Tuesday 5th March 2024

(2 months, 2 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
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Ahmad, and express some sympathy to my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I am sure that, when he received the call from the Prime Minister inviting him to be Foreign Secretary, his mind must have turned to trips to the Arctic, rainforests in Brazil and white tie receptions in Washington as the Ferrero Rocher was handed around—perhaps not a six-hour debate that some would say reminds them of a radio station phone-in without even the break of adverts in the middle. However, here we are. I hope I can add to the sum of knowledge with some thoughts. I refer to my register of interests in respect of Israel, as I will speak on that topic.

First, let us remind ourselves why we have this horrific situation in Gaza. As today’s United Nations report by Pramila Patten finally admitted and confirmed, it is because a horde of people, including UNRWA employees, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lady Altmann explained, committed the most deplorable and evil of crimes against civilians. They were targeting civilians, who suffered not as innocent bystanders but as victims. They raped young girls so violently that they broke their pelvises. They tied and burned whole families together, ensuring that family members witnessed the death of their siblings, parents and children, and committed such evil atrocities as putting babies in ovens.

I am sorry to have to repeat this in graphic detail in your Lordships’ House, but I am afraid I feel I have to, as Hamas has vowed to repeat this again and again. It still holds innocent hostages in what must be unimaginably horrendous conditions. So we need a constant reminder as to why we cannot have an unconditional ceasefire in isolation. Given this report, will my noble friend now push the United Nations to confirm Hamas as a terrorist organisation? He might do likewise with the BBC, but we have tried that.

What option is there now other than to take every step to ensure that this does not happen again? If UK citizens, members of any of our families in this Chamber, were abducted on our soil, I would want to be sure that my Government pursued the perpetrators to the ends of the earth, even if on the way there were civilian losses that, while deeply regrettable, are, as my noble friend Lord Roberts of Belgravia, the distinguished military expert historian, and many others have pointed out, much lower than one might expect in this type of challenging and terrible urban warfare.

To suggest that the IDF is carrying out a genocide is hugely insulting to the genuine victims of a genocide and to the IDF, which has been commended by our own military as the most humane army on the planet. It consists largely of civilian conscripts and has taken more steps than any other army in the history of human armed conflict to try to reduce harm to innocent civilians.

I applaud my noble friend’s valiant attempts to try to find a way through the current situation. He has set out his five clear objectives and I, for one, would like to support them. However, I will focus on one of his objectives that I believe needs some clarification: his horizon of an irreversible pathway to a state of Palestine. That needs much further thought. I am inclined to support it, and I believe that the citizens of Palestine deserve a free state of their own, but it needs some clarity. Perhaps a conference needs to be secured by my noble friend to address the issues of genuine concern. For example, to ensure that a free Palestine is freed from Hamas, will that state be a democracy or an autocracy? Will it be demilitarised? Will Jewish people be allowed to visit, work, study and pray, as Arabs from the West Bank are and should be? Will inspections be allowed to ensure that there are no tunnels? Will there be no treaty allowing funding or other arrangements with Iran? Will a border be created, such as the one in Cyprus, with international protections? In this new state, will the rights of gays, women, minorities and those with other religious practices be protected in the way that they are in Israel?

There are many other concerns—this is a first list. There is much work to be done now if a state is to be possible and not collapse into violent civil war, as in Sudan. We need to start work now, as there is just the possibility that after Hamas and its military infrastructure are destroyed, there might be a way forward to the peaceful co-existence we all seek.

21:44
Lord Marlesford Portrait Lord Marlesford (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise to the House for missing my earlier slot. I am grateful for being allowed a few words in the gap.

In his Downing Street address on extremism last week, the Prime Minister gave us a much-needed warning. I believe that the greatest threat to world peace and security today is the resurrection of fascism. The Prime Minister did not say “fascism”, but he described it very well: it seeks

“to advance a divisive, hateful ideological agenda”,

combined with

“Threats of violence and intimidation”


to win power. We all know that this is followed with increasingly cruel and brutal repression to obtain power.

There are two obvious areas where all this is happening. The first and most obvious is Putin’s far-right rule in Russia, which ticks every box for qualification as fascist, from Ukraine to Navalny. He has recently engaged the Wagner Group as his own private instrument of despotism, particularly in Africa. The second, and in some ways more formidably, is political Islam, whose distorted jihadist ideology was created by hijacking the religion of Islam, as peacefully practised by hundreds of millions throughout the world.

Israel cannot fully escape criticism. There are echoes that can be seen by some as fascistic. Netanyahu is certainly risking turning what could have been an ethical military victory into a major global defeat. However, as the Prime Minister put it:

“Islamist extremists and the far right feed off and embolden each other”.

21:46
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, this debate has presented a fascinating combination of the global challenges—outlined so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Alderdice—that we now face mid-decade but which will be with us for many years, in fact decades, to come and how the UK Government have approached them over recent years. In summary, the former are immense, and the latter has been faltering in too many areas. Regrettably, there have been too many times in recent years, especially in development policy, when the UK has not been a dependable, reliable and predictable partner. All these factors are absolutely necessary if we are to have the international reputation and recognition that the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and my noble friend Lord Bruce have indicated are in our interest.

I start with two areas that have been raised in the debate that need an immediate, far greater international response to humanitarian need. Last year at this time, I was in Khartoum. I met separately General Burhan and General Hemedti to support what turned out to be a failed process to prevent conflict between the Sudan armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, knows, I have continued to support Sudanese civilians through their Takadum initiative, but have watched with ongoing horror the suffering of the people since last April: 8 million Sudanese driven from their homes, likely 15,000 dead and 18 million people whom the World Food Programme describes as being in acute hunger. What was the global community’s response? A paltry 3.5% of the $2.7 billion requested by OCHA has been raised. Trafficking in humans is now on the increase. My heart sank last week when I learned in a meeting that, in 2024, a slave market has been reported in Omdurman, outside Khartoum.

My noble friends Lady Suttie and Lord Bruce, and the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, mentioned the Wagner Group. I called for its proscription 11 times over 12 months and commend the Government for proscribing it, but I would be grateful if the Foreign Secretary could give an assessment of the impact that has had on the Wagner Group’s capability.

Sudan is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, but it is the least reported and has had the worst global response. Gaza has understandably dominated much of this debate this evening, and I visited the Gaza border two weekends ago through the UK-based Jewish charity, Yachad. I also visited Ramallah, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As my noble friend Lady Janke said, of the reported 30,000 Palestinians killed, it is estimated that 70% are women and children. We know in all conflicts that women and children are disproportionately impacted.

I know that the Foreign Secretary is a student of political biography. In 1979, in the first speech by his predecessor Lord Carrington as Foreign Secretary in the Thatcher Government—the last time we had a Foreign Secretary in this House—he discussed the Middle East and said that

“the Palestinian problem lies at the very heart of the issue. The objective here must be full and genuine autonomy for these areas as a step towards determining their final status. Nothing would do more to help these negotiations, to build trust in the area, and to win the consent of the Palestinians than for Israel to cease the expansion of its settlements in the occupied territories”.—[Official Report, 22/5/1979; col. 240.]

That was the year of Security Council Resolution 446, which sought to prohibit illegal settlements. That year, they numbered not more than 15,000; 45 years on and the resolution not being adhered to, that figure is now 750,000.

We already know that settler violence in the West Bank in 2023 was the worst on record, so I welcome warmly the Government’s designation of the two settlers under the global human rights sanctions regime. I visited the part-UK-funded school and medical centre in the West Bank destroyed by one of the settlers now sanctioned by the UK. They acted with impunity, with material and economic support from government entities and Ministers, and these Benches call for the designation under the human rights regime of Ministers Smotrich and Ben-Gvir as facilitators of the violence.

When I met the IDF spokesman, I asked for an estimate of how much they had depleted the capability of Hamas after four months of fighting. He told me that of the 30,000 estimated Hamas fighters, the IDF had killed 10,000. A remark was made at the meeting that 2024 will be a year of war. It is now obvious that there will be no sustainable military solution, and to secure neighbour security for Israelis and Palestinians we needed the bilateral ceasefire in November when these Benches argued for it, with a hostage release programme and the commencement of a political track including the recognition of the state of Palestine.

We have also heard about the ongoing Ukraine conflict and the ongoing suffering of the people of Ukraine. One constant across all sides of the Chamber is that we cannot afford for the Putin regime to prevail. However, as my noble friend Lady Suttie, said, the war inflicted on Ukraine has many fronts. The week of the full invasion, it was clear from messages that I received—when I visited Baghdad and Beirut and came back to the Chamber with reflections—that efforts in Ukraine must be matched with diplomatic and development efforts in the wider region, especially in the Horn of Africa, which is reliant on food supplies, to ensure that we did not present apparent and real double standards.

Unfortunately, we are seen by many around the world not to be reliable, and we have raised the concerns about double standards. We have welcomed and sheltered Ukrainians fleeing disaster but closed off routes for those from Sudan, Yemenis, Iranians and Rohingya. Indeed, the Foreign Secretary confirmed to me on 16 January that funding had been diverted from supporting the Rohingya to pay for the Ukrainian resettlement. The welcome UK aid for Ukraine scheme has been offset by cuts to famine support in the Horn of Africa, meaning our response to famine there was far lower than that to a lesser famine in 2018. These actions are significant because Putin’s objective is to undermine the rules-based international order to highlight its double standards and hypocrisy and instead present a multipolar one, even though we know that it is deeply threatening to neighbouring states. China seems aligned with that broad approach.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, referred, rightly, to trade and development. But the UK has little credibility when we challenge developing economies, asking them to pivot from China when they know that the UK has by far the largest trade deficit in goods with China of any nation on earth, at around £50 billion. That deficit means that we are dependent on China in key sectors, while government policy has made it much harder to trade with Europe, with a cost of £100,000 per typical business in extra trade friction, bureaucracy and form-filling.

As my noble friend Lord Wallace said, reconnecting with Europe on trade—but also on security and intelligence—is now of geostrategic importance. It is an irony of Putin’s horrors against Ukraine that Europe is more united and less divided. This will potentially be a supremely important contingency should a second Trump Administration happen in America.

I declare that I co-chair the Trade Out of Poverty All-Party Group. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, when he says that trade and the Commonwealth offer significant opportunities; but not a single FTA with a Commonwealth country signed by the UK under this Government has included a Commonwealth chapter, allowed by the WTO, to pursue and promote intra-Commonwealth trade. I hope that before he leaves office, whenever that is, the Foreign Secretary will change tack and speak to the business department to ensure that that is corrected.

While we have become a less reliable partner, we have also become a less dependable one. At the UN last year, the Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, said that the UK needed to regain and rebuild trust in the development area. But how can we do this when the Government do not even acknowledge that we have lost it? As my noble friend Lord Oates has indicated, we need to have dependable relationships too. The average tenure of an Africa Minister over the last eight years has been nine months. I was speaking to a diplomat during one of the many reshuffles and he said that the Foreign Office was currently finding out whether the new Minister for Africa had ever been to Africa.

With regard to what dominated the recent AU summit —the eastern lakes, the DRC and Rwanda—we know that there are very many potential conflict areas. Therefore, Rwanda is not only in our domestic legislation but potentially of foreign relations interest. On the Rwanda Bill, we talk about global human rights and the global rules-based order, but the Human Rights Council’s top headline on UN News two weeks ago, when we were debating the Rwanda Bill in Committee in this House, was that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was decrying the UK’s breaching of the rule of law and fearful of how other autocracies would feel that it would now be easier for them to do so.

Regrettably, I feel that the Foreign Secretary’s legacy will be his name on that Rwanda treaty; it is his signature. It is a terrible agreement, which, alongside its profound moral faults, simply will not work.

I return to why the UK needs to be a predictable partner in development investment. These Benches would adhere again—we would never have left it—to the 0.7% target in the 2015 legislation, which I had the great privilege to pilot through, with cross-party support. We are committed to its immediate restoration, and we want to see UK development expertise again recognised in an independent development department.

I return to the immediate: 2024 is already a terribly bloody year for civilians. I close with just two comments on a recent visit that I made. Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh, a hostage held by Hamas, told me of her empathy with Gazan mothers who have lost their children or are unsure where their children currently are. She told me, “There is no competition of pain and tears; there is just a lot of pain and tears”. The son of parents killed in a peace kibbutz told me how all his mother’s work and warnings had been overlooked in recent years. He said, “I can forgive the past. I can even forgive the present and those who commit the crimes, but I won’t forgive the failure to change the future”.

As we face the first anniversary in a number of weeks’ time of the present conflict in Sudan, I hope the Foreign Secretary will take time to focus on the Sudan crisis. In Gaza, the US and UK must now change policy and call formally for an immediate bilateral ceasefire. If we are to have a process after the day after, we need a day before. If we are to fight for the rules-based international order, there must be order, and we must adhere to the rules.

21:59
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on his excellent introduction to the debate. For this Government, he has broken all records: he has had seven continuous years in one department. That is unbelievable for this Government. I was very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned Ernie Bevin, who was a great statesman and trade unionist—two ingredients that deliver effective foreign policy. He was a hero of mine. He understood that the best response to dictators is strong collective defence and security.

The world faces huge challenges, with increasing inequality, conflict, climate change and health pandemics. On many occasions in this House, I have praised the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, for the way he ensured that the international community focused on the sustainable development goals after Gordon Brown’s success with the MDGs. We are way off meeting those goals by 2030. So do the Government have a response to the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global SDG rescue plan, involving international partners, civil society and business?

As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said, we had a political consensus around development. Sadly, under the direction of Rishi Sunak, we have seen the development target cut from 0.7% to 0.5%. It is not just the size of those cuts but the speed of their implementation that caused so much damage to people who most needed it. This country’s reputation and credibility as a trusted partner were so damaged. We also saw the bungled merger between DfID and the Foreign Office, deprioritising development, sapping morale and pushing out expertise. I know the Foreign Secretary opposed that merger at the time.

In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, spoke of a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to diplomacy, development and, of course, defence, which I will not go into too much detail about because we are talking about foreign affairs. But those three Ds are very important ingredients in a successful policy. Sadly, the words have not been matched by reality, as was argued by the most reverend Primate and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup.

The publication of the integrated review was followed by the refresh, where we had to refocus on the threat from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But the refresh also said that the so-called Indo-Pacific tilt has apparently been completed—yet the UK’s diplomatic presence in India and China had been cut by 50% over the past eight years. We need a strong and consistent approach to China, working with partners and allies, and engaging where it is in our interests. The Intelligence and Security Committee report described the UK’s approach to China as “completely inadequate” and said that Britain was “severely handicapped” in managing future security risks. Despite announcing a China policy with interrelated strands of protect, align and engage, we still do not have a clear strategy, which is vital to engage our businesses and civil society, as well as our international partners.

The refresh also recognised the need for changes to the multilateral system, as many noble Lords have referred to. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, mentioned proposed reforms, and of course the refresh document included the recommendation for additional members of the UN Security Council, with permanent representation for Africa, so sorely missed out of this Government’s priorities. What progress has been made on that? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that a broader review of the working methods of the Security Council, including looking at ways to amplify civil society voices, could also give the global South a greater voice?

We have also seen the international development White Paper, which is another attempt at a strategic approach. There is much in the White Paper that we can welcome, and I certainly welcome its vision of a much longer-term approach to development. As the Foreign Secretary knows, I have raised the fact that one of the major barriers to development is access to finance. For many of the most heavily indebted countries, that is unachievable. We need a fairer system between private creditors and countries in debt distress. The Foreign Secretary has responded to me on what the UK Government are currently doing at the G20 and the Paris Club, but the situation is getting worse, not better.

Are the Government considering reforms for international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, to help developing countries to deliver clean energy infrastructure, which is vital if we are to address some of the issues of climate change? By 2050, climate change is predicted to have increased the risk of hunger and malnutrition by 20%—a point made by my noble friend Lord Boateng and the noble Lord, Lord Oates.

Last year’s global food security summit gave us a chance to put malnutrition back on the global agenda, but what progress has been made on delivering the clear and strong commitments made by this Government at the nutrition for growth summit in Tokyo, on which we have not received any clear progress reports?

I turn to the issue that we have focused on the most, which is the Middle East. David Lammy said last week that

“it is through diplomacy, not debate in Westminster, that we will ultimately secure an end to this war”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/2/24; col. 149.]

As the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, said, most people in this House agree that both sides should stop fighting now and that all hostages should be released. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who talked about a two-state solution. As the Foreign Secretary said earlier this month, we need to work with our international partners to give hope to that process and move towards recognising a Palestinian state, rather than waiting for the end of the process. I hope he agrees that there is an opportunity here and now for the Government and the Opposition to work together to support the diplomatic process in order to deliver a two-state solution.

The ICJ said that Israel must take measures to ensure humanitarian access to Gaza. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that a full-scale Rafah offensive would be consistent with that ICJ ruling? We need to focus on getting aid in.

One of the issues raised by my noble friend Lady Smith relates to humanitarian workers whose visas have expired or been withdrawn. Many of them are facing deportation at a time when Palestinian people need them most. I hope the Foreign Secretary can reassure us today that the Government will make the strongest representations to ensure that those visas are extended and renewed.

The Government’s last Statement on the Middle East referred to the increase in aid, air drops and trucks going through. But as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said at the time, it is not enough. At the weekend, President Biden announced that the US Air Force began further air drops over Gaza on Saturday afternoon in a joint operation with the Jordanians. Can the noble Lord tell us what we are doing? Can we work with allies to ensure that further air drops take place? I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, means when she says they do not get to the people most in need. Can we also talk about opening the port of Ashdod in Israel, 40 kilometres from the border with northern Gaza? That would help significantly with getting aid through. What diplomatic efforts are we making to ensure that?

On Ukraine, there may be a change of Government here this year—who knows when a general election will take place?—but one thing we can say clearly to the world, and to Russia, is that there will be no change in Britain’s resolve to stand with Ukraine, confront Russian aggression and pursue Putin for his crimes. Two weeks ago, President von der Leyen of the European Commission made a very positive statement about repurposing seized Russian assets to fund the rebuilding effort. Canada has passed laws to do the same. We have heard in this debate from noble Lords that this is not setting a precedent. Andrew Mitchell said that the Government hope to have positive news on this soon, so I hope the Foreign Secretary can provide a clear update on when we will move with allies in supporting this. We must continue to stand with Ukraine in every aspect it needs until it is victorious. It is up to the President of Ukraine, and the people of Ukraine, to determine any peace and settlement in the war with Russia. It is their decision, and we must support them in whatever they conclude.

Let me finish by saying a slightly partisan thing, which is not in my nature. After 14 years of chaotic government and chaotic governance, and the changes we have had, Britain has lacked the leadership it needs to succeed in the face of a world characterised by conflict, the climate emergency and the erosion of the rules-based order. In contrast, Labour’s foreign policy will reconnect Britain to deliver security and prosperity at home. We will return to being a reliable partner and a dependable ally.

22:13
Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their contributions today. It is great to follow the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and let me tell him, in the spirit of cross-party politics, that every morning I am proud to walk up the steps in King Charles Street, walk past the statue of Ernie Bevin and recognise a truly great British Foreign Secretary who stood up for this country. The noble Lord was right to praise my partner, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who has been in post for seven years. My last job was six years, so there are 13 years between us, and we are both looking forward to many more years in these posts.

Today has been an opportunity for me genuinely to benefit from the accumulated wisdom and experience that resides in this Chamber, and it really has been a fascinating debate. We have ranged from Nigeria to Armenia, from universal jurisdiction to sanctions, from individual cases to current crises. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said in her opening speech, we are having this debate at a critical time.

I will try my best to respond to the many comments made, but let me say by way of introduction that, as I have said before, I cannot recall such a dangerous time in international affairs during my political career. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made this point by referring to a time of despots and dictators, but it was refreshing when the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds reminded us that it is the anniversary of the death of Stalin, so some of these things at least come to an end.

The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was right to draw attention, as the Prime Minister did on Friday, to the combined threat of the far right and Islamist extremism. We must respond to all these threats with strength and unity, and always be clear about where British interests lie. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, put it particularly clearly when she said, as I always do, that at the heart those interests are about our prosperity and our security. I have a clear set of priorities, rooted in these interests: supporting Ukraine, building a more stable Middle East, enhancing British security, promoting international development, including green growth, and boosting UK prosperity. The Foreign Office is working with departments across government to drive these priorities forward.

In the 100 days or so since I took on this job, we have tried to surge our activity to respond to new developments and crises. In the last 113 days I have visited 26 countries, spoken at eight multilateral gatherings and, of course, tried to account to this House. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for kindly saying that I should be focused on this House rather than appearing at the Bar of the House of Commons, as entertaining and fun as that might possibly be. One must always be conscious, perhaps particularly in this job, not to confuse activity with action, but I hope noble Lords can see that the actions we are taking are making a difference. I want to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on that point.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, who made a very powerful speech, I have shown solidarity with Israel, seeing the death and destruction wrought at Kibbutz Be’eri on 7 October, while also speaking out for a sustainable ceasefire in Gaza with my German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock. We have trebled our aid to Gaza and appointed a representative for humanitarian affairs to work intensively in the region to address the blockages to aid reaching Gaza. Much more needs to be done, and I will say more about that in a minute.

I have urged allies to stand by Ukraine, joining with Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski to send the clearest possible message to the US Congress that that money needs to be released. Like the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, I am proud of the record that we have in the UK. I listened very carefully to what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said: that we must will the means to the end we want, as well as that end. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, was completely right when he said that this has to be our highest priority. I have the five things I set out that I want to do, but Ukraine is number one and I will say more about that in a minute.

We have surged in terms of publishing our sanctions strategy, the first one Britain has ever had. We have imposed travel bans and asset freezes on over 200 individuals or entities. To those in the debate who mentioned the terrible nature of the Navalny case, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and the Opposition Front Bench, the UK was the first to put in place those sanctions on the people who helped to bring about his death, and we should be proud of the action we take. I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on this issue. Sanctions can be an effective weapon and, in this troubled world, we need those sorts of weapons at hand.

We published a ground-breaking international development White Paper, which I know the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has praised. It has the aim of expanding the money for developing countries, especially fragile states, but also covers a number of subjects including support for women’s rights organisations and things such as assistance with climate adaptation. We heard a great speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie. We are committed to the SDGs; we are also committed to getting back to 0.7%.

I gently point out, in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, that while it was the Labour Party under Gordon Brown that committed to 0.7%, it was a Conservative Government—a coalition Government, indeed—under my leadership that achieved 0.7%. It is worth remembering that. I will not reveal what Nick Clegg said to me privately when we were pushing for 0.7%, as that would be unfair.

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Be careful.

Action has also involved talking to people who we do not agree with, including sitting down directly with the Iranian Foreign Minister and delivering some very tough messages about what Iran is doing in the region and around the world. I have also had some pretty frank bilateral conversations with my opposite number in China.

We have equally surged to seek to strengthen our network of alliances and partnerships around the world. Let me reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, that central Asia is one of those networks in which we want to do better. I am planning a visit there. I will be holding a round table with anyone who knows the industries, business, voluntary bodies and educational organisations that we should be talking to there. The noble Baroness is very welcome to come and join my round table in the Foreign Office and talk about that. The noble Lord, Lord McInnes, is right to include Armenia as a country we should be thinking about trying to include in our network.

We have also surged to seize the chance for a more constructive relationship with Argentina’s new Government, without in any way shying away from defending the Falklands’ right to self-determination. Let me reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, that we are fully committed to the defence of the Falklands. I met the forces there while on my visit, as well as meeting a number of penguins and others. I can tell noble Lords that it is very well defended. We have some extremely capable air-to-air missiles and all the other things you would expect, including Typhoons.

Let me also reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that we are working hard for a deal between the EU, the UK and Gibraltar. I will look specifically at the point he raised in his speech.

We are investing in our partnership on climate defence and digital with Brazil, which is hosting the G20 and chairing COP 30. I say to both the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, that I had the opportunity to explain at that G20 how we are going to expand the balance sheets of the multilateral development banks to surge money into helping with the SDGs. That is our strategy.

I will now turn to other points made by noble Lords across the House, starting with Gaza. We heard powerful speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris, Lady Fall, Lady Mobarik and Lady Janke, and the noble Lords, Lord Sahota and Lord Anderson. We are facing a situation of dreadful suffering in Gaza; there can be no doubt about that. I spoke some weeks ago about the danger of this tipping into famine and the danger of illness tipping into disease, and we are now at that point. People are dying of hunger; people are dying of otherwise preventable diseases.

The situation is very bad, and we have been pushing for aid to get in. There is a whole set of things that we have asked the Israelis to do. But I have to report to your Lordships’ House that the amount of aid that got in in February was about half of what got in in January. The patience needs to run very thin and a whole series of warnings needs to be given, starting, I hope, with a meeting I have with Minister Gantz when he visits the UK tomorrow.

We have set out very clearly five asks that need to be put in place, including the humanitarian pause and the capacity inside Gaza that many noble Lords have spoken about. We need increased access through both land and maritime routes, including Ashdod port, which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned, and to expand the type of humanitarian assistance that gets in. Too many items are sent away because they are supposedly dual-use goods. Some of these things are absolutely necessary for medical and other procedures. We also need to see a resumption of electricity and water to north and south Gaza. Let me say again at this Dispatch Box that Israel is the occupying power. It is responsible and that has consequences, including in how we look at whether Israel is compliant with international humanitarian law. I think that is the most important thing on the issue of Gaza.

I turn to the political process and how, as many noble Lords have said, we try to turn this moment of such disaster into a moment of opportunity. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the noble Lords, Lord Desai and Lord Leigh, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds all asked whether we are committed to finding an answer; do we see this as an opportunity? My answer to that is yes, the situation is terrible, but if we can turn a pause for this hostage deal into a sustainable ceasefire and build momentum, so that we do not go back to fighting, there is a chance. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, said, there is some exhaustion on both sides. There may be a chance to get to more of a political solution.

I know a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked: are we torturing ourselves with this debate between pause and ceasefire? The reason that I think saying a pause is right—the pause should happen now; I want it to happen tonight or tomorrow, to stop this killing—is that you have a pause and then put in place the conditions that make a ceasefire more likely to be permanent. You have to get the Hamas leadership out of Gaza. You have to get rid of the terrorist infrastructure. You have to have a new Palestinian Government. You have to have a horizon towards Palestinian statehood. These things are necessary in order to have a chance of a genuine peace process and outcome.

The noble Lords, Lord Ricketts and Lord Roberts, asked absolutely the right question: what is the guarantee of security that Israel can have? A two-state solution will not work if Hamas is still running Gaza and if there are no guarantees about how secure Israel would be living alongside a Palestinian state, so we must get that right.

Let me reconfirm that Britain is committed to a two-state solution, following the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, on recognition. Part of a two-state solution is, clearly, the recognition of Palestine as a state. I do not think that should happen at the start of the process, because it takes all the pressure off the Palestinians to reform, but it should not have to wait until the end. On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others made, that we should not give Israel a veto power, this is the effect of the American policy at the moment, so I think that recognition can become a part of the unstoppable momentum that we need to see towards a two-state solution.

The noble Lord, Lord Hain, made a powerful speech about Gaza. I do not agree with him about hypocrisy when we look across to the Ukraine and Russia dossier. There was no 7 October event in Russia; Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was without any justification; it is the simple invasion of one state by another and it is different to the situation with Israel and Gaza.

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My Lords—

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I am very sorry. If I have time at the end, I will take interventions. It is a challenge to try to answer 63 speeches—I am determined to be equal to it.

The noble Lord, Lord Polak, made a powerful speech and I want to answer directly his question: do we still believe that a Hamas-run Gaza cannot be a partner for peace for Israel? That is correct: it cannot be. Hamas is a terrorist organisation and let me say clearly that its apologists should not be invited into the FCDO for a seminar. I once said as Prime Minister that when you are Prime Minister you spend half the time trying to find out what the Government are doing and then you spend the other half of the time trying to stop it, and it turns out that being the Foreign Secretary is not entirely different.

I pay tribute to the strong speeches on UNRWA by the noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Deech. I understand the concern about the fact that people who work for that organisation were involved in 7 October; that is shocking and it has to be properly investigated. There must be proper undertakings and reforms to that organisation so that it cannot happen again, and it can be put beyond doubt. However, I say to the House that if we also want aid delivered, UNRWA is the only body with a distribution network, so we must have a dose of realism about what we can achieve and how quickly we can achieve it. But the promotion of extremism needs to be properly dealt with.

I turn to Ukraine and Russia. We had some extremely strong speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Robathan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, about this issue. The common theme was the sense that just more needs to be done. In terms of defining what is more, to me, it is really focusing on the military commitment. The Macron event in Paris last Monday was useful, because there are a lot of quite simple things that every country should do. The countries of eastern Europe that still have some legacy Soviet ammunition that the Ukrainians can fit into their systems should release that immediately. Countries that still have stocks that they could give to the Ukrainians should give those stocks. Every country, and this is a small point but none the less it matters, should check the expiration dates of their weapons systems. If they pass those expiration dates, countries spend a fortune decommissioning them, whereas if they actually find out what the date is and give them to the Ukrainians, they could use them now.

What lies behind these speeches and questions is an understanding that Britain has to do more in boosting its own defence production and scaling it up, not just for Ukraine, but recognising, in this more dangerous world, that we are going to need greater stocks of ammunition and less of a just-in-time concept for defence production.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, made very powerful points about when this conflict really started, and pointed to 2014. I would point to 2008; that was the moment when we saw that Putin was in the mode of grabbing land and territory without justification.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, talked about frozen assets. Let me explain where I think we have got to. The moral case is there—this money should be used for the benefit of the Ukrainian people. I think that the economic case is very strong. Here we are in the City of London, one of the great financial centres of the world. I do not think that using that money will disadvantage us in any way. There are a bunch of different legal justifications, of which collective countermeasures is one that could be used—but there is also the opportunity to use something such as a syndicated loan or a bond that, in effect, uses the frozen Russian assets as a surety to give that money to the Ukrainians, knowing that you will be able to recoup it when reparations are paid by Russia. That may be a better way in which to do it. We are aiming for the maximum amount of G7 and EU unity on this but, if we cannot get it, we will have to move ahead with allies that want to take this action. I think that it is the right thing to do—I agree with the speakers.

I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, that Putin will not stop at Ukraine. If we allowed him a win of any form, I think Moldova would be at risk and possibly some of the Baltic states would be at risk. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and I have known each other for many years, but I just do not accept the idea that countries that are close to Russia are not allowed to choose. I remember a conversation that Tony Blair once reported to me—that he had sat down with Putin and said, “Well, of course it’s up to the Ukrainians to choose. If they want to be in the Russian orbit, that is their choice, and if they want to have a more Euro-Atlantic leaning, that is also their choice”. Putin said, “No, no, they’re not allowed to choose”. I do not think that that is acceptable. We should allow democratic, independent countries to make their choices, and we should back them when they make them.

I listened very carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Etchingham. I am delighted that his 4x4 campaign is succeeding. I will look at the boats. I suspect that they were seaworthy enough to get across the channel, but they may not be seaworthy enough to get much further—but let us look at that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fall, rightly reminded us that Putin is not winning, and we should not fall for that narrative. In fact, he has lost about 25% of his navy in the Black Sea.

On defence, we had a number of very strong speeches, almost unanimously across the Benches—whether it was the noble Lord, Lord Robathan, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, or others—calling for an increase in defence spending. In this Government’s defence, we are heading towards 2.25% fairly rapidly. We have a rising defence budget. Then there is the new equipment that has been put in place, whether it is F35s, Typhoons, aircraft carriers, Type 26 frigates or Type 45 destroyers. There has been an enormous uplift in the capacity, capability and quality of what we do.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, was rather gloomy about our capabilities and our relationship with the United States. I just make the point that, when it comes to defending the sea lanes in the Red Sea and standing up for the freedom of navigation, only two countries were prepared to step forward and make that choice, and they were Britain and America. We are a very reliable ally, as we rightly should be.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, made a very powerful speech about running the Ministry of Defence better. As he ran the Department of Health so well, I thought that maybe it was a job application and that we should take it up.

Moving swiftly to Europe, I started my day with all the EU ambassadors, having breakfast together. The mood between Britain and the EU is much stronger now than it has been for many years. The mantra of being friends, neighbours and partners is true. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, was right in paying tribute to the Windsor Framework. It was a great negotiating success by the Prime Minister, and it should be celebrated.

The noble Lord and others, including the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made a number of suggestions about how we might improve the trade and co-operation agreement and look at our co-operation with the EU. I think that we should pursue this with some thought and care. Some of the options of very structured dialogues do not always get you what you want, whereas a little bit of ad hocery from our new position might be better. But I have an open mind.

A number of noble Lords talked about green issues. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, was quite right to mention our Blue Belt. Now that we have one around the South Sandwich Islands, we have actually created a bigger blue belt across the oceans of our world than any country ever in history, and we should be very proud of it.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Northover and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Oates, all spoke about the importance of climate finance. Of course, we have £11.6 billion committed over the five years.

The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, made a plea about helping small island states. I very much agree about that. It is a good moment to think about that in the run-up to the Commonwealth conference, and we will have more to say about that soon.

We heard a number of important speeches about human rights. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackenzie, about the case of Vladimir Kara-Murza. I was honoured to meet his wife and mother at the Foreign Office last week and, again, we should call for his freedom at every available opportunity.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the importance of gathering evidence of war crimes—something that we do, and must do more of.

The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, and others, spoke about how we should act in a way that enhances our moral authority. That is something that the noble Lord, Lord Hague, always used to say, and it sticks with me that it is important if we are to be taken seriously.

The noble Lord, Lord Farmer, talked about the persecution of Christians. He mentioned Fiona Bruce and the great job she does as the Prime Minister’s envoy on religious freedom. A Bill is being passed through the other place, and will, hopefully, come here, which will put that on a statutory footing. That would be the first time one of those envoy roles would be treated in that way, and that is quite right.

On Saudi Arabia, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, that we always oppose child executions and are happy to oppose the ones she mentions. More than that, we oppose the death penalty in every circumstance, and we always raise these cases. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has done that in his recent meetings.

I will make one more point, because I am running out of the additional time that I have kindly granted myself, and that is to mention development in Africa.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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We will give you four more minutes.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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You are very kind, thank you.

The most reverend Primate, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and a number of others made speeches about the importance of peacemaking. The Archbishop reminded us of an important fact when he mentioned that acronym of the Foreign Office preventing conflict, and building peace, and whatever else it is called, and comparing that to our Lord Jesus just saying “Blessed are the peacemakers”—proof, if ever we needed it, that Jesus was better at soundbites than modern politicians. I say to him that we now put over 50% of our aid into fragile and conflict-affected states, but he is right that, as part of that, we must think what more we can do to surge peacemaking and peacekeeping—a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds spoke about Sudan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, spoke about Nigeria, and I say to them, and to the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Oates, that bilateral aid to Africa—where we have just signed off the bilateral agreements—is going up by 50% this year. So there are some proper big bilateral programmes to countries in need, such as Ethiopia for instance.

The final thing I will refer to before concluding is that a number of noble Lords made points about strategy. I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Young of Old Windsor and Lord Howell, about the importance of the Commonwealth, particularly in this year. I also want to make the point to those who said they are worried about our ambition in terms of diplomacy that Britain still has the third biggest network of embassies, high commissions and missions around the world. In fact, we have just said that we will open a new one in East Timor, and not every country does that.

There was a lot of discussion about the future of the UN. We are in favour of UN reform, but I say to noble Lords that if we want to see a rules-based order, and countries obeying those rules, there are times when the UN Security Council cannot deliver because of the Russian veto and the Chinese veto, and there are times when you need coalitions to come together to help make that happen.

To conclude, I am grateful to noble Lords for all their contributions and for listening so attentively as I close my first debate in this Chamber. I have tried to directly address as many noble Lords’ contributions as possible, but it was hard to do all 63. I will follow up any remaining in writing and place a copy of the letter in the Library of your Lordships’ House.

To return to where I began, on issue after issue I think noble Lords can see the difference we are trying to make, together with others: with Ukraine, in getting grain exported from the Black Sea; with a number of allies, in signing those long-term bilateral security guarantees; with Jordan and Qatar, in delivering life-saving aid by land and by air; with states such as Kosovo and Moldova, in boosting their resilience; and with the US and the Commonwealth, we have stood by Guyana. With the multilateral development banks, we are beginning to unlock billions more in development finance. With our overseas territories, we are expanding our magnificent Blue Belt programme. With the Department for Business and Trade, we are negotiating new free trade deals. With the Ministry of Defence, we are increasing European defence production. With the Home Office, we are returning foreign national prisoners and tackling the smuggling gangs.

The challenges we face are considerable. The noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others spoke about the changes in the global dynamics we face; they are right, but I believe we can take heart from the work that our amazing diplomats, development experts and intelligence experts are doing, day in and day out, to make our country safer and more prosperous.

In a dangerous world, we must not shy away from the need to stand by our allies, strengthen our partnerships and make sure our voice is heard. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, made an excellent speech when she said that we must not accept a glide path to decline or a glide path to war. I completely agree with that. That is what I have been doing since becoming Foreign Secretary, in standing up for some simple principles: the right of countries to have their borders respected, the importance of democracy and the importance of freedom. We should demonstrate strength and we should show humanity. That is what the Government and I will continue to do in the months ahead.

Motion agreed.
House adjourned at 10.41 pm.