Global Challenges — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:40 pm on 2nd July 2015.

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Photo of The Earl of Courtown The Earl of Courtown Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 4:40 pm, 2nd July 2015

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government in this debate with a speakers’ list that would be the envy of any second Chamber throughout the world.

I pay tribute to the distinguished contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, to foreign affairs over the years and to his formidable speech in which he described very aptly the multipolar interconnected world in which we now live. I welcome the important role he will play in the Srebrenica commemoration event at Westminster Abbey on Monday. My visit to the country and to Srebrenica last August will for ever remain in my memory.

I also thank all noble Lords for their valuable contributions today. I will do my best to answer all questions but, if I am unable to do so in the available time, I will write and place copies in the Library.

We have heard today how terrorism, conflict, climate change, mass migration and population present new and evolving challenges to our national and global security—challenges more complex than those identified under the strategic defence and security review in 2010. In the past five years the threat levels from violent extremism and terrorism, Russian aggression, cyber attacks and global conflict have grown. Ebola, which was mentioned by many noble Lords, and the flooding over the winter of 2013 highlight the continued risk to the UK from public health issues and extreme weather.

The United Kingdom has an integral role in tackling these challenges head on. Our military, diplomatic and development capabilities are respected around the world and, as other noble Lords have done, I pay tribute to all those involved. The Government are clear that there will be no reduction in Britain’s influence. Our next strategic defence and security review, in consultation with this House, the other place, our key allies, industry, academics and other interest parties will be positive and assertive about Britain’s role in the world and keep this country safe now and for the future.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Jay and Lord Ramsbotham, commented on our defence budget. We have the second largest defence budget in NATO and the largest in the EU. We are one of only four countries that spends 2%. We are the US’s largest partner in the coalition air effort against ISIL, bearing more of the load in terms of strikes in Iraq than we did in either of the Gulf Wars.

The budget means we have been able to commit to spending more than £160 billion on equipment over the next decade to keep Britain safe. This includes new joint strike fighters, more surveillance aircraft, hunter-killer submarines, two aircraft carriers and the most advanced armoured vehicles.

Let me now take each of the four themes of the debate in turn. The global terrorist threat has become more diffuse and more diverse. At home and overseas, more groups seek to do us harm than ever before and their ideology of violent extremism is spreading. I join the noble Lord, Lord Bach, my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, in paying tribute to the 38 people who lost their lives in a despicable act of terrorism in Tunisia almost a week ago. British experts and officials have been working around the clock since the attack to support British nationals, and to help gather evidence. It is right that tomorrow we will hold a minute’s silence to remember all those affected, and to show that we will not be cowed by hatred and intolerance.

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his Statement on Monday, we will pursue a full spectrum response to the kind of appalling terrorism we saw in Tunisia, in Kuwait and in France last week. That means we must make sure that the powers we give our security services keep pace with changes in technology. We must deal with the security threats at source and take on the radical narrative that is poisoning young minds. Our work overseas is critical to that response. We are and must continue to be at the forefront of international efforts to combat them. We work in close partnership with other Governments on shared counterterrorism priorities and building their capacity in a manner consistent with our values and which strengthens the rule of law. As my noble friend Lord Howell said, defeating ISIL and its like, safeguarding our citizens, our values and our way of life, will be achieved only by co-ordinated international action. As leading members of the global anti-ISIL coalition, our Armed Forces have made a significant contribution to dismantling ISIL militarily.

Our diplomatic network, working through international fora, is focused on stemming the flow of foreign fighters and resources to terrorist groups, strengthening borders and countering extremist narratives. We are helping affected regions build the long-term political stability and effective governance that will reduce the operating space for terrorist groups.

That brings me to the second theme, which is that of conflict. Conflict and instability prevent economic development and trap people in poverty. More than 1.5 billion people now live in fragile and conflict-affected states. Conflict and instability overseas affect the UK directly, providing fertile ground for terrorists and organised crime groups. A number of noble Lords have mentioned Syria. With more than 230,000 dead and 12.2 million in dire need of humanitarian aid, Syria is arguably one of the most difficult and tragic conflicts of our generation, and it is affecting families here.

If we do not tackle the root causes of conflict and if we do not invest our resources in enabling political settlements, we will spend more on trying to deal with the consequences. The Government’s work to promote stability in fragile countries is not only morally right, it is a sound investment and in our national interest. That work is made strategic and integrated through our Building Stability Overseas strategy. Since its launch in 2011, the Government, working together with NGOs and international partners, have established an improved early warning system to inform early action that helps prepare for and prevent conflict. A £20 million rapid response mechanism has been created to enable the Government to respond more effectively to new cases of conflict and instability, and the conflict pool has been replaced by the conflict, stability and security fund, which is worth more than £1 billion. It draws together new and existing resources from across government under the strategic direction of the National Security Council.

A distressing aspect of conflict is the despicable and systematic use of sexual violence—a practice this Government are determined to end once and for all. A year ago, London hosted the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. That landmark summit was a powerful demonstration of the British Government’s resolve to build concerted international action to end impunity and bring perpetrators to justice. But that was just the beginning. I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns has been asked to continue this important work as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. I know that she will give it her tireless commitment and support.

Climate change was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and other Peers. It is not isolated from the other challenges of this debate. As well as our environment, it threatens global prosperity, national security and poverty eradication. Just as with other challenges, we can address it only by working with our international partners, as we did at the G7 summit this month and as my noble friend Lady Anelay has done this very week at the United Nations.

A global climate deal is the only way to deliver the scale of action required. I am proud to say that the UK’s leadership is recognised worldwide. We have reduced emissions by 25% from 1990 levels and will reduce emissions by 80% by 2050. We pressed hard for the European Union to commit to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030. We have committed £3.87 billion over the last five years to support the poorest and most vulnerable countries to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

A key part of protecting the United Kingdom’s security is controlling and managing migration. Not only do we wish to protect the human rights of migrants and stop human trafficking and smuggling, but migration has links with many other priorities, including those we have debated today. We have to address the humanitarian tragedy unfolding before us but we know that rescuing those in distress at sea intensifies the pressure on countries to cope with those who have to be landed in European ports.

The European Union member states agree that we cannot resolve this crisis without a long-term comprehensive approach that tackles the drivers of this problem. We are already taking concrete steps. For example, we are part of the core group of the Khartoum process, which is an EU-African Union initiative to tackle trafficking and smuggling in the Horn of Africa. We are working hard to help bring order and stability to Libya, not least to make it more difficult for the smugglers and traffickers to operate.

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, mentioned the statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence. ISIL poses a threat to Britain. Last September, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that ISIL needs to be destroyed in Syria as well as in Iraq. The Prime Minister made clear then that he believes there is a strong case for us to do more in Syria, which remains his view today. However, as he said in September, it would be better if there was a consensus supporting such action in the House of Commons—so his views have not changed.

It is right for MPs to think about these issues and what more we can do to tackle ISIL. Clearly, these issues need to be considered properly and any proposal to play a bigger role in airstrikes over Syria needs to be carefully deliberated. The NSC has discussed military proposals to take part in airstrikes in Syria during this new Government. The Prime Minister has always been clear that we would return to the House. Her Majesty’s Government think that there is a case for doing more in Syria but more thought, deliberation and time are needed before we decide whether to return to Parliament.

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, suggested that we need a United Nations Security Council resolution for a military response. Action has already been taken by partners in Syria, which we support. The Government’s support for actions being taken against ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria, as well as in Iraq, should be made clear. United Kingdom intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance were already part of the international effort in Syria and were essential in keeping the United Kingdom safe.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would take full cognisance of the three northern cantons, now free. The United Kingdom does not intend to make specific contact with the Kurdish cantons on political issues in Syria. We do not support the Democratic Union Party formation of temporary administrations in the Kurdish areas of Syria. This move was not conducted in consultation with the wider Syrian population or the international community. It will be for all Syrians to decide the exact nature of the political settlement in Syria as part of a transition process, including whether an autonomous region will be created for the Kurds in Syria.

We also recognise the difficult circumstances that the Syrian Kurds face in the midst of the continuing civil war and their fight against ISIL. However, the United Kingdom does not provide lethal equipment to anyone in Syria.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also asked whether Her Majesty’s Government would give scholarships to Syrians prevented from completing their studies. The United Kingdom has tripled the budget for Chevening scholarships—founded by the Foreign and

Commonwealth Office and partners—for Syrians to study postgraduate courses at United Kingdom universities in 2015-16, increasing the number to 34.

The noble Lord also asked whether Her Majesty’s Government will provide medicines, medical equipment, schooling and books. The United Kingdom has allocated £900 million in humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict in Syria. This includes funds for health services, education for children and support for agriculture and livelihoods. The United Kingdom is not currently funding demining in Syria, but we do not rule out funding it in future.

We continue to discuss Syria on a regular basis with our Turkish allies. Decisions of this kind are a sovereign matter for the Turkish Government. Of course, we continue to press all our international partners to work towards a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Only a political solution can bring about the inclusive, unified government that Syrians need, and which can effectively combat the extremists.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, mentioned the global challenges in climate change, which is one of the most serious threats we face. It threatens economic prosperity, national security, poverty eradication and the environment. The United Kingdom is playing its part, but this is a global problem and all countries must act. The best way to achieve this is with a global climate deal in Paris in December, but we need the right deal. It needs ambitious emission targets, binding rules and a mechanism to increase ambition over time, and it needs to send the right signal to businesses and investors.

The noble Baroness also asked whether the targets from the previous Government were still being set. As I think I said earlier, we are committed to meeting our climate change target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. We have already made great strides towards that goal, with emissions down by 30% since 1990.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, asked whether the Foreign and Commonwealth Office could do more with wider UN agencies, NGOs and scientists to address climate change. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office engages with a wide range of UN agencies, other international agencies such as the OECD and the International Energy Agency, NGOs, academics and business groups in its climate change work across the world. The FCO Prosperity Fund funds projects overseas with a wide range of agencies and NGOs to address climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, and other noble Lords also congratulated the Government and the previous Government on the DfID budget and the work that it is doing throughout the Mediterranean at the moment.

My noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned partnerships with international organisations. Working in partnerships with others will be crucial to our success in building stability. We are working with the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth and are engaging them to take an integrated response to building stability and preventing conflict. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is also talking to key regional powers, such as South Africa, India, Brazil and China to increase co-operation in tackling conflict.

The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, mentioned our pledges to Syria. The United Kingdom has pledged £800 million in response to the humanitarian crisis, making us the largest bilateral donor after the US.

To conclude, the Government will be unrelenting in using the UK’s global role to tackle the international challenges of terrorism, conflict, climate change and mass migration. We will do so though a long-term, comprehensive approach, using our world-class Armed Forces, diplomats and overseas aid to build stability, security and prosperity. And we are committed to using the full weight of the United Kingdom’s unique position as a member of the UN Security Council, NATO, the EU, the G7, the G20 and the Commonwealth as a strong and stabilising force for good in today’s uncertain world.