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Official Development Assistance: Landmine Clearance

Volume 812: debated on Monday 17 May 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their financial support for landmine clearance will be reduced as a result of the overall reduction in Official Development Assistance.

My Lords, we have prioritised our aid to be more strategic and remain a force for good across the world. On landmine clearance, this will mean a reduction in financial support compared to the previous financial year. However, we remain a leading donor in the sector. The United Kingdom’s demining work will continue to save lives, limbs and livelihoods across the world, supporting those most in need and, importantly, delivering on our treaty commitments.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister will note that the first Oral Question of this Session is on the cut to ODA, something which is not in keeping with the aims of the integrated review and which is opposed on all sides of both Houses. Does he agree that clearing landmines is essential for development and for meeting the STGs? One of the countries most affected is Angola, where Princess Diana brought the issue to the world. Will the Government maintain their support there, and elsewhere?

My Lords, first, I welcome the Lord Speaker to his new role. This is the first Question that I am answering with the new Lord Speaker on the Woolsack and I am sure I speak for the whole House in wishing him well for this Session. The noble Baroness rightly raises the important work of demining, particularly in the context of the integrated review. It very much remains a priority. She specifically mentioned Angola. UK funding is key in supporting the Angolan Government’s demining strategy and we have seen success already, including the clearance of landmines in an area constituting about 3,700 football pitches and life-saving education being delivered to more than 86,000 people. Angola will continue to be a country of focus.

Can this issue be on the table for the G7, the G20 and COP 26, because landmines are everywhere? We see that they are going to be left in Gaza. We know that in other areas, such as Yemen and Syria, when people do the clear up, they find more landmines. Although there is the protocol, we must ensure that landmines are no longer allowed to be used in any dispute or any war. We absolutely have to ensure this. Can we have an undertaking that this can be put on the agenda?

My Lords, what I can say to the noble Baroness is that we will continue to focus on this important work. We have seen the importance of leadership in this respect. The UK will use our commitment, and the presidency of the 2008 cluster munitions convention, as an opportunity to bring more focus and more support to this important priority.

I am certain the Minister will agree that we are the world leaders in landmine clearance. Does he also agree that the soft power and good will that we build with countries where we show such leadership manifests in trade benefits? This is therefore a huge own goal if it is not reversed.

My Lords, notwithstanding the reduction, I agree with the noble Lord that we remain among the leading donors, but we recognise the large gap between donor funding and the resources required. We are now investing in research into innovative financing options—for example, exploring the use of social impact bonds and public/private partnerships—to meet that funding gap. I assure the noble Lord that it remains an important focus, not just in soft power but because we save lives by the investments we make.

My Lords, conflict and its legacy, such as landmines, disproportionately affects women and girls. Cutting support to these and other programmes is undeniably going to make life harder for women and girls around the world. While full impact assessments of the cuts were not carried out, there was an equalities impact assessment. Will my noble friend the Minister commit to publishing this, in line with the Equality Act 2010?

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right that an overall assessment was done. I will take the specific requirement to publish back to the department. It is certainly our intention to ensure full transparency when it comes to this issue.

My Lords, as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, while in Kiev, announced funding for mine clearance in Ukraine. As Prime Minister, last year, he decried giving as much aid to Zambia as Ukraine—the latter being vital for European security, he said. Now, contrary to the integrated review’s humanitarian causes and security priorities, the Government are cutting their support in this area. The Minister has said “priority” three times in his responses to this Question. What are the priorities and are any priorities safe from any cuts?

My Lords, on the broader issue of ODA, the noble Lord will be aware of the seven areas prioritised by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The noble Lord also mentioned Ukraine, and, again, our work there has cleared more than 1.5 million square metres, the equivalent—I am using football analogies today— of 210 football pitches, and educated people as well. While there have been reductions—I was very upfront in my original Answer—we are focused on continuing our work in this important area, as one of the world’s leading donors.

My Lords, echoing the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, there appears as yet to be no published information on the impact assessment of the reduction of ODA programme funding. Will the cuts affect priority projects, such as HMG’s announcement at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ gathering last week to provide education for an additional 40 million girls? Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, does the fact that no legislation was brought forward in the Queen’s Speech to reduce the statutory commitment of 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%, resulting in an approximate £4 billion loss, indicate that HMG are having second thoughts?

My Lords, on the issue of legislation, as I have said before from the Dispatch Box, we remain fully aware and cognisant of our obligations both under law and to this House. Let me assure the noble Baroness that we remain committed to £400 million of funding for girls’ education, and we look forward, with Kenya, to hosting the global education summit in July this year.

My Lords, let us come back to the original question by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. The UNDP argues that landmine clearance is a multiplier. These cuts are going to have a huge impact beyond simply removing landmines. They are going to affect economic activity in countries that are the priority of this Government. Can the Minister tell us what impact assessment this Government have made of these cuts on their own priorities, and when they will publish it?

My Lords, I have already alluded to the importance of transparency in our decisions, and I assure noble Lords that in all the decisions that have been taken across the board in the reduction—I have never shied away from the fact that it is a reduction—in our overseas development assistance, we have applied the criteria quite specifically but also looked at programmes to ensure their continuity and, importantly, scaling up as the economic conditions will allow for.

My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register as an ambassador for the HALO Trust, whose activities include essential mine clearance in Afghanistan and other countries. The United Kingdom aid budget has been cut by one-third, whereas HALO support from the United Kingdom Government has been cut by two-thirds. Why?

My Lords, as I said in my Answer, we have made reductions, which I have not shied away from. But with the HALO Trust, among other key partners, we have an important relationship, and we continue to work with the HALO Trust quite specifically. Overall, as we have assessed over a four-year period, we will be spending over £146 million in this area, including over £21 million this year.

My Lords, with more and more dependence on agriculture and sustainable food supply in southern Africa, can the Minister give an assurance that the UK will continue to support not just landmine clearance but landmine prevention?

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance, and that is why we need to ensure all international conventions are signed up to by other countries. But also, importantly, in country, it is not just about the clearance but about the education, so that once the countries are back on their feet and able to sustain their own position, they are able to ensure the prioritisation of keeping land clear of mines as something that they give specific focus to.

My Lords, I should make it clear that I attended the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, and I have also observed the clearance of cluster bombs and ammunitions in south Lebanon, where I saw the teams working first-hand. The consequence of the Government’s reduction in funding is that land will no longer be useable by villagers, and children and women, particularly, will have their legs burned off or be killed because they cannot farm and cannot go out and collect water. Surely it is a monumental tragedy when we are cutting the money when, otherwise, we would be saving more lives. How can the Government go on with this?

My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord’s personal insights into the experiences, and I have certainly seen the value of our demining work across the world. But these are challenging circumstances; noble Lords are fully aware of the challenges we faced on the domestic front. However, that is why we are investing in research, including, as I said earlier in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on scoping new ways of working to ensure that we can identify where the gaps are and then plug those gaps, including through innovative financial mechanisms. The research of those particular programmes will be completed in May, and I look forward to engaging with noble Lords in that respect.