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Global LGBTI+ Rights

Volume 808: debated on Thursday 17 December 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Baring Foundation Leading the way: The role of global Britain in safe- guarding the rights of the global LGBTI+ community, published in September; and what steps they are taking to secure the long-term sustainability of the global LGBTI+ rights sector.

My Lords, the Government welcome the Baring Foundation’s Leading the Way report. Officials from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, including at a senior level, are in discussions with representatives of the foundation to take forward the suggestions made in it. The promotion and protection of the human rights of LGBT people internationally remains a priority for Her Majesty’s Government.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Strong in Diversity, Bold on Inclusion, part of the UK Aid Connect programme, is the Government’s largest development programme, looking at the spread of LGBT inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the implementation phase of that project has recently been reduced from £10 million to £4 million—a cut of 60%. How can the Government claim global leadership on LGBT issues when they impose such an extreme cut to their flagship programme?

My Lords, the UK remains committed to the promotion and protection of LGBT rights at home and internationally. We are proud of the leading work we do through a variety of international fora—indeed, in currently co-chairing the Equal Rights Coalition. We are working with the Strong in Diversity, Bold on Inclusion programme on the design and governance of the next phase of its work. The funding level has not been finalised, so I hope the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not comment on the figures he cited. The total programme allocation supporting LGBT rights in this financial year is just under £12.3 million, and we will remain a world-leading aid donor, spending more than £10 billion next year.

My Lords, the ILGA World report on state-sponsored homophobia, published this week, found that while some countries are encouragingly going forwards, others are going backwards, involving the persecution of LGBT people. Will my noble friend agree that the UK Government have a vital leadership role to play across the world in promoting LGBT rights and that one of the important ways in which they can do this is by funding brave organisations on the ground that do so much to promote rights in conditions that are often extremely difficult for them?

I pay tribute to my noble friend’s tireless work in this area, not least in relation to the international LGBT rights conference, which we look forward to hosting next year. That will be a great opportunity to do exactly as he says: to build on the leading role that the UK already plays in this area, for instance through the additional £3.2 million of funding that my noble friend Lady Sugg announced at the UN core group in October, which builds on the work we started when we hosted CHOGM in 2018 to help Commonwealth Governments and civil society groups such as those my noble friend mentioned repeal outdated laws and end discrimination. However, my noble friend and ILGA are right that we must remain constantly vigilant to make sure that we are moving forward in this area and building on progress.

My Lords, in wishing the UK all the best for the future as we stride forward, I too welcome the Minister’s responses. The Covid pandemic has been particularly challenging for those in the LGBT community in many parts of the world. In some countries they have been blamed for spreading the virus, while others—Hungary is often cited—have used the crisis to roll back their human rights. How are the Government making a reality of their commitment to protect those rights during the pandemic, and ensure not just that they are included in humanitarian relief but that they are advanced more generally?

The noble Viscount is absolutely right: Covid-19 affects everybody, whatever their sexual orientation or their gender identity. The Baring Foundation report explores some of the particular impact that the virus has had on LGBT people around the world. We are very clear that states must not use the pandemic as cover for repressive action. On Hungary, our embassy in Budapest is closely monitoring recent developments there, and we will be discussing them with Hungarian officials and civil society groups.

My Lords, the evidence shows that sustained funding for development work is more cost efficient and leads to better-quality programming, allowing the underlying causes of crises to be addressed and resilience in communities to be built. Much of the Government’s funding of LGBT issues has been short term, which limits its impact. Will the Government commit to putting their funding of LGBT issues on a much longer-term footing, which will increase its effectiveness and give the organisations it funds much greater certainty?

The noble Baroness makes an important point about sustainable funding, which I know is informed by her own extensive work in this field. That is why, notwithstanding the global pandemic, we are continuing to fund the projects which are running this year, and why we are determined to do better across government, delivering the maximum impact for every pound that we spend and continuing to make a world-leading difference.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Featherstone when she was DfID Minister set in motion the mapping of where LGBTI groups existed in Africa. They were usually under the radar, because they were often under the threat of death. Assistance could then be given to them—hence the figure that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned. Has such essential mapping continued and, if the noble Lord does not know, can he write to us?

I certainly will; I will find out and write so that I can provide full information to the noble Baroness. She is right to point to the international aspect of this. Our embassies and high commissions work across the world, raising human rights in their host countries and supporting civil society organisations.

My Lords, much of the Government’s funding on LGBT issues has been focused on the Commonwealth, but surely the Minister must accept that the problems are much wider than that. The new ILGA World report states that at least 51 United Nations member states have legal barriers to the formation or registration of NGOs working on LGBT issues, and a shocking 69 countries still criminalise same-sex activity. Will the Government therefore commit to broadening out the countries which receive LGBT-related funding?

The noble Lord makes a point about the geographic spread which is powerfully made in the Baring Foundation report itself. Obviously, the UK has particular links and a particular ability to work with Commonwealth nations, not least because of our historic relationships there, but the noble Lord is absolutely right that this work must continue around the world, including in countries beyond the Commonwealth.

My Lords, following on from my noble friend Lord Herbert’s question, what work has been done to ensure that the programmes we deliver overseas to support LGBT communities are done in line with local campaigns and led by local LGBT campaigners?

My noble friend makes an important point. We believe that our approach to this work should be informed by the work of civil society groups on the ground, as they are often best placed to know what they want and what works best to deliver it. This also helps to counter the argument, which is often cited by those opposed to reform in this area, that LGBT rights are somehow a western invention that run counter to traditional values.

Too many Christian and Muslim religious leaders are a key influence in shaping the negative attitudes towards LGBT people. While it is not realistic to expect them to change their religious teaching quickly, the least they can do is recognise the civil liberties of LGBT people and do far more to protect them from abuse and violence. Would the Government reflect on what new initiatives they might take in relation to either forming or supporting groups which have this as their particular focus?

The noble and right reverend Lord makes an important point about the role of faith leaders in this area. He might like to know that the FCDO funded a project which delivered the Global Interfaith Commission’s first multifaith religious leaders’ convention, which took place yesterday. It delivered a declaration condemning violence and discrimination against LGBT people, and obviously has an important role to play.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the charity GiveOut. In light of the statement made today by the Secretary of State for International Trade and Women and Equalities that she intends to pivot from “fashionable” race and gender issues to focus on poverty, does the Minister agree that it is pointless having funds and priorities if people in government taking decisions do not understand who poor people are and how discrimination is a driver of poverty?

I have not yet had a chance to read my right honourable friend’s speech, but I saw some of the coverage in advance of it, and in particular her quote about the key value of our country, that in Britain

“you will have the opportunity to succeed at whatever you wish to do professionally, that you can be whoever you want to be, dress however you want to dress, love whoever you wish to love and achieve your dreams.”

I hope that that is a sentiment we can all agree with across your Lordships’ House.