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International Development

Volume 529: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

Fraudulent Use of Aid

1. By what means he plans to assess levels of fraudulent use of aid in fragile and conflict-affected states. (57736)

The Government are committed to spending 30% of UK aid on conflict-affected and fragile states where the millennium development goals are most off track. We have a zero-tolerance approach to fraud and other abuse and all our programmes include safeguards to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent properly.

A very high proportion of that taxpayers’ money flows through the EU. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that that EU money is being properly used and accounted for?

About a third of that money goes to the European development fund, which scored highly in the multilateral aid review, and that suits Britain’s interests because around 40% of it goes to Commonwealth countries and we contribute only 17%. The money spent through the budget is £800 million, over which we have much less control, and we are seeking to ensure that it is better deployed.

The Secretary of State will of course acknowledge that the Government have committed additional funding to post-conflict states because that is where the greatest poverty and the greatest risk of falling back into conflict lies. Nevertheless, does he accept that, although we must do everything we can to stamp out corruption, it is precisely in those difficult climates that risks must be taken if achievements in poverty reduction and conflict prevention are to be secured?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are greater risks when operating in conflict states, but in such states the very poorest in the world lose out twice over, once because they are poor and again because they are living in frightening and conflicted circumstances.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to a zero-tolerance attitude to fraud. Will he encourage the World Bank to continue to have its regular survey of 32,000 small businesses across different developing countries, which shows that although fraud is a problem, it by no means absorbs all the aid entering those countries, as bar-room gossip would have it, and that it is more prevalent in south Asia than in Africa?

My right hon. Friend’s analysis is absolutely right. He will have seen the world development report, produced by the World Bank, on working in conflict states, which focuses on security and development. It is a very good report, produced at Britain’s request, which focuses specifically on the points he has made.

Bilateral and Multilateral Aid

We have introduced the UK aid transparency guarantee, under which we have published greater and more detailed information on the Department for International Development’s aid expenditure than ever before, and we have actively encouraged our multilateral and other partners to follow our lead. I welcome the launch today of the Make Aid Transparent website, which is supported by a coalition of more than 50 civil society groups from more than 20 countries.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Just as the Prime Minister has called on others in the G8 to live up to their promises on their aid budgets, will the Minister assure me that the Government are calling on others to increase the transparency of their spending and will he update the House on the international aid transparency initiative?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the Prime Minister secured agreement in Deauville that the G8 should begin to lead rather than follow on aid transparency. DFID also leads the international aid transparency initiative, an alliance of 19 major donors. Under our leadership, a new aid transparency standard was agreed in February and is already being implemented by DFID, the World Bank and the Hewlett Foundation, with many more set to follow later this year.

In view of the lobbying of the House tomorrow by international development enthusiasts, will the Minister encourage as many people as possible to turn up, including hon. Members, to make our contribution to international development awareness?

I fully share the right hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for international development awareness, and when it comes to transparency there is already much praise for what the UK is doing. For instance, Publish What You Fund recently said:

“As well as focusing on its own breadth and quality of publication, its”—


“commitment to influencing others sets important precedents for aid transparency on a global level.”

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the better we can demonstrate the effectiveness of UK aid, and that it is not all siphoned off into Swiss bank accounts, the sooner we will get the people of this country behind our excellent and worthy notion of spending 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is exactly why we have set up the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which can evaluate the impact and value for money of UK aid. Transparency sheds light on all that is done and reduces the sort of corruption that my hon. Friend describes.

Does the Minister accept that the welcome continued emphasis on transparency in Government aid must also apply to businesses? Given the OECD estimate that poor countries lose $120 billion each year to tax havens, three times more than the aid that they receive, what is he doing to require companies to publish what they pay to Governments in developing countries?

That is exactly why we support the likes of the extractive industry transparency initiative, which will ensure that companies contracting with countries fully reveal what exactly they make out of their contracts.

Official Development Assistance

3. When he plans to bring forward legislation enacting the commitment to spend at least 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance. (57738)

The coalition Government have set out how we will meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as overseas aid from 2013. As the Prime Minister has made clear, we will enshrine that commitment in law as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.

Tomorrow I will meet several of my constituents as part of the “Tea Time for Change” event to discuss their and my support for the 0.7% commitment. Has the Secretary of State had any recent discussions with the Defence Secretary on that important issue?

I have discussions on those matters with all my colleagues, not least the business managers for the reasons that I set out in my original answer, but the hon. Lady is right to point out the importance of proceeding with the commitment, and that is why we have made it clear that we will.

The Secretary of State recently described Britain as an aid superstate. Can he tell us what an aid superstate is—and do we really want to be one?

My hon. Friend refers to a comment that I made on Monday, when I said that just as America is a military superpower, so Britain is a development superpower. I was referring to the fact that throughout the world brilliant work is being done with Britain in the lead on development, and we do so because it is not only morally right but, as my hon. Friend will understand, absolutely in our national interest.

HIV/AIDS (Lesotho)

The DFID Lesotho programme has helped to reduce the prevalence of HIV in garment factories from 37% to 27%, and we continue to assist 40,000 factory workers. We also provide support to HIV programmes in Lesotho through our contributions to the EU, the World Bank and the Global Fund.

The Minister will be aware that almost 25% of the population of Lesotho has HIV, and one project that his Department funds is the Apparel Lesotho Alliance to Fight AIDS, which as he says targets almost 40,000 people. Will that funding carry on? If not, who will fund it?

The hon. Gentleman is completely correct that one of the most successful programmes in Lesotho has been the ALAFA programme, which has enabled those 40,000 factory workers to obtain vital services to help with HIV/AIDS. We have just announced that we will continue that programme up to the point when we can secure long-term funding through either the EU or other donor agencies.

My hon. Friend is entirely right to bring to the House’s notice, and to emphasise, that prevention is as important as the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Indeed, that will be one of the major thrusts of what I say in New York tomorrow at the UN meeting on AIDS. In addition to prevention and treatment, however, we want to ensure that care and support, which has often been the neglected area of HIV campaigning, is addressed too.

Dolen Cymru has 26 years’ experience of working from Wales into Lesotho, particularly in the field of health care. What consideration have the Government given to using such a non-governmental organisation to administer some of the aid budgets in Lesotho?

I pay tribute to and congratulate Dolen Cymru on its tremendous ongoing work with Lesotho. It has not been a recipient of DFID funds; it has been self-supporting. On 30 June, I will be travelling to Wales on a ministerial visit, so I can discuss the most appropriate way, particularly now that Wales has the newer powers, to take forward the fact that development is a national responsibility while equally ensuring that we involve all parts of the United Kingdom in continuing good development work.

UN Women

5. By what means he proposes to determine the level of funding his Department will allocate to UN Women. The Department for International Development recently reviewed the value for money of British taxpayers’ funding to all multilateral agencies through the multilateral aid review. We will apply the same broad criteria to UN Women’s strategic plan by assessing its organisational strengths and the relevance to UK aid objectives. This approach will help to determine the level of core funding for the agency. (57741)

One of the key priority areas for UN Women will be political empowerment of women. What plans does the Secretary of State’s Department have for backing up this work in Governments and legislatures around the world?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is incredibly important to put girls and women at the centre of everything we do in development, which is what empowerment is. We are watching very carefully how the agency is developing. We have given nearly £660,000 as transitional funding to the agency and offered support staff on secondment. I am confident that once the plan is produced we will be able to fund it. I am sure that she will understand, however, that it is right to commit taxpayers’ money only when we can see what it is being spent on.

Evidence is coming from Egypt that the position of women is not advancing as a result of the Arab spring; indeed, there are concerns that it is going backwards. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that he is using all the influence that comes with the additional money that we are investing in that part of the world to ensure that women get their fair share of that resource?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a feeling that the role of women in the Arab spring in Egypt was very significant, and it is extremely important that their role should now be advanced. We will try to do that in a number of ways, not least through know-how funds and the Arab Partnership money that we are deploying.

To follow up the point so ably made by the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), while there is no doubt that the Arab spring offers huge possibilities for democracy and human rights in Egypt, it will not be progress if women’s rights are set back. Will the Secretary of State ensure that out of the generous funding that we are providing, funds will go to the Alliance for Arab Women in Cairo to make a reality of the demands set out in the Egyptian national women’s statement of 4 June?

I am considering the right hon. Lady’s suggestion. We have exchanged correspondence on this, and I will look very carefully at the proposition that she puts. During my visit to Benghazi at the weekend, I had the opportunity to meet representatives of Arab women’s organisations, who made a similar point. I am sure that we will be able to assist.


The Government’s policy on HIV in developing countries is set out in “Towards zero infections: The UK’s position paper on HIV in the developing world”, published on 31 May. I have placed a copy of this in the House today.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Following the recent good news about a decline in the number of infections, does he recognise the contribution that has been made by UK-based non-governmental organisations, with young volunteers, often in their gap years, working overseas with young people in their communities to get across the message of how a change in their behaviour can reduce their exposure to the risk of AIDS?

My hon. Friend makes a very good observation. Tremendous, and often brilliant, work is done by NGOs in ensuring that work on the ground is delivering results. While this can be a tremendous, life-changing opportunity for gap year students and other young people, they also need to ensure that they observe a duty of care in ensuring that those experiences are benign and deliver results.

The Minister will be aware that HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects women in developing countries. Why, therefore, have the Government dropped from their new strategy the specific commitment to measure the impact of AIDS programmes on women and girls?

The hon. Lady is right that in sub-Saharan Africa, HIV/AIDS is primarily a disease that affects women; they are now in the majority compared with men. It is right that in putting women and girls at the heart of all our policies, we measure all the impacts on women, in particular those on the poorest women in the poorest countries. In tomorrow’s meetings at the UN, there will be a keen focus on women, and we hope that something will come of that.

Climate Change

8. By what means he plans to assess value for money in his Department’s funding for climate change prevention in developing countries. (57744)

We rigorously assess costs against benefits in all our programmes. To measure the value for money of our climate programmes, we will look at metrics including the number of poor people protected from extreme weather events, the number of hectares of forest protected, and the number of people with access to energy.

The Minister will be aware of the decision at the last climate change summit to establish a green climate fund, and that the UK has a representative on the transnational committee that is designing the fund. Will he update the House on the progress made to date by the transnational committee and on what concrete outcomes the UK Government hope to see by the next summit in Durban later this year?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right that the fund is not yet up and running. We are on the design committee for the fund and are playing our full part in it. We want to ensure that the fund delivers results for poor people in the best possible way.

The clearest message from the poorest countries at the world climate change talks in Cancun was that they face immediate impacts from climate change. Will the British Government commit to set an example to other countries by putting a high proportion of our climate finance into adaptation, as well as into climate change mitigation?

Climate change will hit the poor hardest and first. DFID will support poor people to protect their lives and possessions from the impacts of climate change, for example by raising homes on to plinths to protect poor people from flooding in Bangladesh, supporting drought-resistant crops in Malawi, and preventing coastal erosion in Vietnam. We aim to spend 50% of our climate change finance on adaptation. That will be kept under full review.

The Minister will know that if we are to meet the commitments we made at the Copenhagen climate change conference, the UK will have to allocate by next year a further £1 billion in fast-start finance to help developing countries tackle climate change. Will he confirm that the Government still intend to allocate that funding by next year?

The Government are keeping their commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on official development assistance from 2013. Climate finance is being met out of that rising ODA budget.

Official Development Assistance

9. What estimate he has made of the proportion of gross national income to be spent on official development assistance in (a) 2011-12 and (b) 2012-13. (57745)

British official development assistance as a proportion of gross national income will be 0.56% in 2011 and 2012. The Government are fully committed to delivering 0.7% of GNI as ODA from 2013 and will enshrine that commitment in law, in line with the coalition agreement.

The Government have frozen aid for two years and propose to spend money through multinational institutions, which have more expensive bureaucracy. Is it not nonsensical for DFID to cut its admin costs only to spend money through institutions with higher costs?

The hon. Lady is not correct. The way in which we judge multilateral institutions was set out clearly in the multilateral aid review. The whole point of the two big reviews that the coalition Government commissioned on coming to power was to ensure that we deliver best value for money. It is our aim to ensure that for every pound of hard-earned taxpayers’ money that we spend, we get 100p of development results on the ground.

The brave men and women of our armed forces put their lives at risk every day to protect civilians and rebuild societies in far-off lands. That is real overseas aid. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is surprising that his budget is increasing by £4 billion when the defence budget is being cut by billions and billions of pounds?

Having served in the armed forces, I yield to no one in my respect for them. However, I point out to my hon. Friend, who I know takes a close interest in these matters, that Britain’s security is maintained not only by tanks and guns, but by training police in Afghanistan, getting kids into school in the horn of Africa, and building up governance structures in the middle east.

Topical Questions

Last weekend I visited Benghazi with the Foreign Secretary to meet the national transitional council and discuss its plans for the future of Libya. I also announced new British support for the clearance of mines in Misrata, Benghazi and other affected areas, to help ensure the safety of 200,000 people.

On Monday, Britain will host the replenishment of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, to secure global pledges to vaccinate a quarter of a billion children and prevent the deaths of millions of children in some of the poorest countries in the world over the next five years.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. On behalf of the whole House, may I express a great welcome to those coming to London for the GAVI pledge drive next week? What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage people who are coming to make generous pledges for the vaccination of children in the developing world?

My hon. Friend is quite right that we are bending every sinew to ensure that we have the biggest possible replenishment. Our ambition is to be able to vaccinate 250 million children and save 4 million lives, and replenishment progress is going well. We are not there yet, but I am reasonably confident that we will get there by Monday. [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I want to hear Ministers’ answers, and I want now to hear Catherine McKinnell.

T4. I have been contacted by several constituents who believe that the World Bank should be leading the way towards a green economy and a greener future for the world’s poor. Will the Minister outline what discussions he and his colleagues in government have had with the World Bank to ensure that there is investment in clean energy projects in developing countries? (57754)

The crux of this issue is whether the building of coal-fired power stations should be supported. We believe that such power stations should be a last resort, and that every possible action should be taken to explore the scientific and commercial availability of carbon capture and storage.

T2. During the Secretary of State’s visit to Benghazi this weekend, what discussions did he have with the national transitional council regarding its plans for the immediate and longer-term future? (57752)

The stabilisation response team is working flat out, together with our international allies in Benghazi, to work out what action should be taken when the conflict is over and early recovery is taking place. That work is going well, and I hope that we will have a plan within the next 10 days. It will of course be owned by the Libyan people under the umbrella of the United Nations, and it will involve all the relevant organisations in helping the Libyans to implement it.

T8. More than 1,000 supporters of international development charities, including some of my constituents, are coming to Westminster tomorrow to show their support for protection of the aid budget and for further action to tackle global poverty. Given that poor countries lose more money to tax-dodging each year than they receive in aid, what action is the Secretary of State taking to address that issue? (57760)

I am very glad that the hon. Lady’s constituents are coming tomorrow, and Members of all parties will want to support that important lobby. The issue that she raises, which was discussed in earlier questions, is very important, and I expect that we will make progress on it in the coming years, not least because of the emphasis that has been put on it in the G8 and the European Council.

T3. Can the Minister assure us that the UK Government will maintain their global leadership role in the response to HIV and AIDS, in both policy and funding? (57753)

I am pleased to confirm that the commitment of the UK Government, who are the second largest contributor globally to the effort against HIV and AIDS, is set to continue. The matter will be central to the discussions that I have in New York tomorrow at the United Nations meeting.

As the Minister has just alluded to, the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS is taking place this week. Can he assure the House that the UK will raise the issue of homosexuals being prevented from accessing information and health care in relation to HIV/AIDS in countries where homophobia is still prevalent?

The hon. Lady is quite right that if we are to make prevention equal to treatment, it is vital that we tackle what leads to the problem, whether it is men having sex with men or injecting drug users. Both those matters often lead to some difficult discussions and policy take-up in countries that do not wish either to discuss or to accept them—

T5. Can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State tell the House what progress is being made on encouraging other Arab nations to provide much-needed humanitarian aid in Libya? (57755)

In the last two weeks, the humanitarian position in Libya has eased, particularly on the border, which some 950,000 migrant workers have left. Today, under 6,000 people are stuck on the border, so a humanitarian crisis has been avoided.

In general, we encourage all countries to play their roles in providing humanitarian support and to put their taxpayers’ money into those funds. Progress on that is good.

Given the sensitive time line for change in Sudan, what commitments can the Secretary of State give to people there, and particularly to those in Abyei?

I visited South Sudan and north Sudan recently with troika Ministers from Norway and the US. The position in Abyei is extremely tense at the moment, and we call on all parties to desist from taking aggressive action and to approach the negotiations in a spirit of good will and compromise. That is the way to reach the birth of the new state on 9 July and the full completion of the comprehensive peace agreement.