Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 23rd May 2016.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 10:00 pm, 23rd May 2016

My Lords, if I may, because I am unsighted on the question, I will write to my noble friend on it. I do not have advice which would enable me to answer him now.

I turn to humanitarian issues, particularly the World Humanitarian Summit referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis of Tweed, my noble friend Lord Lansley and others, including the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. The Government welcome the UN Secretary-General’s leadership in convening the World Humanitarian Summit, taking place this week. My right honourable friend the Development Secretary is heading the delegation and advancing priorities for a new approach to protracted crisis, a renewed commitment to the protection of civilians in conflict, a reformed humanitarian system, including smarter financing, and a stronger focus on protecting and empowering women and girls. The well-founded passion of my noble friend Lady Perry for education was echoed in a question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about the Education Cannot Wait Fund. Today, 37 million children living through conflicts or crisis are out of school. This very day, the UK announced that we will commit £30 million to the Education Cannot Wait Fund for education in emergencies. A generation of young people is missing out on education and being cheated out of their future. Their education cannot wait and neither should our support. We want the international community to step up efforts to reach every child with the schooling they need to make their futures brighter.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, referred to the sustainable development goals, as did the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who suggested the creation of a sustainable development goals champion in the Cabinet Office to ensure effective delivery. The sustainable development goals are a major evolution in the way we think about international development. We have agreed a set of top-level strategic objectives for the Department for International Development to ensure delivery against the goals. DfID will lead a co-ordinated and coherent cross-government approach. The department has a number of review processes ongoing both internally and across government which will inform this strategy. The UK’s decision on the upcoming replenishment of the Global Fund is dependent on the outcomes of reviews which are to be published later this year. We fully support the Global Fund’s funding and allocation model as it currently stands.

The noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, referred to the use of soft power with the help of the British Council, particularly in education, and referred to building universities with British standards. The noble Lord, Lord Loomba, also spoke on this theme. The British Council makes a major contribution to UK soft power by creating international opportunities and providing access to the UK for the next generation of global leaders, building long-term influence in those countries.

We want an increase in global partnership and networks with higher education institutions in the UK and around the world. To that end, the British Council will do four things in particular. It will promote a dialogue and sharing of practice; it will provide consultancy and services to support development, reform and innovation in higher education; it will promote UK sector expertise and create market opportunities and connections for UK stakeholders and institutions and it will support international scholarships and alumni networks to build long-term influence in those countries.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle asked about the use of overseas development aid by departments other than DfID. He will not be surprised to hear that DfID will continue to be a primary channel of official UK development assistance spending, but in order to respond to the changing world more aid will be administered by other government departments, drawing on their complementary skills. As set out in the UK aid strategy, we will continue to make aid more transparent, committing all UK government departments to be ranked good or very good in the international Aid Transparency Index within the next five years.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked what we were doing to tackle corruption, which is costing developing countries billions of dollars. The UK aid strategy sets out that the Government will do more to tackle the organised crime and corruption that hits the world’s poorest people hardest. Last week, the anti-corruption summit agreed a global declaration that corruption should be exposed, the corrupt pursued and punished, those who suffered fully supported and corruption driven out. DfID funds two police teams to investigate corruption cases affecting developing countries. A £12 million investment between 2006 and 2015 resulted in £170 million of assets stolen from developing countries and laundered in the UK being restrained, recovered or returned. In 2015, my right honourable friend the Development Secretary announced £21 million of new funding for this work over the next five years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, spoke powerfully about violence against women and girls. Ending all forms of such violence is a top priority for the Government. My noble friend Lady Verma has been appointed the ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls. Last week, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact gave DfID a green rating for its work in this area, underlining Britain’s leading role in the global efforts to put a stop to violence against women and girls. By 2020, DfID’s support will have enabled 24 million more of the world’s poorest girls to use voluntary family planning information services and supplies.

My noble friend Lady Berridge referred, again very powerfully, to sexual exploitation. We support the UN Secretary-General’s zero-tolerance approach to sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers and civilians working in conflict zones. We have provided £1 million of funding to support training, vetting and implementation of UN reforms. The United Nations needs to act swiftly on the recommendations in Madame Deschamps’ report on this issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, referred to the CDC. I can tell her, if she does not know already, that a new investment of £735 million over the next three years represents the first capital injection which the Government have made into the CDC for 20 years. Our new investment will allow the CDC to support many more businesses throughout Africa and south Asia, building on its already considerable successes.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the UK’s priorities for the LGBTI conference in Uruguay. The UK Government support the key objectives of the conference: to provide an important opportunity for sharing information, best practice and lessons learned with partners; and to discuss how to better co-ordinate international efforts to support the promotion and protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people worldwide. The change to the proposed date has meant that the UK delegation is not yet finalised. We will keep the level of our attendance under review. We are committed to the issues which UK officials across government are familiar with and active upon.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, brought us back to a topic of continual concern: the Middle East peace process. We are deeply frustrated at the lack of progress in the process. A just and lasting resolution that delivers peace for both Israelis and Palestinians is long overdue. We believe that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no better alternative that can deliver peace and a Palestinian state in reality and on the ground. We do not underestimate the challenges but firmly believe that peace is possible if both parties show leadership. Unfortunately, this month has seen the most serious escalation in Gaza since the 2014 conflict, but the UK welcomes all efforts to drive forward progress between the parties, including the Arab and Israeli peace initiatives.

As I say, peace will come only through negotiations between the parties, but international action involving regional players, the EU and the quartet can play a role in supporting that process. FCO officials have met representatives of the Two States One Homeland initiative. The sort of creative thinking that this initiative contributes is welcome. I hope that that provides the gist of an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who asked the Government to put their full diplomatic resources behind the resolution of the process. I assure him that the Middle East peace process continues to be one of the Government’s principal foreign policy priorities and we devote considerable resources, in both diplomatic effort and financial support, to drive forward progress.

The noble Lord, Lord West, devoted some of his speech to the strength of the Royal Navy. The noble Lord is of course correct that the Royal Navy had a larger overall fleet at the time of the Battle of Jutland 100 years ago but let us be clear: our advanced Royal Navy, set out in the SDSR 2015, has a transformed role and capabilities compared to the navy of the First World War. Our two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will transform the Royal Navy’s ability to project our influence overseas, forming the core of our maritime task group, with one available at all times; and with the introduction of our Type 26 vessels, we will have one of the most capable anti-submarine fleets in the world. The Type 26 will be complemented by our new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates. The Royal Navy will continue to deliver our nuclear deterrent, provide world-class amphibious forces and project our maritime power around the globe. I will write to the noble Lord on his remaining points about the Type 26 frigate, if I may, in view of the time constraint.

Our submarine programme was referred to by the noble Lords, Lord West and Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. There will be an opportunity in due course for a debate and vote on our commitment to a successor to the continuous at-sea deterrent. As set out in the SDSR, we have moved away from a traditional single main-gate approach, which is not appropriate for a programme of this scale and complexity, to a staged investment programme.