Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 23rd May 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 3:30 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, like the Minister, I, too, look forward to my noble friend Lady Jowell’s maiden speech and, of course, the valedictory speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry.

There is no doubt that, whatever topic noble Lords care to cover in today’s debate, our country’s part in creating a just, safe, secure and sustainable world will be hugely impacted by the people’s decision on 23 June. Although I may question their reason for having the referendum, I am now with the Government in wishing to secure a remain vote, to put country above party and to do what is in the best interests of the nation. Today’s Treasury report makes clear what will happen in the interim period prior to any future relationship with the EU being concluded. That period could last for a decade and, potentially, see the collapse of sterling.

The leave campaign cannot sweep away the effects of that interim period, nor can it dodge any longer the questions about what alternatives to membership may look like. Mark Carney has already warned that a vote to leave in June could tip the country into recession, and the CBI’s Carolyn Fairbairn has warned that it would cause “a serious shock” to the UK economy. The words of many in the Brexit campaign take us back to a future reminiscent of the 1980s, when it was said that unemployment was a price worth paying and things such as paid leave and health and safety were red tape holding progress back. That is not how we on this side of the House see it.

Of course, the EU is not just about economic security. As a nation, we have a moral and practical interest in preventing conflict, preventing terrorism, supporting the poorest in the world and halting climate change. The EU has helped to keep the peace in Europe for decades, which is all the more important at a time of instability in Ukraine and the Middle East. By working with our partners in the EU, we have achieved global agreement on goals for sustainable development and new emissions targets. We need to do more to reduce aid dependency and foster good government by supporting developing countries to collect their own taxes. We need global agreement on tax transparency and to ensure that companies pay their tax in-country.

Following last week’s anti-corruption summit, we have the promise of legislation to tackle corruption and tax evasion. One immediate step would be for the Government to push for information on company ownership in overseas territories to be made public. Another would be to ensure that the UK’s taxation treaties with other countries are not seen as simply a matter for the Treasury but as something that DfID should be involved in as an integral part, so that global tax fairness becomes a priority for the Government.

On human rights, I pay tribute to the work of this Government, and the previous one, in helping to change global opinion on the issue of gender-based violence. This is not limited to the evil of war-time rape. As the Minister said, it is all too evident in the recent examples from Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Somalia and India. There are things that we need to address.

Unfortunately, although the Minister mentioned it, women’s participation in peacebuilding—a key issue—remains woefully low. Women’s peacebuilding at local level is not being translated into formal peace talks. Since 2001, Afghan women have been continually sidelined in the peace discussions; Syrian women have been excluded from talks and are now part of an advisory board, which is consulted but not formally involved in the talks as the terms exclude organisations that do not bear arms or have territory. The UK has taken steps, as the Minister highlighted, to make commitments to participation, but until we agree not to host peace, security or development talks without the presence of women, there will be little progress.

Human rights are universal and mature democracies should support the development of free societies everywhere, while upholding their own legal and moral obligations. The EU has played a vital role in protecting human rights globally. One significant area for me has been its part in protecting LGBTI rights by implementing anti-discrimination laws, recognising and promoting same-sex marriage, and funding work that fights discrimination. While the Government have spoken up strongly for the rights of lesbian and gay people—here I pay tribute to the work of the Minister—our efforts would not be as effective on our own. Being part of the EU has changed the world for people like me. I hope the Minister will outline the Government’s priorities for the LGBTI rights conference in Uruguay in July and that the Government will be represented at ministerial level.

Today marks the start of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Sadly, as noted by the International Development Committee of the other place, there was a distinct lack of agreement on what the priorities of the summit should be. In the light of this, I hope the Minister will indicate the Government’s expectations for the outcome of this conference. Do they plan, for example, to become a founding donor of the Education Cannot Wait fund for education in emergencies, which is being launched there?

On preventing conflict and terrorism, there were notable omissions in the gracious Speech. The UK’s longest-standing ally, Saudi Arabia, has been supporting the Yemeni President in the recent conflict there, and our Government have supplied weapons export licences worth £3 billion to the Saudis, despite a UN expert panel report documenting breaches of international humanitarian law. We should suspend such sales until a proper investigation into those breaches is concluded. Last month the Commons called on the Government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council that Christians, Yazidis and religious minorities in Syria and Iraq are suffering genocide. The Government indicated then that any referral must be evidence-based. So why not tell us what has been gathered so far, and when they will be in a position to have enough to go to the Security Council?

If we are to have the international security and stability that we seek, development, defence and diplomacy have to go together. Last November’s national security strategy and SDSR outlined the UK’s defence strategy up to 2025. Chapter 5 set out how the Government will,

“protect and promote our interests and values”,

by using,

“diplomats, development assistance, Armed Forces, security and intelligence agencies, law enforcement and soft power”.

The Government need to demonstrate this joined-up, whole-government approach more convincingly—an approach that should also recognise the new policy statement, UK Aid: Tackling Global Challenges in the National Interest. The new £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund is welcome, but the strategies are far from clear. My noble friend Lord McConnell has repeatedly asked that the Government consider allocating time for a full debate on the strategies behind these two critical new commitments, and I would welcome a positive response from the Minister tonight on this subject.

Since we joined the European Union, British foreign policy has had two key pillars. The first is exercising a leading role in Europe, and the second is being the principal ally of the United States. As President Obama made clear, leaving the EU would have an impact on not just one but both of those pillars. The threats that we face as a nation today relating to terrorism, migration and cross-border crime are shared with our nearest neighbours. Any coherent UK foreign and security strategy has to be founded on that European strategy, with our shared values and interests in peace and security.