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Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:40 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, I hope I speak for all sides of the House in saying how much we appreciate the openness of the Ministers from the international departments to Members of this House interested in international affairs. It makes for a more informed debate, and I hope that it helps Ministers that there are so many people in the House who go to very many parts of the world and come back with their own impressions. We do not take this for granted and are very appreciative.

Britain’s foreign policy is shaped much more by events beyond our borders—“Events, dear boy”, as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said—than by government Bills set out in the Queen’s Speech. The speech itself touches on,

“climate change and … major international security, economic and humanitarian challenges”,

that we face, with specific references to the Middle East and to the pursuit of sustainable development. However, it does not place these remarks in the context of the relatively peaceful and prosperous 20 years that we have enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, and the much darker economic and security prospects we now face. Looking back, I am afraid that our historians may see the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century as a happy interlude of liberal internationalism, under largely benign American leadership, before the world returned to greater global disorder. My noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches will touch on other issues, in what will be a long debate, but I want to stress some broader themes.

First, whoever wins the American presidential election, it seems clear that the United States is no longer capable of playing, or inclined to play, a central role in maintaining global order or, in particular, in providing a security umbrella for Europe. When people in Washington now refer to NATO, they seem to mean the European allies rather than the American security commitment—Donald Trump has even suggested he might want the United States to withdraw from the alliance. US attention is fixed on east Asia, above all on China, and on Latin America. They look to the Europeans to play a larger role in coping with regional disorder across north and central Africa and the Middle East—we have to do more ourselves.

What we face across Africa and the Middle East, stretching into south Asia, is a long-term crisis resulting from the exposure of traditional societies to very rapid modernisation and from the consequent retreat to fundamentalism and authoritarian government, compounded by climate change and—above all—by the unsustainable growth in their populations. The noble Lord, Lord King, remarked last Wednesday that the population of Kenya has multiplied since he was a young Army officer serving there from 5 million to 45 million. The population of Africa as a whole has trebled in 60 years, and across the Middle East it has grown only a little more slowly. There is not enough water, not enough jobs and often not enough food, as well as often only corrupt and brutal government. So frustrated young men, without the prospects of work or marriage, fall prey to radical ideologies or struggle to reach the richer and safer countries of Europe.

This is the long-term migration crisis with which we will have to struggle over the next 10 to 20 years and more: not the hundreds of thousands that travel across Europe to work in each other’s countries, many of whom eventually return, but the millions and tens of millions who see no hope in staying in their homelands and push north across the Mediterranean. Migration Watch has its emphasis wrong: it is not European migration that is the problem; it is global migration.

That is what justifies the development spending to which we are committed and which we rightly use to co-operate with like-minded Governments—the French, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch and so on—to moderate the social and economic tensions from which developing countries are suffering. We have learnt that focusing on the role of women, as the Minister said in her opening speech, and improving their economic and social position, is key to slowing the growth of population and promoting sustainable development.

I hope, after the anti-corruption summit, that we have also learnt that allowing those who have captured control of such unstable states to hide their wealth in London, or offshore centres under British sovereignty, contributes to the flow of the desperate and the poor. I look forward to seeing the detail of the criminal finances Bill to tackle corruption and money laundering promised in the Queen’s Speech.

Then there is the puzzle of Russia: a weak economy with a declining population puffing itself up by threatening its neighbours and Europe as a whole. Its aircraft test our maritime borders, its propaganda efforts reach into our media and its intelligence services murder Russian citizens on British soil. We have no choice but to work with our neighbours and allies to contain the Putin regime.

Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government welcomed the growing foreign policy, security and defence co-operation between the UK and our partners across the channel, and fought hard to persuade our Conservative partners to inform Parliament and the public about how close that had become. We strongly support the analysis of chapter 5 of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review that the EU and NATO make “complementary” contributions to European security and that:

“We will also continue to foster closer coordination and cooperation between the EU and other institutions, principally NATO, in ways which support our national priorities and build Euro-Atlantic security”.

We also strongly support the developing UK-France defence and security relationship, which involves all three services and which plans to have a combined joint expeditionary force operational by the end of this year. Conservative Ministers seem shy of telling the British public—or even Parliament—how valuable this co-operation is to British security, let alone about the work to which the SDSR refers in chapter 5, paragraph 37,

“to intensify our security and defence relationship with Germany”— and with other European partners. Perhaps I can persuade the Minister, in summing up, to tell us a little more about that, without upsetting the Daily Telegraph and the Europhobes within his party.

We cannot manage any of the difficult international issues that we face without co-operation with our European neighbours. I emphasise that co-operation is impossible without trust and mutual respect or in an atmosphere of suspicion, hostility and accusations of conspiracy. That is why the decision on 23 June about whether we remain in the European Union or leave is central to British foreign policy and British international interests, and to all of those networks within which we work multilaterally, from the EU itself and NATO to the G20, the OECD, the OSCE and the United Nations and its many agencies—no European policy, no foreign policy; no trust in our democratic partners, no capability for promoting British interests abroad.

As the newly elected leader of the Conservative Opposition said in the Commons in April 1975, looking ahead to the previous EU referendum,

“I believe … that the paramount case for being in is the political case for peace and security. … I think that security is a matter not only of defence but of working together in peacetime on economic issues which concern us and of working closely together on trade, work and other social matters which affect all our peoples. The more closely we work together in that way, the better our security will be from the viewpoint of the future of our children”.—[Official Report, Commons; 8/4/1975, col. 1022.]

I like to think that was drafted for Margaret Thatcher by the young Michael Forsyth—perhaps I am mistaken. Margaret Thatcher was right then and remains right now.