House of Lords
Thursday 16 December 2021
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.
School Curriculum: First Aid Training and Home Nursing
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to include (1) first aid training, and (2) home nursing, as core parts of the school curriculum.
My Lords, we know that first aid and good care saves lives. Schools are now required to teach first aid as part of statutory health education. Pupils are taught how to deal with common injuries, call the emergency services, administer CPR and understand the purpose of defibrillators. Schools have the flexibility to deliver content that meets the needs of their pupils, such as learning about caring for others.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. I asked one of the most experienced paramedics in Norfolk what he thought would save most lives in the National Health Service in his field. His answer was: “Please include teaching standard cardiopulmonary resuscitation—CPR—in the school curriculum, especially as you can no longer give the kiss of life, along with basic first aid and home nursing classes”. However, could these classes be taught not just once a term but every week? UK ambulances attend 60,000 calls every year, with many calls made through a lack of basic knowledge. A degree of serious teaching, as evidence shows, saves three times as many lives and would save the National Health Service millions of pounds. Can the Minister take this to her department as a project for 2022?
As I said in response to my noble friend’s main Question, all state-funded schools are required to teach first aid and the curriculum includes CPR. We have also recently issued implementation guidance to schools, which says that they should decide the most appropriate method of teaching. Many use excellent charities to help them implement that training.
My Lords, I am sorry to say this, because I know the noble Baroness raised this Question in good faith, but it is unhelpful because it deflects from the pressing need for the national curriculum to be rescued from the confines imposed upon it by the English baccalaureate. The EBacc comprises the subjects most sought after by Russell group universities; it does not cater for young people who want to pursue the arts and creative subjects, such as design and technology, drama or music. Does the Minister have any concerns about young people being force-fed subjects that may not be in their best interests, and is it now the time to think about adding a sixth pillar to the EBacc?
I hear the noble Lord’s level of concern, but the EBacc gives pupils the foundational skills and knowledge they need to pursue a very wide variety of careers. As he and I debated over many hours during the skills Bill, there are also lots of opportunities in both T-levels and BTECs to pursue a range of other careers.
My Lords, I chaired the Sub- Committee on Allergy in 2007, which recommended adrenaline autoinjectors in schools, which are now available. Can the Minister confirm whether teenagers—a third of whom with allergies are known often not to carry their adrenaline injectors with them—and the risk of bleeding out from stab injuries to them are specifically targeted in first-aid teaching in senior schools?
If I may, I will write to the noble Baroness with more detail, but the spirit of the guidance is certainly that schools have an element of discretion, and rightly so, in what they include in their curriculum. However, she will be aware that we are doing a great deal of work in relation to stab injuries and violent crime.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, wishes to speak virtually. I think this is a convenient point for me to call her.
My Lords, I watched primary schoolchildren get involved in these classes some years ago and saw CPR being taught in a secondary school. To what year groups do the Government intend to teach these excellent skills? It is all right doing it just for seniors, but what about primary school- children as well?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right, and the curriculum is also included in all primary schools in an age-appropriate manner.
My Lords, would my noble friend agree that one of the best ways of teaching first aid in schools is through the Combined Cadet Force? The Government’s school cadet expansion programme has a target of 60,000 young people participating by next year. Can my noble friend tell us how far along the road we are with that? I remind your Lordships of my charitable interest as chairman of the Cadet Vocational Qualifications Organisation.
My noble friend is right to bring attention to the CCF and the great work that it does. But I am sure he would agree that there are a number of other organisations, such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the National Citizen Service, that also focus on equipping young people with a range of skills, including first aid. I will write to my noble friend with an update on recruit numbers.
My Lords, I wonder if I could draw two answers together by asking the Minister if she agrees that, apart from the important health benefits already mentioned, there is a social dividend in what is being suggested? As with playing an instrument, as we have just heard, or drama, the self-esteem resulting from an acquired discipline and the ability to help others promotes social cohesion and friendliness.
I agree with the noble Lord. The curriculum supports the development of a range of essential behaviours and life skills promoting confidence, team working, emotional well-being, compassion and resilience.
My Lords, first aid and CPR are not available in the curriculum in Northern Ireland. To address this, my colleague in the Northern Ireland Assembly has brought forward a Private Member’s Bill to introduce CPR as part of the curriculum and have it available in all types of schools. Will the Minister use her great offices when meeting ministerial colleagues in the devolved Administrations to encourage them down this route as a safety measure and part of good curriculum education?
I am delighted to reassure the noble Baroness on that account and to share that with my ministerial colleagues in the department.
My Lords, it has been mentioned that the kiss of life is no longer part of CPR because of Covid, but in fact it was given up before that because it was recognised that there was enough oxygen in the blood. The great thing is to get the circulation going as the essential part of CPR.
I thank my noble friend for that very helpful technical clarification.
My Lords, many children of black and Asian descent suffer from sickle cell. Will the noble Baroness consider getting schools to talk about sickle cell and teach children, when a child in their class has a crisis, about what they are going through?
I am delighted to share that with colleagues in the department and confirm that that is happening.
Environmental Land Management Schemes
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Benyon on 27 May (HL Deb, col. 1097), when they will publish details of how new Environmental Land Management schemes will deliver the “very clear access commitment, backed by funding”, to which the Minister referred.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in the name of my noble friend, and at her request.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. The Government remain committed to investing in access. On 2 December the Secretary of State confirmed that we will
“continue to pay for heritage, access and engagement through our existing schemes and we will consider how to maintain investment in these areas as part of future schemes”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/12/21; col. 40WS.]
This includes environmental land management schemes. Our ongoing commitment is visible through other funds, including the nature for climate fund and the farming and protected landscapes programme, among others.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that unless you have effective co-ordination between making more footpaths and greater access to the countryside available within the existing structure, and things like public transport, you are going to underutilise any possible benefit? Would the Minister cast his eye over one of the recommendations made in the report entitled A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing? I was a member of the committee that produced it, and in it we suggest that the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities—not a very snappy title—should undertake this work to make sure there is a cross-government approach.
The noble Lord is absolutely right: we can provide all the footpaths and access we want, but it is about getting people out there to use them and demystifying the natural environment for some people. I was interested in that report, as it produced the rather worrying finding that physical activity levels in the UK have significantly declined, in part as a result of Covid. Much more can be done to join this up and it is absolutely a job across government, not just for one department.
My Lords, may I raise access of a different kind, in connection with the ELMS: access for tenants and how we can encourage and incentivise longer tenancy agreements? Will the Minister use his good offices to interact with the Treasury to ensure that the tax changes needed for this purpose can be made in time, before the ELMS come into effect?
I thank my noble friend. There are ongoing discussions with the Treasury on a variety of different aspects of agricultural transition and reform, not least our exit scheme. But we also want to encourage a length of tenure which encourages people to invest in a wide variety of different activities in the countryside, including access.
My Lords, I declare my interest as president of the Rural Coalition. Can the Minister confirm that the funds allocated for the implementation of the Glover review are totally separate from the funds allocated for ELMS?
The right reverend Prelate raises a very good point. For example, we have put some money into the farming in protected landscapes scheme, which many different access groups are using to work with farmers and organisations like national parks and AONBs to get greater access. We absolutely intend that these are part of the environmental land management schemes, but that other funding streams can be accessed as well.
My Lords, on 2 December the Minister wrote to your Lordships giving an update on the transition from CAP. The annexe indicated that 70 applications have been received for trials on landscape recovery. Could the Minister give an update on how these are going and whether any include access to the countryside?
A wide variety of different activities are being looked at as part of the tests and trials. Our announcement on local nature recovery and landscape recovery will be made next year. We are working with the test-and-trials farmers and land managers to ensure that access is part of this, as well as the very important work we need to do to reverse the declines in species.
In reply to an earlier question, the Minister used the phrase “ongoing discussions with the Treasury”, a phrase beloved by civil servants and Ministers. Can the Minister tell us when he expects these ongoing discussions to be concluded, and how they are going to be reported to Parliament?
I shall certainly keep the House informed about this. My discussions with the Treasury are very fruitful in this area. The noble Lord seems sceptical of that, perhaps, but I assure him that there is a cross-government intention to provide better security for farmers in future and that schemes such as our exit scheme have the right tax framework to make them a good incentive—but also that the other aspects that we are talking about here, such as access and getting more people out in the countryside, are understood. The work that I have been doing with my noble friend Lord Agnew has been really important in trying to make sure that we get more people into the countryside.
My Lords, I refer the House to my minimal interests in agriculture. Does my noble friend not think that there is an inevitable conflict between rewilding and public access, because nobody actually wants to walk through countryside that is covered in stinging nettles and brambles?
I am not sure that I agree with my noble friend. What people want in our countryside is variety. Rewilding Britain, the charity promoting rewilding, has an ambition of 5% of the UK to be rewilded by the end of this century, which seems a perfectly achievable figure. The work that we have to do in the farmed environment, as well, is really important —so I do not think that he can make a sweeping statement like that.
My Lords, as the Minister knows, financial support for improving public access to the countryside is a key commitment of the new regime in the Agriculture Act. I would be interested to hear his response to the many rambling and walking groups that are expressing anger and frustration at the moment that the department is not prioritising access to the countryside.
I was disappointed by the response of the Ramblers Association, an organisation for which I have a great regard. As set out in a Written Ministerial Statement of 2 December:
“We will also continue to pay for heritage, access and engagement through our existing schemes and we will consider how to maintain investment in these areas as part of future schemes.”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/12/21; col. 437WS.]
What we were talking about was the sustainable farming incentive, which is only one of three schemes. Of course, there are many other examples, such as the £500 million nature for climate fund and the £124 million announced for the net-zero community forests. I could go on, but I would incur the wrath of the House if I did.
My Lords, the Minister has just raised a number of schemes available to the public. I welcome the Government’s general direction but will my noble friend be careful to ensure that they do not overcomplicate those schemes and make them too complicated for people to have access to them?
My noble friend is absolutely right. One reason why we have done this iterative process, with tests and trials and piloting these different schemes, is because we want to make sure that they are brought in in as effective a way as possible. We have already reduced, with the sustainable farming incentive, the amount of guidance to make it as simple and clear as possible. Farmers should not be paying land agents huge amounts of money to do those schemes; they can do it themselves.
My Lords, in this season of good will, should we not congratulate my noble friend the Minister on his wonderful passion for the countryside and express the hope that he is able in the new year to extend that passion ever more widely?
I do not know what I can say in answer to such a generous question, expect to say a very happy Christmas to my noble friend and everybody else.
Children and Young People in Care: Accommodation
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that children and young people in care are placed in safe and appropriate accommodation.
My Lords, all children in care deserve to live in homes that meet their needs and keep them safe; that is why we are reforming unregulated provision for children aged 16 and 17 and have banned the placement of under-16s. This week, we have announced that we will invest over £140 million to introduce mandatory national standards and Ofsted registration. We are also investing £259 million to maintain and build more places in open and secure children’s homes.
My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the Minister for that helpful Answer. As the House knows, no child is taken into care without there being clear evidence of the child’s safety being severely at risk. Indeed, some of us, or I guess all of us, wish that some local authorities had acted more quickly in respect of recent terrible cases. The Minister knows that the Competition and Markets Authority recently highlighted in its report the number of children who are still being placed in unregulated and inappropriate accommodation. Can the Minister kindly expand on what steps are being taken to rectify this worrying situation?
I thank the noble Lord for his question, and echo his sentiment, and the sentiment of the House, in relation to the two recent cases to which I think he was referring.
In relation to the CMA report, the department is extremely grateful to the CMA, which is addressing fundamental and important issues. We believe that the steps that we have announced this week will make an important difference in securing the safety of 16 and 17 year-olds in particular. The investment that we are making in open and secure children’s homes will also help to boost supply—but we are waiting for the full report to give our official response.
My Lords, my noble friend will know that this year a record number of unaccompanied minors have arrived in this country seeking asylum, and many have been placed in hotels, with minimal supervision, making them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. What arrangements are the Government making to make sure that these vulnerable children get the support that they need?
Earlier this week, the national transfer scheme for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, to whom my noble friend refers, was made mandatory for local authorities. As a result of that change, the majority of local authorities will be required to accept transfers of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children into their care. We believe that this will provide those very vulnerable children with the care and support that my noble friend rightly says they need.
My Lords, on this day 30 years ago, the Government made a pledge to the United Nations that they would honour the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which contains comprehensive state obligations towards children. Yesterday’s announcement, referred to by the Minister, on national standards for unregulated supported accommodation for 16 and 17 year-olds was, sadly, a further sign that this Government have reneged on that pledge. Instead of making those establishments follow the quality standards for children’s homes, Ministers are pressing ahead with an alternative, rudimentary set of standards, which are devoid of any requirement to provide care to children. How can it possibly be acceptable for children to be in the care of the state and not receive any care where they live?
I understand why the noble Lord asks the question, and I am grateful for the opportunity to try to clarify the point. There are children with a foster placement or a placement in a children’s home, which cater for the vast majority of children in care, whose placements have broken down multiple times or who have come very late age-wise into the care system, who live in semi-independent living, which aims to give them the skills that they will need later in life. I hope that the noble Lord will acknowledge the important step that is being made with the introduction of these standards and the powers that it will give Ofsted to make sure that we give children that care.
My Lords, 75% of children’s residential care homes are run by private firms, making huge profits, and the average placement now is around £4,000 a week. In spite of this, many London boroughs are having to place vulnerable children hundreds of miles away, outside the city and away from their homes and friends. I came across a case just recently in which a north London borough has to pay hundreds and hundreds of pounds in taxi fares to bring children and young people back into the borough to receive appropriate educational support. These are children who have severe mental health problems. What is being done to mitigate this? Surely it cannot be right to send vulnerable children out of the borough—hundreds of miles away—and then to have to bus them back again for them to get the support that they need. Surely that is a terrible waste of funding.
The noble Baroness will be aware that the majority of looked-after children, 74% as at March 2021, were located 20 miles or less from their home, which is a slight increase on 2020. Only 6% of children are placed more than 20 miles away from their home.
My Lords, is it not clear from the questions to the Minister that we are dealing with a broken system that is letting children down? Will the Government think really deeply about this and seek ways to make sure that care is not the only alternative for children who are vulnerable? If more families get the right support at the right time, fewer children will end up at the risk they are at today—we know this from those places where effective early intervention is taking place across the age ranges, where they have been able to hold stable the number of such children or even reduce them. When will the Government switch their perspective and go for early intervention?
With respect to the noble Baroness and to the House, these children were originally let down within their own homes, sadly. That is the tragedy, which I know she knows very well. She will also be aware that the Government have announced a really ambitious plan, in terms of family hubs, with a great focus on the first 1,000 days of a child’s life—she and I have discussed the importance of that in previous conversations. It is not an either/or choice: there will be children who need support and intervention earlier on, and we are committed to doing both well.
Is this the place to talk about a very big issue—pardon the pun—which is the fact that the flow of children out of care into homelessness and on into the prison system is still carrying on to such an extent that probably 25% of the people I work with in and around homelessness and 25% of people in prison have come from a care background?
I thank the noble Lord for the unique perspective and experience that he brings to this question. He is right, and that is why, together with the Department for Levelling Up, the Department for Education published guidance last year to make sure there are common standards for supported accommodation for young people aged 18 and over. That is an important basis, as the noble Lord understands well, but we are committed to providing additional support also.
Do the Government remain committed to helping those children in care who would benefit from a boarding education to obtain places in our excellent state and independent boarding schools, through their boarding school partnerships unit at the DfE? Is it not clear that children in care suited to a boarding education obtain good results in our national examinations? Are the Government supporting charities, such as the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation, which are working with boarding schools and local authorities to increase the number of places for children in care, mindful always that many children will not benefit from or be suited to a boarding school education?
The Government recognise the opportunity offered by both the state boarding and the independent sector to provide good outcomes for children in care. I am extremely pleased to report to my noble friend that the first cohort of 28 children commenced boarding placements this September as a result of the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation’s work on creating a national network of schools.
Uighurs in Xinjiang
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the conclusion of the Uyghur Tribunal on 9 December that a genocide is underway against Uyghurs in Xinjiang; and what steps they intend to take in response.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and in doing so declare that I am a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Uyghurs.
My Lords, we have followed the Uyghur Tribunal’s work and are studying its conclusions carefully. I welcome the tribunal’s contribution to international understanding of the deeply disturbing situation in Xinjiang. The UK has led international efforts to hold China to account at the UN, imposed sanctions and announced measures to help UK organisations avoid complicity in human rights violations. We will continue to work with our partners to increase pressure on China to change its behaviour.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his, as ever, helpful reply. Does he agree that International Court of Justice jurisprudence is clear on when a state has an obligation to prevent genocide? It is, and I quote:
“the instant that the State learns of … a serious risk“
of genocide. Given that the Uyghur Tribunal, led by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milošević, has conducted easily the most comprehensive examination of the Uighur crisis, having reviewed hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence and declared in a very tightly drawn judgment there to be a genocide, will the Minister, instead of perhaps telling the House again that genocide determination is a matter for courts, tell us whether the Government have performed the required assessment under the genocide convention of whether Uighurs are at serious risk of genocide and, if not, whether they will now do so?
My Lords, the noble Lord will know my response. Obviously, the British Government’s position on genocide and the declaration of genocide has not changed, but I believe that the tribunal—he will know this from our own exchanges—has again provided what I would describe as the most harrowing evidence of what has happened and continues to happen in Xinjiang, and we are looking at that very carefully.
My Lords, what contact have the Government had with Sir Geoffrey and the tribunal? Have there been official meetings? If not, will my noble friend undertake to ensure that he meets Sir Geoffrey at an early date?
My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we have met Sir Geoffrey Nice—indeed, I have met him on several occasions over various reports and work he does. Our officials followed the tribunal very closely and engaged directly with Sir Geoffrey Nice.
My Lords, the Minister says that we have led the way, and I certainly appreciate the actions of the United Kingdom’s Government. He has also stressed before that sanctions really become effective when we act in concert with our allies, so can he explain why the United States is able to sanction more people and a broader range of people to stop this genocide than the United Kingdom? Why can we not match the actions of the United States on this important issue?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is important to work with our allies: the US is one, as are other countries. When we did act together—indeed, we acted with 29 other countries with the sanctions we announced in March—that sent the clearest possible signal. Of course, I am very mindful that the United States has further sanctioned additional individuals, and we will continue to look at the situation on sanctions, but I cannot speculate any further.
My Lords, the Government have accepted that the human rights abuses against these people is carried out on an industrial scale, but in response to a question I asked the Minister on 23 March, he confirmed that no preferential access arrangements for Chinese trade to the UK and access to our financial services have been suspended or notified to be suspended. One of those would allow a state entity in Xinjiang to own more than 50% of a UK pension fund, so why have the Government not even signalled their intent to suspend any preferential access to Chinese finance companies to the British market?
My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Lord back and we will catch up on his travels. On 8 December, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade announced, via a WMS, a package of measures to update the UK’s export control regime. This included an enhancement to our military end use control that will allow the Government to better address threats to national security and human rights and completes the review of export controls as they apply also to Xinjiang that was announced to Parliament. The point he makes on financial services is a specific point and I will continue to engage with him on that issue, but we are sending quite specific signals and the announcement made on 8 December is a good example of that.
My Lords, I understand that the BBC has film evidence of the atrocities that have been addressed in the Uyghur Tribunal, but has been reluctant to show the programmes to date, having set the evidential test so unrealistically high that it cannot be met. Will the Minister ask for these films at least to be available for a private viewing to inform parliamentarians, so that people may be better informed in their own thinking and have another source of information?
My Lords, I will certainly reflect on and take back that suggestion. I often see the written details of reports which come through, some of which are quite detailed, and they are harrowing—I use the word deliberately. I can only imagine what some of these pictures would depict, but I will certainly reflect on what the noble Baroness has said.
My Lords, I think the vast majority of the population welcomes the Government’s decision to diplomatically boycott the Olympics along with other countries, but do they really believe that Coca-Cola and other major multinational corporations should be sponsoring the Beijing Olympics and thereby indicating support for a Government who are willing to commit the atrocities to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred?
My Lords, as someone who worked in the private sector, I think it is important that companies look at the responsibility of their own actions. I am sure they will take note of the decision not just of the UK but of other countries to announce that diplomatic boycott.
My Lords, these findings clearly have major implications for businesses’ ESG policies. When do the Government plan to follow the lead of the US and produce an investment ban list of firms known to be exercising or participating in the worst human rights abuses?
My Lords, presenting specific lists is always a challenge, though I hear what my noble friend has said. Certainly, the announcement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade reflects our continued concern in looking at this very carefully and systematically. Equally, I feel that companies, as I just said to my noble friend Lord Hayward, need to reflect on their actions and the business they are conducting.
My Lords, given the importance that the FCDO has attached, for example in the Trade Bill debates, to securing unrestricted access to Xinjiang for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, what steps has it taken to support her in seeking that access? What progress has been made since this was last discussed in Parliament, which I believe was in March?
My Lords, we championed that proposal and suggestion; it was in my meeting with Michelle Bachelet that we proposed that directly to her. We have been very supportive. She has been challenged by the Covid crisis, which has prevented her travelling. I know that she has agreed in principle and we will continue to make the case, as we have since March, that the first step—I know the noble Lord, Lord Collins, is seized of this—must be for Michelle Bachelet, in her capacity as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, to be given rights of access to Xinjiang.
My Lords, turning a blind eye or looking the other way is no answer; we know that from history. We know what is going on and I welcome the Government’s announcement of the diplomatic and political boycott of the Winter Olympics, but that should just be the start. Do the Minister and the department have a list of activities through which we can keep the pressure on the Chinese Government?
My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend. I assure him, as he will know all too well from our conversations, that it is not a question of turning a blind eye. We are very clear-eyed in our relationship with China; we accept that it makes some important contributions on the global stage, particularly on climate change, but all options remain on the table in what we are considering. As I have said, we have exercised leadership at the UN and resorted to exercising sanctions as and when necessary.
My Lords, what assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of kitemarking products which originate in Xinjiang province so that people can be informed that they may be produced by slave labour? That would help the economy take action in this important area, where we face such atrocities.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point on supply chains, ensuring that the sourcing of particular products is clearly identified. This was a matter specific to supply chains which we discussed during the recent G7 meeting of Ministers. I will certainly write to him on his point about identifying products from specific sources.
EU–UK Partnership Council
To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what is the agenda for the next meeting of the EU–UK Partnership Council, and when that meeting will take place.
My Lords, we have not yet agreed a date for the next meeting of the Partnership Council. The trade and co-operation agreement requires the council to meet once a year, unless otherwise agreed by the co-chairs. This condition has been met with the Partnership Council’s meeting on 9 June to begin the process of implementing the TCA’s governance structures. All TCA specialised committees are now scheduled to meet before the end of this year.
As someone who may be nominated to be on the PPA overseeing the Partnership Council, I hope it will meet a little more frequently and with a little more content. The TCA included a declaration on the UK’s participation in EU programmes such as Horizon; it was agreed in principle but there was no time to finalise it before the agreement was signed. The issue was to go to the appropriate specialised committee for action “at the earliest opportunity”. A year on, nothing has happened on Horizon. Can the Minister ensure, even if the Partnership Council is not meeting, that the other committees he mentioned meet and get on with this so that we can participate in Horizon, which is so important for all our researchers?
My Lords, I very much agree with the thrust of the question of the noble Baroness. I think it is well known that we have wanted to get the Horizon arrangements up and running for some time; it is a matter of great disappointment that we have still not managed to do so. It is not 100% clear why, but that is the situation. However, the good news is that we have now agreed that there will be a meeting of the relevant specialised committee before the end of this year, provisionally on 21 December. I hope that might mark a change in the approach being taken and enable us to move this forward.
My Lords, the very first of those declarations made that day concerned financial services. There was an agreement that, by March 2021, an MoU would be concluded to get regulatory framework co-operation. That has not happened, although there were some technical discussions. Will this declaration feature on a future agenda for the Partnership Council, as it is certainly important? Until that MoU has been done, the EU will not assess us for the various equivalence decisions that are so vital to the City. China has 14 equivalence decisions, Mexico has 13 and we currently have two, which are time-limited.
My Lords, the noble Earl is right that there is a provision to agree an MoU. Indeed, there were discussions at the start of this year provisionally to agree that text. Those discussions have paused, again for reasons that we are not 100% clear about, although we can speculate. Naturally, we hope it will be possible to pick them up and move this forward, given that, as the noble Earl knows, some of the equivalence decisions are now imminent if not quite yet urgent.
My Lords, in addition to the Horizon programme, which is causing some concern, my noble friend will be aware of the ongoing anxiety about the REACH programme. For those who have been affected by the fact that the unilateral UK REACH programme is not as comprehensive but is proving more expensive than the EU REACH programme to which all were subscribed before, what representations can be made to the EU-UK Partnership Council in this regard?
My Lords, obviously we have inherited the REACH programme in the retained EU law that came on to the statute books and in the TCA. It is something we keep under close review, and it is certainly true that the costs of reregistering through REACH are considerable. We keep under close review the possibilities of trying to streamline and reduce them.
My Lords, would the Minister not agree that a slightly more proactive approach to holding meetings with the TCA might be better than simply standing at the Dispatch Box and saying that we have fulfilled the minimum requirement under law? Would he perhaps answer the part of the Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that related to matters which might be discussed at such a future meeting? Has he given consideration, for example, to raising the issue of performing artists so that the work that the Government are doing bilaterally is supplemented by work with the EU where the EU has competence in these matters—for example, with cabotage?
My Lords, the Partnership Council is, of course, the highest body of the governance structure created by the TCA, and as such it does not need to meet very frequently. That is why the treaty commitment is to once a year. However, the specialised committees are important and look through the detail, and those have been running since June. As I said, all of those will shortly have met. So the governance structures are working well. We obviously have been giving thought to the agenda of the Partnership Council; it will no doubt take the issues that are of highest priority at that point. We touched on the question of touring artists at the 9 June meeting, and I imagine that we will do so again at the next meeting.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, wishes to speak virtually. I think this is a convenient point for me to call him.
My Lords, could we seek to place on the council agenda the whole issue of French threats to blockade channel ports, transport arrangements and compromised channel fishing rights? Can the Minister raise at such a meeting that it might be prudent for the United Kingdom to start moving cross-channel, roll-on roll-off trade to Belgian ports? We cannot go on under constant threats from France to block our European trade routes, because British jobs are at stake—and I say that as someone who loves France.
My Lords, I share the noble Lord’s opinion about France, and it is therefore all the more regrettable that France made threats against us earlier this year as a result of the ongoing disputes on fishing. I am very glad that those threats were withdrawn, and actually we have been able to continue the fishing discussions on a relatively constructive basis and bring them more or less to a conclusion recently. I think those threats would have been a breach of the treaty and therefore would have been something that it would have been necessary to raise at the Partnership Council—but I hope that we will not be in that situation when the Partnership Council meets.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on the Government’s engagement with the fora set up for the trade and co-operation and withdrawal agreements. Does he agree with me that if the EU is willing to show the same spirit of constructive engagement and flexibility required, the problems concerning the Northern Ireland protocol could be speedily resolved, enabling both the EU and the UK to benefit from a more constructive and long-lasting relationship as neighbours and trading partners?
My Lords, I of course very much agree with my noble friend’s question, and she is right to refer to the spirit of constructiveness. It is natural that the disputes catch attention, but it is worth dwelling on the fact that a huge amount of business in this very wide-ranging trade and co-operation agreement is carrying on satisfactorily. I hope that the same spirit might be shown in the ongoing discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol, which no doubt we will touch on.
My Lords, the key word in my noble friend’s Question is “partnership”. Both our economy and our place in the world will be stronger if disputes can be resolved amicably. Some commentators have likened the Minister’s negotiating strategy to puffing out his chest for weeks or months before finally getting down to the serious business of achieving consensus. On the issue of Northern Ireland, will he assure us that he is not intending to use the issue of the supply of medicines to the people of Northern Ireland as leverage in his negotiations?
My Lords, there has been a lot of discussion of my negotiating strategy over the last two and a half years. The fact that we achieved the broadest, most wide-ranging and most comprehensive trade and co-operation agreement ever reached is testimony to my wish to achieve partnership with the EU. On the issue of medicines, we continue to be in discussion with the EU on this subject, and I will talk again to Maroš Šefčovič tomorrow. I am not convinced that we are going to reach agreement on it by the end of the year, but we will try. Of course, it is a national priority that medicines should be available in Northern Ireland, as they are everywhere else in the UK.
Retained European Union Law
To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost), further to his Written Statement on 9 December (HLWS445), how Her Majesty’s Government will consult Parliament in their reviews of (1) the substance of retained European Union law, and (2) the status of retained European Union law in United Kingdom law.
My Lords, the Written Ministerial Statement referred to sets out full details of the two reviews of retained EU law. I and other responsible Ministers are of course ready to engage with Parliament in an appropriate way—for example, directly with this House, with interested Select Committees and with noble and learned Lords who have a particular interest in this question. Of course, we wish to establish proposals which are likely to be acceptable to the largest possible number of parliamentarians while achieving our policy aims.
My Lords, Parliament agreed with the Government that a snapshot of EU law at the point of exit should be onshored into UK law in the 2018 and 2020 withdrawal Acts. This was for the sake of continuity, certainty and stability for manufacturers and service providers, and thus the economy, throughout the UK, including Northern Ireland, beyond the protocol. A mere nine months on, the Minister expressed his desire—in what seems a highly ideological and unnecessary move when all the practical issues of financial services, Horizon, and so on are unresolved—not only to take a wrecking ball to the settlement but to do so in a way which takes back control for the Executive such as to represent, in the words of EU law expert Professor Catherine Barnard,
“a full takeover by Whitehall of Westminster”.
The announced intention is only to “incorporate Parliament’s views”, which is not good enough. I thus ask the Minister now for a commitment not only to involve Parliament fully in the review but then to make any changes via primary legislation and not Henry VIII powers.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is of course right in saying that retained EU law was brought on to our statute book for reasons of convenience and a smooth transition. It does not mean that it can never change; indeed, it must change, because that is how we get the benefits of reform and change after leaving the European Union. That is the process we intend to begin. As I have said before, I do not think that it makes sense for rules which never had proper scrutiny in this House to require full dress processes to remove them. The way they were incorporated was not normal in terms of parliamentary procedure, and therefore we should look at other ways of dealing with the consequences.
My Lords, in the spirit of good will, could I wish the Minister a very happy Christmas? When he reads A Christmas Carol, who does he like most? Is it the ghost of Christmas past, when he was a huge enthusiast for the European Union? Is it the ghost of Christmas present, when, like Mr Scrooge, he carries his own low temperature always about with him? Or is it—I hope—the ghost of Christmas future, when we rejoin the European Union and he can buy all his nieces and nephews glorious presents in the single market and customs union?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his good will, and I extend good will to all Members of this House. If I am forced into a false choice, it will be Christmas future, because I believe that our future outside the European Union is a great one. I must say that I have not noticed any difficulty in access to products from the European Union, and our exports to the European Union are continuing well. I am sure we will prosper on that basis.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree as a matter of principle that in this pandemic, government support for business should be distributed equitably throughout the United Kingdom, and that it really is not appropriate that the Government should need to go off and ask a foreign power for permission to do that with regard to Northern Ireland?
I very much agree with my noble friend. It is of course a problem that, even though we have agreed new subsidy control provisions in the TCA—and of course we are bringing our own Subsidy Control Bill through Parliament—we are still working with the arrangements that were agreed in 2019 as regards state aid in Northern Ireland. It is excessively complex and difficult for companies in Northern Ireland to deal with these two regimes, and it does not make sense for us not to be able to support businesses in Northern Ireland in the recovery from Covid as we can everywhere else in the UK. I hope we can find solutions as we take forward the discussions on the protocol.
My Lords, central to this question is the principle of democracy. The Minister is having ongoing discussions and negotiations with the European Union. Maybe he would like to tell the House today about those discussions in terms of addressing the democratic deficit in the protocol and how Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly will be able to have decision-making authority in relation to EU legislation and all other matters.
My Lords, obviously we are in the middle of a negotiation that continues to cover a wide range of issues, including the democratic deficit that the noble Baroness mentions. Unfortunately, we are not likely to complete those discussions this year; I expect that they will run into next year. However, it would not be a good solution to give the Northern Ireland Assembly or Executive decision-making roles in the European Union. The UK is not a member of the European Union, and therefore it would not be right or appropriate to try to resolve these questions in that way.
My Lords, the Minister may remember that one of the studies in preparation for the single market demonstrated that the UK, before the single market, tended to take US regulations as the standard for British regulations under a sort of extraterritorial jurisdiction. The business media now tells us that the world is moving towards three focuses of regulation: American, Chinese and European. Do we intend to add a fourth, which would be purely national, to the great disadvantage of exporters within Britain, or do we intend to return to incorporating American regulations as British, perhaps without fully consulting Parliament on the unsatisfactory compromises we have to make?
My Lords, regulatory freedom is one of the advantages of Brexit, not one of the disadvantages. We now have a choice as to whether we proceed nationally in regulations and standards, if we wish to get ahead of other international bodies and organisations, or whether we wish to track other organisations’ rules. US regulations, European Union regulations, others’ regulations or national ones may be the best ones for this country in future, but we have the ability to make that choice now, and that is one of the advantages of Brexit.
My Lords, it is fair to say that the relationship between the EU and the UK has become very complicated, and that has been added to by the arrangements with the protocol. Would my noble friend be prepared to publish an organogram that would set out for us what all these committees are and who populates them, so that we have some grasp of the relationships between the EU and the UK, including the very complicated committee structure under the protocol?
My Lords, I would be very happy to publish such an organogram—I think we will need an A2 or maybe an A1 piece of paper to get it all on. But it is still a lot less complicated than it was when we were a member of the European Union, and the arrangements still fit within the norms of a trade agreement. I appreciate that they are complex, and I am happy to try to make that as clear as we can in public.
On the crucial issue of democratic accountability and proper scrutiny of legislation and the legislative process, which I am sure we all want to see enhanced, will the Minister, with his experience, care to compare the degree of scrutiny and democratic accountability that exists in respect of laws that were made in Brussels and the degree of scrutiny and democratic accountability that exists in respect of legislative processes in this Parliament?
The noble Lord makes an extremely good point. It is obviously possible and has been the case for a regulation with direct effect to be agreed in Brussels, perhaps despite us having voted against it, and for that regulation then to become the law of this country without further ado, despite the best efforts of the scrutiny committees in both this House and the other place. There is no ability to amend such rules. It is right in a democracy that Parliament should be able to set the rules by which we live, and that is a principle that we will try to take forward.
European Union: Border Control Checks
To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what plans Her Majesty’s Government have, if any, to extend easements to border control checks on goods from the European Union on 1 January 2022.
My Lords, the Government are fully prepared for the introduction of border import controls and, as previously announced, will introduce these controls on 1 January for EU goods coming from mainland Europe. However, in order to create the best possible environment for negotiations on the protocol and to avoid complexity and uncertainty, I announced yesterday, on 15 December, that the current arrangements for goods coming from the island of Ireland will be extended on a provisional basis.
My Lords, in an earlier answer the Minister said that he had noticed no difficulties in securing trade with the European Union. But the cross-party European Affairs Committee report on trade in goods with the EU, published today, found that small businesses and agri-food sectors have been hardest hit by the changes of the TCA, resulting in GB exports becoming
“slower, less competitive, and more costly.”
The committee calls for an urgent SPS agreement with the EU. When the Minister is discussing this with the vice-president tomorrow, will he signal that an urgent SPS agreement with the EU is a priority, to support our small business and agri-food sectors that have been so hard hit?
My Lords, I have had the opportunity to look briefly at the report that is referred to, which as always is an extremely comprehensive and worthwhile assessment of the state of play. We have never denied that there are new processes that need to be followed by UK exporters, but experience over the year is that UK business has come to grips with them very successfully and we have brought in, for example, our new export support service to help support smaller companies. On the question of an SPS equivalence arrangement, we asked last year for the TCA to include an equivalence process. That was not possible and, as far as we know, still is not possible, but obviously it would help if the EU was willing to look at that again and move forward.
Further to the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, he and I are both members of the committee that reported today. Part of the recommendations is a warning that there is likely to be further Brexit disruption in the new year as these controls are phased in. The Minister has indicated that he made a statement yesterday, but will he spell out exactly what the attitude of the Government will be? That will be crucial to whether these rules will cause further disruption, particularly to small and medium enterprises.
My Lords, as I said, businesses have already shown a great capacity to adapt to new rules; people will need to adjust to them. The controls coming into force in January are UK controls, so we can handle them in a sensible and pragmatic way as they come in. We are in close touch with key border industry players and have been running online events such as webinars with companies. We talk constantly to border industry bodies and hauliers both in the UK and in the EU, and we have published explanatory material and so on. We are doing the best we can, and it is our belief that companies and bodies are engaging well with this and that the controls will be introduced successfully.
On SMEs in the EU and the UK, our thoughts were twofold. First, the Brexit support fund was not fully spent because it had rather narrow confines. Secondly, does the Minister agree that the Brexit support fund and similar things should be redoubled to help our SMEs and that our old friends the trade specialised committees under the TCA should be fired up and meeting to try to ameliorate matters for SMEs both in the EU and in the UK?
My Lords, the Brexit support fund was indeed not fully used, which suggested to us that it was not the best means of providing support to companies. That is why we have brought in the export support service, which I hope will grow and become more focused in time—in particular to help SMEs, which obviously have most difficulty in dealing with the new arrangements.
The noble Lord is obviously correct to say that this is business for the trade specialised committees, and when we have particular evidence of difficulties, we will certainly raise them in those fora.
My Lords, in the week that the Government have announced, for very understandable reasons, that they will extend free, unfettered access for firms from the Irish Republic—part of the EU—to the UK market, is it too much to hope that British firms sending goods to the other part of the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland might also benefit from free, unfettered access? Surely that is not too much to ask, and can the Minister tell us when we are likely to see that?
The noble Lord makes an extremely good point. If I may dwell on it for a moment, it is obviously true that the legal framework for Northern Ireland and Ireland goods coming to Great Britain is different because of the unfettered access commitment. In practice, at the moment, it is not always possible to distinguish between the two categories of goods, but that will change in future and we will need a definitive solution to this question. Of course, the degree of pragmatism that we show in future to Irish goods coming to Great Britain will be related to the degree of pragmatism and flexibility that the EU shows in allowing goods to move freely around all parts of the UK.
My Lord, in the light of the questions and answers about Northern Ireland, did the Minister see the report in the Financial Times last week that the most rapidly growing region in the United Kingdom is in fact Northern Ireland? Does this not show that, whatever the problems surrounding the protocol, Northern Ireland is doing extremely well at present from being part of the United Kingdom and part of the EU?
My Lords, I am not sure that I share the characterisation that Northern Ireland is both part of the United Kingdom and part of the EU. It is certainly in a somewhat different position as regards goods trade. Northern Ireland is a very successful part of the United Kingdom, has some great companies and has a very bright future. I am very happy that, as the FT article noted, it has grown well. Nevertheless, the burdens of the protocol are significant and will probably grow over time, so we need to find a solution.
My Lords, this continued failure to reach a stable agreement with the EU is expensive for business and the UK taxpayer. We have one set of checks that were postponed back in September, another waived in December and others that are still due to come into force. The Government are spending £360 million on trader support, £150 million on digital agri-food certification and IT systems and £50 million on checking facilities. What is the Minister’s assessment of how much of this money we would get back should he trigger Article 16?
My Lords, I think it is reasonable that we should bring in controls as we see fit, in a staged and controlled way over time, so that companies have time to adjust to them. That staging means that the process is spread over a year or two, but that is reasonable and makes life as easy as it can be for businesses both exporting and importing.
The noble Baroness is correct to refer to the substantial sums we have spent on implementing the Northern Ireland protocol. That demonstrates that the accusation sometimes made against us that we are not interested in implementing the protocol is not correct. We have spent a lot of money in an attempt to mitigate the burdens, but there are obviously simpler ways of mitigating the burdens than requiring every good moving to Northern Ireland to go through a customs process and paying the heavy costs of that—and it is those new solutions that I hope we can find in the coming months.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for all he has done in very difficult circumstances this year. What positive news can we expect on EU and UK matters in the years ahead?
My Lords, I think we are ending the year on a positive note. We have had a year’s experience of running the Trade and Co-operation Agreement; we have the governance arrangements in place; all the disasters predicted about threats, problems and the collapse of trade—one set of difficulties after another—have not materialised and we end the year in a good place. It is my hope that we will have a constantly improving and very friendly and warm relationship with our EU neighbours, based on free trade and friendly co-operation. That is where we want to get to, and that is where, I am sure, the Government will be taking things forward next year.
Emissions Reduction (Local Authorities in London) Bill [HL]
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-president of London Councils and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
A Bill to enable London Borough Councils and the Common Council of the City of London to achieve reductions in airborne emissions from specified plant in their areas and to make provision for the Secretary of State to set emission limits for such plant; to provide for fixed penalty notices in specified circumstances; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Tope, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
My Lords, before we depart for the Recess, it is traditional for the usual channels to take an opportunity to pay particular tribute to those members of staff who have left the House after long and distinguished service. I know I speak for the whole House in saying that we are hugely grateful to all the staff of the House for the work they have done this year, in some of the most challenging times we can remember.
We have all witnessed how hard they have worked in these unprecedented times, involving multiple changes to the working environment. Their resilience, innovation and patience have enabled the House to carry out its functions virtually, in person and in a combination of both, to the highest of standards.
First, I will say a few words about Helena Valencia Cruz, a long-standing early morning housekeeper, who sadly passed away in May while still in the service of the House. Helena worked on many of our floors since 2007 and always took pride in her job, ensuring that everything she did was of the highest quality. Helena will be particularly remembered for her flexibility during the pandemic and maintenance of high-quality work across the House of Lords at such a crucial time.
Nigel Sully, the former director of human resources, retired at the end of last year. In his time at the House of Lords, Nigel transformed and modernised the human resources function. He was the first professional HR director for the House. He also played a pivotal role in the Covid-19 response from day one of the first lockdown, leading the change to remote working. Nigel is remembered by his colleagues as being passionate about making the House an inclusive place for all who work here. He has continued to combine that passion with his other love as a member of the Inclusion Advisory Group at the Wiltshire Football Association and as a county-level football referee.
Barbara Rougvie was an early-morning housekeeping team leader who retired in January after working in the House for 24 years. She was responsible for cleaning many of the offices on the Principal Floors, including mine. She was exceptionally committed to her work and will be remembered especially for her care of her team and their work to ensure that they were safe during the Covid restrictions.
Lastly, I thank the officials and special advisers in the Government Whips Office for their dedication to supporting me and the whole House through all the changes over the last year. They have done so with great calmness and almost never-ending humour. I particularly thank Victoria Warren, Ben Burgess and Anishaa Aubeeluck, who sadly left the office in the course of this year, although I am pleased to say that they have not gone far—Victoria and Ben to the House of Commons and Anishaa to DCMS. Their legacy in the Government Whips Office will remain for a long time.
I wish them, the staff and Members of the House a healthy and peaceful Recess and a very happy Christmas.
My Lords, I join the Government Chief Whip in paying tribute to all the staff of the House. We are all grateful for their service in the most challenging of times.
I pay particular tribute to three members of staff. Abiodun Aina was a housekeeper in the book team. Abi started work in the Victoria Tower in January 2012. She was a conscientious worker who cleaned the books, parchments, bookshelves and floors on the 12 floors of repositories. Abi was a team player who, during Covid, would change her shift pattern and help the early housekeeping team to complete their sanitising duties. Sadly, Abi passed away in July this year.
Caroline Bradford and Gill Reding retired from Hansard earlier this year. Caroline joined the Hansard team a decade ago. When she applied for her reporter post, she was asked in the interview what she thought her role was. She replied that she saw herself partly as everyone’s mother and partly as the class clown. This made the interview panel laugh. She got the job and in the following decade was true to her word. The office is a quieter place without her, and her warmth and energy are sorely missed. We hope that her retirement has not been too full of grandmotherly babysitting duties and that she has plenty of time to enjoy herself.
Gill retired from the Hansard team after more than 30 years’ service. Through her humour, the outstanding quality of her work and the open, honest and respectful way in which she related to everyone, she earned the respect of the whole Hansard team. Her whispered comments at the Hansard table will be sorely missed—although now it will be easier to keep a straight face when sitting there. The whole Hansard team wish her and her husband Jonathan well and the very best for her retirement.
I also join the Government Chief Whip in paying tribute to the staff in the Whips Office. They are always respectful when dealing with me and my colleagues in the Labour group, and we thank them very much for that. I worked closely with Victoria and Ben over many years. They are missed and we wish them well in their new roles.
I also thank all the staff who work in the Labour Whips Office. They managed to keep me on my feet and briefed, as well as all my colleagues. We would not be able to do our jobs without them. We thank them very much.
It is always a privilege to be in this House, and we would not be here if it were not for all the staff who serve us in every job they do. We thank them all and wish them and all Members here a happy and peaceful Christmas, and a good and happy new year.
My Lords, I join in the tributes to all the staff who have kept us going this year, which has been exceptionally difficult. I would like to pay tribute to three members of staff.
I start with Pat Young, someone important to Peers. For 10 years she was the Members’ finance clerk, well known to Peers for courtesy, good service, efficiency and a very happy nature. We are missing her greatly, particularly at the moment. She had special skills and a love for shopping. She was always able to find things for her colleagues, particularly those difficult-to-find and popular items. She worked quickly and had an extraordinary sense of humour, which was possibly necessary when dealing with us. She has retired to spend time with her family and grandchildren, support Chelsea Football Club and enjoy holidays in the sunshine.
Martin Lake joined the House in November 1998 as part of a new deal placement introduced by the new Labour Government at the time. He worked in the House for 23 year, being part of the Black Rod’s Department and there at the start of the new Department of Facilities. He became a principal attendant in April 2012, reaching the top of the attendants’ tree. He was very professional and always very well respected by his team and Peers.
Belinda Franzmann retired as a Hansard reporter this year after 34 years’ service. She had an endless capacity for hard work and, over the years, must have reported many thousands of speeches with a characteristic passion for language. She was regarded as a very supportive and valued colleague who everybody in the Hansard department misses. They wish her well on her retirement. We wish all three and all the other members of staff who have retired in the past year well in a happy and healthy retirement.
I also join in the thanks to the Government Whips Office, particularly to Ben and Victoria who have moved on to greater things in the Commons. We wish them well and have greatly appreciated all the support and help they have given us. I also thank my office team and, more importantly, all staff members who have supported us through what has been a very difficult year.
On behalf of our group, I wish everybody a very happy Christmas and, hopefully, a much easier year ahead.
My Lords, I want to highlight three members of staff who are retiring.
Patronilha Ramos came to this country from Cape Verde in 1979 and worked in the National Health Service before she came to the House of Lords 15 years ago. Since then, she has worked predominantly in the River Room. Indeed, she was one of the first members of staff to work in the River Restaurant in its current location next to the Lords Terrace. She was a well-liked and respected member of the Catering and Retail Services team. Reports on her say she was a very positive person who was regarded as a loyal and hard worker. Just in case noble Lords all think that is dull, she could also be the life and soul of the party. Her ambition on retirement is to spend some quality time with her grandson, as well as visiting her 92 year-old mother in Cape Verde. Great-granny will have a lovely time when she goes.
Sally Nicholas was a Members’ finance clerk. She is remembered for her special talent as a walking thesaurus and dictionary, which is a wonderful attribute. I wish I had that myself. She worked here for 14 years. Her bright and sunny disposition was evidenced by her habit, which must on occasions have been slightly disconcerting, of bursting into song while still at work and bringing cheer to the office by finding an appropriate song for any occasion and conversation. If anybody wishes to start singing now, I will defer to them. No? I will not defer, then. She was also characterised with that great quality, which so many members of our staff have, of staggering quickly—staggering under the burden but getting on with it.
The only thing I can say against her, which I will, is that she is a supporter of Chelsea Football Club. As a Leicester City supporter myself, we have in common a liking for a blue jersey. She will be greatly missed by her colleagues in the finance team but they know that she will enjoy her retirement—even if she is following Chelsea.
Donald McPherson was a kitchen porter for 11 years. He started working with us in 2010 and will finish tomorrow, on 17 December. He has worked in all of the Lords catering departments and is described by his colleagues as a man of a very friendly disposition who is always willing to help the team, and will be much missed.
I join in the general recognition, already paid by all the Whips, to the staff throughout the House, including those whom we will see, I hope, on 5 January when we come back. They have had a rough time but they have done wonderfully well. I thank them particularly for their patience in dealing with Members of this House who have occasionally failed to realise what huge pressures they have been working under.
I also thank the retiring people in the Chief Whip’s Office—indeed, in all the Whips’ offices. I do so with great pleasure because, sitting where I do, I realise how much of the business that goes on in this House and the ease with which it does, at least most of the time, is the result of careful work along that Corridor. I also hasten to point out on behalf of the Cross Benches that we do not have any Whips. We do not need them: we have Kate Long, who is worth anybody’s office. I thank her and everybody who has helped.
International Development Strategy
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the plans by Her Majesty’s Government to announce a new international development strategy for the United Kingdom in 2022.
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity. I draw attention to my entry in the Lords register.
This week, across the United Kingdom, families of all faiths have been worrying about how they will manage to spend the holiday season, beginning next week, with their families and, perhaps, their friends. However, my thoughts have been drawn constantly this week to those millions of people around the world for whom daily life is so unbearable and the future so threatening that, whatever small luxuries they might enjoy this holiday season, they are looking forward to 2022 with dread. Wherever they come from, those who are hungry and worried, who have been displaced and who are experiencing extreme weather events or conflict and violence, will look at the Christmas period as a time when those relentless pressures continue and are not abated.
This year, that is perhaps more true in Afghanistan than anywhere else, given the events of recent months. Not only is there drought, a vaccination rate below 10% and 2 million people in the country currently hungry as a result of this year’s events, it is reckoned that perhaps as many as 1 million children under five could die in 2022 if emergency assistance is not available. Yesterday, the Disasters Emergency Committee launched an appeal for Afghanistan. I urge Members of your Lordships’ House to support it this Christmas and think about those in much less fortunate circumstances than us.
This is a rare opportunity to debate a strategy that has not yet been published. I therefore very much welcome this opportunity and am grateful to be able to lead the debate. I thank the Minister for attending and for what I am sure will be an interesting summation of the debate. I also thank him for his work this year in ensuring that COP 26 focused not only on climate change but on moving the emergency of our natural resource depletion up the agenda and putting biodiversity at the centre of the debate in a way that had not been the case at previous climate summits.
I thank noble Lords for speaking in the debate but I am sure that we all miss Frank Judd, who would of course have contributed today had he been with us at the end of this year, as he was last Christmas. I hope that his regular call to think about the interdependence of our world will be at the forefront of our minds in our contributions today. I made my first contribution in your Lordships’ House on 8 July 2010, speaking just after Lord Judd. At that time—it was a debate on international development—I referred to “signs of hope”. In my summation, I said:
“Let us build on them and help to build a safer and more prosperous world for us all.”—[Official Report, 8/7/10; col. 360.]
That seems like a very long time ago.
In the years following that debate, the new Government appeared as enthusiastic as the previous one about international development and making a positive contribution overseas, with the establishment of the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, which evolved over the years into the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, and the commitment to 50% of ODA going to fragile and conflict-affected states. The commitment given by the previous Government to spend 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance was also enacted during that period.
The emerging consensus, which was perhaps stronger than it had ever been in our country, was that the UK’s role as a development superpower was a key part of our soft power around the world and not just a moral obligation—it is a moral obligation, of course; I will always insist that that is the primary purpose of the contribution that we make—but it was also in our own self-interest in building a better and safer world for all. Even in 2019, after all the division of the previous two or three years and that very divisive election campaign, there was still some consensus between the parties and their manifestos. The party that won that election, of course, had firm manifesto commitments to increase spending on girls’ education, end malaria and maintain the commitment to 0.7% of our GNI being spent on official development assistance.
How different 2021 has been. In a year when our call to action should have been much stronger than ever before, with so many around the world suffering from vaccine inequality and the economic, educational and health challenges of lockdowns, we were the only leading nation in the world to cut our official development assistance. In a year when millions of youngsters missed out on school and millions of girls will not return to school, we cut the funding that we were going to give to girls’ education. In a year when we led the climate summit in Glasgow and had a responsibility to show an example to the rest of the world, we fell short on transitional funding for the countries that will suffer most from climate change and will now potentially suffer most in the transition to a greener future. This year, we have seen the migration and displacement of people go to their highest levels ever. We have seen the number of people around the world in extreme poverty go up, rather than down, for the first time in a generation. We continue to see vaccine inequality causing difficulties and problems in every part of the world.
Since 2010 and that speech I made in my first month in your Lordships’ House, I have tried very hard to work on a cross-party basis on international development and conflict issues, and to build friendships and collaborations across this House and another place to ensure that we take this agenda forward. I have tried to be optimistic at all times—even at the end of 2021, when I believe that the Government have made so many mistakes in this area of policy. I will try to be optimistic again today because the integrated review gave a commitment to a new international development strategy. It said that we would continue as a country to be a world leader on development. It said that we would restate our commitment to poverty eradication. It said that we would align our development spending and work with the Paris Agreement. It said that we would continue to work to achieve the SDGs by 2030. I welcome those commitments; I want to see them at the heart of this new strategy.
Today, I do not want to talk about how much is in the budget or how we spend the money; that is, the mechanics of delivery. I want to concentrate and what and why. This review should be an opportunity to review some of the inexplicable decisions that were made in 2021, such as the decision to almost completely clear out all UK funding for mine clearance around the world, which was just shameful. It should also be an opportunity to reinforce bilateral programmes again and give our ambassadors the sort of clout they could have had with an FCDO that was on the front foot rather than the back foot.
As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, recently suggested in your Lordships’ House, it should set out a plan to work towards 0.7% being back in place, not just as a hope, an aspiration or a surprise in some budget in two or three years’ time, but as a step-by-step rebuild of the capacity and the spending. Also, much more importantly, it should set out priorities and a strategy. The objective and purpose of that strategy should be our contribution to the international effort to eradicate extreme poverty. That is the primary purpose of our official development assistance. The primary purpose of international development work should be to leave no one behind.
There is, of course, a role for the UK and others to contribute to immediate emergency humanitarian needs and, of course, we build into these strategies environmental considerations, the need for economic growth to sustain development, and the need for better governance and security, but poverty reduction is the moral purpose of development and the best way to ensure that our interests are met in the long-term, as well as the interests of those who suffer extreme poverty.
I suggest three key priorities for this strategy, which we hope will be published in the new year. First, it should be crystal clear throughout that we align our development spending and our work with the Paris Agreement and now, of course, with the agreements that were reached in Glasgow, and that we support the continuing UK COP 26 presidency by ensuring that we are working in a joined-up way between our development work and our work towards a greener and more environmentally friendly world. We should not be substituting development spending for the spending on the other initiatives that the Government should be pursuing in the UK’s role as president of COP 26. We should focus our development spending on supporting just transitions and mitigating the impacts, and on disaster resilience in the meantime for those countries that suffer the most from extreme weather events and climate change.
The second priority that should run right through the strategy is a focus on girls and women. The new Foreign Secretary has already mentioned economic development as a key priority, and of course we want to see economic growth in the developing world that sustains development over the longer term. Women’s economic empowerment, bringing women to the centre, will be by far the best investment for the long term to secure sustainable economic development. Alongside that, equal access to health, human rights, and the freedom to enjoy a childhood without being married early or having your body abused are fundamental, as is the need for girls’ education, not just in primary school but right through secondary school and into further and higher education. Education is the great liberator. I think that the Prime Minister understands this and believes it. I implore him to turn it into action and funding, and to deliver more than just the words of the commitment.
The third area, which the Government have had a reasonably good record on over the last decade, is the commitment to conflict-affected and fragile states; I sincerely hope that that will be at the heart of the new strategy. Support for peacebuilding and conflict prevention has been the hallmark of UK development work for two decades. In that debate in 2010, I said that
“development is the mortar of peace.”—[Official Report, 8/7/10; col. 360.]
Development and peace are completely interlinked. Nelson Mandela said that you cannot get peace without development and you cannot get development without peace. We see today in Ethiopia how quickly incredible levels of development can fall apart when conflict re-emerges. We see in Afghanistan that without governance and stability, and without trust in institutions and a functioning democracy, how people’s lives can be turned around in a matter of months.
We must retain our commitment to conflict prevention and peacebuilding. I would like to see the strategy reaffirm the commitment to 50% of the budget going to those states and these projects and development initiatives, putting democracy, human rights, trust in institutions and the rule of law, fighting injustice and protecting security at the heart of our development work. It is long-term, tough work, working with people—not “to” people or “about” people. This work is vital and makes such a difference. We have a ready-made framework for these priorities and for our development work if, as the G7 said in Cornwall back in June, we are serious about launching a drive towards what was then called the “build back better” world—a slightly strange title for a new initiative but welcome in its positivity.
The sustainable development goals agreed in 2015, which the UK played such a role in agreeing, pulling together and then promoting, address the key social needs of the world. They address the economic growth and security that are required to deliver those needs, and they address the foundations of a better-protected planet and of peace and security that will ensure that will ensure that development can be consistent and sustainable. The integrated review said that achieving the SDGs by 2030 remained a UK commitment. In the words of the Prime Minister at the last election, it is a ready-made framework for sustainable development and for building back a better world. I hope that those goals are embraced as part of this strategy.
In conclusion, I refer to the speech made by the new Foreign Secretary earlier this month at Chatham House, where she laid out her priorities. She talked in that speech of a “network of liberty”, of putting freedom, in economic and political terms, at the heart of the UK’s vision in the world. Liberty comes in many forms. You cannot trade if you do not have anything to trade. Freedom from oppression, fear and violence is important, but the freedom which allows people to go to school, to earn money, to have a job, to see opportunities and to take them up—these are the freedoms which will change the world. Just as I said in 2010 that development is the mortar of peace, I believe that development is the enabler of freedom. I hope that the new Foreign Secretary remembers that when she agrees this international development strategy.
We can all do better than we did in 2021 as we go into 2022. We should clearly resolve this Christmas and into the new year that 2022 will be very different from the 12 months that we are leaving behind. I beg to move.
My Lords, I look forward to the publication of the international development strategy. A lot has changed in the UK since the previous strategy was published in 2015. Some of that change has been caused by factors beyond our direct control, such as the Covid pandemic, crises from Afghanistan to Ethiopia, and the impacts of extreme weather and climate change around the world. However, some of that change has been due to decisions made by this Government: the merger of the FCO and DfID, and the move from our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on international development, while we have been assured is temporary. I look forward to that returning.
I do not want to dwell on this but will make one point on vaccines. The events of recent weeks have shown that we must redouble our efforts. As well as causing millions of deaths around the world, Covid is putting at risk the gains that we have made on development in recent decades. Counting our funding for vaccines within the self-imposed ceiling of 0.5% will inevitably hamper our efforts to help the rest of the world—and, therefore, ourselves—to deal with the virus and the variants that we will continue to see emerge from unvaccinated populations. There is little better investment that we can make at the moment. I strongly encourage the Government to think again and to fund global vaccination efforts over and above that 0.5% so that we can do more. The economic case, even if we look solely at the UK, could not be clearer.
There was little on development in the integrated review, so I look forward to the strategy fleshing out the details. In an attempt to be constructive, I acknowledge that the merger may bring some benefits, if the strategy recognises that development genuinely sits at the heart of the new department, as we have been repeatedly reassured. I hope that a new international development strategy, a new framework, will give a new impetus and direction of travel to the department, and involve the traditional diplomatic expertise from what was the FCO alongside the development expertise from what was DfID.
This strategy must lay the groundwork for rebuilding back to 0.7%, so it is critical that we get it right. While our work in international development is firmly in our national interest, I hope that we do not lose sight of the belief that tackling the world’s biggest challenges is a reason in itself. The strategy must recognise the continued need to work to end extreme poverty, to leave no one behind and to achieve the sustainable development goals ably championed by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, whom I thank for tabling this debate.
I hope that the new international development strategy has women and girls at its centre. I have been very pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary repeatedly say that her focus will be on women and girls, and I look forward to seeing the detail of what that means. It is certainly needed: global progress on gender equality is under threat, and the welcome advancements of recent decades are at risk, with the coronavirus pandemic and its secondary impacts disproportionately affecting women and girls. We are seeing a shadow pandemic of gender-based violence. Women remain economically restricted in many regions and, in some countries such as Afghanistan, their rights are being radically rolled back.
Ultimately, I would like to see the UK adopt a fully integrated feminist foreign policy. I believe that this approach is the best way for the UK to enable women and girls to flourish. This in turn helps achieve sustainable peace, build our allies’ economic strengths, reduce poverty and support our national interest.
But, today, we are discussing the development strategy, so let us start there with a genuine feminist development policy. I have three suggestions for that, first on crisis response. Supporting gender equality around the world is one of the best investments the UK can make to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic, violent conflict and the climate crisis. The UK can improve the delivery of UK aid by using feminist principles to ensure that women and girls are included at every level of decision-making and that more resources are channelled directly to women-led organisations.
Secondly, the UK should lead the way to recovery from the pandemic by implementing the strong recommendations from the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council. We will improve the pace and sustainability of economic growth if we adopt gender equality as a guiding principle for all economic recovery programmes.
Finally, sexual and reproductive health has sadly seen its funding cut by 85%. I declare my interest as co-chair of the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. Ensuring that women and girls can access vital health services and are able to make their own reproductive choices is critical to ending preventable maternal, newborn and child deaths. It is also essential to enabling all girls to receive a quality education to help them prosper, achieve their potential and contribute to economic growth in their countries.
Through the development strategy, the Government have a real opportunity to re-establish themselves as a leading supporter of the rights of women and girls to have control over their bodies and lives. The UK SRHR Network is calling for a commitment to spend an average of £500 million per year on sexual and reproductive health, which is only 4% of the UK aid budget and that is the same proportion as a year ago. That would make a critical contribution to supporting access to modern methods of contraception for the 218 million women and girls who want to avoid a pregnancy, and would help end the hundreds of thousands of maternal deaths and the millions of unsafe abortions we see every year.
I have just two questions for my noble friend the Minister on women and girls. First, will the Government publish the equalities impact assessment relating to the UK aid cuts? That has now been shared with the High Court as part of a recent legal case and, after nine months, I would welcome an answer on whether the Government will publish it. Secondly, I accept that we are waiting for the details on the announcement of the restoration of funding to women and girls to pre-cuts levels, but we should at least be told which year will be used as a benchmark for this.
The pandemic has impressed on us all that we are interconnected, and that the UK’s peace and prosperity cannot be secured unless progress on gender equality is made across the world. The international development strategy can and should help us achieve this.
My Lords, I draw attention to two issues that relate to the alleviation of poverty, social justice, human rights, and trade and development. First, the Pandora papers, the Panama papers, the Paradise papers and many others provide abundant evidence of global tax abuses, which deprive countries, especially poorer countries, of vital tax revenues. Those leaks highlight the role of accountants, lawyers and finance experts based in the UK, Crown dependencies and overseas territories, but the Government are yet to investigate, fine or prosecute any of the big accounting firms involved in those abuses. I hope the Minister can tell us whether any prosecutions are in the pipeline and, if not, why not.
The OECD also estimates that African countries lose at least $50 billion in taxes due to corporate tax abuses, which is more than the aid they receive. The Government can help to curb these predatory practices by imposing trade sanctions on tax havens, including Crown dependencies and overseas territories, for facilitating this global looting. They can also embrace transparency by ensuring that country-by-country reporting evidence is made public and by requiring large companies to publish their tax returns. That can again help developing countries.
Secondly, can the Minister please examine the negative impact of stabilisation clauses imposed on poorer countries through foreign direct investment agreements? Many of these are brokered by the Government themselves. The FDI agreements are often between unequals and, in many cases, the corporations are financially and politically more powerful than the host countries. I have seen some agreements that are over 300 pages long and written in dense legal language. Most are not publicly available, as corporations insist on that, making it difficult for anybody in those poorer countries to seek redress for abuses.
Stabilisation clauses are widely used by transnational corporations to manage non-commercial risks by stabilising or freezing the terms and conditions of a project. In effect, the project becomes a state within a state, with its own laws and rules. These clauses generally guarantee for the investors, who are mostly in the western world, that the domestic laws affecting the investment will remain unchanged or frozen during the entire life of the project, which can be 50 to 100 years.
In many cases, such clauses exempt the investing company from local taxes, customs duties and other charges that local industry has to pay. One survey of 88 FDI contracts noted that
“the stabilization clauses in non-OECD countries are more likely than those in OECD countries to limit the application of new social and environmental laws to the investments”.
The clauses either do not allow new laws to apply to the project or force host Governments to compensate investors for compliance with new laws, which might be for a cleaner environment, cleaner water, better wages or better pensions. Corporations are supposed to be compensated by poorer countries.
Stabilisation clauses are usually accompanied by arrangements for arbitration. However, the arbitration is through business panels located in Washington DC, Paris or London, which are empowered to make what are often called “final and irrevocable” decisions. Local people, who have never had sight of these agreements, have to ask foreign panels to adjudicate and they rarely succeed in bringing corporations to book.
One consequence of these arrangements is that local courts, lawyers and institutions of government do not develop the capacity to adjudicate on disputes. The enjoyment of human rights requires the state to develop appropriate regulation, enforcement and investigative systems. It cannot easily tackle discrimination at work, and gender and minority rights, without developing appropriate systems of corporate governance, law enforcement and a capacity to investigate suspect practices. However, the opt-outs guaranteed by stabilisation clauses and supported by the Government do not enable host countries to develop regulatory capacity, or the ability to monitor corporate activity, identify transgressors and meet their human rights obligations.
I ask the Minister to consider including the following items in the government strategy. First, the strategy should ensure that all FDI agreements by UK-based companies are made publicly available. Secondly, all FDI agreements must pass the human rights test. Thirdly, the UK Government must not broker any FDI agreement that constrains the power and right of host Governments to levy taxes and apply new laws to foreign investment.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, on securing this important debate. In common with other noble Lords, I await the Government’s strategy with interest, although on my part, I am afraid, with little expectation. I will focus my remarks on three particular areas that, among others, need to be central to any development assistance strategy: first, strengthening health services; secondly, combating climate change; and, thirdly, underpinning democracy and the rule of law.
Strengthening health services must be a key focus of our strategy. The Government’s decision to slash the aid budget—and here I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for her commitment and integrity on this issue—was not only morally wrong but has proved detrimental to the health and well-being of our own citizens. Omicron is teaching us a hard lesson, but it is one that should have been obvious from the start: it is no good pulling up the drawbridges and putting the national interest before the interest of others because, in a global pandemic, the global interest is the national interest. The rich world cannot discharge its duty to protect its own citizens until it also discharges its duty to protect all the world. It is a parable for our times.
On Tuesday, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, told the House that
“we are only as safe as everyone else is.”—[Official Report, 14/12/21; col. 135.]
So why are the Government making us all less safe by the savage cuts we are inflicting on aid budgets and the huge economic damage we are doing, and have done, to developing economies by the travel bans, now, happily, abandoned? It is no good the Government saying one thing while they do the exact opposite.
As the Government develop their aid strategy, they must learn from this pandemic, because it is unlikely to be the last. They must work with G7 partners and other allies to help strengthen health services in low-income countries. The cuts are catastrophic to that process—over 50% in the case in many countries across Africa.
But it is not just on this perhaps self-interested aspect of health that the cuts are impacting. Funding to the UN family planning agency, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, has been cut by 85%. The ACCESS programme and the women’s integrated sexual health programme have been cancelled, with projected cuts to family planning in 2021-22 estimated at over £132 million. The Foreign Secretary says that the Government are committed to prioritising women and girls, but once again their actions indicate the contrary. Cuts to sexual and reproductive health programmes not only undermine the health of women and girls but lead to unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, driving population growth, putting further pressure on resources and accelerating climate and ecological damage.
That brings me to the second plank in any strategy, which must be how we address climate change. Low-income countries are on the front line against climate change, despite being the least responsible for it. We have a solemn duty to use our aid budget to help those countries decarbonise their economies so that they can develop and grow without inflicting further climate and ecological damage to themselves and other countries. It is no good the Government telling us that they are increasing climate finance while slashing the overall aid budget. Low-income countries are not stupid: a cut in funding is a cut in funding, however it is distributed across different pots of money.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, underpinning democracy and the rule of law must be at the heart of our aid strategy, because without good governance there is little prospect of aid achieving its long-term success, and without the rule of law individuals cannot live in the security and freedom that they have a right to deserve, and economies cannot prosper. Again, however, the Government say one thing and do another.
Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said in his response to a question about supporting Zambia’s democracy:
“The noble Lord talks about Zambia, and of course we have worked very closely with other key partners in ensuring that democracy not only prevails but is sustained.”—[Official Report, 15/12/21; col. 300.]
Yet the aid budget sends the opposite signal. Zambia, a country that in August saw free elections that resulted in an orderly transfer of power, will see its aid budget slashed by 58.6%—more than any other country in the southern Africa region. Malawi, whose judges acted without fear or favour to uphold the rule of law and defend democracy in 2020, receives the second-largest cut, at 51.5%. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe, a country I care about deeply but whose autocratic, quasi-military Government have looted the country, oppressed its people and ruined its economy, receives the smallest aid cut, and continues to receive more in aid than Zambia and Malawi combined. Can the Minister tell us what signal he thinks that sends to democrats on one hand and to dictators on the other?
Let me be clear: I do not want vital humanitarian aid to be cut to anyone, and I am appalled that mine clearance work in Zimbabwe has been halted, particularly given that those mines were planted by the former racist Rhodesian forces. But I want us to signal clearly that we will stand with democracies by providing enhanced and practical support to those countries that uphold democratic norms and the rule of law. We are doing the opposite.
My Lords, during the Cross-Bench debate in April on the reduction in UK development aid, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, told us
“I am determined … that we return to 0.7% as quickly as we can”.—[Official Report, 28/4/21; col. GC 558.]
In thanking the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for initiating today’s debate, I agree with him that the sooner we can restore funding for initiatives such as girls education, cut by 25%, and humanitarian preparedness for famine, the better.
In addition to hard-edged aid, UK funding does other extraordinary things, with, for instance, BBC World Service audiences reaching 364 million people—up 13 million people last year. I hope the Minister can tell us when the World Service, a global force for good, is likely to receive confirmation of its funding figures for 2022 onwards, and whether it will be sufficient to ensure that the World Service can continue to build on the success of World 2020 programmes and further expand its global reach.
In every context, secure and sustained funding is crucial to the credibility we have in sustaining of our relationships, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, on many occasions. But so is the way we use the money. I will never forget seeing the bombed remains of a clinic, a school and the homes of villagers I visited in South Sudan during the civil war, which claimed 2 million lives. Along with lost lives, millions of pounds of development aid was destroyed by Khartoum’s aerial bombardment of what were its own citizens. Now independent, South Sudan still struggles against all the odds to recover from that unspeakable violence.
Conflict destroys development, so a primary objective of our new development strategy must be to prevent and resolve conflict. Conflict also drives displacement, contributing to the 82.4 million people displaced worldwide, 42% of whom are children and 32% of whom are refugees—an issue the House will debate on a Cross-Bench Motion on 6 January. How are we using the £400 million earmarked by the FCDO to promote conflict management and resolution? What progress has been made in developing recently created FCDO initiatives for conflict mediation and stability, and in co-ordinating all conflict work right across government?
I will give some specific examples of the urgency of this task. I co-chair the All-Party Group on Eritrea. We have held a series of meetings and hearings on the conflict in Tigray. This conflict erupted a year ago and has resulted in thousands murdered, injured and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and thousands subjected to sexual violence as a weapon of war. The exact numbers are not known and will not be until a comprehensive and independent investigation is conducted. In northern Ethiopia alone, more than 7 million people now need humanitarian assistance. In Tigray, more than 5 million people need food and an estimated 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions. Assistance there is hindered by the ongoing inability to move cash, fuel and supplies into the region. No aid trucks have reached Mekelle amid continued airstrikes. This catastrophe is manmade. Only today the Africa Minister, Vicky Ford, wrote to me to say that the situation in Tigray is catastrophic.
Tomorrow, the United Nations Human Rights Council will host its 33rd special session, which will focus on the human rights situation in Tigray and consider a mechanism for monitoring and investigating human rights violations in the country. The mechanism would preserve evidence of those atrocities and, where possible, identify those responsible—a crucial step towards justice and accountability—but I am told that a lack of funding may delay its establishment. I implore the Minister to investigate this, consider making a UK contribution towards the mechanism and encourage other states to do so.
To stop the flow of refugees, we must focus on the push factors of war, conflict, persecution and instability. As a trustee of the Arise Foundation, I have seen the interplay between trafficking and modern slavery and the mass movement of people. The 10 countries on the global slavery index with the highest prevalence of modern slavery and exploitation are in the top 50 fragile states, from Afghanistan to the Central African Republic. This conflict has disfigured life.
Let us take Nigeria, which has a flourishing domestic and international trade in human trafficking, from so-called baby factories to forced labour and sexual exploitation. It faces an array of complex challenges, from food insecurity and political instability to what many believe to be a developing genocide in the north, where an estimated 2.7 million internally displaced people are living in camps. More than half the population live on less than $1.90 a day, with millions facing acute medical needs, including 30% of the global cases of malaria and more than 20% of the deaths. As many leave their homes in search of a promised life, who can blame them? Over the past decade, we have given Nigeria £2 billion in aid, but too little of it has tackled the root causes of violence and built resilience and safety at local level.
In 2019, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact found that DfID did not fully support the long-term health of the civil society sector in its funding and partnership practices. That must change. We need long- term relationships with trusted parties, which will often be small, local institutions, often those within faith traditions. The integrated review invited focus on initiatives that produce
“the greatest life-changing impact in the long-term.”
The new strategy must surely address this issue.
Finally, a new development strategy should also combat the malign influence of the CCP as it subverts international institutions, including the Commonwealth, and uses belt and road to further its military interests, especially in Africa. If the Government address some of these things and those initiatives receive commensurate funding, they will deserve our support.
My Lords, I shall begin with two points that I do not think anyone will disagree with. First, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on obtaining this debate and, secondly, I reaffirm my support, which I think is widely reflected in the House, for 0.7% of GNI to be used as overseas aid. That is probably where I end the consensus.
I know this debate is about the Government announcing a new international development strategy. I hope that the word “new” will be kept to the fore, because I have thought for quite a long time that there are many things in our development strategy that could be bettered. One of them is that, as the brief says, we need a globally focused UK to maintain its commitment to Africa while increasing development efforts in the Indo-Pacific—but I think we have to look at what we spend the money on.
I have made many visits to aid projects. Some aid projects funded and excellently run by British NGOs are doing little more than running perpetual food banks. We should have the Trussell Trust out there. I recall one project I visited in India which was teaching women how to cook. I thought it was a very good thing that a number of mainly English people—I think there was one Scottish person—were teaching Indian women how to cook rice. Of course, they were doing something more serious and were looking at nutrition, babies and the like, but they were only scratching surfaces. They were not really dealing with problems. I often reflect on the statement that we had years ago on aid agency posters: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.” We need to do far more to help people to develop.
If we are to integrate aid and have an international development strategy, it would not be a bad idea to have a closer look at arms sales. Look at the amount of destruction in the world—which aid is often there to try to get around—that is being caused by arms, often from British factories and very often from western factories. We go in, we bomb the place to bits and then we have an aid programme to build it up, presumably to get into shape for the next bombing. Forty years ago, I was involved with Ethiopia. We really thought that we were curing the problems of Ethiopia and that Band Aid, Geldof and all the initiatives that were run, principally in the 1980s and early 1990s, were going to rebuild a new Ethiopia, but it is back to where it was, and that must surely in part be caused by a failure of our aid projects.
I suggest that we should have two principal approaches in our aid projects. First, we need to look very carefully at the Chinese belt and road initiative with a view to us having set initiatives where we put money into projects that are good for the development of the country but that we see through as projects. Forty years ago, I worked for the Crown Agents; it was quite close to here. It used to set up projects in what were then the colonies to help get them ready for independence. Clearly, we are a long way on from there, but the principle of us looking at a project, sending the engineers, costing the project and either finding or lending the money was quite sound, and many of the institutions, such as the Nigerian railway system, which was built by the Crown Agents, have stood the test of time extremely well. We need to look at our own belt and road initiative.
Secondly, there is soft power. I very much take the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the BBC. The BBC World Service is one of the great triumphs of British soft power. I am told that it is listened to by around 456 million people in the world. Its Arabic audience alone is more than 40 million people. This is an area where we can get over our values and get them over in a way that is acceptable, because the World Service is probably one of the finest neutral broadcasters in the world. By neutral, I mean that you do not turn it on and say, “We are going to find out what the Brits want today”. It is a genuine news service. I also say to the Minister: stop cutting the FCO budget. To move the FCO into increasingly grim surroundings is not a good idea. I ask the Minister to look at maintaining and, indeed, increasing the FCO budget. Those are a couple of points to think about.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for obtaining this really important debate and for his passionate and informed introduction, which set the scene so well for us.
The omicron variant is a powerful and topical reminder that there is only one world and only one human race. There are people around who want to make out the case that our concern for international development is an additional cost, something added on the side. Actually, when we truly grasp what it is about, it is a real win-win for us. Apart from it being morally right, it will make economic sense for us as well as helping us address many issues. For example, helping other countries to flourish and thrive will increase their health systems, address things such as the pandemic we currently face and even begin to address some of the issues of economic migrants, so it is vital for us.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, rightly pointed out that the endgame is to try to end poverty and move beyond it. That is right, but how are we going to do it? First, the immediate pressing issue is addressing the pandemic. Some might say that we are talking about a long-term strategy. Students of pandemics tell us that it typically takes five, six or seven years as a disease works its way through populations, and we are not even in year three yet—we have not even completed two years. This is going to be going on for some while, so it is vital that we address this issue. That touches on a number of the issues that people have already raised, such as doing what we can to help provide vaccines, trying to licence vaccine production in other countries and indeed, as we were talking about earlier this week, overcoming vaccine hesitancy. I will not say any more about that but we in the Anglican Communion are seeking to work with our overseas links, providing teaching materials in local languages, led by local community leaders, to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy.
In the longer term we need to invest in democracy and the rule of law. Many of the problems that we face, which the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Balfe, have mentioned, have come about because of conflict and poverty and because there is no investment whereby people are committed to making their own country thrive and flourish. As the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, pointed out, sometimes this is because of endemic corruption. So, in the long run these things are vital to any strategy we have for leading the world by example. It is vital that we continue to stump up and provide observers at elections, and that we seek to work for the international rule of law.
Equally important is the issue of fair trade. If countries can develop their economies they will be able to provide for their own people, which would address a whole range of the issues that now confront us. The establishment of fair trade, the democratic imperative and the rule of law relate deeply to some of the other issues that a number of noble Lords have mentioned today. For example, in a world of fake news where people are simply being misled, the BBC World Service is vital. Personally, I am sorry that we seem to have lost so many of our libraries in some parts of the country. Certainly, when I was travelling in the 1980s and 1990s around remote parts of Africa, you would find people travelling in in order to read the British press. Nowadays the equivalent would be to get on the internet. These are things that make a tangible difference to our future.
Equally important is education. One of the things that this new global Britain can compete in is education. I find it extraordinary that we seem to be making it more difficult for people to come here; that ought to be one of our major engagements. Not only are we able to train people, and it is a win-win when they come here, but many of them then go back to their own countries and they will be the key people—the doctors, the politicians—making a real difference in their own communities. Any international development strategy ought to look holistically at how we develop some of the things we are brilliant at, and which we ought to be celebrating and building on. We are not going to be able to compete in many aspects of manufacturing, because they are costly, but we can contribute hugely to education, not least by training more doctors, for example, so that other countries can deal with the terrible pandemic that is ahead of us. I also echo what the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said a few moments ago about cuts to the FCDO and the lack of investment in languages; at this time, we need to invest in these things.
Those are some of the issues that we need to navigate through the Covid pandemic if we are to develop our historic role in the world and play our part in building a stronger, calmer, more just and more peaceful world.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests. I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on having secured this debate today and introducing it with his usual expertise.
Last Friday was Human Rights Day, a day to celebrate the anniversary of the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to celebrate our shared humanity. It reminds us why international development is so important—helping to address extreme poverty, encouraging human rights and promoting democratic and peaceful societies—and how vital the sustainable development goals are, with their ethos of leaving no one behind.
At a time when the world is under such strain through Covid and climate change, it is deeply regrettable that the UK decided to reduce its contribution from 0.7% of GDP to 0.5%, and I look forward to aid being restored to 0.7% as soon as possible. However, we should not forget what those aid cuts have meant to those on the ground. The International Rescue Committee tells me that between 2017 and 2021 the FCDO decreased funding for one of its flagship Syria projects by 75%. This resulted in cutting support for the operation of 20 health facilities, impacting some 76,000 individuals. Their livelihood centres had to close, and cuts to programmes there affected over 36,000 people across northern Syria, over half of them women and most of them living below the poverty line. Some 10 million people may lose access to WASH programmes in this year alone.
I welcome the Government’s announcement of a new international development strategy for next year and the Foreign Secretary’s announcement of her commitment to putting women and girls at the heart of UK foreign policy, including reversing aid cuts to programmes targeting women and girls. As she rightly said, the UK’s
“core agenda of promoting freedom and democracy cannot happen without freedom for women.”
Covid has exacerbated existing gender inequalities, pushing women’s rights backwards. Women are losing jobs faster in the pandemic due to being in more insecure work; for example, in Africa 90% of women work in the informal economy. The UK’s present focus on girls’ education could not succeed without also addressing other issues, including combating the violence that many women face; ensuring healthcare, sexual health and reproductive rights; promoting economic empowerment; improving women’s meaningful participation in the public and political spheres; and funding women’s rights organisations.
I am also delighted to hear of the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative and the announcement of a summit next year. The PSVI was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to keep building on the work already undertaken to ensure that sexual violence in conflict becomes a red line that should never be crossed.
The brutal takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is such an unnecessary catastrophe. After 20 years of work there, not to mention the lives lost of our courageous military, the many who have sustained life-changing injuries and the billions of pounds spent on aid, it is a tragedy to see the country slipping backwards. I am also somewhat mystified by the US, which keeps talking about how Afghanistan must not become a haven for terrorism when one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is now the Afghan Minister of the Interior. Although the Taliban says that it has formed a Government, it has no experience of actually governing and has been committing brutal atrocities. So it is not surprising that a terrible humanitarian crisis is unfolding there, with many starving, and terrible reports of some women having to sell their babies to feed the rest of their families. I welcome the announcements of aid going in, but we must make sure that it is delivered to the grass roots through the UN and the NGOs. How do we ensure that it reaches the most vulnerable—those fearful and in hiding, the widows who can no longer go out on their own, the young men fearful of being seized to be recruited into the Taliban, the young girls fearful of being snatched to become brides for fighters?
I also hope that my noble friend the Minister can assure me that funding will be restarted for educational projects such as Leave No Girl Behind, community-based education and, of course, health projects. One of the successes of the last 20 years was the empowerment of women in Afghanistan. It went from a situation in 2001 where there were hardly any girls in schools to one where its brave women had come forward to take their place in society as politicians, doctors, teachers and army officers. But now the country has reverted, with not a woman in any senior position and the majority of girls denied access to secondary schools.
Women’s networks and organisations have played an important role in Afghanistan. I hope that we will continue to fund them in this difficult time. Who can forget the harrowing scenes in the summer at Kabul airport? I congratulate the Government on getting out 15,000 people in such a short time. Many of the high-profile women have had to leave, which has been traumatic for them. They find themselves in a strange country with no job and no means of supporting themselves. This is very hard.
Perhaps the Minister can tell me: why are we talking only to the men in Afghanistan about the future? The women who have had to leave wish to participate and have their voices heard about the future of their country. We must not desert them now; we have a moral duty to help them and ensure that they are at the table in a practical way. Can financial support be found for them so that they can organise and lobby too, for the future of their country? I look forward to the new international development strategy and hope that we can continue to support the most marginalised in the world in these difficult times.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this important debate today, the last sitting day of 2021. As this year draws to a close, the Government are being criticised for many of their policies and decisions. As a Cross-Bencher, I do not want to indulge in party-political point-scoring but the decision of the Government to reduce foreign aid spending from 0.7%, as recommended by the United Nations, down to 0.5 % has been one of their worst actions to date.
The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has promised that this decrease is a temporary measure due to the pressures on spending caused by the pandemic. One can sympathise with the Government having to make difficult spending decisions at this time, but that is not the right decision to have made. The Government’s announcement of a new international development strategy in 2022 is welcome. This country must reset its priorities on the international stage, and it is an opportunity to restore Britain’s reputation and show that we are, once again, leaders in this area.
One of the Government’s development priorities is global health security; specifically, to position the UK at the forefront of the international response to Covid-19. In June, the Prime Minister promised that the UK Government would join other G7 countries in using surplus vaccines to immunise the whole world. In September, at a summit chaired by President Biden, a December target of 40% vaccination was set for the 92 poorest countries. Three months on, there is little chance of this target being met in at least 82 of those nations.
According to WHO figures, the UK has delivered only 11% of the vaccines that it had earlier promised to the developing world, with the European Union doing marginally better by delivering 19% of what it promised, and the US 25%. WHO figures show that in Zimbabwe, only 25% of the population have received their first Covid-19 vaccine and only 19% have had both doses. In Namibia, only 14% have received their first vaccine and 12% both doses. It is little wonder that Covid-19 has continued to spread and mutate, meaning that we are now having to respond to the omicron variant.
To quote former Prime Minister Gordon Brown
“our failure to put vaccines into the arms of people in the developing world is now coming back to haunt us”.
Instead of cutting the overseas development assistance budget, the money could at least have been redeployed to improve vaccination rates in the world’s poorest nations. We should have done so not just for global humanitarian reasons but because slowing the spread and mutation of Covid-19 internationally would have reduced pressure on the NHS and helped to keep the population of this country safe.
The other point I would like to make is on the Government’s support for the Leave No One Behind pledge, committing themselves to strengthening the inclusion of older people and people with disabilities in development strategy. Yesterday, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, responded to my Written Question asking whether the Government’s new international development strategy will include specific recognition of the contributions, rights, and needs of older women and men by saying:
“The forthcoming International Development Strategy will establish an ambitious vision informed by the new global context, aligned with our strategic development goals and demonstrate how the UK plans to remain a global leader on development. The forthcoming refreshes of the Disability Inclusion Strategy and Strategic Vision for Gender Equality will retain a life cycle approach to deliver transformative change for all”.
That commitment is reassuring, as the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office’s ministerial portfolios no longer publicly include reference to inclusive societies. Can the Minister please confirm that the Government are not deprioritising the inclusion agenda and how they will ensure that the implementation of this strategy specifically includes groups at risk of marginalisation, such as older people?
Also, given the Government’s previous commitments to include ageing as an important factor in the former Department for International Development’s efforts to tackle extreme poverty, how will they ensure that the rights and needs of people of all ages, including older people, are included? Will the international development strategy be explicit about poverty reduction, ensuring that those older people who are left furthest behind are included?
The international development strategy is, as the Minister said in his written response to me yesterday, an opportunity to
“establish an ambitious vision informed by the new global context”.
This country must show global leadership on international development; the new strategy is an opportunity for us to do much better than we have up to now. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I must declare that for much of my academic life, I studied development and have written a lot about it. I did a lot of work on human development. Coming from India, I have also been observing over the last 60 years the course of development aid.
While I am very impressed by the idealism shown by speakers today, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for introducing his debate, I am afraid I do not take part in the idea that foreign aid, development aid or overseas development aid—whatever you want to call it—actually does very much of what it is claimed to do. Ultimately, I am glad that DfID has become part of the Foreign Office, because development aid is an arm of diplomacy. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and the right reverend Prelate talked about soft power and it is about that. You are buying soft power; that is why we give money away.
After all, if we want to cure poverty, there is a lot of poverty at home. There are food banks here; our pensions are the lowest in Europe. Of course, you could say that our poor are not really poor—the real poor are out there. But if you look at what has eliminated poverty in Asia, by and large, in China, India, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan, it was industrialisation, which was helped a lot by the entry of foreign capital. This is a professional observation; I am not making these things up. We deindustrialised and Asia industrialised—that is the simple story of the 1970s and 1980s.
When it comes to poverty reduction, if we really believe that foreign aid is for poverty reduction, we should give money to the poor—find where the poor are and give cash to them. I remember saying this in your Lordships’ House about 15 years ago, when the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, was the Minister for DfID. At the time, $50 billion was spent on overseas aid, and I said that we should give $50 to each poor person, and that is it—that would do more to cure poverty than anything I know of. Of course, we do not do that; we have a very elaborate model of what poverty is and what we want to eliminate.
As we have observed this afternoon, very sincerely, all sorts of things can be related to poverty—political unrest, gender discrimination and all sorts of other things, which I do not want to repeat. One has to have a clear argument as to how the many things we do are actually going to reduce poverty. In the very nice paper produced by the Library, I see that in the ODA allocations by thematic areas for 2021-22, 40% of the money goes on two items: “programmes with cross-cutting themes”, whatever that means, and
“Arm’s-length bodies, international subscriptions and other fixed costs”.
Those two items take £3 billion out of the £8 billion. I really do not know what they do, but they must do something. How much money goes on hiring consultants who tell us why teaching women cooking in India actually reduces poverty in India? I am sure that there is a lovely consultation paper that would tell us how to do that.
I am sorry to be a Daily Mail-like person here this afternoon, but after 60 years of studying foreign aid I am no longer starry-eyed about it. I would like the Government at some stage to do some thinking about whether money going abroad actually reduces poverty or whether it just encourages lots of NGOs. Secondly, is a pound spent abroad good enough, or should we spend it at home, because we have food banks, gender discrimination, disability problems and low pensions? Universal credit has just been cut in this country. What is all the money for? After 60 years of foreign aid, should we not leave our arrogance behind and say, “It is not really up to us to go out and cure poverty there, which we don’t even know anything about”? Give it a break.
My Lords, it is quite a challenge to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. He used to sit opposite me, but now he is in the middle.
I come out of the CDC stable, which has been variously known as the Colonial Development Corporation and the Commonwealth Development Corporation, and now is known as the CDC Group. It used to be funded, in my day, by loan capital, on which we paid interest before we repaid the loans; we even paid corporation tax. The CDC Group is a limited liability company owned by us and controlled by the FCDO. It does not pay its shareholders any dividends, does not have to pay for loan capital, and it does not pay corporation tax. So one thing you can say about the strategy that has been followed is that life is a good deal easier than it was in my day.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for inviting us to think about strategy, which is a long-term business. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the matter of conflict resolution in the document that we are all looking forward to as a strategic document. I hope that it will not duck some of the hard questions about conflict resolution. I shall raise only one. On the Commonwealth member Cameroon, is there going to be some hard information in this strategy about our contribution to resolving the quite unnecessary conflicts there?
In thinking about long-term strategy, another thing that should not be ducked, which is of course related to all the points that have been made about women’s education and life chances in this debate, is population. It is a very difficult subject. The birth rate in western Europe is now around 1.5 babies per fertile woman; in sub-Saharan Africa, it is about 4.5 babies—actually 4.7, I think—which is three times as many. Whereas the population of western Europe is now not estimated to grow very much more, the population in sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to double by 2050. All I want to say about that is that, in any strategic document, it is an amazing challenge: what are we actually going to do about it as a practical matter?
There are some signs—and I, like the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, am basically an optimist. The world’s peak population was predicted to get to 13 billion some 20 years ago, when predictions were being made. I think that we all agree that the world’s population is putting too much pressure on Mother Nature, hence the way that climate change and biodiversity loss have gone up the agenda. It seems to me that any strategic document cannot duck the issue of man’s pressure on Mother Nature. It must be in some way dealt with, or at least commented on. Silence will not do.
Now the world’s peak population is predicted to be about 9.8 billion, and then to go down a bit, so the world’s fertility rates are falling—and they are falling even in sub-Saharan Africa. The question is whether we welcome that. In the Times newspaper this morning there was an article about Italy that said it had its lowest recorded fertility rate for a very long time. The question is whether Italy should welcome that, or whether it should be in despair because it is not going to have enough young people to support old people like me. These are difficult decisions.
Finally, I welcome some of the things our new Foreign Secretary has done in preparation for this strategy. CDC, which is going to change its name, will be empowered to go back to work in many small and medium-income countries in which we have worked for most of our 73 years: the Caribbean, Papua New Guinea and so on. In small and medium countries—Malawi, for example —the economic opportunities are not very great, but unless you can develop the private sector those economies will not prosper, and CDC is an extremely good vehicle to achieve that development.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for bringing this important and very timely debate to the House. I will focus on two key issues: first, the longer-term impact of the Government’s decision to slash overseas aid by 30%, and secondly, the insufficient allocation of aid to Covid and global health. These two issues are of course connected.
With respect to reducing our contributions from 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI, many of us on all sides of the House have stated how unjust and poorly timed this measure is. It cuts our aid by almost £4 billion per annum, not just this year but for another two to three years by the Chancellor’s own estimates, and I fear probably beyond that. Why beyond? Because we may fail to meet the Chancellor’s two fiscal tests to restore the 0.7% contribution: that the UK is running a current budget surplus and that the ratio of underlying debt to GDP is falling. The Chancellor hopes to meet these tests by fiscal year 2024-25. But it was already a close call on both counts when they were announced six months ago. The OBR has since admitted to “modest headroom” on the debt target, which could be wiped out by the 1% lower growth or rising interest rates.
Since then, we have seen a slowing of GDP growth, we learned yesterday of a jump in inflation to 5.1%, and there is the rising menace of the omicron variant, all of which put government finances under further strain. Our overseas aid could be depressed for as many years as the Chancellor doggedly clings to these fiscal tests. I therefore ask the Minister: in light of the changing economic landscape, do the Government have any plans to reconsider these fiscal tests? Such uncertainty over our aid budget clearly undermines our international strategy and the aim for the UK to be one of the world’s leading development players—let alone our bid to become “global Britain”.
This brings me to my second point. If ever there was a need for the UK to step up and show some sorely needed leadership, it is in the area of global health. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, referenced the moral case for addressing vaccine inequality, as well as the economic case mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. The FCDO’s spend allocation for Covid-19 and global health for this year stands at just £1.3 billion. This includes our commitment to the WHO and COVAX, and the donation of 100 million vaccines—although we learned two days ago that only 16 million have been delivered so far. You can argue, as I do, that our contribution to fighting the global pandemic should not be coming out of the annual aid budget at all, especially in its newly diminished state. In the face of the world’s worst health crisis for 100 years, the sum of £1.3 billion sends out a feeble signal to the rest of the world, especially to our fellow members of the G7.
Omicron is a stark reminder that we need to vaccinate the world, and quickly. There are 5 billion adults to vaccinate—6 billion if that includes those aged over 15—and they may need three or even four doses each. Richer nations may therefore need to donate more than 10 billion doses a year, yet COVAX’s target this year is 2 billion doses and only 600 million of those have so far been delivered. Here we are in the UK, with 80% of us already double-vaccinated, now scrambling madly for our boosters to protect us against a variant that emerged from a continent where the single dose vaccination rate is less than 12%. Where will the next variant come from? It is very likely to be from another country with high population density, poverty, poor healthcare and low vaccination rates.
Turning to the economic argument, the cost of the pandemic’s damage to the world’s economy is approaching $10 trillion, while the cost of vaccinating the world is estimated at $50 billion to $100 billion. Such a cost would represent history’s greatest bargain, so why has there been such a gulf in world leadership? Where are the G7, OECD, IMF and others on this issue—or are we going to continue to leave it to COVAX and the WHO? The UK’s approach is symptomatic of the problem: we are aiming to contribute just 100 million doses from an emasculated aid budget. As the fifth largest economy in the world, the UK should be leading by example. A £5 billion contribution to help finance 1 billion vaccines would be nearer the mark; Japan, Germany, France and Canada are contributing at similar levels, and the US considerably more.
Beyond the economic damage, the secondary impacts of Covid such as collapsing healthcare, gender-based violence and deepening poverty are the very areas that need our aid and assistance. But our contributions cannot keep up with demands if we do not help to protect the world from the pandemic. My second question to the Minister is this: what plans do the Government have to radically review the UK’s global health contributions as we approach the third year of a global pandemic?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this debate. I start from the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans: that no one is safe until everyone is safe, as has been so acutely brought home by Covid. To be more specific, current science suggests that the omicron variant probably arose in someone who was immunocompromised and untreated for HIV. That demonstrates how the world’s healthcare systems are crucial to the health of us all.
Even more broadly, no one is secure—we cannot be secure—until everyone in the world is. Our failed foreign policies, our role as one of the chief arms peddlers in the world and our refusal to accept the rightful desire of self-determination from peoples around the world has put the world, and us, in the position it is in today. I particularly commend the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. We have to stop being the world’s chief enabler of corruption. This is a neocolonial continuation of the colonial exploitation that made so much of the world so poor.
I will address the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, suggesting that it is not up to us to cure poverty. First of all, it is up to us to stop causing poverty through the actions of our institutions and our companies. It is surely up to us to repair some of the damage we have done and continue to do, both through overseas development assistance and through reparations. It is obvious that the need for the strategy we are all anxiously awaiting and previewing today is more acute in these times of straitened ODA budgets. It is estimated that this year, we are down to about £11 billion, from nearly £15 billion the year before.
Like other noble Lords, I am sure, I received a number of briefings from major institutions in the UK making entirely well-founded special pleadings. The noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Oates, referred to the Mines Advisory Group and the fact that there has been a 75% cut in funding in that area, which is unconscionable. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists—picking up on points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, on the slashing of funding for sexual and reproductive health—says that at least 5% of the budget should go to mother and baby health. Save the Children points out that our bilateral aid to Africa is at a 15-year low in real terms, and likely to fall below that of most of the G7. It asks —I would be interested in the Minister’s comments on this—that poverty reduction be the chief aim of the strategy. Sightsavers makes a really important point about the need for disability-inclusive development.
In introducing all this, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said that it was not about the budget but about how we use it. I am afraid this must be about the budget, because we cannot meet even our most urgent, crucial priorities in the current framework. I believe the Minister would love to go back to the department and say, “More money for ODA”, but I realise the barrier he faces. I have a different proposal for him to take back that is not just about more money. It does not come from me but from more than 50 Nobel laureates, who this week signed an open letter calling for a “peace dividend” campaign—for all countries to cut their military spending by just 2% a year for the next five years and put half the money into a UN fund to combat pandemics, the climate crisis and extreme poverty. To name a couple of the UK signatories, there is Sir Roger Penrose—UK mathematician, philosopher of science and physics laureate—and the biologist and Cambridge University professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan. The Dalai Lama is also a signatory.
The proposers say that this fund could amount to $1 trillion by 2030. To look at the numbers in this, UK defence spending is currently about £50 billion—given that figure, the NHS, which gets about £200 billion, is remarkably good value for money. Taking 2% from UK defence spending—£1 billion a year—would not be utterly transformative but it would go a long way, particularly in the priority areas that NGOs have been making such powerful representations to us about. It would mean a 10% increase in the budget. Green Party policy, I must say, is to have 1% of GDP—about £20 billion—for the official development assistance budget, which would meet most of the most urgent priorities.
I finish by stressing that all this is a relative drop in the ocean compared to the damage we continue to do every day. We must really look at our place in the world; we often hear that the Government wish to be world leading. Here is a very practical example, which I hope the Minister will at least take back and ask for a discussion about, of how we could be truly world leading in stepping up to the peace dividend. Perhaps this is outside the Minister’s hands, but every government Minister could ask themselves over this festive season what they could do to make the world a better place and make everybody in the UK securer and safer in 2022.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for raising this important subject. I am heartened that the Government are considering the strategic implications of this country’s actions in the sphere of international development.
The skill and expertise with which so many programmes have been delivered by this country, in partnership with British NGOs, aid organisations and British business—including in educating girls and empowering people to contribute to their societies—are important factors in the esteem we enjoy, not least in Commonwealth countries, which are a cornerstone of our place in the world. In that context, many programmes, at the time of greatest need, have recently suffered from the temporary reduction in overseas development aid to 0.5%. I urge the Government to return to their commitment of 0.7% of GDP as soon as possible.
The stable environment we require to compete and succeed is best served by placing the United Nations sustainable development goals at the heart of our international development strategy, to support communities and countries in becoming stable and prosperous and to address the root causes as much as the symptoms of enforced migration. These goals—ending poverty and hunger, promoting well-being at all ages and ensuring education and gender equality among them—provide the best platform for building partnerships with the international community on the basis of shared values and objectives.
Our wider strategic aims in free trade and geopolitical influence would be well served by reinforcing our reputation as an international development leader in areas such as gender equality, education and empowerment, where we have a proud record. I draw particular attention to the urgent need to address the plight of Covid widows, who have lost their means of support and are marginalised in many of the countries most acutely affected by the pandemic. At times such as these, our focus must be to shine a light on those who are most in need.
Covid is a crisis that has affected us all—rich and poor, north and south—and we know there are lessons to be learned about being prepared for the unexpected from the public health emergency in our own country. This also applies to international development and how well prepared we are to respond to humanitarian crises. This is an area where global Britain should make the best of the advantages it has in being able to respond swiftly on our own. I urge the Minister to make this potential advantage a strategic priority in the Government’s international development strategy, with the aim of making our systems and processes fit for nimble and agile responses in an increasingly unpredictable environment.
It is true that the work of the FCDO is integral to the UK’s role in international development, but it is not the only relevant department, when you consider global Covid-19 vaccine inequity or climate change. Can the Minister tell us how the international development strategy will create a coherent whole-of-government approach to international development and when it will be published?
My Lords, we have been repeatedly told by this Government that global Britain policy is a result of a fully integrated policy-making process, but the integrated review came after the FCO-DfID merger. It did not inform it. Spending decisions on co-operation and overseas assistance came, and will come, after a much-delayed development review that we still have not had, rather than being decided by policy choices. A law, built on consensus, to maintain our level of co-operation and support at 0.7% of GNI has now been replaced by an executive target of 0.5%, with annual decisions on its future.
This approach is now the ceiling, whereby vaccine support or girls’ education, as has been referred to in this debate, will not go over this executive target—so that means that other areas will be cut even more. Reverse- engineering policy to fit budgets is bad government and it is worse when it comes to international policy. The fact that we have new business later today on FCDO staffing cuts is telling in itself.
With others, I commend the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for being so persistent in this House for the global goals and international development policy. His debate allows us to consider what should be in the next review, and we are grateful for it.
We on these Benches support the calls we have heard in the debate from the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for UK international assistance policy to take a feminist approach. I have spoken to my colleagues in our sister party in Canada about how the Canadian Liberal Government put forward the first feminist international assistance policy. It had strands within it directing future policy, but through this gender approach, under the titles of human dignity; for quality healthcare, nutrition and education; for growth that works for everyone; for environment and climate action, and climate finance to reduce barriers for women, particularly in the services sector and finance; for investments; for inclusive governance; and for peace and security, all directed through a gender lens and all forming a very strong international strategy. I and my party want the UK to be the lead country in the Development Assistance Committee on delivering a feminist international assistance policy.
I will not refer to “aid” in my contribution, I will refer to “co-operation”. I believe very strongly that we should have not an aid strategy but an international co-operation strategy, because we share the 17 ambitions in the global goals on an equal basis with every other country in the world within the UN. The question should be how we play our part, as one of the richest countries in the world, for those who are less developed to meet all those 17 ambitions. We carry out a voluntary national review, as other countries do, on the global goals. We are no better or worse than them as a country, even though Liz Truss tells us that we are the greatest country on earth. We share our priorities and therefore the global goals should underpin all this approach going forward.
There are other areas we should reflect on in the changing world since the last review, but also looking forward. That is the case with climate finance. If we fail on climate, there is no development. There should be a particular focus on urbanisation. A projected extra 2 billion people will live in cities by 2050. What comes after the 2030 agenda? The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, raised a point about seeing Africa not as a development challenge but as a continent of opportunity. I will be meeting the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, the Investment Minister, on the prospects of an African prosperity commission and I hope that the strategy genuinely is an integrated document—that it does not just say so but genuinely is—so that it brings trade policy within these areas too.
As my noble friend Lord Oates said, however, words are not actions, and we have to see the Government’s policies as a result of their actions, in many regards. Across that area, they are shameful, because, at a time of global pandemic, which has impacted the world’s poorest people the greatest, the Government have made the choice—it was not an obligation upon them—to cut support in many areas with a direct impact on the lives of women, in particular, and children and their life opportunities.
In her Chatham House speech, as was referred to, the Foreign Secretary—who, incidentally, did not mention poverty once—set what the Government’s international strategy would be going forward. She seemed to indicate that the key element of this will be our alternative response to China. As International Trade Secretary, she saw trade with China grow at the fastest rate ever and we now have a £43 billion trade deficit, meaning that we are heavily dependent on imports. But she has refused, as a Trade Secretary and now as Foreign Secretary, to have a human rights policy integrated into our trade and reflected in a development strategy. So I hope the Minister can state categorically that the co-operation strategy will include key elements of human rights policy across all elements of our economic and trade policies.
What of the news today, which is breath-taking in its impact? Just a few days after the Foreign Secretary indicated that we would be looking for alternatives to finance, the UK has slashed its support to the International Development Association of the World Bank by 55%. This is a fund for the world’s poorest countries to receive AAA-rated funds and, in the replenishment this year, the UK has cut its contribution by $1.8 billion. I remind the Minister that the UK has been the biggest single donor to the IDA and whereas, in this replenishment, France, Japan and the US have increased their pledges, none of them could offset the UK’s cuts. It means that the Foreign Secretary says one thing to our domestic media, while in the global forum there are cuts that will actively undermine this approach.
On girls and women, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said, we have waited long for the impact assessment, and I hope the Minister will state today when we are to receive it. At a time of global pandemic, when vaccine nationalism, as my noble friend said, does not work, the UK is slashing support for health systems around the world. Unbelievably, we have seen vaccines and medicines destroyed because we have prevented the health systems being able to distribute them to those most in need.
On conflict, as the noble Lord indicated, last week I was in north Iraq meeting Yazidi leaders. They told me quite heart-rending stories of how they feel they are now a forgotten population, with 280,000 IDPs still in camps, seeming to be forgotten, as the Lord, Lord Alton, indicated. I was reminded that when there was military action, the UK was raising this issue every week—there were Statements and elements of funding—but now on conflict prevention and peace- building we are silent. Why have we cut support for development for these people in Iraq in totality from £50 million in 2020-21 to just £3 million in 2023-24? Please give us an explanation as to why the Government have done that.
In my last moment, I appeal to the Minister to reflect on his answer to me when I raised the point about the massive jump that may come in 2024, if we are to return to 0.7%, of an extra £5.2 billion allocated. He said, “It’s not going to happen overnight, there’s ample time to prepare”—but none of the Treasury statements give any indication that there will be a smooth transition back to 0.7%. Every statement from the Treasury says that we will review it annually and, if next year’s figures meet their fiscal targets, we will then grow to £5.2 billion in one year, which will be impossible to programme and deliver sensibly. So I appeal to the Minister again: would it not make much more sense, if we are to return to the legal target of 0.7%, to do it in a staged manner, so we do not reverse-engineer all the problems we have created but start from this strategy now, with proper looking forward, so we can operate in a much better way? In that way we will be a better partner—and a more reliable one also.
My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend not only on initiating this debate but on his excellent cross-party work on the APPG for the SDGs. I also reflect on his words about Frank Judd, because I know that, had Lord Judd been here, he would have stressed, absolutely, the interdependence of our world.
In her recent speech on the network of liberty, the Foreign Secretary said she would be launching the new development strategy in the new year; I have heard that that is likely to be in March. Of course, that strategy was promised in the Government’s integrated review, which was published in March of this year. In the words of my noble friend Lord McConnell, the review reflected the work of all British Governments over a period of 20 years, reflecting, as he has repeatedly said, a cross-party consensus about trying to bring together in a coherent and strategic fashion the three Ds: development, defence and diplomacy. We have to deal with the root causes of conflict and instability. That is why defence, diplomacy and development have to go hand in hand.
The Foreign Secretary says that efforts to build a network of liberty must be firmly anchored in human rights and civic freedoms, both of which play a crucial role in the promotion of democracy and freedom globally. Being a force for good in the world means always taking a stand against injustices, human rights abuses and suffering, even when it is inconvenient to do so. We must strengthen our ties with civil society too. There was little of substance on this in the integrated review, which I hope will be corrected in the development strategy. Women’s organisations, charities, faith groups, trade unions and other organised communities have all demonstrated their role in defending democracy and human rights. When nations fail in their most important task of providing safety, security and freedom for their people, it is always civil society that leaps first to their defence.
Being a force for good in the world also means putting forward a vision for a more secure and prosperous future, delivering on the UN’s global goals and fulfilling our commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable—not leaving anyone behind, as noble Lords have said. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Desai—it was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis—the SDGs are universal. They are not us preaching to others but apply here, to all of us, and that is why they are so important in terms of the strategy for the future.
I too pay tribute to David Cameron. His leadership on the SDGs was vital, building on the leadership of Gordon Brown in the millennium development goals. Sadly, that leadership has been missing from this Government. 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. A strategy involving diplomacy, defence and development does not need a big department. Rather, it needs a commitment to work across Whitehall. We need a champion for the sustainable development goals in the Cabinet. Of course, the work of the FCDO is integral to the UK’s role in international development but, as we have heard in this debate, it is not the only department, particularly when it comes to issues such as global Covid-19 vaccine inequality or climate change. I hope that the Minister will set out further detail on how the international development strategy will create a coherent, whole-government approach to international development.
As the noble Lords, Lord Oates and Lord Purvis, said, the Government’s words must be matched by their actions. How can we champion human rights while selling arms to Saudi Arabia, which has contributed to creating the world’s most desperate humanitarian situation? How can we aspire to be a world leader in international development while breaking our legal commitment to 0.7%? Here I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for her leadership on this issue and for building a cross-party coalition so that we return to 0.7% as quickly as possible. I hope the Minister will set out in more detail exactly what the timeframe is for that return. To maintain our enormous influence on the world stage and be a moral force for good, we must be consistent in our approach. The Government need to end the contradictions and inconsistency between their words and actions, and that starts with supporting once again the principles of sustainable development.
The global health, climate and humanitarian crises should result in more attention being given to the critical role that development plays in tackling global challenges. The global refugee crisis requires a joined-up strategic approach. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the best way to help those people is to ensure that they can have a better life in the countries from which they originate. International development is key to unlocking many of the other strategic and diplomatic aims of the FCDO.
As my noble friend said—and I know that a lot of NGOs have focused on this—there are four key areas that we need a clear focus on. We need a clear articulation of the United Kingdom’s global leadership role, a cross- government approach to responding to humanitarian and peacebuilding activities, a plan to ensure that economic systems do not perpetuate poverty, and a clear commitment to ensure vaccine equality.
We have heard in this debate about the cuts that have reduced the United Kingdom’s ability to have an impact in reducing global poverty and achieving the SDGs. It is an absolutely terrible situation, as noble Lords have mentioned. I will focus on Africa. Currently, the FCDO’s bilateral aid budget to countries in Africa is at a 15-year low. Many of the world’s poorest countries are on the African continent. I hope the Minister can confirm that the international development strategy will reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to Africa and increase aid to the continent in real terms.
We have heard reference in this debate to the CDC, which will become the BII—the Foreign Secretary also referred to it—with a new strategy and a new five-year plan. No one can pretend that the SDGs can be delivered by Governments alone; I mentioned civil society, but of course the private sector is also integral to that. I hope that the new strategy by the CDC or BII will be subject to a full parliamentary debate and that we have the opportunity to scrutinise the huge investments that that body will be making.
Our commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable also means spending on the right aid projects, which means supporting multipliers such as nutrition, clean water and education, which have myriad development benefits, most importantly for women and girls. I made a point this week about the Nutrition for Growth summit, which took place earlier this month. I was hugely disappointed that our leadership role on nutrition was not matched by a pledge at that summit. I understand and appreciate the FCDO’s commitment to adopting the OECD policy marker, but there is much more work to be done. I hope that the Minister will be able to reaffirm the UK’s role as a global leader in nutrition by committing to good-value initiatives that end preventable deaths and empower women and girls.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for tabling this debate and for his continued interest in the international development strategy. He made an enormously powerful introduction, and I am grateful for his kind words about some of the successes at the COP 26 conference just a couple of weeks ago.
The international development strategy will be the first statement of the UK’s approach to development since the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. It will bring together our diplomatic and development expertise with trade and other levers, including our leading UK institutions and civil society, enabling us to set a high level of ambition.
The strategy will take forward our commitments in the integrated review, which set out that the UK is one of the world’s leading development actors, committed to the global fight against poverty and absolutely committed to achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030. In line with the integrated review, the strategy will have a time horizon to 2030 and beyond. We will focus our development efforts not only on the needs that exist today or that could arise from crises but on those areas where we can have the greatest life-changing impact in the long term. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I say that it will be published next spring, and I am pleased to provide an overview of the Government’s current thinking in this debate.
Reflecting our integrated review, published in March, the strategy will respond to the trends shaping today’s international geopolitical context. I am keen to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that this includes China’s increasing assertiveness and the critical importance of the Indo-Pacific region. It also includes the ideological competition between freedom-loving democracies and autocratic regimes. It encompasses transnational challenges, such as Covid-19, climate change and environmental degradation, which deeply affect vulnerable and developing countries and require global combined action.
Many of these trends are felt more acutely in developing countries. The drivers of poverty and instability—such as institutional fragility, conflict and climate change—are increasingly complex and interconnected. Indeed, these issues often have the most devastating impact on the most vulnerable, while threatening global stability and prosperity for everyone.
Against this backdrop, the integrated review makes it clear that the UK will remain a major development player. With this strategy we will work to reduce poverty, tackle climate change and address humanitarian crises, while bringing more countries into the orbit of democratic, free-enterprise economies. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and a number of other speakers pointed out, this is not an add-on to the rest of the business of government or a box-ticking exercise; this is absolutely critical. The work of the FCDO on development is fundamentally right but also fundamentally in our own interests. One only need consider climate change, which is clearly the defining international challenge of our lifetimes.
As set out in the integrated review, tackling climate change and biodiversity loss is the Government’s number one international priority over the next decade. As COP 26 presidents, only last month we brought the world together to finalise and build on the Paris Agreement. Although clearly there remains a big gap between where we are today and where we need to be, there can be no doubt that we narrowed that gap considerably further than anyone had anticipated or predicted, and we have indeed kept alive the possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. We saw significant and meaningful progress with net-zero commitments in the final negotiated text, which was agreed by all 197 parties. Indeed, we now have net-zero commitments for over 90% of the world’s economy—up from 30% just two years ago, when the UK took on the COP 26 presidency.
There is a clear recognition that we cannot tackle climate change—or, indeed, a whole range of other issues, including the sustainable development goals—without massively increasing our efforts to protect and restore nature. Of course, that is true of climate change, but also of poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, mentioned Ethiopia. There are all kinds of complex causes that have driven Ethiopia back into the dire state that it now finds itself in. But one of those causes, undoubtedly, is pressure on the environment. For example, increasing desertification and acute water insecurity are both fundamentally environmental problems that need addressing.
We know that the commitments secured at COP will count for nothing unless we continue to ramp up ambition and until those promises are kept. I absolutely assure the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that that is our priority this year. Our presidency did not end with the conference; it ends as we hand over to Egypt. While we hold the presidency, we will absolutely use every tool at our disposal to ensure that we can give meaning to the commitments made at COP.
Through the international development strategy, the UK will continue to ensure that our development offer helps to accelerate an orderly and inclusive global transition to a nature-positive, net-zero future, and we will continue to work with countries to enable the most vulnerable to adapt to climate change and reverse biodiversity loss. I am absolutely thrilled that the noble Lord called on the Government to align their whole ODA portfolio with our Paris commitments in his opening remarks. I strongly agree; indeed, that is a commitment the Government have already made. But I am very keen for us to go further and align our entire ODA portfolio not just with our Paris commitments but with nature. As part of our presidency over the next few months, I will be doing what I can to encourage other donor countries to do the same. Globally, ODA is about £140 billion a year. Tragically, a lot of our interventions on aid have been made at the expense of the environment, and therefore, I argue, at the expense of the long-term security, peace and prosperity of the people whose poverty we are supposed to be addressing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made the point eloquently, as ever, and passionately that it is not just about new money or ODA. It is also about ceasing wherever we can to be enablers—I think that was her term—of destruction. There is no doubt that even if we were to double our aid commitment and all donor countries were to do the same, it would still be a drop in the ocean in terms of what is needed, not least to tackle climate change and environmental degradation.
In addition to our aid programmes, we need to do what we can to force an alignment between the finance sector and the objectives we are discussing today. We made progress on that at COP, not just in relation to Paris goals but in relation to nature. Financial institutions presiding over nearly $9 trillion of investments and assets committed to align with nature, and we will do what we can to hold them to that and increase that number in the coming months.
As we work to deliver sustainable growth and promote British expertise and influence, we will lean on our revamped development finance institution, British International Investment. This will deliver reliable, honest and transparent finance. It will support countries to export, trade and address the challenges that hinder investment, jobs and green growth, all the while creating new opportunities here at home. It will bring in billions in climate financing for projects such as solar power, sustainable transport and disaster-resilient infrastructure over the next five years.
Of course, no country can be truly free or prosperous without unlocking the potential of women and girls. That is a point that has been made extremely persuasively and eloquently by many speakers today. Tackling gender equality is a core part of the Government’s mission, and it absolutely remains so. The integrated review confirms this commitment, specifically working with women’s rights organisations to tackle the discrimination, violence and inequality that hold women back.
As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, my noble friend Lady Sugg and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans have all pointed out, education is likely the single smartest investment we can make if we want to fight poverty, address climate change and save lives. We will absolutely continue to help countries to invest in strong education systems. At the same time, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that we are not deprioritising in any way the inclusion agenda, particularly for older people, which she mentioned.
We will continue our world-leading work to empower women and eradicate violence against them. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, I say that we will support sexual and reproductive health rights and work to end the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation.
In addition to our focus on women and girls, we are committed to promoting open and inclusive societies which respect human rights by tackling discrimination, with a particular focus on disability and LGBT rights, and breaking down the barriers to achieving equality and opportunity for all.
I agree with the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans about the value of encouraging foreign students to come and learn here in the UK, for all the reasons he said, not least that those students are likely to return to wherever they come from in the world with a natural friendship with this country and bridges on which we will be able to continue to form partnerships.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, raised the issue of population. I certainly do not seek to downplay that issue; I do not think that anyone in government does. Clearly, numbers matter. The only thing I would say is that, in terms of the impact on Mother Nature, as the noble Viscount called it, the bigger issue is per capita consumption. If he considers that the environmental impact of the average Rwandan is around 40 times smaller than that of the average person living in this country, consumption clearly must be a key part of it. I also argue that our investment in and prioritisation of women and girls, particularly regarding reproductive autonomy, will be absolutely central if we want to tackle the issue of population. It is the only proven solution to the issue that the noble Viscount rightly raised.
Like a number of noble Lords, the noble Viscount mentioned Afghanistan in this context. Ministers and officials have met Afghan women regularly to inform our engagement on the future of that country. We believe that Afghanistan needs inclusive politics that properly represent the country; I acknowledge that that is clearly a long way from where Afghanistan currently finds itself.
While we support countries’ long-term growth, we must also, as many noble Lords have said, play our part as a global citizen, responding to crises and their causes; this point was made extremely forcefully by my noble friend Lady Sugg, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and the noble Lord, Lord Londesborough. Ending Covid-19 and boosting future health security is, naturally, a top priority. We will continue our work to ensure that vaccines are available to those who need them. This includes our £548 million of funding for the COVAX advance market commitment, delivering more than 516 million vaccines to low and middle-income countries.
We will also continue work to enhance health systems around the world. It is vital to get jabs in arms, save lives and prevent future crises. For example, our support for Nepal’s health system has already helped to halve the rate of maternal mortality in 10 years and bring in an early warning system for disease outbreaks. This will be coupled with ongoing life-saving support for the world’s most vulnerable people, such as our support for humanitarian appeals in Somalia and South Sudan.
Indeed, amid rising global humanitarian need, the UK remains one of the world’s top bilateral donors to some of the world’s largest humanitarian crises. The UK will use our position as a principled and effective humanitarian donor and a strong partner in the international humanitarian system to prioritise effective humanitarian assistance for those in greatest need and protect civilians, refugees and marginalised people. We must also work to prevent conflict and violence erupting in the first place, so we will continue to focus on building law enforcement and justice institutions that promote peace and stability.
I will briefly respond to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, which were echoed by others, about mines. The Global Mine Action Programme—GMAP3—is due to begin next year. It will involve landmine clearance and education to help affected communities keep safe, as well as capacity development for national authorities to help them address the issue in their own countries. Although I cannot provide details at this point, they will be provided soon.
We will continue to bolster our defences against terrorists, cybercriminals and money launderers, supporting capacity building in forensics and investigations.
In all this, we remain steadfast in our absolute focus on tackling poverty through promoting economic growth and employment opportunities. Of course, this also benefits the UK by creating new markets where UK businesses can trade and invest. I note the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, on the ineffectiveness of some aid. Of course, some aid has been poorly invested over time; an enormous amount has been invested. Equally, though, the proof of the effectiveness of investing in, for example, girls’ and women’s education, or some of the environmental initiatives that I have seen closely at first hand, is demonstrated beyond any doubt in the impact they have. For example, areas in the world that are hit by unfortunately ever more frequent storms have been visibly and measurably protected as a consequence of repairs to mangroves and corals. You can literally see that, for the communities that still have either old or regenerated mangroves compared with those that do not and rely on concrete defences, the difference in protection is night and day. That is one example of where investment has proven itself to be effective, but there are many others.
In responding to new challenges, we will consider not just what we work on but where. We will focus our investment and expertise where we can make the most difference, achieving maximum impact and value for money. We recognise that some of the issues we care about most, such as climate change, particularly affect some of our most vulnerable development partners. Our approach will therefore be different in different countries, tailored to local needs and taking account of the fact that, as countries become more prosperous, they are better able to manage their development.
As has been noted, we will extend our development reach, tilting towards the Indo-Pacific—that powerhouse of the world’s future economy—and staying strong in Africa, where there are so many challenges and opportunities. This will be reflected in the strategy, of course. We remain completely committed to working with our partners in Africa to meet their goals. As well as humanitarian support, UK aid is helping to deliver the vaccines that are needed, educate girls, reduce crime, improve economic growth and development, and help countries in relation to their environmental challenges.
We will also continue to work with key countries and regions on specific issues. This includes tackling the root causes of instability in the Middle East and north Africa; protecting our planet’s natural resources in areas of incalculable importance, such as the Amazon and the Congo Basin; addressing drivers of conflict in the western Balkans; and supporting good governance and resilience to crises in our overseas territories.
The Minister said that the forward plan for north Africa will be in conflict prevention. The Government have cut all bilateral programme support for all of north Africa for the next three years. How do those two things match?
As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, the strategic importance of Africa, and of north Africa, will be reflected in the international development strategy.
In the remaining few minutes—I do not have that long—I want to address the important points made by the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. I will not be able to answer them in detail, partly because I do not have time but partly because his questions about prosecutions fall with colleagues in HMT. It is their issue, so I will ask them for a written response to the noble Lord’s questions. I apologise for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, pointed to cuts to multilateral development banks; I think he mentioned the World Bank in particular. He is right that that is part of the strategy, but it is not an overall or meaningful cut in real terms. As a policy decision, we plan to direct more of our resources to specific countries and increase our bilateral investments. It is our view, with which the noble Lord is perfectly at liberty to disagree, that we get more value for money and greater flexibility, and can do more work, through those bilateral investments than we can through multilateral development banks, but we remain one of the biggest contributors to the multilateral system. There is plenty of room there for us to redirect some of that funding in a way that we think is strategic. We also expect to remain a major donor to the UN and other international organisations.
Despite the seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK and global economy, the UK will still spend more than £10 billion of ODA in 2021. I want to address the comments from a number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Oates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson. Few people wanted to cut aid, and we want to return to where we were as soon as we possibly can, but we remain one of the largest overseas development assistance spenders in the world. Based on 2020 OECD data, the UK will be the third-largest ODA donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI in 2021. We spend a greater percentage of our GNI on ODA than the US, Japan, Canada or Italy. We also have a clear pathway to return to 0.7%. I cannot give a date, but forecasts suggest that we are very likely to meet the criteria that have been set by 2024-25.
The strategy aims to be a development strategy rather than an aid spending strategy. It capitalises on the fact that all the levers for development impact—diplomacy, development, trade and security—are in our hands. The investment set out in the spending review, together with our development expertise and one of the largest overseas diplomatic networks in the world, will support this aim.
I want briefly to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, who made an important point about the need to work closely with civil society. Engagement with partners has been absolutely key to the development of the strategy. We have engaged on every level, including through round-table events with Ministers, including me.
As well as what we deliver and where we deliver it, the strategy will set a new direction for how we work to achieve development goals. We will lean into the transformational power of technology, research, science and digital approaches as never before—for example, by supporting early warning systems that can anticipate humanitarian risks, from floods to air strikes, and save lives.
I note that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, described himself as coming from the “CDC stable”. That stable has been renamed yet again, I suspect since he wrote his speech, and is now British International Investment. It will be at the heart of our approach.
I am running out of time and there are certainly issues that I have not covered, for which I apologise. Despite the huge strides that have been made in advancing global development over recent decades, this Government are under no illusion about the scale and urgency of the challenge that remains before us. I thank noble Lords for their many insightful interventions today, as we continue to shape our strategy. We are determined that it will meet these challenges head-on, ensuring that free societies and democracies develop and thrive.
Finally, on the last sitting day of a difficult year, I echo the thanks expressed by Front-Benchers to members of staff, and add mine to my magnificent team. They have had a particularly tough year with the Environment Bill, helping to ensure that nature has been put at the heart—irreversibly—of the climate debate. I thank the team led so well by my private secretary Maddi, and I apologise for a difficult year to come.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and the detailed way in which he has addressed the issues raised in the debate. Even where we disagree with him, I respect and appreciate his engagement. I look forward to that continuing in early 2022 as we move towards the launch of the strategy.
Like him, I am not going to delay everybody by going back over the arguments that have just been made, but I do welcome and am grateful for the contributions that were made around your Lordships’ Chamber in support of the priorities that I outlined in my introduction—of climate and net zero, of girls and women, and of conflict prevention and peacebuilding—which will be at the heart of this new international development strategy. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson and Lady Sugg, for their eloquent advocacy of the importance of positioning girls and women at the heart of international development and change around the world.
In addition to thanking everybody who has spoken and taken the time to wait to make their contributions on this last day before the Christmas Recess, I will make two brief points before concluding. First, I strongly support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Oates, about the inconsistency in some of the bilateral decision-making. It is inexplicable that countries such as Malawi and Zambia, which have had such democratic transformations over the last two years, were treated so badly when others were not. In Malawi, there is confusion and dismay over that decision. There is a deadly serious drugs crisis in Malawi’s health service at the moment which will cost hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives in the new year. It was not caused by the UK aid decision, but it was not helped by it either. I hope that these decisions will be revisited and that a consistency of principle is applied to future bilateral programming.
Secondly, 37 years ago this month my good friend Jim Diamond, who has sadly passed away, had his first hit single as a solo singer with “I Should Have Known Better”. That should perhaps be a motto for the Government, after some of the decisions that were made this year. Jim went on the radio as the Band Aid single was launched and asked people not to buy his single any more, but to buy the Band Aid one instead. With 37 years of experience, we might now have some question marks over some of the lyrics of the Band Aid single, but at that point it marked a change in the debates in this country about our international relationships. That was happening at the same time as the old international battles of East and West were starting to come to an end, at the end of the 1980s. We were looking more at North and South, sustainable development, extreme poverty around the world and our contribution to tackling it.
This Christmas, as we talk about good will to all people and peace over these next days, I hope we remember that they are not just concepts and aspirations for Christmas but should apply all year round. Our compassion and determination to tackle these issues needs to go into 2022 and beyond with much more commitment, sensible decision-making, belief and ambition than we displayed in 2021. With that, I wish everybody a merry Christmas, a happy new year and a much better 12 months to come.
School Openings: January 2022
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 15 December.
“The Government are committed to ensuring that schools open in January as normal. The classroom is the very best place for children’s and young people’s development, and we are incredibly grateful to teachers and all education staff for all they have done to maintain face-to-face learning. Protecting education continues to be our absolute priority.
The Government have taken action to help manage the omicron variant, and the Prime Minister has already announced that we are turbocharging our Covid-19 booster programme to offer every adult in England a vaccine by the end of the year to protect people from it. We have set out clear plans for school openings in January, including on-site lateral flow testing for secondary school students on return; continued regular testing at home for the education and childcare sectors; and a comprehensive contingency framework to manage outbreaks.
As of 1 December, more than 95.2 million tests have been completed across all education settings, and the Government have made more than £100 million of funding available to education settings to support costs. Schools and education settings have a range of measures in place to manage Covid and to reduce transmission, including regular testing, additional hygiene practices, increasing ventilation, and procedures for managing confirmed cases.
From Tuesday 14 December, a new national daily testing of Covid contacts policy was introduced. That means that young people and fully vaccinated adults who are identified as a close contact of someone with Covid may take an NHS rapid lateral flow test every day for seven days and continue to attend their setting as normal unless they have a positive result.
We also recommend that older students and staff wear face coverings in communal areas and we have supported education settings to improve ventilation. The Government committed to delivering 300,000 carbon dioxide monitors by the end of this term; we have already delivered more than 329,000, with more than 99% of eligible settings having received monitors.
Every child aged 12 and over is eligible to receive the vaccine. We encourage all children and parents to take up that offer as soon as possible, if they have not already. It is vital, though, that all of us, including parents, carers, teachers and everyone working in education, goes out as soon as they possibly can to get their booster jab to protect the NHS, our way of life and education.”
My Lords, before I respond to the government response to the Question, I am sure I am not alone in my thoughts being dominated today by the absolutely horrific news from Tasmania. Five children in a primary school have died and many others were seriously injured on what should have been a day of joy, the last day of their school term. I speak for all noble Lords in saying that my thoughts are with the families involved in their unimaginable pain and anguish.
In responding to the Urgent Question in another place yesterday, the Minister for Skills said:
“The Government are committed to ensuring that schools open in January as normal.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/21; col. 1061.]
We hope that is the case, but vaccination and ventilation are key to reducing the spread of Covid in schools and keeping children in the classroom in the new year. However, nationally less than half of 12 to 15 year-olds have had a vaccine and the weekly number of vaccines has fallen by 80% since October. Staff, children and parents are on the brink of a third year of school disruption.
To minimise that, I ask the Minister if the Government will adopt Labour’s calls for a clear, targeted communications campaign to parents on the benefits of vaccination for children, together with access to pop-up and walk-in clinics, and the mobilisation of volunteers and retired clinicians to deliver it successfully.
With the leave of the House, I share the initial sentiments of the noble Lord opposite and send my condolences to all touched by the tragedy in Tasmania.
As my honourable friend in another place said, we will do everything in our power to keep schools open throughout January and beyond. All in this House acknowledge the great price that children have paid over the last two years. I hope the noble Lord acknowledges that there has been a very active communications plan about the importance of getting vaccinated and having a booster jab. We press on with that, but we are exploring every avenue. I am pleased to tell the House that over 350,000 CO2 monitors have been delivered to schools—above our target of 300,000 before the end of term—and 99% of eligible settings now have that equipment.
My Lords, it is not very often that I am able to get up and congratulate the Government on an Answer to an Urgent Question, but I do so today because it is absolutely right. As the Answer says:
“Protecting education continues to be our absolute priority.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/21; col. 1061.]
What kind of communication strategy is being developed to provide parents with the reassurance they need and to tell them just how important it is that their children continue to go to school, given what we know about absence from school at an earlier stage in the pandemic? Could the Minister also tell the House what kind of encouragement is being given to schools and local authorities to keep extracurricular programmes going? These are so important for disadvantaged children.
The noble Baroness is right. I thank her, and I will frame her acknowledgement of our progress in this area. The Secretary of State is absolutely clear about the importance of education, that we should do all in our power, and that the best place for children to be is in school.
On our communication campaign, we are targeting the whole nation for reasons the noble Baroness understands very well relating to vaccination and the importance, particularly given the transmissibility of the omicron variant, that all of us get boosted and jabbed. We are moving as quickly as possible with that.
On the wider issue of support, we are working very closely with schools and local authorities. We have offered them financial and practical support, particularly during the Christmas holidays, for some of the additional food and holiday clubs we offer through our schools.
My Lords, I associate myself with the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Watson, about the tragedy in Tasmania. Could the Minister give us some idea of the lessons the Government have learned from the last series of lockdowns, when schools were not there? What strategy will we implement? We know that if you happen to have a house with lots of digital conductivity and devices, you are fine. What capacity is there if children do have to spend time away from the classroom? We want to get kids into schools but we cannot always guarantee it. What are plans B, C or even alpha?
I am not sure that the House would want me to go through all the plans, but the top line we have learned—I think we knew this before, but we know it more vividly now—is that the safest place for children is to be in school. On digital connection, we have distributed more than 1.35 million devices to ensure that children can be connected to education remotely, but we also funded the Oak National Academy, which is providing excellent online resources that can be used both in a classroom and at home.
My Lords, given what we know about the crucial role that ventilation plays in the fight against the spread of Covid in classrooms, might the Government reconsider their commitment to fund the provision of air filtration devices only for SEND and AP schools, rather than all schools? Does she not agree that it should surely be a priority to ensure that all schools can access this crucial mechanism for protection, not just those that happen to have some budget spare?
The noble Baroness’s tone is a little harsh in saying “budget spare”. We are talking about making sure our classrooms are safe for children, which is why we prioritise the distribution of devices to children with special educational needs and children in alternative provision. Indeed, beyond CO2 monitors, we have disrupted 1,000 ventilation devices to those schools and launched a marketplace where schools can buy purification devices at the best prices.
My Lords, the Minister talked about students and we have also talked about parents. We have not yet talked about teachers. What are the Government doing to support school leaders at a time when the management of the fluctuating crisis we are all in is extremely difficult? Can she assure us that the messaging that goes to school leaders at this time is, as far as possible, encouraging and supportive but not accusatory?
We have been extremely clear in our gratitude to school leaders for the extraordinary job they have done over the last couple of years. We have the workforce fund, which provides funding for supply teachers and has been extended until the spring half-term. We are endeavouring to communicate in the most constructive and positive way possible.
Can the Government confirm that the additional funding being allocated to support education is also being distributed to the devolved Administrations to support children in school in the devolved nations of the UK?
My understanding is that systems are already in place for achieving that.
My Lords, this morning we discussed children in care. For them, the in loco parentis role of schools is especially important. We also mentioned the awful murder of young Arthur, and we know that teachers might well have picked up on the horrors he endured that social services missed. Will the Minister ensure that some communication is not just about vaccines but about the role schools play as community hubs of social solidarity for children, as well as in educating them? Will the Government also note the serious collateral damage when education policy organises everything around Covid, neglecting all those other negative impacts so vividly demonstrated in the Ofsted reports and the devastating stories of year 7 pupils?
The noble Baroness is right. In our communication with schools and multi-academy trusts last week, we again pointed to the important role they play in identifying vulnerable children.
My Lords, the time limit on this Question has expired.
Ajax Noise and Vibration Review
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 15 December.
“With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a Statement to update the House on Ajax, which is an important capability and a vital step change in the way the British Army will operate on the future battlefield. It will provide ground-mounted reconnaissance, allowing the Army to understand the battlefield in all weathers, 24 hours a day.
As part of our £41 billion investment in Army equipment and support over the next 10 years, this modernisation is critical to address future threats. This is a vital investment, and the Defence Secretary and I have been deeply concerned about progress on this troubled project, which has been running for over 11 years since its commencement in March 2010. That is why we have been thoroughly focused on the project, why I insisted earlier this year that no declaration of initial operating capability would be made without ministerial involvement and why we asked the Permanent Secretary to commission a report from the Ministry of Defence’s director of health, safety and environmental protection on the health and safety concerns raised by noise and vibration. I am today publishing that report, and placing a copy in the Library of the House and in the Vote Office.
Over the past 35 years, there have been some 13 formal reports on defence procurement; we know the foundations that can build success. Openness, good communication and collaboration within Defence and the ability to act as an informed and challenging customer are vital. This health and safety report has highlighted shortcomings that need to be addressed, not just in health and safety but more broadly. The review finds serious failings in the processes followed. The result was that personnel worked on a vehicle that had the potential to cause harm. The review finds that the failure was complex and systemic; that a culture exists of not treating safety as equally important as cost and time in the acquisition process; and that, from a cultural perspective, the Army did not believe it was potentially causing harm to people, especially from vibration, as it was tacitly expected that soldiers can and should endure such issues.
As I informed the House on 18 October, we have contacted all personnel identified as having worked on Ajax. Forty declined to be assessed for hearing but I am pleased to report that the vast majority of the remainder have returned to duty with no health impact. As of 9 December, 17 individuals remain under specialist out-patient care for their hearing, some of whom, again, are expected to return to duty with no health impact. Eleven individuals have had long-term restrictions on noise exposure recommended, potentially requiring a limitation in their military duties. Seven of them had pre-existing hearing issues prior to working on Ajax, but four did not.
In addition, four individuals who worked on Ajax have been discharged on health grounds, in some cases for reasons wholly unrelated to hearing loss. Although we cannot yet establish a definitive causal link, it is possible that Ajax may have contributed to the current hearing loss in a small number of individuals. It remains the case that no individuals have had long-term restrictions or been discharged as a result of vibration. However, assessment for both hand-transmitted and whole-body vibration takes time and requires specialist assessment, and these continue.
I will set out the key points from the review. General Dynamics UK is responsible for the design and build of the Ajax vehicles. The vehicles that it delivered for use in the trials had levels of noise and vibration that were higher than usually expected in tracked vehicles and have been proven to be above the statutory limit. That exposed our personnel to potential harm.
That exposure was not prevented by the Ministry of Defence due to a series of failures to act when concerns were raised by expert advisers and by soldiers operating in the vehicles. For example, an MoD safety notice in December 2018 said that design upgrades were required to reduce vibration, but this was not acted upon. MoD safety cases and safety management used GDUK calculations that were not independently assured, despite experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory advising that the calculations should not be relied on.
A report from the Defence Safety Authority in May 2020 identifying some of these issues and entitled Serious Safety Concerns on Ajax was retracted and not pursued, either by the DSA or by the project team in Defence Equipment and Support. Multiple warnings from the DSTL and from the Armoured Trials and Development Unit, which was running the trials, were not actioned, even when the ATDU commanding officer questioned the approach as having the potential to expose soldiers to a known hazard, which he stated was not a defendable position.
Overall, the report makes 20 recommendations. The MoD accepts all those relating specifically to armoured vehicle procurements, the regulation of safety for land equipment and the broader approach to safety in defence. Recommendation 9 relates to avoiding the concurrent running of the demonstration and manufacture stages in future projects. That recommendation needs to be considered carefully to ensure that we capture the safety imperatives while not preventing sensible spiral development or, for example, the parallel construction of classes of warship. I will update the House on that, alongside recommendations 12 and 14, which also need consideration of how to best implement them, building on existing work on approvals and senior responsible owners.
I will also update the House on the project more broadly. We have a robust, firm-price contract for the delivery of 589 vehicles at a cost of £5.5 billion. We are ensuring that we protect our commercial position under the contract and will not accept a vehicle that is not fit for purpose. It remains impossible to share with the House 100% confidence that the programme will succeed or, if it does, the timing of achieving full operating capability. However, we are working closely with General Dynamics on noise and vibration and it is showing great commitment to resolving these issues. This very advanced fighting vehicle project employs 4,100 people in south Wales and across the UK. We all want it to succeed and deliver what the British Army requires.
The Millbrook trials to baseline the vehicle’s characteristics have been completed and we expect to receive the conclusions shortly. In parallel, General Dynamics has been developing its theories and trialling design modifications to address vibration. We expect to receive its analysis in the new year, following which we will, if appropriate, undertake thorough testing of its proposed modifications to satisfy ourselves on their efficacy.
Part of our analysis is also looking at the performance of the headset used in Ajax. Although the noise profile on Ajax is noticeably different from that of other armoured vehicles, following tests on in-service headsets, we took in November a precautionary measure to limit temporarily the amount of time personnel operate while using them in other armoured fighting vehicles. Acoustic testing of our in-service headsets is under way at test facilities in the UK and overseas. We are also testing other headsets to establish whether they will meet our requirements and provide additional attenuation. Once this analysis is complete, we expect to be able to relax the temporary restrictions or implement appropriate mitigations. In the meantime, we remain able to maintain our operational commitments.
The work on Ajax has also highlighted the significant number of personnel across defence whose exposure to noise results in short- or long-term restrictions to their military duties. I have therefore asked the MoD Permanent Secretary to look further at that issue to ensure that we are doing all we can to prevent avoidable hearing loss in our people.
In conclusion, the Ajax health and safety report makes for very difficult reading. It lays bare a deep malaise, which is cultural and results in systemic failures across our organisations. I am grateful to David King and his team for their work and grateful for the candour of many who contributed to the review. There are many working tirelessly to get Ajax back on track. We need to build on that candour and dedication and encourage all those involved in procurement programmes to speak up, identify problems and make clear where those responsible are failing. A culture in which individuals are encouraged not to elevate problems but only solutions through the chain of command may be admirable in other circumstances, but rarely in procurement. We need to support our people by resolving underlying cultural issues that risk making it harder to deliver the capabilities needed by our Armed Forces.
To take that forward, we are commissioning a senior legal figure to look more deeply at Ajax and to examine not just health and safety but the cultural and process flaws that it has highlighted. We will leave no stone unturned to learn those lessons. I encourage people to participate in the further review and will ensure they have the space to do so. Of course, if the review uncovers evidence of gross misconduct, those concerned will be held to account, but the primary purpose of this inquiry is to ensure that we address significant cultural failings. The terms of reference will be agreed with the reviewer and I will make them available to the House.
In summary, while we should not forget that General Dynamics UK is responsible for delivering a safe and effective vehicle, it is clear from the report that the customs and practices of the Army, Defence Equipment and Support, Defence Digital and the wider MoD resulted in a culture that prevented issues being addressed at an earlier point. We are committed to ensuring that measures are put in place to deliver these very complex programmes in a way that minimises the risk to our people while delivering the capability needed by the Armed Forces. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, £3.2 billion has been spent, with only a couple of dozen of the Ajax tanks delivered out of an order for 589, all of which are supposed to be delivered by 2024 with a total cost of £5.5 billion. The Public Accounts Committee in the other place has called it a catastrophe. How has it come to this? It has to be the biggest defence procurement failure of the last decade, does it not?
Now we have a further damning review just published by the Government called the Ajax Noise and Vibration Review. It catalogues failure after failure of process, accountability and procedures. Some 310 soldiers were exposed to noise and vibration, with a small number discharged because of hearing loss. According to the review, senior Army officers and MoD officials knew of these problems for two years before any action was taken. How and why was that possible? Who knew? Did Ministers know?
The review’s conclusions are stark and extremely worrying, not only first and foremost for our soldiers but for what it means for a central part of our future military capability. I quote directly from the Government’s own report:
“Nothing in this Review detracts from the fact that GDUK has designed and built what MOD maintains is thus far a vehicle which is not fit for purpose and does not meet the contracted specification.”
What does the Minister have to say to that specific quote? The report concludes that
“from a cultural perspective, the Army did not believe it was potentially causing harm to people, especially from vibration, as it was tacitly expected that soldiers can and should endure such issues. Society and the law expect MOD to do better”.
Is the MoD doing better? What has changed? Who is being held to account? We cannot tell from the review what is actually happening.
One of my final quotes directly from the review is:
“Within the acquisition system, safety is not viewed as an equal partner to cost, schedule and military capability, and the culture in MOD does not currently ensure safety is considered within strategic decision-making.”
The word is “currently”. Does the Minister recognise that term—not 10 years ago but currently? What is urgently being done to change that culture? What steps are being taken? Are any other defence procurement projects subject to such a culture? Even during the Minister’s Statement yesterday in the other place, he talked of reports such as that from the Defence Safety Authority in May 2020 identifying some of these issues, entitled Serious Safety Concerns on Ajax, and then tells us that that was retracted and not pursued. Who retracted the report? Who decided not to pursue it? Where are they now? Have they been promoted? Have they been sacked? Was any Minister aware of it and, if not, why not? The Government’s response is to have announced that following this review they are to launch another review. To what purpose and timescale is that further review to operate?
This is deeply disturbing and unsatisfactory. Ajax is in limbo. A major military capability for this country is in real trouble. Are the Government sticking with Ajax or are they going to scrap it? What confidence can we have that they have a grip of the Ajax programme? Are we sure that there is no impact on the Army’s ability to deploy the planned strike brigade?
As the review concludes:
“To have confidence that the events covered in this report will not be repeated, culture change needs to be progressed.”
For the sake of our Armed Forces and the security of our country, it certainly needs to be. I am sure that we will all appreciate the remarks of the Minister in response to this serious and damning report.
My Lords, I can associate these Benches with many of the questions from the noble Lord. He rightly highlights the fact that many government assertions over recent years have not been matched with what we now learn from the review.
I agree with the Minister in the House of Commons when he indicated that he read the report with a deep sense of regret. If anything, he needs a degree of commendation for highlighting these issues. The problem had been that many of them had not been highlighted thus far, and we have had to rely on this review. As the noble Lord indicated, the review states that nothing in it
“detracts from the fact that GDUK has designed and built what MOD maintains is thus far a vehicle which is not fit for purpose and does not meet the contracted specification”.
The Minister replied that the key element of that was “thus far”, but he did not tell the House of Commons when he believed that these vehicles would be fit for purpose, and he did not say when they would meet the contracted specification. As the noble Lord indicated, the National Audit Office, in reviewing the procurement of MoD equipment, highlighted that the expenditure as of March 2021 had been £3.755 billion. How on earth can that amount, of a total of £5.5 billion, be committed when the review had indicated that these vehicles were not fit for purpose and would not meet the specification? If the Government’s position is that the vehicles will do so, when will that happen?
The NAO in paragraph 11 of its report highlighted part of the challenge as being the Government changing the specification. However, it said that that accounted for an 11 months’ delay to the programme. It high- lighted more than 13 programmes with 254 months of delays in MoD procurement—an astonishing amount. Paragraph 5.11 indicated in relation to Her Majesty’s Treasury that:
“The assessment for the Ajax armoured vehicle (October 2020), stated the programme remained a VFM”—
“solution despite slippage of entry into service from July 2020 to June 2021, with a worst-case scenario of slippage to December 2022.”
How can the Treasury claim that there is a continued value-for-money solution while this review indicated that the vehicles were not fit for purpose and did not meet the contracted specification? Will all the vehicles now be in operation for our servicemen and women by the time of the worst-case scenario of December 2022 or are the Government changing that position?
I should declare that I represented a military barracks in my former constituency and was in northern Iraq last week. I know well the great pressure that our Armed Forces personnel have had to endure over many years. The welfare of those individuals should of course be a paramount priority. The Minister in the Commons did not indicate any detail about how support will be provided to those affected, so if the noble Baroness could provide more details, I should be grateful.
My final question relates to a Statement that the Minister made to this House in March this year. When asked about procurement in the MoD, she said in relation to a question from my noble friend Lord Addington about overruns and expenditure increases:
“The scenario that the noble Lord envisages is unlikely to arise because from now on procurement will proceed on a very different basis from what we have known in the past.”—[Official Report, 24/3/21; col. 845.]
However, we had to rely on this report and the Minister in the Commons stating in his concluding remarks yesterday that the report
“lays bare a deep malaise, which is cultural and results in systemic failures across our organisations.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/21; col. 1082.]
How on earth can those two areas be reconciled? Can that department be relied upon, even by commissioning a senior legal figure, to learn these lessons? Would it not be better if that legal figure responded to a different and external organisation to ensure that deep malaise and cultural and systemic failures are not repeated in the future?
My Lords, I, first, thank the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Purvis, for their observations and comments.
I pay tribute to my honourable friend Jeremy Quin, the Minister in the other place, for his determination to lift the drain covers to find out what had been happening. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Purvis, for acknowledging his efforts. I also thank David King, the MoD director of health and safety and environmental protection, for his report, which, although deeply troubling, is also robust, analytical, comprehensive and helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, quite understandably raised the catalogue of failings and asked how this could be. We are absolutely clear about what the recent report has produced. It confirmed that there were serious failings in how the MoD handled the health and safety concerns regarding Ajax vehicles. The review concluded that it was not the failure of a single individual but a complex combination of the Armed Forces’ relationship to harm and weaknesses in the MoD’s acquisition system. It also pointed to missed opportunities to act on safety and risk management across the programme.
Let me make it clear that all that is unacceptable. My honourable friend in the other place made that clear and I repeat that to your Lordships. That is why I say that this report, although deeply troubling, points to a way forward in a constructive and helpful manner. Your Lordships will be aware—the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, alluded to this—that the recommendations in the report not only cover Ajax but reach out helpfully into the broader areas of procurement, particularly in relation to health and safety, and what changes might be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked how no one knew what was going on. It has emerged that warnings were not given sufficient attention; the report is explicit about that. Very troublingly, the Army did not believe that it was potentially causing harm to people as it was tacitly expected that soldiers could and should endure such conditions. That is utterly unacceptable, as the report makes clear. The recommendations are designed to ensure that a completely different and much more scrutinising approach to health and safety is adopted in future.
The noble Lord asked about the relevance of the follow-on review. I suppose that the review will look partially at the current health and safety report that has been published, but it is really determined to look at the whole Ajax programme to try to work out exactly what was going on beyond health and safety, and why communication was so poor and warnings were ignored. I make it clear that if gross misconduct is disclosed by that follow-on review then the appropriate administrative and disciplinary action will be taken.
The noble Lord asked specifically about the Defence Safety Authority report. That report was withdrawn for good reason: it did not follow the process, quality control and due diligence that you would expect of an inquiry such as a formal initiation establishing and analysing the facts, gathering and verifying evidence and, of course, deploying peer review. Following the retraction of that report because it was not considered sufficiently robust to be proceeded with, the Defence Land Safety Regulator, which works within the DSA, followed up on the concerns directly with Army HQ and DE&S. Again, while that sounds reassuring up to a point, I fully understand, as the report has disclosed, that the whole background and territory of communication —of the warnings being given, of how those were acknowledged and what response was given to them— becomes very opaque, and that is utterly unacceptable. The follow- on review will certainly look very closely at those issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also asked whether we were sticking with Ajax. As he will understand, Ajax is a very important piece of equipment. It is a step change in how we deal with carrying personnel and with deploying cutting-edge technology to do that safely and to have as precise a knowledge of battleground as possible. We have made it clear that we are working with General Dynamics to try to get to the root of the problem with a view to finding solutions, but I make it clear again to this House that we will not accept a vehicle that is not fit for purpose. As my honourable friend said in the other place yesterday, it remains impossible to share with your Lordships 100% confidence that this programme will succeed, or, if it does, of the timing for achieving full operating capability.
In relation to overall capability, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred, as did the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, we live in a world where we constantly consider, assess, adjust and, as necessary, plan what our response will be to threats. We will make sure that we are able to deal with whatever operational obligations fall upon us. Very particularly, I make it clear that this is not impacting on our operational capability nor on our obligations under NATO.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis raised the matter of trials. As he is aware, trials have taken place and we are currently assessing them. The physical trials at Millbrook have concluded. They have generated hundreds of gigabytes of data, and we expect to see conclusions from the analysis shortly. We will then verify the data, conduct assurance trials where required and draw conclusions on the next steps. Over and above that, separate from the trials, General Dynamics has conducted its own tests of proposed modifications to address vibration issues. Once analysis is complete, the MoD will verify the results through subsequent trials.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, raised the follow-on review. It is important that we build on such knowledge as has now been gathered together, and I think the health and safety report is a robust foundation on which to do that. The Secretary of State’s intention to bring in a leading legal figure is absolutely right, and they will look objectively, analytically and dispassionately at whatever the evidence may be and draw conclusions from that. I cannot pre-empt that, but we await progress on it.
When I looked at the report, it was deeply concerning —and I can tell your Lordships that it was deeply concerning to my ministerial colleagues—that personnel worked in a vehicle that had the potential to cause harm. I find that utterly unacceptable. The 310 people identified as working on Ajax trials and training have all been contacted for assessment. We shall continue to monitor those who have been assessed. We encourage those who have either declined assessment or been unable to attend an assessment to come forward, and any identified with continuing or emerging conditions will be supported appropriately.
My Lords, listening to the questions and the Minister’s answers persuades me that this is a complete disaster, as we have debated in your Lordships’ House quite a few times now, and it does not seem to be getting any better. I am glad that some further work has been done; we have now spent billions on this, apparently.
I wonder how it is possible that the Army top brass has allowed the situation to get this far without coming along and explaining why it has got so expensive and why it does not work properly. In the previous debate, in addition to the effect on the soldiers inside the tank, there was the question of whether the thing can go backwards up a step or something, and I think I made a comment that the British Army probably does not think we ever retreat so it does not matter—I hope it has some better reasons than that for saying what it has. Nor can it fire on the move or do its designed speed. If any private company were ordering something at a hundredth of the cost of this thing and made these kinds of mistakes, they would have been sacked.
This has also been debated before in your Lordships’ House, but Ajax came out very badly in the Infrastructure and Projects Authority annual report. I remember asking at the time: do Ministers ever read that report, and do they take action? It is clear that in this case they have not, otherwise they would have done something by now to get the answers. I appreciate that the report is a step in that direction, but they need to take stronger action to control the costs.
My last question is: why do we need this at all? Is it really part of the Army’s necessary equipment? Do we need to spend all this money on tanks? I do not know where we deploy them apart from Salisbury Plain. Is it not time that someone took a step back and said, “Do we, as a medium-sized power in the world, need tanks that can’t go backwards and cause injury to the people inside them?” We do not seem to be questioning it.
I will respond to the noble Lord’s questions in reverse order. Yes, Ajax is an important capability for the future British Army. It will provide a mobile, resilient and crewed ISTAR capability that is optimised for “find, understand and exploit” effects. It will offer the newest and most technologically advanced capabilities, equipped with a best-in-class sensor suite and other cutting-edge technological aids. It is a very important piece of equipment and I think that is universally acknowledged.
The contract for this is a firm-price contract. We know what the price is. It is now down to the company, in collaboration with the MoD, to resolve the issues that have been causing the noise and vibration.
The noble Lord raised the question of the IPA report. The IPA released its public data in July 2021, showing that the Ajax programme had moved from amber to red status back in April 2021. The then senior responsible owner asked the IPA to review the programme over concerns that it was not progressing as it should be. However, as the health and safety report indicates, that is just one element of a very confused system of accountability, communication, acknowledgement of warnings and reaction to warnings. The noble Lord is right to express concern about that, and I will not diminish the significance of his question. If you look at the recommendations of the health and safety report, there is a lot of comfort to be derived from it, not only in relation to the Ajax programme but the relevance of some of these recommendations to the wider procurement programme. The noble Lord is correct that there are still questions to be answered. That will fall within the jurisdiction of the forthcoming follow-on review.