15 November 2023
On the evening of Wednesday 15 November, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani, addressed the House of Lords during the King's Speech Debate on Foreign Affairs.
My Lords, whatever the government’s foreign policy priorities for this session of Parliament, we know they can quickly be up-ended by unexpected global events. The world, now, is being re-shaped by ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and in Israel and Gaza. The terrorist actions of Hamas on 7th October must be condemned, and Israel’s right to self-defence affirmed. We must also continue to affirm that this right to self-defence needs to be exercised in adherence to the principles of international humanitarian law.
The violation of international humanitarian law by both sides is shocking and will, I fear, have repercussions beyond the confines of this war, as will the killing of over 100 UN aid workers – the highest in the UN’s history.
Would the noble Minister agree that notwithstanding Israel’s right to self-defence, the scale of the suffering inflicted on civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including Churches and other places of worship, is wrong – Israel’s actions are neither proportionate nor discriminate and do little to advance the cause of peace? Would he accept that the level of aid currently getting into Gaza, including fuel, is paltry and insufficient to meet humanitarian need?
In the gracious speech, the Government committed to ‘supporting the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East.’ Noble Lords will know that this is a cause close to my heart. I noted that Lord Minto referenced Iran in his opening speech and I hope the Government will continue to call on Iran to work to reduce tensions in the Middle East? I want to see an Iran, too, that supports and serves its people rather than oppressing them, and hope the Government will join me in pursuing this.
The defining challenges of our time, from conflict in the Middle East to climate breakdown, can only be tackled through long term global cooperation. The UK must step up to its responsibilities on the world stage, not least through renewed commitment to international development programming. 2023 marked the halfway point for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, but the world is off track to meet almost all of them. Now is the moment for the UK to step up its commitment to the poorest and most vulnerable.
There will be opportunities in the next parliamentary session for the UK to demonstrate commitment to tackling global issues – I hope the Government will seize them, for example by bringing the development budget back in line with the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI, which we know the new Foreign Secretary is personally committed to?
Finally, this morning’s judgement from the Supreme Court on the Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is very welcome, although I’m dismayed at the PM’s announcement that he intends to press on with the programme regardless. The court’s ruling is a timely reminder that the UK cannot export challenges to other parts of the world in an attempt to absolve itself of moral responsibility towards those seeking sanctuary on our shores. The UK can and must play a role in global events, acting as a force for stability and prosperity – in our refugee policy, and in our foreign policy. My colleagues and I on the bishops benches will continue focusing on aspects of how our foreign policy is driven by wider ethical, political and humanitarian factors.
The Bishop of Chelmsford
Humble Address, Foreign Affairs
15th November 2023