I am grateful to Stephen Gethins for securing this debate—or at least I was at the outset. I pay tribute to him for his valuable work as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and as the Scottish National party’s foreign affairs spokesman. My father and many Duncans before him were born and brought up in Caithness, so I share the hon. Gentleman’s pride in Scotland’s contribution to the United Kingdom’s international work. I am happy to join him in celebrating St Andrew’s Day, although I must say that his notion of the soft power of Robbie Burns’ poetry solving the conflicts in Georgia rather stretched me.
No, I will not. [Hon. Members: “Oh.”] I have only just started, for goodness’ sake, and the party has been going in full flight for nearly two hours.
Having spoken to the hon. Member for North East Fife earlier today, I appreciate the need to distinguish the Scottish contribution from the English, Welsh or Northern Irish, because my view and the view of this Government is that our job and that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Departments is to harness all the UK’s soft power and other assets for the benefit of the Union as a whole. I will now give way to the hon. Lady who was trying to intervene a moment ago.
I am happy to describe the hon. Lady and her party in any way that she wishes. She knows me well, and I always wish to observe the courtesies of this House and courtesies to those across the Floor of the House. I hope that I have always shown that, and indeed the tone of this debate is that we wish to express certain things in a collegiate way.
I was grateful to the hon. Member for North East Fife for contacting me in advance of the debate to give me an idea of what he intended to say. Despite having spoken to him, I did not fully anticipate what everyone else on the SNP Benches intended to say, nor the length or the imagination with which they would contribute to a debate entitled “Scotland’s Foreign Policy Footprint”. It seemed that the hon. Gentleman wanted to name every distinguished Scot born in his constituency, and the soft power of Scottish education that I have enjoyed this evening is very much down to his knowledge and his wish to impart it to the wider world at this extraordinary hour in the House of Commons. I have learned more about William Wallace than I ever learned at school, and about all the other names from his constituency. I cannot totally pronounce them all, but I think I heard him right.
I genuinely speak as someone with a Scottish heritage. My late aunt was a Church of Scotland medical missionary for 30 years. She was teaching basic health in Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet 40 years ago, telling people how to wash their hands and drink fresh water. That is an example of the soft power of Scottish origin that all the SNP Members were trying to illustrate tonight.
I commend the Minister’s aunt’s work. He may want to hold on to his hat, because I just read in the Scottish Catholic Observer—my former employer—that the UK Government announced today that any contribution to Mary’s Meals between now and
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving credit where it is due. It is very much an illustration of the legacy from my time as an International Development Minister, when in many areas we tried to have match funding. We thought that match funding—“double the love,” in his words—is a good way of raising money. The Government saying that they would double the money encouraged people to give. For non-governmental organisations doing the sort of work that has been described tonight, people giving is a good thing. Where the Government can enhance what people have given, it doubles the love and therefore doubles the efficacy of some of the very good work done by NGOs across the country.
When I was an International Development Minister, I went to Scotland especially to meet all the Scottish NGOs to make sure they were not ignored by the central system in Whitehall, which somehow thinks it is only central money that matters. Of course, the Department for International Development has a massive headquarters in Scotland. I wonder whether the Member for that constituency is here tonight, in which case it would be good to hear them sing the praises of DFID’s headquarters—I think it is in East Kilbride, which I visited on many occasions to see the good work being done from that Scottish centre of excellence.
The hon. Member for North East Fife particularly focused on conflict prevention, which is a very important area. People somehow think that the only way to stop conflict is if the big forces of Government do things, but actually it goes far deeper. Empowering women, having girls in education and making sure that women are included in any sort of peace process is essential for concluding conflict and making sure that the peace thereafter is properly embedded in societies where conflict has been ended. In the absence of women being included, a conflict resolution will never endure.
I applaud the hon. Gentleman’s focus on conflict resolution and, indeed, on conflict prevention. One could argue that NGOs that can go in and make sure that conflicts do not happen in the first place do far more good than those that have to go and mop up afterwards. The cost of a conflict is many times the cost of spending money and investing resources to prevent that conflict in the first place.
The UK Government are committed to building peace and stability around the world, and we wish to draw on the best of British expertise from across the UK as well as overseas.
My right hon. Friend talks about drawing on British expertise, but among that there is a considerable amount of Scottish talent. Indeed, many of our embassies, high commissions and international development teams are staffed, and often headed, by incredibly talented Scots. Perhaps he should recognise the talent and depth of talent in the diplomatic community that emanates from Scotland.
I most certainly do. My hon. Friend was my Parliamentary Private Secretary when I was an International Development Minister. When I was briefed in DFID, around many a table were people with Scottish voices. Their knowledge is amazing and their contribution is special, and I always valued the advice I got from such officials.
In passing, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment as trade envoy to Argentina. I am proud of the progress we are making with Argentina. The joint communiqué in 2016 began to build friendship 30 years after the conflict in the Falklands. We are now making very good progress, and I am delighted that, as the Prime Minister was flying to the G20 only last week, we were able to announce that we have further flights going to the Falklands as a result of the good relations that are now being built between the UK and Argentina.
Order. Just a second. Please at least give it a little longer before intervening. I understand that things are in play, but I am sure Sir Alan will keep it going. Let us hear a little more of the debate before everybody starts intervening. In fairness to Mr Menzies, he did come up to me to ask permission.
I am sure Members will do exactly as you request, Mr Deputy Speaker, despite the challenge you are now making me face.
Let me pay proper tribute to some of the successes of the Scottish Government. For example, they hosted Syrian peacemakers in 2016 and provided funding to train 50 peacemakers a year. Those peacemakers were women, and it is very good that they were. I congratulate the Scottish Government on the way in which they shaped that important peacekeeping initiative. Similarly, I wish to highlight the willingness of the Northern Ireland Executive to share their experience of the Good Friday agreement and of community reconciliation with our international partners.
Let me draw again on my experience as an International Development Minister, as I was deeply involved in the peace talks in Nepal. In drawing together former combatants, the experience of Northern Ireland perhaps most persuaded some of those who had been fighting each other to lay down their arms, hand them in and move into camps where they could gradually start the process of reintegration into civil society. The experience of Northern Ireland contributed massively to the current peace in Nepal, so the experience of all the UK can add importantly to peace making and conflict resolution.
Members have alluded to soft power, for which the UK is rightly held in high regard. I have always argued that one of the most important elements of soft power that the UK enjoys, perhaps above all other countries, is the integrity and honesty of our diplomatic network abroad. When a British ambassador says something, we know that they are looking at the best interests of the world and trying to solve problems rather than stir them up. We see so many other countries—I could name one in particular—that, whenever they see a problem, like to try to make it worse, whereas when we see a problem we want to solve it. When we see something going wrong we want to put it right. The integrity and effectiveness of our international network and our network of ambassadors contributes enormously to the betterment of the world in that regard.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that I, of all people, am someone who likes to be able to punch above his weight—perhaps he tries to punch below his height. He rightly says that the effectiveness of our Foreign Office diplomatic network is massive. I very much hope that if right hon. and hon. Members have not seen the three-part series on the Foreign Office that concluded last Thursday on BBC2, they will play it back, because they will see the amazing effectiveness of the UK’s soft power. There was an amazing programme that showed how the consular staff rescued people in the British Virgin Islands after the hurricane, and how they managed to extract someone who was going to be a victim of forced marriage in Baghdad. That soft power has a dramatic effect not just on countries but, importantly, on the lives of individuals.
Does the Minister agree that one way in which the UK shows the breadth of our culture and the richness of all parts of the United Kingdom is by recruiting people into the diplomatic service from all nations in the United Kingdom, so that they can represent the whole United Kingdom overseas rather than just England?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend, who has experience of the armed forces, in which the same principles apply. No part of the United Kingdom should be forgotten about or left to one side when it comes to recruitment to Whitehall, Government Departments or our armed forces—or, I hope, to any company—because we are a united kingdom and all four parts of it should be equally valued and used to the benefit of the whole.
In 2018, we returned to the No. 1 spot in the Portland Soft Power 30 index. Soft power is at the heart of our Global Britain agenda.
The Minister is quite right to commend officials in the Foreign Office. He mentioned “Inside the Foreign Office”; may I commend in particular those whom we saw advising the previous Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson? They were seen doing an excellent job in that programme. May I also welcome so many colleagues to the Chamber? It is a shame that they missed the entirety of the debate, but they are welcome nevertheless.
Will my right hon. Friend perhaps say something about the role of the British Council? It often works hand in hand with the Foreign Office to project British soft power and culture. It is also important to recognise the unique nature of Scottish culture and the British Council’s role in promoting it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Soft power is an important asset in the building of relationships with people and nations around the world that help us to secure our global influence. It promotes our prosperity and ultimately protects our people. The British Council is an important part of that network. [Interruption.] It is all very well for SNP Members to gesture to the topic of the debate, from which they deviated with extraordinary skill over two hours, with imagination that I have so rarely seen deployed from their Benches. I congratulate them on the ingenuity that they have shown over the past two hours. I was looking forward to some nice dinner.
The Minister is absolutely correct. Scotland’s foreign policy footprint is successful because Northern Ireland’s foreign policy footprint, the Welsh foreign policy footprint and the English foreign policy footprint work well together. That is what the Minister is saying and that is what makes this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland better together.
I am so glad that the hon. Gentleman is such an assiduous attender of these debates and that we can benefit from his wisdom in pointing out so precisely the importance of the Union, how much stronger we are together and how much weaker we would be were we to be fragmented.
Before the Minister moves on from the important topic of soft power, will he join me in expressing great pride that in taking the No. 1 soft-power position the UK pushed France down to No. 2 and Germany to No. 3? What role does he believe that great British institutions such as the BBC and our arts and culture can play in making sure that we retain that No. 1 spot?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. Although I stand here as a Foreign Office Minister, soft power goes far beyond the Foreign Office. Soft power and our influence and the respect in which we are held and therefore the manner in which we can have some bearing on the course of international events is not just a matter of departmental activity on the part of the Foreign Office; it is also, of course, international development where we are the only major western economy to commit to spend 0.7% of our GDP on international development. I have to say that I was very proud to have spent four years as an International Development Minister at a time when that 0.7% commitment was first being applied, which coincided with the Arab spring and what was happening in Syria. Essentially, we turned on a sixpence in order to commit the best part of £1 billion, and subsequently more, to relieve the suffering of people hit by conflict and instability.
There are people of definite Scottish heritage in Argentina and therefore the obvious link with the topic of this debate is absolutely clear, as Mr Deputy Speaker will, of course agree—I hope. The G20 is very important. The fact that we were there in southern America at a time when Venezuela is in such turmoil is not an insignificant moment in the UK making its mark on what we hope will be an improvement in events there. We are working very closely with the Lima Group to try to improve what is happening in Venezuela. I am sure that the soft power of Scotland will want to play its full part in resolving Venezuela. I hope that there is no coincidence of political opinion between anyone on the SNP Benches and President Maduro.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I apologise for interrupting this fascinating debate. Given Mr Speaker’s announcement earlier this evening of the contempt motion to be considered tomorrow, which is obviously quite a rare thing and, as a relatively new Member, it is not something that I have experienced before. Given your procedural excellence and extreme knowledge of this area, I am sure that you will be the best person to advise me. What would be the procedure if a Member wished to table an amendment to that? Could it be done as a manuscript amendment tomorrow given that this is quite a new thing and quite a significant motion? I felt that it was appropriate to raise it on the Floor of the House and ask for guidance on this point.
First, let me give my apologies. I was so assiduously preparing for tonight’s debate that I did not notice that it had started two and a half hours early. I am very pleased to talk about the soft power through international aid, with the Department for International Development being based in East Kilbride, in the neighbouring constituency to East Renfrewshire. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to all the fantastic people who live in East Renfrewshire who travel into East Kilbride each day to work for DFID?
I urge my hon. Friend not to worry too much about being two hours late; he did not miss that much before he came into the Chamber. It seems to have livened up somewhat since he did, so I am grateful to him for coming here to add an extra spark to our proceedings. Of course, he also gives me the opportunity to acknowledge exactly what he said. Indeed, when it comes to those in Scotland who work in NGOs, in DFID and in all the charities that do so much good across the world, whatever teasing there has been across the Chamber tonight, I think we all agree that we should salute those who do such good work.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that remark about my age. Let me extend the point made by my hon. Friend Nigel Huddleston about soft power in relation to the creative industries, especially TV. The particular relevance to Scotland is that the TV industry was, in a way, invented by John Logie Baird, and I understand that Scottish colleagues are particularly proud of this contribution. Actually, it has been one of the great institutions that Britain has given the world. That has improved Britain’s reputation and extended our influence throughout the world, and still does today.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, language teaching is extremely important for the effective deployment of soft power. The teaching of the English language is—
If I can just complete the sentence, I will be very happy to give way to the hon. Lady, who has been very active tonight and is clearly approaching this debate with enormous enthusiasm.
Teaching English as a foreign language is massively important as it competes with other languages across the world, but remains the most dominant and important language in it. This is where the British Council does so much good. I never cease to be amazed when I visit another country—as a Foreign Office Minister, or as I did when I was a DFID Minister—to see the enthusiasm with which people queue up to benefit from British Council courses to learn English. It would be a disaster if we were ever to turn our backs on this massively effective effort. Of course, we are not in any way choosy about the accents that are taught; what matters is that the language is there. It really is amazing the way that people lap up the opportunity to learn and do so with great enthusiasm.
A moment ago, the Minister mentioned NGOs and the work that we do in all parts of the United Kingdom to help and support countries overseas. He also mentioned Venezuela. There is growing concern about an enormous diaspora of need fleeing out of Venezuela, away from the regime there. What role does my right hon. Friend see for those who are working in our NGOs, under the DFID umbrella and elsewhere in ensuring that the philanthropy for which the United Kingdom—including Scotland—is known can come to the fore to provide the help, support and succour that those persecuted people in a communist country now need?
I hope that Scotland, in looking at the priorities it sets for the deployment of its soft power resources, can appreciate that Venezuela is rising up the ladder of need and desperation. Scotland has a very close development programme association with Malawi, which I supported when I was an International Development Minister. It was of a scale that Scotland could sensibly do, and there were therefore results. It is very important, when having a development plan, to make sure that when we put the money in, we really do get the results out and get effective outcomes.
I have to confess that I am not the world’s greatest expert on the 1955 double taxation agreement, but I note what the hon. Gentleman says. Whether it is immediately pertinent to the debate is beyond me. [Interruption.] He says that it is. However, I will, if I may, confess to less knowledge about the taxation agreement than he would wish—although he probably wishes that I knew even less.
My right hon. Friend is right to raise the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Will he pay tribute to the Scots who are actively involved within our diplomatic mission in Bogotá? The deputy head of mission and the head of our prosperity fund are two Scots among many who are playing their role at the forefront of the emerging crisis of the Venezuelan refugees seeking refuge in Colombia and beyond.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know there will be a further chance to discuss this tomorrow in Foreign Office questions, but it is a matter of deep seriousness. I have had Scottish Members of Parliament come to see me particularly about the Colombian peace process. They feel that they can have a significant influence on that peace process by imparting some of their experience in the area and by using NGOs and working with them to do something. The Colombian peace process is facing some threats and difficulties. Around the region, there is a danger of further disintegration because of Venezuela. Countries next door to it have received hundreds of thousands of people—in some cases, more than 1 million—who are fleeing an utterly man-made economic crisis.
Will my right hon. Friend share with me some of the successes of Scotland such as Robert Burns; Alexander Graham Bell; John Logie Baird; James Keir Hardie—dare I say it?—the Labour party founder; Sir William Arrol, who worked on the Titanic and the Forth rail bridge; and two Nobel prize winners from Kilmarnock Academy, one of whom was Sir Alexander Fleming? These individuals are a great success for Scotland, with the common bond that they were all part of the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The history of invention from Scotland almost beggars belief. You can go on a steam engine, had you one nearby, knowing that it had been invented by James Watt; you can speak on a telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell; and if you are ill, it is Mr Fleming’s penicillin that could probably save you. That is but one of many, many Scottish inventions that we applaud and salute.
I want to ask the Minister a serious question. While we filibuster towards the end of this debate, which is of course what we are doing, I would like to make a point about trade envoys. I am looking at the Government’s record. Since 2012, they have had 32 trade envoys for 62 countries, and they are cross-party, yet the SNP is not included. Does the Minister agree with my suggestion that the SNP is included, from this day forward? We look forward to our first trade envoys.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is being uncharacteristically generous with his time—and what a lot of time he has to be generous with. He is a long-serving Member of this House. Would he share with the House the emotional response that he had when those great inventions were actually invented?
Despite my ageing looks, I can assure my hon. Friend that I was not there at the time of the invention of the steam engine or, indeed, the light bulb. I missed the invention of penicillin by a whisker, but I am sure there will be future inventions that coincide with my lifetime.
Motion lapsed (
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Iain Stewart.)
Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to go to the Falkland Islands with the armed forces parliamentary scheme. The Minister has spoken so much tonight about foreign policy and South America. While I was in the Falkland Islands, I met constituents of mine from Lincolnshire and also constituents from Scotland working at RAF Lossiemouth. Can the Minister update us on the new air bridge between the Falkland Islands and Argentina?
Let us at least try to address the issue. If Members do not have a question that links to it, they should not bother.
I could, but my negotiating skills are such that I did not negotiate a route taking it from Brazil to Argentina via Scotland. Mr Deputy Speaker, we will of course speak directly to the topic at hand, and we respect your judgment that we should continue to talk about Scotland’s foreign policy footprint.
We may well have a competition among Government and Opposition Members over which great Scottish inventions emanated from their constituencies. I of course acknowledge what my hon. Friend said.
The cultural diversity and international prominence of our constituent nations, cities and regions, particularly in areas such as tourism, culture, education, trade and sport, is becoming increasingly important and recognised on the global stage. As I said to my right hon. Friend Damian Green, we are actively promoting the devolved nations abroad, and that continues to be a priority for the Government.
The GREAT campaign remains our most iconic brand and has delivered an estimated £4 billion of economic returns to the UK economy. I am sure there are many examples of what the GREAT campaign has done.
Scotland’s power and influence are best projected as part of the United Kingdom; that is the view of Government Members. There are lessons from history. Before the Act of Union, in the 1690s, the Kingdom of Scotland sought to establish a colony in Panama under the Darien scheme, and that did not work very well. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is as a Union that we have been able to project more power, and more power for Scotland?
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you could instruct the Serjeant at Arms to do a check of offices, and in particular the annunciators in Conservative MPs’ offices. It strikes me, as someone who has sat through the entirety of the debate, that a number of Conservative Members who perhaps did not know the debate was ongoing have come in and made the same points again. Could you instruct that the annunciators in their offices be checked?
This is not a point order, but may I point out to at least half a dozen Government Members that, had they bothered to turn up at the start of the debate, they would know that almost every single point made from their Benches has already been covered—and, although I say it myself, covered in some detail?
I am always happy to talk about Scotland because, without a bit of Scotland, I would not be here tonight. My family lived in Caithness through many generations, and I feel my Scottish roots very deeply. When it comes to Caithness and Wick, I can of course look on many SNP Members as southerners, but I will resist the temptation to rub it in tonight.
I must say I am very much enjoying this debate, which I am finding very interesting. Does the Minister agree with me that it is quite bizarre to have Scottish National party Members complain about the interest in their own debate and the fact that people have shown up for it? Compared with their usual moan, it is really quite bizarre.
There is no way of beating that, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you on leavening tonight’s proceedings.
My right hon. Friend, who is the greatest drummer in the House of Commons, plays in a band—MP4—with a fellow Member of the House who is of course from Scotland. Buy their records now. I am sure they will make one for Christmas; if not, they have about a week to do so, but that should be fine.
My right hon. Friend is right to have mentioned Latin America on a number of occasions. One very prominent Scot whom we have not mentioned is Thomas Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald, who was actually the founder of the armada de Chile—the Chilean navy—which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this month. Without that Scot playing his role historically in Latin America, the Chilean navy would not be as it is today, and a hugely important part of the United Kingdom’s relationship would be much weaker as a result.
Indeed, what is probably one of the greatest examples of the outreach of British naval power did come from Scotland. When I was in Chile recently—my hon. Friend has been there, too—I found that the name of Lord Cochrane is absolutely revered for having helped set up the navy 200 years ago. It is revered rather like the name of Admiral Duncan, who, in what could be better described as Scottish hard power, beat the Dutch in the battle of Camperdown—appropriately named—in 1797.
You have to wonder how long it takes the Government to table an amendment, Mr Deputy Speaker. Had they had some cleverness and some diplomacy skills, they would have managed it by now. Rather than Government Members going on about the Chilean navy, let me help the Minister out: I put it on record that John Paul Jones founded the US navy.
In what I hope is a proper answer to the speech of the hon. Member for North East Fife, let me say that we host offices of the devolved Administrations in several countries, and work closely with their trade and investment representatives in many more. This ensures that they have an effective platform for engaging on devolved matters, if they wish to do so. It also allows them to contribute their perspectives and expertise in delivering the UK’s broader agenda for the bilateral relationship with those countries.
In formulating foreign policy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office draws on the principles of what is called open policy making. That is about broadening the range of people we engage with, and the quality of that engagement. That is why, when developing the UK policy on the Arctic earlier this year, we consulted all the devolved Administrations, and worked particularly closely with the Scottish Government, who are formulating their own Arctic strategy.
We are working hard to strengthen our partnership with the devolved nations. In the build-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting earlier this year, my ministerial colleague, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, spent time in both Scotland and Wales seeking views on strengthening the Commonwealth. In addition, over the last two years, more than 100 senior Foreign Office officials, including new and existing ambassadors, have held meetings in the devolved nations to share expertise and strengthen relationships.
Let me conclude by making it clear that the Government remain absolutely committed to devolution, which we believe strengthens our Union. Our four nations each have distinct capabilities and strengths, which we recognise, celebrate, and put to work to the benefit of all citizens of this United Kingdom, and to support and promote the values that unite us all. These values of tolerance, democracy, equality and fairness are at the heart of the Government’s work, at home and aboard. We are united by these values, and by our common purpose of serving the needs of all our people, wherever they live on these islands. Let us be proud of our individual strengths, and even prouder that we can achieve great things when, together, we harness those strengths for the benefit of all.
Question put and agreed to.