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Building Stability Overseas

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2012

I, together with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for International Development and the Secretary of State for Defence, wish to update the House on the progress our three Departments have made in implementing the Building Stability Overseas Strategy (BSOS) that we launched on 19 July 2011. The BSOS is one of the cross-Government strategies adopted following the strategic defence and security review.

We launched the BSOS at the time of the Arab spring, which was a profound demonstration that genuine stability can only be achieved when societies have strong and legitimate institutions to manage tensions peacefully. The BSOS was the first cross-Government strategy on conflict issues. It sets out that it is in the UK’s interest to build capacities overseas that help prevent the conditions that lead to conflict before they develop; and to identify emerging crises early and to respond rapidly to prevent or mitigate them.

We have made good progress in implementing the new strategy since its publication. The BSOS has produced a range of different mechanisms that ensure that the different skills, perspectives and expertise across Government are brought together in an integrated way.

We have established new systems for early warning, to better identify rising risks. Senior officials from across Government meet regularly to systematically review and, if necessary, challenge the Government’s approach to selected priority countries.

We have increased the level of overall resources for conflict prevention in the tri-departmental conflict pool and are aligning the pool’s approach more towards upstream conflict prevention. I intend to place before the House details of proposed conflict resources allocations, through the conflict pool, for financial years 2012-13 and 2014-15 once the National Security Council has endorsed them.

Our aim is to ensure a clear fit between conflict pool allocations and the Government’s highest conflict and stability priorities. We have increased conflict pool funding for the middle east and north Africa region, aligning our work closely with that of our Arab partnership initiative which supports Arab-led efforts to build more open, prosperous and stable societies. We are increasing our support to Somalia and Pakistan, while continuing important commitments to the Balkans, the Caucasus and to the UK’s peacekeeping presence in Cyprus. Within the conflict pool, we have also created a new £20 million early action facility (EAF) to provide rapid funding for unforeseen crises or to address new opportunities for conflict prevention. The facility has already been used to support work on Syria.

For the first time, we have made conflict pool allocations across more than one financial year, increasing our ability to plan ahead, deliver better value for money and improve the impact of our work. We are strengthening the conflict pool’s focus on achieving results. Our reform programme will draw on recommendations from independent reviews this year by the National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

We commissioned an internal review of the tri-departmental stabilisation unit. The review concluded that there continues to be a clear need for the stabilisation unit. It will remain an important tool to help integrate the Government’s approach to conflict and to help build more stable states. We are working to implement the recommendations of the review, including strengthening the leadership of the unit and its oversight by our three Departments, moving the unit to a new location and driving value for money and efficiency changes (including headcount reductions).

Our development programme continues to prevent conflict upstream, supporting countries to make that vital transition towards a peaceful, stable and lasting future. Three-quarters of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) focus countries are fragile and conflict affected states. DFID is on track to direct 30% of UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) to such countries by 2014-15. In 2011-12 UK aid investments supported freer and fairer elections in four countries, helped 300,000 women to access justice through the courts, police and legal assistance and helped over 16 million people hold their authorities to account.

The UK can achieve a much greater impact to building stability and preventing conflict around the world when we work with others. We are well placed to do so, exploiting the UK’s established roles and networks at the UN, within the EU, NATO and other multilateral forum and with our traditional partners. We are working with the UN’s Department for Political Affairs to improve its capacity for conflict prevention. We have provided UK secondees to the European External Action Service conflict prevention team and we are ensuring conflict prevention features in EU budget negotiations. We are also engaging with a broader range of partners, including Brazil and South Africa. The BSOS has enabled the UK to remain at the heart of international thinking on conflict prevention. The London conference on Somalia in February was a good example of the way UK leadership can reinvigorate and galvanise international efforts.

We recognise that Government do not have all the answers and therefore we are seeking deliberately wider views beyond Whitehall to provide challenge and to ensure we access, reflect on and assimilate latest thinking. We have used the positive reaction to the publication of BSOS from NGOs and academics specialising in conflict to develop relationships further through joint initiatives.

The BSOS recognised the need to include the protection of women and children. I informed the House of the Government’s new initiative to tackle sexual violence in conflict on 12 June including the establishment of a new team of experts and an international diplomatic campaign during our G8 presidency in 2013. As well as directly supporting and undertaking investigations, this team will support upstream interventions by providing training to national authorities to strengthen their domestic response to rape and other crimes of sexual violence.

In post-conflict scenarios, holding those responsible for appalling crimes of sexual violence and removing the sense of impunity will contribute to the peace building process.

The new approach outlined in the building stability overseas strategy is already beginning to have real impact on way the UK tackles conflict and instability overseas. We have the tools in place and are now working on implementation. Addressing instability and conflict overseas is a sound investment in both our national interest and a better future for all.