Wednesday 28 April 2021
The Grand Committee met in a hybrid proceeding.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now begin. Some Members are here in person and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. I remind speakers to manually press on their microphones before speaking. The time limit for the following debate is three hours.
Integrated Review: Development Aid
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I express my thanks to colleagues on the Cross Benches for choosing this Motion for debate, but also to the many Members from all parts of the House participating today. They all bring significant expertise and knowledge to our proceedings, including the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, the sponsor of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, and former Ministers, including my long-standing friends the noble Baronesses, Lady Chalker and Lady Northover, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, who with great principle and honour resigned her post in protest at the abnegation of the Act. I also thank the Library for the excellent note prepared in advance of the debate, and draw attention to my role as an officer of several relevant all-party parliamentary groups.
In 1970, as a student, I campaigned for the implementation of Resolution 2626 of the United Nations, urging developed nations to raise their aid contribution to 0.7%, and in seven parliamentary elections which I contested in Liverpool always committed myself to voting in Parliament to support that target. The Motion enables us to reiterate our commitment to what is, after all, a long way short of the injunction to tithe; to drill down into the integrated review’s objective for the UK to be
“a force for good in the world”;
and to ask how that claim can be squared with a precipitous cut in development aid from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether he agrees that the estimate of a £4 billion cut in real terms is correct.
In response to today’s debate, the Minister will be pressed on the central question: whether the Government intend to introduce legislation to reduce ODA funding this year and, if not, how they intend to ensure that they are acting lawfully and in accordance with their statutory obligations. I particularly look forward to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, who will address that point further.
Yesterday, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, appeared before the International Relations and Defence Select Committee. He has previously said that
“we will need to bring forward legislation in due course.”
Does that remain the case? If the Government’s position is now that legislation will not be necessary because 0.7% will be restored when fiscal circumstances allow, can the Minister describe the fiscal criteria that will be used to permit a restoration to 0.7%? By sleight of hand the temporary could, as we all know, so easily become permanent.
The immediate fiscal criteria do not look very promising. The Office for National Statistics says that in 2020 we recorded our worst economic performance in more than 300 years, with the economy contracting by 9.9%. But if times are tough and require draconian cuts, how do we square these cuts in aid with the cost of increasing the number of nuclear warheads—also announced in the review and in contravention of our non-proliferation commitments?
Even before these drastic cuts in ODA, we were confronted by the reality of a smaller cake, but our spending priorities and life-and-death decisions should have been shaped by parliamentary scrutiny and informed by a review—not, as with the merger of DfID and the FCO or swingeing cuts to ODA, retrospectively justified by one. As my noble friend Lord Hannay said last week, the cart has preceded the horse.
Circumventing legislation, avoiding scrutiny, curtailing debate and upending due process and good governance lead to bad decisions. Many of us are jealous of the role of Parliament and object when we see it diminished. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, chair of the International Relations Committee, on which I serve, specifically points to what she calls the review’s
“lack of consistency in the approach to relations with countries in Africa”—[Official Report, 22/4/21; col. 1986.]
and the failure to provide details of the effects on individual countries. Today, I hope the Minister can rectify that lack of detail—cut by cut, sector by sector, country by country. Concealing these details from Parliament is simply unacceptable.
In a curious, largely undefined, phrase the review says:
“We will be active in Africa”.
What will this mean in Tigray, in anglophone Cameroon, in ravaged Mozambique, in South Sudan, in northern Nigeria and in combating the rise of Jihadist ideology? What is the review’s justification for switching emasculated resources from west Africa and the Sahel? Ahead of this debate I drew the Minister’s attention to UN estimates that, in the Horn of Africa, some 4.5 million Tigrayans urgently require emergency and life-saving assistance and that over 2.5 million children are malnourished. People are being starved to death and, in terrible massacres reminiscent of Darfur and Rwanda, there have been brutal killings and an estimated 10,000 women raped. Unbelievably, some Tigrayans have fled to Yemen, believing that they will be safer.
As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, will no doubt remind us, development is impossible without conflict resolution. Is it the case that the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund has been cut by a staggering £363 million —by 50%? That will merely add to the 70 million people displaced worldwide, making no sense in terms of our security, let alone our humanitarian duties.
Consider Yemen, where the FCDO’s Chris Bold says that aid has been cut by 50%. Millions are facing starvation and food insecurity. Around half of all children under five in Yemen—2.3 million—are projected to face acute malnutrition in 2021. Nearly 400,000 are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment. No impact assessment was made of the effect of the cuts on vulnerable groups such as women, children, people with disabilities or displaced people. Why not? This is downright irresponsible. In an excoriating remark, Mark Lowcock, the UK’s first special envoy for famine prevention, said that we are trying to
“balance the books on the backs of the starving people of Yemen”.
Bilateral programmes in Yemen, Syria and Sudan will be disproportionately affected as it is harder to extricate the UK from multilateral programmes, so funding is lost merely because it is allocated through the wrong line. Yet in yesterday’s welcome session with the Foreign Secretary, he said that the Government were not salami slicing. He was asked about his seven strategic criteria for the FCDO: climate change, Covid, girls’ education, science and technology, open societies, humanitarian assistance and trade.
Measure the criteria against resources and the random way in which it has been done. Girls’ education, an FCDO priority, will be cut by 25%. Save the Children says that humanitarian preparedness and response will be cut by 44%, despite 200 NGOs warning that more than 34 million vulnerable people will face famine or famine-like conditions.
CSW says that
“spending on the newly formed Open Societies and Human Rights directorate”
“to fall by as much as 80%.”
The FCDO priorities of promoting freedom of religion or belief and media freedom no longer specifically appear in the criteria. Will their programmes be reduced? How will the John Bunyan fund and the Magna Carta fund be affected?
This morning, Sky News reported that a memo prepared for Minister Wendy Morton estimates that bilateral funding for water projects in developing nations will be cut by 80%. Clean water, handwashing and good hygiene are critical defences in the fight against coronavirus, which has claimed 3 million lives globally, and today we think especially of our friends in India. Since 2015, the UK has helped over 62.6 million people gain access to safe water and sanitation. That is something to be incredibly proud of, not to curtail.
Ahead of Glasgow’s COP 26 summit on climate change, we must not lose focus on water security. My noble friend Lady Hayman will doubtless remind us of this and how our ODA contributes to the defence of the planet. The Royal Society says that we are weakening those defences, with global programmes in science cut by—in its figures—well over £500 million and the UK no longer regarded as a reliable partner.
Meanwhile, Devex reported yesterday that funding for polio eradication will be cut by a catastrophic 95%. David Salisbury from Chatham House also warned that the slashed funding
“could threaten the eradication initiative.”
In 2019, the former International Development Secretary Alok Sharma rightly said:
“If we were to pull back on immunisations, we could see 200,000 new cases each year in a decade. This would not only be a tragedy for the children affected and their families, but also for the world. We cannot let this happen.”
So, why are we now letting it happen? In Questions earlier this week, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked for details of how much ODA will be dedicated to the polio eradication programme, the Gavi vaccine alliance, the Global Fund and nutrition programmes. I hope he will be answered today. The race to buy up vaccines has merely underlined gross inequalities worthy of Lazarus and Dives.
My noble friend Lord Crisp, a former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health, will remind us that many British clinicians voluntarily provide support to their colleagues in low and middle-income countries such as Myanmar. It is essential that the FCDO holds to its commitment to support this vital work at this awful time in a country where, following the coup, medical staff are themselves targets for assassination. In addition, we should significantly improve arrangements for diaspora to send remittances from the UK to developing countries.
Voluntary giving is personified by our flagship Voluntary Service Overseas, which, thanks in part to the efforts of my noble friend Lady Coussins and an intervention by the Select Committee, will receive a welcome extension of the V4D grant. However, it will still sustain a 45% cut in funding with, as it states, over 4 million people losing access to VSO services and with no ability to plan for the future of international youth volunteering and its International Citizen Service.
There are other extraordinary UK flagships, such as the increasingly emasculated British Council and the courageous BBC World Service, whose journalists are persecuted and vilified in Iran and driven out of China for exposing genocide against the Uighurs and breaking information blockades in North Korea and Myanmar. BBC World and the British Council, like VSO and our championing of the rule of law—which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will doubtless speak about—combine our values with global reach. They are fine examples of soft power, or what Joseph Nye dubbed “smart power”.
The review describes the UK’s soft power as
“rooted in who we are as a country”
“central to our international identity as an open, trustworthy and innovative country”.
The review also states:
“It helps to build positive perceptions of the UK”
“create strong people-to-people links”.
Yes, but how will we be perceived if we break commitments and carefully nurtured relationships, are seen to disregard our own laws and foolishly allow other actors, such as the CCP, to replace a country committed to the rule of law, human rights and democracy with its authoritarian economic coercion and its use of debt bondage, suborning countries and multilateral institutions through its $770 billion belt and road projects?
While I welcome the Government’s decision finally to cut aid to the regime of the Chinese Communist Party by 95%, I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to today’s report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. It says that, last year, opaque arrangements and pockets of public money in multiple departments, described as a “complex mosaic”, led to a record £68.4 million being used as aid to China, up from £44.7 million in 2015. Why have we been doing this, not least while the CCP is identified in the review as a “systemic” threat to the UK and its interests?
To conclude, yesterday, the Foreign Secretary emphasised the importance of transparency, an integrated approach and value for money. Transparency will be assisted by a commitment today from the Minister to publish all planned spending of UK aid in 2021-22 and to resist the usual default that we will learn more in due course. Programmes cannot be planned and implemented on that haphazard and erratic basis.
The integrated review insists that we are
“one of the world’s leading development actors, committed to the global fight against poverty, to achieving the SDGs by 2030 and to maintaining the highest standards of evidence and transparency for all our investments.”
It promises a “new international development strategy” that, from next year, will realign UK aid with what it calls a strategic framework, about which we will hope to hear more. To achieve all that, it will be crucial to restore the commitment to 0.7%. We should do this because it is in our national interest but also because it is morally the right thing to do. Generous altruism and self-interest are two sides of one coin. All five of the UK’s living former Prime Ministers have called on the Government to think again. I hope that this debate, with such an impressive array of formidable speakers, will reinforce that call. I beg to move.
I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and leading it in such an outstanding and comprehensive manner. He deserves, and we deserve, answers to the questions that we have been posing and will pose again this afternoon.
This is a political decision to reduce funds that were already going to be reduced. It will damage our country’s interests, threaten our security and cost lives around the globe. It shames our country at a time when other countries nearby are stepping up to the mark and going in the opposite direction.
We know that conflict and violence sets back development; we know that development is essential for conflict prevention and conflict resolution, and we know that there is already tension in countries around the world as a result of vaccine inequity and of the other pressures resulting from the pandemic over the past 12 months. Surely the Government must know that a sudden withdrawal of funding from vital, life-saving projects and development work around the world will increase tension, division and hopelessness and create further instability.
Will the Minister tell us whether the Government evaluated the impact on conflict and violence of the cuts that have been agreed and are about to be implemented, even this early in the financial year? Will the Government commit to continuing their funding for the UN Peacebuilding Fund and the many other peacebuilding projects around the world that are trying to guarantee stability, protect our interests, save lives and prevent violent conflict in some of the most difficult and dangerous parts of our world today?
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this vital debate and enabling us to demonstrate how wide and deep the concern is about this matter. I am very proud of the agreement that we made with our partners in the coalition Government to meet the UN target of 0.7% for aid. It was both right and in our self-interest, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. My colleagues Michael Moore in the Commons and my noble friend Lord Purvis took through the Private Member’s Bill to enshrine that commitment into law with cross-party support. I had the privilege of being a DfID Minister, and saw what a difference our aid programme made.
Many speaking in this debate have played a stellar role in that achievement. We were recognised as a development superpower and had influence beyond our own programmes. We shaped the EU’s programme, which was the largest in the world. We played a central role in multilateral organisations and the huge and vital extension of family planning provision was carried out with them, and with new players, including Bill and Melinda Gates. The key public health measure that transformed British lives in the 19th century—the provision of clean water and sanitation—was carried forward with companies such as Unilever. This has now been drastically cut.
ODA went beyond DfID—for example, to the City of London enforcement agencies to counter corruption, and to our universities for work on R&D. The Jenner Institute’s work on the Ebola vaccine translated into that on the Covid vaccine, to our benefit. The right hand clearly did not know what the left hand was doing when the Government decided to cut aid. That cut fundamentally undermines the integrated review. How can we be a science and tech superpower while we cut the research budget? How can we build on our soft power while, for example, forcing the closure of British Council offices? If anything shows that we are all interlinked, it is the pandemic and climate change. We are destroying our reputation in this area and as a trusted partner. I hope that the Minister will not use the phrase “restoring this when possible.” It should not have happened, and it needs to be reversed now.
My Lords, the decision to break the commitment to spend 0.7% of our GNI on international development undermines the objectives outlined in the integrated review. This year the UK is hosting three crucial summits. We have high ambitions to use the G7 to lead the world’s efforts to build back better from Covid-19, yet we are the only G7 country that is not increasing development spend in the midst of a global pandemic. We are using the GPE summit to galvanise investment into education, yet we are cutting our investment into education by 25% from last year—40% on average in the last four years. For COP 26, surely the most crucial summit of our time, while we are keeping our ICF commitment, we are cutting climate and other bilateral programmes in the very countries that we are trying to encourage to come forward with ambitious plans on climate.
We are now starting to see the real-world consequences of these cuts. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted many of these in his excellent opening speech. To them I would add the consequences to family planning and voluntary contraception. These might be cut by up to 70% to 80%, taking away the ability of women to have control over if and when to have children and how many children to have. The scales of these cuts and the impacts they will have are difficult to comprehend. One gender expert to whom I spoke yesterday described these cuts as acts of violence against the world’s poorest women and girls.
Now that we have seen this reality, I hope the Government will set out a clear timetable for when they will return to the manifesto commitment to spend 0.7%, which, let us not forget, is enshrined in law.
I have three questions for my noble friend the Minister. Last week’s WMS did not give the information that Parliament needs to carry out its role of scrutinising the Executive. It was in no way an improvement on what we have had before; DfID routinely published geographic and thematic budgets at least one year in advance, in detail. We are now into the new financial year. These budgets obviously exist and they need to be published. Will my noble friend commit to publishing full details of country and thematic breakdowns by the end of May? Secondly, organisations still have not received funding confirmation. Can my noble friend provide a clear deadline for when these final decisions will be communicated? Finally, can he tell me when the Government will introduce legislation to ensure that they are acting lawfully?
My Lords, UK aid is important because it works. This is not money that is wasted; it is well targeted, well managed and, some of our history notwithstanding, not exploitative. Yes, there have been well-publicised scandals in some aid organisations and some aid may be misapplied, but the overall picture is of effective partnerships and fruitful work. Because UK aid works, its reduction will have tangible effects.
My diocese has close links with the dioceses of Mpwapwa and Kondoa in central Tanzania; I should have been there next week. We work with our colleagues on various small-scale development projects. When there, I also see the importance of other projects funded in whole or part with UK government funding. Over the years, British aid has been of great significance in Tanzania.
But—and this is where this links with the other strands and objectives of the review—others are very clearly seeking to increase their involvement and hence their influence. For most of the years of my visiting, a building site has run right through the diocese of Kondoa: a key stretch of the pan-African highway from the Cape to Cairo. While the workers have been local, the engineering oversight and management has been very largely Chinese. My point, I hope, is clear: when we withdraw, others are poised to come in. We take care that our involvement is well motivated and for the good; that of others may be less so. The Chinese ambassador to Tanzania has been very clear about his country’s aspiration to expand its involvement there. Reference has already been made to some of those initiatives.
I dare to hope that Her Majesty’s Government might increasingly realise that reducing aid will turn out to be a false economy. What is lost could far outweigh the relatively small financial gain. I therefore urge Her Majesty’s Government to take the earliest opportunity to reinstate the 0.7% commitment. I note that the noble Baroness the Leader of our House restated this at various points a few weeks ago in another debate. I hope that it will be done very soon.
My Lords, this weekend, the Defence Secretary, in anticipation of the first overseas tour by the Royal Navy’s new flagship carrier and six other Navy ships to tilt at the Indo-China region, stated:
“When our Carrier Strike Group sets sail”
“it will be flying the flag for Global Britain—projecting our influence, signalling our power, engaging with our friends and reaffirming our commitment to addressing the security challenges of today and tomorrow.”
No, Mr Wallace: this is the very week that, after 20 years of a wasted war in Afghanistan, US and UK troops start their weary journey home—trillions spent and no victory. It was Hillary Clinton, when US Secretary of State, who, in despair at ongoing defence deployment, stated that if we had wanted to win the war with the Taliban and liberate Afghanistan, we would have been building schools for girls and boys, and empowering excellent global education from the 1970s onwards.
Truly, to project power and soft power, influence is not in bombs and ships. As Nelson Mandela once said:
“Education is the single most powerful weapon … to change the world.”
That is why it is scandalous to cut education aid by 40% over four years. As one of the many ambassadors here for the Global Partnership for Education, I say: if we want security, we need to invest in minds, not mines in the ground; in subjects, not submarines; and in war history, not war machines. Learning is the vaccine to the pandemic of ignorance and injustice that our world suffers.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister has registered that this well-attended debate secured by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is the third time in the past week that your Lordships have raised deep concerns about the cuts to ODA. This is a profoundly serious matter of policy and reputation, and I am very proud that the House is pursuing it so vigorously.
This is also my first opportunity to pay tribute to my friend Lord Judd, whose clear and firm voice on development we miss today. He was always my important mentor when I was chair of the Overseas Development Institute and he was enthusiastically involved in all the NGOs and aid charities that exist. This is a crucial sector in development and I particularly mention the work of VSO, of which Frank Judd was the onetime director.
VSO is now 50 years old and has continuously delivered vital programmes to the world’s poorest people. It has played a constant, central role in making the UK what the integrated review calls “a soft power superpower”. But on 23 April, VSO was told that its funding is to be cut by 45% and will be given for only one year. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, it is now reckoned that 4 million people will lose its services. I have been a short-term VSO volunteer in Africa three times and can vouch wholeheartedly for those services. They chime precisely with the Government’s priorities on girls’ education and health security, especially in the pandemic.
To be successful, these services must have consistent and predictable funding—the “thoughtful investment” that the integrated review has called for. Short-term erratic growth will undermine decades of careful work on projects which cannot be revived instantly if ODA levels are sometimes restored. I fear that this policy will prove as practically short-sighted as it is politically indefensible.
My Lords, I too express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this debate and to Bond and the other NGOs, which have provided such excellent briefings on the issues. The £5 billion saved from this savage cut to our aid budget will have a negligible impact on the UK economy. It will, however, have a huge impact on those dependent on this life-saving support. Many will die.
The pandemic has caused a drop in GNI, and a resulting drop in the aid budget, but also a dramatic increase in need. Over 100 million more people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020. This is a global economic and health crisis. The virus is no respecter of international borders and while one country is at risk, all countries are. Cutting the aid budget undermines the UK’s ability to tackle this international crisis and strengthen global health systems, reducing the risks of further pandemics.
Last year, the FCDO halved its human rights budget to £28 million. Some human rights projects will be ended prematurely. Such stringent cuts to human rights funding can only undermine the Government’s aim to be a global “force for good”. The ODA allocation for 2020-21 for human rights, democracy and the rules-based international system programme is £8.5 million—a huge cut from the £19.5 million of the previous year. The funding for a newly formed open societies and human rights directorate is set to fall by up to 80%. This directorate is primarily focused on promoting human rights, anti-corruption efforts and media freedom in some of the world’s poorest countries.
At the London CHOGM, which was in many ways a great success, the Prime Minister embraced the UK’s commitment that every girl in the Commonwealth would receive an education: “No girl will be left behind”. Under the cuts, the budget has been slashed.
The noble Lord, Lord Herbert of South Downs, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman.
My Lords, I declare the interests that I have set out in the register. The devastating human costs of the Government’s decision to renege on their manifesto commitment to maintain ODA spending at 0.7% of GDP have been clearly articulated throughout the week in your Lordships’ House, and already today in this debate. But my noble friend Lord Alton asks us to examine those cuts in relation to the Government’s strategic review and their stated aims. I shall focus on two of those: the aim to be a science superpower and the aim to be “a soft power superpower”.
Covid and global health are the crises of our times. Climate change is the crisis of our age. Yet these cuts threaten our ability to influence either. In particular, the cuts to UKRI from ODA funds are undermining our efforts in both areas. UK research organisations are seeing cuts in the exact areas where spending in previous years built the capacity in Oxford and elsewhere to produce Covid vaccines at speed. The Royal Society said:
“These are programmes, and relationships, that have taken years to build, and such deep cuts send a message that the UK is a not a reliable partner in long-term science advancement”.
The way in which the cuts are focused on bilateral funding means that the sense of our not being a reliable partner will be felt in many countries, including those worst affected by climate change and those we most need to influence to join our efforts to combat climate change in the year in which we host both the G7 and COP 26. As one commentator put it:
“This decision is the single worst self-inflicted injury in this kind of diplomacy … for a very long time.”
My Lords, I join my noble friend Lady Jay in paying tribute to Frank Judd, whose voice we miss today. Not only was he the director of VSO, he was also chief executive of Oxfam, to which he remained committed throughout his life. My wife was chair of Oxfam in his last few difficult years; he was a great support to her.
No one can compete with the eloquence of the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in two minutes—he set out the case perfectly—but I want to look at what my noble friend Lord McConnell said: why has this political decision been taken? It seems totally inconsistent with the concept of global Britain. It seems quite unjustified in the present circumstances, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sugg and Lady Hayman, outlined. Why has the Conservative Party—this question must be directed at the Conservative Party—which so bravely supported increases in overseas aid in the worst decade of austerity we have seen since the Second World War, now ratted on that commitment? I would like the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to give us an explanation and tell us how much money has been spent on focus groups and opinion polls to test this decision. I suspect that this Government want to pander to people’s worst instincts when our business in politics is to try to appeal to their better ones.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chancellor of Cardiff University.
It is obviously morally wrong to turn our backs on existing commitments to the poorest parts of the world at what is a desperate time for many countries. It is also a spectacular own goal for the UK. Following Brexit, the Government are searching for friends across the world. These cuts are alienating emerging economies, including many Commonwealth countries. Where we are withdrawing, China is already fast stepping in to fill the gap. In South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya—Commonwealth countries to which we owe a special obligation—China is offering infrastructure funds, health support and R&D funding for universities. The impact of the sudden and significant withdrawal of aid funding, in many cases in the middle of projects with contractual obligations, will do significant harm to our international reputation.
The ramifications of these cuts were not thought through. The level of cuts to some sectors, including the successful Global Challenges Research Fund, has been disproportionate. The GCRF supports 400 partnerships in 85 countries which are to be cut forthwith by about 50%—£120 million. Successful ongoing projects are being abandoned mid-term. Research staff in UK universities will lose their funding. That is an own goal from a Government who say they want to increase research funding, but of even greater harm is the sudden loss of funding and jobs affecting universities in Africa and Asia. I urge the Minister to commit to a review of this damaging policy.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and introducing it so ably. I draw attention to my registered interests in this regard. The pandemic has had devastating effects everywhere, including on economies, with millions more people being pushed into poverty globally and environmental degradation accelerating as a consequence of people just seeking to survive. Fundamentally, the integrated review is about keeping Britain safe and bringing peace, yet it does not recognise that cutting aid on conflict prevention is surely a false economy, especially now when there are more than 75 million displaced people in the world, who are fertile recruiting grounds for terrorist groups, and when poverty is too often the underlying cause of conflict.
Tragically, women are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. While I welcome the development focus on girls’ education, it should be recognised that it cannot succeed without development input on women’s health, contraception, security, addressing violence against women, access to justice and women’s empowerment. Does the Minister agree that gender must remain integral to all FCDO policy decisions? UK work around the world on women, peace and security and on preventing sexual violence in conflict are two initiatives where the UK has led the world. They were always going to be a marathon, not a sprint. I hope that the Minister can reassure me that they will remain front and centre of security and conflict work. We live in a globally interconnected world. War zones are poor zones. The Institute of Economics and Peace estimates that $1 of peace-building would lead to a $16 reduction in the cost of armed conflict. The pandemic has made us make some harsh choices, but surely now is not the time to abandon our commitment to the world’s poorest. I fear that our aid cuts will damage the vision of a global Britain being a force for good as set out in the integrated review.
My Lords, like other speakers, I share the ambition of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to see these cuts reversed. I want to tease out from Her Majesty's Government what is the scope of their ambition. In his foreword to the review, the Prime Minister writes of our deepening engagement in trade, security and mutual values in the Indo-Pacific. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, spoke of the UK carrier fleet, including HMS “Queen Elizabeth”, which will be heading to the Indo-Pacific next month. I note that it will include Dutch and US vessels, emphasising precisely the sort of partnerships that the Government espouse. However, as a frequent visitor to Zimbabwe and the Middle East, I would like to hear from the Minister, in the light of the unprecedented cuts in aid, how Britain will make a positive impact in these areas as well increasing our economic and security presence east of Suez. How do we project ourselves with greater effect around the globe if we cut aid, have a historically numerically small military force, have a reduced diplomatic presence, and operate one of the most expensive immigration and nationality systems in the world?
As other speakers have mentioned, the stated commitment in the paper to Africa needs to recognise that a good deal of help remains necessary in, for instance, a country such as Zimbabwe, where food programmes are essential, as is the Government’s priority around the education of girls, although even here cuts are projected. I shall make one additional point: the review speaks of the BBC as a trusted broadcaster, yet while China and Russia invest in expanding overseas broadcasting we ask the BBC to shoulder costs formerly borne by the Government. I hope that in his summing up the Minister will reflect on whether the resources are available to meet the scope of the Government’s ambition, not least in the tilt to the Indo-Pacific.
I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. No? I am afraid that I will have to move on and call the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins.
My Lords, I want to ask about two important organisations. The first is VSO. The Foreign Secretary claimed that he would protect VSO but, as we have heard, the one-year extension of its V4D grant amounts to a 45% cut. Short-term funding is not good enough and VSO is having to pull programmes in dozens of countries, including in areas which the Government claim are their top priorities, such as gender-based violence. Will the Minister explain how this is compatible with the integrated review’s statements on soft power, and commit to a further review of VSO’s grant?
The second organisation is Translators without Borders, or TWB, which has received funding through the H2H Network to provide language services in refugee camps, disaster zones and conflict areas. It has helped Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh with accurate information about Covid and played a vital role in tackling the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, using local languages rather than the official but relatively useless French and English. H2H funding supported its rapid deployment to support people in Tigray. However, like VSO, TWB faces operational wipe-out if its funding via H2H cannot be restored. It says that the UK Government were the first major funder to recognise the fundamental impact of language on the reach and impact of humanitarian action. Is the Minister not proud to hear this, and will he not be ashamed if this work cannot continue with our help?
My apologies for not being able to find the appropriate button to press earlier.
Perhaps I may begin by saying that not only will members of his own party greatly miss Frank Judd—Lord Judd—but so will those of us who debated with him over many years in another place.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his clear demonstration of how deeply misguided this proposal to reduce UK development aid is, even if only for one or two years. That is because most of the programmes that we run in overseas countries are for five years. If you are going to do the sort of research which is absolutely critical, particularly for health improvement, you need four-year or five-year programmes; you cannot switch it on and switch it off. As vice-president of WaterAid and a former chair of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine for eight years, I see how we have changed the situation in many countries by consistent research programmes, particularly in the past four years. We have benefited millions of people in the developing world.
When people are healthy, they listen to positive arguments for change. We would be committing a very serious mistake if we were to continue with the suggested cuts in development aid.
The cuts to the Global Challenges Research Fund will disrupt vital global health research. They would damage not just the research itself but the UK’s research base, and the capacity of research partners in developing countries. Given the partnerships that we have embedded already in awards, it is likely that at least 50% of the consequences of this government decision will be borne by low and middle-income country researchers and institutions. That would have dire consequences for the livelihoods of the researchers and the field staff. I beg the Government to think again.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kingsmill, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic.
My Lords, at this point in the debate the harm that these cuts will do, and are already doing, is well established. In many critical areas, this comes on top of existing underfunding and neglect. Preventing sexual violence in conflict is one such area and it is as urgent today as ever. Horrific accounts of rape, sexual assault and torture have been coming out of the conflict in Tigray. Over the past few years, we have heard similar reports from the DRC, Sudan and Myanmar. These are situations that the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative was established to help address, yet the Government are not using the tools they have.
Worse than that, they are starving them. Funding for PSVI has fallen from more than £15 million in 2014 to about £2 million today. Staff numbers have been cut from a peak of 34 to four and have, at times, been even lower. That is before we know the impact, as yet unannounced and unqualified, of these new aid reductions.
We should be leading the world in preventing sexual violence. With President Biden’s election and the upcoming G7, we had a tremendous opportunity to breathe new life into efforts to end impunity. We have not taken it. Yet there is still time. The integrated review lists efforts to prevent sexual violence in conflict as a priority action. I welcome that but there is a clue in the word “action”. Words in a review are not enough. We need to fund existing efforts and make use of existing tools. We need to put sexual violence back on the agenda, including with G7 leaders. We need to think about how to keep driving progress forward, including through new approaches and mechanisms. These aid cuts will not help but, if the Government are determined, they can make real progress. I hope they will.
My Lords, I shall speak about a specific that illustrates the bigger problem. On Monday I chaired a meeting of clinicians in Myanmar and the UK, attended by the Health Minister of the national unity Government. British clinicians are providing vital support to their counterparts in Myanmar. The situation is desperate, with many doctors and nurses unable to access their hospitals and clinics and having to treat people in homes and the community without specialist support, equipment and knowledge. Some have been targeted for assassination. Services have deteriorated and Covid-19 is spreading fast.
British clinicians are actively supporting clinicians in Myanmar by establishing websites with treatment protocols in Burmese, providing training, being available for advice and consultation at short notice—setting up rotas to do so—and helping to record the atrocities. In March the Government committed to support this activity. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will indeed provide financial and other support for this vital work?
More generally, this is just one example of international health partnerships. Many hundreds of volunteers and doctors in training work overseas every year. I declare an interest as patron of THET, which organises such schemes. They bring benefits to the NHS as well as to other countries. Every one of those doctors, nurses and others is a fine ambassador for global Britain—through their actions, not their words. During Covid they have provided vital expertise in infection, prevention and control, treatment of Covid patients and the use of personal protective equipment. Do the Government really want to stop this essential work and crush the enthusiasm and passion of these clinicians by cutting these schemes? Are they prepared to meet THET, royal colleges and others to consider how to provide continuing support for these vital partnerships?
My Lords, yesterday, I had the great pleasure of attending the Lord Speaker’s lecture. In his concluding remarks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, described it as shocking for the Government not to put these UK development aid cuts to a vote. The reduction in direct aid spending on water and sanitation in the world’s poorest countries by 80% of spend is catastrophic. Our UK public views water, sanitation and hygiene as a priority area for UK aid because hand hygiene is widely recognised as a critical intervention to counter the spread of Covid-19.
It is beyond belief that this should happen just months ahead of the G7 and COP 26 climate summits, at which the UK wants to show global leadership. The cuts mean that a staggering 10 million people stand to lose out on gaining access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities this year, in the midst of a pandemic, according to WaterAid UK, the leading British charity in this area.
Providing clean drinking water to the world’s poorest has proved to be one of the most cost-effective ways of improving health and productivity across the developing world in recent decades. Does the Minister agree with Pauline Latham, MP for Mid Derbyshire, who warned Ministers not to balance the books
“on the backs of the poor”?—[Official Report, Commons, 16/3/21; col. 176.]
There is never a good time to cut aid for life-saving water and sanitation, but the middle of the worst pandemic for 100 years must be one of the worst. As the only G7 nation to cut aid, we are retreating from our moral duty by doing this, recklessly putting us out of step with our closest allies and making a joke of the fact that we are an internationalist and outward-looking country.
The Minister and I share a passion for visiting schools and trying to inspire the next generation. How can we look these young children in the eye when they ask, “Why are you cutting the global education budget, which affects our brothers and sisters across the world?” The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, referred to pressing appropriate buttons: with this decision, the Government are pressing all the wrong ones.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this timely and important debate and to follow the thoughtful contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Khan. I am committed to delivering the 0.7% spending target but recognise that not only are these unique times but there is an imperative to maintain public consent for our aid spending. It is because of this latter point and with the firm proviso that the cut is temporary that, on balance, I support the Government’s current approach.
Having worked at DfID during my time in the Commons, I was privileged to see the impact that the world-class delivery of UK aid had around the globe. In the context of this debate and the importance of the integrated review, I can only reinforce comments from other noble Lords in saying that bilateral aid is at its most effective for both nations when an integrated departmental approach is taken.
One such example that I experienced first-hand during my military service in Afghanistan was the so-called “comprehensive approach” delivered by the provincial reconstruction teams in Helmand and other provinces. Here, security, diplomacy and development were delivered together, and, rather like three strands of a rope, the sum was far stronger and delivered far more than the component parts. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, considers my service in Afghanistan, and that of other members of the Armed Forces, to be wasted.
Another such example of a successful “one-HMG approach” in action is Nepal, and I declare my interest as colonel commandant of the Brigade of Gurkhas. For over 40 years, the Gurkha Welfare Trust has, on behalf of the UK Government, delivered a rural water and sanitation project in some of the most remote parts of the country. It has been a key contributor to the continued strength of a bilateral relationship that has spanned over 200 years, since the first Gurkhas were recruited to serve the Crown in 1815.
While interest in joining the Brigade of Gurkhas remains as strong as ever, with over 12,000 applicants for just 300 places, this vital and long-standing programme is just one way that the benefits of Gurkha service are felt by all members of the wider community. I simply seek reassurance from my noble friend that this valuable project will continue to be supported, albeit likely at a reduced rate.
I refer to my interests in the register. Today’s news that the Government’s global health priority is virtually excluding water, sanitation and hygiene projects shows the impact of the cuts to international aid. Good public health is an essential element of community resilience to disease and infection —just look at the health impact on schools with no running water, where toilet and eating activity is undertaken without any handwashing.
The sad reality is that we now have a smaller pot of money for global development, and added to that is the other reality that big international long-term commitments will take the lion’s share of this smaller pot. This means that smaller charities in the UK will be squeezed out of delivering much-valued projects that are closer to the communities they serve. These are the smaller charities that deliver better value for money than large organisations.
The latest round of Small Charities Challenge Fund and community partnership grant applications has been paused indefinitely. Without confirmation that successful grant applications would be honoured, many charities face having to make immediate decisions on staffing and resources, including redundancies.
These are projects where small charities have invested hundreds of hours in the development and preparation of projects approved by the Government but now in limbo. Pulling the plug on approved projects is costly and damaging to small charities; it is also damaging to the communities they serve in the poorest parts of the world. They now have no hope of recovering the nugatory work they have put into developing projects that the Government determined were valuable. This has devastatingly dashed the hopes of the people who were to be the beneficiaries of these projects.
What reassurance can the Minister give on the future of the Small Charities Challenge Fund and the Community Partnership grant scheme, including those projects that have received approval but no payments as yet?
My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for providing the occasion for this overdue and necessary debate about the swingeing cuts Britain is making to its aid budget. It is shameful that we are not holding this debate in government time and on the Floor of the House, although I understand why the Government are in no hurry to defend the indefensible. If these cuts are defensible, is it not a trifle odd that we have now heard from 20 speakers and only one has attempted to defend the Government’s decision?
I will make one critical point to be clear at the outset. What is at issue is not whether to cut Britain’s aid budget at all during the economic contraction caused by the pandemic. The 0.7% commitment, which is in our domestic law, contains a self-correcting mechanism. If our economy shrinks, as it did last year, our 0.7% commitment does too, since it is linked to our GNI. Last year, that automatically cut our aid budget by £2.9 billion or thereabouts. It is the second massive, additional cut, made by switching from 0.7% to 0.5%, that is at issue.
It is too easy to think of these figures as abstract. They are not. These are cuts in food for starving people, cuts in girls’ education, cuts in support for primary healthcare provision and cuts in scientific research programmes, which also bring benefit to our own universities. When will the Government come clean about the detail of the consequences and try to defend them?
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, posed the question of whether the cuts will damage our worldwide influence—that is, our soft power. Frankly, anyone who denies that effect is inviting ridicule. Of course they will. We will lose bilateral influence around the world. It will also show up in loss of support as we compete for multilateral influence in the great aid-giving agencies and in elections at the UN.
I note in their integrated review the Government’s
“commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on development when the fiscal situation allows.”
However, that formula is pretty meaningless. Could not the Minister mark this debate by giving one simple undertaking: that Britain will return to full 0.7% compliance in the year following our economy’s return to growth?
My Lords, I dedicate my speech to the late Lord Judd and agree with what my colleagues have said about him. I knew him for many years and he gave us great leadership on these issues.
I am also upset by the way the Government have handled these cuts at a time when countries around the world need us and Britain is pretending to be a world leader. By making these cuts, we can no longer see ourselves as a leader, especially in soft power.
I want to continue the discussion started by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, on PSVI. I want a commitment from the Minister that we will continue to work on these issues and be supportive of women at the peace table in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, the DRC and other countries. We made a commitment to supporting women at the peace table, as well as to providing training for the military to ensure that women and boys are not raped. Along with America, we were one of the foremost countries to sign the commitment to PSVI. Why are we going against that now?
I ask the Minister to promote our continuing with our funding for this scheme, as well as with our funding for women and girls. How can we see ourselves leading the G7 and the G20 while asking other donors to pay for something that we have committed ourselves to over the next five years? I ask the Minister to reinstate these figures now because there are other cuts that the Government could make.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register, particularly my role on the LGBT APPG. I do not support these cuts to ODA, which will devastate the lives of those most at risk and most in need. It will put in jeopardy years of work on democracy building, stability and security, and will ultimately see our borders under further strain as migratory flows increase when people flee famine, deprivation, conflict and repression.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, stated, there are currently drastic cuts to the ODA budget. We contribute on the basis of a percentage of our gross national income; therefore, as income has reduced, so too have our financial commitments. A further cut to 0.5% will wreak humanitarian damage of which our country should be deeply ashamed. I do not believe that these cuts represent the decent majority of people in this country. I urge the Government to abandon them and thereby the humanitarian carnage that would follow them.
Women and minorities already face discrimination and repression; they are being abandoned. I make no special pleadings, but the UK Alliance for Global Equality, a coalition of 16 UK-based civil society organisations working together to promote and protect LGBT+ rights around the world, is increasingly concerned about the precarious status of funding for global LGBT+ rights, as the Government have not made clear any funding commitments for this area for the financial year 2021-22.
Therefore, I ask the Minister: will the Government provide the same level of funding for basic essential LGBT+ human rights work in 2021-22 as in the previous financial year, make a further funding commitment for 2021-22 at the July ERC conference and allocate this through the FCDO and the LGBT inclusive societies department?
My Lords, I am a big fan of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and agree with the broad consensus across your Lordships’ House that we must return to the 0.7% commitment as soon as we can. However, I am also happy to become the second speaker to sympathise with the Government’s difficult decision.
When thinking about our development footprint, one entity sometimes does not get the love it deserves. That is the CDC, our development finance institution, which is flying our flag across the world. Its portfolio supports 875,000 jobs across Africa and south Asia. Its investing companies pay over $3 billion of tax to national Governments and invest where nobody else wants to. While it is very sensible for the CDC to operate independently of government, it is 100% owned by the FCDO and will always be perceived as a component of the one HMG overseas strategy outlined in the integrated review.
We need to take more ownership of and credit for the CDC’s efforts globally. Whether pioneering the 3D printing of entire schools in Malawi or guaranteeing supply of syringes in Ghana, it is not just the CDC at work—it is the UK at work. We are very lucky that the CDC has extremely capable leadership, which has reshaped the investment strategy over the years and delivered an impressive annual portfolio return of 7.4% since 2013.
There is always more to do, however. If we are to become the global science and technology superpower that we aim to be, the CDC will need to be encouraged to work directly with the most innovative businesses in emerging markets—even if they are early-stage. To do this, we need to support the CDC and increase its appetite for risk-taking. This is in line with item 1.1 in the strategic framework, which states:
“We will accept more risk in our public investments, supporting the most creative, innovative and radical ideas for future development.”
The CDC could also be encouraged to partner more with innovative businesses here in the UK, to help them lend in global markets.
I would be most grateful if my noble friend the Minister could share what the future of the CDC might look like in light of the review. Does he agree with my enthusiasm for the role that the CDC can play in its implementation?
My Lords, fiscal criteria and for what purpose we apportion two key elements of aid assistance go to the core of my remarks. Humanitarian ghastliness in Yemen, Syria or Iraq is apart from strategies for countries in poverty. This enforced reduction could be an opportunity.
Making trade work for everyone must become our mantra. As a bonus for doing so, emigration would be stopped in its tracks. The UK must lead by example and move the dial on the world stage.
What we never debate is what we are prepared to give up. Governments should consider what is needed and what is not working. Throwing cash at the problem for our new-look world is not the solution.
Resolving the major contributory factor to trade reform by failing to implement the WTO Doha round offers a lifetime opportunity. Reductions in government spending on subsidies and agribusiness, which were held hostage by the United States and the European Union to the detriment of developing economies, ended the Doha round. That was regrettable.
First, we must prioritise the issues that erode developing countries’ tax bases as a means of improving the overall effectiveness of international development and tax co-operation. International tax rules, especially manipulation by multinational companies to avoid paying their appropriate level share of taxes to the right quarter, should be prioritised, with a taxed-at-source mechanism.
Secondly, Governments should support broader economic goals with market reforms, the promotion of private sector investment and industrialisation by revamping incentives and development agreements for a broad range of countries. Major benefits would come from freeing economies with a package of zero-tariff regimes that would create wealth in developing and impoverished nations, and much-needed employment. This would provide a range of new participants to the supply-chain cycle, providing new sources of supply from the developing world.
My Lords, I cannot claim a fraction of the expertise on aid that noble Lords have displayed this afternoon. My knowledge, such as it is, was gleaned during the Economic Affairs Committee’s inquiry into overseas aid in 2012, and my subsequent unavailing efforts to promote a Bill to make the 0.7% of GDP target for aid apply over five years rather than for every single year within it. Incidentally, had that Bill gone through, the Government’s arguably illegal effort to cut aid this year would have been possible without reducing aid over a five-year period by a single penny.
I am not here to cry over spilt milk. I will make one point and one point only. The debate on aid is overpolarised. On the one hand, there is an anti-aid lobby—we do not see it in our House, but we do in the popular newspapers—which paints a vision of resources being poured into land cruisers, sexual predators, bribery and corruption, instead of being given back to the British people. There is a fraction of substance to some of that, but it is hugely exaggerated. It is a way of disguising what are basically right-wing, free-market doctrines about subsidies and free markets. On the other hand, there are those who are against any critical examination of aid at all—all efforts, they think, to snatch food from the mouths of babes. They rose en masse against my Bill, although it was designed to secure one thing and one thing only: a more effective and rational planning of aid to maximise its benefits. Perhaps the Minister, on the ropes as he is this afternoon, will reconsider the case for my proposal.
My Lords, I wish to say how sad it was to hear about Lord Judd’s passing away. I have lost a mentor, a good friend and a good support. It is also sad to see the cuts that have been made by the Government to their manifesto commitment. It seems that we have lost our moral compass. Millions of women and children will die as a result of these cuts. I fully support the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, alerted us to the consequences.
I suggest that one of the places that will suffer most from this cut will be Yemen. We see what has happened there, the 85,000 children who have died from starvation in the last two years and the 20 million adults who are on the verge of starvation. We have to think again—for instance, in the light of the virus. There are 30 million people in Yemen and 300,000 vaccinations possible this past week. That need is not being met. If we have an ounce of compassion, we should look at that and somehow ease the situation in Yemen.
One of the things we could do is to reduce the armaments being sold by the UK to Saudi Arabia and make sure that we have the proper level—0.7% or even more—of our GDP. I ask that we do this and that we get our priorities right. Over these last few days, we have been speaking of the cost of renovating the flat at 11 Downing Street. We have been talking of a situation room, for the press and so on, which will cost £9 million. All these things need to be prioritised. We need to understand our moral obligation, and it must be to make sure that there is no reduction in the aid that we offer. Let us change, and let the Government show an ounce of heart at this very difficult time in the history of mankind.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his succinct and passionate opening speech. I always greatly valued his support in the past, when I chaired the all-party group on the Sudans and, before that, when I served as the FCO Minister for Africa in the coalition Government. The integrated review is an excellent document, and I am probably in the minority in the Committee in supporting the integration of the FCO and DfID. There is compelling logic in having one platform. The UK can deliver its aims and aid programmes more effectively by combining the two in that way, but the Minister for Development should be a senior Cabinet position and should be the deputy Foreign Secretary.
I have always maintained that the key to the overall aid budget is not the inputs but the outputs; it is the impact and the success of programmes. I have the opportunity to visit probably every African country bar about four, and in many I have seen small high-impact programmes doing the most phenomenal good on the ground. At the same time, I have seen much larger, more bureaucratic programmes in which waste was endemic. What is important is not just the money going in; it is how it is spent.
For this reason, I have always been in favour of clear consistency, so I support what has been said by noble Lords such as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker: we need consistency. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, made this point as well. I am not in favour of 0.7%, because it leads to inconsistency. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out, when the economy declines, we have a smaller aid budget and, when it grows rapidly, we may not be able to find the programmes to spend the aid.
As I am sure my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier is going to point out in a moment, the Government should not break the law. They should bring in a Bill and explain very clearly that we live in extraordinary times, with the £300 billion deficit. They should explain to the public why every department will have to make changes to its budget in the future. If they do that and win their vote on this Bill, with my support, so be it. If not, I would not support a break in the law.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this important debate. He works hard to address various issues relating to humanitarian rights, education and poverty, to name but a few. I shall focus on the education of girls in developing countries. The reduction in development aid from 0.7% to 0.5% this year is justified, due to the aftermath of Covid-19. However, the FCDO must honour its commitment, as agreed with the UN, to revert to 0.7% as soon as the UK economy improves.
The Foreign Secretary has recently admitted that the budget for the education of these girls has been cut. It is a drastic reduction when you think about the importance of girls’ education. It is every child’s birthright to be educated, and this is more important for girls, as it will benefit not only the girls but their families, communities and countries. Educating girls will increase literacy, reduce poverty and eliminate inequality. Former President Obama has said:
“It must be shaped by girls who go to school and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams just like our sons.”
Does the Minister agree that the education of girls in developing countries is important and can he assure us that the UK Government will increase the budget for it as soon as possible?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a masterful introduction to this debate. This is a very serious problem. As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, this cut shames our country. The government document Global Britain in a Competitive Age talks about international engagement in the introduction. How are the Government doing it and by what means? Is it engagement or is it threat? Engagement, to me, means friendly working with the needs of the less favoured countries by giving them some aid and helping them with research, not cutting the aid budget by £4 billion. According the Royal Society, part of that cut is a £500,000 cut in the relevant research budget. This is the ultimate engagement for further international research more widely, so why are they cutting it?
I see the Government instead going for the threat—sending an aircraft carrier to the Far East to rattle their sabres. I do not think it has any planes on it, but that does not seem to matter to them. We do not see so many nuclear submarines, but they cost even more of the £38 billion defence budget. Much of it is a threat. I suggest to the Minister that the Government need to reinstate the 0.7% funding. If they are short, they can reduce the defence budget from £38 billion to £34 billion. That would enable the aid budget to be reinstated. The Prime Minister, in his introduction to this document, talks about international engagement in the decade ahead. I suggest that that is better done by engagement, helping other countries with research, development economics and other advice, and reinstating the funding, rather than by pretending that we are a world power by sending aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines around the world. They do not help much in Yemen and other war zones.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and to agree with his suggestion of a source of replacement funding. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate and join him in marking the principled position of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, who is here today as Back-Bencher because she stood up for her principles. It would be nice to see some more of it.
In my brief slot, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, want to highlight, of all the disastrous cuts to the UK overseas development assistance, the slashing of aid to Yemen—poor, war-wracked, famine-tormented and Covid-plagued Yemen. We are, as a nation —or, at least, a handful of multinational companies based in our nation are—making huge profits from selling arms to Saudi Arabia, helping it to continue the disastrous war in Yemen. Here in Westminster, we often see those arms dealers and makers promoting their trade with billboard advertising, which is just a small sign of their lobbying muscle. The starving children of Yemen sadly lack the same vehicles of influence. That shows in the Government’s priorities. Lobbying is about much more than Greensill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, rightly said that these cuts are destroying our reputation in the climate change arena. That matters. As chair of COP 26, the Government need moral authority. The world, and the future, are depending on us. How can we preach the rule of law around the world, or be chair of COP 26, demanding transparency, honesty and practical action from other nations, when we are not following our own laws on overseas development assistance and subjecting government decisions to parliamentary scrutiny or making the promised aid payments that represent scant reparations for centuries of colonial and post-colonial destruction?
The integrated review proclaims our Government’s supposed commitment to the rule of law. In the light of the Government’s actions, it is not worth the energy taken to upload it. I say “upload” as a reminder that the whole world has access to and knowledge of what is happening in the UK. Shouting the words “world leading” means nothing. What counts is action, and the world understands the UK Government through their actions all too well.
My Lords, the Foreign Secretary said that ODA is important for boosting international research. Cuts to the development assistance grant of more than £120 million over a year will have a devasting effect on established research and development projects in middle and low-income countries. The cuts will affect 800 UK-led projects in 69 countries funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund. For example, there are the Royal Veterinary College’s projects in 10 countries involving 144 staff researching zoonosis and antibiotic resistance in poultry production. There is a cut of 67% in funding for projects in Jordan on understanding vaccine development for MERS-CoV, and a 73% funding cut to Royal Academy of Engineering projects in 17 countries involving hundreds of people that will affect leadership development programmes. The Royal Society’s Future Leaders: African Independent Research fellowship programme, which helps develop future academic science leaders, has had its funding cut by 67%, leading to the immediate termination of jobs.
The cuts are halting research in scientific collaborations and will undermine the Government’s ambition for the UK to be a science superpower and their pursuit of new forms of global relationship, giving the message that the UK is not a reliable partner. Global challenges require global partnership. With the UK at the helm of G7 and COP 26, now cannot be the time for the Government to row back on their ambition. Science is the heart of many solutions in health and climate that we desperately need right now. The Government having built relationships and leadership now want to step back. In financial terms, the cuts may seem modest, but their impact is huge. Once lost, research capacity takes time to build and, in the meantime, the UK will cede ground to other countries. What plans do the Government have for the global partnership in science, research and development with middle and low-income countries? Is there an understanding in the Government of the damage being done by these cuts?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for this debate. Unfortunately, it is in Cross-Bench time; I would have wished it to be in government time because, frankly, there are questions to be answered. One of them is: why have only two and a half speakers supported the Government, when I am speaker No. 36?
I want to pay tribute to my good friend Lord Judd, who I had known for almost 50 years. He was a great man in many ways.
We have had an unprecedented increase in public expenditure in the past year. There has never been more money spent. This is a petty cut, of which we should be deeply ashamed. It is not something we can justify; we are not up against it; we are not cutting everything. It is not something to be proud of; it is a petty decision. I pay tribute to my good and noble friend Lady Sugg for her willingness to make this an issue of principle, because that is what it is.
I feel that we are just playing to the gallery. Yes, it probably is popular to cut overseas aid. It would also be quite popular to bring back hanging. I recall once sitting next to Ted Heath at dinner and talking about hanging. He said, “Look, there’s some questions you just don’t ask.” This is a question we should not have asked. We should not have asked people whether they wanted to cut aid to the poorest, and we should not go along with it.
I want the Government to come clean and tell us what they plan to do to restore this spending. If there was one proud moment in David Cameron’s premiership and leadership, it was this. As someone who worked for David and who, as I have said, is still willing to say a nice word about him, I want to see it back again.
I join today’s repeated expressions of total dismay. I too am sad that Lord Judd, my mentor and great friend of many years, is not here to make one of his impassioned speeches. He is a great loss.
Two questions underpin this debate. Why was there no proper evaluation of the impact of this reduction beforehand? Or was there? Can the Minister help us? No business enters into some new policy or new programme of any kind without a risk assessment. Was this not done? Secondly, why do it at all? That question was raised earlier. I am afraid that I see it as a display of rather unpleasant populist politics, with the dog-whistle message that charity begins at home. There has been no explanation to the public that the best way to create our own security in a globalised world is to prevent the blowback that comes from failing to help the poor, underdeveloped nations, riven with conflict and disease and suffering the worst effects of climate change. Conflict, poverty and persecution are why mass migration is an increasingly serious issue for the West.
This is not just about money. The UK’s expertise has led the world. DfID knew how to do development and understood that institution-building is the foundation of real change. I have seen it first hand in my own work on the rule of law. Helping draw up law to end child marriage and FGM, which has a huge impact on infant and maternal mortality; working on programmes of police and judicial training; helping to establish specialist courts to deal with gender-based violence; training prosecutors in sexual violence in conflict; working on the law on anti-corruption; developing legal systems and media freedom—all those things are done by the UK using our money in the interests of developing nations.
Development requires a package of overlapping mechanisms. That means fostering democracy, human rights and open government. This is soft power, and it works. How could we possibly think of sacrificing it? I hope the Government reconsider.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and to the late Lord Judd, who inspired so many of us over the years.
When we discuss development aid, we are not talking solely about an act of charity by the UK for people in less well-off nations. By not investing sufficiently in such aid, especially in the area of public health, we undermine our own national security and, indeed, our public health. At a time when we have participated in such a successful vaccination programme, it is a tragedy to cut development aid funding, which strengthens work on clean water and other public health initiatives. These cuts could impact on poorer countries’ fight against Covid-19 or allow an even more deadly virus to take hold, putting everyone in many countries, including our own, at risk.
I want to highlight another recent change that may also impact on our delivery in this area. In 2020, the Department for International Development was moved into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Also, the Government Equalities Office has recently been moved from the Home Office to the Cabinet Office. The rationale for these changes is not clear. The organisation Widows for Peace through Democracy has raised further concerns that they could weaken this country’s leadership in championing women’s rights, particularly widows’ rights, as previously well-resourced teams run by experienced civil servants will not be funded or supported as well in future. Does the Minister have any more information about this?
I also wish to highlight the Government’s decision last week to cut £143 million from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office research budget. This year, the UK will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference—COP 26. Yesterday, I attended a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Corporate Responsibility Group, which I co-chair. We heard about efforts made by the Bank of England to take leadership, both nationally and internationally, to move the climate change agenda forward. It is extremely disappointing that, while we see this sort of leadership from organisations such as the Bank of England, we see this decision regarding FCDO research funding, which is likely to have—
I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his thoughtful introduction and remember fondly my friend Frank Judd. I pray that his memory will be for a blessing.
I supported the 0.7% commitment made by David Cameron. I still support the 0.7% target. However, I am a pragmatist and a realist. I understand the constraints and welcome the Government’s assurances that we will get back to 0.7% as soon as possible.
I believe that this is a good time for a reassessment of how our donations are spent, with a move from supporting large industrial-type institutions—with the accompanying waste—to supporting on-the-ground, smaller, nimbler organisations that ensure that those in need and who depend on support receive it directly. We have been told that water projects have been cut, but there are answers. I have raised the work of Innovation: Africa on previous occasions. Over the past 10 years, led by the inspirational Sivan Ya’ari and via Israeli solar technology, it has given more than 500 remote villages in Africa and more than 3 million people fresh running water, electricity and light. They have been given hope and dignity, paid for by philanthropists. This philanthropy should be supported, not relied on. It is time to reassess. I appeal to my noble friend the Minister, who understands the concepts of value for money and spending wisely, to take a good look at how our money is spent. Supporting programmes such as Innovation: Africa helps people on the ground.
Ten billion pounds is a lot of money. We are generous, but our generosity should be managed and targeted far better. As a result, it will go further. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that the time is right for a serious appraisal of how taxpayers’ money on aid is spent?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and for the way he introduced it. Since the enactment of the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, the Secretary of State for International Development—and now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Secretary—has been under a statutory legal duty to ensure that the United Kingdom hits the 0.7% of gross national income, or GNI, for official development assistance every year. That target is a relative figure, not an absolute one, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out.
The Secretary of State also has, by law, to make an annual Statement to Parliament reporting on the previous year’s performance. If it turns out that the 0.7% target has been undershot, the Statement must retrospectively explain why, referring if relevant to the effect of changes in economic and fiscal circumstances of any substantial change in GNI and the likely impact of meeting the target on taxation, public spending and public borrowing, or to circumstances arising outside the United Kingdom.
Until Parliament changes that law on the statutory duty, the Government must aim to hit it. They cannot deliberately aim off or fire blanks. They can say they intend to change the law or substitute another target, but until the statute is repealed or amended the Government are subject to that law. They cannot legitimise failure to hit a target by announcing in advance their intention to fail.
The Government, of course, know this. Speaking on the Statement on the recent spending review, my right honourable friend the Chancellor told the other place that, since the Government
“cannot predict with sufficient certainty”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/20; col. 870.]
what the “fiscal circumstances” will be, they will have to legislate to change the law. The Foreign Secretary said the same thing from the Dispatch Box the very next day. My noble friend Lord Ahmad recognised those obligations in your Lordships’ House and expressed the Government’s intention to remain within the law.
While accepting that for the Foreign Secretary deliberately to breach his statutory duty to meet the 0.7% target will not lead to his prosecution, it would none the less be unlawful and something for which he would be held accountable by Parliament. It would do neither his reputation as a lawyer nor the Government’s domestic or international standing any good to be seen once again to be flouting a clear legal obligation.
If the Government disagree with Prime Ministers May, Cameron, Brown and Blair and are not concerned about: sacrificing the United Kingdom’s moral authority; breaking a promise we do not need to break; presiding over the G7 while breaking one promise to meet another; or whether the 0.7% target is enlightened self-interest, the way forward is clear. I agree with my noble friend Lord Bellingham; the Government should change the law through Parliament and not break it out of convenience. I respectfully disagree with my noble friend Lord Balfe and the late Sir Edward Heath. We not only need to ask these questions, but to be—
I call the next speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Lord Desai?
For a third time, I will try to call the noble Lord, Lord Desai. Perhaps the noble Lord needs to unmute? If he is not here, I will move on to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby.
We can hear you, please speak now for your two minutes.
I want to quickly say that, while I deplore the cut, I think we should not be giving money for our soft power or anything else. We should give money only for the betterment of the poorest people. The way to do that is a direct cash transfer to the poorest people. It is possible now with the machinery that many Governments have set up to pass money directly to them, and let them use it for their own development. We should not be setting the agenda for development in our interests. This money is for the poor; it should reach the poor and the poorest. If we cannot do that, we should really examine how we can improve the performance of our development policy and get the money to the poorest.
My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Alton: over many years, he has shown consistent creative thinking and action on aid, so I thank him. He highlighted Yemen and was so right; dear old Aden was part of it—that is possibly the worst problem area there is at this point in time. If the UN is worth anything, it should do more than it is doing there, and we should look at that again. He highlighted evidence on water security and was so right, as too was my noble friend Lord Polak, when he said that it is time that we reassessed the impact of the way that we are spending our money. I put forward that organisations such as Amnesty International, which stepped over the line in India and Sri Lanka, Freedom from Torture and others should all be looked at closely.
I understand the possible need for a temporary cut; I accept that it is a requirement at this point in time. However, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to make it absolutely clear exactly when they are coming back to 0.7%, and how.
I move on to the situation in the integrated review concerning the “Indo-Pacific tilt” and this axis of trade, with its choke points for navigation. This means the bottom end of India and Sri Lanka. We miss an opportunity with India: what is our high commissioner in India doing? He or she must have known that there was a huge problem blowing up, so why did we not stand by with emergency facilities ready at Brize Norton? We should follow that up now, as they are real friends and need help. The same is true of Sri Lanka, which was ignored by the West over the Tamil Tigers. It needed help to defeat these terrorists; it needs understanding on human rights and does not need to be chased with bogus evidence that is kept secret for 20 years in the Darusman report.
My Lords, Afghanistan is the most aid-dependent country in the world: aid is 60% of its budget. Reducing aid to this benighted country, in addition to the proposed departure of military personnel, will damage an already fragile state and increase widespread deprivation. This is one of the conclusions of the excellent and comprehensive report of the International Relations and Defence Committee. A likely result of these combined factors will be to ease the passage to a Taliban takeover and a consequent further destabilisation of the entire region.
If the UK Government are serious about pursuing their stated objectives of girls’ education, humanitarian response and preparedness, open societies and conflict resolution, among others, then surely they must think again about how best to achieve these priorities. The total ODA budget, dependent as it is on GNI—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, we will resume. Would the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, continue her speech from where she was interrupted?
As I was saying, the total ODA budget, dependent as it is on GNI, will be substantially lower anyway. The added cuts will affect those programmes that can least withstand budget cuts. This includes the support of women and girls in those countries most severely threatened.
Despite the astonishing gains made by women in Afghanistan over the last 20 years or so, the Taliban has made it clear that there is little change in its worldview, belief systems and patterns of ruling. What is at stake is not only a return to violence, terror and, above all, savage repression of women but the potential for ethnic division. In the current context in Afghanistan that will mean a war against all non-Pashto-speaking or non-supportive groups by the Taliban. A civil war on this level would be devastating and set Afghanistan back several decades—a religious war engulfing south Asia and probably well beyond.
The UK, which, in supplying some of the more hard-line mujaheddin groups with arms in the 1980s, contributed to the formation of the Taliban, surely would not wish this kind of legacy. While the UK, even working with its allies, will not eradicate the Taliban, its consistent commitment to building the institutions of democracy has definitely had an impact. It would be heartbreaking and irresponsible to see these gains lost in a matter of months.
My Lords, it is customary in these debates that there is a gap on the speakers’ list before the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench speaker. Today, the gap is that Lord Judd is not with us. We on the Liberal Benches pass on our commiserations. Many noble Lords, and those on the Labour Benches in particular, have lost a friend—a very noble one at that—who would have made a major contribution to this debate. He is missed. A colleague who is not missed is the noble Lord, Lord Alton—
I think noble Lords have not interpreted that as I intended. The noble Lord will not be missed for a very long time to come. He is to be commended on bringing this debate to the Grand Committee and on the very powerful way in which he introduced it. It is a commendation to him and to his work in this House.
The whole House was united yesterday in support of the Government providing additional medical equipment and support to India. The Government chose not to deny extra support because of the fiscal situation here at home and instead provided it because of a medical emergency abroad. So, when it is in the Government’s choosing, additional humanitarian assistance is provided. But it is also in the Government’s choosing to halve support for children and mothers in conflict-afflicted Yemen, which is suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. It is in the Government’s choosing to halve health centre and medical provision in South Sudan, which is literally a lifeline for millions. It is in the Government’s choosing, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, to cut by 40% UK funding for girls’ education after saying that it is a priority, but then to refuse, as the Foreign Secretary did to the International Relations and Defence Committee yesterday, to be transparent in so doing because it would embarrass the Government during discussions with the Kenyan Government on us jointly hosting an international conference on the subject in the summer. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, who will reply to this debate, told the House on 16 March:
“We will use our G7 presidency this year to rally the international community to step up and support girls’ education”.—[Official Report, 16/3/21; col. 179.]
How grotesquely hollow this sounds one month on.
The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, told the House last week that the economy has seen a shrinkage of 11% owing to the pandemic. The law allows for such a reduction in ODA to reflect this, painful as it would be, but it is the Government’s political choice, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, indicated, to cut bilateral aid by 50%. They believe that it is popular, but no one seems—or rather very few seem—to be speaking up for it with confidence. It is a political choice of the FCDO and its Ministers, as the noble Lords, Lord Khan and Lord Alton, indicated, to cut by 80% bilateral water, sanitation and hygiene projects in the height of the pandemic, when the Government themselves paid for advice on handwashing and clean water to be the first line of defence on Covid. These are political choices, because we knew what the extent of the impact on the economy was likely to be by the end of October last year.
Some called for the Conservatives to cut ODA at that stage. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, said in response to one of those calls on 23 October—I quote directly from his tweet—
“You couldn’t have got this more wrong. It was the Conservatives under @David_Cameron who put the 0.7% aid commitment into law. And of all the countries who made the same commitment, just 5 (including the UK) have honoured it.”
The Government are dishonouring this commitment, and their 2015, 2017 and 2019 manifesto commitments likewise.
I care less about the Conservatives’ manifesto commitments than I do about the law. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, told the House on 17 March that
“we have had to make some hard choices, including temporarily reducing the ODA target from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI”.—[Official Report, 17/3/21; col. 302.]
This addresses the exact point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, mentioned in his very effective contribution to this debate. It is a breach of the law to set a new target. This is prohibited by the 2015 Act and the duty remains to meet 0.7%. If, however, in the course of honouring that duty, because of unplanned internal or external circumstances, during the reporting year 0.7% had not been met, Section 2 requires a statement to be laid before Parliament. Section 2 does not permit a proactive missing of the target in a forthcoming year, as the Government have announced.
Critically, the element of the law that the Minister chose to ignore when he answered questions on 16 March, and that Ministers have deliberately ignored since November, is that Section 2(4) requires:
“A statement under subsection (1) must also describe any steps that the Secretary of State has taken to ensure that the 0.7% target will be met by the United Kingdom in the calendar year following the report year.”
This Government have announced proactive and deliberate moves to renege on the duty to meet 0.7%. That is not provided for by the second provision and they have not stated how it will return.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, we will now resume and continue with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.
My Lords, the second major part of this debate refers to the Government’s assertion that we will return to this duty, which they are reneging on, when the fiscal situation allows. This is what the Minister told the House on 16 March. I have asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, three times in the Chamber what those fiscal criteria are and I have not received an answer. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, specifically asked the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the same question today and I hope that there will be a reply. As I said in our debate on the integrated review, the Government either know what the criteria are, and are actively and deliberately withholding them from Parliament, or they are simply using disingenuous language. The Minister must tell us which it is today; he has 20 minutes and there is no reason not to spell this out in his response to the debate, because he has been asked that specific question.
There are, then, two areas of unlawfulness. One is the setting of the new 0.5% target that the Minister has referred to. Can he also state where in legislation it allows the Government to set a target at 0.5%?
One of the themes of this debate, which has been heartbreaking, is that the Government have not carried out humanitarian impact assessments for the extent of the cuts that they are making. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, also refused to answer a question from me about whether the cuts for Yemen came after an impact assessment. Chris Bold, the development director for Yemen, admitted to a House of Commons committee:
“We have not done an impact assessment.”
If the Government believe that the cuts are popular—though not based on evidence and without having carried out an impact assessment—why are they not simply being honest and straightforward in telling us what the criteria are, and what the impact is likely to be?
I said at the outset that I would not cite the broken Conservative manifesto commitments, but I will cite another manifesto, if the Committee will allow me:
“we wish to see the breaking down of barriers to international trade. Greater freedom in international trade will assist the underdeveloped countries who need markets for their products. We support the principle that in accordance with the Pearson Report Britain and other countries should contribute 1 per cent of Gross National Product of official aid to developing countries as soon as possible. We are totally opposed to all forms of racial and religious discrimination.”
That was the Liberal manifesto for the June 1970 election, which predates the UN resolution of October 1970. I cite it not because I am proud that my party has stood the test of time with this commitment but because it was a global consensus on which, after many years, there was a political consensus in the UK between the parties and beyond parties, with Gordon Brown as Chancellor and Tony Blair as Prime Minister, and later under David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May, which has now been dashed by this Government.
A journalist reported in 2019:
“Penny Mordaunt gave a presentation on foreign aid in which she said 0.7% in the current form is ‘unsustainable’.”
On 29 January 2019, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, replied:
“I hope this is incorrect. The 0.7 per cent commitment isn’t simply about charity. Spent properly, foreign aid makes the world safer, more sustainable and more stable. It benefits us all.”
Our contribution to making the world safer, more sustainable and more stable is being reduced, by an unlawful cut, by one-third this year and next, and there is no transparent commitment for the year after. As was said recently in a meeting chaired by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, which I attended, we are not cutting aid, we are cutting co-operation. We are not a lesser donor, we are a more unreliable partner—but not in my name or that of my party.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, rightly referred to the development of a cross-party political consensus over decades, and here I would like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Judd, who was part of building that consensus. As we have heard today, he worked across all parties for that end. That cross-party consensus has secured for the United Kingdom a very strong international reputation for saving millions of lives. That is the important starting point for today’s debate.
I also want to reinforce the point made that sustainable development is in everyone’s interest, including that of the United Kingdom. That is why a decision to cut aid by such historic proportions is a such a reckless idea. It is an enormous mistake to think that we can stop supporting initiatives on the scale proposed by the Government and assume that it will not have consequences for us in the United Kingdom. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, extreme poverty, hunger, inequality and the absence of basic services are all root causes of violent conflict, yet the Government will be cutting programmes in each of these areas. It is inescapable that more people will suffer without the United Kingdom’s support and that same suffering over years and decades will manifest itself as a danger to us all.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, my noble friend Lord Cashman and other noble Lords have said, we must remember that even if the Government had continued to spend 0.7% of GNI, that would not have avoided cuts, given the shrinking economy.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
My Lords, we will now resume. We will continue with the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury.
By bringing down the budget to 0.5%, the Government will be making it impossible to maintain the order of priorities to deliver the objectives of the integrated review. However, the reason these cuts are so dangerous is not just because of their size: it is also because of where they will fall and their speed.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his excellent introduction, mentioned the leaked memo. Other noble Lords have mentioned the cutting of funding for life-saving access to clean water by 80%. However, the Power of Nutrition, of which the FCDO is a founding partner, is set to have its funding slashed by more than 50%—I declare an interest as co-chair of the Nutrition for Growth APPG. Nutrition represents the biggest multiplier in development. We have been a leader around the globe on nutrition; it is appalling that these cuts are taking place. UNAIDS, which is at the forefront of tackling HIV globally, has had its funding cut by 85%. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has been told that it will receive just £5 million from the FCDO this year, a cut of 95%. Save the Children estimates that last week’s announcement will result in 3 million fewer people receiving life-saving assistance. Is this really the kind of country that we want to be?
I hope that the Minister will be able to answer questions this afternoon. Can he assure the House that he will honour the financial commitments that his department has made to multilateral organisations, such as Gavi and the Global Fund? Will he, if he intends to give just £5 million to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative this year, make up for the shortfall in subsequent years? Will he commit today to honouring his Government’s commitment of £400 million by 2023? Can he tell us the budget allocated for nutrition programmes over the next year and, if he cannot today, when will he be able to tell us?
The speed of these cuts is also dangerous. It seems incredibly unlikely that the department would have had sufficient time to consider their impact and prioritise effectively. We have already received confirmation—my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws raised this—that no assessment had been made of the impact of aid cuts in Yemen. Without effective exit strategies, there is now a huge risk that the previous achievements will be thrown away. The speed of these cuts has meant that the Government have been unable to consult civil society and the aid sector properly. As a result, organisations have been unable to plan effectively to respond to the cuts. Can the Minister detail how the Government are engaging with the aid sector, and what representations have been recently received?
To think that our reputation will be intact after the Government ignore their own manifesto commitments and their own laws in breaking the 0.7% is absolutely ridiculous, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has said. Our closest allies—the US and the rest of Europe—all accept that a global crisis requires more support, not less. My noble friend Lord Khan has made this point. President Biden announced an increase of more than $5 billion for USAID. In the past year, France and Germany have increased development spending by 11% and 14% respectively. Japan, which the review refers to as
“one of our closest strategic partners”
is also spending more on aid than ever before. If the Government are serious about strengthening our alliances, then the answer is not to move carelessly out of step on development. The Government must offer a positive vision for international development.
The greatest framework for this is the UN sustainable development goals. I too pay tribute to David Cameron: his leadership on the SDGs was vital, building on the leadership of Gordon Brown on the millennium development goals. That leadership has, I am afraid, been abrogated. We must provide that positive agenda. The 2030 agenda, if achieved, will end extreme poverty, hunger and gender-based violence, and ensure that every individual has access to rights including safe drinking water, quality education and clean energy. But the Government have abandoned those previous efforts to lead on the SDGs; the drastic reduction in development aid is only further evidence of that.
The integrated review is welcome, and I hope the whole House would support the idea of the UK being a force for good. But the Government will not achieve this for the UK by withdrawing from the world, reducing UK development aid and making cuts in all the worst places. There is no question that by following this path, the Government will make the world a more dangerous and less predictable place, making the review’s emphasis on security and resilience completely meaningless. We all want Britain to succeed on the world stage but for the integrated review to be worth the paper it is written on, the Government need to end the contradictions and inconsistencies between their words and actions. That starts with supporting once again the principles of sustainable development.
My Lords, I start by echoing the remarks of so many noble Lords about the late Lord Judd. I did not know him personally but it is clear from the tributes that have been paid that he had a significant impact.
This is a landmark year for UK leadership on the world stage. As countries around the world continue to grapple with the profound economic and social consequences of Covid, the UK stands with them as an active, confident, internationalist, burden-sharing and problem-solving nation—as a force for good in the world. We are setting this tone through our G7 presidency in June, co-hosting the Global Partnership for Education pledging summit with Kenya and hosting COP 26 in November, a truly critical moment in the global fight against climate change.
In this year of global leadership, we have produced the most comprehensive articulation of UK foreign policy and national security that has been published by a British Government in decades. The integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy sets out the Prime Minister’s vision for a stronger, more prosperous union in 2030. It has, at its heart, the protection of the interests of the British people, of our sovereignty, our security, our health and our prosperity.
As my noble friend Lord Ahmad told the House only last week, the integrated review identifies the key trends and challenges that will guide UK foreign policy for the decade ahead. It covers: the geopolitical and geo-economic shifts that will define our new alliances and partnerships including, as a number of noble Lords noted, in the Indo-Pacific region; the increasing competition between states over diverging interests, norms and values; the consequences of rapid technological change in areas such as artificial intelligence, cyber and data; and, perhaps most importantly, the transnational and existential threats to our shared climate, biodiversity and health—truly global challenges that already affect every person on this planet, illustrated so acutely by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A strong and credible UK offer on international development will be fundamental to delivering the objectives of the integrated review because the UK’s sovereignty, security, health and prosperity do not exist in a vacuum. With respect, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and agree with, among many others, the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury: our interests are bound up with the sovereignty, security, health and prosperity of people living many miles from our shores. We know that poverty, marginalisation and exclusion, in Africa and Asia and elsewhere, sow the seeds for challenges that affect us here at home, including illegal migration, conflict, terrorism and the spread of disease. That is why the UK will continue to act in the interests of the world’s poorest people. Providing hope and opportunity is not just the right thing to do; it is firmly in our national interest.
We will deploy our diplomatic network to promote UK values on freedom, open societies and human rights around the world. We will be a voice for the poor and marginalised in multilateral fora such as the UN Security Council and at global summits such as COP 26. I say in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that that includes the use of soft power. He mentioned the important work of the British Council, which is, as he said, a key soft power asset. I can reassure him that the council will receive £189 million of grant in aid for 2021-22, an increase on the £149 million it received in 2020-21. That point was echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who rightly added that, where UK aid withdraws, that void can, and likely will, be filled by those with less benign interests. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, delivered the same warning.
We will continue to provide lifesaving aid and basic services in the world’s poorest countries through our overseas development assistance spending, because, despite the unique and extreme financial pressures imposed on us by Covid, the UK remains, in both percentage and absolute terms, one of the world’s most generous aid donors. In 2020, we spent more than £14 billion fighting poverty and helping those in need, including £1.3 billion of humanitarian support to famine and conflict-affected regions. We have pivoted more than 300 of our existing ODA programmes to respond to the economic, social and health consequences of the global pandemic. For the eighth year running, we have proudly met the 0.7% ODA target.
Clear interest has been expressed today in UK aid spending for the year ahead. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out to Parliament on 25 November, we cannot ignore the seismic impact of the Covid pandemic on the UK economy. Notwithstanding the swift action we have taken to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, this is the biggest economic contraction in 300 years. It has caused a budget deficit of almost £400 billion, which is double the level of 2008. We must safeguard the public finances. For this reason, the Government have taken the tough but necessary decision temporarily to reduce the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development assistance. This year, we will instead spend 0.5% of GNI.
I must reiterate—this point was driven home by my noble friend Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton and raised by my noble friends Lord Balfe and Lord Naseby—that this is a temporary reduction, driven by prevailing fiscal circumstances. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier cited the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. My noble friend Lady Sugg also raised this issue. The Government have been clear that they will act in line with the Act, which, as noted by a number of noble Lords, explicitly envisages that there may be circumstances where the 0.7% target is not met. Despite the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, it is not a decision that we have taken lightly.
Of course, the shift to 0.5% will not be pain free. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Hannay, that I know that there will be real-world impacts on some of our activities. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, noted the polarised nature of the debate. I agree with him. The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, said that millions would die because of this policy decision. There, I disagree: let us not forget that millions of lives are saved, and will be saved this year as every year, as a direct consequences of our interventions and our aid. My noble friend Lord Bellingham made the point that the output is more important than the input. Although I am determined, as I believe he is, that we return to 0.7% as quickly as we can, he is nevertheless undoubtedly right.
We are focused on ensuring that every penny of ODA brings maximum strategic coherence, impact and, in answer to my noble friend Lord Polak, value for the taxpayer, now more than ever. I thank my noble friend for bringing to our attention his examples of highly effective, Israeli-backed charities working in Africa, which I will look into in more detail in due course.
A number of noble Lords raised specific programmes, concerned that they may have been caught up in the cutbacks. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned the volunteering for development, or V4D, grant to Voluntary Service Overseas, or VSO, and funding via H2H for Translators without Borders. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, also mentioned VSO. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, raised a range of important programmes in addition, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and other noble Lords. I am afraid that all I can say at this point, which I know will be frustrating, is that FCDO programme managers are working with their suppliers and delivery partners to determine the precise implications for each programme. However, we have protected UK civil society organisations from cuts wherever possible.
My noble friend Lady Sugg asked for more transparency. I can reassure her that, as is usual, the full official development assistance budget per country and business unit for 2021-22, along with final audited spend for 2020-21, will be published in the annual report and accounts in due course.
The UK remains a world leader in international development. We will spend £10 billion on ODA in 2021, meaning that, this year, the UK will still be the third-largest ODA donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI. With respect, I therefore cannot accept the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, that we are no longer taken seriously. The Foreign Secretary recently concluded a thorough review to ensure that our ODA marks a strategic shift, putting our aid budget to work alongside our diplomatic network, our science and technology expertise and our economic partnerships.
In helping to tackle global challenges, we will focus on core HMG priorities with the overarching objective of poverty reduction. The integrated review has helped to guide the process by setting out how, as an independent and sovereign global Britain, we will act as a force for good and use our influence to shape the future international order. This, I believe, answers the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about DfID and the FCO merging to become the FCDO.
To deliver this vision, resource has been allocated to the seven priorities that the Foreign Secretary set out to Parliament on 26 November. The first is climate and biodiversity, our top international priority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, one of the great injustices of climate change is that the world’s poorest countries—the lowest emitters—will be most heavily hit by its impacts. The UK is the first major donor nation to commit to making its entire ODA portfolio compliant with the Paris Agreement—something we are encouraging all other donor countries to emulate. Likewise, we have committed to ending all direct UK Government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas, encouraging as many countries as possible—all countries, ideally—to commit to the same.
In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, let me say that, in this COP 26 year, we are spending £1.4 billion of ODA on international climate finance, thus starting the trajectory towards doubling our ICF commitment to £11.6 billion by 2025, as promised. Also, on nature, the Prime Minister recently announced that the UK will commit at least £3 billion of our international climate finance to protecting and restoring the natural world and biodiversity over the next five years. This is a world-leading commitment, harnessing the power of nature to trap carbon and support some of the world’s most vulnerable communities that depend most directly on the free services that nature provides, which we are desecrating globally at an appalling rate. This policy is good for the poor, good for the planet and, by extension, good for all of us. We hope that other donor countries will follow.
Our second priority is global health security. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, will be reassured to hear that the FCDO will spend more than £1.3 billion on global health this year. I say in response to my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we have very much been at the forefront of the international response to Covid-19 through our commitments to COVAX, Gavi and the World Health Organization, as well as through bilateral spend where the need is greatest, particularly in Africa. I hope that this also reassures the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey, who asked the same question.
To go back briefly to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about whether our commitment to Gavi remains, the answer is yes. As agreed previously, we will maintain our commitment to support Gavi at the current levels.
I say in response to my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey that UK expertise in science, research and development has led to one of the first effective and affordable Covid-19 vaccines. In September, the Prime Minister committed £548 million to the COVAX Facility to ensure that these vaccines can reach the world’s poorest countries. We have also pledged up to £1.65 billion to Gavi over the next four years to support millions of routine immunisations, and we recently announced a further £340 million between 2020 and 2024 in core contributions to the WHO; that is additional to our £120 million annual average commitment. This will provide technical guidance and operational support to maintain health services in poor and developing countries.
Our third priority is girls’ education. This issue was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I can tell him that the FCDO will spend £400 million on girls’ education this year. We will invest directly in more than 25 countries, helping to achieve the global target to get 40 million girls into school. Of course, we will also demonstrate our leadership by co-hosting the Global Partnership for Education summit in July; we will announce details on the UK’s contribution to GPE in due course. As co-hosts of the summit, we are using all the means at our disposal to help the Global Partnership for Education to secure its five-year financing target of $5 billion. I hope that this reassures the noble Lords, Lord Loomba, Lord Hastings and Lord Chidgey, who all raised this important issue during their speeches.
The fourth area is humanitarian preparedness and response. We will spend over £900 million this year to maintain the UK’s role as a force for good at times of crisis. We will focus our country’s bilateral spend on those countries most affected by the risk of famine, including—in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno—Yemen, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan. A £30 million crisis reserve will enable us to respond rapidly to new crises. We will use our position as a leading humanitarian actor to drive improvements in how assistance is delivered globally and to project UK values through the humanitarian system.
The fifth area is science and technology. The integrated review clearly outlines that science and tech is an “integral element” of our international policy—this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. ODA-funded research by the FCDO has led to the first internationally approved vaccine to prevent Ebola; the world’s first anti-malarial drug, saving more than a million lives; and micro-nutrient-rich varieties of staple food crops, feeding 50 million people. That is why this year, across government, we will make £370 million of R&D investments across all seven themes of the ODA strategy.
The sixth area is open societies and conflict resolution. The FCDO will use over £400 million to harness the UK’s unique strengths in conflict management and resolution and to project our support for democratic values, institutions, human rights and freedom of religious belief. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, and I add in response only that we will utilise the UK’s expertise on conflict management and resolution through the newly created FCDO office for conflict mediation and stability, which will have the central co-ordinating function for all conflict work across government.
In response to the point made well by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, about the critical importance of judicial capacity-building and the rule of law, I say that the IR absolutely confirms that our ODA will support core campaigns in support of British values, standing up for democracy and democratic institutions, the rule of law, media freedom, human rights and freedom of religious belief. I hope that this also provides some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who asked a similar question. We will further drive, impact and support democratic values and institutions through our diplomacy, including our new sanctions policy, which will shortly be extended to cover corruption.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the grim conflict in Tigray in Ethiopia; I reassure him that, during his visit to Ethiopia on 22 January, the Foreign Secretary pressed Prime Minister Abiy for a political dialogue to bring lasting peace to Tigray and to make clear the need for unfettered humanitarian access. Since 2019, UK aid has provided £19 million of support, ensuring that displaced people have access to food, shelter, water, sanitation and basic health. The noble Lord also mentioned human rights abuses in Nigeria, which are, of course, a major concern of ours as well. The Minister for Africa is in Nigeria this week, and he will continue to make clear, at the highest levels, the importance of protecting civilians—including those from different ethnic and religious communities—and human rights for all Nigerians.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, mentioned Afghanistan. Since 2001, the UK has provided £3 billion in development and government assistance to Afghanistan. Partly thanks to UK aid, life expectancy increased from 50 years in 1990 to 64 in 2018. There are 8.2 million more children in school since 2002, and 39% of those enrolled are girls. We are working closely with the US, NATO allies and partners, but, for there to be any chance of a lasting peace, the Taliban must engage meaningfully in a dialogue with the Afghan Government. Any change to our security presence will be made in agreement with allies and after consultation with our partners.
Finally, in response to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, I raise the subject of economic development and trade. The FCDO will spend over £490 million to support new trading relationships with developing countries, complementing our wider multilateral and capital investments to build our trade and investment partners of the future. To answer my noble friend Lord Sarfraz, I can say that we will use the CDC and multilateral partners to drive mutually beneficial growth with strategic partners in circumstances where, as he points out, private sector investment is not practicable.
Within this framework, we will focus on exerting the maximum possible influence as a force for good in Africa—and at the same time strategically tilting towards the Indo-Pacific. We will spend around half of our bilateral country ODA in Africa, where poverty and human suffering remain the most acute. We will focus 60% of that bilateral Africa spending on east Africa, to reflect the UK’s unique role and clear national strategic interest in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan.
In answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, I say that we will spend one-third of bilateral ODA in the Indo-Pacific and south Asia, supporting deeper engagement in that region, promoting open societies, reinforcing trade links and promoting collaboration on climate change. Although we are reducing the amount of ODA that the FCDO spends in China, we will continue to fund programmes on human rights and open societies.
The integrated review provides a vision for global Britain; a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective, embracing innovation in science and technology and a beacon of democratic sovereignty. Our leadership on international development —focused on the global fight against climate change, the environment and poverty—is a fundamental part of this integrated approach.
The strategic framework for international development that I have outlined represents a compelling and competitive offer to the developing world that is consistent with our values and interests. I am proud of our aid spending and the huge amount we do every day to support the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Even in the toughest economic times, we will continue that mission to deliver the vision of the integrated review and to act as a force for good.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for his response to a debate marked by well-informed and wise speeches—many rooted in personal and first-hand experiences. In the absence of government time, the Cross Benches have performed an important service in facilitating this debate. The Minister has just told us what we are doing using our overseas development aid; indeed, it was a compelling speech about the importance of ODA. But he did not address what we will no longer be able to do—which is the point of this debate.
During the debate many noble Lords rightly paid tribute to Lord Judd. He was widely admired and respected. In the Commons, we overlapped by literally a few days—I was elected in a by-election just before the 1979 general election—but a friend put me in touch with him as someone whose brains I should pick. It was a privilege to meet him and subsequently, during my time in your Lordships’ House, we frequently found ourselves on the same side of the argument—as we would have been today. All sides of the House have rightly remembered him today with respect and affection.
Anyone who doubts the purpose or point of your Lordships’ House should read today’s debate. I thought that the arguments deployed, from wherever they came, were arguments that need to be addressed over the long term in the way we think about our development aid programmes. I hope that the Hansard report of the debate will be circulated widely to people who either disparage or do not understand the point of your Lordships’ House.
It is sometimes said that politics is the religion of priorities. In this instance, we have chosen the wrong priorities; we have made the wrong choice. We cannot say that we will be a force for good in the world—which is what I want this country to be—and then take this kind of decision.
These are just some of the headlines from the debate. Noble Lords have succinctly said things like: “This cut shames our country”; “There has been no risk assessment”; “It has been dog-whistle politics”; “We need to be more transparent”; “We can’t turn it on and turn it off”; “It’s a very serious mistake”; “These are deeply misguided proposals”; “We should be leading the world”; “War zones are poor zones” and “It’s particularly short-sighted and politically indefensible”. Another Peer said, “Sustainable development is in everyone’s interest.” We are told to be a “science superpower” and a “superpower in soft power” but these cuts will threaten our ability to influence either. Of course, we were also reminded of what the Minister himself said in a previous incarnation: that foreign aid benefits us all.
We have a clear legal obligation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and many others made that clear during the course of the debate. I did not feel that we had an answer from the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, to that central question. I hope that a letter will be sent following the debate to those who participated, setting out the Government’s response on the legality and constitutionality of the decision that has been taken. Even though the Minister has tried to address a lot of the remarks that have been made, I hope he will not feel that is the end of this process. Prorogation is about to be on us, but I hope that he and his officials will sit and read Hansard, and respond to that central question and others that have not been answered.
There is a story about two Pre-Raphaelite painters, Rossetti and Morris. Whenever Rossetti saw someone in need, he would pour out everything in his pockets, walk away and never think about that person again. Morris, on the other hand, never gave a penny to anyone, but he said that he would work for a world in which there would be no more need. One was all heart and the other all head. In our debate today, we have heard a combination of those things. Martin Luther King put it well when he said:
“One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right if the head is totally wrong. Only through the bringing together of head and heart, intelligence and goodness, shall man rise to a fulfilment of his true nature.”
Being a force for good, combining heart with head, surely lies at the heart of what we have been debating. I renew my thanks to everyone who has taken part in this excellent debate and I hope we will not walk away from this Room and forget the commitments the country has rightly entered into and which it must persist with. I thank all who have participated.
My Lords, the Grand Committee stands adjourned until 5.35 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the hybrid Grand Committee will now resume. Some Members are here in person and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask Members in the Room to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Committee Room is exceeded or other safety requirements are breached, I will immediately adjourn the Committee. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for five minutes. The time limit is one and a half hours.
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I thank my colleagues on the Cross-Benches for choosing this debate. I am delighted. It means that many others are as concerned about this issue as I am. Sadly, we live in a society that respects wealth more than issues of contentment and well-being, so much of which is provided by the world around us: our air, clean water, abundant oceans, the minerals from the earth, out of which we make more or less everything we have, and the fertility of the soil, which grows all our food and, indeed, everything else. This is provided entirely for free and is taken entirely for granted, but it is essential for life as we know it on earth. It is often quiet, silent and completely invisible to the naked human eye.
The Dasgupta report was commissioned by the Treasury, which is why it is so important. There is nothing fluffy or sentimental in it. It is not about Easter bunnies; it is about money. For the first time, we are putting a value on nature and asking the hard, tough questions about what natural services we have taken for granted for so long and for free.
Since I was born, just about 70 years ago, the world has changed beyond recognition. The number of people in poverty has reduced from 60% to 10% while populations have exploded. Life expectancy has increased. I do not mourn that, but I mourn the fact that this progress has been at the expense of the world around us. If we are to think of nature and progress as assets, we paid for progress by taking an overdraft out with nature, and we are almost at bankruptcy. Economists often say that we need to live within our means, and this is definitely the case with our biosphere. There is only one. You cannot order another online.
Globally, the pandemic has devastated economies and lives. Its cause was our faulty interaction with nature. Some 96% of all mammals on earth are now either us or the animals we chose to eat—60 billion of them fretting in feedlots and cages, fed on food grown on monocultures. It is not a good system in any way. Some 30% of the world is still hungry, 30% is getting fat and 30% of all the food grown is wasted. In 2019, the global assessment report on biodiversity concluded that 25% of species in animal and plant groups are threatened with extinction in the next few decades and more than 85% of global wetlands, which store huge amounts of carbon, have been lost.
Professor Dasgupta estimated that as a planet we spend about $500 billion a year on environmentally damaging subsidies. He also acknowledges that this is probably an underestimate. In contrast, subsidies considered to be biodiversity positive total just $890 million a year and subsidies considered beneficial stand at just €2.6 billion. If we include other public finance expenditure associated with the conservation of biodiversity, it gets us to just under $68 billion, so, even at a conservative estimate, environmentally damaging subsidies are dwarfing the protection of the environment at a rate of 7.5:1. We are losing this battle. We can still win the war, but we need to act now.
What are the hidden costs? Let me give the Committee a couple of vivid examples. The first has always stuck in my mind. It is a picture of a vast Chinese apple orchard where the workers are laboriously brushing fluffy paint brushes across apple blossoms to pollenate them. They are doing this because they have managed to kill all the bees by the increasing use of pesticides.
In India, which we see so much of right now, vultures used to keep the streets clean, but they have fallen foul of the anti-inflammatory drugs injected into cattle and buffalo. Now, when you drive through villages, there are piles of rubbish; there is more illness. At the towers of silence, where the Parsis bury their dead—they used to have their bodies picked to pieces by the vultures—they have actually had to install solar panels to shrivel and desiccate the corpses.
Closer to home, our vast fields of wheat and cereal crops grow in endless acres. It might look good, but what happens when you smell or listen? You will hear nothing—no birds and no insects—and there will probably be no trees. In short, what you are looking at is a factory—one loaded with chemicals to enable the crops to grow as fast as possible, and in the process destroying the soil beneath them. As that soil weakens, denied the chance to form new life forms in its natural cycle because of the deep ploughing and intensive farming, more money needs to be spent on chemicals to make those crops grow. It is a vicious cycle.
We have always thought that we can do better than nature, that human ingenuity could overcome shortfalls, and that we could bust through the natural limits imposed by nature’s constraints. In the process, we never asked the simple question: “What does nature do for us?” Now is the time for that question. Now is the time when we need to understand that we live in a world which is brilliantly organised and interconnected, full of different life forms which, together, enable species—including us—to flourish. From the act of photosynthesis, which combines sunlight, carbon and water to create the plants we live on, everything—until now—has had a place in this complexity, doing its bit for the community of life. Now we are literally pulling it apart, believing that it is, for instance, more productive to tear down a rainforest and plant a monocrop to feed ourselves. The results are clear: fires, floods, changing rainfall and temperature, and it is getting worse.
The future does not need to be like this. The Government have committed to this being the first generation to leave nature in a better condition, but we need to have policies in place to make this a reality. We could live in a country that does not use chemicals or practice monoculture farming, and which has adopted agroecology and agroforestry. It could be a country with nature corridors between wild areas, where the flora and fauna we have relied on could flourish. We could have communities with local food networks, with clean rivers we could swim in and beaches we could be proud of. Very importantly, it could be a country where children are educated as to the power of nature and the environment, and where citizens are empowered to understand these issues and make the right choices, and, in turn, purchase products safe in the knowledge that no orangutans have been hurt or habitats compromised.
The Treasury has posed three big questions: what are the economic benefits of biodiversity; what are the economic costs when biodiversity is lost; and what practical actions can be taken to enhance economic prosperity and biodiversity. Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, said in a debate on biodiversity:
“Ultimately all economic activity is derived from nature.”
I could not agree more. He went on to say that he was,
“absolutely convinced that this can be the year that change begins in earnest.”—[Official Report, 22/4/2021; col. GC 416.]
I hope that this is the case, but if we do not accept this report’s recommendations and we continue running roughshod over nature, this will not be the year of change. Nothing other than a decisive steer off our current trajectory will do the trick. To take this crisis seriously, the Government need to adopt the recommendations of this report to ensure that what the Stern review did for climate change and energy, the Dasgupta Review can do for biodiversity loss.
What can we do? It is a question that I often ask myself: how best can we affect change? Globally, the problems are immense, but that is not to say that there are not huge improvements that must be made here. For many reasons, countries still look to the UK as a bellwether or indicator, so implementing the best policy here at home will have ramifications abroad. We did it with the Climate Change Act and we can do it with this. We must send out a clear message through our foreign policy and our trade policy, and through our financial markets, to lead the world by valuing the economics of biodiversity.
When the Environment Bill comes to this place next Session, we must work together to include a robust and legally binding framework that will ensure that we keep to the targets. Some are calling this a state of nature target. We need to push other countries to do the same. On this, the Minister said last week:
“We are pressing hard for the highest possible ambition and, crucially, we are pushing for inclusion of mechanisms to hold Governments to the promises they make, which currently is lacking.”—[Official Report, 22/4/2021; col. GC 414.]
He is, of course, completely correct, but so far we lack this mechanism, and we cannot ask others to do something we will not do ourselves.
With the competing priorities of government it can sometimes be easy to put something off, if it is not absolutely immediate, but it falls to all of us to hold the Government’s feet to the fire to make the case for policies to stop the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. If the Government are serious, then implementing the report’s contents is too good an opportunity to pass up. This is about saving not just the planet but humans’ place on it. It is 100% in our self-interest to mobilise everything at our disposal to stop what will otherwise be inevitable.
I say to finance ministries around the world: the future is genuinely in your hands. Only you can charge other ministries and create domestic budget oversight bodies ensuring environmental compatibility with spending. If we are to have truly sustainable economic growth and development, or at least a good life, then we have to understand that our long-term prosperity relies on balancing our demands on the planet. We have to account for what our impacts on nature really cost. It is a balance sheet—one in which economics and ecology must stand side by side. Nature is not separate from the economy, a drag on growth or an expensive, luxurious distraction. It is not, as I said, about fluffy rabbits or nice animals on TV. It is, essentially, our economy; it is where we get everything from.
This is such a crucial year. We have the G7 and COP 26 ahead of us, as well as the CBD meeting. It would be a waste and a mistake to confine climate change to COP and biodiversity to the CBD. They both come from the same source: our failure to understand the interconnected nature of our world. They must be solved together. This is the year that we have the chance; please let us seize it.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust and as patron or vice-president of several environmental organisations. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, outlined, the Dasgupta Review makes it absolutely clear that if we continue to destroy nature at the rate we are, not only will we risk the survival of all species but there will be catastrophic consequences for our economy, our well-being and our very survival. As an example, the Woodland Trust’s recent report on the state of the UK’s woods and trees emphasised the critical role of our native woods and trees in supporting our future prosperity, including in locking up carbon, improving our health and well-being, and reducing pollution and flooding.
It is good to see the Government championing the review internationally. This must be backed by an ambitious approach to its implementation domestically. We have literally a once-in-a-century opportunity post Covid to rebuild the ecological foundations of our wealth and well-being. The Treasury will have a key role in embedding the Dasgupta principles into the UK economic framework for local and national government, and for business. Government incentives, regulation and guidance will be important too. Measurability will be key: we need a clear framework for measuring nature, as clear as we have for measuring climate change and carbon reduction. To prevent further damage to our already precarious ecosystems, we need legally binding targets in the delayed Environment Bill to halt—and to begin to reverse—declines in nature by 2030.
Lastly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, let us learn from the hugely influential Stern report on the economics of climate change. Nicholas Stern—the noble Lord, Lord Stern—worked his socks off to see his report implemented nationally and internationally. Whatever he did right, let us see a similar sustained effort for the Dasgupta report.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for her powerful opening speech, articulating the values of this report at a time when the evidence shows that nature’s resilience is being severely eroded, yet our economy, livelihoods and well-being all rely on nature. The Government need to use the opportunities they have this year at the G7, CBD COP 15 and COP 26 to showcase the report’s findings and their framework for nature. To do that credibly, they must respond formally, before the start of these events, and show how they are using all opportunities to deliver, despite the National Audit Office’s report that there is still a long way to go before we can have confidence that the Government have the right framework to deliver on the aspirations in their 25-year environment plan.
There are a number of areas where the reality is not in step with the Government’s stated ambitions. In the short time that I have, I will raise just one: the proposed exemption for Treasury Ministers from having due regard to the Government’s policy statement on environmental principles. This policy statement is a key tool to drive delivery across government of the 25-year environment plan. The duty for Ministers to have regard to it does not give undue weight to the environment but just embeds consideration of the importance of policy on the environment in decision-making.
Professor Dasgupta argued for a new vocabulary to factor the value of the environment into our economy. This exemption shows that the Treasury is not even prepared to open the dictionary. If the Government were to remove it before the Environment Bill returns to Parliament, that would be a powerful symbol of business not as usual. Without that, there is little hope of embedding nature into decision-making and delivering the protection for the natural resources on which we all depend.
My Lords, there is a scene in “The Simpsons Movie” where the dysfunctional family arrives in Alaska and is handed a wad of money, and the border guard says, “Here is $1,000. We give everyone in Alaska this, in exchange for letting us destroy the environment”. It seems that that is the view a lot of people take of the tension between growth and nature—that, somehow, man is a pollutant or despoiler and that capitalism is intrinsically bad for the natural world.
When I got to visit Alaska with my children a few years later, I was very surprised to see that there had been a most extraordinary rise in biodiversity there. We saw virtually every one of the characteristic animals. We saw sea otters, which were almost extinct at the beginning of the 20th century and now cutely hold hands as they float on every surface. We also saw whales, whose recovery has been one of the untold stories of the past 30 years, bears and eagles—the works. This is not only true in Alaska. When you have a country where there is sufficient economic progress that people want to shoot with cameras rather than guns, it creates a space.
It is an observable fact that you are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water in London, as compared to Lahore, because it is a wealthier place. I do not think I had seen a red kite in the wild before my 30s; now, they are as common as eagles in Alaska—I was about to say, “as pigeons”. I had never seen an otter in the wild until five years ago; I would have doubted my eyes, except that you can hardly mistake an otter for anything else. The Thames was biologically dead in the 50s; now, you can fish salmon in it.
The point I am making is that economic growth creates a space for environmental protection—this is a luxury that poor and developing countries do not have. My noble friend Lord Ridley has a nice phrase, which is that 50 years ago, wolves, tigers and lions were all endangered; now, wolves have rebounded, tigers are flatlining and lions remain endangered. Why? Because wolves live in rich countries, tigers live in middle-income ones and lions live in poor ones.
Let me close by mentioning one technology that is not plugged in the Dasgupta Review. It talks about using GM and so on as a way of freeing up more space, but I note the ability we now have to fabricate meat—not meat substitute but actual cells that are grown, as it were, so that you can grow the chicken breast without the head, feathers, feet and all the rest of it. Think of how that will free up those ghost acres and barren landscapes of which the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, spoke. Think of how that will free up the space that we use for feed growth and animals. Is it not a wonder that technology will continue to deliver these marvels to an ungrateful world?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for sponsoring this debate and for her very persuasive and articulate opening comments. My interests are as recorded in the register, but, in particular, as far as this debate is concerned, I note that I chair Cawood Scientific, an analytical company whose range includes soil testing et cetera.
The Dasgupta Review is extremely helpful, and I fully endorse its conclusions on the seriousness of the issue of biodiversity loss and the decline of ecosystems. We must take action. The report calls for “transformative change” and suggests
“insisting that financiers invest our money sustainably, that firms disclose environmental conditions along their supply chains … and even boycotting products that do not meet standards.”
This assumes that, in time, the market will influence behaviour and enable pull-through. However, at present, this is not the case; the concept of natural capital accounting is in its infancy and not developed. It will take time for market pull-through.
Until such time, the Government have only two key tools at their disposal to address the concerns identified in the report: legislation and incentivisation. As stated in the report, this is a global challenge that will be addressed only if local action is taken on the ground—literally, on the ground. What legislation might the Government be considering through the office for environmental protection within the Environment Bill? What incentives might be available through the environmental land management scheme for farmers and growers? Will this require an environmental audit for each farm to target the actions required to enhance natural capital and biodiversity gain? It would be helpful if the Minister could consider these questions.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Sikka.
My Lords, the Dasgupta Review reminds us that the trappings of neoliberal capitalism, its unrestrained pursuit of growth, consumption, exploitation and accumulation of private wealth, have brought humanity to the edge of disaster. Paradoxically, the review seeks a solution to the crisis of nature and biodiversity within the framework of neoliberal capitalism, which is unlikely to make a significant difference. For example, it emphasises the need to correct what it calls “pricing distortions” because, currently
“most of Nature’s worth to society—its accounting prices—are not reflected in market prices”.
It recommends that natural capital be brought into national accounting mechanisms; that is, that the externality of nature be expressed in terms of money. One consequence of this will be to treat nature as a tradeable commodity and to unleash a different kind of crisis. The use of terms such as “capital” is problematical, as it signifies something which is to be exploited and privately appropriated.
There is also a fundamental error in the review. Just because something is priced does not mean that it will not be exploited, at least by those who can afford to pay. Does financialisation deliver the desired outcomes? Carbon pricing generates a lot of revenues, but it has not significantly reduced global resource consumption or emissions. To save humanity and all living things, we need a transformation of education and society. Equitable distribution of income and wealth and stakeholder capitalism are the first necessary stepping stones towards that goal. I hope that the Government will embrace them.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on getting this debate and on her excellent introduction. When I first saw the title of the report, The Economics of Biodiversity, I was a little conflicted, because there is the overwhelming sense that our economic system has always hugely undervalued the natural world, which has led to huge damage and very poor decision-making. The second feeling is one of concern that, by looking at the natural world through the lens of economics, we risk repeating exactly the same mistakes that got us into this mess. The answer is not more banking, more financial engineering and more big business.
I was elated to see that the Dasgupta Review recognised exactly that; in fact, the report almost reads like a Green Party publication in its criticisms of the status quo, so much so that the Government have glossed over some of its biggest sections. In particular, they seem completely to have ignored Dasgupta’s criticism of gross national product as an economic measure:
“The contemporary practice of using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to judge economic performance is based on a faulty application of economics.”
It goes on to say that GDP ignores
“the degradation of the natural environment”
“is wholly unsuitable for appraising investment projects and identifying sustainable development.”
Perhaps even more importantly, it states that
“in recent decades eroding natural capital has been precisely the means the world economy has deployed for enjoying what is routinely celebrated as ‘economic growth’”.
This has been obvious to Greens for decades; it is one of their foundational principles that sets green philosophy apart from other political parties and movements. Politicians have to end their obsession with economic growth and understand that we are on a finite planet with finite resources.
My question and challenge to the Minister is: what are the Government doing to replace GDP with proper economic measures that do not make trashing our planet look like economic success?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on securing this debate. I want to touch on the main factor that is driving the world’s ecological footprint, which is consumption. The debacle over who paid for the Prime Minister’s Downing Street refurbishment is serious because of where the money came from and because of where the truth lies, but it is really serious because, if we are to address the issues in this excellent report, we must all address our consumption habits. The Prime Minister refurbishing a perfectly decent living space that was recently redecorated and had pretty much new furniture is setting a very poor example. We need to address thoughtless and wanton consumption. Professor Dasgupta’s report states that
“consumption in high income countries … is projected to remain the key factor in driving the world’s ecological footprint”
The section of the report on supply-chain innovation and trade lays out how we can create systems to ensure that, when we consume, we do so more responsibly. Part 3 of the Environment Bill, which we will have the opportunity to amend in the Lords, talks about producer responsibility. Given Professor Dasgupta’s report, I believe it needs to have something on consumer responsibility as well. I hope that we can add that when the Bill comes to the Lords.
My Lords, this report is a bold assembly of experience and data in a worldwide context. The fact that we live and breathe means that we all have an interest to declare. I will declare a further interest in the subject of this report as our family runs a livestock farm in Scotland. Along with that, for 40 years I owned a wetland national nature reserve designated for its wild flower and botanical interests. At the last count, our enthusiastic bird-watchers had recorded more than 200 species within the boundaries, so at this level at least I have some acquaintance with biodiversity.
However, this report presents what are likely to become the criteria on which any government rural support will be based, and we still have to see whether its proposals will make any effort that is required worth while. Section 22 of the abridged report discusses ways to get natural capital recognised in accounting practice, as the noble Lord, Lord Curry, said. In the sale of retail food, the firm’s reputation matters. I know that one supermarket is promising that by 2030 all its food will be net-zero carbon. Many farmers are now considering how close they can get to net-zero production. One result may be that a large part of rural carbon sequestration that the Government are counting on may be used to offset elements of food production. Fundamentally, the question still remains whether biodiversity can best be achieved through extensive rewilding or intense ecological management.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Boycott for securing this important debate and introducing it so eloquently. The Dasgupta Review makes eminently good sense, but I fear that, like so many well-intentioned reports, its very commissioning will be considered an end in itself. After a little debate it will be filed under the heading “too difficult”. Trying to persuade a country that it needs to change its attitude to what constitutes wealth is no easy task.
The issue of climate change has been one concerning environmentalists for decades. Only now, when there is no escaping the threat it poses, genuine action is being taken. For years it was embraced in name only by companies in search of enhanced image without undertaking any real change.
The broader biodiversity issue is destined for similar treatment. Take, for instance, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. It sounds very worthy. More than 200 companies are proud to be members, but how committed are they to the ideas of genuine sustainability? Forgive my cynicism, but when the three worst companies on the offenders list compiled every year by Break Free From Plastic—Coca Cola, Pepsi and Nestlé, which have held those positions for the past three years—can proudly proclaim their membership of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, it is hard to believe that change will come about without firm action from government.
We now insist that companies report on carbon emissions. If this report is to be effective, we have to find a way of forcing companies to report on their use of natural capital. It will not be easy, but will the Minister commit to trying to work with the Financial Reporting Council and its successor to find a way that this might be done?
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. This report educates the debate on economic growth, the environment and climate change. Remedial measures are being announced that may not have been thoroughly costed and cannot consider future developments in science and technology. Science in this area is recent, complex and often controversial. This is not to excuse or argue for delay, but to underline priorities and risks.
First, the unarguable point is that vast resources are required for most actions to mitigate and resolve the issues. The least costly and most effective measure that can be taken is the use of the education system. If the population develops best practice, the cost of remedial measures will fall. Could the Minister reassure us that the education system is central to the solution?
Secondly, in farming, overreaction to threats and overoptimism on benefits could lead to unforeseen food shortages; nature is capricious. The reduced harvest of 2020 experienced by most farmers could well be repeated in 2021, with the recurrence of the same weather conditions. The Government’s policies are likely to cause a lot of farmland to come out of food production. Consider the political consequences of food shortages and price rises.
Thirdly, has anyone really thought through the funding and maintenance aspects of the Government’s tree strategy, which is so important to biodiversity? Growers need a current commercial return.
Climate change must be urgently addressed and biodiversity is central. Could the Minister confirm that the issue is not about who shouts the loudest, but who has done their quiet homework on the affordability and consequences of what is involved?
My Lords, as well as being one of my favourite lecturers at university, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta has done all of us a great service through his seminal report. By framing the economics of biodiversity around nature as an essential asset, he triggers a whole series of logical follow-on questions. How do we properly account for the depletion of this asset? How do we manage it and replenish it? What is the portfolio effect from diversification? As a finance geek, I find these analogies both comforting in their conceptual familiarity but also perceptive in identifying the consequences of our actions.
However, my interest in nature extends well beyond economics and finance to the world of philanthropic impact. As noted in my register of interests, I have the honour of serving on the board of the British Asian Trust, a charitable foundation established by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. We recently merged with Elephant Family, a respected conservation charity providing a wider canvas across south Asia. This megadiverse region has revived several important species from the brink of extinction.
I am therefore pleased to inform your Lordships that, in just under three weeks’ time, we will bring alive India’s rich biodiversity through a high-profile campaign called CoExistence. More than 100 life-sized elephants will transform the Royal Parks and other locations across London. These elephants are handmade from lantana camara, an invasive weed whose removal from protected areas benefits wildlife by leaving more space to roam. Each work of art is a sight to behold.
The aim of this campaign is to highlight how India’s indigenous communities live alongside wild elephants in denser populations than anywhere else in the world, competing for food and space. Our objective is to build a network of corridors supporting human-wildlife coexistence. This campaign provides a small but practical way in which the theoretical underpinnings of Professor Dasgupta’s report can be brought to life.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is not on the call so I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, on securing this debate and introducing it so eloquently, which is greatly appreciated. I refer to my interests in the register.
I quote David Attenborough in the foreword to the report:
“The Dasgupta Review at last puts biodiversity at its core and provides the compass that we urgently need. In doing so, it shows us how, by bringing economics and ecology together, we can help save the natural world at what may be the last minute—and in doing so, save ourselves.”
I think this is the first time that, in reality, we are valuing natural capital and putting a price on nature. If that really is the case, we should recognise the role that farmers play in protecting our ecosystems and in which case, farmers should in fact be the wealthiest folk in the land. When she comes to sum up the debate, will the Minister tell us how farmers will benefit under the Agriculture Act and the forthcoming Environment Bill if they do not own or possess the natural capital but take the economic risk, which is particularly the case for tenant farmers?
What will the particular role of the Treasury be in delivering on biodiversity in the Environment Bill, as it will fall to Defra to implement its provisions and, as I mentioned earlier, those of the Agriculture Act, which is already on the statute book? I hope that my noble friend and her colleagues at the Treasury will take an active role in delivering for natural capital, protecting our ecosystems and recognising the role that the farming community and farmers will play in this regard.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, has withdrawn so I call the noble Earl, Lord Devon.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for this crucial debate and Professor Dasgupta for his decades of ground-breaking work, to which this is a fitting culmination. I note my interests as a graduate of St John’s College, an environmental land manager, a lawyer with clients in this field and a citizen investor who is passionate about biodiversity.
Professor Dasgupta highlights the need for systemic change to combat our rampant assault on biodiversity, with a focus on education—[Inaudible]—our affection for nature into a learned appreciation of it through mandatory nature studies and better access to nature in all her glorious forms. He says that
“we should all in part be naturalists.”
Will the Government add nature studies to the core national curriculum? Will they also support safe access to the countryside, under ELMS or otherwise, that does not in itself damage biodiversity? Will they consider food and product labelling to identify natural capital costs, allowing consumers to read about the rainforest degradation inherent in every bite of a Brazilian soybean burger?
On finance, how will the Government amend their economic measures to account for natural capital? New Zealand recently adopted a well-being budget. This year, when we will host COP 26, will the UK adopt a biodiversity budget, or at least recognise the consumption of natural capital in all its financial models?
Core to Professor Dasgupta’s message is the need to price biodiversity. He recommends that the ONS establishes an inclusive value to counter the short-term pull of financial returns. As we establish ELMS, will the Government do that? If they fail to do so, the dominant price will be that of carbon, and we may lose yet more biodiversity in our worthy pursuit of carbon sequestration. What a tragedy it will be if the Government’s ambitious tree strategy is satisfied by desolate hectares of coniferous monoculture—a biodiversity wasteland.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness on obtaining this debate and point to my declarations in the register of interests.
If the conclusions of the Dasgupta report about biodiversity are right—I believe that, in general, they are—they are equally applicable in a range of other activities, including climate change and another of my general interests, the preservation of the historic environment, in which I have a specific registered interest. This report is a severe critique of the way we are now and the way we do things these days. The report’s conclusions rest on the simple but far from new proposition that we are custodians of the world we live in, as opposed to us being its master and it our slave—a concept that, in our tradition, goes back to a misreading of the first chapter of Genesis. You do not have to be a fully-fledged adherent to James Lovelock’s Gaia theory to recognise the interdependence of creation.
In my view, the fundamental problem is the troika of greed, its better-mannered twin brother, profit maximisation, and envy, which are exhibited by individuals, businesses and Governments wherever you look. Everything is measured in monetary currency. Other values are converted into monetary values, which invariably lose worth in the exchange. The evidence behind the Dasgupta report shows that this approach is failing in a manner of ways. This Government—indeed, all responsible Governments—recognise this in principle, which is a good start. I have no doubt that the Minister will endorse this in her concluding remarks; I would be horrified if she did not. However, as she will know, that is not the real response, which is to be seen in deeds, not words, and may well include involvement in activities far beyond our shores—as occurred in the Second World War, for example. It is how the Government deal with this as a leader, not a follower. It is not what they say on the Floor of the House that matters, but what they do in the real world.
My Lords, a character in an old radio programme had this catchphrase: “The answer lies in the soil”—although he said it in a strong West Country accent, which I could not possibly copy. The fact is that he was right. In his remarkable report, Professor Dasgupta emphasises the economic value of the soil as an ecosystem fundamental to life.
The problem is that, although we know some of the things that endanger soil, we know very little about how it works, although the farmers and gardeners among your Lordships will know a good deal about the fertility of their own soil. Despite the fact that we know a lot about terrestrial mammals and higher plants, such as how many have become extinct and how many are in danger of disappearing, we know very little about the conservation status of the billions of fungi, bacteria and protozoa in the soil.
Despite our ignorance of how this complex life-supporting system works, we know what the threats are: overly intensive farming without putting anything back; excessive inorganic fertilisers destroying the finely balanced soil chemistry; wind erosion; monoculture; and covering it with concrete or tarmac. Flooding carries soils away, yet we know that planting trees can help to prevent this. The flooding we have suffered in the UK and around the world over recent decades has been caused by climate change, but it is less well known that the microorganisms that make up the living element of soil are also threatened by climate change. Healthy soil is the world’s largest carbon sink, but soil could shift to become a net emitter of carbon as global warming increases respiration by soil organisms.
Professor Dasgupta emphasised that
“it is less costly to conserve Nature than it is to restore it”.
Can the Minister tell us whether there has been an assessment of the economic value of our soil and the threats to it, and whether there is a strategy to conserve it?
My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Carrington and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, in emphasising education, which is where Professor Dasgupta ends his report. Education is the foundation for all that we are required to do. We have been asked to make some very substantial changes in the way that we live and run the world. To do that, we are going to need a great deal of common understanding and consent. To achieve that, we are going to need an education system that equips our children with an understanding of nature and a real familiarity with it, so that they value it and it is part of their lives. They need to have an inherent understanding of why they are being asked to make room for it and the value of sharing their lives with it.
I know that this is not my noble friend the Minister’s responsibility but I really hope that she will find a way to get this message through to the Department for Education: there is something you can do here. You have in front of you a natural history GCSE, put together by OCR and very widely supported; we would like to see that starting in schools in September 2022. You need to do something now to let it through. I know that this is a hard time, and that this is not the easiest moment to focus on starting a new GCSE, but we all need to put our weight behind regenerating the environment. You, the Department for Education, have your bit to do, too.
A related suggestion that I would make to the same department, but via Defra, is that Defra should put some serious support behind the Queen’s Green Canopy. That is intended to involve every school in the country in celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee by planting trees and hedges. Schools are in no shape to do this well without finance or support. Put some money behind it and you will get every school in the country responding. Without money, it gets very difficult to do anything significant.
My Lords, as usual, I declare my interest in this area as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. In terms of some of the related climate finance, I also declare my role as a trustee of the Green Purposes Company, which holds a green share in the Green Investment Bank.
I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for having brought this debate to Grand Committee. It is great that we are actually giving this subject the level of attention in the House that it deserves. Her reminder that we have only one biosphere is particularly important. I liked—or disliked—her reference to vultures. I remember my first visit to south Asia in the early 1980s. You knew you were coming to a settlement well ahead from the fact that large black vultures circled above these settlements. When I visited there more recently, they were almost completely absent. She is right to show that as an example of a loss of biodiversity, but also to show its implications throughout human society.
I welcome the fact that the Treasury is involved in this issue and that it took the initiative to have Professor Dasgupta produce this report. We as parliamentarians all know that the Treasury actually does stuff and decides stuff, which is not true of many of the departments that we sometimes talk about and deal with. This is a serious subject in a serious department of government.
A number of things are absolutely clear from the Dasgupta Report and this debate. First, biodiversity is a real problem: it is a big issue, and we are failing in that area. The statistics are not just bad but continuing to get worse. In the period from 1970, not just globally but equally in the UK, there has been a 40% fall in a number of key indicators of biodiversity, but they have been even worse since 1990.
Some 10 years ago, there was the UN conference on biodiversity in Japan; the 20 Aichi targets were laid down there, and globally we have met none of them. The Government suggest that we have met six of them in the UK, but NGOs suggest that it is only one. My noble friend Lady Parminter mentioned the National Audit Office report, which was very condemning—regrettably—about the progress in relation to the 25-year environment plan, which we all welcome but want implemented and to be successful.
The other thing that we have all now recognised is that our national accounting does not work in the way that we need it to. As the report says so well, it takes account of produced—and perhaps human—capital to some degree, but not natural capital. GDP, described as a “flow” of economic activity, does not include depreciation, as I understand it from the P&L accounts that I look at. This cannot work well for us into the future; it is important but needs to be supplemented.
This issue of biodiversity is complex, and we should not ever run away from that. It is not an easy issue to measure or solve. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, mentioned, we need metrics, but those are not easy here. Climate change is so much easier in terms of tracking what is happening in relation to greenhouse gas emissions or the proportion of CO in the atmosphere—that is not the case for biodiversity. As Professor Dasgupta himself says, the economics of biodiversity is a hard subject, and we should not underestimate that.
We have also learned that we have the twin emergencies of not just biodiversity but climate change. Although there are clear areas of common interest, such as nature-based solutions and carbon sequestration, we know that we cannot solve just one of these; we have to solve both. We cannot have one without the other; both are fundamental to the survival of not just us but our planet in the way that we know it.
Contentiously, Professor Dasgupta mentions food production as being one of the biggest problems. That is the case, and it is also true in the United Kingdom, regrettably. I do not blame farmers for this; I blame the way that they have been incentivised in the past. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Curry, mentioned ELMS, which I hope will reorient that sufficiently—it is a big ask. Of course, my noble friend Lady Walmsley mentioned the soil—again, ELMS will be important in making sure that we give that greater attention.
As my noble friend Lady Miller mentioned, the other area is that we are consuming more than our planet can provide; that is very clear in this report. We consume 1.6 planets’ worth, in comparison to what we have available to us, and we have to look at that. We are embedded in nature, and we have to make sure that our consumption, as well as the way that we treat nature, is managed.
As such, we have no easy answers; we have only glimmers of the solution. A number of those are mentioned in the Dasgupta Report, but we do not, by any means, have a comprehensive answer yet about how to deliver in relation to biodiversity challenges. However, one thing that comes out to me from this is that we have an emergency. We need look no further than the World Economic Forum in Davos, which sees biodiversity as one of the top five challenges to the global economy into the future.
My questions to the Minister are as follows. First, on finance and coming back to the way capitalism can work, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, we found good ways that capitalism and green finance can work for climate change and renewable energy. Does the Minister see such ways forward for biodiversity? There is much work being done—the Green Finance Institute, which the Government support, is looking at that—but do we see answers on that in the near future?
Secondly, will the Government continue to look at alternative ways of accounting? It is not about getting rid of GDP but about using additional methods, as Professor Dasgupta mentioned. As he said,
“nations need to adopt a system of … accounts that records an inclusive measure of their wealth.”
That is: the stock of the economy’s assets, of which nature is one. I read a book recently by Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics, as many others will have done. Is the Treasury looking at those areas as well? Will it discuss this report with other countries? In my own area of Cornwall, we have the G7 happening in June. Will Professor Dasgupta be there with the Treasury to put forward those arguments?
Thirdly, will a Treasury Minister be at the CBD COP 15 conference in Kunming in October? I think that will be so important. Finally, will the Government have the guts and determination to declare a climate emergency?
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, which is responsible for preserving biodiversity in our protected landscape. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for tabling this important debate and for her thoughtful and incisive contribution.
There is no doubt that the Dasgupta Review is a hugely significant report. It builds on the work of the Natural Capital Committee and puts a new approach to natural assets at the heart of government, where it belongs. If the Government take it seriously, it has the potential to be a game-changer by delivering for biodiversity in the way that the Stern review put climate change centre stage; a point made by a number of noble Lords. The ball is now in the Chancellor’s court and we look forward to his response with considerable interest.
As the report points out, we rely on nature to provide us with food, water and shelter. It balances our environment and climate. It provides opportunities for recreation and enhanced health and well-being, but we have been very slow to put a value on these core assets that are fundamental to life. They have been taken for granted. As a result, we have allowed them to be overexploited and degraded.
Noble Lords have pointed out that biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. Extinction rates are accelerating, and nature is finding it more and more difficult to adapt and survive. The complex interrelationship between living organisms, including humans, has been massively underestimated. We are close to the tipping point, where there is no way back, with potentially catastrophic consequences for economies and for human well-being. We agree with the persuasive conclusion in the report that nature and the contribution of our natural assets need to enter economic and financial decision-making just as goods, services and skills do now. For today’s debate I want to concentrate on four key issues.
First, as noble Lords have argued, the decline in biodiversity represents an emergency which now needs to be addressed urgently. There are actions which the Government can take immediately to begin to reverse the crisis. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset our priorities for nature through the Environment Bill. Does the Minister agree that we should use that Bill to set legally binding targets to reverse declines in nature by 2030? Does she agree that we should use the Bill to require meaningful baselines to be set, against which progress can be clearly monitored and reported?
Does the Minister accept that biodiversity net gain should be established as a fundamental principle applying to all government investment and infrastructure projects? Does she agree that we need a powerful and fully independent office for environmental protection, on a similar footing to the Committee on Climate Change, able to hold the Government fully to account on progress on these issues? All these things can be delivered in the next few months via the Environment Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith of Richmond, noted earlier this month that
“to speak with authority internationally, the UK needs to get its own house in order.”
He was very frank with your Lordships’ House in saying:
“That is not the case at the moment.”—[Official Report, 13/4/21; col. 1149.]
So does the Minister agree that the steps I have outlined would give the UK greater credibility when representatives attend the Convention on Biological Diversity later this year, which will enable us to create an ambitious global response to the crisis?
Secondly, as the report points out, restoring our ecosystems not only addresses biodiversity and climate change but delivers wider economic benefits. It can also be used to create employment, which has high social benefit and quick returns. Research shows that green projects can be delivered quickly and effectively. They can have an immediate return on investment as well as creating rich and rewarding work. As we rebuild our economy after Covid, which has had a particular impact on opportunities for young people, does the Minister agree that there is a unique opportunity to be grasped? Already, other counties are creating ambitious green economic programmes. Are we now prepared to match and exceed the example shown by others by bringing forward £30 billion of capital investment in the next 18 months to support 400,000 much-needed, new, clean jobs?
Thirdly, the report makes a powerful case for resetting the UK’s economic framework and how we measure economic success. If we accept the premise that our economic success and biological success are intertwined, we need to find mechanisms to reflect the importance of nature in measuring our prosperity. At its heart, we need a strategy to conserve the precious natural assets we have. As has been said, food and water are not infinite. We need to place a new value on our land and sea stocks, and not just in the context of the measures in the recent Agriculture Act and Fisheries Act. This will require a shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production right along the supply chains at a global level.
As a high-income country, we need to take more responsibility for the demands we place on the world’s ecological footprint. One example, as we have discussed, could be changing diets, ideally towards less meat consumption or at least promoting homegrown produce with a lower carbon footprint. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s policy and fiscal priorities can help to embed more sustainable consumption and production patterns? What plans do they have for making this a reality? How will they ensure that future spending plans across government reflect our biodiversity goals? Will they extend the use of green taxes to embed the principle of “polluter pays” and more fully reflect the damage being done to our environment? What proposals do they have to scale up incentives for private sector investment in nature recovery initiatives?
Finally, the report makes the crucial point that citizens should demand and shape the change we seek. This debate is not just about big government and shifting capital; it is also about local knowledge and passion for nature in the community. In the UK, we are seeing a widespread awakening that nature matters and is part of our well-being. This was already taking place before the pandemic but has gathered pace over the past year. We need to ensure that local communities have a real say in how our environment is protected and utilised for the future.
This is a big report in every sense. I hope that in her response the Minister can confirm that the Chancellor is up for the challenge and intends to match Professor Dasgupta’s challenge with the sort of action that could really make a difference. I look forward to her response.
My Lords, it is a privilege to close this debate on behalf of the Treasury and the Government. I thank noble Lords for their many insightful and constructive contributions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has been a significant degree of consensus—although not complete consensus—on the importance of this issue and on the action that needs to follow on from the report.
The Government’s position is simple: protecting and enhancing our natural assets and the biodiversity that underpins them are crucial to achieving sustainable, resilient economies. That is why the Government commissioned the independent and globally focused Dasgupta Review on the economics of biodiversity. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, noted, the review has particular significance as the first such review commissioned by a finance ministry.
I thank Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta for his landmark review. It makes a clear and compelling case for nature as vital for the health of our economies as well as that of our planet. The Government welcomed the publication of the review, not least as a strong example of UK thought leadership on an important environmental issue with clear but often overlooked economic implications. We are now reviewing and examining the review’s findings and encouraging international partners to do the same. We will respond formally in due course. I assure noble Lords that action on many of the issues raised by the review is already under way and need not await the Government’s response.
The Government have already legislated to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as we all know. Through the Environment Bill, we will deliver on our commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than how we found it, as set out in the 25-year environment plan. The Bill includes setting a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance, embedding environmental principles in future policy-making, setting legally binding targets for environmental improvement—including on biodiversity—and strengthening environmental oversight with the new office for environmental protection scrutinising progress and enforcing compliance. The Bill also includes: measures to reduce waste, including single-use plastics; the creation of a deposit return scheme; strengthened power for locals authorities to address air quality issues; improving the sustainable management of our water resources; and creating a mandatory requirement for biodiversity net gain in the planning system.
This strengthens the action already taken to reform farm payments and create the environmental land management scheme to promote sustainable agriculture by paying farmers for work that protects and restores the environment, which a number of noble Lords touched on in their remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh asked specific questions about the operation of those schemes, which I am happy to write on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about the economic value of soil and what plans we have to address soil degradation. In 2022, we will start rolling out some elements of the environmental land management scheme. The sustainable farming initiative will support sustainable approaches to farm husbandry to deliver for the environment, such as actions to improve soil health.
The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked a question in relation to the Bill on the fact that taxation, spending and the allocation of resources are excluded from the remit of the principles contained in the Bill and the work of the office for environmental protection. This provides maximum flexibility in respect of the nation’s finances. I assure noble Lords that this exemption will apply only to the allocation of funding between multiple policies or programmes to or between departments. It is not an exemption for any policy that requires spending. Further, the Treasury takes environmental impacts into account in the Green Book, which guides policy-making decisions at fiscal events. The Treasury is undertaking work to strengthen those guidelines on environmental policies, including biodiversity. In particular, there is a current review of the environmental discount rate and work is under way on biodiversity evaluation, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, rightly noted as essential so that we can measure the impact of our policies on biodiversity.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering also asked how the Treasury would contribute to the Environment Bill. That work on biodiversity valuation is one example of how it will do so, as it is an essential part of the requirement for biodiversity net gain included in the Bill that the planning system should be able to measure what biodiversity net gain there is.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and many others asked about GDP and role of biodiversity and natural accounting in our national accounting. GDP remains one of our most important economic indicators, because it correlates closely with employment, income and tax receipts and helps guide economic policy. However, the Government recognise that it has its limitations. Indeed, those were acknowledged in Sir Charles Bean’s Independent Review of UK Economic Statistics in 2016. The Government have fully supported the recommendations of that review, including through providing the ONS with an additional £25 million to support its Beyond GDP initiative to address the limitations of GDP. As part of that work, the ONS published comprehensive natural accounts last year and has started to publish human capital accounts as well, both of which are central to the Dasgupta Review’s “inclusive wealth” concept.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, asked about government investment in green jobs. The Treasury has supported a green recovery at the spending review and in this year’s Budget. The spending review backed our Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution with £12 billion of government investment to create highly skilled green jobs in the UK, and spur over three times as much private sector investment by 2030. The spending review also increased Defra’s budget by almost £1 billion, helping it to harness the power of nature in the fight against climate change, and to connect people with green spaces by creating habitats and investing in national parks. We have also committed more than £600 million to the nature for climate fund in England, which will support our objective to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year in the UK by 2025 and to restore more peatlands. During the pandemic, we also set up the £80 million green recovery challenge fund to help our environmental NGOs and their partners invest in a wide range of natural capital improvement projects, including tree-planting and habitat restoration, while protecting jobs.
A number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and my noble friend Lord Lucas—raised education. Nature is covered in the national curriculum, and schools have the autonomy to explore the topic further. What is more, in 2017, we introduced a new environmental science A-level which will enable pupils to study topics that support their understanding of climate change and how it can be tackled. An economics A-level also requires the study of the allocation of scarce resources, which could include the effects of economic decisions and activity on the environment.
My noble friend Lord Lucas has raised with me before OCR’s proposal for a new GCSE in natural history. The Department for Education is exploring that and has held an initial discussion with OCR, but I should say that it has made no commitment at this stage to introduce such a GCSE.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, raised the question of consumer responsibility in the Environment Bill, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, asked about information and labelling for consumers to improve their understanding of the products they buy. There is an important connection between the products we buy and their wider environmental footprint. The Environment Bill will help consumers to make purchasing decisions that support the market for more sustainable products through powers to introduce clear product labelling that identifies products that are more durable, repairable and recyclable and informs consumers about how to dispose of used products. Clauses will also enable us to set minimum eco-design requirements for products and require the provision of information to buyers to support a shift towards more sustainable products. The Bill also includes an amendment to tackle illegal deforestation in agricultural commodity supply chains.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and others asked about the role of finance. We absolutely acknowledge the importance of encouraging financial institutions to understand and disclose the impact of their activities on nature. To this end, the Government have offered their support to the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure, which looks to do just that.
That is some of the work that we are undertaking at home but, as noble Lords have noted, biodiversity loss is a global crisis. Biodiversity underpins all economic activities and human well-being. It is estimated that $44 trillion-worth of economic value generation—more than half the world’s total GDP—is moderately or highly dependent on nature, yet global capital accounts show that from 1990 to 2014 almost 90% of countries have seen declines in their natural capital per head of population.
That is why arresting and reversing the fast decline in biodiversity also requires concerted and co-ordinated action internationally. As the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, noted, this year is critical. As co-host of the COP 26 climate conference, we have made nature one of the core themes that we will raise. As president of this year’s G7, the UK will ensure that the natural world stays right at the top of the global agenda, although I cannot speculate on the cast list or invite list for the G7 at this time.
As noble Lords have also noted, the international summit on the Convention on Biological Diversity, to be held in China this year, will see the world come together to agree long-term global biodiversity targets, and as such is a key opportunity to set nature on the path to recovery. The Government have committed to playing a leading role in the development of an ambitious set of global biodiversity targets under the convention. The Government are demonstrating genuine leadership in other ways too, and have so far committed to spend at least £3 billion over five years on nature and nature-based solutions in developing nations as part of our £11.6 billion commitment to double our international climate finance from 2021 to 2025.
We also committed in the UK’s green finance strategy to ensure that our ODA is aligned with our commitments under the Paris Agreement for climate change. Also, as we a signatory to the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, the Prime Minister has committed to mainstreaming nature into all government policy and investment, so officials are also undertaking work to explore how we can nature-proof ODA, not just climate-proof it, and indeed make it nature positive. We have striven to raise ambitions on the international stage as pioneers of the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which has now been signed by more than 80 countries. Signatories have committed to 10 critical actions to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. At the same time, the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, co-chaired by the UK, has managed to get more than 50 countries to pledge their support for the 30x30 targets to protect at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean by May 2030. Of course, the UK has signed up to that itself.
I have tried to cover an immense amount of ground, but I have not managed to cover all the ground noble Lords did in this debate. I apologise to those whose points I did not manage to address directly. I will happily write to all those who have taken part in this debate to pick those up afterwards.
I close by saying that this has been an incredibly important debate. I think it is welcome that a finance ministry, the Treasury, is engaged on these issues. That shapes how we approach our action as a Government on biodiversity and climate change, which, as many noble Lords have said, are two sides of the same coin. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and, finally, make the Government’s position clear: biodiversity loss is an issue of critical importance on which we are determined to continue taking action, at home and internationally.
I thank everyone who spoke and the Minister for that detailed response, which managed to cover a great many of the points that were raised. We have an emergency—I noted that the Minister did not use that word in her response. I thoroughly applaud the Treasury for producing this report. At the beginning of her reply, she mentioned the “thought leadership” approach and said that it was thought leadership for the world. The important thing is that this becomes much more than thought; it has to become action and that has to happen in the Environment Bill, with a lot of detail. It is not enough to just make general sweeping decisions that we have to take nature into consideration; this needs money and attention to detail.
As various noble Lords have pointed out, it is relatively simple to figure out how to lower our carbon emissions because they are measurable, but measuring biodiversity and natural capital is a whole other ball game. I would plead that this huge and fantastic report does not end up on a shelf, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, implied that it might—because many reports do—but instead really becomes a call to action.
I thoroughly endorse the plea of the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Lucas, and the noble Earl, Lord Devon, for this to get into education. At the end of the day, this is our home and we are asset managers. In the same way that we are lamentable in teaching schoolchildren how to look after their finances, it is now time that we taught them how to look after their larger world. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, for bringing up the subject of consumption, which I had not talked about. The consumption habits and patterns of our world are quite unsustainable if we want to make radical change. I cannot respond to every single point, but I thank everyone very much.
I will leave the Committee with one last story. This is not the first time that this has happened, and it has had disastrous consequences. Some 15 years ago, I found myself in Leptis Magna on the north coast of Africa—in a desert with a wonderful old Roman city in it. It had an extraordinary market where they pulled the water down from the mountains and kept it underneath the market to keep the vegetables cool. You look around and think, “Vegetables? What are they talking about?”. But the Romans went to north Africa because it was the bread-basket of the Mediterranean at that point. It was so fertile and extraordinary that they could get three wheat harvests a year.
They sustained their civilisation but did not know what they were doing: they planted the crops too often and planted monocrops, and it all fell apart. It was fine then because you just packed your suitcase and went to find another place. We do not have another place. There is no room on Mars—that is a super bad idea, and I wish Elon Musk would spend his money on protecting the environment rather than looking for somewhere else to live.
On that note, I thank everyone very much for the debate and the Minister for her response. I hugely congratulate the Treasury on undertaking this report and publishing it. We all hope that we will see real action in this regard in the months to come.
That completes the business before the Grand Committee this evening. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 6.59 pm.