The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 26 November.
“Madam Deputy Speaker, I will make a Statement to the House on official development assistance. The House will know that my right honourable friend the Chancellor updated the House yesterday on the economic challenges posed by Covid-19. It is a truly sobering assessment. The UK is facing the worst economic contraction in almost 300 years and a budget deficit of close to £400 billion—double what we faced in the last financial crisis. Britain is responding to a health emergency, but also an economic emergency, and every penny of public spending will rightly come under intense scrutiny by our constituents.
Given the impact of the global pandemic on the economy and, as a result, the public finances, we have concluded after extensive consideration—and, I have to say, with regret—that we cannot for the moment meet our target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on ODA, and we will move to a target of 0.5% next year. Let me reassure the House that this is a temporary measure. It is a measure we have taken as a matter of necessity, and we will return to 0.7% when the fiscal situation permits.
The relevant legislation, the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, envisages circumstances in which the 0.7% target may not be met, particularly in the context of economic pressures. The Act provides for accountability to Parliament in that event, and I will of course report to the House in the proper way. Equally, given the requirements of the Act, the fact that we cannot at this moment predict with certainty when the current fiscal circumstances will have sufficiently improved and our need to plan accordingly, we will need to bring forward legislation in due course.
We are not alone in facing these painful choices. All countries are reconciling themselves not just to the health impact of the pandemic, but the economic impact of Covid-19. It is worth saying that on the 2019 OECD data, only one other G20 member allocated 0.5% or more of GNI to development spending, and that was before the pandemic. Many countries are reappraising their spending plans, as we have been forced to do. As a result, we nevertheless expect our development spending next year to total around £10 billion, maintaining our status as one of the leading countries in the world in ODA spend.
I can reassure the House that we will retain our position as a leader in the global fight against poverty. We will remain committed to following the rules set by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, and we will ensure the maximum impact from our aid through the strategic integration we are driving as a result of the merger at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the strategic thinking that is informed by the integrated review, and the further changes we are now making on how we allocate ODA to support a more integrated and overarching approach.
Let me say a little more on that integrated approach. Our starting point is the integrated review, with which we are setting the long-term strategic aims of our international work, based on our values and grounded in the British national interest. To achieve this, we will be taking a far more joined-up approach right across the breadth of government. That is why the Prime Minister created the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, bringing diplomacy and development together, in lockstep with the work of our other departments. ODA is a vital, central and absolutely indispensable element of that strategic approach, but to maximise its effectiveness it must be used in combination with our development policy expertise, our security deployments and support abroad, and the strengthened global co-operation that we drive through our diplomatic network. We make our aid go further by bringing it together with all these other elements, and by making sure that they are all aligned and pushing in the same direction.
Last week, the Prime Minister set out how we are strengthening our defence and security capabilities. That will boost our standing in the world, while also contributing to our development efforts, including our soft power abroad. The clearest illustration of that is the peacekeeping that we do. We have British troop deployments in Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere, which work hand in hand with our development and diplomatic efforts. Indeed, we are demonstrating that with our latest deployment of 300 UK troops to Mali. Our security and defence budget also helps countries to deal with new, emerging and evolving threats, for example, in supporting Nigeria and Kenya to assess and strengthen their cybersecurity resilience. We will set out the full detail of the integrated review early in the new year, as we launch our presidencies of the G7 and COP 26, with 2021 a year of leadership for global Britain as a force for good in the world.
This new strategic approach will allow us to drive greater impact from our £10 billion of ODA spending next year, notwithstanding the very difficult financial pressures we face. I will prioritise that £10 billion of spending in five ways. First, we will prioritise measures to tackle climate change, protect biodiversity and finance low-carbon and climate-resilient technologies, such as solar and wind, in poor and emerging economies. I can reassure the House that we will maintain our commitment to double international climate finance, which is vital to maintain our ambitions in this area as we host COP 26. We will leverage our aid support through our diplomatic network, to galvanise global action and to make sure that countries come forward with ambitious, game-changing commitments in the lead-up to November next year.
Secondly, we will prioritise measures to tackle Covid, and promote wider international health security. We will maintain our position as a world leader, investing in Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, COVAX, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the International Finance Facility for Immunisation. We will continue to support and strengthen the World Health Organization, as the second largest state donor; I spoke to Dr Tedros just yesterday about our efforts in that regard. We will also use all our other levers to maximise British impact. For example, we have magnified our COVAX contribution through our diplomatic efforts, which helped to convince the board of the World Bank to announce additional funding last month of up to $12 billion for Covid vaccines, tests and treatments. Again, I spoke to World Bank president David Malpass just last night about our important collaboration in that area.
Thirdly, we continue to prioritise girls’ education, because it is the right thing to do and because the fortunes of so many of the poorest countries depend on tapping the full potential of all their people, which must include women and girls in education. Our global target, working with our partners, is to get 40 million girls into education and have 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10. It is a major priority for global Britain as a leading supporter of the Global Partnership for Education, and just next year we will raise $4 billion globally, including through our UK-Kenya summit.
Fourthly, we will focus ODA on resolving conflicts, alleviating humanitarian crises, defending open societies, and promoting trade and investment, including by increasing UK partnerships in science research and technology, because these are the building blocks of development and they require a long-term strategic commitment.
Finally, at all times we will look to improve our delivery of aid in order to increase the impact that our policy interventions have on the ground, in the countries and the communities that they are designed to benefit and help. We will strengthen accountability and value for money, reducing reliance on expensive consultants for project management and strengthening our in- house capability to give us more direct oversight and control, including by removing the total operating cost limits that were introduced when the Department for International Development was established—a limit that applied only to DfID.
As a result of this spending review, the FCDO will take on a greater role in ensuring the coherence and co-ordination of development-related spending right across Whitehall. To maximise the strategic focus that I have talked about, I will run a short cross-government process to review, appraise and finalise all the UK’s ODA allocations for next year in the lead-up to Christmas.
This is a moment of unprecedented challenge. On all sides of the House, we are defined by our willingness to make the difficult choices, not just the easy ones. With the approach that I have set out, we will maintain our international ambition. We will deliver greater impact from our aid budget at a time of unparalleled financial pressure.
Like many in the House, I am proud of our aid spend. I am proud of the big-hearted generosity of the British public, which we amplify with our diplomatic energy on the world stage. I am proud of the huge amount we do to support the poorest and the most vulnerable, right around the world. The United Kingdom is out there every single day—our people on the ground in the disaster zones, in the refugee camps, tackling famine and drought, helping lift people out of poverty, striving to resolve conflicts and striving to build a more hopeful future for the millions of people struggling and striving against the odds. Even in the toughest economic times, we will continue that mission. We will continue to lead. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, I would like to mention the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, to start with. Like her, I feel immensely proud that the United Kingdom has been a development superpower and contributed so much to the world. Our support and leadership on development has saved and changed millions of lives. Last week the Minister told this House that the development priorities would remain the same, but a cut from 0.7% to 0.5% would represent a 30% reduction in funding. NGOs have estimated that, if applied across aid spending in areas previously managed by DfID, could mean that each year 5.6 million fewer children will be immunised and 105,000 lives will not be saved; 940,000 fewer children will be supported to gain a decent education; 7.6 million fewer women and girls will be reached with modern methods of family planning; 2 million fewer people will be reached with humanitarian assistance; 3.8 million fewer people will be supported to access clean water and better sanitation; and 16.5 million fewer women and children will be reached with nutrition programming.
I am also proud of the UK’s contribution to the global efforts to tackle Covid-19, particularly on vaccine development through Gavi and the breakthrough at Oxford, but does the Minister agree that these efforts will be hampered without strong health systems to deliver and administer vaccines, and that UK aid is critical to this?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said, our ODA spend in tackling global issues, such as the pandemic, climate change and conflict, has been firmly in our national interest. She emphasised that cutting UK aid risks undermining efforts to promote a global Britain and will diminish our power to influence other nations to do what is right.
Is the noble Lord familiar with the words of General James Mattis, who said that if development funding gets cut,
“then I need to buy more ammunition”?
Does he share my concern that the effect of this cut in aid spending on instability will be to reduce the impact of the Government’s announced increase in defence spending? It will make it harder for us to pursue our national interest and to create a safer, healthier, fairer and better world for us all.
We know that we need a dramatic acceleration in the pace and scale of global climate action. As we approach 2021, when the UK will host both the G7 and COP 26, the UK has an opportunity to lead the response to the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis. This cut reduces the funds available for both these efforts and shows that the UK is stepping back when its support is needed most. For the climate conference to be a success, we must harness the political will of other countries. As hosts, it falls to the United Kingdom to lead by example, not to withdraw,
Does the Minister agree with President-elect Joe Biden that effective foreign policy relies
“not only on the example of our power, but on the power of our example”?
The example that these cuts set is of stepping back when, in the midst of this global pandemic, we should be stepping up.
Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, has this week made clear that the impact of these cuts will not only affect the world’s most vulnerable but damage the UK’s global reputation. Have the Government abandoned their plan for a global Britain? What plans do the Government have to legislate for this cut to aid spending, in the light of the responsibilities outlined in the international development Act 2015? When do they plan to bring a Bill forward, and do they intend to include a sunset clause to ensure a return to 0.7%—the agreed OECD global target?
The noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, understood that this decision is not a necessity but a political choice by this Government. I will work hard with her and with all like-minded Peers across this House to oppose this ill-conceived, short-sighted decision.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this Statement to your Lordships’ House. In her resignation letter to the Prime Minister, the former FCDO Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, called the cut to the aid budget “fundamentally wrong”. She could not in all integrity defend the betrayal of a manifesto commitment made less than a year ago. Her view is endorsed by many others in the Minister’s own party in both Houses. No fewer than five former Prime Ministers—three from the Minister’s own party—and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury have said that this cut to international aid is morally wrong and harmful to Britain’s standing on the international stage. Not so long ago—in July and again in September—the Secretary of State, Dominic Raab, agreed.
To tie the cuts in the aid budget to the £4 billion increase in the defence budget is to rub salt into the wound. The Secretary of State would do well to heed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, in your Lordships’ House last week. He said that the UK’s influence comes,
“largely through the integration of our hard power ... with our soft power”,
and that reducing the international development budget will significantly
“reduce the impact of so-called global Britain”.—[Official Report, 25/11/20; col. 250.]
In his Statement, the Secretary of State says that the cut to the aid budget nevertheless means that Britain’s aid spend remains at No. 2 among the G20. This misses the point. The outcry is because the Government are reneging on an unequivocal manifesto commitment and cutting aid over and above the fall in GNI at a moment unprecedented in global history. Future generations will rightly be appalled. It is akin to kicking someone when they are down. The British people have a strong sense of fair play. It is wrong to suggest, as I have seen in the press, that public opinion is on the side of these cuts. There is no evidence to support this assertion.
The 0.7% of GNI aid target, enshrined in law, is a proud Liberal Democrat achievement. It was spearheaded in the other place by the Private Member’s Bill from my right honourable friend Michael Moore. In your Lordships’ House, it was ably led by my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed, supported by my noble friend Lady Northover—then a DfID Minister in the coalition Government. Do the Government intend to change that law to reduce the aid target to 0.5%? If so, do they intend to use a Finance Bill as the vehicle for it?
Can the Minister state categorically that the 0.7% will be met this year? I regret that I need to ask this, but doubt remains. Will any shortfall caused by the overenthusiastic £2.9 billion cut announced in July be managed in a way that alleviates poverty and offers taxpayers value for money?
The Secretary of State does not mention scrutiny either in this Statement or in his letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, chair of the International Relations and Defence Committee. Can the Minister assure your Lordships’ House that monitoring and assessment of the effectiveness and value for money of ODA spend will not be the preserve of internal FCDO processes, but rather subject to independent, open and transparent scrutiny, including by parliamentarians?
What assessment have the Government made of how many UK international NGOs will go under next year as a consequence of the economic situation and of this cut? How many jobs will be lost in the UK? Does the Minister agree that these NGOs, particularly the small ones, have the trust of local community leaders and so have been able to go that vital last mile to deliver essential healthcare, nutrition and—crucially today—vaccines? Surely he accepts that the COVAX initiative will fail unless we can get supplies to where they are needed. We must have robust health systems on the ground to vaccinate people. I fear that this Statement shows that joined-up thinking is not currently a strength of the new FCDO.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, for their comments. I also thank them for making time last week, in calls that I and colleagues made, to discuss their obvious concerns about this cut, some of which they have articulated today.
I say at the outset in responding to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary mentioned specifically in his Statement, the decision was taken given the effects of the global pandemic on the economy and, as a result, the public finances, but it was taken with deep regret. It was felt that at the moment we cannot meet our target of spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA next year. The Statement was very up front, setting out the Government’s intent. As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in the Statement, it is our intention to return to that target as soon as the fiscal situation and the challenges permit. As I am sure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness acknowledge, those challenges are immense.
They both mentioned the manifesto commitment. Like many in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, and like many people across the country, we are proud that the Conservative Government enshrined the 0.7% target in law. Equally, the commitment in the manifesto at the time of the election did not for a moment predict—I do not think that anyone could have done so—the challenge not just to the UK but to the world of a health pandemic, coupled with the challenges to the economy that we face.
I shall pick up, first, on some of the specific points made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Rightly, he talked about the impact on aid. I do not deny that if you have a reduced pot of money, you will spend less on many of the important causes that we are currently engaged in around the world. I have seen for myself the importance and strength of those contributions. Our development spend brings about stability in countries, ensures that peace agreements are sustained and, importantly, empowers communities around the world.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned the importance of transparency. I do not agree with her on that. As someone who started his life in the Foreign Office as a Minister of State, was then a double-hatted Minister across both departments and is now a Minister at the FCDO, I have seen in my portfolio, and have direct experience of, the benefits of bringing together the important tools of diplomacy and development. In ensuring that decisions are expedited, we can make more efficient decisions, and the focus of those decisions can more readily be seen in the different parts of the world with most need.
In particular, I emphasise to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that we remain absolutely committed to helping the world’s poorest. The measures that the Government have announced will ensure that every penny that we spend goes as far as possible towards sustaining our position as a world-leading development power, notwithstanding the cut that has been announced. The noble Baroness acknowledged where we stand.
I have always felt that the importance of any spend lies in its effective delivery on the ground. We stand with pride in comparison with many of our G20 and G7 partners, and it is important to recognise that we have seen some real benefits from our spend over many years. In particular, we will continue to spend over £10 billion on many of the key priorities which I know are close to the hearts of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan.
The strategic framework on ODA spend that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is setting up—the double lock, which he announced with my right honourable friend the Chancellor—will ensure that the money spent is targeted on achieving many of the key goals highlighted by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, including being at the forefront of meeting the challenge of the Covid pandemic. In that regard, I am proud that when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister returned to work following his own challenge from Covid, one of the first events in which he participated and led on was the Gavi summit. That raised over $8 billion—far in excess of the estimate.
Equally, the Gavi summit ensured that the vaccines and the support that they will give to many vulnerable communities, including those that I often see on my own patch—I give the specific example of polio eradication in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan—are sustained at a time of great challenge for people across the world. Specifically on the Covid-19 pandemic, we have also been at the forefront of the COVAX Facility. I believe we all welcomed the news this morning about the further progress that has been made on developing vaccines.
I also assure the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that, as these vaccines come on line, including the important Oxford-AstraZeneca one, we are committed to ensuring a scaling up of vaccine production. Indeed, the FCDO has been instrumental in facilitating the agreement reached between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India for that very purpose—to scale up production of a vaccine that, through the COVAX Facility, as well as through direct distribution, will allow vulnerable communities to be reached as quickly as possible.
In addition, the noble Lord, rightly raised our chairmanship of the G7 and the important leadership that we are showing as president-elect of COP 26 in Glasgow next year. I have a personal interest in this, in that I was the one who stood up at the UN and declared the £11.6 billion of climate financing. We will stand by that over the five-year period. It is important that we show leadership on these issues.
We remain very committed to the SDGs as the basis of our aid. There are many challenges, but arguably the biggest two international challenges in the area of development are the Covid-19 pandemic and facing the climate emergency. The United Kingdom continues not just to lead the narrative but to provide support through direct financing for both initiatives, to ensure that the most vulnerable communities and developing states benefit from our continuing support.
The noble Baroness mentioned the 0.7% target. As I have mentioned to her previously, and as I believe I said in responding to a Question last week, our spend this year will meet the target of 0.7% of GNI. She also raised the issue of scrutiny of ODA spend. The fact that I appear before your Lordships’ House today, as do colleagues in the other place, and the fact that we continue to have discussions and debates about this, shows that scrutiny takes place. I fully acknowledge and respect that. During my discussions last week, I talked directly to the commissioner of ICAI, not only to reassure her about our commitment to our development programmes but to gain a sense from her of what this means for the independent assessments that ICAI is able to make. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have committed to ensuring that ICAI retains its role in making sure that our development spend is appropriately scrutinised.
Finally, I come to the important point that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, raised about the importance of legislation. Again, I fully understand why that was mentioned, and it was raised also by noble Lords in other discussions. At this juncture, I acknowledge not only what the noble Lord and the noble Baroness said but the important work done by my noble friend—not just my noble friend but my very good friend—and colleague Lady Sugg in the development sphere. She will be missed at the FCDO. It is often said in the context of your Lordships’ House that it is much more welcome to have two hands on the pump rather than just one. I will personally miss her insights, experience and friendship, but I respect the decision that she took. Equally, I acknowledge the work of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in enshrining in law the 0.7% target.
It is right that noble Lords ask questions about the Government’s recognition of their statutory obligations. As I said only last week, we are cognisant of our duties to Parliament. Under the 2015 Act, the Secretary of State is under an ongoing legal duty to ensure that that 0.7% target is met. However, as has been acknowledged by noble Lords, the framework of the Act envisages that 0.7% may not be met in certain circumstances, including by reference to economic and fiscal circumstances.
On that basis, it is permissible to depart from the duty where the fiscal and economic circumstances justify doing so, reporting to Parliament under the Act. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, asked me specifically about this issue. I assure noble Lords that we are considering legislation in the context of the projected long-term fiscal circumstances and the need to plan over successive years. That kind of long-term planning is not easy to square with Parliament’s intention as set out in the framework of the Act, and therefore I believe it is right in the context of that planning to ensure that we engage further with Parliament by bringing forward legislation.
The noble Lord and noble Baroness asked me specifically about timing. All I can say is that we intend to bring forward legislation in due course because, at the current time, it is difficult to predict the end date and this 0.5% figure moving back to 0.7% in light of the fiscal circumstances. It is right that we look carefully at that. As I said, we are considering the issue and will bring forward legislation in due course. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, know—and I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords on this issue—I understand the strength not just of the sentiment but of the principle behind 0.7% and its value in establishing the UK as both a respected partner and a development power in the world.
Regarding the merger and the bringing together of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the noble Baroness talked about defence spend. Earlier today we had a Question on the importance of women, peace and security. That is why the integrated review, on which further announcements will be made earlier in the new year, brings together all the key strands of our diplomacy and defence to ensure that the UK has been, is and will continue to strengthen its position as global Britain on the world stage.
My Lords, we now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, does my noble friend share my concern about the whole principle of hypothecation of revenues being spent on particular areas of public spending? Why should overseas aid be so deserving rather than health, education or any other area? Surely this seriously inhibits the ability of the Chancellor to deal with crises, such as the one that we are facing now in the finances of this country, if money is hypothecated for certain causes? Secondly, does my noble friend welcome the fact that the British people are some of the most generous when it comes to giving their money to good causes that they choose? That is not the same thing as government Ministers using other people’s money to spend on causes that the Government choose.
My Lords, my noble friend raises two points. Respecting his insights and his own experience as a Minister, I say to him that I have seen myself the direct benefit that our development spend has brought in the field and the opportunities that it has brought to communities in different parts of the world. I am proud of the fact that our development spending has lent itself to strengthening the opportunities for different communities, but that also has a knock-on positive impact on what we as the UK are trying to achieve in the international arena. Our development spend and our commitment to it, our commitment to the SDGs and our commitments to alleviating poverty, providing support for famine relief and ensuring that girls are educated wherever they might be in the world are things that we can proudly stand up and say the UK has supported and will continue to support.
I agree with my noble friend in as much as I accept that the British people are among the most generous in the world—we see that in the pandemic that we are currently facing—but equally we as the Government are trustees of public spending to ensure that, as we look at our priorities domestically, we also look to invest wisely internationally, including in supporting the most vulnerable communities and people around the world.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, and I echo the comments made about the much-respected noble Baroness, Lady Sugg.
The scale of these cuts will be brutal for those affected but also, I believe, damaging in the long term to this country and its interests. The Statement gives priorities in general and I welcome the commitments on climate change, girls’ education and health, but it is very short on detail. So I have a specific question: will the Government be honouring their other commitment made in their manifesto—namely, to lead the fight against malaria? Will they do so by maintaining investment in malaria at its present level?
My Lords, I commend the work of the noble Baroness’s campaign to eradicate malaria. We have worked together on this, particularly in relation to the last CHOGM. She asks for quite specific details on the programmes and prioritisation. My right honourable friend has laid out the framework for how we will look at those priorities. I cannot give her a specific commitment on a particular programme on a particular issue, but I can say, where we have given commitments in the past, we will ensure that we look at how we can sustain our support, whether technical or financial. In due course, as decisions are made on how we prioritise our aid spend specifically, I am sure that we will return to these questions. I regret that I cannot give her a specific commitment on the issue of malaria at this time.
My Lords, I ask the Minister to answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Collins: will Her Majesty’s Government include a sunset clause in any legislation amending the International Development Act? Secondly, do the Government intend to produce and publish any impact assessment of the reduction in spending on official development assistance?
My Lords, I cannot go into the details of the legislative proposals that will be coming forward; as I said, I am not party to them yet, but they are being looked at. He asked some specific questions about sunset clauses, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins, which I have noted, but beyond what I have said about the status of the legislation there is little more that I can add at this juncture.
My Lords, I too am concerned about the lack of clarity about where the axe will fall on the UK’s very effective aid programme. Is the Minister able to give specific examples of where the severe cuts may occur? For instance, will women’s education funding be at the same sort of level or a much lower one? In health, will maintaining help with Covid mean reducing HIV/AIDS projects when their importance was very much emphasised yesterday on World AIDS Day? The Government really owe those receiving assistance and those delivering it much more proper transparency.
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that as we look at our priorities for spend in 2020 those will become much clearer. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is looking quite specifically at the issue of ODA spend for next year. The noble Baroness is right to raise the important gains that we have seen on key priorities that the UK has supported. I assure her that we will look at each programme to ensure that we can sustain not only the leadership that we have shown but the gains that we have made. Again, I have to say to her that I cannot give her details about specific programmes and projects at this time.
My Lords, when asked about the domestic economic situation, the Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, told the House of Commons:
“We are bound by law to spend 0.7%, so it is not a choice; it is in the law, and we will obey the law.”—[Official Report, Commons, 30/6/20; col.147.]
We now know that the Government believe it is a choice and they will break the law. As the Minister said, they will in fact bring forward legislation to repeal that law, which does not sit with what the Government said about it being a temporary measure. So will the Minister give me this commitment: will the Government publish the fiscal criteria that will have to be met in order for the 0.7% commitment to be re-met before any legislative proposals to repeal the 2015 Act? If they do not, how can we believe the Government in the same way that we believed James Duddridge in June?
My Lords, the noble Lord, again, asked quite specific questions and understandably, I cannot share with him information on the nature and detail of the legislation at this point. I assure him that, as I have said before, the Government fully recognise their obligations to Parliament. As I said earlier in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, this is important and we are looking at legislation to ensure that we fulfil those obligations to Parliament.
My Lords, I entirely support the 0.2% reduction in our development spend in the light of the economic emergency that we all face. It is also right to strengthen our defence and security capabilities, working hand-in-hand with our soft power. In line with this strong, integrated approach, does the Minister agree that if those in the party opposite are serious about protecting the world’s poor, it is incumbent upon them—unlike their colleagues in another place—to support the overseas operations Bill when it comes to your Lordships’ House? That Bill will support our Armed Forces, some of whom are risking their lives in some of the most dangerous places in the world, such as Mali, South Sudan and Afghanistan—places where, every day, they seek to work hard with our soft power to save and change millions of lives.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point with which I totally agree—and I am sure that many other noble Lords would also agree—regarding the important role that our Armed Forces play in bringing about and sustaining peace and in ensuring humanitarian corridors. The increase in spending that we have seen in other areas—including in the MoD budget—testifies to the important role of the military when it comes to peacekeeping operations and sustaining humanitarian corridors. We can all be proud of the role that our military plays in delivering support to the most vulnerable communities around the world.
My Lords, a detected lie is the clock striking 13: it is wrong and it casts doubt on all past and future chimes. In June, the Prime Minister formally renewed the 0.7% commitment on the record in the other place. I was reassured, but it turns out that I was deceived. The aid community around the world was reassured, but it turns out that they were deceived. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, was deceived: she was an excellent Minister and will be much missed. The cut to our aid projects now is 30%; the cut to our credibility is much greater. I ask the Minister: why do we lie?
My Lords, as I said earlier, we are proud of our commitment to 0.7%; it was a Conservative-led Government who brought that into legislation. I can assure him that we made this decision after very careful consideration. We needed a temporary reduction in order to meet the unprecedented challenges that we face in terms of both health and the economy. I reassure him, however, that our intention is to return to 0.7%.
My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that there are few parts of the world where our continued development assistance is needed more desperately than in Afghanistan? Does he further agree that any reduction in our support for that country—given the decades of conflict, the huge numbers of displaced people and our deep involvement there, both militarily and economically—could have devastating effects? Can he assure us that, whatever changes are envisioned in our aid budget, the funding for Afghanistan will remain a top priority?
My Lords, just recently, I participated in the pledging conference where we announced a further £155 million in development support for Afghanistan for the next year, contingent, of course, on the situation with the peace talks. Equally, we have committed a further £70 million to the important strides that we are making in ensuring the security situation in Afghanistan. As the Minister for Afghanistan, I recently discussed this with President Ghani directly. We remain committed to ensuring that the gains that have been sustained in Afghanistan continue through our security support as well as our development support.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. Does the Minister agree that severe cuts on top of the departmental merger and the fundamental restructure of delivery are likely to prove deeply disruptive for development programmes? Strengthening management and capacity within the department, referred to in the Foreign Secretary’s Statement, may well be essential, but does the Minister accept that the success of UK aid delivery has been built on a model of partnership with the UK’s world-leading NGOs and development specialists? These cuts will test their resilience. How soon will the department be able to provide clarity on bidding and programme-planning to enable the Government’s development partners to manage their own capacity to ensure that crucial aid and development work can be sustained and that resources on which the Government depend for delivery will still be there when called upon?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we have great development expertise. Where I differ from him is that, in bringing the departments together and creating the FCDO, I believe that we have further leveraged the expertise of our development officials in contributing to our diplomatic priorities as well. Let me further assure him that I have spoken directly to a range of international partners, both within the UN context and key NGOs. We will continue to liaise with them on specific allocations; those decisions are in progress, and we will update NGOs and other key partners on them as they are taken.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while we build back better at home, we now have an opportunity to give back better overseas by addressing significant cost inefficiencies in our aid programmes? Will he confirm that humanitarian commitments, such as ensuring distribution of a Covid vaccine to Rohingya refugees, will remain a priority?
My Lords, I formally welcome my noble friend: this is the first time I have answered a question that he has posed. I agree with him on both fronts. The creation of the FCDO allows for things to be done more efficiently. As the Minister for Bangladesh, I am directly engaged on the Rohingya issue, which I know is close to my noble friend’s heart. We gave a further commitment to Bangladesh of £47 million—£37 million for Rohingya support and £10 million for support for Bangladesh itself—at the recent pledging conference that we hosted.
My Lords, we are still among the world’s richest countries. If the problem is finding the money, let us adjust the top level of income tax to share the fiscal burden fairly. The Government were elected on a manifesto pledge to maintain overseas support. If this manifesto pledge can be jettisoned, can this House, too, pick and choose which manifesto commitments we should respect?
My Lords, on the proposals on tax, I am sure that the Chancellor will listen very carefully to the noble Lord. On the issue of the manifesto pledge, I have already answered that question.
My Lords, will the Minister be so kind as to respond to the very forceful letter that was sent to the Foreign Secretary by your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee last Wednesday, arguing that the decision taken was wrong economically and wrong politically? Does he not think that it is shameful that in none of the statements made by the Government, including his own answers to questions, has it been admitted that we have already cut £2.9 billion from our aid by applying the 0.7% calculator, and that all that is proposed now comes on top of, and in addition to, that?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord on his final point. The reduction in GNI has meant a circa £2.9 billion reduction in the current aid spend, but we will fulfil our commitment to the GNI for this year. I also accept the principle that the proposal of 0.7% going down to 0.5% for 2021 presents an additional reduction. I know that the letter from my noble friend Lady Anelay to the Foreign Secretary is in the course of being responded to.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. There is another aspect of the ODA which the Government continue to neglect: the amount of taxes which are avoided in emerging economies and low-income countries. Last year, they lost $144 billion due to tax avoidance by corporations and the rich. The tax avoidance industries in the UK and the Crown dependencies and overseas territories are particularly responsible for that. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the emerging economies get the taxes which are due to them? That would give them plenty of resources for development.
My Lords, it needs political leadership within country, but we should be lending technical support to ensure that a greater level of tax is collected within developing parts of the world. I note what the noble Lord has said.
My Lords, what the noble Lord calls the “fiscal situation” that we are currently in was already apparent when reassurances were given, until a very few days ago, on our commitment to development by a department—DfID—renowned for its efficiency and transparency, including working on governance and tax collection. We could be in this so-called fiscal situation for the next decade or generation, because of Covid and Brexit. Can the Minister honestly say that he anticipates that we will ever return to 0.7% of GNI for development?
Having hope and optimism is part and parcel of what defines the Government’s thinking. While we have been challenged this year, and our decision on this issue reflects that, as I have already said, it is our intention to return to 0.7%. We have recently seen news on the Covid vaccine, and the steps that are being taken. I again underline the United Kingdom’s leadership on the important issues of facing up to the Covid challenge and ensuring that, through the COVAX facility and other support, we access vaccines and provide them to the most vulnerable. This underlines this Government’s commitment to ensuring that the most vulnerable and those who need assistance continue to get the support that they need, notwithstanding the challenges and this decision.