Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:14 pm on 5 March 2024.

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Photo of Lord Bruce of Bennachie Lord Bruce of Bennachie Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Scotland) 6:14, 5 March 2024

My Lords, last week I met a Minister from Ukraine, who told us that North Korea had last month supplied Russia with a million shells while Ukraine had received just a few thousand from its allies. She was displaced from Crimea and wondered whether her young child would grow up in a free Ukraine. She was determined to restore Ukraine’s damaged infrastructure and build resilience, but she wanted to know how we were going to help.

The free world—even Europe by itself—has the capacity to outproduce Russia several times over, yet what are we doing to achieve that? What are the British Government doing to step up our production capacity, and encourage allies to do the same, to meet Ukraine’s immediate needs? At the same time, recent information suggests that components from UK and EU defence equipment are getting to Russia through third countries. What are we doing to stop that happening?

Given the global nature of conflicts today, countries in the global South are assessing the likely outcome and wondering where their interests may lie. I very much appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, about Russia’s intervention in Africa. Both Russia and China are actively trying to isolate the free world from Africa. Recent reports reveal that, with the demise of Wagner, the group has been reinvested in the Russian Expeditionary Corps—an agency of the Russian state backed by billions of dollars.

Undemocratic, authoritarian Governments are being offered support to suppress challenges to their power in exchange for mineral rights—in other words, power to suppress democracy. Countries identified include the Central African Republic, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, as well as Libya, north of the Sahara. The group is also active in several other countries, and Russia is increasing its influence in South Africa. This strengthens pro-Kremlin support at the UN and extends authoritarian rule and the suppression of democracy. What steps are the UK Government taking to counter this advance and, in particular, to support democracy and poverty reduction-focused development?

Cuts in UK aid to Africa, the DfID/FCO merger and the diversion of funds to the fallout from Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine mean that the UK has lost influence and trust right across the continent. UK aid to Africa has fallen year on year from a peak of £2,989 million in 2019 to £1,240 million in 2022. That dramatic cut means programmes cancelled, expert aid deliverers sacked, development partners in poor countries left bereft, poverty increased and lives lost. Until this policy switch, we had built up a reputation as reliable partners, in it for the long term, building up relationships and underpinning resilience—all that has been trashed. When I asked him last month about aid in Africa, the Foreign Secretary said that it was being increased, but, as I have just indicated, the increase will not cover a fraction of what has already been lost—and we have to rebuild trust and delivery as well.

It is only too easy for Russia and China to play on the evils of colonialism while offering a modern colonialism of their own. If we are to tackle the challenge of poverty in Africa to realise the continent’s potential for its people, it will be by working with local partners, in the public and private sectors, with sustained, long-term commitment. We have to rebuild trust to know that that is forthcoming. Development possibilities depend on aid, trading and public investment, often building from the grass roots, in countries where the economies depend on millions of small businesses. We need coherent, long-term strategy. I have to challenge the Government and ask whether that is even possible given their record.

More than 500 million people are living in absolute poverty in Africa, yet this is a continent rich in resource and potential. The UK should engage in the exemplary way that it has in the past, not to exploit but to help the people of Africa, especially in countries where there is a legacy of mutual good will, and where Russia and China have not yet got their teeth in quite as deep as they have in other countries, so that those countries can build their own futures of peace and prosperity. This is surely a challenge and a worthy ambition for the UK. What are we doing to achieve it?