Monthly Archives: July 2012

Rory Speaks in Debate on Lords Reform


It is unfortunate that the debate has turned into an attack on the Liberal Democrats. This is a huge opportunity for reform. There has been a lot of talk about the 21st century and democracy, and there is an important democratic opportunity in the Bill that I hope the Liberal Democrats will lead us in taking.

We have heard much about 21st century democracy. There are many different kinds of democracy. We have the trunk of the democracy, meaning the directly elected legislature, which in our case is this place; the crown of the tree, which is the rule of law; and the root, which is the constitution. The constitution is an example of something on which we can work together.

What kind of democracy do we have in that context? We can have as many different kinds as there are trees: we can have flowers on it, like a cherry tree, or strange brown leaves like a beech in winter, or needles like a pine tree. Within our democracy, we have judges who are not elected, as we have heard ad infinitum, and generals who are not elected. Certain powers are taken away from the House and given to non-elected people as part of our democracy. For example, the Labour Government were proud to take away control of interest rates from Parliament and to give it to an independent central bank. Government Members were proud to take control of economic forecasting away from this place and give it to the Office for Budget Responsibility. Indeed, there was a lot of consensus on taking away investigative powers from the House and giving them to the independent, judge-led Leveson inquiry.

Exactly what balance of elected and unelected people we want within a democratic constitution is an interesting question. Like the Chinese, we could elect our generals; like the Americans, we could elect judges; or, like the Canadians, we could have an appointed upper Chamber. What determines that balance in a democracy is what we want to do and the problems we are trying to solve.

The problems of 1909—this is my point about the 21st century—are not, sadly, the problems of today. The Senate in the US was created to deal with an over-mighty sovereign and the problem of the relationship between the territories, such as the states, and the population. The problem that the Liberals tried to solve in 1909 was that the hereditary peerage deliberately blocked financial regulation—the Liberals largely solved it with the Parliament Act 1911.

Since then, our countries and our parties have changed. Many things in our manifestos in 1909 are no longer in our manifestos today, because the nature of our problems has changed. The problems we are dealing with today are not the problems of 1909. We can see that in elected second Chambers throughout the world. The kinds of problems that led to the creation of the directly elected Australian Senate after 1900, which inspired the reforms in the UK, and the problems that led to the creation of the directly elected Italian Senate in 1948, have passed. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, there was a reduction in the number of bicameral legislatures.

We need to solve the problems of today. They are problems of local democracy, on which the Liberal Democrats should be proud of taking the lead; they are problems of accountability in large multilateral institutions such as the European Union, on which I hope hon. Members together can take a lead; and they are problems of professionalism and expertise.

However, perhaps the greatest democratic challenge for this country in the 21st century—I hope the Liberal Democrats will take the lead on this—is the root, meaning the constitution. It is in that respect that we are behind every other country in the world. Other countries have indirectly elected or appointed bicameral legislatures, but not a single responsible country remains that allows itself to change constitutional law as though it were ordinary law. The constitution protects the citizen from the Government. For that reason, the Government, who are temporary, have no right to interfere with the constitution of the people.

We felt differently about that in 1909. We flattered ourselves that we had a huge constitutional tradition, history and culture in the other place that forced us to debate and investigate those great issues. That time has passed, and today we find ourselves isolated in the world as the only country—the source of constitutionalism —that tries to behave as though there is no difference between constitutional law and non-constitutional law. Other countries, such as the Nordic countries, have a solution—they have a gap between two Parliaments, or they can demand a two-thirds majority or a referendum. In our case, we used to have a free vote and no guillotine motion.

Let hon. Members together take the great opportunity to ensure that constitutional change, which was positioned in the Liberal Democrat manifesto and endorsed by the Deputy Prime Minister and the majority of Government Members, happens in future only through a referendum.

Why Turkey matters

How does parliamentary business relate to Cumbria? Take the last 24 hours.  There were some direct connections: I attended a ministerial meeting on second homes in Cumbria; a Lake District National Park planning discussion; and a community hospital conference with representatives from Brampton, Wigton, Penrith and Cockermouth. But in the same 24 hours I was in a debate on the banking crisis, and the House of Lords, and on Turkey. And what was the relevance of those?

Turkey, for example: there were only ten members in the Chamber for the three-hour Turkey debate, perhaps because it seemed irrelevant to constituencies. Perhaps people felt a little like one of the residents in Woodlands, Penrith, who said last month: “We’re not an Empire any more: we should stop thinking about other countries, and focus on what happens at home.” But, in truth, we’re not thinking very much about foreign countries at all. We now spend only one sixth of one percent of our budget on the Foreign Office; we spend twice as much on the Winter Fuel Allowance as on our complete embassy and diplomatic network worldwide; and less and less time understanding foreign languages and politics.

Nowhere are the signs of our disengagement clearer than in Turkey. In 2001, for example, the desk officer in the Foreign Office concluded that there was little point engaging with Islam in Turkey, because it was ‘a secular society’. At which point a conservative Muslim government won the elections, taking power for a decade. In 2010, although the British government had 25 advanced Turkish speakers, they had only sent one of them to Turkey. The World Service had closed its Turkish service – losing 400,000 listeners. The British Council was located at the top of a shopping centre, with very little sign, even in the office, of links to Britain, and an almost entirely locally engaged Turkish staff who, although keen and energetic, were hardly able to communicate effectively about British culture, since many of them had never visited Britain. And our neglect extends beyond Turkey. The UK is 12 % of the population of the EU, but fill just 4 % of the jobs in Brussels – the 2/3 shortfall is because we can’t pass the language exams.

Neglecting ‘abroad’ is a big mistake – for Britain and for Cumbria. Our constituency’s economy has one of the highest proportions of small and medium-sized business in Britain. And we are exporters: Innovia exports more than ninety percent of its production from Wigton; Steadman’s in Caldbeck are building roofs in Bahrain and China; Clark Doors in Carlisle made the doors of the Sydney Opera House; Bell’s of Lazonby are exporting bakery products to the Balkans; Stephen Armistead in Penrith is exporting more than half of his products (of which half go to China). And there is export potential for our farmers: a huge demand in Asia and the Middle East for our livestock, and for parts of animals which the British don’t eat; and dairy, which is having a tough time, could benefit too. Lake District Cheese, made in Aspatria, now supplies the cheese for Emirates Airlines.

Turkey is exactly the sort of place on which Cumbria and Britain should focus: a place from which we can benefit, and where we can also have influence. China is too big for Britain to have much say there. We are late into Brazil (even the Dutch are out-performing us there, and the Germans and the French are far more established). We are in danger of falling behind in Indonesia. But Turkey’s affection for Britain has deepened. It is firmly integrated into the European economic system, and has strong influence over countries which we care about. It is a great economic and political opportunity. Turkish GDP per capita is now higher than Bulgaria’s or Romania’s, and Istanbul’s 20 million residents are doing better economically than Poland.

The Turkish government has proved that a conservative Muslim government doesn’t mean radical Islam: it has led an extraordinary transition from military rule to democracy (it’s almost inconceivable now that the military could mount a coup). Its economic performance shows its neighbours how prosperity can come from more, not less, open-ness.  We can encourage Turks to make progress on all of this: to reform (their terror laws, which lock up journalists and academics are cruel and unnecessary); and to further open their economy (opening the energy sector will be particularly important for British companies). We should encourage them to be the positive model for the Middle East: an example for Egypt, Libya – and even, in the long run, Syria.

Times are tough, Empire has gone, and it is often tempting to feel we should do ever less. But in reality we are already doing too little: we spend half what the French do on our Foreign Service. The Italians are out-trading us two-fold into Turkey – not just large infrastructure companies but small and medium-sized businesses as well. There are sixteen flights a day between Northern Italy and Turkey. Abroad has never been more relevant. Which is why rather than concluding Foreign Affairs doesn’t matter to us in Cumbria, I’d like to turn it around. I’d like more MPs focused on Foreign Affairs. And I would like to promote a Cumbrian trade mission to Turkey.

Rory welcomes RPA’s improved benefits payment system to farmers

Rory Stewart has applauded the work of the government in improving the efficiency and rate of payments to farmers through the Rural Payments Agency (RPA).

“The RPA delivers over 2 billion pounds in direct Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to farmers annually,” Rory Stewart said today.  “Over the last few years delivery of these payments was flawed and inefficient – sadly evidenced by the many farmers who approach me for assistance – but I am very pleased to announce that overhauls to the system instigated by the government and Minister for Agriculture Jim Paice have resulted in the 2011 payments being delivered in record-breaking time, exceeding all targets and well ahead of schedule.  This direct assistance is vital for our farmers so this is not only a great achievement in itself but one which makes a real difference in many people’s lives.”

Minister of State for Agriculture and Food Jim Paice, who oversees the RPA, added, “I know that there is more work to be done to deliver the level of service that RPA’s customers and the taxpayers deservce.  However, thanks to the hard work of RPA’s people, and the support of our public sector and industry partners, I believe the Agency has now turned a corner on the way to becoming a trusted, efficient and effective organisation.”

Rory Speaks on UK – Turkey Relations


One of the reasons why Turkey is such an exciting subject is that it is an exemplar not just for the whole Middle East, but for British foreign policy. Turkey is a strange place for us. We have a huge great embassy—now the consulate general—in Istanbul, and it would impress hon. Members. It is more magnificent than this Chamber and even than the other place, with wooden parquet floors and beautiful marble courtyards.

Only 20 years ago, that all seemed a bit out of date and out of proportion. For all the reasons my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr Walter) pointed out, the embassy was conceived when the Ottoman empire was at its height and when Lord Palmerston, based in this House, was charging around frenetically, shelling the coast of what was then part of the Ottoman empire to seize Acre and play incredibly complicated games with Russia and France—and, indeed, Afghanistan and Persia on the Turkish borders.

By a decade ago, we could see that the Foreign Office had almost given up, and that is a real parable in what goes wrong in long-term British foreign policy planning. Ten years ago, the desk officer for Turkey, in London, said very confidently that there was absolutely no point in the Islamic department of the Foreign Office doing Islamic communication or anything in Turkey because in 2001 we were absolutely confident that Turkey was a secular state and that in Turkey there was absolutely no interest in Islam. Almost immediately after the desk officer made that comment, a Government with strong conservative Muslim roots, and a leadership with a history of political Islam, were elected to office in Turkey.

Even two years ago, the situation in our embassy in Turkey was still one of pretty extreme crisis. As the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has pointed out, we were shifting towards the system that eventually came about, involving the closing down of the BBC Turkish service and the British Council in Turkey hiding at the back of a large shopping mall with almost no evidence of Britain on display. It has an energetic, dynamic and dedicated Turkish staff who, understandably, struggle to communicate British culture to a Turkish audience, given that a significant number of them have never visited the United Kingdom.

As the report makes clear—last year the Foreign Office gave us the figures—we have 25 extensive Turkish speakers in the British diplomatic network, of whom exactly one was in the embassy in Turkey. That is the top level of Turkish language. We also had 23 operational Turkish speakers—and again, exactly one of them was to be found in Turkey. That is comparable with having 46 fast-jet pilots trained at great expense to the UK taxpayer and only two of them flying aeroplanes.

In addition, the focus has been taken from political work towards other forms of work. Why does that matter? It matters for all the reasons on which others in the Chamber have so eloquently held forth. Turkey is now a major exemplar for the region, a place of interest and importance to the United Kingdom and somewhere we ought to be able to exercise some influence.

Politically, of course, Turkey represents something that confounded our fears and predictions. Many commentators, looking at Turkey in 2001, were terrified, just as we were terrified about Islamic movements in Egypt, by the possibility of some kind of Islamist movement in Turkey which reliable commentators described in 2001 and 2002 as some form of new Taliban or even new al-Qaeda. Indeed, that was swept up by secular voices in Turkey, that focused on the worst-case scenario in terms of what the AKP would be. The reality is that those fears were not confirmed; in fact, that change is perhaps the strongest example worldwide of a democratic transition from a military Government—considerably more impressive even than the transition achieved in Indonesia.

As others have so eloquently pointed out, on the economic side the Turkish economy, in per capita GDP terms, is now larger than that of Bulgaria or Romania. It has grown considerably faster in the past decade, and the Istanbul littoral—the 20 million people around Istanbul—have a GDP per capita larger than that of Poland.

As regards the AKP’s conduct of foreign affairs, despite the opposition party complaining that it would be an unruly, destabilising force, we have found that although it has taken an independent policy on Israel and an unexpected policy on Syria and on Iran, it has not proved to be a dangerous force in the region at all. In fact, in Libya the AKP has proved to be an extraordinary example in being more generous and flexible than many other NATO members, and it has got considerably more credit from the Libyan people as a result.

Of course, this does not mean that everything is sunny in Turkey. As many people have pointed out, there are serious problems. From a foreign policy point of view, there is no point in our treating Turkey as though it were a superpower, because it remains a middle-ranking power. We cannot vest in it all responsibility for the middle east. We cannot imagine that it has the key to the solution in Afghanistan or in Syria. Despite Turkey’s extraordinary development over the past 30 years, there remains a significant gap in terms of human, financial and institutional capital that prevents it from occupying that kind of role. Economically, as the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) pointed out, there are considerable problems in eastern Turkey, where people have a GDP per capita that is one sixth that of people in Istanbul; in other words, they often have per capita incomes of about $4,000 to $5,000 a year. Turkey is not a wealthy country.

In terms of politics, we need seriously to consider the fact that despite the great advances and the extraordinary tightrope action of the AKP Government in the way that they improvised with the constitution, negotiated challenges with the judiciary, and took certain moves that were on the risky side, we have ended up—despite all the progress made with the military—with the scandal of what is happening with the terror laws. Turkey should, and can, be an example to the region, but that ought not to involve locking up peaceful dissidents, journalists and academics. That is not a necessary part of a counter-terrorism policy.

Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I think that 10% or more of the cases in the European Court of Human Rights emanate from Turkey. My hon. Friend and others have spoken about the steps that Turkey has managed to take in improving human rights. Will he tell the House what further measures he thinks necessary? The Minister could then tell us what steps the Government are taking to encourage those measures.

Rory Stewart: The central element is to focus on making sure—we in Britain have experienced this and people have gone through it in Spain—that the terror laws are not applied to peaceful protesters such as academics and journalists but targeted at people who are genuinely involved in armed struggle. Perhaps Britain, which has built up a good relationship with Turkey through taking a friendly attitude towards EU accession, has more leverage over that issue than countries such as France.

What can Britain do, though? The core question is not “Whither Turkey?” but “Whither Britain in Turkey?” What is the Foreign Office supposed to do? What sort of reforms are we supposed to introduce? How are we supposed to change our attitude towards the country to get more out of the relationship? The first thing we need to do is very difficult. It is all very well the Foreign Office saying that it has designated more speaker slots in Turkey, but the unfortunate reality is that if a slot has been designated for a Turkish speaker, there is no way of compelling anyone to fill it. Therefore, across the diplomatic network we have a number of slots designated for Arabic speakers or Turkish speakers that remain unfilled. If we are serious about making sure that out of 25 Turkish speakers a quarter, say, are in Turkey, we have to change the human resources procedures of the Foreign Office. We have to move from a situation where everybody is allowed to bid for posts towards one in which a manager can tell people that they should be going to Turkey given that the taxpayer has invested considerably in training them in the language.

That also necessitates difficult HR changes to the core competency framework that governs promotion within the Foreign Office. Currently, the second secretary for political affairs at the embassy in Ankara does not have a direct interest in continuing in political work. Despite good sounds coming from the Minister and the Foreign Secretary, saying that political work is increasingly important, and despite all the good messages about the diplomatic excellence initiative, the brutal reality remains that one’s career in the Foreign Office is determined by management expertise.

All the incentives are driving ambitious young people out of political work and into getting management experience. I can name two cases in the diplomatic network in Turkey of people who have chosen to go into UK Trade and Investment management roles because they do not believe that they will be promoted on the basis of political roles. The core competency framework, which governs promotion, does not take into account linguistic expertise or deep country knowledge in any way; it measures people purely—and is only allowed to measure people—on the basis of their management skills. That must be changed if we are fundamentally to change the culture of the Foreign Office. It is not enough for us to say that these things matter; we must promote people on the basis of them.

To deepen this further, we might need to change the criteria on which people are rewarded. We should have indicators of how many Turks, for example, somebody in the embassy meets. We should have indicators of how often they get outside Ankara and Istanbul to remote areas of the country. That should be part of the criteria for their assessment and promotion.

Finally, on commercial opportunities and UKTI, it is all very well our saying that we want to double UK trade and investment with Turkey, but how is that going to happen? Where are the people and where is the drive? It is difficult to make that happen. Italy is currently outperforming us twofold in Turkey—Italian trade to Turkey is nearly twice that of British. Sixteen flights a day go from Italy to Turkey, almost all of them from Milan. Big Italian infrastructure companies are building roads and getting involved in dams, and small and medium-sized Italian companies are outperforming British small and medium-sized enterprises on the ground.

I propose, modestly, that it might be worth looking at seconding 25-year-olds from major UK financial and consultancy companies, with proper incentive structures and targets, to try to achieve the difficult aim of boosting UK trade and investment. I do not want to pick out a particular company, but I would imagine that McKinsey would be quite happy to second somebody at the age of 25 to UKTI for two or three years, with a decent incentive structure, to see whether they could meet those targets.

All this is necessary because Turkey matters. It matters to Britain, and Britain’s leverage in Turkey is still potentially large. If we introduced those kinds of reforms in Turkey and other countries, we could achieve something extraordinary. The danger is that, having been worried 20 years ago that the great palace on a hill that we occupy was too large for Turkey and that Britain’s
interests were elsewhere, we run the risk of being that other great building in Istanbul, which is of course the great representation of Venice—a palace even larger than ours, stuck up on the hill. That now seems out of date for a different reason—because Turkey is too big for Venice. Let us make sure that that does not happen to us.