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Budget Resolutions - Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Foreign Secretary 7:32 pm, 13th March 2017

I am surprised to find myself agreeing with the hon. Gentleman to the extent that I do. It is important that we should stop and have a review. We need to look carefully at the 38% cuts that are being implemented by his Government at this crucial time for Britain. That is the point that I am making in this Budget debate. I believe that these issues need to be seriously addressed, and questions and answers about haggis are not sufficient when it comes to dealing with cuts of 38% to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It is not just language skills that have suffered. Let us consider BBC Monitoring, a vital service that monitors and translates foreign news reports and serves as an indispensable source of intelligence for Government Departments, including the Foreign Office. By transferring the responsibility for its funding from the taxpayer to the BBC itself, the Government have left BBC Monitoring open to cuts, and last year saw the announcement of 96 job losses and the closure of 20% of its posts overseas. Is that responsible behaviour, at a time like this? Cuts such as those will continue to have effects as incalculable as they are far-reaching.

It turns out that what a Government choose to fund, or not to fund, can tell us a great deal more than just the short-term spending priorities of the Government as a whole. For the Foreign Office, those decisions can identify the most basic principles underlying the Government’s foreign policy approach. For perhaps the best example of that, we need look no further than the downgrading of human rights as a priority for the Department. They are now considered far less important than the so-called prosperity agenda— [Interruption.] I hear people saying that that is entirely untrue. Let me pray in aid the permanent secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who has said precisely that. That decision has been confirmed as a more or less direct consequence of the cuts imposed by the Government.

It was not so long ago that a Tory Foreign Secretary, William—now Lord—Hague, was able to say with a straight face that there would be

“no downgrading of human rights” under his Government. He argued that it was neither in our interests nor in our nature to have what he called a

“foreign policy without a conscience”.

I could not agree more, and he must surely be sharing our disappointment to see a Tory Foreign Secretary and a Tory Prime Minister practically tripping over each other to cosy up to the likes of Donald Trump. We used to think that there were some world leaders who would always unite the opinion of this House, and that Members on both sides would always have the courage to speak out against those who did not share our values. These days, the Government’s values are obscure, to put it politely, beyond being in favour of trade, so the question is not just one of how much the Government are prepared to spend on the world-class diplomatic service that they want, important though that is; it is also a question of what they are prepared to do with the resources that they have.