Climate Change: Impact on Developing Nations

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Thursday 11th January 2024

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome this debate. I am an outlier because I am a pensioner of what was CDC and is now BII. Indeed, I was its chief executive about half way through its history. It is still there, and it is still doing development.

I hope for two things really. The first is that it will be accepted that, in CDC, we always thought of what we were doing from the point of view of the country where we were doing it. We never did it with the western agenda in our minds. Secondly, I hope that the pessimism, the difficulty and the incredible challenge of the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, does not make us all so uncertain and depressed that in the end we stop trying to do anything. That is a bit extreme but it is a serious danger: if you do not keep trying, you stop doing things altogether.

There are 17 Commonwealth members in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 of them are in the bottom quartile of per capita incomes of the world’s countries. When we work in those countries, do we think about climate change first? I think the answer is: what do they think about first? I suspect that they think that climate change is just another aspect of the problems that they have, which are dominated by food security, so it is just a bit more of the same and not necessarily because there is so much uncertainty about the effects of climate change. People have to think more carefully about some of the certainties they are trying to express. We simply do not know why, perhaps, the yields of maize from the small farmers of Rwanda will start to drop. There is so much that we do not know about it.

I would like to refer quickly to BII, which is doing some very interesting things in relation to the prosperity of small farmers. It has made more than one investment in a Kenyan-based business which builds solar plants to drive pumps to irrigate. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, made a reference to rain-fed agriculture. Of course, we all know that if you can move from rain-fed in a place where there is enough groundwater available and irrigate, your yields will increase dramatically—not just by a little but, in east Africa, dramatically.

In addition, BII is investing in a 50 megawatt, sun-driven power station and distribution system in Sierra Leone—which is not an easy place. That is a very positive move. It has also formed a subsidiary which has just agreed with the Government of Burundi to do something similar. Burundi is the bottom country on the world list—so some things are being done. In addition, right from the beginning of CDC, power has always been on its agenda. Forestry has always been on it, too, and BII is doing some very interesting work on agroforestry. Smallholder farming has always been on the agenda.

I want to move very briefly to Kew, because there we are missing a trick. Kew does a great deal of very valuable work, collecting and distributing information. It is looking into all sorts of possibilities—the power of wild relatives to improve plants, and so on—but it does not do much after collecting and distributing that information. Does my noble friend see Kew joining in the development programme, as opposed to being simply a scientific institution that says, “If you want the information, please apply for it”?

Nigeria: Killing of Church Worshippers

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Monday 6th June 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

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Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My Lords, if there were a silver bullet, we would be investing in it and supporting it. I would not completely discount the value of hearing very strong condemnation from religious leaders, particularly where those leaders come from a wide spectrum of different religions. But, in terms of what the UK can do, it will require us to continue to do what we have been doing, which is work very closely with our partners in Nigeria to ensure that they have the capability to track down and ensure that those people who are either tempted to take part or who have taken part in the kinds of atrocities that we are talking about today are brought to justice. That requires a particular emphasis on governance in a country that is notoriously corrupt.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend think that there could be a Commonwealth initiative? Nigeria is a member, as is Cameroon next door; they have a lot of similar problems. Co-operation within the Commonwealth might prove a way forward.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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My noble friend makes a very good point. We of course have a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of State coming up in Kigali, Rwanda, very soon. I believe that the Prime Minister will be attending—sadly, I will not, but other Ministers will. Security will be a major theme, alongside many of the other issues that we have talked about, at the Commonwealth meeting.

Queen’s Speech

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Wednesday 18th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

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Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
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My Lords, I want to make a short expedition into the Commonwealth, not much mentioned in these debates, and in particular into three of its late joiners, all of them sub-Saharan nations. That connects me with the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, because a lot of those important minerals are to be found in sub-Saharan Africa.

I sometimes wonder how serious the Government’s interest in sub-Saharan Africa is. When DfID was brought back under the Foreign Office, I thought that we might hear some quite exciting new ideas about how to proceed, but I fear that the recent announcement, which is pretty opaque, does not make the blood run. As an old employee of CDC, I much regret the throwing of an excellent brand name into the wastepaper basket for an anonymous kind of name, which misrepresents what CDC has always done. It invested not in British interests but primarily in the interests of the country where it was working, and it always tried to make that investment work in such a way that it became locally owned as soon as possible.

In sub-Saharan Africa, on the three late entrants that I would like to talk about briefly—Rwanda, Cameroon and Mozambique—the challenges are very complicated. If there was ever a place looking for some form of levelling up, it must be those three countries. They are all poor, they all need economic development and, particularly Cameroon and Mozambique, they have a lot of violence going on within their borders. They all need institutions that can deal with the problems that arise in a nation state, and none of them has reached a level of income and public expenditure to enable it to create those institutions.

Rwanda has a population of 13 million, with a tangled German and Belgian colonial background. It is living on subsistence agriculture, with a median age of 20 and a GDP about equal to that of Brighton and Hove. Cameroon became a member of the Commonwealth in 1995, also with a tangled German, French and English background. The French/English background has not worked; there is a stand-off between the culture and languages of France and England. There is a secessionist movement, which will not work, and there are all sorts of problems. However, like Rwanda, it is a member of the Commonwealth.

Mozambique also became a member in 1995. It has a Portuguese background, and 20% of the population speak Portuguese, which is the official language of Mozambique. However, Portuguese colonialism was very much centred on the coast, and the rest of Mozambique has 20 indigenous languages. The problems in the north, in Cabo Delgado, where there is an Islamic majority, are extremely severe.

My plea is to ask the Government whether they intend to have declared policies towards these three members of the Commonwealth which we can understand, or do they think that things are really too difficult and that the British public are not sufficiently interested for the Government to become interested themselves?

Autocrats, Kleptocrats and Populists

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Thursday 3rd February 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
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In following the noble Lord, I very much agree with him that we should refer ourselves back to the creation of the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and the other institutions. Indeed, the Motion refers to co-ordination, which is a very important point.

I move on to sub-Saharan Africa, where there is a quarter of the world’s poorest countries. It seems a very good example of the struggles to arrive at a proper understanding of the norms and values of democracy. It has been said, and I think it is right, that the best thing about democracy is that it enables you to change your Government without violence. In sub-Saharan Africa, that is by no means universally the case. Another thing that one could say is that some countries that have been mentioned today, including our own, have arrived at an understanding of the norms and values of democracy and are now being accused of backsliding—what you might call the Capitol syndrome. But many other countries have never got there. It is important that we think differently about the countries that have never got to the point where they had regimes that respected the norms and values of democracy.

When one thinks about sub-Saharan Africa, one is looking for something positive—that is to say, what are we going to do about it? Do we have any responsibility to do anything? If so, what will we do? Of course, that takes one back to the international organisations. In reading about the World Bank’s operations in sub-Saharan Africa, I get the impression that it is rather tired. It is not the World Bank I remember from 20 or 30 years ago.

The positives we need to find are headed by economic development. We know that if you want to have a reasonable regime, it is important to be able to collect some taxes and to have some public expenditure. If your economy simply does not support that approach, you are not very far along the road to having an acceptable regime. In thinking about acceptable regimes, it is risky to assume that the default position is our understanding of democracy. All the evidence shows that this is not the case and that there may be many other ways in which people will continue to think about their politics and their regime that do not conform to our understanding of the norms and values of democracy. We have to approach all this rather cautiously.

I want to cite two examples in sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi and Cameroon. They were both brought under German colonial control in 1884. At the end of the First World War, they were both taken away from Germany and, by a co-ordinated effort of the League of Nations, one became Belgian and one a mixture of French and English. We now have virtually no relationship with Burundi, but we have a sanctions regime. It seems to me that to apply a sanctions regime to Burundi, which is similar to that we might apply to Russia, does not make any sense. I think the British Government have forgotten Burundi. On Cameroon, I have just one last sentence: there is conflict there, again created to quite a large extent by the League of Nations decision after the First World War and by independence and what happened in 1971. I think our Government’s reaction is that Cameroon is too complicated for us to have an opinion about what should be done there. After Brexit, we now need some opinions about what needs to be done in sub-Saharan Africa.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, the speaking time for Back-Benchers is five minutes. If we go over that, we will cut into the time that the Minister has to respond, so can we please keep an eye on the clock?

International Development Strategy

Viscount Eccles Excerpts
Thursday 16th December 2021

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
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My Lords, it is quite a challenge to follow the noble Lord, Lord Desai. He used to sit opposite me, but now he is in the middle.

I come out of the CDC stable, which has been variously known as the Colonial Development Corporation and the Commonwealth Development Corporation, and now is known as the CDC Group. It used to be funded, in my day, by loan capital, on which we paid interest before we repaid the loans; we even paid corporation tax. The CDC Group is a limited liability company owned by us and controlled by the FCDO. It does not pay its shareholders any dividends, does not have to pay for loan capital, and it does not pay corporation tax. So one thing you can say about the strategy that has been followed is that life is a good deal easier than it was in my day.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, for inviting us to think about strategy, which is a long-term business. I follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on the matter of conflict resolution in the document that we are all looking forward to as a strategic document. I hope that it will not duck some of the hard questions about conflict resolution. I shall raise only one. On the Commonwealth member Cameroon, is there going to be some hard information in this strategy about our contribution to resolving the quite unnecessary conflicts there?

In thinking about long-term strategy, another thing that should not be ducked, which is of course related to all the points that have been made about women’s education and life chances in this debate, is population. It is a very difficult subject. The birth rate in western Europe is now around 1.5 babies per fertile woman; in sub-Saharan Africa, it is about 4.5 babies—actually 4.7, I think—which is three times as many. Whereas the population of western Europe is now not estimated to grow very much more, the population in sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to double by 2050. All I want to say about that is that, in any strategic document, it is an amazing challenge: what are we actually going to do about it as a practical matter?

There are some signs—and I, like the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, am basically an optimist. The world’s peak population was predicted to get to 13 billion some 20 years ago, when predictions were being made. I think that we all agree that the world’s population is putting too much pressure on Mother Nature, hence the way that climate change and biodiversity loss have gone up the agenda. It seems to me that any strategic document cannot duck the issue of man’s pressure on Mother Nature. It must be in some way dealt with, or at least commented on. Silence will not do.

Now the world’s peak population is predicted to be about 9.8 billion, and then to go down a bit, so the world’s fertility rates are falling—and they are falling even in sub-Saharan Africa. The question is whether we welcome that. In the Times newspaper this morning there was an article about Italy that said it had its lowest recorded fertility rate for a very long time. The question is whether Italy should welcome that, or whether it should be in despair because it is not going to have enough young people to support old people like me. These are difficult decisions.

Finally, I welcome some of the things our new Foreign Secretary has done in preparation for this strategy. CDC, which is going to change its name, will be empowered to go back to work in many small and medium-income countries in which we have worked for most of our 73 years: the Caribbean, Papua New Guinea and so on. In small and medium countries—Malawi, for example —the economic opportunities are not very great, but unless you can develop the private sector those economies will not prosper, and CDC is an extremely good vehicle to achieve that development.