Debates between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Lord King of Bridgwater during the 2019 Parliament

Defence, Diplomacy and Development Policy

Debate between Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale and Lord King of Bridgwater
Thursday 30th January 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, 2020 has begun with a flurry of national debates, on HS2, on Huawei and the 5G network, on the upcoming Budget, and on the implications of Brexit, which happens tomorrow, and, of course, we anticipate debates all year on immigration and the situation in our health service.

However, while our political debates may be dominated by domestic concerns, elsewhere in the world this year will also see the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and the 20th anniversary of the momentous UN Resolution 1325, which set out a programme for women, peace and security that has influenced work in that area ever since. COP 26 will take place in Glasgow in November and will try to recover the Paris climate change agreement from the rather disappointing summit that took place just before Christmas in Madrid. A summit in September at the United Nations will seek to energise a decade of action on the sustainable development goals and there will be other international summits and events around biodiversity and oceans, the global vaccine alliance and many other important issues. These international concerns should stand for us alongside those domestic debates as being at least of equal importance.

It was with that in mind that I was so pleased to see in the gracious Speech the Government’s commitment to undertake an integrated security, defence and foreign policy review

“to reassess the nation’s place in the world, covering all aspects of international policy, from defence to diplomacy and development.”

I was equally pleased to see that followed in the gracious Speech by the strategic objective set by the Government for these international relations of the promotion of peace and security globally. Your Lordships’ International Relations Committee, many other committees and many debates in this Chamber have contributed to the development of that international policy over many decades—particularly well, I think, over recent years. I am sure that today’s debate will include many distinguished contributions that will help illuminate decision-making on this review over the coming weeks and months.

I am particularly looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, whom I had the pleasure of working with some years back in southern Africa. I know from that her commitment to both public service and global concerns. I am looking forward very much to hearing her contributions today and in the future in your Lordships’ House.

This review may be overdue, but it is also timely. Tomorrow, we leave the European Union and we seek to put flesh on the bones of the concept of a new global Britain, but unfortunately, perhaps, that will be without answering in advance the question of the UK’s role in the modern world. How do we pull our strengths together to ensure that whatever strategy we have can succeed? Within that context there can surely be no doubt now, in 2020, that an integrated approach to defence, diplomacy and development is central to meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century.

In the UK we have, for two decades now, seen the progressive integration of our policy approach in government to defence, diplomacy and development. In the previous decades the then Labour Government established, for example, the Stabilisation Unit and created the Conflict Pool, pulling resources from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. It backed, at an international level, the responsibility to protect doctrine and a number of other initiatives to reform the international system to ensure that, for example, peacekeeping and peacebuilding at the UN worked hand in hand, rather than in two completely separate silos.

After 2010 the new Government, led by Prime Minister Cameron, Foreign Secretary Hague and Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, took that further and put a decision-making mechanism in place, through the National Security Council, that gave the opportunity to put more flesh on the bones of this approach. Through DfID, for example, the Building Stability Overseas strategy was created. This included the commitment of a percentage of our development budget to working in conflict-affected and fragile states, and, ultimately, the UK’s participation in decision-making on the sustainable development goals in 2015, including the commitment to goal 16 on peace and justice as being central to any long-term, meaningful sustainable development. It was all part of the same approach and strategy.

This approach has been developed over the last two decades in the United Kingdom and we have used that commitment to try to influence the international debate, but I would say that we have not—until now, perhaps—refreshed that approach ready for the challenges of yet another decade. That is why I welcome this review so much. Look around us at the world today. None of the problems that we debate regularly in this Chamber and that we see having such an impact, not just in other places but here, too, can be solved without an integrated approach to international policy formulation. Whether it is the challenge of migration, which is so affected by conflict, climate change and extreme poverty, or the many examples of conflict—many of which take place today within borders but have implications way beyond them—or the climate emergency and its impact on not only migration and displacement but development and economic prosperity, in all these areas there are elements of the absolute need for security in the prevention of conflict and the preservation of our own security at home. There are elements that require real expertise from our diplomats here in the UK and those involved in the multilateral organisations and many critical countries around the world. Of course, our development budget contributes to trying to alleviate, prevent and deal with the causes of many of these problems alongside the diplomats and those who seek to defend us.

In that world of such complex problems, we see a changing multilateral balance: the United States increasingly looking to its own interests rather than the global interest; Russia increasingly influential again beyond its borders; and China emerging as not just an economic superpower but a diplomatic and development superpower as well. There is also the growth of regional blocs such as the African Union and ASEAN in south- east Asia, pulling together smaller countries that could be much more influential if they work closely together, not just on economic grounds but in the fields of diplomacy and development.

The United Kingdom is uniquely placed to intervene in this complex tapestry of international organisations, interests, challenges and debates. We may not be the number one most important country in the United Nations, but we have a seat at the top table. We may not have the biggest defence budget in the world, but we are influential not just in NATO but far beyond. We have a role in the G8. We still have an important role with our European partners, as we saw recently when the Prime Minister worked so closely with European leaders in dealing with the crisis around Iran, Iraq and the United States. We also have an influence in the World Bank and the Commonwealth network, which is so critical for our soft power around the world. Add to that the private businesses headquartered in the United Kingdom and our cultural and educational relationships around the world, and I would advocate that the UK is uniquely placed to promote the principles of diplomacy, development and defence working together to try to help shape a better world.

I shall raise four points as we move towards the Government establishing this review today, and I look forward to hearing what other Members of your Lordships’ House have to say during this debate. First, while it is important in principle to integrate the work of diplomacy, development and defence, having three departments working together strategically creates more impact than the individual departments would have working alone, or that two departments would have. The case for a separate Department for International Development is well made on all kinds of grounds, but it also gives that element of this integrated approach a seat and a voice at the top table in the National Security Council and elsewhere. The case for retaining a separate Department for International Development is not just about better spending and more effective aid but a better integrated defence, diplomacy and development approach in the United Kingdom, because all three would be represented at the top table in discussions.

We should ensure that in that approach we look beyond those three government departments and the Ministers that lead them to the other areas where the UK has influence—in effect, I suppose, DDD-plus. Looking at our cultural impact or the impact of our sporting teams and individuals, and the events that we host and contribute to, or the impact of our companies around the world, good and bad—and it can always be better—or the impact of our education system and the professional bodies that are housed in and led from the UK, in all these areas we can add to that approach and ensure that we have that impact and influence in every corner of the globe.

Secondly, we need to demonstrate in action what we talk about on paper or in ministerial committees. I will give three quick examples of that. We were one of the architects of the sustainable development goals. This year we are five years into a 15-year programme; we are far behind and the rest of the world is not in a much better place. We need to lead the way this year in upping our game and ensuring that the decade of action that is being launched this year for the period up to 2030 actually is action and that we are involved in it. We also need to take up every tool at our disposal and ensure that we do not just convene a COP 26 in Glasgow in November but lead the world in coming together in Glasgow to make meaningful decisions that are then implemented to tackle the climate emergency. Thirdly, if we put women, peace, security and some of the principles and actions that are central to that agenda at the heart of this review, we can help ensure that the debates and summits that take place this year on that agenda at the global level have a meaningful UK influence that makes a real difference.

The third thing I will mention is that we need to be brave in leading the debate for global multilateral institutional reform. We still have a global multilateral system that is pretty much based on a combination of the outcome of the Second World War and the following years that we now know as the Cold War. It is now 31 years since the Berlin Wall came down, yet we still have a system designed for that period rather than for the 21st century. The United Kingdom is uniquely placed to lead a debate on the role and structure of the United Nations, the role, aims and objectives of the other multilateral organisations, and the way in which new powers are brought to the top table, play a role and accept responsibility as well as rights. We should stop seeing the debate on reform of these multilateral organisations as being about the next speech, headline or summit, but about how in 10 years’ time we can in the way that people did in the 1920s and 1930s start to shape the next generation of institutions that will be more meaningful, rather than simply basing our reforms on the actions and decisions of the period from 1945 to 1989.

Lord King of Bridgwater Portrait Lord King of Bridgwater (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord referred to a safer and fairer world and the lead that the United Kingdom might play in global discussions on this. He talked about mass migration of people and the challenges of poverty and climate change. However, so far he has left out the most important single issue of the lot—the huge explosion in population. Does he believe that the United Kingdom should play a role in trying to get a better understanding of that problem and addressing it before it is too late?

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale
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If your Lordships will allow me to take a few extra seconds to deal with that point as well as finishing my own, I absolutely accept that the challenge of the growth in global population is fundamental to all these other issues and makes each of them even more complicated and difficult. That should not lead us to intervene just to try to restrict the growth in population; rather, we need to find new ways of supporting those nations with the largest population growth to secure jobs, opportunity, investment and progress for the people who live there. To me that is part of the challenge that we face. If I may include that under the umbrella of the need for more action on the sustainable development goals, I see population as one of the most important challenges that is addressed by those goals collectively.

My final point, which I will make very briefly, is that, in all of this, of course our membership of NATO and our relationship with our NATO allies is vital, not least because of the situation with Russia today. Our European partnerships and the Commonwealth are important, but in the 21st century this is perhaps a moment where we should be looking at new alliances and allies.

It seems that there are a number of important countries around the world that have a strong economy, a strong democratic system, the rule of law and a commitment to that globally, with which we could work more closely together. I would like to see the United Kingdom doing more to work with Japan, New Zealand and Sweden, stable democracies that are now emerging in parts of Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere in Asia, to build a global alliance for human rights, the rule of law, democracy and progress that can ensure that we not only talk the language of reform and do the right things in our own Whitehall system but ensure that we deliver the cleaner, safer and fairer world that we all want to see.