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Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Volume 679: debated on Wednesday 2 September 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question.

The creation of the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office today is a key moment: a key moment for our vision of a truly global Britain, and a key moment for our integration of our international efforts in order to maximise their impact abroad. With this innovation, we are drawing on the example of many of our allies, such as Australia and Canada and, indeed, the vast majority of OECD countries, by putting our world-class aid programme at the beating heart of our wider foreign policy decision making, and doing it in a way that works best for the United Kingdom.

We are integrating and aligning the UK’s expertise as a development superpower with the reach and clout of our diplomatic network in order to ensure that their impact internationally is bigger than the sum of their parts. We have paved the way for this approach during covid, bringing together all the relevant strands of our international activity. For example, we joined our research efforts to find a vaccine at home with our international leadership in raising the funding to ensure equitable access for the most vulnerable countries, culminating in the Prime Minister hosting the Gavi summit and smashing the target by raising $8.8 billion in global vaccine funding. That amply demonstrates how our moral and national interests are inextricably intertwined.

We continue to bolster health systems in the most vulnerable countries, not just out of a sense of moral responsibility—although there is that—but also to safeguard the people of this country from a second wave of this deadly virus. It is in that spirit, as the new FCDO comes into operation today, that I can announce that the UK will commit a further £119 million to tackle the combined threat of coronavirus and famine, so that we can do our bit to alleviate extreme hunger for over 6 million people from Yemen through to Sudan. In tandem with that, to leverage the impact of our national contribution, I have also today appointed Nick Dyer as the UK’s special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian affairs, again as we combine our aid impact with our diplomatic leadership to focus the world’s attention and rally international support to help tackle this looming disaster and threat.

The new Department reflects the drive towards a more effective and more joined-up foreign policy, and I pay tribute to the brilliant work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) and all her support directly in driving this merger forward. My team of Ministers has already been holding joint Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office portfolios for some time now, so we will have continuity as we bed in the organisation of the new Department. Sir Philip Barton becomes the new permanent under-secretary at FCDO—the brilliant diplomat who co-ordinated the United Kingdom’s response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack back in 2018. We have also broadened the senior departmental leadership to achieve a more diverse range of expertise and experience at the top. So, as well as FCO and DFID experience, the board of directors general brings together those with wider experience from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Cabinet Office, not to mention from the private sector and the voluntary sector.

Abroad, we will operate with one voice and one line of reporting, so that all civil servants operating abroad, including our trade commissioners, will work to the relevant ambassador or high commissioner in post. Training the cadre of the new Department will be essential too, so the new International Academy launched today will train and improve the skills of all our dedicated civil servants across Government who are working internationally. To boost this excellent team, I believe it is important to bring in additional insights from outside Government. Therefore, I have also appointed Stefan Dercon, professor of economic policy at Oxford University, as my senior adviser on aid and development policy.

With the support of my tireless ministerial team, we continue to consult outside Government to test our thinking and glean new ideas for the successful operation of FCDO. I am grateful for the input we have received over the summer from hon. and right hon. Members across the House. In particular, my thanks go to the Chairs of the Foreign Affairs, International Development, and Defence Committees. I am also grateful for the advice I have had from non-governmental organisations, foundations and international organisations—from Bill Gates to David Malpass, the president of the World Bank, with whom I discussed matters yesterday.

We will reinforce that external scrutiny not just by maintaining ICAI—the Independent Commission for Aid Impact—but by strengthening its focus on the impact of our aid and the value added to our policy agenda, and by broadening its mandate to provide policy recommendations alongside its critical analysis. I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) for all his advice on this matter.

In this way, and informed in due course by the integrated review, the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will deliver on this Government’s mission to forge a truly global Britain to defend all aspects of the British national interest and to project this country as an even stronger force for good in the world.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that, but the truth is that this is a complete mess. It has made a nonsense of his own review—the integrated Department has come before the integrated strategy. Thousands of staff with world-renowned expertise have been treated disgracefully, holding meetings in recent weeks with senior civil servants who cannot even answer basic questions about how this Department is going to operate. Why? Because the Government were shamed by a footballer into supporting some of the poorest children in this world. That does not bode well for a commitment to the poorest people across the planet.

The creation of the Department for International Development—the right hon. Gentleman knows—was a game changer not just for the world, but for Britain, and to put that at risk now is extraordinary. The world has never felt more unstable. We are in the midst of a global pandemic. We know that a vaccine will be successful only if it reaches the world’s poorest, and as the UK takes on the task of hosting COP26 next year, the world is wondering what on earth is going on and whether Britain is capable of rising to the scale of the challenge.

The right hon. Gentleman did not give a commitment to retain the spending of 0.7%. I want to hear that commitment from him today. He also knows that the Prime Minister said, when he described DFID as a

“giant cashpoint in the sky”,

that he would reassess the spending and the priorities of the Department. Today, the front pages of the papers say that the Chancellor is going to raid the right hon. Gentleman’s aid budget. The truth is he is losing this argument within his own Cabinet, so will he give me a cast-iron guarantee that there will be no changes to the International Development Act 2002? Will he tell us which country programmes have been identified for cuts? Where is the impact assessment and will he publish it? Where is the strategy that will guide allocation of resources? Can he confirm that ICAI will remain and that, crucially, it will remain independent? The Foreign Office and other Departments do not have a good record on aid spending. This Government ought not to be allowed to mark their own homework.

The sad fact is that, instead of a strategy for Britain’s global role, we have got a new paint job on a Government plane. Where is the ambition? Where is the strategy? On a day when we have seen the United States pull out of global efforts to find a vaccine, the Prime Minister is holed up in Downing Street, hiding from the world, where people wonder what on earth is going on. I do not envy him the mess that he has inherited, but he has to resolve it. Our standing in the world is at stake and we will not allow the Government off the hook on that basis.

Can I, I think, thank the hon. Lady for her question? It was full of assertions and various snippets from media speculation in the newspapers. Let me try to give her some substantive answers. [Interruption.] She is saying that, but why doesn’t she listen? She asked about ICAI whereas, actually, we had already announced we were keeping and reinforcing it. I made the point in my statement; it seems that she is rehashing and rehearsing the critique that she wants to make without actually listening to what we are doing.

The hon. Lady asked in particular about the search for a vaccine. That is an excellent example of where we do need to bring together our world-beating aid leverage with our diplomatic clout. That is exactly what this Prime Minister did at the Gavi summit—bringing countries together, smashing the target for global vaccine funding, which is a good complement and supplement to the research we are doing at Oxford, at Imperial and elsewhere not just to find a vaccine for the people of this country, but to ensure an equitable distribution around the world.

The hon. Lady asked about the 0.7%. The Prime Minister has been very clear on this, and the new FCDO will put our world-class development programmes at the very heart of our foreign policy. The 0.7% commitment is a manifesto commitment, and it is enshrined in law. I would just gently point out to the hon. Lady that we have hit the 0.7% aid target in every year since 2013. She is right to say that it was Labour that introduced the target back in the ’70s, but it never hit the target in any year. I think she should look at her own record before making assertions that, frankly, do not hold water.

The hon. Lady talked about a mess, but I do not think she has followed the detail of what we have done. The Order in Council that we made today during the Privy Council meeting will be laid in Parliament on 9 September and will enter into force on 30 September. That is necessary to transfer powers legally from the previous Departments and the positions of Secretary of State to their new ones. I have already answered the question on ICAI. I would have thought she would take this opportunity to welcome the things that she wants to see. We are reinforcing ICAI, and I have explained the benefit that we have had from hon. Members across the House, particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. I have also explained why we think ICAI is so important to external scrutiny, but we want to see practical recommendations to guide action, alongside the critical evaluation that it rightly does.

It is not clear to me whether the shadow Foreign Secretary opposes the measure in principle, but I think she does. If that is the case, would she reverse it? I think it is true to say, judging by the press releases coming from her colleague, the shadow International Development Secretary, that the Opposition are sticking with shadow Ministers along the old FCO and DFID lines. I am afraid that that can only leave an even more divided Opposition as we forge a more integrated and aligned foreign policy to better serve Britain and the interests of the British people.

I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing together these two important Departments. First, I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), whose work in DFID was all too brief but who I have no doubt has handed over that Department in extremely good order. On that note, will the Foreign Secretary be maintaining that? The job of our Committee will now be to oversee quite a lot of the functions that have previously been done by DFID, so we will be asking questions on financial probity and questions to ensure that the extremely high standard of DFID staff and DFID expertise is maintained. Will he maintain the skills and expertise of those fantastic people who have spent so much of our money so well? Will he ensure that the diplomatic service, which is so important and, indeed, distinct from the home civil service, is maintained and that its ethos is enhanced by being able to master not just the money but also the policy?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work and thank him for his input into the work that I and junior Ministers have been engaged in over the summer to ensure that we listened to parliamentarians as well as NGOs and international organisations. I join him in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. She has done a stalwart job, and she has been nothing but committed and dedicated to working through the details of the merger.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) made the point about maintaining the high standards of expertise on both the diplomatic and the development fronts, and he is absolutely right. If he looks at the board of directors general, he will see that we have done that, as well as bringing in experience from across Whitehall and, indeed, the voluntary and private sectors. I addressed all members of staff at the new FCDO today, and I made the point that we want to drive a new, innovative Department, maintain and build on the expertise we have, and show that, as a Government and as a country, we can be bigger than the sum of our parts.

We regret this merger. We regret it on principle, but we accept that it has happened. It was interesting that the Foreign Secretary cited Australia as a reason for it. I would refer him to the report by Richard Moore, the ex-deputy director general of AusAID, which very much found that the merged Department there was less than the sum of its parts. That is our concern for the FCDO. We on these Benches will continue to prioritise international development. My great friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), will continue to be a Front Bencher in order specifically to prioritise the scrutiny of the development functions of the new Department.

I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s comments on ICAI, but I invite him to go further and express his support for the continuation of the specific scrutiny of the development function of his Department by this House. That would be very much welcomed in the cross-party discussions to continue greater scrutiny.

On the 0.7%, I am grateful for his assurances that the Prime Minister has been very clear, but may I give him an opportunity to strengthen his own hand in these discussions? Presumably the betrayal of a manifesto commitment—were that to come to pass—would be a resignation matter for the Foreign Secretary, because I do not see how anyone would possibly be able to thole that, given the situation.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a range of different issues. I thank him for his words of support for ICAI. It is important to have that external scrutiny. Frankly, as the Secretary of State—and having worked in a range of Departments—I think that scrutiny is useful for leveraging reform and getting the Department to look at new ways of doing things, so I remain open and embrace it. He asked me about the Select Committees. Normally the process is that they shadow the individual Departments, but it will ultimately be a matter for the House.

I have heard the assertion that the Australian example demonstrates how it all goes horribly wrong. Having dug a little further and talked to my opposite number, Marise Payne, I do not think that that is necessarily the case. Although it is true that it is important to learn from the different ways in which different foreign ministries operate, there is only one in the OECD that still has a separate aid ministry with a separate aid budget. Actually, the movement—certainly in the last 10 or 15 years—has all been in the other way, so it is important to draw on those lessons too. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s advice on the 0.7% but, notwithstanding his generosity, I shall decline to accept his offer.

We are where we are today, so it is only right to wish every success to both sides of this merger as it launches today. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary has said about the importance of ICAI and of independent evaluation, which drives up transparency, accountability and the interests of the taxpayer in value for money. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the commitment to 0.7%, which he has most helpfully underlined, is inextricably linked to the rules that govern this expenditure, and that we should not—as a country or as a Government—seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest women and children in the world?

I thank my right hon. Friend for his advice throughout this process, which has been constructive and has drawn on his considerable experience as Secretary of State. He has certainly convinced me and the Government about the importance of ICAI, and I think its mandate can be refined and focused so that we get practical recommendations alongside critical analysis. I take the points that he has made about not just the 0.7%, but the underlying rules. Our commitment, and indeed this was our commitment during the review of official development assistance given the state of GNI, is to make sure that the bottom billion—the very poorest around the world—are prioritised, and that will be the case in the new Department.

UNICEF has warned that covid is the greatest threat to children across the world. It estimates that 1.2 million children under five are at risk over the next six months. I am reassured by what the Foreign Secretary has said about guaranteeing the 0.7% and about the independent scrutiny, but he has not yet answered the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about impact assessments if that should not happen.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to warn about the risk of covid and famine, and particularly children at risk. I hope that she will be reassured by taking a look at the detail of the £119 million that we have announced today to address the threat of famine in the countries worst hit by coronavirus. The sum includes £25 million for UNICEF to support feeding centres in Yemen that provide treatment for malnourished children under the age of five. It includes £15 million in cash transfers and food aid for the most insecure households and families, including children, in Afghanistan. In areas such as South Sudan, which is dealing with internally displaced people, there is £8 million for shelters to deal with some of the most vulnerable, which will of course include children.

The pandemic has demonstrated just how important it is that our development and diplomatic efforts are fused more closely together. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this new approach, bringing together all our efforts in different countries, will make sure that we can further our aims while ensuring that we continue to help the world’s poorest?

My hon. Friend is exactly right. As I said in my opening response to the urgent question, the link between our moral duty and the raw British national interest is clear: preventing a second wave of coronavirus in some of the most vulnerable countries is not just the right thing to do, but will help to safeguard the United Kingdom and the people of this country from a second wave.

For decades, the Department for International Development has helped to improve millions of lives overseas by leading the way in tackling extreme poverty and gender inequality. Will the Secretary of State explain how the new Department will continue that vital work and play a leading role on the international stage, especially when so many countries are struggling during this unprecedented time? Does he really think that now is the right time for the change?

I totally agree with the hon. Lady, which is why we have made it clear in our mission statement and in our strategy that, for example, dealing with and addressing the poverty of the most poor, least developing countries remains central to our foreign policy. Likewise, the hon. Lady mentioned gender equality, and our campaign to ensure that every girl gets 12 years of quality education is absolutely central to our “force for good” work. I hope that I can not only reassure her in respect of her concerns but show her that there is an opportunity, as we bring together our diplomatic network with our aid leverage, to show that we can have even greater impact as a force for good in the world.

Aid is all about jobs, so will the Secretary of State maintain a rigorous focus on economic development in the world’s poorest countries? Otherwise, there will be ever more small boats crossing the channel.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. One reason for integrating, not just in the new Department but in the structures that we have across Government, is to make sure that all aspects of our foreign policy are joined together. Trade and the work that the Secretary of State for International Trade is doing—she is doing an absolutely fantastic job—is critical, not just in countries such as the US and Australia but in the poorest countries, where a liberal approach to free trade can lift millions out of poverty.

Coronavirus, climate change—it has never been more important to understand that we all share one planet and that it is in our interests to help others through the sustainable development goals and by staying with 0.7% unequivocally, so I will try one more time: will the Secretary of State commit, right here and now, to fighting for all that money to be maintained in his budget to be there for poverty reduction and economic development?

I congratulate the hon. Lady on her new shadow position and congratulate her on and pay tribute to her leadership campaign, which she conducted with conviction and integrity, as ever. She is absolutely right that we must look after the poorest. We have had an ODA review because of the impact of coronavirus on the economy and on gross national income. We have made it clear—I think this can give her the assurance she seeks—that we are absolutely committed, as we were in that review, to safeguarding the money for the very poorest, for girls’ education and for COP26 and our climate change goals. I agree with the hon. Lady about COP26. We are making sure that we use our aid money and our development expertise to provide 26 million people with access to clean energy and we are supporting farmers to grow climate-resilient crops. In all those ways, the bringing together of our development expertise with our Foreign Office reach and clout can show that we can have even greater impact in the months and years ahead.

Next year, we take over the presidency of the G7; will my right hon. Friend set out our objectives for that leadership position?

We have a global leadership role next year, not only with the G7 but in hosting COP26 and various other international fora. Our specific items for the G7 have not been set out yet—we would not expect that this early—but I can tell my hon. Friend that we will want to show that we are a global force for good across the piece, whether it comes to trade, climate change or girls’ education. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will be a major motor—an engine for driving maximum impact, not only in value for taxpayers’ money but in helping the very poorest in the world.

I am grateful to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their commitment to 0.7%, but do they also commit to the Development Assistance Committee’s definition of what constitutes aid? Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact needs to remain fully independent?

I think I answered the ICAI question earlier, but I am happy to reassure the hon. Lady and reaffirm that we will not just keep ICAI but strengthen and sharpen its focus, because we welcome and want to see the scrutiny. Indeed, I would like to see more practical policy recommendations, not just the critical analysis. I thank her for what she said about 0.7%. She is right that the DAC rules are an important part of the global infrastructure. There is plenty of scope, and it is absolutely right, for us to ensure that we get maximum value for British taxpayers’ money and to drive a foreign policy that deals with some of the challenges we share with other countries around the world and fulfils our moral responsibilities but delivers for the British people here at home as well.

I welcome the merger and a new, bold global foreign policy. When it comes to aid, can my right hon. Friend tell me why we sent £71 million of taxpayers’ money to China, the world’s second largest economy? Linked to that, can he commit to tackling the genocide that China is undertaking against the Uyghur, with 2 million incarcerated, and show leadership on the international stage by starting with the Magnitsky sanctions and ending with holding a tribunal against the Chinese authorities, who are undertaking human rights abuses against the Uyghur?

I thank my hon. Friend for her campaigning on this, and in particular the Uyghur Muslims. She will know that we led a statement in the UN Human Rights Council with 26 other states for the first time ever on not just the human rights abuses in Hong Kong but the threats and the violations of the human rights of the Uyghur Muslims. We will continue to look at that very carefully with our international partners. We certainly have not ruled out deployment of Magnitsky sanctions there or elsewhere. I am afraid she will have to wait to see the further designations that we have planned in due course.

For over 20 years, the Department for International Development has done incredibly important work, helping countries in the global south to tackle the causes of climate change and promote sustainable development. Will the Secretary of State concede that the decision to merge the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development undermines the UK’s commitment to fight climate change and promote sustainable, equitable growth across the globe?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the point about climate change. As my hon. Friend the noble Lord Goldsmith is showing, one of the things that we have done effectively and will continue to do with this integration is bring in Ministers, as he is working for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but also has both the development and diplomatic portfolios. Bringing those together will ensure that the new FCDO can support to the maximum effect our hosting of COP26 and deliver a shift in the dial and in the efforts and progress towards delivering a cleaner, greener economy as we come through coronavirus.

The Foreign Secretary has referred to the food crisis in east Africa, which is indeed acute. Will he therefore use this first day of the new Department to contact potential foreign donors to ask them to up their game? I am very appreciative of what our Government have done by means of contribution to provide food for people in that part of the world, but will he ask other potential international donors to do the same?

My hon. Friend must be telepathic, because today we have announced £119 million to deal with the threat of covid and the accentuated risk of famine across the world, but particularly in Africa. He mentioned east Africa. That money will apply to Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. He is absolutely right, and it is a good illustration of the rationale for this merger: as well as leading by example, we need to garner the international community to reinforce what we are doing, which is exactly why I have today appointed Nick Dyer as the UK’s special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian issues, to ensure that we are coaxing and cajoling other countries to follow our lead. That is the way we will deliver the greatest impact and help alleviate the potential suffering of a second wave and all the famine that that threatens to bring.

The Foreign Secretary’s colleague the Minister for Africa and I have visited aid projects on the continent a number of times. Liberia was one of the first trips we went on. We saw how, during the Ebola crisis, attention diverted to Ebola led to the rise of tuberculosis resistance. The thing that stops that is experts who know development and health, and who are not just diplomats. Will the Foreign Secretary therefore reassure me that pathways into the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will not just be through the diplomatic service? Will he ensure that the Government will not block the continuation of the International Development Committee that the Minister for Africa and I both sat on for a number of years?

I thank the hon. Gentleman; I think he raises a very important point. However, I also think it works in favour of the merger, because it is precisely for the reasons he gives that we want to not just retain but infuse in the FCDO the aid expertise and development experience that DFID brings. We want to join that in with the diplomatic muscle, clout, leverage and reach we have and make sure that they are both working in tandem. If we are successful in doing that—I am confident that we will be—we will deliver what he wishes to see.

In the 1990s I worked very closely with the ODA, which was then wound into DFID. I had a very good impression of how the ODA worked—it was invaluable on the ground in the Balkans. The ODA was run by Lynda Chalker, who was a Minister of State in the Foreign Office. Following up on the previous question, which was a good question, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether the division in the Foreign Office will work in the same way as the ODA worked? If that is the model, it is a pretty good model.

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to the work he did in the Balkans. We first met when he was giving expert evidence to the Yugoslavia tribunal. Indeed, I talked to Malcolm Rifkind about precisely that model. Obviously, he had the experience of when the aid and development expertise were joined up with the previous FCO. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will make sure that we have an integrated approach: our diplomatic network and reach combined with our aid expertise. I am bringing in some outside expertise, such as Professor Dercon, to make sure we get that right. There is a huge opportunity right across the world, including in that part of the world, to make sure we maximise our impact but not lose sight of the fact that we want our broader UK national interest to be reflected in the approach we take on development and aid.

Can the Foreign Secretary respond directly to the Whitehall sources quoted in The Times this morning regarding using the aid budget on military spending? In what world does crowbarring DFID into the Foreign Office and then using the aid budget in that way honour the spirit of 0.7% or help those around the world who are in the most desperate need of genuine development help?

It is a generous offer to start commenting on every bit of pre-comprehensive spending review tittle-tattle reported in the media. All I can say is that not an element of it has reflected or characterised the conversations I have had across Government.

Many of my constituents will want us to go even further with these changes, given the inequalities and need to level up at home. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that there will be a very clear alignment with our national interest and our ambitious foreign policy, ensuring our aid spending is directly in line with the UK’s priorities overseas?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Interestingly, in Africa there is probably the strongest case for joining not just our diplomatic work with our aid budget and our development expertise, but what the Ministry of Defence is doing. There is an inextricable link, contrary to the previous question, between security and stability, and the opportunities for those countries and the most vulnerable people to flourish and thrive.

The Foreign Secretary made reference to the integrated review. Can he comment on why the call for evidence makes no reference to promoting democracy or upholding human rights or to the UK’s commitment to international institutions, especially given this year is the UN’s 75th anniversary?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that each of those strands is a critical element of the integrated review.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and my South Derbyshire constituents that as we lead the world’s efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic now is the right time to move to the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, as it will allow us to seize the opportunities that lie ahead and bring our international effort together?

My hon. Friend is right, and I pay tribute to the work she did as Minister for Asia. She has seen at first hand why this is so important. Covid actually reinforced the case: the ministerial groups that brought together all aspects of international decision making in relation to covid, from repatriation of nationals through to the purchase of PPE and the search for a vaccine, showed both how effectively we could work when we worked closely together and the gap in the absence of integration, which is what the merger will deliver today.

The UK can be proud of the impact that our overseas aid has on some of the poorest people in the world, and I know that this will continue under my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that today’s merger is an opportunity for the UK to have an even greater impact and influence on the world stage as we make the most of the global Britain agenda and the recovery from the coronavirus?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Given that London is a centre for dispute resolution, given our diplomatic expertise in conflict resolution and given the role of aid and development in conflict stabilisation, there is a really strong case for bringing all those elements together in a concerted and coherent way so that we can be an even stronger force for good in the world.

Robust independent scrutiny helps to ensure that aid reaches those who need it most and that UK taxpayers get maximum value for money. This is the mission of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. What evidence does the Foreign Secretary have that there are any deficiencies in its independent work of providing scrutiny, transparency and accountability of the UK aid budget and of identifying future priorities that cause him to undertake a review of its work, and when will this review be complete?

I hope the hon. Lady has not misunderstood what I said. We are keeping and reinforcing ICAI. I pay tribute to the work it does. In the example I gave, I was saying not that it was deficient but that it could do even better, in particular by not just providing critical analysis but bringing a new and additional focus—not subtracting but adding—on practical policy recommendations. What I really want and welcome, and what the Department welcomes, is critical scrutiny, practical advice and ways to ensure that in the combined FCDO we deliver maximum impact, particularly in the dispensing of precious taxpayers’ money.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s linking of moral duty, diplomacy and aid in his remarks this morning. I accept that the Department is going through a merger—a process of transition—and that some change is inevitable, but what assurance can he give that existing letters of arrangement for critical aid projects will be honoured? Also will he review the short notice periods—sometimes as little as three months—that some of these multi-year, multimillion-pound projects are being asked to deliver against and which risk compromising their effective delivery?

The CSR will be an opportunity to make sure the various aspects my hon. Friend mentions are covered, but I can reassure him that there is no obligation we have undertaken that we will not discharge.

The anxiety on the Opposition Benches is that this signals a diminution in Britain’s commitment as a global leader at a time when global leadership is so badly needed, and that we are going instead to retrench to narrow national interests. It is very welcome that the Foreign Secretary said that that is not the case and he has a chance to prove this right now with regards to the covid-19 vaccine. What we are seeing is that the wealthiest countries are buying up lots and lots of the prospective doses, which is entirely natural if countries act as individuals, but if we want to globally tackle this horrendous virus, it is a very bad way to do it. So I wonder, in the spirit of global leadership, whether the Foreign Secretary could tell us what actions he is taking now for a just and medically beneficial approach to a global distribution of a vaccine of which we do not have enough doses yet?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very focused and legitimate question. Obviously, the UK is seeking to lead at every level. We have the trials and the research that our world-beating scientists are undertaking, particularly Oxford and Imperial, but there are others as well. On top of that, one of things we have been working on, through our contributions both to CEPI—the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations—and also through the Gavi summit, which I have already mentioned, is to make sure not only that we can pioneer and innovate a safe and usable vaccine, but that we can raise the money to make sure that there is a fair and just, equitable distribution. We want to make sure everyone in this country is immunised by this vaccine, but we also want to make sure that is true for other countries around the world. I think that is particularly important both for the moral reasons that, I think, he and I agree on, and for practical reasons, which is that it would safeguard us—Europe and the people of this country—from a second wave of the virus.

Given the importance of education in the work with the new Department, does this mean that the creation of the new Department will lead to an urgent review of UK-funded material supplied to Palestinian teachers, and will it lead to the publication of the UK interim report into this subject, however valueless that may be?

Last week, I was in Jerusalem and in Ramallah on the west bank. I raised this issue of textbooks with the Prime Minister—Prime Minister Shtayyeh, whom I worked for 22 years ago—and there is an EU-related review ongoing. We have made it very clear that we want to see full co-operation and engagement with that. We are looking very carefully at the outcome of it, and of course we will then be able to assess what we do on aid. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the point, and I am hopefully in a position to give him the reassurance he needs.

Water, sanitation and hygiene funding is essential for achieving disease control and prevention, poverty reduction and gender equality. I am dismayed that the first act of this new Department—this takeover of DFID by the FCO—has been to cut the UK’s foreign aid budget by £2.9 billion. Will the Secretary of State demonstrate his commitment and prove his commitment to poverty reduction by committing to increase spending on water, sanitation and hygiene projects?

What I would say first is that of course we would have a review of our aid budget as a result of the impact of the 0.7%; that comes with the target. I think the hon. Member’s own Front-Bench team have accepted that. What I can tell her, though, is that we were very clear not just to salami-slice budgets. So when I took the chairmanship of the review that we conducted with Departments across Whitehall, we preserved focus and the funding for the bottom billion—the poverty reduction for the poorest around the world. We preserved and we made sure that we safeguarded the money prioritised for climate change, for girls’ education, for covid-19 and also for a range of the “force for good” campaigns for media freedom and girls’ education, as I have already mentioned, that I discuss, and in that way we have had a strategic approach. So, yes, we have had to review it in line with our commitment to adhere to a 0.7% pledge, but we have done it in a strategic way, and I think when she looks at the detail, she can be reassured.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the covid pandemic has highlighted the benefits, if not the imperative, to join up our diplomatic and development efforts? But in particular, can I welcome the better access to the unparalleled soft power our DFID colleagues will have of Wilton Park in my constituency of Arundel and South Downs?

My hon. Friend makes a great plug for Wilton Park, which is dear to my heart. It does great work and certainly helps leverage our soft power effort. More generally, he has made the case that covid has demonstrated not just why integrating foreign policy is so important, but why we should go further with the merger. We found that, whether it came to procurement of PPE, repatriation of British nationals, critically, the search for a vaccine and, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, making sure that it is equitably distributed around the world.

I am glad to have heard a few Members talk about the excellent work and expertise of DFID staff. I am sure that a number of the staff, including many who work in my constituency, would be keen for the Secretary of State to take action to make sure that there is early awareness of these staff and exactly what the future will hold for them, in more detail than is currently available to them. Is he able to give some indication of when that detail is likely to be forthcoming?

I am happy for the hon. Lady to write to me with any specific concerns. I have spoken to DFID staff. Indeed I did a FCDO all-staffer today and we made it very clear what approach we are taking. We want to energise our brilliant diplomats’ development expertise but also forge a new culture. We are also committed to making sure that we have a stronger presence across all the nations and indeed all the regions of the UK because it is important that Scotland sees, and the people of Scotland see, the value added that we yield when we come together as one United Kingdom, but also with this merger.

As my right hon. Friend rightly said, next year, this country will host COP26 and the presidency of the G7. Does he therefore agree that this is excellent timing to bring our security, foreign and development work together?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In politics, I personally believe in show, not just tell. Whether it is covid, the Gavi summit and the search for a vaccine, COP26, or the work that we are doing in Yemen, which obviously involves a conflict resolution element as well as a humanitarian element, all of it demonstrates the scope for delivering greater impact in our foreign policy. Next year will be an opportunity to show a truly global Britain. The FCDO will be at the heart of those efforts to ensure that we can live up to our potential as an even stronger force for good in the world.

I am glad that the Secretary of State mentioned Yemen. Will this merger between the Departments make it easier to solve cases such as that of my constituent, Luke Symons, who is being held by the Houthis in Yemen? Will bringing together humanitarian and foreign policy efforts in any way assist in those kinds of cases?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that case. He knows that we have been working very hard on behalf of his constituent and I know that he has been a doughty champion of him. The broader point that he makes is right. We have a stronger impact in Yemen, bringing our aid influence with the diplomatic work that we are doing, working with UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, but also trying to alleviate the humanitarian plight and talking to all our international partners—Saudi Arabia, the other countries of the region and the Five Eyes—to try to get this conflict resolved. It is the right thing for all the protagonists to that conflict, but above all it is the right thing for the people of Yemen. Yes, in those circumstances, we have a greater chance of securing the outcome that he wants for his constituent.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and my constituents in the Derbyshire Dales that the guiding purpose of the new Department will be to promote UK interests abroad and that the use of UK aid will be linked to that?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the people who fund our aid programme—the people who are represented by a democratically elected Government—expect to see the British national interest, the UK interest, delivered. I do not see any contradiction in relation to raising international funding for a vaccine that is equitably distributed. I do not think there is any conflict. In fact, I think the two elements of moral responsibility and the grittier national interest of the United Kingdom go hand in hand.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answers to the questions. Will he agree to appoint a specific Minister to attend Cabinet and the National Security Council to be responsible for championing the sustainable development goals, overseeing transparent and effective official development assistance to help the Government keep their commitments to the world’s most vulnerable while, as everyone would like to see, ensuring that British taxpayers have their money well spent?

Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the UK’s leading international role in tackling climate change, including programmes such as Partnerships for Forests, and in improving resilience to climate change in developing countries, will be enhanced through the join-up of our diplomatic and development efforts, and that funding will be maintained?

Climate change is a great example of why we need more integration. We have a Minister holding three portfolios—now two, with the merger—in my noble Friend Lord Goldsmith. Actually, when I speak to my counterparts abroad, I want to be able to raise a variety of matters every time, whether it is their nationally determined contribution, or the opportunity to strengthen resilience to climate change, adaptation and the transition away from coal. Having an integrated Department that can not only talk about those goals—the goals of DEFRA and the COP26 unit—but also link those to the other aspects of foreign policy, is absolutely crucial.

The CDC has spent £680 million on fossil-fuel projects since 2010, according to CAFOD. The Secretary of State is fond of telling us that he is all about show, not tell. Will he show us by ending this hidden support for fossil fuels, which only adds to carbon emissions around the world, and end the mockery that is the Government’s pretence that they are taking meaningful action to combat the climate emergency?

The example that the hon. Gentleman cites is an historical one. We will make sure that it cannot be repeated or replicated in future.

Almost no amount of material wealth could now compensate me if I was to lose the freedom to be myself that I finally exercised almost exactly 10 years ago. We pride ourselves on being global leaders in supporting LGBT+ people around the world to enable them to exercise that freedom. Will the Secretary of State confirm that his new combined Department will now not only sustain but increase the resources available for Britain to continue to lead the world in addressing the impoverishment of the soul that comes from not being free to be oneself?

I thank my hon. Friend and pay tribute to him for his courage and his conviction. He is absolutely right. Indeed, before the merger—but I think reinforced by it—we were making sure that the freedom agenda was at the core of our “force for good” priorities. I think he can see that in the media freedom campaign that we are co-partnering with our Canadian friends, right the way through to the Magnitsky sanctions that I recently introduced, which we are currently working on in tandem with the EU sanctions that are being considered in relation, for example, to the violation of human rights in Belarus.

What measures will the Secretary of State take, and what reports will be made to this House, in the next six months to review the success or otherwise of the merger?

We obviously have the integrated review, and we have the work of ICAI and of course the Select Committee. So, ultimately, a combination of external scrutiny and the parliamentary scrutiny of this House will, I am sure, hold us to account. We do not shrink from that; we welcome it.

World Bank data shows that over the past 20 years, the percentage of world trade taken up by developing countries has increased from 33% to 48%, and during that process has halved extreme poverty around the world. Given that stunning success for capitalism, will my right hon. Friend take advantage of the merger to refocus our efforts to stimulate international trade with the United Kingdom?

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. I spoke to the president of the World Bank yesterday and I totally accept his case. One of the reasons that our vision for a truly global Britain will tilt, if you like, to the Indo-Pacific region is the scope for using liberal free trade, not just to benefit the businesses, the workers and the consumers of this country, but to lift living standards around the world. Of course, that could have no greater impact than in Africa, where we will combine a more liberal approach to free trade than, I venture, they would get from the EU—an approach to business investment with integrity, which I think is necessary, given some of the reports we have of Russian and Chinese investment, coupled with our development and our “force for good” agenda, which I think shows the triple whammy of the impact that this new merger can deliver.

I was an aid worker both before and after DFID was established, and I can tell the Foreign Secretary that the change in the way that British aid was delivered and the respect that Britain had after DFID was established was absolutely transformational, and that transformation impacted people’s lives directly. The fact that four out of five of the fastest-growing economies in the world are African, and that all 10 of the fastest-growing economies in the world are formerly developing countries, is in no small part thanks to Britain’s leadership. We did that not by being transactional with aid but by recognising that it was in our interests to do the right thing. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us how he will judge the success or failure of the new merged Department? If it does not match the achievements of DFID, will he have a rethink?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s experience. He looks too young to have been hanging around the aid world for quite that long. He is right, and that is why the innovations that DFID undertook at the time, which were right for the time, will be banked, kept and safeguarded within the new FCDO. There was a struggle to make the case for change back then, and it is worth being open-minded about the innovations that we can fuse, forge and meld together to get even greater value for money. I pay tribute to the work of DFID’s staff. I think we have an even greater opportunity, coupling our approach to liberal free trade, our development expertise, our diplomatic clout and our approach to conflict stabilisation, to deliver even greater outcomes. The hon. Gentleman’s point about accountability and outcomes is precisely why we are reviewing and reinforcing the work of ICAI.

I was delighted recently to visit my local Stort Valley branch of Results UK. Will my right hon. Friend join me in assuring that group of passionate and compassionate people that, for the reasons he outlined, these changes will only enhance our commitment and efficacy in alleviating poverty and providing better healthcare, sanitation, water and education across the developing world?

I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend and her constituents in championing this case. Public health outcomes are a very good illustration of where aid and development policy has clear, measurable and deliverable results. That is not just good for the countries in which we operate—we have seen the impact of reducing and eliminating the blight of polio, and there are other areas where we can focus just as well—or a moral responsibility, although I am impressed with the passion with which my hon. Friend spoke, but something that directly affects the people of this country.

Following the creation of the new FCDO, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that tackling poverty and gender inequality will remain priorities of the Department?

I thank my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour. He is absolutely right. As I made clear in relation to the ODA review and the “force for good” agenda, tackling inequalities through, for example, our campaign to deliver a minimum of 12 years’ education for every girl, no matter what their background, and in relation more generally to prioritising the least developing countries and the bottom billion, the priorities that are dear to his heart will remain at the very centre—they will be the heartbeat—of the new FCDO.

Let us be honest: in reality, our moral and national interest will not always be, as the Foreign Secretary says, inextricably intertwined. Sometimes doing the moral, right thing might not do us any national good whatsoever—so what then? Will he, for instance, commit to continue and increase funds to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan?

The hon. Gentleman is right to put the challenge, but I am not quite so pessimistic as he is about whether we can overcome it. If he looks at the Magnitsky sanctions, he will be surprised at some of the designations—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) chunters from a sedentary position, but he has absolutely nailed it: people did not expect us to apply sanctions in the Khashoggi case or in some others. The approach that this Government and the Prime Minister have taken on Hong Kong has been intuitive but well planned. Opening up to British nationals overseas and offering them a path to citizenship shows that we absolutely will be robust in our values, even when some may argue that there is tension with, for example, our economic or commercial interest.

Taxpayers’ money should always be directed towards our national interests and security, so can my right hon. Friend confirm that aid directed towards state-building in developing countries is in our best interests? As we help to build economies and democracies, people will be able to stay in their own countries, rather than making the perilous journey towards Europe.

My hon. Friend makes very powerfully the point about the connection between our values and our practical interests—stemming conflict and being true to, living up to and having confidence in our values abroad, without engaging in what can be caricatured as a neo-imperialist agenda, are important not just for the health and vibrancy of the countries in which we operate, particularly in Africa, but in stemming the flow of potentially harmful groups, such as terrorist groups, and the wider volume of migration, which can have negative impacts in the UK.

If the Secretary of State is so concerned about what he describes as tittle-tattle emerging in the press from Cabinet meetings, he should perhaps ask the Prime Minister to clamp down on the person that we know is the source of most of that tittle-tattle: I will leave that to him. He did not really answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) earlier, so can I ask him a direct question? Will he give an absolute assurance that under no circumstances will the 60p per day that each of us contributes to the overseas development budget be used for spying or for military purposes?

I think there is a misunderstanding: ODA can already be used for some MOD-related activity. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment on operational intelligence matters, but I can reassure him that we are absolutely committed to harnessing our aid budget and our development expertise to help the most vulnerable around the world. As hon. Member after hon. Member has said—I think there is a core of agreement across the House on this principle—we do not see a divergence between our moral interest and the UK national interest in that regard.

I welcome today’s announcement of the fusion between the Foreign Office and international development. May I suggest to the Secretary of State that now would be an appropriate time to revisit our high foreign aid commitment? When I ask my constituents, in the light of the current climate, if they would prefer tax rises or cuts to budgets such as foreign aid, the answer is very clear. Will the Department consider that as part of the spending review?

I thank my hon. Friend. It is perfectly legitimate to ask that question—constituents ask me and they ask him. Of course, one of the things about 0.7% is that when the economy goes down, aid spending goes down, and we have just conducted an ODA review that reduced the overall overspend by £2.9 billion. That follows from the target, but as I have already made clear to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), we have made sure that we prioritise covid, climate change, girls’ education and looking after the most vulnerable and poorest people right across the world. That is what our constituents expect, and I think it is the right thing to do.

I hope this merger brings to an end the narrative that suggests that Foreign Office staff are somehow the dirty cousins of the humanitarian workers in the Government. Working at the Foreign Office, I was always deeply frustrated that there was no celebratory marker or flag on FCO-funded projects such as bridges, schools and education and training programmes. Please can we stand up proud of not just UK aid programmes, but all Foreign Office programmes that better the countries we invest in?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and, like her, I wear the Union Jack flag on my lapel with great pride. As we deliver impact, and as we are a truly global nation and an even stronger force for good, we should champion our values, and people should know that it is the United Kingdom, including under a Conservative Government, that are doing that.

Back in June, I tabled a written question asking what the total cost to the taxpayer was of the merger. The Department could not provide an answer at the time. Can the Secretary of State do so today?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Over time, I am very confident that we will be able to deliver administrative savings because, of course, of back-office staff and other efficiencies. Of course, the work in terms of calculating the short, medium and long-term effects will be part of the CSR, and if the hon. Gentleman wrote to me, I would be very happy to write to give him a more detailed response.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s repeated commitment to the welfare of women and girls as part of the aid budget. May I invite him to consider this merger as a catalyst to revive the prevention of sexual violence initiative pioneered by his predecessor in relation to the crucial work it does in tackling rape as a weapon of war?

I thank my hon. Friend for that, and she is absolutely right. This initiative has not slipped into the ether; it is still very much a part of our core priorities. Along with our campaign on girls’ education, it shows not just a matter of principle, but that the welfare of any healthy society means that they have to take care of, nourish and nurture the women and young girls who make up their society.

I propose not to suspend the House and to let us just get on with things, if people would just leave quietly and carefully, keeping their proper social distance, because it is obvious to me that everyone taking part in the next items of business is already in their place. People must not stand around talking—just leave the Chamber, please. We will proceed immediately to the presentation of a Bill by Margaret Ferrier.

Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June.)

Bills Presented

Cash Machines Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Margaret Ferrier, supported by Jamie Stone, Jim Shannon, Martyn Day, Ronnie Cowan, John McNally and Douglas Chapman, presented a Bill to prohibit charges for the use of cash machines; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 November and to be printed (Bill 171).

Climate and Ecology Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Caroline Lucas, supported by Alex Sobel, Tommy Sheppard, Wera Hobhouse, Ben Lake, Claire Hanna, Stephen Farry, Clive Lewis, Alan Brown, Liz Saville Roberts, Nadia Whittome and Zarah Sultana, presented a Bill to require the Prime Minister to achieve climate and ecology objectives; to give the Secretary of State a duty to create and implement a strategy to achieve those objectives; to establish a Citizens’ Assembly to work with the Secretary of State in creating that strategy; to give duties to the Committee on Climate Change regarding the objectives and strategy; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 March 2021 and to be printed (Bill 172).