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Nutrition for Growth Summit

Volume 814: debated on Wednesday 13 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will announce their strategy for the Nutrition for Growth Summit in Tokyo in December.

My Lords, the United Kingdom continues to work closely with the Government of Japan to make sure that the 2021 Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit generates meaningful action by Governments, donors, businesses, the UN and civil society. A decision on a UK commitment and wider strategy will be made following the conclusion of the spending review.

My Lords, I co-chair, with David Mundell MP, the Nutrition for Growth APPG. At the first summit in 2013, the UK played a pivotal leadership role. For this summit, the International Coalition for Advocacy on Nutrition, which includes Save the Children, UNICEF and other important NGOs, set out recommendations for the FCDO at Tokyo in its document Time for Action. I strongly recommend that the noble Lord reads that document because its key recommendation is that the Government should renew their commitment to reach 50 million people with nutrition interventions by 2025. Does the noble Lord agree?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that I have read the documents in advance of this Question. Indeed, the recommendations made by ICAN are very much part of our thinking as we look to complete the spending review. I cannot give a specific commitment, but I recognise the work of the noble Lord and my right honourable friend David Mundell in this respect. We will work very constructively to ensure that we remain committed to this important priority.

My Lords, of course it is not only the UK Government whose job it is to end global malnutrition; others have roles to play, and we will be effective only if we work in partnership with like-minded allies. Which Governments are the FCDO speaking to ahead of the summit to ensure that our strategy is aligned with that of our closest allies, in particular the United States?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. I assure her that we are talking to all our allies. Indeed, this has been part of our feature—talking about tackling, for example, famine, as part as our leadership under the G7 agenda. I hope to travel to the United States shortly to meet some of the new members of the State Department team and this will certainly feature in those discussions as well.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that the ODA specific nutrition spend from 2016-19 was almost £110 million; this year it is projected to be only £37 million. Does the Minister not agree that maintaining good nutrition is one of the easiest and best ways to ensure a healthy population? This cut is not just drastic but extremely short-sighted. Once again, food has been penalised over other areas. Can the Minister tell the House when this budget will be restored and, indeed, increased to £120 million, which is what global experts recommend?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness and your Lordships’ House that this remains an important part of our thinking. As I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I cannot give a financial commitment at this stage because of the ongoing spending review, but I agree with the noble Baroness that the investment we have made over the current programme has seen great benefits, including on my patch. For example, in Bangladesh we have seen real achievements on the nutrition agenda.

My Lords, estimates suggest that we are currently on course to cut overseas funding for nutrition specifically by as much as 70%. That will inevitably cost lives and devastate the lives of millions of children in particular. Will the Government please take the opportunity of the summit to reconsider, if not reverse, that decision?

My Lords, obviously a decision was taken on the reduction of the overall ODA spend but, as I have already said, we are working constructively with key partners and are supportive of the summit that will take place in Japan in December. Once the spending review has been completed, I will be able to share with your Lordships the nature of the exact spend. There are various streams to this funding, including the match funding. Again, on reviewing this area, I have seen the net benefit of how UK funding helps support generate further funding, including from the private sector.

My Lords, The Power of Nutrition charitable foundation says:

“The Summit is a unique opportunity to accelerate financial commitments … With concerted, bold actions … from all sectors, we can make 2021 the year where progress on nutrition is not reversed but accelerated”.

Can the Minister say whether the Government, under their chairmanship of G7, will set an example and increase their aid budget for nutrition to £120 million, reversing cuts made by the Chancellor earlier this year?

My Lords, I believe I have already answered part of that question but let me reassure the noble Baroness that we are leading on this issue, including in discussions with G7 partners.

My Lords, my noble friend is, of course, aware of the significant cuts to the aid budget but implementing the OECD policy marker for nutrition at programme design stage will cost the Government nothing and make the remaining aid—what is left for nutrition—much more impactful. Do the Government have any plans to do this by creating nutrition objectives across broader development programmes?

My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great insight and expertise. Let me assure her that the Government have worked with other key donors to promote adoption of the new OECD nutrition policy marker. Indeed, the UK’s 2019 ODA spend data that was published recently included the nutrition policy marker for the first time. She makes an important point, and it is very much part of our thinking.

My Lords, are the Government prepared to show global leadership by tackling the massive problem of malnutrition in this country, in particular by bringing forward a food Bill in response to the recent Dimbleby report?

Speaking to foreign policy, it is always important that, when we stand up and raise issues of prioritisation on the international stage, we do not forget what is happening at home. The noble Lord makes an important point, which I will discuss on my return with colleagues across other departments.

My Lords, following on from the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, is the FCDO looking at its own key performance indicators when it assesses mortality rates for under-fives? Does it give a high importance to nutrition?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. I assure her that the issue of KPIs, in terms of our development spend, is consistent across many areas of budget. I used the example of Bangladesh earlier. We have seen infant mortality fall there from the direct support we have provided on various programmes, particularly among those under the age of five. That shows the real benefit of our investment in such parts of the world.

My Lords, the cruel and short-sighted cuts to official development assistance already implemented will have a significant impact on nutrition and other life-saving programmes. That budget is now further threatened by the suggestion that the Chancellor might include IMF special drawing rights against the ODA budget rather than as additional aid. Can the Government give a cast-iron guarantee that there will not be further cuts to official development assistance programmes as a result of this proposal from the Chancellor and that the rest of the Government will stand up to him and this time say no?

My Lords, as the noble Lord may have noticed, we have a new Foreign Secretary. One of the areas that I know my right honourable friend has prioritised is to look again at the issue of the aid budget. The noble Lord makes an important point about SDRs and I can assure him that we are engaging in very robust discussions with the Treasury.