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House of Commons Hansard
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International Development
12 December 2012
Volume 555

The Secretary of State was asked—

India

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1. What recent assessment she has made of her Department’s relationship with the Indian Government. [133021]

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7. What recent assessment she has made of her Department’s relationship with the Indian Government. [133027]

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I held constructive meetings with senior politicians and officials in India last month. We agreed the move to a new relationship based on technical assistance rather than financial aid grants. I announced this in my written ministerial statement of 9 November.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Indian Foreign Minister, Salman Khurshid, who has spoken of the need to move from an era of aid to an era of trade?

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That is precisely the transition that I believe we are walking towards with India. Our trade with India has grown in recent years, with exports to India growing by more than 20% in 2010. Our development relationship needs to match the changing and successful India we see today, and that is precisely what we are doing.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that as India becomes wealthier, her Department should look to redevelop the relationship with that country and move funds to other parts of the world where they might be of more benefit?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said, our development relationship with India needs to match the India of today and the future rather than the India of yesterday, which means we can reprioritise our portfolio of development spend on countries where we believe we can still make a difference. Without that assistance from the UK, we would not be able to see change on the ground.

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Can the Secretary of State reveal how much financial aid will be provided to India through the UK’s technical assistance?

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We currently have an aid programme of around £270 million a year. After we complete our transition to technical assistance, we expect to spend approximately just under £30 million from 2015 onwards, to help the Indian Government to get the most out of the £50 billion a year they spend on things such as health and education.

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I appreciate that the Secretary of State has negotiated the changed arrangement with the Indian Government and the state governments, but does she not acknowledge that India still has more poor people than sub-Saharan Africa? Is she prepared to consider not only technical assistance, but perhaps changing the relationship to soft loans, so that India can accelerate poverty reduction using the substantial pro-poor measures it is already adopting?

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The right hon. Gentleman is right that our relationship with India will go beyond technical assistance. It will include us helping with investments in small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly in rural and poorer areas of India, so that we not only help them to get the most out of India’s development spend, but drive economic development too.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

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2. What recent assessment she has made of the humanitarian consequences of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. [133022]

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I am extremely concerned about the humanitarian situation in eastern DRC. Some 130,000 people in and around Goma have been displaced by the recent violence. Elsewhere in DRC, armed group activity continues to displace large numbers of people, and attacks on civilians are common. There are now 2.4 million displaced people in DRC, up from 1.7 million at the end of 2011. The hon. Lady might be aware that last month I announced an additional £18 million to address humanitarian needs in DRC.

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The Secretary of State will be aware that when NGOs had to evacuate their personnel from eastern DRC, priests remained. Churches were often the only source of support for the victims of violence. Will she undertake to work with those churches in the distribution of aid to ensure that it gets to those who are most in need?

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The hon. Lady raises an important point. I have had the opportunity to meet many of the organisations working on the ground, particularly in eastern DRC, to protect and help civilians. They have a range of needs, from security and medical assistance to food and shelter. She is right to flag up the fact that, in many cases, when people are at risk of violence, the place they go is their local church. We are working on the ground wherever we can to ensure that we do our bit to improve the situation.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that the head of M23, Bosco Ntaganda, is a vile, evil, wicked man who is perpetrating so much misery in the region? What more can be done to apprehend this ghastly individual?

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It is important that we take all the steps we can to apprehend all those people who have been involved in atrocities in that region. There is no doubt that achieving stability in the DRC needs a political solution, but such a solution has to mean that people who have committed offences do not have impunity.

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13. Recent reports from the BBC have shown that the increase in violence in the eastern DRC is sparking fears of the resurgence of civil war. What actions is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that a peace process is formulated? What conversations has she had with the Home Secretary about returnees from Britain to the DRC while this conflict goes on? [133033]

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As a Government, we have a number of discussions with leaders in that region. Both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to the Presidents of the DRC, Uganda and, indeed, Rwanda. I spoke to Baroness Valerie Amos only on Monday about how we can work together to tackle the humanitarian situation. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that, over time, we need to see some real progress on the ground.

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There are worrying reports from NGOs operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo that the M23 is talking about imposing taxes on NGOs working in the area, effectively diverting humanitarian resources from the affected populations to the M23. What can the Government do alongside international partners to try to protect the humanitarian space?

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If the situation the hon. Gentleman described were to arise, it would obviously be totally unacceptable. We are providing humanitarian assistance in order to get to the people on the ground who need our help. We are working not just with the UN, but with a range of NGOs, as I said, to make a difference on the ground. The issue needs to be tackled not just by us working on the ground with humanitarian support, but politically. I can assure him that my colleagues in the Foreign Office raise all those sorts of issues with leaders in the region on a very regular basis.

Development Spending Target

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3. How her Department plans to reach the Government’s target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on development aid by 2015. [133023]

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4. How her Department plans to reach the Government’s target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on development aid by 2015. [133024]

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The Government are committed to spending 0.7% of gross national income on development assistance from 2013 and thereafter. The Department’s budget after the 2012 autumn statement adjustment is sufficient to meet this commitment, along with planned official development assistance from other Government Departments.

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The coalition agreement states that the Government will enshrine in legislation the 0.7% commitment. Can the Minister tell us when the Government will work towards that commitment or is it just another broken promise?

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The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that the Government will introduce legislation to make this a legal requirement as soon as parliamentary time allows. As evidence of good faith, the hon. Gentleman should notice that we are behaving as if the legislation were already in place, and we will meet the 0.7% commitment.

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What is the Minister’s assessment of the implications of the decrease in absolute spending on development announced in the autumn statement?

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The effect is to reduce the immediate planned budget by £804 million—a reduction of about £2 billion since the original spending review period. We will, of course, make adjustments to make sure that our spending within those reduced figures retains the value for money that we see as such a high priority.

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In his first answer, the Minister made reference to the contributions of other Departments. For the sake of clarity and for the benefit of those of us who think 0.7% is on the high side, will he confirm that the Foreign Office will make a significant contribution, given that so much of its work can be said to contribute to development?

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In 2011, £958 million of the total of just over £8.5 billion came from other Government Departments and other areas outside DFID, such as debt relief and gift aid. DFID’s contribution to UK official development assistance is set to stay at approximately 90% in 2013 and 2014.

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I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Government’s commitment to move towards 0.7%, and express the view that, providing we are doing it, we do not really need to enshrine it in legislation. He will know that many of our constituents are not yet persuaded that every single pound we spend is value for money. What more can he do to reassure our constituents that this excellent British aid does not end up in Swiss bank accounts, but meets the needs of people in real poverty?

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I assure my hon. Friend—and the whole House—that every day we as Ministers, and all who work in DFID, do our utmost to secure value for money. Although my hon. Friend thinks that it may not be necessary because we are already moving towards the 0.7% target, legislation serves as an example to the rest of the world and, I hope, as a weapon for us to use in order to persuade other countries to follow suit.

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There is continuing concern throughout the United Kingdom about the level of waste as we make progress towards our 0.7% target. Can the Minister assure us that every possible objective will be met in efforts to minimise waste, and to ensure that the target, if it is met, benefits those who are most in need?

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Absolutely. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question, because it illustrates the determination with which we seek value for money and take every possible opportunity to eliminate waste so that we can focus our taxpayers’ resources on the poorest people in the world, who are in such genuine need.

Sustainable Development Goals

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5. What progress her Department has made on developing sustainable development goals. [133025]

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We are working internationally to secure a single set of development goals for the period after 2015. We want to build on the millennium development goals, finishing the job by eliminating poverty but also incorporating the sustainable development priorities that were agreed at Rio+20 in June.

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Will the Department support the Prime Minister in his role as co-chair of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development framework in order to guarantee integration and coherence between this process and the sustainable development goals, with the aim of putting environmental sustainability at the heart of the framework?

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My hon. Friend raises a critical issue, that of ensuring that coherence and integration exist between the sustainable development goals and the post-2015 millennium development goals. I assure him that my Department is doing just that. Across Government, we have a single structure and approach to managing our engagement with both the high-level panel and the SDGs. The Prime Minister’s envoy is a senior DFID official, and is responsible for both those things.

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Will the Minister tell us what part conflict analysis and sensitivity play in the approach to the sustainable development goals?

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Conflict plays a big part, and the sustainable development goals are incredibly important to ensuring that we reduce poverty. Poverty is at its highest where conflict is at its greatest.

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The GLOBE climate legislation initiative will be launched in the Foreign Office on 14 and 15 January, and will bring together legislators from 33 countries to discuss national action on climate change. Does the Minister agree that further national action is necessary, and that we should follow the example of countries such as Mexico, which has passed legislation, and China, which plans to do so, in order to establish the conditions that will allow international agreement in 2015?

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We already have legislation in the form of the Climate Change Act 2008, but it is crucial for all of us, in all countries, to work together in moving towards sustainable development goals. As I said earlier, climate change is absolutely critical to the reduction of poverty, and all countries need to ensure that they are working on that.

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In Copenhagen the developed world agreed to establish a $100 billion fund to help developing countries to cope with the effects of climate change, but, despite further calls for urgent action at the Doha summit, only a fraction of that funding has been delivered. What progress does the Minister think the United Kingdom Government have made in showing international leadership on this important issue?

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That is obviously one of our priorities, and we have taken a lead. I think that DFID is a world leader in terms of its development agenda. Doha was not a complete failure, although the outcome was disappointing; some small steps forward were made. Climate change is critical, and it is a priority for the Government.

Global Fund

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6. What her Department’s strategy is on tackling HIV and supporting the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. [133026]

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The Government’s policy is set out in our position paper called “Towards zero infections”. We will continue to support the fund as it implements key reforms. It is critical to achieving the millennium development goals, we have invested heavily in it, and we want it to succeed.

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I welcome the Government’s support for the election of the excellent Mark Dybul as new executive director of the global fund. Given that next year will be a replenishment year for the global fund, will the Minister use her G8 discussions to leverage additional funding from other countries and announce further UK funding for the fund?

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I certainly hope that will be the case. One of our roles is, indeed, to leverage more funds across the board into the global fund. As the hon. Gentleman says, a replenishment year is coming up, and we will do all we can to make sure funds are replenished from everyone.

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Does the Minister agree that Britain’s agricultural science and our leadership in plant and animal genetics offer huge opportunities for us to help the developing world to deal with its emerging food nutrition challenges? I welcome the Government’s launch last month of an agricultural science strategy.

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I agree that advancement in science will help to take this agenda forward. That is crucial in developing agriculture.

Departmental Value for Money

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8. What steps she is taking to ensure value for money in her Department. [133028]

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I am determined to ensure that every pound we spend has the maximum impact in reducing poverty, and we are looking at the following: where we spend our money, including in which countries; what we spend our money on, focusing on what works and working collaboratively with other partners; and how we spend that money better, for example by getting better value from suppliers and from multilateral aid organisations.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. Is she aware of a recent report by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which suggests that the EU aid budget—to which her Department, and the UK taxpayer, contribute £1.4 billion a year—lacks an effective oversight regime, and will she therefore consider removing the discretionary element of our contribution to it if the Government cannot secure strong assurances that the money is being spent effectively on the ground?

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My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am already pressing the EU on that issue. In fact, one of my first trips in my role as Secretary of State for International Development was to meet EU Commissioners, and I have been back to Brussels since to continue those discussions. I hope we can make progress on this matter, but, as my hon. Friend points out, if we do not, I have choices about where our multilateral aid goes.

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The Secretary of State has made great play of the fact that her accountancy background will help her deliver better value for money and greater transparency than her predecessor, so why will she not publish the findings of her Department’s review of the vast amounts of DFID money being paid to private consultants? How many consultants are there? How much are they being paid? Do they have to compete in fair and open tendering processes? What assessment is made of the results they deliver? Publish the findings, Secretary of State.

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There were four questions there, which was rather unkind of the hon. Gentleman, but it certainly will not be beyond the wit and sagacity of the right hon. Lady pithily to reply.

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We are getting on with improving how we work with suppliers. I met our top suppliers only a couple of weeks ago at DFID, and they told me it was the first time they had been invited in en masse to talk to the Secretary of State about how we can work more strategically with them to get better value for taxpayers’ money. I therefore suspect that I do not need to take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman about getting better value for money.

Gambia

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9. What steps she is taking to provide aid for economic development in the Gambia. [133029]

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Although DFID does not have a bilateral aid programme in the Gambia, the UK continues to support the Gambia through our share of contributions to multilateral organisations. The European Development Fund disbursed €27.69 million in 2011, of which €25.36 million was spent in the sector of “economic infrastructure and services”.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. The shape of the Gambia is a colonial relic based on how far a boat could travel up the river and how far shots could be fired from each side. There is very little significant river traffic at present. Will the Minister look at investing and providing a boat that will enable the up-country areas to develop at the same rate as the coastal areas?

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I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He rightly says that the Gambia’s shape is such that the river is the main road, if I may put it like that. The UK has supported the Gambia groundnut river transport fleet through the EU funding. Between 2008 and 2010, £1.1 million was spent on rehabilitating three tugboats to enable the river fleet to operate effectively and efficiently. Since 2010, EU funding has been going towards a road infrastructure to assist the boat. [Interruption]

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Order. Far too many noisy private conversations are taking place in the Chamber. I happen to know that Members of Parliament from other countries are observing our proceedings, and we ought to set a good example. Let us have a bit of order for Mr James Gray.

Topical Questions

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T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. [133036]

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In the course of carrying out my departmental responsibilities, I have announced to the House that I have moved to a new relationship with India; announced decisions on Uganda and Rwanda; announced humanitarian assistance to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; travelled to India; been to Brussels to meet the EU Commissioners; and co-chaired a global partnership meeting in the UK. Of course, a couple of weekends ago I had my first chance to visit Afghanistan to see the work my Department is doing out there.

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Those of us who strongly support Britain’s moral and strategic duty to get money through to the poorest and most needy people in the world are none the less concerned that on occasion that money can be diverted to improper purposes in one way or another. Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of getting the money through to the most needy people in the world is by making use of non-governmental organisations, thereby avoiding passing the money to corrupt dictators?

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My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that many of our NGOs do excellent work, often in very challenging circumstances. He will be pleased to know that we now provide budget support only in countries where we are completely satisfied that the funding will be used for its intended purposes—when it is not, we stop, as has been seen. Just 6% of the Department’s bilateral aid budget is provided in the form of general budget support.

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I wish to declare an interest: I have just returned from a visit to Burma with the Burma Campaign UK, where I had the privilege of meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, whose courageous leadership is a source of inspiration and hope for a better future, and I saw for myself the challenges that ethnic communities continue to face. Will DFID Ministers work with the Foreign Secretary to apply maximum pressure to the Burmese Government to protect the Rohingya community from violence, create an urgent and transparent process to establish their citizenship rights, and begin a serious political dialogue with all ethnic communities? [Interruption.]

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Order. May I just remind the House that we are discussing extremely serious matters? This question is about Burma, and it would be a courtesy if Members would listen to the question and to the Minister’s answer.

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), who has responsibility for Burma, will visit Rakhine state this coming Friday and Saturday, when he will see the situation at first hand and meet senior Burmese Ministers. The Burmese Government have founded an independent commission to investigate the situation in Rakhine state. The UK is very closely engaged with all parties to push for greater humanitarian access and a longer-term political settlement, including on citizenship.

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T2. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, under a Conservative Government. Does the Minister agree that the work it does is extremely valuable in building democracies and is a good use of taxpayers’ money? [133037]

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I do. The work that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy does is extremely valuable in helping to promote democratic governance around the world. I know that the WFD is also working to strengthen further the value for money it provides to the taxpayer, and to change and modernise, and I fully support that work.

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T4. Will the Minister outline what discussions her Department has had with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on ensuring that small businesses, including fair trade businesses from developing countries, are able to be supported? [133041]

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The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that issue. I am determined to ensure that we provide fair aid, but I think that fair trade is incredibly important, too. We are discussing with BIS how we can work more effectively with that Department in developing our trade links, and I think that fair trade is an excellent way in which we can see the shift from aid to trade take place.

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T3. Given the austerity measures being implemented domestically, what assurances can the Secretary of State give me that international aid is provided only to those countries and projects where genuine need has been clearly established, as opposed to countries that can and should be doing more to help themselves? [133040]

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I think my hon. Friend will have seen from some of the decisions I have taken in the short time I have been in this role that I am determined to ensure that our spend on behalf of the taxpayer goes where it can make the biggest difference. Whether we are dealing with countries that are better placed to help themselves, such as India, or countries where we are concerned about how our aid money is being spent by the Government, such as Uganda, we are prepared to take decisions and we will see improved value for money over time.