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International Development Strategy

Volume 822: debated on Monday 6 June 2022

Question

Asked by

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, draw attention to my entry in the Lords register.

My Lords, the Government published their UK strategy for international development on 16 May this year. The strategy puts development at the heart of the UK’s foreign policy. It sets out a focused set of priorities: delivering honest, reliable investment; providing women and girls with the freedom they need to succeed; stepping up our life-saving humanitarian work; and taking forward our work on climate change, nature and global health.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his Answer on behalf of the Government, and I would like to be positive: it is good that we now have a strategy. It is long overdue. It is good to see some clear priorities, and I welcome the recommitment to the sustainable development goals and to long-term, consistent planning. However, the strategy does appear to reverse a long-term commitment—under Labour, Conservative and coalition Governments—to putting conflict prevention and peacebuilding at the heart of this country’s development strategy. It is hard to find references to conflict in the strategy document. There are two, a paragraph on page 16 and a paragraph on page 30, and they appear to be an afterthought. Do the Government understand that those who live in conflict-affected and fragile states have the least opportunities, the least safety and the least hope, and that therefore they should be at the heart of the whole development strategy? What action will the Government take to ensure that the priorities they have outlined do not sideline conflict prevention and peacebuilding?

The noble Lord makes a hugely important point, and of course the Government share his view. Much of the development strategy is about preventing the kinds of displacement caused by conflict—not least through our work on climate, environment and so on. The focus on humanitarian assistance remains, as the noble Lord will have seen in the strategy, and we are committed to building on the UK’s capabilities, reach and international role in conflict prevention and reduction in order to target long-lasting political settlements; to tackle new threats, including disinformation and cyberattacks, as well as enduring ones such as landmines; to address the causes and consequences of forced migration; and to establish a new conflict and atrocity prevention hub that brings together all UK government capabilities.

My Lords, this Government have said in the past that they will prioritise overseas territories—something that becomes increasingly difficult, as so few qualify for ODA. However, with the hurricane season approaching in the Caribbean, can my noble friend simply take this opportunity to reassure your Lordships’ House, and crucially our overseas territories, that should a hurricane happen, the Government will support them through humanitarian assistance and disaster relief?

My noble friend makes an important point. As he says, the majority of overseas territories do not qualify for ODA. However, I and the Government think there is a problem in the way in which the rules are assessed and those assessments are made. As he notes, small island states are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and can be plunged from prosperity into poverty literally overnight. We have taken up this issue with our international partners, and I hope we will see movement on the criteria soon. In the meantime, yes, our support for the OTs remains. We have increased our funding for work in the overseas territories, and I am very keen for us to continue to do so.

My Lords, on 12 July last year the Chancellor told the House of Commons that

“the Government commit to spending 0.7% of GNI on ODA when the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s fiscal forecast confirms that, on a sustainable basis, we are not borrowing for day-to-day spending and underlying debt is falling”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/21; col. 3WS.]

In March the Economic and Fiscal Outlook said the following of ODA, on page 129:

“At this forecast, the current budget reaches surplus and underlying debt falls from 2023-24.”

That is just six months away. Why are the Government not preparing for restoration as, according to the OBR, we have met the fiscal tests?

It is worth saying that the UK remains one of the largest donors globally. We spent more than £11 billion in aid around the world in 2021, and the Government have committed, as the noble Lord acknowledged, to returning to 0.7% as soon as we can. That is something that I know the whole House, on both sides, supports. In various debates the noble Lord has made the point that in jumping from 0.5% to 0.7% and having the opposite of a cliff edge—a steep mountain to climb in a short period of time—there is a risk of not investing that additional money wisely. This is a very live discussion in the FCDO, and one that I am taking part in. I am not yet in a position to go into detail about what that means.

My Lords, CHOGM takes place later this month in Kigali. Will Her Majesty’s Government assure Commonwealth partners that qualify that they will be priority recipients for UK development assistance?

All the allocations will be published in due course, but I can tell the noble Lord that a very large percentage of Commonwealth members are small island developing states. We recognise in the strategy the particular vulnerabilities that come with that in terms of various shocks from climate and environment to what we saw in the pandemic recently, where countries that did not even experience Covid nevertheless saw almost total economic collapse as a consequence of policies around Covid. So, yes, we will be stepping up—as we already have—our focus on those small island developing states, many of which are Commonwealth countries. Others are climate-vulnerable countries and they too remain a priority.

My Lords, due to increasing conflict and the effects of climate change, the global nutrition crisis is getting worse. The strategy did not include any specific prioritisation of nutrition, despite the Government’s commitment at the recent summit to spend £1.5 billion over the next eight years. So when will we know how the money will be split between nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programmes, and when will the money begin to be disbursed? Will the Government keep to their previous commitment of reaching 50 million children, women and adolescent girls with nutrition-relevant programmes by 2025?

My Lords, the FCDO’s annual report and accounts will be laid in Parliament before the Summer Recess and will include details of the FCDO’s ODA spending. I cannot give the noble Lord specific numbers, but I can tell him that a focus on land use, which is emphasised in the IDS, will be very much at the top of the agenda as a consequence in the years to come. On women and girls, we have a clear commitment in the strategy to providing women and girls around the world with the freedom and opportunity they need to succeed. We have said that we intend to restore funding to help unlock their potential,

“educating girls, supporting their empowerment and protecting them against violence.”

This remains a key priority area for the Government.

In relation to the women and girls spending commitment that my noble friend the Minister just highlighted, can he confirm that that restoration of funding will happen in this financial year, and by how much the funding will be increased?

The Foreign Secretary confirmed recently that the FCDO will spend £745 million on bilateral women and girls programmes this financial year. This will restore bilateral spending to 2020-21 levels. As I said earlier, the new approach will be set out in full in the UK’s 2022 women and girls strategy.

My Lords, the Minister will recognise that climate change poses a major threat to progress on international development. Does he also agree that private capital alongside development aid will be critical in tackling it? To that end, will the Government encourage the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero to put far more emphasis on engaging African financial institutions in its work and to focus on delivering real benefits to the 2.5 billion people who will live in Africa by 2050?

The noble Lord is right that the UK is currently doing all it can to encourage donor countries to increase the finance they make available for climate change and nature, with some success. However, even if we are very successful —more so than we expect—it will not be anything more than a drop in the ocean compared with what is needed, so mobilising private finance is key. We have persuaded the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, to align their funding not just with Paris goals but with nature. At the G7, the UK was solely responsible, I think, for persuading other G7 members to align all their aid with nature and the Paris goals—something that we did not expect to get over the line but did, thanks to our brilliant negotiators. We are working hard to mobilise private finance from all sources; I would be happy to talk in more detail with the noble Lord in due course.

My Lords, why is the strategy silent on the importance of international volunteering programmes, especially by young people? Will the Minister also say whether the FCDO is planning to resume funding for the International Citizen Service, which was suspended in 2020 because of the pandemic?

My Lords, I am afraid I cannot give the noble Baroness an answer on the International Citizen Service. If she will allow me to, I will get back to her in due course.

I think I began before it started flashing. The number of people over the age of 60 in the developing world is going to increase rapidly over the next few decades and they are particularly dependant on healthcare. Why are older people not mentioned at all in the international development strategy documents?

I will ask the Minister to respond to that in writing, given that the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, exceeded the time of 10 minutes.