That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, on behalf of your Lordships’ House, I thank His Majesty the King for delivering the gracious Speech, and I am grateful for the privilege of opening today’s debate on the Motion for an Humble Address.
I will also take this opportunity to thank and pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Goldie for her exemplary work over the past four and a half years as a Minister of State for Defence and in this House. Her diligent work ethic and profound sense of duty were an example to all of us, and I look forward to her remaining engaged in this House from the Benches behind me.
This is an historic moment. The last time the King’s Speech was officially delivered was back in His Majesty’s grandfather’s day, in 1951. King George VI himself was too ill to deliver the address that day, so the job fell to the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Simonds. Seven decades on, we have entered a very different age. In 1951, our nation was coming to terms with the devastation and impoverishment at the end of World War II, we were adjusting to the bipolar mindset of the Cold War and we were embarking on a very hot conflict indeed on the Korean peninsula.
Today, we are living in a world of multipolar conflict, the most recent beginning on
But the current war in the Middle East only serves as a reminder of how interlinked the threats we face are. Lurking behind Hamas is the spectre of Iran, which continues to pose an unacceptable risk, not just to Israel but to her neighbours. Iran’s proxies—Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthis in Yemen—have all displayed their aggressive intent. Iran in its turn is allied to Russia, which it continues supplying with suicide drones.
But even as we watch events unfold in the Middle East, we will not be distracted from our determination to assist our Ukrainian friends in their fight for freedom. Russia, despite having upped its attacks in recent weeks, continues to lose strategically. It has incurred staggering losses, including almost 300,000 casualties since it began its illegal conflict, of which approximately 50,000 Russians have probably been killed. At the same time, the Kremlin has lost thousands of battle tanks and protected vehicles, as well as many hundreds of UAVs, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Most recently, its assaults over the ground in Avdiivka saw it lose a further 200 armoured vehicles and suffer several thousand casualties. A newly built Russian navy corvette was almost certainly damaged in the strike while alongside at Kerch in occupied Crimea.
Putin believes the West will tire of this war. Well, he can think again. The UK has been clear: we are in it for the long term. We were the first European country to send Ukraine lethal aid, the first to provide it with tanks and the first to provide it with long-range missiles. Last week, we reached the milestone of training more than 30,000 troops, with instructors from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden all participating in the effort—the perfect embodiment of the international community’s collective resolve. This year, we are on course to spend around £2.3 billion on military support for Ukraine. That is money for more training, more air defence and more artillery.
But defence is only one element in our whole-of-government approach to Ukraine. We have also delivered successive waves of the harshest sanctions Russia has ever faced, targeting more than 1,800 individuals and entities while freezing more than £18 billion-worth of Russian assets in the UK. Meanwhile, the UK has taken the lead in ensuring Ukraine is ready to start regeneration the day after conflict ends. Earlier in the year, with Ukraine, we hosted the Ukraine Recovery Conference, raising more than £60 billion towards meeting its reconstruction needs. As we look ahead to 2024, we will continue to do all we can to ensure Ukraine receives the assistance necessary to reassert its sovereignty, regain its territory and restore peace.
Meanwhile, the UK is also deeply engaged in the wider work of strengthening the Euro-Atlantic security. NATO remains the bedrock of our defence, and the refresh of both the integrated review and the defence Command Paper has further enshrined its centrality to our security. We have committed nearly the totality of our air and maritime assets to the NATO force model and, next year, the Army will provide the land component for the inaugural allied reaction force. Despite the convulsions of the geostrategic environment, one of the rare bright spots has been the way other nations have stepped up to support the alliance. At Vilnius, allies agreed the most radical overhaul of NATO’s deterrence and defence since the Cold War, a new generation of war-fighting planes, backed by more ready forces and a defence investment pledge which makes 2% of GDP a floor, not a ceiling.
NATO is now more resilient. Not one Russian boot has entered NATO territory. It is stronger too. Finland has already acceded to the alliance, with Sweden, we hope, soon to follow. We warmly welcome the steps that Turkey has taken to bring Sweden’s accession closer, as well as continuing to encourage Hungary to ratify without delay. In the meantime, we will support Sweden to conclude the process and remain ready to assist with rapid integration into NATO structures.
Since our adversaries are acting globally, from the Indo-Pacific to west Africa, from Latin America to the High North, we must compete globally too. As our Prime Minister said recently, Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific security are indivisible. China in particular poses us an epoch-defining challenge. It is not only accelerating its military modernisation but using assertive and coercive behaviour to rewrite the international order that has provided stability and prosperity for generations. It is flexing its economic and military muscle to advance territorial claims in the Indo-Pacific. It is expanding its influence across Europe, Africa and the Middle East, including through the proliferation of weapons systems and, of course, it has formed a “no limits” partnership with Russia.
That said, we do not accept that China’s relationship with the UK or its international impact are set on a predetermined course. We compete with China where we need to and we hold it to account when we need to. At the same time, we have been working harder to shape an open international order that upholds stability, security and prosperity and which promotes sustainable development. We have sought to be more proactive and more persistently engaged in the Indo-Pacific than ever before. As part of our tilt towards the region, we have offshore patrol vessels permanently deployed to deliver humanitarian aid. Our regional British defence staff are expanding their influence and we have defence presence in Singapore to help build regional capacity. Our global combat air programme partnership with Japan and Italy, and the AUKUS programme with the United States and Australia, provide case studies for our new approach to global partnerships.
For the avoidance of doubt, these are not just about countering threats, or submarines and planes. They are about collaborative effort, about partnering for technology- transferring, skill-sharing information exchanges. They are national and generational enterprises. The allow us to sustain our capabilities over the long term and strengthen our supply chain resilience to help us prosper through the 2020s and the 2030s. In fact, this partnership principle runs like a golden thread through our approach to global affairs. You see it in how we are working with the G7 to enhance co-operation on supply chain resilience and in how we are working with Canada to guarantee supplies of critical materials. You see it in how we are enhancing energy security, whether renewing participation in the North Seas Energy Cooperation group, stepping up collaboration with the USA or building investment partnerships with Gulf states on renewables.
You also see it in our deep-seated commitment to doing global good. Over the past year, we have delivered rapid responses to those affected by natural disasters in Morocco and Libya—the fastest deployment of UK international search and rescue since 2001. We have announced more than £5 billion-worth of special drawing rights contributions to the International Monetary Fund’s trusts for low-income countries, alongside a World Bank commitment to lend an additional $50 billion over the next 10 years. The Foreign Secretary has stepped up his visits to a range of countries, including Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, to reinforce our commitment to building partnerships to tackle geopolitical challenges.
With COP 28 just around the corner, we are also reinforcing our commitment to tackling climate change by funding renewable energy transitions across Asia, investing £2 billion in the green climate fund and signing a UK-Brazil partnership on green and inclusive growth.
By helping others, we are also helping ourselves: UK leadership is opening up exciting opportunities for our people. We have brought in technology envoys to deepen our science and technology partnerships across the globe. We recently hosted the first international AI safety summit here in London to harness these paradigm-shifting technologies for the benefits of humanity. We continue to increase our prosperity by expanding our portfolio of trade deals. We have acceded to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership—CPTPP—a group of economies that accounted for £113 billion-worth of UK trade in 2022, and whose investment alone created more than 5,000 new UK jobs last year. We have launched the Developing Countries Trading Scheme, covering more than £21 billion in exports to the UK each year, and we have supported free trade agreement negotiations with India, Mexico and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
To keep delivering globally in a world of growing dangers, we must keep strengthening defence. Our defence Command Paper refresh set out our plans to invest hundreds of billions of pounds to recapitalise our capabilities across land, sea and air: there will be new hunter-killer submarines; next generation Dreadnoughts to carry our nuclear deterrent; new classes of frigates; Typhoon with system upgraded; plus the arrival of F35s, A400s, Challenger 3, Boxer and the next generation of Ajax. On the latter vehicle, there has been a turbulent process—which this House knows only too well—but I am pleased to say we have at last turned a corner. Ajax is now back in the hands of the Army, with training with the Household Cavalry resuming in June. Reliability growth trials are progressing well, with more than 18,000 kilometres driven, as they continue to stress-test the platform and components through a series of battlefield missions that represent years of activity. Beyond that, we are investing in infrastructure and technical support, dockyard infrastructure and technical workshops: the sort of out-of-the-limelight activity that often gets taken for granted but is critical during times of conflict.
Over the past weekend, we have been reminded of how much we owe to those countless generations who have served and sacrificed to keep our nations safe. Our people have always been our greatest asset and our finest capability, but our challenge over the coming years will be to keep recruiting and retaining world-class talent. Yet if we are to compete with civilian employers, we must do things differently: ignoring artificial barriers, ditching old rules while respecting the past, and moulding our offer around the person and not the other way round. That is why we have implemented all 67 recommendations in the Haythornthwaite review, which will transform the way we reward and incentivise our people. This includes the introduction of zig-zag careers, allowing our people freedom to move around between public and private sector to enhance their skills.
We have also begun the painful process of addressing the MoD’s past misdeeds. I know that for many LGBT veterans the publication of the Etherton review revived painful memories of the shameful ban. We have apologised for those historic wrongs so that LGBT veterans can once again take pride in their service. We are determined to make amends: restoring medals that were snatched away, awarding campaign and other medals that were withheld, while clarifying pension rights and the presentation of the veterans badge.
Finally, as we contemplate the chill of winter, our thoughts turn to accommodation and making sure that our people have the warm and inviting homes that they deserve. Our wider defence estate optimisation portfolio will provide new and refurbished military residential accommodation and housing for over 40,000 soldiers, sailors, aviators and their families. We are injecting a further £400 million into military housing over the next two years. That is money to refit kitchens and bathrooms, and upgrade boilers for more than 1,000 homes. It is money to protect more than 4,000 homes from damp and to ensure that the 1,000 currently unused homes are refurbished to increase the number available to services families.
With the onset of winter, we must also make sure that there are no repeats of last year’s experience, when some personnel were left hanging on the telephone for hours to try to get their heating fixed. I am glad to say that things are in a better shape on this front. Our accommodation contractors have increased resources by more than 40%. They have laid on additional out-of-hours staff and ensured better availability of parts, and they have upped our handling capacity, so that the average call is answered not within hours but within 29 seconds.
I began by saying that the world has changed beyond all recognition since the previous King’s Speech was delivered. The following is an extract from that speech in 1951:
“The measures to this end must include drastic action to reduce the growing inflation in our economy which threatens the maintenance of our defence programme and which, if unchecked, must cause a continuing rise in the cost of living”.
As Mark Twain is reputed to have said,
“History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes”.
There is another similarity with those distant days and it is this: our determination, in the face of growing danger, to continue standing up for what we believe in, supporting our allies and investing in our people, so that we can look forward with resolve and hope.
My Lords, I will start with a few preliminary remarks, which are particularly important when we talk about foreign policy and defence. First, I welcome the noble Earl, Lord Minto, to his place and the comprehensive introduction he has given to this important debate in your Lordships’ House. I wish him well because, as he is a British Defence Minister, it is in all our interests that he does well. His words will be listened to and adhered to not only in this country but across the globe. We all wish him well in his post.
I join the noble Earl in his tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who carried out her duties with a grace and charm that impressed us all, but also with real determination, effort and hard work. For all of us, she symbolised what is good about this country and she was well regarded in this Chamber, in this country and abroad. She was also very kind and collegiate to me. Although we had some policy differences, she was always polite and courteous, and she was exemplary in her role as a British Defence Minister. We wish her well for the future.
It is also good to see the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, remaining in his place. It is important that I say that. My noble friend Lord Collins and I hold the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and the British Government to account with respect to their foreign policy. But it is only to challenge them; we do not want foreign policy to fail. We certainly have our differences, but we are pleased that he has stayed in his place, now to be supported by the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, whom we wish well in his new role.
Of course, we will welcome the new Foreign Secretary to the Chamber—with varying degrees of warmth, from what I gather from the articles I have read. But the serious point is that he is the British Foreign Secretary, which is an important post. He will be held to account in a proper, strong and determined way by my noble friend Lord Collins, as it is in the interests of all of us that the Foreign Secretary works hard, as I am sure he will, and succeeds in his post. It is important for us to make those preliminary remarks in this Chamber.
We have had much debate in the Chamber on the King’s Speech. Notwithstanding what I just said, there are clear differences with respect to our views on many policy areas to do with health, jobs, schools, the environment and, as we have seen today, the Rwanda judgment. These will continue to be debated, argued about and discussed. However, on defence and foreign policy we can all unite around one principle: that we are proud of our country and of our Armed Forces, past and present—as proud as we were just a few days ago, as the Minister said. To the few who may question the relevance of Remembrance Sunday, I record my own experience, as I am sure was the experience of many noble Lords. There were record numbers of people at the ceremony that I attended. What was particularly pleasing was the large number of young people who were there as well. What an inspiration that is for the future.
We are living in an age when the values of freedom, equality and democracy that the UK stands for are under threat. That is why it is right to support Israel, while respecting international law, in its fight against the terrorists of Hamas; why it is so important to continue to support the heroic efforts of Ukraine against Russian aggression; and why the recently signed AUKUS agreement is so important in recognising the threat from China that countries such as Australia and others in the region quite rightly feel. I suggest to the new Foreign Secretary that the China he dealt with a few years ago is a very different China from the one that we see today. It is, of course, important to remember that there are other areas across the globe where there is conflict.
The strength of our military, along with our friends and allies, coupled to an effective foreign policy, is vital if we are to deal with these challenges. We believe that we need a new Government, with a fresh, reinvigorated approach. It cannot be right that our Army has been so drastically cut in terms of numbers. Notwithstanding what the Minister said, it cannot be right that we have got to a state where some of our Armed Forces are living in damp and mouldy housing, with 4,000 not paying rent it is so bad. It cannot be right that there are so many problems in defence procurement, again notwithstanding what the Minister said about Ajax and the E7 Wedgetail surveillance planes. It cannot be right that one in five ships has been cut from our surface fleet since 2010 and that the RAF has had 200 planes taken out of service in the last five years. It cannot be right that we have seen the problems we have had with stockpiles of ammunition and other equipment that have been put under pressure with respect for our support for Ukraine and other areas. If elected, a Labour Government will undertake a defence review within their first 12 months to look at all this, to reinvigorate and realign our priorities. In our first 100 days, we will apply a NATO test to major defence programmes to ensure that our NATO commitments are met in full.
We need the UK to rediscover its confidence as a global player—not doing everything ourselves but working with our friends and allies across the globe. It is not only our hard power but the value of defence diplomacy that will do this, demonstrating our interest and presence in areas. We need to stand up for what we believe in and not be bullied, frightened or coerced into believing that what we say or do does not matter. It does, and we should be confident in that.
His Majesty’s Opposition’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable, and we wish to continue to secure Britain’s place in the alliance as the leading European nation to anticipate areas of future Russian aggression and respond as the Arctic opens up. Our relationship with the USA, whatever happens there, is crucial and vital for global security in Europe, the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. We are proud of that close military and political relationship, but also will work with other friends to deliver our common goals, both diplomatically and militarily.
Labour believes that Britain should be leading the debate about the future of international security, and would negotiate a new pact on security with our European partners, rooted in mutual respect, shared values and common interests. Labour will focus on new threats as well as traditional ones, defending our country from foreign interference.
Let me reiterate this for the avoidance of doubt: the renewal and maintenance of our UK nuclear deterrent is essential and provides protection for us, our NATO allies and global security. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the renewal of the nuclear submarine fleet and the missile system is a top priority for the Government, and we support them in their efforts in this respect. It also reminds us again of our important global role and the fact that we are a P5 UN Security Council member. We believe in multilateralism and will use this position to renew our efforts to keep Britain safe and make the world more secure and peaceful, all of this done recognising that our record on international development gave hope to our allies and partners in the fight for a better world. We will recommit to the 0.7% aid target, to be delivered as soon as resources allow us to do so, knowing that tackling humanitarian crises, poverty, food insecurity and conflict help to deliver a safer, more secure world.
We also know the crucial importance of our Armed Forces personnel. They are respected worldwide and will be at the heart of our defence plans, notwithstanding the important work the Government are doing to deal with some of the problems there have been. We recognise that the majority of the Armed Forces want some of those issues dealt with and sorted out. We see spending on defence as a force for good and for job creation, and we will make this case to the British public. We will adopt a British-built-by-default approach to defence procurement, to boost manufacturing within the UK supply chain.
Of course, the news is dominated by the conflict in the Middle East. We have seen scenes on our streets relating to the conflict. We all utterly condemn anti-Semitism and Islamophobia—they have no part in our society. There is a need for a full and immediate humanitarian pause in the fighting across the whole of Gaza to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians and for Hamas terrorists to release the hostages. Urgent steps must be taken to continue the efforts to prevent wider regional escalation. We should all note the number of, for example, US military strikes in neighbouring states in recent days. All of us, through the available international bodies, need to redouble our efforts to achieve a two-state solution to bring peace and stability.
We want our country to be self-confident on the global stage, acting with integrity, courage and consistency, and delivering for the people of Britain while making our world safer. In an uncertain world, we must, with our allies, such as the USA and Japan, and through AUKUS and NATO, be a reliable partner and a resolute ally. We need to strike trade deals and build partnerships that deliver prosperity at home and abroad. It should ring loud and clear from your Lordships’ debate today that we will be steadfast champions of democracy and human rights. Our defence policy and our foreign policy are inextricably linked as we seek to build prosperity and fairness across the world.
Our focus is, rightly, elsewhere at present, but Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine should serve as a reminder to us all. There was a courageous response by the Ukrainian people and united support from across Europe. Indeed, as the Minister said, Putin’s calculation that the nations of Europe would split and not support Ukraine has thankfully been proved wrong by support from the USA and others across the world. Ukraine’s fight is our fight for freedom, democracy and democratic values. We must not and cannot take them for granted. Our resolve to give Ukraine the military and political support it needs to be successful must not and will not weaken.
I was personally reminded of all of these stark facts when, last week, as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, I, with others, visited Southwick Park, where much of the D- Day planning took place and where the final decision to invade was made. I am named after my uncle. He was a member of the Devonshire Regiment and No. 3 Commando. He was killed on
Let it ring out from this Chamber today that, whoever the next Government are, we all reaffirm our commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The differences that we sometimes have speak to the ability for us to do that within this Chamber. We need to work with others to ensure that the freedoms of democracy and the human rights that we enjoy are felt and enjoyed by other countries across the world. Working with our friends and allies, we can strengthen the international institutions upon which we all depend, making that more than just empty rhetoric but a reality. If we do that, then the words we speak in this Chamber today will echo across our country and across the globe to deliver the sort of world that we all want.
My Lords, it is often suggested that a week is a long time in politics. It is just eight days since His Majesty the King came and gave the gracious Speech. Since then, two of the great offices of state have changed hands, perhaps presaging some significant change to policy—it is a little difficult at this stage to know. Obviously, the King’s Speech very rarely refers in any detail to foreign or defence policy, because so little of that is subject to legislation. Occasionally—once every five years—we have an Armed Forces renewal Bill, which has some significant discussion around it, and every year we are required to renew Parliament’s commitment to the Armed Forces, which we always do. This means that there is relatively little on the legislative agenda on defence. However, in his opening words last week, His Majesty the King pointed out the context of a war in Ukraine, and there was testament to “our gallant Armed Forces”.
Across the Chamber, we hear similar words. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I very often agree on questions of defence, and, over the last few years, we have spent much time agreeing with the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie. In thinking about my remarks for today’s speech, although we now have a new Foreign Secretary, who is not yet able to be in his seat, I was looking forward to saying what a pleasure it was that we were still looking across the Chamber to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. Both of them have been fantastic Ministers, who take their duties as parliamentarians and as members of His Majesty’s Government very seriously. We have much appreciated the commitment and the diligence that the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, has given to this House but also to the Armed Forces. She has been second to none in making the Government’s commitment to the Armed Forces very clear. From these Benches, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, did, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and hope that she will bring her expertise to the Government Back Benches in the future.
I welcome the noble Earl, Lord Minto, to his place and look forward to the opportunity of raising questions about His Majesty’s Armed Forces and defence accommodation. I was very pleased to hear in his speech that now, apparently, the telephone is answered by Pinnacle in 29 seconds. What I would really like to know is this. If the telephone is answered in 29 seconds, how long does it take the hard-pressed service man or woman, or more likely their spouse, to actually get an answer to their problem? Has black mould been abolished from forces accommodation? Have we really seen a change in practice or simply a few tick-box KPIs? These are the sorts of questions that the noble Earl is probably going to be hearing over the next few months, between now and the general election.
I agree with the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that it is clearly important at the start of a parliamentary Session to make our commitment to His Majesty’s Armed Forces very clear; I reiterate from these Benches as well the importance of defence. Defence is one of those issues that is probably not top of ordinary citizens’ agenda. If a survey was done asking what the three most important issues are, people might talk about a cost of living crisis, energy bills or education for their children. In the United Kingdom they are probably not going to say defence of the realm, yet defence is the first duty of the state, and for good reason.
But it has been very clear in the last two to three years that people in this country are beginning to think more about defence, as questions of conflict are becoming much more relevant within the United Kingdom. It is no longer sufficient to assume that conflicts will be in far-away places of which we know little. In recent years—I start in 2011 because I shall come back to some thoughts about what happened in the coalition—there was the Libya action in 2011, which effectively left a failed state from which small boats might be setting off, with people who are desperate to come to Europe, maybe for a better life or to seek refuge. That crisis has left a situation that is being used and abused by people traffickers.
There is also the situation in Syria, which remains a problem and in which Russia played a part. We have heard about Russia in other parts of the world, but in the Middle East it has also played a role. The Russian annexation of Crimea started a series of actions that perhaps the United Kingdom and other European countries did not take sufficiently seriously in 2014. We did from 2022. It has been part of a major commitment and I pay tribute to His Majesty’s Government for their support for Ukraine, which has been absolutely right.
Here I have a set of defence questions. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for the purposes of the King’s Speech debate, because I realise that his portfolio is officially foreign affairs. We are making commitments to Ukraine; that is absolutely right. Can the Minister confirm that His Majesty’s Government have the resources necessary to keep their commitments going to training Ukrainian forces, supplying ammunition, and providing the resources that the Ukrainian President has repeatedly told us are needed? Ben Wallace, when he was Secretary of State for Defence—another great office of state that changed so very recently—made those commitments. Is the United Kingdom able to meet them at a time of rapid change in global security questions?
I said I was going to come back to the coalition, partly because, during that time, the then Prime Minister had a tendency to visit other countries. If there was an issue of conflict—an issue that required defence support —he was prone to saying, “We can help you. We can send some soldiers, sailors or aviators, or maybe some military intelligence”. The danger of doing that is overreach. It is a good thing to do, but do we have the resources to do it?
Why does that matter? Because the then Prime Minister who was so keen to support other countries is about to join your Lordships’ House as Foreign Secretary. Can the Minister reassure the House that, in their commitment to foreign policy, His Majesty’s Government will also take into consideration the needs of the Armed Forces, to ensure that we are not putting undue pressure on all our service personnel? We have already heard about the issues of support for the Armed Forces. Accommodation is part of that, but so is adequate opportunity to spend time with families, to ensure that people stay in the Armed Forces. The more operations we undertake, the more support we need to give the Armed Forces.
In his opening remarks, the Minister mentioned the Korean War. At the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance on Saturday evening, I think I heard a statement that 80,000 British service personnel served in Korea. That was at a time of conscription; now, we are looking at 73,000 British soldiers. Is that really enough? Are the Government being complacent with the number of Armed Forces personnel? Are we looking at increasing the number of reservists?
Finally, one crisis that is still unresolved is our duty to those people who served with His Majesty’s Armed Forces and taught the English language in Afghanistan—those people to whom we made commitments under the ARAP and the ACRS. There are still thousands of people in Pakistan, many of whom think they will not make it before their visas run out, as well as people who have not yet got out of Afghanistan. As a country, we still owe a duty to those people. What will His Majesty’s Government do to make sure that the vulnerable are able to come to the United Kingdom, as promised by His Majesty’s Government?
As we see our international obligations more as supporting other Governments, so we also have obligations to people who work with and for us, particularly for the British Council. If we do not provide the support that we have offered, in future people will be very reluctant to work with us. There are many things that His Majesty’s Government are getting right, but there are many questions still to be resolved.
My Lords, many threats to UK security, economic well-being and values have been identified. However, one that has gained far more traction in recent years is the threat that China poses. Although scant reference was made in the 2021 integrated review, that was remedied in the refresh update, in which China was referred to as
“an epoch-defining and systemic challenge”.
The recommendations fell into three broad categories: protect, align and engage. It seems that this still fails to spell out a coherent strategy for dealing with what are, after all, severe threats, not only to the UK but to the rules-based world order.
Strategy implies having a clear and agreed vision of where one wishes to be in relation to a serious standoff. Every action taken thereafter—whether in foreign policy, diplomacy, trade, public statements and relations, or expression of values—restates that vision explicitly and consistently. At present we have tactics, albeit broad and necessary ones, on how to protect, align and engage, but not yet a strategy. China experts have repeatedly referred to this absence of strategy. One, Charles Parton, has gone so far as to spell out the “10 Be Clear” steps to clarify relations with China, the emphasis being on recognising the need for co-operation in several areas while making it crystal clear to China where the red lines are.
I shall summarise the major threats faced by the UK, among other nations. Much of the defensive construction and militarisation is taking place on islands whose ownership is still disputed. This construction enables China to work towards control of international shipping lanes essential for global trade.
The increase in espionage, especially that surrounding developments in technology, is now widely acknowledged. MI5 warns of the dangers of illegal procurement of technology, AI and advanced research or product development. A recent Civitas report estimates that UK universities have received between £122 million and £156 million over the past seven years, £30 million of which is subject to US sanctions.
Taiwan is under constant threat, including the undermining of democratic institutions and the economy. Although experts do not believe that invasion is likely in the immediate future, China, as Taiwan’s largest export market, pursues measures to undermine the Taiwanese economy, especially in agriculture. In addition, given that China remains dependent on Taiwan for a steady supply of advanced semiconductor chips, efforts to hijack that industry continue.
These policies alone should make it clear that China most certainly has a strategy, which is to overtake the USA as the predominant world power and secure its economic position in the long term. Its tactics include a variety of ways to undermine the rules-based international order.
What might be the points of leverage or influence? Contrary to conventional views, China is bothered by international criticism and goes to some lengths to conceal its less acceptable policies. However, atrocities such as the genocide of the Uighur population continue in part because the international reactions are often contradictory, or at least inconsistent.
While AUKUS, the Five Power Defence and the Indo-Pacific Quad—which the UK has not yet joined—are all necessary alliances, more direct action is also necessary. The fear that such strong representation might adversely affect trading volumes—China is the UK’s third-largest trading partner—is not borne out by the evidence. China understands and respects strong, even hostile, statements and action, provided that its interests are protected. The UK may have an added advantage in that the PRC supposedly believes that it has special influence on US policies.
Lastly, is the US policy of strategic ambiguity with reference to Taiwan a sufficient deterrent in the eyes of the PRC? The clue lies in the word “ambiguity”. The PRC cannot be certain that any move on Taiwan would provoke an unequivocal reaction from the USA, which enables it to continue testing the boundaries. The absence of effective sanctions at the trashing of the Sino-British joint declaration on Hong Kong following the implementation of the national security laws signals weakness on the part of the UK and others, which is exploited by the PRC, while the hesitancy to monitor the intentions of Chinese scientific and technical students at UK universities opens to way to outright theft of ideas and techniques.
The strategic direction of the UK, together with nation partners, could be defined as developing an international network to maintain and strengthen the democratic system and rules-based international order. The chief methods include making it abundantly clear that any encroachment on these values and processes will be met with severe international condemnation and sanctions. There should be no room for ambiguity.
My Lords, the gracious Speech set out a number of the key challenges impinging on our security and His Majesty’s Government’s intentions in addressing them. I shall focus to some degree on the fragility of the international order at present.
I suspect that many of us have an underlying anxiety about the future in terms of the potential for conflict and our ability to either forestall or manage it should it arise. However, in the perspective of much of the world we already live in an era of endemic warfare. By one count, there are 110 international or internal armed conflicts under way as I speak. Only North America is free of any armed clash, and even there the United States is facing historic challenges to its democratic norms.
Conflict is, sadly, not new, and it is tempting to say that we must simply embark on the latest round of realpolitik until things settle down. But there is a worrying recent trend to our instability. The fragility of states maintaining themselves in the face of militarism, populism or, in some cases, organised crime, and the instability of the international order itself, have been marked by a failure to maintain common norms of behaviour and the rule of law. Our contemporary treaties and international structures rely on a common acceptance of their value and an inculcation of the sorts of habits and attitudes that naturally support them, especially at times of stress. It is easy to observe international humanitarian law when you have no incentive to do otherwise.
There is nothing that justifies the attacks on Israeli citizens on
There are egregious examples around the world in conflicts in Sudan, Ethiopia and Syria, in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in other places, where aggressors have not only acted with enormous brutality but, in some cases, managed to solicit sympathy from other states. This has been due to disinformation, self-interest and even venality. But it is also because those of us who argue for a rules-based system are seen as benefiting from a global trading system that treats many people unfairly.
We cannot isolate ourselves from this, because many of the communities around the world caught up in conflict are represented in significant numbers in this country. There is a task for us here to model the norms we promote internationally. This means that we should be scrupulous in our international dealings, including our support for the European Convention on Human Rights. We need to address deep-seated issues around climate change and development.
There is now an opportunity, in the light of the Supreme Court judgment on Rwanda today. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, the Church of England continues to call for the 1951 refugee convention to be built on, through nations around the world working effectively together, so it can meet the challenges we face today, commending a 10-year strategy for tackling the refugee crisis, human trafficking and people smuggling.
But we also need to respect our own institutions. We should promote dialogue with communities here and abroad. In advance of the state visit of the President of South Korea, His Majesty the King visited New Malden the day after delivering the gracious Speech, engaging with the largest Korean community in Europe. On the evening of the gracious Speech, I commissioned Bishop Moses Yoo of the Anglican Church in Korea to be an assistant bishop in the diocese of Southwark, in order to minister to the large Korean community in south London. He was presented to the King the following day.
The focus being given to “global Britain” in our external relations is mirrored in the increasingly global identity of many of the communities of this land, not least the great metropolis of London, and Southwark, where my diocese is located. In his recognition of this, His Majesty the King is setting an example for us all to emulate in our multicultural local contexts. The fruit of this endeavour will be in building social cohesion that reflects the nation we have become.
I ask for a greater effort, in a larger and better-resourced Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to promote an unapologetic rules-based international order—one no longer on the back foot but gaining in strength.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate and, of course, my noble friend Lord Minto, who it seems has acquired an impressive knowledge of his brief in just 24 hours.
We approach this debate in a more fractious, multi-polar and dangerous world. Recent events in the Middle East have reminded us that supposedly frozen conflicts can quickly reignite, with devastating consequences. Away from the Middle East, I think of the suffering of Ukraine, of over 100,000 ethnic Armenians being driven from their homes, of civil war returning to Sudan, another coup in the Sahel and regional tensions mounting in the Indo-Pacific.
All this and more has put a heavy burden on the men and women of our diplomatic and defence establishments, and we must make sure that we give them adequate resources to do their job. Defence spending, for example, is promised to increase to 2.5% of GDP, which is very welcome, but we still do not know when.
At present, the world’s attention is, understandably, focused on events in Israel and Gaza. I do not see a conflict between, on the one hand, robustly supporting the right of Israel to defend itself against terrorists who murder, torture and kidnap innocent civilians and, on the other hand, also expecting Israel to do so, as far as possible, without causing the same suffering to innocents that they themselves have received. Secondly, Israel must have a realistic strategic purpose behind its actions—otherwise, however many thousands of Palestinians are killed in Gaza, hundreds of thousands of their resentful fellow citizens will be left, many with no employment and no hope, and the whole bloody mess will continue.
With all that is going on in the world, we must not minimise the significant ongoing challenges still posed by Russia which, as the Integrated Review Refresh stated, is
“the most acute threat to the UK’s security”.
Russia’s malign influence is felt across eastern and south-eastern Europe and the western Balkans, extending upwards into the Arctic region and the High North. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an attempt to redraw the border of Europe by force, and the war crimes that it has committed there are a rejection of civilised values. If Russia is allowed to succeed, the principles on which we have built deterrence and collective security in Europe will be seriously, perhaps fatally, undermined.
Despite heavy losses, Russia’s leadership believes its will to fight will outlast the West’s commitment to Ukraine. We must prove it wrong. I was reassured by my noble friend’s commitment from the Dispatch Box, together with the forceful words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker.
Russia’s influence is also felt in the High North. Later this month, your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee, which I am privileged to chair, will publish a report into the UK’s policy towards the Arctic and the High North. The Arctic occupies a central place in Russian military doctrine and strategic planning, and is likely to see increased Russia-China co-operation in future. Russian grey-zone activities in the High North are on the rise. We have seen the sabotage of sub-sea data cables and gas pipelines. Pilots in Finland cannot rely on GPS to navigate because of persistent Russian GPS jamming. I am looking forward to sharing the wider findings of the committee’s report on the Arctic with this House and the Government soon. The need for western unity and international co-operation as a safeguard against Russia’s military aggression and its destabilising behaviour has never been greater.
Finally, like other noble Lords, and as the first Conservative Back-Bench speaker, I place on record my thanks to and admiration for my noble friends Lady Goldie, who stepped down yesterday as Defence Minister, and Lord Ahmad at the FCDO, who is, I am glad to say, carrying on. They have both served the country and this House superbly, and for some considerable time, which is why it is particularly disgraceful that they and 11 other Ministers in this House are not paid a salary. It is something that the Government could easily and speedily rectify if they wished to do so, and I believe it would command support across the House.
Time is short, and I, of all people, do not want to upset the Whips, so I very much look forward to hearing the views of so many experienced noble Lords in the remainder of this debate.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests and associate myself absolutely with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, in relation to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad.
I strongly welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to supporting the people and the Government of Ukraine. For as long as the Government’s actions match their words, they will have support across this House and elsewhere in that endeavour. I also welcome the relatively balanced approach to the situation in Israel and Gaza laid out in the gracious Speech, and I hope that the Government will continue not only to support the right of Israel to defend itself but to support humanitarian pauses and other action in the Gaza Strip.
We live in an increasingly interdependent but increasingly dangerous world, and this country needs to have both the military strength to defend our country and our values but also the soft power, to the maximum, that allows us to promote democracy and human rights and to support action on tackling extreme poverty, preventing conflict and a just transition to net zero.
I was not in the Chamber last week for the gracious Speech. I suspect it was probably quite warm: it normally is on these occasions, with everyone crowded close together in their regalia. I was in very warm conditions in northern Kenya, in Turkana county, where I was on a mission with UNICEF in advance of the nutrition summit organised by the Government for next Monday. I was therefore disappointed to see that the gracious Speech does not include, as almost every Queen’s Speech has done over the past two decades, a reference to this country’s support for international development and many of the other important initiatives that, in recent years, have had a higher priority than perhaps under this Prime Minister.
Our trip last week started in Nairobi, and I saw the direct impact of an approach to sustainable development that encourages local economies to grow and prosper and to provide sustainable jobs. The Insta factory in Nairobi is producing ready-to-use therapeutic food that is then sold commercially to the international agencies in order to feed those suffering from malnutrition around the world. It was a classic example of a local economic development serving a local need, producing ultimately sustainable development for that community and real opportunities for local people. I then saw the impact of the product the next day: in particular, a little boy called Marty who not only ripped open the packet of peanut paste and squeezed every drop he could out of it but then tore the packet open and licked the inside to get every last drop.
Marty is recovering from extreme malnutrition, as a result of that programme supported by UNICEF and others, and he is part of a wider ecosystem in Turkana county, supported by UK aid, which has, for example, reduced maternal mortality in only eight years from 1,594 deaths per 100,000 of the population to 362 in 2022. The direct impact of an integrated programme, mixing investment in water, in education, in health and in the local economy, supported by UK aid, shows just what can be done.
Unfortunately, UK aid has become increasingly unpredictable and unreliable over recent years. I do not want to open up the debate right now on the level of aid or the Government’s lack of a firm commitment to return to 0.7% of GNI, but the unpredictability and unreliability of our commitments must end with this gracious Speech and the next phase of this Government. For example, at the nutrition summit next week we need to see—along with the publication of a White Paper on the sustainable development goals, which are not even mentioned in the gracious Speech or the Prime Minister’s introduction to the attached notes—a firm commitment from the UK not only to engage and invest in international development but to become a reliable and predictable partner again. That would make the biggest difference. I hope we will see it today or on Monday.
My Lords, I will welcome him as Foreign Secretary, but I will never forgive Prime Minister David Cameron for the casual way that he called the Brexit referendum for party-political reasons when the country was not calling for one, the poor management of the referendum campaign and the exclusion of people crucially affected by it, such as 16 and 17 year-olds. As I recall, it was meant to end divisions within the Tory party; over seven years later, we can see how well that worked.
However, I hope that the appointment of the future Lord Cameron will continue the improvement in relations with the EU that, to be fair, James Cleverly began, such that the Windsor Framework and our re-entry to Horizon were agreed. But it is possible to seek so much more, from easing the Brexit red tape costing businesses, jobs and consumers so dearly—including people such as touring artists—to rejoining the student exchange programme Erasmus and other EU programmes valuable to our businesses, economy and civil society.
I was among members of the European Affairs Committee of your Lordships’ House meeting French MPs this morning, who recalled that the number of French students at British universities has dropped from 13,000 to 3,000—a sorry development when soft power is so important in the modern world. Our committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the scope, in the light of the invasion of Ukraine, for greater UK-EU co-operation on security and defence as a complement to NATO. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, repeat the Labour pledge of a security pact with the EU. At least the UK has joined the European Political Community. I hope an early priority of the new Foreign Secretary will be fixing the date and agenda for the UK hosting its next meeting next year.
I am sure the new Foreign Secretary will also continue the close liaison with the EU and member states on political and military support for Ukraine, as well as on sanctions against Russia, all of which have been pretty successful. We cannot let Ukraine down. I applaud the Minister’s pledges. I am sure the Government will support the process of Ukraine’s accession to the EU.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s judgment this morning striking down the Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, we will hear a lot of bombast about pulling out of the European Convention on Human Rights, even though the Supreme Court highlighted other domestic, as well as international, legal impediments to exposing asylum seekers to the risk of refoulement. I note that a lot of whatever co-operation we have with the EU in areas such as law enforcement, internal security and business data transfers is predicated on our membership of the convention.
We are due to debate next week, on a regret Motion from my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, new proposed data protection regulations. Using powers in the retained EU law Act, the Government propose to replace references to EU concepts of fundamental rights and freedoms with references to the ECHR. This is already a worrying loss of some rights, but the regulations would completely collapse if we pulled out of the ECHR. That would be a loss to business.
Turning to the Israel-Gaza situation, I attended at lunchtime a screening of the footage taken from the body cameras of Hamas terrorists—and from CCTV, victims’ phones and Intercept—who participated in the horrific outrages of
While most people attending the pro-Palestinian marches in London have not expressed hatred towards Israel and/or Jews, some have. The steep rise in incidents of anti-Semitism has been appalling, and for our Jewish fellow citizens to feel frightened or uncomfortable coming into central London, or wearing visibly Jewish dress, such as the kippah, is deeply shaming. I also deplore any incidents of Islamophobia. I of course understand the calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, but I would like to know how, in that case, Hamas is going to be removed from Gaza and its military capacity eradicated, as not only Israel wants. I note the US confirmation that Hamas is using the Al-Shifa hospital as an operational base.
Lastly, on a question asked many times, can the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in replying, tell us why on earth the Government will not proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?
My Lords, I intend to get to the King’s Speech via the Guildhall, with a brief exit through Rwanda.
There was much to applaud in the Guildhall speech on Monday. I hope that the Prime Minister is right that Russia cannot win in Ukraine, and I am sure he is right to insist that we must do all we can to ensure it does not. I echo, of course, his condemnation of the appalling atrocity on
Some 120 countries voted in the UN for a ceasefire; I am still not quite clear why we cannot be in that number. I suppose it is because the word is deemed to imply parity of esteem and legitimacy and so cannot apply to a terrorist group. I do not know. I think most of the world simply wants the killing to stop, and it would be in Israel’s interest to listen to that, because current tactics are simply breeding new recruits for Hamas—just as the killing in Beirut 40 years ago was the making of Hezbollah. We need to help, by working on the Qatari Government, who play host to Hamas, or the Iranian Government, who are the funders of Hezbollah, or the Russians, who arm Hamas.
There is a lot of diplomacy to be done, including in Washington. We must recognise that what Washington says matters in Tel Aviv. I hope the Prime Minister has rebuilt really close relations with the White House, because relations were considerably damaged by his predecessor’s courting of the President’s political opponents, and her predecessor’s willingness to alienate both the Administration and Congress by putting the Good Friday agreement at risk. I hope we are through all that.
If I had a criticism of the Guildhall speech, it would be that it risked seeming a little hubristic. To say that we are working
“to shape the world, not be shaped by it”,
“wherever there’s a challenge, wherever there’s a threat, wherever we can promote peace and security”,
we are ready to act, risks the retort that we can speak very loudly but our stick is fairly small these days. Putin has brutally exposed the illusion of the peace dividend and we have made too many false economies on defence. The Government have done very well to help Kyiv but have yet to come clean with the country about the real cost of security in an insecure world. We are not sufficiently insured. We have to pay a higher premium. The quality of our Armed Forces may still be very high but their quantity is plainly inadequate. Our leaders need to be honest about that, so maybe less hubris.
However, the point goes wider. The King’s Speech also said:
“My Government will continue to lead action on tackling climate change … support developing countries with their energy transition, and hold other countries to their environmental commitments”.
It is true that we led on climate change, but then someone suggested that we “cut the green crap”. It is true that we led on development aid and gave it 0.7% of GDP, but we do not now, and much of what we do is spent domestically on Home Office policies. It is true we have not denounced net zero by 2050, but we have just decided to get there on a changed trajectory, meaning, in the words of the King’s Speech,
“without adding undue burdens on households”.
Therefore, we will pump out more emissions than previously planned, and once again we are not coming clean with the country. Getting there cannot be cost free. As with defence, I believe the country would respond well if the Government told it like it is.
Finally, on Rwanda and the Supreme Court ruling, the House will be relieved to hear that the new Home Secretary in the other place this afternoon did not agree with his Back Bench that the right response to the Supreme Court ruling would be to tear up treaties—the refugee convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. The new Foreign Secretary must be aware of how much reputational damage it would cost us if the Government did as advised by their Back Bench. They must know, because they saw how relations with Europe and America were poisoned when the last Prime Minister but one revealed that he had been happy to make an international agreement without ever intending to honour it. I am sure the new Foreign Secretary fully understands that pacta sunt servanda, and I hope he will ensure that the new Government will act accordingly. We are not Belarus. The convention stands for our values; let us not betray them.
My Lords, I preface my remarks by thanking the doorkeepers, the police, Black Rod and the clerks for their unfailing courtesy and good nature to me over the last year. In particular, I thank Simon Burton, the Clerk of the Parliaments, who pointed out to me after the introduction ceremony that I had moronically signed my name in my noble friend Lady Lawlor’s box rather than in my own. He did not use “moronic”, I hasten to add, but he must have thought it.
I believe it is customary to say a few words about one’s self in one’s maiden speech—something I have never really needed much encouragement to do. I had a conventional and happy middle-class upbringing in Surrey. There was one problem, in that I was expelled from school—in fact, two schools. It was drinking and climbing: I used to get drunk and climb up buildings and, quite rightly, the school decided that it would sack me before I fell off any of them. My wife later said that all I have really done in life since is to drink and social climb.
On the rest of my career, after coming down from Cambridge University, I joined the City as a merchant banker and discovered fairly soon afterwards that I was functionally innumerate, so I chucked it, or they chucked me—recollections may vary. I then started to try to write history books, and that did not start very well either. I think I have personally met pretty much everyone who bought any of my early books. Afterwards, my wife Susan, who is a very successful businesswoman, said that she was going to introduce me to a new business model, which was to try to write books about things that people wanted to read about, and that all changed.
I would like to say of the gracious Speech that the Government are to be commended for their stance on Ukraine and Israel. It is also worth pointing out that Labour should be commended on that too—the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, earlier today was tremendously patriotic.
I went to Kyiv with General David Petraeus, the American general, six months ago. We were co-authoring a book. As well as going to Kyiv, we went to Bucha and Irpin. We saw the places where the Russian soldiers had massacred innocent Ukrainian civilians and tortured them in all too many cases—455 of them in Bucha alone. It is so important that we stick to the policy of continuing to help the Ukrainians up until the point when, finally, Putin recognises that the war there is unsustainable.
As far as Gaza is concerned, wars are not won by ceasefires. Humanitarian pauses are of course a good idea, but nothing must impede or hamper the Israeli Defense Forces in their operation to try to extirpate Hamas. Israel has the right to do that, and we should be on its side.
Finally, I will prove, I hope, a hard-working, attendant and zealous Member of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, speeches that follow maidens can sometimes have a formulaic quality. We say that it is a privilege, honour and pleasure, and the words issue from our vocal chords without our really stopping to ponder what they mean. Let me say with feeling that I feel very lucky and happy to be able to follow one of the most foremost historians of our generation, my noble friend Lord Roberts of Belgravia, the author of 20 books and perhaps best known for his magisterial and monumental biography of Winston Churchill. There have been 1,012 such biographies and his was the 1,010th, but I think it is at or close to the top of almost every critic’s list, above even, dare I say, The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson, in which the great war leader is—oddly enough, who would have thought it?—reimagined as a witty after-dinner speaker and right-wing journalist who is cruelly excluded by the Tory leadership until the crisis hits, at which point, in desperation, they send for him.
However, as young people sometimes say of pop groups, I prefer some of my noble friend’s earlier work. Given the conversation we have just been having in this debate about the recent reshuffle, it is worth noting that he has written stonking biographies of two previous Tory Foreign Secretaries who spoke from these red Benches; namely, Lord Salisbury and Lord Halifax. Sometimes, my noble friend is portrayed as a TV historian or as not completely academic, and that is monstrously unfair. His books have been translated into 28 languages. They have won 13 literary prizes. Every one of them involves original research from primary sources, including the Churchill book. He was the first historian to get the late Queen to open the royal archives so that we know what her late father, in his dutiful, dim and decent way, thought about the events of that time.
My noble friend did, however, write one slightly more frivolous book. He authored a thriller in 1994 called The Aachen Memorandum. I mention it because I have a feeling that the fictional hero is modelled on someone currently on these Benches—I will leave noble Lords opposite to try to work out which of us. I mention this book because there is something oddly prophetic in it. It is set in the future, looking back to a Brexit referendum—and this is the uncanny thing. My noble friend imagines the in/out referendum having taken place in 2015—let us remember that this book was written in 1994—and records the vote to leave as 51.86%. In reality, it was 51.83%, so he was out by only one year and 0.03%.
I will say one other thing about my noble friend. Remarkably, he is already in Hansard, although this was his maiden speech. He is in Hansard, albeit unnamed, from a debate on the Australia trade deal that took place on
“Let us imagine that we export cheese to Australia all that distance away, and Australia exports cheese to us. What would be the point of that?”
Then it says, “Noble Lords: Better cheese!”. Then she says:
“I hear calls from the other side of the House saying, ‘Better cheese’”.—[Official Report, 9/1/23; col. 1258.]
Is it not an extraordinary thought that if, in any way, my noble friend had been incapacitated between January and now, he would have gone down as the Member whose sole contribution to the counsels of your Lordships’ Chamber were the two words “Better cheese”? I suggested to him that he should leave it at that and not make a maiden speech. I know that he is a very modest man and was tempted, but he overcame that because he has a great deal to contribute. He is, as Henry Kissinger described him,
“a great historian who is always relevant to contemporary thinking”.
I cannot imagine a better recommendation for a place in your Lordships’ counsels than that. I welcome my noble friend.
I turn to the substance and to another great historian. I think it was Samuel Huntington who said that, although we tend to forget it in the West, the rest of the world does not forget that our values were spread by force of arms rather than force of argument. We can very easily fall into the delusion of thinking that the rest of the world came to liberal democracy because of its obvious and intrinsic superiority—but, as a matter of historical record, that is not how it happened. It turns out that these values of ours—liberty under the law, open societies—have a much shallower hold on large swathes of our planet than we would have thought possible until very recently. We saw it first in the line-up over the Russia-Ukraine conflict. To us, it may have seemed perfectly obvious that a country had been attacked without provocation by a neighbour that had promised to defend it and that a democracy, however imperfect, was invaded by an autocracy. That is not how it looked in a number of other places.
We see that same division, perhaps even more starkly, in the reaction to the crisis in Israel and Gaza. Indeed, in a lot of the global South, people put the two things together and accuse us—by which I mean the West at its widest—of stunning double standards. Your Lordships will have heard this from colleagues in other countries. I certainly have. They will say things such as, “How would you feel if Putin had ordered Ukrainian civilians to clear out of half of Ukraine?”, “How would you feel if Russia had bombed two Polish airports in the way that Israel pre-emptively bombed two Syrian ones?”, or “How would you react if Russia cut off Ukrainian energy?”. Actually, they say, “We know how you reacted to that; you called it a war crime and called for trials”.
We may have what we think are good answers to those things. We might point out that in both cases a fundamentally open and law-based society is at war with a fundamentally terrorist state, a state that has no rule of law and is actuated only by force. We might point out that there is a huge difference between the unprovoked attack on Ukraine and Israel responding to the abominations of
I am afraid that we have been brutally reminded of how short the reach of our values is. We talk about universal rights. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, spoke very movingly of his uncle and his belief that by fighting in 1944 he was making the world safer for democracy. For the next 70 or so years it would have seemed reasonable to assume that had happened. We saw the rule of law and open society spreading, roughly until what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, described as the significant year of 2011, when that process stalled and began to go into reverse.
We are reminded of Samuel Huntington’s truth that what we call “universal values” in reality became universal values because of a series of military victories by the English-speaking peoples and their allies. Imagine that the Second World War had ended differently. Imagine that the Cold War had ended differently. There would have been nothing universal about them then. That is why it matters that we are still prepared to defend our values with proportionate force—above all, in Ukraine. There is a road to victory in Ukraine. You can imagine the Ukrainians breaking through to the Sea of Azov, kettling the Russian garrison in Crimea and having peace. But if Russia succeeds and can wait this out and maybe get a friendlier regime in Washington DC, the West collectively will have suffered a loss of prestige that makes Suez look like a picnic. In every other continent and archipelago people will recalibrate whom they need to listen to. That noise that noble Lords hear is the melancholy long withdrawing roar of western liberty.
My Lords, I extend a very warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, who delivered such a wonderful speech with great economy and wit; it is not often that maiden speeches have these characteristics.
I want to talk about two issues: defence and foreign affairs. When we talk about defence, I am not entirely sure that we are clear about what we are trying to defend. We cannot talk about it unless we know what it is we want to defend—against what and whom. In the process of defending what you wish to defend, is there a danger of corrupting it? For example, when we talk about defending ourselves against terrorism, the question is: what is terrorism and how do we understand it? Is it likely that we are describing people as terrorists who are simply fighting for their rights and dignity? The first thing I want to urge the House to be clear about is what we have in mind when we talk about defence. If we miscalculate what we are trying to defend in any situation, we might end up creating more problems. We cannot, for example, defend ourselves against Hamas by using Hamas-like methods, vocabulary or techniques. That is the first very simple, but important, point I would like to make.
I would now like to speak about how the recent events in Gaza have deeply affected us. What Hamas did was savage, barbaric, brutal and utterly unacceptable. The response to that by Israel was much more civilised, but nevertheless not entirely above board. There are questions about whether killing 10,000 people in the Gaza Strip in response to the loss of 1,400 people in Israel was the proper answer. What the conflict did was to damage both parties. It certainly damaged Hamas, and rightly so, but it also damaged Israel—not just physically but by affecting its reputation outside. When you go into a war or fight a conflict of this kind, you do not come out clean; you also stoop to the level of your opponent. The result, therefore, is a fine community, a highly talented community, finding itself having to depend on the sufferance of its fellow citizens. They have got to be shown to be using the markers of Jewish identity. They have to be careful in taking all those steps.
How have we come to this situation? I will raise one or two important points that we have not dealt with sufficiently. Why is this conflict one of the longest in human history? Why has it been the fiercest? Why has it become a kind of litmus test of one’s concern for the poor and marginalised? Why is your concern for equality tested by whether you care for the Palestinians or not? Why has this conflict become so central to our moral and political understanding?
Precisely because this has happened, we have reached a situation where any action or conflict involving Palestine and Israel draws out millions. It draws out all kinds of strong passions, many of which are unsustainable or unjustifiable, but are nevertheless strongly felt by those who express them.
Therefore, the question to ask is why we have come to this situation, despite all the efforts made by the high and mighty. The answer I suggest is not simply Islamic radicalism. It is at two levels. First, I do not think that the negotiations that have taken place between the Israelis and Palestinians have been conducted in good faith. Each side has hidden motives. Israel, for example, would like to see the Palestinians dispossessed and thrown out of Israel and the Palestinians would like to destroy Israel or reduce it to a minority clamouring for rights.
So it is very important that the two sides talk to each other and create a situation of accommodation and peace. Otherwise, the cycle of violence and hatred will continue. Every death engenders more hatred. Unless we find some way to terminate or tame this cycle, we will be responsible for whatever deaths occur.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a patron of Caabu, the Council for Arab-British Understanding. I welcome the noble Earl to the Dispatch Box and offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Belgravia. If he speaks as well as he writes, we will do very well out of him.
There is no shortage of issues for this debate, as we have already heard. In welcoming the future noble Lord, Lord Cameron, to the office of Foreign Secretary, I at least have hope of a more productive dialogue with the European Union, but I suspect that the most urgent issue on his agenda will continue to be the plight of the Palestinians living, or attempting to live, in Gaza.
Let me repeat the two imperatives with which I began the last time we discussed this issue. First, there is no place for anti-Semitism, either in public or private, in our country. Secondly, Israel has a right to take proportionate action to protect its citizens and territory in light of the vicious, callous and barbaric attack of Hamas. But we, in turn, are entitled to question the exercise of that right.
Proportionality depends on circumstances. Let me offer this clarification: action in self-defence must be proportionate in method, but the results of any such method should themselves be proportionate. There are terrible and continuing events by the action of Hamas, but the Government of Israel do not have carte blanche. If you rely on international law for the advantage it gives, you cannot ignore the obligation it creates in return.
It is said on behalf of the Israeli Government that the damage to life, limb and property as a result of their military action can be described as “collateral”. It does not seem collateral to those who have been injured, and even less so to those members of families where whole generations have been lost. What does the euphemism “collateral” mean? I suggest that it cannot be used to describe severe damage that is known to be inevitable. The more damage done to civilians and property in Gaza, the greater the risk that similar organisations and countries sympathetic to Hamas may seek to intervene.
We should now ask what victory will look like. Who will take responsibility for the homeless, the recovery of the injured and the rebuilding of Gaza? The cost of reconstruction, social and physical, is increased by every action of so-called “collateral damage”. A military solution will not resolve these issues, but who would come to a political conference? Hamas, if defeated, is unlikely to do so, and Israel if victorious will see no reason to do so either.
Gaza will be a wasteland—just the circumstances Hamas will try to exploit for recruitment. Would it not be an irony if the present action became a recruiting sergeant for the terrorist organisation Hamas?
The truth is that the least-damaging outcome would be a ceasefire as soon as possible. That would ensure an opportunity for hospitals to be properly serviced and their patients properly cared for—no more pictures of premature babies fighting for their lives. For the preservation of the life, limb and dignity of the Palestinians in Gaza, there is no valid option other than a ceasefire.
My Lords, His Majesty demonstrated in his gracious Speech that he fully understands the international context that we face. I welcome the noble Earl to the Dispatch Box and pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. I congratulate him on his brief but very moving and thoughtful speech, and his reminder of the need for victory for Ukraine.
Much has been said on the nature of conflict, with war, violence and coup d’états placing us in an era of concurrent activity, all adding up. We know that bad actors, many of whom have been mentioned in this strong debate, will continue to exploit our boundaries and seams, and find ways to pursue their intentions. We also see in Ukraine that the way we conduct operations is changing. We see in Gaza all too tragically the way in which warfare needs to be constantly updated. We see the importance of new technologies in violent application. We see the way the Russians in particular use high explosives, indiscriminately causing casualties and war crimes. We have to conclude that this era of concurrency requires a sustained effort.
The word I would add to this debate is the importance of enhancing resilience, in particular of our critical, national infrastructure. Is it not time also to discuss the ways and means we may need to defend our homeland? We have had our era of overseas operations; we also need to pay attention to our homeland. All of us are proud of our UK Armed Forces, past and present, and the way they respond to these concurrent risks and operations, but we need also to pay attention to the use of our Armed Forces to enhance our resilience and sustain our operations and our Armed Forces, both regular and reserve, and regular reserves—an old concept but my words are quite simple. After almost 50 years of military service, I can say that mass matters.
The actions of Putin, the lessons from which we must observe, and increasing ethnic tension are spreading beyond the battlefield. I must declare my interest as the Prime Minister’s special envoy to the Balkans. There is hate speech in the Balkans, and that region in our own continent of Europe is awash with weapons. People there are all too ready to make analogies to their own wars of 30 years ago, when, we remind each other, almost 200,000 people died. We must therefore tackle misinformation and disinformation as a matter of national security. As we have debated in this House, we have a good integrated review and a Command Paper to go with it, but others are widening our definition of national security for us. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made it clear that we need to use all the tools we have available. We need to be creative in tackling the era of concurrency that we now face.
I commend the recent work of insurance agencies and actors in this country, using English law and working with the International Maritime Organization to find ways to move grain in significant quantity around the Black Sea. That is now part of national security. It would not have been considered so a few years ago.
The noble Earl defined competition with China. Of course, China is seeking a different world order under its new rules and norms. Many of the norms that our forebears in this place and past members of our Armed Forces fought and died to create, so that we could trade freely and enjoy freedom, are now under threat. The one I would add to the many that noble Lords have already set out is the freedom of navigation. If we lose that, we lose a lot. In the face of war and tragedy, we need to condemn the acts of terror that we have seen committed by Hamas, we all need to work on deterrence and de-escalation, but we need to be ready to sustain and to respond, and I fear it will be a long haul.
My Lords, I welcome my noble friends the Minister and Lord Roberts. I pay tribute to my noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lady Goldie for their tireless work. I welcome the Foreign Secretary to his role. Having served under his leadership in opposition and in government, I know he will bring experience and steadiness to guide our foreign policy through tough and unpredictable times.
Foreign and domestic policy are mutually reinforcing. Our foreign policy should always seek to create an international climate in which Britain is secure and prosperous and we can find multilateral solutions to global challenges. The foundations for this must be in an international law-based order built around law and human rights. Every foreign policy and security challenge that we face would be easier to address in a world where international law was widely respected and observed. Furthermore, our foreign policy is strongest when it has united support from across countries. In a deteriorating international environment, we need unity, not divisiveness. That requires a steadfast defence of our fundamental democratic values.
Our international influence comes with responsibility, and when and if we fall short the danger is that other nations interpret it as a green light to breach international law in more severe ways and we weaken our ability to resist such breaches. Nowhere has our commitment and that our allies to international law been more under stress than in the Israel/Gaza conflict. Let me be clear: Hamas committed an act of terror and terrorism with executions, the kidnapping of families and reported instances of sexual violence of the most horrific nature. The killing and abuse of civilians can never be justified. It is abhorrent, it is evil and it is cowardly. That is what sets us apart from Hamas and from Russia. We must always hold ourselves to a higher standard and follow international law when we exercise the right of self-defence.
If we have learned anything from the experience of fighting terrorism, from Afghanistan to Iraq, from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo, it is that when we depart from international law, we betray our values and we do not protect our country but inflame the very problem we are trying to address. We seem to have forgotten these lessons in our response to the Gaza/Israel crisis. As we speak, Israeli military operations include disproportionate attacks on civilian targets and a deliberate policy of withholding water, electricity, fuel and humanitarian aid, none of which is defensible from a legal or moral point of view.
None of us on any side of your Lordships’ House can claim to have been taken by surprise with these tactics. They were announced in advance when Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the Israel Defense Forces would turn Gaza into rubble and when Major General Alian addressed the population of Gaza saying:
“Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water … there will only be destruction”.
I have no doubt that such statements, and their operational implications, were reported back by our diplomats, yet we still gave unquestioning political support to the operation that unfolded. By being an uncritical friend, we have helped open the door to terrible suffering, with long-term implications for peace in the region and around the world. In a way, we failed Israel. We failed Palestinian civilians as well and, dare I say, we failed the British people too.
“if there is a doubt that a civilian object has lost its protective status, the attacker must assume that it is protected”.
He noted that
“the burden of demonstrating that this protective status is lost rests with those who fire the gun, the missile, or the rocket in question”.
This is a tough task, but it is the task we set ourselves to avoid the horrors and suffering of past conflicts—the call democracies must be able to answer. Human rights and international humanitarian law are not à la carte. We do not get to choose which we like and which we do not, and in which context they apply.
The widest possible adherence to a rules-based order is the best hope we have to achieve peace, security, prosperity and the furtherance of our national interests. I know the Foreign Secretary is a strong proponent of human rights and the rule of law, and I hope he will put defence of both at the heart of his work, and of every area of our foreign policy.
My Lords, I join in welcoming the noble Earl, regretting the departure of the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and also of course congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on what we hope will be a long period in the House.
I begin with a very dangerous thing to do in this House: the first joke mentioned during this debate. That is the very Polish saying: what is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist? A pessimist will say, “Things can’t possibly get worse”; an optimist will say, “Oh, yes they can”. That is highly apposite to the crises in Gaza and in Ukraine which we have been discussing.
There is a very profound difference between the position perhaps 30 years ago, when there was a great deal of optimism and a prevailing mood and vision of things improving with the onward march of democracy, and that of today, with the triumph of strongmen, authoritarianism and indeed illiberalism. Long-standing problems 30 years ago appeared capable of resolution, such as the end of apartheid. I was monitoring the elections in Namibia and indeed in South Africa. Also, we foresaw the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. We were hoping too, when we had the Oslo accords, for a great new era in the Middle East. Alas, it was not so. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell; we had the end of the Soviet empire and the fragmentation of much of the Soviet Union, and indeed a rather fragile democratic Russia which sought accommodation with the West and even with NATO.
But things have changed so much since that time. We had a deal with China on Hong Kong, which appeared to guarantee a democratic future for that territory for 50 years. Now, across the world there is a crisis as old nationalisms reappear. In so far as Ukraine is concerned, after the invasion and the magnificent response, we now have a possible stalemate. Trump may well alter wholly the position of the western response, and Putin awaits a possible Trump victory.
If Trump were to prevail, we would have a Europe threatened and unable to fill that gap. The stakes are high. Clearly, if Russia were to emerge with something it could call victory, the world power balance would change. China would be emboldened in respect of Taiwan. Democracy in the Sahel has suffered as military coups prevail and there is increasing instability. Above all, the crisis in Gaza has shown the danger of a wider Middle East conflict. We have been complacent in imagining that the Abraham accords would lead to a new era and have ignored the cauldron of misery among the Palestinian people. Can anything positive emerge from the shock on Israel?
What is clearly true is that Hamas has the intent of destroying Israel. It has said it would attack Israel again and again, and it is hardly surprising that Israel looks now to Hamas, sees that it has that intention and tries to ensure that it does not have the resources to carry it out. That is the reality facing Israel. Clearly, it demands not unconditional support for Israel but recognition of its dilemma, and that it acts in a proportionate way—however we define that. The shock provides a possible opportunity for peace.
What is sad in the current mixture of crises is that we seem unwilling to look forward in terms of the climate threat, for example. The Government have clearly shown evidence of back-sliding in many key areas on climate. Among other problems is the world population increase, which does not have the prominence it deserves. I welcome what the Government are doing about the empowerment of women, but clearly, we need to do far more.
Looking back over the past 30 years, we see growing disillusion when faced with this witch’s brew of problems. Such is the profound change from the bright vision which we had 30 years ago.
My Lords, I too warmly welcome the noble Earl to his new appointment and join in the praise and admiration for his predecessor’s work in the Chamber and beyond. She was quite outstanding.
One much-invoked word in speaking about security issues is “strategy”, often coupled with another word, such as “defence”, “diplomatic”, “economic” or “operational”, or even “grand” strategy. A poor relation of this strategy family is the “exit” strategy. Far from being the poor relation, it should be one that is alive and well: never ignored, never allowed to wither on the vine. For clarity, by “exit”, I refer not just to military disengagements, though perhaps these are the most vital, but to a variety of situations where there has been a departure from the norm and the current state is non-sustainable and/or non-desirable.
Too often, the pressure of events, or their surprise occurrence, means that total effort is concentrated on the immediate response. At some later date, thought and planning get to focus on exit or withdrawal and its aftermath. However, early thought, ideally even before any major commitment of effort or force, should be given to that aftermath. Often, such premeditation may not be possible, but when it is, as was the case in the first Gulf War, it can be immensely invaluable. Whether government activity has been based on earlier contingency planning or rapid response to a threatening development, the record of forward thinking on how to end the deployment or involvement and manage its aftermath is sadly lacking. Going back to World War II, did the decision to insist on unconditional surrender really take enough account of the aftermath once hostilities ended? One can appreciate the strength of feelings at the time, but it left considerable burdens which only the victor powers could then support.
Since World War II, we have tended to be tied as an ally to the approach of the United States or to the collective views of NATO. Occasionally, as with Vietnam, the Government decided not to deploy forces, so no exit strategy was called for. If we had deployed, the decision on when to disengage would not have been politically possible until the US itself finally did so. Some would say that was maybe a sensible decision on our part. It underlines one of the most important considerations before getting involved: how much may we be sacrificing our own freedom of choice?
When it came to the first Gulf War, there were months between the first aircraft deployments following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and the start of hostilities in February 1991. In early discussions with my opposite number then, General Colin Powell, it was clear that we were on the same page. Once the military objective was achieved—forcing the Iraqis out of Kuwait and sufficiently weakening the Iraqi Republican Guard and its air force that a re-invasion of Kuwait would not be possible—we should move back home. A military exit strategy was established. This was good for the hosting nation, Saudi Arabia—which was experiencing considerable qualms about hosting so many foreign forces with their different cultures, and of course the expenses that it was meeting—good for other neighbouring states, and especially good for our own forces. Regrettably, the forward planning for the aftermath of military withdrawal fell far short of what was required.
Experiences later in Iraq and then in Afghanistan lacked the clarity that should be the bedrock of exit strategies, wherever it can be achieved. The abrupt and messy departure from Kabul in 2021 was a poor end to many years of bravery and commitment.
In wondering whether Israel will have a heavy ongoing responsibility in Gaza once the shooting stops, I hope it is working too on its strategy after getting what it claims to want: the unconditional surrender by Hamas.
My Lords, it has been a privilege to sit beside my noble friend Lord Roberts of Belgravia during his wonderful maiden speech. It is common for an author to get very irritated to have to follow another who is younger, better-looking and more intelligent, but in his case, I will make an exception.
I would like to talk about inclusion. I am a massive supporter of inclusion. It is fundamental, and look what it has done, for instance, to change the nature of our Front Benches in this House. However, I wonder why it seems that those who shout most aggressively about inclusion spend so much of their time trying to exclude others, attacking those who genuinely believe that women cannot have penises, for instance, trying to silence those silly scientists who question the logic of Just Stop Oil, or ignoring those really irritating parents who rather insist on knowing what their children are being taught.
And in respect of Jews, of course—right now, especially Jews—it is free speech, I suppose, although when it promotes violence, hatred and bloodshed, it is not free at all. It is the costliest speech imaginable.
Thank goodness, then, for safe spaces, with their shrink-wrapped minds and vacuum-packed morality, where they have never heard of McCarthyism or read any Solzhenitsyn. I was reading the Old Testament the other day—the bit about being whipped by scorpions. All that smiting and begetting is enough to turn a young man’s mind—without a single trigger warning. I do not know how I shall be able to manage.
Talking of trigger warnings, there was the 1964 election campaign in Smethwick. Forgive me, but I will not shrink from it, lest we forget it: “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour”. It turns my stomach to this day. It is almost impossible for a younger generation to believe it when you look at today’s Cabinet, for instance. As a country we have come so far and made so much progress. There is more to do, but we have become genuinely inclusive. Yet today that is under threat. Wedges are being driven deep by those who are trying to split us apart on lines of gender, sex, religion and, yes, once again, race.
About the time of the awful Smethwick election, another voice was raised: “I have a dream”, Martin Luther King told us almost exactly 60 years ago. It was one of the most magnificent speeches ever made in the English language. He said:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”.
What a dream—but it did not stop there. He dreamed that
“one day … little black boys and black girls will … join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers”.
It was a dream that we followed in this country with remarkable success, but now it is in danger, from political insights that go no deeper than T-shirt slogans, from hypersensitivity, from those who demand all their rights but will do none of their responsibilities, from those who think that it is all right to beat up on poppy collectors—so much for safe spaces—and from politicians on all sides who seem to go out of their way to use deliberately lurid and inflammatory language.
We should raise our voices too, and more frequently, to remind ourselves of all the many things that we have in common, so that we not only tolerate but celebrate our differences. It is called the vision thing—for a country safe not just for Jews but for Muslims, built on proper inclusion that, above all, includes the majority of Britons whose enduring common sense has made this one of the most tolerant places in the world. That will be this country’s best defence—defence in depth—and the most persuasive foreign policy of all.
My Lords, we live at a time of greater international uncertainty than we have known for many years. That places special importance on upholding the norms and assumptions of international society, informed by international law, in which the bearers of international personality are sovereign states. Indeed, in the absence of a global Executive, the well-being of that society depends on our protecting the norms and conventions that constitute international relations. At the heart of these is the doctrine of recognition and the principle that international relations depend on two states recognising each other. This amounts to each acknowledging and respecting the right of the other to govern itself across the extent of its territory. That is foundational, because it is only when two sovereign states afford each other their reciprocal dignity that international relations can really happen.
To be sure, there are other important doctrines, such as pacta sunt servanda, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. Agreements must be kept, but we cannot collapse international society into that principle abstracted from the other conventions that make international agreements a possibility—otherwise, a treaty to promote slavery or disfranchisement would be inviolable, because it would rest on an agreement between states. In truth, the operational impact and importance of pacta sunt servanda in treaty-making assume the basic integrity of the actors—sovereign states—between which those agreements are reached. If we wish to uphold the integrity of the international society of states that is definitive of world order, and on which international law is based, we have to remember that valid treaties are not just whatever two parties agree; they are agreements made in a context that respects the foundational norms or assumption on the basis of which the peace and stability of the international area depend.
For example, it states quite plainly in the UN Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations:
“Every State has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State”.
It also states:
“Nothing … shall be construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States … Every State shall refrain from any action aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of any other State or country”.
Lest there should be any doubt about the importance of these principles, the declaration also affirms:
“The principles of the Charter which are embodied in this Declaration constitute basic principles of international law, and consequently appeals to all States to be guided by these principles in their international conduct and to develop their mutual relations on the basis of the strict observance of these principles”,
“Where obligations arising under international agreements are in conflict with the obligations of Members of the United Nations under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligations under the Charter shall prevail”.
One of the most obvious ways in which a state, A, or a group of states, AB, can act in violation of the territorial integrity of another state, C, is to apply pressure for the right to make some of the laws over part of C, and to insist on the imposition of a customs border across C at the point at which their law ceases to have effect and the laws of C alone obtain. This is what the 27 member states of the European Union have decided to do to the United Kingdom, imposing laws made by a legislature in which we are not represented and imposing a border cutting the country in two and requiring the construction of border control posts for its enforcement.
Some might say that this is acceptable because the Parliament of the United Kingdom has agreed to embrace this humiliation entailed in the violation of its territorial integrity. However, that does not change the fact that Parliament would never have considered such an outcome had the EU not proposed it and thereby sought to disrupt the national unity and territorial integrity of our country. Nor does it make Parliament’s decision to acquiesce to this pressure anything other than a serious mistake, setting an unsettling precedent for international society that is quite unbecoming of a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
In contemplating this, I greatly rejoice that no Parliament can bind its successors. I welcome the sentence in the King’s Speech about the union. We urgently need legislation to fully restore Article 6 of the Act of Union.
My Lords, in welcoming the Minister to his new post, I congratulate him and wish him well. I associate myself with the words of gratitude, admiration and commendation for the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and I thank her for her service. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Belgravia, on an excellent maiden speech. Conscious of the short time available, I shall limit myself to a few general, diagnostic observations.
Among all too many other conflicts, this debate is taking place against the backdrop of the unspooling tragedies of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and hostilities between Hamas and Israel. On the latter, we have all been appalled by the scenes of destruction and death that we have seen over the last six weeks, including the savagery of Hamas and the wholesale abandonment of civilised norms.
I hope that the Prime Minister’s pledge in Monday’s Lord Mayor’s speech to help to create a “new political horizon” in the Middle East presages a degree of unity, at least in the UK’s response to this crisis. My honourable friend Rachel Reeves, speaking yesterday, rightly stated:
“The way to stop this killing and the way to save lives is for the international community to come together” and for pressure to be applied to Hamas to secure the release of Israeli hostages. She also exhorted Israel to show restraint in imperilling the lives of innocent civilians.
Unity on these questions, and others in the geopolitical sphere, would conform with the stated aim of the King’s Speech: to look to the long term, making measured, strategic decisions in the interests of the nation’s security. Israel must be allowed to defeat Hamas and recover its hostages but, as politicians of all stripes in the UK, as well as the US Secretary of State, have made clear, that should not be interpreted as a licence for disproportionate, retaliatory violence against Palestinian civilians.
Of course, no international order can guarantee freedom from conflict, but the fractured global response to the crises in Eurasia and the Middle East is indicative of a deeper failure to preserve the rules-based international order. Until recently, that phrase was widely accepted as a fact rather than, as at present, a receding aspiration. When we examine Chinese intentions, Russian bellicosity and the reluctance of emergent powers in the global South formally to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, it is clear that the ebbing power of the rules-based international order is not merely a product of western decay; it is equally a product of that consensus being deliberately rejected by powers that have glimpsed the prospect of, and actively seek, an increasingly rivalrous and multipolar world.
So I am forced to ask myself whether the phrase “international community” encompasses a statement of fact at all. While the NATO powers, including Britain, showed coherence in their response to the aggression in Ukraine, the reaction from other quarters has veered between ambivalence and disinterest. India has been walking the tightrope of studied neutrality. The current Prime Minister of Pakistan describes his world view as being “every nation for itself” and responded to questions about his country’s historic defence relationship with the United States by describing China as his nation’s “all-weather friend”. In that context, and in the light of the UK’s declared Indo-Pacific tilt in foreign policy, it is also worth mentioning the first ever joint Chinese-Pakistani maritime patrols that are currently under way in the Arabian Sea.
The response from Latin America has been coloured by lingering resentment towards the West, with the US and Europe being criticised for stimulating the fighting by supplying armaments to Ukrainian forces. How can the phrase “international community” be anything other than an oxymoron at present, when we see a false moral equivalence drawn between unprovoked aggression and the provision of support for a beleaguered friendly power?
Conscious of time, I merely mention the quickening drive for de-dollarisation among the BRICS countries, the re-emergence of nuclear blackmail as a diplomatic strategy, the inability of NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine early last year and increasing tensions in the western Balkans as further symptoms of the splintering of the international community.
We are faced with a darkening international picture. There are two overlapping schisms, one between the global North and South and the other between those who subscribe to a rules-based international order and those who regard that phrase as an evasive euphemism for western hegemony. It is in the intersection between those two increasingly divergent groups that British foreign policy must direct its efforts.
These are weighty questions with which to grapple, and it is in all our interests that the newly appointed Foreign Secretary, the future Lord Cameron, is successful in engaging them. They are not insoluble. Given that the new Foreign Secretary’s recent political resurrection makes the rising of Lazarus look rather prosaic, I hope that his diplomacy on behalf of the United Kingdom meets with equal success. As Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary of State for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief at the UN, said this morning, the world is in a parlous, sorry state. It is incumbent upon us all to do what we can to change that.
My Lords, shortly before the fateful day of
The history is relevant—I speak in front of eminent historians—to the recurrent war in the Middle East in order to understand that Israel is not prepared to take any chances against a group that declares it wants to exterminate its citizens. Those who chant “From the river to the sea”, as they are doing right now outside our House, should know that every time they chant that particular chant they stiffen the resolve of the Jewish people to ensure that the wish that that chant expresses of wiping out the Jewish state will not be allowed to take place, whatever the cost. While many who marched last weekend did so with a simplistic desire to stop pain and suffering, it is clear, as video clips testified, that some did not, calling for “Death to the Jews” and “Hitler was right”.
The conflict is most unlikely to end with a ceasefire as Hamas has made clear, through the likes of Khalil al-Hayya, that the goal of the war was not to improve life in Gaza for its inhabitants but to turn the state of war with Israel into a permanent one. Iran wants borderless open war against Israel to annihilate Israel. It may actually be that Hamas launched its atrocities against Israel without Iran’s support, as Iran would rather have waited until such time as it became a nuclear state. That is probably the only reason that Iran and Hezbollah have not joined in the war. If they had waited, it is almost certain that Iran would then have insisted on a global dimension against Jews in North and South America, Europe and, of course, here in the UK. So it was reassuring to hear in the King’s Speech that steps are going to be taken to counter anti-Semitism in this country. We will need them.
The existential threat that Israel faces requires it to eliminate Hamas as best it can. Of course, warfare cannot defeat an ideology, but it can neutralise it, if only for a while, and it can certainly neutralise its ability to commit the genocide that it seeks. So the heart-breaking pictures of innocents in Gaza killed because Hamas used them as human shields will haunt us, but we must remember that the IDF is recognised by British military experts as one of the most humane armies in the world. Every single attack is carefully considered and warnings, even as localised as specific telephone calls, mark them out as undertaking a campaign unlike any other ever undertaken anywhere in the world’s history, to try to mitigate civilian casualties.
It is now clear that Hamas stores weapons in tunnels right underneath Gaza’s al-Rantisi hospital and others—in tunnels most probably built in part by aid given to Gaza in good faith by countries such as our own and stolen by Hamas for its leaders’ benefit. I am of course pleased to see that we have offered a further £30 million of humanitarian aid, but can we be sure that that is not going to buy fuel to fire rockets and subsidise luxury living in Qatar?
I am afraid I do not believe that the two-state solution will happen in our lifetime. Rather, a more innovative structure may be required whereby Palestinians have control over nearly all aspects of their lives, but not security or defence—rather like in this country, where the devolved nations do not have their own military. Apart from my other relevant interests in the register, as your Lordships will recall, I am chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation in the UK. As such, I talk to residents of East Jerusalem, and many there want to be part of the Israeli state. They want the healthcare and the benefits, and they want the vote.
It is premature to plan for two states, but there are practical steps that His Majesty’s Government can take. First, we should be offering help to both sides. We are rightly offering humanitarian help to Gazan citizens. British military personnel have outstanding skills in medical rehab for combat casualties, as I saw for myself at a Royal Marines fundraiser that I was honoured to attend last week. They are ready and able to assist Israeli soldiers injured in combat. Will my noble friend Lord Minto respond to this request?
Secondly, we need to be at the centre of the plan to rebuild Gaza. We should be talking to the Arab countries —and others who are understandably and correctly expressing sympathy for those Palestinians who are caught up in this conflict—about a reconstruction fund of some $100 billion, ideally with grants available to every citizen of Gaza to rebuild their lives, free from Hamas and Iran. Israel has created a booming economy next door to Gaza, and it can be done in Gaza under a different leadership.
Finally, the news that this House will soon have the future Lord Cameron as a Minister, and now has my noble friend Lord Roberts on our Benches, is one of the very few pieces of good news that we have had in the last month. I for one am really pleased to be welcoming him to your Lordships’ House to address the very difficult times we face ahead.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate on the gracious Speech. In doing so, the only interest I wish to declare is my national presidency of the Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association.
The great military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote his classic work On War partly as a reflection on his observations on Napoleonic warfare. He formulated the concept of a trilogy: the harmonious combination of society, government and the armed forces, which, when working in unison, brought the art of warfare to its ultimate conditionality. This conditionality is best defined as national integrity, bound to a common purpose. In different ways, both Ukraine and Israel are experiencing such conditionality now.
In recent years, perhaps the closest the UK has come to such an experience was during Covid. Certainly, British society demonstrated a remarkable willingness to volunteer, at scale, to support the national response to a genuine crisis. In my last decade of service, I was very aware that the trinity in Britain was somewhat fractured. We were involved in two highly unpopular campaigns: Iraq and Afghanistan. British society undoubtedly respected its Armed Forces but was deeply concerned about the purposes to which we were being put. The Armed Forces enjoyed public sympathy rather than public support. As a result, government strategy, perhaps understandably, eventually came to focus more on damage limitation than any form of objective success in those campaigns.
In the time since our extraction from those unpopular wars, the state of the trinity in our country has taken another turn—a rather disturbing one, I believe. Simply put, and as the gracious Speech rather bears witness to, the trinity has gone missing. Why do I say this? In part, it is the absence of a compelling strategic narrative that binds the country together in a common purpose: a national conversation about the true state of a dangerous world, society’s views on and aspirations for our place in that world, and the abilities of the Armed Forces and wider society to play their roles in securing it.
As a society, we appear to live in an age increasingly defined by an obsessive fascination with completely pointless things; an age when many have defaulted to cynicism about what is truly meaningful. I credit the Government with some very good strategic thinking about the world. They know that it has become a much more actively malign and dangerous place, and they understand the need to reimagine warfare as a consistent and persistent condition between competing nations and interests, existing across a spectrum of malevolent activity, much of it below the threshold of what we have previously considered to be formalised warfare. The Government have a far better understanding of the differing vectors of warfare that embrace non-military activity—vectors that harness artificial intelligence to erode the integrity of societies, to undermine democratic process and to create alternate truth.
Government understands the need to build a more resilient society but it does not seem to want to engage with society about how to bring this about. Perhaps the most important lesson from both Ukraine and Israel is the requirement for a nation to have resilience. Fundamental to this resilience is a society that understands the realities of a dangerous world and a Government who have effective methods of mobilising national energy and human capacity to deal with it.
In the military sphere, there is a compelling need for a vibrant set of Reserve Forces, a supportive employer base, a practical volunteer offer and a practised methodology for training and mobilisation. The defence reviews of both 2010 and 2015 took cuts in the size of regular manpower. These were predicated on the growth of the Reserve Forces. In the 2015 review, a reduction in the size of the Army to 82,000 was predicated on a volunteer reserve of 30,000. In the Library material produced to support this debate, every single statistic on Armed Forces personnel levels, regular and reserve, shows a decreasing trend, bar one: the sole increase is in the number of people leaving.
The custodianship of the nation’s military capability is one of any Government’s most critical responsibilities. A healthy reserve is a vital national strategic capability. It is critical to resilience and national integrity. Therefore, can the Minister confirm to the House and the country what the future levels of Armed Forces personnel need to be? Can he confirm that they take into account the imminent revisions to NATO’s deterrent posture and the emerging concept of a UK national defence plan? Perhaps the Minister can also confirm that the Government will lose no more time in defining the specific demands they want their Reserve Forces to meet. I fear that they currently feel uncertain and in a state of neglect.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, to the House, and I congratulate him on his brilliant maiden speech. As a fan of all his biographies, the one I most enjoyed and that is most relevant to this House is his magisterial biography of Lord Salisbury, the last Prime Minister to serve in this House. He gives the most brilliant insight into the Conservative mindset, which is valuable for someone like me. When it was proposed that shop workers should be given relief from having to stand up for more than five consecutive hours, Lord Salisbury said, “Change, change, aren’t things bad enough already?” That is how it seems when we look at the world order today.
Many noble Lords have referred to the optimism that we all felt 30 years ago, with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and a belief, with Fukuyama, that liberal democracy was then on a triumphant path. That was not to be. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, was completely correct when he said that we pay too little attention to the strength of our arms. It may also be true that we deployed them in the wrong places in many of the developments that took place thereafter, and we now need to start putting that right in a serious way.
In particular, we need to stand resolutely behind and strengthen NATO. It was only three or four years ago that President Macron said that it was “brain-dead”, but it has now sprung into life again in Ukraine. Never has its role been more vital since Ernest Bevin’s actions led to its creation in the middle of the Berlin airlift. A war is taking place in Europe, and the largest invasion of Europe since the creation of NATO has taken place. Some 18% of Ukraine is still occupied and there have been more than 150,000 casualties in the Ukraine war, with 17,000 killed—and it is still ongoing.
It is on Ukraine that I will focus my questions to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whom we are pleased to see continuing in his place—he does a superb job in this House and he will be of great assistance to the future Lord Cameron. On my side, my noble friend Lord Coaker’s speech from the Front Bench was absolutely superb, showing the continuity in our foreign policy on our essential national interests.
I accept the point of the noble Earl, whom we also welcome, in opening the debate—namely, that we have not been distracted—but the big question in respect of Ukraine is that we are in danger of a stalemate. Over the last year, after the initial significant gains that the Ukrainian forces made, with our support, there has been little change in Ukraine in recent months. Indeed, last week, President Zelensky had to contradict his own chief of staff, who said that there was a stalemate in Ukraine. If that is the Ukrainian assessment, there is no reason why we should defy it. We are faced with a very unstable situation in the United States, and it could be that US aid is reduced over the next year.
As I see it, the issue on Ukraine—and I want to put it directly for the Minister to reply to at the end of the debate—is not that we lack consensus, because there is plenty of consensus in the House on Ukraine. It is about whether there is enough action on Ukraine and enough support for the Ukrainians. It is worth a thought experiment at the moment, given the situation we are in and the existential nature of the threat we face from this Russian invasion, whether we should double our support for the Ukrainians at the moment. The Germans have found it very difficult to rise to these challenges historically, but they have just agreed an €8 billion budget for the support of the Ukrainians next year. By my calculations, they are providing three times the military support that we are providing at the moment. Just to take tanks—there are many other measures too—we are supplying 14 Challenger tanks, while Germany is at the moment supplying 18 Leopards and has just committed to another 25.
The question that I put to the Minister is whether our support for Ukraine is sufficient. We need a breakthrough in Ukraine in the next year; if we do not get a breakthrough, we could have another frozen conflict and another type of Berlin Wall across Europe for the next generation. We need to consider urgently and with the space required, despite the other conflicts, whether a really significant upping of our support is necessary, in collaboration with our European partners. I much regretted that in the noble Earl’s speech the words “France”, “Germany” and “the European Union” did not even feature. We need the strongest possible military collaboration with our European partners; we need to consider what it will take to bring about a breakthrough in Ukraine. We have supplied £2.3 billion of aid to Ukraine this year and last. Should that be £5 billion? Should we be doubling our defence effort? What will it take for us to win? The cost of us losing could be incalculable over the next generation.
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, still on the Bench there, and long may he continue.
I will in the main speak about the conflict in Gaza, but it is worth starting my remarks by reminding the House, although it does not really need reminding, of the brutal murder of men, women and children by Hamas on
Israel retaliated. Did anyone, including Hamas, think it would be otherwise? At the same time, and still to this day, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are firing rockets at Israel, and Israel’s border towns have been evacuated in the north and south. But, very sadly, the retaliation has resulted in far too many deaths and injuries, and a lack of fuel, water and food for the poor people of Gaza. A real humanitarian problem has arisen out of this conflict, not unconnected to the Hamas policy of using the people of Gaza as human shields. There is a need for a pause in hostilities to lead to a return of Israeli hostages, a ceasefire and increased humanitarian relief.
We never know what to believe. You see all these stories coming out, and you are never sure what it is. There was a picture of people fleeing from hospitals in northern Gaza and being shot down. Logic shows that Israel wanted them to flee to southern Gaza. The only people who did not want them to flee were Hamas, so logic says, “Who shot them?”.
Like all conflicts, it is not a frozen scenario. Yesterday IDF troops took control of Gaza City’s al-Rantisi hospital, and discovered and showed a weapons trove in the basement, including suicide vests, grenades, AK47 assault rifles, explosive devices and RPGs. There was evidence of the occupation in the basement of that hospital. Now troops surround Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital, and I understand that today they have entered the compound. What will they find in its basements and tunnels beneath the site? I do not know. The Israelis say that they know—and various people in hospitals deny that it is happening. We will have to wait and see.
We want a ceasefire, but an interim thing that I hope we could all agree on is that there should be a cessation of aerial bombardment, be it rockets from Hamas and Islamic Jihad or aerial bombardment from Israel—because aerial bombardment is the most unfeeling sort of war that there is, with no contact.
Moving on, we urgently need an international consensus around a plan for a post-Hamas Gaza. The plan somehow must offer an alternative political order that prevents the resurgence of Hamas and marginalises its destructive ideology. I invite noble Lords to agree that Hamas cannot be able to rule Gaza either politically or militarily. That is Israel’s aim—will the world and Members of this House agree? It has to be a Palestinian Government to secure legitimacy in Gaza and the West Bank, and in this we need the support of Arab states. We could call for a Palestinian-led technocratic Gaza interim Administration, linked to the Palestinian Authority but autonomous so as to bridge the gap between the status quo and the full reunification of the West Bank and Gaza under the Palestinian Authority —an internationally backed interim Administration to replace Hamas in Gaza, facilitate economic development and prepare for future elections. Israel needs to do its part, which includes controlling militant settlers on the West Bank. There has never been a greater need for a two-state solution. I am an optimist, and I want a two-state solution.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I have the privilege of being a member of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. As we have heard throughout this afternoon, the gracious Speech sets out immediate objectives for defence in this country—including supporting Israel, strengthening Ukraine and sustaining NATO.
On Israel, humanitarian aid clearly must get through, the hostages must be released and hospitals must be able to operate. That is why it is all the more outrageous that, as the European Union confirmed on Sunday, Hamas is using
“hospitals and civilians as human shields”.
For those of us—including the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—who have now seen the sickening video footage shot by the Hamas terrorists themselves, it is tragically obvious that there can be no enduring peace until Hamas is decisively militarily removed from Gaza. Only once that has been achieved will massive reconstruction and support be possible—as, indeed, will certainly be necessary in Gaza, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, reminded us.
However, there cannot then be a botched withdrawal from Gaza of the type that we saw from the US leaving Afghanistan, followed almost immediately by the Taliban reasserting itself. Israel does not have that luxury; it is right next to Gaza. Germany has today proposed that the UN should oversee that process—the same UN that a fortnight ago appointed Iran to chair a UN Human Rights Council meeting. It would be of great interest if the Minister could tell us the British Government’s view of the correct approach for the post-Hamas reconstruction of Gaza.
However, in the meantime, as Timothy Garton Ash has put it in a different context, I think today’s debate is really reminding us that
“European countries need to abandon the post-Wall illusion that peace can be secured entirely by nonmilitary means”.
Nowhere, of course, is that more evident than in Ukraine, and I agree strongly with what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has just said, commenting on the remarks of Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Zaluzhny, who recently issued that very salutary and controversial warning of the risk of attritional stalemate there. Again, echoing the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, it would be wonderful to hear from the Minister what enhanced support we and our allies can offer to ensure that what the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, correctly described as an epochal disaster does not befall us with that outcome in Ukraine.
More broadly, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, reminded us of the wider threats to our security. I want briefly to mention just three examples of increased risks in the maritime domain. In the past year, in the South China Sea, the Chinese Navy has been threatening not just Taiwan but the Philippines and many other nations. Just last month, we saw further interference with vital undersea gas and communications pipelines in the Baltic and a growing threat in the High North. Just last week, Russian missiles hit commercial shipping entering Odessa—as noble Lords well know, the Black Sea is to world grain supplies as the Gulf is to oil.
So, the bottom line is that we cannot allow our adversaries’ naval supremacy to threaten our allies and control world trade and prosperity. That in turn means a strong and properly resourced Royal Navy: not just ships, munitions and equipment but people. The Royal Navy is going to have an expanding need for highly specialised technical skills in engineering, cyber, logistics and nuclear. As the noble Earl said at the start, that requires more flexible careers and a so-called spectrum of service. Fortunately, a blueprint has been provided to the Government in the form of the Haythornthwaite review, mentioned by the noble Earl. I think he said that all 67 recommendations were being implemented, but Recommendation 17 is for new legislation to overcome the rigid split between regulars and reservists. Of course, such legislation was missing from the King’s Speech. Will the Minister let us know when we might expect that?
My Lords, whatever the Government’s foreign policy priorities for this Session of Parliament, we know that they can quickly be upended by unexpected global events. The world is being reshaped by ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and in Israel and Gaza. The terrorist actions of Hamas on
Does the Minister agree that, notwithstanding Israel’s right to self-defence, the scale of the suffering inflicted on civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including churches and other places of worship, is wrong? Israel’s actions are neither proportionate nor discriminate, and do little to advance the cause of peace. Does he also accept that the level of aid currently getting into Gaza, including fuel, is paltry and insufficient to meet humanitarian needs?
In the gracious Speech, the Government committed to supporting the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East. Noble Lords will know that this is a cause close to my heart. I noted that the noble Earl, Lord Minto, referenced Iran in his opening speech. I hope that the Government will continue to call on Iran to work to reduce tensions in the Middle East. I want to see an Iran that supports and serves its own people rather than oppressing them, and I hope the Government will join me in pursuing this.
The defining challenges of our time, from conflict in the Middle East to climate breakdown, can be tackled only through long-term global co-operation. The UK must step up to its responsibilities on the world stage, not least through renewed commitments to international development programming. This year, 2023, marks the halfway point for the 2030 sustainable development goals, but the world is off track to meet almost all of them. Now is the moment for the UK to step up its commitment to the poorest and most vulnerable. There will be opportunities in the next parliamentary Session for the UK to demonstrate commitment to tackling global issues and I hope the Government will seize them; for example, by bringing the development budget back in line with the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI, which we know the new Foreign Secretary is personally committed to.
Finally, this morning’s judgment from the Supreme Court on the Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is very welcome, though I am dismayed at the PM’s announcement that he intends to press on with the programme regardless. The court’s ruling is a timely reminder that the UK cannot export challenges to other parts of the world in an attempt to absolve itself of moral responsibility towards those seeking sanctuary on our shores. The UK can and must play a role in global events, acting as a force for stability and prosperity, in our refugee policy and our foreign policy. My colleagues and I on the Bishops’ Benches will continue focusing on aspects of how our foreign policy is driven by wider ethical, political and humanitarian factors.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate and to participate in the debate on the humble Address, my first since I joined your Lordships’ House. I refer the House to my registered interests, and specifically my roles with Index on Censorship, the Royal Navy and AJEX.
Time is short, the world is large and the challenges we face are numerous, heart-breaking, complex and all too often deadly. Dangerous global actors, from Iran to China and Russia, are making our world less safe every day and rogue states and terrorist organisations, which we have heard about in such detail tonight, are exploiting every weakness in the global order to impose their own world view. As I speak, armed conflicts are under way in at least 44 countries. Since the beginning of this year, tens of thousands of innocent lives have been lost due to conflict and war. Our collective hearts break at the images we have seen emerge from Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, but devastatingly, these are not the only conflict zones.
In 2023, there have been more than 12,500 casualties in Myanmar; more than 12,000 in the Maghreb; more than 12,000 in Sudan; more than 8,500 in Somalia; more than 5,000 in Syria; more than 4,000 in Nigeria; 3,000 in Yemen; 3,000 in Ethiopia and more than 900 in Afghanistan. And of course we cannot ever forget the reported 95,000 civilians who have been killed in Ukraine and the 13,000 who have lost their lives in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. These numbers are stark, but behind each one is a family grieving and too many more to count who have been seriously injured and emotionally scarred due to armed conflict: we must never forget the human cost behind each headline.
However, war zones are not the only place where tyrants, despots and extremists are making their mark. We need only consider the plight of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, the Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar, women in Iran, democracy activists in Hong Kong, and dissidents in Belarus, Russia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Cuba and far too many other nation states. As chief exec of Index on Censorship, I have the privilege of supporting and publishing the work of political dissidents who challenge repressive regimes around the world. They are some of the most inspirational people I have ever met and they give me hope even in the darkest of times—and right now, it is dark. But my exposure to them has graphically highlighted for me the fact that the democratic values that we in this Chamber hold so dear are not just under threat but in too many corners of the world completely disregarded.
In the last 17 years, Freedom House has documented a clear increase in repressive actions both by tyrants and by those we consider to be allies and fellow democracies. This brings me to the defence and security aspect of this debate. The constantly changing global reality is challenging the very geopolitical strategic framework within which the UK seeks to leverage influence and secure global stability. As my noble friend Lord Coaker made clear, this means we have to leverage every tool at our disposal. We need to be nimble and invest strategically. As a leading NATO partner and a P5 member, our soft and sharp power is as relevant as the hard power which enables us to fulfil our global commitments, because with these roles come significant responsibilities.
This means we need to reassert ourselves on the global stage with renewed confidence. We need not just to invest in our conventional Armed Forces—although, to be clear, we must—but to accept and embrace the fact that technology is changing the ways we engage, deter and fight. As we have seen, the war in Ukraine is being fought in five domains: land, sea, air, cyber and space. Drone warfare is now a daily reality, but it is low-tech and high volume. Space has provided key communications tools and, by the time Ukraine has won this war—because win it must—we will have much to learn.
We must also reinvest in defence diplomacy, our alliances and those institutions which promote and share a worldview anchored in democratic values. AUKUS is an incredibly important part of this process, but we need to make sure that we deliver. The BBC World Service and the British Council have never been more crucial to our global standing and our ability to offer an alternative worldview to the repression offered by tyrants. We simply cannot afford for them to have to retreat from key strategic countries due to lack of resource.
At the moment, the world can feel bleak. The onus is on all of us to find hope and provide the global leadership required to make the case for peace and our value system. Listening to tonight’s debate has given me hope that, at least in your Lordships’ Chamber, we are on the same page.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in supporting Israel’s absolute right to defend itself and condemning the barbaric atrocities of the terrorist organisation Hamas. I echo Mr Blinken in saying that it matters greatly how Israel defends itself. International law must be respected.
I will focus on a different part of the eastern Mediterranean region: the island of Cyprus. I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the APPG for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The island of Cyprus has been divided for 60 years and the north has been under embargo for all that time. Through no fault of their own, the people of Northern Cyprus have suffered and continue to suffer exclusion from the international community and embargoes on their trade. Over the last half century, there have been many attempts at reunification in which His Majesty’s Government, as a guarantor power, have played a major supporting role. All these attempts have been based on the adoption of a bizonal, bicommunal federation, and all have failed. The Greek Cypriots continue to propose variations of this model. The Turkish Cypriots, not surprisingly, now reject this model entirely and propose instead a two-state solution, accepting what has been the de facto situation for over 50 years. Indeed, the current President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Ersin Tatar, was elected to his office on exactly this platform.
The two sides on the island appear further apart than ever, while the north becomes poorer, remains under embargo and is isolated from world trade and finance. In the Greek Cypriot south, GDP per caput stands at around $34,000. In the Turkish Cypriot north, it is half that, at around $17,000. The north’s economy depends very largely on subventions from Turkey. Turkish inflation now stands at 65%, with a consequently disastrous effect on the north’s economy.
There is also a growing threat to the distinctive Turkish Cypriot identity and culture because of the very large influx of Russians and mainland Turks. In August, the Times reported the presence of 50,000 Russians who had moved to Northern Cyprus to
“dodge President Putin’s mobilisation or avoid sanctions”.
“Since 1974 the Turkish Cypriot population has been gradually overwhelmed by settlers from the mainland, who tend to be more nationalist and have helped to tie the island to Ankara. The Russian arrivals have swollen the population of the north by a sixth”.
In his report on the Cyprus issue of
“The continued absence of substantive dialogue on issues related to the peace process between the two sides continues to deepen the differences of views on the way forward … At the same time, the division between the communities also continues to grow wider”.
This was dramatically illustrated a month later by a serious clash between Turkish Cypriot security personnel and UN peacekeepers over a Turkish Cypriot attempt to build a road to connect villages divided between the territories. This was potentially a very serious incident, and it is encouraging to note how quickly and peacefully it was resolved. The Cyprus Mail noted that this was
“a perfect example of a win-win arrangement, both sides getting what they wanted out of it. There are no grounds for either to feel hard done by”.
Can the Minister say whether lessons were learned from this incident, of which I know he is aware, and its peaceful settlement may be applied to other important local difficulties?
Finally, I will raise once again the question of Ercan airport in Northern Cyprus. We could help the economically vital flow of tourists from the UK to Northern Cyprus by allowing direct flights and removing the requirement for passengers to deplane with all their baggage in Istanbul to undergo an additional round of security checks. This used to be possible until the UK Government imposed additional restrictions some years ago. I am told that these restrictions exist because the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not a recognised country. Taiwan is not a recognised country either, but direct flights from the UK and many other countries are allowed and frequent. Why is Ercan different? I would be grateful if the Minister would agree to meet to discuss a resolution to that problem. It would not solve the Cyprus problem, but it would bring some economic relief to the north and demonstrate our continued willingness to provide practical help.
My Lords, like others, I pay tribute to the outstanding work of the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and welcome the noble Earl, Lord Minto, to his new position.
The Lords Library briefing for this debate states that we are
“at a particular volatile time in global affairs”,
as we have heard from others. Currently, there are around 50 active conflicts globally. The 10 largest humanitarian emergencies are in fragile or conflict-affected states. Most conflicts of the last 20 years remain unresolved—Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Libya, to name just some—with crises going from acute to chronic and often back to acute. According to UNHCR, there are around 108.4 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; 62.5 million are internally displaced, 35.3 million are refugees, 5.4 million are asylum seekers and 5.4 million other people in need of international protection. Save the Children estimates that 40% of these are children.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought conflict back to the EU’s borders and we have all watched with horror the situation unfolding in Israel and Gaza. In all these situations, so many innocent civilians are being killed, living in utter terror or having their homes and all their possessions destroyed. As we sit safely in Westminster tonight, I cannot even begin to think how that must feel. As Ernest Hemingway said,
“never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime”.
Why do we never learn the lessons of what has gone before?
Aside from the human cost, it is currently estimated that the economic cost of conflict and fragility exceeds $14.8 trillion. That equates to five times the UK’s GDP. In addition to physical conflict, there is now cyber warfare, hyper-competition, grey-zone warfare and fake news—elections interfered with by hostile actors and reputations inaccurately trashed. We live in an ever more connected world, but finding where truth lies is harder.
The environmental crisis, combined with population growth, has already resulted in increased migration and conflict over resource scarcity. Some 14 of the 25 countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are already in conflict, and 40% of the world’s population live in locations vulnerable to climate change. Poverty and desperation fuel conflict, and war zones are poor zones.
There is much talk about tackling the drivers of instability to create conflict prevention and resolution, but are we serious about that, practically? We sat back and watched the Taliban sweep across Afghanistan. Conflict disproportionately affects women. Look at Afghanistan, with every woman in any public position having to flee for her life, and Ukraine, where rape is being used as a weapon of war and children are removed to Russia to be brainwashed. The UK has led the way on the women, peace and security agenda and yet we are right now seeing the greatest global rollback on women’s rights and the progress of the last 20 years is under threat. I have highlighted before the importance of including women in peace negotiations. Involving women increases the chances of longer-lasting, more sustainable peace, yet they continue to be largely excluded. You cannot build peace by leaving out half the population. We should not have to justify women being included; we should ask the men to justify why they are excluded. Peace is more than the absence of war, and if men cannot find peace, perhaps women can. For example, the women’s groups were instrumental in helping bring an end to the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Liberia. As Ambassador Barbara Woodward highlighted at the UN Security Council,
“gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”.
We are at a pivotal moment. Something must be done. Will the UK focus its leadership on helping to bring some of these conflicts to an end, enabling displaced people to return to their homes? Can my noble friend the Minister assure me that the UK will support the UN Secretary-General’s recently launched New Agenda for Peace, that conflict prevention and peacebuilding will remain central to the FCDO’s foreign policy work and international development strategy, and that we will ensure that women can play their part?
I end with the words of the Dalai Lama:
“Peace, in the sense of the absence of war, is of little value to someone who is dying of hunger or cold. It will not remove the pain of torture inflicted on a prisoner of conscience … Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free”.
My Lords, it is with some trepidation I rise to address your Lordships for the first time, especially as the stopwatch is on. I am told that a noble Lord was once reputed to have said, “I used to have recurring nightmares about addressing the House of Lords, and then one day I woke up and found that I was”. I know how he felt. I open by expressing my heartfelt thanks for the warmth of all those who have welcomed me to this place, especially the parliamentary staff and the door- keepers with their courteous good cheer, and my supporters, my noble friends Lord Janvrin and Lord Kakkar, for their comradeship and wise counsel.
I was introduced into your Lordships’ House this June, having spent some 20 years in the Royal Household, chiefly as the Private Secretary to the Queen until her sad death last year, and then as Joint Principal Private Secretary to our King. I come to this House as “Lord Young of Old Windsor”. The village of Old Windsor has happy family connections for me. As children, we had Sunday excursions there, led by my late parents—my mother was an NHS nurse and my father was a consultant anaesthetist at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. The title would also have appealed to my late boss’s crossword-solving mind: old can also mean “former”, and so Old Windsor can mean—well, your Lordships get the gist.
I learned so much from Her late Majesty about the nature of public service, decency and duty, and indeed about the stabilising sanctity of our constitutional settlement, and the part played by your Lordships’ House in ensuring the tripartite balance of Commons, Lords and Crown in Parliament. I came to understand the great faith that Her Majesty, and indeed Prince Philip, had in the abilities of their son, now our King. A faith well justified, as illustrated by his first 14 months as our sovereign, including of course his most recent visit to your Lordships’ House, where Commons and Lords were assembled together to receive the gracious Speech.
One of the things closest to the heart of our late Queen, and indeed of our King, is, of course, the Commonwealth. I will make three short points of my own on this topic. First, when we talk about the benefits of the Commonwealth, this need not always be simply about the UK improving itself. The brilliance of the Commonwealth goes far beyond the so-called CANZUK countries, and I increasingly detect an appetite for building fresh and equitable relationships in areas such as trade, climate, the environment, inter- cultural links, and peace and security in a troubled world, which in the long run improves us all.
My second point is that we could do more in this country to help people understand the Commonwealth. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has eloquently pointed out, there is widespread public confusion between the number of realms, which has been naturally reducing for decades, and the number of Commonwealth member states, which is naturally increasing.
Finally, I would like to express my concern, which I know is shared by many in your Lordships’ House, about the current status of the Commonwealth Games. Compared with other international contests, these are more friendly and less commercial, give non-Olympic sports such as netball a chance to shine, and allow smaller countries the space to get their athletes on the scene. For the short term, I hope all is being done with the Commonwealth Games Federation and others to find a workable solution to allow the Games to go ahead in 2026. For the longer term, could it be time to explore fresh options for the staging of the Games, perhaps including different countries hosting different sporting events over the course of a year?
To conclude, I realise what a great privilege it is to be here, addressing your Lordships for the first time. It is my sincere hope that the experience I have gained in serving our late Queen and our King will be of some benefit to my contributions to the life and work of your Lordships’ House in the months and years to come.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, has suggested, there may be formula for following a maiden speech, but it is genuinely the greatest pleasure and a real privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young of Old Windsor, and to congratulate him on his most excellent maiden speech, which focused quite appropriately on the importance of the Commonwealth, and to welcome him into your Lordships’ House. There is no doubt that the arrival of the noble Lord in this House will be of enormous benefit to our deliberations. After an early career with Barclays Bank, via a couple of years advising opposition shadow Ministers, the noble Lord then worked in the television media industry, first with Granada and later with ITV. In 2004, he began 19 years working in the Royal Household, first as Assistant Private Secretary then Deputy Private Secretary, and in 2017 he became the Private Secretary to Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. These years covered the noble Lord’s key role in the very successful state visit to Ireland; planning for the Diamond and Platinum Jubilees of our late Queen; culminating in the sadness of Her late Majesty’s death, the state funeral and the proclamation of His Majesty King Charles III. In his last months in office, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Old Windsor, worked jointly with Sir Clive Alderton to ensure a smooth succession within our monarchy. I have no doubt that our House will benefit hugely from the noble Lord’s insights into constitutional and other important matters.
It is also with great pleasure that I note His Majesty stated in the gracious Speech:
“My Government will continue to champion security around the world, to invest in our gallant Armed Forces and to support veterans”.
This very clear statement of intent is of course to be most warmly welcomed, but the live debate is how all this is to be delivered.
There is no shortage of issues to be championed around the world—Ukraine, Gaza, Sudan, Yemen and Armenia, to name but five. This Government’s record of support for veterans is significant: the establishment of the Office of Veterans’ Affairs, the appointment of a Minister of State for Veterans’ Affairs to sit in the Cabinet, and inserting a question into the last national census to determine the number of veterans in this country. All this is very positive and to be warmly welcomed.
My concern today is with the commitment
“to invest in our gallant Armed Forces”.
“Gallant” they most certainly are, but what about the level of investment? Of course, there are very many calls on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to spend more on this or that issue and, as we approach a general election, we often hear the refrain, “There are no votes in defence”. However, as we approach this election, I am not so sure that that mantra holds quite so true. We can debate whether the current international environment is the most dangerous it has been since 1939. However, whether true or not, we can rightly observe that our world is precarious: a war in Europe, a war in the Middle East, conflicts in Africa and deep tensions around Taiwan, compounded by migratory pressures as a consequence of climate change and an inequitable distribution of wealth in the world.
The previous Secretary of State for Defence argued passionately for a greater share of overall GDP to be spent on defence, and with some success. However, the increases that he managed to secure have been largely swallowed up by inflation, the deficits in the defence equipment programme and the huge costs of replacing our nuclear deterrent—a cost that previously sat outside the defence budget, being regarded as a core national capability. Today, the Ministry of Defence must absorb the nuclear replacement costs at the expense of our conventional capabilities.
Technology is, of course, the way forward but the disappointing fact of life for Chancellors of the Exchequer to accept is that new technology does not fully replace older technologies; one complements the other. The number of clubs in the golf bag grows—replacement is not on a one-for-one basis. If we need a vivid demonstration of this, we need look no further than the bloody close- quarter fighting going on in Ukraine and in Gaza City.
Once again, I make the case for increased investment in our overall defence budget and especially in our land forces. The current Chief of the General Staff and his senior officers are making the very best of the resources that have been made available to them, and I congratulate them on this, but they and other commentators know that the level of investment in our land forces is insufficient. We would not be upgrading only 148 Challenger 2 tanks or taking out of service the Warrior armoured infantry fighting vehicles were more money to be available, not to mention the depletion of war stocks of ammunition, largely gifted to Ukraine. Yes, there is more money in the future programme later in the decade but today only 20% of the future programmes are committed to contract, and the remainder stand vulnerable to reduced or cancelled funding.
In the early 1930s, history shows that there were no votes in defence, but in 1939, when faced with a rising threat in Europe, we knew that we had begun to rearm too late. Our Army was defeated on the battlefield in May and June 1940. Today, there is not just a threat to our security in Europe but a proven aggressor in Europe. In 1935, we spent 3% of our GDP on defence. In 1939, when we had realised our mistake, the figure rose to 18%, and by 1940, when we were fighting for our very survival, it was 46%. Today, we spend less than 2.4% on defence. Are we doomed to let history repeat itself?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this important debate on foreign affairs and defence. I will briefly mention how pleased I was to be in the Chamber for the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Young; both were excellent, and it is wonderful to have them in the House. May I also say how pleased I was to see the perhaps “remaiden speech” of the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, now that he has been freed from the confines of the Whips’ Office? I want to talk about the importance of south-east Asia because I am the chair of the UK-ASEAN Business Council, for my sins, having taken over from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, when she was put on the Front Bench.
I want to begin briefly by putting on record my strong support for Israel following the start of the Israel-Gaza conflict. It is my unequivocal view that Israel has been subject to the most horrific terrorist attack that we have seen perhaps since 9/11, with the death of 1,400 innocent Israeli citizens. I do not want to play some macabre game about who has suffered worst from terrorist attacks, but this is probably the worst terrorist attack the world has seen for quite some time. My mother is Jewish, although I was brought up as an Anglican, and I have distant relatives who live in Israel, who I was lucky to meet just over a decade ago when I went to Israel as a Minister. In fact, they lived on Kibbutz Be’eri, and one of them had to hide for 12 hours but luckily survived, so this feels very close to home.
I feel very strongly that Israel has the right to defend herself and that the siren calls for a ceasefire are utterly misleading. Peace is a long way away; I would not say that we should not strive for it, but we should not use British influence to try to help it along the way. One thing I have felt even more strongly about than I thought I ever would is watching what is happening on our own shores and the isolation of the Jewish community in this country. Never have I felt more strongly that Israel has a right to exist and that it is an absolute necessity that it exists.
I want to talk now about perhaps a more mainstream issue, which is our role in south-east Asia and the role of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. South-east Asia—Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and five other countries—is one of the most economically dynamic areas of the world; it has grown by 4% or 5% this year and will continue to grow economically for many years to come. We have an enormous trade relationship with south-east Asia, some £46.5 billion. Our trade with south-east Asia is bigger than our trade with India or with Japan, and double our trade with Canada. It is an enormously important and growing region with almost 700 million people, half of them under 30.
I was lucky enough to attend the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit recently in Jakarta, and the focus of those 10 nations on their economic growth, particularly on digital, is very important. Britain has a fantastic record of engagement over the last few years. We have of course joined the CPTPP—which is one of the worst acronyms you could possibly dream up for a trade organisation. In fact, I had to google it, as I suddenly went blank when I tried to remember what it stood for. It stands for—I think Justin Trudeau is responsible for this—the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership. Not all members of ASEAN are members of it, but we are. In fact, we are the only nation without a Pacific coastline that is a member of the CPTPP. That is a real achievement. We are the first ASEAN dialogue partner for 25 years and we now have an ASEAN ambassador, first appointed in 2019; we recently appointed Sarah Tiffin, who is excellent, as our new ASEAN ambassador. It is therefore a huge opportunity at every level. I urge our wonderful Front Bench, who have rightly been praised to the heights for their excellence—the noble Earl, Lord Minto, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and the incoming Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, who I think was the first Prime Minister to visit Vietnam since the Vietnam War—to continue their relentless focus on this important region.
As a former Culture Minister, I will conclude by talking about the importance of soft power. One of the things that I have seen when I have been out to south-east Asia is that people will sometimes come up to you and say, “Whatever you do in our region, I would say to you that the Chevening scholarships—the opportunity for high-flying young people to study with a scholarship under the auspices of the Foreign Office in the United Kingdom—is without parallel and hugely welcomed”. Therefore, the importance of focusing on the small things, the minor things that might seem unimportant such as Chevening scholarships and the work of the British Council, is something which I hope our Foreign Office will not lose sight of.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and to welcome the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Young. I hope that they, like me, will welcome the degree of unity that we often find across this House. I used to have arguments with Lord Geoffrey Howe, who used to say to me that I ought to be more contentious and pick arguments so we could get to the bottom of things. I used to say to him, “Tell me what you would like the argument about, we’ll rehearse one and then we can play it out in your Lordships’ House”.
I would guess that there are few United Kingdom Jewish families without relatives who are caught up in the unfolding tragedy in Israel and Gaza, and I am no exception to that. The solidarity across this House in the face of the events and the growth, which is absolutely manifest, in domestic anti-Semitism, the unity that we have and the way in which it has been expressed, have been inspiring and I am deeply grateful for that, just as I am grateful when the same comments are made about Islamophobia and our need to deal with it.
Hamas has created this catastrophe, assisted by Iran and Russia—but it created it, and the impact of the barbaric terrorist attack on
To understand the scale of the shock that there has been to the community which I come from—I know numbers tell only part of the story—on
That, of course, is just the start of the horror that Hamas has caused, and we have to able to hold two contrasting thoughts in our heads at once, although it is not always easy: this is not a monochrome tragedy. The babies and civilians in Gaza are also lives taken—invaluable lives and futures destroyed—and when anybody uses the words “human shields”, they do well to remember that the word “human” is at the beginning of that phrase. Hamas is monstrous, but those who are rightly battling to free the 240 hostages have to remember that the shields are human. They have not chosen to be shields, they are not simply collateral damage and they need fuel, water, food and medicines delivered consistently through humanitarian pauses and safe routes. It is quite right that Israel should try to defang Hamas. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, made the point earlier that it was essential to know how. It is also right to defang the settlers on the West Bank who are so intent on not allowing Palestinian communities to develop their own political institutions.
I think there are other things we can do. We could certainly starve Hamas of some of the money that is rolling through the cryptocurrency world, which it is possible to regulate and stop. That hidden and illicit money is there. Plainly, this cannot be allowed to be a mechanism for terrorists to regroup and repeat their violence and, incidentally, nor does it excuse the grotesque threat by a senior Israeli Minister to use nuclear weapons in the region. It is high time for a political initiative, and for us that political solution has always involved the two viable states being created. I am sure that that is the right path, and I could not disagree more with the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, when he says it is not.
We need to grasp that political discussions must involve people with at least a basic view, which Hamas will never be able to accept, I know, and will never discuss in the form of a peace treaty—but then nor will Mr Netanyahu. He is rigidly antagonistic, and his Government alliance is even worse. Some adversaries, of course, have found a capability to talk about peace, whatever the precedents, but I must say that neither of these leaderships can. Both abhor a two-state solution, and we need to find a way to talk to others.
My closing comments—I am aware of the time—are that, throughout my adult life, I have counted on the architecture of our relationship with the United States. I think it is absolutely fundamental. As many have said today, NATO is fundamental, and Five Eyes is fundamental to our well-being. I believe that President Biden will be re-elected, but it is possible that he will not. I did not believe that President Trump could beat Hillary Clinton—which shows what I know. If he is elected, almost all of that architecture is liable to be destroyed, and I ask the Government what kind of contingency thinking they are doing to ensure that we have reliable alliances on which we can depend and where our defence is sacrosanct and durable, because, if we cannot plan for that possibility, I fear very greatly for where we will end up.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friends Lord Minto and Lady Goldie, and I join your Lordships in warmly congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Young of Old Windsor, and my noble friend Lord Roberts of Belgravia on their excellent maiden speeches.
In my remarks today, I will touch on three themes: within international communities, the role of improved education to induce and structure peace and stability; the current means for achieving that purpose; and the ways in which the United Kingdom and our Government can assist their delivery. Here, we are fortunate to continue to operate against the background of core actions and the solid accomplishments of the British Council over the past eight decades, these having been sponsored from the outset by our Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
If there is a consensus on the desirability of peace and stability, no doubt all conflicts, not least those now forming part of the daily news, reflect a paradox: not so much that they are happening at all, yet more to the point, they do so alongside an increasing concordat that they should not even be allowed to begin, instead being prevented and eclipsed through the far greater muscular strength of a shared priority agenda, which in the first place and at all times is there to safeguard democracy, human rights and the rule of law. That point was also emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and my noble friends Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lord Vaizey of Didcot.
Only a few weeks ago, on
This is a robust and useful intervention by the 46-state affiliation of the Council of Europe. Here I declare an interest as recent chairman of its Committee for Culture and Education, and I am particularly glad that today’s debate will be wound up by my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who, along with the Prime Minister, when attending the Council of Europe’s summit meeting this May in Iceland, reaffirmed the Government’s support and gratitude for the soft power capacity of this institution, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and others have also implied, to contribute ever more constructively towards peace and stability both within and beyond Europe.
In that connection, its recent resolution on education equally points to the huge scope, already proven and accepted, of digital technologies and how these can facilitate online education programmes to reach out through the world not only to those in difficulty and under pressure but also to millions of others eager for many branches and subjects of knowledge, as well as for the acquisition of competitive skills easily available to us in the United States or in the majority of our own European countries but often, for various reasons, denied to so many elsewhere.
However, to a great extent the international delivery potential of online education programmes, in covering all relevant subjects and studies within the humanities, science and technologies, is thus also well placed to fill and redress any gaps in teaching and deficiencies in knowledge provision. To encourage the consensus of education as an international delivery responsibility, I have a Private Member’s Bill on international higher education and research. This morning I chaired a parliamentary conference on education as a human right and a cornerstone for any democratic society.
During its G7 presidency in 2021, the United Kingdom gave a commitment to promote education in the third world and elsewhere, in countries where education systems do not fully operate. What actions have the Government taken since then? Which combined initiatives are in progress? Can my noble friend affirm that such G7 plans are being clearly designed and carried out so that they contribute towards building up the strength of international communities themselves?
Ukraine, where 7 million people from the east of the country are displaced within the west, already provides its own excellent example of education good practice in difficult circumstances. Thousands of displaced children are taught daily within improvised buildings protected by air raid shelters. The teachers make use of online programmes. Thereby a good balance is maintained in two respects. The children are together to interact with each other and their teacher in a normal classroom environment, yet the teacher, at his or her discretion, is able to make use of high-quality online learning programmes.
Competent and timely international delivery of education programmes reflects the need for public/private partnership. In the city of Dundee, the online games industry works with universities. Increasingly too, and to progress their own employment recruitment, most UK sectors of industry are motivated to support good education. Does my noble friend the Minister concur that education deliveries through public/private partnerships are cost effective, punctual and of sustained quality? If so, what steps are the Government taking to advance these partnerships?
Another consideration is that of international education partnerships, whether at school or university level. Clearly, these stand to benefit associated communities within cities and regions. One example is the current academic partnership of joint research into green energy between the Scottish University of the Highlands and Islands in the United Kingdom and the University of Zadar in Croatia. Having helped to put this together, I declare an interest as current chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Croatia. What steps are the Government now taking actively to encourage similar partnerships in the context of the recently revised Horizon scheme?
Enhanced prospects for world peace will derive from much better education and competitive skills opportunities at grass roots and within all international communities. Given that G7 countries have already embraced that objective, the United Kingdom—in its own interest and that of others—must now help to ensure that this objective is properly carried out.
My Lords, I am also pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in his position after the reshuffle.
It was a pleasure to listen to the first King’s Speech by His Majesty King Charles III. This year it coincided with Remembrance Week, which reminds us all of the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for our safe future, leaving their own families and loved ones to face the hard reality of post-war devastation, hardships and insecurity. My own family, which lived in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, was among those that suffered the human loss, hardship and misery of the Second World War. My late father was 15 when the war began and his newly wed elder brother, Allah Ditta, joined the British Army to defend the Crown. Allah Ditta was the only breadwinner for the family of 10.
In 1941 the family received the last letter from my uncle, sent from the Port of Karachi, saying that he was about to go on a mission and would write again soon. Instead, from 1942 the Army periodically wrote to his wife asking whether she had heard from him or knew his whereabouts, as he had gone missing. This added to the family’s agony and pain, leaving my father to take the financial burden and the responsibility of their well-being. Lack of sufficient income and medical care, and the smallpox epidemic in the area, resulted in hunger, malnutrition and the death of two of his younger brothers, while Uncle Ditta’s wife was blinded by smallpox.
Finally, when the war ended, our family was informed by the British Army that it could now confirm that in 1941 a group of British soldiers including Allah Ditta was ambushed by Japanese forces during a patrol duty in the state of Rakhine in Burma. The Army did not know about the incident or the whereabouts of the missing soldiers until close to the end of the war in 1945, when a rescue operation was conducted for the release of these prisoners. Sadly, my uncle, Allah Ditta, had died during the rescue operation. The news came as a bombshell to the family, leaving his mother, his blinded wife and the rest of the family in a shock and trauma that left scars in their memories for the rest of their lives.
In 2001, 56 years later, we came to know, through research done by my brother, that my uncle was remembered on a panel at the Commonwealth war graves site in Rangoon, Burma. That year I accompanied my father to the memorial in Rangoon, which provided the long overdue closure that my father was yearning for. After the war, my family witnessed the partition of India, the war in Kashmir in 1948 to 1949, the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 and the oppression and human loss in Indian-held Kashmir right up to now. Wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine have caused huge human disasters, killing millions of people. Having watched wars, bloodshed and human suffering so closely makes me a stronger advocate for peace.
As we speak, the war in Gaza and Israel has become one of the deadliest wars of our lifetime. Following the terrorist attacks by Hamas on
I strongly believe that there is no military solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. The current situation in Gaza and Israel requires an immediate ceasefire to address the humanitarian catastrophe. The call for a ceasefire is backed by multiple UN agencies, nearly 700 NGOs globally, Pope Francis, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, more than 250 British lawyers—including eminent Jewish lawyers—120 countries that voted in favour of the UN General Assembly motion and 76% of the British public. A ceasefire should not be the end goal in itself but a chance to end the violence, ensure unfettered humanitarian assistance, get the hostages released and begin the process for a new political reality for Palestine.
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and my noble friend Lord Young on their outstanding maiden speeches, each achieved in less than five minutes. I also welcome the noble Earl, Lord Minto, to his new role.
I wish to focus my brief comments on some of the major challenges facing southern Africa. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Young drew reference to the importance of the Commonwealth. It is noteworthy that His Majesty’s first Commonwealth state visit was to Kenya, last month. Many countries in southern Africa face challenges relating to not just political stability but governance and the consolidation of democratic institutions. Issues such as weak governance, corruption —in many cases, rampant corruption—and contested elections pose a major threat for internal stability. There is also the growing risk of unrest.
In 2021, we celebrated the election of President Hichilema; he is known otherwise as HH. It was a great day for Zambia: it heralded a move towards more responsive and responsible government. In August this year, we had the election in Zimbabwe, where President Mnangagwa and the ZANU-PF were re-elected in a highly contentious election marred by accusations of vote rigging and disregard for human rights. This morning, I was fortunate—along with a couple of colleagues—to have an extra meeting with the new British ambassador to Zimbabwe. The election has resulted in heightened political tensions in the country, and the uncertainty and unrest have contributed to a sense of instability, which is impacting investor confidence and economic growth prospects. The role of the military post the election has also been a source of concern for many observers. What measures can His Majesty’s Government take with our international partners to call for an all-party conference on Zimbabwe to try to reach an inclusive compromise road map for the economic and political sustainability of the country?
Next year, there will be a general election in South Africa, a country where I spent 28 very happy years. We hope that the election will reinvigorate its democracy, but I fear that it will compound the trials it already faces. Many believe that President Ramaphosa has literally fallen asleep behind the wheel. There are, unfortunately, growing concerns around rampant corruption: none of the findings of the Zondo Commission have been followed up with any prosecutions. The geopolitical implications of South Africa’s joint naval exercises with China and Russia earlier this year, coupled with the shipment of arms from Simon’s Town to Russia, require our earnest attention. Such activities bring into question the strategic direction South Africa is taking and the potential shift in the balance of power in the region. The Eskom energy crisis, with extensive power outages, is symptomatic of the larger infrastructure problem. Load shedding is not just an inconvenience but a significant barrier to economic growth and development. The scarcity of clean water and the crisis in the healthcare sector have, sadly, culminated in a brain drain, leaving behind a vacuum of expertise and leadership.
On a brighter note—I must mention this—the Springbok triumph in the Rugby World Cup has been a force for unity in the country and stands in stark contrast to the current state of service delivery. If only the South African Government could emulate the unity and execution skills of the Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi, the country would have boundless potential. The recent BRICS summit in Johannesburg demonstrates South Africa’s continuing relevance on the world stage.
I conclude by saying that, as we deliberate on our foreign policy and the strategic direction of our diplomatic efforts, let us be guided by the principles of constructive engagement. After listening to the moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, I add that we need to embrace inclusion. We need to work in partnership with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and the wider African continent to support the institutions of democracy, uphold human rights and foster sustainable development.
Liel Hetzroni was 12 years old. She and her twin brother were murdered. Her grandfather was slaughtered. It took 38 days to identify her remains. A family torn apart, perhaps irretrievably. No burial was possible, so horrific was this murder, so a funeral took place where her toys were buried. Twelve years old—and there are hostages much younger enslaved today. Free the hostages. Free the hostages. Free the hostages. In every speech, on every platform, that should be the first, the second and the last demand. Free the hostages.
We are parliamentarians. It is our duty to create the rainbow through which those shrouded by the dark clouds that encircle parts of our nation can emerge. I will therefore be bringing forward new opportunities for us, the parliamentarians, to stand up for and alongside our Jewish communities. We will not abandon them and leave them alone; nor will we accept any anti-Muslim racism in our country for our people. One country, many communities, protecting and protected against hatred. The time will come, we hope and pray, with every hostage released and Hamas destroyed, when we have the opportunity—no, the obligation—to create a lasting stability of economic prosperity and thereby peace.
Our Arab friends in different states will be there in different but critical ways. It will need an Israeli leadership and a Palestinian leadership with vision, wisdom and courage. Whatever form our next Government take, with whichever people or party, we have a unique and important role to be in the middle of the peacebuilding: with our history, our traditions and our church structures. We have no choice but to give this our top priority: a two-state solution, Israel entirely secure, a Palestinian state independently economically viable. Despite the complexities, the vested interests and the enmities, it is our duty—now and tomorrow—to step up to the mark, and to then be prominent at the table when the time comes, as it will.
The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre got it right. All of us have within us some prejudice, but the question is whether we are brave enough to challenge ourselves: to see things not only through our own eyes; to hear things not just through our own ears; and to live lives that we have not lived.
The definition of leadership is to challenge ignorance and prejudice and to challenge ourselves. The skill of leadership is to create political constructs that empower and enlighten—and we are, all of us, in our tiny way, as parliamentarians, the definition of leaders.
Our Muslim communities have been abused, demeaned and vilified. Our Jewish communities, already traumatised by the incomprehensible nature of the murder of their family and friends, now fear a cacophony of hatred. Let us say: we have your backs; we will not be bystanders. The only question for our two Houses of Parliament is how overwhelming and permanent that solidarity will be. It is now time for us all to stand up and be counted.
My Lords, I welcome my two new colleagues to the House of Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Roberts—both of whose speeches I enjoyed enormously. I also welcome the noble Earl to his role and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for all her kindness and work with us, especially the meetings on many issues on which I and others work. I hope to see her here again soon. I am very pleased that my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is still in place and look forward to working with him.
I will raise the vital issue of women’s involvement in foreign policy and defence. I pay tribute to those suffering in all conflicts around the world and draw attention to the fact that women and girls suffer the damages of war greatly, both during and after the conflict. That is why we must acknowledge the vital role of women in shaping and influencing foreign policy and defence.
It is imperative that we recognise and harness the immense potential that lies within the talents, prospects and capabilities of female citizens. Over the years, we have witnessed remarkable strides towards gender equality in various spheres of society, including politics and the Armed Forces. However, as we evaluate the landscape of foreign policy and defence, it becomes evident that there is still much ground to cover. It is our duty to ensure that the voices and contributions of women are not only acknowledged but actively integrated into the decision-making processes that shape our national security and global engagements, at every level.
I bring this topic to you today, a few weeks after the release of the 2023 Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security index. The index draws on recognised data sources to measure women’s inclusion, justice, peace and security around the world, using 13 indicators ranging from education and employment to laws and organised violence. The United Kingdom scored 27th place out of 177 countries ranked in the index.
The index gives some stark reminders that must be held at the forefront of the Government’s mind when they consider foreign policy actions, especially in relation to the unfolding situations that we see in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, and everywhere else around the world afflicted by war. Women’s involvement in peace processes is vital, as is meaningful economic support for women, their education, business endeavours and health. Peace settlements that invite women to the table are more likely to endure, and women are more likely to advocate for policies that benefit all society, such as much better healthcare and education systems, and investment. Societies where women are doing well are more peaceful, democratic and prosperous, and are better prepared to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the events that took place in summer 2021, Afghanistan sits at the bottom of the Georgetown index on all matters relating to women’s safety, security and access to justice. Since the reinstatement of the Taliban’s brutal regime, women have been forced to stop working and to cease education, and have no protection from male violence. Despite the eruption of new, horrific conflicts, we cannot let women in Afghanistan be forgotten in their most desperate need, at a time like this.
Conflict and fragility have the most devastating effects on the lives of women. In all the fragile states of the world, one in five women experience intimate partner violence, and maternal mortality rates stand at 550 for every 100,000 live births—more than double the global average of 212. This is why, as we move forward into 2024 and beyond, and as the Government and nation seek to reaffirm our position in relation to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, to Gaza and Israel, and to every other instance of interstate and intrastate warfare, we must have the safety and security of women at the heart of our aims.
This is not even only for the sake of the women themselves. There are strong, proven correlations between women’s peace and security and other crucial matters, such as human development, climate change resilience and the likelihood of sustainable peace. All these attributes, essential to human health and well-being, are more related to women’s issues than to a country’s GDP, but we spend more time talking about post-war economics and development than we do trying to protect women and girls.
Women’s rights are the backbone of resilient, peaceful and democratic societies. It is now time for the Government to honour the promises they have made in this House to protect the rights and freedoms of women around the world. The emergence of new threats, such as escalating political violence, the rapid proliferation of artificial intelligence and the climate crisis, threaten to stall or even roll back the strides we have made in recent decades to protect women and girls. It is vital that we maintain a correct course and continue to support women’s participation at all levels of society, around the world, including at the peace table, in all discussions and in all military activities. I would also like the Government to look once again at the speech made a few years ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, on a feminist foreign policy. I hope that they take that forward as part of their plans.
My Lords, the gracious Speech made scant reference to the Middle East conflict but what it said was even-handed. Your Lordships may feel that what I am about to suggest is unrealistic and too ambitious. However, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, has been very positive in support when I outlined these ideas previously. If anyone can see it through, he can.
As someone deeply tied to my Jewish heritage, the ongoing conflict in my other homeland, Israel, deeply troubles me. However, my concern extends to those affected in both Israel and the whole of Palestine. In supporting the cause for peace and stability in the Middle East, rather than take sides in this debate, I will offer suggestions on how to move forward positively, peacefully and with compassion and respect for all.
There is a need, first, for hope and respect for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. We need to arrive at a position where the nations of the world, including the United Kingdom, are ready to acknowledge and recognise the state of Palestine alongside Israel.
Secondly, we should agree to create a long-term plan for those two nations, Palestine and Israel, to enjoy a future where everyone benefits. We in the United Kingdom can help as an honest broker, by hosting a month-long conference to talk about a positive future rather than argue about the past. We could invite parties here to discuss this in a positive, constructive and pragmatic way, with the UK playing a co-ordinating role. A safe and appropriate location for such a conference would be here, in the Palace of Westminster, and/or Highgrove and/or St James’s Palace.
Then, for example, Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia could work with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians and other countries in the region to build a huge port in Gaza, linked to Cyprus, so that Palestine becomes the Hong Kong of the region and all its citizens have employment and become wealthy. Then, together, these countries—Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others—having become partners in this huge, positive construction project, can work together to develop the Sinai peninsula as an enormous solar energy park and a source of clean energy for the planet. It would move the region from oil and gas income to massive solar energy profits. This partnership could build peace, co-operation and green energy on a vast scale, which the world needs.
Also, it has been suggested that, since Mount Sinai is sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, we could invite leaders from all faiths to walk slowly up the mount from different directions and meet at the top, and they could declare that they all worship one God. Then, the area around could become a peace park, with hotels and wonderful venues for vacations, meditation, co-operation, conversation and exchanges of love and wisdom. Several organisations with which I am involved would be happy to help facilitate such a conference and further the projects that I have outlined over the long term.
I will donate the minute that I have not used to my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws if she needs it in her speech.
My Lords, on Monday evening, at the Guildhall, the Prime Minister, in reference to the devastating situation in the Middle East, made a profound statement:
“The past is trying to stop the future being born”.
It is true. Both sides carry scars from the past—scars passed down through generations. These must be resolved or they will continue to create tomorrow’s wars. If we were to ask either side why, they would tell you the same: that they had no other choice but to use force to change the situation they were in. There has to be a way forward from the desperate situation which is the here and now. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mann, when he says, “Free the hostages now”; I would add, “Stop the bombing of innocent civilians”.
The Prime Minister spoke about “realism” and “values”, about the UK’s ability to “promote peace and security”, and of this being
“a moment for moral clarity”.
These words give a glimmer of hope, of intent, to help resolve what is a truly bleak situation. Around 1,400 have been killed in Israel and more than 11,000 in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children. Indeed, if there is no moral clarity now then we are surely doomed.
It is a time like no other to reflect on our values: our belief in the sanctity of human life, protecting the innocent, the right to justice, the right to self-determination, and adherence to international humanitarian law, because adherence to the law cannot be compromised for the sake of convenience or for fear of censure. We have been Great Britain because of our steely determination to do the difficult things that needed doing, even when other paths seemed easier. Honour demands nothing less, and we are, after all, an honourable people. We believe in justice. Our judicial system evolved over centuries. We are the champions of the just and democratic free world, opposed to all whose actions may undermine it. Because of this, our documents—hundreds of thousands housed under this very roof—our courts and our values are the light at the heart of global democracy.
Remembrance Day is just behind us, reminding us of those who fought and died for the privileges we hold most dear: freedom of speech, freedom of movement, a right to protest and a commitment to peace. Young men from Great Britain, from across the Commonwealth and beyond fought on the side of the allies in both world wars. We heard the moving story from the noble Lord, Lord Hussain.
In World War II, of the 2.5 million strong pre-partition British Indian Army from what is now Pakistan and India—the largest voluntary force in human history— 1 million were Muslims. My own father was one of those who served. Let us also not forget the Palestine Regiment and the Arab Legion. In total, 5.5 million Muslims from around the globe fought or served in some capacity alongside the allies in World War II. Some 1.5 million made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today in our multicultural, multifaith society.
We have been, and must continue to be, a nation resolute in its principled refusal to support anything which is counter to our core identity. No matter the corner from which the whisper to forsake our values may come, we must not cede. To witness grave injustice and pretend blindness is at best hypocritical, and we would not wish to be a nation of hypocrites.
Of course, values that are out of alignment with actions are meaningless, and words that pretend otherwise are simply dangerous. Our credibility, our legitimacy and our central role in the contemporary global world order are a function of our steadfast adherence to the rule of law, justice and fairness. We are great because of our refusal to allow our standards, beliefs, culture and history to be brushed aside for the sake of expediency; otherwise we undermine everything we stand for as a people, destroying our ability to lead in a world that is very much in need of our leadership. It is beyond time to call out those who break international humanitarian law and question their powerful supporters. We have ever been a people willing to speak uncomfortable truths to power. This is a moment in which we will decide whether history continues to see us as such.
My Lords, I want to raise two issues. The first is the war in Ukraine, which I have opposed since its beginning. I supported the more cautious original approach of France and Germany, which, if followed, would have saved billions in cash and thousands of lives, although later they were forced to compromise. That war has recast relations between East and West, has led to a mass population movement, undermined the international oil markets and provoked recession in Europe. I have supported wars in the Falklands, Iraq and eastern Europe, but not this one. If Ukraine had recognised separate regional status for Donetsk and Luhansk, and had not banned the official use of the Russian language in Donbass, and if NATO, conscious of Russian paranoia over NATO expansion, had insisted on the retention of non-nuclear barrier status for a string of states stretching from Finland to Georgia, then occupation and war would have been avoided. Russia would not have felt threatened. My view did not prevail. We now await the demise of the brutal Putin and a rebellion in America over the cost of the war.
I turn to Gaza, on which I without hesitation support my party’s position. Sixty-four years ago, in 1959, as a 16 year-old schoolboy I won a Daily Express essay competition. The prize: a visit to Jordan and Israel. At that time, Jerusalem was divided, with the east in Jordan and the west in Israel. I recall visiting refugee camps in Jordan and talking to the displaced, and then my excitement on entering a rapidly developing Israel, a country I have grown to love and admire to this day. It is a country I have followed over half a century, with occasional visits.
Recent events have shaken my faith. Netanyahu and the settlement movement have alienated world opinion and undermined worldwide support for the Jewish homeland, and policies of repression in Gaza and the land grab in the West Bank, while assisting the settler movement, have been disastrous. They have shattered the Oslo process, thereby breeding the worst forms of anti-Semitism.
So where do we go from here? I find it hard to condemn Israel, but there has to be urgent change. Post-conflict Gaza and the West Bank need to be internationally re-recognised by all as the new Palestinian state. Palestine should be given full protectorate status under a renewed United Nations mandate, the legal definition of which is defined as a state under protection by another state for defence against aggression and other violations of law.
The new state should be free of all Israeli jurisdiction and occupation. An administrative power should be appointed under a process administered by the permanent members of the United Nation Security Council, perhaps very similar to the arrangements under the 1945 Berlin declaration, with defined geographic areas for individual national responsibility. The boundaries should be as advised under the Geneva accords, with the creation of a limited number of agreed settlements. However, with the murder of 1,300 innocent Israeli citizens and the consequential brutal assault on Gaza, regional tensions are likely to remain high and Israel will need further security guarantees. Gaza will require a protective wall that blocks the import of weaponry. This wall should be provided under the proposed UN mandate.
The answer to this crisis is not to further restrict the Palestinians, which is current Israeli policy. Gaza and the West Bank, united under a single administrative authority, should be physically linked by a security-fenced roadway to allow the free flow of people and goods under strict security control. It could be modelled on the Berlin corridor. Yes, that is controversial, but I am afraid that we need compromise and new thinking all round. As the late William Whitelaw, a neighbouring Member of Parliament in Cumbria, said to me on a long train journey in the late 1980s, if there is another World War it will be started over Israel.
My Lords, today’s debate takes place against a grim international backdrop: Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, the appalling events in and around Gaza, mounting evidence that the policy commitments on climate change entered into in Paris and Glasgow are not being operationalised in a timely manner, and a massive shortfall in progress towards the sustainable development goals set in 2015. There can be no doubting that the international community, and the UN which is its principal embodiment, have taken some hard knocks. Should we, as a middle-ranking power with an important position in many multilateral institutions give way to despair, just wring our hands and let the fragmentation continue, or should we apply ourselves more purposefully and more effectively than we have done in the past few years to countering these shortcomings, reversing aggressions, reforming international organisations where they need it, and reducing the gap between the West and what is called the global South? I think that to pose that question is also to answer it.
Ministers have said time and again that it is in our national interest to sustain and strengthen the rules-based international order, and they are surely right when they say this. They talk the talk, but do they walk the walk? I fear not. The massive cuts in our overseas aid, the slowing down of progress towards net zero and the Prime Minister’s absence from two important summit meetings at the UN in New York in September all tell a different story. So too do the domestic laws coming all too frequently before this House which are inconsistent with our international obligations and are called out by those most qualified to consider these matters. Some, but not all, of these measures have been modified. We risk facing others if and when the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill reaches us and whatever plan B emerges from the wreckage of the Rwanda policy. This is a recipe for being a world leader with very few followers.
Then there is the often fraught relationship with the EU, our biggest trading partner in a grouping that contains like-minded countries that share our values and interests. The improvements in that relationship this year—the Windsor Framework, the deal on Horizon and the memorandum of understanding on financial services—were welcome if belated, but far more remains to be done. Much of it was set out in your Lordships’ European Affairs Committee’s report in April. The Government’s response to its recommendations was in most respects general to the point of meaninglessness. Not one of those recommendations has been acted on, if one excepts the improvement in school visit arrangements with France nine months after it was agreed between the Prime Minister and the President.
Here is what remains: linking our carbon price to that of the EU through our emission trading schemes or at least keeping any gap between them to a minimum, although in fact prices are drifting far apart; having similar carbon border adjustment mechanisms, although the Government are still thinking while the EU goes ahead; taking up the long-abandoned agreement to have a structured framework for co-operation on foreign policy, security and defence issues, now even more needed in the light of events in Ukraine, the Middle East and the South China Sea than when it was originally included in the political declaration at the time of Brexit; reversing the collapse in school visits to all EU countries, not just one of them; restoring cultural and educational links by exploring co-operation between the Turing and Erasmus schemes; repairing the damaged conditions for performing artists to work across Europe; and exploring the scope for youth mobility schemes. All this and more is an agenda crying out for action, but there is little sign of that in the immediate future unless the Minister intends to surprise us in his response to this debate.
It would be comforting but utterly unrealistic to expect calmer waters in 2024. It is more likely to be the contrary. Replacing the policy of neglect on the issue of Palestine will itself be a daunting undertaking. Sustaining Ukraine in its heroic resistance against aggression will be another. Plugging the gap between warm words on climate change and actual performance in fulfilling them is a third. The outcome of next November’s presidential election in the US will—like every such election, but perhaps more so on this occasion—be consequential for our own foreign policy. It will not be sufficient simply to reach for the comfort blanket of what we call the special relationship. We will need to work in NATO and with the EU to respond to whatever the result of that election may prove to be.
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble and wonderful friend Lady Goldie, who will be sorely missed, and welcome my noble friend Lord Roberts of Belgravia, who will be a great asset to this House.
It has been 40 days since one of the worst atrocities since World War II took place, carried out by Hamas terrorists on Israeli soil. Yet within 48 hours the sophisticated propaganda machine run from Iran—that bastion of human rights, according to the UN—had managed to put the blame on Israel. Those 1,400 men, women and children massacred and the 240 hostages—some British, by the way—are rarely mentioned in the media and elsewhere. The focus is solely on Gaza, the home of 100,000 Hamas terrorists, where women and children are used as human shields and where billions of pounds in aid has been siphoned off to buy weapons and luxury for those who supposedly lead them, right under the noses of the UN, the EU, Governments and agencies which have turned a blind eye.
Terrorism is a cancer which spreads if untreated. Let us recall the IRA. Over four decades, more than 2,000 civilians were murdered and thousands were injured in its so-called just war. But while the IRA tried to bomb us into oblivion, the slow creep of Islamic extremism was on the rise. I joined an airline when hijacking was the order of the day. Some noble Lords may remember Entebbe and Dawson’s Field, the BOAC VC10 and Black September, the forerunner of the PLO. The wake-up call should have been Lockerbie—Pan Am flight 103. A sleeper in Frankfurt airport placed a bomb in the hold of a 707. I give examples only because I am someone who specialised in aviation security for many years. Meanwhile, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood went unchecked. A once peaceful religion was being slowly hijacked by ideology.
The modus operandi of these death cults is to destroy Jews, infidels and anyone who stands in their path. The icing on their cake, of course, was 9/11—3,000 victims blown to smithereens by suicide bombers. Here in the UK, four years later, it was 7/7 and a further 15 attacks, including the Manchester Arena bombing—our music festival, an evening of joy that turned out to be one of the worst atrocities carried out on British soil. Last weekend was our weekend to remember. Organisers were asked to postpone, but no: why would they?
These are not always peaceful protests, whatever the naive or the apologists may say. For too many outside tonight, this is not about being pro-Palestine. They are anti-Israel and anti-Jewish and have been whipped up by Islamic extremists calling for jihad. One of them is even an NHS GP from London, who is apparently in charge of Hizb ut-Tahrir, HT, which is apparently not a terrorist group. There are activists from some mosques who are clerics spouting death and destruction. It is out there, and it is on the record. This is brainwashing children and leaving so many decent people afraid to speak out.
The public have lost confidence in the authorities, and political correctness has stifled debate. Multi- culturalism has become a myth, and it will fail if one or two sections of society refuse to integrate and insist on imposing an ideology on everyone else. This is a holy war, when all decent people of all religions and none need to come together, stand up, speak out and be counted. Appeasement is not an option. Why is the IRGC not a proscribed terrorist group when it is Iran that pulls the strings?
In conclusion, to go back to the beginning, for those still in denial, Israel is fighting for her very existence, and our Jewish friends and neighbours are fighting just to live in peace. This is a battle we cannot lose—otherwise, we are all lost. Staying silent is not an option. As Lady Thatcher once said:
“The first duty of any Government is to safeguard its people against external aggression. To guarantee the survival of our way of life”.
If we cannot do that, we have no future.
My Lords, my focus today has to be on Gaza. To understand Israeli reaction to the vile and barbaric
“He used to say that whoever wants to block the possibility of two states has to support our policy of strengthening Hamas, keeping them alive and kicking, even bribing them. Can I call it protection money?”
Barak also calls Netanyahu’s coalition partners “racist, messianic crazies”—the extremist coalition that has empowered and armed the zealot settlers in the West Bank and provided army support for their expansionist aggression.
Israel called up reservists—my own cousin in Israel has three sons; one is in the regular forces, and two have been called up—and launched an attack to eliminate Hamas once and for all. But we must ask whether this can realistically be achieved. Having spent years constructing a vast network of tunnels, unquestionably using funds meant for Palestinian welfare, it is well prepared and dug in, certainly below schools, mosques and hospitals. Key Hamas leaders are living abroad, and many fighters will have dispersed into the wider population. Yes, Israel will massively degrade Hamas and destroy much weaponry and infrastructure, but I fear it will live on, augmented by new revengeful recruits following Israel’s military actions, with its ideology of destroying Israel continuing.
However, I have to say that I am appalled at the scale and ferocity of Israeli bombing and shelling. In war there is always collateral damage, of course, but 10,000-plus targets in a densely populated territory the size of the Isle of Wight has wrought sickening bloodshed and destruction, and has probably, sadly, killed some hostages as well.
Israel has cut off to the wider population food, water, medical supplies and fuel that could have been delivered safely by the UN or similar. Hamas will surely have stockpiled in tunnels. Had Israel been clever, she would have increased such supplies and certainly guaranteed them in relation to an agreed release of hostages, which is absolutely vital.
I believe a ceasefire is now a must for three reasons: first, to negotiate and as a condition for the release of all hostages; secondly, to avoid further loss of innocent lives; and, thirdly, to avoid giving Hezbollah cause to significantly enter the conflict, an action that would certainly bring about severe Israeli fatalities and destruction. We should then seek to establish an Arab-led UN-type peace force to stabilise the situation, giving Israel security guarantees and, within Gaza, providing reconstruction direction and perhaps in time some form of democratic process and statehood.
In a very recent Chatham House paper, Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis, a former surgeon-general of the Royal Navy, argues for a UN-led fleet of hospital ships. The US has two 1,000-bed vessels, and we have the RFA “Argus”, with a 100-bed facility, in the Mediterranean at the moment. I ask for the Minister’s thoughts on this possibility and on offering assistance via “Argus”.
On wider defence matters, I have four specific questions for the Minister; he may well want to write to me. Has it been decided who will pay for the repairs on the “Prince of Wales”? How far below target are our Reserve Forces? Media speculation suggests that Germany and Saudi Arabia might participate in the Tempest fighter programme; are talks taking place? BAE Systems has indicated its intention to develop a weapons manufacture and repair facility in Ukraine; will the Government part fund this? Finally, on Ukraine, we must continue and increase support for her courageous fight; this must not become the forgotten war.
I join in welcoming the noble Earl and in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for her outstanding service. I join in celebrating the continuation of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on the Government Bench, and I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Young, on their excellent maiden speeches.
Addressing foreign relations first, I make a plea for increased attention to Latin America—nobody has mentioned this—a region that typically in recent years has not gained the attention and resources it deserves. I declare my unremunerated interest as honorary president of Canning House. There is so much good will for the UK in South America and central America. These are countries typically enjoying higher growth rates than the UK, and in the meantime China is all over them like the proverbial cheap suit. The recent signature of the UK-central America association agreement has been warmly greeted by our central American friends, and we should be delighted by the flow of important delegations and visitors from the signatory countries. This is an opportunity we should grasp.
On international relationships and defence, in an increasingly contested world, Britain strives to be a force for good. The Government are to be congratulated on much that they have accomplished, but I think we can all recognise that additional investment is required now in defence. A key factor today is what might be called warning time. In the 2010 defence review, and I think the 2015 iteration, the belief was that Britain would have enough warning time to prepare in a conflict. In the last 18 months, we can see that this is no longer a valid assumption, if it ever was. Today, malign action could come out of an almost clear sky.
Putin’s annexation of Crimea was unexpected, and then we wanted to believe that he would not attack Ukraine, but he did. And now, to everyone’s surprise, Hamas has attacked Israel, with devastating consequences. We can all wonder if Putin had any input in this very calculated attack. We can be sure Iran did. We can see that major threats and attacks can come very rapidly—no 10-year preparation. We must be fully prepared with the right numbers of regulars and reserves, adequate kit and proper hardware for our gallant Armed Forces.
With the threat from China and Russia—and jointly in the far north—not forgetting threats to underwater infrastructure as well as to seaways, this is a maritime era. I say this as an honorary Royal Naval officer with an entire career in maritime. But we must also be prepared for land engagement in Europe, potentially in the Baltic, where Finland and hopefully Sweden will shortly be members of NATO. The Baltic becomes a choke point for Russian access to the North Sea and to the Atlantic, with the Black Sea also a potential choke point via the Bosphorus. Russia may see ocean access for its ships only in the far north and in the Pacific. We must urgently look at land forces.
Our reserves are now part of what is called the total force—with a revolving door—but what then of back-up? How does the Minister see back-up? In the stellar debate of the noble Lord, Lord Soames, a few weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Lancaster, had just returned from Poland where they were to increase their reserves by 100,000. Our reserve strength is around 30,000. We should do everything we can to increase the reserves.
My final point is of the utmost importance. For me, a real elephant in the room is the state of the union. Going back over centuries, the Scots and the Irish have made enormous contributions to Britain’s, Europe’s and international defence. Not enough of us are engaged in convincing those of our splendid Scots and gallant Irish friends who may seek independence rather than the benefits of a United Kingdom. We should embrace them more directly rather than standing back for fear of offending them. Scotland and Ireland are of the utmost importance for many reasons, including their remarkable contribution to our Armed Forces manpower, the role of Scotland in our warship construction, the array of ports across both Scotland and Northern Ireland as a base for the nuclear deterrent but also for access to the North Sea and the far north. A dismembered kingdom would not have the diplomatic voice or heft of a United Kingdom.
My Lords, the appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary not only strengthens the Government, but there has scarcely been a time where it has been more important to have an experienced, strong, recognisable voice at the top tables of world negotiation.
I believe that skilful diplomacy could also have a real part in reducing the threats of war. Putin has callously imposed a monumental military mess on his country, with his botched invasion of Ukraine. However, the Russian diplomacy operation is one to be observed and, to some extent, feared. I can think of three obvious triumphs that they have had: they have managed to alienate the BRICS from the West; they have ensured that there has not been universal opposition to the Ukraine invasion; and they have succeeded, partly with the help of Turkey, in delaying by many months the necessary accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO.
I want to talk about the role of Hamas. I declare my position as co-chair of the APPG for Egypt. The parent and political wing of Hamas, and many other Islamist terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, is the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in Egypt in 1928, ironically with a grant of £500 from His Majesty’s Government. Hamas was founded in 1988. When it was founded, it was described in its constitution as the military arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. On
Political Islam, which is the hijacking of the ideology of the noble religion of Islam, is a major threat to world security and peace. That was fully revealed in April 2014 with the formation of ISIS from the Iraqi franchise of the Muslim Brotherhood. ISIS took the West by surprise, as did the heinous
It is more than a coincidence that, later that same April, the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians for the long-advocated two-state solution broke down. Sadly, the Israeli Government seem to have failed to realise that, after the Hamas attack, it was crucial to minimise activities in the West Bank against the Palestinians. Given the increasing voting power of Jewish fundamentalists and the West Bank settlers, it is hard to envisage Israel reversing policy, never mind withdrawing from the West Bank. Yet I believe that the price that Israel must pay for both victory in the Gaza war and subsequent peace is the two-state solution.
My Lords, I felt very proud today. I felt proud that I live in a country with an independent judiciary that operates on the rule of law, even when it means correcting a mistake made by government in its policy. This morning’s decision on Rwanda was made on the facts—let me make that clear: on the facts and the evidence. The decision relied on the evidence received in great volume subsequent to the memorandum of understanding with Rwanda and the great sums of money put at its disposal.
Since the time of that memorandum of understanding, there have been no applications from Afghans, Syrians or Yemenis that have been successful; there has been a 100% refusal rate. What it calls into question is the ability of decision-making to follow due process. Refoulement —the return of applicants to the places where they were persecuted—is happening regularly at the hands of the Rwandan system.
The court also received evidence of secret transfers of people to Uganda. I know from my own work in cases involving Rwanda’s human rights issues that, consequent to the terrible events of the genocide that took place there years ago, the country is still unstable and does not have a reliable legal system. It was on that—nothing to do with human rights law or the European Convention on Human Rights—that the decision was based; it was based largely on laws passed by our own Parliament. It is a vindication of our own legal principles.
I also felt happy this morning. My heart sang when I saw that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, was still in office. He is a great Minister and I have had lots of dealings with him, so it was marvellous to see that he remains; he is a stayer and a keeper. I was sad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, go—my compatriot from Scotland was also a great Minister—but I welcome the noble Earl, Lord Minto, in her place.
I also welcome the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Roberts. I do not know the former, but I know the latter. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is great writer and I have enjoyed many of his books. My son-in-law has just finished reading his book on Napoleon and says that it is a triumph, so I recommend it to all noble Lords.
I want to talk in serious terms about Israel and Gaza. Three Israeli mothers were in London last week, and their pain was visceral. Their children are being held hostage. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said, the return of the hostages has to be a priority, and we should call for it over and over again. Their anguish was beyond imagining, yet they still called for peace—it was remarkable. We all share that heartbreak and dismay at the horrific toll being taken by this conflict.
I believe in law, because I have practised it now for 50 years. When people are howling in pain over horrible things that have happened to them, the law is more necessary than ever before. It is why the state, either domestically or internationally, has to deal with the wrongs that are experienced, to be consistent, to apply law and to be true to law. I hear Ministers saying, “It’s all collateral damage. Look at what happened when we had to bomb Dresden during the Second World War, and they bombed Coventry; look at the great toll it took on the people of both cities”. But that was the very reason that the Geneva conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and so on were created after the Second World War: to bring more reason to these horrors and more rules to the way we do things.
The world was revolted by
The other matter is one of distinction. The principle of distinction means you have to distinguish between military objectives and civilians, but that is not happening, either. Those principles are sacred and we should be reminding everyone of how important they are. They mean that if one party does not adhere to the rule of law—and clearly Hamas has not—it is not a green light to the other side to ignore the laws of armed conflict. So I am in favour of a ceasefire as soon as possible, because of the humanitarian needs but also because I strongly believe that we have to listen to the parents of those children who have been taken hostage. We have to return to the peace table and we have to have women at it. We are living in dark times, but the answer to all these issues is adherence to human rights principles. They do not disappear in times of war; they should be our lodestar, along with the rule of law, in times of crisis.
I was offered a minute and a half by my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Stone, because he finished so quickly, so I shall mention something else: universal jurisdiction. We have limited universal jurisdiction in this country, because it applies only to citizens or residents. That means we would not be able to arrest Hamas people if they arrived at Heathrow Airport, such as the man who suggested from Lebanon that it was possible to repeat and repeat the events of
My Lords, in adding my welcome to the Minister to his post and congratulating the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Roberts, on their maiden speeches, I particularly praise the latter for the moral clarity that he showed in his contribution at the end in making what to my mind is an irrefutable case about calling on Israel to simply lay down its weapons and agree to a ceasefire in the face of the genocidal attack that was perpetrated on it. Like many Members of this House, I saw for the first time the unfiltered footage that was shown by all-party groups here, with the support of the Israeli embassy. It is an unspeakable evil.
We have heard a number of important contributions about the need for the UK to retain its capacity to be a force for good, as the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, put it. Often, those contributions focus on the need for continued investment in our defensive capability. I absolutely endorse that; 2.5% of spending may well not be close to sufficient for the scale of the challenge faced by the UK and its allies.
Equally important is the need for moral clarity and resolve in the face of the clear evil that we saw. I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, was powerful in her contribution when she talked about the need for Israel to follow international law, but there is a huge danger for the UK and the West to be myopic in their focus when they talk about the need to follow international law and blame Israel for the situation, when it is of course Hamas that has embedded itself in hospitals, deliberately targets civilians, deprives its citizens of fuel so that it can fuel its rockets and tries to manipulate the international media, with the help of Iran, through disinformation on a scale that all too often gets through. Too often our focus is on Israel alone. If we allowed ourselves to go down that route as a country—which, to their great, both the Government and Keir Starmer, the Leader of the Opposition, have ensured that the Government and the Opposition have not—we would become part of the problem.
I was in the other place with the soon-to-be Lord Cameron in 2013, at the time of the disastrous failure to support limited military action in Syria as a response to Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons— I was one of only four Labour MPs who refused to follow my then leader, who pulled support from the Government at the last minute. That was a reprehensible act by Ed Miliband, but the Government bore a significant amount of responsibility for failing to make the case for action in Parliament and to the public.
So, in welcoming the future Lord Cameron to this place and his role as Foreign Secretary, I say that it is of paramount importance that he has learned from that failure, because the world is getting more and more challenged, and the need for continued investment will remain, as will the need to stay the course in Ukraine and other conflicts. That ultimately requires public support and, as a country, as a Government and in this place, we have not taken that argument out to the public to the level we need to now and in the period ahead. So I hope that he will be part of doing that as Foreign Secretary in the future.
My Lords, while we reflect on His Majesty’s first King’s Speech, it was the speech of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at the Lord Mayor of London’s Banquet that really caught my attention ahead of today’s debate. In opening, he referred to foreign relations and stated:
“Events far beyond our shores echo here at home”.
That is undoubtedly true, but I believe that we must not neglect the events just across the channel, which undoubtedly have produced plenty of echoes here in the last few years.
His Majesty said little about our relationship with the European Union, our closest neighbour, still our largest trading partner and our major ally on the world stage. The absence of greater mention in both speeches demonstrates missed opportunities. The younger generations, who we know overwhelmingly support closer co-operation with Europe, are watching us. They are the future, and we owe it to them to rebuild a relationship with the EU that is dynamic, beneficial and forward-thinking, following our decision to leave the institutions of the union in 2016.
I warmly welcome the Government’s integrated review refresh, which, for the first time, has openly spoken of working with the European Union institutions again. I also welcome our participation in the European Political Community, which is a positive step towards fostering stronger ties with our neighbours but something that can never itself replicate the unified work we used to enjoy. Recently, we have witnessed a plethora of bilateral agreements and memoranda of understanding with individual EU member states, and even states within states. Although these have value and do something to restore trust between London and the other capitals, they can take us only so far. They will never be sufficient replacements for agreements with the EU as a whole. The Government need to show a readiness and willingness to engage with institutions of the European Union itself to reach new agreements and enhance co-operation. I welcome the appointment of David Cameron, my future noble friend, to his new role. He certainly has the necessary experience and skills to take this forward.
The current trade and co-operation agreement, although significant, must be just the beginning of a new chapter in our relationship with Europe. It is a foundation, but one that now needs to be built on. Of course, there is an obligation on us to conduct a thorough stock take of that relationship in 2025-26, so, as we prepare for that review, we must ask ourselves a question: are we really going to be content with what we have now and try to pretend that everything is fine and working well? I think not. We cannot do that, and that review presents us with a golden opportunity to redefine our ties with Europe.
For instance, we must build on the momentum established by the Windsor Framework, referred to by other noble Lords. We must be bold and proactive, not reactive, in our future approach to the EU. As a priority, there are lots of things that we can and could do soon. First, let us reach an SPS agreement, which in itself will significantly reduce barriers to trade by maintaining multilateral frameworks for human and animal health. Secondly, we should introduce a UK-EU youth mobility scheme to provide an opportunity for our younger people to live and work together in Europe, and, of course, to help to fill labour shortages in this country. Thirdly, professional and other qualifications should be recognised once more across both sides of the channel. These are just a few examples, and there are many more.
Our relationship with the EU has always been about so much more than just trade. In the face of global challenges, such as the Russian aggression in Ukraine and ongoing migration issues, it is evident that security and defence co-operation is of paramount importance. Once again, mere bilateral agreements, while useful, cannot replace the comprehensive co-operation that engagement at the EU level can provide and which provided us with comfort before. Perhaps the Government should revisit the political declarations made by previous Prime Ministers, which envisaged closer and more structured foreign and defence co-operation. We might sign an administrative arrangement, like Switzerland and the US, to join European defence projects at least on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, signing a framework participation agreement, as entered into by a number of non-EU countries, would lay strong groundwork for future collaborative engagements.
While the King’s Speech laid out a vision for the future, it is imperative that we soon address the gaps in our relationship with the EU. We must build a future that is prosperous, secure and beneficial for all, and which enthusiastically acknowledges and strengthens our long ties with Europe.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for her courtesy and co-operation. Throughout the time when she was representing the Government in this House, I was a member of the Labour Front-Bench defence team, and it was a pleasure to do business with her.
The segments of the King’s Speech on defence were short and vague. It is, of course, never a legislation-heavy area, so this is to be expected, but the Government’s action simply does not match their rhetoric. Since 2010, the British Army has been reduced to its smallest since the time of Napoleon. It was the last Defence Secretary who said that defence has been “hollowed out and underfunded” for years. So when the Government say that they will continue to invest in our gallant Armed Forces, what exactly do they mean?
This extends far beyond simple numbers, whether it is money, numbers of troops or quality or quantity of equipment. The last 13 years have corroded the nation’s moral contract with those who serve. Our brave troops and their families are having to live in housing that is simply inadequate, with damp and mould; it is so inadequate, in fact, that 4,000 forces families are not paying rent as a result. Satisfaction with service life has fallen to almost 40%, so it is no surprise that retention rates are dropping too. That is not sustainable, and so I ask again: how exactly are the Government investing in our gallant Armed Forces?
The Government also say they will continue to support veterans, to whom so much is owed. They are right about the last part—so much is owed. So why are so many veterans having to endure a postcode lottery on the support they receive? Over 1.5 million veterans across the UK do not have the veteran ID card that they were promised, which is supposed to ensure quicker access to important services, such as healthcare. In July, the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme was found to have a
“Lack of fairness and empathy”,
causing distress for many who have kept our country safe and deserve our compassion and support. Throughout the cost of living crisis, veterans have been particularly hard hit, relying on universal credit and charitable support. The reality is that the Government are failing our service community.
The Government also pledged to strengthen NATO and address the most pressing security challenges. This is no doubt the Government’s intention, as they have shown with the support for Ukraine. There must be no change in this resolve, which we fully support, but the wider reality does not match up. There are growing concerns about the UK’s NATO obligations under this Government, as delays and mismanagement in vital defence contracts undermine our capability to fulfil our full NATO obligations and, by doing so, properly support our allies.
Ajax vehicles are still not ready; they are currently apparently in recovery and due to be eight years late. The E-7 Wedgetail planes have been delayed by at least a year. The British Army will not have a fully modernised war-fighting division until 2030. The MoD has acknowledged the risk that this amounts to: that the UK could not provide NATO with an operational Army division. When will the Government get a grip, so that the UK can be NATO’s leading European nation, leading the focus on future Russian aggression and the Arctic opening up due to climate change, and on developing a strategy to challenge and compete with China? Ultimately, when will the Government’s actions match up to their warm words?
My Lords, I will be changing the tone slightly here because, like occasional other noble Lords in this series of debates, I will be speaking about a different topic, as we are entitled to. But in the spirit of things here today, I will be putting my words in an international context. One noble Lord after another has, by implication if not explicitly, emphasised the importance of Britain’s role in the world and the significance of maintaining that.
Before I speak about higher education and transport, I declare an interest as chancellor of Cardiff University. I start with higher education. This sector is one of our country’s great strengths, earning probably £150 billion a year for the economy. Universities are also a source of tremendous soft power across the world. Examine the CVs of leaders across the world and you will see that many of them have studied in Britain. But you would never guess that universities are a great national asset from the Government’s rhetoric. Instead, they are depicted simply as a problem, and in this year’s gracious Speech we were promised measures to deal with low-value courses. I should have thought that a Conservative Government would leave that to the market. Indeed, the higher education market is intensely competitive. How do the Government intend to measure low-value courses? After all, I am sure they will not just use salaries post-graduation.
Nothing in the gracious Speech deals with the biggest problem facing universities, which is that the funding model needs urgent reform because Brexit and Covid dealt twin blows to university sources of income. Horizon is, thankfully, restored, but belatedly, and many millions have been lost in research funding. It will take many years to rebuild. Sadly, there are no plans announced in the Speech to rejoin Erasmus, which is so important in expanding the horizons of young people which is so good for international peace and understanding.
Universities increasingly rely on foreign students for income. Fewer EU students means that they have to look to the wider world, and the Government’s measures in relation to making it more difficult to get visas not only affect the numbers of applicants coming to our universities but actually make it more difficult for university staff and researchers from the UK to visit those countries concerned, as retaliatory action is taken. I hope that the new Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary will discuss this problem.
On transport, the gracious Speech was a huge disappointment. It seems the Government cannot manage to stop the boats but are determined to stop the pedicabs—they are referred to as a “scourge”, which is a slight overstatement. As a nation, we face the twin challenges of a creaking transport infrastructure and rapidly changing technology. On both, the Government’s response is inadequate. Last year’s Speech promised a transport Bill to cover Great British Railways. This year, that Bill has been abandoned, along with the second phase of HS2, and there has been a watering down of the Government’s net-zero ambitions, and hence their responsibilities to the rest of the world. These policy U-turns were greeted with dismay by the automotive and rail industries and particularly by foreign investors in the UK.
In post-Brexit Britain, we have lost a lot of what were our major markets in the EU and must look to modern technology to adapt for the future. I welcome the planned legislation on automated vehicles but regret that there is still nothing to deal with micromobility, such as electric scooters, and nothing to encourage the use of sustainable aviation fuels or further development of electric vehicle charging. Finally, since most people in Britain still rely on public transport, why has Great British Railways gone from a major government plan to a draft Bill? We are wasting vital time in sorting out our national infrastructure. We cannot be an international player of great power, strength and status unless we have a decent, modern infrastructure.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness and her wise words about universities, which one would expect from someone from Cyncoed, where I was born. I add my praise to the two maiden speeches. I look forward to learning the lessons of history from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, and am delighted to have on our Benches my noble friend Lord Young, who has been an outstanding servant to our late and great Queen. We are lucky to have them both and I look forward to their further contributions. I also echo the praise for the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who was a model of a Front-Bench spokesman, listening and answering carefully. She was great; I add my welcome to the noble Earl, Lord Minto.
As head of the Home Civil Service, I normally kept away from foreign policy and defence because I had weighty colleagues such as the noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay, my noble friend Lord Dannatt, and Lord Guthrie. They were terrifically able, so I could concentrate on domestic matters. However, the world is out of joint. I am alarmed and concerned about the wider horizon. In my experience, foreign policy and defence must be the two top priorities of any Government of any political colour, backed up by firm law and order, courteously expressed, and a strong economy. We do not have those now. Unless you have good, strong foreign policy and defence, the other important functions of the state—education, health, welfare, and so on—are at risk. Foreign policy and defence are our insurance. In the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, at present we are not sufficiently insured. We are very much at risk. We have lots of fine words, but fine words do not stop bullets.
I am therefore very glad to welcome the appointment of the Foreign Secretary to this House. It adds weight to the proceedings of this House to have someone with such experience and background. We are lucky to have the responsibility and privilege of holding the Foreign Secretary to account. I hope we also have the opportunity, at times, of influencing his thinking. It is an important development; in a non-political way, I welcome it.
The Foreign Secretary will receive a lot of briefing—far too much. On a domestic matter, I hope he has a copy of the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, delivered on Monday, in which he revealed something which shocked me. He said:
“All Ministers of State in this House are now expected to work for nothing”.—[Official Report, 13/11/23; col. 294.]
I was astonished at that. It is because the number of Ministers in the Commons has grown. When I was Cabinet Secretary, I advised the Prime Minister several times about the balance between Ministers in different ranks and the numbers of salaries we had in the different Houses. I always protested at the thought of 14 out of 30 Whips and Ministers being unpaid. It is demeaning to the House and it is wrong for the Ministers. I do not expect the Minister of State to answer about this when he replies, but I do hope the future noble Lord, the new Foreign Secretary, is aware that he is paid when his Minister of State is not.
I will listen to the Foreign Secretary with huge interest. He will of course talk about Gaza and Ukraine. Underneath that, there are two areas I will listen to very closely. One is his thinking on China. He has a lot of experience of China. I suspect he may have changed it. I think we will want to learn from him. What makes the Chinese think? They have a complex, ancient way of thinking, which is very different from ours. We could easily misinterpret them by treating them as if they were westerners. We need to be very careful to get them right and get the best advice and thoughts about our dealings with China. That is hugely important, as my noble friend Lady D’Souza said in her wise words earlier.
The second issue on which I will listen to the Foreign Secretary closely is on our position in the world following our departure from the European Union. We joined the Common Market in large part to give ourselves a greater place in the world and to be of assistance to the United States in their dealings with Europe. Now we have left Europe, we are on our own again, back where we were. We have not yet worked out or said how we will make the most of that position. Some good thinking has been expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, had some very good ideas. It is very important that the Foreign Secretary has time to think about that and give a lead on it.
When considering the highly volatile nature of international affairs at this time, it is not surprising to hear so many insightful and well-informed speeches in your Lordships’ House, especially from the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Young. I join the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, in his comments about David Cameron in his new office as Foreign Secretary. We need strong leadership at this time and people who really understand the world and its affairs, and who have good contacts. It is a dangerous and difficult place, and we do need that.
I will start by saying a few words on international trade because I believe that is essential in bringing countries together and is a force for good. With our departure from the European Union, we have an unrivalled opportunity to benefit from free trade. I was so encouraged to see the Government bring forward the Bill to promote free trade and investment, particularly with the CPTPP. This opportunity to bring together with the UK a number of middle-ranking countries in the Pacific, along with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, and all the others in that club, enables us to have more of an influence in free trade, especially with like-minded countries.
In a dangerous and unstable world, it is vital that the Government approach future bilateral agreements with strategic foresight and understanding that the trade deals of today must pave the way for broader co-operation and the security of tomorrow.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on the success of the UK’s AI summit at Bletchley and I am pleased to see that the focus on this important and fast-moving area remains a priority for the Government. This is partly because the future of trade, particularly digital trade, is entwined with advancements in AI. If we can remain at the forefront of harnessing and correctly regulating the application of this transformative technology, we will pave the way for a truly global Britain where our business can thrive and our markets expand. That said, we all know that AI is not without risks, and I therefore hope that the Government will continue to look carefully at AI’s impact on trade, particularly in the context of cybersecurity and ensuring the safety and reliability of digital trade.
Against the backdrop of the worrying situation in Israel, I further welcome the Government’s commitment to progressing the economic activities of public bodies Bill, and I hope that, with the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the UK, this legislation will be timetabled to progress with speed. As a former leader of a council, I can say with confidence that local residents simply want their councillors to get on with the job of delivering high-quality and cost-effective services. It is not the job of councils to pursue their own foreign policy agendas, especially in ways which undermine the UK’s international standing and leave individual communities at risk of hate and persecution. I therefore welcome this government commitment.
One cannot miss the opportunity today to comment on the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Rwanda plan, which shows just how difficult the situation is and that a change of direction is now needed. We need a robust, fair system to deal with asylum seekers. As I have said previously, I believe that should be through bilateral deals with countries—I cite the example of the Albanian joint communiqué that was announced not very long ago. I believe that is the direction of travel we should be following.
I conclude by reminding His Majesty’s Government that Britain, with its rich history, economic prowess and defence capabilities, has an unparalleled opportunity to be at the forefront of causing the international order to meet the demands of this highly interconnected world. The task of steadying the choppy waters of global affairs is becoming more difficult by the day. The challenges are immense but the potential for a brighter and more secure future is within our grasp, and that is why the Government have my support in delivering on the promises outlined in the gracious Speech.
I suppose I am a geneticist, partly at least. Some years ago, shortly after the genome had been sequenced successfully, I made a television programme about the sequencing, and the BBC took my blood and a swab as well to test my DNA quite anonymously, so I did not know anything about the results. I was extremely surprised to see that, out of four particular alleles, which are present in only about 1% of the population, three of them came from the area of Judea—what is now part of the Palestinian West Bank—and I have them in common with the people there. So I suppose I have a real reason to speak in this debate.
If we go forward 1,500 years later, my direct ancestor, Joseph ben Ephraim Karo, was a great scholar who was four when he was expelled from Spain in 1492, and then expelled from Portugal at the age of nine, from where he went to Morocco. From Morocco, he had to move to Turkey, Adrianople—Edirne, really—and then Salonika. He was also in Nikopol in Ukraine. He truly was one of the boat people: many of that family died on the boats and he was a child for a good deal of the time when that happened.
Karo, it turned out, was a great sage. He was brilliantly educated, speaking Arabic, of course, as well as Hebrew. He eventually landed up in northern Israel, in in a place called Safed. There he founded a community which eventually grew to 14,000 people, nearly all of them Jewish. There were 18 seminaries there and Muslims came and sat at his feet, because they had a very close relationship. They came mostly from what is now Syria and Lebanon. Now, in the north of Israel, Hezbollah shoots its missiles, and my great nephew is watching out and holding guard.
In many of Lord Sacks’s speeches—I can count 19—in this House, he talks about the central moral principles of Judaism, and he emphasises the Pikuach nefesh, the notion of the sanctity of human life, the idea that we are made in the image of God. It has been hard for me to talk in this debate. I have to say that I am bewildered by doubt, haunted and deeply dismayed by what is happening.
I am not fighting this war, and I know from experience —I go to Israel very frequently professionally—that the IDF has high moral principles which we all share. There have of course been calls during this debate and elsewhere for a ceasefire. That might be for the best, but none of us here in this Chamber is a general fighting this war, and unless we have the detail of what is actually happening, I do not think we are in a position to judge; we are not on the front line and we do not fear for ourselves. We have to accept that we are dealing with a completely unprincipled enemy that has done what it has done repeatedly for years, ever since Israel left Gaza and after many so-called negotiated ceasefires, which have been repeatedly broken.
We can judge things only by reported news, and I regret that the media has frequently been highly irresponsible, to say the least, in its reports. The suffering is of course utterly appalling, and we shed tears over it, but it is also newsworthy to report atrocity, even when the facts are unclear, and even when we are certain: Gazan citizens are used as—forgive me, not as a shield, that is too kind a word; they are expendable. That is the truth of the matter.
One important result of this war, like nearly all wars, is the corruption of truth. An old Talmudic saying of falsehood, is lashon hara, the evil tongue. The noble Lord, Lord Dobbs, is not in his place, but as he mentioned, the focus of falsehood is lie. As the Talmud says, it is like murder. It is not the murder just of one person, the person who is being lied about, but also of the person who promotes that lie and the people who listen to it—so a minimum of three people are effectively dead, according to Talmudic teaching, as a result of falsehoods made of lies and libels. It is a very dangerous situation. Sadly, the media has published many falsehoods and, I think, made it very difficult to judge what is happening.
I co-chair the British-Israel Science Council, supported by the British embassy, to which I acknowledge my thanks. My co-chair, my opposite number, Dr Ruth Ardon, is a much greater scientist than I am, and, like most citizens there, she wants peace and, like many academics in Israel, collaborates with others, not just overseas with Britain but with Palestinians.
I also have many friends from Gaza and Palestine. Sadly, I cannot talk about them and what they say to me because I would endanger them if I did. It is a terrible thing to have to accept. What we can see very clearly is that most Gazans are certainly not supporters of Hamas and most Israelis did not vote for Netanyahu. We must have hope and trust. We need to consider that, and we look forward to changing things in time. It may take a long time, but it is worth doing all we can.
My Lords, continuing that theme of corruption of truth, defence in foreign policy has little to do with defence of the realm. There is no threat from a foreign power wishing to invade our country. Billions spent on what is called defence are used to protect or expand political and trade interests around the world.
This concept of defence includes the arms trade—the manufacture and selling of horrific means of killing to other countries. The UK, the USA, Russia and China are all involved in selling weapons to countries with sometimes deplorable human rights records to fight their neighbours, who are equipped with similar weaponry. Future generations will look at our involvement in this sordid trade with the loathing and contempt that we today reserve for the slave trade.
The United States, Russia, the UK and China are all members of the so-called Security Council, created to end global conflict. Instead, members of the Security Council are themselves the main perpetrators of conflict and human rights abuse. In industry, such abuse of power for personal gain would result in instant dismissal. We toppled Colonel Gaddafi in Libya but left the country in ruins. We used the excuse that Saddam Hussein was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, knowing it to be false, to attack Iraq, brutally treating the civilian population and causing Sunni Muslims to flee to Syria. Russia, seeking political advantage, cynically came to the aid of the Syrian regime, adding to already horrific suffering. Then there was our failed intervention in Afghanistan. When Theresa May, on a visit to Washington, stated that we must stop trying to be the world’s policeman, the 22 countries that we have not yet got around to invading must have breathed a collective sigh of relief.
We are all moved by the suffering of the hapless people of Gaza, who are experiencing not only a blockade of food, fuel, water and medicine but bombardments of hospitals and refugee camps by Israel with weapons supplied mainly by the United States and us. Astonishingly, we and the United States, in our refusal to call for a ceasefire, give our tacit approval to Israel in its collective punishment of the people of Gaza for the sins of Hamas. Why? United States President Biden put it succinctly:
“Israel is an important ally”.
This dated concept of dividing the world into friend and foe, in a 19th-century game of political chess using smaller nations as expendable pawns, is the root cause of continuing conflict in the world today. Guru Nanak, whose birthday Sikhs celebrate this week, looking at the mainly religious conflicts of his day, taught that groupings that promote hatred and violence are unacceptable and reminded us that we are all members of one human family.
Recognition of this truth was an idealistic concept 500 years ago. Today, in our smaller, interdependent world, faced with common natural and manmade problems, it is an imperative. To move to peace in our troubled world, we must look beyond factional politics and work together to resolve underlying issues, a theme that was taken up the noble Lord, Lord Stone. We could do it by what Mary Parker Follett, an industrial engineer, described as looking to the law of the situation. This approach of recognising and addressing common concerns, a common yearning for peace and a freedom to live, work and travel is the direction in which we must go in the Middle East and elsewhere. In the words of the daily prayer that we say in this House, we must set aside all factional interests and work together for the well-being of our one, somewhat dysfunctional, human family.
My Lords, the bonus ball for sitting through this debate from the start, other than what we must euphemistically call comfort breaks—although in this place there is not much comfort involved—is that I got to hear two magnificent maiden speeches. The first, of course, was from the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, which was typically excellent. His Wikipedia entry says:
Given the reception he has had, we can now amend that to a popular British historian, journalist and popular Member of the House of Lords. See, I told you it was worth staying for. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Old Windsor, gave a most elegant maiden speech, as one might expect. As deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, I very much welcomed his thoughts on how we can do more and do it better, and I look forward to working with him on Commonwealth matters going forward.
At the risk of repeating what many of your Lordships have already said, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who did such an excellent job on the Front Bench, and agree how wonderful it is that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, is still there, as constant as the great North Star, to guide us through these deliberations. On the appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary, whatever you may think about the individual, and I am of course very positive about him, I think it is a huge bonus for your Lordships’ House to have the Foreign Secretary among us. I hope it is also a precedent that we can have another great office of state held by somebody in your Lordships’ House because it makes us more relevant and more potent—I think we are all winners by that appointment.
The noble Earl, Lord Minto, spoke about the interlinking of what is going on in this tricky world at the moment, and everything we have heard so far today proves his point. I am a former chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council; I visited Israel a number of times, the West Bank and Gaza. I am not going to talk specifically about that because I hope we will have more opportunity to do that for longer another time. I want to talk about two specific things in the time allocated this evening: the first is Afghanistan and the second is the DPRK.
I have spoken before about the plight of many women in Pakistan—the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, knows this well—who previously held high office in Afghanistan: judges, police, all kinds of positions. I have asked the Minister in the past to reassure us that they will not be in any danger or forcibly repatriated to Afghanistan, and I am horrified by the news that Pakistan has now started forcible repatriation. Can the Minister again, therefore, reassure us that nobody who will be vulnerable to the Taliban, the authorities in Afghanistan, will be returned there against their will?
More than 100 Afghan special forces personnel, trained and funded by the UK, have also apparently been denied entry to the UK under the Afghan relocations and assistance policy scheme and left to the mercy of the Taliban. I very much welcome what the Minister has to say on that.
I wonder if the Minister has heard the rumour that 500 volunteers for suicide bombings are en route to Gaza. The Taliban leadership is keen to see the back of them, because they are hardliners. That would certainly add a new dimension to what is going on in Gaza. Apparently, a lot of US weapons left behind in Afghanistan are finding their way to Gaza—they are not from Ukraine, as former President Trump has claimed. Afghanistan is not finished business, and anyone who thinks it is seriously underestimates the malign role that it can continue to play.
I continue on the theme of the axis of evil. Your Lordships will be aware that Russia and North Korea have now entered relations at what they describe as “a new, strategic level”. The Russian Foreign Secretary, Sergei Lavrov, went to Pyongyang following the summit between Putin and Kim Jong Un in September. Pyongyang has now sent a thousand containers of equipment and munitions for Russia to use in Ukraine. As worrying, perhaps, is that, in return, Pyongyang is to receive Russian weapons technology to augment its nuclear programme, as well as its first military reconnaissance satellite. Incidentally, Lavrov then travelled to Iran to hold talks with President Raisi in Tehran, and Iran has subsequently supplied Russia with Shahed kamikaze drones.
John Kirby, the spokesman for the US National Security Council, said that China, Russia and North Korea presented “unique and pernicious threats” to Washington. It is not just to Washington but to the rest of us as well. We know that Russia cannot continue the fight in Ukraine alone. As I have said, North Korea has provided over two months’ worth of supplies for Russia to use in Ukraine. I welcome the Government’s recommitment in the gracious Speech to supporting Ukraine, but I urge them to redouble their efforts to stiffen the resolve of those who are beginning to waver and to continue to support the Ukrainians in their fight.
My Lords, I congratulate today’s maiden speakers and thank the redoubtable noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, for her extraordinary service to your Lordships’ House. I also join the collective sigh of relief that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, remains in his post.
I draw attention to several relevant all-party parliamentary groups in which I am involved. I am also a patron of Hong Kong Watch.
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“in some part engineered by the Chinese state to lend credibility to Chinese investment”.
The Foreign Secretary will need to reflect on that and on the role that he played in the vast Port City Colombo in Sri Lanka—a signature project for Xi Jinping’s belt and road initiative—which, as Sir Iain Duncan Smith rightly pointed out, may one day act as a Chinese military outpost in the Indo-Pacific.
China has used its belt and road programme to indebt nations and to require recipient vassal states to do its bidding in United Nations institutions and agencies. Belt and road has a combined GDP amounting to trillions of pounds, touching 151 countries with a population of over 5 billion people—that is at a moment when the UK has cut its development aid by a total of £7 billion since 2019, with 29% of the remaining budget being used to host refugees, and as we neglect links to the 2.4 billion people of the Commonwealth, spread across some 56 countries.
While that has been going on, the CCP has literally been marching into the void. Xi’s latest extension of belt and road is to create a global initiative on artificial intelligence. That is ominous because of the precedent of using facial recognition technology in Xinjiang’s surveillance state. AI is a tool that the CCP will share with other authoritarian states, enabling them to impose iron-fist control of their citizens. I particularly applaud the initiative that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has taken in trying to get a global response to this, but this use of AI will doubtless aid and abet spying with Chinese characteristics, even here in the heart of our democracy. I draw the House’s attention to yesterday’s report of the £115 million received by UK universities, some of which has direct military links to China and some of it, I might add, subject to US sanctions. What are we thinking of?
The CCP regime spies, subverts, infiltrates, manipulates and buys votes in the General Assembly. It also sanctions UK parliamentarians—here I declare an interest. It is disgraceful that the CCP blocks Taiwan from membership of the WHO, which it has used to cover its Covid tracks. For the avoidance of doubt, it would be helpful if the Minister reaffirmed the Government’s position on Taiwan, in line with the recent G7 statements. It is risible that the CCP regime sits on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council while being in breach of UDHR Articles 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 14, 18, 19 and others. It is like putting the fox in charge of the hen coop. Last night, I met Tibetan Buddhists who are grievously persecuted. There are Christians in prison and Falun Gong practitioners subjected to forced organ harvesting, while Uighur Muslims suffer genocide. In the face of this, the UN is a hollow man.
The noble Lord, Lord Swire, has previously raised, as I have, the repatriation of North Koreans by China to a state that the United Nations has describe as without parallel and as accused, through one of its own inquiries, of crimes against humanity. Next week, the President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk Yeol, will be a welcome visitor here. The Republic of Korea is willing to resettle every one of those refugees.
As for the Uighurs, in 2021 the House of Commons determined that genocide is being committed. In response, China ensured that compliant states at the UN Human Rights Council rejected a motion even to debate the findings of the UN special rapporteur. In the face of all this, it is urgent that we return to the founding principles of the UN and reform it in the way my noble friend Lord Hannay described, strengthen our hard and soft power alliances, and be much clearer eyed about the threat posed by the CCP regime in China.
My Lords, it has been a long day and I promise I will not take too long. We have heard very many interesting speeches during the day. I particularly welcome the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and my noble friend Lord Roberts. I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, mentioned his biography of Napoleon. I confess that I am not so great a fan of Napoleon as my noble friend, but it is a book that I greatly admire. It perhaps had the same effect on me as the biography of Lord Salisbury did on the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, to judge by his remarks, in that it made me understand much better the motivations and workings of the Napoleonic state—which of course has been so influential in continental Europe—without necessarily making me any more sympathetic to it as a way of governing countries.
It is a pleasure, if perhaps an all too rare pleasure, to be able to support the Government completely in the foreign policy and defence agenda that was set out in the gracious Speech and in the Prime Minister’s speech at Mansion House this week, because I do not share the views that we have heard today of the foreign policy agenda of the past couple of years. Many people said that after Brexit foreign policy would be one of the areas that we would find most difficult to make work, and I do not think that events have shown that. We took a lead on Ukraine that I still believe made a great difference to the way Ukraine was handled; we have the AUKUS treaty and the new treaty with Japan that covers many issues; we have the new trade agenda, the CPTPP, the agreements with Australia and New Zealand and, I hope, with India soon, and many more. So Britain is returning to the foreign policy scene. I do not think we are a bit player. We are a major player, and we are making a difference on the world scene. I encourage the Government and Ministers to keep pushing on that in the year to come.
I want to make two specific points before finishing. The first is on China. I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, said earlier about China. We have to face the fact that we face in China huge threat. It is an old civilisation, a civilisation to be admired, but one that is unfortunately in the evil hands of the CCP at the moment. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Alton, set out some of the reasons why I do not hesitate to use that word. Although the Government’s strategy has moved on China over the past couple of years, it still perhaps lacks some of the clarity and sharpness that we are going to need to take us forward on that relationship. It is a bit descriptive perhaps to say that it is a systemic player. It is a menu to set out the three words of protect, align and engage. It is not a set of priorities. It is not helping us make judgments about where we draw the line on issues such as investment, trade, science and tech co-operation, education and students and much more. I wonder whether this is a good moment, with the new Foreign Secretary arriving with his expertise on China, to try to sharpen up that strategy—perhaps with a confidential element to it—to bring clarity, direction and guidance to all those who have to represent this country around the world.
One area where I think this is an issue—I will finish quickly now—is on the British Indian Ocean Territory, where we know that negotiations are under way with Mauritius. It appears that the Government have changed their view over the past year of the advisory judgments that came from the ICJ and ITLOS and the status of the General Assembly resolutions on this subject. There was a very good paper from the Policy Exchange think tank last month with an excellent foreword from the noble Lord, Lord West, setting out his concerns on that. Mauritius is a country that is influenced by China and could well be influenced further. I find it troubling that we are in a negotiation that seems likely to result in handing over that territory with such an important base, such an important strategic asset for the United Kingdom, without fully understanding why it must be done or why the legal view has changed. Perhaps, either in winding up or later, the Minister could set out why the legal view has changed. Perhaps it is time for a fuller statement on where those negotiations stand and what the Government’s aims are.
My Lords, it is sometimes educative to look back at other contributions there have been in debates on the gracious Speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, and my noble friend Lady Ludford made me think about some of the opportunities that could lie ahead for future European co-operation. I stumbled across this contribution, which I will quote from Hansard:
“for five years the last Government tried the patience of our partners by the suspicious way they approached even the simplest and most constructive proposals for common Community action … By contrast, the Government today are determined to engage actively with our partners in developing the Community in the interests of all its members. We believe that it is in this co-operative framework that we can best construct a Europe in which future generations can live and prosper.”—[
That dangerous liberal progressive rhetoric was from the last time that we had a Foreign Secretary in the House of Lords, because it was Lord Carrington’s first speech as Foreign Secretary in reply to the gracious Speech in 1979. As I am of that generation, I hope that the new Foreign Secretary might repeat some of that sentiment when he comes among us.
I also commend the maiden speeches we heard today and the genuine sentiment, which I fully endorse, with regards to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and her work. As a fellow Borderer, I particularly welcome the noble Earl, Lord Minto, to his new role. I am sure that his ancestors as lawless Border reivers will be rather amused that he is now in charge of the British Army, but I welcome him to his post and wish him well for it.
This year, 2023, is proving to be a terribly bloody year for civilian casualties in political conflict, with children bearing the brunt. My noble friend Lady Smith referenced Ukraine, and in Sudan—I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, referenced Sudan very early on in his contribution, and the Minister knows I have an active engagement there—three times the population of Gaza are currently displaced. Half of them are children. This is the highest number of displaced children anywhere in the world. Some 14 million children in Sudan are in urgent need of life-saving humanitarian assistance. This is the gravest humanitarian crisis on the planet. Many are living in fear of being killed, injured, recruited or used by armed actors, and conflict-related sexual violence, including rape and child rights violations, will likely continue to rise.
We have also heard of the continuing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Reportedly, over 11,000 people have been killed. Two-thirds of them are reportedly children and women. Of course, we know that Hamas also targeted children and young people in its brutal murders and taking of hostages. Children are most at risk now, especially girls, when water and sanitary health services are reduced. The United Nations warned this morning that wash facilities are starting to shut down; that includes within the shelters for the UN which are currently hosting over 290,000 IDPs. The urgency is clear.
Children bearing the brunt of conflicts means that the next generation may also bear witness to how Governments have responded. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem powerfully said that our actions now are not just about ameliorating the humanitarian crisis but about ensuring that the next generation does not live with a great level of resentment. I fear greatly this will be the case.
I also wish to pay tribute to the United Nations. UNRWA has been bereaved; over 100 UN aid workers have been killed in this conflict, the highest in the United Nations’ history.
Our Benches believe that a bilateral ceasefire is now necessary, and it should be the basis, as my noble friend Lord Palmer indicated, not only for creating space for humanitarian assistance but also to try and provide some form of political mechanism that may offer some hope, despite how difficult that would be. There are those Israeli leaders such as the former Prime Minister Yair Lapid who addressed the United Nations General Assembly last year, so we know that there are figures who can be peacemakers.
The Prime Minister said in his speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet on Monday that the UK would provide the
“serious, practical and enduring support needed to bolster the Palestinian Authority”.
I agree with him on the need for that, but, as the Minister knows, I have called out the cuts of 90% from the UK to the OPT over the last two years. Also, the UK support for UNRWA has been cut by half.
Some have referenced the new Foreign Secretary, and we will welcome him to his new position. I think the whole House will join me in feeling a deep sympathy with the Prime Minister, who was unable to find anyone from among his 349 colleagues capable enough to hold the post. He will have a warm welcome here. I reflected on the fact that the last time a Conservative Prime Minister was brought back to be Foreign Secretary, it was to help us to get into Europe. As my noble friend indicated, this one helped us get out.
The context that we now have going forward is not just humanitarian crises but the growth of autocracies and the fragmentation of the rule of law. This morning, I had the great privilege of speaking in a ceremony in which Liberal International, the organisation that our Benches are part of, presented the prize for freedom to Evgenia Kara-Murza, the wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence in isolation in Siberia because he speaks out against the Putin regime. That is one indication. I welcome the fact that the Minister and the Government have sanctioned those who prosecuted him. As well as my discussions yesterday and last week with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe, that was an indication that had highlighted in my mind that, if there could be one area in this King’s Speech where there would have been legislation for foreign affairs and defence, it would be putting on a statutory basis access to consular services for those joint nationals who, unfortunately, are being politically detained but have difficulty securing long-term UK support for consular access. In their names, I hope that the Government will act on that.
As well as calling for the rule of law to be respected around the world, we must respect it here. As has been referenced with regards to the Rwanda judgment, we have yet again relied on the Supreme Court to uphold British values. I have visited the reception centre in Kigali, as many colleagues know. The warnings that I and others have made repeatedly, which were brushed aside by repeated Ministers, have now been upheld by the Supreme Court. If the Government are insisting on bringing a treaty forward, we will do our job here and scrutinise it very carefully indeed. Of course, this will not just be scrutiny with regards to how effective it will be. It is, simply, a morally wrong policy.
Regrettably, I feel that the United Kingdom has now become an unreliable partner, with six Foreign Secretaries in eight years, often with screeching U-turns in policy. We have had the flawed abolition of DfID with the global reputation that it had. We now know from WhatsApp exchanges at the time from the Cabinet Secretary that this was done to a timeframe for political diversion purposes. We did not have a development strategy for six years, and now we will have two in two years. We have been told that the new White Paper will be transformative, but it was not even referenced in the Minister’s opening speech. With regards to how seriously we are taking emerging economies and countries, we have had Africa Ministers with an average lifespan of 11 months in office over the last seven years.
There is unreliability and a lack of dependability, with callous development cuts, often mid-programme. For the first time ever, we are spending more on overseas assistance here in the UK, on failed policies, than on humanitarian bilateral programmes abroad. We are an unpredictable player on strategic issues. Now we are apparently still tilting to the Indo-Pacific to thwart China, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, indicated, we have a Foreign Secretary who says that he wants to see
“the UK as the partner of choice for China in the West”,
and a Government who have deliberately ballooned our trade deficit in goods with China to £40 billion, the biggest ever deficit to a single country in the history of our trading. No wonder the House of Lords International Relations and Defence Committee described this as a “strategic void”.
We heard also from the Prime Minister in his speech at Banqueting House that
“vital humanitarian aid is reaching civilians in Gaza, and across the Horn of Africa – funded by the British people. This is who we are”.
However, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact in its most recent report highlighted:
“UK bilateral humanitarian aid fell by half between 2020 and 2021”.
ICAI said in its report, as a riposte to the Prime Minister, that this
“has meant that UK support for global relief and recovery efforts … in response to the August 2022 floods in Pakistan and the worsening drought in the Horn of Africa … was significantly smaller and pledged later than in previous years. This has diminished the UK’s ability to play a leading role in the international response to crises”.
Regrettably, we have a situation where we are not dependable, reliable or predicable.
At the same time as we are slashing by half UK contributions to the World Bank development programme, there are 30% cuts to the African Development Bank and 30% cuts to the Global Fund, which fights HIV and AIDS. Further to the references in the debate to women and girls, we have cut our support to UN Women by 77%.
In our view, this all means that we need an immediate restoration of the legal requirement to meet 0.7%—not for the Labour Party or the Conservative Party simply to trot out the Treasury language of “when fiscal circumstances allow”—as well as an independent development department that can again restore British leadership around the world. The Prime Minister said to his party conference:
“You either think this country needs to change or you don’t”.
I love my country, as everyone in this Chamber does, and I am aggrieved by how its international standing has been systematically undermined by the Government. For the sake of my country’s standing in the world, it is the Government who need to change, not my country.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and her work as a Minister; I have appreciated the many exchanges we have had across the Chamber. I also welcome the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Minto, to his post.
I also congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Roberts, on their excellent maiden speeches. We will hear some fantastic contributions from them in the future. I said to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that I have not had the opportunity to read many of his books. Unfortunately, I have been focused on reading all three volumes of Chips Channon’s diaries; I have certainly learned a lot about what has gone on in the past in this Chamber.
I have very firmly fixed in my mind my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws’s reference to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, as a “keeper”; that is what he is for me.
As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, the world faces huge challenges with inequality, conflict and climate change. More than ever, we need a strong Britain on the world stage. But this Government have left Britain increasingly disconnected from our closest allies, with a tarnished international reputation and reduced influence in the world.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, that Labour’s foreign policy will prioritise reconnecting Britain for security and prosperity at home—a confident country, outside the EU but a leader in Europe once again. We will be a reliable partner, a dependable ally in NATO, a leader in development and at the vanguard of climate action. We will drive forward the industries of the future for Britain. With the right priorities, the right partnerships and the right values, Britain can and will thrive.
I turn to the Middle East. I have talked before in the Chamber about the horrors that Hamas committed. I have not seen the films, but I have spoken to the families of people affected. Not only do they have the horror of knowing that their relatives are hostages, but those relatives have had their families murdered, and that has to be at the top of our mind when we consider this issue.
We all have to be determined to hold those people who committed these horrors to account. They cannot be allowed to get away with it. However, we also have to consider the impact in Gaza. We have heard that more than 11,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed, and every one of those lives mattered. Two-thirds of the dead are women and children. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, neither should we forget the UN workers and humanitarian workers who have suffered the same fate. These deaths are shocking and cannot be ignored. The desperate reports from hospitals in northern Gaza, short of fuel and filled with civilians seeking shelter, are truly shocking. All parties must follow international law, acting with necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution.
Labour supports the independence of the International Criminal Court and recognises its jurisdiction to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza. In the Statement to the other place on Tuesday, which we have not considered but I hope we will cover in this debate, Andrew Mitchell said:
“It is not for Ministers to seek to state where the ICC has jurisdiction; that is for the chief prosecutor. The chief prosecutor has not been silent on this matter, and I am sure he will continue to express his views”.
“It is not for me to fetter or speak in the place of its chief prosecutor”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/11/23; cols. 511-13.]
For the sake of clarity, I hope that tonight the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, will confirm very clearly that the UK Government recognise the ICC’s jurisdiction to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza. Previous Prime Ministers have put that in doubt.
Gazans need aid now—medicine, water and fuel. A full, comprehensive and immediate humanitarian pause in the fighting across the whole of Gaza is now necessary to alleviate Palestinian suffering and for Hamas terrorists to release the hostages. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, is right: Hamas’s stated aim is to wipe Israel off the map, it committed the most brutal attack on Jews since the Holocaust, and now it is using innocent Palestinians as human shields.
We must not give up on the narrow openings that keep the prospect of peace alive. That means preventing escalation; condemning violence from settlers in the West Bank, which I personally witnessed in May and has continued at pace; condemning rocket attacks on Israel from Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere; and creating a future where Gaza is not subject to occupation.
Meanwhile, international diplomacy evolves and the facts on the ground are changing day by day, in relation to both hostages being rescued and Hamas’s capability to carry out attacks like we saw on
On defence, the gracious Speech says that the UK
“will continue to champion security around the world, to invest in our gallant Armed Forces and to support veterans to whom so much is owed”— who can disagree? The first duty of any Government is of course to keep our country safe. Labour’s commitment to NATO is unshakeable, and we will continue to steadfastly support military, economic and diplomatic support for Ukraine for as long as it takes. By fulfilling our NATO obligations in full and renewing the nation’s moral contract with our Armed Forces, only Labour will secure Britain’s defences for the future. As my noble friends Lord Coaker and Lord Tunnicliffe, who are with me on the Front Bench, said, the Government have hollowed out our Armed Forces since 2010, and they have cut the British Army to its smallest size since Napoleon. We need to ensure that we have those troops back on the payroll and ensure that we return their morale to make sure that they are fighting fit.
On Ukraine, I reassure everyone that, although there may be a change of Government next year, there will be no change in Britain’s resolve to stand with Ukraine, confront Russian aggression and pursue Putin for his war crimes. One thing that was missing from the gracious Speech—given the Motion that was passed unanimously by the other place—was the need for legislation on the seizure of Russian state assets to repurpose them for the reconstruction of Ukraine. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us tonight that that legislation will be placed. Not only do we have to make those responsible for this war accountable; we have to make sure that they pay for the reconstruction. We must continue to stand with Ukraine in every aspect that it needs, as my noble friend Lord Adonis said, until it is victorious over Russia in defence of its own territory.
On China and the Indo-Pacific, the noble Earl repeated the Government’s policy on China through their interrelated strands of “protect, align and engage”. Of course, the Intelligence and Security Committee report described the UK’s approach to China as “completely inadequate” and said that Britain was “severely handicapped” in managing future security risks. I assure noble Lords that, in government, Labour will carry out a complete audit of UK-China relations so that we can ensure that the relationship reflects our interests and values and that we can set a consistent strategy for the long term, ensuring that everyone—business, civil society and Governments—fully understands our intentions.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, were absolutely right to raise the issues around the Taiwan Strait. We want to see a dialogue and peaceful moves to address those issues. We have been clear about our serious concern about China’s increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan and the attempts to intimidate its democratic leaders. Of course, it is important to avoid accidents and miscalculations that raise tension or risk escalation, but these are part of a wider pattern of China becoming more assertive, as we have seen in its actions in Hong Kong and the South China Sea. We have spoken about the repression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that it is simply wrong and outrageous that China has brought sanctions against UK parliamentarians for raising these concerns.
I want to conclude by referring to our new Foreign Secretary, the future Lord Cameron. I have on many occasions praised him for one vital legacy of his foreign policy—the way in which he followed on the leadership of Gordon Brown on the millennium development goals, ensuring that the international community focused on the sustainable development goals. Of course, in September, the UN Secretary-General called for a global SDG rescue plan to be met with a co-ordinated response—I hope from the United Kingdom, our international partners, civil society and business. I hope that the future Lord Cameron will be absolutely focused—and I shall certainly be focused on holding him to account.
One issue that I have been particularly concerned about is nutrition. Nutrition financing has been disproportionately impacted by cuts to UK ODA, and there remains a major gender gap on nutrition spending. Some 149.2 million children under five years of age are stunted; 45 million are wasted and nearly 40 million are overweight. More than 1 billion women are experiencing at least one form of malnutrition. By 2050, climate change is predicted to increase the risk of hunger and malnutrition by 20%; 45% of deaths in children under the age of five are linked to malnutrition. This requires action, and on these challenges, while we are at the halfway point of the SDGs, we have a long way to go to meet them. Nutrition is pivotal to achieving SDG 2 on zero hunger, but it also underpins other goals related to health, education, peace, gender equality and poverty. Good nutrition means stronger immune systems and safer pregnancy and childbirth.
Next week, as my noble friend mentioned, sees the publication of the Government’s White Paper on international development at the global food security summit, which I am very pleased to have been invited to and I shall be attending. The summit gives us the chance to put malnutrition back on the global agenda and ensure that the United Kingdom remains in its leadership role. Again, I shall make sure that the future Lord Cameron not only takes that leadership responsibility seriously but delivers on it and on the SDGs.
My Lords, may I say what a huge honour it is to close such a well-informed and insightful debate? Indeed, perhaps poignantly for all of us, it is the first debate of this kind to conclude the debate on the King’s Speech and mark the opening of Parliament as a whole. It is an honour to cover such a speech—many comments have been made.
I am sure that my soon to be noble friend Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, will welcome the warmth of the comments made by many noble Lords from across the House, including the noble Lord, Lord Walney, my noble friend Lord Marlesford and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson. I have known the Foreign Secretary for a long time; indeed, it was he who appointed me to your Lordships’ House—so I feel that I have gone somewhat of a complete circle. Our first meeting was tinged with informed discussion but also a degree of amusement—from my perspective as well as his. He was straight into the role. We had the Indian Foreign Minister visiting, and the Foreign Secretary met them and had a very productive meeting. I agree with my noble friend Lord Frost about the importance of keeping issues live. The FTA with India was a key part of that discussion.
It would be remiss of me not to welcome my noble friend Lord Minto to his new role. I look forward to being one of the two bookends of a debate, as we are doing for the first time today, as I often did with my dear and noble friend Lady Goldie. Many noble Lords have rightly expressed their affection, their regard, their respect for her. My noble friend—Annabel—is one of those people who is infectious in terms of her personality, her company, her laughter, but also her insight and experience. As a roommate as well as a dear friend, she will be missed. We did many debates together in your Lordships’ House, but we were also able to travel, at times, on the global stage to show the strong association between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Ministry of Defence. I know full well that that will continue with my noble friend as he takes up these reins. I am sure my noble friend Lady Goldie will be taken with great emotion over the strong sentiment that has been expressed in the debate today.
I shall also reflect, if I may, on two quite notable maiden speeches. I said to my noble friend Lord Roberts a moment ago that The Aachen Memorandum was the first book of his that I read—my noble friend Lord Hannan also mentioned it—but I have also read the more serious side, including his biography of Winston Churchill, so I think I have read both fact and fiction: I will let noble Lords determine which is which. Equally, with the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Old Windsor, when we listen to a debate of great length, we often reflect on how the words “old” and “young” have been intertwined. I remember his esteemed role with Her Majesty the late Queen. All of us, when we were paying tribute to Her Majesty, remembered her with great affection and regard. We thank him for being such a trusted confidant of Her Majesty for such a great period of time and welcome him to the House. I am sure we will be learning from his contributions, as we did today on the important issues of the Commonwealth and climate.
I say right at the outset that the Commonwealth remains important to your Lordships’ House and to the Government. It is notable that the department I represent is the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I also reflect on the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, and my noble friend Lady Mobarik. Again, they really demonstrated the strength of the personal nature of the insights that your Lordships bring, but also our history, the rich, diverse history of our country, and the sacrifices of so many, made across the world, in fighting for good over evil. I pay tribute to their contributions today.
I was also very much taken by the strength of emotion and sentiment in the various issues discussed. I am sure that, in the time I have, I will not be able to cover all of those, and in the customary way, of course I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lee, that I have the answers to all his questions but in the interests of time I will write. I said to my noble friend the Chief Whip that if I sought to answer all the questions I have answers for today, we would be going until what I as a Muslim would call Fajr time, which is the morning prayer just before sunrise. I am sure we do not want to stay that long in your Lordships’ House, but I am really grateful that the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, also talked about the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe. It is important that Zimbabwe meets the challenges that are in front of it. There have been various reports on the elections and of course there will be criteria that need to be met in terms of the Commonwealth.
The EU was a key part of the debate, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Morrow and Lord Hannay, my noble friend Lord Kirkhope and the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—it was no surprise that the noble Baroness mentioned the EU in her contribution. The UK-EU relationship is a mature and constructive one. I pay tribute to the now Home Secretary, the former Foreign Secretary, for his engagement in this regard. We work with the EU to address many global challenges. We have been meeting on the current crisis in Gaza and the abhorrent terrorist attacks on Israel. We have worked with key partners across the EU—and, yes, Germany and France in particular—to address global challenges such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy, security, climate and, of course, illegal migration.
I turn to some of the challenges. I pay tribute to the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, in their summing up and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his customarily broad introduction. I agreed with much of what he said. It was clear from the noble Lord and from my noble friend Lord Minto’s introduction that there is much in foreign policy and defence where we stand united, rightly, in light of the challenges that we face around the world—as we have done on sanctions with Ukraine—because that is an important element of what defines our incredible United Kingdom.
A personal inspiration of mine has always been Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi-ji, who once said:
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilisation”.
That applies to us in the United Kingdom as it does to many of the challenges we face. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark talked about the diversity of our country but also, since those abhorrent acts of
We heard about optimism and those who may not be as optimistic. I am an eternal optimist about our incredible country. If we had not seen the success of cohesion, I would not be standing before your Lordships today—a Muslim Minister for the Middle East would not be reporting to a Prime Minister of the Hindu faith. These are times for celebration, notwithstanding our challenges. That is a reflection of our cohesion, our welcoming nature as a country and our sense of equality of opportunity. We all share those values and should strive for them. That is why I very much welcomed the excellent contribution of my dear and noble friend Lord Dobbs on the richness of diversity. We must stand together and recognise the strengths of our country. I am not saying for a moment that it is not without challenge or domestic issues, but our diversity is a real inner strength in how we act on the world stage.
Not only do we stand firmly with our old allies in Europe and through strengthening NATO and the G7 but we are forging new bonds with countries that can help us solve shared problems. We heard about the Commonwealth and from my noble friend Lord Vaizey about the CPTPP. I believe that the maiden speech of my noble friend-to-be will be on that very issue. That underlines our growing strength around the world; the commitment we have shown to ASEAN, with a specific designated ambassador, was also acknowledged.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, reflected on the Government’s integrated review refresh. It is important that we continue to focus across the piece as a player in development. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that I hope we will return to 0.7%, but even with 0.5% we continue to be an important player in development on the world stage. He mentioned UNRWA. The United Kingdom is second only to the United States in support for the incredible and challenging work of UNRWA. I join with him, as I am sure all noble Lords do, on the tragic loss of life experienced by that organisation.
When I visited both Israel and the West Bank about 10 days ago, I had a direct call and met with the UNRWA lead in Gaza at that time, to identify how we could be more co-ordinated and reflective of the priorities that he was expressing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, talked about the importance of UK sovereignty, security and prosperity. Those are important elements. Therefore, the integrated review reflects what will be served best by patient, long-term investment in partnerships with a diverse range of countries. We are a country that is rich in diversity and it is important that this continues to be the case.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, among others, also talked about the importance of dynamism. The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, talked about ensuring that the UN remains central to our thinking. It is of course important as a body. Is it under challenge? By God, it is. However, it is important that, as a P5 founding member of the UN, we seek to support reforms that the Secretary-General puts forward to challenge some of the issues and see how they can be made better, more efficient and effective.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Hodgson in every sense. We need women at the heart of conflict resolution. It is wrong in the world of 2023. It is not that there is a lack of women; it is because we do not actively facilitate that engagement. It needs to happen and I have suggested to our ambassador at the UN that we need specific clauses now in UN resolutions that name and put particular mediators into conflict resolutions, whether we are looking at the Balkans, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Peach, pointed out, or, as my noble friend Lady Helic talked with great passion again, the situation in Gaza. Frankly, when I am going around the Middle East, I am not seeing women leaders. They probably think, “Here comes another bloke from the United Kingdom”, but I assure you that I have personally prioritised this. I know there has been a sense of having several Foreign Secretaries, but I have been there for almost seven years now and it is important that we have that continuity of relationship. We need women at the heart of conflict resolution because that lends itself to stability and security across the world.
I am very conscious of time and I have not even got on to Israel yet, but I will talk about the abhorrent terrorist attacks committed by Hamas against Israel and its international citizens. When I met with Mansour Abbas, who is the leader of one of the Israeli Arab parties, he said to me, “Minister, they were international citizens but they were also Israeli citizens—who are Arabs, who are Muslim, who are Christian”. That is the rich diversity of the state of Israel—21% of its population is non-Jewish. So, yes, we should also recognise the importance of all communities that constitute the modern, diverse Israel.
The Prime Minister, the former Foreign Secretary and I visited the region and other near neighbours, so I welcome the raft of suggestions from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, the noble Lords, Lord Palmer, Lord Stevens and Lord Kerr, and my noble friend Lord Leigh on all the issues and the incremental approach we need on the ground. I am going to be travelling to Qatar over the weekend to meet on the key matter of hostages, which the noble Lord, Lord Mann, referred to, because that is needed to ensure we create the humanitarian spaces required so aid can get through in a sustainable, unhindered format. I assure noble Lords of my best offices, and I know I speak for the Foreign Secretary as well, on the prioritisation we are giving to this issue, because it is important.
Maybe one silver lining in this extremely dark cloud over the Middle East is that the world is seized of this issue right now and we should make it count. Of course, I will rely on many across your Lordships’ House for their input. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford talked about getting aid through. We are doing that; we have stood up aid, but it is important that it is consistent and that is why we are also looking at opening up other routes. We are talking directly to the Israelis about Kerem Shalom, for example. There are six lanes there. In Rafah, there is one lane. The maths is obvious, so that is why we need the opening—but for that we need to ensure we see security and stability across the piece.
We need to condemn unequivocally the abhorrent attacks. Tonight, there have been votes in the other place, as well as at the United Nations. I can share with noble Lords that the vote at the UN Security Council has passed, and it is important that it had a focus on humanitarian support.
Noble Lords touched on many other issues, including China. I assure your Lordships that the Foreign Secretary has said to me quite directly that he realises that, from seven years ago to today, our relationship with China has changed. However, as I said to the noble Earl, as we speak, a meeting between President Biden and President Xi has just concluded in San Francisco. There are things happening on the world stage and we have set out a very clear strategy.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, talked about our approach to China. We have taken China to task on issues at the Human Rights Council, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, knows all too well. Every time, we have seen an incremental increase in the number of countries that support our position. However, we recognise that China has a role in providing solutions to some of the key elements. For example, the inclusion of China in the AI summit, which my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister alluded to, is a key element, among other important issues such as climate change, of how we should take a balanced approach.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and others rightly talked about Ukraine, which is another area of key focus for the United Kingdom. Russia’s illegal invasion should not in any way be rewarded. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, talked of the high stakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, talked about principled positions in that regard. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, that UK military, humanitarian and economic support committed to Ukraine since the invasion amounts to over £9.3 billion, and our support to the UN, the Red Cross and NGOs has been increasing. The UK has committed £347 million in assistance to Ukraine, and we are looking at reconstruction, such as at the recovery conference we had.
We are working with key partners in the EU, such as Germany and France, as well as with the United States. A message of unity must go out to Russia that it will not succeed in Ukraine and we are united against it in pursuit of that aim. Russia can stop the war now, if it chooses to. We will continue to be unstinting in our support for Ukraine. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Houghton, also talked about our European partners, which I have mentioned. I will write to noble Lords about the military support we have given.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, that our position on Taiwan has not changed. I have talked about the broadness of our trade, and I recognise that we are working tremendously hard to ensure that we increase our trade revenues, but also our relationships, for the longer term.
My noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde, among others, asked a series of questions on our Armed Forces. We are of course proud of our Armed Forces. The noble and gallant Lords who spoke in this debate brought their insights and experience, and I assure all noble Lords that I will write, together with my noble friend, about the issues of the size of the Armed Forces and support for Ukraine, which was raised by my noble friend Lady Hodgson, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dannatt, along with Armed Forces accommodation, which was covered in the introduction to the debate. We have made progress but there is more to be done. The appointment of a specific Minister, not just for the Armed Forces but to look at veterans, is a crucial part of this and a statement of the intent of the UK Government.
I am conscious that I have reached time on my comments for today. There is a raft of questions on various areas that I have not been able to cover. Suffice it to say that, whether on issues of soft power in defence, foreign policy, diplomacy, and indeed on how we work on our development agenda, the United Kingdom remains committed to ensuring that we remain an important player on the world stage. We recognise that alliances, not just from our history but in the present, will lend themselves to how we position ourselves in future.
There are many conflicts around the world. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, talked about Sudan. Depending on how you define a conflict, there are anything between 40 and 65 live conflicts that we are currently dealing with. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, asked about Turkey.
On a final note, talking about climate and the environment, we will of course participate in the COP in the UAE very shortly. I assure noble Lords that the United Kingdom remains committed to these important priorities, for us in our national interest as well as to the benefit of others. We look forward to the participation of the noble Lords, Lord McConnell, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, and others in the food summit. We will launch the international development strategy in the coming week or so; details will be shared in that regard. That will be about honest, clean and reliable investment through British investment partnerships, providing women and girls with the freedom they need. Importantly, it underlies our credentials as a development power on the world stage.
To conclude, the United Kingdom believes honestly and sincerely in working in partnership. The noble Lord, Lord Singh, talked from a Sikh point of view, from a religious perspective, with reflections of unity and strength in collaboration. I subscribe to that, but it is also important to recognise that when our allies are challenged, the United Kingdom is a reliable and strong supporter and partner to those under threat. Our friends we deal with in a spirit of co-operation and partnership. On those with whom we disagree—a number of them were mentioned, the DPRK and Iran to name but two—it is important that we directly ensure that we not only make diplomatic engagements but use all tools at our disposal, including sanctions, as we have done. In taking that long-term view, anchored in the values we define as our nation, the freedoms we cherish, the rule of law that we defend, the integrity of sovereign states and justice for all will remain central to our foreign policy, our development policy and our defence policy.
Motion agreed nemine dissentiente, and the Lord Chamberlain was ordered to present the Address to His Majesty.
House adjourned at 10.42 pm.