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Britain in the World

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:12 pm on 13th January 2020.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 9:12 pm, 13th January 2020

I thank my hon. Friend for making me the chair. Talking to him last night, we did not get even the slightest hint of what an excellent maiden speech he was going to give. I thank him for entertaining us in a very positive way and for giving an excellent maiden speech.

Throughout this debate, I have been increasingly perturbed by the Eurocentric comments from both sides of the House. Those Eurocentric comments have been particularly focused on the European Union. I understand why people are focused on the European Union, as we are leaving, but there is a bigger Europe out there. It is a Europe characterised by the Council of Europe, which is a non-EU body of which we will remain a member.

It has been my great pleasure, as it has been yours, Mr Deputy Speaker, to be a delegate to the Council of Europe for many years. It has 47 member states, which is almost twice as many as the EU. Yet what do we do with it? I shall tell the House a bit about what we do with it and why we should take it more seriously.

In the debate on the EU withdrawal agreement, I intervened to point out that the Council of Europe had already agreed, and we had already signed up to, a commitment to provide assistance for refugee children. It is not that we have done nothing; we have provided assistance for refugee children. Most importantly—this was missing from the Dubs amendment and the subsequent amendments—we have ensured that children who come to countries are integrated into local societies in a way that previously they had not been. That is very important: there is no point in just bringing children over, dumping them in a location and expecting them to get on; they have to be helped to integrate into local societies.

A big issue at the moment is climate change, on which the Council of Europe works on a grand scale throughout the whole of Europe—and it does so on a cross-party basis. It may come as a surprise to Conservative Members to hear that I have fully supported Lord Prescott in putting forward his views on climate change. Do not forget that Lord Prescott—this point is often forgotten on the Opposition Benches—was instrumental in determining the accounting mechanism for emissions at the Kyoto summit all those years ago. We should not forget that and the enormous role that he has played. It annoys my constituents enormously when I point out that what I have been doing on climate change has been in Europe, but when they realise that it is for the whole of Europe, they have to appreciate that what I do is in their interest.

There is a great ignorance of what the Council of Europe does, and that applies both to Ministers and to the Opposition. I have tried to get set up a Joint Committee of both Houses to cover the Council of Europe. Such a Committee could review what we are doing and provide us with useful advice and guidance. Sadly, that effort has not been successful so far, but I am ever hopeful that we will be able to get a Committee up and running. I stress that we should spend more time looking at and understanding what the Council of Europe does, particularly as we leave the EU, because it will become the principal way in which we will keep in contact with parliamentarians across the whole of Europe in discussions that take place four times a year, plus committee meetings in between. Those meetings are very valuable.

I wish to mention two other points, one of which is Singapore. I went to Singapore in the summer, courtesy of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators—I should declare an interest: I am an associate of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. I went there because everyone says that London is pre-eminent in the legal profession—London is the place where everyone goes to make sure that they can get their cases, whether civil or others, heard—but that is absolute nonsense. Go to Singapore and see what they have done for their mediation and arbitration services. With the help of the Singapore Government, they have very good rooms in which to meet to carry forward mediations and arbitrations, and they have done one thing in particular that stands out around the world, which is to introduce a new international Singapore convention that allows for awards in one country to be recognised by another country and to be kept up in that country. We have still not signed that convention. We need to do so as quickly as possible and to play our part in it. In the meantime, we need to spend a lot more time here in the UK, looking at what the future of alternative dispute resolution can achieve, and we need to put the resources into it to ensure that it happens.

Finally, let me briefly echo the points raised by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman on Israel. The UK is the second largest trade partner with Israel. We are a phenomenal trade partner with that county. Let me just declare another interest as vice-chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel. I will provide Members with an example of how this could work to our own benefit. Immediately after the election—the day after the election—I was on a plane to Israel to attend an event in Jerusalem. I went there because I thought that it was the best antidote to electioneering, even though Israel itself is just about to go into its third general election in the space of a year. None the less, it was a very good place to visit. I went to the Israeli ambulance service. Everything there works on the basis of an app that sends the appropriate ambulance to the scene—whether it be so large and so well stocked that an operation could take place in the back of it, or whether it be something more modest. A person can press an app that immediately sends the details of what drugs they are taking, and what treatment they are going through to the ambulance service. When that ambulance arrives, the staff can begin treating them in an appropriate way that helps to save lives. That sort of technology is available for us if we want to look at it carefully. If we want to take it, scale it up and use it across the UK, it has the potential to save a tremendous number of lives.

Finally, let me say a few things on Nigeria. I am the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria. Our Serjeant-at-Arms, who was here a moment ago, is part of the Nigerian diaspora. Let us not forget that Africa provides us with an enormous opportunity for the future. It provides us with markets the size of which we do not yet completely understand. By 2050, Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the whole of the world. China and India will by vying for one and two then it will be Nigeria. Unless we get it right and unless we get the people to help themselves, to develop their own countries and to provide jobs for young people, we will run into a tremendous amount of problems not just in Africa, but in Europe as well.