Food Insecurity in Developing Countries due to Blockade of Ukrainian Ports - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:47 pm on 21st July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 3:47 pm, 21st July 2022

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.

Motion agreed.