To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the projects supported by the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund established in 2015.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the timing of this QSD in the dinner break this evening—it was not planned in this way but the timing of our debate coincides with the inquiry by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, which has recently been taking evidence from a variety of organisations and from the Government on the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. In opening tonight’s debate and in posing questions to the Government, I want to say something briefly about the history that lies behind this fund, something about the importance of strategy, and something about the importance of detail and accountability.
The last Labour Government discovered, perhaps because of their international interventions, the vital importance of integrating work on diplomacy, defence and development. The Conflict Pool was established some nine or 10 years ago to bring together some—albeit a very small part—of the spending of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development. At the same time as that work was going on in the United Kingdom, the UK Government were also promoting internationally the need for a more integrated and resolute approach to post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. I spent two very enjoyable years working on that agenda as this country’s special representative on peacebuilding. I therefore welcomed the initiatives of the new Conservative Government in 2010 and 2011, when the then Prime Minister established the National Security Council and the National Security Adviser to better integrate, co-ordinate and lead the Government’s global peacekeeping, peacebuilding and conflict prevention interventions.
I certainly welcomed the decision of the then Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, who committed 30% of our ODA to combating conflict and fragility. I think we all welcomed the Building Stability Overseas Strategy in 2011, although it is interesting to note how much has changed since then. The foreword to that 2011 strategy was signed by then Foreign Secretary William Hague—now the noble Lord, Lord Hague—Secretary of State for International Development Andrew Mitchell, and Dr Liam Fox, who has now returned to the Cabinet but at that time was briefly the Defence Secretary. It opens with the sentence:
“The Arab Spring has demonstrated just how uncertain the world can be”.
It certainly did and has done ever since. The strategy was strong as it contained three key pillars, and one was about security and stabilisation but the other two were about prevention. The strategy was widely welcomed by all sectors and by all parties in your Lordships’ House and in the other place. It was shortly followed by the World Bank’s report that advocated an international integration of strategy between the World Bank, the UN and other agencies.
All that was very positive. In changing times with the dangerous development of conflict in so many places, the UK has upped its commitment and increased its spending to 50% of ODA, even within the new commitment to 0.7% of our GNI to overseas development assistance. The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund comes out of that commitment. More than £1 billion is now integrated and agreed by government as a whole, involving not just the MoD, DfID and the FCO but other government departments that have a role in conflict prevention and security. This has happened against a backdrop of a strong international commitment to goal 16 of the sustainable development goals on peace and justice. The importance of peace, stability and justice in securing development is recognised, as is the fact that it is not possible to have sustainable peace without development or sustainable development without peace. Therefore, five years on, I wonder why we do not have a more up-to-date strategy and a more transparent fund, and I have questions for the Minister about that.
The Building Stability Overseas Strategy had three pillars and said more about prevention than about security and stability. However, since BSOS was agreed, we have seen five years of conflict in Syria and many ups and downs in countries such as Egypt and Libya, which experienced hope, then despair and now have so much instability. We have seen wars emerge, subside and occasionally come back again in the Central African Republic and other parts of Africa. We have seen massive political change in Myanmar and peace agreements in the Philippines and Colombia, although the latter may be in question, at least for a short time. We have seen the emergence of, at the very least, a worry or a threat for those countries bordering Russia, particularly Ukraine. Yet the Building Stability Overseas Strategy has never been updated and is not mentioned in the national security strategy. It was not mentioned in the Statement by the Minister, Mr Ben Gummer MP, back in July, when he announced this year’s allocations from the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. That Statement was repeated in your Lordships’ House. It was not mentioned in Her Majesty’s Government’s evidence to the Joint Committee’s inquiry on the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.
Partly because there are real concerns about the direction of government policy and partly because so much has changed since 2011, I am at a loss to understand why we do not have an up-to-date strategy underpinning this fund. There seems to be no update and no reference point for this huge spending to which the United Kingdom is now rightly committed. My first questions are therefore about that. Will the Building Stability Overseas Strategy be updated at some stage? If not, why not? If so, when will that happen? Will that updated strategy be underpinned by the United Nations commitment through goal 16 to a greater understanding of the relationship between peace and development? Do we retain that commitment to upstream conflict prevention, which is so important in conflicts around the world?
Many announcements have been made this year on how the fund will be spent. We are committing more than £188 million to the Middle East and north Africa, more than £116 million to south Asia, more than £86 million to Africa, more than £53 million to eastern Europe and central Asia, more than £17 million to the western Balkans, more than £10 million to the Americas and just under £7 million to south-east Asia. However, there is no detail anywhere on where this money is going, either last year or this year. Many people have welcomed this new fund and the fact that the larger contracts can provide more stable and better planned interventions. They welcome the fact that many of these contracts are for at least two years rather than just one year, which was the situation under many of the old contracts of the Conflict Pool. They welcome the increased flexibility that seems to be happening in discussions with embassies around the world and they certainly welcome the greater interdepartmental working. However, they do not welcome the fact that the two-year contracts are still too short term. They do not welcome the fact that the country strategies are not published any more and therefore it is hard to plan proper interventions. People worry that there is no clear commitment to upstream conflict prevention and building local civil capacity in these programmes. Therefore, in relation to the fund, will the Government publish the details of expenditure in particular countries on particular projects? If not, why not? If they will do so, will they publish how many there are, where they are and what the money is being spent on? Will they publish the country strategies, even if redacted? We understand that this is not straightforward if important confidential information is involved. Will the priorities for local spending and the prioritisation of local capacity building be properly recognised in those strategies?
I sit as a judge on the international peacebuilding awards for local peacebuilders. We meet again this month to make our annual decisions. The great work that is going on around the world by local civil society organisations in terribly difficult circumstances should be supported by this country, not just that of the big NGOs and the big private contractors, which do so much good work for us. The new Secretary of State says that she is committed to accountability and transparency. Therefore, I hope that she will put this fund at the top of her agenda.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this debate today and for introducing it so eloquently. As we have already heard, the aim of replacing the Conflict Pool with the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund—the CSSF—was to achieve a more secure and prosperous UK, linked to the strategic aims of the UK Government’s work to prevent conflict and build stability overseas. Based at the Foreign Office and reporting to the National Security Council, the fund enables closer collaboration between the National Security Council’s strategy and action on the ground. That gives greater flexibility in delivering programmes in the most efficient, effective and appropriate way, by responding to changing priorities and needs. I particularly welcome this debate today, which gives us a chance to consider what benefits this change of approach is delivering.
Today, conflict rages in so many countries. According to the Armed Conflict Database, there were 40 armed conflicts in 2015, causing 167,000 fatalities worldwide. Currently there are an estimated 65 million refugees in the world, more than at any other time since World War II. The huge waves of people trying to come to Europe has shocked us all. I visited the Jungle in the summer and was horrified by what I saw and the desperation of the people that I spoke to. Nobody wants to be a refugee or leave their home unless they absolutely have to.
A new study by the Institute for Economics and Peace—the IEP—has revealed that there are only 11 countries in the world that are not involved in some form of conflict, meaning that 151 out of 162 countries are involved in conflict in some way. This startling figure should alert Governments to the fact that building peace is essential for the economic and social progress and well-being of us all.
Building stability overseas is not an easy task. We have only to look at Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to see that although military interventions have proved effective, creating stability has been elusive. In the civil wars of 2003 to 2010, every one of them was a resumption of a previous civil war. The uncertain situation in so many of these countries in the aftermath of conflict—and the growth of organisations such as Daesh—has shown us that we need to do more to help countries attain sustainable peace, and we need to do it better.
One of the most effective ways of building stability is to prevent conflict in the first place. Does this new fund give enough support to conflict prevention? As the fund is to fulfil national security interests, there is some concern that our conflict prevention funding is tied only to the UK interest and not to need. While conflict prevention and peacebuilding are stated priorities for the CSSF, it is not clear what proportion of the funds is allocated to this work.
Given that one of the purposes of the new CSSF was to create flexibility and respond to changing priorities and needs, are civil society organisations, women’s groups and a wide range of actors being included in the development of country strategies? The decision-making appears to be somewhat top down. Is the UK consulting with local people to ensure a strong connection between local expertise and central decision-making for NSC strategies for priority countries?
The sustainable development goals recognise the value of civil society organisations and how they can be transformative in their communities. However, they can find it very difficult to access funding because the application process is often very complicated and time consuming, and they have neither the expertise nor the capacity. As we have already heard, small organisations need long-term funding. Living on a knife edge of whether funding will be received at the end of the year is very debilitating for an organisation.
I understand that, through the Conflict Pool, the embassies held more funds and decision-making power, which is now more centralised through the CSSF. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can comment on this. The CSSF generally appears to be working through fairly large tenders. Are small organisations getting shut out?
Nowhere is this more important than with women’s organisations. In most developing and conflict countries the women are the poorest of the poor, living in patriarchal societies where women’s rights are disregarded. Therefore, programmes promoting gender and women’s leadership at grass roots are essential. The Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative has helped to throw light on the many inequalities suffered by so many in these countries. I applaud DfID’s strategic vision for women and girls, launched in 2014. Do all the countries include gender? Gender-blind strategies give gender-blind funding and are thus less likely to have an impact.
It is recognised that poverty causes conflict, but conflict also causes poverty. Conflict disproportionately affects women, where the rule of law breaks down and violence against women becomes a major problem. In the aftermath of conflict, there is often a rise of female-headed households in countries where it is hard to function without male support. The impact of conflict on women was recognised 16 years ago with the adoption of UN Resolution 1325, yet women in war-torn countries remain mostly ignored and not included in peace processes. Where they are included, the likelihood of achieving peace is much higher. One has only to look at the Syrian peace process, where, despite demanding to be let in, women have not been allowed round the table. UN Security Council Resolution 2242 explicitly acknowledges the need for women’s participation to help deliver peace and security for all. So is there funding going to women and women’s organisations to enable them to take part?
Today, given the demand for value for money in all areas of government expenditure, with some projects it can be hard to demonstrate cost effectiveness. For example, while it may be possible to show how many children have received education through schools built and teachers trained, it can be harder to demonstrate the benefit of funding civil society organisations which advocate and lobby their Governments. However, to get long-term, sustainable change to help create more peaceful societies this work is essential. How is this addressed in the context of the CSSF?
To conclude, the CSSF offers many opportunities. However, to get the best possible outcome in today’s interconnected global world, there is a difficult balance between security and defence, humanitarian and development aid, and peacekeeping and multilateral aid. We need to get that balance right to help deliver a safer and more stable world. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, again raises questions of fundamental importance, and I pay tribute to him. Another role model for me on this subject was Lord Deedes. He was fearless in visiting countries like Mozambique late in life, and I wish I were more like him, still able to report on places of conflict—once my own profession.
Conflict is even more widespread today, as we have heard, and it is complicated by terrorism. There are 17 states rated highly fragile, so it requires even more people with spirit to understand it. But I content myself with following the affairs of just a few conflict and post-conflict states, including South Sudan, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Nepal. Today I will mention only South Sudan.
I admire the courage of the humanitarian aid workers, who continue to visit Juba following every crisis. However, the doctrine that, where people are suffering, aid workers should always rush in has to be re-examined. The White Helmets in Aleppo are today’s angels, and we admire them. But they live there and they know the scene, whereas we are sending so many aid workers to South Sudan who may need months to acclimatise. Besides the obvious dangers, they are also at high risk of personal attack—even murder and rape, as we saw in the Terrain hotel events in July.
The real question before us is whether the new Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which has £1 billion to spend, is really making a difference to countries like South Sudan. We are committing sizeable sums. We already have a £12 million four-year Community Security and Arms Control project, ending this year. The Minister may know whether it is being extended. Through the CSSF, we have spent almost £1.4 million on conflict resolution and reconciliation. Again, the Minister may know whether we are committing a further £1 million, despite the real risks to these projects.
I have a wider concern, which the noble Baroness may be able to deal with; I discussed it with her briefly. Terrorism is not new, of course, but the language of anti-terrorism is new. Since “9/11” and the “Axis of evil” entered the vocabulary, Governments have been able to pin the words “terrorism” and “security” to almost any conflict in the world. This affects the transparency that we have been discussing.
I am concerned that those who are responsible for aid budgets will also use these words to justify more protection of our own citizens and less protection of the citizens of the country in conflict. I can already see this happening in Afghanistan and north Africa, but it could extend to countries where there is no threat to the UK whatever. The Stabilisation Unit was an admirable exercise in joined-up government because it was intended to recognise what was already happening—the participation of three or more government departments. This meant that the FCO and MoD had access to aid funds, considerably increased following the 0.7% Act, for soft power projects and some of the EU’s missions to help manage migration. These seem fine in themselves but I suspect that as soon as “terrorism” and “security” are mentioned, the Home Office and Downing Street will also be involved, and there are wheels within wheels. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on that.
In South Sudan there has been another year of considerable strain on the mediators in conflict resolution, with endless negotiations in Addis running into the sand. I know aid workers who have very real doubts about returning to Juba to work. Even the most committed peacemakers must have wondered whether there is any point in propping up such a failing state indefinitely when theoretically it has enough oil revenue to support a standing army.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which we all admire, is conducting a review of five conflict-affected states, one of which is South Sudan. I do not envy it, as it will be a difficult task. I have read through the criteria, and inevitably a high priority will be “fiduciary risk” and the awkward question of whether our aid is reaching its targets. I have noticed that this Government are paying even more attention to value for money and aid effectiveness, not least because of the more critical attitude of the new Secretary of State. The Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, which was mentioned earlier, has also launched an inquiry, which we look forward to.
No one can argue with the proposition that aid should reach the poorest and most deserving. But in conflict states the risks are enormous, and it is inevitable that aid gets lost, stolen or destroyed. You only have to look at the ReliefWeb map of South Sudan to realise how many roads are now closed as a result of renewed civil war. Only local knowledge will ensure that aid is moved safely. DfID is well aware of these risks and we must be sure that Governments, the Joint Committee and ICAI itself understand the circumstances and background of each conflict, which is always unique.
Any talk of stability in countries like South Sudan is premature. I do not have time to go into other countries, but Afghanistan, the DRC, and even Mozambique are post-conflict countries still in transition, where DfID can still work effectively. In Kosovo and Nepal, which have moved to relative peace, there has been considerable success with development projects in such areas as the rule of law, human rights, forestry and other projects. Yet both countries have a serious background of ethnic cleansing and civil war, and for them a return to stable, democratic government as we know it is still a long way off.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord McConnell has established a formidable reputation for his consistency and effectiveness in following these issues. In thanking him for what he said, I will emphasise one point that he made. The Conservative Government should feel quite proud of the fact that they created the National Security Council. This was long overdue, and it could potentially make a full contribution to handling these matters rationally and sensibly.
I should declare an interest: quite a time ago, I was director of Oxfam; I have served as the chairman of International Alert; and I have served as a trustee of Saferworld. Indeed, my ministerial experience was in defence and overseas development and at the Foreign Office.
All that experience illustrates to me the importance of the subject that is before us tonight. Of course we have to have security and stability—development cannot take place without it—but we have to be careful that it does not run away with the real objective, which is development. It is there to enable development, not to replace it, and that is terribly important. I remember when I was director of Oxfam that we wanted to get on with development projects wherever we were working, and yet in so many countries we could not do this because we were caught up with dealing with the consequences of conflicts. That was a long time ago, and the situation has deteriorated gravely since then.
There are difficulties, and we should not dodge them. I was privileged to be part of a discussion once in the earlier stages of the Afghanistan war when it became quite clear that there were tensions between the MoD and DfID. I can understand those tensions. Commanders in the field going in to liberate an area wanted quickly to be able to demonstrate the benefits to the population of having been liberated and to have tangible evidence of that. But the professionalism of DfID was naturally one of cautious assessment: will this be effective in the long run, or will it prove counterproductive? Therefore, an active debate needs to take place, and it is sensible to face up to that and to be certain that we have channels for handling it.
I will take the few moments at my disposal to put some quite specific questions to the Minister. I realise that she will not be able to answer them tonight, but if she cannot do so it would be very good if she could reply later and put a copy in the Library.
What assessment have the Government made of the role of the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund in adequately training Jordanian community police in supporting community police stations in Syrian refugee camps, including ensuring that these community police officers receive suitable training in their role concerning child protection? How have the UK Government used their increased funding through the CSSF to support security sector reform in developing countries, and does this include ensuring child protection training is undertaken by the armed forces, judiciary and police?
Where the CSSF provides funding for technical assistance to border management officials, can the Government confirm whether this includes training for officials on child protection, including identifying potential victims of trafficking, and referring children with particular vulnerabilities to the appropriate authorities? I know that UNICEF UK is particularly preoccupied with questions of that kind.
One more central policy issue, which to some extent follows up what my noble friend said in his introduction, is the importance of recognising that the Secretary of State for International Development’s commitment to prioritise transparency and to improve tracking the impacts of UK aid spending must apply to the CSSF itself. What progress is being made in fulfilling the Government’s commitment on that score? As an interim measure at least, will country and thematic/sector allocations be made public? What role is DfID playing in the programming of the CSSF’s work, including programmes led by the FCO and the MoD? It is critical for DfID to have a role so that programmes effectively address development dimensions—a matter to which I have already referred.
How will the CSSF be reporting on the progress and impacts of its programmes? As far as I can see, no information of this nature has yet been made available. What strategies and policies is the CSSF currently following to guide its work? How is the CSSF addressing the legal commitment in the International Development (Gender Equality) Act 2014 to the UK’s aid promoting gender equality? How is the CSSF taking note of the legal commitment in the International Development Act 2002 to the UK’s aid achieving poverty reduction, as well as the UK Government’s commitment to aid effectiveness principles and their commitment to the sustainable development goals, including that of focusing on the poorest and most marginalised people?
Those are the specific questions which I think it is important to answer. However, I finish by saying that last night we were debating refugees. The refugee problem is going to increase and will be repeated across the world. This issue is central to that and we have to get it right.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this debate. He has great expertise in this area, not least given his role in the Labour Government and, more recently, with PWC, which plays its part in assisting fragile states.
The argument for joining up development, defence, security and foreign affairs across government—in DfID, the MoD and the FCO—became clear in the wake of the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the Chilcot report highlighted that little thought had been given to the reconstruction of Iraq once Saddam had been removed and the Baath Party dismantled.
Even as we speak tonight, we see some of the possible consequences of that with the rise of ISIS, which may now be being reversed in Iraq, although whether with a plan for reconstruction and development thereafter is less clear. It was Hilary Benn, then Secretary of State for International Development, who sought to join up DfID, the MoD and the FCO to help support fragile and conflict states.
That has been taken further forward over the years, including with the Conflict Pool, which preceded the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. The FCO led our response when the Arab spring ignited in Egypt. DfID led when the conflict engulfed Libya. Attempts were made there not to repeat the mistakes of Iraq—avoiding, for example, the smashing of infrastructure—but that conflict did not have the necessary follow-through, even though the principles of building stability overseas were supposed to be applied. However, that does not mean that such joining up is not a good idea.
There are risks. The three departments have different cultures and often different aims. Add in the Home Office and the security services and you have a different mix again. Of course, all should be concerned to avoid conflict. Fragile states are the most likely to descend into conflict, and the poor suffer the most. And we may all be affected—for example, as now with Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking their escape.
Of course, we secured the UK commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid through the Private Member’s Bill put through in the last days of the coalition, with wide support in this House, by my colleagues Michael Moore in the Commons and my noble friend Lord Purvis in the Lords. Other departments, including the Treasury, are rumoured to eye that budget with envy. Tackling fragile states counts as ODA, but we need to be absolutely sure exactly how and why the funds are used. Transparency is of the essence here, and I note with concern some of the comments made in evidence to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy.
What research underpins the fund? The International Crisis Group thinks it is insufficient. How do you improve early warning? The Arab spring took us all by surprise, yet the same seeds—youth unemployment, for example—can be seen elsewhere. How is that being thoroughly assessed?
DAI Europe notes that “framing support to countering violent extremism as a solely security-related matter runs the risk of overlooking the benefits of a community- or economic development-based approach to which beneficiaries and stakeholders may be more receptive”. It also sees confusion in the decisions as to whether projects should come under the heading of the fund and which department should lead.
Conciliation Resources rightly points out that it is better to address the underlying causes rather than the manifestations of conflict. It also notes the greater difficulty of accessing information than was the case under the Conflict Poo1, and that the language and processes are geared towards the commercial sector. That might seem to neglect the role that civil society organisations, which have long experience in this field, can play.
Mercy Corps rightly identifies “injustice, weak governance, political exclusivity, abuses by security forces” as “prevailing drivers of violence, instability, and displacement” that need a long-term approach. Yet it sees more of a “securitisation” approach, which does not square with that long-term approach. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, pointed out, women are especially vulnerable in conflict, with the undermining of society that results. Saferworld identifies the involvement of the Home Office and intelligence services as indicating that this redirection is likely to increase. It and others note that decision-making power lies largely in London, moving away from the countries in question, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, also mentioned. That seems short-sighted and is unlikely to address the real causes of fragility. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is quite right: we should be achieving security in order to enable development.
ICAI noted the greater need for strategic direction than the Conflict Pool had manifested. But is this what we are seeing, or is it a short-sighted immediate security approach? The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, pointed to a lack of tackling upstream fragility and a lack of transparency. What comes across from the reports to the Joint Committee is that the fund—under the National Security Council and interpreting this area in the light of UK security needs—may well undermine a long-term approach and understanding in the areas in question.
Clearly it is vital to address fragile states before they collapse. I look forward to the noble Baroness’s response, but I share many of the concerns expressed by other noble Lords. I also think that there will need to be a further debate when the Joint Committee draws up its report. It needs to be recognised that stability and the reduction of conflict are indeed in everyone’s interests, but a limited view of what UK security requires may, in the end, undermine the wider and deeper need for development, which is far more likely to underpin stability.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and for his excellent introduction and description of where we are now.
As we have heard, the CSSF is meant to support delivery of the UK’s Building Stability Overseas Strategy, as well as the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review 2015. Its programmes are to deliver against more than 40 cross-government strategies agreed by the National Security Council.
At the end of last year, my noble friend, in the debate on the strategic defence and security review, expressed the view that the descriptions of the purpose, the priorities that are being established and the strategies that will be used are far from clear, and that is the key issue for tonight’s debate: the direction of that strategy and what principles are driving its development.
While the Building Stability Overseas Strategy set out a progressive vision for building stability based on legitimate governance and respect for human rights, it is not as yet clear how this is being prioritised under the CSSF and in the broader National Security Council country strategies that guide it. As my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, asked, does the CSSF place sufficient strategic emphasis on the long-term prevention, rather than management, of violent conflict and what evidence is there to support this?
As we have heard, in May of this year the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy launched an inquiry on the fund. I welcome that inquiry so we can be sure that the fund is designed and delivered in a manner that is consistent with the UK’s commitments to bring about more peaceful, just and inclusive societies, which the Government actively advocated for in the UN sustainable development goals.
As we have heard in tonight’s debate, there is very limited transparency regarding the workings of the CSSF and its priorities, and the analysis underpinning them is patchy. We have had only one ministerial Statement, which simply detailed the main budget headings of the fund, and no information has been released so far on country allocations, thematic and sector allocations, or project progress reports. I repeat what many noble Lords have said tonight: in the light of Priti Patel’s recent public statements on prioritising transparency and value for money, when will we see this apply to the CSSF?
In the Government’s written evidence to the Joint Committee it states that to ensure compliant and efficient means to deliver CSSF projects, a supplier framework was established with decision-making power resting mainly in London. Between January and August this year, the CSSF Framework let 26 contracts, with a further 40 in progress. There are 75 suppliers eligible to bid for work via the framework, although I accept that contracts are not limited to this group for specified reasons. This marks a shift from the Conflict Pool, where embassies held more funds and decision-making power, towards a more centralised approach. Like my noble friend, I wonder whether redacted versions of NSC country strategies and CSSF programme strategies could be made available, not just for the reasons that my noble friend highlighted but to ensure that help is given to external organisations to tender more effectively and appropriately.
With the inclination towards tendering for fewer and larger contracts, my concern is that the processes will favour the commercial sector over established NGOs, and many noble Lords have highlighted that tonight. What steps will the Government take to redress this imbalance? Could UK staff in country posts have greater autonomy in approving smaller-scale CSSF funding?
The FCO is placing increased importance on freedom of religious belief and its relation to countering violent extremism and building stability in fragile states. Last month we had an excellent conference, hosted at the FCO, exploring how building inclusive, equal and plural societies in which people have freedom to practice their own religious beliefs can help prevent violent extremism. Considering this, how much of the CSSF is being spent on projects related to promoting freedom of religious belief to help build open, plural and, ultimately, more stable societies?
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, I know that this is a matter for the usual channels. However, last December, my noble friend called for an urgent debate on this matter. He asked the Minister, and I repeated his call in this Chamber, for a much more detailed debate. Will the Minister commit tonight to a full debate on this subject once the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy inquiry on the fund is published?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing a debate on this important issue. As others have rightly observed, he has a record of having a profound interest in and knowledge of these matters. I have to say to your Lordships that the noble Lord and I last faced one another across a parliamentary Chamber when he was First Minister of Scotland, and we had a weekly clash at First Minister’s Questions. I am glad that our debating debut in this Chamber is on a perhaps more consensual issue. I also thank all other noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate.
The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, or CSSF, was launched in April 2015 and is rising this year to £1.127 billion. It is a major investment by this Government, not only in countries at risk of conflict and instability but also in this country’s national security interests. It is making a real impact in the short term and building impact for the long term. This impact is being felt not just in the countries in which the fund operates. It is also improving how we work across government.
CSSF projects are subject to rigorous oversight. All potential projects are assessed against the objectives of National Security Council strategies for individual countries or regions. These strategies cover the breadth of UK government interests and resources. They provide a framework that enables National Security Council departments to prioritise activity, and they set the objectives that guide our work. Projects that do not contribute to these objectives are not approved.
Once started, projects are assessed on a quarterly basis by ambassador-led implementation boards at our posts overseas. They consider whether projects are delivering against the objectives and giving value for money, as well as the risks and how they are managed. Their findings are passed to regional boards in London, chaired by FCO directors and with representatives from across Whitehall. These boards assess whether the project and its wider programme are still the most effective way to meet the National Security Council objectives and, if not, they can reallocate the funds to other works. All projects and programmes are also reviewed annually against their target outputs and outcomes. The stabilisation unit is a key source of expertise for these reviews. Other larger programmes use independent organisations to ensure thorough monitoring and evaluation.
As I said earlier, the fund has been running for only 18 months but its projects are already making an impact. Let me give your Lordships three examples. In Syria, we are leading international support for the White Helmets, the Syrian-led search and rescue organisation that has saved over 56,000 civilian lives. Our assistance—£32 million to date—provides equipment and training, as well as funds to run their vehicles and support their families. Three-quarters of Lebanon’s border with Syria is now secure thanks to support from the fund, and previously there was little control. That secure border is preventing Daesh expanding the Syrian conflict into Lebanon—and stopping Daesh expand is obviously good for Lebanon’s security and for our security.
The UK has also bilaterally supported the Colombian peace process, with a range of projects to increase the Colombian Administration’s capacity and strategic planning. From this year, in addition to our bilateral work assisting the justice sector to pursue reforms, we also used multilateral implementers such as the United Nations to address challenges of implementation. Through the CSSF, the UK was the first donor to contribute to the United Nations Trust Fund. Importantly, that unlocked funding from other donors. I understand that today, as part of the Colombia state visit, the Prime Minister has announced an additional £7.5 million for the Colombia CSSF programme, which will be used for a range of programmes supporting peacebuilding. In Ukraine, we have delivered defensive military training to around 2,000 Ukrainians to build the capability and resilience of the Ukrainian armed forces. In East Africa, funding expanded the presence of our criminal justice advisers, which enabled the Crown Prosecution Service to play a key role in the largest cocaine seizure in UK history, worth £512 million.
The CSSF has radically changed our approach to delivering international assistance. The rationale behind the fund was to draw on all the national security assets at the UK Government’s disposal and to use them in combination. This has led to three outcomes: a clearer sense of UK objectives in fragile and conflict-affected countries, as opposed to single departmental objectives; greater co-ordination between Whitehall departments overseas, improving the effectiveness of our work; and a deeper understanding of programme delivery in National Security Council departments, beyond the Department for International Development. For example, in Pakistan, the fund has brought together the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the National Crime Agency and the Crown Prosecution Service. By pooling their different skills and experience, they have developed a single strategic and integrated UK approach to support rule of law reforms.
We have helped the Punjab Government to develop Pakistan’s first provincial rule of law roadmap. We are enhancing the capacity and accountability of the Pakistani police, prosecutors, forensics professionals and the judiciary, as well as improving access to justice, especially for the most vulnerable. This work supports Pakistan’s capacity to tackle terrorism through the judicial process. It also encourages an approach to organised crime that draws on expertise from all Pakistan’s relevant agencies.
I will now try to deal with some of the contributions that arose during the debate. My friend the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, raised the issue of the overall strategy. As I have tried to indicate, there is a strategy: indeed, this fund supports three of the four strands of the UK aid strategy, and he will be familiar with those. I hope that reassures him that there is an overall umbrella plan. He also raised the issue of funding. The CSSF does issue multiyear contracts beyond two years and supports civil society in countries at risk of instability. He raised an important point about transparency that was picked up by other contributors, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. We are looking at how we can publish a redacted version of the strategies and the allocations, recognising that much of the work operates in highly sensitive environments. I hope that gives him some reassurance that we are alert to the understandable desire to know a little more about what is going where, and what is happening.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson made an important point about the number of areas of conflict—something worth reminding ourselves about. That helped to underpin the relevance and effectiveness of the CSS fund. She also mentioned conflict prevention. I hope my noble friend has found my contributions to date helpful in explaining the cross-departmental and joined-up operation of the fund. Clearly, if we harness all these agencies, we can make a very significant contribution to trying to prevent conflict.
My noble friend Lady Hodgson also raised the important matter of women. Gender is the only mandatory theme in CSSF programmes. Indeed, embassies have more control over that funding than they did in the conflict pool. It is a devolved structure whereby the ambassador chairs all departmental meetings in representative countries to oversee the strategy and delivery of the whole programme in that country.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised an important point about language. I agree: there is a need to be precise in describing what we seek to address and how we propose to deal with it. On his observation about the fund, the fund is working: it has impact and is making a difference. I hope the cross-departmental approach to the fund, which I explained in some detail in response to other contributors, addresses some of the concerns he raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, made an important point that the fund should enable and not replace development. I hope that some of the examples I have given of what the fund has made possible to some extent reassure him. He raised an important series of specific issues and wisely anticipated that I would be completely unable to answer them. He is absolutely right, but I undertake to write to him and place a copy of the letter in the Library. However, turning to one of the points that he raised, training is provided by the fund to peacekeeping troops, which includes training on the protection of civilians, including children. The CSSF is continuing to support community policing in refugee camps in Jordan.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also raised the issue of the fund’s transparency, and I hope my earlier reply to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, somewhat reassured her. On the issue of women, she will note my response to my noble friend Lady Hodgson. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also commented on the issue of strategy, and I hope I have managed to outline for him the strategic umbrella under which all this is operating. The issue of transparency, also raised by the noble Lord, is important. He will have heard what I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, but I would observe that this is a young fund which has not been on the go for all that long. I hope that the further information I have provided will reassure him.
This has been a helpful debate that has assisted in teasing out some issues about which, understandably, there is a desire for more information. I am not unsympathetic to that point, which I shall take back and look at carefully. Although it is a young fund, the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund is tasked with tackling all conflicts. It is operating in often unstable and dangerous areas. It will not solve these conflicts and bring about stability overnight, but we are delivering projects that have an impact and make a difference: they are contributing to longer term stability and security. That is welcome and is a very positive dividend from our investment.
Question for Short Debate