It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I am delighted to have been able to secure this important and topical debate, given the continuing humanitarian crisis in places such as Syria, Palestine, Burma and elsewhere, and what that means in the context of the upcoming referendum in Scotland. I am also delighted to have so many hon. Members from Scotland here, and I hope that they will take the opportunity to intervene during the debate.
It is vital that, during these difficult economic times, we recognise the fantastic work that the UK has done and continues to do in promoting and supporting international development. We are all rightly proud of that work. Let us not forget that the Department for International Development does exactly what its title suggests. Yes, one of its roles is to respond quickly to crises—to feed, to clothe and to provide emergency health supplies—but, crucially, it is designed to help and support developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty, grow their economies and create prosperity and opportunity for their own citizens. That is why DFID is a force for good in the world.
I have more than my fair share of criticism of the Government, be it on the economy or on welfare, but we must all recognise and pay tribute to the efforts of successive Secretaries of State to protect DFID’s budget. It is the perfect example of how we can maximise our impact by pooling and sharing our resources. It demonstrates the positive and powerful voice for change of the people of the United Kingdom—be they from Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland—and the powerful voice that they have through their seat at the top table.
Who can doubt the UK’s positive influence on international development? Not only do we play our part, but we lead the way shaping global priorities, fighting poverty and creating opportunity. That is one example, among many, of how our collective voice is stronger—stronger in the UN, stronger in the EU, stronger in the G8 and stronger in the G20. Let us not forget that it was a Scot who, in 2005 as Chancellor of the Exchequer, got the G7 group of leading economies to agree to cancel up to 100% of the debt that was owed to them by developing countries. As a result, the debts of 18 of the world’s poorest countries to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were wiped out as part of a $55 billion package.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate, and it is indeed a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. Does my hon. Friend agree that Scotland, if it were separate from the UK, would lose out on the UK’s experience and influence in the world to deliver such projects?
I am coming to that point in a second. Everywhere I have travelled to while serving on the Select Committee on International Development—whether it was Palestine, Rwanda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo—I have seen Scots who work for DFID leading teams and leading the difference that the UK makes to some of the hardest-hit places around the world.
The same Scot who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2005 later, as Prime Minister, put tax transparency on the agenda for the G20 in 2009. Many hon. Members will have received correspondence from constituents asking them to support the Enough Food for Everyone IF campaign, which calls on leaders of the G8 countries to take concerted action against global hunger. I highlight that campaign because it recognises the instincts of internationalism shared by people from all parts of the UK, who want to make a difference based not on nationality but on need.
As part of the UK, we play a leading role on the board of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The UK has far greater combined influence when we speak with one voice than we could ever hope to achieve by speaking in isolation. It is not merely our position of influence that is a force for good. The combined budget of DFID this year is £10.7 billion—more if other departmental spend is included—which is used to deliver real change, lift people out of poverty and intervene to save lives.
Scotland is not simply part of the delivery but at the heart of it. DFID’s historic Scottish headquarters in East Kilbride, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), has had a 30-year presence and employs more than 500 people to fight global poverty. The East Kilbride headquarters has developed from a transactional and corporate support function into a core part of the Department with responsibility for bilateral and multilateral projects. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staff in East Kilbride, many of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting when I have visited, for the tremendous work they do.
As we have found in debates about defence, or about civil service jobs in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, there would be no simple transfer of Scottish-based jobs or services to a Scottish Government if the country voted for independence. Such jobs serve the whole DFID operation, which would have to be disentangled. It is inconceivable that a continuing UK DFID would locate a third of its jobs in what would become another country. The inescapable fact is that those jobs are at risk. For the Scottish National party to suggest anything else would be merely an assertion not backed up by reality.
The hon. Gentleman wants to spread scare stories yet again about what would happen in an independent Scotland. He may have noticed that the Scottish Government have operated a policy of no compulsory redundancies in the parts of the public sector for which they are responsible. That policy has sadly not been replicated in the rest of the UK. Would the Labour party support a policy of no compulsory redundancies for Scottish public sector workers?
In case you do not follow day-to-day Scottish politics, Mr Davies, you just heard the same old line that we get continually from the SNP about scaremongering. For members of the SNP, the definition of scaremongering is asking a question to which they do not have the answer. They do not know what will happen to the DFID jobs that I have mentioned, which is why the hon. Lady did not want to raise that point. Are we likely to have large bases of civil service jobs in France, Spain or Portugal, for example? Is the First Minister likely to locate a third of the jobs in the new Scottish tax service, which he launched yesterday, in Norway? No, he is not. He will base them in his own country, and the same principle applies to jobs in DFID.
The contradiction in the hon. Gentleman’s argument is that he has highlighted the positive role played by Scots all over the world, especially in international development, but suggested that in Scotland we would suddenly forget all that if we opted to join the international community as an independent country. Of course we would not. We would hope to work with DFID and with other countries to ensure that good development work continued.
I agree with that point, and I will address it in a moment. The hon. Lady fails to understand that I am talking about 500 staff in Scotland who control a budget of £10.7 billion, which services the entire UK DFID programme, not Scotland’s share of it. It is not possible to escape from that dichotomy as the hon. Lady is, sadly, trying to do.
One reason why I am so proud of my Scottish heritage is the overwhelming sense of compassion that Scots have for those who are less fortunate than ourselves and the incredible passion we have for making the world a better place for everyone. According to a recent study by New Philanthropy Capital, people in Scotland give more to charity than those in any other part of the UK. That is not simply a Scottish value; it is a Labour value. By contrast, the SNP likes to paint a picture of independence in which, free from the shackles of the UK, Scotland can pursue its natural preference for progressive politics. Scotland does not need to look to an independent future to achieve a progressive contribution to international development. We can be proud of our progressive record to date as part of the UK.
Before we all get too self-congratulatory, does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that the previous Labour Government failed to meet their 0.7% target? They have been shamed by the Tories, who met that target. All the missing aid over those years would have gone a long way to help people in developing countries by improving health, education and water and things that really make a difference.
I seem to have pre-empted the hon. Lady’s intervention, because I was just about to say that Labour MPs from Scotland helped to secure majority Labour Governments in the UK that were committed to pushing international development high up the political agenda. Labour appointed the first Minister for overseas development. Labour established DFID with a Secretary of State in the Cabinet. Labour doubled and then trebled international aid. Labour secured debt relief. Labour set in place the 0.7% target that has been hit in 2013. We should be proud of that record, instead of trying to talk it down.
Scots can be immensely proud of their contribution to that record; millions more children are in school, mothers are giving birth safely and AIDS sufferers have access to life-saving medicines because of the decisions made by successive Labour Governments that Scots helped to elect. In Budget after Budget, and at international summit after international summit, a Labour Government fought on the side of the poor and the marginalised, transforming their lives for better and establishing Britain as a leading force for social justice in the world.
The UK has joined the select group of only five countries on the OECD’s development assistance committee that have reached the target of providing 0.7% of their national income in aid. It is worth noting that many countries the SNP holds out as examples of the benefits that accrue from independence are well below that target.
I care about reducing poverty and inequality not only in Scotland, but in other parts of the UK and across the world. Poverty has no respect for borders; I have yet to see an inequality that stops at a line on a map. That is why I recognise, as do others on the Labour Benches and, I am sure, right across the House, that pooling and sharing our resources across the UK is the best way of making a difference in the UK and across the world.
For me and the majority of Scots, our beliefs and compassion extend not just to people living within the borders of Scotland, but to people right across the globe. Members will be aware that a Scottish engineer, William Burton, developed one of the first drinking water systems in Japan. We all know the story of David Livingstone and about the close links that remain with Malawi. Those are just two examples, but fine ones, of how Scots have a long and proud history of making a difference in the world.
Scottish organisations are still making a difference today. DFID works with a number of leading Scottish charities to deliver its aid and humanitarian support programmes. It recently announced that Mercy Corps, which is headquartered in Scotland, and which is one of the top organisations specialising in disaster response, has been selected for a new UK rapid-response network. Another Scottish charity, the Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines, recently received funding of more than £31.2 million from DFID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Those are just two examples of the many Scottish organisations that work in partnership with DFID and deliver change around the world.
As a former member of the International Development Committee, I have witnessed at first hand some of the fantastic work DFID has done, and is doing, in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. In 1998, DFID gave Rwanda £20 million to help improve the Rwandan revenue authority; on average, Rwanda now collects that amount once every four weeks. Currently, DFID is providing £348 million in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria—a fact we should all welcome.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) mentioned the Scottish Government’s commitment, and it is commendable that they have committed £9 million of their budget to international assistance. However, as part of the UK, Scotland, based on its population share—if that is the calculation we choose to use—contributes about £900 million. We have influence over, and control of, a budget of more than £10 billion, alongside a seat at the top table at the IMF and World Bank. There can be few more bizarre arguments in favour of independence than the one that says, “Let’s turn our backs on this. Let’s walk away from a budget of billions and a Department that is a force for good across the globe, with the second largest aid budget in the world.”
I have no doubt an independent Scotland would want to ensure that it maintained Scotland’s proud record of providing international development support; of course it would—the people of Scotland would insist on it. However, it is not clear how that would happen, because on this issue, as on other issues, the SNP does not have a plan. All DFID’s good work is at risk. The contribution Scots make to meeting our global obligations would be cast aside at the altar of independence.
In a recent article for The Herald newspaper, the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) said:
“Independence offers us the opportunity to make Scotland’s place in the world one that meets the aspirations of our people.”
Well, I believe the aspirations of Scots go well beyond the nationalists’ blinkered, narrow approach. Are we really saying that we could have the same impact and the same budget and that we would require the same number of jobs with a fraction of the budget? Are we really saying that we would have the same influence across the world if we were standing in isolation, instead of sitting at the top table when discussions are had and decisions are made? Only the nationalists could believe so.
What would happen to the DFID jobs in East Kilbride in a separate Scotland? What would happen to Scottish charities such as Mercy Corps or GALVmed, which work with DFID to deliver its aid and humanitarian support programmes? Would staff working in East Kilbride have to relocate, or would they be made redundant? How much would it cost the Scottish Government to set up their own dedicated Department for International Development, or how much would Scottish charities in receipt of DFID funding lose? Crucially, how much would an independent Scotland spend on overseas development? Surely, after having thought about independence for so many years—for all its existence—the SNP would have answers to such basic questions. The sad reality is that, before, the answer to every problem was independence; now that the issue is independence, however, the nationalists simply have no answers.
Given that the Scottish Government’s international development fund is so small, by what amount, if any, would it be increased? What would be the implications for people in extreme poverty and for developing countries? Which DFID programmes would continue to receive funding in a separate Scotland? Which would have their funding reduced or cut altogether? Those questions cannot just be ignored—they must be answered.
Those are just some of the questions the International Development Committee hopes to find answers to in its inquiry about the implications for development following possible Scottish independence. I welcome that inquiry, and I urge all colleagues across the House—from all political parties and all parts of the UK—to engage with the debate.
Those are important questions for the Scots working for DFID in East Kilbride. They are important questions for the Scottish charities working with DFID or in receipt of DFID funding. Most of all, however, they are important questions for those of us who abhor poverty and the wasting of life chances, wherever they occur, and who recognise that our responsibility is not just to those in need in our own towns and villages, but to everyone in our global village.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar) for securing this debate. I very much appreciate his kind and appreciative comments about DFID and, more importantly, the staff who work so hard.
As we talk today, the International Development Committee is, as the hon. Gentleman said, holding an inquiry into the implications for development in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country. The Committee has yet to present its analysis and report, so, out of respect for the processes of the House, I will not anticipate the outcome of the inquiry.
I welcome the chance, however, to set out the Government’s plans for the UK’s international development programme and to consider the role Scotland plays in it. Let me be clear at the outset: the UK Government want Scotland to remain an integral part of the UK, because that is what is best for all of us. Scotland benefits from being part of the UK, and the UK benefits from having Scotland in the UK. The UK Government are hopeful that, when people in Scotland come to make their choice, they will choose to remain part of the UK.
On the evidence and analysis available so far, I am very clear that the UK, with Scotland in it, can continue to have a significant international development impact, providing excellent value for money to taxpayers at home and making a significant difference to the poorest and most vulnerable people across the world. Scottish taxpayers, like all UK taxpayers, can be proud of the contribution they make to the UK’s official development assistance—otherwise known as ODA—and I see no case for changing that.
The UK is one of the world’s leaders in the fight against poverty. On provisional data, the UK provided £8.6 billion of ODA in 2012. That places us second only to the USA, just ahead of Germany and then France. This year we will do even better, as the first G8 country to achieve the global 0.7% target. That is a tremendous achievement, which brings with it great responsibility for DFID.
The size and reach of DFID’s programme enable UK aid to have a huge impact. We are proud of the results we have delivered towards the millennium development goals. To give just a few examples, since 2010, UK aid has supported 5.9 million children—half of them girls—to go to primary school; given 19.6 million people access to clean water and sanitation; prevented 12.9 million children and pregnant women from going hungry; and enabled more than 30 million men and women to work their way out of poverty through access to financial services. I am sure we can agree that those figures are very impressive indeed.
DFID delivers major results through its significant funding of multilateral organisations, which helps draw in other donors who add their contributions to those effective multilateral organisations. In 2012, for example, the multilaterals supported by DFID gave food assistance to more than 97 million people and immunised 46 million children against preventable diseases. The UK, together, has a significant impact on the lives of the poor as a responsible 0.7% donor. We can always do better, but the Government believe that we are stronger and more influential when we work together.
I will now analyse why size and reputation help the UK make a bigger impact. First, DFID’s size and global reputation create opportunities to shape international efforts in ways that are consistent with UK values. The Prime Minister’s pivotal role in shaping the framework that follows the MDGs and the co-chairing of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation by the Secretary of State for International Development are examples that ultimately aim to give global development more impact per £1 spent. That is about being clear on what we are trying to achieve, measuring and reporting on it and working with the right partners. The UK as a whole, together, is leading the way on that.
Alongside that, we have real influence within the multilateral system. The World Bank’s International Development Association, a major provider of interest-free loans to the world’s poorest countries, is an effective example. UK aid typically accounts for between 10% and 14% of donor contributions, giving us a powerful voice in fund governance structures. IDA was assessed in the groundbreaking DFID multilateral aid review as very good value for money. It is poverty focused, provides quality technical expertise and has a huge global reach. Because of DFID’s size and reputation—something that would be reduced if we were fragmented—the World Bank works closely with us to keep improving the impact on matters that reflect UK values, such as addressing the needs of girls and women and delivering better in fragile states.
I will come back to the Minister’s question in a moment.
Is the Minister really saying that an independent English DFID would lose its status in the world? That seems a preposterous assertion from a Conservative Minister.
The SNP has pledged that there will be no compulsory redundancies in public sector jobs for which it is currently responsible. Obviously, if Scotland were to take on new responsibilities, it would need to resource those functions. Scottish people of all parties are committed to meeting their obligation to provide 0.7% of gross national income in ODA, but if we were to have an international development budget of some £900 million, we would surely need a civil service to administer that.
I will leave it to the Select Committee to analyse that in greater detail, but I point out, more generally, that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) has been unable to give a clear answer, despite the illusion and impression that she is trying to convey. I ask her once again: does she, or does she not, guarantee the jobs of those in Abercrombie house should there be independence for Scotland?
The Scottish Government have made it very clear that they will need civil servants to do such jobs post-independence. Look at our record to date: we have secured people’s jobs through the toughest recession and the UK Government’s shameless austerity measures. Why would that change?
That answer shows that the hon. Lady’s so-called public sector jobs guarantee amounts to nothing and is a political deceit.
The UK’s global reach matters. We have a strong, professional DFID presence in 28 focus countries, and we have widely respected multi-million pound programmes, many of which are worth between £50 million and £250 million a year. Partner Governments seek advice from DFID, which translates into better development.
None of that would be possible without our staff. DFID’s size and ambition allows us to attract and retain the best talent. Front-line staff have technical and specialist skills, such as in economics, health, governance, social development and accountancy. Our staff are able to build fulfilling careers in an organisation with a wide scope.
So what should Scotland’s role be in the UK’s international development effort? Scotland already makes a significant contribution to UK international development, and the contribution Scottish taxpayers make to the UK’s total international development budget is important. DFID has a sizeable headquarters in Abercrombie house in East Kilbride. More than 600 staff in Scotland form an intrinsic part of the team that delivers the UK’s entire international development impact. Responsibilities at Abercrombie house range from professional oversight of DFID’s finance, procurement, human resources and IT functions to the development of policy and research agendas. Staff working equally from East Kilbride and London contribute to the coalition Government’s international development priorities, such as the Prime Minister’s push to end global hunger and malnutrition. The Department delivers excellent value for money for all UK taxpayers and provides significant high quality job opportunities in Scotland.
The Scottish Government have their own small £9 million programme, which is funded from the devolved budget and contributes to the UK’s official development assistance. Working relations between DFID and the Scottish Government are strong and there is regular contact and co-operation.
The real question is whether it would make development sense for an independent Scotland to start afresh and to develop the capacity to manage its own programme, aiming for 0.7%, or even more, of its own gross national income. It is not for us to speculate on how an independent Scottish development agency would or could operate; it is for those advocating independence to make the case that independence would have a greater overall impact on international development.
I am just finishing.
We believe that the UK can have the greatest impact in the world if everyone works together as part of a UK that includes a vibrant Scotland. I am very pleased, and I warmly welcome the fact, that the hon. Member for Glasgow Central has so eloquently put that view.