Lord Craig of Radley (Crossbench)
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, whose knowledge of these issues is profound.
Given the stress in the debate’s title on non-military means of conflict prevention, I hope that the most reverend Primate, who opened it in a most interesting and thought-provoking way, will not take it amiss if one who has spent his whole professional life in the Armed Forces should presume to contribute. I fully share the vision that it is far better to deal with situations by non-military means and sensible applications of soft power, however defined. I shall allude to its application for deterrence or prevention of conflict rather than to Joseph Nye’s definition of an ability to attract and co-opt others.
When I was studying for my RAF promotion exams more than 60 years ago, I was taught to consider three aspects in dealing with potential adversaries. There were political, economic and military. Non-conflict concepts were alive all those years ago. Today they have been rebranded and brigaded in a contemporary media-savvy vision called soft power. I leave it to others to unwrap the conundrum that so many from overseas wish to live and stay in this country while many others are so militantly averse to all that we stand for and believe in.
I turn to my third heading and the point I wish to make. It may be summed up in that phrase first attributed to Theodore Roosevelt. He wrote in 1900 that you can go far if you:
“Speak softly and carry a big stick”.
Others have coined the phrase, “an iron fist in a velvet glove”. My concern about the values of non-coercive soft power and non-military intervention lies not in their intrinsic worth but in the context in which they are applied.
The debate focuses on conflict prevention, not just winning the hearts and minds of others, so the perceptions of the interlocutors in the exchanges are all-important. The view from their end of the telescope may well not match ours. They may need to be cajoled or won over with economic or political gestures—but will those suffice to ensure a satisfactory outcome? The other side will certainly be weighing up what more it might extract, or what pressures it might face.
I fear that in recent years—I know this from my own experience—we have had harsh lessons, paid for in blood and treasure, about an opposition’s presumptions about the temper of the iron in our national fist. For decades before 1982, we had expended much effort in political-diplomatic exchanges to dissuade the Argentinians over their claim to the Falkland Islands. During the mid-1970s, the Argentinians became more belligerent—so much so that a nuclear-powered submarine was dispatched at short notice to the southern Atlantic as a successful deterrent.
As a then Assistant Chief of Air Staff at the MoD, I looked at the possibility of flying ground reinforcement into the Falklands by Hercules. Regrettably, I had to advise that, while a Hercules transport aircraft could, indeed, just fly into Port Stanley’s short airstrip, insufficient fuel was stored there, let alone runway length, to recover even a single aircraft. The idea of building a new airfield of reasonable size to allow for rapid reinforcement and in-theatre operations was considered, following an in-depth report by Lord Shackleton. However, the cost was sizeable and no department felt that it could be afforded, so it was dismissed as unnecessary. Non-military negotiation should continue and would—it was presumed—prove as adequate as in the past.
In subsequent years, the Argentinians noted that our military commitment to the Falklands was further and further diminished, with the withdrawal of a guard ship and eventually HMS “Endeavour”. By the time the Argentinians invaded in 1982, there were just 40 marines in place and no prospect of rapid reinforcement by air. Only after recapture did we get round to building the airfield at Mount Pleasant and positioning aircraft and radar for deterrence and protection. Soft power on that occasion lacked the deterrent of robust and timely further action, and we paid a dreadful price in lives lost, young individuals scarred for life and tragedy for the families involved.
Moving forward to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf conflict, Saddam Hussein’s presumption was that the reduction in military capability, as the US and Britain sought to benefit from a peace dividend following the end of the Cold War, made it less likely that we would embark on hostile military action. Between August 1990 and February 1991, this perception of his must have been strengthened in spite of sizeable deployment of coalition forces into theatre, as the US, with our active support, sought to find a non-military solution. Nothing budged Hussein until his forces were attacked by air and, finally, by ground forces.
We lost six Tornado aircraft in that conflict, but there were adequate numbers to sustain our operational tempo. Today, there seems little dialogue with ISIL and we and our allies have embarked on a muted application of force. Is it not sobering to realise that our total offensive contribution to this ongoing operation, apart from some UAV sorties, is just six Tornados? Even with the life extension recently given to the Tornado force to remain at three full squadrons for a further year, there is no continuous capability for an air combat force to remain deployed globally, as a deterrent or for use, as far and as wide as it has been. Other tasks may become more pressing.
I have chosen the Tornado force to illustrate my point, but similar analogies may be made for naval and Army forces. All three services are shadows of their former selves of even a couple of decades ago. The Air Force that I was privileged to lead in the mid-1980s was 100,000 strong. Today, it is down to close on 30,000 and force numbers have declined in proportion. Does this ORBAT any longer have a hope of being the big stick or iron fist that history teaches us is an essential long-stop to soft power and other non-military engagement with recalcitrant opponents?
I repeat that of course I welcome all steps—any steps—that can resolve difficulties between nations without recourse to war and bloodshed. However, these have far greater hope of success if the stick and fist are first class and sizeable enough to carry weight in the minds of those we seek to win over. We deceive ourselves if we believe that today’s force levels are still adequate to foster and promote the success of soft power in conflict prevention. President Putin’s annexation of Crimea, so robustly decried by our Government and many in the West as unacceptable, is now a fait accompli. The strategic prize for Russia must surely outweigh any or all inconvenience caused to its economy, or even individuals, by sanctions, which are the most that NATO and the EU seem capable, or willing, to call upon. The labours of those who diligently seek to solve problems with soft power might be more productive if those who bear responsibility for defence consider the adequacy of the available strengths rather than assume that all is well because we input some now very small amount of GDP on defence capability.
I applaud the efforts and enthusiasm of the most reverend Primate and other noble Lords. I hope that more will be done for the Armed Forces to give him and others the deterrent muscle of “big stick” and well tempered “iron fist” to promote success—the success that a combination of hard and soft power, or “smart power”, may bring. Hard power, it has been said, begets soft power.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (Crossbench)
My Lords, the whole House is indebted to the most reverend Primate for the way in which he introduced this debate. In Liverpool we were well aware of the talented and inspiring man that we had as Dean of Liverpool Cathedral. I think now the whole nation is beginning to understand the unique combination of experience and gifts that the most reverend Primate brings to the role that he now plays.
During his opening remarks, the most reverend Primate talked about the cost of deploying a battalion and it brought to my mind the famous exchange involving Stalin, who asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”. The answer, I suppose, came in the form of the Polish Pope, Karol Wojtyla, and the events at the end of the Cold War—in the transformative effect that the churches in all their denominations played in bringing an end to the former Soviet Union and the tyrannies that existed during that time.
The most reverend Primate also talked about the role of the BBC World Service and the British Council in promoting values, both institutions being extraordinary exemplars of soft power. I will return to that subject, as others have done, in my remarks. Earlier this year, in February, I introduced a debate on their role and I argued that the Government needed to combine soft power with hard power in a foreign policy based on what might be described as smart power.
In the face of terrorism, war and dictatorship, there are of course times when hard power—military force—needs to be deployed. There are times when the use of financial power is needed, to cut off sources of funding for those who seek to do us or their own people harm. There are times to provide funding and resources to those struggling for freedom or survival. There are times when political and diplomatic pressure is essential, and the work of our intelligence services in ensuring that we are aware of dangers before they occur is always vital. But soft power—a concept first articulated by the American academic Joseph Nye, as we have heard—should never be underestimated. When combined with all the other tools that are available, it can contribute to an intelligent, creative, practical and principled foreign policy.
Several months ago, the British Academy published an excellent report, which concluded that:
“UK foreign policy is too often conducted in a compartmentalised manner”,
which was a point alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng,
“with the would-be benefits of soft power either judged to be outweighed by security concerns”,
which was a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and by the excellent Select Committee report,
“or simply never taken into account”.
The report concludes that soft power is,
“likely to become more important in international relations over the coming years. UK governments can help themselves simply by recognising this, and by providing enough resources for the development and maintenance of its long-term assets”.
More than 80 years after its establishment by Lord Reith, today the BBC World Service has a global audience of 265 million people, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, reminded us. It transmits in English and 27 other languages. Often it is the only lifeline to honest reporting of news and current affairs. That was certainly true for the millions living behind the iron curtain in eastern Europe during the Cold War. It was true in Burma, throughout decades of brutal military dictatorship. When I visited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in March last year, she told me of the vital role that the World Service played, not only as a source of information and hope for her during her long, lonely years under house arrest, but as a source of ideas for the people of Burma. During my visit I gave a lecture at the British Council library in Rangoon, which throughout the worst of those years was always a place of hope for the people of Burma. I know that last month the Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate, David Burrowes, delivered another lecture there on parliamentary democracy, human rights and civil society.
In building Burma’s democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi particularly points to the role that the World Service has played in disseminating information, broadcasting truthful news bulletins and programmes that could be relied upon, and sustaining morale in the darkest of times. Yet, as we have heard, funding and the mandate of both the World Service and the British Council risk their effectiveness. In 2010-11 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office grant for the British Council was 27% of its income. In 2013-14 that grant is forecast to be less than 20% of total income. The proportion is projected to decrease further, reaching 16% of total income by 2015-16. Meanwhile, of course, the World Service has seen its mandate changed and its capacity reduced.
I will give your Lordships one example of the effect of depleted resources. I want to talk about the use of soft power in North Korea. I remind the House of my non-pecuniary interest as co-chairman of the All-Party Group on North Korea. Although I readily concede that there are significant differences between Burma and North Korea, there are also legitimate comparisons, and I regret that our now more resource-driven approach has led to very different outcomes.
Your Lordships will recall that in February, a United Nations commission of inquiry report found that the North Korean Government were guilty of crimes against humanity, including enforced starvation, torture, sexual violence, forced labour, political prison camps and public executions.
Bringing to light the most devastating and relentless catalogue of crimes against humanity in the post-1945 era, it is salient to note that these abuses were all committed while the UK pursued a soft power approach towards the country through a mix of cultural, educational, and exchange projects, some of which I have seen first hand on my four visits to that benighted country. On North Korea, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions about what works and what does not.
The last time there was a war on the Korean peninsula, some 3 million people lost their lives, including 1,000 British servicemen—probably more, I suspect, than in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Falklands combined. As the transition from military dictatorship to thriving democracy and market economy in the Republic of Korea has demonstrated, a peaceful, united Korea need not be a pipe dream. It is worth mentioning in the context of today’s debate that not only were there all those civilian and military casualties, but the former Anglican Bishop of Korea, the late Monsignor Richard Rutt, in his booklet The Martyrs of Korea, estimated that around 8,000 martyrs had died for their Christian faith in Korea during that period. As evidence has demonstrated in both the report issued by the United Nations and in testimonies given only a week ago in this House—which will be included in a report to be published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief—those deprivations of religious freedom and offences against Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights continue to this day.
Change on the Korean peninsula will not come about simply by accident or as a result of simple, short-term interventions. When we think about soft power in that context we should ask ourselves two questions: who should we be looking to influence in North Korea and how can we engage North Korea in a responsible and effective manner?
In many ways, North Korea is an exception to so many rules—I readily concede that. Decades of international dialogue and pressure have had precious little effect on how the regime conducts itself in the international arena. The report by the United Nations that I referred to describes it as a “country without parallel” in its abuse of human rights. Measured against the universal declaration, if that were to be its benchmark, it is in breach of pretty well every one of its 30 articles. Years of sanctions have failed to curb its desire to develop nuclear weapons, and criticism of its human rights record has not, thus far, satiated its appetite to continue to commit the most egregious abuses in modern history.
Some 111 members of the General Assembly have just voted for the Security Council to consider referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court for those crimes against humanity. This is a superb example of a non-military approach, using the tools of international diplomacy and insisting on the upholding of international law in safeguarding universally accepted human rights. Even if a member of the Security Council decided to exercise a veto, perhaps fearful of its own record on human rights, the world’s verdict has already been recorded through the General Assembly. It cannot be doubted that the prospect of a Nuremberg moment—whether at the ICC or a specifically constituted regional tribunal awaiting those who have been responsible for the deaths of 300,000 people in those camps, and for the 200,000 who are estimated to be in them today—has already concentrated minds. I commend to the House the energy and commitment that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has invested in securing that outcome. Perhaps the Minister will give us an appraisal of what is likely to happen next.
In the longer term, we should have some idea of how we are going to engage not necessarily the regime but North Korea generally. Other noble Lords have referred to the use of the diaspora. We have 800 to 900 North Koreans living in this country now; there are 25,000 North Koreans who have escaped and are living in South Korea. We must enable them to be agents for change and we should deploy resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, said, from within the ODA budget. They should be deployed across the piece, not in silos, to bring about those objectives. At a recent meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, it was suggested that we need off-the-tracks lines of engagement. Breaking the information blockade should be one of those objectives, which is why I deplore the decision of the BBC World Service thus far not to broadcast to the Korean peninsula, unlike what happened in Burma.
These are not random thoughts and ideas. In the debate that I initiated earlier this year I mentioned an important book by the former US ambassador to Hungary, Mark Palmer, and I want to highlight it once again as I conclude. Mark Palmer was a notable advocate of soft power. He set out a detailed plan for how dictatorships can be challenged and freedom advanced using non-military means and the exercise of soft power. His book, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025, is one which I commend to the Minister and to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
During our recent debate on dealing with the rise of Islamic State in Syria, I said that simply relying on military responses is not enough, and I quoted Einstein’s definition of insanity. He said that insanity is when you do the same things over and over again. In thanking the most reverend Primate for giving us the opportunity for today’s debate, I suggest that, instead of condemning the world to insanity, we need painstakingly to develop approaches which combine intelligence with a fearless passion for promoting human dignity, human rights, respect for difference, the protection of minorities and the vulnerable, and the upholding of the rule of law.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Labour)
My Lords, at the outset, I pay tribute to the most reverend Primate for initiating this debate and for his thoughtful, comprehensive and, indeed, challenging analysis.
As troops return from Afghanistan after 13 years’ engagement, and advisers and the RAF have to return to Iraq, we recognise, with great regret, that there is little reason to feel that the wars of this century have been won. Syria, Gaza, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine, and other areas afflicted by armed violence, all compel us to focus on the extent of the enormous challenge posed by conflict prevention and, indeed, on the need to develop effective and diverse approaches when there are so many fragile states, porous borders, sectarian rivalries, pervasive inequalities and such extreme poverty, organised international crime and, of course, easy access to weapons. The list is a long one and it presents huge challenges, as efforts need to be made to end the terrible suffering and misery which are occurring.
Given these conditions, I begin my contribution to the debate with two basic points. First, soft power is not a soft option, and deploying it is arduous, painstaking and sometimes heavy with risk. To be effective, it must have the qualities of sincerity, patience and, importantly, mutuality. If it is opportunistic, propagandising or patronising, all experience shows that, while it might temporarily benefit some individuals, it will be open to suspicion and rejection and become ineffectual.
Secondly, when the use of soft power is undertaken creatively by, as many other noble Lords have said, the British Council or the BBC World Service, persuasively by bilateral or multilateral diplomacy and influentially through development support, it is cheaper, more durable, more merciful and more protective than the force of arms. There needs to be more support for cultural exchanges and dialogue, especially to counter religious sectarianism, and more support for the need to ensure that every effort is made to allow access to balanced and objective information. I know how valued and important the BBC World Service is, as is the British Council, and the budgetary cuts inflicted on them in recent years are both short-sighted and counterproductive. Meanwhile, as many British and other military leaders have testified, achieving stability, reducing tension and proving that military intervention has had enduring positive results all require the sustained exercise of soft power. This is needed to reassure, enlighten, open opportunities, foster understanding and, above all, win trust in hearts and minds.
It is, of course, vital that those who seek to employ soft power in relations with other countries and systems must manifest consistency in their own country. The domestic record of the UK on civil and human rights is clearly a crucial component of our ability to effectively implement soft power in efforts to prevent conflict, support human rights, and promote good governance and civil stability. For instance, President Kenyatta of Kenya is currently arraigned at the ICC on suspicion of war crimes, and has quoted our Prime Minister’s intention to scrap our Human Rights Act as evidence of other countries’ resistance to regional accountability institutions in favour of what Kenyatta calls national sovereignty. With instances such as that in mind, can the Minister tell us whether the Government have made any risk analysis of the effects of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights on the UK’s ability to credibly champion these issues internationally?
Much the same considerations apply to our national commitment to reach the UN target of dedicating 0.7% of GNI to international development. It is justifiable in itself but it is also central to any sensible effort to earn—a vital principle; I stress, earn—the confidence and trust of people in developing countries. I therefore welcomed the 2010 Conservative manifesto commitment, repeated in the coalition agreement to enshrine the 0.7% in law. It has not happened, and all attempted explanations of delay have been, to say the least, unconvincing. Surely, there should be no real impediment to progress in this Session, and I must ask the Government, even at this late stage, to urgently redeem their pledge by ensuring that Michael Moore’s Bill is given the time necessary for it to be enacted before next year’s election.
For many years, the European Union—proof in its very existence of the success of soft power—has exercised what my noble friend Lady Ashton has called,
“soft power with a hard edge—more than the power to set a good example and promote our values. But less than the power to impose its will”.
It is important to note that the UN Security Council recently commended the work of the European Union and the strong co-operation on mediation, including, for instance, in the western Balkans and in efforts to find a negotiated solution on Iran’s nuclear programme. I echo the former Commissioner for External Affairs, the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, who defined EU soft power as,
“a weapon of mass attraction”.
That was certainly evident as the Union prepared for, and went on to achieve, enlargement to the east and south since 2004. That is continuing. Beyond Europe, the EU’s extensive trade agreements and its active policies on development and humanitarian assistance, diplomacy, foreign and security affairs, social and consumer standards, and human rights, provide the Union with substantial credibility as a soft power.
Policy divergence between member states is natural in a community of democracies and can at time impede full effectiveness at times, but when the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its soft power achievements in 2012, I believe that was a deserved accolade. As the respected NGOs Saferworld and International Alert have emphasised, the EU,
“recognises the linkages between underdevelopment and conflict and is one of the leading international bodies affirming the importance of and enhancing capacity for peace building and conflict prevention”.
Clearly, the ongoing realities of multiple international tensions and increasing global interdependence mean that it would be a great folly and an act of self-harm for the UK to withdraw from the European Union and thereby diminish the constructive influence that our country exerts on and, more widely, through the Union.
I conclude with some specific questions. Does the Minister agree with Nelson Mandela—he has been mentioned several times today—who said that investment in education, especially for girls, is the most transformative advance society can aim to achieve? Will the Minister argue for more support for human rights defenders? They are courageous women and men who try to make changes in their countries from within—Somali bloggers, Zimbabwean activists, Saudi and Afghan women.
The challenge is to determine how we use power wisely and proportionately. We must learn from the terrible lessons of Iraq, where no serious effort was made to construct a stable state and society by the comprehensive use of soft power in the wake of war. In Rwanda, the tragedy was that early warning was neglected and ignored. The international community failed to mobilise its response until it was too late. Soft power requires eternal vigilance. In both these examples, and in many other cases, such vigilance would have huge benefits in saving lives, restoring stability and safeguarding the future.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I am grateful to the most reverend Primate for his introduction, and for mentioning nightmare scenarios and the power of diplomacy, because I want to talk about the essential use of that power to prevent the ultimate nightmare scenario.
I am talking of an issue on which the UK has a particular moral responsibility to engage because we are a nuclear weapons state. As such, we need to engage all our energies in diplomacy to resolve extremely pressing issues. It was back in 2009 that the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament said in its report:
“So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design. And any such use would be catastrophic”.
We had another illustration last week, for those in your Lordships’ House who went, of the likelihood of just accidents, not even by design, when Heather Williams from Chatham House came to present its report, Too Close for Comfort: Cases of Near Nuclear Use and Options for Policy. Eric Schlosser, who undertook a study in the United States on similar issues, shared a platform with her.
Just how close we are to the brink of that catastrophe is something that the 15 people who wrote the international commission’s report were very aware of. They were absolute realists and included senior figures of wide experience such as William Perry, former US Secretary of State for Defense; General Karamat, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Pakistan; General Naumann, former chairman of the NATO Military Committee; and, from this House, my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. The year in which they published their report, 2009, was a year of optimism, because President Obama made his speech in Prague. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned, unanimously passed its resolution on nuclear non-proliferation. I must declare an interest as a co-president of the international grouping of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. However, during this time of optimism there were some moments of pessimism. In 2010, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference did not succeed nearly as well as it should have. Most unfortunately for the UK, it fell exactly at election time, so the political lead was lost. One of the unseen fallouts—if I may use that ghastly pun in this context—is that the UK will not be able to take a strong lead in the 2015 conference either, because it will fall at election time. All focus will be on elections and the subsequent forming of a Government. As we are a nuclear weapon power, that is particularly unfortunate.
I appreciate that for this Government, and no doubt the next, disarmament and non-proliferation remain, theoretically and rhetorically, high priorities. However, having had many conversations with my fellow parliamentarians on PNND, I do not think that that is how the rest of the world sees us. I suspect that they do appreciate all those aspects of soft power that I, too, appreciate, which noble Lords have spoken about, such as the World Service, the British Council, and economic and trade issues. However, that is a paradox. We are talking about this while still holding a very big stick behind our backs.
The rest of the world, fed up with the fact that the UN conference on disarmament is widely recognised as moribund because the P5 will not engage and solve that paradox, commenced two initiatives post-2010. First was a UN open-ended working group to try to get a work programme agreed for the conference on disarmament. Sadly, the UK refused to take part. The second initiative was a new fact-finding series of conferences on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The first was held in Norway in 2013, which, again, the UK, along with the USA and France, did not attend. I had hoped that the UK might attend the second one in Mexico. However, my hopes were dashed when, in reply in reply to my Question in this House in November last year, my noble friend, who is replying today, said:
“We continue to have concerns that the initiative would divert attention from the 2010 action plan agreed by states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”.—[Hansard, 6/11/13; col. 218.]
Next week, starting on Monday, we have the third conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, held in Vienna. I especially welcome the US’s very recent decision to attend the third conference. I hope that my noble friend will have better news for me today and that the UK has decided to finally attend these conferences.
There are many things we could do at a diplomatic level to move the agenda on and move to a safer place. On the second of this month, at the UN General Assembly, there was a draft on achieving a nuclear weapon-free world and accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments, which the assembly had called for. A recorded vote was held. Unfortunately, although 169 countries voted in favour, the seven usual suspects voted against. They were: North Korea; Israel, which still refuses to acknowledge that it has nuclear weapons; India, which has not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; France; Russia; the US; and, of course, the UK.
If we continue not to put our diplomatic force behind efforts to make the world a safer place at least in terms of de-alerting, we will have a lot to answer for. Unfortunately, the article that talked about de-alerting was one on which we abstained. It is difficult to understand why we should want to abstain on something like reducing the hair-trigger quality of our nuclear weapons, allowing them to be launched at any moment, when the threats against us—
Lord West of Spithead (Labour)
I am sure that the noble Baroness is aware that our missiles are no longer on that hair trigger. We have set an example, which has not been followed by anybody else. We have gone down to one system only and have reduced the number of warheads dramatically. We have been honest about how many warheads there are. If the rest of the world had followed suit, things would be a lot better, but we certainly do not have missiles either targeted or on a hair trigger.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (Liberal Democrat)
I thank the noble Lord very much for that, but it is particularly curious that we could not then vote in favour of the paragraph in the General Assembly’s resolution. I hope that he will join me in encouraging the Government to change that vote the next time it comes round.
In conclusion, however good our soft power is, we will come back to the fact that the rest of the countries in the world will see the P5 as those who, as I said, hold a big stick behind their backs but talk in very different terms when face to face.
Baroness Williams of Crosby (Liberal Democrat)
Before my noble friend completes his very helpful display of what the Government propose to do, I will ask him about a question that was raised by my noble friend Lady Miller and the noble Lord, Lord West. Given that it will cost nothing and that, as he knows, there is a meeting on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in the spring of 2015, will he tell the House whether he would consider the United Kingdom Government throwing more of their weight behind the idea of ending very early warning? One of the real fears that many of us have is that as the Russian Government begin to lose their capacity to maintain the highest quality of inspection and maintenance, there is a great danger that, with such tiny periods of alarm, an extremely serious accident could occur.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, the Government have already invested in considerable preparations for the next NPT review. I take the opportunity to answer the question asked earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. The Government have decided to accept Austria’s invitation to attend the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, which will get under way this weekend. The UK will be represented by Mrs Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque, the UK’s ambassador to Austria and permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency. I hope that is welcome news to all concerned.
In his opening, the most reverend Prelate talked about the importance of narrative. It is very important, with soft power, to talk about the importance of ideas. We all know that ideas shape the world in the long run, be they Christianity, Islam, the Enlightenment, communism, nationalism, fascism, or whatever; and radical Islam is now replacing the attractions of secular ideologies across the Middle East. We certainly need to think about our counternarrative. The traditional western and Anglo-Saxon narrative has been about open society, limited government, civil society, tolerance and human rights. The Reformation and beyond and the importance of non-conformity were not entirely appreciated by the Church of England in the 17th century, but it accepted them in the 19th century. I declare an interest as a member of the Liberal Party, which grew out of the alliance between the Whigs and the non-conformists.
We need to have a debate on what our national narrative now is. The other week I was in a seminar, off the record, with a fairly senior Conservative MP who said, “We can’t discuss the SDSR until we’ve decided who we are and where we think we are in the world—and we don’t know”. That is a real problem, and we all recognise that that is part of our problem. We need to get back to the question of what Britain is about. We have several contradictory narratives at the present moment. The excellent report on soft power produced by the British Academy earlier this year called itself something like the power of attraction—and that is fine, but, actually, the power of attraction means that we have enormous numbers of people of all backgrounds and levels of attainment wanting to come and live in Britain, which is something that we know many of our public no longer want to have. They want Britain to be a rather more closed society.
Part of our open society is that we accept that foreigners can buy whatever they want in Britain and part of the popular reaction against globalisation in Britain is a sense that somehow we are losing our own country. So there is popular disillusionment with rapid change and continuing immigration. That suggests that politicians, churchmen and public intellectuals need to open a much more active debate about national identity. Gordon Brown as Prime Minister made one or two speeches on this, but we need to think about where we go from here. I am a member of the advisory board on the commemoration of World War I, and part of what we are trying to do through the programme of commemoration is to remind people where we came from. We did not stand alone; the Commonwealth, particularly the Indian Army, the West Indies Regiment and others, were all part of where we evolved from, into the multiracial society we are today.
Of course, it is also a matter of a national narrative and a sense of national identity that is changing and developing. Yesterday, I had an argument with a young woman, an official from the Foreign Office, who was being a little rude about the attitude to women in developing countries, and I reminded her that 75 years ago attitudes to women in this country were also pretty backward-looking from our current perspective. The transformation of the role and status of women over the past two to three generations in Britain and the other western states has been one of the most wonderful things that we have developed. Now we are trying to transfer those new British values to the rest of the world, and we recognise that the role of women is one of the keys to economic and social development—and also, incidentally, to population limitation. I pay tribute to the Foreign Secretary and the International Development Secretary for the work that they have done, including the work on the prevention of sexual violence against women—and also to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, whom we have just welcomed into the House.
There is a lot more to do in this area. I am very happy to say that BIS now has a UK student outward mobility strategy, which was launched last year because British people do not go abroad enough. Lots of people come here, but we do not pay enough attention to making sure that our younger generation understand the rest of the world.
Multilateral work is how we have to approach much of soft power. There is little we can do on our own. We work closely with others. In South Sudan, for example, Britain and Norway are the joint chairs of one of the ways in which we try to negotiate, with the Norwegian Government working closely with the African Union and the Arab League, doing our best to draw on Chinese participation wherever we can. International NGOs and NGOs based in Britain play a very valuable part in our endeavour. They are part of the soft power projection for Britain. Of course, we are very worried about the shrinking of space for NGOs to operate with Russia and in many other countries, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Commonwealth has also been mentioned—the language, culture and history—but, fundamentally, the rule of law, which we need to make as much as we can of, with India and South Africa in some ways as our key partners. The successful development of the rule of law in that regard is flawed but, nevertheless, is making real progress.
I have many more notes but I shall be as rapid as I can. We welcome the role of the churches in promoting tolerance and understanding among faiths as well as within each faith community, and in talking about different paths to God, particularly among the three faiths of the Book—Judaism, Islam and Christianity. I note that Ibrahim—Abraham—is now becoming one of the more popular boys’ names in Britain. That should remind people that these are not entirely incompatible traditions. The Government can assist in this regard. There are now university centres for Islamic theology and one needs to take that further. I take the opportunity to praise the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for the work she did, and the speeches she made, on tolerance to Muslim audiences in Istanbul, Oman and Kuala Lumpur as well as for the speeches she made in Washington and Rome on interfaith understanding. That work, and the work on human rights, is being continued by my noble friend Lady Anelay.
A number of noble Lords talked about student visas and the whole problem with visas. We recognise that we have a problem. That is partly because so many people want to come to Britain. However, applications for university student visas continue to rise, as does the student overseas population in Britain.
There was an 18% increase in visas granted for skilled workers and a 14% increase in visitor visas last year, so we are not going backwards on that. However, we are struggling to meet the pressure resulting from the number of people wishing to enter Britain.
Some noble Lords mentioned the BBC World Service. It may be better if I write to them on that very large subject. On the economic side, the Prime Minister has made it entirely clear that we are concerned about finding the golden thread that links conflict-free development with prosperity—namely, the absence of war, getting rid of corruption, the establishment of the rule of law, decent government and having markets that work. That involves us in a great deal of co-operation with others in fighting international corruption and criminal regimes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, asked a number of questions, including whether the Government had undertaken a risk analysis of the implications of withdrawal from the ECHR. My clear answer is that, of course, we have not because the Government have no intention of leaving the ECHR, so no such analysis is necessary.