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International Development

Volume 818: debated on Tuesday 8 February 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will publish their new strategy for international development.

My Lords, the Government will publish a new international development strategy this spring and it will guide our work for the coming decade and beyond. It will align our development work with the aims and objectives of the integrated review.

My Lords, in our increasingly interdependent world, successive Secretaries of State for International Development and Prime Ministers have recognised the crucial importance of conflict prevention and peacebuilding in our international development strategy. That is precisely because those who are affected by violent conflict are those who suffer from the least development and the fewest opportunities; of course, those conflicts spill over and affect us in our country too. Will the Government give a cast-iron guarantee that, in the priorities outlined in the new international development strategy, this cross-party approach will be continued and that support for conflict prevention and peacebuilding will continue to be a priority for the United Kingdom?

I absolutely can provide that guarantee. The UK is committed to working to prevent and reduce the frequency and intensity of conflict and instability, and to minimise opportunities for state and non-state actors to undermine international security. As the noble Lord said, it is absolutely in our national interest to mitigate the global impact from terrorism, serious and organised crime, and health threats, as well as regional impacts of conflict.

My Lords, when DfID existed, the department regularly published detailed country profiles setting out the purpose for delivering aid, what UK aid had achieved, what it aimed to achieve, how the UK was supporting countries to transition from aid, what the UK was getting from that aid and future spending plans. I do not believe that this information has been updated since the merger, so can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether the international development strategy will include this detailed information? If not, is he able to commit that the department will publish it in the near future?

My Lords, priority outcomes will be tracked via a set of headline metrics contained in the FCDO outcome delivery plan, and that will be for all to see.

My Lords, the most vulnerable women and children on earth live in South Sudan, where one in 10 babies die before the age of five. As the UNICEF website highlights horrifically:

“Giving birth on the floor, cutting the umbilical cord with a stick. That is the reality for some women in South Sudan.”

Any development strategy should look to increase support for those women and children, but the Government have cut support by 10% and, quite unbelievably, I understand that there are now discussions in the department to cut even further the combined health pool, which supports 80% of health provision in South Sudan. Will the Minister please intervene and make sure that these cuts do not happen, and then write to me and other noble Lords assuring us that they will not take place?

My Lords, on the issue of the geography and the example given by the noble Lord—whom I commend for being a champion for that continent—the UK remains a leader in international development in Africa. We are committed to supporting the poorest people on that continent. That will be reflected in the strategy when it is published in spring. As well as providing humanitarian support, our UK aid is helping to protect rainforests, deliver vaccines, educate girls, reduce crime and improve economic growth and development.

My Lords, between now and 2050, the population of Africa will double. One billion more people will need to be fed, to be housed and to be employed. What effect will this have on the new strategy? Will it be a priority—for example, by encouraging family spacing and discouraging adolescent childbearing?

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary has been clear—and it will be equally clear in the strategy when it is published—that we intend to restore funding for women and girls. We will continue to prioritise women and girls by supporting education systems, to empower women by strengthening sexual health and rights, and to work to end violence against women, including practices such as FGM. Within that focus on women and girls, we have already seen that one of the best ways to encourage stable populations is by investing in women and girls in the way that I have just described.

My Lords, at the end of 2021, the UK had delivered only 11% of the vaccines that it had earlier promised to the developing world. As a result, coronavirus has continued to spread and mutate throughout many of the poorest nations on the planet. How will the Government use their new strategy for international development to support and promote vaccinations in the poorest parts of the world? Do they support the World Health Organization’s target of vaccinating 40% of the population of every country by the end of this year and 70% by the middle of next year?

Protecting global health and meeting the Prime Minister’s commitment to deliver 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to the world’s poorest countries remains a top priority. The integrated review set out the UK priorities for global health to build resilience, at home and overseas. This includes delivering the Prime Minister’s five-point plan to bolster international pandemic preparedness, as well as reforming the World Health Organization and prioritising support for health systems around the world.

My Lords, parishes across England have links through the Anglican Communion with international communities where the issues of poverty, conflict and disease are most clearly felt. Those are shared by the people in our congregations in this land. As the bishops from the Anglican Communion gather for the Lambeth Conference this summer, I hope the Minister will enable us to present something about our nation’s international strategy for international development that will address some of the most crucial issues. First, there are the ways in which human rights are trampled on, particularly in the context of persecution of people for their faith—both Christian and other faiths. Secondly, there is the use of opportunities for partnership with the Anglian Communion in that strategy. Thirdly—

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. The UK is blessed with the sheer breadth and diversity of organisations representing civil society, and chief among them is our network of churches. We are committed to working in partnership with a whole range of civil society organisations, including from the UK and beyond. I am very keen to hear the examples the right reverend Prelate cited and very happy to have that discussion on the specifics.

My Lords, the volcano in Tonga demonstrated the vulnerabilities of island nations in the Pacific—as indeed, in a different way, has the Chinese Government’s intervention in the Solomon Islands. Will my noble friend the Minister say that the international development strategy will give an enhanced priority to island nations in the Pacific, when it is published?

My noble friend makes an important point. Covid exposed the vulnerabilities of those small island developing states, in much the way that climate change, in the longer term, is exposing the vulnerabilities of small island states and small island developing states. So, yes, the answer is that we are increasing our emphasis on, and will boost our support for, small island developing states. Part of this is the Indo-Pacific tilt, which noble Lords have heard a great deal about. Equally, we will be raising our aspirations towards and support for the Caribbean, through overseas territories and beyond, for precisely the reasons my noble friend addresses.

The Minister reminded us of the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to ensure that the strategy focuses on women and girls and, in her words, their “freedom to succeed”. Malnutrition is the single largest cause of death in women worldwide and I was extremely disappointed that the Government were not able to make a commitment at the Nutrition for Growth Summit in December. However, I was heartened to see that our global leadership position is returning, in part with the announcement of £1.5 billion in funding for nutrition. None the less, this will not meet the WHO global nutrition targets by 2025. Will the Government review that pledge in time for the next Nutrition for Growth Summit in 2024?

The noble Lord is certainly right. Malnutrition contributes to nearly half of all child deaths globally. It is a key priority for the FCDO. Improving nutrition will play a key role in achieving all our objectives on ending preventable deaths of mothers, babies, children, women and girls through humanitarian aid and global health. The strategy, when it is published in the spring, will lay out what that means in terms of the financial priorities and allocations.

My Lords, do the Government agree that a key part of our international development strategy should be the promotion of democracy and good governance? What signal does the Minister think is sent when, following the elections and peaceful transfer of power in Zambia, we have cut its aid budget by 50%?

The reduction from 0.7% to 0.5% was always going to result in difficult decisions. It is not a decision the Government took lightly or that anyone in government welcomes. We will return to 0.7% as soon as the tests laid out by the Chancellor are met. As I have said, our focus on and recognition of the importance of the continent of Africa will be reflected in the changes going forward.