Motion to Take Note
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.
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.