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Aid Expenditure (Transparency)

Volume 513: debated on Wednesday 7 July 2010

I launched the aid transparency guarantee on 3 June, which will ensure that UK and developing country citizens have full information about British aid.

I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware of recent surveys showing that, in these difficult times, public support for international aid is waning. Does he agree that if we are to win the argument for his Department’s budget in the court of public opinion, we have to ensure that the transparency agenda is linked to achieving the goals of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and it is always important to underline that there is strong cross-party commitment to this important budget partly for moral reasons, but also because it is very much in our national self-interest. My hon. Friend will have heard the words of the Foreign Secretary and myself about the importance of wiring more closely together defence, diplomacy and development, and he has my assurance that we will continue to do that with great care.

In last Thursday’s debate, the Secretary of State was transparent enough to admit that he did not yet know how the extra £200 million for Afghanistan announced by the Prime Minister will be spent. Given the question asked by the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and the increasing speculation that DFID money in Afghanistan will be spent on things over which the Secretary of State’s Department has no control, can he tell the House whether the Foreign Secretary—or, indeed, the Defence Secretary—has made any suggestions to him as to how that £200 million should be spent?

The hon. Gentleman will understand that a Government who are properly co-ordinated and working together will discuss all these matters to make sure that, as I have said, we wire together in the best possible interests defence, diplomacy and development. However, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware, as he has been a junior DFID Minister, the OECD Development Assistance Committee rules are what pertain in the spending of money on development, and the coalition Government have confirmed what his Government said: those rules will persist.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s initiative in setting up a more effective watchdog for transparency and accountability and to publish what DFID funds in more detail from January. That will provide a welcome reinforcement of the value of our aid. May I also say that the Select Committees are very anxious to start their work and anything he can do to ensure that they are constituted will help to enable the International Development Committee to take evidence from him next Thursday so we can expand on these issues?

I am grateful to the Chair of the International Development Committee for his comments. He knows a great deal about these matters. The transparency guarantee is enormously important, first in reassuring British taxpayers by enabling them to see where the money is being spent and that it is being well spent; and secondly, in assisting in the building of civic society to ensure that people in the countries we are trying to help can hold their own political leaders to account. I look forward to discussing next week with his Committee these and other matters, especially independent evaluation.