Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 4:51 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 4:51, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, is used to being on the global stage. He may have just a few months to make a difference now, so what might he and his very able colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, focus on? Like the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I was a junior Minister in the Administration of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron—so fancy me having this opportunity now.

First and foremost, there is climate change. Perhaps the noble Lord’s main aim here should be to stop the UK going further backwards. We were a world leader; that is not our message now. Then there is the rise of authoritarian and populist regimes, bolstered by misinformation and the undermining of international law. A key actor here is Putin, with his aggression against Ukraine.

Perhaps the greatest contribution the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, can make is to work very closely with European allies. Those European leaders have welcomed him with a sigh of relief and it is Europe that is at most immediate threat. Then the noble Lord could argue for the restoration of the aid budget. However, something tells me that the Budget tomorrow will not restore this and that he would waste his breath here.

Might the noble Lord do more in relations with Africa? He leaves that, perhaps, to Andrew Mitchell, another very able colleague. But why was the UK-African Investment Summit called off? The explanation that there are elections this year and many other events really does not hold water. That was known in advance. We hear that, in the tail end of this Government and with the UK no longer in the EU, leaders simply prioritised elsewhere. Could he comment?

Now I come to an area where I think the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, can make a real difference; I hope that he may already be doing so. Maybe he is breaking away from long-established UK Government positions. This is in relation to the conflict in the Middle East. Does he agree with Oliver McTernan, director of Forward Thinking and a long-standing negotiator in the region, when he says

“despite the terrible events of October 7th and the subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza, we still remain convinced that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not an intractable problem … It remains essentially a human problem that can be resolved by … political will”?

In some ways that is self-evident and in some ways a pipe dream, but such a resolution seemed impossible in earlier years in relation to Northern Ireland, and yet it was possible. That was a conflict on which the whole world seemed to have a view, just as they now do on the Middle East. Does the noble Lord agree that what is happening now has to be a turning point for both Israel and the Palestinians? Violence cannot be the solution.

There were so many warnings over the years that here was a tinder box; the area is alight now. Over 30,000 people have been killed, with the largest proportion being women and children. Many others are unaccounted for. The UN speaks of law and order breaking down in Gaza, famine, women and girls at huge risk, and of Rafah being the largest refugee camp in the world, yet nowhere is safe. The Israeli hostages and their families continue to suffer. Attacks have increased in the West Bank, where support for Hamas has increased—the reverse of the Israeli Government’s avowed intention.

The Foreign Secretary himself has called for an investigation into what happened with the deaths associated with the aid convoy, where 80% of those in hospital, according to the UN, had gunshot wounds. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic, and tensions are escalating globally, as well as in our own communities. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that a ceasefire is desperately needed, as the US vice-president, the UN, the WHO and so many others are calling for? From what we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, I think he probably does. Above all, does the Foreign Secretary see that tectonic plates are now shifting, to say that we should not do and say the same as we always have before? He is Foreign Secretary at this key point in history. This may be where he can help make a difference. I look forward to his reply.