Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I thank my Cross-Bench colleagues for the opportunity of this debate. I also declare my interest as an ambassador for UNAIDS.
In 2015, Parliament passed a Bill that placed a duty on Governments to devote 0.7% of national income to overseas aid. It was approved overwhelmingly in both Houses. My comment at Second Reading in this House was that it was
“what I would expect from a civilised and outward-looking country that recognises it has responsibilities to try to help the poorest people in other parts of the world”.—[Official Report, 23/1/15; col. 1530.]
I would suggest that our responsibilities remain the same today. I also suggest that in spite of the examples of corruption in the use of aid money, which I deplore as the lowest form of crime, the effort of the world through the help of Governments and the United Nations, together with the wonderful support of charitable organisations, volunteers, doctors and nurses, and countless others, has led to major steps forward.
No one pretends that the battle is remotely over. We have edged forward but there is still a mountain to climb. Take, for example, HIV/AIDS. The latest figures show that almost 700,000 men, women and children around the world died from AIDS-related illnesses last year. There are 38 million people around the world living with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls account for 60% of all new infections and we know that if girls leave school early before the secondary stage, their chances of having HIV are doubled.
However, that terrible toll is not remotely an isolated case. It is extraordinarily difficult to express in a few words the magnitude of the full challenge or to grasp the full implication of the cut from 0.7% that the Government have ordered. There are the problems concerned with the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, raised in the other place by the former Prime Minister Mrs May, which include programmes to end the commercial exploitation of children. Our funding there is being cut by 80%. Incidentally, together with Mrs May, three other former Prime Ministers have condemned the cuts in foreign aid.
The present Prime Minister declares a personal priority for aid in girls’ education but that aid has been cut while aid to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, has been cut by 60%. Among the multitude of other programmes suffering cuts in UK aid, which are sometimes total, are a project to provide healthcare in deprived areas of Bangladesh, help for clean water projects in Africa and, my own particular cause, UNAIDS, which has had its grant cut by 83%. Even funding for Yemen, which has the world’s worst humanitarian emergency, has been cut back, and we will doubtless hear from the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, on the position with TB, perhaps the world’s biggest killer.
It is for reasons such as those that every country, bar one, inside the G7 group of the most prosperous nations in the world has decided not to cut back their aid programmes. The one exception is, of course, Britain, which until now has taken pride in its efforts to help the poorest and the sick, and rightly so. However, the Treasury says now that the financial circumstances of the country explain the cut. I would find that argument easier to accept if I did not remember that back in 2015, long before Covid, it was the Treasury that was most passionately opposed to this international Act. Its argument then was that it was wrong to ring-fence this small part of its budget and that the matter should be left to the discretion of the Chancellor—exactly what the Treasury is now achieving. Back in 2015, its objection was debated and, crucially, in Parliament it was decisively rejected.
What makes these cuts so objectionable, even to those who might have supported the economic case, is that Parliament today has had no opportunity to vote on the issue at all. An Act of Parliament has been changed by ministerial decree. There is a gigantic issue of principle here that no true parliamentarian can ignore. In the other place, Andrew Mitchell, the MP for Sutton Coldfield, made a brave attempt to force the matter to a vote and I pay tribute to him. I am tempted to say that Sutton Coldfield does well in electing its MPs to the House of Commons. Today in this House, we have a debate with more than 40 speakers who, as we have heard, are confined to a strict two minutes each. It shows the strength of opinion but, again, there is no prospect of a vote.
That fundamental criticism was immensely strengthened by none other than Mr Speaker in the other place. He said that he shared “the House’s frustration” at its failure to be able to make an effective decision on the Government’s action. It was not just Parliament, he said, but the country as a whole that,
“needs this matter to be debated and aired, and an effective decision to be taken”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/6/21; col. 668.]
Frankly, the parliamentary process has so far proved to be ineffective. It is for that reason that many of us are now looking at other remedies. That remedy may lie in the law itself and an examination of a basic question: whether the action taken by Ministers is fundamentally lawful.
Let us remember that the Government agreed with the advice that they needed legislation to change the position. On 25 November last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that from the Dispatch Box, and the Foreign Secretary said the same thing the very next day, 26 November. They spelled out the reduction from 0.7% but forgot to mention, perhaps, the reduction provided for in the Bill itself automatically with the reduction in national income.
On the promise of legislation, all that changed some months later when the Government announced that, after further reflection—which is their way of saying that the Chief Whips had told them that they were in danger of being defeated—they did not actually need legislation at all. They said that all they had to do was make a statement—a point raised in this House by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed. The form of statement is, to put it mildly, unclear. A Written Answer might suffice, or perhaps just a letter. Parliamentary accountability has come to this.
Another fundamental question and criticism has come from the former Solicitor-General, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, who will also speak in this debate. He argued that, until Parliament changes the law, there is a statutory duty to meet the 0.7% target. The Government can say that they intend to change the law but, until that is done, they are subject to it. They cannot legitimise their failure to hit a target by announcing in advance their intention to fail.
In short, there are legal options open to us to challenge these cuts. The difficulty, of course, is that they will take time. In my view, the best outcome is for this to be settled in Parliament. The Government should recognise that aid organisations today face unique and urgent problems, partly because of Covid. How much better it would be for the Government to recognise that reality and change course. The issues of poverty and lack of health provision remain the same; the difference is that, with the onset of Covid, they have become even more acute.
One of the most powerful letters I have received during this crisis came from a young British doctor who had been working for several years in Sierra Leone. He quoted the experience of his successor. She had said to him:
“Pretty much every one of our funding sources has been cut entirely overnight with no notice. It is hard to overstate how catastrophic this will be to our patients in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somaliland. From the infectious diseases unit we built with UK funding as a first line of defence against pandemics to the oxygen factory we built to provide life-saving treatment for Covid, we will have to pull out all of our volunteers and support, and these facilities may well have to close completely.”
Lastly, let me say this: I do not believe that this is a “red-wall” or “blue-wall” issue. It is not, and should not be, a matter of party politics at all. It is a matter of judgment and, in my view, common humanity. For millions of men, women and, in particular, children around the world, aid is their lifeblood. I do not pretend that UK aid can do it all, but it can make a substantial contribution, as we have seen over the past few years.
In short, I believe that we should keep to the course that we set in 2015. Above all, we should at least have the opportunity to reject these damaging cuts by the Government, obeying the usual parliamentary rules and allowing a vote in both the Commons and the Lords.
My Lords, please note my entry in the Lords’ register. We are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for choosing this topic for his first debate following his retirement as Lord Speaker and for the very thoughtful and comprehensive introduction that he has provided for us today.
In a world of instability, inequality and extreme shocks, the UK has to be a force for good, in the interests of our own citizens and of the planet that we inhabit. We have a duty to right the wrongs of the past and protect our citizens today. UK aid prevents conflict, liberates people through education, fights global disease and provides hope at home for those who would otherwise take terrifying journeys to try to find a better life. So the speed and severity of these additional cuts— “additional” cuts, on top of those that would have happened because of the low levels of growth in the economy—shame our Chancellor and our Prime Minister. Shame on them. The political choice they have made—to pick on the poorest in the world and avoid a democratic vote in Parliament—shames this country too. However, as we come out of the worst of the pandemic and into the final preparations for COP 26, surely the Government can still, even at this last stage, rethink their decision and decide to go with the law and implement the proper arrangements for 0.7% of GNI to be spent of UK aid.
In the meantime, however, those of us who care about this issue must resolve with humility, persuasion and passion to build back public support for UK aid, and to ensure that, in future, we have better aid programming that liberates people through an end to dependency and a real chance, through lifelong partnerships with this country and others, to grow for themselves.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for his extraordinary record in this field. The noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, has once more drawn the short straw. Where is the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad?
We all know that assisting in development is both right and in our interest. The pandemic has shown how globally interlinked we are. Clearly the integrated review was written before these cuts were suddenly announced—so much for “global Britain” and Britain as a soft power. So much for the UK as a trusted partner.
I was privileged to be the DfID Minister when my noble friend Lord Purvis took his Private Member’s Bill through this House to enshrine in law the commitment to 0.7% of GNI for aid. There was, and is, cross-party support for this—and rightly so. We were recognised as a development superpower and ODA went beyond DfID, for example to City of London enforcement agencies to counter corruption and to our universities for R&D. The Jenner Institute’s work on the Ebola vaccine translated into the Covid vaccine. The right hand clearly did not know what the left hand was doing when the Government decided to cut aid. Do we indeed wish to balance our books on the backs of the poor—as if this small commitment would even balance those books?
The PM says that girls’ education is important to him, yet these cuts will have a disproportionate effect on women and girls, who are the poorest globally. Reproductive healthcare is down 48%; education down 30%; water and sanitation down 39%; and aid to the worst conflict in the world, in Yemen, is down 80%. I hope that the Minister will strike out from his speech the phrase “restoring when possible”. This cut should not have happened and needs to be reversed now. At the very least, the Government must obey the law—and is it not extraordinary that we should even need to say such a thing?
My Lords, my daughter works in overseas development, so I declare that as an interest. I passionately follow her great passion for mankind.
I want to touch on one aspect of this, which is the way the Executive have treated Parliament. Even if this move by the Executive is lawful, they have approached it as an insult to the institution that is supposed to be sovereign. The Bill was carried by an overwhelming majority, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, indicated. I remind the House that a mere five votes—five—opposed it in the other place in 2014.
Here we are, a few short years later, and the Executive were purporting to deny that House the opportunity even to discuss—not to vote, but to discuss and express views about—a ministerial Statement that, by mere assertion, purported to legalise non-compliance with a statutory obligation. One needs to think of what was involved in that refusal to have a debate. Absurdly, it is the wording of that Act. That unchallengeable Statement is described as “accountability”—what extraordinary legislation.
The Glorious Revolution did away with the pretended power to suspend or dispense with statute, and that is precisely what we have here. Noble Lords all know about me whinging on about our thraldom and about how Henry VIII holds us in thrall, and that last year I complained that the Government spent more time addressing the media than they did the House of Commons. I will just say it again: the way this proposal was advanced to the House was negligible. The sovereignty of Parliament was treated as a mere adjunct of Executive authority.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for securing this debate and I am delighted that he will be fighting so strongly for this cause, now he has left the Speaker’s chair. Of course, two minutes is not sufficient to do justice to the incredible impact of UK aid, so I will just give one example—on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In 2018-19 alone, the UK provided 23.5 million women and girls with modern methods of family planning. That means 23.5 million women and girls have more control over their bodies, lives and futures. However, sexual and reproductive health and rights have suffered disproportionately in the cuts to UK aid, and those cuts are bringing real-life consequences: midwives will have to leave areas where they are caring for pregnant women; women travelling to healthcare clinics to have their contraceptive implant changed will find the clinics closed; and girls will not complete their education because of adolescent pregnancy.
This is just one example of the real-world impact these cuts are having, and enough of a reason to return to spending 0.7% immediately, but it is not the only reason. Cutting our aid programme in the midst of a global pandemic is simply the wrong thing to do. We are the only country in the G7 to do so. The amount we spend on aid is already falling because of the contraction in our economy. The amount saved is less than 1% of what we are rightly spending on our domestic response to the pandemic. We are undermining our global Britain ambitions and our efforts to resolve some of the world’s biggest challenges.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, have set out clearly the issues for Parliament. The Government may well soon be challenged in the courts over acting unlawfully, and, in the court of public opinion, since January we have seen a 9% increase in support from the British public for UK aid, bringing the total to 53% support. I strongly encourage the Government to announce an immediate return to spending 0.7% of GNI on aid. If not, they surely most allow a democratic vote in Parliament.
My Lords, I have spoken before about the challenges faced by girls and women throughout the world, and I am therefore dismayed, along with others, by what we hear of the impact of the aid cuts on them. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said so eloquently, women and girls will suffer disproportionately as a result of these cuts. I understand that Her Majesty’s Government have undertaken a central equalities impact assessment. However, I believe this is yet to be published and I would be grateful for an update from the Minister.
My turbulence regarding the cuts is about not only the direct impact on the most vulnerable and those at risk of exploitation and discrimination but the failure to honour our promises to the world’s poorest. Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said,
“A promise to the poor is particularly sacred.”
Broken trust and moral failure are not insignificant issues. If we are to pull out of the programmes we have begun, it is not only devastating for recipients but the trust forged through partnership and relationship will be broken.
That leads me to highlight the good done by faith-based organisations throughout the world, which often work in partnership with others. That good work is now in jeopardy as a result of cuts to foreign aid. For example, in South Sudan, where Christian Aid has long worked with partners, termination of funding for the South Sudan Council of Churches is likely to affect the country’s very delicate peace process. Time is up, and I look forward to hearing contributions from other noble Lords.
On an occasion such as this, my noble friend the late Lord Judd is more missed than ever. He stood for international solidarity and long-term commitment to building trust and support for those in need. I will deal with the importance of international research, particularly development research. I thank SOAS and the Development Studies Association for their briefing.
If the £120 million cut in research goes ahead, it will cause huge damage, out of all proportion to the amount saved. It undermines the world-leading role that UK-led research plays in tackling global challenges. Our reputation as a trusted partner will be severely damaged. Will the Minister give a commitment that no existing contractual research projects will be chopped? Is he prepared to authorise officials to meet the Development Studies Association to learn more about the impact of these cuts on higher education and research in general?
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Zimbabwe.
“We will proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development, and do more to help countries receiving aid become self-sufficient”—
that was the unequivocal manifesto commitment of a Government elected less than two years ago. It was the commitment of a Government who regularly tell us that, despite the dramatic impacts of the pandemic, they cannot possibly raise personal taxes or alter pension uprating because to do so would breach their manifesto pledges. But when it comes to the most vulnerable people on earth, in the hour of their greatest need, they have no such misgivings.
Shamefully, the Government are not only breaking their commitment to 0.7% but doing so at the same time as imposing travel restrictions on developing countries in Africa and across the world, which are having a catastrophic impact on the tourist trade on which so many rely and, hence, their ability to be self-sufficient. At a time when our allies are stepping up to the plate, FCDO officials are being forced by Ministers to scuttle around Africa, informing people in the most desperate circumstances not only that we will not meet the additional needs arising from Covid but that we will slash the support we were giving anyway, including cutting all bilateral aid to 35 countries in Africa.
The immorality of acting in such a manner does not need expanding upon, but even if the Government do not care about that—and they patently do not—have they considered the impact on the foreign policy interests of our country? Do the Government think that our friends will forget how we betrayed our promises to them, at such a critical time, or that it was other nations that stepped into the breach? Do the Government understand that, as a result of their approach, which is as unethical as it is unlawful, countless lives will be lost, huge amounts of good will will be squandered and any UK claim to global leadership will have been abandoned?
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interests in the register. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Fowler on the debate and the way in which he opened it. I endorse everything he said and the comments of my noble and learned friend Lord Judge on the totally unacceptable way in which the decision to renege on the commitment in the manifesto on aid spending was taken and how Parliament was completely bypassed.
This was not the only commitment on overseas development in the manifesto. It also contained a commitment to end preventable child deaths by 2030 and to lead the eradication of malaria. I have spoken before in the House about the benefits of investment in malaria, not only to save literally hundreds and thousands of lives but for this country’s standing internationally and for the respect of our aid programmes and the contributions of our academic institutions. Now, just as those programmes are, international institutions such as the Liverpool and London schools are suffering from the cuts to UKRI.
I very much hope that the Government do not further inhibit work on AIDS, malaria and TB when it comes to the next replenishment of the Global Fund, and that we will see the right level of investment in that. I hope the Minister will give me some assurance on that point.
My Lords, it is true that the UK was the first major economy to meet its 0.7% aid commitment. It did so in 2013 and sustained it for seven years. That is a record of which British taxpayers can be proud, and it added immeasurably to our reputation around the world. It is true that the scale of the economic catastrophe hitting the UK public finances is the worst we have seen in 300 years and requires action. Meeting 0.7% would require an additional £4 billion, but this is out of total government expenditure of £908 billion. It is also true that the Charities Aid Foundation reported that British charitable giving had risen by 20% during the pandemic crisis, so I would be cautious about claiming that there is public support for this move.
It is also true that many of our closest friends and allies do not meet the 0.5% target, never mind the 0.7% target, for overseas development assistance. The United States gives 0.17% of GNI, Japan, Canada and Ireland 0.31%, New Zealand 0.27% and Australia 0.19%. Could others be encouraged to do more to fill the gap at this time?
It is also true that the number of people living in extreme poverty is estimated to have risen by 150 million over the past year due to the pandemic. At the same time, the world’s richest have seen their fortunes increase by 27%—around £8 trillion—so there is a need, but there are also the resources to meet that need.
Finally, it is true that the British aid budget has saved millions of lives. It follows that a cut in the aid budget of around one-third will cost many lives. We do not know how many; I think we should. Will my noble friend consider preparing an impact statement illustrating how many lives will be lost as a result of the decision to reduce the aid budget—or, even better, will he just restore it?
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for this debate. He stands like Prometheus after defying the gods and surviving the Woolsack. Unbound, he has come to bring fire to humankind, and we are in his debt. The successes in the field of our aid and development programme have been well rehearsed in the course of this debate. They are incontestable, and we can and should be proud of them—but those very successes stand as a reproach to those who are now trying to cut them back. Global Britain should show what being global really means, but the Government’s rhetoric in so many ways leaves much to be desired, and logic is frequently absent.
We should also enter this debate against the background of Black Lives Matter. We can leave the statues—Colston, Rhodes and all the rest of them—exactly where they are, just as long as we have an educational programme that teaches our children how the statues stand for a world where a small number of wealthy nations sucked the souls and asset-stripped the economies of poorer countries in our recent history. Our aid and development programme, where we get rid of the idea of donors and recipients, should be seen as a way of servicing the debt we owe to the poorer nations of this world. We should make it a priority at all times.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register and declare an interest as the founder of the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—HART —which works with local partners abroad, all of whom experience acute suffering but are largely unhelped by the FCDO.
Time allows only three examples. In Nigeria, tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced by violence in the Middle Belt. Our local partner there, Reverend Canon Hassan John, told us that, for more than 10 years, “I am not aware of any assistance from the British Government in this central region.”
In Sudan, civilians in Blue Nile state face a risk of famine and a devastating lack of teachers and educational materials. Our local partner, Benjamin Banaba, told us, “Apart from HART in Blue Nile state there is no other indigenous, international or UN agency providing any educational or scholastic material. Your project is the only project that exists on the ground and everyone relies on it.”
Finally, it is eight months since the UK sent £1 million in aid to Nagorno-Karabakh—for all victims, I understand, not just Armenians. I have not seen any commitment from HMG to extend those funds, despite the ongoing suffering of ethnic Armenians, with mass displacement, kidnappings, killings and the destruction of their homes and vital infrastructure. HART’s partner, Vardan Tadevosyan, who directs the disability rehabilitation centre in Karabakh, has had to expand his work to help injured soldiers in the recent war, while many of his staff have been displaced and the number of patients is expected to double.
These situations sadly reflect the evidence-based concerns identified in the important book by Jonathan Foreman Aiding and Abetting: Foreign Aid Failures and the 0.7% Deception. Therefore, while I strongly oppose the reduction in the scale of foreign aid, I urge the FCDO to give greater priority to the problems I have identified, and to many others suffering in similar situations.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for opening this debate, and I agree with every word he said. The 2015 Act to which he refers places the Foreign Secretary under a statutory duty to ensure that the United Kingdom hits the target of 0.7% of gross national income for official development assistance every year. By law, he must make an annual statement to Parliament reporting on the previous year’s performance. If the 0.7% target has been undershot, he must explain why. Until Parliament changes that law, the Government must aim to hit the target of 0.7% of GNI. They cannot deliberately aim off, fire blanks or dissemble. They can say that they intend to amend the law or substitute another target, but, until the statute is amended or repealed, Ministers are subject to that law.
As I told the House of Commons International Development Select Committee earlier this year, Ministers cannot legitimise a failure to hit the target by announcing in advance their intention to fail. The Government of course know this. As the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, pointed out, Ministers in your Lordships’ House and the other place have admitted that they know this. Do the Government not understand that the expenditure defined by 0.7% figure is dependent on the size of the economy? If, as now, the economy shrinks, the absolute number shrinks with it. A politically and intellectually self-confident Government would comply with the law and permit Parliament to vote on any repeal or amendment, rather than ignore the law and Parliament.
I asked the House of Lords Library to provide me with a list of occasions when this Government may have broken either domestic or international law or have been accused of being indifferent to whether they were breaking the law or of being negligent in that regard, or have been accused of being untruthful to Parliament or the wider public. Time does not permit me to read out the lengthy list sent to me, but it is expressly described as “non-exhaustive”. The Conservative Party used to stand for the rule of law. In my view it still should. It is time that this Conservative Government either complied with at least one of the laws the Conversative Party recently voted for and enacted, or placed their policy before Parliament for a vote.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Fowler for this debate and fully align myself with the comments made by him and others regarding the loss of UK support for global health, particularly reproductive and sexual health. Today I shall confine my remarks to another important area. Building scientific capacity around the world benefits everyone. Global challenges such as Covid-19 and climate change require global co-operation. Overseas development assistance for R&D has played a valuable role in building science capacity, science champions and the UK’s reputation but, with more than 70% cuts in budgets, hundreds of projects in leadership development, life sciences, engineering, veterinary science, zoonosis research, vaccines, drug development, health research and many more have seen thousands of job losses and projects around the world stopped mid-term.
The Prime Minister wants the UK to be a science superpower and to sustain strategic advantage through science and technology, as outlined in the integrated review. For this to happen, the UK must build a strong and varied network of international science and technology partnerships with emerging future science and technology powers. The long-term relationships built through ODA-supported scientific partnerships and the UK’s reputation as a reliable partner will be lost. We run the risk of ceding ground to other countries in an area in which we have been global leaders.
How does the Minister think we will repair the damage done and regain the confidence of our partners that the UK is a reliable partner in their R&D ambitions?
My Lords, as a member of the APPG on HIV/AIDS, I will focus on this critical issue among so many critical issues. The UK has provided £15 million a year for the past five years to the joint United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS but now plans to cut this, by more than 83%, to £2.5 million this year. These cuts to UNAIDS risk jeopardising work supporting some of the most marginalised people. They will damage work to promote girls’ education and empowerment and lessen the ability to help countries, including the United Kingdom, to end HIV and AIDS.
The UN Population Fund has seen an 85% reduction in support from the UK, which has cut a flagship supplies programme from £154 million to £23 million and core funding from £20 million to £8 million. Analysis has indicated that this funding would have helped prevent 250,000 child and maternal deaths, 14.6 million unintended pregnancies and 4.3 million unsafe abortions. The Government have also decimated their funding for HIV bilateral programmes, which has forced the closure of a number of vital HIV services and cancelled several funds supporting small and medium- sized civil society organisations.
The ODA budget had already been reduced because, as has been said, it is a percentage of our gross national income. This additional cut, during a global pandemic, will inflict damage that will take decades to undo. The facts speak for themselves, but they will not be heard by this Government. Like others, I am left feeling ashamed of this shameful Government.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for tabling this really important debate. It seems that the cut to the aid budget is a hot potato passed to whichever Minister cannot move out of its way fast enough, yet it is an important topic going to the heart of who we are as a nation. It defines us on the global stage. It deserves the respect of the focus and attention of a single Minister, and it would be preferable if that Minister were from the FCDO.
In last week’s short debate on this same issue, in the name of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, I posed a question to the Minister at the Dispatch Box, the noble Earl, Lord Howe. I regret that my question was not answered on that occasion, so I put it to the Minister standing in his place today. The largest allocation of IMF special drawing rights in history, $650 billion, will likely take place in August. The UK share of this windfall, which does not come from the UK taxpayer, will amount to about £19 billion. These funds are designed to add additionality to our aid and development programmes. What are the Government’s intentions with respect to this unexpected windfall? A written reply will do if the Minister is unable to answer today.
I end by asking a question on what the Government are doing to help poorer countries get access to Covid vaccines—a question not about the TRIPS waiver proposal this time but about C-TAP, the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. Why have our Government not come out in public support? Why have they not endorsed the WHO’s solidarity call to action?
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has been a champion of foreign aid for many years, and the pandemic has proved him right once again. We are all interdependent, and the fact that Covid is flourishing elsewhere will make living with it here yet more difficult—one more reason why cutting overseas aid is a mistake.
I agree with the committee in the other place, which said:
“UK aid extends the UK’s influence on the international stage, creating soft power.”
Cutting aid to projects that we particularly support will have the opposite effect. The WHO has drawn our attention to the fact that there is no alternative to the funds we provide for the sustainable control and elimination of tropical diseases. Saying that we have helped those affected to adapt is a poor and inadequate response. As others have argued, cutting the allocation is not only illegal but another example of this Government’s propensity to close down debate on difficult matters.
I welcome the strategy outlined in the integrated review, particularly directing aid towards achieving the UN sustainable development goals. Building resilience here will benefit us all. It is right that we adapt the focus of our aid to changing circumstances, but we must ensure that it is properly spent. As others have said, if we are to be a force for good in shaping the world order, cutting foreign aid makes us less effective. The cut should be reversed.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fowler is providing a necessary opportunity to review the issues at stake when the Government decided to override, unilaterally and without parliamentary approval, the obligation in our domestic law to allocate 0.7% of our GNI each year to overseas aid. I will register five points.
First, this is not a debate between cuts and no cuts to our aid budget. The 0.7% commitment is a self-correcting mechanism that automatically reduces our annual spend for any year in which our economy shrinks, as the pandemic caused it to do.
Secondly, this is not about figures on spreadsheets—0.5% versus 0.7%. It is about inflicting cuts on many of the poorest countries in the world, just when they were suffering grievously from the impact of Covid-19, and on multiannual programmes to which we had given advance commitment. It is about hunger, girls’ education, health programmes and much else.
Thirdly, these cuts are clearly inconsistent with our previous support for attaining the UN’s sustainable development goals by 2030. That attainment is already slipping out of reach. Our cuts will make that more certain.
Fourthly, this autumn’s crucial COP 26 meeting on climate change will have no chance of succeeding if the developed world is not ready to honour and add to the commitments made in Paris for assistance to developing countries. Our cuts make that harder to achieve and are inconsistent with our playing a leadership role, as we should be doing.
Fifthly, these cuts are inflicting damage on Britain’s influence and soft power right around the world and will continue to do so as long as they are sustained—some advertisement for global Britain.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entries in the register as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis and chair of the Global TB Caucus.
After Covid, tuberculosis will still be here as the greatest killer among infectious diseases, as my noble friend Lord Fowler—whom I congratulate on securing this debate—said. It still kills 1.5 million people a year, quite unnecessarily. The sustainable development goal target 3.3 says that TB should be beaten by the year 2030, in just nine years’ time. On the current trajectory, it will be beaten in a century, over which period millions more people will lose their lives at huge economic cost to the world.
There are insufficient tools to beat tuberculosis. It should be capable of being beaten, since the accidental discovery of antibiotics over half a century ago, but in fact the resurgence of AIDS—TB is the single biggest killer of people with AIDS—has meant that it has flared up.
No epidemic in human history has been beaten without a vaccine. There is no effective adult vaccine for TB. The reason that the vaccine and the drugs have not been developed is that there is insufficient commercial incentive to do so. That means that public funding for these new tools is absolutely critical if we are to beat this disease. I regret that a consequence of the ODA cut has been that crucial funding directed to these new tools and the product development partnerships has been scaled back.
The next infection that comes along after Covid is likely to be airborne—a lung infection. We must have the resources to beat these diseases in future. That is why it is so important that we invest in the tools to beat these diseases, including tuberculosis. I hope that funding for these vital measures will be restored as soon as possible.
My Lords, these cuts raise profound ethical questions as the world faces the worst pandemic in over a century. Despite all the talk of global Britain, these cuts shout out that we are withdrawing from the world stage. Here we are, planning booster vaccinations in the UK this autumn, while only 0.9% of people in low-income countries have received even one dose. Covid is a global problem, and it is made worse when essentials such as clean water and basic health programmes, often provided by British aid, are cut.
Yesterday, I met the ambassador of Ethiopia, who spoke with grave concern about the cut in aid to Ethiopia, which is likely to be by more than 50%. Currently, less than 2% of its population is vaccinated, and it faces a third wave while simultaneously managing the fallout from the conflict in Tigray and famine due partly to war and partly to the swarms of locusts.
One of my diocesan colleagues has been in close contact this week with the Bishop of Lusaka, who reports overflowing hospitals and mortuaries running out of spaces. Similar accounts are coming out of Namibia and Uganda, as they struggle to contain the latest wave of Covid-19. Simply to cut aid will make those problems even worse.
Despite the recent hardships, we remain a wealthy country, with a healthcare system that the majority of the world’s population can only dream of. Surely it is unconscionable that, during a global health crisis, we are even discussing reductions in aid. These cuts must be reversed.
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for allowing us to express our anguish and our fury at the contempt in which the Government have held Parliament and the abuse of their responsibilities to the poor. As a member of the Global Partnership for Education ambassadorial group, let me commend the Government on the £460 million announced at the G7 summit. I hope that they will take seriously the opportunity of the replenishment at the end of July, with the Government of Kenya, to get to $5 billion.
However, despite more money being added for girls’ education in that fund, many millions of children will continue to die, year in, year out, from dirty water. Are the Government aware of the tweet issued this week by the Republican, conservative former governor of North Carolina, now the director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley? He pointed out that an extra 41 million people will die and starve this year as a result of the impact of Covid and the lack of additional aid resources. The cost, he points out, is just $6 billion, or roughly £4 billion—in other words, roughly equivalent to the Government’s cuts. In that case, are the Government happy to see 41 million supplementary deaths on the back of their attempts to supply more money to drive ships around Ukraine to irritate the Russians or to show how strong we can be in the South China Sea? Let us not pretend that being global Britain means that we show off our strength elsewhere while we allow others to die on the back of our attempts to look strong.
My Lords, the decision to ignore the law recently passed that 0.7% of GNI should be spent on ODA has led to billions being cut from spending commitments, which has disastrous consequences for millions of poor people all over the world. It is a shocking dereliction of our duty to play a leading role, as one of the richest countries in the world, in supporting the social and economic development of the poorest. It also damages our global reputation. We can no longer be seen as a reliable partner who keeps to commitments, and it leads to questions about our claims to attach importance to moral responsibilities. In various respects, it also jeopardises our security and reduces our prospects, as well as the prospects of others, for increased economic growth. The decision to renege on our commitments and ignore what the law requires also makes a mockery of the objectives on development set out in the integrated review.
How soon will the Government return to 0.7%? Moreover, do they realise that stopping programmes and then restarting them leads to inefficiency and poor value for money for NGOs struggling to rebuild and restaff abandoned programmes and reacquire the trust of local partners?
I draw attention to the dire effect of these cuts on children. The Government do not appear to have a development strategy with any clear priorities about which areas it should shelter from cuts. Why are huge cuts being imposed on UNICEF, Yemen and Syria, and the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh—to give just a few examples—where already traumatised and hungry children will now have reduced access to the schooling, the health services and the clean water they desperately need?
First, I warmly welcome my noble friend to a long career on the Cross Benches.
We are lucky in the aid business to have the advantage of several scrutiny committees. I would single out ICAI as a highly effective watchdog, whose close links with Parliament give it an extra advantage. Its rapid review of the aid cuts last month included some trades in flexibility for the FCDO in adjusting to the pandemic and its internal reorganisation, but it also criticised the Government for cutting aid unnecessarily. Aid cuts have hurt the poorest and most vulnerable, when they are already on the ground. We have already heard of the drastic cuts of 30% to 40% for humanitarian and water supply programmes, among others.
We lose as many lives as we saved in conflict countries as vulnerable as Nepal, Yemen and South Sudan. In areas of South Sudan, there are children who have not been vaccinated against measles for at least two years. They would have died but for an emergency health unit set up by Save the Children with funds from DfID. Had this unit been cut today, those children would have had no chance of survival—there were no other services.
The Foreign Secretary was scathing about NGOs recently. He was asked how many jobs had been lost in the UK in the cuts. He replied that he was less concerned by losses in the UK among NGOs than the effect on the poorest, but then he had to admit that, without the partnership of NGOs, he would not able to reach the poorest at all—but the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, could tell him that. Perhaps the Minister could say how many jobs have been lost, both among NGOs and in the FCDO itself. Aid NGOs have suffered from their own cuts, and the Government’s cuts have come as a crushing blow. I am at a loss for words.
My Lords, I am a great admirer of our foreign aid, which helps make a huge difference to millions of lives around the world. Whether people are affected by floods, earthquakes, famine, wars or conflict, our aid plays a pivotal role in many people’s lives. In many countries, native Governments simply do not have enough resources to provide their population with basic health education, clean drinking water and other necessities. The international aid that we are part of helps to provide that.
During parliamentary visits to several countries, including South Sudan, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, I have witnessed how British aid plays a significant role in saving and improving lives in those countries. The UK’s sudden rollback on its commitments, and the way in which the cuts have been managed, appear to have been rushed, with little consideration or assessment of their impact on recipients of aid, let alone on the UK’s reputation and credibility. The decision has strongly damaged long-term collaborative partnerships and trust between the UK Government, multilateral agencies and other Governments, built up over many years.
I am not able to call the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool.
My Lords, in thanking my noble friend Lord Fowler for initiating today’s debate, I draw attention to my non-financial interests in the register. Given that the cuts will have a disproportionate impact on fragile and conflict-affected states, what impact assessment was made of the consequences for places such as Syria, Yemen and Tigray, prior to cutting the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund by half a billion pounds—£492 million? Will the Minister confirm that, against these cuts and a 40% increase in humanitarian need, a staggering 80 million people, many of them victims of conflict of course, are now displaced—more than ever before?
How much money has been left in the crisis reserve fund, compared with previous years? Only this morning, reports from Tigray state that patients in Ayder hospital in Mekelle are dying because there is no electricity or medical supplies. The army looted everything, including the UN compounds, when it left the city. What resources from the crisis reserve fund are being used to help them and the 350 million people facing famine in Tigray, where, as the UN’s Mark Lowcock says, starvation is being used as a “weapon of war”. In 1985, Mrs Thatcher ordered Operation Bushel and told the RAF to drop aid into the remotest areas of Ethiopia. Will the cuts to the crisis reserve fund enable us to do the same?
I return to the issue of health, raised by my noble friend. What has happened to the 770 million medicines donated by pharmaceutical companies that we are told will not now be delivered because of the cuts? How can the Government say that
“it is not possible to assess the impact on the number of donated medicines distributed”,
when others have been able to do so? As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked, what will happen to the malaria eradication programme? This country’s word should be its bond. We should reverse these decisions to prove that that is so.
My Lords, in thanking and congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on his hugely welcome initiation of today’s debate, I declare an interest and a connection. As disclosed in the register, I chair the Thomson Foundation, which trains journalists and develops sustainable media, principally in countries scoring poorly in the World Press Freedom Index. Some of our projects receive funding from the aid programme, though rather more from FCDO funds. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, was the transformational chair preceding me.
While I recognise the many pressing demands on the aid budget in all circumstances, I urge the Government at least to maintain sustainable media development funding from the FCDO budgets as a whole. Sustainable free media can be critical in leveraging the effectiveness of other development programmes.
I strongly endorse the calls of so many noble Lords to allow Parliament to vote on the proposed cut—I am confident that such a vote would reverse it. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, rightly said that this is not a red-wall or a blue-wall issue, but the Government, no doubt playing to polling and focus group findings, have been disingenuous in the reasons that they have given for the cut. “The pandemic means that cuts have to be made”, they say, without acknowledging that the linkage to GNI does that automatically, without any change to the percentage.
Support for Covid vaccination programmes in low-income countries is, as Sir Jeremy Farrar has repeatedly emphasised, not just principled and fair but in our urgent national interest, in defeating the global pandemic. That principle surely applies to aid spending generally: it is enlightened long-term self-interest, not just altruism.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for initiating this important debate. I am the 28th speaker, and not a single speaker has supported the Government so far, and I do not see many on the list who are likely to. I cannot do better than to echo the statement of my noble friend Lady Sugg, who is a good friend, who said that it is “fundamentally wrong” to do this. You cannot better that.
I draw attention to the biblical story of the widow’s mite. We do not seem to get across that these cuts impact far more heavily on the people they are imposed on than the donors in the UK, who are giving a tiny proportion of their tax income to overseas aid. What we are doing is truly appalling.
I ask the Government, who are very fond of making things up as they go along: what would you be saying if the Labour Party was in government and saying, “We will not obey the law and we won’t let Parliament vote on it”. We would be appalled. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier is quite right: if a country believes in the rule of law, the first place that it should be tested is in the Parliament of that country. That is the base position, I am afraid.
We have said many times that overseas aid is about soft power. It is not about giving money away but about sensible investment in the future of humanity. I ask the Government to remember that and get this aid reinstated. It is a tiny proportion of government expenditure—almost irrelevant but relevant to the people who are suffering.
Today, all noble Lords have made clear their support for the UK’s aid programme and their dismay at the cut in aid spending to 0.5% of GNI. I understand that, faced with the tightest economic contraction in 300 years, the Government had to make cuts, but they must understand the consequences of hitting aid disproportionately. Reaching 0.7% was an achievement of international importance—yet it was set aside without even a parliamentary vote.
Partners notice when we do not keep our promises, and they trust us less. Right now, as the UK prepares, with Italy, to host COP 26, we need their trust. In 2010, $100 billion per year was promised for climate adaptation by 2020, but the international community is falling short. The chair needs to be trusted if the gap is to be plugged in the run-up to Glasgow. Without that trust, COP 26 may fail.
The UK’s second most consequential meeting of the year was the G7 summit. In Cornwall, leaders agreed to donate 1 billion Covid vaccine doses. Just three weeks later, the world sees that the pledge is inadequate. Under UK chairmanship, the G7 needs to revisit the decision. The International Monetary Fund has proposed a $50 billion plan to vaccinate 60% of the world’s population. Usually, the UK’s share of such programmes is 5%. If the UK provided $2.5 billion, it could all be directed at countries eligible for aid. By improving the outcome of the G7 summit, the UK would make its Covid policy more effective. One thing that every commentator agrees on is that no one is safe until everyone is safe. I urge the Government to reconsider.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for facilitating this debate, and I support the passionate pleas of all noble Lords. I will use my two minutes to question the Government’s much-bandied figure of £10 billion, which I believe is grossly exaggerated and needs to be adjusted to take account of the wealth extracted from poorer countries.
I will give three examples in the time available. First, in 2019, Africa alone lost $88.6 billion through illicit financial flows related to corporate tax avoidance, deliberate mispricing of import and export invoices and corruption. The destination of these illicit flows is often western countries, including the UK and its Crown dependencies and overseas territories.
Secondly, developing countries spend large amounts of money to produce doctors, nurses and engineers, but they never see the full benefit because the UK poaches skilled persons from poorer countries. No compensation has ever been paid.
Thirdly, money stolen by dictators, whether they are from Nigeria, Libya, Belarus or elsewhere, ends up in British banks and property. The full extent of such theft is not known because the Government refuse to investigate. In January this year, the Nigerian Government told the BBC that they are still awaiting repatriation from the UK of all the money stolen by General Abacha—nearly 40 years after the events.
I ask the Minister to publish a revised figure for foreign aid that takes account of wealth extracted by UK entities from poorer countries so that we can then really discuss whether Britain is making a positive contribution or, as it appears, a negative one.
My Lords, [Inaudible.] The UK is one of the countries to completely untie aid, meaning that it is provided without being tied to any policy considerations. It created a government department responsible for administrating—[Inaudible] —provided for by the International Development Act 2002. This is because DfID has public money, money that cannot be spent without parliamentary authorisation regarding the manner and purpose of its use.
As a policy, DfID decided that the following eight goals should be achieved through its budget: first, eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; secondly, achieve universal primary education; thirdly, promote gender equality and empower women; fourthly, reduce child mortality; fifthly, improve maternal health; sixthly, combat HIV, malaria and other diseases; seventhly, ensure environmental sustainability; and, eighthly, develop a global partnership for development.
Many years ago, as a trustee of Oxfam, I saw the effects of poverty. One of the researchers often told me that to understand what poverty means, you have to not only pour money but smell poverty. I underscore the need to protect women and their needs.
My Lords, I declare my interests as per the register. I shall focus on preventing violence against women, an area where the UK has done important work but where I fear we are now falling short.
The aid cuts are compounding an already difficult situation in this area. I shall point to just three examples: in Malawi, a violence against women and girls prevention programme has been cancelled; in Sierra Leone, a programme working to empower adolescent girls has had its funding slashed; and in Rwanda, Action Aid has been forced to close seven shelters that gave safety to girls fleeing abuse. Seven shelters—seven lifelines—have closed because of our actions.
I recognise that we find ourselves in difficult circumstances but the manner in which these cuts have been handled has not been to our credit. More than six months after the reduction was announced, many providers are still hamstrung by uncertainty. Tearing up multiyear funding plans leaves the beneficiaries entirely in the lurch. It will undermine trust in aid providers on the ground and in the British Government.
Even if the aid cuts were reversed today, much damage would already have been done. I hope, though, that the Government will commit to returning to 0.7% next year at the very latest, that they will ensure that multiyear funding arrangements are honoured, and that they will not reduce their political and diplomatic focus on combating violence against women.
Sexual violence has not gone away. Horrific stories of sexual assault have come out of Tigray, with men, women and children as young as eight raped. The UN has warned repeatedly of a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls. This is not a time to reduce our programming, allowing our knowledge and experience to wither away even as the need increases —it is a time to double down.
My Lords, imagine if next week the Government announced an immediate cut in the budget for Covid vaccines by 60% with no consultation, no warning and no attempt to mitigate the effect. It would be brutal, would it not? It would result in considerable disease and deaths.
Well, that is the equivalent of the consequences for the health of millions in some of the most deprived communities in the world when at the end of last year the Government resiled on their legal commitment to contribute 0.7% GNI to official development assistance. Health research and interventions in low- and middle-income countries have suddenly lost 50% to 60% or more of funding for projects already under way involving partner organisations in Africa and Asia. Those projects addressed priorities identified in the integrated review of 2021, including strengthening global health security and bolstering pandemic preparedness through a One Health approach.
However, it is not just those grand visions that are threatened. The UK’s flagship programme, Ascend, to support the control of neglected tropical diseases across 19 countries, has been so suddenly and severely cut that millions of people are now at risk of horrible diseases such as infectious blindness, elephantiasis, leprosy, chronic diseases that increase the risk of HIV, and many others. These diseases are largely preventable by specific drugs that have already been donated but can no longer be used—a wasted drug resource estimated at over 275 million treatments.
We owe it to those that we have put in harm’s way to say precisely when we will restore our commitment to help safeguard their health. The money saved is far outweighed by the human health cost created and the damage to our international reputation. The gift of health is the most valuable gift that we can give. Will the Minister tell the House when our legal commitment will be restored?
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on creating the opportunity for this debate. However, I have some concern that the failure to meet the 0.7% target is portrayed as an abandonment of overseas aid. So far only one noble Lord, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has demonstrated that we will still be among the top contributors of foreign aid in developed countries. As my noble friend Lord Haskel said, we need to ensure that aid is effectively targeted. Regrettably, there are examples of waste and corruption. However, I have listened to many noble Lords’ descriptions of the impact on programmes where overseas aid is involved, and I am concerned about the impact of the cuts and the lack of opportunity for Parliament to decide. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
As one of the biggest donors in the world, it is right for us to make a fresh start in assessing how we spend. We hear that funds are hastily disbursed at the end of the accounting year and that some countries, Pakistan in particular, doubt the effect of the aid; or it has been spent on wrong and unnecessary aims. This is a time to make aid more accountable and impactful and ensure that it meets the standards and foreign policy objectives of the UK.
Support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, at £67 million, achieves none of those aims at present. UNRWA’s resourcing of educational materials, which have been found to incite violence and are replete with anti-Semitic references, is contrary to the UK Government’s activities in support of a two-state solution, violate the basic values of the UN itself and are contrary to international covenants to which the UK and Palestine are both signatories. Additionally, UNRWA is not held accountable to the same standards or through the same mechanisms as other UK and international aid bodies, such as Publish What You Fund. Although they have re-established funding to UNRWA, the Biden Administration have nevertheless conditioned that aid on reform, including of educational materials and of transparency. At this time of renewed focus on the UK’s aid programme, will the Government assure us that they will do the same?
What we should do instead of that money is to select some worthy, appropriate and feasible targets every year, fund them and monitor them, put in the infrastructure and measure the impacts at the finish. Right now it is Covid vaccines, and Oxford researchers are developing a vaccine that is much easier to transport and store. Will the Government ensure that our aid, whatever the amount, is spent on the right objects?
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn so I call the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.
My Lords, I was a member of the Government who achieved 0.7% of GNI for our aid budget in 2013. I do not remember, as a member of that Government and as Health Secretary at that time, our being awash with money. I do not remember us thinking that we could cut the aid budget and it would enable me, for example, to avoid the smallest increase in NHS budgets since the mid-1970s. We took the view that we had both moral imperatives and global ambitions that could be achieved only by reaching 0.7% of GNI.
What has changed since then? It is not that humanitarian or other needs across the globe have diminished. On the contrary, what has changed is that we are now facing two crises: the pandemic and the climate crisis. We know, as the noble Lord, Lord McDonald of Salford, said, that none of us is safe from the pandemic until all of us are safe. With the climate crisis, avoiding carbon emissions in developing countries is equally as valuable as reducing carbon emissions in the United Kingdom. On both crises, we are supposed to be in a leadership position, as the noble Lord, Lord McDonald, rightly said: by making vaccines available for the pandemic, and by doubling our support for climate adaptations in developing countries in the next five years.
The only other thing that has changed is that we have left the European Union and we are supposed to forge our own path as global Britain. To reduce our overseas development aid budget is completely contrary to that. We should reverse the cuts and restore the 0.7%.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fowler’s debate is extremely timely as the Government’s announcement has had a disturbing impact on R&D funding for global health. This includes critical research into microbial resistance. Not only would a significant or total cut to global health R&D funding be catastrophic for progress against major global health issues like tuberculosis, it would mean that previous investments in global health R&D projects would be wasted. The UK is an important contributor to immunisation for polio, measles and rubella, and to training health workers. Now the world is facing the coronavirus, and nobody is safe until everyone is safe.
My noble friend Lord Fowler was Secretary of State for Health when HIV/AIDS developed. I was a founder member of the All-Party Group on HIV & AIDS in 1984. My noble friend Lord Fowler’s campaign should always be remembered, and people today should realise that preventing infections is of utmost importance. Many developing countries have looked to the UK as an honest and reliable country which gives them leadership in so many ways. Covid-19 has caused insecurity and uncertainty throughout the world. Now, added to that, comes an unexpected cut from the UK. I hope the Government will think again.
My Lords, this debate has of course focused on the impact of the cuts. Many noble Lords have given powerful examples of the damage done to communities and vital programmes by these sudden and forced reductions. If the Government still accept the basic case that development spending remains in our own national interests, and apparently they do, then logic dictates that this cut hurts our own national security and must be reversed as soon as possible. The damage, as so many have set out, could be all the greater in this uncertain and fragile period as we recover from the pandemic.
However, concern over the need to restore the level of spending must not divert attention from the importance of the forthcoming review into how the UK’s development assistance should be allocated. The direction of reform indicated by the Government is significant. The integrated review of defence and security has shown that this Administration understand the scale of the threat to all nations posed by the rise of powers that are fundamentally changing and challenging the liberal rules-based order in which we had assumed our commitment on aid would be made.
Given how much has changed and what is at stake, the Government’s objective to secure a greater level of strategic alignment of the country’s foreign policy objectives is laudable. But there is a great deal riding on getting the changes to culture, processes and priorities right. As well as returning to 0.7% immediately, I hope that Ministers will set out as soon as possible a transparent and inclusive path to a new strategy for how we support other nations with that investment.
My Lords, I had the good fortune to serve as a Minister in DfID in a previous incarnation of my political life. I saw at first hand the impact and value of much of the work that is done and funded by our foreign aid programmes. I have listened carefully to a number of the contributions today and many noble Lords have spoken of their experience and knowledge of individual programmes and their impacts on some of the world’s poorest communities. They are to be commended for the breadth of examples and experiences that they have brought to this debate.
I want to focus a little more on why we should be concerned about the impact of this cut on the UK. I do not just mean thinking about our children and grandchildren, who we want to be able to see elephants and rhinos for real and not just in the pages of history books; of course, our international wildlife funding goes through our ODA budget. I also mean thinking about terrorism, which can be effectively countered by investing at the source and stopping those push factors.
For those concerned by the levels of immigration, the best way to tackle those concerns is by addressing the push factors and the problems driving people to take great risks to come here. For those concerned about drugs on our streets, one of the best ways to stop them getting here is at source, before they ever reach the ports and borders of this country. For those concerned about Britain’s place in the world as a trading nation and global leader, teaching English, our values and good practice strengthens our position just as it strengthens those communities we support. For those who may be concerned—particularly in the current climate —about the spread of global disease, Ebola gives an example of a disease where our overseas aid spending successfully combated it where it was prevalent and stopped it from ever reaching these shores.
I commend the work of my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell and his campaign on 0.7%. I hope the Government will listen. It is not the right time to cut from 0.7% to 0.5% and the way we are doing it, given the particularly disproportionate impact on bilateral programmes, is not the right way.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing this important debate on overseas aid and its budget. I come from a firm belief that there is a moral imperative to retain that budget level at 0.7% of GNI because if you are to help people get properly vaccinated and stay in their own countries, the best way is to have a properly functional overseas aid budget. It is totally undemocratic for this Government to deny both Houses of Parliament the right to vote on its reduction. It would be much better if the overseas aid budget was retained at 0.7% of GNI.
We have to ask ourselves whether this Government want to help the Rohingya refugees; the children of Syria traumatised by the recent conflict; countries that lack a formalised health service; the people of north-eastern Nigeria, who are subject to a serious conflict in which 10 million people are in serious need of help; and the women and girls around the world who have been subjected to, and survived, a lot of violence. I ask this simple question of the Minister today: are the Government serious about rebuilding the lives of all these people? If they are serious about doing that, and about ensuring a global vaccination programme, why will they not reinstate this important budget?
My Lords, the decision to reduce development aid funding is a grave mistake. While it is understood that the pressure on government finance has been considerable during the pandemic, cutting funding to development aid by 0.2 percentage points will do little to improve the situation. Further, it undermines Britain’s global reputation and cuts funds to important health, humanitarian and sustainable development programmes, which ultimately will impact on us all.
In 2020, overseas development funding was £14.5 billion, and in the coming year it is expected to be £10 billion. How will the Government use this £4 billion, which is being taken out of the overseas development budget? According to Age International, the cuts will result in a 40% decline in global health spending. How do the Government justify this while, at the same time, spending £2.6 million on a new briefing room in No. 10 Downing Street and intending to spend £120 million on a festival of Brexit event in 2022? What message does that send, when the Government prioritise those projects over global health programmes?
While supporting international development aid, I was surprised to learn that the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office gives overseas development funding to China, the country with the second highest gross domestic product on the planet. That overseas development funding to China is now being cut by 95%. Can the Government explain how the funds have been used for that purpose until now?
Overseas development aid funding supports crucial projects throughout the world. Rather than reducing our contribution, the Government should redirect funds to where they are most needed, as has been the case in the past.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is having technical issues, so we shall go on to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh.
My Lords, I was born and raised in east Africa, and over the years I have travelled to a number of countries in Africa and Asia on business and in the course of my parliamentary duties. Whenever I have been abroad, I have endeavoured, if possible, to see the high commissioner or the ambassador and to meet representatives of DfID, the British Council and the DIT. I have been pleased to note that we have played a vital role in providing help in many ways, which include acting on diseases, eliminating poverty and providing humanitarian assistance and support towards the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals. On my visits overseas, I have found that we are held in high esteem because of our activities and our balanced foreign policy. Furthermore, with some countries we have important historical connections.
I am actively involved in promoting world trade between UK and overseas countries and I have spoken at numerous trade conferences. During the pandemic, we held virtual trade conferences and, when the situation returns to normality, I hope to take part in organising trade delegations overseas. In providing foreign aid, we help to build better trade links; it is imperative that we use those links to provide adequate training to help people to undertake business ventures. The foreign aid programme gives us the means to support our friends and partners—more so as they emerge from the awful consequences of the coronavirus.
The OECD forecasts that the UK’s growth will be at 7.2% this year and not the 5.1% predicted in March. It is therefore imperative that we restore our aid to 0.7% of GNI as a matter of urgency, particularly in view of the pandemic.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is still having technical issues, so I shall move on to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed.
My Lords, we have all been indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for bringing this debate to the House. He said in opening his remarks that it was hard to express in a few words the scale and magnitude of the cuts, but he and other noble Lords have demonstrated eloquently, and in many cases movingly, the sheer breadth and depth of the impact and devastation. Out of 43 speakers who have taken part in this debate, we await the only defence of the Government, from the Minister in his speech—so I hope it is a good one.
A year ago last week in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson described the world’s most effective and respected development body as a
“giant cashpoint in the sky”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/20; col. 670.]
From the moment when I watched that with a sinking heart, I knew that a consensus had ended—a consensus in UK politics that has been so hard to secure in a decade of disruption, with periods of financial crash, austerity and hardship, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, divisive referenda about our internal relationship and that with our near neighbours, and four general elections. At a time of turmoil, one area kept consensus throughout all this: the UK should finally meet its obligation to the world’s most disadvantaged and we should maintain it.
That consensus of all parties and none in 2015 allowed the Private Member’s Bill to pass Parliament, enshrining the long-held UN target of 0.7% of GNI into law. In 2015, debt as a proportion to GDP was nearly 85%; now it is 95%. In 2015, the global goals were agreed, and now they are likely to be missed, because of one of the greatest health crises in the world. These cuts, beyond what would have been lawfully permitted under the 2015 Act with a fall in GNI have been made, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said, as a result of ministerial assertion of non-compliance with a statutory duty.
There is no provision in law to set a new target. Parliament specifically rejected amendments for differing targets. Indeed, an amendment in this House tabled by four former Permanent Secretaries of the Treasury was rejected by this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said. Those who spoke most powerfully against that amendment were those who headed up our Armed Forces and had been Permanent Secretaries at the Foreign Office, because they knew how our global reputation would be enhanced by this legislation.
Now, in 2021, United Nations appeals for humanitarian assistance have increased by 27% over the last year. Developed country contributions have reduced by 1.2% overall. The German and US contributions increased from their lower base by 6% and 27% respectively. UK contributions to global humanitarian assistance fell by 31%, and this has meant that in the worst humanitarian challenge of our lifetime, the response has been cut. What a scar on the world, and what a shameful response by this Government.
Even more shameful is that on the first of four occasions when we hosted the world’s richest nations, the UK made no mention at all of the 0.7% target. I asked the Leader of the House, in responding to the Statement on the G7 summit, whether she would recommend and encourage other countries to meet the 0.7% target, and she refused. I recently asked the Deputy Leader whether he would, and he did not answer—our moral leadership washed away in the sands of Carbis Bay.
As the noble Lord, Lord Oates, said, by withdrawing bilateral assistance to scores of countries in Africa at a time when their people need it most—and from existing programmes—we will be able to see the impact on lives. As the noble Lord, Lord Trees, indicated, on complex and neglected tropical diseases, which kill, blind, disfigure and maim, causing considerable and largely untold suffering to millions of people worldwide, the World Health Organization’s submission to the International Development Committee in the Commons said that
“as a consequence of the aid cuts, 20,000-30,000 individuals are likely to die”,
“the withdrawal of UK funding makes it likely that an estimated in-country inventory of 276,802,004 tablets donated by British and international pharmaceutical companies will expire and need to be incinerated”.
Can we just reflect for one moment on the image of cases of UK-branded medication being incinerated in 2021? I asked the noble Earl, Lord Howe, in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, recently, whether the Government would commit to UK medication not being destroyed. If he responds on anything I say today, will the Minister, on behalf of the Government, say that no British-funded medication will be destroyed as a result of these cuts?
How are the Government doing it? On 29 August, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, promised new levels of “transparency and accountability” in his Statement, but the ICAI report of May 2021 said:
“However, as it turned out, the approach adopted by central government at mid-year resulted in more drastic aid cuts than were needed … The criteria used for reprioritisation were open to broad interpretation and inconsistently applied … Budget reductions were concentrated in … countries considered most vulnerable to COVID-19.”
This was partly due to their scale, as only sizeable programmes could make a contribution to the cuts. One of these was to one of the poorest countries on earth, suffering a malaria crisis unparalleled in our lifetime—Yemen.
The Minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly, told Parliament on 2 March that the UK
“will feed an additional 240,000 of the most vulnerable Yemenis every month.”—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/21; col. 117.]
This was down from 500,000 a month, which he promised on 22 January. Just last week, the FCDO ended funding to the Yemen multisector humanitarian response programme, which could see a further 213,000 women and children losing financial assistance for their food baskets. We know, through CARE International and others, that in Yemen, 73% of the impact of this will be on women and children. The UNFPA warned in March this year that lack of funding could lead to 100,000 women dying from complications in pregnancy and childbirth. The UK response was to reduce its contribution to UNFPA by 85% and its overall funding to Yemen by 59%.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reflected on his remarks in the House in 2015, and that prompted me to reflect on what I said six years ago at Second Reading of the 2015 Bill. I concluded by saying that
“the UK has less than 1% of the world’s population. Our global footprint is massively disproportionate to the size of our tiny islands. If the UK is a citizen of the world, what kind of citizen must we be? I say we are one that comes to the assistance of others who are in need … We establish our place and our identity as a citizen of the world if we uphold our obligations and encourage others to do likewise. This Bill is one major way in which we demonstrate our citizenship of the world.”—[Official Report, 23/1/15; col. 1520.]
But this Government are reneging on these obligations. Even after I challenged the Leader and Deputy Leader, they could not even bring themselves to encourage others to meet the UN target. The Government cut support by half to some of the poorest and most vulnerable women and children in the world and do not think a humanitarian impact assessment is worth while before they do so.
We are not just cutting aid but reducing partnerships. We are not just cutting aid but undermining trust. In doing so, the Government breach the law and equivocate on conditions for a return, and, when we have heard for years of bringing back parliamentary sovereignty, they fail to bring a vote to Parliament. What kind of citizen is this?
My Lords, this is one of the few debates where the number of speakers really does matter. I hope the Government will listen to all sides of the House on this issue.
It is 51 years ago that the UN adopted Resolution 2626. The simple principle of the resolution was that every advanced economy should spend a minimum of 0.7% of GNI on overseas development assistance. As a nation’s economy grew, stagnated or slumped, the proportion it spent on overseas aid would remain the same. The UK Government first accepted that target in 1974. It was many decades before the target was realised, but the ambition remained the official policy of each and every major political party. In the Conservative manifesto at the last election, it was there. So, the consensus the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, mentioned has been long-standing and cross-party; it is not a party- political issue, as he said.
As my noble friend Lord McConnell said, everyone accepts that during this unprecedented economic downturn, the amount of money spent on ODA would have fallen, and difficult decisions would have needed to be made. But the scale, speed and extent of this cut is causing huge, long-term damage not only to the projects that will disappear but to the UK’s reputation, as Theresa May said yesterday in the other place. Refusing to publish full information on the cuts, or any kind of impact assessment, illustrates how recklessly this decision was made—another point emphasised by Sarah Champion, chair of the IDC in the other place, who repeatedly said the lack of information from the Government is absolutely appalling, not enabling Parliament to do its job of scrutiny.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester drew attention to the fact that the Government had carried out a central equalities impact assessment on these cuts, which showed no evidence that programmes targeting those with protected characteristics were more likely to be reduced. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, said, with huge cuts of up to 85% to family planning and contraceptive programmes, alongside no similar cuts to male-focused programmes, it is difficult to see how these cuts are not worse for women and girls. So, will the Minister tell us when this assessment will be published? We need to see it; we need to see the evidence.
The pandemic has shown us how interconnected our lives are. Just as the virus is a threat to us all if it persists anywhere, the same applies to so much else. If poverty, hunger and a lack of basic services are creating suffering anywhere in the world, that suffering can manifest itself in the exact destabilising conditions that endanger us all. My noble friend Lady Donaghy reminded us that, if Lord Judd had been here, he would have said quite clearly that supporting global development reflects the values of solidarity, compassion and kindness that are integral to who we are as a country but, as the noble Lord, Lord Walney, said, we must also recognise the risks to our security and well- being if we abandon such support.
Unfortunately, there is still huge uncertainty about exactly how much will be cut, since we do not know whether the donation of surplus Covid vaccines will be counted as ODA and used to meet the new 0.5% target. 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, but with the economy expected to rebound, it is possible that a 0.5% ODA budget will exceed £10 billion, so will we see programmes restored? I doubt it. What we will see is these vaccines counted to ensure that the cuts are not restored. I hope that the Minister will today resolve this question and tell us that they will be offered in addition to the 0.5% of GNI. The announcement of 100 million doses, as we have heard in this debate, to be sent to low-income countries is a welcome first step, but it should not distract from the fact that COVAX is still struggling to source vaccines. Do the Government have plans to consider accelerating the timeline for sharing to address the current global shortage?
In much of the world, humanitarian crises are leaving millions of people on the brink of famine. In Ethiopia, the UN humanitarian chief has warned of the biggest famine the world has seen for 10 years, while in Yemen 20 million are facing the prospect of their own catastrophic famine. Despite this, the UK has reported only $6 million of humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, compared to $108 million last year, and in Yemen the total funding provided by the UK has gone down by 60%. Can the Minister confirm whether any impact assessment was produced for the aid cuts to either Ethiopia or Yemen? What is the Government’s current assessment of the levels of hunger in the two nations? While Ethiopia and Yemen represent the worst humanitarian crises of today, the UK’s ODA has been vital in helping prevent humanitarian crises of tomorrow.
Some of the most extensive and reckless reductions are falling on multiplier projects. Child nutrition projects are being cut by 80%. UNAIDS funding is also down by 80% and, according to Save the Children, cuts to girls’ education will mean 700,000 will lose out on an education as a result of cuts in that area. The ripples of all of this will be felt for years to come. My noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, highlighted the impact on AIDS globally. What assessment did the Government make of the cutting of funding for the HIV response on the ability to reach the sustainable development goal target of ending AIDS by 2030?
On top of this, the ONE campaign has said:
“it will be extremely difficult for the Government to make the proposed cuts, whilst also protecting their priority areas.”
This was a point made again by Theresa May yesterday. She said we should not approach this in terms of silos, because if you cut funding against modern slavery, you will be impacting on the ability of girls to go to school. She should be heard. As I say, this is not a party-political issue; this is something the Government should listen to.
The UK is the only G7 nation to cut aid, and with the US increasing international development spending by no less than $14 billion, it is clear that the Government are leaving us wildly out of step with our allies. Can the Minister confirm whether any G7 allies raised these cuts during the recent summit? Certainly, when I had a round table yesterday with colleagues from the United States, they were extremely concerned about what we are doing and wanted to make representations to the Government.
I come back to the basic principle we have heard: this is about parliamentary accountability—about the accountability of the Government to this Parliament. In November 2020, the Government said they needed to bring forward legislation to make changes to the aid budget, yet since then they have refused to bring forward this legislation or give Parliament an opportunity to have a meaningful debate. I hope that the Minister will have heard not only all the voices today but all the voices yesterday in the other place that make it clear that these cuts are absolutely wrong and immoral and should be restored.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on securing this debate and on the powerful and important choice of subject for his first debate from the Cross Benches. He has, of course, a long-standing personal interest and a strong track record in this area, but even if he did not have that personal experience, he would have heard many times from the Woolsack the strength of feeling across your Lordships’ House about this issue.
We heard that again today in a debate which attracted a large number of speakers, including former Ministers—the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my noble friends, Lady Sugg, Lord Bates and Lord Wharton of Yarm. As the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, said, we have missed the contribution today of another former International Development Minister, Lord Judd. I am pleased that we also heard from the former head of the Diplomatic Service, the noble Lord, Lord McDonald of Salford. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, saw, but his speech in opening this debate was watched by his successor as the Member of Parliament for the Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield, a man who did a great deal of work as Secretary of State for International Development, the right honourable Andrew Mitchell. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, just said, this is a subject that continues to get great and deserved attention in both Houses of Parliament.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked where my noble friend Lord Ahmad is. He is at the United Nations in New York today; otherwise he would have been, as he always is, at the Dispatch Box, taking his responsibilities to your Lordships’ House very seriously. I hope she will make do with me today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to her debate last week, which my noble friend Lord Howe responded to, as the Deputy Leader of the House. He is writing to her to respond to the question she raised, and I am assured by officials that that letter is on its way. He is also writing to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, to answer the question he raised again today about medicines. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will forgive me if I say they must wait for that letter, which I hope will address their points. With so many contributions and questions today, I fear I may have to do the same with some specific questions, but I shall try to cover as many as I can in the time available.
Perhaps, given that this is a debate secured by our former Lord Speaker, it makes sense to start with the parliamentary and legislative aspects, which a number of noble Lords raised—the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, as well as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier. The Government are acting in line with the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, which explicitly envisages that there may be circumstances where the 0.7% target is not met. That Act provides for accountability to Parliament in the event that the Government do not meet the 0.7% target, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will report to another place in the proper way.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, my noble friend Lord Bates, the noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Collins of Highbury, and others asked about impact assessments. Officials did consider any impacts on the most marginalised and vulnerable people and carried out an equalities impact assessment which looked at our bilateral country spending. The central assessment, as noble Lords will have heard, showed no evidence that programmes targeting those with protected characteristics are more likely to be reduced or discontinued than other programmes. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is carefully considering whether to put the central overarching assessment into the public domain.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans asked about Ethiopia. Her Majesty’s Government are deeply concerned about the grave humanitarian situation resulting from the fighting in Tigray. Since 2018-19 we have given over £1 billion in aid to Ethiopia. The UK continues to be a major donor to that country and has now allocated an additional £16.7 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, taking our total allocation since November to £47.7 million.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked about the crisis reserve. The FCDO will spend £906 million to maintain the UK’s role as a force for good at times of crisis, focusing our work on those countries most affected by the risk of famine, including Yemen, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan. Along with this, a £30 million crisis reserve will enable us to respond rapidly to new crises.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about Nagorno-Karabakh. During the start of the conflict last year, we sought to respond to the immediate humanitarian needs, and we are considering what further support the UK may be able to provide. She also asked about Nigeria. Her Majesty’s Government are committed to supporting development in that country, and our portfolio there remains one of our biggest not only in Africa but globally.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, asked about China. We have taken the decision to cut the FCDO’s ODA programme spend in China by 95%. The remaining £0.9 million will fund only programmes on human rights and open societies which reflect our nation’s values.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about job losses as a result of the cuts. We are monitoring the impacts on the partners with which we work very closely. My right honourable friend the Chancellor said clearly at the outset of the pandemic that not every job and business affected by the pandemic could be saved. I am afraid that that is the case for international aid organisations, as it is for every business in the UK too.
My noble friend Lady Sugg and others raised family planning and sexual and reproductive health. The UK remains strongly committed to defending comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights globally. We will continue to use our voice on the world stage and work with others to defend and promote these fundamental rights.
My noble friend Lady Helic raised the importance of preventing sexual violence, particularly against women and girls; I commend her strong and continuing work in that area. The G7 foreign and development Ministers will look further at how to strengthen the international architecture relating to conflict-related sexual violence when they meet in the autumn. The FCDO has donated an additional £1 million to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, and we are co-chairing the new global action coalition on gender-based violence as part of the Generation Equality Forum.
A couple of speakers mentioned specific programmes. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, asked about Ascend. The pandemic and its impact have forced us to make tough decisions, including on the Ascend programme. We are currently working with partners to exit those programmes but are continuing to perform planned surgeries and to distribute medicines in the most urgent cases. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked about C-TAP, the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. The UK has engaged extensively with all interested parties in that since the World Health Organization provided its initial proposals in October last year. We continue to have ongoing constructive discussions with the WHO and are committed to understanding more about how it sees C-TAP operating in practice. We will continue to act as an interface between the WHO and relevant parties.
The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, asked about tax. Tackling tax avoidance, evasion and unfair outcomes is a priority for the UK. As part of our G7 presidency, we secured an agreement for the OECD proposals which will make the international tax system fairer for developing countries. It will expand their taxing rights and reduce the incentive to shift projects away from such jurisdictions.
While much of the debate today has focused on the reduction of our spending in 2021, it remains the case that the UK will spend £10 billion on ODA this year. This means that this year—based on OECD data—the UK will be the third largest ODA donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI, and we will spend a greater percentage of our GNI on ODA than the US, Japan, Canada or Italy, as my noble friend Lord Bates pointed out. Again, based on OECD data, this year we will also be the third highest bilateral humanitarian donor country. So, even at 0.5% of GNI, the UK’s 2021 spend is above the preliminary 2020 average of the OECD Development Assistance Committee member states, which was just 0.41%. Of the countries that also meet the NATO 2% spending target, the UK will be the most generous aid spender as a percentage of income. Collectively across aid and defence, the UK will spend £56 billion of taxpayers’ money in 2021-22.
But the context, of course, is crucial: we cannot ignore the fiscal situation we face as a country. Last year saw the highest peacetime levels of borrowing on record—£300 billion—and we are forecast to borrow a further £234 billion this year and a further £109 billion the following year. That is a graver situation than the one described by my noble friend Lord Lansley. In five years’ time, the OBR still expects the economy to be 3% smaller than it would otherwise have been, so Her Majesty’s Government are especially proud that we are continuing to deliver vital humanitarian aid and development support in the face of the worst economic contraction in almost 300 years and a budget deficit of close to £400 billion.
With less money to spend in 2021, we have prioritised our aid to be more strategic so that we can remain a force for good across the world. We will continue to provide UK leadership by ensuring that every penny of our aid brings maximum strategic coherence, impact and value for taxpayers’ money and by targeting our aid at the highest-priority global challenges. To deliver this, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary set out seven development priorities in another place on 26 November last year. As they cover many of the areas mentioned by noble Lords, I think they are worth reiterating.
The first was climate and biodiversity. One of the great injustices of climate change is that the world’s poorest countries—the lowest emitters—will be the most heavily hit by its impacts. The UK is the first major donor nation committed to making our entire ODA portfolio compliant with the Paris Agreement. We have committed to ending all direct UK government support for the fossil fuel energy sector overseas, and this year, as we host COP 26, we will invest more than £1 billion as part of our flagship £11.6 billion international climate finance target.
Our second priority is global health security, where we aim to help end the pandemic, strengthen global health systems and end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborn babies and children—a subject a number of noble Lords raised. We have been at the forefront of the international response to Covid-19, pledging up to £1.3 billion to address the impacts of the pandemic. This includes £548 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, which has so far provided over 87 million doses to over 130 participants. UK expertise and investments in science and research and development led to the development of one of the first effective and affordable Covid-19 vaccinations: the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. In June last year we hosted the Global Vaccine Summit, mobilising £6.9 billion for Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to immunise a further 300 million children against deadly and debilitating diseases over the next five years.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has a uniquely long track record and continuing interest in HIV and AIDS. I know he was recently a co-signatory, with Sir Elton John, of the letter to the Prime Minister on this important issue. This was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and others. We share many of his concerns and agree that, despite major progress since the first AIDS diagnosis 40 years ago, the fight to end AIDS is far from over. Indeed, Covid-19 has heightened this immense challenge. As set out in the letter, the G7 has an important role to play in pushing for real change. That is why we are using the UK’s presidency to drive progress on global health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender equality, which support the global AIDS response. For example, G7 leaders endorsed the Carbis Bay Health Declaration to lead the way in building resilient, integrated and inclusive health systems. At the recent High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS, the UK made our continued commitment clear. With our like-minded partners, the UK fought hard for a progressive and ambitious political declaration to ensure the highest level of commitment to deliver the new Global AIDS Strategy.
In addition to this diplomatic work, the UK continues to support the global AIDS response with major investments, such as £340 million for the World Health Organization and a £1.4 billion pledge for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria—that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman. Of its budget, 32% is allocated to malaria, an area in which I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her particular work, and a further 18% goes towards TB. Our pledge also includes a new commitment to the Robert Carr Fund to reach inadequately served populations, bringing our total support for the fund up to £22 million since 2013.
Our third priority is girls’ education. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will spend £400 million on girls’ education this year. We will invest directly in over 25 countries, helping to achieve the global target to get 40 million girls into school. We are also increasing our pledge to the Global Partnership for Education by 15% to £430 million—our largest ever pledge. We have also used our G7 presidency to press for co-ordinated action on girls’ education and to secure support for our two global targets to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls reading over the next five years. The UK’s significant pledge meant that we were able to secure commitment from our G7 partners totalling at least $2.7 billion to the Global Partnership for Education, ahead of the Global Education Summit, which we are proud to be co-hosting with Kenya in July.
Our fourth priority 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, and we will focus our spend on those countries most affected by the risk of famine, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Alton.
Our fifth priority, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, and others, is science and technology. The integrated review clearly outlined that science and technology is an integral element of our international policy. Research funded by our aid budget has already led to the first internationally approved vaccine to prevent Ebola; the world’s first antimalarial drug, saving more than a million lives; and micronutrient-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 investment across all seven themes of our ODA strategy.
Our sixth priority is open societies and conflict resolution. We 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 religion or belief.
Our seventh and final priority is economic development and trade. The FCDO will spend over £490 million this year to support new trading relationships with developing countries, complementing our wider multilateral and capital investments, which are helping to build our trade and investment partners of the future.
A number of noble Lords asked about the international development strategy. It will be published later this year and will detail how we will deliver the vision set out in the integrated review, mobilising all the ODA and non-ODA resources at our disposal, not least our expertise, relationships and partnerships overseas.
The United Kingdom will continue to provide life-saving aid and basic services in the world’s poorest countries, through our overseas development assistance spending. Despite the unique and extreme financial pressures imposed on us by the global Covid-19 pandemic, the UK remains, in both percentage and absolute terms, one of the world’s most generous aid donors. Our strategic framework for our international development is a compelling and competitive offer to the developing world, consistent with our values and our interests, and our official development assistance is a key component of this.
I have heard the passionate and personal commitments of all noble Lords who have spoken again today on this important issue. I hope that, like me, they are proud of the aid spending that we are able to commit despite the pandemic and of the huge amount that 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 and continue to act as a force for good across the world.
My Lords, this has been an important debate and, first and foremost, I thank everyone who has taken part in it. It may have been truncated but it showed quite clearly the concern that there is on this issue.
The Minister said that the debate had attracted a large number of speakers—which was true; it had—but he rather failed to mention that, of the 43 Back-Bench speakers whom it had attracted, not one of them supported the Government’s position. That is perhaps of some significance and might be fed back to the Government. I might just add that I get the distinct impression that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, was not exactly knocked over in the rush of Ministers to get to the Dispatch Box—but that is perhaps an unworthy thought.
There was one part of the Minister’s reply that I entirely disagreed with: namely, when he said that it was perfectly sensible for the Government to be acting in Parliament in the way that they are. Perhaps he will explain one day, if that is the case, why, in November of last year, the two most senior Ministers in the Government—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Foreign Secretary—both pledged that the Government would introduce legislation. The Chancellor said that
“we do intend to look at bringing forward appropriate legislation in due course.”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/20; col. 870.]
and, the next day, we heard the Foreign Secretary say that
“we will need to bring forward legislation in due course.”—[Official Report, Commons, 26/11/20; col. 1018.]
I think that those count as pledges and I am not quite sure how the Minister thinks that they have been carried out.
I will pick out just one or two speeches from what has been said—an impossible task. The noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, had the courage to resign from the Government over this issue, which is a very brave act for a young politician. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, that the person we miss most at the moment is Lord Judd, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, on bringing the Act to the statute book.
The effect of the cuts has been fully explained. I will not even try to precis them but the effect on malaria was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman; the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, raised the needs of Nigeria and Sudan; the noble Lord, Lord Patel, raised science and research; the noble Lord, Lord Herbert, raised the human losses through TB; and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, raised the impact on children. The list goes on and on.
In the end, we come back to the point raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, with all his authority. He said that the parliamentary process on this proposal of the Government has been ignored and ground into the dust. It is very difficult to disagree with that—it has, and the Government have a great deal to answer for on this. As I said in my opening speech, it would be better if this does not go to law but if it is not to, it would be much better if the Government now—at this 11th hour—changed their stance. They must have got an impression from today’s debate of how it is going. It is not going well. If I was the Whip sitting there, I would not be saying, “This is a great debate and all our policies have been endorsed”; none of their policies on this have been endorsed. I have to tell the Whip, and the Minister in particular, that this is not untypical.
What is needed now is a debate in both Houses and a vote in each of them, and I hope the Government will agree to that. I do not often call in aid the Speaker of the House of Commons but that is exactly what he was calling for as well. I cannot see that, morally, the Government can do anything other than that. The way in which they are behaving at the moment is neither satisfactory nor acceptable. If they want a further incentive, I say to them that we will not give up on this issue—we will not just go away. This issue will continue because everyone in this House feels very strongly about it. I hope that that message is registered by the Government and their Ministers.
I thank everyone for their contributions. This has been a very important and valuable debate. It was made so by the contributions made here, however brief they were.