Cameron pledges to put development ‘back at the heart’ of the Foreign Office

Lord Cameron said the UK would continue to lead efforts to tackle food insecurity around the world as he closed the World Food Security Summit in London.

In his first major speech since becoming Foreign Secretary, the former Prime Minister said he would “put development at the heart” of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

“Food is the foundation of all aspects of development,” he said.

“Malnourished children can never fully develop their bodies and minds.”

He described food insecurity, with a third of the world unable to afford a healthy diet, as a growing “silent crisis” that cannot be separated from other global crises such as the conflict in Ukraine.

“I promise you today, the UK will continue to lead efforts like this,” Lord Cameron told the gathering, which was attended by World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN deputy secretary-general Amina Mohamed.

Opening the summit earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said “no parent should ever have to watch their child starve.”

It also published a White Paper outlining the government's long-term approach to international development more broadly to 2030.

Speaking at Lancaster House, Mr Sunak announced a new virtual hub to connect UK scientists with global research initiatives to develop climate and disease resistant crops.

He said: “In a world of plenty, no one should die from lack of food and no parent should ever have to watch their child starve.”

On the Israel-Hamas conflict, Mr Sunak reiterated his position that Israel has the right to defend itself, but added: “It must also act within the framework of international humanitarian law.

“The situation on the ground is truly dire and getting worse.”

He said the UK was pushing for meaningful humanitarian pauses, “because the suffering of innocent citizens must end”.

Outside central London, a small group of protesters called on the government to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Sunak also used a separate speech at a north London college to promise tax cuts ahead of Wednesday's autumn statement.

The UK co-hosted the Food Summit in London with Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, the Children's Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The White Paper fails to restore the target of spending 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, after Mr Sunak cut the budget to 0.5% when he was chancellor amid financial pressures in 2021.

It reiterates the government's commitment to return to the higher target “when the fiscal situation permits”.

The paper also reports that the UK stopped direct bilateral aid to the Chinese government in 2011 after a watchdog raised concerns in the summer about a lack of transparency about how £50m in UK aid to China was spent last year .

The prime minister said the document demonstrated the UK's new approach to development, “going further to help the poorest and support those suffering in humanitarian crises”, leading not just “with strength, but with compassion” and drawing on its expertise Britain in development and science.

The White Paper's priorities include mobilizing international finance, reforming the international system, tackling climate change, harnessing innovation and putting women and girls at the centre.

International Development Minister Andrew Mitchell said in a written statement: “Developing countries want and need a different development offer, based on mutual respect, supported by development finance at scale and supported by a more responsive multilateral and international system.

“This White Paper is our pledge to take a patient approach to partnership-based development. An approach that looks ahead to the long-term challenges we face and can easily adapt to the ongoing global changes we face.”

Sarah Champion, chair of Labour's International Development Committee, said the paper “offers a welcome change of tone, with evidence-based ideas that offer hope of a real return and renewal for the UK on the international development stage”.

But, he said, aid budget cuts mean “we will be running to cover the impact of our own aid budget cuts”.

Bond, the UK's network for international development organisations, welcomed the refocusing of UK aid on the lowest income countries, stepped up efforts to meet the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and prioritized the needs of women and girls.

But Bond's director of policy and advocacy, Gideon Rabinowitz, said: “The remarkable ambitions of the White Paper require adequate resources and will not be realized without a swift return of the UK aid budget to the legally mandated level of 0.7% of national GDP. income and providing additional funding to address climate change.”

ActionAid UK's Hannah Bond said: “While the government may see the White Paper as a step towards restoring its global reputation, it is clear that there is a long way to go.

“As a first step, the government must ensure that official development assistance (ODA) is spent primarily on tackling poverty and inequality outside the UK.

“In 2022, a staggering 29% of the ODA budget was spent within the UK.

“We must see this trend reversed, or women and girls in some of the world's most fragile countries will continue to pay the price of escalating Home Office incompetence.”