The Minister of State, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con) [V]
My Lords, I start by echoing the remarks of so many noble Lords about the late Lord Judd. I did not know him personally but it is clear from the tributes that have been paid that he had a significant impact.
This is a landmark year for UK leadership on the world stage. As countries around the world continue to grapple with the profound economic and social consequences of Covid, the UK stands with them as an active, confident, internationalist, burden-sharing and problem-solving nation—as a force for good in the world. We are setting this tone through our G7 presidency in June, co-hosting the Global Partnership for Education pledging summit with Kenya and hosting COP 26 in November, a truly critical moment in the global fight against climate change.
In this year of global leadership, we have produced the most comprehensive articulation of UK foreign policy and national security that has been published by a British Government in decades. The integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy sets out the Prime Minister’s vision for a stronger, more prosperous union in 2030. It has, at its heart, the protection of the interests of the British people, of our sovereignty, our security, our health and our prosperity.
As my noble friend Lord Ahmad told the House only last week, the integrated review identifies the key trends and challenges that will guide UK foreign policy for the decade ahead. It covers: the geopolitical and geo-economic shifts that will define our new alliances and partnerships including, as a number of noble Lords noted, in the Indo-Pacific region; the increasing competition between states over diverging interests, norms and values; the consequences of rapid technological change in areas such as artificial intelligence, cyber and data; and, perhaps most importantly, the transnational and existential threats to our shared climate, biodiversity and health—truly global challenges that already affect every person on this planet, illustrated so acutely by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A strong and credible UK offer on international development will be fundamental to delivering the objectives of the integrated review because the UK’s sovereignty, security, health and prosperity do not exist in a vacuum. With respect, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and agree with, among many others, the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury: our interests are bound up with the sovereignty, security, health and prosperity of people living many miles from our shores. We know that poverty, marginalisation and exclusion, in Africa and Asia and elsewhere, sow the seeds for challenges that affect us here at home, including illegal migration, conflict, terrorism and the spread of disease. That is why the UK will continue to act in the interests of the world’s poorest people. Providing hope and opportunity is not just the right thing to do; it is firmly in our national interest.
We will deploy our diplomatic network to promote UK values on freedom, open societies and human rights around the world. We will be a voice for the poor and marginalised in multilateral fora such as the UN Security Council and at global summits such as COP 26. I say in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that that includes the use of soft power. He mentioned the important work of the British Council, which is, as he said, a key soft power asset. I can reassure him that the council will receive £189 million of grant in aid for 2021-22, an increase on the £149 million it received in 2020-21. That point was echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, who rightly added that, where UK aid withdraws, that void can, and likely will, be filled by those with less benign interests. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, delivered the same warning.
We will continue to provide lifesaving aid and basic services in the world’s poorest countries through our overseas development assistance spending, because, despite the unique and extreme financial pressures imposed on us by Covid, the UK remains, in both percentage and absolute terms, one of the world’s most generous aid donors. In 2020, we spent more than £14 billion fighting poverty and helping those in need, including £1.3 billion of humanitarian support to famine and conflict-affected regions. We have pivoted more than 300 of our existing ODA programmes to respond to the economic, social and health consequences of the global pandemic. For the eighth year running, we have proudly met the 0.7% ODA target.
Clear interest has been expressed today in UK aid spending for the year ahead. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out to Parliament on 25 November, we cannot ignore the seismic impact of the Covid pandemic on the UK economy. Notwithstanding the swift action we have taken to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, this is the biggest economic contraction in 300 years. It has caused a budget deficit of almost £400 billion, which is double the level of 2008. We must safeguard the public finances. For this reason, the Government have taken the tough but necessary decision temporarily to reduce the UK’s commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on overseas development assistance. This year, we will instead spend 0.5% of GNI.
I must reiterate—this point was driven home by my noble friend Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton and raised by my noble friends Lord Balfe and Lord Naseby—that this is a temporary reduction, driven by prevailing fiscal circumstances. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier cited the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. My noble friend Lady Sugg also raised this issue. The Government have been clear that they will act in line with the Act, which, as noted by a number of noble Lords, explicitly envisages that there may be circumstances where the 0.7% target is not met. Despite the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, it is not a decision that we have taken lightly.
Of course, the shift to 0.5% will not be pain free. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Hannay, that I know that there will be real-world impacts on some of our activities. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, noted the polarised nature of the debate. I agree with him. The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, said that millions would die because of this policy decision. There, I disagree: let us not forget that millions of lives are saved, and will be saved this year as every year, as a direct consequences of our interventions and our aid. My noble friend Lord Bellingham made the point that the output is more important than the input. Although I am determined, as I believe he is, that we return to 0.7% as quickly as we can, he is nevertheless undoubtedly right.
We are focused on ensuring that every penny of ODA brings maximum strategic coherence, impact and, in answer to my noble friend Lord Polak, value for the taxpayer, now more than ever. I thank my noble friend for bringing to our attention his examples of highly effective, Israeli-backed charities working in Africa, which I will look into in more detail in due course.
A number of noble Lords raised specific programmes, concerned that they may have been caught up in the cutbacks. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned the volunteering for development, or V4D, grant to Voluntary Service Overseas, or VSO, and funding via H2H for Translators without Borders. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, also mentioned VSO. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, raised a range of important programmes in addition, as did the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and other noble Lords. I am afraid that all I can say at this point, which I know will be frustrating, is that FCDO programme managers are working with their suppliers and delivery partners to determine the precise implications for each programme. However, we have protected UK civil society organisations from cuts wherever possible.
My noble friend Lady Sugg asked for more transparency. I can reassure her that, as is usual, the full official development assistance budget per country and business unit for 2021-22, along with final audited spend for 2020-21, will be published in the annual report and accounts in due course.
The UK remains a world leader in international development. We will spend £10 billion on ODA in 2021, meaning that, this year, the UK will still be the third-largest ODA donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI. With respect, I therefore cannot accept the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, that we are no longer taken seriously. The Foreign Secretary recently concluded a thorough review to ensure that our ODA marks a strategic shift, putting our aid budget to work alongside our diplomatic network, our science and technology expertise and our economic partnerships.
In helping to tackle global challenges, we will focus on core HMG priorities with the overarching objective of poverty reduction. The integrated review has helped to guide the process by setting out how, as an independent and sovereign global Britain, we will act as a force for good and use our influence to shape the future international order. This, I believe, answers the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about DfID and the FCO merging to become the FCDO.
To deliver this vision, resource has been allocated to the seven priorities that the Foreign Secretary set out to Parliament on 26 November. The first is climate and biodiversity, our top international priority. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said, one of the great injustices of climate change is that the world’s poorest countries—the lowest emitters—will be most heavily hit by its impacts. The UK is the first major donor nation to commit to making its entire ODA portfolio compliant with the Paris Agreement—something we are encouraging all other donor countries to emulate. Likewise, we have committed to ending all direct UK Government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas, encouraging as many countries as possible—all countries, ideally—to commit to the same.
In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley, let me say that, in this COP 26 year, we are spending £1.4 billion of ODA on international climate finance, thus starting the trajectory towards doubling our ICF commitment to £11.6 billion by 2025, as promised. Also, on nature, the Prime Minister recently announced that the UK will commit at least £3 billion of our international climate finance to protecting and restoring the natural world and biodiversity over the next five years. This is a world-leading commitment, harnessing the power of nature to trap carbon and support some of the world’s most vulnerable communities that depend most directly on the free services that nature provides, which we are desecrating globally at an appalling rate. This policy is good for the poor, good for the planet and, by extension, good for all of us. We hope that other donor countries will follow.
Our second priority is global health security. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, will be reassured to hear that the FCDO will spend more than £1.3 billion on global health this year. I say in response to my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we have very much been at the forefront of the international response to Covid-19 through our commitments to COVAX, Gavi and the World Health Organization, as well as through bilateral spend where the need is greatest, particularly in Africa. I hope that this also reassures the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey, who asked the same question.
To go back briefly to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about whether our commitment to Gavi remains, the answer is yes. As agreed previously, we will maintain our commitment to support Gavi at the current levels.
I say in response to my noble friend Lady Chalker of Wallasey that UK expertise in science, research and development has led to one of the first effective and affordable Covid-19 vaccines. In September, the Prime Minister committed £548 million to the COVAX Facility to ensure that these vaccines can reach the world’s poorest countries. We have also pledged up to £1.65 billion to Gavi over the next four years to support millions of routine immunisations, and we recently announced a further £340 million between 2020 and 2024 in core contributions to the WHO; that is additional to our £120 million annual average commitment. This will provide technical guidance and operational support to maintain health services in poor and developing countries.
Our third priority is girls’ education. This issue was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I can tell him that the FCDO will spend £400 million on girls’ education this year. We will invest directly in more than 25 countries, helping to achieve the global target to get 40 million girls into school. Of course, we will also demonstrate our leadership by co-hosting the Global Partnership for Education summit in July; we will announce details on the UK’s contribution to GPE in due course. As co-hosts of the summit, we are using all the means at our disposal to help the Global Partnership for Education to secure its five-year financing target of $5 billion. I hope that this reassures the noble Lords, Lord Loomba, Lord Hastings and Lord Chidgey, who all raised this important issue during their speeches.
The fourth area is humanitarian preparedness and response. We will spend over £900 million this year to maintain the UK’s role as a force for good at times of crisis. We will focus our country’s bilateral spend on those countries most affected by the risk of famine, including—in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno—Yemen, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan. A £30 million crisis reserve will enable us to respond rapidly to new crises. We will use our position as a leading humanitarian actor to drive improvements in how assistance is delivered globally and to project UK values through the humanitarian system.
The fifth area is science and technology. The integrated review clearly outlines that science and tech is an “integral element” of our international policy—this point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. ODA-funded research by the FCDO has led to the first internationally approved vaccine to prevent Ebola; the world’s first anti-malarial drug, saving more than a million lives; and micro-nutrient-rich varieties of staple food crops, feeding 50 million people. That is why this year, across government, we will make £370 million of R&D investments across all seven themes of the ODA strategy.
The sixth area is open societies and conflict resolution. The FCDO will use over £400 million to harness the UK’s unique strengths in conflict management and resolution and to project our support for democratic values, institutions, human rights and freedom of religious belief. This point was made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, and I add in response only that we will utilise the UK’s expertise on conflict management and resolution through the newly created FCDO office for conflict mediation and stability, which will have the central co-ordinating function for all conflict work across government.
In response to the point made well by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, about the critical importance of judicial capacity-building and the rule of law, I say that the IR absolutely confirms that our ODA will support core campaigns in support of British values, standing up for democracy and democratic institutions, the rule of law, media freedom, human rights and freedom of religious belief. I hope that this also provides some reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who asked a similar question. We will further drive, impact and support democratic values and institutions through our diplomacy, including our new sanctions policy, which will shortly be extended to cover corruption.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the grim conflict in Tigray in Ethiopia; I reassure him that, during his visit to Ethiopia on 22 January, the Foreign Secretary pressed Prime Minister Abiy for a political dialogue to bring lasting peace to Tigray and to make clear the need for unfettered humanitarian access. Since 2019, UK aid has provided £19 million of support, ensuring that displaced people have access to food, shelter, water, sanitation and basic health. The noble Lord also mentioned human rights abuses in Nigeria, which are, of course, a major concern of ours as well. The Minister for Africa is in Nigeria this week, and he will continue to make clear, at the highest levels, the importance of protecting civilians—including those from different ethnic and religious communities—and human rights for all Nigerians.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, mentioned Afghanistan. Since 2001, the UK has provided £3 billion in development and government assistance to Afghanistan. Partly thanks to UK aid, life expectancy increased from 50 years in 1990 to 64 in 2018. There are 8.2 million more children in school since 2002, and 39% of those enrolled are girls. We are working closely with the US, NATO allies and partners, but, for there to be any chance of a lasting peace, the Taliban must engage meaningfully in a dialogue with the Afghan Government. Any change to our security presence will be made in agreement with allies and after consultation with our partners.
Finally, in response to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, I raise the subject of economic development and trade. The FCDO will spend over £490 million to support new trading relationships with developing countries, complementing our wider multilateral and capital investments to build our trade and investment partners of the future. To answer my noble friend Lord Sarfraz, I can say that we will use the CDC and multilateral partners to drive mutually beneficial growth with strategic partners in circumstances where, as he points out, private sector investment is not practicable.
Within this framework, we will focus on exerting the maximum possible influence as a force for good in Africa—and at the same time strategically tilting towards the Indo-Pacific. We will spend around half of our bilateral country ODA in Africa, where poverty and human suffering remain the most acute. We will focus 60% of that bilateral Africa spending on east Africa, to reflect the UK’s unique role and clear national strategic interest in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan.
In answer to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, I say that we will spend one-third of bilateral ODA in the Indo-Pacific and south Asia, supporting deeper engagement in that region, promoting open societies, reinforcing trade links and promoting collaboration on climate change. Although we are reducing the amount of ODA that the FCDO spends in China, we will continue to fund programmes on human rights and open societies.
The integrated review provides a vision for global Britain; a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation with a global perspective, embracing innovation in science and technology and a beacon of democratic sovereignty. Our leadership on international development —focused on the global fight against climate change, the environment and poverty—is a fundamental part of this integrated approach.
The strategic framework for international development that I have outlined represents a compelling and competitive offer to the developing world that is consistent with our values and interests. I am proud of our aid spending and the huge amount we do every day to support the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. Even in the toughest economic times, we will continue that mission to deliver the vision of the integrated review and to act as a force for good.