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China

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

Including humanitarian aid allocated in response to the earthquake in Sichuan—which registered 8 on the Richter scale, killed 70,000 people, and left 300,000 people injured and millions homeless—DFID has spent, on average, £34.5 million a year over the past five years in China.

We want the very poorest people in China to escape poverty, but given that China’s gross domestic product per head is $5,300, that China has growth of 8 per cent. and that it is a world superpower, would it not be a more effective use of British aid to target it on the very poorest people in the weakest economies?

The football analogy would be that on a per capita basis China is languishing somewhere near the bottom of the Football League, whereas on a global level it is indeed at the top of the premier league. It is important to recognise that 200 million people in China still live on less than $1.25 a day and that 450 million people live on less than $2 a day. That is why it is important to have a sustainable partnership and a dialogue with the Chinese authorities and to work alongside them in tackling the type of poverty that the hon. Gentleman has just described.

Although I accept that targeting the poorest in the world and working with countries such as China is a difficult balance to strike, what assessment does the Minister make of the human rights record of such countries in ensuring that the moneys given get to the very poorest in places such as China, India and other parts of Asia?

We regularly discuss with the Chinese authorities their obligations to meet international laws on human rights and freedom of speech. In order to deal with the very poorest people living in China, it is important that we have a dialogue with the Chinese authorities and that, through the work that was recognised by the International Development Committee, we engage in pilot studies. If the progress is seen to be effective, the schemes can then be rolled out on a massive scale in countries as big as China.

As a member of the Committee at the time of some of those pilots, especially the child-centred education projects and other such schemes, may I ask what constant monitoring the Department is undertaking to ensure that the lessons learned really are being rolled out? There were some very good schemes on the ground, but is the Department assessing their impact, beyond the money that it is spending, in leveraging in more work by the Chinese?

It is very much in our interest and that of China that the lessons learned from engagement with such development projects are rolled out, and the evidence on the ground suggests that that is happening. Indeed, in one of the meetings that I had during my visit to China last year, one of my colleagues from the World Bank remarked that they immediately recognised a school that the Department had been working with just by the layout of the classrooms—they could tell immediately that DFID’s engagement and positive role had had a part to play.

China has just spent £20 billion hosting the Olympics and has foreign exchange reserves of more than $2 trillion, yet DFID aid to China has increased in each of the years since 2005. The figure that the Minister failed to give us is that £188 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent on aid to China since 2004-05. Does he not understand that giving aid to China, and indeed to Russia, is in danger of bringing into disrepute this vital budget, which we are all pledged to protect?

Interestingly, in 1997 the overseas development spend in China was four times higher than it is now. I also point out to the hon. Gentleman that we announced in May 2006 that we are ending the China programme in 2011. Using language that may well play to a gallery at a party conference may win him some applause—and it may protect his position in the shadow Cabinet—but it certainly does not show leadership on development issues.