G8 Summit — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:49 pm on 19th June 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Shadow Leader of the House of Lords 3:49 pm, 19th June 2013

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement given earlier today in the other place by the Prime Minister on this week’s G8 summit.

I commend the Prime Minister and the Government for holding the summit in Northern Ireland. Fifteen years ago, even at the moment when the Good Friday agreement was being signed, holding a G8 summit in Enniskillen would have been unimaginable. Peace has transformed Enniskillen, and the location of this summit alone is testament to what can be achieved through politics and dialogue, and is a credit to the people of Northern Ireland.

I shall take the G8 issues in turn. On hunger and nutrition, it is completely unacceptable that there is enough food in the world for everyone, yet 1 billion people still go hungry and 2.3 million children die every year from malnutrition. We therefore welcome the agreements and commitments made during the hunger summit. The task now must be to ensure that these commitments will be delivered. Does the Leader of the House agree that we are right to stick by our pledge of 0.7% for aid as a proportion of national income? Does he further agree that we should be using all the moral force that we gain from that position to urge others to follow suit?

On trade, we welcome and support the launch of negotiations on a free trade agreement between Europe and the United States. The prize here is enormous. Can the Leader confirm that the Prime Minister will tell his colleagues that this is a timely reminder of the importance for jobs and prosperity of Britain staying in the European Union?

The Government were right to put tax and transparency on the agenda. The question is now how to translate good intentions into action. On tax havens, the Prime Minister has said that one of his goals was to make sure that there will be public knowledge of who owns companies and trusts. What blocked getting agreement on this at the G8? What progress was made on ensuring that information that is being shared between rich countries is also being shared with developing countries? Does the Leader agree with these Benches that, given the importance of this issue for developing countries, it cannot be justified that rich countries agree to share this information with each other but not with the poorest countries of the world?

I turn to the devastating situation in Syria. According to the UN, more than 93,000 people have now died in this brutal conflict. It was right for the Government to prioritise this and make it the focus of this week’s talks. We welcome the announcements of additional humanitarian aid, particularly the doubling of UK aid. However, the answer to this humanitarian crisis is a political solution. We all recognise the scale of the challenge of bringing together an international community that has been divided for over two years. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the summit’s outcome on this issue was,

“a strong and purposeful statement on Syria”.

The centrepiece of that statement was a commitment to the Geneva II conference. Could the Leader therefore explain why there was no agreement on a starting date for the conference? Indeed, it is being suggested that the conference is now being pushed back from June to July, and now even to August. Based on this week’s talks, when does the Leader expect the conference to take place?

I turn to the substance of that conference. The Prime Minister has spoken today about the importance of the agreement in Enniskillen on a transitional government, including the maintenance of government institutions and an inclusive political settlement for Syria. This we welcome; but do the Government accept that every one of those commitments featured in the Geneva I conference back in June 2012? The Government talk of this providing a moment of clarity on Syria, but how in concrete terms does this communiqué move us closer to that political settlement? Based on discussions at the G8 on securing access for weapons inspectors, securing access for humanitarian agencies and tackling terrorism, can the Leader set out how these laudable and very welcome goals will be achieved?

The Prime Minister went into the summit having allowed speculation to build that Britain was in favour of arming the rebels as a means to encourage diplomatic progress. Given the limited progress achieved, do the Government still maintain that focusing so much time and effort preceding the summit on lifting the arms embargo was the right approach?

The Prime Minister now says that it is not his policy to arm the rebels. Given that the Geneva conference has already been delayed, can the Leader envisage any circumstances in which the Government would seek to arm the rebels before the conference takes place? The reality is that we did not witness the long hoped-for breakthrough on Syria at the G8 summit, a hope that noble Lords on all Benches share.

None of us should doubt the difficulties of the choices that confront the Government. The Government know that on the steps agreed this week to tackle terrorism and on the issues of Afghanistan and, indeed, Libya in particular, we gave the Government our full support. On these Benches we urge the Government in the months ahead to proceed with the greatest possible clarity as to their strategy, and to seek to build the greatest possible consensus across Parliament. I trust that the noble Lord the Leader will continue to keep the House informed.