Queen’s Speech 2016: Bishop of Carlisle responds on international affairs and the armed forces

CarlisleOn 23rd May 2016 the Bishop of Carlisle, Rt Revd James Newcome, spoke in the second day of debate on the Queen’s Speech. He focused his response on the Government’s proposals to tackle tax evasion and extremism, as well as calling for a renewed focus on international development and the military covenant. The Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, Earl Howe, responded on behalf of the Government.

Lord Bishop of Carlisle: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I look forward to the speeches by the noble Baronesses, Lady Perry and Lady Jowell. I will endeavour not to delay them too long as I highlight four commitments made by the Government in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, three briefly and the fourth at slightly greater length. In each case, we on these Benches welcome the commitment while offering caveats that we hope may be heeded by those responsible for implementing the programme.

First, we applaud the commitment to introduce legislation to tackle money laundering, corruption and tax evasion. By hosting the recent anti-corruption summit, this country has made clear its opposition to corruption of any kind. However, as a supporter of Christian Aid’s Tax Justice campaign, I wonder if we can be truly effective in tackling this enormous problem without taking measures to improve the transparency of UK tax havens. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, referred to this earlier.

Secondly, we understand the need for an extremism and safeguarding Bill, but we are also very conscious of the way in which some Governments—for example, in Russia, Turkey and Egypt—are increasingly using national security legislation to shackle free speech, not least in the media. We need to ensure that our laws do not somehow legitimise their efforts.

Thirdly, we are delighted that Britain’s commitment on international development spending will continue to be honoured. This is essential if we are to help to deliver greater stability globally, support the sustainable development goals and prevent new threats to national security. However, we must be vigilant that the international development budget continues to be spent on ODA-prescribed activity—not least of the kind highlighted a moment ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox—instead of being used simply to subsidise cuts in other areas. Only this month, analysis by the Royal United Services Institute showed that while official ODA spending through the Department for International Development will rise by 3% in real terms, in other departments it will rise by 123%. Indeed, by the end of this decade 73% of the Foreign Office’s budget will come from ODA, compared with just 10% in 2010. Of course we welcome the breaking down of barriers between departments, but we need to be careful that those boundaries do not become so porous that ODA money is used for non-ODA purposes.

Fourthly, we were greatly encouraged by the commitment in the gracious Speech to honour the military covenant. Together with other Members of the House, I recently attended a useful briefing on the covenant at the Ministry of Defence, and I know how much it means both to those currently serving in our Armed Forces and to ex-service personnel. As national chaplain to the Royal British Legion I spent last weekend at its annual conference, which this year was in Eastbourne. The military covenant was mentioned several times.

The caveat here has to do with mental health. Within the Armed Forces there is a 10% incidence of depression, compared with about 6% in the wider community. Sadly, we are all aware of the high risk of suicide among younger veterans, especially in the first two years after leaving service. The Government have already committed significant sums of money to tackling this issue in society as a whole as well as in the forces, but research suggests that delivery is patchy, to say the least. Just yesterday, the Legion resolved to set up mental health centres around the UK to provide “timely and effective” clinical treatment and welfare support to its beneficiaries. That is laudable, but it should not be necessary. There is much still to be done as we seek to implement the military covenant; the churches have a part to play in this as well, since last February the two archbishops signed a corporate covenant with the Armed Forces on behalf of the Church of England.

Later this year several of us will be involved in various ways with events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. That awful battle resulted in the deaths of more than a million soldiers but it also left many of those who survived physically with deep emotional and mental scars. In our own day we know that mental health problems are higher than average for veterans who have served in Northern Ireland and subsequent peacekeeping operations. I hope that our commitment to the military covenant means that we will provide them with the help they both need and deserve.

Earl Howe: My Lords, we have had a fascinating, wide-ranging and well-informed debate, as one might expect of this Chamber. I will shortly pick up on as many points as I can made by noble Lords on all sides, but first I think it would be helpful to return to what I consider to be the three central tenets underlying the programme set out in the gracious Speech from a defence, development and foreign affairs perspective.

First, the Government’s commitment to protecting our people remains absolute. Today we face challenges growing in concurrence, diversity and multiplicity. We are responding with stronger defence. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, spoke of cuts. Not only have we confirmed that we will meet the NATO guideline to spend 2% of GDP on defence, but we are presiding over a budget that will grow by 0.5% in real terms every year for the remainder of this Parliament. This very significant statement of intent allows us to increase our equipment spend and invest in full-spectrum capabilities, from digital armoured vehicles and F35 stealth fighters to carrier strike. As aggressive nations flaunt their nuclear arsenals, we are securing the future of Britain’s nuclear capability—our ultimate deterrent. Above all, our additional resource allows us to continue to stand up to aggression.

I say to the noble Lord that the SDSR made it clear that we will be able to deploy an expeditionary force across all three services of around 50,000—up from the 30,000 we announced in 2010. The Army could provide that force with up to 40,000 personnel. This is an increase, not a reduction. We are not just focusing on preparing for major conflicts; we are currently conducting lots of smaller operations at the same time, so Joint Force 2025 is being designed to enable us to do that better.

Our investment in defence is particularly evident in the way we are upping our efforts against Daesh, not just in Iraq, but, following last year’s decisive parliamentary vote, in Syria. Our efforts, alongside our coalition partners, are now pushing the terrorists back. They are losing territory, money and manpower. As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Baglan, reminded us, we cannot defeat Daesh by military means alone, so we are countering its insidious ideology, such as through the coalition communications cell we have created, to undermine Daesh’s failing propositions that it is winning militarily and building a viable state, and that it represents the only true form of Islam.

The second principle underscoring the gracious Speech is our determination to do everything in our power to safeguard the rules-based international order. That is why our Typhoons are back in the Baltic for the third time to police the skies against Russian aggression. Since beginning their mission in April, they have already been scrambled on numerous occasions and remain on standby all day, every day. In response to mass migration we have ships in the Aegean and Mediterranean, disrupting and preventing illegal people trafficking. We are also doubling the number of UK troops on UN peacekeeping missions. Simultaneously, we will continue to use our influence to defend human rights. Opening this debate, my noble friend spoke movingly about the importance of preventing sexual violence in conflict. This is just one area where we are working hard to defend the values of tolerance that are the cornerstone of our nation.

The third principle behind the gracious Speech is that defence and development are two sides of the same coin. We must deal with the causes as well as the consequence of the issues we face today, whether extremism, mass migration, or deadly disease. That is why we have restructured our aid budget to focus on these great global challenges. Spending money up front on development and building up the capacity of struggling states prevents crisis turning to chaos. More than that, it boosts prosperity which in turn allows us to establish new alliances and trading partners. We are proud that Britain is the only major country in the world meeting the NATO target and the only G7 country spending at least 0.7% on development. It is a commitment we will continue to honour.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle asked about the use of overseas development aid by departments other than DfID. He will not be surprised to hear that DfID will continue to be a primary channel of official UK development assistance spending, but in order to respond to the changing world more aid will be administered by other government departments, drawing on their complementary skills. As set out in the UK aid strategy, we will continue to make aid more transparent, committing all UK government departments to be ranked good or very good in the international Aid Transparency Index within the next five years.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, made some powerful points about mental health care for defence personnel. We take the mental health of our personnel very seriously and provide a wide range of effective treatments for those who need them. In the UK, we have a network of military departments for community mental health, located conveniently for major centres of military population. Leaving personnel who have had mental health issues during service are able to access the DCMHs for up to six months after discharge to help them during the transition period.

(via Parliament.uk)

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