My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, very much for their helpful and constructive comments. On behalf of the Government, I also thank them for their tribute to our Armed Forces personnel and, as the noble Baroness so rightly pointed out, their families. Our thoughts are certainly always with our Armed Forces personnel and their families when there is any deployment at all. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness raised a number of points, which I shall try to deal with as comprehensively as I can.
The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, raised the issue of encouraging political dialogue and how we might contribute to the need for construction and engineering skills. I say to him that the whole reason that the United Kingdom is contributing to this United Nations mission in Mali is that the underlying instability means that it is very difficult, in the face of that turbulence, to move on to the more positive and constructive issues to which he refers. We recognise that while our contribution to the security response is important, security interventions alone will not address the instability in the Sahel. We continue to advocate for state-led progress on the peace process in Mali, and for political and institutional reform in the wider region, with greater ownership and leadership of reform efforts by G5 Governments. I reassure the noble Lord that he raises an important point, but the priority at the moment is trying to address the issues of instability and lack of security.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness also raised the issue of women. It is the case that women have been badly impacted by the consequences of the instability and turmoil. However, it is also the case that there is some cause for optimism. Over the past five years, we have seen progress. Widespread fighting between the parties has not returned, the reconstitution of a national army from members of the former armed groups and—this is the important point—the inclusion of women in the peace process, including MINUSMA’s role as mediator, have been critical to this relative stability. Important points were made about the position of women, how such civil unrest can impact on them and how we can do our best, as a contributing country, to encourage a more enhanced role for women.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked what our objectives are. The Foreign Secretary recently chaired a review process looking at all the strands of the UK ODA budget. The review safeguarded support for five ODA priorities: the very poorest—that is, poverty reduction for the bottom billion; climate change; girls’ education, which will, I hope, reassure the noble Lord and the noble Baroness; Covid-19; and the role of Britain globally as a force for good.
The noble Lord also raised the important issue of how we work with other forces from contributing countries and allies. Indeed, the noble Baroness also talked about that and about our security relationships. I commend them both: they have touched on something really significant. At the heart of this is the fact that we are part of a United Nations mission and we are proud to play our role. We want to be a positive influence to help those countries that have suffered such insurgency and insurrection, particularly Mali, to move on to a better and more stable course. We want that because it is good not just for Mali but for the broader security of the region and the world at large. As the noble Lord alluded to, if we can bring greater stability to that area, we can begin to introduce more robust political processes. If we look at the country’s infrastructure, a great deal of progress has been made in taking the country forward.
The noble Lord and the noble Baroness will be aware that we work closely with France in particular. We are part of the Operation Barkhane mission, which is operative in the Sahel. Unlike MINUSMA, Barkhane is a counterterrorism mission, of course. It has a different purpose but it is an example of the importance of working with allies whom we know well, with whom we get on and with whom we are very proud to work in partnership to improve the overall situation.
I think that I have managed to cover the points made by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. If I have omitted anything, I shall have a look at Hansard and undertake to rectify it. Again, I express to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness my appreciation of their constructive comments, particularly their recognition of the tremendous role that our Armed Forces are asked to play.