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Volume 523: debated on Wednesday 16 February 2011

2. What his Department’s policy is on providing aid to India; and if he will make a statement. (40972)

From now on in India, we will focus our support on three of the poorest states. Our programme will change to reflect the importance of the role of the private sector and private enterprise.

India spends $36 billion a year on defence and $750 million on a space programme. It has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and is developing its own overseas aid programme. Given that we must cut public expenditure in this country, will the Secretary of State accept that many of my constituents will think that such aid to India is now unjustifiable?

That is why our programme in India is in transition, why we will focus on three of the poorest states in the country and why, over the next four years, up to half the programme will transition into pro-poor private sector investment. That is the right way for us to position our development work in the partnership with India, which is of course much wider than development, and which the Prime Minister very significantly re-energised in his major visit last year.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on continuing with the £280 million each year to India. That is vital given that India has a quarter of the world’s poorest people living within its borders. How does he intend to focus the aid in those three states, particularly with regard to the health of young women?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. He is right, too, that we should focus on the poorest areas, and particularly on the role of girls and women. Over future years, we expect to be able to assist in ensuring that up to 4 million women have access to income through micro-finance and through focusing particularly on livelihoods. We will also support, of course, the strong programme on education in India. About 60 million children have been got into school over the last four or five years, which is a tremendous tribute to the work of the Indian Government, but it would not have been possible without the intervention of aid and support from Britain and elsewhere.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is worth recording that to lift the poorest people in India out of poverty by $1 a day would cost $166 billion a year, so it is appropriate to continue our transitional arrangements with India? The International Development Committee will visit India next month and we will want to see how DFID’s relationship with the country, albeit with a relatively small amount in comparison with the challenge of the problem, can deliver an accelerated reduction of poverty there.

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for that comment and also to the Select Committee itself for going to look with care at development in India and the operation of our programme there. He accurately identifies the scale of need. It is worth noting that the number of the Indian population living on less than 80p a day is 7.5 times the total population of Britain. That puts in context the basic nature of this need and shows why Britain’s partnership is so important.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the claims made by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Jubilee Scotland that the work of the UK’s Export Credits Guarantee Department has been funding work in India that is undermining development and human rights? I declare an interest in that I was until recently a board member of Jubilee Scotland. I ask the Secretary of State to investigate and report back to the House on that matter.

The hon. Lady will have heard what has been said about the Export Credits Guarantee Department—that it is at the moment being looked at carefully to ensure that it supports our development aims. She might also like to look at the trade White Paper published last week, which specifically addresses the role of the ECGD in development and in supporting British exports overseas.