House of Lords

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Tuesday 5 March 2024
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Introduction: Lord Cameron of Lochiel

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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14:38
Donald Andrew John Cameron, having been created Baron Cameron of Lochiel, of Achnacarry in the County of Inverness, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Cameron of Dillington and Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

TV Licence Non-payment: Women

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:42
Asked by
Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of women who have been prosecuted for non-payment of the television licence in the past two years.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, the BBC is responsible for the collection and enforcement of the licence fee and it has undertaken a review of the disparity between the sexes in prosecutions for TV licence evasion. His Majesty’s Government remain concerned about the fairness of the criminal sanction for TV licence evasion and its disproportionate impact on women. That is why the issue will be considered in the BBC funding model review.

Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
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I thank the Minister for that. He will realise that about 1,000 people a week are prosecuted for non-payment of their licence—of whom 70% are women. Recently, the use of the single justice procedure with one magistrate has meant that the mitigating circumstances are often not heard. The magistrate may even be sitting at home. The elderly, the disabled and the poorest are most likely to be prosecuted. Capita gets £456 million from the BBC for the use of its investigators, most of whom are on a bonus pay scheme, dependent on how many prosecutions they get. Does the Minister not agree that it is time to decriminalise the non-payment of the BBC licence fee, as the Government promised on many occasions before the last general election?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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It is important to emphasise that licence fee evasion is not an imprisonable offence the maximum sanction is a fine of up to £1,000. But the noble Baroness is right to point to the disproportionate impact it has on women. As I said, the Government remain concerned that a criminal sanction for licence evasion is increasingly disproportionate and unfair in our modern public service broadcasting system, which is why we will look at the matter as part of the future funding review.

Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge Portrait Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge (Con)
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My Lords, some 90% of 18 to 24 year-olds stream their content instead of watching TV channels. What does the Minister see as the future of the BBC licence fee to a generation growing up with subscription-based services?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My noble friend is right. The uptake of TV licences has fallen by around 1.7 million from its peak of nearly 56 million in 2017. As people consume media in different ways, the model looks increasingly obsolescent. That is why, as part of the future funding model, we want to ensure that we are giving the BBC and our public service broadcasters the funding they need to continue to produce programmes that are much admired for an audience which consumes television in different ways.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the BBC is taking steps to try to lessen the effect of this through its newly proposed scheme of spreading out payments? Will the Government assist the BBC in collecting its revenue, so that it can carry on producing the programmes that most of us are still watching?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes. I commend the work that the BBC has done: it commissioned a gender disparity review, with which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, from your Lordships’ House, helped assist. We welcome the 10-point plan that the BBC has set out, flowing from that review, but we will look more broadly at the issue of criminal sanctions as part of future funding.

Viscount Colville of Culross Portrait Viscount Colville of Culross (CB)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a former BBC TV producer. The BBC has previously said that decriminalising licence fee evasion and switching to a civil system would cost it more than £1 billion over five years. Does the Minister agree that this would lead to huge cuts in programming and a big hit to an already struggling creative economy?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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No. We want to look carefully at the issue of how we make sure that the BBC continues to get the funding that it needs to produce the wonderful programming that is much admired. But, in light of the trend that I have outlined, in which fewer people are buying a licence fee in the first place, of course we will make sure that we speak to the corporation as part of that review—but we are doing so with its best interests in mind.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, it is not just the withdrawal of free TV licences for the over-75s that hurts women the most; numerous other government policies are anti-women. For example, real wage cuts in the public sector hurt women the most, as most of the workforce is female. Other examples include the gender pay and pension gaps, the two-child benefit cap, real cuts in benefits and lower state pensions for women. Can the Minister explain why the Government do not assess the gender gap of all their policies?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Government are committed to making sure that everybody—men and women—can reach their full potential and play their full part in our society and economy. We bring forward policies to try to make sure that everybody can do that. In this instance, I am glad that the BBC has looked at the gender disparity, recognising the impact of licence fee sanctions on women—and the Government have set out their thinking on that, too.

Lord Moore of Etchingham Portrait Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, when I was fined for refusing to pay the television licence fee by Hastings magistrates’ court, I observed that all the other people being charged were single mothers and wondered why that would be. Does the Minister think that it could be to do with the very fact that they are vulnerable? That is to say, they are in the same place—they cannot escape from the place where they live—and can be easily caught; therefore, they are what officials call “low-hanging fruit”.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Lord is right: women make up around 75% of people prosecuted for TV licence evasion. As the overall number of prosecutions has fallen, the number of women and vulnerable people affected has also fallen. But, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State outlined, we are very concerned about the appropriateness of a criminal sanction in these matters, and we will look at this as part of the BBC’s future funding review.

Lord Jackson of Peterborough Portrait Lord Jackson of Peterborough (Con)
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My Lords, with the collapse in the funding model underpinning local newspapers and the closure of so many local newspapers, does my noble friend agree with me that it is vital that the BBC continues to invest in the local democracy service, particularly local radio stations, to hold to account local decision-makers throughout the country?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, the BBC does very important work through the Local Democracy Reporting Service. Local radio stations provide hugely important information and news to their local communities, as I set out in our Second Reading debate on the Media Bill, where I know we will talk about these important matters further.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that at present we are seeing an increase in the amount of propaganda that comes from areas such as GB News? Can the Minister assure us that the BBC will be left with the revenue needed to counteract that, and the problems of social media as well?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Ofcom, not the Government, regulates the provision of news, whatever channel people receive it on. The BBC receives some £3.8 billion in licence fee income; that income allows it to provide its important and impartial news, both at home and around the world.

Lord Birt Portrait Lord Birt (CB)
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My Lords, this is indeed a troubling and concerning matter. Does the Minister think there is a case for moving the licence fee to a monthly payment, paid by standing order, in line with other broadcast subscriptions? At the moment, that would mean a payment of £13 per month.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Simple Payment Plan does help people pay the television licence fee at present. As I say, we are looking at all the ways in which the BBC might receive its funding in the future, taking into account the declining number of people paying for a licence, but looking at all options to make sure that it has the revenue it needs to continue doing the work for which it is much admired.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, the Government have known for some time about this injustice of the prosecution of a majority of women rather than men. Why are they not doing something about it faster, and when will the BBC review actually report?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The Government consulted on decriminalisation of TV licence evasion in 2020, and we published our response in 2021. The appropriate time to make this decision is as part of the BBC funding model review, when we can look at the way we can get the sustainable funding for the corporation that everyone wants to see.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, the urgency with which people are suggesting this is looked at is not helped by the fact that we are going through a very serious financial time and it is likely that there will be more, not fewer, people in this difficult situation. First, can the Minister take note of what the original Question said—that there is a danger of this being abused by private companies that are incentivised to prosecute women in this situation? Secondly, we are spending a lot of time doing the Victims and Prisoners Bill—well, some of us are—and it seems so wrong to criminalise people who are vulnerable and victims. This has got nothing to do with BBC bashing; it has everything to do with recognising that women are being discriminated against unfairly for something which, given the scale of the problems facing society, the Government should really just deal with now.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness that the number of women being prosecuted is falling. In the year ending June 2022, 35,000 women were prosecuted; in the year ending June 2023, 29,000 were. So the number is coming down, but the disparity between the sexes is indeed stark, with women still making up around three-quarters of people prosecuted. That is why we are glad the BBC has looked at this and has set out actions, and why we are looking at it as part of our future consideration of how the BBC should be funded.

Mental Health Patients: Discharge

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:53
Asked by
Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current level of (1) safety, and (2) patient and carer involvement, where mental health patients are discharged from inpatient settings and emergency departments.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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In January, the Government published new statutory guidelines setting out how health and care systems can work effectively together to support a safe discharge process for mental health patients from hospital and ensure patient and carer involvement in discharge planning. This is particularly important given that the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health has found that there is an increased risk of suicide within three days of discharge.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s recent report found many failings in care around the discharge of mental health patients, with the most common being a lack of involvement of patients, their families and carers. With the pre-legislative scrutiny of the mental health Bill highlighting the need to address this preventable situation, and the Government still not bringing forward this crucial legislation, what immediate steps will the Government take to involve those who are essential to the care and safety of mental health patients?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Baroness is correct; the question is of the utmost importance. It is about putting more care into the community—that is why we have put £1 billion of extra spend into community support for mental health. Some 160 local mental health infrastructure schemes are being set up, with 19 in place already, and they are starting to work. The crisis cafés have resulted in an 8% decrease in admissions, while the telephone helpline has resulted in a 12% decrease.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the link between mental health and homelessness. He will also be aware that 50% and more of those who suffer from mental health illness have been homeless for over a year. What action are the Government taking to work with other government departments to ensure that this issue can be alleviated as soon as possible, and what help and mental health services are these homeless people entitled to?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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My noble friend is correct. In fact, 48% of the reasons for the delayed discharge of mental health patients is because of a lack of suitable housing. That is why we have introduced the specialist housing fund; we are working with Homes England and DHLUC so that supported housing runs alongside more support in the community from the extra mental health services.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, the Government have said that the additional discharge fund includes support for mental health in-patients leaving hospital. I believe that local areas are required to report fortnightly to the Government on the use of these funds. How much of the additional discharge fund has actually been spent on mental health patients? Does the Minister agree that it is important to have that information in the public domain, given concern that mental health services are treated as second-rate?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Lord is correct. I agree that it is important that the funds are spent on discharging mental health patients at a community level. I do not have the percentage figures to hand, but I will make sure that I provide them to him.

Lord Bradley Portrait Lord Bradley (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Does the Minister think that there are lessons to be learned from the excellent RECONNECT programme by NHS England? It is being rolled out across the country and tries to ensure that vulnerable people, such as those with mental health conditions, are reconnected to local services, and that their release from custodial settings can be successfully undertaken.

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, in a word. We must try to make sure that each integrated care board has a mental health lead in place and that the services are rolled out. Much of the strength of the ICBs is that they can look after the needs of their area in ways that they know best. At the same time, where there is good practice, we must make sure that it is rolled out as well.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, suicide is the second highest cause of maternal deaths in England. All such deaths are preventable, because mothers at risk can easily be recognised antenatally, and certainly postnatally. What actions will the Government take to prevent these deaths?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Like many of us, I am sure, I have had very good personal experience of the midwifery service at community level. I know that there have been some challenges post Covid, but midwives are on the front line in understanding and recognising some issues. I should have mentioned earlier that there will be a round table with the Minister on mental health issues, following the one a few months ago, and this is one of the areas we should bring up with her.

Baroness Berridge Portrait Baroness Berridge (Con)
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My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee scrutinising the Bill, it was clear to me that one of the problems was that there is a statutory list of next of kin which does not match the reality of some people’s lives, so there were provisions to introduce a nominated person. It does not matter how good the guidance is. How are we circumventing the statutory requirement for next of kin to be involved?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Again, like many noble Lords, I understand the disappointment that there has not been the time for the mental health Bill. This is what the round tables are about: exploring with Maria Caulfield, the Mental Health Minister, how we can ensure that we implement as many of these things as possible. We had round 1 and we will set up round 2 shortly. I suggest we take it up then.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab)
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My Lords, one of the problems that carers in these circumstances always report at the point of discharge is that the professionals dealing with the patient are reluctant to share information with the person who is expected to provide care. Although I recognise the sensitivity of these issues and the need for confidentiality, does the Minister agree that if you expect someone to provide care in these circumstances you should at least provide them with the requisite information?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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In a word, yes. We had the rapid review of data in mental health settings. Not surprisingly, in mental health, as in a lot of other settings, ensuring that there is the flow of information so that carers get the right information is paramount.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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My Lords, as a former mental health commissioner, I know that the default position regarding long-term in-patients back in the 1980s and 1990s was to ensure they were given a place in the community. As a result, successive Governments closed down many of our institutions. Can my noble friend comment on the balance between present institutional care and its desirability for many in-patients, and in-patients who are regarded as being in the community but are not necessarily protected sufficiently when they are?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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There is, quite rightly, a balance to be struck. For people with learning difficulties and autism, which noble Lords have debated before, we set a 50% target for that reduction—not 100% because, as has been mentioned, it is not always appropriate as a number of people in those situations need additional support. However, as a general sense of direction I think we all agree that, where we can put support into communities, that is the right thing to do. That is what the £1 billion extra investment is about.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a former practitioner. I have spoken before about the disproportionate numbers of black and Asian men in the system using mental health services. There is a gross disconnect between the amount of funding available and the services that they receive, particularly regarding carers’ involvement. We must admit that the amount of medication that they are given is not often monitored successfully after discharge. Maybe that is one of the reasons why there is a high suicide rate. How can the Minister ensure that, when patients are discharged to the services of social workers, they are not put in extremely expensive mental health provision or private healthcare housing, which is often not needed? The services are wasting huge amounts of money. Will the Minister look at the disconnect between social services and the healthcare system to ensure that the money is used effectively?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, I am happy to look at that. I am on board with what the noble Baroness said, as I am sure all noble Lords are, about wanting to ensure that every pound we spend is well spent. I am aware of the racial disparities that she mentioned, as all noble Lords are. We are looking to address that issue, but in a cost-efficient way.

War Widows: Ex Gratia Pension Payment

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:03
Asked by
Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Harlech on 18 May 2023 (HL Deb col 367), what plans they have to ensure that War Widows receive the ex gratia pension payment announced in that answer.

Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I declare an interest as vice-president of the War Widows’ Association.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a serving Army reservist. The Government continue to recognise the unique commitment that service families make to our country, and we remain sympathetic to those widows and widowers who forfeited pensions under historic rules because they remarried or cohabited. In acknowledgement of this, the war widows recognition payment scheme was launched on 16 October 2023. I am pleased to say that, so far, 190 individuals have made a successful application, with payments having begun in January 2024.

Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lord, but despite his Answer, I wonder whether he is aware that there is huge anger among many war widows because of the last-minute eligibility criteria imposed on this recognition payment. Last May, the Government finally agreed that all war widows deserved special consideration under the Armed Forces covenant; now, they appear to have gone back on their word. Does the noble Lord the Minister realise that widows whose partners died as a result of service and who remarried after 2000 have been excluded from this payment? I am talking about war widows from the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. Will the Government now make it right?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the work that the noble Baroness has done campaigning in this area. Some of the applications for the award have been rejected, and I am happy to share the statistics with the House: 72 individuals have not been accepted for a reward. However, the Ministry of Defence denies that the eligibility criteria have changed: 49 of those were already in receipt of financial reward for their bereavement; 10 are eligible for their war widow’s pension to be reinstated due to no longer being in a relationship that led to the original forfeiture; and 13 have had their initial claim rejected because of either insufficient evidence or because their partner sadly passed away from a non-service attributable death.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait Baroness Garden of Frognal (LD)
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My Lords, I too declare an interest as a vice-president of the War Widows’ Association. We were so hopeful that the war widows who had missed out would at last have their cases sympathetically solved, but following on from my noble friend’s Question, it appears that it was decided late in the day that the ex gratia payment would not be for all those who forfeited their war widow’s pension but for those who forfeited an attributable pension before 2000, which is nothing to do with the war pensions scheme. Under this new scheme, the Minister has told us how many widows have benefited; can he say, given how canny the MoD is with any money for widows, how much money it has actually paid out to date?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I understand what the noble Baroness is asking, but my mental arithmetic is not good enough to multiply the ex gratia payment amount by the number of awards paid out, so I will write to her.

Lord Hintze Portrait Lord Hintze (Con)
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My Lords, just briefly, how much is this costing, given how much we are actually going to be giving to these poor people?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I think my previous answer addresses the point raised by my noble friend, and I will make sure that he receives a copy of that letter too.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, has the noble Lord the Minister read the recent excellent publication of the War Widows’ Association called Courage? If he has not, I suggest he does because then he will know the answers that he needs to give to the war widows. They are very complicated arrangements, and I do not sense that the widows are given proactive advice by the Ministry of Defence or the Veterans Agency. I believe that would be extremely helpful if it happened.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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The noble and gallant Lord raises an important point of communication. I encourage any war widows who believe that they are eligible for this claim who have not yet already claimed to access the application form, which is available from GOV.UK or to call Veterans UK. For the benefit of the House and any war widows watching, I will outline now the eligibility criteria for payments:

“The eligibility criteria for the scheme are that the claimant … forfeited their entitlement to a service attributable survivor’s pension and/or a pension in accordance with the rules of the War Pension Scheme prior to 2015 for the death of a member of the UK Armed Forces and … has not had either pension restored because they are still in a relationship”.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the War Widows’ Association. I have been following this very closely and I must tell my noble friend that we are wholly dissatisfied with this latest turn of events. Does he realise that this question of the attributable pension making war widows ineligible was never raised specifically with the many deputations to Ministers? It was certainly never raised with me. It appears simply to be a last-minute attempt to claw back some money that is rightfully theirs. I call this, at best, mean-spirited.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the tireless campaigning that my noble friend has done on behalf of war widows. I appreciate that this is difficult, but the eligibility criteria were discussed with the War Widows’ Association from the inception of the scheme. I have been assured by officials from the Ministry of Defence that at no point have the eligibility criteria changed.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord the Minister may think that war widows and others spend their lives watching parliamentlive.tv; I suspect that most do not. I seem to recall that, last time this issue came up, I asked whether His Majesty’s Government could inform everybody who they thought was eligible about eligibility, not request people to go online. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that they do the right thing by all of these widows, including ensuring eligibility as they expected it to be?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that question. We do need people to apply because, in line with legislation, once an individual is no longer in receipt of payments from the MoD, the MoD will not update its records on an ongoing basis. Therefore, crucial information such as their address, bank details and surname may not be current. The information requested on the application will enable the MoD to cross-check with the records that it holds and verify an applicant’s eligibility.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord the Minister finds himself personally in considerable difficulty seeking to defend this position— I realise that he could not possibly comment—but why on earth do the Government insist on continually painting themselves into morally indefensible bureaucratic corners?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I will take on board what the noble and gallant Lord says.

Lord Geddes Portrait Lord Geddes (Con)
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My Lords, there is just a fraction of time left. Would my noble friend be kind enough to confirm to the House that, in parliamentary terms, there is no such person as a “noble Minister”?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My noble friend strays somewhat outside the scope of this Question, but he is, of course, absolutely right.

Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Portrait Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent (Lab)
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My Lords, I first take the opportunity to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Fookes, for their tireless campaigning on behalf of the disenfranchised war widows. Their work is inspiring. Given the answers that the Minister has given us today, when will he meet with the War Widows’ Association and apologise?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I have not actually received an invitation from the War Widows’ Association. However, should such an invitation be forthcoming, I would be only too delighted to meet with them.

Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley (Lab)
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My Lords, our AGM is in a couple of weeks’ time. The Minister would be very welcome.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her kind invitation and look forward to seeing her there.

Police Recruitment: Reform

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:14
Asked by
Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, following the first report of the Angiolini Inquiry published on 29 February, what assessment they have made of the case for reforming police recruitment.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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In begging leave to ask the Question in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interest as co-chair of the national police ethics committee.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the horrific crimes committed by a then serving police officer shocked the nation and undermined public confidence in the police. My thoughts are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard; I cannot imagine how painful this must be for them. In the years since, the Home Office has worked closely with policing partners to strengthen the way that police officers are recruited, vetted, scrutinised and disciplined. The Government will continue to work with policing partners to consider the findings and recommendations of this report at pace, and will respond fully in due course.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. The Angiolini report makes one thing very clear: the appalling long-term toleration of the killer’s abusive and criminal behaviour was made possible by two related factors. The first is a misogynistic culture, and the second is the persistence of employment practices that discourage women from joining, remaining and progressing to senior roles within police forces. Do His Majesty’s Government accept that the culture of UK policing needs an overhaul? What specific steps will they undertake to reform recruitment and retention to ensure that female officers and staff can thrive in policing, and thrive in the numbers necessary to ensure that women in Britain need no longer fear the dangers that led to the death of Sarah Everard?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate in effect asked me two questions. Decisions about police recruitment, including how recruitment and selection processes are run, are a matter for chief constables and police and crime commissioners, and are therefore managed locally by forces. But they are managed within a national application, assessment and selection framework, which is in line with guidance maintained by the College of Policing. That guidance was updated in February 2023, and all 43 forces are now utilising the various online assessment protocols and the face-to-face requirements.

On the culture of the police, it is difficult to disagree with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who said that

“the best processes and structures in the world cannot replace focus and leadership. It is incredibly important that leadership at every rank in policing takes that seriously”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/2/24; col. 456.]

This is a conversation that he has had with police leaders and the College of Policing to ensure that the attitudes highlighted in the report change. Without that shift in attitude, the culture will remain the same, which is clearly not acceptable.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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Has the Minister ever looked at the fact that we are talking about a class issue here? Most police officers come from the class that I come from, and most of the leading people who run the police force come from another class. It is a bit like the Army. When are the middle classes going to join the police force and create a mix, rather than relying exclusively on the working classes to do the hard part?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord raises an interesting point. Of course, the point of the police is that they are there to represent us all. According to the Peelite principles, they have to have our consent to do so, and therefore they should very much look like us.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, on these Benches too our thoughts are with Sarah Everard’s family at this time. The recommendations that Lady Elish Angiolini makes about vetting are what an ordinary recruitment agency would do as a matter of course: face-to-face interviews and home visits. Anybody in your Lordships’ House who has adopted a cat or dog will know that you have a home visit to make sure you are suitable as a potential adopter—this is basic stuff. They need to find out about the suitability and psychological suitability, taking notice of PNDs and revetting those on transfer from another force or military, or any government location. Taking it on trust that someone has been vetted by these agencies and therefore is okay surely does not work, so why does the Home Office not have a national vetting programme that is compulsory and that all police forces have to follow?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises some good points, and she is quite right about some of the recommendations made by Lady Elish. The Government of course recognise that there have been significant and justifiable concerns regarding police vetting, so over the past year we have worked to sort that out. As noble Lords will be aware, in early 2023 we asked the College of Policing to update the statutory code of practice for vetting, which was published in July 2023. It makes clear the expectation that chief officers will ensure that vetting standards are maintained within their forces. The vetting code is supported by the authorised professional practice guidance for vetting, which has recently been revised. There is much more to do on this—no one is denying that. I take the noble Baroness’s point seriously but, as I say, we will soon respond in full to the report and the recommendations.

Baroness Doocey Portrait Baroness Doocey (LD)
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My Lords, everyone is appalled by this dreadful crime and our thoughts are with Sarah Everard’s family. Will the Government commit to ensuring that female police officers and police staff have the same rights as the public to make a complaint of domestic abuse against their own police force? At the moment their only option is to make a criminal complaint, which most of them are not happy to do. That is definitely not helping recruitment or retention of females in the police force.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, we have already referred to the culture that needs to change, and that is part of the overall cultural change that is required. I am not particularly familiar with how that sort of report would need to be made. I will look into that and come back to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that the current situation represents a terrible collapse of trust throughout society? There was a time when we could all have confidence in politicians, civil servants, police and everything. Now that trust in the police has gone, that is deeply damaging to the relationships that we have with each other and with the organs of society, and to the safety with which women and men can walk around.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I agree with the noble Baroness up to a point. As I said in my earlier answer, that trust has to be rebuilt by strong leadership. In the case of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley has demonstrated his capacity to give the leadership that is required. He needs to be allowed time for that to happen, but he has been in post for a while so I am hopeful that results will be delivered soon.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford Portrait Baroness Hughes of Stretford (Lab)
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My Lords, in addition to the 16 recommendations pointing to specific system and individual failings that explain what happened in this very tragic case, Lady Angiolini identifies two factors. One of them, mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, is the culture in the police that has persistently not changed. The second is the failure of senior police leadership to deal with those issues and challenge that culture. What women in particular, the public in general and the thousands of decent men and women in the police service want to see is the Government taking responsibility for the changes that are required—not saying that this is the province of chief constables or whoever but showing responsibility and leading the change that is necessary.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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We do. Obviously we have to maintain the operational independence of the police—I do not think there is any question or dispute about that—so leadership of the police has to remain localised to that extent. However, noble Lords will be aware that we have invested in the College of Policing’s National Centre for Police Leadership, which has already set out standards at every level. There is no dispute that the leadership of the police needs to up its game.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. What plans does the Home Office have to take some responsibility here and mandate the psychological assessment of potential police recruits, looking particularly for any propensity to inappropriately exert power over others?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, as I understand it, part of the online process for recruitment involves an element of psychometric testing. I do not know precisely what that testing involves, but I will find out and come back. The online assessment process is very complicated—otherwise, I would give more detail.

Lord Watson of Wyre Forest Portrait Lord Watson of Wyre Forest (Lab)
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My Lords, in 2018 the Government shelved the second part of the Leveson inquiry—which had wisely been initiated by the former Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron —which was to examine the criminal nexus between rogue police officers and journalists. Since then, we have had the Henriques report, the Casey review and now the Angiolini review. How confident is the Minister today that there are not criminal police officers who would have been caught by the second part of that inquiry, who were inappropriately recruited by the police and who are still in office?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I cannot comment on the inquiry itself. Unfortunately, I cannot be as confident as I would like to be that there are no police officers out there who remain to be caught. Unfortunately, these incidents keep coming to light. Sir Mark Rowley warned us that there were more still to come to light, so I expect to hear more.

Lord Carter of Haslemere Portrait Lord Carter of Haslemere (CB)
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My Lords, the excellent recommendation 7 of the Angiolini report was that every police recruitment process should have a holistic in-person interview looking at the motivations of the person concerned for joining the police and the extent of their dedication to serving the public. I have a close family member of the fairer sex who has just successfully been through the appraisal system but did not have such an in-person interview matching that description. Will the Minister look closely at recommendation 7 to see how quickly it can be implemented?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I have to say that she should have been interviewed face to face. The information I have is that all 43 forces in England and Wales are conducting those face-to-face interviews. Perhaps the noble Lord would like to share the details, and I will investigate further.

Arrangement of Business

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Announcement
15:25
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, before we start this debate on foreign affairs, it might be helpful if I briefly remind all noble Lords that the advisory speaking time for Back-Benchers is five minutes. It is obviously advisory, but it was set with the intention of ensuring that as much time as possible for individual contributions was available, while enabling the House to rise at a reasonable time.

We have 65 Members participating, and I anticipate that the debate will therefore last about six and a half hours. I am sure the House is very much looking forward to hearing from the speakers, but given the number of speakers, I respectfully request that all speeches are kept within the advisory time limit to ensure that all noble Lords can contribute at a sensible hour. The usual channels have also arranged a Statement to be taken as dinner break business, which will start at the usual time of about 7.30 pm, to ensure that all noble Lords taking part in the debate can have a bit of a break.

Foreign Affairs

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Take Note
15:26
Moved by
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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That this House takes note of the United Kingdom’s position on foreign affairs.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, it is an immense honour to open this important debate on behalf of my noble friend Lord Cameron. I look forward to some insightful contributions.

I must admit that, in preparing for this debate, I do not know if I should feel a sense of trepidation in having my boss watching my performance or, indeed, a degree of nostalgia, because it was of course my noble friend Lord Cameron who first appointed me to this House. As a Minister, I am sure it is a mixture of both. I of course welcome my noble friend’s appointment and the intensity of diplomatic effort we have seen in recent months. His experience, insight and engagement on the global stage have been a real reflection of the strength of British diplomacy. I assure noble Lords that this is a welcome opportunity for us to listen and to consider the UK’s place in the world and its position on the full range of foreign affairs issues—development, diplomacy, defence and security.

What is clear is that we face a world that is increasingly unstable and insecure, and we are facing, frankly, a daunting set of challenges with direct implications for our country. I assure noble Lords that we are working with old friends and new partners to address these challenges, bringing together our best efforts across diplomacy and development to protect our security and shape an open and stable international world order.

This approach has defined our approach to issues across the Middle East, in particular to the Israel-Gaza crisis, where we are driving progress towards a sustainable peace, a peace that lasts, and a solution that delivers justice, security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians. Let me be clear: Israel was shaken to its core by those horrendous terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas. Today, we see Palestinian civilians in Gaza who are facing a devastating humanitarian catastrophe. We need to act, and we are doing just that. That is why we have said that the fighting needs to stop now. That call was echoed by the US Vice-President Kamala Harris just this weekend. The most effective way, as we have said consistently, is to agree an immediate humanitarian pause, a stop in fighting. That will lay the ground and the space to create a sustainable ceasefire. It would allow for the safe release of hostages and a significant increase, which is vitally needed, in aid going into Gaza. I stress again: this must happen, and happen now. It is a position shared by many partners, and I assure noble Lords that it has been the focus of all our extensive diplomatic efforts. Indeed, since his appointment, my noble friend and I have conducted more than a dozen visits to the region, sometimes visiting countries twice over, as well as the other engagements we have had on this issue in multilateral fora.

As Foreign Secretary, my noble friend Lord Cameron has visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories twice over. He has also visited Qatar and Turkey. I have had the opportunity to join him on visits to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Egypt, as well as the visits I have made to Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, Israel and the OPTs, Egypt and Morocco. We have been clear that there are five vital elements for a lasting peace. These include, first, the release of all hostages, which should also allow for unhindered humanitarian access to Gaza; secondly, the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the West Bank and Gaza, accompanied by international support—meaning support for reconstruction to rebuild schools and hospitals, and allowing for basic amenities to start again; and, thirdly, removing Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel.

We also want to see an end to extremist settler violence, which we have seen perpetrated in the West Bank, and Hamas no longer being in charge of Gaza. Importantly, we want a political horizon which provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution, with two states—Israel and Palestine—living in security and peace. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my noble friend Lord Cameron and I have reiterated these messages with senior members of all Governments, including Israelis and Palestinians, in all our various visits, engagements, telephone calls and diplomacy in recent weeks.

I assure all noble Lords that we make the point that civilians must be protected and have made it clear that all parties must act within international humanitarian law. Israel must focus its operations on military targets and avoid civilians being killed. A military ground offensive into Rafah is, frankly, a chilling prospect and we are urging Israel to stop and think seriously about the impacts of such an offensive.

Meanwhile, we are doing all we can to alleviate the suffering. We have trebled our aid commitment this financial year and are pressing to get more crossings into Gaza open. We have reminded Israel of its obligation to ensure that significantly more humanitarian aid enters Gaza. In this respect, we are focusing on five key humanitarian needs: an immediate deconfliction mechanism to enable safe distribution of aid through that extended humanitarian pause; increased capacity inside Gaza, enabling the humanitarian system and private sector to scale up the provision of goods; increased access for aid through land and sea routes; an expansion of humanitarian assistance to Gaza, including fuel, shelter and public health items, as well as items critical for infrastructure repair; and, of course, the provision of electricity, water and telecommunications.

I turn to the wider region and the situation in the Red Sea, where the Houthis have been using the events in Israel and Gaza as an excuse for their attacks on commercial shipping. I assure noble Lords that we are using every diplomatic lever at our disposal to pressure the Houthis to desist, working with our allies and international partners, including through Operation Prosperity Guardian—an international naval force to deter mounting attacks. We are working alongside the US with non-operational support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark and New Zealand. We must protect these lanes: 15% of the world’s trade and shipping passes through them in the Red Sea. Let me also be clear: military action is always treated as a last resort.

I turn briefly to Iran. We believe that Hamas alone was responsible for the horrific terror attacks on Israel last October, but Iran also bears responsibility for the actions of such groups, which it has long supported politically, militarily and financially. This includes Hamas, the Lebanese Hezbollah, militia groups in Iraq and the Houthis in Yemen. As my noble friend has made clear to his counterpart, Iran must actively restrain them.

I turn to Mr Putin and Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine. The brazen violation of the UN charter strikes at the heart of the rules on which our security and prosperity depend. Mr Putin’s recent address, simply put, was deplorable. The threatened use, yet again, of nuclear weapons is chilling and irresponsible. Two years on from his illegal invasion, Ukrainians continue to stand strong, as they fight to defend their country and the principles of freedom and democracy.

The international community stands just as firmly in support. We are leading the international response, giving the Ukrainians what they need to defend themselves, to succeed against Russian aggression and to build a secure and prosperous future. Russia and Mr Putin should be in no doubt of our resolve. This is why the Prime Minister made his first foreign visit of the year to Ukraine, with one message:

“The United Kingdom stands with you”.


Indeed, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary, upon his appointment, made Ukraine his first visit. This underlines the strong support we are giving to a key ally and partner. It is why the UK signed, with President Zelensky, a historic agreement on security co-operation, providing assurance for the long term. It is why we have pledged almost £12 billion in overall support to Ukraine since the war began, including £2.5 billion in military assistance this year and a further £245 million for artillery ammunition to boost Ukraine’s reserves.

Meanwhile, our sanctions have deprived Russia of over $400 billion in assets and revenues. In a joint call with G7 leaders and President Zelensky to mark the second anniversary of the invasion, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary renewed our pledge to make Russia pay. Russia must also be held to account for the terrible impact of Mr Putin’s despotism on ordinary Russians. We saw this most recently in the tragic death of the brave and courageous Alexei Navalny. Our thoughts and prayers extend to his family. As the Prime Minister and my noble friend have done, I call again on Russia to release our British citizen Vladimir Kara-Murza. Release him—release him now.

Elsewhere in the world, the UK’s approach to China is to strengthen our national security protections, to work closely with our partners and to engage directly where it is in our interests to do so. My noble friend met his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on 16 February at the Munich Security Conference. They agreed that our countries should continue to engage across a range of areas. The Foreign Secretary also urged China to use its influence with Iran to pressure the Houthis over their attacks in the Red Sea and further stressed the UK’s support for Ukraine. My noble friend also raised the case of British parliamentarians sanctioned by China, some of whom are present in the Chamber, and reiterated his call for the British national Jimmy Lai to be released.

On human rights, I assure noble Lords that the UK continues to play a leading role in holding China to account over its human rights violations, both through sanctions and international action, as our joint statement in October on the situation of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang demonstrated.

Elsewhere in the world, we are also demonstrating leadership in our work with regional partners, particularly and most recently to de-escalate tensions and ensure respect for Guyana’s sovereignty. I know that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary and my colleague Minister Rutley have engaged extensively on this issue.

I turn to multilateral organisations. There are, of course, many brutal conflicts taking place, humanitarian crises that are gripping us and human rights violations taking place as I speak. We could talk about Myanmar, Sudan, Yemen, Venezuela, the DRC, Syria and Ethiopia —the list goes on. It is important that we strengthen our work in multilateral organisations, including the UN. Our role as a P5 member of the Security Council is key, as well as being a leading ally within the expanding NATO. We are also looking at new partnerships, to see how to reinvigorate the Commonwealth, and new alliances, such as strategic dialogue within ASEAN.

Amid all our diplomacy, international development plays a pivotal role in our approach, helping to protect our interests in an open and stable international order, and the sovereignty, security and prosperity of British people. As such, we are drawing on the UK’s diplomatic and technical skills, its science and technology expertise and its role as a global financial centre, to partner with developing countries, including the most fragile ones, so that we can deliver, with them, our collective ambitions. This means unlocking the full potential of UK development finance and programming, while also pushing for reform and delivery of a bigger, better, bolder and fairer international financial system. I pay tribute to my right honourable friend the Development Minister for pushing this agenda and these priorities to ensure that those in the developing world get a fair deal. It also means supporting countries to cope with the effects of climate change; UK international climate finance has helped more than 100 million people cope with our changing planet, giving 70 million access to clean energy. On preventing sexual violence in conflict—a personal priority—we have helped to shape this agenda over a number of years, and I pay tribute to the people we have worked with, including the Nobel laureates Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, and to the convening power of Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Edinburgh.

I turn briefly to the topic of trade and growth during these unstable times that are affecting all economies. Enhancing our trade partnerships is, as ever, a key priority in order to boost security and prosperity at home and abroad. Accordingly, we continue to work around the clock on the FTA negotiations with India and our GCC partners. We are also expanding British international investments, including in the Indo-Pacific, where up to £500 million focused on climate finance will be invested. This will contribute to the £11.6 billion international climate finance commitment that we pledged to spend by March 2026, along with our pledge of $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund that was announced by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at the G20 summit last year. Meanwhile, our developing countries trading scheme offers one of the most generous sets of preferences in the world, supporting jobs in partner countries and cheaper imports for UK consumers and businesses. Finally, I will mention the Blue Belt, which is another great example of British leadership. The UK and its overseas territories are custodians of the fifth-largest marine estate in the world, and the Blue Belt now protects 4.4 million square kilometres of ocean. We need to work with other countries to ensure that our oceans are protected for generations to come.

To conclude, when faced with so many international challenges, I assure your Lordships that the UK stands ready to continue working with key partners but also to continue to show leadership. On issue after issue, noble Lords can see the difference we are making with our partners. We are using our global convening power, working closely with old friends and new; and this is how, in the spirit of co-operation, we can shape that open, stable international order, despite the immense challenges and conflicts we face. From conflict resolution to climate change, from embracing new technologies to strengthening cybersecurity and facing the challenge and opportunities of AI, from standing against aggression and aggressors to fighting the cause of justice and security through strengthening alliances and supporting friends and allies, both old and new, we, the United Kingdom, remain committed to building a world in which freedom, democracy and justice can truly flourish. I beg to move.

15:43
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the Minister, who, in the way that he has dealt with questions and debates in this House, has won the respect of your Lordships’ House. We certainly welcome the debate and appreciate that the Foreign Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, have ensured that, at a critical time in world affairs, we can draw on the expertise across your Lordships’ House—the speakers’ list promises an interesting and useful debate. I smiled when the Minister spoke about a sense of nostalgia when he introduced this debate. All of us, when looking back at foreign affairs, always have a sense of nostalgia that somehow things were better in the past—we are not always right.

This really is a critical time. It is two years since Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. Negotiations for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza continue. We have seen a fourth round of UK airstrikes against the Houthis. Tensions continue in the Indo-Pacific region, and we must acknowledge the growing threats from various hostile states. A further dynamic is that, this year, across the world, billions of people will vote in crucial elections, against a backdrop of huge technological change, bringing greater potential for disinformation and external interference. Today’s world leaders face multiple risks and challenges, including conflict, terrorism, the climate emergency and migration.

The first duty of government is the security of its citizens. Throughout history, every Government, in every country, have had to adapt to meet the risks of the age. The driving force behind the creation of both the EU and the UN was a desire for greater co-operation and lasting peace. At a time when trust in government and wise counsel is most needed, we have also seen a rise in those who wish to spread conspiracy theories, fake news and extremism. This creates unpredictability.

The UK holds a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, plays a major role in NATO, retains membership of numerous international organisations, and is a signatory to important treaties and conventions. We take pride that our international relationships with long-standing allies, the Commonwealth and key international partners, give us a wide-reaching diplomatic network. Yet it is a sad reflection that in the past 14 years we have become increasingly disconnected from some of our important allies and institutions.

We have had a significant role in relation to Ukraine and Gaza, but we have retreated from or cast doubt on our commitment in other areas. We had policy differences when the Foreign Secretary was in Downing Street, but we also accept that his Administration were serious about foreign policy. More recently, the Government’s conduct on issues such as Brexit and the protocol, the Northern Ireland legacy Act and the Rwanda agreement has tarnished our long-standing reputation for respecting human rights and upholding the rule of law. Ill-advised comments about foreign leaders, the slashing of international aid, reducing our diplomatic presence and a casual attitude towards the importance of international law, and lecturing others while watering down the UK’s climate commitments undermines our soft power.

Yet as a world response to the actions of hostile states, international co-operation has rarely been more important. Such states are deploying increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks against western parliamentarians, hospitals and civil infrastructure. In some ways it is like a modern-day version of the Zinoviev letter, in seeking to influence and disrupt the diplomatic process. The Foreign Secretary looks at me askance—I was not around then either, if it is any consolation.

The Home Secretary has expressed concerns about the potential impact on the UK when foreign actors are involved in major disinformation campaigns. This does not just affect elections; such external campaigns are designed to impact on domestic and international stability. Parliament has an opportunity to address this in the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, currently before your Lordships’ House, where amendments will be tabled to try to tackle the issue of political deepfakes. I appreciate that the Bill is not the responsibility of the Foreign Secretary, but, given the international implications of this and its seriousness, can he look at it with his Cabinet colleagues? We are open to further discussions on that issue.

At our last Oral Questions with the Foreign Secretary, my noble friend Lord Collins was somewhat bemused when he announced that he had been sanctioned by the Putin regime. He joins an elite group of parliamentarians, but our response to this must be robust. Can the Foreign Secretary outline how those issues are discussed between government departments and with international partners to ensure that modern state threats are more effectively identified and countered?

In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, spoke of the death of the courageous Alexei Navalny. There is also the increased imprisonment of political opponents in Russia and other countries. How we respond to this with our international partners can have important repercussions. Who was not moved to see thousands upon thousands of people queueing to pay their respects, even though they knew that they were at risk from Putin in doing so?

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine impacts across the whole of Europe and beyond. I was honoured to briefly meet President Zelensky when he visited Parliament —his leadership is inspirational. We all condemn the illegal invasion. Keir Starmer has been clear that, if we are in government later this year, we will stand with Ukraine—because Britain and this Parliament stand with Ukraine.

Months ago, we called for legislation to enable the utilisation of seized Russian assets. We were pleased that President von der Leyen supported doing just that to fund rebuilding Ukraine. Andrew Mitchell in the other place has said that the Government hope to have positive news on this soon. I hope the Foreign Secretary can provide an update when he responds in a few hours.

The attacks by Hamas on Israel on 7 October unleashed catastrophic devastation, and we totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and others, that fighting must stop now. A sustainable and sustained humanitarian ceasefire observed by both sides, underpinned by the release of all hostages and the ramping up of aid, is essential. Alongside that, diplomatic engagement is paramount. We are aware of the intense efforts taking place as we speak, and we want to remain optimistic, however difficult that is. An offensive in Rafah would create an even greater humanitarian catastrophe, and such action during the holy month of Ramadan would further inflame regional tensions.

I will not repeat the noble Lord’s five points, but we concur with the points he made. The eventual aim of a two-state solution must be kept alive, despite the huge challenges—a safe and secure Israel, but also a viable Palestinian state without Hamas. We are a long way from there.

Last week, the noble Lord confirmed that the aid getting into Gaza is not enough, and that 500 to 600 trucks are needed daily. Is there any evidence yet of a significant improvement, or the likelihood of one, in the days to come?

On the Red Sea, we have supported the limited targeted action taken by the UK, alongside allies, to diminish the Houthis’ ability to disrupt maritime navigation, and we acknowledge and thank our Armed Forces for their professionalism, capability and commitment. We have now had a fourth round of strikes. I ask the Foreign Secretary at what stage the Government would consider this to be a sustained campaign and, if we cross that threshold, what accountability to Parliament might look like. When we last had a Statement on this issue, I asked the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House whether the Ministry of Defence is content that the strategic objectives are being met. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm these objectives today and say whether they have changed? Given that, whenever possible, military action should be accompanied by diplomatic efforts, can he say more about the efforts taking place in the region?

I know that the Foreign Secretary is aware of the huge disappointment when the Government down- graded international development—particularly in reducing the target from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP, when GDP was falling—and in how that money has been used. For many years, including when he was in a different role, there had been a consensus on retaining that ambition of 0.7%. Yet not only was that figure reduced but the way in which it was done—so quickly and immediately, without consultation, and with no transitional arrangements put in place—had serious consequences and implications.

We have heard on a number of occasions in your Lordships’ House of the damage that has been caused to international development programmes that were funded by that money. The Foreign Secretary knows the importance of the SDGs and the Government have committed to implementing them, yet the way in which the aid cut was undertaken makes implementing the international objectives even more difficult. What confidence is there that we can actually achieve those aims? This does not just impact on the perception of the UK across the world and our soft power; it impacts directly on the projects that were taking place on the ground, saving lives. Can he offer any hope of an improvement from this Government?

In the time available, I have not been able to comment on the many issues that will be part of today’s debate, specifically our relationships with China and Taiwan and issues in the Indo-Pacific region. However, my noble friend Lord Collins will respond to the debate on those issues.

We remain of the view that, when the world is increasingly shaped by geopolitical events and trade flows, when risks and challenges are international, the UK should step up, engage and show leadership, rather than step back. In recent years, it has been felt that the Government have been too casual and uncommitted to our international obligations. I can think of no other Government, including the Foreign Secretary’s, where senior figures would seek to defy international law, or where legislation to protect citizens’ rights would become a political football.

I suspect that the Minister would agree with Keir Starmer. I expected a reaction then—but I think he would. The nation’s foreign policy must prioritise restoring our place on the world stage. That is not about being jingoistic or unrealistic about resources, but about how we, once again, make the UK a force for good. In the past, we have helped shape international institutions and norms; we have played a key role in conflict resolution; and we have used our convening power to build an international consensus around major events. We want to work with the EU as genuine partners; to be a dependable NATO ally, supporting Ukraine’s accession; to implement AUKUS; and to strike new security and intelligence partnerships. We want to again lead in development and seek to lead on climate action too.

Everyone stands to gain if we can lift vulnerable countries up and do something to accelerate climate mitigation. For our security and prosperity, and for those of our allies, Britain must reconnect with the world and become a positive leader once again.

15:56
Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, started, he said he was not quite sure how he felt about opening the debate. I wondered whether he was really musing about the fact that normally he would have to spend a whole debate sitting and scribbling in response to everything that we had said. This afternoon, he has now passed this task on to the Foreign Secretary. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, can—for once—sit quietly and listen, probably to some of the tributes that will be paid to him, as one of our most indefatigable Ministers who truly has respect in your Lordships’ House.

From the High North to the South Atlantic, from North Korea to South Sudan, there are global challenges and foreign policy concerns for the United Kingdom, our partners and allies. Some speak of a new Cold War; I have never understood that. I do not see how this is a new Cold War. If anything, we are seeing a series of very hot wars. At the time the Cold War ended, the UK, like so many of our partners, took a peace dividend. We now need to consider whether that was at too high a price. Are we paying enough now for our security and defence, or are we overstretching ourselves in diplomacy, defence and development—the three Ds?

In your Lordships’ House, we have two Ministers who have spent—as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, told us—weeks and months travelling around globally, representing this country very ably. Yet, is the country really spending enough on foreign security and defence policy when we face so many challenges? We have a series of challenges, threats and global issues that need to be considered.

In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, got round part of the world in 16 minutes. In her 13 minutes, the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, got round some other parts. That in itself demonstrates that we are in a situation where we need to be looking south and east, north and west. I wonder whether we are able to do so effectively. Does the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office have the resources to achieve everything that this country and our European and NATO partners need us to do? Does the Ministry of Defence have the resources that we need? Does this country take our foreign policy responsibilities sufficiently seriously? This is not a criticism of this Government or of previous Governments. We need to consider it as a public policy discourse because, if we do not pay sufficient attention to the international, we will be caught out when the next crisis or conflict occurs.

During the last three years, three areas have been, in series, the source of much discussion and debate in British foreign and defence policy—Afghanistan, the Middle East and Ukraine. I will mention a fourth area because I know that the Foreign Secretary has just been down to the South Atlantic and the Falkland Islands. Before I look at the more recent hot conflicts, I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary can enlighten the House about the current feelings in the islands, particularly in light of the Argentine President resurrecting the idea that the Falklands are of significant interest to Argentina. What confidence can he give the islanders? Is he able to answer a question put to me when I was in the Falklands 18 months ago—if Argentina invaded today, would the United Kingdom be able to protect us? At one level, the short answer is that we have forces permanently deployed down there. But, if we were asked whether we could send a task force, the answer might be somewhat different.

I turn to more recent issues. We have a legacy of 20 years in Afghanistan. At the time of the United States’ withdrawal, there was an ignominious departure by the United Kingdom and our other European NATO partners. We left behind too many people who had put their lives on the line by standing alongside the United Kingdom—whether they were interpreters, British Council contractors or the Triples. The cases of all these people have been raised many times in your Lordships’ House. Too often, the answers have reflected interdepartmental differences—a sense that it is not an issue for the Foreign Office, or the MoD, or the Home Office. There is too much buck passing. In his response, can the Foreign Secretary give some reassurance to those people who are still in fear of their lives because they worked alongside the UK and NATO? Can he assure them that we will get them out of Afghanistan, that they should not be risking their lives in small boats, or going to Rwanda, and that we will do the right thing for those people we left behind in Afghanistan?

The Afghan case is too infrequently discussed because the bandwidth is not there. We have moved from Afghanistan to Ukraine—and rightly so. It is absolutely right that His Majesty’s Government and the whole of the United Kingdom has been supporting Ukraine, whether by welcoming Ukrainians into our homes, sending ammunition, training soldiers or through the diplomatic route that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have engaged in. But one of the lessons from Afghanistan is that, when the United States withdraws, it is difficult for the United Kingdom and our European partners to stand alone. If we see that on this side of the channel and of the Atlantic, the message was also not missed in Beijing, Moscow or Tehran.

The third of the areas that have already been discussed today is Israel, Gaza and the Red Sea, about which I will not go into detail because so many other noble Lords will do so. The Foreign Secretary has clearly already been trying to play a role in those areas, making some very important statements about the importance of a two-state solution. We are facing a world where so many of these issues have links with Russia or Iran; Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah are all supported by Iran. What conversations are His Majesty’s Government able to have to try to reduce the danger from Iran? That is one of the issues that we do not talk enough about that needs to be discussed.

The final area is China, about which I turn, briefly, to the High North. In recent years, our attention as a country and politicians has been to the south and east, but if we look to the High North, we see that climate change is affecting everyone. Greta Thunberg talked about the world being on fire—that includes the Arctic, which sounds impossible but is true. As the Arctic ices melt, we will see new sea routes offering potential trading opportunities that may be beneficial to the United Kingdom and our allies; but it is also seen by China as the opportunity for a polar silk road. As China signs deals with Russia—and the Arctic, instead of being an area of high co-operation and low tension, looks, potentially, to become one that is securitised by Russia and China—what assessment are His Majesty’s Government making of the High North? Do they have the bandwidth to think not just about the present issues in the Middle East and Ukraine but about potential conflicts and areas of difficulty in the High North?

How far are the Government also looking west? At the moment, we still have a President of the United States who is committed to NATO. If Donald Trump were re-elected in November, could we rely on the United States? If not, what is the United Kingdom doing with our European NATO partners and the European Union? What discussions are His Majesty’s Government having, bilaterally and multilaterally, with France, Germany and the European Union to strengthen our security ties? Will we go through the open door to have a UK-EU security relationship? We have moved beyond the intricacies of Brexit that soured politics for so long and there is an opportunity to think about a security relationship—but will His Majesty’s Government take it? Do they have a strategy for co-operation, or are we destined simply to see ad hocery? At times, AUKUS and the relationship with Japan and Italy on fighter jets look—dare I say—opportunistic.

Can His Majesty’s Government tell us that they have a strategy for the UK’s place in the world in which it plays its right and proper part? Will it demonstrate the leadership that we all need? That is not just about leadership in this place and the other place but about a national conversation that reminds everyone that we must stand up for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. If we in this country—not just politicians, journalists and academics but every citizen—are complacent and do not stand up for those things, we will be vulnerable. Can the Government offer the leadership that we all need?

16:08
Lord Ricketts Portrait Lord Ricketts (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome the debate and the great energy and purpose that the Foreign Secretary has brought to his role, ably supported of course by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, and the talents of the Foreign Office staff. They have increased the impact and influence of British foreign policy.

Five months after the awful Hamas attack, we must not lose our sense of horror at the incessant images from Gaza that we see every day. The suffering of the Israeli hostages is unimaginable. It is extraordinary that, despite all UK and US efforts, Gazans on the verge of starvation are reduced to mobbing a food convoy, with the stampede killing many people after Israeli forces opened fire. It is equally extraordinary that the US is reduced to air-dropping some pallets of aid into northern Gaza because it cannot persuade the Israelis to let in enough by land. I have never known as wide a gulf as exists now between a US President and an Israeli Prime Minister. It seems that the talks in Egypt about cessation of hostilities and hostage exchange have now broken down. Faults are no doubt on both sides, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Netanyahu’s determination to prolong the war is linked in some way to his own political survival.

Stopping this fighting is desperately urgent, to get hostages out and humanitarian aid in, but also to create an opportunity to move towards a better post-conflict future for Israel and Gaza. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s championing of the two-state solution. For all the difficulties, it is the only viable alternative to a forever war between Israel and the Palestinians. I also think he was right to open up some negotiating space around the point at which a Palestinian state could be recognised. Of course there are huge obstacles; a new Israeli and Palestinian leadership would be needed, in my view, as would a credible answer to who will provide security in Gaza and who will foot the massive reconstruction costs there.

From that point of view, it is encouraging to see that the Gulf Arab states are now much more engaged in thinking about the future of the Palestinian people than was the case in the past. They will have to have a central role in the running of Gaza in the future, alongside a new Palestinian leadership. Part of that package should be a peace deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which would enable Israel at last to integrate into the dynamic region of which it is a part. A lasting ceasefire would also do a great deal to stop Iran destabilising the region. It should de-escalate tensions across the border with Lebanon, and remove the Houthis’ pretext for taking international shipping hostage in the Red Sea.

Could the Foreign Secretary tell us where things stand on the comprehensive US draft UN Security Council resolution, which the Americans circulated in mid-February and which set out a lot of the points I have just gone over, and a very different vision from that on offer from Prime Minister Netanyahu?

I turn briefly to Ukraine. Of course, I draw attention to the European Affairs Committee’s report on the impact of Ukraine on UK-EU relations, which has been largely positive. I single out the issue of using frozen Russian assets to fund reconstruction; when he came to the committee, the Foreign Secretary kindly told us that

“there is a legal route to doing this”.

The Commission plan at the moment seems to be only to use future windfall profits from the euro clearing balance. Frankly, that will not change the dial on reconstruction. Can the Foreign Secretary update the House on where we are on the idea of using frozen Russian assets, at least as collateral?

More broadly, I am afraid that there is no prospect of either side achieving an outright victory, much as I would like to see Ukraine doing so. The risk is a long, grinding war in which the Russians gradually gain the upper hand, especially if we have a new President Trump in the White House. If President Zelensky decided the time had come for an armistice, freezing something like the current front lines, we should see that as an opportunity, not a disaster. It would enable us to bring the 80% of Ukraine which is free into NATO and the EU. Korea is not an exact precedent, but it gives an idea of what could be achieved by a long-term armistice. In that case, rather than being a bridgehead for further Russian aggression in Europe, an armistice would be more likely to leave Putin and his successors scrambling to prevent people stuck in the benighted, sad, Russian-controlled rump escaping west to a prosperous and free Ukraine.

16:14
Lord Archbishop of Canterbury Portrait The Archbishop of Canterbury
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My Lords, I join in the tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for his opening and his many distinguished years of service—may he continue in his current position—and to the energy that the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, as Secretary of State, has brought to the present process and this debate.

I want to focus, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, did, on the means rather than the end. Like many noble Lords here, I was in Ukraine three weeks ago—for about a week, in my case—in Kyiv and Odesa. I was there, coincidentally, at the same time as the head of the European foreign service, and we managed, with some of his staff, accidentally to be in the same bomb shelter at the same time, which gives one an opportunity to talk to people. One of the things that came across was the determination of Europe to protect Ukraine from defeat—to support it. However, in conversations with senior politicians in Ukraine, as well as the most senior religious leaders in that very religious country, the question they put was not just what the West intends and what the UK intends—their warm words about the UK were very striking—but what were the means to those ends. You do not win wars by good intentions.

I will not go further on that except to say that the integrated review and the refreshed integrated review talk extensively about ends, but they do not talk at all, or not very much, about means. This is the question that has to be put to government but will be much better handled by the noble Lords and noble and gallant Lords, with infinitely more expertise than me, who are here today.

Moving on from that, I want to talk about something that is a major focus, and has been for many years, in the Anglican Communion. I remind noble Lords that the average Anglican is a woman in her 30s in sub-Saharan Africa, on less than $4 a day, with a 50:50 chance of being in a place of conflict or persecution. The question of avoiding war and making peace applies not only, obviously, in Ukraine and Gaza but, according to the UN’s recent figures, in at least 52 other places around the world. Over the last 10 years, in the 165 countries in which we have Anglican churches, divided into 42 provinces, I have visited all those provinces. I have spent much of that time with people involved in conflicts, seeking to build them up, whether it is in northern Mozambique with training from the UN or other places. It is very striking that the impact of peace- building is not only a primary command of Christ in the Bible—

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”—


but fundamental to the national interests of this country.

Our leadership, historically and today, in areas of conflict brings us enormous distinction, at huge cost. Our leadership in peacebuilding is something we have the capacity to do: it is hard won and brings long-term prosperity and opportunity. Peace brings development; development brings trade; trade is to our advantage and brings more development. Our soft power assets in this country are enormous, especially when combined with the hard power within our Armed Forces to contribute to the necessary tough side of peacemaking.

We see with Gaza and the horrendous events I saw within a very few days of 7 October—I was in east Jerusalem—the terrible human impact and the almost impossible task of bringing peace in the midst of the sound of the guns. Once the guns begin, peacemaking becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The Foreign Office has an excellent unit, pithily named—I am sorry to have to reach for my notes as I can never get this right; I am sure the Secretary of State could whip it off—the negotiations and peace processes team in the Office for Conflict, Stabilisation and Mediation. I will call it peacemaking for short. It is staffed, like the whole Foreign Office and our brilliant Diplomatic Service, with people of courage, determination, huge experience and great wisdom—small in number and with very little money.

If we are to talk about the use of aid, as the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, did so effectively, we must look at where that aid is best used. Putting it properly to the service of peace has a far higher return than any other possible use of it. It saves money on fighting wars and on diplomatic intervention at a time when diplomatic intervention is virtually vain.

This debate will cover so many areas and has so many wise Members of this House participating that I do not wish to go on any longer. I simply hope that the Foreign Secretary, when summing up, will speak about peacemaking. In the refreshed integrated review, the word “reconciliation” does not appear and, when I did a search, “peace” appeared four times in 114 pages. I may be wrong; it may have gone up and I did not notice. Two of those references are in the context of nuclear war.

Will the Government enhance the work of the peacemakers in the Foreign Office? Will they encourage working with the third sector and local groups? Will they bring in the coalitions—for instance, in the south Caucasus and other areas that we forget so easily—which will mean that we in the West are not only resilient, united, determined and courageous but making peace in a way that opens a future for the country and for ourselves?

16:22
Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the most reverend Primate’s thoughtful contribution. These are bewildering times. They are the most complex that I have ever known. The Government have innovated and adapted to be more effective, as my noble friend Lord Ahmad so eloquently described, and to be resilient in this menacing age. I commend the Government on the action they have taken and on recognising that in this age, relationships, partnerships and alliances are key.

What about global fora, where we have a joint interest but no singular control? I will focus on NATO and the United Nations. Two questions must be asked: are they still relevant and, if so, are they still fit for purpose? I will not dwell on the threats—we all know what they are—but I want first to look at NATO, which is 75 years old this year. It is a military defensive alliance of 31 states—about to be 32 with the accession of Sweden—bound by the collective obligation of Article 5. It has a proven record of effective military activity, honed and reinvigorated with the renewed sense of purpose in response to the illegal invasion of Ukraine by President Putin.

Is NATO still relevant? Yes, and I would argue even more so than in 1949. Is it still fit for purpose? Yes, but with two material caveats. The first is money. Defence spend of 2% of GDP is not enough. I am now going to be a liberated, uncorseted Back-Bencher. The UK must show leadership. The feast and famine approach does not work. Giving when we have the money and withholding when we do not is no basis on which to operate our defence capability. It is cloud-cuckoo-land.

We need to think outside the box and I suggest a new and hybrid approach. Defence is of such primary importance that I think it merits top-slicing from the budget to fund core need. Then, why do we not consider giving the public a stake? Issue “patriot bonds”—call them what you want—so that the public can invest directly in our security. If you want a defence capability, it needs consistent resourcing and you must take the public with you.

My second caveat is that the commitment of all member states to Article 5 must be unyielding and explicit. Ambiguity and loose talk by member states are irresponsible and fatal to the integrity and credibility of NATO as a defence alliance. I look to the United Kingdom to lead that charge. Having said that, thank goodness for NATO, and I praise the leadership of the Secretary-General and the professionalism of all the militaries that make it what it is.

I turn to the United Nations. Created in 1945 following the collapse of the League of Nations, the UN was very different—but then so was the global environment of nearly 80 years ago. It was built around the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and the then Republic of China—the five permanent members of the Security Council—and many positive developments have ensued. The UN is a pre-eminent global presence with a worthy record of achievement. It is the umbrella for important and effective subsidiary groups.

The real engine of the United Nations remains the Security Council. Paradoxically, two of the main perpetrators of global threat and instability, Russia and China, are still two of the permanent members. They regularly veto Security Council proposals. That is a self-perpetuating stasis right at the heart of the United Nations and it is not workable. Is the United Nations still relevant? Unhesitatingly, I say yes. Is it still fit for purpose? Reluctantly, I say, without reform, no.

Let me offer hope. As a Defence Minister I regularly represented the United Kingdom at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is headquartered in The Hague. It has 193 members and an annual Conference of the States Parties with equal voting rights. An executive council of 41 member states is appointed by the annual conference for a two-year term and a technical secretariat delivers the activities mandated by the executive council. There are no vetoes.

Since 2018, the OPCW has been led by an able and courageous director-general, Fernando Arias. The UK is an important and influential member, the support of the FCDO is excellent and the contribution of our own ambassador in The Hague and her staff is superb. But here is the important part—this potentially unwieldy organisation is focused, effective and delivers, notwithstanding the presence of a hostile and unco-operative Russia and Syria, at times supported by a minority of other states. What they do not do, because they cannot, is obstruct the work of the OPCW.

In conclusion, I ask my noble friend the Foreign Secretary: does he agree that defence spend is not a soft option but a hard fact of life and that we need a new approach? In relation to NATO, are the strongest diplomatic persuasions being exercised to support NATO’s critical unanimity of purpose under Article 5? In relation to the United Nations, is the visible and, I would say, fatal flaw which I have identified being recognised and the urgent need for reform being acknowledged? Are there lessons perhaps to be learned from the OPCW?

16:28
Baroness Ashton of Upholland Portrait Baroness Ashton of Upholland (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, when I was in office at the EU, I visited the Middle East more than anywhere else. In Sderot in Israel, I was presented with a sculpture of a rose, fashioned from one of the hundreds of Hamas rockets fired regularly at the town, and visited the places where children played underground to keep them safe. Sderot was targeted on 7 October by Hamas terrorists.

On my visits to Gaza, I would often visit a school for deaf children offering education and vocational training to those with an additional disadvantage in a place where children had few opportunities. It now lies in ruins. I am filled with overwhelming sorrow at what is happening and has happened and with shame that we have failed over decades to find a lasting, viable solution.

Meantime, the region risks falling into greater chaos. I am only too aware of the influence and control that Iran exercises in the region. It had been my hope that, after dealing with the nuclear issue, we would move on to tackling the problems that, in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, see Iran exacerbate already deeply troubled states. We need longer-term thinking here. Twenty years from now, will we have curtailed and contained Iran’s influence? What will be the role of the key Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, in bringing stability and prosperity to their neighbourhood? I believe there is a need for even greater UK engagement in this area.

Ten years ago, I celebrated with Ukraine the signing of the long-awaited association agreement with the European Union. The country was already in conflict after the taking of Crimea and the invasion of parts of the Donbas, and the hope was for a plan to resolve Russia’s incursion and find a new future closer to Europe. Just before the pandemic took hold, I was in Kyiv in a cold winter. While I was there, hundreds of people were killed by bombs, guns or freezing weather as power stations were targeted in the Donbas. In Kyiv, I was told repeatedly that Ukrainians felt they were alone: left to deal with ongoing aggression by themselves. I worried then that Russia was waiting. Now, after two years of war, many of the people I stood with in Maidan a decade ago are gone.

There is a need for a new broad security architecture that is more than the important continued military engagement and NATO expansion, and which will provide economic and political security well into the decades ahead. In 20 years’ time, what of Russia? Do we need a plan for containment—to write the equivalent of the “long telegram”—and where do UK relations with the European Union fit in strategic terms in that time period?

Many countries, especially in what we call the global South, are no longer prepared to fall into line with our views simply because it is expected, even if the principle in question is one they accept. Discussing Ukraine, one African leader asked when we were going to pay real attention to what was happening on his continent, pointing to the 17 coups in Africa during the last six years and the 18 armed conflicts in 2021 alone.

Old relationships do not always translate into strong links, especially as economies grow and political alliances shift and develop. Their present and future growth depends on diversifying relationships or dumping old ones in favour of new. We need to forge these new relationships.

Too often, we describe crises as coming out of nowhere. Too often, it is because we were not looking hard enough. I learned a long time ago that there is no issue any nation can solve alone; it is in our partnerships and our alliances that we find the strength and resources to tackle problems. Governments need to think in decades, not years: to resolve problems that have taken decades or longer to bubble up and burst; to tackle underlying causes, not just manifestations, as they affect us; to understand the nature of long-term needs and commit to resolving them, and to do so based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Those are the values that Britain has been known and respected for across the globe. This is, above all, about our own long-term security and, looking across our world, it cannot wait.

16:33
Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, and to benefit from her considerable personal experience. In recent years, the Government have undertaken two detailed analyses of foreign policy: the 2021 integrated review and the 2023 refresh. It was, and is, difficult to argue with any of the individual propositions made in either document.

The problem, though, is that it can be difficult to discern how the analyses can or should be translated into a strategy for action—into an appropriate balance between ends, ways and means. As the most reverend Primate has observed, the reviews are strong on ends and, to some degree, ways, but weak on balancing these with means.

In such a complex and challenging world, it is inevitable that the UK will need to pursue many objectives and respond to many challenges. For example, it is clear that China represents a major threat to the liberal world order from which we have benefited so much since 1945. It is clear that the stability of the Middle East is as important to us, and as fragile, as it has been over recent decades. It is clear that climate change and the scramble for scarce resources are transforming the Arctic from an area of co-operation to one of contest, as pointed out in a recent report from your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee.

But, for us, the issue of overwhelming significance is the threat posed by Russia. The 2023 refresh was, it seems, inspired largely by a perceived change in circumstance resulting from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022—but Putin’s war of aggression began in 2014, not 2022. The fact that many people woke up to the implications only two years ago does not make this a new challenge. The 2023 document did, however, make clear at last that

“The most pressing national security and foreign policy priority in the short-to-medium term is to address the threat posed by Russia to European security”.


That is quite right. Protecting this nation must be the UK’s top strategic objective, and Russia is the clear and present danger.

The 2023 refresh also points to the main ways through which we should work towards such an end: deterrence and, if necessary, defence through NATO. But what about means? Here I am afraid the review abandons analysis in favour of soundbites, and this weakness is reinforced by a fundamental misunderstanding in the supporting arguments. The review says:

“In addition to reinforcing the UK’s ability to deter and defend, we must also address the risk that misunderstanding and miscalculation could lead to large-scale military conflict”.


This treats deterrence and miscalculation as separate issues. In reality, they are very closely linked. If deterrence is to be effective, it must leave no doubt in the mind of a potential aggressor about the unacceptable costs of launching any attack. They must be crystal clear about the ability and will of the defender—in this case NATO—to absorb an initial attack and to strike back overwhelmingly. It is a question not of fine balances and narrow margins but of undoubtedly superior capacity.

We should keep this in mind when we consider what the 2023 refresh has to say about means. It talks about recent increases in UK defence expenditure in cash terms, but we all know how little meaning that has in the face of inflation, let alone when set against previous large reductions. On future increases, the Government have said that they aspire to increase defence expenditure to 2.5% of GDP over time and as fiscal and economic circumstances allow. This is like someone muttering about one day taking out adequate insurance while their house burns down around their ears.

If the Foreign Secretary thinks this is somewhat extreme, let me quote his own wise words. He said that

“the lights are absolutely flashing red”

on the global dashboard. He added that

“it is hard to think of a time when there has been so much danger and insecurity and instability in the world”.

That is spot on. But does he really think that a vague aspiration to increase defence expenditure to a level still far below where it stood as recently as 2010 is an adequate response to such a dire, but undoubtedly accurate, analysis?

The Economist recently said that European leaders, including in the UK, need to raise defence spending to

“a level not seen in decades, restructuring … arms industries and preparing for a possible war”.

It concluded that this work had “barely begun”. I look to both sides of the Chamber when I say that we had better get on with it before it is too late.

16:39
Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, after these wise speeches, with more no doubt to come, what can one say in five minutes about the boiling turmoil of the world today and the crises and pessimism with which it is riddled? In particular, what can one say that is at all optimistic about this scene? One positive and optimistic note that I strike straightaway is the excellent handling of these dangerous problems by our Foreign Secretary. My noble friend has kept us, and your Lordships in particular, continuously well informed, and all I can say to him is that that is very much appreciated.

Many of these current situations—Gaza, Ukraine, Afghanistan and all the rest—are deep-seated with long histories, but all are vastly intensified, amplified and indeed enabled by communications technology and now, with the onset of AI, being further twisted with deepfakes and massive and poisoning disinformation that is calculated to inflame. The result we can all see clearly, even if often we are not so clear about the deeper causes. I say in parenthesis that, if a Labour Government are to take over, I hope they have on board a real Ernie Bevin who understands the fundamental realities of the modern situation.

Trust and mutual respect have dwindled. Polarised abuse has taken centre stage internationally, as well as, of course, internally within our own society. Deliberative diplomacy has been pushed aside, killing the areas of compromise and the middle ground on which international cliff-edge crises in the past have usually been resolved. As I noticed the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, observe the other day, we are seeing the collapse of the international rule of law before our eyes. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has more than once made the strong point that all the democracies and responsible nations of the world, which are directly endangered by current world crises, should step up much more strongly to the plate and work together, rather than leaving all the heavy lifting to us and the Americans.

The UN was founded by our forefathers in 1946 but in entirely different global conditions from anything that we face today, so the question that we must address now is: what new structures, independent forces and alliances of the like-minded should we be beginning to think about building anew on, or even replacing, the post-war global architecture of the last century? How, for instance, do we give the UN new life and effectiveness, or do we just shrug our shoulders and instead develop multipolar forums and overlapping alliances with the new Asia and the new Africa—at least as long as the UN, despite its excellent agencies, remains paralysed by Russian and Chinese domination, as my noble friend Lady Goldie was reminding us just now?

Do we place the 56-nation Commonwealth, the largest association of like-minded people in the world, which is still growing, nearer to the centre of our own national strategy by looking at our common security concerns and remembering that its members are with us in the common values that we treasure? Do we replace the Bretton Woods aims and begin serious reform of today’s western digital capitalism, which the younger generation dislike and feel is utterly unfair and of no benefit to them—or so poll after poll tells us?

Should we work out a cleverer China approach of containment or modernise the outdated UK-US special relationship, which is absurdly out of date? Do we devise a new pan-European security system and further restructure NATO in the age of hybrid wars, now that a possible Trump Administration are going to turn America away from NATO altogether?

There are currently no answers to any of these concerns and almost no sign of any common ground on which they could be pursued. The wise American Francis Fukuyama may not have been correct about the end of history—it certainly has not ended—but when he says that people have not yet woken to the magnitude of what is happening, or about to happen, to humankind as a direct result of the communications and connectivity revolutions, he is dead right. Perhaps this is one area in which our nation, and our foreign policy thinking, really can begin to take an enlightened lead.

16:44
Lord Boateng Portrait Lord Boateng (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister, in his characteristically powerful speech, reminded us of the importance of the UK championing the flourishing of democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, reminded us of the need for us to wake up. We certainly do need to wake up to what is happening to democracy in the Sahel and throughout Africa, and to the danger of democracy and democrats finding themselves on the back foot.

I grew up in the Commonwealth. I grew up in Ghana, in west Africa, in the 1960s. Many of us in here are children of the 1960s, and we know that the 1960s were characterised by global competition between West and East. No continent suffered more from that competition than the African continent. There is a proverb in Africa: when the great elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. That is certainly what occurred in Africa. During that period between 1960 and 2000, coups in Africa averaged four per year. There have been an estimated 200 successful or attempted coups in Africa since the 1950s.

Until relatively recently, democracy seemed to be flourishing in Africa, and there were more people who were able to cast their vote at the ballot box, and cast it safely, than since the early days of independence. Sadly, that is now in decline. In Mali, there have been two coups, in 2020 and 2021. There have been coups in Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso—twice in 2022—Niger in 2023 and Gabon in 2023. The Sahel is threatened with a contagion of coups and Islamist insurgency on a par with nothing we have seen before.

Added to that is the growing destabilising factor of the intervention of Russia in the continent through the Wagner Group, which has reinvented itself in ways that mean, I am afraid, that it is directly linking its commercial interests in mineral extraction with military intervention in order to create the context in which that extraction, to the benefit of Russia, can take place. At the same time, it is selling arms: it is the single biggest supplier of arms in the Sahel as we speak. We have to have a response to that.

For democracy to flourish, there is a need for jobs, an end to instability and an end to hunger. The reality for Africa and Africans is far from that. There is a growing humanitarian crisis. Armed conflicts have worsened human suffering and forced millions to flee: roughly 2.7 million people have been displaced by coups and armed insurgency in the Sahel. I know what it is to be a displaced person; I am for ever grateful to the people and community of Hemel Hempstead who welcomed me, my mother and my sister when we fled the coup in Ghana in 1966. It is no easy thing. Linked to the 2.7 million displaced people are 1.6 million children who are malnourished. Those are last year’s figures, and the most recent indications suggest that over 2 million children are undernourished this year.

We need to have a response to that and it needs, surely, to be one that links support for democracy and civil society, through giving institutions such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy the capacity to operate on the ground. It means creating jobs through support for the Africa free trade area and expanding in answer to the desire of China and Russia to create more military and naval bases. China now has naval bases in west Africa, as well as east Africa, and Russia is seeking a base in Sudan. We have to have a response to that which is led by military diplomacy, so there has to be an investment in military diplomacy on a scale that we have not seen for very many years.

We have an opportunity, with the reputation that the people of this country have in Africa, to make a difference so that democracy flourishes—because it is seen to provide jobs and security, as well as decent health and well-being for all the citizens in democratic countries.

16:51
Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is used to being on the global stage. He may have just a few months to make a difference now, so what might he and his very able colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, focus on? Like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I was a junior Minister in the Administration of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron—so fancy me having this opportunity now.

First and foremost, there is climate change. Perhaps the noble Lord’s main aim here should be to stop the UK going further backwards. We were a world leader; that is not our message now. Then there is the rise of authoritarian and populist regimes, bolstered by misinformation and the undermining of international law. A key actor here is Putin, with his aggression against Ukraine.

Perhaps the greatest contribution the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, can make is to work very closely with European allies. Those European leaders have welcomed him with a sigh of relief and it is Europe that is at most immediate threat. Then the noble Lord could argue for the restoration of the aid budget. However, something tells me that the Budget tomorrow will not restore this and that he would waste his breath here.

Might the noble Lord do more in relations with Africa? He leaves that, perhaps, to Andrew Mitchell, another very able colleague. But why was the UK-African Investment Summit called off? The explanation that there are elections this year and many other events really does not hold water. That was known in advance. We hear that, in the tail end of this Government and with the UK no longer in the EU, leaders simply prioritised elsewhere. Could he comment?

Now I come to an area where I think the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, can make a real difference; I hope that he may already be doing so. Maybe he is breaking away from long-established UK Government positions. This is in relation to the conflict in the Middle East. Does he agree with Oliver McTernan, director of Forward Thinking and a long-standing negotiator in the region, when he says

“despite the terrible events of October 7th and the subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza, we still remain convinced that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not an intractable problem … It remains essentially a human problem that can be resolved by … political will”?

In some ways that is self-evident and in some ways a pipe dream, but such a resolution seemed impossible in earlier years in relation to Northern Ireland, and yet it was possible. That was a conflict on which the whole world seemed to have a view, just as they now do on the Middle East. Does the noble Lord agree that what is happening now has to be a turning point for both Israel and the Palestinians? Violence cannot be the solution.

There were so many warnings over the years that here was a tinder box; the area is alight now. Over 30,000 people have been killed, with the largest proportion being women and children. Many others are unaccounted for. The UN speaks of law and order breaking down in Gaza, famine, women and girls at huge risk, and of Rafah being the largest refugee camp in the world, yet nowhere is safe. The Israeli hostages and their families continue to suffer. Attacks have increased in the West Bank, where support for Hamas has increased—the reverse of the Israeli Government’s avowed intention.

The Foreign Secretary himself has called for an investigation into what happened with the deaths associated with the aid convoy, where 80% of those in hospital, according to the UN, had gunshot wounds. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic, and tensions are escalating globally, as well as in our own communities. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that a ceasefire is desperately needed, as the US vice-president, the UN, the WHO and so many others are calling for? From what we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I think he probably does. Above all, does the Foreign Secretary see that tectonic plates are now shifting, to say that we should not do and say the same as we always have before? He is Foreign Secretary at this key point in history. This may be where he can help make a difference. I look forward to his reply.

16:56
Lord Fowler Portrait Lord Fowler (CB)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on his speech. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on his new post, which he is carrying out with absolute excellence.

Today, we have all around us headlines about the need to reduce taxes to make life better for the electorate. Perhaps I can adapt the famous words of President Kennedy: we should think not just about ourselves but also about the needs of other peoples around the world. There is the perilous position of the Palestinians, and there is poverty in Africa and a host of other nations. But I would suggest that what we have to decide is where, today, we can exert the most influence, most quickly, to improve the position. I suggest, at this moment, that this is in Ukraine.

I remember being in Kyiv in the winter of 2013, just before Christmas. In the central square, there was a crowded demonstration of several thousand supporting closer links with western Europe and protesting at the then Government’s refusal to do this in the face of Russian threats. The crowd was enthusiastic but peaceful; there was no hint of violence. Later, when the television cameras had stopped transmitting, the demonstrators who remained were beaten back by riot police and the square cleared. It was the immediate prelude to the Kyiv revolution.

It is fair to say that, since then, the Government of Ukraine have received a great deal of verbal support from other European Governments, including Britain, France and Germany. The question, which has been touched on by a number of speakers—perhaps most of all by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop—is whether the tangible support has matched the rhetoric.

In 2022, the Russians invaded and few of the commentators gave much for Ukraine’s chances. We have now passed the second anniversary of the resistance to that invasion. Thanks to the courage of the armed forces, the determination of the people of Ukraine and the leadership of President Zelensky, Russia has been held back. The question is: for how long? To put it bluntly, Ukraine needs more help, now. Last month, in Germany, President Zelensky made an urgent appeal for more weapons to avoid a “catastrophic” situation in Europe. That was a strong warning; we should listen and, above all, we should respond. Countries such as Britain are giving, but the truth is that we must give more.

I am not a completely uncritical supporter of Margaret Thatcher, as my recent book perhaps shows—she was certainly not a world leader on AIDS. However, I will say that, on her central aim that the Government must pursue a strong defence policy, coupled with insisting on law and order at home, she was absolutely right. I am not so hopelessly optimistic that anything we say in this debate will influence the Budget tomorrow, much of which has, regrettably, already been leaked to the press. Nor do I pretend that spending more on defence is an easy message, as it means scaling back on other projects. But it is the right thing to do and we should pursue it. We cannot afford a further part of Europe to slip under the power of Putin and the Russian Government. Ukraine deserves all our support, and that is what we should volunteer.

17:01
Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait Baroness Morris of Bolton (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I was reminded of dragging him and my noble friend Lord Johnson—whom I saw on the steps of the Throne earlier—through the Sinai Desert, with a number of others, into Gaza. We had to go through Rafah, because the Israelis would not let us in through Erez. We arrived very tired and dusty, and the first visit was to a school, which was two containers stacked on top of one another. Some little boys in beautifully whitewashed shirts had learned a song for us: it was “If You’re Happy and You Know It (Clap Your Hands)”. I wonder what has happened to them now.

I thank my noble friend Lord Ahmad for his excellent opening of this debate, and especially for his depth of knowledge and commitment to the Middle East. I declare my interests as set out in the register, especially my positions as Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Kuwait, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and president of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

What has happened over the last 151 days, first in Israel and then in Gaza, is nothing short of tragedy. The unconscionable acts of Hamas on 7 October were abhorrent and the train of events that they have unleashed is heartbreaking. The devastation in Gaza is unimaginable, and yet the hostages have not been released and one in 20 Palestinians, mainly women and children, have been killed or injured. In the north of Gaza, which has consistently been denied food, and with few aid trucks able to get through, one in six children under the age of two are now seriously malnourished. This has not been caused by crop failures or drought; as the UN said, this is entirely manmade and, as such, could be immediately reversed.

I would like to pay great tribute to my noble friends the Foreign Secretary and Lord Ahmad. They could not have done more to deliver difficult messages, especially on the access of aid. Where trucks cannot go, we have dropped aid from the air in co-operation with our good friends the Jordanians, and this is more than welcome. But aid dropped from the sky does not always reach those who need it most. What we need is fully trained workers on the ground to help to distribute the aid and to treat the children, but they cannot gain access with the ongoing bombardment.

As of yesterday, 16 children had died of starvation, dehydration and malnutrition. Today, that number will have grown. Children should not be used as a weapon of war. I agree with my noble and very good friend Lord Ahmad that the fighting must stop, and it has to stop now. In a powerful and passionate speech which says everything, and which was delivered at the Cairo summit for peace on 21 October last year, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan said:

“This conflict did not start two weeks ago, and it will not stop if we continue down this blood-soaked path. We know all too well that it will only lead to more of the same—a zero-sum game of death and destruction, of hatred and hopelessness played on repeat”.


The only hope of preventing the seeds of future hatred growing is a two-state solution. In a speech last October to your Lordships, I said that I had always hoped that the path to peace might be through the Arab peace initiative and that one day it might be picked up, dusted down and given new purpose. Among all this heartache, I was delighted to read that serious work was being undertaken by the Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, to forge a path to peace. I very much hope the UK Government will give any such initiative their full support and that we will help in any way we can.

Of course, we are able to make the first step towards a two-state solution, and that is recognition of Palestine. I welcome my noble friend’s statement on this. My noble friend Lord Soames and I called for recognition in 2011, when the World Bank, the IMF, the UN and the EU had all said that Palestine was ready for statehood. When President Obama promised that Palestine would be a new member of the UN, we endorsed that promise. We missed the opportunity to change the course of history then—we can do better now.

17:07
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, few have done more over such a sustained period to promote peace and reconciliation in the Middle East than the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and it is a great pleasure to follow her.

In my remarks, I want to mention the new axis of authoritarian dictatorships and their proxies, the danger posed by isolationism, and accountability and the rule of law. For the purposes of transparency, and as it was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I should note that I am sanctioned by China and Iran.

On this day in 1946, in Missouri, Winston Churchill gave his famous “Sinews of Peace” Iron Curtain speech, in which he talked about,

“a solemn moment for the American democracy”,

warning that Hitler’s Nazism would inevitably reappear in

“the designs of wicked men or the aggressive urge of mighty states”.

Here they are—an alliance of dictators and authoritarians —in Xi’s Communist China, Putin’s Kremlin, Iran’s apocalyptic mullahs and their many imitators, from North Korea to Belarus. Then there are terrorist proxies, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis, combining a toxic mix of ideologies and criminality.

China commits ethnic genocide in Xinjiang, with impunity destroys democracy in Hong Kong, and threatens a blockade of Taiwan, which would devastate the world’s economy. It persecutes, imprisons and oppresses. Foolishly, we have allowed the CCP to penetrate our markets with slave-made goods. Foolishly, we have allowed it to fill the void in the global South, including Commonwealth countries, with their $1 trillion belt and road programme, leaving indebted nations hostage to China’s strategic hegemonic interests, hostile and inimical to those of the free world.

China has happily watched Putin invade a sovereign nation, degrade its munitions and threaten the use of nuclear weapons, as he has sacrificed Russia’s place as a great power, as political opponents die in prison and as an ICC arrest warrant is issued against him. Putin’s quartermasters are Iran and North Korea—North Korea, which executes a young man for watching a South Korean movie, and Iran, where a young woman, Mahsa Amini, is jailed and then dies after being accused of failing to wear clothes approved by the morality police. This is the axis of despots and dictators who say that they will impose a new world order. The year 2024 feels dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable.

As in 1946, we must counter this through strengthened alliances and by combating isolationism—including through NATO and AUKUS, as we have heard. While it is heartening to see the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, it is depressing to hear Donald Trump with his threats and his isolationist talk of leaving NATO. He should remember that isolationism did not stop the Japanese attacking Pearl Harbour, and that Article 5 binds the other 31 NATO members to support America in the not inconceivable event of it being attacked.

America needs to be fully engaged not just in NATO but in the United Nations—in combating, exposing and reforming the UN. That institution’s organisations and agencies—from the discredited UN Human Rights Council to the manipulated WHO and subverted UNWRA —are all in need of new leadership.

The UN’s pathetic response to Alexei Navalny’s death —suggesting the Kremlin impartially investigate itself—defies reason and leaves it looking incompetent and corrupt. In the case of the Hamas attacks on Israel, it initially proved itself incapable of an unbiased outright condemnation. Where were the blue helmets as 600,000 were killed in Tigray while the world looked away? Now, thousands are dead in Darfur and Sudan, with 9 million people displaced, adding to the 114 million people displaced worldwide.

To tackle root causes of displacement will need the equivalent of the post-war Marshall aid programme through which the US, with extraordinary generosity, transferred $173 billion in today’s money to the reconstruction of western European economies. The 1940s was also a time when we built new alliances based on the rule of law, with lawyers like Raphael Lemkin framing the genocide convention, and others writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was when Churchill advocated for the creation of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights. Their endeavours led to the Nuremburg tribunal, and later to the Rome statute and the creation of the International Criminal Court.

I hope that when he comes to reply, the Foreign Secretary will tell us how, in our generation, we will ensure a tribunal is established to prosecute the crime of aggression in Ukraine. What will we do to preserve the evidence and ensure prosecution for the crimes committed by ISIS against Yazidis and others in Iraq? What will be done to bring to justice those responsible for the genocides in Darfur, Xinjiang and Burma, and crimes against humanity in Nigeria and Tigray? In too many places, impunity has become the norm and justice is the exception. We must take urgent steps to reassert the primacy of the rule of law and demonstrate to the axis of dictators that they will be deterred and held to account.

17:12
Baroness Meyer Portrait Baroness Meyer (Con)
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool. In today’s world, it is difficult to separate the domestic from the external, and the economic from the political. We have seen this in many crucial issues, such as climate change, immigration, free trade agreements, and, of course, Brexit, to name a few.

Brexit was about what kind of relationship with continental Europe best serves our national interest, but this debate has been going on for at least 1,000 years. What has changed since then is that the national interest is equally abroad as it is at home. The dilemma today is what to do when the security and prosperity of our citizens clash. What should we do when the Chinese Government invest in key British infrastructure and in our universities? Should the economic argument override security concerns? What about human rights? China has been suppressing democracy in Hong Kong, trying to eliminate the Uighurs, and supports Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, yet it is our fifth-largest trading partner. How do we reconcile the idealism of how we would like the world to be with the realism of how we find it?

In March 2021 the Government published a sweeping review of their foreign, defence, development and security policies. It named Russia as

“the most acute physical threat to our security”.

Several months later, Russia invaded Ukraine. In response, an updated version of the integrated review was published in 2023 stressing the need to build economic and military resilience.

Far from ending, as Francis Fukuyama proudly predicted in 1989, history is back—and with a vengeance. It is far worse than a return to the Cold War. In those days, it was a regulated conflict; it was the politics of détente, with far less economic interdependence. Today the world appears to belong increasingly to dictators.

Russia and China argue that their brand of authoritarian government allows them to act decisively while their democratic rivals debate, dither and fail to deliver on their promises. There is some truth in this. Organisations founded after the Second World War under US leadership—the UN, NATO, the IMF, the WTO and even the EU—have lost their way, while the United States is taking an increasingly isolationist stance. But because our relationship with the United States is based on both countries’ national interests, as an independent country we will have the opportunity to play an important role, whoever wins the United States presidency. Since leaving the EU, we have not forfeited our global leadership opportunities. We have hosted COP 26 and the G7 summit, played a crucial role in AUKUS, become a CPTPP member and led the way in responding to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. We may no longer be the superpower we once were, but we can still help shape history.

Does my noble friend the Foreign Secretary not agree that we must first regain our confidence, stop apologising about our past and stop bickering about Brexit? We should instead focus on what we have excelled at for centuries—pragmatism, wisdom and a strong sense of purpose—and use our diplomatic might to work towards a workable peace.

17:17
Lord Hain Portrait Lord Hain (Lab)
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My Lords, after the Hamas terror of 7 October and the Netanyahu Gaza horror since, I will speak frankly as a former UK Middle East Minister and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

First, Israel is not going to destroy Hamas, as its leaders promise—not even by destroying Gaza. Although Israel has seriously damaged Hamas militarily, it is a movement and an ideology that, in many respects, Israel helped promote. Its right-wing Governments thwarted serious negotiations with Yasser Arafat’s more moderate Fatah after Bill Clinton’s Camp David summit in 2000. They also oppressed Gaza residents, imposing a state of siege. Surely, after Israeli bombing kills their relatives and destroys their schools and communities, Gaza teenagers will resist even more, and be recruited even more easily by Hamas and jihadism. As Britain’s troubled history in Northern Ireland vividly demonstrates, if politics does not work, violence and extremism always fill the vacuum.

Remember also that British Governments refused for decades to negotiate with the IRA because of its terrorist outrages. When they finally did so, the 1998 Good Friday agreement happened, supported by a US President, a UK Prime Minister, a UK Foreign Secretary and an EU President.

The notion, also peddled by leaders of the global North, that only negotiations with a discredited West Bank Palestinian leadership can be countenanced will not work. Nor will Netanyahu’s recently reported plan for Gaza to be run by Israeli-approved administrators without links to either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. There is a salutary history of trying and failing to promote favoured candidates on peoples who are demanding self-determination to choose their own. Like it or not, Hamas will have to be included in some way, as indeed they are now in the Egypt-based negotiations.

In the end, the solution has to be political. Palestinians of whatever political stripe cannot defeat Israel militarily; nor can Israel defeat Palestinians militarily. As Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief of staff, wrote compellingly in his book, Talking to Terrorists, such conflicts can be resolved only by negotiation. By the way, Arafat had previously been labelled a terrorist with whom Israel would never deal, as also had Nelson Mandela by apartheid’s rulers.

Yet Israel’s right-wing leaders have been hell-bent on turning Palestinian territories into occupied dependencies. The West Bank—small islands of which are nominally administered by Fatah but in practice controlled by Israel—now contains half a million Israeli settlers, and east Jerusalem nearly a quarter of a million. UK Ministers wring their hands, pointing out that such settlements are illegal—but do nothing.

Where has all this got Israel? It is not more but less secure, as the 7 October pogrom palpably demonstrated. Yet the flat rejection of a two-state solution by Netanyahu means permanent Israeli domination, with escalating violence and regional instability. I suggest to the Foreign Secretary that, beyond the current talks, he supports a regional summit involving Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and, yes, Iran too, along with Jordan, Qatar and the UAE. There will be no stability in the region unless all parties are included.

Many in the global South are contemptuous of what they see as profound double standards by global North leaders, including the UK, who quite rightly want backing for Ukrainian self-determination but are complicit in the denial of Palestinian self-determination and culpable in the Gaza horror. The geopolitical breach with the global South is deepening and will cost Washington, London and Brussels dearly in an increasingly turbulent world. Meanwhile, I remain a friend to both Israelis and Palestinians. That is no sell-out of either, but a recognition that they share a future together or they share no future at all worth having.

17:22
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain, with all his experience.

I have five minutes in which to make two points about a part of the world that has not yet been discussed in this debate. My first point is about central Asia, where I believe that increased investment in soft power now could make a real difference. There is a clear appetite there for greater engagement from the United Kingdom. I refer noble Lords to my interests in the register: my work in central Asia since 2017 and, more recently, as a trustee of the John Smith Trust. I believe the UK should be both a reliable long-term partner and a critical friend to central Asia. Geopolitically it is an important region, with a young and dynamic population. For example, more than 60% of Uzbekistan’s well-educated population are under 30 years old. Younger people in central Asia want an alternative to both Moscow and Beijing. They want greater access to our English language and our universities. They want to strengthen their civil society and free media. The Minister will also probably know that, currently, many Uzbek workers help every autumn with our cherry harvest in Kent.

People I speak to in central Asia would also like greater assistance in establishing a genuinely independent judiciary and modern legal structures. These would assist in the fight against corruption and help to embed reforms. I know that many in Kyrgyzstan in particular would welcome this.

We should learn from the lessons of the recent past and from some of our mistakes in the region. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Putin and the current Russian leadership were able to adopt a pick and mix of unregulated free market economy with pretend so-called managed democracy, without ever allowing genuinely democratic structures and the rule of law to take hold.

Our soft power influence is absolutely key, through the BBC World Service as well as leadership and critical-thinking programmes such as the John Smith Trust and the British Council. For example, having a British Council staff member in the British embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, would make a very real difference very quickly. As I understand it, Kyrgyzstan has just chosen to invest in a 30-year contract with Cambridge University Press for its core school textbooks—we should celebrate that. The Foreign Secretary clearly has many calls on his time, but I strongly recommend a visit to central Asia.

My second point is one that has been mentioned already by many other noble Lords. This is a critical year for Ukraine, especially in the context of the elections in the United States. The series of additional sanctions announced by the Foreign Secretary two weeks ago are very welcome, but we now have to do so much more to inflict real and meaningful damage on the Russian war economy, and I hope that we will continue to work with our G7 and European partners to that effect. Last week, I was at an event in Canterbury with many Ukrainians who asked me whether it was right to continue to provide enough so that Ukraine does not lose but not enough for it to win. I ask the Foreign Secretary the same question.

Putin cannot be allowed to win—that view is shared by all mainstream political parties in the UK. No country should ever have the right to declare that another sovereign country does not have the right to exist. Putin’s world view is based on a distortion of the truth, a reinterpretation of history, populism, authoritarianism and the accumulation of his own personal wealth. It has been hugely convenient for him to use the truly awful wars happening now in Sudan and the Middle East to stir up feelings of resentment against Ukraine in the global South. Just because Putin might not be directly responsible for those other awful wars does not mean that he has not been indirectly involved.

More or less exactly a year ago, I was working in Khartoum, Sudan, just before the dreadful civil war started there. The presence of Russian Wagner mercenaries was clear for all to see; they have caused untold misery for the people of Sudan, so many of whom are now living abroad as refugees. President Zelensky is right to say that this is not just Ukraine’s war; it is now a war against authoritarianism and in favour of the international values of justice, freedom and the rule of law. We must keep supporting Ukraine in this war, however long it takes.

17:27
Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I refer the House to my registered interests as president of Conservative Friends of Israel and director of the UK Abraham Accords Group.

Some three months ago, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary said:

“If we leave Hamas in charge of even a part of Gaza, there will never be a two-state solution because you can’t expect Israel to live next to a group of people that want to do October 7 all over again”.


I would be grateful if he can confirm that this continues to be his position and that of His Majesty’s Government. In asking my questions, I would like him, if possible, to comment on the deeply worrying FCDO seminar that took place last Wednesday, 28 February—“Israel/Gaza: What Next for Hamas?”—with 100 people, including speakers who were clearly at odds with government policy.

Of the five points that are paramount in achieving regional peace, I will highlight three. First, no ceasefire can be achieved until all hostages are released. Like other noble Lords, especially the Foreign Secretary and my noble friend Lord Ahmad, I have spent time with the families of hostages both in Israel and here in the UK. We recoil in horror at the witnesses’ testimony about those held hostage, especially the plight of the young women of the tunnels, who are subject to unspeakable horrors as sex slaves—they must all come home. Having returned from two recent visits to the region—one to the UAE and Bahrain and the other to Israel—it seems to me that the Abraham accords represent a beacon of hope; they have shown promise, but their full potential remains untapped.

Less than one month before 7 October, on 14 September, I initiated a debate on the third anniversary of the Abraham accords. I asked His Majesty’s Government what role they were playing in the accords:

“What proactive steps are we taking”?—[Official Report, 14/9/23; col. GC 215.]


What conversations are we having with Arab states? I asked how many officials in the FCDO were engaged in the Abraham accords activities. I say to my noble friends the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Middle East that we really have to do better.

On 15 January, I paid tribute to the Kingdom of Bahrain for playing an important role in the coalition against the Houthis in the Red Sea. The security and stability of the Red Sea are vital for the UK and all our global allies. Last weekend, the UK-registered carrier the “Rubymar” was sunk off the coast of Yemen by Houthi terrorists who have vowed to continue to target UK shipping. The Houthis’ deputy foreign minister, Hussein al-Ezzi, said:

“Yemen will continue to sink more British ships, and any repercussions or other damages will be added to Britain’s bill”.


A very short distance from Yemen’s violent and chaotic coast lies Somaliland. Somaliland has 850 kilometres of Red Sea coastline with no piracy; this can be attributed to the pro-western democracy that is Somaliland. On 1 January, Ethiopia, a key partner of the UK, signed an MoU with Somaliland, in which Ethiopia formally recognises Somaliland in return for it giving Ethiopia naval and commercial access to the Red Sea. This has been ratified by the Ethiopian parliament and other prominent African nations are seriously discussing this. I urge my noble friend the Foreign Secretary to look at these positive developments with a sense of urgency.

The energy that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has put into the areas of foreign policy in Ukraine, the Middle East and beyond has been abundantly clear. It is a dangerous world, as we have all heard, being made more dangerous every day by the actions of the regime of Tehran and its proxies—whether Hamas, Hezbollah or the Houthis. But there appears to be an opportunity for the UK to play a significant role in the Horn of Africa. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has a unique role, after hosting the global Somali conference in 2014. The UK is also the penholder at the UN on Somalia and Somaliland and is therefore perfectly positioned to take the lead.

Putting Somalia back together has not worked. The world has changed and has moved on since our “one Somalia” policy, born in 1961. It is time our policy changes too. I hope my noble friend the Foreign Secretary will find the time to recognise and uphold Somaliland’s contributions to regional stability and security, ensuring that its vital role is not overlooked or undervalued.

17:32
Lord Young of Old Windsor Portrait Lord Young of Old Windsor (CB)
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My Lords, next Monday, we mark Commonwealth Day, and we look ahead to the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa this October.

It is no secret that the Commonwealth is an organisation that was close to the heart of Her late Majesty the Queen, as indeed it is to her son, now our King, both of whom I was privileged to accompany to many Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings over the years in my role as private secretary. The late Queen put it in a typically enigmatic way when she said:

“It is easy enough to define what the Commonwealth is not. Indeed this is quite a popular pastime”.


None the less, I will make two brief comments about the UK’s present relationship with the Commonwealth.

First, I believe Samoa represents a great opportunity for the Commonwealth to rekindle its sense of purpose, and the UK can play an important role in assisting with that. The fact that world leaders will gather in October in this Polynesian island country is a fitting illustration of the geopolitical importance of the Commonwealth, not least as we contemplate a growing Indo-Pacific focus. One country that has certainly got this message is China. Beijing has reportedly invested more than £685 billion across 42 Commonwealth member states since 2005, and many of your Lordships will have seen first-hand evidence of major Chinese infrastructure projects when visiting Commonwealth countries.

There is much that the UK can do in the run-up to Samoa to influence the Commonwealth’s future trajectory, including in the areas of intra-Commonwealth trade and investment; tackling climate change and biodiversity; youth opportunity and education; and promoting our shared democratic values.

There is a huge inherent opportunity in an organisation which can tap into the ingenuity and imagination of a third of the world’s population, including 1.5 billion people under 30. It is the global strategic equivalent of sending a space probe to Pluto powered just by two Duracell batteries, using the gravitational force of the planets to slingshot us on our way. I detect an increasing appetite within Commonwealth countries for fresh and equitable relationships, which in the long run improve us all. It is an opportunity too good to ignore.

Secondly, I know I am not alone in my concern about the current status of the Commonwealth Games. We all know that these “friendly games” have the benefit of being less commercial than other international contests, give non-Olympic sports such as netball a place on the world stage, and allow smaller countries, including the UK’s home nations, a chance to get their athletes on the scene. In the immediate term, I hope the United Kingdom is doing all it can to encourage the Commonwealth Games Federation to work out a viable resolution for 2026 and 2030. For the longer term, perhaps now is the time to start exploring fresh ideas for the staging of the Games, perhaps—as has happened recently with other contests—different countries, cities or states holding different sporting events during a given year.

We often say of institutions in this country: “If it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t invent it”. With the Commonwealth, it is the other way round. It is an institution you would love to have if it did not exist, but I fear we are somehow in danger of taking it for granted.

I have first-hand personal experience of the Foreign Secretary’s long-standing commitment to and interest in matters relating to the Commonwealth, which are shared by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. But I hope we can receive some reassurance today that they will ensure that the “C” in FCDO continues to carry as much weight as the “F” and the “D”.

17:37
Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young. I endorse the comments made by many speakers about the great respect that we have for the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Ahmad. I note that it is not only the anniversary of the Fulton speech by Winston Churchill but the 71st anniversary of the death of Stalin—even tyrants are mortal.

Foreign policy is domestic policy, and vice versa. What happens in Gaza hits the streets of Leeds; what happens in Kashmir directly affects attitudes and events in Bradford. It is impossible to put foreign and domestic policies in separate compartments, which is why it is vital that the UK does not create a credibility gap when thinking that what we do in London is not noticed beyond these islands.

In the last 10 years, we have seen the absurdity of speaking of our neighbours as if they could not understand us—I witnessed Brexit—and of demanding adherence by Russia, China, Sudan and so on to the rule of law while being ready in this place to drop commitments made by us. I think that three Bills now have come to this House with a cover note saying that the Secretary of State cannot guarantee that our obligations under human rights legislation, for example, are being met. This country has achieved a credibility over decades, especially in the 80 years since the end of World War II, for honest diplomacy and pragmatic integrity. What takes decades to create can disappear in days when that integrity, or at least reputation for integrity, is compromised or questioned.

As this debate will be wide-ranging and the time limit is short, I will focus briefly on three points: security, strife and Sudan. First, national security is achievable only if and when our neighbours are also sure of their security, which is why the absence of a Palestinian state remains a bleeding wound. Equally, any achievable peace in the Middle East depends on Israel also being secure. This must be resolved diplomatically and politically, not militarily or by terrorism. The current conflict will sow the seeds of the next five generations of violence and vengeance. Our response to it matters more than ever.

Secondly, the integrated review refresh of 2023 moved us from the language of:

“Global Britain in a Competitive Age”


to

“a more contested and volatile world”.

This is too tame: the world, wherever you look, is now conflictual. It has taken only three years to shift from competitive to contested to conflictual. Policy decisions that are made now must consider long-term aims but be capable of sustained investment, not purely reactive to the immediate. Ukraine might look different now and Russia might be behaving differently if Putin’s aggression in 2014, despite many warnings, had been met with more than a shrug.

Finally, Sudan: it is symptomatic of an age dominated by audio-visual news cycles that the latest conflict takes the headlines. This means that immense suffering falls off our radar too easily. My diocese has been closely linked with Sudan for nearly half a century. The collapse into civil war is appalling. More people, estimated to be between 9 million and 11 million, have been displaced here than anywhere else on the planet. Not only are we witnessing genocide in Darfur again but the whole country now faces extreme famine. Even at the basic level of self-interest, we cannot complain about large-scale migration to the shores of England and other European countries if we do not work with partners collectively to address the fundamental causes of this migration. These are usually climate change, conflict and cruelty, but global crises demand global responses.

I urge the Government to invest more in stopping the drivers of conflict and insecurity in the first place, prioritising conflict prevention rather than resolution alone.

17:42
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, if Hamas released the hostages and came out from hiding in the tunnels, the immediate crisis would end. The world is concentrating on Gaza, and the need for humanitarian aid is the basis for the urgent calls from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for more funding. But the solution to the Israel-Palestine issue is not being progressed.

UNRWA is the problem, not the solution. It has not resettled a single person since 1948, whereas the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with fewer personnel and far less funding, has resettled 50 million people. UNRWA’s mission is not to help people but to perpetuate a political conflict—that is, to keep the so-called refugees in a state of misery until they can return to Israeli territory. That would mean the destruction of Israel and the obliteration of its 7 million Jews. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we say “never again”. The Hamas invasion of 7 October was, to Hamas, a foretaste of its declared aim to remove those 7 million.

The only way to resettle refugees and bring peace is to treat Palestinians like all the other refugees in the world. As with millions of others post war, there was upheaval and new national boundaries. They cannot return any more than Jews can return to their former homes in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. The host countries where the refugees are resident must take over their care, resettlement and full civil liberties, just as every other civilised country does eventually with displaced persons.

UNRWA should be abolished, leaving aid for the many other organisations operating in Gaza. Unfortunately, the iniquitous effects that UNRWA has created will last. That is the poisoning of the mind of future generations in the way that it has taught Palestinian children to hate, to believe lies about Israel and to believe that they can return there through violence. It has given make-believe employment to thousands of Palestinians. It continues the myth that there are millions of Palestinian refugees, when in fact they are not Palestinian and not refugees. It is a bottomless pit into which countries pour money—not only with no return, but money that has been used to murder and take hostage and starve ordinary Palestinians of the necessaries of life.

It is noteworthy that the rich Arab countries that surround Israel do not reach out to support their Palestinian neighbours. The major donors are the US, followed by Germany and then the UK. Where have the millions—indeed, billions—of dollars gone? They have gone directly to Hamas to build tunnels, secure armaments and keep Hamas leaders in luxury. The ordinary poverty-stricken Palestinian has seen none of it, and the state donors are curiously reluctant to follow through to see where their dollars are going. By funding UNRWA, the international community has freed Hamas to spend on terror rather than health and education. UNRWA has no financial control and no audit; it suffers from mismanagement, sexual misconduct and nepotism. Support for UNRWA contradicts the UK’s policy of a peaceful two-state solution.

UNRWA employees were undoubtedly involved in the horrific attacks on Israel on 7 October; some were members of Hamas or Islamic Jihad. At least another 1,000 UNRWA employees have ties with Hamas. Even more of them have praised the 7 October attacks, expressed anti-Semitism and praised terrorism.

What should be done? The UN refugee agency should take over the settlement of Palestinians in the countries where they live, and the right of return should be abandoned. The millions who live in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere should have citizenship and full rights in those countries, as would be the case for refugees in any other country of refuge. They are not refugees in any case, being neither born in nor driven out of the land of their birth.

Will the Minister accept that the continued existence of UNRWA fuels terrorism, twists the minds of future generations and perpetuates the refugee illusion, rather than putting an end to it? The end of UNRWA would be the beginning of peace.

17:46
Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech; I agree with her about a great many things, including what she has just said. I am also pleased to see my noble friend Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, in his place. It is rather too late for me to welcome him here, but I welcome somebody of his stature representing the United Kingdom abroad.

Perforce, I will be brief. I would like to give the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, my support in his dissection of the integrated review refresh of last year. I also say to my noble friend Lady Goldie, who is not in her place, that, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop knows, there is more rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repenteth as she has done over defence spending. It is a pity she did not say that when she was a Minister, but I will upbraid her for it in person.

I will touch briefly on three current conflicts; first, Ukraine, about which a great deal has been said. This war in Europe is the most serious for nearly 80 years. The war is a mixture of World War I attrition and 21st-century high-tech drones and the like. I congratulate Boris Johnson—I do not often—who was of course a great school friend of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I also congratulate the UK Government on their steadfast support for Ukraine in the last two years, but we must continue to do this and do more. Are we pressing our allies, particularly France, Germany and the United States, to do more? They must do more, not sit on their hands and say, “It is all very good but a bit difficult”. This war affects global security and prosperity. The United States, Europe, Africa and India all need to understand that.

Our munitions have been extremely welcome and invaluable, but now they are totally depleted for our use or Ukraine’s. Is my noble friend pressing for a dramatic increase in industrial production, to move away from the mindset of the peace dividend? My noble friend may say that defence is not his brief, but he will be listened to, and he will know well the dictum of von Clausewitz in “Vom Kriege”, or “On War” for those who do not speak German:

“War is the continuation of policy with other means”—


and for foreign policy with defence, I suggest.

On Gaza and the Middle East, the UK has again been steadfast. It is a dreadful, possibly intractable situation. I cannot think of anybody who is not very concerned, to put it mildly, about the death of many civilians in Gaza, but Hamas could end this war tomorrow if it gave up the hostages and stopped attacking Israel. Perhaps we could then allow for a more peaceful, long-term solution to emerge, probably based on a two-state solution in which Hamas disappears, along with the illegal settlements in the West Bank and some of the ultra-Orthodox pressure on the Government. Perhaps we would get more reasonable—or moderate, shall we say —Governments in both Palestine and Israel.

Finally, on the situation in Yemen with Iran and the Houthis, the prosperity of the world is under threat. It is disappointing to see so few countries defending the shipping routes in the Gulf. My noble friend Lord Ahmad spoke of international responses, but as I understand it, the only response has been from the United States, helped by us with one ship. We need much more than that to defend the shipping lanes in the Gulf.

Moving on, perhaps I may quote a predecessor of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary from some 30 years ago, Lord Hurd, who said that we punch above our weight in foreign affairs, and President Theodore Roosevelt, who said some 100 years ago, in a much better- known quotation:

“Speak softly and carry a big stick”.


We spent the defence peace dividend several times over and we have no big stick left. Our allies know this, and the United States and NATO say it. As I speak, we are reducing our defence in terms of numbers of troops, numbers of ships and numbers of aircraft. I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer say recently that he wants to dramatically increase defence spending over the next 15 years. That is not good enough; our needs are now.

I support the Conservative Government. I have supported my party. I have been loyal—mostly—through thick and thin over 32 years; quite a lot of it has been rather thin, to be honest. I do not believe that a Government led by the Opposition would do any better, but I say to my noble friend the Foreign Secretary that our interests, our society, our values and our security are all threatened. We must spend more on defence, because the first duty of government is, as always, the defence of the realm.

17:52
Baroness Goudie Portrait Baroness Goudie (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for all the work he has done over the last years, in particular just recently, on sexual violence in conflict by visiting countries that many people would be quite afraid to go to in order to negotiate with people and keep this agenda going, and for the other acts he has done to promote women and girls’ education and employment around the world. I do not think many people in this House know the work he has done. He is always there, and if he cannot be, he is on Zoom or something else. He has done magnificent work for this country, and I know that, across the divide, people will give him that support.

With regard to foreign policy, the Government have listed their intention to prioritise building resilience and strengthening security, domestically and abroad. Important progress has been made in recent weeks via the Windsor Framework and with the Irish Parliament. I remind the Government to respond to the findings of the inquiry into regulatory divergence and the Windsor Framework.

The UK holds a prominent position as a leader in soft power. It is important that we leverage this influence to cultivate opportunities for collaboration among nations, sharing our values in pursuit of the common good. We must always keep talking and keep all the doors open. This is often highlighted by the sustainable development goals. Hard power seems to be the name of the game these days, and we can see where that has got us. Rather than succumbing to the allure of strongman policies, we must harness the positive soft power of our culture, values and ideas to forge enduring connections and facilitate dialogue across borders, creating a more peaceful and stable world for us all.

The impact of recent global shocks, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, and climate-related catastrophes, has led to a concerning decline in the UN Human Development Index for the first time in 38 years. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, on his pivotal role in fostering consensus around development, particularly by upholding Britain’s commitment to the 0.7% target set by the Labour Government. However, the recent decision by the Government, under the direction of Prime Minister Sunak, to reduce the development target to 0.5% and slash funding from vital aid programmes is deeply concerning. Such actions are counterproductive if our aim is to address vulnerabilities and promote resilience. Instead, we must adopt a long-term approach that addresses vulnerabilities at their roots and reduces our susceptibility to crises and hostile actors.

It is imperative to recognise that women and girls have borne a disproportionate burden of the consequences of past decisions. The intersections of climate change, conflict, and gender inequality highlight the urgent need to meaningfully reinstate development aid before harm occurs. Although there is a growing acknowledgment of the unique vulnerabilities women face in environmental and humanitarian crises, their voices continue to be marginalised in the decision-making process. I ask the Government to continue the approach that no decisions of any type should be made without women at every table.

Conflict exacerbates existing inequalities in societies and breaks down social networks, making women more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. Research shows that, in fragile and conflicted countries, only 44% of women are likely to be in paid work, compared with 66% of men. Globally, women are less likely to have a bank account, to participate in the labour market, to have access to social security or to be entrepreneurs, and they are paid less than men. However, they are more likely to work in informal and vulnerable labour markets, and to undertake unpaid work that is vital for a working economy.

We cannot forget the women of Afghanistan especially, who are subject to a cruel form of gender apartheid. Decisions to bar girls from middle school through to higher education have led to the closure of schools and the erosion of education and opportunities. What will this do to the society of that country, which we hope will one day be at peace and working with us? Movement restrictions and a lack of access to healthcare facilities and legal safeguards have left women at risk of serious harms, especially in maternal and reproductive health, and vulnerable to violence and abuse. Women’s ability to engage in gainful employment outside their homes has been significantly curtailed, which not only undermines their economic independence but contributes to rising poverty rates among Afghan families and to suicide.

When women in emerging settings are held back, the entire process of peacebuilding and reconstruction is jeopardised. Stable economies are paramount to the transition that a country makes from war to peace and can help prevent conflict breaking out in the first place.

I ask the Foreign Secretary to outline the steps being taken to ensure the meaningful inclusion of women in every aspect of decision-making about Britain’s overseas involvement and development spending. Each decision that crosses his desk must be evaluated based on its impact on the empowerment and success of women and girls worldwide. I urge him to consult resources such as the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s index to gain an insight into the pressing needs of women globally. I ask him to support the request from my friend, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, for more funding for the peace team in the Foreign Office.

17:59
Baroness Neville-Jones Portrait Baroness Neville-Jones (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. I join others in thanking my noble friend the Foreign Secretary and the ministerial team in the Foreign Office for the impact they are bringing to British foreign policy. We have been asked to keep it short. I want to make just two points.

The first is about the increasingly turbulent and risk-laden era in which we live and which shows no sign of abating—on the contrary. The social and economic disturbance that western societies, and others, are encountering as the result of the major technological revolution we are undergoing is compounded by aggressive challenge from ideological competitors. It has been said, as a result, that we are in a pre-war situation. That description certainly has the effect of waking people up to the dangers of the highly unstable situation we now confront. It also recalls, perhaps with some justice, the folly of delay, producing the inadequate responses which characterised the 1930s.

However, I do not think it wise to talk about a pre-war world. The use of the term pre-war implies that we are on a treadmill to war, but this is the case only if we allow it to happen, and we must not do so. We need to build our defences, increase our capacity to deter our enemies and opponents, and convince them of the seriousness of our purpose and our resolve to prevent war. That is not appeasement; it is the opposite and, as others have said, it involves spending more money on defence now.

That brings me to my second point. In this House, and I think more widely in this country, we understand the supreme importance for our own security of a victorious Ukraine. We know that Russia does not need to succeed in her maximal ambition of controlling the whole of Ukrainian territory to deprive Ukrainians of the integration into the western economy and institutions that they wish and to create an indefinite and not so frozen conflict in the middle of our continent. I cannot imagine much more dangerous than that.

Although I have great respect for the judgment of the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts, I disagree rather strongly with the notion that it would be good to accept a so-called armistice in the middle of Europe. It would demonstrate that we had lost control of events, and we cannot allow that to happen. It would certainly invite third parties to take advantage of our demonstration of weakness—Taiwan springs to mind.

It is good to learn from the press—and I hope it is true—that the Government are discussing with European partners how to aid Ukraine should the American arms package not pass Congress. I would like to take that a little further. I think the time has come when contingency planning could and should go further. I hope the Foreign Secretary will tell me that his department has started to think about what should happen when the war ends. Sadly, that is not going to be soon and, sadly, the longer the war, the more profound the consequences are likely to be.

That is a very good reason for thinking about the consequences. You might say that that is an ex-planner speaking but, if one recalls, during the Second World War—and fortunately we are not in a global war; I trust we will never get there—thinking about where the world was heading that we wanted to create started very early. It is not too soon to think about where we want to be at the end of the war.

There is another reason, which is that if you want to take measures during the course of a war you need to be very clear that as a result you are not going to engage in actions that you will regret subsequently, which, with the wisdom of hindsight, you should have realised would have worked to your disadvantage. The sanction money is a good example. We will need to get how we handle that right so that we are not put in a difficult position when it comes to the end of the conflict. I could cite other examples.

I do not want to take the argument any further and my point, in any case, is a general one. It is not too early to go beyond the slogan of supporting Ukraine whatever it takes—which is what we have been saying—to thinking through what our post-war aims ought to be and how to realise them. It may be argued that disagreement will arise out of this and it is a risky thing to do but I would argue that hiding from an unavoidable agenda would be a bigger mistake.

18:04
Baroness Cox Portrait Baroness Cox (CB)
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My Lords, I try to use the privilege of speaking in your Lordships’ House to be a voice for people whose voices are not often heard. It is with a very heavy heart today that I will speak a little about one of the world’s forgotten, or largely forgotten, crises: Nigeria.

In central Nigeria, millions of people have been displaced by intercommunal violence. The death count has risen to 22,000 in 15 years, with countless others suffering life-changing injuries. Many children cannot go to school and so have no education. Families have been torn apart by insecurity and fear. The crisis is not often reported in our news media, but militias drawn from the Islamist Fulani ethic group—I emphasise that not all Fulani are Islamist—are now very well armed. Their cache of weapons includes automatic weapons, laser sights, machetes, petrol bombs and incendiary chemicals used to burn houses. They have carried out hundreds of attacks on Christian villages.

My small not-for-profit organisation, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART—has made numerous fact-finding visits to dozens of these villages. I have witnessed first-hand the ruins of homes, farmland, food stores and churches. During my most recent visit, I heard detailed accounts of the deliberate targeting and slaughter of children, a 98 year-old woman being burned alive, and people being hacked by machetes as they ran from rapid gunfire. One survivor, who I will call Beatrice, told me:

“I returned in the morning but everything was burned. I went to my home and saw my mother and siblings butchered and burnt”.


Despite the scale and nature of the killings, victims receive almost no support from the Nigerian Government or the international community. Neither the UK Government nor the US Government have provided adequate humanitarian assistance to central Nigeria; nor has any member of the EU or African Union, or any of the UN relief agencies operating in Nigeria. Aid for Nigeria is directed mainly to the north-east or the north-west of the country, so displaced families across the Middle Belt are often left to fend for themselves. As HART’s local partner, the Reverend Canon Hassan John, told me before today’s debate when I asked him what his views were:

“I can say categorically that none of these villages have received security or humanitarian assistance from the Government of Nigeria, the UK Government or anywhere else. Victims of conflict are forced to rely on aid from local churches or small NGOs, or they receive no aid at all”.


I am told that the FCDO has responded to the crisis with support for a handful of small projects to promote interfaith dialogue. It has also launched the five-year SPRiNG programme to assess the root causes of violence. These are steps in the right direction. However, such a tiptoe response from the UK does not reflect the urgency of the crisis in central Nigeria. The rate of killings, abductions and land grabs is escalating fast. The longer we tolerate these atrocities, the more we embolden the perpetrators; we give them a green light to continue their killings with impunity.

I ask the Minister whether His Majesty’s Government will encourage the Government of Nigeria to respond more effectively to protect the civilians in their own land suffering so horrendously in Nigeria’s Middle Belt region and in other parts of the country too, of which, sadly, I do not have time today to identify the problems.

18:08
Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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My Lords, nearly three and a half years after the ratification of the trade and co-operation agreement with the EU, we are at a critical juncture. It is a moment for reflection and, more importantly, for constructive engagement between the United Kingdom and the European Union, still our nearest ally and largest trading partner.

The intervening years have, regrettably, been marked by disagreements and a palpable erosion of trust but this trajectory is beginning to change and I commend the Prime Minister for his role in the Windsor Framework agreement. His success exceeded expectations and stands as a testament to what can be accomplished through negotiations marked by sincerity and a willingness to compromise. This framework not only addresses the immediate concerns of the people and businesses of Northern Ireland but safeguards the integrity of our union and the Good Friday agreement while respecting the EU single market. The Windsor Framework allows us to embark upon a new chapter characterised by closer co-operation and renewed trust.

We have already associated with Horizon Europe, the EU’s flagship research programme, and Copernicus, but there is, of course, more to do. I greatly welcomed the refresh of the Government’s integrated review last year. It addressed the Europe-shaped hole of the previous version, reaffirmed the Euro-Atlantic region as the core priority and, significantly, talked openly about the benefits of working with the institutions of Europe.

However, the TCA is not without its shortcomings. Negotiated under time constraints, it necessitated the disentanglement of complex political, economic and legal ties. At its core, it is a free trade agreement, yet it largely omits provisions for services and foreign policy co-operation—areas where there is considerable scope for enhancement, and where we here have much to offer.

The forthcoming review is scheduled for 2025. This period coincides with the renewal or review of key provisions, including those related to data adequacy, fisheries and energy. This is an opportune moment to re-evaluate and enhance our partnership. We must approach this review with ambition, aiming to strengthen co-operation for the mutual benefit of UK and EU businesses and consumers alike. But this co-operation requires realistic and politically viable proposals. Although there are merits in rejoining a customs union or single market, there is currently little willingness on either side for the UK to do so.

Europe and the western world are contending with instability and geopolitical challenges, with Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine serving as a reminder of the critical importance of European unity and co-operation. Yet we have no formal mechanisms for foreign and defence policy co-operation—an obvious gap in the TCA. We really must change this. I also suggest a new framework participation agreement, allowing the UK to engage selectively with EU operations, and maintaining our strategic autonomy while fostering collaboration. Additionally, a strategic partnership agreement, like that between the EU and Canada, would formalise areas of consensus and provide a structured basis for cooperation. Outside the EU, but with European partners, we should expand the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force to include like-minded nations such as Poland.

Horizon Europe runs until 2027. The successor programme, FP10, is already being discussed in Brussels and capitals in Europe. We have no role in the decision-making process, but that should not stop us working with like-minded EU member states to try to influence that programme.

Regrettably, the Partnership Council has convened only twice since its establishment. Given the dynamic and important nature of our relationship with the EU, more frequent meetings are essential to address emerging issues and find new opportunities for working together.

On trade, our businesses continue to grapple with a plethora of non-tariff barriers, further exacerbated as they now have to deal with 27 jurisdictions. In the services sector, particularly for professionals undertaking short-term work in the EU, the current patchwork of regulations presents significant obstacles. I believe both sides should revisit the TCA to see if we can offer more flexibility, as the current list of activities not requiring a work permit or visa is narrowly drawn.

The forthcoming TCA review should not be merely an administrative exercise but a pivotal opportunity to enhance the UK-EU relationship in a manner that reflects our shared interests and the changing geopolitical landscape. The Conservative European Forum has recently concluded a year-long inquiry into the TCA and our relationship with the EU. Our report, due next week, will set out recommendations aimed at enhancing the economic prosperity and collective security of both the UK and the EU. I will ensure that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary receives a copy and would urge him to pursue our recommendations with our European counterparts.

18:14
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, last week I met a Minister from Ukraine, who told us that North Korea had last month supplied Russia with a million shells while Ukraine had received just a few thousand from its allies. She was displaced from Crimea and wondered whether her young child would grow up in a free Ukraine. She was determined to restore Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure and build resilience, but she wanted to know how we were going to help.

The free world—even Europe by itself—has the capacity to outproduce Russia several times over, yet what are we doing to achieve that? What are the British Government doing to step up our production capacity, and encourage allies to do the same, to meet Ukraine’s immediate needs? At the same time, recent information suggests that components from UK and EU defence equipment are getting to Russia through third countries. What are we doing to stop that happening?

Given the global nature of conflicts today, countries in the global South are assessing the likely outcome and wondering where their interests may lie. I very much appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, about Russia’s intervention in Africa. Both Russia and China are actively trying to isolate the free world from Africa. Recent reports reveal that, with the demise of Wagner, the group has been reinvested in the Russian Expeditionary Corps—an agency of the Russian state backed by billions of dollars.

Undemocratic, authoritarian Governments are being offered support to suppress challenges to their power in exchange for mineral rights—in other words, power to suppress democracy. Countries identified include the Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as Libya, north of the Sahara. The group is also active in several other countries, and Russia is increasing its influence in South Africa. This strengthens pro-Kremlin support at the UN and extends authoritarian rule and the suppression of democracy. What steps are the UK Government taking to counter this advance and, in particular, to support democracy and poverty reduction-focused development?

Cuts in UK aid to Africa, the DfID/FCO merger and the diversion of funds to the fallout from Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine mean that the UK has lost influence and trust right across the continent. UK aid to Africa has fallen year on year from a peak of £2,989 million in 2019 to £1,240 million in 2022. That dramatic cut means programmes cancelled, expert aid deliverers sacked, development partners in poor countries left bereft, poverty increased and lives lost. Until this policy switch, we had built up a reputation as reliable partners, in it for the long term, building up relationships and underpinning resilience—all that has been trashed. When I asked him last month about aid in Africa, the Foreign Secretary said that it was being increased, but, as I have just indicated, the increase will not cover a fraction of what has already been lost—and we have to rebuild trust and delivery as well.

It is only too easy for Russia and China to play on the evils of colonialism while offering a modern colonialism of their own. If we are to tackle the challenge of poverty in Africa to realise the continent’s potential for its people, it will be by working with local partners, in the public and private sectors, with sustained, long-term commitment. We have to rebuild trust to know that that is forthcoming. Development possibilities depend on aid, trading and public investment, often building from the grass roots, in countries where the economies depend on millions of small businesses. We need coherent, long-term strategy. I have to challenge the Government and ask whether that is even possible given their record.

More than 500 million people are living in absolute poverty in Africa, yet this is a continent rich in resource and potential. The UK should engage in the exemplary way that it has in the past, not to exploit but to help the people of Africa, especially in countries where there is a legacy of mutual good will, and where Russia and China have not yet got their teeth in quite as deep as they have in other countries, so that those countries can build their own futures of peace and prosperity. This is surely a challenge and a worthy ambition for the UK. What are we doing to achieve it?

18:18
Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, I start my contribution by saying a huge thank you to my two colleagues on the Front Bench and their families. The amount of travel they have undertaken, and the commitment they have shown, is an example to all of us, and in particular to some other countries around the world.

Just under a year ago, I brought a big debate to this very Chamber, the title of which was

“Climate change in developing countries”.

That arose from a UN report, the final part of which said that the cash flows to help developing countries cut their emissions must be raised by six times their current levels. I gave a number of examples.

One example I gave was the Falklands and the situation there. I know my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has been there recently. In fact, I read in the Independent that he stated that

“if they can responsibly extract hydrocarbons”—

which is a project called Sea Lion—

“that can be part of that zero because of course we’re still going to need oil and gas in the short term while we transition. I think that’s an important point to make. It’s net zero, not zero”.

So there is this new project, and I hope my noble friend will influence his colleagues in Cabinet to give some moral and sort of financial backing, as final lender if necessary, for that imaginative project.

Secondly, there is the Caribbean, which views with great care and worry the annual hurricane season. I declare an interest: I have family in the Cayman Islands. It is pretty devastating when it hits. My understanding is that we now provide and pay for some special resources to Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, and Saint Lucia through a gentleman or woman called the climate adviser. But my question to my noble friend is: why is that not extended to the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos, and Bermuda, which equally suffer from these difficult hurricanes?

I will move on to a country I know probably better than any other. I served there in 1963 for the Reckitt & Colman Group, and I started the all-party parliamentary group. Of course, I refer to Sri Lanka, a country that has faced incredible problems. On the climate side, the tsunami hit Sri Lanka and the Maldives really hard. I remember my wife and I watching it on Boxing Day and, a few days later, we were out there trying to help them deal with that problem. Over 1,000 people were killed on one railway because of the tsunami. Huge numbers were killed.

The country has been through massive difficulties, some of them of their own making and some of them not—but it does not matter: it is an important part of the Commonwealth. I thank our Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for the way it has stood by it, questioning it very hard at times. But, underneath, the Sri Lankans know that they are part of the same family.

Two things are happening now. There is the talk—and, more than talk, work being done—on a truth and reconciliation commission. In my judgment, that is to be greatly welcomed. I reflect on the late Sir Desmond de Silva, a great lawyer, as evidence that the quality of lawyer in Sri Lanka is second to none. As it is set up, it will of course be across the ethnic groups—it has to be. There are people there who are thoroughly objective.

There is still one challenge: that country lives by good tourism. It is recovering now, but one element that is missing is those who are 75 and over. They are, on the whole, British citizens. It is the FCDO comments on that country that currently cause me concern because they refer to the fact that protests are going on when they are not. They say that there is a fuel shortage, but there is not and has not been for 18 months. They also say that there are other difficulties of a terrorist nature, which we have not had for five years. So can my noble friend look at that guidance? It helps that particular age group because, at least from surveys that have been done, 80% of it looks at that guidance. Perhaps I could bring a couple of people from the newly set-up Experience Travel Group, which is private sector, to perhaps talk to a junior Minister about amending that.

18:24
Lord Moore of Etchingham Portrait Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, as has been said today, foreign affairs and what happens here are becoming more closely linked. So I hope I will not need to apologise to your Lordships for making a partially domestic plea in this debate. Ten days ago, I was in Kyiv. The mood there is anxious, but the determination is great and there is frustration, which many noble Lords share, that not nearly enough weapons from us, EU countries and above all the United States are reaching Ukraine. The American elections could well prolong this agony until November and even beyond. That is a frighteningly long time. I am afraid there is evidence, particularly in Germany, that some Europeans are taking this delay not as a spur to action but as a cue to hedge their bets.

However, what I also found in Kyiv was that Britain’s reputation still stands high in Ukraine, an impression reinforced by what was reported by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury—I am sorry I did not run into him in the streets of Kyiv. We were the first major country to support Ukraine during the Russian invasion of 2022, and our support remains solid. Ukrainian morale is bolstered by the knowledge that not only our Government but so many British people are active supporters. We lead the world in our charitable and voluntary backing for Ukraine.

Such popular backing is not merely a pleasant extra. In this grim war, morale matters particularly greatly, as does practical and humanitarian help, which goes beyond the supply of weapons. So, as a matter of policy, not just decency, our Government should actively assist the voluntary efforts that so many of our citizens are making. I am sorry to say that this official backing is not, in practice, very warm, although I should say to the Foreign Secretary that I am not referring to his department in this respect.

We fly the Ukrainian flag over our public buildings, but what goes on inside those buildings can be maddeningly obstructive. I will give two examples from campaigns in which I am involved. The first is the supply of vehicles to Ukraine, chiefly 4x4s repurposed as field ambulances. With Mission Ukraine UK, I helped to deliver one such vehicle to the front last summer, and I saw how they can save lives. In these ambulances, the wounded are pulled out of the line and taken to the nearest stabilisation point. Without such transport, many more die. More than half of those vehicles that originate outside Ukraine come from Britain, usually delivered by British volunteers. British number plates are a frequent sight near the front. I have here on my phone—obviously I cannot show all your Lordships—a new picture of a British-plated pickup beside the ravaged town of Avdiivka.

I am delighted to report that, now, after months of prevarication, the Mayor of London has at last backed the proposal of the umbrella group ULEZ for Ukraine. From 18 March, all vehicles destined for scrappage under his controversial ULEZ scheme can, if the owners wish, be handed over to the charity British-Ukrainian Aid. The ULEZ scheme attracts 100 vehicles a day, so it seems a reasonable guess that 3,000 vehicles from it could ultimately end up in Ukraine. Such numbers would represent a breakthrough in a war where the average lifespan of a field ambulance is four to six weeks. As I say, this has been hard work, but there is real progress.

The other task—less far advanced—is boats for Ukraine. Their purpose is to cross the great Dnipro river, and they are at present the only means by which troops and supplies can reach the potential bridgeheads that have been gained and held by Ukrainian forces on the eastern bank in recent months. These little RIBs and dinghies, which the narrow channels require, have been making this almost unprotected passage, reinforcing their comrades and bringing back the wounded—it is one of the bravest things that is happening in this war.

British organisations have been assisting for six months, but, as with the 4x4s, the task requires scale. Before Christmas, some volunteers at Mission Ukraine UK had a brilliantly economical idea. In Dover, they observed, there is a big pound of small boats seized from illegal immigrants as they arrive. “Why not turn this waste to good?” they thought. They know a bit of British history: the small boats should become little ships for Ukraine. This is a resonant scheme and, perhaps as a result, it is being stolidly resisted by the bureaucracy. On 31 January, the Home Office refused a direct request for help. One of its lines is that the boats are not seaworthy, to which comes the simple reply: “We know that. It is our job to make them fit for their task. Please just hand them over and we can do the rest”.

Hundreds of boats and engines are wanted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence. Unless the Border Force has secretly destroyed these boats, such numbers are currently idling beneath the white cliffs of Dover. I hope your Lordships will wish to urge the Government that the little ships be released for a last and better voyage.

18:30
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, to his position as Foreign Secretary. He is a rare example of someone who has been Prime Minister and come back as Foreign Secretary—are we not all lucky? However, I have to warn him that he has landed almost immediately on arrival into a problem created by another Prime Minister who became Foreign Secretary: Lord Balfour. The Israel- Palestine problem, or the Israel-Hamas problem, did not start in October 2023; it started in November 1917, and we still have it. Some here may remember Arthur Koestler, who was a communist and then became an ex-communist and was one of the few people who worked on a kibbutz in the 1920s. He said that:

“One nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third”.


That was very much the message. Before Palestine had fallen from the Ottoman Empire, it was signed over to welcome Jews from all over Europe and America to come and make a nation.

It is a fact—I have been reading lots of books about this—that at no stage did we say that the Palestinians had any claim on the territory where they had been living for several centuries. That is the dilemma: two communities of very ancient origin can claim, truthfully and simultaneously, that it is their country and no one else’s. It has taken 100 years to prove who is right, and neither group is. We have to solve this problem because for a long time, not just since October 2023, there has been a lot of killing and damage done to both communities, carried out with a passion that is quite surprising. Obviously, being an atheist, I blame religion for this. The children of Abraham have quarrelled with each other now for about 2,000 years. After all, anti-Semitism was not invented recently; it was invented by the Christians, and the rest we know.

The events of 7 October, which were on a scale that we had not experienced for a long time, partly showed that Hamas was better prepared than it had been until recently. Given the retaliation by Israel in Gaza and elsewhere, is a two-state solution at all feasible to anticipate when passions are so heightened and so much killing has gone on? Twelve hundred people were captured or killed by Hamas in October while 30,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been killed. That is 25 Palestinians for each Israeli. Things are getting completely out of control. The question for the Foreign Secretary is whether a two-state solution is feasible any longer. Given the very peculiar shape of the partition that was decided by the UN, is it at all likely that a peaceful solution can be implemented and that these two communities will be able to live with each other for even a day longer if a ceasefire happens?

I do not know the answer, but there two outcomes are possible. One is that the territory can belong to only one country, and we have to find another solution for the refugees and people living on the Palestinian side. I am presuming that the Palestinians will lose; I do not desire that, but it is currently the situation. Where would the Palestinians go? There are millions of them to resettle. If they cannot resettle in Palestine, where will they go? That is the sort of problem that we are facing due to climate change, for other communities being made homeless because the sea level is rising or whatever.

We need to think about how to stop the Israel-Palestine war right now, as soon as possible, and then about how to rehouse the refugees scattered throughout Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and all those places, as well as people who are being thrown out of Gaza, the West Bank and everywhere else. We face the prospect of two different settlements because it is not possible to think that the two groups could live in a single area. That is going to be a major challenge, and we will have to create some room. I have one slightly quixotic suggestion and then I can sit down. Across the Caspian Sea, there are many Islamic states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and so on. A tremendous amount of money ought to be raised to resettle the Palestinian refugees in that region. If everyone agreed to that, we might have peace for a while.

18:37
Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. I shall focus on two important allies, Ukraine and Israel, which are battling forces intent on undermining the democracy and protections on which our way of life depends. I commend and congratulate my noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lord Cameron—who I am delighted to see return to government—on the Front Bench, on our country’s strong support for both our allies.

The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, encapsulated ideally all the reasons that I would mention for why we must not waiver in our support for Ukraine, and even why we should step up the further support that is essential so that Russia does not prevail. Ukraine is fighting on the front line for western European democracy, especially after the appalling death of Alexei Navalny, to whom I pay the highest tribute. We must stand firm.

Today marks 150 days that the Palestinians have been holding the Israeli hostages, with no Red Cross access despite promises of such during the last humanitarian pause and no willingness even to confirm who is alive. This is the other major threat to our national security and our democratic norms, as is demonstrated by the reaction to the murderous, barbarous Hamas attacks on Israel. Islamist fanatics and threats have been excused or appeased. The western pull-out from Afghanistan may have emboldened the Taliban ideologues seeking to establish a caliphate. Iran and its satellites in Syria, Yemen and Gaza are determined to spread their hate across the western world and undermine our security. Turning a blind eye to Iran’s preaching of medieval jihad as it has slowly taken over these countries—now extending to Gaza, as we see—is a threat to us all.

UNRWA has held a mandate for education and social care for the Palestinian people. However, it has actually engaged in an extreme form of child abuse. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, in all that she has said to call out the problems created by UNRWA. In UNRWA schools, there is glorification of jihad. The teaching materials encourage violence and martyrdom, and the content promotes anti-Semitism and the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel, making the Jewish state full of subhumans. It is part of the problem, and UNRWA should be replaced. Glorifying martyrdom as an essential part of the Islamic faith should not be accepted or tolerated. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s stated aims are the eradication of the Jewish state.

Recognition of a two-state solution while such indoctrination persists and Palestinian leaders refuse to accept Israel’s very existence would be a reward for murder, terror, rape and hostage-taking and an indication, I fear, of western weakness in the face of threats that require strong, determined support for those who believe in our own values. Support for Hamas and the Palestinian terrorists, calls for a ceasefire and chants of “from the river to the sea” amount to support for terrorism and ideological hatred. They amount to anti- Semitism.

In particular, I am exercised by the sexual violence that is being excused. There is no excuse for rape, wanton assault and torture of Israeli women and children. Rape is not resistance. Hamas filmed and glorified its pogrom and violation of Jewish women, yet western supporters here and in other countries ignore this. Sisters Uncut claimed that reports of Hamas sex attacks amounted to Islamophobia and racist weaponisation of sexual violence. Women’s groups that rail against such attacks on all other women have stayed silent. It seems it is #MeToo unless you are a Jew.

Western leaders fail to recognise, at our peril, what a major challenge the current wars in Ukraine and Israel and Gaza pose to the enlightened values we claim to hold dear. I urge my noble friends to stand firm on the right side of history against the forces of anti-Semitism and anti-democracy.

18:43
Lord Mitchell Portrait Lord Mitchell (Lab)
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My Lords, 6 October saw Israel approaching the zenith of its dreams. Following the initial success of the Abraham accords, full diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia were tantalisingly close. After 76 years of rejection by the Arab world, Israel was poised to achieve what she wanted most of all—international acceptance. Cruelly, 7 October changed all that.

At the beginning of January, I went to the Gaza border with the noble Lord, Lord Polak. I saw the mangled bicycles and the smashed barbecues; I saw the bullet holes and the bloodstains on the walls; I read the names and saw the photos of those who were butchered. The people of Israel were traumatised; I was traumatised. They still are; I still am. As I stood there, I looked to my left, and no more than a kilometre away I could see the Gaza border. I could hear the pounding of the shells; I could see the smoke hovering over the buildings, and I could smell the explosives hanging in the air. I felt rage that such barbarity was committed against innocent Israeli civilians, but I also felt horror that such pain and death were being inflicted on the people of Gaza. It is hard to reconcile such inner conflict.

Five months into this war, the hostages have still not been fully released, and Hamas is still functioning. Gaza has been flattened, and its people are starving and desperate. Some 1,700 Israelis are dead, many wounded. Tens of thousands of Palestinians—men, women and, most of all, children—are also dead and wounded. If we condemn one party, we must condemn the other, and I do.

Fifty years ago, the great Israeli statesman, Abba Eban, made the famous quote that the Palestinians

“never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

Sadly, the same can be said of Benjamin Netanyahu today. His “day after” plan was presented last week; it offers the Palestinians nothing more than continual subjugation. The great tragedy of the situation is the craven, ineffective leadership of both the Palestinians and the Israelis. Mahmoud Abbas is old and immovable. I have never heard a brave or constructive word pass his lips; he does the Palestinians no favours. Benjamin Netanyahu is just as immovable. His mantra has always been: not an inch. He portrays himself as Mr Security, and he will never give the Palestinians the state they deserve. For him, it is always about the next election. He has allied himself with an ultra-right-wing clique. Ironically, they too believe in “from the river to the sea”, but in their case meaning the total annexation of the West Bank and Gaza. Both countries need new leaders who have new visions.

Noble Lords may say that all this has been tried before and it has failed. That is true, but the Oslo accords and the negotiations in 2000 came very close. What is different now? First, the parties are exhausted. Secondly, there are now other powers that can guarantee a peace: the US, of course, and Europe too, but also Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan. They all have skin in the game. They could provide the massive funding that could rebuild Gaza and give hope to Palestinians, both in Gaza and in the West Bank. They could also give Israel guarantees by way of a military alliance, and they could ensure that the Palestinian state remains demilitarised for the foreseeable future.

I have been a friend of Israel since its creation 76 years ago. Believe it or not, at the age of five, I remember Israel being created. Nobody could call me a fair-weather friend—I have been there through thick and thin—but now I think it is necessary that it accepts a sustainable ceasefire, works hard to make it permanent and gets back the hostages. I will end by quoting Abba Eban once more:

“History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exhausted all other alternatives”.


We saw that in Northern Ireland. Surely, that moment is now.

18:47
Baroness Fall Portrait Baroness Fall (Con)
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My Lords, 2024 is turning out to be every bit as challenging and volatile as expected. Of the three most pressing geopolitical issues of the day—Ukraine, the Middle East and China—two are live, kinetic even, and China is in the waiting room. Meanwhile, half the world is going to the polls in elections which will profoundly affect us all, from Taiwan at the beginning of the year to India and of course the USA towards the end of the year, elections which also drive a degree of introspection, which is difficult at a time when global leadership is so needed. I can think of few more important moments to be a British Foreign Secretary. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for their leadership, judgment and humanity on the world stage to date. My question today is: what, within the confines of British influence, can we do to help? Given the time constraints, I am going to touch just on the three issues we cannot ignore: Ukraine, the Middle East and China.

Following a bleak winter of stalemate, we arrive at the grim second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine. Navalny’s death is a stark reminder of how those who oppose the Russian regime are treated but also, in Navalny’s bravery, that Putin does not speak for all Russia. However, with Putin’s imminent re-election and Russian troops on the offensive, we must be prepared for things to get worse, all at a time when American willingness to stay the course is called into question. What can be done? First, hold fast: let us remember that Putin is fighting a costly war which he had hoped to win in just a few months. Ukraine may not be winning as it enters its third year, but nor is Putin.

Secondly, we must continue with the reinvigoration and expansion of NATO, which is exactly what Putin never wanted, and be resilient to Trump’s taunts. But that also means meeting the 2% target, especially among those who seek to lead the organisation.

Thirdly, Europe must be wary of losing heart and fast fixes. It has been a while since we have paid the price for peace. There is a danger that those who might seek a Finnish-style resolution, for example, just enable Putin to pause and then come back for more.

Fourthly, I urge the Foreign Secretary to continue to make the case to our American allies that, for a relatively low price, they are fighting a war that we—the West—cannot afford to lose. But we must build our resilience and be prepared to step up, if needs be.

I turn next to the Middle East. I commend the Foreign Secretary on the steadfast support for Israel following the terrible atrocities of 7 October, but also on being the first to call for a sustainable ceasefire, urging caution and prioritising humanitarianism. In this, we have acted as a trusted friend to Israel: one who can always be counted on but who also does not fear to flag concerns. Surely, Rafah is one such. We have a two-week opportunity before Ramadan; this is surely a moment to use our influence and urge Israel not to move into a tiny area inhabited by so many, with nowhere to go.

I also urge the Foreign Secretary to continue work with the Americans to have the hostages released and to bring radical improvement to the humanitarian situation. A two-state solution should be kept firmly on the table, as a long-held British foreign policy objective and, surely, the best hope for securing long-term peace and security for Israel in the region.

I will say a brief word on China. I commend the Government’s policy, which has been largely consistent over the last decade in balancing national security, human rights, sovereignty and economic considerations. The variable here has been Xi’s trajectory, which has hardened in recent years. We are right to be vigilant but, alongside building a credible deterrent to China, we should also be mindful to keep channels of communication open. The episode of the spy balloon showed us that whereas with the Soviet cohort we had a red phone to pick up, we had no such device for Beijing. This is dangerous, especially when some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as climate, require some sort of co-operation.

I end by coming to the US election. We must always remember that we work with our allies whoever they choose as their leader, but we should also be building our resilience and preparing for the unpredictable as we come to the end of the year.

18:52
Baroness Prashar Portrait Baroness Prashar (CB)
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My Lords, immediate crises have understandably been a major part of this debate, but I want to concentrate on our significant role in maintaining and promoting values to strengthen democracies and the rules-based international system, and the importance of necessary investment in nurturing old and new alliances, including engaging with countries not necessarily within the current conflict areas, a number of which noble Lords have mentioned today, in order to build long-term relationships, trust and influence. In the current context it may seem naive to talk about these issues but, in an increasingly complex and unstable world, winning hearts and minds is more important than ever before, as has powerfully been demonstrated in the Russia-Ukraine war.

In an increasingly volatile world, we need to renew our commitment to a rules-based world order and double our efforts with old and new alliances to restore the declining confidence in liberal democracy. New informal alliances are challenging the existing multilateral institutions, becoming more assertive and questioning the efficacy of democracy. Survival, security and prosperity in a hyperconnected world now have new dimensions that require better understanding, new thinking and approaches, and redoubling our efforts with regional and other emerging powers whose actions will determine the future. This will require strategic thinking and a holistic and nuanced approach to international affairs.

Our foreign policy narrative to date has been shaped around our liberal values—a reflection of the values we uphold. They have influenced how others see us. Sadly, this positive perception gets more slender by the day. If we want to continue to be an influential voice and strong player on the world stage, both as a force for good and for our national interest and security, what we do and how we behave at home and overseas has to be consistent with our values. An ability to influence and build trust and relationships lies in the credibility and moral authority that we generate through our actions and behaviours. The way we act and the influence we bring to bear will determine our ability to shape the future.

It will take persistence and courage to develop strategies to win minds and hearts. This will mean maximising effectively all levers at our disposal: military, economic, diplomatic, social and cultural. Intercultural interactions, country engagements and people-to-people dialogue are crucial components of our foreign policy. We have been in this space for nearly 90 years. The British Council, our prime organisation, was founded in the 1930s at a time of global instability, when Britain’s influence was weakened and extreme ideologies were gaining ground. There are parallels with what is happening now and lessons to be learned.

The British Council was born to create friendly knowledge and understanding by developing closer cultural relations. We have been a world leader in this space, well ahead of everyone else and well before the term “soft power” was coined by Joseph Nye. Creating friendly knowledge and understanding is neither soft nor power. In today’s hyperconnected world, it is about mutual exchange and understanding—an essential and strategic part of foreign policy to create a fertile ground for diplomacy and an environment conducive to dialogue, alliances, partnerships for business and security co-operation, supported by policies and behaviours that enforce our respect for the rule of law, democratic processes and so on.

Our internal affairs, our shared societal values and our domestic political context are equally important. They are key in enabling or constraining our ability to forge an effective foreign policy in a fast-changing world. We can be in an enviable strategic position if we build a refreshed strategic relationship with Europe, maintain—but not be subservient to—the transatlantic axis, despite the challenges we face, and engage meaningfully with the Commonwealth and, through it, the global South. Along with that, we have our footprint in more than 100 countries with the British Council.

There is no room for complacency or taking our eye off these long-term issues. They should be an integral part of our overall strategy, backed by proper investment in the diplomatic networks and organisations such as the British Council, the BBC and other cultural and educational organisations. They are an essential component in our foreign policy, not an optional extra. I know that the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Ahmad, are both committed to the issues I have been talking about. I end by paying my tribute to the excellent work that they are doing in difficult circumstances. I look forward to their response.

18:58
Lord Farmer Portrait Lord Farmer (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak today about our Government’s response to global Christian persecution. In 2019 the Bishop of Truro, now the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester and a Member of this House, highlighted in his review the near abandonment of the world’s most persecuted religion by western powers. By the UN’s definition, levels of persecution of Christians around the globe were close to genocidal. Their extinction was imminent in the Middle East. In Iraq, the number of Christians is now 10% of what it was 20 years ago.

Christian persecution is now even worse and still the worst of any religion in the world. One in seven Christians—365 million—face high to extreme levels of persecution for their faith and 80% of all acts of religious persecution are against Christians, which is a staggering proportion. Nearly 5,000 Christians were killed for their faith last year, compared with nearly 3,000 in 2019 when the Truro review was published, and twice as many Christians were forced to flee their homes in 2023 as in 2022.

Any concerted effort to secure freedom of religion or belief barely scratches the surface if Christians are ignored. This is not just because of these numbers. As the Truro review states, the persecution of Christians is “a bellwether for repression” more generally.

I need to mention two major areas. The first is northern Africa, including Nigeria—the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in her very eloquent speech, described what is happening there—and the Sahel. The second is the Indian subcontinent, where Christians are routinely targeted, terrorised and killed in countries which aspire to be, or already are, major trading partners with the UK. Nigeria is the sixth-worst country to live in as a Christian. More Christians are killed there for their faith than in all other countries combined. Armed groups, such as Boko Haram or Islamic State West Africa Province, burn churches and target Christians for rape, murder and kidnap.

Terrorism cannot be solely blamed. Deborah Yakubu was murdered in 2022 after expressing concerns in a college WhatsApp group about discrimination against Christian students. She was stoned, beaten and then burnt on a pile of tyres by a mob. Yet the UK signed a £7 billion trade partnership with Nigeria a matter of weeks ago. I ask my noble friend the Foreign Secretary if such abuses were raised at any point in negotiations.

On the Indian subcontinent, persecution against Christians is rising fast. Speaking about one’s faith is hazardous in most of India, where Christians can be arrested and subjected to physical violence on false charges of forced conversions. Acid attacks, so-called honour killings, mob beatings and executions happen regularly, as do arson attacks on churches. Again, can my noble friend confirm that this Government will use the lever of trade to improve rights to religious freedom?

The Foreign Office’s own assessment in 2022 found that many Truro review recommendations had not been implemented. It cited failure to create both an “early warning mechanism” for religious persecution and a data-gathering system of religious freedom abuses. There was still no name or term for Christian persecution and no meaningful culture shift in the Foreign Office to take it seriously. More positively on the FCDO scorecard, its November 2023 White Paper on UK aid referred to for the first time, and prioritises, persecution on grounds of religion or belief as a driver of poverty. I commend my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell, the Minister who listened to FoRB concerns and included this.

Additionally, the Prime Minister now has a highly effective envoy for freedom of religion or belief, my honourable friend Fiona Bruce. Her important role should be established in statute. Will the Government support the Bill to secure its continuity? It acts as an important counterweight when considering with whom we trade. I understand the pressure that the Government are under to bow down to the god of bilateral trade agreements while sacrificing the weak and vulnerable and our own British values. But where did these values come from? The historian Tom Holland says in Dominion:

“So profound has been the impact of Christianity on the development of Western civilisation that it has come to be hidden from view”.


Without Christianity, where would there be tolerance, respect for others’ views and the impulse to move beyond narrow personal, or indeed national, self-interest?

19:03
Lord Alderdice Portrait Lord Alderdice (LD)
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My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in the register, especially as executive chairman of the Changing Character of War Centre at Pembroke College, Oxford, and as founding chairman of the Concord Foundation, an independent peacebuilding organisation.

As others have commented, our world is spinning into increasing turmoil. It is not just the spreading violence and war; people across the globe believe that they can no longer trust the institutions they depended on for stability. They see widespread corruption and incompetence in their political, faith, intellectual, and even sporting and cultural elites. They see the galloping extension of disruptive technologies they do not understand, and they believe that their leaders neither understand them nor know how to control them. They fear the existential threats of climate catastrophe and global, perhaps even nuclear, war. Addressing these complex issues meaningfully in five minutes is not possible, so I will focus on just three questions for the Foreign Secretary.

First, on the Russia-Ukraine war, I am rather proud of the role our country has played to date in the war effort, going back long before the February 2022 invasion. While our military, intelligence and political contributions have been—and continue to be—very significant, we need to realise that we have a real problem of replacement of our stocks of weapons and ammunition, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, has pointed out. However, whatever the outcome of the war, and we do not know what it will be yet, there will come a stage—I fully recognise that now is not the time—for negotiations that bring it all to a political conclusion. Do His Majesty’s Government agree that, in the meantime, it is important to ensure that there are some protected channels of communication with Russia, which can be of use when the time comes?

Secondly, on Israel-Gaza, we all agree that the Hamas attacks of 7 October were utterly appalling and unforgivable, but that the problems between Israel and the Palestinians did not start in 2023. The military actions taken by Israel after the immediate response are not defending Israel but harming Israel. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, is a wonderful Minister and representative of our country at home and abroad, but I disagree with any suggestion that the international community is united in support of Israel. On the contrary, the actions of the IDF, with the deaths of thousands on thousands of women, children and babies, sick people in hospitals and elderly people, starving and terrified as they are caged in and unable to escape the horrors, have undermined the moral standing of Israel. Outside western Europe and North America, the perspective is completely different from what it is here. Indeed, our own standing as a country is being affected.

In any situation of violent political conflict—I am fairly familiar with them—however tempting it may be to back one side or the other, when you do that, you simply become part of the conflict. Sometimes there is absolutely nothing else that you can do, and you have to back one side, but the consequence is a very limited role in brokering peace. If and when this war ends, there will need to be someone to ensure the security of Gaza and, despite what the Israeli Prime Minister says, that is not a role that can be undertaken by Israel. I rather doubt that our own country or our US ally can undertake it either. Are His Majesty’s Government taking seriously, as I believe they should, the offer from President Erdoğan of Turkey for his country to play a significant role, with others, in providing some security to all sides in that context?

Finally, I turn to Tunisia, a country that triggered the so-called Arab spring, which gave us such hope for democracy in the MENA region. How are His Majesty’s Government responding to the suspension of democratic structures and the imprisonment by current President Saied of many elected representatives, including the former assembly speaker, Sheikh Rached Ghannouchi, who had been working against the odds to build a pluralist and Muslim democracy? I emphasise “Muslim” democracy, not Islamist. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to press the President of Tunisia to release the democratic politicians of all parties and allow them to build a new pluralist and democratic Tunisia, which can give hope again to all of us for democracy in that region?

19:08
Baroness Eaton Portrait Baroness Eaton (Con)
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My Lords, I join others in recognising and thanking my noble friends Lord Ahmad and the Foreign Secretary for all the work they do. It gives us all confidence seeing them on the world stage on our behalf. I thank them very much indeed.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the United Kingdom currently faces the most serious and sustained threat to its international relations position since the end of the Cold War, in the context of our position as a prominent member of the free world. We face emboldened aggressors and multiple threats. How we respond to these will be a defining moment for British foreign policy. Two current conflicts encapsulate the possibilities and problems for the United Kingdom in a fast-changing world: Ukraine and Gaza.

Although, at first, they do not seem connected, they share a common pattern and, even more importantly, a common message: if the free world does not stand up to aggression until it has been defeated, we can only bring further aggression on us. This is an obvious lesson from history, notably the history of the 1930s and what it teaches us, and which His Majesty’s Government would be wise to understand.

We are now in the third year of a war visited on Ukraine solely by Russian aggression. For all Vladimir Putin’s fictions about why he started this war, none of us in this Chamber should be under any illusions that it was anything other than an old-fashioned land grab. We are discussing Ukraine because it did the incredible: it stood up to the Russian steamroller and stopped it in its tracks through the bravery and commitment of its own people. Since then, in addition to its admirable courage, Ukraine has been emboldened in its defence by the staunch support of its allies, but now we face a troubled year ahead, with crucial supplies from the United States stalling and debates abounding about whether, and for how long, Ukraine can survive without our full-throated and continued backing.

The cold-blooded murder of the largest number of Jews in one day since the Holocaust was always going to elicit a severe response from the Israeli Government, and rightly so. No democracy, even our own in the United Kingdom, could turn the other cheek to such atrocities without seeking to prevent those who committed the crimes from ever doing so again. This is all the more so given the despicable taking of large numbers of hostages by Hamas and others in Gaza, 130 of whom remain unaccounted for nearly five months into this conflict. We all grieve and react with total distress to the horror of the tragic deaths of children, women and all those citizens killed in Gaza; but far from being a genocide, or the greatest crime in history, the care that the Israel Defense Forces have largely taken during this operation to minimise civilian casualties will likely be studied for years by free-world military planners facing similar campaigns.

As with Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, the Hamas war of aggression against Israel initially elicited firm free-world support. Free-world leaders, this country’s included, understood entirely that Israel could not allow Hamas aggression to go unpunished and that the hostages needed freeing. In just a few short months, that solidarity of purpose has been undermined as, country by country, elements of the free world have peeled off from the idea of defending democracy. Instead, we have seen vapid and inane requests for an Israeli ceasefire now, sometimes even with no conditions on Hamas’s continued rule in Gaza, or the release of hostages, attached.

I posit, therefore, that British foreign policy must make 2024 a year of decision for the free world, and that our stance in the two conflicts I have addressed will be central to this. It might be tempting to give up on supporting Ukraine because we are growing weary of doing so, or to force Israel to compromise because we are tired of fending off the aggression of the street mobs here in the UK that did so much damage to the reputation of the other place a couple of weeks ago. But neither approach is in our national interest. If Ukraine is driven to the negotiating table through weakness this year, Mr Putin’s decision to wage war will have been vindicated with additional territory, and if Israel gives in to the international pressure before it has succeeded in delivering a final death blow to Hamas, terrorism will be seen to have triumphed through the improbable act of survival, even after committing the most heinous of crimes.

Do we think that Russia and international terrorists will be satisfied with their ill-gotten gains after achieving them? Of course not, they will come back for more, after a period of reconstruction, certain that the free world will eventually crumble before aggression if they just wait out our period of outrage over their actions. For this reason, I implore my noble friend the Foreign Secretary to stand firm with our fellow democracies in 2024. We must make the decisions that allow our allies to finish the jobs that they did not want but were forced on them—the same jobs that we would do if we were in their place.

19:15
Baroness Mobarik Portrait Baroness Mobarik (Con)
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The Middle East is a part of the world that the UK understands, and, in turn, the UK is held in affection there. It is with concern, therefore, that I hear from long-standing friends there that those feelings are changing. We are seen as either bystanders or complicit in the current conflict in Gaza. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary, however, deserves appreciation for his leadership in expressing that the state of Palestine be recognised, and calling for accountability for crimes committed by both sides in Gaza. The change of tone from the United States is an indication of his influence.

The dream of the Palestinian people is the same as for all people: freedom; security; food and shelter; and some degree of hope for a better future through education and employment. I condemn the Hamas terrorist atrocities of 7 October in the strongest possible terms, but the indiscriminate killing of so many innocent Palestinian civilians is causing such outrage, anger and sorrow across the region and throughout the world that Britain’s ongoing support for Israel’s war in Gaza is damaging our equally important relationships with other allies in the region. It is as if the Palestinian people have been dehumanised to such a degree that some people in this place, and in the other place, do not even recognise the enormity of the injustice being committed against the Palestinian people, so many of whom are children, bombed and starved for crimes they did not commit. International humanitarian law does not permit collective punishment, but that is what is happening in Gaza. It is wrong, and it must stop.

We proclaim the rights of the child, but when it comes to the rights of Palestinian children, our lack of action during these past five months makes a mockery of that declaration. How many potential artists and scientists have been simply eliminated? So much talent is, literally, being killed. If we wish to generate a better future, this is not the way to do it. Our credibility, our legitimacy and our role as a country central to the contemporary global world order are because of our adherence to and support for the rule of domestic and international law, and justice and fairness. The British people are fair and expect their representatives in Parliament to be fair and just on their behalf. Even if we were simply to consider our own interests in much of the Middle East, we have to show ourselves as fair brokers. It is vital that we make every effort towards ending this ghastly situation, and I know my noble friend the Foreign Secretary is working tirelessly to do this.

The United Kingdom has a legal, moral and historical obligation to make every endeavour to help both sides make peace a reality, but the process for a lasting peace cannot be ambiguous; there are no partial solutions. Our support for international efforts towards, on both sides, a full, immediate and permanent ceasefire—not just for the six weeks stipulated by the United States—is essential, as is the safe delivery of aid without obstruction. Can the Foreign Secretary say why medical equipment, such as ventilators and anaesthesia machines, is being refused entry by Israel?

Also needed is the immediate exchange of Israeli hostages and non-Hamas Palestinian detainees, and the forcible displacement of people to stop. There are now 1.5 million in refugee camps in Rafah. We need the reconstruction of Gaza to start and, ultimately, those displaced to be able to go back to where they once lived. Furthermore, the illegal occupation by Israel of the West Bank in east Jerusalem must end. Hundreds have been killed there since January last year.

As for Gaza, in 2010, the House of Commons Hansard shows that my noble friend, then the Prime Minister, said that

“we are not going to sort out the problem of the middle east peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/6/10; col. 583.]

Yet Israel has recently stated it wants to remain in overall security control of Gaza and select the Palestinian technocrats that it chooses to run it. Can the Foreign Secretary say whether he believes that that would be in any way acceptable or have legitimacy in the eyes of Palestinians? Most would argue that having two independent separate states is the only solution. It is a right of the people of Israel to have peace and security, as, too, it is for the people of Palestine, in two separate independent states that recognise each other’s right to exist.

19:21
Lord Skidelsky Portrait Lord Skidelsky (CB)
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My Lords, it is a rare privilege for us to have the Foreign Secretary wind up a debate on foreign policy in this House. Such are the quirks of politics, I suppose.

I shall concentrate on one topic, and that is economic sanctions. The sanctions regime has emerged as one of the most important tools of British foreign policy. Despite, or perhaps because of their long and tangled history, their rationale remains deeply mysterious. Are they tools of war avoidance or an extension of war by other means? It is a hybrid tool, at best. This ambiguity is fatal to any peacekeeping or peacemaking purposes they may have, because they insert a warlike mentality into what should be efforts at peace—hence the utmost clarity is needed in defining their purpose and assessing their results.

Since 2014, the number of individuals designated under the UK sanctions regime has grown from 230 to 2,000. The Foreign Secretary added another 50 a fortnight ago. Their stated purpose is, as has been said, to “degrade Russia’s war-making capacity” and deplete Putin’s armoury. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicted that the

“Russian economy will be devastated”

by sanctions, after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022. Two years on, Russia’s economy is a long way from being devastated; indeed, it has proven far more resilient than many believed possible. The IMF now predicts that Russian GDP will expand by 2.2% this year, much faster than is predicted for the UK.

There are two main reasons for this. The first is trade diversification. Far from having no place to hide, as Liz Truss, then Foreign Secretary, predicted on 31 January 2022, Mr Putin and his friends have found plenty of places to hide. Moscow has been able to pivot its oil exports towards Asia, now the destination for 80% of Russian crude delivered by sea. Sanctioned goods, including critical components for military equipment, continue to reach Russia via neighbouring countries. Beijing is now Moscow’s main trading partner, and the yuan is one of the main foreign currencies in Russia. That is one reason. The second reason for Russia’s economic resilience is what I would call military Keynesianism. Russia has successfully converted a civilian economy into a war economy. Not only is growth positive, but a higher fraction of GDP is concentrated on war production.

The efficacy of economic sanctions has been repeatedly challenged by experts—not least, I should say, in the report on economic sanctions of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, on which I had the honour to serve. Not only may the efficacy of sanctions be questioned, but they stitch animosity into the fabric of international relations, thus precipitating the break-up of the global trading and payment system which, in turn, makes the world more warlike. There are lots of unintended consequences here, and we need to be very clear about what they are before simply urging more and more sanctions. It would be an important outcome to this debate were the Foreign Secretary to authorise a strategic review of the purpose and track record of sanctions to be made public before international relations are allowed to drift into a permanent warlike state, which may easily topple over into actual war between nuclear powers.

19:25
Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
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My Lords, I add my gratitude and appreciation to the noble Lords, Lord Cameron and Lord Ahmad, not just for what they do but for the way in which they do it.

I want to focus on how we continue to apply moral principles surrounding war in this ever-changing landscape. These are dangerous and uncertain times, as we have heard countless times this afternoon, for which we must prepare—and good preparation is itself deterrence. I add my name to the appeal made by the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, that we see a significant increase in defence funding.

There is now a risk that the changing nature of war and warfare is shifting our understanding of when military force should be resorted to and the restraints that should check its use. The concerns that lie behind just warfare still apply. What is proportionate response and engagement, and how do we protect non-combatants? What is pre-emptive and what is preventive action, and how will military engagement contribute to a just and lasting peace? Old-style wars, at least in theory, as von Clausewitz expounded, were contests of wills. He defined war as an

“an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will”.

But today, and for many decades now, the potential exists that our opponent could be destroyed and us, too.

We have seen contemporary conflicts that involve networks of states and non-state actors, where most violence is directed against civilians as a way of controlling territory rather than against enemy forces. Forced migration is often an unintended consequence. Such wars are decentralised and have low levels of participation, intending to disassemble the state or involve the fragmentation of federations. In their place, they create new, unstable, inward-looking sub-state entities. In these situations, state services such as health, education and the rule of law are degraded, with finance coming less from taxation and more from war-related and criminal activities. Such wars often produce transnational extremist, political or religious ideologies. Of course, all this is exacerbated by the impact of climate change. The failure to plan a just post-war situation can prolong the war and can lead to internal chaos after the war, the failing of the state or the seeds of a new war.

We are also fighting wars differently, with highly advanced weaponry and the increasing use of AI. The speed of development in military applications of AI inevitably raises concerns. We should not forget the huge potential of AI systems in defensive contexts, but the wider ethical problem is that, when we delegate decision-making to machines, they will act according to the moral assumptions with which they have been fed. Those who develop AI applications for use in military offensives, as opposed to defence, need to do so with such moral understanding that they do not inadvertently design algorithms that risk committing war crimes in our name.

To return to where I started, even when the use of armed force is considered justifiable, the overarching aim of just war is a just and durable peace. It means that just war advocates are concerned with limiting the occurrence of war and, when it does occur, ensuring that its conduct is as humane as possible. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that our current understanding of the ethics of war are sufficient to deal with the changing nature of adversaries and the complex ways in which wars are now fought? Will he commit to exercising UK leadership with the UN and other institutions, albeit undergoing reform, as we have heard appealed for, to ensure that the conventions and treaties that govern our actions in war remain fit for purpose—the purpose of lasting, just peace?

19:30
Debate adjourned until not before 8.10 pm.

Angiolini Inquiry Report

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Statement
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 29 February.
“Three years ago, Sarah Everard was abducted, raped and murdered by an off-duty serving police officer. It was a gut-wrenching betrayal, an abuse of power of the most egregious kind, and the country was shaken to its core. My predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), established an inquiry to examine the many failings arising from the Sarah Everard case, chaired by Lady Elish Angiolini KC. Part 1 focused on examining Wayne Couzens’s career and previous behaviour, and a report dealing with its findings has been published today.
First and foremost, we should take time to think about Sarah Everard’s family and loved ones at what must be an incredibly difficult time. I pay tribute to them all for the immense dignity that they have shown in the face of such an unbearable loss in such terrible circumstances.
Tragically, the report makes it clear that Couzens was completely unsuitable to serve as a police officer, and, worse still, that there were numerous occasions when that should, and could, have been recognised. Lady Elish identified significant and repeated problems in recruitment and vetting throughout Couzens’s career, including the overlooking of his chaotic financial situation. This meant that he was able to serve in a range of privileged roles, for instance as a firearms officer. It is appalling that reports of indecent exposure by Couzens were not taken seriously enough by the police, and that officers were not adequately trained, equipped or motivated to investigate the allegations properly. Had fuller inquiries been made in 2015 and 2020, Couzens could and probably would have been removed from policing. Evidence of his preference for extreme and violent pornography, and of his alleged sexual offending, dates back nearly 20 years prior to Sarah Everard’s murder. The inquiry found that Couzens was adept at hiding his grossly offensive behaviour from most of his colleagues, but that he shared his vile and misogynistic views on a WhatsApp group. The other members of that group are no longer serving officers, after a range of disciplinary processes. The fact that many of his alleged victims felt unable to report their experiences at the time speaks to the issue of confidence in policing among women.
I wish to place on the record my thanks to Lady Elish and her team for this report. It is a deeply distressing but incredibly important piece of work, and they have approached it with thoroughness, professionalism and sensitivity. We all owe thanks to those who came forward and gave brave testimony to the inquiry. Everyone who Couzens hurt is in my thoughts today.
The report makes 16 recommendations, including improving the police response to indecent exposure, reforming police recruitment and vetting practices, and addressing cultures in policing. The Government will now carefully consider the report and respond formally in due course, and I assure the House that our response will be prompt. We are taking action to address public confidence in the police, and there has already been progress in a number of areas that have been highlighted by the inquiry. Anyone who is not fit to wear the uniform, for whatever reason, must be removed from policing, and every effort must be made to ensure that similar people never join. That is why we are providing funding to the National Police Chiefs’ Council to develop an automated system for flagging intelligence about officers much more quickly.
We are changing the rules to make it easier for forces to remove those who cannot hold the minimum level of clearance. Police chiefs are getting back the responsibility for chairing misconduct hearings, so that they can better uphold standards in the forces that they lead, and there will be a presumption of dismissal for any officer found to have committed gross misconduct. I can announce today that there will also be automatic suspensions of police officers charged with certain criminal offences, but the work must continue. Part 2 of the Angiolini inquiry is considering systemic issues in policing, such as vetting, recruitment and the culture, as well as the safety of women in public spaces. I will of course read the findings closely and with care.
Sarah Everard’s murder started a national conversation about violence against women and girls, and my right honourable friend the Member for Witham reopened a call for evidence that went on to receive 180,000 responses from members of the public, with many sharing their harrowing personal experiences. That evidence demonstrated the terrible truth: women and girls routinely feel unsafe. This is unacceptable and should anger us all, and the whole of society needs to treat change in this area as an urgent priority.
Tackling violence against women and girls has been a priority for me for a long time. It is now a priority set out in the strategic policing requirement, meaning that VAWG is rightly considered to be as serious a focus as tackling terrorism. Our tackling violence against women and girls strategy and tackling domestic abuse plan are backed up by significant investment. We are changing the law so that rapists will serve their full sentence behind bars, with no option of release at the two-thirds point, and anyone who commits a murder with a sexual or sadistic element will spend the rest of their days in prison.
Our safer streets fund and safety of women at night fund support a range of projects across England and Wales. The online StreetSafe tool enables the public to anonymously report areas where they feel unsafe and why. There is a new national operating model for the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences, which means that the police and prosecutors will work together more closely, building stronger cases that focus on the behaviour of the suspect, and that place victims at the heart of everything. We have also launched a nationwide behaviour change campaign called ‘Enough’ to bring about an enduring shift in the attitudes and behaviours that underpin the abuse of women and girls.
Most police officers use their powers to serve the public bravely and well, but the impact can be devastating when they fall short. Society cannot function properly when trust in the police is eroded. I am unambiguous that police forces must keep improving and must command the confidence of the people they serve. It is imperative that police leadership, of whatever rank, plays its part in this endeavour.
Once again, I express my heartfelt sympathy to Sarah Everard’s family and friends. I cannot begin to imagine the extent of their pain. Together, we must do everything possible to stop such agony being visited on others, to rebuild public trust, and to make sure that our streets and public places, as well as the private realm, are safe for women and girls. I commend this Statement to the House”.
19:31
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, this damning report is about women’s safety. It is also about trust and confidence in policing, and whether we have the standards in place to maintain confidence in individual officers. The vast majority of police officers work immensely hard, and with integrity, to keep our communities safe. This is undermined when standards fail.

We thank Lady Elish for her inquiry and its comprehensive first report. The report exposes a catalogue of appalling failures in police misconduct processes. What is truly frightening is the line,

“there is nothing to stop another Couzens operating in plain sight”.

We can believe that that might be the case because of the story of PC Cliff Mitchell, who was vetted months after Sarah Everard was killed. He had an allegation of rape in 2017 and a non-molestation order against him, but that did not stop the Met recruiting him. At about the same time that the Met was telling us that vetting had been tightened up, it was simultaneously congratulating PC Mitchell on passing his police entrance and handing him a warrant card, which he used to get the trust of women he went on to abuse and rape.

This Government have been repeatedly warned about failures around vetting and misconduct. Independent inspectorate reports in 2012, 2019, 2022 and 2023 all highlighted serious failures in vetting processes, which is why, two years ago, we on these Benches called for mandatory national vetting standards. Why has this not yet happened?

As for the misconduct charges the Statement referred to, most of them are not even in place yet, three years after Sarah Everard was murdered. Will the Minister commit today to a new mandatory vetting framework, underpinned by legislation, that all forces must abide by, under which any evidence about past domestic abuse or sexual offending will be pursued—and not simply take convictions into account? At a minimum, he should surely accept recommendation 6:

“Review of indecent exposure allegations and other sexual offences recorded against serving police officers”.


As well as talking extensively about vetting, the recommendations also focus on indecent exposure. Indecent exposure is still treated as a joke by police—something “she” should not be bothered about because “he” is pathetic and harmless. It is seen as old men—past it and pathetic—trying to get attention. Many women, if not most, have experienced this at some point in their lives. But Couzens was in his 40s and did this five or so times, including one scary incident when he masturbated on a banking on a country lane as a lone woman cyclist cycled past. There was an incident just before Sarah Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder when he drove undressed through a McDonald’s. People got the name, model and licence number of his car and the vehicle was traced to him, but nothing followed after that.

Clearly, the sexual impulse that drives indecent exposure is to force attention to the man’s sexuality on a woman who does not want it. We have to ask the question: how far is that from the motive that drives rape? It is clearly a terrifying experience for a woman—often isolated and confronted with a man bigger and stronger than she is—who will be afraid of what might happen next. Getting away with it encourages a predator to feel that they can act more boldly next time, increasing the threat to women.

The recommendations in this report are absolutely clear, and they have a timetable. Will the Home Office insist that all police forces have a specialist policy on investigating all sexual offences, including so-called “non-contact” offences such as indecent exposure, by September this year? Will the Minister commit to guidance and training on indecent exposure being in place by December this year? Will he ensure that the College of Policing, in collaboration with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, will improve guidance and training on indecent exposure? Will there be an immediate review, called for in recommendation 3, which concerns treatment of masturbatory indecent exposure within the criminal justice system? The review needs to focus on recognising the seriousness of the offence, identifying it as an indicator of disinhibition by perpetrators, and understanding and addressing the wider issue of sexual precursor conduct, so as to prevent victimisation, to improve the response to victims when it occurs, and to bring more offenders to justice.

Recommendation 4 calls for research into masturbatory indecent exposure with immediate effect. Does the Minister have a schedule that he can tell us about today? Recommendation 5 is a public information campaign on indecent exposure by March 2025, which the Home Office should launch, together with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to raise awareness about the illegality, criminality and legal consequences of any type of indecent exposure.

When it comes to women’s safety, the reality is that the number of prosecutions for domestic abuse has halved, rape prosecutions are still taking years, and early action and intervention still do not happen. As my honourable friend Yvette Cooper said on Thursday:

“There is a shocking drift on women’s safety and in what the Home Secretary has said today … How long must we go on saying the same things? The first women’s safety march was on the streets of Leeds nearly 50 years ago, and we are saying the same things about our daughters’ safety today”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/2/24; col. 454.]


We really cannot stand for any more of this.

Baroness Doocey Portrait Baroness Doocey (LD)
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My Lords, what happened to Sarah Everard was horrific, and made worse by the fact that this callous murder was committed by a serving police officer. The report says that Wayne Couzens should never have been a police officer and that numerous opportunities to end his career were ignored. It lays out a number of steps to ensure that this appalling tragedy is not repeated.

The Minister has promised decisive action and outlined several welcome measures, yet the vehicle required to take such action is available to him now. The Criminal Justice Bill is due to reach this House in the coming weeks. As it stands, the charity Refuge says it is seriously disappointed with the Bill’s measures on police perpetrators, which it believes will do very little to rid our forces of abusers.

The Government have so far resisted a series of amendments, such as one that would mean all allegations of police-perpetrated domestic abuse would be recorded —either as a police complaint or a conduct matter. This would inform vetting and any potential future investigations. Will the Minister reconsider placing such provisions in the Bill, rather than falling back on regulations and, worse still, voluntary codes of practice, which seldom if ever work?

Does the Minister accept that the time has now come to spell out, in no uncertain terms, that violence against women and girls is not acceptable if you are a police officer? That surely means being clear that domestic abuse is not just a criminal matter but a disciplinary matter within the police services themselves.

I also want to address the issue of consistency. At the moment, there is too much variation around the country, and the issue of warrant card removal illustrates this well. In some forces, officers are required to surrender their warrant cards if they are suspended; in other forces, they are not. Sarah Everard’s murder horribly underlines the power that comes with a warrant card. At the very least, surely suspended officers should be required to surrender warrant cards nationwide. This is something that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is calling for.

Another matter of consistency is on the issue of suspensions themselves. The Government are now saying that there will be an automatic suspension of police officers charged with certain criminal offences pending trial. Can the Minister confirm that domestic abuse offences will be among those leading to suspension?

The Government are planning to change the rules to make it easier for forces to remove officers without vetting clearance. However, removing those who fail vetting or are guilty of gross misconduct will still not be a legal obligation. These measures will not be mandatory or backed by primary legislation. A Liberal Democrat freedom of information request last October revealed that 129 Metropolitan Police officers were still working on the front line while under investigation for allegations of sexual or domestic abuse, eight months on from the Casey review. This is, frankly, a disgrace.

Meanwhile, a clear issue with culture and leadership remains to be addressed. This is particularly critical in the context of an increasingly young and inexperienced workforce, a third of whom have less than five years’ service. The Police Foundation describes a

“culture of silence and complicity”,

where the default is to keep quiet if you want to get on or fit in. This report rightly says that our police must be held to a higher standard of behaviour and accountability given the powers that they have. Good officers will welcome anything that does this.

Time and again, we have had excellent reports which identify the issues and make recommendations to stop them happening again. Most of the recommendations are accepted, but they are seldom, if ever, implemented. Can the Minister explain what the Government propose to do to ensure a full and speedy implementation of the recommendations in this report? Crucially, can he also say what the consequences will be for those forces that fail to comply?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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I thank both noble Baronesses for their comments. The first thing to say, which I said earlier, is that my thoughts are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard.

The second thing, highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and which it was remiss of me to neglect to say earlier, is that we owe it to all the decent police officers out there—there are very many, who I would like to thank—to get this right. Finally, I place on record my thanks to Lady Elish, who has delivered a very efficient, speedy report. This is obviously only part 1. I note that part 2 is considering cultural issues, which include misogyny and predatory behaviour. There will be much more to say on that subject, which is not to say that we should not act speedily and efficiently now—and we are. I will explain how.

The vetting process has come in for a considerable amount of criticism, with some justification. The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked why the Government are not legislating to put vetting standards on a statutory footing. The report did not specifically recommend that the Government legislate on vetting standards. As I have just said, part 2 will look in depth at vetting and recruitment, among other cultural issues in policing. We will consider any findings from part 2 in due course. However, we expect policing to examine the Angiolini findings from part 1 in detail, and for them to be addressed.

To ensure that forces are adhering to the existing standards, as set out by the College of Policing, the college will establish a process of national accreditation, setting out the high standards that policing must meet, with the aim of increasing confidence in policing. We are introducing regulations on vetting, which will make it easier for forces to remove those who cannot hold the minimum level of clearance.

As Lady Elish says in her report, it is not possible to

“make any conclusive finding that earlier interventions would have prevented the horrific crimes”

that the report responded to. However, I do not think that Couzens would have been able to remain a police officer if he was serving today—I think it is important to state that for the record. Vetting has been significantly tightened, and tolerances are lower. Forces now do a full re-vet on transfer. Lady Elish highlighted that that is clear in the new vetting code. There is also a data wash process. We are funding policing to develop automated screening, so that records added to the police national database, such as the indecent allegations made against Couzens in 2015, will be quickly picked up by the employing force.

In January 2023, the then Home Secretary asked HMICFRS to carry out a rapid review in response to the November 2022 inspectorate report into vetting. That also looked at what forces are doing to identify and deal with misogynistic behaviour. The inspectorate identified good process in certain areas, and in January this year, the NPCC provided evidence on the implementation of relevant recommendations across forces to the inspectorate. We have also asked the College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice, which I have mentioned. That code was published in July 2023. I referred earlier to the authorised professional practice guidance which is available for public consultation. Finally, in January 2024, the Home Office agreed to provide an additional £500,000 to policing to develop a continuous integrity screening system for the workforce, building on the data wash exercise.

Recommendation 6 is for the NPCC, and I hope it will implement it as quickly as possible—indeed, that goes for all of the recommendations. We discussed some of them earlier, and they all make perfect sense to me. I hope they make perfect sense to others, as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about indecent exposure and whether the police are taking such offences seriously enough. In accordance with the strategic policing requirement, we expect that all sexual offending, including for cases where there is no contact, is taken seriously, because we want victims to have the confidence to report these offences. We need them to know that they will get the support that they need, and that everything will be done to bring the offenders to justice.

As noble Lords will be aware, we have added violence against women and girls to the revised strategic policing requirement, which means that crimes that disproportionately impact women and girls, such as indecent exposure, are set out as a national threat for forces to respond to, alongside other threats such as terrorism, serious and organised crime, and child sexual abuse. The strategic policing requirement is set by the Home Secretary and provides clear direction to policing. It highlights where police forces need to work together, using their local and regional capabilities. This requirement covers all forms of violence against women and girls. We continue to work closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s violence against women and girls task force to drive improvements in the policing response. It will soon publish an updated national framework on how policing needs to prepare, prevent, pursue and protect to robustly improve policing’s response to these crimes.

The report found that what might be considered “lower-level sexual offending”, such as Couzens sending unwarranted pictures of himself, could lead to more serious sexual assault. Obviously, as I have said, we regard that any kind of sexually motivated crime is abhorrent and should be treated very seriously. Women need to be confident in calling the police and reporting crimes, and to trust that they will be taken seriously when they do. As I have said, in tandem with policing partners, we will be considering Lady Elish’s recommendations very carefully and will respond fully after a review of all of the content. I am afraid that I cannot give a timetable as to recommendation 4, but, as I said earlier today, we will be responding in full very soon.

In terms of women joining the police, I looked up the statistics after the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, asked me about it earlier, and they are not as bad as I might have inferred. The 20,000 officer uplift programme provided a once in a generation opportunity to support forces. The police force is now more diverse than ever, with 53,080 women police officers and 12,086 ethnic minority police officers; this was as of 31 March 2023, so those numbers will have changed. Females accounted for 35.5% of officers—the highest number and proportion in post since comparable records began. Between April 2020 and March 2023, 43.2% of new police officer recruits in England and Wales were female—a notable increase on levels in previous years. I will not go into more detail, but it is an encouraging picture and a good start when it comes to the cultural change that we have been talking about at some length.

The noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, also asked a good question which I was unable to answer about how officers and police staff should be encouraged to call out wrongdoing when they see it. I will go into a bit more detail about this, though I suspect it is not as much as the noble Baroness would like. Police officers have a statutory duty to report wrongdoing by their colleagues when they see it, and not doing so constitutes a breach of their standards of professional behaviour. The noble Baroness referred to the Criminal Justice Bill; a duty of candour is included in that, which will help this progress significantly.

There are a number of other routes, both internal and external, through which police officers and staff can raise concerns. External routes include staff associations, trade unions, the office of the relevant PCC if the matter concerns the chief constable, Crimestoppers and the Independent Office for Police Conduct. A police officer can report wrongdoing directly to the professional standards department within their force. Most police forces in England and Wales have reporting phone lines, many with protections for anonymity. A reporting line run by the IOPC enables officers and staff to report concerns that a criminal offence has been committed or where there is evidence of conduct that would justify disciplinary proceedings. I appreciate that this does not fully answer the question about others who might report domestic abuse, but I will take those comments back and find out what can be done about it.

I appreciate that I am running over time. With the indulgence of the House, I will quickly finish by talking about recommendation 5, which is what the Government have done or should be doing to try to change societal attitudes towards women and girls. It is important to highlight the Government’s Enough programme, which is designed to deliver a generational shift in the attitudes and behaviours underpinning abuse. The campaign has a continued focus on encouraging bystanders to challenge safely any abuse they may witness and to trigger reflection among perpetrators and their peers. Evaluation of Enough has shown that it is successfully reaching target audiences, driving behavioural change and encouraging bystanders to intervene when they see abuse. This has been helped by the creation of a STOP mnemonic which is proving highly effective.

I will finish there for now, though I am sure there is more to be said on this subject. Recommendation 5 makes considerable sense. I will certainly be taking the suggestion from the noble Baroness back to the Home Office.

19:53
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I want to raise the issue of proper accountability, because there appear to be few real consequences for police officers who grossly breach police discipline. For example, there is no legislation to prevent members of police staff retiring or resigning while they are under investigation for gross misconduct. I am told that, because of Operation Onyx which, as the Minister will know, was commissioned following the appalling case of David Carrick, 51 Met officers were referred for dismissal and would have been dismissed but for the fact that they resigned and retired on full pension.

If I understood the Minister correctly, there was a statutory duty on Couzens’ colleagues to report the behaviour which earned him the nickname “The Rapist”. Were such reports made? Are people being investigated and possibly prosecuted for not doing so? They should be. If the Government can legislate every year for public order, as they do, why can they not legislate for public discipline? Why, for example, is the police disciplinary rulebook not in statute and therefore enforceable, with breaches of it a criminal offence? This would not impinge on operational independence at all. Why do we not go down this route?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, it is important to say in response to the remarks and questions from the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that Lady Elish did not find any evidence of that particular name being applied to Couzens. That was explicit in the report. This is not the same as explaining away the accountability of the officers who were perhaps aware of his behaviour.

As the noble Lord will be aware, in January 2023 we launched a comprehensive review into police dismissals. As a consequence, we are making significant change to the way in which these dismissals are handled. We have made changes to the composition of misconduct panels by replacing legally qualified chairs with chief officers—something which chief officers have asked for—and this will be implemented in May 2024. We have streamlined the performance system to make it more efficient and effective; this is due to be implemented in late summer 2024. A new route to discharge officers who fail to maintain basic clearance is also due to be implemented in late summer. Changes to the misconduct system, including a presumption of dismissal for gross misconduct, a presumption of fast-track hearings for former officers and convictions for indictable offences automatically amounting to gross misconduct are also due to be implemented in the summer of 2024. The dismissals process has clearly been tightened up and will be tightened up further during the course of this year.

I cannot really comment on the pensions issue. I hear what the noble Lord has said, and I will make sure that the Home Office is well aware of his concerns.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford Portrait Baroness Hughes of Stretford (Lab)
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My Lords, recommendation 14 says:

“With immediate effect, every police force should commit publicly to being an antisexist, anti-misogynistic, anti-racist organisation in order to address, understand and eradicate sexism, racism and misogyny, contributing to a wider … culture … This includes properly addressing—and taking steps to root out—so-called ‘banter’ that often veils or excuses malign or toxic behaviour in police ranks”.


What concerns me is that this kind of finding has been repeated in more or less every investigation, inquiry and report into police malpractice for decades. Yet here we are again, with this report concluding that police leaders, whose responsibility it is to address those issues, have not taken a stand on them and stamped them out. As my noble friend just pointed out, in many instances the unacceptable behaviour of individuals is in plain sight among their colleagues and has gone unchallenged. My concern is the process by which the detail of the responses, which my noble friend on these Benches and the noble Baroness on the other Benches referred to, will be decided. Given the history of this, I do not feel that it can be left to individual chief constables—or even to police organisations such as the College of Policing, much as I respect them—to come to the conclusions that are necessary. The process needs to be absolutely transparent for the public—as well as other police officers, who have been referred to—to feel confidence in it.

I have some questions for the Minister. First, how would he intend to involve people with lived experience of these kinds of behaviours of the police and organisations that represent women in particular, as well as other people who have been discriminated against? Secondly, I will take up the point that my noble friend raised. The Minister referred to the statutory duty to report wrongdoing. What is wrongdoing? At the moment, it would appear that it does not include the kind of vile behaviours and verbal comments that we have seen in relation to Couzens and elsewhere. If there is a requirement of police officers and staff to report anybody who expresses discriminatory, sexist or misogynistic statements, I would like to see the Government commit to strengthen it. That should definitely be included in the definition of wrongdoing.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Is it not lamentable that recommendation 14 had to be written at all in the 21st century? Frankly, it is pathetic that we still have to have this conversation about such behaviour. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that this is about leadership and culture, and the Home Secretary was extraordinarily explicit on that subject, as I referenced earlier. The culture change has to come from the top; leaders are responsible for setting the standards, and we obviously expect them to keep pushing for improvements to be made across policing.

The recommendation is directed at police forces. It is important to remember that there is local accountability via the office of the police and crime commissioner, and that local accountability absolutely should be engaging with all sectors the community—the people who elect them, after all—to do precisely that. However, the Government have invested in the College of Policing’s National Centre for Police Leadership, which has already set out national standards for leadership at every level. That has to be embedded across forces, so that officers at every rank know what is expected of them and what development they need to get there. That also goes back to a question that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, asked me about consistency, which I did not answer: she is 100% right that there is a lack of consistency across police forces. Of course, when all ranks are trained nationally, that will introduce the element of consistency that we clearly need.

I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford. However, as the recommendation is directed at police forces, I have to maintain the operational independence line, as it is entirely appropriate that police forces should be free from central government control. Nevertheless, there is local control that could certainly exercise the type of oversight that the noble Baroness wants.

Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister referred to local accountability. Is he satisfied that the various assurances and procedures that he described will apply to the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and other forces that do not have local accountability?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a good point. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary comes under the atomic energy people—I forget their precise title—and was referenced in Lady Elish’s report. I have not been party to the conversations that are going on there; I imagine that they are ongoing, and I would like to report back in due course, when I can. Obviously, I cannot say more at the moment.

Baroness Goudie Portrait Baroness Goudie (Lab)
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Is it not right that when police officers commit such offences their pensions should also be suspended immediately as part of the punishment?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I cannot say that it is right across the board; I do not know. It would obviously have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. The way that we have changed the dismissals process will, I hope, give that decision-making power to the right people and make the dismissals process much easier for them to navigate. As I said, it would be foolish of me to say a blanket yes or no; it depends on the case.

20:02
Sitting suspended.

Foreign Affairs

Tuesday 5th March 2024

(3 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Take Note (Continued)
20:10
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, it is my privilege to start the second half of this debate. I trust that your Lordships are suitably refreshed, in spite of the limited time made available for that purpose. I thank my noble friend Lord Ahmad for an excellent introduction, and I thank him and my noble friend the Foreign Secretary for giving us this opportunity today to debate the UK’s position on foreign affairs in a world that has become less stable, with events harder to predict than any of us had expected, even before Covid.

It is excellent for global Britain that a former Prime Minister, with much international experience, and who is held in high regard abroad, has returned to government as Foreign Secretary. It is also very good for your Lordships’ House that, once again, the holder of one of the great offices of state is accountable to Parliament in this place. I do not agree with those who say that my noble friend should be made accountable also to another place, because it would be most time-consuming for him to have to account to both Houses and would diminish the significance of his contributions to your Lordships’ deliberations in this place.

It is apparent that, following Brexit, the United Kingdom’s voice in world affairs has remained significant. We are the only G5 country that can develop a new independent trade policy and, as such, we are able to contribute positively to the further adoption of free, rules-based trade throughout the world. We need to restore the position of the WTO and act as a force for good through our newly acquired membership of the CPTPP. It is interesting that seven of the 12 members of this partnership, following our accession, are Commonwealth countries. Does my noble friend think it is possible for the Commonwealth itself to develop a more active role in supporting free trade and upholding the international order?

It is also interesting that the largest economy in the CPTPP is Japan. Our Japanese friends have been very active for several years in encouraging the UK to apply for accession, and they have effectively helped to persuade those members who were sceptical about the value to the partnership of the accession of a non-Pacific country. Japan understands and shares this country’s strong commitment to the international order, and it welcomes our tilt to the Indo-Pacific and renewed commitment to defence and security across the world—not by imagining that we are any longer a great imperial power capable of unilateral action but by using our hard and soft power in conjunction with our friends and allies, where we can make a useful contribution.

In that connection, I must record my great regret that the FCDO has disposed of a large part of our Tokyo embassy estate, which at a stroke lessens the ease with which we could effortlessly project soft power in the minds of the Japanese people. That was a mistake, but I am nevertheless happy that His Majesty’s Government now recognise clearly that Japan is our most important friend and ally among Asian nations.

It is also a pity that we allowed two major gigawatt nuclear power station projects—one with Toshiba and one with Hitachi—to crash. I ask my noble friend to give his support to seeking changes to the Government’s current nuclear policy to accelerate the commercialisation of another nuclear technology that we desperately need to roll out much sooner than currently envisaged. I am referring to Japan’s high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology, which can make an enormous contribution to our total energy capacity, not just the electricity grid.

I mention also the enormous significance of the agreement announced in December by the UK, Japan and Italy to work together to create a new sixth-generation fighter jet—the Global Combat Air Programme. Bearing in mind that the RAF’s order for GCAP aircraft may need to be much bigger than he had expected, does my noble friend agree that there is a clear and urgent need to increase defence spending to 3% immediately, and probably to a much higher level within a year or two? What does my noble friend think about the interesting idea proposed by my noble friend Lady Goldie to issue a kind of defence bond? In these deeply troubled times, we surely need to think outside the box.

20:15
Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, as the death toll in Gaza now tops 30,000, we reflect on the catastrophe that continues to unfold since the horrific Hamas attack on 7 October. I too pay tribute to the Ministers for their work and commitment to achieving a resolution, but the impact of their efforts may be less as a result of the unconditional support that they have given to Israel since the events of 7 October.

In Gaza, the death and destruction continue and have not resulted in the freeing of the hostages. At least 30,200 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than 12,300 children and 8,400 women. More than 71,300 have been injured, including at least 8,600 children and 6,300 women, with more than 8,000 missing.

In the Occupied West Bank, more than 500 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 108 children, with more than 4,600 injured. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, the president of Medical Aid for Palestinians, told us, a quarter of people are at risk of imminent famine and one in six children in the north is acutely malnourished. Gaza’s children are being starved at the fastest rate the world has ever seen. I am sure that she would testify that, unlike what was said earlier, in Gaza there are no places of safety for the protection of the civilian population, which is why the number of fatalities and injuries is so high. The executive director of UNICEF said last week:

“Horrific news out of Gaza that at least ten children have reportedly died of malnutrition and dehydration so far, while many more are on the brink … 1 in 6 children under the age of two in north Gaza are acutely malnourished … Over 500,000 Palestinians in Gaza are at starvation levels”.


Does the Foreign Secretary agree that starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime?

Infectious diseases are also spreading rapidly, and there is little access to medical care. No hospitals are fully functioning across the territory. At least 90% of children under five are affected by one or more infectious disease. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that an immediate permanent ceasefire is even more desperately needed now?

The UK Government have so far refused to halt arms exports to Israel, despite the risk that these weapons pose to civilians. Special rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups issued a statement on 23 February, warning that the transfer of weapons or ammunition to Israel to be used in Gaza is likely to violate international humanitarian law and must stop immediately. Further, the Dutch Court of Appeal order on 11 February required the Netherlands to halt its export of F35 fighter-jet parts to Israel, because of the clear risk that they might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza. The UK’s own arms criteria establish the very same obligation, yet the UK produces 15% of the parts of all F35s being used in Gaza.

The UK did suspend arms licences to Israel during the bombardment in Gaza in 2014, despite the very much lower numbers of deaths and injuries, when the Foreign Secretary was then Prime Minister. In the light of the potential complicity of the UK in war crimes, will he halt arms exports to Israel as he did in 2014? Is he aware that hand-wringing pleas for restraint while still supplying weapons seems rather hypocritical, whether they come from the UK or the United States?

Israel is now pushing ahead with an additional 3,300 illegal settlements in the West Bank. Will the Foreign Secretary let us know the Government’s view of this and of further expansion of settlements, potentially into Gaza? Will they ensure the rights of the Palestinian people to return to their land, as is their right under international law?

The Foreign Secretary has spoken about the two-state solution. If he truly believes in this, then time is very short, and action must be taken now by making Hamas and Israel accountable, releasing the hostages and showing to all parties a commitment to a different vision of peace and justice with security for Israel and Palestine, starting with the recognition of the Palestinian state.

20:21
Lord Roberts of Belgravia Portrait Lord Roberts of Belgravia (Con)
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My Lords, I have three quick questions for my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. Does he agree that, for centuries, freedom of the press has essentially meant freedom from the control of Governments, both foreign and domestic? I have an interest to declare, as I have been writing for the Telegraph and the Spectator for over 30 years—although they pay so little that I would not really call it an interest so much as a mild or passing interest. I do not want that to be taken as a criticism in any way of the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham, owing to the fact that he was only obeying orders.

My second question is a follow-up to that of the noble Lord, Lord Ricketts. What is Britain doing to persuade the G7 to give the entire $300 billion of frozen Russian assets currently held by Euroclear in Brussels to the Ukrainians for the defence and reconstruction of Ukraine? We sequestered huge amounts of funds in both the First and Second World Wars, as did the Americans; there is plenty of precedent for this. The moral case is obviously clear, especially after the death of Alexei Navalny. The legal and economic arguments against it have been comprehensively demolished in a recent article in the Financial Times by Bob Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank:

“Policymakers rarely find opportunities based on sound policy, good politics and compelling ethical values … The G7 and other friends should quit dithering”.


The Foreign Secretary has done a wonderful job in Washington, trying to persuade Congress to part with the $66 billion or so, but this would be almost five times the amount and would set the Ukrainians up extremely well in the event of a Trump presidency.

My third question is: which country or group of countries would genuinely guarantee Israeli security against a future Palestinian state if it turned out to be revanchist? There are 15 demilitarised states in the world, none of which is in a conflict zone. No countries intervened when Hamas violently overthrew Fatah in Gaza in 2007. Who will step in when the so-called police force of a future Palestinian state starts to acquire heavy weaponry, armour or attack drones? The chronically anti-Israel United Nations? The G7? The Arab League? Britain and America have the dubious fact of having guaranteed Ukraine in 1994 after it got rid of its nuclear weapons. Surely Israelis are right to fear that any security guarantees will not be worth the paper on which they are written, at least while Palestinians still harbour these ludicrous dreams of expelling the Jews from the river to the sea.

20:24
Lord Sahota Portrait Lord Sahota (Lab)
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My Lords, I will make just two points. Like everyone else, I wish there were no wars in the world. I wish we could all live in peace and harmony, and that we did not have to watch night after night on our TV screens humanity tearing itself apart around the world. That is just wishful thinking, so let me return to the real world.

At this moment, we have conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine. Ukrainians are fighting for the survival of their country against a tyrant, Putin. Along with the US and other European countries, we are standing with Ukraine. The way things are going, in spite of all our help and efforts, its looks as if the tyrant might prevail. President Macron alluded to the fact that NATO might consider sending troops to Ukraine. This proposal was immediately shot down by everyone, including our Government. Have our Government and NATO considered another option—something that NATO did in the war in the Balkans in the 1990s to bring another tyrant, President Milošević of Serbia, to his senses? I suggest that NATO considers provide air cover on Ukraine soil only, to protect the troops on the ground and to keep the Russian troops away from Ukraine borders. Like I said, NATO has done it before, so why not consider it again in Ukraine? It is a bit drastic, but a thought.

I will move on to Gaza. What happened on Israel’s soil on 7 October was horrendous. My heart goes out to all the victims of Hamas, a terrorist organisation. The State of Israel has the right to protect its borders and its citizens, but what it is doing in Gaza now to men, women and children is beyond description and disproportionate. I totally condemn it.

This point is historical. I do not mean to reopen old colonial wounds, but after the First World War the British Government had a mandate from the League of Nations to sort out the question of Palestine and leave peacefully with both communities, Jews and Arabs, living in harmony, side by side. We failed on that count and left in a hurry.

Even now, the British Government bear a moral obligation—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, used those words—towards the Palestine conflict, stemming from their historical involvement following the 1947 withdrawal. We left behind a complex and unresolved situation that resulted in decades of conflict and bloodshed on both sides, and immense suffering for the Palestinians. Millions of them became stateless refugees in neighbouring countries. As a former colonial power, Britain has a moral responsibility to advocate for a just resolution by acknowledging the consequences of its past actions and engaging diplomatically as the main power, and by providing further humanitarian aid and supporting a peaceful solution. Addressing this long-standing issue aligns with British values of justice, compassion and international responsibility, and would foster stability and hope in the region.

20:29
Baroness Stroud Portrait Baroness Stroud (Con)
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My Lords, at a recent meeting, Xi Jinping said to Vladimir Putin that right now we are witnessing changes

“the likes of which we have not seen in 100 years”.

He was referencing the change in the balance of power. It sounds like grandstanding, but what if he is right?

Today’s debate comes at a very important time. If the events of 2023 and 2024 tell us anything, it is that for the first time in a generation there is a genuine global challenge to our way of life in the West and to the international rules-based order. The geopolitical dynamics are changing and we need to wake up if Britain is not to be caught in the crosshairs of increasing competition between great powers. The gathering of the BRICS in 2023 was perhaps the most important gathering last year that nobody was talking about. Niall Ferguson talks of an “axis of ill will” comprising nations that are hostile to the West and to the liberal democratic rules-based system. We should take his words seriously.

This gathering is not just a talking shop. It is underwritten by China, a global superpower intent on rebalancing the geopolitical dynamics. To see this, look at three nations: Iran, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. Iran’s economy has grown faster than western counterparts despite US sanctions. Why? It is because Beijing consumed 90% of Iranian oil imports in 2023 and signed a $400 billion partnership agreement in 2021. Russia’s GDP is growing faster than any country in the G7. Why? It is because Beijing is now its main export partner for gas and other commodities. Beijing has ensured that sanctions against Russia have hurt Germany far more than they have hurt Putin. Meanwhile, the Chinese have poured in $17 billion in investment and construction into Saudi Arabia in the last three years, changing the balance for Sunni states too. The aggression of the Houthis against western nations started only once Beijing had brokered rapprochement between Saudi and Iran in that nation.

Furthermore, we would be naive to think that the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine are purely isolated incidents. They are emblematic of the shifting of geopolitical tectonic plates. The odds that a third front opens up in Taiwan or the South China Sea grow sadly shorter by the day. Xi has consistently stressed that the Taiwan issue cannot be passed on from generation to generation. US intelligence sources and the Taiwan Foreign Minister have said that 2027 is the year they are concerned about.

If Britain is to stand tall and be resilient in the coming years, it is essential that we prepare now. Three principles should govern our actions. First, we must set our economy and society on to a resilient footing. Geopolitical risk should be run through our every decision. If this means directing investment into local and reliable supply chains, that may be necessary. If it means increasing military spending, we should do that too. If it means adjusting our net-zero targets to avoid critical dependencies on China, then we need to consider this as well.

We urgently need to know how a crisis in Taiwan would impact us. A recent study by the Rhodium Group forecast that a conservative estimate puts the damage at $2 trillion globally. Given that our trade-to-GDP ratio is 70% and the odds of the US, which is far less vulnerable than us to these shocks, using the full force of economic statecraft in the context of any confrontation are high, we should make this a priority. I ask my noble friend the Foreign Secretary: what assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of these risks and will he make any such assessment public?

We must work with allies to strategically prioritise the maintenance of the international rules-based order. The liberal democratic world underpinned by the West has provided for greater prosperity worldwide than any other system. If we do not understand this and do not invest in this, we will hand over the rules-based order to nations which play by different rules. Finally, we must take a step back and ask ourselves: who are we and what are we building? Confidence in our identity and character as a nation matters. In a time of shaking, will Britain allow itself to be riven by division internally or will we stand tall?

In the early 20th century, we were resilient in crises and came out stronger on the other side. Our current internal weaknesses and lack of confidence in our own civilisation leave us vulnerable. We must remember who we are and why our way of life is worth defending. If we fail to do this, we may not like the world order that our children inherit. If we succeed, not only will we still have an important role to play in the world but we will have the resilience to stand in a time of shaking and a clearer identity as to who we are as a nation.

20:35
Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud. I note that, with the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, who follows me, we form a wedge of former coalition advisers on the Order Paper, perhaps placed there as a reminder to the Foreign Secretary of calmer, gentler times, when Prime Ministers lasted their full five-year terms and parties co-operated to solve problems in government rather than tearing themselves apart.

I declare my interests as CEO of United Against Malnutrition and Hunger, trustee of the Royal African Society and chair of the Africa APPG’s inquiry into just energy transition. I associate myself with the excellent speeches of my noble friend Lord Bruce and the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, highlighting the need for a total refresh of UK policy towards Africa.

I will focus most of my remarks on the implications of climate change for our foreign policy, but first I want to say a brief word on Gaza. Over a quarter of Gaza’s population are said to be one step away from famine, almost the entire population are in desperate need of food, and child malnutrition is at catastrophic levels. This cannot continue. As my noble friends on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench and others have argued, there must be an immediate ceasefire.

Sadly, Gaza is not the only place where conflict is fuelling malnutrition. In Yemen, in DRC, in Ethiopia, in Sudan and South Sudan and in Ukraine, conflict has exacerbated a global hunger crisis already driven by climate-related extreme weather events. The impacts of climate change will only worsen. The science is unequivocal: warming is already at 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and further warming is inevitable, with the 1.5 degrees Paris target almost certain to be breached and probably far beyond that. This is already having huge impacts, through more frequent and longer-duration climate events such as heatwaves, floods, droughts and tropical cyclones.

A few weeks ago I was in Isiolo County in Kenya, visiting impressive projects run by UNICEF to prevent and treat severe acute malnutrition. Isiolo County is only now recovering from prolonged drought, which is becoming more and more common in this part of Africa, creating acute food insecurity for millions.

Every increment in warming will bring escalating hazards for human health and ecosystems. As the APPG on Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases notes, changes in precipitation combined with increasing temperatures will alter vector breeding habitats and pathogen development, changing the geographical distribution of diseases, transmission risks, prevalence rates and the virulence of disease. Some 500 million more people could become exposed to chikungunya and dengue by 2050, with a recent UK Health Security Agency report warning that dengue could be transmitted in London by 2060.

Warming is being accompanied by unprecedented biodiversity loss, by increasingly desperate competition for resources and by rising sea levels that threaten massive human dislocation. Our foreign policy needs to shift dramatically to meet this reality.

First and foremost, this means seeing ourselves as others see us, not just as we would like to be seen. It means understanding that lecturing nations that have done little to contribute to climate change, but are most vulnerable to it, on clean energy transition, while granting new oil and gas licences in the North Sea, destroys credibility. It means honouring our pledges on international climate finance. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact recently stated that, to meet the UK’s pledge to spend £11.6 billion on ICF by 2025-26, we need to spend 55% of the total in the next two years. I hope the Foreign Secretary can tell us in his reply whether that is actually going to happen and, if so, how the spend will be profiled.

ICAI also criticised the Government for “moving the goalposts” by changing the way the target will be met, which it said amounted to an additional £1.724 billion being categorised as international climate finance that

“was not new and additional spending for developing countries”.

Again, this is destructive of our credibility in an area we once led on.

We also need to recognise that addressing climate change will require us, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fall, said, to work with Governments and countries we do not like. That does not mean abandoning our values and principles, but it does mean co-operating together for a wider good. The climate crisis poses an existential threat to humanity. We need to face up to that reality and make global co-operation to protect our planet the number one priority of our foreign policy.

20:40
Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friends from the coalition. I join many noble Lords who have paid tribute to my noble friend Lord Ahmad for his tireless work and endless optimism and energy. I also pay tribute to the late Lord Cormack. I will miss the wisdom and experience he would have brought to this debate.

Future generations may study this period as an example of how the world stumbled into a major upheaval. The world order, as envisioned after the destruction and horrors of the Second World War, is dangerously close to coming to an end. There has never been a greater need for our foreign policy to be strategically and morally consistent, and aimed at unifying rather than dividing our society. I fear that we are in danger of lacking on both counts. I will give two examples, necessarily briefly.

First, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought into question the idea of a Europe at peace—a Europe of prosperity and progress. Vladimir Putin sees Ukraine not as a final destination but as a starting point in his campaign to undermine the stability of Europe and NATO, from the Baltics to the Balkans. Logic and national interest dictate that we must support Ukraine in resisting Russian attempts to redraw its borders. Yet we are not applying the same logic in the western Balkans, where Russia is actively cultivating separatist proxies and where the risk of conflict is higher today than at any time in the last 20 years.

I know that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary is alive to the danger. In January he described his sense that

“the posture of the West when it comes to Kosovo and the western Balkans … is … set in a time before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”.

Can he give an update on what has been done to bring our policy in line with our wider strategy towards Russia? Will this include a UK commitment to reinforce the military deterrent in Bosnia, through Operation Althea, as we have done so effectively with KFOR in Kosovo?

The second inconsistency arises from the Israel-Gaza war. In a 1987 interview with the Jewish Chronicle, against the backdrop of the first intifada, Margaret Thatcher, a great friend of Israel, repeatedly urged restraint, stressing that it was

“vital not to use excessive force”.

In response to a question about settlements, she set out what should be an abiding principle:

“what you do not like yourself you must not do to others”.

Regrettably, in the current conflict Israel’s right to self-defence has morphed into a disproportionate military response, tantamount to the collective punishment of a civilian population. Civilians are being killed and starved as their homes, schools and hospitals are destroyed and their children maimed.

Where we have rightly condemned Russia’s use of siege tactics and its attacks on hospitals and civilian targets, and where we have rightly condemned the terror attack against Israel, the taking of hostages and the sexual violence that was committed, we, along with the US and some other democracies, have also provided diplomatic and moral cover for the carnage in Gaza. These apparent double standards have been noted by British people and in countries around the world. Such inconsistency runs counter to our long-term interests, which should be the shaping force for our foreign policy. It helps Vladimir Putin, undermines our national interest and weakens our moral authority. The welcome exception to that is my noble friend’s call for a Palestinian state. Could he give his assessment of just how close or far away the horizon that he has spoken about is now?

The Government have done an admirable job of explaining our policy on Ukraine and carrying forward public support for our goals. The same cannot be said of our response to the war in Gaza. How did we end up alienated from the electorate, who are shocked by the civilian toll and many of whom are protesting because they believe that their voices cannot be, and are not, heard in Parliament?

Our role in the world is only as strong as our cohesion. Pursuing policies abroad that divide and weaken us at home is not in our national interest. I recall the words of my noble friend Lord Hague, a previous Foreign Secretary. Speaking in 2010, he said:

“Foreign policy is domestic policy written large. The values we live by at home do not stop at our shores. Human rights are not the only issue that informs the making of foreign policy, but they are indivisible from it”.

20:46
Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, for some months now it has been evident that 2024 was going to be a nail-biting year for Governments worldwide and for foreign policy practitioners, not just because of the plethora of elections—some more properly democratic than others—but because so many of the fixed points of international relations are under siege. It is high time for this House to be debating the choices and the challenges, and a privilege to be doing so in the presence of the Foreign Secretary.

There are no prizes for starting with the recent statements and actions of the man who is, in near certainty, going to be contesting the US presidential election in November. Donald Trump’s incitement to Putin to attack NATO member states is not only a blow to NATO’s deterrent capacity but a breach of the UN charter, and it is damaging to America’s own interests. How much good did US isolationism in the 1930s do for its security? His torpedoing of a Bill in Congress that contained what he had been asking for on migration was shocking, reversing, as he has done, Louis XV’s dictum, “Après moi, le déluge”, which means “After me, the deluge”, into “Avant moi, le déluge”—“Ahead of me, the deluge”.

One conclusion can be drawn already: whether Biden or Trump is in the White House after November, we Europeans are going to need to do more in our own defence and to do more together, working in concert, than we have done hitherto, and we need to get started on that now, not later. We need too to tighten the noose of sanctions on Russia, working with the EU and the G7 to reduce third-country leakage.

Then there is the war in and around Gaza and more widely in parts of the Middle East. No one can have followed events since 7 October without feeling deep anguish—anguish for Israelis whose compatriots were killed in the terrorist attack and some of whom are still being held hostage, and anguish for the many thousands of Palestinian civilians who have subsequently lost their lives. But we really should stop tearing ourselves apart over whether we back an immediate or a sustainable ceasefire, neither of which we are in a position to deliver.

Instead, we should concentrate on how to prevent such appalling events happening again. In that context, I applaud the shift in policy over Palestinian statehood that was hinted at by the Foreign Secretary, and the move away from the long since bankrupt policy of offering statehood only at the end of a process over which Israel would have a veto at every stage. Would that be to offer Hamas victory? Certainly not, because Hamas does not even contemplate a two-state solution and because any such approach would necessarily involve all concerned—Israel’s Arab neighbours and Israel itself—recognising each other and committing themselves to respecting each other’s sovereignty.

The UN has taken some hard knocks in recent years, but now is not the moment for the UK, a founding member and a permanent member of its Security Council, to give up on it, to walk away washing its hands; nor would it be sensible to propose a process of fundamental reform in such unpropitious circumstances. It is better, surely, to focus on sectoral reforms and, in particular, ones that relate to the priority concerns of the countries of the global South, thus helping to bridge the gap that has opened up between them and the West. Such measures include: strengthening the World Health Organization, enabling it to deal more effectively and more equitably with the next pandemic when it comes along; bridging the gap between the warm words agreed at COP meetings and members’ actual performance on climate change, with additional resources for mitigating measures in heavily indebted developing countries; getting the sustainable development goals back on track; and restarting a dialogue on strategic stability between nuclear weapon states.

I conclude with a plea that we do not give in to counsels of despair or to siren songs to appease actions that we know are wrong and which we have all committed ourselves to resisting. Diplomats, to whose ranks I belonged, and democratic politicians are professional practitioners of the art of the possible. But that art has to be anchored in common interests and common values. So I would express the wish, and I will do so myself, that we dedicate our debate today to two outstanding men who gave their lives to making the world a better place: Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, who knew that Israel would never be secure or prosperous without a two-state solution, and Alexei Navalny, who championed a Russia with which we could have lived in peaceful coexistence, and whose parting advice to all of us was, “Do not give up”.

20:51
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and to welcome both his final comments and those on our relationship with Europe, which I will come back to.

It is tempting to focus, as many noble Lords have, on the situation in Palestine now: the hideous human suffering in the Gaza Strip; the terrible circumstances of the Israeli hostages; and the invention of a new acronym —WCNSF—meaning “wounded child, no surviving family”. UNICEF estimates that there are now 17,000 children in Gaza who are unaccompanied or separated from any relatives. That is about 1% of the entire population. Yet still we sell arms to the Israeli Government.

The topic of today’s debate is a broad one: the UK’s position on foreign affairs. I am in the lucky position that I can recycle material, because tomorrow I will be in Brussels with the Green European Foundation— I declare I have an unremunerated position on its board—to chair a debate at the Press Club on a major report, Geopolitics of a Post-Growth Europe. I urge noble Lords who seek new answers in a world where the old approaches—the approaches used for decades and continuing to be used by this Government—have delivered the conditions we have today to take a look at this report. Many will be pleased to note that in the introductory essay, the Dutch GreenLeft analyst Richard Wouters concludes that the EU

“should keep the United Kingdom close and underline that the door is open for re-entry. EU membership offers the closest form of alliance”.

However, in terms of our relationship with the nations of the global South—a growing, still relatively young part of the global population, as opposed to ours—the important point is made that it pays for them to sit on the fence, to play off the US, the EU and China, as well as the UK, against one another to secure trade, aid, investment and even security protection. There are many reasons for them to not prefer us and our allies. Many nations and peoples do not see the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the imperialist, colonialist attack that it is, because they associate such behaviour with western Europe and the US. They see, rightly, that much of the injustice and suffering they experience today originates from us. They see the enforced austerity of the IMF, the predatory actions of western lenders, the corrupt behaviour of western mining companies, the refusal to open up the use of climate technologies and, crucially, the refusal to allow affordable access to essential medicines and vaccines with manufacturing close to where they are needed.

History is not pre-written but made by the actions of people. Where we are today is the result of past actions over decades and centuries. Men sitting on these very Benches imposed starvation on India, forced 1.5 million Kenyans into concentration camps between 1952 and 1960, and imposed similar conditions in the so-called Malaya emergency. What should be at the heart of our foreign policy is, first, acknowledging the many abuses of the past and then that we need to act to stop the continuing oppression that arises from our own actions.

Debt cancellation is an obvious area of urgent need. Through that we would, as Wouters points out, ease the pressure on global South countries to sell off their biospheres and their lithospheres, and reduce the pressure to promote often exploitative labour conditions in export-orientated industries, when the efforts of their people could instead be directed towards delivering resilience and security, particularly food security, in the age of climate shocks.

I finish with a reflection on normative power—the power to exports one’s values—as an integral part of geopolitics and how living up to those values is crucial to being able to use that power for constructive good. With that in mind, I have two direct questions to the Minister for his summing up.

First, as Prime Minister in 2015, he made a public call to halt the planned execution of child defendant Ali Mohammed al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia. Ali was ultimately spared and has been released from prison. There are at least three such child defendants now in Saudi Arabia, despite its promises to stop sentencing child defendants to death. Will the Minister tonight publicly call on the Saudi authorities to prevent the executions of Abdullah al-Derazi, Youssef al-Manasif and Abdullah al-Howaiti? Secondly, the published value of UK arms sales licensed to Saudi Arabia since the bombing of Yemen began in March 2015 is £8.2 billion; the Campaign Against the Arms Trade says that it is much more than that. What is the world reading of Britain’s values when we export those arms and hand them over to one of the world’s regimes that is most abusive of human rights, particularly the rights of women and vulnerable migrants?

20:57
Lord Stevens of Birmingham Portrait Lord Stevens of Birmingham (CB)
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My Lords, at this stage of the evening, I will make one point— I hope in less than five minutes—and in doing so will draw heavily on the stark and authoritative soundings and warnings that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and others have laid before us. That point is that, as a nation, we are not yet facing up to the fiscal consequences of the defence capabilities we now require.

For all the reasons we have heard this evening, sadly, the era of the peace dividend is over—the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary may recall that when he was Prime Minister from time to time I helped him spend the peace dividend in the NHS. However, when the threat facts change, our defence posture needs to change with them. In fairness, of course, the Government can point to increasing military expenditure, support for Ukraine, a procurement pipeline, Archer artillery, the Type 26 and Type 31 new ships for the Navy and so forth, but the fact remains that we clearly have capability gaps.

Those were laid out starkly by the House of Commons Defence Committee in its report at the beginning of February and we must square up to them. For every five service personnel joining the military, the MoD reports that eight are leaving. When it comes to the Equipment Plan for the Ministry of Defence looking out over the next decade, which accounts for about half —49%—of forecast defence spending, we see, according to the National Audit Office, a funding gap of £17 billion, at least. Indeed, there is a rather curious feature of the way in which that forecast defence equipment budget has been established. In the case of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, the full predicted costs of their equipment requirements to deliver the Government’s objectives, set out in the integrated review and the defence Command Paper, are priced up, but in the case of the British Army, they are not. I asked a Written Question as to why there was this difference in the internal budgeting between different parts of the Armed Forces in the MoD. I was told on 21 December that the Ministry of Defence’s operating model allows top- level budget holders

“to have different financial positions and to be at different stages of addressing their financial pressures”.

I think one way of interpreting that Answer is to say that, in effect, the Army is being used as the balancing item for a set of unbudgeted requirements. As a consequence, it is very hard for Parliament and the Government to have a transparent debate with the public about the costs of resourcing the military capabilities that we say we need as a nation.

Of course, better procurement and stronger economic growth would, to some extent, dissolve these trade-offs. We will have a Budget tomorrow, so it is possible that the Chancellor will answer the question of when we will get to 2.5% of GDP and rise beyond that. However, I rather doubt it, because we all know that at this stage of the electoral cycle what is going on is a torturing of the OBR forecasts until they confess. The likelihood is that, at best, these commitments will show up in manifestos. To the extent that they do not, it will be vital that at the start of the next Parliament—whoever holds the reins of power—we are in a position to have a frank conversation with the British people about the progress, the trade-offs and the trajectory required to give us the capabilities we need. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said at the start of the debate, to will the end is to will the means.

21:01
Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, the debate title asks us to “take note” of the UK’s position on foreign affairs, so where do we stand today?

One useful starting point is the finding of an Ipsos poll in January. The question was “What difference has leaving the EU had on the UK’s standing on the world stage?” and 54% of those polled said it had a negative effect. Some 17% said that it had a positive effect. I concede, however, that on soft power we remain a superpower. The latest Brand Finance survey had the UK again in second place after the US. Much of that, however, is outside the control of government—for example, the quality of our universities.

The international context is bleak for all of us, certainly compared with 20 or 30 years ago. There is no peace dividend, no new international stability, no greater co-operation among nations, and democracy and the rules-based system are in retreat. The picture today is one of wars and rumours of wars. The evolution of relations between NATO and Russia is instructive. Twenty or 30 years ago, there was a NATO-Russia Act; today, we have Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the flippant threat of Trump to abandon Article 5 of the NATO treaty.

What used to be called the third world, now the global South, is increasingly moving away from the western orbit. Some wars we almost ignore; for example, those in Sudan and eastern Congo. Some force themselves upon us, such as the Houthi war in Yemen, and affect our shipping and food prices. Some, of course, are threats to our allies and domestically. On Ukraine, and of course again on the Middle East, there is essentially a cross-party consensus in this House and beyond. In Ukraine, momentum has certainly passed to Russia. Germany agonises over the supply of Taurus long-range missiles. Republicans in Congress block aid and arms to Ukraine. However, it is unlikely that either side in the conflict will win a decisive victory.

For Ukraine to lose would be a great defeat for the West. It is fighting gallantly for all of us, yet surely we should not give unconditional support and subcontract our own policy entirely to Ukraine’s. If Russia were to prevail, Trump and the Republicans in Congress, and possibly the German Chancellor, would bear a heavy responsibility. There should be twin tasks of military support and looking for diplomatic openings.

On Gaza, the position is different. After the atrocities of 7 October, there was enormous international sympathy for Israel, but Netanyahu has frittered much of that away through his intransigence, the creation of a humanitarian catastrophe and the pictures of starving children; President Biden had warned against a response of fury. There is at least a possibility of some good emerging if a grand deal were agreed, including a two-state solution.

The Oracle at Delphi advised us to “Know thyself”, and that should be part of our international role—a national introspection of what we can do. However, there is a degree of unreality post Brexit. If we were to tilt to the Indo-Pacific, that would be a tilt away from Europe, where our interests mainly lie and where we currently seek to avoid the major part of our foreign policy at a time when Europe is facing new threats in the Arctic and in Ukraine.

I end on this. Our foreign and security policy interests are closely aligned with the European Union. There are three blocs today: China is hostile; the US may become unreliable; the EU is our regional alternative. Theresa May considered a treaty in this area—do the Government envisage building a closer relationship? What new institutions does the Foreign Secretary favour, or are we too constrained by Brexiteers in the ranks of the Conservatives? The noble Lord, Lord Cameron, our welcome Foreign Secretary, ran well once. Where does he stand today on closer relations with the European Union on foreign and security policy?

21:07
Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Portrait Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, addressing your Lordships’ House today about multiple murders is a flashback to my former life as a detective superintendent and graduate of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. This debate is very timely, not just because the world appears to be in turmoil but because I received a letter last week about the incarceration, for 25 years, of Vladimir Kara-Murza, in a strict regime prison in Russia.

Vladimir Kara-Murza is a radical critic of Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the war. He was educated at Cambridge University and has joint British/Russian nationality. The jointly signed letter is from three British subjects in London, who have all had their lives tragically turned upside down by Vladimir Putin. The first of these is Professor Michael Borschevsky, whose wife, Galina, a scientist and distinguished vocal advocate of democracy, was murdered by shooting in St Petersburg by Russia’s Federal Security Service, of which Putin was then in charge, in 1998. The second is Marina, the wife of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian defector who was poisoned by a radioactive substance in London in 2006 by Russian FSB agents.

Finally, the third is Bill Browder, who believes that he himself is a target of Putin for campaigning for justice in the case of his Russian solicitor, Sergei Magnitsky, who was advocating for him in a fraud case in Russia in 2009 when he was arrested and led to a freezing isolation cell in a Moscow prison, handcuffed to a bedrail and beaten to death by eight corrupt police officers. Mr Magnitsky had uncovered evidence that they had stolen £230 million of taxes paid to the state by a very successful hedge fund. Mr Browder has campaigned tirelessly and successfully for severe international sanctions against corrupt Russian individuals, known as Magnitsky sanctions. Mr Magnitsky’s killing remains uninvestigated.

Your Lordships will recall other similar assassinations of Putin’s opponents, such as Boris Nemtsov, who was shot on a bridge in Moscow, and most recently, of course, as has been mentioned several times, the disgraceful death of Alexei Navalny, an opposition politician whose tragic funeral took place in Moscow last weekend. He was also a poison victim, who is believed to have been murdered in a severe Arctic prison.

Could I ask the Foreign Secretary whether representations have been made to the Russian authorities regarding the imprisonment of Vladimir Kara-Murza? All three of my correspondents are in effect exiled from Russia for safety reasons and bring a large amount of experience and intelligence in these matters over many years. Would the Secretary of State agree to meet the three distinguished authors of the letter in my possession, of which I can let him have a copy, with a view to shining a light on the case and preventing Mr Kara-Murza suffering the same fate as Alexei Navalny? I look forward to a positive reply from the Foreign Secretary.

21:11
Lord Balfe Portrait Lord Balfe (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by saying this is the first debate in which I have taken part to which my good friend the Foreign Secretary has been replying. He is a man of great wisdom—he put me into the House of Lords. There can be nothing greater in the wisdom field than that.

Although this is in title a debate on foreign affairs, I want to speak mainly about Russia. Before doing so, since Gaza has come up, I fully associate myself with the speeches of my noble friends Lord Polak and Lady Altmann, who are exactly in the right direction.

My noble friend Lady Eaton treated us to a bit of history earlier, and I would like to treat us to some history as well—that of post-war Britain. Those who are very boring, like me, and watch BBC Four at 10 pm on a Sunday night, may have seen that, last Sunday, they replayed the broadcast that Hugh Gaitskell made after the invasion of Suez. He berated the British Government for breaking international law. I mention that in passing, since of late we have heard a lot about the breaking of international law. I certainly do not condone what Russia did, but I ask that we maybe understand the context in which it happened.

At the end of the Second World War, Stalin was anxious—in fact, more than anxious—that Russia should be surrounded by a cordon sanitaire, and that was the whole purpose of Yalta. We sometimes forget that we went to war for the freedom of Poland, and we ended up agreeing to the borders of Poland agreed in the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. That was never settled until Willy Brandt was Chancellor of Germany, at which point it was settled along the lines of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact.

There have been lots of changes in borders, and I ask the House to consider that what we are currently facing are a lot of frozen conflicts around the Russian border of the former Soviet Union. This is where the problem arises—and why, just as the United States gets absolutely paranoid about Cuba, the Russians get rather paranoid about their riparian borders. If we are to avoid a long-term conflict in which issue after issue is brought up, we have to have some sort of new Helsinki. There has got to be a conference in Europe in which we negotiate and come to a new set of agreements.

We know, because it has now been comprehensively leaked, that there was almost an agreement between Ukraine and Moscow about Moscow having neutrality in Ukraine, but the agreement was sunk. What we have now is a hopeless war, and it will go on and on, and the Russians will, almost certainly, not be beaten. It will become another frozen conflict like Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and like what is now rapidly coming up on the rails in Moldova, what could break out in the Suwalki strip between the coast and through Lithuania and what could break out on the borders of Latvia and Estonia with the Russian cities that were created there.

I say to the Foreign Secretary that the long-term consequences of this must be that the shooting will have to stop. It cannot carry on for ever, and, if it is going to stop, we must have a series of new arrangements. This afternoon, just before I came here, I was looking at a German newscast which reported that 65% of Germans believe the shipment of arms to Ukraine is now “excessive”, and 75% oppose the export of Taurus missiles to Ukraine. Do not get this wrong: the fear of many people in Europe is a drift towards war. The job of the Foreign Office—which I served in for a very short time, but I know its mentality—is to encourage peace, not to build up to war.

21:16
Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, the world is at a perilous moment. I will refer to the Middle East situation, before turning to the overseas territories, and conclude with a thought regarding China.

The situation in the Levant is so distressing. Everyone knows the ramifications, not only for the conflicting sides, but for the world. Resolution drifts, either willingly by skilled defenders of one side or another, or unwillingly by their collocutors. Is either side ready to discuss life in the region, or do they want to continue to prove themselves right and to die for it?

Claims on the rights to the land and who was there first—with control or containment of the settlers—is a quandary as complex as the horrific events of 7 October. Debating circular claims on the cluster of problems with the many participants who are physically in combat, or actively driving it from behind, is not going to lead to any sustainable solution. The only question is whether the sides can face reality and discuss the present and future, while putting aside grievances from the past.

Can a wedge be inserted between Iran and active players in the region, or will we continue to allow skilled puppet masters to continue unabated? A peace treaty will be signed one day; there is no choice. We—all those with a vested interest in a resolution—must not stay on the sidelines. However, we must not take sides, but instead push the sides to face reality and negotiate on its terms.

I turn now to the overseas territories and shall take Gibraltar as an example. Gibraltar has assessed broadening its trade links, and it wishes to do this with the same rights and privileges as the United Kingdom. It sees potential in increasing trade with Africa. However, to maximise its potential, a level playing field with respect to the UK is needed to allow the repositioning of its economy to a post-Brexit model and the maximising of advances in new technology such as artificial intelligence. Article 12 of the UK-Sierra Leone bilateral FTA is clear, however, that the Government “may” consider extending the same rights and privileges to an overseas territory. Why would government in London not agree? First and foremost, we must surely be looking after our nearest and dearest.

However, a recent official note from the FCDO made the Government’s position clear: “It is not the policy of the UK Government to extend bilateral investment treaty agreements to British Overseas Territories, even though that provision is in all of them, because the UK has found that the BIT treaties are not made much use of”. I am confused as to what is meant by that—the horse or the cart syndrome. I would be delighted to give a copy of the note with those remarks in it from a department of the FCDO. If I may say so, I believe that approach to be wide of the mark in today’s world, and it smacks of yesteryear’s colonial approach to policy. We should be encouraging innovation in our post-Brexit world, and as much to our overseas territories as elsewhere. Would the Secretary of State look at this with a view to reconsideration?

I conclude with a remark as regards China. Too much of an open door is being given to China to build on a range of strategic alliances. Beyond, notably, Africa, inroads are being made into the Pacific. I hope the upcoming CHOGM in Samoa will emphasise the unity and importance that we and the Commonwealth place on our Pacific Rim relations.

That said, and while it is imperative that we diversify supply chains—with India being an obvious beneficiary —and be proactive regarding the changing maritime landscape, I believe that we should not be dismissive of the relationship with China, and should be exploring ways for, not thwarting, mutual bilateral co-operation, building on our respective strengths and contribution, and recognising the importance, together with all the complexities. Dialogue and engagement are always preferable. It is not as though we, the West, do not hold a trump card by providing a large percentage of their marketplace.

However, going back to an earlier remark on sea routes, too much overreliance is being given to the vagaries of international law, for example to the potential for future civil and defence long-term challenges in the Northern Arctic Sea route. We—those who share common ideals—must become more assertive as the world is headed towards an extended cold war.

21:21
Lord McInnes of Kilwinning Portrait Lord McInnes of Kilwinning (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble friend the Foreign Secretary for finding the time to allow the House such a long debate today, when there is such pressure on his time. This particular marathon is almost over.

In the short time allowed, I want to focus on one example of where the UK’s continuing influential position and soft power in the world could be used successfully to help thwart further Russian expansionist aspirations in the Caucasus, through greater support for Armenia. Armenia is an essential potential ally in the region but, perhaps more importantly, a country that we can help remove from the jeopardy of Putin’s longing for full control of the former Soviet Union.

My noble friend the Foreign Secretary gave an inspiring speech, on 23 February in New York, on his own experience of Russian aggression in Georgia, the Crimea and Ukraine. In that, he outlined the continuity of Putin’s policies and Putin’s disrespect for the sovereignty of other nation states. I make a particular plea this evening that, following that experience, the UK’s foreign policy includes and continues to develop our relationship with Armenia. There is much we can do.

As noble Lords will be aware, Armenia is in what can only be described as a vulnerable position in a tough neighbourhood. It is currently defending its sovereignty in peace talks with Azerbaijan after significant military losses over the last few years, with no fewer than 33 Armenian villages under Azeri occupation. Armenia has found out the hard way that supposed military support from Moscow has come to naught.

Despite Russian bases in Armenia, the democratic Government put in power by its people after the 2018 velvet revolution have bravely condemned the invasion of Ukraine and have also suspended their membership of the CSTO.

Only yesterday, the Putin propagandist and Russia Today media star Margarita Simonyan said that Armenia would not exist in five years if the democratically elected Prime Minister Pashinyan remained in power. We should not underestimate the pressure that Prime Minister Pashinyan’s Government is under to halt progress away from Putin and towards the West.

As my noble friend the Foreign Secretary knows only too well, we have seen this playbook before. Armenia is a country that has lost a war, does not enjoy normalised relations with Turkey or Azerbaijan and is ripe for Russian aggression and negative influence. To its south lies Iran, always keen to play geopolitical games. This democratic Government need all the support we can give them.

I would like my noble friend to consider three things. First, as a fragile Armenia tries to move away from the Russian sphere of influence, it is vital that we do all we can to welcome it to the western alliance and support it. While I understand that the UK-Armenian relationship is different from that of France and Armenia, where direct military support is being provided, we have an opportunity to help stabilise the situation. Through our strong relationship with Azerbaijan, an important trading partner, we are uniquely placed to ensure that the peace talks from which Armenia emerges leave it a strong, sovereign nation and that any rhetoric from Baku on further Azeri expansion into Armenia is put to bed.

Secondly, we should use our relationship with our strategic friend and NATO ally, Turkey, to give impetus to the normalisation process between it and Armenia. This will help ensure that Armenian economic reliance on Russia is mitigated.

Thirdly, this last year has seen a welcome engagement with Armenia by the FCDO. My noble friend’s colleague, Minister Docherty, has twice been to Yerevan and the Armenian Foreign Minister visited London last year—in fact, on the day on which my noble friend was appointed Foreign Secretary. We must continue this dialogue. I hope that further visits, meetings and agreements can come from this interaction.

The alternative to these three actions is to leave Armenia as a susceptible, vulnerable state, which, while bravely reaching out to the West and away from Russia, is not properly supported and is at the disposal of Putin. I am sure we can all agree that we cannot afford to let this happen.

21:27
Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, as others have mentioned, it is two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. Soon after the war started, I was appointed to a legal task force to advise on war crimes. My area of work is related largely to crimes concerning women and children. I am now working with President Zelensky’s office on the return of children who have been abducted and taken from Ukraine by Russia.

I cannot emphasise enough just how indebted the Ukrainian leadership feels to Britain for the way in which we have been at the forefront of supporting Ukraine. From my work on this task force, it has become clear that there are areas of law where we could make some beneficial changes. For example, what would the authorities do if a Russian general who had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine showed up at a London airport? We asked whether he would be arrested and put on trial. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Of course, we recognise the principle of universal jurisdiction and have interpreted it into British law. However, that allows us and our courts to put on trial people for only a handful of offences—genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity—the kinds of offences that shock the consciousness and the conscience of humankind, no matter where they occur.

The problem is that our law confines this to citizens and residents of the United Kingdom. The only people who can be prosecuted are those with this status. Interestingly, the United States’ law was formed in exactly the same way but, last year, it amended its legislation. Merrick Garland, the Attorney General, very much supported by the State Department, changed it so that presence was enough. The Americans do not have the problem of not being able to arrest Russian generals or Iranian mullahs who are currently out of our reach. This is a piece of low-hanging fruit.

I take up what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, in that I am very happy to see the Foreign Secretary in his role. I know that many of us involved in international issues have been impressed by his willingness to depart from some of the normal policy constraints, so I congratulate him on that. He has a window of opportunity—who knows what will happen later in the year? I suggest that this is a piece of low-hanging fruit, and he could change the law through the Criminal Justice Bill that is coming through Parliament.

The other area of law that I would like us to look at is our state immunity law, which I will discuss very briefly. There is a growing feeling—it has been expressed by the President of the European Commission—that we should consider using the frozen Russian assets that we have. We ourselves have £20 billion worth of Russian assets in our banks. They should be used to assist in the buying of military supplies for Ukraine. The way to do that would be to liquidate them. It would mean some legal change, but, under the doctrine of collective countermeasures, it would be permissible because we are suffering economic consequences, as a nation, as a result of the war. I am not suggesting that we go off on a tangent on our own. I am sure that the Foreign Secretary, with his great skills as a politician, great charm and ambassadorial skills, could get together with the rest of Europe and make an agreement that it is done collectively, as the risks are diminished when it is done collectively.

I turn to the other matters that I want to raise with the Foreign Secretary as low-hanging fruit. I would like to see the strengthening of the atrocity crimes unit in the Foreign Office, because it needs greater resources, and it should monitor indicators of genocide. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and I argue for that in relation to the issues to which we often drawn this House’s attention, including the position of the Uighurs. The unit should look at whether there is a trajectory towards genocide, which should be monitored in a sophisticated way, and resources are needed for that.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad—I am a great fan of his—for mentioning Vladimir Kara-Murza, an extraordinary person who is currently in prison in Russia. He has, undoubtedly, twice been poisoned by the state and is now facing a long sentence, just like Navalny. He is a British citizen, and I hope that pressure can be brought to bear on Russia to release him and let him return to Britain. I suspect that that means having to be involved in an exchange of prisoners. We do not have a Russian to exchange, but Germany does, and I think that collaboration with Germany may make it possible for that kind of exchange to take place. I know that that is normally resisted by the Foreign Office, but we should consider doing it for this prisoner at this moment in time, given what happened to Navalny.

My last message to the Foreign Secretary is this. He is dealing with the whole issue of the Middle East, and I know how difficult that is. We always talk about the importance of peacemaking. Here I take up what the most reverend Primate mentioned: peacemaking is vital, but we must have women at the tables, and I am worried that women will not be at the tables in the Middle East. With his great advocacy skills, please will the Foreign Secretary ensure that we have women at the tables? That is what we want to see.

21:33
Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, we have heard a lot about the challenges that we face in the world: Ukraine, China, Middle Eastern crises, climate change, the backlash against globalisation, and conflicts and state weaknesses in Africa. However, I will argue—as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, did—that the greatest challenge for British foreign policy today is America’s move away from global engagement and, in particular, from a commitment to European security.

British foreign policy since 1940 has been based on the concept of a special relationship with the United States as the key to maintaining our global influence. Until 2017, we also argued that we were America’s closest European partner, acting as the bridge between regionally focused continental countries and their transatlantic security guarantor.

Since Brexit, we have lost that position. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister attempted to replace it by proposing his tilt to the Pacific—to become America’s partner in facing the challenge of containing China. Whoever wins the coming US presidential election, we now have to accept that the United States no longer regards the UK as a special or privileged partner, or European stability and security as the key factor in American foreign policy.

When I lived in the USA in the 1960s, a very long time ago, I met many policymakers in Washington who had spent the Second World War in Britain, in shared intelligence operations or preparing to liberate the European continent. American foreign policy was run by people from the Atlantic states, advised by first or second-generation immigrants from Europe itself.

Two generations later, America has changed in fundamental ways. California, Texas and Florida now matter far more, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania far less. There are significant Muslim minorities in several states, as we have recently been told, as well as many Latin American and east and south Asian voters. When I was a teaching assistant in an American university, we taught “western civilisation”, and the most important destination for our American students going to study abroad was Britain. Chinese students in British universities now well outnumber American, and young Americans spread out across east and south Asia, the Middle East and Africa instead.

The underlying concepts of British defence policy and procurement have remained. As I have discovered by talking to people in the MoD, the standard by which our priorities and procurement should be measured is acceptance as equivalents by the United States. We have to recognise that this also cannot hold; American equipment is increasingly sophisticated and expensive, as we have discovered with the F35. Unless we substantially raise the scale of our defence spending, we cannot contribute significant additional forces to American deployments. Boris Johnson’s dream of contributing a British task force to the Indo-Pacific was always fantastical; the reality of a British carrier dependent for support ships on the United States and other allies has shown how limited our naval capabilities now are.

There are other nostalgic echoes that we have to leave behind. When I became a very junior Minister in the coalition Government, I was struck by the overemphasis of some of my Conservative colleagues on the value of the Commonwealth, half a century and two generations after the new Commonwealth countries had become independent. One Cabinet Minister remarked to me that the Indians were dependable friends because they remained so grateful for what British rule had given them, which is something that I doubt the current Indian Prime Minister accepts.

We still have close political relations with the Gulf states, with historical echoes, and naval ships and bases there as well. But the idea that the authoritarian Gulf ruling families are natural British allies is not sustainable, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Belgravia, said. Conservative Ministers also doubt that people close to a Gulf state ruler should be allowed to own a conservative British newspaper, because they argue that they are hostile to our democratic values.

The tilt away from Europe was a post-imperial dream. Our natural partners in this now-hostile environment are our European neighbours. Our priority must be to rebuild that partnership with neighbours who share our democratic values. As many noble Lords have already said, if we want to maintain influence in Europe and across the world, we will have to prioritise spending on defence and international development over tax cuts.

21:38