It is a pleasure to follow Mike Gapes. He made a number of very thoughtful remarks, particularly in respect of his own party’s position on these important issues facing our country and indeed our world.
I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat for bringing this timely debate to the House. It is timely because recent events, most notably our impending departure from the European Union and the threat posed by Russia, require us as a nation to take stock of our place and our role in the world.
The confirmation yesterday from the Prime Minister that the suspects of the Salisbury poisonings were members of Russian military intelligence and that their actions were almost certainly approved at a state level will no doubt focus our minds today. This is a stark reminder that, although peace is what most British citizens have grown used to, there are countries out there that wish us harm and represent a very real danger to us.
I commend the tireless work of the Foreign Affairs Committee and its Chair in seeking to scrutinise the Foreign Office and its plans, or perhaps its perceived lack of them, for the future of British diplomacy. I look forward to our new Foreign Secretary bringing a fresh perspective. Perhaps the Minister can give us some more detail about the plans for global Britain today.
I want to use my time to make some positive remarks about Britain and our role in the world. The reality is that, whatever the future for British diplomacy and foreign relations, our achievements so far have been remarkable. We should not forget that this tiny island in the north Atlantic punches well above its weight on the international scene. We have some of the finest, most highly skilled armed forces who not only keep us safe, but are world leaders in providing aid in times of crises around the world.
Britain continues to command the respect of other nations. The international response to the Salisbury poisonings saw the biggest ever co-ordinated expulsion of Russian envoys by our allies. The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April was an example of Britain leading and securing agreement on a range of international challenges. We remain an international development superpower, too, with a world-leading and legally binding commitment to provide a percentage of our wealth to those most in need around the world. Our decision not just to be a leading aid donor, but to legislate for it, sets a powerful example and makes a statement about the country’s role on the world stage. France and Ireland have recently set out their intentions to follow Britain’s lead.
Despite an apparent consensus that our world is in crisis, the truth is that the world is safer, healthier, wealthier and smarter than it has ever been, and Britain has made a significant contribution to achieving that. It does not make the headlines, but since yesterday worldwide life expectancy went up by 9.5 hours, 137,000 people came out of extreme poverty, 305,000 people got safer water, 295,000 people got electricity and worldwide CO2 levels fell by 2,000 tonnes. The UK has often led the way in tackling these international problems through our international aid programme, through tackling extremism abroad, and through our world-leading climate change programme and clean growth policies. Beyond and including that, Scotland has a proud tradition of contributing to this international effort.
UK Aid has its joint headquarters in East Kilbride, where over 900 DFID staff administer our world-leading international aid project. They do so by supporting a range of Scottish charities, such as Edinburgh-based Mercy Corps, which works in more than 40 countries including in war-torn Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and in the horn of Africa helping farmers escape poverty. EMMS International, which is based in Edinburgh, is providing palliative care for people and their families in the most poverty stricken parts of the world. Outside the UK Aid framework, we have many examples of organisations doing great work abroad. In my constituency, the Rotarians are involved in some remarkable projects abroad. For example, Peter Croan from Galashiels Rotary club secured breast screening trailers for rural parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Scotland also benefits from being part of a truly global power. We have a seat at the top table of the UN Security Council, the G7 and the G20. Our businesses and citizens have access to the UK-wide embassy and consulate network—one of the largest in the world. I look forward to the Government setting out their vision for the future of Britain and our global role, but we should also recognise the significant role that the United Kingdom, and Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, has played in making the world a safer and healthier place.