[Relevant documents: Written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s Main Estimate 2022-23, reported to the House on
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with
(1) further resources, not exceeding £4,658,807,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 396 of Session 2022–23,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £1,379,354,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £5,087,990,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Vicky Ford.)
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always a pleasure to serve under your guidance. I also wish to thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate on the spending of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on the strategy for international development.
A year ago, I stood in this Chamber to open an estimates day debate on the FCDO’s main estimate. At that point, the Department had recently changed the format of its spending plans, which made scrutiny incredibly difficult. I wish to take this opportunity to thank FCDO officials who have worked with House of Commons staff over the past year to restore and improve the quality of information available in the estimate, allowing my Committee and Members to fulfil their crucial role in holding the Government to account for how they spend their aid.
Much has changed since I made that speech last year, but one in 10 people around the world are still living in extreme poverty. That simply cannot be right. Today, I wish to reflect on the enormous potential that lies within the poorest communities in the world and on how the UK Government’s aid spending should seek to develop that potential, transforming lives and creating a fairer, more inclusive world for all.
In the past few weeks, we have finally seen the Government release their new international development strategy. Combined with this main estimate, the approach signals a new era in how the UK spends its development funding, but I am simply not convinced that this approach will help the very poorest people in the world. It is clear that the Government’s priorities are increasingly about trade, security and creating British jobs, but the legally mandated objective of UK aid spending is to reduce poverty. That must remain front and centre.
The Government’s plans described a more hard-nosed, investment-driven approach to UK official development assistance. Capital investment expenditure—spending that is used, for example, on infrastructure projects—has increased by 49% compared with the last financial year, but relative day-to-day spending, from which traditional aid programmes would typically be funded, has increased by only 8.5%.
Investment partnerships are becoming a more dominant feature of UK aid. British International Investment will receive a further £200 million in capital from the FCDO, and the amount of funding channelled through BII is set to increase dramatically over the next two years. Economic and investment-led development certainly has a place in any coherent development strategy, but it tends to benefit those who are engaged, or are able to engage, with the formal labour market. I am not convinced that this approach will help the poorest and most marginalised groups around the world. I am just not convinced that it will help them to achieve their potential or create long-lasting development in their communities.
Putting all of the UK’s development eggs in the economic basket will mean that swathes of people are left behind: disabled people, minorities, and women and girls. How does the FCDO’s approach help them to reach their potential and enrich their communities? I have no doubt that UK investments can fund and support some truly transformative projects. However, we need to get the basics right first, otherwise how will those projects succeed?
Investing in new roads does not help a girl who cannot access clean water. A new telecoms network is not much use to a boy who cannot get vital vaccines. We need basic support in place first, before those investments can succeed. Get the foundations right, and then development will flourish. Under DFID, it was clear how UK aid was working towards the attainment of the UN sustainable development goals—the map to lifting people out of poverty and keeping them out of it—but this strategy barely refers to the SDGs.
It is hard to know whether we are on the right path to development without the map that the SDGs provide. With the integration of development and wider foreign policy objectives, helping the poor increasingly seems to be seen as a by-product of British foreign policy, rather than an end in itself. In fact, this Government strategy has no qualms about UK aid being “overtly geopolitical”. The strategy seeks to actively draw lower income countries away from the influence of authoritarian regimes, and to promote freedom and democracy around the world.
However, what about the communities living in countries that are not a pressing priority for achieving a foreign policy aim, or whose Governments do not share UK objectives? Are we leaving those communities behind? What happens to their potential? In my Committee’s work, we have heard that different types of development problems require different approaches. Sometimes spending through bilateral programmes is effective, and sometimes putting funds through multilaterals—such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, or the World Food Programme—is more effective. We need to use the right tools for the job.
The UK is stepping back from its commitment to multilateral co-operation and placing more emphasis on bilateral spending. The Foreign Secretary told my Committee that, in 2022-23, £3.7 billion of UK aid funding will be spent through multilaterals. By 2024-25, it will be £2.4 billion—a 35% reduction in just two years. The UK’s contribution to major multilateral institutions means that we generate goodwill and we also have a huge influence over the way global institutions spend tens of billions of dollars each year.
Our multilateral investments are also a lever in investments from elsewhere, meaning that they have a multiplier effect, but the UK will be reducing its contribution to the World Bank by an astonishing 54%. If the UK is looking to increase its influence on the global stage, it seems counter-intuitive to step away from that leadership role.
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee, who is making a brilliant speech. Does she agree that it is in Britain’s interests to use multilateral institutions, rather than to simply donate bilaterally, because that multiplies the impact that we can have?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. At a time of such international uncertainty, a policy of giving away influence and friendships that have taken decades, if not centuries, to build up seems a very strange way to further the interests of this country, let alone the poorest in the world.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech, and I strongly agree with her point about multilateralism. May I take her back to a debate she initiated in Westminster Hall on the plight of the Palestinians and the role of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency—a crucial part of the multilateral system that does so much to support Palestinians in the worst conditions in Gaza, the west bank and elsewhere in the middle east? I am sure my hon. Friend agrees that it would be good to hear from the Minister how the UNRWA pledging conference went—the Minister was good enough to reference the conference in her response to the debate last week—as well as what Britain’s contribution was and why no Minister from the UK attended.
I second everything my hon. Friend has said. We have a number of significant pledges that are coming up or being processed—I am thinking, for example, of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. It would be so short-sighted to step away from investments that we have been making for so long, when we are at a real crisis point on many issues, whether that is solving the problem of malaria or HIV or just maintaining what we have already built up. So I completely support what my hon. Friend has said.
The Government are blunting a key tool in the development toolbox by not continuing their support of multilaterals. Let us remember that they have chosen to cap the aid budget at 0.5% of gross national income. We face an unprecedented set of crises around the world—the war in Ukraine, hunger in the horn of Africa and the devastating impacts of climate change—so we must spend every penny of the budget in the most effective way possible. Sadly, I am not convinced that the direction we are taking with this spending allows us to do that.
There is enormous potential in the poorest communities around the world, and UK aid can empower people to help themselves, creating long-term, sustainable economies, but we need to help lift people out of poverty first and make those transformations permanent.
It is wonderful not to be on a four-minute time limit for a debate as important as this. I draw the House’s attention to my interests as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The Foreign Secretary has inherited a complete mess on development, and I have great sympathy for her in trying to bring some order to things. We are, of course, still spending a very substantial sum on ODA as part of our development budget. However, that sum has reduced from 0.7% to 0.5%, and I want to say a word or two about that.
If someone was looking for the least good time to reduce this expenditure, they would definitely have chosen the date and the day upon which the Prime Minister made that decision. It was in the foothills of Britain chairing the G7 and at the time of an international global pandemic. Development leadership was really needed, and Britain was in a position to provide it. Britain was acknowledged around the world as an international development superpower and was really in a position to move the dial on these things. But what happened? The Prime Minister reduced ODA from 0.7% to 0.5%, at the very time when British leadership was really needed. Of course, the Prime Minister had also dismantled the Department for International Development, and I will come on to that in a moment, but the point I am seeking to make is that, at a time when Britain could have given real leadership—in one of the few areas where it is acknowledged, post empire, that we are a superpower and have real leadership and skills to impart—the money was reduced.
Following the pandemic, we see the scourge of famine affecting parts of our world such as the horn of Africa and all the way down the rest of the eastern side of Africa. Hilary Benn, who is a former Secretary of State for International Development, will remember the acute leadership that DFID gave, leading other countries to stop famines and starvation in the horn of Africa. That skill has never been more needed than it is today, as we stand before a real threat to people’s lives and livelihoods, but Britain is not in a position to give that leadership.
I will make two further points on the money. I do not think I will carry the Chair of the Select Committee with me here, although I pay tribute to her leadership of her Committee and the very good work that the Committee is doing, but my advice to the Foreign Secretary, given the complete mess on Britain’s development policy, was to find the money from the multilateral programmes and not from the bilateral programmes. If she is forced to make that decision, a decision she should never have had to make, it is clearly right to take the money from the multilateral programmes, for the same reason that Bonnie and Clyde robbed banks: that is where the money is.
The big multilateral programmes such as the World Bank are where the money is, and the Foreign Secretary is therefore in my view right to take it from there, but that is not a decision she should have had to make.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, my neighbour, but I disagree with him on this point. With the International Monetary Fund, for example, where we have collectively issued $650 billion of special drawing rights, it would have been sensible for the UK to have stepped up and provided some leadership, sharing a much bigger fraction of the £19 billion we have been given. That would have encouraged the rest of the G7 to follow suit, and the G7 is about one third of the SDR issuance.
On that point I completely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Although I do not want to put words into the Minister’s mouth, I suspect that the Foreign Office wanted to do precisely as the right hon. Gentleman has described, but the Treasury made it extremely difficult. My point is that the savage cuts made to the bilateral programmes, where food was literally removed from the plates of starving children in Yemen, show why, in the end, if the Foreign Secretary is forced to make such decisions, she is right to take the money out of the multilateral programme.
While I am on the subject, Britain has had a leadership role within the Global Fund, along with the Americans. After 2010, we made a number of substantive changes to make the Global Fund better. It is extremely good spending, for reasons that the Minister will be well aware of, and I urge the Government to ensure that we are as generous as possible on the replenishment of the fund, not least because the Americans have made it clear that they will be even more generous than they are already being if other countries put their money where their mouth is. There is a real incentive of getting far more bang for the British taxpayer’s buck in helping with the replenishment of the Global Fund.
My other point about the money, and again I hope the Chair of the Select Committee will forgive me for making it, is that I do not believe it is sensible to go in one year from 0.5% to 0.7%. The Chancellor has already committed to bringing back the 0.7% in two years’ time. The year before that, he should go to 0.6%. I say that for two reasons.
There is quite a lot of money involved, and although there is no doubt we could spend it well through the multilateral system, I do not think the British taxpayer would believe that such a big uplift in one year could guarantee that the money was really well spent, and I do not want to test their patience on this. I want to make sure that we can look the British taxpayer in the eye and say that, for every pound of their hard-earned money that we spend on international development, we are delivering 100p of value on the ground. I urge Treasury Ministers to consider bringing back the 0.6% next year and the 0.7% the year after, and not doing it in one lump, which I believe is the current plan.
I commend the right hon. Gentleman on the book he wrote, which I remember reading about two months ago. In that book, he referred to the role he previously held in the then Department for International Development, and from what he said it was clear to me that the benefits of the money the United Kingdom spends are not just marked in financial terms, but in terms of the effect on people across the countries it helps. Does he agree that for those reasons, the good that it does is much more important than the money itself?
My hon. Friend—he is my hon. Friend—is absolutely right in what he says, and it is very good of him to make mention of my book, “Beyond a Fringe: Tales from a Reformed Establishment Lackey”, which is still available in bookshops. I am very grateful indeed to him for drawing the House’s attention to that. I should say that the Minister, who has a starring role in my book, understands these issues, and I absolve her of all blame for any of the criticism I am making because she inherited much of this situation and was not responsible for it.
The real problem, which is even worse than breaking our promise on the money, is the vaporisation of DFID. I think the abolition of DFID is now acknowledged in almost every corner as an absolute disaster because it has cut at a stroke the expertise assembled by Britain. The international community used to come to Britain to come to DFID, and to our universities with their programmes that were so closely entwined with DFID, to see how to drive forward the efforts in their part of the world to degrade and try to eliminate grinding international poverty. Most importantly, the top 100 people who were responsible for driving forward the Government’s agenda in DFID have gone. Of course they have, because they have been headhunted by the international system, whether in New York, Geneva or the charitable sector. They have gone because they see a Government who do not recognise or appreciate that extraordinary skill that existed in DFID. The Government are now faced with a large budget but a diminishing level of expertise.
It is even worse than that, because the Prime Minister decided that we should not revert to what Mrs Thatcher so rightly had—the Overseas Development Administration as a Department within the Foreign Office that Tony Blair subsequently took into DFID. The Prime Minister does not want an ODA in the Foreign Office because he knows that if it was there, another Administration after him could immediately re-set up, or try to re-set up, DFID, and he wants development done on a geographical basis. That is the destruction of a real hub and driver of UK leadership, influence, expertise and knowledge. All that has now gone.
All international development spending is about Britain’s national interest. It is spent largely in areas where we have a historical connection. When I was DFID Secretary, the Foreign Office always had a view, which we always accepted, about where was the best place in which British influence through development could and should be exerted. The aim of international development policy, which Britain drove forward so successfully under both political parties for so very many years, was to build safer and more prosperous communities overseas. It was to make sure that we helped countries, through partnership, to deal with conflicts—to stop conflicts starting, or, once a conflict had started, to eliminate it and reconcile people who had been torn apart by it, and then to build prosperity and help to promote economic activity to ensure that people had the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. It was hugely in our national interest to pursue those policies because it made us safer in Britain and more prosperous as well. The world is a small place and we are all increasingly dependent on each other. That is an eternal truth.
Furthermore, building stronger and safer societies over there helps to stop the high level of migration, which is now being fuelled by starvation and famine, climate change emergencies, and the ease of travel. The whole burden of British development policy was to try to help to resolve that by building those safer and more prosperous societies overseas.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly powerful speech. Does he agree that there is a direct link between the poor people coming across on boats that this Government are now intent on rounding up and putting in detention centres, until legal challenge is stopped, to send them off to Rwanda, and the aid that we are no longer giving to the country they have come from, thus forcing them in that direction? If we want to stop people making those dangerous journeys, is not the best investment we can make to help them to do what they want to do, which is to stay where they were born and where they can be prosperous?
The hon. Lady has said more eloquently than me precisely why this is such an important aspect of British policy and also why it is strongly approved of by the Daily Mail and the right, which is because it helps achieve the aim of mitigating and addressing flows of migration and refugees. That brings me to my next point, of which again the Chair of the Select Committee may not approve. I am not opposed to sending people who have been processed here, and who are not eligible for asylum here, to Rwanda, if it is prepared to take them, which it is. I know Rwanda very well. I was there recently for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, participating in an investment conference. It is a wonderful place, and I have no objection in principle to us sending people there, once they have been processed here, if Rwandans are prepared to take them.
However, there are two problems with the current policy. One is that it will not work, and the second is that it is extraordinarily expensive. In this business, there is no alternative but to put in the work, to do the hard yards and to recognise that we have to process far more quickly and effectively people who are coming to our shores, many of whom are fleeing persecution in great jeopardy. We need to hear their cases and process them.
Secondly, we need to open up lawful, legal and safe routes. At the moment, those legal and safe routes do not exist. They exist for Ukrainians, and they did exist for Afghanis—and some time ago for Syrians—but for others they do not. Some 87% of the people who come to our shores come from just four countries, and we should remember that 75% of them end up being found eligible to stay in the country. We need these proper legal routes, we need to process in the right way and we need to restore the relationship with France.
The relationship with France, as anyone who has engaged with the French Government in any way in recent weeks and months will know, is appalling and needs to be restored. There are huge reservoirs of knowledge in this country about France and of good will with senior French politicians. Politicians on both sides of the channel know each other well, and the relationship has never been worse than it is today. It urgently needs to be restored if we are to address the issues that exist in the channel. They are issues of life and death and of order, and we cannot address them properly if we are at loggerheads with a country 22 miles away across the channel.
The final thing that we have to do if we are to resolve these issues is renegotiate the 1951 Geneva convention on refugees, which was set up largely by British effort. It was British officials who helped corral all the different parties to accept this international convention, but it was made at a time when travel was not as easy as today. The situation has completely changed. If we are to resolve this problem, which will get worse because of climate change migration, we need to understand that the rich world has to play its part if it expects the poor world to comply. That is a real job of work.
Having broken our promise on the budget and having effectively abolished the Department, we are now left with a big budget being spent in ways that are determined by the Foreign Office. I remind the House that it was a law of Whitehall that while the Foreign Office did prose, the Department for International Development did money. Whenever Tony Blair and David Cameron went to an international conference where money was being discussed, they always took a senior DFID official, because DFID, as even the Treasury would admit, was extremely good at money and running money.
Frankly, the idea of these brilliant diplomats who prosecute British diplomacy so well being responsible for and running multimillion-pound development programmes should give the taxpayer the heebie-jeebies. What will happen is this: the Daily Mail will discover examples of Foreign Office misspending of the ODA budget, and it will rightly pick up on them. It will say, “If Britain cannot honour its pledge to the taxpayer of value for money, and if it spends money badly in this way, why do we have this budget at all? Why don’t we spend all the money on our schools and hospitals here?” The argument will be made for abolishing the budget altogether, and if it is made on the back of misspending, it will be heard by our constituents.
The Independent Commission for Aid Impact is the watchdog that reports on international development—rightly, to the Select Committee and not to Ministers who can sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet. It draws its power from the legislature and is an important new part of the Government’s architecture. Officials hate it because, of course, it can look at what they are doing and expose them. It is the taxpayer’s friend, it reports to Parliament, and Ministers have the benefit of its work, attention and rigour. It is a vital tool of making policy, so I urge the Minister, who understands such things, to become its strong supporter.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for the formation of the ICAI, which absolutely does its job of scrutinising where the money goes. Does he share my concern that, at the moment, its future budget has not been signed off and it looks like its funding will be reduced, which means that its ability to scrutinise will be reduced as well?
Of course, all the officials in the Foreign Office will want to reduce ICAI expenditure—first because they will have perfectly respectable arguments for where else the money could be spent, and secondly because they know that the way to emasculate it is to cut its expenditure. That will mean that it cannot investigate without fear and favour on behalf of the taxpayer who, as I say, is the main beneficiary. I agree with the hon. Lady and very much hope that her voice will be heard.
I will end on the subject of China, which seems to bring the whole argument together. In 2009, the Conservative Opposition decided that all development money for China would end. We did that because China has roared out of poverty; if we look at what China and India have done for poverty alleviation, we see that the results are sensationally good. China has done so much to tackle poverty and its GDP is bigger than ours, so there was clearly no case for expecting the British taxpayer to pay any money at all for development in China. I was sent by David Cameron to inform Madam Fu, the Chinese ambassador, of the decision that if we were elected and had the privilege of forming a Government, there would be no more ODA spend to China. She gave me a tremendous ticking off, but the Chinese accepted it.
When we went into government in 2010, the first thing I did when I had the privilege and honour of going into my new DFID office was to say, “No more ODA money for China. That was our commitment at the election to our constituents, and unless it’s legally due now, there’s to be no more ODA spend in China.” Basically, since that day, DFID—when it was DFID—has not spent money in China. There were long-tail projects that it could not end, but apart from that, it did not spend any more.
Significant money continues to be spent in China, however, by the Foreign Office, and it is not really development money. Providing that money is, the Foreign Office thinks, the best way to suck up to the Chinese Government, but it is not spent sensibly. Between 2009 and 2011, in the incoming years of the Conservative Government, the expenditure was reduced from £49 million to £15 million. Between 2014 and 2019, however, that ODA expenditure—taxpayers’ money—on the development budget in China rose from £23 million to £68 million. That was the highest figure, but I understand that it was £64 million in 2020. What on earth are the Government doing spending ODA money in China? We promised the electorate that we would not do it. DFID did not do it. It is not a development priority, there is no case for it and it should be stopped.
The second thing I ask of the Minister—the first was her trenchant support for the ICAI—is to commit to the House that there will be full transparency on ODA money that is spent in China. How much is it, and on what is it being spent? There is a suggestion that some of this money has been spent on prison reform in China. If that is the case, then for reasons that everyone will understand, it is an absolute disgrace. I hope the Minister will reassure us that, if that was happening, it is not happening any more and it will not happen again.
There has been further disingenuity, I would say, about spending in China, with the former Foreign Secretary announcing he was reducing it by 95%. That prompts the question of what it was doing being spent in the first place, but I suspect that figure is 95% of what the Foreign Office was spending and does not include what was being spent by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I end on this point: I am pretty sure that the money spent by BEIS has been tied aid. As the House will know, it is absolutely not allowed to spend money on tied aid—we are subject to numerous conventions we have signed not to do so—and I think it may even be against the law.
My point is that, because we no longer have the rigour and expertise of a separate Government Department that ensures this money is well spent, delivers results and gives value for money both to our partners on the ground and to the British taxpayer—we have lost that—we now have the very unrigorous and uncertain system of controls that previously led to the Pergau dam issue. We do not have the controls we had in the past, and the reputation of Foreign Office Ministers, the Foreign Office and the Government are very much at risk as a result.
Order. Although we are not pressed for time, if everybody spoke for about half an hour we would be in some difficulty. A little guideline would be to speak for about 15 minutes, and everybody would have equal time at that rate. I appreciate that some may speak for a little less than that, but I say that just so you are aware.
I had the great privilege of serving for nearly four years as the International Development Secretary, and I worked with many people— including Mr Mitchell, who it is a great pleasure to follow because he was a terrific Development Secretary—who were passionate about the betterment of human kind. I was able to work with some absolutely wonderful, determined and passionate civil servants at DFID. I must be frank that it was a job that changed the way in which I think about the world, see it and seek to understand it.
We meet here today to look at the wreckage that has resulted from the Government’s reversal of many things that were achieved by the creation of DFID, under Governments of both parties, and I for one am greatly saddened. I think the Prime Minister’s decision to abolish DFID, to break his word and to cut the aid budget was a terrible mistake. It has had material consequences for girls’ education, safe motherhood and access to contraception, as well as for children’s education. The precious opportunity that going to school gives us opens a window on the world and gives us the knowledge, confidence and aspiration to make our way in our lives.
Many of DFID’s programmes, which were funded by the generosity of the British taxpayer, have had to cope with the consequence of sudden cuts. To take one example, UK aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been cut by about 60%. Picking up the point just made by the right hon. Gentleman, that is a country where 27 million people are experiencing, to use the jargon, acute food insecurity. The funding cut from girls’ education—how on earth did that happen?—has now been restored this year, following the Foreign Secretary’s appearance before the International Development Committee, but it will only be the same in cash terms as it was in 2019, so it will in fact be a real-terms reduction.
The process of making those cuts has had a huge impact on our relationship with partner countries, multilateral institutions, non-governmental organisations and other aid organisations. It is a terrible self-inflicted wound that is not just about the money, because Britain had a reputation in the world of development. We had respect, we were listened to and we had great influence in debates about peace and security. I do not wish to appear to be dwelling on glories of the past and I recognise that times change—I will come in a moment to the challenges facing the world—but when we undermine our role as a world leader in development, it is really important that we are honest about what has been lost.
I have read the Government’s new strategy for international development, which was published in May. It talks about providing a “better offer”—whatever that is—and “honest and reliable investment” as if the cuts to our development budget had happened in a completely parallel universe. Whatever else might be said about what has occurred, what Ministers have done has shown that we are not a reliable partner. So, when Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development wants to pick up the phone to talk to Britain, who does she ring in the FCDO? What does that mean for our relationship with other countries? The right hon. Gentleman and I, and others in the Chamber who served in DFID, know that building consistent relationships with other people and creating trust is essential if we are to solve problems, and trust can easily be lost, as the Prime Minister is in the process of finding out.
I am afraid it is the casualness with which that happened that angers me more than anything else. I was sitting in the Chamber when the Prime Minister stood at the Dispatch Box and uttered the words that DFID was like
“some giant cashpoint in the sky.”—[Official Report,
The right hon. Gentleman winces, and rightly so. I listened to that and thought, “This man clearly has no understanding whatsoever of what DFID is and what it has achieved.” While all that has been happening, not a single other G7 country has cut its aid budget—not one—even though they face the same pressures from covid and from the international economic situation and rising prices. Indeed, France and Germany are moving further towards 0.7%. Notwithstanding the rather clever tests that the former Chancellor set on when we will return to 0.7%, I am not sure whether we will see that any time soon.
Having said all of that—and feeling slightly better for having done so—I will address the rest of my remarks to the challenges that confront the world, because that is what we will have to address with the resources now available to the FCDO. The events of the last decade have reminded us of a very important truth. We may think that we have overcome the crises of the past, we may hope that they may never be repeated and we may believe that, because things are as they are today, they will ever be thus, but, sadly, that is not true. The global crash of 2008-09 was the worst since the crash and subsequent depression of the 1930s. The collapse of the Soviet Union was not the end of history; it was a semicolon, as the terrible war in Ukraine is currently demonstrating.
We have achieved incredible things with the gifts that the earth gives us. Look around at every single thing that human beings have built, created or made, from computers to skyscrapers and from vaccines to placing a rover on the surface of the planet Mars: every single one of them has come from things that are either on the earth or lie beneath it. That shows the extraordinary capacity of human beings to interact with what we have and to build and create. What we have done—the development that we have wrought in our own country and in others—would astonish our forebears and ancestors, but, if we thought that the process could be never-ending and that we could continue without consequence, the crisis in the natural world and the climate crisis have taught us that that is not the case, either.
I make that argument not to depress colleagues. On the contrary, I believe that we can overcome those challenges and build something better precisely because human beings have shown their ability to achieve extraordinary things, but we need the process of politics, international relationships, persuasion, encouragement, leadership, ideas, innovation and a lot of determination to be able to do that. When I look at my constituency in Leeds, I see big differences in life expectancy, health, wealth, opportunity and income between those who have and those who do not. The absolute poverty is, of course, very different to that which we are discussing in our debate today, but the challenge to overcome it is exactly the same. We face it as a country and we face it as a world.
I look also at the consequences of the threats to peace and security and how war causes millions to flee. We know that most people will seek to find somewhere safe. Although a lot of them will dream of being able to return home, sometimes that will not be possible. In our human response to those who seek shelter, wherever that happens in the world, we always need to ask ourselves one really important question. If it was us, how would we like to be treated, to be welcomed? When I read that some people who are seeking asylum in this country may have ankle tags fitted, or that some people who are seeking asylum in this country may be put on a plane to a country 5,000 miles away where they know no one and do not speak the language, I think that that, too, is a mistake.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the answer is not to detain them indefinitely in places like Campsfield House, which closed under this Government in 2018 but which they intend to reopen? That would be a retrograde step and shows that their plans are simply not working. It is the wrong approach and it should not reopen.
The right approach is to consider an asylum application and to make a swift decision. As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield pointed out, the large majority of those seeking to come to the country are found to have a perfectly valid claim for asylum.
If we do not meet the challenges of war, insecurity, economic development, climate change and damage to the natural world, then people will not stay in the place where they were born and raised. They will do what human beings have done since the dawn of time, which is to move. When the history of this century is written, I think there will be a really big chapter on global migration. Whether it is fleeing in search of food or a better life, getting away from war and persecution, or moving because it has stopped raining where they were living—I have met people who have done precisely that—people will move. All these issues are interconnected—all of them. They cannot be dealt with separately. So, when we argue that Britain should have a strong voice in the world on all these matters, we are making the argument not just because it is morally right but because it is in our self-interest.
There are those, particularly populists, who seek to pretend otherwise. These are the people who pursue narrow nationalism and seek to gain power by sowing division. All I say to them is that if they think we can shut the doors, close the curtains, get into bed, pull up the bed covers and hope that the rest of the world and the rest of the future will go away, they are profoundly mistaken. There are no fences strong enough and no walls high enough that will resist an onward tide of human beings who are on the move. I say that, because the very condition of humankind at the beginning of the 21st century is defined by our interdependence. We depend one upon another. We share a very small and very fragile planet, and we have to co-operate and work together to succeed.
I am not arguing for a separate approach to development, because from my experience I regard security, foreign policy, defence, trade and responding to humanitarian catastrophes as part of a continuum—and of course, development is not something that we bring like some benevolent former colonial power to the partner countries with which we work. Development is something that people, communities, societies and countries do for themselves, and our job is to assist them in that process. If a Government want to get all their children into school but do not have the cash to make it possible, then of course they welcome help from countries like ours to employ the teachers, build the schools, buy the textbooks and put in the desks. We know from our experience—this is another truth—that, in 1,000 years of history, we have made just about every mistake that is possible. I sometimes felt slightly embarrassed about talking to Ministers from developing countries, because I was conscious of that history, and I would say, “I don’t want it to take you as long as it took us to progress from where we were to where we are today”.
We have learned that we can make progress through a process of political, social and economic development, which has transformed the lives of our citizens. We know what the essential building blocks are: peace; good health; the right to go to school; the rule of law; intolerance of corruption; trade; economic opportunity and justice; and sustainability when it comes to the natural world and the climate. All those can help to enable people to improve their lives.
In a world where there is so much change and uncertainty, where what we rely on today may not be relied on tomorrow, it is really important that Britain is seen as a reliable, trusted, consistent and honest partner. I am afraid that the events of the past two years, which are reflected in the estimates before the House, have done that aim great harm. That is why I look forward to the day when that harm is undone.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the House for interrupting the debate, but you will be aware that there has been a significant number of resignations from the Government Front-Bench team today. I think it was 31 at the last count—[Interruption.] My hon. Friends say 32—I have not checked my phone since I rose to my feet. There is a serious point: as well as a duty to Departments and the functions of government, Ministers have a duty to the House. My understanding—I wonder whether this is your understanding, Madam Deputy Speaker—is that the Government have adjourned or effectively cancelled Bill Committees tomorrow, because they are unable to provide Ministers to fulfil their duties to the House. Can you give us an indication of whether the Leader of the House has said that he intends to come here to make a statement about any change of business and about the Government’s ability to fulfil their obligations to the House? It seems very much to me that this Government have ceased in their ability to govern.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have received no notification from the Leader of the House that he intends to make any sort of statement, and I have not been led to believe that the Speaker’s Office has either. The Committee of Selection meets this afternoon to look at membership of Committees. If Committees are not going ahead, they would simply not appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. However, if the hon. Gentleman requires any further information, I direct him to the Public Bill Office, which may be able to give that to him. As I said, however, I have not received any notification from the Leader of the House with regard to this matter, but those on the Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
It is a pleasure to follow Hilary Benn, who is always an entertaining and informative speaker. When I first came to this place in 2010, I was elected to the International Development Committee, which I have served on ever since. I believe that the Committee has done very good work over those years and I am sure that it will continue to do that good work, as it still exists, about which there was some doubt when DFID was taken over by the Foreign Office. It is really important that the International Development Committee exists, because Members who sit on the Foreign Affairs Committee have little interest in the money that is spent on the poorest of the poor. The scrutiny of the International Development Committee is needed to ensure that the money is being spent as well as it possibly can be. I am horrified by what my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell said about the money that is still being spent in China. There seems to be no sense in that, so I hope that the Minister will address the point in her closing remarks.
I am a bit disappointed, because this is an important debate but there are few Members in the Chamber. That is quite surprising, because there are now quite a lot of Back Benchers; one would think that a few more might come and join us. However, I am very pleased to speak in the debate and glad that we have a whole debate to focus specifically on the FCDO’s international aid work. It was of significant concern to me and others, including the Chair of our Committee, Sarah Champion, when the two Departments “merged”—that was what it was called, but actually I think it was a takeover. We were told that there would not be sufficient focus on the international development angle, so the scrutiny of this House is very welcome.
It would be impossible to discuss the departmental estimates for international development without mentioning our 0.7% spending target, a subject that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield covered extensively. The target was long campaigned for by many hon. Members, including me, and I am deeply disappointed that it has been reduced to 0.5% by the Government. I understand why, but we are talking about the poorest of the poor, who need our help. Obviously, the economy has been hit by the pandemic, but as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, the same pandemic has caused terrible strife all around the world, not just here in the United Kingdom. As a result of the cut, some of the people who most need our assistance will no longer receive it. The sustainable development goals, which we have signed up to, say that we should be helping the poorest of the poor—and there are so many people in the world who are incredibly poor.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned that the Chancellor had said that we would go back to 0.7% in two years. My right hon. Friend himself believes that we should make it 0.6% next year and 0.7% the year after. There is logic in that, but I think that he was referring to the previous Chancellor,
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech about very important matters. As she says, there are a significant number of very poor people in the world and we have a duty to support them. Will she address the issue of the Government mis-badging some forms of spending, for example by counting defence spending or other departmental spending towards the aid target? That seems to me to be a mistake and to be unfair on the very poorest people in the world.
That is a very important point that our Select Committee absolutely needs to scrutinise, because it would be illegal to badge that spending wrongly. We have a duty to ensure that our taxpayers know that our spending is transparent and in the right place. It is really important that we do not mis-badge it, because otherwise we will lose the trust of a lot of countries around the world.
As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central said, we know that there will be more and more migration because of climate change. People are not going to stay in a country that is drought-ridden. They cannot feed their cattle. They cannot be the nomads they were before, going off to find fresh pastures and then coming back in a circle, as the nomadic tribes in Kenya used to do. People cannot do that if they have no food for their cattle. For that important reason we need to tackle climate change, but I fear that the reduction to 0.5% means we will have less opportunity to do so, and that means there will be more migration. Indeed, I believe there will be more and more migration, not just for drought and climate change reasons but for reasons of conflict. So many people are fleeing their countries, either because of civil war or because of attempts to annihilate certain populations. They have to escape, because that is the general public’s normal response to terrifying situations.
However, I do not intend to focus on the overall aid budget in my short speech. Instead, I want to comment briefly on the important issue of neglected tropical diseases, including malaria. They are called neglected tropical diseases because people forget about them. A couple of weeks ago, I, too, was in Rwanda for the Kigali summit, which aimed to tackle the problems of malaria and neglected tropical diseases, and which was a very successful event. Governments, the private sector and philanthropists all pledged to help to accelerate the global fight to beat these deadly diseases, with commitments made at the summit totalling more than $4 billion.
However, there is much more to be done. In 2020 alone, an estimated 627,000 people died of malaria—a staggering number. More than 1.7 billion people required treatment and care for neglected tropical diseases over the course of that year. Often, the impact of covid-19 was to disrupt community care and preventive programmes, meaning that the number of people receiving treatment for NTDs fell by 33% in 2020. There is a simple and cheap cure for many of these diseases, and we must not lose sight of that.
While I was in Rwanda, I attended a programme run by the UK-funded National Institute for Health and Care Research about podoconiosis, a neglected tropical disease that causes dreadful pain and suffering, generally among farmers and those who spend a lot of time in contact with irritant soils without wearing shoes. The microbe gets into their bodies and causes them terrible problems. NTDs such as podoconiosis are widespread in huge parts of the world, and funds for research and prevention are needed not only from a humanitarian and ethical perspective, but from an economic one. For those people’s communities and families, these diseases can lead to long-term poverty, hunger and starvation because they can prevent people from working. For example, podoconiosis patients lose 45% of their productive working days to the disease. Research on treatment and prevention can keep people economically active, and able to maintain their lifestyles and their jobs.
Investment in tackling NTDs—that is just one small example—and malaria has huge positive knock-on effects throughout the local economy. The UK funding is providing real benefit for podoconiosis patients through research into treatment options, genetic research, education and more, enabling sufferers to live healthier, happier and more productive lives. I urge the Minister to consider people who suffer from the disease, because it is horrendous.
The UK has a strong legacy of investment in the elimination and control of NTDs—it is supporting the Rwandan Government’s ambition to eliminate podoconiosis by 2024—and it is critical that we maintain that legacy. This is an example of the UK helping the world’s poorest to live happy, healthy, economically active lives. That helps the economy and the education of women and girls, giving them the good future that many do not have at the moment. That programme in Rwanda has been funded, but others have been hit by the international development funding cuts. For example, the Ascend programme countries still need support to reach their elimination goals.
I encourage the Minister to consider the forthcoming year’s spending and to invest as much as we can in NTDs, and in particular in preventing malaria. That is doable; we can eliminate malaria, and it is so important that we contribute significantly to that. The shift in spending under the international development strategy away from multilateral programmes and towards bilateral funding threatens many of the programmes that aim to combat NTDs and malaria. I would therefore be delighted if the Minister could today confirm an ambitious commitment to the forthcoming seventh replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and neglected tropical diseases.
Let me declare my interest, at the outset of this debate, as the chair of the international parliamentary network on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, on bringing this debate to the House. Her timing, as ever, is impeccable. All of us here in this Chamber are watching the disintegration of the Government in real time, so in a way this debate is important because it is taking place at a hyphen moment between an Administration that are biting the dust and the construction of the new Administration that will no doubt take shape over the days and weeks to come. Like everyone who has spoken in this debate, I very much hope that the new Administration will look hard at the arguments we have made today and seek to reverse the appalling policy, the appalling cut and the appalling breach of trust represented by the slash in our aid budget.
I want to supply three thoughts for today’s debate. The first is that at the heart of it is the simple truth that when the world needed us to step up, we stepped back. We stepped away from our obligations, we stepped away from our duties and we stepped away from our promises. Those promises were enshrined when we signed up to SDG2 and made a commitment to end hunger. Not only has breaking our promise to help to supply the finance for that destroyed trust in our country around the world, but people will die this year as a result of that broken promise.
Many people here today have said that that decision could not have come at a worse time. Mr Mitchell was among those who made that point, and he is absolutely right. We now have a crisis of food, fragility and finance that means that 200 million people around the world are facing a food emergency. We know that 60% of workers are still not earning what they did before the covid crisis, but we now have millions of people living almost in famine conditions and 200 million people who will face famine later this year unless things change. Things will change over the course of this year, but they will change for the worse.
Just a week or two ago, I was with the Foreign Affairs Committee in New York and we were privileged to see the NATO Secretary-General. He is fighting tooth and nail for the deal to try to get tens of millions of tonnes of grain out of Ukraine and Russia and, crucially, tens of millions of tonnes of fertiliser out of Russia. If we fail in that task, the spike in food prices that we have seen over the last year will get worse. Even more seriously, if we do not get the fertiliser out in the next few months, we will jeopardise not just the wheat harvest for next year but the rice harvest for next year. We will begin to see up to 1 billion people face a food crisis if we do not make progress on that deal. People were already in a bad position because of covid, and they are in a bad position because of inflation, but it has now deteriorated substantially because of the crisis in Ukraine.
Governments around the world are out of headroom on taking the fiscal measures needed to alleviate this coming crisis. More and more developing countries now denominate their debt in dollars rather than domestic currency, which means they are super-exposed to rising interest rates in the United States. Average interest rates on lower-income debt are up by about 77 basis points this year, and we now know that something like 12 countries around the world are already on the brink of debt distress. We already see unrest in some countries in Africa, and we see the consequences of the debt crisis in Sri Lanka. Things will become far worse this year unless we get our act together.
Of course, the problem is most acute in countries that are fragile and where there is violence. Frankly, countries and agencies such as Russia and the Wagner Group are already perpetrating barbaric human rights abuses in Mali, Libya, Syria and another 18 countries around the world. This crisis of food fragility and finance will not sort itself out, which is precisely why this is such an appalling time for the Government to make their aid cut.
My second point is a particular interest of mine, which is that the Government’s negligence is all the worse because they are not using the new tools they have been given. Last year, under Kristalina Georgieva’s leadership of the International Monetary Fund, the global community took the collective decision to mint $650 billion-worth of special drawing rights. Overwhelmingly because of the quota system, those special drawing rights go to richer countries like us. In fact, the special drawing rights coming to G7 countries total about $196 billion, which is about a third of the special drawing rights that have been issued.
Where are those special drawing rights? Where is the deployment of that resource to tackle this crisis of food fragility and finance? Right now, those SDRs are gathering dust in the vaults of central banks and treasuries around the world. They are just sitting there. We have failed to mobilise that resource in the way we promised when we signed off on the commitment to issue the special drawing rights in the first place.
The UK is a big shareholder that helped to found the International Monetary Fund, so we have been given £19 billion of special drawing rights. We have made commitments to share back about 20%. Why is 20% the magic number? We have just been given £19 billion. This is a slightly technical issue, but our SDRs go into something called the exchange equalisation account, which was set up in 1979 and underpins currency stability in this country. It has been restocked with £74 billion over the last 10 years to a level that the Treasury deems to be capital adequate, about £154 billion or $185 billion in total.
We have restocked the exchange equalisation account and then, from left field, comes another £19 billion that we did not forecast and that we do not need because we have already restocked the account. Why have we suddenly decided to share just 20% of it? There is no logic for that percentage.
The Government have so much grip on this topic that, when I asked the Foreign Secretary at last week’s Foreign Affairs Committee how much had actually come in through the special drawing rights, she did not know. She literally did not know that Her Majesty’s Government had just been handed £19 billion, which is twice the aid budget. I then prosecuted the argument and asked, “What is your target for sharing? How much are we supposed to share back?” She answered, “I don’t know.” I asked the Prime Minister the same question this week, and he did not know either. They could perhaps be forgiven if the numbers were not so big and if the crisis were not so serious, but this is absolutely crazy. We have a global crisis and the Government are simply not in control. They do not have a grip on sharing back and rechannelling some of the biggest assets and resources available to us.
The point about multilateralism, which my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn and my hon. Friend Sarah Champion mentioned, is fundamental. Last week’s G7 communiqué made a very clear statement that G7 leaders want to step up the mobilisation of $100 billion, but the truth is that, of the G7 countries, we have made a commitment, Japan has made a commitment and the French have made a commitment. Congress has blocked the President of the United States sharing $21 billion, and we do not yet have information from the IMF on the others—I checked yesterday. So we are miles away from mobilising the $100 billion that was promised at the G7, and people are going to starve this year unless we get a grip. So my call on the Government today is to give us a good explanation for why we should not be sharing three quarters of the special drawing rights we have been given; why we are not leading a global effort to get to that $100 billion target; and why we are not insisting on more flexibility, such as giving the SDRs to multilateral development banks, such as the African Development Bank, which could be making such an impact on the ground. We need to be saying to the IMF that countries do not need to participate in a conditionality programme with the IMF in order to receive some of this money. I discussed that with the Secretary-General of the UN and we both agree on it. We are not going to lead the mobilisation of this effort if the politicians in charge at the helm are, frankly, in such a shambolic state. So my message to the Minister and the new Administration is: please get a grip of this enormous new resource that we have been given.
My final point is, in part, inspired by what my neighbour Mr Mitchell said about China. For some years now, we have been having a debate in this country and among our allies about the influence of China and this vexed, significant issue of debt diplomacy. If we look at the countries that did not support the UN resolution on Russia, we see that, on average, they owe five times more debt to China than the countries that supported the resolution. As for whether that is a coincidence, you be the judge. The point is that the debt in many of these countries is about to fall over and the G20 common framework process, which we have held up as the great saviour of debt sustainability, has been so successful that precisely zero countries have engaged in it. So it ain’t working and we need a different approach. We could be restructuring developing country debt using IMF and World Bank resources. The World Bank has just committed $170 billion to an emergency programme that we could be using to restructure the debt of vulnerable countries around the world—right now we are simply not doing that. If we do not want to live in a world where China is the lender of last resort to countries around the world, let us use the Bretton Woods institutions that we set up in 1944 to avoid that dilemma.
In the midst of a big war, in 1941, the Atlantic charter was signed, and its story is extraordinary. Our Prime Minister at the time, Mr Churchill, was on the other side of the Atlantic with President Roosevelt and the draft of the charter was sent to Downing Street. Clement Attlee was in the Chair and he convened the Cabinet at two o’clock in the morning in order to review the draft and make one vital change. He added article 5, which said that one of our war aims would be that the victors would
“desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement, and social security”.
Three years later, at Bretton Woods, President Roosevelt, welcomed delegates from 44 countries from around the world with these words:
“the economic health of every country is a proper matter of concern to all its neighbors, near and distant.”
As we begin to think about what the new world looks like, those are wise words to guide us.
I congratulate Sarah Champion, the Chair of the International Development Committee, on securing this important debate. It is an honour to follow Liam Byrne. He discussed a lot of wise history and important points, and I hope we will hear an answer on them when the Minister gets to the Dispatch Box. I wish to commend her and say how incredibly energetically she works on this agenda. I salute her indefatigability and the results she has delivered. In addition, let me point out that I, too, am one of those who regrets that we reduced our promise from 0.7% to 0.5%; I was one of the 26 rebels who voted against that. However, I am going to try in this speech not to dwell on the past, particularly since my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell and Hilary Benn covered that matter so well.
I want instead to talk more positively about the strategy the Foreign Secretary has set out. I welcome the fact that it continues to include an emphasis on girls’ education and educating every child with 12 years of quality education. That is incredibly powerful in terms of international development, and I want to dwell in particular on soft power. We must raise our game on soft power from its already high level because we are at a pivotal time in history. On
I have the privilege of chairing the British group in the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In that role I was leading the delegation to the assembly in Indonesia in March and we wanted to put out a strong statement condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We might think that that would be relatively uncontroversial, particularly since the UN had carried the motion so strongly, but in fact it is proving to be quite a battle: it is a battle for ideas and for soft power.
Soft power is an area where the UK has great assets and strengths, and we must increase our emphasis on that and the energy we put into those strengths. The BBC is one of those soft power assets and we spend a lot of our official development assistance budget on making sure we communicate in languages like Yoruba and Tigrinya that are widely heard around the world. That plays an important part in getting accurate information to countries that are being fed disinformation from Russia, particularly disinformation about the battlefront that that we have heard about today: energy, the price of energy and the price of food. Given the stresses that that is putting on our economy, we can imagine how much stress it is putting on some of the very poorest countries in the world. As we heard last week when Ukrainian MPs visited us here in Parliament, that is being weaponised by Russia to attack Ukraine. In some of the poorest countries the message is going around that their energy and food prices have gone up so much because of the Ukrainians. We must up our game in counteracting that messaging by having a strong communications strategy and making sure we are using the incredible soft power we have through the BBC.
The British Council is another soft power asset. Next week I am leading a delegation to Kosovo, a country which, because it is in the Balkans, is on the soft power frontline. I learned to my dismay yesterday that the British Council is thinking of closing its office in Pristina and moving the delivery of its important courses to Belgrade in Serbia. I urge the Minister to ask her officials to look into that for her because we must ensure that our valuable soft power tools such as the British Council and the BBC—in so many foreign languages—are able to counteract some of the terrible messaging we are hearing in what is now a war between the good of liberal democracy and the evil of authoritarianism.
On this point about the soft power battle, may I particularly highlight for praise the decision that the Foreign Secretary took to rename the Commonwealth Development Corporation, one of Britain’s greatest hidden soft power assets, as British International Investment? I say three cheers for that decision. British International Investment does what it says on the tin. It is a much better name than the CDC, which, frankly, even sounds Chinese. British International Investment has that UK branding, and I urge the Minister to look further at branding everything that we do through this budget as coming from the UK. The former Secretary of State stamped a Union Jack on our food aid with the words, “Gift of the British people” in countries where, perhaps, the level of literacy in English is not particularly high. I like the way that the Australians stamp a kangaroo on all of their food aid. Can we do more to show that this aid is coming from us? We are in an information versus disinformation battleground at the moment. As others have said so eloquently, we are going into a period where food insecurity—famine—is on the march again, particularly across the Horn of Africa.
The UK can also play an important role in using our hard power to get the grain out of Odesa. But let us make sure that, when that grain arrives and when we are able to give food aid, it is clear that this is coming from the western nations.
May I digress slightly to ask the Minister to update me on where we have got with clean cookstoves? Many women in poor countries spend much of the day going out to cut down trees to make it into charcoal only to go home and poison themselves and their family cooking with this very carbon-intensive fuel. I know that the UK is leading the world in research into clean cookstoves.
I shall conclude my brief remarks by highlighting some of the excellent things that British International Investment has been doing to lift countries out of poverty through long-term private sector development. No country has ever left a dependency without a thriving private sector. Companies that have been invested in by British International Investment employ nearly 1 million people in around 64 of the world’s poorest countries. That is the kind of practical and sensible intervention that really makes a difference. I am so glad that it is now labelled, “from the British Government”.
I am so pleased that £479 million of investment has gone into climate finance. There is so much more that can be done on this. Countries with very little electricity distribution can benefit from clean energy and clean energy investment, which will make so much more sense economically than other sources of energy.
Let me reiterate the key point of my speech: from here, how do we make the best of what we have, and how do we make the best of our international strategy to maximise the UK’s soft power assets? Let us keep doing the good things that we are doing, and let us move towards 0.7% as quickly and as judicially as we can. In the meantime, three cheers for the rebranding of the CDC.
It is a pleasure to follow Harriett Baldwin, and I will come on to her point about soft power in a moment. I join others in congratulating the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Sarah Champion, on securing the debate. I also join them in stressing just how wrong-headed the abolition of the Department for International Development was, as was the decision to cut development funding to just 0.5% of our national income, which was an act of self-harm just as much as it was an act of harm to the developing world.
Beyond our moral responsibility, as one of the richest nations in the world, to help the very poorest in the world, there is surely also a strong national, domestic set of reasons for rethinking our approach to international development, which covid and refugees risking their lives to cross the channel have helped to underscore. I entirely understand the argument that our constituents’ needs must always come first, particularly in the middle of a cost of living crisis, but whether or not to give aid to countries overseas is not a binary choice. I would also gently say in passing that the choice would be even easier if the Treasury had not wasted billions of pounds on covid loans that should never have been given.
As the hon. Member for West Worcestershire said, it is in Britain’s national interests to build up our soft power, just as it is important to have real military power to call on in the very worst of times. Soft power comes from our global trade and business links; from the work of our universities; from our cultural institutions, such as the BBC, other parts of the media and the British Council; from the quality of the work our diplomats do in the Foreign Office; and, crucially, from the quality of the development support and leadership we provide.
If aid is used well in other countries, that helps our country too. For example, better police forces in other countries help to limit the potential impact of overseas criminality here. Better health services in developing countries help to prevent the spread of disease—think Ebola—to UK shores. Better opportunities for higher standards of living in developing countries help to reduce people’s reasons for taking perilous trips to start new lives in countries such as ours. And better governance, as well as efforts to support peace and build stable countries, helps to prevent conflicts and reduce the numbers of refugees needing to travel to more stable countries.
Then there are the even more intangible benefits of development assistance and other examples of soft power. If we are seen to help the world’s poorest for the best of reasons in countries that are not as rich as ours, doors open for other parts of our Government and for players in the business world, on whom our economic success depends. So there is a strong moral case for aid, but the self-interested case for aid is also powerful.
I gently say to Ministers that it is a mistake to have axed the Department for International Development. By the time I joined the Department as a Minister in 2003, it was already world leading. It was held in considerable regard across the developing world and on the world’s great stages at the United Nations and the G8. As my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn said much more eloquently than I can, the talent of the Department’s officials was stunning and striking. I digress briefly to acknowledge the passing recently of one excellent official I worked with, Danny Graymore, who did some remarkable work on access to medicines. He was rightly recognised for his service to our country and to development.
The calibre of the Department’s Secretaries of State was beyond question. We had the remarkable Clare Short, the excellent noble Lady Valerie Amos, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central and Douglas Alexander. The Department had clear and obvious support from Prime Ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer, certainly from 1997 to 2010 and, to be fair, in the first years of the Conservative party’s time in government. I say in passing that I hope I managed not to do too much damage to the Department’s reputation while I was there.
Between 1997 and 2010, Britain helped to lift almost 50 million people out of poverty and initiated a huge programme of debt relief. My right hon. Friend Liam Byrne made a powerful point about the need for a new programme of debt relief; if only there was someone in this Government with the imagination to lead such an effort.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Several whistleblowers have revealed that there was chaos and a failure of leadership at the newly formed Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office when the merger between the Foreign Office and DFID took place, and particularly during the fall of Kabul in Afghanistan. The leadership was distracted by the merger, senior DFID staff were unable to access FCDO systems, and that meant that support on the ground for our staff members was poor. Does my hon. Friend agree that this Government prioritise a political response rather than humanitarian support for people on the ground?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and it will be good to hear the Minister’s response to that. I will certainly make some brief remarks about Afghanistan and the plight of the people there.
I was just mentioning the difference that the Department for International Development made and could potentially make again. We helped to get 40 million more children into school in the 13 years the Department was run by the Labour party. Polio was on the verge of being eradicated thanks to the vaccination programmes we funded across the world, particularly in countries such as India and Pakistan. Having initiated the strategy, I am particularly proud that more than 3 million more people were able to access life-preserving HIV and AIDS drugs in countries such as Malawi and Zambia, as you will remember only too well, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We improved water and sanitation services for more than 1.5 million people. We invested in better maternity and family planning services in countries such as Nepal. When earthquakes and other disasters struck, we led the way in improving the humanitarian conditions of those hit—in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, for example, or in Pakistan after the earthquake in Kashmir.
Other major countries, including the US, Germany, France, Japan and Norway, have separate Departments providing aid on the one hand and doing the hard yards on diplomacy on the other. The skillsets required of our diplomats and our development experts are very different. Development experts are focused on ensuring our aid goes where it needs to go to make a real difference, while our diplomats are rightly push a range of UK Government priorities to their counterparts.
The relentless focus the Department for International Development placed on its poverty reduction mission put it centre stage. The fact that that aid did not appear conditional on backing Britain all the time made our presence and our money even more welcome and, as a result, made the access and influence of our diplomats that little bit greater. It is striking that Ministers have offered little rigorous rationale for the merger. Frankly, the sooner both that and the cut in aid are reversed, the better.
I want to challenge the Minister gently on why governance is no longer part of the priorities for our aid spending. I think of the funding we provided before 2010 to help developing countries invest in better statistics collection services. That may not sound particularly important in the context of huge hunger or education needs, but without the ability to collect statistics about what is happening on the ground in a country we cannot make good decisions about the allocation of resources, work out where to send the next tranche of money to make a real difference or hold politicians and Governments to account. We need governance efforts in these countries that help to target corruption by funding the equivalent of the National Audit Office or the Public Accounts Committee; to support independent media to hold politicians to account; to bring to light the examples of corruption and to get rid of people from politics who are serving their own interests rather than the interests of the people; and to help to train high-quality civil servants so that instead of relying on NGOs or overseas aid, they can run things in their country for themselves. At my most naive, I want a world where aid and NGOs are not needed, but for that ambition to come just a little bit closer, we need to help countries to build effective Parliaments and effective Governments with great civil servants so that they can provide services to every community in every corner of their country. We should seek to back good governance and prioritise that as part of our aid strategy going forward.
Other speakers have mentioned the cuts in funding to the global multilateral system. I echo the comments about support for the global fund. I hope the Minister will be able to give Members in all parts of the House an assurance that that will be appropriately backed at the coming pledging conference. We are seeing cuts in funding to the global multilateral system at a time when there is so much need, and when we need honest brokers in the UN system to co-ordinate humanitarian relief and tackle the provision of support for hunger and poverty. That has never been more needed than now. It is a hugely retrograde step to cut by so much the funding to the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and so on. Indeed, when Ministers made those decisions, they went against their own review of multilaterals, which found that funding through multilaterals delivers more bang for our collective buck and reduces administrative costs to the taxpayer.
I want to make some specific points about countries that are of interest to my constituents. We have cut our bilateral funding to Pakistan by some 57% from about £463 million in 2016 to about £200 million a couple of years ago. Even two and a half years ago, Pakistan had the second highest numbers of refugees in the world, placing huge pressure on the country and the systems in place there. Given what happened in Afghanistan just 10 months ago, the pressures on Pakistan are even greater, with powerful challenges in terms of food insecurity, getting good-quality education, economic empowerment, and good family planning and other health services. It would be good to hear a clear rationale from the Minister for such a huge cut in funding.
Nepal and Sri Lanka are also, for different reasons, facing huge challenges in making progress towards the SDGs. Due to climate change, too many people in Nepal have had to leave the country for much of the year to go to India or other countries to seek work. It is therefore crucial to do as much as we can to help economic empowerment in Nepal. My right hon. Friend Liam Byrne briefly alluded to Sri Lanka, with which a huge number of my constituents have very close connections. If ever there was a country that has made the case for a greater programme of debt relief—I echo his point, too, about China as the lender of last resort—it is Sri Lanka. There are huge human rights and governance concerns in Sri Lanka, as my Tamil and Muslim constituents know only too well, but it is striking that all the peoples of Sri Lanka are suffering hunger, loss of jobs, and real wage insecurity. I wonder whether, in the short term, the Department needs to be doing more to help the people of Sri Lanka.
Lastly, on Africa, the move away from aid being used for poverty reduction is perhaps the most striking thing in the tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. In my Front-Bench role, I have been struck by how a series of businesses have argued that Africa is where Asia was 10 to 15 years ago. Some countries have very fast developing economies, and some countries are making huge efforts on the quality of their governance. It therefore surely makes even less sense to be withdrawing aid and withdrawing our influence in Africa when our business community is beginning to look with such interest at its prospects in Africa. I am not advocating for tied aid—absolutely not—but the more we resume strong soft power and strong influence in Africa, the more down the line we can help our businesses win contracts in Africa and help to create jobs, too.
I end by urging the next Government to rethink their approach to the abolition of the Department for International Development. It needs re-establishing quickly, and we need to move quickly back to 0.7% of our national income being spent on aid.
I start by thanking Sarah Champion for securing this incredibly important debate. Notwithstanding whatever state the Government may be in now—the latest apparently being that they cannot find MPs to fill the roles of all the Ministers who have resigned—this incredibly important debate shows that Parliament continues to work, even if the Government do not.
Last week, we debated the Government’s thoroughly un-British plan to go back on their word and break their promise over the Northern Ireland protocol. Today we must remind ourselves that this is another promise, made right at the beginning of the Prime Minister’s premiership, that has been broken. I found the remarks of the Prime Minister interesting when he said, clearly in relation to Christopher Pincher, that some people do not change. I am afraid that is what we have seen in this Prime Minister as well, because he has not, and the decisions that this Government have made are wrecking our reputation, not just domestically, but internationally, too, whether that is the diplomatic service, the BBC World Service, the British Council, or, as has rightly been the focus of the debate today, the international development budget.
The Liberal Democrats are particularly proud that we brought forward the Bill that enshrined 0.7% in law, but it was a cross-party, settled matter among MPs across the whole House. It was in all our manifestos, and we collectively promised it. That promise to the British people was broken by this Government when they reneged on 0.7%, and shame on them. Perhaps the good that will come from the eventual, inevitable fall of this Prime Minister is that decency and honesty might be restored to this Government. I hope therefore that the first act of the new incoming Administration might be to restore the aid budget immediately.
Today I want to focus on this Government’s current mishandling of the aid budget. The cut to the budget has hit and continues to hit those countries who need it most, including Ethiopia. The House may not know, but I lived in Ethiopia. We moved there when I was five, and we were there until I was eight. It was in the early ’80s, and people may remember the famine. We were there because my father had been given the job of economic adviser to the European mission out there, and my earliest memories of life at all are going with him to aid projects, where I would meet little children of my age who were emaciated, did not have clean water and were not able to go to school. It is a success story of aid that many of those children down the line, and their children, would have had better prospects than perhaps the young children I met.
In the context of the war in Ethiopia, the aid budget has been slashed from £325 million in 2020-21 to £30 million in 2024-25—less than a tenth. In Bangladesh, the budget will have halved from £200 million in 2020-21 to just £100 million in 2024-25. Those cuts are not a proud record of global leadership in international development; they are an international disgrace that is affecting the most vulnerable now more than ever.
Since the Government reneged on their promise, we have found ourselves with a war in Ukraine, which means that the 400 million people worldwide who rely on Ukrainian food supplies cannot get them. That ongoing military crisis—the blockade of ports, the destruction of agricultural machinery and the shells strewn across fields—is preventing grain from leaving what is rightly named the breadbasket of the world. That crisis will lead to people dying and to further instability.
I also lived in Egypt for a while; we moved there right after the revolution. The reason that the Arab spring happened was the price of tomatoes and bread. That kind of poverty and economic instability lead to political instability. To the points that have been made on both sides of the House I would say that if we are intent on helping people so that they do not have to flee and come to our shores as refugees, the best investment that we can make is to give money to partners abroad that can help them to have the best possible life where they want to be—in their cultures, in their homes, in those countries. Of course we want 0.7% to be restored, and the Ukraine crisis is why it should be restored now. In the light of that crisis, we need to step up to the plate—to the global catastrophe in front of us.
There may be hope. The latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecast reveals that a return of 0.7% is on the cards, because the fiscal tests of the old Chancellor are due to be met in 2023-24—less than a year away. Now that that decision has been made, however, it does not give me hope that the Treasury will acknowledge that 0.7% will return, because every time it has been pressed, it has refused to say whether it will allow it in the autumn. By its own tests, it should be in this autumn’s Budget that we return to 0.7%, but as has been mentioned, that promise was made by the last Chancellor. As of today, we have a new Chancellor; perhaps he will do the right thing and restore 0.7%.
International development was a proud thing for this country to hang its hat on, which matched our proud reputation as a development superpower. If the Government were serious about global Britain—Great Britain—they would lean into that reputation. It had its own Department and Secretary of State with a dedicated seat at the Cabinet table and at the National Security Council. The United Kingdom is a centre for excellence for international development and we are home to institutions that deliver world-leading research and development technical expertise and project co-ordination.
Yet the international development strategy makes it clear how far we have already fallen. After reading it, it was interesting and instructive to do a little word search. If the point of international aid is to alleviate poverty—the Government’s stated aim—why was it mentioned only nine times? Investment, however, particularly linked to trade, was mentioned 48 times. That tells us everything that we need to know about the Government’s priorities.
When the Government announced their plan to merge the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office into the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Members on both sides of the House joined forces with the sector to raise concerns about what that would mean for effectiveness. I am sorry to say that that fear has come true.
The strategy prioritises bilateral aid over multilateral aid. This is fundamentally counter to the liberal ideal of working within international structures to solve the world’s problems. It should be “and”, not “or”—not multilateral or bilateral, but both. Multilaterals, including the United Nations, are very often the first to be able to get there on the ground with dedicated teams. In times of urgent humanitarian crises, it is very often specialist teams from such multilateral organisations that can deliver the big asks needed for rebuilding, so I am deeply concerned about how this policy will impact on the UK’s ability to respond to emerging disasters, in particular.
If we are serious about tackling poverty, inequality and vulnerability across the world, it is also essential that trade is distributed where it is most needed—not where it is most likely to benefit us; that is wrong. Trade is an important part of why we do aid, but it should never be the whole reason. Trade is important, of course, and so is aid, but tying one to the other, as is the direction of travel, is the wrong approach. I remain highly concerned by this Government’s approach, which may be leading us down a dark path towards tied aid. If people want a story about what that looked like, they should look at the corruption surrounding the Pergau dam. If we say, “Well, we legislated against that”, look what the Government are doing with their own legislation: they just throw it out the window when they think it is the right time.
I wholeheartedly agree with what the hon. Lady says. I am very conscious that in many of the countries my constituents have relationships with—Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Malawi, to give just three examples—there are NGOs and church groups on the ground, and they understand where the real needs are. Sometimes, it is better to feed in to the knowledge of the people on the ground about where the real needs are to ensure that aid gets through. Would that be an example of what the Government should be trying to do?
I thank the hon. Member very much for his intervention. I have seen this in the Ukraine crisis with a charity I know that operates in Moldova. The smaller charities are often very nimble and can use their knowledge straightaway on the ground. However, this needs to be “and”, not “or”. They cannot do it all; they have to do it in partnership with the multilaterals. Taking from one and not feeding into the other is the wrong approach.
In my view, the international development strategy emphasises short-term quick wins and overlooks the deeper causes of poverty and vulnerability. I will pick one specific example about women and girls, who are purportedly a priority in this strategy. The strategy claims that the Government
“intend to restore funding for this vital work.”
I ask the Minister to clarify what exactly she and the Government mean by “restore”, and to what level. This is not just about funding for schools. If we do not fund period poverty plans, sexual health plans and water plans, we find that women and girls are the first ones to start making up the gap.
There should not just be a snappy headline with the three Es of education, empowerment and ending violence against women and girls. Those are pointless unless they are followed up behind by things that are actually going to make a difference. I pay tribute again to the hon. Member for Rotherham and her Committee, because her use of privilege to make public the equalities report showed that the Government knew that their cuts were going to affect women, girls and minorities the most—and yet they have the brass neck to suggest in this strategy that it is their priority. This is the typical doublespeak we have come to rely on from this Government. To see what the Government are actually doing, look at what they say they are doing best. By and large, people will probably find that it is the thing the Government are doing worst.
The hon. Member is making an incredibly powerful speech. She has worked so hard in this area, and I commend her for it. Does she agree that the development strategy is not a strategy? We do not know what the strategy is. This is a collection of buzzwords with a few statistics put in, but where is the underpinning vision, which is meant to be the SDGs and reducing and removing poverty? It just does not exist.
The hon. Member is absolutely right: it is the strategy that is completely missing from the Government.
This is not just about the money. We are debating the estimates and the money, so that is the right thing to focus on, but what determines whether money is being spent effectively is knowing what we want to achieve with that money. I will tell hon. Members what the Liberal Democrat vision is: the eradication of poverty, human rights for all, and a bolstering, not a deterioration, of the international rules-based order. Under our plans, the 0.7% target would be restored and a completely different approach to foreign policy delivered. I am sorry to say that the Government seem to be doing the exact opposite.
We come to the maiden speech.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak.
In the past, I worked with the conflict, stability and security fund, so I know how important it is that international development funding of the sort that we are discussing is used well by the UK.
I must admit that, in this new job of mine, I am still learning my way around the maze of corridors, anterooms and stairways—only once so far have I ended up in the scullery. The Tiverton and Honiton constituency, which I am fortunate to represent, is made up of several other significant towns—Axminster, Seaton, Cullompton and Colyton, which brands itself a rebel town—and nearly 100 villages. It stretches from the fringes of Exmoor at Bampton to the Jurassic coast at Branscombe. I look forward to hosting you, Mr Speaker, in Honiton, where we will get to go to Allhallows Museum and see the Honiton lace that your ceremonial robe is made of.
I pay tribute to two of my predecessors as MP for the part of Devon that I will do my very best to represent. One was an MP who took up office in 2010, and the other first came to this place as MP for Tiverton in 1835; they are Neil Parish and Lord Palmerston. In his maiden speech made over a decade ago, Neil Parish said that he wanted to see fairer funding for schools. I know that he tried in earnest to seek that additional schools funding, but we are still waiting for action on that. I think here specifically about Tiverton High School. After the by-election, I was pleased to see the former Secretary of State for Education tweet that he had heard local concerns about that school. Now that he is Chancellor of the Exchequer, he should know that my constituents are still looking for action rather than tweets.
Neil Parish was a strong voice for farmers not just in Devon, but across the country. He led a rebellion of Conservative MPs on the Government’s Agriculture Bill and aimed to prohibit the import of food produced to lower animal health standards and lower welfare standards than those that we use in the UK. Farmers in Devon and elsewhere are struggling to deal with the rising price of fuel, feed and fertiliser. I pledge to continue to work with bodies such as the National Farmers Union to stand up for farmers and ensure that they have a champion here in Westminster.
Every time I walk up the staircase to my office here, I find myself eyeballed by a bust of the former Foreign Secretary and former Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston. Palmerston was the MP for Tiverton for 30 years, and he went on a journey—one recently experienced by a few of my constituents at last month’s by-election. He started out a Conservative but later became a Liberal. I honestly think that is what we are hearing across the country: a groundswell of opinion from people who feel taken for granted. Just yesterday, we saw two senior members of the Cabinet quit, citing a lack of integrity, and I think that it is time for those remaining members of the Cabinet to heed the message from voters in Tiverton and Honiton at our by-election last month and show the Prime Minister the door.
Lord Palmerston was also Prime Minister, at the end of the Crimean war. He spoke about Russian foreign policy in this place 160 years ago:
“The policy and practice of the Russian Government in regard to Turkey and Persia has always been to push forward its encroachments as fast and as far as the apathy or want of firmness of other Governments would allow it to go but always to stop and retire when it has met with decided resistance.”
I am much less fatalistic about Russia’s expansionist ways. With a different leader at a different time, I do not suppose that Russia would be bound to invade its neighbour. But the UK is right to support Ukraine for many reasons. For me, the most important relates to the way Ukraine gave up its status as a country in possession of nuclear weapons, in part because of the assurances it received at the time from countries, including the UK, as part of the Budapest memorandum. Under the memorandum, we offered assurances to Ukraine in relation to its security. While they were not security guarantees, I see the support the UK is showing Ukraine as consistent with what we pledged back in 1994.
I suggest that the UK should show the same solidarity and ability to work with European neighbours that Britain showed during the Crimean war. Liberal democracy must be defended and preserved, regardless of who Palmerston’s latest successor might be.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. It is an absolute pleasure to follow Richard Foord. I spent many childhood summers in Cullompton, so I know what a beautiful constituency he represents. I can see already that he will be a strong advocate for his constituents, local schools—he spotted a lobbying opportunity in his maiden speech—and farmers. He displayed an internationalist outlook, which I certainly welcome, as I am sure we all do. I am delighted that he chose to speak in this debate for his maiden speech; I think that shows real acuity. What a day, here in Parliament, on which to give his maiden speech! I look forward to following him in many speeches to come.
I campaigned, along with hundreds of thousands of people across the country, for the move to 0.7%. Many are in this Chamber now, but they are also in towns, villages and cities across the country. That decision had cross-party support and was one we could all be proud of—proud to be British, and proud to achieve 0.7% of GDP on development spending. The fact that it was cut is deeply disappointing to me, to Opposition Members and to people across the country, including many of my constituents who write to me. It is very disappointing that the 0.7% target has not been reinstated in these estimates. Achieving 0.7% was the right thing to do. It was the wrong thing to do—it is a false economy—to cut it to 0.5%. That diminishes our position in the world and has damaged many successful poverty-reducing, conflict-cutting and climate change-tackling programmes. There is a £4.6 billion black hole and 1,000 programmes have been or will be cut. It would be welcome if the Minister could confirm whether that is correct.
I want to focus not only on how much and which programmes have been cut, but on how the remaining money is spent. I am concerned about the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, and the fact that so much money in this strategy will be under the remit of ambassadors. I have spoken to many ambassadors and they have not had the training to spend development funds. They have been trained to be excellent diplomats and we are really proud of them. They do a great job for us around the world, but development expertise is very, very different. Will the Minister confirm that the training programme for ambassadors has changed as a result, right from selection through to achieving their positions? It needs to change dramatically if the money is to be spent in a way that achieves our aims.
Then we come to our aims. What are the aims of the international strategy? I have serious concerns that they are not clear, that they break our promises to achieve the sustainable development goals and that they are not to cut poverty.
Anyone who has followed any of my speeches will not be surprised by the two areas on which I will focus today, but I have not plucked them out of thin air. I have worked in development around the world for 25 years. I have worked for Christian Aid, Oxfam, CAFOD—the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development—and Water Aid. I did a round of the development agencies, which meant that I had the privilege of visiting many countries and seeing programmes that are funded by the British public around the world. Two key areas that can achieve poverty eradication are: tackling conflict, focusing especially on genocide prevention; and tackling climate change, focusing especially on water sanitation and hygiene.
Commitments have been made across the House and we have said many times in debates that we want to prevent genocide. We have stood here and said, “Never again,” and I am sure we all agree that this crime of crimes must be prevented. That has been highlighted this week by the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief, which is being hosted by our Government and is happening now in London.
Religious persecution and the targeting of people because of their ethnicity go hand in hand, but to achieve the aim of “Never again” in relation to genocide, we need genocide prevention strategies across all the countries in which we work to predict when early steps towards genocide are being taken, to prevent genocide through peace building and to fund social and economic actions and targeted intervention to prevent it. There is a list of continuing genocides around the world and of areas where there are moves towards genocide. Our projects and programmes can make all the difference. They will not be glamorous or hit the headlines, but they will save lives in their millions.
The Foreign Secretary’s promise to restore the humanitarian and women and girls’ development budgets has been broken because of the aid cuts. Compared with the spend in 2020, the cuts include the Ethiopian budget by 90% and the Syrian budget by 64%. Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the world, has had a cut of 40% and Sudan has had a 74% cut. There is an unprecedented famine in the horn of Africa, yet the cuts to humanitarian budgets continue regardless.
Last year, the British Government made famine prevention their flagship humanitarian agenda when they held the G7 presidency, and the UK played a lead role in convening discussions on famine prevention in the UN Security Council. That is—or should be—a key feature of the international development strategy, but there is a perception that the UK risks being somewhat missing in action on humanitarian aid because of the cuts. For example, in 2017, when 16 million people in the horn of Africa were facing severe hunger, the UK provided £861 million as part of the global response. That helped to avert widespread famine. The work that was done then has helped to reduce the number of people who are facing famine, even now, in the next period of crisis. Despite that, however, 23 million people in 2022 are facing famine as a result of drought, conflict and covid, but the UK has provided—bear in mind that the figure was £861 million in 2017—£72 million to support people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan. This is the worst famine in that area in 40 years, yet we have dramatically cut our support. That is not what the British people want from the aid budget.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and she knows at first hand the importance of our contribution to the international and aid sector, particularly on famine prevention. My Committee has just published its report on food security, and there is so much more that the Government could do to take a strategic leadership view. However, the countries that my hon. Friend mentioned, where famine is running wild, seem to be completely off the Government’s radar and hidden. One can only assume that unless we raise the profile of those countries, this will just keep going.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. This debate has been really important in enabling us to talk about the issues, because these cuts seem to be happening quietly and in secret. If British people knew about the cuts to famine prevention and the other things going on, they would not be happy. These are not our values; these are not British values.
The House will hear no argument from me against championing women and girls, which is in the development strategy, but the budgets for women and girls are being cut and are not being prioritised. The Government are not putting their money where their mouth is. CARE International estimates that £1.9 billion was cut from women and girls projects in 2021. I would welcome any assurance from the Minister that that is not correct and that the budgets for women and girls are being protected. I would like to hear that in her response.
The international development strategy should have poverty reduction as a target, but it does not. Instead, it talks about people being “more prosperous”. It could be said that that is just semantics—putting a positive spin on poverty by talking about prosperity instead. However, I am very concerned, as other hon. Members clearly are, that it shows a move away from poverty reduction, tackling inequality, support for the most marginalised and inclusive growth, with a focus instead on macroeconomic prosperity and the hope that it will trickle down. We know that that will not work and that it risks fuelling inequality and instability. It is a move away from achieving the sustainable development goals on the interconnected issues of poverty, inequality, climate change, inclusive societies, access to health and education, and water and sanitation.
Water and sanitation is all but missing from the international development strategy. WASH—water, sanitation and hygiene—is the foundation on which any development strategy should be based. There is a lot of talk in the strategy about trade, but trade cannot increase if farmers cannot water their livestock or crops. Farmers just cannot achieve very much with no water: they face ill health and poor hygiene, or have to fetch water instead of farming and being a trading actor. It is truly frightening that the Government have cut funding for WASH by two thirds between 2018 and 2021.
Water Aid is one of the most popular and well-supported aid agencies in this country. I am not just saying that because I used to work for it; I chose to work for it because I know the importance of water and sanitation. Its popularity demonstrates how obvious it is to British people and to anyone who has travelled to any of the countries we are talking about that without clean water, sanitation and hygiene, we just cannot get the other benefits to progress for girls, for trade, for autonomy and for villages and towns. WASH is a no-regrets solution: it is really good value for money, and it fast-forwards progress in gender equality, global health, climate change and so many other areas.
Let us take gender equality as an example. The focus of the development strategy is quite rightly on women and girls, but without access to WASH, millions of women and girls will miss out on school or the chance to work and will be at greater risk of poor health, violence and abuse. Every day, approximately 800 million women and girls are on their period, yet one third do not have access to clean water, female-friendly and decent toilets, hygiene facilities and sanitary materials to manage menstruation with dignity. I have met many, many girls who miss a week of school a month, and many teachers who despair. They want to do their best, but they cannot.
Women are responsible for about 60% of household water collection needs globally. Achieving universal basic water services would free up more than 77 million working days for women each year between 2021 and 2040. The gains could be huge, so I ask the Minister: what proportion of the reinstated ODA budget for women and girls will go to programmes addressing period poverty and shame? Given its importance to the education, economic empowerment and safety of women and girls globally, will the Minister restore the UK’s ODA funding for WASH?
Global health and WASH are inseparable too. The World Health Organisation estimates that one newborn baby dies every minute from infections related to a lack of clean water and hygiene. This is such a basic problem, so heartbreaking and so easily solved. More than half the healthcare centres in the world’s 46 least developed countries lack clean water or decent toilets, which is causing preventable deaths and accelerating the spread of antimicrobial resistance as health workers are forced to use antibiotics in lieu of good hygiene. If any of our local hospitals had no running water, they would close—they would not be open—but that is the situation of half the healthcare facilities in the world’s poorest countries. The Lancet estimates that 1.27 million people died of drug-resistant infections in 2019 alone, a number that will just continue to increase as antimicrobial resistance develops, and that will affect us in this country as well: we are interconnected.
The FCDO’s own analysis in December 2021 rightly recognised the importance of WASH in maternal and child health, pandemic preparedness, and building climate-resilient health systems. However, the FCDO is not putting its money where its mouth is. The financing gap preventing universal access to WASH in healthcare facilities is just $601 million annually to 2030. That is small change for all the G7 nations, working together, and the UK should be leading the way in advocating its provision. I therefore want to hear from the Minister what the Government are doing to increase access to WASH in healthcare facilities in the world’s least developed countries, and whether she agrees that it must be better financed.
I also have a little shopping list of aid programmes which I know are changing, but about which I should like some further information. These are just examples of the problems that will come as a result of the disintegration—the Government seem to be disintegrating around us as we speak, but there is also this disintegration —of what used to be the DFID budget.
Mr Mitchell raised an important issue: why are we still funding China to such a great extent, and what are those funds for? As for Sudan, has the peace programme been entirely cut? We built up that programme over many years, and we have been funding it for so long; are there any plans to reinstate it?
In Lebanon, the UK Government had been funding a very successful landmine programme to clear cluster munitions for many years. The Lebanese Government were given a five-year extension allowing them to clear their munitions by 2026, they said they were on track for 2025—and then what happened? We cut the programme. They were so close to achieving landmine eradication. They had come so far, and we had worked so well with them, and the Lebanese military, to achieve that. Farmers could have their land back, they could grow and they could trade, but they cannot achieve any of those goals in the international development strategy without that programme, so why did we cut it?
The next item on my little shopping list is the BBC World Service, the jewel in our crown. We have built up, over so many years, a trusted service. I saw its impact in Kenya, where I was living, during the post-election violence. It was the only source of information then. It is so well trusted across the world. It is a source of huge soft power for us, and I hope to hear from the Minister that it will not be subject to any of the cuts.
The final item is climate finance. On
A development strategy that does not prioritise poverty reduction, conflict and genocide prevention, and WASH is not one that the British people would want to support. It breaks our promises to the world’s most vulnerable people, and it further weakens our standing on the world stage.
It is an absolute pleasure, as always, to follow Fleur Anderson. I always enjoy listening to her, because many of the things that she has a deep interest in are things that I am interested in as well—as are others in this Chamber, but for me especially it is a real pleasure. I always enjoy her recollections of where she has been in the world, the organisations she has worked with and the things she has done, and I want to say a big thank you to her for that as well. The points she has shared with us reinforce the demands and interests that we all have, but they also encourage us to work that wee bit harder to deliver some of the good things she has mentioned.
It is a pleasure to follow Richard Foord and to have heard his maiden speech. I wish him well in this House. I know that it can be quite daunting when someone first comes here—I know it was when I came here—and the maiden speech is a big occasion for us all. I wish him every success and every happiness as he works for his constituents in Tiverton and Honiton. He has already got the bit between his teeth as he starts trying to sort out the high school in Tiverton.
I also thank all the Members who have spoken in the debate so far, and I look forward to hearing those who will speak after me, including the shadow Minister, Preet Kaur Gill, and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Vicky Ford.
It is no surprise that an effective international development strategy requires proper funding. That is what every one of us has said today. I have spoken in the past about my concerns over cuts to the foreign aid budget and the importance of ensuring that people are not made to suffer as a result of our—I say this gently—poorly judged priorities. The Government have in the past committed themselves to 0.7%, and I support that. I wish to see it in place. I wish it was, but it is not at the moment. The Government have indicated a wish to return to that come 2023-24, but in the meantime, many people in many countries across the world, including Ethiopia, Somalia and many other African countries, are suffering as a result. As a country that prides itself on offering help to nations in times of need and on helping other nations to become increasingly prosperous, we need the financial backing to turn our talk into action. Layla Moran, who spoke for the Liberal Democrats, referred to the importance of giving people opportunities. Others have also referred to that, and I am going to speak about young women and girls in particular.
Today an international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief has been taking place in London, as the hon. Member for Putney mentioned. Indeed, she and I were sitting together at the prayer breakfast just yesterday morning in Westminster Hall, and it was a really good occasion. I know the Minister is also deeply committed to that issue, and I am very pleased to have a Minister in place who is. That encourages me personally, and it also encourages many of the people who come to me about these issues. Hopefully the international conference will drive further commitment to ensuring freedom of religion or belief for all. I hope it will be just one example of the FCDO turning ideas and discussions into tangible benefits for the world’s needy people. I have spoken at a couple of the fringe events here in Westminster in the last couple of days, at the QEII centre and here in the House, and I am conscious that promoting freedom of religion or belief needs to go hand in hand with human rights issues. I see them as inseparable—they must be worked on together. For me, that is quite simple to understand.
I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, and I want to ask the Minister a question and put it on record. It relates to the special envoy, who is, as we all know, Fiona Bruce. She is helped by David Burrowes. I know that the Government and the Prime Minister have committed resources for that purpose, but I want to ask the Minister—I know the civil servants are taking note—if it is possible to have that position ringfenced for the future. The hon. Lady’s role is important, because it changes lives in places across the world where freedom of religion or belief is a key issue and where human rights issues are so important. That will be the thrust of my short comments in this debate. I will reflect on some of the priorities in the FCDO’s strategy for international development, how they relate to freedom of religion or belief and why it is important to give them sufficient financial backing.
As I said, freedom of religion or belief is a bellwether human right. Where it is protected, other human rights are likely to be protected. Where it is violated, other human rights are also likely to be violated. As such, international development cannot be assessed in isolation from its wider impact, as the human rights situation on the ground inevitably affects the successful delivery of international development.
I am therefore glad that one of the priorities in the FCDO’s strategy for international development focuses on women and girls, and particularly on ending violence against them. As a grandfather of five, soon to be six, including three wee girls, I understand in a small way what it means to have wee girls I want to look after and protect. I want to see the same protection in this strategy, and I am pleased the Minister has said the same on the record.
I often say that Sarah Champion is a real spokesperson on these global issues. Whenever she speaks, I make it my business to come and listen, because hers are always words of wisdom and encouragement, for which I commend her. I am encouraged that the Government will restore spending to previous levels in 2023 but, as inflation and prices rise across the world, will 0.7% be enough to address demand?
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, I am frequently reminded of the dire situation that so many women and girls face around the world. It is always hard to listen to such things, and I find it incredibly difficult. The Aid to the Church in Need report “Hear Her Cries” was released earlier this year. It documents the horrific persecution faced by women and girls around the world because of their religion or belief, and the double vulnerability they suffer due to their gender. Women and girls from religious minorities in many regions are targeted for abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage, which are violations of their human rights and human dignity. Human dignity is not too much to ask for, and I hope the report is given proper attention.
I will have the opportunity to go to Pakistan with the APPG in the first week of October. The last time we were there, we met a number of officials in positions of power and described to them our concern that Christian and Hindu girls as young as 12, 13 and 14 were being abducted and abused, which annoys me greatly. I would like to hear more about how the strategy will support them.
The strategy includes a priority to provide life-saving humanitarian assistance. Others have mentioned Afghanistan, a country whose people have been struck by terror since the Taliban’s takeover. I make it clear that these things are happening because of the Taliban’s takeover. I gently say to the Government and the Minister that people have nothing. They are starving. How can we get aid to them by bypassing the Taliban, or however it can happen? I do not have the answers, but I ask the question.
Humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan is clearly a necessity, but more must be done to ensure that aid reaches the most vulnerable. I have an observation, not a criticism. The Government published a list of groups in Afghanistan that are deemed to be at most risk, to which vulnerable religious and belief groups were eventually added. It is good that they were added, and it is important to see how we can help. Mechanisms must be in place to ensure that the most vulnerable are reached. Of course, no limit should ever be put on humanitarian aid, but programmes must not be complacent in their trust that aid reaches the most vulnerable. We are visiting Pakistan in the first week of October. I see the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, in her place. She is the vice-chair of the all-party group and I know she has a deep interest in these issues. The hon. Member for Rotherham also intends to travel with us, so her vast knowledge and ability will add to our having a particularly beneficial deputation.
Finally, I would like to caution against the strategy’s designation of climate change and biodiversity as the UK’s No. 1 international priority. One cannot deny the impact of climate on already vulnerable communities, and more must be done to safeguard against climate-driven disruption. The hon. Member for Putney referred knowledgeably to the importance of WaterAid, as she often does. Some of my constituents are involved in its projects, and I may mention one of them. However, climate change should not become the FCDO’s scapegoat as the main driver of other human rights violations. I work with many church groups in my constituency, and with NGOs and missionary groups, to deliver education, health, farming, self-sustainability and employment to Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Those are just some of the projects that we do through those missionary groups in Strangford. As I said in an intervention, I am ever mindful of the knowledge of many of those missionary and church groups and NGOs on the ground in those countries. Sometimes a closer working relationship with them would be incredibly beneficial, and I would like to see that. I know that in Swaziland there is a dearth of clean water available, so that is one project on which we could be working with some of the NGOs, church groups and missionary groups. It might be possible to address that issue.
At the end of May, I visited Nigeria with the all-party group. I know that the Minister knows that, because we briefed her on the trip and she showed an incredible interest in this issue. Along with other Members of this House, I saw the threat to freedom of religion or belief in Nigeria and the fear people faced, be it in the north-east of Nigeria, the central belt—the Bible belt, they call it—or the area where there was a terrible attack in which 50 people were killed in a Roman Catholic chapel on the Sunday just as we returned. There is a real threat to freedom of religion in Nigeria.
The Government all too often attribute much of the violence in Nigeria to disputes over natural resources and competition over land exacerbated by climate change and population growth, but I would ask that that not be overemphasised to the exclusion of the freedom of religion or belief that is at the heart of this issue. We were there and we became very aware of that. The Buhari Government’s indifference and a culture of impunity allows FORB to be violated regularly, which is why Nigeria is in the top six in the world watch list. The abduction and forced marriage of Christian schoolgirl Leah Sharibu took place six years ago—it is hard to believe it was that far back—and it cannot be blamed on global warming. Nor can the 24-year term of imprisonment of the humanist Mubarak Bala, who posted on Facebook and was charged with blasphemy.
As I said, when we look at FORB issues, we speak up for those with Christian belief, those with other belief and those with no belief. We do that because we believe, as I clearly do, that my God loves everybody, and I believe we must speak up for others. So when we were there in Nigeria we made representations to the Nigerian Government. The friend and colleague of Chris Law, Brendan O'Hara, was there as well. He took this case on board and we are indebted to him, and we hope that we may make some progress on the blasphemy issue. We also had discussions with some of the representatives of Leah Sharibu, that wee Christian girl who never renounced her Christianity and stood firm. We hope that at some time in the future we may see something happening on that. The multifaceted human rights issues in Nigeria cannot be ignored, and attention to climate change should not be at the expense of recognising other fundamental human rights violations.
I want to pose another question to the Minister, which others have also raised and which it is important to put on the record: I cannot get my head around why China is receiving any aid whatsoever. I am flabbergasted. [Interruption.] I know the Minister will answer that. [Interruption.] Well, the night is young. [Interruption.] I am joking. [Interruption.] I have made my point and will now move on to my last paragraph.
To conclude, I commend the FCDO’s efforts in international development and the knock-on impact in safeguarding FORB—freedom of religion or belief—issues for all in the future. However, I urge the Government to see the broader international development picture and ensure that their spending matches their priorities.
Order. Before I call the Front-Bench representatives to wind up, after which Sarah Champion will get the last two minutes, I should say that Members need not worry: should we finish before 7 o’clock, under
It is always a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon. I also congratulate Richard Foord, because I watched him during his speech and his hand did not shake once. That impressed me, as it is certainly not how I experienced making my maiden speech—although perhaps it is because today Operation Big Dog might finally be going to the vet for one last time. I also thank my trusted friend and colleague, and Chair of the International Development Committee Sarah Champion, for securing the debate. I look forward to hearing her conclusions.
This debate has gone on for more than a couple of hours and what has been striking is that we are all saying one thing: this strategy is not an international development strategy. Not one Member has stood up and supported it this afternoon. That should be the most striking feature of the debate. Rather, it is almost entirely a business and trade-focused strategy, with only one mention of the UN sustainable development goals, which are the very backbone of development and aid, and just nine mentions of poverty. Instead there is a relentless focus on business, trade, enterprise, exports, global supply chains and the private sector. As a serial entrepreneur, I get that, but that is not the first priority in the minds of those who are absolutely on their haunches and who have nothing on a day-to-day basis. Frankly, we have abandoned what an international development strategy is all about: to alleviate the most fundamental issues of starvation, persecution and all the other problems in some of the least developed and most vulnerable countries.
The Secretary of State previously held office in the Department for International Trade, so it comes as no surprise that this document could easily have originated from that Department. I have been thinking about a new title for her: the Secretary of State for Enterprise—the SS Enterprise, so she could be Captain Truss. What underpins this strategy is not poverty alleviation but trade with UK businesses. Indeed the strategy states:
“Our financing model…will deliver for people here in the UK—investments abroad will generate export opportunities in the UK, creating jobs right across the country.”
The UK Government clearly view international development as an investment and profit venture, in their own narrow nationalist interests.
The international development sector has been scathing of the plan, with Bond stating that the strategy
“seems largely driven by short-term political and economic interests rather than the attempt to tackle the root causes of global crises such as inequality, conflict and climate change, which impact us all.”
Similarly, Oxfam has said that
“this strategy prioritises aid for trade and the financialisation of development. It is clearly motivated more by tackling China than tackling poverty...By gutting its aid budget—and now putting geopolitics above poverty—the UK has fallen short of the challenge.”
Perhaps that is why no one so far has stood up and supported the strategy.
The SNP is of the firm opinion that international development should not be viewed as a business and profit venture. It should be focused on protecting and safeguarding those in the most acute need around the world. Anything else is, frankly, a complete dereliction of both moral duty and a duty as one of the world’s wealthiest countries. Therefore, it is shameful that poverty is rarely mentioned in the strategy. The only mention of UN sustainable development goals is as follows—even the framing of it is appalling:
“The UK brings powerful economic and political tools to our development partnerships:”—
“aid, diplomacy, trade, investment, expertise and influence. We will use those to meet the evolving needs of our partners, and support achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals…in line with the Integrated Review.”
I ask the Minister here today: how can a strategy that claims to be wide-ranging and holistic possibly address the UN sustainable development goals in a co-ordinated and clear manner when there is only one mention of the SDGs in the entire strategy?
By focusing heavily on trade and investment opportunities, the UK Government are implicitly prioritising economic opportunities with middle-income countries that have immediate domestic business potential, rather than with countries in dire humanitarian need whose national and economic infrastructures have been crippled by crisis. A key question therefore arises: who is the intended beneficiary of this new international development strategy? Is it aid recipients, or wealthy UK-based donors?
At the International Development Committee in May—I am glad to see a number of my colleagues from the Committee here in the Chamber—I asked the Foreign Secretary why the first case study within the international development strategy was that of Liquid Telecom, a company established in the UK, building fibre broadband in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What sustainable goals does that achieve and how exactly does it reduce poverty? It has been estimated that 73% of the Congolese population live on less than $1.90 a day, yet UK aid to the DRC has been cut by around 60%.
Last year, 19 aid agencies appealed to the FCDO, stating that 27.3 million people in the DRC—[Interruption.] I do hope the Minister is listening while she is on the phone. Some 27.3 million people in the DRC are experiencing acute food insecurity. Action Against Hunger stated that the UK aid cut to the Democratic Republic of the Congo—I hope the Minister is listening at this point—would kill 50,000 children who would otherwise have survived.
There is no mention of any uplift in ODA food and nutrition programmes within the strategy, despite the current global food crisis—it is bonkers—and despite its being one of the key goals of the SDGs. However, the strategy says:
“We will make more targeted investments of our resources and our efforts in fragile states or where there are compelling trade and investment opportunities.”
This strategy should be in the bin. Why is the broadband provision being highlighted in this strategy, instead of its addressing acute food insecurity? Can the Minister answer the question that the Foreign Secretary could not answer: at what point does a trade or investment opportunity become more compelling than saving starving children's lives?
The strategy is rhetoric-heavy and spending-light and fails to make any explicit funding references to health, education, food, or women and girls’ programmes. For example, the strategy commits to: increasing access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics; building stronger health systems; ending preventable deaths; and investing in research and innovation. However, it does not mention how those aims will be achieved, or how much funding has been earmarked for these efforts. [Interruption.] I am trying to deliver a speech! The Minister needs to hear what I have to say. Similarly, there are commitments to education, empowerment and ending violence for women and girls, but no detailed funding commitments, and no references to wider educational targets for boys and young men.
The Foreign Secretary has also said that she would restore the budget for women and girls to £745 million, which sounds honourable, but CARE International estimates that the FCDO would have to provide £1.9 billion to restore spending levels for gender equality to 2020 levels, so that money is a fraction, and what is being claimed is not true. There is lots of rhetoric, but little, if anything, of the detail.
Crucially, the International Development strategy provides no concrete roadmap to reinstating the 0.7% aid budget, and boy what timing! As we heard earlier, the G7 was coming to UK, and all of its members stepped up to the plate as we stepped down.
The Government’s approach is also bonkers at a time when the planet is facing multiple crises. Let me list just a few. The UK Government have cut health and medical funding during a global pandemic. They have cut food programmes during a looming global food security crisis. They have cut environmental projects in the midst of a climate crisis. And—you couldnae make this up—they have cut conflict-resolution projects at a time of renewed war. Those cuts cost lives. Analysis has shown that over 7 million children have lost access to education, 12 million babies will not receive nutritional support and over 100,000 unvaccinated children will die. Yes, that is death as a result of the UK’s callous decision to cut the aid budget—I hope I am clear. These death-sentence cuts are as miserable and rotten as the core of this Government today. It is morally and pragmatically indefensible that this UK Government continue actively to jeopardise the lives and wellbeing of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
Let us put this issue in the current political context. Ever since he came into office, the Prime Minister has been intent on dismantling and reversing the UK’s leadership on international development—his ideologically driven departmental merger, savage budget cuts and now this aid-for-trade strategy have put that beyond doubt. He has aligned policy more closely with the manifesto commitments made by Nigel Farage when he was leader of the Brexit party and UKIP; he has dismissed cross-party consensus in this Chamber; and he has U-turned on his own party’s manifesto and the Government’s legally binding commitments. With his time in No. 10 coming—rapidly—to an end, I hope those irresponsible actions and callous attitudes towards the world’s poorest and most vulnerable are reversed as swiftly as possible.
I also live in hope that those on the Government Benches who have defied their leadership and their party Whips make the case for a return to 0.7% of GNI, with that money focused on poverty alleviation more loudly than ever before. I even dream that those who voted for these destructive policies for narrow, short-term reasons or for their own personal political advancement will reflect on the damage they have done to the UK’s reputation, to the UK’s national interest and, most importantly, to the millions of people who have lost out on life-saving support which was destroyed at the stroke of a pen and without a tinge of regret.
Over the past three years we on the SNP Benches have been resolute in our opposition to the Government’s international development policies and in our support for a fully funded aid budget targeting those in acute need. We will continue to push the UK Government into adopting an international development framework akin to the good global citizen policy proposed in the Scottish Government’s recently published “Global Affairs Framework”. We are committed to prioritising the furthest behind first, instead of politicising aid. We will amplify marginalised voices on global issues such as migration, human rights, biodiversity and the climate crisis. We have committed to listening and acting in response to often unheard voices, especially those of women and young people and those from the global south. We will always aim to be a good global citizen, no matter what challenges may emerge and irrespective of the behaviour of others. That is fundamental to everything we do internationally, and it is at the core of why we in the SNP are true internationalists and put our money where our mouth is.
The Scottish Government, with the Scottish Parliament’s meagre devolved powers in the field of international development, have already taken wide-ranging positive action. Scotland was the world’s first nation to set up a dedicated climate justice fund, which will double to £24 million over the next four years. At COP26 we were also the world’s first nation to commit to a loss and damage fund. Rather than cut aid, the Scottish Government will increase their international development fund from £10 million to £15 million during this Parliament. Scotland is already demonstrating that it sees international development very differently from the UK Government and is stepping up to make its global contribution, rather than retreating inwards and focusing on self-interest.
With the referendum on Scottish independence coming in October 2023, it is time to set out our hopes and ambitions for what Scotland could and should do differently as a good global citizen in the international community. Scotland can and wants to do better. I envisage an entirely different, more progressive and more humane way of delivering on our international development commitments.
For example, I would like an independent Scotland to make helping the furthest behind first, and alleviating poverty, the basis for all international development policy within a separate department for international development. I want an independent Scotland to commit in law to spending the UN target of 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance and fully embed the UN’s sustainable development goals and grand bargain commitments into its international development strategy. Scotland has an opportunity to lead the way in decolonising development, ensuring that development projects are partner rather than donor led, and promoting the establishment of a decolonisation officer within Scotland’s department for international development.
I will finish on this. I believe without doubt that as a progressive, outward-looking and truly internationalist nation, focusing on core themes such as conflict, health, climate and gender equality, an independent Scotland will not only have profound potential for positive change but will be a key partner, leader and influencer, committed to the most vulnerable peoples across the world, to do more, to do better and to deliver a fairer and more just global future.
I thank my hon. Friend Sarah Champion—the Chair of the International Development Committee—and the Backbench Business Committee for securing this important debate. My hon. Friend and the Committee she chairs do remarkable work on behalf of this House to hold the Government to account, however challenging that has been over the past two years. I also thank all hon. Members who supported the application and the many who spoke powerfully during the debate and made important points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham said that the Government’s priority is trade, not reducing poverty, and she said that they must get the foundations right. Mr Mitchell, a previous Secretary of State, stated that when British leadership was needed the most, the Government chose the worst possible time to cut the aid budget. He said that everyone has recognised the merger with the FCO as a disaster, and of course I agree with him. I thank him for all his work and for speaking up for the world’s poorest. Like many Members, he also made a strong point on the different skillsets between DFID and diplomatic staff.
My right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, another former Secretary of State, knows the issues well and emphasised that the Prime Minister’s decision to abolish DFID, breaking his word, was a mistake. He rightly asked who Samantha Power will call to discuss development, and said that in a world with uncertainty, Britain must be seen as an honest, trusted partner and that that harm must be undone.
Mrs Latham spoke about the role of the International Development Committee in ensuring that taxpayers get value for money. Harriett Baldwin, who was also previously a Minister in DFID, made strong arguments against the cuts.
My right hon. Friend Liam Byrne made a passionate speech, stating that the heart of the debate is the fact that
“when the world needed us to step up, we stepped back”,
that the crisis of food fragility is not going to sort itself out and that the aid cut only makes things worse. On the SDRs, he exposed the incompetence across Government, saying that they clearly have no grip on the issue.
My hon. Friend Gareth Thomas, a former Minister, spoke passionately about the moral case and what a mistake it had been to axe the Department. I thank him for all his excellent work. He also made an important point about the different skillsets and the fact that the new administration must listen to those with experience, and called on Government to reverse the cuts and the merger.
Layla Moran spoke passionately about the impact of cuts and the vandalism of the merger of DFID. It was a pleasure to hear the maiden speech of Richard Foord. I wish him the very best; I thank him for making his maiden speech in this important debate and I look forward to working with him.
My hon. Friend Fleur Anderson campaigned for the 0.7% target for development spending, a cause that she said was cross-party and a proud moment for Britain. She has expertise in this area and is a champion for development because she knows at first hand that it works. My friend Jim Shannon, who always speaks in these important debates, made an impassioned speech on the importance of freedom of religion or belief, saying that it is a human right.
We have heard much today about the appalling human cost of the aid cuts over the past two years. We have heard how 7.1 million children—more than half the child population of the UK—lost out on their education; how 72 million people missed out on expected treatment for neglected tropical diseases; how, in the middle of a pandemic, this Government unconscionably pulled funding for research, health programmes and hand-washing; and how, just months before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this Government cut £350 million from their conflict, stability and security fund and conflict prevention work.
Labour has been calling over the past year for the international development strategy to be published, because we know it was an important chance to set out how Britain will rise to the global challenges of the next decades. It was a chance for the Foreign Secretary to reset after the damage of the past two years and rebuild.
We live in unprecedented times, and the need for Britain to return to the international stage could not be greater. The global food security crisis is growing fast, putting millions more at risk of famine. Already, in the Horn of Africa, aid agencies estimate that one person is dying every 48 seconds. The UN now reports that over 100 million people—1% of the global population—are on the move, displaced from their homes. Even as the extreme wealth of a handful of individuals has soared during the pandemic, 263 million more people will crash into extreme poverty this year, making a mockery of the notion that wealth trickles down. From the Sahel to California and the Pacific, the planet is on fire, and that needs an unprecedented response. The British public have played their part, whether by helping neighbours through covid or by opening their wallets and their homes for Ukrainian refugees. Civil servants at FCDO have played their part, working all hours to keep life-saving programmes afloat, even if their reward is a plan to reduce their number by up to 40%.
We needed this Government to play their part and come forward with a serious plan. That is why, prior to the strategy’s publication, I set out five basic tests that would allow the Opposition to support the Government. First, after the shutdown of DFID, is the strategy serious about restoring Britain’s development expertise? Secondly, would it provide the resources needed and return the UK to 0.7%? Thirdly, is it serious about targeting aid to those most in need? Fourthly, given the war, pandemic and climate emergency we face, would it protect climate, health and conflict as priorities? Finally, would it make the long-term, positive case for development, because we know it works? These are simple and reasonable tests. They are not complicated or designed to trip the Government up. They are, I hope, tests that many Conservative Members and Members in all parts of the House would want to see met. The sad truth is that this strategy does not meet a single one of these most basic tests.
Let us be generous and first look at the Government’s plan on their own terms. They say that they want to boost British investment. Presumably that is why last year British International Investment, the Government’s development finance arm, invested almost £600 million in DP World, the Dubai-owned parent company of P&O Ferries, famous for its so-called efficiencies. It was the biggest investment in BII’s 73-year history, and more than three times our entire bilateral aid last year to the Americas, Europe and the Pacific combined. I have written to the Government about this before, but I ask again: what assurances can the Minister now provide that ODA funds that are required by law to be spent on poverty reduction are not subsidising a race to the bottom for workers in Britain and abroad? Under the new strategy, will we see more or fewer investments of this kind?
The Government say that they want to prioritise humanitarian assistance. That is quite right, with war in Ukraine, famine in east Africa and economic collapse in Afghanistan, but if this is a top priority for the UK, why exactly did the Government cut £787 million—over half their humanitarian funding—last year, and why, in the new strategy, do the Government commit only to spending £3 billion over the next three years? On average, that will be a cut of a third from the pre-pandemic level.
The Government say that helping women and girls is a priority. The FCDO’s own equalities assessment warned last year that aid cuts would affect millions of women and girls, but the Government went ahead anyway, leaving what charities say is a £1.9 billion gap. Despite the Government’s manifesto promise to educate more girls, the ONE Campaign has calculated that, in practice, 3.7 million girls lost out on an education because of this Prime Minister’s decision to cut aid. I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary has promised to restore funding levels for women and girls to pre-pandemic levels this year, but does the Minister accept that stand-alone funding for women and girls will mean little if other programmes giving them access to health, education and nutrition continue to be cut?
On the promise of a new Indo-Pacific tilt, the new strategy says nothing about how it will reverse the £506 million—32%—cuts made to the region in 2021. The strategy declares that the UK will
“sustain its commitment to Africa”,
but says nothing about how it will reverse the cuts of £864 million, or 39%, made to the region in 2021.
The strategy promises that multilaterals will “remain essential partners”. Global crises demand global solutions, so in an increasingly multipolar world, what could be more important? In practice, however, bilateral spending will account for 75% of the pot by 2025. That means that hundreds of millions more pounds will be cut in the coming months from the already stretched budgets of the UN and other multilateral agencies. It will mean that programmes are ended and life-changing services for the world’s poorest terminated.
There is a common thread: the strategy has many warm words and promises much, but until this Government restore the UK’s 0.7% commitment, it simply will not be able to deliver on these priorities. Even on its own terms, the strategy cannot succeed. Without money behind it, the strategy is barely worth the paper it is written on.
Labour understands the importance of honouring the 0.7% pledge, and in government we would return to it. The Government say that they will return to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal situation allows and as soon as their tests have been met, but let us remember that it was on a temporary basis that one year ago, Members of this House voted by a narrow majority of just 35 to approve the cuts. Since the March 2022 spring statement, the tests are now expected to be met in 2023-24 rather than in 2024-25, so can the Minister confirm whether the Government will use their autumn Budget to set the timeline to return to 0.7%, instead of kicking the issue into the long grass? If not, may I kindly suggest that the Minister has a word with the new Chancellor, if he is still in post?
I have also received confirmation that the Business Secretary has returned £100 million of Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy international climate finance for 2022-23 to the Treasury, only months into the financial year. That is not an underspend, but a cut. In the integrated review, this Government said that climate was their No. 1 international priority, but we know that the cuts undermined our standing in negotiations in a crucial year at COP26, and developing countries can block agreements, which is in no one’s interest. A year after COP26, crops are failing across the Earth because of extreme heat, and millions of east Africans face famine. How is anyone meant to trust a word this Government say?
When it comes to our aid budget, the spirit is as important as the letter of the law. I know that many Members share my outrage at the use of accounting tricks to further reduce aid spending. For every spare vaccine that the Government have so far donated, they reportedly paid just £2.30, but they are charging £4.30 to the aid budget, which means that £100 million less will, in practice, be spent on crises in such places as Afghanistan, Yemen and Tigray. Given that the Government are yet to share and cost the remaining 77 million vaccines they promised, it could mean another £330 million being charged to the aid budget, in turn reducing ODA spending elsewhere. Can the Minister confirm today that future vaccine donations will be counted as additional to, rather than within, the 0.7% this year?
I have outlined at some length how the strategy fails on its own terms. That should be a real concern to Government Members, even where they agree with the Government’s priorities. This strategy will also fail because it also fundamentally is the wrong set of priorities to guide Britain’s international development policy over the coming decade. The Foreign Secretary writes in the foreword that the strategy is designed to help the UK take on what she calls “malign actors”. She says that she wants to offer an alternative to China’s belt and road initiative. That is why the strategy promises so much on investment in infrastructure and trade and why it abandons many of the UK’s priorities on poverty reduction and leaving no one behind, but it cannot be an either/or option.
It is true that we live in an increasingly multipolar world, with powers outside the G7 holding more cards than ever before. That is exactly why we need more bridge-building, not less. Britain must help to solve the world’s problems together with others, and not mimic China and go it alone—we need internationalism, not isolationism.
After he resigned recently, Moazzam Malik, the Foreign Secretary’s director general for Africa, spoke out powerfully about the choice at hand. He said that if development co-operation
“is used as a bargaining chip in a transactional geopolitical game, it will deliver poor value, weak impact, lead to scandals, and damage the UK’s credibility internationally.”
He went on:
“In all its work, FCDO must seek to smooth the path to a multi-polar world. That means new alliances…internationalism…and some deep humility.”
He concluded that the
“answer to a more contested world isn’t endless contestation but endless collaboration.”
That is the choice at hand on international development. We could be working with our partners, such as the US, at the G7 to negotiate the ambitious action needed on climate change, on vaccinating the world and on our global economic crisis. Instead, Samantha Power, the head of USAID, is reduced to calling the UK out publicly for cutting aid to sub-Saharan Africa in the middle of a global food crisis.
We could be leading the way as we once did, inspiring our partners to do development differently and to address the challenges of the coming decade, but let us be honest: Britain has been in retreat under this Government. Since shutting down our world-renowned international development partner, we do not even send Ministers to many high-level meetings at the World Bank, the UN and other institutions where we have a seat at the table. At a time when we should be shaping the global response to climate change, the pandemic and the global cost of living crisis, we are missing in action.
Our allies and partners see the chaos unfolding under this Prime Minister. The truth is that the Conservatives do not have what it takes to govern. Britain is missing from the world stage and stuck with a Government and a Prime Minister with no plan. The Opposition know, however, that global crises demand global solutions. Unilateral compassion is not enough: we must face outwards, broker international partnerships as equals, and resolve differences where they exist.
The choice is clear. The strategy does nothing to point the way to a better future. The Opposition stand for endless collaboration, not endless contestation. That is what makes us an internationalist party and that is why we will restore 0.7% and bring Britain back to the international table as a trusted partner when we enter government. There have long been many supporters of endless collaboration on both sides of the House; we heard powerful contributions from many of them today. Support for international development is not, and should not be, a party political issue. Together, we now have a real chance to pressure the new Government and the new Chancellor to bring back the 0.7% commitment with a clear timeline. I hope the Minister will work with me to do that. The lives and futures of millions of the world’s poorest people depend on it.
I am grateful to Sarah Champion, the Chair of the International Development Committee, for securing this debate. The Minister for Asia and the Middle East, my right hon. Friend Amanda Milling, who is our lead on international development, is in the Gulf on ministerial duties so it is my pleasure to respond on behalf of the Government. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions. It is good to see a collection of colleagues from both sides of the House who care passionately about what we do to support the most vulnerable people in the world and those who are often living in the poorest conditions.
I note that Chris Law, the SNP spokesperson, said that he wanted detail not rhetoric, so I will try to address as many of the comments that have been raised as possible. Before I do, many hon. Members pointed out that the UK has a proud record of leadership on international development that goes back many years. Since 2011, international climate finance has helped more than 88 million people to cope with the effects of climate change and has installed 2,400 MW of clean energy. That is important because time and again, the most vulnerable and poorest countries in the world are bearing the brunt of climate change. If we do not help them to adapt, cope with that and change the way they live, they will continue to be pushed back into more vulnerability.
In 2013, we became the first G7 country to achieve the target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance. Even last year, in the middle of the pandemic, under the G7 presidency, we managed to get leaders from across the world to pledge more than 1 billion vaccine doses, either directly through their own contributions or through COVAX, to the world’s poorest countries.
I will try to address some of the comments. I will come to global health budgets, which my right hon. Friend raised.
The global pandemic was in nobody’s manifesto. We faced the worst economic contraction for more than 300 years. Our borrowing in 2021 was the highest that it has ever been outside wartime. It was a really difficult decision to reduce the ODA spend from 0.7% to 0.5%, but it is a temporary reduction and we are still the third-largest donor in the G7 as a percentage of GNI that we spend. We are committed to returning to 0.7% as soon as the fiscal situation allows, and we have set out the way in which that will be measured.
Looking at the next decade and beyond, the international development strategy recognises that the evolving development landscape is characterised by many major global challenges and shifting geopolitics. For many years, increasing openness, free markets, free trade and shared technology have helped to underpin global development progress, and that is important in being able to make sure that those in the developing world can try to access some of the opportunities we have. However, that whole era of progress has been completely challenged and set back by the new geopolitical context demonstrated by Putin’s illegal, unjustifiable and brutal invasion of Ukraine, which is causing these huge spirals in fertiliser, food and fuel prices.
My hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin was absolutely spot-on when she spoke about Russian misinformation. It is really important to remind ourselves as well as others that the UK sanctions in place are not preventing exports of Russian grain and fertiliser to third countries. It is Russia’s illegal blockade that is preventing Ukrainian grain from leaving the country, and that is what is hurting global supplies. The economic pain hitting the world’s poorest most acutely is being caused by Putin’s aggression.
Richard Foord, in his maiden speech, quite rightly spoke about reminding everybody of the importance of the Budapest convention, when Ukraine gave up what I believe was the world’s largest collection of nuclear weapons in return for the promise that Russia, as well as others, would respect its territorial integrity. We absolutely stand by the people of Ukraine in many ways. We are one of the leading bilateral donors. We have committed about £400 million in economic and humanitarian grant support, which is in addition to about £800 million in guarantees on World Bank lending to Ukraine. We are using a lot of guarantees to increase the amount of funding we can make available.
Hilary Benn asked whether we are adhering to international laws and what constitutes ODA, and I am very pleased to say that we are. The rules are set out by the OECD’s development assistance committee, and the DAC definition of ODA makes it very clear that no military equipment or services are reportable as ODA, so I hope that answers his question.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire mentioned the importance of making sure that UK branding is included in what we are doing, so that while we are supporting developing countries, people know that the UK is standing beside them. I absolutely agree with that, and I would also say to Members in this House who care so passionately about international development that it is important that they remind people what good work is done with the money the UK taxpayer spends there.
I have attended the World Bank meeting—we do attend these meetings, and I regularly attend international meetings—and encouraged the World Bank to be giving a clearer message about the support it is giving and reminding those in donor countries how important this is.
The World Bank has just mobilised $170 billion of emergency response to the current crisis, but the first question everybody I have spoken to in the World Bank over the last year is: why on earth has the UK cut its commitment to the World Bank when we could be using that to mobilise more money in the future?
I am so glad that the right hon. Member has raised this point because the UK remains one of the top six largest shareholders of the World Bank. We are one of only six countries in the world that has its own voice at the World Bank spring and autumn meetings, and we use that very powerfully. We remain the third largest donor to IDA20 and we remain the fifth largest shareholder. We reduced our donations to IDA, bringing them in line with what we are doing elsewhere in the world through the international development strategy, but we remained the third largest donor. Indeed, the World Bank announced that it would release $170 billion at the spring meetings partly because the UK worked with our partners to say to the World Bank, “We are in unprecedented times and we need an unprecedented package.”
My right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell raised in his excellent remarks the situation in the horn of Africa, which is absolutely dire. The UK was one of the first to step up. In January, I was in the horn of Africa and announced additional money, which was, as the hon. Member for Dundee West said, especially to help babies, children and feeding mothers. Since then, we have helped to convene an international conference and worked with the UN to have a roundtable that raised another $400 million. We will be putting more than £150 million of humanitarian aid into east Africa this year. To follow up the question from Liam Byrne about the World Bank, we have been encouraging it to put some of that $170 billion urgently into the horn of Africa.
I will make some more progress, because I want to answer many other questions.
Major global challenges are threatening the progress made over previous years. We had seen progress, especially in the last decade, but that has reversed in the last two years, which is partly to do with covid and partly to do with climate change. In that context, it is really important that our international development strategy provides a clear framework to enable people and countries to take control of the future.
Yes, a priority of the strategy is to deliver reliable investments through British investment partnerships, building on the UK’s financial expertise and the strength of the City of London. That is a way in which we can help, using Government—taxpayers’— money to bring more money into developing countries. That must be done in a way that also delivers on green priorities and supports countries to grow their economies sustainably. A key aspect of that is helping countries with the lowest incomes to build their trade capacity and infrastructure. That is not about putting all of our funding in the trade basket; it is about looking at ways in which we can harness investment to make a real difference for countries.
For example, I was in Sierra Leone earlier this year—I have visited 14 African countries since I took on this role, and Sierra Leone is one of those that most needs international development assistance—and one project that I saw was a solar microgrid. We have 95 of them going up across the country, and they are helping more than 300,000 people to get access to electricity. That means that kids can do their school work in the evening, that a sole trader can run her business and get herself an income and livelihood and, most importantly, that local services can get access to electricity. In the same town, I visited the women’s health clinic that we helped set up, where we have worked on training for those delivering babies and on bringing in oxygen services, blood bank services and electricity. That has reduced maternal deaths from one in 25—one in 25 women having a baby was dying—to one in 250. Putting infrastructure investment into that microgrid enabled the oxygen services and blood to be kept in the fridge. That helped to save lives and meant that lights were on when women were delivering their babies at night. As all of us who are mothers know, many women choose to have their babies at night—I have gone slightly off my speech.
Another priority is to empower women and girls. We want to tackle the social, economic and political structural barriers that hold them back, and unlock their potential. Indeed, restoring the funding for women and girls has been a key priority for the Foreign Secretary. I cannot put back the money that was not restored last year, so, in answer to Fleur Anderson, the funding is being restored going forward, and it does include areas such as sexual and reproductive health and rights. I believe that that is absolutely central to women’s and girls’ fundamental right to have control over their lives and bodies.
Yes, the Chair of the International Development Committee is right. There are countries where part of our support is access to safe abortions. That is a vital part of the UK’s support.
The whole of the women and girls strategy is centred around three different areas, which we call the three E’s: education, empowerment and ending violence. As Preet Kaur Gill said, they all need to work together to support women. That will be set out in the forthcoming women and girls strategy.
Why do we not mention boys’ education and always mention girls? It is because girls often face extra barriers to get into school. When we can remove the barriers for the girls, we help the boys as well.
Our third priority is to step up our humanitarian work to prevent the worst forms of human suffering. We are prioritising £3 billion for that over the next three years. We are also leading globally in driving a more effective international response to crises. I mentioned earlier what we have done on leveraging other donors to come and help us in the horn of Africa. We continue to support humanitarian multilateral aid agencies through core contributions to them. That funding enables the humanitarian system to undertake essential work in providing humanitarian assistance to those most in need.
Another vital priority is to take forward our work on climate change, nature and global health, putting the commitments of our G7 and COP26 presidencies, and our global leadership in science and technology, at the core of our offer. On climate, we are delivering more than £1 billion of activities this year as part of our flagship five-year, £11.6 billion international climate finance target. Another event I went to earlier this year was the annual general meeting of the African Development Bank, where the UK signed the landmark guarantee with the bank that will enable it to unlock $2 billion of funding. No other country is stepping up in this way. That funding will be able to go directly into parts of Africa to help to build climate resilience and is the sort of innovative way we are using our financial powers to get support to the poorest parts of the world.
On covid, I remind the Select Committee Chair that we were at the forefront of the international response to covid-19. We pledged up to £1.2 billion to address the impacts of the pandemic.[This section has been corrected on
I am sorry to intervene on my hon. Friend now, because it was the earlier point she was pursuing that I wanted to come in on. She mentioned the British support for Africa in respect of vaccinations and covid, which of course is very welcome. The Prime Minister promised in this House a year ago that Africa would have 100 million vaccinations within a year. One year on, it has had 32 million. Can the Minister tell the House when the other 68 million will arrive?
What I can tell my right hon. Friend is that access to vaccines in Africa is not the issue at the moment. There are plenty of vaccines around. I have been working closely with African organisations on this issue. Today, there is not a shortage of vaccines per se. There are challenges in getting them enhanced and there are challenges in overcoming not necessarily vaccine hesitancy but people not prioritising having the vaccine. For example, I went to a vaccine clinic in Kenya where people are asked, when they walk through the door, which type of vaccine they would like. They are told, “If you go here, you can have AstraZeneca. If you go there, you can have Pfizer. If you go there, you can have Johnson & Johnson”. There are vaccines, but the issue is getting them into arms. We are working with four of the most challenged countries in Africa to help to get the different vaccines through. This issue is not about the donation.
Let me try to address hon. Members’ questions first, because I have only another few minutes and Members have been sitting here throughout the debate.
I thank my hon. Friend Mrs Latham for her passionate discussion of neglected diseases, including podoconiosis, which she now knows is a new one to me. What she said was very moving, and I will look into it further—what she said was very moving—and I reassure her that we are reviewing the Global Fund seventh replenishment investment case. I hope that that gives her the confidence she needs.
Our development priorities will be achieved by taking a patient approach to development. That means unlocking the power of people, ideas and institutions and tackling the causes of crisis, as that is the basis for delivering lasting growth, stability and poverty reduction. This is about getting the system to work.
Alongside ODA, we harness trade, defence, diplomacy and other UK strengths to work for lasting policy change in partner countries. We spend more of our budget directly. By 2025, the FCDO intends to spend about three quarters of the funding allocated in the current spending review through country programmes. That does not mean turning our back on multilateral partners. We will maintain a wide range of partnerships with multilateral organisations. They remain key partners for achieving shared objectives and tackling global challenges that the UK alone cannot solve. Geographically, we maintain our commitment to Africa, while we continue to focus on the Indo-Pacific, including by expanding the work of British International Investment in the region.
On the commitment to Africa, we are committed to building partnerships with African countries, leading to a freer, safer, more prosperous, healthier and greener continent. We prioritise key strategic partners such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana. We will target how we spend resources in fragile states or countries that need extra support, and we partner with the African Union when we see that our interests align and add value.
One of the questions from the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Layla Moran, was about Ethiopia. In the last financial year, we spent roughly £240 million of ODA in Ethiopia. That is about 7% of the entire UK spend. Ethiopia is a very important country. It is a very fragile state, particularly with famine in the south and conflict in the north. We have consistently called on all parties to work towards the ceasefire, which remains very fragile. Aid is flowing. It is not enough, but large proportions of the aid that is flowing is going on trucks that have been bought with UK aid, because we are one of the key contributors in that area.
Let me come to the special drawing rights; I was about to go through more of the specific questions that Members asked. We have committed to channelling up to 4 billion of our special drawing rights. The first 1 billion has already been committed as additional funding to the IMF’s poverty reduction and growth trust. In addition, the Chancellor made a commitment in April this year to allocate another 2.5 billion to the new IMF resilience and sustainability trust. That fills a crucial gap in the IMF’s toolkit. It provides affordable financing to low-income and vulnerable middle-income countries to address long-term challenges.
At the African Development Bank meetings that I attended in Ghana this year, I also explained that I was very keen to channel some of our SDRs through the ADB. Technically, the money does not come to us—it remains a shareholding in the bank. We cannot do that by ourselves; we have to do it collectively with some of the other owners of SDRs. I say that just to update the right hon. Gentleman that we are working on the matter. There are some technical issues as well.
No, because I want to get on to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s other points.
On ICAI, the budget is not actually reduced; it was to be a flat budget. In line with the framework agreement, we will consult with the International Development Committee if any changes to ICAI’s budget will have a significant impact on the Committee’s work plan. With ICAI, we will also work through whatever funding gap it may have, to understand what the impact could be.
Why do we send programme aid to China at all? We have reduced it by 95% and we do not send any direct aid, but sometimes there are projects that are important for human rights. For example, we funded an important piece of research by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute called “Uyghurs for sale”, which did a huge amount of good in exposing forced labour in China. There are elements that are doing really important work. I hope that that example is useful.
On tied aid, we are untying aid in line with and beyond the work of the Development Assistance Committee, the global group of major development donors.
BEIS has recently announced that it will not be sending any more ODA aid to China. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield wants more detail about what it has done; I can confirm that there is no ODA aid spent in Chinese prisons. I hope that that has answered some of his questions.
I was asked why we were not at the UNRWA meeting at ministerial level. We were there at a senior official level, where we pledged. The meeting took place in New York in the same week that the Minister for Asia and the Middle East was visiting an UNRWA-supported refugee camp in Jerusalem. I hope that that explains what the Minister was doing.
I have not answered all hon. Members’ questions, but I hope that I have answered a number of them and explained why our international development work is so important. I commend it to the House.
I will now ask Sarah Champion to briefly wind up. You might as well speak until just a few seconds before 7 o’clock so that we do not need to suspend.
I want to begin by thanking all the aid workers around the world, who work in some incredibly dangerous and challenging situations. They do it quietly; they do it because they care about people and want to make a difference.
I also thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate. I hope that the Minister has listened to the words of former DFID Ministers, former Treasury Ministers and former aid workers with a wealth of experience. This is all about meeting our international obligations to the most vulnerable and the poorest in the world, not in a political way but in a cross-party way, because we care about this. Why do we care? Because in the past two years, another 100 million people have been forced into extreme poverty—by covid, by climate change, by conflict. The majority have been women and girls. All the issues could have been addressed if we had worked internationally with our partners and used our money wisely.
When we talk about the commitment to 0.7%, it is not about the number. It is about the strategy to alleviate poverty around the world and develop low and middle-income countries around the world so that everybody can have a healthy, prosperous, educated future with Governments who are stable and respect human rights. We can achieve that by working together and by working with our partners on the ground.
I urge the Minister to listen to everything that has been said today; to make sure that the taxpayers’ money that the Government have been gifted to look after is spent as wisely as possible so that we can meet our goals and international commitments; and to work with our international partners so that, hopefully, everybody can have a safe future.
It being 20 seconds before 7 o’clock, I will just talk for 20 seconds and entertain the House, as I am required by
The Deputy Speaker put the deferred Questions (