House of Lords Statement on G8 and NATO Summits

G8 Meeting – Questions – 21 May 2013

Baroness Tonge (Liberal Democrat) To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their priorities for the G8 meeting on 17 June.

Baroness Warsi (Conservative) My Lords, the priorities for the G8 are pushing for practical action to achieve fairer taxes, greater transparency and freer trade. Those are actions that are essential in shaping the rules characterising a fair and open global economy, and ensure that both developed and developing countries benefit. G8 leaders will discuss topical foreign policy and global economic issues, as well as terrorism and security in weak and ungoverned spaces, especially the Sahel and north-west Africa.

Baroness Tonge (Liberal Democrat) My Lords, is the Minister aware that at the pre-G8 parliamentarians conference held at Westminster last week, to which more than 100 parliamentarians from all over the world came, it was once again affirmed that voluntary family planning and maternal health are cost-effective ways of promoting economic development by stabilising population growth and enabling women to access education and join the workforce? Will our Government, therefore, press their commitment to family planning and maternal health at the G8 meeting?

Baroness Warsi (Conservative) I cannot assure my noble friend whether that will be on the agenda, but I will certainly take her views back. She will be aware that a huge amount of work is done by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development both in projects on the ground and in creating the right climate for these matters to be discussed. Sometimes G8 summits are seen as places where western nations can point the finger at developing countries, but this meeting is also about the G8 countries getting their house in order.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Labour) My Lords, is it not an absolute disgrace that multinational companies, such as Associated British Foods, can actually pay less tax in countries such as Zambia than small single market traders based in the same communities, as shown by Action Aid and others? In putting their proposals to the G8, will the Government ensure that the actions of corporate multinationals and the capacity of individual governments to ensure efficient tax systems are tackled?

Baroness Warsi (Conservative) The noble Lord raises a very important point. It is why transparency in tax will be a key priority at the G8 discussions. It is important that we get political support for ensuring that global tax rules are fit for the 21st century. It cannot be acceptable that companies can create these shadow shell companies offshore, which effectively means that both developed and developing countries do not get the benefits from revenue that should come from their profits. Does the noble Baroness agree that Syria should be high on the G8 agenda, because of both the huge loss of life and the impact on all the neighbouring states? Would this topic not include violence against women in particular, such as mothers who have been forced to leave their homes in Syria?

Baroness Warsi (Conservative) The noble Lord can be assured that Syria will be on the agenda. He may be aware that I repeated a Statement in this House yesterday. It is clear that this is one of our biggest foreign policy priorities. In terms of violence against women, the noble Lord may be aware of the Preventing Sexual Violence initiative, which the Foreign Secretary has been leading on. The G8 meeting of Foreign Ministers put out a robust and extensive statement on action taken to prevent sexual violence in conflict, and I am sure that this will be reaffirmed at the G8 meeting.

Lord Triesman (Labour) My Lords, the list the Minister started with contains security, but I confess that I was a little disappointed that action against nuclear proliferation was not included. There are at least two nations—and arguably very many more because of those two—where the nuclear arms race could well take hold. That must be a fundamental issue to our security and to security more generally. How will the Government ensure that that is discussed at the G8 meeting?

Baroness Warsi (Conservative) The noble Lord will agree that a whole series of important issues could be put on the G8 agenda. We feel that what is important is to discuss the political and economic challenges of the day—as they always are. However, it is also important for the G8 to look at ways in which it can get its house in order and agree on those things that would make a real difference to developing countries—such as tax, transparency and trade. This allows developing nations to have much more transparent, open systems, so that countries know when developed nations go into their country, what they are paying for those contracts, what those governments are receiving and what the real benefits will be for the people of those nations.

Lord Teverson (Liberal Democrat) My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s decision to concentrate on west Africa. It is an area where drug and human trafficking are a great problem. What do the Government intend to do in terms of stabilising democracy in some of these nations, for instance in Mali, Niger and Guinea-Bissau, to stop the problems escalating in future?

Baroness Warsi (Conservative) The recent tragic events earlier this year in Algeria and Mali showed that different nations have different expertise that they can bring to the table. It is obvious that wherever there are ungoverned spaces, that is where the threat of extremism starts to rise. We have seen that in Mali. The discussions at this G8 will be about how we can harness that expertise from different nations and bring it together to be able to come forward with solutions for these areas which are proving to be extremely challenging.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Labour) Would the Minister care to give an assurance about movement towards the principle of paying a living, fair and minimum wage in those countries which they intend to assist with inward development? Will she tell her colleagues that some of us despair about the way the Government are tackling the results of many major companies—this has been referred to today—which fail to pay a living wage to their employees and the governments cut the benefits? There are companies that do not pay their tax and the benefits of their employees are being cut by the government, but in fact the fault lies with the multinational companies.

Baroness Warsi (Conservative) I repeat to the noble Baroness the point I made at the outset. If these companies are not paying tax off the back of their profits, it means that developed nations and developing nations cannot provide the public services and support that is needed. It will be a key part of what we are doing at the G8 to say to companies, “You have to be transparent about who owns you, about where you are owned and about the tax you are paying”, because it cannot be right. I do not know whether noble Lords saw the fantastic article in Prospect, but apparently Jersey is now the world’s largest exporter of bananas. We know that that is not true and we need to get behind that.

G8 and NATO Summits — Statement
23 May 2012

Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House of Lords, House of Lords; Conservative)
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the G8 and NATO summits which my noble friend the Prime Minister attended in America last weekend. The Statement is as follows:

“The common theme across both summits was economic stability and international security. At the G8 we reached important conclusions on dealing with our debts, growing our economies and dealing with the risks in the eurozone. Let me take each in turn.

Mr Speaker, deficit reduction and growth are not alternatives: you need the first to deliver the second. There was absolutely no debate about this: it was my view; it was Chancellor Merkel’s view; it was President Obama’s view; and it was President Hollande’s view. Indeed, France will balance its budget at a faster rate than Britain. In Britain, in two years, we have cut the deficit we inherited from the last Government by more than a quarter and our approach has been endorsed again by the IMF this week and by the OECD.

At a time of tight budgets, a proper growth plan requires not just a credible fiscal policy which secures low interest rates but also structural reforms to make our economies more competitive, active monetary policy and innovative use of our hard won credibility to ensure investment in long-term infrastructure. We are taking all these steps in the UK and promoting them in Europe as well, and in every area we need to do more. Prime Minister Monti and I have gathered 10 other EU leaders to call for the completion of the single market in digital and services-classical structural reforms to our economies. President Hollande is coming forward with creative proposals, such as project bonds, and, as the House knows, in recent months the ECB has helped supply liquidity to European banks.

I will be pursuing all of these elements at the informal European Council tonight and at the formal council in June, after which I will of course be making a Statement to the House.

Growing our economies also means doing everything we can to get trade moving. At the end of the G8 meeting there was a serious and substantive discussion about the potential for an EU-US trade deal. The EU and US together make up half of the world’s GDP. There is a huge amount of work to be done-and a further effort will be made at the G20 next month-but this could have a positive impact on both sides of the Atlantic.

The greatest risk facing the eurozone and indeed the world economy is the situation in Greece. The future of Greece is for the Greek people to determine. It is for them to decide what is best for their country, but we cannot afford to allow this issue to be endlessly fudged and put off. The Greek election should in effect be a straightforward choice between staying in the eurozone, with the responsibilities that entails, or taking a different path. The eurozone and Europe as a whole need to have contingency plans in place for both eventualities. These should involve strengthening banks, protecting financial systems and ensuring decisive action by European institutions to prevent contagion. I can tell the House that whatever the outcome, the Government will do whatever is necessary to protect this country and secure our economy and financial system.

Alongside the discussion on the economy, I had two further priorities for this G8: to continue the good work of the G8 on development, and to support the Arab spring and the promotion of democracy and reform. On development, the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is an important initiative that aims to help 50 million people lift themselves out of poverty over 10 years. For countries to receive help they need to show a real commitment to transparency and good governance, and in return they get substantial support to generate private sector investment in food production. This is a great combination of promoting good governance and helping Africa to feed its people, and I will be building on this with a major event on hunger during the Olympic Games in the UK.

Encouraging the private sector to create jobs is one of the best routes to sustainable, equitable growth in poorer countries, but aid still has a vital role to play. For the first time in a decade, the amount of aid given by the world’s richest countries to the world’s poorest countries has fallen back. Promises are being broken. This is wrong. Britain continues to honour its commitments and other nations should do likewise. In the G8, which we will be chairing next year, we will once again produce the report showing who has and who has not kept their promises.

The G8 also reached important conclusions on Libya, Iran and Syria. Specifically on Syria, there was backing for the Annan plan and for further UN measures if Assad does not change course. It was significant that the Russians agreed to this. I raised Burma and the need to support the foundations of a lasting and irreversible transition to democracy, and I will be making this a feature of our G8 next year. I am sure the whole House will look forward to welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi when she addresses Parliament next month.

Let me turn to the NATO summit. Some people write off NATO as a relic of the past. I believe it is vital to our future security. The threats NATO countries face largely come from beyond our borders: failed states, terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Because of this, it makes sense for NATO to be prepared to link up with partners around the world to act out of area, and to spend less on the weapons of past conflicts like battle tanks and more on the technology needed for tomorrow’s conflicts. All of these things were agreed at the summit. That is not to say that NATO should not take steps to defend Europe and North America; it should, and we declared at the summit that the interim ballistic missile defence capability that will protect Europe is now operational.

It was particularly good to have a special session with the partners who work with NATO around the world, and in particular the 50 countries which make up the NATO-led alliance in Afghanistan. NATO’s military commanders set out the progress in the campaign. Attacks by insurgents are down and the transition to Afghan control is on track. Over the next few weeks, we will reach the point where 75% of the population will be living in areas where Afghan forces are in the lead for security. The vital next steps are to deliver the final stages of transition by continuing to build up the Afghan national security forces and ensuring that they are properly funded for the future. Britain is pledging £70 million-$100 million-a year. But it is right that other countries should step up and contribute to the future of Afghanistan, irrespective of the role they have played so far. This summit marked a turning point in these contributions, with almost $1 billion being pledged to support the Afghan national security forces.

Britain has played a leading role in this alliance for reasons of our own national security. Three years ago some three-quarters of the most serious terrorist plots against Britain had links to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now I am advised that that figure has fallen to about half. Our aim is an Afghanistan that is able to take care of its own security without the need for foreign troops, an Afghanistan that can prevent al-Qaeda returning and posing a threat to us and to our allies around the world.

The tremendous hard work of our courageous service men and women is making this possible. After 10 years, our service men and women will finally be coming home. I pay tribute to them. Their service and sacrifice is beyond measure. We remember in particular all those who have given their lives in this vital task to keep our country safe. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour)
My Lords, I am grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating a Statement given earlier today in the other place by the Prime Minister on the G8 and NATO meetings. We on these Benches very much welcome the announcement made today about the visit of Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Her whole life is an extraordinary and humbling record of her fight for democracy and human rights and we look forward hugely to her visit to this country, and in particular to her speaking to both Houses of Parliament next month.

I will begin with the NATO summit. On Afghanistan, we welcome the summit’s confirmation that the transition of full security responsibility from ISAF to the Afghan national security forces is set for completion by mid-2013, with the end of British combat operations by the end of 2014. Our troops have already served heroically in Afghanistan for over a decade. We owe them enormous gratitude and I certainly endorse the tribute paid in the Statement. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say that we want to see them home with their families-and home in the right way, respecting the professionalism that they have shown and the sacrifices that they have made.

To that end, can the Leader give the House a clearer indication of the timetable for the expected draw-down of British combat troops between now and 2014? Can he tell us how many British service personnel the Government expect to remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and which services they will be drawn from, and confirm that those who remain will serve under a NATO command and control structure? Can he tell the House what discussions the Government have had with President Zardari on the issue of land access across Pakistan, which is so vital for British military and ISAF supplies?

Turning to the political situation in Afghanistan, does the Leader of the House agree that honouring the sacrifices and bravery of our troops means taking the political challenge there as seriously as the military challenge? Given that the final stage of the military campaign is under way, what concrete steps will now be taken that were not already in place before Chicago to secure an inclusive political settlement within Afghanistan and between Afghanistan’s regional partners? Does the Leader agree that we need a far greater urgency in seeking this political settlement?

Women in Afghanistan have made significant progress over the last few years, in part thanks to advances in education, which we have supported. We celebrate the fact that women now make up 27% of the Afghan National Assembly-interestingly, this compares to 22% in the House of Commons. However, these courageous women are deeply concerned about what will happen to their hard-fought gains after 2014. Can the Leader assure me that the position of women will be taken into consideration in all talks relating to a political settlement?

On Iran, can the Leader of the House confirm media reports that the issue of Iran’s nuclear capability was discussed last week by the National Security Council? Can he confirm that the Government have sought legal advice on the legality of a range of possible actions by the United Kingdom in relation to Iran’s nuclear capability? Can the Leader update the House on the talks on this issue taking place in Baghdad today?

Turning to the G8, we join with the Government in calling for an immediate end to violence to stop the continuing bloodshed in Syria. The Statement rightly mentioned the discussions that have taken place about Africa. Can the Leader say whether or not Africa will be high on the agenda when the UK takes over the chair of the G8 next year?

On the global economy, we desperately needed a summit that delivered a plan for growth but did not get it. That was because the international community is divided between those who believe that we must have a decisive shift towards growth-including President Obama, now joined by President Hollande-and those who believe that the answer lies in more of the same: that is, the German Chancellor and our Prime Minister. For two years, the Government have been telling the world that austerity alone is the answer. Now, as the recognition dawns that this is not working, the Government find themselves on the wrong side of the argument.

On the economy here at home, this Government have delivered: recovery turning into recession, no growth for 18 months and over 1 million young people out of work. Even the IMF is now saying that time is running out for plan A. At the G20 last November, the Prime Minister signed a communiqué that said that,

“should global economic conditions materially worsen”, countries will take,

“measures to support domestic demand”.

Global conditions have worsened, so what is the action for growth? Where is the decisive shift that we need across the global economy? The reality is that this Prime Minister cannot be the advocate for a plan for growth abroad when he and his Government cannot advance one at home.

Finally, on the European summit tonight, Eurobonds are important, and a stronger firewall would make a difference. However, the crucial thing is demand. Does the Leader of the House accept that without a plan for growth in Europe we cannot get a solution on deficits across Europe that is either politically or economically sustainable? The problem with the Government, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister and indeed the Cabinet-of which the noble Lord the Leader of the House is a member-is that they can only offer more of the same. They cannot be part of the solution because they are part of the problem. All they can offer is more austerity-but austerity is not working in Britain and it is not working in Europe. We need jobs and growth in this country. We believe that it is time that this Government shifted their strategy and started to do things to help generate jobs and growth.

Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House of Lords, House of Lords; Conservative)
My Lords, I am immensely grateful to the noble Baroness for joining in the tribute to our servicemen, who do such an extraordinary job abroad, not just in Afghanistan but elsewhere as well. I join her in celebrating the visit of Aung San Suu Kyi next month. As soon as we have a date, we will of course let everybody know so that they can make their arrangements to come along and listen to her speak.

The noble Baroness asked about the timetable for the expected drawdown in Afghanistan. I confirm that there will be 9,000 troops on the ground by the end of this year. We need a clear pathway for drawdown based on conditions on the ground. I am sure that is well understood. We are responsible for three districts. I and other Ministers will keep the House updated as to how that timetable progresses, as we will with the situation post-2014, where we have agreed, rightly, to provide assistance with an officer training college in Afghanistan, along with Australia and New Zealand. That will be the baseline of our commitment although we will of course listen to other requests. There will therefore be a NATO training mission as opposed to the NATO combat mission currently.

The noble Baroness also asked about the relationship with Pakistan and, in particular, the control of ground lines across Pakistan. We believe it is essential that these are reopened and are confident that progress will be made. We would like it to be more rapid and will have to wait and see until we get a settlement.

The noble Baroness made much of something that I think is equally important-the political settlement in Afghanistan. If there has been a military surge, we also need a political surge. There is no military solution for Afghanistan, but there may be a political one. As the House knows, we have made an offer to the Taliban to lay down their weapons and to join the peace process within Afghanistan. The political process has not progressed as quickly as we would like, hence the need properly to train up Afghanistan’s own security forces and police, making the country safe to hand over. However, we are fully committed to a political process. I can also confirm that the position of women in Afghanistan is extremely important, not just to this Government but to many other Governments who play their part in Afghanistan. We must hope and believe that the work and progress that have been achieved over the course of the past few years will hold-in perpetuity, I would hope-in Afghanistan after the troops have left.

I cannot update the noble Baroness any further on the situation in Baghdad and the discussions with Iran, but I can confirm that in the G8 next year the position of Africa will play a major part. This Government are immensely proud of their record of support for developing and underdeveloped nations and our commitment to expenditure and the work that has been done. We will call upon other countries to make similar commitments.

As for the United Kingdom economy, I thought the noble Baroness was unnecessarily churlish today, in a week where we have seen that inflation has fallen, that unemployment fell last month and that, for the first time since 1976, we exported more motor cars than we imported. We are reducing the deficit and we have historically low interest rates. That seems to be a good record. Of course, I say that with no ounce of complacency. We all know that we are living in extremely difficult and complicated economic times. There is a good deal of uncertainty in the world, particularly within Europe. The noble Baroness said that we had no plan except for austerity, but you have only to look at what the French President said, not that recently but last year. He said that the national debt is the “enemy” of the Left and of France. We agree with that. Much more recently, on 6 May, he said:

“The means cannot be extra public spending, since we want to rein it in”.

Austerity and growth are not mutually exclusive but you cannot have one without the other. That is the most important thing. It would be much better if we agreed about these matters across the Benches in these extremely difficult economic times. However, we have the flexibility of our own currency and the Bank of England, and I very much hope that that will lead to growth in the long term.

Lord Jopling (Conservative)
My Lords, will the Leader of the House tell us whether there were any discussions about the lamentable stand-off that exists between NATO and the European Union, which prevents a great deal of necessary co-operation? This stand-off has been going on for far too long because of the difficulties between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. Was anything discussed to try and settle this long-standing issue?

Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House of Lords, House of Lords; Conservative)
My Lords, we will continue to work hard to resolve these issues, not just within NATO but within the EU. My noble friend has tremendous knowledge and expertise on this subject, and he is right to draw it to the House’s attention. I cannot promise that there will be an early solution, but he can rest assured that we will continue to work on it.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour)
My Lords, was there any evidence at the Chicago NATO summit of any repositioning of the US defence priority away from Europe and in the direction of Asia? Was there evidence also of the frustration of the United States at the lack of response within Europe to the defence needs? In particular, what relevance does that frustration have for the UK-French treaty? Do the Government think that that should be strengthened in any way? There has been some success on the nuclear side but apparently the co-operation on the non-nuclear side is fairly becalmed at the moment. What discussions are we having with the French about improving the degree of co-operation, even integration, of our defence forces?

Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House of Lords, House of Lords; Conservative)
My Lords, I do not think that the summit in Chicago was about a revolution within NATO or about a comprehensive reassessment of the role of the United States within NATO or indeed about the relationship between the United Kingdom and France. Obviously all these matters are reviewed and kept very firmly in discussion. The Prime Minister argued, and the summit agreed, that NATO should not lower its ambitions or look inwards to the core responsibility of collective defence but rather should look outwards, reassert NATO’s relevance and make sure it is ready and capable of tackling the threats that may lie outside its territories. Indeed, President Obama and the Prime Minister argued that NATO should consider a process not dissimilar to the strategic reviews recently carried out in Britain and the US.

As far as France is concerned, where co-operation has been extremely close over the past few years, there is a recognition that there is no need to change that but, with a new President, discussions will continue. I see no reason why we should not continue that close co-operation between the United Kingdom and France.

[…]

Lord Browne of Ladyton (Labour)
My Lords, in the Statement that we have just heard, the noble Lord the Leader of the House reported that the Secretary-General of NATO took advantage of the NATO summit to declare that the interim ballistic missile defence capability was operational. Is the noble Lord able to explain in more detail what that phrase means and, much more importantly, how much that capability cost, what the next stage of development will cost, how much the United Kingdom has committed to paying for the next stage of development and whether it will come out of the core defence budget? Perhaps when he answers this question he may tell your Lordships’ House when we may get an opportunity to debate ballistic missile defence.

Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House of Lords, House of Lords; Conservative)
My Lords, it is not often that I get asked a question that I am comprehensively unable to answer, but this is one of those times. I am afraid that I cannot go beyond the sentence that I read out in the Statement. Perhaps I could reply to the noble Lord by letter. More importantly, he suggested that there should be a debate. There are opportunities for debate over the next few weeks and the missile defence system may well be one of those areas that the usual channels should discuss whether or not to bring forward.

Lord Stirrup (Crossbench)
My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House mentioned the cost and funding of the future Afghan national security forces and described the NATO summit as something of a watershed in this regard, with $1 billion in pledges. Perhaps a better metric might be the comparison between, on the one hand, the sum total of Afghan GDP and foreign aid and, on the other, the expected cost of running the future Afghan state, since after the end of the NATO mission it will be as much a matter of politics and development within Afghanistan as it is a matter for us. Can the Minister tell us where we stand on that metric?

Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House of Lords, House of Lords; Conservative)
My Lords, all I can say is that our support for Afghanistan, particularly in terms of development through DfID, will continue according to needs and the criteria that are set. What was important about the Chicago summit was a recognition that, post-2014-15, there would still need to be substantial financial support for the security forces of Afghanistan, hence the setting up of this fund to raise over $1 billion. The United Kingdom has fully pledged its support for this and has committed to spending £100 million a year, at least for three years post-2014.

Lord King of Bridgwater (Conservative)
I join my noble friend in his tribute to the great courage of our Armed Forces. Is it not true to say that, in a very real way, the objective that they were sent there to achieve has been achieved, which was to make sure that Afghanistan did not become a future base for al-Qaeda? In that connection, I challenge something in the Statement, which has linked together the most serious terrorist plots that are supposed to have had links with Afghanistan and Pakistan. I wonder how recent any links have been with Afghanistan. I am sure that there is a real problem about Pakistan and a real problem about the Yemen, but I personally believe that the Afghan Government and the ethnic groups that support them, as well as the Taliban, will all stand together in being absolutely determined that al-Qaeda will never get back into Afghanistan because of the problems and disasters that it caused.

Perhaps I could add one further point. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the issue of Iran. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, encouraged full parliamentary consultation before any action is taken. That tends not to be possible in the real world, so let me start the consultation now by saying that I think that the maximum restraint should be exercised in an extremely difficult situation and that every possible muscle of the British Government should try to ensure that there is no ill advised and extremely dangerous military action that could only make a difficult situation worse.

[…]

Lord Craig of Radley (Crossbench)
My Lords, before he was elected, the President of France talked about withdrawing French troops from Afghanistan earlier than previously intended. Following the NATO meeting, are the Government satisfied that this earlier rush for the door -if I may call it that-that was being threatened by France and other countries will not now take place?

Lord Strathclyde (Leader of the House of Lords, House of Lords; Conservative)
My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his question about France. It is true that the French President has called for the drawdown of French combat troops by the end of this year, and that is to happen. However, the Government and the rest of NATO are entirely confident that we can make up the shortfall and that there will be no detriment to the mission.

[…]

You can read the full debate here.

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