Thursday 24th June 2021

(11 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Question for Short Debate
16:40
Asked by
Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what impact assessment they have undertaken of their proposed change to the target of spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on Official Development Assistance.

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by declaring my interest as an ambassador for HALO, a Scottish-based charity that has acted on mine clearance and the removal of improvised explosive devices around the world, most topically in Afghanistan, to which I shall return in a moment or two. I recommend to your Lordships an article written by the chief executive of HALO, James Cowan, a former Major General in the United Kingdom Army. In the current issue of the Spectator, he writes a most compelling article, following the murder of 11 HALO employees in Afghanistan last week.

I wish to approach the question of the proposed cuts in the overseas aid budget more generally. I have reached the conclusion that these reductions are ill thought out, mean spirited and damaging to our interests at home and abroad. Perhaps rather improbably, I take my cue from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has said that it is difficult to justify the size of the aid budget in present circumstances—to which I say, well, how does he know? He has never tried to do so. If he had knocked on a few doors in Chesham and Amersham, he might have found a few people who were sympathetic to the view that the cuts were not in the best interests of either the people of the United Kingdom nor, indeed, those whom the use of overseas development aid is supposed to help.

As a consequence, my conclusion is that the reason for the cut is political, but I have to confess that I see no legitimate political reason—so I have been forced to ask myself whether there is an illegitimate reason. I hope that I am wrong and that it can be shown to my satisfaction that these cuts are not just a dog whistle. I have also sought to ask myself how many of the Government’s party publicly support these cuts, and I can provide the answer to that—it is precious few. I know of members of their party who are, on the other hand, viscerally opposed to the cuts: John Major, Theresa May, Andrew Mitchell and David Davis. You might describe that as a broad spectrum of Conservative thinking and experience, not to mention the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, who will no doubt speak later and who resigned from the Government so that she could speak against the proposed cuts.

At the heart of this issue is the extraordinary fact that the Government have proposed cuts without a proper policy base to support them. There is a document called the international development review, but it is having a pretty long gestation as it circulates around departments, and it has not yet been published—indeed, some say that it has not yet been approved. Precisely what sort of Government are they who take action to breach the status quo when they have no resolved policy base? There is no question of urgency—indeed, anything but. I am convinced that abroad, these proposed cuts have damaged trust among local communities and locally engaged employees in those areas where overseas aid is effective.

These cuts have been proposed without an impact risk assessment, without considering conflict sensitivity, without regard to the many partnerships we have with other countries and without understanding that cuts are quick, but rebuilding takes longer. They have been proposed without considering the damage to our reputation, particularly among the countries of the G7. Of those who went to Cornwall, no others are cutting their aid budgets; indeed, President Biden has asked Congress for more. Worst of all is that these cuts are proposed with neither consultation nor transparency for the charities and agencies that work in the field.

Let me finish by returning to James Cowan. In the article I referred to, he said that the Halo Trust will not leave Afghanistan notwithstanding the events of last week. He said, much to my surprise, that

“Halo has cleared 850,000 landmines … in Afghanistan, and almost 14 million mines and other explosive items worldwide.”

I offer Halo as being illustrative and typical of the professionalism and commitment of so many of the agencies and charities who look to the United Kingdom for financial support for their work.

As we speak, all over the world, there are countless local, national and international charities and agencies helping to alleviate the suffering of the poor. They are helping, sometimes in difficult circumstances, to maintain human rights. They are helping to increase life chances, particularly those of girls and women. The fact is that the United Kingdom has been a notable contributor to these efforts. Indeed, our commitment is enshrined in statute. A reduction in support will diminish the effectiveness of the charities and agencies which depend on it. It will inhibit them in the valuable work they carry out. The agencies and charities deserve better from this Government.

16:47
Baroness Sugg Portrait Baroness Sugg (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, for asking this Question.

My Lords, despite the difficulty caused by the lack of transparency around the details of the cuts, analysis by Save the Children indicates that gender equality-focused programming is being severely affected, and women and girls will suffer disproportionately. An estimated 20 million women and girls will not be reached by programming as a result of the reduction in funding. Some 700,000 fewer girls will be supported by education, 2 million fewer supported by humanitarian assistance, 8 million fewer supported by nutrition interventions and 9 million fewer women and girls supported to access clean water and sanitation. These cuts will, sadly, undo progress towards gender equality at a time when the pandemic has rolled back women’s and girls’ rights by a generation.

The Foreign Secretary has confirmed that the FCDO

“carried out an equalities impact assessment”,

the only one I believe, which

“showed no evidence that programmes targeting those with protected characteristics were more likely to be reduced.”

Given the analysis I referred to and the huge cuts of up to 85% to family planning and contraceptive programmes, alongside no similar cuts to male-focused programmes, I fail to understand how these cuts are not worse for women and girls. My first questions are: do the Government still consider that women and girls have not been disproportionately impacted by the cuts, and when will they publish the equalities impact assessment?

Turning to girls’ education, I welcome the UK contribution announced at the G7 to the Global Partnership for Education, an increase of 15%. However, given the increased need I point out that the percentage burden share of the UK contribution to GPE has actually fallen, and the G7 failed to raise the $3.5 billion needed to hit the $5 billion target of the GPE replenishment summit that we are hosting in July. I fear this is a regrettable ripple effect of cutting our aid spending by such a large amount; it makes it a lot harder for the UK to encourage other countries to do more when we are doing less.

It is difficult to get to the bottom of the detail, given the lack of transparency, but, as far as I can uncover, this GPE increase is being paid for by cuts to wider education programming such as Chevening and the prosperity fund. Given these equivalent cuts, that means that total spending on girls’ education has still decreased by 25%. My final question is: do the Government recognise this 25% reduction? If not, will they publish the detailed figures so that we can understand the reality of the situation?

16:50
Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem for tabling this debate.

For what it is worth, my personal opinion is that the resounding defeat of the Government’s party in the by-election in Chesham and Amersham, one of its safest seats, by my party should be a salutary reminder that the Prime Minister’s Teflon qualities are wearing thin. What I heard on the doorstep was dislike and distrust of this Government, which made it much easier to get our points on planning issues across. The Government have underestimated the damage that cuts to the aid budget will do, not just to the UK’s reputation abroad but to their own brand. Whether or not you agree with the cuts, what sticks in the memory is that the Government willingly broke a manifesto pledge. For voters, trust is a commodity that, once lost, is hard to regain.

How does a cut to the aid budget hurt us? Let me count the ways. In a global pandemic we let down the poorest in the world, the only country in the world to cut its aid programmes, and we did so in the most brutal way possible. Without notice, we cut research funding to some of the brightest and best in developing countries. Our cuts forced nutrition centres and health clinics to close. Our cuts led to water sanitation projects being cancelled. Our cuts mean that 78,000 healthcare professionals will be left untrained and millions therefore left untreated. Our cuts mean that over 700 million donated treatments are at risk of going to waste—et cetera, et cetera.

As if trashing our reputation for trustworthiness were not enough for this Government, we have now learned that they are toying with the idea of retaining part of the £19 billion from the IMF’s proposed drawdown for special drawing rights. These, although designed to add additionality to our aid and development programmes—

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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May I remind the noble Baroness that the speaking limit is two minutes?

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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Indeed. They may instead be swallowed into the 0.5% ODA limit, so we will be seen as greedy as well as untrustworthy. Can the Minister assure me that that is not the Government’s intention?

In conclusion, the latest ICAI report is a damning indictment of the lack of transparency in UK ODA spending by the new FCDO, reversing the excellent reputation held by DfID.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am sorry, I have to stop the noble Baroness. It is not fair on others.

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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What will the Minister do about it?

16:53
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell.

During the recent G7 summit the UK Government committed $600 million in additional funding to the Global Partnership for Education in developing countries over the next five years, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, mentioned. HMG went further in urging other nations to donate at least $2.75 billion to the GPE. That is welcome news but at least two questions immediately arise: has this contribution on the part of the UK been agreed and budgeted for, and how far will it replace the cuts imposed on female education programmes as a result of the reduction in ODA?

My concern remains Afghanistan. Violence in that country is increasing by the day. In the 24 hours from 20 June around a dozen districts fell to the Taliban, mostly in the north of the country. Since 1 May, when the USA officially began its drawdown, more than 50 districts out of a total of 400 have been taken by the Taliban. The combination of bombings, fear of attack and the ravages of Covid-19 are destroying considerable gains achieved in educating girls over the past 20 years.

Will the Government make a sustained effort to focus on the institutions of democracy? That must include schools as well as higher education bodies to demonstrate support for that vital democratic and long-term investment, and to give courage to those who continue to resist the Taliban by steadfastly keeping schools open and the teaching of girls alive. The Government know that educating girls is the single most effective pathway to overall development. We urgently seek reassurance that HMG are honouring their commitments to human rights, to open societies and to the education of girls.

16:55
Lord Bishop of Worcester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Worcester
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My Lords, I echo the thanks expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, for this debate. There are many reasons for honouring the manifesto commitment to 0.7% aid, of which the Conservative Party can be proud. I will focus on just one.

Our National Health Service has done a fantastic job during the pandemic and been rightly lauded for doing so. One of the reasons for its success is its superb workforce, no fewer than 170,000 of whom are foreign, the vast majority from poorer countries which are struggling in the face of the pandemic. Figures show that Indians make up the largest number of foreign staff members at 27,000, followed by Filipinos at 23,000. Ghana provides over 3,000, Zimbabwe 4,500 and Pakistan 4,400. The fact is that we are taking more out of developing countries, when we poach their doctors, nurses and other skilled professionals, than we are putting in through aid.

I know from our close relationship in the diocese of Worcester with Morogoro in Tanzania how great is the shortage of health professionals in the developing world and how difficult it is to recruit, train them and pay for that training. Though the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, talks of reducing our reliance on foreign employees, Matt Hancock speaks of a new Windrush generation, to recruit the best from abroad. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has just been quoted as observing that it is difficult to justify the aid budget in the present circumstances. Is not the sad truth that, as we break our promise of 0.7% aid to the poorest in our world, we are taking more out of the developing world than we are putting in? Does the Minister agree that, in so doing, we are stymying the crucial effort to eradicate the pandemic worldwide, which we really should be ensuring happens?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz.

16:57
Lord Sarfraz Portrait Lord Sarfraz (Con)
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My Lords, last week our permanent envoy to the UN said that the situation in Myanmar is fast becoming a humanitarian crisis and that 60% of healthcare facilities are not functioning. I have spoken to a number of NGOs on the ground, and their message is consistent. They are struggling with resources. I therefore welcome the Government’s announcement that we will reprioritise our spending towards urgent humanitarian needs in Myanmar.

I would be grateful if my noble friend the Deputy Leader could tell us what progress has been made on reducing our reliance on consultants and advisers in deploying our overseas development assistance? Looking across our portfolio, it is incredible that the same names appear over and over again. For example, take the Palladium group. It is hired by us to work on dozens of projects across the world. It operates in 90 countries and claims expertise in every aspect of development: healthcare, education, environment, infrastructure—it does it all. There are half a dozen organisations like it which are repeatedly mentioned across our country reports. We are propping up a development industry. Between them, they employ hundreds of consultants and grant writers. As a result, smaller, local, less polished but much more impactful organisations never get a chance to partner with us. They now need us more than ever before. As we reprioritise our commitments, let us also broaden who we work with; even if they do not have glossy presentations or host global development summits, they may well give us much more value for money.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, is unable to take part in the debate, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Bennachie.

16:59
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register as a corporate adviser to DAI and a consultant with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

Last year, official development assistance from all donors reached a record $161 billion. Most of the largest donors increased their aid budget as we were cutting the UK’s. Germany achieved 0.7% as we moved away, and Australia has reversed last year’s cuts. The UK is exceptional, but in a shameful way. The decision to cut aid is ideological and deeply damaging to the UK’s reputation and the needs of the world’s poorest. It undermines any credibility for the ridiculous and meaningless slogan “global Britain”.

What concerns me is the damage to the UK’s reputation and the long-term weakening of the UK’s development capacity. I have two examples. A long-standing flagship programme to transfer title to 14 million parcels of land to farmers in Ethiopia has been halted. Disgruntled with the UK’s betrayal of trust and determined to meet the needs of small farmers, the Ethiopian Government are looking to other donors. In Bangladesh, a strategic partnership with BRAC, established by DfID 10 years ago, has been cut. It is being continued by Australia and Canada but, without the UK, it will be cut by 30%. The UK’s aid programmes have been delivered flexibly and cost effectively by a wide range of large and small development partners, all of which fulfil a role. Faced with cuts at this scale and speed, some may fail. Others will let experts go or redeploy them to programmes with other donors.

The Government boast of a record economic bounceback, which will mean that we may miss even 0.5%. Will cuts be restored if that happens? Will we stay behind France and Germany in our delivery? They have taken over the UK leadership position. The problem is that, if the UK looks to get back its lead, capacity will not be available and previous ODA recipient countries might have found more trustworthy development partners.

17:01
Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interests regarding malaria and neglected tropical diseases, as set out in the register. The UK has led globally in these two areas in the fight against death and disease and has been extremely successful in saving hundreds of thousands—indeed, millions—of children’s lives and preventing disease and disability. Yet the cuts that have been made have damaged programmes for both.

The cut to the UK flagship programme for NTDs, Ascend, will mean putting a stop to 151 million scheduled treatments this year, and the malaria programme in Nigeria, funded by the UK and SuNMaP 2, will now end two and half years early and will mean a huge deficit in the fight against malaria in Nigeria, one of the countries with the highest prevalence. Cuts to UKRI will take away the capacity in our academic institutions which have in the past provided the basis for the work that has been so successful in the vaccine development against Covid.

I hope that the Government will recognise that it is counterproductive both to their reputation and future capacity to fight disease and pandemics to cut spending in these areas. I further hope that, when the Global Fund replenishment comes up, they will make good these cuts and ensure that we have these basic health provisions that help not only us but the whole world.

17:03
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, for securing this debate. I commend particularly the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, who has shown her absolute commitment to those in need of our aid.

Let us run through where some of these cuts are falling and how we have found out about them. It is thanks to the UN Population Fund—UNFPA—that we know the UK Government are cutting their funding for its programmes by 85%, down from $211 million to $32 million. The UK Government are that organisation’s largest donor, a major supplier of contraceptives, other sexual and reproductive health products and some maternal and newborn health supplies. We provide contraceptives to about a third of users in some of the poorest countries.

We have learned about another cut from the World Health Organization. We will see millions of people at risk of dying from neglected tropical diseases—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, just referred. These diseases mostly affect people in the poorest countries. This is a particularly disgraceful, disgusting waste: some 280 million tablets are likely to expire and have to be incinerated because of the withdrawal of this money.

From the World Food Programme, we learn that in Yemen, considered to be the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, will see a cut of nearly 60% in UK aid. Nearly half the population—13.5 million people—is already struggling to get enough food, and that is expected to rise by 3 million by the end of this month.

So what gender assessment have the Government carried out of their decisions? Will they publish a gender assessment? Will it publish a poverty assessment? How is it that this seems to be hitting what is perhaps the 1% of the world’s poorest people? Has it actually been targeted at women and the poorest?

17:05
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this timely and extremely important debate, and commend him on his powerful opening speech this afternoon.

On Monday this week, the Prime Minister set out his ambition to make the UK a science superpower, yet these cuts not only undermine current and future science research but that very ambition. Many projects will have funding cuts midway through, leaving them unable to complete critical work such as vaccine development or fighting future pandemics through AMR research. This means that millions of pounds worth of British taxpayers’ money which has been invested in those projects now risks being lost. Making cuts at this most critical time, particularly given the opportunity for leadership through the G7 and COP 26 presidencies, risks damaging the UK’s position on the global stage.

Innovations for global public health need public funding, because there is no incentive for private research. We should recall that it was innovations such as work on malaria vaccines which helped lead to the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. This research, long funded by UK ODA, has built a depth of expertise in infectious disease vaccines that is almost unparalleled. Does not the Minister agree that there is a very real risk that such innovation will not be there when we need it in future if we do not fund it now? In the wake of Covid-19 and with budgets tightening around the world, does not the Minister further agree that applied health research is exactly what is needed right now to make our limited budgets go further?

17:07
Baroness Greengross Portrait Baroness Greengross (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and other speakers for their important contributions today. I shall keep my comments brief: most points have already been covered.

During the gracious Speech, the Government committed to provide aid where it has the greatest impact on reducing poverty and alleviating human suffering, but rather than providing aid where it has the greatest impact there, the Government have cut global health spending by up to 40%, affecting people of all ages. This is occurring at a time when the pandemic is having the greatest impact on low and middle-income countries. Specific health initiatives have been devastated by these cuts and are sure to set development back enormously. These include a 95% to polio eradication, a 90% cut to addressing neglected tropical diseases, an 80% funding cut to UNAIDS and a reduction of 80% to addressing WASH programmes providing water, sanitation and hygiene to people in poorer nations. How is this increasing the UK’s ability to strengthen relations globally and to meet its commitments to help younger and older people in poorer countries?

Development aid is not purely an act of charity. By limiting the spread of deadly diseases such as AIDS and Covid in poorer nations, we help keep our own country safe. In the recent resurgence of nationalism in this country and elsewhere, we have, sadly, seen a less internationalist or global approach by this Government. I conclude by remarking that we live in a global society where it is in everyone’s interest to eradicate poverty and prevent the spread of deadly diseases. If we reduce our international development contribution as a nation, we do so at our own peril.

17:10
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem for asking this Question and outlining it so clearly and powerfully. Many of his points were supported by those taking part in this short debate.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett and Lady Greengross, referred to the relatively little-noticed but devastating submission by the World Health Organization to the IDC in the Commons, which referred to the set of 20 neglected tropical diseases which

“affect the poorest people in the poorest countries”

and which

“kill, blind, disfigure and maim, causing considerable and largely untold suffering to millions of people worldwide.”

The submission goes on to say that,

“as a consequence of the aid cuts, 20,000-30,000 individuals are likely to die, with the uncertainty in that estimate related to expected recent increases in disease incidence due to COVID-19-related programmatic delays.”

It concludes:

“the withdrawal of UK funding makes it likely that an estimated in-country inventory of”

277 million tablets

“donated by British and international pharmaceutical companies will expire and need to be incinerated”.

Can the Minister commit that no tablets meant for the poorest people in the world will be destroyed as a result of these cuts? That is my first question.

My second question relates to something that the Leader of the House was unable to provide me. Last week I asked her, as a member of the Government, to do something which members of the British Government have been doing for 25 years, which is to encourage the other richest countries in the world to meet their UN target of 0.7%. She was unable to do that, so I would like that reassurance in this debate today that it remains the position of the Government that we are encouraging all other developed countries to meet their obligations, which this Parliament enshrined in our law.

17:12
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the short answer to the question posed in this debate is: none. To refuse to publish full information on the cuts as well as any kind of impact assessment illustrates how reckless the decision is. The noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, was absolutely right to ask her question and I hope the Minister will confirm specifically when the equalities impact assessment will be published, given that many of the cuts fall on programmes relating to women and girls. Although the full extent of the cuts is not clear, totalling over £4 billion, we know that aid to Yemen is cut by 60%, humanitarian relief to Ethiopia is cut by 95%, and child nutrition projects are cut by 80%. When will the Government introduce legislation to abandon the 0.7% commitment in the International Development Act? It is shameful that they are still blocking a Commons vote on this issue.

The donation of surplus Covid-19 vaccines is welcome. The Prime Minister has confirmed that the value of donated doses will be additional to the £10 billion ODA budget in both 2021 and 2022. However, with the economy expected to rebound, it is possible that a 0.5% ODA budget will exceed £10 billion. Will the Minister therefore confirm that this means that those doses will be offered in addition to the 0.5% of GNI? Can he also indicate whether the Government have responded to proposals by the ONE campaign to accelerate the timeline for sharing those doses, which is vital in the current situation?

17:14
Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, for tabling this Question and for the long experience that he has brought to bear on the subject before us. I add my thanks to all other speakers for delivering so many insightful contributions in such a restricted speaking time.

I say first to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, that the move to spend 0.5% of our gross national income on official development assistance was a far from easy decision. It was taken in response to an extreme economic and fiscal situation, which last year saw the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record—£300 billion—following the seismic impact of the pandemic. This year we are forecast to borrow a further £234 billion with another £109 billion the following year, and these unprecedented circumstances have forced the Government to take unprecedented action. Noble Lords will be aware from previous debates of the extraordinary support that we have provided to the UK economy, to jobs and business, on top of the need to balance multiple departmental priorities.

Nevertheless, in spite of the reduction to the ODA budget, it remains the case that the UK will spend £10 billion on overseas development assistance in 2021 and, in looking at how best to deploy that large sum, Ministers have been clear on two counts: first, that we should allocate our aid budget in accordance with our key strategic priorities and, secondly, that we ensure—as we always endeavour to do—that every penny of our aid brings with it maximum strategic coherence, maximum impact and maximum value for taxpayers’ money.

The FCDO is now working through what that means for individual programmes, in line with the priorities that we have identified. Those priorities are seven in number: climate and biodiversity; Covid and global health security; girls’ education; science and research; open societies and conflict; humanitarian assistances; and trade. Inevitably, for the period when we spend 0.5%, there will be reductions across all regions and sectors, compared to what we would have spent under 0.7%—but because of our priority setting, not all sectors will see the same percentage reduction.

In working through the allocations, Ministers have been mindful of the impact on four groups in particular: women and girls; the most marginalised and vulnerable; people with disabilities; and people from other protected groups. In that context—and this answers my noble friend Lady Sugg—the FCDO has carried out a central equalities impact assessment across our bilateral country spend, looking at risks and impacts, and this has been considered by Ministers as they reviewed plans. The Foreign Secretary is considering carefully whether to put the central overarching assessment into the public domain. As she said, the central assessment showed no evidence that programmes targeting those with protected characteristics were more likely to be reduced or discontinued than other programmes.

I cannot yet specify in any granular detail what our planned spend will be this year, either by project or by country. Given that we are in a one-year spending settlement, the FCDO’s planned country allocations will be published in our annual report later this year in the usual way; in addition, and as always, we will continue to give monthly updates of our spend by project on the development tracker.

Contrary to the impression gained by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, none of these decisions on country and project allocations is being taken in a vacuum. The FCDO has engaged with NGOs and others and listened to feedback on the impact of the reduction in spend. FCDO Ministers engage with more than 80 NGOs, partners and parliamentarians, including through a round-table discussion with civil society. In the allocations process, we engage partners on the underpinning evidence, on priorities for delivery and to gather essential information. Now that the process is complete, we are working with our host countries, international partners and supply chains to deliver the budget changes set out in the Written Ministerial Statement published on 21 April.

Here it is worth my making the point that the creation of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has moved the coherence, efficiency and effectiveness of our decision-making in a very positive direction. The departmental merger has aligned our development work with our diplomatic clout and in so doing has improved development outcomes.

While I cannot yet give precise figures for the year ahead, I should like to provide the Committee with what figures I can. First, despite the budget reduction, we will be investing £400 million in girls’ education in over 25 countries this year. That is in addition to our pledge of £430 million to the Global Partnership for Education over five years. This is our largest ever pledge to GPE and an uplift of 15% from our current position as top bilateral donor.

On global health, we will donate at least 100 million surplus coronavirus vaccine doses within the next year, including 5 million beginning in the coming weeks. This donation is in addition to the Government’s work to support Oxford/AstraZeneca’s contribution to fighting Covid. I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that the £548 million that we have already committed to COVAX as one of the scheme’s largest donors will help it to deliver more than 1 billion vaccines to up to 92 lower-income countries this year. We also have a long-standing commitment to Gavi, as she knows, which will continue.

On climate change, we will deliver more than £1 billion of international climate finance activities this year as part of our flagship five-year £11.6 billion target. Our themes in this area include promoting clean energy, halting deforestation, preventing biodiversity loss and supporting countries damaged by the effects of climate change.

All of that means that this year, 2021, the UK will be the third largest overseas development assistance donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI, based on data in 2020 from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. In 2021 we will also be the third highest bilateral humanitarian donor country, based on OECD 2020 data. Even at 0.5% of GNI, the UK’s 2021 spend is above the preliminary 2020 average of OECD development assistance committee member states, which was just 0.41% of GNI.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, took the Government to task for a lack of transparency, as alleged in the report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. The Government have provided relevant documents and information as part of the follow-up review where those have been available. The FCDO remains committed to full transparency in our aid spending; for example, throughout the pandemic we have continued to publish our spend information by project through DevTracker. However, the impact of the pandemic has been seismic around the world and we have therefore pivoted our resources to our Covid-19 response to help the most vulnerable. That resulted in some information not being available during the period in which ICAI carried out its follow-up review.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, referred to his connection with HALO and to its remarkable work in demining. Although there will be a reduction in financial support compared with the previous financial year, we remain a leading donor in the sector and our work will continue on the same lines affecting livelihoods across the world, supporting those most in need. We have assessed that over a four-year period we will be spending over £146 million in this area, including £21 million this year.

My noble friend Lord Sarfraz asked about consultancy. In 2020, DfID and the FCO contracted over £1.5 billion in development assistance with businesses, universities and NGOs. These contractors provide programme management, technical assistance and specialist advice to partner Governments, complementing our in-house expertise to deliver the UK’s world-beating development programmes. As the FCDO, we explore allocations to make the best use of both our in-house expertise and the services that we procure to deliver world-beating programmes.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the UNFPA. The UK is fully committed to the mandate of the UNFPA, including its work on sexual and reproductive health. We remain committed to ensuring that women and girls have access to life-saving reproductive health supplies, and we highly value our partnership with the UNFPA on this important agenda.

The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, spoke of the situation in Afghanistan. On 14 April, as she knows, NATO announced that its forces would leave Afghanistan within a few months. Since 2002, the UK has supported the country with £3.3 billion worth of aid in various forms. We remain committed to supporting Afghanistan, including its efforts to counter terrorism, through our diplomatic and development work and support to the security sector. It is interesting to note that, alongside our NATO allies, the UK has built and equipped security institutions and has trained 5,000 cadets, including over 300 women.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Greengross, touched on the important issue of water sanitation and hygiene. I can tell them that our support for global health, which embraces many aspects of WASH, remains a top priority for the UK aid budget. The FCDO plans to spend over £1.3 billion on global health this financial year and we will rightly focus on the international response to Covid-19. The FCDO is planning a strategic shift of our water and sanitation programmes, from supporting the direct delivery of WASH facilities at a household and community level, to instead strengthening national WASH systems that are able to deliver inclusive, sustainable and resilient WASH services at scale.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, also questioned our commitment to global health. That commitment should not be in doubt. Our aim is to help end the pandemic, strengthen global health security and end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborn babies and children. We are committed to those causes.

Regarding malaria, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, that the UK is a long-standing donor on malaria. We remain committed to stamping out this deadly disease. We are a leading investor in malaria research. The Global Fund, as she knows, allocates 32% of its budget to malaria and we have committed £1.4 billion to the Global Fund.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to our aid to Yemen—I am being told I have only one minute left, so I must undertake to write to her on that. Suffice to say that we are deeply concerned at the moment by the crisis in Yemen and we are working with international partners and the UN special envoy to find a peaceful resolution to it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, referred to the importance of R&D funding and I fully agree with her. She may like to know that we will spend 4% of the whole UK ODA budget on science and technology and the FCDO will spend £253 million on R&D.

I will write to other noble Lords whose questions I have not had time to answer, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, on his question about the potential destruction of tablets and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, on the question of vaccines and additionality.

The seismic impact of the pandemic and the current unprecedented economic and financial circumstances have forced the Government, as I have said, to take difficult spending decisions. But, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has emphasised, this is a temporary departure. He, the Chancellor and the Foreign Secretary are as one in wanting to return to spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas development assistance as soon as fiscal circumstances allow. I wish that I could help the noble Lord, Lord Collins, with his question on when that will be, but no one can yet predict with certainty when the current financial circumstances will have sufficiently improved. We are monitoring the situation all the time and, clearly, we will make plans accordingly. However, I can assure him and the Committee that the UK remains and will remain indissolubly committed to poverty reduction and international development around the world. To that end, we shall ensure that the £10 billion allocated to our overseas aid programmes this year delivers a transformational impact consistent with our interests and values, of which all of us in this country can be proud.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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My Lords, the Grand Committee stands adjourned until 5.45 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.

17:28
Sitting suspended.