UK-African Investment Summit

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Thursday 18th April 2024

(3 months ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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The Government are making a strong case, but the reality is that damage that has been done by the dramatic cuts in aid and the disengagement at short notice of this conference. All this indicates to Africa that Britain is not focused. We have seen in francophone Africa the influence of Wagner, now reinvented as Africa Corps, where Russia is offering support to autocratic regimes to defend them against democracy in exchange for mineral rights. What assurance are we getting that it is not doing that in the countries where we are trying to build partnerships?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is right to point to the malign actions of some state actors and their proxies. We, a country that bases itself on the rules-based order, believe that trade can be a massive bilateral advantage, and that it can lift people out of prosperity.

Low and Middle-income Countries: Debt Restructuring

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Tuesday 12th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. There is an ongoing conversation with the Commonwealth. This is one of the many good advice services that it gives. This year, the year of CHOGM, we are also spending a particular amount of time talking with Commonwealth countries about how they can access finance, not loans in this case but green finance. A lot of finance has been made available, but many of the smaller countries find it hard to access, and we should help with that.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, poorer countries have increasingly become dependent on growing amounts of private finance and, for some of them, time is getting critical. We need to address the issue and announce reform but have emergency considerations for countries that cannot wait until we resolve it. Does the Prime Minister—I mean the Secretary of State—agree that this needs to be done and that we cannot afford to let these countries default or allow the private sector to get away when the taxpayer is taking the risk?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord that we do not want what we had in the past, which was vulture funds holding out for a better resolution than other holders of debt were getting. If we have new bonds with collective action clauses and new loans with majority voting provisions, that is much less likely to happen. There are also the other innovations that Britain has brought, such as the climate-resilient debt clauses, so that if there is a sudden problem caused by climate change or other shocks, you stop the repayment. I argue that Britain has a long tradition, on a cross-party basis, of helping with debt sustainability and resolution, and we need to keep that record up.

Foreign Affairs

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Tuesday 5th March 2024

(4 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, last week I met a Minister from Ukraine, who told us that North Korea had last month supplied Russia with a million shells while Ukraine had received just a few thousand from its allies. She was displaced from Crimea and wondered whether her young child would grow up in a free Ukraine. She was determined to restore Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure and build resilience, but she wanted to know how we were going to help.

The free world—even Europe by itself—has the capacity to outproduce Russia several times over, yet what are we doing to achieve that? What are the British Government doing to step up our production capacity, and encourage allies to do the same, to meet Ukraine’s immediate needs? At the same time, recent information suggests that components from UK and EU defence equipment are getting to Russia through third countries. What are we doing to stop that happening?

Given the global nature of conflicts today, countries in the global South are assessing the likely outcome and wondering where their interests may lie. I very much appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, about Russia’s intervention in Africa. Both Russia and China are actively trying to isolate the free world from Africa. Recent reports reveal that, with the demise of Wagner, the group has been reinvested in the Russian Expeditionary Corps—an agency of the Russian state backed by billions of dollars.

Undemocratic, authoritarian Governments are being offered support to suppress challenges to their power in exchange for mineral rights—in other words, power to suppress democracy. Countries identified include the Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as Libya, north of the Sahara. The group is also active in several other countries, and Russia is increasing its influence in South Africa. This strengthens pro-Kremlin support at the UN and extends authoritarian rule and the suppression of democracy. What steps are the UK Government taking to counter this advance and, in particular, to support democracy and poverty reduction-focused development?

Cuts in UK aid to Africa, the DfID/FCO merger and the diversion of funds to the fallout from Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine mean that the UK has lost influence and trust right across the continent. UK aid to Africa has fallen year on year from a peak of £2,989 million in 2019 to £1,240 million in 2022. That dramatic cut means programmes cancelled, expert aid deliverers sacked, development partners in poor countries left bereft, poverty increased and lives lost. Until this policy switch, we had built up a reputation as reliable partners, in it for the long term, building up relationships and underpinning resilience—all that has been trashed. When I asked him last month about aid in Africa, the Foreign Secretary said that it was being increased, but, as I have just indicated, the increase will not cover a fraction of what has already been lost—and we have to rebuild trust and delivery as well.

It is only too easy for Russia and China to play on the evils of colonialism while offering a modern colonialism of their own. If we are to tackle the challenge of poverty in Africa to realise the continent’s potential for its people, it will be by working with local partners, in the public and private sectors, with sustained, long-term commitment. We have to rebuild trust to know that that is forthcoming. Development possibilities depend on aid, trading and public investment, often building from the grass roots, in countries where the economies depend on millions of small businesses. We need coherent, long-term strategy. I have to challenge the Government and ask whether that is even possible given their record.

More than 500 million people are living in absolute poverty in Africa, yet this is a continent rich in resource and potential. The UK should engage in the exemplary way that it has in the past, not to exploit but to help the people of Africa, especially in countries where there is a legacy of mutual good will, and where Russia and China have not yet got their teeth in quite as deep as they have in other countries, so that those countries can build their own futures of peace and prosperity. This is surely a challenge and a worthy ambition for the UK. What are we doing to achieve it?

Myanmar: Health System

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Thursday 29th February 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, very much for initiating this debate. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s answers to those very pertinent and direct questions.

I have been involved with Myanmar, one way or another, for about 15 years. The first time was when the junta were in charge before. Although I was not able to visit the country, the International Development Committee, of which I was chair, went to a camp on the Thai border where we got a very direct insight into the appalling way in which the junta and the generals were treating their own civilians, for whom they seem to have nothing but contempt. The UK Government at that time were supporting the delivery of medicines through a whole variety of routes, obviously by focusing on diseases such as malaria and TB, but also anything and everything else that they could get. It is probably better not to publicise how they managed it, but they did.

I then had the opportunity to return to Myanmar, after the generals had backed off and the reforms towards democracy were in place. Initially, I went with a cross-party group led by John Bercow, the Speaker, who had also been a very active campaigner on the Burma/Myanmar situation. We were part of that group, along with Fiona Bruce MP and Valerie Vaz MP, and we travelled extensively across the country at a time of hope.

Subsequently, as things improved, I was able to engage with committees in the Myanmar Parliament, under the auspices of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, for which I should obviously declare an interest, having been supported by it to do that. Interestingly enough, my role at the time was in mentoring committees in how they could promote reform and deliver on policy. In particular, I engaged with two of the health committees, which were keenly focused on building up a service which would deliver for people across the country.

What was interesting was that these committees were chaired by medical practitioners who had been in exile and had come back, as they put it, to help the lady. That was how they expressed it. What was shocking was that when they arrived back, they found that the health system was pretty well non-existent. To the extent that there was any healthcare, it was provided only to support the mates of the generals. It was not really going to the people in need.

I have to express a little frustration there was at the time, because very good insights, reports and recommendations were produced by those MPs, but they were frustrated in getting any action from the Government there. I was really disappointed to hear that most of them said they had never met Aung San Suu Kyi, even though they were MPs in her party. They had real difficulty getting action. It is such a pity that things that could perhaps have been done were not done. The point, at the end of the day, was that they were beginning to build back a health service and focusing on how to do that in a fair and objective way. I was in the middle of an inquiry on trying to do just that. Obviously, we reached the situation where all that was swept aside as the generals came back and did what they are now doing.

That previous experience we had as DfID, operating for the UK through both Thailand and where we could within Myanmar, was really effective at reaching people. The situation has changed but there must be experiences there which are valid as to how we can get things through. Also, the junta are not having it all their own way. Unlike the way they were in control previously, it is a civil war now, and parts of the country are clearly not under the generals’ control where we can and should get access. We can support people there, and have to find ways of getting to people in areas where it is more difficult.

It is a matter of experience and ingenuity. We have done it in the past and should do it again. Clearly, it breaks anybody’s heart to see a Government, if you can call them that, who have such little interest in the welfare of their people. It is quite the reverse; they are hostile and the enemy of the people. Their interest in education and health is absolute zero, apart from for themselves, and they are literally destroying that infrastructure. We have got to do everything we can to help people. We can do it and have done it in the past. We could do it again and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some positive replies.

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Tuesday 16th January 2024

(6 months ago)

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Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I respect the noble Lord and what he says. We have been leaders on this through the Paris Club and other mechanisms; in many cases it has been the right thing to do to write down a country’s debt. With respect to climate change, these climate resilient debt clauses can make a great difference in helping these countries. Fundamentally, if we want to achieve the SDGs, we need to motivate global finance, and one of the ways that we can do that is through the multilateral development banks because if they expand their balance sheets there is probably an extra £400 billion that they can invest to help these countries with their growth.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, the Foreign Secretary has said he thinks that the merger of DfID and the Foreign Office, and the cuts in aid, were justified; that was not what he said at the time. How much does he regret that his successors have trashed his proud legacy and, more to the point, how assured can he be that the funding for Africa, which is still being cut even if an increase has been promised, will not be diverted to the Home Office, as has happened in the last two years?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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That is not exactly what I said. I am very proud that we reached 0.7%. I had some disagreements with this Government before I joined but politics is a team enterprise; when you decide to join a Government, you accept Cabinet collective responsibility and you accept you are going to work with that team and the policies they have. I am proud that, with 0.5% and a growing economy, we are seeing more money going to overseas development. Now that the refugee crisis is abating—I mentioned Africa—we will see, in our budgets, an increase from £600 million to over £1.2 billion, and we are committed, when the fiscal rules allow, to get back to the 0.7% that we historically achieved.

Poverty: International Development Aid

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Monday 15th January 2024

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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Asked by
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to promote the end of absolute poverty through international development aid.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the UK has a proud history of tackling poverty with our aid spending. The White Paper on international development re-energises that work, setting out how we will focus aid where it is most needed and most effective. The UK aims to spend at least 50% of our bilateral aid in the least developed countries. But aid alone will not end absolute poverty, and the UK uses a range of levers, including our expertise and policy influence, to support our partners’ development objectives.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, the Government’s change of focus and the cuts mean that, in spite of the Minister’s reply, the UK has lost its focus on poverty reduction. UK aid to Africa fell by £258 million in 2022, and its share of aid reduced from 52.3% to 44.1%. The situation in Asia was similar, and further cuts are planned. Africa has around 500 million people living below the poverty line. Does the Minister accept that, if the UK is to play a significant role in ending absolute poverty by 2030, the Government must refocus on poverty reduction in Africa? Can he set out, now or in writing, the poverty-focused UK spending in Africa aimed directly at reducing absolute poverty? Can he set out when spending on poverty reduction in Africa and Asia will return to pre-cut levels?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord; we have achieved a great deal on the eradication of poverty. Focused on humanitarian support, we have provided more than £1 billion of life-saving support in humanitarian emergencies. We have committed £90 million to support in education emergencies, and the UK spent almost £1 billion on global health in ODA in 2022. I take the noble Lord’s point on Africa, and he will be pleased to know that, in 2024-25, we will increase our ODA spend there to £1.3 billion.

Climate Change: Impact on Developing Nations

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and draw attention to my entry in the register as a consultant at DAI and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, as a non-financial chair of Water Unite and as president of the Caribbean Council.

There is no doubt that the precipitate merger of DfID and the FCO and the accompanying slashing of budgets has had deeply damaging effects. The UK’s reputation as a world leader in development assistance was literally trashed, leaving many vulnerable people bereft and at risk. As my noble friend said, dedicated and experienced development practitioners left the sector and relationships with partner countries were damaged. In this context, I welcome the appointment of Andrew Mitchell and the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, but that alone will not undo the damage. Under the OBR forecast, the Government’s tests for the restoration of 0.7% will be met by 2027, but the Chancellor said it cannot be done in the next five years. His priority is domestic tax cuts rather than the poor people of the world.

The Motion calls for a particular regard to the UK’s development impact on climate change in developing nations. In 2011, Paddy Ashdown, the late and much-missed Member of this House, published a review of the UK’s response to humanitarian emergencies, commissioned by Andrew Mitchell. One of its key findings was that those best able to acquire resilience were those who had already experienced disasters. The focus had to be on anticipation, prevention, mitigation and rapid recovery. People in developing countries should, of course, benefit from renewable technologies but, for many, the more urgent priority is to mitigate the impact of climate change that developed economies have inflicted on them.

In headlines, the UK makes impressive statements on the commitment to funding climate resilience in developing countries. The 2023 results for UK international climate finance are impressive but they are not stand-alone statistics. How is the four-year spending commitment of £11.6 billion broken down? How much is UK ODA, how much is from other donors, how much is from the private sector and how much is designation of existing ODA spending? Can the Government provide more detailed examples? The only ones in the results are small case studies from Zambia, Madagascar and Mexico.

One of the travesties of the Government’s decision to disrupt aid was the destruction of the cross-party consensus behind the commitment to development spending at 0.7%. That was ended when Johnson and Sunak took over, and we should not let them forget that. Cutting it in the wake of Covid, Brexit and the cost of living crisis was a statement by UK plc to the world’s poor people that we are going to tackle our—partly self-made—problems by cutting development assistance, while their problems get substantially worse.

I will give specific examples. In 2019, UK support for sexual and reproductive health and rights was £748 million; by 2021, it was £534 million. In 2020, our support for the World Food Programme was £549 million; in 2023, it was £286 million. These two areas are crucial to poverty reduction and good development. Giving women access to contraception, to safer, supported births and to safe abortion reduces poverty and improves their contribution within the community, as my noble friend said in her opening speech. With floods, drought and famine, pressure on food supplies, consequent hunger and malnutrition intensify. The World Food Programme has a very good track record of anticipating events and tackling crises.

UK ODA in 2022 was £12.79 billion; it would have been £16 billion if we had not cut it. It was further reduced by the diversion of £3.69 billion to refugee support at home. Development assistance, as previously defined, was cut by £7 billion in a single year. The Government have stated that bilateral aid will be cut again next year to maintain multilateral commitments. It is important to fulfil our obligations, even if this Government have a pretty cavalier attitude to them when it suits them, but this unfortunate choice would not have been necessary if the Government had kept faith with their legal obligation.

In summary, there is a great deal of work to do before the international community will judge the UK to have returned to leadership in international development. An integrated programme of development requires balanced priorities between humanitarian response, climate change, international action and bilateral commitment. When the pressure is on, the Cinderella services suffer. We need to address this. Without doing so, the commitment to leave nobody behind will be impossible to deliver.

Guyana: Sovereign Territory

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Tuesday 12th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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Asked by
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to Guyana in response to the threat of illegal annexation of parts of its sovereign territory by Venezuela.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, the UK is fully engaged at senior levels following the recent steps taken by Venezuela with respect to the Essequibo region of Guyana. The actions of Venezuela are unjustified and should cease. We are clear that the border was settled in 1899 through international arbitration. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary made clear our position in a recent meeting and subsequent calls with President Ali of Guyana. We will continue to work with allies and partners in the region and through international bodies such as the UN Security Council, the Commonwealth and the Organization of American States to ensure that the territorial integrity of Guyana is fully protected and respected.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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I thank the Minister for his Answer and declare an interest as president of the Caribbean Council, which has sent three missions to Guyana in the last year, hosted President Ali as a guest of honour in this House, and organised seminars on trade and investment with Guyana. This provocative move by President Maduro—backed by President Putin, of course—reviving a dispute settled, as the Minister said, in 1899, is a blatant attempt to distract attention from his unpopularity at home. The claim is being reviewed by the International Court of Justice, which has urged no action by Venezuela, but the President of Venezuela has said he does not recognise the court—which is standard practice, of course, for dictators and authoritarian regimes. They threaten the free world. What can the Government do, apart from what the Minister said, with Americans, the Commonwealth and any other institutions to ensure that this aggression does not lead to conflict, that Guyana’s territory is protected, and that it has the full support of Britain and the Commonwealth?

International Development White Paper

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Thursday 23rd November 2023

(8 months ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I also thank Minister Andrew Mitchell for his efforts in bringing knowledge and focus to this country’s historic role in international development. To be frank, we would not be in a position to consider a new White Paper were he not in post.

As my honourable friend Lisa Nandy said in the other place, not only do we need

“to have an honest conversation about where we are heading”,

but we also

“need a frank assessment of where we have been”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/23; col.197.]

One of Labour’s lasting achievements was to forge a new political consensus around development. To their credit, David Cameron and George Osborne sustained that commitment, keeping Britain on the path to 0.7% that Labour had set this country on. However, under the direction of Rishi Sunak, this Government retreated from Britain’s commitments, cutting our development target from 0.7% to 0.5%, and stripped billions from vital aid programmes in that process. I have repeatedly said that it is not only the amount and size of those cuts but the speed of their implementation that caused so much damage to the people who most needed it, and to this country’s reputation. The Government then undermined delivery, overseeing a bungled merger between DfID and the Foreign Office, deprioritising development, sapping morale and pushing out expertise. As I said to Andrew Mitchell last night, much of the agenda in the White Paper will have our support; there are lots of good things in it. The question is whether he will have the support of his Prime Minister to implement it.

The White Paper mentions the importance of multilateralism, but the FCDO’s action does not reflect that rhetoric; multilateral aid is projected to fall to just 25% of aid spending by 2025. Andrew Mitchell said that

“We go with what works and what is best”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/23; col.199.]


Will the Minister tell us which of the funds is not working?

The White Paper is silent on protecting the overseas development assistance budget from raids from other departments, after 30% has been raided in the past year by the Home Office alone to pay for spiralling hotel bills and the cost of government chaos. Andrew Mitchell’s only defence for this in the other place was that

“every penny is spent within the rules laid down by the OECD Development Assistance Committee”.

He also mentioned the “ODA star chamber”, co-chaired by the Development Minister and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which he said has resulted in

“ratcheting up the quality of ODA”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/23; col. 199.]

I hope the Minister can point to the evidence for this assertion, because that is not what is happening in the countries and continents where it is most needed. As I said, there is much to welcome in the White Paper, but access to finance for many of the most heavily indebted countries is ultimately unachievable. Andrew Mitchell appears to remain wedded to the existing ideas and strategies for debt restructuring options, despite acknowledging in the other place that we need to do “far more”.

The White Paper also refers to reform of the Security Council and specifically mentions permanent representation for Africa. Does the Minister agree that a broader review of the working methods of the Security Council, including looking at ways to amplify civil society voices, could also give the global south a greater voice?

As the Statement mentioned, and as my honourable friend Lisa Nandy pointed out, women and girls have been among the biggest losers from the decisions of recent decades. Empowering them is the biggest untapped driver of growth in the global economy, and there is no way of meeting the sustainable development goals without closing that gap. It should not be a few pages in a document; every single decision that comes across Andrew Mitchell’s desk must consider whether it does more to empower and enable women and girls to succeed, or less.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the White Paper, which has the style and energy you would expect from Andrew Mitchell. During the 10 years I had the privilege to chair the International Development Committee, I worked closely and constructively with Andrew in opposition and in government. That said, reading the document, you would think that the UK had delivered a seamless and uninterrupted ascent as a leading aid donor from the creation of DfID, through the achievement of 0.7% development spending to the present. But, in reality, as the Opposition spokesman pointed out, our reputation in this field was trashed by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak when the ill thought-through merger of DfID and the FCO was pushed through and aid programmes were slashed.

The appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, as Foreign Secretary brings back together the team that, with quite a bit of help from the Liberal Democrats and those across the House, delivered 0.7% and raised the UK’s standing to global leadership in aid and development. The optimistic thrust of the White Paper gives some hope that there is a commitment to rebuild our reputation, but the loss of trust and influence will take years to recover.

At the time of the merger and the cuts, David Cameron said it would mean

“less respect for the UK overseas”,

and he has been proved right. Andrew Mitchell said:

“It’s not right morally. It’s not right politically. It’s against the law”.


He had previously said that the Government will not

“balance the books on the backs of the poorest in the world”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/10; col. 1019.]

The UK’s books have not been balanced, but the world’s poor have paid a high price.

There are some things in the White Paper in respect of which I have to declare an interest and which I welcome. As a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Aid Match, I welcome the commitment to give more support to matching funds raised by NGOs. As a participant in the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, I welcome the offer of additional support for its important and valuable work. As the chair of the charity Water Unite, I am glad to see recognition of the role that private sector funding can play in the delivery of aid and development projects. Through an agreement with the Co-op and other retail partners, we benefit from a levy on the sale of bottled water and soft drinks to support local businesses in poor communities across the world in delivering sustainable water, sanitation and plastic recycling.

But, while private finance can unlock funds for development, and the role of the reformed BII can and does make a difference, it is surely not the answer. I fear the White Paper may be relying too heavily on new financial instruments to deliver for the poorest communities. More to the point, after the damage of the last few years, the UK’s convening power may not be what it was. Having Cameron and Mitchell at the helm may help, but I suggest that it will take more for other donors and, more importantly, development partners whose programmes were summarily scrapped or drastically cut, to trust that the UK is really back as a serious and reliable player.

What proportion and volume of humanitarian aid will go to poorer countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa? Reducing poverty eases the pressure on population growth, migration and the climate, so what proportion and volume of the budget will go to sustainable, pro-poor development programmes in the poorest communities? I welcome the commitment to support for women’s and girls’ education and sexual health, including access to contraception and safe abortion and ending FGM and child marriage. Can the Minister provide an assurance that these programmes will be restored and strengthened?

Finally, the White Paper acknowledges the huge challenges the world faces to get the sustainable development goals and development back on track. If the UK had not abandoned the 0.7%, our development budget would be £17.5 billion this year. Instead, it is around £10 billion, and a big chunk of that is being spent by the Home Office in the UK on barges, hotels and the failed Rwanda project. If the rhetoric of the White Paper is serious—and I accept that it is real rhetoric—and if the Government really want to recover leadership of the field, they should restore 0.7% now. Or will the Government still consider cutting inheritance tax a priority over the needs of the world’s poorest people? Credibility requires delivery. The White Paper is a start, but delivery needs to follow.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the welcome from the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Bruce, for the White Paper. As someone who has consistently served under my noble friend Lord Cameron both when he was Prime Minister and now dutifully as one of his deputies, I, among many others, welcome his return in the light of his stature, insights and experience. As both noble Lords have acknowledged, he was himself very committed to the issue before us. I also join in the recognition of the role played by my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell.

I share with noble Lords—I am sure I am not giving any secrets away—that one of the first things my noble friend Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, read upon his appointment was the White Paper, in order to ensure that it reflected some of his own thinking and perspectives. To the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, I say it is good and right that we embrace the experience we have across our party on this important priority.

Reference was made to what has happened under my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s watch. It was he who appointed both the Development Minister and my noble friend Lord Cameron to their roles. That shows his conviction regarding the importance of these issues. On development and the Statement, I have already alluded to certain elements. For example, on the question whether we restore the 0.7%—as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, called for—I have never hidden my own belief that 0.7% was the right way forward for the programmes we were leading on. Notwithstanding the decision taken, as I have seen myself over the years, we still provide access and innovation in ensuring that we continue to support the world’s poorest across education and health outcomes.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, talked about our convening power. Let me give one example which I know a great deal about, as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative On Preventing Sexual Violence In Conflict. When I launched the International Alliance on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict in October, it was promising and heartening to see the number of countries and organisations that joined up very quickly. It was not just “west against the rest” or “north against the south”; other countries, including Jordan and the UAE, also joined.

I would also say that, as we look at innovation, which was an emphasis of the White Paper, we are looking at enhanced partnerships with some of our key partners across the world. We have been signing memorandums of understanding with, for example, partners in the Gulf, on supporting development outcomes on the ground. As my right honourable friend the Development Minister said in the other place, we must leverage private sector finance, which is going to be a crucial part of being able to deliver some of the SDG frameworks. All noble Lords who are seized of development know that, currently, only about 15% of the SDGs are on track. Yes, we must do more and we must do better.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked what the UK is doing to help heavily indebted countries. The White Paper sets out the continuous work of the UK Government to tackle unsustainable debt and make future debt more sustainable. It commits the UK to being a leading voice in the upcoming review of the World Bank and IMF debt sustainability framework for low-income countries. The Statement talked of the Bridgetown initiative, and making sure that the voices of vulnerable countries, whether they are impacted through poverty or directly by climate, are also heard. Again, I acknowledge the vital work being done among small and developing states. In practical terms, we have shown that, when it matters, the United Kingdom has stood by those countries being impacted. That is why, when the Covid pandemic struck, we looked at the issue of debt and at providing the kind of relief that was needed at that time.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also talked about funds not working and evidence for the OECD assertion on ODA. Of course, there is a wide range of modelling and information, and we looked at funds in the multilateral system vis-à-vis the bilateral system. We want to ensure that every penny spent is spent in the best possible way. I fully accept that, when it comes to issues of conflict and conflict zones around the world, as we are seeing currently in the Middle East, in Gaza, we need to embrace and leverage the equities of each country but also understand that the multilateral system and the agencies that work on the ground—in this case, UNRWA—need to be fully supported and strengthened so that they can deliver their vital work. We deal directly, at point, both with the senior individuals within those organisations and, importantly, those within country.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins—I nearly called him my noble friend, but as we are inside the Chamber I will not—called for UN Security Council reform and talked about the role of civil society. I agree with him. He knows that, within the UN Security Council, the United Kingdom has been among the leading countries calling for civil society representatives, so that we can hear directly from people involved with initiatives on the ground. It is not just us; there are others across the Security Council who want to hear those voices and, practically, their solutions to some of the issues we are facing. I have sat at the UN Security Council and chaired the meetings, and I have heard that directly.

That is why the importance of women and girls cannot be overstated. Frankly, we must do more, collectively. There has been much achieved but, when you look around the world today, you see that there is an underrepresentation of women—their talent and expertise is still not being implemented. Within the UN framework, we have the Women Mediator Networks of different countries, but we are not deploying those effectively enough. As I have said before from the Dispatch Box, I have been speaking directly to Dame Barbara Woodward, our ambassador—and it is great to see that our last two ambassadors at the UN were women—about how we insert within UN Security Council resolutions aspects which embrace directly and leverage women’s expertise and insights. The evidence suggests that, by doing this, conflicts can be prevented or stopped and that any peace agreements reached will be more sustainable. If conflict is led by many of the issues within the White Paper, that is one reason why we should focus on that.

On the issue of access to finance, again I totally agree with both noble Lords. We need to make access to finance easier, but that also means giving technical support where necessary. For climate-vulnerable states such as Vanuatu or Tuvalu—Commonwealth partners—it is not just the money; they need to know how to work the structures and systems, and we need to assist in that respect.

The issue of the “star chamber” was raised. It is valid that we have the Development Minister looking at ODA funding. The noble Lord alluded to domestic spend, but, while being within the rules, that spend is trying to help some of the most vulnerable who have come to the UK. Of course it has an impact on some of our programmes, but it also demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that those who come to the UK for protection are given the opportunities they need to build new lives.

Although it will not resolve in an instant some of the challenges we are facing around the world, I am confident that the White Paper presents a real example of inclusive engagement. That is why I said in the Statement, as my right honourable friend did in the other place, that it demonstrates this Government’s inclusive approach. I have always said to those within your Lordships’ House and beyond that we must leverage the expertise of all, and I fully recognise the expertise in your Lordships’ House when it comes to issues of development. I was therefore delighted when my right honourable friend the Development Minister told me about the direct input from many noble Lords in putting forward this White Paper. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, it is a paper; it is now important that, working together, with all insights and expertise, we provide the hope and vision that is intended by the White Paper to help the most vulnerable around the world.

Turkey: Earthquake Relief

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Monday 6th February 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, within the context of the United Nations, first and foremost we have been working to broaden the scope of humanitarian corridors into Syria. It is regrettable that because of Russia’s actions that has not been possible. However, we will continue to work within the parameters and restrictions that apply. I assure the noble Lord that, for example, with the White Helmets, we are already mobilising additional funding and we are in direct contact with them. Notwithstanding the issues and challenges posed, I hope to speak with their representative, Raed Al Saleh’s deputy, in the coming hours to be updated on what is required. The noble Lord will also be aware that within north-west Syria we are working with key NGOs. For example, we have been equipping key NGOs on the ground to ensure that volunteers are already trained to deal with the kind of tragedy that has unfolded. As the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, pointed out, this tragedy took place where plates meet. It is a one-in-100-year event, and it happened this morning.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, the reports and pictures of this earthquake show it to be truly apocalyptic, on a scale that is probably unprecedented in our lifetime. I am grateful to the Minister for setting out the response we have made. In the past, the UK had the capacity to provide a very fast, comprehensive response and to co-ordinate international action. Do we still have that capacity, and are we able to provide leadership to get to people quickly so that we can save lives and ensure that needless, endless suffering can be relieved before it is too late?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Lord—and our response reflects this—that we have the specialists required and they have been mobilised very quickly. The noble Lord has raised the importance of co-ordination on the ground. We are working directly with the Turkish authorities, the co-ordinating body and our international partners to ensure that we identify and address what is required immediately. As I am sure the noble Lord has picked up, we were the first of seven or eight countries to respond directly; messages have also been relayed to the Turkish Government at the highest level.