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Overseas Projects (Joint Strategic Priorities)

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

3. If he will hold discussions with the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to agree joint strategic priorities for his Department’s overseas projects. (244087)

Whether in relation to international poverty reduction, conflict or climate change, the Department for International Development works closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Departments. We also co-operate closely in implementing our strategies and delivering our programmes, particularly in fragile states and insecure environments.

At a time when the Foreign Secretary is talking about peace and reconciliation in the middle east, why is the Department for International Development still funding some teachers in the Palestinian territories who do nothing more than teach discord, rather than harmony?

In the past week, we have welcomed Prime Minister Olmert and Prime Minister Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority to the United Kingdom. Our continued support for the Palestinian Authority reflects the fact that in our dialogue with the Israelis and others there is a clear recognition that if the Annapolis process is to be taken forward, there needs to be a credible negotiating partner with whom the Israeli Government can negotiate. At the same time, we are keen to see basic services provided to what is often an impoverished population within the Palestinian Authority areas.

In his discussions with other Departments, will the Secretary of State ensure that in the strategic priorities, the devaluing of sterling is taken into account, because it is in danger of undermining what has been an enhanced and immensely successful international programme? It is estimated that the value could be reduced by 25 per cent., and it is obviously crucial that the poorest in the world do not pay the highest price for the current economic crisis.

Changes in levels of different currencies are only one of the aspects of the global financial crisis that are affecting developing countries. Those countries have also been vulnerable to changes in oil prices, in the availability of credit and in basic food supply. That is why we are working so hard to ensure that we reflect the contemporary vulnerabilities of developing countries and why we are committed to meeting the pledges that we have made in relation to international development spending.

To what extent does the Minister believe that the International Development Act 2002 has led to a misalignment of our overseas development effort with our overarching foreign policy goals? For example, he may be aware that the FCO dispenses aid to tackle the radicalisation of young men in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but that DFID refuses to get involved on the grounds that that does not constitute development.

I believe that the 2002 Act enshrined in law changes that have been vital to the establishment of global leadership by this Government in the field of international development. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are working closely with our colleagues in the Foreign Office and in Afghanistan and other areas of the world, but if he is proposing that his party will tie the aid that was untied by this Government, break our commitments or change DFID from being a separate Cabinet-level Department, he might wish to discuss that with his Front-Bench colleagues.

At a recent Downing street reception, the Prime Minister mentioned that in these difficult economic times we have to consider the people in the developing world. Will the Secretary of State reaffirm our commitment to the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. of GDP and its maintenance through these difficult times?

As recently as September, the Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to the goals that we have set in relation to international development. The World Bank has estimated that in the course of the last year 100 million more people have been pushed into poverty by the global economic crisis. That is why it is important not only for the British Government but for other international partners to meet their aid commitments. Given the slashing of public expenditure that the Opposition now anticipate, I hope that they will at least join us in making this commitment.

The stabilisation aid fund was set up to help to deliver strategic projects in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the Secretary of State’s commitment to transparency, his Department appears either unwilling or unable to give details of projects completed to date. Can he reassure the House and set out the principles under which funds are allocated to projects from the SAF?

The stabilisation aid fund is obviously reflective of its joint ownership by DFID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence. It reports directly to the National Security Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister. In assessing applications to the fund, we work in close harmony with other Departments, and it is on that basis that allocations have been made. [Interruption.]