International Development White Paper - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 23 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 2:52, 23 November 2023

My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement delivered in the other place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Development on Tuesday 21 November. It is as follows:

“Since my Statement to the House on 18 July, the Government have consulted extensively to secure evidence and ideas that will transform our world. We drew on the sharpest and most expert minds from NGOs, academia, business, Governments around the world, and all political parties in the UK. I take this opportunity to particularly thank colleagues across the House for their contributions in shaping this White Paper.

As the whole House knows, development has helped transform the lives of billions. The UK can be immensely proud of our distinct contribution to this incredible success story. Two centuries ago, three-quarters of the world lived in extreme poverty. When I was born, around half still did. By 2015, when the world met the millennium development goals, the proportion of a much larger global population had fallen to just 12%. Evidence shows that development works, but it also shows that we now need to rethink how we do development.

After decades of hard-won but persistent progress, we live in a world facing a daunting set of challenges: a world which is seeing rising poverty; a world where the UN sustainable development goals are nearly all off track for 2030; a world where faith in multilateral institutions is fading, despite co-operation being desperately needed; a world facing a climate crisis, growing conflict and the prospect of further pandemics; a contested world, where unity and solidarity are increasingly important, yet ever more difficult to achieve. This White Paper sets out a road map to 2030, charting the path the UK must take to galvanise global attention and lead by example in the fight to end extreme poverty, tackle climate change and address biodiversity loss.

When it comes to international development, finance matters. The Government have been clear on our intention to return to 0.7% of GNI when the fiscal circumstances permit, but the White Paper makes it clear that we will not achieve the SDGs through business-as-usual official development assistance funding. We need a quantum leap in financing and investing, which only the private sector can provide. The private sector is an essential engine of development, giving communities the building blocks for economic independence. Self-sufficiency is development’s essential purpose, and our work with the UK private sector delivers back for taxpayers many times over.

British International Investment, formerly known as CDC, is already a core part of the Government’s offer on international development. It has an impressive track record, and now will go further and faster, investing in the hardest places. As was suggested by the International Development Committee, BII aims to make more than half of its investments in the poorest and most fragile countries by 2030, while also enhancing its transparency, cementing its place as a world leader.

The White Paper presents our vision for much-needed reform of the international financial system, mobilising greater finance from the private sector and scaling up the lending capacity of the international financial institutions. The UK has already pioneered the use of climate-resilient debt clauses, enabling vulnerable countries to hold off on debt repayments following an extreme weather event. Together with Prime Minister Mia Mottley and other supporters of the Bridgetown initiative, we are driving reforms of the multilateral development banks so that they can scale up financing for low and middle-income countries. We will also work with institutional investors such as pension funds to plug the SDGs’ $3.9 trillion annual financing gap.

International development and climate action are inseparable. Climate change and nature loss are being felt everywhere, and their impact will only intensify over the next decade. It will be most acute in developing countries, reversing fragile development gains, increasing food prices and compounding insecurity and instability. To meet this challenge, we must mobilise more—and more reliable—finance. We will deliver on our pledge to provide £11.6 billion in international climate finance in the five years up to 2026. We will ensure a balance between adaptation and mitigation financing and provide at least £3 billion to protect and restore nature.

The UK’s work on women and girls is paramount. We cannot understand development unless we see it through the eyes of girls and women. Increasing access to education, empowering women and ending sexual violence are central to economic opportunity and growth. Those rights are universal and should be non-negotiable. The White Paper extends this work. We will use research and diplomacy to end the preventable deaths of mothers, babies and children. We will deploy policy and investment to defend and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Effective development is rooted in respectful partnerships of equals, but the Government will continue to stand up for our values. We know that individual rights, the rule of law and strong institutions are essential to achieving sustainable development. Take the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the UK’s leading champion of democracy globally. We are increasing our support for its work so that we can support fairer, more inclusive and more accountable democratic systems around the world.

We must also find better ways to anticipate and prevent humanitarian crises and the conflicts that often drive them. Conflict and instability are on the rise and hold back development: by 2030 up to two-thirds of the world’s poor will live in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Humanitarian needs are at their highest since 1945, with twice as many needing assistance compared with five years ago. The resulting devastation is spreading across affected regions, as seen at present in the Sahel and the Middle East. The tragic events in Israel and Gaza bring home the humanitarian costs of conflict and violence, with women and children most directly affected.

I am therefore pleased to announce today that we will create a fund dedicating up to 15% of our bilateral humanitarian spend to support resilience and adaptation alongside our delivery of humanitarian relief. When I visited families in east Africa suffering from the worst drought in 40 years, it was clear that the current focus on immediate relief comes at the cost of early thinking and engaging on building back better. This new fund will respond directly to that specific challenge.

Innovation is at the heart of our efforts to transform lives through sustainable growth. The wondrous creativity of science and technology can address problems that money alone will never solve. Only by sharing research and innovating together can we make the breakthroughs our world needs. The world has never been so intimately connected, nor our fates so closely entwined. While we can rightly be proud of all we have done to deliver international development, the UK and our global partners must redouble our efforts given the challenges that we face to achieve those goals.

We asked what the UK could do. We were told to make a new development offer based on mutual respect, powered by finance at scale, and supported by a more responsive international system. We have listened: this is what the White Paper will deliver”.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 3:01, 23 November 2023

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I also thank Minister Andrew Mitchell for his efforts in bringing knowledge and focus to this country’s historic role in international development. To be frank, we would not be in a position to consider a new White Paper were he not in post.

As my honourable friend Lisa Nandy said in the other place, not only do we need

“to have an honest conversation about where we are heading”, but we also

“need a frank assessment of where we have been”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/23; col.197.]

One of Labour’s lasting achievements was to forge a new political consensus around development. To their credit, David Cameron and George Osborne sustained that commitment, keeping Britain on the path to 0.7% that Labour had set this country on. However, under the direction of Rishi Sunak, this Government retreated from Britain’s commitments, cutting our development target from 0.7% to 0.5%, and stripped billions from vital aid programmes in that process. I have repeatedly said that it is not only the amount and size of those cuts but the speed of their implementation that caused so much damage to the people who most needed it, and to this country’s reputation. The Government then undermined delivery, overseeing a bungled merger between DfID and the Foreign Office, deprioritising development, sapping morale and pushing out expertise. As I said to Andrew Mitchell last night, much of the agenda in the White Paper will have our support; there are lots of good things in it. The question is whether he will have the support of his Prime Minister to implement it.

The White Paper mentions the importance of multilateralism, but the FCDO’s action does not reflect that rhetoric; multilateral aid is projected to fall to just 25% of aid spending by 2025. Andrew Mitchell said that

“We go with what works and what is best”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/23; col.199.]

Will the Minister tell us which of the funds is not working?

The White Paper is silent on protecting the overseas development assistance budget from raids from other departments, after 30% has been raided in the past year by the Home Office alone to pay for spiralling hotel bills and the cost of government chaos. Andrew Mitchell’s only defence for this in the other place was that

“every penny is spent within the rules laid down by the OECD Development Assistance Committee”.

He also mentioned the “ODA star chamber”, co-chaired by the Development Minister and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which he said has resulted in

“ratcheting up the quality of ODA”.—[Official Report, Commons, 21/11/23; col. 199.]

I hope the Minister can point to the evidence for this assertion, because that is not what is happening in the countries and continents where it is most needed. As I said, there is much to welcome in the White Paper, but access to finance for many of the most heavily indebted countries is ultimately unachievable. Andrew Mitchell appears to remain wedded to the existing ideas and strategies for debt restructuring options, despite acknowledging in the other place that we need to do “far more”.

The White Paper also refers to reform of the Security Council and specifically mentions permanent representation for Africa. Does the Minister agree that a broader review of the working methods of the Security Council, including looking at ways to amplify civil society voices, could also give the global south a greater voice?

As the Statement mentioned, and as my honourable friend Lisa Nandy pointed out, women and girls have been among the biggest losers from the decisions of recent decades. Empowering them is the biggest untapped driver of growth in the global economy, and there is no way of meeting the sustainable development goals without closing that gap. It should not be a few pages in a document; every single decision that comes across Andrew Mitchell’s desk must consider whether it does more to empower and enable women and girls to succeed, or less.

Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland)

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and the White Paper, which has the style and energy you would expect from Andrew Mitchell. During the 10 years I had the privilege to chair the International Development Committee, I worked closely and constructively with Andrew in opposition and in government. That said, reading the document, you would think that the UK had delivered a seamless and uninterrupted ascent as a leading aid donor from the creation of DfID, through the achievement of 0.7% development spending to the present. But, in reality, as the Opposition spokesman pointed out, our reputation in this field was trashed by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak when the ill thought-through merger of DfID and the FCO was pushed through and aid programmes were slashed.

The appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, as Foreign Secretary brings back together the team that, with quite a bit of help from the Liberal Democrats and those across the House, delivered 0.7% and raised the UK’s standing to global leadership in aid and development. The optimistic thrust of the White Paper gives some hope that there is a commitment to rebuild our reputation, but the loss of trust and influence will take years to recover.

At the time of the merger and the cuts, David Cameron said it would mean

“less respect for the UK overseas”, and he has been proved right. Andrew Mitchell said:

“It’s not right morally. It’s not right politically. It’s against the law”.

He had previously said that the Government will not

“balance the books on the backs of the poorest in the world”.—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/10; col. 1019.]

The UK’s books have not been balanced, but the world’s poor have paid a high price.

There are some things in the White Paper in respect of which I have to declare an interest and which I welcome. As a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Aid Match, I welcome the commitment to give more support to matching funds raised by NGOs. As a participant in the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, I welcome the offer of additional support for its important and valuable work. As the chair of the charity Water Unite, I am glad to see recognition of the role that private sector funding can play in the delivery of aid and development projects. Through an agreement with the Co-op and other retail partners, we benefit from a levy on the sale of bottled water and soft drinks to support local businesses in poor communities across the world in delivering sustainable water, sanitation and plastic recycling.

But, while private finance can unlock funds for development, and the role of the reformed BII can and does make a difference, it is surely not the answer. I fear the White Paper may be relying too heavily on new financial instruments to deliver for the poorest communities. More to the point, after the damage of the last few years, the UK’s convening power may not be what it was. Having Cameron and Mitchell at the helm may help, but I suggest that it will take more for other donors and, more importantly, development partners whose programmes were summarily scrapped or drastically cut, to trust that the UK is really back as a serious and reliable player.

What proportion and volume of humanitarian aid will go to poorer countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa? Reducing poverty eases the pressure on population growth, migration and the climate, so what proportion and volume of the budget will go to sustainable, pro-poor development programmes in the poorest communities? I welcome the commitment to support for women’s and girls’ education and sexual health, including access to contraception and safe abortion and ending FGM and child marriage. Can the Minister provide an assurance that these programmes will be restored and strengthened?

Finally, the White Paper acknowledges the huge challenges the world faces to get the sustainable development goals and development back on track. If the UK had not abandoned the 0.7%, our development budget would be £17.5 billion this year. Instead, it is around £10 billion, and a big chunk of that is being spent by the Home Office in the UK on barges, hotels and the failed Rwanda project. If the rhetoric of the White Paper is serious—and I accept that it is real rhetoric—and if the Government really want to recover leadership of the field, they should restore 0.7% now. Or will the Government still consider cutting inheritance tax a priority over the needs of the world’s poorest people? Credibility requires delivery. The White Paper is a start, but delivery needs to follow.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I welcome the welcome from the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Bruce, for the White Paper. As someone who has consistently served under my noble friend Lord Cameron both when he was Prime Minister and now dutifully as one of his deputies, I, among many others, welcome his return in the light of his stature, insights and experience. As both noble Lords have acknowledged, he was himself very committed to the issue before us. I also join in the recognition of the role played by my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell.

I share with noble Lords—I am sure I am not giving any secrets away—that one of the first things my noble friend Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, read upon his appointment was the White Paper, in order to ensure that it reflected some of his own thinking and perspectives. To the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, I say it is good and right that we embrace the experience we have across our party on this important priority.

Reference was made to what has happened under my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s watch. It was he who appointed both the Development Minister and my noble friend Lord Cameron to their roles. That shows his conviction regarding the importance of these issues. On development and the Statement, I have already alluded to certain elements. For example, on the question whether we restore the 0.7%—as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, alluded to and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, called for—I have never hidden my own belief that 0.7% was the right way forward for the programmes we were leading on. Notwithstanding the decision taken, as I have seen myself over the years, we still provide access and innovation in ensuring that we continue to support the world’s poorest across education and health outcomes.

The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, talked about our convening power. Let me give one example which I know a great deal about, as the Prime Minister’s Special Representative On Preventing Sexual Violence In Conflict. When I launched the International Alliance on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict in October, it was promising and heartening to see the number of countries and organisations that joined up very quickly. It was not just “west against the rest” or “north against the south”; other countries, including Jordan and the UAE, also joined.

I would also say that, as we look at innovation, which was an emphasis of the White Paper, we are looking at enhanced partnerships with some of our key partners across the world. We have been signing memorandums of understanding with, for example, partners in the Gulf, on supporting development outcomes on the ground. As my right honourable friend the Development Minister said in the other place, we must leverage private sector finance, which is going to be a crucial part of being able to deliver some of the SDG frameworks. All noble Lords who are seized of development know that, currently, only about 15% of the SDGs are on track. Yes, we must do more and we must do better.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked what the UK is doing to help heavily indebted countries. The White Paper sets out the continuous work of the UK Government to tackle unsustainable debt and make future debt more sustainable. It commits the UK to being a leading voice in the upcoming review of the World Bank and IMF debt sustainability framework for low-income countries. The Statement talked of the Bridgetown initiative, and making sure that the voices of vulnerable countries, whether they are impacted through poverty or directly by climate, are also heard. Again, I acknowledge the vital work being done among small and developing states. In practical terms, we have shown that, when it matters, the United Kingdom has stood by those countries being impacted. That is why, when the Covid pandemic struck, we looked at the issue of debt and at providing the kind of relief that was needed at that time.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, also talked about funds not working and evidence for the OECD assertion on ODA. Of course, there is a wide range of modelling and information, and we looked at funds in the multilateral system vis-à-vis the bilateral system. We want to ensure that every penny spent is spent in the best possible way. I fully accept that, when it comes to issues of conflict and conflict zones around the world, as we are seeing currently in the Middle East, in Gaza, we need to embrace and leverage the equities of each country but also understand that the multilateral system and the agencies that work on the ground—in this case, UNRWA—need to be fully supported and strengthened so that they can deliver their vital work. We deal directly, at point, both with the senior individuals within those organisations and, importantly, those within country.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins—I nearly called him my noble friend, but as we are inside the Chamber I will not—called for UN Security Council reform and talked about the role of civil society. I agree with him. He knows that, within the UN Security Council, the United Kingdom has been among the leading countries calling for civil society representatives, so that we can hear directly from people involved with initiatives on the ground. It is not just us; there are others across the Security Council who want to hear those voices and, practically, their solutions to some of the issues we are facing. I have sat at the UN Security Council and chaired the meetings, and I have heard that directly.

That is why the importance of women and girls cannot be overstated. Frankly, we must do more, collectively. There has been much achieved but, when you look around the world today, you see that there is an underrepresentation of women—their talent and expertise is still not being implemented. Within the UN framework, we have the Women Mediator Networks of different countries, but we are not deploying those effectively enough. As I have said before from the Dispatch Box, I have been speaking directly to Dame Barbara Woodward, our ambassador—and it is great to see that our last two ambassadors at the UN were women—about how we insert within UN Security Council resolutions aspects which embrace directly and leverage women’s expertise and insights. The evidence suggests that, by doing this, conflicts can be prevented or stopped and that any peace agreements reached will be more sustainable. If conflict is led by many of the issues within the White Paper, that is one reason why we should focus on that.

On the issue of access to finance, again I totally agree with both noble Lords. We need to make access to finance easier, but that also means giving technical support where necessary. For climate-vulnerable states such as Vanuatu or Tuvalu—Commonwealth partners—it is not just the money; they need to know how to work the structures and systems, and we need to assist in that respect.

The issue of the “star chamber” was raised. It is valid that we have the Development Minister looking at ODA funding. The noble Lord alluded to domestic spend, but, while being within the rules, that spend is trying to help some of the most vulnerable who have come to the UK. Of course it has an impact on some of our programmes, but it also demonstrates our commitment to ensuring that those who come to the UK for protection are given the opportunities they need to build new lives.

Although it will not resolve in an instant some of the challenges we are facing around the world, I am confident that the White Paper presents a real example of inclusive engagement. That is why I said in the Statement, as my right honourable friend did in the other place, that it demonstrates this Government’s inclusive approach. I have always said to those within your Lordships’ House and beyond that we must leverage the expertise of all, and I fully recognise the expertise in your Lordships’ House when it comes to issues of development. I was therefore delighted when my right honourable friend the Development Minister told me about the direct input from many noble Lords in putting forward this White Paper. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, it is a paper; it is now important that, working together, with all insights and expertise, we provide the hope and vision that is intended by the White Paper to help the most vulnerable around the world.

Photo of Baroness D'Souza Baroness D'Souza Crossbench 3:20, 23 November 2023

My Lords, I welcome very much the repeat of the Statement by the Minister. I return once again to the issue of educating girls in Afghanistan. Circumstances in Afghanistan at the moment require that we seek out unconventional methods of delivering education, and indeed unconventional partners. I wonder whether the Government would be able to commit to funding secret educational cluster classes, which are growing by the day in Afghanistan. At the moment, these exist as the only possible means in most parts of the country for girls above the age of 11 to receive an education which will enable them to go on to tertiary education in Afghanistan at a future date, we hope, or abroad.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I recognise the noble Baroness’s work in this area and I agree with her. The noble Baroness will know directly about my commitment, as the Minister responsible for the very objectives she has outlined. Notwithstanding the takeover by the Taliban, and even in advance of that when we had the Covid pandemic, the United Kingdom sustained important funding to teachers in Afghanistan, particularly those focused on girls’ education. We have also continued to work, albeit at times discreetly, to protect those agencies delivering girls’ education in certain regions of Afghanistan, through both funding and technical support. I agree with the noble Baroness about innovative ways of delivery. Ultimately, whether it is Afghanistan, the United Kingdom or any other country around the world, a country will succeed only when it harnesses the true potential of every one of its citizens. Ignoring 50% of the population is no way to achieve progress.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Independent Labour

My Lords, I welcome a great deal about this White Paper, but there have been massive cuts to the development aid to advance women’s sexual and reproductive rights, as far as their health is concerned, since the aid budget plummeted from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income. I note that the White Paper is going extend work in this area, and the Minister has said a little about that. Can he say how and where this is going to happen, and how much extra funding is going to be available? Can he also say whether it is going to cover safe abortion, which he did not mention? Does the Minister think that funding from the private sector, which he and the White Paper emphasised, is going to provide any resources for this area?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

On all the questions that the noble Baroness raises, what we have first of all done in terms of framework, without going into the specifics of country, is that for all posts and departments within the FCDO, the commitment is that UK ODA will ensure the delivery of 80% commitment by considering women and girls in every element of their different programmes. The Foreign Secretary recently wrote to heads of mission on this specific point to ensure that submissions that are put back to the centre on business plans reflect that every post is committed to that particular element.

The noble Baroness also talked about sexual and reproductive health within our women and girls strategy. That is a specific objective and priority, and is a key component, again, within my work on preventing sexual violence in conflict. I can give the assurance that we have instructed and have been looking at programmes with that framework. As for some of the programmes in specific countries, if the noble Baroness has particular countries she wants to follow up on, I will of course highlight where we are able to work in these areas.

I would go as far as to say that there has been, at times, regression in this area of women and girls’ rights all over the globe, including sometimes among people you would expect more from. Part of our job is not just to speak about it but to deliver some of these outcomes. Let us not forget also that some of these outcomes about safe abortion also have great barriers nationally, so we must find the right delivery partners to ensure that women who want to make choices of their own are able to do so in a safe environment. That is why it is important that we identify local partners who can deliver these outcomes, supported by UK financing and support.

Photo of Lord Herbert of South Downs Lord Herbert of South Downs Conservative

My Lords, I draw attention to my roles as chair of the Global TB Caucus, the Global Equality Caucus and the Prime Minister’s special envoy on LGBT Rights—all, I should say, unpaid. I very much welcome this White Paper and agree with those who have commended the work of my friend and colleague, Andrew Mitchell, in this area. I think it is an excellent White Paper.

The White Paper notes that progress on human rights around the world is now at risk, and that is certainly the case in relation to LGBT+ rights. Therefore, I welcome the Government’s announcement yesterday of a new £40 million programme over five years to support LGBT organisations. That will make a real difference to human rights defenders on the ground.

The White Paper also notes that the sustainable development goals are almost all off track. That applies also to tuberculosis. Sustainable development goal 3.3 says that TB, along with other major diseases, will be beaten in just six years’ time. At the current rate of progress, tuberculosis will be beaten in 100 years’ time. It is now, once again, the world’s deadliest infectious disease, which kills 1.5 million people a year. Some three out of five people with drug-resistant TB are still not being reached. Will the Government continue in their important work to beat this terrible disease, which is quite unnecessarily claiming so many lives?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I first acknowledge and thank my noble friend for his important work in this area. He mentioned the term “unpaid”; well, what more can I say?

My noble friend is also quite right to draw attention—I alluded to this in my response to the previous question—to the regressive nature of some of the challenges we are facing on the world stage, including in multilateral bodies. As the UK Minister for Human Rights, I can say that we have seen that taking place across the piece, whether on issues of women and girls, LGBT rights or access to fundamental services. It is therefore right that a country such as the United Kingdom, with other key countries, continues not only to advocate but to strengthen our resolve and support. Therefore, I am glad that my noble friend has also highlighted the new commitment we have made on the issue of supporting the LGBT community. I also recognise that, at times, that community comes under particular threat and challenge in different parts of the world, and that is why I feel that diplomacy and development—their joining together was alluded to, but I am not going to reflect on experience—are two arms that need to work very much together. Sometimes, it is the discreet diplomacy on quite sensitive issues, particularly across the human rights element, that allows us to unlock some support and indeed progress in these particular areas.

I assure my noble friend that we will remain very much committed on the issue of tuberculosis, which he mentioned, as well as malaria. We have world-class research, and we are working with key partners such as India, as I said at the Dispatch Box. We are delivering some of the essential vaccines which are needed, so that we do not see those diseases that used to spread as a plague on many parts of the world returning again. That needs resilience as well as ensuring support and innovation in research. The United Kingdom remains very much committed in that respect.

Photo of The Bishop of Sheffield The Bishop of Sheffield Bishop

My Lords, those of us on these Benches also welcome the Statement and the renewal of the UK’s commitment to sustainable development set out in the White Paper. In particular, we welcome the proposal to permit pauses in scheduled debt repayments in situations of crisis due to conflict or extreme weather events. However, will the Government acknowledge that piecemeal pauses to debt repayments are bound to prove insufficient to enable the progress now urgently needed if we are to achieve the SDGs by 2030? Is not something more comprehensive now needed?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The right reverend Prelate is right. Quite often, the way out of a particular current crisis for countries in the developing world is further excess debt. Sometimes the leverage for that debt is eyewatering in terms of the indebtedness over the length of time. That is why, when working on initiatives such as the Bridgetown initiative and on reforms with the multilateral development banks, we need to look at both the current situation as it is and the medium and long term. As we look at innovative ways of financing, including leveraging the private sector, we must ensure that we do so for a debt that is sustainable and ultimately payable. That is also why I mentioned BII—the innovation of what was the CDC—and seeing how we can leverage private finance for long-term debt servicing in a way that is achievable and sustainable for the country in question.

Photo of Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Labour

My Lords, I understand and welcome the White Paper, and I am very grateful to the Minister for continuing his enthusiasm for development. He will not be surprised that I will raise the issue of volunteering. We have lost so much ground by not having an effective volunteering programme that could be used as widely as it needs to be in the last few years, particularly having lost the youth international volunteering programme, so I welcome that the Government are now committed to doing one again. Does the Minister realise that the new volunteering programme now has to work with volunteers from the host countries? One of the joys of continuing to watch what VSO is doing in straitened circumstances with partners such as the AU is seeing the number of national volunteers working on precisely the programmes that the Government say are their priorities, including women and girls, and building resilience in local communities to climate change. This is urgent, and I hope that, within the next two weeks—before we come to International Volunteer Day on 5 December—the Government can be clear about what we will do, and how much money we will work with, to build up that sort of volunteer programme in those countries that need huge numbers of young people to develop skills and leadership in the future?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to harness the true potential, power, experience and insight of volunteers. Quite often, when we are dealing with humanitarian situations on the ground—and I am sure noble Lords across the House will join me in paying tribute on this—we need those people who bring their expertise, whether that is of educational or medical outcomes or of dealing with human-led or natural disasters, in a way that provides some degree of hope. I note what the noble Baroness said particularly about harnessing youth talents; if nothing else, they bring greater energy and are probably speedier on their feet than many of us in your Lordships’ House. But, equally, that youth energy needs to be delivered by investing in countries, and that is why I am pleased, for example, about the support that we will be providing in Africa—the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, also alluded to this. We are already doubling our ODA in Africa, and that provides a huge opportunity to work with people there. That is going, I think, from £646 million-odd to over £1.3 billion on spend, including on vulnerable states such as the DRC and Ethiopia, where I have seen directly, through engagement with the youth, the importance of harnessing that talent.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, I hope the Minister will receive very warm commendation for Andrew Mitchell for his work in producing a much better focus, and a much better sense of overall policy-making in this area. He will from me, certainly. Having said that, the reality still is that it is a sadly diminished aid effort that we are making because of the cut from 0.7% to 0.5%. First, the Minister defended the diversion of large amounts of our aid budget to the Home Office to pay for Ukrainian refugees. Is the FCDO rigorously disciplining that so that the one-year cut-off, which is permissible, is applied strictly, so that this robbing of very poor Peters to pay Paul will go down to zero?

Secondly, I mention my pleasure at seeing a reference to remittances and to the Government’s desire to clamp down on the appalling rip-offs that occurs in them, with 35% being taken off by some of the operators. My heart lifted, because this House actually recommended this action five years ago in a report on sub-Saharan Africa, and absolutely nothing has been done since then. Alas, when I looked at the paper to see what was going to be done now, there were just generalities, frankly, with no specifics. Surely we have national means of clamping down on this practice through our competition policy. If firms are getting 35% of remittances, they are doing so by monopoly practices. Could the Minister say something about how we are going to deal with this in specifics?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

First, as my right honourable friend said in the other place about the spend in support of those who are seeking security in the UK, I repeat that we will work—and have done so—within the rules, but I recognise that the rules are quite specific on how that spend should operate domestically. The robustness of our approach is perhaps underlined by my right honourable friend himself, with one of the leading Treasury Ministers, overseeing the Star Chamber, as it has been termed, on issues of development.

I agree with the noble Lord’s second point, about remittances. I very much agree with the outcomes of that report on Western Sahara. It is an appalling state of affairs, where remittances provide important lifelines for many communities in different parts of the world, particularly vulnerable communities. The fact that over one-third is taken by operatives needs to be looked at. Yes, there are generalities in the White Paper and the specifics need to be looked at. I will take on board the noble Lord’s suggestion and perhaps talk to my Treasury colleagues to see what measures can be taken, because ultimately one would love for 100% to go back—I fear that commissions will not allow for that—but 35%, well over one-third, is frankly not acceptable.

Photo of Lord Boateng Lord Boateng Labour

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, a not-for-profit public/private partnership for that area of development. No one doubts that the Minister’s heart is in this document, or that Andrew Mitchell’s heart is in it too. What is clearly lacking is the specifics, the resources and a recognition that if we are to put girls’ education at the heart of international development, girls need safe toilets in schools. If they are to attend school, girls require to know that, when they are having their periods, there is somewhere where they can go and get the benefits of decent and safe sanitation. The only reference I can find to sanitation in this document relates to avoiding public spending on sanitation. There is no way that the private sector will be able to deliver safe toilets to girls in schools. Will the Minister at least commit to meeting with WSUP and other organisations in the sector to see how we can have some practical policies again to create safe, decent toilets for girls in schools?

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The short answer to the noble Lord is yes, of course. Part of the intention of the White Paper is to lay out the thinking—the heart, as he alluded to. With the heart, however, comes both the soul and the mind. We want to be focused. The reality of the financing, according to our estimates, is something in the region of $98 billion—the stock of private institutional capital, which could also be leveraged in this respect. This is not about leaving the private sector to deliver; it is about government frameworks leveraging the financing that we have through ODA and working with the private sector to deliver the priorities not only in the White Paper but in our international development strategy, which is very much focused on girls and the issue of safe spaces for them. Frankly, speaking as a father of a daughter, you know what? I get it.