House of Commons
Thursday 18 June 2020
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Virtual participation in proceedings commenced (Order, 4 June).
[NB: [V] denotes a Member participating virtually.]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
UK-Canada Free Trade Agreement
I spoke to my Canadian counterpart Mary Ng last week, and we talked about progressing our bilateral trade and working together to promote free trade across the world.
Bilateral trade between the UK and Canada is worth £20 billion a year. It grew exponentially following the implementation of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement. In comparison, our bilateral trade with New Zealand is worth £3 billion a year. We have opened formal negotiations with New Zealand on a new trade agreement. Can we not go further with Canada and seek something much more comprehensive than simply a roll-over of CETA?
I know that my hon. Friend is committed to Canada, having served as trade envoy and done a fantastic job. As part of our ambitious free trade agreement programme, we announced yesterday our intention to accede to the CPTPP, which is an advanced trade agreement covering chapters such as data and digital and goes far beyond what the EU has been willing to agree. Canada is one of the key players in the CPTPP, alongside countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
Free Trade Agreements: Environmental Protection Standards
The Government are committed to meeting their ambitious environmental objectives. We are exploring all options in the design of future trade and investment agreements, including environmental provisions within those, to ensure that we uphold the UK’s high environmental standards.
Last year’s free trade agreement between Mexico, the US and Canada ran to 250 pages but failed to mention climate change or global emissions. What assurances can the Minister give the House that the free trade agreement being negotiated by his Government between the UK and the US will not make the same mistake and will put climate change at the heart of it?
The hon. Lady raises a good question. The UK is absolutely committed to our international climate change agenda; that is one of our key objectives. We have not included that because the US is withdrawing from the Paris accord, which we regret. She mentioned the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That agreement does include 30 pages of environmental commitments, including, for example, on sustainability, forestry, air quality, marine plastics, multilateral agreements and so on. There is plenty of potential for us to go further on the environment with our US trade agreement.
There is no point in the UK achieving our own zero-carbon targets if the trade deals we reach with other countries are pushing them ever further away from achieving theirs. Can the Secretary of State ensure that all future FTAs agreed by the UK reinforce the legal primacy of emission targets established in the Paris climate change agreement?
It is worth pointing out that nothing in any trade agreement would prevent the UK from reaching its targets under the Paris agreement and to go net zero by 2050—we are the first Government to commit to doing that, and no trade agreement will prevent us from doing that. We remain on the front foot in our advocacy, making sure that the international response remains extremely strong, including through multilateral agreements and the UK contribution to the global climate fund.
Last year, Brazil lost an area of rainforest the size of Yorkshire, and the new land reforms proposed by the Bolsonaro Administration will make the scale of deforestation and commercial exploitation in the Amazon even worse. In the light of that, can the Minister tell us what environmental conditions are attached to his Department’s £20 million trade facilitation programme with Brazil? Will he promise to suspend that programme if the Bolsonaro Administration persist with their proposed land reform laws?
This question is about trade agreements, and it is worth pointing out that we are not currently in negotiation with Brazil on a trade agreement. The European Union is, by the way. When it comes to trade agreements, the right hon. Lady needs to get her own house in order. Yesterday at this very Dispatch Box, she praised EU trade agreements with Pacific rim countries in the CPTPP. The only problem for her is that those on the Labour Front Bench voted against CETA and did not support the EU-Japan agreement. Worst of all, she led her troops to vote against the Trade Bill—
The Labour Front Bench at the time. She led her troops to vote against the Trade Bill, which would roll all these EU trade agreements over to become UK trade agreements.
Chris Loder, who had the next Question, is not here, but I will still take the SNP supplementary questions—I call Stewart Hosie.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Scottish Land and Estates has said that food and farming is critical, and it is concerned that UK producers are not placed in an impossible situation where they have to compete in an effective “race to the bottom”. What guarantees can the Secretary of State give that cheaply produced agrifood imports will not lead to that race to the bottom?
First, we have the independent Food Standards Agency, which is committed to high food standards. All the food standards that are currently with us through EU law are put into UK law as a result of the withdrawal agreement, so those standards are not going to be lowered, and they are not going to be negotiated as part of any trade agreement.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but I did not ask about food quality standards; I understand that. I am asking about production standards. As the National Farmers Union of Scotland has pointed out, there is deep concern about the importation of agrifoods into the UK that may be produced to an inequivalent and uncompetitive standard. How will she guard against agrifood imports produced to that inequivalent standard, which is much cheaper and simply could not or would not be done in the UK?
Scottish beef and lamb is a very high-quality product and highly competitive. When the beef ban is ended with the US, we will have the opportunity to get British beef into the US market—there is £66 million-worth of opportunity for that product—but in every trade agreement I negotiate, I will always make sure that our farmers, with their high standards, are not undermined.
Food standards were not a matter for the Agriculture Bill—at least that is what MPs, including Conservative Back Benchers, were told on Report. They were told that they would be included in the Trade Bill. I am sure agriculture Ministers were telling the truth, so will the Government accept Labour’s amendment to the Trade Bill to enshrine in law the principle that food imported under any free trade agreement must maintain our farming industry’s high production and safety standards?
The reason they were not part of the Agriculture Bill is that the import standards that we already have and which already ensure that we import only high-quality products into this country are being transported into UK law through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. That is already there. There has been a lot of scaremongering going around about these lowered standards. That is simply not true. We are maintaining exactly the standards we have, which are in place, for example, through agreements with Canada.
Richard Holden—another one not here. Oh my word. We now go virtual—to Angus Brendan MacNeil.
Tapadh leibh, Mr Speaker. We hope to see the Secretary of State at the International Trade Committee next week, as requested by Committee members for a number of weeks. At yesterday’s Committee hearing, the NFU, the CBI and the TUC all coalesced around the figure that Brexit would cost the UK about 4.9% of GDP and an American trade deal would benefit it by around 0.16% of GDP—a thirtieth of what is being lost by Brexit. They said that gains from the Japan deal would be a lot less than the paltry lot from the US deal, so can any Minister furnish the House with the figure for what would be gained as a percentage of GDP from a Japan-UK trade deal?
First of all, I am extremely happy to appear in front of the hon. Gentleman’s Committee, and I will ask my office to immediately set that up in the diary. I am very keen to communicate with the Committee about the various trade deals we are negotiating.
We published figures for the scoping study on the Japan free trade agreement, but this is not an either/or. We want to get a good trade deal with the EU. We want to get a good trade deal with the US. We also want to get access to CPTPP, which is a very fast-growing part of the world. That is what we want. We want global Britain to sit at the heart of a network of free trade agreements.
In March, the Government said that Japan must show “increased ambition” and set a higher headline target on reducing carbon emissions ahead of COP26. Is that still the view of the Secretary of State? Will she show increased ambition and include more stretching, measurable and binding climate targets in the new free trade agreement she puts in place with Japan?
We have a huge opportunity to achieve our environmental objectives in many of the free trade agreements we are negotiating. For example, with New Zealand, which is a leader in this area, we will be looking for very advanced environmental clauses, and of course we will seek those in negotiations with Japan. But the hon. Gentleman should understand that there are a number of routes through which we are pursuing our objectives, namely our leadership of the COP26 summit, and it is right that that process should be the primary focus of where we achieve our climate change objectives.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on Cornwall
I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of business in his constituency, including the dairy industry. I can assure him that every region and nation will benefit from our trade deals, and that includes every industry from farming to FinTech to boot. In the south-west, exports of dairy amounted to more than £46.7 million last year and these businesses stand to benefit even further from the removal of US tariffs.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend in his ministerial position.
Whether it is our excellent butter, cheese and cream, our amazing beef and lamb, our stunning fish and seafood, or our beer, wine and gin, Cornish food and drink are among the highest quality and most sought after in the world. The Minister will be aware that food producers are concerned that our high standards will be undermined in trade deals, so what reassurance can he provide to Cornish food producers that their interests will be protected, and what opportunities does he see for export?
We go back to the Minister, who looks as though he is a fan of James Bond—“Dr No” no less.
Who wouldn’t be, Mr Speaker?
Like my hon. Friend, I am also proud of the high-quality produce from British farmers, including from those in Cornwall, and I can assure him that trade deals will help deliver economic security for Britain and protect us all from new trade barriers and tariffs that could harm jobs and industry. I can assure him that Cornish food producers will be supported at every turn and will continue to be highly competitive. Negotiations will certainly reward them through providing access to new markets.
Covid-19: Import of Essential Medical Products
We continue to work tirelessly across Government to secure vital equipment and PPE from overseas partners, including from the US, Malaysia, China, Turkey and South Africa. We have sourced more than 18 billion items from across the globe to be shipped and delivered to the frontline to our NHS.
As the Minister will be aware, many imports such as medical products enter the UK as cargo in the hold of passenger flights. Given that the imposition of an illogical quarantine is having a negative impact on passenger confidence and flights coming into many of our regional airports, such as Luton airport in my constituency, will the Minister confirm whether he made any assessment of the impact of quarantine on the import of medical goods, and, in the light of that, does he agree with me that the quarantine should be lifted for less blunt measures, such as fast-track testing, to facilitate the import of medical goods and support the recovery of our aviation industry?
I have to say, Mr Speaker, that I was woken at 4.40 this morning by a passenger flight coming into Heathrow and then by another one at 4.45 am. It strikes me that although passenger traffic coming into the country is much reduced, it is still very much facilitated. I am not aware that any disruption that may be caused by the quarantine regulations is having any direct impact on our ability to import vital PPE into the country.
I am very impressed that the right hon. Gentleman knows the difference between a cargo flight and a passenger flight.
At the last International Trade questions in May, my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) asked about reducing global tariffs on soap, which average at 17% among World Trade Organisation members and range as high as 65% in some countries. The Minister of State said that it was a very good question and that the Government were working tirelessly to reduce or remove those sorts of barriers. I am sure that that has been the case, so will he tell us what progress he has made on the specific issue of soap tariffs over the past month?
Mr Speaker, you will know that on 20 March, which was the start of the UK lockdown, the EU Commission wrote to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and HM Treasury alerting them to the existence of the potential mechanism by which tariffs in VAT could be waived on certain imports in the light of the covid-19 crisis. We have identified more than190 products that are in scope, ranging from PPE to soaps and disinfectants. When these products are imported by an organisation covered by the relief, the tariff will be zero.
Promoting UK Agriculture Exports
Our food and drink sector is vital to our economy. In 2019, exports increased by nearly 5% to £23.7 billion. We want to see that success continue and will shortly be launching a bounce back strategy for the industry as the world recovers from covid-19.
I am grateful for that answer. I draw your attention, Mr Speaker, to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. There are significant opportunities to increase agricultural exports, but for the UK to make the most of them, there is a need to dramatically increase food and drink processing capacity. What discussions has my hon. Friend’s Department had with the Treasury, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, so as to ensure that the right fiscal and grant arrangements are in place?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that important issue. My Department is working closely with DEFRA, BEIS and Her Majesty’s Treasury to understand the market and investment trends in the agriculture and food processing sector in a post-covid environment. The Department for International Trade’s high potential opportunity—HPO—programme, which is part of our levelling-up agenda, is already attracting investment in food and drink programmes throughout the UK. For instance, there is agricultural engineering in Telford and aquaculture in Dorset. However, we want to do more, which is why, in partnership across Government and as part of our forthcoming export strategy, we will work to identify new investment opportunities in the sector and its supply chain, so that UK agriculture’s full potential can be realised internationally.
UK Tech Sector
I know that my hon. Friend is, like me, proud that the UK tech sector is the dominant and most successful in Europe. With 79 unicorns and counting, last year the sector attracted a third of all European tech investment—more than France and Germany combined. That success has continued this year, and just last week the Secretary of State launched a new tech strategy to support the internationalisation of our firms, including a digital trade network across the Asia Pacific.
British entrepreneurs are at the cutting edge of developing technology medicines—from apps to medical devices—in the fight against coronavirus. What support is my hon. Friend giving to our health tech start-ups to access overseas markets where British innovation can help to save lives?
My hon. Friend is right: companies such as Cambridge-based C2-Ai, which last week won the CogX award for covid-19 health innovation, are leading the way in the UK’s cutting-edge health tech sector. C2-Ai saves lives by predicting avoidable harm and mortality to free up capacity in intensive care units for covid-19 patients. My Department is supporting dozens of firms just like C2-Ai that are looking to provide covid-19-related treatments. We have also produced a directory of those British digital health companies that provide covid-19 solutions and shared that with our international network, in response to inquiries from Governments around the world.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on Blyth Valley
In 2018, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear exported goods worth £496 million to the US, £130 million to Japan, £24 million to New Zealand and £216 million to Australia. Against a backdrop of rising trade barriers, our FTAs will secure and protect existing trade, and, according to our analysis, FTAs with the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand will go further and bring additional export opportunities to every part of the country, including Blyth Valley.
In Blyth Valley we have many successful companies that trade globally. As we move closer to the deadline of 31 December 2020, will my hon. Friend please advise the House as to what steps the Department has taken to help companies such as Dräger Safety and Tharsus in Blyth, and Miller engineering and Renolit in Cramlington—to name just a few—so that they can take advantage of free trade agreements?
My team is developing a new export strategy, which will align DIT support for exporting businesses, such as the ones my hon. Friend mentions, with our FTA and market access work. In February, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State visited Tharsus and Port of Blyth, and they emphasised to her how important data and digital chapters were for them. Blyth Valley companies will be supported by ambitious FTAs, an enhanced network of international trade advisers in the northern powerhouse, and teams in 108 countries around the world.
Free Trade Agreements: UK Farming Exports
We are determined to remove barriers so that more of our fantastic British produce can be sold internationally. We have now become a net dairy exporter for the first time in recent years. A US-UK FTA can reduce tariffs of, for example, 26% on beef and more than 25% on some dairy products.
Some of my constituents in Bosworth have written to me concerned about food standards. What discussions is my right hon. Friend having with DEFRA regarding the Food Standards Agency to guarantee that the agency is fully supported to ensure and enforce that our food standards are up to scratch in our new trade deals as they come to fruition?
It is very important to note that we are not going to be lowering our food standards in any of our trade negotiations. British food standards—or certainly those in England and Wales—are a matter for the Food Standards Agency, and it is down to the agency to ensure that standards are upheld. Those standards are also in UK law, transferred as part of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, so they are guaranteed, and the Food Standards Agency is an independent body designed to ensure that they are upheld.
Free Trade Agreements: Benefits for All Parts of the UK
When the UK left the EU, we had successfully signed trade continuity agreements with 48 countries, accounting for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018. Now we are seeking new trade agreements so that UK trade is diversified and better aligned with global growth. Analysis shows that the US deal, for instance, will benefit all parts of the United Kingdom, although Scotland and the midlands will gain most. That US deal could reduce tariffs and non-tariff barriers for everything from Scottish cashmere to automotive manufacturing in the midlands, machinery manufacturing in the north-west and our world-class services sector in the south-east, the midlands, Northern Ireland and elsewhere.
Does the Minister agree that the ports of Grimsby, Immingham, Hull and Goole, as part of a pan-Humber free port, offer a huge opportunity to UK plc, and are a key element of levelling up areas such as mine?
The Humber ports contribute so much to the UK economy, providing a critical trade route into Europe and beyond. Like my hon. Friend, I am proud that the Humber is one of the busiest and fastest growing trading areas in Europe, is responsible for a quarter of the UK’s seaborne trade and hosts 30,000 international shipping movements each year, yet it can do so much more; and, with the help and support of my hon. Friend, it will do so. I cannot comment on any individual free port bids, but I encourage anybody who wants their views taken into account to respond to the Government’s consultation before it closes on 13 July.
Does my hon. Friend agree that trade options such as free port status will add a major boost to our local economies, and that free port bids, such as the one involving Carlisle Lake District airport in my constituency of Penrith and The Border, warrant serious further consideration?
As I have said, I cannot comment on individual free port bids, but as I am someone who was born and brought up in Carlisle, my hon. Friend can certainly expect support and sympathy in this part of the Government.
Free Trade Agreements: Effect on the East Midlands
This is an important question. Free trade agreements will certainly help Britain to bounce back from coronavirus, and will bring better jobs, higher wages, greater choice and lower prices to consumers and businesses across the country. That means that in the east midlands lower tariffs and barriers will help to diversify the supply chain and reduce reliance on any single country for businesses that seek to thrive in the new global trading network which we are going to be at the heart of.
I am particularly pleased that we are now finally able to open direct negotiations with some of our oldest and closest allies. Will my hon. Friend tell me what steps the Government are taking to support businesses in the east midlands to make the most of the new opportunities created by these future trade agreements?
As a newly independent trading nation, we will be able to champion free trade, fight protectionism and remove barriers at every opportunity. That includes tariffs. We will be trading on British terms with our new global tariff, which will cut red tape and cut costs for consumers and businesses in Gedling and in the region. My Department and our experienced international trade advisers will continue to support companies across the east midlands access exporting opportunities, and to provide export credit and insurance through UK Export Finance.
Free Trade Agreements: US and Japan
We have launched negotiations with both the US and Japan. We want to secure ambitious trade deals that benefit every part of the United Kingdom. Scotland is expected to be a particularly strong beneficiary from those deals.
Despite what the Secretary of State said in response to previous questions, there are persistent concerns about the lifting of the ban on pathogen reduction treatments, which would permit chlorine washes over food as part of future trade deals. That would be bad for us and bad for animal welfare. To address those concerns once and for all, will the Secretary of State commit to enshrining minimum food standards into law? If she will not, will she devolve the necessary powers to Scotland to allow us to do it for ourselves?
I would point out that Scotland has its own food standards agency, which is responsible for upholding food standards in Scotland. I would also point out that the standards already are in the law and will continue to be in the law.
Given what the Secretary of State—[Inaudible.]
I am afraid we will have to move on.
Free Trade Agreements: Freedom of Religion or Belief
The freedom of religion is a universal human right. The UK has a strong record of safeguarding human rights and promoting our values globally. Our strong economic relationships with trading partners allow the Government to have open discussions on a range of difficult issues, including human rights and religious freedom. The Government will continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations.
I thank the Minister for that answer. He knows that I lead for the Government on freedom of religion or belief as the Prime Minister’s special envoy and on taking forward the Truro report. The Minister also knows, from our previous work when I was a trade envoy covering Pakistan, that there was a GSP plus—generalised system of preference—trade clause which meant that human rights had to be respected. Around the world at the moment under covid-19, religious minorities have suffered immensely. Can we ensure that our future discussions on trade cover fully and frankly our concerns on freedom of religion or belief and wider human rights?
My hon. Friend has done superb work as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on freedom of religion and belief. He references the Truro report, which was set up by the previous Foreign Secretary. Its overall approach is very much endorsed by this Government. He also draws reference to his time as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Pakistan, when I worked with him very closely. The GSP plus scheme will be rolled over into a UK scheme. Obviously, that will include key human rights obligations, including freedom of religion and expression.
UK-US Free Trade Agreement
We have just commenced round 2 of trade negotiations with the United States. Talks so far have been positive and constructive, but I am absolutely clear that we will only sign up for a deal that benefits all parts of the UK and all sectors of the UK.
In the absence of any final agreement between Britain and the EU on trading arrangements beyond the end of this year, is it not impossible for the UK and the US to have a meaningful discussion about the extent to which the UK’s regulatory framework can diverge from the EU’s in any future trade deal? Does that not mean that the chances of actually getting a deal with the US done and through Congress before the November election are virtually nil?
Let me be absolutely clear that we have not set a timetable for completion of the negotiations with the United States, because we are concentrating on getting a good deal rather than meeting any particular negotiation timetable. I am afraid that the hon. Lady is absolutely wrong with respect to the EU, because we have been clear that we are not aligned with EU regulations. We have our own independent regulatory regime and we are negotiating with all our trading partners, whether it is the US, Australia, New Zealand or Japan, on that basis.
The Government have repeatedly promised this House and the British public that they are committed to non-regression on food standards. However, there is great concern over a number of practices in the US that are currently banned in the UK, such as the widespread use of antibiotics to increase growth in animals. As the Government approach their negotiations on a trade deal with the US, does the Secretary of State accept that it is time to put that commitment to non-regression on food standards into law?
I could not have been more clear: these food standards are already in British law as part of the EU withdrawal agreement, and we are not negotiating those as part of our negotiations with the United States or any other trade partner.
Support for Small Businesses and the Self-Employed
I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the unprecedented support for businesses and workers, including small businesses and the self-employed, that this Conservative Government have put in place. SMEs are the backbone of our economy and will be at the heart of the Department’s new export strategy as our response to covid-19.
Do the Government recognise that, aside from covid-19, one of the biggest threats to small businesses in the UK is reaching the end of the transition period with no trade deal? What assessment have they made of the number of SMEs in the UK that would go bust if faced with the toxic combination of covid-19 and a no-deal Brexit in December?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of SMEs. They need Government support to enter international markets, and that is why the DIT exists. We are not responsible for negotiation with the EU, but we are confident that we will reach a good deal with it. The Department is putting SME chapters in our trade deals with other countries. It is a pity that the Labour party opposes every trade agreement and continually shows its indifference to small business and enterprise, but I am looking to the hon. Gentleman, as he may be able to do what no others have done and lead the shadow Secretary of State away from being an enemy of business and towards supporting it, as he does.
Free Trade Agreements: UK Car Manufacturers
The automotive industry will see more change in the next 10 years than it is seen in the past 100. That is why we are investing so heavily in research and development to ensure that the UK industry can be a global leader in clean transport. Lowering trade barriers is an essential step in attracting further investment and allowing the industry to thrive at a time of unprecedented change.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association say that a UK-Japan agreement would greatly benefit economic prosperity in the UK and Japan. What opportunities for the sector does the Minister see in future FTAs that would help businesses such as Ford UK, based in Basildon?
My hon. Friend and the SMMT are both right. Turkey—as well as Japan—is important, not least to Ford. We prize our trading relationship with Turkey and recognise how important Turkish supply chains are to our automotive manufacturers, including Ford of Britain. I am pleased to say that UK and Turkish officials are working hard to ensure that trading arrangements transition into a bilateral agreement at the end of the implementation period, and I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting, unlike the right hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), issues that will help prosperity, jobs and businesses in this country instead of posturing and posing for the benefit of the hard left.
UK Exports of Arms and Equipment
We assess all export licence applications on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. We draw on all available information, including reports from NGOs and our own overseas network. I can assure the hon. Lady that we will not license the export of equipment where to do so would be inconsistent with the consolidated criteria.
I thank the Minister for his response, but there is a worrying pattern here. Last year, the Secretary of State said that her Department had inadvertently allowed licences for arms destined for Saudi Arabia to use against Yemeni civilians. Now she has failed to answer the clear questions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) regarding the export of riot control equipment to the US and its use against civilians involved in the Black Lives Matter protests. Is that because the Secretary of State has inadvertently allowed those exports too, or does she simply not know what is happening in her own Department?
Not at all. The United Kingdom has issued licences to the United States in a number of different areas, and those have been provided in written answers to the shadow Secretary of State, but we continue to monitor developments in all countries, including the United States, very closely, and we are able to review licences, and suspend or revoke them as necessary, when circumstances require. That would be done in line with the consolidated criteria.
Arms export criteria state that licences should not be granted if
“there is a clear risk that the items might be used for internal repression”.
In the light of the police in America using tear gas and rubber bullets, which may have been supplied by the UK, to attack Black Lives Matter protesters, will the Minister cancel licences involved in the arming of repression? On a technical point can he tell me whether tear gas equipment is covered by the open general export licence for the US-UK defence trade co-operation treaty?
I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I have just given. We will continue to monitor developments closely. We will review where necessary. On the technical points that she refers to, I welcome her probing question. We believe that criterion 2 is very important. It addresses the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the country of final destination, and that is something that Her Majesty’s Government will certainly bear in mind as we review situations in the United States or elsewhere.
Free Trade Agreements: Human Rights
The UK has commenced trade negotiations with the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. The UK has a strong history of safeguarding human rights and promoting our values globally, and our strong economic relationships with like-minded trading partners allow the UK to open discussions on a range of difficult issues, including human rights. We continue to encourage all states to uphold international human rights obligations.
I thank the Minister for his response, but does he agree that the Government’s de-prioritisation of human rights in favour of trade has been exacerbated and highlighted by Brexit, and has been part of a long-running trend dating back to the coalition Government? Pragmatism on human rights has been particularly clear when it comes to the promotion of trade, and there has been a conscious decision not to seek the inclusion of clauses relating to human rights in most of the post-Brexit agreements. The Government have listed 16 countries and trading blocs where negotiations are ongoing about rolling over existing EU trade deals beyond 31 December, so can the Minister tell us whether human rights are part of those discussions, and will he guarantee the inclusion—
Order. It has to be a question, and it has to be fairly short. I am sure the Minister has a grip of what he needs to say.
Let us be absolutely clear: there has been no relaxation or watering down of the UK’s complete commitment to human rights. That is valid right across the Government, including in the Department for International Trade and in trade deals. The hon. Lady referred to the continuity EU agreements. Part of the issue there is that the Cotonou agreement itself is expiring. What we have sought to do is to ensure that the practical outcome of that element of the existing EU trade deal is maintained in the rolled-over deal. That applies to such things as the Andean agreement and other agreements that we have with developing-world countries, ensuring that human rights remain at the core of the agenda and that there is no watering down of the human rights commitments in existing trade agreements.
We have launched trade negotiations with four of our closest partners: the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand—close allies with shared values, believing in democracy and free enterprise. We are prepared to walk away if any deal is not in the national interest. We will not lower our food standards. They are overseen by the independent Food Standards Agency and are in UK law. Ambitious free trade agreements will deliver on the Brexit promise to drive an industrial revival in this country and level up the UK.
I note the response that the Secretary of State gave to her opposite number earlier when talking about Brazil, but we are still trading with Brazil. Between 2013 and 2019, British financial institutions provided over $2 billion in financial backing to Brazilian beef companies linked to Amazon deforestation. How can we ensure that there is greater transparency in our supply chains so that we are not unwittingly, through exports from Brazil, contributing to such environmental degradation?
First, we are doing a lot of work on our supply chains, looking at vulnerabilities and resilience and making sure we have more transparency in supply chains. That work is being led through the Department for International Trade and Project Defend. Through our climate change negotiations, as we head towards COP26, that is precisely the type of issue that the Business Secretary will be looking at.
First, I praise the long-standing work that my hon. Friend has done in local government leadership over many years. Local government and councils will play a key role. This week, I have spoken to civic leaders, including Andy Burnham in Manchester and candidate Shaun Bailey in London, and impressed on them the importance of trade and investment decisions in our biggest cities. Trade and investment is a whole-of-the-UK effort involving all four nations, and all regions and cities, including councils and local government. I praise my hon. Friend for his work.
On Monday in Yemen, 13 civilians travelling by road, including four children, were killed in an alleged Saudi airstrike—the latest innocent victims of this barbaric war. A year ago this week, the Court of Appeal ruled that it is unlawful for the Government to license any more exports of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in the war in Yemen, and ordered the Government to review all extant licences in the light of that judgment. A full year later, can the Secretary of State tell us whether that review of extant licences is complete and, if not, why not?
As the right hon. Lady knows from the written ministerial statement I made earlier this year, we have been reviewing our processes and making sure all the work we do is compliant with the consolidated criteria.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but the fact is that, a year on from the Court of Appeal ruling, British firms are still exporting arms for use in Yemen, and that is unacceptable.
On a related issue, the Government refuse point black to tell us whether British-made tear gas and other riot equipment have been used in the United States over the past month. I ask the Secretary of State a very simple but important question that goes alongside that: does she condemn the tear gassing and beating of unarmed, peaceful protesters and journalists, and will she make it clear that riot equipment should never be used in that way?
Of course we are all extremely concerned about what has happened in the US—in particular, the killing of George Floyd. We are very, very concerned about that. However, we have one of the strictest arms licensing regimes in the world and we are absolutely clear—I have made this clear to the team—that we always comply with the consolidated criteria.
I thank my hon. Friend for her commitment to this important cause. I am convening a meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers, due to take place this autumn, and the issue of female empowerment and entrepreneurship and the SheTrades initiative will be on the agenda for the meeting.
I am working very hard to get rid of the small ruminant rule in the United States, which prevents the export of our fantastic Welsh lamb to the market—[Interruption.] I hear the hon. Gentleman shouting from a sedentary position. The US is the second largest importer of lamb in the world. It is a massive opportunity for lamb. In fact, this afternoon, I have a call with some Welsh sheep farmers to talk to them precisely about these opportunities. I suggest that he gets behind the US trade deal rather than shouting from the Back Benches.
This is very opportune, because last week, I was the guest speaker at the Black Country chamber of commerce, and they were uniformly enthusiastic about the Government’s free trade agenda and trade and investment agenda. Perhaps if the Opposition were to go along, they might hear that, and some of this enthusiasm might rub off on them. I remember taking a question from a particular firm, Thomas Dudley, in the area about the roll-over of the CARIFORUM agreement with the Commonwealth Caribbean countries and the Dominican Republic. It was very concerned to hear that the Labour party is opposed to the Trade Bill, which would see the roll-over of that EU agreement and make an operable UK agreement. They were shocked at the seeming disregard by—[Interruption.]
Order. I think you have made the political points very well, but it is not an election yet—I think you can hold your fire a little bit longer. I would be more worried that people will be asking who you sat next to at the dinner.
We engage with the devolved Administrations on a regular basis. Baroness Morgan is my opposite number in the Welsh Government and we have a very good relationship, both on free trade agreements and on the whole relationship on trade between the UK Government and the Welsh Government. We make sure, through the ministerial forum for trade, that the devolved Administrations are updated and kept constantly apprised of our free trade agreement agenda. I look forward to continuing our excellent work with the Welsh Government.
I completely agree about the fantastic products such as Wensleydale, Yorkshire beef and lamb and all these opportunities. In fact, the first cargoes of British beef will be leaving UK ports this summer destined for America, now that the beef ban has been lifted. That is worth £66 million to the industry over the next five years. Of course, there is nothing nicer than a Sunday lunch and a nice bit of beef and Yorkshire pudding.
I thank the hon. Lady for her positive question about Chile. Chile is an important trade partner of the UK. Of course, it is a key member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which we want to join. We want to have a better trading relationship with Chile and the 11 fast-growing members of that agreement.
As I have said, we are absolutely committed to maintaining our high animal welfare standards and our high import standards and also to making sure that our farmers do not face unfair competition. That is something I am going to negotiate in every trade agreement we are discussing. There are huge opportunities, such as with malting barley. We are the second largest exporter of malting barley into Japan, and there are fantastic malting barley producers all across Norfolk who will benefit from lower tariffs and more trade.
If the hon. Lady looks at the analysis of the US agreement, it shows that UK farming benefits. That is because people in the United States want to buy high-quality, high-welfare UK produce.
My hon. Friend will know that the Food Standards Agency is extremely well placed on this issue. He will know that the chair, Heather Hancock, sent a letter to all parliamentarians, which I recommend all parliamentarians read and digest. There was also a letter from the Secretaries of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and for International Trade about the important work of this non-ministerial Government department. To be clear, decisions on standards will be made separately from trade negotiations.
I have already answered a letter from the shadow Secretary of State on precisely this issue. Quarterly, we publish exactly which export licences we issue as a Department. We are completely transparent, and we operate in line with the consolidated criteria.
I can give my right hon. Friend an absolute assurance that all the regulations we currently have in place with the EU will be transposed into UK law. However, it is not the case that we ask other countries to follow our domestic regulations. We currently import produce from Canada on zero tariffs without those requirements. We currently import goods from the developing world without those requirements. What is very important, and what I am committed to in all the trade negotiations, is making sure that any deal we achieve does not undermine our domestic production standards.
Obviously the whole of government is extremely concerned by the situation in Kashmir. It is primarily of course a matter for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that trade assists dialogue and assists countries and peoples to come together. In reference to India, we are having a JETCO—India-UK Joint Economic and Trade Committee—shortly to talk about trade between the UK and India. In relation to Pakistan, as I said earlier, we are rolling over the GSP-plus arrangements that the EU currently has with Pakistan, which also include a key human rights element. Making sure that dialogue continues and that trade continues will assist in that.
I am sure the House would like to be with me in prayers and thoughts for the sad news that Dame Vera Lynn has died—one of the great British icons.
In order to allow safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on the merger of the Department for International Development with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I begin by thanking the hon. Lady and welcoming this opportunity to respond to her question on the merger between DFID and the FCO. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister announced that they will merge to become the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. I can tell the House that the process will start immediately and will be completed by September. Alongside this merger, Her Majesty’s trade commissioners will now report formally to the ambassadors and high commissioners in their respective countries. The Prime Minister will set the UK’s overall international strategy, through the National Security Council, and by integrating development policy with our diplomatic network, the UK will be following a similar model to that of some of our closest international partners, such as Australia and Canada.
This move is about placing our world-class aid programme at the beating heart of our foreign policy decision making. We will integrate the development expertise and know-how that DFID does so well with the diplomatic reach and clout of the Foreign Office, ensuring that our impact abroad is bigger than the sum of its parts. Far from diminishing our ambitions, it will elevate them. As the Prime Minister set out on Tuesday, we retain our commitment to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on development, but through closer integration we will maximise the impact of our aid budget in helping the very poorest in the world, while making sure we get the very best value for taxpayers’ money.
For too long, we have indulged an artificial line, dividing the goals that our aid budget and foreign policy serve. This coronavirus crisis has confirmed just how artificial that line is. Across Whitehall, I have chaired the international ministerial group, bringing all relevant Departments together to support the most vulnerable countries exposed to covid-19; to energise our pursuit of a vaccine, working with our international partners; to return stranded British citizens from abroad; and to keep vital international supply chains open. In every one of these areas, we have been compelled to align our development, trade, security and wider foreign policy objectives. As in many a crisis, necessity has proven the mother of innovation. For example, at the GAVI vaccine summit, which the Prime Minister recently hosted, we smashed the target for vaccine funding, with $8.8 billion raised. That was a major success, where our development and foreign policy objectives had to be integrated to serve our dual aim of securing a vaccine for the British people, while making it accessible for the most vulnerable people, right across the world. Likewise we are working to bolster the health systems and institutional resilience of the most vulnerable countries, doing so not only out of a sense of moral responsibility, but to safeguard the UK from a potential second wave of the virus. I am afraid those demarcating a boundary between our national interests and our moral responsibilities in the world are mistaken. Covid has reinforced just how inextricably interwoven they are, just how much they reinforce each other and why we need to integrate them in our foreign policy decision making. It is to boost our impact and influence in the world, and that is exactly what we are doing.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister U-turned on free school meal vouchers for disadvantaged kids in England, only to stand at the Dispatch Box and cancel meals for the world’s poorest. UK aid reduces suffering. It is not some “cashpoint in the sky”; we will look to the £900,000 military plane makeover for that. DFID is a world leader. It is what global Britain is all about. No wonder the proposed merger with the Foreign Office has been roundly condemned by three former Prime Ministers.
We have to question why this merger is happening now, in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, when our aid is needed most. Why is this happening prior to the integrated review? The Prime Minister insisted that massive consultation had taken place. Which non-governmental organisations were consulted? To my knowledge, none was. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that DFID employees only heard the news on social media? Were unions consulted? Can the Foreign Secretary commit to retaining all jobs, including the 200 EU nationals who work for DFID and those in East Kilbride? What assessment have the Government made of how much this will all cost?
Is the Secretary of State for International Development happy with this change? It is striking that she has as yet made no statement on the matter. It is almost as though the merger has taken place overnight. Will international development retain a Cabinet Minister and a seat on the National Security Council, so that humanitarian concerns are heard at the very top of Government? The Government have committed to 0.7% of GNI on aid spending, but can the Foreign Secretary confirm that this will be overseen by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact? If not, how will the Foreign Office—poorly rated for official development assistance transparency—be held to account? Can the Government commit to maintaining the International Development Committee?
Can the Foreign Secretary guarantee that this will not open the door to tied aid? Do the Government have any intention to repeal or amend any legislation about international development, and if so, in what way? Do the Government intend to continue to use the Development Assistance Committee definition of aid, and if not, what definition will they use? Will the Government ensure that poverty reduction is central to our approach, and how is this consistent with the Prime Minister’s ambitions to take aid away from Zambia and give it to Ukraine?
Finally, what will happen to all new DFID projects, which reportedly have been paused, and will the Foreign Secretary have a say? How will this decision impact on current recipients of DFID’s spending? Will it impact on the UK’s Gavi commitments referenced by the Prime Minister, and will the Government commit to equitable access to covid-19 technologies?
I thank the hon. Lady. It is good to hear that she is championing global Britain, and I agree with her on her points about the centrality of UK aid to our foreign policy, including our soft power. I totally agree with her on that. Her instincts and ours are entirely aligned.
I have explained and set out in my answer to her question exactly why we are doing this now. Covid-19—the crisis, the challenge—has forced us to align and integrate more closely than we have done before, and that was a positive step, but it has also shown how much further we can go if we integrate the formal decision-making structures. The discussions about and consideration of this have been going on for several weeks and months, but it has been under debate for considerably longer.
The hon. Lady asked about the financial repercussions of the merger. Of course, there are opportunities to save administrative costs, but as we have made clear, there will be no compulsory redundancies or anything like that. We are committed to the 0.7% of GNI commitment, which is something she asked. I can give her reassurance about that. We want the aid budget and the development know-how and expertise that we have in DFID—it has done a fantastic job, including under respective Development Secretaries—at the beating heart of our international decision-making processes.
The hon. Lady asked about the Select Committee. It is ultimately, I believe, a matter for the House, but certainly the Government’s view is that normally the Select Committees would mirror Government Departments. However, as I say, that is a decision for the usual channels and, ultimately, for the House.
The hon. Lady then asked about the National Security Council. Ultimately, the Prime Minister leads the foreign policy of the day. He does that, in practical terms, through his chairmanship of the National Security Council. The role of Secretary of State for the new Department will be to make sure, in an integrated and aligned way, that aid is right at the heart, not just of the Foreign Office, but of Cabinet discussions and NSC discussions.
The hon. Lady also mentioned the Gavi summit. The Gavi summit is an exceptional example of why it makes sense to integrate our decision-making processes in this way, because it links our development means and goals with our wider foreign policy goals. We want a vaccine for the people of this country, but we also know, as a matter of moral responsibility but also good sensible foreign policy, that we must do more to uphold the most vulnerable countries and help them weather the crisis, so that we do not get a second wave of this crisis.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East and North Africa has just come back from a virtual meeting on Yemen. Yemen is another exceptionally good example of where our foreign policy interests in bringing an end to that terrible conflict align with our development and aid goals—with trying to alleviate the humanitarian plight. I would hope that is something that Members in all parts of the House could get behind.
My right hon. Friend has already spoken about various opportunities. Will he please speak very clearly about the ethos of the international aid Department, and how much that ethos will be kept in the new structure? Because clearly Britain’s soft power really does rely on a fantastic team of people, who have done amazing work over the years to develop an independent and very powerful voice for the UK in standing up for the world’s poorest. Now I think that can be integrated with our politics; in fact, I think it is fundamental to our foreign policy that we champion both together, but clearly it does require maintaining those people, keeping that ethos and maintaining the morale of an amazing team.
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I know that he has looked at this very closely. We have discussed the integration of foreign policy on many occasions. That is absolutely essential, and I agree with him entirely that we want to keep not just the funding but the expertise, the know-how, the branding, the soft power—the elements that make the United Kingdom a development superpower—in the new structure. However, the reality is, and I thank him for his agreement on this, that we have an opportunity to do even better if we focus our aid and our foreign policy, and indeed, we are more aligned on trade and defence and wider security matters in a more focused way. That is the exciting opportunity that this merger allows, but I agree with him entirely on the point that he raised.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) for her important urgent question.
“The effectiveness with which DFID is able to deliver aid is because the Department has decades of honed experience in understanding the most effective and targeted ways of spending taxpayers’ money”—[Official Report, 10 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 276.]
—not my words, but those of the Secretary of State for International Development, last week, who now appears to have simply been completely overruled.
Scrapping a Department that is crucial to global vaccine development provides health care and aids the world’s poorest in the middle of a global pandemic is irresponsible and counterproductive and wrong. The Government should be totally focused on steering our country through the challenges we face right now. We have had one of the highest death tolls from covid-19 in the world. Millions of children are out of school and face the worst unemployment crisis in a generation, which will hit young people and the lowest-paid the hardest; and these challenges are global too.
Instead, the Prime Minister has decided to undertake a large-scale restructure, which will cost millions of pounds of public money, and he will abolish a Department that is the most transparent, the most effective and a global champion at delivering value for money for British taxpayers. Instead, UK aid will be spent through Departments, which, TaxPayers Alliance found,
“to poverty reduction or the national interest.”
So can the Foreign Secretary tell me: when did the Prime Minister decide this matter? Why did he not wait for the conclusion of the integrated review? Did the decision go through the National Security Council? Which civil society and development partners were consulted? How much will the reorganisation cost and what legislative changes are planned? Will the DFID budget be ring-fenced in the new Department?
The Foreign Secretary also mentioned trade envoys. What role now for the Department for International Trade? Multiple former Prime Ministers, from both sides of the House, have criticised the decision. A former Conservative Secretary of State for International Development said:
“Most British diplomats lack the experience and skills to manage 100 million pound development programs…Trying to pretend these two very different organisations are”
Laurie Lee, the chief executive of Care International, said,
“this is the worst decision on aid since the Pergau dam scandal”
“In the middle of a national crisis, the Prime Minister has chosen to spend time, focus and effort on fixing a problem which does not exist…it’s not too late…to think again.”
This is not global Britain. This retreat from the global stage is a mistake, and we firmly oppose this attempt to abolish the Department. It will not only have a life-threatening impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, but it will reduce our ability to make the world safer, fairer and better for all.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and welcome the opportunity to debate this issue with him. He asked a number of questions, including on timing. The covid crisis has required the Government to act and operate in ways that we have not done before—
He is shaking his head before he receives the answer—I thought we were going to have a sensible debate about the pros and cons of this change. I listened carefully to what he said, so he might do me that courtesy in return. We had an integrated approach, and we brought the alignment as far as we conceivably could on covid, the repatriation of nationals, the hunt for a vaccine, and keeping supply chains open. However, this situation has brought to light and made clear to us how much more effective we can be if we integrate through this merger.
The hon. Gentleman asked when the Prime Minister made the final decision. Obviously he spent weeks considering it, but he announced the change on Tuesday, swiftly after the conclusions had been resolved. The hon. Gentleman asked whether the aid budget will be protected, and we are committed to the figure of 0.7% of gross national income—I think that reassures those who are concerned that somehow the aid budget will be cut as a result of this change, which is not true.
The hon. Gentleman asked about DIT and trade, and as the Prime Minister made clear on Tuesday, we will ensure that our trade envoys are responsible for formally reporting to ambassadors and high commissioners in their respective countries. More broadly, the International Trade Secretary, who answered questions in the House a few moments ago, is doing an exceptional job in striking those free trade deals, which are a great opportunity for businesses and consumers in this country. That will continue. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned third party support. There has been widespread agreement on this from the Chair of the Select Committee, from my predecessor as Foreign Secretary, and from the HALO Trust, which is a charity that deals with landmines and welcomes this move.
I will leave the hon. Gentleman with one thought: of OECD developed countries, only one has a separate Ministry of Development. Indeed, the tide has been in the direction of integrating foreign policy with aid and development, as that is the progressive thing to do. I understand why the Labour party, which set up DFID, feels proprietorial about it, but what matters is the effectiveness of foreign policy. What we have learned during coronavirus is that this merger will ensure that we can be as effective as possible, and deliver more efficient value for taxpayers’ money.
In the past week we have seen three changes to the machinery of government, including the merger of the FCO and DFID. All those moves are designed to maximise our resources, as we reignite and re-establish the UK’s global position. In order to continue that restructuring and make it even more comprehensive, particularly with the trade commissioners reporting to the ambassadors, what plans does my right hon. Friend have to support our business export activities, by eventually bringing the Department for International Trade into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office? Surely that would now make sense.
I thank my right hon. Friend, and pay tribute to her expertise and experience in this area. We are not proposing to integrate DIT into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, but through the structure with trade envoys we want to maximise our impact in those countries where we are seeking to liberalise, free up, and open up greater access for British businesses and British exports.
We now head to Scotland and the SNP spokesperson, Chris Law, who has one minute.
The decision to abolish the Department for International Development and rechannel funds for eradicating global poverty to further diplomatic and commercial interests is unforgivable, particularly amid a global pandemic. The last three Prime Ministers opposed this merger, as does every development organisation that has been in touch, and the SNP. Today the International Development Secretary is not even present to answer any questions. Will the Foreign Secretary say whether the Cabinet was consulted? Were international development organisations consulted, and which, if any, supported this decision?
How will aid spending be scrutinised in the new Department? Will the UK continue to follow the Development Assistance Committee definition of official development assistance, or will the Government try to redefine aid on their own terms? Finally, today we learned that one of the UK Government’s recent Secretaries of State would like the HMS Royal Yacht Britannia to be funded on the back of the poorest, most vulnerable and marginalised people in the world. Is the royal family even aware of that? Is it not the case that such a move is led not by a vision of global Britain, but by the myopic Prime Minister of “let them eat cake” Britain?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive and measured response to this proposal. He asked a series of serious questions, and it is incumbent on me to respond to them. He asked about protecting the aid budget. We have made clear that we remain committed to 0.7% of GNI. He asked about consultation. Of course, there were discussions across Government about this, and it has been looked at closely. The Prime Minister had indicated, with the establishment of joint Ministers across the FCO and DFID, that we wanted to take steps down this path to further integration. As I mentioned in my previous responses, what has really focused our minds is what we have learnt in coming through the challenge of coronavirus on the international level.
The hon. Gentleman asked about third-party support. The former Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has welcomed it. My right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt) has welcomed it. The Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has welcomed it. He said that no NGOs did, but I can quote James Cowan, CEO of the HALO Trust, a landmine clearance charity, who said that he welcomes this decision because UK policy
“is very siloed… and needs to be broken down”
and brought together. We certainly endorse that. Aid policy and the aid budget will be at the centre—it will be the beating heart—of our international decision-making.
I am probably going to run this session for 20 minutes, so we need speedy questions and answers.
Will my right hon. Friend consider using overseas aid to create a large-scale, nationwide voluntary overseas apprentice scheme, sending young people overseas to work with charities and businesses to help developing countries but also develop the skills that they need?
I thank my right hon. Friend, the Chair of the Education Committee, who always manages to get apprenticeships into every question he asks with fantastic zeal and enthusiasm. I share his passion. I would be very interested to look at any suggestions he had. One of our priorities is ensuring that every young girl can have a quality education at least up to the age of 12, and that is a good example of where we want to maximise, strengthen and reinforce development policy within our wider international agenda.
This rushed merger was done without consultation with the sector, Parliament, staff or the staff trade unions, at a time when the global south is about to be hit by a global pandemic. The Government urgently need to clarify the implications of the merger on the 3,600 DFID staff. Does the Foreign Secretary agree with the Prime Minister that there needs to be an ODA Select Committee? Is he committed to the Conservative Independent Commission for Aid Impact? Can he confirm that existing DFID projects will continue and funding agreements will remain in place, and what will happen to the current review of DFID projects?
I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Lady does in this area. I do not think it is right to say that we are having no scrutiny. I am here before the Chamber, the Prime Minister has made a statement to the House, and we want to continue that as we go through this process. She asked about accountability. Of course, we want maximum accountability for not just the process but the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in terms of the structures that apply to it and here in the House of Commons.
I have already answered the question about the Select Committee. Our view is that, in the normal course, it is right for Select Committees to mirror Government Departments, but ultimately that is a matter for the House. There is a huge opportunity in this process to leverage the very best of our aid—not just money but ethos, passion and commitment—with the muscle and clout that comes with our diplomatic network, and that is what we are committed to delivering.
As the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare, the interconnectedness of the modern world means that no one is safe until we are all safe. The UK’s commitment to international development is even more vital in the response to covid-19 at home and abroad. The sudden merging of DFID and the FCO and the absence of any parliamentary scrutiny or consultation means that we must focus on the quality of aid now spent through the Foreign Office. Can the Foreign Secretary give the House a commitment that the aid budget will not be tilted towards richer countries like Ukraine and that we will continue to spend at least 50% of aid in the least developed countries? Can he give a yes or no answer to this: will there be a retaining of a Cabinet Minister responsible for international development—not the Prime Minister—with a place on the National Security Council, so that humanitarian and development considerations are heard at the top of Government?
I share the hon. Lady’s passion and commitment in this area. We have made the commitment to 0.7% of gross national income. We will discuss and scrutinise all the questions around accountability and the structure of the new body. Aid will be represented not just in foreign policy but in the NSC and at the Cabinet table by the Secretary of State for the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—that would obviously be me—and the Prime Minister will oversee it through the NSC, which he chairs.
First, will the Secretary of State confirm that claims that this merger will take money from the world’s poorest are simply false? Secondly, will he say whether this is a one-off move or part of a programme to give greater coherence and integration to British overseas policy?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. In fact, I wanted to say in relation to the previous question that we are absolutely committed not just to safeguarding and protecting but to improving the work we do to help and lift out of poverty the most vulnerable and the poorest around the world. My hon. Friend asked whether this was a process. I think we are on a process of further integration, but our current plans are the ones that we have announced, and we are very focused on making sure we get maximum effectiveness out of this merger.
Approximately 600 jobs in the Department for International Development in East Kilbride in my constituency may be placed at risk by the shocking Government plans announced this week—shocking to staff, who found out just a few hours before the announcement, and shocking to the international community. They have caused considerable anxiety for local staff and all their families, who have been contacting me. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss these crucial issues for my constituency and to guarantee that those highly skilled DFID jobs will remain in East Kilbride?
First, may I give the hon. Lady the reassurance she needs that the office in her constituency will not be closed? Is it not fantastic to have an SNP Member of this House asking for and giving value to the work that the United Kingdom Government do in Scotland, both domestically and around the world? We welcome her support in that regard.
I had the privilege of being a merged Minister in both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development, and I could see how well our embassies and high commissions worked across Africa presenting a “one UK” face to the world. Will the Foreign Secretary reassure me on three points: first, that he will be a strong voice in Cabinet for the world’s poorest and most dispossessed; secondly, that the proportion of the aid budget that is spent in the poorest and most conflict-affected countries will continue to be significant and at least where it is now; and thirdly, that he will prioritise the campaign for 12 years of quality education for every girl?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the fantastic job she did. It is hard to believe but we do believe we can do even better by integrating, through this merger, the aid and foreign policy functions. She asked three specific questions; it is a yes on all three counts. Indeed, one of the first things I did yesterday was speak to Professor Paul Collier, one of a number of experts in the field, to look at how we can maximise our aid effort alongside our foreign policy, our trade and our wider international security objectives.
For 20 years, since the success of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, there has been a consensus across the House about the importance of international development, and I commend the Churches in particular for delivering and establishing that consensus. I deeply regret that this downgrade is bringing it to an end. Does the Foreign Secretary recognise how many people in the UK profoundly disagree with his claim and believe there is a profound difference between focusing on doing good in the world—tackling poverty and dealing with the climate crisis—and what he and his colleagues regard as our own national interests?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He is one of those Members of this House I always listen to with great care and interest, and he has a track record on these issues as well as on financial issues and many others. I made this point in my opening remarks that we have to be careful about this artificial dividing line between what serves our moral sense of duty and what serves a harder, grittier perception of the national interest. I think that that is an artificial dividing line. I believe in a sense of moral self-interest, an enlightened self-interest, and if he looks at what we are doing on vaccines at the Gavi summit, he will see that that will crystallise the opportunity for us to do things that serve the people of this country, by securing a vaccine, while helping the most vulnerable in the world.
Britain is not alone in unifying its foreign policy, so does my right hon. Friend agree that we can learn from countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, which run well-respected and well- funded development programmes from their Foreign Ministries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is perhaps one of the reflections of the debate in this country that very little attention is paid to the fact that of the OECD countries, there is only one now with a separate Ministry for Development. Indeed, the trend since 2009 has all been in the opposite direction—in Belgium, Australia, and Canada. The zeitgeist and the progressive thing to do is to bring together those functions to ensure that they have maximum impact together.
The Pergau dam aid for arms scandal under the Conservative Government more than 25 years ago exposed the dangers of tying aid to foreign policy. Indeed, in 1994, in a landmark judgment, aid for Pergau was declared unlawful. Is the Foreign Secretary fully confident that there is no danger at all of history repeating itself?
I understand the point the hon. Gentleman is making. It is a perfectly respectable one, but the world has moved on, policy has moved on, and accountability and governance have moved on since the 1980s. Of course we are in a different place. I pay tribute to all the work that DFID has done since 1997. I understand why the Government, through that period, thought it was right as of and in its time. The best way now, the progressive way now, to integrate foreign policy with aid and development is to bring those functions together, and that is where most of the developing countries—indeed almost all of them—have gone.
Departmental fragmentation is a very real problem in Government, which is why I welcome the announcement made by my right hon. Friend. This Government’s commitment to international aid is, of course, enshrined in law. How will he ensure that social justice programmes, such as those that he has already talked about, including 12 years of quality education for girls, which has been championed by the Prime Minister, continue to receive the priority they need within a much more complex framework?
I thank my right hon. Friend and former Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee. Of course she will know from the equalities agenda how easy it is for cross-cutting issues to fall between the cracks of individual Government Departments. We remain absolutely committed, and she will know that I am personally committed, to our campaign to ensure that there are 12 years of quality education for every girl in the world, not just as a matter of moral duty but because it is one of the best levers to raise poverty in those countries. I also cite COP26 and climate change as another example of where we need to bring together our domestic ambitions and our international ambitions across the board and unite our diplomatic muscle and leverage with our development goals.
The spread of covid-19 has pushed half a billion people into poverty and 265 million to the brink of starvation. This merger is a massive distraction in the middle of an emergency. Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that official development assistance will not be misspent on foreign security projects, which risk the UK contributing to human rights abuses abroad?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I know that she takes a very close interest in this matter. In relation to conflict situations in particular—I have mentioned Yemen, but I can think of other situations around the world—integrating the aid and development budget and policy is the way that we will get a coherent approach, which not only brings the conflict to an end and alleviates the humanitarian crisis, but is the best vehicle for protecting human rights sustainably.
In my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Nigeria, may I say that that our best high commissions around the world, such as that in Abuja, already work on an integrated basis? Does not this merger merely justify what is already happening on the ground?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, we are taking advantage of those officials—I have asked Nic Hailey to head up some of this work in the Foreign Office, as he has experience in Kenya doing exactly what my hon. Friend described in Nigeria—to help us knit together the aid, the development and the wider foreign policy functions. It is misplaced, but I understand why, to think that these functions, including the international security functions in those countries, should remain siloed. The most effective way, with the highest impact, is to bring them together.
For the past two decades the world has witnessed the impact of DFID’s life-saving investments in the HIV response and the wider global health arena. That critical UK global leadership on HIV, health and international development must not be squandered at a time when years of progress are already at risk of being unravelled. How does the Secretary of State believe this level of focus will be achieved in an already overstretched FCO?
The hon. Gentleman raises exactly the point at issue. We want to maximise our focus and funding, but also our political effort, on those key priorities and ensure that we are delivering with the very highest impact. HIV and some of the other ground-breaking areas where we have helped to reduce disease, malnourishment and poverty are absolutely a top priority in the new administrative structures.
This important and necessary change provides the crystal clear clarity of purpose needed to boost and bolster global Britain. Our commitment to spend 0.7% of our national income on aid is enshrined in law. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we owe it to the people of our nation and the many we help across the world to make the best use of every penny?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is exactly what this merger is all about. Ultimately, it is not about the institutional mechanics, but about the strategic objectives and ensuring that foreign policy, aid and our wider international objectives are brought together, and that we demonstrate at home and abroad—in all the areas he described—that we are bigger than the sum of our parts.
“some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 670.]
That is how the Prime Minister describes aid to the poorest and most exploited nations and people in the globe. In a Spectator article, he previously mocked such aid as “politically correct”, with aid workers building toilets that people will end up living in and handing out condoms. In the same article, he said of British colonialism in Africa:
“The problem is not that we were once in charge, but that we are not in charge any more.”
Is it not the brutal truth that the Prime Minister is not interested in poverty reduction at home or abroad?
No; after all that bluff and bluster, there is really only a one-word answer. Look at what this Prime Minister did when he was Foreign Secretary—his commitment to making sure every girl has 12 years’ education; the passion that he has brought to the COP26 agenda—a conference that we will host; his commitment to making sure that we promote media freedom throughout the world, as well as all those wider aid and development functions. This is someone who has direct experience of foreign policy and knows, as I understand, that we can maximise our impact in all those areas where we share aspirations and objectives right across the House, and that we can get better results for the people we are trying to help across the world, but also for taxpayers’ money in this country.
I very much welcome this merger, which is good for global Britain, good for aid beneficiaries, and good for our ability to explain and advocate international development among a generally sceptical population. Can the Foreign Secretary say, however, what the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s role will be in the merged Department? Also, since DFID’s terms and conditions of service for its staff tend to be rather better than those for Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff and diplomats, will there be a levelling up or a levelling down?
May I thank my right hon. Friend and say what a fantastic Minister he was in the Foreign Office? I worked very closely with him and he was exceptional. He will know from his brilliant work on Yemen the importance of bringing together conflict resolution foreign policy objectives with the aid and development budget and programme that we have been delivering. We will come forward with the details he described as soon as practical so that this House can scrutinise them, but I can certainly tell him that we will want to maintain, if not increase, maximum scrutiny over the aid budget and the functioning of this merger.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer to the urgent question. This move mirrors similar situations in countries such as Australia, with its well respected Aussie Aid. In the merger of the FCO and DFID, what importance will be attached to the provision of sexual and reproductive health rights and family planning as a key component of ODA going forward?
May I thank my hon. Friend and say what a fantastic Minister she was for the Asia-Pacific region? She will know first hand what can be done when we combine all the resources, expertise and efforts right across Government in the international sphere. On the public health goals she mentions, we will not be diluting or dimming the development goals in any way, shape or form.
The reorganisation of Government Departments is day-to-day business; what we object to is the explicit and deliberate politicisation of international aid. Will the Foreign Secretary at least commit to meeting the international development non-government organisations to discuss, for the first time, implementing this selfish vanity project in the least bad way possible?
The hon. Gentleman talks about not politicising and then he comes up with a comment like that. Of course, we will look very carefully. We understand—I want to be clear about this—why NGOs are not universally, shall we say, welcoming this merger. Over £1 billion goes into NGOs’ budgets every year from the aid budget, so I understand why they take a very close interest. I have given the reassurance that we are retaining the 0.7% commitment. Ultimately, in the last analysis, we have to ensure that our policy and taxpayers’ money is brought together and invested in a way that can deliver the most effective results for the strategic objectives of alleviating poverty for the most vulnerable, and delivering on climate change and on the wider international agenda that we on the Conservative Benches passionately support.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for Africa, I would like to put on record my view that the takeover of DFID by the FCO will undermine Britain’s influence in Africa, not enhance it. Diplomacy is not development. Diplomacy must and should be driven by British interests. Development must be seen to be in the interests of the country concerned. DFID benefited from not being seen as an arm of British foreign policy. Will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to confirm that this takeover will not lead to a reduction in the proportion of aid that goes to Africa?
I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Lady, but I respect her view. I actually think that Africa—we mentioned Nigeria and Kenya as two examples—is an area where we really need to bring together, in one united, forged effort, development, aid and foreign policy objectives in conflict zones. I started my career as a war crimes lawyer—I worked in the FCO—and I saw the risk of having a shadow aid foreign policy at the time of conflict resolution. Bringing those things together will lead not only to a more effective aid and development set of objectives, but to more effective foreign policy. I think that will be at its highest and greatest in Africa.
Having spent time with DFID teams around the globe, I was initially concerned when I heard about the merger. However, they always worked positively and I believe we should too. I therefore wish my right hon. Friend well in looking after the aid budget. I know that he believes in social justice and results, so I trust him to do so. As I am sat next to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), may I ask the Foreign Secretary to ensure that we deliver value for money with our aid budget?
I agree with everything my hon. Friend says. He mentions our right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. I pay tribute to the incredible work he did at DFID. We are absolutely committed, with even more passion and even more zeal, to those objectives, while at the same time, as my hon. Friend rightly says, making sure we can deliver the best bang for our buck with British taxpayers’ money. The best way to do that is in a co-ordinated and integrated way. That is what the merger will achieve.
After failing to consult the Cabinet let alone the sector, does the takeover not spell the end of collective responsibility and transparency, and show us that it is not the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister in charge but another Dominic—and he has got to go?
I had thought we were on the cusp of a very serious question but it descended into political cut and thrust. Actually what we are really focused on, and what this crisis has proved, is that necessity is the mother of innovation and invention. We have to try to drive greater effectiveness not just domestically as we tackle coronavirus but in our international effort, and that is what we are focused on.
I welcome the merger for all the benefits of co-ordination and synergy that it promises. Could the Foreign Secretary please confirm that it will also come with a more comprehensive strategy for combining all the multiple threads of soft and hard power?
We have of course taken this merger decision now because we can see that we need to be as effective as we possibly can be during this coronavirus challenge. Equally, it will help to galvanise the integrated view that will bring into play all the wider security factors that my hon. Friend mentioned.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House please give us the forthcoming business?
The business for the week commencing 22 June will include:
Monday 22 June—Second Reading of the Extradition (Provisional Arrest) Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 23 June—Remaining stages of the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill followed by motions relating to the establishment of an independent expert panel to consider cases raised under the independent complaints and grievance scheme.
Wednesday 24 June—Opposition day (9th allotted day). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the official Opposition, subject to be announced.
Thursday 25 June—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments followed by a debate on a petition relating to the recognition and reward for health and social care workers; followed by a debate on a petition relating to the support for UK industries in response to covid-19. The subjects for those debates were determined by the Petitions Committee.
Friday 26 June—The House is not expected to be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for next week. Let me start by sending my condolences to Dame Vera Lynn’s family and friends. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] The Queen mentioned some of the songs that we all know: we will all meet again someday.
I thank the Leader of the House for allotting another Opposition day. Obviously, we will be dealing with highly topical subjects. I do not know what we have done to deserve another day, but we may yet force another U-turn, as we did through our “Holidays Without Hunger” campaign. He has not announced the recess dates and it is important for us to know them, as well as details of the business, as we are keen to get on with the legislative programme that he says he wants to get on with. Mention has also been made of a mini-Budget in September, and it will be useful to know when the Session will end—whether it is to be in November or in May.
Can the Leader of the House say when the Intelligence and Security Committee will be set up? It looks as though the Government are either hiding something or incompetent—perhaps it is both.
The Environment Bill is in Committee and is apparently due to report on 25 June. The shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary has said that about 18 sittings have to be completed, so I wonder whether the Leader of the House could enlighten the House on that.
“it’s reign of terror now and, inevitably, reign of error next”.
Those were the words of Tim Montgomerie, lately of the Leader of the House’s parish. It seems that we are already into the reign of error, because shop workers, who have worked their socks off, keeping us all in food, and who have been so polite and helpful, may be asked to work extra hours on Sunday—that is cruel. We are opposed to that, and I hope the Leader of the House will do a Marcus Rashford and work with the Opposition to make sure the Government do a U-turn on that. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has just done a survey, finding that 92% of shop workers oppose the move and two thirds of them feel they are under pressure when they are asked to work on a Sunday.
What about the reign of error on school meals? That went right to the wire. The Government were going to vote against us until it went right to the wire; the shadow Secretary of State for Education was about to stand up and then she had to admit that the Government had done a U-turn.
Again on the reign of error, not one but three former Prime Ministers think that the Prime Minister is wrong. I do not know whether the Leader of the House heard what the Prime Minister said:
“it is no use a British diplomat one day going in to see the leader of a country and urging him not to cut the head off his opponent and to do something for democracy in his country, if the next day another emanation of the British Government is going to arrive with a cheque for £250 million.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020; Vol. 677, c. 674.]
That shows that the Prime Minister does not understand international development.
We can look at international development, first, as reparation for former colonialism. It goes to organisations on the ground. It is about education and health, and economic development. It provides support to people in their own countries so that they do not feel that they have to leave their countries to search for a better life somewhere else. Most importantly, it gives people hope and it was the right thing to do. I know that the Foreign Secretary said that we are following Australia and Canada, but we in Britain lead, we do not follow. I want to say thank you to Jan Thompson, the acting high commissioner in India, for bringing back all my stranded constituents. She is a diplomat; she is not dealing with international development. It is diplomats who are involved in freeing Nazanin, freeing Anoosheh and freeing Kylie, who, if reports are correct, has been beaten because she has started a choir. I wonder whether the Leader of the House could find out about that. May we have a statement, not just an urgent question granted by Mr Speaker, from the Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on exactly how the Department will be set up? This is chaos and incompetence, without any idea for the infrastructure of the machinery of government.
Another machinery of government change was slipped out in a written statement last week. Apparently, border controls are now in the Cabinet Office. It seems that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wants to wear a uniform and a cap so that he can count people in and count people out. But, really, are we to have border controls in the Cabinet Office? We need an urgent statement on what that is going to look like.
We see the reign of error again in the chaotic and incompetent policy announcement on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement. The Prime Minister obviously does not trust any of his Ministers to do the work, but for those who cannot remember, it was a Labour Government in 1976 who put through the Race Relations Act and the Commission for Racial Equality, which said:
“We work for a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued. We use both persuasion and our powers under the law to give everyone an equal chance to live free from fear, discrimination, prejudice and racism.”
Those of a younger generation who do not think they face racism—it is because we had the Commission for Racial Equality, which changed society.
The Government have to stop dragging the BBC into politics. They know that the over-75s commitment was made by political parties. The BBC has educated, informed and entertained us through this lockdown. The Government must do the right thing in the middle of this crisis and fund the free television licences.
Last week, I missed our Chief Whip’s birthday. I want to put on record his fantastic record. It was on Saturday, the same day as the Queen’s official birthday. He has served five leaders over four decades, and two Prime Ministers, and we thank him for all his work, and also thank Sir Patrick Duffy, formerly of this place, as Member for Colne Valley and for Sheffield, Attercliffe. He is 100. He published his autobiography at 94, and the title is “Growing up Irish in Britain and British in Ireland and in Washington, Moscow, Rome and Sydney”. Sir Patrick, I am sure the whole House wishes you a very happy birthday.
I agree with the right hon. Lady that the whole House sends its condolences to Dame Vera Lynn’s family. She sang uplifting tunes that ensured the nation’s morale was good at a time of desperation. It is noticeable that when we had a difficult time recently, it is once again her words that our sovereign reached for. We look forward to “bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover” as we get blue passports back, so as people come in they will be looking for bluebirds waving their blue passports. We commemorate and remember her for the great contribution she made to boosting the nation’s resolve and morale.
I appreciate the right hon. Lady’s gratitude for Opposition days. I always do my best to ensure that there is contentment on the Opposition Benches. In that spirit, may I add to the celebratory comments about the Opposition Chief Whip’s birthday and his service to Parliament, for which I think he has a genuine commitment and love? I think that has been good news for how this place has operated in some, although not necessarily in all, ways, because he is also a very effective party politician. [Interruption.] I am in favour of effective party politicians. I think it is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. There is no criticism in that; it is part of making a democracy work.
Recess dates are always subject to the progress of parliamentary business and that remains the case. As soon as I can bring an update to the House, I will do so. The Environment Bill is an important Bill. Obviously, because there were no Public Bill Committees during the period when we were entirely hybrid, there have been delays. It would be very unlikely for it to be out of Committee at the date currently proposed.
I am very glad the right hon. Lady welcomes the Government policy on free school meals. The Government are a Government who listen, and that is quite right. It is very odd that the Labour party should come late to a party asking for something, and then when the Government give it, complain that the Government have given it. I do not really see the logic in that. I think the Government have done absolutely the right thing.
As regards the merger of DFID and the Foreign Office, this is an absolutely brilliant policy. It is one that commands support across the country, because it is putting British interests first. It was not from this Dispatch Box, but from a Dispatch Box in a very similar place—it had to be replaced after the damage caused by the bomb—that Lord Palmerston pointed out that we have eternal interests. Our nation’s interests must be served by the structures of government, and that is what is being done. We must ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent, and taxpayers have a right to demand that their money is used carefully.
The Prime Minister has been here to make a statement to the House. You, Mr Speaker, rightly keep Her Majesty’s Government on their toes when announcements are not made to this House, and sometimes they creep out at press briefings, which is something you deprecate, but when the Prime Minister comes and makes the statement to this House, does he get the laurels that he deserves—the paeans of praise that should come to him? No, not at all; we get grumbling, moaning and complaining that it is not enough. It has to be said that some people can never be satisfied.
The right hon. Lady called for a uniform for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; I can tell her that as Lord President of the Council, I am entitled to a uniform but, as I understand it, the uniform has not been worn by any Lord President since the coronation of George V. I therefore do not intend to resurrect that ancient tradition. [Interruption.] I do not have the uniform and nor will I be seeking to get the uniform. I do believe that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is entitled to have a flag on his official car, but I understand that that practice has also fallen into disuse.
The right hon. Lady referred to the Government’s commitment to racial equality, which is a very important subject. It was clear in our manifesto that we will ensure that Britain is a fairer society and tackle racial and ethnic inequalities where they exist. The new commission has been set up to have a fresh and positive approach to try to ensure that we have as fair a society as we possibly can. The seriousness with which the Government take the issue is shown by the seniority of the person put in charge of the commission, working from Downing Street.
Finally, the right hon. Lady questioned whether the BBC was being brought into politics. It is noticeable that it is the left that likes to see much higher funding for the BBC; I wonder why that is.
I thank the Leader of the House for confirming that the Prime Minister will make that statement here first.
May we have an urgent debate on aviation, for two reasons? First, because many of us want to express our support for BA staff, who are currently having a very difficult time with their management; we need to stand up for them. Secondly, because the 14-day quarantine in aviation is such a good policy that it needs rapid improvement to air bridges or testing. We need to get the aviation industry going and those two issues need fully to be discussed in the House.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important question. Many of us represent constituents who have worked for British Airways and given long service over many years, and there are concerns about the way that they have been treated. This matter has quite rightly been brought before the House under an urgent question, and I think could be debated next week in the Petitions Committee debate relating to support for UK industries in response to covid-19. The matter clearly comes under that heading, so the debate will be available.
I note the point that my hon. Friend makes about the quarantine regulations, which of course are for a period and will be reviewed. The issue of safe countries is being looked at, as the Foreign Secretary said on the wireless this morning.
First, may we have a debate on how the fiscal framework within which the devolved national Administrations operate should be changed to improve their capacity to deal with the current pandemic and its aftermath?
To date, the Scottish Government have spent more than £4 billion on covid-19. Most of it will be funded through Barnett consequentials, but several hundred million has had to be diverted from other priority spending. For the UK Government, that would not be a problem, as they can overspend if necessary and borrow unlimited amounts to cover the cost. Neither of those options are available to the Scottish Government under the fiscal framework. I hope the Leader of the House will agree that when the framework was devised, no one had in mind the need to cope with a crisis on this scale. On Tuesday, four out of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament united behind a call for additional fiscal responsibilities. Their motivation was practical, not ideological. When can we discuss this Parliament’s response to that call?
Sticking with responses to coronavirus, we have discussed previously how the crisis sadly brings out the worst in some people, and we now hear that companies such as BA are intending, under cover of the pandemic, to execute mass redundancies and then hire back fewer people on worse pay and conditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) has launched a Bill, with cross-party support, to outlaw such Dickensian employment practices. It would be an easy matter—would it not?—for the Government either to make time to discuss that Bill or to bring forward proposals of their own.
Finally, I return to the matter of voting during the current emergency. It seems the Government are determined to do just about anything to stop Members voting remotely, including introducing new technology, as we have seen this week. Why do they not stop messing about and do the common sense thing by switching the e-voting system back on: a tried and tested system that not only allows Members who cannot attend to vote but makes it much safer for those who are on the premises?
To take the last point first, voting was carried out using parliamentary passes very effectively last night and with a proxy scheme that means that people can be present in the House. I think my hon. Friend the deputy Chief Whip voted for more than 40 Members of Parliament, and a similar figure was true for a leading Whip on the Opposition Benches. There are advantages for the Whips in the scheme, but it ensures that people are able to express their views, and that we have Parliament back, which means that we are getting the work done.
We have four Bill Committees up and running. We are working through the legislative programme, which we committed to doing in the manifesto. The British people expect us to be back at work. We are leading by example, and it is right that people are back, and that we have made provision for people who cannot be back. In that context, private Members’ Bills will be coming back in early July. That will be the opportunity for the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) to introduce his Bill, so that it can be considered in the normal way for private Members’ Bills.
As regards money, £3.7 billion has gone from the central Exchequer to the Scottish Government—their share from the extra expenditure in relation to the coronavirus—so the funds that are going through are very substantial. Of course, part of the devolution settlement is that the Scottish Government have discretion regarding how they spend money and what they spend it on, and they have to work within that discretion.
The failure of the diplomatic community to end the plight of hundreds of thousands of seafarers stuck at sea is shameful—all down to covid travel restrictions. Without our mariners working in a healthy environment, our supply chains will be damaged and obviously world trade will be as well. Will my right hon. Friend consider an urgent debate to call on the diplomatic network of the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister’s global Britain agenda to get an agreement internationally on crew changes?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important point that will be of concern to others in the House. There are Transport questions on 2 July, but I suggest that she applies to you, Mr Speaker, for an Adjournment debate to begin the process of the matter being discussed more fully.
We are heading up to the north-east with Ian Mearns, the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.
Thank you, Mr Speaker; I am grateful for your indulgence. I hope that the Leader of the House enjoyed the coronation of George V, which I believe was 110 years ago. Will the Leader let us know when the anticipated estimates days debates are due to take place, and how many days of such debates the Backbench Business Committee will have to allocate? We probably need to do that work next week.
Also, this afternoon the House will debate the effect of covid-19 on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. Although I welcome the measure of protected time, it would be a great shame if contributions to such an important and well-subscribed debate had to be limited to only two or three minutes.
Lastly, could the Leader of the House crave the indulgence of some of his colleagues in the Business team to look at what Newcastle United are doing in terms of being an outlier within the premier league by completely and unnecessarily withholding refunds for tickets for games that they know will not be played in front of fans? It is withholding those refunds from fans: paying customers, many of whom, frankly, in the current climate could do with the money.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the estimates days. I will bring forward business in the normal way. We have, as he will know in terms of Backbench business more generally, been prioritising Government legislative business to start with, but we are beginning to get back to a more normal way of working, with another Opposition day next week, and using time, admittedly for the Petitions Committee next week rather than his Committee, to ensure that all the important subjects that get raised have time to be aired.
Time limits on speeches are really a matter for you, Mr Speaker, rather than me, but we hear the hon. Gentleman’s requests for protected time, to ensure that debates have a reasonable amount of time, subject to the other business going on in the House.
As regards refunds, it would not be fair of me to talk specifically about an individual company or sports organisation making refunds. This is an issue across the economy, with many businesses very stretched for cash but consumers expecting to get their money back. It is a problem that the Government are aware of, and there are a variety of routes for people to get their money back. If the company directly is not able to do it, sometimes the credit card company may be able to help.
May I say that Dame Vera was a true friend of our white cliffs country, working with us to see off the planned sell-off of the port? She has the thanks and prayers of our community.
In Dover and Deal, we are already working on an exciting local recovery plan, but we cannot do it by ourselves because it includes duty-free cruises to France, border controls and new trade and customs activities. In drawing up the legislative programme for the remainder of this year, will my right hon. Friend give time for the House to do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to maximise the opportunities of Brexit and secure recovery and prosperity for us all?
My hon. Friend is right that there are great opportunities to be had from the restoration of powers from the continent to the United Kingdom. She and her predecessor have both been exemplary in their championing of Dover and Deal, to great effect. The town has never been better served than it has been in the past decade. It is thanks to the commitment of Members on both sides of the House, in their role as lawmakers, that we have returned physically and are making progress with key legislation that will allow us to take back control of policy making, whether it be agriculture, immigration or trade. From that, there will be more bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.
I welcome the robustness of the Government’s latest six-monthly report on Hong Kong. I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 616 on China’s national security law, which I co-signed with the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and other Members across the House.
[That this House notes with surprise and concern the decision by HSBC Bank Plc and Standard Chartered Plc to support China’s proposals for a new National Security Law in Hong Kong; recognises that financial institutions, particularly those enjoying the benefits and protections of being based in the UK, have a duty to uphold and promote democratic principles and human rights around the world, wherever they may trade; warns that the proposed National Security Law is likely to be in direct breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration; and calls on the Government to set out the measures it will take to encourage HSBC and Standard Chartered to review their support for that proposed legislation from the Chinese Communist Party, which has a serial record of violating human rights and undermining democratic principles.]
What more can we do in the House of Commons to show our fullest support for all the promises made in the joint declaration and the upholding of democratic freedoms and rights enshrined in the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and show our unequivocal support for Hongkongers to live peacefully and without fear in a free society?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. The rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong are something that the Government take deeply seriously, and I hope I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is a priority for the Government. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has updated the House and, I am sure, will continue to do so. He last did so on 2 June, when he provided a statement on Hong Kong.
The Government are deeply concerned about China’s plan to impose national security legislation on Hong Kong and have urged it to reconsider. Imposition of this law by China would undermine the principle of one country, two systems, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy, and it would be in direct conflict with China’s international obligations under the joint declaration—a UN treaty—which was signed on our behalf by Margaret Thatcher and is something that the Chinese Government ought to be proud of. If China continues down this path, we will look to amend the arrangements of those with British national (overseas) status, to allow them to come to the UK and apply to work and study for extendable periods of 12 months. This House will share the role of ensuring that the Chinese Government are under no misapprehension about the fact that Her Majesty’s Government are very serious about expecting the joint declaration to be observed.
Will the Leader of the House consider giving time for a debate in which the House can discuss how the Chancellor could best reshape the economy to lead the country out of recession? Could such a debate take place in good time to inform the Chancellor’s deliberations prior to any statement on the economy?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the work of the Chancellor, who has managed an unprecedented crisis with characteristic ableness, crafting a considered and suitably bold approach. Our priority has been to support people, families and businesses through this crisis, but there will be more steps to be taken, and the wisdom of this House will be invaluable in helping the Government to shape policy for the future. As I announced earlier, there will be a debate next Thursday 25 June that will allow the economic circumstances around the pandemic to be discussed in broad terms, and I am sure that Ministers will pay careful attention to that debate.
May I first report that yesterday I spoke to Pat Duffy, who not only was in very good spirits and fine form, but was polishing off his first glass of champagne to celebrate his 100th birthday? Yesterday, I also raised with the Equalities Minister the ongoing scandal of the operation of the disclosure and barring service—the DBS. This can blight people’s lives, often for minor crimes or even cautions in their youth, for decades. It prevents people from turning their lives around and is highly discriminatory. Members from both sides of Parliament and across the political spectrum recognise this injustice, as indeed did the Equalities Minister yesterday. The blockage seems to be the dead hand of the Home Office, so will the Leader of the House mobilise his office to knock departmental heads together, not for another study, inquiry or commission, but for rapid change, action and then a statement to the House?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point: with the DBS system, it is important to recognise that people can reform and that people ought to be given, in a fair society, a second chance, and that is something we as politicians should be very committed to. I will use my office in whatever way I can to try to encourage other Ministers to come to a conclusion on this and to look at it in the serious way that he suggests, though I may be a bit cautious about knocking heads together, because I am not sure that meets the requirements of social distancing.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on procurement practices across the public sector, so that we can ensure that the businesses across the country that stepped up and provided the personal protective equipment we needed have a fair chance to bid for longer-term contracts?
This is an important issue, and we will have considerable freedom as to how procurement is developed and used once we have left the European Union, when we will be much less tied in to the very dirigiste approach taken under the single market. The Government have done remarkably well in opening up to other suppliers, especially during this crisis, to try to get the best available equipment where necessary.
The chemical and pharmaceuticals industry is the UK’s largest manufacturing exporter, and during the covid-19 pandemic, it has played a positive and essential role. Can we therefore have a debate in Government time, or, at the very least, a statement, on the work of the sector and how we stimulate its economic demand while supporting a decarbonisation-focused national recovery that will provide for a realistic energy transition, enabling the industry to deliver clean water, effective medicines and sufficient food production?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to pay tribute to the pharmaceutical industry. The UK’s pharmaceutical industry is world beating and has made an enormous contribution in recent months. In terms of the debate that he is asking for, once again, that is a matter that could be raised under the debate next Thursday in response to the Petitions Committee.
It is widely accepted that our coastal communities are set to be most severely impacted on by the coronavirus crisis, and it is reported that the town of Newquay, which I have the honour of representing, is set to be the most severely impacted on in the whole country. Can we have a ministerial statement on the Government’s strategy for supporting and investing in our coastal communities to ensure that economic recovery happens as soon as possible, as we come out of lockdown?
Again, this is a point of the greatest importance, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question about support for coastal communities. He is a true champion of his community—an idyllic part of the world—as much of the Chamber is for those in the coastal communities he refers to. The communities on our coastline are of huge importance to this country, and their tourist economies have been particularly hit by the economic downturn of the pandemic. This is a matter that can be taken up at the next Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs oral questions on 25 June, but once again, it can also be raised in the debate next week on the general economic effects of the crisis.
We are a resilient community in the Rhondda, but I honestly do not think that we can take any more without significant help from outside. We had some of the worst flooding in the country earlier this year—hundreds of homes lost everything, many of them without any insurance at all—and last night, we had another bout of flooding, which has affected about 200 homes. I spoke to one woman last night who was in floods of tears because she had only just managed to get builders to sort her home out. She was about to move back in and now it is all ruined all over again. On top of that, we have a tip, half of which has fallen down into the river. Sixty thousand tonnes have to be moved and the whole thing has to be made safe, because we do not want another Aberfan. The council is completely strapped for cash. We know that we need £60 million to mend the culverts, to make sure that this does not happen all over again in three months’ time, in six months’ time or in a year. We need £2 million to move the 60,000 tonnes of earth. Please—I do not want a debate, if I am honest; I really just want the Leader of the House to make sure that we get the support we need in the Rhondda.
I think the whole House will have heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say and the emotion with which he said it, and the effect this must have on his constituents. It is hard to think of anything worse than that which his constituents suffered—just having got back to a house that was redecorated and restored and then having it flooded and destroyed again—and the worry that must remain in any community with a tip in it where people think back to Aberfan and know of the terrible disaster that that caused.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will speak to the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s local council today about the flooding overnight. There are significant Government funds available—£2.6 billion—but I am aware that when I speak from this Dispatch Box about large amounts of Government money when people are sitting at home worrying about whether a tip may collapse, that is not enough. I will take it up with Ministers, and I will ensure that the message he has brought to this House is known across Government.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on VJ-day on 15 August? Because of the national crisis, VE-day celebrations were somewhat muted. I have been talking to Dame Vera Lynn’s daughter, Virginia, and I very much feel that we should make this a very special celebration. We owe her mother a great debt of gratitude for the way her wonderful voice lifted spirits during our darkest hours. To quote Dame Vera, she very much felt that our boys in the far east had been forgotten.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this important occasion. The Government fully recognise the importance of VJ-day, 15 August. That is also the feast of the Assumption, so it is a day that many celebrate every year for other reasons too, but we will be celebrating particularly on this 75th anniversary of VJ-day. I do not actually know what anniversary it is of the Assumption; I am not sure what year that happened in.
This important anniversary is an occasion for us to acknowledge once again the sacrifices made on our behalf by the veterans of the campaign, and to remember all those who lost their lives and the many military prisoners of war and civilian internees who suffered in captivity. The Government and our partners will take into careful consideration the changing national situation as we continue to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. We will always put the health and wellbeing of our veterans at the forefront of our plans. We are committed to creating a programme that will allow members of the public to remember and give thanks to the second world war generation in appropriate and fitting ways, but my hon. Friend is right that we must not allow those troops who were in the far east to be forgotten.
May we have a debate on the vital importance of the theatre and arts sector to the economic and social recovery of our societies? Local theatres such as the Howden Park Centre in my constituency bring so much to our community and economy, but in an interview with The Observer, Rufus Norris, the artistic director of the National Theatre, revealed that without additional Government support, 70% of theatres will be boarded up by Christmas. Festivals such as the Edinburgh fringe recently received a £1 million support package from the Scottish Government. Will the Leader of the House press for a debate in Government time and put all possible pressure on his colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury to step up and support these vital sectors?
The hon. Lady is right to raise the concerns of the theatre and the arts. The general context is of a Government that have taken enormous steps to help a wide range of businesses. It is worth bearing in mind that 8.9 million people are currently using the job retention or furlough scheme, which cost taxpayers £19.6 billion. That is in addition to the £7.5 billion that has gone to the 2.6 million self-employed, which is perhaps particularly relevant as so many people in the theatre and the arts are self-employed. In addition to that, there are business bounce-back loans. There are many schemes in place to help businesses survive, but the hon. Lady is none the less right to highlight the particular problems of theatre and the arts.
It is unusual for me to follow on from an SNP comment that I rather agree with. We do have to look after our arts sector; it is enormously important.
Can we, before too long, have an update on the restoration and renewal project? Although the country is going through very difficult times, we must remember that we have a legal duty to maintain this world heritage site. We must not lose sight of the very real problems with this building’s infrastructure. If we leave them untouched for too long, it faces disaster. I ask the Leader of the House to provide an update in due course, and to remain committed to a project that I believe we have a legal, moral and historic duty to maintain.
My right hon. Friend is a very distinguished predecessor in this role, and did a great deal of the work to ensure that people understand the problems that the Palace a whole faces. With the then Leader of the House of Lords, he chaired a Joint Committee, which I sat on, that looked into this issue. His question is of great importance. Everyone in the House recognises that the Palace needs a significant amount of work. It is a masterpiece—a showpiece of our belief in our democracy and our willingness to ensure that it is something we can be proud of across the world. As he knows, the Sponsor Body has been established, and it now has the responsibility for the plans to implement the strategy for R and R. It is reviewing the situation that it has inherited and the current circumstances, but it must ensure that whatever is done represents good value for money. There is not a bottomless pit of money.
Can we have a debate on the fact that, yesterday, the UN extraordinarily removed the Saudi-led coalition from the blacklist for violating children’s rights in Yemen, despite admitting that it killed or injured 222 children in Yemen in the past year? My constituent Luke Symons, who is held captive by the Houthis, was in Taiz in 2015 when the Saudis bombed and devastated it. He was on the phone to his relatives in Cardiff at the time, and they heard the carnage that was going on. Can we have some pressure from the Foreign Office for a total ceasefire from the Saudi-led coalition so that humanitarian aid can go in and we can arrange for the release of prisoners such as my constituent Luke?
It may be helpful if I give the hon. Gentleman the latest update on Luke Symons that I have from the Foreign Office. Officials are in touch with his family, but we have no consular presence in Yemen, which means that we are unable to provide direct assistance. That has been the case since 2015, but the Government continue to press the Houthis to release Luke on humanitarian grounds. The case is being raised at the most senior levels within the Houthi regime, and we continue to call for Mr Symons’s release regularly, particularly in the light of the coronavirus. The Government are committed to doing everything we can to ensure his release.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise those broader points about the situation in Yemen. It is troubling, and the Government have previously called for a ceasefire.
Will my right hon. Friend update the House on when we can expect a statement from the Secretary of State detailing when the tourism and hospitality industry can safely reopen so that it has sufficient time to prepare and put social distancing measures in place?
My hon. Friend represents a constituency that relies heavily on the tourism industry, and this is a particularly difficult time. The strategy for reopening the country is conditional and subject to the five tests being met, but as soon as it is safe to do so, we will be encouraging everyone to get out, book a great British holiday and support our brilliant tourism industry. Ministers have regularly provided statements in the House, and I am sure they will be eager to do so again as soon as we can encourage more of our hospitality and tourism sector to open its doors, and encourage people to have a staycation this year to help boost our domestic economy.
On Monday 15 June, the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, which I chair, published a report, which was launched on Zoom, entitled “Nigeria: Unfolding Genocide”. The report found that Nigerian Christians are experiencing devastating violence, with attacks by armed groups of Islamist Fulani herders, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. Will the Leader of the House agree to a statement or a debate on that urgent and dire subject?
The House is always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his commitment to persecuted minorities and for trying to ensure that their persecution is known around the globe and that Governments who allow persecution are shamed. The Government are trying to do what we can to protect persecuted communities. I cannot promise him time for a debate, but I remind him—he probably knows this already—that Foreign Office questions are coming up on 30 June.
Politicians have a duty to set a good example, especially during these difficult times. The missing Mayor of London refuses to condemn mass gatherings during this pandemic. Will the Leader of the House please remind MPs that it is irresponsible and foolish to gather in mass demonstrations, and will he also remind the Mayor of London of his responsibilities to the citizens of London and to our brilliant emergency service workers?
My hon. Friend raises a crucial point. We have put in place clear and strict guidance on social distancing, and I believe that our elected officials have a responsibility to see it upheld. We strongly support the right to protest peacefully, but it is vital that people stick to the rules to protect themselves and their families. These are not normal times, and to protect us all and stop the spread of coronavirus, any gatherings of more than six people are unlawful. The actions we have seen over the previous weeks were not the right way to be proceeding, with dozens of police officers injured. The police have our full support in tackling any violence, vandalism or disorderly behaviour, and I would like to echo my colleague—my colleague? I mean my right hon. Friend—the Home Secretary’s view that those responsible will face the full force of law. That is the right way to proceed, though I fear it is unlikely that the Mayor of London will take any advice from me, because if I were to advise him, I would say: make way for a Conservative.
The right hon. Gentleman has been flattering himself with his belief that MPs can only do their job by physically attending a Parliament that can hold only 50 people. Given the fact that £1.3 million has been invested in the hybrid proceedings, allowing Members to vote and participate in debates remotely, it is scandalous that the Government are already attempting to dismantle it at every turn. Would he agree that it is far more cost- effective, inclusive and safe to reinstate full hybrid proceedings, and that abandoning them is both undemocratic and discriminatory?
I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Lady, interesting though it is to observe the guitar that is behind her, given the fascination that we have in being nosey about where people are calling in from. We have ensured that the proper Parliament can continue. When scrutiny was impossible without hybridity, we had hybridity. Now that it is possible for reasonable numbers to come back, we are coming back as far as possible while continuing to make arrangements for people such as the hon. Lady to vote by proxy if they so wish and to appear remotely in interrogative sessions. That is the right way to proceed. People who can go back to work because they need to be back at work should go back to work, and we are leading by example.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day”.
May we therefore not allow another moment to creep by without a debate on British theatre? All the world’s a stage, but today the British stage is dark, from the west end to community theatres such as the Richings Players in the Ivers in my constituency. May we therefore have a debate in Government time on British theatre and the performing arts, in the context of a wider debate on preserving our British cultural heritage?
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”.
My hon. Friend makes her point extremely well. As we have heard previously, these are matters of concern across the House. As I said earlier, the Government are taking steps to help the artistic community, as they are helping the whole of the economy. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that social distancing makes staging performances exceptionally difficult for theatres, and that the industry will need a different approach form other sectors. We might end up with different ways of going to the theatre and with more live streaming and so on. Over the next few weeks my right hon. Friend will be convening experts in a targeted way and bringing together our leading performers from theatres, choirs and orchestras with medical experts and advisers in the hope that a solution can be found that will preserve our heritage in the way that my hon. Friend suggests.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am now suspending the House for three minutes.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).
I understand that it is the will of the House that motions 1 to 5 on international development be debated together. The debate will last up to 90 minutes. When the first motion has been decided, I will call the Minister to move the other motions formally. If a Member objects, the motions will be taken separately. I now call the Minister to move the first motion and speak to all five motions.
I beg to move,
That the draft African Development Bank (Fifteenth Replenishment of the African Development Fund) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following motions:
That the draft African Development Bank (Further Payments to Capital Stock) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
That the draft African Development Fund (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
That the draft International Development Association (Nineteenth Replenishment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
That the draft International Development Association (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is good to see you in your place. The orders will permit the UK Government to make financial contributions to the African Development Bank and the African Development Fund, in addition to the World Bank International Development Association, up to the stated values on the orders. I propose to start with the three statutory instruments on the African Development Bank, then move on to the two SIs on the World Bank IDA before concluding.
As the House knows, Africa remains the poorest continent on the planet, and 24 of 30 poorest countries are on that continent. Sadly, by 2030, 90% of extreme poverty is likely to be concentrated on that continent, and instability remains a persistent challenge. Until last year, Africa was growing fast, and in 2019 it experienced 3.4% growth in gross domestic product. Covid has had a significant negative impact, however, and recent World Bank estimates suggest that GDP in Africa will shrink by just under 3%. Sadly, 26 million more people will be pushed into extreme poverty. The African Development Bank is a key regional partner for the UK in delivering development, prosperity and our security objectives in Africa. It has significant financial clout, a strong regional identity and deep knowledge, and it is very much a trusted partner across the continent, which allows it to tackle sensitive issues.
That is very reassuring. Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that of those scandals that have driven the readers of the Daily Mail into a state of apoplexy over the past decade, 99% of them, I will wager, were administered not by the Department for International Development, but by other Departments? Will he ensure that this reorganisation is a genuine merger and not a hostile takeover?
I assure my right hon. Friend that it is a genuine merger. As he knows, I am not a betting man, but it is important that official development assistance is used well not only by the Foreign Office but across all Departments. This merger is about taking a step up, not levelling down to the lowest common denominator. There is an opportunity to put development at the heart of everything we are doing more generally, but I will not stray into comments that were made earlier today about the merger, and with the House’s permission, I will focus specifically on the African Development Bank, and later on the World Bank.
The ADB’s five key areas are to light up and power up Africa, to integrate, to industrialise, to feed, and to improve the quality of life across the continent. Those are closely aligned with the UK’s priorities. The majority of the bank’s lending is targeted at addressing the large infrastructure gap across the continent, and it is focusing very much on transport, energy, water and sanitation issues.
I had a chat to the Minister prior to this debate. In my constituency of Strangford, many churches are involved in work across Africa, particularly the Eden Mission in Newtownards, which does significant work in Eswatini, which those of us from further back know as Swaziland. The Minister referred to infrastructure investment, and there is a real need for investment in the electricity market. South African supplies have a sharply inflated price, which is holding back technology, and even learning for children, who have been provided with shared computers from Northern Ireland as learning tools. Will the Minister consider some help for Swaziland, to ensure that it can run those sites with the electricity it needs?
I know my Big Bend from my Piggs Peak, having lived in Mbabane for a year, a number of years ago, and I knew the problems of flickering lights and power stability. I am saddened to hear that it is still a problem with Eskom and South Africa, but power distribution across the continent is a key issue. I am not absolutely sure whether such funds are the right mechanism, but I would be more than happy to commit to talking to the hon. Gentleman about that, alongside our high commissioner in Eswatini—that is one of the new posts that opened up relatively recently—and to discuss what more we can do in Eswatini on electricity and a number of other issues. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful contribution.
The African Development Fund is also supporting the continent to respond to covid, providing $10 billion of financing and technical assistance to help to mitigate the economic and social impacts, and to support recovery beyond health and humanitarian issues.
Turning to the specifics of the order, the first order permits the Government to purchase new ADB bank shares. This will maintain our 1.7% shareholding, and to do so we would need to pay £95 million over eight years. This order also makes provision to put in another £50 million of capital provisionally to allow the additional purchase of shares in the future should the situation and budgets allow. The bank provides non-concessional yet inexpensive loans to middle-income and to credit-worthy low-income countries, and also critically, to the private sector in Africa.
Last October, governors agreed to a 125% increase in their general capital to boost the capital stock, enabling it to lend annually from £5 billion currently to more than £13 billion in 2030. The bank has made strong policy commitments in UK priority areas, expanding its climate facility and private sector operations.
The second order permits the UK Government to provide a contribution of up to £633 million to the African Development Fund’s 15th replenishment. The fund provides grants, low-interest loans and technical assistance to Africa’s poorest countries, and it is replenished normally every three years. The negotiations for replenishments concluded last November and an overall envelope of £6 billion was agreed, financed by repayments of existing loans and new donor pledges of £3.8 billion over the three-year period. Our pledge would maintain the UK’s position, providing significant influence over the fund’s operation. Over the next three years, the fund is expected to provide 6 million people with electricity connections. Six million people will benefit from improvements to agriculture and more than 20 million will benefit from improvements to transport. The fund will support 1 million jobs.
The third and final order on the African Development Bank is to amend an existing order and to permit the Government to provide an additional contribution of £66 million to support the African Development Fund’s participation in the multilateral debt relief initiative, which is very similar to the final order for a different institution. The multilateral debt relief initiative supports debt relief and enables countries to release resources, or to have released resources, to spend on poverty reduction and development that would otherwise be spent on unserviceable debt. The African Development Bank remains an important strategic partner across the board, particularly on climate change.
Let me turn now to the final two remaining orders relating to the World Bank and the International Development Association. This is the institution that provides grant finance, low interest rates and technical assistance to the world’s 76th poorest countries—countries that are not credit-worthy. Many of the most fragile countries at risk of instability and conflict are covered within this number. In recent months, these countries have been particularly hard hit by the covid-19 crisis, making the case for these orders even more poignant. IDA has responded to the covid crisis by making rapidly available additional support. It has a strong record of delivering results—for example, on supporting vaccines to millions of children and supporting childbirth.
IDA combines donor contributions with repayments from previous lending operations and market borrowing to provide more than three times the amount of leverage to get new financial commitments. IDA replenishments have taken place every three years since its establishment in 1960 and discussions took place last December and were concluded in this replenishment round, which includes 50 donors, including the UK, with pledges of more than $23 billion. The World Bank expects that to be leveraged up to around $82 billion of financing over the next three years.
The fourth order permits the UK Government to provide a core contribution of up to an average of £1 billion a year to IDA’s 19th replenishment over three years. This will help to vaccinate 140 million children and to provide safe childbirth for 80 million women, electricity for 50 million people, and a social safety net for 40 million beneficiaries.
The final order, as I said earlier, is similar to an existing order that permits the UK Government to provide an additional contribution of £562 million to support IDA’s participation, alongside the ADB, in relation to the multilateral debt relief initiative.
In conclusion, these five orders are in the UK’s national interests and also serve our development equities and interests, not only in Africa but around the rest of the world, through the World Bank.
I welcome these orders and agree that they should be taken together. We will not be opposing them. I welcome the support that they indicate for tackling poverty and disease and removing the burden of debt in Africa and elsewhere across the world.
However, in the context of the Prime Minister’s announcement earlier this week and the urgent question answered by the Foreign Secretary today, it is very important that we recognise that the decision taken will have an impact on our relationship with the African Development Bank and the World Bank institutions, including IDA. It is sad to have to contrast the positive impact of these orders with some of the ill-informed rhetoric that we heard from the Prime Minister on Tuesday on a decision that fundamentally risks undermining our relationship and influence with IDA and the African Development Bank in terms of the impact and oversight of these replenishments, and the debt relief. This decision has been criticised from many quarters, including by Members on both sides of the House and by some of the world’s leading experts. One of those, of course, is the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, who said that it
“will mean less expertise, less voice for development at the top table”—
that is, the top table of these institutions. Gayle Smith, the former administrator of USAID, also said that it was a dangerous step backwards. Does the Minister agree that in fact, and in contrast to what the Prime Minister said earlier this week, in the majority of contexts there has always been close co-operation and co-ordination between the different arms of UK international policy, including in Africa, and in relation to the IDA part of the World Bank and its other institutions, as well as the African Development Bank?
It has been particularly concerning, given that we are focusing so much on Africa in these orders, to see the false dichotomy that was set up by the Prime Minister’s comments. He spoke about Zambia and Tanzania, for example, and contrasted them with priorities in places like Ukraine and the Balkans. This is particularly concerning because Zambia and Tanzania have been supported by funds from the African Development Bank and IDA in the past, and of course by DFID’s bilateral programmes. They are both long-standing members of the Commonwealth and countries with which we have had very constructive partnerships over many decades.
This is particularly relevant in relation to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on Africa and elsewhere, which the Minister spoke about. He and I have discussed that issue outside the House. I want to thank him for the courtesy that he has shown me since my taking on this role in discussing a number of matters on which there is no division across this House. For example, the African Development Bank has been supporting the One WASH programme in Ethiopia. The bank and other partners’ funding has been supporting that ambitious national programme to serve 110 million people in Africa’s second most populous country. As well as the ADB, key partners include the World Bank, the Department for International Development, the Government of Finland, and UNICEF. The programme has been embracing safe water development systems, including boreholes, hand pumps, diesel pumps, gravity pumps and electric grid power to bring safe, potable water to Ethiopians. Water development commissioner Mogesse said recently:
“The One WASH National Program did not plan for the COVID-19 pandemic. But it has prepared us to fight the pandemic better than we would have been without the program, especially in the unserved rural communities.”
That example highlights the sort of impact that the ADB and other funding the UK has provided to the multilaterals has had, not only on tackling covid but on tackling wider water and sanitation issues.
I happily give way to the former Secretary of State.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. May I take him back to his point about Zambia and Tanzania, and the Prime Minister’s point about how he would rather spend money in Ukraine? Did it not strike him as rather odd that the Prime Minister—he is, after all, the Prime Minister—needs to abolish the Department for International Development to achieve that? Surely he simply needs to pick up the phone to the Secretary of State for International Development, hold a meeting of the National Security Council and say he has decided that those are to be the priorities.
Indeed, and it did strike me as very odd and very concerning, and it will no doubt have been noted with concern in the capitals of many of those countries that we have enjoyed strong partnerships with for many years.
On that note, can the Minister assure our partners in countries across Africa, and indeed across the developing world, including Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia, that we will continue to partner with them and their citizens, to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and continue our long-term work to tackle poverty, disease and inequality, tackle gender injustice and urgently deal with the climate change crisis?
The UK role on the boards of the multilateral financial institutions has often been such that we have been able to influence the direction of those institutions, which have not always had the right focus or agenda, for the better. The former Secretary of State will know that well; I know he took a keen interest in these matters, and I am sure the Minister does, too, and I too have seen that at first hand.
I want pay tribute to the officials and successive Ministers across the parties that have seen Britain’s role as one for global good in these institutions, contributing to multilateral action, so that we can achieve a bigger impact than the mere sum of our parts. That very much, for me, was global Britain in action, and not the Britain that I fear we now seem to be heading towards. So can the Minister confirm: who will determine the future role of executive directors at the World Bank and the African Development Bank, and who will they take their orders and policy steer from in future? Will they still have the same mandate to focus efforts on poverty reduction, or do we risk seeing them go the way of, for example, the badly run Newton Fund, overseen by a non-DFID Department, which was recently criticised heavily by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact—and indeed the Chair of that Sub-Committee, the hon. Member for Stafford (Theo Clarke), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, but I know takes a keen interest in these matters?
Turning to the two specific institutions and the replenishments, the record of global Britain in action is reflected in a history of partnership with the African Development Bank, and we have contributed over many years to programmes and initiatives such as the African water facility, the Congo Basin forest fund, the sustainable energy fund for Africa and, indeed, the actions on covid that I have just described in Ethiopia. The Minister spoke about the “high five” focus points of the African Development Bank—power Africa, integrate Africa, feed Africa, industrialise Africa and improve the quality of life in Africa, and I hope that he, in his remarks, can confirm that that will continue to be a UK priority for our role in those funds.
On development for women and girls, we were very happy to see that 80% of the new African Development Bank operations were categorised as having gender-informed design; of course, developments cannot succeed without economic development, health and education for women and girls. So will the Minister and his Department continue to negotiate with the African Development Bank and ADF to ensure that funds go to women-led and women-and-girl-directed programmes? I also understand that the pledge rightly includes an element of performance-based funding dependent on positive results reported at the mid-term review, so will he clarify how much was disbursed or held back at the same point in the last replenishment round? It is important that we hold these institutions fully to account.
On the IDA part of the World Bank—a crucial institution, in which we have played a key role in over many decades—for every £1 of grant finance that the United Kingdom and other donors put in, IDA is expected to deliver more than £3 in development commitments for its clients, and we remain one of the largest donors—in fact, the largest donor in 2019. with an appropriate share of the budget. Could the Minister outline how we will seek to ensure that IDA programmes focus on issues like climate change, public health and education, and women and girls. Given some of the discussions that the Minister and I have had about fragile states, what focus will the new funding round have on investment in those? What performance-related measures will be taken in relation to the replenishment?
I want to ask a specific question about the World Bank’s private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation, because that has delivered a proportionate share of its profits as grants to IDA in the past, but in the past few years we have seen the pattern reverse, with IDA now effectively helping to fund IFC shortfalls. I understand that in 2020 it will be a net recipient of $2 billion-worth of IDA-financing-supported investments. How does he expect IFC returns to be further affected by the global economic crisis relating to the pandemic, and does he expect them therefore to be a greater draw on IDA resources even than was perhaps expected for the year ahead?
I have already mentioned one example of a programme that helps Ethiopia prepare for and mitigate the impacts of covid 19. Over the past few weeks, my Labour colleagues and I have met and been listening to senior experts and African voices from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organisation and other national agencies and Governments and, indeed, workers on the frontline in countries from Sierra Leone to Zimbabwe. Some of the stories that they have shared with me have obviously been of great concern, and I have discussed those with the Minister. The effects of covid-19 are already having a significant impact on the continent. That impact is on health—whether directly or indirectly—but also on the economic prospects and stability of many countries and regions, although it appears to be diverse and heterogeneous across the continent. That is also the case when we look at who is affected within countries because, like in this country, covid-19 is often a disease of poverty and disadvantage. The worst affected are likely to be: the low paid; the marginalised; women and girls; those in conditions exposing them to greater risk, such as care workers, workers in health services, people who provide security, food processing and transport, and those who work in places with low ambient temperatures and poor ventilation such as ships, and prisons; and, of course, people who live in the slums and dense settlements that we see in many locations across the global south.
I have been impressed and inspired by the clear and growing African solidarity and leadership on tackling the virus, as in so many other things. We could learn much from that, but it is also clear that there are going to be substantial short, medium and long-term challenges. Global solidarity and support—for example, through this funding and replenishment—is not only a moral duty, but in our common global interests. Would the Minister say a little bit about what he understands about how both IDA and the African Development Bank will seek to focus their programming to deal not only with the immediate short-term needs—obviously there have been substantial changes, which he mentioned, particularly in relation to IDA—but with long-term needs? Has he had discussions with them about how they might facilitate investments that support the roll-out of any vaccine treatments and critical medical supplies on an equitable basis?
Reform is crucial with these institutions, so it is crucial that we continue to seek these reforms. The multilateral aid review rated the African Development Bank and IDA as good—very good, in some cases—but there are areas where they were ranked as weak. Will the Minister say a little bit about how he is going to use our position on the boards of both those institutions to continue to push a reform agenda?
On debt relief, it is almost 15 years ago to the week that I helped to co-ordinate the historic march of a quarter of million people around the streets of Edinburgh in a white band as part of the Make Poverty History movement, which called for life-changing aid, debt cancellation and justice. I know that the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) was a strong supporter of that campaign, which happened in the run-up to the historic Gleneagles G8 summit. It was a true example of what global leadership can achieve both for our country and for our fellow human beings.
The multilateral debt relief initiative was one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour Government, and has enabled us to make substantial progress towards the global goals—both the millennium development goals and their successor, the sustainable development goals. Will the Minister tell us how much debt UK support has enabled IDA and the African Development Bank to cancel over the recent accounting period, and what expectations he has in relation to these orders, given the changed global economic output?
We will not oppose these orders today, but I reiterate that the speech that I had hoped to make, which would have been full of positivity and support for the measures, has unfortunately been tempered by the announcement by the Prime Minister earlier this week and the many unanswered questions, particularly in relation to our influence and role in institutions such as the African Development Bank, IDA and the World Bank. I fear that the past global leadership that we have shown—for example, on debt relief—may now be in jeopardy.
Order. Just before we move on, let me say that it is quite important that we focus our remarks on the SIs in front of us, which are quite narrow, and perhaps not relive too many other debates that may have taken place earlier today.
On that point, as we are not allowed to have points of order at this time, may I just say that there has been a statement and an urgent question in the last week on the dismantling of DFID, neither of which, for slightly different reasons, I was able to contribute to under the current rules of the House? Let me say through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I would hope Mr Speaker might keep those rules under strict review and perhaps introduce some discretion if they are to persist in their current form for very much longer. Having said that, I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to contribute to this debate.
I draw the attention of the House to my interests, which are laid out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, including that I am a strategic adviser to the African Development Bank—something that I do for the sum of £1 a year in order that there should be a contract. The House will no doubt have differing views on whether the bank gets value for money for that sum.
In recent years, the bank has been massively reformed, first by Donald Kaberuka, the highly respected former Finance Minister from Rwanda and, I think, the first elected president of the bank. Those reforms have been continued by his successor, Dr Akin Adesina, whom I advise and who I think will shortly be elected for a second term. During that time, the bank has made huge progress, as set out by both Front-Bench speakers. I wish to add a little colour to the comments that have been made and to explain why this is such good expenditure and why the UK is absolutely right to focus on building up the African Development Bank and helping it to be ever more effective.
The Minister mentioned the basic programme of the bank, which is encapsulated in the High 5s, which are: first, lighting up Africa; secondly, feeding Africa; thirdly, industrialising Africa; fourthly, integrating Africa, on which the Department for International Development has been extremely good at advising across the continent, where time spent at borders massively disrupts trade—Britain has been good at addressing that; and fifthly, improving the quality of life of African people.
The results over the past five years of President Adesina’s time in office have been spectacular. If we take them all together, we see that 18 million more people have access to electricity; 141 million more people have access to better farming techniques, food security and advice; 13 million people have access to finance from private sector investment programmes; 101 million people have had access to better transport, partly for the reasons I described; and 60 million people have access to water and sanitation—in our world today, nearly 2 billion people do not have access to clean water, and that has dire effects. The direct impact of the bank on the lives of a third of a billion Africans over that period is clear: there has been a higher rate of progress than at any time since the bank was established in 1964. The bank has retained its triple A status from all five global rating agencies, thus maintaining financial probity as well.
The Minister’s announcements today will ensure that the UK is able to help with the expanding capital base of the bank to accelerate all its objectives. That is the reason for the 125% increase in its capital. Once the money has landed in the African Development Bank, we will see those five key endeavours continue to be built on: 105 million more people will get access to electricity; 204 million people will be able to benefit from better farming technology; 23 million people will benefit from investments in private sector companies; 252 million people will gain access to improved transport and integration; and 128 million will gain access to improved water and sanitation. Those are very important changes to the quality of life of some of the poorest people in the world. The bank directly helps to support low-income countries.
In addition to that, the bank has shown a strong leadership response to the coronavirus crisis, managing to get together $10 billion to help African countries with support. It has raised $3 billion to fight covid-19, through a social bond on the global capital markets. It is the largest ever US dollar-denominated social bond listed on the London stock exchange, underlining how development links in some of the great British institutions that are not immediately seen as part of international development, and it is now over-subscribed, with orders of $4.6 billion. The Fight Covid-19 bond and the other funds that the bank has managed to bring together will be a huge boost to help private companies—particularly, pharmaceutical companies, which the bank intends to do everything it can to assist, for very obvious reasons—to survive after the crisis is over.
I wish to mention two or three other matters. In the last year, the bank has set up the Desert to Power Initiative, which will ensure that there are 10,000 MW of solar power across 11 countries in the Sahel, that belt of middle Africa. That will result in electricity for 250 million of the poorest people in the world, of whom 90 million are off grid. It is a $20 billion investment and will be the world’s largest solar zone.
There has been very strong input from the United Kingdom, with expertise from specialists at DFID made available to help the bank, and a very good relationship exists between DFID and the bank in making all of that happen.
The work on affirmative action for women in Africa is extremely important, and $3 billion is now available for financing women’s businesses, which is the largest ever such initiative. Publish What You Fund lists the African Development Bank as one of the four most transparent institutions of 45 global institutions.
The AFDB has had very strong support from the United Kingdom, as I have tried to set out. DFID has sent some of its cleverest and most effective officials to work in Abidjan to help build up the bank. We want the African Development Bank, rather than the World Bank, to be seen as the Africa bank that brings everything together. Under the leadership of both Donald Kaberuka and Akin Adesina, we are seeing that before our eyes.
I hope the Minister will consider any way in which we might increase our shareholding in the bank, because our influence is much greater than our very small shareholding. It would be helpful to have a continuous presence at the bank in Abidjan, rather than a rotating executive director role. That is not an easy ask, because of the way the bank is set up, but I think the bank would benefit from having the expertise of a British executive director all the time.
Finally, I hope that, just as we have with the World Bank, we will be able to see a much greater use within the African Development Bank of the trust fund structure. That would enable Britain to put money into a particular project or meet a particular ask where we want the bank to have a catalytic effect. The trust fund mechanism is now in common use elsewhere, and greater use of it would greatly benefit the African Development Bank and Britain’s desire to drive forward such objectives.
Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address these points, to support what those on the Front Benches have said and, most importantly of all, to support this replenishment. It will do nothing but good for the overall aims that Britain so clearly has in wanting to do something about the appalling discrepancies of opportunity and wealth that disfigure our world today.
I echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) about how we often see, through the budget of the Department for International Development, examples of the UK at its best—trying to address the discrepancies, as he put it, in poverty and wealth between nations and peoples across the globe. If we were to use the language of global Britain, that might be one of the best examples to turn to.
The orders are welcome in their attempts to address global poverty. Much mention has been made of Africa, and at first glance it looks as though it will be business as usual for our international aid budget. However, if you will permit me, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to explain briefly why I do not think that that is the case, welcome though today’s announcements are.
Once we discount most—not all, but most—Tory MPs, there is no disguising the fact that the momentous decision and announcement this week has caused great alarm. It will have far-reaching consequences for the poorest people in the world—the poorest people on earth. The overwhelming consensus of opinion would bear that out, certainly among experts who work in the field of international development.
I cannot help but notice that, despite her name being on the Order Paper for the very welcome measures that have been put forward, the outgoing Secretary of State for International Development is not here today. I wonder whether her conspicuous absence should be seen in the light in which it appears. Perhaps she also has concerns about the recent announcement that has been made.
The announcement could not stand in greater contrast with the lesser course that many of us in the House fear is now being steered towards international aid. We have rightly heard today much praise for the work of the Department for International Development, and one wonders why a Department that has garnered so much praise and attracted so much admiration should suddenly find itself downgraded. The move has been described by those working in the field as an “act of political vandalism”. I will leave others to judge for themselves, but in my constituency, questions are being asked about whether this decision is ideological.
May I remind the hon. Lady that, in the hypothetical situation of an independent Scotland, the policy of the SNP is to have foreign affairs and international development in the same Department?
Order. Before the hon. Lady responds, I want to remind her and other Members in the Chamber that we are addressing the orders, rather than getting into a whole other debate. That is what we are here to scrutinise.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will endeavour to make my remarks as brief as possible. I would say in response to the right hon. Gentleman’s question that the Scottish Government have a Minister in charge of overseas development. The right hon. Gentleman might want to reflect on that, because that is the importance we in Scotland place on overseas development.
The House welcomes these measures, but the fear is for the future. The fear is that putting the word “super” in front of the Foreign Office is not going to cut it, and it will not address the concerns. As set out in the measures, we have historical responsibilities to the poorest nations around the world, as well as moral responsibilities, as we seek to take our place on the international stage.
It is worrying—this is no secret—that aid is now to be used to pursue security and diplomatic aims. There might be an argument to make for that, but that is not what aid is for. Aid must be driven by need. I fear that in the future, we may have fewer of these measures that are so welcome, through which we seek to put a hand out and help up those countries that need and deserve the help of the international community. It must be based on need.
We hear much from Government Members about global Britain—well, whatever floats your boat. If they want to float that particular boat, they may want to take their place on the international stage and lead in the area of international development, instead of downgrading it and using it as a way of pursuing their own diplomatic aims. We in the SNP will not oppose these measures—we welcome them—but we have profound fears about the future and how aid will be administered from hereon in.
I find that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) has eaten my sandwiches, so I shall be more brief than I intended. I am greatly reassured that my hon. Friend the Minister is in charge of this brief. He will recall that we worked on it together when he was Minister for Africa and I was responsible for the economic development portfolio in DFID. In those halcyon days when travel was permitted, we would cross paths at airports in Africa. As a fellow former regime loyalist, I congratulate him on his survival skills and, indeed, his resurrection. He will recall that I was not so fortunate, but then, to coin a phrase, one might say that I had it coming.
This is the most important agenda. This brief, concentrating on economic development, and particularly infrastructure that promotes the ability of African countries to trade with one another and so generate livelihoods, has to be our focus when the world is in desperate need of jobs to address the growing generation of unemployed and underemployed peoples in sub-Saharan Africa. We know that if we do not provide those livelihoods for them, they will be seeking livelihoods elsewhere, driving this wave of migration. It is the most important brief.
If I may caution the Minister, he may not recall it but I chaired a committee that met monthly. He will know that DFID has an international reputation for transparency. Everything it spends is arrayed for view and scrutiny on its website. However, I chaired a committee that met monthly where we discussed things and there would be requests for them not to be published. Overwhelmingly, those requests came from ambassadors in Africa who did not want relatively small amounts of money, which had been rather embarrassingly misspent, to be revealed. That was the cashpoint in the sky. As I say, they were relatively small amounts of money, but nevertheless that is where the danger lies.
We all understand realpolitik. There will be times when we want to oil the wheels of diplomacy by perhaps pushing money towards some pet project—although I will never understand how or why we sponsored a one-armed juggler in the Lebanon. Nevertheless, that is the agenda the Minister must be so careful about, because it undermines, so entirely unfortunately and unjustifiably, the whole international development pitch. We are doing a great job. It is something about which we should be proud. We should not let it be undermined by those niggles.
You will be delighted to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I do not plan to talk about Government organisations.
I want to speak briefly on one of the key areas in which the African Development Bank operates. We have heard a lot from the Minister, from the Labour spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), and from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), a previous Secretary of State, about the important work being done to alleviate poverty, improve infrastructure and bring in water supplies. I want to talk about another aspect of the Bank’s work, particularly right now as we head towards a delayed COP summit and the conference on biodiversity next year: the need to stop and then start to reverse the process of deforestation in Africa. The African Development Bank is doing a lot of important work in this area. DFID is also doing a lot of important work, both with the Bank and elsewhere, but we must step up this activity for two reasons.
First, such activity can play a vital role in climate change. We know the impact that deforestation around the world has had on climate change. We tend to talk a lot about the Brazilian rainforest, but there has been a much greater degree of deforestation on the African continent. There is the potential over the next 10 years for that to continue and to get much worse. For example, in the Congo basin there has already been a significant loss of forest cover. It is a politically unstable area and it has not been commercially exploited in the way that some other parts of Africa have been. We cannot afford to see those huge rainforests disappear. We must also start to recreate some of the forestation that has been lost.
The second crucial reason is the protection of endangered species. With the disappearance of forest cover, more and more habitats have disappeared, and more and more species have found themselves in critical danger. We must therefore do more through our development budgets to halt and reverse the process of deforestation. If that is done wisely, it can provide commercial, professional and tourist opportunities that can help to boost those economies.
Our Government are already doing good work. The African Development Bank is also doing good work, for example in Niger. In other parts of Africa, we have seen where it is possible to make a real difference. Ethiopia, a country that has suffered extraordinarily from land degradation over the years, has done an amazing job in starting to replant areas of forest. We also know that planting can generate genuine commercial opportunities. Let us take, for example, the Zambesi teak tree. The general view is that if a 100-year-old tree is lost, it cannot be replanted and brought back, but I have been to a recreated rainforest in Borneo, which 20 years ago was a palm oil plantation. Today, it is a thriving area of rainforest. It can be done. Plants such as the Zambesi teak tree can grow to full height in 20 years. If stewarded carefully, they can provide a resource for economic activity, as well as the opportunity to recreate habitats which have been lost.
So this is an enormously important area. I very much hope that the funding that we are going to approve today—the support that goes into the African Development Fund and through it into the international forest projects—can make a real difference.
I urge the Minister to put absolutely at the heart of what this Government do in the coming years the support that is so desperately needed for the recreation of what were once fertile, forested areas and are now areas of arid landscape. We should do everything we can to put money into supporting the existing forestation in those parts of Africa where we cannot afford to lose it and where we, in doing so, play a central part in what is going to be necessary in the fight against climate change.
This is not just about electric cars, solar energy, welcome though it is, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield said, and the exploitation that we are seeing of the enormous potential for solar power in Africa; it is also about recreating habitats and replanting forests, protecting and recreating mangrove swamps, and helping African farmers to maximise the potential of what they have, while protecting the environment at the same time.
I feel passionately about recreating habitats and removing the threat caused to so many species by the disappearance of the areas in which they live. We are already doing good things, but my message to the Minister today is: please, as we plan the strategy of our international aid in the future, can we make sure that the recreation of habitats and the protection of forests are absolutely at the heart of what we do in supporting the African Development Bank, and projects in Africa and around the world?
I welcome the opportunity to debate these statutory instruments regarding the ADB and IDA. This is clearly a timely moment to discuss how the UK gives its aid, how much it gives and in what form. We should note that this week’s announcement has been described as a big, big blow for Africa by one African Minister. The funds the Government intend to release to the ADB will, via the African Development Fund, help the poorest countries in Africa. The general capital increase will improve the bank’s lending capacity, allowing it to have an even greater impact. We should laud the fact that the fund’s replenishment is estimated to create more than 1 million jobs. I also wish to pay a particular tribute to the leading work the fund is doing to promote clean energy and green growth, not only improving lives, but doing so in a sustainable way. It is good that further commitments have been secured from the bank towards climate finance over the next five years. Of course, that is totally in line with our commitments to help to achieve the sustainable development goals, too.
The UK’s funding of the IDA will support £82 billion in development financing, which will have an impact on immunisations, clean growth and measures that will support gender equality. We should be particularly proud that the UK is the largest donor to the IDA and ADF replenishments. That is, no doubt, one thing that has resulted from the UK’s statutory commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance spending. As Members would expect, I will remind them that that commitment was enshrined in law by the Liberal Democrats. Our aid programme is about not just our bilateral partnerships, but our multilateral role. We have our own seat on the World Bank IDA board, which allows us to exert disproportionate influence, because of the reputation of DFID. It is important that we remember that.
It is also important that we continue to make aid available to multilateral institutions and to non-governmental organisations as we seek to combat coronavirus. When this replenishment was agreed late last year, we knew nothing of how the world would be turned upside down. There is no doubt that the latest tranche of funding committed to these funds will be used to assist vulnerable countries as we fight to recover from this pandemic. We should remember that, although we might be past the peak in the UK, case numbers are picking up in many parts of Africa. The public health challenge is so much greater in very vulnerable countries such as the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where access even to clean water is limited. Earlier this week, we celebrated the findings that the drug dexamethasone cuts the risk of death by a third for covid patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen, but in the most vulnerable places there are miniscule numbers of ventilators, and hospitals with oxygen supplies are few and far between.
In conclusion, we welcome these statutory instruments to provide further funding to the ADF and IDA. We are the largest donor to both institutions. The successor funding that this country has provided has helped reduce poverty in some of the most vulnerable countries in the world. These statutory instruments will allow that progress to continue. But following the Government’s announcement on Tuesday, there is sadly a question mark over whether we will continue to be a global leader. I urge the Government not to turn their back on that commitment, and I hope that this replenishment of the bank will not be the last that the UK leads on.
There is a saying that charity begins at home, and over the past few months we have witnessed extraordinary acts of charity and kindness across the United Kingdom. Confronted by coronavirus, people have volunteered to help neighbours who are shielding, donated to food banks to help the hungry and contributed to appeals raising funds. We have truly seen the best of British. However, charity does not end at home. Our help is needed not just here, but in other countries and on other continents—perhaps nowhere more so than in Africa. That is why I whole- heartedly support these measures and will speak specifically to those affecting the African Development Bank.
The bank is, as we have heard, an important player in African nations’ development, and crucial in the reduction of poverty. Right now, there is a pressing need for the bank to help African countries cope with coronavirus. Many of them do not have the resilience that exists here in the UK. A considerable number have to cope with malaria, and Congo is tackling an outbreak of Ebola. There are fears that covid-19 could lead to a wider food and health crisis, and deep concerns of lasting damage to economies that are already fragile. Although there has undoubtedly been considerable progress in economic development over the past 10 years or so, there is a real risk of that being undone. The African Development Bank is being called on to ensure that that does not happen and to provide immediate help in many parts of the continent.
That underlines the role that the African Development Bank has built in recent years. Its High 5s initiative focuses on providing infrastructure through prioritising the needs that are most pressing across the continent: sanitation and water, energy, transport, finance and agriculture. Those are ultimately all about enabling and equipping the people of Africa to improve their own lives.
The UK’s contribution to the replenishment of the African Development Fund will undoubtedly have a marked beneficial impact on the objectives of inclusive and green growth. The greater focus on climate and gender in designing projects agreed as part of this replenishment are extremely welcome reforms to the bank. I am also pleased to see a commitment to speedier delivery of project funds. Similarly, it is encouraging to see that approximately £100 million is dependent on a positive mid-term review, underlining the need for contributions from the UK to be based on effective performance. I look forward to hearing more from the Minister about how that will be assessed.
On the instrument on further payment to capital stock, it is worth highlighting the beneficial impact that a relatively modest immediate payment for shares brings, as the increased capital stock then enables the bank to leverage its balance sheet on the capital markets to mobilise private sector financing for projects. It is a matter not simply of giving money, but of demonstrating confidence and thus building even greater capability.
The instrument on the multilateral debt relief initiative honours our commitment to cancelling the debt of some of the poorest nations in the world, and I fervently hope that the UK’s financial assistance to the African Development Fund will make a material difference to those countries’ ability to tackle poverty and develop economically now that the burden of unmanageable debt has been relieved.
Although the UK’s shareholding in the African Development Bank is relatively small, I know from conversations with senior members of staff at the bank that we are seen as a very important stakeholder. Our commitment at this time sends a strong message to other shareholders and donor nations. That is surely welcome.
One reason I was keen to speak on the African Development Bank is that, among multilateral development banks, it is in a unique position. It is headquartered and based in Africa and has teams on the ground that really understand African nations and can interact with Governments to help both public finance management and governance. With technical and financial expertise, it is able to mobilise resources and improve capacity so that countries can reduce their dependence on donor funding.
These instruments today are a reminder of the potential for the UK and African nations to forge closer and stronger relations, especially as we leave the transition period following our departure from the EU. Our historical relationship and, in the case of many African countries, shared membership of the Commonwealth also provides opportunities. The president of the African Development Bank himself said on a visit to London in January:
“As wealth grows in Africa, it leads to wealth growth for the UK.”
He pointed out that our strong trading and cultural ties give British investors a head start in Africa, where, as he put it, there are
“huge markets, brimming with enormous investment opportunities.”
It is therefore perhaps something of a pity that foreign direct investment from the UK to Africa has fallen by a third since 2015, but I hope that the Government’s commitment to the African Development Bank, as demonstrated by this new funding, will provide at least a nudge to investors to consider the potential for imaginative and bold action that could bring mutual benefit.
It is important that the British taxpayer has confidence that the money devoted to development is spent wisely and carefully. There have been too many cases in the past of waste, profligacy and worse. Wherever our development funds are sent, there must be thorough auditing of projects and robust analysis of their real-world impact on the people in greatest need.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the prime way of ensuring that there is really good value for money, apart from all the structures that have been put in place, is the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which was set up by the coalition Government in 2010? It is the taxpayer’s friend. It is independent of Government; it reports not to the Executive or to the Department but to Parliament and, at the moment, to a Sub-Committee of the International Development Committee. Does he agree that it is very important, for precisely the purpose he set out, that ICAI should be retained in full?
I do indeed, and I take the point that my right hon. Friend makes. I was going to mention that I am indeed pleased that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact is currently conducting a review of the effectiveness of DFID’s support for the African Development Bank Group. It is perhaps a pity that it was not able to report before the decisions that will be taken today, but that is understandable given the limitations caused by coronavirus. As a general principle, it surely makes a lot of sense to have the independent scrutiny that my right hon. Friend refers to.
Additional scrutiny of how we spend development money is inevitable. As here in the UK we confront the worst recession we have known, it will be vital to demonstrate how supporting development initiatives is beneficial to us all. I feel confident that Ministers will ensure that that is the case with the moneys we are discussing. The Minister may even wish to provide me with some reassurance on that momentarily.
It is right that, even in difficult economic times at home, we continue to support those elsewhere who are much worse off. These funds for the African Development Bank and those for the International Development Association of the World Bank illustrate how Britain can be a force for good by making solid financial and political commitments that contribute towards economic development and social progress around the globe.
Glancing down at my notes, I think I have about 50 things to come back on. To assist the House, I will keep my comments to five minutes and then look through the report of the debate forensically and come back with some of the more technical detail where individuals have asked me questions, but I will try to cover everything.
I assure the House that we are completely committed to development. We are completely committed in the longer term to funding through these two long-standing mechanisms. This is not just something for today; it is something for the future. We are committed to the African continent specifically and to our Commonwealth partners, including Tanzania and Zambia, which were mentioned. Sadly, because growth in Asia is in excess of growth in Africa, it is probably inevitable that over the next 25 years there will be more poor people and people in extreme poverty in Africa than elsewhere. If anything, that will mean that we have to refocus more, not less, assistance on that area, separate from the broader debate that is being had.
A number of points were made about the ADB and how we leverage our shareholding. We leverage our shareholding in many ways, but at a very high level we have helped leverage 40% of investment into climate. There were concerns about money being focused on the poorest; 90% is focused on fragile states, partly because of how we have leveraged our shareholding.
I listened carefully to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). I do not quite know why he ate the sandwich of my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), but that is perhaps due to a lack of familiarity with the terminology. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield is incredibly well-informed.
As I go round Africa more generally, his name often comes up not only in obvious places such as Abidjan and Kigali, but across the continent. He is hugely respected. I look forward to working with him. I have already had an initial chat with the previous president, Donald, and look forward to working with the current president and other individuals.
On the important point about the constituency of which we are a member alongside Italy and the Netherlands, we are proud that we have someone from DFID representing that constituency at the moment. I am interested to see how we can build on that and I particularly welcome my right hon. Friend’s highlighting of solar energy across the Sahel, which is a really important issue and a really important region. It is the only region that was explicitly mentioned as part of the five shifts in NSC strategy.
There were various contributions from Scotland. I am a little confused because I thought that the Conservative party was moving towards the SNP position of having a single Department, which I agreed with rather than the position that was suggested today. I understand the points that were made. On a more consensual point, let me say that, as well as being the Minister for Africa, I am the Minister for Abercrombie House, and I look forward to visiting it, talking to employees and assuring them of their job security during this transition. I know that it is a concern for individuals, particularly for those who are away from Whitehall.
My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) raised a number of issues, including the inter-relationship between trade and migration, which is important. I remember fondly our meetings at airports around the world. Sometimes I knew that he was going to be there, and sometimes it was a surprise that he was there, thus demonstrating that we need to be a little more co-ordinated across Whitehall.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) went into a little more detail, eloquently, on forestation. I was particularly interested to hear about the work in the Congo Basin and would like to speak to him more about that. On the reforestation of palm oil areas, we are very aware of the problems of palm oil more generally.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) talked about effective performance, which was also raised by the Opposition. Let me report back on some of those figures: we held back 25% of £152 million sterling—£38 million sterling—in June 2018, £30 million of which was released in October, based on progress and a performance plan. In 2019, we did not withhold any further—
Given that these orders are made under the International Development Act 2002, does the Government have any plans to change or amend that Act given the importance of all these orders being focused on poverty eradication?
That is a legitimate point, but I am not sure how it relates directly to the SI. I am not aware of any changes, which might perhaps give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. There is some additional information about the other fund, which I will write to him about.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury for his points on foreign direct investment in Africa, which is incredibly important, whether it is through some of these funds or completely independent of Government institutions.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield raised the issue of trust funds. We have very few trust funds at the African Development Bank, but we are supporting initiatives on sustainable energy, climate risk finance and women’s economic empowerment and very much welcome a discussion around how we can use trust funds more effectively through that fund. Having lived in Abidjan as a 20 year-old, I am keen to get back there and talk to him more—[Interruption.] He is looking shocked. I am not sure whether that is because I was once young, or that I was once in Abidjan. Perhaps it is both. I was aware of the African Development Bank back in my time at Barclays in Abidjan and I look forward to getting back as alternate governor. I was asked who would be representing the bank. I suspect, given the changes, that as deputy governor or alternate governor, I will be spending a bit more time with all the regional development banks. Even prior to the changes, I was going to be the primary person dealing with the African Development Bank.
I welcome the consensual nature of this debate, particularly given the context. I can reassure the House that, in my heart and the heart of Government, we are trying to do the right thing by development. This merger is very much about trying to bring the full force of HMG together, not shifting from one foot to an entirely different foot.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft African Development Bank (Fifteenth Replenishment of the African Development Fund) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
That the draft African Development Bank (Further Payments to Capital Stock) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
That the draft African Development Fund (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
That the draft International Development Association (Nineteenth Replenishment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
That the draft International Development Association (Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative) (Amendment) Order 2020, which was laid before this House on 19 May, be approved.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the end of this month, production of the British passport will cease at the De La Rue plant in my constituency, following the Government’s decision some years ago to award the contract to Gemalto. Yesterday, De La Rue announced that the production of bank notes on the site will also stop, with the loss of a further 255 jobs. It is devastating to see this reduction. Are you aware of any statement to be made to the House by a Minister about that issue in the forthcoming business?
I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order. I think she may have been here for the business statement. I have not been made aware of any forthcoming statements from Ministers about it, but she has put her concern on the record, and I am sure she will find ways, as she has done today, to raise that concern about her constituents.
To allow the safe exit of Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I will suspend the House for three minutes.
Covid-19: BAME Communities
As I am sure colleagues will have seen, this is a very well-subscribed debate, so I intend to impose a six-minute time limit straight away so that we can get everybody in. I know that the hon. Lady is aware that she has around 15 minutes for her opening speech.
I beg to move,
That this House is concerned about the level of deaths from covid-19 among Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities; notes that structural inequalities and worse health outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people go hand in hand; calls on the Government to review the data published by the Office for National Statistics on 11 May 2020 on Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, England and Wales: deaths registered up to and including 20 April 2020, the Report published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies in May 2020 entitled, Are some ethnic groups more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others? and the full report by Public Health England on Disparities in the risk and outcomes of covid-19; and further calls on the Government to set out in detail the scope and timeframe of the Government’s review and urgently to put a plan in place to prevent avoidable deaths.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee and its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead (Ian Mearns), for securing this important debate. Many Members who wanted to speak cannot do so, and it is a shame that they cannot participate remotely. The Government are more focused on subverting democracy than protecting lives, but we will not go into that. Their decisions are increasingly illogical and irrational. They finally did a U-turn the other day and now children will be fed this summer; I am glad the Government are doing U-turns. I thank everyone involved, including the all-party group on school food and Marcus Rashford, who joins celebs such as Raheem Sterling, John Boyega and others who are finding their voice and using their position for change.
This is a sobering debate. We all watched the brutal, very public lynching of George Floyd—our lives were interrupted by the killing—but racism does not just manifest itself in brutal ways that can be caught on camera and shared on social media. “I can’t breathe”, the last words of George Floyd, could apply to the disproportionate numbers of black, African-Caribbean and Asian people dying from coronavirus in this country.
Every time the Government get dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe every time the Government hide a report or kick an issue into the long grass by announcing another commission or report. I can’t breathe. My breath is taken away by the lack of care, empathy and emotional intelligence shown by the Government time and again. For months, we stood at our doorways and clapped for our key workers, the ones on the frontline—the doctors, the nurses, the carers, the cleaners, the ones driving the buses, the cabs and the forklift trucks or serving people in supermarkets. The people we clapped for are the ones who are being underpaid and who are, disproportionately, dying.
The death rate for covid-19 has exposed and amplified what has been going on in society for decades. The concentration of deaths in areas where people are just about managing should worry us all. As a country, we are better than this. According to the Office for National Statistics, the burden of covid-19 has been felt more strongly in regions with greater deprivation. In those areas, people are dying from the virus at double the rate of those in more affluent areas. According to the ONS, adjusting for age, black people are more than four times as likely to die from covid as white people. Pakistanis and Bangladeshis are more than three times as likely and Indians more than twice as likely.
BAME people account for 13.4% of the population, but they make up 34% of patients admitted to an intensive care unit. My constituency of Brent sadly has the highest number of registered deaths in London. In line with findings from the Office for National Statistics, those areas of greatest deprivation, such as Harlesden, have the highest number of deaths.
I thank my hon. Friend for the powerful way in which she makes these crucial points. Does she agree that the approach taken by my constituency colleague and the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, Vaughan Gething, on the disproportionate impact of these issues on BAME communities—we have seen tragic deaths in my constituency too—has been in stark contrast to the approach taken by the UK Government? Vaughan Gething has understood this issue, and led on it from the start.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. We can learn a lot from the approach in Wales, including how people are approaching the disproportionate number of deaths from covid-19 in the BAME community. I thank him for everything he does in his constituency on that issue.
We did not get to this point by accident, and we must make a concerted effort to dismantle the structural and systemic racism that exists in society, and that affects life chances from the moment someone is born.