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International Development Strategy

Volume 816: debated on Thursday 25 November 2021


Asked by

My Lords, noting my interests in the Lords register, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office is leading work on a new cross-governmental international development strategy. The strategy will establish an ambitious and positive vision for the UK’s approach to development in a new global context. It will set out the UK Government’s strategic development goals and demonstrate how the UK plans to remain a leader on development. It will be published in spring 2022.

My Lords, the terribly sad events in the English Channel in the past 24 hours will shame this generation in history for our failure internationally to cope with displacement and the millions of people who are running from fear or poverty. They cross dangerous seas because they are either terrified of the lands and people they have left or because they believe there is no other route to a better life. Do the Government agree that the best way to help those people is to ensure that they can have a better life in the countries from which they originate? To do that, we need to support safe and secure societies and sustainable development, so will the sustainable development goals of the United Nations be central to the new international development strategy, and will the Government continue to support the important work on conflict prevention and stability that has been a mark of UK international development over the past 15 years?

My Lords, the Government strongly agree with the arguments put forward by the noble Lord. The IDS priorities are fairly straightforward: honest, reliable, sustainable infrastructure in developing countries precisely to deliver the progress and stability necessary to avoid the situation that we saw yesterday; delivering Covid-19 vaccines; life-saving humanitarian support to those who need it; getting more girls into school; preventing sexual violence in conflict; and leading the fight against climate change and environmental destruction.

My Lords, the integrated review made many ambitious claims about the UK’s international role. I found it gave less away about the principles to meet those claims. Does the Minister accept that to be credible the new development strategy must be rooted in effective development principles, including the Paris declaration and the Accra agenda, and draw on the evidence of what works on the ground?

Yes, my Lords, the international development strategy builds from the integrated review and articulates the Government’s strategic development goals, which are very much in line with the priorities identified by the right reverend Prelate. It will establish an ambitious and, above all, positive vision for the UK’s approach to development in a new global context and lay out how the UK plans to remain a leader on development.

My Lords, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment last week to restore funding to women and girls to pre-cuts levels, although that is bittersweet as the funding will have to be found from further cuts to other important programmes. What year will be used as a benchmark for this, and when will the funding be restored? Will it include restoring full funding to sexual and reproductive health, which has suffered cuts of 85%, affecting women and girls all around the world?

My Lords, we want to ensure that everyone has the ability to thrive and meet their potential. That is a key focus of our approach. We are restoring funding to women and girls to pre-ODA cut levels, focusing on giving more girls a quality education, ending the appalling practice of female genital mutilation, supporting girls’ health and ending the abhorrent use of sexual violence around the world, particularly in conflict. Educating girls is one of the best investments that we can make to fight poverty. Following the recent SR, decisions on specific allocations and individual programmes will be published shortly.

My Lords, will the Minister brief the House on any new commitments that were made under the aid programme during the two weeks of the COP 26 conference that he attended? Will they be funded over and above the 0.5% GNI that has already been allocated, or are the Government going to rob Peter to pay Paul?

My Lords, the Government committed some time ago—I believe it was two years ago—to double our international climate finance to £11.6 billion. There was a commitment from the Prime Minister that we will add £1 billion to that commitment if the financial trajectory that is anticipated for this country continues and we meet various criteria, but the commitments that were announced around Amazon forest protection, indigenous people’s support and so on will come from the international climate finance commitment that has already been made.

My Lords, when I was at DfID I was greatly impressed by the development work done by older people, particularly older women, in families and communities. How much more could be done with greater encouragement and support? Could the Minister give an assurance that there will be a section in the international development strategy on the way in which older people can contribute to the development in their countries?

My Lords, I cannot give specific commitments but the principle is absolutely right. One of the reasons we are looking at scaling back our investments through some of the multilateral development organisations is in order to be able to provide more bilateral support. That bilateral support, when directed at the grass roots—when directed towards supporting those people who are really delivering change on the ground—will be more effective, in our view, than some of the investments that have been made in the past. That would of course include investing in communities and all members of those communities.

But, my Lords, whole swathes of bilateral programmes have been cut in their entirety because of the development assistance cuts, and each of the coming three years will see a 40% reduction on pre-cuts levels. The Government are expecting us to believe that in one year, 2024, £5.2 billion extra can be programmed, planned and delivered in a sensible way. This kind of stop-start approach is what we wanted to move away from so that those bilateral programmes could be planned properly. Does the Minister agree that the very least we could do is stage this so that this year it is 0.5%, next year 0.6% and then 0.7% the following year?

My Lords, it will not be a sudden decision to return to 0.7%. Of course, I hope, as everyone does, that 0.7% is something that we can return to very quickly, but it is not going to happen overnight. We know from projections and economic trends when we are likely to meet that point, and that will provide us with ample time to prepare in order to ensure that we can spend the money effectively.

My Lords, I declare my relevant interest in a number of all-party parliamentary groups. Does the Minister agree that central to our international development strategy is the BBC World Service? If so, is he aware of the warnings from the National Union of Journalists that without renewed funding, in April 2022—in just a matter of weeks—vital programmes to places such as Korea, Ethiopia and Eritrea could be adversely affected? Will he ensure that as a matter of urgency the necessary certainty of funding—the point being made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, a few moments ago—is resolved, and will he promise to keep the House informed?

My Lords, I admit I have not seen the report that the noble Lord cites but I will dig it out after this session and convey his message, which he makes extremely well, to colleagues at the Foreign Office.

My Lords, Covid has seen an additional 283,000 children under five predicted to die from malnutrition, yet the FCDO is currently set to cut ODA to nutrition by 70%. Nutrition programmes not only save lives but are central to girls’ education, vaccine efficacy and economic development. Ahead of the Nutrition for Growth summit next month, which this country has led the way on, will this Government commit to making a prominent pledge to ensure that they meet the UK’s commitment to reach over 50 million children, women and adolescent girls by 2025?

My Lords, I cannot make specific commitments now other than to say that the strategy that we are due to publish will take forward our commitments in the integrated review that set out clearly that the UK is one of the world’s leading development actors. We are committed to the global fight against poverty and to achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030. The strategy that is published will absolutely support those aims.

My Lords, whatever development strategy is arrived at, the Chancellor is still wielding the sword of Damocles over the overseas aid budget, effectively slashing some £5 billion off our contributions for every year that we fail to meet his fiscal tests. We can only guess how many years that will be. Does the Minister agree that such financial uncertainty undermines the whole process of development strategising?

My Lords, we are in a position in relation to aid and aid cuts that I do not think anyone welcomes, but we are in the situation that we are in. The projections that the Government have put forward suggest that we are likely to be able to return to 0.7% by the end of this spending review, and of course that is something that I very much hope will happen.