Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:46 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Robathan Lord Robathan Ceidwadwyr 5:46, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is a genuine pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech; I agree with her about a great many things, including what she has just said. I am also pleased to see my noble friend Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, in his place. It is rather too late for me to welcome him here, but I welcome somebody of his stature representing the United Kingdom abroad.

Perforce, I will be brief. I would like to give the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, my support in his dissection of the integrated review refresh of last year. I also say to my noble friend Lady Goldie, who is not in her place, that, as the most reverend Primate the Archbishop knows, there is more rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who repenteth as she has done over defence spending. It is a pity she did not say that when she was a Minister, but I will upbraid her for it in person.

I will touch briefly on three current conflicts; first, Ukraine, about which a great deal has been said. This war in Europe is the most serious for nearly 80 years. The war is a mixture of World War I attrition and 21st-century high-tech drones and the like. I congratulate Boris Johnson—I do not often—who was of course a great school friend of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I also congratulate the UK Government on their steadfast support for Ukraine in the last two years, but we must continue to do this and do more. Are we pressing our allies, particularly France, Germany and the United States, to do more? They must do more, not sit on their hands and say, “It is all very good but a bit difficult”. This war affects global security and prosperity. The United States, Europe, Africa and India all need to understand that.

Our munitions have been extremely welcome and invaluable, but now they are totally depleted for our use or Ukraine’s. Is my noble friend pressing for a dramatic increase in industrial production, to move away from the mindset of the peace dividend? My noble friend may say that defence is not his brief, but he will be listened to, and he will know well the dictum of von Clausewitz in “Vom Kriege”, or “On War” for those who do not speak German:

“War is the continuation of policy with other means”— and for foreign policy with defence, I suggest.

On Gaza and the Middle East, the UK has again been steadfast. It is a dreadful, possibly intractable situation. I cannot think of anybody who is not very concerned, to put it mildly, about the death of many civilians in Gaza, but Hamas could end this war tomorrow if it gave up the hostages and stopped attacking Israel. Perhaps we could then allow for a more peaceful, long-term solution to emerge, probably based on a two-state solution in which Hamas disappears, along with the illegal settlements in the West Bank and some of the ultra-Orthodox pressure on the Government. Perhaps we would get more reasonable—or moderate, shall we say —Governments in both Palestine and Israel.

Finally, on the situation in Yemen with Iran and the Houthis, the prosperity of the world is under threat. It is disappointing to see so few countries defending the shipping routes in the Gulf. My noble friend Lord Ahmad spoke of international responses, but as I understand it, the only response has been from the United States, helped by us with one ship. We need much more than that to defend the shipping lanes in the Gulf.

Moving on, perhaps I may quote a predecessor of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary from some 30 years ago, Lord Hurd, who said that we punch above our weight in foreign affairs, and President Theodore Roosevelt, who said some 100 years ago, in a much better- known quotation:

“Speak softly and carry a big stick”.

We spent the defence peace dividend several times over and we have no big stick left. Our allies know this, and the United States and NATO say it. As I speak, we are reducing our defence in terms of numbers of troops, numbers of ships and numbers of aircraft. I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer say recently that he wants to dramatically increase defence spending over the next 15 years. That is not good enough; our needs are now.

I support the Conservative Government. I have supported my party. I have been loyal—mostly—through thick and thin over 32 years; quite a lot of it has been rather thin, to be honest. I do not believe that a Government led by the Opposition would do any better, but I say to my noble friend the Foreign Secretary that our interests, our society, our values and our security are all threatened. We must spend more on defence, because the first duty of government is, as always, the defence of the realm.