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 2:27 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 2:27 pm, 21st July 2022

My Lords, follow that. The noble Baroness is one of our most interesting and provocative Members and in some of her historical interpretations, Karl Marx would be proud of her. Nevertheless, she made some very pertinent points about famine and there were things of which we should take note.

I begin, as others have done, by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate, as we prepare to rise for the Summer Recess, on this very important topic, and for expounding it brilliantly in his opening speech in such a way that we do not need to repeat the statistics he gave, which were chilling. This subject is chilling. The brutality and barbarity of Russia in Ukraine is something that Europe has not seen since the Second World War—on a smaller scale, yes, in Bosnia, but not on a large scale since the Second World War.

It is very good that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham has made his maiden speech. We welcome him to the House and we hope there will be many more contributions, particularly on those subjects on which Bishops, frankly, should hold forth in this House. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans is not present, and very sorry that my noble friend Lord Hannan is not present. I just wonder if the Whips will consider putting out a little note to the effect that in short debates, we really should all be here for the whole debate, because it is difficult if one wants to respond to something in a critical way if the person to whom one wishes to respond is not present. I hope that when we come back it will be a rule that if a debate is four hours or less, other than for an urgent call of nature one should be in one’s place throughout.

This is a terrible situation we are facing and it is not sufficient, as my noble friend Lord Hannan did, to preach—most eloquently—the doctrine of trade. Of course, trade is the lifeblood of nations and it is very important that trade should be encouraged in every way possible and should be as free as possible, but in a time of war, that is not always possible. I know, as one brought up in the Second World War, when we were indeed urged by our great wartime leader to, “Dig for Victory”, that it was important to have a degree of self-sufficiency. I think we have to recognise that by taking an extreme line on anything, we frequently defeat our own arguments.

We are rising for the Summer Recess and I want to concentrate on something that is more domestic, although very much related to what we are saying. I begin by saying what a joy it was to see for a few minutes in our midst the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. There is no one who has served our constitution better than the noble Lord, or been a better historian of modern Britain. I long for the day when he is able to come back, much recovered from his ill-health, and contribute to our debates as I know he has done to the Constitution Committee throughout the pandemic and beyond.

Having mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, I want to talk about the government of our country. We do not have control internationally, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, made some very pertinent comments about the United Nations. What we do have is an absolute duty, at a time like this, to be fully present on the international scene.

I am one of those, and I have mentioned it before in your Lordships’ House, who deplores the fact that at the moment we are in something of a vacuum. We know the Prime Minister is going—we think it is going to be on 4 or 5 September—but throughout August, which is a very difficult month historically, we are not going to have a fully functioning Government with Ministers who know they are in office for the foreseeable future. The First World War began in August; the Second World War began on 3 September, and August was the build-up month. Only last year we were summoned back in August over the crisis in Afghanistan. I believe that if it had been handled better, we might not have a war in Ukraine, because if the West had demonstrated proper resolution at that time, led by the greatest nation in the West, the United States, I do not think Putin would have tried it on. I cannot prove that—nor can anybody else—but I think it highly likely that the history of the last 12 months would have been noticeably and significantly different.

It is very important that a country not be left without a fully functioning Government for six weeks. The problem at the moment is that we are in that position, as Parliament rises. If there is a need for a recall, how is that managed? I do not know. It is very wrong—and I choose my words deliberately—that a great political party should so organise its business that a mere 160,000 people and the need to consult them leads to a suspension of fully effective government for six weeks. I hope that my party will look at this again. If you are choosing a Leader of the Opposition, it is a more relaxed exercise. If you are choosing the Head of Government—the Prime Minister—well, I am one of those who believes that it should take place at the other end of the Corridor, in the other place.

Had that been the case, a new Prime Minister would have chosen today, and would have been able to move into Downing Street tomorrow. I think it is a great missed opportunity, because the world is a dangerous and, in many ways, fragile place. As a great country—and we are a great country—with international responsibilities, membership of the G20 and G7 and a permanent seat at the United Nations, we should not put ourselves in the position where we cannot take great decisions at times like this. I am sorry to have to say this, as I am very proud to be a Conservative—or have been. I have been a member of the Conservative Party for almost 70 years, I fought my first general election as long ago as 1964 and I have been in Parliament for 52 years. I have devoted much of my life to the Conservative Party and to Parliament, and I find it very painful to have to say these things. But they have to be said, because we must not put ourselves into a similar position ever again. Indeed, that applies to all political parties: it is important that the Official Opposition—another great political party—learns from the mistakes it made, for instance, over the manner in which Mr Corbyn became its leader.

However, to go back to where we began: we are in a great crisis. We could be engulfed with famine of a sort that we have not seen before in parts of Africa. We could see the war in Ukraine escalate, and we must be very careful indeed about how we handle that because, as I said in the first debate we had on Ukraine,

“There is no point in rattling sabres if all you have are scabbards.”—[Official Report, 25/2/22; col. 495.]

We must make sure that we have proper defences, both to give them and for ourselves. All these things need to be addressed and, when we come back in September, I hope that we will begin addressing them anew.