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Topical Questions

Volume 555: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2012

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.

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?

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.

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.]

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.

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.

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)

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.