House when I say we shall all look forward to future contributions from her.
I will now try to address various issues raised in the debate, first considering foreign affairs, defence and trade. The United Kingdom’s departure from the EU will give us the opportunity to redefine and reaffirm our role as a sovereign independent nation on the world stage. The Prime Minister has already committed to an integrated defence, security and foreign policy review led by No. 10 to ensure that we focus our combined international assets and efforts as effectively as possible in the national interest. A number of noble Lords raised questions about that, which I will endeavour to deal with later.
Our Foreign and Commonwealth Office will continue to play a pivotal role in promoting and defending those national interests, and part of that is indeed achieved through soft power. I thought that was spoken to very eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and I share his significant and exciting ambitions. The UK is indeed home to world-class healthcare companies that benefit from international trade—from 2016 to 2018, Healthcare UK supported over £1 billion of export wins in the healthcare sector. I thought the noble Lord raised a very important point.
However, promoting and defending our national interests will include standing up robustly for our values of democracy, equality, human rights and the rule of law, as a global force for good, and that of course includes the protection of freedom of religion or belief. I thought some very pertinent, tangential points were made about that general proposition of international discourse. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds had some sage advice which, with all due deference to him, I would say he essentially paraphrased from the national bard of my country, Robert Burns:
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
I think that applies equally to individuals and to Governments
Perhaps that also echoes the sentiment of the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who said that there is a time for listening and a time for discussion. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Lothian said that there is a place for “exploratory dialogue”—an interesting phrase—and that aspect of dialogue was very cogently reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Owen. All of us accept the wisdom of these observations; none of us has a monopoly on either knowledge or sagacity when it comes to dealing with international discourse, and I think these were very relevant and helpful observations.
Many of your Lordships asked what the UK can do in various challenging situations across the globe. Global Britain is also about our partnerships across the world, and as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a leading member of NATO, the G7 and the G20 and the current chair of the Commonwealth, we will continue to work with our international partners to defend the rules-based international system and resolve the most complex global challenges, from conflict and climate change to human trafficking.
A number of your Lordships understandably raised the matter of the Middle East and Iran. I feel my noble friend Lord Ahmad dealt with these issues exhaustively and comprehensively in his earlier Statement and do not propose to expand on his comments. I think he gave a great deal of information to the Chamber.
More specifically, as raised by my noble friend Lady Anelay, we will show global leadership through our presidency of the G7, through developing a Magnitsky-style sanctions regime and through hosting both COP 26 and the PSVI international conference. Indeed, my noble friend asked specifically about the Magnitsky sanctions. Secondary legislation will be laid under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 once we leave the EU. This will allow the UK to impose Magnitsky-style sanctions in response to serious human rights violations or abuses.
My noble friend also raised the important matter of the Truro review and its recommendations. The Government intend to implement the recommendations in full.
At a time when trade tensions are high across the world, we will act to support a global trading system based on clear and fair rules. Within three years, we aim to cover 80% of our trade with free trade agreements—starting with the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Japan—all of which will be negotiated alongside a new trade deal with the EU. I say to my noble friend Lord Howell that we will forge stronger links with that tremendous institution the Commonwealth, which boasts some of the most dynamic economies to be found. Our exports strategy will help the UK to climb the ranks of trading nations by increasing exports as a percentage of GDP. Providing continuity for businesses and consumers as we leave the EU will also be essential.
The UK is a development superpower. Our development work will be key to reshaping our role after we leave the European Union. We look ahead to hosting COP 26, our presidency of the G7 and delivering on our visions for a global Britain.
I think it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham who made an important point about children and education. Global Britain is about more than just Brexit and free trade, which is why this Government will continue to prioritise fighting for the rights of women and girls. We will stand up for the rights of every girl in the world to something of inestimable value: 12 years of quality education. A number of contributors speculated on what education can do for women. I certainly suggest that it helps women into the workforce, prevents child marriage and early pregnancy, and boosts household income and economic growth. Since 2015, the UK has supported almost 6 million girls in gaining a decent education. At the United Nations in September, the Prime Minister announced measures to help to get more than 12 million more children—half of them girls—into school.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson raised the important issues of women, peace and security. The UK is a global leader on and champion of these issues and is committed both to reducing the impact of conflict on women and girls and to ensuring that they meaningfully participate in efforts to prevent and resolve conflict. However, we recognise that there are challenges, not least the paucity of the number of women at negotiating tables globally. We are certainly aware of this significant and lamentable deficiency.
The UK can and will do much more on conflict resolution, preventable deaths, Ebola and malaria, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, referred to. I say to her that the UK is committed to ending malaria and is the second-largest country donor to that fight. In 2016, the UK committed to spending £500 million a year on malaria control for five years until 2021. The Government remain committed to that target for the full period.
The year 2019 provided an opportunity for the UK to look back on collective achievements of the past—for example, through commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-day, the greatest combined operation in the history of warfare—while cementing our commitment to a safer future through celebrating the foundation of NATO 70 years ago. These events underscore an undoubted truth that it is the first duty of any Government to protect the safety and security of the British people both at home and abroad, and that is a duty which this Government take very seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord West, perhaps unsurprisingly, alluded to that. I would remind him that we have the highest defence spend in Europe and we are the second-highest defence spender in NATO. We are investing in the future of our air power, in the future fleet and in future-facing land capabilities and we are ensuring that the UK can be an undisputed global leader on defence. Perhaps I may also surprise the noble Lord by agreeing that there is a need for long-term strategic thinking and long-term decision-making in relation to defence. The proposed SDSR will be cognisant of that, and I thank my noble friend Lady Helic for her interesting suggestions about what that review should encompass. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, who echoed that sentiment in relation to the issue.
As my noble friend Lord Gardiner rightly noted in his opening remarks, our brave men and women who defend this country and our nation as well as our national interests are a priceless asset. We will renew our commitment to do more for those who give so much. Our aim is for government, local authorities, the wider public, the public sector, charities, commercial organisations and civil society to all have a role in supporting the Armed Forces community and to introduce help where needed. One of the Government’s latest demonstrations of their commitment to the covenant has been the creation of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. I understand that it is the first time that veterans’ affairs will have been overseen by a dedicated ministerial team in the Cabinet Office.
Perhaps I may turn to the issues of environment and climate. Many noble Lords cogently and eloquently expressed acute anxiety about the now visible consequences of climate change, and I would suggest that it was a dominant feature of the debate. Quite simply, climate change is one of the greatest challenges confronting the world, and this Government are determined to build on our progress to date and to lead the world in tackling it. We have already legislated to deliver net-zero emissions in the UK, becoming the first major economy to do so. The target will end the UK’s contribution to climate change and shows real global leadership ahead of the crucial COP 26 talks, which we are proud to be holding in Glasgow.
We want to deliver on our climate commitments in a way that maximises the economic benefits of our transition to cleaner economic growth, creating high-value green jobs and new business opportunities across the country. Since setting a net-zero target—something I thought the noble Lord, Lord Collins, was a little discouraging about—the Government have set up a new Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and have committed around £2 billion to support clean growth in a range of sectors from transport to industry, as well as publishing our landmark Green Finance Strategy, which I think is rather encouraging. We will set out our plans for delivering net-zero emissions over the coming years, starting with an energy White Paper addressing the transformation of the energy system in line with net-zero, and our upcoming legislative programme will prioritise these commitments.
Through the environment Bill we are embedding environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government through legislative measures to improve air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency and water resource management in a changing climate. Through the agriculture Bill we will reward farmers for tackling the causes and effects of climate change, and through our fisheries Bill the Government will manage fish stocks more sustainably and protect our waters. We will also ensure that the UK enhances its reputation as a world leader for animal welfare and protection by recognising animals as sentient beings in domestic law and increasing sentences for those who perpetrate cruelty on animals by ensuring that they are subjected to the full force of the law. My noble friend Lady Hooper also spoke very knowledgably about the Antarctic and Latin America. Those are important areas and there are lessons that we can learn.
I should like to try to deal with some of the specific points raised during the debate. There is quite a wad of material here and I shall see what I can do to try to get through it. Very much on people’s minds and first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, then referred to repeatedly by many noble Lords, not least the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Bruce, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friend Lady Manzoor, was the issue of DfID. The Prime Minister is responsible for all machinery-of-government changes and, at this point, no machinery-of-government changes have been announced for DfID or the FCO. I remind your Lordships that DfID and the FCO already work well together. There are currently two joint FCO/DfID Ministers and eight FCO/DfID joint units. The departments work together on a range of issues, including cross-government funds such as the CSSF and the prosperity fund, and on implementation of the joint Africa strategy. I was struck by the number of thoughtful, telling and important points made by your Lordships in relation to this matter. I am sure these have been noted.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but there have been press and Twitter reports, and I think this House deserves some kind of clarity on this vital issue.
I can tell the noble Lord and the Chamber only what I have been given by way of briefing, and that is what I have just repeated. I am not inside the Prime Minister’s mind. I do not know what he is cogitating on the future. It is important that the FCO and DfID perform two distinguished and distinctive roles. As has already been illustrated by working arrangements, there may well be scope for better co-ordination and efficiencies. As far as I am aware, no decision has yet been made by the machinery of government—which sounds a rather Orwellian entity, but that seems to be what it is called.
My noble friend Lady Manzoor asked about the timeline for the integrated security, defence and foreign policy review. That will be confirmed early this year. It will be the deepest review of our security, defence and foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. My noble friend also called for a meeting between the all-party group and a DfID Minister to discuss the summit. I cannot speak on another Minister’s behalf, but I am sure her thoughtful points regarding nutrition and food security are noted and will be given due consideration.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised an important issue on nutrition, particularly the summit in Japan in November. He wondered whether the PM would attend the springboard event in July—is that correct? I cannot commit to that—I do not know—but we are working closely with the Government of Japan to ensure a successful summit later this year. We are working on the springboard event in the summer. I cannot commit to timing or pledge names of those who will attend, but I can assure noble Lords that nutrition is a high priority for DfID. We will build on the successful London summit of 2013 and strive to continue our global leadership on nutrition.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also raised the issue of Saudi arms sales. Additional measures have been put in place to prevent such a breach happening again. All recommendations to grant licences for the export of items to Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners will now be referred to Ministers to decide.
The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Stevenson, along with some other Members, asked about ensuring parliamentary scrutiny of free trade agreements. The Government are absolutely committed to transparency and appropriate scrutiny of trade policy. We will ensure that Parliament and the public are given the opportunity to provide input as we take forward our independent trade policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised issues about Hong Kong with me but then decided not to speak to these, so I am a little constrained in dealing with them at the Dispatch Box, but I will write because I have marvellous answers and I am sure he will enjoy reading them. He also raised the important issue of Yazidis. DfID has committed £261 million in humanitarian support to Iraq since 2014. We support the United Nations Funding Facility for Stabilization, which has completed 235 of 388 projects in Christian areas and 55 of 98 projects in Yazidi areas. I will endeavour to follow up the reference he made to the breach of the Geneva convention and respond to him on that.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the protests against the Iraqi Government. The UK condemns the disproportionate use of force against demonstrators, including the use of live fire. The right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression must be respected. Iraqi leaders must take responsibility to stop the violence and hold the perpetrators to account.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the issue of Turkish maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean. It is the UK’s consistent position that all maritime boundary disputes should be resolved through dialogue and in accordance with international law, as reflected in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. We continue to call for de-escalation.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, up in the corner there, who mentioned Cyprus. The Government’s focus remains to support both sides to reach a just and lasting settlement that will benefit all Cypriots, and a settlement continues to represent the most sustainable means of addressing the situation.
There seems to be some dialogue taking place over my shoulder. I had been going to ask for your Lordships’ indulgence, because this has been a very extensive debate. I did not think I would be chivvied for going on for 25 minutes or so. Are any last trains or buses going to be missed? I am being told I can go on for two more minutes.
Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to intervene before she has to sit down—if she does have to at this time. In case there is no response on the population issue I raised, will she ensure that the Prime Minister has a copy of today’s Hansard and of the article he wrote in 2007, in the hope that the Government will follow that through?
Well, that has used up some of my two minutes. I will look at Hansard, and I note the point that my noble friend has made.
I have a sheaf of information but I will have to respond to your Lordships in writing. Time has made it impossible. However, with your Lordships’ indulgence, I will conclude my comments.
As we have explored throughout the course of the debate, 2020 and the years ahead will be significant for this Government and the country. Our departure from the EU will bring challenges but also new opportunities. This Government are keen to embrace these, and there will be much for us to do to move ourselves forward. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, said that he found some of my noble friend Lord Gardiner’s speech mildly encouraging. I take that as high praise and, in turn, feel duly energised. As we enter this new epoch, let us as a country move forward together in a new accord; one conjoined by a desire to work in tandem for the mutual benefit of all.
The Queen’s Speech lays out a future vision for the country that will benefit everyone, whether that is through enhanced childcare for our Armed Forces or through robust measures to act on climate change, building relationships with international partners, or ensuring that girls across the world have access to quality education. This Government are ready to start that journey. They have the energy to work unflaggingly in the interest of the whole country and the determination to deliver a dynamic, refreshed and confident United Kingdom.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.