6 Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale debates involving the Ministry of Defence

King’s Speech

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Wednesday 15th November 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests and associate myself absolutely with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, in relation to the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad.

I strongly welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to supporting the people and the Government of Ukraine. For as long as the Government’s actions match their words, they will have support across this House and elsewhere in that endeavour. I also welcome the relatively balanced approach to the situation in Israel and Gaza laid out in the gracious Speech, and I hope that the Government will continue not only to support the right of Israel to defend itself but to support humanitarian pauses and other action in the Gaza Strip.

We live in an increasingly interdependent but increasingly dangerous world, and this country needs to have both the military strength to defend our country and our values but also the soft power, to the maximum, that allows us to promote democracy and human rights and to support action on tackling extreme poverty, preventing conflict and a just transition to net zero.

I was not in the Chamber last week for the gracious Speech. I suspect it was probably quite warm: it normally is on these occasions, with everyone crowded close together in their regalia. I was in very warm conditions in northern Kenya, in Turkana county, where I was on a mission with UNICEF in advance of the nutrition summit organised by the Government for next Monday. I was therefore disappointed to see that the gracious Speech does not include, as almost every Queen’s Speech has done over the past two decades, a reference to this country’s support for international development and many of the other important initiatives that, in recent years, have had a higher priority than perhaps under this Prime Minister.

Our trip last week started in Nairobi, and I saw the direct impact of an approach to sustainable development that encourages local economies to grow and prosper and to provide sustainable jobs. The Insta factory in Nairobi is producing ready-to-use therapeutic food that is then sold commercially to the international agencies in order to feed those suffering from malnutrition around the world. It was a classic example of a local economic development serving a local need, producing ultimately sustainable development for that community and real opportunities for local people. I then saw the impact of the product the next day: in particular, a little boy called Marty who not only ripped open the packet of peanut paste and squeezed every drop he could out of it but then tore the packet open and licked the inside to get every last drop.

Marty is recovering from extreme malnutrition, as a result of that programme supported by UNICEF and others, and he is part of a wider ecosystem in Turkana county, supported by UK aid, which has, for example, reduced maternal mortality in only eight years from 1,594 deaths per 100,000 of the population to 362 in 2022. The direct impact of an integrated programme, mixing investment in water, in education, in health and in the local economy, supported by UK aid, shows just what can be done.

Unfortunately, UK aid has become increasingly unpredictable and unreliable over recent years. I do not want to open up the debate right now on the level of aid or the Government’s lack of a firm commitment to return to 0.7% of GNI, but the unpredictability and unreliability of our commitments must end with this gracious Speech and the next phase of this Government. For example, at the nutrition summit next week we need to see—along with the publication of a White Paper on the sustainable development goals, which are not even mentioned in the gracious Speech or the Prime Minister’s introduction to the attached notes—a firm commitment from the UK not only to engage and invest in international development but to become a reliable and predictable partner again. That would make the biggest difference. I hope we will see it today or on Monday.

Afghanistan

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Wednesday 21st April 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes a very important point. I have paid tribute before and do so again to her enduring interest in this issue. The relocations and assistance policy, which as she knows was updated last year and launched at the beginning of this month, is open to all our current and former locally employed staff in Afghanistan, irrespective of date, role or length of service. As she is aware, they must satisfy certain criteria, but it is important that any of these staff feeling anxious should contact the embassy in Kabul however they can. I also assure her that eligible locally employed staff can bring certain family members with them to the UK.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I salute the efforts of our Armed Forces and of those development and humanitarian workers who have been injured or have lost their lives doing dangerous work in Afghanistan over these past 20 years. That work will become even more vital as NATO troops leave the country. How then can the Government justify the reduction in overseas development assistance? By how much will programmes in Afghanistan be cut and what analysis has been carried out to support the decision to reduce such programmes at this critical time?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his welcome tribute to humanitarian relief workers, who have indeed made huge sacrifices. I am sure that the Chamber would absolutely endorse his remarks. As I indicated earlier, what is currently happening in Afghanistan is predicated on a wider NATO allies and partners collaboration to assess the situation and to look to the future. We are committed to continuing to work together in NATO to support Afghanistan during and beyond withdrawal. The noble Lord is correct that much of the UK’s support for sustaining the Afghan national security forces is provided as ODA. Ministers are currently finalising the allocation of ODA for 2021-22, so decisions on individual budget allocations have not yet been taken. I think that he will acknowledge that much excellent work has been achieved by the United Kingdom in concert with our other NATO partners.

Covid-19: Military Operations and Support

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Thursday 10th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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I can reassure my noble friend that the safety and welfare of our people are paramount. Measures are in place to safeguard them and to reduce the risk to both them and their families. While workplaces have been adjusted to meet Covid-19 guidance, all personnel who have been eligible for testing if displaying symptoms have been tested, and we have followed public health guidance throughout. I can reassure my noble friend about the continuance of operations. There has been a steady drumbeat of activity on land, sea and air.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, have the Government, through the Ministry of Defence or the National Security Council, conducted any analysis of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on conflict and tension in the most important conflict spots around the world? Will that analysis, if it exists, be included in the integrated review on security, defence, development and foreign policy that the Government are due to publish in October?

Baroness Goldie Portrait Baroness Goldie (Con)
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Because of Covid-19, now more than ever we must be mindful of the long-term consequences of the decisions we take and of how the crisis could shift the context in which we operate domestically and internationally. The review will still be radical in its reassessment of the nation’s place in the world, and that will include accounting for the implications of Covid-19.

UK Defence Forces

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Thursday 23rd November 2017

(6 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to my entry in the register, which mentions my engagement in the Bangsamoro peace process in the Philippines, funded in the past by Her Majesty’s Government. I welcome today’s debate and the efforts of my noble friend Lord Solely in securing it, as well as the powerful case he made for maintaining UK defence forces at a sufficient level for global peace, security and stability. I recognise the importance of that case, but I want to argue in the time available this afternoon that such a case on defence is not enough for global peace, security and stability.

There are noble Lords who speak today, and have on many previous occasions, in favour of deferring the expenditure from the development budget of the United Kingdom to the defence budget. But it seems to me much more important that we make the case today for an integration of our work on defence, development and diplomacy, coming together both nationally and internationally to secure greater prospects for peace and a reduction of conflict, not simply a management of conflict.

Conflict today is on the rise again, reversing a trend that had been fairly consistent since the end of the Cold War, with a rise in the number of individual wars and the number of deaths, both in battle and among civilians. The nature of conflict, however, has changed dramatically. Conflicts are no longer cross-border; they are no longer about building empires or resource grabs from other places. Today, they are about resource-sharing, inequalities, historical discrimination and identity—and clashes of identity within borders rather than across borders. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed out just last week in London, the vast majority—over 90%—of terrorist attacks across the world since the end of the Cold War have taken place in countries that are known and mapped for their extrajudicial killings, imprisonment without trial and other human rights abuses.

Force can contain conflict, but you cannot bomb grievances out of the minds of young men and women. We need to also address the key issues of opportunities, jobs, human rights, inclusion, institutions they can trust and the quality of life that they experience. That is why long-term, sustained investment in peacebuilding—not just defence—is so important. It must be peacebuilding that recognises the crucial importance of women at the negotiating table, women as signatories and women as peacebuilders in local communities and national forums; peacebuilding that recognises the critical importance of the neighbourhood, whether it is in an African region, the Middle East, south-east Asia or anywhere else, and the crucial importance of the countries of the neighbourhood helping and supporting, rather than those sitting in New York or in the developed world dictating what should happen next; and peacebuilding that recognises the critical importance of political settlements. Here in the United Kingdom we have experience that we can use to assist those making new political settlements, including federalism or devolution, some form of sub-state and governance that recognises those identity clashes and gives political voice to the minorities who have felt oppressed.

We know that peacebuilding works and that investment in peacebuilding produces a far higher return than investment in armed conflict. Every £1 of investment in peacebuilding secures a return of at least £10 and, according to some studies, perhaps £14 or £16. We know that, today, only 2% of global expenditure on conflict is spent on peacebuilding and conflict prevention. That is a shocking figure at the start of the 21st century and it is something that this country should take a lead in tackling.

I should like the Minister, if he has time in his response, to address the fact that, despite the world having changed since 2011—when it looked as though there were good prospects in Libya, Yemen and a number of other parts of the world—our Building Stability Overseas Strategy has never been updated since it was first published by the then Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, in 2011. Since then, the Government’s commitment to spending on conflict-affected states, fragile states and peacebuilding has gone from 33% to 50%, but the strategy has never been updated. Since then, we have also agreed internationally to goal 16 of the sustainable development goals. We need to update this strategy and give a UK focus to this work at home and abroad. I hope the Minister will agree.

Queen’s Speech

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Monday 23rd May 2016

(8 years, 1 month ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, on 30 April, I visited the Kawergosk Syrian refugee camp in northern Iraq, in Kurdistan. Having visited the health clinic and a makeshift school on the site, I asked if I could see a family—none had been organised officially as part of the visit. I was taken to meet the family of a young girl, Safa, who had contributed to a UNICEF video last year, so those who were with me knew of her. The family was very keen to welcome me into their home and we spoke at some length about all the horrors that they had experienced: the flight from Syria, the agony of knowing that someone back home was waiting for an operation that they could not have, the worry about the family who were still back home in Syria and the auntie who was a teacher in the school in the camp who was not being paid. But when Safa, who is 11 years old, was asked by me at the very end how she was getting on at school, for the first time in a 30-minute conversation, she cried. That was because at school, her grades had gone down and her dignity, her sense of self, her hope and ambition for the future were affected by that, more than all the carnage and horror that she had experienced and her family were worrying about.

That is why, today, the UN is holding the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. With the support, I believe, of the UK Government and others, a new fund is being launched called Education Cannot Wait, which will give fresh hope and priority to education, and perhaps child protection, in these camps for both refugees, of whom there are so many around the world today, and internally displaced people—in Iraq, there are more than 3 million, a staggering figure for a country in which we bear some of the responsibility. That is welcome.

The commitment in the gracious Speech to international development and to our contribution in the world is also very welcome. I was a little concerned that it was couched in terms of security rather than being proud of the substantial humanitarian contribution that the UK is making and the way in which we not only pay for so much of the world’s humanitarian aid these days but lead the thinking on how best to spend that money and how best to improve its impact. That said, and although I was pleased to see the sustainable development goals mentioned, I echo the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that the Government do not yet have their own strategy for sustainable development goals in the UK. I believe that sustainable, long-term investment in education and hope in the countries that are most affected by crisis and violence is the best long-term investment for UK aid and development.

In recent months, I also visited the Kuza Project in Mombasa, which is part-funded by DfID. In an area where leaders in the local mosque were effectively recruiting agents for al-Shabaab in Somalia just two years ago, young people now not only are taking up skills and training for jobs but have the opportunity to start their own business and become entrepreneurs. One young Muslim woman said to me that they are becoming a nation not of job seekers but of job creators. That is being funded by UK aid. It is a long-term investment not just in stability in that region but in hope for those young people who might be exploited and perhaps turned to violence.

I echo the points that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, made about the importance of diplomacy and that others in this debate have made about political solutions. As has already been said, we live in an increasingly interdependent world. The decisions made here and the decisions made elsewhere in the world have implications for all, not just economically but culturally and in terms of our security. The way in which we relate to our European neighbours; to other important countries, large and small, in other continents; to the countries affected most by crisis, migration and violence; and to the institutions that bring those countries together, is absolutely essential. The way in which we use our incredibly lucky position in the world—with the language that is most used; membership of the UN Security Council; leading membership of the Commonwealth and of the European Union; a role in the World Bank, because of our status as a donor, and in so many other institutions—that soft power, is absolutely critical. After the debate on the Queen’s Speech and the referendum in June, we will debate the sort of military hardware and power we should have and how we should use it from time to time. The way in which we invest in the long term in those young people and their education and that we use our resources, our talents and our seat at the table to benefit them and the rest of the world is what will mark us out as a nation in years to come.

Strategic Defence and Security Review

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Thursday 3rd December 2015

(8 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, while I welcome and congratulate all our maiden speakers, I welcome and congratulate my noble friend Lord Hain in particular. As has already been suggested, his campaigning history goes back a very long way. He is still active today. I recall first meeting him on campaign visits to Scotland in the 1980s, when, as a young mathematics teacher, I used to do his son’s homework when he came with him for the visit for the weekend. It is terrific to be sitting beside him and to welcome him to your Lordships’ Chamber.

I welcome much of the content of the new national security strategy, but I will focus in particular on the stability element of the topic for debate, and the new policy statement UK Aid: Tackling Global Challenges in the National Interest. Much of the national security strategy is framed in the right terminology. As has been said, it recognises the critical links between development, diplomacy and defence. But in too many instances its rhetoric is not always matched by the content. For example, the section on the United Nations refers to UN peacekeeping, but does not in any way reference UN peacebuilding or the work that has been done over recent years to build greater collaboration between the United Nations, the World Bank and other multilateral institutions to secure greater success in post-conflict reconstruction.

The section on the European Union is far too cautious. It does not reference the potential of the External Action Service or the development commission to make a real difference in the world to the stability that we all seek. In the section on migration I was shocked to find only one paragraph of four sentences, the first of which talks of a comprehensive strategy; the other three make it clear that there is no such thing. When migration is a driver of so much conflict in the world today, surely that should have had greater recognition in this strategy. I was also surprised, given the key role of the United Kingdom in ensuring that goal 16 of the new sustainable development goals references peace and justice and their importance to development, that the section on the sustainable development goals does not mention that particular challenge.

However, I welcome the fact that the new policy commits 50% of our aid resources to fragile states and regions. I believe that a focusing of our overseas aid on the places that need it most, where we can make the most difference, is long overdue. I also welcome the new £1 billion fund for conflict stability and security. However, even now, the descriptions of the purpose of these new funds, the priorities that are being established and the strategies that will be used are far from clear. Will the Government consider allocating time in the new year for a debate on the strategies behind these two critical new commitments? We know that, after 15 years, the millennium development goals will not be met in any conflict-affected state in the world by 31 December. Not only will they not be met as a whole, but not one MDG will be met in any one conflict-affected or fragile state. There can be no peace without development, but there can also be no development without peace. If we are aiming for international stability as well as British security, we need to give greater priority to that within the detail of our strategy in the coming years.

In conclusion, I welcome the strong commitment given by the Government to defence spending and to development spending. To do this at the same time as cutting back on our diplomatic effort in so many important places and on the detail of our diplomatic analysis, research strength and accumulated knowledge over the years is a backward step. Development and defence, hand in hand are important, but development, defence and diplomacy have to go together if we are going to have the international security and stability that we seek.