That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, it is a privilege for me to open this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, in which we will consider the Government’s priorities for foreign affairs, European affairs, international development and defence in the year ahead. We have a long and distinguished list of speakers in front of us, but we look forward with particular anticipation to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Helic.
It is also a pleasure for me to represent defence again after an interval of almost 20 years, but first I pay tribute to my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever, who did such a fantastic job over the course of the last Parliament. He brought harmony where there might have been discord and ensured that the debate, while lively and sometimes vociferous, was always conducted in a productive and positive spirit.
When I was last in the MoD, I was responsible for taking through an Armed Forces Bill. That will be one of my responsibilities once more this time around. However, that is one of the few similarities between then and now because the world we contemplate today is a very different place. An arc of instability is spreading from the fringes of Europe and the heart of the Middle East to the horn of Africa. We have seen the resurgence of old threats, with an aggressive Russia annexing Crimea and continuing to destabilise Ukraine. We have seen the rise of new threats with non-state actors such as ISIL and Boko Haram, motivated by an evil religious fanaticism, attempting to set up their own state entities while laying waste to some of the most precious treasures in human history. At the same time, our adversaries are proving ever more ingenious in their methods of attack, using hybrid warfare and cybertechnologies.
In such a world, we must prove ourselves equally innovative and agile in response. That is why, in the gracious Speech, the Government have pledged to do whatever is necessary in an age of persistent competition to keep Britain safe. We will do our utmost to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons, cyberattacks and terrorism and will continue to remain at the forefront of the NATO and international effort to degrade and ultimately defeat the adversaries that affect and threaten us all. We in government will work in parallel across development, defence and diplomacy to enhance the standing and security of Britain in this unstable world. Together we will pursue a coherent policy that protects our security, promotes our prosperity and projects our values.
I turn to some of the specific priorities for this Government in the coming year. I start with defence. First and foremost, we will be focused on the strategic defence and security review. This will be a Cabinet Office-led cross-Whitehall piece of work covering the full spectrum of national security and defence. Work on it has begun and it will report in due course. It will be aligned with the comprehensive spending review and the national security strategy and will be driven by a hard-headed appraisal of our foreign policy and security objectives and the role we wish our country to play. It will recognise that we face an increasingly complex and challenging international and domestic security environment and that our security at home and overseas is intrinsically interlinked. It will also recognise that we must act to prevent, contain and tackle threats that put at risk our way of life and that economic security and national security are two sides of the same coin.
Once the NSS and the national security risk assessment have been established and define where and when the threats may come from, we will be able to identify the resources needed to respond. We should not forget that the UK is a global player with the largest defence budget in the EU and second largest in NATO. We have a huge diplomatic presence, world-leading Armed Forces and intelligence agencies, a strong police force and an impressive National Crime Agency. Noble Lords will appreciate that I am not at liberty to say too much about the review at this juncture. Suffice to say that in 2010, and largely as a result of the reforms that we have made over the last five years, we are in a much better place. The MoD is now a far more efficient, more effective and more innovative organisation. Whatever the outcome, we will be ready to deliver, not least because the UK is proud to call upon some of the best, most dedicated personnel in the world.
In this Parliament we will continue to recruit both the regulars and the reserves we need for our future force, and will work to retain the very best regulars, reserves and civilians in both specialist and non-specialist posts. We will make sure that this agile, flexible force has the right equipment to do the job. That means meeting our manifesto pledge to fund our £160 billion equipment plan at 1% above inflation for this coming Parliament. That investment will allow us to bring in the carriers as well as the ships, helicopters and planes our services need to project power across the globe. In an increasingly dangerous and uncertain world, we will also retain our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent—it has been there for 45 years and counting—with a fleet of four deterrent submarines, the minimum number necessary.
When our forces are deployed, we need to make sure that they are able to operate without fear of inappropriate and onerous litigation, particularly as a result of spurious allegations. We have debated the issue of legal action on freedom to conduct operations a number of times before in this House. Respect for human rights and the protection of civilians is an essential element of training for our Armed Forces and is reinforced by the service justice system. As we set out in our manifesto, we intend to ensure that our Armed Forces conducting essential military operations overseas are not assailed by human rights claims that lack merit and undermine their ability to do their job. Our plans for effecting this commitment will be set out in due course.
Finally on defence, we will ensure that those who have laid their lives on the line for this country continue to receive the support and assistance they need by strengthening our Armed Forces covenant.
Turning to international development, the Government believe that we must do more than simply mitigate the threats that we face. We believe in being a country that shapes the world. Tackling poverty overseas means tackling the root causes of global problems such as disease, drugs, migration and terrorism. This is not only the right thing to do but is firmly in Britain’s own national interest. The UK is already a global leader in this area. In fact, we are the only G7 nation to meet the UN/OECD target to spend 0.7% of gross national income on international development, and we are proud of that commitment.
The UK delivers aid to where it is most needed and where the best results can be gained for taxpayers’ money. In Afghanistan, British support has helped get girls into school, improved healthcare and created jobs, and we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Afghan people in the years ahead. In Sierra Leone, the UK can be immensely proud of its lifesaving work leading the international humanitarian response to Ebola. Retaining our spending commitment will allow us to continue promoting stability and economic growth overseas over the coming years. This means saving 1.4 million children’s lives by immunising 76 million children against killer diseases, improving nutrition for millions in the poorest countries, opening up access to a proper education and leading efforts to tackle violence against women and girls.
In everything that we do we will look to boost growth, jobs, business and trade—the only way in which people and countries can sustainably exit poverty and aid dependency. We will support the foundation stones of development—what our Prime Minister calls the “golden thread of development”: good governance, the rule of law, property rights, democracy and the absence of conflict.
That brings me to my last point, on European affairs. When it comes to democracy in the EU, the British public are clear that the EU needs to change. That means reforming welfare and immigration rules, increasing economic competitiveness to create jobs and growth for the working population and protecting Britain’s interests outside the euro. It also means halting the constant flow of powers to Brussels, including by ensuring a stronger role for national Parliaments and dealing with the concept of ever-closer union, which may appeal to some countries but does not work for Britain. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will lead the renegotiation, working closely with my right honourable friends the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary, while of course consulting his Cabinet and Conservative Party colleagues.
The Prime Minister has already started to discuss his plans for reform and renegotiation with his EU colleagues. We expect him to set out some further detail at the European Council meeting at the end of June. Following a renegotiation, the Prime Minister has also been clear that he will hold an in/out referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU by the end of 2017. We have today delivered on our promise with the introduction of the European Union Referendum Bill into the House of Commons.
As the Chancellor set out, we go into the negotiations aiming to be constructive and engaged but also firm and resolute. However, we are not starting from scratch. From cutting the EU budget for the first time in history through to protecting British taxpayers from the cost of eurozone bailouts, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has already secured important changes to how Europe works.
The gracious Speech shows a Government determined to keep this country safe and advance our interests around the world; a Government re-energised and reinvigorated with the right priorities, a clear mandate and a driving purpose to make a real difference for the British people; a Government who are now going to get on and deliver.
My Lords, all the topics in today’s debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech are clearly linked. They all relate to Britain’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable planet that is free from the fear of hunger and poverty. The new Government must act strategically on these issues and, over the coming months, will need to clearly evidence their commitment to ensuring that Britain is a major player on the world stage. As the noble Earl stated, the challenges are great: securing peace and stability in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine; defeating ISIL and addressing Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programmes. On Israel and Palestine we need to continue to press for a two-state solution.
Your Lordships’ Select Committee report on soft power focused on Britain’s diminishing influence on the world stage and concluded:
“In this hugely changed international context, the UK cannot simply proceed as before. If the UK is still effectively to protect and promote its interests, how it interacts with other nations and communities will need fundamentally to alter. We conclude that this demands a radical change in the mindset of those who direct the UK’s foreign policy and shape its international role”.
A multilateral approach to global engagement, working with our allies, is essential to counter and confront terrorism. The recent tragic events in Palmyra, Syria, highlight the formidable challenge ahead in the region. Our opposition to ISIL, with its medieval horror strategy, must be absolute, and the new Iraqi Government must be given the support that they deserve. I hope that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will update the House on the actions that the Government are taking in this context, and of course I congratulate the noble Baroness on her reappointment to the Foreign Office.
As the noble Earl mentioned, one of the first Bills to be presented to this Parliament by the Government was the European Union Referendum Bill. In the referendum in 1975, I was secretary of my local “Get Britain Out” campaign. Time has moved on since then, and so have I. I recognise that the removal of barriers to trade has helped create jobs. Our membership has helped to improve labour standards across Europe, and British workers now have the right to paid holiday and equal treatment for part-time and temporary workers. Like many businesses and people, we want to see reform in Europe: on benefits, on transitional controls in future for citizens from any new EU country who want to work in Britain, and in the way the EU works—and we will hold the Prime Minister to account for the progress on these.
However, the EU itself needs to recognise the growing demand from countries across Europe that want more devolution of power and recognise that the EU must work for those countries that are, and will remain, outside the euro. As my noble friend Lady Royall said, we will vote for the Bill, but we believe that younger people need a stronger voice in society, and the referendum should provide one opportunity for that. We saw last year how young people in Scotland engaged in the run-up to the independence referendum and how it was such a motivator for renewed politics. I hope that the Government will learn from that experience and offer 16 and 17 year-olds a say over whether their country should remain within the EU.
We also need to be clear that this debate should not be conducted purely through the prism of economic spectacles. Britain has a proud tradition of leadership, not just in Europe but in the world, and that is the theme of today’s debate. This Government must ensure that the UK has responsive, high-tech Armed Forces capable of responding to changing threats in an unpredictable security landscape. I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on his return to the department. I sincerely hope his tenure of office will not be as long as his absence from the department, but that is another story.
The forthcoming strategic defence and security review must be an inclusive, national debate on all the global challenges facing our country. In 2010, the party opposite presided over an SDSR that was not strategic in any form. It focused purely on cuts to spending and, dangerously, did not properly consider the ever-expanding threats to our country. This failure resulted in gaps in our military capability. A 2015 SDSR akin to the last will exacerbate this and further erode Britain’s role in the world.
The morale of the Armed Forces is, as the noble Earl mentioned, of utmost importance. The Government need urgently to address the issues that are making so many want to leave. The recently published annual MoD attitude survey highlighted that nearly one-third are dissatisfied with military life, and one in four wants to quit. The situation has deteriorated significantly over the past five years, and it is vital that the covenant between our nation and our Armed Forces, and veterans and their families, is strengthened.
For international development and climate change, the year ahead is incredibly significant, with intergovernmental negotiations before the September summit to determine global goals for the next 15 years and the UNFCCC conference in Paris in December to agree new emissions targets. In considering the Government’s response to these events, I want to focus on three vital areas: access to healthcare, climate change and the protection of human rights.
Ensuring that everyone in the world has access to affordable healthcare is essential to end poverty. Last year the Ebola virus killed thousands across west Africa, and the UK’s response to the humanitarian health crisis was strong. However, the main issue here was that health systems were not sufficiently resourced or strong enough to deal with the issue. Universal health coverage with access for all, without people suffering financial hardship, will make countries more resilient to health concerns such as Ebola before they become widespread emergencies. I ask the Minister to support universal health coverage in the language of the health goal in the SDGs in New York.
Climate change hits the world’s poorest people the hardest as they lack the resilience to cope with drought, flood and food insecurity. Given the clear links between climate change, inequality, poverty and economic development, does the Minister agree that not having a stand-alone goal on climate change will undermine the potential of the entire post-2015 agenda? In advance of the UN conference in Paris, it would be good to hear from the Minister how the Government are co-ordinating their engagement on these two opportunities, the outcomes of which are so clearly dependent on one another.
On human rights, I pay tribute to the work of the last Government in helping change global opinion on the issue of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is not limited to the evil of wartime rape. It is all too evident in recent examples of oppression, including in Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia and India. Human rights are universal and mature democracies should support the development of free societies everywhere while upholding their own legal and moral obligations. Women and girls must be free from the fear of violence, coercion or intimidation, and must have the freedom to choose how many children they want. Members of LGBT communities must be free to love and marry who they wish. Here, I, too, acknowledge the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I know that at the UN she stood up strongly for the rights of lesbian and gay people, who face not only discrimination and anti-gay laws but the daily risk of increased violence, as we witnessed in Russia and Uganda.
To reduce aid dependency and foster good government, we need to support countries to collect their own taxes. We need global agreement on tax transparency and to ensure that companies pay their tax in-country. However, development is not just about new powers for more Governments; it should result in changes for working people, too. Decent jobs under decent conditions for decent pay is a vital part of development, providing a permanent route out of poverty. We need to stop clothing made by people working in horrendous conditions from reaching our markets and to demand action from major companies to stamp out child labour from their supply chains. Will the Minister undertake to work more closely with the International Labour Organisation so that, for once, we can stamp out this horrendous blot on our markets and ensure not only that such abuses are stopped in individual countries but that we take action globally to ensure success?
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, back to her seat. I am deeply grateful to have had a very professional and constructive relationship with her in the last Government. She is a very good Minister; it was a very good coalition in that respect. I compliment her in particular for maintaining the important work on interfaith relations, both domestically and internationally, which her predecessor—the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi—undertook. I hope that that will also continue under this new Conservative Government.
I want to talk about the area of the Queen’s Speech on international affairs and the insistence that,
“my Government will continue to play a leading role in global affairs”, with specific references to remaining,
“an enhanced partnership with India and China”.
It goes on to say, as the noble Earl remarked, that they,
“will undertake a full strategic defence … review”, within the next year. In a separate section of the Speech, the Government promise to,
“renegotiate the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union and pursue reform of the European Union for the benefit of all member states”.
I leave to one side the underlying contradiction in this sentence, between “renegotiation”, in which the UK faces the other 27 member states and asks for a series of special concessions and opt-outs for ourselves alone, on the Danish model, and,
“reform … for the benefit of all”, in which the UK works with like-minded Governments to achieve common objectives. You cannot do both at the same time, and the Prime Minister remains deliberately ambiguous as to which he intends to pursue.
I want to focus on the assumption that there is little connection between our relations with the EU and its other member states, our foreign policy, and our role in the world. Many members of the Government are in denial of the reality—that Britain does not have a foreign policy, or a role in the world, unless it has a European policy. One of the established myths of the Eurosceptic media and political right is that we were never told when we joined the European Community that it had implications for foreign policy, and that it was just a common market, a trade arrangement without political implications. That is a convenient myth, but it disregards what Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister made clear to his colleagues when the question of membership was first raised; he recognised that it was a major shift in our international role, a commitment to European security and closer co-operation, which the United States was pushing the British to accept, and which in particular necessitated closer co-operation with France and Germany. Edward Heath spelt out the same message clearly, most explicitly in his Harvard lectures in 1969, well reported in the United Kingdom, and so did Sir Alec Douglas-Home, as he took the accession Bill through the Commons as Foreign Secretary. Jim Callaghan as Foreign Secretary was one of the first enthusiasts for European foreign policy co-operation; in 1980, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, drafted the London report on strengthening foreign policy co-operation. The EU was always about security as well as trade, about containing Germany and Russia, and about resolving competing nationalisms among European states.
British foreign policy for centuries has been about competition and co-operation with France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain; that has shaped our national identity and history, and it is the continuing reality today. William Hague has negotiated with Iran and on other Middle East issues in the forum of the E3+3:
Britain, France and Germany, together with the United States, Russia and China. Britain, France and Germany are clearly more closely aligned with each other than with any of the three others. In containing Russia over Ukraine, the European members of NATO have worked closely together, imposing EU sanctions to parallel NATO measures. I took part earlier this week in a NATO conference in which the constant message from Americans and Europeans is that, if we are going to cope with the Russian pressure on Ukraine, the EU and NATO have to work closely in harmony, using all the measures at their disposal. They are not in entirely different worlds. The UK appears to have opted out in many ways from relations with Ukraine, so that it is Germany above all, with France, that is leading the negotiations with Russia and is the United States’ leading partner in Europe.
One recent academic study of 25 years of voting in the UN since the end of the Cold War shows that the French have voted in the same way as the British in 95% of UN votes and the United States has voted together with the British in 65%, which suggests perhaps that French and British interests are more closely aligned than those that we have with the United States. In containing disorder across north Africa and the Sahel, we already work very closely with the French in Mali and elsewhere. In containing disorder and piracy off the Horn of Africa, the European headquarters for the operation is in Northwood, in spite of the fact that very often the British have not contributed a frigate to that joint operation. The Franco-British defence co-operation arrangements launched in 1998 under the Blair Government and renewed in 2010-11 under this Government have become the core of where we are going, but the Government have always been deeply resistant to Liberal Democrat pressure to tell anyone in Britain about it for fear of the Daily Mail. We also work closely with the Dutch and the Nordic countries in pursuing closer defence co-operation.
We hear a lot of noise from leading Conservatives about what sort of future relationship they would like us to have with the European Union and its leading member states. For example, last weekend, Owen Paterson suggested that Switzerland or Norway are the models we should follow and that we should focus instead on reviving the Anglosphere. That brought back memories of my first visit to the United States when Eisenhower was president and white Anglo-Saxon Protestants still ran the United States from the east coast. That has gone. When we first negotiated to join the European Economic Community, we spent a lot of time defending New Zealand butter exports and Australian pineapples. That has also gone. We are in a different world. The United States has Korean and Hispanic congressmen and the Republicans will not win unless they have Spanish-speaking voters. The world is no longer the Anglosphere.
The Foreign Secretary appears to prefer the Danish model with a formal opt-out but following most EU legislation. The Danish Foreign Minister made a speech yesterday warning the United Kingdom against it, saying: “It has given us nothing but problems”. Daniel Hannan and UKIP would really like the UK to leave the EU completely to pursue closer and separate relationships with China, Russia and other Asian powers and to have an enhanced partnership with China and India separate from European relations with China and India. I suggest that that is not the way to get the attention of senior Chinese or even, these days, Indian leaders. There are, of course, issues of national identity behind all this. I note that the campaign for Britain now has a subgroup entitled “Historians for Britain”, some of whom will be familiar to noble Lords. They want to promote the Michael Gove version of national history. I once saw a Conservative memo that said “We must at all costs avoid any indication that World War 1 or World War 2 has any relevance in terms of pursing European co-operation”. That is the part of the argument about national identity and national history.
None of these alternatives offers us a coherent foreign policy let alone a credible or hard-headed approach to what our role in the world should be, to quote the noble Earl. It is a foreign policy with a hole at its centre where we have left out those countries with which we most closely share democratic values: our neighbours in the rest of Europe. If we have no European policy, we have no foreign policy, so how can we set out a strategic review of defence and security before we have concluded what future relationship we wish to have with our nearest neighbours? The SDSR will list the major threats facing the UK over the next 10 years and more. None of them is a threat to Britain alone. They are all, to one extent or another, shared with our neighbours: migration, cross-border crime, Russian subversion, pandemics and international terrorism. Our natural partners in facing them are our neighbours. If we do not recognise that, we end up sending HMS “Bulwark” into the Mediterranean when it is unclear what it is there to do, what rules it is operating under or what it does with the migrants it rescues. We have a determination to renew our continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent, but we are not entirely clear why. If we aspire to a Danish role in the world, Denmark does not need a nuclear deterrent, and neither does Switzerland. Our nuclear deterrent was a contribution to the defence of western Europe against the Soviet threat. We have to put it in its European context for it to make sense.
When she winds up, will the noble Baroness say whether in making the SDSR proposal we will follow the example of the last French White Paper and invite French participation as they invited British participation—Sir Peter Ricketts—in the process of developing their defence review or whether we think that is not something we should reciprocate? Do we intend to deepen European defence co-operation, in particular with France, or do we think now is the time to step back? If we intend to deepen it, do the Government intend to inform Parliament and the British public about how far that has got?
I am told that over the past five years the National Security Council spent more time discussing Gulf strategy than European strategy. Some of us have some doubts about the preferred Gulf strategy of the current Government and their predecessor. We have a close relationship with Sunni monarchies, looking for investment in Britain, pursuing arms sales—above all, aircraft sales—and have set in train an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood because the Saudis and
Emiratis pressed us to do so, without thinking through the implications for British foreign policy or British domestic politics. Thus we are in danger of ending up on the Sunni/Salafist side of a Sunni-Shia divide.
I note a number of comments about “increasing our footprint in the Gulf” as we withdraw from Afghanistan, in particular about expanding our base in Bahrain, which is close to the American Fifth Fleet. Will the Minister tell us who is paying for the expansion of the Bahrain base? I have heard some suggestions that the Bahrainis are paying for it, not the British Government. If that is the case, what conditions have the Bahrainis put on paying for that expansion, and what conditions in return have we put on the Bahrainis for the future development of that rather authoritarian monarchy?
Over the next year we will have to discuss Britain’s role in the world and what that requires as regards responding to future threats. The noble Earl promised a “hard-headed appraisal” of the role we want to play. In a discussion a few months ago on the context of the SDSR I heard a rather senior Conservative MP say, bluntly, “Well, we don’t know who we are as a nation, and we don’t know where we are in the world”. That is close to the bone as regards the confusion within the Conservative Party. Liberal Democrats understand that the British identity is compatible with the European identity, that Britain shares values and interests with our European neighbours, and that any coherent British foreign and security strategy has to be founded on a European strategy.
My Lords, I add my welcome to the noble Earl for his return to the Ministry of Defence, and congratulate him on his new responsibilities as Deputy Leader of your Lordships’ House. I will touch on two key defence issues: the nuclear deterrent and what has been characterised as combat lawfare.
During the election campaign, the importance of continuing to have a nuclear deterrent was briefly raised. Both major political parties, at the most senior level, stressed their commitment to Trident and to replacing the Vanguard boats at the end of their operational lives. The intention to maintain a continuous at-sea capability appears in the Tory manifesto:
“We will retain the Trident continuous at sea nuclear deterrent to provide the ultimate guarantee of our safety and build the new fleet of four Successor Ballistic Missile Submarines”.
However, possession is only a part of that ultimate guarantee. Deterrence is not just about capability—with a very high threshold of invulnerability—but also about political will. Does all a potential adversary can see or surmise indicate strong political determination about the nation’s deterrent posture?
Critical to this, when faced with the most serious of threats, is the ability of government first to engage the enemy with all other non-nuclear means available to it, both military and non-military, and to be seen to act stoutly and with determination to defend an absolutely vital national interest. I do not consider that political will about intention regarding or use of nuclear weapons is believable if the choice that the Government of the day must make when faced with a critical national emergency is either virtually immediate use of their nuclear weapons, because they so lack conventional fire-power, or surrender.
Without further elaboration, my point is that national deterrence—the death sentence of a nuclear deterrent—lacks credibility unless there are available to the Government other military means of demonstrating determination and resolve in a worsening crisis. Robust kinetic action, short of a nuclear response, is required. But surely we need more—much more—non-nuclear capability than we could field today. Platform numbers are so low that even modest loss rates in the early stages might all too soon leave the Government conventionally impotent.
In years gone by, with troops and aircraft forward-based, with 30 or more combat air squadrons deployed on land or at sea and with the service fleet number treble that of today, different levels or degrees of conventional military response were available to the Government. Such serried steps are vital, visible indicators of a Government’s determination and that they will, if all else is failing, be strong-willed enough to threaten actual use of a nuclear weapon.
Therefore, I urge the Government to consider what more must be done as the economy improves to bolster and give credibility to their manifesto commitment to sustain continuous at-sea deterrents. I doubt that the pledged 1% increase in the equipment budget will suffice. This year’s SDSR should recommend what strengthening of our conventional offensive capabilities, both platforms and missiles, is essential to the nuclear deterrent posture, what additional protection for those more vulnerable platforms such as aircraft carriers, with dedicated surface and other units for them, must be acquired, and of course what protection is needed for our actual nuclear capability at its most vulnerable when entering or leaving UK coastal waters. If the Government’s manifesto commitment to mount continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence is to be credible, it must be partnered with greater non-nuclear conventional capability than is at present available. Surely it would be folly to spend billions on four successor ballistic missile submarines without providing the conventional contribution essential to sustain a credible nuclear deterrent.
I turn briefly to combat lawfare. There are growing and welcome signs that the uncertainties about the application of domestic or international law in complex scenarios are to be addressed. As the noble Earl mentioned, it is in the Tory manifesto, which states:
“We will ensure our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job”.
I do not underrate the difficulties in honouring that pledge. I go back to the debates on the Human Rights Bill in 1998, when I foresaw difficulties—which were dismissed by the then Lord Chancellor, who was leading on the Bill—of incompatibilities between that Bill and Armed Forces legislation. Legislation about the International Criminal Court in 2001 and, more recently, concerning the handling of service complaints have all served to lessen the essential ethos of trust, both political and military, up and down the chain of command—a fundamental requirement of the Armed Forces. I wish the Government well in tackling those combat lawfare issues.
Now that there is likely to be a delay in bringing forward a British Bill of Rights, which might have been one vehicle for that legislation, I hope that the Government will consider dealing with the issue in the quinquennial Armed Forces Bill, which the noble Earl mentioned and which is due next year.
My Lords, it was encouraging to hear the commitment of Her Majesty’s Government in the gracious Speech to various foreign policy objectives in the Middle East. The chaos in the Middle East is all too familiar and arises not from isolated pockets of trouble but from multiple interconnected challenges. Syria’s misery shows no sign of ending; Libya appears torn in half; ISIS continues to make gains in Iraq; and Yemen appears to be sliding into a humanitarian crisis. We are confronted by a Middle East that is coming apart at the seams. These are problems that will not just evaporate. They need careful attention and strategic patience, and I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to remain vigilant to broader aims throughout the region, as well as giving appropriate attention to the constituent parts. ISIS, with its violent and murderous ideology and murderous approach to those in its way, is causing fear and instability well beyond its current reach. This must continue to be an urgent priority. If this form of highly organised, ruthless terrorism is to be defeated, we will need to work closely with allies in the United States as well as more broadly in Europe.
Although media and political attention is understandably fixed on addressing the instability in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, it is important that we do not lose sight of efforts to secure a two-state solution that provides for the security of Israel, justice for the Palestinians and peace for all. This is a vital strand of the interconnectedness of the region, and bold moves in seeking to unlock this situation are needed if Israel’s security is to be guaranteed and the Palestinians enabled to flourish. This continues to be a vital building block for wider peace throughout the region and for the defeat of terrorism. Despite the expansion of Israel’s settlement programme and the unpromising signs emerging from the new Israeli Government, I trust that Her Majesty’s Government will remain committed to encouraging Israel to fulfil its international obligations as well as to the concept of a two-state solution. There remains no better alternative to the probability of the establishment of either a non-Jewish democracy or a Jewish non-democracy. At a time when the situation on the ground grows ever more dangerous, the Government need to look imaginatively at ways to move beyond the current stalemate.
The status of Palestine is likely to be an issue that reappears once again before the UN Security Council. I sincerely hope that the Government will be supportive of any draft resolution that creates greater equivalence between Israel and Palestine as political entities in the framework of any negotiations. The absence of progress will only allow for extremism to ferment. Indeed, I hope that the Government will draw encouragement from the growing support for the recognition of Palestine, in your Lordships’ House as well as in the wider international community. The Holy See’s recent intervention is but the latest example of this. The recognition of Palestine and upholding Israel’s security will be important stepping stones in securing a long-term peace in the Middle East.
I turn to international development, which did not feature in the gracious Speech, although it was good to hear the noble Earl, Lord Howe, speak on the subject at the start of the debate. It is evident that, even though a fragile cross-party consensus now exists in support of the 0.7% development budget, the public at large remain—if polls are to be believed—suspicious and doubtful of its benefits. Given this scepticism, the transition later this year to an agenda based on sustainable development goals provides a window of opportunity for the Government to publish a new White Paper on international development. It is now eight years since the Department for International Development published its last White Paper and we need a new narrative on international development that reflects the changed reality we now face and has traction with the wider public.
As part of this exercise, we might look again at the role that faith communities play in delivering aid on the ground and in building resilient communities, and the scope for closer partnership. The last Government made some good progress in this area, not least with their faith partnership principles of 2012, but the potential benefits of strategic collaboration between the Department for International Development and the church remain sadly largely untapped. I know only too well from my own links and those of my diocese with Zimbabwe the role that the church can play in challenging circumstances. As that beautiful country once again faces challenges over feeding its population, and given the growing nervousness of what will happen when the Mugabe regime draws to a close, I sincerely hope that the Government will stand ready to meet relief and development needs in that place as well as more widely across the globe.
My Lords, I would like to add a brief—and inadequate—tribute to those made yesterday in this House to my old colleague and friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, who has decided to retire from the House. It is inadequate because of shortage of time but is none the less heartfelt. Lord Howe served this country, government and party in all the highest offices—or in most of them anyway. More than that, he was the prime promoter of Conservative social reform in showing how market-driven forces could be harnessed to strong social advance. I for one, and I think many of us, shall miss him here and wish him well. The country owes that man a lot. Indeed, he was one of the reasons why I joined the Conservative Party in the first place.
I also add my congratulations to those expressed to the other Howe, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who is sitting here. He has done a marvellous job over many years in social policy areas. It is excellent that he is now at defence and our Deputy Leader. I also greatly look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic.
On Europe, I wish the best of luck to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in his renegotiations and his search for allies in European reform. He is quite right that the issues are not just bilateral British concerns—this is not just a question of British demands and special requirements. As Günter Verheugen, the former Commissioner, remarked the other day:
“What [Cameron] is saying is what a strong majority of Europeans feel”.
I would have liked to have seen this search for allies begin even earlier than now. In particular, we should have been much friendlier much earlier to Poland instead of siding against her on a whole range of issues, including energy issues, and backing the EU Commission’s now outdated, costly and ineffective energy package—which is long overdue for a complete overhaul, as is our own dismal, inept and indeed dangerous energy and climate policy here in the United Kingdom. That is a less happy legacy from the coalition. It needs total makeover, and let us hope that the promise in the Queen’s Speech of,
“Measures … to increase energy security”, mean just that. I will believe it when I see it.
My other concern is whether EU negotiations are a strong enough vehicle to achieve the needed EU reform. The reality, which people are reluctant to face, is that the EU model comes from the 20th century, where it had great effect, but we are now in a totally different, 21st-century digital age.
A second track to our European reform policy is needed. Hand in hand with negotiations on specific concessions should go a much deeper drive to reinterpret the principles on which the European project is, or now ought to be, based. The 20th century demanded solidarity and centralisation in Europe—that was understandable—but the 21st century demands flexibility and decentralisation. This is the more profound lead on EU reform which I would like to see the best policy minds here in Britain giving and for which many of our friends across Europe are waiting. I hope that the so-called high priests said to be in charge of our EU policy see this and have enough experience of the whole history of European integration to be really creative. It is not a question of shopping lists, red-line demands and all the talk of wresting concessions. That is not nearly enough. I hope our negotiators will not be swayed by highly misleading advice that nothing too fundamental must be raised in these matters for fear of offending our European neighbours.
In the end, there will have to be treaty changes, however much the old political class across Europe may fear that. Of course, treaty changes cannot be delivered by 2017—no one is suggesting that—but what can be delivered is a clear indication that the old overcentralised, overregulated EU is set in new directions at last, appropriate to the age we now live in and suitable for the totally transformed trade patterns that now exist, which are completely different from anything 20 years ago.
I hope, anyway, that none of this will distract policymakers from the much bigger task of repositioning Britain in a completely transformed world order. The bald fact is that our future living standards and our security will depend as much on the great new powers and exploding consumer markets of Asia, Africa and Latin America as on Europe. That is where most of the growth over the next 30 years will be. In getting alongside these new powers and new markets we will need every conceivable instrument we can find and every advantage we can seize against our competitors. This is where the Commonwealth network, with its own colossal reach, rich markets and capital sources is—or ought to be—immensely valuable to us. I fear that the people who drafted my own party’s manifesto did not quite understand that emerging markets and the Commonwealth network are all woven together and all part of the same thing. If we want what the gracious Speech refers to as,
“an enhanced partnership with India”, for example, this is where it should begin.
The Commonwealth network is the gateway to China and Japan, the second and third largest economies in the world. China’s opening up of the whole of east Asia to development, with its new silk road linking Chinese, central Asian and eventually western markets, is all part of the same picture. One decision that gave me great pleasure was the British decision to go right in as a founding supporter of China’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. That was an excellent move which recognises the real future, where our interest lies.
In a highly dangerous world, with the arc of instability that my noble friend Lord Howe referred to, we should certainly settle promptly and constructively with our EU neighbours and clinch that settlement with a referendum approval, which I believe we will get. We should certainly work closely with our American allies around the world—although as partners and not as slavish subordinates. But above all, we should be confident enough to develop our own agenda to work with the emerging powers of Asia and the new Africa. That is where our real future beckons. It is where we have unique advantages of language, experience, shared values and cultural links—real soft power and smart-power levers. It is where our overriding priorities should lie.
My Lords, the summons that we each received to attend this Parliament, however traditional or quaint some of its language, contained some forbidding words about the weighty and perilous issues that we would be asked to consider. In our international relations, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said in his introductory speech, those words seem accurate and probably prescient.
I start with Europe, which I recognise is both a domestic and an international policy issue. I also recognise, of course, the electorate’s clear decision and I welcome the decision taken by the leadership of the Labour Opposition to support an in/out referendum. Nothing else would be legitimate. The need for reform in the work up to that referendum on Europe is absolutely clear. I should say today that it is of course not the only international organisation in need of deep reform, and we may well return to that later.
However, several vital subsidiary issues flow from the position that we are now in. In my view, it would be hard to choose a worse or more problematic year than 2017 in which to conduct the referendum. The burden of my argument last year in your Lordships House, when the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, was moving his Bill, remains something that we need to focus on. First, conducting negotiations over a period that could be almost two years, without the certainty of knowing whether other countries will also need to hold referenda on the outcome of negotiations, runs some very plain risks. Those hostile to EU membership will argue for certainty about the outcome on the part of everybody else who has taken part in the negotiations before we come to decide. Will other nations abide by the decisions flowing from the negotiations? Will we be asked to decide before certainty is achieved elsewhere? Will the propositions flowing from other countries—the Prime Minister is quite right to say that they will also have their views—be encompassed in the detail upon which we will be asked to vote?
Secondly, if 2017 turns out to be the referendum year, these discussions will culminate in a moment of decision at the same as the French presidential election campaign is under way or the election is taking place. Francois Hollande and his opponents in mainstream France will be dealing with the emergence not only of their own economic crises but of a large fascist party in their own country. In its way, that is an existential issue for France. The question of whether, even given its history, that kind of politics will become mainstream in France is certain to be one of the obsessions of 2017 in France. Victory in Europe, so recently remembered, is remembered not just because of its military significance and the heroism of those who achieved the outcome, but because it was the defeat in Europe of a barbaric dictatorship that robbed many of us of large parts of our own families.
Also in 2017, there will be major elections in Germany—fortunately, of course, now a very mainstream European democracy. On balance, do we expect Chancellor Merkel to focus on the United Kingdom, whatever is happening in her own country or in the eurozone itself? Maybe she will—she seems to have that breadth of vision—but on balance it is not the ideal moment to ask any politician to be concerned with the internal affairs of another country.
Thirdly, in my view it is hard to overstate the risks of prolonged uncertainty in the markets. I refer noble Lords to my interests recorded in the register. Those involved in investment finance and structuring, who are used to lengthy and increasingly rigorous due diligence processes, will know that it is now true that a key due diligence set of questions appears in almost every transaction in which potential inward investors seek knowledge of the likely consequences of leaving the European Union for the business they are proposing to transact. The EU, in this setting, provides us with new and powerful questions to ask.
I must say that I have given up listening to those who say that we will be perfectly all right and that nobody will change their investment patterns. That is just a view—it is a guess about the future. These days, I just observe what businesses considering inward investment to the United Kingdom in growth areas of the economy are actually doing, rather than focus on speculation.
These points bring me to a view that I wish to put to your Lordships. The Foreign Secretary said this morning that it is better to take a thorough view than a fast decision, and I really do take the point, but what we surely really need now is both rigour and speed: a thorough and fast decision. If we are looking at the referendum date, it makes sense to avoid 2017, and I suspect that means that the only sensible option, in view of the pressures on us, is to look for a decision in 2016.
If that requires flexibility on the issue of whether there needs to be a treaty or some other durable arrangement, we in this country have the imagination and diplomatic skills to craft that outcome. Vital in all this are two factors: first, the economy and its future success; but also, of course, as several noble Lords have said in the debate, the structure of peace. Europe is not a place where competition and co-operation have existed together very successfully over very long periods. We need an historic balance between competition and co-operation. It is not optional for us in Europe; it is fundamental. Our broad security stance is more significant than any lurid account the media may produce about regulations demanding that we straighten our sausages. My late father used to remind me that in his youth the only times when he saw other young European men was looking down the barrel of a gun. The peace that has been achieved in Europe is one of the fundamentals of what we need.
The gracious Speech set out the prospect for fundamental changes in the economic decision-making powers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If these powers are to be broadly based and those envisaged in the statements of the leaders of most of the major parties, before and after the Scottish referendum, it cannot be realistically stated that Scotland, for example, can gain those significant economic powers and potentially lose the most significant macroeconomic framework of all: the ability to operate within the European Union.
If the home nations are to have the powers outlined and are taken out of the EU—should that happen— because of a decision taken across the United Kingdom, it is hard to think of a worse blow to the prospects of the union of the United Kingdom as a whole. Everybody will draw their lessons very rapidly. That means, I suspect, either that the home nations will have a veto or that the union will be in deep trouble. I am not predicting that we will end up leaving the EU or that Mr Cameron’s negotiations will fail—not at all; this is an attempt to work out the consequences of all the serious potential outcomes, and to be prepared politically for them, whatever they may be. In this light, I welcome the starting of the negotiations and wish the Prime
Minister well in them. A truly successful Union will have to meet the aspirations not just of us but of other countries.
In the gracious Speech, Her Majesty said, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace pointed out earlier, that the Government will continue to play a leading role in global affairs. I share his view that that role will best be undertaken in Europe, including in its relationships with the trading blocs and rising powers which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, described earlier. Of course, we are no longer a great imperial power, and no amount of posturing will remake that history, but if we are to be at least a second-order power of some significance, let us be the very best one we can be. Let us be a power that is properly provided with Armed Forces capable of executing what is needed; a power that, fortunately, enjoys an exceptional Foreign Office and remarkable intelligence services. Let us make sure that we exercise that authority in the parts of the world that do constitute an arc of uncertainty. Let us make sure that we are influential and have an impact.
If we are to have that kind of international role, if we believe it right that we should be a permanent member of the Security Council, that we are a nuclear force, and that that brings us into the global security picture in a very distinctive way, let us accept the responsibility that goes with all that. Let us not be afraid of taking the steps that, among other things, will help to resolve conflict in other parts of the world and to stop some regimes butchering their people—for whatever religious, cultural, economic, ethnic or other reason. Let us accept that that is part of what we are and part of our values. For the first time in a long time, let us get closer to deciding to have a committee that deals with international affairs and security, because these issues need fine, granular discussion and will not be dealt with in just a few minutes, whenever we have this kind of opportunity.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow such an excellent speech. I have to confess that I find myself feeling rather content to be back on this side of the Chamber. The view from here is somehow more congenial for a Liberal—although I am sorry not to be sharing a Bench, if that is the right way to put it, with my old friend and partner in so much in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I look forward very much to hearing her maiden speech.
And so ISIL sweeps on: unstopped and seemingly unstoppable; launching a wave of barbarism, ignorance and medievalism across the Middle East; destroying lives and threatening our common heritage; altering the borders of the Middle East; and humiliating the international community that set its hands to stop it more than a year ago. It gives me no pleasure to say that this is what has happened and that it is what many of us warned would happen if we sought a course of action that depended solely on the use of military force unanchored to any kind of sensible diplomatic strategy. I remember saying—I think in this House—that we will not win this battle by bombing because we cannot bomb ideas, and nor will we win it by using western high explosives to destroy more Muslim lives unless we can put that within a much broader diplomatic strategy. We have failed, and we are now facing the consequences of that failure.
Something else has happened. We have now moved closer to a much more dangerous state of risk: a risk far more dangerous than determined jihadists. It is a risk which is about moving towards a regional religious war between the Sunnis and the Shias. This is the real danger that now confronts us. It is the danger of a regional war which draws in the other great powers, with us on the side of the Sunnis—they are our friends and they provide us with oil and money and all sorts of help—and the Russians on the side of the Shias because that is the only counterbalance to the Sunni jihadism that now threatens the Muslim republics of Dagestan and Chechnya, and which indeed now threatens to divide the Russian Federation.
That is what we are moving to, and we will continue to move in that direction for as long as we believe, in our arrogance, that the underlying cause of all this is an attack on the West. It is not; we are simply one battle in a much wider war. The enemy is not the Satan in the West; it is the great heretic in Tehran. That is what all this is a precursor to, and we plunge ahead, seemingly completely unaware that this is the direction in which we are going. We are failing to stop the scourge of ISIL and we are failing to move away from that consequence. Indeed, we may even be moving closer to it.
What is to be done? Some, including some in this House, say that we should put troops on the ground. To me, this would be to add folly to historical ignorance. The problem is not the wrong military strategy; it is that we have made the fatal mistake of having a military strategy that is not anchored to a diplomatic strategy. It seems that we have wilfully and deliberately forgotten the wisdom of Clausewitz, who said that war is an extension of politics by other means. By the way, Clausewitz uses the German word “Politik”, spelled with a “k” at the end, which is far more about diplomacy than real politics. We have decided that war is the only instrument and that diplomacy can be put to one side. We see a problem in the world and our first instinct is to bomb it. That is exactly what we have done for the past 20 years, and perhaps more.
The last war to be fought within a diplomatic context was the first Gulf War, when George Bush Sr took the trouble to put together a genuine diplomatic coalition of which the instrument of military force was a part. Then we had shock and awe, and our dedication to—our obsession with, even—kinetic force as the only instrument to change things. George Bush Jr deliberately did not put together any diplomatic strategy, and we paid for the consequences of that: we lost.
Then it happened again in Afghanistan, where we deliberately did not put together any kind of diplomatic strategy and ignored the fundamental principle of creating peace after conflict, which is, “Bring in the neighbours”. We learnt that in Northern Ireland when finally we got the chance to do so and we understood that Dublin had a role to play. But we ignored that. We thought that it could all be done by kinetic force, but it could not and we lost. We used all sorts of euphemisms— the same ones that are being used now—to say that actually it was all a success, but it was a humiliating failure.
On the third occasion, in Libya, we did exactly the same thing again—bombs and bombs alone—and we lost. One would imagine that, thrice bitten, we might be a little more shy the fourth time of taking the same action, but such is our appetite for folly that we have done exactly the same again. It is not because there is no diplomatic strategy before us, because there is. We could begin to put together a genuine coalition. Our coalition at present is not for diplomacy but for military action: far too small, far too western-led and far, far too Sunni.
Actually, we could put together a genuine diplomatic coalition which would include Turkey, Iran and Tehran, and which could include—why not?—Russia. If Russia has shown the kind of aggression we deplore in Ukraine, is it not wise of us to reach out by saying to the Russians, “You have a role to play in this”, rather than pushing them into a corner? After all, they suffer just as much as we do, and arguably more, from the threat of Sunni jihadism. For us this is about returning people from the battlefield; their states are the battlefield. If we were to put together such a diplomatic coalition, military force would have a context in which it could be used.
I am not squeamish about military force. How could I be, coming from my background? However, I know that it will not succeed if it is the only instrument. It has to be locked within a broader diplomatic strategy, and this we have utterly failed to do. I accept that there would be difficulties with Turkey that we would have to overcome, including some concerns about human rights. I accept that there are difficulties with Tehran, although the deal on the nuclear thing is now nearly done, with Tehran occupying a sub-nuclear threshold. I accept that there would be difficulties with Russia, but that is the sort of coalition we are going to have to get used to. We no longer live in a monopolar world, so we have to build short-term coalitions with a particular aim with people who do not share our values.
Castlereagh would have understood it; Canning would have understood it; Palmerston, for all his enthusiasm for gunboats, would have understood it. Why do we ignore it? ISIL is the fourth occasion on which we have learnt graphically and at great cost that we think we live in the kinetic age where the only instrument to change things is western high explosives. We do not. We live in the diplomatic age where building broader coalitions as a context for the use of force is the only way to create peace and win conflicts such as this. As long as we go on persisting with the folly that this is the age of western high explosives rather than the age of sensible, intelligent and subtle diplomacy, we will continue to fail, and the cost will be paid in the lives of young men and women.
My Lords, perhaps I may begin by echoing something said by the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown. He asked how, given his background, he could possibly be averse in all respects to the use of force. How could I, given my background, possibly be averse to the message he gave us that we need an effective diplomacy?
Our new Government have been born into a more turbulent, unpredictable and unstable world than any we have experienced in recent times. They have been born into a world where Britain, acting simply on its own, is less able to defend and further its interests than has been the case in the past. We can see that the three rules-based international organisations into which we have put such trust—the UN, NATO and the European Union—are struggling to face effectively and respond to the challenges posed by that turbulent world. Add to that the unfortunate fact that up to now our own response to these challenges has, I have to say, been barely adequate. Look at our marginal involvement in the coalition against the so-called Islamic State and our self-exclusion from the inner circle of those concerting a response to Russia’s aggression against and continuing destabilisation of Ukraine. It surely is evident that this is no time to turn away from the outside world, or to be distracted to the exclusion of everything else by the debate over our place in Europe, important though the outcome of that debate will be for all Britain’s future roles in the world.
What are the principal challenges that we and our European partners and western allies face worldwide in the Middle East and on Europe’s eastern borders? Two major UN decision-making summit conferences are due to take place in the second half of this year—the first in September to set the sustainable development goals for the period ahead, and the second at the end of year in Paris to address climate change. At the first, we should indeed be well placed to play an influential role, thanks to our continuing and in my view, very welcome commitment to the UN target of 0.7% of gross national income for development aid. Perhaps the Minister could say something about the Government’s objectives at these two conferences, and also about how this House is to have a fuller opportunity to debate the prospects for both of them.
Then in 2016, a new Secretary-General of the United Nations is to be elected for five, and perhaps, if recent precedents are followed, effectively for 10 years. What is Britain, whose influence as a permanent member of the Security Council is considerable, doing to ensure that that process is more open, more transparent and less dominated by regional pre-emption than has been the case in the past? What thoughts, too, do the Government have on how to prevent the current no-go areas for the Security Council over Syria, Ukraine, and the south and east China seas from spreading, and indeed, how to reduce those no-go areas?
It is easy to throw up one’s hands in despair at the turn of events in the Middle East—easy but, I suggest, self-defeating. We surely do need to help to marshal a better response to the threats from IS. Is it not time to examine the sense of taking military action against IS in Iraq but to leave its expanding outreach in Syria completely unscathed? Secondly, we are only a month away from the deadline for completing a comprehensive agreement over Iran’s nuclear programme. Can we be assured that, despite the open criticism from Israel and the more muffled doubts expressed by Saudi
Arabia and the Gulf states, we remain committed to a successful outcome to that negotiation as long as the purely civilian nature of Iran’s future nuclear programme can be guaranteed and, most important—more than being guaranteed—can be verified on a continuing basis?
Thirdly, even if prospects for a two-state solution in Palestine look at best discouraging, will we nevertheless persevere with what remains, I believe, the only possible long-term way of avoiding further outbreaks of hostilities? Would it not make sense, as a recent vote in the other place suggested, to buttress our support for a two-state solution by recognising Palestine? Should we not be encouraging a return to the Security Council to set out the basic parameters of a settlement in that forum and thus encourage a resumption of negotiations?
It would require a degree of optimism a bit beyond my reach to assert that the problems in Ukraine have been resolved by the Minsk II agreement in February. Nor have the wider implications of Russia’s aggressively assertive foreign policy towards its western and southern neighbours yet been met by a fully adequate response. Any such response must surely involve being ready to tighten economic sanctions if fighting intensifies in the east of Ukraine; and also to maintaining existing sanctions until every provision of Minsk II has been implemented to the full—in particular, re-establishing Ukrainian control of its eastern frontier. It requires, too, that the European Union should take effective action to stabilise and help to reform the Ukrainian economy. I do not see how we can hope to give a lead in strengthening NATO’s deterrent capability, as we should be doing, and as the Government say they wish to do, if we do not stick to the NATO 2% target for military spending which we did so much to promote. Does that mean that we cannot talk to, or even co-operate with Russia? Of course, it does not. After all, we did that throughout the Cold War period. President Putin will respect and pay heed to us only if we are ready to stand by our friends and our interests.
I have so far avoided the ever fascinating topic of the European Union. No doubt we will have ample opportunity to debate it in the weeks and months ahead when the Government bring forward legislation for a referendum that they have tabled in another place today. Suffice it to say now that every other respect of Britain’s foreign policy will be affected, for better or for worse, by the outcome on that referendum. The Prime Minister’s aim to achieve reforms in the European Union is a laudable one that I have no difficulty at all in supporting. However, if those reforms are to have any chance of success, they must be reforms that benefit the whole of the European Union; they must not just be monuments to British exceptionalism.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Howe on his new appointment, and record my thanks personally for all the help and leadership he gave to this House in his previous role at the Department of Health.
I am privileged to be a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, consisting of Back-Benchers from all the devolved Administrations, plus Westminster and Dublin, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. We meet at six-monthly intervals alternately in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. In the meetings in Dublin in the course of the last three years, I have come to know the Ministers and senior officials of the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Your Lordships will be aware of the successive milestones along the way to the most welcome state of British-Irish relations today which the two nations have achieved, starting with the British-Irish agreement in 1985 under Margaret Thatcher, followed by the Downing Street declaration by John Major and the then Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds. Tony Blair made no secret of the debt he owed to John Major, whose work enabled him to bring to fruition the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements. Crucial to the momentum which had been started was the sterling contributions of two successive Presidents of Ireland—Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese—which led to the historic visit in 2012 by Her Majesty the Queen. The impact that it had on the people of Ireland has in my opinion never been fully appreciated on this side of the Irish Sea.
This was followed last year by the very successful state visit to the United Kingdom of the current President, Michael Higgins. The visit by HRH the Prince of Wales to the west of Ireland last week was marked by a welcome by the people of that part of Ireland, the warmth of which I am told took even the organisers of the visit by surprise. The Prince made a moving and heartfelt speech, in which he reached out for a spirit of reconciliation regardless of creed, nationality or politics.
The background to all this has been the work done by officials in Dublin and London, the outcome of which is that, as one Irish official put it to me, “The high water-mark of Anglo-Irish friendship gets higher and higher”. He added, with an Irishman’s gift of phrase, “I continue to be surprised at my ability to be continually surprised at the transformation of relations between the two countries”.
The United Kingdom is the biggest trading partner of the Republic of Ireland and the UK’s exports to Ireland exceed this country’s exports to all the BRIC countries combined. In its closeness, the Anglo-Irish relationship is unique among any two countries of the European Union. Let me give just one example. Each year there is an informal meeting, alternately in the United Kingdom and in the Republic, of the principal UK permanent under-secretaries with their Irish counterparts. I am advised that these meetings are remarkably comprehensive and constructive, allowing the participants to identify opportunities for working ever more closely together.
It will therefore come as no surprise to your Lordships that the progress of the United Kingdom’s negotiations with the European Community, ahead of the coming referendum on our continuing membership, is being very closely watched by our friends in Dublin. In Dublin the—I hope—unlikely prospect of a British exit is being viewed with no little apprehension.
The implications for Ireland could be huge. Let me give just two examples. It would likely mean a re-hardening of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, since it would become part of the borders of the European Union itself. Whatever the reasons for it, it would be perceived by the people of Ireland, both north and south, as a disastrous psychological set-back in relations between the two countries.
There could also be considerable complications over the status of Irish citizens in the United Kingdom. The visa-free movement between the two countries predates the foundation of the Common Market itself. In the event of the UK leaving the Union, would Ireland be permitted under the treaties to continue to have a free movement arrangement with one non-member country, a facility that would be denied to citizens of, for instance, France and the Netherlands? These are but two considerations of many complications, which I hope will not arise.
I urge members of Her Majesty’s Government, in their negotiations over the reform of the Union and the United Kingdom’s membership of it, to have in mind the very special relationship that exists between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.