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Queen’s Speech - Debate (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:23 pm on 22nd June 2017.

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Photo of The Earl of Home The Earl of Home Conservative 3:23 pm, 22nd June 2017

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 10 June, Michael Binyon described some of the Omani initiatives. They include the encouragement of women to get together to talk about religious affairs and the setting-up of call centres to give advice to young Omanis on religious affairs. He further pointed out that, to date, no Omanis are known to have joined Isis. Oman must therefore be doing a lot that is right to educate its population that terrorism is not the answer to the problems of the area. Perhaps the Omanis could help in this respect, but sadly His Majesty Sultan Qaboos is not well and it is unlikely that Oman will take an initiative at this stage. A potentially helpful use of the good will that exists between the UK and the GCC would be to assist other countries to do more of what Oman is doing. We must not try to impose, even if we could, but we could help in the background.

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.