My Lords, this review marks a step forward in defining the UK’s role in the world against the background of geopolitical shifts. It provides a comprehensive and nuanced framework for developing our road map and increasing our influence as a force for good.
The proposed, so-called Indo-Pacific tilt will inevitably give prominence to trade, defence and security, but to be effective it has to be all-embracing. It should include greater involvement in the region, through actions on climate change, promotion of common values and the rules-based international order, and initiatives, through cultural and educational institutions, to deepen understanding of countries in the region, particularly India, given its strategic salience in the region. While the relationship with India is historic, the time has come to recalibrate the relationship. This relationship should not be seen through an archaic lens but developed through greater knowledge sharing and brought into sync with contemporary realities.
Advancement of free trade, which is seen as the centrepiece of global Britain, will require the mobilisation of all our capabilities, particularly in science and technology, as fully recognised in the review, and all our soft power assets. There is no doubt that we possess a unique set of capabilities and soft power assets, but these need to be mobilised and adapted for the demands and opportunities of our modern world. Our approach has to be based on collaboration and mutuality. Again, the review recognises this, but this will have to be made a reality by ensuring that sufficient resources and capabilities are available in our institutions and government departments. We need to use all our soft power tools with skill and make creative use of new technologies and talent, if our role in the world as a force for good, as envisaged in this review, is to be realised.
We must not undervalue institutions such as the British Council, the BBC and other cultural assets. What they bring to the table should be an integral part of the thinking in developing our strategy and approach. Over the years, these institutions have helped to build trust in the UK. Currently, we are in the lead as far as soft power is concerned, but we retain only a slim lead. France, Germany, China, South Korea and Russia are now spending increasingly more on the promotion of their soft power. We ignore that at our peril.
The other network whose full potential is not sufficiently recognised in this review is the Commonwealth, which provides an effective forum for promoting common values and the flow of trade. To have credible moral authority to espouse the values that underpin liberal democracies, and to be an effective convener, the UK’s reputational resilience at home and abroad is vital to our international influence. Actions must speak louder than words. The review recognises that, in an interconnected, complex and multipolar world, prosperity and security at home is dependent on how we operate on the world stage. The Government’s commitment to restore 0.7% of GNI, and making clear that being a leading donor is central to their values agenda, is a signal in the right direction, but again we need an indication of when this will happen.
Post Brexit, we have started the process of developing a more positive narrative about our place and role in the world. This will require, as many have said this afternoon, setting our priorities, leading by example, shifting the mindset in many of our institutions, having humility in our approach, developing new capabilities and deepening our understanding and knowledge of the changing world—and not ignoring Europe. It will, therefore, be helpful to hear from the Minister what steps will be taken to set priorities, build on our currents strengths and develop new capabilities within government departments and other valuable institutions, which the realisation of this review will require.
My Lords, I noted the carefully crafted messaging in the integrated review with regard to China. I had it in mind to offer a contribution today that addressed the challenges and opportunities, strategic and otherwise, with that state. However, for reasons that have been well rehearsed in this session, I should delay further consideration to the autumn. Suffice it to say at this stage that I believe the review struck an apt approach.
I do not automatically espouse the theory that the reduction in development aid funds necessarily presents a doomsday scenario. What is required more than anything is a combination of realism and innovation: a new-found approach incorporating zero tariffs and the opportunity to trade with the developing world to the benefit of all; and a phased adjustment in current tax and payments to source, rather than for ever having taxes paid by a corporation where they are tax-resident is worthy of consideration. A Cross-Bench debate next week will provide an opportunity to expand on that theme.
Many noble Lords have rightly referred to science and technology. It is my pleasure therefore to offer the Minister some potential low-hanging fruit. This would normally have been the gift of the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, but he has focused our minds elsewhere, so I shall run with the baton.
The Government are not eligible to be a party to the International Science and Technology Center—ISTC—headquartered in Kazakhstan, due to the circumstances of Brexit. Association, however, would bring the benefit of having an oven-ready partner in the arena of non-proliferation in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, in addition to being a useful mechanism to implement the Government’s defence and security policies overseas. Its DG can add to the storyboard; renewed association would enable the UK to be a party to an existing international organisation for the exercise of non-proliferation and against world hybrid threats. The ISTC had several MoD projects that were being implemented and I understand that funds are still on account.
Countering state nuclear and security threats, in addition to having access to over 100 countries’ facilities, including a worldwide database of institutes and societies, with their expertise, would be a useful asset to the United Kingdom. It would include access to antimicrobial resistance and disease surveillance, and other endemic medical and related threats, nuclear forensics, biosecurity experience and a useful mechanism to further R&D and S&T co-operation. Multilateral agreements, at the diplomatic level, are in phase for member countries that, when translated, would mean it not being necessary to negotiate separate bilateral agreements when wishing to implement a project in any country. The alternative would be to fund projects that meet our international non-proliferation and security objectives on a case-by-case basis.
My Lords, first, on the letter and the response to a specific question, I shall of course follow up on that with my officials. Without speculating on future sanctions, an evidence threshold needs to be met that is tested robustly before we apply sanctions to any given individual.
Turkey remains an important partner for the United Kingdom, but I assure the noble Earl that I engage directly on the issue of human rights with the Turkish Government. They have recently produced a new report on the actions they will take this year. We would rather they stayed on board with the Istanbul convention. I agree that any actions we take to ensure that our countries are secure from the scourge of terrorism need to ensure that human rights are always protected.
I have noted what all noble Lords have said in respect of sanctions of other individuals. I am sure that noble Lords respect the fact that I cannot be specific on particular names, but, as the noble Baroness requested, I will be happy to explain the process we go through before we sanction any individual or entity under the regime.
My Lords, I note my noble friend’s suggestions, but I assure him that officials have raised these concerns directly. Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Beijing raised them with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 4 March; our acting consul-general in Hong Kong raised them with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 2 March; and London-based officials raised them with the Chinese Embassy here on 5 March. Let me assure my noble friend that we are also in close contact with like-minded partners regarding further action that can be taken.
My Lords, as I have already indicated, we are in constant contact with our partners, whether it is the Five Eyes partners that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to, our colleagues within the European Union, or other allies for calling out the continuing suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. We are in very close contact with all of them. This includes action that we have taken at the UN and, specifically, working with close allies on the Human Rights Council, such as Germany and others. That will continue to be the case. However, the issue is for China to take a long, hard look at itself. It is not standing by international agreements that it has signed. It needs to reflect very carefully, because we are seeing the continuing suppression of democracy in Hong Kong, but we are working with partners to ensure that we call it out as regularly as we can.
My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s second point, I believe that I have already informed the House that that is currently in discussion with the EU. On the substantive issue of sanctions, I have said that it works in tandem; we are working closely with the EU, not just on the sanctions regime and co-ordination with other allies. On the question about close working with the EU, the noble Baroness will have noted the G7 statement that just went out, which included the High Commissioner from the European Union, underlining the importance we are attaching, within the context of the G7, to the role of the European Union.
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, I know that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his team will look at all requests that we receive from colleagues across both Houses. I will certainly follow up what the noble Lord has raised. On his earlier point, the important thing is that, in any trade agreement that we look to negotiate and are involved with, human rights will be reflected in our discussions; I speak as a Human Rights Minister. As I have said before, China is an important strategic partner to the United Kingdom, and it has an important role to play in the world but, in doing so, it needs to recognise that the situation in Xinjiang is not going unnoticed. China is now being pressed and held to account for what is going on.
My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says. The new sanctions regime was only launched last summer. I am sure she would agree with me that many, if not all, the designations that have been made have been valid and done because of the strength of the abuses that have occurred. I say this very clearly: the situation in Xinjiang and the action we have taken is demonstrable of not just our concern but, as the Foreign Secretary has said in the other place, the dire situation faced by the Uighur Muslims and, let us also not forget, other minorities within Xinjiang. We have acted. Of course, I take note of the issue around sanctions, but the actions we have taken—in Hong Kong, in engaging and showing international support, on the issues and limitations on extradition treaties with Hong Kong, arms exports and the recent provisions we have announced on forced labour—show that the Government are not sitting back. We are taking action, and there is a wide range of steps we can take. Of course, as ever, I note very carefully what the noble Baroness has put forward.
My Lords, I join the noble Lord in his tribute to my noble friend Lady Sugg. She was not only a noble friend but a friend within the FCDO, and will be sorely missed both by the department and, I am sure, by your Lordships’ House in this role. As I have said, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will lay out some details on the issue of legislation. The noble Lord has raised two important points, and I can assure him that we are very cognisant of our obligations both in terms of the Act and to the House. As for the cut that has been announced, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid out only yesterday, it was a difficult decision, but it was necessary on the basis of the challenges we face. None the less, in real terms we will still spend £10 billion to fight poverty and climate change, among other key priorities in overseas development.
My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s first point, I have already mentioned my long support of and friendship with the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. Of course, she discussed her decision with both the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. I pay tribute to her efforts and her work in both DfID and the FCDO. As the Chancellor said only yesterday, the cut is temporary and we will return to the 0.7% when the fiscal situation so allows.
I would push back on the assertation that the Government are doing nothing. As I said, we are providing regular support to Mr Taylor: we are in regular contact with him, his family and his legal team. Mr Taylor has appealed against his extradition. We have also approached the Monégasque prosecutor’s office to request more information about the charges against Jonathan Taylor. We will continue to closely monitor this case and take appropriate action.
[Inaudible]—we will continue to support whistleblowers. On this specific case, we need to consider each case on an individual basis and, as set out in the Vienna convention on consular relations, we cannot interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, just as we would not expect similar interference here. However, we will continue to monitor this case closely. The Minister for the European Neighbourhood recently met the co-chairs of the APPG on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax. We will continue to stay in contact with Mr Taylor and his legal team, to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help in this case.
My Lords, first and foremost, let me assure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that we continue to support the work of the Minsk Group. He and the Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, issued a joint statement on 6 October calling for an immediate ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table. That must be the first step so that, as the noble Lord has rightly articulated, we can then move forward to holding the perpetrators of crimes fully to account.
My Lords, on the important point raised by the noble Baroness, the UK is working closely with other states, including the Red Cross movement, to promote compliance with international humanitarian law. We will continue to work with partners and call on all states and non-state actors engaged in armed conflict to respect international humanitarian law and to act in accordance with their obligations under it.
My Lords, we are committed to more effective and accountable aid spending under the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and of course that includes transparency and external scrutiny. We will reinforce that external scrutiny by not just maintaining ICAI but strengthening its focus on the impact of our aid and the value that it adds to our policy agenda.
My Lords, we are committed to increasing and improving our work on climate. We are doubling our funding to the International Climate Fund and, as the noble Baroness says, we are hosting COP. We are also absolutely committed to making sure that that funding is spent effectively.
My Lords, I hope my noble friend will agree that a priority as we emerge from Covid will be re-establishing flourishing trade with developing countries. We are perhaps looking at several years when social distancing and quarantine will make that difficult and it will be harder than usual to build the relationships and trust on which trade depends, so should we not take steps to build on the relationships and trust that we already have? Will my noble friend consider offering substantial benefits to graduates of British schools and universities in developing countries, such as a wide spectrum of assistance in making connections with the UK and getting trade going? These people have affection for and an understanding of our culture. They know how to get on with us. It will be much easier to create relationships at a distance with them than it would be with people who have not spent such a long time here. I am sure that universities and schools will collaborate readily with such an initiative to make their soft power available to the nation at a time when it needs it, just as I am sure the Government and the Home Office in particular are going flat out to support our educational institutions, with finance where necessary but particularly by making sure that students get visas on time and that the overall message we give to students, current and potential, is one of welcome, not uncertainty.
My Lords, I wholeheartedly endorse the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I declare an interest as chair of the UK board of the charity Search for Common Ground, which is a global leader in peacebuilding, currently implementing over 140 programmes and successfully partnering with the UK Government in more than 20 countries across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. I therefore want to address my comments to the impact of Covid-19 in fragile and conflict-afflicted areas.
Covid-19 can shift relationships between civilians and authorities. Poor responses by the authorities may decrease trust, increase risks of violence against civilians and disproportionately impact marginalised groups. Many authorities have relied heavily on security forces to enforce restrictions, putting security actors in high-stress, close-contact situations with civilians, for which most lack adequate gender and de-escalation training. We know that economic frustrations triggered by the pandemic can fuel perceptions of injustice, inflame tensions in communities or increase competition for access to resources, which may increase violent activity.
Covid-19 is also likely to undermine women’s economic security and girls’ education. The pandemic is significantly disrupting many majority-female market sectors in fragile countries, such as domestic services, hospitality and petty trading in marketplaces. This threatens women’s economic security in the longer term, especially if women recover financially more slowly than men, as happened following the Ebola-related disruption in west Africa. We must not repeat the mistakes of the past. Restrictions on markets and border crossings interrupt informal trading, which is frequently women’s only path to financial independence. UNODC has warned that the crisis is creating the environment where women and girls are more at risk to trafficking. We know that temporary school closures disproportionately impact girls’ education and that girls are far less likely to return to school after income cuts leave their families unable to afford schooling for all their children.
All these impacts will have a much greater effect on conflict-afflicted and fragile states. I very much welcome the announcements to which the Minister referred and I appeal to the Government to ensure that a focus on peacebuilding is a continuous thread through all the programmes that she described.