My Lords, the United Kingdom has been one of the first and biggest supporters of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, the PBF, and its work, being among the top five donors. We recently announced our contribution of £10 million to the PBF for this financial year. The cross-government Conflict, Stability and Security Fund will receive £874 million for 2021-22, to focus on the link between stability, resilience and security and to work with Governments and civil society on key peace initiatives.
My Lords, the Government’s recent integrated review of foreign and security policy quite rightly stated that it was a major strategic objective
“to reduce the frequency and intensity of conflict and instability”.
It is therefore astonishing that the Government have reduced the contribution to the UN Peacebuilding Fund from more than £20 million in 2018 and 2019 to £10 million this year, and reduced the contribution to the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund by one-third to the sum that the Minister has just declared.
Do the Government not realise that, in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, trust, learning lessons and long-term consistency are absolutely fundamental, and that when projects such as those in Myanmar, which have been cut by the Government by 100%, are decimated at short notice, that breaks trust and causes instability? Will the Government look again at this and consider the creation of a transition fund that would at least allow these conflict prevention and peacebuilding projects to transition to new funders and allow some continuity so that peace can be maintained?
My Lords, on the peacebuilding fund, we have retained our contribution at the same level as in the previous financial year. The noble Lord is well aware of the challenges we have faced on funding. I have been dealing directly with our support for multilateral agencies, particularly with the United Nations, and have engaged directly at the most senior level—indeed, I am looking forward to my meeting with the Secretary-General tomorrow, when he is in London for the G7.
I reiterate that the United Kingdom stands very much at the forefront of peacebuilding initiatives. Of course, it is not just about funding but also about the contributions we make in terms of peacebuilders, peace mediators and peacekeepers, as well as our support for training initiatives, through both FCDO funding and the MoD.
My Lords, one issue that UN agencies, other delivery partners, countries that the FCDO works in and parliamentarians are struggling with is transparency over these cuts. The Government have a duty to be more transparent. I am sure my noble friend the Minister will point me to the FCDO annual report. Can he tell me when that report will be published? I still await an answer to my question to the Foreign Secretary on 27 April and to my noble friend on 17 May. Is my noble friend now in a position to tell me when the department will publish the equalities impact assessment?
My Lords, on my noble friend’s second question, we are seeking to do that at the earliest opportunity, but I can reassure her that the equalities assessment across all areas was very much part of our thinking and our decision-making, including across bilateral country spend. We are working on the annual report and looking to produce it—it will be later this year. When I have a specific date, I will of course inform my noble friend.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that when António Guterres became Secretary-General of the UN—I am delighted that the Minister will be seeing him tomorrow—among his top priorities were conflict prevention and peacebuilding? Our Government supported those priorities, including with resources. Does the Minister recognise that the cuts he referred to today are, in fact, us letting down the United Nations? I suggest that is hardly an auspicious way of recognising the 80th anniversary of that first Atlantic charter, which laid the foundation stone for the establishment of the UN.
The noble Lord will know that I respect his deep insights into the workings of the UN. However, as I indicated, my experience, through my direct dealings, is that, while these are challenging circumstances, the United Nations recognises the circumstances we are working in and, equally, the importance of the United Kingdom’s continued support of the multilateral system, through the UN.
My Lords, surely the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, must agree with Mark Lowcock, a former Permanent Secretary for the Department for International Development, who said that the Government’s aid cuts are “very corrosive of trust” and confidence in the UK globally. This is especially the case in Myanmar, Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Somalia. At least 23 partner organisations from these countries will tragically have to wholly or partly suspend their plans to build peace in these areas of serious conflict.
My Lords, I accept that, because of the reductions we have had to make, particularly to ODA, there are projects we have previously supported that may or will not receive funding. However, we have specifically targeted our funding. I cite one example of a country the noble Lord mentioned, South Sudan, where a particular focus has been on addressing violence against women and we continue to support initiatives implemented by the UNFPA, UNICEF, UNDP and UN Women.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that I chair the UK board of Search for Common Ground, the global peacebuilding charity. Last year, the Government said that the centrepiece of their Africa strategy was a pivot to the Sahel because of the issues regarding conflict in the area. But the letter from the Foreign Secretary to the International Development Committee of 3 June highlighted that there will be no UK bilateral support at all to the entirety of north Africa, including Libya, conflict-afflicted Cameroon, Mali and the Central African Republic. What reassurance can the Minister give that the UK will be supporting any bilateral peacebuilding projects at all in those countries?
My Lords, in our approach to Africa, we are funding specific programmes, working through multilateral partners. As the noble Lord will be aware from his own work, there are countries across the Sahel where France has a key leadership role and we have been looking to complement its efforts. We continue to work across Africa in Burkina Faso, the Lake Chad region and, notwithstanding challenging circumstances, in Ethiopia.
My Lords, the Minister said that it is not just about funding; civil society engagement is central to the concept of peacebuilding. The United Kingdom must always make room in the UN system for voices from conflict-affected areas. What steps have the Government taken to engage civil society in their peace and security work? Will the Government support proposals to strengthen mechanisms of civil society engagement at the United Nations?
My Lords, the short answer to the noble Lord’s second question is yes. It is an excellent idea; it is something I am pursuing, and I will seek to mention it in meetings with the UN. I can assure him that, internally, notwithstanding the challenging circumstances, we have strengthened our engagement. They have not been easy conversations—I accept that premise—but it is important that we communicate because civil society is an important partner in development support across the world.
My Lords, I find it depressing that we seem to be judging the UK Government’s contribution to peacebuilding and peace- keeping solely by financial input. What about over 40 years of peacekeeping in Cyprus? What about long-range recce in Mali or supporting the UN peace- keeping mission in Somalia? What about the delivery of an engineer battalion and a role 2 hospital in South Sudan over the last five years? What about the doubling of our contribution to UN peacekeeping missions over the last five years? All were at no charge to the United Nations, unlike the contributions of other nations. Should we not be celebrating that as well?
On 1 June more than 60 parliamentarians signed a letter calling on the Government to support coexistence in the Middle East by committing to the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Given last month’s violence, surely this is the time to invest in peace and coexistence in the Middle East. Can my noble friend—the Minister—tell me whether the Government intend to support this fund and whether they will raise the issue at the G7?
I think the noble Baroness referred to me as her noble friend, and of course we are friends outside the Chamber, beyond the formalities. I can reassure her that the Middle East will be among the key areas of discussion, both bilaterally and collectively within the G7. I will write directly to the noble Baroness on the issue of the fund.
My Lords, once again, I declare my interest as an ambassador for the HALO Trust, whose activities include mine clearance in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Yesterday, 10 of its employees were murdered and 16 injured in a tribal attack. HALO Trust will continue its dangerous but essential work for peacebuilding. Can it count on the wholehearted support of this Government?
My Lords, the noble Lord refers to yet another tragic event in Afghanistan. As the Minister responsible for our relations in Afghanistan, and I am sure I speak for all noble Lords, we totally deplore the continued targeting of those seeking to assist the progress of Afghanistan, particularly the targeting of those seeking to create peace and stability. The HALO Trust is recognised by all of us for its important work in demining. I assure the noble Lord that we are engaging directly with the HALO Trust, not just on its excellent work in Afghanistan but elsewhere around the world.