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Building Stability Overseas Strategy

Volume 764: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review the Building Stability Overseas Strategy.

My Lords, the Government currently have no plans for a formal review of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, but the UK’s role in promoting stability overseas will be considered as part of the development of the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review.

My Lords, the Minister for Government Policy, Mr Oliver Letwin, said in a Written Statement in March that the new £1 billion Conflict, Stability and Security Fund would be,

“underpinned notably by the building stability overseas strategy”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/3/15; col. 19WS.]

The strategy was agreed in 2011, and since then we have had the tragedy in Syria, the development of ISIS and its allies around the world, and the crisis of migration in the Mediterranean and south-east Asia. Given that we now have a new sustainable development goal framework that is likely to include stability and peacebuilding, is the time now right to review the Building Stability Overseas Strategy? Perhaps the sustainable development goals agreed in September would give the Government an opportunity to do that.

I agree with the implication behind the noble Lord’s supplementary that Governments have to be responsive to change. He outlines significant events that have taken their toll on life and security. The principles within the Building Stability Overseas Strategy—early warning, rapid response and upstream prevention—remain as valid now as they were then. However, it is right that the Government focus more carefully on how one then delivers the aid in that strategy. That is why we have formed the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund with £1.033 billion, and the National Security Council will be looking very carefully at how that money is best spent.

My Lords, the Minister will recognise that budgets are never limited, so on what basis has the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund decided to prioritise some regions and plans over others?

My noble friend is right, and it is a daily difficulty of every Government to deliver their spending in a way that secures the security of their people. We focus on countries and regions where risks are high, our national interests are at stake and we know that we can have an impact. We partner with others—the European Union, the United Nations and NATO—but it is the move from the Conflict Pool system to the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund that is part of our continuous process to improve how our funds are spent. The new system will better align our national security objectives with conflict prevention.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree—I am sure she will—that it is only through long-term engagement with fragile states that there is any chance of building stability overseas and, in particular, that means ensuring that young people have a brighter future? Does she therefore think it was right that my colleague Michael Moore and my noble friend Lord Purvis brought forward the 0.7% Bill, which ensured that predictable funding into the future, in the last days of the coalition Government?

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness’s question because I recall that the last time this Question was on the Order Paper it was so ably answered by her. I entirely agree with her view that this country should be proud that we have a legislative requirement for spending 0.7% on overseas aid. We should also be proud that we are the only country in the world that, as the Budget made clear, will spend 2% on defence for at least the life of this Government.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the biggest threats to world stability now is the biggest migration of people since World War II, with the UNHCR suggesting that some 54 million refugees—internally displaced people or asylum seekers—are now out of their countries and drifting around, and therefore posing a threat in the places they now are? Dictators such as Omar al-Bashir in Sudan have been indicted by the International Criminal Court and there are reports indicting Eritrea for its crimes against humanity. Does the Minister agree that when they can travel with impunity and the International Criminal Court fails to be able to act, it jeopardises world stability? What plans do the Government have to try to strengthen the role of the ICC?

My Lords, we are strong supporters of the ICC. I visited the court just before Christmas and have maintained negotiations with it since then. We are continually pressing our partners to ensure that it has enough funding—we lead the way on that. I also press the ICC to reform some of its processes to enable more effective prosecution of those who should be held to account.

My Lords, we are learning now that conflict resolution and stability overseas require new and much more powerful methods of public diplomacy. Does the Minister feel that the budget we have and the balance between the MoD, DfID and the Foreign Office is quite right or should we be thinking about a switch to reinforce somewhat the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s efforts, budget and developments in the public diplomacy field?

My Lords, the building security strategy depends entirely on the interplay between defence, diplomacy and development. It is clear that the Budget addressed that matter but we have ahead of us the comprehensive spending review and, of course, the defence review. Until those discussions are concluded we will not see the final picture.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that any future policy on the Building Stability Overseas Strategy must include a strong commitment to mainstreaming gender, peace and security throughout all the UK’s conflict prevention efforts and should not, for example, be siloed in the national action plan?

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that joined-up government in principle is a very good thing and this is a good example of it, but when it comes to four or five departments, does not the argument of the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, become stronger? We perhaps need to review the speed at which decisions are made by several departments.

My Lords, that is exactly why the National Security Council has taken the measures it has to be able to deliver decisions more effectively and rapidly. Also, sometimes is has to be festina lente. One has to have the underlying principles on which one acts and they are, as I mentioned earlier, early warning, rapid response and upstream prevention. Upstream prevention takes time.

My Lords, just now the Minister reminded the House that the Government have pledged to spend 0.7% of GDP on international development and 2% of GDP on defence, but the Government have also pledged to consign very considerable numbers of our children in this country to poverty. Is not the Government’s policy stance surreal?

My Lords, this Government have as their objective to raise the living standards of all people in this country by having a stable economy. That, of course, includes the children, who are our future.