Poverty: International Development Aid

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 15th January 2024

(6 months, 1 week ago)

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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.

Guyana: Sovereign Territory

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 12th December 2023

(7 months, 1 week ago)

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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

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 23rd November 2023

(8 months ago)

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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

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 6th February 2023

(1 year, 5 months ago)

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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.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Tuesday 17th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, in the light of the prevailing situation in Russia’s war on Ukraine, I am sure that many countries are now reconsidering their alliances with Russia and the support that they gain from it. One hopes that we will see greater stability across the European continent and in other conflicts around the world. There is a simple solution. Russia can step up to the mark, fulfil its international obligations and act as a peacemaker in conflicts around the world rather than making them worse.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, it is clear that this situation needs to be resolved urgently, not least to try to ensure a long-term settlement between Azerbaijan and Armenia. What steps are the Government taking to promote negotiations which will both protect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the rights of the Armenian citizens within Karabakh? Can the Government indicate that they are taking active measures to try to ensure a peace settlement and a long-term resolution, rather than see this long-standing conflict flare up again and again?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. First and foremost, we do not believe that there can be a military settlement to this particular conflict—I am sure that the noble Lord agrees with me. It has to be negotiated. That is why the UK Government are supporting the efforts of the OSCE—there was a meeting there this morning—the EU and other partners to secure stability and security for the region. As I have alluded to already, we are engaging directly with both the Azerbaijanis and the Armenians. Indeed, my colleague, my honourable friend the Minister for Europe, will be seeking meetings either this week or next with the Foreign Ministers of both countries.

Sri Lanka: Truth Commission

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 1st December 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord is right, and we have of course worked very closely on the humanitarian situation. In advance of the Summer Recess, I met his colleague, the honourable Catherine West, who is the Shadow Minister for Asia, to share with her the details of our humanitarian support—£3 million was specifically allocated. The noble Lord rightly raises the UN assessments and, as he will know, we are working very closely with UN agencies, not just OCHA but others, to ensure that issues of nutrition and medical support are addressed, particularly with other key agencies, such as UNICEF, with a focus on women and children.

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, bad governance, conflict and human rights abuses have pushed Sri Lanka to the brink. It is reported that its debt to China is $7.4 billion, or nearly 20% of its public external debt. So will the Government work with Sri Lanka—yes, to help it address its internal reconciliation, but also to reduce its exposure to China and dependence on Russian oil and to ensure that it can engage with the whole world, rather than being pushed to one side?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord—this is why we are working very closely. When I was last in Sri Lanka, we worked on the specific importance of ensuring the restructuring of its debt with the IMF. That programme will take time—up to about six months—to ensure the outcomes. The noble Lord is also right on infrastructure support. It is not just Sri Lanka; many countries across that region and beyond are reliant on Chinese infrastructure, which results in very long-term indebtedness to China. We are looking to see how we can form alliances and partnerships to overcome this, and the IMF rescheduling of the debt is the first step towards that. In the longer term, picking up on what I heard my noble friend say about the Commonwealth—it is good to have two ears, rather than just one—there is a role for it to play in this, which is why we are pleased that India has come forward and given credit lines to Sri Lanka to help it through its current economic troubles.

India: Missionaries of Charity

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 6th January 2022

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as someone who knows that part of the world well, what we have seen in India over time is increased representation of different castes and communities within different parts of the Government and in society. Human rights is never a done deal or a completed job; we need to be ever vigilant across the world and stand up for the human rights of all communities.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, the Government of India have had considerable success in reducing poverty in recent years, but government and indigenous agencies do not reach many of the poorest people in India. In their dialogue with the Indian Government, will the Government ask them to explain how those people will be reached if the agencies currently serving them are withdrawn?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I said, I am looking into the figures, but a lot of NGOs continue to operate across a range of different areas across India. India is a very diverse country, with great strengths, and it is very multi-religious, as well as multi-community. We will continue to work and raise issues constructively where we have concerns, including on issues raised in your Lordships’ House.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 27th October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, as I said, I cannot go into the case itself; notwithstanding his comments about the sensitivity of commenting on an ongoing legal hearing, I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that I have shared as much as I can on the details of the case.

On what we are doing to seek Nazanin’s release and that of others, I assure the noble Lord that we are working in diplomatic channels and with international partners. I mentioned the Human Rights Council last week. We are raising these issues consistently and directly with the Iranians as well.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, this sorry saga has been going on for more than five years. Each time, the Government’s involvement seems to have made matters worse, not better. Will they recognise that the dual nationality issue is an excuse by Iran? This woman is a British citizen and should expect to be supported by the British Government. How come we have a claim for a global Britain but are unable to find a solution to release this shamefully wronged British citizen?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord that the Government have not prioritised this case and others. We continue to do so. Of course, there is a relationship with Iran on wider issues as well where, again, the Government have taken what I believe to be the right line, particularly in connection with the JCPOA. On this case and others, we will do all we can to ensure an early release. As far as the wider issues are concerned, they play into the general narrative but we are very much focused on individual cases.

Myanmar

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 11th February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, as chair of the International Development Committee in the House of Commons I heard and saw at first hand the brutal atrocities committed during the last era of military rule. Given that the Myanmar economy is largely owned by the army, can we ensure that sanctions are targeted to force the military to recognise that the development of Myanmar and its own interests are incompatible with military dictatorship, and that they are applied in a way that helps those protesting against the coup and avoids hitting the poor hardest?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, that should exactly be the approach of the sanctions regime.

Nagorno-Karabakh

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 18th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, if I may, I will write to the noble Lord on the impact of the £1 million. On discussions, we are of course raising the need both for support for all refugees in this context and for support within the region. We continue to impress on all authorities the key issue of unfettered access, also raised by my honourable friend in Russia.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, atrocities have been reported on both sides. Of course they must be investigated and prosecuted, but this conflict has been frozen for nearly 30 years. The rights of Armenians must be protected, but so should the rights of the more than 600,000 Azeris who have been displaced for more than a generation within their own country. So does the Minister agree that the international community, while recognising Nagorno-Karabakh as an integral part of Azerbaijan, has failed to progress a long-term solution? What can be done to ensure that this settlement leads to a permanent resolution and does not become the seed of a renewed conflict?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, the important point is that all occupied territories are vacated and that, ultimately, the rights of citizens within Nagorno-Karabakh are respected. In this regard it is our view, as I have said, that the Minsk process provides the basis on which this can be taken forward, and we implore all sides to co-operate fully.

Official Development Assistance

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Wednesday 2nd December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, just recently, I participated in the pledging conference where we announced a further £155 million in development support for Afghanistan for the next year, contingent, of course, on the situation with the peace talks. Equally, we have committed a further £70 million to the important strides that we are making in ensuring the security situation in Afghanistan. As the Minister for Afghanistan, I recently discussed this with President Ghani directly. We remain committed to ensuring that the gains that have been sustained in Afghanistan continue through our security support as well as our development support.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. Does the Minister agree that severe cuts on top of the departmental merger and the fundamental restructure of delivery are likely to prove deeply disruptive for development programmes? Strengthening management and capacity within the department, referred to in the Foreign Secretary’s Statement, may well be essential, but does the Minister accept that the success of UK aid delivery has been built on a model of partnership with the UK’s world-leading NGOs and development specialists? These cuts will test their resilience. How soon will the department be able to provide clarity on bidding and programme-planning to enable the Government’s development partners to manage their own capacity to ensure that crucial aid and development work can be sustained and that resources on which the Government depend for delivery will still be there when called upon?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that we have great development expertise. Where I differ from him is that, in bringing the departments together and creating the FCDO, I believe that we have further leveraged the expertise of our development officials in contributing to our diplomatic priorities as well. Let me further assure him that I have spoken directly to a range of international partners, both within the UN context and key NGOs. We will continue to liaise with them on specific allocations; those decisions are in progress, and we will update NGOs and other key partners on them as they are taken.

Official Development Assistance

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 26th November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and draw attention to my entry in the register of interests.

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 Covid-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on our economy, which has fallen by 11% this year. This has forced Her Majesty’s Government to take a tough decision to spend 0.5% of our national income next year on official development assistance to help the poorest countries, rather than the usual 0.7%. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will shortly set out in the other place the future plan on how the aid budget will be managed to deliver better results for every penny spent, and to ensure that it is focused on strategic global priorities, which are vital as we recover from the pandemic and prepare for our presidencies of both the G7 and COP 26 next year.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, for her honourable decision to resign from the Government yesterday in protest at the decision to cut aid, which she clearly stated she could not defend. She achieved a great deal in her role, and she was a pleasure to work with. I wrote yesterday that the decision was “unconscionable and mean-spirited”. It is all the more shameful because the Government fought two elections in quick succession committed to 0.7%, and this guarantee was repeated by the Foreign Secretary, and by the Prime Minister in a letter to me, when DfID was absorbed into the Foreign Office a few short months ago. The 0.7% is enshrined in law. Do the Government intend to disregard the law again, or will they seek to amend it? Will legislation come before this House? Is the Minister aware that the law allows for a legitimate retrospective shortfall, but not for a planned cut in the 0.7%?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I join the noble Lord in his tribute to my noble friend Lady Sugg. She was not only a noble friend but a friend within the FCDO, and will be sorely missed both by the department and, I am sure, by your Lordships’ House in this role. As I have said, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will lay out some details on the issue of legislation. The noble Lord has raised two important points, and I can assure him that we are very cognisant of our obligations both in terms of the Act and to the House. As for the cut that has been announced, as my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer laid out only yesterday, it was a difficult decision, but it was necessary on the basis of the challenges we face. None the less, in real terms we will still spend £10 billion to fight poverty and climate change, among other key priorities in overseas development.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Thursday 3rd September 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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, I regret that I totally disagree with the noble Lord. The coming together of the two departments as a merger will strengthen the global reach of our development capacity and capabilities. Yes, I can confirm our continued commitment to the 0.7% target. It was a Conservative-led coalition Government who brought that into law.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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I urge the Government to make an early statement of coherent development policy objectives for the new department. I am glad that the Minister has reaffirmed the 0.7% but the Government have given conflicting messages on this issue, implying that the already slashed budget may be diverted elsewhere. The Secretary of State gave an evasive answer to my colleague Layla Moran yesterday, so I am glad that the Minister here has given a straight answer today. The workload of monitoring development and working with ICAI is surely beyond the effective capacity of one committee, so will the Government recognise that we need a dedicated committee to deal with this, which happened when the ODA was within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the time of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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Parliamentary committees are very much a much a matter for Parliament, but certainly my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s view is that they should reflect departments. The noble Lord mentioned ICAI and that will continue, although this provides an opportunity to review its governance and ensure that it is fully aligned with the new department.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development: Merger

Debate between Lord Bruce of Bennachie and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
Monday 27th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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I totally agree with my noble friend.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, why is the Minister being so evasive about the role of ICAI? It has been a huge success. It was introduced by Andrew Mitchell. Working with the International Development Committee—which I had the privilege of chairing for 10 years—it has proved an effective way of demonstrating real accountability for UK aid and giving confidence that we continue to be world leaders. Do the Government not recognise that dismantling that arrangement will not leave them with the trust of the aid community or the poor of the world?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon
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My Lords, I have already answered the issue of scrutiny. I have dealt with ICAI specifically. It has made recommendations on briefs and parts of my portfolio, including PSVI, which we discussed earlier. We continue to respond to all levels of parliamentary scrutiny, as we will with the new department from September.