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—
My Lords, I remind noble Lords of the advisory five-minute limit.
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?
The noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton.
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 months is a series of announcements from defence. We have had the integrated operating concept, the integrated review, a Command Paper, the defence and security industrial strategy, and last week saw the publication of Reserve Forces Review 2030. I should declare my interest as the chairman of that review, something I will return to shortly. Collectively, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, they underline the UK’s clear determination to maintain the international rules-based order, and I am impressed.
As my noble friend Lady Goldie said in her opening remarks, the one thing we have now clearly defined is that we will deliver this through two means. The first is consciously trying to maintain readiness. That is always easier said than done; in the past we have sometimes maintained things at readiness because we can, as opposed to because we should. The second is having a forward presence. In my time as a Defence Minister, the one thing I learnt as I travelled the world seeing our allies was that they all felt that the contributions we made through training were some of the best in the world. The problem was that we were there one day but gone the next. The forward basing of HMS “Montrose” in Bahrain and the recent deployment of the OPV to Gibraltar is already a demonstration of that forward presence. I am particularly pleased to see the OPV moving to Gibraltar, because of our interest now in the Gulf of Guinea and our oil investments in Senegal.
As we move forward, we will have more legislation: the Armed Forces Bill. This will be the fourth time I have been involved in an Armed Forces Bill; last time I took it through the other House as Minister. I am pleased we will finally enshrine the Armed Forces covenant in law. This is something we discussed doing at length last time but, in all honesty, we enshrined in law only the requirement for the Secretary of State to make a report to Parliament each year. That is not to undermine the progress that has been made when it comes to supporting our service families and veterans, be that the investment in the pupil premium or Forces Help to Buy, or indeed the creation of the Veterans’ Gateway, a one-stop shop where veterans can get the support they need. I feel that the potential move to offer national insurance breaks for employing veterans is another step in the right direction.
On the Reserve Forces Review 2030, I am sometimes frustrated in this place when we talk, for example, of an Army of 72,000. We have an Army not of 72,000 but of over 100,000. We have a Regular Army of 72,000, but that is to diminish the contributions that reserves make on a daily basis. We still seem to think that we have a contingent reserve, almost the Territorial Army of the 1980s, which trains only at weekends and is there at times of crisis in case we need it as a third or fourth echelon. That is not a reflection of the modern reserve. Only this morning I was in the Ministry of Defence in my other life as Brigadier Lancaster, making a contribution as almost an auxiliary, contributing to defence on a daily basis. This is the reality of the modern reserve.
The Reserve Forces Review 2030 is all about accessing skills from the civilian sector. As we move to five domains—space and cyber in addition to land, air and sea—some skills are better held in the civilian space, because they can maintain their currency. We must create a system in which we can access those skills, and this is exactly what the Reserve Forces Review 2030 is trying to do. I hope that in future it will have the support of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, when a few years ago I was asked to lead on defence from these Benches, I was told that defence and foreign affairs were easy, as one rarely had contentious Bills in your Lordships’ House. However, when Harold Macmillan was asked the greatest challenges for a statesman, he replied, “Events, dear boy, events.” Knowing how to respond is a key skill for leaders.
Today I will talk about the very recent events in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, while declaring that I am president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I deeply regret the loss of life caused by the military action against Hamas, but also condemn the 3,750 rockets launched in the last few days against Israeli citizens, Jew and Arab alike. I am appalled by the street violence in Israel, which has affected Israel’s citizens—again, Jew and Arab alike. It is utterly shameful and is most certainly not a Jewish way to respond to any situation. I decry those who allow these tensions to develop in this way. We must call on political and communal leaders to take whatever action is needed to stop it and to re-educate people in the ways of coexistence.
But what, in this debate, are we calling on our Government to do? The UK is, in my view, in a unique position in that, unlike the United States, it is not clearly seen as biased to one side. We in the UK must call for an immediate ceasefire and not just a short-term truce, as that would be seen as an opportunity for Iran to replenish Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s stocks of rockets, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, earlier in this debate. Action is needed to stop the rockets, and to stop the retaliation. At least that will stop the needless slaughter, both intended and unintended.
There is, again, talk of the creation of a state of Palestine, with which I have every sympathy. I believe it would, handled correctly, help both sides, but I ask our Government to help create a stable state, which looks difficult to build on with the main players being President Abbas or the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and Islamic Jihad. There are many in Israel and among its friends in the diaspora who want such a state; however, Israel must feel assured that it is not creating a belligerent enemy on its borders. That surely must be possible.
The dreadful events are happening just when it seemed, at last, that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long reign as Prime Minister was going to come to an end, to be replaced by a rainbow coalition of right, centre, left, and even including an Arab party. Once calm is restored, one expects Israel’s President, under its laws, to call upon Yair Lapid, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alderdice, to form a Government. If that happens, the UK must be there offering support and advice. I hope that support and advice will also come from Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. My noble friend painted a very bleak picture and I know that he will be readily able to give people such as Yair Lapid, if he leads the Israeli Government, advice and assistance on coexistence.
The most reverend Primate referred to Saint Augustine, who said, basically, “not yet”. We must not defer action, as has happened in the past. A very vivid picture has been painted of the plight of Palestinians, and quite rightly so, but very few people remember that this is a very complex situation in the Middle East. Where is the reference to the 800,000 Jews who fled Arab lands, the hundreds of thousands who lived in Iraq and Syria and are no longer there at all? This is not a simplistic situation; it is a movement of populations, and both sides have suffered. Now is the time to take a breath and try to bring these people together in coexistence, not in confrontation.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton of Richmond, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper.
My Lords, there are many war-torn countries in the world that require urgent attention from the United Kingdom and the international organisations to which we belong but, as we have heard yet again from the many splendid speeches today, there are also many parts of the world suffering the consequences of natural disasters—hurricanes, floods, mudslides, volcanic eruptions and so on. As we now understand, with our focus on climate change and preparations for COP 26, some of the poorest countries undeservedly bear the brunt of the most severe consequences of climate change. Let us take Central America as an example.
Total carbon emissions from the seven countries of Central America are 0.1%, yet they have endured the increasing frequency of disasters brought about by climate change—most recently, Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which devastated Central America, Honduras most of all. Also affected are countries in South America. I hope the United Kingdom will support Honduras and its need for international help, with its plan for reconstruction and sustainable development.
I also hope that both the G7 agenda and the COP 26 discussions can find a suitable solution to redress the balance between some of the world’s poorest countries and lowest emitters and those developed countries that are among the highest emitters. A net zero target has to be part of that and a method of monitoring compliance. Therefore, I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that Glasgow will have to improve on Paris—not forgetting, of course, that all these dire climate consequences are exaggerated by the Covid pandemic.
In my 30-plus years as a Member of your Lordships’ House, I have spoken in Queen’s Speech debates many times—often a lone voice on a theme relating to Latin America. I have emphasised our historic and cultural links with those countries, from Mexico in North America, through central and South America, down to the tip of Patagonia. After all, for so long, this was the new world for us old Europeans. In doing so, I have endeavoured to show the importance of that region, the vitality of the young populations, the good will for the United Kingdom and the huge trade potential. However, sadly, the integrated review makes very inadequate reference to Latin America.
Since the last Queen’s Speech debate in 2019, I have been appointed a voluntary trade envoy to Panama, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. There are many interesting and hopeful signs of increasing and improving reciprocal trade and investment opportunities. My plea is for more joined-up government. There is little point in the new Department for International Trade, trade commissioners, trade envoys and even Ministers working away and creating opportunities when onerous visa requirements and flight connectivity make it difficult, if not impossible, to move on.
Finally, time does not allow me to do more than mention the importance of soft power. In this context, I welcome and appreciate the contribution of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier. Government support for the BBC, the British Council and our world-famous orchestras, ballet companies and museums remains vital. However, within our Parliament, the Government should not forget the work of the British group of the IPU, the CPA and the parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe—all of which I have worked with—and the many other ways in which Parliament can better understand, influence and contribute to government work and aims in international relations.
In my last seconds, I add my congratulations to those offered to my noble friend on his excellent maiden speech earlier.
My Lords, one of my earliest introductions to the workings of the British Government came from Anthony Sampson’s Anatomy of Britain in the early 1960s. In it, he argued that one of the main functions of the FCO—as it then was—was contingency planning. I have to assume that this continues, and my topic today therefore concerns what the UK Government’s plans might be if and when China attempts a serious onslaught against Taiwan and, secondly, if and when the Taliban gain power in Afghanistan and start wholesale repression of women’s rights.
On the former, China has made it abundantly clear that incorporating Taiwan as part of the mainland is its intention—indeed, its primary foreign policy objective. The integrated review talks about competition, co-operation and counteraction against China’s policies, with a heavy emphasis on trade. However, astonishingly, it does not even mention Taiwan. China might be forgiven for not taking the threat of counteraction and critical partnership all that seriously when it is underpinned with an ever-increasing number of trade deals. Obviously, the issue of Taiwan is not the only worry in relation to what China will do next. The whole Indo-Pacific tilt, a major plank of the integrated review, will be affected by its actions in the coming decade.
What measures are being discussed to draw up serious sanctions against China on the part of not only the UK but, perhaps, all those democracies in the Indo-Pacific region, which would include the USA? Will our partners in the region be content to see international shipping disrupted by China, or islands in the South China Sea and land belonging to democratic nations bought up, bit by bit, to further China’s imperial vision? Will China’s belt and road initiatives interfere with free trade agreements with and beyond the region? Are nations stretching from New Zealand to the US prepared to co-ordinate robust action and, if so, is China aware of the consequences of its actions?
On Afghanistan, I have to thank the Minister for meeting some of us to hear our concerns. We were, and are, most grateful. It seems likely that the Taliban will, if not govern in the future, be a major part of any new Government. Current Taliban and other terrorist groups’ outrages in Afghanistan point to the future. Women’s rights and the education of girls appear to be the focus of their attacks. Some say that Afghanistan is not the country it was over 20 years ago, as people have gained a taste for democracy and hugely courageous women have taken up public office. Optimists argue that this will not be easily conceded but, as we know, Taliban violence knows few bounds and it has to be assumed that decades of human rights, education and entrepreneurial programmes could be destroyed within months. What key elements of Afghanistan’s eager embrace of democratic institutions in the last two decades will the UK Government, together with their partners, seek to maintain, and by what means? What do HMG think will be possible in a worst-case scenario and what plans do they have to set up emergency programmes, however minimal these might be?
A very large number of NGOs have worked tirelessly in Afghanistan to assist the democratic process. However, while many will fear to remain, some will. Some are already thinking of what programmes can be run without incurring the wrath of the Taliban: projects such as technical connectivity, online learning, the encouragement of homecrafts, local manufacturing and the like. Are Her Majesty’s Government fully aware of these possibilities and are they planning to fund such enterprises?
I am sure that Members of this House would welcome an update from the Minister on the progress of the Doha talks, with Pakistan’s involvement, and what contingency plans there might be if the talks fail. A return to civil war in Afghanistan may well follow the departure of US and UK troops. The battlefield will then be open to the Taliban and other non-democratic forces, which could destabilise not only Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours but the entire Indo-Pacific region.
The troop withdrawals are understandable but military resources must be rapidly replaced by financial resources—resources which are not subject to severe cuts. Nothing is ever as good as it promises to be, or as bad, but if sovereignty now stands alongside security and prosperity as core UK interests, the responsibly to promote and protect democracy in its many different forms comes with the territory.
My Lords, I welcome the gracious Speech. My comments will be on global Britain, specifically the Indo-Pacific tilt. My own background is that I have lived and worked in India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and I know the rest of ASEAN quite well. I will specifically address Sri Lanka, and I declare an interest as joint chair of the all-party group.
Today in Sri Lanka, there is huge tension over the UNHCR’s report on alleged war crimes by the Sri Lankan armed forces, and the UK in its role as chair of the Core Group—the USA having pulled out, as it sees no point in it. The war of 2009 was not some minor insurrection, so judgment must be made on the basis of the law of armed conflict, known as the international humanitarian law. It was a war between a democratically elected Government and probably the world’s most evil terrorists, who killed two presidents, Ministers, civilians in their thousands and the most moderate Tamil leaders. It was a war partially conducted from Camden in London, at the Tamil Tigers’ international HQ, led by Anton Balasingham—a UK citizen. Millions were raised illegally here on the ground in this country. His wife, Adele, was fighting in Sri Lanka and was closely involved in recruiting over 5,000 child soldiers, as stated by UNICEF. This is a war crime by any yardstick.
Charges by the UN start with the Darusman report, from three human rights lawyers who never visited Sri Lanka. Worse still, they claimed that at least 40,000 civilians were killed. But all the sources of evidence are to be hidden for 20 years. Is this robust evidence? Why the secrecy?
The second UN report, from OISL, is largely based on the first, Darusman. I spent three years looking at all the sources, which I have listed in my book, Sri Lanka: Paradise Lost; Paradise Regained. I have given a copy to my noble friend; I do not know whether he has received it, because he has not yet told me. The claim is of Tamil genocide, but my firm conclusion is that there were a maximum of 6,000 to 7,000 deaths. My evidence is verified—there was no genocide. My evidence comes from sources such as US Ambassador Blake, the UN in-country team, the census done after the war by the Tamils, University Teachers for Human Rights, the UK’s own expert military attaché in the field and many others, all of whom confirm the figure of 6,000 to 7,000. But just recently, Her Majesty’s Government stated in a letter sent to me from the MoD on 25 March, and in another from the FCO, that
“despatches written by Lieutenant Colonel Gash … reported on isolated information … from a number of different sources … without offering any independent verification of this information. As such, they cannot be considered an evidenced-based assessment”.
One wonders why in heaven the dispatches I have—48 pages of what has been produced—are so heavily redacted if they are so useless. In my judgment, that redaction should be removed forthwith.
It is wonderful—not only is our military attaché cast aside and my evidence seemingly cast aside but it goes on. I say to my noble friend: read the Paranagama commission report, which had some of the UK’s finest human rights lawyers as advisers—namely Sir Desmond de Silva, Sir Geoffrey Nice and others. Their eminent view on Darusman was that it was of no value to a court seeking to establish the truth because the reports are based on anonymous sources. There are others on top of this; there is the US military attaché. All report that the Sri Lankan army behaved appropriately under the leadership of General Shavendra Silva. OISL’s view on the camp of 200,000 was that it was a quasi-concentration camp. How so, when the Red Cross was there from day one? Additionally, the Tamil MPs who visited it said a huge thank you to the Sri Lankan Government for the way the Tamils were looked after.
I turn briefly to the way forward. Truth and reconciliation are a huge challenge, but the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury visited in 2019 and said that Sri Lanka was making real progress. Our colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, says from the Legatum Institute that Sri Lanka has done extremely well over the last decade. I urge the Minister to work with Sri Lanka on implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Paranagama report to establish a truth and reconciliation committee. If the UK chooses to dictate, then let me be clear: there is a clear risk to our Indo-Pacific strategy on Sri Lanka. It will be forced back to rely on China, thereby threatening the sea lanes and the dissident Tamils setting up an independent state. Is this really a way to say thank you to a country whose people helped us in two world wars and whose Government accepted and helped our Government over the Falklands vote in the United Nations?
My Lords, Her Majesty the Queen said in her gracious Speech in the House of Lords on 11 May 2021:
“My Government will continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering. My Government will uphold human rights and democracy across the world.”
As Her Majesty was making this speech, Palestinians were under intense bombardment and shelling by Israeli forces for the third day running, following the eviction of Palestinian families in east Jerusalem in early May, when tensions flared up.
On 8 May, the BBC reported that at least 163 Palestinian civilians and six Israeli police officers had been hurt in clashes in Jerusalem. Most were injured at the al-Aqsa mosque, where Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades at peaceful worshippers. Since then, the violence has intensified, with bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces killing hundreds of Palestinians—men, women and children—injuring many more and displacing over 58,000 people. These attacks have not spared multistorey residential blocks, refugee camps and media outlets. Regrettably, more lives were lost with Hamas firing rockets into Israel.
Israel is at full-scale war with one of the world’s poorest and most impoverished countries—it has no military, bomb shelters or anywhere to hide. Israel has blocked Gaza from the outside world by land, sea and air. The World Health Organization has documented 91 attacks, as of 17 May, on Palestinian healthcare in the West Bank since the start of Ramadan. Two senior doctors were killed in their homes: one was Gaza’s only neurologist, who died along with his five children, and the other was Dr Ayman Abu al-Ouf, the Shifa Hospital’s head of internal medicine and coronavirus response.
The bombing of roads has also restricted access for ambulances, which are unable to get to hospitals. Israel has closed off all crossing points for goods and people into Gaza since 10 May. Since Israel remains the occupying power in Gaza, it has the legal responsibility for the humanitarian crisis there. Will the Minister join me in demanding that Israel ensures full continued access for humanitarian goods and personnel?
I hope noble Lords agree that the extent of the expansion of illegal settlements in east Jerusalem, the forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes, the brutality against civilians, the bombing of hospitals and Covid test centres and the halting of aid deliveries does not in any dictionary constitute Israel’s right to defend itself. It also cannot be called a clash between two equal sides; we must recognise that one side is an occupier and the other is occupied.
As noble Lords may know, in the last few days peace-loving people right across the world, of all faiths and none, have taken to the streets condemning the actions of the Israeli Government. I attended one of those protests in London side by side with some members of the British Jewish community in solidarity with the Palestinian people, who condemned the Israeli Government’s actions and reiterated that this has no place in their faith—or any other faith, for that matter; this is not about religion.
We cannot allow this bloodshed to continue. It has gone on for more than 70 years, with regular flare-ups. It must stop urgently, before it becomes a human catastrophe. We must condemn violence against innocent civilians on all parts, and every effort must be made to end further loss of life and find peace in the region based on coexistence and mutual respect. In the context of the Queen’s Speech and the present situation in Palestine, can the Minister tell the House what the British Government are doing, using our position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to bring an end to this violence, address the human rights suffering and, for long-lasting peace, implement the two-state solution?
My Lords, two things struck me about the gracious Speech. The first was the sense of stability and reassurance offered to the nation by Her Majesty the Queen. The second was the ambition of the programme she announced.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the integrated review. For the first time in decades—perhaps ever—the Government have pulled together all the threads of foreign and security policy. Ministers are to be congratulated. It is the work of a Government determined to seize the opportunities presented by Brexit.
Some have expressed surprise at the Government’s success in the May elections. Usually, a governing party will lose seats after so many years in power, but the 2019 general election was as much a break with the past as any change of ruling party. The people brought to power the first Brexit Government—and with a stonking majority. The May elections reinforced their decision. Some say that this is no more than a passing “vaccine bounce”, yet no less an authority than Michel Barnier has said that Brexit gave the UK the means to vaccinate its population long before our neighbours in the EU. That same confidence and boldness has given us the integrated review, which in turn has given us a coherent framework in which to realise global Britain.
Global Britain should not be hard to understand. It is deeply embedded in our DNA: a sovereign nation with allies and partners around the globe—some new, some old—tied together by free trade, common security and common interests; a nation of firm principles, tempered by pragmatism. This year, 2021, is the year of the summits. It will give us many opportunities to apply these principles. We will be at the centre of international negotiation.
Take these three examples. First, we hold the presidency of the G7; the summit will take place in Cornwall next month. The Prime Minister will lead the debate on issues of the highest importance to our world. We will create nothing less than a 21st-century version of the rules-based system of international order, which has served us so well. Secondly, we will host COP 26, in November, in Glasgow. For some, this is the issue of our time. Once again, it will be our task to lead discussions and seek agreements.
Thirdly, this month, HMS “Queen Elizabeth” will sail east, at the head of an international naval force. It will be a clear demonstration of Britain’s tilt to the Indo-Pacific region, where we have growing commercial and security interests. We have already applied for membership of the CPTPP. Our impressive Secretary of State for International Trade has already signed a co-operation agreement with Japan, along with 66 other countries. Now, it is the turn of the Royal Navy, with allied ships, to uphold freedom of navigation in international waters.
The notion that, after Brexit, the UK would shrivel into a lonely, inward-looking island was always a fool’s delusion—the denial of centuries of history that long pre-date the European Union. It was the great 19th-century Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, who showed us the way ahead when he said:
“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/3/1848; col. 122.]
Finally, I welcome my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister and congratulate him on his excellent speech. I also want to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, on her introduction to this debate.
My Lords, I will briefly preface my prepared remarks by urging the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who is almost in his place, to spend a little more time studying the Christian Bible. This is not simply because I hope he would be challenged to greater tolerance by the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, as set out in the gospels, but to show him the inconsistency of taking the passages in the Koran that justify violence as representative of that great faith, while ignoring similarly troubling passages in various parts of the Bible, which is similarly viewed by many Christians—I count myself as one—as the literal word of God. If he genuinely wants to combat the very real threat of Islamism in the UK, and across the world, rather than to rabble-rouse and sow division, I urge him to reflect, though I do not imagine that he will.
I also express my real discomfort at the way that many are choosing to discuss the Israel/Hamas conflict that is continuing to unfold. Much of the commentary from people in positions of influence and responsibility, including disproportionately from members of my former party, implies an equal legitimacy between the armed forces of the democratic state of Israel and the Islamist terror organisation that is dedicated to murdering Jews and wiping Israel off the map. Hamas deliberately embeds its forces in the densest civilian areas in Gaza and its rockets are targeted to maximise civilian casualties. Both of these are clear war crimes. Commentators imply that Israel is less legitimate because it has—thank God—developed the means to defend itself from many, though sadly not all, of the rockets raining down on its cities. We then hear some of the same voices having the hutzpah to express shock at the sickening anti-Semitic violence and harassment unleashed on British streets—anti-Semitism which they themselves have fanned. We all have a responsibility here, and I am afraid to say that Labour is, unfortunately, showing that it still has a long way to go to get its house in order after the rampant anti-Jewish racism of the Corbyn years.
I turn to the gracious Speech, with less time that I originally envisaged. I urge Ministers to be bold and sustained in the measures that they bring forward to
“shape the open international order of the future”—
as they put it—and defend and rebuild a global consensus on the primacy of the rule of law. This is a major undertaking that will require the laudable increase in defence investment to be sustained and increased further in the years ahead. It requires dedicated and focused leadership, as well as sustained diplomacy, which has been sadly lacking for much of the last decade. The commitment to developing the global anti-corruption sanctions regime outlined in the gracious Speech is an important example of this. A new sanctions regime is very welcome, but it will only make a real difference if the UK shows that it is prepared to apply sanctions widely, not only to well-established kleptocracies such as President Putin’s Russia but to deter China from continuing down the road of mass persecution, harassment of lawmakers and the trashing of its international agreements.
The commitment to counter state threats is also welcome, and I hope that due consideration will be given to extending this to the disinformation capabilities that are an established and increasingly sophisticated element of state-led campaigns to disrupt our lives and weaken our democracy. As noble Lords would expect, this is an area that I am examining as part of my review for the Prime Minister and Home Secretary into political violence and the anti-democratic fringes of UK domestic politics.
I did have more to say, but I will respect the five-minute limit and save it for another day.
My Lords, this is the first time I have had the pleasure of being in the Chamber for well over a year. The help and service from all those who have kept Parliament going during the pandemic has been quite splendid. In particular, the IT support team has been more than invaluable to me. Under such pressure, Parliament and government departments have served this country well.
The noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister, made a marvellous maiden speech about where we are today, particularly tilting towards where he feels developments in the Pacific Far East will be. I get the daily shipping statistics and can tell the House that the speed and acceleration of trade in what would be described as the supply chain is moving rapidly in that direction. It has been moving that way for the last 10 years.
The key word in Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech about the defence of the realm was “modernisation”. Following the outcome of the recent elections, the Prime Minister spoke about levelling up and said that we must deliver. This is fundamentally important. Over the years, many promises have been made but rarely delivered by whomever was in government. This lack of delivery extends on a much wider front than just to our armed services.
Productivity is crucial. We have an abundance of entrepreneurial talent throughout Great Britain, but are in serious danger of stifling such endeavours through unnecessary bureaucracy, regulatory requirements and increasing legal interventions. The free-world democracies all seem to suffer from the same problem. It is worth remembering that, towards the end, the USSR also enjoyed the same overwhelming bureaucratic arthritis.
In practice, all societies need the possibility of some form of control. The reverse seems to be the tendency in our armed services. Our finest and brightest young men and women are joining because they wish to be part of an exciting and rewarding future. Personnel and workforce structures must be transformed to reflect modern society. Our chiefs and senior civil servants must have the authority to make rapid procurement decisions and cut through the bureaucratic labyrinths. Defence procurement delivers late at a price we cannot afford. Major delays always lead to greater costs and, more importantly, endanger the lives of those serving on the front line.
As we accelerate out of the pandemic, for the first time in a generation we have the opportunity truly to reassert global Britain, with all the elements of government truly pulling together and leading from the front. If we do not level up, deliver and modernise, we will not bring our people with us. We will be dead in the water. If there were ever a time that our island peoples desperately want and need to believe that we can have a successful future, it is now.
As many other Peers have already mentioned, our nation’s flagship, HMS “Queen Elizabeth” is assembling its task force to depart in a few days’ time. It is the very embodiment of this Government’s investment and ambitions. We can succeed, and we will.
There is vast experience in this House in understanding the needs of both our foreign service and our armed services. This huge reservoir of knowledge should play an influential part in helping the other place with its decisions. I totally support the request from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, to have a full two-day debate in this House on the role of defence; many of us have requested that for several years. It is hugely important if we are not to be caught unawares in future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for introducing today’s wide-ranging debate on the Queen’s Speech. I enjoyed the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister. He has developed something of a reputation for bringing order out of chaos. I am sure that we will benefit from that. Skills like that are always needed. As ever, this debate shows the huge range and depth on defence and international affairs in your Lordships’ House.
My noble friend Lady Smith of Newnham has covered defence, so I will not expand on that here, except to note that noble Lords welcomed extra spending on defence, but expressed concern at the cuts in the Armed Forces—of course, as ever, there were not enough frigates for the noble Lord, Lord West—and the extraordinary decision to increase the number of our nuclear warheads at the same time as we are urging others to decrease theirs, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out.
My noble friends Lord Alderdice and Lady Ludford point out that now we are out of the EU, our relations with the bloc—for example, in relation to Northern Ireland—count as foreign affairs. There is a huge EU- shaped hole in the Queen’s Speech—our closest neighbours. The EU appears to be invisible, like an embarrassing relative, as it also was in the integrated review. At least, finally, we have recognised the EU ambassador.
The Queen’s Speech mentions trade with the Indo-Pacific, the Gulf and Africa. Of course, being in the EU never stopped trade with any of these regions. Leaving does not necessarily open up more opportunities. We hear that even exports of chicken to southern Africa are adversely affected. We rolled over the EU agreement, so we get no additional advantage. Because the Government will not confirm EU standards, the southern African bloc is saying that it will put huge tariffs on UK imports. In this, it seems we go backwards. My noble friend Lord Chidgey makes clear that we do not help things by cutting bilateral assistance to so many African countries.
The Queen’s Speech states that the Government will implement the integrated review. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has given us a wonderful aim that should underpin that review—“pre-emptive reconciliation”. It is not in there and it needs to be. Of course, as we have heard, the Speech says that we,
“will continue to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering.”
That of course is a supreme irony and double-speak. A number of noble Lords referred to this, and my noble friend Lord Purvis drew a powerful contrast between what the Government say are their values and what they are actually doing. We are even cutting funding for landmine clearance, as my noble friend Lord Campbell pointed out. Here we are, pulling out of Afghanistan, saying that we are not abandoning the people there—yet we cut landmine clearance. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, pointed to this in Africa. We have made cuts to those who are starving in Yemen, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, noted. We are cutting our contribution on family planning by 85%, while we say we are upholding the rights of women and girls, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, noted.
We also hear in the Queen’s Speech that the Government
“will take forward a global effort to get 40 million girls across the world into school.”
That is great, but the Foreign Secretary has admitted that they have cut their contribution to girls’ education by 40% since 2019.
We have cut our contribution to the eradication of polio by 95%. This is only the second disease where the world has got close to eradication. How could we do this?
The Queen’s Speech says:
“My Government will build on the success of the vaccination programme to lead the world in life sciences.”
But the vaccine programme drew on ODA money to the Jenner Institute for the Ebola vaccine, which then laid the foundations for the vaccine programme now. Yet we are cutting that funding. Can the Minister confirm how large the ODA cut to R&D is and whether the Government have made an assessment of the impact on our universities, if nothing else? I recall, from when I was in DfID, the programmes we supported to prevent diseases crossing species in Asia. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has told us clearly what has happened to those programmes.
We hear in the Queen’s Speech:
“My Government will uphold human rights and democracy across the world.”
Yet we are hearing of cuts to the programmes in just these areas. The noble Lord is Human Rights Minister. Can he clarify how deep these cuts are? I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, as LGBT envoy, but I ask the Minister: has the budget here been cut? Do the Government think it does not matter whether what you say matches what you actually do? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds put this so well: we need to interrogate the language and measure rhetoric against observed behaviour.
Can the Minister tell us when the FCDO will be transparent about what it is doing and publish the details, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, my noble friend Lord Purvis and others have asked? Many noble Lords have asked exactly when the Government will deliver again on 0.7% of GNI for aid. As the most revered Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury so rightly said, it does indeed sound like St Augustine on chastity.
The cuts make the integrated review ring hollow. We had a debate about this, and it is clear to me that the Government wrote the integrated review before they knew those cuts were going into place. It drives horses and carts through the whole of the integrated review. The integrated review talks about the UK as an aid superpower and a soft power superpower, a phrase the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, repeated. It said that we are world-leading in our soft power. But, as I say, these cuts blow a hole through that.
The Speech refers to the G7, with the focus being to
“lead the global effort to secure a robust economic recovery from the pandemic.”
Does the Minister agree that the world’s economy will not recover until all are vaccinated, and will he explain how the UK can lead the world in ramping this up? The noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, points out that we have not given the vaccines required, and my noble friend Lady Sheehan has asked why the UK has blocked efforts of the WTO to allow a temporary TRIPS waiver. We can so easily see the continuing pandemic effect on us, if nobody else. Despite our own vaccination programme, the devastation in India is already having its effect on our economy and society.
I welcome—I am sure noble Lords will be pleased to know—the statement in the Queen’s Speech on COP 26, but can the Minister explain how each government department will be addressing climate change? For example, can he tell me whether UKEF will now fully stop supporting fossil fuel development and what DIT’s role might be?
Noble Lords have ranged across the world in their contributions. We face so many challenges globally: Cyprus, flagged by my noble friend Lord Sharkey; human rights in China, flagged by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others; our reduced engagement in the Balkans, flagged by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic; many conflicts in Africa, flagged by my noble friend Lord Chidgey, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others; Ukraine and Belarus, addressed in the moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes; Iran, Russia and Armenia. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, is surely right that Afghanistan will be a test of whether we really are supporting women, peace and security. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper—wonderfully, as ever—reminded us of Latin America. In this year of COP 26, we must be aware of how vital it is to engage in this region.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Alderdice, Lord Palmer, Lady Ludford, Lord Hussain and Lady Sheehan, spoke about the terrible conflict in Israel/Palestine. The noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and my noble friend Lord Alderdice warned us that we know and we therefore cannot hide. All urged the Government to be more proactive in taking forward a cessation of violence. Can the Minister clearly confirm that we regard settlement activity as illegal and that Israel is an occupying power in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and has duties as a result which do not include removing people from their homes? Will he confirm that we will not move our embassy to Jerusalem and that Jerusalem needs to be the shared capital of Israel and the Palestinian state? Will he acknowledge that there is an inequality of power between occupied peoples and a state and that the world must be far more proactive in seeking a solution in the interests of both the Palestinians and the Israelis? The intercommunal conflict in Israel is a chilling warning and I would like the Minister to say at last that the UK accepts that it is now the right time to recognise Palestine, as almost 140 other countries now do. I think we will hear the tired old formulation “When the time is right”—and it never is.
There is a huge gulf between what the integrated review and now the Queen’s Speech say and what the Government are actually doing. I have never seen such a gulf before. This has been a very wide-ranging debate and I really look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister, on his maiden speech. I look forward to many more of his contributions. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for her introduction to this debate. It is a pleasure that I can now respond to her speech rather than her responding to mine, so I shall take that opportunity.
In his speech, my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe said that when it comes to defence there is too often a wide gap between what Ministers say and what Ministers do. Sadly, this applies to elements of the gracious Speech. In one breath it talks of the global effort to get 40 million girls across the world into school and in another it cuts the ODA budget for girls’ education by up to 40%. We read of reinforcing the UK’s commitment to NATO, while the Government moves recklessly out of step from the alliance by increasing the number of nuclear warheads.
It is impossible to reconcile the statement that the Government will continue to provide aid to reduce poverty and alleviate human suffering with the decision to abandon the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on ODA. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said, it is incomprehensible that such a change in the law is not put to a vote. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, reminded us, slashing aid to Yemen—the world’s worst humanitarian crisis—by 60% without conducting an impact assessment is not only cruel but dangerous. The Government’s message that providing aid where it has “the greatest impact” is entirely the right one, but girls’ education, nutrition, water and sanitation do exactly that and yet are being cut.
For the last five years the UK has funded UNAIDS to the tune of £15 million annually but this year it plans to give only £2.5 million. These drastic cuts to a very low-cost, high-impact agency mirror those that other organisations doing critical work in the HIV response are facing too. The cuts hurt its work to help girls’ education and empowerment and lessen its ability to help countries, including the UK, to end HIV and AIDS, furthering the continuation of a pandemic that threatens us all. Bilateral nutrition projects have an enormous multiplier effect and address myriad other issues such as healthcare and pandemic preparedness. If there is one lesson to be learned from this pandemic, it is that both local and global solutions are necessary. On ODA, the Minister told us in December that
“we intend to bring forward legislation in due course”.
If the Government’s plans have changed, can he tell us on what basis? What is their opinion now?
The Queen’s Speech makes reference to upholding human rights and democracy across the world, yet too often the Government have shown a reluctance to act, as evidenced so well by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. My noble friend Lord Foulkes has raised the issue of Belarus, where civil society is under constant attack. To echo the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, if the Government are serious they must also be more ambitious in strengthening the role of civil society in the international order, because when nations fail in their most important task—providing safety, security and freedom for their people—it is always civil society that leaps first to their defence. That is why it is so important that we strengthen the role of civil society in our multilateral institutions. We need to continue to support women’s groups, trade unions and LGBT groups. I too welcome the work of the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, in his new role as a champion of LGBT rights.
In addition, we need a Government who will properly uphold the rule of law, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds said. Standing up for our values means supporting a rules-based order and respecting international courts, but too often this Government disregard the authority of the institutions for short-term political whim. If we continue to support them only when it is convenient to do so, it is certainly not the UK and our closest allies that will benefit.
We read in the gracious Speech of measures to
“ensure that support for businesses reflects the United Kingdom’s strategic interests”.
If the Government are truly committed to making sure that business in the UK aligns with our values and interests, there can be absolutely no excuse for failing to implement the recommendations of the Russia report. Three years on from the Salisbury attack, the Government have failed fully to implement the recommendations set out in it. Up to half the money laundered out of Russia is still coming through the UK. Can the Minister explain why the necessary legislation was not brought forward in the gracious Speech?
On Hong Kong, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, said, we have still yet to see any sanctioning of officials responsible for human rights abuses and the dismantling of its autonomy. That is despite the arrest of 100 pro- democracy activists under the national security law and a further 10,000 on other protest-related charges. Can the Minister confirm when such sanctions will be brought forward to match those introduced by our allies, particularly the United States? He has repeatedly said that we will work in co-operation with the US on these issues, but I see very little evidence of that.
The role of Beijing in human rights violations is sadly not limited to its involvement in Hong Kong, as other noble Lords have said, and we must stand firm also in support of the persecuted Uighur Muslims. I deeply regret that the Government blocked an amendment to the Trade Bill, which I tabled in this House, to ensure that our trade agreements respect human rights. Given concerns that UK businesses may still be connected to ongoing persecution, when will this House be presented with legislation to strengthen Section 54 of the Modern Slavery Act, so that all companies will have a responsibility to prove that their supply chains are free of forced labour?
I have raised on previous occasions the situation in Colombia. The noble Lord will know, as penholder in the UN, of the reports of increased violence, much of which has been committed by Colombian police and government officials and which is undermining the right to protest. Will the noble Lord review aid and training to support the Colombian police and suspend any element linked to human rights abuses?
On hosting the G7 summit, the Queen’s Speech refers to
“the global effort to secure a robust economic recovery from the pandemic.”
However, this will require far greater co-operation and leadership than is currently on the table. President Biden has put forward proposals, and now the onus is on the UK and others to respond. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government have held any preliminary discussions with President Biden’s Administration on the global tax proposals?
If we are to recover from the pandemic, we must first bring the virus under control everywhere, and that means ensuring widespread access to vaccines. The UK’s support for COVAX is welcome, but it looks to vaccinate only 20% of countries’ populations, with no plan to achieve full worldwide vaccination. Low-income countries have received less than 1% of all Covid-19 vaccines so far. COVAX also does not currently have any concrete plan substantially to increase vaccine manufacturing to ensure sustained supply, as my noble friend Lord Boateng said. To expand production effectively, we need utilisation and expansion of local manufacturing capacity in low and middle-income countries. Will the Government follow the Biden Administration’s lead and engage constructively to develop a worldwide plan at the WHO on patent issues? In recent days, we have seen the ramifications of the situation in India regarding supplies to the scheme. Can the noble Lord confirm whether this will be on the agenda of the G7? What is the noble Lord’s response to the President’s announcement today that the US will donate 80 million doses to COVAX by the end of June? What is our response to this situation?
Recovery should not be the limit of this Government’s ambition. We must build back better and put forward our vision for a future better than the past. As president of COP 26, we must take the lead and encourage the big emitters to do more to cut their emissions, and support developing countries, which are often the least responsible for climate breakdown but also the most vulnerable to it. What steps are the Government taking to generate support for climate action ahead of the Glasgow summit?
As I said at the start, my issue with the gracious Speech is that the Government’s actions do not match their words. We need a Government who will act to protect our reputation and standing in the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, so eloquently put it; a Government who understand that our influence relies on perceptions of who we are as a country. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said, we must be a global Britain that stands by its values in all circumstances.
My Lords, it is huge privilege for me to address your Lordships’ House on this wide-ranging debate covering many areas. It was a tour of the world as we know it in terms of development and the role of the United Kingdom. I will immediately respond to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, by saying that it is not just the perception of the United Kingdom, but the reality. Our recent influence in standing up for the rule-based international system has been demonstrated by the strong level of support we have seen for British candidates for the prosecutor role at the ICC and for the election of Judge Korner. There are many other examples I could quote.
It would be remiss of me not to recognise the valuable contributions of all noble Lords. I single out my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister. I have known him for a couple of decades or more in different guises—perhaps that reflects our ages. One thing I know is that his devotion and dedication to public service is recognised at local level within London and internationally. I noted in particular his comment that he will hold the Government to account. As the Minister responsible for foreign affairs—and I am sure I reflect the sentiments of my noble friend Lady Goldie—I regard that comment with some trepidation. We look forward to his future contributions.
I also welcome my noble friend Lord Herbert to his new role. I cannot find him in his place. There he is—this is the challenge of an ever-evolving House. I hope we will get back to a degree of normality. I welcome my noble friend’s appointment; I wish him well in his new role, and look forward to working very closely with him on the important agenda for which he is responsible.
In thanking all noble Lords, I recognise the importance of this debate and the richness of the contributions. There was, of course, much challenge to the Government. I, as the Minister responsible for foreign affairs and development affairs in your Lordships’ House, along with the Minister for Defence recognise not just the richness of this debate but the value, expertise and insight that your Lordships provide in challenging the Government and in shaping the future direction of our great country.
We have had recognition of the various issues. I made a particular note of the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. He spoke of his Church experience. A cleric—a priest or a vicar or a representative of any faith—has to make sure that what they say is reflected in their deeds. As a Minister in the Government, I assure him that I share some of those sentiments quite directly. I also recognise the importance of the role we are now playing on the world stage through the creation of the FCDO. I welcome the response from my noble friends Lord Northbrook and Lady Meyer who recognised the importance of this merger. It has brought together diplomacy and development in a way that has strengthened the role of the United Kingdom on the world stage.
On ODA, I recognise the important role my noble friend Lady Sugg has played. Questions were asked by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and others. Of course it was regrettable that we had to reduce the commitment made in legislation by a Conservative-led Government from 0.7% of GNI but, as has been said before, it is our stated intent to return to that figure at the earliest opportunity. Notwithstanding the challenges and cuts that have had to be endured on programmes, we approached this in the FCDO by looking at core projects and ensuring that we retain equity and our leadership on the world stage. We will now be spending more than £10 billion, which is still among the highest of our G7 partners, on the important area of development around the world.
As we continued through the debate, I made different notes. My noble friend Lady Hooper provided insights on Latin America, which are always well-recognised, and questions were asked about the importance of our relationships within the European Union by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. I say to her that we value our relationship with key partners in the EU, as demonstrated by the attendance of the leading official from the European Commission on Foreign Affairs at the G7. We participate with the European Union quite directly on the key issues and challenges we are facing, including the Covid challenge and the environment. This is a year of global leadership, as has been recognised by several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Meyer, and we are putting at its heart the health response and the challenges around COP 26, and focusing attention on these important issues.
The integrated review has set out our Prime Minister’s vision for a stronger, more prosperous union in 2030 and outlined the actions we will take, at home and abroad, to realise that vision in a more competitive age. In this regard there are four key areas we will be focusing on.
I will now seek to address many of the questions raised by noble Lords. From the outset, as the Minister with responsibility for the Commonwealth, the United Nations and our multilateral policy, I will say that I recognise the important contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, among others, stressing the importance of the rules-based international system. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that we are putting it at the heart of our response in our support for international institutions, including the International Criminal Court. Whether it is at the United Nations, through our current role as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, in NATO, or at the Human Rights Council, the G7 or COP 26, that underlines the strength of global Britain today.
We are focused on many different areas, but I will cover some of the issues and our relationships. My noble friend Lord Risby talked about the importance of our relationship with the US. The US remains a central and key partner to our relationships across the world, whether through multilateral organisations or by co-ordinating across a range of foreign policy issues, including on Iran, Russia, China and Myanmar. We also welcome the US reaffirming its commitment to NATO, re-joining the Paris Agreement on climate change and remaining in the World Health Organization, and the £4 billion commitment to COVAX which has been made. I assure noble Lords that, at the very highest level, through President Biden and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State Blinken, and others, we are dealing with the US directly on a range of different priorities.
China was understandably raised by many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord King, who spoke of the challenges around cyber, and my noble friends Lord Jopling and Lady Fall. I assure noble Lords that, yes, we have got a relationship with China; it is vital we establish a relationship with China. There are many issues we discuss within the context of our P5 membership of the UN Security Council. We face some challenges where, without China, we will not achieve our ambitions, including climate change.
We want to build a trade relationship in the medium to long term with China. However, that will not prevent us calling out the disagreements we have and the abuses of human rights we have seen in places such as Xinjiang. And it will not stop the steps we have taken to ensure the rights of BNOs within Hong Kong. As many noble Lords will know, we have taken specific actions through the global human rights sanctions regime against four Chinese Government officials and one entity responsible for serious human rights violations in Xinjiang. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, again asked about future sanctions policy with respect to Hong Kong and other areas. We keep the situation under review, but I am not going to suggest what may happen in the weeks and months ahead. My noble friend Lady Fall asked a specific question about the NSC subgroup on China. Our policy towards China, as my noble friend will be aware, is agreed by the NSC and is reviewed regularly.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, asked a question about security partnerships in the world and the recent statements made by New Zealand. It is of course for New Zealand to determine its own policy towards China, as we the UK Government have our own approach. Recently, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand has confirmed again that New Zealand is not hesitant but recognises the value of the Five Eyes partnership.
Looking further afield, my noble friend Lady Helic raised the issue of Russian activity in the Balkans and what we can do as a Government. I assure my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that I totally accept the point that civil society has a central role to play in building new sustainable societies, and the Balkans is no exception. The Government have played an important role—including on preventing sexual violence in conflict, an area I cover on behalf of the Prime Minister. We will continue to work with key partners, including NATO, the EU and civil society, in this respect.
I turn to science and technology. In his excellent maiden speech, my noble friend referred to the importance of cyber and technology. We seek to strengthen the UK’s place at the leading edge of science and technology, which is essential to our prosperity agenda, competitiveness and security.
The noble Lord, Lord St John, talked about the role of the Commonwealth. I assure noble Lords that we have taken specific action to strengthen the response to cyber challenges and have invested quite directly in cybersecurity through the Commonwealth, particularly for smaller, vulnerable island states.
We are looking at strengthening open societies, human rights and free trade through our important relationship with the EU. I was delighted that we were joined by my noble friend Lord Frost earlier. To those—including the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—who challenge that Europe is not important to us, I say that here we have a Minister appointed to the heart of government, in the Cabinet, responsible for our relations with the European Union. It comes back to those points. It is not just words but action.
We will deepen our ties in the Indo-Pacific, Africa and the Gulf. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, among others, raised the important role we will continue to play in Africa. Let us not forget that Africa has a number of important Commonwealth countries, and that relationship will be taken to new levels. We will work towards dialogue partner status at ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and are looking forward to early accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
We will also lead action to reinforce and reshape the international order of the future to ensure that the United Kingdom is at the heart of areas such as space and cyberspace. I assure noble Lords that we will reaffirm our commitment to strengthening democracy and human rights across the piece. The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, talked about some elements of this, particularly with regard to the situation in Belarus. We have called out the suppression of journalists. I note quite carefully some of the points that he raised, including the important work of my noble friend Lord Blencathra in this respect. I look forward to working with him specifically on some of the more sensitive issues, particularly on some of the individual cases.
On the current situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we are well aware of the allegations from both sides that war crimes have been committed. We have urged relevant authorities to investigate and understand the situation on the ground. I know my colleague, Minister Morton, is working very hard in this respect and has visited the area directly and had discussions with all sides.
I have addressed the issue of the EU quite directly, and I hope my comments have provided some reassurance to both the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, about the importance we continue to attach to our relationship with the European Union. I am glad the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, recognised the diplomatic status we have extended to the EU representative to the United Kingdom. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and others continue to work closely not just with the likes of France and Germany; we are committed to wider partnerships within the EU. My right honourable friend recently met Nordic and Baltic counterparts to see how we can strengthen our rights further. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, also asked about citizens’ rights. In the interests of time, and that being more of a Home Office lead, I will write to her.
I assure my noble friend Lord Northbrook on the specific issue of the overseas territories and our preparation. They are part of the British family. We have helped them during the Covid challenge and supplied vaccines directly, and we stand ready for any challenges that may be faced by the overseas territories, and indeed the wider Caribbean, as the hurricane season comes forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, again a great champion of human rights, talked rightly about the emerging situation in Tigray, particularly in respect of sexual violence. I assure him that only this week I have reviewed quite specifically the situation on the ground. We are looking to deploy our team of experts shortly to ensure that we can collect and start collating evidence to allow for successful prosecutions at the appropriate time.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, talked of the situation in north Cyprus. I assure him directly that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is engaged very much on this agenda, and we work closely on the issue of Cyprus more generally with the United Nations.
The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury rightly raised the important issue of conflict stabilisation and mediation. He used the word “reconciliation”; there is no better word. That is now very much structured within the work of the FCDO, and we will see how we can further strengthen our work in this respect. It is important that we bring communities together.
In this case, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, talked about conflict management and resolution, supporting refugees within Africa. We will continue to work with key partners, including the African Union. My noble friend Lord Naseby talked about the importance of reconciliation with Sri Lanka, which I was due to visit in the coming few days—unfortunately, the national lockdown there has prevented me from making that visit next week. Nevertheless, I am engaging directly with the new Government—but we stand by the strength of our resolution, passed at the Human Rights Council.
In talking about conflict resolution, I come to the important issue of the Middle East and the current situation on the ground in Israel and Palestine. Of course we deplore the continuing cycle of violence; we have been at the forefront of stating this at the UN Security Council. I assure my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that we will stand up and speak out strongly against anti-Semitism. Anyone who seeks to target any community in the United Kingdom should be called out: anti-Semitism has no place in the UK—indeed, no faith should be targeted, across the United Kingdom.
I also assure the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, and my noble friend Lady Warsi that we have called for an immediate ceasefire in this conflict. As he said, it is important that we recognise access in relation to humanitarian support. I am sure that we all have our personal reflections, and it is clear that the United Kingdom’s position has not changed. Settlements are illegal, and the only way to resolve this—for the long term, for a sustainable, peaceful solution—is a secure, safe Israel, living side by side with an independent, sovereign Palestinian state. I assure all noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Warsi, that that remains central to our work.
I turn briefly, in the very limited time left, to defence. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Goldie will reflect on the important contributions made. In this respect, I assure my noble friend Lady Anelay of our continued commitment to Afghanistan. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, rightly raised the issue of our role, particularly in relation to demining. My noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, spoke in support of the work that we have done to date—but it is a challenge, and, in the continuing negotiations that take place on the ground, it is important that we do not lose the gains that have been made. However, the Taliban’s continued co-operation is a key area of concern, and, as the Minister responsible for Afghanistan, I am engaging directly with key interlocutors, including President Ghani and Foreign Minister Atmar.
We will take a more robust approach to security; I assure all noble Lords in this respect. This includes the £85 billion that we are spending on new defence equipment and support in the next four years alone, driving forward modernisation—my noble friend Lord Sterling in particular noted the importance of modernising our defence response—and investing in research and development and our cyber response in our state-of-the-art National Cyber Security Centre. We will continue to work closely with our key allies to further strengthen our response.
I note our commitments to rapid modernisation in shipbuilding and accelerated R&D, and I appreciate the strong support that we have had from the noble Lord, Lord West, on the shipbuilding element. We will continue to reflect on our ambition for defence to be an important part of the global Britain brand.
I turn to some of the specific questions. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about supply chains. The procurement reform Bill will slash the number of regulations governing public procurement and introduce a single uniform framework that can unleash the potential for public sector innovation and partnership. We are very much committed to the Armed Forces covenant legislation; it will continue to be a key focus of ours to secure a duty of due regard to its principles. I assure the noble Lord, Lord West, that we will invest in assets: our aim is to increase the number of frigates and destroyers beyond the 19 that we currently have by the end of the decade.
Defence modernisation was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord West, and my noble friend Lord Sterling raised the deployment of HMS “Queen Elizabeth”. We are leading the way in driving both capability and modernisation in developing new ways of operating more effectively.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Northover, asked about Armed Forces numbers. I can do no more than point to the response of my noble friend Lord Lancaster. I draw all noble Lords’ attention to his contribution, because it underscored the importance of broader elements of the forces and paid a real tribute to our reservists, who play a phenomenal role in the defence of our interests, across the world. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that the lessons to be learned should reflect our important duties and obligations to all who serve in the Armed Forces. I noted the points that he raised very carefully and am sure that our colleagues in the MoD will reflect on them.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, raised important questions about national insurance contributions and their impact on veterans. We are working to maximise the employability of veterans and, as we said in our manifesto, we are investing specifically to ensure that the skills invested in our veterans are there for the medium and long term.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, rightly raised the issue, championed by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, of duty of care, as did other noble Lords. She will know that my noble friend Lady Goldie is aware of and personally engaged in this issue.
If noble Lords will indulge me, in the short time I have I will briefly turn to some other key points on development. I assure noble Lords that I will continue to work in a co-operative manner across your Lordships’ House in ensuring that our development priorities are communicated effectively to the House, in working through the impact of the challenging decisions we have had to make and in ensuring that we continue to fulfil our mandate and obligations on the global stage. Through our presidency, we will revitalise G7 co-operation and are putting women and girls at the heart of our approach. Earlier this month, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary hosted G7 Foreign and Development Ministers face to face for the first time in over two years. We are looking for an integrated approach to foreign policy and international development. The G7 has agreed to tackle pressing geopolitical challenges including, as a number of noble Lords mentioned, the destabilising issue of Russia and particularly its role in Ukraine, as my noble friend Lord Risby pointed out.
The challenge of Covid and the response to it was raised by a number of noble Lords: the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, among others. We are engaging directly in WTO discussions on the intellectual property waiver proposal. Waiving intellectual property rights would not, as my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe said, be an effective action to boost vaccine manufacturing. That comes directly from some of the manufacturers. We support voluntary partnerships and licensing. As the Minister responsible for India, I know that the work we did to strengthen the contractual relationship between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute was part and parcel of that process, prior to it being discussed at the World Trade Organization.
We have also invested heavily in the COVAX facility, which is a clear and right decision. With over £0.5 billion of British investment, the COVAX facility was set up so that the most vulnerable countries around the world could access the vaccine, and that is now happening. As of 5 May, COVAX has shipped over 53 million Covid-19 vaccines to more than 120 countries. One of the key practical issues that we need to look at is the logistical challenge in-country, to ensure that, once the vaccines arrive, they can be distributed. That remains a key focus. We are also working closely with other key partners and are delighted by the commitment shown by the United States.
To those who say that the UK is withdrawing, on the contrary—we believe in reforming international institutions but, as our increased contribution to the World Health Organization demonstrates, we stand firmly behind these multilateral organisations. Issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I assure her that while we have had to make some challenging decisions, such issues will remain very much at the heart of our approach. I have seen the benefit of what they have delivered and argued the point personally within the context of the UN Security Council. As the Prime Minister’s lead on PSVI, that will remain a key area of my focus. I look forward to working with the noble Baroness directly to see how we can continue to sustain a focus on this important area.
In my closing remarks, I assure noble Lords that we will retain our leadership on international development. My noble friend Lady Sugg has pushed me a number of times on clarity, transparency and our obligations. I say to her: patience is a virtue. We have committed to being transparent and will certainly do so. I will seek to be clearer than I have been in ensuring that the impact of the reductions we have had to make are translated.
I hope my noble friend will respect me for saying this, as will the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, among others who I know care passionately about this issue, as many noble Lords do. I assure them that in the reductions we have made, we have sought to sustain the core elements of the programme so that, at the appropriate time, we can scale up and retain the important equities that we have on the ground. That will continue to be our approach. On when we will return to the figure of 0.7%, as I have said before, we will seek to do that at the earliest opportunity. I assure my noble friend that we remain very much committed t, and totally respect our obligations under the Act and to Parliament.
We are promoting the G7 outcomes, protecting freedoms with the OSCE, chairing the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and celebrating 75 years of the United Nations. These reflect our strength whether that is through defence, development or diplomacy. We have now agreed trade deals with 67 countries, including one with the EU. We have announced a new comprehensive strategic partnership with India and, as I said earlier, thanks to our friends in the Asia-Pacific region, we are on track for ASEAN dialogue partner status later this year.
We have also won elections at an international level and, notwithstanding the Covid-19 challenges, we have upped our commitments on issues such as COVAX and girls’ education. We look forward, as I am sure all noble Lords do, to hosting the COP 26 conference on climate change in November this year, alongside Italy. In this respect, we have also acted according to our words by putting £11.6 billion into international climate finance and setting an ambitious 10-point green plan to reach net zero by 2050.
The integrated review has sent a clear message that we are very much joined-up in our thinking and strategic in our approach. The review has also sent a strong message about what we stand for as a country: as an independent actor on the global stage, an active European country but with a truly global perspective. It is a commitment to be more proactive and adaptable; to be more dynamic; to engage with partners and work with civil societies and key Governments. We will call out abuses of human rights through our sanctions policies but also through working with key partners. Whether it is on health, climate or human rights, we will continue to play our central and pivotal role as global Britain on the world stage. It is a commitment of global Britain to work with our allies, and as a force for good. It is a commitment of global Britain that we will proudly take forward in the years ahead.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente, and it was ordered that the Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lord Chamberlain.
House adjourned at 7.29 pm.