Bishop of St Albans stresses importance of supporting international development

The Bishop of St Albans spoke in a debate on international development on 16th December 2021, highlighting the benefits of supporting this development, especially regarding fair trade, education, democracy and the rule of law:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for obtaining this really important debate and for his passionate and informed introduction, which set the scene so well for us.

The omicron variant is a powerful and topical reminder that there is only one world and only one human race. There are people around who want to make out the case that our concern for international development is an additional cost, something added on the side. Actually, when we truly grasp what it is about, it is a real win-win for us. Apart from it being morally right, it will make economic sense for us as well as helping us address many issues. For example, helping other countries to flourish and thrive will increase their health systems, address things such as the pandemic we currently face and even begin to address some of the issues of economic migrants, so it is vital for us.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, rightly pointed out that the endgame is to try to end poverty and move beyond it. That is right, but how are we going to do it? First, the immediate pressing issue is addressing the pandemic. Some might say that we are talking about a long-term strategy. Students of pandemics tell us that it typically takes five, six or seven years as a disease works its way through populations, and we are not even in year three yet—we have not even completed two years. This is going to be going on for some while, so it is vital that we address this issue. That touches on a number of the issues that people have already raised, such as doing what we can to help provide vaccines, trying to licence vaccine production in other countries and indeed, as we were talking about earlier this week, overcoming vaccine hesitancy. I will not say any more about that but we in the Anglican Communion are seeking to work with our overseas links, providing teaching materials in local languages, led by local community leaders, to try to overcome vaccine hesitancy.

In the longer term we need to invest in democracy and the rule of law. Many of the problems that we face, which the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Balfe, have mentioned, have come about because of conflict and poverty and because there is no investment whereby people are committed to making their own country thrive and flourish. As the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, pointed out, sometimes this is because of endemic corruption. So, in the long run these things are vital to any strategy we have for leading the world by example. It is vital that we continue to stump up and provide observers at elections, and that we seek to work for the international rule of law.

Equally important is the issue of fair trade. If countries can develop their economies they will be able to provide for their own people, which would address a whole range of the issues that now confront us. The establishment of fair trade, the democratic imperative and the rule of law relate deeply to some of the other issues that a number of noble Lords have mentioned today. For example, in a world of fake news where people are simply being misled, the BBC World Service is vital. Personally, I am sorry that we seem to have lost so many of our libraries in some parts of the country. Certainly, when I was travelling in the 1980s and 1990s around remote parts of Africa, you would find people travelling in in order to read the British press. Nowadays the equivalent would be to get on the internet. These are things that make a tangible difference to our future.

Equally important is education. One of the things that this new global Britain can compete in is education. I find it extraordinary that we seem to be making it more difficult for people to come here; that ought to be one of our major engagements. Not only are we able to train people, and it is a win-win when they come here, but many of them then go back to their own countries and they will be the key people—the doctors, the politicians—making a real difference in their own communities. Any international development strategy ought to look holistically at how we develop some of the things we are brilliant at, and which we ought to be celebrating and building on. We are not going to be able to compete in many aspects of manufacturing, because they are costly, but we can contribute hugely to education, not least by training more doctors, for example, so that other countries can deal with the terrible pandemic that is ahead of us. I also echo what the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, said a few moments ago about cuts to the FCDO and the lack of investment in languages; at this time, we need to invest in these things.

Those are some of the issues that we need to navigate through the Covid pandemic if we are to develop our historic role in the world and play our part in building a stronger, calmer, more just and more peaceful world.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for securing this debate. I start from the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans: that no one is safe until everyone is safe, as has been so acutely brought home by Covid. To be more specific, current science suggests that the omicron variant probably arose in someone who was immunocompromised and untreated for HIV. That demonstrates how the world’s healthcare systems are crucial to the health of us all.

Even more broadly, no one is secure—we cannot be secure—until everyone in the world is. Our failed foreign policies, our role as one of the chief arms peddlers in the world and our refusal to accept the rightful desire of self-determination from peoples around the world has put the world, and us, in the position it is in today. I particularly commend the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sikka. We have to stop being the world’s chief enabler of corruption. This is a neocolonial continuation of the colonial exploitation that made so much of the world so poor.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con, FCDO): Reflecting our integrated review, published in March, the strategy will respond to the trends shaping today’s international geopolitical context. I am keen to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that this includes China’s increasing assertiveness and the critical importance of the Indo-Pacific region. It also includes the ideological competition between freedom-loving democracies and autocratic regimes. It encompasses transnational challenges, such as Covid-19, climate change and environmental degradation, which deeply affect vulnerable and developing countries and require global combined action.

Many of these trends are felt more acutely in developing countries. The drivers of poverty and instability—such as institutional fragility, conflict and climate change—are increasingly complex and interconnected. Indeed, these issues often have the most devastating impact on the most vulnerable, while threatening global stability and prosperity for everyone.

Against this backdrop, the integrated review makes it clear that the UK will remain a major development player. With this strategy we will work to reduce poverty, tackle climate change and address humanitarian crises, while bringing more countries into the orbit of democratic, free-enterprise economies. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and a number of other speakers pointed out, this is not an add-on to the rest of the business of government or a box-ticking exercise; this is absolutely critical. The work of the FCDO on development is fundamentally right but also fundamentally in our own interests. One only need consider climate change, which is clearly the defining international challenge of our lifetimes.


As the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, my noble friend Lady Sugg and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans have all pointed out, education is likely the single smartest investment we can make if we want to fight poverty, address climate change and save lives. We will absolutely continue to help countries to invest in strong education systems. At the same time, I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that we are not deprioritising in any way the inclusion agenda, particularly for older people, which she mentioned.

We will continue our world-leading work to empower women and eradicate violence against them. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, I say that we will support sexual and reproductive health rights and work to end the barbaric practice of female genital mutilation.

In addition to our focus on women and girls, we are committed to promoting open and inclusive societies which respect human rights by tackling discrimination, with a particular focus on disability and LGBT rights, and breaking down the barriers to achieving equality and opportunity for all.

I agree with the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans about the value of encouraging foreign students to come and learn here in the UK, for all the reasons he said, not least that those students are likely to return to wherever they come from in the world with a natural friendship with this country and bridges on which we will be able to continue to form partnerships.

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