13 April 2021
James Cleverly responds to a debate on global human security

James Cleverly highlights the UK’s pivotal position as the host of G7 and the COP climate summit later this year which, with support from our international allies and the blueprint provided by the integrated review, means the UK is well placed to help the world to build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, fairer, more prosperous and more secure future for us all.

The Minister for the Middle East and North Africa (James Cleverly)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Sir Christopher. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) for securing this debate and also for the contributions made by Members across the House. I will try and cover a number of the points raised. Even though we have a fair amount of time, because the contributions have been wide ranging, I am not necessarily going to be able to give all elements the justice that they deserve.

As a number of contributors have mentioned, we live in an increasingly competitive, dangerous and, as the hon. Lady said, complex world. The integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy highlighted three broad and significant challenges including, first, the challenge from autocratic regimes that seek to undermine human rights and open societies; secondly, the challenge of rapidly developing technologies which, while often bringing huge benefits, also bring new dangers from states, from terrorists, from criminal groups and individuals who would do us harm; and thirdly, the challenge of existential threats, such as pandemics and climate change, both of which have been discussed significantly this morning.

In response to this challenging context, the integrated review sets out the Prime Minister’s vision for a stronger, more prosperous Union in 2030. It has, at its heart, the protection of the interests of the British people, our sovereignty, our security, our health and our prosperity. It sets out a comprehensive and holistic approach to our security. We should not forget, however, that the threats from terrorism and conflict remain. That is why a hard-edged security and intelligence capability is a recurrent thread in the integrated review, which we have underpinned with our increased investment in defence to 2.2% of GDP and our cherished security and intelligence agencies, particularly our work with NATO and Five Eyes.

A number of Members have mentioned our Official Development Assistance commitment. I remind them that despite the unique and extreme financial pressures imposed on us by coronavirus, the UK remains, in both percentage and absolute terms, one of the world’s most generous aid donors. The world is changing and we need to adapt to it. We must ensure that we have the capabilities and systems, not only to respond to today’s threats but to anticipate and respond to the threats of tomorrow. Our integrated review commits us to work to solve global challenges, to invest in science and technology, to act as a force for good, championing free trade, individual freedoms, global prosperity, and to take a more robust approach to security and deterrents.

Wera Hobhouse 

After all the Minister has heard this morning—we could only touch on so many of the issues—does he not agree that the balance we have to strike about global security has to shift away from just arming ourselves again as a country, as if it were about the national threat, and looking at how we can work together globally and internationally? The signals we have been setting out in the past year or so about our strength and using international aid for our advantage as a country are going in the wrong direction. Does he not agree?

James Cleverly 

I will address the points that the hon. Lady has raised in my speech, if she will bear with me. On the point about how she frames our use of international aid for the UK’s advantage, it is completely wrong. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and, in fact, the whole of Government have made it very clear that we are committed and determined to be a force for good in the world and to work with partners to address global challenges. Our foreign policy is on behalf of the British people, but our development work is to be a force for good in the world, not for narrow self-interest.

Jim Shannon 

We had a debate in Westminster Hall before the recess to do with non-governmental organisations and faith groups. There is a role for Government to partner with faith groups, Churches and those who want to help, and perhaps fill the gap or shortfalls between the moneys that the United Kingdom gave in the past and what it gives now. Will the Minister indicate, either now or by sending all of us details, how faith groups can partner Government to help, and how they can engage and achieve a better result for all of us?

James Cleverly 

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of formal and informal faith groups, and the huge role that they play around the world in alleviating poverty and addressing difficulties and harm. The Government absolutely recognise the important role that they play. We work through a number of partners around the world, some faith-based, others secular, to try and deliver on that “force for good” agenda. He is absolutely right: faith organisations play a huge and important role in delivering humanitarian policy.

To help us deliver the agenda that we set out in the integrated review, we have brought together our diplomatic network of 281 posts in 178 countries with our aid budget and development policy to create the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. That joined-up approach is helping to build partnerships and secure the opportunities that we need to tackle global challenges as part of the global community. We are making good progress against many of these challenges. The UK has been at the forefront of the international response to covid: helping to protect others and, in doing so, helping to protect ourselves. UK scientists developed the first effective and widely affordable vaccine. Our Prime Minister, Ministers and diplomats have consistently pushed for equitable global access to vaccines and therapeutics, and we have pledged £548 million of our aid budget to help to distribute 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine to 92 developing countries. To support the fastest route to national and global recovery, we have committed £1.3 billion of UK aid to help cushion the health and economic impacts of the pandemic around the world. We must learn the lessons of covid-19. Last year, the Prime Minister outlined his five-point plan for preventing future pandemics.

Jamie Stone 

The Minister is absolutely correct that the roll-out of the vaccines is good news and is a success story. As I said in my contribution, our armed forces played a role in that. The point I want to make is a money point: the help with testing and vaccination provided by our armed forces takes the pressure off health professionals. It means that the money spent on the armed forces actually helps to relieve a budget in other parts of Government. I intend to explore that argument in the future, with regard to my unhappiness about the number of armed forces personnel being cut. If they are maintained and deployed properly on other things, that can help other budgets.

James Cleverly 

I hear and understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman. While it goes beyond the remit of this speech, I draw his attention to the Defence paper that was published and its focus on the greater agility, adaptability and deployability of the armed forces that we have. I hope that that goes some way towards addressing the concerns that he has expressed.

In March, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister joined leaders from more than 20 countries who, alongside the World Health Organisation, called for a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response. That would be an important step towards increasing global co-operation and strengthening global health security. We will use our G7 presidency to work with other Governments, with industry and with international organisations to cut the target for developing and deploying new vaccines to just 100 days, addressing the point made by the hon. Member for Bath about working in co-operation, not in competition, with other countries.

I would also like to address the claim that the hon. Lady made about short-termism, which I have to reject. Climate change is a much longer-established existential threat than the pandemic to which we are currently responding. I remind her that in 1990, at the second world climate conference, Margaret Thatcher said:

“The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.”

I remind the hon. Lady that the Conservatives have a multi-decade track record of thinking about future generations. We are using our presidency—

Wera Hobhouse 

Will the Minister give way?

James Cleverly 

I will make more progress. We are using our presidency of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year to get countries to commit to credible plans that will enable them to meet the commitments that they made under the Paris accord. We are also using the summit to boost co-operation and climate finance so that countries can adapt and build resilience to the evolving climate threat. The UK has pledged £11.6 billion of international climate finance over the next five years, and we will spend a significant proportion of that on building resilience in vulnerable countries. In January, the Prime Minister launched the adaptation action coalition to galvanise momentum on climate adaptation ahead of COP26 and beyond it.

We have also worked to secure more international attention on the overlap between climate change and security threats. In February, the Prime Minister chaired the UN Security Council open debate, which was the first-ever leader-level discussion on climate change in the Security Council. We are also addressing the interlinked climate and security challenges through NATO.

The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) raised the issue of cyber. Unlike pandemics and climate change, advanced technologies bring with them significant benefit, but they also have embedded in them significant risks. Artificial intelligence, for example, has the potential to help to tackle global challenges but, as AI technologies such as facial recognition continue to develop in sophistication, we need to ensure that such technologies are not used as a tool of repression. The UK Government believe in responsible technological innovation that benefits everyone, but this is a fast evolving area, with a dearth of international agreement. That is why we are working with industry and like-minded countries to enhance responsible development of AI and to ensure that the use of data is safe, fair, legal and ethical. The UK Government will soon launch a national AI strategy, which will help to make the UK a global centre for the development and adoption of responsible AI.

The UK is also at the forefront of demonstrating that there are meaningful consequences for malicious cyber-activity. Last year, working with the EU—this is another example of the international co-operation that we engage in—we imposed cyber sanctions on 12 entities and individuals from China, Russia and North Korea through the EU cyber sanctions regime. We will continue to work closely with international partners to impose sanctions through our own autonomous cyber sanctions regime. The National Cyber Security Centre has played a pivotal role in responding to cyber-incidents and is acknowledged as a global centre of excellence. The resilience of our allies is also critical, which is why, since 2012, we have invested up to £39 million in international cyber-security programmes and projects, working with more than 100 countries to build their cyber resilience.

The integrated review is a blueprint for navigating this more competitive and dangerous age. It identified the need to build our resilience, which we will address in greater detail in the new UK resilience strategy to be developed this year, looking at domestic and international challenges.

Anthony Mangnall 

The Minister talks about the integrated review providing a blueprint for a long-term strategy to deal with the conflicts and crises of the world. Will he tell us how he thinks cutting the 0.7% aid budget fulfils that long-term strategy, or that commitment to the world’s poorest, or that commitment to some of the most challenging regions in the world?

James Cleverly 

The integrated review makes a specific commitment to get back to the 0.7% as quickly as possible. The Conservative Government are immensely proud that we were committed to that 0.7%. I remind my hon. Friend and others that even 0.5% makes us one of the most generous aid donors in the world and is higher than in almost all years under the previous Labour Government. The most important way to get the UK back to the position where we can be as generous as we would naturally wish to be is to ensure that the UK economy recovers quickly. The faster the economy can recover, the more quickly we can get back to 0.7% and, in absolute terms, the larger that 0.7% will be.

Anthony Mangnall 


James Cleverly 

Let me conclude by making a pledge on behalf of the UK Government to continue to defend and promote the interests and wellbeing of the British people. The integrated review provides a framework to address the manifold threats that imperil our nation and our national security. While the challenges are significant, the UK is playing a leading role in finding global solutions. The diversity of our economy, the depth and breadth of British expertise, our targeted investment and the reach of our international networks mean that we are well placed to adapt and respond to the challenges ahead. As the host of G7 and the COP climate summit later this year, with our international allies on our side and the blueprint provided by the integrated review in hand, we are well placed to help the world to build back better from coronavirus and create a greener, fairer, more prosperous and more secure future for us all.