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Summit of Democratic Governments

Volume 808: debated on Monday 30 November 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the case for convening a summit of the governments of the 10 leading democracies in spring 2021.

My Lords, our G7 presidency will convene a number of democratic nations next year, building on the G7’s shared values as democratic and open societies. This is part of a year of UK international leadership. The Government do not currently plan to convene an additional summit of 10 democracies in spring 2021.

I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. It is likely that global Britain will be in want of an international role following the end of the transition period. The UK still has considerable convening power, as shown by the recent joint letter signed by the UK, Canada and Australia on events in Hong Kong. Surely a transatlantic and transpacific democratic alliance could have a synergistic effect in tackling major problems such as climate change, building 5G, security, corruption and human rights. This would aim to be not an “anti” group, but rather a co-operating bloc to deal with specific issues and become something positioned between liberal naivety and the Cold War. Will the Government consider establishing an informal but influential network of democracies such as the G7, together with India, South Korea and Australia, to present a common front in upholding the rule of law?

My Lords, of course I agree with the sentiment of the noble Baroness. As she says, the UK works as part of a vast range of different multinational organisations, from the G7 and G20 to the Commonwealth, NATO and dozens of others. The membership of each group individually is limited, but taken collectively they mean that the UK partners with a great number of countries in one format or another. That will continue to be the philosophy guiding us forward

My Lords, we welcome signals from President-elect Biden that America will now return to a more multilateral approach to solving the world’s problems and his plan to bring together like-minded democracies to promote values, including standing up for human rights across the world. As we look to take on the leadership of the G7 next year and attend the summit, could the Minister outline what tools the Government intend to deploy to put words into action through sanctions, soft power or even offering safe havens, and whether they will seek multinational support in doing so?

My Lords, the UK Government share the aspiration of other leading democratic Governments to extend the benefits of democratic systems. As I said in answer to a question on Friday, I believe, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will announce the specific details of G7 initiatives shortly.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us why India, currently in the news for trying to make Punjab farmers serfs on their own land, is suggested as one of the 10 leading democracies? Why are we turning a blind eye to the Modi Government’s discriminatory laws making millions of Muslims second-class citizens and others stateless, their brutal suppression in Kashmir, and the expulsion of Amnesty International for drawing attention to their widespread abuse of human rights? Does the Minister agree that a country which ignores human rights in its pandering to majority prejudice cannot be called a democracy?

My Lords, as a Cabinet Office Minister answering a relatively narrow question, I will not make a broad denunciation of any nation. Our values are democratic; they are very widely shared and practised across the world. We wish to sustain that.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Singh, just said, it would be difficult to decide whom to include and exclude in any top 10 for a global democracy summit. Does the Minister agree that there may be questions about the eligibility of any country which breaks a promise of aid to the world’s poorest and threatens to breach international law?

No, I do not agree with either of the final points. I answered a question on this last week. The UK remains the second-largest donor of foreign aid in the G7, spending £10,000 million in the planned programme next year in assistance to the world’s poorest countries. On the question of 10 nations, the Government did not bring this concept before the House today. I have expressed our view that we wish to reach out to all the world’s leading democracies in various fora.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when China introduced the anti-democratic national security law into Hong Kong, very few EU countries, and none in Asia, Latin America or Africa, supported the UK at the United Nations? How do the Government propose to ensure that the UK’s global influence is not diminished by leaving the EU?

My Lords, I said in reply to an earlier question that the United Kingdom sits in a range of vital and important multinational organisations, including the Commonwealth and NATO. We will remain there, and I have no doubt that the United Kingdom is very widely respected in all those fora.

My Lords, might it be worth while to convene a summit to review the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic when it has become safe to do so? How might the leading democracies work together to contain the spread of such pandemics?

My Lords, the UK has worked closely with international partners throughout the pandemic, from the development of vaccines to supporting vulnerable countries, and we will continue to do so. As I have outlined, the UK is preparing an ambitious and—we hope—unifying G7 agenda which will promote international leadership and collaboration as we recover from Covid-19. The UK also co-sponsored the resolution adopted by the World Health Assembly in May, which included agreement for an independent review.

My Lords, the D10, like President-elect Biden’s proposed summit for democracy, will be an assembly of countries with diverse regimes. This century the US has twice elected a President who lost the popular vote; Narendra Modi’s India is turning its Muslim minority into second-class citizens; the EU includes Hungary, led by Viktor Orbán, who is creating an illiberal democracy; and we have a Government legislating deliberately to break international law and proposing to stop citizens going to court to enforce their rights against their Government. Exactly what model for democracy are we holding up to the rest of the world in this proposal?

My Lords, I need make no apology for the United Kingdom’s record of parliamentary democracy over generations.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that democratic models are not one size fits all, but that the objective can be summarised as being one of accountability to the people? With the days of autocracy numbered in the short term, I hope, and with the best chance of succeeding with democratic principles being enlightened government heads being supported from the bottom up and over a period of time with training, would the Government consider that aspiring nations in particular—some of which have been exposed to democracy for a comparably short period—are at the very least offered observer status at any future summit, with emphasis on the participation of young people and women, whence change can ultimately emanate?

My Lords, I cannot anticipate decisions about observers or people who might be invited to the G7 summit—that decision will be taken in due course. So far as girls’ education is concerned, that is something which we will work on in co-hosting the Global Partnership for Education with Kenya in June.

My Lords, the Minister appears to be putting his emphasis on the G7 and rather dismissing President-elect Biden’s interest in calling a summit of democracies. Have I got that wrong?

My Lords, I have not mentioned President-elect Biden and his initiative on democracies—the noble Lord puts words that were never in my mouth. The Government will support any initiative from whatever quarter, including the President-elect, to promote democracy in the world.

Sitting suspended.