UK Aid to Afghanistan - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:18 pm on 11th January 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 3:18 pm, 11th January 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they intend to take in response to the report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact UK aid to Afghanistan: Country portfolio review, published on 24 November 2022; and in particular, its assessment that “channelling funding in such high volumes through weak state institutions distorted the political process and contributed to entrenched corruption”.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the UK Government welcome the commission’s report and provided our formal response on 10 January. In Afghanistan, we are no longer providing support through the state. We recognise that large-scale financial support in conflict-affected contexts can come with considerable risk. We will work with ICAI and colleagues across departments to fully assess the impact of these recommendations on wider government policies. We will continue to press the Taliban Government to recognise the inalienable rights of women and girls.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, looking forward, Ukraine, like Afghanistan, has weak institutions and a long history of entrenched corruption in both government and civil society. Since December, the UNHCR has been piloting the use of blockchain technology to get cash to internally displaced people there, and in 2020, a trial in the Colombian public sector procurement process showed that hybrid blockchain technology has the potential radically to reduce corruption and increase transparency and accountability. What plans does the FCDO have to examine the benefits of blockchain, ensuring that UK aid gets through to where it is intended despite weak and corrupted state institutions, both in Ukraine—which will be a major recipient of aid in years to come—and elsewhere?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the department is and has been looking at other mechanisms, including blockchain, for delivering aid more effectively and minimising the risk of corruption, which is always there in the main trouble spots around the world—which include Afghanistan and, for different reasons, Ukraine. Notwithstanding its recommendations, the ICAI report was also very complimentary about the positive influence the UK has had in Afghanistan, in leveraging significant sums of finance from some of the multilateral development banks and ensuring that our own investments yield the kinds of results that taxpayers expect.

Photo of Lord Swire Lord Swire Conservative

My Lords, I believe that the most recent conference on Afghanistan was in Tashkent in 2022, but the last international conference on Afghanistan was in Geneva in 2020. Will my noble friend tell us whether there are any plans to convene another international conference on Afghanistan and, if not, whether the British Government might consider taking the lead on this? Would that not provide an opportunity to look again at corruption, the money that has gone missing and the money, particularly from the Gulf, which tends to go to the Taliban rather than the people of Afghanistan, whose need is so obvious?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I do not have details of upcoming conferences, but I will certainly put that question to my colleague, my noble friend Lord Ahmad, in whose portfolio that sits. It is of course the case that we work with friends and partners internationally on a continuous, routine basis to try to figure out the best approach to the problems in Afghanistan we are discussing, not least recent decisions by the Taliban to ban women taking part and working in NGOs and to prevent women and girls going to secondary school and university. All these issues are incredibly complicated and it is our view that no one donor country, or any country alone, can solve these problems. It is through these international partnerships that we have the most impact.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I chair the UK board of the charity Search for Common Ground, which is providing support for women and NGOs in Afghanistan in increasingly difficult circumstances. UK support to the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which was the biggest part of UK support under the previous Government, is now delivered through the World Bank. Part of that work is for women’s economic empowerment, which is now impossible to deliver. What mechanisms are in place for reassurance that UK taxpayers’ money is not being provided through multilateral bodies which are directly or indirectly facilitating the Taliban in persecuting and repressing women?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, we regularly press the Taliban on a wide range of human rights issues, including the rights of women and girls. Our view is that educated, empowered women are critical to economic development, peace and stability right across the country, and that without them the country will not achieve stability or prosperity. We continue to work with the international community, including the G7, the G20 and various UN bodies, to press the Taliban to reverse their decision and to try to understand the implications of the recent ban, particularly in relation to women and girls working in NGOs, to try to ascertain the best possible mechanisms we can use to support those NGOs to continue their work.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, it is deeply concerning to read in ICAI’s report that £252 million of ODA money was spent supporting “torture and extrajudicial killings”. Given that there are claims that attempts to halt this were overruled at the highest levels of government, can the Minister confirm exactly who intervened and on what grounds, whether human rights abuses were raised and whether civil servants were overruled in this situation?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, the second recommendation of the ICAI report relates to the point the noble Lord made. It was that UK aid should not be used to fund police or other security agencies to engage in paramilitary operations

“as this entails … risks of doing harm. Any support for civilian security agencies should focus on providing security and justice to the public.”

We accept that recommendation in full. It is worth again putting on the record that UK ODA funding in Afghanistan has never paid for paramilitary operations.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether it is the Government’s intention to continue to support restrictions on travel waivers from the United Nations for members of the Taliban while these reprehensible measures restricting women from receiving university education continue to be in place? Can he also say what he has done about the report sent to his department concerning the Hazara minority in Afghanistan and about reports that some of the members of that community are facing crimes against humanity and even genocide?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, as I said in response to another question, we are routinely engaging with partners around the world to try to inhibit the worst excesses of the Taliban. We engage directly with the Taliban but that is not the same as recognising them—the distinction is important. As regards specific minorities within Afghanistan who are feeling the sharp end of Taliban oppression, I will need to ask my colleague, my noble friend Lord Ahmad, to report back to the noble Lord.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop

My Lords, as we discuss aid to Afghanistan, surely it is also right that we consider those who have worked with us so faithfully on the ground over the years to deliver educational goals. It remains the case that the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme has not resettled any of those who worked for the British Council. Can the Minister please set out what is being done to ensure the promised resettlement of those individuals?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I believe that so far 6,300 eligible people have been resettled through the first phase of the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, and that was targeted specifically at those who assisted our efforts in Afghanistan, as well as at vulnerable people, which includes members of minority groups. The scheme is expected to provide up to 20,000 people with a safe and legal route to resettle in the UK. Of course, this is a Home Office responsibility but the FCDO works very closely with that department to make sure that the programme remains accessible and effective.

Photo of Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Conservative

My Lords, now that women are being prevented from working for NGOs, how will we ensure that aid reaches women-headed households, which are the poorest of the poor and now have no means of support?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, it is very difficult. The decision by the Taliban—which, by the way, has no basis in morality or religion—is a clear breach of international humanitarian principles as accepted by everyone and is yet another violation of the fundamental rights of Afghan women. The reality is that as a consequence of this ban it is very difficult for NGOs in that country to deliver the kinds of services and support that they provided, which is why our principal goal has to be to heap pressure on the Taliban to reverse this decision. Until that decision is reversed, I am afraid that there is no easy answer to the noble Baroness’s question.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, to follow on from the right reverend Prelate’s question, the German development agency, GIZ, reports that in the last few months of 2022, Germany extracted 24,000 people from Afghanistan—people who had worked for the German authorities, in human rights, in the media and on women’s issues. Can the Minister explain to me the large difference between the German figure of 24,000 and the figure he just cited for Britain?

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I am not close enough to the process to give the noble Baroness chapter and verse but, as I said, our expectation is that when that first phase is completed, 20,000 people will have received safe and legal passage into the UK.