UK Foreign Policy in a Shifting World Order (International Relations Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:56 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Chartres Lord Chartres Crossbench 8:56 pm, 21st May 2019

My Lords, it is indeed an excellent report, which analyses the reasons why the world order is shifting. However, behind the turbulence, the growth of great powers and the decline of others, two great factors have led to profound shifts in human history: climate change and human migration. At the beginning of the 19th century, Europe had 20% of the world’s population; at the same time Africa had 11%. Now it is about 10%—of a much larger number—for Europe; Africa is already 15% and because of the demographic profile it is quite likely to have 25% of the world’s population by the middle of this century. As Europe is, in some of its parts, hardly reproducing itself while there are millions of talented, underemployed young people in neighbouring regions, we are not even at the end of the beginning of migration pressures. This is a huge challenge.

One thing the UK can be most proud of is our determination to maintain a really substantial overseas aid budget. Focusing it more sharply, with our European allies—many of whom have made the same analysis and are looking in the same direction—on something like an ambitious Marshall plan for Africa makes ethical, economic and political good sense in present circumstances. I paid a very instructive visit to Uganda last year as a trustee of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, supported by the Department for International Development and using the Commonwealth network, of which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, is such a champion and advocate.

The Commonwealth network has been used to confront challenges in fields such as, in our case, eye health in India, the Pacific, the Caribbean and especially Africa. As a result, the achievements have been astonishing. In Uganda, for example, the scourge of blindness caused by trachoma has been largely eliminated as a result of this UK and Commonwealth-supported initiative. In Uganda it is very obvious that the huge Chinese investment in the country, especially in its infrastructure, is enormous and growing. It is also clear that the dividends for local workers are very limited, since even in road building the Chinese imported their own labour. The Department for International Development has more than 40 staff members in the country, but to echo one of the points made in the report, it was far from obvious that there was real integration in the work of the various UK agencies in the country under the leadership of the high commission.

It was also very disappointing from the point of view of our soft power influence that the hugely successful programme to identify and encourage cohorts of Queen’s Young Leaders, a programme that now embraces every one of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth, received so little recognition and follow-up from the high commission. We were able to convene a hugely impressive Ugandan cohort of young entrepreneurs and social activists: their very positive experience of their UK programme makes them potential bridge builders, but underexploited ones.

Like my noble friend Lord Alton, I too was disappointed that one aspect of the shifting world order that has followed the fading of our unipolar moment was largely omitted from the Select Committee’s report—that is, of course, the growing salience of religious networks and convictions. The various great wisdom traditions and religions of the world have underexploited potential in the work of peace building, just as they are at the same time certainly, and often for ill, at the very centre of intrastate conflicts, especially those that are about the identity of threatened groups. Respect for international law and treaty commitments must, of course, be a key foreign policy objective—that should be beyond debate—but I want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, and say that as we invest in supporting that aspiration, it is extremely important that we equip ourselves to be in dialogue with networks that could possibly be of use to us. We must learn the humility, the literacy and the knowledge that will equip us to participate as equals in dialogue—such a participation as our recent behaviour has put in doubt. In all, this is a very good basis for a serious discussion about our future foreign policy objectives. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his team.