House of Lords
Wednesday 19 May 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing and if the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Oral Questions will now commence. I ask that those asking supplementary questions keep them to no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Care Homes: Insurance Indemnity
My Lords, the differing indemnity and insurance arrangements for the NHS and for care homes reflect the different systems of securing health and adult social care. For the NHS, there are established indemnity schemes, administered by NHS Resolution. In the care sector, providers purchase insurance from commercial insurance markets. This is a requirement of registration with the Care Quality Commission.
My Lords, due to Covid, many care homes have found insurance prohibitively expensive, hard or even impossible to find, and that which is available often not covering Covid. Yesterday, I spoke to a care home manager who was told that renewing his existing insurance would cost 880% more than the previous year, and just one Covid claim could result in the care home having to close its doors, causing great distress and disruption to residents and their families. Against this backdrop, can the Minister say what plans the Government have to extend indemnity to all care homes for a reasonable period, not simply the small number now covered as part of the designated care site schemes, to put them on an equal footing with the NHS and ensure that they are able to help the NHS during any third wave? Will the Minister agree to meet me to discuss the options?
My Lords, I acknowledge the challenge faced by care homes on the insurance market, but CQC statistics suggest that, in fact, the insurance industry has done an enormous amount to meet the needs of care homes and that many of the pressures on care homes have been the result of Covid outbreaks. We have brought in the designated settings indemnity support, as the noble Baroness knows, and we have given £6 billion to local authorities to support care homes. Putting care homes on the same footing as the NHS would not meet the needs of the care home sector, so that is not something we are looking at currently.
My Lords, the Financial Times warned in January that care homes were having to turn away new patients as they struggled and failed to get liability insurance to cover Covid-related claims. There is also huge speculation that a flood of claims is coming as pre-existing claims management companies and many set up purely to deal with Covid-19 cases are vying for business for personal injury claims and compensation for the loss of a loved one. What assessment has the Minister made of the risk that Covid-related litigation poses to the sustainability of the whole social care sector?
My Lords, in the year from March 2020, the number of patients has in fact increased from 457,000 to 458,000. The CQC is monitoring the situation extremely closely and its data from the insurance industry suggests that, although there has been some pressure on some companies, there have also been new entrants and the amount of support available to the social care sector is resilient.
The Minister has a very good understanding that many of the residents in residential care homes are unable, because of their condition, to comprehend the significance of the coronavirus. At this stage in their lives, when they are at their most vulnerable, many have felt that they have been abandoned and are now unloved. Can the Minister tell the House, if the insurance indemnity is not acceptable, what other possibilities are being considered by the Government so as to ensure that the awful experiences of some residents in the past year will never be repeated?
My Lords, the noble Lord speaks movingly of the plight of many people in care and I agree with his sentiment—it has been a very difficult year indeed—but we cannot blame the insurance industry for the pressures that have been put on residents. On the specific point about residents receiving visitors, which has, I think, been attributed to problems with insurance, I remind the noble Lord that 82.5% of care homes in England are now able to accommodate residents, compared with 40% at the beginning of March—a very large increase.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the financial viability of many homes has become precarious during the pandemic. What mechanism is in place to monitor the level of premiums and any homes in danger of closing because of this problem? What contingency measures are in place to care for the residents who might lose their homes as a consequence?
My Lords, in terms of monitoring, Care Quality Commission data indicates that pressures are being felt by the insurance industry, but these are not translating into reduced capacity, service closures or quality concerns. There is, in fact, a growth in the number of home care agencies since March 2020; for instance, in the east Midlands, there has been a growth in capacity of 9.4%. These are reassuring figures and we are monitoring the situation extremely closely.
My Lords, I do not need to remind the noble Baroness that there are profound inconsistencies between the NHS and social care. They are organised completely differently, and the insurance arrangements reflect that. The noble Baroness is right that we are looking for parity of outcome between the two. That is very much our commitment and this is one area in which we are striving to achieve that.
Many care homes felt that they were thrown under a bus early in the pandemic when, without adequate personal protection equipment in place, the Government transferred infected but untested hospital patients into homes and many otherwise healthy residents were lost through no fault of the homes. As future pandemics may happen, is it not a matter of fairness that care homes and hospices should have their indemnity insurance underwritten in the same way as the NHS does?
The noble Lord is right to point to provisions for the future and for future pandemics—or any future waves. I reassure him that arrangements are in place to ensure the safe transition of patients and residents from the NHS to care home and back again, but that is not a reason to turn the insurance arrangements of the care home industry on their head. Care homes simply cannot have the kind of risk-pooling arrangements that suit major NHS institutions.
My Lords, huge numbers of care homes are very dangerously financially leveraged, having been bought by private equity over the last decade, when at least £1.7 billion was ploughed into these purchases. Interest payments are heavy and insurance payments going up will add to their burden. Can the Minister assure us that before local authorities pay these privately owned, leveraged care homes, the CQC or some organisation will examine the financial stability of individual homes?
My Lords, the financial stability of the care home sector is, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, something that we monitor extremely closely. There will, of course, always been new entrants and new departures from such a rich and varied sector. That is not something to be regretted; it brings innovation and new opportunities to the sector. She is right that the potential increase in insurance payments is something that we need to factor in to the finance. That is why we have brought in the designated settlement support scheme and increased the support from local authorities for social care.
My Lords, I do not have the precise number at my fingertips, but I can reassure the noble Lord that the proportion that has gone under in the last year is not dramatically higher than in previous years. We monitor the situation extremely closely. I am aware of the concerns of noble Lords about the financial position of the social care industry and we are taking very careful measures to ensure that we are on top of the financial monitoring situation.
Transport Decarbonisation Strategy
My Lords, we are working hard to finalise our bold and ambitious plan to decarbonise transport and expect to publish it shortly. We need to go further and faster to tackle emissions from the transport sector. The transport decarbonisation plan will set out a credible pathway to delivering transport’s contribution to carbon budgets and net zero by 2050.
I am glad that we will hear the details of the decarbonisation policy soon. Do the Government accept expert evidence given to the citizens’ Climate Assembly last year that to reach absolute zero by 2050 there has to be a two-pronged approach to road traffic: vehicle electrification and a reduction in car miles of between 2% and 4% a year? Previous government predictions have been for an increase in car miles. In the light of this new evidence, will the Minister reconsider the Government’s £27 billion road-building programme, which academics have recently criticised as being up to 100 times more carbon intensive than government predictions?
I reassure the noble Baroness that the £27 billion figure is not a road-building programme; it includes operating and maintenance of the strategic road network. She mentioned a two-pronged approach; this Government are taking a three-pronged approach, which we feel is better. The first area is technological improvements; for example, HGVs are very difficult to decarbonise, so we are going to spend £20 million on a zero-emission freight trial. The second area is regulation, where we are going to ban the sale of diesel vehicles from 2030. The third area is new behaviours—a modal shift. How do we get people on to public transport, cycling and walking?
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend and her department are going further and faster. As part of that process, would they consider being much tougher on diesel hybrid cars, where the emissions are far worse than the manufacturers’ present figures, so that we can get emissions down to the right level?
My noble friend is right that we really must look at these plug-in hybrids and make sure that they do what they say on the tin. On ending the sale of diesel cars and vans in 2030, we will also consult on what zero-emission capability looks like, because some that would be for sale after 2030 could be said to have zero-emission capability—it is up to people to respond to that consultation and tell us what that actually means so that we can get carbon emissions down.
My Lords, battery and fuel cell technologies will both be needed to decarbonise transport. Why are the Government not showing the same leadership to make the UK the world leader in fuel cell technologies as they have shown in developing battery technologies, especially as in the UK we have some of the best scientists in the emerging science of fuel cells? I would be content if the Minister would much rather write to me and put a copy in the Library.
I am very happy to answer that question right here, right now. The Government are a leader in hydrogen; we have invested £121 million in hydrogen innovation, which is supporting a world-class refuelling network which we are looking to expand. We are funding demonstration trials across all modes and driving the development of hydrogen vehicles and the hydrogen production supply chain. In transport alone, we are investing £23 million in various hydrogen interventions. We are going as fast as we can.
I do not think the Minister answered the Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the road investment strategy. Why have the Government not published any assessment of the cumulative traffic and carbon impact of the strategy? Does the Minister accept that the estimated increase in traffic and CO2 emissions will negate 80% of the planned carbon savings from electric vehicles?
We accept that there will have to be a very careful balance between traffic growth and the sorts of vehicles we have on our roads, which is why this Government are very focused on electric vehicles. On road enhancements, carbon is a key consideration in granting approval for new road enhancement programmes. I know that Highways England is a leader in innovation; for example, it uses cement-free concrete in much of its construction. I expect new developments in that area as technology drives innovation and change.
My Lords, the Government are extremely ambitious in this area. We are not even bothering about hybrids—we are going straight for zero-emission vehicles. As part of the £3 billion announced prior to the bus strategy, we will invest to support 4,000 zero-emission buses across the country. In this year alone, we will invest £120 million in zero-emission vehicles, which we expect to support 500 buses. This is in addition to the £50 million we are giving to Coventry for 300 buses. We are making a good start. There is a way to go, but we will have supported 4,000 buses by the end of this Parliament.
My Lords, will my noble friend consider giving local communities much greater freedom to experiment with low-speed zones, road closures and other measures which might really encourage active travel locally? The more centralised system that we have at the moment takes an inordinate amount of time to navigate.
I accept my noble friend’s point, and we have had some good conversations about this in the past. I encourage him to wait for the transport decarbonisation plan; I suspect there will be a bit more about that in it. We want local authorities to take more control over carbon emissions in their area and their local transport strategies.
My Lords, according to the Department for Transport—a tad opportunistically—lockdown provided a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make lasting changes to how we make short journeys. The Minister said this would get people walking, cycling and on to public transport. Can she assure us that transport decarbon-isation will not exploit the new normal to reduce choice by imposing top-down green solutions, often at the expense of car drivers, as we have seen in the recent imposition of low-traffic neighbourhoods by councils despite rank and file community opposition and no consultation?
A low-traffic neighbourhood cannot be introduced without consultation. Indeed, the Secretary of State specifically asked for the guidance to be rewritten very recently to ensure that all local authorities ensure adequate consultation in their communities, including with emergency services, to make sure that low-traffic neighbourhoods are a success.
My Lords, today’s Public Accounts Committee report suggests that the Government have a mountain to climb to achieve zero-emission car ownership. How will the Minister address the practical inequalities of access to charging points for those who do not have driveways or the financial means to install their own charging points?
The noble Baroness highlights one of the key challenges in charging electric vehicles. It is why we have announced that we are investing £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure. We recognise that not all people will be able to have a charger right outside their house; that is why we will work with local authorities and workplaces to provide chargers where we can.
International maritime emissions do indeed need to be considered. As I think the noble Lord knows, we will include international shipping emissions in our carbon targets going forward in CB6. The Government have published two documents to date: the Maritime 2050 plan and the Clean Maritime Plan back in 2019. On 22 March, we announced the clean maritime demonstration competition—£20 million to fund feasibility studies and trials for zero-emission vessels and ports, some of which I expect to be driven by hydrogen.
My Lords, one of the biggest causes of carbon emissions in west London at the moment is the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, which has turned west London into a car park. Can the Minister move further and faster in reopening Hammersmith Bridge? I suggest a three-pronged approach: getting people together, knocking heads together and sorting it out.
My noble friend raises my very favourite topic, but I reassure him that it is neither my nor the Government’s decision whether to reopen the bridge. It is the decision of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. However, he may be reassured to know that four things need to happen—I will not bore noble Lords with what they are—and they should be completed by the end of June. We will ask the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to reconsider the continued case for safe operation to see whether we can get this bridge back open by mid-July.
UK Policy Implementation for Wales and Scotland
To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what dates the Prime Minister will convene discussions with the First Ministers of Wales and Scotland regarding the co-ordinated implementation of the policies on which their respective governments were re-elected together with the implementation in Wales and Scotland of UK Government policies which impact on the responsibilities of the two devolved administrations.
My Lords, the Prime Minister spoke to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, as well as the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, last week. In those discussions, he invited them to join him at a Covid recovery summit for discussion of shared challenges and future joint working.
My Lords, while I welcome the proposed meeting on Covid recovery, does the Minister accept that this dialogue should be in the context of a broader agenda, including a comprehensive reset of intergovernmental relationships? Is he aware that this is a fundamental issue in the context of the working of the United Kingdom Internal Market Act, which the Welsh Government regard as an unacceptable and unconstitutional encroachment on the devolution settlement? Do the UK Government recognise that a durable working relationship between the Governments depends on resolving this issue and establishing an acceptable system of co-decision-taking between the four nations? Will the Minister commit the UK Government to such an approach?
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord’s welcome of the Prime Minister’s initiative. On intergovernmental relations, I laid a Statement before the House—I think on 21 March—on the significant progress made in those discussions. I am confident that further progress will be made on those co-operative instruments.
My Lords, our world-beating vaccination programme was a UK achievement. Our independence allowed us to move quickly and our size allowed us to buy big. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that, while it is perfectly legitimate for politicians to argue for a reset—as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, did—or democratic partition of this country, the focus must be on recovering from the worst economic trauma any of us has ever experienced?
I absolutely agree with my noble friend. That is the commitment of the Prime Minister, and I have every hope that it will be the commitment of the other First Ministers and leading Ministers involved. Our nation gained enormously from the resources of the United Kingdom, including financial, Armed Forces, co-operative, technical and scientific ones. That lesson has not gone unnoticed by people in every corner of these isles.
My Lords, I hope that the calling of this summit by the Prime Minister is a signal of a change of approach, and a signal that we are about to see a new era with a better balance of respect and co-ordination across the four nations of the United Kingdom. Given the economic responsibilities of the devolved Governments in relation to tax, the environment, climate change, skills and so on, will the economic recovery be top of the agenda at this summit? Also, will the summit be followed up by another event, with the Chancellor ensuring that the devolved Governments are fully integrated into the UK’s economic recovery following Covid-19?
My Lords, let us begin where we begin—with the forthcoming summit. I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming the Prime Minister’s initiative. I agree with what the noble Lord said about the fundamental importance of economic recovery. Again, repeating what I said earlier, I am sure that everyone in all parts of this kingdom will put their shoulders behind it.
The Conservative Member of Parliament for Aberconwy promised Conwy County Borough Council at a recent meeting access to a £20 million capital sum from the levelling-up fund and £3 million from the community renewal fund. Money from the shared prosperity fund, he indicated, would go directly to that council. Is it government policy that Members of Parliament should be announcing largesse in this way? What discussions have there been or will there be with the Welsh Government about the sharing out of public money in Wales?
My Lords, with all respect, I regret to say that the minutes of Conwy County Borough Council are not on my reading list, but obviously I will add them to it instantly. The spending power will cover infrastructure, economic development, culture and sport, and will support education and training activities and exchanges in the UK and internationally. It will complement the devolved Administrations’ existing powers and will allow the UK Government to deliver investment more flexibly and dynamically. It will also strengthen the support given to citizens and businesses in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales without taking any responsibilities away from the devolved Administrations.
My Lords, although we absolutely accept that we must get over Covid and move towards an economic recovery, surely there is another urgency: the very future of the union. The Cabinet Secretary said that that was
“at the forefront of policy making in Whitehall”.
Surely this summit must also look at the review of intergovernmental relations and the workings of the internal market Act, as well as the issue of who spends the money in the devolved areas. Can the Minister assure us that the summit will look at enhancing the way in which the four nations work together so that we preserve the union, because there is some real urgency behind that too?
Of course I thoroughly endorse what the noble Baroness says about the importance of the United Kingdom. It was a pleasure to see our two parties stand shoulder to shoulder on that issue in the recent elections north of the border. I have indicated that the Government attach importance to the IGR discussions and the way forward there. I cannot add anything more to that but I assure noble Lords that we will report to the House on further developments in that area. I take the noble Baroness’s point about the importance of the United Kingdom; that is absolutely paramount in everything that this Administration seek to do.
My Lords, I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Policies and laws in and between England, Scotland and Wales are becoming increasingly devolved. Obviously that is the point of devolution and is only likely to increase after the recent election results. Is the Minister confident that the Government are providing sufficient support, particularly to English councils and police forces, to tackle the resulting issues? These range from, to give two examples, so-called smacking bans in Scotland and Wales but not in England—I have heard that this is creating problems for children’s services—to the fact that the possession of the extremely dangerous poison carbofuran, which is used regularly in the illegal slaughter of raptors in Scotland and England, is illegal in Scotland but not in England.
My Lords, the noble Baroness went into a number of detailed issues. Given that the Green Party has, very sadly, endorsed the break-up of our United Kingdom, it comes oddly from her to suggest that things should not be different in Scotland from how they are in England.
My Lords, I want to be helpful to the Minister—for a change. Is he aware that, when the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, was First Minister of Scotland and I was Minister of State, there was great co-operation between the devolved Administration there and the UK Government? Why are the Scotland Office and the Wales Office not involved at the forefront of co-operation at the moment? It would be a great improvement for co-operation between the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations. I understand that the Minister has the ear of the Prime Minister. Could he whisper in that ear and say, “This would help to cement and improve relations between Westminster, Whitehall and the devolved Administrations, and would help to ensure that the United Kingdom continues with greater strength”?
My Lords, I am sure that the Government always pay attention to the wise words of the noble Lord. I ascribe to him and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, personally the success of Scottish Labour in Dumbarton; I am sure that they campaigned very strongly, and I thank them for that. We seek to progress together on all aspects of policy. I hope that that will be the message that comes out of the summit shortly. I take note of what the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, says.
My Lords, the people of Wales and Scotland voted for their own Parliaments. The people have spoken and confirmed that first decision. The Prime Minister struggled to obtain any acceptable deal for leaving the European Union. If he believes in the democratic decision on Europe, why is he so slow and so eager to prevent the vote of the people of Scotland, Wales and perhaps other countries to enable the people of the four nations of the United Kingdom to decide their own future?
My Lords, in reference to the events referred to by the noble Lord, I seem to recall the result of the referendum in Wales; perhaps I mis-recall it. I repeat: the earnest of the Prime Minister, in his statesman-like offer and suggestion for a summit meeting to unite everybody in an effort to achieve recovery from the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, should be supported by the whole House. I hope that it will be received in that spirit by the Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Hitachi Rail: Rail Travel Disruption
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the disruption to rail travel from the recent cracks found in trains constructed by Hitachi Rail; and what measures they intend to take to ensure that services can resume without further disruption.
My Lords, I am pleased to say that, following the introduction of comprehensive daily testing regimes, LNER is able to run substantially all of its pre-planned timetable and GWR is operating an amended timetable, prioritising intercity routes to south Wales and the south-west.
As a regular user of LNER, I appreciate that it has had a triple whammy this year, with Covid and the lockdown, the substantial improvements that Network Rail is undertaking at King’s Cross and now the recent disruption in services. Could my noble friend confirm that substantial repairs are expected to be needed, in the medium and long term, to the class 800 carriages? It is a matter of note that LNER operates only Azuma trains in this class. It could take until the end of 2022 to complete the repairs. Could my noble friend confirm whether Hitachi has the experience and capacity to undertake these repairs, in this country?
I reassure my noble friend that of course Hitachi has the experience to undertake these repairs. It comes with a good track record of safety and a high-quality engineering pedigree. I reassure my noble friend that LNER will do whatever it can to keep the timetable going, potentially by using slightly shorter trains to ensure that services continue, as much as they can.
My Lords, two weeks ago, all the trains were stopped for safety reasons, with serious reports of long cracks in aluminium. Now most have started again; presumably they are safe. Will the Minister commit to producing an urgent report on the cause of this, what has been done to put it right and how the longer-term safety of these trains will be assured?
My Lords, is it not a fact that 95% of GWR trains ran on Monday? In fact, the company expects to run an extremely high proportion of services. Would the Minister do something to stop all these prophets of doom, who seem to make public transport a kicking boy and put people off resuming their journeys?
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. GWR is operating an amended timetable, and passengers need certainty nowadays, so that they can plan when to travel. GWR has every confidence that its amended timetable will run. Of its 93 class 800 trains, only 21 remain out of service. I therefore encourage passengers to travel and travel safety.
My Lords, I entirely endorse what my noble friend just said about certainty. I am delighted to report that I had a good and punctual journey from Newark on Monday this week, but it is important to reinstate the service from Lincoln as comprehensively as possible. Most important is that, having got a timetable, we stick to it. Could my noble friend use her best endeavours in that regard?
I am greatly relieved that my noble friend had a reasonable journey to London this week; I do not think I could have coped with another bad journey. I reassure him that LNER’s timetable will be in place until 7 June. As I am sure the noble Lord knows, this is to take into account the east coast upgrade works at King’s Cross.
My Lords, it is good to hear that things are getting back to normal. Has it taught us anything about how we ought to prepare for delays in the future? After all, these lines are incredibly important to business, as well as to ordinary people going about their daily lives. Secondly, have the Government made any assessment of the degree to which journey times are currently being affected?
I am not aware that we have made an assessment of journey times but, given that the timetables are pretty much back to normal, albeit with fewer services, I expect that the journey times are probably about the same. With regard to the lessons that we have learned, I refer the noble Lord to my previous answer about the report that the ORR is preparing on this. I am sure that all noble Lords will look at that with interest.
My Lords, as part of the reintroduction of Hitachi 800 trains, it has been reported that the recovery plan developed with the Office of Rail and Road includes a forward repair plan to ensure their long-term safety. Can the Minister confirm how long this plan will take?
Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that at the moment, because the forward repair plan is still in development. It may help noble Lords to understand that the fix is straightforward; the problem is that it uses very high temperature welding, which means that there is a lot of disconnection and reconnection to be done. So the process is quite complex, but the fix is fairly straightforward. There may be ongoing limited disruption to passengers, but there will be certainty as to the amended services offered. We do not expect many short-notice cancellations.
My Lords, there are at least seven passenger train operating companies providing services on the east coast main line, and there is freight, which means that, on an intensively used line, any disruption or speed restriction, for example, has many knock-on effects. Does that not strengthen the case to increase the capacity of the east coast main line by way of improvements, both north and south of Newcastle?
My Lords, can the Minister comment on whether the Government are willing to provide financial support to the affected train operators, which have already been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and may be struggling financially to provide alternative transport for passengers, while this disruption continues?
As my noble friend may be aware, the Government are essentially taking on all the revenues and costs for the train network as a whole, currently. Under the ERMA arrangements that we have with the train operating companies, the Government pay them a management fee for operating the services. However, compensation and how it works through the system is extremely important. There are two things to consider. The Government procured the trains for the intercity express programme with Hitachi, and the operating companies pay for them only if they are available to be out on the tracks that day. If any rectification is required due to an issue such as these cracks, Hitachi would have to pay to fix it.
Arrangement of Business
Trade and Official Controls (Transitional Arrangements for Prior Notifications) (Amendment) Regulations 2021
Plant Health etc. (Miscellaneous Fees) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2021
Motion to Approve
Ministerial Code and Register of Ministers’ Interests
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 May.
“On 28 April, the Prime Minister appointed the right honourable Lord Geidt, former private secretary to Her Majesty the Queen, to the position of independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. In taking up the appointment, he agreed revised terms of reference for the role, which strengthen its independence. One of his core tasks is to oversee the preparation of the list of Ministers’ interests. In giving evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee last Thursday, he confirmed that it was his intention to publish the updated list of Ministers’ interests by the end of this month.”
My Lords, when I became a magistrate, I had never speeded or gone through a red light and I had kept to the Highway Code. Similarly, when I ran organisations, I ensured that I was beyond reproach in keeping to any codes or rules of good behaviour because it is about setting an example of what one expects of others. Does the Minister agree that Minsters, especially the Prime Minister, not only have to be, but be seen to be, squeaky clean in keeping to the rules and that as leaders of this country they should set the tone of what they expect of others? Will the Minister tell us when the register of Minister’s interests will be published?
My Lords, I would never offer any reproach to the noble Baroness, for whom I have the highest respect. The only thing I would reproach her with is joining the wrong party—she would be an adornment to any party.
I am tempted to say that I could not possibly add anything to what was said by my right honourable friend the Paymaster-General, but I will say that of course standards in public life are essential and I think that every Member of your Lordships’ House and, indeed, of the Government aspire to them. I feel privileged to be a member of a Government who are led by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister who in his short premiership has led the country through Brexit and the Covid crisis with enormous distinction. On the publication of the register of Ministers’ interests, which was the substantive question the noble Baroness asked, the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, answered on this point to PACAC, but I can inform the House that he hopes that it will be published very shortly—that is, by the end of the month.
My Lords, the Government have been spending large sums of taxpayers’ money trying to stop the courts establishing whether the so-called Covid contracts were awarded incompetently or corruptly. I make no comment on the legal proceedings, but whatever the merits of the case, this attempt at a cover-up is clearly in breach of the Ministerial Code, the Nolan principles, to which it refers, and perhaps even of the Civil Service Code. I have a simple question: who authorised this expenditure? Was it Ministers or civil servants?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord does not give due weight to some of the things that were being said by spokesmen for his party last year about the need to make every effort to get those vital items of PPE for our country. Some 11,000 million items of PPE have been distributed, and the concerns that have been expressed attach to only 0.5% of the goods.
My Lords, is my noble friend as disappointed as I am with the tone of the opposition questioning, not just today but particularly yesterday in the other place? Could my noble friend offer suggestions about why the electors of the proud constituency of Hartlepool refused to listen to these opposition denunciations? Is it because they accept that the Government are getting on with the serious and extraordinarily challenging task of saving lives? Or might it just be that they have trouble accepting these charges from a Labour Party whose MP in Hartlepool had to resign and who still has both its hands deep inside the pocket of its trade union paymasters?
My Lords, we should always have glass houses in mind. The noble Baroness spoke in a measured tone and perhaps had in mind the very emphatic answer given to questions which were put yesterday exactly in the way to which my noble friend refers. It behoves all of us in politics to recognise that people in all parties strive to do their best, often in very difficult circumstances, to give public service. That is what unites us. The kind of political smear-mongering which we have seen demeans those who smear and politics as a whole. My noble friend is quite right to say that the people of Hartlepool gave it short shrift.
My Lords, the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, and some increase in his independence is welcome. Does the Minister agree that a further increase in his powers, as recommended by my noble friend Lord Evans, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which are sensible and proportionate, would help to increase the credibility of the process and uphold the highest standards of propriety? Codes are important, but they need to be adhered to and breaches need to be properly investigated.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, the Prime Minister has written to the noble Lord, Lord Evans, in respect of some of those recommendations. The noble Lord, Lord Geidt, who is universally respected by this House, has just taken up his place. As the noble Baroness said, he has been given extra opportunities, and the right thing is to let him get on with the job and then enlighten us with what he learns and what he thinks.
My Lords, I say to the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, that following the unprecedented veto by the Prime Minister of Sir Alex Allan’s report on the Home Secretary and Sir Alex’s resignation, the system was totally discredited. I follow up what the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and the Minister said: now that we once again have someone with impeccable credentials, a Member of this House, appointed by the Prime Minister, why do we not give him ultimate authority to decide on breaches and how to deal with them? Would that not restore confidence in the system?
My Lords, the independent adviser has independence and authority. Indeed, the noble Lord opposite has underlined the authority that attaches to his record. In our constitution, the Prime Minister is responsible for hiring and firing Ministers. At the end of the day, that has been the case under Labour and Conservative Prime Ministers. The responsibility lies with the Prime Minister for hiring, firing and ultimately making judgments on the performance of Ministers.
My Lords, in an average year, 4,000 women are sent to prison for not paying their television licence of £159, with consequent disruption to them, their future lives and the lives of their children. Does the Minister think that not paying your television licence is a greater or lesser crime than those contained in the allegations against our Prime Minister, members of his Cabinet and many Ministers?
My Lords, I try to make it a habit never to comment on the BBC, but I take note of what the noble Baroness says about television licences. She used a very important word in her question: “allegations”. Some are allegations; I believe some are smears. Most of them have been answered, and they are also being investigated. I suggest that we see what happens.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the remarks made by the Paymaster-General in the Commons yesterday. In the Government’s response to these questions today, we have again had this harping on about getting on with saving lives and striving to do their best. This is sheer obfuscation. That is not the issue. The question before us is: should Ministers comply with the Ministerial Code? Will the Minister take the opportunity to assure us that the fact there is a pandemic has no relevance to the absolute obligation on Ministers to comply with the code? The fact that we have a pandemic and that they are doing their best is irrelevant. Should they or should they not comply with the code?
My Lords, I believe that all Ministers and all in public life should aspire to the highest standards, and I think that is the effort made. I do not agree that it is “harping on” to say that the Government are attending to the vital and urgent needs of the country in relation to Covid and recovery. A lecture of that kind comes ill from a party whose leader thinks his priority is to grab a roll of wallpaper in John Lewis. I wonder whether that has been declared.
Arrangement of Business
10-point Plan: Six Months On
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 May.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement. Last November, the Prime Minister announced a radical and ambitious response to the economic impact of Covid-19. This was, of course, the UK’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution. Its aim is to build back better, to use our recovery to level up the country, to scale up new industries and to support jobs throughout the United Kingdom as we accelerate on our path to net zero by 2050.
Six months on, I am pleased to inform the House that we are already seeing this ambition being delivered on. The 10-point plan is projected to create and support up to 250,000 jobs, and mobilise £12 billion of government investment and up to three times as much from the private sector by 2030. We are investing in the UK’s most important asset—our workforce—to ensure that our people have the right skills to deliver the low-carbon transition and thrive in the high-value jobs this will create. This is the case for the engineers and construction workers who will build the new offshore wind farms and nuclear plants to provide clean power to our homes, and the retrofitters who will make homes more comfortable and efficient. This work of course builds on the strong progress we have already made as a country in decarbonising our economy. Last year, we hit over two months of coal-free electricity generation, which is the longest streak since the Industrial Revolution. Two weeks ago, we broke a new wind power record, with both onshore and offshore wind turbines generating 48.5% of the electricity in Great Britain. The plan is projected to reduce UK emissions by 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2023 and 2032. I am sure Members are aware that that is equal to taking all today’s cars off the road for about two years.
Since the 10-point plan’s publication, we have enshrined the UK’s sixth carbon budget in law, proposing in that a target that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels. That is an enormous commitment, but one that we are working extremely hard—flat out, indeed—to achieve. Our energy White Paper has set out a comprehensive, strategic vision for the transformation of the energy system consistent with delivering net-zero emissions by 2050. We have also launched our new, ambitious UK emissions trading scheme, for consultation later this year.
On offshore wind, we have confirmed up to £95 million of government investment for two new offshore wind ports: Able Marine Energy Park—AMEP—on the south bank of the River Humber, which will receive up to £75 million of government investment; and Teesworks offshore manufacturing centre, on the River Tees, which will receive up to £20 million. Those investments have already been endorsed by business. Since the launch of the 10-point plan, we have seen a 501% increase in British businesses signing up for the UN’s Race to Zero initiative. Rolls-Royce is working on the world’s largest jet engine, which will cut aviation emissions, as part of its £500 million UltraFan engine project. Jaguar Land Rover has announced plans to be all-electric from 2025, with Ford, Bentley, Volvo and Nissan stating that they will do this from 2030. Just today, GE Renewable Energy has announced that it expects to create up to 470 green jobs to support the delivery and operation of all three phases of the Dogger Bank wind farm, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, located off the north-east coast. The impressive growth of the offshore wind sector presents a great example of how delivering net zero will help us level up across the UK. It also demonstrates the confidence that international investors have in our contracts for difference approach and the immense confidence employers have in our people, particularly those in the north-east, where so much of this infrastructure is being deployed.
However, this is not just about energy; each of us has a contribution to make. We are helping businesses and people to go greener every day, by delivering on our commitment to greener business, buildings and transport. In March, we published the UK’s industrial decarbonisation strategy, the first strategy of its kind from any major economy in the world. It sets out clearly how industry can meaningfully decarbonise, remaining competitive and reducing emissions, instead of simply offshoring our industries and pushing emissions abroad.
To that end, the industrial energy transformation fund has already allocated nearly £300 million to 39 projects to help industry transition to a low-carbon future. This month we began the process for deciding the first carbon capture cluster locations in our industrial heartlands, which will be operational by the mid-2020s, with another two set to be created by 2030. All this increased investment totals £1 billion, helping to support 50,000 jobs, potentially, in areas such as the Humber, the north-east and the north-west, and in Scotland and Wales. We are providing £1 billion of funding to phase 1 of the public sector decarbonisation scheme, which will support up to 30,000 jobs. These jobs will be in building services, engineering and design, low-carbon heating, installation of renewable energy sources and energy-efficiency measures.
The 10-point plan is our commitment on meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets. Further strategies for sectors of the economy will be set out over the next year. This will include publication of our heat and buildings strategy, ahead of COP 26, to set out our long-term approach to reducing emissions from all buildings in this country. It also includes our hydrogen strategy, which is backed by a £240 million net-zero hydrogen fund investment, to support—I stress this point—both green hydrogen produced by electrolysers and blue hydrogen enabled by carbon capture and storage.
We have also committed a further £20 million to increase the number of on-street charge points for electric vehicles. We will provide £50 million to help people and businesses install these charge points. We will also publish our transport decarbonisation plan as soon as possible, setting out an ambitious pathway to end UK transport’s carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is fully engaged and committed to publishing that.
The impact of those commitments can already be seen. As of March 2021, battery electric vehicle sales stand at 7.7% of the market, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales are 6.1%, which is a huge increase of 88% and 152% respectively from only a year ago. Our acceleration towards low-emission vehicles will not only contribute to cutting our carbon emissions but strengthen British industry through supporting up to 40,000 jobs by 2020.
All these policies and initiatives are coming together and will be set out in our net zero strategy in the autumn. The strategy will build on the 10-point plan, and it will make the most of new growth and employment opportunities across the UK as we build back better and greener from Covid-19.
It will not have escaped honourable Members’ notice that we will be hosting COP 26 towards the end of the year, and what we are doing now is setting the scene for that historic event. In that context, our ambition and our leadership are absolutely crucial. The 10-point plan demonstrates our commitment not only to the green recovery but to the kind of leadership that we want to show in this vitally important year. All these actions bring us a step closer to net zero by 2050, meeting this planet’s greatest threat with ambition and innovation, which is absolutely necessary if we are to hit our goals. I believe passionately and sincerely that a new era of green jobs through Britain’s green industrial revolution has been inaugurated. I commend this Statement to the House.”
I thank the Minister and his department for the energy Statement. This is the scatter-gun 10-point plan: six months on—the repeat. We have a climate emergency, the most pressing issue of our age, which the Conservatives call hyperbole. They cannot bring themselves to declare and sign up to the size of the challenge. The Statement says the Government are already delivering on it, yet in the next sentence says the plan is projected to create so many jobs and mobilise so much investment. These are targets without delivery, rhetoric without reality and wishful thinking. This is underlined by the point in the Statement that says the Government
“have enshrined the UK’s sixth carbon budget in law”.
However, this is yet to happen. The statutory instrument has yet to go through your Lordships’ House for approval. We will not oppose it, but merely point out that the Government have yet to meet the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, mentioned in the Statement, which refer to years sooner than those referred to in the sixth carbon budget.
The climate emergency is real. What these scattergun headlines miss is a comprehensive overall plan, with priorities and route maps along the way to meet in a systematic way the challenges we face. I congratulate the Government on starting to face the task since announcing the scattergun headline plan six months ago. The gestation is slowly evolving. The Government have at least published the energy White Paper, The North Sea Transition Deal, and have begun to recognise the further missing strategies as ingredients that need to be addressed and delivered if this plan is to be comprehensive. The response to the climate emergency is nowhere near being oven ready.
I thank the Minister for recognising in this Statement that we still need a heat and building strategy ahead of COP 26. We still need a transport decarbonisation plan. More than ever, we need a national retrofit and fuel poverty strategy with skills training, now that the green homes grant scheme has been abandoned and its funding withdrawn, rather than being allocated elsewhere. Where is the Treasury’s crucial net-zero review, due in the autumn last year, then promised this spring? Can the Minister give us another target? When will it see the light of day and set the overall size and context of the financial commitment needed? Germany has invested £38 billion in a green recovery, France £31 billion; and in the US President Biden has committed $1 trillion of his green infrastructure plan to green initiatives.
Will the Government commit to bringing forward the £30 billion green recovery fund Labour has called for? Do Government now accept that the UK is facing a climate emergency, and do they believe that this scattergun 10-point plan is really meeting the scale of that emergency? According to the climate change committee, the Government’s emissions target needs £50 billion of public and private investment every year by 2030, but the scattergun plan promises only £54 billion of public and private investment over the entire next 10 years put together. Has the Minister seen this analysis and how does he propose the Government make up the shortfall?
The Government’s emissions target will require huge changes, including the full decarbonisation of our power sector by 2035 and half of new cars sold by 2025 being electric. Can the Minister lay out in precise terms how the scattergun 10-point plan will achieve this? Will he commit to publishing his modelling? Given that petrol and diesel cars cannot be sold from 2030 onwards, what plans do the Government have to ensure that those on low to middle incomes are not priced out of electric car ownership?
The Government and the nation have a long way to go. Industry will play its part. As recently stated, much of the technology that will be needed to achieve net zero has yet to come into existence and be readily available. Hydrogen will be a key part of the energy mix and key to the decarbonisation of heat, as well as the solution to rail transport, especially for freight. There is a massive opportunity for Britain, with our fantastic scientists, our brilliant workforce and world-leading businesses. We need a Government with ambition and real commitment who get the task done, matching the ingenuity and inspiration of the British people. The Minister has shown great bravery in announcing his scattergun plan—the repeat—so soon. The Government are second to none at self-congratulation. Labour has put some clear red lines through much of the rhetoric and has a sharp message across the bottom: “Good but must do better”.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for his comments. Obviously, I do not agree with many of them, but let me go through the points he raised in turn.
He talked about the fifth and sixth carbon budgets. The noble Lord needs to see this in the context of the UK’s record on decarbonisation. As he said, we have recently, on 21 April, laid the legislation to set the sixth carbon budget, covering 2033-2037. That will require a 78% reduction in emissions compared to 1990. In addition to the carbon budgets, as he is well aware, we have set the highly ambitious nationally determined contribution, through the UN process, to reduce emissions in 2030 by at least 68% compared to 1990 levels. This is the highest reduction target made by any advanced economy. We have shown through our actions that cutting emissions and growing the economy can go hand in hand. We achieved record clean growth between 1990 and 2019. Our economy has grown by 78%, and at the same time, we have managed to reduce emissions by 44%. That is a better record than any other G7 nation. I would have hoped that the noble Lord might at least have given us some credit for delivering that.
The noble Lord mentioned the green homes grant. Yes, we will not hide from the fact that it did run into some difficulties in terms of delivery, but we have made excellent progress across much of the investment. We have invested substantial sums in social housing, schools and hospitals, as well as in homes through the green homes grant, in particular supporting local authorities through the local authority delivery scheme. As he will be aware, the Chancellor also announced additional funding of £300 million going into the local authority delivery scheme, and we are working in partnership with many local authorities. I have met with many of them, and they are very grateful for this funding.
He asked about the Treasury net zero review. We have announced that the net zero report will be published this spring. It was delayed from autumn last year because of the pandemic. In the meantime—in order to keep his reading up to speed—Her Majesty’s Treasury published an interim report this autumn. This sets out our approach to the review and analysis which will form the final report. The initial timing of the review was delayed due to the Covid crisis. Given these circumstances, we took the decision to move publication to 2021, so if he will have a little bit more patience, the review will be there for him to read shortly. He also mentioned our investment in transport decarbonisation. Let me give him some of the figures. We have provided £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of charge points for electric vehicles, we have provided £582 million in plug-in vehicles grants, we have spent nearly £500 million on the automotive transformation fund and we spent considerable sums on improving public transport and government investment in low-carbon buses and trains. In March, we published England’s long-term national bus strategy, setting out a bold vision for bus services across the country.
He also asked about the transport decarbonisation plan. We have announced that the UK is embarking on a comprehensive transport plan—a bold and ambitious programme of co-ordinated action needed to meet the UK’s transport greenhouse gas emissions targets through to 2050, and that ensures that the transport sector plays its part. I think I have responded to most of his points.
I have given notice to the Minister that I wish to concentrate on the role of the national grid. On a number of occasions that I have come across, the national grid has been shown to be operating at margins that are very close. For example, and this is an instance that I am familiar with, if you want to run a couple more freight trains up the east coast main line, immediately the shout goes up, “The power supplies will not support this!” It is the case that throughout the economy a lot of people are going to have to spend a lot more money on electricity both to charge their cars and run their trains, particularly freight trains. I am something of a hydro-sceptic, but even if you want hydrogen you are going to have to spend electricity money on it.
When I looked today at National Grid’s shareholders, many of them could hardly be described as friends of Great Britain. The sorts of friends that you see in that list are perhaps not always the sort with which you wish to be associated. So my question for the Minister is: is Ofgem up to the job of making sure that National Grid is preparing plans so that the electricity is available to do many of the things to which he has drawn attention? This is possibly a national fault, but we run too close to the margin and then, when we want to do something a bit extra, find that we cannot.
The noble Lord has drawn attention to some important questions. Of course, as we proceed with decarbonisation there will be an inevitable rise in electricity use and in the dispersion of electricity sources as we move away from fixed nodes to more dispersed forms of power generation. He is right to draw attention to the important role that Ofgem and the regulators, working in close partnership with the grid operators, will need to play to ensure that there is sufficient capacity, and I reassure him that we are doing exactly that. The Energy White Paper gave a commitment that the Government would consult on a strategic policy statement for Ofgem during the course of 2021, so we will absolutely ensure that it is up to the job—fit, battle-ready and taking part in important debates, negotiations and strategies to ensure that there is sufficient electricity capacity to meet the demand that he refers to.
My Lords, I associate the Green group with the accurate description by the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, of the plan as scattergun, and with many of his other concerns. I am sure the Minister will recall that point 5 of the plan refers to green public transport, cycling and walking, but when I look at the progress Statement I can find no mention of cycling and walking—or indeed of public transport, although the Minister mentioned it in response to the noble Lord, Lord Grandchester.
The Statement and the Minister have said a great deal about electric cars. Given the recently published Heinrich Böll Foundation European Mobility Atlas noting that on average commuters in London spend twice as long in congestion as those in Paris, in order to be the world-leading and attractive destination for businesses that the Government so often stress they want us to be, should they not be paying far more attention to walking and cycling across the nation, with their many Covid efforts at reducing congestion, improving health, fitness and well-being and supporting small local businesses?
I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not give us credit for the considerable sums that we have spent on transport decarbonisation. I took some time to run through some of the figures in answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester. In March last year we published part 1 of the transport decarbonisation plan. We are working to ensure that part 2 is as ambitious as possible, and we intend to publish it shortly. We have been clear that our intention was to get the plan fully published by spring 2021, but of course we have been delayed by wider events. The noble Baroness is right to draw attention to the importance of cycling and walking. They will form a key part of the Department for Transport’s decarbonisation plans.
My Lords, given that energy is devolved in Northern Ireland, along, to a lesser extent, with the environment, can the Minister confirm how the Government’s levelling-up agenda will ensure that the devolved nations, including Northern Ireland, keep up with the decarbonisation agenda, including the provision of more electric vehicle charging points and other elements of infrastructure based on the hydrogen economy?
The noble Baroness is right to draw attention to the work of the devolved Administrations. I can tell her that we work very closely with the DAs, at both ministerial and official levels, when developing policies and measures to reduce emissions and in tracking progress against our respective targets. Regular engagement takes place through the bi-monthly net-zero ministerial group, which has been developed in the context of the review of inter- governmental relations, and the supporting director-level net-zero nations board, as well as money policy-specific fora and frequent ad hoc contacts. Separately from that, there is a DA ministerial group chaired by COP president Alok Sharma, and the offshore transmission network review looks at policy and regulatory changes across England, Scotland and Wales.
My Lords, I was surprised that there was no mention of SMRs or AMRs in the Statement. The original plan says that
“further investment in Small Modular Reactors and Advanced Modular Reactors”
will be made, and mentions sums of £125 million and £170 million respectively. Can the Minister update us on where we are on that regarding both the spend to date and whether the rather larger sums that were due to be brought in from the private sector have actually been forthcoming? Can he also confirm that phase 2 of the SMR proposals is still due by the end of 2021? If so, could he give us a bit more clarity about the dates?
The noble Lord is right to draw attention to the importance of nuclear generation in the mix of fuels that we will need to take forward. I am happy to provide an update for him. I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord West, is fully in agreement with this.
The PM has confirmed the Government’s commitment to advancing large, small and advanced reactors as part of our 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution. We have announced £385 million in an advanced nuclear fund to invest further in the next generation of nuclear technology, subject of course to value for money and future spending rounds. The advanced nuclear fund announced as part of the 10-point plan includes funding of up to £215 million for small modular reactors and up to £170 million for advanced modular reactors. We are also investing up to an additional £40 million in developing the regulatory frameworks, including developing, funding and siting policies for small modular reactors, to which the noble Lord referred, and supporting UK supply chains in helping to bring these technologies to market.
The Energy White Paper confirmed that generic design assessment, the first stage of the UK’s nuclear regulatory process, will be opened up to SMR technologies this spring. We are pleased to confirm that the guidance for advanced nuclear technologies to enter GDA has been published on GOV.UK. GDA entry is an open and ongoing process, with a standing invitation for advanced nuclear companies to apply when they believe that they are ready to do so.
My Lords, the Minister will be pleased to hear that I support the 10-point plan, which rightly does not see the strategy as a burden but as a way of building back the economy better, in a way that supports green jobs and creates a healthier Britain for our children by improving the air we breathe. As my contribution to the green agenda—I declare an interest—I have taken the significant step of investing in an all-electric car. Does the Minister agree that one of the big deterrents to taking this important step is the insufficiency of rapid-charging stations throughout the UK? Can he give your Lordships’ House an update on their rollout, and whether planning permissions and the timescales for implementation are being met? As an afterthought, if we are phasing out new gas boilers by 2025, why are they still being fitted into new builds?
I congratulate the noble Lord on his purchase of an electric car. I know he is from the north-east, too; I will not ask him what model it is but I hope it is one of the ones made in our region. He is right to draw attention to the need for charging points to be sufficient and widely accessible. We continue to engage with stakeholders to understand what support will be needed to enable the transition and minimise the impacts on businesses, workers and consumers across the UK. Prior to the 10-point plan, the Government have already committed £1.5 billion to support the early market and remove barriers to zero-emission vehicle ownership. Alongside the new phase- out dates, we have pledged a further £2.8 billion for a package of measures to support industry and consumers in making the switch to cleaner vehicles. That includes £582 million in funding for ZEV grants and £1.3 billion of infra- structure investment to accelerate the rollout of charging points, to which he referred.
With regard to the noble Lord’s point about gas boilers, when implemented in 2025 the future home standards will ensure that all new-build homes are zero-carbon ready. While building regulations themselves do not mandate or ban the use of any specific technologies, we intend to set the performance standard at a level which means new homes will not be built with fossil-fuel heating. In line with that ambition, the energy White Paper committed to consulting on whether it is appropriate to end gas grid connections to new-build homes from 2025 in favour of clean heat alternatives. The heat in buildings strategy reiterates our intention to consult on this. We will provide more detail on it in due course.
Debate (6th Day)
Moved on Tuesday 11 May by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is a great honour to open this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech on the important issues of foreign affairs and defence. I am delighted to be joined by my noble friend Lord Ahmad, who I know will employ his trademark expertise and erudition to good effect in what I have no doubt will be a well-informed, wide-ranging and robust debate. As indeed it should be, because, looking around the Chamber and on the screens, I see a number of distinguished former Foreign and Defence Ministers, not to mention an illustrious miscellany of noble Lords with acknowledged expertise in these areas. Together we will consider in detail the Government’s proposed approach to foreign affairs and defence, in which several themes will continually bubble to the surface: the need for resilience, the restlessness of our ambition, the conviction of our democratic values and the immense opportunities for the United Kingdom as we look to the future.
I want to begin by reminding noble Lords of the changing geopolitical context which forms the backdrop to this debate. We are living in a new era of systemic competition. The dangers are growing. We have seen Russia increasingly assertive, as its recent actions in Ukraine and the Black Sea remind us. We are witnessing a rising China, modernising its forces and assembling the largest naval fleet in the world. States such as North Korea and Iran are posing a growing threat and continuing to destabilise their regions, while the precarious situation in the Middle East, so distressingly visible right now, is giving many of us cause for concern. Meanwhile, the exponential advance of new technology is reshaping the nature of conflict and challenging us to establish new norms that accord with our values. All the while, the threat of global terror has not receded, and the danger of climate change grows.
Our response to this multiplicity, diversity and complexity of growing dangers was the integrated review of security, defence, foreign policy and development—the most comprehensive survey of our defence since the end of the Cold War. It sets out a clear plan for a stronger, more secure, prosperous and resilient United Kingdom, as we build back better from the Covid pandemic. It is a plan to sustain and deepen our strategic advantage through science and technology and to shape the open international order to create a world that leans more to democracies and the defence of our values, all the while building our security and resilience at home and abroad.
The Prime Minister has been clear that defence is at the heart of this programme. To be open and prosperous, we must be secure at home and active in the world. Defence is always the first duty of government. It is our nation’s insurance policy and our ultimate resilience. The Covid crisis renewed our appreciation of and admiration for what the brave and talented men and women of our Armed Forces do daily on our behalf. But our adversaries did not go to sleep through the pandemic—if anything, they redoubled their nefarious efforts. The challenge for us in the years ahead is to make sure we are fit to detect, deter and defeat threats to our people, our allies and our values at home and abroad.
That is why defence has received the most generous settlement in decades: a commitment to spend £188 billion on defence over the coming four years, an increase of £24 billion. Our Command Paper has taken that investment and used it to deliver what amounts to the biggest shift in defence for a generation. It will give us the technologically advanced, integrated and agile force that will underpin our nation’s hard and soft power in this new age of systemic competition. That new-age force is the necessary response to this new-age threat. To those familiar with the old ways, it may be disquieting, but our diplomacy is underwritten by the credibility of our forces—keen to avoid conflict through our global engagement, but always ready to fight to defend our people and our allies. The gracious Speech commits to pushing ahead with this modernisation. Inevitably, this has meant making some hard choices, but those decisions will give us formidable capabilities across sea, land, air, space and cyber.
At sea, our Royal Navy’s fleet is growing for the first time since the Cold War. We will have world-class general purpose frigates, air defence destroyers, hunter-killer submarines and a new multi-role ocean surveillance capability to safeguard our underwater cables in the North Atlantic. In the air, we will have updated Typhoons, brand new F35 Lightning stealth fighters, new unmanned systems capable of striking remotely, and massive investment in the next generation of fighter jets and swarming drones. On the ground, while our Army will be leaner, it will also be more integrated, more active, more lethal and more effective. It will be able to make the most of new Ajax vehicles, revamped attack helicopters, brand new Boxer armoured fighting vehicles, state-of-the-art air defence, long-range precision artillery and new electronic warfare capabilities.
However, none of these conventional capabilities can succeed in the modern battle without new investment in cyber, space and information manoeuvre. We are spending heavily in the National Cyber Force and establishing a new space command that will enhance our military surveillance and communication capabilities from space. We are not alone in seeking to modernise. Our adversaries, as well as our allies, are making rapid headway, so we are putting aside at least £6.6 billion for research and development to supercharge the development of next-generation disruptive capabilities, from directed energy weapons to swarming drones.
Having great capability is not enough. We are also changing our posture, combining permanent presence with high readiness to deliver a decisive impact. Two littoral response groups in the North Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific will, alongside our future commando force, allow us to respond to emerging crises in a matter of hours, not weeks. We will also have a very high readiness global response force, ready to dispatch our newly formed Army Ranger regiments into complex, high-threat environments.
Our people—our defence family—are going to be busier than ever, but we will make sure that they are properly looked after. No one in this place will disagree that they are our finest asset. That is why measures within the gracious Speech enshrine our Armed Forces covenant in law. The covenant has already made a huge difference to the lives of Armed Forces families: 79,000 service children in the United Kingdom now benefit from £24.5 million of additional pupil funding, and 22,200 service personnel have been helped on to the housing ladder by the Forces Help to Buy scheme.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels. Some members of our Armed Forces community are still suffering disadvantage in accessing public services. The gracious Speech will give our covenant legal force, placing a duty on public bodies responsible for the delivery of key functions in the areas of housing, education and healthcare to have due regard to the covenant principles. Separately, we want to make sure our fantastic veterans are given greater opportunities. We will introduce new measures to support veterans and reward employers of former service personnel by providing national insurance contribution relief for the employment of veterans.
Switch from home to away, we will continue to strengthen the international system as it feels the strain of deepening competition and revisionist pressures. We remain committed to European security and NATO remains a cornerstone of our defence. That is why we have ensured that we are the second biggest spender in NATO and a major contributor across all five domains, including the nuclear deterrent. As a leading light in the alliance, we also have a responsibility to support its reform. Measures in this gracious Speech will see us reinforcing our commitment to NATO transformation.
Meanwhile, we will continue pursuing constructive relationships and trade agreements with our neighbours in Europe based on mutual respect for sovereignty. We are realistic about the challenges we face, but optimistic about our future as an active European country with a global perspective—bringing countries together to solve the issues that matter most to our citizens to improve their lives.
As ever, no partnership is more valuable to us than our special relationship with the United States, as highlighted by the high-level calls made by our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to their American counterparts in recent weeks and the Defence Secretary’s meeting with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. We are both committed to standing up for open democratic societies, we see eye to eye on climate change and we share many of the same security threats. It is only by working together overseas that we can keep our citizens safe at home.
Our Armed Forces are a global advertisement for British values, capabilities and leadership. They work alongside our gold standard, world-leading diplomatic and development network to shape the international order, build global resilience, sustain open societies and economies, and overcome global challenges. Whether in the many UN peacekeeping missions we are currently supporting or our application to become a formal dialogue partner with ASEAN, the best of UK defence is in tandem with the best of UK diplomacy—working hand in hand to protect global Britain on the world stage.
Last year the UK played a leading global role in the fightback against the pandemic. This year we will provide global leadership to international efforts to overcome the greatest challenges of our time. Next month we will host the G7 summit in Cornwall, in July we will co-host the global education summit with Kenya, and in November we will chair the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, COP 26, in partnership with Italy. All the while, we will maintain and strengthen our networks and instruments of influence overseas.
Using our global diplomatic network and the British Council to forge alliances and uphold human rights and democracy across the world, we will take forward global efforts to get an additional 40 million girls into school, provide aid where it has greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering, and—importantly—return to our commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development when the fiscal situation allows. All of this, combined with our ongoing training and development programmes around the world, maintains our position as a global soft power superpower.
Next week our magnificent HMS “Queen Elizabeth” carrier embarks on her maiden mission. As one of the two largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy, she will lead a British and allied task group on the UK’s most ambitious global deployment for two decades, visiting the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific. This deployment has attracted significant interest from other states and has a tangible convening power. I can think of no greater illustration of our global ambition; an ambition that runs like a golden thread through the gracious Speech; an ambition to strengthen our resilience, seize our opportunities and cement our role as a force for good in the world.
My Lords, as we begin a new parliamentary Session, I carry over from the last my greatest respect for our service personnel, veterans and their families. I thank them for all their hard work, especially during the pandemic.
The Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act, which concluded in this House just before Prorogation, clearly demonstrated that, first, this House has always worked together for the benefit of our personnel and veterans. We are lucky to have colleagues who have served so gallantly in the Armed Forces and bring a level of knowledge, experience and duty which makes our debates richer and legislation better.
Secondly, our commitment to our Armed Forces should align with our commitment to international law and human rights. Their work and reputation are only enhanced by the UK fulfilling its obligations and, by amending that Act to exclude genocide, torture, crimes against humanity and war crimes, Ministers recognised this. I thank the Ministers concerned for their engagement in achieving that.
Thirdly, there is much more to do to ensure that our personnel and their families are fully supported, especially in relation to repeat and shoddy investigations. Therefore, while some commitments in the Queen’s Speech are welcome, especially on relief for employers of veterans, the Government must ensure that their rhetoric matches reality. When it comes to defence, too often there is a wide gap between what Ministers say and what Ministers do.
The Queen’s Speech might have said the Government will
“provide our gallant Armed Services with the biggest spending increase in thirty years”,
but we know that the new defence budget is not all it seems. Ministers talk about the rise in capital funding, but not the real cut in defence revenue funding over the next four years, which means less money for forces’ recruitment, training, pay and families. It means a possible cut of 40% to the budget of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs. Worse still, over half of this year’s £16.4 billion defence equipment budget is revenue-based for equipment support and maintenance.
The Queen’s Speech briefing document might refer to a
“more agile, more lethal and more integrated”
Armed Forces, but it fails to mention that the Government’s plan involves fewer troops, fewer ships and fewer planes. The Army will be cut by 10,000 by 2025, at least two Type 23 frigates are gone, and we say goodbye to the Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft and Hawk T1 training aircraft.
The Queen’s Speech briefing document also says that shipbuilding investment will be doubled but fails to demonstrate how the Government will prioritise British businesses. This is not only an investment in jobs, but in our communities and a more secure economy. Some 30,000 defence industry jobs have been lost since 2010, so we need greater protection of jobs in the defence sector, with a “British-built by default” approach to boost manufacturing in the UK supply chain. The new single framework created by the procurement Bill will include defence procurement, but can the Minister confirm whether this will improve procurement rules to promote prosperity in defence supply chain businesses throughout the UK’s towns, regions, and industries?
As for other legislation, the Armed Forces Bill, which has just finished Committee stage in the other place, is the main piece of defence-related legislation promised. The Bill presents a real opportunity to make meaningful improvements to the day-to-day lives of our Armed Forces personnel, veterans and families. We will work constructively and cross-party to get the best for our forces from this legislation.
The Government like to talk up their commitment to our service communities, but the Bill currently misses a crucial opportunity to deliver on the laudable promises made in the Armed Forces covenant. Service charities have pointed out that the narrow focus of the Bill on healthcare, housing and education could create a two-tier covenant that reduces provision in those areas outside the scope of the Bill. Does the Minister agree? The Bill also does little to tackle the issues of substandard housing head-on, with the Bill’s Select Committee chair stating that
“better accommodation is an area that still needs prioritisation within the Ministry of Defence.”—[Official Report, Commons, 22/4/21; col. 1178.]
We welcome efforts to implement key recommendations of the Lyons review, particularly the creation of an independent service police complaints commissioner, but why have Ministers has not adopted the recommendation that civilian courts should have jurisdiction in matters of murder, rape and serious sexual offences committed in the UK?
I also remind the Minister about the outstanding issues concerning repeat and shoddy investigations. Only last week, it was announced that Major Robert Campbell is leading action against the MoD for around 30 ex-service personnel who argue that their lives have been ruined by vexatious claims and that the Government breached their duty of care to service personnel and veterans who faced investigation.
The Minister said that she looks forward to
“continuing these constructive discussions about the … duty of care”—[Official Report, 28/4/21; col. 2347.]
under the “more appropriate mechanism” of the Armed Forces Bill. We will hold her to that, as I am sure, will the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.
We welcome the separate announcements in the Queen’s Speech briefing document to publish a defence accommodation strategy and a refreshed Armed Forces families strategy. However, we have been waiting for a new forces families strategy for months now, since the last one expired at the end of 2020. Will the Minister confirm when this will be published, along with a clear action plan, so that we can monitor progress? With its one-year anniversary in a few weeks, can the Minister also update the House on the implementation of the recommendations of the Selous review?
The Queen’s Speech reaffirms that the Government are pushing ahead with the integrated review and the defence Command Paper, but it does nothing to fill in the outstanding gaps. We are still waiting for an assessment of current or future capability, clarity on the strategic principles behind Britain’s defence policy and more information about how the Ministry of Defence should be structured to best provide national security.
The Queen’s Speech briefing document also said the Government will
“take risks to further strengthen the UK’s strategic technological advantage”.
Will the Minister explain what type of risks these include? Could they result in large amounts of taxpayers’ money being spent for no strategic gain—or collaboration with potentially dangerous third parties?
The need for the Government’s rhetoric to match reality is simple: our brave service men and women, their families and the security of the nation depend on it. Ministers must remember that in the months to come.
My Lords, as the Minister reminded us, defence is the first duty of government, and no one on these Benches will object to that argument. Defence is clearly crucial. Defence and foreign policy deserve a whole day of debate on the Queen’s Speech, which they have got. However, this set of policies is in some ways less controversial than some of the domestic legislation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, pointed out, on defence matters the Government, the Opposition and the Cross Benches act in a very collaborative way across the Chamber. We all benefit from the insights of the noble and gallant Lords and others who have been involved in the military. Like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to our Armed Forces; their role is crucial to the country, and we owe them all a huge debt of gratitude.
The world is in a very complex place, and, after a year of the pandemic, the global threats have not shrunk but merely changed and increased. The Minister talked about Russia, China, North Korea and Iran—and about Russia being in certain places, like Ukraine. There are also issues related to the Arctic. There is a whole set of global threats that we need to think about.
The gracious Speech raised very few issues in relation to defence itself. Listening to it, which I had the great privilege of doing from in the Chamber last week, I thought that there were very few words devoted to defence and a few more to the integrated review. However, clearly the Government have significant pieces of legislation that they wish to bring forward, some of which we have rehearsed already and some of which depend on the defence expenditure, which has already been mentioned.
There is a question about how many times the same increase in defence expenditure can be announced and rehearsed. We heard already, in late 2020, about the additional £24 billion. I do not think that anything new is contained in the gracious Speech and I am not expecting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring forward any further funding. Although that increase was welcome, we need to bear in mind that it is a one- off additional expenditure or commitment. It might allow us to have new frigates, and there were certainly words in the briefing that will bring joy to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, suggesting that ship infrastructure spending—or investment—will double by the end of the Parliament. That is surely welcome.
It is also welcome that our troops will be agile and well supported by tanks, ships and aircraft—but it is also clear that, instead of a headline figure of 80,000 personnel, we are looking at 70,000. Is that something that the Government should countenance and that we should accept? Are our gallant Armed Forces really so resilient that a further cut of 12% is appropriate? If the world is such a dangerous place and if the Government continue to make commitments to deploy right across the globe, as “global Britain” suggests, we need to ensure that everyone is trained and fit to serve—and able to do what we require them to do. That is not simply about each individual; it is about teamwork and ensuring that people can be recruited, trained, deployed and can then have time to decompress. If we are cutting troop numbers, will that be feasible? What work have the Government put in to assessing the impact of the cuts to troop numbers on our service men and women?
A commitment to the Armed Forces covenant and enshrining it in law are welcome but not sufficient: we need to understand that the Government really will deliver on their duty of care to our service men and women and their families. As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, pointed out, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, put a lot of effort into the overseas operations Bill, in relation to an amendment on the duty of care. Arguably, that Bill was too narrow, but the Government should absolutely have a duty of care to our service men and women. What will they bring forward in the context of the Armed Forces Bill? Of course, although it is flagged in the Queen’s Speech debate, it is not a new piece of legislation—it is already in the House of Commons.
What will the Government do that is concrete? What will they deliver for our veterans? What plans do they have to look after service personnel and veterans who have PTSD? There are issues that, perhaps, were inadequately explored and talked about in the past. We need to deal with veterans’ mental health and ensure that no lives are lost through the suicide of people who have had PTSD.
These are crucial issues, and some clear answers, either now or in the context of the Armed Forces Bill, would be most welcome.
I can see people looking in my direction. I understand that I am speaking from the Front Bench and that I have 10 minutes.
Thank you. In that case, I shall keep going.
Clearly, personnel are vital. Commitments to modernisation are welcome. The question then is, what are we doing with those commitments? HMS “Queen Elizabeth” is a vital asset. Sending it to the Gulf or to the Mediterranean is welcome. Sending it to the South China Sea might raise more questions. What assessment have the Government made of the benefits of sending the “Queen Elizabeth” carrier to the South China Sea? Is it going to assist with trade or a softer-power activity, or is this sabre-rattling? The former is desirable; the latter might raise some questions. It would be worth considering the Government’s intention behind these activities.
The same is true of the increase in defence expenditure. It is not clear from the briefings associated with the gracious Speech whether the Government intend to spend more on the nuclear deterrent, but clearly there is a commitment to increasing the number of warheads. How much of the increase in defence expenditure will go on new facilities and equipment? What percentage is likely to go on the deterrent? We do not suggest that the deterrent should be cut; whether it should be increased is another question.
I have focused predominantly on defence because the 10 or so of my noble friends participating today will talk about wider matters of foreign policy. I have a couple of brief questions about aid and support. It is good to hear that girls are being encouraged into education. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has put a lot of effort into supporting this. The commitment to bringing back aid to 0.7% is welcome. Can the Minister tell us when the fiscal situation might allow this to happen? Predicting the economy is always very difficult but, at the time of the Brexit referendum, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to think that he could make predictions almost to the pounds, shillings and pence—I deliberately use old money because I think it would be what the Brexiteers would want to hear.
Finally, I turn to human rights. Her Majesty the Queen said that her Government
“will uphold human rights and democracy across the world”.
What efforts will they make to ensure that human rights are upheld in Hong Kong and in Xinjiang? We need this to happen. I hope that the sanctions and boycotting legislation will not prevent businesses putting forward a view that there are going to be places in which they do not wish to trade.
My Lords, the Government have rightly considered the preservation and strengthening of the rules-based international order to be in the vital national interest of the UK. This is the thrust of the recent integrated review. Britain outside the EU needs these rules even more than before, when we could rely on the solidarity of our European neighbours as of right.
This rules-based order has just had a pretty narrow squeak. Another four years of President Trump’s disruptive policies towards it could have inflicted irreparable damage. Although it is welcome that the US is back, the Biden Administration have no magic wand. Britain, too, and other like-minded states around the world will need to play their role in repairing the damage, filling the gaps and reforming international institutions. This is not so much about drawing up some new overall grand design as about acting collectively where the needs are greatest—on health, trade, climate change, and on reducing the risks of nuclear war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
On health, as the world gradually emerges from the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it will be important to put the Clark-Johnson Sirleaf review of the World Health Organization to good use to ensure that the WHO and its members get more prompt and guaranteed access to new outbreaks of disease. The WHO must be provided with a higher proportion of the resources it needs by assured, assessed—not just voluntary—contributions to bring about a much closer working relationship between the global organisations which deal respectively with human and animal diseases. Global schemes such as Gavi and COVAX must be in better working order and better resourced for when the next pandemic comes along, as it surely will. The provision of vaccines to poorer countries must be achieved more effectively when the need arises.
The World Trade Organization, under its new, impressive director-general, is also in need of urgent repair. Its dispute settlement procedures should be brought back into full working order. A waiver on the system of trade-related patents for Covid vaccines should be agreed promptly. Its decision-making processes need to be less ponderous and less easy to block—perhaps by making more use of plurilateral agreements in areas such as digital trade and trade in services. The balance between bilateral and multilateral trade agreements needs careful watching, avoiding too much emphasis on the former at the expense of the latter.
Climate change is a short, medium and long-term challenge which requires both national and collective responses, as the two are closely linked. Paris was an achievement, but it has not stopped the world slipping in the wrong direction. Glasgow will need to do better. It will need to reverse the rise in the use of fossil fuels —coal in particular. If we are to persuade big coal users, such as China and India, to do this, we cannot do the opposite ourselves. Many developing countries will need help to fulfil the commitments they enter into. This will require substantial amounts of public and private finance.
The postponed nuclear non-proliferation review conference is now scheduled for later this year. It comes after a period of steady erosion of arms control measures between the nuclear weapon states. If that erosion is to be reversed and dialogue about strategic stability between the five recognised weapon states is to get under way—as it needs to do—we cannot simply set off in the opposite direction, increasing our stockpile of warheads and refusing even to discuss concepts such as sole purpose and no first use. We cannot do that without it having negative consequences and inhibiting our ability to reduce the risks of nuclear war.
The Government’s decision to reduce our aid spending from 0.7% of our GNI, as laid down in law, to 0.5% is inconsistent with our taking effective action to address any of the four sectors of the rules-based international order to which I have referred. I urge the Minister in replying to this debate to give a clear commitment that the Government will return to full compliance with 0.7% in the fiscal year following the resumption of growth in our economy. This would do something to repair the damage already done and to restore our ability to play a positive role in strengthening the rules- based international order.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in this debate on the gracious Speech after the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his vast experience and knowledge. I have learned much from his speech and agree with what he said.
The integrated review, Global Britain in a Competitive Age, has much to welcome, including especially its thoughtfulness about the security implications of climate change, the strong commitment to freedom of religion and belief, and the commitment to restoring the 0.7%. However, to speak of security, defence, development and foreign policy without a developed section on peacebuilding and peacemaking, especially with competitors, is like speaking of the pandemic without mentioning vaccination.
The integrated review mentions security through improving conflict management in 10 or so places, but the Stabilisation Unit is not mentioned at all. How much of a priority is it, with its new name of the office for conflict stabilisation and mediation? Put another way, the integrated review presents a world in which we control events, as though that is normally the case in foreign policy. Last Thursday, Ascension Day, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark represented me at the installation of the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, whose cathedral is in Sheikh Jarrah. He writes: “There is a growing recognition that lasting peace with justice can only be achieved if the rights of all the peoples of these lands are upheld and underlying grievances are addressed”—in other words, reconciliation. The situation in the Holy Lands illustrates perfectly how little we can anticipate events.
Now, more than ever, we need investment in new and visionary reconciliation capabilities and capacities which enable us to reduce the threat, and the human and financial costs, of war. Much has been said, rightly, by all speakers, about the extraordinary quality of our Armed Forces, but their best protection is peace. Noble and gallant Lords, and those serving today, know this especially well. In the beatitudes, Jesus says that peacemakers are blessed and will be called the children of God. The repeated biblical visions of swords into ploughshares are not only the call of God but a blessing to those who fight—and, I might comment, a blessing to the Treasury. To misquote a former Liverpool manager who taught his lads to get their retaliation in first, the best and by far the cheapest form of improved security comes from pre-emptive reconciliation—getting our reconciliation in first. Reconciliation usually does not mean agreement, but it does mean transforming violent conflict, or its possibility, into peaceful co-existence and competition.
Secondly, it is very welcome that the 0.7% target is reaffirmed. However, the reaffirmation—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, commented on this—feels a bit like Augustine’s desire for chastity: welcome, but not yet. People who are poorest must be dealt with generously—first, for reasons of humanity from one of the richest and most powerful nations on earth; secondly, for our own long-term security; and, thirdly, so that the world can be a place of flourishing for our trade and development, here at home and for the poorest.
Thirdly, there has been much talk about the increase in the number of nuclear warheads. That is a very serious and concerning step, but not nearly as serious as the commitment, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, also referred, to increase deliberate ambiguity in the condition of the use of nuclear weapons and the absence of a stated commitment not to use them first. It is widely accepted that, even for those who argue the moral case for having these weapons—a very contested point indeed—clarity of purpose is essential to deterrence. Ambiguity increases the risk of disastrous miscalculation.
Finally, with all its many strengths, this review needs to integrate a vision of peace as an alternative to destructive conflict, which can only ever be a tragic last resort. The warnings in the review are not accompanied by an integrated moral basis for actions that, where at all possible, will reduce violent conflict and control it. Values are twinned in the text with words such as “democratic”, “rule of law”, “open societies”, “prosperity”, “soft power” and “culture”. There is even an aspiration to universal values, combined with a realistic appreciation of the conflict of values—values that are not anchored in any way in our history in the document and that are stated as manifest truth, without any moral foundations. It is in this moral argument of the document that peacemaking and peacebuilding are an afterthought. That seems a profound weakness of moral imagination, when we as a nation are able to do so much, in a document that argues so persuasively for our soft power and our values-based interest.
My Lords, I speak for the first time and with humility. I start by thanking my two sponsors, the noble Lords, Lord Marland and Lord Kakkar, who kindly introduced me to the House, and all the staff who have been so helpful in explaining things. I also thank all the Members of the House who have made me feel so welcome. I really appreciate the level of expertise in this House.
To introduce myself, I was a councillor and, subsequently, council leader in Wandsworth, for 18 years. In 2011, I became the chief of staff and deputy mayor for planning and policy for the Mayor of London. In 2019, I became the Prime Minister’s chief strategic adviser, a post which I held until February of this year. I was privileged to be part of his team as first Brexit and then Covid became the dominating national and political issues. Outside politics, I am a businessman who has worked both in the UK and abroad for various engineering and property companies. I hope that my experience and accrued knowledge can be brought to the benefit of this House. I appreciate what a privilege it is to sit here.
I was working in government as an adviser when we began the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, back in 2020. We could not foresee then the coronavirus pandemic and what became perhaps the greatest international crisis since the Second World War. On a personal level it has been a tragedy for so many people, and on a national level it has shown us that threats and tests can take many forms. As a nation, we have come through it and are now emerging with resilience and hope for better times ahead. That is a testament to the spirit of the British people and the heroic services of NHS staff.
Brexit means that we have now begun a new chapter. The United Kingdom now has the capacity to control and take our own decisions and to be open to the world, and the opportunity to forge new relationships. A trade and co-operation agreement with the EU allows us both to maintain close relationships with our European partners and to set our own global path economically and politically. I believe that, by 2030, the UK should be deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific, active in Africa and nurturing thriving relationships in the Middle East, based on trade, green innovation and science and technology collaboration.
The Government must, of course, protect our people, our nation and our democracy. It is important that they have begun the biggest programme of investment in defence since the end of the Cold War. Defence policy needs to be modernised to utilise the new domains of cyber and space, and to equip our Armed Forces with cutting-edge technology. The UK needs capabilities such as the counterterrorism operations centre and the National Cyber Force. State threats are emerging, in the form of illicit finance, coercive economic measures, disinformation, cyberattacks, electoral interference and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist attacks remain real, whether Islamist inspired, Northern Ireland-related or driven by other motivations. Learning from the pandemic, the Government must keep their promise to bolster our national resilience with a new situation centre at the heart of Government. It is vital to improve our use of data and our ability to anticipate and respond to future crises.
I intend to hold this Government to account in meeting their pledge to establish the UK as a global services, digital and data hub. The Government have made tackling climate change and biodiversity loss their number one international priority. The UK was the first advanced economy to set a net-zero target of 2050. This target needs to be closely monitored by this House and others, to make sure that it is achieved. The ingenuity of the British people and the strength of our union, combined with our international partnerships, modernised Armed Forces and a new green agenda, should enable the UK to look forward with confidence as we shape the world of the future.
I refer the House to my registered interest as president of Conservative Friends of Israel. I congratulate my noble friend on his thoughtful maiden speech. He has given his life to public service. As he said, he was first elected councillor of Wandsworth in 1976 and was a most effective and widely admired leader from 1992 to 2011, whereupon he became chief of staff and deputy mayor for policy. I recall that my noble friend and I worked together on a visit to Israel with the former Mayor of London—now doing a different job—and I saw at first-hand his eye for detail. I assisted him in the quite difficult task of trying to ensure that the mayor arrived and left each of the programmes on time—and of trying to keep him on message. We will all benefit in future from the expertise and wisdom of my noble friend, and I look forward to his many future contributions in this House.
I welcome the Government’s commitment in the gracious Speech to stopping public bodies imposing their own approach or views about international relations by preventing boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against foreign countries. The Government made it clear that legislation is required to address concerns that such boycotts may legitimise anti-Semitism. I ask my noble friend the Minister, in this context, to go one step further. I am sure it has not gone unnoticed by my noble friend that in recent days, our close friends the United States, Canada and Australia have all pulled out of Durban IV. On 6 May, the Canadian Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather said that Ottawa has confirmed that it will avoid the gathering in South Africa known as Durban IV, which, he says,
“continues to be used to push anti-Israel sentiment and as a forum for anti-Semitism.”
I raised this issue in this Chamber on 22 April and asked if the Minister would confirm that the UK would not attend Durban IV. I did not receive an answer, so, in posing this question again, I will add only this: what is it that the FCDO knows better than its counterparts in the United States, Canada and Australia? Perhaps, I could put it a different way: what is it that those three countries understand that the FCDO does not?
I celebrated Shavuot on Monday and Tuesday of this week. For those two days, my family was peacefully unaware of the updated news, but let me tell noble Lords what I saw. I saw ramped-up security at the synagogue, with excellent co-operation between the Met Police and the community security trust. Many members of the Jewish community are rightly terrified. I thank the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary for their comforting open letter to the Jewish community, published just today.
My noble friend Lord Udny-Lister rightly stated that the Government must protect our people, our nation and our democracy. Not only is my noble friend correct but, by inference, we are obligated to support our democratic allies in exactly the same way, and they must protect their people, their nation and their democracy.
The shocking and disturbing scenes on the streets of north-west London this weekend absolutely do not represent the views of the vast majority of Muslims living in the UK; and I would argue that the murderous acts of Hamas, indiscriminately firing deadly rockets at civilian areas in Israel, do not represent the views—and certainly not the interests—of the majority of the Palestinian people. My noble friend Lord Shinkwin put it succinctly this morning in a letter to the Telegraph— I quote him because I could not possibly put it any better:
“The repercussions for civilians caught up in the current conflict on both sides are tragic, but we should never lose sight of what is at stake. Israel’s right to exist is under sustained and insidious attack from the terrorist Hamas regime and its puppetmaster, Iran. Hamas’s cynicism knows no bounds. It thinks nothing of diverting international aid from hospitals to bunkers, building rocket factories in civilian areas, and using children as human shields, all in pursuit of its overriding goal: the destruction of the Jewish state.”
I pay tribute to my noble friend for his analysis and for sharing it in public.
In conclusion, does the Minister agree that we should increase pressure on Iran to stop supplying rockets and know-how to Hamas? Does he also agree with my friend Dore Gold, who said:
“The mistake of the 2015 nuclear deal must not be repeated, with billions of dollars going to Iran, fuelling the next wave of terrorism—including the terror of Hamas. Not only is the security of Israel at stake but the security of the wider Western alliance”?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister, on his maiden speech and welcome him to the House.
After every Queen’s Speech, I bemoan the lack of reference to defence, but this time, there is a whole paragraph. It refers to
“the biggest spending increase in thirty years.”
Unsurprisingly, it does not reflect that the cuts in 2010 were also the biggest for 30 years, resulting in a 30% reduction in our military capability since that date. Defence remains under huge financial pressure. However, one could only applaud the reference in the Speech to
“reinforcing the United Kingdom’s commitment to NATO.”
President Macron has given some very mixed messages about support for NATO, but despite that, it is the bedrock of European security in the face of Russian adventurism.
I am also delighted that the Government have been clear about the need to increase the size of the Royal Navy; the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newham, referred to my pleasure at that. They appear to be taking shipbuilding seriously. There is no doubt that the Royal Navy is too small and in desperate need of frigates. The ageing Type 23s, our present frigate force, are paying off year on year. The Type 31 programme for new frigates is moving ahead, although the delivery dates of 2027 and beyond will put further pressure on overall escort numbers. The Type 26 programme, our very smart frigate, is too slow, and BAE Systems needs to sharpen up its act. The three ships ordered and being built are taking for ever—the first not in service until 2027. The remaining five are still not ordered, with consequent penalties to SMEs and supply chains. The much-vaunted Type 32 programme is still not even on the drawing board. I ask the Minister: will frigate numbers drop below 10 this decade?
More broadly on the shipbuilding front, hopefully, the three fleet solid support ships will be ordered from United Kingdom yards shortly, as well as an ocean research ship and, possibly, a jack-of-all-trades royal yacht. I know how that excites people. The UK shipbuilding enterprise requires a strong order book to be able to invest for the long term and improve its competitiveness. The best way to achieve this is for the Government to take a more strategic approach to procurement and facilitate access to finance.
Today, I wish to highlight two things. First, the events in the waters surrounding Jersey throw into stark relief the dearth of Royal Navy ships patrolling, monitoring and protecting the United Kingdom’s exclusive economic zone and territorial seas. The overseas patrol squadron responsible for this consists of four minor war vessels, which assist the Marine Management Organisation in fishery protection. Two were monitoring the situation off Jersey, hence the remaining 300,000 square miles of exclusive economic zone and our territorial seas had two small RN ships for coverage. As well as fisheries duties, these ships have a responsibility for the security of oil platforms and wind farms, plus all assets in the seas around the United Kingdom, as well as a duty to assist other government agencies in protecting our coastline from illegal immigrants, terrorists, drug runners, people smugglers and organised crime. The UK coastline is 11,000 miles long. The issue of adequate monitoring and protection of this space and our coastline needs urgent attention and requires cross-departmental agreements, plus an overall increase in the number of small ships for the Navy, and other departmental assets allocated. Is such a review planned?
Regarding the sea areas around our dependencies—covering just under 3 million square miles—the Government are to be congratulated on establishing the largest marine diversity protection areas in the world. But with no vessels to monitor them, they are meaningless.
Lastly, I have a plea for a forgotten jewel in our nation’s crown: BBC Monitoring. Working in conjunction with the World Service, this organisation provides invaluable data, enabling the Government to enhance our nation’s soft power and hence its global influence. It provides detailed information on terrorist trends, jihadist or right-wing, and recently has done some incredible work on disinformation and the impact of Covid worldwide, allowing our Government to take certain actions. It also helps our hard power, with insightful reports on hotspots and trends. Does the Minister agree that the contribution of BBC Monitoring and the World Service to UK and global security is vital, and can she confirm that it will be a factor when making decisions about the future funding level of the licence fee at the next spending review?
I counted three references to values in the Minister’s speech. Former Secretary of State John Kerry said that
“values spoken without actions taken are merely slogans.”
We are told that this Queen’s Speech implements the Conservative Party manifesto. In the middle of page 53 of that manifesto, in very large lettering, is the heading “Promote our values”, under which it says that
“we will end preventable deaths of mothers, new-born babies and children… by 2030… We will stand up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education”,
“will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development”.
This is of course a legal requirement, not a discretionary one, but the equivocation since the decision in the last Session to unlawfully break this requirement, and the reality of what the cuts in this Session mean, is becoming stark. Just today, the International Development Committee in the House of Commons published a Statement saying:
“MPs condemn cuts to girls’ education”
in poor countries, and of hiding other reductions. MPs questioned why aid programmes aimed at boosting girls’ education in low-income countries appear to have been slashed when they were described by the Government as one of their top priorities. The chair of the committee said that it was ridiculous that the Government trumpet their commitment to girls’ education but then appear to cut the programmes in this area by 40%, which we know only because of the valiant questioning by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, who is pursuing this issue.
What of the other values in the manifesto? Support for preventable deaths of mothers and newborn babies has been slashed, especially in Yemen. Quite astonishingly and shamefully, it took a civil servant to admit that no humanitarian impact assessment had been carried out before that aid support was slashed. On malaria, support was also slashed. One of the richest countries on earth, at the height of a global health and humanitarian crisis, the likes of which we have not seen in a generation, decides that its global response is to cut global support by a third, and to do this, breaks domestic law. I say again: values.
When the fiscal situation allows, is this a value or a slogan? These fiscal situations do not exist. If they did, the Government would have said what they were over the last six months to questions in this House and in the Commons. The Minister should have said that they will return to the legal commitment when the political situation allows, when the Government believe that these cuts are no longer popular, because clearly, the Government believe that, unique across the comprehensive spending review, the level of cuts in aid is popular. No other areas are being cut, so let us have a little honesty from the Government on what the fiscal situation allows.
It goes beyond this, of course, because the Minister referred to global leadership. As one of the seven richest nations on earth convenes the G7 in a few weeks’ time, will we repeat what we said on the two previous occasions when the UK convened the G8 and the G7? I remind the House of what the communique drafted by the British Government said at Gleneagles in 2005:
“G8 members from the European Union commit to a collective foreign aid target of 0.56% of GDP by 2010, and 0.7% by 2015.”
At Lough Erne in 2013, David Cameron told the other leaders that the UK had met its target and recommended that they do so also.
In 2021, we have breached our law; we are no longer meeting the commitment and we will have stopped a record for at least two decades of promoting the 0.7% to the other richest countries in the world. This is a retreat of global leadership, not a demonstration of it.
Let us not hear more of values when the actions speak against them. We are no longer in this area a leader in the world. The Government have abdicated that responsibility, and the tragic situation is that no other G7 country will meet that gap. Therefore, the consequence of the breaking of the law and the retreat of these values is that more mothers and children will die, we will have more people suffering from malaria, and global goals will not be met in a manner which we believe they should be.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s gracious Speech affirmed the United Kingdom’s commitment to uphold human rights and to alleviate human suffering across the world. I wish to raise two issues.
First, I record my appreciation of the Government’s response to the military coup in Myanmar. Last Saturday, Dr Sasa, spokesperson for the newly formed national unity Government, contacted us urgently to report a new large-scale attack by the military against civilians in Mindat, in Chin State. Homes were destroyed by tanks and helicopters. Anyone who tried to help the wounded was arrested and screams of torture-inflicted pain could be heard from captured civilians. Many of those arrested were used as human shields.
I have visited Mindat. The civilians are a peace-loving community with very limited resources to defend themselves. Given that their plight is expected to worsen in the coming days, I hope that the Minister agrees that measures by Her Majesty’s Government will include urgent help with protection and provision of cross-border aid, engaging directly with local leaders and NGOs, because aid delivered through Yangon does not reach vulnerable people.
I turn briefly to Armenia, and the historically Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, where civilians recently suffered large-scale military offensives by Azerbaijan, aided by Turkey, with thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of civilians driven from their homes. I visited Karabakh during that war and witnessed the perpetration of war crimes by Azerbaijan, including the deliberate bombing of civilian targets such as the maternity hospital in Stepanakert. However, despite a ceasefire in November, there are at least four urgent concerns, which Her Majesty’s Government, unlike the Governments of France, the United States and Canada, have failed adequately to address.
The first is the refusal by Azerbaijan to release Armenian prisoners of war and civilian detainees who are subject to killings—including beheadings—torture and indefinite imprisonment. During a meeting with victims’ families in November, I was told that Azeri perpetrators sometimes send pictures of the torture and slaughter of Armenian soldiers from their phones to their families. I have sat with some of these families, dreading what might come through on their phones.
Secondly, there are serious concerns over the fate of hundreds of Armenian Christian monuments and cultural heritage sites, now under Azerbaijan’s control. There has already been footage of the jubilant destruction of a church by Azeri soldiers. Between 1997 and 2006, an estimated 28,000 Christian monuments were destroyed by Azerbaijan in the previously Armenian land of Nakhchivan.
Thirdly, anti-Armenian rhetoric, or Armenophobia, by the Azeri president, other officials, and across social media, has escalated, naming Armenians as pigs, dogs and brainless. This hatred has generated the creation of the Spoils of War Park in Baku; it displays mocking, humiliating mannequins of Armenian soldiers, which children are encouraged to hit, and a corridor lined with the helmets of dead Armenian soldiers.
Fourthly, recently and very disturbingly, Azerbaijani forces have advanced into new positions along the Armenia–Azerbaijan border, away from the conflict zone, and occupied the sovereign territory of Armenia itself. This included, on 12 May, armed units advancing three to four kilometres into the Armenian province of Syunik.
The atrocities perpetrated by Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh during the recent war have been so serious that Genocide Watch has defined them as genocide. They have largely been unrecognised by the UK, with no appropriate response. That is very dangerous because, as has been well said, every genocide which is not condemned is an encouragement to the perpetrator to continue genocidal policies with impunity.
The International Association of Genocide Scholars raised similar urgent concerns in October, warning that
“genocide of the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, and perhaps even Armenia, is a very real possibility.”
Yet despite these warnings Her Majesty’s Government have chosen not to intervene to protect civilians. They continue to refuse to hold Turkey and Azerbaijan to account for their actions, despite clear evidence of past, recent and ongoing atrocities, choosing instead to define the crisis as a “problem on both sides”, in which Armenia is portrayed as equally guilty as Azerbaijan and Turkey. While war often involves crimes against humanity, and Armenia may have some culpability, there is absolutely no equivalence with the atrocities and war crimes perpetrated by Azerbaijan.
As the Armenian Foreign Minister said to us on a recent visit to Armenia: “Autocratic states have assessed how far they can get away with things. They have concluded that the ‘democratic world’ is somewhere else. They have assessed the democratic world and they will therefore continue this policy, as they have learnt from this.” There is therefore an urgent need to fulfil the commitment in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech to uphold human rights and to alleviate human suffering for the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia.
My Lords, I draw attention to my declarations in the register of interests, specifically a new one: I have been appointed the Prime Minister’s special envoy on LGBT rights and I am chair of the Global Equality Caucus, an alliance of parliamentarians around the world committed to promote LGBT equality. I join in the congratulation for my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister on his excellent maiden speech and very much look forward to his further contributions and to serving with him in this House.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech, and specifically the commitment to uphold human rights and democracy across the world. I draw attention to a particular aspect of human rights that has not yet been mentioned, but which I believe is very important. Monday was International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, and it was very good to see the rainbow flag flying above the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as it did above our missions around the world—a policy of symbolism that was restored by the Prime Minister when he became Foreign Secretary. The truth is that, in respect of LGBT rights, we see a tale of two worlds: one world in which countries such as our own have made immense progress over the course of the last few years to secure the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people; but another world where countries are not only failing to make progress but, in some cases, going backwards. Some 70 countries still criminalise same-sex intimacy and 11 retain the death penalty. We have been forced to take sanctions, for instance, in respect of terrible human rights abuses in Chechnya.
I believe the UK can use its immense soft power to be, in my noble friend the Minister’s words, a force for good. That will require tremendous leadership on the part of the Government, of all of us individually and of our partners. First, we can and must continue to show our own leadership in this area and finish business that is not yet complete; so I welcome the proposal to ban the appalling practice of conversion therapy and look forward to those measures being brought forward. It is a cruel practice which has no place in a modern society, and the leadership that we show here, in common with a number of other countries, will ensure that it can be banned across the world.
We have, of course, our bilateral diplomatic engagement and the support we can give on the ground, both publicly and privately, through our missions. We can operate multilaterally, through the UN, the Commonwealth, the European Focal Points Network, and the Equal Rights Coalition of which the UK was a co-founder and of which we are now co-chair with Argentina. It is partly as a result of that that next year we will be holding, in the UK, a global LGBT conference. It will, in fact, be the biggest event of its kind ever held in the world, bringing together activists, experts, Ministers and parliamentarians from all over the world to discuss how we can tackle violence, secure decriminalisation and ensure equal access to services. Safe To Be Me will be a very important event and one that I hope parliamentarians in this country will engage with, as we hope they will across the world. I look forward to continuing to work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global LGBT+ Rights, of which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, are such energetic members.
Why does all this matter, I hear some say, when the world is suffering from Covid and we face the economic costs? It matters because around the world, people continue to live in fear, some in fear of their lives. It matters because LGBT rights are human rights, and those rights should be universal because everybody is entitled to live in equal human dignity; to be respected for who they are, regardless of their sexuality or gender identity; to rise by their own talents. If we fail to recognise and allow those talents to be expressed, then terrible economic and social cost is exacted. These values may not be uniquely British, but they are surely fundamental to our understanding of what it means to live in this country. That is why it is so important that the Government are showing such commitment and leadership in this agenda, and why I will do everything I can to support it.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, and to agree with every word he said.
In these five days of debate on the Queen’s Speech we can talk about almost anything, but we are allowed to speak only once. I would have liked to have spoken last Thursday, in the debate on the constitution, to argue the case for a new, improved United Kingdom constitution based on radical federalism—I would have had some support from my left here—but instead I have opted to speak today in the debate on foreign affairs and defence. Even then, I am still tempted to speak about the European Affairs Committee, of which I am now a member, and which takes on a different but equally important role to that of the European Union Committee following the disaster that is Brexit. I will not go further on that. There are so many other issues I could cover, such as the despicable cut in development assistance, which is already devastating some key aid programmes, but I agree with every word of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and I could not say it as eloquently. Then we have the growing threat from Russia, and I am particularly concerned about the challenge of China, and other Members have today spoken about that.
However, I have decided to concentrate my remarks on just one important issue, in the hope that it might help to make a difference, and that is the situation in Belarus and, in particular, the plight of political prisoners illegally detained there by the Lukashenko regime. Belarus is the only European country not eligible for membership of the Council of Europe, because of its reactionary policies, including the retention of capital punishment. The 26-year reign of Alexander Lukashenko reminds me of the legacy of the autocracy and repression I saw in the old Soviet Union. Its failure to move towards democracy was underlined recently by two reports we had at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe: one was an excellent report on reform of the electoral system by our own noble Lord, Lord Blencathra; and the other was by Ms Alexandra Louis on the many human rights violations in Belarus. Arising from these reports, PACE called on member states to make use of the universal jurisdiction of our courts here for acts of torture and to pass Magnitsky laws to impose targeted sanctions on these perpetrators of serious human rights violations. I hope the Minister in his reply might say something positive on that.
Even more urgently, I want to concentrate on the awful plight of the hundreds of political prisoners held illegally in Belarus. We can only imagine the feeling of injustice and despair, coupled with the sense of helplessness and hopelessness that arises from being detained illegally and held in solitary confinement in a jail in such a situation. Thankfully, around Britain and Europe there are dedicated people who, working with Libereco and Viasna, have arranged for MPs and Peers, along with Members of other parliaments in Europe, to “adopt” a prisoner to bring them some hope and let them know they are not forgotten.
I am pleased that my noble friends Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, Lady Crawley, Lady Smith of Basildon and Lady Massey, the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Balfe, and Tony Lloyd, John Howell and Tonia Antoniazzi from the other place have joined me in adopting a prisoner. I hope that other Members will think of joining us.
My adoptee is Stepan Lapitov, an arborist, who followed his father and grandfather in this profession. He was arrested on a trumped-up charge because one of the chemicals he uses regularly in his work could also be used in the manufacture of explosives. My noble friend Lord Winston will understand how that can happen.
As a result, Stepan is detained without trial in isolation, unable to continue his important work and not knowing what fate awaits him. He and the other political prisoners are under great psychological pressure and treated as common criminals just because they are not seen as loyal supporters of the regime. Any contact that they are able to have with the outside world is therefore a comfort, knowing they are not forgotten and that members of parliament around Europe are not just seeking their release but are keeping in regular touch with them.
I have written twice now to Stepan and get reports of his situation, as do all those who have joined the adoption scheme. I have let him know that I have raised his case in Strasbourg and am raising it today in the British Parliament. He knows that I am speaking today.
Of course, we can and should intensify our campaign in support of Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her legitimate demand for democratic reform in Belarus, but it is equally important to remember each individual who is suffering under the dictatorial regime and who yearns for the advent of democracy in what remains a redoubt of autocracy in Europe. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will add that the fate of each of them is also in the thoughts of Her Majesty’s Government.
My Lords, we already knew that the integrated review reflected a tilt away from Europe, regrettably making little reference to the potential for a strong security relationship with the European Union. But the Queen’s Speech was even worse in making no reference to Europe at all. There was mention only of the Gulf, Africa and the Indo-Pacific. The EU was the unacknowledged elephant in the room and merited only a sentence or two in the Minister’s introduction.
Perhaps that explains why the Government’s European policy is in such a poor state, with hostility being generated and no strategy for easement and improvement. We have unilateral moves on the Northern Ireland protocol predictably attracting legal proceedings from Brussels, and government mendacity over the protocol contributing to the difficulties in Northern Ireland. We have a huge burden of red tape on British traders and consumers, such that imports and exports with the EU are down 15%—no mere teething problems. Fish and seafood exports are practically impossible. Musicians and actors have been rendered unable to tour, although our creative industries are worth billions to our economy. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, finally admitted yesterday that this is because of UK rejection of an EU offer. Seasonal workers are, absurdly, being brought in from Belarus and Russia because EU workers have been blocked. A permanent data adequacy arrangement is at risk from the Government’s bulk access practices, onward transfers and international agreements. Finally, the treatment of EU citizens is raising serous alarm in the UK’s independent monitoring authority and among EU leaders.
The Government are giving spurious excuses for why they will not accept the EU offer of a veterinary agreement to resolve many of the issues over food safety and animal health measures under the Northern Ireland protocol. The justified suspicion is, of course, that the Government are not only obsessed with their Brexit sovereignty thesis but want to allow in food from Australia—over which a furious row is going on in Cabinet—and from the US, which would breach EU-UK food safety and animal welfare rules.
EU citizens resident here fear legal limbo or falling foul of a new Windrush scandal. They may be faced with loss of employment, homes, entitlement to NHS treatment and more, even the risk of detention and removal from the UK, if they do not have the required immigration status to remain beyond 1 July. But 370,000 submitted applications have not been concluded. A large number of people will submit an application before the 30 June deadline. Will the Minister now answer the question put by the3million group: how will those people prove their right to work, rent or access benefits in the UK after 1 July if a decision has not been made on their case?
I hope that our European Affairs Committee in its welcome short inquiry into citizens’ rights issues, covering both EU and UK nationals, will also get an explanation for the shameful imposition of the full hostile environment treatment on newly visiting EU citizens. Until a welcome change of heart in the Home Office, some were being immediately locked up and expelled if suspected of wanting to work without a visa, even though they are not in breach of the law unless and until they do. This is not only shabby behaviour in itself but risks rebounding on our own nationals in the EU and EEA.
On Hong Kong, Britain’s role means it has a unique responsibility to protect the rights and freedoms of people there. The Magnitsky-style sanctions regime introduced last year gave new powers to target those who have been involved in some of the gravest human rights abuses around the world. I understand that, so far, no Chinese or Hong Kong officials with personal links and assets in the UK have been targeted under this regime, despite clear human rights violations. Will the Minister tell me the Government’s plans on this point?
Lastly, I want to raise the Alliance for Middle East Peace, brought into even greater relevance by the present renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas and the appalling intercommunal violence within Israel. This group, founded in the United States some years ago, consists of over 100 NGOs working to foster reconciliation. The plan, supported by legislation in Congress, is to set up a sizeable international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace, inspired by our own successful International Fund for Ireland. It would bring together public and private donors to focus on supporting joint initiatives and co-operation between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Arabs and Jews in Israel and the wider region, encompassing both business and economic development and a range of civil society projects.
The Britain-Israel all-party group chaired by Bob Blackman MP and the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, wrote to the Foreign Secretary earlier this month, in a letter I was pleased to co-sign, urging UK support for this fund and that the opportunity for a place on the board should be taken up. No reply has been received, but current events suggest that now is absolutely the right time to strengthen the UK’s support for coexistence. In answer to debates in the other place, Ministers confirmed that participation was under consideration. I hope the Minister can tell me today that a positive decision is in the pipeline.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister, on his maiden speech. In declaring various non-financial interests in the register, I too invite the Government to enlarge on the statement in the gracious Speech that they will
“uphold human rights and democracy across the world.”
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, recently appeared before the International Relations and Defence Select Committee, where I urged him to lead the reform of the United Nations Security Council veto powers, to remove the right of veto where it is used to block the referral of atrocity crimes and genocide to the International Criminal Court—a veto often used by Russia and China.
Last month, the House of Commons resolved that crimes against the 1 million Uighur Muslims enslaved in Xinjiang constitute a genocide, but no action is taken in the Security Council because the Chinese Communist Party—CCP—vetoes, threatens, intimidates or sanctions all those who try to hold it to account.
On North Korea, a 2014 UN commission of inquiry described the country as “without parallel” and called for crimes against humanity to be referred to the Security Council and on to the ICC. Seven years later, the CCP’s veto ensures that this does not happen.
In Burma, under the illegal regime, authors of atrocity crimes against Rohingya, Kachin and other minorities strut with impunity, aided and abetted by their authoritarian friends in Beijing.
Take Tigray, described as “one vast crime scene”, with women and girls—some as young as eight—systematically raped. One woman was told by her violator, “A Tigrayan womb should never give birth”. Nearly 800 Tigrayans were murdered at Axum. Starvation is being used as a weapon of war. Last week, the Guardian reported that hyenas had been eating the corpses. Along with Russia, the CCP has thwarted attempts in the Security Council to hold the perpetrators to account.
Next month, 19 June will mark the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. On that day, the United Kingdom, with its significant record on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, should lay a resolution before the Security Council demanding an end to this new genocide and these terrible atrocity crimes in Tigray.
However, this is not just about the Security Council or the veto. In taking control of the human rights agenda, China, Russia, Pakistan and Cuba are now all members of the United Nations Human Rights Council, making the watchdog and the burglar interchangeable. As it subverts international institutions, the CCP uses debt bondage through its $760 billion belt and road initiative, which encompasses some 71 countries, to turn developing nations into vassal states. Last week, it warned such countries not to attend a United Nations meeting that the United Kingdom co-hosted and which highlighted crimes against the Uighurs.
Compliance with CCP diktats requires silence on or support for human rights violations in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet, as well as support for the CCP’s threats against Taiwan and its use of sanctions—including threats of missile strikes—against Australia after that country called for an independent investigation into the origins of Covid-19. Last week, the CCP hammered another nail into Hong Kong’s place as a global financial centre, based on the rule of law, by freezing £500 million of the assets of Jimmy Lai, a British citizen and, through his independent media, a champion of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Similarly, the CCP’s violation of Article 18—on freedom of religion or belief—is evident in the treatment and imprisonment of Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, Christians and Falun Gong. Or take Articles 4 and 23 of the UDHR, which prohibit slavery and protect workers’ rights.
On 15 June, I will introduce a Private Member’s Bill to strengthen the provisions in the Modern Slavery Act on supply chains. The UK must do more to challenge the use of slave labour, but must also be alive to the internal dangers inherent in the CCP’s ownership of £135 billion of UK assets. Happily, although the world has been sleepwalking, we now see some countries awakening. For instance, in response to attempts to silence MEPs by sanctioning them, the European Parliament will vote tomorrow on the freezing of the mammoth investment agreement with China.
In evaluating the threat to human rights posed by the CCP, George Soros has described Xi Jinping as the most dangerous enemy that open societies face. To counter this, we must build stronger alliances with rising Asian nations that share the aspiration of the gracious Speech to promote human rights across the world.
My Lords, the priority of the gracious Speech is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before. If nothing else, this last year has proved that our strength, health and prosperity are inextricably interconnected with that of the rest of the world.
The Prime Minister stated that, internationally,
“we will play a stronger and more effective role as Global Britain overseas, working with our allies, deepening our trade ties, and using our presidency of the G7 to galvanise global action on climate change, girls’ education, fighting COVID-19 and improving our defences against future health security risks.”
Those are all welcome commitments. This year, the UK has a great opportunity to back up those words with action when we host a series of key global events, as my noble friend the Minister set out in her opening speech.
The purpose of these international occasions is to make tangible progress towards resolving the world’s biggest challenges. For us as hosts, these events are crucial opportunities to use our country’s well-respected international leadership to leverage action towards our priorities and reinforce the positions that the UK has powerfully practised and preached for decades.
As hosts, we should lead by example. However, by deciding to cut our investment in international development, I am afraid that we have made our job as hosts that much more difficult. At the Global Partnership for Education summit, we are asking the world to come together to raise $5 billion for global education while cutting our own funding for it by 40%. For COP 26, we are asking low-income countries to come forward with ambitious climate commitments while cutting our bilateral support to them by more than 50%.
At the G7, we need the wealthier countries of the world to make significant contributions to the global vaccination and broader recovery efforts, but we have not been able to make any contribution of our own to those efforts since before the aid reduction was announced six months ago. In the past few days, we have heard a welcome commitment from President Biden to donate 80 million doses of the Covid vaccine within six weeks. I fear that rigidly sticking to spending only 0.5% will mean that we are just not able to do the same. I hope I am wrong.
There is not time today to repeat the many arguments for why we should keep the promise we made to spend 0.7%, nor to list the real-world consequences to millions of the world’s poorest people of not doing so. Instead, I will ask my noble friend the Minister what I hope are constructive questions, some of which he may be familiar with.
First, on transparency, the gracious Speech commits the Government to continuing
“to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering.”—[Official Report, 11/5/21; col. 3.]
Again, those are very welcome words. However, this is difficult to judge unless we see more transparency on where the aid cuts are falling, so will my noble friend the Minister commit to publishing the full details of the geographic and thematic budgets for the year ahead, as has been done in previous years? I look forward to the publication of the equalities impact assessment.
Secondly, on clarity, there was no legislation in the gracious Speech to change the 2015 international development Act, which, as your Lordships will know, commits us in law to spending 0.7% of our gross national income every year on international development. Any such legislation would not have been welcome; the view from all sides of this House and the other place is clear on that. Does this mean that Parliament will not get a vote on this matter? If so, can my noble friend provide an update on how the Government are ensuring that their actions are not in breach of the 2015 Act? I hope that, six months on, we will have moved past “considering carefully” and the “we will provide an update in due course” position.
Thirdly, on certainty, the briefing accompanying the Queen’s Speech commits us to returning
“to spending 0.7 per cent … when the fiscal situation allows.”
Can my noble friend provide any certainty on what the Government mean by that? Two weeks ago, the Bank of England said that it now expects the economy to return to its pre-crisis level by the end of this year. Does this mean that we will get back to 0.7% next year? I do hope so.
If we truly want to build back better from Covid-19, make progress towards the sustainable development goals, maintain—not tarnish—our international reputation, deliver on the ambitions of global Britain, show our values as a country and solve some of the biggest challenges of our time, we need to back up welcome words with real action. We need to step up, not step back. We must remove the self-imposed constraints on international development spending so that the United Kingdom can lead from the front. We must capitalise on our opportunities this year to help vaccinate the world, educate girls and quite literally save the planet. I hope that the Prime Minister will do just that.
My Lords, other speakers—notably the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg—have commented on the Government’s decision to impose huge cuts on the development aid budget. I agree with them and others who have argued that it is wrong in principle, given that there is a statutory obligation to spend 0.7% of GNI on development aid, and will be disastrous in practice, in the effect it will have on the lives of millions of poor people in the developing world.
I will illustrate these effects in one area, that of sexual and reproductive health, where the lives of girls and women will be seriously damaged. Sadly, our global reputation, which is high in this area of development, will also be jeopardised. The UK can be proud of the leadership role that it has played in this area in the past, as demonstrated in the Family Planning Summits of both 2012 and 2017. This is a good example of the soft power that the Government claim they want, so why jettison this by the cuts that they are now imposing? Why risk the progress that we have played a big part in achieving?
Between 2012 and 2020, there was a 66% growth in users of modern methods of contraception among African women and girls, from 40 million to more than 60 million, yet much more still has to be done, particularly for adolescent girls aged between 15 and 19. It is estimated that more than 40% of this age group in low-income and middle-income countries have an unmet need for modern contraceptive services, leading to millions of unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions. Could the Minister tell the House how he thinks that one of the Government’s top priorities, girls’ education, can be progressed successfully against this background? Surely there is a serious inconsistency here.
I will set out the dire statistics on the cuts in this area, across all age groups. They are devastating. The UN agency responsible, UNFPA, has had its core funding from the UK cut by 60%, and its Supplies Partnership, which provides medicines and contraceptives to NGOs and health ministries in poor countries, by 85%. A high proportion of the UK’s bilateral programmes are delivered by NGOs, such as MSI Reproductive Choices and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Their funding is also being slashed.
What does all this mean on the ground? It will lead to the closure of thousands of clinics and service delivery points, and an increase in the price of contraceptive supplies. Many women and girls, especially in rural areas, will be denied access to safe delivery and postnatal care. Estimates indicate that the cuts to UNFPA supplies alone will lead to around a quarter of a million maternal and child deaths, 14.5 million unintended pregnancies and nearly 4.5 million unsafe abortions. It will cost money, as well as lives. Estimates suggest that, for every $1 spent on family planning, Governments can save up to $6 on maternal care, the care of infants and abortion provision. There are longer-term implications too. High proportions of the populations of many poor countries are aged under 18, leading to very high youth unemployment and the social and economic costs that this poses. In the context of climate change and threats to food supplies, hunger and malnutrition follow, especially among children.
I ask the Government to think again. In the light of this evidence, they should reverse the cuts that they want to impose in this area and, more generally, as others have said, announce a rapid return to 0.7% of GNI on ODA. They need to monitor, country by country, the impact of these cuts for as long as they last. Can the Minister at least commit to that? We are in danger of undermining decades of progress in this area and, in doing so, abandoning our commitment to global Britain and to improving the quality of the lives of millions of poor women and girls across the world.
My Lords, I also begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister. I give notice that I will be praying in aid the outstanding speech of my noble friend Lord Purvis. It is necessary for me to declare my interest as an ambassador for the Halo Trust, whose activities include mine clearance in several countries, particularly Afghanistan. It is on that country that I focus my attention.
With other NATO countries, the United Kingdom is withdrawing its military forces from Afghanistan. There was always going to be a date for withdrawal eventually, but it seems that others—the Taliban to mention one—are already taking advantage of that withdrawal, as we have seen most recently in the cynical and catastrophic bombing of a school, killing both male and female students. They were no doubt targeted because they were being educated under the same roof. There will be more to come, and stability in Afghanistan will be difficult to achieve and hazardous to maintain.
The United Kingdom has been at pains to emphasise publicly that we may be withdrawing our military forces but are not abandoning Afghanistan—a distinction that the people of Afghanistan may find hard to recognise. By the statements of our Government, we have made Afghanistan a special case and there is one activity that the people of Afghanistan would recognise and value, which is demining, not just by Halo, but by the Mines Advisory Group—and not just demining, but the neutralising of improvised explosive devices and the destruction of ammunition stockpiles.
Mines and IEDs present obvious physical danger, but their indiscriminate scattering and unexpected detonation has both emotional and mental implications. Halo has been active in Afghanistan since 1988, surviving consecutive changes in the regime and employing up to 1,000 at one stage, doing practical work in the field of demining, giving jobs to former combatants, creating new livelihoods and bringing contaminated land back to productive use. It was creating low-cost stability, if you like.
The United Kingdom Government have made a promise to the people of Afghanistan but, in reducing their financial support from the aid budget to Halo, they have undermined that promise. On Monday I heard the Minister repeat what I might describe as the government line. Today I say to him that, on soul and conscience, and in furtherance of the promise that the Government made, he should go back to the department and tell them to think again.
My Lords, I am grateful to follow the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and for the Minister’s comprehensive and ambitious speech introducing this debate. I welcomed the Government’s integrated review as a necessary attempt to hold together the diverse interests, challenges and opportunities facing the UK in the immediate future. In my early career as a linguist at GCHQ, I learned that words and assumptions need to be interrogated, as they can be used to obscure reality. For example, in our context, an increased cap on nuclear weapons tells us nothing about numbers that might actually be intended or the rationale for them.
I think it was remarkable that reference to the European Union was almost completely missing in the review. This had been widely predicted as it seems that, for the Government, any such reference might be heard as an ideological remainer capitulation, yet the rationale for a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific makes sense only to a point: it is not just what we are tilting towards that matters, as what we are tilting away from has to be considered.
Put the fractious and loaded politics of Brexit to one side for a moment; we are still going to need a strong common alliance with our European neighbours if, for example, China and Russia are to be rightly understood and handled by the democratic West. Pretending that we can simply ignore the EU like a bad smell is ridiculous, and this ideological tilting at windmills needs to be challenged. To argue that we will engage with the EU by way of its member states—the review singles out three, Germany, France and Ireland—is to impose our understanding of how we think our European allies should organise themselves politically, rather than to engage with them on their own terms. In so doing, we overlook the point that the EU is more than the sum of its parts and has agency in and of itself. To ignore this agency is to shrink the diplomatic networks that the Government have access to in support of their stated diplomatic objectives.
However, as cuts to the overseas aid budget, and Yemen in particular—already remarked on—demonstrate, there is a potentially serious discrepancy between our rhetoric and our observed behaviour. We assert that we want to be a world leader in upholding the rule of law having a number of times threatened in the past couple of years to abrogate our responsibilities under international law, not least in the recent internal market Bill and overseas operations Bill. We might think we can simply move on, but that does not mean that our damaged reputation and the obvious—to everyone else, that is—gap between our rhetoric and behaviour go unnoticed internally and externally. It also reduces our credibility when we seek to hold other countries to the rule of law, and that impacts inevitably on global security in the longer term. Ethical assumptions lie at the heart of our political and economic choices. Ethics matter.
I come back to Russia. Chatham House published an immensely helpful paper this month addressing a number of myths and misconceptions about Russia. I commend it to the House. Basically, it urges a deep questioning of the assumptions that lie behind how we see, understand and strategise in relation to Russia. As we noted to our cost during the past five years negotiating our exit from the EU, any party to a relationship, especially a changing one, needs to develop an expertise in looking through the eyes of the other party, listening through their ears, hearing their language and interpreting it in order to know where to begin in offering a language of proposition or proposal. Failure to learn the language of the other is both stupid and costly.
The Church has to do this work every day, not least because we have partnerships in parts of the world where the world looks very different and our behaviour is read very differently from our intention or expectation. My work as a Soviet specialist developed during the Cold War. For my children and grandchildren, it is as remote as the English Civil War, but for most of us here it has shaped our world and the way we see it. I am not convinced that the integrated review will lead us to a deeper understanding of why Russians see the world the way they do. Building back better demands looking more seriously at the foundations of history. The UK needs to see how we are seen and why. Can the Minister assure us that the work of translation, interpretation and realism will be at the heart of implementation?
My Lords, the integrated review states:
“We will also build upon our close security partnerships, including with Israel and Saudi Arabia, to better protect our interests in the region.”
I urge the Government not to forget their long-standing true allies in the Middle East, despite the untruths and hatred that have spewed forth in the past week in connection with the Israel-Hamas dispute. I call for a fair and open-minded assessment of the situation, with a perspective from British history and in relation to the rest of the Middle East. The UK should join any eventual international effort to rehabilitate Gaza within some negotiated peace plan or political framework designed to resolve the area’s fundamental problems. That effort has to be led by the US, Qatar and Egypt, for it is Egypt that borders Gaza and has the power to open that border without ill result.
Sadly, the Biden Administration seem to have no plan save to revert to the deadly Iran nuclear deal, following in the footsteps of Obama and ignoring the benefit of hindsight. I urge the Government not to follow Biden and not to join in an effort to remove sanctions against Iran, thereby enabling it to continue to smuggle weapons, to continue its terrorist activities and, of course, to support Hamas in its drive to dominate the Middle East. Resurrecting the JCPOA will free Iran sooner or later to continue to enrich uranium and hide its military sites from inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Resurrecting the ineffective 2015 nuclear deal would allow billions of dollars to flow into the regime which will not be used for its suffering people. Iran has been arming Hamas for years. It wants to destroy the Abraham accords and any new concept of a co-operative Middle East. It is Biden’s apparent appeasement of Iran which lies behind the present chaos, along with Abbas’s cancellation of elections.
Hamas’s aim is not a state of Palestine, for that has been rejected several times over the years; it is the replacement of Israel by an Islamist state and the removal of every last Jew from Israel, just as all Jews have been dispossessed, persecuted, expelled, forbidden to live in or killed in that area. Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Yemen and Lebanon are all Judenrein. The truth is that the dominant powers there cannot accept any Jewish presence in the area, and that is why ordinary negotiations between Israel and the others cannot succeed. Israel is the only state on earth whose enemies want to wipe it off the face of the earth.
Meanwhile we have taken our eyes of the real issues in that area. Syria appears to have been discussed in this House only once in the past year. Some 400,000 people have been killed there, including many Palestinians; 6 million people have been internally displaced and more than 6 million have fled. Its horrors and those of Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan make no mark. The Turks launched an attack on the Kurds, and there was no reaction. Islamists killed 94 Afghan schoolchildren and a Kabul mosque was bombed, and there was no reaction. Will the Minister proscribe Hamas in full to curb its actions?
The other action this country can take in order to calm the atmosphere is to withdraw from the forthcoming follow-up conference of the Durban racism conference of 2001. That conference degenerated into a hate-filled anti-Semitic meeting uniquely critical of Israel, giving cover to the real human rights abusers of the world. Attendees at the conference compared its anti-Jewish hysteria to 1930s Germany. The track record of Durban has been to harm race relations, poison progress and encourage anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and attacks. The USA, Australia and Canada have withdrawn from the Durban conference, and it is expected that other democratic countries will also do so, judging by their non-participation in previous follow-up conferences. I join the noble Lord, Lord Polak, in asking the Government to act to curb vicious anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Israel activity. Will the Government withdraw from Durban right now?
My Lords, I shall focus today on the UK’s relations with Afghanistan. They provide an example of the intersection between the objectives and strategy set out in the integrated review: promoting security, good governance and human rights as a force for good. They show the challenges which the UK faces in making its best efforts to champion global Britain.
Our International Relations and Defence Select Committee, which I chair, published a report on the UK and Afghanistan in January. Today I welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, who is a member of the committee. Some of the key points we made in our report are as follows. The UK’s prioritisation of Afghanistan since 2010 has declined, but the challenges facing the country have not. They include terrorism, the fragile nature of the Afghan state, the ongoing Taliban insurgency and drug production and its trafficking. Indeed, Afghanistan is the source of 95% of the heroin on UK streets today. We were struck by the extraordinarily high level of civilian casualties over decades of conflict, the very high levels of poverty and humanitarian need, and the Afghan Government’s substantial level of aid dependency, with little prospect of developing alternative sources of revenue in the immediate future. Our inquiry was carried out as talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban got under way. It was a moment of fragile hope. Those talks are now becalmed. Can the Minister update the House on how the Government plan to assist the restarting of effective talks and what the barriers to progress are?
We highlighted a number of major future challenges. For example, a successful outcome to peace talks must include a ceasefire, the reconciliation and reintegration of armed groups, respect for the rights of all Afghan citizens and a commitment not to provide support for terrorist groups. However, the Taliban’s commitment to a negotiated settlement and power sharing is not clear. It remains closely associated with al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network and ideologically opposed to the progress made on human rights since 2001. That process is in danger of being reversed, particularly for women and minorities such as the Hazara.
The withdrawal of US and NATO troops this year without a deal is likely to undermine the Afghan Government’s negotiating position. We recognise that fatigue with the deployment is not surprising—troops cannot stay for ever—but the consequences of withdrawal should not be underestimated. We conclude that international funding must remain an essential component of support for the Afghan people. The UK’s contribution has been significant, but our Government’s decision to cut their spending on aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI will have a serious impact on funding for Afghanistan. It is hard to hope that funding will be protected there when funding for Yemen, for example, has fallen precipitously.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ahmad for his helpful letter last month in response to questions I posed in the debate in this House on the integrated review about the Government’s plans post drawdown. Picking up on some of the points made in that letter, what recent discussions have the Government had with the US and other NATO allies on how to develop an enduring partnership with Afghanistan and continue to counter the terrorist threat and the trafficking of narcotics while protecting the vital progress made on human rights?
The UK has been heavily engaged with and in Afghanistan for two decades. It has contributed funding for military and development aims, employed high-level diplomacy and, tragically, lost hundreds of troops in active combat. I do not underestimate the complexity of the decisions facing the Government on this, but I ask that Parliament be kept informed of developments which affect us all.
My Lords, the integrated review of March this year was an important landmark in the UK Government’s definition of a post-Brexit international role for the country and set out a road map for the focus of Britain’s foreign development, security and defence policies for the next decade.
In terms of more immediate consequences, as Chatham House states in its comments on the review, it is
“an important piece of public diplomacy and shows the ‘government machinery’ of the civil service how resources should be allocated for these policies”
and soft power. Its publication gives a clearer sense of the UK’s ambitions and priorities. Its message of a renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region, driven by a concern to contribute to meeting diplomatic and security challenges presented by an assertive China, will be welcome to the US and other Five Eyes allies—where the UK already has defence commitments such as the Five Power Defence Arrangements—and especially Japan.
I disagree with Chatham House’s view that our
“European neighbours are likely to be less clear on the impact for them in the messages contained in the Review.”
The UK’s continuing commitment to Europe’s security and defence through NATO is predominant in the document, so why do we need—as it suggests—longer-term ambitions for military relations with the EU? I do not support the UK being part of a European army.
The timing of the review could not have been more challenging, coinciding with Covid. The fact of Brexit clearly called for a broader articulation of the international role of the UK, something missing from more recent reviews focusing predominantly on security and defence. In this regard I strongly welcome the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in advance of the review, signalling a welcome desire to see development and aid more aligned to diplomatic influence. Previously, I felt that the separate fiefdoms of the FCO and DfID were not helpful to our international influence, as they operated in their own silos—not always in a helpful way for UK plc as a whole.
I also respect the planned temporary reduction of the foreign aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP. How will Her Majesty’s Government craft a coherent approach for the UK’s development policies that is aligned with the review’s broader policy goals?
It is fortuitous that the integrated review comes against the backdrop of the highest profile for UK diplomacy in decades. The country began its presidency of the UN Security Council in February and is to host both the G7 and the UN Climate Change Conference this year. Each of these provides opportunities for the Government to push forward their security, economic and climate change priorities.
With regard to policy in certain areas, I praise the UK’s reaction to events in Hong Kong and the offering of financial support to Hong Kong citizens arriving under the British national overseas passport scheme.
However, there are countries where the UK could use its influence more to solve long-running disputes. First, there is the Middle East; this might be a tall order, but can the Minister say whether we could be more of a mediator in the Israel/Hamas dispute or in the Iran/Saudi proxy conflict? I feel uneasy that we cannot sort out the settling of our debt with Iran, while condemning wholeheartedly the continued incarceration of Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Also—I declare an interest as co-chair of the APPG for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus—why cannot we take a more active role in trying to resolve the Cyprus problem, rather than relying on the UN, which, despite its best efforts, has achieved little in nearly 50 years? The UK policy that Greek and Turkish Cypriots must solve their own problems has clearly not worked either.
Elsewhere, I warmly welcome the review’s strong commitment to the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. I ask the Minister that financial assistance be extended to them in case of disaster-related emergencies.
I move on to defence and will set out briefly my reaction to the defence Command Paper and the Defence and Security Industrial Strategy. Against the first test—the accuracy of the assessment of changing threats and risks and the quality of the headline policy response—the integrated review scores well. The analysis of the changing national and international security environment up to 2030 looks thoughtful and comprehensive; the big question is whether the UK can enact a meaningful tilt to the Indo-Pacific region without weakening its ability to respond to crises in Europe. This seems a risk worth taking, as the Chinese threat is increasing, especially in the South China Sea and with regard to Taiwan.
On defence planning, it remains to be seen whether the model of persistent engagement overseas that is at the heart of the defence Command Paper, as well as the new integrated operating concept, will make the required difference in deterrence. I am nervous about the cutting of troop numbers. Finally, I welcome the focus on cyber and space defence.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming to the House and commending the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister. His speech was particularly welcome in its focus on the importance—while recognising the Indo-Pacific tilt of the integrated review—of being active in Africa. He will find a ready echo of that sentiment on all sides of this House. I declare an interest at the outset as an ambassador for the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation and chair of Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor.
Global co-operation and solidarity are vital to effectively responding to and mitigating the health and socioeconomic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The measures in the gracious Speech fall to be delivered at a time in which there is, globally, an increase in inequality, a threat to livelihoods and an increasing threat to peace and security and in which environmental sustainability and a capacity to respond effectively to natural disasters are threatened by the impact of the pandemic.
The challenge the virus presents to global diplomacy, to the work of effective multilateral organisations and to the effectiveness of a developmental response to the global crisis requires us, as a nation, to have an effective response to the pandemic and the health of the developing world, which is absolutely essential to our own continued health, and indeed to our security as a nation. The World Bank has rightly drawn attention to the need to ramp-up vaccine production to overcome current shortages in the world, and to develop partnerships across sectors to that effect. As such, it supports licensing deals and technology transfers to developing countries to increase supply and local production in different parts of the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa.
That raises the question, which I hope the Minister will address when winding up, of what position the United Kingdom will take in response to the United States’s very welcome acceptance of the need to address the issue of intellectual property and to bring about the changes in the WTO that will permit the manufacture and license of vaccines in countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt and Senegal, which have the capacity, with some support, to manufacture vaccines. What will be the United Kingdom’s response to the US’s welcome initiative? We know that the EU has been lukewarm, to put it mildly, in its response. This is an opportunity for us to exercise our much-vaunted new post-Brexit freedoms outside the European Union, and come behind the United States to adopt a position in the WTO—with its welcome new, and very effective, leadership—to enable Africa and the developing world to develop their own pharmaceutical industries, and indeed to manufacture vaccines.
In the short term, there will clearly be a need for greater distribution of vaccines in the world. I have something to say briefly in response to the Minister’s quite correct assertion that we are now living much more in a time of competition in this regard. China has already provided vaccine assistance to 53 developing countries and has exported vaccines to 22 countries. China has exported 115 million doses of Chinese vaccines and India has exported 63 million. How many million doses have we exported? The answer is none. What are we doing, not just to support COVAX but to address this very real need, which exists throughout the developing world but particularly acutely where there are conflicts? What are we doing in Tigray and Cameroon to ensure that vaccines are distributed more effectively and provided in those war-torn areas? What are we doing to help bring those conflicts to an end?
Likewise—and I end my remarks on this—what are we doing in response to natural disasters, such as in St Vincent and the Grenadines? Will we deploy our ship in the region to help with the clear-up? How will we assist the country to respond to the very real need that exists there, at the moment, as we speak, for vaccines, because Covid has a hold in that country? These are questions that the Minister needs to answer, and answer in a spirit that we all understand and appreciate that we need a response—
Indeed. I end on this note, with this challenge to the Minister. We are rightly thinking about the Middle East at this time. There was a great teacher by the name of Hillel in the Middle East, who lived at the time of our Lord. He said:
“If I am not for me, who will be for me?”
Yes, it is important to recognise our national self-interest, but he added:
“If I am only for me, what am I?”
We share a common humanity. He also asked: “If not now, when?” We need focus, we need resources and we need to act now.
I call next the very patient noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe.
I first offer my warm congratulations on a moving, forward-looking and excellent maiden speech by my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister and thank my noble friend Lady Goldie for her excellent introduction. The new programme takes the country forward, building on the Government’s strong electoral showing and the success of the vaccination rollout. Frankly, that makes one proud to be British.
I declare my interests as in the register, first as chair of Crown Agents, a not-for-profit British development company. We have been much involved in the delivery of vaccines, notably to our overseas territories, with Gibraltar now prominent on the green list. Crown Agents has also helped Ukraine to secure non-Russian Covid vaccines and to improve its healthcare system over the last five years. This partnership has led to $60 million of savings in health expenditure and fewer deaths. I believe it is a model that we could replicate elsewhere. To answer the previous speaker, we work with Gavi to deliver vaccines in some of the hardest-to-reach places on earth, bringing to that vital task our knowledge of the chill chain for medicines.
I welcome the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It brings together our international efforts, integrating diplomacy and development to achieve greater impact—for example, to address the links between poverty and climate change and to promote English and our cultural heritage across the world, from Shakespeare to the music industry. The cut in development spending is disappointing, but it makes the work of our high commissions and embassies, and the pursuit of value for money, even more important. The Prime Minister’s trade envoys have been given more support by DIT, including my helpful and noble friends Lady Meyer, for Ukraine, Lady Nicholson, for Iraq, Lord Bates, for Ethiopia, Lord Risby, for Lebanon, and many others.
I also support the FCDO and DIT tilt to the Indo-Pacific region. As chair of the UK-ASEAN Business Council, I have been particularly glad to support HMG’s successful efforts to secure post-Brexit dialogue status with ASEAN. It is a region and a trade zone with huge growth potential. Two-way trade was at a peak of £42 billion in 2019. Vietnam, which presided last year, has already attracted much western investment. Brunei is now in the hot seat, and we have been working with it on building back after Covid, with infrastructure, health, energy transition, climate change and a revival of tourism all areas of focus for the 10 ASEAN countries.
That brings me on to trade. For those of us who have studied economics, the theory of comparative advantage is a key tenet. Trade should be encouraged because it benefits both consumers and producers who are productive, creative and effective. It helps developing countries, whose products get squeezed by protectionism. I am a fan of the post-World War II trading system, now in the hands of the WTO, but it struggles to move forward. It is disappointing that the last really significant step forward multilaterally was in 1992, when agriculture was brought properly within the system.
It is regrettable that protectionist forces are found in democracies, which really should know better. Examples can help to bring that home. The former MEP John Longworth was right to call out India; it is a good friend to Britain, but it has failed to abide by tribunal decisions and its treatment of the British telecoms firm Vodafone left much to be desired. The US—which I love, as a home to several family members—failed under President Trump to agree to the appointment of arbitrators at the WTO. Worse, the US has been very slow to agree to export vaccines, even to poor countries desperately in need and even of the AstraZeneca vaccine, mysteriously still not approved by the US regulator. We all know that a US trade agreement will be hard, so it makes sense to start negotiations elsewhere first.
I strongly support the efforts of our Trade Secretary, the energetic Liz Truss, as we move on from Brexit, particularly her efforts on Australia and on CPTPP. Of course, these agreements must bring benefits in exchange for any concessions offered, for example on data and services, and the abolition of discriminatory protectionism on products such as whisky. I hope that the G7 summit in Cornwall will give a new boost to trade.
I have run out of time, but in closing I would like to mention one other troubling example: the apparent US support for a TRIPS waiver on intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines. This proposal has a great number of problems and would really hurt industry. AstraZeneca has been an example to the world in forgoing much of the profit from the production of its Covid vaccine. It is puzzling to suggest that they should be treated so badly.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, in congratulating earlier speakers on some really telling contributions to the debate so far. My focus in this debate on defence and foreign policy will be its impact on developments on the African continent. In this regard, while I welcome the Armed Forces Bill and support for the Armed Forces covenant, I am aghast at the decision to break a manifesto promise and drastically cut the size of the Army.
On Saturday 15 May, the MoD released details of a successful seizure by UK troops of a Daesh arms cache during a peacekeeping operation in Mali, in the Sahel. This deployment to Mali as part of the UN peacekeeping mission was the first of the kind and congratulations are due to the UK taskforce. It provides the UN with a highly specialised, long-range reconnaissance capability in remote areas, helping the UN to understand, respond to and protect civilians. Sadly, that is just the tip of an insidious iceberg.
Across the Sahel terrorist groups, including Boko Haram, ISIS and al-Qaeda in Nigeria, the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan and the DRC, and ISIS as far south as Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, are increasingly active. In that context, the 100 or so Light Dragoons and Royal Anglians working well in Mali can hardly scratch the surface of terrorist threats in Africa. Yet at a recent Select Committee meeting, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that bilateral aid to Africa would fall by two thirds in 2021-22, to just £764 million, bringing swingeing cuts to programmes in Nigeria, South Sudan, the DRC and the Sahel in general, among others.
The DRC has suffered decades of unrest and terrorist incursions, with a heavy commitment from UN missions supporting hundreds of thousands of civilians, resulting in IDPs. Meanwhile the Central African Republic has rarely been in the headlines, yet a detailed briefing from the CSW reveals that despite the signing of a peace agreement in 2019, violence remains a persistent problem in the CAR. Clashes between the CAR’s armed forces and armed groups in Alindao, 300 kilometres east of the capital, Bangui, resulted in the destruction of two IDP camps. UN peacekeepers continue to be targeted, and violence in the CAR continued to escalate through the general election at the end of 2020. The UN estimated that, overall, more than 120,000 people fled their homes and became displaced.
There are increasing reports of the use of landmines by warring parties in the CAR, with Russian paramilitaries fighting alongside government troops. The Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement—the CPC—is accused of human rights violations and using landmines and explosive devices across the region. On 8 May MINUSCA, the UN mission in the CAR, issued a statement expressing concern regarding the use of explosive devices and terming it a serious violation of international humanitarian law. It warned that those responsible could be tried for crimes against humanity.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the continent an armed conflict has been raging in the northern provinces of Mozambique, with Cabo Delgado suffering particularly violent attacks. These attacks have been growing in strength and brutality, and the recent attacks in Palma have caused tremendous psychological damage to the communities. The UN estimates that nearly 700,000 people have already been displaced, so they are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. Homes, health centres and schools have been destroyed, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.
The Government are never slow to stress the UK’s global influence in soft power through international institutions, and through language and culture. The BBC World Service plays a leading role here, with the financial support of the FCDO, and is internationally recognised as key to British soft power. The BBC World Service receives some 75% of its funding from the licence fee, with a top-up from government. It has been able to open new international bureaux in Nairobi and elsewhere. With 12 new language services, audience figures have increased by 11%. The FCDO funding is essential if the BBC World Service is to maintain its global reputation for accurate and reliable news and information.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister on his excellent speech and warmly welcome him to your Lordships’ House.
In the words of the Government’s integrated review, we are living in an era of “intensifying geopolitical competition”. In this country, we certainly know that in Russia we face a country which has interests and ethics very different to our own, and which does not share our regard for a European order based on rules. To this day, Russian troops remain in Ukraine, and not only in Crimea. I say this with feeling as chairman of the British Ukrainian Society. We should not forget that 2014 saw the first use of armed force to change European borders in more than a generation. Suffice to say that the considerable help we quietly give Ukraine on a number of levels, on a scale unmatched by any other European country, is deeply appreciated and valuable.
We as a nation have, as a result of the long-drawn-out Brexit process, inevitably seemed to some to have become somewhat more inward-looking. However, irrespective of whether Brexit was or was not the right decision, we must now move on—and that is exactly what we are attempting to do. We remain a country of hard and hugely admired soft-power reach—reference has been made to the BBC World Service. Who more than us has the will to try to underpin an international order that is open, one where our allies and partners, frequently less capable, are made more secure from predatory activity? The integrated review alludes to the kind of world we will soon inhabit if we do not become more outward looking and engaged—a world where authoritarianism advances and liberal democracy, which we all cherish, assume an increasingly defensive posture.
Our American friends remain our closest and most significant allies. We should never forget the role they played in helping us to keep western Europe free in the Cold War. For all the aspirations of European defence initiatives, however intentioned, today the United States uniquely has the means—and, for the most part, the will—to uphold the geostrategic posture that dissuades and deters threats to peace. Today, on our continent it finances 70% of NATO’s budget, an act of extraordinary and continuing generosity, irrespective of who is in the White House. There were some murmurs a few months go that the new President’s Administration would look away from us in Europe. With Secretary of State Blinken’s recent meeting with our Foreign Secretary, these notions are clearly misplaced, following his most positive statements.
We have also shown our willingness to underpin the international order, from the pre-eminent role we play in NATO’s enhanced forward presence and Baltic air policing mission to the support we provide to Ukraine. Likewise, our renewed involvement in the Indo-Pacific—a geopolitical theatre increasingly connected to our Euro-Atlantic area—is welcome. Operation Fortis, the maiden operational deployment of HMS “Queen Elizabeth”, and the escorting Royal Navy strike group includes US aircraft and US naval assets, seeking to underline the freedom of international waterways.
Japan has openly welcomed our growing naval presence, as have India and the countries of the five-power defence arrangements. They understand that we are one of the few countries external to the Indo-Pacific that can contribute to this role. Indeed, Japan has welcomed us, not only as a security provider but also as a valuable trading partner. Japan actively supports our admission to the CPTTP, which it chairs, which is set to become the largest zone of high economic growth in the world.
Our tilt to the Indo-Pacific region, the refocus on the Euro-Atlantic area and our willingness to step up and act internationally in terms of collective security show that Britain is re-engaging with the world. It shows how we can move on after a particularly stressful political and health period in our history.
Finally, while maintaining our strong US links, reconnecting positively with our European neighbours and forging new relationships further abroad, we should move to make our Commonwealth links more central in our country and fellow members’ countries. That grouping of countries puts up a mirror on the world in all its complexity. I look forward to the day when many countries can have an intermediary or associate status that is now not possible but would be very well received by our many friends and allies in the world.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Udny- Lister on his outstanding maiden speech. The gracious Speech drew reference to measures to counter hostile activity by foreign states and measures to reduce poverty and alleviate human suffering. In this regard, I wish to refer to the importance of the Commonwealth. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Risby, also mentioned it.
It is regrettable that the CHOGM meeting in Rwanda has had to be postponed as a result of the continuing impact of the Covid pandemic. With Africa making up the largest grouping in the Commonwealth and with the immediate challenges of health management, climate change, conflict resolution and job creation, the integrity of the group is more important now than ever. I entirely concur with the moving speech of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that reconciliation is the best protector of peace. All too often in Africa our approach to the ongoing crises that beset the continent is reactive rather than proactive.
Earlier this week, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, raised the issue of our Government’s support for landmine clearance. Landmines have been the scourge of many war-torn countries. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, also mentioned it in his speech. It is not just the removal and disposal of the explosive remnants of war; prevention, with increased training and counter-IED tactics, is just as important.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that women’s issues and challenges should be at the top of the agenda for the postponed CHOGM. I also share her concerns about cutting the aid budget.
Several noble Lords mentioned the increased threat to cybersecurity. The RUSI paper issued last month highlighted the threat of fraud and cybersecurity breaches to national security. As we converge from the old economy to the new, and with almost everyone owning a mobile phone, now is the time to consider measures to introduce a digital ID. This would entail embracing harmonised standards and authentication rules across all Commonwealth member states.
The National Security and Investment Act specifies cryptographic authentication and AI as key technologies to solve many of the global security challenges. The Minister, in opening this debate, spoke about the advances in technology. Given the United Kingdom’s leadership on artificial intelligence and disruptive technologies, can the Minister, in winding up, elaborate on what initiatives have been taken promoting knowledge transfer to the Commonwealth family of nations?
At a time when leadership and good management are key to the maintenance of peace and stability, as well as managing the global Covid pandemic, institutions such as the Commonwealth have a pivotal role to play.
In conclusion, I believe that the United Kingdom can take the lead within the Commonwealth to promote digital integrity and trust, and to modernise the group in tandem with the digital revolution.
My Lords, Her Majesty the Queen stated in her address to Parliament:
“My Government will uphold human rights and democracy across the world.”
Today I ask Her Majesty’s Government to support women in Afghanistan at a time when the Afghan peace negotiations hang in the balance.
Attacks on women and girls in Afghanistan have been increasing and recently we saw the terrible attack in Kabul, which mostly killed girls leaving school. My own recent discussions with Afghan women show clearly that they are very afraid of what will happen after NATO troops go. They have already seen senior female judges, journalists and politicians killed or maimed by terrorist attack. Girls’ schools, opened with international support, have been closed again in Taliban areas. We must help the Afghans to maintain the gains they have made towards a more inclusive society. We need bold action to make women’s lives secure as NATO troops withdraw, and to fulfil our commitments to UN Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security and to the principles of responsibility to protect.
It is critical the Taliban returns to the peace table, otherwise there may be a return to the lawlessness that led to 9/11 and later to ISIS in Iraq and Syria. However, we need incentives to add to the sanctions if we want the Taliban to behave differently. Surely, we want there to be a truly independent state, drawing on its own significant resources to redevelop its society. Pouring our money into the Afghan Government’s coffers is not the only answer. Above all, this means innovative thinking to keep the women safe. Given the development funding we provide to the Afghan Government, we should demand that they provide real security for all senior women and schools for girls through provision of bodyguards and support from the Afghan national army and police force, and that they must continue to fight for women’s safety in the peace negotiations. Does the Minister agree this should be a priority for the G7 and for the UK to take up in its bilateral and multilateral diplomacy?
The Afghan peace negotiations need more women at the table. The current arrangement of only four women is not enough for women’s views to be heard in all meetings or for significant representation at the different sub-committees. Research shows that when there are women at peace negotiations, the peace agreements tend to be more enduring. The negotiators also need to be able to gather views from women across the country. I therefore strongly support the FCDO funding to help the establishment and work of women in civil society. I welcome the reference to civil society in the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting communiqué of 5 May and the collective view of donors to Afghanistan that women must be engaged in the peace process and that aid conditionality should apply. Has all this happened? Is the UK withholding aid in view of the problems that women and other civil society actors are currently experiencing and are likely to experience more in the future? The situation is now urgent. We need to start considering now what support will be needed for the implementation of a peace settlement and what to do if there is not one. We should be mindful that peace agreements do not always lead to peace.
If a peace agreement can be reached, would the UN send a peacekeeping force to oversee transition? The UN General Assembly has just adopted a new resolution on the responsibility to protect. Can this help to ensure timely and decisive action to safeguard those threatened?
I welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s 2020 report on the UK national action plan regarding United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, in respect of which Afghanistan is a priority country. This is the biggest test of our commitment to the women, peace and security agenda.
After all the lives lost and the billions in aid that the UK and others have put into Afghanistan, are we really going to stand back and let the Talban take control again? We should be in no doubt that the Taliban will kill the educated—those in government and the military, especially women; and the women they do not kill will be subjugated. Surely, we must put support for Afghan women at the heart of our policy as we withdraw the protection they currently have through the presence of NATO and other troops.
I ask this Government to take a lead and stand up to that test.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I was not able to speak on Monday, which might have been my more natural home, but I am pleased to speak today and refer to two issues under this general heading.
First, the gracious Speech states:
“My Ministers will implement the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.”
I am with the review where it refers to
“sustaining strategic advantage though science and technology”.
I am glad that, in her introduction, the Minister referred to soft power and the importance of science in maintaining our security. But the review goes on to refer to “systematic competition” between states and claims somewhat tautologically that countries which establish a leading role in critical and emerging technologies will be at the forefront of global leadership. We know the importance of science, medical science in particular, from the acknowledged success in developing and delivering the Covid-19 vaccine, but the emphasis on national competition in this context is simply wrong. Scientists compete to be first, of course, but in this context their nationality is irrelevant. We know this from the vaccine programme. Co-operation between actors public and private from many different parts of the world has been crucial to its success: a truly international effort in which international co-operation has been the foundation, not competition.
Unfortunately, this reflects the Prime Minister’s “global Britain” rhetoric—just sound and bluster with no substance. When he attributed the vaccine success to capitalism and greed, he was wrong. The idea that private ingenuity and naked competition produced the vaccines is a misleading fantasy. The infrastructure that produced the Covid-19 vaccines and that helps to secure our greater security was nurtured in publicly funded universities, public institutes and heavily subsidised private labs.
Secondly, I refer to the statement that:
“Measures will be introduced to provide National Insurance contribution relief for employers of veterans”.
This will be provided for in the National Insurance Contributions Bill currently before the Commons, and which this House will consider in due course. It is far from clear from any of the published material what exactly this concession is expected to achieve. How effective in promoting employment among veterans is it likely to be? It is therefore right that, initially at least, it is being introduced for a limited period, up to April 2024. It would be helpful if the Minister could give an assurance that proper research will be undertaken as to its effectiveness before it is extended. Crucially, does it lead to a net increase in employment among veterans and, to the extent that there are more jobs, what sort of employment?
Perhaps the Minister could also confirm that this is just relief for the employer in terms of secondary class 1 contributions and not released to the veterans themselves. Perhaps it should also be made clear that the relief is only for a single year. What we are talking about in cash terms, in respect of someone on median earnings, is a one-off saving to an employer of about £3,000: a substantial sum, but not that substantial if it is intended to provide a job for 10 or more years. We also need to know whether the payments will lead to permanent and not short-term employment.
Finally, it would be appropriate for the Government to give an assurance that they remain committed to providing adequate pensions for those who made their career as a member of the Armed Forces. It would be wrong if this is a harbinger of the intention to expect our veterans to rely more than they currently do on further employment.
My Lords, I cannot think of a greater shift in geopolitical world power in my lifetime than the rise of China over the last 50 years. I remember visiting China for the first time in 1973 with Lord Shaw of Northstead, who sadly died a few months ago. There we found what I will describe as a sleeping giant: drab, solemn and brandishing the Little Red Book. But at about that time, China introduced the profit motive into the economy and superimposed it on to the communist system. This caused a dramatic explosion in economic activity which released the inbuilt entrepreneurial instincts and genius of the Chinese people. Now, China is one of the world’s most dynamic economies. It has been an astonishing change and has been likened to a young bird breaking out of its shell. But with it, sadly, has come a partial—I emphasise the word “partial”—rejection of the global liberal order which has been enjoyed successfully by so much of the world over recent decades.
Today, sadly, we find China adopting an aggressive and confrontational posture towards the world in so many aspects: be it Hong Kong; the disputes in the South China Sea; the treatment of the Uighurs and other minority groups, which the noble lord, Lord Alton, referred to; human rights; secrecy; investment in overseas utilities and resources giving potential power; or even Taiwan—perhaps the greatest danger of all—where we could find ourselves in open warfare unless we are very careful.
China also confronts us backed by the world’s second largest military power. We heard earlier about its potential to have the largest naval fleet in the world. We must of course be robust in expressing our serious concerns at these developments. I am old enough to remember a similar show of strength by the USSR after World War II, when it flexed its muscles. This caused us to combat the Russians’ aggressiveness by creating NATO, an alliance that has perhaps been the most successful in the history of the world.
At that time NATO’s success was echoed by an arrangement being set up in south-east Asia, SEATO. It was not a success and was quietly abandoned, mainly because there were no threats in the region, unlike the threats that China produces now. Our approach to these should be that we pursue an open but frank dialogue with Beijing and promote a balanced policy towards China that protects allied security without compromising the core values on which both the global liberal order and our way of life were founded.
I ask this question of the Government: should we not be wondering whether it would be wise to set up new alliances of nations in south-east Asia also alarmed by the intemperance of modern China? I do not necessarily mean a rehash of SEATO. The defence review refers to
“closer defence cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states”
but should we not be wondering whether it would be wise to have a more formal alliance? Will the Government tell us more about their feelings about building alliances and strengthening existing ones? Surely there is merit in pursuing diplomacy backed by unity and strength.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Jopling.
The gracious Speech states:
“My Government will introduce measures to increase the safety and security of its citizens.”
The safety and security of their citizens is indeed every Government’s first duty but I wonder whether the focus on military might neglects the lessons of the last year and a half by not mentioning disease as a threat to citizens’ safety, with some 128,000 deaths from Covid to date. Are the Government doing enough to fulfil their duty to keep us safe from the virus as new variants emerge?
The key question, to which I would really like an answer, is: do the Government accept the words of the head of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, that
“Nobody is safe until everyone is safe”?
That logic, if we follow it, says that everyone must be vaccinated urgently and in a fair and systematic way. The WHO’s fair allocation framework sets out a stepwise plan to do this. Why have we undermined our support for the COVAX initiative by refusing to share our excess vaccines? Money is not the answer now; supplies of vaccines are what is needed. Since the Serum Institute of India has necessarily had to stop supplying vaccines to COVAX, it has little to distribute.
The notes accompanying the gracious Speech boast that the UK is
“a world leading development donor”
“In the last year alone, we spent £1.4 billion to support the international effort to fight COVID-19”.
However, the UK’s leadership on overseas development aid funding is being undermined by its refusing to support measures such as the WTO’s C-TAP, the Covid technology access pool, and the TRIPS waiver proposal to the WTO by India and South Africa for the temporary lifting of IP rights and other barriers to allow all countries, rich and poor, to produce their own vaccines, with quality overseen by the WHO.
Since the US’s announcement of support for the TRIPS waiver just a few short days ago, other countries such as France, Spain and New Zealand have also come out in support. That makes over 100 countries now supporting it. What about us? In response to a question that I put to the Leader of the House last week, during questions on the Covid update, on whether the US had sought our support, she replied that
“we are in discussions with the US and WTO members to facilitate increased production and supply of Covid vaccines.”
That is great, but then she went on to say:
“There are other issues—for instance, licensing agreements—which can also boost production.”—[Official Report, 13/5/21; col. 291.]
That is more disappointing because it is the same reply that I and other noble Lords received to the amendment on this issue that I tabled during the passage of the Trade Act last October. This reliance on voluntary action by big pharmaceuticals is to place hope over experience. These are not organisations guided by altruism but hard-nosed opportunists that at every turn have proven themselves morally bankrupt. Why do we allow them to continue to enjoy such monopolies over essential medicines that are global public goods? Where have the Government got to in the dialogue with the Americans on the sharing of IP rights, knowhow and data with all countries so that we can get the vaccine supplies that the world needs to keep us all safe? It is not only the right thing to do; enlightened self-interest dictates it.
I want to say a few words about the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. I start by saying that I deplore all violence and deaths on all sides of the conflict but, as the occupying power and an illegal one at that, the Israeli Government have failed in their duty to uphold the equality and human rights of the occupied people. In the Government’s efforts to secure a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza, will they emphasise that there must be no return to “normal”? That would be an abomination. “Normal” for the Gazan means a blockade, violations of human rights, the detention of children and daily humiliations. Will they also demand transparency from both parties and open access for journalists and independent observers?
I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend Lord Purvis’s comments about the Government’s cuts to the ODA budget. The Government say they will support the health systems in developing countries but then go on to cut successful programmes such as the SuNMaP 2 programme in Nigeria, which funds the Malaria Consortium’s attempts to build real resilience in health systems in six states. I declare my interest as a trustee of the Malaria Consortium. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this issue?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister on an immaculate maiden speech. I particularly liked his occasional references to keeping the Government up to the mark, in which I think he can play a very useful role in your Lordships’ House, given his previous experience.
Today’s debate on the gracious Speech focuses on defence and foreign affairs. I do not think many would disagree with the comprehensive speech by my noble friend Lady Goldie, which described the world in which we live at the moment as significantly more dangerous and unstable than perhaps we remember in the past. The challenge of the current global pandemic, added to those of massive population growth and accelerating climate change, make an extremely dangerous combination.
I want to talk about a further source of huge instability. Interestingly, what I want to talk about was reflected only this week, I think on Monday. The presidency of the Security Council of the United Nations is currently held by China, and on Monday it organised an informal meeting to examine the impact of emerging technologies on international peace and security and how to mitigate the potential risks. I do not know which technologies they discussed, but one that should be high on the agenda is the huge enhancement in communications and the threats that brings.
The whole world of the internet and mobile phones has been a blessing for billions of people and transformed opportunities to communicate, but with it has come the power of others to control it and use it against them for criminal or subversive ends. The enormous increase in cyber hacking and scams has brought with it the huge new industry of cybersecurity, which struggles to contain it.
I was very interested in the comments of Ciaran Martin, the first head of the National Cyber Security Centre, who talked this week about the need to ban ransomware payments to hackers who steal vital data. In the last couple of weeks, we have seen one enormous ransomware attack which shut down the colonial pipeline and seriously endangered the fuel supplies of the whole east coast of the United States. Only a few days later there was a serious attack on the Irish health service, similar to the one that did such damage to the NHS.
Ciaran Martin estimated the global cost of hacking and cyber disturbances at £120 billion. Interestingly, an article in the Times said:
“the NCSC handled more than three times as many ransomware incidents in 2020 than in the previous year. A recent survey … found that almost half of British businesses were targeted … and a quarter had paid a ransom. Hackers … are often sheltered by hostile states including Russia”.
We now face increased activity by criminals or malign foreign Governments, which represents a major threat to our critical national infrastructure, not least since the far greater capabilities of 5G apparently substantially increase the potential points of attack.
Therefore, to protect our national security, it is vital that we give every encouragement to the new UK businesses working in cybersecurity. I was quite surprised to see the growth of such an amazing new industry. Apparently, there are already 1,200 companies working in the field of cybersecurity. I and many other noble Lords strongly supported the National Security and Investment Act, which gives the power to protect such companies if they suffer any unwelcome overseas interest. In that connection, it is interesting to note the number of recent attempts by the Chinese Government or Chinese companies to take them over. I want to draw to your Lordships’ attention the importance of that and the threat it poses not just to our critical national infrastructure but to our vital national defences.
I welcome the emphasis in the integrated review on the vital importance of cybersecurity, the creation of a national cyber force for offensive cyber operations against any who attack us, and the publication this year of a very necessary new cyber strategy.
My Lords, I want to address the cuts in official development assistance and to concentrate on their effects on health research and health interventions for and in lower and middle-income countries. I must declare my interest as vice-chair of the APPG on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases. These cuts are massive, immediate and catastrophic.
Regarding research, the ODA support to UKRI and the global challenges research fund has been immediately cut by £120 million, which is nearly half the previously committed amount. Among many affected projects is the world-class research led by the Royal Veterinary College in London through the One Health Poultry Hub: a £20 million programme involving 27 institutions in 10 countries. This focuses on infectious zoonotic disease and antimicrobial resistance in poultry in Asia. It faces a 67% cut in its budget. However, we know that the next pandemic in humans is very likely to arise from animals, very possibly from poultry and very possibly in Asia. At the world-renowned Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, major research cuts are required in multiple programmes on human health. I highlight the cut of 68% to the ARISE programme, which is looking at human health in informal settlements in Asian and African countries and has helped these communities in their responses to the Covid pandemic.
On health interventions, the flagship UK-funded Ascend programme delivers preventive drugs for neglected tropical diseases to African countries. Just in January, the Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s support
“to protect everyone from pain, disfigurement and poverty caused by NTDs”.
Yet, the Ascend programme is now facing cuts of around £130 million to a total budget of £220 million. The programme has already been seriously interrupted by Covid-19 but has repurposed much of its activities to aid the Covid-19 efforts in 11 endemic countries. The current cut will not only halt those efforts but result in the cessation of drug treatments for target NTDs. Children who could be protected will be put at serious risk of going blind or developing completely preventable disfiguring and debilitating diseases. These are diseases for which no vaccines exist. The drugs that prevent them are donated for free by pharmaceutical companies such as our own GSK, but they will go unused.
In poor communities, good health is crucial to enable education, work and economic and social progress. To improve the well-being of such communities is not only a moral and humanitarian responsibility; it is in our own self-interest to create stable societies of growing wealth from which people will not migrate.
While these cuts are devastating for the current research and preventive programmes funded by ODA, they involve relatively small amounts of money in the context of the current pandemic: no more than 1% in total of the current budget deficit. I maintain that these cuts are totally disproportionate when we consider that £37 billion has been spent on the Covid test and trace system in the UK. One thirty-seventh of that, which is £1 billion, would avoid most if not all of the proposed cuts to overseas health research and interventions.
In conclusion, these cuts are contrary to our aspirations as a global scientific power. They damage our international reputation—we are the only G7 country to reduce its aid budget in a time of global crisis—and they seriously diminish our soft power reach. What soft power is greater than the gift of health? They run counter to our commitments to the sustainable development goals and they will diminish our capability to address major global challenges like food security, antimicrobial resistance and pandemic infectious disease risks. I submit that the damage far outweighs the savings made and I ask the Minister if Her Majesty’s Government will reconsider these cuts.
The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, have withdrawn from the speakers’ list, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Fall.
My Lord, I welcome the many learned speeches from noble Lords this afternoon, many of whom have vast experience and knowledge of this very important topic.
As the daughter of a diplomat, I was brought up on a diet of British foreign policy and its mantra to protect and advance British interests. The battle of my father’s time was the Cold War, but we have inherited a more complex landscape and our enemies are more diverse and agile. Alongside this are the big geopolitical challenges of our time, of which the deterioration of relations between China and the West is dominant. We see this played out like the proxy wars of old, for example, in tech and trade. But we should be wary of calling this a second Cold War. China is not the Soviet Union; its economic power is far greater and more sustainable and, whether we like it or not, we must co-operate with China to find solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems, such as climate change.
I commend the Government for the integrated review, which attempts to set out to answer the question: what is Britain’s role in the world today? I will focus on three issues in my brief remarks. The first goes back to China. In the integrated review, China is described as a “systemic competitor”. If we look across the board, to the economy, security, human rights and the need to address global problems, our approach looks pragmatic, though at times a bit inconsistent. We welcome inward investment and have rightly put in place legislation to properly scrutinise it. We rightly call out human rights abuses, yet we have been careful not to use the label “genocide”. We send our ships to the South China Sea and, at the same time, we invite China to the COP 26 meeting, recognising, again rightly, that co-operation is needed if any progress can be made on climate change.
Who are our allies in this approach? While it is clear that China has become a convening issue for many Western democracies, it is also notable that we are not are all aligned—take Germany and New Zealand, for example. Seeing Australia getting blown around by its unilateral approach suggests that we might do well to take a multilateral one ourselves, possibly tucking in behind the Biden Administration.
If we consider China a systemic competitor, this warrants a systemic response by us. By that, I mean one which brings together the security, economic, human rights and climate change responses under one umbrella. I wonder whether the Government should consider an NSC sub-group, for example, on China, to strengthen and co-ordinate our response across Whitehall.
I turn to nuclear. To me, the commitment to increase our nuclear arsenal sets a dismal example to other powers who support non-proliferation. It is also a strange priority for taxpayers’ money, at a time when the economic outlook is difficult. There seems to be little attempt to set out a rationale for the policy, which to my mind also sits uneasily with our decision to make drastic cuts to our aid budget, which I will turn to next.
The cut from 0.7% to 0.5% acts as a double whammy, alongside a shrinking economy that would already have led to substantial reductions. If you want to see global action on climate change, insure against mass migration, combat terrorism, eradicate poverty and counter world pandemics, as well as compete with China’s growing influence, the provision of 0.7% is a good way to go about it. It is in our national interests and it blatantly promotes them at the same time.
All this comes at such a critical moment for Britain, as we relaunch ourselves on the world stage post Brexit and host COP 26 and the G7. This is a G7 that puts women and girls at the centre of its agenda, and yet we witness devastating cuts to many programmes that are designed to support them. Taken together, I believe that the spending decision around our nuclear arsenal and aid does not represent the best strategy for the promotion of British national interests at this critical juncture.
I now turn to Afghanistan. I, like many others, have wholeheartedly welcomed President Biden’s return to a more multilateral approach on the global stage, but, sadly, I cannot support the decision to press ahead with American withdrawal from Afghanistan before the peace talks are finalised. This is not a peace plan but an exit plan, and I fear that it is likely to lead to instability and future conflict; it already has. So much that we and our brave service men and women have fought for over the decades—to build lasting peace in the region and within society to help women and girls—will have been in vain. No one wants for ever wars, but we are more likely to sow the seeds of a future security problem if we leave in a hurry.
Now that we have left the EU, we need to be more, not less, focused on how we maximise our influence in the world. We need to leverage a systemic approach to geopolitical issues at home and build a multilateral approach to like-minded powers abroad to promote British interests at this crucial time.
My Lords, of the many problems we face, one of the most far-reaching is the growing instability in the Islamic world. Its destabilisation is not caused by the religion of Islam, which has, over the centuries, added so much learning and culture to global civilisation. The problem has been, and is, political Islam, which seeks to promote and impose theocratic government under so-called sharia law. This is complicated by the Sunni-Shia split, which, in recent decades, has resulted in vicious warfare between the two factions. The long-term aim of Sunni fundamentalists has been to replace national Governments—the basis of civilisation as we know it—with a worldwide caliphate. The great leap forward for political Islam came in April 2014, with the launch of Islamic State from the Iraqi franchise of al-Qaeda—an unashamed terrorist organisation. Fuelled by religious fervour, IS swept through much of Iraq and Syria, dominating with fascist cruelty until its capital, Raqqa, was captured in October 2017.
Theocracy is of course the antithesis of democracy because it provides no scope for change of government through elections. This is well illustrated in Iran, where only six of the 17 candidates for the forthcoming presidential election have been approved to stand by the Council of Guardians. Meanwhile, IS has re-established itself under various local brands in large parts of sub-Saharan African—for example, as Boko Haram in Nigeria. Since 2015, Boko Haram has been affiliated to IS and is now part of IS in West Africa. Our particular interest is perhaps in Mali, where, as we have already heard, we now have 300 British soldiers as part of a UN peacekeeping force, and where some 500 Islamic State in greater Sahel fighters are operating.
Political Islam’s umbrella, which shields and justifies the multiple Islamic movements, is the Muslim Brotherhood. Founded in Egypt, in 1928, it came on to the world stage when it assassinated the Egyptian Prime Minister in 1949. In 1981, it assassinated President Sadat for making peace with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt’s parliamentary election in January 2012 and ruled Egypt, with President Morsi, until July 2013, when it was removed by the army, following a huge popular uprising after Morsi tried to introduce an Islamist constitution.
In 2015, the British Government’s own review, under Sir John Jenkins, found that the MB was
“contrary to our values… to our … interests and our national security.”
It was also implicated in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Yet today, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ibrahim Munir, lives and works in London. How do the Government defend this? Will the most senior Muslim clerics be ready and able to extrude and excommunicate political Islam? A starting point would be for religious leaders around the world to agree that their role is—or should be—to guide but not to rule.
I end on an optimistic note. Recently, on 6 May, Dr Shawki Allam, the Mufti of Egypt and one of the most senior Sunni clerics in the world, issued a detailed analysis and refutation of the manner in which the text of the Koran is misused to justify violent jihad and terrorism. He concluded:
“The horrific crimes of the terrorists are in complete violation of Islamic law and norms, and the perpetuators are no way representative of the Muslim people or the religion of Islam. They are simply criminals.”
My Lords, I have two points to raise, a general one and a particular one. I welcome much of the Government’s realisation that the decades of downsizing and cuts in the defence budget have gone too far, not just in our narrow national defence interests but as our contribution to alliances and other friendly powers. Looking back as I can with personal experience of the strength of our Armed Forces to the 1950s, I can say that there is a way to go to be a global power again, whatever “global Britain” implies but, for today’s forces, the Government’s approach is welcome. It must be sustained. I am all too familiar with the aftermath of defence reviews that have never enjoyed the full funding on which they were based. I hope that, this time, that outcome can be avoided.
My particular point concerns the recent report that New Zealand, a long-standing member of the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement, seems to be out of step. The reported difficulty was that her Foreign Minister was concerned that the traditional policy of intelligence collection and sharing was being extended to a policy for the Five Eyes to be party to outspoken criticism of China on the treatment of some of its citizens. New Zealand’s Minister recognised the value to New Zealand of long-standing intelligence arrangements but, for reasons of their relations with and considerable trade with China—almost 30% in total—they seemed uneasy about the Five Eyes group being a prime platform for mounting criticism of China. I have not seen or heard yet of any changes in the FCDO’s approach.
Noble Lords will have seen and welcomed the strength of criticism of China by the UK Government over human rights and other freedoms, over Hong Kong and the Uighurs and over freedom of navigation on the high seas. These have been made clear on numerous occasions, but I was unaware of specific attributions to the Five Eyes or a Five Eyes spokesperson. Indeed, it would seem better for such collective criticism to be expressed by a wider group of nations, particularly one that included more of those nearest to China in the Far East.
Noble Lords will be aware of the birth and long history of the Five Eyes. It sprang from the 1940 visit to Bletchley Park by United States code breakers before it had even entered the war. Progressively, the link of language and common interests brought Canada in 1948 and Australia and New Zealand in 1956 into this group. Over the decades, and regardless of party-political viewpoints, the arrangement has continued and prospered in the collective interest of all. Modern digital, space and cyber domains have extended the coverage and value of this long-standing and successful sharing of intelligence in its many forms and from many sources. It would be of very serious concern to this country if a commitment maintained for so many years were to be fractured.
I hope that the reservations expressed by New Zealand will not materialise into any break in the value and historic strength of such an important contribution to national security. It seems a pity that those New Zealand reservations were expressed so publicly. One wonders whether they had been expressed privately but without being heeded beforehand. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Five Eyes arrangements will continue as before and for many years to come.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s gracious Speech made clear this Government’s commitment to defence and security, upholding human rights, and reducing poverty across the world. I am pleased to note that the Government will be taking forward the biggest increase in defence spending in 30 years, which will help to promote global peace and stability.
I am very concerned with the situation in Yemen, which has been called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Last Monday, I held a virtual meeting with the ambassadors of Yemen and the UAE to discuss how we can best support the country. What are the Government doing to support the peace process in Yemen? Can humanitarian aid to that country be continued as much as possible? I would like to see the aid budget restored to 0.7% as soon as possible. Will my noble friend comment on when the Government plan to reassess this commitment?
I am very interested in the well-being of our Armed Forces and I welcome the announcement in the gracious Speech to provide national insurance contribution relief for employers of veterans. This will help to support those who have already given so much to this country and is a step towards realising the Government’s commitment to make the UK the best place in the world to be a veteran. Our Armed Forces have played a significant role in shaping our country’s history. I pay tribute to the Muslims who have been an important part of our past. Unfortunately, the contribution of Muslims to our Armed Forces is not widely acknowledged and has been historically undervalued. In World War I, 2.5 million Muslims supported the allied forces with dignity and honour. In World War II, this increased to 5.5 million Muslims. Unfortunately, some Muslims paid the ultimate price in both wars.
I am the founder and chairman of the National Muslim War Memorial Trust, which is committed to recognising the contribution of Muslims to Britain’s Armed Forces, including the erection of a war memorial on a prominent site in central London. When I initially conceived the idea of setting up the charity, I wrote to my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and General Sir Nick Carter. They were both extremely supportive of the trust, and the support which I received from the Muslim community was very encouraging. The charity has now been established and, with my fellow trustee, my noble friend Lord Lexden, I have written to the Prime Minister and other Ministers regarding our initiative and hope to receive their support soon. I have also written to my noble friends Lady Goldie and Lord Ahmad. Can my noble friend Lord Ahmad confirm, in his closing remarks, if he is willing to support us and what support he may be able to give?
Our second objective is educational work. This will help to bring communities together and foster harmony between different groups. One of the key reasons why we set up the charity is to combat Islamophobia. People should realise the sacrifices Muslims have made to keep the union jack flying. Telling and building the story of their heroic service will help to build a better Britain for everyone. We are concerned about the findings of the report by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. My fellow trustee Major General Charles Fattorini had discussions with the commission and we are actively looking at ways to support the report’s recommendations.
I also spoke to the Royal British Legion recently. It commends our efforts, and we look forward to working with it to explore ways in which we can be partners and support each other.
I have already referred to the concession for veterans in the Queen’s Speech. I am hopeful that our charity will help to recognise the contribution of Muslim veterans and supplement the measures
“to address racial and ethnic disparities”
that were announced in the gracious Speech.
Finally, I, like many other Muslims across the world, was disturbed by the Israeli attack on the al-Aqsa mosque. To us Muslims, that mosque is the third holiest place in the world. I have visited it three times and prayed at it. It is sacred, and I believe that what has happened is sacrilege. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on what happened and perhaps try to ensure that it does not happen again?
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chair of the APPG for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The island of Cyprus has been divided for over half a century. Almost since it became divided, there have been many attempts at reunification. The last full-dress attempt to find a solution and reunite the island, on the basis of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, failed dramatically at the last moment in Crans-Montana in 2017.
Despite this setback, the UN Secretary-General felt able to say this at the time:
“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.”
Much has happened since then, none of it obviously helpful or encouraging. The eastern Mediterranean has become significantly more turbulent, more violent and less stable. Turkish foreign policy has become increasingly erratic, unpredictable and alienating to many of its allies and friends. The prospect of the successful exploitation of the oil and gas reserves around the island has receded. Turkey has taken an increasingly tough and even threatening posture over exploration and extraction. The Greek Cypriots resolutely ignore or reject asset-sharing proposals put forward by the Turkish Cypriots. Of course, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has a new president in Ersin Tatar. Mr Tatar was elected on an explicit platform of partition and an explicit rejection of the long-standing basis of all previous attempts at settlement: a bizonal, bicommunal federation. It is not at all surprising that this view should now emerge as a political force in Northern Cyprus.
It is often said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something different to happen is a definition of madness. Turkish Cypriots have been doing the same thing over and over again for half a century, and nothing different has happened. Mr Tatar and the people of Northern Cyprus think that this is an obviously unproductive approach and formally proposed partition at the UN-sponsored meeting in Geneva three weeks ago. This was rejected by the Greek Cypriots, perhaps unsurprisingly. Despite all this, the UN Secretary-General said after the Geneva meeting:
“I do not give up. My agenda is very simple. My agenda is strictly to fight for the security and well-being of the Cypriots, of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, that deserve to live in peace and prosperity together.”
As things stand, Turkish Cypriots emphatically do not live in prosperity and the two communities do not live together in any meaningful way. However, more UN-sponsored talks have been proposed. It is admirable that the UN has not given up; I know that Her Majesty’s Government have not given up either and remain deeply concerned.
I believe that both the United Nations and this Government are driven by the ever more urgent need for regional stability, as well as by an ever more urgent need for justice for Turkish Cypriots, who, through no fault of their own, have effectively been shut off from the world for more than half a century. They live under severe and damaging embargos. Their economy lags behind in the absence of investment and development capital. Infrastructure is not renewed. Dependence on the Turkish lira worsens their economic position even further. They also now live with the prospect of the extinction of their distinctive Turkish Cypriot culture under the pressure of Turkish immigration, funding and influence. I ask the Government to continue to make every effort to keep the talks alive and, in particular, to impress on all sides the need for significant compromise.
In the meantime, can the Government consider removing the requirement that all passengers travelling from London to Ercan in Northern Cyprus deplane with all their baggage to undergo security checks in Turkey? We imposed that restriction, and we could lift it ourselves without reference to anyone else. I know from conversations with President Tatar that his Administration would comply with any conditions Her Majesty’s Government might have. This would not solve the problem, of course, but it would bring some economic relief to the north and demonstrate our willingness to provide practical help. I commend it to the Minister.
My Lords, the western Balkans is a microcosm of the challenges that we and our allies face globally and a significant test of our capacity to meet them. The current outlook is not good. I welcome the fact that the strategic review identified Russia as our “most acute direct threat” and China as a serious systemic challenger. But both countries are successfully developing their economic and political influence in the Balkans, while we and our allies treat the region as being of lesser importance.
China’s involvement can be seen in: investment in factories in Serbia which rain red dust on to surrounding villages; a $1 billion loan from a Chinese bank to pay a Chinese company to build a highway in Montenegro, which the country now cannot repay; co-operation over surveillance technology; tie-ups between Chinese and local universities; and the active cultivation of the next generation across the region.
Russia, meanwhile, has played the spoiler role for years. It is supporting and spreading disinformation and propaganda, propping up nationalists and demagogues and encouraging paramilitaries. It has backed a coup attempt in Montenegro, sponsored violence in northern Macedonia and sent far-right biker gangs to Bosnia—the same ones that played an active role in the invasion and occupation of Ukraine. It provides oxygen to the secessionists.
For many politicians in the Balkans, Moscow and Beijing make attractive sponsors. Chinese loans and Russian funds do not come with democratic checks and balances. Chinese and Russian media do not ask difficult questions, so long as you stick to the right script. Chinese and Russian leaders do not push for strong institutions and political reforms, so long as you follow their lead.
There has been a real backwards slide since the mid-2000s. The progress that was being made across the region has, in many cases, halted. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the leader of the smaller entity, the so-called Republika Srpska, openly talks of secession and threatens to mobilise his own army. Where is the condemnation? Where are the sanctions on people who deliberately undermine the Dayton agreement? Our sanctions regime includes mechanisms to protect the peace agreement and defend the sovereignty of the country. We have the legal power, but we do not use it. Serbia is rearming, and we are withdrawing. We no longer participate in EUFOR, the peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Our withdrawal was not a requirement of Brexit—Chile is a member.
Even on the great matter of the moment—the pandemic—our response appears enfeebled. China and Russia have exploited vaccine diplomacy to the full; the Serbian president kissed the Chinese flag when a planeload of medical supplies arrived. Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and northern Macedonia all have populations of less than 3.5 million. It should be relatively easy to step in and provide assistance to the people and countries on our doorstep. It would be a powerful reminder that the future is not automatically with China or Russia and that democracies make the strongest partners.
It can be tempting to think of the Balkans as a small region far away—someone else’s problem. But what happens in the Balkans does not stay in the Balkans. Stability and good government in the region are crucial if we are to stop trafficking of arms, drugs or people. They are crucial for our health security; weak health systems place us all at risk. They are crucial if we are to tackle climate change; the five most polluted cities in Europe last year were Skopje, Sofia, Belgrade, Pristina and Sarajevo. If we are really serious about encouraging an open international order, then letting China, Russia and far-right nationalism sink ever-deeper roots in Europe is to fail before we have begun.
In the western Balkans, we see how systemic competition will work across the world, how authoritarian ideas gain a foothold and then spread, how Russia and China are a destabilising and competing influence, and how they push at boundaries. What once seemed far-fetched becomes possible, then plausible, then suddenly it is in the rear-view mirror. Countries which should be on the path to prosperity risk instead becoming permanent centres of, and exporters of, instability in our own back yard.
There is a solution. With co-ordinated vision and action from NATO and the EU, we can help the people of the region to set the Balkans back on the right path. We must put our values of democracy, human rights and transparency up front. We cannot win on our adversaries’ terms. We must push for reforms and for stronger democratic institutions. We must support civil society and tackle corruption. Above all, we must staunchly resist dangerous ideas of border changes, genocide denial, and ethnic nationalism as a replacement for true democracy, wherever and whenever they surface. We must offer rewards and tangible benefits for progress, and meaningful sanctions for any backwards steps.
An effective strategy, co-ordinated with our allies, to counter the growing Russian and Chinese influence, the revival of nationalism and the increasing risk of conflict in the region is long overdue. History shows that if we do not attempt this now, on terms of our choosing, events will force our hand and require much more costly and complex interventions in the future.
My Lords, in addressing a few issues of defence and foreign policy, I remind the House of my interests recorded in the register. However, one interest is not registered. Two years ago this month, my godson, Conor McDowell, a 24 year-old first lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, was killed protecting his men in a military vehicle rollover accident at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. He was an only child and about to become engaged to Kathleen, the love of his life. As a result of unrelenting pressure from his parents and some Members of the House and Senate, an independent investigation was initiated by two powerful House committees, exonerating him of any blame but revealing an astonishing death rate of US military personnel in training. A sub-committee of the House is currently conducting a hearing on learning from and preventing future training mishaps. When I asked HMG for their figures, the Written Answer showed that the number of deaths and injuries of our military personnel was also massively greater in training and exercises than in combat duty. Given the US response to its figures and the stated concern of the Minister for the welfare of our service personnel, will Her Majesty’s Government institute an independent study to learn from and prevent future training mishaps for our military?
It was said in this debate that what happened in the pandemic was unexpected, but this is not true. Reports commissioned by the Government warned that a pandemic was inevitable and advised what needed to be done, but the advice was not taken. The same was true for Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine. For years before the onset of the Troubles there were warnings about leaving the situation to fester. It took 30 years of destruction before the Good Friday agreement brought it to an end. There were three strands to the negotiations, addressing three sets of relationships, and three sets of institutions emerged: the Northern Ireland power-sharing Assembly, the north-south bodies, and the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.
The British and Irish Governments and the European Union repeatedly proclaimed that they supported the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, but the strand 3 British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference did not meet for a decade so, when Brexit appeared on the scene, there was no longer any serious relationship between the two Governments at a senior level. The European Union did not so much neglect as disrupt the relationships. It maintained its support for strand 2—the north-south cross-border work—but stood in the way of strand 3 negotiations, with Monsieur Barnier insisting that he spoke for Ireland. He did not; he spoke for the EU, and when the EU addressed anything, its focus was the interests of the nationalist community, as represented in strand 2 of the agreement, but not the interests of the unionist community, thus disrupting strand 1 of the agreement.
Post Brexit, relationships with the EU are a very contentious foreign policy issue, and I see little recognition by HMG or the EU that they understand the complex and variable geometry of the Good Friday agreement. I plead with Her Majesty’s Government to address this complexity before the United Kingdom itself is pulled apart by London failing to heed the warnings.
Similarly, there is nothing surprising about the mounting violence in Israel/Palestine. My friend Yair Lapid, who is currently trying to put together a new coalition Government in Israel, this week said:
“We are on the edge of the abyss. We knew it was coming. We have seen this disintegration coming”.
The disintegration of which he spoke is what makes this violence different from before, because now Arab Israelis have risen up against their Jewish-Israeli neighbours. It is not just Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank. Lapid appealed for the country to come together: good Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, religious and secular. He said:
“We all believe in the same thing, that violence cannot win, we will not let it win”.
I remember using such words myself as the Alliance leader in Northern Ireland. I wanted to believe that the silent majority of peace-loving people on all sides could work together and marginalise the men of violence, as we called them. Eventually, we had to negotiate a deal.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, along with President Trump, thought that they could do a deal with the leaders of the front-line Arab states to marginalise the Palestinians. But I remember an Egyptian Minister in Cairo telling me many years ago: “The Government walk on one side of the street, but the people walk on the other side”. Agreements with authoritarian Arab leaders will not carry the Arab street. We who love our brothers and sisters in Israel/Palestine must warn them all as critical friends that marginalisation, discrimination and the use of force will not solve their problems.
My unionist fellow countrymen would not listen to my warning many years ago and some of them still have their fingers in their ears, even as the union slips away from them. If Israel focuses on the argument of force, it may be in the short-term interests of Mr Netanyahu’s aspirations for government, but it will not be in the interests of his children and grandchildren.
Do Her Majesty’s Government accept that decades of occupation of the Palestinian territories have poisoned the well and contributed to the current violence? At what point will Her Majesty’s Government consider that the occupation had become after decades a de facto annexation?
My Lords, your Lordships will be happy to hear that, in this debate on foreign affairs and defence, I propose to spend most of my allotted five minutes talking about Islam. I start by looking overseas, where the Uighur Muslims are being brutally treated by the Chinese, as are the Rohingya by Buddhist Burma, but the general picture is of a jihad advancing across the planet through west Africa, Mozambique, Syria, Ethiopia, Turkey and Nagorno-Karabakh. Coming closer to home, the French, the Swedes and the Austrians are waking up to the extent and effect of Muslim expansion in their societies. But if a large number of Written and Oral Questions from me to the Government over the last 12 years are anything to go by, Her Majesty’s Government are determined to ignore all this and to turn a blind eye to what is happening in this country, which brings me to our defence.
The Government’s central belief is that Islam is a religion of peace, of which Islamism is an aberration. In this they misunderstand Islam, which requires its followers to obey the Koran and to follow what Muhammad did and said. There is no separation of powers in Islam, as we know it—no division between parliament, Executive and legislature; it is a complete way of life. But the Koran contains a large number of verses which instruct Muslims to kill the Kaffir, or non-Muslims, and not to mingle with them. I have time to share only one of the former with your Lordships, verse 9.5:
“Kill the unbelievers, capture and besiege them and lie in wait for them in ambush”.
There are many such verses, which noble Lords can read for themselves, such as verses 4.56, 4.74, 8.12, 8.39, 8.60 and 47.4. As to not mingling or making friends with the rest of us, I give your Lordships verse 5.51, generally translated as:
“Oh ye who believe, take not the Jews and Christians for your friends. They are but friends and protectors to each other and he amongst you who turns to them is one of them”.
We must not forget that our Muslim population is growing 10 times faster than the rest of us so that, in 10 years’ time, on current trends, at least 10 of our local authorities will have Muslim majorities, including Birmingham.
To all this the Government intone that all such verses are capable of peaceful interpretation and that our Islamists have got it wrong. I submit—and this is my most important point—that, even if that were true, our Islamists can and do justify their evil deeds by reference to those verses.
Take, for example, the murderers of Drummer Rigby, in Woolwich, in 2013, who gave a memo to bystanders in which they quoted no fewer than 22 verses of the Koran, which justified their atrocity. It was produced in court at their trial, stained in Drummer Rigby’s blood. I have a colour photocopy here.
In conclusion, what could the Government do? First, they could require that all teaching in our mosques and madrassas is in English, so that we begin to understand what version of Islam is being taught to our Muslims and their children. Secondly, they could send home to their countries of origin all our imams who cannot speak English. The Government say that our immigration procedures weed them out on arrival, but they do not—not by a long chalk.
I look forward to the Minister’s reply to these suggestions. I hope that he does not tell me that the Government do not get involved in religions because, as I have mentioned, Islam is not only a religion, but a legal and political system, much of which is now dedicated to forming a world caliphate of which we will be part.
My Lords, it is always interesting to follow the noble Lord.
In her gracious Speech, Her Majesty said:
“My Government will uphold human rights and democracy across the world.”
I will address that in the context of Israel and Palestine, on which issue I resigned from the Cabinet nearly seven years ago. I saw then, at the heart of government, what we see no—: our Government failing to implement their own stated policy.
We have a policy. We have a policy of a two-state solution, but we do not recognise Palestine as a state. Ministers refuse even to use its name. We have a policy of a peace process, but no appetite to initiate or prioritise one. We have a policy that settlement-building is illegal and contrary to international law, yet there is no consequence when, every year, more and more settlers supported by the Israeli Government and diaspora groups occupy more land in Palestine. We do nothing to deter Israel from expanding settlements, forced evictions and home demolitions. This is ethnic cleansing and it is denying the reality that the state of Palestine even exists.
Our policy is that east Jerusalem is an integral part of a future Palestinian state, yet we do nothing as extremists barge into homes, terrorising Palestinian families who have lived there for generations. Our policy is to defend human rights, but no action follows as hundreds of Palestinian children every year are arrested, mistreated and incarcerated. Our policy is to support international accountability and fund the International Criminal Court, but we oppose the ICC’s investigations into war crimes in Palestine. Each time that we fail to implement our own policy, we send out the message to an ever-extremist right-wing Israeli Government that there will be no cost of consequences for their treatment of the Palestinians. This total impunity is feeding Israel’s prolific rise in far-right extremism, leaving a society fighting for its soul.
Often, when we look at periods in history that were overwhelmingly unjust and clearly unfair and, in retrospect, see appalling human rights abuses and cruelty, we rationalise a lack of action at the time by saying that we would have done more, if only we knew then what we know now. I want to put on record what we know now, so that, in future generations, there will be no doubt that we knew.
We know about the dispossessions in Sheikh Jarrah, the chants of “Death to Arabs” in Jerusalem, the attacks on worshippers in Al-Aqsa and the attacks outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We know that, in the West Bank, Palestinians and Israeli settlers live side by side, the former legally, but under military law, without the most basic of utilities, the latter, 630,000 strong and growing, illegally present yet governed by civilian law and living in relative luxury. These two peoples are in the same land, but with differing legal systems and even separate roads to the same place, so we know, as it is documented by Human Rights Watch, that the threshold for the international war crime of apartheid and persecution has been passed.
We know that generations have existed under a blockade, have never left Gaza—an area the size of the Isle of Wight—and drink water that the World Health Organization says is not even fit for animals. We know that mid-pandemic, Gaza’s only coronavirus testing lab was damaged by Israeli army bombing. We know of the deliberate targeting of journalists, including the bombing of the AP building, where, as US Secretary of State Blinken said, there was no evidence of Hamas operations. We know that a female journalist who has worked for Channel 4 was attacked and had her hijab ripped off by Israeli soldiers. We know, as it was reported by Mark Stone of Sky News, of entirely unnecessary, provocative behaviour by Israeli police and military yesterday at Damascus Gate, with stun grenades thrown at peaceful groups of Palestinians, and at Bethlehem, where volleys of tear gas were used.
We know from Amnesty International of the rising death toll in Gaza, with entire families wiped out in attacks that will be tried as war crimes. We know from the UN of the mounting destruction by Israeli strikes of homes, hospitals, libraries and charities, and we know about the incitement of hatred on official Israeli government platforms, only this week posting on Twitter verses from the Koran over a photo of bombs dropping on Gaza in an offensive attempt to argue that Palestinian destruction was ordained in Islam. We know that over the past week Israeli soldiers have shot dead three more Palestinian children in the West Bank. We know that there will be zero accountability for this appalling violence.
Our silence in the face of this makes our position, as I said when I resigned in 2014, morally indefensible. I ask the Government to acknowledge that they know. We all know. I urge the Government to stop responding to narrow political interests and to listen to the Israelis and Palestinians who stand together to call for an end to occupation, to Israeli Jewish human rights organisations, such as B’Tselem, and to the Israeli ex-soldiers who are breaking their silence and in the face of horrendous abuse continue to speak the truth and to point out how there is no military solution. I urge noble Lords across the House to watch the Bafta-winning film “The Present” by Farah Nablusi, which in 20 minutes of heart-breaking storytelling lays bare the daily aggression of occupation and checkpoints. Will my noble friend say what the Government can say from that Dispatch Box to Palestinians who want occupation to end? How do we ensure that our policy of the two-state solution is not a simple fig-leaf policy to hide inaction but a reality for the people of Israel and Palestine?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to contribute to this important debate on the gracious Speech and to follow my noble friend, who no one can deny made a very powerful speech. While I may not agree with everything she said, she certainly has been entirely consistent in her views for many years and continues to be a powerful advocate. Equally, I join others in congratulating my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister on a quite remarkable maiden speech. There is little doubt that it demonstrated the contribution that he will be able to make in this place in future.
In my brief time, I want to comment on the integrated review. The one thing we have not been short of in recent