– in the House of Lords at 4:36 pm on 19th January 2023.
Moved by Baroness Verma
To move that this House takes note of the importance of the relationship between the United Kingdom and India and the case for strengthening future collaboration.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who are contributing to this important and timely debate today. The number of noble Lords speaking demonstrates the importance that is placed on our relationship with India.
As the UK and India continue the important work of negotiations on the free trade agreement, there is of course far more to the relationship between the two countries than the trade deal. I have spent well over two decades engaging with business organisations and businesses in India, and I refer to my interests in the register. I have led UK business delegations to India, engaging with progressive states that have changed, and continue to change, India, not just domestically but internationally, as India’s growth story provides opportunities for new markets. Those who know India know that each state is different, with different languages, food styles and cultures, and each with a unique place in India’s history. This makes India an incredibly diverse and interesting country.
We have a British Indian diaspora in the UK of 1.6 million. Interestingly enough, I was listening to the previous debate about previous generations coming to the UK and thought that it is on great shoulders that the rest of us have made our place in the UK. The Prime Minister of India, Prime Minister Modi, refers to the diaspora as the living bridge between the UK and India. Families like mine, which have been present in the UK since before World War II, have remained connected with family and friends in India. I believe that this huge resource has been underused in connectivity and in gaining a wider understanding of the different nuances of engagement with India.
India celebrated 75 years of independence last year. It has one of the largest growing global economies, with an increasingly growing affluent and better-educated middle class. With a wider population nearly 1.4 billion strong, it has among the world’s largest population of under-35s.
I want to focus on relationship building rather than solely on the FTA, which, post Brexit, is critical for the UK. We have huge opportunities in front of us as a country. I am sure other noble Lords will speak about student visas and the importance of enabling businesses from India to have ease in sending their senior management employees to the UK when they are investing in our country. We have real opportunities to build on current relationships and forge much stronger and closer collaborations.
Sharing a stronger future is the narrative that I and like-minded people want to hear. Next week, I leave for India to finalise a conference that I am organising in bringing women-led businesses from the UK, India and Uganda together in Delhi. The conference will be both in person and virtual. There I will be meeting with businesses about electric vehicles produced in Bangalore. Our place in the world makes us a great convening power; we can not only engage directly with the emerging economies but, through our relationships, ensure wider partnerships.
I will also have the opportunity to meet businesses looking to diversify abroad. We in the UK are among the most trusted and safest places for doing business. We must ensure that we are as welcoming and accommodating as possible, and that we showcase our Midlands and northern regions better, so that investment is made evenly across our country. I know that we have many champions for the regions, particularly in this House. They must be included in the strategic partnership planning necessary to attract not just new business from India but the resources needed to provide skills development for those regions as economies change.
I want to see stronger partnerships in defence, cyber and AI development, along with stronger partnerships in the creative industries, pharma and life sciences. As we grow the green economy, of course, we will develop our partnerships in the sustainable sectors. There are so many current and new opportunities in working collaboratively there.
As chancellor of the University of Roehampton, I know that the university is looking hard at greater, wider and deeper engagement with India, as are many universities. I hope that we will work equally hard at engaging with top-level universities in India for our students to spend time there and build new friendships. It is so important to look at stronger collaborative work on research and development in both countries, growing our pool to include working collectively with our friends in developing nations. Some of India’s leading universities have a strong presence from developing economies from the south. Education has always been a strong and positive route to building and growing our influence, and we should better explore it.
We are known for our soft power but we need to ensure that it remains at the heart of all we do. The world is moving at pace. New relationships are being developed, as are the challenges. It is critical that we remain at the centre of these relationships, and here I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider my suggestion, which I have mentioned to him in private.
In 2010, the Government appointed trade envoys to a number of countries important to us on a range of fronts. I must congratulate the Prime Minister of the time on doing so. I have seen the incredibly important work that the envoys carry out. It is of course about boosting trade opportunities but, equally important, it ensures regular engagement and influence, and builds on our shared values and friendship. I have consistently suggested that there is an important need to have not one but possibly three or four trade envoys to India, given the size of the country. It is so important to have continual engagement. We talk a lot about strategic partnerships and having envoys would surely only enhance them. I urge my noble friend the Minister to talk to the Prime Minister about these important roles. It could be a lost opportunity, and one we can ill afford to miss.
I visited India when I was 16. Although I was born in India, I came to the UK when I was just under one. Returning in 1976 as a 16 year-old, I was quite surprised at what I found. But over the years, as a regular visitor to India, I have seen enormous change taking place. The infrastructure projects, such as the highways and the metro, and renewable energy projects are just some of the areas that have transformed India. There is so much potential still, as states look at ways to engage inward investment, much of it through online portals.
Can my noble friend the Minister say what work is being done with his department and the Department for International Trade to see what opportunities there are for British businesses and to look at how different states operate? What assistance and support is available and how can collaboration be found? A quick example for me is a recent visit by the Telangana state politicians, who came with businesses. They engaged with us and provided information on the ease of doing business there through their business portals. We are keen to follow up, but how do we ensure that these follow-ups with interested parties progress further?
With the support of the 1928 Institute, the first British-Indian think tank, I suggested to colleagues across both Houses that we set up an all-party parliamentary group on UK-India trade and investment so that we could focus on trade and investment opportunities in both countries and feed in with data and analysis of the impacts of decisions and policy thinking around engagement. I am pleased to say that we have a very strong group with cross-party representation. With the 1928 Institute providing the secretariat, we have regular engagement with our friends at the Indian high commission.
We believe that the group will provide a strong Parliament-wide link that will not just strengthen political engagement and understanding but will build on what will become the free trade agreement for us to make this century one of strong foundations, strong collaborations and new partnerships. We are hoping to take our first delegation in April, so we are looking to plan the visit. The all-party group will undoubtedly play its role in strengthening opportunities for both countries. Will my noble friend the Minister agree to meet the all-party group so we can provide him and his department with our plans of engagement?
As a British Indian, I have lived here all my life. The strength of our nations are the people. They build relationships and protect them. We have a huge opportunity to share the global growth story, but we have to recognise that how we narrate that dialogue and how we view our partnerships matters in what we are able to achieve. The global economy is changing rapidly. We cannot afford to stand on the sidelines. Recent events have clearly demonstrated how quickly Governments and economies come under stress and pressure if we have not prepared well and built the channels for dialogue.
As two nations that have suffered terrible attacks at the hands of terrorists, it is also important to build on knowledge exchange, enhance our expertise on evidence sharing and the tools for data gathering and analysis. This year I hope my noble friend the Minister will support me in hosting a reception at the Foreign Office on Raksha Bandhan. This is an annual celebration where, in times past, sisters would tie a thread of protection around the wrists of their fathers and brothers as they went off to fight in war. Last year it was suggested to me that Raksha Bandhan also meant “my bond to protect”. I met British Indians serving in our Armed Forces. They do our country proud, with a long-standing association with the services through people like my grandfather, who was a captain in the Indian Army. Through their commitment to our safety, they fulfil the beautiful message of Raksha Bandhan. It will also be wonderful to recognise them and celebrate their presence.
It would be good to see the contribution of the Indian subcontinent reflected properly in our history books. This was mentioned in the previous debate. There is so much to say, but time is always a challenge. I, as someone well versed in the importance of both nations and their place in the world, believe that we can make huge strides economically, politically and through collaborative opportunities. I look forward to the contributions of all noble Lords, but particularly to the maiden speeches by—I had better get the names right—my noble friend Lord Minto and the noble Baroness, Lady Foster of Aghadrumsee. Did I say that right?
I knew I was going to screw it up somewhere. I am really looking forward to the valedictory speech of our wonderful noble Lord—my noble friend—Lord Soley. He is a brilliant example of where we do not share the same politics, but we share courtesy and the trust and confidence of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure so that we may hear the valedictory speech of Lord Soley.
House adjourned at 4.49 pm.
My Lords, I thank Lord Soley for his speech. I remind the House that, although this is a time-limited debate, we were adjourned, so noble Lords need not find the advancement of the clock too perilous. I think we were all very grateful for his speech.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for securing this debate and congratulate her on her powerful and persuasive opening speech. She speaks truth to power very well.
It is a particular honour to follow my noble friend Lord Soley, who has sadly delivered his valedictory speech after over 43 years in Parliament—26 years in the other place and 17 years in this House. I say sadly because the whole House will miss his warmth, wisdom and judgment, so I invite the whole House to join me in thanking him for his service.
A probation officer, he was first elected for Hammersmith in 1979. He quickly became a significant figure in the parliamentary party, particularly on Northern Irish affairs, and consequently someone I came to admire well before I even met him. In 1997, the year I was first elected, beyond being re-elected, he was elected by his fellow Labour colleagues as chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party—an indication of the esteem in which he was held. Since then, it has been a real pleasure and an education to get to know him during our times together in both the other place and, subsequently, your Lordships’ House, which he joined in 2005 and I joined five years later.
I thank him for an informed and entertaining but characteristically modest speech. He has much to be proud of. I know he must be looking forward to his retirement, but he still has much to offer. He is still a crusader for more and better housing and education, civil liberties—although we now call them human rights—prison reform, Northern Ireland solutions, a responsible press and almost any other deserving cause. He is also an author, photographer and supporter of charity. Born in England, as he told us, he has chosen in his later life to live in Scotland, the wise man. There is a phrase in the Scottish cultural lexicon that perfectly fits Clive Soley and his experience of life: “a lad o’ pairts”, meaning
“a youth, particularly one from a humble background, who is considered talented or promising”.
Scotland prides itself on giving the lad o’ pairts opportunities for advancement. I am sure that he will seize them in his retirement.
In the time I have remaining, I turn to the subject of the debate. A UK-India FTA is currently under negotiation. We should remember that, in 2013, negotiations for the EU-India FTA collapsed due to concerns about the impact on India’s generic supply of and access to affordable medicines. The current negotiations appear to be in danger of foundering on the same rock. A recent leak from them revealed that the UK’s strategic position is to strengthen the position of multinational pharmaceutical corporations—many of which are based in the UK—at the expense of India’s public health safeguards, thus enabling companies to prolong their monopolies on medical products and charge higher prices for longer periods.
Presently, the UK, along with other countries around the world and providers such as Médecins Sans Frontières, relies heavily on access to affordable, quality-assured generic medicines, a large proportion of which are supplied by companies in India. Some 25% of the quality, affordable, generic medicines available on the NHS and a large proportion of medical products used by many low and middle-income countries are from Indian generics, including no less than 90% of generic medicines for HIV.
It seems rather counterintuitive that someone from these Benches needs to remind a Conservative Government of the basic principle of free trade: that having multiple independent generic suppliers for each medical product is important because the competition among them, and with the originator company, can bring prices down, enabling us better to serve public health needs and save more lives. However, this can happen only if generic companies are able to produce and supply more affordable medical products once the IP protection, including patents, on these products has expired or been removed.
The consequences of undermining India’s generic industry on supply and prices could be devastating for many countries with already stretched health budgets. This is of particular concern to LMICs, but it could also impact all countries that procure medicines from India, including the UK’s NHS. While the proposals in the leaked IP chapter of the UK-India FTA do not amount to a final negotiated chapter, they none the less point to the UK’s negotiating strategy—
I remind the noble Lord that this is a time-limited debate. The only person we set that aside for was Lord Soley, because we had adjourned the House.
I have insufficient time to go into the detail of this issue, though I would love to, but I am fully briefed on it. I will happily meet and discuss this with other noble Lords, Ministers and officials if that is on offer.
My Lords, I have just landed back from India this morning. I was born and brought up in India, and after my studies here in the UK, I started Cobra Beer which, I say with humility and pride, is today a household name and the most famous Indian brand of any sort in the UK. In 2003, I was appointed as the UK chair of the Indo-British partnership in the Foreign Office, and my Indian co-chair was none other than Nārāyana Mūrthy, our Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s father-in-law. Rishi Sunak and I are proud members of the 1.6 million Indians in the UK, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned—I thank her for initiating this debate—who are doing exceedingly well in the “living bridge”, as Prime Minister Modi calls us. In 2007, I founded the UK India Business Council, of which I am the founding chair.
India has now overtaken the UK and is the fifth largest economy in the world. It is also the fastest growing large economy in the world, with 1.4 billion people. With 75 years of democracy, it is a young country. It had a growth rate of 8.7% in the last financial year, and it has contributed one in 10 unicorn companies, with over 100 unicorns. It is also the fourth largest producer of renewable energy and solar power. In every aspect, India is going from strength to strength—including during the pandemic, when it produced billions of vaccines, with the Serum Institute of India partnering with Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Students. Students from India have now overtaken those from China as the largest group of international students. Foreign universities are now being allowed to open up in India; that is a great opportunity for British universities. Indian universities are now starting to want to have a presence here in the UK—for example, the Indian Institute of Technology is partnering with the University of Birmingham, where I am chancellor, and will ideally open a physical presence here in the UK.
The UK-India free trade agreement is well-advanced. Although our trade at the moment is worth £29.6 billion, India is only the 12th largest trading partner of the UK. That is not enough; it should be so much higher. I am sure the Minister will agree that we should conclude the FTA as quickly as possible, but not in a rush—it needs to be as comprehensive as possible. I am delighted by our chief negotiator, Harjinder Kang, and wish him every bit of luck. He is, of course, a governor of the University of Birmingham, where I am chancellor. The young professionals scheme has just been concluded; 3,000 degree-educated nationals from India will be able to spend two years here, and vice versa. That is wonderful news.
The integrated review talked about the tilt to the Indo-Pacific. I am a trustee of Policy Exchange; we produced the report on that idea, and the Government acted on it. I suggest—I ask the Minister if he agrees—that the UK should join the Quad, the defence and security alliance between the USA, Australia, Japan and India. We should have “Quad-plus”, thus circling the world.
We need large prime ministerial delegations. I have been on every single delegation, under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May, but Boris Johnson did not take a delegation—there were only two of us from India present. I suggest that Rishi Sunak takes one; we should do that as soon as possible.
On the one hand, we have the India Advisory Council, chaired by the Minister, but on the other, the UK-India round table has been disbanded. That needs to be revived. Will the Minister agree? We had UKIERI, Teach India and the two-year post-graduation work visa from it. The CEO forum has not met; we need to revive that. Defence alliances need to continue as well. We are in a race. Everyone wants to do business with India. We need to go the extra mile.
To conclude, as a boy, Narendra Modi sold tea at his father’s tea stall at a railway station in Gujarat. Today he is one of the most powerful people on this planet as Prime Minister of India. Today India has the presidency of the G20. Today India has a vision to become, in the next 25 years, the second-largest economy in the world with a GDP of $32 billion. The Indian express has left the station. It is now the fastest train in the world—the fastest-growing major economy in the world. The UK must be its closest and most trusted friend and partner in the decades ahead.
My Lords, I am honoured to make my maiden speech today regarding a country I particularly admire. I offer my thanks to all your Lordships for the generosity of welcome I have received and my sincere thanks to Black Rod and her staff, the Clerk of the Parliaments and his team, the doorkeepers, the attendants and the police officers for their help, direction and advice so proficiently and professionally given. I also thank my noble friends Lord Sandhurst and Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, my whip and mentor respectively, both of whom have been invaluable in providing advice on the somewhat daunting prospect of arriving at your Lordships’ House.
My family, the Elliots, come from the border lands of Scotland, where my family and I live. In the distance, on a clear day, we can see the border with England, which is just that: a border, not a frontier, across which all may freely pass at will. Long may it remain so. The Elliots, for a period of about 200 years, started out as cattle thieves, or reivers, as that profession is known up there. Towards the beginning of the 18th century we stepped smartly to one side and became lawyers—not a huge difference. By the end of the 18th century we had moved into politics and diplomacy and it is through this move that our long relationship with India got under way.
There are two particular periods, one under the East India Company and the other under the Raj, when ancestors of mine were beguiled by the appeal of such an old, culturally rich and fascinating heritage. My own experience has been equally positive. In my commercial life, I was a retailer. As we built our business here in the UK and overseas, we sourced product for resale in many countries across the globe. Our experience of doing business in India was exemplary. Our multiple supply-side partners were creative in thinking, excellent in interpreting a brief, helpful in the extreme in developing new ranges and patient while we decided what and how much we wanted to buy. They were commercially astute, efficient manufacturers and administratively accurate. We developed long and prosperous relationships for both sides of the deal and, without exception, they were consistently placed among our top suppliers, year in, year out.
I sort of knew this would happen from the outset, as the few remaining items I have from my ancestors’ time in India are quite beautifully executed and the writings and, more recently, photographic evidence speak volumes about the respect and admiration they all expressed for such a fascinating and culturally rich nation.
Turning to the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Verma, there is enormous potential to develop what already is a very important, and potentially most strategic, relationship, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said. That relationship is both old and complex, but I suggest we share much in common, both in our outlook on life in general and our expectations for the future. Both countries are trading nations and, as such, are outward looking. We are both staunch believers in democracy—one the largest democracy in the world, the other one of the oldest. We both believe in diversity of thought, faith and culture: India because she is so vast and varied, and the United Kingdom because we have always embraced the world, albeit sometimes for good, sometimes not so good. We share a common language, a belief in the rule of law and a love of cricket. As a result of all this, I believe we work well together, which has certainly been my experience, and while in terms of historical perspective there is a continual need to seek mutual understanding, it is hard to think of two other countries with such natural affinity. India’s quite phenomenal rise and increasing power, both commercial and cultural and as a democracy, is a triumph we should be in awe of. We in the UK have so much to learn from India, and would hope to get much in return.
Finally, as a friend pointed out to me the other day, there are many important new concepts in the modern world that are old in India: spirituality, mindfulness, meditation, tolerance, diversity, to name but a few, which is to say that India is so very old while at the same time so very new. Let us aspire to the concept that India and the United Kingdom can be both so very old and so very new together.
It is indeed a humbling experience to address your Lordships, particularly on first acquaintance. I hope I will be able to contribute going forward, and again thank my noble friend Lady Verma for giving me this initial opportunity.
My Lords, it is an immense pleasure to congratulate my noble friend on his outstandingly good maiden speech. I was amused by his observation that his family started off as cattle thieves but moved on to become lawyers. He is in effect becoming a politician—which for some people is perhaps a leap even from lawyers and thieves. His family went on to play hugely important parts in public service in this country, of the greatest distinction.
My noble friend brings to us his considerable business background and success, not least in India, a country which he so fully understands and cherishes. His family motto is “He needs not the bow”, but my noble friend has a second motto: “Mildly but firmly”, gently nudging him towards public life and indeed to becoming a Member of your Lordships’ House. I greatly look forward to his first-rate contributions in the months and years to come.
I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lady Verma on securing this debate and applaud her fulsomely for the way she has personally worked so effectively to strengthen links between the United Kingdom and India. I am personally blessed to have many Indian friends, some stretching back 50 years, and to have widely explored the country. I spent new year in Alibag, in Mumbai, and there is an infectious sense of pride in India’s growing prosperity and its importance on the world stage. This is even more in evidence with the country’s presidency of the G20.
India as a democracy is surrounded by neighbours with whom difficulties can so easily arise. It is absolutely in our interest as part of the integrated review, which is being updated, that the considerable progress made in the field of UK-India defence and security co-operation be further developed. Recent increased military-to-military exchanges through bilateral and multilateral exercises are steps in the right direction, and there is justified enthusiasm in the defence industry to coproduce. It is incumbent on the Governments to provide a suitable climate for that. The innovative capacities of UK industry can scale up in India and we can potentially jointly manufacture.
Furthermore, there are huge opportunities for bilateral space co-operation. We have both, as countries, faced atrocious terrorist attacks. Given the wide spectrum of emerging technologies and associated threats to our national security, it is so important that we work closely together. My noble friend will be aware that cybersecurity is another area where India and the UK can collaborate. Given both countries’ mutual commitment to the law of the sea, does my noble friend agree that our joining the Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative underlines the strategic importance of India as a maritime power?
It is particularly gratifying that, for the year ending June 2022, Indian nationals were granted here the most sponsored study visas, an increase of 215% in three years. I note with pleasure that overseas universities can now be established in India, and hope that UK universities will take up this opportunity. India’s role in the world was underlined by the way that the country responded to the Covid crisis. I have visited Pune and seen for myself the astonishing capacity of vaccine production. Can my noble friend inform the House whether the links built up during the pandemic have been maintained to our mutual benefit?
Quite rightly, India is rediscovering its uniquely rich heritage and national pride. There is quite simply no other country which as a democracy must live with more languages, religions and ethnic diversity. May it never lose its historic tolerance, which has been so deservedly admired.
My Lords, India and Britain’s representatives have worked out a road map to deepen the ties between the two countries by 2030. That framework gives us some idea of where the countries intend to go. Several lines of activity have opened up, such as research, education, capacity building and culture.
Two further things are particularly striking about the framework. First, under the young professionals scheme, 3,000 young Indians are to come to the UK every year for training. It is also interesting that the biennial ministerial meetings are expected to agree on priorities and set the agenda for research, science and technology. All this is fine. However, in my four minutes, I want to concentrate on what I would like to see in the framework but do not. I say this as someone who was invited by the Indian Government to be the vice-chancellor of one of India’s largest universities. I went there and headed the university for three years. Since then, I have gone there regularly and have been deeply involved in India’s education policy.
Looking at the results of my entry into the Indian educational world, and at what we achieved and what we could have achieved, there were some important lessons learned which I will list very quickly. It is important for overseas Indians not only to be at junior levels but to occupy senior positions in Indian universities. Talented people from the diaspora can head Indian universities. Joint research between various departments at Indian universities should also be encouraged. However, there is a tremendous emphasis all the time on science and research. Humanities and social sciences need just as much attention.
The exchange of staff is quite important. The Government of Wales have worked out a scheme which we can build on, where a certain number of Indian doctors come from India to work in our hospitals for a year or two. They gain experience, we benefit from their presence, and then they go back and India benefits from their experience too. Both sides benefit from this kind of exchange.
This is also important in the recent context of British universities, like other universities, being invited to open campuses in India. I like the idea, but I hesitate to endorse it wholeheartedly. For a variety of reasons that I cannot go into, I prefer joint campuses, rather than Yale, Harvard or Oxford setting up their own campus. When you set up your own campus, is there a commitment to provide it with your own staff? If you do not, you recruit locally, with the result that existing universities are funded by local people and get no benefit from the home-based staff of the great universities which initially volunteered. There are lots of difficulties which I saw in the United States when I was a professor at Harvard. The scheme can work, but it can also not work. It is very important that these provisions are made intelligently.
Finally, when two countries co-operate—both countries proud of their history—there is always a danger of disagreement. This should be welcome. They should be honest in their criticisms and in pointing out where one country has gone wrong, but at the same time each one should be able to appreciate the other’s difficulties and the constraints within which they function. Here I suggest that we in Britain have not been particularly civil or careful. When we talk about the Hindu-Muslim riots and all that, we tend to forget that these are a result of the partition of India, which left behind a very painful memory in the minds and hearts of all the people. That is something that we did as a colonial power; for decades when we ruled over the country, we determined the structure of relations between various communities, and we corrupted the relationship. While we ought to be aware of what we did, we should also be careful in how we criticise people.
My final point, following what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, is that despite all of our differences with Mr Modi, I think that he is doing good work and representing India’s pride. Lots of Indians see their self-respect restored and, while we may continue to disagree with him, we should also continue to welcome him.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for securing this debate, congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Minto, on his maiden speech and look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, very much.
I will make brief comments about developing a science and innovation relationship with India, an emerging strong economy, which like all developed economies will soon be an even stronger science and innovation country. The UK has an ambition to be a science superpower, and in some areas like life sciences we probably already are. While I support the hopes that we will re-join as members of Horizon Europe, it is right that we develop associations in science, research and innovations globally, if we are to meet our ambition of being a global science superpower.
The Science Minister recently announced during a visit to Japan a £119 million global collaboration fund for science and business. I hope this signals a wish to develop science collaboration not only with countries such as Japan, but even more so with countries such as India, particularly as we share common values and traditions including education in science. Another advantage is language, as English is commonly spoken and taught in India, particularly in the teaching of science. India has strong research institutions. Nationally, it excels in areas such as space science, computer science and nuclear science, to mention but a few.
I recently met the new high commissioner of India to the UK, Mr Vikram Doraiswami, who is very enthusiastic about establishing a UK-India science link. I hope that our Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will show the same enthusiasm. We have a model that we can follow: I have been privileged to be a member of the UK-Israel Science Council, of which the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who is not in his place, is a joint chair. It was established over a decade ago by our then-ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and its continuing success, after over a decade, is due to his foresight. It is a highly successful scheme of science collaboration and exchange of scientists, and is worth duplicating. The success is primarily because of the efforts of our embassy in Israel, and I hope that we can duplicate that with our high commission in India.
Government support is essential: importantly, though, that support has meant that nearly all the funding has come from donations from people in the UK and Israel who have affiliations to both countries. I note that several speakers in today’s debate have associations and affiliations with both India and the UK.
As the UK develops stronger trade ties with India, it is an opportune time to have such ties for science and innovation. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office can play an important part. If his time allows, I would be pleased to meet the Minister to acquaint him further about how UK-Israel science collaboration works, and how it could be replicated with India and the UK, and I would hope to have a subsequent informal meeting with the India high commissioner. I have no doubt that the UK science community will be very supportive of developing a UK-India science council that could provide the exchange of scientists with common interests.
My Lords, as a proud Member of your Lordships’ House of Indian heritage, with a family link of more than 100 years with the UK, I feel privileged and honoured to speak about collaboration to further strengthen ties between two great nations. The UK and India have many historical ties over the centuries—cultural, linguistic and social—not to mention the fact that there are 1.6 million people from the Indian diaspora in the UK.
A better economic relationship always leads to conversations about other important issues. What brings our two nations together are our democratic values and commitment to membership of the Commonwealth —the biggest and the oldest democracies in the world coming together and building a solid, all-round trade partnership.
Indian doctors, nurses and care workers are already the backbone of our National Health Service. After the Second World War, thousands of workers from the Commonwealth came to work in UK industry. They worked hard to make this country what it is today—the fifth-largest economy in the world, I think noble Lords said. India is the second-largest provider of foreign students to British universities, adding thousands to the economy.
It is admirable that both countries are now taking special steps to collaborate on trade and investment. The secret lies in the 2021 agreement between the Prime Ministers of both countries: the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK Future Relations. This will strengthen the economic relationship between our two countries through an enhanced trade partnership, thus doubling UK-India trade over the next 10 years.
Both our countries need to move on to other areas of collaboration to improve the economic and social lives of our citizens. To achieve this, they need to collaborate in other areas such as cybersecurity, digital, health, finance, commerce, nuclear, connectivity, climate change, green energy, migration, mobility, education, research, healthcare, biotechnology and so on.
The UK is one of the leading investors in India, investing some $30 billion in the past decade. Notwithstanding some large Indian names in the UK, such as Tata Steel, direct Indian investment in the UK could be enhanced to deepen the financial ties between our two countries.
Just as the City of London is renowned for its financial services throughout the world, India is known for its pharmaceutical industry, particularly generic drugs and contract research organisations. The percentage of the world’s generic drugs supplied from India is constantly increasing; it is at 20%, but some say it is as much as 50%. Over 50% of the world’s vaccines are manufactured in India, and that number is growing. Currently, India is known as the pharmacy of the world. Therefore, it is time for India and the UK to collaborate and fill the gap in the global pharmaceutical industry.
In conclusion, the aforementioned collaborations between the UK and India, resulting in the 2021 agreement, are part of the 2030 road map for the most promising India-UK relationship. I wish everyone well in their endeavours.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Verma on securing this important debate and say what an honour, privilege and pleasure it is to follow on from my noble friend Lord Minto’s excellent maiden speech. I much look forward to that of my old friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Foster. I shall be in the Chamber to listen to her; I am interested to hear what she has to say as well.
I cannot claim the same illustrious connections with India as my noble friend did in his maiden speech, but I was the British Minister of State with responsibility for India, and was dispatched in that capacity to engage with the now Prime Minister, Modi, when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. It was also my duty to welcome him as Prime Minister on his visit in 2015. When I greeted him at the airport he embraced me warmly, saying that I had less hair than when he had seen me previously. I rather fear that, when I next see him, he might be inclined to repeat that, some seven or eight years later.
At that 2015 visit, a joint statement was issued by the then Prime Minister David Cameron and Prime Minister Modi. On the educational issue, it talked of driving further collaboration, including a range of digital technology-enabled education and training initiatives. Of course, that has been greatly accelerated by Covid. The UK India Business Council, whose founding chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, spoke earlier, has called, I think again, for mutual recognition of qualifications and permission for universities to offer joint and online degrees. Would the Minister like to comment on where that has got to?
Incidentally, I was extremely pleased to hear about the number of Indian students studying here. I would be interested to know how many Chevening scholars there are now. I also would like to make the point that I have always thought it ridiculous to include student numbers in the immigration figures.
We are about to enter round seven of the FTA negotiations. I wonder what progress we are making on that front. I do not think we should kid ourselves: India does not have many trade deals, and it will be long and complicated. Can the Minister update us on that?
The Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Philip Barton, met Foreign Minister Vinay Mohan Kwatra recently and talked about India’s ambitious plans for the G20 presidency, including strengthening co-operation and co-ordination in the UN, including at the UN Security Council. Your Lordships will be aware that India has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council eight times now, for a total of 16 years, the most recent turn being 2021-22. My old friend the Minister for External Affairs, Jaishankar, said on
On a slightly more sensitive issue, India has perhaps not been as robust as we would like on the resolutions concerning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What diplomatic pressure is being applied in that respect? The great concern that I have, which was articulated by various people and various reports in the papers recently, is about the oil that originates in Russia, is refined in India and is imported into the United Kingdom by a number of companies, including BP and Shell. I am not suggesting that there is anything illegal in that, but at the end of the day it is providing money for Putin’s regime. What can the Minister do to make sure that we are not importing oil originating from Russia that is refined in India?
My Lords, I intervene in the debate moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, as a long-standing member of the Indo-British All-Party Parliamentary Group and a great admirer of the dynamism of India, which will shortly be the most populous country in the world. I believe that our relationship is strong enough to bear the sort of criticism that the noble Lord, Lord Swire, mentioned.
India is very much a part of our past—we think of the East India Company and the British Empire—and of our present, with 3.1% of UK residents, or 1.6 million people, now of Indian background. It plays a positive role across the spectrum of activity in the UK, in business, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, education, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Parekh, hospitality, sport—we think of cricket—and health. Where would our NHS be without our Indians? I just had an operation and I think the consultant and virtually all his team were of Indian origin. In politics, it is surely remarkable that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland should be meeting to discuss the future of the union of this country. It is some indication of the changes which have taken place.
Of course, India is very much part of our future if we proceed realistically and with mutual respect, although there is a certain backlash to the so-called Indo-Pacific tilt of our defence policy. Nowadays, particularly post the invasion of Ukraine, people are thinking that the emphasis should be even more on the European role that we should play.
I recall a conference at which I looked across at the Indian delegation, saw the remarkable diversity—from the Tamils from the south to those from Nagaland in the north—and wondered how any federal government could keep together people of such diversity. It is done by a system of checks and balances, by respect and, of course, by the mutual working together of the Indian population.
That is why I, like the noble Lord, Lord Swire, am saddened by the response of the Indian Government to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, against all international norms. India abstained on key UN resolutions, refused to condemn the Russian invasion—what Russia calls a special military operation—and took refuge in generalisations on the protection of civilians and calls for a ceasefire. India has benefited from the breaking of sanctions, certainly in oil imports.
The key current basis for a bilateral relationship is the 2030 road map, formed in 2021. That is welcome but must be systematically and realistically given substance. I have one last reflection; perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, will shoot me down speedily on it. It is triggered by George Osborne’s remark:
“There is a whole string of British governments who think there is a special relationship with India. My experience is that the Indians do not have that view of Britain.”
That is certainly my impression from my relationship with the Commonwealth. In my judgment, India does not have that same attachment, certainly at the ground level. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether the Government agree with that and equally—again, to follow a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Swire—what expectation the Government have for a speedy resolution of the FTA negotiations.
The road map, with all its problems, gives us the opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship—[Interruption.]
My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to make my maiden speech during this timely and important debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and congratulate her on bringing the debate forward.
Before I make my comments on the substance of the debate, I thank all those who have made my arrival in this place such a pleasant one. I place on record my sincere thanks to Garter, Black Rod and all the staff in the various offices, including the magicians in IT help—please always keep well—the catering and cleaning staff, our police officers and, of course, the wonderful doorkeepers, who have already kept me right on a number of occasions and welcomed me every day with a smile. Thank you to each and every one. I also thank the two noble Lords who were with me when I was introduced. The noble Lords, Lord Dodds and Lord Godson, are both dear friends; I thank them for their continued support.
My congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Minto, on his contribution today. I thank him for going first; that is always good when you are making a maiden speech as well. The Fosters were also reivers from the borders of Scotland. Like the Elliots, they left behind cattle stealing and moved on to law and politics—well, this one did in any event.
Noble Lords may be wondering why I have chosen a debate about the relationship between India and the UK for my maiden speech; it is quite a distance, in many ways, from Aghadrumsee to Chandigarh. Early on during my time as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the Northern Ireland Executive—a post that I was proud to hold for more than seven years—I realised the importance of India as a market to do business with and seek investment from. I visited on a number of occasions and, in doing so, appreciated not just the economic ties but the many cultural and educational ties that exist.
For example, in 2019, the Jaipur Literature Festival set up a partnership with Belfast. I enjoyed a wonderful evening celebrating the cultural exchange that took place in the city. I am pleased to see that the festival that is taking place now in India will again have representatives from across the United Kingdom, with Belfast-born author Elaine Canning showcasing her debut novel, supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the British Council.
Reflecting on the point about the importance of educational exchange made by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, I am pleased to say that the largest group of overseas students at my alma mater, Queen’s University Belfast, is from south Asia. Seven years ago, Queen’s University attracted fewer than 10 students from there but, today, I can proudly say that it has close to 1,000 such students annually, so the educational exchange and relationship is also strong.
Although I am really pleased to see these developments in culture and education, it is in the field of economic development that I find the most reasons to be cheerful. In particular, I warmly welcome the fact that the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for International Trade have recognised that representatives from the regions of the UK are much better qualified to promote the strengths, cultures and propositions of their own regional economies. Then, working alongside the British High Commission is a huge enabler for bringing more business to the United Kingdom.
As a former First Minister and Economy Minister for Northern Ireland, I was fortunate to follow in the footsteps of one of our local Peers and his great passion for developing stronger ties between his original homeland, India, and Northern Ireland. I speak of the noble Lord, Lord Rana of Malone, of course. The output of his work was Northern Ireland’s first ever office in Mumbai and Bangalore within the British deputy high commissions. I fondly remember a trip to India that we made together when I was Minister.
Many Indian-based companies have invested in Northern Ireland over the years. HCL, First Source Solutions, Tata Steel and a number of smaller companies have recognised the advantages of investing in Northern Ireland, bringing thousands of jobs for our young, bright population. Likewise, Northern Ireland companies are doing a lot of business in India. Companies such as Randox, CDE Asia and Terex are all companies that I know well and which are continuing to do business globally from their base in Northern Ireland. With an office of the Department for International Trade now in Belfast, and with the Mumbai branch of Invest Northern Ireland again open for business thanks to that department, I think that the future is bright for Northern Ireland as a region of the United Kingdom doing business in India.
It is critical that we have a stable and growing relationship with our friends in India, whether in culture, economic development, trade or defence. There are many strings to that bow; I look forward to hearing from the Minister how we are going to deepen that relationship further. In particular, I look forward to hearing about progress on the UK-India free trade agreement.
My Lords, it is my great pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Foster of Aghadrumsee, for her maiden speech on this occasion. I have had the privilege of knowing her for near on 30 years, from when she was plain Arlene Kelly, an apprentice solicitor in Enniskillen. It has been wonderful to watch her contribution to the life of the Province and, indeed, to the totality of these islands. I am now able to say that I think the DUP made a great mistake in dispensing with her services because, in my view, she has been the most credible and articulate voice for unionism in these islands since my late noble friend Lord Trimble. Her remarks today have confirmed the quality of her contribution to our deliberations.
I also take great pleasure in paying tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Minto, on the occasion of his maiden speech. I hope we will hear much more from him; I say that with feeling because, before speaking today, I took care to check on what had happened after the maiden speeches of his forebears in this House. It turned out that some of them had spoken very little after their maiden speeches, because they were so busy serving the Crown overseas in India, Corsica and other places. We hope that we will hear much more from him after his own remarkable comments today.
The purpose of my remarks today is to focus on the unfulfilled potential in the relationship alluded to by my noble friend, if I may so describe him, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, whom I have worked with at Policy Exchange, which I direct and of which he is a trustee. We have worked together on the India-UK strategic futures forum, which was forged by then Prime Minister Johnson and the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to look at wider questions of dialogue on issues that perhaps go beyond the day to day in the relationship.
When one looks at it, it is a story of unfulfilled potential not solely because of the pandemic, which has halted or slowed down some of our deliberations. It has almost been a rite of passage, if I can put it that way, for new UK Governments to propose a series of India-related policy initiatives: Tony Blair in 2002; Gordon Brown with his visit in 2007; David Cameron at the international bilateral in 2010; Theresa May in 2016; and the three most recent Conservative Prime Ministers. The purpose, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, is to ensure that there is not that sense of disappointment going forward but the highest level of political leadership. The potential is obviously there now, with the current Prime Minister, and we look forward to maintaining it.
The purpose of the India-UK strategic futures forum, as I have indicated, is to focus on events and issues that are perhaps not foremost in our deliberations. Many have talked about the key issues, such as the free trade agreement and so on, and these are vital matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Sahota, pointed out the issue of shared democratic values. Those values are particularly under threat on India’s northern border, with the incursions of the People’s Republic of China there. I would be very grateful for any comments and assessment by my noble friend the Minister today of just how the UK and India might best co-operate in this space and where we should be going forward. I mention it, of course, because the Indo-Pacific regional tilt, which was made in the recent integrated review, is one of the areas of growing consensus within the western democratic world. How do we deal with the challenges there? Even in the United States, with its divided political system, the Indo-Pacific is a source of ever greater unity. I would be grateful for the Minister’s comments on that in his winding-up remarks.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for bringing this important topic to your Lordships’ House today. It is important to the UK because, within the next decade, India will be the world’s third-largest economy. It is important to India because the UK is home to the largest Indian diaspora outside Asia and, as we have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, Prime Minister Modi has said that non-resident Indians are the living bridge between our two countries.
Twenty years ago, I organised an event at City Hall in London for the Chief Minister of Delhi to mark the twinning of the two capital cities, which has seen business between them blossom. In three weeks’ time, I will lead a trade delegation at a business and trade summit in Uttar Pradesh with 12 British businesses.
The importance of the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK future relations cannot be overstated. The relationship between our two countries is multidimensional. We have shared values, strong family ties and a record of co-operation for mutual benefit. The Indian Government attach a high priority to this, and I hope they will do all that is necessary to remove unnecessary obstacles and back up their ambition with actions.
In particular, I welcome the vision to collaborate on research and innovation, but will the healthy exchange of knowledge and skills be hampered by constraints on migration? Will the Government consider excluding Indian students who are in the UK for a limited time from net migration targets? I also welcome the mutual recognition of qualifications and ask the Minister to tell us what progress has been made in recognising professional, as well as academic, qualifications to improve high-level skills exchange.
India is rapidly becoming a global powerhouse in technology, and the UK has world-leading expertise in areas such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, robotics and creative technologies. We also have a mutual interest in global challenges such as climate change and the green economy, the power of arts and culture to drive growth and regeneration, and delivering social value by addressing inequalities. Networks and partnerships are key to leveraging the potential of these common interests and delivering new approaches. Will the UK Government actively facilitate and encourage the development of networks and partnerships between cities, universities, cultural organisations and micro-businesses?
I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, on securing this debate, and offer many congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Minto, and the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, on their excellent speeches.
I fear I will face the wrath of an authority even higher than the Lords Procedure Committee if I do not immediately declare an interest in this debate. My wife is Indian, and our daughter is immensely proud of her Indian heritage. As such, I am acutely aware of the vital importance of ensuring an equal, peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship with the people of that great nation.
Last year the economies of the United Kingdom, India and France were of almost identical size, each around $2.65 trillion. It will not be long before India leaps ahead and consolidates its position as the fifth richest economy in the world. I would like to see more UK citizens and businesses develop a greater understanding of the people and culture of India by living, studying and working in the country that will be a global superpower in the 21st century. India is second only to the United States in having the largest number of English speakers of any country in the world—over a quarter of a billion people. Think of the potential scope for expansion this offers sectors dependent on the English language, especially the creative arts—pop music, literature, television, film, theatre, in which the UK is the world leader.
This is a two-way relationship. The UK is one of the main international audiences for the Bollywood film industry, including me. In each of the 10 years up to 2019, UK audiences spent more than £10 million watching those movies in cinemas. UK venues, in London especially, have become popular Bollywood shooting locations.
The noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Risby, have already indicated that Indian students have now overtaken Chinese students to become the number one international students in universities in the country. Long may that continue.
Change is happening quickly, and we need to be prepared. At a summit in April last year, then Prime Minister Johnson spoke of wanting an “intensification” of relationships between our two countries. While it is unlikely that he envisaged the United Kingdom ending the year with a Prime Minister of Indian heritage, I can only congratulate the Conservative Party on embracing that change quite so completely.
Just as curries and Bollywood movies enrich contemporary British life, we should also ensure that Indians are introduced to the enormous pleasure to be found in a traditional fish and chip supper, and British TV shows such as “Downton Abbey” of the noble Lord, Lord Fellowes, alongside a whole host of other British exports. Undoubtedly, a deepening collaboration between our two great nations will then be assured and welcomed in the years to come.
My Lords, at the beginning of this month, India took over the chair of the G20. In a few months’ time, it will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation—perhaps not an unmixed blessing but still one with geopolitical consequences. So what better moment to review our own country’s relationship with India? All credit and thanks are due to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for making that possible. The two excellent maiden speeches that we have had, as well as the unique valedictory speech, show the width of interest in our relationship with India.
The histories of Britain and India have been deeply intertwined for the past several hundred years, but as we look now to the future, we need to remember that the different views of our mutual experience are part of a complex picture, and not invariably a positive one. For many Indians, Britain stands for damage to their economy, for the use of force to overthrow their rulers, and for terrible human rights abuses—the Amritsar massacre prominent among them. For Britons, there may still be traces of imperial nostalgia, and there is justifiable pride at promoting a free press, freedom of speech, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law—my own grandfather was a High Court judge in Madras—and one of India’s accepted languages, our own tongue. These histories contain many contradictions which need to be borne in mind but not to be predominant.
Currently, one has to begin with trade relations, since negotiations for an India-UK free trade agreement are ongoing. That is a worthwhile objective. But we really should cease setting artificial deadlines for their completion—“all done and dusted by Diwali” last October was the most recent one—and we should remember that those who show excessive neediness for a deal are likely to pay a price for it. India has a history of trade protectionism—after all, it scuppered the Doha round of multilateral trade negotiations—so a free trade deal on the basis of effective reciprocity, a characteristic not always evident in some recent trade deals that the Government have struck, will be a challenge not best achieved by excessive haste.
The Indo-Pacific tilt proclaimed in the Johnson Government’s security review is currently the object of further reflection following Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. That war has upended every previous analysis and cannot be ignored. Britain’s security requires not only continuing support for Ukraine but the strengthening of our contribution to NATO. That does not mean that we have lost an interest in seeing peaceful stability restored to India’s Himalayan border with China, in securing freedom of passage through the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea and the East China Sea, and in avoiding any attack on Taiwan. However, we cannot be everywhere and do everything, and we should not pretend that we can, if only because our claim would not be credible. I suggest that we need to look for ways of co-operating with India in sophisticated areas of military, technology and training to enhance the deterrence of an overassertive China.
We really must not neglect our soft power assets, which have a particular significance in our relationship with India, given our common use of the English language, the BBC’s overseas services, the British Council and our universities. But we are cutting back spending on the first two, and the Home Secretary seems to believe that making it easier for Indian students, particularly post-graduate students, to come to UK universities is something that should be discouraged, even when India clearly wants to make access easier. Does it make any sense to thus damage one of our most valuable invisible exports and, at the same time, to make conclusion of our trade negotiations more difficult?
I have said enough already to illustrate why the eminently desirable objective of strengthening Britain’s relations with India will not be entirely straightforward—and that is without even mentioning legitimate concerns about the effect of the Indian Government’s tendencies towards majoritarian treatment of their minorities and of their effect on their obligations under the UN and other international conventions. These cannot simply be overlooked, nor can the opportunistically limp Indian reaction to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
My Lords, it was with great sadness that I listened to the valedictory speech of my noble friend Lord Soley. I well remember his election as the Member of Parliament for Hammersmith North in 1979, though I first came across him earlier as a probation officer. I pay tribute to the Lord Privy Seal, the clerks and my noble friends on the Front Bench for having engineered a wonderful parliamentary solution to the problem that was outlined. I saw what a sophisticated parliamentary souvenir he had with the special outing he was given on the annunciator, of a kind that has never been seen before. I wish him well in his retirement. I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Minto, and the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, on their maiden speeches. I very much look forward to all they have to say in future in the many years that I know they will have in this House.
It has been 35 years since I first went to India. I had never seen such a difference between getting on a plane at Heathrow and getting off at Calcutta. Before I continue, I want to share my long-standing connection with India, which arises out of the well-known phrase, which has already been used, of the “living bridge” of the 1.6 million people of Indian origin who live in the UK.
My mother-in-law was Indian. In fact, she was born 100 years ago this very year—although, bless her, we never found her birth certificate. She had such a haphazard attitude to paperwork that it caused a lot of trouble in her life and to us. Her great wish was to come to Britain and become a philosopher. After the Second World War, she was able to get here; she eventually taught philosophy at the University of Sussex and wrote books in English and Bengali, the most readable of which, by far, was her own personal story, The Story of a Female Philosopher. She married not long after the Second World War, and therefore my wife is half-Indian. It follows that my children, Emily and Daniel, are very proud of their Indian heritage—as am I—and, as we speak, my daughter is taking part in a literary festival in Jaipur.
That is not the only reason that I have a connection with India, and I hope that the House will not mind if I explain why. In the interests of transparency, I point out that, nearly 100 years ago, one of my grandfathers was the Secretary of State for India in the Labour Cabinet of 1929. When I was young, my grandfather and my dad told me about the visit of Gandhi in the 1930s; my grandfather had arranged for him to be invited to the second Round Table Conference. When Gandhi arrived in Britain, he was besieged by the British press, who asked him, “Mr Gandhi, what do you think of democracy in Britain?” He replied:
“I think it would be a very good idea.”
Things have changed since then. As other noble Lords have said, India is the world’s largest democracy and is projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and become the third-largest economy before 2040—it is already the fifth.
Time is very short, so I just want to make a couple of quick points. Whatever the future holds, the historic colonial era mindset, which is still observable around some opinion-formers in the media in the UK, must play no part in our future relationship. We must have a relationship of regard and respect. One thing that I hope we will achieve is to make India a permanent member of the United Nations; that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Swire, and I fully agree. The other thing that I wanted to say was to emphasise what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, did in his speech, in talking about the connections in science between the UK and India. I endorse the biennial ministerial UK science and innovation council and hope that we can play an increasing part in co-operation on satellite technology and even on civil nuclear power. However, it is the migration and mobility partnership that is one of the most important areas. Reference has been made to the young professionals scheme, allowing people to come in, and I hope that the Minister will confirm in his remarks that this scheme has now officially been implemented.
My time has run out, unfortunately, but I just point out that Indian students have a choice. They do not have to come to the UK; they can go to America, Australia or Canada. I thank with great gratitude the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for having initiated this debate, enabling me to make a brief contribution, because it is a very good time to have a debate about our future relations. I hope that this debate will improve them.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, on securing this debate. I speak as a former member of the UK-India round table, where I sat alongside the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. I think that we like to believe that the round table acted very effectively in bringing the two countries together. One thing that we helped to secure for India was the equivalent of Teach First, which continues to do a great job there. It is really the issue of culture and education that I want to dwell on today.
While I was involved with the round table, what we saw was the effectiveness of the British Council in particular. It worked very hard with the UK-India Education and Research Initiative and achieved a great deal on the education front generally, all over that country. Like every other aspect of the British Council, it has had to be cut back, and I understand the funding difficulties. If the Minister were able to give any reassurance that there will be no further cuts to the British Council, particularly in India, it would be good news for all of us here this afternoon.
We have heard a lot about the new initiatives to continue increasing trade with India and to bring more students to this country. I would like to look at it from a slightly different point of view, in the very limited time that we have. Like the noble Lord, Lord Leong, I would like to see more people from this country going to India. UK universities have 90 establishments in the world top 1,000, but India now has 41, and many of those are way ahead of the lower tiers in this country. What a fantastic educational experience it would be for our students to go to India—and how much better their student debt might look at the end of that experience.
The other issue that I would like to look at is medicine. We have the new agreement over skills and training in medicine, particularly in nursing, but, again, India is a real pioneer in some important aspects of medicine. For instance, it now has joint replacements down to a fine art. It may be very boring for some surgeons, but they are specialists in hip and knee replacements. India is already the seventh most popular destination for well-being and health tourism; its income in 2022 from health tourism was estimated at $7.4 billion, and it is predicted to reach £42 billion by 2032.
Would it be such a step of the imagination, with the current waiting lists in this country, to think not just about bringing Indian doctors and nurses—and certainly some of their techniques—to this country, but about getting those waiting lists down by being innovative and sending some people who would like to make the trip to India? Waiting three years for a hip replacement is a very uncomfortable experience, but that is what some people have to undergo now. If they went to India, they could enjoy good weather, perhaps, and would come back healthier. The Department for Health and Social Care really needs to be thinking imaginatively if we are to make any progress through those waiting lists.
My Lords, I express gratitude for the courtesies extended during my recent all-India visit, which addressed political, economic, cultural, social and educational considerations. It included the uplifting experience of visiting Shanti Bhavan, a school outside Bangalore for economic and disadvantaged children who share the founding father’s vision of contributing opportunity to the economic well-being of their families, and who will be the future of a free and independent powerhouse country of India through willingness, courteousness and profound visible gratitude.
India is of profound importance to the United Kingdom and commands attention; however, we should not take positive relations for granted. She is a critical link in much-needed, global, diverse supply chains, for example, and, having spoken at some length already in your Lordships’ House on the free trade agreement negotiations, I only add to them by commending the pragmatic approach of Secretary of State Badenoch for stepping back from a rushed conclusion to the FTA and taking the necessary time to settle this complex negotiation, which will stand the test of time and be of long-term benefit to both our countries.
I too join the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, in not understanding the rationale as to why the Prime Minister has appointed no trade envoys to India—and not just one, but four, to reflect India’s diversity. India is on the climb: with 50% of the population under 25, with its IT advancing rapidly and with opportunity for closer partnerships, it is set to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2050. Thus it is imperative that the UK forges an even closer and more strategically enhanced relationship. The gap sometimes between perception and reality and pressing home comparative advantage is a challenge to overcome. At the least, we must be in lockstep with others around the world who sense opportunity. Confidence among UK SMEs is taking a knock, so unlocking opportunity would be welcomed.
The UK must evolve, and better use should be made of mainstream parliamentarians, who are an asset; they should be involved as a channel to deepen relations. I am delighted that the upcoming initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, as president, and the noble Lord, Lord Kamall, as co-chair—neither of whom is in their place—will reinvigorate and give a commendable boost to the Commonwealth APPG. I trust that they will consider placing relationship-building high on their agenda, not just with Delhi but throughout the four quarters of India.
I move on and venture reflections of a differing nature. I recognise that trade co-operation and security activities go hand in hand. I would like to refer not to the sometimes derogatory regional rhetoric, nor the situation in the high Himalayas in relation to China, which gives cause for concern, but to the importance of encouraging India to be more central to the Indo-Pacific fold. This has been an omission thus far, so global tilt towards that region has not been fully illustrated. India, with its military prowess, has much to offer in being a practical counterbalance to China. It should also be closer to centre stage in policy terms, as it is at the centre of the China-Russia axis. We would be a more secure world if Five Eyes and the AUKUS alliance were more inclusive of regional participation.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount. As others have done, I warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, for securing this debate. It has allowed us to hear and pay tribute to Lord Soley, who is no longer with us—I think he is having his drinks upstairs. I thought it was a neat trick of his to ensure that he had a standing ovation before and after his speech, with the Adjournment. We enjoyed it very much.
We also enjoyed the maiden speeches. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, will be busy in this House, along with her colleagues from Northern Ireland. We look forward to her contributions, as we do to those of the noble Earl, Lord Minto. As someone who took the title of “Tweed”, lives in Roxburghshire, has been to Minto, is from the area and represented a neighbouring constituency, I welcome him particularly warmly. There are few records—I checked—of the Elliots reiving from the Purvises; I think that that is solely because we were so poor that we did not have cattle. Nevertheless, from his family having the honourable profession of being reivers in the Borders, it has been a slippery slope down to law and politics. I welcome him very warmly to this House.
In introducing the debate so well and comprehensively, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, remarked how interesting it is that it has taken place after a debate recognising 75 years of the Windrush generation. Some of the similarities that she referred to struck me. In a debate that we recently had on India, I said that there is no part of our country that is not touched by our relationship, whether it is our high streets, our research centres or our NHS, which is the same age as the Windrush generation and Indian independence. We are the country that we are today because of India and the contribution that it has made. In the visits I have been fortunate enough to make there, I have been in awe of the magnificence and diversity of the history and culture of the world’s largest democracy.
There is another alcoholic link beyond the beer entrepreneurship of the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, if he will forgive me. India is quite a remarkable destination for malt and Scotch Whisky—our combinations are not just beer.
Some 3.1% of the population of this country is of Indian descent; that is the size of a nation within our family of nations in the UK. The contribution has been huge. That close relationship allows us to debate the complexities, as the noble Lords, Lord Swire, Lord Anderson and Lord Hannay, indicated, when it comes to our relations with other friends with whom we have similarly deep relations, such as Pakistan. We can have debates on sensitive areas such as the dispute in Kashmir and raise issues such as the decision in 2019 to remove special status. We can seek to play a role, with the United States and others, in having an understanding to seek peace in this area. We very much understand the complexities associated with this.
Dr Gareth Price, a former senior research fellow in the Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House, has commented widely on some who may be reconceptualising the secular agenda in India. The diaspora in this country has very close relationships to those debates. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Sharif has called for third-party support in the relationships with the UAE in particular. I would be interested to know from the Minister whether we are engaged with our allies—India, Pakistan, the Gulf and the United States—on this debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Swire, talked about recent decisions. India is a full, sovereign country making its own strategic decisions for its interests, but they are not always aligned with ours. We recognise that; we are friendly nations. We want to be partners in areas but, as the noble Lord indicated, on the decisions on oil purchases, the rupee-rouble swaps that I have raised with the Minister previously and voting in the United Nations, we need a proper, mature relationship—both on our interests, which I will come on to, and on areas where we disagree.
In areas of human development, we are partners. It is interesting to read the FCDO’s human rights report, published in December, which highlights areas where the UK and India are working together on tackling some of the world’s most complex and difficult issues, such as workers’ rights in garments factories. India is taking the lead in tackling human trafficking in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, while the UK and India are working on preventing bonded labour in Uttar Pradesh as well as working in West Bengal and other areas to support development for vulnerable children.
I have seen for myself UK and Indian partnerships in Kolkata—for instance, the support for a charity for girls that focuses on sport and rugby. I took rugby kit bags from the SRU to Kolkata and saw how the UK and India are working together.
I have one final area of concern before I move on to the enormous opportunities that the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, rightly highlighted; it will be no surprise to the Minister. The Government have indicated that, at the Carbis Bay summit that we led, the G7, alongside the Republic of Korea, South Africa, India and Australia, signed up to an open society statement. Oxfam, directly to me, and the Government have recognised that the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act in India—it has halted the work of Oxfam India—is jarring when it comes to the open society statement. I would be interested to hear what the Minister can say on the dialogue we are having with India about that.
The opportunities here are enormous. The noble Lord, Lord Sahota, rightly referred to the five areas of the 2030 Roadmap for India-UK Future Relations. The first area is connecting our countries and people and, at its heart, enhanced institutional structures. I would be grateful if the Minister could outline at the outset where we are on this and where we want to be. I, for one, would love to have much greater links between this Parliament and the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, parliamentarians to parliamentarians. I have been to both chambers through Commonwealth Parliamentary Association work but I would love for there to be far more bilateral parliamentary work, Parliament to Parliament. Our committees could do joint work with theirs as we work on some of these areas. I would love for parliamentary institutions to be included.
As for trade and prosperity, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others indicated the deep level of relationship that could be enhanced by free trade. I, too, welcome the sense of reality on the trade agreement that now exists with the current Secretary of State. I am enthusiastically in favour of a trade agreement. In terms of key areas and sectors to be developed, I would love for there to be innovative discussions on mobility and to have some kind of agreement with India that is similar to what we have with Australia and New Zealand—it is slightly painful to me that France is ahead of us on the mutual recognition of qualifications—as well as discussions on procurement, services and research. As the noble Baroness indicated, in terms of a defence and security partnership, no two nations could have a better way of working on cyberspace, when we look at the difficulties. Work between the UK and India on the non-proliferation of cyberaggression could be a gift to the world. Of course, there should also be discussions on the climate.
Finally, there is another 75th anniversary next week: that of the death of Gandhi. He said:
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”.
I reviewed the Hansard of the Second Reading in the Lords of the Indian Independence Act on
“a treaty of peace without a war.”—[
We celebrate 75 years of peaceful relations between two sovereign nations, sometimes with disagreement but, more often than not, with agreement. Our people and communities are so linked together that, whatever we do, our future is dependent on our Indian relations and the world’s is dependent on India.
My Lords, I start by thanking the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for facilitating Lord Soley’s valedictory contribution this evening. He has made a remarkable contribution to Parliament over his 44 years here and his speech, though it may have been a little long, certainly did that justice.
I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. We have talked on many occasions about the importance of the UK-India relationship, particularly the business and economic aspects. She made an excellent introductory contribution to the debate. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, and the noble Earl, Lord Minto, for their contributions. I think we will hear a lot from them in future. I particularly welcome that they have such a wide range of experience to contribute. I say to the noble Earl that I regularly shop in Paperchase, so I hope it is a continued success.
As we have heard, India is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, with deep historical and cultural links to the United Kingdom. The Government’s integrated review describes India as
“an international actor of growing importance”, which perhaps undersells it a bit. Since the publication of that review, we have reached agreement with India on a joint framework for future relationships between the two countries. The 2030 Roadmap for India-UK Future Relations will, as it puts it,
“guide cooperation for the next ten years” and cover “all aspects” of the relationship between the two countries. Importantly, it will be subject to an annual strategic review meeting to monitor its implementation and, if necessary, could be updated. I hope in his response the Minister will assure us that preparations for such reviews, together with their outcome, will be fully reported to Parliament.
As we have heard, the road map set out to cover the following five areas: connecting our countries and people, trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate, and health. On connecting our countries, the road map focused on education, research and innovation, capacity building, employment and culture, and we have heard from many noble Lords how important those areas are.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said in her introduction, the Indian diaspora community continues to make an enormous and important contribution to everyday life in the United Kingdom and is vital to building those links. So I ask the Minister: what cross-departmental effort will be made to reflect this contribution from the diaspora in future talks, particularly on the road map and a future trade agreement?
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to our soft power. The BBC World Service is an important element of that. In 2006, the BBC World Service bureau in India conducted a study to discover the impact of its services reporting across rural areas in India. It found that:
“In each town people said that the BBC can influence change. Expressing high regard for BBC Hindi programmes, they also praised BBC Hindi journalists’ ability to access and interview those in authority.”
I hope the Minister not only accepts how important that service is but understands that cuts will impair this positive impact on our relationships.
On trade, the road map commits the two countries to
“create shared prosperity and deliver leadership in global economic governance.”
As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the Government promised to deliver the completion of a trade agreement with India by Diwali 2022. Can the Minister tell the House if a future target date for completion of the Indian trade deal has been determined? I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, says; we certainly want the trade deal to be properly conducted, but it is necessary to make progress as quickly as possible.
It has been widely reported that the failure to deliver the trade agreement was the result of the Home Secretary’s claim that there is a particular problem with Indian visitors to the United Kingdom overstaying their visas. Does the Minister accept that such comments have a negative impact on our relationships? It is so important that we value people’s contributions, particularly those of people from India who visit here. We should certainly be extremely careful about that.
In future negotiations, as we have heard, it is vital that issues such as workers’ rights and environmental and climate standards be fully addressed. The Minister assured the House in discussions on strengthening the road map—whether on trade, investment, technological co-operation or improving lives and livelihoods in India and the United Kingdom—that the issue of lives and livelihoods is intrinsically tied to the whole concept of human rights. I hope in his response he can describe how this will be explicitly addressed in any formal agreement.
On defence and security, the road map emphasised the two countries’ shared interests, which will underpin co-operation in multilateral fora to
“build understanding among diverse partners on international security”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Swire, reminded us, India has ambitions to play a greater role at the United Nations, including on the Security Council, to which, as he also reminded us, it has been elected eight times. The Minister said earlier this week that he supports a new permanent seat for India, as well as others. Can he tell us what concrete steps the UK mission is taking to achieve this, particularly in collaboration with other permanent members of the Security Council?
On climate change, the road map says that the UK and India are committed to safeguarding the planet, building a more environmentally sustainable future and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. This includes mobilising investment and climate finance. Can the Minister indicate what role the Government envisage for BII—the former CDC—in this? How does this aspiration in the road map fit in with the BII’s five-year strategy?
On health, the road map describes the UK and India as global forces for good and says that they will use their
“combined research and innovation strength to address the biggest global health challenges, save lives and improve health and well-being”.
We have clear evidence of that with the Covid pandemic. However, as my noble friend Lord Browne and others said, India supplies 25% of medicines used by the NHS. The UK must acknowledge the importance of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to both the NHS and global health. Does the Minister therefore agree that we should seek to protect, not weaken, access to generic medicines from India within the FTA? What analysis has been done in the process of negotiating the FTA to assess the potential impact the agreement may have on the supply of medicines from India to the NHS? As noble Lords have said, India has often been called the “pharmacy of the developing world”, and its generics industry has played an essential role in the provision of generic medicines, particularly in the fight against HIV and AIDS. What analysis has been done in the process of negotiating the FTA to assess the potential impact that that agreement may have on global access to those generic medicines and, therefore, health outcomes?
In conclusion, the negotiating process for the UK-India free trade agreement has not included opportunities for either public or parliamentary scrutiny. I know that many have criticised this, and I hope the Minister can reassure us and tell us what the next steps in the negotiations process are and whether they will ensure civil society and parliamentary engagement, so that we can give feedback.
My Lords, I join others in thanking my dear and noble friend Lady Verma for tabling this debate. I also acknowledge her incredible dedication in promoting understanding and co-operation between the United Kingdom and India through all-party groups. I will be delighted to work with her and meet in advance of the visit to India with the APPG which was recently formed to focus on trade. I also acknowledge her long-term dedication in increasing people-to-people ties, and her devotion to finding solutions to the challenges which are often faced. I will come to the contributions in detail in a moment, but I was struck listening to this debate by the depth, insight, experience and wisdom in your Lordships’ House on this important issue.
I begin by thanking all noble Lords for their insightful contributions. I pay tribute to Lord Soley. As Aviation Minister, I got to know Clive quite well for his resolute campaign for the expansion of Heathrow Airport. I joked with him as I arrived in the Chamber after hearing the creative solution that was reached, for which I pay tribute to my noble friends the Chief Whip and the Leader of the House. Lord Soley will be missed for his, as we saw again, quite candid assessments of parties on both sides. His words of parting that he shared with us I am sure are not the last that we have heard of him.
Equally, I join in welcoming the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Minto, who shared with us his family heritage. When I saw the speakers in this debate, it struck me that we had about seven or eight who could claim a line of Indian heritage. Interestingly, as I made my notes, we found this expanding link, whether through business links, family links or, through the wife of the noble Lord, Lord Leong, or the mother-in-law of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate.
On a lighter note, it reminded me of the programme “Goodness Gracious Me”, in which whenever the son mentions to his father anything positive about the United Kingdom, his father promptly says, “Indian!” Perhaps that came true when we had our first Prime Minister of Indian heritage. It shows that sometimes comedy programmes turn into reality. It was something that I am sure many of us enjoyed.
I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Foster. When I saw the series of debates and questions that I was taking this week, I saw one on Northern Ireland which is scheduled for tomorrow. I hazarded a guess that this would feature her maiden speech, so she has totally got me on that one. However, I was very much taken by her assessment of the strong people-to-people links, really showing the depth of our collective United Kingdom, with the rich diversity of the different states that represent modern-day India. Whether we are talking of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, it is our people and the rich diversity of our union which reflects the strength of building and strengthening our relationship with India.
I was also poignantly making note of links that were made to Rajasthan and the city of Jaipur, including by the noble Baroness. As the son of a mother born in Jodhpur, the golden triangle comes to mind. It is again reflective of the rich heritage in your Lordships’ House of the experience that we bring, which is again reflected in today’s vitality and strength of debate.
My noble friend Lord Godson talked about the importance of India as the biggest democracy and ourselves as the oldest democracy. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that it lends to the different pillars of democracy what defines democracy. I acknowledge the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. It is the investment in relationship which allows us to have quite candid and constructive exchanges on those issues which must be addressed across a wide spectrum of the relationship that we have with India.
As the Minister responsible for our relationship with India as a whole but also the Minister for Human Rights, we of course have strong co-operation and seek to resolve issues as they are raised, from both sides, about the challenges that we face, as noble Lords will be aware. It is true that, as we set up and strengthen this relationship, the United Kingdom’s relationship with India is central to UK foreign policy. At the heart of this relationship is our shared history, values, culture and the links between our people.
The noble Lord, Lord Leong, talked about Bollywood —yes, we grew up with it. There are those who talk about India being challenged by its communities. All I need to say to those who follow Bollywood is “Amar Akbar Anthony”, a famous film with the great Amitabh Bachchan, that showed the rich diversity of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam coming together in defining what India was all about: family to family links, which were shared not just through experiences of religion and culture, but the common values that define modern-day India, and indeed the modern-day United Kingdom.
Now, many noble Lords referred to the 1.6 million-strong diaspora: well, I am pleased to report that, according to my notes, it is now 1.7 million, so it is ever-growing. May it go from strength to strength. But as we were reminded by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, it is truly a living bridge. What we have seen through the debates and discussions that we have had today again describes the strength of that living bridge. From the contribution of my noble friend Lord Minto, that living bridge is not just defined by people’s heritage, but through the living experience of families, communities and businesses.
The integrated review, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, reminded us, does state our aim to seek a transformational relationship in our co-operation across a wide range of issues. I assure noble Lords that we are doing just that. I of course take on board the point made by my noble friend Lady Verma about the importance of trade envoys, and I assure her that that is a point of discussion.
Enhanced defence co-operation will help to ensure a free, open and secure Indian Ocean region, as my noble friend Lord Risby and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, raised. Our collaboration, which I will come on to, on research and innovation is also vital to address the issue of climate change and promote health, as the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, raised. We will further share our expertise in manufacturing, science, education, emerging technology and clean energy, to name just a few. We are well-placed to strengthen our relationships going forward.
As we all know, the then Prime Minister Johnson and Prime Minister Modi committed to a stronger relationship through a new comprehensive strategic partnership in May 2021. It was then that they launched an ambitious India-UK road map to guide co-operation in key areas through to the end of the decade. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others alluded to how we are engaging in really strengthening our diaspora. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, is a member of the India Advisory Council—one such initiative that I am taking over, for building our relationship with India—which covers all areas, from security to climate change, health to business, and the people-to-people links. That has provided vital insight and information, but I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I will look at other opportunities on how best we can share both the progress we are making, but also, vitally, leverage the incredible insights that we have across our country in strengthening this partnership and playing that into our trade relationship.
Last year, the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary both visited India in support of our shared objectives. My right honourable friend from the Department for International Trade also visited India recently, and this morning, the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has also just returned from Delhi—I have not had a chance to catch up with him—where he had further discussions with both Foreign Secretary Kwatra and Foreign Minister Jaishankar on the strategic dialogue to discuss the road map further.
I turn to some of the key questions and areas covered. Through our road map, we are working to enhance connections between our people. As noble Lords will know, the UK and India are popular destinations for each other’s students. We welcome around 80,000 Indian students every year, boosting our cultural links. I hear the points that the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Loomba, made about how we count Indian students. I will share that wisdom with my colleagues from the Home Office, but I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that we have moved forward to a new chapter in this area. We recently signed an agreement recognising each other’s higher education qualifications, which should attract even more students to each other’s shores. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Swire, who asked about mutual recognition. There is more work to be done in this respect.
In November, the UK and India announced the young professionals scheme—mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Parekh and Lord Bilimoria—to really strengthen our partnership on migration and mobility. The new scheme gives freedom and opportunity to thousands of young people in the UK and India to live, study, travel and work in each other’s country for up to two years. Yes, Indian students will come to live and work here, but British students will also go to India. The scheme was launched earlier this month.
I was delighted, as I am sure we all were, that in December India finally reinstated its e-visa services for the UK, making the process of obtaining Indian visas simpler and easier, further enhancing the connections between our people. I am grateful for the strong co-operation that we had from the new high commissioner for India on that.
On trade and prosperity, I think all noble Lords mentioned the FTA. I will come to that in a moment. As one of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies, India is a key partner to the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, pointed out the importance of whisky. That is very much part of the discussions. We are unlocking benefits such as improved market access across industries such as food and drink, and life sciences. We are also looking at lowering non-tariff barriers on medical devices to benefit British exporters, and are well advanced in our negotiations for an ambitious and balanced free trade agreement. A strong trade deal with India could boost the UK economy by billions of pounds over the long term, helping families across the country. Cutting red tape and high tariffs could also make it easier and cheaper for UK companies to sell in India, driving growth and supporting jobs.
As an update, we have now completed six rounds of negotiations for a trade deal and will begin the next round very soon. That is why my right honourable friend the Trade Secretary travelled to India in December, to meet her counterpart in person to move these talks forward. Several noble Lords talked about timelines. I assure them that we are working those through specifically, but it was very much by mutual agreement to ensure that the trade deal signed is not rushed but properly thought through, and that all chapters are discussed in an exhaustive manner so that we reach a deal that is of mutual benefit to both countries and their peoples.
On defence and security, the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Risby all talked about the importance of maritime co-operation. That is progressing. I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about not spreading ourselves too thin, but nevertheless we have engaged quite extensively with India on maritime. India is a key maritime partner for the UK in the Indo-Pacific region. The UK and India are currently implementing a partnership to increase regional maritime security, including in the Western Indian Ocean, as part of our discussions on the 2030 road map. As recently as
We are also co-operating in joint research, collaboration and development of defence technology and systems, including jet engines. I assure my noble friend Lord Risby that we are looking at and working very closely on cyberspace issues, with both countries committed to a secure, stable, and peaceful cyberspace that can be enjoyed by all.
My noble friend Lord Swire and the noble Lords, Lord Anderson and Lord Purvis, talked about issues with Russia and the challenges faced in Ukraine. As noble Lords will know, we have introduced in lockstep the largest and most severe sanctions that Russia has ever faced, including phasing out Russian oil imports. We are raising Russia’s actions in Ukraine with India at every opportunity. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary did this during his visit to India on 28 and
We of course recognise the issue that my noble friend raised about the abstention that India exercised on various votes in the United Nations. We recognise India’s long and historic relationship with Russia and that much of its military uses Russian equipment. I assure noble Lords that we are working directly on a co-operative basis with India to reduce its dependency, as well as helping India to diversify its equipment in terms of its defence capabilities.
Counterterrorism is another area of joint working. I attended the UN Security Council chaired by India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar, underlining our strong co-operation in the multilateral sphere, not just in strengthening our bilateral and regional work but in what we can do internationally. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, acknowledged, there is much work being done in the field of development.
Turning to climate and health, I say that the importance of our relationship with India is clear to see, and I welcome the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about strengthening our further relationship in research and development. I can share with him the fact that the UK and India are world leaders in research and innovation. Since 2008, we have together lifted joint research and innovation investment to more than £400 million by 2021, directly supporting UK and India researchers and institutions. We are India’s second biggest research partner, and are continuing to strengthen that further. UKRI and India fund more than 250 projects and are bringing together further collaboration between 220 lead institutions from the UK and India. I will of course be delighted to meet him—I assure him that I am never too busy for him—to hear directly about the Israel-India partnership. As Minister for the Middle East, it is of particular interest, having just returned from a visit to Israel. We will continue to focus on the important issue of further innovative working with India.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about progress on climate. At COP 27, India launched its long-term strategy of net zero by 2070. We are working with Indian states across the piece, a point made by my noble friend Lady Verma, on green hydrogen policy, supporting pilots, sharing best practice and co-developing standards. In April, we announced our joint work towards a virtual hydrogen science and innovation hub to accelerate our work in affordable green hydrogen. India and the UK will also lead the global shift to a low-carbon economy, and expanding access to sustainable energy—solar and wind power—for our two countries is a key area of work.
On health, the UK and India are committed to working together as a global force for good. The noble Lords, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Lord Sahota, and others mentioned India as the pharmacy of the world, and it is. That was shown during the Covid-19 pandemic. There was mutual reliance. I remember that when we were running short of paracetamol, it was India that stepped up and supported us. When India needed oxygen, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and others stepped up to the mark, and I pay tribute to them. We talk about the living bridge; these are living, working examples of how we resolved some of the major crises we were facing globally in meeting the challenge.
I assure noble Lords including my noble friend Lord Risby that we are building on the partnerships we have established, and that there has been inward investment—for example, from the Serum Institute in strengthening its relationship with Oxford University.
I am fast coming to the end of my time; I have the joy of taking the Urgent Question in a moment or two. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, that we have enhanced the relationship of the British Council with India. She will be aware of the model of working. We provide structure and seed funding, but I think that about 75% of the council’s funding comes from turnover—that is, earned income. We are working very closely in that respect. The budget for next year is still being finalised, but I will share that with her.
On Chevening, in India’s 75th year, we announced a further 75 scholarships, which I am sure my noble friend Lord Swire is pleased to learn. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, that we are working to ensure that this recognition is further strengthened when it comes to higher education. Future collaboration is immense; I have alluded to some it. The noble Lord, Lord Leong, talked about culture, which is a great example. My noble friend Lady Verma and I had the joys of sharing a stage with Akshay Kumar, a leading Bollywood actor; I am sure he is telling his family that he met Lord Ahmad and Baroness Verma and is still writing stories about it. This shows the strength and vitality of our relationship, and I assure noble Lords that we remain very much committed to strengthening this relationship further.
If there are questions that require further detail, I will of course follow up with noble Lords in the usual way, but to conclude, the United Kingdom-India relationship is steeped in history, tradition, family and ties. However, the here and now is really defining our future. Over the last three years or so, I have led on our relationship with India at the FCDO and I have seen it go from strength to strength. I assure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that we look forward to further strengthening India’s role in the Commonwealth context as well. It is a relationship we continue to invest in, that is delivering prosperity, opportunity and a better future for all our citizens, and that I am sure will go from strength to strength.
In opening the debate my noble friend talked about Raksha Bandhan, a bond between brother and sister. It is fair to say that since I joined the House of Lords my noble friend Lady Verma has acted in that very way. Indeed, a few weeks ago I took Ashirvada, which is the recognition of the respect you have for an elder, and she dutifully complied. I will be delighted to host with her a Raksha Bandhan event at the FCDO, where she will provide me with a rakhi, and I have to invest in a gift in return. It is about mutual protection and recognition of each other’s relationship, and what better way to define where the UK and India are. I thank noble Lords once again for their very valuable contributions.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his summarisation of this wonderful debate and pay tribute to the two maiden speeches we have had the pleasure of hearing. All noble Lords have given such valuable commentary on so many different areas of mutual sharing that we have with India. I look forward to a really strengthened relationship.
I am so glad that we were able to find a way of hearing Lord Soley’s final speech in the House. He has genuinely been a great friend to me. He is courteous, and we could all learn huge lessons from the way he has conducted himself and maybe take a leaf out of that book in how we behave.
Finally, my noble friend the Minister is my little brother; he always has been. Raksha Bandhan is a very important celebration in our communities—but he has yet to give me a gift.