Speech on “Ukraine: Tactical Nuclear Weapons”

My Lords, I am grateful, as we all are, to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for initiating this debate and for drawing attention to the real danger of nuclear escalation.

I am in profound disagreement with the Government’s policy on Ukraine—I have said it before in this House and I shall say it again. This disagreement can be stated in one sentence: the Government’s policy is a war policy; I support a peace policy. I shall try to justify that.

The then Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss, stated on 27 April:

“We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.”

This policy has been repeatedly restated by government spokesmen. It is supported by the Opposition and echoed by the media.

In calling for peace, I may be an isolated voice in Britain, but not in the world. Everyone outside the NATO world is calling for negotiations and some within it—I draw attention to President Macron in particular. Let me try to be logical. The Government’s policy makes sense on one assumption: that Ukraine, with NATO military support and economic sanctions on Russia, will soon complete the reconquest of Ukraine, including Crimea. In this case, there will be nothing to negotiate; the deed will have been done—it will have been accomplished.

I am not privy to secret military intelligence, but such evidence as I have, plus a dose of common sense, suggests that neither Russia nor Ukraine can achieve their war aims at the present level of hostilities, so the pursuit of victory is bound to bring escalation on both sides. Russia will intensify its air war, and NATO will provide Ukraine with more weapons to shoot down Russian aircraft. At what point such escalation leads to the accidental or deliberate deployment of tactical nuclear weapons is anyone’s guess, but the danger must be there, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, pointed out. That is why the war should be ended as soon as possible, and that can be done only by negotiations based on a ceasefire.

I utterly reject the premise underlying the Government’s policy that it is up to Ukraine to decide if and when it wants to end the war. President Zelensky’s policy is to get his “land back entirely”. Of course, it is up to Ukraine to decide what to do, but we cannot give Ukraine carte blanche to determine its war policy when we are in fact providing it with the weaponry to continue the war at considerable sacrifice to our own people. The decisions for peace and war, and on what terms to end the war, must be taken by Ukraine and NATO jointly.

I have reached one conclusion which is more compatible with government thinking: that no meaningful negotiations are possible as long as President Putin remains in office and, more importantly, in power. It is not only that his personal prestige is too heavily implicated in an impossible object but that his attempt to achieve it is leading his country to disaster. His invasion of Ukraine has galvanised Ukrainian nationalism, expanded NATO, shifted the balance of power in Europe to its most anti-Russian eastern states, exposed hitherto hidden Russian military and technical weaknesses, subjected Russia to the most sweeping economic sanctions ever imposed, and provoked the emigration of many of the most talented Russian scientists, technicians, thinkers and artists. In sum, he has erected a new monument to imperfect and incompetent statesmanship.

Any settlement of the war which can inspire confidence in the future will require Mr Putin’s departure from the scene. I do not know how this is to come about; it is beyond our control. However, we can offer an incentive: our Government can say that they would be willing to join our partners in serious negotiations to end the war with a new Russian Government. This negotiation would include the future status of Crimea and the dropping of sanctions. It would encourage forces within the Russian state to implement a change of government. This is a tough but constructive policy that I would understand and support; I do not understand the present policy in intellectual terms. It might not succeed, but it is infinitely better than the dangerous bellicosity we seem to be trapped in.

Speech on the Autumn Statement 29 November 2022

My Lords, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement is designed to reassure the markets of the sustainability of the public finances. That is, the Chancellor accepts as binding the views of the City of London, whether they are right or wrong. It is what the markets think that matters, not how matters really are—a nice intrusion of post-modernist thinking in what is supposed to be the hard science of economic policy-making.

It is pretty obvious why the Government should pay such attention to the financial markets. For decades, the financial sector has propped up the UK’s hollowed-out economy. Financial flows into the City of London allowed the country to neglect production and trade and artificially maintain a higher standard of living than its productive capacity warranted. Now we are paying the price.

Instead of starting to repair this long-term damage, the Autumn Statement is designed to repair the so-called “black hole” in the budget, in the belief that doing so will, by some magical process, produce an automatic surge in output and growth. In other words, it concentrates on shrinking the numerator, the budget, while ignoring the effects of that shrinkage on the denominator, which is GDP growth. Even in terms of maintaining investor confidence, that is misguided, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out. How does the Chancellor imagine foreign creditors reacting if his spending cuts produce, or deepen, a recession?

Politics should be based on some theory, at any rate, but there is no explicit theory to be found in either the Autumn Statement or the OBR forecast. The Chancellor sets fiscal targets to reassure the markets. The OBR is there to reassure the markets that the Government’s targets are consistent with its own forecasts. The Treasury and the watchdog cling to each other for mutual protection behind a barrage of statistics that claim far more than they are entitled to.

If there is an implicit model behind both Treasury targets and OBR forecasts, it is the one known as financial crowding-out. There is assumed to be a fixed supply of capital, so the Government’s increased demand for funds puts upward pressure on interest rates. The rise in interest rates will “crowd out” any stimulus afforded by additional borrowing. That is why the less the Government borrow, the more growth you will get. That is simply a restatement of the “Treasury view” of the 1920s, explained by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, who said that

“when the Government borrows in the money market it becomes a new competitor with industry and engrosses to itself resources which would otherwise have been employed by private enterprise, and in the process it raises the rent of money to all who have need of it.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/29; col. 53.]

Presumably, Jeremy Hunt would subscribe to that hoary doctrine, though doubtless in less orotund language. It is as though the Keynesian revolution had never happened; we are just back to pre-Keynesian orthodoxy. It is all embellished in various ways and tweaked here and there, but the substance is exactly the same. However, as the economist Rob Calvert Jump wrote in a recent article:

“There is now a consensus amongst economists that austerity does significant damage to an economy’s potential, undermining growth, as the experience of the last decade in Britain has shown us. Further austerity will do far more damage than a ‘fiscal hole’ that disappears with tweaks to models or accounting rules. The ‘fiscal hole’ is a dangerous fiction compared to the hard facts of austerity’s impact.”

The last point is particularly worth emphasising. How many people realise that the notorious “fiscal black hole” is the product of shifting definitions of net public sector debt?

Theory alone cannot provide us with all the answers; in fact, all the macro models are in more or less of a mess. I will give three examples. The first is the rise in the inactivity rate. There has been a fall of 227,000 in employment since a year ago. So we have a tight labour market with unemployment at 3.6%, a strong demand for labour and a falling labour participation rate. How can that be explained?

Secondly, there is the notorious productivity puzzle. No one has much of a handle on this. What we know is that the forecasts suggest there will be a dramatic fall in living standards, by about 7.1% over the next two years. How will creating a depression stimulate enterprise, innovation or investment, which are the drivers of productivity?

Finally, inflation is expected to peak at 11% in the first quarter and then fall. Again, the discussion really makes no advance on the old discussion about the causes of inflation, whether due to excess demand or cost push—there are, of course, cost-push factors. I think everyone understands that the UK’s support of Ukraine has pushed up energy prices. That is why the Government are now explicitly asking the public to save energy to beat Putin, using crude, World War II-style “Dig for Victory” messaging. What is much less understood is that the UK has a special problem: gas is particularly expensive here, due to our chronic lack of gas storage and our inefficient and exploitative energy distributors.

To conclude, I am strongly in favour of balancing the budget, but not by any mixture of cutting spending and raising taxes. The approach I would favour in present circumstances revives the almost forgotten Keynesian idea of a balanced budget multiplier. A contemporary version of this would suggest a windfall tax or excess profits tax on energy producers, the proceeds of which would be spent by the Government on maintaining investment and consumer demand in the face of the economic downturn.

House of Lords Speech on the Public Order Bill

My Lords, it is very cold in this House; I wonder what has happened to the heating. It certainly has a chilling effect on debate.

I am not a lawyer like the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, nor a policeman like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I am driven to take part in the debate because I have become increasingly concerned at the wide powers of surveillance and control being claimed by Governments in the name of public order and national security—powers that, in their structure though not yet in the scale of their implementation, resemble those in countries such as Russia and China.

I recall that George Orwell wrote in 1939 about

“whether the ordinary people in countries like England grasp the difference between democracy and despotism well enough to want to defend their liberties. One can’t tell until they see themselves menaced in some quite unmistakeable manner.”

People feel menaced in different ways; I myself have been woken up by one such menacing experience. I hope also to bring some historical perspective to the topic we are discussing.

The traditional aim of public order Acts, starting in 1936, was to prevent violent clashes on the streets. A famous common-law precedent was Wise v Dunning in 1902. Wise, a rabid anti-Papist, whose habit of speaking and dressing in a manner offensive to Catholics in Liverpool had led to fights at previous meetings, was bound over to keep the peace. The principle was clear enough: freedom of speech, procession and assembly must not be carried to the point where it caused violence on the streets.

As most noble Lords have pointed out, we already have plenty of Acts designed to prevent disruptive behaviour. Why do we need more? As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, it is not because many of these measures have been demanded by the police. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, suggested an answer that I find extremely convincing. This Bill brings peaceful, if inconvenient, protest and incitement to violence and terrorism into the same legal framework, implying in principle that the first is as culpable as the second. This argument is used to extend the powers of the state in dangerous ways, which have been charted only in despotic systems. That is why I talk about an Orwellian creep and cited George Orwell at the beginning.

I take up just two matters from Parts 2 and 3 of the Bill, consequential on this false identification between peaceful protest and violence and terrorism. The first, which other noble Lords have alluded to, is the extension of the police’s stop and search powers. In the past, stop and search powers have been used to prevent only the most serious offending, such as serious violence or reasonable suspicion of terrorism—for example, if people were suspected of carrying knives, guns or explosives. This was seriously open to racial discrimination and was highly controversial, but I can see a justification for the power itself. However, the Bill would extend the same powers of stop and search to the protest context. 

Someone can be stopped and searched for being suspected of being linked, however peripherally, to non-violent purposes or conduct. To stop and search someone suspected of carrying a bomb is one thing; to stop and search someone suspected of carrying a bicycle lock seems to me, to put it mildly, disproportionate—and, in fact, mad.

This leads me to my second point, to which I can hardly do justice in a short speech, namely the extremely worrying spread of arrest and detention where there is no reasonable suspicion that the person may be involved in proscribed behaviour, or where there is merely a balance of probabilities—I want to come back to that term—that they might be.

Clause 11 creates a new suspicion-less stop and search power, whereby the police will have the power to specify that, in a particular locality and for a particular period of time, they do not need to have reasonable suspicion—in other words, an objective basis for suspicion based on evidence—that a protest-related offence will be committed, before stopping and searching people for a prohibited object. This is similar to powers contained in anti-terrorist legislation. Let me quote from the public information leaflet issued to explain Schedule 3 of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019:

“Unlike most police powers, the power to stop, question, search and, if necessary detain persons does not require any suspicion … The purpose is to determine whether a person appears to be, or to have been, engaged in Hostile … activity.”

Leave to one side the draconian powers being asserted here; it is surely fantastic to apply the same reasoning and powers to someone who might or might not be carrying a paintbrush.

Almost as bad as suspicionless stop and search is Clause 20, which authorises serious disruption prevention orders. Many noble Lords have talked about these. They allow a court to ban a person from attending demonstrations and protests for up to two years, not on conviction of any offence but on a balance of probabilities that, on at least two occasions in the previous five years, they have carried out activities related to a protest or caused or contributed to someone else carrying out a protest. Failure to comply with SDPO conditions is a criminal offence, subject to 51 weeks’ imprisonment.

The balance of probabilities means that the court must think that it is 51% likely that the person concerned has carried out such activities. If it thinks that it is only 49% likely, they get off free. What sort of evidence is needed to make that kind of calculation? I would be grateful if that could be explained. The essential point is that Clause 20 allows standards of proof appropriate in civil cases to be used for imposing criminal sanctions, such as electronic tagging, on individuals convicted of no criminal offence.

Any serious analyst of these measures would need to trace not only the growth of novel forms of protest, which is acknowledged, but the way that concepts such as dangerousness and mens rea—guilty mind—have penetrated into the heart of our criminal justice system, creating a large and growing area of law in which you do not have to have done anything criminal to have been deprived of large chunks of your liberty.

It would be very difficult to amend the Bill to make it compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights. I therefore agree with those noble Lords who want to reject Parts 2 and 3 and seriously amend Part 1.

Economy: The Growth Plan 2022

House of Lords Speech: 10 October 2022

My Lords, the twin problems to which the mini-Budget was addressed were near-zero growth and a relentless rise in prices. I doubt whether it will do very much for the first—certainly not in time to offset the second. In the short run, what we face is not a growth crisis but an inflationary crisis and that, of course, also means a currency crisis.

What was the growth strategy? I think it was based on Reaganomics—the idea that unfunded tax cuts, by incentivising the wealthy to work hard and invest more, would pay for themselves. That was a sort of Laffer curve idea, which was very popular in the 1980s. The British Treasury never bought it; it always thought that tax cuts to encourage the wealthy would need to be complemented by welfare cuts to incentivise the poor to “get on their bikes”, in the famous phrase.

Well, that is the basis of growth orthodoxy but it is very insecure. There is no evidence that tax cuts for the rich speed up the real rate of economic growth. What they do encourage is speculation in financial assets and real estate. Also, there is no correlation between the rate of growth and the size of the public sector. So the growth strategy is very insecurely based. As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out earlier, public investment, not public ownership, has been the main growth engine since the war.

Apart from its intellectual incoherence, the Chancellor’s mini-Budget sets out to tackle the wrong problem. The problem, as Keynes wrote in 1939, is not how to get growth but

“how to pay for the war”.

We have blundered inadvertently into a war situation, and that creates war problems. A war economy is inherently inflationary: too much consumer demand, too little supply. This is our situation. Excess demand is easy enough to explain. For over a year, from 2020 to 2021, the Government paid a large chunk of the workforce to not work. Pent-up demand exploded before supply could catch up.

That is one part of it but, in addition, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced big supply shortages, reflected in the near doubling of wholesale energy prices. They would have trebled had it not been for the energy price cap. How long can the Government go on capping prices without raising taxes? Is the Minister expecting energy supply in Europe to increase over the next few years? Is he expecting Saudi Arabia to increase rather than reduce supply? The important point in these questions is that, when debt costs are rising, the Government should be reducing and not increasing their borrowing.

Today, we are significantly less able to run a war economy than we were in 1940. We make fewer things, grow less food and are more dependent on foreign supplies. Extensive deindustrialisation since the 1980s has made our standard of living dependent on the City of London’s ability to finance our twin deficits—budget and current account—which are rising towards 10% of GDP. The City attracts capital into London to engage in financial investment. The energy crisis has blown a hole in the current account. Banks have indicated that a 10% current account deficit will be very difficult for the City to finance. The second factor depressing sterling is, of course, the very high rate of inflation.

We need a credible currency to maintain our standard of living and there is nothing in the strategy of the mini-Budget that guarantees that. What we need is a co-ordinated policy that can communicate a clear path forward.

Queen’s Speech on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

My Lords, I find myself in profound disagreement with the Government’s war strategy in Ukraine and, in fact, with almost everything that has been said about Ukraine in this debate. I will try to explain why.

British policy aims for a Russian military defeat, which it will help to bring about by economic sanctions and supplying Ukraine with the necessary means of war. Liz Truss said on 27 April:

“We will keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine”.

Simon Jenkins has commented:

“She is clearly revelling in her imagined proxy war on the Russian bear and no one in Whitehall appears able to restrain her.”

I wish her proxy war was only imagined but it is actually happening.

It is an open secret that both France and Germany regard our hawkishness as driving up the price of peace and thus making a ceasefire more elusive. So what is the price of peace? For those whose history lessons begin and end with the Munich agreement of 1938, it is obvious; the price of peace is shameful surrender to the limitless ambitions of an evil and possibly mad dictator. I take a different view. I believe that Putin’s war aims, unlike Hitler’s, are limited and therefore that the fashionable domino theory—that if you give way here, then one after another will fall—is wrong.

I want the war to end before the war aims of our Government are achieved, for two reasons. The first is because the prolongation of the war threatens economic catastrophe. One aspect of that, mass starvation, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord King, earlier in the debate.

Secondly, there is the consequence of a military disaster. If it happened that Russian conventional forces were actually pushed to defeat, as the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary want, Russia might well counter with tactical nuclear weapons. These have never been deployed; they abolish the distinction between conventional and nuclear war and thus remove a crucial barrier to uncontrolled escalation. To avoid these huge risks, the military position on the ground has to be such—I know this is an uncomfortable thing to say—that both sides can claim some military success. That means that our Government should take a very hard and accurate look at the scale and type of military help we give to Ukraine.

The peace terms discussed in Ankara in late March called for Ukraine’s neutrality, backed by security guarantees and a timeline to address issues such as the status of Donbass and Crimea. The Ukrainians withdrew from them after reports of the massacre at Bucha surfaced on 1 April. This was a horrible war crime, but it does not follow that because a country’s war methods are brutal its ambitions are genocidal or limitless.

Our Government should be urging a resumption of the Ankara process. I believe that a negotiated peace would be possible along lines which safeguard the independence of Ukraine and satisfy some Russian demands. There are three elements. The first is Ukraine’s neutrality for 20 years in return for international, including Russian, guarantees of Ukraine’s territorial borders before the Russian invasion of 24 February. That is, Russia would need to withdraw its troops from the territories that it has conquered after 24 February. Second is UN-supervised elections to determine the future of Donetsk and Luhansk. Third is acceptance of the transfer of Crimea to Russia in return for compensation. No conceivable independent Russian Government will voluntarily give up Ukraine, but Russia must be made to pay for this.

To prepare the ground for this, our Government need to drop talk of bringing the Putin regime to trial as war criminals, and should promise to de-escalate economic sanctions by stages as the peace accord is implemented. As Liddell Hart wisely said:

“Inflict the least possible permanent injury, for the enemy of to-day is … the ally of the future.”