Skip to main content

Foreign Policy

Volume 829: debated on Wednesday 3 May 2023

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That the Grand Committee takes note of the United Kingdom’s changing role in the world and its implications for foreign policy.

My Lords, the people of these islands have made an extraordinary contribution to the world, much of which we can be immensely proud of. However, with the contraction of the British Empire, two world wars, the emergence of the Commonwealth and our renegotiated relations with mainland Europe post Brexit, we have to continue to adapt to the changing world around us, not least as we negotiate new trade deals—a theme which I know a number of speakers will pick up on during today’s debate.

Long gone are the days when we could boast that Britannia ruled the waves or when the UK was famous for being the home of the Industrial Revolution and known as the workshop of the world, but as some things have declined, others have emerged. Today, we are renowned as a major financial centre, a provider of some of the best tertiary education in the world, the home of some of the most exciting and innovative developments in science, medicine and technology, not least in the fields of computing and artificial intelligence, and a country which has been at the forefront of international development and human rights. All this is happening in a world with massive population growth, where international trade and travel have grown hugely, where environmental concerns and climate change are rising—rightly—up the agenda, and where the ever-present threat of war, not least nuclear war, continues.

We face many challenges as well as many opportunities. China continues to grow rapidly and, as the Integrated Review Refresh 2023 report says:

“The CCP is increasingly explicit in its aim to shape a China-centric international order more favourable to its authoritarian system”.

North Korea now has nuclear weapons and is conducting regular tests. As President Putin’s war against Ukraine continues, China and Iran are strengthening their links with Russia in what many consider a worrying alliance, not least for those of us in the West. Taiwan continues to be under threat by China and could easily become the focus of international conflict.

Meanwhile, population growth across the world continues apace and is unsustainable. The recent Covid-19 pandemic was also a wake-up call. The virus spread rapidly and no country was able to prevent it infecting its population. It gave us a real-time lesson that, whatever our racial and ethnic background, we are all part of one human race. The pandemic revealed our mutual dependence and we learned a lot about the vulnerability of some of our supply chains.

In every age, a major role of government is the defence of the realm, particularly in turbulent times. I was therefore interested to read the Integrated Review Refresh 2023. Having no expertise in defence, I am content to leave that area of foreign policy to those Members of your Lordships’ House who are experts. I look forward to their contribution in this debate. However, I note that the review is proposing that expenditure on defence should increase from 2% of GDP to 2.5% over time and as fiscal and economic circumstances allow. The reason I raise this is that His Majesty’s Government have made a conscious decision to reduce spending on overseas development assistance from 0.7% to 0.5%. In other words, this is a deliberate policy shift away from assisting foreign countries to develop to increasing our military capability instead.

Of course, there are times when tyrants and bullies have to be confronted. However, it is equally important to develop and deliver a foreign policy that seeks to build a more peaceful world—and peace is dependent on justice. Unaddressed injustices and inequalities breed resentment, and in that dark pool of bitterness is born conflict. It is well said that peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice. This is why Christ calls us to share in the difficult and challenging work of building peace. It is why he said:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”.

This is why the Church of England and other major Christian churches around the world have collaborated and established a peacebuilding team, to support the Church in being a reconciling presence in the midst of conflict. We have urged and continue to urge the Foreign Office to make peacemaking a major plank of its work. It is good that the Office for Conflict, Stabilisation and Mediation in the Foreign Office has a negotiations and peace process department. As far as I know, it is the only place in His Majesty’s Civil Service and Armed Forces architecture where a dedicated unit is focused solely on peacebuilding. It is a significant step in the right direction and I congratulate the Government on this. I suggest that a dedicated expert team feeds directly into foreign and defence policy at the strategic level of all policy formation, to offer solutions to conflict built on negotiation, mediation, dialogue and conflict resolution. This is the important strand of a strategic level policy design that appears to be missing from the integrated review.

Allied to this is the need for us to develop and use all the forms of soft power also available to us. The BBC World Service is a vital element of this peacebuilding process, so it is disappointing to see the cuts to expenditure. Impartial reporting is one of the most important contributions we can make to a world that is often economical with the truth or promulgates false news. It was particularly shocking when, during the protests in Iran—when women and young children were being killed while protesting against the tyranny of the Iranian regime—our Government announced cuts to the BBC Persian radio services.

The Government have now pledged a £20 million uplift to the BBC World Service, but that will do very little to restrict the planned cuts. Many BBC language services, which have played a vital role in covering not only the protests in Iran but the war in Ethiopia and the pro-democracy protests in Myanmar, are set to be cut. For example, just £800,000 could save BBC Persian radio and preserve a service relied on by 1.6 million Iranians currently in an uprising against their Government.

Similarly, our overseas development aid not only provides much needed help for some of the most vulnerable people in the world but supports our strategic goals across the world. For example, countries in the Horn of Africa face devastating famine following war, drought and crop diseases. Nearly 22 million people are in desperate need of food. Many are likely to die but many others will join the ranks of those who decide to migrate and will be added to the queues of desperate people who want to get into the UK. There is a real reason why we need to think about trying to help these areas develop. We know that our failure to deliver aid to the very same region in 2011 led to millions of deaths, but it also led to increased security threats, as terrorist groups exploited hunger to recruit people to sign up to their radical groups.

Over the past few months, I have asked His Majesty’s Government a series of Written Questions. It is significant that we have slashed our aid to these very countries. The return to the 0.7% aid commitment would help promote security around the globe—let us be in no doubt. Meanwhile, China is entering into the vacuum and buying its way into these countries across Africa and other parts of the world.

I move briefly on to climate change, which is set to have important consequences for foreign policy in the next decade. We have already witnessed how climate-caused famine can lead to instability in the developing world. Furthermore, as the situation gets worse in the Middle East and Africa, we can expect more refugees to arrive on our borders. The UK’s long-term strategy needs to be aware of the consequences of climate change and focus on environmental peacebuilding. This includes providing loss and damage payments for regions most affected by climate change, be that through famine, rising sea levels or other extreme weather events.

Going forward, our foreign policy needs to be conscious of the severe impact of climate change on the developing world and to ensure that we can adequately protect against its consequences. This also means supporting sustainable development, investing in renewable energy and promoting environmentally responsible policies across the globe. One way we can do this is by investing in green technologies, which not only support the developing world but promote British business.

At a fundamental level, the UK has been, and should continue to be, a country that stands up for human rights across our world. Tyrants are watching with interest as some people in our country want to water down some of our human rights. Surely this is the very time when we need to defend such rights and work with all those who promote them, not least in places such as Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are being persecuted and killed.

China’s disregard for human rights is a significant threat to the world. The CCP’s treatment of its own citizens, particularly those of religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents and activists, is deeply concerning. I am shocked to see the continued ill treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province by Chinese authorities, or Beijing’s increasingly harsh treatment of Hong Kong protesters and activists, such as Jimmy Lai, who has recently been given a very long sentence.

We have to face the fact that China is not taking a lot of attention from the rest of the world, but we must continue to protest for the sake of all those other countries which may be seeing how the majority respond to China’s bullying tactics. China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region presents a particular challenge to what the strategic review calls “our Indo-Pacific tilt”. How do the Government plan to counter an increasingly active and aggressive China while simultaneously favouring a strategy promoting relationships in the Indo-Pacific?

I turn briefly to the role of and the treatment of women around the globe. This is an area in which our country has been proud to take a lead. The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban just two years ago stands as a clear example of how quickly hard-won victories can be lost. This was a country where the vast majority of women were getting education; they were taking roles in leadership in all sectors of society. What representations have His Majesty’s Government made to the authorities in Afghanistan to ensure that girls will again be able to get an education? This is a fundamental issue that we need to stand for.

Another important area is found at the intersection of our foreign policy and our domestic policy. One of the great successes of the UK is our universities and, in particular, the many overseas students who study at them. This is one of the main forms of soft power that we can exercise in the world, and we have been brilliantly successful at it in the past. A study as recently as 2017 found that 58 world leaders had been educated at British universities, compared with only 57 in America and 33 in France. Not only did these students bring in very welcome income, but it means that we sometimes recruit from their ranks as well some very bright people. Even more importantly, they will get a taste of what it is to live in a different sort of world.

Of course, the problem is that this sort of soft power does not cash out immediately in tangible ways, but it does further our values. For example, to go back to the point I made a few minutes ago on women’s rights, someone educated here will have a deep experience over several years of studying as equals with women. This is something we cannot simply argue; the experience will far outweigh any theory.

These are just some of the many aspects of our role in the world. There are many others that I have not been able to touch on. I am looking forward to hearing how those who are experts in our Committee can speak particularly on areas of defence and trade, in which I have very little experience. I hope this brief introduction will set the scene for others as we reflect on our place in today’s world.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity for this debate and for his thoughtful opening remarks. I agree with large parts of what he said, and I am sure we can all endorse the wish that we should work to make this a more peaceful world.

This is a timely debate because it comes on the back of the Government’s Integrated Review Refresh on foreign policy, one of the rare intellectually coherent documents to come out of government. I pay tribute to the role of my friend Professor John Bew, foreign policy adviser now to three Prime Ministers, in writing it. I was a little involved in writing the 2021 original review, so I welcome the fact that this 2023 refresh maintains some fundamental elements of that review’s approach, particularly the emphasis on systemic competition as a key feature of today’s international system, and the clarity that

“traditional multilateral approaches and defending the post-Cold War ‘rules-based international system’ are no longer sufficient on their own”.

Too much of our post-Cold War diplomacy seemed to put too much emphasis on process rather than substance, a belief that the unique mission of the UK was to preserve the processes of international interaction —in which we, as a P5 member, have a privileged position—rather than to consider whether the outcomes of that system actually suited this country’s interests.

This new realism is welcome, and I hope it will be coupled in future with a more clear-sighted view of international institutions and how they work—to see them not so much as producers of global norms or as global NGOs but more, for the time being at least, as what they are: arenas for conflict between the great powers. We saw during the pandemic how the WHO became extremely influenced—perhaps captured—for a time by Chinese perspectives, and I look for these lessons to be learned in our attitude to the pandemic treaty currently being drafted in Geneva.

The IR refresh also states:

“Today’s international system cannot simply be reduced to ‘democracy versus autocracy’, or divided into binary, Cold War-style blocs”.

It is certainly true that that is not the only thing going on in the world, but at the same time it is hard to deny that it is a—perhaps the—major feature of the current world scene. The newly revived strength of purpose of NATO and its east Asian partners on the one hand, and, on the other, the closer relationship among China, Russia, Iran and others is surely a clear organising principle at the moment, and it is foolish to think that the latter countries wish us well or to deny that we are engaged in some sort of global competition with them.

It is true that many states around the world are not in either of those camps, but in this world, the strength of purpose and attractiveness of the main players is crucial in determining how those other states play their hand. We have seen in the reactions to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that many of those countries, even those with broadly free societies and those we regard as our friends, do not necessarily always wish to line up with us in condemning Russia if it affects their own direct interests.

There are many reasons for this, but one, I fear, is the current perception that many have of the United States. The US remains the most powerful single country in the world, and it is our closest friend and ally, but it is made less attractive as a society and as an ally by its uncertain leadership under its current President and by the apparent grip that hard-left values have on the Democratic Party and on some parts of US society. We know from comment in other countries round the world that this is weakening US soft power. To many, the US seems in decline, as do we, its western allies.

Where the US and its allies withdraw, we see others occupy the space, most obviously in the recent China-brokered rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, in the gradual rehabilitation of Syria in the region and in the readiness of Turkey—an ally, at least on paper—to play with both sides in the Ukraine war. We must hope that the US finds it in itself, as so often in the past, to renew its strengths and return effectively to the world stage.

How can our country play its hand in this increasingly difficult world? I will suggest four ways from the many that one could list. First, we should not give in to those who say that we cannot have influence on our own—only as part of a bloc. Obviously, big countries are stronger and more powerful than smaller ones, but the same is not true of large groups of countries compared with smaller ones. The collective uncertainty of purpose shown by the EU in the early weeks of the Ukraine war and, more recently, with regard to China, suggests that the EU as a unit is, more often than not, less than the sum of its parts. Our ability to assess, decide and act quickly and show leadership is a huge advantage, as the early days of the Ukraine war showed.

Secondly, we must invest in our friends, new and old, through thick and thin, and build genuine partnerships and alliances through difficulties, avoiding a tendency we sometimes have to preachiness. Raising our own defence spending on hard power is a crucial part of building the credibility of these relationships. We have begun that with AUKUS and the incipient defence arrangements with Japan, and I hope that in due course the CPTPP will help us to strengthen all those relationships in Asia still further. We have newly strong partnerships with the countries of central and eastern Europe as a result of the Ukraine war, but we must also keep investing in others that matter, particularly the Gulf countries. I worry that some of our long-standing friends think we might be losing interest in them and beginning to look elsewhere.

Thirdly, one country that I am concerned that we do not influence as much as we should is the United States. Although the defence and security relationship is strong, the political relationship and the relationships between much of the bureaucracies are not as taut as they used to be. When I entered the Foreign Office 30 years ago it was a much stronger and closer relationship. I fear there is a view in Washington that the British effort, via the embassy and beyond, is not as dynamic or effective as it once was and not as well plugged into the Republican Party than it could be. Indeed, I have heard it said by well-placed commentators that not just Israel or Ireland but countries such as Poland or France are more effective on the Hill than the UK nowadays. I welcome the Minister’s thoughts on this.

Finally, we need a clear policy towards China. We had the Foreign Secretary’s speech at Mansion House last week. I did not see it as quite as accommodating as many commentators seemed to, and it certainly got across the multidimensionality of the relationship, but it still seemed to be trying to have it all ways and to overestimate our ability to persuade China on issues that are of importance to us. The four elements of our policy might be, “We talk to you, we seek to influence you if we can, but we don’t really trust you and we certainly want to make ourselves less dependent on you”. Overall in that relationship, the right place for us to be is tougher than the EU and closer to the US.

This is a difficult, dangerous and turbulent world. If we are to navigate it effectively, we must stick by our friends, raise our game and stand up to those who wish us harm. I am confident that this is the Government’s intention. If we can do this, I am sure that we will survive, prosper and succeed.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Frost. I admit that I had not expected to use such words, nor did I expect to agree with so much of what he said. However, I do not agree with all of it; I may come to some of that in due course. I join the noble Lord in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and thanking him for securing this debate. This is a precious opportunity to debate these really important issues. I regularly ask the Government to find more time in the Chamber to debate these issues in a longer debate, but other things are going on.

I was particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate for opening by reminding us of some of what makes us proud to be British—the constituent elements of our soft power. I am very pleased that he made such a powerful case for our priority for peacebuilding and conflict resolution, which I have not very successfully applied much of my time in politics to trying to achieve. I agree completely that our soft power was built up through long-term strategic patience and application. Peacebuilding requires that, but we seem dramatically short of it. We are not alone in the world in doing this; how the Afghan war ended was the result of a lack of strategic patience.

In preparing for this debate about the UK’s foreign policy, I find myself somewhat hamstrung by the question, “Which foreign policy?” Noble Lords will be familiar with President Nixon’s madman theory of foreign policy. It was drawn ultimately from Machiavelli, who suggested that in statecraft it can be

“a very wise thing to simulate madness”,

to disrupt the calculations of strategic adversaries. Speaking as an observer rather than a participant, it appears that the Conservative Government have in recent years taken this doctrine to the novel extent of applying it inwards, ensuring that our diplomatic positions are sometimes incomprehensible not only to outsiders but even to ourselves. We saw the current Prime Minister’s predecessor assert that the “jury is out” as to whether France can be described as an ally of the United Kingdom, and her successor, only months later, hail the “special bond” that exists between the two countries.

We heard the Armed Forces Minister, two weeks ago in the other place, discuss the UK’s role as a champion of the “rules-based international order”, even as his colleague the Home Secretary introduced the Illegal Migration Bill, with a covering letter blithely admitting that there is more than a 50% chance that its provisions are incompatible with our duties under the European Convention on Human Rights. Further, we see the Home Secretary attempting to dilute the strength of interim measures under the European Court of Human Rights in order that she realise her dream of seeing deportation flights to Rwanda, even as Ukraine relies upon those measures repeatedly in its fight against Russian aggression.

In these 13 years of Conservative government, we have seen our approach to China veer between David Cameron’s aspirations of a golden decade of Anglo-Chinese relationships, crowned by President Xi’s state visit to the UK, and the current Prime Minister’s warnings last November of a China characterised by increasing authoritarianism that poses

“a systemic challenge to our values and interests”.

A couple of weeks ago, the Foreign Secretary signalled yet another reset, saying that a hawkish approach to China

“would be a betrayal of our national interest”

and that

“no significant … problem ... can be solved without China”.

In attempting to discern some sort of golden thread of consistency in this reflexive approach to China, it is worth remembering that this is the very same Foreign Secretary who occupied the FCDO in the Truss Administration, who planned, before their swift collapse, to designate China as an “acute threat” to British security.

We face crippling economic inflation and the loosening of the bond that ties together a currency and its value. But we have seen the same in foreign policy: rhetorical inflation that stridently declares the emergence of the new global Britain while our capacity to decisively influence the world diminishes. We can see this all around us: those who have travelled hear from residents and diplomats, and from the leaderships of other countries which were our friends and allies—maybe they still are—that we are significantly diminished.

The diagnostic work in the refresh to the integrated review has much to commend it. It rightly states that

“the transition into a multipolar, fragmented and contested world has happened more quickly and definitively than anticipated”.

My personal fear is that the more we integrate artificial intelligence into our decision-making processes, the more this acceleration will increase. We are already trying to catch up on that when it is well beyond us; I am not entirely sure where it is going to take us. It is interesting that those who were largely responsible for the development of artificial intelligence are now abandoning it because it has become so terrifying.

What has our response to this darkening picture been? We have, by the Defence Secretary’s own admission, a military that is “hollowed out and underfunded”, with the additional £11 billion promised in the recent Budget returning us only to the level of spending, by percentage of GDP, that we saw a couple of years ago. Even this is a promise and an expectation; it is not guaranteed.

Our soft power and diplomatic strength will be critical if we are to emerge from this potentially era-defining period of conflict and tension with a renewed capacity to defend our values and interests. But on the issue of our aid and development budget, it is clear that this Prime Minister is a hostage to the isolationist and regressive wing on his Back Benches in the other place. Money spent on aid and development overseas, quite apart from the supervening moral imperatives involved, represents UK influence in pasteurised form. Not only have we seen the UK resile from its commitment to the 0.7% target, but we are seeing what might generously be characterised as a creative application of the money that we still spend.

According to the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, last year the Home Office spent a third of our foreign aid budget on refugee and asylum-seeker costs here in the United Kingdom. Further, it found that this appropriation of the ODA budget has had a very

“severely negative impact across the UK aid programme”.

In seeking to address this problem, we then saw the FCDO pause all non-essential aid spending, as a consequence of which we then missed our pledge deadline for our contribution to the Global Fund, damaging our credibility with our multilateral partners even further. ICAI also found that this pause caused a delay in our humanitarian response to the floods in Pakistan and the famine in Somalia, again fraying the bonds of trust that bind this nation and others throughout the world.

I wish I had the time to give more instances, but those I have outlined indicate a simple truth. These political choices and missteps are having a real-world impact on the UK’s reputation as a reliable partner overseas. I take no pleasure in offering these examples today, and it is true that we have reason to be proud of the swift and comprehensive assistance that we have offered Ukraine in its vital struggle against Russian aggression. But that assistance does not, by itself, constitute a coherent foreign policy. It is interesting the number of times that that is what Ministers want to talk about at the Dispatch Box in this House when issues of foreign policy are raised—but not the other issues, which are now apparently being displaced by this.

Statecraft is essentially temporal in nature; it is a sphere where the strategist is inevitably outmanoeuvred by the tactician. It may be that we succeed in our inhumane plan to send refugees to Rwanda by breaching our obligations under international law, but at what cost to our long-term credibility as a reliable partner? We may succeed in deepening our involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, but how can we expect this projection of power to be seen as anything but hollow, given the assessment of a US general that our military capabilities are not only no longer tier 1 but barely tier 2?

I have to say—and I am not alone in this internationally—that AUKUS has all the hallmarks of a pre-election announcement. I fear that the scale of the cost for Australia may guarantee that the Government there do not survive the next Australian election. I cannot get any Minister in our Government to engage with this issue with regard to assessing whether we should have put our name to it. We are told that that is a matter for the Australian Government, but I read the Australian press and I know what Australian politicians are saying, and the cost to them is extraordinary.

I realise that the tone of my contribution today may be somewhat pessimistic, but its central message is not, as the right reverend Prelate said. There is nothing inevitable about any of this—all these things are political choices—and what is made by politics can be unmade by the same means. We can choose to end our flirtation with transgressions of international law and regain our reputation for probity. We can choose to work with allies in the Euro-Atlantic space on a coherent, long-term approach to broader strategic challenges while restoring our aid budget to ensure that we once again play our full part in helping the most vulnerable. We must work out what our global role actually is in an increasingly multi-polar world where norms are now contested and fought over.

These long-term challenges will be addressed only by policy-making that is equally long-term in its nature. We are not prisoners of impersonal historical forces but have agency in shaping what the future will look like. In fact, the calamity of Brexit proves that in spades. It is time to develop a more positive vision and prove that we have both the strategic patience and the endurance to see it realised.

My Lords, I, too, thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for securing this debate and for opening it so very effectively.

We are indeed in dangerous and rapidly changing times. The war in Ukraine is a reminder that, even in Europe, conflict is not far away. Global powers are vying with each other, as was ever the case. But overarching all that is the existential threat of climate change. So where is the United Kingdom in all this?

We have the Integrated Review Refresh, which certainly needed to be “refreshed”. As was said at the time, the first one had an EU-shaped hole in it. It promoted “global Britain”, as if our country could alone compete on equal terms with the three major power blocs: the US, China and the EU bloc, with their far greater GDP. That review claimed to be “once in a generation”. Two years later, it turns out that it needed to be refreshed.

To remind noble Lords of the first review, it claimed that we were renowned in development, but DfID had just been crushed and the aid budget cut. It claimed that we could “shape the international order”, but then came the abandoning of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It said that we were a science and technology superpower, yet we had taken ourselves out of Horizon—we had a strong legacy, but we were damaging our future position. It confidently claimed that the UK could tilt to the Indo-Pacific. It stated:

“What Global Britain means in practice is best defined by actions rather than words.”

Global Britain was well and truly shown up in the withdrawal from Afghanistan; we could neither persuade our US allies, or even expect to be consulted by them, nor stay if they withdrew. What a terrible situation we collectively left in Afghanistan—starvation, the collapse of public health, as shown on the BBC last night, and the denial of all rights to women and girls. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said about our influence or otherwise now in Washington.

Now we come to the refreshed review. It is very different in tone; there is now no talk of global Britain. We discover that we have fulfilled the tilt to the Indo-Pacific and can concentrate, sensibly, on our near neighbourhood. Encouragingly, it says that we will reinvigorate our European relationships. Could the noble Lord spell out what this means? There is a depressing chart listing all sorts of bilateral arrangements, which looks laborious and cumbersome—a contrast to being at the table as of right.

We now hear that in relation to Ukraine and NATO:

“The enduring strength of the European family of nations, and of the UK’s ties within it, has been reaffirmed”.

The foreign policy priority in the short to medium term is the

“threat posed by Russia to European security”.

As we have heard, it also has a different approach to China. Could the Minister spell out the detail? I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will expect no less.

Again, there is an emphasis on science and technology. Now we are not exactly claiming to be a superpower but to have strategic advantage—but only if we specialise. What does this mean in terms of an industrial strategy and significant support? Where is the reference to the Horizon programme? The head of one of our leading scientific institutions told me recently that, before we left Horizon, he would get many inquiries every year from scientists whom he did not know across the EU about potential collaboration on projects. Now that has completely dried up. It is urgent that this is reinstated. Can the Minister update us? It was very concerning to hear of wobbles in the Cabinet on this.

The review rightly points to the stability and resilience of our economy as a precondition of our security. We have not yet seen trade agreements that deliver or look like they have the prospect of delivering trade at the level of that with our nearest neighbours. It points to London as a key financial centre; it is, but it is a wounded one. We should note that Arm listed in New York instead of London, with the co-founder pointing out the damage caused to London because of what he called “Brexit idiocy”.

What of the soft power of aid, the justice of which the right reverend Prelate spoke to and the influence to which the noble Lord, Lord Browne, pointed? There are no commitments for extra funding, even as we see the impact of conflict in Sudan and the impact of climate change. The Foreign Office and DfID had very different aims, each vital, and the forced marriage has not been a happy one, whatever gloss the Minister will have been given to say and which the review repeats. That is tacitly recognised in this document, which speaks of “reinvigorating” its position as a global leader on international development.

There is some attempt to give development more emphasis, with the Development Minister—and I pay tribute to Andrew Mitchell in this regard—attending Cabinet and a second Permanent Secretary in FCDO. I am not sure how that one is going to work. It is all a rather tacit administration that that merger was disastrous. Given that so much of the aid money went to support refugees in the United Kingdom, which is allowable under DAC rules for one year, surely now that the Afghans and Ukrainians who were benefitting have been here for more than a year, this should now have ended. Can the Minister clarify? What does that then release?

There are no new commitments here on tackling climate change. Meanwhile, President Biden is turning the US approach around. Acutely aware that in the new green technologies, China has a huge head start, he set in place the formidable Inflation Reduction Act. We should welcome this because of the huge investment in green technologies—that is globally important. But while the EU has immediately set in place its critical minerals Act and is engaging closely with the US and allowing countries to support their green industries—something that we were told could not happen—the Chancellor says that the United Kingdom is considering its position. If it considers its position much longer, we will not have a position to consider.

The UK’s automotive transformation fund is only £1 billion, dwarfed by the IRA. The refresh review speaks of “illegal migration” being one of the major challenges of our time, but climate change—and it rightly recognises this—is likely to exacerbate migration, which it does not then call illegal. That is why the development and climate change budgets are so critical. It speaks of climate change and biodiversity loss as

“important multipliers of other global threats”.

They are surely far more than that—they are existential threats.

There is a change between the once-in-a-generation review of 2021 and its refreshed version now. The Government’s feet are more firmly on the ground, setting aside aspirations for global Britain while ignoring our own continent. But with its emphasis on defence, about which my noble friend Lady Smith may say more, and the lack of resources in other areas, this review underestimates the significance of climate change and the need to use aid to ensure that others elsewhere also prosper, so that the seeds of conflict, as right now in Sudan, can be tackled, and populations do not see the need to uproot themselves and undergo great hardships to find a better life. So I suppose we should expect another refresh in a couple of years or so.

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and others in thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for securing this important debate. This year is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the convention on the crime of genocide, and today is World Press Freedom Day. It makes this debate particularly timely.

As the noble Baroness predicted, I shall concentrate my remarks on China, including Hong Kong, but I shall also make reference to North Korea and Iran. I refer to my non-financial interests in the register as well as to the sanctions which have been placed on me and other parliamentarians by those regimes.

As the noble Lord, Lord Frost, reminded us, a week ago the Foreign Secretary delivered a speech at the City of London Corporation. It was trailed in advance as his major China policy address. Given the scale and breadth of the challenges posed by the Chinese Communist Party regime—not, I emphasise, by the people of China, but by the regime currently led by Xi Jinping—I could see no coherent strategy. That is exactly the criticism levelled in two House of Lords Select Committee reports. The tone suggested that rekindling friendship with Beijing in pursuit of something resembling the “golden era” trade and investment opportunities was now a government priority. The Foreign Secretary argued that isolating China would be counterproductive, but I know of nobody—including our own Select Committees—who has suggested that the UK disengage from China. The question surely is not whether to talk to China but how, about what, with what objectives and on whose terms we should engage.

By way of example, I invite the Minister to tell us what the Foreign Secretary will be talking about with the Vice-President of China, Han Zheng, during his coronation visit to London over the next few days. Will he be raising the trashing by Han Zheng of the 1984 Sino-British declaration or his role in the imprisonment of 1,400 political prisoners in Hong Kong, specifically the imprisonment of British citizen, Jimmy Lai—referred to by the right reverend Prelate—and other breaches of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to media freedom in Hong Kong? Will the Foreign Secretary raising this week’s announced decision—a breach of the Sino-British joint declaration—to reduce the direct election of district councillors in Hong Kong to just 20%, in a further emasculation of Hong Kong’s freedoms?

Will the Government be raising the Motion passed in the House of Commons on 22 April that declared events in Xinjiang against Uighur Muslims to be a genocide; or the UK prohibitions on the purchase of goods made in China by slave labour; or recent reports that Uighur Muslims were banned from offering Eid prayers at mosques or even in their homes during Eid ul Fitr, as well as the reported persecution of people with religious beliefs, including Buddhists and Christians in China and other Article 18 violations; or the continued imprisonment of Zhang Zhan for reporting on the origins of Covid in Wuhan? Will the Government be raising the forced organ harvesting, which the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has raised in your Lordships’ House, along with Members from all sides, on a number of occasions; the persecution of Falun Gong; the crackdown on civil society, lawyers, bloggers and dissidents across China and the alarming threats to Taiwan whose almost 24 million people face increasing dangers and, indeed, an existential threat to their vibrant democracy and self-determination? Perhaps the Minister could also explain why Han Zheng is being welcomed at the Coronation at all instead of being sanctioned.

I also have questions about the recent visit to London of Hong Kong’s Secretary for Financial Services, Christopher Hui. Will the Minister tell us whether the three Government Ministers who met him raised with him the case of Jimmy Lai; the seizure by the Hong Kong Government of more than £2.2 billion of Hong Kong BNO pension savings, as reported by Hong Kong Watch, of which I am a patron; the destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy; the breach of the joint declaration; the genocide that I have referred to of the Uighurs; and the threats to Taiwan? If those three Government Ministers did not, why not? Perhaps that is not the sort of engagement that the Foreign Secretary had in mind. Given that the CCP regime consistently breaks its promises and obligations under international treaties, and as the CCP under Xi Jinping is so much a part of many of these problems, do we seriously—and rather naively—believe that red carpets, tea and golden era trade deals are the correct response to genocide and egregious violations of human rights?

Last week, as Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, I spoke at the launch of the APPG’s report on the crackdown on media freedom in Hong Kong—which, on this World Press Freedom Day, I hope the Minister will refer to—and specifically the case of Jimmy Lai, the founder of Apple Daily. I also spent time with Jimmy Lai’s son, Sebastien. Jimmy Lai is a 75 year-old British citizen, and yet he has spent the past two and a half years in prison serving multiple trumped-up charges, facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail. I know Jimmy and his wife and, in happier times, they were visitors here to your Lordships’ House. Later this year, Jimmy Lai’s trial under Hong Kong’s draconian national security law will begin. He has already been denied his choice of defence counsel, and it is likely that he will receive a severe prison sentence with little hope of a fair trial.

Please will the Minister look at the statements made by Mr Lai’s international legal team—led by Caoilfhionn Gallagher KC, who has herself received rape and death threats—and also raise with the parliamentary authorities the absurd and ridiculous decision to force attendees at last week’s press freedom event to hand over leaflets on press freedom in Hong Kong? Officials apparently said that “Political slogans and materials are on our list of restricted items”—I mistakenly thought that politics was the whole point of Parliament. But, beyond the absurd, Sebastien has specifically and repeatedly requested to meet the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. Like his father, Sebastien is a British national. Will the Minister explain why that request has so far gone unanswered? Can he establish whether the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary will commit to meeting Sebastien at the earliest opportunity to discuss his father’s case and become more proactive and more public in speaking up for the rights of this British citizen in the future?

Margaret Satterthwaite, the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, recently wrote to the Chinese Government stating that the draconian national security law has interfered with the rule of law in Hong Kong by undermining the independence of the judiciary and removing safeguards to protect fair trial. Will the Minister please provide the Government’s assessment of the current state of the rule of law in Hong Kong?

Turning briefly to North Korea, I declare an interest as co-chair of the all-party group. This year marks the 10th anniversary since the establishment of the UN commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity chaired by the Australian judge Justice Michael Kirby. What steps are the Government taking to follow up and implement the commission of inquiry’s recommendations, particularly its call, 10 years ago, for its findings of crimes against humanity to be referred to the International Criminal Court?

On Iran, which has been referred to, will the Minister explain why the Iranian national guard has not been proscribed as a terrorist organisation and say whether we can expect to see action on this soon? Can he tell us about the plight of Iranian journalists, especially women, who are still in prison and about the gender apartheid faced by Iran’s women and girls?

Finally, I have spoken repeatedly in the House about the short-sighted decision to cut BBC Persian radio services and attacked the decision to abolish the Arabic services. I welcomed what the right reverend Prelate said about this in introducing the debate. Yesterday, the BBC said that the crisis in Sudan had led it to open a new radio service in Arabic on shortwave—QED. It is essential that we continue to broadcast the values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and an open society. Are the Government re-examining the funding models for the BBC World Service to ensure that vital language broadcasts to closed societies continue?

I hope that our values will always be at the very heart of our foreign policy as we face the challenges of a changing and increasingly divided and unstable world. If the Minister cannot respond to all my points in detail, I hope he will undertake to write to me on them. In closing, I again thank the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity to raise these matters.

My Lords, I do not wish to detract from the power of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has put to the Minister. I promise I will not add more questions to them; I will come at the debate from a different direction. There are two ways of addressing this Motion: first, the role of the UK as seen through our eyes in the UK, who can easily assume that ours is the only way of seeing; secondly, our role as seen through the eyes of “the world” doing the looking in. I am not being pedantic, but why do we in the UK find it so difficult to look at ourselves through the lens of those who might see the world differently?

In his excellent Chatham House speech on 27 April, the Minister for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, addressed the future of international development. Among the very good, welcome and perceptive observations in his speech, one line is understated and easy to miss: the admission that the UK Government’s cut in aid from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income has “dented the UK’s reputation”, as well as being “painful for our partners”. Dented? Only the partners who suffered the consequences of that decision can really tell us what they think our role in the world is now and how it is experienced. Painful reality is more persuasive than optimistic rhetoric.

The question that underlies this debate is this: do we in the UK listen to ourselves and the language of mere aspiration, or can we look through the eyes of those who experience us? I ask this simply because there is often a great gulf between our perception of ourselves and that held by others. In fact, the constant repetition of the language of “world leading” and “world beating” in just about any government statement indicates a basic insecurity about which psychologists could probably say a great deal. I would be happy with just “functional”, in some respects.

I raise this question simply because Andrew Mitchell’s speech admitted a glimpse of light into what has been a depressingly dim discourse in the last decade or so. He offers a language that sounds grown-up. In his stress at the outset of his argument on partnership, progress and prosperity, he returns us to something that sounds both sensible and realistic. Global Britain, whatever that was supposed to mean, seems to have subsided and partnership is back—thank goodness. Gone is the hubris that the UK is still a world-beating power that can function alone in a world of shifting economic and military power blocs. We can argue for ever about the rightness or wrongness of Brexit, but I contend that the corruption of our language with regard to the wider world was damaging in ways we rarely take time to understand.

For example, I have been met with incredulity in Germany and elsewhere in Europe when we make statements about the importance of the rule of law, and our moral demand that countries such as Russia and China should stand by it, at the same time as we draft legislation that consciously seeks to breach it. Just remember the internal market Bill, the overseas operations Bill, the attempt to prorogue Parliament and so on. Our rhetoric has to be supported by our action, for the latter speaks louder than the former.

The 2021 integrated review was a good start in recalibrating our self-perceptions, and the 2023 refresh helpfully illustrated how a nation’s role can change quickly depending on the shifting and sometimes dramatic intervention of unexpected factors, unpredicted behaviours or uncontrollable contingencies. At least, it was an attempt to join up different areas of foreign policy to focus on perception, priorities and planning.

To return to Andrew Mitchell, partnership holds the key to future progress and prosperity, not hubris or romantically hanging on to what we think Britain used to be. One way of thinking about this is to look through the lens of those who look at us from the outside. A week or two ago Der Spiegel published a very unflattering piece about a number of aspects of decline in UK culture, referring, for example, to food banks, poverty, the cost of living crisis and neglected urban infrastructure. Read other newspapers and listen to serious political programmes in neighbouring countries: waving a flag does not change hard reality. We might not want to agree with the perceptions of outsiders, but we would be unwise not to take them seriously.

I want to be positive about a change in direction, signalled by Andrew Mitchell’s grown-up approach to partnership, which inevitably assumes what I call a renewed sense of confident humility. I read his speech before considering the conversation among Robert Kaplan, John Gray and Helen Thompson in a recent edition of the New Statesman, which took as its starting point the ideas behind Kaplan’s new book, The Tragic Mind. Indeed, any pragmatic search for policies that drive partnership and progress and dream of prosperity has to be set against the wider and deeper thinking about the existential challenges of great-power rivalry, resource scarcity and what they call the crumbling of the liberal rules-based order in a “global Weimar”. The assumptions underlying political rhetoric and the language in which this is framed must be honest about these challenges, not seduce people into thinking that domestic or foreign policy can inevitably be forged in a world of depleting resources and increasing military threat around finite resources.

Given my previous career as a linguist, it might not come as a total surprise that I want to conclude with this plea: if we are to take seriously the existential as well as pragmatic challenges we face as we seek to plough our furrow in a field that is becoming ever more rutted and poisoned, we must listen through the ears of those beyond our shores who might not think as we do in the UK. This means that we must prioritise the learning of the languages of others if we are to know how we are seen and therefore how we might behave or speak—even framing any future foreign policy in a way that can be accurately understood by those we oppose or with whom we might partner.

Language learning is impoverished in the UK. The assumption that everyone else speaks English is both arrogant and ignorant—a dreadful combination of non-virtues. Our children need to be educated in the confident humility of learning to look through the eyes of others. Only then, as the late German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt repeatedly emphasised, can we understand our own culture, by seeing how we are seen and hearing how we are heard. The Empire has gone, and imperial thinking is embarrassingly redundant —although I strongly commend Timothy Garton Ash’s recent piece in Foreign Affairs, “Postimperial Empire”. We will waste time, energy, money and resource if we in the UK do not learn quickly that learning the languages of others is a massive strength and not a sign of weakness.

The UK’s role in the world must be framed in terms of realism and what I have called a confident humility. It must be framed in the languages of others, and rooted in deeper thinking than mere pragmatism or flag-waving optimism.

My Lords, I start by declaring my interest as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC, a role that I very much enjoy and which rather neatly brings together my three main political interests: the UK’s SMEs, exports and building better relations with Africa—being African-born, please forgive me if I am a little biased.

I believe that building stronger diplomatic and trade links post Brexit with Africa should be Britain’s first priority to secure our nation’s prosperity and economic future. Our approach to Africa has been outdated for some time. We need to re-invent our role in Africa. Brexit offers us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape our global posture, to shift our focus away from Europe and back to Africa, to rebuild our ties with it and re-establish a stronger presence in the booming economies in Africa.

Africa accounts for 17% of the world’s population. That population will double in 30 years. With Africa now having a global GDP of 3%, you can imagine the prospect of the potential our country has with Africa by 2050. This shows the huge room for growth for UK companies.

Africa’s culture is every culture. Some 70% of the people in Africa work on farms. With a land mass of 30 million square kilometres, which is larger than America, China, India and Europe put together, you can see the fertile land they have. Despite that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, mentioned, some 22 million Africans starve from hunger on a daily basis.

Africa contains 30% of the world’s minerals. The DRC, for which I am a trade envoy, has $30 trillion-worth of minerals; cobalt and lithium, 80% of which are in the DRC, goes to China. Eight out of nine Chinese companies are now in the middle of business in the DRC. We will need cobalt and lithium for defence, car batteries and mobile phones in the future. It is important that we develop a good relationship with that country.

The good news is that the African continental free-trade agreement is creating the largest free-trade area in the world by a number of countries, with a market size of over $3 trillion. Digitisation, improvements in infrastructure and political reform are driving the continent forward. Africa has grown more democratic in the past 30 years, with multi-party elections being commonplace. Opposition parties are gaining ground and most leaders are leaving office peacefully rather than in coups. We noticed that in Ghana. We saw President Mutharika in Malawi challenged by the court, as was Uhuru Kenyatta, and we saw how the rule of law made the opposition leader the new president. Politics is becoming more competitive because of the free press and an open society.

Look at the impact Africa has in other countries. Four out of the five most senior Cabinet Ministers here are of African descent or origin, including our Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, from Kenya; our excellent Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, from Sierra Leone; Suella Braverman, from Kenya; and Kemi Badenoch, from Nigeria. You can see the impact Africa has in our country as well. This shows that Britain remains a force for good because of its strong institutions, and stands ready to help develop its fellow nations.

Your Lordships can see why I am in this debate: to encourage a reshaping of our foreign policy to take hold of the trade opportunities in Africa, to ensure prosperity for that continent and for the UK, and to help Africa to get out of poverty. The UK’s trading relationship with Africa is worth about £27 billion, with £18.5 billion in exports. Not long ago, our share of trade was 30%. Today, it stands at less than 4%. We have had a significant trade deficit for the past four decades which currently stands at over £100 billion a year. We have had a major problem with our trade balance for the last 40 or 50 years. We do not have enough exports to pay for our imports. We can see why China’s goods exports to Africa are eight times higher than ours, while we have dropped from being the biggest exporter to the continent to the 13th biggest. China has said to African Governments, “We are your IMF”.

Politicians and others often ask me why China is so successful in the region that I cover. The simple answer is that it is not their success but our failure. By engaging with African countries, we can ensure that they co-operate with us rather than with other, potentially hostile nations, such as China. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke very well about human rights and China at the moment.

However, perhaps the biggest barrier that we have is perception. When I first came into Parliament, my interest was in SMEs, so I set up a Select Committee to see what could be done to help SMEs to increase their exports. I took evidence from a large number of businesses in the UK. Our perception of Africa was through a “Band Aid” lens. We saw it as a poor continent, begging for money, with tribalism, civil war, dictatorship and corruption. Now, we are dealing with a new Africa which is more progressive than ever it was. We must accept that, and that a young democracy takes time to shape its democracy into a good form such as ours.

We should see this as a glass that is half full. By bringing the departments of business and trade together, the Government are acknowledging the importance that trade brings to UK plc. However, this work must be in partnership with the FCDO, and we must ensure that we have the same approach across government. Co-operation between governmental departments will be key to the UK’s success on the world stage. I want to see the Government have the political will for more trade and investment with Africa. The UK is the second-largest investor in Africa. We will hear later from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about our historic ties, particularly with the 18 Commonwealth countries in Africa, which are English-speaking and share a commonality of a judiciary and the rule of law. All that will help us. Africa will continue to develop through this century, with or without our support. We must be at the forefront of this development, with British firms playing a key role. Through increased trade levels with Africa, we can help to bring about the political and social reforms needed as a by-product, with increased prosperity and stability correlating with increased trade.

We need a fresh approach to Africa, which builds on the deep and historic links that we have with the continent and the affection that many Africans have for our country, and with large African diaspora living in the UK. We need a clear trade plan for each African country, working with our embassies and high commissions to identify the key sectors and opportunities available, including on visas. I will give a good recent example. Some four years ago, just before the pandemic, I invited the Mining Minister of Rwanda, Francis Gatare, and 80 UK companies to Parliament to see what opportunities were available. We came up with a French-to-English regulatory framework, and now there are four mining companies in Rwanda. I tried a similar exercise six weeks ago, inviting the Mining Minister and the President of the DRC. The DRC has $30 trillion of minerals. People flew from South Africa, two from Ireland and three from Scotland. On the day that we all got together, the Minister and the president did not get visas and it had been known for six weeks. I am hosting the president on Friday, and I will be embarrassed and ashamed.

We need to sort out our visa problems. Africans with passports, Ministers, could not get visas to come here, and people knew about this six weeks earlier. It is no wonder that the Chinese are there and we are not. We need to open our African market and speed up trade agreements. Currently, we have only eight trade agreements with African countries in place.

I conclude very briefly, because time is against me. Africa is not a continent of problems but one of solutions. One thing is for sure: Africa will shape the world’s prospects. Post Brexit, the future should be Africa.

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak in a debate on international relations. It is not an area I normally speak on, and I certainly do not have the expertise of other noble Lords contributing today, but it is something I feel strongly about.

It gives me absolutely no pleasure to say that recent years have witnessed some significant deterioration in our traditional strengths on the world stage, our international reputation and, sadly, our international competitiveness. We have taken a major hit to our GDP from leaving the EU. We have lost our position as the key bridge between the US and the EU. There are to be no US-UK trade negotiations during the present Biden presidency. In my view, we have put at risk our attractiveness to international students and all the benefits of that leadership position. About 10% of world leaders, for example, went to a British university. As others have said, we have also diminished our long reputation for compassion, generosity and thought leadership in international development. We have virtually eviscerated the globally trusted international BBC and British Council operations, a key source of our soft power. It is really not a good and certainly not a balanced score card.

At the same time, our world has become much less safe, with much greater levels of volatility. Russia’s brutal full-scale war against Ukraine has resulted in multiple crises for the whole of Europe and may yet lead to the unthinkable use of tactical nuclear weapons or worse. The Covid threat is not yet over—dangerous new variants may yet develop—and new pandemics may emerge and confront us with devastating speed and effect. As my noble friend Lady Northover pointed out, we are likely to see many more severe climate events. These events in turn could lead to large-scale population movements and mass migration in the tens of millions.

We are also witnessing massive shifts in the tectonic plates of global geopolitics and its economic architecture. US global dominance has been replaced by a multipolar world where China is challenging the US for global leadership and where Russia is trying to reassert its claim to be considered a major global player. In my view the Government’s 2021 integrated review identified the right global risks by highlighting the rise of China as

“the most significant geopolitical factor in the world today”

and in identifying Russia as

“the most acute direct threat”

to UK security.

The risks facing us in the UK have increased substantially since the integrated review in 2021, as Ukraine has so vividly demonstrated. In addition, there could be a further major shock to the global system should an isolationist new US president emerge in 2024 and decide, for example, to withdraw from NATO and cease support for Ukraine. We need to be prepared for all these eventualities.

Of course, as others have mentioned, there is still a huge agenda in the areas of tackling gender inequality, seeking to protect human rights and further reducing global poverty, including unacceptable levels of child poverty.

As many commentators have pointed out, the West is losing significant ground to China, in particular, but also to Russia when it comes to the alignment of what is called the global South. Indeed, together, they often seem to be locked in an epic struggle against the West to redesign the whole world order.

In a recent UN Ukraine votes, 141 countries supported Ukraine and the West’s position, only six countries voted with Russia, but 32 countries abstained, including China, India, South Africa, Pakistan and Bangladesh, representing well over 50% of the world’s population across much of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. China’s approach to the global South should give us in the UK real food for thought. China has for decades been developing relationships across the global South with individual states as “equal partners”. China offers very long-term and attractive state-to-state partnerships on major infrastructure and agricultural projects, together with massive—and usually non-conditional—financing, including delivery teams on the ground.

Russia has been actively developing state-to-state energy partnerships with many individual countries across the global South, focusing not just on fossil fuels but on seeking to build 50 to 100-year partnerships in the area of new nuclear. Both China and Russia offer long-running education exchange programmes and large-scale support for international students. There are also arms sales and, in many cases, direct military support, including Russian private military contractors. Both China and Russia make no challenge on corruption or governance issues. Critically, both China and Russia have been effective in engaging with many global South states with a history of western colonialisation, leveraging their history and present relationships with their former colonial powers. It is a heady and potent cocktail.

Given all that, what can the UK do to increase our ability to influence international partners and to shape global and regional responses to these critical issues? I think there is a lot that we can do. The relatively easy bit should be rebuilding the UK’s comparative strengths, which have been so eroded in recent times. We need to significantly strengthen our trading security and political relationships with Europe and also try to secure much lower-traction trade with Europe. We need to reinvest in BBC and British Council international operations, and we absolutely need to restore international aid expenditure to 0.7% of GNI.

As acknowledged in the Integrated Review Refresh this year, our overriding defence priority must be the security of the Euro-Atlantic region. We need the dedicated resources and the capability to do that for the role that is set out. What assurances can the Minister offer on this point?

On the wider security front, we should work with NATO and EU partners to take action now to reduce significantly the risk of further Russian aggression against the Baltic states, Moldova and Belarus. This should involve significantly more military force on the ground in the Baltic states, together with a step change in terms of provision of equipment, training and joint exercises. Next, we should significantly strengthen our partnerships, in particular with China’s neighbours, in both trade and security. In parallel, we should seek creative opportunities to work bilaterally with China on specific issues of potential joint interest, including net zero and decarbonisation.

Finally, the UK should seek to develop new strategic long-term partnerships with European, US, and regional friends and players in each region to develop much more competitive long-term offerings to states in the global South. We should be seeking to weaken the competitive position of both China and Russia in the global South. In developing these offerings, we should be mobilising our private sector, universities, and scientific, research and technology communities, among other things.

I conclude by saying, having listened very carefully to today’s debate, that we have a very proud heritage as an international player, but we need, as others have said, to repair our tarnished reputation, built up by so many people of all political persuasions over so many years, as a serious and stable player on the world stage, committed, of course, to democratic values and human rights but also to international co-operation and peace resolution. Not everyone will agree, but it is my view that the shenanigans of Brexit, the extraordinary domestic political turmoil that followed and the sight of having three Prime Ministers over a three-month period was not a good optic for our country. We need to act strategically and collaboratively to re-establish trust, credibility and clout on the world stage. I endorse many of the sentiments expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds in his excellent speech. Without re-establishing that trust, credibility and clout, we are at risk of being seen as an empty vessel on the world stage. I, for one, would hate that.

My Lords, I too thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling this debate. As some speakers have noted, it was clear, following recent world events, that the Government needed to update their comprehensive integrated review of 2021. While the vision of Britain’s long-term goals remains the same, the balance between security and prosperity—the two pillars of national interest—needed to be rebalanced. The revised integrated review did just that by increasing the defence budget to 2.2% of GDP for this year while, on the international front, our top priorities are to rebalance our interdependence on China and bolster the Euro-Atlantic co-operation necessary to contain Russia’s aggression.

In this, Britain has a unique role. Indeed, our assertive stand on Ukraine has generated huge admiration around the world. We were the first country to pledge our support and we are Ukraine’s second-largest military donor. Public opinion remains steadfast and, unlike other countries, there were no political factions arguing against our military, economic and political involvement. Of all the western countries, we stood out for our courage, generosity and moral leadership. I do not share some of the comments that are beating up the United Kingdom. I do not hear this when I travel abroad. As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ukraine, I am incredibly proud of Britain’s support and its determination in helping Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure and defence capability. Not since World War II has Britain been able to validate its reputation as the world-leading defender of democracy, and the champion of law and order.

We should not forget the extent of British soft power and its influence across the world. Just look at institutions such as the BBC, whose coverage of the war in Ukraine has been watched around the globe, while the BBC World Service, broadcasting in 40 languages and with a worldwide audience of some 465 million people, has played an invaluable role in the face of massive Russian and Chinese disinformation. I was unaware that some of the BBC’s broadcasting had been cancelled.

Today, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, noted, is World Press Freedom Day. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to all the journalists who have risked their lives to bring us news from war zones, to those who have been killed in the line of duty, and to those who have disappeared or are currently imprisoned in Russia and China because they dared to stand up and express their opinion, some of whom are British. Freedom of speech and its tributary, freedom of the press, are the cornerstone of our democracy. These two fundamental freedoms are what differentiate us from dictatorship. Yet while we are fighting for the rights and freedoms of the Ukrainian people, we are at the same time allowing our basic freedoms in this country to crumble before our very eyes.

How has this come to pass? It all emerged in the United States in the 1990s, with the development of critical race theory and new waves of feminism. Essentially, the ideology behind this new wave is that meritocracy is inherently racist and that judging people as individuals is wrong. Instead, one’s identity is better defined by the social groups to which one belongs. This ideology also challenges the notion of sexuality, claiming, according to, some 105 gender identities.

Without realising it, this new ideology has reached our shores. It has toppled our traditional values and long-held beliefs. It has infiltrated every strand of our society, put children’s welfare at risk and directly attacked women’s rights, family life and religious belief, including Christianity—all at an alarming speed. This happened without the rationality or validity of this new gender ideology even being debated. Instead, anyone, whether heterosexual, transexual, gay or lesbian, who dares express gender-critical views is labelled transphobic and is prey to a witch hunt. Anyone voicing a dissident opinion is silenced—cancelled. We have allowed a small but very vocal minority to infiltrate our society and dictate the rules by which we must blindly abide. Those who do not risk losing their jobs and being vilified on social media, de-platformed, smeared, harassed, intimidated and even threatened with rape or death.

This is happening today in the United Kingdom. A witness we recently interviewed was denounced following a conversation about the definitions of sex and gender at a private party in her own house. A few years ago, this was unthinkable. This was what happened in the Soviet Union, communist China and Nazi Germany—but not in the United Kingdom, a beacon of democracy and free speech. But just as under those totalitarian regimes, indoctrination must start early. Under the umbrella of inclusivity, Stonewall has infiltrated our schools by promoting its ideology, which is biologically incorrect and dangerous. It promotes the sexualisation of children and encourages their transitioning, often without the involvement of their parents.

Recent geopolitical events have shown that Britain still has a role in the world. It has not, I am afraid to say, been damaged by Brexit, as some say. We can still punch above our weight, but how can we uphold our moral leadership if we acquiesce to censorship? Will my noble friend the Minister tell the Committee what steps he will take to ensure that Britain’s role in the world is not to propagate such ideologies but rather to advocate freedom of speech and the restoration of women’s rights? Does he agree that if we fail to do so, we will play straight into the hands of Mr Putin and Mr Xi?

This is possibly why some countries are not following suit and supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia. Mr Putin has already accused the West of “moving towards Satanism” and

“teaching sexual deviation to children”.

He explained that in Russia,

“we’re fighting to protect our children and our grandchildren from this experiment to change their souls”.

The Russian people still know which bathroom to use.

My Lords, I am fortunate to travel around the world a great deal and to listen to what others think about the United Kingdom. Last month, I chaired a geopolitical conference here in London, with 100 YPO—Young Presidents’ Organization —chief executives and chairs from around the world. There was a session on Brexit, and I asked them what they thought of it. Some 99% felt that the UK had made a big mistake in leaving the European Union. Whether we like it or not, that is what the world thinks of what we did seven years ago in voting to do that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, said, we have had three Prime Ministers in a year; I have lost count of the number of Chancellors we had in that same year.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for initiating this really important debate about the UK’s changing role in the world and its implications for foreign policy. The last integrated review, in 2021, was pretty good in predicting that Russia would be a serious threat—it got that spot on. It spoke about global Britain and about being a science superpower and world leading. We have now had the refresh this year, which addresses the Russia situation as well as China, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, spoke about. We have the quandary of needing to be tough on China while having mutual economic dependency. How do we de-risk our supply chains, particularly with regard to energy?

Looking back in history, our Prime Ministers have built great relations with other world leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher with Ronald Reagan. Tony Blair, before Iraq of course, was a very successful Prime Minister, including economically; and we must not forget Gordon Brown and the role that he played at the time of the financial crisis in convening the G20 leaders to help save the global economy, which was very effective.

I hate it when people talk about Britain as a “middle power”. That is utter rubbish. We are not a superpower, but we are very much a global power. We may not be a member of the European Union, but we are still the sixth-largest economy in the world. We are still in the G7, the G20, NATO, the Five Eyes, AUKUS and now the CPTPP. I suggest that we go even further: we should join the Quad—the security alliance between India, Japan, Australia and the United States. Let us make it Quad Plus and circle the world with the United Kingdom as a member. Would the Minister agree?

James Cleverly, our Foreign Secretary, has said that our influence is in persuading and winning over a broader array of countries based on shared interests and common principles. He referred to this as “patient diplomacy”. As an entrepreneur, the word “patient” does not exist in my vocabulary; we have to be restless and to go forward at speed.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, spoke about Russia’s awful invasion of Ukraine. One of my proudest moments in my time as president of the CBI was helping India in its time of need when it ran out of oxygen; lives were literally saved thanks to British business. Thereafter, I convened British business to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine in a big way, part of which was about unblocking the port of Odessa to get the grain flowing. I personally spoke to Chancellor Olaf Scholz before the G7 meeting—I was there representing Britain in the B7—and it worked. After talks with Turkey, Russia and the UN, the grain has started to flow now.

I feel that there is so much that we can do with the European Union. The Windsor Framework is a great step, but we need the Northern Ireland Assembly to recommence. The trade and co-operation agreement is a light agreement; we could do so much more. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, spoke about Horizon. Does the Minister agree that we need Horizon to start immediately?

There does not seem to be any sign of a trade deal with the United States but, whether we like it or not, the United States is our number one trading partner by far.

During the Cold War, our defence spending was 4% of GDP. In the debate in 2019 on the 70th anniversary of NATO, I said that current spending should go up to 3%; the Prime Minister has said that it will go up to 2.5% when “circumstances allow”. Does the Minister not agree that we should be at 3%, with all the threats we face right now? When it comes to Russia, that situation is on our doorstep. On China, our tilt towards the Indo-Pacific is spot on.

When it comes to aid, I personally think that the merging of the Foreign Office and DfID was a huge mistake. Those two big departments should be separate, with their two different cultures and two different approaches, both doing great work. They should be demerged to be far more effective. We have reduced aid from 0.7% to 0.5%, with it likely to remain at 0.5% until at least 2027-28. Can the Minister give us some idea of when that will go back up to 0.7%?

I am a passionate believer in the Commonwealth, with its 2.4 billion people and 56 countries. It is a voluntary organisation; countries join it voluntarily. India, with 1.4 billion people, is of course the largest past of it. It is highly underutilised and we need to do much more.

This country has benefited from good migration, without which it would not be the sixth-largest economy in the world. There is no question that we must deal with the awful situation of boats coming across the Channel, but we also need to deal with the good migration that business needs through the points-based immigration system and the shortage occupation list. I was happy to learn that construction was put on that list in the last Budget; more sectors need to be put on it so that we have access to the workforce we need.

In his opening remarks, the right reverend Prelate spoke about international students. I will not repeat what he said but, as a former international student, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students and president of UKCISA, I know that this is one of our biggest elements of soft power. It brings in more than £30 billion to our economy and builds generation-long bridges—I am from the third generation of my family to be educated in this country. As he mentioned, we educate more world leaders, along with the United States, than any other country.

Can the Minister say why we include students in our net migration figures? We should do so when we declare them to the UN, but when we report them domestically we should exclude them like our competitors do. The moment you take them out, the figures are nowhere near as scary as they appear. Students are not migrants at all. Of course, we have one of the most diverse Cabinets in the world, with our Indian-origin Prime Minister; ethnic-minority people hold three of the great offices of state.

The City of London is still one of the top two financial centres in the world, but having the highest tax burden in 70 years is not the way to be an attractive investment destination. Putting up corporation tax from 19% to 25% is a very bad move. It may be the lowest in the G7, but it is still higher than the OECD average. If there is a Labour Government, any talk of equating capital gains tax with income tax will be disastrous. Money will flow out of this country and investment will leave.

Our Armed Forces are some of the best in the world, but they are too small. They number less than 200,000. When he was commander in chief of the central Indian army, my father was in charge of 350,000 troops—our whole Army, Navy and Air Force number less than 200,000. They are too small. I am proud to be an honorary group captain in Number 601 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Our Armed Forces are very well respected, but too small.

We have some of the strongest elements of soft and strong power in the world, such as our defence services. Our manufacturing may now be less than 10% of GDP, but we are a top 10 manufacturer and I am a proud manufacturer in my business. Some 500 million people watch the BBC around the world at any one time, and of course we have the Royal Family. I am so proud of the Coronation of King Charles III coming up this weekend. Our Royal Family is one of our strongest elements of soft power. Her Majesty the Queen was amazing; she was not only the most famous but the most respected monarch in the world. I think His Majesty King Charles will be exactly as respected. On the environment, he was decades ahead of the game.

I asked His Majesty yesterday, “Why don’t we have a state visit to India?” We need a large prime ministerial delegation, with Rishi Sunak leading a jumbo jet full of Cabinet Ministers, Ministers, business leaders, the press and university leaders going out to India to make that impact. That is what we need to push forward and enhance our trade relations with what will be the third-largest economy in the world and the third superpower; it will be the US, China and India—India must be our best friend going forward. We are not a superpower but we are a global power with huge reach and influence. We must always maintain our respect on the global stage.

My Lords, I feel privileged to speak in the concluding stages of this excellent debate. I am lucky to be here at all, because by some quirk or hiccup I got left off the speakers’ list—it was probably my fault. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his skill in securing this debate and on the excellent way in which he set the scene at the start. I did not agree with all of it, but it was a splendid survey.

I have a simple message to add to the wisdom we have heard this afternoon. The growing 56-nation Commonwealth of Nations, which is the largest network of its kind in the world, with more nations applying all the time and expressing interest from remarkable quarters, should be far more central to UK foreign policy, strategy and priorities than it is today.

I call attention to an article by the excellent Sir Trevor Phillips in the Times, on Saturday, I think, in which he set out with amazing clarity and sense the pan-global importance of today’s growing Commonwealth—what the late Queen called “an entirely new conception”. Some of us have been trying for almost three decades to get this message deep into the minds of our foreign policy experts and strategists—so far, I must admit, with very limited success. I should also give a backhanded thank you to the Chinese themselves, who now remind us clearly and almost daily of the dangers to the whole Commonwealth network and to our own security, something people overlook, as they seek to entice numerous new member states—the smaller islands and coastal nations, particularly in Africa, are vulnerable —into their hegemony and the authoritarian control system. One very respected China expert recently called it hoovering up the developing nations, because that is what is going on.

A strong and focused reorientation of both our development and defence policy and our broader international priorities is required to counter this new reality in all its dimensions, which are not just military or aid but to do with a thousand other areas in this cyber and internet world. That applies to both the Chinese and the Russians. I noticed that the esteemed diplomatic editor of the Times wrote persuasively the other day on exactly this issue, as have an increasing number of distinguished media columnists, which gives one some hope.

I understand the difficulty for professional diplomats of grasping the rather elusive concept of the Commonwealth network. It is not a trade bloc; it is not under a treaty; large parts of it are non-governmental; it is, in fact, more and more a product of the modern age— a network, with its own internal dynamic. I also understand, in the light of our debate, that this is also occasionally difficult for the Church to grasp. This is delicate ground, but I was fascinated by an adage I picked up from de Tocqueville. He said that only by distancing themselves from politics do Churches and faiths preserve their power over men and women’s souls—food for thought, I think.

Aside from that, and whether you agree with it or not, we are now moving into an entirely different world where like-minded medium-sized nations need to stick and work together as never before. My noble friend Lord Frost mentioned our likely membership of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. It has 12 members. When we join, it will have 13. Eight of those are Commonwealth members. You may say, “We don’t all agree with each other and there are arguments around the table”, but there is such a thing as coffee-break diplomacy and, in a few trade organisations I have been in, that has been very important. It is after the formal sessions when agreements can often be struck that shape an entirely new direction and reinforce our interests.

Most nations, particularly the younger Commonwealth nations, want their own independence. There is a silly argument that the media does not quite understand about whether being a realm or not means leaving the Commonwealth—of course, it does not; that is quite a different thing. Our new King remains Head of the Commonwealth and head, if not directly, of the majority of republics, kingdoms, sultanates and others of which the Commonwealth is composed. One day we will get that straight in the media’s mind.

Those countries want their own independence. First, they are not automatically on our side, as we found when our foreign officials went round the Commonwealth to check they were all with us over Ukraine and found that half of them were not. Secondly, they are beginning to look at something like the Commonwealth, or the Commonwealth itself, as a potential safe haven from the enormous forces: the hegemonic grab of China, intruding at every point around the entire systems, as I have already indicated; overinfluence and being overbossed by the United States; and the undiluted ideology that belongs to a previous age, which does not really fit all their conditions as they would wish.

Questions hang in the air about Britain. Are we up to this role? Do we understand that there are entirely new forces operating in international relations? Do we understand that our relationship with the United States—which, again, my noble friend Lord Frost and others have mentioned—needs to be examined quite carefully? The Americans are our good friends and our partners, but they are not the bosses. They are not the ones with whom we are the automatic and submissive satrapies. Our relationship with them should be healthy, and, like the independent countries of the Commonwealth, we wish to use and work on all the values that America can contribute.

Indeed, many countries work both ways. They take gold from China, they sometimes take—and regret it; there is quite a pushback going on—too much intervention from China, and too many dubious contributions and money, which they think is grants but it turns out to be loans, which they cannot pay back. These countries need constant support and help, and that is possible in the electronic age. Every day—not occasionally—friends have to be worked on, and can be, and that is what the British Government should be doing. I repeat the questions. Are we up for that role? Do we have the right relationship with the United States? Can we clarify and get a balanced approach to the enormous looming hegemony of China, with all the difficulties that have been mentioned by several speakers? I do not know the answer to these questions but they are the ones we have to work on. Perhaps the Minister will help us a little. They are very difficult but central to our future prosperity and our security in our new place in a new and very dangerous world.

My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in this debate and begin the winding speeches, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. It is quite common to say, “I am delighted to speak after the noble Lord or the noble Baroness”, and sometimes that seems very formulaic. But on this occasion, it really has been a privilege to participate. I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for bringing this debate to us. As so often, it is a shame that we are meeting in Grand Committee rather than on the Floor of the House. If we were there, we would get much more coverage, and the issues that have been raised could be explored much more fully.

This has been an excellent debate. One of the things we have found is that there are many areas of agreement across all four parts of the House. That begins to pay testament to the nature of the United Kingdom and our approach to foreign policy. Needless to say, I am not going to say from these Benches that I agree with everything that everybody has said—it would be a little strange if I did—and there are many things that I would like to amplify. One area in particular that I will focus on slightly more than people might expect is the Commonwealth.

The area that I am going to touch on, but perhaps not speak on as much as some people would expect, is defence. The reason for that is that my day job is as an academic. My professor of politics at Oxford used to say that I wrote good essays but that I did not necessarily answer the question, so I now look very closely at an exam question, and today it seemed to be about the implications for foreign policy. I noted that the Minister who was going to respond was the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, rather than the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, so I thought I would stick primarily to foreign policy, but I will touch on defence as well.

The starting point of the debate is about the UK’s changing role in the world. My immediate sense, when I started to draft notes ahead of the debate, was that we also needed to think about the changing role of the world around us, which many speeches have touched on, particularly the changing role of China. Perhaps slightly strangely, given that we are just over a year into the war in Ukraine, a lot of the discussion has been on China.

The subject that I thought might have caused a much longer debate was actually Brexit. I had a note of just one word: “Brexit”. My noble friend Lady Northover, in her excellent speech, pointed out that the previous integrated security and defence review had a Europe-shaped hole in it. Today’s debate did not pay very much attention to Europe, but that is probably right if we are rethinking our role. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out that we need to be strengthening our trading relationship with Europe. That is hugely important and something we need to focus on, as we must on security, but the questions of our role in the world are much greater than that.

I was minded to start from where the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, started: which foreign policy? He was looking for a foreign policy from the Government. It is quite easy to see why. I have lost count of how many Foreign Secretaries we have had since the 2016 referendum. For a number of years, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister appeared to set the frame of what the UK Government thought they were doing internationally. Are we going global? What is global Britain? Are we going to focus on trading relations with countries that we already had trading relations with while we were members of the European Union? It was never entirely clear. Going east of Suez sounded like something that might work very well in a Marvel cartoon, but were we going to do anything meaningful by doing so, as Boris Johnson wanted to do as Foreign Secretary? It was never entirely clear. I think we are beginning to get a sense of where the current Government are going, but there are some areas where we could help to steer the Government in certain directions.

It came as a surprise to me, just as it did to the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, that we could agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Frost, said about partnership—that we absolutely need to be strengthening our bilateral and other relations. I was slightly worried, when he talked about process, that he might think that thickening up relations with our bilateral partners might fall into that, but he very clearly did not. It would be good to hear the Minister’s views on what we are doing to strengthen our bilateral relations with our European partners, as well as with the United States.

I did not entirely agree with the analyses of the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, on some of the issues about the United States, particularly on whether we are having problems because Biden is President. We might be having some problems, but they are probably not entirely dependent on which particular president the Americans put it office, because we had a few problems with Donald Trump as well. There are clearly some issues, but they are ones where we need to work very hard.

One of the biggest issues associated with the ignominious departure from Afghanistan, which my noble friend mentioned, is the fact that it is very clear that, when the United States decided to act, the other NATO partners, including the United Kingdom, had to follow suit. Your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee, of which, at the time, I was a member, called on what was then Her Majesty’s Government to talk to the incoming Biden Administration and warn them of the dangers of withdrawal. All the Government said was, “We’re waiting to see what President Biden wants to do”. Surely the United Kingdom should not play a subservient role. We might want to have an appropriately humble role, but we should be talking to the United States and at least try to be equals in putting forward our views.

That takes me to the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, as we might have expected, talked about the Commonwealth, but we also heard about it in part from the noble Lords, Lord Popat and Lord Bilimoria. The Commonwealth is hugely important, and perhaps we underplay it. It is an area where the United Kingdom could and should have influence, but it is also one where we need to demonstrate a degree of humility. That is where I disagreed with the suggestions from the noble Lord, Lord Frost, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, that somehow members of the Commonwealth or the global South have not been persuaded by the United Kingdom regarding Ukraine because of our issues on a whole set of social policies. It goes deeper than that. This is not about Commonwealth countries necessarily saying, “The West is too liberal” but perhaps, “We don’t want to be taken for granted”.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, suggested that there should be a state visit to India; I hope that His Majesty the King agreed. However, if we are doing that, it should not be with Ministers saying, “You need to be doing this and we want you to do that”. It should be acknowledged that our Head of State may also be Head of the Commonwealth but that King Charles is not the king of India and we no longer have the Raj. India will very shortly be the largest country in the world, if it is not already, and one that we need to speak to equals, not as a former colonial power. We need to recalibrate what we are doing to ensure that we are working with our Commonwealth partners as partners. That might help us to negotiate and persuade them in areas of the world where we have left a vacuum for China—a vacuum that has been talked about by many Peers.

In winding up, I will devote my final few seconds to the situation in China. As many Peers have said, it is not a country that is necessarily an enemy, although it has significant military power. We need to rethink our relationship while understanding that, as the noble Lord, Lord Popat, said, it is in part the IMF of Africa. We need to understand that if we in the West leave a vacuum, China will fill it, and in ways that do not require conditionality, as my noble friend Lady Tyler said. We need to rethink that, and I hope the Minister will agree with that and perhaps tell us where we can go in our relations with China under the refreshed integrated review.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, with her usual insightful remarks. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans on securing this debate. I join other noble Lords in saying to the Government that, given the importance of this debate, it clearly should have been in the Chamber. When we are talking about the importance of Britain in the world, of foreign policy and of the future of our country with our allies across the world, and given the nature of the various conflicts and challenges there are, as was mentioned by numerous noble Lords, it is astonishing that it was not held in the Chamber. I hope that can be taken back to the Government as something that is important.

The serious situation in Sudan and the danger in which it has placed thousands of British nationals has been a stark reminder of how interconnected our world is today. Hearing the desperate stories of innocent civilians escaping Khartoum and the welcome efforts of the Government to airlift diplomats and their families, we can all recognise that foreign policy has never before had greater implications for life here in the UK and beyond. That interconnected nature of our world places Britain and our allies at a crossroads, and we have a choice as to how we move forward, hence the importance of this debate.

We can choose to stand isolated from our closest allies or we can embrace the opportunity that the world offers, including with the United States. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that this should not be as a subservient partner. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, is absolutely right: it is important for the world and for the values that we stand for, and it is important for democracies across Europe and beyond that the United States, the United Kingdom and allies in NATO and beyond stand together. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, made this point: that we should stand with the confidence—not arrogance or a belief that we know everything or that everyone should follow us, as though we were some empire-building colonial power again—that the democratic values that we hold and the human rights that we stand for are important. If we do not stand with the United States to deliver that, we diminish that effort across the world. I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Frost, about that.

The challenge is to ensure that, whoever the President is, the United States itself does not turn inwards and that it sees that its own interests are in working with the UK and NATO and standing firm with respect to Ukraine, as we have seen. We have to work with the United States to deliver that.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly, constantly reminds us of the dangers of China. That is a challenge for the Government—what our relationship is to be with China, and what relationship will work with China. Of course we have to speak to it; it would be ridiculous to say that we should not speak to China. But how do you speak to China and what do you say? Personally, I do not think that there is anything to be gained by appearing weak or by saying that these are not the values that we stand for—that somehow kowtowing to the Chinese is what works. But surely there is a common interest in dealing with the problems that we face.

I have got carried away as usual—but let me just say what the issue is here. I do not think that the great superpowers of the world can move forward without starting from asking what the common interest is here. To take climate change, there are difficulties on this—but, if climate change is not addressed, there is drought and famine. There is a moral imperative to act on this issue, of course—but as the noble Lord, Lord Popat, said about Africa, the movement of people that we see currently is as of nothing if we do not deal with climate change, famine, agriculture, food security and water. Millions on millions of people will move to search for water, which will affect China, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Africa, southern Europe, us, the United States, Mexico and South America. It is in everybody’s common interest to deal with that.

Of course, there are issues. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us about China. I myself have been sanctioned in Russia—but that will not stop him, me or many others in here from saying what we think. The Government should say that we will not be weak on human rights with regard to China—but surely, as has been shown from some international conferences, you can come to some agreement on issues where there are common interests. That is where I would start; that is what we are looking for from the Government. It is not just our country but the world that is at a crossroads here. There are problems that cannot be resolved by individual countries. I shall not get into the Brexit argument, but international co-operation and working together is absolutely crucial, within a framework of individual and national sovereignty. That is what is frustrating.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans mentioned the importance of soft power, which is neglected. As noble Lords will have heard me say in the Chamber, I am a big advocate of defence spending. I do not think that we spend enough on defence as a country; we can argue what that should be, but we need to spend more. Some of the solutions to the problems, as my noble friend Lord Browne said, might come if we could only sort out who was doing what in NATO. We would not all have to have 1,000 tanks or 5,000 fighter aircraft or 20 aircraft carriers. Of course everyone should have an individual responsibility, but the alliance would deliver that power. That is why I think that AUKUS is important and offers a way forward in respect of that.

When we visited the American embassy two or three weeks ago, I made the point about the importance of soft power. That is where the UK has immense reach. I cannot remember which noble Lord mentioned it, but whether you look at the Middle East, Africa or many of the other countries, that soft power is immense and must be given greater priority by the Government. The aircraft carriers sailing around the South China Sea project military power, but my understanding is that it did as much simply by docking at various ports, speaking to people there and trying to understand what was going on. That is why it is so tragic that the Government have cut the aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%. It was an awful decision from a moral point of view—but also, that aid package is going into all those different areas where there are problems, and that aid is the soft power that demonstrates to countries that we are not only about preaching human rights and democracy, but that human rights and democracy from a country such as ours delivers aid to people when they need it. We have lost that through the cutting of the budget.

The noble Lord, Lord Frost, may have more influence on people in America than me, but I would be saying to them, “I do not understand that America is often criticised for its global actions, yet look at many of the national global emergencies that occur across the world, and whose planes are flying in the aid? Which flag is on the aid packages going in there?” It should be a source of great pride to the American people that often they are right at the forefront of tackling problems when there is an earthquake or a disaster.

There is a need here. The world is at a crossroads. Standing with America, we the West should project democracy, human rights and values, and demonstrate how they work. We should not shy away from that. We should support those fledgling democracies and fledgling movements across the world that are also trying to grow that within their regions. That is hard power, that is soft power, and it is strategic interest.

I go back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. If we do not have the confidence as a country, led by our Government, whatever Government that is, to project that with our NATO allies and our alliances, we will not achieve what we all want, and China, Russia and the other autocrats across the world will gain from it. That is the challenge. The Government must be bolder in setting out that vision of where they want us and our allies to go if we are to achieve what we all want.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans for tabling this debate. Without sounding too clichéd, I strongly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that it has been a fascinating debate, and probably the most illuminating debate that I have taken part in, at least as a Minister. I have so enjoyed many of the speakers that we have heard today. Like everyone, I do not agree with everything that I have heard, but I agree with much of it and have enjoyed the passion with which the speeches have been delivered, and the depth of knowledge and wisdom.

As your Lordships will be aware, since publishing the IR in 2021, we have seen a huge escalation in geopolitical competition, with an intensification of threats to our democracy and security. The global turbulence forecast in the review has moved at a quicker pace than anyone had imagined just two years ago. In recent months, we have seen an emerging trend, a transition to a multi-polar and contested world, from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine to China’s growing economic coercion. The world is a most dangerous place, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said very convincingly, with far-reaching consequences for the security and prosperity of the British people.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for delivering his speech so compellingly and covering a lot of the points that I wanted to cover. He made the point that the current situation in Sudan, the most recent of this tumult, amply demonstrates the heightened volatility that is likely to last beyond the 2030s. That is why we published the IR refresh earlier this year, setting out how the UK will meet this reality head on.

The refresh describes how the UK will protect our core interests—the sovereignty, security and prosperity of the British people—and pursue a stable international order, with enhanced co-operation and well-managed competition, based on respect for the UN charter and for international law. Rightly, our approach is an evolution as opposed to a revolution. Our strategic ambition is on track, positioning the UK as a responsible, reliable and effective international actor and partner, investing in the global relationships that we know we need to thrive in an era of international uncertainty. We meet our obligations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as the leading European ally within an expanding NATO.

We do have strong relations with our neighbours in Europe. I say that in response to a number of points made by the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. We have strong relationships, notwithstanding Brexit. I see that in my own work almost every day, much of which would not be possible without co-operation with our friends and allies in Europe, but, yes, we must build on the Windsor Framework to invigorate those partnerships even more. We are deeply engaged in the Indo-Pacific, we are active in Africa and we enjoy thriving relationships with countries across the Middle East and the Gulf.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Commonwealth. Although I will not focus on it too much in this speech, because I have so many points to cover, I want to amplify the point made so well by my noble friend Lord Howell, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. It is not just a unique club but an extraordinary club of nations. As one speaker pointed out, it encompasses 2.5 billion people. It is a club unrivalled in its diversity—geographic, economic, cultural and in every conceivable way. There is an incredible strength in it, with these countries—in some ways unlikely countries—bound together by something very strong and with the UK playing a critical role, not least through the role of His Majesty the King. Like others, I believe that there is much more to be extracted from that club. There is much more to be done to strengthen it and give it purpose. That has moved higher up the political agenda, even in the last few months here in the UK.

Today’s debate has touched on issues right across the spectrum of our international interests. There is no way that I will be able to answer all the points made, but I will do my best. My noble friend Lord Frost made a point, followed up by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the importance of our relationship with the US. The US is clearly our closest ally. It remains so and I hope it always will. There has been tremendous political volatility recently, with the election of President Trump followed by a shift towards the Administration of President Biden. That has made the status quo trickier and we have had to navigate uncharted waters in that relationship.

I know this is absolutely not central to our debate, but the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Meyer raised the current obsession within the US, which is unfortunately catching on here as well, with what are often termed culture wars. I can only imagine what our competitors in China and combatants in Russia think when they see western politicians unable even to answer the question, “What is a woman?” It just makes no sense at all. We can laugh at it, but there is something more serious there. The implications go further; my noble friend Lady Meyer made the point, so I will not repeat it, other than to say that we are seeing a creeping intolerance, through every aspect of society, which is antithetical to our values as a country and to any kind of advancement and progress in relation to intellectual discourse, politics or anything else. It cannot just be dismissed as trivia. It is a fundamental issue and I very much share the point that she made.

The UK has provided nearly £6.5 billion in military, humanitarian and economic support to Ukraine since the start of the invasion. This goes to the point a number of noble Lords made about the position that the UK holds in the world. We led the G7 response, co-ordinating diplomatic activity and imposing our toughest ever sanctions, and we have trained thousands of brave Ukrainian troops.

As a Foreign Office Minister, I have the privilege of travelling the world and, like my noble friend Lady Meyer, I do not hear people outside this country talking down the UK. I hear people talking up the UK and the role that we have played, in relation not just to Ukraine but to other issues such as climate change, which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned and I will come to later. We are seen as a world leader, and I have seen no sign whatever that this has been diminished by the decision we took to leave the European Union—on the contrary. We often hear that we no longer have a seat at the table, but the opposite is true: we have a seat at many more tables than we had before and are able to make decisions often in partnership with the European Union, which we are routinely able to push into much stronger positions.

As we update our Russia strategy, our objective is to contain Russia’s ability to disrupt the security of the UK, the Euro-Atlantic and the wider international order. As we face the most significant conflict in Europe since the end of World War II, we need to know that our Armed Forces are ready for the battles to come—a point that has been well made—and that the wider threat that Russia, Iran and North Korea pose to the international order is contained.

We have already announced that we will bolster the nation’s defences, investing £5 billion over the next two years. This will replenish our ammunition stocks, modernise our nuclear enterprise and fund the next phase of the AUKUS partnership. This investment represents significant progress in meeting our long-term minimum defence spending target of 2.5% of GDP and comes on top of the £560 million of new investments last year and the record £20 billion uplift announced in 2020.

Secondly, we know that the prosperity and security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions are inextricably linked. It is critical to our economy, security and values that we build on those partnerships. The review makes our long-term commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific a permanent pillar of our international policy. In answer to questions raised by a number of noble Lords, in particular the right reverend Prelate, that long-term commitment is already bearing fruit across defence, diplomacy and trade, evidenced by our recent accession to the CPTPP, which my noble friend Lord Frost talked about. We are its first European member.

The PM announced in March that the AUKUS partnership will deliver a state-of-the-art nuclear-powered submarine platform to Australia, setting the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard. This capability will help uphold the conditions for a secure and stable Indo-Pacific. I do not pretend to be an expert in Australian politics but, again, I see nothing to suggest that politics in Australia is moving against this new arrangement. On the contrary: it seems to be embraced cross party—or mostly. The Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to the Pacific nations demonstrated that commitment to partner with our friends there for the long haul, listening to their priorities and working together on issues that are existential for us all but especially for those small island developing states that are absolutely on the front line when it comes to tackling climate change.

As the Foreign Secretary set out last week, and as someone here also said, China continues to present an “epoch-defining challenge” for an open, stable international order. This is our third key area, which I will focus on briefly. As noble Lords will know, China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the second-largest economy in the world, with an impact on almost everything of global significance to the UK. Therefore, it is firmly in our national interest to engage with China bilaterally and multilaterally, and to ensure that we have the skills and knowledge to do so.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising, on so many occasions in the short time that I have been a Minister, issues of injustice that flow from the current Chinese Government—I say current, but it has been the same Government all my life. We are not blind to the increasingly aggressive military and economic behaviour of the Chinese Communist Party, stoking tensions right across the Taiwan Strait. The evidence of human rights violations in Xinjiang is truly harrowing.

In response to a couple of the questions that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked, I do not know what the Vice-President and the Foreign Secretary will talk about but I hope it will be Hong Kong and the situation in relation to the Uighurs and Jimmy Lai, the noble Lord’s friend, who is clearly being pursued as a mechanism to silence a critic and as part of a broader attack on media freedom—there is no doubt about that. I hope these issues are raised and that the Foreign Secretary is able to lay out the UK’s position on them. I will write to the noble Lord about the commission of inquiry in relation to North Korea, as I am afraid that I cannot give him an answer. On the Iranian national guard, we have responded to Iran’s completely unacceptable behaviour by sanctioning the IRGC in its entirety as well as certain of its leaders specifically. That was announced last week.

Going back to China, our approach must combine these two currents. We will strengthen our national security protections wherever Beijing’s actions pose a threat to our people or our prosperity. We will ensure alignment with our core allies and a wider set of international partners, and we will engage directly with China to create a space for constructive and stable relations.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made the point that there are many problems globally that we cannot solve without China. This international co-operation occasionally works; I saw that myself in Montreal, where China held the pen of the CBD COP 15, working with Canada as the host and delivering something which exceeded anyone’s expectations. I was about to use a word that I would come to regret—I am enthusiastic about efforts to protect the environment—but I certainly did not expect that the outcome would be what it was. To be fair about it, we must acknowledge that China played a very unexpected but positive role. A lot of that was a consequence of engagement. There was a real sense of expectation in China, with the pressure of a risk of being seen to fail, which I think led to them taking a stronger position than they would have otherwise.

To support all these efforts, we have confirmed that we will double our funding for China capability, to continue to build expertise and language skills here in government. I acknowledge the point made by my noble friend Lord Frost about the behaviour of the World Health Organization during the Covid crisis. He is right. While on one level it is also right that we should be critical of the efforts that China made to capture that organisation, I am far more upset with the World Health Organization for allowing itself to be so obviously captured.

Would my noble friend the Minister consider how this country can lessen its economic dependence on China? There is a great deal of research now about not having dependency for more than 25% of imports on any one country, and—

With no disrespect to my noble friend, the noble Baroness was not here at the beginning. It may be a rule that she is not familiar with.

The noble Baroness does make a very important point. I will be touching on it in the remaining stages of my speech but yes, absolutely that must be a focus. That is at the heart of our critical minerals strategy but it goes way beyond that, for precisely the reasons that she has said.

Responding to this ever faster-moving global context means stepping up to protect the UK’s economic resilience, not least by acknowledging the point made by the noble Baroness. We have established a new directorate in the FCDO, incorporating the government information cell, to increase our capacity to assess and counter hostile information manipulation where it affects UK interests overseas. A new economic deterrence initiative will build our diplomatic and economic toolkit. With initial funding of up to £50 million over two years, the initiative is designed to strengthen our sanctions implementation and enforcement, and to give us new tools to respond to hostile acts and crack down on sanctions evasion. A new national protective services authority, located within MI5, will provide UK businesses and other organisations with immediate access to expert security advice. We will be publishing the UK’s first semiconductor strategy, which will grow our domestic industry for that vital technology, as well as the updated critical minerals strategy that I mentioned a few moments ago.

On science and technology, I want to acknowledge a point made by the right reverend Prelate on the importance of investment in science and technology. In a world of technological change, we are investing more in the UK’s science and tech ecosystem than ever before. Through our international tech strategy, we have laid out how we will cement the UK’s place as a science and tech superpower, working with partners to secure strategic advantage and ensure that technology promotes our shared values of freedom. We have already reorganised government to focus better on this area and are increasing our resilience for the long term, spending around £20 billion a year across government on research and development by the next financial year.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised the issue of AI. I cannot go into detail but AI technology is a step forward, which offers potential answers to questions that we have never been able to answer. It is an incredibly powerful tool and there is a question of whether we have demonstrated that we have sufficient wisdom to control such a powerful tool. Rather than rushing in as we are, we should be discussing, debating and figuring out what we want from AI and how we can prevent that incredibly powerful new thing from falling into the hands of people who will not be approaching issues in the benign manner that noble Lords have in this debate today.

I want to talk about Horizon very briefly. A number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned it. Yes, we are discussing association. We want negotiations to be successful. Clearly the outcome needs to be in our interests, but that is very much a government policy and will continue to be.

On soft power, I will talk on international development, because that is probably one of the best examples of where we deploy soft power. Sustainable international development clearly is and remains central to our foreign policy. It is fundamental to the goals of the integrated review. I apologise to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds for having left the Committee to answer the call of nature half way through his speech. I very much share his views on Lord Mitchell—or rather Andrew Mitchell; he is not a lord, although he may become one—who is one of this country’s great experts when it comes to development, as you could see by the reception he received when he was given that appointment. We spent £11 billion on international development assistance last year, including on climate, girls’ education, global health and so on, and we remain absolutely committed to that broader agenda.

To support our commitment to development earlier this year, we launched the women and girls strategy to tackle threats which have been debated and discussed—three minutes to go; halfway through. This year we will go further and faster to deliver that strategy, the IDS. The IDS was not given the prominence that it merited, and I encourage noble Lords to really have a look at it to see what is driving our approach to international development.

I will have to use the last few minutes to talk about climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, described it as an existential threat, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, praised the King for his history of involvement long before others, at a time when it was almost crank-like to worry about these issues, which have become mainstream, and I totally agree. I also just emphasise the UK’s leadership on this issue. COP 26 was the first COP where nature was brought in from the outside and put at the centre, with 90% of the world’s forests covered in commitments to end deforestation this decade, and 90% of the global economy signed up to net zero—it was only 30% when we took on the presidency. Real leadership through the UK resulted in a COP which again surprised the world in its effectiveness and how far-reaching it was. Our job now is to make those commitments real. We saw some of that at COP 27, where the UK had, other than the hosts, probably the most impactful interventions. We saw that in Montreal, which I mentioned earlier, where the UK did more heavy lifting to get that agreement over the line than any other country, including the presidents and the hosts of that conference. Many countries would agree that we would not have succeeded had it not been for the UK’s involvement.

I see I have only 30 seconds left, which is awful, and I have not even begun to address the comments from my noble friend Lord Popat on Africa, but I agree with him very strongly that there is huge promise there. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made an interesting point about why investing in and supporting Africa is in our interest. One example of that is that the Congo Basin produces nearly two-thirds of Africa’s rainfall, yet it has been cut down at a rate of half a million hectares a year. If that were to continue—it will if we do not intervene—we will see a humanitarian crisis on a scale that exceeds anything even in the Bible. We would be looking at something off the scale. That is not a question for debate. We know that the forests generate rainfall and that cutting down the forests will stop rainfall, and we know that rainfall is necessary for the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people and those to whom that food is exported.

I apologise that I have to conclude. I was going to address the 0.7% question, but I will simply say that I agree very much with the comments made. I urge the Government to move as quickly as possible to restore that 0.7%. It is an incredibly valuable thing the UK has in its armoury, not only doing good but benefiting us as well.

The UK has committed to work with our allies to shape an open, stable, international order with co-operation and partnership at its heart. Today, in a climate-threatened and geopolitically contested world, we are taking steps to adapt. We commit to taking the long-term view, acting with agility and, as always, being a champion for the values that we hold dear. I thank noble Lords again for their insightful comments and I apologise for not answering every question.

My Lords, sometimes I am asked what it is like being a Member of your Lordships’ House, and I often say that it sometimes feels like sitting in an incredibly informed, fascinating seminar with a number of world experts, and today has been just that. I will not try to name all the different speakers and the points they have made. I will just say that, for me, the fascinating speech by the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on Africa was very good, as was the speech on the Commonwealth from the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford; I was particularly grateful for that.

I am also grateful to the Minister for responding. His Majesty’s Government will hear a lot more from our House on three main clusters of areas, which I hope will be received helpfully. One, which I pick up from many of the speeches, is concern for a long-term strategy worked out with our partners as we address China, including human rights, defence and security. That was coming out loud and clear in many of the speeches. Secondly, the huge importance of the UK’s soft power, particularly in universities, in our aid budgets and in the BBC, was echoed on a number of occasions by noble Lords. Third is the vital importance of integrating climate change and environmental issues into our foreign policy. We will return to these, I am sure. Meanwhile, I thank noble Lords for their fascinating contributions.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.20 pm.