The Bencher

Parliament Sunrise 2

Lord Ahmed on Parliamentary Participation in Foreign Policy

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to Parliament being offered a more meaningful participation in foreign policy, including by restricting the extent of the royal prerogative.

Question asked by Lord Waverley on 19th March 2o18

Response by Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon:

My Lords, the FCO attaches great importance to engaging with Parliament on foreign policy issues through Statements, Questions, debates, evidence to Select Committees and, indeed, informal discussion. The Government observe the convention that there is a debate in Parliament before UK military action is taken except where there is an emergency and such action would not be appropriate. ​In relation to treaty-making, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 requires treaties to be laid before Parliament before ratification.

View the full debate and Lord Waverley’s response on Hansard.

Westminster Aerial

Lord Waverley on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill

Bill’s second reading proposed by Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon on 1st November 2017

Lord Waverley’s response:

My Lords, I offer my support to government objectives at this stage of the Bill, because continuity of current arrangements is clearly an imperative. I have, however, listened carefully to the concerns of noble Lords, and I hope that the Government are on message. We have heard from the Minister that flexibility would allow Ministers to add differing components. That is helpful. He mentioned transport, trade and immigration. However, any mechanism to specifically place more emphasis on removing corruption from the world stage, alongside that on money laundering, would be propitious for inclusion in future sanctionable objectives. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, touched on that point twice in his remarks.​

Defining corruption can be a nebulous challenge, but it often extends to poor governance. It is essential to exert pressure to improve governance where needed, particularly in relation to the recipients of UK aid funds.

The use of sanctions for economic or regime change purposes, or targeted sanctions on individuals for human rights abuses—a mechanism short of more drastic measures—is on the increase. Understanding how best to measure those sanctions against their intended purpose and ensure that the unintended do not suffer disproportionally, and when expedient how to allow leaders on the receiving end to save face, are all challenges. The need is sometimes to allow or provide an assured exit route for those facing international justice or a route back to a state of peace and reconciliation for conflicted peoples.

I would welcome a global review of sanction processes at a convenient time in the future. Knowing when and how to instigate sanctions as a tool of policy does not require multilateral-level consideration by a body such as the United Nations. More effectively, it should be introduced by smaller and more coherent regional or economic groupings, such as the G7 and European Union members. Regional fora to discuss and implement sanctions have the benefit of speedier action without as much compromise on principles compared with the UN. Many crises require more timely responses while UN bodies conduct their reviews and investigations. On another note, regional groupings carry more weight in terms of “who is in the right”, as typically those in regional groupings are neighbours. For example, African Union sanctions on African states could carry more moral weight, as it is not seen as a group of western nations punishing a poor African state. I took note of this general theme when listening to the vehement remarks made recently in your Lordships’ House by his excellency the President of Namibia.

The underpinning of sanctions as a transatlantic set of initiatives is fundamental. This might serve also as a brake on occasional future excesses by the United States.

We must all be in step. If in step, what should be done about the effects of extraterritorial components unilaterally instigated by others—for example, the US Helms-Burton legislation, a United States federal law which strengthens the United States embargo against Cuba? Whether it be Cuba or elsewhere, it is often western banks and companies—notwithstanding the desperate tale outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hain, who is not in his place—which, against their individual corporate interests and without consultation, shoulder the burden.

However, the overall balance must be got right. We are headed possibly towards a differing geopolitical and geo-economic world. Care needs to be exercised for sanctions not to become a “them and us” circumstance. Some suggest possible future axes of those to the East standing between themselves and the ideals of the West are in the making.

While a clear set of objectives exist we should be mindful of states not being boxed into a corner or blind alley with little or no exit strategy. Any possible ​reciprocal sanctions programmes might have dramatic and untoward long-term adverse repercussions. If sanctions become a wedge between differing ideals, certain eastern economic powers might decide they are more in kilter with those in the East than the West. Presumed groupings and informal alliances are much more variable than we might think. So, sanctions achieving their end, and not beyond, are crucial.

I was struck recently by a comment from a UK Foreign Minister that encapsulates one aspect of the challenges. He noted that we live,

“not in a world where isolation works”.

View the whole debate on Hansard.

Westminster Sunrise

Lord Waverley on Exports to Africa and the Commonwealth

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they are making in increasing the export of goods and services to Africa and the Commonwealth.

Question for Short Debate, asked by Lord Popat on 27th November 2017.

Response from Lord Waverley:

My Lords, I offer a warm welcome to the Minister and should let her know that we are here to help—although on occasion it might not seem so. I congratulate, too, the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on securing this debate. One of the great joys in life is waking up to an African dawn.

Notwithstanding the continued march of globalism, cross-border global trade remains plagued by multiple barriers. These impede economic development in emerging economies, and particularly in small and medium-sized enterprises which take disproportionately little in world trade. The challenge has to be to address the factors that inhibit or prevent SMEs from exporting. A number of overarching principles ought to be considered central to increasing cross-border trade. These include targeting policy, especially towards SMEs and emerging markets, constructing policies in consultation with key stakeholders, growing an export culture, and raising international ambition, particularly through government briefings, school education, the improved teaching of modern languages and advisory services. I would encourage the Minister to have her team examine, if it is not already doing so, the range of existing policies and best practices from around the world, particularly on the challenge of removing informational asymmetries between market participants.

Trade is a multidimensional process that is based on four primary pillars: logistics, commerce, finance and insurance. But there is little linking within global value chains. More importantly, while the world is digitising many of its processes, this is being done in piecemeal fashion. Much of the progress to date has been between business and consumers, with relatively little from business to business. The core element, logistics, is the weakest link. The logistics industry as a whole is generally fragmented and inefficient. While some individual companies’ logistics are digitised—for example, the likes of FedEx and DHL—this has generally been done only vertically within each large company or has been limited to specific tiers within a supply chain. A horizontally integrated world trade digital economy platform would bring considerable benefits.​

The digitisation and integration of these four elements, underpinned by a multidimensional platform, would bring efficiency gains, substantial reductions in the cost of trade and an expansion in the volume of world trade. The economic, social and developmental benefits globally, in particular for SMEs in emerging economies, would be significant. Such a platform would also include the de-risking of the business process, the improved provision of trade finance and insurance, the creation of new jobs, increased cargo security, reduced fraud and tax evasion, including VAT, expedited disaster relief responses and increased post-harvest yield and strengthened contaminated food containment. This would offer increased buying power in middle and lower-income countries, which could then buy our high-value goods and services.

I have been briefed on the technology of the public/private partnership Global Coalition of Efficient Logistics, GCEL, which has already been proved in practice. The first pilot test involving complex supply chains was across the US/Canada border, one of the world’s busiest land borders. The first benchmark trade lane is in the process of being deployed between China, Japan and Indonesia, at the request of their Governments. In addition, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders have recently signed a memorandum of understanding for GCEL to digitise the operation of ports throughout the APEC region.

This trade digital economy platform technology could be an additional way to cement relationships within the Commonwealth and pan-Africa. The upcoming CHOGM, which we all look forward to—we wish the Government the best and welcome all our friends from around the world—could afford an opportunity for the UK to introduce a pioneering initiative of substance as a partner nation. I have no doubt that many small nations would take an interest.

Being innovative and achieving more with less is key to strengthening the UK’s position in tomorrow’s world. The UK is enviably well placed to spearhead and pioneer global development of the new digital economy, with our core skills and qualities of IT, innovation, finance, insurance, an educated workforce, a stable population, and the rule of law. However, we need to get a move on in readiness for the challenges and opportunities that will shortly be upon us.

View the full debate on Hansard.

Big Ben Night Streaks

Lord Waverley on Zimbabwe

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the situation in Zimbabwe; and what plans they have to work internationally to facilitate the recovery of that country.

Question for Short Debate, asked by Lord Luce on 7th December 2017.

Response from Lord Waverley:

My Lords, it would be an unmitigated disaster if the transition of leadership did not deliver positively for the kindly, long-suffering peoples of Zimbabwe. We must all harness our best endeavours to draw attention to the short, medium and long-term needs of that country and then assist in any practical way possible. The re-establishing of the agricultural and tourism sectors would be a natural first step to create immediate economic order.

Urgently needed is more investment in farming, as well as imaginative ways to bring in expertise and capital to make the new generation of smallholder farms more productive. I envisage joint ventures or other forms of co-operation agreements, with emphasis on local content. For example, a German farm company is working on outgrowth schemes. It supplies seeds and fertilisers, invests in irrigation and some processing and then takes its fees out of export earnings. The key is to guarantee a minimum price but share in the proceeds. This model works well in Colombia, which endures similar challenges.

There is likely to be a land audit next year. Consolidation of the title deed system would offer new farmers collateral to raise finance. This would require co-operation from displaced commercial farmers who have issued claims against new owners. The tobacco market has shrunk, so commercial farmers have to find new cash crops. Food supplies to the region would be a good target, with emphasis on processing and added-value industries. Then there is the revitalising of the tourist and mining industries, possibly the assistance of immediate aid and longer-term assistance for capital development and professional aid. However, ​addressing essential human rights and electoral improvements should proceed in tandem. Let that be a prime focus of Governments and NGOs. The Ghanaian and Namibian Presidents’ remarks are to be welcomed, but Zimbabwe’s future progress requires more than warm words. These patient peoples must be supported to guard against any further slippage on their path and destiny to a future of truly representative democracy, for which the military’s role should be recognised.

See the full speech on Hansard.

Palace of Westminster 3

Lord Waverley on the House of Lords Defence Review 2018

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to conduct a full defence review, in the light of the capability of the Armed Forces to meet global defence needs.

Question for Short Debate, asked by Lord Sterling on 18th January 2018.

Response from Lord Waverley:

My Lords, we must now determine our future contribution and place in the world, while balancing the protection of our national interests and achievement of our foreign policy goals. Developing conventional capability partnerships for ​comparative advantage, disregarding vanity projects and matching critical requirements to budgetary constraints are fundamental. I would hope to hear today of much-needed tightened departmental guidelines on contract awards, spending procedures and budgetary control, as well as enhanced in-house scrutiny and delivery capabilities.

Political masters have an unenviable challenge to fund and deliver the effective tools and processes for each of the four strategic needs: ground, sea, air, and cyber. The fourth, the new threat of cyber, represents the biggest challenge. Is the Minister satisfied the United Kingdom has the resources and capabilities to counter current and future cyber threats? In order to ensure maximum necessary capability in our cybersecurity arsenal, we must know the extent of future co-operation on software vulnerability with ENISA, the EU cyber- security agency. I understand that a proposal to set up a certification framework, with ENISA as the hub, is in the offing, so from that point we can calculate our needs and costs. Are the Government addressing this with ENISA, or is this subject to the ongoing Brexit negotiations?

Her Majesty’s Government might wish to consider hosting a state-level global conference to map out political, security and cyber dialogues and responsibilities and to co-ordinate necessary scrutiny and enforcement mechanisms.

View the full debate on Hansard.

Palace of Westminster (UK Parliament-Jessica Taylor)

Lord Waverley on Russia

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current strategy towards relations with Russia.

Question for Short Debate, asked by Lord Waverley on 29th January 2018.

Statement from Lord Waverley:

My Lords, with the leave of the House, the noble Earl, Lord Cork, has kindly agreed to finish up if the ails of the season intervene during my remarks.

At a time of escalating rhetoric, some of it ill-informed, misinformation and polarisation, relations with Russia must command our attention. The perspective of the United Kingdom, and that of the West more generally, in addition to that of Russia require consideration. Time constraints do not permit me other than to commend to the Minister to take note of Russia’s enhanced relations with China and Turkey, nor will I comment on the internal affairs of Russia given the proximity of the upcoming presidential election.

The UK’s current disagreements include: Russia’s actions in sovereign countries—Ukraine, with eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and Syria; serious contentions of election interference and the cyber sphere; and the death of Mr Litvinenko. The UK therefore supports the strict EU and US sanctions regimes. We have a long-held view also that attempts to undermine a rules-based order—universal human rights, rule of law and democracy—are unacceptable and must be challenged.

The visit to Moscow by the Foreign Secretary in December might suggest a degree of bilateral progress, despite differing views. The bilateral relationship hitherto remained deadlocked, with co-operation and dialogue held hostage, all official contact blocked, zero intelligence co-operation and the intergovernmental steering committee on trade and investment on hold since 2014, with inevitable consequences. This is not helpful in these turbulent times.

As things stand, with our current policies and approach, Moscow is dismissive of the UK. It insists on respect and to be engaged with as a player on the world stage. Russia views the current international order as detrimental to its interests. Western concern is that Russia could up-end the existing balance of the world if allowed to act in an unfettered manner, free of constraints.

Russia believes it would be better served by a system of spheres of influence, in which major powers are pre-eminent in their respective regions. This pre-eminence would be determined by those able to be responsible for their foreign policy—the US, China and Russia—with each to have an equal say on matters of importance and with the Security Council being the venue for managing world affairs.​

Russia perceives itself as disadvantaged by the current security order in Europe and is strongly opposed to continued NATO expansion, which it sees as a threat. Not consequentially, Moscow has made modernising its nuclear arsenal central to its strategy.

Russia was of the view that US diplomacy in Syria was marginalising its interests and took an opportunity to step in with military intervention when it perceived western democracy was failing. It appears satisfied that its regional geopolitics has been enhanced. Nevertheless, it remains concerned with the security situation in the Middle East region, particularly with its border areas currently destabilised by returning extremist jihadists.

A commitment to early negotiations between Ukraine and Russia would be a useful development, with continuing support for the Normandy peace process. Beyond that, a more proactive role and trust for the OSCE by Russia would be viewed positively, while commitment and reconsideration of financial contributions to the Council of Europe and a resolution to the impasse regarding the presentation of credentials to the Parliamentary Assembly would be welcomed.

Current economic sanctions are designed to both punish Russia for aggressive actions and deter it from future coercion. It considers that the US sanctions law means that resolution of the Ukraine crisis will not result in the lifting of US sanctions and therefore questions whether the EU will lift sanctions if the US does not. There are indicators of future dilution of the EU sanctions regime, possibly led by Germany when it confronts its national priority to secure gas. This is in addition to recent reported violations of sanctions in the Far East.

The current level of co-operation on cybersecurity is reflective of the overall relationship, and mechanisms are urgently required to define the rules of the game. There appears to be broad western consensus of comprehensive orchestrated interference. One challenge is that the West and the Russians have very different views as to what constitutes hacking. There is potential, nevertheless, for all sides to work together to combat cybercrime and the use of the internet by terrorists. I have called on HMG to consider taking a lead internationally by devising and promoting a new global treaty to nail this issue. A mutual cyber non-interference pact would be helpful. I understand that Russia would welcome the opportunity to participate.

As things stand, with current policies and approaches, we in the UK would be deluding ourselves if we believed that we are a priority for Russia. However, the UK now has a real opportunity globally, in a new-look UK post Brexit, to play to our strengths; to carve out a valuable future acting as an honest broker on the world stage. We are respected the world over for our natural sense of fairness and world-class diplomacy. The world’s problems, including climate change, global terrorism, the rising gap between the rich and the poor and cybersecurity all need co-operation between the world’s players, which should include the UK and Russia. We should focus more on areas of common interest, and not just on what divides us. There is scope for a summit meeting to define these areas. A new era of mutual respect would serve both sides well.​

So what might lie ahead for UK-Russia relations? Engagement is naturally preferable, although conundrums exist over the present UK official mindset. HMG could become more positive, bold and innovative and might wish to develop a more constructive, clearly defined engagement by advancing along four tracks: track 1 would be Government to Government; track 2 would be security co-operation and military dialogue; track 3 would be trade, scientific research, climate change, health, the international drugs problem, culture, sports and the all-important civil society co-operation including educational exchanges; and track 4 would be parliamentary interaction.

Economic co-operation can reshape the course of any relationship. I am reminded of the recent MOU and road map between Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development and France’s Ministry for the Economy and Finance on innovative clusters development, with Germany having more than 10 times the number of active joint ventures or entities registered with or in Russia that we do. Engaging with the Patriarch and the Russian Orthodox Church and co-operation in the Arctic would be equally useful. The strength of a relationship is determined by how broad it is, and by it not being an exclusive preserve of government.

I draw towards a conclusion. Noble Lords might possibly have read the lead article in Friday’s Daily Telegraph with the strap-line:

“Russia is ready to kill us by the thousands”.

I feel compelled to comment briefly in light of this evening’s debate. While I certainly do not advocate that the UK throws caution to the winds, the suggestion of impending apocalypse is excessive. The Russian ambassador has reacted vehemently to the article on his embassy’s website. If, however, the Defence Secretary’s assertion was indeed correct, we have to ask ourselves why. It could be the result of a bilateral relationship that has been in the freezer for many a year. In that case, what is going to be done about it?

Much could be gained by conducting patient and persistent diplomacy; a broad bilateral engagement and an atmosphere of good relations would be a preferable route. HMG might wish to recall Henry Kissinger’s advice,

“to be wary of those who encourage anti-Russian sentiment when it is not in the long-term strategic interests of the West”.

It might serve us well also not to forget that Russia, as the Soviet Union, came to our aid in the Great Patriotic War, known to us as the Second World War. Their losses were immense. Without them, we would not be here today. I have in my library Memoirs of a Soviet Ambassador 1939-1943. One of Ivan Maisky’s observations was that his recollection of official meetings he attended in London differed from the official records of the day. Therein might lie a clue to the United Kingdom’s engagement with Russia: bridge that gap and build the trust vital to underpin a productive future relationship. I look forward to a robust debate on these issues.

View the full debate on Hansard.

Image – Palace of Westminster (UK Parliament-Jessica Taylor)