Food Insecurity in Developing Countries due to Blockade of Ukrainian Ports - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:55 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Balfe Lord Balfe Conservative 1:55 pm, 21st July 2022

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. He is always well worth listening to and has deep concern for not only this issue but many others that I also have concern for.

I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham to our ranks. I am sure we will hear much more from him. On the basis of his maiden speech, I certainly hope so, because I think we will all benefit from his wisdom.

I wish to add a bit of free thinking to this debate, as is my wont. I always used to preface speeches to schools by saying, “Nothing I say should be taken to represent in any way the party that I supposedly belong to”—and I said that while in both of the parties that I was a member of. Frankly, we are engaged in a huge amount of hypocrisy. We have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, about room in the Budget for £30 billion in tax cuts. We have heard about the need for Britain to economise, and that we have to cut £5 billion from our aid budget. We have also heard of the need for us to stand up to dictators and send £4 billion-worth of military equipment to Ukraine. This is the economics of the madhouse.

In my view, we have to start by understanding the world that we are currently living in—and I am not sure we do. It has changed a lot. It is fine to talk about the veto in the United Nations; the United States used it for 40 years to defend itself over Chile, Nicaragua and invading the British territory of Grenada. The UN Security Council has been a valuable organisation purely because it is a place where people can sit down and talk. It has never actually managed much but it has achieved a certain level of understanding, and part of that understanding is that we can all make contributions.

I shall talk about one very obvious contribution: there is a great shortage of grain in the world, but if you look at the amount of grain that we stuff into animals so that we can have a steak for our lunch, you realise that we could have a bit of rebalancing. You do not have to become a mad vegan to realise that the extent of food poverty is prompted by some of the practices that we in the West defend in the name of freedom but which actually lead to people going hungry in much of the world.

We have great difficulty in understanding the Russians. The Russian mind is quite different from ours. They are not a western European nation. They are a Christian nation but they have an odd way of looking at the world, part of which is not dissimilar from that of the United States: first, they believe that they are God’s given people; secondly, they believe that they have the right to do things that smaller countries would not even contemplate; and, thirdly, we have to face the fact that the Russian people are very largely behind Putin, and we should not imagine that they are not.

I welcome the talks that are taking place between President Erdoğan, President Putin, the leader of Iran and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. All that I would point out is that those talks contain only one European voice from our side, and that is the Secretary-General, who is of course Portuguese. We have abandoned the field of diplomacy to an alarming extent. President Macron tried to keep the dialogue open, but he has more or less had to give up in the face of everything.

Looking at the situation, I see that we have been extraordinarily provocative. We did not try to get the Minsk agreements enforced; we let them bobble on, unenforced for years, and failed to realise the anger that was building up in Russia where it was seen as hypocrisy. Then the West—as a great generic term—decided that they would destabilise Ukraine by getting rid of the Yanukovych Government. That Government were no better than the Kuchma Government or the Poroshenko Government, but they did happen to represent both ends of the country. The moment they were overthrown, the Russians effectively gave up on any hope of getting any sense. We may not like it, but they regard Ukraine as being their near abroad with the same ferocity that the Americans regard Canada or Mexico as being their near abroad, and there is a limit they will not go beyond. That is the problem that we face at the moment.

The second problem we face is that, if we are successful in the sanctions, we will point Russia away from Europe. Maybe people have not fully understood that there are already two major gas pipelines running from Russia into China. There is a huge demand for resources in China, India and Pakistan. Russia can supply those resources; it has, in the Russian part of the Arctic, a huge amount of mineral wealth that it can and will deploy. If the British and other Governments persist in such foolishness as trying to destroy the Arctic Council, in the end they will find that there is a new Arctic council. Russia, which controls the greater part of the Arctic, will join with China, which, God help us, has been admitted to the Arctic Council on the basis that it is a near-Arctic country. Remember that China, that near-Arctic country, is slightly further away from the Arctic than we are from north Africa, but nonetheless it is there.

If we do not sit down and try to work out what the problems are, we face the danger of getting ourselves into a position where we are compounding our problems for the future. There will be no gas in Russia to come back to Germany; it will all be going to China and to the south, and to those emerging countries where an emerging middle class is demanding the standards that our middle class command.

Let me wind up this chamber of horrors by saying that we have to get ourselves into a position where we are talking to other European countries. It is quite possible—I think of the Scandinavian countries—to have good and principled foreign policy without doing what we are doing now. The Ukrainians will fight as long as we pump equipment in there; as long as we send arms to Ukraine, they will fire them. But one day we will go one stage too far and supply something that is just a bit too technologically advanced, and someone in Ukraine will just pop it over the border into Russia, and things will escalate from there.

While we cannot do much about it, I ask the Minister to use his influence to try to dial down the tension and stop the arms going into Ukraine, because while they go in there they will be used to destroy the country. The people of Ukraine are the losers in this, not the winners; they are going to inherit a devastated state, which will be of no value to anyone and be a lasting rebuttal of our policies. I ask us to stand back and cool down. I hope we will not have to come back here in the middle of August because things have gone desperately wrong and the war has escalated to an end that we would not wish.