Baroness Nye debates involving the Department for International Development during the 2019 Parliament

Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit

Baroness Nye Excerpts
Tuesday 28th January 2020

(4 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Nye Portrait Baroness Nye (Lab)
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My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Collins for instigating this debate and for the invaluable work he and others are doing in the APPG. He and other speakers have made very important points in this debate and I fear that the Minister should prepare herself to hear us all singing from the same hymn sheet—perhaps she will be minded to join in. I am also grateful to Results for its excellent briefing and for the work it is doing in the coalition.

The juxtaposition in Japan of the Nutrition for Growth summit and the beginning of the Olympic Games can have escaped no one. On display in Japan will be thousands of the elite of the elite—Olympians who spend their lives working on strict nutritional regimes to ensure that they are in peak fitness. But these Games will take place when the world will be discussing truly appalling figures of malnutrition and obesity and when the effects of climate change are becoming ever more visible.

One in three children globally suffers from one or more forms of the triple burden of malnutrition, undernutrition and obesity. The effects on children under five will be a defining factor of how they live the rest of their lives. Not only will their health suffer but the effects on their future earning potential will be reduced, with consequences for themselves as well as the societies they live in. Income and wealth inequalities are closely associated with undernutrition, with more complex patterns associated with obesity.

I pay tribute to the work of DfID and the British Government, alongside Japan and Brazil, in appreciating the scale of the problem and mobilising support in 2013 from other countries to pledge money and action to deal with this issue. I am sure that the Minister shares this view, but it would be disastrous if DfID were absorbed into the Foreign Office or if there were not a dedicated Secretary of State sitting at the Cabinet table making the case for the important development role that Britain should play across the globe. DfID was created in 1997 by the incoming Labour Government to give a voice to the voiceless at the highest level, and that is as relevant today as it was then.

The goal of eliminating malnutrition is not something one country—however good its programmes are—can solve in isolation. The money pledged at the 2013 conferences, as has been said, runs out at the end of the year and the concern of this House is that no further DfID money is currently earmarked for nutrition; momentum needs to be maintained if the goal of ending malnutrition in all its forms by 2030 is to be achieved. As noble Lords have said, nutrition underpins all the sustainable development goals, but the challenge is getting greater, with climate change impacting on world food production in vulnerable areas, especially in countries classified as drought-sensitive.

This highlights, as noble Lords have already said, how breastfeeding is crucial during the incredibly important first thousand days of a child’s life. It is one of the most cost-effective interventions for improving the health and survival of children. However, experience from NGOs such as Save the Children shows that during an emergency—such as El Niño—breastfeeding decreases at exactly the same time it is most needed. This can be due to factors such as inadequate food for the mother, lack of clean water or the sheer stress of the situation. Would the Minister take this opportunity, as other noble Lords have asked, to update the House on the steps the Government are taking to promote the uptake of exclusive breastfeeding?

It is also in emergencies that the promotion or donation of breast-milk substitutes can have a negative effect on breastfeeding rates. This is why it is so vital that nutrition objectives and sensitivity are included in all DfID programmes and investments. The code of marketing of breast-milk substitutes has had some success here in the UK. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has ceased to receive funding from BMS manufacturers, and the British Medical Journal no longer carries adverts from such companies. But bold action is required to eliminate all conflicts of interest and enforce the code. More work needs to be done to promote and support breastfeeding practices through DfID investments and to ensure that the code is enshrined in a greater number of countries. I would therefore be grateful if the Minister could say what steps the Government are taking with other donors and Governments to ensure better enforcement of the code. Perhaps she might also say whether breaches of the code still occur within the commissioning groups of the NHS.

There will be many reasons for Ministers and others to visit Japan in this Olympic year to support Team GB. However, I hope that we will send our strongest delegation to the July springboard Goalkeepers event to give a lead to other countries by pledging early support and, I hope, the £800 million a year as called for by the international coalition. We need to work with national Governments to develop, lead and finance national plans for nutrition. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view on those points. While we will, quite rightly, fly the flag for Team GB, we should also fly the flag for the incredibly important role the British Government and DfID can play in moving the dial on achieving the SDG goal on nutrition, without which the other goals will never be achieved.