1. UK-EU meetings

Lord Young of Cookham (Conservative) to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Affairs when he will next meet the president of the European Commission.

1.1 Summary

Ursula von der Leyen has been president of the European Commission since 2019. The European Commission “helps to shape the EU’s overall strategy, proposes new EU laws and policies, monitors their implementation and manages the EU budget”.[1] It also “plays a significant role in supporting international development and delivering aid”. As president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen sets its policy agenda and represents the commission in European Council meetings, at G7 and G20 summits and at summits with non-EU countries.[2] Prior to becoming president, von der Leyen held several ministerial positions in the German government, most recently federal minister of defence between 2013 and 2019.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen held a call on 18 February 2024.[3] They discussed a range of subjects including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the situation in Israel and Gaza, and Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

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2. Private creditors and debt restructuring

Lord Oates (Liberal Democrat) to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Development and Commonwealth Affairs what consideration he has given to introducing measures to compel private creditors to take part in debt restructuring for low- and middle-income countries facing debt crises.

2.1 Summary

In December 2023 the World Bank observed in its most recent international debt report that the world’s poorest countries were at increasing risk of “tumbling into a debt crisis”.[4] Indermit S Gill, senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank, said the report “sound[ed] an alarm about the danger confronting low- and middle-income countries—particularly the poorest”. He added that debt servicing costs on public and publicly guaranteed debt were “projected to grow by 10 percent for all developing countries over the 2023/24 period—and by nearly 40 percent for low-income countries”.

The same report noted that $377.4bn (35.3%) of the total external debt stock of $1,070.5bn held by the world’s 75 poorest countries was held by private creditors in 2022, up from $126.3bn (27.6%) out of a total of $457.9bn in 2012.[5] For all low- and middle-income countries, private creditors held $2,123bn (61.6%) of all long-term external public and publicly guaranteed debt stocks, totalling $3,448bn, up from $743bn (47.5%) of $1,565bn in 2010.[6] The report further noted that debt held by private creditors was on higher interest terms than debt held by official creditors.

In a report published in March 2023, the House of Commons International Development Committee concluded that existing global debt relief initiatives were all “undermined by the inability to compel or incentivise private creditors to participate”.[7] It noted that New York and English law comprised the two major legal jurisdictions covering international debt agreements and urged the government to “consult on the introduction of legislation to compel or incentivise participation of private creditors” in the ‘common framework’ debt relief initiative. The government later rejected this recommendation, saying that instead of pursuing a legislative approach to the issue it would instead continue to focus on “enhancing market-based (also known as contractual) solutions to private sector participation in debt restructurings”.[8]

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3. Humanitarian aid to Gaza

Viscount Stansgate (Labour) to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what steps he is taking to increase the amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

3.1 Summary

The crisis in Gaza continues to have critical humanitarian consequences. According to contested estimates from the Gazan Ministry of Health, more than 30,200 Palestinians have lost their lives in Gaza since the raid by Hamas forces into Israel on 7 October 2023 and the subsequent large-scale military incursion into Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), with more than 71,300 others reported injured.[9]

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) observes that “nearly all of Gaza’s over 2.3 million people have been displaced, lacking access to sufficient shelter, food, life-saving medical services, clean water, education and livelihoods”.[10] In an update issued on 7 March 2024, OCHA reported that the consumer price index (CPI) for food in Gaza has risen by nearly 105 percent since the onset of hostilities.[11] It said the “malnutrition crisis in northern Gaza continues to deteriorate significantly”, and that hunger had reached “catastrophic levels”. The update added that the Gazan Ministry of Health had reported 20 deaths “as a result of malnutrition and dehydration”. A separate update noted the number of truckloads of supplies into Gaza, including fuel, remained well below the pre-crisis average per working day.[12]

The UK government has said that it is committed to getting humanitarian aid to people in Gaza.[13] On 5 March 2024, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the government had “trebled our aid to Gaza and appointed a representative for humanitarian affairs to work intensively in the region to address the blockages to aid reaching Gaza”.[14] However, he added:

Much more needs to be done […] We are facing a situation of dreadful suffering in Gaza; there can be no doubt about that. I spoke some weeks ago about the danger of this tipping into famine and the danger of illness tipping into disease, and we are now at that point. People are dying of hunger; people are dying of otherwise preventable diseases.

The situation is very bad, and we have been pushing for aid to get in. There is a whole set of things that we have asked the Israelis to do. But I have to report to your Lordships’ House that the amount of aid that got in in February was about half of what got in in January. The patience needs to run very thin and a whole series of warnings needs to be given, starting, I hope, with a meeting I have with Minister Gantz when he visits the UK tomorrow […]

Let me say again at this dispatch box that Israel is the occupying power. It is responsible and that has consequences, including in how we look at whether Israel is compliant with international humanitarian law. I think that is the most important thing on the issue of Gaza.

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4. Supporting the BBC World Service

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour) to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what steps he is taking to support the BBC World Service, particularly in relation to (1) its special provision in response to emergency situations, and (2) the challenges posed to it by disinformation campaigns backed by foreign state actors.

Baroness Smith is the shadow leader of the House of Lords.[15]

4.1 Summary

The BBC World Service (BBCWS) was launched on 19 December 1932 and was then called the Empire Service.[16] It is the BBC’s international broadcaster and now has a weekly audience of approximately 318 million people and operates in 42 languages.[17]

In January 2022, the BBC said that the BBCWS “is chiefly funded by the UK licence fee (approximately 75%) with additional funding coming from government in the form of a grant via the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office]”.[18]

In the 2022–25 spending review the FCDO provided “a flat-cash settlement” of £283mn for the BBCWS via the World 2020/2025 programme.[19] The government also provided a further £20mn over two years as part of the integrated review refresh in 2023 “to protect all 42 language services from closure”.[20] The FCDO has stated that funding for the BBCWS after 2025 will be determined as part of the next spending review. It has also launched a BBC funding review “which will report to ministers in the autumn”.[21].

The BBC has stated that the FCDO has provided funding to the BBCWS to support global democratic values and help tackle disinformation:

In 2021, the FCDO provided £94.4mn to help the BBC World Service build on its work upholding global democratic values through accurate, impartial and independent news reporting. This included £8mn in additional investment to tackle disinformation and further improve the BBC’s digital offer to audiences.[22]

On 1 February 2024, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron laid a written statement saying he had agreed the “objectives, priorities and targets” (OPTs) for the BBCWS licence with the BBC chair that would be set until the end of the current spending review period in 2025.[23] The BBC would report annually against these OPTs and the secretary of state would meet the BBC chair (or their nominated representatives) annually “to discuss the services, review the performance report, and consider any adjustments that need to be made, including targets”. The written statement also said that that “if the BBC chair and I agree, we may also consider adjustments to services outside this timing, in response to significant changes in market conditions or world events”.

4.2 Read more

Cover image © House of Lords 2023 / photography by Annabel Moeller.


  1. European Commission, ‘What the European Commission does’, accessed 7 March 2024. Return to text
  2. European Commission, ‘Ursula von der Leyen’, accessed 7 March 2024. Return to text
  3. Prime Minister’s Office, ‘PM call with EU Commission President von der Leyen: 18 February 2024’, 18 February 2024. Return to text
  4. World Bank, ‘International debt report 2023’, 13 December 2023, p ix. See also: ‘Developing countries paid record $443.5bn on public debt in 2022’, 13 December 2023. Return to text
  5. As above, p 6. Return to text
  6. As above, p 47. Return to text
  7. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘Debt relief in low-income countries’, 10 March 2023, HC 146 of session 2022–23, p 27. Return to text
  8. House of Commons International Development Committee, ‘Debt relief in low-income countries: Government response’, 8 June 2023, HC 1393 of session 2022–23, p vii–ix. Return to text
  9. The United Nations coordinates data from the Gazan Ministry of Health regarding casualty figures and publishes a daily dashboard on the impact of the conflict on civilians in Gaza: United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’, accessed 7 March 2024. Israel has been critical of the UN’s reporting, arguing that UN agencies have demonstrated bias against Israel in the past. However, UN agencies remain the only third-party sources coordinating up-to-date data on the situation on the ground. Return to text
  10. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Middle East and North Africa: Occupied Palestinian Territory’, accessed 7 March 2024. Return to text
  11. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel: Flash update #134’, 7 March 2024. Return to text
  12. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel: Reported impact—day 152’, 7 March 2024. Return to text
  13. Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, ‘Humanitarian situation in Gaza: The UK government’s response’, updated 26 February 2024. Return to text
  14. HL Hansard, 5 March 2024, cols 1540–8. Return to text
  15. UK Parliament, ‘Baroness Smith of Basildon: Parliamentary career’, accessed 7 March 2024. Return to text
  16. BBC, ‘History of the BBC: BBC World Service launches’, accessed 7 March 2024. Return to text
  17. BBC, ‘Global news services’, accessed 7 March 2024. Return to text
  18. BBC, ‘DCMS Committee: Promoting Britain abroad inquiry—BBC written evidence’ January 2022, para 8. Written evidence submitted to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s ‘Promoting Britain abroad’ inquiry. Return to text
  19. House of Commons, ‘Written question: BBC World Service—Finance (12325)’, 7 February 2024. Return to text
  20. As above. Return to text
  21. As above. See also: HM Government. ‘Integrated review refresh 2023: Responding to a more contested and volatile world’, March 2023, CP 811, para xii. Return to text
  22. BBC, ‘Global news services’, accessed 7 March 2024. Return to text
  23. House of Lords, ‘Written statement: BBC World Service objectives, priorities and targets (HLWS232)’, 1 February 2024. Return to text