Commonwealth

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Tuesday 28th June 2022

(1 week, 2 days ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate raises an important issue. It seems to be a continuum. As someone who is overseeing the FoRB conference as well, I was wondering whether the “Minister for Conferences” is being added to my portfolio. Nevertheless, it is an important area which is of focus to Her Majesty’s Government. I am working very closely with Fiona Bruce on the delivery of next week’s conference, at which over 30 countries will be in attendance. On the countries the right reverend Prelate referred to, I would also note that there are many where there are distinct constitutional protections for all communities and faiths. It is important that all countries of the Commonwealth stand up for the rights of the faiths and beliefs of all.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, at last week’s CHOGM, the communiqué read that the

“Heads emphasised the commitment in the Commonwealth Charter, to international peace and security, and to an effective multilateral system based on international law.”

What have Her Majesty’s Government, as chair-in-office, and the Prime Minister, in particular, done to talk to other heads of Commonwealth Governments to try to persuade them of the importance of supporting Ukraine and the British position on Ukraine, rather than seeing Prime Minister Modi alongside President Putin and President Xi?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the importance of Ukraine—indeed the next Question I will be answering is on that very subject—was a discussion that did not meet with total agreement. I sat through and indeed represented the United Kingdom at the Foreign Ministers’ meeting. Nevertheless, I think we worked very constructively with all partners to ensure that the language on Ukraine was not just sustained but also recognised by all members of the Commonwealth. Our advocacy and that of other partners is important. The Ukraine conflict is far from over as we saw through the attacks only yesterday.

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Wednesday 18th May 2022

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, has pointed out, the gracious Speech was in many ways rather lacking in the themes of today’s debate. That is very common. There is very little in the legislative sphere that your Lordships’ House is requested to opine upon in the course of the annual year or parliamentary Session. However, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, thinks that he spends more time in your Lordships’ House answering questions than many other Ministers. That is precisely because there are so many issues of vital importance to this country, and globally, linked to his portfolio—which every time we hear from him seems to have expanded to another part of the world and another set of issues. Today, he has the undoubted pleasure of responding to the debate on foreign affairs, international development—which is still part of FCDO —defence, trade and Europe. Europe is of course the dog that does not bark at the moment, and received very few words in the gracious Speech.

However, if today’s debate has very little to do with legislation, that might come as a relief. As the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne of Didsbury, put it in his witty moving of the humble Address, an earlier Lord Mancroft had bemoaned that we have been overlegislated in this country. That was 70 years ago, at the start of Her Majesty’s reign. The noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, seemed to think that this would be of particular interest to the Opposition Benches; that for some reason we would think that there was too much legislation in the world. I have the advantage, in sitting on the Liberal Democrat Benches, of seeing the faces of the government party, and in particular the Conservative Privy Council Bench. I assure your Lordships that nobody looked more delighted at the idea that there was too much legislation than the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean.

We are all very happy to have a debate and discuss policy that does not necessarily link to legislation but, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, pointed out, some areas of the gracious Speech were perhaps lacking. In his opening remarks, the Minister began to flesh out some of these areas and there are others that we will need to probe during this Session that link to defence expenditure. The rhetoric is one thing, but the reality might be different. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sherbourne, pointed out that some people ask whether we can afford to spend so much on defence; his response, as is that of these Benches in many ways, given the crisis in Ukraine, is whether we can afford not to make that expenditure.

The gracious Speech talked about the Government playing a leading role in defending democracy and freedom across the world, including by continuing to support the people of Ukraine. In his opening remarks, the Minister spent much of his time explaining the Government’s commitment to Ukraine, which is very welcome, but he also made some comments that were a little unexpected, suggesting that Vladimir Putin has done nothing more than to foster European unity. If that is the case, do we really need a Brexit freedoms Bill or should we be looking at ways in which the United Kingdom can reunite with Europe? I am intrigued by the Minister’s comments in that regard, because there is clearly a need for greater co-operation with our allies in Europe and beyond.

I would like to press the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, who will be responding, on the sorts of initiatives Her Majesty’s Government are taking beyond defence support for Ukraine. That is clear and welcome, but we have seen the Prime Minister go to Finland and Sweden and offer bilateral security commitments. That could be seen as very brave, but is it credible? What commitments is the Prime Minister offering that go beyond membership of NATO, and have Her Majesty’s Government thought through the implications of the words of our Prime Minister, occasionally, and of the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary, who do not always seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet? Their words could be seen as inflammatory in a way that perhaps is not intended. I would like to hear a little more about the extent to which the United Kingdom is working with NATO allies and prospective NATO allies, and to consider how far our commitments are credible and the United Kingdom can be a reliable partner.

That very much fits with some of the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins: what are we doing on defence? It is easy for Ministers to say that we have made this major commitment to defence expenditure, but one of the biggest problems in the world today is inflation. One of the knowns about defence expenditure is that defence inflation is normally higher than the retail prices index. So will the Minister tell the House what calculations Her Majesty’s Government are making to assess whether the defence expenditure commitment is high enough? The rhetoric means nothing at all if we do not see something concrete emerging. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, will raise various questions, perhaps about shipping and our capability in that sphere—I could be wrong; he may talk about something entirely different—but this is a very serious issue. Rhetoric is one thing; delivery is another.

This takes me to one of the Bills that was mentioned in the gracious Speech and on which we have been given a briefing: the Procurement Bill. It does not necessarily sound like something that fits in foreign affairs, but defence has been particularly lacking in this area and it is very clear that defence is included in the new Procurement Bill. It is all very well to legislate and have a wonderful procurement policy, and it may be that Her Majesty’s Government will bring forward legislation and we will amend it in such a way that all Members of your Lordships’ House will say, “What a fantastic Act the Procurement Act 2022 or 2023 is.”

However, an Act of Parliament is no use whatever if people engaged in procurement are not able to use it effectively, so what advice and comfort can Her Majesty’s Government give, particularly in the defence sphere, that defence procurement is going to improve and that we are going to see defence equipment delivered on time and within budget? That is an issue not of legislation but of good governance, and we need to see more of it.

The gracious Speech also talks about the benefits of Brexit. It will not surprise your Lordships to hear that, speaking from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, I have found it quite difficult to find any benefit from Brexit. Apparently it is going to lead to growth. The noble Lord, Lord Frost, is looking across the Chamber, and he will be speaking shortly. I am sure he will disagree with me and will suggest that there are many benefits of Brexit. But so far, we are seeing not growth but labour shortages, raging inflation and stagflation. I admit that that is not all because of Brexit. Some of it is coming from war and the sanctions on Ukraine. When we had the emergency debate on Ukraine in the previous Session, I very strongly made the point, which I reiterate today, that however much we support sanctions against Russia associated with the war in Ukraine, it is important to be clear to the British public about some of the implications of sanctions because they do not affect Russia alone. We need to be clearer about that.

In winding up, I turn to the advice we have been given on the Brexit freedoms Bill. It suggests that a review has found about 1,000 pieces of legislation that could be looked at again, that all this legislation was rapidly negotiated in the past and had inadequate scrutiny, and that much of the law coming from the European Union was

“imposed and changed with minimal parliamentary scrutiny in the past”.

The briefing goes on to say, rather ironically:

“The Bill will significantly reduce the amount of time needed to make retained EU legislation fit for the UK, meaning the Government can more quickly implement the benefits of Brexit.”


Can the Minister explain to the House how it is better to be changing legislation so rapidly, seemingly with even less scrutiny than the retained legislation had in the first place? Surely the point of taking back control is to ensure that Parliament has a greater say and that we are not airbrushed. The echoes of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII should surely be excised from forthcoming legislation.

Ukraine: NATO Membership

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 24th February 2022

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord speaks with great insight and experience. I assure him—indeed, all in your Lordships’ House—that the whole purpose of my being at the United Nations yesterday as part of the General Assembly debate was, again, because of the brinkmanship that was being shown by President Putin. He went to the brink and has now stepped over the line. We will of course outline further action and further details during the course of today. I understand from my right honourable friend the Chief Whip that a debate on Ukraine is also scheduled for tomorrow, and I am sure that we will be discussing further details of statements that will be made during the course of today.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, we on these Benches also support the Government in their reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, but we wonder whether it would be possible to go further; obviously, we will be discussing sanctions later. For example, one of the issues that has faced Ukraine for months is the attack on its cyber system. To what extent might NATO be able to give support from its Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, which is based in Estonia?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness for her support. Again, it is important that there is a single unitary voice from your Lordships’ House and across both Houses of Parliament against this unprovoked Russian aggression against a sovereign state. On the issue of cyber, I was in Estonia about 10 days ago as part of our engagement on broader issues. I met our forces on the ground there and looked at our capabilities, including cyber. We are, not just through NATO but directly, offering the Ukrainian Government and Ukrainian people our full support. However, I would add that cyber is a challenge that is being met and felt not just by the Ukrainian people; we have felt it right here in the UK as well.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Thursday 24th February 2022

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I will be very brief. Of course I support the comments from my noble friend Lord Foulkes. However, in relation to the Council of Europe, I hope the Government, in doing what they are currently doing—although they need to go a bit faster, as many noble Lords have said—are thinking about an exit strategy. We need one. While we are cutting ourselves off from Russia because we are almost at war, it is still important that the dialogue continues between us. It is also important that we understand the feeling from the people in Ukraine—as well as the people in Russia, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said. I hope that the Minister will keep the dialogue open as long, and as widely, as he can, because getting out of a war is extremely difficult.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, like other Peers, I welcome the introductory remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. Clearly, from these Benches, we stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. Like the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, I intend to focus my remarks almost exclusively on the question of sanctions and the statutory instrument before us. However, I also want to touch very briefly on the issue of the Council of Europe.

These Benches support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and his amendment because, while the passing of the statutory instrument is necessary today for sanctions to be effective, there is a very real question about whether the sanctions go far enough. In his opening remarks, the Minister said that the Prime Minister is proposing to give a Statement this afternoon and he will go further, so the Minister cannot pre-empt that. This is fully understood. However, if your Lordships’ House were to support the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, then it might be the quickest time in history when the House of Lords has voted on something. If we hear the Prime Minister doing something rather more effective and expansive, we might all be able to celebrate the fact that swift action has been taken.

Overnight, we received the letter from the Minister which has been referred to and in which he says:

“Since announcing the package on Tuesday, both the speed and level of co-ordination between the UK and its allies on these sanctions has taken the Russian elite by surprise.”


If the Russian elite were taken so much by surprise, and we went from potential mobilisation to full-scale invasion of Ukraine, what does that tell us about the way that they have responded? Do the Government really think that the elite have been taken so much by surprise that they have acted precipitately, or have they not really been taken by surprise? The sanctions proposed so far by the United Kingdom seem very limited. Other countries have done far more; as the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, the European Union imposed much wider sanctions overnight.

Yesterday, at Questions, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, stressed that the UK was acting

“in lockstep with our allies”.—[Official Report, 23/2/21; col. 218.]

If that is the case—without pre-empting what the Prime Minister will say this afternoon—could the Minister reassure the House that the UK will indeed work with our European Union allies to ensure that our sanctions are at least as broad and deep as theirs?

Could the Minister perhaps reflect on the question of Russian membership of the Council of Europe? Some of the criteria for Council of Europe membership relate to human rights and the rule of law. What on earth is Russia doing in the Council of Europe? Should we not be at least considering suspension of its membership? It might not be a sanction which falls within the statutory instrument, but it would be a sanction. Have the Government thought about it?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, of course these sanctions were laid in a different context. Earlier today, I said that the Opposition fully support the Government and will continue to support them in all their actions against Russia. We should be in no doubt, as the Minister said, that this is an assault on a democratic and sovereign European nation. It is an act of war in no one’s interests. We will fully support all the necessary action.

Ireland: Russian Naval Military Exercises

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd February 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I do not think there can be any doubt about the extent of the package set out yesterday. We are out in front by sanctioning 275 individuals, placing restrictions on banks worth around £37 billion, and under the measures that Parliament has already approved, we can target any Russian entity or individual. It is the most far-reaching piece of legislation of its kind. The key is for us to proceed in lockstep with our allies to simultaneously pressure Russia from all angles. Our unity is critical. As the Prime Minister said earlier, we have prepared, ready to go in the event of further aggression, an unprecedented package of further sanctions, including wide-ranging measures targeting the Russian financial sector and trade.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Chancellor of Germany made a major statement yesterday about Nord Stream 2. If Her Majesty’s Government are trying to act in lockstep, should not the sanctions against Russians in London, and other sanctions be of a similar magnitude to those introduced by Germany?

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, we greatly welcome the announcement from Germany—indeed, the Government have long argued against the project proceeding for precisely the reasons that have now become clear. We are clear that yesterday’s announcement in the UK represents the first wave of sanctions, which target some of the individuals and entities closest to the Kremlin. We are co-ordinating with our allies around the next steps, and we will continue to work with our partners to build the most powerful set of financial sanctions ever imposed on any major economy.

Ukraine: OSCE Special Monitoring Mission

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd February 2022

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, the UK had the third largest number of monitors and is the leading financial contributor to the mission. Because of the rising threat from Russia and our duty of care responsibilities to those taking part, the UK made a difficult decision to withdraw. However, our secondees remain on contract and we are ready to deploy them as soon as the situation allows. That is of course what we want to do.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, when the UK ambassador to the OSCE talked about withdrawal, he noted that, even in the four months to 12 January, the number of weapons in the area doubled against what was in the Minsk agreement. That was when our monitors were there. What sort of evidence does Her Majesty’s Government imagine there can be when no monitors are present? As the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Browne, said, that evidence is vital, otherwise we will have fake news from the Kremlin.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, as I said, we continue strongly to support the SMM. We are calling for it to have free, safe and unconditional access throughout the country, including those areas described by Russia as independent republics. The situation on the ground required the Government to make a decision. I will not second-guess that decision.

Afghanistan (International Relations and Defence Committee Report)

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, on her excellent chairmanship of the International Relations and Defence Committee and on the work she did in ensuring that this report came to fruition one year ago. Like so many Members of the Grand Committee, I served on the committee that produced this report and like so many noble Lords I express my grave dissatisfaction at the fact that it has taken one year for this report to be debated.

Normally, as the good people of Hansard will be aware, if I am winding for the Liberal Democrat Front Benches, I spend my time scribbling notes all through the debate. I tend not to have a speech when I arrive because I think it is important to make sure that I have listened to the debate. While I do not pretend that I am doing the Minister’s job of listening to the debate and responding, I think it is useful for Members of the House—or, on this occasion, the Grand Committee—to know whether the Liberal Democrats agree or disagree and where we stand on things.

However, when I saw this debate listed, I had a very different sense: I knew immediately what I needed to say and that I needed to write a speech. This is not merely a debate about a report from one of your Lordships’ committees that was written over a year ago and debated with hindsight, as so many of our reports are. It is a debate about something that affects the United Kingdom and our standing in the world. It is about whether we take moral responsibility and stand up for what we believe in.

We are speaking only in Grand Committee today. What a great shame it is that we are not in the Chamber, being watched and engaged with by the rest of your Lordships’ House. Yet again, this is a committee speaking by and large to ourselves—with the exception of one or two noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, my noble friend Lord Purvis’s official opposite number in Labour. The point is that we are not speaking to the Chamber or the outside world, but we should be. My remarks today seek to speak to your Lordships’ House and the Government, but also to the people whom we have left behind in Afghanistan, their friends and families here in the United Kingdom and the NGO community that is trying to support them.

It is so easy for people to forget about Afghanistan. We have a real problem with the news cycle. In August 2021, all we heard about on the news was Afghanistan, the attempts to get people out and, for a while, the attempts to get dogs and cats out of Kabul. The news of the animals and their sponsor seemed at times to be more important than getting individuals out, which perhaps says something about how we were viewing the crisis. How quickly the media move on.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, rightly said that ITN has recently been producing extremely moving and important short reports from Afghanistan to highlight the problems of people on the ground right now, during winter, when they are facing starvation, do not have enough heat and do not know where their next food is coming from. For most people in the United Kingdom, though, the Afghan crisis is something that happened last year, not something that is going on in January 2022. The main focus of our news broadcasts at the moment seems to be whether the Prime Minister attended a party. We must wait for Sue Gray, so we are told; that is what the headlines are all about. However, the people of Afghanistan do not know or care who Sue Gray is, and they certainly cannot expect to attend a party because, in most cases, the opportunity to do things that they might want to do at a party, such as singing, dancing and having music, have been banned by the Taliban. More importantly, they cannot envisage having a party because they cannot envisage where the food would come from.

As other noble Lords have pointed out so eloquently, the report we produced over a year ago stated just how dependent Afghanistan is on aid. That was a year ago, before the collapse of the Government in Kabul, before the Taliban came and before the reprehensible western withdrawal that led to chaos, carnage and leaving behind so many people without the opportunity to find a living.

Back in January 2021, we noted that, without aid, the public services of Afghanistan could not function. That was true then; it is true now. One of the issues that has barely been touched on in today’s debate is the situation with the banks. The letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, and others to which the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred refers to the banks. Can the Minister tell your Lordships what this Government will do to work to ensure that, as far as possible, people in Afghanistan have money in future? The freezing of aid and the banking system means that people have no money.

Another thing that has barely been mentioned today is the fact that so few people are actually earning any living at all in Afghanistan because before, the funding was being provided through aid for 80% of the people. They were dependent on jobs in the public sector and those people, including teachers and medics, are not being paid. There was talk about women not being able to teach but there are still women working in hospitals as midwives, nurses and doctors. Even the Taliban knows that those people are necessary but they are not being paid. The only reason they still go to work is because they feel they have a duty, but for how long can that go on? What are the Government doing to ensure that aid gets to Afghanistan and the people who need it?

We need to make sure that people who are working are being paid but, beyond that, there are serious problems for women in Afghanistan at the moment—particularly widows, whom the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, talked about, but also for married women whose husbands are away looking for work. Afghanistan is essentially an agricultural economy but it currently faces its worst drought in 27 years. Even if it were not for the Taliban or Covid, there is drought. The men are away looking for work. The women are at home, more vulnerable than ever because the Taliban has put in restrictions on the movement of single women and those who have no chaperones, while trying to feed their children. There might be eight, 10 or 12 children. How would any of us feed our children when we have no income and when the cost of fuel has risen and there is no cooking oil? There is a grave humanitarian danger right now and we need to be responding.

However, that danger is so much worse for the people whom the United Kingdom left behind—the interpreters and judges, the British Council people, the GardaWorld force and the Chevening scholars. I refer in particular to the British Council because, for the past four and a half months, I have been writing again and again to the Government, asking what is happening to those people. It is a microcosm of the problem in this British response. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, said that there has been no structure or strategy to the response. That seems to be the case with ARAP. The British Council people were told, “You can come out under ARAP”. A few did but many were left behind. I kept being told about rumours that ARAP is time-limited and that the numbers are limited. So I kept writing to the Government but was told, “No, ARAP is not time-limited and the numbers are not limited”.

That might have been true, but the rules have changed. If you worked for the British Council you might now be able to come under the ACRS. That is great, but we still do not know what the rules are or how you apply. We believe that if you are already in this country you might be eligible for the ACRS, through some opaque means. We understand that if you are in Kabul or elsewhere in Afghanistan you might be able to apply, but it is not quite clear how. Over the last six months, again and again, the Home Office, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and the MoD have passed the buck one to the other.

Individuals in Afghanistan, their families and others, and the diaspora communities in the UK need to understand who to talk to and how they can assist people. How can we, as Members of your Lordships’ House, assist? How can NGOs help? We understand that some of the referral routes will be through the UNHCR, but the NGOs are there on the ground. They know the situation. What are the Government doing to explain to them how they can make referrals, or, if they cannot, who can?

Finally, it is worth bearing in mind that the people suffering the most are precisely those who worked most closely with the United Kingdom. If everybody faces famine, it is even worse for those whom the Taliban know worked as interpreters or taught English for the British Council—not just English but British values: the very values the Taliban are most opposed to. The Taliban are going door to door. Many of the people who worked for the British Council and as guards have moved to safe houses, but they have to move again and again. If their children are left behind, some have been taken by the Taliban, either as child soldiers or as child brides. The word “bride” is not appropriate; they are children being raped. What are the Government doing to help all these people?

Nuclear Weapons

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Wednesday 12th January 2022

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I am sure that I share with my noble friend and everyone in your Lordships’ House a real admiration for all elements of our military, including our naval assets. Of course, I cannot discuss specific operational aspects, but I can say to my noble friend that we have one of the best militaries, and indeed navies, in the world.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked the Minister how he could justify the increase in the number of warheads. He says that that is in line with our commitments under the NPT. If that is the case, what actions are Her Majesty’s Government actually taking to look for disarmament? The Minister said that we support multilateral disarmament, yet we seem to be increasing our armaments. So what, in practical terms, are we doing to meet our commitments?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the specific point about our own capacity, ultimately of course we retain our defensive capacity. Referring back to the P5 statement, it was encouraging that all countries have underlined the importance of the defensive nature of being nuclear states. On specific aspects of what we are doing, we have, for example, recently had discussions with other countries, including the likes of New Zealand, specifically looking at elements of the NPT. We also ensure that we look at issues of disarmament through regular reviews, ensuring that bodies are set up to review the capacity of countries to develop nuclear weapons and ensure that they do not do so. We work together with our P5 partners to ensure that that remains the case.

Kazakhstan

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Tuesday 11th January 2022

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to disagree with the noble Lord. We have been very clear; in my statements I have highlighted, most importantly and centrally, the engagement on adherence. Kazakhstan recognises itself as a democracy, which means protecting human rights and the rights of citizens to protest. We have made that point very clearly. The situation remains fluid, if somewhat more stabilised today, and we are observing it very closely. We will continue to exert maximum influence in our relationship with Kazakhstan and build on it.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, Vladimir Putin suggested that the protesters were external forces. Does the Minister think that Vladimir Putin knows something that the rest of us do not? What does he think the causes of the protests really are?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point this out. Various descriptions have been given of the protests. As she will be aware, they started because of the energy crisis and fuel prices in Kazakhstan. That perhaps demonstrates —the facts are still emerging—other reasons and concerns that the citizens of Kazakhstan have. As to what the protesters’ reasoning is and who they are, we have noted quite carefully the statements made and I have pressed directly that, if there is evidence of that kind of interference, we should be informed accordingly.

Russia

Baroness Smith of Newnham Excerpts
Monday 10th January 2022

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I listened very carefully to what my noble friend said, but I do not agree. We have not ramped this up, and nor has Ukraine. It is Russia that has ramped this up. I referred earlier to the entry into the sovereign territory of another country, Crimea, and the annexation of that region against international law. That goes totally against the agreements that Russia itself has signed up to. So this is not about ramping up; it is about responding. It is right that we work with NATO and our allies to ensure that Russia understands very clearly that it is Russian aggression that is at the root of this, and this week—we continue to invest in this—we are seeking to ensure that diplomacy is at the centre of finding sustainable solutions to this crisis.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, the Statement also mentions the western Balkans and the fact that the Prime Minister has appointed Sir Stuart Peach as special envoy. What assessment have the Government made of relations between Russia, Serbia and Republika Srpska, and of the future of Bosnia?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point that out. Of course, the appointment of Sir Stuart Peach, which she referred to, underlines our commitment to ensuring that we are at the forefront of ensuring the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Our noble friend Lord Ashdown, who was respected greatly and whom we miss greatly, made some notable efforts, but I repeat what he said when we discussed Bosnia previously: that this was just the bottom line, not the top line, of what we sought to achieve through the creation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and it is important that we not only sustain but protect it.

We are deeply concerned that we are in the middle of three days of so-called unofficial celebrations in Republika Srpska, which is currently celebrating with Mr Dodik its creation as a republic. It has not been sanctioned; it is unofficial. Indeed, the scenes that we are seeing unfold are adding to the insecurity. As I said previously, again, it is deeply regrettable that this has been spurred on by support directly from Moscow.