Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of His Majesty’s Government’s approach to Official Development Assistance spending.
My Lords, as noble Lords may know, this debate was tabled by my noble friend Lady Northover. Unfortunately, she has suffered a close family bereavement and is unable to be here. She has asked me to take over the debate, which I am honoured to do. I am sure noble Lords will want to join me in offering condolences to my noble friend. Before I start, I draw attention to my entry in the register as an adviser to DAI, chair of Water Unite, president of the Caribbean Council and mentor with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
Many noble Lords will know that between 2005 and 2015, I had the privilege and honour to chair the International Development Committee in the House of Commons. By 2005, since the creation of DfID by Labour in 1997 and the passing of the International Development Act 2002, which untied aid and focused on poverty reduction, prioritising the poorest people in the poorest countries, the UK had emerged as perhaps the world’s leading donor—not totally in cash terms but in terms of focus and impact. Between 2005 and 2010, Ministers such as Hilary Benn and Douglas Alexander provided leadership among other donors, persuading them to step up to the plate as the UK moved, albeit a bit erratically, towards delivering 0.7% of GNI in official development assistance. Indeed, I remember being in my car one Friday when I got a message from Douglas Alexander. He was ringing me only to say how excited he was that he had persuaded the Italian Government to dramatically increase their contribution to the World Food Programme. That is just an example of our Ministers persuading others to do the right thing.
Throughout that time and, indeed, the whole time I was there, the International Development Committee engaged with the World Bank, regional development banks, United Nations agencies, the European Commission and other donors. The important point for noble Lords to note is that, in all cases, the UK was regarded with respect and admiration not only for the level of our development assistance but for its focus on what made a difference in reducing poverty and building capacity.
DfID did not just provide first aid and essential humanitarian relief; multilaterally and bilaterally, it advocated and supported programmes which made a difference. If poverty reduction was or is to be sustained, people need access to clean water and safe sanitation; health systems need to be established and sustained; girls and women need access to education and to reproductive health, including family planning, assistance during childbirth and safe abortion; and there needs to be an end to child marriage and female genital mutilation. DfID also supported effective cash transfer schemes, because the poorest people use the cash for essential items—namely, food, healthcare and education—something which, I regret to say, the Daily Mail never seemed to understand. Of course, all this is delivered with the consent of the Governments of the countries where the programmes are happening. Yes, we all know that poor governance and corruption are a challenge for development, but they cannot be a cover for not delivering to poor people, who, after all, are not to blame but are in need.
Our committee travelled all over Africa and south Asia to see for ourselves the impact of UK aid and development, and we were always looking for what worked, what could be scaled up and what could be transferred. We found some problems and identified some improvements but, overall, the committee was extremely proud of the UK’s achievements and the communities’ appreciation for its transformational impact. I was especially proud that during the coalition Government, the UK achieved official development assistance spending of 0.7% of GNI and that the Liberal Democrats, supported by the entire coalition Government, enshrined it in legislation which is still on the statute book and still applies.
Andrew Mitchell—who I had worked with throughout the 2005-10 Parliament, when he shadowed the department—proved a dynamic and reforming Minister when he came into the coalition Government as Secretary of State. He instituted three critical reviews of multilateral, bilateral and humanitarian aid. The latter was chaired by the late Lord Ashdown—Paddy. International agencies were uncomfortable with the questions DfID was asking them, but they respected the UK’s leadership and they engaged. That is important: not every donor could have had that impact on agencies at that level.
Andrew Mitchell created the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Interestingly, he set it up to ensure that it reported to and through the International Development Committee, not to Ministers. It was modelled—this was definitely his idea—in a similar way to the Public Accounts Committee. He also reformed the CDC, paving the way for it to become British Investment International. The committee engaged positively with all these radical reforms, as well as pursuing our own priorities, such as ensuring that DfID built a disability focus into its work. That was followed through by my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who was an excellent junior Minister—as was her successor, my noble friend Lady Northover, who initiated this debate, as I have said, and is sad not to be here. This experience proved—this is an important point—that all the major parties could bring their strengths to bear to deliver a truly world-beating aid and development programme. Andrew Mitchell described the UK as a “development superpower”. It is not a term I would personally use, but I understand what he means. I can testify that we provided a role model to the world, respected by our donor peers and the beneficiaries.
Like many, I am shocked and appalled at how this reputation and capacity, built up by successive Governments of all parties, have been brought crashing down by an act of simple, crass vandalism. This has meant that people who might have lived have died. Those who have been lifted out of poverty have fallen back, and others who had the prospect of improved lives have seen their hopes dashed away. Sudden cuts on this scale have real and devastating consequences for ordinary people living on the brink. This, it transpired, is because of an unbudgeted surge in Home Office spending on refugees, chiefly Ukrainian and Afghan.
UK aid and development assistance has been the most visible manifestation of our soft power as a nation. But the British Council and the BBC World Service are essential to our positive impact, generating respect and engagement with the UK in cultural, political and economic terms, yet the ODA dimension of these is also being cut. The World Service is 75% funded by the licence fee, but the licence fee has been frozen. The impact of the Word Service has increased, not diminished, in recent years, and is more important than ever in the wake of the war in Ukraine and an increasingly hawkish China. If this is to be maintained, these services will require at least ad hoc additional spending, not funded by cuts elsewhere.
I argue that the case for restoring 0.7%, with these pressures, is surely in the national interest now and not subject to the overall economy. Underfunding our soft power only further undermines our weakened international reputation.
So what has happened? We have seen the merger of DfID and the FCO, which was done in such a cack-handed way that years and years of capacity was lost; it dissipated or, in Andrew Mitchell’s words, it “vapourised”. The dysfunctionality meant that nobody really knew who was making decisions, nobody knew who they could turn to, decisions were not being made, offers were not being followed through and programmes were being cut.
As of now, we need to recognise that our capacity to deliver world-class aid and development does not exist in the way that it did prior to these decisions. We have to recognise that the consequences of the merger, of cutting from 0.7% to 0.5% and of uncontrolled spending outside the development budget on refugees have made our ability to deliver the kind of aid and development that people have expected in the UK almost impossible.
If we are going to rebuild our reputation—it will take time to do so—I hope that the disasters of the last few years have come to an end. The appointment of Andrew Mitchell as Minister for Development and attending Cabinet is surely welcome. He has made it clear that he wants to refocus aid spending. He points out that the UK’s reputation as a leader was achieved when we were spending 0.5% and so it is not as though we cannot do good things with the money that we have got—but we could do a lot better with more.
However, if we are to build back our leadership, it will take time, because it has been thrown away so ruthlessly. It will require rebuilding discrete development capacity within the FCDO—I think this is really important, and I will repeat this in a question to the Minister. Of course there can be cross-fertilisation between diplomacy and development—there is nothing wrong with that; it is a good thing and it should happen—but there needs to be recognition that they are different and require different skill sets. Aid spend is about the benefit of the recipients, not simply UK commercial or political interests.
The needs of refugees here at home of course qualify for ODA, and they must be met, but this surely cannot be open-ended in its impact on development spend. The Chancellor has gone some way to acknowledge this; he has allowed ODA to rise this year to 0.55% because of that call. If ODA were to rise immediately to 0.7%, maybe we could rebuild and deliver the refugee priorities, as well as restructure our capacity. But in its absence, the Government must set out what can be spent on development.
It was a shock in the summer to find that billions of pounds that nobody knew about had suddenly been siphoned away from development to support a refugee crisis. Nobody denies the refugees’ needs and nobody denies that they qualify for ODA, but a lot of people would ask how you can have any kind of coherent development spend if it can be siphoned off at short notice without anybody’s knowledge or control.
It surely cannot be right that the needs of refugees are funded at the expense of poor people in Africa and Asia who are facing climate change, conflict and disease. Other countries have recognised that and have raised their aid spend to meet refugee needs. We should do the same. I acknowledge that the Chancellor has done a bit, but it does not go far enough.
I have reminded the House previously that the Chancellor was of course a member of the International Development Committee in his first Parliament. I believe that he genuinely understands all this, and I understand his difficulties, but I hope that the team in place now not only understands but will work to deliver what it knows can be done.
It is important to understand that the UK model depends on working with development contractors. The department does not do it itself; it does it through partners. It provides the budget, framework and commissioning, but those partners help to deliver the programmes. Those partners have also had to take painful decisions, tell people that programmes no longer exist, and let people go and let people down. Such a model is cost-effective and flexible, but all partners have seen contracts and programmes cut in mid-flow. Frankly, the uncertainty makes it pretty difficult to deliver any effective programmes.
Many experienced and talented people have left the sector—there is no use in denying this—whether within government or among the development partners. Our capacity to rebuild is compromised, and will be further, if we cannot provide predictability in delivery in the future. I am advised that partners are being asked to bid for programmes with smaller contracts, greater detail than ever before and more bureaucracy, and they are not being awarded anyway. That does not leave anybody with any confidence as to how we can deliver on the ground.
I have seen for myself, as many other noble Lords will have, how well-planned and sustained development programmes work on the ground and deliver long-term reductions in poverty and long-term changes to capacity within affected countries and communities. This is how sustainable, long-term development created the partnerships that can deliver the SDGs, lift people permanently out of poverty and be transformational. That is what the UK used to be great at. We used to be leaders, and we must aspire to be so again.
Others on these Benches and elsewhere will no doubt highlight the challenges facing different areas of development and different geographical concerns, relating to their own personal experience or knowledge. However, I hope that the era of damage and destruction to what was our offer is over. I used to be genuinely proud of the UK’s standing and achievements on international development. I urge the Government to take the steps that can make me and millions of others proud again.
I ask the Minister: will the Government ensure that we rebuild discrete development delivery capacity and expertise within the FCDO? Will the Government ensure that a core part of development is identified and protected from short-term chops and changes, therefore allowing sustainable programmes that the delivery agencies, beneficiaries and partners can all have confidence in and can deliver?
In my view, we have been through a shameful trashing of a world-class achievement by this country. That has to end. We have a team in place now that has knowledge and understanding, and some credibility. I urge the Minister, as I believe other Members of the House will urge likewise, to pass on to that team that we expect that reputation to be rebuilt—starting now.
My Lords, it is a huge privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie. I first heard him speak more than 30 years ago, when he was president of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and I was an undergraduate. He was then, as now, detailed, good-humoured and generous to opponents, as he is in all his interventions.
I feel, looking at who is speaking after me, that it will probably fall to me to point out that there is an alternative case—a counterargument that was best expressed by the great American economist Thomas Sowell. Foreign aid, if badly done, can provide perverse incentives. You end up rewarding countries that are doing the wrong thing and ceasing to reward countries that are doing the right thing. Foreign aid, if badly done, becomes an alternative revenue stream, so that a Government do not need to raise money through taxation, and this can lead to bad democratic as well as bad economic outcomes. There are numerous surveys comparing countries in receipt of aid and not, and the same country in times when it was and was not, that show that there can be these negative correlations.
None of this, however, is an argument against foreign aid: it is an argument against doing it wrongly, or without proper concentration on the outcomes. There is a general argument against feeling that you are doing the right thing if you put a fiver into every outstretched hat without thinking through exactly where it is going. To take the most uncontroversial aspects, I think we can all agree that Governments have an important role to play in disaster relief: the capacity of many countries is simply not up to dealing with extraordinary catastrophes that are not budgeted for normally. But Governments also have an important role to play in doing the things—the unsexy things, if you like—that charities will struggle to raise the money for. There is a lot to be said, for example, for improving infrastructure, but that is a much harder thing to raise money for from the general population than clinics, schools or whatever.
We, the UK, are doing quite a lot of good work in Africa. DfID is funding a lot of schemes on practically removing trade barriers at borders; dealing not with the treaties but with the actual implementation, so that we increase the flow of goods across borders, which is of course an incredibly important poverty alleviation mechanism but one that no charity is going to be able to make a big appeal out of. So let us all agree—the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, put it very well—that we have refocused on areas that are more important and where we get, if you like, more bang for our buck. There was a particular move, during the coalition years that he referred to, away from funding organisations that spent a lot of money on advocacy and trying to refocus them on spending money on getting actual product on the ground in the places where they were delivering. I think that was the right thing to do: there was a certain dishonesty involved with some organisations that would raise money, saying, “We are going to provide farm tools for a family in Zimbabwe”, or whatever, and then the bulk of their budget would go on lobbying operations in London.
So, we have already done a number of good things. We are becoming more focused and it is possible to get a great deal out of limited budgets. But where I have a problem—I am afraid I am going to make myself incredibly unpopular, not for the first time, as I say this—is with the idea of setting arbitrary budgetary targets, whether for overseas aid or for any other aspect of government spending. First, I think it is always a bad idea to judge one’s policy in terms of cost rather than outcome. This is true whether it is a local council budget or a Whitehall department. There is a lamentable tendency, which carries on under this Conservative Government, to boast about the fact that we are spending £200 million on X or Y, rather than looking at what we are doing with it. That also creates perverse incentives.
There is a deeper problem, and it is the democratic one. It may very well be desirable to spend 0.7% of GDP on international assistance; it may very well be desirable to spend 2% of GDP on defence, as the NATO alliance demands; but if those things are true, why is it not equally desirable to spend whatever arbitrary figure we come up with on education, on healthcare or on policing? At which point, what is the point of having general elections? Democracy is about the arbitration of competing goals. It is not our job in this Chamber, but I argue that it is the primary job of the other place. There are clashing interests, people who have perfectly good arguments for why they need more money, there is not a magic wand or a magic money tree, and it is the role of elected representatives to decide on the most equitable outcome. If all that is lifted out of the democratic process and set in stone in statute—or even, as Gordon Brown now suggests, in a constitutional settlement that would guarantee a certain amount of health spending, or whatever—there is precious little point in people voting at all.
We did, indeed, show leadership, whether or not we use the phrase “superpower in foreign aid”, but I think we also have historically shown leadership as a democracy. We have held up an example of a free, open society in which leaders are answerable to the wider population. We have shown that that model works and people around the world have chosen to mimic it. For that reason, if for no other, we should be very careful about abandoning the principle that taxes should not be raised except by elected representatives.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for enabling us to focus on this important subject. In 2020, the Government decided to reduce our ODA spending to 0.5% of GNI, down from the hard-won UN target of 0.7%. This has had a hugely damaging impact on critical aid and development programmes. The outcry at the time was widespread and has not abated. The noble Lord set out the damage vividly. In my view—and I say this with great regret—the Government’s recent approach to international aid and development is shameful. The list of global humanitarian crises continues to grow. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the appalling flooding in Pakistan and the food crisis in the Horn of Africa have all added to existing challenges arising from conflict, climate change and Covid-19. Yet, as the humanitarian need grows, our approach is to cut our funding and take steps back from our global responsibilities—indeed, our global promise—to help the world’s most vulnerable people.
A reduction in our aid spending of £3 billion, 21%, in the space of a year from 2020 to 2021, undermines any aspirations the UK might have had to be a leader in global development. Yesterday, on the “Today” programme, David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee referred to the swingeing budget cuts and quoted Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for International Development, saying that Britain is no longer an aid superpower, and the price is being paid by the poorest people in the world. Not only is supporting the world’s poorest the right thing to do, but our global standing is boosted by strong leadership in this area. Cutting our aid budget does reputational damage to the UK, diminishes our international standing and, I believe, signals a retreat from the world stage.
In 2020, only Germany spent more than us on aid in both absolute and proportional terms. With the reduction to 0.5%, the UK slipped from sixth in the world in terms of aid as a percentage of GNI to ninth in 2021. It took long years of work to reach the target of 2013, which was proudly supported by the then Chancellor, George Osborne, who called it a historic achievement. But by 2020 our promise to the world’s poorest had been broken, and in 2021, hosting refugees in the UK had become the biggest sector for ODA spending, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said. Last year, more than £1 billion, or 14% of the bilateral aid budget, went on UK refugee costs, in contrast to the £743 million going to humanitarian aid. I understand that using ODA in this way is accepted by the OECD Development Assistance Committee, but no other G7 country is using its aid budget for this purpose. The knock-on effect for other essential programmes funded by the reduced ODA budget is severe. We must, of course, support refugees, but, as Oxfam points out, surely not at the expense of life-saving humanitarian aid or development projects that reduce poverty and help prevent the very crises that can cause forced displacement.
How much further will we fall in our global responsibilities and international standing? I am fearful that this temporary reduction in ODA spending to 0.5% of GNI will become permanent. I am neither an economist nor a fiscal expert, so I have grappled with the detail of the two conditions set out earlier this year that have to be met before the UK will return to the 0.7% target. Can the Minister tell us how often those two conditions have been met in recent years? I fear that we are setting the bar so high that it makes the target impossible to achieve, but is this the intention? Will he expand on what the “sustainable basis” for these conditions might look like? This phrase is surely open to wide interpretation.
I briefly mentioned the impact of the ODA cuts to critical aid and development programmes. What has not been given as much attention is the direct damage the cuts will do to research institutions, scientists and researchers in DAC countries and to the people in low-income countries whom the ODA research funding is intended to benefit. The outcry over the ODA cuts from research institutions and scientific societies acknowledges the damage they will do to progressing life-saving and health-promoting programmes.
For the UK, our reputation as a global funder and major contributor to science and human development is at stake. I have a continued interest as the former CEO of Universities UK when we set up an international unit to help UK universities build sustainable relationships with international institutions, researchers, students and partners. While our universities recognise that ODA funding exists primarily to benefit other countries, ODA funding has become an integral part of university research and global or international strategies. It has helped drive universities’ commitments to meeting the UN sustainable development goals, by embedding them within institutional research strategies. The UUK International report last year said that ODA had
“contributed to the university ecosystem and global reputation, and changed the way international research is conducted.”
The Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund are both recipients of ODA money, and have enabled UK universities to, for example, play key roles in efforts to develop renewable energy and clean water technology; improve worldwide labour laws; and roll out 5G networks in lower- and middle-income countries. In 2021, ODA-funded projects enabled UK universities to support the national effort against Covid-19, through enhanced virus-detection technology. ODA funding has enabled UK universities to deliver projects that have improved the lives of millions around the world. UUKi has said that cuts to the ODA spend on the scale announced will “severely limit” UK universities’ ability to tackle global challenges and are likely to lead to
“the termination of existing and future research projects, damaging the sector’s international standing and reducing its capacity to drive economic growth and prosperity in the UK.”
In July 2020, the then FCDO Minister in the other place asserted that
“being a global force for good”
“at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/7/20; col. 1200.]
Given the direction of ODA spending, what assurance can the Minister give us that this is still the case?
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie on his excellent, thoughtful and comprehensive opening speech, and my noble friend Lady Northover on securing this timely and extremely important debate. I refer noble Lords to my register of interests, my development assistance work and my role in the Global TB Caucus.
As my noble friend Lord Bruce said so powerfully, it is greatly to be regretted that the cross-party consensus that existed for over a decade in achieving the UN target of 0.7% has broken down, for what I sincerely hope will be a short and temporary period only. I agree with Andrew Mitchell when he said that the UK has lost its reputation as a “development superpower”. As noble Lords have said, the cuts to the overseas aid budget have already had a deeply damaging impact in so many countries. I was extremely proud to work in 2015 with my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed on the Bill that enshrined the commitment to 0.7%, and to work closely with the noble Baronesses, Lady Jenkin and Lady Sugg, the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord McConnell, and various others, on ensuring a genuinely cross-party approach to development assistance.
In my remaining remarks today, I will concentrate on the importance of focusing on the long term—however difficult in our current economic circumstances—and learning lessons from Covid in terms of global public health. Effective international co-operation through Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has been one of the development assistance success stories, and the UK’s continuing positive role within Gavi is to be commended.
In the last three years, we have all learned that an airborne pathogen on the other side of the world can, very quickly, have severe consequences for all of us. The first recorded cases of Covid-19 happened to be in China, a country with very strong surveillance systems, including on public health. However, at the outset of the Covid pandemic, only two countries in had the capacity to diagnose Covid-19. Where the next pandemic develops is just as important as what the next pandemic is. The only sure way to prevent the next pandemic is to make sure that there are at least basic healthcare systems to care for and prevent respiratory diseases in every part of the world.
The UK has been for decades an active participant in conversations around global health security, including the global response to antimicrobial resistance. What we have not done, however, is focus seriously on the airborne pathogen that is already killing more people than any other disease; namely, tuberculosis. Some 1.5 million people died of this curable disease in 2020. According to the WHO, Covid-19 has set back the fight against TB by as much as a decade. To quote from the WHO’s report:
“In 2020, more people died from TB, with far fewer people being diagnosed and treated or provided with TB preventive treatment compared with 2019, and overall spending on essential TB services falling … In many countries, human, financial and other resources have been reallocated from tackling TB to the COVID-19 response, limiting the availability of essential services … people have struggled to seek care in the context of lockdowns.”
Concentrating now on a stronger global TB response makes long-term sense. Measures include training more doctors, providing more diagnostic machines, assisting community groups doing outreach and awareness raising, and providing well-equipped respiratory wards, academics, and even oxygen. Can the Minister say whether the Government would support a comprehensive review into how enhanced investments in the global fight against TB could support the response to future pandemics?
In addition to the impact of Covid, one of the many tragic consequences of the truly awful war in Ukraine has been to set back the fight against multi-drug-resistant TB in Ukraine as well as in the wider region. Can the Minister say whether there are plans to give Ukraine additional support in the area of public health, and in particular in the fight against multi-drug-resistant TB?
Ebola is another prime example where a longer-term approach taken by Governments would make sense. When there is an outbreak of a disease, there is a race to find a vaccine, as we have seen with Covid, but then when the outbreak recedes, so does the urgency. This frequently reflects a desire by Governments to save money in the short term, which all too often results in paying more later. When a vaccine has been developed, as in the case of Ebola Zaire, it is often not seen as a priority to make sure that it is deployed. We know that an outbreak of Ebola Zaire could happen at any moment. When there was an outbreak in 2014, it cost west Africa $50 billion, and yet countries still cannot access the vaccine that exists.
If Covid has taught us one thing, it is that we are not safe just because we are far away. It surely makes sense to make Ebola vaccines widely available now. Can the Minister say whether the Government will press the WHO to accelerate the development of its guidelines for deploying Ebola Zaire vaccines? Will the Government outline their support for the development of an Ebola Sudan vaccine? There is a very real risk that without a global, publicly funded strategy, the market will fail to deliver vaccines to stop pandemics before they surge. I appreciate that these are quite technical questions, and if the Minister is unable to give a comprehensive reply in his closing remarks, I would be very happy to receive a letter after the debate.
To conclude, I stress again that I hope we return as soon as possible to the commitment to 0.7%. But it is not just about more aid, it is about better, more joined-up aid, and a more effective global approach. This issue is in our national interest, in our increasingly interconnected world, but, more importantly, it is also the right thing to do.
I very much agree with what the noble Baroness just said. To start, I will say something which I hope has the unanimous approval of the House: it is very good to see Andrew Mitchell back in the Government as Minister for Development. He did so much in the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, mentioned, and we look forward to what he will contribute in future. In all conscience, he has inherited a very difficult position.
I am sure that there will be an array of financial numbers of one kind or another in this debate. They are very important but, crucial as they are, I would like to concentrate on some of the casualties that the world is suffering from our failure to meet global health challenges. It is a measure that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, might agree to. I declare my interest as an ambassador for UNAIDS but hasten to add that the views I express are very much my own.
I will concentrate on HIV/AIDS because it establishes so much of what is wrong at the moment. AIDS is one of the deadliest pandemics of our time. Some 36 million people have died so far from AIDS. Every minute a life is lost to AIDS. The fallout from Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine has hit the AIDS response worldwide, with the result that progress against the HIV pandemic has stalled. Risks have increased, but resources for the response have reduced. Worst of all, the aim of eliminating HIV as a public health risk by 2030 is very much in doubt. I was in Geneva a week or two ago, talking to the health organisations there, and I am bound to say that there was not much confidence that we would, on present policies, meet that target. One of the problems has been that domestic funding for the HIV response is low. It is low in low-income and middle-income countries and has fallen for two consecutive years. Progress in ensuring that all people living with HIV are accessing life-saving antiretroviral treatment has also stalled. The number of people on HIV treatment grew more slowly in 2021 than it has over a decade.
It is important to mention that there is an important difference between the position today and the position in, for example, the 1980s. In the 1980s we had no medicines and no way of combating HIV. It was, in effect, a death sentence. We obviously used advertising and every other means to warn people. Only yesterday, a man came up to me in this House and thanked me on behalf of a whole range of other people for that advertising, which he said had saved his life. It probably saved many lives, but nothing like the number of lives that can be saved by antiretroviral drugs. The really sad thing is that, although antiretroviral drugs lead to a normal, useful, full life after treatment, we are not using their full potential. That is the real tragedy of the situation. It is so different from where we were before. Then we did not have the means. Now we have the means, but what do we do? We do not use them. That is something that this Government should address.
Another issue is that we have not seen the end, or even the beginning of the end, of the discrimination that has perpetuated this pandemic. Some 68 countries have criminal laws that punish consensual, same-sex relations. There is not a lot that this Government can do in the sense of taking action themselves—I seek to persuade people, when I speak outside this country, that Britain has done a great deal since the really serious days when we followed such policies—but we can take all action possible to combat the position.
One position I would like to raise is the change which has taken place as far as the victims of AIDS are concerned. It used to be the case, and it is still portrayed on television as being the case, that all victims are young men. It is certainly true that in the past the majority of victims were young men; it was tragic to see in the hospitals bed after bed occupied by young men who were going to die. But today we have a situation where women have progressively taken a bigger proportion of the victim total and, most tragically of all, so have small children—100,000 have died in the last 12 months. All those things need to be taken into account.
On current trends, we will miss the United Nations target of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. Let us be clear that the result of that will be more AIDS-related deaths and more infection. The real tragedy is that we could face, combat and defeat that. We are a wealthy country; such countries need to remember what is at stake. What is at stake is thousands of deaths and new infections, all preventable. What is at stake is the end of the pandemic or a pandemic which goes on and on. Beating pandemics is ultimately a political challenge. We can end AIDS by 2030, but only if we are bold in our actions and investments. We need courageous political leadership and we need people worldwide to insist that their leaders be courageous.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, for his excellent introduction, which was informed and passionate. I would also like to highlight and underline my deep regret at His Majesty’s Government’s cuts to official development assistance spending.
I find myself in touch weekly with some of the poverty here in our own country as I visit food banks, debt advice centres, or the clubs that some of our churches now run to give breakfast to schoolchildren. I am acutely aware that we have real need here in our own country, but it is of a completely different order compared with what many other countries in the world face. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, that we need to spend our aid carefully. It is actually quite difficult to spend large amounts of money. We sometimes find it difficult in this country and sometimes people do not spend it well. Of course we need to work at that, but the answer is not to cut our aid but to make sure that we are using it in the most effective way.
This is not just about long-term development. We are cutting our spending at a time when we are seeing some of the most appalling famines facing our world since the 1980s. I refer in particular to the Horn of Africa, which is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years. Early on, that was compounded by terrible swarms of locusts, which simply devastated the crops, and it has been made even worse by the civil war going on in some of those countries. As a result, more than 50 million people across east Africa are now suffering from acute food insecurity.
This is made even worse because of other diseases. We just heard the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, expand the point about HIV/AIDS brilliantly. Of course, where there is real famine, that disease can be fatal. There are also the well-known—actually, they are not well-known—neglected tropical diseases such as leprosy, rabies, dengue fever and Guinea worm disease. Such diseases are treatable in this country but, in a context where people are suffering from famine, many malnourished people die from them.
In the past, the UK has stepped up to the table when we have faced similar situations. In 2017, the UK spearheaded action that helped avert a famine in east Africa, providing £700 million to the region. However, this year, despite the severe conditions, our commitment to the region has been reduced by £156 million. A few weeks ago, I tabled a series of Written Questions naming each of the main countries in the Horn of Africa and asking what our support in development aid has been over each of the past five years. The Answers made for salutary reading. There have been massive cuts not just to development programmes but to simple aid to save lives. Only 65% of the money allocated has been spent. We need greater certainty to get this money where it is needed. As the crisis is getting worse, we are providing less. We all acknowledge that the current crisis is a global crisis compounded by President Putin’s war in Ukraine and the recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, in the face of such challenges, some of our neighbouring countries, such as France, Italy and Germany, have increased their ODA commitments, while we reduce ours.
If we are not persuaded that increasing our spending is the right and moral thing to do when whole communities are starving, we just need to look at some of the practical issues around what happens when we withdraw from helping others. In the Central African Republic, Russia and China have been steadily intensifying their efforts across the region. Right now, a Russian Government-linked private military corporation, the Wagner Group, is conducting military operations in Mali—admittedly in west Africa—to secure uranium, gold and diamond contracts to fund the war in Ukraine. How much longer will it be before these and other countries move into east Africa as we withdraw? The catastrophe in Somalia has allowed the nation to become a hotbed of terrorism. Al-Shabaab has been able to recruit more people from among those spurred on by hunger and dissatisfaction with the Government.
So, feeding people who are starving is not just a practical and moral issue. If we are not engaging, we are opening up places to much more unscrupulous Governments and regimes moving in and taking advantage. This is a vital part of our presence on the world scene. Across the world, many nations are jostling to establish themselves as global leaders. The danger is that we are simply withdrawing. Responding to issues at home is of course important—we all need to make cuts in doing so, and cope with the rising cost of energy together—but we cannot do it in a world where the challenges are so much greater. The 0.2% of our GNI is a drop in the ocean when compared with the Government’s borrowing elsewhere. Of course we must be prudent here at home and look after our own poor, but this is neither the time nor the place to cut back on our commitments to the wider world when we face such terrible catastrophes right across the globe.
My Lords, I remind the House of my declarations in the register of interests: I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis and chair the Global TB Caucus. I will make some general remarks about AIDS and the ODA budget, then some specific ones about the need to tackle tuberculosis as an urgent priority.
First, on the general issue of aid, I am a long-standing supporter of a strong international development programme. I welcomed the increase in the aid budget, although I share some of my noble friend Lord Hannan of Kingsclere’s scepticism about arbitrary targets. I recognise the power of aid to do good and, when properly deployed, as an effective instrument of soft power for the UK. I regret the necessity of having to cut back on the aid programme over the past couple of years, for the reasons noble Lords have set out.
However, we must have a note of realism. We have been confronted with two external shocks to our economy: first, the Covid crisis, and latterly, the oil price crisis. It has been necessary for the Government to respond to those with interventions that amount to hundreds of billions of pounds a year, with the consequence that the Government have been forced to increase taxation on people across the country and take very difficult decisions on the levels of domestic budgets going forward. We simply have to recognise that that is the fiscal context. Although it is regrettable that the aid budget has had to be reduced, it is still 0.5% of our GNI, which places us well above OECD countries’ average and, proportionately, is considerably above the level spent by, for instance, the United States of America.
Within that resource, we also have the continuing power to do very great good, as evidenced by the Government’s recent contribution to replenishing the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The level of replenishment the UK provided was not as much as many would have liked; nevertheless, it amounted to £1 billion over the next three years, making us one of the world’s leading contributors. However, the scale of these multilateral programmes presents a problem for the overall aid budget, because the proportion of the budget they take is very high. One consequence of sharply reducing aid spending was that pressure fell on programmes that are not multilateral.
It has not been desirable—nobody could say it has—to see a sharp increase in spending on aid followed by a sharp decrease over the past 10 years. That does not result in money being spent well. In an ideal world, we would see more stable funding for international development. I hope we will be able to return to the previous levels of spending, but we must avoid the trap—again, this was well expressed by my noble friend Lord Hannan—of assuming, simply because we reach what is in the end a relatively arbitrary target, that all is well with the world and with the budget. It behoves us to look carefully at how money is being spent in any government programme, and that includes international aid.
It must also be pointed that there is no government department that is so scrutinised on the impact of spending. One of the important reforms that was introduced by the coalition Government was the introduction of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which undertakes a line-by-line scrutiny of international aid spending. It would be good if we had that across many other departments.
My final point on the overall level of spending on aid is that we need to be careful not to give up on making the case for aid. One of the consequences of locking in spending at the level of 0.7% of GNI was that a kind of assumption was built-in across the political parties that spending would just increase year on year, that it would continue at those very high levels and that it was not necessary to make a political and public case for what was being done. In that sense, the arguments against spending at the levels that were reached crept up on us and on many in the international development world. If we are to return spending to the levels that were previously seen, the case for that has to be made to a public that is looking at all sorts of other areas where they wish public money to be spent and where there are many other priorities. Nevertheless, there is a good case to be made.
I will draw attention to one final area by very strongly echoing what my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said about tuberculosis. I am very proud to work with her globally in the fight against the disease; however, I will not repeat everything she said. Many people believe that there is a vaccine which will help to prevent tuberculosis, but there is not: there is no effective adult vaccine to combat TB. In just the same way that, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, mentioned, the UN sustainable development goal to beat HIV/AIDS in just eight years’ time by 2030 will not be reached, the target to beat tuberculosis will not be reached either. In fact, on the current trajectory, we will not beat tuberculosis for a century. A million and half people die unnecessarily from a treatable and curable disease. That is a very good example of where greater resource that was marshalled carefully could yield very great results, and of where the UK has a very strong role to play in the area of global public health on the research and development necessary to develop new tools and to produce the vaccine that is so desperately needed to combat the disease.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, in her absence, for securing this very important debate at what I always feel is an ideal time of year to reflect on those matters. I send my condolences to her; I am sure that she is very disappointed that she could not be here today, but she had a very able substitute in the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, who teed up the excellent and timely debate. I draw attention to my interests in the register.
First, I will perhaps surprise your Lordships by thanking and congratulating the Prime Minister—not necessarily on his record on international aid but on his appointment of Andrew Mitchell as the new Development Minister. Mr Mitchell and I have had our differences, and we will have more in future, but he understands and is passionate about the subject and was an excellent Secretary of State for International Development when he was previously in post. I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister will build on that initial decision and give both Mr Mitchell and the Foreign Secretary time to sort out the chaos they have inherited, at least until the next election, when perhaps there might be other changes in store.
Having said that, we should never forget the fact that we now have a Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who, at the height of a global pandemic, decided to cut our aid budget by 30%. That was a cruel and inhumane act, for which should never be forgotten. It was counterproductive to the interests of the country and to the international efforts to counter the pandemic. While I actually agree with both noble Lords, Lord Hannan and Lord Herbert, on the need to focus on where we spend aid, rather than how much we spend, it is undoubtedly the case that, moving away from a debate on what we spend to a debate on how much we spend, which is where we now are, is counterproductive to effective aid for the United Kingdom. So we need to start on that point. The pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the global migration escalation we have seen in recent years all show just how interdependent our world is today. The polarisation of global relations we have seen in recent years shows just important our soft power is as a country and the influence we are able to exert, not least through our support for official development assistance. That 30% cut, and the distortion of the expenditure by spending so much of the money in this country rather than in other countries around the world, have both showed up an inhumanity. We have damaged the UK’s interests globally and diminished our security as well.
However, I want to concentrate most of my remarks on how we spend aid. I am just as angry at bad spend as I am at the examples of extreme poverty that many of us could share in the Chamber. It is vitally important, if we are going to attack extreme poverty and global injustice, that we are able to ensure that money is invested properly for the long term, sustainably making a real impact. I will briefly highlight four areas on that objective, the first of which is in relation to conflict. When the new Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, was Secretary of State a decade ago, he and the noble Lord, Lord Hague, set a target for the percentage of our ODA that would be spent on conflict prevention and stabilisation. That was subsequently increased by the Cameron Government in 2015, if I remember rightly, to 50% of the budget being targeted on those vitally important areas for the poorest people in the worst circumstances in the world. So I ask the Minister: what is the target today? Do the Government still have a target and, if they do, what is that target? Will we see a consistent application of expenditure on conflict prevention and stabilisation within our official development assistance?
The second area is climate. I have much sympathy for Alok Sharma in what must have been a terribly difficult job over the past 12 months as president of the climate COP; while all the chaos was happening here in the United Kingdom, he was striving to reach international agreements. Some agreements, however inadequate, have been reached at COP 26 and COP 27. I ask the Minister: how much of our official development assistance will go towards those agreements? How much will we contribute to those just transitions that are important not only to tackle the climate crisis but to ensure development and longer-term prosperity for those countries most affected by the transition that is required.
The third area is capacity. I believe very much in capacity building, rather than just charity, in these situations. The sustainable development goals give us, to use the former Prime Minister’s words, an “oven-ready” deal that we could be using across the world in every country to ensure effective sustainable development. Again, we have all too often, in short-term programming and programming which is about collecting the numbers on how many people might be affected by a vaccine or the provision of school education, missed the fact that we need to build sustainable education and health systems, as well as economies—trade was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan. We need to build those systems and opportunities for the long-term development of sustainable finance and development in country across the global South.
In relation to the SDGs, I have one specific question for the Minister. It is now four or five years—in fact, it was Rory Stewart, four or five Development Secretaries back, who made the presentation—since the UK produced a voluntary national review on the sustainable development goals for presentation to the annual United Nations forum on this, which takes place every July. Can the Minister tell us whether we will do this next year? It is a straightforward question; it would be nice to get a straightforward answer.
My fourth and final point is about consistency. We cannot go on having programmes that are frozen, ended, suspended or cut back to one year when they were going to be three years, as we have seen over the past two or three years. It is deeply damaging to the organisations and the expertise of the staff involved in them, but it is even more damaging to the recipients and the beneficiaries of those development programmes. It is not sustainable development. I would welcome a commitment from the Minister today that we will see a return to three-year-minimum programming, which would allow people to build up properly their development policies and programmes in the future.
I see my time is almost up, so I will finish on this point. A lot of words will be spoken about the messages that are sent to us at this time of year about caring for others and remembering that there are so many in need, at home and abroad. We cannot keep using just words. We must have action, consistently applied over many years, to end these global injustices and to ensure that people have the opportunities and the rights that we take for granted, even in these difficult times, and which others need and deserve as well.
My Lords, I put my toe rather delicately into this overseas aid pool; it is not one that I usually go to. I do this primarily to give a little commercial for an organisation that I am a trustee of, the Atlas Foundation, a rugby-based charity with a worldwide reach, using rugby as a development tool. I will try to point out how this fits in with some of the wider aspects of the debate, and will make one big ask of the Government at the end that is not directly related to funding.
A sports-based project dealing generally with children is not unknown to people. If you get a gathering of children, usually from poorer backgrounds, and you say here is a sport structure—in this case an egg-shaped ball—and you get them to run around, you will get an easy buy-in. But what keeps them turning up, and often gets them more involved, is feeding programmes. You have people from poor backgrounds getting a structure, role models and feeding, and then we encourage them to go into education. There are so many variations because, although we never intended to be, we are worldwide. It is a fairly safe pattern. Many people from other organisations will have similar objectives. The arts has done it on several occasions, along with other sectors.
I emphasise that this is on the micro level, not the macro level, as my noble friend Lord Bruce talked about at the start. You are helping people to get education, confidence and good role models to survive in the world that they are in, and maybe to make small changes later on. This is not a big driver of change at the moment, not in the way that government funding can be, but by doing this you are making sure that people can get involved.
When I was sitting down and looking through our reports, worrying about how we are going to raise the money for next year and feeling quite pleased with the work that had been done in the past, something caught my eye which I do not think the rest of the board had realised. We get a much better bang for our buck out of the girls. It is with the girls where you really get the improvement. We get lower birth rates from the girls involved. We found from one of our projects in Memphis, Tennessee, that the attitudes of the boys involved towards girls were much better; they regarded them as equals, friends and people on the same terms.
When I looked around more, I found that this was a universal theme. In Kibera, in Kenya, and in Langa, in South Africa, the same things were occurring. The project that says it best is the Khelo project in West Bengal. Here we have managed to get not only lower birth rates but lower child marriage coming through, something that was not looked for down there. High school graduation has gone from 18% to 80%, ensuring that many families have a foundation in their mother—and it is the mother; the male of the species has a bit of catching-up to do.
This is from a sports-based charity. Of late, rugby union has proved itself not to have a male-dominated attitude, but a few years ago many would have looked at me and asked, “Really, you are doing that?” If we encourage girls and women to get involved in sport—I think rugby is the best one but others will disagree—then we will get a good bang for our buck.
What do I want from the Government? I would like more money, but that is a universal theme. A 30% cut will take some clawing back over time. I would like better advice for small charities on how to operate abroad. We have had our successes, but one big success almost became a disaster for us. Atlas has a lovely project, created in Kenya; a mobile classroom with computers on board, and we call it the DigiBus. It is a rugby-based charity and Covid rather scuppered it initially, but what if we take it to South Africa for the Lions tour and it gets damaged in transit? Who do we speak to? How do we replace it? What is the insurance regime? What are the regulatory regimes between Kenya and South Africa? We could give lectures on that now, because we have got the experience. We can also show the bills and the delays.
Will the Government ensure that there is better advice available for those of us in the smaller charity sector who operate around the world? We deal with children, but we do not find out whether there is a universal approach to childcare in these environments. How will we do it? We cannot deliver successfully if we do not get support. I remember once asking some advice from the Foreign Office a few years ago. I was told to telephone somebody in Northern Ireland. After three hours of chasing, I was back to the desk next to them, and they still did not have an answer. We do not know. We are prepared to do our little bit, but we need more guidance.
Referring back to the support for women and girls in the Khelo project, another organisation called SKRUM—it is pronounced “scrum” but spelled differently, but do not ask a dyslexic to describe the difference—helps to get sanitary products to the girls. We talk about period poverty over here but period phobia is very real for some of these groups. We can give examples, if you will let us tell the rest of the world. Word of mouth will do some of it, but if the Government says that they have examples of what not to do, then we are prepared to help. But we need help as well. Unless the Government can take on this small thing, using their embassies and consulates, they will waste the efforts of their own charity sector, to a greater or lesser degree, and make life more difficult.
These are small organisations keeping their staff down and being run by volunteers. If you want to keep repeating mistakes, then carry on keeping these people in ignorance. The Government have the capacity to do something about this. Please can they give us some idea of when they will start?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for introducing the debate and to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for getting this issue on the Order Paper.
Our activities through official development assistance have given us many successes over the years and many reasons to be proud of the UK’s role in the world. In the times we find ourselves in, there are multiple areas on which we must continue to work, many of which we have heard about today. I have limited myself to two areas that I believe we must remain focused on, the first of which is malaria. I declare my interest as the chair of the board of trustees of the charity Malaria No More UK. We recently saw the seventh replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and we have heard very powerful cases made for this by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, my noble friend Lord Herbert and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. I will focus on the third—malaria.
Last week, the WHO published its World Malaria Report, which showed that, tragically, 619,000 people died from malaria in 2021. Africa continues to experience 96% of those deaths, and a child still dies every minute from malaria. In just the time it will take for this debate, 180 children will die from a preventable and treatable disease. This year, we have seen some exciting innovations, many from here in the UK. Developments in vaccines and new insecticide bed nets could be real game-changers in the malaria fight. On replenishment, despite the difficult economic and political circumstances in the UK, we made a significant pledge towards the $15.7 billion raised, for which I thank our new Minister for Development, Andrew Mitchell, who is a great champion for malaria, among other things.
Like many aspects of global health, progress has stalled since the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is not too late to turn the tide and get us back on track. For us to succeed, the UK needs to play its part in investing in global health. We need a thriving R&D pipeline with enough funding to accelerate next-generation tool development; and we need to ensure increased funding to create resilient health systems, so that life-saving tools can reach the communities which need them, including through the Global Fund, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and our bilateral programmes. The UK has the diplomatic, scientific and financial muscle, still, that we need to get the fight back on track. I hope my noble friend the Minister can reassure me that we will continue our funding and show strong political leadership to help get us back on track.
As with many development issues, women and girls—particularly teenage girls and pregnant women—are disproportionately impacted by malaria, and they can be a key part of the solution in accelerating positive health outcomes. I believe we must look at malaria and all development issues through a gender lens—including our rugby programming, it appears.
We are living in a world of multiple crises, armed conflict, economic turmoil, the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change. All those things and their interaction impact the most vulnerable in society, particularly women and girls. We are seeing rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, and we are seeing disruption to the provision of sexual and reproductive health and rights services. I support my noble friend Lady Hodgson’s Private Member’s Bill on women, peace and security, and I hope to hear more on that later.
On climate, according to yesterday’s report, the 2023 Emergency Watchlist published by the International Rescue Committee, an estimated 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and girls. The economic effects of extreme weather events can contribute to girls dropping out of school, push girls to early and forced marriage, and divert funding away from reproductive and sexual health services. All of this undermines their long-term opportunities and our hopes for truly sustainable development.
I look forward to the Government’s forthcoming women and girls strategy, and I hope my noble friend the Minister can reassure me that it will support ActionAid’s call to resource the women and girl-led organisations that provide life-saving services and help hold their Governments to account; to meaningfully partner with women and girls; and to provide long-term, flexible funding for women’s and girls’ rights organisations for their own priorities. I add to that a plea to re-establish the UK as a major player in sexual and reproductive health and rights. We know that such services lead to improvements in education, gender equality, political stability, economic development and environmental sustainability.
In my remaining time, I want to address the state of development here in the UK. I have spoken many times in this Chamber on the distressing outcomes that the cuts to UK aid have had on millions of people around the world. We have heard a lot more on that today from many noble Lords. This year, it has been exacerbated by the reported £3 billion that will be taken from the FCDO ODA budget because of the domestic costs of refugees.
Sadly, there has been very little transparency or accountability on these costs, despite my best efforts and those of many noble Lords. We find ourselves in the exceptional situation of not knowing what the FCDO budget is—and this is two weeks before the end of the ODA accounting year. That is hardly sound management of public money. Can my noble friend the Minister shed any light on how much of these domestic costs will be charged to ODA this year, in two weeks’ time? If not, will he commit to writing to me with an estimate?
Sadly, this is the latest in successive rounds of cuts that have been exacerbated by the merger between the FCO and DfID into the FCDO. Despite reassurances at the time, development has not been at the heart of this new department. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hannan that international development must be done well, not badly, but the merger has not helped this, and nor has it helped on accountability or evaluation.
It is not just the impact of these cuts but the way they have been done. A few weeks ago, at an international conference, I shared a panel with an African parliamentarian. She publicly criticised our actions, explaining how they were told that funding to provide women with contraception would be stopped, immediately, leaving them no time to find alternative resources. These are our partners and our allies who we have let down. As we heard from the right reverend Prelate, it impacts not only on our international development reputation and relationships with these partners but on our trading relationships, security partnerships and political relationships. This is at a time when we are seeing other actors leverage their investments and relationships for political gain. It is something I regret to see. I hope we can rebuild our relationships with our partners to ensure that they support us in our international aims and that we do the same.
I will end on a positive note. All is not lost; we have the opportunity to recover our international standing. I commend to noble Lords, the FCDO and the Treasury a recent article by Ranil Dissanayake and Stefan Dercon for the Center for Global Development, which sets out clearly the challenges and offers some effective solutions. It calls on us to articulate a vision and strategy for UK development policy, to establish controls to promote strategic and effective spending, and to rebuild and reverse the loss of development and expertise from the FCDO.
I am grateful that the Government once again have a seat for development at the Cabinet table, and that we have such a champion for development in Andrew Mitchell. With his work, and with political will from the Foreign Secretary, Chancellor and Prime Minister, we can take measures to ensure that our activity overseas through official development assistance gives us reason to be proud of our role in the world.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, whose principled decision to resign from the Government on this issue was a subject of admiration.
I made my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House in the summer of 2001, at the Second Reading of the Bill on international development. That Bill was a step along a road that made Britain a genuinely world-leading force in development policy—a process that was completed over the next decade or so, as our aid spending reached the UN target of 0.7% GNI. That annual commitment was then consolidated in our domestic law. Today’s debate is being held in very different circumstances, among the smoking ruins of that world-leading role.
It is high time we had a proper discussion of how that self-inflicted trashing of one of the main pillars of Britain’s soft power worldwide came about and what can and should be done in the future. For that opportunity, I am deeply grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for introducing the debate on her behalf. The noble Baroness played an important and positive role during the coalition Government and we should be very grateful for that.
The debacle came in two main stages, for both of which the principal responsibility rests with the right honourable Boris Johnson, whose solipsistic and sloppy policy-making led first to the swallowing-up of DfID in the FCO—a department with no working experience of implementing a multibillion-pound expenditure programme—and then, during the Covid pandemic, to the arbitrary reduction of the 0.7% annual commitment to 0.5%.
That drastic cut in resources, now being extended for a further lengthy period, was both unnecessary and disproportionate. Why do I say that? Because the terms of the 0.7% GNI commitment ensured that there would have been a proportionate reduction in our aid spending anyway, during the Covid pandemic, the Covid-related period of economic contraction and the current recession, however long it lasts.
These cuts too are being inflicted on a world whose needs have never been greater, as the impact of Covid and the Ukraine war are being felt worldwide. Hard though the Government try to conceal their impact on individual countries and on multi-annual programmes, their true extent is becoming daily more evident: in Somalia, suffering from an unprecedented drought; in Yemen, whose humanitarian crisis is as bad as ever; in programmes needed to combat climate change and mitigate its consequences; and in conflict prevention spending. That is without counting the substantial chunk of our aid budget which is going to the cost of Ukrainian refugees in this country. That payment is of course a worthy cause, without doubt, and it meets DAC rules, at least for one year, but it is hardly a core objective of our aid policy.
We really should hang down our heads in shame, even if other developed countries spend less on ODA than us; they should do so too. I have heard a recently retired senior UN official describe our aid policy now as making us a laughing stock in New York. What is to be done, as Lenin once wrote? Well, we can hope that the recent and very welcome appointment of the right honourable Andrew Mitchell as Minister for Development, with a seat in Cabinet, will remedy some of the damage inflicted by the balkanisation of DfID. Can we not also now create a critical path towards restoring our aid spending to 0.7% of GNI—that remains a commitment in our domestic law, I remind the House—and avoid simply postponing that outcome to the Greek calends, which is what current government policy actually adds up to?
Then there is the challenge of climate change. What contribution are we planning to make to the loss and damage fund which it was agreed at COP 27 should be set up? Will climate change spending be separate from the 0.5% cap—as it should be, as it is for the common good and not simply for the good of developing countries? Will we be prepared to champion a new global programme of debt forgiveness, not just the rephasing of debt, to help those developing countries most affected by Covid and the surge of inflation? Will we ensure that there is no reduction in WHO and other global health programmes, to which many other noble Lords have referred, which are designed to guard against future pandemics and long-standing diseases such as malaria?
The answers to those questions matter, not just for ethical and humanitarian reasons, but because they affect Britain’s soft power in an era when we will need it more than ever, as we face the rivalry of authoritarian states, which will be a continuing feature of the world in which we live.
At the beginning of this week, I listened to the Foreign Secretary’s first major speech since he took office. It was very well crafted and its main contention that we need to strengthen our relations, in particular with the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, was surely well taken. But just how compelling will that message be when it is accompanied by drastic cuts in our contributions to those same countries’ own development priorities? Not very compelling, I suggest. I fear that the gap between rhetoric and reality is just too wide.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for securing this debate and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, on so ably introducing it. I draw attention to my registered interests, particularly around women, peace and security, the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, and Afghanistan.
UK aid and development work helps to address disasters and extreme poverty. It encourages human rights and promotes democratic and peaceful societies. Much good has been achieved over the years, and it is an area where there is a lot of cross-party consensus. My noble friend Lord Hannan talked about measuring impact. Some ODA is measurable—disaster relief, schools and hospitals built, and children educated and vaccinated—but quite a lot of it is not. The empowerment and democracy programmes are a long-term investment.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and others already said, prior to the pandemic the UK was at the global forefront on international development. It was the first of the G7 countries to declare 0.7% for ODA, and international development was a leading pillar of our soft power. Since then we seem to have retracted, with ODA reduced to 0.5% and not all of it reaching fragile countries. At this moment, a number of questions need asking. DfID had a worldwide reputation; has the effect of the DfID/FCO merger harmed this? Is the aid for trade approach detrimental? Are we throwing away all the good will and irrevocably damaging our soft power at a time, in the aftermath of Brexit, when we need it most?
I ask my noble friend the Minister to clearly lay out the situation. Before the pandemic, the ODA spend was around £14 billion. I understand that it has reduced to £10 billion. How much of that is going to help overseas and what proportion is being diverted to refugees in the UK? Of course we need to help those fleeing conflict, most recently all the refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. However, I understand that most countries do not fund domestic help for refugees out of ODA, and in February this year the price for this was standing at £4.7 million daily. Why is the UK funding refugee costs in this way?
Identifying efficient and effective programmes is key. Other noble Lords already raised the issue of funding. Is channelling so much funding in large tranches through the UN and multilateral agencies good value for money, as they often take an enormous top slice? Surely, in terms of impact, there is a good case for more funds being given directly to grass-roots projects. Our embassies are excellent conduits for identifying local, effective, trustworthy projects. However, too often the funding for these comes in too late, needs to be spent in a short timeframe, and, as has been raised, lasts for only a year, with small charities worrying about survival and then having to deal with onerous reporting.
It was clear from sessions at the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative conference that there needs to be more input from the grass roots in designing projects so that they appropriately address specific and unique needs. I urge the FCDO to consider how it could achieve a new approach on this, as funding at the grass roots with comparatively small grants can yield transformative results.
The rights of women and girls have been significantly rolled back on all fronts globally. The Covid pandemic hugely increased violence against women and the increase of conflict has fuelled abuse and sexual violence, as we so graphically heard at the PSVI conference two weeks ago. At the moment, the humanitarian response to GBV and SRHR is very underfunded. To achieve gender equality, women and girls need control over their own lives and bodies. Access to contraception is key. I am also concerned that the focus on maternal mortality has been lost.
Equally important is access to safe abortion. No woman should have to bear a child through rape. Safe abortion care saves lives, as every year, through lack of access to abortion, there are some 35 million dangerous backstreet abortions, resulting in the death of at least 23,000 women, with millions more left with injuries and disabilities. At a time when we face an emboldened anti-rights movement, can the Minister undertake to look at UK funding to ensure that we redouble our efforts on rights-based access to family planning and delivering universal health coverage? We look forward to the international women and girls strategy next year, with its three Es of education, empowerment and ending violence, as the UK’s core agenda of promoting freedom and democracy cannot happen without freedom for women.
Poverty fuels conflict, and war zones are poor zones. In the past decade there has been an increase in violent conflict globally, so why is there a focus on conflict resolution rather than conflict prevention? We should not forget that just $1 of peacebuilding can lead to a $16 reduction in the cost of armed conflict. Surely, we would rather spend money on aid than arms. How effective has the new FCDO conflict centre been so far, given that, as I understand it, its budget has been cut?
Conflict disproportionately affects women. The UK has led the way on the women, peace and security agenda. We hold the pen for this at the UN and were one of the first countries to support UN Security Council Resolution 1325. However, in the introduction to the Government’s latest report, UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2018 to 2022, the FCDO and MoD Secretaries of State recognise that there have been real challenges to this agenda and that the progress of the last 20 years is under threat. The situation has been clearly highlighted by what has happened in Afghanistan, with every woman in a public position having to flee for her life; and we have heard horrific reports of the use in Ukraine of rape as a weapon of war.
Some noble Lords here today supported the Second Reading of my Private Member’s Bill, the Women, Peace and Security Bill. I hope that the discussion today has highlighted how this Bill will help future-proof our commitment to systematic gender consideration and responsiveness in UK foreign and defence policy, and to ensuring that the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative continues. I very much hope that the Minister will commit this afternoon to supporting the Bill.
This is indeed a timely debate, taking place right after Human Rights Day and the 16 days of activism to prevent violence against women, and at a time when progress on the SDGs appears to be falling behind. Surely, we must view foreign aid as an investment, not an expense, and its ultimate goal must be to make countries self-sufficient and economically prosperous, and to prevent poverty, bring peace and help empower all.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger. I agree wholeheartedly with every word she said. I thank my noble friend Lady Northover for initiating this debate and regret the circumstances which prevented her moving the Motion herself. I commend my noble friend Lord Bruce of Bennachie for the way in which he introduced the debate, and for giving us the benefit of his breadth and depth of knowledge in this area.
Let me start by taking, like so many others have in this House, a moment of pride in the country in which we live. I refer of course to the moment in 2015 when the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act put into law the long-standing call by the UN for donor countries to spend 0.7 % of their GNI on official development assistance. However, in November 2020, despite a commitment in the Conservative Party manifesto—at this point, I just say that I welcome the contribution to the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Hannan. He talked about the democratic process being undermined. A manifesto commitment being cast aside helps make my point that the democratic process is certainly not undermined and that Governments giving commitments should stick very much within them.
The commitment to 0.7% in the manifesto was cast aside and reduced to 0.5%. This happened at a time when the Covid crisis had increased the need for our support for and commitment to the world’s poorest. It has been compounded by the hardship caused by the war in Ukraine in the immediate impact of the food shortages, not least in east Africa, and in other ways that I will come on to later.
While this cut was agreed by the Commons in July 2021, it had in fact started with immediate effect the previous November, in a chaotic and one might say callous manner, which I think the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, referred to and which the then FCDO Secretary of State did so little to mitigate. With very little warning, aid programmes including study grants were terminated midstream. This, at least, with some foresight, thought and compassion, could have been done differently. So much for Conservative compassion.
At this point I will give a little example from my own experience. I am a trustee of the Malaria Consortium and very much agree with all the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg. The Malaria Consortium had a programme in Nigeria, SuNMaP 2, which was terminated immediately on the announcement. This completely undermined about a decade’s work that had put in place, together with the local, regional and central Governments in Nigeria, systems that were really beginning to bear fruit and embed processes in that country. This was all lost at a stroke. It is such a tragedy.
It is welcome that we now have a Minister in charge of development who is respected by the development community. However, unless the fundamentals of aid delivery are recognised and until such a time as openness, transparency and accountability again become core elements of the aid budget, he will be in place but not in control.
This Government’s record of letting down the poorest in the world remains deplorable. Just last month the FCDO announced that the ODA budget had been reduced to £7.6 billion for 2022-23, a £1.7 billion cut compared with the budget the Government started the financial year with. This depletion of the already-reduced aid budget is a direct result of the UK Government increasingly seeking to meet the cost of hosting refugees domestically from the ODA budget. Here, I register my involvement in the Homes for Ukraine scheme, under which I am sponsoring a family. While earmarking ODA to meet the costs of hosting refugees domestically is permitted under the OECD DAC rules, the UK is the only G7 country to fund all the costs of hosting Ukrainian refugees from the aid budget.
To put this in context, in 2021 more than £1 billion, which represents the largest proportion of the bilateral aid budget at 14%, was diverted to the Home Office to meet UK refugee costs. Over the same period, £743 million was lost on humanitarian aid, which dropped by a whopping 51% compared with 2020. While the Government recently committed an additional £2.5 billion over two years to cover the costs of hosting refugees, taking the UK’s ODA budget up to 0.55% of GNI, this will not be enough to cover the shortfall.
Diverting money from the aid budget to in-country refugee spending is morally wrong. The Government are effectively providing a blank cheque to the Home Office in the form of the ODA budget, asking the world’s most vulnerable communities to foot the bill for the UK’s international legal obligation to refugees.
I am going to finish on loss and damage. The UK provides climate financing in the form of grants, which are crucial to ensure that countries such as those in east Africa do not go into debt in putting in place adaptation measures to prevent climate devastation. It is important that this future-proofing continues, not least because it will help to stem refugee flows from those regions.
I welcome the major achievement of COP 27 in establishing for the first time a fund for loss and damage. That is an historic achievement, and it is crucial that it is urgently operationalised so that countries on the front line of the climate crisis can quickly access fair and automatic financial assistance and support in the wake of both immediate climate impacts and slow-onset impacts such as sea-level rise.
I have two questions for the Minister. First, what work have the Government done on how a loss and damage finance facility should function and how contributions should be calculated? Secondly, will the Government consider a debt-swap arrangement such as the one advocated by the Maldives, where the debt of vulnerable countries is cancelled in exchange for commitments to invest in high-quality decarbonisation projects? They would dearly like to do both but cannot afford to. Loss and damage is really important. After all—
My Lords, I remind the noble Baroness of the time limit.
I am just about to finish. The polluter pays principle is well established. Why should it not apply equally to the developing world, which after all did nothing to cause the climate devastation that we see with increasing frequency?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for securing this timely and critical debate. I am sorry that she is not able to be with us today, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for leading it instead.
The debate is timely because, as we all know, there is huge demand and need for aid and assistance overseas following the pandemic, war in Ukraine, Afghanistan and multiple other humanitarian crises, and it is critical because our ODA budget appears to be suffering death by a thousand cuts. As Andrew Mitchell, the new Minister of State, admitted to the International Development Committee last week, the UK has lost its “development superpower” status as domestic issues increasingly marginalise overseas aid.
Rather than simply wringing my hands, I want to suggest to the Minister a strategy that is gaining support across both Houses. To that end, I should declare that I am vice-chair of the newly formed APPG on Aid Match, which includes 19 parliamentarians across all party groups. I shall say more on that later.
I want to focus on the ODA budget itself and seek some transparency on the key numbers. Many of us here have spoken out against the Government’s appalling decision to cut overseas aid by 30%, from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%. I will not rehearse the arguments now as it is clear that the measure will not be reversed by this Government, even though both Andrew Mitchell and the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, spoke out and voted against the cuts two years ago.
However, I ask the Minister to confirm the Treasury’s view on when the UK economy will meet the two fiscal tests—notably, that underlying government debt as a percentage of GDP is falling—to restore the 0.7%. We have been told “fiscal 2025” but also that the new Prime Minister is considering extending the freeze at 0.5% for two years beyond that. I ask because many of the projects that we support are necessarily long-term and structural, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, pointed out, such as education, healthcare and sanitation. Our aid partners have an increasingly impossible job to plan and execute if their budgets are being reduced by 50% or more, as they are in many cases, especially for bilateral aid.
What should we make of the startling fact that in 2021 we cut our bilateral aid to lower-income countries by 40%, compared to a 17% reduction to middle-income countries? Can the Minister advise on when we will see the full impact reports of these cuts? We need greater transparency on the casualties of these costs, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, highlighted.
The problem is exacerbated by some 30% of this diminished ODA budget now being siphoned off to the Home Office to finance the burgeoning costs of housing refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, notably from Ukraine. In real terms, I believe this has reduced our overseas aid budget—I stress “overseas”—to close to 0.3% and not 0.5% of GNI. That is less than it was in 1997. I appreciate that international rules allow for this cost, which I believe is some £3 billion, to be taken from the ODA budget, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, has just pointed out. However, we are the only G7 country doing this in practice, rather than taking it from Treasury reserves. Can the Minister please confirm what proportion of ODA is expected to fund the cost of refugees in the UK in 2023? Given that many of these refugees become economically active in this country within their first 12 months here, which is very welcome given our shrinking workforce, it seems entirely wrong that the ODA shoulders the whole burden.
I too am delighted to see Andrew Mitchell back as Minister of State for Development. I read with interest his comments in front of the International Development Committee last week. He spoke a lot of sense, especially about the quality and quantity of spend. In particular, he raised a point about squeezing
“a quart out of a pint pot”
in looking for collaborative and innovative ways to bolster overseas aid spending. In search of such a multiplier, I refer the Minister to the concept of using the Government’s ODA to match-fund, and therefore attract substantial private donations. This model, pioneered by the Fortune Forum charity, was adopted by DfID in 2011; it led to the formation of the private sector department and its design of UK Aid Match. This resulted in delivering effective aid through over 100 blue-chip NGOs in more than 50 countries, impacting some 100 million lives.
Yet, impressive though those numbers are, the £377 million in matching funds through the various rounds between 2011 and today represents just 0.2% of the UK’s ODA. It should and could be so much more. Raising it to just 2% of ODA would represent real progress, unlocking hundreds of millions of pounds of private donations for front-line NGOs, without draining further funds from the taxpayer. Can I therefore ask the Minister to look into this initiative and raise it with the Secretary of State at the earliest opportunity?
My Lords, the key focus for UK international development policy and aid spend should be tackling poverty, accelerating sustainable development in developing countries and tackling inequalities. This is not only the right thing to do but in our national interest, and we should be clear about that in making the case. It is outcomes which matter.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to not leave anyone behind, which means that ODA spending needs to reach the world’s poorest and most marginalised, and most especially women and girls. We are experiencing ongoing and protracted global crises. Covid, and now the economic crisis, has deepened inequalities and rolled back progress on gender equality by a generation. We know that women and girls are particularly affected by these crises: the east Africa hunger crisis, climate change, and conflicts such as Ukraine and its spillover effects all impact women and girls disproportionately. The rights of girls in so many countries are going backwards and we in this country should count our blessings every day.
There is an urgent need to accelerate outcomes for gender equality, strengthen women’s and girls’ leadership and prioritise a locally led approach. When you invest in women and girls and their rights, especially reproductive rights, and their education, you invest in entire communities. For example, decreasing gender gaps in employment alone can significantly stimulate economic growth and increase global wealth by $160 trillion, which is urgently needed, now more than ever.
Research shows that, due to traditional gender roles, women assess risk differently from men and typically prioritise the welfare of their families and communities. Such differences in decision-making extend to national politics. A 2019 study shows that national Parliaments with more women pass more effective policies on families, climate and other issues. Studies show that investing in high-quality sexual and reproductive health services means that unintended pregnancies drop by 68% and maternal deaths drop by 62%, as well as giving women the choice of when to have children and how many to have, which leads to a subsequent improvement in living standards. IMF research shows that an increase in violence against women by one percentage point is associated with a 9% lower level of economic activity. So I welcome the Government’s commitment, and reiteration of their commitment, to invest in gender equality, not only because it is the right thing to do but because it is the smart thing to do.
There is also political momentum. The Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative conference, hosted by the UK in London two weeks ago and mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, was a key opportunity to listen to survivors’ voices demanding action. On gender-based violence, the UK Government have historically been a leading donor on prevention of violence against women and girls in international development and through the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. We need to remain committed to this priority and to supporting global gender equality through our foreign and development policy.
We all have our daily routines, and one of mine is to do squats as I clean my teeth. Another is to take a moment, as I bicycle over the bridge every morning, to reflect on the lives of women and girls across the globe, struggling with the consequences and challenges of being born with two X chromosomes. This year, we have watched with dismay as the position of so many females has deteriorated so significantly in so many countries, not least with the challenges that we women and girls face here in the UK.
The previous Foreign Secretary committed to restoring funding to women and girls. I know that Minister Mitchell has long championed women and girls, and specifically girls’ education; can my noble friend the Minister confirm that commitment and say when he thinks this will be achieved? We must continue to invest in programmes that focus on improving people’s lives through giving them opportunities to build a livelihood and provide for their families, meeting basic needs and educating children, especially girls. I look forward to the upcoming women and girls strategy. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure me that this will be a comprehensive strategy that will embed the importance of work on gender equality across all aspects of the FCDO?
I appreciate that many of us have made the case today for the causes that we individually champion and have argued for during this debate. But many noble Lords have mentioned our long and proud history of supporting the health and rights of women and girls around the world, and I hope that we can all agree that that should be continued.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for initiating this debate. I am sorry that she is unable to be present, particularly because she has great experience and wisdom in this area. However, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for taking her place today to allow this important debate to proceed.
These are difficult times, with the climate, conflict and the aftershocks of Covid causing serious social and economic shocks worldwide, with the poorest and the most vulnerable suffering most, both at home and overseas. The Government have difficult choices to make, and we hope that the world will return as swiftly as possible to the path of stability and sustainability that is required if we are to deliver on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals by the end of the decade.
It is at times like these that we must think carefully about our own contribution to the path that the world takes going forward. Last week, as we have heard, the Development Minister highlighted that the UK’s prestige is impacted by the cuts in overseas development aid and the cost of supporting those who have fled to the UK from war zones. When it comes to Ukraine, we are of course dealing with an emergency in which we all must play our part. Here I declare my interest as chairman-trustee of the Loomba Foundation. I am proud that the Loomba Foundation, in partnership with Barnardo’s, is delivering a programme to provide financial support to 1,000 families who have fled to the UK from Ukraine, to assist them in taking the first vital steps towards settling here and helping them build a more positive future.
Many are calling for overseas development assistance to be increased, but I want to focus on how, in these difficult times, we can build on our strengths as a foundation for rebuilding our influence in the years ahead. To name an area where I have direct experience, I would highlight girls’ education, where this country’s commitment to gender equality offers a moral beacon to the world. Education has formed an important part of the work of the Loomba Foundation since our establishment 25 years ago with a mission to educate the children of poor widows in India and so break the cycle of deprivation. Unfortunately, when it comes to education in India, as in many other countries, boys are given preference. Another area on which the Loomba Foundation has focused is providing skills training to widows so that they can earn money, become self-reliant, educate their children and lead a life of dignity.
I urge the Government to keep the strategic importance of overseas development aid uppermost in their calculations. While difficult choices have to be made, I ask the Minister in particular to assure the House that international programmes focused on delivering education for girls in low and middle-income countries will not be cut and that the Government will continue delivering aid to charities engaged in educating girls.
My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lady Northover will take some solace at this difficult time for her and her family when she reads this debate in Hansard and sees the credit she has been given in her absence for securing this important time to allow us to make all these contributions, with great seriousness, on such an important issue. From these Benches, I am also very glad that we could deploy our super-sub, my noble friend Lord Bruce, to so comprehensively open the debate and steer it in the perfect direction to allow the consideration of these important issues.
We take so many things for granted in this country, even at a time of enormous economic pressure and uncertainty—for example, girls being able to go to the toilet in privacy; turning a tap on and drinking a glass of water; or brushing our teeth in clean water, even if we are not doing squats like the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin.
I declare an interest in that I contribute to parliamentary strengthening work. Last week I was in Malawi, a country that has been badly afflicted over the years by HIV and AIDS, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and malaria, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg.
Last Friday was a day of great shame for me. I visited a constituency in an extremely rural area of Malawi with the First Deputy Speaker. I went to a village where the source of water for that village of 150 people is a filthy stream. The women go at night to collect the water, which is, relatively, the safest time that they can do so. Of course, toilet facilities for girls, indeed any facilities in the area, are still a bit of a distant hope. I got back to the hotel in Lilongwe and saw pinging on the news that a Member of this House was taking leave because she was being investigated for making profit out of PPE schemes. That week in Malawi, I was held in fairly high regard because I am a Member of this House. I still have not quite come to terms with the juxtaposition of my experiences on that day.
It is in the context of water and sanitary health—which we take for granted—that, as the Independent Commission for Aid Impact highlighted in its report earlier this year, the Government made the decision to cut funding by more than two-thirds, from £206.5 million to £70 million. As has been referenced before, this is not theoretical or academic; it will have an immediate impact on lives. These are choices, and the consequences, as Bond put it,
“ended an era of bold global leadership by the UK on the provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene for the world’s poor, just when that bold UK leadership is needed most.”
This is by choice. I respect the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Hannan and Lord Herbert, when they say that these are difficult times. Of course they are. In September, however, the Government chose, in their mini-Budget, to announce a tax cut for those earning £150,000 or more and to borrow amounts comparative to the overseas development aid cut to pay for it. These are choices. As my noble friend Lady Sheehan said, when the House of Commons voted for the 0.5% fiscal rules, the French Parliament voted that same week to move within this period to 0.7%. These are choices.
When it comes to the issue of the deep crisis and famine that we have heard about in the Horn of Africa and east Africa, the Government made a choice to contribute £156 million to the region, compared with the £861 million that we contributed in 2017. It has a direct impact on lives.
I have found that part of the difficulty is—as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick—in finding out what the Government intend to do in their Budget Statements. There has been deliberate obfuscation. The noble Baroness asked the Minister to estimate when we might meet the fiscal tests. The Government said, when they cut to 0.5%, that this would be down to the Office for Budget Responsibility. The OBR, in its spring review, said that the tests would be met for 2023, but the Government did not like that answer, so they said that they would defer it to the Autumn Statement. Of course, we have now seen the consequences of the fiscal situation as a result of the Government’s announcement in September.
One area in which I hope the Minister can be crystal clear this afternoon is the absolutely clear promise by Liz Truss when she was Foreign Secretary to restore funding for women and girls. Regardless of the scale, this is about a commitment to restore that funding. The noble Baronesses, Lady Sugg and Lady Hodgson, and others have raised these issues repeatedly. I raised this with the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, during Oral Questions on 28 February this year and asked where we were with that commitment. He replied:
“My Lords, as I said, the Foreign Secretary has been clear that we are restoring funding to women and girls.”—[Official Report, 28/2/22; col. 541.]
On 23 November, I asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, where we were with that, because I could not see any results from that commitment. He replied:
“I would say to the noble Lord … that it is not just about money.”—[Official Report, 23/11/22; col. 1367.]
Of course it is not just about money, but this was a promise given by the Government. Are we meeting it? Where is the information? If the Minister responds to any part of my contribution, I hope he will reply to that.
As my noble friends Lady Suttie and Lord Bruce said, what has been so disappointing is that the consensus that had developed has been replaced by a degree of cynicism, artificially using Treasury rules, obfuscation, a lack of transparency and refusals to publish key impact data and gender equality assessments—which a parliamentary committee had to publish through parliamentary privilege because the Government refused to do so. Country plans are still not in place for us to scrutinise. It was only with repeated questioning that we found out that UK support for Ukrainian refugees here at home is to be at the cost of those who can least afford it abroad.
It is not just about the money, but the tragedy of losing the consensus we seemed to have developed, which was that we understood the essential components of effective aid: innovative research, joint working with partner countries and professional delivery, with the do no harm principle in extremely difficult areas. It was also about doing it at scale—not to an arbitrary figure, but to a figure which would make the difference for outcomes.
As a very rich nation—a member of the very small club of the richest nations on earth—we also have a moral duty. That is why it was to me outrageous to read the National Audit Office report—not a political statement, but the NAO report—which highlighted that the decision to make significant cuts was made in one month and without any consultation with local partners to inform the exercise.
Ultimately, our overseas development assistance is about partnership. It is not about giving aid, but building partnerships on trust, predictability and reliability. Those have been washed away. The UK is no longer a predictable or reliable partner. The choices we have made have greatly undermined trust. The head of the UNDP told me and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, in a meeting when the Government announced the reductions that we are not cutting aid but ending partnerships. That is why my noble friend Lord Bruce is right that we must rebuild this.
Of course, the challenges are enormous. The shame of living in a rich country does not necessarily go away by restoring 0.7% and we will not be able to solve all the problems within the SDG period. But for the first time in our country’s history, more bilateral overseas assistance will be spent at home than overseas. That should be scarring for this Government. We want to be a good partner. We want to ensure that children, whether in the rural Scottish Borders or rural Malawi, feel that they can go to the toilet safely and drink clean water. That should be a fundamental principle. The Government need to rebuild their trust and do so urgently.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for securing this debate and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for his excellent introduction. As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, the Covid pandemic, the global financial crisis, the global energy crisis and the climate emergency show that the world is more interdependent than ever, and our fates more closely intertwined. Development and diplomacy are our best tools in the fight against poverty, conflict and climate change, and being a force for good in the world means always making a stand against injustices, human rights abuses and suffering. It also means putting forward a vision for a more secure and prosperous future, delivering on the UN’s global goals and fulfilling our commitments to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
But instead of making multilateralism work, this Government have sometimes seemed intent on breaking our relationships and trashing our reputation. They retreated from Britain’s commitments, cutting our development target from 0.7% to 0.5%, and stripped billions from vital aid programmes in the process. As the right reverend Prelate highlighted, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said, it was the speed and the indiscriminate nature of these cuts that caused the most damage. The Government undermined delivery, overseeing a bungled merger between DfID and the Foreign Office which has resulted in deprioritising development, sapping morale and pushing out our expertise. As noble Lords have highlighted in this debate, they are now projected to spend £3 billion of the development budget here in the UK, to cover the costs of incoming refugees.
The international development strategy that we saw published takes a transactional approach to aid which risks repeating the worst mistakes of the past—and I pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hannan. The improvement in the UK’s credibility on aid after the horrors of the Pergau Dam was not a matter of chance but of choice: the choice to untie aid and focus on the goal of poverty eradication. Under the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the UK set its sights on that global target of 0.7%. The UK played a key role in the millennium conference, making global progress on malaria, food, education and health, bringing the world together. One of Labour’s lasting achievements has been to forge a new political consensus around development, and it was in Britain’s interests that it should be rigorous and transparent, focused on effectiveness and value for money. It was something that Britain should be truly proud of.
To their credit, David Cameron and George Osborne sustained that commitment, keeping Britain on the path to 0.7% that Labour had set. It was an important area of broad, cross-party consensus, as highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, but I fear that under the numerous Tory Prime Ministers we have had since—Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak—that consensus has broken down. In a world of global challenges and political divides, we need both the long-term transformational agenda of development and the political nous of good diplomacy. Both will be essential as we continue that hard work towards the ambitions of the sustainable development goals and beyond.
We must lead by example, not break our word or our commitments. Our commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable also means spending on the right aid projects. That means supporting multipliers, so that we do get more bang for our buck; multipliers such as nutrition, clean water, education and universal health coverage, all of which have myriad developmental benefits. We must address the twin drivers of climate change and conflict, championing the green energy transition and climate finance, and supporting peacebuilding and conflict prevention.
Sadly, ICAI’s recent review of UK peacebuilding efforts found that chaotic management of the aid budget has set back those efforts. We need to offer an alternative to Chinese physical infrastructure, and link it to British innovation in education, governance and healthcare to support their own development. And yes, we must get Britain back on track to meet its commitment to the UN’s 0.7% development target as soon as the fiscal situation allows. Even at a time of real economic hardship and fiscal constraint, it is in the UK’s national interest to restore our leadership in international development.
I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, by saying that Labour remains committed to a feminist development policy. Away from the world’s gaze, millions of school-age girls across Africa face forced marriage, with all the dangers and humiliations it wreaks. The leaked impact assessments of the 2021 aid spending reductions revealed that the Government were warned that their cuts would disproportionately impact women and girls. I hope that, in the interests of transparency, the Minister will commit today to publish the impact assessments of the pause on non-essential aid this summer.
A Labour Government will campaign for climate change to become a fourth pillar of the UN and will push for a new international law of ecocide to criminalise the wilful and widespread destruction of the environment. To amplify the point made by my noble friend Lord McConnell, Labour will legislate to ensure that Britain’s aid budget makes climate action a priority.
In conclusion, it is time to repair our relationships with our allies around the world, to revitalise our nation’s soft power, influence and impact with a renewed strategy for modernising international development, to restore the influence of multilateral institutions such as the UN, and—once again, I hope—to build a consensus across the House to ensure that we reach the target of 0.7%, because it is the national interest for Britain to be a force for good in our world.
My Lords, I start by echoing the thoughts of many noble Lords by offering my own condolences to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on her family loss. At the same, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, for stepping in so ably and for tabling the debate. I also thank all noble Lords for their considered contributions. I acknowledge that many Peers are critical of the Government’s current position on ODA, and fear that I may not be able to give too much comfort to the House with my remarks; but, as ever, I will try to do my best.
The debate is particularly timely given the international context. I start by saying something which has not been said this afternoon: my first thoughts are with those who have tragically lost their lives—once again, I am afraid to say—crossing the English Channel this week. I cannot deny that the pandemic and Russia’s barbaric attack on Ukraine have both compromised progress on development; my noble friend Lord Herbert acknowledged that in his remarks. However, the geopolitical context has magnified the importance of our development work, while placing extra demands on our budgets, including the unforeseen costs of supporting Ukrainian and Afghan refugees, for which the Government are providing additional resource. I will say more about that in a moment. As my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell said in the other place, it is the right thing to do and a legitimate and fair use of ODA; that has also been acknowledged by the noble Lords, Lord Bruce and Lord Hannay. I welcome the return of my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell to the Government. I know that his return is widely applauded today because, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said, he understands his subject area—and while that assessment is correct, it is probably a bit of an understatement.
I will answer a question raised by my noble friend Lady Sugg on the amount of domestic costs for refugee hosting that has been charged to ODA. That question was also raised by my noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble Lord, Lord Londesborough. The UK is providing significant support to people from Afghanistan and Ukraine who are fleeing conflict and seeking sanctuary in the UK, which is the right thing to do. Under OECD DAC rules, some elements of support given to asylum seekers and refugees for the first 12 months of their stay in the UK is counted as ODA, if they originate from ODA-eligible countries. As such, a significant proportion of the ODA budget is being spent domestically. That is legitimate under the rules and is a right and fair use of ODA. However, to answer my noble friend Lady Sugg’s specific question on total costs, it is a dynamic situation, and the exact costs of hosting refugees domestically will be available only when we finalise our statistics for international development for 2022, which I can reassure the House will be made public.
To take a step back for a moment, the UK has a proud history of international development, from the Ministry of Overseas Development in the 1960s and its various guises, including as the Department for International Development, to the formation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in 2020. The UK has long been a leader in international development. We were the first G7 country to meet the UN’s long-standing target to spend 0.7% of GNI on ODA in 2013, and we were at the forefront of negotiating the sustainable development goals. I will say more about this later.
As we know—I have listened to much of the criticism this afternoon—the UK’s ODA budget now sits at around 0.5% of GNI. Points were raised very passionately, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. I would like to add a little balance, which chimes with the remarks of my noble friends Lord Herbert and Lord Hannan. In providing this balance, I will answer a question asked by my noble friend Lady Hodgson. In 2021, the amount we spent was over £11 billion, making us still one of the most generous aid donors in the G7. That is equivalent to half the cost of what it took to build the Elizabeth line. No one can deny that this funding is generous.
Added to this is the British public’s enormous support for the people fleeing conflict and seeking sanctuary here from Afghanistan and Ukraine. To meet the significant and unanticipated costs of this support, the Treasury will provide additional resources of £1 billion this financial year and £1.5 billion next financial year. We continue to pledge our steadfast support for Ukraine. It is right that the UK rises to meet these challenges by allocating additional resources. The FCDO is the largest aid spender across government, spending 72% of all UK government ODA in 2021. Given these pressures, the FCDO will have to manage a lower ODA budget than it was allocated in the spending review 2021 settlement.
With this, we are reminded that there are very difficult choices for the Government to make about how to manage this reduction—which, again, a few Peers have said this afternoon. However, I hope to reassure the House that we do have a plan. I will start by giving three overarching objectives. First, we will focus our spending on the priorities set out in the international development strategy, while maximising value for money and our flexibility to respond to emerging issues.
Secondly, because multilateral organisations, such as the UN and the Global Fund for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, remain essential partners for achieving our goals, we will meet the financial commitments we have made to them. The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, raised tuberculosis, which I hope to say more about in a moment, and my noble friend Lady Sugg raised malaria. I will try to help by answering the questions raised, particularly on malaria, although I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and others raised Nigeria, and my noble friend Lord Fowler, if I may call him that, gave a passionate speech on AIDS.
My right honourable friend in the other place, Andrew Mitchell, was pleased to speak at the launch of the World Malaria Report on Monday, an event organised by Malaria No More, which my noble friend Lady Sugg mentioned that she chairs. Minister Mitchell spoke of the department’s commitment to the fight against malaria and to getting back on track to meet the target to end the epidemic of malaria by 2030. As the Minister said, it is appalling that malaria, a disease that is eminently preventable and treatable, kills a child every minute of every day. He was pleased to announce a £1 billion commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Through this funding, the UK will support the delivery of malaria treatments and care to over 18 million people, and the distribution of 86 million mosquito nets to protect children and families from malaria. The UK is also supporting research and development in the fight against malaria, investing in other global health institutions, and supporting other countries. That might help to answer the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, on research and development, although I acknowledge it might not go the whole way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, spoke about TB in particular. I will answer, although perhaps not in full, some of the questions that she asked. As part of our £1 billion contribution to the global fund, which I just mentioned, TB treatment and care will benefit 1.1 million people; screen 20 million people for the disease; and provide 41,800 people—it is very precise—with treatment for multidrug-resistant TB. We are also supporting the Stop TB Partnership’s TB REACH programme with £6 million to fund new approaches aiming to increase the number of people diagnosed with and treated for TB. I could say a bit more but, in the interests of time, I will move on, if I may.
The noble Baroness also asked about support for the WHO in developing an Ebola vaccine and for the outbreak in Uganda. We have been working with the WHO, CEPI, Oxford University and others to support the Government of Uganda on vaccine trials. Trial vaccines have arrived in the country within 80 days of the outbreak being declared—a significant achievement by all partners that demonstrates the progress made on the 100-day mission, which the noble Baroness will know about.
Let me move back to our overarching objectives; I want to talk, thirdly, about what we are doing. The FCDO will act swiftly to manage its bilateral programmes this financial year. We will approach this in a proportionate way, empowering experts in our missions and relevant policy teams to ensure that we prioritise the right areas.
Let me now go into the priorities of the UK Government’s strategy for international development, having focused on the overarching objectives. As the House may know, this strategy outlines four priorities and a patient approach to development. Our patient approach involves working more closely with partner countries to help them build the capabilities and effective institutions for lasting progress, and to help them tackle the structural barriers that they face. We will bring the combined power of the UK’s global economic, scientific, security and diplomatic strengths to bolster our development partnerships, and we will harness the best of British expertise to channel world-class UK business, civil society networks, research partnerships and technology capability to countries across the world.
The four priorities are as follows. The first is to deliver clean and reliable investment through British investment partnerships. These partnerships will help low and middle-income countries get the investment that they need to grow resilient, open, thriving economies and reduce their strategic dependence on others.
The second priority, which has been very much a theme of this debate, is providing women and girls with the freedom that they need to succeed. Some interesting and helpful speeches were made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington—particularly on rugby programmes—and my noble friends Lady Sugg, Lady Jenkin and Lady Hodgson. I want to try to answer one or two questions that were asked about this important subject but, before I do, let me say that we will educate girls by standing up for the right of every girl to have 12 years of quality education. We will empower women and girls by unlocking their social, economic and political potential, and we will drive international action to end all forms of gender-based violence.
My noble friend Lady Sugg asked some detailed questions about the forthcoming women and girls strategy. In addition to what I have already said, let me say that tackling gender inequality and standing up for the rights of women and girls around the world are a core part of the UK Government’s mission. The FCDO recognises that grass-roots women’s rights organisations are critical to achieving lasting transformation across all our gender equality objectives and we are committed to stepping up our work in this area. The FCDO is exploring options for new support. I am aware of the appalling crimes—I put it that way: “crimes”—that are being committed in both Iran and Afghanistan; some particular examples from Afghanistan were given.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked me some specific questions on whether we are restoring the bilateral budget for women and girls. He made some passionate remarks about this. In line with what I have just said, we will report on this in due course. Unfortunately, I do not have anything further to say on that this afternoon.
The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, promised me in February that the funding will be restored. Could the Minister be quite clear and just say to me now if that promise is still a promise?
I am not able to actually say that, but what I can say is that we will report on this in due course. I am not going to stand here at the Dispatch Box and say something that I cannot promise, but of course I am with the noble Lord in hoping that it might be the case.
The third priority, therefore, moving on, is to step-up our life-saving humanitarian work. The UK is a global leader in driving more effective approaches to humanitarian crises. For example, our proactive thought-leadership and innovative approaches on cash transfers have helped double the volume of cash programming in humanitarian settings since 2016, reaching $5.6 billion by the end of 2019. With our allies and partners, we will prioritise humanitarian assistance for people in greatest need: this was a point raised by my noble friend Lord Hannan, which I think he cited as being an easy decision for ODA spending. He is of course right: that is very important. It includes protecting people most at risk, and anticipating and preventing future shocks.
Our fourth development priority is to take forward our work on climate change, nature and global health. This was certainly raised by the noble Lords, Lord McConnell and Lord Hannay. I will just give a brief answer. The UK is delivering: we are committed and are delivering on our commitment on £11.6 billion, which was made at the international climate finance forum, to support the most vulnerable who are experiencing the worst impacts of climate change. We will triple our funding for adaptation from £500 million in 2019 to £1.5 billion in 2025. We have also committed to investing at least £3 billion of this ICF into the development of solutions that protect and restore nature. I hope that helps.
Let me set out how we will use ODA, a subject which was certainly raised by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell. In a world where global co-operation, including on trade, technology and regulations, is under threat, more than ever we need to remember to prioritise ODA. This means protecting ODA for those in the poorest countries, and those in most need of support, while multiplying our impact by drawing on private investment. Our international development offer goes beyond how we spend ODA as a catalyst for development. It is also about closer trading partnerships, improved global governance, fairer international rules, and access to expertise and technology. We are using our overseas network to work for more equitable international rules and standards. This approach is not only effective but delivers benefits to the UK: strengthening our global influence, bringing greater resilience to our supply chains, and helping to protect against future global shocks.
I will now move to the big question raised by so many Peers this afternoon: the return to 0.7%. While it is clear that we can remain a global leader in development, I reconfirm our commitment to returning to spending 0.7% of gross national income on ODA once the fiscal situation allows. Our principles provide a clear measure for our return to 0.7% and underline the Government’s commitment to this target. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, put it well—I listened carefully to what he said—when he talked about rebuilding discrete development capacity and expertise. He cited an important word: predictability. The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, I think, added to that by using the word consistency. Of course, he is right: we want to get back to that point where we are regarded in these respects.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, asked a question which I did not initially have the answer to, but I think I may have now, which was on how often conditions for returning to 0.7% were met. According to the OBR, the UK would have met the fiscal test for a return to 0.7% for all three years prior to the pandemic: 2016-17 through to 2018-19 onwards. I hope that helps.
Just to add to that, though, the noble Lord, Lord Londesborough, raised this point. In saying that the Government remain committed to debt falling, balancing the current budget and returning to 0.7% when the fiscal circumstances allow, fiscal tests to determine a return to 0.7% were confirmed by Parliament in summer 2021. The Treasury will provide updates, as I think the House will know, on the implications of future forecasts on the return to 0.7%. We will return to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA when, on a sustainable basis, the Government are no longer borrowing for day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling. Before somebody asks how we define “sustainable basis”, I should say that, when reviewing fiscal forecasts, the Government will have to consider whether improvements in the fiscal situation are sustainable. It would not make sense to increase ODA spending when the tests are only forecast to be met for reasons which are unlikely to continue in future years. Given uncertainties in the fiscal outlook, ensuring tests are met on a sustainable basis will ensure that the Government have space to account for fiscal and forecast risks in their assessment of the fiscal situation.
There are a number of other questions which I may try to answer. Let me start with a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, on the voluntary national review. The UK’s first VNR, in 2019, provided a comprehensive account of actions being taken across the UK by government, and other actions. No decision has been made about a follow-up to the 2019 VNR—that may not help him—but the Government remain fully supportive of the sustainable development goal. He asked also about an explicit target for looking at conflict and its prevention. This year, bilateral allocations will be decided by experts on the ground who have been empowered to determine, with our partners, which programmes to continue in line with the IDS, prioritising humanitarian and women and girls work where possible.
I am aware that time is moving on. There are questions that I am yet to answer, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on ODA and HIV, and I am certainly going to write to him with the answer, which I do actually have here. I have an answer for the question about dengue fever raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans; I think it is better to put that in writing. I will also answer the question about charities raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington; again, I think it is best to put that in a letter.
The UK remains one of the largest donors of official development assistance in the world. We magnify the impact of our budget in a number of ways: we attract funding from other donors and investors, we spend smartly on innovative expert-led projects with a wide reach, and we focus where we can have the most impact and positive effect on peoples’ lives. I cite our actions in Syria, where we provided some 182,000 people with drinking water and 153,000 pupils with access to formal education last year.
With the international development strategy—so important as a guiding hand—our spending decisions, our partnerships, and our expertise and professionalism will continue to reinforce our position as a development leader.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Northover for allowing this debate to happen, and to have had the privilege of introducing it. It has been an extremely good debate, not surprisingly because there is a great deal of expertise and specialist knowledge in the House, which has been brought to bear. The Minister will be aware of the frustration, and indeed the underlying anger, of the situation we are in, but I am grateful to him for answering questions, including my own.
I am left with a continuing worry that open-ended commitment to refugees makes it impossible to have predictable development spending, and I urge the Minister to take—specifically to the Prime Minister—the need to understand that. There has to be some protection or ring-fencing of the budget, otherwise it is impossible to start to rebuild our reputation. The Minister would have taken on board that there is a will for that to happen. There is a belief that with Andrew Mitchell, and to some extent the Chancellor, there is a possibility to start reversing the damage done, and the House wants that to happen. But I hope the Minister will understand that there are some vital constraints that need to be addressed, otherwise the pious expectations cannot be delivered, and people cannot plan programmes without the possibility of predictability and continuity. That point has been made in different ways across the House by noble Lords who have their own degree of expertise.
We are all grateful to have had the opportunity to have this debate. We are going to want to continue the debate and I am grateful to the Minister for answering the questions he did, and for agreeing to write to those whose questions he did not answer.