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Building Stability Overseas Strategy

Volume 740: debated on Tuesday 30 October 2012

Question for Short Debate

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will review the implementation and impact of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy.

My Lords, when I submitted the Question for debate in May, I had hoped that we might debate it near to the first anniversary of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy during the summer months. That was not to be, but in fact I am particularly pleased that we are debating the strategy and this Question this week, partly because this week, the Prime Minister will co-chair the high-level panel on the development framework that will replace the millennium development goals after 2015, but also because it gives an opportunity to the new ministerial team, following the changes in the Government in September, to respond, given the excellent work done by their predecessors. I hope that they continue the Government’s commitment to that agenda. I very much welcome this opportunity and look forward to hearing the Government’s response.

Since the creation of the Department for International Development in 1997, the issues of conflict and security in development have gradually moved up the agenda. For some time, there has been growing recognition of the importance of conflict and security to the international attempt to support developing countries and the people who live there. In the past, it has perhaps been too far down the list of international priorities; today, it must become centre stage.

For a decade or so now, we saw the previous Labour Government lead the international debate on this issue, taking a lead at home by starting important work to integrate defence, development and diplomacy and improve the way that the United Kingdom supported countries in post-conflict reconstruction and intervened in the international institutions to improve their effectiveness.

Then, with the election of a new Government in 2010, we had, first, a very firm commitment to 30% of our development aid going to support conflict-affected and fragile states and then the publication of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy in 2011. That strategy has been widely welcomed. I welcomed it at the time and still believe that it sets out an excellent strategy for the Government to follow. It sets out a clear purpose and also defines stabilisation in terms of the institutions and conditions required to manage tensions and take forward development in individual countries, recognising that each is different. I pay tribute to the work of the previous Secretary of State for International Development for his personal passion in support of that cause.

However, we are yet to achieve, here in the UK or anywhere else, the important integration of that work, bringing together development, diplomacy and defence, into the DNA of the departments, governments and institutions at home and abroad. There is much still to be done. That is important work. There may be concerns about the securitisation of aid in places such as Yemen, but I believe that there is a moral and pragmatic case to link the international aid and development that we support more closely to conflict-affected and fragile states. There are 1 billion people worldwide living in fragile states. Not one conflict-affected fragile state in the world is likely to meet even one of the millennium development goals by 2015. That speaks for itself. We are twice as likely to find undernourished children in conflict-affected and fragile states as we are elsewhere in the developing world. We are three times as likely to find families who cannot send their children to school; twice as likely to see children dying before the age of five; and twice as likely to see people living without clean water, in conflict-affected and fragile states.

This may be the most difficult development challenge of our age, but I believe that peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction is the greatest and most important development challenge of our time.

Those challenges have a wider impact, beyond the basic human needs. They have an impact on the economies of the countries affected and the wider region. It has been estimated that it takes 30 years to recover GDP growth from the cost of a civil war and 20 years to recover the trade position of the country where a major episode of violence has broken out. Not only the individual countries are affected; those countries in the neighbourhood are affected by such outbreaks of violence. Their trade and growth have been estimated to have been affected dramatically as well. So, for economic reasons, for important humanitarian and development reasons and for reasons of our own security, the priority that we give to stabilisation and to the Building Stability Overseas Strategy remains important for all parties—for the Government, for the Opposition and for our colleagues outside of Parliament.

Both the Building Stability Overseas strategy and the World Bank’s world development report, published in the same year, have laid out a firm road map for how to tackle stabilisation and help with conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction. We need to find ways to help to create the institutions that can underpin justice and stability. We need to help with the demobilisation and reintegration of those who have been involved in conflict. We need to help to find the jobs that give people an alternative to violence—an alternative way of life that is more positive and more of a contribution for their families and communities. We need to support regional solutions, which the Government have, in a very welcome way, been trying to secure, somewhat successfully, over the past two years in Somalia.

In all these, we need to listen to local voices and work with local organisations because their solutions will be more sustainable. We need to ensure that women are centre stage because in many cases women are the real peace-builders. We need to ensure that upstream prevention, real conflict prevention, is given a priority, not just because it saves money in the long term since it avoids the conflict that affects lives, kills many and leaves many homeless and destitute.

I want to ask the Government a number of questions about the strategy and its implementation. How is the early action facility progressing? Is the watch list of states that we worry about developing into conflict producing results? Have the Government been able to move forward on the independent assessment of their conflict-prevention programmes? Have the Government made progress on the prevention partnerships with the new emerging powers like Brazil, which I thought were a very good idea and were mentioned in the original strategy? Are the Government implementing the important recommendations from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s review of the Conflict Pool published earlier this year?

I want to finish on what is an important agenda for the United Kingdom—that is, not just to improve our own work at home or to ensure that we are more effective at our bilateral relationships, financial and otherwise, throughout the developing world, particularly in those states that are affected by conflict. The UK also has a key role to play internationally in leading this debate in the international institutions. We can use our role on the United Nations Security Council and in the World Bank, the European Union and the Commonwealth—a unique role that gives us a voice in all these major international institutions—to push this agenda forward.

In particular, we can use the role that the Prime Minister now has, as co-chair of the high-level panel set up by the United Nations, to look at the development framework that will exist following the deadline for the millennium development goals in 2015. That panel meets this week in London, and I believe that the Prime Minister should take the commitment of the UK into those discussions. While it may be understandable that the MDGs did not include any reference to justice, jobs, security or conflict because of the basic human needs that they addressed back when they were set just over a decade ago, in the post-2015 development framework we need to see justice in the institutions that will underpin justice and therefore peace not just referenced but agreed. We also need to see a commitment to economic development and jobs to give young people a different way of life from the conflict that perhaps they have experienced in the past. If the Prime Minister takes that agenda into those discussions in the high-level panel, he will be doing great service not just to the people of the UK but to those who suffer the most throughout the world, the most vulnerable and poorest people in our world—those who live in conflict-affected and fragile states.

My Lords, I do not want to do the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, any damage in the eyes of his party, but I have to say that in his tip-top speech I could not find a word that I did not agree with. He has directed us to look at the Building Stability Overseas policy. The policy, of course, was launched during the Arab spring, which has turned into something of an Arab winter all too quickly for all too many in the Arab lands. Take the plight, for example—and we could give many—of minority religious groups. There is not much of a spring for the Copts in Egypt, for Zoroastrians hiding out in Iran and Iraq, for minority Muslims where there is a majority of Sunnis, for the last remaining Chaldean Catholics in Mosul or for evangelicals wherever they have managed to get a toe-hold. These are exactly the sort of minorities that the noble Lord cares about and has directed our attention to tonight. They are the sorts of minorities that the strategy tries to help in the fragile conflict-affected states that he has so effectively referred to.

I support the aims of the strategy, launched as it was when there were high hopes for an Arab spring, but, alas, those hopes were anchored in what has turned out to be quicksand. That makes the tripartite ministerial efforts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and DfID all the more important, 18 months or so on from when the policy was launched. The kind of stuff that BSOS, to use the shorthand, tries to do—for example, giving early warnings of looming trouble in troubled states, from the Balkans and the Caucasus via those Arab lands to Somalia, Pakistan and back—is indeed very important.

This is all conducted within our foreign aid contributions. I had better be brave and out myself: as a Tory Back-Bencher, I am actually in favour of the present level of foreign aid contributions that the Government are making. I am told that there are not all that many of us. Ah, I see that my noble friend Lord Bates has come out as well; we are all coming out on the Tory Benches tonight. That makes two of us, but I am told that there are not all that many of us among the Daily Mail-reading classes in either another place or this place. Having so outed myself, however, that gives me the opportunity and the right to say to my noble friend Lord Ahmad how profoundly unhappy I am with some of the allocation of that aid—to an India, for example, which, although I welcome Indian money coming into this country, is busy buying up the UK’s steel and motor car sectors while at the same time chunks of taxpayers’ funds are flowing back to it. Those funds would be much better spent in meeting the ends of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy.

That said, as the strategy develops with the limited funds that it has, it must develop quite a way beyond just becoming an exemplar of joined-up, good cross-Whitehall work. It would be all the more effective if it were to give a greater role to charities, voluntary organisations and NGOs—call them what one will—in policy formulation as the next positive step. The Foreign Secretary, my right honourable friend Mr Hague, says that the Government do not have all the answers in this context. He is right; we all know that. The strategy itself says that it values partnership but, if you have a quick look at section 10, you will see that while there are some words saying what good things partnerships are, it is a bit of an empty vessel in explaining just how partnerships with voluntary organisations can help to develop policy in a specific way.

That is not to say that I think that we should have a romantic view of all non-governmental organisations, charities and the voluntary sector. There are some rather strange ones around with very bad habits—at the lowest level, those who unleash those chuggers on the streets. There are certainly some charities, voluntary organisations and NGOs that spend disproportionate sums on publicity campaigns that I think could be used in the local context, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, has pointed out, and there are others that have very high cost-to-income ratios in what they do, for all the world like the high cost-to-income ratios in some bad investment banks in the past.

The best NGOs, however, are very good indeed and we should listen to what they have to say. The best work very much with the warp and weft of local communities, and it is the local that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, directed our attention to in his powerful speech. The best have very tight cost-to-income ratios and are working all the time to grind them down. The best do a lot of thinking and have a very hard policy edge, carefully thought through, rather than spending the money that they raise on expensive media campaigns.

Most importantly and significantly of all, the best NGOs very bravely put themselves in the front line in harm’s way. We have seen this happen with the staff of charities, voluntary organisations and NGOs losing their lives in Iraq, Pakistan and, notably recently, Afghanistan. Although they are rightly cautious and try to protect their women and men who are very much on the front line, I heard only this week that charities are now pulling people out from the front line in Kenya in advance of the general elections there which are thought to be about to foment no end of violence and mayhem.

In this context, NGOs are one of us in terms of helping because many, if not the majority, of state, peace and civil society building activities are already being outsourced to non-governmental organisations working locally. If that is the case, a bit more formal involvement for them in policy formulation would be a good thing. As we know, just because you put input into policies, it does not have to be taken into account, but I think we would benefit greatly from firmer involvement by non-governmental organisations in developing in a very constructive way the next stages of this excellent government approach on building security overseas as it matures to the next stage.

My Lords, in reviewing the impact of the Building Security Overseas Strategy, I think it is worth taking a step back to reconfirm the aims and objectives of the strategy, but first I join the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, in playing tribute to the drive and leadership of Andrew Mitchell, the former Secretary of State for DfID, which I was able to witness first hand as a member of the wider ministerial team that he created.

The BSOS fundamentally sets out the Government’s vision for co-ordinating their development, defence and diplomatic capabilities behind a progressive vision of stability that is,

“built on the consent of the population, is resilient and flexible in the face of shocks, and can evolve over time as the context changes”.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, touched on the costs to a nation or community of conflict or civil war. The importance of the avoidance of conflict cannot be overestimated. It may take 20 or 30 years to recover a country’s GDP, but the impact of large numbers, thousands of people, who have been deliberately maimed can take at least a generation, if not two, to recover from with all the costs of caring for people who are not only unable to contribute to the economy but who are possibly unable to fend for themselves. This is a huge issue that should not be overlooked.

The BSOS aims to underpin the Government’s work on conflict prevention and in conflict-affected and fragile states. It is designed with several strategies underpinning the national security strategy, including counterterrorism and defence engagement. For BSOS implementation to be effective, DfID, FCO and MoD officials in Whitehall and in in-country posts need to understand and endorse the progressive definition of stability outlined in the BSOS. It is characterised, as Saferworld describes it, as,

“political systems which are representative and legitimate, capable of managing conflict and change peacefully, and societies in which human rights and the rule of law are respected, basic needs met, security established and opportunities for social and economic development are open to all”.

The Prime Minister, as co-chair of the high-level panel, has a golden opportunity to press these concepts in his meetings this week in London. I had the opportunity to be a parliamentary representative as the fourth high-level forum on aid effectiveness progressed until it finally came to a conclusion in Busan, and I witnessed the global agreement that was unanimously struck on aid effectiveness. All sections of the aid family—politicians, parliamentarians, civil society, charities and so on—came to that agreement. It is a fundamental shift in the dynamics of aid effectiveness and aid delivery, and here is an opportunity, with our Prime Minister as one of three, I think, co-chairs, to drive this forward.

The three mutually supporting pillars underpinning the BSOS—early warning, rapid crisis prevention and response and investing in upstream prevention—present the challenge of uniting three departments. The Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and DfID have their own policy objectives and organisational and working cultures behind the single vision set out in the BSOS. Although the departments acknowledge the need for a BSOS and herald it as key to their strategies, is not clear whether they have succeeded in establishing a joined-up government approach. It is not clear whether the necessary capacity and funding to carry out the actions described in the main pillars have been provided. The conflict prevention pool was designed to make funding available quickly to undertake work in deteriorating and insecure situations around the world where our national interests are at stake.

Unfortunately, the strategy has yet to be formulated at operational level or put into practice. The three pillars are being addressed separately by the departments. The MoD is seeking to form a team that will use all available assets to gather intelligence on the possible factors that will lead to conflict then, in conjunction with the FCO and DfID, it will tailor its actions to counter any threats to stability and the UK national interest. Foreign Office diplomacy will be used to adhere to the three pillars of the BSOS, while DfID will use development aid and the combined resources of the stabilisation unit to try to counter the triggers of instability ahead of actual conflict, deal with post-conflict threats and stop a slide back into instability and war.

My understanding is that, to a degree, these concepts are being implemented in Libya at present, excluding, of course, the upstream aspects because they are well done. In this regard, will the Minister tell your Lordships’ House in the context of BSOS what progress is being made with capacity building the Libyan security sector? What progress is being made with assistance in the development and management of the Libyan armed forces? What progress is being made with the delivery of capacity to provide border security in order to assist the Libyan Government gain the monopoly of control of the use of force within their country? What progress is being made in working with other agencies to develop a democratically accountable security sector with particular focus on the building of a viable and effective Libyan Ministry of Defence? What progress is being made with meeting the short-term objective of helping the Libyan authorities clear and secure unexploded ordnance? All these tasks are designed to provide impact in areas where the UK could have a strategic effect and assist the Libyan authorities to understand their security and defence problems and start to develop their own solutions. A UK defence advisory team of six was launched in April 2012, but at present is funded only until 2013. It appears that in Libya we are currently good at part of pillar two of BSOS—rapid crisis response—but have yet to get our act together on the others. We have neither the capacity nor the funding for upstream early warning or prevention.

The BSOS provides the overarching strategic framework for the Conflict Pool on which the Independent Commission for Aid Impact recently carried out a quite thorough review. It noted the lack of detail on how the integration of defence, diplomacy and development will be incorporated into the differing policy objectives and organisational cultures of the three departments. Will the Government elaborate on how the elements of this strategic framework will ensure that departments put their shared objectives outlined in the BSOS ahead of individual departmental objectives which may lead them in different directions?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, has become one of our eloquent and passionate defenders of overseas aid. I pay tribute to him and thank him for putting down this debate. The BSOS, the Government’s new cross-cutting stability strategy, is quite difficult to follow at first sight and, as such, it may be a great success. I showed it to a friend who said, “Well, that would be quite enough to confuse the enemy. How could anyone fight against that?”. Designed by three departments, it is inevitably—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, implied—a hotchpotch of policies largely for the benefit of those involved and not for ordinary mortals.

However, on closer inspection, the strategy became more familiar. I recognised ingredients from previous Administrations, such as the Global Opportunities Fund in new clothing, the early warning systems and the Conflict Pool, which I am glad to say now is amplified by DfID’s increased budget, of which I too am a supporter. I realised that these great concepts are of course no more than vehicles for projects to advance our intelligence, security, diplomacy and development. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that they must be properly and regularly reviewed. We need to be reassured that this experiment in joined-up aid and security is working effectively. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that the same could be said of Libya, of which we have never really had a proper account.

The crisis in Mali is a possible test case and here the EU, led by our noble friend Lady Ashton, has already taken a lead. Last week, the EU Council statement ranked the same four elements of policy in reverse order, with development placed first. How refreshing it is that the EU should see things that way. Perhaps it is because they are answerable only to their member states and do not have to report to whole electorates who are complaining about recession and budget cuts.

As a UK citizen you can be quite depressed at the challenges presented in Mali. Here is a top-drawer al-Qaeda security problem in the middle of nowhere, with very little strategic or diplomatic advantage for this country, coming on top of generations of poverty and neglect. But I am glad to see that we are taking Mali and the whole Sahel seriously because, while it is not on the scale of Syria or Sudan—God forbid—it already is an urgent problem for all of us.

I admire the Tuareg people and have spent time in centres like Gao and Timbuktu, and in small towns in Chad and Niger. I deplore that they are now in the grip of fanatics trading in narcotics who do not hesitate to use violence, intimidation and hand and foot amputation even against the young and vulnerable. Last week I attended a meeting on Mali with people very concerned about this and I was amazed at how much interest there is, which perhaps arises from NGOs drawn to the desert by the terrible Sahel famine 40 years ago. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Patten, about the way in which NGOs have become very competent in bringing aid to local communities.

It seems strange that when I first joined Christian Aid in 1974, a trans-Saharan food convoy of Land Rovers was setting off from Salisbury Cathedral. The idea that the poorest communities already knew how to organise and feed themselves, given the right conditions, was still foreign in those days. This year, the Anti-Slavery International award went to Ibrahim ag Idbaltanat, a determined human rights campaigner of slave descent, who has dedicated his life to ending slavery in Mali.

Alongside our support for security in west Africa, we need to identify more people like Ibrahim who can change people’s lives from within. We need to train health workers, agriculturalists, craftsmen, artists, intellectuals and experts who know how to respond to the demands of drought and climate change in the dry lands. These people are the means to a democratic Mali. They far outnumber the deranged Gaddafi elements and it will not require armies of intelligence officers to find them. I hope the Minister can confirm that since the BSOS was originally a response to the Arab spring, this is an offshoot of that Arab spring. I hope that we are using it to good effect in Mali to back up what the African Union and ECOWAS are already planning—not in terms of military force in our case but to gain the trust of the best elements of democratic government and civil society in Mali.

In a Written Statement on 17 July, the Foreign Secretary, whom the noble Lord, Lord Patten, already mentioned, said:

“We recognise that Government do not have all the answers”—

this is a refreshing statement—

“and therefore we are seeking deliberately wider views beyond Whitehall to provide challenge and to ensure we access, reflect on and assimilate latest thinking”.

He goes on to talk about the positive reaction,

“from NGOs and academics specialising in conflict”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/12; col. 128WS.]

There is always a risk with tripartite programmes of this kind that they are not thematic—they turn in too many directions and ultimately are owned by no one. But I read from the Statement that the Government are leaning positively towards civil society in particular, which I welcome in the knowledge that in conflict-affected states civil society may be, if not the only, the most effective and accountable show in town.

Perhaps I may remind the Minister that Mali has a strong artistic and musical tradition, with a famous national ballet and many singers with an international reputation. January is the time of year when musicians used to travel up the Niger river after the rains to perform in towns in the north. Are this Government doing enough to encourage the arts in Mali, Egypt, South Sudan and other countries as a weapon against conflict and a means of uniting society?

I conclude with a summary from Saferworld, which states:

“Ultimately, identifying and addressing the root causes of conflict is about improving the lives of people in communities affected by conflict and fragility. Investing in upstream conflict prevention is also in the interests of securing a more peaceful international environment”.

My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in this debate and follow the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, with whose comments I am in total agreement—particularly his point about the importance of us drawing away and listening to a wider pool. There is a tendency within the foreign policy and defence community to have groupthink. The same people look at the same websites, read the same materials and journals, talk to the same people—and they all do it in a closed way, so it is not surprising that they often come to the wrong conclusion. There are some great examples. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, talked about opening the process up to civil society groups. There are great examples. The National Intelligence Council is one which our own stabilisation unit should look closely at; it draws on analytical resources in academic and civil society not only in the United States but also, crucially, from countries around the world that might take a different and contrary view to their own. It is regarded as all part of testing its own assumptions, which needs to be done much more.

I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for the excellent way in which he introduced this debate, and for the great timing of this debate. It comes in a significant week, with the co-chairmanship of the high-level panel taking place in this city. I congratulate the noble Lord himself for joining up his presentation, since not only did we have the debate on overseas aid last week but this debate this week—and as an avid reader of “Lords of the Blog”, I managed to catch the gist and thrust of his concerns this morning. Like the noble Lord, Lord Patten, I agree absolutely with every word he said and support very much the questions which he raised. All that I say will simply be in endorsing and emphasising that point.

I also welcome my noble friend Lord Ahmad to the Front Bench. It is the first time that I have spoken in a debate with him on the Front Bench. It is great to see him there, and I wish him well in his role.

I want to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on what they have done. In this whole area, which we do not talk about often enough in looking at the detail, they have joined up defence, development and diplomacy—something that most people will probably wonder why we did not do decades and decades ago. But it has been brought together now, and there is a coherent strategy. More importantly, the Building Security Overseas Strategy dovetails in with the new national security strategy. The National Security Council, the stabilisation unit and the Conflict Pool are there, working in a tripartite group. The fact that we get more cross-departmental and less silo operations makes the chances of us making catastrophic mistakes in our judgments or in our sight of conflicts around the world—and trying to prevent them—that much less likely to occur.

I could not put it better than my right honourable friend the Prime Minister when he said in introducing the national security strategy that,

“we must get better at treating the causes of instability, not just dealing with the consequences. When we fail to prevent conflict and have to resort to military intervention, the costs are always far higher”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/10/10; col. 798.]

In many ways, that statement by the Prime Minister sets the tone that runs through all the strategies and agenda that we are talking about. We are talking about moving away from treating poverty, as it were; it is a symptom of conflict, violence and lawlessness. If we want to be in conflict prevention, we must get behind tackling conflict. When you have peaceful, stable societies, the rule of law and education can happen, rights can be respected and upheld, and trade and commerce can be built. So the entire focus on what we should be about is tackling conflict.

Here I come very much to a point about the millennium development goals that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, made in his excellent introduction to this debate. There are eight goals, most of which we are familiar with; there are 21 targets and 60 indicators. In none of those eight, 21 or 60 is there any mention of the word “conflict”, or any aim to reduce it. People will say that it is implicit in all, but let us make it explicit that we want to reduce the number of conflicts that occur around the world. People will say that it is very difficult to define a conflict, but that is not true. The World Bank has a definition of a conflict; it defines it by a certain number of civilian deaths. So there is a model within the UN system. Why cannot we integrate it and work and target our resources on it?

In closing, I come briefly to the stabilisation unit and ask the Minister to comment when he comes to wind up—or perhaps, given that I am springing this on him, he may need to come back to this in writing for me, as well as for other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It would be good to see a detailed response to the excellent report, Evaluation of the Inter-Departmental Conflict Pool, by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. It was a very thorough piece of analysis which contained some alarming points, particularly findings 2.2 and 2.6 on page 5. Finding 2.6 states:

“Decision-making is by consensus and tends to be slow and painstaking”.

However, conflicts are often fast moving and require decisions to be taken quickly. I would be grateful to my noble friend if he would respond to that point.

Given that we are talking about conflict prevention, investing in resources to prevent conflict and trying to get ahead of the curve rather than dealing with the consequences of conflict, I hope that my noble friend will say something about what Her Majesty’s Government are doing through the Conflict Pool and all these initiatives in areas such as Iran, which many of us see as being the next most likely area of conflict in which this country may be involved. It would be good to know what is being done to reduce tensions and the likelihood of conflict there.

I again thank my noble friend for giving these matters his consideration.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for this important debate about joined-up approaches in government to dealing with conflicts and related humanitarian and environmental disasters. The report shows how UK departments deal well with crises. I saw that myself as chief executive of the Met Office in the 1990s, which was then part of the Ministry of Defence. Generally, there is a sort of crisis gene in Whitehall which does very well when there is a war or conflict but does not do so well as regards tackling long-term systemic problems. This was first pointed out in about 1850.

I noted the pertinent remark of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that policy requires inputs from many fields. As a scientist, I would certainly add science to that. There is almost no mention of science or engineering in the report, which is extraordinary. Scientists not only in this country but also in developing countries desperately need encouragement and support. They will provide the relevant information in the long term. In fact, I am busy working to help networks in those countries.

In 1993 the world was involved in the consequences of the first Gulf War. When I read my Sunday papers, as I did then, I noted that large numbers of refugees were stuck in snowstorms on the Iraq/Iran border. These snowstorms had been well predicted by the Met Office computer so I asked my colleagues in the Met Office why we did not tell people about them. They said that there was absolutely no international protocol in place whereby a centre in the UK could communicate these warnings to the meteorological and humanitarian services in the relevant countries. This is still the problem. There is still tremendous difficulty in communicating information, particularly as regards floods.

This week we have seen a tropical cyclone strike the United States. For 40 years there have been excellent methods of communicating information about such events but it does not apply to many areas. There was a world conference in Yokohama in 1994. At that time the Chinese objected to the idea of transmitting warnings from one country to another. However, I am glad to say that great progress was made at the Hyogo conference in 2004 and there will be a further meeting in 2014.

Furthermore, there are now, of course, global weather forecasts on the television and communities receive some warning of extreme weather, floods and the spread of disease. Government and NGO expert advice is also needed. Nevertheless, the communication between national and regional authorities still remains quite inadequate. Researchers around the world should use the new information and methods that are becoming available. I am afraid that nationalism is evident even in science. For example, extraordinary new developments being used in Russia to detect earthquakes are not used in other countries as they are suspicious of the methods being used by Russia.

DfID was very concerned about the floods in Mozambique which occurred in about 2000. However, at that time it did not pursue particularly energetically the fact that the data which forecast the floods were not exchanged between Mozambique and Zambia. This position has now changed. I am very pleased to see that DfID supports scientific and forecasting work at the Met Office. For example, DfID took the warnings of the recent year-on-year droughts in east Africa very seriously. Those warnings were helpful as regards providing food and aid.

I hope that the Minister will say to what extent research into conflicts, particularly conflicts driven by extraordinary natural phenomena, is being considered. There is no discussion in the document about the use of conflict research, which has a long history. Indeed, many types of conflict have been predicted by academics working in this area.

The United Nations specialised agencies have a very important role in co-ordinating the work contributed by national bodies. There are United Nations bodies concerned with health, meteorology, the environment, hydrology, bodies such as UNESCO and so on. The Minister should emphasise that when winding up.

One of the features of these agencies is that they provide services following conflicts. One should mention the work of Habitat—one organisation that provides important information and support in the rehabilitation of housing and cities, following disasters or conflicts. I do not know whether noble Lords saw the pictures this week of the devastation of a whole area destroyed in ethnic conflict in the Muslim part of the coastal city of Myanmar. Satellite pictures showed only too clearly what had happened. This area will have to be rebuilt, and the kind of help provided through the United Nations system will be important.

This raises the issue that I hope Ministers can consider, as to how to improve the collection and distribution of data, which is often haphazard. That is particularly important in vulnerable countries and across the international organisations to enable societies to have the data to develop sustainably and peacefully, and deal with disasters. I have been campaigning on this issue since I was at the Met Office in 1995. I am afraid that I have met civil servants who have asked, “What have data got to do with policy”. I am sure that there are no civil servants like that in this Chamber, but it is a terrible fact that there is therefore absolutely no interest in providing even £10,000 or £20,000 to enable a country to co-ordinate its data. That is considered to be of zero interest. However, if I ask for £1 million for a particular project, I may get it. That may happen, all the data will be lost and the money will have no permanent effect. However, if I asked for the supply of an ongoing data service, the methodology of which the Americans have now developed, it would cost little money but the value would be extraordinary. So I hope that the Minister and his advisers can understand this.

Even in the UK, negotiating data arrangements between research councils, as I have done, is difficult. In Ghana, we carried out a study looking at all the agencies in that country, all of which are collecting data separately. They all agreed that if there was one centre that listed the data, they would agree to list their data. That would then enable all sorts of organisations to improve the information.

Data have become more important in government since the Berners-Lee report. He featured at the opening of the Olympic Games. I hope that his great role will be celebrated, that data will be taken seriously and that centres will be set up in all the countries we are considering, as well as internationally, so that people can know where the data are to encourage people to take further information and data on, for example, rain, to enable countries not only to develop sustainably but to have the information to respond to extreme events.

My Lords, the Written Ministerial Statement of 17 July this year on building stability overseas was very welcome. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, has secured the opportunity to debate this important topic.

The Government’s emphasis on the importance of fragile and conflict-affected states, and the building stability overseas strategy, is exactly the right direction in which UK policy should be set. I congratulate the Government on it, for no low-income country that has been experiencing repeated violence, weak governance and instability has yet achieved a single millennium development goal. The roughly 1.5 billion people in fragile and conflict-affected states are more than twice as likely to be undernourished, more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school, twice as likely to see their children die before the age of five, and twice as likely to lack clean water as those in other developing countries.

We learn in the Government’s Written Ministerial Statement of their,

“approach to selected priority countries”,

of their,

“highest conflict and stability priorities”,—[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/12; col. 126WS.]

and of their focus on the Arab partnership, Somalia, Pakistan, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Cyprus. I am aware of DfID’s 28 priority countries and, within those, the 21 countries that it considers fragile and conflict-affected. There are glimpses in government documents of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the National Security Council also having priority countries. Pakistan is often mentioned in this regard but there is no other list that DfID provides. Which, then, are the Government’s selected priority countries? Are they the same as the DfID priorities or are they different? Perhaps more importantly, could our teams on the ground tell you whether they were in a selected priority country? I suspect that that would be unlikely in most cases.

Secondly, the Statement indicates that proposed conflict resources allocations through the Conflict Pool for 2012-13 to 2014-15 will be available shortly. Considering that allocations for 2011-12 to 2014-15 were published on 5 April 2011, can the Minister provide us with an update on when the latest allocations will be published and why it has taken so long to do so? Early publishing of resource allocations for each year would be in line with the recommendations of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact on reducing volatility in the Conflict Pool’s budget and how it is implemented, and it would be in line the National Audit Office’s recommendation to,

“ensure future funding decisions are made sufficiently in advance of the start of the new financial year to maintain continuity of activity and governance of funds”.

Thirdly, in the light of the amber/red assessment that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact gave of the Conflict Pool, and in particular its call to highlight the Conflict Pool’s comparative advantage and its view on how to far better integrate its tri-departmental structure, can the Minister provide noble Lords with an update on the current status and thinking of the Government towards their Conflict Pool strategy, which is due out at the end of this year?

Fourthly, in the light of the Government’s only partial success in achieving coherence in conflict and stability, set out by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, I would have wished to see a far more ambitious review of the Stabilisation Unit than is set out in the Statement, which at best seems somewhat superficial. As I recall the discussions around its birth, the Stabilisation Unit was going to be the focus of our work in difficult and fragile environments so as to overcome conflict between departments. That has not been the case and it is disappointing, because I thoroughly believe that there is a vital role for the Stabilisation Unit in doing just that and in leading our response in such situations.

Fifthly, the Statement highlighted that three-quarters of DfID’s priority countries are fragile and conflict-affected states and that its target is to direct 30% of overseas development assistance to such countries by 2014-15. Yet, despite this target, DfID does not have a definition for fragile and conflict-affected states and instead relies upon three external lists on governance capability, fragility and conflict to calculate whether it considers a country fragile. These lists are the World Bank’s Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, the Failed States Index from the Fund for Peace, and the Uppsala conflict database. However, the breadth of DfID’s calculation is not mirrored by either the OECD or the World Bank, which from their own lists consider respectively only 18 and 12 of DfID’s priority countries as fragile and conflict-affected. This does lend itself to a conclusion that an exceptionally broad understanding of fragile and conflict-affected states is being used in order that the Government can hit their 30% target and that it can logically be argued that fragile and conflict-affected states present a standard development challenge. However, the fact that no such state will meet any millennium development goal demonstrates that such an understanding is flawed and that such states make up a special category of concern. I wonder whether the Minister might agree that having DfID use a much tighter definition and understanding of such states, in order that the Government’s focus and expenditure on such states can truly go where it is most needed, would be a welcome development.

I am a firm supporter of this Government’s serious concerns and deep focus on how to advise and support Governments and peoples in fragile and conflicted states, since it is the people there whose lives exist in a continuing, complex emergency. I thank the Government for their focus but I draw attention to the points I have made in a spirit of mutual support and agreement that we can and must do better.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord McConnell for tabling this excellent debate, for his powerful speech and for enabling all noble Lords in the Chamber to express their views, support the strategy and, of course, to question the Government on a number of issues, including the overlooked matter of data collection, which I found fascinating. I also extend a very warm welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, to the Dispatch Box. I look forward to many discussions with him over the Dispatch Box and outside the Chamber.

Violent conflict impedes and undermines development. As my noble friend said, it is no coincidence that no fragile and conflicted state has achieved a single MDG to date. The costs to the countries involved and to the international community are enormous. Lives are lost and livelihoods destroyed, infrastructure collapses and social and economic development is undermined. We have heard the statistics. There are 1.5 billion people living in countries affected by organised violence, either currently or recovering from political violence, fragility or high levels of homicide. People living in countries currently affected by violence are twice as likely to be undernourished, as the noble Baroness said, and 50% more likely to be impoverished. According to the World Bank, eight out of 10 of the most aid-dependent countries in 2008 were affected by conflict or fragility.

The costs of conflict are higher than the resources we invest in development. Conflicts divert valuable resources from development and countries in conflict, or in fear of conflict, spend more on their armies and defence mechanisms than on health, education or jobs creation. Stability is crucial to conflict prevention. Ninety per cent of civil wars in the 21st century occurred in countries that had already had a civil war in the previous 30 years. From this evening’s debate, it is clear that we all agree that investment in development now is crucial to prevent violent conflicts in future. The Building Stability Overseas Strategy, with its focus on early warning, rapid crisis prevention and response and investment in upstream prevention, is a welcome initiative. The aim of preventing instability and conflict by tackling the underlying drivers of instability is one we share. Indeed Labour, in government, set up the Stabilisation Unit. Co-ordination is key and we welcome efforts to bring coherence across the MoD, FCO and DfID and to integrate the work that they do.

I should like to highlight the importance of diplomatic engagement. The strategy discusses a number of ways in which to tackle instability and prevent conflict. Supporting local economies and growth, including through foreign direct investment, is of course crucial, and the Foreign Office is rightly placing great emphasis on this, but sometimes I feel that the balance has swung too far away from diplomacy. In addition, as the strategy says:

“The chances of success are greatest when the international community gets behind a political settlement that lays the foundations for tackling the causes of conflict in a country”.

In this, the United Nations has a key role to play and we must continue to engage with it as a vital actor.

I would also mention the importance of co-ordination and collaboration. As my noble friend Lady Kinnock noted in a past debate, the OECD previously reported that there is generally a lack of co-ordination, or even contact, between those working on stabilisation. I am pleased that in a recent statement on the strategy, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs highlighted the need to work with others. Indeed, we must ensure that we engage meaningfully with our partners. This includes, as so many noble Lords have said, NGOs, think tanks and private actors, who have considerable local knowledge and expertise in this area and on whose experience we draw. It also includes our regional and international partners, such as the EU. The EU is a vital player in this field, providing more than half the world’s development aid and I welcome the emphasis in the strategy on the need to engage with the EU and build on the work that it does. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred us to the example of Mali and I, too, pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Ashton in this area.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly in my view, we must give greater importance to the plight of women in conflict situations and to the role that women play in peacemaking and peacebuilding. We have all heard the words of Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the eastern Congo, who said that,

“it is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern wars”.

Women bear the brunt of modern conflict. UN Women estimates that 90% of current war casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children. Rape and sexual violence are still used as a systematic weapon of war—for example, in Syria—and war crimes remain, for the most part, unprosecuted. Human Rights Watch reports that Syrian Government forces and militias are sexually abusing girls as young as 12. Post conflict, women still suffer the most. The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan is a case in point. I have spoken with courageous women Afghan MPs about this and it was recently highlighted in a report by the International Development Select Committee on Afghanistan, which stated that Afghan women’s status is among the worst in the world, with 87% of women experiencing some form of domestic abuse during their lifetime, and that women who participate in public life do so at significant risk to their safety. It urged DfID to do more to improve the lives of Afghan women. Women have fears of violent reprisal from the Taliban. I am sure that we would all send our best wishes to the extraordinary young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who is now in Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, having been brutally attacked by the Taliban for being a feisty, courageous young woman who was prepared to express her views.

While in Afghanistan some of the legal protections are there in the form of a constitution that guarantees equality and a law on the elimination of violence against women, the reality is one of gross discrimination, domestic violence and illegal, forced marriages for which the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted. Women regularly go to prison for having sex outside marriage, running away or other “moral crimes”. What more can the Government do to support these women who are fighting this awful fight? We must tackle the abhorrent levels of violence still experienced by women in conflict situations and the devastation that conflicts create. We must also ensure that women have a greater role to play in peacebuilding and recovery. They are often the peacebuilders and could do so much more. But women’s participation in conflict resolution processes remains far too low. Women should and must be part of the decision-making processes and they must be at the centre of our development work.

In 2000, the UN Security Council passed the landmark resolution 1325 on women and peace and security to call on the United Nations and member states to increase the participation of women in decision-making and peace processes, to ensure the protection of women and girls, and to institute gender perspectives and training in peacekeeping. The UK has developed a national action plan to implement it and I am pleased that the Government intend for it to be reviewed annually and for progress to be reported to Parliament. I should be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that we will continue to work towards the implementation of UNSCR 1325 across the world and ensure that women play a much greater role in peacebuilding strategies. We cannot afford the costs of violent conflict. It is crucial that we focus efforts now on building peace and stability for the future.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have welcomed me to the Dispatch Box. It is a great honour to speak in this debate because I feel very strongly and passionately about this issue. This passion has been shown in the comments and speeches we have heard and is reflected in the experience and deep wisdom possessed within your Lordships’ House on this extremely important issue. Like other noble Lords, I am deeply thankful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for initiating the debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated. I pay tribute, in particular, to the personal commitment of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, in this field. I know he is engaged very much in parts of Africa and I wish him well in his endeavours in his new foundation. It is important that we take responsibility and it is right that the United Kingdom should lead in this field.

We have made good progress in implementing the Building Stability Overseas Strategy since its publication in July 2011 and noble Lords will have seen the summary of progress set out in the recent ministerial Statement issued in July of this year.

The National Security Council periodically reviews wider implementation of the Government’s strategic defence and security review, including work on building stability overseas. Noble Lords may wish to note that the Government will issue their next annual update by the end of November this year.

Noble Lords will recall that the Government launched the Building Stability Overseas Strategy during the tumult of the Arab spring, as my noble friend Lord Patten noted. I agree with his sentiment that we cannot afford the Arab spring turning into an Arab winter and it is important that we take direct leadership and responsibility in these areas. I hope that the comments I will be making will assure noble Lords of the Government’s commitment in this field.

The UK approach brings together our development programmes, diplomatic network and defence and intelligence assets in an integrated way. Many a time the Government are criticised for their lack of joined-up thinking. In this field the bringing-together of the FCO, the Ministry of Defence and DfID illustrates how departments can work together not only for the good of the country but for the good of the world. For example, the Defence Engagement Strategy will help to ensure that defence assets contribute to a wide range of Her Majesty’s Government’s objectives, including, as several noble Lords have mentioned, conflict prevention.

There are positive stories in what the Government have done and, indeed, I pay tribute to the previous Government for their efforts in this area. The experiences of Ghana, which I visited recently, Mozambique, Nepal and Sierra Leone show that those countries can put conflict behind them and embark on a more stable path. The Government remain committed to helping these countries stay on that stable path.

In Ghana, for example, two decades of sustained economic growth, five elections, political stability and relatively strong institutions have led to significant poverty reduction. Indeed, I was amused when I was in Ghana and saw people adhering to traffic signals. That may seem a small matter but when one considers the logistics involved in getting from one place to another in Accra it assists inward investment.

The DfID programme will continue to focus on helping Ghana to tackle inequality and especially, as many noble Lords have mentioned, on the need to help in the education of women and girls.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned issues of data. I take that fully on board, as does the department, and I shall return to that issue in a moment or two.

Reference was made to conflict assistance. I can report that DfID is on track to direct 30% of its official development assistance to fragile and conflict-affected states by 2014-15.

Reference was made by my noble friends Lord Chidgey and Lord Bates to early warning. Prevention is better than cure in all fields and that is certainly applicable here. Senior officials from across government meet regularly to systematically review the Government’s approach in selected countries.

We have also undertaken an internal review of the Government’s stabilisation unit. The review concluded that there continues to be a clear need for the stabilisation unit and it will remain an important tool in helping to integrate the Government’s approach to conflict and to help build more stable states.

As part of the strategic defence and security review, we have also increased the level of overall resourcing for conflict prevention in the tri-departmental Conflict Pool, a point mentioned by several noble Lords. The National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact have reviewed the Conflict Pool over recent months and both have offered some timely and helpful insights. The ICAI report, referred to by my noble friend Lord Bates, made a number of recommendations, many of which have already been addressed as part of our work to better align the Conflict Pool with the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, and the three departments concerned are all implementing these.

In the time available I will seek to answer some of the specific questions raised by noble Lords, but if it runs out—the seeds of time are catching up fast—I shall write to those noble Lords whose points I do not cover. First and foremost, I shall take in turn the series of questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. He asked about the Early Action Funding Facility. It is already up and running and is supporting a range of initiatives in Somalia, Niger, Syria and Libya. He asked whether the internal watch list of fragile countries had made a difference. It has helped to focus senior-level attention on those countries where the risks of conflict are particularly high and where the UK has significant interests at stake. He also asked about the independent assessment of conflict prevention work. I have already mentioned the ICAI review of the Conflict Pool as a given example. However, we continue to work with our partners on a methodology covering conflict prevention more broadly, which has wider applications to other donor countries. He asked about building capacity in regional institutions and made strongly the point that regional solutions work better. I agree with that sentiment totally. We have held discussions on the Building Stability Overseas Strategy with a range of emerging and established partners across the world, including South Africa, Brazil, China, South Korea, India and Japan.

Through the Conflict Pool we are strengthening the African Union’s peace and security architectural activities. Our support includes a financing agreement to assist the AU’s peace and security department as well. Finally, the noble Lord talked about the role of women in peace-building, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, also mentioned it. Women have a key role to play, and of course the noble Baroness mentioned the issue of Malala Yousafzai. I totally align myself with the comments made by the noble Baroness, and would repeat that the Government are fully committed to ensuring better education for women across the world, and Pakistan is no exception. We join in with the applause for the resilience of this young lady, but let us not forget that she is just one of many. We need to continue to be a strong voice to ensure the effective education and development of women across the world, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

My noble friend Lord Chidgey referenced Libya and talked about cross-government working. We continue to work on this and my noble friend may have seen the national security adviser’s review of central co-ordination and the lessons learnt from the Libya crisis. The crisis itself predated the publication of the strategy by a few months. The national security adviser concluded that NSC structures were effective in delivering a well co-ordinated UK contribution, but of course we continue to watch the situation in Libya very carefully, as we do other parts of north-east Africa and the Middle East.

Mention was made by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, of the Sahel region and of Mali in particular. We are deeply concerned about the current situation in Mali, particularly where Islamist groups have taken advantage of the recent political instability. However, on a more general theme, my noble friend Lord Patten made a point about religious freedoms. Let us be absolutely clear: religious freedoms, freedom of speech and expression to allow someone to follow their faith is an important part of our strategy. I am reminded that when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was in Indonesia, a country that is progressive and showing itself to be a beacon to many people that democracy and Islam are compatible, he demonstrated through his words that religious freedoms, be they for Christians or for Muslim minorities, are a key part of a particular country’s standing.

My noble friend Lord Bates mentioned the ICAI report and talked about the need for further rapid support in emerging crises. He also raised specifically the issue of Iran. All channels, including those of diplomacy through the back door, should always be maintained in all conflict areas so as to ensure effective resolution. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about scientific research. Perhaps I may dwell briefly on the example of Pakistan. Of course, many will know that had Pakistan recognised the achievements of her only Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam, science would have played a much more structured and constructive role in the development of that country, but we continue to work with Pakistan as a key partner.

I am mindful of the time so will move forward. My noble friend Lord Patten raised issues about the roles of NGOs. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, we recognise that we do not have all the answers. It takes a lot for a Government to admit that, but we do not and debates such as this certainly assist. We continue actively to seek views from outside the Government to ensure input from challenging and fresh perspectives. I am therefore delighted to welcome noble Lords to participate in an event that we are planning at the FCO on 26 November. I extend that invitation to all noble Lords and assure my noble friend Lord Patten that NGOs are also being included in such an outreach programme. We will continue to seek views from all informed parliamentarians, whether it concerns the Conflict Pool, the stabilisation unit or of course the important issue of women, peace and security.

Several noble Lords mentioned the UN high-level panel meeting and the post-2015 framework. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister is hosting those meetings. When asking other people within the UN to wake up, he said:

“So to those who say we can't afford to act I say: we can't afford to wait”.

Those words resonate and are testament to the view of the Government. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, has also recently met with various Ministers visiting London

I am conscious that time has caught up with me. In conclusion, I assure your Lordships’ House that this Government continue to take this particular issue very seriously. However, we also recognise that we need to work with all interested parties in developing this strategy to the next level. I will continue to listen and work, and I am delighted that we continue to put issues of international development at the centre of our thinking. No one underestimates the scale of the challenge ahead and the surprises in store for us. However, I am confident that we have a range of tools and mechanisms in place and will continue to refine and develop our approach as we implement strategies for building stability overseas. The wisdom, experience and great knowledge that is in your Lordships’ House will of course always be welcome.

House adjourned at 9.03 pm.