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Volume 825: debated on Thursday 17 November 2022


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the G20 summit in Indonesia, but first I would like to address Russia’s missile strikes on Ukraine this week.

On the very day that I and others confronted the Russian Foreign Minister across the G20 summit table with the brutality of his country’s actions, and on the very day that President Zelensky addressed the G20 with a plan to stop the war, Russia launched over 80 separate missile strikes on Ukraine. The targets were innocent people and civilian infrastructure; the aim, to cast the population into darkness and cold. Once again, Russia has shown its barbarity and given the lie to any claim that it is interested in peace.

During the bombardment of Ukraine on Tuesday, an explosion took place in eastern Poland. The investigation into this incident is ongoing and it has our full support. As we have heard the Polish and American Presidents say, it is possible that the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian munition which was deployed in self-defence. Whether or not this proves to be the case, no blame can be placed on a country trying to defend itself against such a barrage. The blame belongs solely to Russia.

I spoke to President Duda yesterday to express my sympathy and pledge our solidarity. I also spoke to President Zelensky on a joint call with Prime Minister Trudeau to express our continued support, and I met my G7 and NATO counterparts at the sidelines of the G20. We will help our Polish allies to conclude their investigation and we will continue to stand with Ukraine in the face of Russia’s criminal aggression.

The Bali summit took place amidst the worst global economic crisis since 2008. The G20 was created to grip challenges like this, but today’s crisis is different, because it is being driven by a G20 member. By turning off the gas taps and choking off the Ukrainian grain supply, Russia has severely disrupted global food and energy markets. The economic shockwaves will ripple around the world for years to come. So, together with the other responsible members of the G20, we are delivering a decisive response. Almost all G20 members called out Russia’s actions, declaring that

‘today’s era must not be one of war.’

We will work together to uphold international law and the United Nations charter, and we will act to protect our collective economic security. The G20 agreed to use all available tools to support the global economy and ensure financial stability. That means international financial institutions mobilising more resources to support developing countries, it means continuing to call out those who exploit their lending power to create debt traps for emerging economies, and it means tackling the causes of rising inflation head-on, including by delivering fiscal sustainability.

We pledged our support for the UN-brokered deal to keep grain shipments moving in the Black Sea. I am pleased to say that that deal has now been renewed. Two-thirds of Ukraine’s wheat goes to developing countries. With famine looming, it is desperately needed and Russia must uphold its part of this deal.

We agreed action to improve energy security by accelerating the transition to clean energy. We launched a new Just Energy Transition Partnership with Indonesia, which will unlock billions in private finance for new green energy infrastructure. Finally, we committed to maintain free markets and free trade and to reform the World Trade Organization.

Yesterday, I held my first meeting with President Biden. We pledged to redouble our support for Ukraine and to continue deepening our co-operation, including on energy security and managing the challenges posed by China. I met Prime Minister Modi, where we reviewed progress on our forthcoming free trade agreement. I discussed our accession to the CPTPP with the Prime Ministers of Japan, Canada and Australia, and I met with almost every other leader at the summit, with the exception of Russia. In each of those discussions, there was a shared determination to restore stability, deliver long-term growth and drive a better future—one where no single country has the power to hold us back. In just a few moments, my right honourable friend the Chancellor will build on those international foundations when he sets out the Autumn Statement, putting our economy back on to a positive trajectory and restoring our fiscal sustainability.

By being strong abroad we strengthen our resilience at home, so we will continue to support Ukraine and to stand up for the rule of law and the fundamental principles of sovereignty and self-determination. We will build a global economy that is more secure, stable and resilient, because that is what the gravity of the moment demands. That is how we will ensure that our country emerges from this crisis stronger than it was before. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I thank the Lord Privy Seal for repeating today’s Statement. I think it helps the discussions of the House when we are able to have Statements on the same day so the House can hear the Statement and respond, and I think he feels the same.

I entirely agree with the comments he made. As world leaders met in Bali, the incident in Poland was a stark reminder of the effect of the destabilising influence and effect of Putin’s war in Ukraine. I entirely concur with his comments about the terrible explosion in Poland. With two people killed, we extend our condolences, and I think the whole House will agree, to all those affected. We also admire our NATO allies for their calm and level-headed response to this at such a tense time.

We on these Benches, and indeed across the House, are committed to the principle of collective security. An attack on the sovereignty of any NATO country is an attack on us all. Sadly, though, as we await the results of the investigation into the incident, Putin’s illegal invasion continues to have further tragic and devastating consequences. Russian forces are being pushed further from Kherson but, in response, Moscow is now directing attacks on to civilians and civilian infrastructure, with all the consequences that brings both for the current citizens but also for the future reconstruction of Ukraine.

I am pleased that the leaders’ declaration confirmed that the G20 recognised the immense human suffering in Ukraine, but we also understand and appreciate that that forum is not the place where we can resolve the issue of the invasion. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the Minister could say something about discussions that were held with allies about extending support for Ukraine, including the issue of air defences.

On the Black Sea grain shipments deal, we welcome some of the reports that are emerging of an extension. I do not know whether the Minister can say anything more about that today or if he is able to outline the Government’s assessment of Russian compliance with the agreement that has been reached.

I want to say something about international development. I think the whole House will hope that progress on grain exports could help to calm the issue of global food price increases, which is threatening even greater hardship across the developing world. Famine is now looming for many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. I was pleased to hear the Minister make reference to the international institutions’ role in mobilising resources, but I have to say it is unfortunate that the Government have abandoned the global leadership role that we have had on international development. We were well known for that for many years. He will be aware that during the G20 talks the Government cut support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. That is in direct contrast to our allies, including the US, France, Germany, Japan and Spain, which have all stepped up their commitments by 30%. The timing of the Government’s announcement was unfortunate, to say the very least, and I wonder whether any of our counterparts in other countries raised the future of the Global Fund, given that the announcement was made at the same time as the G20 was ongoing.

On international development, as well as on security and the global economy, the value of the G20 is that it brings together leaders with interests that have not always aligned. That introduces opportunities but also provides challenges. For years, government policy on China has been marked by inconsistency and sometimes quite screeching U-turns. The Lord Privy Seal mentioned that the Prime Minister discussed China with President Biden. Can he say anything more about what kind of discussions they were? Further to that, can he confirm when the Government now plan to publish the China strategy that we are waiting for?

I want to touch on trade, particularly the meeting with Prime Minister Modi. India is the world’s largest democracy. There are strong cultural and family ties with the UK. Clearly a trade agreement would bring new opportunities for both partners, but it has been cast into doubt by irresponsible comments from the Home Secretary on immigration from India. It is quite shocking when two arms of government are not singing from the same hymn sheet on such issues. Her comments could be extremely damaging, as well as being unwarranted and unhelpful generally. Although I am pleased that progress towards that trade agreement was reviewed, we are now long past Diwali, which was the Government’s previous deadline for achieving such an agreement. Is the Minister able to tell us whether there is a new target date for completion of the Indian trade deal? Is there any sign or sight of our reaching a conclusion?

Unfortunately, the Government’s difficulty in finding agreement with India reflects broader issues with trade policy. I am sure the Minister has seen the scathing comments from George Eustice about the Australian trade deal, which were rather surprising given that he was a Cabinet Minister when it was negotiated. Meanwhile, the pledge to have 80% of UK trade covered by free trade agreements by the end of 2022 seems a distant prospect. It would be helpful to your Lordships’ House if the Minister could tell the House today—if not, I am happy for him to write to me and put a copy in the Library—what percentage of UK trade is currently covered by FTAs.

It is now being reported that a trade deal with the US was not even discussed by the Prime Minister when he met President Biden, which seems rather concerning. Is there any prospect of seeing a trade deal with the US before the end of this Parliament?

In conclusion, this summit took place against a backdrop of greater instability and economic challenge than any other G20 forum. I agree with the Statement on how serious the shockwaves that have come from the Russian invasion of Ukraine are, but that is only part of the story as far as the UK is concerned. It does not explain why we are doing so much worse on economic growth, and have higher inflation and greater inequality, than other countries with similar economies. We may see today what impact the Budget has and we will discuss that later. The Government’s actions and responsibility play into part of that as well.

Recent events in Poland are quite a warning for us that Putin’s reckless invasion of Ukraine has implications for wider international security. It reminds us of just how important our international alliances and relationships are.

All this reinforces that we must stand with our NATO allies and our friends in Ukraine in their defence against brutal aggression. But now, perhaps more than ever before, we have to stand up and commit wholeheartedly to multilateralism and the international rule of law as the guarantor—the only guarantor—of a safer and more secure future.

I thank the Leader of the House for delivering the Statement. I am standing in for my noble friend Lord Newby, who cannot be here this evening. I welcome the outcome of the G20 meeting, with its near unanimous support for Ukraine, our Polish allies and condemnation of the illegal actions of Russia. The determination to uphold international law and the UN charter has our full support, as does the commitment to collective economic security.

If a deal to sustain grain shipments moving in the Black Sea can be secured this weekend, this will have special significance, at least for the developing world. The recognition by the Government that our own economic stability depends on a firm international foundation is welcome. The Statement says:

“By being strong abroad we strengthen our resilience at home.”

The problem is that everything that the respective Governments of the past six years have done has been to weaken this position abroad, and it is not surprising that this weakening is reflected in our own intolerable domestic economic situation, made worse by the last Conservative Government’s own actions.

The missile incident in Poland should perhaps remind us of our history: an attack on Poland led us into the Second World War, and, for the next two years, Churchill spent his life trying to ensure that we did not stand alone. Polish troops were some of the bravest who supported us then. This should demonstrate to us that, whatever happens in Europe, whether it is a security issue, energy shortages, economic problems or the impact of climate change, this all impacts on us as a nation. Every day, our sovereignty is weaker by being outside the European Councils. Gatherings such as the G20 and the G7 are actually now very important to us because we have fewer opportunities each year to meet world leaders. They are of course even more important to us now that we are outside the EU, where we had so many opportunities to meet leaders of our neighbouring countries in Europe to get to know how we could work with them, which we were very good at doing.

I want to ask the Leader of the House three questions. First, there is lots of talk about defence issues arising from the conflict in Ukraine, and that is obviously our focus, but are we and other nations prepared to support Ukraine economically as well as defensively? Will we be supporting its move into the European single market, and what involvement will we have in the equivalent of a Marshall plan for that country, either before or certainly when the war has ended?

Secondly, there seems to have been little discussion at the G20 on the problems of population growth across the globe—particularly in Africa, where half the growth is now expected to occur, according to UN projections—and its implications for water, food and migration pressures on Europe in particular. It needs international attention, particularly the line from Lagos to Shanghai, where resources are needed to counter the growing pressures of population growth and the shortage of world resources.

Finally, once again, there is a lot of attention to the discussions with President Biden on the edges of the G20 meeting. I suspect that his position and probable involvement in any celebrations in March on the Northern Ireland peace agreement were discussed. So is March now the new deadline for sorting out the Northern Ireland protocol to ensure that he makes this visit, and was it discussed?

My Lords, a range of questions have been raised. I begin by expressing my sincere sense of gratitude, on behalf of the Government, to both noble Lords who have spoken for the sense of solidarity they expressed, both in support of Ukraine and in the face of the quite appalling aggression by the Putin regime. I can say, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and Sir Keir Starmer said in the other place, that “we stand as one” on this. There has also been very powerful affirmation of that in this House, for which I am extremely grateful. I join with the noble Baroness opposite in offering particular personal condolences from this House to those Polish citizens whose loved ones were killed as a result of what happened, as well as to those who suffered in the latest atrocious bombardment by Russia of Ukraine.

It was provident that a number of important NATO elements were there at the G20, and, as the noble Baroness said, it was possible for them to gather, make an assessment and reassert the sense of NATO support for Ukraine. I share the satisfaction expressed by the noble Baroness in the calmness, good sense and measured way in which NATO responded to what was obviously a deliberate provocation. It is not the first time that Russia has done this sort of thing during an international conference.

On the attacks on civilians, we know that, given the climate in the central part of that part of eastern Europe in winter, this is frankly a despicable attempt to freeze people to death and cause suffering by the weapon of cold.

On help to Ukraine, of course this Government will continue to give support, in both military and financial terms. This year we have given £2.3 billion of military support to Ukraine; we are training Ukrainian armed forces as part of our plan to train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers every 120 days. Eight other countries have signed up to our programme, and we are providing further military aid, including another 1,000 surface-to-air missiles and more than 25,000 extreme cold winter kits for troops. That is on top of past packages.

I so much agree with what the noble Baroness and the noble Lord said about grain supplies and food security. There are ongoing discussions about the Black Sea grain initiative. The simplest way to stabilise global food and energy prices would be for Russia to end its illegal and unjustified war. The most immediate important step would be for Russia to renew the Black Sea grain initiative and stop targeting attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. The UK and its allies are working tirelessly through diplomatic channels and help from President Erdoğan and others. We have made steps forward already this week and, as the noble Lord expressed, I hope that, as the week goes on, we will see a return towards normal operation of that agreement.

We need an end to the war, but the noble Lord is quite right that we need to tackle famine and reduce world hunger. This Government are doing a lot bilaterally in that respect—for example, in our support for Somalia. We are committed to protecting children in the countries most affected by food insecurity. I assure the noble Lord that the Government will continue to give very close attention to famine relief and support.

The noble Baroness asked about the Global Fund. It is true that she made some criticisms; on the other hand, we have confirmed that we will commit £1 billion to the Global Fund for its work over the next three years, which we believe will help save more than 1 million lives at risk from deadly diseases. We are the third-largest donor to the Global Fund; we have invested £4.4 billion to date to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria around the world. The pledge comes at a time of significant pressures on the UK’s aid budget, with domestic budgetary constraints, famine risk in the Horn of Africa, where we need support, and conflict in Ukraine.

The noble Baroness asked about China. Yes, the challenges posed by China are systemic and long term. China is a country with fundamentally different values from ours, and its leadership is intent on reshaping the international order. A precondition for any part of our relationship will obviously be our national security; we will continue to call out human rights abuses, such as the appalling issues in Xinjiang, which have often been discussed in this House. As for whether our IR refresh will designate China a threat and so on, I cannot give a timescale, for which the noble Baroness asked, on a specific China strategy. We want to continue dialogue with China, but I assure her that we have our eyes open on that point.

On India, we have achieved our ambition to conclude the majority of the talks towards an FTA by the end of October this year. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in the other place earlier, there is a lot of interest in the various aspects of the deal, and the quality of deal is more important than the date when it is signed. However, negotiators continue to press ahead to secure a deal that is fair, reciprocal and will deliver for the UK economy—and, as in any reciprocal deal, also for India. The Prime Minister had a very positive meeting with Prime Minister Modi.

As far as the United States is concerned, the Prime Minister had a good meeting with President Biden. At this short notice I have not had the full debrief of what was said in their personal conversations, but there was a strong commitment to work together, both in terms of Ukraine and the relationship with China. It is true that the United States is not focused on free trade agreements generally at the moment, but we stand ready to engage with it. The US is our largest trade partner and bilateral trade with it is worth £234 billion annually.

I do not agree with Mr Eustice about the Australia trade agreement. Our landmark trade agreement with Australia will unlock £10.4 billion of additional bilateral trade, support economic growth in every part of Britain and deliver for 15,000 businesses already exporting to Australia. We will remember UK farmers in every aspect of our relationship as we go forward.

On Ukraine joining the EU single market, I cannot answer at this Dispatch Box. That remains a matter for our friends in the European Union.

My Lords, the noble Lord did not answer my noble friend Lady Smith’s question directly as to whether a trade deal with the United States was raised in the meeting with President Biden. Will he confirm that it was not raised?

On the Ukraine issue, where we all stand in solidarity in this House, there have been two alarming developments. Was the use of Iranian drones by Russia in Ukraine raised and is there any international action that could be taken which might limit the capacity of Iran to provide assistance to Russia?

Another issue that was not raised in the Statement at all was a further strengthening of sanctions, particularly against key Russian individuals, too many of whom still appear to be—how can one put it?—disporting themselves on the international scene at the moment. Could there be a further strengthening of sanctions? Since President Putin appears to be indicating that he is intent on creating a hard winter for the people of Ukraine, maybe we should be creating a rather harder winter for those owners of Russian assets in London who have alliances with the Putin regime.

I am sorry, but I did say to the noble Baroness that I could not give a detailed readout of what went on in the personal conversation between President Biden and the Prime Minister. I cannot give a speculative answer in this House on something so important. As soon as I get information on that point, I will of course supply it.

The noble Lord makes a very important point about Iran. Obviously, Iran is not present at the table. We continue to make very strong representations to Iran on a number of fronts—its international responsibilities, its responsibilities not to support terrorism and, indeed, terroristic violence in any place, and its atrocious abuses of human rights within Iran.

As far as sanctions on Russians are concerned, this is something that the Government constantly keep under review. We have designated more than 1,200 individuals already and over 120 entities, and frozen the assets of 19 Russian banks with assets of £940 billion since the invasion.

My Lords, I was encouraged to hear that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister affirmed that we will not sacrifice quality for speed when it comes to trade deals. Obviously, the Minister has emphasised again that today. Can he give us any more detail about G20 discussions with Prime Minister Modi? In particular, I note that there are substantial synergies when it comes to the UK and Indian life sciences sectors, some of the most productive in both our economies. This goes from research and regulatory collaboration to establishing much more secure medicine supply chains to having excellent export opportunities for some of our most innovative healthcare companies.

My noble friend makes some very important points. It is no secret that the Prime Minister considers this relationship to be extremely important, and my noble friend is quite right to say that it goes beyond our aspiration for a free trade deal. There was a good personal meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr Modi, and we are deeply committed to strengthening our comprehensive strategic partnership and to discussing collaboration across all five pillars of the UK-India road map, and not only on the bilateral relationship but on aspirations within the Indo-Pacific. Discussions on digital and intellectual property matters are part of that. We are very confident that this relationship will go forward very positively.

My Lords, do the Government support President Macron’s apparent intention to persuade his Chinese opposite number to mediate with Russia, to try to ease the conflict in Ukraine and possibly pave the way for peace talks? If the Government do support him, what action will they take to manifest that support?

My Lords, as the noble Baroness in her wisdom will know, concluding a war and bringing warring parties together is a very difficult and delicate matter, not all of which can be conducted in public. China certainly has a potentially important diplomatic role, and it has influence. Obviously, we will use our diplomatic influence with China and in other places to lead it in a direction that would help to secure peace. It was positive that the G20, including China, made the very clear declaration that nuclear war—and the threat of nuclear war—is absolutely inadmissible. That is a long way from where the noble Baroness wishes to get, but I assure her that we will continue to engage with all parties, including President Macron, in efforts to secure an end to this terrible conflict. In the interim, we will be unstinting in our support for Ukraine.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Further to his answer to my noble friend, I say that summits are of course tremendously important, because you meet people—and that is particularly important for a Prime Minister who is new on the international scene. Yet, as I understand it, an unfortunate casualty of the incident involving the missile in Poland seems to have been a planned meeting between the Prime Minister and Xi Jinping that was not able to take place. Can the Minister confirm if that is the case? If it is, what arrangements might the UK be making to bring about a meeting between the Prime Minister and the President of China? After all, we are both members of the Security Council, and it is just as important for our Prime Minister to meet President Xi Jinping as it is for him to have met President Biden.

The noble Viscount makes a fair point. It is a fact, as is attested, that the G20 summit was interrupted by the unfortunate events in Poland. Certainly, both President Xi and the Prime Minister were present at the discussions. The reality is that—as was implicit in what the noble Viscount said—none of the global challenges that faces us, whether the global economy, the impact of war in Ukraine on food and energy security that the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, reminded us of, climate change or global health can be addressed without co-ordinated action by all the world’s major economies, which include China. The noble Viscount is quite right to say that we are both permanent members of the UN Security Council; we need a frank and constructive relationship and we will go forward in that way. There has to be frankness about China’s failures, as well as encouragement about China’s positive impact.

My Lords, I too thank the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip for arranging for this Statement to be repeated so soon after it was made in the other place; that is very helpful. I also add my total support for Ukraine and its president. No one is perfect, no country is perfect and mistakes happen, but Ukraine and President Zelensky are fighting for democracy for all of us and they should have our 100% support.

Turning to what my noble friend on the Front Bench said, it is a pity that this meeting took place at a time when our commitment to the international development effort has been reduced so substantially. I had the privilege of being one of the first Ministers when we set up the Department for International Development. The Labour Government were very proud of it indeed, and it is a great pity that it has been incorporated into the FCO and our achievement of getting to 0.7% has been cut back so much.

I want to ask a specific question. The Leader of the House, like the rest of us, will have heard the speech made by the head of MI5, Ken McCallum—a really chilling speech in which he warned about the co-operation between Iran, Russia and China. He made some very interesting football analogies, about sharing people between teams. He painted a really frightening prospect. Will the Leader of the House, as a member of the Cabinet, make sure that the warnings from the head of MI5 are taken very seriously and that action is taken on his advice?

My Lords, of course, the advice of our security services, which are of unparalleled quality—I praise their ability and their deep patriotism—is taken extremely seriously by the Prime Minister and indeed the whole Cabinet. I thank the noble Lord again for what he said about Ukraine: it reinforces the message going out from this House and the other place that we are absolutely united.

I acknowledge that some disappointment has been expressed, but I repeat that we have confirmed that we will commit £1 billion—£1,000 million—over the next three years to the global fund. We are the third largest donor, and we will continue to be one of the largest global aid donors. We spent more than £11 billion last year on overseas aid and the Government have already made a £1 billion pledge, as I said, to the global fund. We are also providing additional resources, as was made clear in the Statement today, of £1 billion in 2022-23 and £1.5 billion in 2023-24 to support Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. A lot of money is being committed, but difficult decisions do have to be taken.

My Lords, the Prime Minister is to be congratulated on a far-ranging series of meetings at the G20. In my mind they certainly set the spirit for future co-operation, but I will turn briefly to trade. The noble Lord will not be aware of this, but there is an incoming Indian delegation in town today. I have just hosted a meeting upstairs, of which the upshot was that we will form a British-India chamber of commerce—covering all India, broken down by its four regions—with a focus on mid-size SMEs and not just the large organisations that are so often the focus when there is dialogue between India and the UK.

The Commonwealth was raised today. Will the Government consider a pan-Commonwealth free trade agreement template that can be tweaked by member nation states—bar the two that are members of the European Union, which would be excluded? Will they drive this initiative forward and discuss it with Commonwealth states? The idea was put to me by the Americans, who wish to join a free trade agreement with the Commonwealth, which would include the UK and might break the dialogue impasse with the US.

I thank the noble Viscount for his contribution in sustaining and developing this vital relationship with India, which we have discussed and other noble Lords have referred to. The Commonwealth is of fundamental importance to the United Kingdom; we value all those relationships and look forward to the imminent state visit of the President of South Africa. It will bring great joy to many people who have watched the travails of that country in my lifetime to see that happen. I note the noble Viscount’s wider point about the Commonwealth, but I cannot commit to going in that direction from this Dispatch Box.

House adjourned at 6.25 pm.