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Departmental Aid Programmes

Volume 510: debated on Wednesday 2 June 2010

4. What steps he is taking to ensure maximum transparency in the distribution of aid under his Department’s programmes. (444)

The public in the UK and in the countries where we work have a right to access information about the aid that we provide. We will introduce full transparency in aid and publish details of all UK aid spending online, increasing the range and extent of the information published.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on the jobs that they are to do, because I know that they are all passionate about the subject. Will the Secretary of State please let the House know that the benefits of the increased transparency will extend not just to UK taxpayers, but to the poor of the countries that the aid is intended to help?

My hon. Friend knows a great deal about these issues from her experience, not least in Uganda, and I thank her for her question. She is quite right about the importance of transparency, enabling people in poor countries to hold their own politicians to account, and it is a very important aspect of both transparency and our development budget that we help build up the capacity of civil society in countries that we are assisting so that they can do just that.

Given the increasing importance of the European Union in aid funding, does the Secretary of State agree that there needs to be greater harmonisation of aid priorities within the EU?

The hon. Lady makes an important point about the EU aid programme, which, as she knows, is conducted in two different ways—through own resources and through the European development fund. I had the opportunity of speaking to the commissioner who is responsible for these matters last week about the importance of aid effectiveness and transparency in the EU. There may be a case in some aspects of the programme for greater harmonisation, and we will always look at that through the prism of greater effectiveness.

I commend my right hon. Friend for the proactive approach that he is taking in ensuring that the UK takes the lead in providing greater transparency, but does he agree that it is equally important that our international partners follow suit, and, if so, could he share with the House how he intends to encourage them to do so?

As my hon. Friend will be aware, this is an important aspect of the work that we intend our newly established, or to be established, independent evaluation programme to champion. An independent evaluation is not only about looking at the money that we spend from DFID, it is also about looking at how British taxpayers’ money is spent through the multilaterals and some of the brilliant non-governmental organisations that we are funding. All of them need to be subject to the same independent audit so that we ensure that we get value for money for the hard-pressed taxpayers who are providing it.

The Minister may be aware of the incredibly good work that many charities and church-based groups are carrying out in east Africa, particularly in regard to transparency and combating corruption there. Will he try to understand and take information from those charitable groups and ensure that that is replicated in the aid that goes to that region?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in the importance that he attaches to the work of some of these brilliant NGOs, not only in the part of Africa that he mentioned, but all around the world, which during the last four years I have had the privilege of seeing in action. We have every intention of introducing a poverty impact fund targeted precisely at enabling such charities to double the output of what they are producing, and I will be able to give the House further details of that in due course.