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My Lords, in returning to the debate on the gracious Speech, I apologise to the House for my discourtesy in attempting to speak earlier. I have apologised to the Minister concerned—the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I was not aware that the House would be going straight into the Statement but I feel that I should apologise.
The gracious Speech had one paragraph on defence. It came two-thirds of the way through the Speech and I am not sure that that creates a feeling of priority for what is a very important issue. This morning the Minister put some flesh on the bones of that paragraph and talked about areas that would be improved for Armed Forces personnel, as well as matters relating to compensation and other areas. While referring to that, I welcome the Minister back to his portfolio. We are delighted to see him there in the new but very insecure Government. I do not know how long he will be sitting in that seat but it is good to see him there.
That paragraph referred specifically to two points. One was the 2% contribution to NATO and the other was the Armed Forces covenant. As mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, the 2% contribution to NATO has honed in on the defence debate, and I agree with people who say that it can be a distraction. However, we need to remind ourselves that the contribution should be at least 2%, and from my point of view it should certainly remain at that level. Depending on what figures you look at, the Treasury said that in 2015-16 it spent 1.9%, but many of us would say that that includes war pensions and items that should not be included, which means that really the figure came nowhere near 1.9%. The 2% contribution is crucial.
In general terms, I think we all accept that we live in a very insecure world. If anything has proved that over the last few weeks, it has been the terrorist attacks. If we think that only our internal security services can protect us from that insecurity, we are misleading ourselves. The role of our Armed Forces and our defence overall are crucial. I suggest that defence lies not just in the capability contained in the hardware and computer software; crucially, it also lies in our service personnel. They are a crucial element in all this, and certainly the Armed Forces covenant is central to it.
I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, when he talked about personnel. I was delighted to hear what he had to say because I do not think that we spend sufficient time on personnel issues in the defence area. We talk more about the hardware, and that is important, but our service personnel are key. We have the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body, which a long time ago I was honoured to chair. Its recent reports, the last one in particular, talked about low morale. The Armed Forces have been limited to a 1% maximum pay increase over the past years, and yet the review body is supposed to be independent.
The Minister talked about recruitment and retention. On recruitment, we have been losing more people than we have been able to recruit in recent times. That is a danger. We need steady recruitment and we need to make sure that the money for young men and women is at the level that has been agreed. On retention, we were told last week that since the Brexit vote there has been something like a 96% drop in the number of nurses coming into our health service. If we continue with the austerity measures relating to personnel, recruitment and retention will become even more difficult.
It is difficult, too, for defence personnel because, unlike nurses in the health service, teachers, doctors and those in other professional services, they cannot demonstrate down Whitehall. They cannot say, “We want this 1% to go”. They do not have representation as other sectors do, other than the reports of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body. It is incumbent on the Government to look at this and to accept that one possible reason for the outcome of the general election was that the public think austerity has gone too far where people are concerned. We need to review it.
In the short time I have, I should like to ask the Minister to comment on a number of matters. Will he agree that the Government will look at the 1% and give back independence to the role of the Armed Forces’ Pay Review Body so it can carry out an independent review annually and make recommendations to the Government? Will the Minister comment on the view that is now generally held—not just by Members in this Chamber but by those outside, among our suppliers, our Armed Forces and their officers—that the defence capability we now have in this country is substantially weaker in conventional weapons than it was 10 years ago, and significantly less than at the time of the Robertson defence review in 1997?
Will the Minister also comment on a story that is going round? Is it correct that a capability expenditure initiative is being carried out by the Permanent Under-Secretary at the MoD and that, following its conclusion, the Secretary of State will hold a further 90-day review on defence spending? Against that background, will the Government confirm the Conservative manifesto commitment that 0.5% above inflation will be paid each year until 2022—assuming that this Government are still in power then—and that they will not use that confirmation to seek cuts elsewhere in defence spending?
Reference has been made in our debate to terrorist events—we have just heard a Statement from the Minister—and the response of our emergency services, which has been above and beyond the call of duty. That has rightly been expressed, time after time, by most people. Our young men and women in the role of defence face equal danger, day in and day out, albeit in a different way. They put their lives on the line, as we have seen time after time. If the Government were to review the issue of 1% of defence expenditure, they would find no opposition on these Benches. We support Trident and spending on defence, and we support the fact that defence needs more expenditure.
In the coming time, Brexit may occupy many hours of this Chamber and next door. However, we must not lose sight in those debates of the fact that defence is crucial for us and that we are, at the moment, probably not giving it the expenditure and support it deserves. If that continues, it will be to the cost of this country.
My Lords, I shall focus briefly on three issues that fall within the compass of the debate. Before I do, I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who formerly held this brief for the Government. The inclusive manner in which she engaged all sides of the House was much appreciated and, I believe, productive. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to his new post and wish him well in following the path established by his predecessor.
Referring to previous contributions, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, set out a stark but realistic scenario of our world affairs and the UK Government’s response in their efforts to protect and advance our interests. I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Purvis. The work of DfID and its staff in delivering international development projects around the world is universally respected. Partner agencies have told me time and again in my travels that DfID raises the bar and sets the standard that they aspire to reach and match.
The three issues I will raise are: first, the situation in Sudan and South Sudan; secondly, trade with Africa generally; and, finally, the sustainable development goals in the context of the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and the London Commonwealth summit in 2018.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned that British troops in South Sudan are providing humanitarian assistance. Reports last week over the latest developments in Sudan are deeply disturbing. For more than five years, armed conflict has continued between Sudanese government forces and armed rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, despite a declared ceasefire. In the Nuba mountains, government forces and allied militias have attacked civilians in villages and through indiscriminate bombing. Human Rights Watch has reported numerous attacks resulting in the burning of crops, looting of food and displacement of people from farming areas. Civilian deaths mount, including those of children. Many are injured and civilian property has been destroyed.
Sudan’s human rights record remains abysmal. Conflict and abuse continue in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Arbitrary detentions, ill-treatment and torture continue virtually unchecked. Freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression, which we take for granted, are severely restricted by security officials, as well as media freedoms. Sudan has also restricted religious freedoms and detained clerics.
The European Parliament has adopted an urgency resolution on Sudan calling on the EU to,
“impose targeted punitive sanctions against those responsible for continued war crimes and non-cooperation with the International Criminal Court”.
The UN Security Council renewed UNAMID’s mandate through June 2017 and extended the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei, despite Sudanese efforts to restrict or even end those operations. The latest news is that the UN Security Council is poised to slash the presence of UNAMID in Darfur, targeting reductions in police, military, and logistical and administrative personnel. The effect of this action will be to put millions of Darfuris at greater risk, intensifying insecurity and reducing humanitarian access.
As a member of both the European Union and the United Nations, the United Kingdom is obliged to implement any sanctions that either body chooses to impose. At present, the UK implements those sanctions through the use of EU legislation, under the European Communities Act 1972. It seems highly likely that the great repeal Bill will only freeze current sanctions; it will not update, amend or even lift them. In the meantime, 3 million Darfuris remain displaced from their homes and unable to return to Darfur, living in miserable conditions. One would have thought that the violent deaths of more than half a million people might give the UN Security Council pause for thought, but that does not appear to be the case.
I understand—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—the Government have established a change in policy that, in terms, promotes establishing trade links and dialogue with the regime in Khartoum as a more effective way of holding it to account for its humanitarian crimes than the regimes we have at the moment imposed. I would be grateful if the Minister in his reply could clarify this and, at the same time, advise us which other countries have ascribed to this policy reversal of trading with, rather than criticising, such an obnoxious regime.
On trade with Africa in general—particularly the impact of the economic partnership agreements, the EPAs, and recognising that I was able to secure a short debate on this subject during the last Session of Parliament some seven months ago—the Government believed that, where the EPAs were correctly implemented and supported, they could support sustainable growth and development. The Government also acknowledged that the jury was still out and will be for some time. As we move forward into Brexit negotiations, how will the UK’s longstanding support for the EU’s EPAs, as a development-focused trade deal, be affected? How will the loss of the UK leadership that ensured that the EU offered the world’s most generous package of market openings for developing countries affect these deals? Will this loss of UK leadership compromise duty-free access, particularly affecting the 44 countries that are involved in Africa?
The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, paid tribute to the work that had been done in this area by me as the co-chair of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group and placed on the record his wish to have that dialogue continue on those issues. As we move forward, can the Minister confirm that this remains the Government’s wish, particularly now that the trade focus is switching towards Commonwealth countries?
This leads me to the final issue I wish to address: the forthcoming Commonwealth summit in London. The Commonwealth summit—formerly known as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM—will be held in the spring of 2018. As the president of the National Liberal Club’s Commonwealth forum and the former chair of the advisory board of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, I have a particular interest in the outcomes of this summit, being as it is in London.
The summit will also provide an opportunity to link the Commonwealth agenda to the UN-led sustainable development goals programme. I understand that, in accordance with these goals, the Commonwealth Secretariat is pressing for agreement, through the Commonwealth nations, for the acceptance and implementation of universal human rights as established in the UN charter. In this regard, these same rights are set out in the Commonwealth charter, which has been adopted unanimously by Commonwealth member states. Can the Minister advise noble Lords of the action the Government are taking, and what progress has been made, towards meeting these objectives and recording these outcomes in what will become the final communiqué from the summit?
I understand the Government have been working closely with the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to take forward the aims of sustainable development goals 16 and 17 in the context of strengthening good governance, parliamentary democracy and accountability. This may be part of the summit agenda or may take place in parallel fora in the margins. Can the Minister confirm what plans the Government have for promoting both a people’s forum and a parliamentary forum in the parallel agenda to the summit, recognising the large number of Commonwealth parliamentarians expected to attend?
My Lords, while the focus of the gracious Speech was this year very much on Brexit-related matters, and while these will no doubt consume a great deal of our time and attention over the forthcoming extended Session, the wider world is becoming no less troublesome in the meantime; nor will the issues that confront the international community allow us to sit on the sidelines while we agonise over our relationship with the EU. As the Minister has reminded us, North Korea continues down its dangerous path towards an intercontinental nuclear missile capability; China’s military growth continues to alarm its neighbours; Russia’s tactical opportunism within Europe risks conflict through miscalculation; Syria remains riven between competing factions; the nations of the Gulf are at one another’s throats; and, of course, terrorism in all its guises still casts its fatal shadow across our society.
With all this going on it might be thought that we would have little time for navel gazing, but that, alas, is likely to prove a vain hope. It will nevertheless be important for us to lift our sights from time to time and to contemplate the dangerous world that we inhabit and for us to play our part in containing the global risks to our safety and prosperity. The gracious Speech indicated that the Government would ensure that the UK maintained and enhanced its role on the world stage, but this was a vague commitment, included almost en passant. If such an undertaking is to mean anything, it will require a clear-eyed assessment of the risks we face, the will to address them and the tools that are necessary if one is to exercise power in the real world.
As far as risks are concerned, we should view the current situation in the Gulf with considerable alarm. The stability of that region has long been a crucial national interest for us in the UK, but that stability is looking ever more precarious. The wider security and economic implications could become deep and damaging. The Ministry of Defence and the Government more widely have in recent years placed great emphasis on and made much of their Gulf strategy. Could the Minister therefore tell us how the most recent tensions between Qatar and its neighbours have impacted on that strategy and how the Government are responding to this worrying situation?
On the issue of international terrorism, I have been dismayed by recent remarks that seem to attribute our status as a target to our own foreign and security policy. Have we forgotten why Osama bin Laden founded al-Qaeda in the first place? It was not to attack the West but to overthrow the regime in Saudi Arabia. Have we forgotten the underlying purpose of Daesh? It is not to attack the West but to create a caliphate to oppress the peoples of the Middle East. At their root, these organisations are less concerned with pitting Muslims against non-Muslims than they are with achieving dictatorial power over Islamic nations. There is no doubt that in seeking to counter their loathsome practices and violent purposes we expose ourselves to their wrath and retaliation, but fear of a response should not dictate our policies. History has shown us that appeasement leads only to worse suffering in the long term. There is, of course, plenty of scope for debate about how exactly we should respond to these challenges and there is certainly much room for improvement in the Prevent strand of our counterterrorism strategy, but in formulating our policies the yardstick should be what is most effective in the long run, rather than just what will be safest for us in the short term.
We have been criticised for our extensive engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, for our more ephemeral involvement in Libya and for our lack of presence in Syria. We seem to be in the position of someone who is criticised if they go straight ahead, if they go backwards, if they turn left or right or, indeed, if they stand still. The real problem is that we often have grand ambitions that are totally unrealistic. We cannot transform countries overnight, if at all; nor can we dictate the constitutional and political arrangements under which people live. We can, however, observe the patterns that emerge in international affairs, support those patterns that are reasonably benign and work with partners to suppress those that are malign. This is a limited objective, it is true, but one that we have at least a fair chance of achieving.
To do even this much we will need the necessary tools. The gracious Speech reiterated the Government’s commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence. This is welcome, but I, like others, would draw your Lordships’ attention to the words “at least”. Despite the Minister’s remarks about the equipment programme, there is no doubt that the fall in the value of the pound over the past year is impacting on what the MoD can achieve within the present budget. When added the unrealistic estimate of the extra funds that could be released through efficiency measures—an unrealism that has a long and inglorious history in government accounting—the defence programme is clearly under severe pressure.
Even in these circumstances, it would be unwise to expect a sudden flow of great largesse from the Treasury, and I indulge in no such fantasy. Our overall economic position remains challenging, with a continuing, if reduced, deficit and a burdensome level of debt. Nor should the MoD be exempt from the search for ever greater value for money. But the Government’s first responsibility remains the protection of the citizens of the UK and their interests. If they are to meet this crucial obligation, they need to ensure that the defence budget continues to grow in real terms and that the growth represents actual spending power and not funny money.
Finally, our Armed Forces will, as ever, require talented and courageous people of the highest quality if they are to discharge their onerous responsibilities as we and they both expect. They do indeed have superb people, but we must recognise that they are not keeping enough of them for as long as they should, and this is particularly true when it comes to female personnel. I am proud that the Royal Air Force has led the way when it comes to the promotion of women to the most senior ranks, up to and including two-star, but there is much more still to do. Too many talented people, especially women, are leaving early because the terms of their service are not flexible enough to accommodate their evolving personal circumstances and the associated pressures. We cannot afford such waste: it is expensive in terms of training replacements and it impacts on our operational capability.
It will remain the case that service personnel must make sacrifices that would be unacceptable in most civilian occupations. It will remain the case that the demands of operations must often take priority over personal preferences. We must never lower our standards in this regard. Even with these caveats, however, it is surely possible to develop more flexible terms of service that allow people, for a limited period, greater opportunity to accommodate their personal circumstances and thus to retain them and all they offer for much longer. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for outlining the plans that the Government have to deal with this issue and ask that he keeps us updated as the MoD seeks to accomplish what will no doubt be a difficult balancing act.
For Parliament, the next two years may well be predominantly about Brexit, but we live in a complex, dynamic and dangerous world that will care little for our preoccupations. We cannot afford to drop our guard in such an uncertain security environment. We cannot allow the pressure of immediate political events to make us introspective and insular. If we mean what we say about developing a Britain that is confident, outward-looking and engaged, then surely it is here—in this place—and now that we should demonstrate the truth of those sentiments.
My Lords, in the past few weeks, the centre of all our attention has been the horrific events in London and Manchester, and the inevitable comments not only on the behaviour of the terrorists but on the heroic deeds of our services and local populations. It has understandably drawn our attention away from the root of the problem, which is why the terrorists exist at all, where they are and who or what motivates them.
In previous debates, noble Lords have often come to the conclusion that among the main causes of the problem have been extremist teaching and a lack of education. I do not disagree with those conclusions, and we must address these problems here in the United Kingdom. However, we cannot do it alone; the responsibility for solving these problems is not only ours. Many countries around the world are doing nothing to help the situation. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, earlier listed some of the potential blackspots in the world where trouble could break out. All those spots are indeed potential areas for terrorism to start.
Terrorists can come from anywhere in the world, but a significant number, sadly, come from the Arab world, and Arab Governments have a chequered record of success in fighting terrorism. Even among the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, there are differences as to what constitutes unacceptable behaviour, and some GCC countries, along with Egypt, have ostracised Qatar for alleged unacceptable behaviour. Alleged Qatari support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Jazeera are two of the excuses which they have given. However, not all the GCC countries have joined Egypt in condemning Qatar. Kuwait and Oman are two of them, and the Emir of Kuwait has tried to conciliate between the two factions. The neutral position of the Sultanate of Oman is interesting. Oman is the only GCC country that has maintained a dialogue with Iran right from the time of the overthrow of the Shah. It has also done as much as, if not more than, other countries to educate and encourage its people to be tolerant of the views of others. It is true that most Omanis are Ibadi rather than Sunni or Shia—which in a way makes it easier, for they are a quieter lot of people—but the Government of Oman have worked hard to teach the virtues of tolerance by bringing together all the citizens of their country to discuss religious issues.
In an interesting article in the Times on
Some 60 years ago, apart from NATO, there were similar groupings in other parts of the world, including SEATO, for the Asia-Pacific region, and CENTO in between SEATO and NATO. Those organisations were far from perfect, but they enabled dialogue between nations and a forum for discussing differences. I suggest that one might look at people working together regionally along those lines. I am sure that Ministers are fed up of going to endless conferences, but it would be no bad thing for them to listen to some of the local issues.
However right or wrong we feel the opposing factions in the Gulf may be, we in the West must be extremely chary before we interfere. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked what we are doing about the affair—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, also referred to it. I strongly advocate that we do nothing at this stage. Moreover, following yesterday’s announcement of the appointment of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, we do not yet know whether his appointment will influence Saudi thinking and in what direction they are going to go. We are not the fount of all knowledge. We may know more about the Arab world than most, but it is dangerous for us to mediate at this stage. We have in the past tried to impose Whitehall-type democracy on countries both in the area and in Africa, but self-determination is the only way for countries to go, even if we think that they are making the wrong decisions. I took a Dubai merchant to Prime Minister’s Question Time in another place and he was horrified that there should have been a huge row over a million-pound contract when he could sidle up to the ruler and in five minutes be given a contract worth several times that amount.
Nowhere in the world is immune from accusations of graft or corruption, and the Middle East is no exception. When I was involved in project finance, there were many occasions when aid to trade was extremely helpful in winning business. Again, it was not a perfect system, but a euro currency loan, aid and export credits allowed the UK to win a lot of contracts. It had the disadvantage that other countries could not compete, but we will live in a rough, tough world in future after Brexit. It also had the advantage that the great majority of funds for the project never left the UK and the chances of money being diverted into the offshore tax haven bank accounts of undeserving individuals was greatly reduced.
Several oil-producing countries are in considerable financial difficulty at the moment. If we do not help with innovative proposals, our competitors will establish themselves in our place. Shortly before I was in Muscat three months ago, the Chinese were there offering packages in excess of $2 billion. The Chinese traditionally have not done much in the area, except in Yemen, and it is interesting that they should offer assistance now in amounts that could be very helpful to Oman.
On our departure from the European scene, we will have more flexibility in how we use our money to win contracts. I welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to new Bills to help British business and the initiatives outlined by my noble friend the Minister in his opening remarks. Groups such as UKTI, trade societies and our own embassies do a great job, and Ministers take businesses with them. We used, under the auspices of the DTI, to have area advisory groups covering our interests in various parts of the world. I was involved in one, the Committee for Middle East Trade. It was quite helpful to have a group like that following up on opportunities identified by Ministers, our embassies and trade societies. By and large, these groups were successful. Perhaps we should look again at the good points that came out of them. The world does not owe us a living and we will need everything we can find and all our initiative to help us get business.
My Lords, we have discussed this afternoon Grenfell Tower. I am one of those greatly reassured that we are to have a full public inquiry to find out exactly how it all happened and what the implications are. However, I have one big anxiety that in our desire to learn the lessons of Grenfell Tower we do not overlook our own responsibility—starting with us, the Members of this House. What are the values on which our country operates at the moment? Do responsibility, civic duty and the concept and value of service have real prominence in our preoccupations or are we too preoccupied with cost and managerial systems that themselves solve nothing? The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was absolutely right today in saying that it is the values within the systems that ensure that we have a society worth living in.
When I think of Westminster, Borough Market, Finsbury Park and Manchester, I join those who express deep feeling for the victims and their dependants, and untrammelled admiration for the firefighters, police, ambulance crews and medical personnel. Equally impressive in all this has been the spontaneous public response from so many people. I cannot be alone in how heartened I was by the leadership and example of that courageous imam at Finsbury Park.
Terrorism and extremism are out to break our system but also those things that we believe to be important underlying our society. That is why it is so important to stand firm and resist the counterproductivity that can easily begin to creep in to our response. I worry about the erosion of the values and qualities that make our society worth protecting. That is a real victory for the extremists. It is at the very time of the most pressures that we must be most resolute and demonstrably firm in our commitments.
Of course, in responding to the immediate situation we must emphasise the vital importance of properly resourced security services. Intelligence and security cannot be overestimated in our ability to prepare for awful events and to avoid danger when it can be avoided. I am glad that there has been emphasis on the armed services this afternoon. We must constantly measure what are the real threats, as they are changing all the time. Are we really meeting effectively the real threats that exist? Of course, we can be certain that the situation is volatile and full of unpredictability. Flexibility and adaptability and more than adequate but generous provision of equipment are necessary, as well as all the issues of recruitment and human resources that we have been discussing.
I have one anxiety, which is not always very acceptable in debates about defence, about Polaris and Trident. It is quite a big anxiety. I not only accept but endorse the importance of our nuclear deterrent but the expenditure on Polaris and Trident has been so vast and so disproportionate that I worry that we could begin to slip into a defensive attitude towards the systems themselves and become hidebound, and by not providing adequately for all the other points I have mentioned, we would not be able to meet the real situations and the real developments as we should. Therefore, I do not think there is any harm in keeping this whole issue of the disproportionate cost—some might argue whether or not it is disproportionate but it seems to me to be out of all proportion—of Polaris and Trident against the real needs in the real world in which we are living.
Whatever we are doing in defence, we must always be ready and prepared to operate within an international context. It is inconceivable that in any situations which will confront us in the foreseeable future we would be acting alone. Therefore, how far are we all the time prepared and ready to act in an international setting? Whatever happens on Brexit, our interdependence—and, indeed, dependence on the world—will not go away. It is true in issues of security and terrorism, about which I have been speaking. It is true of crime, trafficking and drugs. If we see that the ultimate battle with extremism is the battle for hearts and minds, I would be interested to hear how far the Government have considered a role for UNESCO and other similar international organisations in joining us in that battle for hearts and minds.
On refugees, the issues we are facing are small compared with the issues that are going to build up in many parts of the world. This is intimately related to global insecurity and extremism. Therefore, are we standing firm in our support for the UNHCR? Do we think enough about the critical role in international stability that the UNHCR is playing?
On Paris and climate change, there are few of us in this House—there are still some—who would deny that this is an inescapable issue for us all. How are we addressing this in a practical way? Again, how far do we look at the issues of climate change in relation to our anxieties about international stability, extremism and terrorism? There are relationships. Energy speaks for itself, as do trade and finance.
However, there is another issue: law and justice. I have been deeply depressed by the tendency to talk about the European Court of Justice as being somehow a threat to our independence. What is clear is that in many spheres of law and justice there is a cross-frontier, cross-border dimension. In civil law, this stretches from the importance of the care of children to issues of copyright. All the distinguished lawyers whom I have been privileged to hear in the EU Justice sub-committee of this House have argued—
I understand. I also make the point that is perhaps not too often made in this House—that an advisory figure is an advisory figure.
According to all those lawyers whom I have heard, the situation is improving. The operation of the law is getting better at meeting the real needs. Again, I give as an example the needs of children in broken families.
I was mighty glad that, in introducing this debate, the Minister emphasised the importance of the UN. We were founders of the UN. We played a crucial part in its development, with distinguished people such as Brian Urquhart. We are permanent members of the Security Council and in that context we have a special responsibility. I commend to the House—and I declare an interest as someone who has been involved with the organisation my whole life—the very interesting recent report by the United Nations Association, titled Keeping Britain Global. It is worth reading. I hope the Government have read it and I hope they will have a detailed response to all the points that it raises.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whom I too welcome to his new portfolio, brings with him the beautiful and challenging proclamation of the Ahmadi community, from which he springs, that we should have,
“Love for all, hatred for none”.
It is a proclamation born in suffering. Ahmadis themselves have experienced hateful persecution: recall Mr Shah, the Ahmadi shopkeeper murdered in Glasgow; recall the Ahmadis and Christians fleeing appalling persecution in Pakistan, who make up more than half of the 7,500 refugees and asylum seekers in Bangkok. Many are incarcerated in detention centres, which I and my noble friend Lady Cox have visited, and where Mr Ijaz Paras Masih, a Pakistani Christian asylum seeker, was recently found dead.
To counter such religious hatred, perhaps the Minister could tell us what initiatives DfID is taking to promote Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which insists that freedom of religion and belief should be a fundamental human right, how Article 18 relates to sustainable development goal 16, DfID’s UK aid strategy objectives and the allocation of resources, and whether the Government see Article 18 as a key to combating violent extremism and central to the creation of a tolerant, respectful and peaceful society.
But secular ideologies can promote hatred, too. Take the situation in North Korea, referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I should mention that I am co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. The House will recall that, in March, the toxic nerve agent VX was used to assassinate the pro-China and pro-reform half-brother of Kim Jong-un in Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Since then, and in the face of United Nations Security Council resolutions and international sanctions, North Korea has continued the relentless, provocative testing of nuclear weapons. Although Chinese oil and coal sanctions are welcome, the Minister might like to confirm that, nevertheless, trade rose in the first six months of this year. Meanwhile, South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, has assumed office; the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile system, THAAD, has partially been put in place; the American student, Otto Warmbier, was returned to the US in a coma and tragically died on Monday last, while other American citizens continue to be incarcerated and held hostage—obscenely, being used as bargaining chips. Closer to home, last weekend security officials suggested that North Korea was behind the cyberattack on the National Health Service computer system. Maybe the Minister will comment on that when he comes to reply.
In 2014, a United Nations report found that the gravity, scale and nature of the human rights violations in North Korea have, in its words, no parallel in any other country in the contemporary world and amount to crimes against humanity. Abuses included enslavement, extermination, murder, rape and other sexual crimes, deliberate starvation, and enforced disappearances,
“pursuant to policies … at the highest level of the state”.
Why, therefore, have they not been referred to the International Criminal Court or a regional tribunal? Why has nobody been held to account? How are we seeking to engage China in all this by meeting its own obligations to North Korean refugees?
China holds all the important cards. It has the experience and resources to bring about internal change to this rogue state, and its model of economic reform is the right one. It is in China’s economic and security interests to do this. North Korea is a millstone around China’s neck; by contrast, South Korea is a vibrant and dynamic partner. In the first four months of 2017, China’s bilateral trade with South Korea surpassed $85 billion, making this phenomenal Asian democracy China’s third-largest trading partner and its number one source of imports. By contrast, trade over the same period with the emasculated North Korea was a mere $1.6 billion. It is entirely in China’s self-interest urgently to help to bring about change. Only a fundamental change will pave the way for the ending of nuclear blackmail, the de-escalation of military provocations, the formal ending of the 1950-53 war and, ultimately, the reunification of the peninsula.
Our argument is not with the people of North Korea but with a cruel ideology. We should encourage South Korea to intensify ways of reaching out to North Korea’s people over the heads of their regime, whose mythology and propaganda must be debunked. Seoul should convene a high-level conference with Russia, China and the United States to demonstrate to the people of the north that the international community’s argument is also not with them but with their rulers. The United Kingdom can play its part in doing more to keep human rights at the forefront and by helping to break the information blockade. Perhaps when the Minister replies, he will tell us when the BBC World Service will begin its promised transmissions to the peninsula.
The failure to bring to justice those responsible for crimes in North Korea is also pertinent to the genocide against Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and about which I have secured an Oral Question in your Lordships’ House on Monday next. Genocide, as the United Nations itself has declared, is never a word to be used lightly, but it is what the House of Commons declared in April 2016 has been underway in Iraq and Syria. The scandalous failure to provide justice or even to establish mechanisms for trying those responsible for mass executions, sexual slavery, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, torture, mutilation and the enlistment and forced recruitment of children shames us all.
Looking to the future, perhaps the Minister will tell us how he sees the future for Iraq’s minorities. Will they be able to resettle in Mosul and Nineveh? What help will they be given? Will they be provided with security and protection? Will those who have waged genocide against them be brought to justice? What is being done to prosecute those Iraqi officials who have called for Christians and other minorities to be executed?
The UN estimates that some 400,000 Syrians have been killed and more than 5 million have fled the country since the war began in 2011. Another 6.3 million people are internally displaced. Yet, in the face of all this, too often the United Nations has been missing in action. The international community failed to end the war, failed to protect civilians and failed to bring the perpetrators to justice. What does the agony of Aleppo say about the impotence of the UN and the international community?
Multiple dangers are facing humanity today: resurgent nationalism; Islamist terrorism; refugees and mass migration; globalisation; nuclear proliferation; digital technology and cyberwarfare; varying forms of totalitarianism; ideologies hostile to free societies; the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the abject failure to resolve conflicts, whether in Sudan, Syria or Afghanistan; and the blights of famine, poverty and inequality. In facing all these challenges, I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will make better use of the expertise, good will and experience available in all parts of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I am very tempted to congratulate the Government on surviving well into the second day of this Session, but I shall resist the temptation and instead thank them for their continued support of the 0.7% of GNI going to international development. It is very welcome. It benefits us as well, through the knock-on effects of developing the poorest people in the world. Other noble Lords have mentioned that. I was a little apprehensive when Priti Patel was first given the post of Secretary of State for International Development. Having met her and heard her speeches on several occasions, I welcome her back with her team, including our very own colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who I gather is in Africa today—quite right, too.
I am delighted that DfID will remain a separate department from the FCO, and I welcome collaboration between DfID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence. This is especially important in fragile states to facilitate the delivery of aid, but I worry that funds intended for development in the poorest countries of the world may be diverted to prop up the budgets of other departments —we have already heard about the parlous state of the British Navy. I hope the Minister can assure us that DfID funds are safe from predators and that the department keeps poverty eradication as its main aim.
Another concern is the way the Commonwealth Development Corporation is to operate in the future. Extra funding is welcome, but I cannot believe that investment in companies in South Africa and India is the appropriate use of CDC funds. The trickle-down effect in those countries does not appear to be working to help the poor, and CDC funds were intended originally, again, for the poorest countries and the poorest people of the world.
I am particularly looking forward to the family planning summit on
This leads me to my main concern, which is the future funding of sexual and reproductive health while the Trump Administration survives in the USA. Donald Trump has ordered the reinstatement of the “gag” rule—also called the Mexico City policy—which bans the funding of any organisation working in the field of sexual and reproductive health which may also advise on abortion, even if it does not offer those services. That means virtually all organisations which deliver sexual and reproductive health services. It really does affect them all: it is simply impossible to work in this field, as I know, without including some reference to abortion at some stage. I remind noble Lords that 22 million unsafe abortions are performed every year, leading to 50,000 to 70,000 maternal deaths. I often wonder whether Donald Trump would support the existing children of those motherless families following unsafe abortions.
The added cruel twist from the Trump Administration has been to stop the funding for the UNFPA, which has never provided abortion services. It seems that the President of the USA does not like contraception either, because there is a now a $610 million funding gap for those services worldwide. This level of funding, it is estimated, provides 28 million women and men with contraceptive services and supplies, prevents 2.4 million abortions, prevents 6 million unintended pregnancies and prevents 12,000 maternal deaths every year. Has anyone told Donald Trump this, sent him a few pictures maybe or taken him out to see the suffering of these women all over the world? I am sure they have not. He has become the Grim Reaper of women’s lives in the poorest countries. According to the latest Guttmacher Institute figures—these have come down slightly—an estimated 214 million women in developing countries would like to delay or stop childbearing but cannot access contraception. The summit in July has been convened to try to fill this enormous funding gap created by Donald Trump. Let us all hope it succeeds, and I wish it well.
I also put in a plea to the Minister—I know he is in Africa, but I hope it will be transmitted to him—on behalf of the big NGOs working in this field. I am thinking particularly of International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International because they are still, under this new Administration, suffering great uncertainty about their funding from our Government, despite the stated aim to support sexual and reproductive health for women and girls. This is a priority in our international development department, but those organisations are yet to receive guidelines as to how to apply for their funding. They help so many women worldwide on our behalf—women who are now suffering because DfID has delayed funding or is altering the way it is distributed. Please will the Minister tell us when this uncertainty will end?
Lastly, and I make no apology for repeating this, whenever I speak on this subject, whether in Parliament or elsewhere, I remind people that development depends on economic growth, and statistics have shown that this occurs when women have fewer children and can access education and join the workforce: the empowerment of women, in fact—it is a favourite phrase. However, women can be empowered only if they are given power over their own bodies, particularly control over their own fertility. That means reproductive health services and family planning in particular. That is so important, and I trust Ministers will recite that to themselves every night before they go to sleep.
My Lords, I add my own very warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to his new portfolio. I will focus on two countries that I visited recently, Sudan and Syria.
Starting with Sudan, I shall highlight four key issues, beginning with the continuing violence perpetrated by the Government of Sudan in Darfur, the Nuba mountains in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, that was so well described by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. In Darfur, war has claimed over 300,000 lives and displaced over 2.5 million people. Although violence has erupted again between the Government and rebel groups, the UN Security Council is contemplating severe cuts to the UNAMID budget. This is dangerously inappropriate, and I hope the UK will be pressing for the extension of UNAMID to all areas of Darfur and the investigation of human rights abuses, particularly the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in the Jebel Marra region.
Secondly, there are humanitarian crises in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. I visited the Nuba mountains in January to obtain first-hand evidence of the suffering of the people there. I climbed a steep mountain to visit families forced by the Khartoum Government’s aerial bombardment to flee from their homes and live in horrific snake-infested caves. I sat with a woman dying of malaria in one of those caves, and I met a father whose five children had been burned alive when a shell dropped by a government Antonov ignited the straw around his home. There are no medicines, and every drop of water and all food has to be carried up that steep mountain. There is still no peace deal and no resolution to the aid blockade. Will Her Majesty’s Government pressure the Government of Sudan to reach an agreement with opposition forces to open up humanitarian corridors as a matter of great urgency?
Thirdly, I refer to the UK/Sudan strategic dialogue. Will the Government link any further engagement with Sudan to the issues I have highlighted: humanitarian access to the two areas, the survival of UNAMID and permission for UNAMID to access the Jebel Marra region?
Fourthly, there is the issue of the lifting of sanctions. The US is likely to approve the full lifting of sanctions on
“Sudan has used the provisional easing of sanctions put in place in January not to begin the necessary reforms of structural deformities of the country’s economy but instead order fighter jets and battle tanks from its traditional arms suppliers in Russia and China”.
Human rights must be added to the conditions. At a bare minimum, sanctions should not be lifted while human rights defenders Mudawi Ibrahim and Hafiz Idris are detained and mistreated. Targeted sanctions are needed that will impact the regime and those responsible for the continuing conflict and abuse of human rights, such as freezing the assets of those responsible or sectoral sanctions focused on those involved with weapons manufacturing and companies associated with corruption and human rights abuses. Will Her Majesty’s Government maintain close monitoring of the fulfilment of these conditions if sanctions are lifted and intervene appropriately if they are violated?
I turn now to another tragic country: Syria. During our visits, everyone we met, including representatives of different faith communities and professions, such as the doctors’ society in Aleppo, highlighted common concerns. The first is the UK Government’s commitment to enforced regime change and the removal of President Assad. While it is impossible to condone violations of human rights, including the use of torture, by President Assad and other Middle Eastern Governments, everyone to whom we spoke now sees President Assad as the only effective bulwark against ISIS. These include people active in opposition who originally took part in the demonstrations that erupted into the current war. One put the position very vividly—and his feelings were typical of all whom we met. He said, “I never voted for Assad; I always called for reforms and change—but now I would die for him”. There is a widespread fear that any regime change and removal of Assad would lead to a far greater evil—another Libya or Iraq.
The second concern is the UK Government’s role in the war. The UK had no legal grounds to intervene in Syria. It did not act according to the UN charter or the UN Security Council; it was not asked by the legitimate Government of Syria to intervene; and it was not attacked by Syria. But Britain is supporting and training so-called “moderate rebels”, who are actually members of radical groups, many related to ISIS and its related groups. The UK has also given air support to ISIS by striking the Syrian army on many occasions. In December 2016 the UK admitted taking part in the killing of 82 Syrian soldiers in Deir ez-Zor. More crimes were committed recently against Syrian soldiers in the Tanaf area on the Syrian/Iraqi border. Perhaps I may ask the Minister what UK taxpayers’ money has done for peace for Syria, and whether the Government will provide public accountability for the use of taxpayers’ money in supporting rebel groups in Syria.
Thirdly, I turn to the US/UK response to the recent chemical weapon incident. To put this in context, President Assad is recognized internationally by the American and French Presidents and several Governments. The Syrian army is advancing and claiming territories previously lost to terrorists groups. Suddenly an unknown chemical attack occurs in Idlib, the stronghold of al-Qaeda in Syria. Without any investigation, the Americans hit an airbase in Homs that is used in the fight against ISIS. The UK Government praise the hit. There are many questions about the kind of gas used, its availability and by whom it was used. Therefore, the aerial attack was widely seen as intemperate and immensely harmful—and, until today, there have still been no investigations.
Fourthly, I turn to humanitarian needs and the effect of sanctions, which are crippling the state and preventing it from providing life for its people. Syria is struggling to get machinery, raw materials, fuel and such basic necessities as flour and medicines. This is causing great suffering to innocent civilians and having a detrimental effect on attempts to encourage people displaced by ISIS to return to their homes once they have been liberated. The effect of food shortages on innocent civilians was graphically expressed by a local person who said, “If you don’t die from the bombing and the bullets, you die from the beheadings. If you don’t die from the beheadings, you die from starvation thanks to sanctions”.
Given the continuing suffering of the people of Syria, exacerbated by UK foreign policy, I was very encouraged to read the report of the House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations, published on
“British confusion and disarray in Syria is a reflection of the contradictions in international policy on President Bashar al-Assad, which must be rethought. The objective of displacing Assad, as a prerequisite of any settlement, with the current means and policy, has proved unachievable. Despite the chemical attack and the recent escalation of military conflict Assad, with Russian support, remains in power ... There are no good options available in Syria but the recent chemical attack, the urgency of the humanitarian crisis, with the potential to destabilise the EU and countries of the Middle East with refugees, requires the UK, and international community, to redouble its efforts to achieve a negotiated solution”.
I conclude by asking whether the Minister will give an assurance that the Government will respond positively to these very important recommendations.
My Lords, I refer the House to my registered non-financial interest as president of the Conservative Friends of Israel and add my welcome to my noble friend Lord Ahmad to his role. I wish him well. Something I did not prepare may surprise Members of the House: I have to say that I agreed with every word of the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge.
Two nights ago, the Prime Minister received a phone call from Prime Minister Netanyahu, following the awful attack at the mosque in Finsbury Park. After every atrocity, Prime Minister Netanyahu has rung and written to offer support, but the read-out from the latest call was that Israel and the UK would continue working together to counter terrorism and extremism in all its guises. It was agreed that the relationship between the UK and Israel would continue to go from strength to strength. The Prime Minister reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to a two-state solution, enabling an Israel free from terrorism and a viable Palestinian state. UK-Israel relations are in a good place. The two-way trade in 2016 was nearly £6 billion, and I pay tribute to His Excellency David Quarrey, the British ambassador in Israel, and His Excellency Mark Regev, the Israeli ambassador here, for their professionalism and dedication.
But something else is going on in the region. In part as a result of Iran’s regional ambitions, as it increases its supply of weapons to a proxy Hezbollah, and the threat of ISIS, it is clear that there is an alignment of interests between Israel and her neighbours in the Gulf, opening unprecedented lines of communication. This will and already has led to a regional push towards progress in the peace process, which is all good news. However, Iran continues to fund terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which is bad news. Iran played a key part in the formation of Hezbollah in 1982, and has openly provided financial assistance, weapons, ammunition and military training to the group for more than three decades. Do not take my word—take that of the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before leaving office, when he said that the budget of Hezbollah, its salaries, expenses, weapons and missiles all came from the Republic of Iran. It is estimated that Iran has supplied Hezbollah with up to 150,000 rockets and more advanced weapons which are situated worryingly close to Israel’s northern border in Lebanon. Hezbollah does not recognise the State of Israel but calls for its destruction. Its record of international terrorism I do not have the time to list—and yes, Hezbollah, together with Hamas, have been described by the Leader of the Opposition as his “friends”.
On Monday, I wrote to the Home Secretary after the al-Quds march that took place last Sunday, which I raised in the House earlier. Hezbollah flags were repeatedly displayed in direct contravention of Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000. Separating Hezbollah into military and political wings is untenable and an artificial exercise; its own senior leaders have long insisted that its military and non-military activities are indivisible. The United States, Canada, the Netherlands, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have all designated the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, and I urge the Minister to talk to his friends and the Home Secretary. In the wake of several deadly attacks against civilians in this country, it is time that the UK demonstrates its commitment to combating extremism and joining our important allies in proscribing the terror group in its entirety.
I turn to an area where the UK can and often does play a positive and influential role. While it is true that I have been critical of some aspects of DfID activity within the Palestinian Authority, much of which fails the test of transparency, on the one hand, and frees up money so that convicted terrorists receive salaries while serving time in jail, on the other, overall the UK taxpayer can and should be proud of the work and achievements of DfID. As Secretary of State Priti Patel stated:
“To those who doubt the ability of our aid to make a difference: tell that to the millions of children protected from paralysing polio by the British taxpayer, or the millions of Kenyans whose lives have been transformed by mobile money invented with British assistance, or the people of Sierra Leone who are getting back to their daily lives, free from Ebola after UK intervention”.
I am certain that Priti will continue to ensure that our support goes to the right place in a transparent and correct way.
This week, I talked to the high commissioner of Rwanda, the extremely effective and respected Yamina Karitanyi. She confirmed to me that aid from the UK to her country is one of the major reasons why Rwanda has lifted more than 1.5 million of its citizens out of poverty.
DfID has helped to enhance the domestic resource mobilisation IT systems for Customs and revenue and tax collection. Remarkably, today, domestic resources amount to 62%, external borrowing 19.7% and aid grants 19.3%. This compares to aid dependency in 1994 of 95%. DfID has helped the development of the financial sector, including capital market establishment in a 10-year development plan, and the training of civil servants, and has supported central government priority sectors such as education, agriculture and public management.
Rwanda post 1994 has been very efficient at using aid to implement a citizen-centred approach to governance and, it appears, will soon graduate to non-reliance on foreign aid. It is now focused on enhancing its trade partnerships: a great DfID legacy which will translate into a post-Brexit trade deal. I agree with my noble friend Lord Howell, who ended his thoughtful contribution by calling for deeper co-operation within the Commonwealth. Rwanda was not an original member of the Commonwealth, but chose to join. My noble friend was right: with 2 billion people in 52 countries all using common law and the English language, it is a market we should be expanding.
When our aid is focused, so much can be achieved, and I am confident that the Secretary of State will succeed in making UK taxpayers proud of their generosity and their support.
My Lords on my way to the Chamber today, I was congratulated on my new post in the Foreign Office. Let me say to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on my behalf as well as that of the noble Lord who congratulated me, welcome to your new job.
History is marked by landmarks of time, people and places. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, when a Labour MP and a Conservative Peer worked to pass the Sexual Offences Act in 1967. It was by no means a perfect piece of legislation, but it started the process of bringing life for gay men out of the shadows and into the open.
It is easy against the backdrop of Brexit and the threat of terror attacks to forget to acknowledge and celebrate the progress we have made together as a nation. It is easy to forget how extraordinary this country is and how extraordinary the people of this island are. When our way of life is attacked it is because we have a choice, that we as a people will be free, and that we will recognise, tolerate—and, more than that, celebrate—the diversity of our island. We see this not just in the plight of gay rights but in the progress in the rights of women, in racial equality and in the rights for people with disabilities. There will always be those who seek to create a wedge between communities and countries, or try to pitch one section of society against another or nations against nations.
We should be vigilant in this House against those who try to divide us. My freedom as a gay man or a racial minority is irrevocably linked to the freedoms of every Member of this House and of the nation generally. As we reflect on the Parliament ahead, it is worth remembering that divided people are a weaker people. That is why equality matters not only to the individuals concerned but speaks to the character of our country, in a way that matters to all of us all whether gay or straight, black or white, religious or not.
This Parliament will be dominated by Brexit. It could, if we are not careful, define our foreign policy. I want our foreign policy to be based on values and morality, not Brexit. I want a modern morality, not the Victorian version but a new modern British version—one that is based on equality and freedom and one which we should be proud to export. Too often we duck the big moral issues to advance self-interest. Too often it is the big corporations that drive the international agenda and the values that we cherish are relegated to second place: trade for hunger; disease to keep medicine at a competitive price; supporting oppressive regimes to further our short-term strategic interests; selling arms to people who have no business owning them. The people who see this most clearly are the young in our society. They can see the growing discrepancy between the super-rich corporations and the individual. We experienced some of that at the last election.
I want to focus in the time that I have left on the treatment of gay men and women across the world. Despite the progress that we have made, it is still surprising that homosexuality is still criminalised in more than 72 countries, many of which are in the Commonwealth. In retrospect, one mistake made back in 1967 was not to ensure that the change in the law at home was the driver of reform across the Commonwealth too. It was Britain which imposed the vast majority of these laws and we therefore have a duty to be part of removing them. As the UK prepares to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, we need to see clear leadership to get that number from 72 to zero. Across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, the threat of the death penalty remains in place in a number of countries. We should use our United Nations voice to act to outlaw the death penalty on grounds of sexual orientation and sanction states that do not do so.
I am sorry that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is not in his place because I agreed with so much of what he said. I would say to him that religion also has its role to play in defining a new modern morality. There are some simple things that the most reverend Primate could do. A liturgy for civil partnership would be a small step, and the acceptance of gay marriage—maybe a step too far—would give some hope. Morality can stem from love too.
In the last few months alone, we have seen shocking reports of the persecution of gay men in Chechnya, with documented reports of torture, disappearances and the return of concentration camps to our continent. I raised this issue with Members of this House before the election and I genuinely thank all those who replied and all those who wrote to the Russian ambassador to outline their concerns. I hope that the Government will now look favourably on the asylum claims of those fleeing persecution, as President Macron has recently done in France, and I ask the Minister to put pressure on the Home Office to speed up this work.
There is still much to do on the broader moral issues, and much to do in relation to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Commonwealth and beyond. And it is noble Lords in the Foreign Office who have the opportunity to do it. I say to Ministers and their colleagues in the other place: do not look back and regret not taking the opportunity to act. Governing is a real privilege and those who sit on the Front Benches have, sometimes, the opportunity to effect change. My plea to noble Lords is to use it well.
My Lords, here in the UK, the election was announced on
I would like to ask the Minister—I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to his new role—where the interim air service is now. Of course, the air service was also supposedly to embrace the island of Ascension. In late April, just as we were leaving this place, we were told that there were problems with the Wideawake airport on Ascension Island. The Ascension Island Government press release dated
“the Airbus A330 Voyager aircraft used on the route between RAF Brize Norton, Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands is too heavy to land at Ascension”, and will not call at Ascension “for the foreseeable future”. There is very serious doubt about whether interim arrangements can be made. If they can, they will be for,
“essential personnel and goods only. Ascension Island Travel Agency are unable to say when regular flights … may resume”.
The Ascension Island Government state that they do not expect the South Atlantic Airbridge flights with the Voyager aircraft “to recommence before 2019/20”. That could be three years away. What does this mean for Ascension and St Helena? Twin-island tourism will be stopped for three years. The only hotel on Ascension—the Obsidian—cannot function without guests, and that business is now in crisis. The alternative faster route from the UK to St Helena via Ascension will not be available. It is now possible to get to St Helena after a three-day sea voyage, an overnight flight and perhaps a stay in Ascension. That, of course, is far shorter than a six-day voyage from St Helena to Cape Town. Furthermore, the route is blocked for Saints who work in the Falkland Islands and wish to travel home from time to time. What worldwide travel and costs are likely to be incurred by those Saints, and how on earth do they get from St Helena to the Falkland Islands, and vice versa, in the future?
Incidentally, anybody who wants to be an observer at the St Helena elections, which will take place on
Travel to and from the Atlantic isles is one thing; a viable economy is another. On the one hand, the St Helena Airport was to improve transport links and to create the possibility of an enhanced tourism-based economy, but getting the airport, the air service and other infrastructure right is something else. Four years ago, I was in St Helena and I saw the start of a hotel development, which is just about to be finished—it takes time. Other hotel developments are planned but are all stalled. Other infrastructure needs are required. A wharf has been built for the new freight boat, but it cannot be used without further infrastructure, including working on problems with rock stabilisation and the highways by the wharf. The government policy on the Overseas Territories, updated in May 2015, says:
“Although most Territories are economically self sufficient”— not, incidentally, St Helena, Ascension or Tristan da Cunha—
“their reasonable assistance needs are a first call on the UK’s international development budget”.
There are also warm words about “security and good governance” and,
“political, economic, social and educational advancement”.
The UK Government are,
“ambitious for our Territories … We want to see our communities flourish … with strong and sustainable local economies”.
What do Her Majesty’s Government intend to do to enhance the infrastructure of St Helena in particular so that the airport investment is redeemed in a growing economy? Now that the Commonwealth Development Corporation—the CDC—has had its resources richly enhanced, should not some small proportion be used to assist in some private sector development in St Helena? Are not the multitude of problems a very serious first call on that 0.7% of GNI aid budget and the CDC resources? No further legislation is needed, just action.
My Lords, as described by many noble Lords today, enormous changes are under way in the world, accompanied by many dangers and risks. Moreover, as many noble Lords have said, we need to redefine UK foreign policy and reshape our place in the world—and, of course, determine how best to manage the risks and take advantage of the opportunities provided by these changes.
I will attempt to deal with only a small part of this vast canvas: the bit concerning the development agenda. In doing so, however, I note a profound point made by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I noted the Archbishop’s warning about the fact that our external presence and actions need to be built on values that are lived out in what happens within our own country and society. This is not the time to discuss the injustices, inequalities and fractures in our own society that have been so tragically illustrated by recent events. However, the point is well made that our domestic and foreign agendas and actions should coincide and that they can and should influence each other.
I also note the importance of networks—a point which, when the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, was speaking, reminded me of the earlier Select Committee report on the UK’s soft power. As I recall it, the report said that one of the key things in the future for the UK was being the best-networked country in the world. We need to build those relationships and have those networks with everyone in the world—in Europe, the Commonwealth and elsewhere.
It seems to me that those two points are enormously important when we turn to development. As a number of noble Lords have said, we have a great recent tradition of development, and I, like others, am delighted that the 0.7% target has been maintained into this Parliament. Originally I had some concerns about a minimum spending commitment because of the risks of inefficiency. However, I think that the election campaign, where this policy became an issue in a number of places, revealed how important it was that this political commitment was made and that the target has been secured and will continue.
The other important thing that came out of the election was that we need a new way of talking about international development. Like the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I noted Priti Patel’s comments about helping to create a world with justice, equality, jobs, peace and security. This is not just about charity, compassion and looking after other people, and nor is it just about government action; it is also about community action. Something very positive is fed back into the domestic agenda from the development agenda. When people get together around the charities in which many of us are involved concerning areas of development globally, this is very unifying and feeds back into our own country in very positive ways.
As I said, this is not just about charity and compassion; rather, it is more about what I tend to think of as global development or co-development, where we and our partners gain from the processes of development, and I shall give two examples where there are very direct benefits to the United Kingdom. One concerns malaria. Malaria No More recently published a report looking at the impact of malaria on the world. I should perhaps declare an interest in that I wrote the foreword for it, but it made the interesting point that 14% of global trade is with countries that have malaria and that those countries lose something of the order of 1% of GDP every year, cumulatively, because of the impact of malaria on their populations and people’s ability to be productive citizens. That means that the growth of these actual and promising trading partners of ours is restricted, and that has a natural knock-on effect on our society and our growth. Indeed, the UK has the largest number of imported malaria cases in the world. Malaria is an issue for us in the UK. It is not just about being nice and supportive and helping other people; it has a wider impact on our society.
My second point is one that I will come back to with another illustration in a moment. We need to approach global development or co-development with a degree of humility. I see this particularly within the health field, where we have a lot to learn from working with our partners overseas, just as we have much to teach. There is a great expression which goes, “Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn”, and that is profoundly true in development, as I will illustrate in a moment.
Finally, I come to two instances on which I would be grateful if the Minister could manage to get answers for me, although this is not his portfolio. The first is health partnerships. Over the last few years there has been a DfID programme in the region of £30 million supporting partnerships between UK hospitals, organisations and health institutions and those in other countries—in Africa, Asia and elsewhere. These have been enormously valuable, and an evaluation of the programme by DfID last year identified the clear benefits to the UK. Individual doctors and nurses taking part in these partnerships were coming back having seen different things, having thought about different things and having had to do things without all their normal equipment—returning, if you like, to first principles in how they worked. They found it refreshing and it has fed back into training and development in the UK. That scheme came to an end at the end of March. There had been a lot of discussion about trying to make sure there was not a gap between it and a successor scheme. We heard many promises before the election about a new and extended programme coming our way. Will the Minister find out for us the plan for this? When will a new partnerships for health programme of this sort be relaunched?
The second area I shall touch on is nursing. In the previous Parliament I co-chaired the All-Party Group on Global Health, which had the involvement of a number of noble Lords here, including the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. We looked at the development of nursing globally. In doing so we came to three very simple conclusions, and that if you did something to promote and develop nursing globally you would address three sustainable development goals. The first is improving health. Nurses are everywhere. There are 23 million of them. They are half the workforce. They get to places other people, including doctors, do not get to. Secondly, you would also be empowering women. I note the very important point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, on contraception and abortion, but there are other aspects as well. There is a clear demonstration in a number of countries that nursing is a route for women’s empowerment as they become not only more educated, but more economically active as a result. There are some direct benefits from that.
Thirdly, as demonstrated by a recent report from the UN on health employment and global growth, employment in health systems in low and middle-income countries leads to direct economic benefits. There is a triple impact here from supporting the development of nursing: improved health, promoting gender equality and strengthening economies locally. My question for the Minister is: does the Department for International Development recognise the pivotal role nurses have in this? If so, what is it going to do to support it?
I conclude by coming back to the larger point on the narrative. It is fundamentally important that we not only change how we talk about international development, but drop the word “international”, because that makes it sound as though it is just about other people, as opposed to global development and co-development —another approach and another narrative that indicates that we are in this together, that it is not a zero-sum game and that supporting our partners is also supporting us.
My Lords, we have heard from many champions of human rights and international development today, but one we will not hear from is Lord Joffe. He will be missed and long remembered.
However many tragedies beset us in this country—and we have had enough of them in the past few weeks—they will not diminish our concern for suffering overseas, in Syria, South Sudan and other parts of the world. Indeed, we are reminded by recent tragedies that discrimination, overcrowding and lack of housing in this country are directly related to poverty among refugees and migrants desperate to make a new home. These are immense, interrelated problems, and we cannot assume that Brexit will make them go away through additional border controls. As is often said, this country has a long tradition of providing a refuge for persecuted minorities. It will go on doing this, and it will benefit from migration.
At the same time, this Government must work still harder to resolve crises abroad that are the cause of such persecution. One of the most important channels is through our overseas aid programme. The Queen’s Speech may not satisfy pro-Europeans, but it contains important passages about aid. It reiterates the Government’s commitment to the 0.7%, as has been said, and reinforces efforts to improve the UK’s ability to tackle mass migration, alleviate poverty and end modern slavery. It also, in defiance of President Trump, restates their support for the Paris agreement on climate change, which affects many of the poorest countries more than others.
I have also been encouraged by the support for international development to be found in this House—it is a good deal stronger than when I came here 22 years ago. When the Cameron-Clegg coalition was formed and we passed the 0.7% Act, it was a precise measurement of public feeling at that time, even though some Conservatives still had misgivings about it. We recognised that the world had become much more interconnected. The word “globalisation” may be overused, but the world is smaller in the sense that we now feel the effects in other countries much more intimately, perhaps because of improved communications.
I have not noticed any compassion fatigue in spite of the huge range of world problems and humanitarian disasters. A recent indication of this was the success of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal for East Africa, which topped £50 million in April. That was all through voluntary effort. Aid is put to good use, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, and the noble Lords, Lord Purvis, Lord Polak and Lord Crisp, have all given demonstrations of that.
Nevertheless, we hear voices of people—especially from UKIP, but not entirely—who have decided to set their faces against aid. Some of these are undoubtedly people who distrust any foreigners living beyond Calais. However, many others, including those who voted for Brexit, would simply prefer to spend more on the NHS, schools and housing and less on people abroad. That is a perfectly tenable view. At the same time, tackling mass migration does not mean building walls and frontiers but sensitive aid and diplomatic policies of the kind the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is always speaking about, which focus on countries such as Libya and Syria, where migrants congregate and terrorism can flourish.
Most of us now accept that aid is not simply money given away but money invested in a safer, more stable environment in other countries which will bring rewards back home. The concept of soft diplomacy is just one example of the wider uses of our development aid. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, spoke powerfully about students. New evidence has recently come from the Overseas Development Institute that aid is helping us directly in this country. ODI research has demonstrated how, in 2014, our direct bilateral development generated an increase in UK exports of over £2 for every £10 of aid spent, increasing trade revenue and providing an estimated 12,000 extra UK jobs.
I welcome the growing co-operation there has been between DfID and other departments, notably the FCO and MoD, through the Conflict Pool and other similar funds. There have been rumours in the press that DfID may lose its independence. The Minister has already been asked but perhaps he could say something about this and confirm there will be no merging of departments.
The International Development Committee had launched an inquiry just before the election into the future of our £1.3 billion spent through the EU in development aid. We must hope that this inquiry will be revived once the committee has been reappointed. There are many successful EU programmes that we will want to continue, including our programmes under the common security and defence policy. Beyond 2019, we will still want to maintain close co-operation with the EU on peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, has already mentioned Operation Sophia.
Knowing of the Foreign Secretary’s interest in eastern Europe, perhaps the Minister will confirm that, whatever happens, we will stand by our partners in the Balkans, remembering that not long ago we were one of the principal advocates of enlargement. If we are to leave a spare place at the table, there will surely be more space for new candidates and we should continue to support that even beyond the time we are members.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, has already mentioned EPAs, the Economic Partnership Agreements. In the Brexit negotiations, trade will inevitably take centre stage and DfID can again be expected to play a role in helping developing countries to adjust. EPAs are the EU’s less-than-generous trade offers to former colonies associated with member states, coaxing them into regional groups to preserve their preferential access to Europe. As this has to be a reciprocal arrangement, it can work against middle-income countries because it threatens their new industries with competition. The poorest countries, or the LDCs, are not so affected as they are protected by the Everything but Arms agreement.
This is a complicated subject and it is really for another debate. I simply wish to make the point that unless Brexit provides the opportunity for the UK to improve on these agreements, it will continue, along with the EU, to fail to protect countries from competition, which could return them to their old status of primary producers of raw materials and minerals. However, I will put this down for another day.
My Lords, before I get into the substance of my speech, I want to pay a brief tribute to the Queen. For more than 65 years, she has reigned with extraordinary dignity and reserve, and I am grateful that she continues to serve with distinction as the Head of the Commonwealth. I am even more grateful that she missed Royal Ascot to speak in this place yesterday, although given the heat outside, maybe it was a near miss.
Our foreign and defence policy is more closely connected to Brexit than some may think. Despite the formal lack of integration on a common defence policy, our European friends and allies are our closest partners, and our foreign policy is also shaped around that understanding. Primarily, I wish to focus on the situation in central Europe and our contribution going forward. Previously, I welcomed the Government’s decision to station more troops in and work more closely with nations such as Poland. We all know that Russia has been emboldened by western weakness, and the new inaction of the White House has since added to that impression of stagnation.
We must keep and strengthen our retaliatory tools, as Russia continues to harass, hack and bully the Balkans and others in the region. The primary European retaliation has been based around strengthening relations with nations such as Ukraine and putting up sanctions to hurt the Russian economy. I tend to favour targeted sanctions rather than general tariff-based versions, because the aim must be to deprive the liberty of those in power and not of their subjects. Making ordinary citizens poorer is not useful in any case, and shores up support for the regime.
I must confess that I am worried about how the Government are factoring our sanctions policy into Brexit. We are consistently the strongest advocate in the Council and the Commission. Our stellar teams in the Treasury, Foreign Office and Department for International Trade are globally recognised as experts in targeted sanctions and do a significant portion of the heavy lifting for the EU when it comes to this. Without our clout and expertise in the room, it will be far easier for other states to say that they lack the will or capabilities to continue, and a crucial plank of our foreign policy will be cleanly chopped away, as acting alone rather than with allies weakens our position. I have heard Ministers time and again say that they want a deep and close relationship with the EU once we leave.
Now that negotiations have started in full, it is time to make a unilateral declaration that we will support and uphold existing sanctions policy, come rain or shine. More generally, in light of the disappointing election results, Ministers should start to tone down some of the more contentious aspects of Brexit and start listening more closely to Parliament.
It is not often that I agree with those sitting across the Chamber from me but the Labour Party made a good point during the election campaign. Trident is of course critical for our stature and safety, and I have defended it in the past in this place. Yet the cybersecurity of this country has great scope for improvement. As recent events showed, cyber and digital attacks are moving to the stage of being as dangerous as conventional weaponry. Without conventional weapons we might not be able to eliminate targets but when the WannaCry hackers can seriously damage the ability of the NHS to heal our sick we should consider our priorities. National Cyber Security Strategy 2016 to 2021 makes for interesting reading and I hope the departure of the former Minister for the Cabinet Office from government and Parliament will not lead to a loss of focus.
One issue I had was with funding. The 2015 strategic defence review set aside £1.9 billion over five years. Whether that is still the case is unclear but it is not clear that £380 million will be adequate to put through the ambitious reforms and progress initially envisaged, especially given the increasing demand for such services after recent attacks. Within the ring-fenced defence budget, I would be glad to see Ministers with cybersecurity responsibility and Defence Ministers come to an arrangement to increase the funds available for the strategy should stakeholders think it necessary. That would be a wise investment, a hedge against the new warfare. Also, from an economic standpoint, we should support our industries most likely to thrive after Brexit. Cybersecurity is something both that the UK is good at and that pays well. I will of course support the Government on the Queen’s Speech.
My Lords, I join with others in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, back to his position and his new role. I am delighted to see the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in his place. It cheered me up to see that we have two Ministers so respected in the House because I was greatly disheartened by a sketch in this morning’s Financial Times which talks about a country diminished, using the reduced pomp and circumstance of yesterday as a peg to discuss the extent to which we seem to be reducing the values of our society. I was delighted to hear the most reverend Primate refer to values—as indeed did my noble friend Lord Alli and the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who are not in their places at the moment. In essence, when we look at our foreign responsibilities, and at the leadership we have shown in the world in the past, we must remind ourselves that we set examples that have been to the good. Now we seem to be setting examples that do not show Britain in the best light.
I was delighted to hear the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, refer to Lord Joffe. He was a man who not only had values but lived by them as the lawyer to Nelson Mandela. We need to remind ourselves that that is the history of this place and of this House.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Howell, I am rather surprised that the Brexit debate is on a different day from this debate on foreign affairs, defence and international development. Perhaps it is because in the past European matters have been quasi-domestic. We have talked about them as part of our domestic policy because they have had an impact on domestic policy. But how we handle the Brexit issues and how the rest of the world sees us handling the Brexit issues will have a real impact on how our foreign policy is perceived.
I was greatly disappointed to see the invocation of Article 50 in March. Then a general election was called. As a consequence, we lost three vital months in a tight two-year period. There are many more distinguished negotiators in this House than I, but I spent a stint negotiating. One of my greatest achievements was the definition of “industrial jam”. My heart throbs every time I walk past a jammie dodger. It took a solid year to negotiate that we could have industrial jam with no fruit in it. What is it going to be like when we have to deal with the challenge of the EU budget?
I sat on the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee which looked at the EU budget. I thought I knew about the budget, having sat on and chaired the budget council, but I realised how good my civil servants were. The EU budget is complicated. I had not realised quite how complicated until the committee started that piece of work. One thing that really surprised me and, I think, every last one of us was the view of the lawyers that we were not liable for any exit bill, or it could be argued that we were not liable for any exit bill at the end of the Brexit process. I have to be honest: that absolutely horrified me. How can we hold up our head in the world if we run away from our moral responsibilities? As I say, the EU budget is complicated. There is the multiannual financial framework. There are also the agreements that we have entered into, called reste à liquider—the payments still to be made for the various projects. If we do not pay our share, poorer countries than ours—countries struggling to get themselves on a pathway to growth, having come out of non-democratic systems—will have to pick up that bill.
We will be judged on the rhetoric that we have used in this process. I say to your Lordships that a lot of that rhetoric has not shown us in the best light. There has been a sense of machismo—a machismo that is gender-free because it is not just the men who have been using it. As we seek to negotiate trade agreements with other countries, we will be judged on how we handle this process of exit.
Negotiations are not easy. I very much agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Sterling, when he said that we should be seeking not a deal but an agreement. It is working towards agreement that is important. If you enter into a negotiation, you need a clear vision of what you want. You also have to have a clear understanding and appreciation of what the other side wants. In that way, you can find a way forward. But you will not find a way forward if you sacrifice trust, and we have sacrificed trust with the name-calling of the people who we are going to be turning to in a few months’ time to try to negotiate future trade agreements.
We have heard all the slogans, such as “Brexit means Brexit”. We have heard all the carefully crafted phrases about no deal being better than a bad deal. We should be seeking a consensus as we move forward. To be honest, I would rather the whole concept of Brexit disappeared. In 1974 I was against the Common Market, but I have seen the benefits of it and I have seen my children benefit from it. I accept the situation that we find ourselves in but we must try to find a way to move ahead that does not make enemies of people who should be our friends.
In the report that the EU Committee brought out there is a very important phrase—that the price of future market access on favourable terms would be impossible without reaching agreement on the budget. We need some idea of where the Government are coming from on issues such as the budget. We do not have a clue, but we need to know where we are headed to before we, as a revising and analysing Chamber, can judge where all our processes are taking us. It is not too late to rectify that.
We have just passed the anniversary of the death of Jo Cox. She is the one who said that there is more that unites us than divides us. This is a time for all of us to put country before party. But we can do that only if those in the driving seat allow us to participate. There are many in this House who are extremely distinguished, with a huge amount of experience and—another important element—contacts and networks throughout the European Union, and they could help in this. I plead with the Government to put country before party and give us the opportunity to turn away from the disheartening analysis of a country that is diminished. We need not be diminished, but we have to have courage to know that we have to work together.
In six days’ time, negotiations resume in Geneva on the reunification of Cyprus. Many observers and participants see this as the final chance for a settlement. There have been 40 years of discussions and negotiations prior to this; all have failed. In those 40 years, the people of north Cyprus have been greatly disadvantaged. They have been under an embargo for all that time, which means little foreign investment, little direct trade and no direct flights. GDP per capita in the north is now half of that in the south. In practice, the north is an economic dependency of Turkey. That is unhelpful. It threatens the identity of the community in the north, impoverishes their people and is unsustainable. We should all hope that the current negotiations will succeed, that the island will be reunited and the embargo lifted, and that the settlement will provide much-needed economic growth in all parts of the island. Without a settlement, for example, it may not be possible at all to develop the oil and gas fields in Cyprus’s territorial waters, to the great disadvantage of all Cypriots.
The United Kingdom is a guarantor power and will have a seat at the Geneva conference. I know that the Government greatly desire a settlement to end the division of the island and that they agree with Kofi Annan’s comment after the failure of the 2004 attempt at unification that a settlement to the long-standing Cyprus problem,
“would benefit the people of Cyprus, as well as the region and the wider international community”.
This was true when he said it in 2004; it is even truer in 2017, as stability and peace have declined dramatically across the whole of the eastern Mediterranean region. I know that the FCO is working hard to assist the negotiating parties. Here, I acknowledge in particular the efforts of Sir Alan Duncan in this regard. It is right that we work hard to facilitate a settlement and equally right that any such settlement has to be by Cypriots, for Cypriots. The United Kingdom has a legal and moral duty to help and to continue to help. Our legal duty arises from our guarantor status; our moral duty arises from our catastrophic error in allowing a divided island to join the EU. Jack Straw, who was instrumental in this decision, now openly acknowledges his mistake.
At the time, the EU promised by way of compensation an end to the embargo and other relaxations. Kofi Annan said, after the rejection by the Greek Cypriots of his plan for reunification in 2004, that he regretted that the Turkish Cypriots would not equally enjoy the benefits of EU membership but hoped that ways would be found to ease the plight in which those people find themselves through no fault of their own. That was 13 years ago, and no ways were found—none. The embargo remains in force and the EU has not delivered on any of its promises.
The current Geneva talks are, realistically, the last chance to put things right, and I urge the Government to continue their efforts to help, but we must recognise that the talks may fail—they have failed before—and there is a very short window available for compromise before elections in the south will dominate political discourse there. There are already signs that this is happening. There are already fears in the north that the Greek Cypriots are no longer really committed to reunification on the basis of political equality. If the talks fail, we must recognise that they are unlikely to be resumed for decades, if at all, and because that is true, Her Majesty’s Government must look to other ways of discharging their legal and moral responsibilities. They must have a plan to support the people of the north if the talks fail. In particular, Her Majesty’s Government must be prepared to help bring about an end to the embargo. They must encourage inward financial investment, they must help integrate the Northern Cyprus financial institutions into international systems and, in particular, they must allow direct flights into and from Northern Cyprus.
Direct flights are crucial to the economic sustainability of the north. At present, all flights to and from the UK to Northern Cyprus must first land in Turkey. This adds time and cost. Since
I entirely understand that it is the duty of the UK authorities to take whatever measures seem to them necessary to protect the public and that while they have no visibility of security at Ercan outbound measures are justifiable, but I hope that these measures will remain in place for only as long as it takes the UK authorities to acquire visibility and satisfy themselves that Ercan airport security meets the required standards. There is no legal obstacle to doing that. There is no legal obstacle to UK authorities visiting, communicating and agreeing protocols with Ercan, particularly in light of the High Court ruling of
My Lords, in the quite extraordinary times within which we are currently living—both in terms of our external security and our internal security, well described by my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup earlier on in our debate—like other noble Lords, I was very pleased to note that Her Majesty’s gracious Speech made reference to the Government’s commitments to spending 2% of GDP on defence and to spending 0.7% of GDP on international development, as well as including a reference to a renewed commitment to the Armed Forces covenant and a determination to improve the provision made for mental health. I would like to make five points arising from those references.
First, there is the commitment to 2% of GDP being spent on defence, or more specifically the commitment in the gracious Speech to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence. I assume that this was deliberate drafting and indicated the welcome intent to increase our spending on defence. I am not alone in believing that an increase in our defence budget, and a renewed commitment to not just our own security but that of Europe, would be an important signal to our European friends that, although we are leaving the EU, we are not walking away from playing our full part in European security but, within the context of NATO, are prepared to play an even greater part. Our Armed Forces are the benchmark for armed forces within Europe, and an increase in spending on defence would be welcomed in Europe and by our principal ally, the United States.
Furthermore, the reversal of the decision to withdraw all our troops from Germany—a decision which seemed right at the time and one that I supported then—would send a strong message from Brexit Britain to our friends and foes alike. Retaining the armoured infantry brigade in the well-found garrison of Sennelager and Paderborn would substantiate that message and have the side benefit of removing the necessity of rehousing that brigade within the UK, at least in the short to medium term, a move for which it is a challenge to find adequate funds and which would be the potential cause of an unacceptably high concentration of armoured vehicles around Salisbury Plain.
Secondly, I draw attention to the relationship between our defence budget and our spending on international development. Some might characterise this as our spending on hard power and soft power respectively, but I believe such characterisation misses the point. If the short-hand précis of our foreign, defence and security objectives is for the United Kingdom to exercise beneficial influence around the world, then the way to maximise this is the complete integration of our diplomatic, defence and development capabilities. Currently, such integration, although much talked about, is not fully practised, notwithstanding the double-hatting of the right honourable Alistair Burt in the present Government. A few years ago, I was staying with our high commissioner in Rwanda, and he remarked with exasperation that the UK had two foreign policies in that country: one run by him and the other by the senior DflD official in the country. Of course, it was the DfID policy that prevailed, as it had the money, as the noble Lord, Lord Polak, informed us earlier on in our debate. I know there is a danger of formulating policy based on anecdote, but how much more effective would our influence be if our diplomatic, defence and development capabilities and policies were fully integrated—even to the extent of allowing elements of the sizeable international development budget to be spent on diplomatic, defence or security matters where a particular situation demanded that response? That would be truly beneficial integration.
Thirdly, I welcome the reference to the Armed Forces covenant in the gracious Speech, coming as it does in Armed Forces Week. We all recognise that the Armed Forces covenant remains, almost by definition, work in progress, as illustrated by the tabling of the annual report to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Defence in association with the other delivery departments. But I continue to wonder whether our governmental structure is right to do the best for our veteran community of some 6 million people. The Veterans Minister is to be found within the Ministry of Defence, but apart from the administration of pensions, the MoD has little to do with veterans: its focus is quite properly on the current serving population and the defence capability that is delivered by those uniformed serving individuals. The needs of the veteran community are predominantly met by other government departments, which focus on health, housing, education and social welfare. Is there therefore not a case for the Veterans Minister to be found, not in the MoD, but in the Cabinet Office, where a more cross-cutting and co-ordinating function could be exercised? I urge the Government to consider that possibility. The recently announced Veterans Board in the Cabinet Office is a step in the right direction, but I am not sure it goes far enough.
Fourthly, I noted with approval in the gracious Speech the reference to mental health and the intention to ensure that it is prioritised in the National Health Service in England. Detailed discussion of that is for another day in this debate, but in the context of the Armed Forces covenant I wish to raise one issue: the provision of emergency out-of-hours mental health cover for serving Armed Forces personnel. The current policy for serving Armed Forces personnel who are suffering an acute mental health event is that they should go to their nearest NHS A&E department or ring the Combat Stress helpline. I have been contacted several times by serving or recently discharged personnel who believe that this policy is wrong—lives of young people have been lost—and that there should be a dedicated MoD helpline to which those in need can turn. I make no criticism of the Combat Stress helpline, but I question whether serving Armed Forces personnel should have to resort to a charity helpline. I have raised this matter previously with MoD Ministers, as has Dr Julian Lewis, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, to the Secretary of State for Defence. We owe a duty of care to all our serving and veteran Armed Forces personnel, but I question whether the MoD is fully discharging that duty to those who are still serving, but suffering from mental health illness, by requiring them to ring a charity helpline.
My final point relates to our serving soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, the very people who are at the heart of our defence capability. Frankly, there are just not enough of them. We have cut the size of the Royal Navy, the Army and the Royal Air Force too far. In the 2010 SDSR, the Treasury demanded a 7% cut in the defence budget, which led to a 20% cut in the size of the Regular Army and necessitated a major reorganisation of it. At the height of our interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and Royal Marines together were able to field 10 combat brigades, with five each going around the two operational cycles. The 2010 reorganisation took the Army down to six brigades, only three of which are at relatively high readiness. The net result is that in future we would have the manpower for only one extended intervention. The maths do not add up—a 7% cut in the defence budget leading to a 20% cut in the size of the Army resulting in a 50% reduction in our operational capability. There may be no appetite to put British boots on the ground in the short term, but somewhere, some day, there will be a non-discretionary set of circumstances that will demand a major deployment of British troops. Like the concerns expressed by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, about the numbers of aircraft, and those expressed by the noble Lord, Lord West, about the numbers of frigates and destroyers, I worry about the number of soldiers that we have—or, particularly, do not have. We are carrying too much risk. The last Government from 2010 and this present Government might get away with it, but the future will catch us out at some point and the verdict of history will be damning.
I welcome Her Majesty’s gracious Speech and the opportunity to speak on international development in this debate. I am pleased to see the Government’s continuing commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on international development. I look forward to working with the Minister and the Department for International Development to enable our common goal of alleviating poverty and assisting some of the poorest in the world to achieve better living standards and a life free from human rights abuses.
As we speak today about international development and the importance of helping those whose lives are blighted by poverty and injustice, I note that it is a particularly poignant time for me as it is now 20 years since I, along with my wife, Lady Loomba, established the Loomba Foundation, a charity that helps poor widows, starting in India and then spreading to more and more countries across the developing world where help was needed. From Mumbai to Mombasa, from Kigali to Chile, the lives of many thousands of widows and children have been transformed over the years through educational and skills-based projects.
Here, as well as declaring an interest as founder and chairman of the foundation, I will also thank the many noble Lords for the interest they have shown, the support they have given and the wise words they have spoken over the past 20 years, which have helped to bring to fruition many of the projects that have assisted widows and their children.
Since I began my humanitarian work, many things have changed and improved, but still there is a need for much more to be done. The SDGs have paved the way for progress to be accelerated and for the many poor and suffering people in this world to be helped, and it is incumbent on this Government to ensure that the promised 0.7% of GNI for the aid budget is spent wisely, used carefully, targeted correctly and prioritised properly, so that it is not wasted but reaches those most in need of it. Spending in alignment with the SDGs will go some way towards ensuring that aid gets to where it is needed most.
The importance of getting it right cannot be overstated, as shown by the EU when it marked World Refugee Day on Tuesday of this week and said that,
“around the world more than 65 million people are forced to leave their homes due to conflicts and violence, natural disasters or the very real consequences of climate change. These are 65 million lives, 65 million different stories”.
Every one of these people is in need, and if we are not spending aid properly we are creating more injustices and even greater inequalities, and heaping more suffering on the very people who need help the most.
Today is also a particularly important day for me for a second reason in the context of my humanitarian work, as it is the eve of International Widows’ Day—and I am sure many noble Lords are aware of its importance in helping Governments, NGOs, citizens of the world and ordinary people to focus their minds on the injustices and human rights abuses that still go on today against widows, who through no fault of their own suffer human rights abuses on a global scale. As World Refugee Day shows, these days serve a useful purpose in making stakeholders take note of the importance of not underestimating the need for aid and not forgetting who it is meant for—and, while the focus on refugees and widows plays out on the international stage, it is incumbent on this House to ensure that we do our bit, and do it wisely.
My Lords, I was greatly struck by the speech earlier today by my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool, who spoke with great strength and much relevant detail. I urge the Government to respond as fully as possible.
I start by suggesting that Britain should remain the friend of small countries. This is true for the six nations in south-east Europe referred to by my noble friend Lord Sandwich, which are not yet members of the EU. It is equally true in the Middle East of countries with democratic institutions such as Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan; they all deserve our support through intelligent tourism, investment and aid. The last two factors should be designed to give skills to the workforce and increase employment. They should benefit both local people and refugees or migrants. Refugees should now be seen as assets and not just as liabilities; stagnation, like that which unfortunately affects so many Palestinians, should above all be prevented. In Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Jordan, we should strive for fair and equal treatment for non-Muslims who happen to be refugees or internally displaced. At home we should improve our systems to help unaccompanied children, particularly those in Europe, to join close relatives already here, in the spirit of the amendment accepted from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.
I follow on from what my noble friend Lady Cox said about Syria. It is high time to admit that all combatants have committed atrocities. The so-called moderate armed opposition is largely, I believe, an illusion, since Islamist groups are better equipped and paid. Why should the present Government of Syria hand over power when it has such strong Russian support? Her Majesty’s Government should heed the advice of several former British ambassadors to Damascus and restore at least some level of British representation, as has been done, eventually, but successfully, in the case of Tehran. They should also end their complete boycott of the semi-autonomous cantons of north Syria.
With Qatar and Saudi Arabia, we have strong two-way links. Some people see us as a mediator in the difficult situation between those two countries. The least we should do is explore the possibilities, perhaps in conjunction with Kuwait, as was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Home. Israel, Palestine and their Arab neighbours are now out of the media spotlight, but there is at the moment no peace process or immediate prospect of one. What can be done, however, is to improve the status quo. In Gaza, that would mean a 24-hour supply of electricity, a wider fishing limit and freer movement for people and goods. Anything that can be done to improve the local economy of east Jerusalem and the West Bank will help to reduce bitterness and violence; the Bedouin should be treated as full citizens, whether they live inside Israel or in the occupied territories. Constructive improvements of the kind that I have mentioned could create a better atmosphere for negotiations between somewhat unequal partners. This is perhaps understood by Saudi Arabia and others where there are already thoughts of restoring commercial relations with a former enemy. Detente could pave the way for a permanent peace.
I cannot conclude without referring to Europe. We should see that whole continent as a work in progress, still far from complete. For ourselves, we must not turn our back on our own neighbourhood. Whatever may be the outcome of EU negotiations, it is essential that we have a constructive relationship with all the European institutions, including, of course, the EU, as we already do with NATO. This will be vital to Gibraltar, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as for ourselves. Statesmanship of the highest order will be needed to restore devolved power-sharing in Northern Ireland and to ensure smooth north-south relations.
I look forward to the Government’s reply.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow so many eminent noble Lords, but by this point I fear that many issues have already been raised, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I repeat some points.
Recent tragedies at home echo the instability that continues to rage across much of the world. It is therefore more important than ever that the UK safeguards national security as well as promotes global peace. Conflict today is no longer contained by national or even regional borders, and the lines between war and peace have become blurred, with western democracy threatened by terrorism on an increasingly regular basis. Globally, 20 million people are in danger of starvation: desperate people do desperate things.
While not the independent military power that we once were, we still exercise significant levers of soft power, and by aligning foreign policy with defence and development and a permanent seat on the Security Council, we continue to have influence across the world.
Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Sexual violence today is used as a weapon of war and is a heinous crime that destroys the lives of individuals, families and entire communities. The UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative has impacted around the world. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay on all her work while special representative and welcome my noble friend Lord Ahmad to this role. I look forward to working with him.
We have made significant progress but there is still much more to do. The current focus on combating stigma—which prevents victims coming forward for help, forcing them into a life of shame—will help shift the burden of guilt from victims to perpetrators. Importantly, this initiative has shone a light on the lack of rights for women in so many countries.
In conflict countries, women are disproportionately affected and their voices are disregarded. Peace and stability cannot be achieved if half the population are ignored. The UK is a world leader on the women, peace and security agenda and has an important role to play globally in promoting the role of women in decision-making, enabling them to participate meaningfully in building and restoring peace, including as mediators and wider community leaders.
The UK is currently working on its new national action plan for UN Security Council Resolution 1325. I commend the team at the Foreign Office for all the hard work that it is putting into this and for its extensive consultation with civil society both here and across the world. It is by us all working together that we will achieve the best results. I hope that the new NAP will be forward-looking and a role model for other countries. Tackling violence against women also needs to remain a priority, as one in three women across the world still suffer from violence.
For the past two years, I have been a member of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme and have seen at first-hand the commitment of our Armed Forces. Their professionalism, discipline, and courage is frankly humbling. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. We have a duty of care to all those who have put themselves forward to do what is at times a difficult and dangerous job. This includes provision for the future welfare of those who have served their country, particularly with regard to mental health—I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, about help for mental health—and we need to help those who have served integrate back into community life post-discharge. We also must make sure that we are doing enough to care for military families, and we must make sure that the military covenant addresses the needs of both regulars and reservists. Our Armed Forces not only defend our country, but undertake wider defence engagement across the world. This includes supporting upstream conflict prevention and developing the military capacities of partner countries. In their own words, they,
“prepare for conflict whilst strengthening peace abroad”.
Recently in Kabul, I visited the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, set up by the UK and modelled on Sandhurst, where British troops help Afghan instructors to train their own cadets. I met some of the women cadets who were training; it takes enormous courage to come forward for military service as a woman in that culture, but many were applying. It affirmed for me what a huge difference our British military are making, both here and in other countries where they train domestic armies, helping those countries to build their own security and resilience. Helping to build stability overseas and conflict prevention need to remain a strong focus, and perhaps more needs to be done to understand how to stabilise countries post asymmetric warfare. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya—all countries where we have played a role—have not achieved stability post-conflict and maybe lessons can be learned about what is needed in the transitional phase. Perhaps the UK could consider a conference at Wilton Park to address this by bringing together international military, academics, diplomats and civil servants. Above all we need to do more to identify potential conflict upstream and proactively promote preventative measures.
While in Kabul, I met two impressive young deputy Ministers who had both attended university in the UK. It struck me that we were instrumental in the personal development of these young Afghan leaders. Can we not reach out more to those in the diasporas of conflict countries who are living here in the UK? For those who wish to return to their homeland, can we not offer to equip them with technical skills and knowledge to help them to return to rebuild institutions in their countries and spread British values?
We have all witnessed the mass migration that Europe has struggled to cope with in recent years, and the perilous journeys undertaken by those looking for refuge. Unless we help people in need, this problem will only get worse. We should be proud of our commitment to deliver 0.7% of GNI to overseas development. We are the first G8 country to enshrine it in law, and I commend the Prime Minister for so clearly reaffirming her support for this. With restrictions on civil society space in many places now, I hope we will look at ways to deliver more aid to small grass-roots organisations, as they can deliver substantial changes in their communities, and to extend more help to women’s rights organisations and human rights defenders, who so often risk their lives.
We live in a dangerous world. Our diplomatic integrity, military capacity and development commitments must be harnessed to promote prosperity and human rights and to deliver global peace and security for us all.
My Lords, I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, as at this stage in the debate one feels rather mesmerised and I am intrigued to know exactly what I am going to say. Certainly I cannot speak or wind up on behalf of Cross-Benchers, because that would be a contradiction in terms.
A theme has come through the debate today: deep concern about the condition of this nation and the fragility and the uncertainty in our country. I am very glad that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken about the need to review and think again about values in this nation. The gracious Speech referred to the need to build a more united nation and to the need to ensure that the United Kingdom plays a leading role on the world stage. But, of course, to have influence abroad we have to be strong and united at home.
One thing that has given me great inspiration and hope has been the reaction of the public to the incidents that we have faced in the last three months in Manchester and London. The reaction has been overwhelmingly moving, positive and human. Indeed, at local levels we have seen inspiring leadership that many of us would do well to follow. But the nation is fragile, uncertain and divided, and the election result reflected just that with a minority Government. That is exacerbated by the uncertainty over our future role in Europe and our role in the world. The nation has been wounded, certainly, after nearly a decade of austerity. Many parts of our community have been alienated and are worried about their future.
“Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.
However, like many other people I had thought that perhaps when we eventually joined the European Union we would begin to find a new role in the world. But somehow after the war our minds were on our desperate economy and our preoccupation still with the Empire, and in the 1950s we failed to take an interest in the European Union. We took a long time, until the 1970s, to commit ourselves. Despite many individuals who have been deeply committed to the European Union, it seems to me that as a nation we have been a reluctant and half-hearted participant in it. Thus, we have not been able to influence the way in which the European Union has evolved and the way in which it has become more and more bureaucratic. Whatever happens in the next two years, we need a strong relationship with Europe. I want to be convinced that whatever the outcome is it will bring us greater prosperity and security and more influence in the world if it is to be of any value at all.
It is totally wrong to say that in the post-war years we have not had considerable influence on stability in the world. We have shown considerable skill in the way in which we have dismantled our empire. This country has been a member of the largest number of institutions —more than any other country in the world. We have retained much good will and our humanitarian work has been effective. But now we face a powder keg in the Middle East. Incidentally, the excellent report by the Select Committee led by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, should be debated separately before the Recess. We are sitting on a powder keg that could easily blow up at any moment because of the proxy wars in Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
The United States has a dangerously unpredictable President. Our relationship with the people of the United States is a natural one, as I see it. It is not a special relationship; it is a natural relationship. Our job is not to fawn to the President but steadily to give our views as a Government to those in the Administration who are prepared to listen to us.
Back in the 1980s, when I was Minister in attendance on a state visit to Jordan, King Hussein asked me to take a message to Glubb Pasha, who he had sacked as head of the Arab Legion. I had never met Glubb Pasha before, but I discovered that he was a classical scholar who had studied the history of empires over the last 3,000 years: the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire, the Greek Empire and, of course, the British Empire. What I found intriguing about this was the common strands that featured in every empire, starting with the setting out of pioneers and conquerors and leading to commerce and more affluence. But afterwards, in the period of decadence and decline, the empires became more defensive, pessimistic and materialistic, with more flippancy in public life and a weakening of religion, to give some examples.
After long periods of wealth and power, they displayed more selfishness and love of money and a loss of a sense of duty. It is worth reflecting on our experience in the post-war years and on the need from time to time—now is a good time—to think about what we owe in public service, to renew our sense of duty and service, integrity, and humility but also humour in our life, and to be more tolerant in our public debates and less coarse than we have been in recent times. We must realise that populism is about trying to suggest that there are simple answers to what are complex problems, and that it is the job of political leaders to lead our way out of those grey areas of complexity.
The most remarkable thing about our empire, distinct from others, is that no other empire led to the Commonwealth of Nations that we have today. Arnold Smith, its very first Secretary-General, said in 1981:
“100 years from now, I suggest, historians will consider the Commonwealth the greatest of all Britain’s contributions to man’s social and political history”.
We have quite a long way to go yet to achieve that. However, I end my remarks by saying that I am very glad that the gracious Speech highlighted the importance of the Commonwealth, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on his new responsibilities for the Commonwealth, and I suggest that we have a golden opportunity to take a prominent lead as equal partners in the Commonwealth as we come to the summit in London next spring. I am glad that the Prime Minister is strongly committed and that she has set up a unit under Tim Hitchens, a distinguished diplomat, to work out advice as to the leadership we should give.
We must look for a coherent approach to the Commonwealth that will bring mutual benefits to all members, not just to the United Kingdom. Here, I hope that India will be persuaded to play a more prominent role than she has been able to play in past years, bearing in mind that it was in fact Nehru who led to the successful progress of the Commonwealth by urging that the Queen be made Head of the Commonwealth. There is a lot of work to do, but for my part I hope very strongly that one of our big priorities will be youth in the Commonwealth, both in this country and around the Commonwealth. This is something inspiring that we can work for while the Brexit negotiations are going on.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that it is a daunting task to sum up a debate with so many contributions which range, literally, over the whole globe—and indeed I will have to cherry pick. I would also like to confirm two things. First, understandably, because of everything that has happened in the last few weeks, the mood of the House is sombre. Indeed, in his opening speech, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, talked about a darkening international situation which we have to confront. Secondly, I echo what many noble Lords said about how welcoming it is to see the noble Earl, Lord Howe, opening the debate and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, replying to it in his new role—we look forward to hearing from him. We are very pleased to have two Ministers who engage so well with the House. In his opening remarks the noble Earl, Lord Howe, also said that the commitment to spending 2% on defence and 0.7% on development assistance is a crucial part of how we might address this darkening atmosphere, and I think he was right to say so. Most of my remarks will focus on international development-related issues, although there are a couple of other things as well.
The noble Earl mentioned the strengthening capacity of our international trade department. I would simply say that I think we should all be fairly cautious on two grounds. First, we keep telling ourselves that we are a great trading nation. However, the trade seems to be more in one direction than the other. We have a historically huge balance of payments deficit. That has not happened because we are a member of the European Union, because other members of the European Union have managed to operate within the Union and create a surplus. The reality is that we are a nation of small businesses, and exporting is difficult and challenging unless there is a huge amount of resource and support. I therefore hope that these new people in the trade ministry will be able to give small and medium-sized businesses the practical reality to enable them to trade and export, because for many of them the risks are just too great in the present climate.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, made the point that in his time in the House he has seen a welcome increase in the number of contributions and discussions on the role and importance of international development, and that has certainly been true of today’s debate. The role of the Commonwealth has also featured very strongly and that is welcome.
I want to make a point about trade before I come to speak in detail about development. I happen to be the president of the Caribbean Council, which is made up of business associations promoting relationships between the UK and the Caribbean. I know from my discussions with Caribbean countries that they are really concerned about the consequences of Brexit, the implications of the loss of EPAs with the UK—if that happens—and possible trade deals that we form with countries such as Brazil and the United States, which could disadvantage them compared with their current preferential arrangements. They are seeking assurances that the United Kingdom, in its desire to get trade deals with Brazil or the United States, will not forget the needs of weaker and more vulnerable partners in the Caribbean, with whom we have traditionally had very good relationships. I think that they would want that to be put on the record.
I have put in the register of Members’ interests my connections with international development, which go back quite a long way, and I look for a number of commitments from the Minister. Having welcomed the 0.7% contribution, quite a lot of colleagues, including the noble Lord, Lord Collins, at the beginning of the debate, have also expressed concern about the Government’s desire or intention to try to change the terms or definition of official development assistance. I hope that that will not happen but I also suggest to the Government that, with all the challenges of Brexit, this does not seem to be the right moment to open discussions with other members of the OECD about how to redefine aid in a way that I think suits the Conservative Party as a majority Government but not as a minority Government. It would be good to have an assurance that aid will be spent on poverty reduction and in conformity with current agreements and our own domestic laws, which require it to be poverty focused and untied.
What will happen to our relationship as regards aid spending and our partnerships with the European Union, accounting for £1.3 billion? Again, a number of noble Lords raised this. I understand that the European Union has said that it wants this to continue. Of course, people might say, “What wouldn’t they? It’s 15% of their budget that they are going to lose”. I get that point, but it is also true that our own multilateral review assessed our European partnerships and the European agencies as “excellent”, “outstanding” or “very good”. The logic of that is that we should be able to find a way of continuing to work with the European Union on development co-operation, and it would be good to hear whether the Government have a positive view about taking that forward. Obviously, there must be agreement on the broad principles that would enable that to happen.
The role of DfID—this is a term it uses itself—is a “commissioning agency” for aid and development. There is an existing partnership. I think that my noble friend Lady Sheehan and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned the ODI report, which pointed out that the UK has a huge capacity to deliver aid through the budget provided by DfID and through the policy framework, with accountability, but it is the partnerships with a whole variety of partnering contractors—whether NGOs, private contractors, hybrid organisations or think tanks and so on—that provide real benefit to the UK and help us to be world-beaters, and it is helpful for DfID to acknowledge that.
One organisation with which I have an involvement is the Start Network—a consortium of international NGOs that deliver low-visibility humanitarian responses at a very early stage. They are there before the United Nations and other big organisations have the chance to respond. A recent example of its work was in the DRC, where there was an outbreak of Ebola. It was able to mobilise very quickly through the Alliance for International Medical Action and get people on the ground. It was able to train eight Ministry of Health staff, arrange 58 community relays for awareness and chlorination activities, brief 20 political and administrative authorities, and reach 2,726 people with health advice about how to avoid the disease. This was all done in a matter of days and in a very small number of weeks. It demonstrates what can be done with this kind of partnership. It is very substantially funded by DfID, but it is also supported by the Netherlands, Ireland, Estonia, ECHO and, soon, by Belgium. This kind of partnership is extremely valuable.
Another thing worth mentioning is that the critics of aid do not let go. I do not know how many noble Lords saw this piece in the Daily Mail earlier this week:
“Minister in denial over aid scandals … Seven Daily Mail stories that she could not refute”.
I very much welcome Priti Patel’s defence of her department in the face of these criticisms and her challenge to the media, saying that most of their stories were not accurate. I do not think she needs to refute them, but I could easily pick up a couple of them.
One example the Daily Mail complains about is the amount of cash payments distributed through our aid budget. These programmes have been tried and tested and are the preferred and most effective mechanism for dealing with crises by most international aid donors. The Mail complains that recipients can spend these payments “at will” and has a picture of a queue of people at an ATM. That is of course true, but the evidence shows that people on the edge of survival prioritise food and health when they are given money. It is the most effective way of getting it. Rather than shipping US grain to Africa and paying shippers a huge amount of aid money to get it there, it is much more effective to have the money used to buy services and food locally and help the local economy. I suspect that the Daily Mail probably thinks that the DWP should do this because, after all, all this money is going to feckless, undeserving poor, which seems to be the fundamental attitude of that particular organ.
The Daily Mail also complains that DfID has the highest-paid civil servants. It is a very small department, so I suspect it is a mean figure of £53,000 a year. However, if you are critical of aid being spent in difficult and challenging environments, would you not want highly paid civil servants to make sure that it is well spent? I am glad to say, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said, that DfID staff work hard and with huge dedication around the world. They are indeed recognised as having done so, in very difficult and anti-social circumstances and conditions.
This has been a debate in the context of Brexit, which will be discussed at the end of next week, but also of our struggling to redefine our relationship with the rest the world. An awful lot will have to happen in the next two to three years before that becomes clear, but one thing that has united the House is that we have something to be proud of in our international engagement, our commitment to 0.7%, our strong defence capacity and a recognition that we have to be engaged with the world and not turn our backs on it. That is the flavour that has come out of the debate.
My Lords, I begin by joining other noble Lords in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, to his post—I wish him well. I have a number of questions relating to defence and I will fully understand if he wants to reflect on those and write to me, rather than answer them this evening. I also welcome the reappointment of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to defence. He has often come to this House to defend the Government in difficult times, but more than that I want to thank him for arranging the regular briefings for Peers at the Ministry of Defence. We all find them very helpful, and my one regret is that I never thought of that idea when I was a Minister in the department.
Once again, this debate has shown the House at its best. Well-informed contributions from across the Chamber underpin the value that this second Chamber brings to our democracy. Last year in this debate, I stressed the importance of considering the three key topics of foreign affairs, defence and international aid together. Our view is that Britain’s foreign policy is the signpost needed to point us in the right direction for the other two, and that all three should be looked at together.
The noble Earl was quite right when he opened the debate to refer to the so-called state aggressors: a resurgent Russia; a territorially ambitious China claiming islands in the South China Sea; an unpredictable regime in North Korea; and, of course, the ongoing conflict in Syria. My noble friend Lord Collins of Highbury developed powerful arguments on the issues of foreign policy and international aid, and therefore I will concentrate my remarks on Britain’s defence.
Over the past year, we have had a number of important debates in the House on defence and, to be brutally frank, the Government have had very few friends—even on their own Benches—willing to congratulate them. Indeed, I will go so far as to say that if my party in government had so run down our defence to the extent that this Government have done, the howls of protest would be deafening. It comes to something when the former head of our country’s Joint Forces Command, General Sir Richard Barrons, says our Armed Forces could not defend us against a serious military attack. On his retirement last year he wrote a 10-page memo outlining his concerns to the Defence Secretary. Can the Minister shed any light on how the Defence Secretary responded?
I do not base my assessment on the poor state of our defences on the opinions of Sir Richard alone. I can go back to 2014, when Robert Gates, the former United States Defence Secretary, said:
“With the fairly substantial reductions in defence spending in Great Britain, what we’re finding is that it won’t have full spectrum capabilities and the ability to be a full partner”, to the United States,
“as they have been in the past”.
He went on to suggest that the traditional basis of the UK/United States special relationship was under threat. That is what our friends think about us. No matter how often the Prime Minister and President Trump hold hands and she proclaims the special relationship is alive and well, I have seen nothing to suggest that Secretary Gates’s assessment is challenged by the powers in Washington.
Under this Government, our Armed Forces have been cut to the bone. Time and again, concerns have been raised over Army recruitment and retention. As of May this year, we have a total trained Army of 79,540 people, which is well below the 82,000 promised in the SDSR 2015. When Labour left office, the Army’s strength was 102,000.
Reports on Tuesday suggested a shortage of sailors to man the fleet had led to the early decommissioning of HMS “Torbay”. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say something about this. At present, there are 29,000 trained mariners and the number is falling. Can the Minister assure the House that we will have sufficient crew to man the first of our new aircraft carriers? Can he also say whether there is a clear strategy to deal with the lack of naval recruits? We have a Royal Navy of just 19 frigates and destroyers, six of which—the Type 45 destroyers—have propulsion problems. What progress has been made in putting this right? Key to our naval capacity is the publication of the naval shipbuilding strategy. It was due last spring; now it is midsummer. When can we expect to see it?
During Questions on
The RAF does not have any maritime patrol aircraft at a time when Russian submarine patrol activities between Scotland and Iceland have increased, and we will have no such cover until 2019. We have seven fighter squadrons, and two of these only exist by extending the life of the Typhoon until 2040, and reports in the Times last week claimed that our spy plane fleet would be cut from five to four because of a shortage of money. Can the Minister say whether or not this is true? Moreover, over the past year an increasing number of Russian aircraft have been intercepted close to our airspace and have been challenged by the RAF. I do not doubt the commitment of our Armed Forces, but there is a basic need to ensure that we have sufficient trained personnel, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt.
Turning to the SDSR 2015, it is but two years since this review and, frankly, it is unravelling with each passing day. Sources in the MoD admit that an appraisal of the SDSR is necessary in view of the military ambitions and the shortage of funding imposed by the Treasury. The 2015 SDSR demanded £9 billion in efficiency savings over the next decade. Added to this, the drop in the value of sterling following the Brexit vote makes a big difference because we buy so much of our equipment in dollars. Indeed, we have $29 billion-worth of orders with the Americans at the moment. Before the election, there were press reports that the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser, Mr Mark Sedwill, would be conducting a 60-day review of security. Can the Minister say anything about this review? Will it be made public? Is Mr Sedwill pressing for a new SDSR? RUSI, the respected think tank, has said that a mini review of the SDSR is a distinct possibility, helping to keep defence finances on a relatively stable footing. Is this likely?
NATO remains the cornerstone of our defence. In view of the failure of President Trump to commit the United States to maintain Article 5—he could not even bring himself to say that at the NATO summit—Britain’s role is ever more important. Article 5 makes it clear that an aggressive act against one NATO country is an attack on all and it is fundamental to deterrence. In my view, Article 5 is second only in importance to possessing our own independent nuclear deterrent, a deterrent that we on these Benches supported by voting to renew Trident in the other place. In order to deter, we must be able to threaten.
Britain is committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence. I do not propose to rehearse our arguments in the House about this over past months, but we are not spending anything like that in truth. Creative accounting by the Government has included civil servants’ pensions in that 2%. Labour’s shadow Defence Secretary, Nia Griffith, has made it clear that we believe in spending a genuine 2% of GDP on defence as a minimum. Will the Government join us in that commitment?
On links with the European Union post Brexit, one key question is what happens to our participation in the anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia, a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe. Britain is among the world’s biggest maritime trading nations—trade is our lifeblood. The anti-piracy operation is important to us. We host the HQ at Northwood and have consistently provided an operation commander for this operation. Will this continue? Can the Minister give us any information on that?
Finally, if we are to show how much we value the men and women of our Armed Forces, we have to look at their pay. Those who sign up to serve may be called on to put their lives on the line. They deserve much more than a 1% increase in pay.
We have to continue to look after our veterans, too: the men and women who have served this nation. I welcomed this week the launch of the Veterans’ Gateway as a first point of contact. These men and women, both serving and retired, have risked their lives to keep us free and we owe them a debt we can never repay. We must treat them with respect.
As this debate has shown, we are not alone on this side of the House in urging the Government to invest more in Britain’s defence so that our Armed Forces can continue to keep our country safe.
My Lords, I begin by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this extremely diverse but expert debate on a range of issues. I also thank many noble Lords from across the House and Members of the other place for the warm reception that I have received in my new role—indeed, as we have learnt today, it is not just me who has received those felicitations but the noble Lord, Lord Alli. On behalf of both of us, I thank noble Lords for their kind and warm wishes. I should start also with a small caveat. I am some 15 hours into an 18-and-a-half-hour fast, so if the voice seems somewhat hoarse, I seek your Lordships’ indulgence right from the outset.
I am delighted to have been given the great honour of being the new Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As we have already heard during the debate, among my responsibilities are those of Minister for the Commonwealth. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, so aptly put it, when I first came to your Lordships’ House, I said that it was full not only of wit but of wisdom and expertise. I often joke with friends, but with a degree of seriousness, “Forget Google, I have the House of Lords”. I shall certainly look towards the expertise across your Lordships’ House in the wide brief I must cover at this important juncture for not just the Government but the country as whole.
Before going any further, it would be remiss of me not to pay great tribute to my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns. Joyce is a mentor in many ways. She was the Chief Whip when I first joined the Government so quite clearly I learned the ropes from her. She did some incredible work on a whole range of important issues, whether climate change, human rights or, of course, tackling sexual violence in conflict. I was delighted—I confirm this to the noble Lord, Lord Collins—to be appointed as the Prime Minister’s special representative on combating and preventing sexual violence in conflict. I look forward to working with all across your Lordships’ House, in particular my noble friend Lady Hodgson, on this important portfolio.
It also gives me great pleasure to close this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. As we heard from noble Lords, this is a time of sombre reflection for our nation. I look towards the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is an inspiration to many of us, not just in the Chamber but across the country and to those of all faiths. I pay tribute to the personal example he has set at a time when the country needs to be brought together. I am sure that sentiment is shared by the whole House. He most poignantly reminded us that following recent tragic events we look towards ourselves and, as we go out on to the international stage, the values that bind us together.
When we talk of the issues of religious freedom and the rights of all, as the noble Lord, Lord Alli, so poignantly expressed, they are a reflection of our incredible country. We heard when talking about trade and the Commonwealth just now that perhaps India should play a bigger role. Is it not a great tribute to our country to look across your Lordships’ House, or the other place, at the Government and Opposition Benches, and the Benches of all parties? We can proudly say that over the last 50, 40, 30 and 20 years, and the last decade, we have seen people of all backgrounds, faiths and communities coming forward to represent their country. Not only am I honoured, I am greatly humbled to stand in front of your Lordships’ House today in my new role.
A great many points have been raised today. Of course, I will try my best in the next 20 minutes or so to cover what I can but I apologise from the start if I am unable to answer all the points raised by noble Lords. I will endeavour to write to them and copy responses to the Library.
Several noble Lords raised the issue of the roles of the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the noble Baroness Sheehan, and others asked whether the Government are looking to combine the two departments. The short answer is no. We are ensuring that at this important time there is greater co-ordination across Whitehall, with a greater focus on the important areas on trade and international development, but also showing the support of Britain on the world stage. That is why I am delighted that the Prime Minister created two joint Ministers of State. Alistair Burt will cover both the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development. He will be joined in that respect by the Minister for Africa, who will cover that brief in both departments—my honourable friend Rory Stewart.
Equally, I am delighted that my noble friends Lord Bates and Lord Howe will work with me on this important agenda as we take Britain forward at a crucial time on Brexit negotiations. Of course, it is right that my noble friend Lord Price also joins us—his is an important department as we build new relationships. As we already heard in the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, my noble friend Lord Bates regrets that he is not here today but he is doing important work for DfID on behalf of the Government. Today, he is in Uganda for a solidarity summit for refugees.
I assure noble Lords that we will use our status as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and our leading role in other multilateral institutions, together with our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on international development, to promote peace, stability and prosperity around the world. We believe that our departure from the European Union gives us the opportunity to reset the UK’s role in the world. The Government are determined to draw on all our considerable assets—our diplomatic network, our strategic and military alliances, our trading ties, our universities, our cultural heritage, our democratic institutions, and, as we have heard from the House today, our communities—to build a truly global Britain. That means reinforcing our presence and relationships in key capitals—including in Europe. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Bilimoria, among others, that that means reinvigorating our role in multilateral institutions such as the UN, the WTO and the Commonwealth, while continuing to look at a newly defined but lasting relationship with our European Union partners.
That is why, in this Session of Parliament, the Department for International Trade will introduce a trade Bill to establish the legislative framework for the UK’s future trade policy outside the EU. The Department for International Trade will renew the terms of our membership of the WTO, aiming for a smooth transition that fully meets existing obligations and avoids disruption to our trading relationships. We will seek a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, while preparing the ground for our new independent trading relationships around the world.
This Government believe that free and open trade in a liberal, rules-based system is vital for reducing poverty and sharing prosperity around the world. Encouraging trade and inward investment is a vital part of building a domestic economy that works for everyone, creating jobs and transforming local communities and industry. The UK is uniquely well placed to attract investment, and we are seeing results. In my previous role I signed a new air agreement with India, and others will follow.
Turning to some of the specific points that were raised in this area, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that our exit from the European Union will be discussed in greater detail next week. The public want the Government to provide certainty and stability and to get on with the immediate job. The first round of talks earlier this week was constructive, laying solid foundations for the discussions to come. As noble Lords will be aware, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is in Brussels this evening. There is a long road ahead but the destination is clear: a deep and special partnership, enabling prosperity for both the UK and the European Union, allowing us to protect our shared European values. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, among others, says about our approach to these discussions. I am sure there will be much to be had from the expertise in your Lordships’ House.
Turning to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford, first, I thank him for his warm welcome for the international expert, Crawford Falconer, on his appointment as Chief Trade Negotiation Adviser and Second Permanent Secretary at the Department for International Trade. My noble friend spoke of both the agreement we will reach with the European Union on exit and the vast trading opportunities that lie beyond Europe. As set out by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, we want to achieve the greatest possible tariff- and barrier-free trade with our European neighbours, and to be able to negotiate our own trade agreements with partners across the world.
The transitional arrangements were raised by the noble Lords, Lord Purvis, Lord Anderson and Lord Bilimoria, among others. I assure the noble Lords that our exit from the European Union will be discussed next week, as I said. We want to minimise disruption as we leave the European Union and, as much as possible, give certainty to citizens in both the European Union and the UK, as well as businesses, and it is one of the Government’s key principles for the upcoming negotiations. We want to avoid any cliff edges as we move from our current relationship to a future partnership, where people and businesses benefit from implementation periods to adjust to new arrangements in a smooth and orderly way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, spoke of the need to build a positive relationship with Europe and to maintain a positive and respectful rhetoric. The tone, not just the content, is important in discussions. I hear what the noble Baroness says. In this regard, I assure her that we are approaching discussions constructively and respectfully and are confident that we can achieve outcomes that work in the interests of both sides.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to the role of Parliament in reviewing trade deals. The Government are determined to secure the best trade opportunities and we will ensure that Parliament has a vital role to play in the scrutiny of the treaties, as it always does.
“We want to use our tools and privileged position in international affairs to continue to work with the EU on foreign policy security and defence”.
Defining the specifics of our future foreign and security policy relationship with the EU, including with the External Action Service, will be an important consideration as we leave. I stress again that the UK is seeking a deep and special security partnership with the EU, in the interests of not just the UK but the remaining members of the European Union.
The issue of international development was raised by many noble Lords, who spoke very passionately and from personal experience. I know of the personal commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for example, in this respect. I acknowledge and warmly welcome the wide support we received for the Government’s continued commitment—and the Prime Minister’s personal commitment—to promote stability and economic opportunity around the world. That is why we remain committed on the 0.7% of our national income, and absolutely committed to determining that this money is spent in the most effective way. Let me assure noble Lords of that—I include within them the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, who raised various and very important issues on this agenda. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, asked some specific questions on the health partnerships, which we have continued to support. Perhaps I may write to him in that regard. Let me assure all noble Lords that this remains a priority.
The noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, spoke about greater integration of development spending and diplomatic defence. DfID will continue to be a primary channel of UK overseas development assistance but, to respond to the changing world, more aid will be administered by other government departments, drawing on their complimentary skills. This has already begun: in 2015, other departments accounted for 19.5% of ODA spending, compared with 13.8% in 2014. The noble Lords, Lord Anderson, Lord Collins and Lord Bruce, talked of changing the rules of the ODA. The UK has driven and will continue to drive reform of the official aid rules. In an ever changing world, it is right to push for more changes to ensure that the aid rules remain relevant, credible and appropriate for today’s needs. I assure noble Lords that we are working closely with members of the Development Assistance Committee—by definition, a group of like-minded countries. As one of only two members of the G7 to meet the 0.7% ODA target, the UK is in a strong position to drive reform. In 2016, the DAC agreed to consider future reforms to the ODA system so that it remains relevant and credible.
The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Anderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, raised issues about consultation. I can assure them that the Government will certainly consult with key civil society organisations as we develop our plans for reform. We will be interested to hear what changes our NGO partners believe would be beneficial in delivering the SDGs.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, referred to how money is being spent, particularly humanitarian aid to Iraq. On the current provision of aid to Mosul, we are clear that the protection of civilians must remain a top priority. The UK Government continue to be at the forefront of efforts supporting the Government of Iraq and the UN-supported humanitarian response. But as we saw only today, with the tragedy of the mosque being attacked and destroyed by Daesh forces, the challenges remain immense.
On Syria, there were specific questions about how much was raised. Donors exceeded their pledge at the 2016 conference, having allocated $8 billion. I can share with your Lordships the fact that by February 2017, $6.2 billion of this had been delivered. The next tracking report is due in July, when we will be able to report on delivery against pledges at the Brussels conference.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, talked about the trade approach with countries that have international obligations linked to Sudan. I assure him that the UK has a strong history of protecting human rights. We will of course encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations and work with those determined to reform. As the Minister responsible for human rights at the FCO, I certainly look forward to working with him and others on ensuring that the issues which need to be raised can be put on the table. Where we need to have those candid discussions with particular countries that are recipients of aid, yes, we want to help their development but at the same time, we need to ensure that their governance models are reflective of the democracies that they aspire to be. In relation to Sudan I assure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that the UK will continue to be clear on where we have fundamental disagreements. But we believe that maintaining dialogue with Sudan is important, to improve co-operation in areas where we have shared interests and to press our case where we disagree.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, also raised the question of EPAs. Around 80 countries currently benefit from preferences to the UK market under the EU scheme. Trade preferences boost economic growth and reduce poverty by helping to create jobs and by increasing growth. As we leave the EU, we will establish a UK trade preference scheme to minimise disruption to our trading relationships with developing nations. That includes replicating EU preferential arrangements to ensure continuity in our trade and investment relationships with third countries. Details of the UK’s future trade preference policy will be set out in Parliament.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised the question of the family planning summit. On safe abortion, I assure the noble Baroness that the US and the UK are not like-minded. Research shows that restricting access to abortion services does not make abortions less common; it only increases the risk. The UK will continue to show global health leadership by promoting and supporting comprehensive, evidence-based sexual and reproductive health and rights, including through our global family planning summit in July. We will continue to work with all our partners to accelerate progress in this respect.
To protect our people and our country, we will continue to invest in our Armed Forces. My noble friend Lord Howe very eloquently set out the detail about how we will progress. We will invest in the new generation of nuclear-armed submarines. We estimate that the cost equates to just 20p in every £100 of annual government spending over the next 35 years. I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, and other noble Lords for the broad support that we receive for the continued commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence and 20% of the budget on equipment and research. I assure noble Lords that we will keep our people safe by tackling the threat of terrorism at source. That is why we will continue to play a leading role in international military action to tackle Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, asked about Royal Marine numbers. I assure him that we continue to have the appropriate number of front-line Royal Marines to achieve all tasking, and we will ensure that the Royal Marines are properly trained and equipped to perform the vital task that we ask of them. The noble Lord asked a series of questions, and I am sure my noble friend Lord Howe noted them and will write to him accordingly.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and my noble friend Lord Sterling asked about the SDSR. The Government conducted a comprehensive strategic defence and security review in 2015. The evolving security situation means that we must constantly review the best way to keep Britain safe. That is why spending is continuously monitored. This approach helps to ensure that the £178 billion of equipment planned will deliver the cutting-edge ships, aircraft and armoured vehicles that our military needs now and in future.
The noble Lord, Lord West, asked a series of questions about defence, including the defence of our waters. Maritime security remains a priority. The Ministry of Defence continues to contribute to Her Majesty’s Government’s efforts in protecting the UK’s territorial waters by providing a multilayered capability to deter incursions into territorial waters.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, asked about the nuclear deterrent. I believe he endorsed it, but he asked whether it costs too much. The cost of the Trident programme is around 6% of the total defence spend.
The noble Lord, Lord West, raised the issue of the lack of weapons on ships. I assure him that all Royal Navy ships are equipped with weapons appropriate to their operational tasking. As he will know, the Royal Navy continually reviews the capabilities required to deliver that tasking.
One has operational tasking for something, but we know that what happens is that you end up doing something else, particularly if you are globally deployed. That was my point about not having that capability. Having been deployed and suddenly being somewhere, I know that if you do not have the weapons, you get sunk and your people get killed. That was the point I was making. It seems to me to be a risk.
Again, the noble Lord speaks from great experience. He might be quoting some sort of history lesson here, but thankfully we leave those for Questions. We have noted his concern, and his experience is vital for the debates and consideration. I am sure my noble friend Lord Howe will reply to him accordingly.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of the national shipbuilding strategy, which will be published in the near future, I understand. He asked a question about manpower for the new “Queen Elizabeth” carrier, as did the noble Lord, Lord Touhig. That has been allocated, and we believe it is sufficient. The Aircraft Carrier Alliance is in the process of finalising arrangements for the “Queen Elizabeth” carrier to commence sea trials. This is the latest stage of trials and commissioning of the ship, as well as technical preparations. As the noble Lord will know better than most, a series of factors need to be considered, not least the state of tides and weather, which need to be favourable for the ship to actually exit dock.
My noble friend Lord Balfe asked about continued defence co-operation with the EU after we leave. I assure my noble friend that the UK is a global player and that we recognise that we need to remain engaged in the world, including in central European and foreign and security policy arrangements after we leave the EU. Discussions will continue to that effect.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, raised the impact of the fall of sterling on defence spending. The MoD centrally manages the impacts of variations on foreign exchange rates as part of its routine financial management, and arrangements are in place to limit the impact of the current foreign exchange position for several years. As someone who spent many years in the City, I assure him that exchange rate fluctuations cause a few people, not just those in defence, to miss a heartbeat now and again. It is about how you can mitigate that risk.
The noble and gallant Lord, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, and others also raised the issues of recruitment, retention and training for our brave service men and women. My noble friend referred earlier to the fact that we are modernising our employment offer, introducing a Bill to make it easier for our regulars to work more flexibly. Equally, as the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, said, this is also about the veterans who have already served their country. I am pleased to inform him that proposals are under consideration. As he knows, the MoD plays a key role in co-ordinating support and services for veterans in partnership with other government departments. We believe that the current approach is fit for purpose and delivers effectively and appropriately. However, a new service, the Veterans’ Gateway, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, just acknowledged, was formally launched on
The noble Lord, Lord West, also raised a number of points about the size of the Navy. In the interests of time, again, I am sure my noble friend will write to him.
It seems appropriate that in the last few minutes I come to my own department, foreign affairs. I assure all noble Lords that I look forward to working with noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House as we move forward on this important agenda. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised the issue of the US state visit, which was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary stated yesterday, an invitation has been extended to President Trump and has been accepted. There are no changes to the visit, but it was not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech as the dates have not yet been fixed.
The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Sharkey, raised important issues about Cyprus. The UK continues to encourage all sides to engage in positive and flexible discussions on all the issues relating to the settlement, urging focus on practical solutions that protect the rights and security of both communities in a future unified Cyprus. We welcome the decision of the parties to reconvene the conference on Cyprus on
Key aspects of the work of the Foreign Office relate to promoting peace, security and stability. Various questions were raised about the Gulf Cooperation Council and the situation with Qatar. I assure all noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Hannay, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has spoken to the leaders in the Gulf to urge unity and de-escalation. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has also reiterated this key message to his counterparts in the region.
We encourage Qatar to engage seriously with the substance of their neighbours’ concerns, and we encourage its neighbours to relax the restrictions imposed on it. I assure noble Lords that the UK and the US remain in close contact as we work together with international partners, including key European partners such as the French, to calm further tensions in the region.
On the point that was raised by my noble friend Lord Suri and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about sanctions and future regimes, we will introduce a sanctions Bill to provide a legislative framework for the UK to continue to meet its international obligations and use sanctions after the UK’s departure from the EU. We will also support the reform of international systems, including the UN.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, talked of Syria and the Assad regime. It remains the Government’s consistent view that it is the Assad regime’s military campaign that has driven the conflict and, as far as we are concerned, there can be only a transition away from the Assad regime to a new and more inclusive Government who can unite all sides and bring peace to Syria. That remains the UK Government’s objective.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked specific questions about Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Again, in the interests of time, I will write to her and share with noble Lords the detail on that. Likewise, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked specific questions about Sudan, as did the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and I will write to them as well.
I have two or three final points, if I may seek noble Lords’ indulgence. First, on the important issue of security and combating terrorism, extremism is a global scourge and requires an international response. I assure noble Lords that we continue to work with partners to eradicate it and, yes, we will look at how we can further work with our European partners as we leave the EU. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, raised this issue, among others, and my noble friend Lord Suri raised the issue of cybersecurity. Quite appropriately, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about how hearts and minds must be won in this respect. As this is a portfolio that I shall be looking after at the Foreign Office, I will certainly be looking to noble Lords across the House on how we can work this important agenda because it needs a consistent, consolidated and collaborative effort across the board.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, as always, spoke passionately about freedom of religion around the world. Again, I am honoured to be given that portfolio as part of the FCO team. Freedom of religion is a universal human right, and we will work in collaboration with DfID to ensure that we can promote and protect the right to freedom of religion and belief internationally. DfID works closely with the FCO to raise concerns about freedom of religion. I assure the noble Lord that we are safeguarding and consistently raise the important issue of the persecution in certain parts of the world of Christian minorities, Yazidis and other minorities. He mentioned the Ahmadiyya community, which of course is close to my heart. We need to ensure that the British Government stand up for the rights of all minorities, no matter where they are in the world. In the discussions that we have around the world, that means having those sometimes candid discussions to ensure that those protections can be afforded. I look forward to working with the noble Lord and others on that important area.
Today has been a rare day when we saw agreement between my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge. It is one of those important days of collaboration, and long may that last. He rightly raised concerns around Hezbollah and other groups whose political and military wings are not limited in what they do. I am sure he will appreciate that the Government consistently review the situation with all such groups. If there are concerns that need to be raised directly with me, I am of course available. I welcome the contribution that my noble friend made, as did other noble Lords, about the important and continuing role of DfID.
The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Hylton, talked about refugees and continuing aid. As the House will know, the Government remain committed to supporting the countries that border Syria. In particular, we have committed £423 million bilaterally to Jordan, for example, to support humanitarian aid and also, importantly, we invest in education and job opportunities for Syrian refugees. Again, I assure the noble Lord that we will be reaching out to vulnerable people across the country, particularly Christian minorities, who have suffered and are suffering persecution. UK funding is distributed on the basis of need to ensure that civilians are not discriminated against.
The issue of modern slavery was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and I welcome her contribution. As she noted, this, too, was mentioned in the gracious Speech. The Prime Minister has made modern slavery a top foreign policy priority. It is another portfolio responsibility that I carry and I look forward to hearing from her on the specific issue of supply chains that she raised. I would welcome working collaboratively with her on the important modern slavery agenda.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of climate change. I assure him and others that the Government continue to believe that the Paris agreement is the basis for a global framework to progress forward. Of course we regret the position of the United States on this.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, that I have not forgotten him. Certain things carry forward from one portfolio to the next. As I am a former Aviation Minister, it is appropriate that an aviation issue carries forward. The Ascension Island Government have been working with employing organisations on the island and we have also discussed options for interim air services to Ascension. I assure the noble Lord that the runway is not closed; part of it remains open to small aircraft, as he mentioned in his contribution. We of course understand the frustration caused by the suspension of regular flights, but I assure him that we are working to find alternative access arrangements.
I am very conscious of time, and I see that my noble friend Lady Goldie is scribbling a note. However, I cannot conclude my remarks without mentioning the Commonwealth—even after I said that my voice might pack up. I have left this important issue until the end, and it really is the last issue. I pay tribute to all noble Lords who raised this important issue, including my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Lord, Lord Luce. Of course I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Howell. I will be working very closely with him. He has wide experience in this field and does not yet know that we have a meeting with him and the Royal Commonwealth Society in early July. I look forward to that. We are hosting an important summit next year and I look forward to working with all noble Lords across the piece to ensure that we put this on the agenda.
Finally, on the Commonwealth agenda, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, that it is a great responsibility, and LGBT rights are an important item on the agenda. Just today I signed off on a particular issue on the Human Rights Council where we ensured that the UK insisted on calling a vote on a resolution on the protection of the family because we believed that, as it stood, it did not recognise that there are many diverse forms of family. I look forward to working with the noble Lord and others on this important agenda.
I thank noble Lords for their indulgence during my closing remarks. I have never usurped so much time, but there was a wide range of issues to cover on a global stage, involving a variety of important departments. I say earnestly and most sincerely that I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate. I thank in particular the Front Benches and of course my noble friend Lord Howe. He is a constant source of support and mentoring for many of us who have joined the Front Bench. He is very distinguished in his contributions and I assure noble Lords that his wise counsel will be something that I will rely on. Of course, I will be assisted in this important brief by my noble friend Lady Goldie. As we have seen, she does her job very efficiently and effectively—and long may that continue.
Debate adjourned until Monday 26 June.
House adjourned at 6.48 pm.