House of Lords
Tuesday, 10 March 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
Scotland: Constitutional Settlement
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the public reaction to their Command Paper Scotland in the United Kingdom: An enduring settlement.
The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Wallace of Tankerness) (LD): My Lords, the Government welcome feedback on the draft clauses as we continue to refine the draft legislation. We are holding events across Scotland to enable stakeholders to provide feedback on the draft clauses and how the new powers might be best used. Four events have taken place to date, with a further event in the borders later this month. Representatives from a wide range of sectors are participating, including from business, the voluntary sector, universities and schools.
Lord Lexden (Con): Can my noble and learned friend explain how the Government’s proposals will provide a basis for an enduring settlement when the Scottish National Party is demanding yet further concessions? Is it not obvious that we need a new constitutional settlement, an explicitly unionist settlement, for our entire country, not further piecemeal changes in different parts of it, devised with short, artificial deadlines? When will our national leaders of all parties summon up the eloquence and conviction that is needed to make the case for an enduring union, which so many of us in this House, in the other place and throughout our country hold so dear?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: I entirely agree with my noble friend on that need. The best way forward is to have an enduring union, to which I am certainly committed. The proposals in the White Paper which the Government produced at the end of January give effect to the agreement reached under the commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin. Not to have acknowledged and fulfilled the commitment given to the electorate would have been more damaging to the union. I have taken part in numerous debates in your Lordships’ House where noble Lords from all sides have called for a constitutional convention. That may well be the way forward after the election.
Lord McAvoy (Lab): My Lords, on behalf of the Labour Party, I welcome the noble and learned Lord’s further commitment to the Smith commission’s proposals for devolution. If elected in May, the Labour Government
will be committed to including the home rule Bill in their first Queen’s Speech and introducing it in their first 100 days. The Smith commission also expressed a strong desire for further devolution within Scotland. Do the Government have any proposals for ideas at this stage to ensure that devolution does not stop at the Scottish Parliament but goes further through Scottish public life?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord’s commitment on behalf of his party. It is important to say that all three United Kingdom parties have undertaken to make that commitment in their respective manifestoes. I also share the noble Lord’s view that devolution should not stop at Edinburgh, not least because in the constituency which I used to represent, there is a very strong view that there should be devolution within Scotland. Most of the powers to do that rest with the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, but in public debate we should be making that point very clearly because we have had considerable centralisation under the present SNP Administration.
Lord Stephen (LD): My Lords, does my noble and learned friend not agree that these are radical proposals, which represent a major step forward in the government of Scotland and which have been widely welcomed by most people in Scotland, except the SNP? It must always be remembered that the SNP was part of the Smith commission that signed up to these proposals and agreed them unanimously, then started to rubbish them as soon as they were announced. Does he not agree that this represents a far better, safer, more secure future for Scotland than independence based on an oil price of $110 a barrel, when today the price is less than $60 and sliding further?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My noble friend is right to remind us of what we might have been facing if Scotland had voted yes and of the black hole which would have emerged. It is also important that we continue that engagement; certainly, at the stakeholder event which I attended in Aberdeen there was considerable enthusiasm for the proposals that have been put forward. People very much welcomed the fact that the United Kingdom Government were engaging but it is important that the Scottish Government engage as well.
Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, to what extent does the noble and learned Lord accept that opinion polls in Scotland are a reflection on the reaction to this document? Have the Government ruled out any form of federal solution that brings stability with it and if there is to be a convention, can he give some assurance that it will not take as long as the investigation by the Kilbrandon commission, which took more than five and a half years and just kicked the problem into the long grass?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the noble Lord knows the position of my own party with regard to federalism but we are not there yet. However, I believe that by implementing the recommendations of
the Smith commission in these proposals, we will ensure that we are honouring our commitment. I take his view that a constitutional convention should not be an excuse for kicking this issue into the long grass. I was a member of the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which produced the blueprint for the Scottish Parliament that was legislated for by the Labour Government in 1997.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, can my noble and learned friend tell me how he thinks the strategy of piecemeal devolution in Scotland in order to kill nationalism stone dead is going?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, when the Scottish Parliament was established, many of us recognised that more would need to be done in due course. There was at that time recognition that we needed greater financial accountability because it is not healthy to have a Parliament that had total discretion as to how it spent money but little or no discretion as to how it raised that money. It was important that we recognised that in the 2012 Act which this Parliament passed, and the proposals that we have now strengthen that position.
Lord Soley (Lab): I do not think we should forget that the no vote won in Scotland, or those people who voted no. Does the Minister agree that a constitutional convention is so important because we need to devolve power throughout the UK and doing that would change the nature and role of this House and the House of Commons? If we are to get that right, we need to take our time and give it a lot of thought.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to remind us that the no vote won. It won by more than 10%, which was a clear margin. He is also right to say that in looking at these issues it is not only important that we get it right but that it is seen to be equitable to all parts of the United Kingdom, and indeed strengthens rather than weakens the union.
Lord Tebbit (Con): My Lords, is it credible to put forward a policy that we will make our government of this country more effective by having more layers of government, with more Members of various Parliaments, councils and other strata of government, and more officials? That does not quite make sense, does it?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, there is nothing in the proposals that were in the agreement of the Smith commission and the draft clauses that would add another layer of government. The premise of my noble friend’s question is wrong.
Lord Lang of Monkton (Con): My Lords, as this is the third enduring settlement that has been offered in the past 17 years to strengthen the union through devolution, and as three of the signatories of the Smith convention moved on rapidly, using it as something of a stepping stone to demand further change, does my noble and learned friend not agree that what is on
offer is not so much an enduring settlement as a springboard to separation? I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Lexden to emphasise that this matter has not been properly debated in the United Kingdom context and that before anything else happens it should be fully debated in both Houses of Parliament, with the United Kingdom’s interests put to the fore?
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, as I indicated in my answer to my noble friend Lord Forsyth, no one actually accepted that the 1997 or 1998 Acts were the final word. Clearly more needed to be done to ensure financial accountability; that is something that I hope that my noble friend would probably endorse as a good, democratic principle. These are matters that should be debated by the United Kingdom Parliament; it has heard that all three United Kingdom parties are committed to a Bill being brought forward after the Queen’s Speech, when there will be ample opportunity for debate.
Cyprus: Russian Military Base
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Governments of the Republic of Cyprus and other European Union member states about the proposal to establish a Russian military base on Cyprus.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, we have been and remain in regular discussion with the Republic of Cyprus about security and defence matters, and have been briefed on the agreement signed in Moscow. The Cypriot Government have assured us that these agreements represent a continuation of existing arrangements. We continually stress to our EU partners the need for EU unity in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Lord Sharkey (LD): The fact is that, in return for debt relief, Cyprus has formalised an agreement to let Russian warships use its ports. There is also talk of use of an airbase at Paphos, which is 40 miles from our base at Akrotiri. President Putin has said that this deal should not cause any worries anywhere. Does the Minister agree with President Putin or does she agree with the United States State Department’s comment on the Cyprus deal that now is not the time to be doing business as normal with Russia?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have made it clear in this House before that it cannot be business as usual with Russia while it maintains its position over Ukraine, where it has illegally annexed the Crimea and intervened in another state’s sovereign lands. My noble friend refers to a situation in the Republic of Cyprus that I do not recognise. When speaking to Russian media, President Anastasiades
explicitly ruled out the use of Limassol port for military purposes. Foreign Minister Kasoulides also said to the press, after the February EU Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in Brussels, that there was no question of Russian air or naval military bases on the soil of Cyprus. It is a continuation of existing agreements.
Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): In the light of this decision, the visit of President Anastasiades to Moscow, the policies of the new Greek Government and the policy of the Government of Hungary, are the Government concerned about the consensus on Ukraine among the EU countries that remain?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is important that the EU maintains the consensus that it has heretofore. We have, as the European Union, shown remarkable unity throughout the crisis in standing up to Russian aggression and protecting the EU’s interests. For example, the UK has supported NATO allies, demonstrating our commitment at last September’s summit by agreeing to the readiness action plan to enhance NATO’s response to a wide range of threats. There will be an opportunity very soon, at the European Council, for the EU to show the maintenance of its unity over sanctions.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, is it not a fact that Mr Cameron made an arbitrary decision when President Anastasiades visited the United Kingdom in January 2014 that the Greek Cypriots would have the right of development within our sovereign base areas? The MoD and the FCO appear not to have been involved in any strategic input. Is that not so, and when are the Government likely to retreat from their current pseudo-presidential tendencies back to proper corporate government?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the visit of President Anastasiades to London in January 2014 and the arrangement on non-military development reaffirmed the strong bonds of friendship and partnership which exist between Cyprus and the UK across many areas, notably defence, security, EU reform and foreign policy co-operation. Non-military development is a further measure of the normalisation of administrative planning laws and shows that the United Kingdom and Cyprus are serious about working together on our shared interests.
Baroness Ludford (LD): The Minister rightly talks about the need to maintain EU solidarity on sanctions against Russia, but this solidarity is threatened by at least a quartet of EU leaders from Hungary, Greece, Cyprus and, indeed, Italy. What efforts is the UK making to maintain and forge, if necessary, renewed solidarity? Can she refute press allegations that the UK is being reticent about further financial sanctions because of lobbying by the City of London?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the United Kingdom has led the way in negotiating sanctions against Russia for its illegal activity. We continue to do so; we are not deflected from that course. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made it
clear that he would like an early rollover of sanctions on 20 March. We are doing our best to negotiate with all our colleagues to maintain the resolve of unity within the EU on these matters.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB):Does the Minister agree that it might be useful to say to the Government of Cyprus that President Putin’s policy in the south-east of Ukraine bears a striking resemblance to the creation of the TRNC—which, I believe, is not supported by the Russian Government?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: As ever, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with his long experience of diplomacy, knows where to hit the spot.
Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, the question asked by noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, about what efforts Her Majesty’s Government are making to ensure that as far as possible our EU partners are speaking with one voice in relation to events in Ukraine, deserves an answer from the Minister. I know she will give one. Perhaps I may also ask about our NATO allies. What efforts are we making to ensure that NATO allies are speaking with one voice on these difficult matters?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we are clearly straying somewhat from the main thrust of the Question with regard to the Republic of Cyprus, but it is an important matter. I have already said that we shall be leading the way in stating that it is important to roll over the tier 3 sanctions on 20 March. That is the case, and negotiations have been going ahead, clearly, across a range of our allies, and with regard to all those who have an interest in maintaining sanctions on Russia. I am perfectly well aware of the ability of President Putin to try to destabilise what appears to be the most unified of groups. I referred to the fact that he is very adept at using smoke and mirrors. It is time that we made it clear that we do not use those tactics; we are straight talking.
Personal Independence Payments
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many people are awaiting assessment for personal independence payments.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): I am pleased to update the House that the average claimant is waiting 14 weeks for an assessment. This is within the 16-week target set by the Secretary of State. In any high-volume business, we would always expect to have a significant number of cases moving through the system at any one time.
Lord Touhig (Lab): My Lords, anyone making an application for a PIP assessment today will have time for 16 return journeys to the moon or 35 flights around the world before they will get their assessment.
In fact, they would be back in Britain a week before their assessment was due. The timeframe announced by the Minister is simply not acceptable. However, when this was debated in the Commons in January, a number of Members of Parliament said that when they intervened the process was reduced considerably. Is the system so broken that the best way to get a short and quick interview for a PIP assessment is to involve a Member of Parliament? What does he say to his own independent reviewer, Paul Gray, who said that the delays were doing a disservice to disabled people and their families?
Lord Freud: The backlogs that we suffered earlier have been reduced very substantially. The 14-week wait I referred to is down from 30 weeks in June 2014. We are now putting through 52,000 cases a month.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB): My Lords, PIPs are intended to assist with disability-related expenses. The disability charity Scope estimated in a recent study that these amount to an average of £550 a month. Given that the Government have reasserted their commitment to protecting the value of the state pension through the triple lock, what consideration has the Minister given to affording PIPs the same protection?
Lord Freud: We are maintaining our spending on disability and disability payments and services are running at £50 billion a year. Indeed, our disability payments have been moving up right the way through this Parliament in real terms.
Baroness Jenkin of Kennington (Con): My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister tell us how effectively the fast-track service for terminally ill claimants is performing at the moment?
Lord Freud: People who are terminally ill are fast-tracked through the process and the median end-to-end clearance time is now, as of this January, seven working days compared with 11 days in January last year.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many 16 and 17 year-olds are awaiting reassessment? What action do the Government propose to take to meet the additional needs of that group, including providing support for them through the reassessment process?
Lord Freud: I will have to write to the right reverend Prelate on that matter. I do not have the data on 16 and 17 year-olds so I shall write to him.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister please answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell? This is supposed to be not just Question Time, but questions and answers.
Lord Freud: My Lords, I have made answers to the questions.
Lord German (LD): My Lords, the reliability criteria used for the personal independence payment assessments —that is, whether people can undertake tasks safely, acceptably and repeatedly—are crucial for people with fluctuating conditions. In their response to the Gray review the Government say that everybody involved in assessing those criteria should have training, yet later they say that the DWP will undertake training separately from Atos and Capita, which will do their own training. Does my noble friend not think it would be much better if all three worked together on the training so that we have consistency of outcome and avoid outcomes such as the inappropriate loss of a Motability car?
Lord Freud: We have been working very closely with the providers to make sure that there is an identity of approach in training, right the way through the two different providers and DWP.
Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, the Government have taken to using a variety of unpublished statistics in relation to PIP. When my noble friend Lord Dubs asked a Question on this very subject on 15 January, the Minister answering said that the backlog was down to 107,000—but was then obliged to write and say that that was not the case at all. So can the Minister tell me something very specific? The latest published figures cover only new applications for personal independence payments, not reassessments of the kind mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. People suspect that those on disability living allowance are having much slower assessments in order to enable the Government to fast-track new claims. Can the Minister reassure the House that that is not true and also tell us what the waiting times are for DLA?
Lord Freud: The two processes, for PIP and for DLA—or rather, for the WCA, which I imagine is what the noble Baroness meant—are separate, and separate contractors operate them. Indeed, Maximus has come in to run the WCA process. As for the figures, statistics will be released next week, on 18 March, giving the PIP clearance times and the waiting outstanding times. That statistical release has been preannounced, in accordance with the normal protocols.
The Countess of Mar (CB): My Lords, I express my thanks to the Minister for the excellent revision that was made of the training manual for CFS/ME. What checks are made of the assessors to ensure that they are not bringing their preconceived ideas about CFS/ME to the assessment that they make of people with that condition?
Lord Freud: This is an area into which we have looked very closely, helped by the noble Countess. We have an audit system for all of these tests whereby we test that they are being conducted to the quality that we require.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, of those people who are going from DLA to PIP, how many does the Minister expect will lose their Motability car? Will it be 50,000 or 100,000?
Lord Freud: My Lords, I am not in a position to give exact figures. We debated this in some detail when we went through the Bill. I can say what the award rates are at the moment. Thirty-two per cent of people have been both on the enhanced daily living allowance and on the enhanced mobility allowance, which I hope gives some direction as to where we are going with these tests.
Humanitarian Aid: Tikrit
Asked by The Lord Bishop of St Albans
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the statement by the United Nations that 28,000 civilians have been displaced from the city of Tikrit by the actions of Islamic State, what plans they have to increase the provision of humanitarian aid to the conflict area.
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, to date the United Kingdom has committed £39.5 million to the crisis in Iraq. The Government of Iraq, supported by the United Nations, are leading the humanitarian response for displaced civilians from Tikrit and have scaled up their operations accordingly. DfID staff in-country, in close communication with their international partners, are monitoring the situation closely.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply and for all that the Government are already doing, which is very commendable. Having said that, I believe that some of our humanitarian responses to other armed conflicts have shown that sometimes the response has been too little, too late. As the UN is estimating that there could be as many as 1.5 million people displaced by the battles for the liberation of Tikrit and Mosul, what discussions are Her Majesty’s Government having with our allies so we can get a step change and get preparations put in place for what looks like a very deeply worrying humanitarian crisis about to happen in front of our eyes?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: I thank the right reverend Prelate for his kind comments. An interagency needs assessment has already started—it started yesterday—being led by the UN. Initial estimates suggest that up to 4,000 newly displaced families are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations, through Lise Grande, the co-ordinator for Iraq, has fast-tracked a strategic response plan, which is committed to $150 million-worth of aid. We are hoping for continued discussions in the fringes of the World Bank meeting in April, once there is a clearer assessment of what the needs are.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD): Does the Minister agree that the security situation in Tikrit and the surrounding regions, getting close to Mosul, is one of outstanding difficulty in allowing either United
Nations agencies or the international NGOs that DfID funds to work at all? I was in fact in that region last week, as the Minister may know. Will Her Majesty’s Government consider looking at the small, specialist agencies, some of which are Iraqi, that can and do work there? I chair one myself—the AMAR International Charitable Foundation. These agencies are there, they are on the ground; they are where the international agencies cannot go in safety and, therefore, do not allow their teams to go; and yet there is no access to international funding for these agencies. Does the Minister have any thoughts as to how this situation could be corrected?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: I thank my noble friend for her efforts in Iraq, of which I was well aware. It is true to say that the UN is leading in terms of the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and the small agencies are certainly a part of that. The security situation is very sensitive, but those working there—and I pay tribute to them—are well aware of the concerns. There is evidence that the aid that is being processed and going through to Iraq is reaching the people that it needs to reach.
Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab): My Lords, we also have to focus on the host nations that are dealing with this refugee crisis, particularly in the region as a whole. Can the noble Lord tell us what steps are being taken to ensure that the infrastructure of those countries does not collapse under the burden? What discussions has he been having in particular with Turkey?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: The noble Lord is right: the surrounding countries are also clearly of importance. He will be aware that Her Majesty’s Government have committed £800 million to Syria and the surrounding countries—to Jordan, Lebanon and so on. Turkey is a key partner in the efforts and the Prime Minister has spoken to Turkey about related issues—the noble Lord will be well aware of the school children from Bethnal Green, for example, going out to join up with ISIL—so there is an existing infrastructure of communication there. We are well aware of the need to ensure that the region as a whole is taken care of in terms of security and humanitarian aid. Anybody who looks at DfID’s record will be well aware of that. The Secretary of State visited Iraq just last year.
Lord Avebury (LD): My Lords, will my noble friend say anything about the co-ordination of our humanitarian operations in the region with those of the Iranians, who are leading the offensive against IS in Tikrit and Mosul?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My noble friend is absolutely right that the Government of Iraq are key to all of this. With Prime Minister Abadi, the early signs are that they are doing a very good job. They are an inclusive Government. We are committed to ensuring that there is a united Iraq again at the end of this humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, we are working with the Government of Iraq, the United Nations and other partners to ensure that humanitarian aid and military action, if necessary, are properly co-ordinated.
Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab): My Lords, in so far as Tikrit is a Sunni community and the Daesh is a Sunni movement persecuting its own Sunni community, and if we are engaged in providing assistance, can we use those routes for providing assistance to develop a new relationship with the Sunni leadership in Iraq, who very often have been ignored?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, the noble Lord is right: it is basically a Sunni community. It was, of course, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein and therefore has a totemic significance as well. We are aware of that. The humanitarian aid that goes from this country is given on the basis of need; it is given without any consideration of which community or religion a person comes from. But we are seeking to ensure through Prime Minister Abadi—who, of course, is Shia—that there is a united Iraq at the end of all of this, encompassing all faiths.
Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the operations of Iran in Iraq at the moment, in Mosul and Tikrit. Does the Minister have any information on that issue?
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My noble friend will be aware that Iran is not a partner of the UK in this although it is an important player. It is true that it is involved in this, but I have no direct reference to what is happening via Iran as it is not a partner of the United Kingdom.
Anti-social Behaviour (Authorised Persons) Order 2015
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Cash Searches: Code of Practice) (England and Wales and Scotland) Order 2015
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Seizure and Detention of Property: Code of Practice) (England and Wales)Order 2015
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigations: Code of Practice) (England and Wales) Order 2015
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors: Code of Practice) (England and Wales) Order 2015
Extradition Act 2003 (Amendment to Designations and Appeals) Order 2015
Motions to Approve
Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford
That the draft orders laid before the House on 17 December, 14, 16 and 21 January be approved.
Relevant documents: 18th, 20th, 21st and 23rd Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.Considered in Grand Committee on 3 March.
Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (Northern Ireland) (Biometric data)Order 2015
Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 (Consequential Provision) Order 2015
Motions to Approve
That the draft orders laid before the House on 21 and 29 January be approved.
Relevant documents: 21 and 22nd Reports from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.Considered in Grand Committee on 4 March.
Soft Power and the UK’s Influence (Select Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note
Moved by Lord Howell of Guildford
To move that this House takes note of the Report of the Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence on Persuasion and Power in the Modern World (Session 2013–14, HL Paper 150).
Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, in asking your Lordships to take note of this report on power and persuasion in the modern world, I begin by thanking the excellent members of this committee, who worked tirelessly and showed great patience towards their chairman. I particularly thank the superb service we received from the clerks to the committee, particularly Susannah Street, Tristan Stubbs, our adviser Ben O’Loughlin and additional helpers. What they were able to do in terms of producing at rapid speed immense drafts covering immensely complex areas was quite remarkable. The whole committee is very grateful to them.
I also thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for replying to our report in a helpful document. It did not, of course, accept all our recommendations or agree with everything, but it clearly recognised the validity of a number of our themes. However, this
report was not directed solely at the FCO, or even solely at the Government. It certainly concerned a range of departments and aimed its remarks wider than government altogether, because we are talking about both a governmental and national story. I also thank the witnesses who came before us—we had a great many—and those from all over the world who put in written evidence in enormous volumes.
Although it is a year since the report was published, it has, in a sense, improved with age—rather like a fine claret or a good cheese. Its relevance seems to have increased with time. We have seen in the past year how Vladimir Putin and the barbaric, so-called Islamic State can bend and abuse soft power and communications techniques in the digital age to persuade the world of their ugly aims, to misinform and recruit, and to terrify and outwit the West. We need to learn lessons from this. A sort of “cold peace”—not quite a cold war—has descended, which creates entirely new conditions to which we have to adjust. We can also learn from the billions of dollars being spent by many other nations in developing their soft power messaging nowadays—although some of this is, frankly, naked propaganda. One of the points emerging from our report is that propaganda, if that is what it becomes, loses all credibility. Persuasion through soft power is much more subtle.
This brings me to the first of four messages from the report that I should like to highlight. First, soft power is not an alternative to hard power. In the new global landscape, if we are to safeguard our national security and interests, and sustain our global influence, both soft power and hard power are needed. This point has not been grasped by some commentators. This mixture has been dubbed “smart power”, but it goes further than that. To defend ourselves, however well equipped are our Armed Forces, as they must be, we need to win the narrative as well. In the information age, with half the world on the world wide web and, apparently, more mobile telephones than human beings on the planet, this involves priorities and resources far outside the usual definitions of military spending. We now have to operate on new strategic frontiers, as the very eloquent director of Chatham House, Dr Robin Niblett, pointed out to us. We may not want any conflicts, but there are new tools of conflict that we have to be ready to use. In other words—as General Sir Graham Lamb shrewdly observed in this morning’s papers—while we need more expenditure to defend our nation, it needs to be of the right kind and we must be careful not to prepare to fight the last war under the totally new conditions that now exist.
Secondly, Britain has enormous assets of power and influence to operate in this completely changed environment, but we could use them much better. Britain is remarkably well regarded around the world, and our report gives a long list of our strengths. Our global reach and influence in terms of culture, creative industries, education, sports, health, services of every kind—particularly financial—legal procedures, accounting methods, scientific research and technical ingenuity is enormous, right across the planet. Our language carries its own internal DNA and attitudes across the planet, and across cyberspace. Our institutions are widely admired and copied, including the monarchy and
Parliament itself, despite the rotten press that Parliament gets at home. Our instruments of communication and cultural diplomacy, notably the BBC World Service and the British Council, are highly effective and seen as models. Our scholarships and exchanges, though not nearly as extensive as some of us would like, are a powerful added attraction.
The BBC World Service, by the way, is reckoned to be the world’s most trusted news medium, even though it faces huge competition from digital media and other TV channels developing around the world, such as Al-Jazeera—and there are many others. Perhaps most of all, as power and wealth shift eastward, we in Britain are embedded in the institutions and structures of this new global network as few other countries are—we are very fortunate in that respect—notably through the 53-nation Commonwealth. I declare an interest as President of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Frankly, however, the committee was not entirely convinced that our policymakers have grasped the full value of the Commonwealth network in modern conditions, both in itself and as a gateway to the new great powers and markets such as China and Brazil. Nor am I satisfied. Only the other day, sweeping cuts were announced in UK contributions to key Commonwealth institutions. These were, luckily, swiftly reversed by a very understanding and efficient Secretary of State at DfID—but it is symptomatic all the same that that sort of thing could happen at all.
In the report we do not shy away from some negatives. Probably the less I say on our visa regime the better, because it always gets twisted. However, almost every one of our witnesses pointed to the negative aspects of the visa regime. There have been some improvements in the past year but it seems to cause bad feeling all round, clearly without having much impact on immigration totals, as we can see from the latest figures. I cannot for the life of me see why we should not at least try to have a Commonwealth business and tourist visa concession, to make things less difficult for genuine Commonwealth students, and perhaps even have a proper gateway at our airports for the 140 million subjects from Her Majesty the Queen’s realms when they visit us. Our attractiveness would be vastly enhanced if we made those sorts of improvements.
I come to my third message. We have all read commentators telling us that Britain has lost its way in this new hyperconnected world. A senior ex-diplomat said the other day that Britain is “without ambition or direction”. In truth, it is more that the commentators have lost their way—clinging to the 20th century view of Atlantic hegemony, superpowers and trading blocs when in fact the great new markets, growth, capital flows, influence and political power are shifting to the rising nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The UK, our report urges, must engage more actively with the networks of the future. It is in these huge new markets, and in parts of the world that are growing in power and influence, that the UK must re-establish its reputation. Given our Commonwealth connections and experience, this is a world in which Britain most definitely has a major role and is well placed to succeed and stay ahead in what Prime Minister calls “the global race”. That, of course, depends on the UK staying strong, confident and united at home and within.
I would add in brackets—this is a personal observation —that I greatly regret that your Lordships still have no proper international committee to bring to bear the House's collective wisdom and wide knowledge of these very fast-changing new patterns of international relations and trade. I think that this is a real omission.
Our report offers a long list of to-do recommendations to government—and not only to government—about how to adapt to these new global conditions. I will not tire noble Lords with a full catalogue, as they can read about them in the report, but we emphasise that in this changed world embassies, far from becoming less important, as the futurologists used to tell us, are becoming more crucial in protecting our interests and promoting our British story. Therefore, resources should be added to, if possible, and distributed in that direction.
We argue that the main departments of state concerned with projecting the British case and narrative to the world should co-ordinate more—that is, mainly DfID, the FCO, the Ministry of Defence and the DCMS, although many other departments have an overseas face. This is one of the remarkable changes: that every department of state in a sense also has a face outwards to the rest of the world. We suggested that they should review closely how well they have got on together in Afghanistan over this past decade. There is a long list of other recommendations, which I shall skip but which I am sure will come up in the debate.
Our fourth message is that to be effective, and safe, the United Kingdom needs to widen its diplomacy and understand that it is dealing with empowered and e-enabled publics everywhere and in every country. This is a completely new development in this hyperconnected world. Perhaps I may put it in the words of the former German ambassador here, Wolfgang Ischinger. He describes it very succinctly and reflects what we say in our report. He reminds us in the Foreign Affairs magazine that has just come out that,
“new technologies have already fundamentally changed the practice of diplomacy and statesmanship. Today’s diplomats must be prepared to speak to a global audience and to constantly contend with an international media circus. They must be both hard-nosed negotiators and global communicators”.
“Most notably … cyber attacks and hybrid warfare”—
in which, of course, we are deeply involved at present—
“have demonstrated that cyberspace has already become a battlefield on which familiar concepts such as deterrence and even defense need to be defined anew”.
In the end, as I think our report indicates, it all comes down to building relationships of long-term trust with nations large and small around the globe, and developing a mutual respect and attractiveness. It takes a lot of patience but, if we can build up our soft power relations in all their varieties and forms, then in the hours of crisis, which are bound to come, that is what will guarantee co-operation and support in winning our struggles and preserving our safety and prosperity.
The established world order has now unravelled. The strategic imperatives of a transformed global order demand that the United Kingdom becomes the best networked state in the world and that we use all our persuasive powers to full effect. That is the key
message of our report—and, if it makes a marginal contribution to the big changes of government, of policy and of mindset which we now desperately need to survive and prosper in this puzzling and dangerous new world, it will have been worth while. I beg to move.
Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Con): My Lords, as the debate gets under way, I remind noble Lords that there is an advisory speaking time of nine minutes, and that when the digital clock shows nine, their time has elapsed.
Lord Stirrup (CB): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and his committee on an excellent report, and on the customary eloquence with which the noble Lord introduced it. There are many issues worthy of exploration here but I should like to start by taking a step or two back from the detail.
Some 2,500 years ago, during the Peloponnesian war, the Athenians forced the unwilling islanders of Melos to join their side in the conflict against Sparta. In doing so, they told the Melians that,
“the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.
That may seem like a rather brutal assertion of the principle that might is right, except for two things. First, the Athenians of course lost the war in the end and, secondly, might—or, as we are discussing it today, power—is a complex and multifaceted thing. The Athenians were right, however, in considering power to be necessary in delivering strategic outcomes. Today’s debate is therefore both important and timely. However, in focusing on soft power, it highlights only one part of a much wider issue: the nature, use and utility of power in contemporary international relations. What part does soft power play in this calculus?
Given my background, you might expect me to argue for the importance of military capability—and, indeed, I do. But that by itself, even when exercised in alliance or partnership with others, is insufficient. The military instrument, important though it is, depends in turn on other forms of power. It must rest on a bedrock of economic strength, clear political purpose and moral authority.
The power that we seek is the power to achieve strategic ends that would not otherwise occur; in other words, the freedom to do things ourselves or the ability to persuade, dissuade or compel others. These are outcomes that depend on complex calculations of cost and benefit by various nations and groups which often tend to see the world in many different ways. We have to know what will sway them, but we also need to possess the necessary means.
It is clear that, without economic strength, we cannot afford much in the way of power, whether soft or hard, and for this reason alone our GDP and rates of growth are important. But a powerful economy is also a crucial factor in its own right. International trade and finance can significantly influence the actions of others, so economic strength is essential if we are to be wealthier, but also if we are to be safer.
The exercise of power also needs a clear political purpose. Since politics is generally regarded as the flow of power and authority between groups and individuals, it follows that our strategic ends will be essentially political in nature. If we have no clear political purpose, anything we do, with either soft or hard power, is simply activity in search of a plan. Of course, this does not mean that we have to set political objectives at the outset and never change them. We should not confuse firmness of purpose with stubborn inflexibility—although it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. The course of events and the unexpected may require us to alter our judgments and to reset our objectives, but we should do so consciously, having thought through the consequences.
That brings me to the need for moral authority. If we seek to influence the actions of others, we can, of course, compel them against their will, but this is an inefficient approach that is difficult to sustain. It should generally be considered only as a last resort and as a transitory phase en route to a more lasting solution. So we seek, where possible, to persuade or dissuade rather than to compel. That suasion will, as I have suggested, depend on a complex calculation of cost and benefit, but it will also depend on the value that others attach to our judgments. It is not about trying to impose our particular mores on others; rather, it is about the force and the means of our arguments. Are we seen as fair and consistent in our assessments or are we partial and erratic? Can others rely on our word or are we merely fair-weather friends? Would they buy a used car from us?
In the end, this has to be a question of balance. In such a complex world, we are often faced with hard choices, and you cannot please everybody. But I do not seek to pit ethics against hard-headed national interest—quite the contrary, in fact. I believe that being seen as broadly honest, reliable and fair serves our national interests in the long run. It is therefore important that we use international structures and organisations where we can and ignore them at our peril. We should be careful about the application of international law, even though this can be a very grey area. Above all, we should understand that, in seeking to influence others, we are of necessity engaged in a never-ceasing battle of ideas.
This is an area where, as the committee points out in its report, we have many potential strengths, if only we could work out how to use them to best effect. We are a diverse nation with a great political, legal and cultural heritage. We have a marvellous asset in our membership of the Commonwealth. We are the wellspring of an international language. The BBC has been a source of inspiration to many around the world and through the years. These and the others enumerated by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, have been our strengths in the past. We need to ensure that they remain our strengths in the future and that we add to them. We have, as a nation, to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to this battle of ideas.
Nevertheless, when all else fails and the ends are important enough, we need the capability to use physical force in the pursuit of our interests. We need armed forces that, in concert with allies and partners, have
the capacity to coerce those who threaten our security. This is not an option that is separate or distinct from the other elements of power that I have talked about. There has been much discussion about the use of hard and soft power but I am not sure that such a distinction is particularly helpful. Even at the far right of the operational spectrum, in full-blown war fighting, economics, politics and ideas play a crucial role. In situations short of violent conflict, armed forces have an important part to play in diplomacy and development.
To be fully effective, a nation needs to be able to exercise power flexibly, across the spectrum of possibilities, so it needs both the tools and the skill to employ them properly. When, to what degree and how to use these tools will, of course, depend upon circumstances. This is where our crystal ball traditionally breaks down. I have no wish today to add to the list of failed forecasts, so let me end where I began, with the Melian dialogue. The Melians were weak and they suffered for it—there is an important lesson in this—but the possession of power did not in the long run guarantee success for Athens. Power is necessary but it must be applied in a way that is consistent with and contributes towards our strategic objectives. Power, whether soft or hard, provides ways and means but it cannot provide coherent ends.
The committee rightly calls on the Government to provide a clear vision for the country, but that vision must be one with which the majority can and does identify. It is not therefore simply a matter of issuing statements or making speeches. Formulating the right vision is, in itself, a major undertaking and a significant challenge. That, though, is perhaps a matter for another debate and for another day.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, most profoundly for his magnificent chairmanship and his instigation of the Soft Power Committee, of which I had the honour to be a Member. It was a pleasure and privilege to work under the leadership of the noble Lord. He has served many major roles in different Governments of the United Kingdom and he brought them all together in a summation of this report, the way in which he conducted our meetings and the entirety of the soft power debate. All noble Lords will inevitably agree about the high value of soft power but few have spent time considering it in the way that the noble Lord has done recently.
It is no surprise that we are holding this debate the day after Commonwealth Day, the Commonwealth being one of the major institutions that came to the forefront of our debates and discussions and the taking of evidence in our Soft Power Committee. As Her Majesty the Queen said yesterday in referring to the Commonwealth, the organisation’s values were,
“more important and worthy of protection than perhaps at any other time in the Commonwealth’s existence”
It is important, therefore, to look at what those values are. They are the common values that we define as British values but they are commonplace throughout the Commonwealth countries. Tolerance is, perhaps, one of the most important. If you look up the findings
of various tolerance surveys globally—and they are carried out all the time—you will find that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is at the forefront of being the most tolerant nation on the globe. That may seem surprising when we feel we have internal disputes within our society today; none the less, it is a fact. It is the Commonwealth of Nations which has promoted that tolerance. When you look at the statistics, you will find that other Commonwealth members share that same high level of tolerance, almost without exception.
For myself, I do not see that tolerance happens by chance. It comes because societies work hard to promote the fundamental freedoms—of which one of the most important is the freedom to worship. It is facing onslaught and assault in many different areas of the world, not least in the Middle East. You cannot promote the fundamental freedoms and expect them to survive and to be enhanced without the rule of law. As a former honorary member of the American Bar Association, I pay tribute to the way in which it works globally. Would that the British Bar associations did the same; alas they do not. I would urge them to do more.
I can announce that the AMAR international charitable foundation which I chair has received a major grant from the European Commission to promote religious tolerance in Iraq. If you can promote religious tolerance in today’s Iraq, I promise you can do it anywhere. Yet that little organisation has a track record of success in the promotion of the fundamental freedoms including, most profoundly, the freedom to worship.
As a politician, I have always focused on the need to have the right legislation in place in other areas of the world. In Romania, for example, we fought hard to bring in the correct children’s Act which was based mainly on the UK Children Acts. In Russia, there was the terrific success story of outlawing human trafficking for the first time in their history. The doubters say that the rule of law means nothing; you put in a law but nobody implements it. That is not the case. The exciting thing is that, when you introduce the law, society starts to pay heed and to take it into account. It is certainly so in the places I have mentioned.
The rule of law inevitably depends on trained lawyers and that is why I suggest that the United Kingdom’s soft power has been of profound value globally and is, at this moment, under considerable threat. Take the Commonwealth scholarships fund. Last Saturday I was at Oxford University. I spoke with the law department and heard how it reaches an outstanding group of human rights lawyers from Africa and south Asia—the Commonwealth that would otherwise be impossible to reach. The professors told me that these scholars are bright, effective, brave people. They go back to prosecute war criminals in Kenya. They broadcast programmes on gay and lesbian rights in Uganda. Once trained in Oxford, these legal people address corruption and consumer protection in Nigeria and Ghana. Some are involved in refugee protection in Somalia. One of the former students is head of obstetrics in Lilongwe central hospital. I recall well visiting Lilongwe central hospital maternity ward some years ago. The very high degree of neonatal deaths accounts
for the low level of life expectancy in Malawi. What could be better than having a fully trained obstetrician with legal knowledge there? Some of the students have developed a national human rights-based approach to primary education for disabled children in Uganda and beyond.
Without Commonwealth support, this sort of skill and knowledge development and the access that mature students gain to a worldwide network of human rights advocates would be lost to them. Their often weak institutions and the populations that they support would not gain the credibility and knowledge that the students bring back.
Today, the scholarships cover all costs, with the Commonwealth providing 60% of the funds for a master’s degree in international human rights law. All flights, reading material, accommodation, university and college fees are included. The design of the degree is unusual in that it is a part-time course spread over two years. I am supporting one student myself and I know how good it is. The course includes periods of traditional full-time study at Oxford during the summer combined with closely tutored online training which the student does from home or work. The degree helps mid-career professionals to extend their advocacy skills and knowledge of law while continuing with their human rights work at home. This means that students are able to use immediately what they have learnt in class. There is no brain drain from those nations and there is no immigration impact on Britain. Indeed, the Commonwealth Secretariat was one of the very first institutions providing education in the developing world to recognise the potential of the internet for advanced training.
The Government have recently undertaken a review into a range of government overseas scholarship programmes for international students which includes the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. The review was announced on 8 January by the Minister, the Member of Parliament for East Devon, in the following terms:
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development have recently commenced a review of the Government’s overseas scholarship schemes. It will build on the triennial reviews of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission and examine those schemes together with the Chevening scholarship programme to assess: Whether there is scope for further efficiencies and synergies across the schemes; If so, what alterations in structure, administration or delivery might realise those improvements? The extent to which efficiencies have already been put in place in recent years”.
While the scope of the review is limited to the Commonwealth, Chevening and Marshall schemes, the newly created BIS Newton Fund will also be considered in the process of evidence gathering. The Minister added:
“The outcome of the review will be published in March 2015”. —[Official Report, Common, 8/1/15; cols. 14-15WS.]
Noble Lords must therefore expect it to be concluded imminently and that Ministers will be expected to reach conclusions on those recommendations within the next two weeks. No one outside the review knows exactly what it will say, of course, but there are all kinds of possibilities, which is why I am raising this matter today.
One possibility is that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, a well regarded and semi-independent non-departmental government body whose qualities I have just described and which has served the UK so well for the past 55 years in managing UK awards under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, may be recommended for closure. We should try at all costs to avoid a situation where in the dying hours of this Parliament Ministers announce a decision that is conveniently executive and which has been arrived at behind closed doors without proper parliamentary and public scrutiny. My two questions are as follows. When does the Minister expect the results of the review of HMG’s overseas scholarships schemes, announced in January, as I say, to be available, and will he confirm that no changes to the governance of these successful schemes will be agreed without full prior parliamentary consultation? Secondly, what provision has been made for public consultation as a part of this review? I believe that these schemes represent the soft power of the United Kingdom at its most effective, and I fear for its future if they are allowed to fall into oblivion.
Baroness Coussins (CB): My Lords, in welcoming this report, I want to draw attention to the role of languages in soft power. I declare interests as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages, which is supported by the British Council, and as vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
One of the Select Committee’s conclusions was:
“The UK’s capacity to build connections is constrained by the small number of its citizens who are able to speak foreign languages. Given the transition towards a more people-to-people, reciprocal form of international relations, remaining mono-lingual goes against the grain of how influence and engagement, and therefore power, now operate”.
The report welcomes the reopening of the Foreign Office Language School. It is certainly a wonderful resource, as is the Defence Centre for Languages and Culture. However, I am concerned that not enough is being done to enable these resources to be used across government departments. Individuals are prepared for specific postings, but, by last November, only 34 of the 813 students at the Foreign Office Language School came from departments other than the Foreign Office. I would like to ask the Minister, when he replies, to say what progress is being made in identifying officials from across government who would benefit from language training in order to equip them for the concours entry exam for the European Civil Service. As the soft power report notes, the underrepresentation of British officials in the EU and the UN could be detrimental to the UK’s long-term influence. At the last concours, the UK only managed to supply a mere 2.6% of the applicants. The report calls for a government audit of language skills across the whole Civil Service, echoing the British Academy’s Lost for Words report. I simply do not understand why the Government have resisted this proposal up to now, but I was encouraged to see in their response that the FCO has now agreed to discuss this with other departments. I suppose that is a start. I would like to hear from the Minister that there is more robust support for this project and a timetable to get it done.
There is the related question of pay and career structure. Career progression usually means management and management means less and less practical use of one’s language skills as an interpreter or translator. There are special career paths and pay scales for government lawyers and scientists. Would the Minister support a similar system for government linguists?
I also endorse the report’s support for SMEs that are exporters. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, 70% of SMEs have no foreign language ability for their markets and the deficit is greatest in the fastest growing markets. Only 0.5% have any ability in Russian or Chinese, and, with the importance of market growth in Latin America, it is equally shocking that 64% speak no Spanish, never mind Portuguese. Research commissioned by BIS and published last year estimates that the UK’s lack of language skills is costing the economy 3.5% of GDP—or £48 billion—every year. By contrast, SME exporters that do use languages proactively are achieving a far higher export-to-turnover ratio, estimated at 40% higher. Will the Government give tax breaks to SMEs that invest in language training for their workforce? It would be very good to see that in next week’s Budget.
Finally, I turn to the need for an underlying long-term strategy on language learning in schools and universities so that we can get out of this monolingual dead end. The Select Committee report urges the Government to make every effort to redress the decline in language learning and to provide increased support for study abroad programmes. In my view, the Government’s response is predictable and far too narrow, giving a very selective and sketchy picture of what is really happening. Yes, the EBacc has had a positive effect on GCSE take-up, but the signs are that that has now plateaued. The dark cloud on the horizon is Progress 8, the name of the new system to measure GCSE performance by schools from 2016. Head teachers are already saying that, as languages will not be a requirement here, they will be further sidelined. I ask the Government to act now to prevent Progress 8 cancelling out the benefits of the EBacc for languages in state schools.
Having key stage 2 languages is no great panacea either. Of course this is a good thing, but it will be 2025 before we see the full impact of this policy. In the mean time, it looks very fragile in practice, with a quarter of primary schools having no qualified languages teacher. On top of that, A-level entries are dropping at an alarming rate, and one reason for that is that language A-levels are more harshly marked than other subjects. Will the Government please speak urgently to Ofqual about this and ensure that an equitable marking system is put in place?
Decline at A-level obviously has a direct impact on universities. Since 2000, 45 UK universities have scrapped modern languages degrees. There is a particular problem with the lesser taught but strategically important languages, which are the ones often vital for soft power relations. Kurdish, for example, is now taught at only one university in this country. Government help for Routes into Languages is an important and welcome measure, but a drop in the ocean compared to what needs to be done to build the UK’s language capacity in a way that truly meets our public policy and soft power needs.
We must remember that there are 4.2 million people in the UK whose first language is not English but who do speak some of the languages in demand by business and diplomacy. Children who speak languages such as Arabic, Korean, Pashto, Turkish or Farsi at home should have their linguistic skills recognised, nurtured and accredited, and be shown how much more employable it will make them as a result.
My contribution to this debate has illustrated how the role of language skills spans the remit of many different government departments. Everything is interconnected: schools, universities, the EU, the UN, trade and development, the World Service, are all of soft power. It requires a coherent, strategic cross-government policy. My final question to the Minister is: will he support the idea of a Minister with designated responsibility for language policy across government?
Speaking English in the 21st century is a huge asset, but speaking only English is a big disadvantage. Success today, in business, diplomacy or research, requires cultural intelligence and agility. The soft power advantage belongs to the multilingual.
Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab): My Lords, as a member of the committee, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his chairmanship. It was a very enjoyable committee, which I felt privileged to be a member of, and much of that was down to his chairing. The number of noble Lords who are down to speak in the debate today is real testament to the work of the committee and the report, and to the importance of this topic. In a world that gives us so much confusion and anxiety today, it is important that we consider the challenges of how we are able to influence the rest of the world in a way that is beneficial to the citizens of this country. The balance of power around the world is shifting, and we therefore have to be much clearer about the sort of influence that we want, how we maintain it and, indeed, how we use it, now that less direct methods of influence are more and more important.
I was taken by the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, about how we have to be clear about the vision for the country and take the British people with us. The willingness and ability to intervene militarily remains an important element of influence around the world, but it is not sufficient to defend the nation’s interests. There is not the time—nor, I suspect, is this the occasion—to examine our current anxiety regarding any military intervention, but that means that how we gain respect as a nation, and are attractive for investment for all sorts of other reasons, is ever more important. This means that we have to be more aware of how to both develop and communicate the attributes, values and successes of the UK. This is important for the UK population but also, of course, for people living in other parts of the world and for how they regard us.
We have a bit of a tradition of being, to put it mildly, sceptical about many institutions in this country. We sometimes say that it is a British trait. Healthy scepticism of the BBC seems to be okay, mainly, for politicians, but we recognised during the committee’s
deliberations that that scepticism must be tempered with recognition that the BBC, with its World Service, is probably the most useful and effective soft power and foreign policy asset that we have, and that we trash it at our peril.
Our diversity is another real strength that was expressed by many witnesses who came to see us—the values that both uphold and come from a diverse population. Apart from anything else, that means that many communities around the world know about Britain through their friends or relatives. I remember that one of our strengths in promoting our bid for the Olympic Games was that we could say, “We will have someone from every country that is competing able to welcome every team that comes to our Olympics from around the world”.
We seem to recognise that diversity is a great asset—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, witness after witness talked about the real problem with our visa system and policy. It is not simply a policy issue; it is the impression that the policy leaves, and that the rhetoric around the policy leaves, with people around the world, that is very damaging to our influence and persuasion. In my view, the evidence that we had from Ministers on this was at best unconvincing.
We will all express our personal commitments today, will we not? One way in which our diversity and values are expressed is through those people who volunteer to work in the developing world. I have met Ministers and many other leaders who are happy to tell me that they were taught by VSO, they were looked after in hospital by VSO, VSO trained their local A&E staff, or whatever.
I was in Kenya with Voluntary Service Overseas during the recent recess, and I met a group of 20 young African leaders who had been brought together from around the continent to Nairobi for a rights-based training course. They had all come together because of their involvement as team leaders in the International Citizen Service programme, which is a British Government programme which I suspect that most noble Lords have never heard of. It is hosted by VSO with about another 10 NGOs involved in delivery in 30 countries around the world. Young people from this country volunteer to go with people from the host country—national volunteers who move within their own country —to work on a development programme together.
Those young people were team leaders from the ICS programme. They were an absolute inspiration. Their commitment to using what they had learnt both in ICS and now in the training programme to change their community was inspirational. They asked me to make sure that the British Government understand how much different countries in Africa and the rest of the world are learning through the ICS programme. They said, “The Government are going to continue it, aren’t they?”. I had to say, “We don’t know yet”. Perhaps the Minister can reassure them and me that the Government will proceed with it.
The report has given lots of ideas for how we can move forward. Government have to get the balance right between supporting institutions and organisations, and controlling them. If they control them, as previous speakers said, that will undermine the whole effort. Soft power works only if it is not seen as the
straightforward arm of government. However, there is much for government to do to ensure that the right infrastructure is there to support the security of this country and the well-being of its population. We cannot pretend that the rest of the world is not there. We cannot believe that we can live within this country and that nothing else will affect us. I hope that this report has given the Government and others ideas for activity, and that we will be able to strengthen the Government’s commitment to those institutions, values and organisations that will help enhance Britain’s role in the world in the coming years.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB): My Lords, it would be pretty justifiable to complain rather vigorously that it should have taken so long to bring forward this important report and the Government’s response to it for debate on the Floor of the House. The fact that we are debating it in the final weeks of the Session after the Session in which it was tabled surely tells us something about the adequacy or inadequacy of our procedures for allotting priorities. The only off-setting benefit is—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell—that the intervening events have brought many of the findings of this excellent report into sharper focus and given them greater urgency. The background now is not so much one of a Britain that prides itself on punching above its weight as of a Britain that is beginning to punch well below its weight. This is the view of a number of recent reports from committees in the other place and many distinguished commentators; I share that view. That should be, I fear, a worrying coda for the outgoing Government and an alarm call for whoever takes office after the election on 7 May.
The report, which was so skilfully chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and so eloquently introduced by him this afternoon, deserves much praise. It has taken the concept of soft power, first identified and defined as such not all that long ago by Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University, and disassembled that concept to examine its component parts so far as this country is concerned. It has done so with commendable thoroughness and, in doing so, it has avoided falling into the trap of seeming to argue that soft power can in some way replace or compensate for the absence or inadequacy of hard power. It cannot do that. A country’s soft power and its hard power are indissolubly linked, so in debating Britain’s soft power today we must not lose sight of the crucial need for important decisions to be taken early in the next Parliament on Britain’s hard power resources—on Trident replacement, equipment and the size of our Armed Forces—which will affect our soft power, too. If we continue to shrink those resources, we shall as a country have less influence over events. When all is said and done, effective national influence is the combination of soft and hard power.
The report’s identification of our main soft power assets is comprehensive and compelling. I would put the BBC World Service right up there at the front of the assets; I wish that I was more confident than I am that it will be sustained there. The decision to switch the World Service’s funding from the Government to
the licence fee was, let us face it, a gamble, and it is too soon to say whether it will prove a successful one. However, there should surely be some ring-fencing of the resources available to the World Service within the BBC’s assets and some clear government involvement in defining the World Service’s strategy, though not its operations. This issue needs to be looked at again in the context of the next charter review in 2016. It is no coincidence that radio, television and digital communications bulk so large in other Governments’ soft power strategies. If you want an example, you could look at RT, although admittedly it owes more to Dr Goebbels than to Lord Reith. We need to bear that example in mind when we consider how adequate the resources for the World Service are.
There is then the higher education sector, the significance of which as a soft power asset continues to grow. Not only are our universities one of our most successful sources of invisible exports; they are creating soft power for Britain for many decades ahead. Who doubts that those overseas students who flock to our universities will carry with them, through their professional lives, values and links that will be of benefit to this country? Yet the Government, by clinging obstinately to a net migration target that includes students as its largest component, and by piling new costs and visa complexities on to those students, are, for all their protestations to the contrary, putting that at risk. It is surely high time that all the main parties stopped regarding and targeting students as economic migrants, as this report rightly recommends.
The Diplomatic Service continues to be squeezed in successive rounds of spending cuts, which is surely a false economy. The sums involved are small, but over time the soft power losses will be real—all the more so if we continue to put disproportionate emphasis on what our overseas posts can reasonably be expected to do in trade and investment at the cost of their ability to be our eyes, ears and interpreter of events in an ever more rapidly changing world. A purely transactional, mercantilist approach to foreign policy is not likely to be a winning formula.
My one major criticism of the report relates to its handling of the European Union dimension in our soft power. It underestimates that dimension. In many areas of external policy—in trade and the environment, to give just two examples—the EU dimension is our soft power. If we had to do without that dimension following an in/out referendum that supported our withdrawal from the EU, we would have to start from scratch. We would be a bit player in a complex world. My experience in the closing stages of the Kennedy round in the 1960s, which was the last occasion when Britain negotiated separately in a major trade round, does not encourage an optimistic view of how much influence we would have.
An odd view that we should aspire to have a role distinct from a collective EU one has also crept into the report, but collective EU endeavours have to be agreed by us in the first place. How can we hope to benefit or be trusted if we first agree to the EU’s collective role and then strike out on our own? I was glad to see that the Government’s response to the report declined to sup from that poisoned chalice.
I do not wish to end on a critical note. I agree wholeheartedly with the report’s recommendations that the Government need to report regularly to Parliament on Britain’s soft power, and that both Houses need to examine and debate such reports and express their views. I hope that the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will undertake that these recommendations will be taken forward and responded to after the election.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, the committee that produced this report was an absolute nightmare to sit on at the beginning. The first thing that we had to decide on was what we meant by “soft power”. The volume of evidence that we received was incredible. It is down to the extraordinary leadership—to which other members of the committee have paid tribute—of my noble friend Lord Howell that we have produced an absolutely first-class document. While we were wading around in a sea of representations, he led us, as the material was parted, to a coherent set of conclusions which any Government would do well to take very seriously indeed. It is a great tribute to his leadership, and we were very much encouraged. Indeed, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, that in the end it became quite an enjoyable experience.
The report stands as a standing testimony and reminder to this House of what could be achieved if we had a proper foreign affairs committee which was able to look beyond Europe. I am really disappointed because I thought that after the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I would be able to stand up and say that I agreed with everything he said, except he spoiled it at the end by going on about Europe, where we are normally in a degree of conflict. The great thing about this report is its optimism about Britain and how we can be a power in the world based on the talents, expertise and relationships of our people.
I was really disappointed by Gordon Brown’s article in the Guardian—in fact, I have sent him a copy of the report this afternoon. I am not a regular reader of the Guardian, noble Lords may be surprised to learn. However, he said that,
“‘leaving Europe to join the world’—is really the North Korea option, out in the cold with few friends, no influence, little new trade and even less new investment”.
This report says that that kind of gloomy view of Britain is wholly out of date and wholly stupid. I really regret that the divisions in our country about whether we wish to be a member of the European Union should—to pick up the chalice analogy which the noble Lord just used—be poisoning the debate. They are not either/ors.
We have great opportunities particularly in exploiting our relationships with the Commonwealth. My noble friend Lady Nicholson referred to the speech that Her Majesty the Queen made to mark Commonwealth Day yesterday. I am not sure whether Her Majesty had been reading the committee’s report, but she talked of,
“the huge advantages of mutual co-operation and understanding”,
that lay there for members of the Commonwealth to benefit their citizens. She said that the Commonwealth
is more important now than at any other point in its history. That is one of the key messages to have come out of the report. I again pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howell for the indefatigable way in which he has tried to get across the message about the importance of the Commonwealth and how it could be a pipeline for jobs and employment not just in Britain but around the Commonwealth countries themselves.
Listening to the evidence and looking at the material, I was also surprised to become a complete convert to the work of the BBC World Service. I do not often praise the BBC, but the evidence is overwhelming. With very limited resources and faced with the might of CNN, Al-Jazeera and all kinds of other organisations, we have in the BBC World Service a service which is trusted and is an ambassador and a broadcaster for British values at a time when all of us are horrified by some of the things we see happening in the world. The transfer from the Foreign Office to the licence fee is not such a disaster for it should result in more resources going to the World Service. In the current situation of competition in broadcasting, and in the digital age, if I wanted to make the case for having the licence fee, and having a continuing licence fee, I would argue very strongly for the work that the BBC World Service does.
The same is true of the evidence that we had on the work of the British Council in encouraging the use of the English language. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about the importance of having other languages, particularly in the Foreign Office. My honourable friend Rory Stewart, in the other place, has spoken passionately about the need for languages among our diplomats in the Foreign Office.
The other day I was looking at the website of the National Portrait Gallery—an organisation for which I have considerable affection, and which I have helped in the past—and I was struck by what I found there. There is a map of the world, people can click on any country in the world, including the UK, and it will show the towns and cities in that country, which they can then click on to be told the names of those whose portraits are in the gallery and the history of their relationship with our country. That is soft power. That is our asset.
When I was working in the City, I worked for an American bank and a British bank. I was struck by the fact that the Americans were always able to promise slightly more than we could deliver, whereas the British invariably underplayed what we could do, and delivered more. As a nation, that is one of our failings.
Similarly, in business, building networks and relationships is everything. Why should that not be the case for Governments? Businesses spend vast amounts on creating relationships with a view to achieving a long-term business reward. So what on earth are we doing making it more difficult for the future leaders of other countries to come here, study in our institutions and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, take back with them an affection and a regard for our country? I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to the recommendations on visas and the role of overseas students.
We are among the most creative innovative nations in the globe. We are therefore blessed by having the internet and the new technology that enables us to communicate throughout the world and at all levels. For the Foreign Office this must mean change: the internet is as big a change as the introduction of aeroplanes or telegrams. It changes everything—the nature of the business and the nature of the people, the skills and the resources that they need, which are more, not less.
I entirely agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, when he said, “Of course, soft power is all very well”. In terms of the famous old cliché about speaking softly and carrying a big stick, we need that big stick more than ever. I very much hope that the Government will find it within their power to commit us not just to spending the money required to meet the NATO defence target, but to providing the resources for our armed services, which are important to defend our country not just against physical force but against cyberattack and other threats.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said that there was no real distinction between hard and soft power, and referred us to ancient Athens. I have to tell him that in the run-up to the 1997 election, when it looked as if things would be bad for the Conservatives in Scotland, I made a speech at a conference and reminded people of the brave 300 who stood at Thermopylae. I told them how Xerxes, the Persian King, was so impressed by their bravery that he said to them, “If you surrender I will let you go free”. Leonidas, the King of the Spartans, said, “No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to stay and fight for the values we believe in”. Xerxes said, “But our arrows will blot out the sun”. Leonidas replied, “Then we shall fight in the shade”. At the end of the meeting an elderly lady came up to me and said, “I was so moved by your speech. What happened in the end?”. I said, “They were all killed”. And so we were. But let us not fight in the shade. By using soft power we can see the sunshine of our culture and our values blaze around the world.
Lord Bach (Lab): My Lords, I, too, welcome the report and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee. I welcome the major debate that we are holding, perhaps rather belatedly, today. I will concentrate on the British Council, a crucial part, by any standards, of this country’s soft power approach—and I speak in a personal capacity.
I declare my interests at once. I am privileged to have been chairman since 2010 of the British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group, which has held regular events for parliamentary people and outsiders. I am also privileged to have been a British Council child; my father left the Army to join the British Council at the end of the Second World War and enjoyed a successful and happy career at home and abroad.
In a debate in this House some two years ago, the British Council received praise from around the House. Many noble Lords have had big experience of the excellent work that the council does on six continents and in more than 100 countries, including two ex-chairmen of the British Council in my noble friends Lord Kinnock
and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws; the present vice-chairman of the British Council, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar; the vice-chairman of the all-party group, and one of its biggest supporters, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, from whom we will hear later; and, not least by any means, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, from whom we have heard already and with whom I had the pleasure of co-hosting a joint modern languages and British Council all-party event a few months ago. There will be many others in this House who have had dealings with the British Council over the years. It is good to have friends in both Houses of Parliament, but is it enough?
In truth, the work that the British Council does, whether in the fields of English language and examination, in the arts and education, or in society, is seriously understated by the political establishment. We all accept the good and vital work that it does, but somehow we do not mention it much. Whether it is through fear of the old Daily Express Beaverbrook campaign, now thankfully long dead, to close the British Council down as a waste of taxpayers’ money, or whether it is merely—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, hinted—British reserve and good manners not to talk too much about an organisation that is one of our country’s gems, the result is the same. As a result, the British Council and its work is not widely enough known about by our fellow citizens. That is a shame, and there is much that the council does that should be more widely recognised. I hope that the House will indulge me if I tell briefly of my own experience of some of the recent brilliant work that I have seen it do with my own eyes, in two countries—Nigeria and Lebanon.
In Nigeria, there is the DfID-funded Justice for All programme that the council is running, which crucially strengthens the rule and the institutions of law, from the police through to the courts, making sure that justice is accessible to all Nigerians and not just some of them. Anyone who knows that wonderful but riven country knows of the problems of which I speak. Secondly, again in Nigeria, there is a strategy—the start of a reconciliation and stabilisation programme, again DfID-funded, which looks behind the conflict in northern Nigeria, in which this House is particularly interested, and supports the role of women in bringing peace. Such a strategy faces enormous odds, but it is surely worth while.
In Lebanon, there is the active citizens programme, a community development programme that the British Council runs in many countries, in civil society and with NGOs. I remember sitting in Sidon—yes, biblical Sidon—a year or so ago, the guest of an NGO, listening to young Lebanese women in particular talking about their society and their future in direct terms. We accompanied a young man through the old tunnels in the centre of that ancient city to his own modern neighbourhood, full as it was with many Syrian refugees as recent arrivals. He then proudly showed us the community work of clearing up the area that he had done with the help of the British Council to bring a deprived community closer together.
That work and those conversations would not have happened if it was not for the active citizen’s programme and the work of the British Council. As an answer to
all those foolish enough to suggest that the work of the British Council is somehow not relevant to the world we live in, in Lebanon, it provides access to schools to help the country cope with the enormous influx of Syrian refugees. With more than a million refugees in that country of some 4.5 million, the British Council is helping to minimise the number of young people excluded from the school system, providing a cadre of 1,500 trained teachers who will reach 90,000 pupils over 28 months. It is working with—not against—the Institut Français and with the EU, funded by the EU. This sort of work is vital and life-enhancing and our country, through the British Council, is at the heart of it. We should be proud of what is happening in our name. I cannot think of a better example of soft power in action.
I make two more points. Perhaps it is time for there to be not only a committee on foreign affairs in this House but an all-party group on soft power. I discussed this idea briefly with the British Council itself, which would be happy to work with and support such an all-party group. I would be interested to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Howell, thinks that is an attractive idea or not.
Finally, during the British Council debate two years ago. The fact that the FCO government grant had been reduced—the figure has fallen from £190 million in 2010-11 to £154 million in 2014-15—means that the British Council now just gets 16% of its income from the FCO grant. Of course, it has built up an income of its own by teaching English, administering exams, managing contracts and so on, which is a brilliant achievement over the past 10 years. However, my worry now is that, if that 16% of the British Council income becomes any lower, there is a real danger that the British Council will be seen, no longer as a public service and as part of what Britain has to offer, but as a sort of commercial enterprise. If that ever happens, the UK would suffer a serious blow. In its response to the report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, the Government said:
“The Government is firmly committed to the work of the British Council and recognises its significant contribution to the UK’s strategic interests through its work in English, arts, education and society”.
It then says, rather more worryingly:
“The Government will continue to work with the British Council on future funding”.
I hope that means that the Government will be sympathetic, rather than anything else.
For the past 81 years the British Council has served this country well. It is an essential part of our soft power. It ought to be protected.
Baroness Wolf of Dulwich (CB)(Maiden Speech): My Lords, it is an enormous honour and privilege to join your Lordships' House and speak in this debate. I would like to express my gratitude for the welcome and kindness shown to me by everyone here since my arrival. Preparing for today I was also greatly relieved to discover that a large number of other people also spent their first few weeks discovering that they had
no sense of direction. If it were not for the outstanding staff here, I would probably be wandering the corridors still.
I also thank my two distinguished supporters, the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood and Lord Rees of Ludlow, for their help and support. Both, as I am sure noble Lords know, are eminent academics. I should explain perhaps that I am also an academic and a social scientist. My own work is largely on vocational education and training, and higher education.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for securing and introducing this debate and for giving me the opportunity to say a little about universities and soft power. Professor Joseph Nye, whose work first defined the idea of soft power, believes that the role that Britain plays in educating people in British universities is a major soft power resource for this country. The committee agrees, and I am more than happy to agree myself. However, I was surprised at how little was said by witnesses to the committee about what universities actually do that translates into soft power in this way. A few—very few—individual witnesses talked of how our universities exposed students to British values and shaped the thoughts of the world’s future elites. However, the research councils mostly emphasised international research collaborations, and the membership organisations tended to dwell more on numbers, money and, of course, visas.
Universities UK offered one anecdote about a Chinese central banker with a Cambridge PhD, who said that in negotiations with the Bank of England he was “emotionally bonded” to the UK. That is wonderful, but I think most noble Lords would agree that this could reflect memories of happy days on the river and friendships made, rather than anything important that we, the universities, actually did. And so I should like to take this opportunity to spell out in a little more detail what goes on in universities—week after week, year after year—that can make them an important source of soft power for this country.
I know that many noble Lords are, like me, academics by trade, and what I say will therefore sound very familiar. I should like to start with my own recent week. Last week was when our course teams at my university, King’s College London, finalised and agreed the questions on summer examination papers and drew up indicative answers that would go out to external examiners. In doing so, it was striking how often we would require students to “examine critically” a particular statement or question. We would demand that they contrast and evaluate opposing views. We would reiterate in our notes the importance for a good answer of both tight theoretical argument and the marshalling of empirical evidence.
Last week, I was also marking and commenting on coursework—that is, the long written papers that in almost every university now contribute substantially to a final degree. Among the most important coursework marking criteria in every British university I know are, first, a full bibliography, properly set out; and, secondly, that all assertions made are properly and fully referenced and supported. Any quote must be easily traced by provision of the exact page or other reference marker. Our students, understandably, often find us compulsive
and nitpicking on this point. But this is fundamentally how we convey and hopefully instil some core values. This is about respect for evidence—all evidence, not just the evidence in one’s own comfort zone. It is about accuracy, scrupulous attention to detail and transparency. We also reward independent judgment, but provided it takes place within those bounds. This, I have to say, is far from universally true across the world.
In UK universities today, there is a real tension between the demands of research, the pressure to expand numbers and the labour-intensive process of teaching, marking and feedback that I have just described. But this latter process is central to how we instil norms and values. They, in turn, are a critical part of our universities’ potential for soft power.
We tend to talk about power as a zero-sum game—“If I have some, you have less”. But there are important aspects of the world where things are not zero-sum but, on the contrary, can make life better for everyone. I do not think that I am contravening the rule for maiden speeches in suggesting that that is true of the values that I have described. They are good for the whole planet. They are good for everyone. If people respect evidence, can formulate a logical argument and take for granted the importance of considering opposing views and justifying their disagreement, this has to be a good thing for the world.
Professor Mary Kaldor of the LSE, in her written evidence, told the committee that British universities “are global institutions” that “contribute to global debates about the construction of rules and norms”. It would clearly be naive to think that by educating many of the world’s future elite here, as we do, we would automatically spread peace, good will and collaboration across the planet. However, conveying academic values by the way we teach, assess and respond to students is a core part of what all British academics are, and should be, about. It is very important, and I hope that in any discussion of university soft power noble Lords will duly give it centre stage.
In conclusion, I again thank noble Lords for their welcome and support, and I look forward very much to contributing to the work of this House in years to come.
Baroness Suttie (LD): My Lords, it is a great privilege to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf of Dulwich, on her truly excellent and authoritative maiden speech. When I was looking at her rather scarily impressive CV this morning, I saw that she was not only an economist and an academic but has worked as a consultant and adviser to the European Commission, the Bar Council, the OECD, the Royal College of Surgeons and the ministries of education of New Zealand, France and South Africa. The depth of this experience shone through in her maiden speech and I am sure that we all look forward to her future contributions to this House.
I, too, congratulate the Select Committee on Soft Power on its extremely comprehensive and timely report. As many noble Lords have already said, as the world becomes an increasingly interconnected but often unpredictable and dangerous place, the need for alternative
means of communicating and influencing becomes ever more important. As this is such a broad-ranging debate, I intend to focus my remarks on two specific areas: the role and influence of the British Council in north Africa, and the role of both the British Council and the BBC World Service in Russia and Ukraine.
As an English teacher in the Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991 I used to listen intently to the BBC World Service on my little shortwave radio. I would extend the aerial right up to the metal shelves above my bed to get the clearest possible reception. In those pre-internet days at the end of the Cold War it was my only means of connection with the outside world. Most of my Russian friends also used to listen to the World Service, not only to practise their English but as a means of receiving unbiased news of what was happening in the world without the top-spin of Soviet propaganda. BBC World Service radio represented to them a brand that they could trust.
Following the end of the Soviet Union there was a brief period when free media flourished in Russia but, sadly, more and more of the broadcast media have once more come under state control and Kremlin censorship. The events in eastern Ukraine and Crimea over the past year have seen a return to attempts to indoctrinate the population through the media, but on a modernised scale that would have been inconceivable even in the Soviet Union.
It is not a coincidence, therefore, that by last summer Russia showed the biggest increase in BBC World Service listening, its audience more than doubling to 6.9 million people weekly. The Ukrainian service has similarly witnessed a trebling of its audience over the past year to more than 600,000. People are once again turning to the World Service as an alternative and unbiased means of receiving the news—most particularly in a conflict that has been so prone to misinformation and propaganda.
Meanwhile, we have seen the growth of Russia Today, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, described so eloquently. RT—Russia Today—broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish and has branches in London and Washington. The sanctions against Russia have resulted in a budget cut to the network, according to the Moscow Times, but the budget is still in the region of $300 million dollars per year, up from approximately $80 million dollars in 2007. RT has been called the international mouthpiece of the Kremlin. Certainly its coverage of the Scottish referendum—as I mentioned in a previous debate on Russia in this House—made for fascinating viewing, with accusations of North Korean turnouts and counts which apparently did not meet international standards.
The BBC World Service’s reputation rests on its independence from the British Government—and rightly so: this is the major difference between the World Service and the likes of Russia Today. It is this trust—this confidence that people are listening to an objective version of events—that is so very valuable. Given the importance of the service, can the Minister comment on the future funding of the BBC World Service, which we have shown today is so important in terms of soft power in the Ukraine-Russia dispute over the past few months?
The British Council, too, has been playing a vital role in Ukraine. Its contributions to the new reforms of higher education in Ukraine are greatly to be welcomed, as are the plans to increase ties with universities in the UK. The British Council is also in the process of increasing the number of English language programmes for both universities and civil servants in Ukraine, and it is promoting greater cultural exchanges between the UK and Ukraine, not least in the creative industries.
I was fortunate to attend in Tunisia last year the British Council Hammamet Conference, which brings together men and women who are leaders in their particular professions—established leaders as well as young leaders—from across the countries of north Africa. At one of the universities in Tunis we watched a debate organised by the British Council’s Young Arab Voices programme, which teaches debating and public speaking skills. There were five young women and one young man, who debated with tremendous confidence in English on the subject of national security versus individual liberties.
In Morocco a few weeks ago, I also met a group of young women who were taking part in the Moroccan version of the programme, called Young Moroccan Voices. There are more than 25,000 members across Morocco, and in 2013 the Young Arab Voices programme reached more than 100,000 people across the Maghreb.
I was struck in both Tunisia and Morocco by the extremely enthusiastic, bright young people. Some were studying languages and some business or management. They all wanted to know more about the UK and many hoped to study or do business here. They all felt that the programme had given them not only confidence in the English language but confidence in public speaking and debating, as well as a self-belief that they could achieve their goals. I believe it is exactly the kind of programme that represents real value for money and, above all, has a genuine impact. Can my noble friend the Minister say what plans the Government have to support and fund British Council programmes such as Young Arab Voices that continue to act as a catalyst for youth political participation and engagement in north Africa?
Finally, I agree full-heartedly with the Select Committee’s conclusions on the need to promote the learning of foreign languages in this country. The fact that English is now the global language of communication is both a blessing and a curse. Having studied French and Russian at university, I am able to muddle by relatively competently in both languages. Being able to speak directly to people in their own language unquestionably assists cultural and political understanding, and inevitably helps in the business world too, in promoting the image of Britain as a dynamic, multicultural, tolerant country.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to comment on the Government’s commitment to redress the decline in language learning in UK schools and universities. If we do not redress this decline, I believe that our lack of linguistic skills threatens to become both an economic and a political problem in this rapidly changing world.
Lord Crisp (CB): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee on this excellent report. It provides an extremely interesting and useful analysis and I welcome and support its arguments—with one caveat. I believe that there is one aspect of the UK’s special capabilities and significance in the world that is underplayed.
However, first, I want to praise the report. I found the main thrust of its arguments compelling: the dramatic change in the international environment that it talks about; the importance of smart power; the understanding that power is now dispersed away from central control; and the importance of understanding and respecting other non-western points of view. On specifics, I could mention many, but I note the importance of the UK being the best networked state in the world; the actual and potential role of the Commonwealth; the idea that the British need to feel confident in knowing who we are and what our role is in a transformed and turbulent world; the role of the diaspora and diversity; and the importance of trust and impartiality. These are all extraordinarily important issues.
I now turn to what I believe is missing. Health is one of the largest sectors in the world, with expenditure of more than $7 trillion annually, and it is one in which in almost every aspect the UK is widely recognised as first or second in the world. It is an area where, in line with this report, we have profound influence, are extremely well networked and could play an even bigger and more confident role globally. I believe that health addresses all the issues drawn out in paragraph 86 of the report of what soft power is about. But the key point that I want to make here is not just about the capabilities of the UK but that there is a demand for those capabilities right now.
I will first deal with the supply side and I will address it in four areas. The first is academia. I will not say very much because I believe that my noble friend Lord Kakkar, himself a distinguished medical researcher, will say more about this. Today, the UK is top-rated in research publishing in many areas of health, even beating the US in terms of the citations it receives in peer-reviewed journals. As the report notes, we have those extraordinary journals, the Lancet, the BMJ and Nature. Interestingly, in the context of the networks that this report talks about, for articles where British people are the first authors in these journals, 62% of them have foreign collaborators. In the US, only 25% have foreign collaborators. The UK works very collaboratively in these networks. Moreover, as people may well recognise, all doctors, at some point in their lives, do research. These networks are huge. Finally, the medical royal colleges in the UK are hugely valued in terms of their qualifications. I believe that membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is still the most valued qualification in India and I know that the Royal College of General Practitioners accredits all family practitioner courses in south-east Asia, with the exception of Burma. There is extraordinary influence and these are extraordinary networks.
The second area is the state sector. I will not say very much about DfID, which was mentioned in the report, but it is, as everyone knows, extraordinarily
influential and does an enormous amount with regard to health. I now turn to the NHS. As a former chief executive of the NHS, I was delighted to see that it came top in a recent assessment of health systems around the world. While I am pleased about that, it is also a reminder of just how hard it is to run a health system. We recognise that we have problems, but actually we are doing very well in that context. My point here is not about the performance of the system itself but about the influence that it has. Almost every Commonwealth health system was modelled on the NHS, as was, for example, the system in Portugal. China has had a flirtation with the private sector system and is now looking to the UK. Mongolia, one of the fastest growing countries in the world, has turned to us for assistance. It is not just about the values and the whole organisation of the NHS; it is about the elements. Apparently, every country now wants to have a NICE to assess the value of medicines around the world. Public Health England is another example that is modelled. Then there is the influence of individuals in health and in the World Health Organization. I will not go back into the past, although I note that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is here and would say that we have had an enormous impact on what has happened around HIV/AIDS in the world. Today one of the big issues is antimicrobial resistance, or antibiotic resistance, where the UK is leading the fight in trying to tackle that globally. We have had fantastic influence.
I move on now to philanthropy. We could talk about the Wellcome Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the great NGOs and what they are doing around the world, and international partnerships. Again, many of these are rated among the top in the world.
Finally, I turn to commerce, where we come slightly lower on some of the factors. Nevertheless, it is UK researchers who have developed 25 of the top 100 drugs that are in use in the world. I am delighted to see that the present Government have recognised the enormous scope of the life sciences sector in the way that George Freeman, the Minister, has taken it up. I also note that Healthcare UK, developed recently, supported an estimated increase of £1 billion in commercial exports of health products in the current financial year and identified further opportunities worth more than £20 billion.
There is a huge supply side but the demand side is actually bigger. As countries grow richer, their citizens demand healthcare, and they want their governments to invest in health. We in Europe are accustomed to contracting in health whereas around the world countries are doubling their expenditure and looking for support. Part of this is in response to public demand and part of it is about social control. Some countries around the world are trying to keep their populations interested. Some of it is a recognition of the link between healthier people and the economy. Many are turning to the UK for help. Health is salient economically and domestically in these fast-growing economies and should also be seen as a critical component of foreign policy and, indeed, a soft power.
The US got there 18 years ago. It published the document entitled America’s Vital Interest in Global Health: Protecting Our People, Enhancing Our Economy,
and Advancing Our International Interests
. It was launched by Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady and she has returned to the theme often since. To an extent, the UK, with its policy of “Health is Global”, has tried to develop a policy around this but, frankly, it is not as influential as it might have been and is not even mentioned in this report.
Perhaps I may ask why health is not generally seen as an area in which the UK has extraordinary influence globally and why it is not a crucial element of British foreign policy. One reason may be, importantly—it has nothing to do with this committee or the Foreign Office—that health leaders have not done what others in other sectors, such as culture, have done where they have deliberately set out, in a systematic way, to promote their international profile, with the results that we have seen and talked about. The Government need to be systematic about this, as the report says, but so, frankly, does the health system.
This is an important message for health leaders. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health, of which my noble friend Lord Kakkar and I are both officers, is seeking to map the activity of the UK in health globally. We will be looking at how this can be expanded across the board so that the UK can build an even stronger position as a centre of health. To do so, however, health leaders need to rise to the challenge.
I say to the Foreign Office and a future government that when they are looking at these issues and the great agenda set out by the committee please do not forget health. There is a range of links between individual doctors and organisations which can exert an extraordinary influence. On any given day, thousands of health professionals and scientists are in touch with their colleagues and peers elsewhere and we should build on, cherish and, importantly, use these networks.
Finally, I have two questions for the Minister. First, does he recognise the important role that the UK health sector has in promoting the UK’s power and influence internationally? Secondly, what are the plans to update the Government’s global strategy “Health is Global”?
Viscount Eccles (Con): My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, whose knowledge of what is happening in global health is unparalleled. It is also a pleasure to serve with him on the group, of which he is a co-chair and where he is doing very useful work.
As for persuasion and power, I am not sure I am not keener on persuasion than power. As this is a big and comprehensive report, my focus will be on the part which deals with DfID, the aid programme, international development and the Government’s response. I feel that there is a certain out-of-balance approach to aid and international development in the way that we are handling it now. It is not that what we are doing is not okay; it is just that I think we could be doing a lot more.
In the time that I was with what is now the CDC Group, I knocked about in 50 different countries looking for economic opportunities with high development returns and, usually, sustainable but rather low financial returns. This was because, as a gap filler, we were
looking to do things that the fully commercial private sector did not find attractive. In doing that we carried with us our own marketing, investigation, engineering and agricultural skills. This enabled us to know, for example, that in Uganda we could upgrade the hydroelectric power station at Owen Falls from 24 to 36 megawatts by installing new innards in the dam which were available because of modern technology. To do that you had to know something about the electricity generation and distribution industry. Indeed, at the time, only 60% of the electricity being generated in Uganda was actually being paid for.
We also went to the island of New Ireland which looks out on the Bismarck Sea. The villages down the coast are alternately Catholic and Protestant and, in the middle, there is a Baha’i village called Madina. There we took coconut lands out of production and put in oil palms. It was experimental and innovative. We knew that we could probably do it successfully because of our knowledge of soils and rainfalls; of how to build a proper factory and how to out-load the palm oil into the Bismarck Sea. We came across the graveyards of ancestors, although the Government promised us that the land tenure arrangements were perfectly okay. They also promised us a road which we never got. Nevertheless, because we had the capacity and the people who knew how to get round those problems, it was a success—as, indeed, was clonal tea in the back blocks of Malawi. There we built a small clinic, as we always did. When I was visiting, I always used to open the door of the fridge to see what was in it; very often there was not very much. We built a school but one could find, with deep regret, that there was no teacher. We also made sure that the employees had good seeds for their gardens. The introduction of hybrid seeds into many parts of Africa has been a long struggle but, once managed, the benefits are seen.
One lesson from all this is that, if you can find economic opportunities—and they may be marginal and in difficult places—then go for them. Do not allow people to tell you that, if you do not have a perfect set of conditions, you should not be doing it. The rule of law may have holes in it. Certainly, land tenure very often does. Governments make promises which they do not always keep. Accounting standards in those places were not always up to scratch. It was probably more like the days of Abraham Darby and Adam Smith when there were not any aid programmes.
In my view, the great strength of our aid programme and of DfID is in disaster relief, reconstruction, poverty alleviation, health, and disease control. The NGOs and charities that work with them are fantastic. Mercy Ships and my noble friend Lord McColl; a charity called Send a Cow, built up by a colleague of mine from the past; and VSO, as has been mentioned, are all wonderful. I believe that DfID could and should be doing more; certainly in the area of health, there seem to be no limits. However, the middle ground—the ground that DfID occupies between disaster relief, poverty alleviation and health issues, and economic development—seems much more uncertain. We get caught up in the international bureaucracy of overseas development assistance. We worry about reputations—about inputs rather more than about outputs.
Maybe some values are universal, once people have adequate food. Considering what we were told after the war was going to happen, for example in India, it is amazing how successful the world has been at feeding itself. It has not been completely adequate but it has been much more adequate than we ever supposed in those days. I suggest that these values are universal: a roof that does not leak; cooking you can do without filling the house with smoke; a doctor or a nurse not far away; a school for your children and, if you are on a river in somewhere such as Sarawak, an engine for your boat. Maybe we should be talking more about universal values and not just about British values.
I also worry about capacity building for the reasons I have already given: the abstract nature of the language and the caution of the people engaged in it so that we are always going to do tomorrow what actually needs to be done today. Why is there this hesitation? Aid enthusiasts and managers are basically very uncomfortable with limited liability companies working as the seizers of economic opportunity in economic development. To them, the whole thing is too risky and too capitalist. It is all about income and its distribution between stakeholders, whereas the aid enthusiasts and managers are controllers of expenditure. Their conclusion is that conventional economic development is not really aid and that it is something which is better left to others. If and when they do get involved, it is through intermediaries. Indeed, the government response to the report and comments in other material suggest that that is really what they are saying. This seems to me, in 2015, to be wrong and in need of change. The skills and technology for economic development in difficult places are too badly wanted and it is too urgent that these matters are carried forward for them to be contracted out to others. This activity needs to be an integral part of the aid programme, and in making it so, we should remember how we came to be a developed nation. Why do we think that it can happen so differently for others?
Viscount Colville of Culross (CB): My Lords, I apologise for being late for the beginning of the debate, but I was detained. I declare an interest as a producer at the BBC. I praise the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his extremely impressive report and was especially pleased to read paragraph 268, which states:
“While we understand that the BBC World Service’s budget has been protected in the move to licence-fee funding, we are concerned that this protection might be more difficult to maintain in the face of future budget pressures and challenges to the principle of the licence fee”.
In their response the Government say:
“The Government remains fully committed to the BBC World Service”.
My concern is that these could remain warm words at a time when, as many other noble Lords have said, the BBC World Service has never been more important, a sentiment which is echoed in the report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the other place.
In the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, we saw a liberalisation of the media across the world. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, Russian television
channels were broadcasting brave programmes investigating the role of their own Government and military. The rise of democracy across much of Africa and Asia saw a similar opening up of the media. But in the last five years, we have seen a closing down of the free media globally. Increasingly warlords, political and religious parties are setting up or taking over television and radio stations and websites in order to pump out propaganda which supports their view of the world.
As my noble friend Lord Hannay pointed out, along with the report, the Russian and Chinese Governments have dramatically increased their communications budgets to spread their views across the world. It is easy for us sitting here in the West to imagine that audiences are sophisticated enough to ignore such propaganda, but even here in the west, “Russia Today”, which has already been mentioned, a well funded global propaganda arm of the Russian Government, is the second most watched foreign news channel in America, and in this country it claims a quarterly audience of 2.5 million people. Noble Lords can imagine the power of these channels in the less sophisticated Russian-speaking areas of the former Soviet Union. Daily we hear of the fears of the Baltic states and parts of the former USSR of the power of President Putin’s state media to foster anger and resentment among the Russian-speaking populations. It is not surprising that in the ghastly battle for control of eastern Ukraine, the BBC’s Ukrainian and Russian language services have become a crucial source of impartial information.
I talked to one of my colleagues on the Russian service, who gave me a rather good example. Last month, LifeNews, the Russian state media outlet in the region, reported unequivocally that a hospital in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine had been hit and people killed by shells fired by Ukrainian forces stationed to the north-west of the city. The BBC Russian Service reporter arrived shortly afterwards and reported the shelling, but said that it was not clear from which direction it had come—whether from the Ukrainians or the Russian separatists. The BBC reporter added that each side blamed the other. In fact, shortly afterwards, the OSCE observers visited the damaged hospital and decided that the shells had come from the separatist troops in the south-east. The findings were reported by the BBC, but not by Russian LifeNews. It is no wonder that the online traffic for the BBC’s Russian service has increased by 8% during the course of 2014. By giving the world a source of impartial news, we are presenting across the globe British values of truth, justice and democracy, portraying our country in the finest possible light.
Furthermore, the soft power of the World Service has another crucial role: it actively helps to stabilise fragile states. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from their own failing states for the political and economic security of Europe. The values of the BBC can encourage democracy and nurture civil institutions in the countries from which they are fleeing.
The report mentions the work of the wonderful BBC Media Action, which uses both the World Service and local media partners to build democratic institutions
and encourage populations to engage with them. Media Action is a charity, not part of the World Service, and is well supported by DfID and international donors. It draws on the expertise of the staff of the BBC world services and transmits programmes jointly on its language services and with local partners.
In Afghanistan, we have seen a wholesale takeover of the airwaves by political groupings and warlords wanting to pump out their own propaganda. One of the very few places where Afghans can receive balanced information is on the “Open Jirga” programme, supported by BBC Media Action and based on BBC1’s “Question Time”. Afghan Ministers and Opposition leaders sit side by side answering questions from an eclectic audience representing a carefully selected range of Afghan society, including 50% women, who ask half the questions. Media Action is expanding and introducing similar programmes in the countries of the Arab spring and in Iraq. I hope that your Lordships will draw from the success of Media Action that it deploys the inspiration and values of the BBC World Service.
In April last year, the BBC World Service was folded into the licence fee. At the time, the head of news, James Harding, announced an increase in funding for the service of £5 million, so that next year its funding will be £250 million. However, he warned that there would have to be savings as part of the three-year investment plan. This is against a background of a 26% cut in BBC funding over the five years of the licence fee settlement.
We are now beginning to focus on the future funding of the BBC, with the negotiations for charter renewal due to start in a matter of months. This will be the first time that the funding of the BBC World Service has been dependent on the licence fee. I am concerned that commercial and political forces are gathering to ensure that the BBC’s severely reduced funding will affect the World Service. The Government’s response to the committee’s report points out that it is up to the BBC Trust to manage the funding and operation of the World Service within the wider BBC family. Indeed, the World Service’s operating licence states that the BBC Trust must ensure that the content and distribution budget are protected, while also ensuring that operational efficiencies can be achieved. However, it also says that the trust has to be consulted only if there is a 10% or greater cut in its budget. At the moment, that could mean £25 million, or the budget for several language services.
The International Broadcasting Trust has already warned us of its concern that, while the BBC licence fee is paid for by a British audience, the World Service is aimed at a global audience. I fear that the people of Britain, who pay for the BBC, might wonder why their money is being spent on a service which is not aimed at them.
The committee’s report urges that future commercial sources of income be studied, and suggests support from central taxation for the World Service. The Government, in reply, said that they would support the BBC World Service’s global role and ensure that it remained the best international broadcaster, but they did not respond to the idea of support from taxation.
Will the Minister say whether there is any possibility of taxation support for the World Service, and if not, what are the Government going to do to ensure that the World Service’s funding is not cut after 2016?
Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, I start, perhaps unusually, with the confirmation that because I am no longer a director and the chairman of the Good Governance Foundation, I do not need to declare it as an interest any more. That is for a variety of reasons, which I will not go into, but one is the difficulty of asserting soft power around the world and carrying that out. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, whose views on this I have known for some time, on an exceptionally good report. There is so much in it that you could speak on it for a long time, which I will not do. I certainly do not want to repeat all the praise that has been given to the various institutions—the British Council, the BBC, and the members of the European Union and the Commonwealth—and the power of the English language. All those and 101 other things give us enormous influence around the world, but that influence would not apply if we did not also have an attractive culture and society.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and one or two other noble Lords mentioned RT and the amount of money being poured into it. I watch it and, frankly, it has deteriorated quite a bit in the last few years. It has always been a propaganda channel aimed at trying to undermine western countries and values but also at propping up Russian nationalism. The interesting thing about RT of course is that, if you look at it in terms of changing people’s attitudes outside of Russia, it is not very effective. The reality is that there are not thousands of people queuing up to get into Russia; rather, there are more people coming out of Russia into Britain than the other way round. The reason for that at the end of the day is not just because of the BBC World Service, good as it is, but because of all the other institutions and things that make us the free, prosperous and stable society that we are. It is that stability and prosperity, and the rule of law, that I want to focus on for a moment.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, that we pay too little attention to the rule of law. One of the things I tried to do through the Good Governance Foundation was to spread the recognition of Britain’s role in the rule of law. I pay great tribute to another institution we do not give enough support to, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, which does an awful lot on the rule of law both through the European Union and directly. A couple of years ago, I tried to get the late Lord Bingham’s book The Rule of Law— which is only a short book of a couple of hundred pages, if that—published in Arabic and was told there was not a big enough market for it. I doubt that. I think there would be, but it is a matter of how it is promoted.
One thing that I have seen in a variety of countries around the world is that people are not necessarily shouting for democracy, although that is a long-term goal, but they are shouting for the rule of law. If you
can get fairness and stability from the rule of law, you can build the democratic foundations. Trying to do it the other way round, as we have discovered to our cost, does not really work. As we saw in Egypt recently, and indeed in Iraq, going for democratic structures when you do not have the rule of law can all too easily lead to the winning party taking a winner-takes-all approach to democracy. Immediately, the minority groups of one type or another, or the losers, feel excluded and you get the collapse of that democratic process. It is a very important issue. We have so much expertise on the rule of law in this country, and among many Members of this House, and if we could involve that more in our programmes around the world it would be very useful. The reputation of Britain as a country of law is very great.
One of the bullet points in the report summary refers to resources for embassies. The fascinating thing about the report is that it has identified this dramatically changing relationship in the world between hard power, soft power and what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, then defined as smart power, when you combine them. The problem I find, and I do not think I can be alone in this, is that it is hard to see where this started and where the process will end. It is fast-moving and very confusing in a way. I am sure that our embassies around the world have a key role to play in it. Recently, I led a delegation to Bahrain with Members of this House and of the House of Commons, which produced a report on its reform process. I have to say that it is doing well. It ought to be emphasised that this country is trying, in a region where it is incredibly difficult to make progress, and our report indicated that its efforts need to be supported.
The reason that I mention that is that the ambassador, who I gather has now moved on from that post, a man called Iain Lindsay, was immensely helpful in enabling us to meet all the people who we needed to meet there, making the contacts that we needed to make. Similarly, when I was working for the Good Governance Foundation, I helped Abu Dhabi to set up a postgraduate course in the rule of law with outreach to Palestine, so that 28 Palestinian students could attend the course. The Foreign Office, through both the Palestinian and Abu Dhabi link, was immensely helpful.
In doing all that, I stumbled across an organisation called the Training Gateway, which is based at York University. Several Members have spoken about the importance of education. They are absolutely right, of course. What was fascinating was that the Training Gateway—which is self-funding; it charges its customers —was able to link universities, colleges and private sector groups in training programmes around the world. In that sense, it is not dissimilar to what the British Council and one or two other organisations are doing. The difference is that it will relay any request by a particular country or an organisation within that country. I was very impressed by the lady who runs it, Amanda Selvaratnam. She has developed quite a skill in linking what countries need to a British institution, be it a state or national one, such as a university, or a private company. That has been excellent. The thing that I and she find most difficult in all this is the linkage between the various companies, organisations, government departments and so on.
I give an example of my experience on that from Burma—Myanmar, as it is now known. I have been in touch with the ambassador here and, through him, to the Attorney-General in Burma. I talked to them about the possibility of links with the Training Gateway to build capacity on the rule of law there. I received several letters from the Attorney-General, Dr Tun Shin. One stated,
“if I may say so, I feel that at this primary stage it will be beneficial to give preference to high level officials to attend”,
“gain knowledge which they can disseminate”,
to the people who work for them. In a later letter, he stated that they were very interested in having training from the Training Gateway in courses delivered overseas or there in Myanmar.
At the end of the day, it did not happen. One reason is that however much help we were getting—I am in no way critical of DfID or the Foreign Office—there was not enough in Burma itself to build that structure. We need to think about how we can place a person in countries such as Burma to ensure that they can deliver on the ground what their leaders say that they need. That interlinkage is so difficult.
My final point is on the references in the report to hyperconnectivity, which is very important. It touches a bit on what the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said about the health service overseas. I was struck recently when looking at some pictures of Alexandria in Egypt, sent to me by my daughter, who is there at the moment, of the sewage in the road and things of that nature. I went away to look up the top infectious diseases in Alexandria. Sure enough, they are all water-borne or food-borne, because of the lack of hygiene. I do not doubt that the real answer is for the Egyptian Government, with or without aid, to provide a better sewerage system, but I also know that with hyperconnectivity you can do what the report touches on: give good local organisations advice and help on basic hygiene, which you can do even though you have problems in the street every time that there is heavy rainfall.
That is what is so exciting in the report: it opens up new parameters to think about. I urge the Government to think about the use of our interconnection through the internet. We are a very connected society, and if we link into that, it is a matter not just of aid but of helping to build institutions, even at a very local level, to deal with the problems that I have just described.
Lord Birt (CB): My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, one of the most thoughtful Members of this House, for his leadership on this important matter.
Rarely has our world been so troubled: over the past decade, we have suffered a global economic convulsion; Russia flexes its muscles on Europe’s eastern flank; the Middle East is racked by multiple tensions; and merciless philosophies galvanise new terrorist movements, both widely and in our midst. We are of course here to discuss soft power but we need hard power, too. Yes, we must bear down on our deficit but we must also define and fund a robust defence policy for the next 10 to 20 years, based on the range of
threats against which we may need, as a nation, to defend ourselves. That is what good Governments do, whether or not there are votes in it. Only if we have a cogent and sustainable defence policy can we bring leadership, above all on our doorstep. Europe’s military capability does not match, as it should, Europe’s economic weight.
If we need hard power to defend ourselves against the evils of the world, we need soft power to try to make ours a better world. In the UK, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has just said, we care about the rule of law. We also care about global poverty, climate change, human rights, free trade and self-determination. We want to promote tolerance, respect for difference and freedom of expression. Yet we recognise that this is a long haul. The anniversary of Magna Carta reminds us what a struggle it is in any society to achieve stability and harmony. We in the UK influence the world more than most, as others have said, because we are listened to more than most. That is not only for our commitment to a set of values and beliefs but for our contributions to science, learning, the arts and culture, and to wit. We can inspire the world with Shakespeare and Jane Austen, delight it with the Beatles and Ed Sheeran and entertain it with James Bond, Harry Potter and “Doctor Who”.
Again, as others have said more than once, no UK institution can and does project soft power more effectively than the BBC, the world’s best known and respected media brand. Ask Mikhail Gorbachev or Aung San Suu Kyi—or now the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, a welcome conversion—if you doubt that. Yet the BBC faces substantial challenges in continuing to maintain its pole position. Here I fear I must strike a sharper note than other noble Lords, for one of the most shameful acts in the history of the BBC was this coalition Government’s midnight raid on the BBC’s coffers, requiring it overnight, with no prior public or parliamentary debate whatever, to fund S4C, BBC Monitoring and BBC World Service from the licence fee. This ambush effectively cut one-sixth from the budget of the pre-existing BBC and cannot be glossed over or simply waved away. Moreover, this action breached a clear principle which had been held for almost a century: that the licence fee paid only for services for UK licence fee payers, and that the Government commissioned overseas services at arm’s length from an editorially independent BBC and funded them from taxation.
Worse still, the FCO fought to have its cake and eat it, too. It sought to continue to determine what world services the BBC should offer, in spite of the fact that the FCO would no longer fund them. For the first time in its history, and in breach of another sacred principle—established long ago when John Reith successfully fought off Winston Churchill’s bid to control the BBC during the General Strike—the Government are seeking to specify in detail the services that the BBC should offer. No one knows better than me that the BBC World Service is a sacred trust, but this deeply unsatisfactory and unprincipled position must be put right in the forthcoming BBC charter review. Indeed, the BBC and the Government should go further and fundamentally redefine what the BBC’s world role should be in the light not only of a new
global order, about which many have spoken, but of revolutionary technological change. I do not expect that many potential recruits to IS listen to short wave radio. Rather, as we know, they engage in social media and plumb the darker depths of the internet. World Service provision needs to be rethought and reinvented for the digital age. Other BBC services, such as BBC America, valuably reach different audiences, but here, too, as a society we need to ask if we can build on that success and extend the BBC’s reach further across the globe.
The final critical issue to be addressed during charter review is the chronic undernourishment of the BBC’s World News television channel. The BBC has not only the most trusted and respected news ethos in the world, but also by far the largest and most extensive global news reach. Yet from China, Russia and the Middle East we see services—far more richly funded—aimed at global audiences that may eventually eclipse the BBC’s global news channel, unless and until that service receives a real transfusion of resources and can bulk up. In short, Britain needs not only a fit-for-purpose defence policy but a thorough consideration of how the world’s most powerful cultural institution can more effectively extend our soft power.
Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, I join others in expressing real thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for a particularly thoughtful and stimulating report. To have had him at the helm, with his personal and lifelong commitment to the international dimensions of our life, was a great asset.
I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birt. In the context of my life, which has involved a great deal of international work, I cannot praise too highly the record of the BBC. However, I would like to make a comment on his observations about the BBC. First, in the overseas reach of its work the institution needs to be aware of the pressures that lead it to a preoccupation with listening figures. Often, the most important contribution by the BBC is in situations where the numbers may not be that impressive, but for those who are struggling for the future of their country and their people, and are struggling to establish enlightened stability, this contribution can be crucial. That dimension must be constantly borne in mind.
Secondly, to underline what the noble Lord was saying, my impression has always been that the quality of the BBC’s overseas work, going by its record, has been related to the quality and depth of the knowledge. It was not just up-to-date reporting that was good; that is obviously connected to it. It rested in a really deep understanding, almost with the quality of the most outstanding university, in terms of what it was bringing to the task, which challenged all other types of journalism. That must be watched.
We live in a dangerous world, and there are two dimensions to how we respond. One is in the military and defence sense. The amount of resources available is crucial. I can never forget my experience as a Defence Minister in this respect. It is also essential to look at the relevance of defence expenditure and the realities of the world in which we live and making sure that
whether we are putting expenditure up or keeping it up, the expenditure is put to the best possible use. The other dimension to all this, which is perhaps of even greater significance, is the hearts and minds dimension and how we win the battle for values in the world, or should I say, how the world wins the battle for values without which there is very little prospect for humanity.
The world is no longer Eurocentric. We are totally interdependent and this makes our support of and participation in international institutions a top priority. Our present generation of politicians will be judged by history on the extent to which they enabled the British people to understand that the world is no longer Eurocentric and that what matters most is what we are doing, together with others, in international institutions. That matters most.
We have to look at ourselves very honestly and not just go on with the refrain that the world respects us and has a high regard for us. We need to ask ourselves just how far the world has automatic respect for us and how far we can live on the laurels of the past. Are we doing the things that are necessary to ensure that we have that respect?
That brings me to a thought which I hope I will be forgiven for introducing to the debate. I do not like the use of the word “power” in this context. It has so many sometimes quite sinister connotations. I wish we could talk about contribution. I wish we could talk about effective co-operation. Power is not a word which is going to help in this non-Eurocentric world. It is our strength—there is a difference between strength and power—that matters in the way we make our contribution. That is related to our credibility as a nation and a people. The environment has been mentioned. There is no bigger challenge to us all than the issues of the environment, but if the world is going to listen to our contribution on the environment, it will look at us and ask just how high in our real political priorities are environmental issues and how much muscle is being given to responding in the most effective way so far as Britain’s inescapability from that crisis is concerned.
When we talk about the importance of human rights, just how committed is the UK really? How far do the British people and their political leaders understand that the absence of human rights leads to extremism? Churchill understood that, but how many today really understand right in the centre of our thinking and deliberations that the absence of human rights is likely to lead to extremism and all the horrors that go with it? What success are the British people making of their own race relations before they tell other people how they ought to be arranging theirs?