My Lords, in opening today’s debate I should like to thank all noble Lords who are going to take part, especially the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, who will make his maiden speech. I couple those thanks with my thanks to the House of Lords Library, Dr Ewelina Ochab, the World Bank and others who have provided us with such excellent briefing material. I draw attention to my non-financial interests, including being a patron of the Coalition for Genocide Response and co-chair of the APPG on Eritrea.
Our debate is taking place as Russia, Iran, and Turkey, with its responsibility under the 1936 Montreux convention for naval traffic entering the Black Sea, have been meeting in Tehran. Turkey has proposed that Russia allows Ukrainian grain ships to leave Odessa on designated routes—grain corridors—so long as checks are made that the ships are not carrying arms. Beware Putin, broken promises, blackmail and Potemkin village scams.
This debate is also taking place against a backdrop of mass displacements, thousands of deaths and devastation, all unleashed by Putin’s war on Ukraine, with Europe left facing its worst energy and economic crisis since the 1940s. The war’s effects reverberate around the globe: food price inflation and supply disruptions from the war in Ukraine have left millions, in Africa especially, vulnerable to famine and starvation.
In 1988, before the collapse of the Soviet Union, I visited Ukraine and met political and religious leaders, some of whom had spent nearly two decades in the Kremlin’s prison camps. It was inspiring to watch people lay flowers each day at the doors of churches closed by Stalin 40 years earlier. They proudly held aloft their blue and yellow flags of defiance. Putin’s deluded idea that these brave people would now line the streets with flowers, cheering the new imperial occupation and the reconquest of their country, simply beggars belief.
An abiding memory from that time is of conversations with families who had personally experienced Stalin’s Holodomor, which translates to “death by hunger”, and had occurred 50 years earlier from 1932 to 1933. Stalin’s Holodomor, like Putin’s today, was an entirely man-made catastrophe, leading to anything from 3.5 to 5 million deaths and is regarded by many historians as a genocide. The Holodomor was methodically planned and executed by denying the producers of the food the sustenance necessary for survival. It seems especially cruel and perverse to have used food as a genocidal weapon in the breadbasket of Europe.
While people were starving to death, the Soviet state stole over 4 million tonnes of Ukraine’s grain, enough to meet the needs of 12 million people in a year. As Ukrainians resorted to eating grass, acorns and even cats and dogs, Stalin banned any reference to famine. His decree of “Five Stalks of Grain” stated that anyone, even a child, caught taking produce from a collective field, could be shot or imprisoned for stealing socialist property. In 1933, 2,000 people were executed.
The Holodomor, also known as the Terror Famine, was caused by a dictator who wanted to replace Ukraine’s small farms with state-owned collectives and punish independence-minded Ukrainians who posed a threat to his totalitarian authority. Does that sound familiar? Today, in a mirror image of Stalin, it is Putin committing food terrorism by purposefully destroying Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure and stealing Ukrainian grain and agricultural machinery. Last week, we saw vivid footage of his militias setting fire to fields, scorching the earth and reducing crops to ash. Along with the blockading of ports, this is using food as a weapon of war—a war crime. The weaponising of mass hunger is straight out of Stalin’s playbook. Protocols added to the Geneva conventions state:
“Starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited”.
The Rome statutes of the ICC codify it as a war crime and the 2018 Security Council Resolution 2417 condemned the use of food insecurity and starvation as a tactic of war and laid duties on the Secretary-General when such situations occur.
When the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, who will reply to our debate, recently met Karim Khan QC, the ICC prosecutor, I wonder what he learned about the prosecution of those responsible for this and other war crimes, including the mass killings and atrocities in Mariupol, Bucha and elsewhere, the use of cluster munitions and much more besides. Notwithstanding vetoes, how are the Secretary-General and the UN Security Council holding Russia to account for its violation of Resolution 2417?
Putin’s militias and missile strikes have damaged and destroyed many farms, stocks of food and seeds, silos, warehouses, oil depots and agricultural machinery and equipment. Unharvested winter crops across many of the war-affected areas have resulted in an estimated $1.4 billion of damage. Will seized Russian assets be used to provide restitution and reconstruction?
In addition to destruction, there are credible reports of Putin’s military looting around 500,000 tonnes of grain from the occupied territories of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions—a third of the stocks required for sowing and domestic consumption. The grain is then shipped from the Russian-controlled Crimean port of Sevastopol and from the port of Berdyansk. To date, satellite imagery has identified 41 bulk carriers, mostly under Russian or Syrian flags, transporting plundered grain. The BBC says that in many instances these ships switch off their automatic identification system transponders to hide the origins of the looted food.
Now put this into context. The scale and nature of Ukraine and Russia’s role in global food supplies is phenomenal. As such, the lack of access to Ukraine’s grain has catastrophic global consequences. In 2021, the Russian Federation or Ukraine, or both, were ranked among the top three global exporters of wheat, barley, maize, rapeseed, rapeseed oil, sunflower seed and sunflower oil. Agriculture and food represent almost 10% of Ukraine’s GDP. Last year Ukraine exported food products worth almost $28 billion to the world, including $7.4 billion-worth of food to the European Union.
As many as 25 countries import more than one-third of their wheat from the two countries. Some 400 million people in the world depend on grain from Ukraine. This raises long-term questions about the need for greater diversification and about overconsumption by us in some parts of the world.
The immediate crisis, however, is best understood by figures from the Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which told me that 2021 saw a record-breaking grain harvest that collected 107 million metric tonnes, while so far this year Ukrainian farmers have threshed just 3.6 million tonnes of grain. Before the war, every month, Ukraine exported between 5 million and 6 million metric tonnes of agricultural products, 90% from the seaports on the Black Sea and the Azov Sea. In June, by using trucks, railways, rivers and its three Danube port terminals, which are all at capacity, it managed to export 2.1 million metric tonnes, but even with welcome adjustments it would take years to export the current stockpile of grain, let alone a new harvest, unless the sea routes can be reopened.
The war has also contributed adversely to a sharp rise in the cost of fertilisers and transportation. The cost of transporting one tonne of barley via the Romanian seaport of Constanta has risen from $40 to $160. Unsurprisingly, in May, the price index on cereal was up by 29.7% on May 2021 value, with wheat prices up on average by 56.2%. The UN food price index puts food prices at their highest since records began 60 years ago, with the World Bank reporting several countries introducing bans on the export of their wheat. This will all hit the poorest hardest. Between 2018 and 2020, Africa imported $3.7 billion-worth of wheat from Ukraine; some of those countries most dependent include Somalia, Libya, the Gambia, Mauritania, Tunisia and Eritrea.
As of June 2022, 89 million people, nearly one-third of the population, are food-insecure across east Africa, with pockets of famine-like conditions in Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan. The World Food Programme says that a record 345 million people across 82 countries are facing acute food insecurity; that is up from 276 million at the start of this year. Up to 50 million people in 45 countries are on the verge of famine and 880,000 are already living in famine-like conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen. The grain crisis has amplified an already precarious situation in an Africa beset by raging conflicts. Think of the man-made disaster in Tigray alone. It has amplified the drought, locusts and climate change that they all face. The OECD says that the cumulative impact will make it impossible to end hunger by the UN’s stated goal of 2030, and we can assume it will also add to the now 100 million displaced people—recent figures from the UNHCR—as they flee existing instability, riots and unrest. The International Committee of the Red Cross has scaled up its operations in 10 countries, including Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, and says that
“more than a quarter of Africa’s people—346 million—are facing a food security crisis”.
It describes it as an “alarming hunger situation”.
The World Food Programme, which has seen a 44% rise in its operating costs, warns of an “unprecedented hunger challenge”. Noble Lords should read the exchange of
“millions of people facing an impending famine and starvation.”
In reply, the Africa Minister said:
“It is President Putin’s responsibility to lift this blockade so that Ukraine’s food can feed the starving.”
Yes, but we too have responsibilities, not least under the genocide convention, as we see the serious risk of genocide and Putin imposes conditions calculated to bring about the destruction of the group, in whole or in part. We also have responsibilities in the context of the cuts that we have made to our development and aid programmes. Never has the WFP’s funding gap been so wide. In 2021. the value of UK contributions to the WFP in east Africa stood at just over one-third of the 2018 value. In 2021, the value of contributions to the WFP in Somalia, where there are currently pockets of famine-like conditions, stood at just 9% of the 2018 value. In 2021, the value of contributions to the WFP in Sudan stood at 18% of 2019 funding. Does the scale of our response now meet the moment? No, it does not.
I hope the Minister will tell us what plans the Government have to increase humanitarian funding for food assistance programmes to reflect the increase in global food and fuel costs, which are driving up the operational costs of agencies such as the admirable World Food Programme. I hope he will elaborate on what plans we have to work through the G7 Global Alliance for Food Security to develop international solutions to the global food crisis. Specifically, is the £130 million pledge made to the World Food Programme on
For the sake of millions of beleaguered people in poor countries, beyond immediate famine relief, we must do all we can to help Ukraine survive this existential assault and restore its place as the breadbasket for millions of people. We must hotly dispute the outrageous, toxic Kremlin narrative that attempts to blame western democracies for food shortages and escalating prices. It may take years for Ukraine’s farm sector to fully recover from the invasion. Fields have been destroyed, poisoned or mined, and they have been cluttered with abandoned Russian trucks, tanks and munitions. Farmers’ livelihoods will be at risk if their ability to trade is not restored. There are practical things that can be done immediately; for instance, we should welcome and join the agreement signed on
To conclude, this debate is an opportunity to reiterate our condemnation of Putin’s war; to shine a light on its consequences; to demand the withdrawal of his troops from Ukraine; to call for an end to the blockades of the Ukrainian ports and to relentlessly demonstrate how Putin has precipitated a humanitarian catastrophe through the worsening of world hunger, the use of starvation as a weapon of war and his complicity in a war crime. The message should go out loud and clear from this Parliament that consumer countries should not buy stolen, plundered Ukrainian grain; that we will document every illegal shipment of stolen grain and lay the evidence before the prosecuting authorities; that we will not be blackmailed by the Kremlin; and, in the absence of an agreement, that we will work with our allies under the auspices of the United Nations to open a Black Sea humanitarian corridor to enable functioning maritime routes for the export of Ukrainian agricultural goods. I beg to move.
My Lords, what a pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, the breadth of whose interests matches the depth of his humanity, and how sobering that he should have begun by reminding this House of the Holodomor, and the horrors and monstrosities experienced by Ukrainians. I recently read an eyewitness account of a hideous scene that unfolded in the spring of 1933 in the market in Kherson. It is almost unbearable to read, even after the passage of nearly a century. It concerned a dead mother with a still living infant, trying to suckle the last few drops. What was most shocking to the observers was that they had seen that exact scene many times before—it was no longer shocking to them. I think we can all agree in this House about what is happening in Ukraine and where the blame lies. This is a territory twice targeted by hunger, first by Stalin and then by Hitler. As the Yale historian Tim Snyder points out, it was the most dangerous place to live in the world between 1933 and 1945.
I should like to talk about how we respond. What do we do to lessen the effects of this disaster and, as importantly, what do we not do? First, do no harm, because something that alarms me is the way in which in every continent, on every archipelago, we hear people responding in a way that is emotionally understandable but intellectually very dangerous, by retreating into the illusion of self-sufficiency and protectionism. People will say that because world food supplies are being disrupted and prices are spiking, we need to be more self-sufficient—we need to grow more of our own food and be secure in our own supplies. That, it seems to me, is this worst possible response. If countries around the world begin to do this, they will exacerbate the problem and, indeed, tip the problem into a spiral of unmitigated calamity.
It is happening. Xi Jinping recently summoned a meeting of the rubber-stamp Parliament in Beijing and said, “We need to be self-sufficient in food. The lesson we must draw from this is that we cannot rely on the West”. He proposed setting aside 300 million acres of Chinese land purely for agrarian use, not to have to depend on international trade. Ukraine has, perhaps understandably, imposed a grain export limit, but it is being followed by other countries across Asia and Africa. If this carries on, we really do risk turning a problem into a calamity.
It seems to me that we are responding, as people do, in a very natural, instinctive way. We want to have food supplies close at hand because we are still thinking with our palaeolithic brains. We want to have a hoard of food nearby to survive the winter, and we struggle with the reality of the modern globalised economy, which depends on this rather counterintuitive—in the literal sense—notion of depending for our key supplies on strangers whom we cannot see. That, however, is what has eliminated famine from the world. It was at the end of the 1960s, when countries, particularly in Asia and South America—and, to a degree, in Africa—began to understand that there was a difference between food security and self-sufficiency, that famine began to disappear as a regular feature of our lives.
The reality is that food security depends on having the broadest range of suppliers—the most diverse group of suppliers possible—so that you are immune to a local shock or disruption which might as easily take place in your own territory as anywhere else. But that idea goes to a mental blind spot. It offends our inner caveman, and runs up against these inherited instincts. I am afraid that I see the world devolving into more and more barriers, which means more and more hunger.
The tragedy is that this war has come just after a pandemic which primed those caveman instincts even more. I was shocked repeatedly during the lockdown by how many people who I had down as reliable free marketeers were suddenly saying to me, “Surely, Hannan, even you must now accept the need to grow more of our own food—even you must see that it’s very dangerous to be importing 40% of our food into this country”. Is that really what people got from the lockdown? Let us recall that it happened at the end of March 2020, at the beginning of what our farmers call the hungry gap: the time of year when we do not really produce much food in this country; when we have reached the end of the winter harvest and are not producing any more turnips, potatoes and cabbages, but have not reached the start of the main summer harvest. Between the end of March and the beginning of May, other than rhubarb, asparagus and maybe a little bit of purple sprouting broccoli, we basically do not produce food in this country—but fortunately it did not matter, because we were able to rely on global markets.
That same lesson applies in spades to countries which are poorer than us. They need access to cheap, accessible global food supplies rather than the illusion of self-sufficiency. To illustrate this, you might say in an extreme way, I give your Lordships the countries at the furthest ends of that spectrum. First, consider North Korea, the country that has turned self-sufficiency into its ruling principle. “Juche” is the idea that there should be import substitution and that you should grow and produce everything possible at home. It is the last place on the planet that still experiences manmade famines. At the other end of the scale is Singapore, which does not produce one edible ounce. Singapore is wholly reliant on imports for its drinking water, food and electricity. Where would you rather live? Singapore has the cheapest and most secure food supplies in the world because food security and self-sufficiency are not the same thing. It was understanding that difference that brought our planet to a level of prosperity that previous generations could not have imagined. The worst possible thing we could do would be to turn back the clock decades, or even centuries, and thereby return to the poverty that our ancestors took for granted.
I am proud to have played some role in persuading our Government to lift all tariffs on Ukrainian exports, setting a precedent for others to follow; I was very pleased that the European Union followed suit five or six weeks later. That is of great value to Ukraine at the moment, because it has no sea access and therefore all of its exports must pass through EU territory. Can we not extend the principle? At a time when the world is dealing with a cost of living crisis, and when every country and every continent is touched by the scourge of inflation, could we not extend that principle and remove trade and other non-tariff barriers to the free flow of basic commodities such as food? Tariffs and non-tariff barriers on food fall hardest on the people who are poorest, because they have to spend a higher proportion of their income on the basics.
The United Kingdom raised itself above the run of nations in Victorian times by being the first place to have unilateral tariff removal and to invite the traffic and commerce of the world without hindrance. Let us live up to what our ancestors did, and let us lead the world a second time.
My Lords, it is fascinating to speak immediately after the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, whose contribution advocating global free trade was nothing if not passionate, and clearly extremely well-informed. It was a thought-provoking contribution, but perhaps one that did not speak to all the problems in the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in this debate. Discussing insecurity and self-sufficiency might matter at certain times for certain countries, but the Horn of Africa and countries that are on the verge of starvation already are not saying that they must be self-sufficient. They are facing extreme poverty and food insecurity precisely because of manmade problems caused by the war led by Russia. Although there is a lot we can talk about around free trade and the ideas put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, I would like to take the House back to Ukraine, and think about the implications of this war and starvation as a weapon of war.
We are already five months beyond the Russian incursion into Ukraine—five months that appear to have gone very quickly. When the invasion happened, Ukraine was at the top of the headlines. People in western Europe were listening very closely; we were following everything that happened. Five months on, if you follow the British media, one would be hard pressed to know that there was anything going on other than two days of climate crisis—a heatwave—and a Conservative leadership campaign, one of the leading candidates being the Foreign Secretary. One wonders whether she has time to be doing the day job while vying to be Prime Minister, but I will leave that aside.
For five months, the Ukrainian people have sought to defend themselves. The food insecurity they are facing is manmade; it is caused by Russia. One of the questions I would like the Minister to think about and respond to is whether Her Majesty’s Government have looked at the 1977 protocols to the Geneva convention and the 1998 Rome statute of the ICC. Have Her Majesty’s Government thought about whether the actions of Russia could be tantamount to using starvation as a tool of war, and so potentially a war crime? If that is the case, should Russia be brought before the ICC on those grounds?
The war in Ukraine shook Europe. It shook the very foundations of people like me: liberal, European integrationists who thought that European integration had kept the peace in Europe for 70 years, and that we were not likely to see war again in our continent. Lest anyone pop up to say, “But there was Bosnia, 30 years ago”, I have not forgotten that. For those of us in the United Kingdom, and in western and particularly central Europe, the invasion shocked us and raised a set of concerns. Very often, we hear that in other countries in other parts of the globe, Ukraine is still seen as a distant place and the reasons for the war are contested; in many ways, it appears that the consequences of the war are misunderstood. The assumption is that this is about the continent of Europe. But this goes far beyond Ukraine: it impacts global food security, and in particular it impacts the very poorest in the world.
I should like briefly to outline the impact of Ukraine on food insecurity and food supply, and then look at the wider global implications, particularly as they affect Africa. As we heard from my noble friend Lord Alton, much of global wheat supply has previously come from Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine exported its wheat through the Black Sea. That is no longer possible precisely because of the actions of Russia: deliberate actions for which we need to hold Russia accountable. I was shocked and surprised to hear my noble friend say that when the Minister for Africa responded to your Lordships’ International Relations and Defence Committee about Ukraine, she said, “Well, it’s Russia’s fault.” Russia may be the cause of this, but we all need to look for ways in which we can enhance food security and reduce the risk of famine and food insecurity in the African continent.
We have listened to parliamentary debates and the Conservative leadership campaigns. We keep hearing about the cost of living crisis, but fuel and food prices are also being inflated by the consequences of the war. It is desirable that we all look for ways to enhance Ukraine’s ability to continue producing food and exporting it. We have a very serious situation, which my noble friend already touched on.
I am grateful to Ewelina Ochab for a briefing she sent raising some of the issues that the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had raised with her. I understand that the Minister met with a representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief, so those issues will not come as a surprise. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is saying that there are credible reports of Russian troops on Ukrainian agricultural land, inevitably rendering it not fit for purpose and damaging agricultural produce, attacks on Ukrainian agricultural infrastructure and the high-level blocking of exports via the Black Sea. Putin is targeting grain and destroying crops, and then there is the question of looting. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the situation in terms of food security and the indications for Ukraine? There are 12 million displaced people in Ukraine, and many of them are facing food shortages.
Those shortages are compounded by a sense of compassion fatigue. I received two letters ahead of this debate from charities, Kaganek in Poland and Caritas in Lviv. Kaganek said that, at the start of the crisis, it was able to take a truck of food a week into Ukraine, and then built up to two trucks a week. In the first half of May, it sent 10 trucks, but now it is struggling to send one truck of food in a month. Why is that? Because donations are no longer forthcoming. Perhaps the media is not covering the crisis in the same way. Similarly, Caritas suggested that there has been a decrease in humanitarian aid estimated at 70%.
The Minister will reply not on behalf of the Foreign Office but of what is now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Does he feel that what Her Majesty’s Government are able to do to assist on a humanitarian basis in Ukraine is adequate? Does he believe what we are able to do in Africa is adequate? The House of Lords Library, in its excellent briefing, gave a response from Vicky Forde, the Minister for Africa, about what the UK is doing in Africa, and it is merely a drop in the ocean. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing in terms of aid, because we see potential catastrophe in Africa caused by the blockade of the Black Sea?
I have a final question for the Minister. In order to unlock the Black Sea, what conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with President Erdoğan, and what does the Minister believe has come from the meeting in Tehran yesterday? The media seem more interested in the fact that Erdoğan kept Putin waiting for 50 seconds then the actual outcome. This should not be about the optics; it should be about clear and practical politics and getting solutions. This is in part about Ukraine, in part about a domestic cost of living crisis and, crucially, about the potential death by famine and starvation in the continent of Africa.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this very important debate at the very last minute, giving us all the opportunity to express our compassion for what is going on in Ukraine and, indeed, the rest of the world. The crisis is extremely serious and is, as we have heard, likely to spread, affecting the most vulnerable countries in the world.
As if the war in Ukraine and its consequences were not enough, there is also conflict in many other vulnerable countries, with the possibility of violent riots in Egypt, for example. There are exceptional world weather patterns of drought and floods, the long-term and profound effect of Covid on economies and Russia’s theft of grain from Ukraine’s stores to sell at inflated prices around the world. If this is not a perfect storm, what is?
We know that money is needed—and lots of it—to counteract rising prices of all commodities, including food and energy as well as transport. The sinister words of the editor in chief of the pro-Kremlin channel RT should alert us to possible Russian intentions; she said:
“The famine will begin and they will lift the sanctions”,
Russia is clearly playing a long game with thousands upon thousands of lives while shoring up its own war economy through inflated food and oil export prices.
We are tiptoeing around this vast country and its corrupt government. It seems that the job of the world’s diplomats is to avoid a catastrophic escalation of hostilities. Perhaps there have even been a grisly calculation of the number likely to die from starvation compared to the possibility of deaths from nuclear attack. However, unanimous international condemnation of Russia’s actions together with ever more stringent sanctions might provoke Mr Putin to sacrifice his own people under the false banner of national pride.
War has been accompanied by severe food shortage and even famine—the two are different—for millennia. Widespread famine has also occurred as a result of the failure of democracy. Between 1959 and 1961, 20 million Chinese died following Mao Tse-Tung’s industrial experiment, where every landowner throughout the country was forced to produce steel. Food supplies disappeared overnight. No one surrounding the great leader had the courage to let Mao know that his experiment was failing and causing the death of millions on the streets of China.
The great Bengal famine of 1943, during which 3 million people died, was in part due to a strict censorship in which the spread and scale of food shortage was hidden. The arrival of a free press following the famine, including in the vernacular, has guaranteed government accountability and a more equitable distribution of grain, even during periods of severe drought. It is very unlikely that famine would ever occur there again.
The end of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan came about when the mothers of the slaughtered soldiers began to realise the extent of their sacrifice through local information networks that flatly contradicted the propaganda being put out by the Soviets at that time. Although it is unlikely that there will be an avalanche of democratic institutions in Russia in the near future, every possible effort must be made to ensure that ordinary people in Russia, regardless of their long-standing animosity towards Ukraine and its people, are reliably informed about the war and able to communicate deep concerns about the progress—or not—of the fighting.
The other alternative is some kind of political compromise—something we are all reluctant to talk about. At the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we had brave words from the UK Government insisting that Russia must fail and that no compromise was possible. Thirty years ago, a sad rump of Soviet soldiers and coffins departed Afghanistan for their homeland. The cost of this failed occupation over more than a decade, not to mention the longer-term consequences, appeared far from victory for anyone, as we now know. Certainly, the Soviets failed, but what does success look like and is it worth the price?
Bombing a nation into submission, together with life-affecting sanctions, does not work as a strategy for winning wars. Can the Minister tell the House whether longer-term plans, including compromises, are being tabled, discussed and refined? As we go into the Summer Recess, is there a glimmer of hope that the world is beginning to unite against Russia as the wider consequences of food shortages reveal imminent disaster? What actions have been taken internationally to curb the price of Russian exports of food and oil? Are there serious efforts to supply alternative staple foods, such as rice—mostly from south-east Asia and India, presumably—for Lebanon, Yemen, Egypt and some countries in north Africa? Are the UK Government in discussion with international partners to build adequate food reserves for the immediate future, because food shortages are likely to become an endemic problem? Finally, would Russia, or indeed Ukraine, accept the sequestration of the Donbass region in the interest of providing more food security for the world?
My Lords, I begin by thanking fellow Members for their gracious welcome and expressing my gratitude to the parliamentary staff and officers who have so kindly supported my introduction to the House.
It is an honour to make this maiden speech in such an important debate, which focuses so clearly on the needs of the most vulnerable: those affected by the sudden steep rise in global food prices resulting from Russia’s terrible war and blockade in Ukraine. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, both for bringing this debate to the House and for his long record of campaigning advocacy on behalf of those whose suffering is too often overlooked.
It is more than 12 years since a Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham has been in this House, although the previous bishop has been a passionate advocate for the poor and young since joining the House as my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham. Nurturing the aspirations and potential of young people, particularly their influence and impact as future leaders, has long been a distinct feature of my own work, first for 17 years in parish ministry, including 10 as a vicar in south Buckinghamshire, then for 13 years as a bishop. I started out in west London as area Bishop of Kensington, and for the past seven years I have been a diocesan bishop in the east Midlands, where, along with my family, I now feel very much at home. It is my interest in the development of young people that underpins my contribution to the debate today.
Although the city and county of Nottingham are perhaps most famous for the folklore hero Robin Hood, the region has a long track record of nurturing many lesser-known heroes, who have none the less been world-shapers, championing the causes of the poor and the young; they include the inspirational founders of the Salvation Army, Catherine and William Booth. Since moving to the diocese, I have been inspired by modern heroes on the ground making a difference to the life chances and prospects of young people, proving that nurturing every talent matters.
What has struck me most is that, although parts of the city and county continue to struggle with higher than average levels of poverty, the aspirations of young people are rising. Their innate instinct to make a difference is far from parochial. Their outlook is global. They see themselves as part of an interconnected and increasingly interdependent world. That is why there should be no tension between charity at home and abroad. Their example inspires my engagement in this debate.
Compassion for those who suffer was characteristic of Jesus Christ. In the gospels, it is clear that he frequently surprised those around him by disturbing their inclination to limit the boundaries of who may qualify as a neighbour and how far their responsibility to care should extend. The lessons of the good Samaritan are rightly deeply imbedded into our spiritual heritage as a nation. I suggest that they should inform our urgent response to the crisis in the Horn of Africa and east Africa. This is no time to look away. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there are now 7.1 million malnourished children in the Horn of Africa, with 2 million severely malnourished. The position is similar in east Africa.
I want to draw particular attention to how the needs of young people are disproportionately affected by the present food insecurity, not only their health but their education and life chances. Informed by some valuable links that churches in my diocese have with schools in Uganda, it is clear that the food crisis is already causing many schools to reduce their teaching week as they simply do not have enough food for the children in their care. According to the World Food Programme, one in three schoolchildren in Uganda has no food to eat during the school day. Feeding learners has become an essential priority for schools across that region. Families in desperate need also keep children out of school. Instead, they find themselves working to help earn a little more to pay for food, the cost of which has risen by nearly 14% since January. This is in a country that has the highest number of refugees and asylum seekers in Africa—nearly 1.6 million as of March. With acute malnutrition rising fastest among under-fives in the region, many thousands of children will not even reach school age.
This is not only a short-term crisis of survival. It has longer-term tragic consequences, undermining the capacity of a rising generation to be equipped with the education, skills and personal support that they need and deserve. There are tens of thousands of teachers in Uganda—and no doubt across the region—with a heartfelt and compelling vision for their students. They see the difference that a consistent, supportive and uninterrupted education can make to the future of the nation; it can also be a major contributor to food system resilience, which must be an important longer-term goal.
It is true that large sums have already been given, both bilaterally and through multilateral projects in these regions, but the need is now greater still. We should not wait until a famine is declared. Although I am thankful for some signs of progress that may result in the recent initiatives by the Turkish Government to provide safe passage for grain from Ukraine, I none the less ask the Minister this: will the Government consider increasing further bilateral aid to the Horn of Africa and east Africa without delay? It is not too late to save lives and prevent a devastating famine, with the unacceptable human cost that will result. In the long term, immediate intervention will improve the prospects and God-given potential of millions of young people across that region.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his brilliant introduction to this debate. I also welcome my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, and congratulate him on his maiden speech. I know he has huge experience to offer to this House and will be drawing not least on the huge successes and, indeed, some of the challenges of the east Midlands, where he is based. We look forward to hearing much more from him.
Next Tuesday we will start the next Lambeth Conference. Hundreds of bishops are gathering from all round the world. They are flying into this country as we speak, including many bishops from the whole of Africa and parts of Asia, and we are going to be meeting many of these people who, in their dioceses, are facing the famine that is now ahead of us. We hope that will be an opportunity to get first-hand reports of what the challenges are and how we might be able to try to respond, to alleviate some of the terrible suffering facing our world and particularly the Horn of Africa.
Today’s debate is happening against the backdrop of the negotiations to unblock grain supplies, which we can only hope will be successful. The war in Ukraine is a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of global supply chains, their propensity to collapse during times of conflict and the devasting far-flung consequences this can have. Relieving that blockade and the logistical backlog is to some extent a matter of life and death for many people in east Africa and one that demands an immediate breakthrough in the infrastructural solution for Ukrainian exports. The EU is working with us and others to establish solidarity lanes, which will provide additional transport stock, prioritise exports and create flexibility with respect to customs, alongside a much longer-term approach to increase Ukraine’s land-based infrastructure. It is going to require funding, not least from the USA and probably from us, if collectively we are going to maximise the amount of grain we can get out of Ukraine.
However, that is only half the story, the other half being the consequence this is having across the developing world, especially east Africa. While the situation in Ukraine has contributed to the appalling conflict and famine in east Africa, this is also the product of climate change, a severe drought and, of course, in some parts of Africa, the devastating effect of huge swarms of locusts, which have had a terrible impact.
The weather we have been experiencing this past week should be a stark reminder of how real climate change is and, while we may have experienced discomfort, rising global temperatures have much more serious consequences for most people. The confluence of all these factors, all of them human in origin, lie at the heart of the crisis in east Africa—a region with a history of famine—which makes our decision to cut some of our aid budget to those affected nations woefully misconceived.
Between 2019 and 2022, British humanitarian aid to Kenya fell by £21 million, to Sudan by £32 million and to Somalia by £18 million. Of course, aid is not the only answer. We need to try to develop trade and enable these countries’ economies to develop but we can and must respond to the immediate famine. If we are not persuaded of the moral case, it is in our own long-term interest because we are going to see huge displaced populations making their way to western Europe. It is in our interest to help them retain what they are doing and keep going.
This is a crisis that requires global intervention and support to prevent. One thing that is clear is that the crisis that is unfolding is not very well publicised. Christian Aid found that while 90% of people in the UK were aware of the war in Ukraine, only 23% were aware of the food crisis in Africa. I mention this because we have seen the most extraordinary outpouring of generous response to the Ukrainian people. In my diocese we have a whole system of welcoming and integrating families into homes and building up support groups in our parishes. Very many of those who come are traumatised; they need much more than just shelter and food. They need support, counselling and help. It has been a very traumatic time for them. We have seen the most incredible outpouring.
For this reason, we need to try to raise awareness of the potential famine in east Africa as public donations and acts of generosity may be a small additional way of responding to the immediate crisis. This is vital for us. The situation in Ukraine and in east Africa are key elements of self-reflection as we battle with our own cost of living crisis. Yes, many people in our own country are struggling but, despite this, the generosity of the British people remains extraordinarily buoyant and strong when we recognise how fortunate we are in real terms compared with most other parts of the world. We as a country have a duty to assist here—in Ukraine’s war effort, in helping end Russia’s blockade and in materially aiding east Africa during these challenging times.
I hope the Government can provide assurance that they will do everything in their power to contribute to the international effort in support of these aims.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. I particularly congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham on his most informative and, frankly, moving speech. We all much look forward to his future contributions in your Lordships’ House.
I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate, which is so timely as it underlines the brutality of Russia in threatening energy supplies to Europe and heading towards not only malnutrition but actual starvation of vulnerable people. I applaud the noble Lord, who always so admirably brings to the attention of your Lordships’ House human suffering and injustice, wherever they exist.
Last night, the think tank that I chair, the Council on Geostrategy, published a report titled Deepening British-Ukrainian Relations in a More Competitive Era. The foreword was signed by the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and the United Kingdom. We have a relationship with Ukraine which began to take off most particularly in 2005 and has grown enormously since then. As I know, as a long-standing chairman of the British Ukrainian Society, there is huge personal admiration currently for our outgoing Prime Minister and his role in supporting Ukraine. But as I said last night in reassurance, and as I know is 100% supported by your Lordships, the freedom and security of Ukraine will, for us, be absolutely central irrespective of who the Prime Minister here is; of that, there is no doubt whatever.
We have heard the statistics. In peacetime 10% of global wheat exports come from Ukraine, 12% of maize and 37% of sunflower oil. There have been discussions under the United Nations umbrella, and particularly with the positive involvement of Turkey, to get food shipments out of Odessa, heading towards those parts of the Middle East and Africa which most particularly need wheat. It is truly shocking that Russia is, in practice, blocking real progress in this regard. Hints of positive movement have not been brought to fruition.
While huge efforts have been made to take this precious cargo to Romania, Moldova and Poland, there are severe logistical limitations. The port of Odessa has always been and remains the exit port for food products from Ukraine. Historically, Ukraine has been the breadbasket of not only the old Soviet empire but much of Europe. The silos are now filled and only a small fraction can be substantially moved out of the country by road or rail. Shocking too is that the violence meted out to Ukrainians and the wanton destruction we witness each day have been aggravated by Russians taking wheat supplies for themselves.
“50 million people in 45 countries are now just one step from famine.”
This is true nowhere more so than in east Africa and the Horn of Africa. As has so frequently been highlighted, climate change and often poor agricultural activity have been added to by four years in a row of failed rainy seasons and the after-effects of the Covid pandemic. There is real violence and instability, particularly in Ethiopia and Eritrea; in the latter case, all wheat imports are from Russia and Ukraine. In common with so many countries, price shocks are playing their part in social dislocation and instability. The IMF has made it clear that potential food price increases will disproportionately affect Africa.
But I return to Ukraine because, even before the current invasion, there was massive displacement of millions of people in Ukraine after the de facto occupation of the eastern part of the country. More latterly, millions of people fleeing the country are leaving behind a colossal bill to rebuild it, in due course. This is having a devastating impact on the livelihood of farmers, many of whom have been subject to violence and attack.
I also bring your Lordships’ attention to the situation in Egypt, which has seen an explosion of its population. Egyptians consume around 37% of their calories from wheat and 25% of their imports are from Ukraine. In 2010, food supplies and distribution problems undoubtedly provided a backdrop for extensive protest. There has been rioting in Iraq and there is real concern in Egypt that there could be violent social instability. Your Lordships know all too well that problems and protests in Egypt often spread elsewhere in the region. The Minister is well aware of this, so I know that many of your Lordships will be anxious to hear about any additional support, either singly or collectively, to the most vulnerable areas we are talking about.
We have been made very aware of migratory flows in recent years. In Europe, we are particularly conscious of this but, if you examine the statistics, they reveal a massive increase in migratory flows on the continent of Africa. For example, between 2015 and 2019 the number of migrants from Burundi living in Uganda increased by 69%, and migrants from Ethiopia living in Somalia increased by 42%. Many migrants in Djibouti and Rwanda have escaped from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The number of Eritreans who managed to get to Europe virtually doubled in the same period, but the food crisis, as a result of the savage and unprovoked attack on Ukraine by Russia, will undoubtedly hugely increase migratory flows, most particularly within Africa but inevitably to Europe as well.
I once again express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is a terrible irony, as has already been expressed, that Stalin in effect starved millions of Ukrainians for not complying with his takeover of their lands—the Holodomor. It is a tragic irony that modern-day Russia may yet again cause the death of huge numbers of people who are totally removed from the conflict that the Russians have initiated, without the slightest justification.
My Lords, I am deeply grateful, as always, for the piercing analysis and persistent pressure of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. He consistently reminds not just the House but the country, especially the Government, of what matters most to the heart and the mind. I also say at this juncture—I hope not just on my behalf but on behalf of the whole House—that we hope this is not the last time the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, answers a debate of this nature. He is hugely loved and appreciated across the House and we hope he stays in post—please note, those who have responsibility.
This is a difficult debate. We are talking with huge anxiety about issues we can barely affect. One of the reasons for that is the ineptitude of the United Nations as an organisation. I encourage the Minister to depart from his brief, if he feels able, and express a view. The UN Security Council, which ought to be able to discuss and decide how to respond to crises of this nature, has a permanent member whose veto will ensure that no action is possible. We may continue to wring our hands for the next few years or decades, but do we not need to come to a point at which the free countries of the world, which we hope will maintain a generous engagement and involvement in the world’s development for the poorest, make a decision about the right to reside in the UN Security Council?
At what point does the post-war settlement have to change? What thinking have Her Majesty’s Government put into the prospects of a long war in Ukraine, driven by Russia’s evil intentions and our inability to take action? We must stare at our enemy across the circle in New York and simply utter platitudes that cannot get decisions. That is not something that I or any of us can give a straight answer to, but if government is not thinking about it, we are all in trouble. Government needs to think about it.
Two friends asked me this morning why I am speaking in a debate on Ukraine; it is not my normal area of interest. Africa definitely is, however, and I remind the House of my roles as a vice-president of UNICEF, an ambassador for Tearfund, the chairman of the council of ZANE, the Zimbabwe aid agency, and a governor of the M-PESA academy in Nairobi, Kenya. One of our students, a wonderful young man from Somalia, graduated three weeks ago. He went back to the Kakuma refugee camp and immediately found that his mother was unable to afford his existence, simply because food prices had rocketed to such an extent in the matter of weeks that he had been absent—he was born in a refugee camp and lived with refugee status—that his mother was unable to feed him. We assisted and all will be well, but it brought it home in such sharp relief: ordinary people struggling with difficult and complex backgrounds are fighting again for the basics of survival.
As always, and as we have heard in so many other speeches, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a litany of statistics that have come in the endless briefs, which are incredibly helpful. There is no need to repeat them, but I want to press two other points. We are conscious that at the moment we are looking at a mass food distribution problem, not just because of the limitations of food available from Ukraine and Russia but simply because our world has become used to waste.
I decided to spend some time this morning checking what and how much we waste. A third of all food produced in the world is wasted, 55% of it by those of us in the North. The European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States account for some of the largest wasters on earth. By percentage levels, Belgium comes in just after the United States. That is ironic, as Belgium is the headquarters of many esteemed institutions that ought to be better resourced in how to deal with that waste. Some 3 trillion meals are wasted every single year. Were we to galvanise our efforts with the 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted in the world, that would represent 10 meals per day for every starving child or adult to whom we have referred in this debate.
Why is this important for us? This has to become a moment of national effort. This morning we heard that the gas has been turned back on for Germany, but Germans are being encouraged to save gas to be ready for the autumn lack. It may get more difficult. It may become impossible to light their gas fires or even to power up their electricity supplies. Saving gas is a way of saving the country’s impending problem.
We need a national effort to save food. We need a European effort to save food. We need a G7 effort to save food. We need a G20 effort to save food. I am not aiming to be political in any way at all, but this is why we need alliances such as the European Union—so that we can save on the things we waste so easily and freely. If we do not save food and we continue to throw and trash it, 52.5% of all food in the United Kingdom will continue to be thrown away daily from restaurants, supermarkets and households. We are wasting while others are starving, and we need an effort driven from the centre and from the top—not just by NGOs but by the Government—to save and redistribute food. At the moment we have nothing at all from government on that issue.
We also need to consider how we think about loose resources, not necessarily gained by ill means but thrown around in a careless society where waste is so evident. Yesterday I noticed the EuroMillions lottery win of £195 million. That is $234 million, which represents $2 for 117 million people—that is the population of Ethiopia. One person will benefit with largesse and extreme gain, while millions will starve. I hear some saying, “But come on, you can’t take away the free-gotten gains of individuals”. How long will we watch millions starve, as Putin may wish, so that we become desperate in our alternative foreign policy options?
I note also—this may be uncomfortable for the Minister, but I hope not—that his current boss announced this morning that she could find £30 billion of tax cuts to be announced within the first week of her premiership, should she get there. It is worth noting, as Iain Duncan Smith did in campaigning for Liz Truss yesterday, that there is now tax headroom for substantial cuts. This year and last the United Kingdom cut our aid budget by £5 billion each time, meaning that when it comes to supporting the most vulnerable we are stripping ourselves of the ability to do so.
This should be a moment for stateswomanship or statesmanship at the helm of the Conservative Party, the Government and our nation. As we watch Ukraine drop down the headline list, and as we become more careless about what happens because we are more interested in how hot our homes are than in how desperate their lives are, we have to ask ourselves what kind of world we are creating in which we can watch such great waste, such careless abandon about public resources, such self-interest in public policy and such disregard for the destitute.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate. He is always well worth listening to and has deep concern for not only this issue but many others that I also have concern for.
I welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham to our ranks. I am sure we will hear much more from him. On the basis of his maiden speech, I certainly hope so, because I think we will all benefit from his wisdom.
I wish to add a bit of free thinking to this debate, as is my wont. I always used to preface speeches to schools by saying, “Nothing I say should be taken to represent in any way the party that I supposedly belong to”—and I said that while in both of the parties that I was a member of. Frankly, we are engaged in a huge amount of hypocrisy. We have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, about room in the Budget for £30 billion in tax cuts. We have heard about the need for Britain to economise, and that we have to cut £5 billion from our aid budget. We have also heard of the need for us to stand up to dictators and send £4 billion-worth of military equipment to Ukraine. This is the economics of the madhouse.
In my view, we have to start by understanding the world that we are currently living in—and I am not sure we do. It has changed a lot. It is fine to talk about the veto in the United Nations; the United States used it for 40 years to defend itself over Chile, Nicaragua and invading the British territory of Grenada. The UN Security Council has been a valuable organisation purely because it is a place where people can sit down and talk. It has never actually managed much but it has achieved a certain level of understanding, and part of that understanding is that we can all make contributions.
I shall talk about one very obvious contribution: there is a great shortage of grain in the world, but if you look at the amount of grain that we stuff into animals so that we can have a steak for our lunch, you realise that we could have a bit of rebalancing. You do not have to become a mad vegan to realise that the extent of food poverty is prompted by some of the practices that we in the West defend in the name of freedom but which actually lead to people going hungry in much of the world.
We have great difficulty in understanding the Russians. The Russian mind is quite different from ours. They are not a western European nation. They are a Christian nation but they have an odd way of looking at the world, part of which is not dissimilar from that of the United States: first, they believe that they are God’s given people; secondly, they believe that they have the right to do things that smaller countries would not even contemplate; and, thirdly, we have to face the fact that the Russian people are very largely behind Putin, and we should not imagine that they are not.
I welcome the talks that are taking place between President Erdoğan, President Putin, the leader of Iran and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. All that I would point out is that those talks contain only one European voice from our side, and that is the Secretary-General, who is of course Portuguese. We have abandoned the field of diplomacy to an alarming extent. President Macron tried to keep the dialogue open, but he has more or less had to give up in the face of everything.
Looking at the situation, I see that we have been extraordinarily provocative. We did not try to get the Minsk agreements enforced; we let them bobble on, unenforced for years, and failed to realise the anger that was building up in Russia where it was seen as hypocrisy. Then the West—as a great generic term—decided that they would destabilise Ukraine by getting rid of the Yanukovych Government. That Government were no better than the Kuchma Government or the Poroshenko Government, but they did happen to represent both ends of the country. The moment they were overthrown, the Russians effectively gave up on any hope of getting any sense. We may not like it, but they regard Ukraine as being their near abroad with the same ferocity that the Americans regard Canada or Mexico as being their near abroad, and there is a limit they will not go beyond. That is the problem that we face at the moment.
The second problem we face is that, if we are successful in the sanctions, we will point Russia away from Europe. Maybe people have not fully understood that there are already two major gas pipelines running from Russia into China. There is a huge demand for resources in China, India and Pakistan. Russia can supply those resources; it has, in the Russian part of the Arctic, a huge amount of mineral wealth that it can and will deploy. If the British and other Governments persist in such foolishness as trying to destroy the Arctic Council, in the end they will find that there is a new Arctic council. Russia, which controls the greater part of the Arctic, will join with China, which, God help us, has been admitted to the Arctic Council on the basis that it is a near-Arctic country. Remember that China, that near-Arctic country, is slightly further away from the Arctic than we are from north Africa, but nonetheless it is there.
If we do not sit down and try to work out what the problems are, we face the danger of getting ourselves into a position where we are compounding our problems for the future. There will be no gas in Russia to come back to Germany; it will all be going to China and to the south, and to those emerging countries where an emerging middle class is demanding the standards that our middle class command.
Let me wind up this chamber of horrors by saying that we have to get ourselves into a position where we are talking to other European countries. It is quite possible—I think of the Scandinavian countries—to have good and principled foreign policy without doing what we are doing now. The Ukrainians will fight as long as we pump equipment in there; as long as we send arms to Ukraine, they will fire them. But one day we will go one stage too far and supply something that is just a bit too technologically advanced, and someone in Ukraine will just pop it over the border into Russia, and things will escalate from there.
While we cannot do much about it, I ask the Minister to use his influence to try to dial down the tension and stop the arms going into Ukraine, because while they go in there they will be used to destroy the country. The people of Ukraine are the losers in this, not the winners; they are going to inherit a devastated state, which will be of no value to anyone and be a lasting rebuttal of our policies. I ask us to stand back and cool down. I hope we will not have to come back here in the middle of August because things have gone desperately wrong and the war has escalated to an end that we would not wish.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate on a topic which I believe is central to the interests of the United Kingdom, not only to thwart Russian aggression against its neighbours but to maintain the rules-based order on which our own future growth and prosperity, as well as the sustainability of the planet, depend.
In only a few weeks, we will have a new Administration in the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has just appreciated the work of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. Likewise, I wish him good luck and possibly a promotion in the new Government.
He deserves it. But whether the former Chancellor of the Exchequer or the current Foreign Secretary wins the election, it is critical that from day one the Government focus not only on the cost of living crisis at home but on global insecurity in the supply of food and energy, all hugely aggravated by Mr Putin’s unjustified war in Ukraine.
We are aware of the impact of the Government’s decision, 18 months ago, to cut overseas aid. Leaving that important, broader argument to one side, I will merely highlight the dangers created by the impact of food insecurity in some of the poorest countries in the world, including in the Horn of Africa and east Africa. What is the value of talking tough and sending arms to Ukraine, if victory in that endeavour is made ever more unlikely by prolonged conflict and global instability? This was highlighted by the noble Lord who spoke before me.
We know that in times of trouble and economic stress it is always the poorest who suffer first and most, not only here at home but all over the world. Last year, Russia and Ukraine both ranked in the top three global exporters of many grains, oils and fertilisers, as highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Disruption to those supplies affects almost every country, including ours, by creating shortages and pushing up prices, but it is especially critical in countries that are unable to meet their own basic needs. As a result of the present situation, the UN has estimated that more than 180 million people in 41 countries could face a food crisis or aggravated levels of food insecurity.
We know from the anguished European discussions about Russian oil and gas in recent months that overreliance on some countries—perhaps any country—presents unacceptable security risks. We must look both at how we can meet our own needs and how we can diversify and broaden supplies. All this is equally true when it comes to food imports, but, just as with gas and oil, any alternatives take time, perhaps many years, to provide a realistic answer—particularly as for many of these countries their chance of self-sufficiency in food production is made an even more distant prospect as a result of climate change. These are just some of the reasons we are signed up to the United Nations sustainable development goals, which include ending hunger and poverty.
Her Majesty’s Government are committed to economic growth at home, withstanding aggression abroad and tackling migration. From what we have heard so far, those objectives at least are not likely to change with a new occupant in No. 10 Downing Street. However, the stresses created by the food insecurity that is caused by the conflict will stifle growth by stoking inflation, undermine a resolution in Ukraine and drive up migration, regardless of where in the world the Government threaten to send those arriving by unauthorised routes. Tackling food insecurity in Africa, in short, is central to achieving the Government’s objectives at home.
“The G7 is committed to providing support to those countries who need it and ensuring any sanctions against Russia have no direct impact on food security or supply chains.
The UK is working with Ukraine and international partners to help Ukraine export its grain and play its role as the breadbasket of the world. We will continue to fund humanitarian aid and economic support for those who need it most.”
As the World Bank has made clear, however, world grain prices are currently up 34% as a result of the uncertainty, so one is tempted to ask the Minister about that earlier reassurance. How is that going?
Russia is attempting to use the situation to form closer ties with Iran and drive a red wedge into Turkey’s relationship with its NATO partners. What is the Government’s assessment of how these manoeuvres are likely to play out? Do the Government feel that global leadership in this case requires proper co-ordination with allies around a thought-through strategy that can succeed just as much as it did during the financial crisis in 2008, and after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990?
In summary, we have a humanitarian duty to do what we can to alleviate suffering, and we have a direct interest in addressing the wider impacts of this dreadful war, which, like any war, has unpredictable consequences. I wish the Government well in their efforts to address the situation but would say that genuine multilateral collaboration is key to any successful strategy and there is no room for complacency.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate, which, as expected, has already been high-quality in its focus on both dealing with the immediate crisis and looking at broader issues. There is absolutely no doubt that there is an immediate crisis. It is essential that every possible string is pulled and every emergency step taken to keep hunger, child stunting, desperation and fear to a minimum in the Horn of Africa, east Africa and elsewhere more broadly.
I will mostly take what might be called the longue durée view, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, did in his powerful and clear introduction to this debate. This crisis did not start with the illegal Russian attack on Ukraine; it is a crisis with a long history of centuries of destruction of human knowledge, ecosystems and tens of millions of lives by a global political system that has concentrated wealth in the hands of a few in a few countries by a narrow and ignorant scientific orthodoxy. This system has destroyed ecosystems and farming systems that operated successfully and sustainably for millennia on principles that we would now call agroecological. It was a system that relied on terror and murder to enforce its inequalities and starvation, as the British Empire did in India with the Great Famine of 1876 to 1878. That system has now clearly failed due to the long series of disasters predating the Russian invasion, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, set out. These disasters include, but are far from limited to, the creation of the new geological age of the Anthropocene.
In attempting to tackle the structural failures created by an extractive and exploitative political system, the work has concentrated—again unsuccessfully—on a few narrow aspects of human ingenuity and thought. There has been so little innovation in our mainstream economic, social or political thought that has been in the hands of a neoliberal consensus which has, for decades, dominated an extremely narrow band of what has been considered mainstream politics. This has even further concentrated financial resources in the hands of the few, frequently parked in extraordinarily unproductive and pointless tax havens, and robbed by a corruption that steals at least 5% of the world’s total production—a figure from the International Monetary Fund.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, spoke about food waste; 5% of the world’s entire resources have been wasted and stolen. Collectively, those in power have shown enormous hubris in treating soil ecosystems, of which we have had no understanding, such as inert substrates, and in assuming that, by focusing on the handful of crops that now form the majority of human diets, we would be able to tackle whatever pests and diseases nature, with its hundreds of millions of years of biological development, would throw up. Their military forces continued to support despotic dictators; Colonel Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein are two of the most frequently cited examples, but I have been reading recently about the Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo. Should an alien be unfortunate enough to land today on the island of Hispaniola, blighted by centuries of colonialism and neo-colonialism, they would get a crash course in the nature of the world that we have created—a world built on exploitation and inequality.
That exploitation, inequality and repression started close to home. I am not sure how many noble Lords know the history of why wheat became such a dominant crop: the aristocracy wanted to eat white bread because it was the posh thing to do, so peasants who wanted to grow a variety of crops were forced by feudal systems to grow only wheat—a much more dangerous and riskier crop—rather than other alternatives.
We can see a parallel in maize, a crop that came from the new world, where it was grown in ecological systems, mixed with beans and squash—yet we have brought it here and grown it at huge expense, with desperately bad human, animal and environmental impacts, to feed to animals and into our car engines. But that is all the past; we cannot change it—what we have to do now is look to the future. In the days, weeks and months ahead, we have to focus on getting people fed. We know of some ways. We have seen, at least at a trial level, the institution of universal basic income to give people cash transfers that they can use to meet their own needs and make their own choices. That is far better than imposing on them whatever food aid, often from our own resources, we think we can deliver to them.
The Government’s official development aid policies, already referred to by many speakers, have taken a disastrous direction, not just in slashing the volume of that ODA but in an explicit redirection towards our own trade interests. I know that the Minister will not be able to make a commitment, as we do not know what the new Government will be like, but we can hope that they might take a different direction in future.
What we need to do is to get away from the hubris of the narrow areas of what we have called science. We need to draw on, develop, enhance and support traditional ways to produce food and traditional agricultural systems. I shall give one example of the kind of system that is so essential to meeting our future food needs. There is a traditional practice in Niger, known as tassa. Farmers dig small pits uniformly across fields to collect rainwater and place manure in the bottom of each pit to increase soil fertility. Seeds are then planted in the long ridges of each pit. In one trial with millet, a matching piece of land planted without the technique yielded 11 kilos per hectare. The tassa land yielded 553 kilos per hectare.
Small-scale agriculture can and must provide a good secure living, with some essential prerequisites, including security of land tenure, with democratic local structures of input and information enabled among farmers, and crops grown that are suited to the natural environment and are diverse and resilient. We can start at home by supporting our own farmers to move fast towards agroecological systems, to feed ourselves, as work at the Centre for Alternative Technology has demonstrated is possible. What right do we have to rely on other people’s soil, water and labour to feed ourselves? Sure, if they produce something extra-special, tasty and attractive, such as spices or coffee, there is nothing wrong with swapping that for something we produce that they want, but we should not be taking essential staple foods or nutrients out of the mouths of others, particularly the world’s poor.
It is a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, is not in his place, because I want to address some of the points he raised, starting with the free trade deal with Australia. Noble Lords may not know, but I suspect it will come up a lot in our future debates that a major “state of nature” report has just come out in Australia. It is a bit of a contest, but it is probably even worse than our “state of nature” reports. It says that Australia
“lacks an adequate framework to manage its environment”, yet we are planning to take food from there.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannan, said that the last place on earth to experience man-made famine was North Korea. I am not sure that he was actually listening to the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in which he gave a very long list of famines experienced in the world now and in the recent past. Relying on the market for food means the rich can get what they want while the people without money cannot. Relying on the market for food has left us, since the 1990s, when most of these figures started, with a world in which about the lowest figure we have managed to get is 750 million people regularly going to bed hungry. We have never done better—if that is the right word—than that. That is a failed model.
The idea seems to be that we will just ship this food round and round the world. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made a really important point about the sheer fragility of relying on global supply chains, which of course the situation in Ukraine only helps to highlight.
I come to a final point and a direct question for the Minister. I talked about small farmers needing land security. I believe it is time that our Government spoke out strongly against the transnational land agreements that are stealing the most basic resource, particularly of Africa, from people who are effectively powerless to resist. Will the Minister comment, and perhaps update the figures I have from 2008 and a study from the Wilson Center, which say that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and the eastern nations controlled more than 7.6 million cultivated hectares overseas? I have no doubt that that figure has since grown. I am almost out of time, but—
Well, I have one sentence, to finish, about that transnational land ownership. In the Victorian-era British Empire, men who stood in this very Chamber forced Indian soldiers, abused into submission by the vicious repression after the Great Rebellion, to guard trains that were taking away desperately needed food from their wives and children, to be shipped to these shores—
My Lords, follow that. The noble Baroness is one of our most interesting and provocative Members and in some of her historical interpretations, Karl Marx would be proud of her. Nevertheless, she made some very pertinent points about famine and there were things of which we should take note.
I begin, as others have done, by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate, as we prepare to rise for the Summer Recess, on this very important topic, and for expounding it brilliantly in his opening speech in such a way that we do not need to repeat the statistics he gave, which were chilling. This subject is chilling. The brutality and barbarity of Russia in Ukraine is something that Europe has not seen since the Second World War—on a smaller scale, yes, in Bosnia, but not on a large scale since the Second World War.
It is very good that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham has made his maiden speech. We welcome him to the House and we hope there will be many more contributions, particularly on those subjects on which Bishops, frankly, should hold forth in this House. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans is not present, and very sorry that my noble friend Lord Hannan is not present. I just wonder if the Whips will consider putting out a little note to the effect that in short debates, we really should all be here for the whole debate, because it is difficult if one wants to respond to something in a critical way if the person to whom one wishes to respond is not present. I hope that when we come back it will be a rule that if a debate is four hours or less, other than for an urgent call of nature one should be in one’s place throughout.
This is a terrible situation we are facing and it is not sufficient, as my noble friend Lord Hannan did, to preach—most eloquently—the doctrine of trade. Of course, trade is the lifeblood of nations and it is very important that trade should be encouraged in every way possible and should be as free as possible, but in a time of war, that is not always possible. I know, as one brought up in the Second World War, when we were indeed urged by our great wartime leader to, “Dig for Victory”, that it was important to have a degree of self-sufficiency. I think we have to recognise that by taking an extreme line on anything, we frequently defeat our own arguments.
We are rising for the Summer Recess and I want to concentrate on something that is more domestic, although very much related to what we are saying. I begin by saying what a joy it was to see for a few minutes in our midst the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy. There is no one who has served our constitution better than the noble Lord, or been a better historian of modern Britain. I long for the day when he is able to come back, much recovered from his ill-health, and contribute to our debates as I know he has done to the Constitution Committee throughout the pandemic and beyond.
Having mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, I want to talk about the government of our country. We do not have control internationally, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, made some very pertinent comments about the United Nations. What we do have is an absolute duty, at a time like this, to be fully present on the international scene.
I am one of those, and I have mentioned it before in your Lordships’ House, who deplores the fact that at the moment we are in something of a vacuum. We know the Prime Minister is going—we think it is going to be on 4 or
It is very important that a country not be left without a fully functioning Government for six weeks. The problem at the moment is that we are in that position, as Parliament rises. If there is a need for a recall, how is that managed? I do not know. It is very wrong—and I choose my words deliberately—that a great political party should so organise its business that a mere 160,000 people and the need to consult them leads to a suspension of fully effective government for six weeks. I hope that my party will look at this again. If you are choosing a Leader of the Opposition, it is a more relaxed exercise. If you are choosing the Head of Government—the Prime Minister—well, I am one of those who believes that it should take place at the other end of the Corridor, in the other place.
Had that been the case, a new Prime Minister would have chosen today, and would have been able to move into Downing Street tomorrow. I think it is a great missed opportunity, because the world is a dangerous and, in many ways, fragile place. As a great country—and we are a great country—with international responsibilities, membership of the G20 and G7 and a permanent seat at the United Nations, we should not put ourselves in the position where we cannot take great decisions at times like this. I am sorry to have to say this, as I am very proud to be a Conservative—or have been. I have been a member of the Conservative Party for almost 70 years, I fought my first general election as long ago as 1964 and I have been in Parliament for 52 years. I have devoted much of my life to the Conservative Party and to Parliament, and I find it very painful to have to say these things. But they have to be said, because we must not put ourselves into a similar position ever again. Indeed, that applies to all political parties: it is important that the Official Opposition—another great political party—learns from the mistakes it made, for instance, over the manner in which Mr Corbyn became its leader.
However, to go back to where we began: we are in a great crisis. We could be engulfed with famine of a sort that we have not seen before in parts of Africa. We could see the war in Ukraine escalate, and we must be very careful indeed about how we handle that because, as I said in the first debate we had on Ukraine,
“There is no point in rattling sabres if all you have are scabbards.”—[Official Report, 25/2/22; col. 495.]
We must make sure that we have proper defences, both to give them and for ourselves. All these things need to be addressed and, when we come back in September, I hope that we will begin addressing them anew.
My Lords, after that I feel many of us would have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack; I pay tribute to his long parliamentary service—he should know. Whether the Government can respond on that one today, I do not know, but I am quite certain the Minister will resolutely defy what has been said.
All of us feel despair when we hear news of the many civilian casualties in Ukraine, from weapons not of war, but of murder, wielded by the Russian army at the behest of one man. He is playing with human lives like toys and we cannot stop such cruelty without much more focused international agreement. I must thank my noble friend for taking on yet another huge global issue and, as usual, he has the knack of good timing; his reminders of past famines in Ukraine are themselves quite chilling.
Less understood by the public than the war, I think, are the knock-on effects of the grain blockade on civilians in developing countries that were already vulnerable to starvation and famine for many reasons not to do with Ukraine. My noble friend has mentioned Eritrea and the Horn of Africa. I will focus mainly on the two Sudans, and I speak as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan and South Sudan, and I am pleased to see that other members are present. I commend the FAO’s latest report, which says, in summary, that the Ukraine blockade has come on top of inflation, rising food prices, soaring fuel and transport costs and the effects of the Covid pandemic. All this has led to lower incomes that have negatively affected both the quality and the quantity of food throughout the world. Millions are malnourished simply because they cannot afford a healthy diet. The world is quite off-track as far as the relevant sustainable development goals are concerned. Naturally, the FAO says, there must be a complete reassessment of the way world food is distributed. I cannot respond to that myself, but I know that Oxfam disagrees with the present system of food distribution and cites the FAO report as confirmation that the present system works against the more vulnerable and the poorest farmers.
I begin with some of the latest assessments of UN agencies on the spot. The World Food Programme reported last month that more than 15 million people in Sudan, or one in three Sudanese, are food insecure, which is a 7% increase on last year. The figures are higher for Darfur and Blue Nile, which are areas of conflict, but weather extremes are also to blame. The WFP says that Sudan imports 50% of its wheat from Russia and 4% from Ukraine, on average, so food access and availability will be sharply and directly reduced by any shortfall and the inevitable price increases. The worst affected area is West Darfur, where the needs of over 323,000 IDPs—internally displaced persons—have to be met. In Kordofan, there are over 270,000 IDPs and 40,000 South Sudanese refugees. Finally, Gedaref has over 77,000 refugees from the war in Tigray. These conflicts are having effects across the borders of neighbouring countries. At a national level, food prices are rising in Sudan, and the economy is quite unstable following the army coup last October. The political scene is dire, with the army incapable of working with highly respected and quite sophisticated civil society representatives, as the Minister knows from his own experience.
Moving to South Sudan, the agencies are reporting very serious malnutrition and food shortages on an alarming scale. Again, some 8.9 million people—which in this case is more than two-thirds of the population—are estimated to need significant humanitarian assistance and protection this year. One major problem is funding. The humanitarian agency OCHA reported on
Many local communities have been displaced by communal violence in South Sudan. UNICEF is appealing on behalf of malnourished children, such as those referred to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, whom I welcome to the House. He spoke very movingly about children in Uganda. Other smaller UN agencies such as the IOM, which manages migration, are doing a remarkable job looking after the more vulnerable refugees and displaced and trafficked people. The noble Lords, Lord Loomba and Lord Risby, both made this connection with migration. Any diminution of food supplies is bound to hit these groups hardest, and I hope the Minister will explain why the international response to UN appeals has been so inadequate.
Our perception of food distribution on the television tends to be that it is off the back of a lorry, sometimes with violent scenes involving the most hungry, so it does not have a very good image. The vast majority of grain is distributed at the next level down, through local organisations, NGOs and churches, and is, on the whole, safely and fairly delivered. Without those NGOs, the UN system would fail. Without secure food delivery, other charitable work will suffer or dry up altogether.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said, the deeper problem is that humanitarian funding is drying up. This was also emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans. Churches and faith-based organisations have been active not only on the humanitarian side but with conflict prevention. Living in the Salisbury diocese, which is linked with both Sudans, I am aware of several peace initiatives, including medical and educational projects, supported by the diocese. It is tragic that, while so many Sudanese bishops are coming to the Lambeth Conference this month, our church leaders have not been able to visit Sudan or South Sudan because of insecurity. The arrival of so many bishops from Africa presents a formidable challenge to our churches, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out.
The UNHCR has increasingly turned its attention to the internally displaced. For example, the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia led to at least 2.5 million more people being displaced within their country, some 1.5 million of them returning to their homes. The UNHCR says that the DRC, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic and Yemen all saw increases of between 100,000 and 500,000 people internally displaced. My noble friend mentioned a global total of 100 million, which is almost incredible.
Finally on Tigray, I well remember the famine in the 1970s—I expect many of us can—which is when I joined Christian Aid. I especially recall Emperor Haile Selassie’s total neglect of the northern provinces of Tigre and Wollo. History is repeating itself, because the Tigray people then rose up against the Amhara and took power in the 1990s, and this could happen again. This time, it is Ethiopia refusing to admit or declare a famine, even condoning the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray.
The Minister will know that last July the special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea published a devastating critique of the treatment of Eritreans by their own Government, including sexual violence against refugees in Tigray. Does he think there has been any progress, given that that report has been blocked by Russia and China? What representations has the FCDO made to Addis Ababa about starvation in its own country?
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his consistent humanity and leadership, and congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his excellent maiden speech. I was thinking that the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham is probably the only bishop with two racecourses.
Last Monday, the Telegraph online published an article describing the first-hand experience of cattle herder Dahir, whose family had lived a pastoral life in Somaliland for generations. The article illustrated the brutal and devastating circumstances that have transpired as people try to navigate surviving the worst drought to hit the Horn of Africa for 40 years. The article, headed “First I lost my livestock. Then I lost my children”, depicts the harrowing story of how two of Dahir’s children, Amina and Muhammed, aged four and six, died from dysentery after being faced with no other option than to drink murky water. Dahir had already lost his income and the ability to support his family, as his goat herd had diminished to 10% of its original size in just 18 months. A lack of funds meant that Dahir was unable to afford transport for his children to receive treatment and, as a result, tragically, they died.
This year, at least 805,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Somaliland and Somalia in search of food and water. That number is rising as we speak, with thousands suffering from the long-term impacts of four failed rainy seasons. The story I just told describes one person’s experience and one family’s tragedy but this is happening across the entire Horn of Africa. According to the International Rescue Committee, over 18.4 million people in the region, half of them children, are on the verge of starvation.
Although the devastating drought is a significant reason for the current emergency, it is only one factor. On
“In a country that is still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19, the accumulation of multiple factors—the cyclic droughts, measles outbreak, and war in Ukraine has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Somaliland.”
President Abdi’s letter outlines how a conflict almost 5,000 miles away has managed to have an outsized impact on the region.
As has been stated, the Ukrainian Government banned the export of wheat, oats, millet, buckwheat and some other food products to forestall a food crisis and stabilise the market. The partial ban on wheat and grains by Russia between
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned, two further major exports of Ukraine and Russia are fertiliser and sunflower oil. As well as pastoral farming, most countries in the Horn of Africa rely heavily on crop farming as a large contributor to the economy, as well as a protection to ensure food security. Fertiliser is key to revitalising the soil and creating an environment where crops such as teff, a staple grain for Djiboutian cuisine, can be grown. For countries such as Djibouti, the conflict in Ukraine is a double-edged sword. Not only can they not import grain to feed their population; they cannot import fertiliser to grow their own crops. This will do little to aid the cause of food security in such nations.
The Russian invasion has caused major disruption to global supply chains. We have felt the impact of those disruptions here in the UK; for example, with longer waiting times, back-ordering, and a lack of sunflower oil on supermarket shelves. But we need to consider the detrimental impact that these disruptions have had on countries such as Somaliland, Djibouti and Sudan.
As a result of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it has become increasingly difficult to source even the most fundamental medicines needed for the oral rehydration of severely malnourished children living in the Horn of Africa. As acute malnutrition rises across Somaliland and Somalia, with nutrition clinics reporting a 265% increase in the number of severely malnourished children under five needing treatment, the IRC has found that aid delivery has been severely impacted by the 200% jump in malnutrition treatment costs due to disruptions in the global supply chain.
One country that sits at the heart of this crisis and which I continue to mention—it is a country close to my heart and one that I recently visited—is Somaliland. Somaliland is an internationally unrecognised former British protectorate. It is a stable, peaceful and functioning pro-western democracy in a region ravaged by conflict, Islamist extremism and Chinese appropriation.
This perfect storm of humanitarian crises, made worse by the Ukraine conflict, could not have come at a more dangerous time for Somaliland. Like many other developing countries, Somaliland had just begun to emerge from the pandemic with a growing economy, boosted by UK assistance and investment in the DP World port facility of Berbera, as well as a major trade corridor that links Somaliland with its landlocked neighbour, Ethiopia, and its population of over 100 million.
I have previously mentioned in this Chamber the devastating fire that ravished Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. This fire engulfed and destroyed the central market of the capital city, destroying the livelihoods of thousands of mostly female market traders and the families they supported. This only contributed to Somaliland’s already dire economic, food and health crises.
While unrecognised, Somaliland has failed to receive even 20% of the aid it needs to survive the impending famine. But if Somaliland was recognised as an independent democracy, it would better protect its citizens and ensure that aid funding and relief is delivered directly to people such as Dahir and his children. Furthermore, recognition would unshackle Somaliland’s incredibly entrepreneurial and free-market economy to make sure aid was no longer the sole driver of development. Somaliland’s small businesses and leading companies would contribute to development by lifting millions out of poverty.
I pay tribute to the impressive and diligent Foreign Minister Dr Essa Kayd and of course, to the indefatigable spokeswoman for Somaliland, former Foreign Minister Edna Adan Ismail. But Somaliland’s lack of recognition means it is currently completely cut off from the international financial system, from development funds in the World Bank, the African Development Bank, or international commercial banks. In fact, non-recognition means that Somaliland, a genuine democracy, is effectively under more financial restrictions than Russia.
Helping Somaliland is not just about a moral responsibility to an ally of the UK; it matters to us here too. Somaliland has been free of the almost daily terrorist violence inflicted by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab in the rest of the Somali region. That is because Somaliland spends 30% of its annual budget on security. We in the UK recognise the critical role Somaliland is playing in the security of its 850 kilometres of Red Sea coast shoreline by being a leading supporter of its security forces. Ensuring Somaliland’s continued stability is helping us, here in the UK, keep safe.
I appeal once again to the Minister, who I know understands this issue well, to go back to the FCDO and ensure that we fulfil our obligations to the people of Somaliland. They need our help, they need our assistance and they need our recognition.
My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Lord and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, have focused on this geographical area towards the conclusion of this debate. In my view, it is the natural area where our focus should be as the consequence of Putin’s aggression. It is in that area, in Somalia in particular, that this summer 350,000 children are facing not just acute hunger but starvation.
When a young boy or girl starves because they are not receiving sufficient calories, their body starts to feed itself on its own carbohydrates, fats and proteins. When these are diminished, their body cannot regulate its own temperature so they have painful chills. A number of days later, their kidneys fail and their immune system weakens. Then their body has no other choice but to feed on itself, with muscle and heart failure. This is 350,000 children in Somalia this summer. That is the equivalent of all under-fives in Scotland.
So this debate is about the children, and I am so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, secured it and opened it so comprehensively. As others have been, he was so comprehensive with the statistics that they need not be repeated. He and others including the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to this region. I have a particular interest in Sudan, of which the Minister is aware; I was there just a couple of months ago. But a number of years ago, I visited one of the regions that the noble Earl singled out, Gedaref. I met with sorghum farmers who are seeking to innovate but under enormous difficulties, being so close to the border. They need resilience against flash-floods and they continue to struggle against the political oppression that there had been under the previous regime, a dictatorship. This is not simply a discussion about innovations in agriculture or about free trade; it is the confluence of all these complex areas, especially for those people who have very little resilience themselves.
I declare an interest in that I chair the UK board of Search for Common Ground, which is the world’s largest peacebuilding charity. Coincidentally, I was chairing it this morning. I left the meeting to ask the question about Sri Lanka, which is linked to this issue, in many respects, with people suffering because of a lack of fuel and food. There has been a consensus in this debate that one of the consequences of the Russian aggression is that more states are now vulnerable to conflict and instability. That means we are also likely to see a struggling harvest in Ukraine in the coming year, which will add to that. This is after the convulsions of the pandemic, in which the world’s most vulnerable saw the West operating with a degree of vaccine nationalism and selfishness, and, as we heard in the debate, a lack of full replenishment of the requests for support from western countries.
We are at a very dangerous point in the world, at the moment. That is why today’s debate, as we break for a summer holiday, has been of such a sombre nature. It is also depressing, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, because to some extent we thought that one part of history would never repeat itself—what I would term the weaponisation of wheat. It is that truly awful element of using starvation of children as a tactical or geopolitical weapon. I am so pleased that my noble friend Lady Smith and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referenced the update to the Geneva convention and the ICC. We have heard about the difficulties with Russia for the ICC and know about these complexities, so I would be grateful to know if part of the UK’s support for the ICC to capture evidence of war crimes is looking at this area, in particular. What is the evidential base that the UK Government consider when building evidence of starvation as a war crime?
When I saw the full Russian invasion, I knew almost immediately that there would be long-term impacts. There were two reasons. The first is because, having represented an agricultural community in the Scottish Borders, I would speak to farming friends—this is a number of years ago—who would monitor the Ukrainian wheat market almost as oil traders or financiers would in the City of London. They would know what the impacts would be of likely yield on harvest, likely prices, those who were buying ahead or those who were effectively shorting on this market. They knew that the impact of the shocks on the Borders economy would be immediate.
Equally, as the Minister and the House know, because I referred to it when I came back, during the first week of the full Russian invasion I was in both Baghdad and Beirut. In these countries, the supply of bread is fundamental not only to their diet but to their culture. From conversations I had with people there, they knew the impact would be immediate. We therefore see the consequences of prices going up and staggering inflation—food inflation of 44% in Ethiopia, nearly five times the global average, and a 78% increase in maize prices in the Horn of Africa. The impact across the Middle East and other regions has been enormous.
During Questions today I raised the fact that the geostrategic interest is perhaps moving east into Asia, with other countries now having an impact in this area. We are seeing a global element. As much as our press will consider that we are perhaps winning the war within Europe, we know that the consequences are spreading wider.
I find it slightly distasteful that the Foreign Secretary is touting the Ukraine example as part of her leadership credentials; I think this issue should be left out of that. She seemed rather uncomfortable this morning when asked about her Liberal Democrat heritage.
I have inadvertently united the House.
She said in her defence that it is “ludicrous” to believe the same things when you are 46 as when you were 17. I joined my party when I was 16. One of the reasons I joined it is that we were committed to spending 0.7% on international assistance. I not only believe that now but worked with colleagues to legislate for it; I am a passionate advocate of this. It is not ludicrous to believe in some of the things you believed in when you were 16 and started to be politically active.
The debate on the UK response to this global humanitarian situation is not just on the security aspect but on development assistance. Last week the Government announced £156 million for the financial year for the humanitarian crisis in east Africa. That is welcome, but in 2017-18 it was £861 million. I would be grateful to know where the funds are being secured for this £156 million. Is this included in the unlawful 0.5% target or is it over and above that, given the circumstances of the crisis?
On support for the World Food Programme, in June this year a Downing Street press release heralded, “PM Pledges New Support for Countries on the Food Security Frontline”, which announced £130 million to the World Food Programme. People welcomed it, and they should, but I looked back on the Government’s performance agreements with the World Food Programme. In the year in which we legislated in this House for 0.7%, UK support for the World Food Programme was £264 million—literally double. In this debate we have identified the global need as considerably higher than it was then, so why have the Government halved their support for the World Food Programme, given that the need is so enormous?
Let us look at one individual country that has been raised frequently in this debate. Here I welcome the right reverend Prelate to the House and the speech he gave. He and his right reverend friend the Bishop of St Albans, who has worked with dedication on these areas, mentioned the Horn of Africa and Somalia. Support for children in Somalia is critical. In 2019-20 UK support was £260 million because we recognised that this was a priority area. That fell by £120 million to £141 million in 2020-21. I raised concerns about that, and was shocked to realise that it fell again to £91 million in 2021-22. It is scheduled to go up to £116 million, but it will be down to £58 million in 2023-24. All the extra support that the Government have announced will not even get close to matching the gap in funding of £370 million, just for humanitarian support for the people of Somalia, that we have seen cut within just two years. On top of that, we have seen bilateral aid slashed in so many areas.
The fault of all this is not with the British Government; it is with Putin’s aggression, and Russia should be held to account for it. However, the response for the people who are suffering the most can be in our hands. It is in our interests as a country, geopolitically and strategically, and on defence and security, that fewer people starve and fewer people fear hunger, which will prevent them becoming internally displaced people, or moving to Europe and this country. It is in our benefit but, even more, it is in the benefit of those people, to see the UK—one of the richest and most privileged countries in the world—as having a moral basis that is the opposite of Putin’s aggression, and to see the UK stepping up support to ensure that those victims have a friend. I want this country to be their friend.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating today’s debate. Listening to the speeches here today, I think the expertise and care that has been shown on this issue does this House enormous credit. It has been a sobering debate.
I noted that a number of noble Lords paid tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, in his role, and expressed their hope that he remains in this role the next time that we discuss such issues at the Dispatch Box. I hope that he does, but if not, I hope that he is in a more senior post to which he can bring the care and compassion he has shown in this role, because we want to see that across government, not just in isolated pockets.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that he wanted to shine a light on the impact that the war in Ukraine is having on other areas as well. We have heard that today, and I will comment on other speeches. The capacity we have here to have a more detailed debate has shown that it this is not just about the military response; the Government and international agencies must have a much wider response to address the consequences.
It is in that regard that I turn to the maiden speech from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. The House will benefit from his expertise and wisdom on the issues that he spoke about. His speech today was passionate and powerful, but also very grounded; that is an attribute that will be of enormous benefit to your Lordships’ House. I welcome him joining us and look forward to further contributions from him.
As we have heard today, the destabilisation resulting from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continues, bringing with it humanitarian crises that go way beyond the region in which we see military action. Many millions of people in developing countries, including in the Horn of Africa and east Africa, are already suffering from hunger and malnutrition, and it is predicted to get worse. The scale of this crisis is not one that immediately comes to mind in the press reports that we have seen or in comments that are made, which tend to focus on the destruction in Ukraine without focusing on the much wider implications around the world. We know that the invasion is a clear act of aggression and an illegal act, but the blockade of ports is barbaric and has an international impact. By seeking to prevent the export of grain, and destroying crops and farming infrastructure, Putin’s objective is that the suffering created by the invasion goes much wider than the immediate region.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, this is using hunger and starvation as a weapon of war. It is almost trying to blackmail other countries into not supporting Ukraine and backing off from attacking Russia’s actions. We have to be clear that we stand unshakably with our NATO allies in providing military support and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. However, if we fail to recognise the global insecurity in food and the threat of hunger and starvation across the world then we are failing in our wider duty.
I hope the Minister can say something about the efforts of Turkey and UN officials to broker an agreement to open the Black Sea. Clearly that is essential, so we would be grateful if he could tell us about progress on what is happening there.
I share the concerns of the other noble Baroness, Lady Smith—that gets very confusing—who raised this issue: in so many of the press reports, we do not read about these kinds of issues and we do not hear these debates. The only thing that I saw about the talks were the comments that she referred to about the face that Putin was pulling when he had to wait for just under a minute for the talks to start. We need greater awareness of the impact that this is having beyond Ukraine. If those talks can be successful, and if there is anything we can do to facilitate them, they will have an enormous impact.
Last month the Foreign Secretary met her Turkish counterpart to discuss the option of using UK support to escort grain. I appreciate that she is rather distracted at the moment but there is nothing more important than this matter, and I hope the Minister here can press this. I would certainly like to hear more about the discussions and about the Foreign Secretary’s ongoing role in them, because we do not know that. As much as we love the Minister, it needs the authority of the Foreign Secretary to be engaged at the highest level. What form would that UK support take? How would we manage it? Has anything been agreed? If the Minister has anything to report back on this during the Recess, I ask that he write to noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate rather than waiting until we return in September.
Any agreement with Putin’s regime has to be treated with some caution, not just because there may be instability in the regime as we progress but because there is the possibility that Russia may not hold to its agreements. Noble Lords will know that one issue we feel very strongly about is that nations should hold to agreements that have been made, which is why there were some murmurs earlier today when the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill had its First Reading. Abiding by agreements is essential but we have to treat with caution any agreement with President Putin. We need an absolute commitment to pursue the end of this conflict because that is the only way to resolve so many of these problems. They will not just be solved by negotiation and finding alternative routes.
On that, I would be interested to know just how closely aligned the two government departments are. I am grateful for the brief that I had this morning from the Ministry of Defence on its ongoing actions, but I am not clear how the issue of food supplies and wider humanitarian issues are fed into the Ministry of Defence, because the two departments have aligned themselves policy-wise.
While the negotiations are ongoing, we have to commit ourselves to taking steps to mitigate the blockade. We have heard a number of facts and figures today but 96% of Ukraine’s grain has historically been exported via the Black Sea. When that route is closed off, the impact is hugely significant. There is the potential for limited quantities to leave by rail and road, but if that were easy then it would have been done before; it would have been the route used previously.
Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister has raised the prospect of new trade routes through Poland and Romania. I am sure the Minister is aware of the challenges that this poses, not least because of different gauges of railways and having to deal with attacks from the Russian military. Are we currently giving any support to the Ukrainian Government to try to support those routes? They might have a limited impact but that would still be significantly more than we are seeing at present. Can he say anything about any financial contribution being made by the FCDO to repair the rail infrastructure that has been destroyed by the Russian military? Are there any ongoing discussions about other borders that could be used as well?
Those on the brink of starvation—those countries on the brink of famine—cannot just wait for the war to end to see some relief to their suffering. Despite what I have said to the Minister about giving us an update on what mitigation measures are being taken, that in itself will never be enough. There is an urgent need in the developing world for support now.
The noble Lord, Lord Polak, referred to Somalia and, from the examples he gave, one thing struck me: what happens there affects stability in this country. In assisting other countries there is a self-interest—a self-awareness of the impact it has here as well. The right reverend Prelate referred to the cuts in international aid that are affecting these countries. It does the Government no credit whatsoever that these cuts have been made at a time when that support is needed the most. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that. Somalia was importing 92% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, so it is especially vulnerable; I think the noble Lord referred to that. Long-term forecasts in Ethiopia suggest that rainfall later this year will be significantly less than the amount necessary to support a strong harvest, so it has problems importing and the climate emergency is affecting such countries as well.
In a sense, the Government’s role is twofold or threefold. It is important and we want them to take a lead in this. We must work with multilateral institutions to deliver the aid that is needed, but I would like to press the Minister more on the resilience measures that the Government want to build in, and the resilience-building measures that we can help countries take so people are not forced to leave their homes to search for food, water or medical care and support. Is he able to say anything about the action that has been taken as part of UNICEF, the World Food Programme and other multilateral agencies not just to deliver aid but to build resilience and provide expertise?
In conclusion, the only point I need to make is that this has shown us how interdependent countries are. Is it not part of chaos theory that, when a butterfly flaps its wings, the impact is felt around the world and it gathers pace as it moves? Many years ago, as the Cold War came to an end, I think we relaxed a bit too much. People took a step back and thought, “This is resolved”. What we have seen is an escalation of problems that are now damaging the entire world. If we have learned anything as a country, we need to heed the lesson that we are not completely independent. We are not just self-reliant—a point the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, was trying to make earlier on. We are co-dependent with others and we have responsibilities to that co-dependency. If we just stand back and think this is a problem for other countries, we harm not just those countries but ourselves. We do so in practical terms, but we harm our humanity as well. There is an opportunity here to step up and show both our resilience for our nation and our humanity to other nations, as it is the right thing to do. In what I hope is not his last outing in his post at the Dispatch Box—unless he is going on to greater things—I hope that the Minister today can show that there is humanity still in the Government and that we will be addressing these issues in the way that we should.
My Lords, first and foremost, I join all other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for tabling this debate. David is someone I have known for many years, and I concur with everything that has been said. Today’s debate and his insightful, detailed and expert knowledge on a subject that, once again, draws the House together on the importance of our collective response in the face of aggression is something that I know that he champions but that we also celebrate. We thank him for all he does in this respect.
I join others in welcoming the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham to his place. His contribution today was insightful and showed expertise, but it also very much brought home the importance and the role of faith in finding some of the solutions. As someone who just oversaw the delivery of the FoRB conference in London, I think faith institutions and faith NGOs, as well as others, have an important role to play as we face up to many of the development challenges, including those humanitarian causes around the world.
I want to quote from a UN report which was published on
The UN report alluded to focused on food security. I will quote directly from it:
“A war is always a human tragedy, and the war in Ukraine is no exception. The ripple effects of the conflict are extending human suffering far beyond its borders. The war, in all its dimensions, has exacerbated a global cost-of-living crisis unseen in at least a generation, compromising lives, livelihoods, and our aspirations for a better world by 2030.”
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is wearing the SDGs badge on his lapel. Again, whether it is the Covid crisis or this war, it really puts under the microscope the real challenge of facing up to the delivery of the SDGs by the target of 2030. However, we need to remain focused in this respect.
I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, that we recognise the global impact. The noble Baroness mentioned cash transfers, for example, and that remains a central part of our development programme. I have not shied away from the fact that when you cut, as we have had to, from 0.7% to 0.5% it has had an impact on our development spend, but I stay proud of our strong traditions and the support we continue to give around the world.
I take heed also that sometimes a crisis brings into focus what the opportunities are. While sharing my noble friend Lord Hannan’s view of the world and of the importance of open markets, I also concur with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that the Covid crisis taught us about the importance of the interdependence of humanity. We are at our best when we help each other. We leverage our expertise and provide global solutions, and I believe open markets help in that respect. Look at the 60% of arable land which is currently uncultivated in Africa; there is a huge opportunity for all. In that same report there are innovative solutions including, for example, having a food importing financing facility. They provide the premise for discussions to take place in the future.
There was much in what my noble friend Lord Balfe said that, unfortunately, I do not agree with and I pose him three questions. Are we to accept Russia’s annexation of a sovereign nation or part of Ukraine’s sovereign territories? Are we to accept flagrant violations of human laws and the law of humanity? Are we to accept the suppression of not just the Ukrainian population but the Russian population? I say to my noble friend: ask Alexander Navalny and his family. The three answers are no, no and no. We will continue to stand united, as this House and this country, in support of Ukraine. It is the Ukrainians who should lead on peace negotiations, and we will support them and continue to stand firm.
I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is talking to President Zelensky regularly. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to Foreign Minister Kuleba last week and is doing so again this week. I am in touch with Foreign Minister Kuleba and was in The Hague last week, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, talking about atrocities to Karim Khan, among others. We are very much engaged. Perhaps on a slightly lighter note on a sombre subject, I assure noble Lords that House of Lords Ministers stayed in place to ensure that our Government carried on functioning.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about increasing funding for international organisations, including the World Food Programme. I have been speaking to and keeping in touch with David Beasley, and we have made a £130 million pledge to that programme. I assure the noble Lord that that funding is not diverted from other programmes. It includes funding allocated to in-country offices and flexible funding provided at central level as well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the land ownership in Africa. The UK has played a lead role in promoting good land governance in Africa and will continue to support states’ development in this regard and, of course, community rights. She talked about forces from India diverting food support from their country to the UK. Look at the UK for here and now. There is little I can say other than that when we look around the UK at the rich heritage that is not just part of our history but of our present and future, we recognise that the UK today is a very different place and long may that be the case.
The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, talked about long-term plans for peace. We support Ukraine’s desire for a just negotiated outcome and of course we support any noble initiative led by or involving Ukraine, but this is Russia’s war of aggression. Russia can stop this tomorrow, but the impact is still going to be felt for not just months but years ahead.
I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack, the noble Lords, Lord Hastings and Lord Loomba, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, among others for their kind words about my role, but it is important that we remain resolute. We expect Russia to uphold its international obligations. It is a P5 member like the United Kingdom, and that brings responsibility. We cannot have these flagrant violations continuing. It is for Russia to bring this to an end. It is in contravention of international obligations, including those under the UN charter.
We move forward to face up to the crisis of food and the impact of the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports mentioned by many noble Lords. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, it is weaponising food and is impacting global security. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans also talked rightly about raising awareness. I look forward to the outcomes of the conference and perhaps practical suggestions from on the ground that can be shared with the Government. The region’s worsening food crisis is caused by an accumulation of pressures, as several noble Lords pointed out, including the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. They include local conflict and climatic shocks, but the war in Ukraine is making it worse. When crises happen, people look at differences and divisions. They are then exploited—or worse.
It is Mr Putin’s war, and the associated rise in food, fuel and fertiliser prices is making the problem much more acute. Yesterday it was 11 years since the UN first declared a famine in Somalia. My noble friend Lord Polak spoke of this and while I hear what he said about Somaliland, he is aware of the United Kingdom’s position, and we feel it is right for Somaliland and Somalia to bring forth an inclusive agreement. It was a brutal famine which has led to the deaths of 250,000 people, the majority of them children, and left 500,000 children malnourished. It is important that the UN acts in this particular way.
We are helping not just the region but Ukraine directly. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that we are providing more than £3.8 billion in support—£220 million in humanitarian support. She mentioned rebuilding infrastructure, and we have allocated another £200 million in that respect. The city of Kyiv has been assigned to the United Kingdom. As a country we are helping the people and Government of Ukraine to rebuild.
Today’s debate is extremely timely, as several noble Lords have said. Let me state categorically: we will stay united with Ukraine. I am grateful to all noble Lords, in particular Her Majesty’s official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, for their strong and united support on this issue. Looking at food crises around the world, right now, more than 48 million people in east Africa are facing severe food insecurity, and more than 13 million people are on the cusp of famine conditions, in particular in the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia, which the noble Earl mentioned, and there are issues of CRSV which he brought to light.
We have a conference in November later this year where we will report on some of the work that has been done. Frankly, I fear that the lack of humanitarian access has meant that, once the lid is fully lifted, the situation on conflict-related sexual violence will be very dire.
Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are all in the grip of a severe drought emergency. In those three countries, over 18 million people are severely food insecure, and famine conditions are already a reality for more than 600,000 people. As all noble Lords have alluded to, including my noble friend Lord Risby, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and its blockade, coupled with reduced agricultural production—400 million people used to be supplied from Ukraine alone—have caused a sharp increase in global grain prices. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, I was never an MP for a farming constituency, but I worked in the commodities sector, where the impact on prices has been enormous and incredibly impactful for the long term. Of course, farmers need to protect their prices; this is a knock-on effect.
The UK is at the forefront of this, with £3 billion in global humanitarian support over the next three years. This was discussed, for example, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. That was a difficult negotiation, into which the issue of conflict fatigue stepped in, and the question: why does Ukraine matter? It matters, not because it is a conflict between two countries or on one continent but because it is a conflict impacting the whole world, as we have seen through the issues of energy and food prices. We will remain focused in this way, and I assure noble Lords that we will continue engaging with the multilateral system and IFIs on food insecurities via the World Bank’s $30 billion set aside for food security.
The issue of food waste, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, provides a stark reality check for us all. I will share this point with our colleagues in Defra. The reality is that food is being wasted, which can perhaps be managed very differently.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Smith of Newnham and Lady Smith of Basildon, and my noble friend Lord Risby spoke of the recent talks in Iran, where the Turkish President met with President Putin. Ministers and senior officials, including those in our embassy in Ankara, have been in very regular contact with the Turkish authorities on these international efforts to get grain out of Ukraine, and we welcome the important role that the Turkish authorities are playing. As I receive more details, I will share them with noble Lords. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon: as much as we will put in land corridors and are supportive of efforts through them, they cannot replace the ports. The ports are under attack; Odessa has been under increasing pressure in recent days. We also need to make sure that we retain our focus with other countries to ensure that whatever can be leveraged from land routes is fully realised.
Use of fertilisers has declined due to a nearly 30% price increase. In turn, cereal production has fallen by a fifth. As I have said, the UK is working with its international partners to hold Russia to account, being clear that western sanctions do not target food production. This is understood by our international partners. The sanctions imposed by the UK, the EU and the United States do not prevent Russia exporting its fertilisers or grain in any respect. In fact, Russian grain exports are continuing apace, with exports to key trading partners similar to those in previous years.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its blockade of Ukraine’s ports have produced the logistical situation in Odessa, as my noble friend Lord Risby said. It is mined through floating mines from Russia, which means that the navigation issue will not have a solution in a matter of days or weeks; it may take months to demine this whole area. However, we need to remain resolute and focused. The UK is working with Ukraine to help export its food and fulfil its role as the breadbasket of Europe. The UN currently estimates that up to 23 million tonnes of grain for export remain in storage in Ukraine. It is ultimately President Putin’s responsibility to lift this blockade, but we are working with international partners to alleviate the situation.
At the spring meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in April, the UK and its partners secured the largest ever financial commitment from the World Bank of $170 billion until June 2023. This will be targeted specifically at the countries and regions impacted. Of this, $30 billion will be focused on food security. The UK has also announced emergency humanitarian assistance to address food insecurity in the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan. Over the next three years, we will direct £3 billion in total across the world to vulnerable countries and people.
We have recently committed another £10 million to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, bringing our allocation for the poorest countries to £186 million. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, among others, that we are working with G7 allies through the Global Alliance for Food Security to scale up a rapid needs-based, co-ordinated response.
My noble friend Lord Risby, the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, and others mentioned the importance of and impact on north Africa. I have already visited Tunisia and Algeria, and I am shortly about to go to Morocco. I have also visited Egypt. It is a food crisis. They are finding feeding their populations a real challenge for the here and now. Of course, I shall engage with all the key interlocutors and, if there are updates, report back. The fact is that there is a crisis, and it can be averted only if we act together, but at the same time seek to bring this conflict to an end—and that is very much on Russia.
The right reverend Prelate raised east Africa, which several noble Lords, including the noble Earl, drew attention to, as did my noble friend Lord Polack. In January, the UK announced £17 million of emergency humanitarian assistance to address critical needs in Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya. In February, we announced £5.5 million of support allocated for Somalia, and in March a further £1.6 million to support the drought response in Ethiopia. In April, £25 million in aid was announced to provide vital food services to people in Somalia. We are playing a leading role bilaterally and with our key partners.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised the issues of war crimes and accountability. We are working closely with the ICC. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, talked about the protocols. I discussed them directly with Karim Khan, who is making those assessments. Noble Lords will be aware that we have set up the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group with our friends and partners in the EU and US, focused on atrocities across the piece. I look forward to working with noble Lords in identifying how we can put specific parameters in and ensure through the Murad code, for example, that crimes of sexual violence are fully investigated and documented to allow successful prosecutions to take place. We are also working within the Human Rights Council parameters and its commission of inquiry, the OSCE’s Moscow mechanism and the Council of Europe’s monitoring bodies, so there is a broad approach to ensuring that accountability is focused on.
I assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others, particularly on the issue of asset seizures that he raised, that as the Foreign Secretary said at the Foreign Affairs Committee, it is an issue that we are working on with the Home Office and the Treasury, and we will update your Lordships’ House as well as the other place on the specifics. It is important that we get this right, but that particular issue is a live one, which we are looking at quite directly.
In concluding this debate, I assure noble Lords that we remain very much focused on our responsibilities through the G7 and G20. The UK’s director-general for humanitarian development has made numerous visits to the region, and we have a special envoy to the Horn of Africa. In June, my honourable friend the Minister for Africa, Vicky Ford, wrote to David Malpass at the World Bank to highlight the gravity of needs. We also maintain a productive dialogue with non-governmental organisations, which are extremely important. In June, the Minister for Africa met members of the Disasters Emergency Committee. Our officials remain fully engaged on the ground and here in London on working with key partners.
To conclude on the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports, we have all documented it, with our different perspectives. We have had a wide-ranging debate—although I say to my noble friend Lord Cormack that he went so wide in his contribution that it may have been wider than I have ever experienced in my time at the Dispatch Box. Nevertheless, I am sure that people have noted his contributions quite carefully. I assure my noble friend that the Government continue to be very active, and I hope that through the examples that I have illustrated he is somewhat reassured that we stay very much focused on this.
I lived through the crisis last summer in Afghanistan and it was important that we continued to stand by our commitments. I am proud that the Government have continued to stand by our humanitarian commitments in Afghanistan and our commitments to the people of Ukraine, whether on the economy or humanitarian support, or diplomatically and militarily. It is important that this war ends: it is in Russia’s hands to end it but, in the meantime, we will continue with our obligation and support, including in east African countries, the Horn of Africa, to ensure that after a fourth consecutive season of failed rains, we continue to have decisive, co-ordinated, bilateral and multilateral swift action from the international community to avoid severe humanitarian outcomes. I hope that I have, in part, convinced noble Lords that the United Kingdom is continuing to play its part.
In closing, I record my sincere thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newnham, for their contributions over the recent period of the current Government, for the positive and practical insights they have brought and for their solutions. This is not always a challenge to the Minister at the Dispatch Box. I value their insights and experience. I also offer my thanks, through the good offices of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, to the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I record my sincere thanks because the advice and insights I have received is extremely valuable to any Minister seeking to do their job. We face unprecedented challenges, challenges of humanity and of humanitarian crisis, but I acknowledge our collective efforts as your Lordships’ House, whether we do so with the other place or on a cross-party basis. When we act together, as we did during the Covid crisis and as we are doing on Ukraine, we are at our best when we act as a country, collective and unified in our response to those who seek to cause division and discord. For that, I am eternally grateful to all noble Lords. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for once again bringing your Lordships together on this important subject.
I was reminded of a quote as I listened to the debate. My father was an Urdu poet, God bless his soul, and one of the famous poets he used to appreciate and hold in high regard was Rumi. I was reminded of Rumi, who said,
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself”.
My Lords, the quality of a debate is determined by those who participate, and no one could have hoped for a better informed, knowledgeable, wise or humanity-related debate than the one we have had this afternoon. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said that it underlines the purpose of your Lordships’ House to be able to conduct debates of this kind, and I entirely agree.
No one will have been surprised by the passion and vigour with which the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, responded to us today. He is a great example of how to conduct oneself as a Minister. I hope he was not making a valedictory statement in his closing remarks, because I hope he will go on being a Minister at the Dispatch Box in your Lordships’ House for a long time to come. He is also a deeply committed parliamentarian. Whether it is insights that he communicates from his mother, as he did in the recent FoRB conference, or today from his father, through some of the Urdu poets, I hope we will go on hearing those insights for a long time to come. We first met when I was in another place and a group of people came with the young Tariq Ahmad to persuade Members of Parliament to take the persecution of his Ahmadi community seriously. Happily, I responded positively, said that I would write to Ministers and did. Years later, he teasingly said to me, “Now you are getting your own back, because barely a day passes when I do not receive representations from you.” It was a great privilege, during the recent FoRB conference to chair one of the side events on the plight of the Ahmadi community.
In a way, that underlines what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, said to us about our interdependence and how we are determined one against another all the time. Was it not Nelson Mandela who said, “A person is a person because of other people”? We are coexistent on this planet; we must learn to respect and to live alongside one another. In that sense, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, said about the dangers of self-sufficiency, but the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was right as well to say that, in times of war and conflict, that is not the only issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Newham, rightly said in her excellent speech that we suffer from a sort of attention deficit if we are not careful and could have compassion fatigue. She talked about the inadequacy of our response, “a drop in the ocean”.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, talked about the need to live up to and to honour our commitment to the 0.7% spending target, a point made by a number of noble Lords during the debate. Back in 1970 as a student, I made my first speech in the student union on the subject of the General Assembly resolution on 0.7% and it was the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who did so much to ensure that that was enshrined in statute. It is a terrible tragedy to have reduced that funding. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans is right to remind us that this is not just about generosity and altruism; it is also in our self-interest to ensure that we retain those target figures and do what we can to alleviate the suffering of the poorest in our world today.
In his excellent maiden speech, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham reminded us of the connections between his diocese and the Salvation Army. He talked specifically about Uganda, his links with that part of Africa and the impact of the crisis on the life chances of young people. We all look forward to hearing many more speeches from him in the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Risby, reminded us in an excellent speech about the dangers of this spreading through instability and to many places, including Egypt about which he knows a great deal, and the impact of migration flows.
My noble friend Lord Hastings talked about waste. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, quite rightly told us that this is a crisis with a long history, and we have done far too little thinking about and developing how we see the role of food and how we avert crises of this kind from recurring.
My noble friend Lord Sandwich took us to Sudan. The noble Lord, Lord Polak, took us to Somaliland. I have great admiration for my noble friend and for the noble Lord, Lord Polak. I serve with my noble friend on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sudan and South Sudan. I have visited Darfur: 300,000 people died there during the genocide and 2 million people were displaced. This is happening all over again, and we must do more than we are doing to avert it.
Let me end with what the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said to us about being the moral opposite of what Putin represents; we must do better than we have been doing. Our values are the values that matter in this world, but they do not come cheaply. They come at a price, and we are seeing that price, whether it is in the loss of human life or in treasure. They comes at a price, and we must be willing to pay that price, not least because of the kind of stories, such as that of Dahir in Somaliland, that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Polak.
I read in the Wall Street Journal recently the story of a little child in neighbouring Somalia, one of the early victims of the current crisis: two month-old Muad Abdi who died after a night of diarrhoea and vomiting in a sprawling camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu. The newspaper reported his mother saying,
“‘His eyes turned up, and I felt he was no longer with me’”.
The report continued,
“His older brother was fighting an infection in a crowded hospital, his defences weakened by the kind of severe malnutrition” that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, described.
“His 1-year-old sister, Habiba, slumped limply on her mother’s hip.”
His mother said that,
“Until three months ago … the $1 to $2 a day her husband earned from occasional construction work bought two meals of rice and beans for the family of six. Now that money is barely enough for one daily meal of rice”.
The situation had been exacerbated because of the crisis in Ukraine.
We owe it to families such as this to do more than we have done, and I know it is the united view of your Lordships’ House that we must do that. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated.