“We cannot shirk our responsibility to be a force for good in the world. The type of challenges highlighted by this debate can be managed only in partnership with others—working to win hearts and minds, as well as being involved in any defence initiatives.” – Bishop of Worcester, 2/7/15
On Thursday 2nd July 2015 the Lords debated a motion moved by Lord Ashdown of Norton–sub-Hamdon ‘that this House takes note of the United Kingdom’s role in addressing global challenges posed by terrorism, conflict, climate change and mass migration’. The Bishop of Worcester, Rt Revd John Inge, spoke in the debate.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I begin by expressingmy profound sadness in the wake of the recent horrific terrorist attacks. A student from the University of Worcester was killed in Tunisia, which brought home to people locally that these problems are not “out there”. It demonstrated very clearly the connectivity, of which the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, spoke so eloquently.
What should our response be to the unprecedented times described so well by the noble Lord? While recognising that we have faced more difficult times, as the First World War commemorations remind us, we need to hold on to the strategic objectives that have underpinned British foreign policy since 1945 but adapt them for these new circumstances. We need to recognise that, although we live in an unprecedentedly connected world, it remains fractured and broken, and we need to work ever harder in partnership with others for the global common good.
The House of Bishops’ pastoral letter, Who is my Neighbour?, which was issued before the election, places emphasis on our belonging to a community of communities at home and a family of nations internationally. I quote:
“Just as the myth of personal autonomy distorts human communities, so the illusion that a nation can flourish without strong international alliances distorts the bigger picture of our shared humanity”.
The Government have rightly emphasised the economy. As Duncan Sandys noted when a Minister of Defence in the 1950s, the degree to which a country can have an active foreign policy is linked to the health of its economy. That said, we need to remember that the UK has the sixth-largest economy in the world, the world’s fifth-highest defence budget, one of its two main financial centres and the second-largest contribution to international financial assistance, which is pretty impressive for a country with 1% of the world’s population, even as power shifts east.
In view of that, we cannot shirk our responsibility to be a force for good in the world. The type of challenges highlighted by this debate can be managed only in partnership with others—working to win hearts and minds, as well as being involved in any defence initiatives. With this in mind, the Government have made some sensible choices, such as reinvesting in international development to help build stability and growth in vulnerable regions of the world, and leading the international campaign to combat sexual violence in conflict, to cite two examples.
In this new age, however, perhaps one of the greatest threats we face is not external but domestic: the continuing questions that hang over the union at home our place in Europe. I am a fervent supporter of both the union and our engagement with Europe. Like the House of Bishops’ letter, to which I have already referred, I would not argue for the structures and institutions of the European Union as they stand now exactly, but I would argue, in the words of the letter, for,
“continuing to build structures of trust and cooperation between the nations of Europe. Ignoring or denying the extent to which European people share culture and heritage suggests that questions of identity and belonging have no currency except as political bargaining chips”.
Finally, the most pressing question of our age is climate change. In the newly launched Lambeth declaration, representatives of the major faiths, including the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, reminded us that climate change has already hit the poorest of the world very hard and that urgent action is needed to protect future generations. I hope that the Government will use the partnership to which I referred in the forthcoming international climate change talks in Paris this December. Climate change has the capacity to affect for ill the world and our place in it more than any other single factor. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, observed, quoting that wonderful 17th century priest and poet, John Donne, the imperative to which he referred is now not only a moral one, but a practical one.