House of Commons
Friday 12 September 2014
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
I beg to move, That the House sit in private.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 163).
International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It was my immense good fortune to secure second place in the ballot for private Members’ Bills. Having put my name in the ballot every year that I could over the last 17 years, I am aware of just how lucky I was. It is my privilege to bring forward this measure.
Before I get to the substance, I thank all Members from across the House who have taken the trouble to be here today and to show their support in advance. I thank the campaigning groups, non-governmental organisations and charities across the United Kingdom that have indicated their strong support for the Bill. I also thank the many people behind the scenes, in the House and elsewhere, who have helped me prepare for today. However, the usual caveat applies that I take full responsibility for what now happens.
First, I want to make an important acknowledgement. The subject of international development is hugely important to all of us, but I am conscious that many people across the United Kingdom continue to grapple with serious problems in their own lives. Those issues are the stuff of debate in this place week in, week out throughout the year. Over the past five or six years, through one of the deepest recessions that this country has ever seen, many people have suffered and struggled. We have a duty to each of them, as our constituents, to advocate on their behalf and to argue for what is in the best interests of our country. I hope that as we move into economic recovery, we ensure that we bring everybody with us. We will, of course, return to debates about that.
I wonder whether we need to explain to our constituents a little more about the benefits of spending 0.7% on international development. The products of companies such as JCB and Jaguar Land Rover are flying off the shelves because they are needed in the most important parts of the world where emergencies are happening. Our people are being employed because the money is being spent wisely.
Pursuant to the last intervention, is it not true that, alongside the moral justification for the Bill, when we do more to support countries in the developing world, it has a positive impact on economic migration, because people want to stay in their own countries and develop them? That really knocks down the right-wing argument that the Bill will take money away from local people.
First, I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman was one of the earliest supporters of the Bill and that he has supported it consistently throughout the last few months. He raises an important point, to which I will return in due course. I anticipate that there will be a repost from others in the Chamber, as is the nature of this debate.
Those of us who have concerns about the Bill are, of course, totally committed to humanitarian aid. However, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there are many competing demands on the Government. For instance, does he think that we should enshrine in legislation a commitment to spend 2% of our gross wealth on defence, which is vital to our security?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I would be happy, over time, to hear him advocate the case for enshrining that commitment in law. That would be a healthy debate to have. However, as I hope will become clear as I advance my arguments, there is an important case to be made for this Bill and I hope that it will have the support of the whole House.
I have given way several times, so I will make a little progress before I allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to intervene.
The duty that we have to our constituents sits alongside a basic duty to help the poorest in the world with food, water, shelter and medical assistance. If anybody doubts that, they should see that the statistics that confront us are harrowing. The World Bank estimated that in 2010, 400 million children and 1.2 billion people across the world were living in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day. Others have estimated that between 2008 and 2012, 33 million people were internally displaced within their countries as a result of conflict and 143 million people were internally displaced because of disasters.
The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly obvious in the developing world. We desperately need to help developing countries to make the adaptations that are required to cope with climate change. Over the past 15 years, under the millennium development goals, we have rightly seen a new focus on assistance for women in the areas of education and health. Too many women across the globe do not have access to education or to the basic medical services to which they ought to be entitled. Day in, day out, we see the important work that is done by NGOs, the Department for International Development and others in humanitarian crises around the world, whether in Syria, Gaza, the Philippines following last year’s typhoon or Iraq.
One has only to ask the Christians, Yazidis or the Syrians in Dohuk what aid means to them. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that embedding an expert from the Department for International Development in the Ministry of Interior in that part of the world, where there is a clear and present danger to our security, is equally as important as the hardware we are delivering to the peshmerga?
The hon. Gentleman has spent some time in Iraq in recent weeks, so I value his insight. He makes an important suggestion, and I am sure that colleagues in the Department have discussed the matter with him and will continue to debate it. He also illustrates how widely different levels of support can be given, which is important.
Development assistance makes a difference. The World Bank estimates that there are 700 million fewer people in extreme poverty now than there were three decades ago. Development assistance saves lives; it transforms lives. Used wisely, it creates the right conditions for economic growth, because the most powerful tool to take people out of poverty is to give them the means to look after themselves.
I am very much opposed to the right hon. Gentleman’s Bill, but I am looking forward to campaigning next week not necessarily alongside him, but with him in his constituency in the Scottish borders—where all my family come from—for the retention of this great United Kingdom of ours.
However worthy this Bill, spending priorities go to the heart of the battle at general elections. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why overseas aid should be singled out while spending on the defence of the realm is being cut? Spending on aid has gone up by £4 billion under this Government alone.
I say to my hon. Friend and his colleagues that I appreciate their argument about other spending commitments, and as he said, there is a political argument and debate to be had about that. I will return to the reasons why this Bill is before the House, based on previous political debates. In passing, I look forward to my hon. Friend’s presence in the Scottish borders next week.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sort of countries on which we spent development aid in past years are now some of our most important trading partners, and countries that are emerging markets for Britain? It is not wasted money. It is obviously right to spend money on aid and development, but it is also in Britain’s interest.
The right hon. Gentleman has made important points about economic development for women. Does he agree that by tackling poverty in that way and supporting women’s progress, we are dealing not just with the needs of those women but with a benefit that translates into generations? Children having positive role models is in the long-term interests of us all.
The hon. Lady makes a different point but it goes to the theme of the previous intervention. This is about legacy. If we get this right now, invest in the right way and support people, they in turn will be able to support themselves, and their children and grandchildren will live very different lives.
No one in this House doubts the value of aid, and the various points we have heard concerning women and poverty. Of course that is right, and the more we can spend on aid overseas—we are a rich country—the better, but that is not what the Bill is about. The Bill is about writing that figure into law. Why should spending on overseas aid be written into law, but not the national health service or domestic spending of any kind? Why should overseas aid be the only thing written into law?
I hope that hon. Members will acknowledge that I have given way fairly generously over the past 10 minutes, which has meant that I have not yet advanced most of my arguments. Even if I slightly despair of persuading the hon. Gentleman in the course of my arguments, I hope he will allow me to make them.
The right hon. Gentleman said that overseas aid works. If it works so well, surely we should be aiming to reduce the amount we spend. We will spend a certain amount of money, and it will work so well that we will no longer need to spend that amount. If the aid has worked, those countries will have been able to sort themselves out and therefore we will be spending less. Why do we need to fix a high amount of money for aid in perpetuity? That in itself proves that such measures do not work.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his speech and on the excellent Bill he is presenting to the House. In response to those who intervened and mentioned defence, is he encouraged to remind them of the words of Nelson Mandela, who said that the greatest threat to peace on this earth is international poverty?
I acknowledge the important role played by the right hon. Gentleman as one of the original Ministers in DFID, and in piloting his own legislation through the House—I will refer to that briefly later in my remarks. I agree that this is a hugely important agenda, not just for now but for what it means for the future of people across the world.
In the United Kingdom, DFID continues to do hugely important work. Its 2013-14 report highlights that, over time, the Department has provided 43 million people with access to clean water, better sanitation or improved hygiene conditions. It has supported 10 million people—nearly 5 million of them girls—to go to primary and secondary school, and 3.6 million births have taken place safely that otherwise might not have done so. It has prevented 19 million children under five and pregnant women from going hungry, and reached 11 million people with emergency food assistance. A long, and I would argue impressive, list of work has been done by DFID in our name, and it is right that we should do that.
For reasons that have been advanced already from both sides of the House, this is not simply about our moral imperative and the importance of delivering for the poorest and most disadvantaged in the world; it is also about our interests in the UK. That is true in terms of jobs, as the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) made clear, but also more generally. The problems of other parts of the world do not stay local for long, and, as we know, issues such as migration, conflicts that draw us in, or whatever it might be, affect us daily. I therefore argue that this is no awkward choice between what is morally right and what is in our self-interest; this is in our interests and it is the right thing to do.
The challenges that I have touched on are not new. We have seen over many decades constant campaigning to tackle the fate and plight of those who are most disadvantaged. Much important work has been done by faith groups: the World Council of Churches stimulated the debate in the 1950s, and other faiths have been very much part of it too.
In 1970, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that included this goal:
“Each economically advanced country will progressively increase its official development assistance to the developing countries and will exert its best efforts to reach a minimum net amount of 0.7 per cent of its gross national product at market prices by the middle of the Decade.”
That commitment was supported by the Labour Government in 1974 and by successive Governments. In 1997, we saw the creation of the Department for International Development, and the International Development Act 2002 enabled the Secretary of State to provide assistance to countries, territories and organisations if he or she was satisfied that such assistance would be likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. The International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, authored by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), placed a requirement on the Secretary of State to report detailed information to Parliament.
The financial commitment more recently has also been critical. It began with a Labour Government. In 2004, a spending review pledge was made to reach the 0.7% target by 2013, and that was reaffirmed in the last Government’s 2009 White Paper. That commitment has gone on: in 2009, we spent £7.2 billion, or 0.5% of gross national income, on development assistance, and in 2013, historically, the coalition Government, supported by the Opposition, reached the target, spending £11.4 billion, or 0.72% of GNI, on development assistance. The 2013 spending review has committed us to that spending going forward:
“The Government remains committed to supporting those people across the world whose economies are most in need of development. This is in the UK’s national interest. Tackling global issues such as economic development, effective governance, climate change, conflict and fragile states provides good value for money.”
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing the Bill before the House, and I support what he is trying to do. Does he agree that this is partly about Parliament showing global leadership to other countries, which must also live up to their international commitments, and that by putting this in legislation we are encouraging those who have made similar commitments and not lived up to them to do so?
I thank the hon. Lady for being here to support my Bill and I welcome her observations. Yes, I absolutely endorse her point. I will be coming to it shortly myself.
We have made a lot of progress in recent times, and the UK can be proud of its leadership in that respect. However, challenges still remain. The millennium development goals, which started 14 years ago, are due for review next year. We have seen targets for reducing extreme poverty by half, achieving universal primary education and improving maternal health, but we have made patchy progress. Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa remains dire. More positively, we have made good progress on access to universal primary education, but there remains work to do.
During the financial downturn, across the world the level of official development assistance declined. In 2005, the UN highlighted that higher ODA spending was required and that the UN target had to be kept in place so that we could meet the millennium development goals. We remain short of achieving those goals, as we approach their temporary end point—the job is not done—and it is important that we commit to continuing our support. We should not give up now, having reached the target. As the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) said, maintaining our commitment will enable the UK to show leadership across the world. More practically, it will also enable our partners in the developing world to plan for the future, conscious that the money will be there year after year. It will also allow us to switch the focus from arguing about how much we should be spending to how we should spend it and ensuring it is spent properly.
My introducing the Bill today reflects the cross-party consensus. As the Liberal Democrat shadow spokesman on international development for three years before the 2010 election, I was part of this debate ahead of the election. All the party manifestos included the commitment. The Labour manifesto read:
“We remain committed to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on aid from 2013, and we will enshrine this commitment in law early in the next Parliament.”
The Liberal Democrat manifesto read:
“Liberal Democrats will increase the UK’s aid budget to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2013 and enshrine that target in law.”
The Conservative manifesto read:
“A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.”
The Scottish National party and others included similar commitments in their manifestos, and in the coalition agreement in 2010 we said:
“We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law.”
The Bill would ensure we do that. Clause 1 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to meet the UN’s 0.7% target on an ongoing basis; clause 2 talks about the duty to lay a statement before Parliament if the target is not met; clause 3 deals with accountability to this place; clause 4 would repeal section 3 of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act, as the 0.7% target will now have been reached; and clause 5 would set up an independent international development office, which fits with the long title of the Bill:
“to make provision for independent verification that ODA is spent efficiently and effectively”.
It is important that we match the statutory target with some form of statutory oversight. Large sums of public money are being spent, as many have already highlighted, and of course there are well documented examples of abuse, corruption and other issues we have to deal with. It is vital that the public have confidence that we are spending this money wisely and reaching the objectives set.
I have put in the Bill a proposal that builds on previous draft Bills and efforts in this House, but I believe that the principle, rather than the specific measures, is the critical issue. I welcome the constructive engagement of Ministers, and I acknowledge their concerns, but should we secure a Second Reading today, I hope we can revisit the matter in Committee.
Before concluding, I will turn briefly to Scotland, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) mentioned. We are in the midst of an almighty debate about our future. As a result, many Scottish colleagues are understandably absent today, and those here, on both sides of the argument, will, like me, be heading home immediately after this debate. I am particularly grateful to those who have taken the trouble to be here today. I say to my friends all across Scotland that development is a small but really important part of the debate. Reaching the UN’s target was an achievement of the United Kingdom as a whole, with Scotland an important part of it. As part of the UK, Scotland belongs to a family of nations that are the world’s second-largest donors of international aid.
We are not passive in this process either: 40% of DFID staff are based in Abercrombie House in East Kilbride, which I had the privilege to visit twice with the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), when he was Secretary of State. Together with the rest of the United Kingdom, our money goes further and our impact is stronger. Scots who want their country to be a force for compassion and relief should reflect on what we have today and recognise that we can do more as part of the United Kingdom. Why would we walk away from all of that?
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has gone off at this strange tangent. Is he not aware that the Scottish Government have made it particularly clear that we will be bound by the UN target and will write it into the constitution of an independent Scotland? Does he not think it significant that countries that have met the target include Denmark, Norway and even Luxembourg—small, independent north European countries? Scotland has the ability and the will to do this. It is interesting that it has taken the United Kingdom some 30 years to get to this stage, when many of these smaller countries were there in the 1970s.
I hope the tone of the debate will not deteriorate too rapidly. I thought I was making the point in a perfectly reasonable and positive way. The House and those outside it will have noted what the hon. Gentleman had to say. My argument is simple: as part of the United Kingdom, we are the first of the G7 to have reached this target. Yes, small countries have led the way, but here we are as part of a rather big country that has made that commitment. Scotland provides leadership and thinking in terms of policy making and what the Department does, and I think we should celebrate that and look to continue it.
The plight of the world’s poorest people remains a scar on all our consciences and it is something we think deeply about. The injustice suffered by millions is not something we can turn our backs on. We have unfinished business. The United Kingdom has, over decades, demonstrated leadership, providing support for those most in need. Today, with this Bill, I hope we can continue to show it.
Let me first thank the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), for introducing this important Bill. Let me say, too, that all Members deserve thanks for the way this country has met the target of contributing 0.7% of our national income in aid over these last few years. I hope the background to this debate is that we wish to keep the promises we have made for the future.
Anyone who goes to the children’s museum in Rwanda will see a photograph of a young boy called David. Below that photograph, people will see a number of words that summarise the problem that we have and are dealing with. It says only a few things about the life of this young boy: “David, age 10; favourite sport, football; favourite hobby, making people laugh; ambition, to be a doctor.” Then it says: “Death by mutilation; last words, ‘the United Nations are coming to help us’”. That young boy in his innocence and his idealism believed that the international community was coming to his aid. He believed that what we had said about what we would do in a genocide would lead to action. He believed that when we made promises, we in the international community would keep them. It is to our shame that that young boy died, believing that help would come when it never did.
Now it is too late to keep our promises to that young boy David, but what we are talking about today is how we keep the promises we have made as a country and as an international community. What we are talking about is whether the parties that signed pledges during the last few years—the coalition agreement contained those pledges—are prepared to uphold these pledges, which said specifically that the 0.7% target would be legislated for and put on the statute book by this House and by the House of Lords.
We have not even recently kept the promises that we made in another area. “Why have you abandoned us?”—the five words that a young girl from Syria said to me when she was pleading for help for her country and her family, now that she was exiled in Lebanon. That young girl had been forced out of her home in Homs, her family had been forced into exile and her disabled sister had been forced out on to the streets. She was now in a shack in Lebanon. Yes, she wanted food; yes, she wanted shelter; and yes, she wanted medicine for her sister, but she said to me that she also wanted to go to school. She thought she might be able to go to the schools in Lebanon, and she asked us whether we could make international aid available so that she and other exiled refugees could do that.
The Lebanon Government—I appreciate that the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) has just been there—offered to help. They said they would do a double-shift system in the schools by opening up the schools in the evenings so that young people from Syria would have the chance of being educated after the Lebanese children had had their own education earlier in the day. We devised a plan that would cost $200 million and would enable nearly 500,000 children to go to school. That is $4 a week per child—a cost-effective way of getting children back into school.
The British Government have put up money—I thank the Secretary of State for International Development, who is in her place today, for that—as have other Governments, but the brute fact is that 300,000 of these 500,000 children who could go to school are not able to do so because the international aid community has refused to put up enough money to make it possible. While we have achieved $100 million of the $200 million target, we have not been able realise the simple matter of providing $4 a week to get a child into education in Lebanon. It is not because there are no schools for them to go; it is not because we are ignorant of the plight; it is not because there are not enough people willing to help and make it possible: it is because there is a need for international aid, and that aid has not yet been met.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful emotional argument, which we can all understand and support. He will be aware, however, that serious academic studies, not least by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and the Centre for Global Development, question the effectiveness of this target. For instance, they say that
“the speed of the planned increase risks reducing the quality, value for money and accountability of the aid programme”,
“the right amount of aid for poor countries should not be based on the size of rich economies but on the needs of a particular poor country itself.”
Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to those serious academic arguments?
First of all, I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that his party made a promise, and it is a duty of a party that makes a promise to try to keep it, to do what the party said and to legislate in law. The problem we face with the general public is that we make promises, but the public still do not trust us to keep them. That is why it is important that this debate leads to action and results. As for the cost-effectiveness of aid, let me provide the hon. Gentleman with another example, and then others might like to enter the debate.
I have recently been to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the newest country in the world, which is trying to move forward. I went to a village school just outside Juba and I asked the women there—young mothers, many of whom had been child brides at the age of 12 or 13—what they wanted most. Of course, as I said about those in Syria and Lebanon, they needed food, protection, shelter and security, as they were in the midst of the threats and violence that come whenever there is a civil war, but they also said that what they wanted was education for their children.
I went to a small village hut school just outside Juba that was serving that village. There were 20 young children in that very small, one-hut school. What I remember seeing was 100 children outside the school looking in through a portal—one small window in this hut of a school—at something that they could not have because there were only 20 places for a village of hundreds of people.
The plan was drawn up for $200 million to be spent on educating the children of South Sudan. Only a third of children are at school and there are only about 60 girls in the final year of secondary education. The plan cost $4 a week—$200 a year—for these children to get education. The problem was not the willingness of the Government to do it or that there were no plans to do it; the problem was that nobody in the international community was able to come up with the extra $100 million—for a cost-effective project that, at $4 a week, nobody could doubt would be worth the money—despite efforts by this Government and others. Nobody in the international community was able to bring together the $200 million that might have brought children to school.
If anybody is in any doubt about other services, let me say this about education. Education unlocks the future. Education unlocks opportunity. The reason why we can cut child mortality and maternal mortality is that the death rate for educated people and educated mothers is half that of others. If anybody is in any doubt about what education has been able to do, there are 400,000 children who have been brought into school as a result of the aid budget of this Government and the previous Governments, in a way that did not happen before 2000.
We are, as the right hon. Gentleman correctly says, spending 0.7% now and not achieving the various things that he has listed. We all support international aid—of course we do; there is no question about that at all. The question is simply whether there is any advantage in writing the figure of 0.7% into the law of the land. If so, why should we do that for children around the world when we do not do it for British children with cancer, for example?
We can talk about other areas of policy, but let me remind the House that every party made a promise. Every party debated and discussed this, and every party decided that they would legislate so that aid was a requirement at 0.7% and that the Government would honour that, so the hon. Gentleman is saying to his own party that it made a mistake in doing so. If that is his view, let him have the debate with his own party.
Let me respond to the point about cost-effective aid. I do not think the hon. Gentleman knows this figure, but the average amount of aid for education—I will come to health in a minute—for a sub-Saharan African child, in all the poorest countries of Africa, from the international aid agencies, Britain and America, put together is $13 a year per child. We spend £5,000 a year on the education of a child in Britain. The average amount of aid for a child in Africa, at $13, is barely enough to pay for a second-hand textbook, and he is somehow suggesting that this is not cost-effective and is too much.
If we take a leadership position on this and enshrine it in law and then other countries follow suit, would that not also give the NGOs working on the ground much more clarity and predictability on spending and planning for smart aid for all the good causes that the right hon. Gentleman talks about?
The hon. Gentleman puts absolutely the right argument, which I will now come to. By legislating in this House, we could be a catalyst for other countries to do more. We would be in a position for the long term to say to countries and Governments who are not spending enough domestically on education, health and anti-poverty programmes that we will match whatever extra money they give over a longer period of time. We would be giving certainty to our aid budget for many years ahead. It seems to me that those who are protesting today also ignore the fact that on average we spend only about £1.50 per child—all aid agencies put together—on the vaccination programme in Africa.
I am grateful; it is good to hear the right hon. Gentleman being so shameless about promises when he broke one on the Lisbon treaty.
On the point that if we spent 0.7% of our GNI on aid, every other country would follow us, how is it that as we have increased our aid budget, other countries have reduced the proportion they spend on aid? Is it not the case that they are using our increased spending as an excuse to reduce theirs? The right hon. Gentleman is giving the CND argument of the 1980s that if we were to get rid of our nuclear weapons, every other country would follow.
We know we are on a filibuster when a Conservative Member starts mentioning the Lisbon treaty and then mentions CND in the 1980s.
Why does the hon. Gentleman not get to the heart of the issue? Let us take one country—Sierra Leone: one health worker for every 5,000 people; the UK: one to 77. Sierra Leone has 100 doctors for a population that is bigger than Scotland’s, and 200 nurses and 100 midwives. Do we say as a result of that that the small amount of aid we give—the $12 per person for education and the $50 per person for health in sub-Saharan Africa—is too much? Do we say that it is too generous or too wasteful?
Let us project into the future. We know that this has been a summer of conflict—six wars around the world—and a summer of carnage for children. When we have 1.5 million child refugees displaced from Syria, with refugees in Iraq, Gaza, the Central African Republic and also South Sudan, how can we possibly justify not making a law that suggests that the small amounts of money that are given by the international community, which can make an absolutely huge difference, should continue? My claim is based not just on the success of what we have done and the enormity of what we still have to do, but on the cost-effectiveness of most of the aid that I see delivered by DFID and many other aid Departments round the world.
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking with great authority. Having been in Jordan just last month and seen the schools operating there, partly funded by us, I do not think anybody can doubt the necessity of what continuity and sustainability of funding brings to education for those displaced people. On health, Ethiopia was the first place I ever visited as a Member of Parliament, where I learnt the shocking statistic that there were more Ethiopian doctors in New York than in the whole of Ethiopia. Do we not need to ensure the continuity and sustainability of aid, so that we build up a force of professionals who can stay in those countries to bring the health, education and business development that they so desperately need and with which this Bill can help?
The hon. Gentleman makes the argument for a long-term commitment to aid—for building up the capacity of health care systems in those countries; for encouraging them to invest for the long term; and for paying the doctors sufficient salaries in those countries so that they stay in them. Does he not also make a point that Government Members who oppose what we are doing should listen to—that if we can be a catalyst for other countries, if we can make a long-term commitment to aid and if we can honour our promises, we have a chance, as a large country, of influencing the rest of the international community?
I am going to move on and finish so that other people can speak.
Is this Parliament really prepared to send the message to the rest of the world that, after 40 years of fighting to reach the 0.7% target—it was 0.27% in 1997; we moved it to 0.3% by 2000, then to 0.4%, to 0.5% by 2006, and to 0.6% by 2010, and then, to the credit of the coalition Government, to 0.7% by 2013—and all this time spent climbing to the top of the mountain and reaching this elevated view, we are going to slide down again by making no commitment in law that in future we will meet the targets we have set?
I just want to reinforce the point about the predictability of funding. In support of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, we are privileged that we can now see the impact of this policy, which proves that this is worthwhile spending and very efficient, not least when we look at malaria, in which I know he has been seriously engaged, and it goes above all politics and across this House. We have managed to reduce the number of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa from malaria over the last 18 months from 2 million down to 672,000. What more proof do we need about the predictability of funding?
I apologise; I should have allowed the former Minister to intervene earlier, and I congratulate him on the work he did. He makes a very big point, which in my view is also an answer to the point made by the Scottish National party. Without bringing politics into this, it is absolutely clear that the only reason we were able to secure debt relief of $200 billion, which meant that about 20 to 30 countries were able to spend money on health, education and anti-poverty programmes, where they were previously spending it on interest, is because we had the power of the large countries coming together in the G7 which were forced to make a decision that other countries were prepared to follow. If Britain had not proposed that at the G7—Scotland could not, as an independent country, have been at the G7—and if the big countries had not got together, we would never have achieved the $200 billion reduction in debt as a result. We have said that aid is cost-effective. I am suggesting that aid can also be thought of as long-term by building the capacity for the future.
I am saying that we can be a catalyst for other countries, but I also want to say one thing in conclusion. It is said that we can survive for 40 days without food, for eight days without water and for eight minutes without air, but we cannot survive for a minute without hope, and this debate is also about hope.
A friend of mine was at an international conference in Africa and she was making the point, which perhaps we would all have been tempted to make, that aid is not about pity; it is about empathy. It is not just about having sympathy for people; it is about helping people, because we think the same way as they do about their responsibilities to each other. She said that people would do everything for their children. But after her talk someone quietly took her aside and said one of the most devastating things I think I have ever heard. He said, “I can’t love my children as much as you love yours in the west. I can’t allow myself to, because then it would destroy me when I lose them.”
How can we continue to live in a world where in a country such as Ethiopia families did not register the births of their children for months because of the fear that they were going to die in their infancy—where a father or a mother can say that they cannot love their child too much because of the fear that they are going to lose them? How can we live, therefore, in a world where there is not hope and expectation that things could get better?
Let our debate today be a message that there can be hope for the future, enshrined in law. Let us ensure that we can say that to millions of people who thought things were hopeless and that we not only kept our promises, but we kept hope alive.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). He speaks with passion—passion that he showed on this subject throughout his years as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister. He speaks with authority, too, as a representative of the international community. I fear I will not be able to match the authority and passion with which he has spoken, but I have seen the photograph of which he spoke in Rwanda, as I have worked there during the summers for a number of years, and yesterday I had the experience of visiting, and speaking to, Syrian refugees as they were registered at the UNHCR registration centre in Beirut. It was a harrowing experience, during which I struggled to maintain my composure, and my thoughts go out to those young people who do back-to-back interviews all day as they register those refugees with the most appalling stories.
So I acknowledge the work the right hon. Gentleman has done, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be going to the United Nations General Assembly on the 24th of this month to make sure we drive forward the agenda that there should be no lost generation in education, and she will be focusing particularly on raising funds for those Syrians to be educated, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon. And Her Majesty’s ambassador, the right hon. Gentleman’s former assistant private secretary, Tom Fletcher, made absolutely clear to me yesterday the importance of the role that the right hon. Gentleman has in this matter.
Some weeks ago earlier this summer, during questions to the Department for International Development an hon. Gentleman, in chiding us for spending so much on international development, told the House that charity should begin at home. Well, it should; it would not be charity if it did not, but I rather suspect that those who coined the phrase had precisely the opposite meaning in mind to the one he attributed to it. For them, charity was indivisible—if you are charitable, you are charitable wherever you are—and it was to be a standing challenge to those who, like the Pharisee, rejoiced over their good works in public while treating their family and their servants with meanness.
That was the true meaning of the term, but that hon. Gentleman’s mistake was even more fundamental, because international development aid is not charity. Charity is what we dip our hand into our own pocket and distribute. Taxpayers’ money is taken from our pocket without our leave, with all the coercive power of the law behind it, so it is essential that it is spent in the national interest.
The Minister and I have stood shoulder to shoulder for the last 25 years in this place arguing as Conservatives that we should be judged not by how much we spend on something, but by the value for money of what we achieve. Is that not a fair Conservative viewpoint? I and those who share my views on this Bill may be in a minority in this Chamber today, but many millions of Conservatives in the country support what we are saying.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he makes a powerful point.
I have no doubt that this is money well spent and in the taxpayer’s interests. We live in a dangerous and disordered world. We are beset: one need only look at the port of Calais to see how many people come from all sorts of desperate circumstances in desperate countries all over the world, where poverty and injustice and misgovernance have reigned for generations. If we wish to see those movements of population reduced, it is in our interests to invest in good governance and in economic growth in some of those countries.
The Minister is making an extremely passionate speech and I agree with much of what he is saying. Does he agree with me that how we behave in the world in this regard is simply not a zero-sum game for this country? This is about getting it right in our diplomacy, in our defence and in our development assistance, and those three things together can make a huge difference in those countries of conflict and instability that he spoke about and act in our own national interest at the same time.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, and I believe he is absolutely on the money.
In respect of the growth of international terrorism, we have rightly become concerned in recent weeks over that strange phenomenon of the foreign fighter—the person with prospects, from a good home and with qualifications, who suddenly decides to go abroad and fight for the most extraordinary cause in the most bloodcurdling and violent and disordered way. They follow a long tradition of middle-class terrorists, be it the Baader-Meinhof or the Manson gang or the Red Brigades or the Sendero Luminoso. No doubt they will be the source of many academic treatises and doctoral theses, but undoubtedly the main recruiting ground—the overwhelming recruiting ground for terrorism—is the desperation of poverty, injustice and misgovernance, where young people have no prospect whatsoever but to take up arms and embrace the most desperate ideologies.
The Minister says that if we spend all of this money we will be safer, but as we have spent more on overseas aid our security threat level has actually gone up, not down, so that clearly is not working. We are being painted a picture suggesting that if we spend all of this money,people will stop coming in from Calais and poverty will be alleviated around the world, but we are spending the money, so this clearly is not working. Why is it that we are opposed to welfare dependency at home but we are entrenching it abroad?
We have only just reached the target. This is a sustained process, and we are just at the beginning of it. That is why we have the Bill. It is our hope that, as the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said, by taking a lead on this, we will encourage others to follow. This is not a crusade. This is a matter of public policy in which we hope the rest of the world will follow us.
I salute my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for standing by his word, but there is no evidence that other countries are following the lead that he has taken. Germany is a wealthier country than ours, and it spends 0.38%. The United States is even wealthier, yet it spends only 0.19%. I salute the passion of my right hon. Friend the Minister, but the logic of his argument seems to be that we should be spending even more than we already are. He is seeking to ring-fence one area of public spending while another vital area—defence—is allowed to go hang.
Does the Minister agree that the argument that the investment of international development money somehow creates a dependency culture is seriously flawed, given that it is being invested to make communities more sustainable and to make people better able to trade their way out of their difficulties, rather than being dependent on aid for the rest of their lives?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. That is the nub of the argument. As the Select Committee in the other place pointed out, international development aid can be misspent, and it can have a perverse effect when that happens. However, this has been one of the most transparent Governments, and we have set up the independent commission to ensure that what we spend is well spent.
I shall digress briefly. There is a minor issue on which I take a different view from that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), the promoter of the Bill. I am confident that the procedures and institutions that we have put in place to hold the Government to account on their commitment—the Select Committee, the independent commission, questions in this House—are adequate. That, however, is a matter that we can return to in Committee, and I was glad that he acknowledged that fact.
On the subject of welfare dependency, is not India a measure of the success of transitioning poor countries into sustainability? It has the largest number of people living in poverty, but DFID now focuses its aid resources on only the two states that are most in need of help. The other states have now succeeded in moving to sustainability; indeed, they are now our trade partners.
Does the Minister agree that saving a child’s life by vaccinating that child is not really about welfare dependency but about saving a life? I personally would not want this country to do any less than it is doing. I think that we are vaccinating a child every two seconds at the moment.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. I do not believe that any of our expenditure in that line creates dependency; it is designed to reduce dependency.
There are all sorts of arguments to be had about whether the figure should be 0.7%, and a long debate might be had on that basis. Indeed, we might be having one today. All I can say is that, as an elected politician, I feel that I am bound by the commitments I have made. I made a commitment to 0.7% at the last general election, and I intend to stick with it. That is the Government’s policy.
The debate so far has been rather unfortunate. People seem to be saying that if someone supports the Bill, they are compassionate and care about the world, but if they oppose it, they are a heartless rotter. I do not believe that that is the case. I strongly support the figure of 0.7%, and I agree with everything that has been said about supporting poor people around the world. That is not the question. The question is why this needs to be written into the United Kingdom’s statute book. It is not about whether or not we support aid. Why should there be a law?
Because this has been an international aspiration for so long, and because it is an issue on which we wish to take the lead. We are leading in this matter, and that gives our country enormous authority when we speak on these matters. And I am glad to say that the young people of this country are passionate about this, as I see in school after school in my constituency. I hope that their parents will be as proud as they are of our achievements. I hope that those young people will go home and tell them how many children we have vaccinated this year, and how much we have done for those who are less fortunate than they are. In that respect, I urge my hon. Friends and all hon. Members to support the Bill.
It is a delight to follow the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). I share their commitment to the Bill, but I cannot share their passion today because I do not have all of my voice. I have been touring around Scotland, and not always finding welcoming or happy audiences. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath will appreciate the irony that this is one of the friendliest audiences I have faced in the past few months.
I want to start by welcoming everyone who is here today, not least the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), the promoter of the Bill, and two former Secretaries of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who have demonstrated that the commitment and passion they brought to the job can continue long after they have left it. For them, international development has become a lifelong passion.
I also want to pay tribute to someone who, unfortunately, cannot be with us today. Last week, I met my friend Jim Dobbin, and we talked about his commitment to the Bill that we are discussing today. He told me how much he was looking forward to being here today. He had made a commitment to be here, and he had issued press releases and photographs and much else besides. He shared with many of us a passion for international development. He was the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on child health and vaccine-preventable diseases. He and I shared a passing interest in a Glasgow football team and a love of Scotland. We also shared a faith, although I always felt that he had the lion’s share of that faith. He was a good friend, and Pat and the family have rightly been in many people’s thoughts over the past few days. He is missed today; he is not in his place and he will not be able to join us in making a speech.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk on his Bill. As I am sure he knows, he has much support from both sides of the House. He has already heard the brilliant speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk rightly pointed out that the provisions of the Bill featured in all three party manifestos and in the coalition agreement. Members on both sides of the House passionately support the legislation.
Does the shadow Secretary of State accept that although there is widespread support for the Bill in the House today, there is no guarantee that a future Parliament will be made up of people who are committed to allocating 0.7% of GDP to international aid? That is why it is important to have the Bill. We must ensure that a future Government who may not want to retain that commitment will have to do an awful lot to move away from it.
The hon. Gentleman is right to make that point: this legislation seeks to enshrine in law what we are doing now, together. It is a proposal we all support across this House, and we are enshrining in law a current policy that Labour Members argued for and that the Government have started to implement—we welcome that warmly. Of course a future Government would not just be able to undo, with a stroke of a pen, so much of the good work done, and would have to seek to repeal the legislation if they wished to undermine and renege on this 0.7% figure. This would not just be about a line through an annual budget.
Government is about priorities, and we are already achieving this budget. Is the shadow Minister surprised that in giving his wholehearted support to this Bill and ensuring its passage into Committee, the Minister is ensuring that the EU referendum Bill—the Government claim this is a passionate part of our belief that we are determined to bring forward—will never happen?
I do not have much voice left to talk about referendums, so let us concentrate on one at a time. I thought the Minister made a good, passionate and personal speech. I am more surprised that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is intending to vote against the manifesto commitment he stood on at the last general election than I am by anything the Minister said.
Labour Members believe that if the Bill becomes law, it will secure a vital marker in a journey that can be traced back through the establishment of the Department for International Development by the incoming Labour Government in 1997 and the adoption of this target by the Government back in 1974. In supporting the Bill, I wish to make four brief arguments: aid is needed; aid, properly targeted, is effective; fixing this target is correct; and investment must come with safeguards.
First, on the case for aid, for all the dry language of spending targets and goals, or statistics and shortfalls, on a scale of millions and billions, it is important not to forget what official development assistance is really about. As the former Prime Minister my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has said, we live in an unequal world: 1 million babies a year die on their first and only day of life; one in eight people go to bed hungry each and every night; 1.5 billion people are trapped in the brutality of conflict-affected and fragile states; 58 million children are unable to go to school; and 20,000 under-fives die every year from easily curable diseases.
Impersonal figures, however, mask the human reality. Let me give just two examples. The 3 million-strong refugee crisis in Syria is impossible to appreciate, and although the scale is terrifying, the tragedy is personal. Like other hon. Members from both sides of the House, I have travelled to the countries that border Syria’s war. In the Beka’a valley I met a mother and father from Aleppo who had fled the fighting with their five children. The father was desperate to work and the mother was trying very hard to keep the household together. The children were grateful for the chance to go to school, but they were unable to do what they really wanted, which was to have the chance not to go to school but to go home. They were trapped in their camp, and despite the tremendous will and resilience of its inhabitants, the overriding feature is immense human misery. That is just one family story among the millions, and I would argue that we can never look the other way. I am pleased that the UK Government are investing on the current scale.
My second example comes from my visit to the Philippines following the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan. During my time on Leyte island with the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, we visited a sports field in Tanauan. The local priest pointed to a patch of disturbed turf no bigger than a penalty box and told us that there was a mass grave, home to 1,000 bodies. It was a vast unmarked grave. As a result of wars, natural disasters and the accidents of geography and parental wealth that leave so many disadvantaged to the point of extreme poverty and the risk of death from the day they are born, there is no question but that there are people all around the world who need our support. On some of the big global challenges, the support of development aid can make a difference.
Mr Speaker, I am advised that if I do not finish my speech by 11 am, I will be interrupted. I am therefore going to curtail my arguments, with your permission, and therefore some of the potential interventions.
My second argument is that British aid works. The support we give saves and changes lives. Today’s debate should be generally free of partisan rancour, and I am sure that all Members in the House will reflect on some of the achievements. In the same way as Labour Members acknowledge the work currently being done by this Government, I hope this Government will acknowledge the achievements of the previous Labour Government in helping to lift 3 million people out of poverty every year, helping some 40 million children into school and helping to fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, as well as forging the millennium development goals.
I was privileged, as Chair of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, to visit some work that is being undertaken in Tanzania and is sponsored by DFID and the Gates Foundation. The Liverpool school of tropical medicine is putting a huge amount of work into that. It is clear, as our report spells out, that the result of that work does leave a lasting legacy—it is a legacy of which we should be proud.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct on that. He talks about his experience in Tanzania and the sense of pride in some of the remarkable achievements on international development under the previous Labour Government. Many hundreds of thousands of lives were saved and transformed. It is important that we take that impulse, instinct and record and try to enshrine them in law.
My third point is that promises without action mean nothing, which is why we must lead. Many other rich nations are not pulling their weight: the UN appeal for Syria is almost 60% underfunded; just five richer nations have hit the 0.7% target; and the second most generous G8 member state is France, with a figure of about 0.4%. That is not a reason for us to do less; it is a reason to convince others to do more. After a process begun by Labour and continued under this Government—again, I commend them for it—ours is the only G8 nation to hit the target. Just as we have built international coalitions in the past, we must do so again to urge others to go further.
My final argument is that we are not giving a blank cheque. A fixed commitment from the UK is no blank cheque for wasteful spending. Taxpayers’ money must be guarded in every Department, but in one where a small amount of money can save a life, every pound wasted is a lost opportunity to save a life. That is why we welcome the provisions being introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk in his Bill, and we look forward to discussing the details on the oversight in Committee.
Finally, this Bill honours a commitment our country gave more than four decades ago to the world’s poor. It is a promise we have reaffirmed time and again, and it is a law that each of the main parties promised to legislate for in our manifestos. Passing this Bill is without doubt the right thing to do, and we should go further. British aid should not be treated as some sort of hidden secret. At times it feels that the consensus in this House has never been stronger, but that very sense has contributed to a lack of a heated debate on aid, implying that there is complacency. Often with the British public it feels that we are losing an argument that we are not properly making. Protecting the DFID budget while most other Departments are being cut of course leads to some anxiety, but we have to make an argument. Not only is development investment saving lives abroad, but it is improving the chances of our own nation, and not only in terms of trading with newly prosperous countries: such investment can help make our people and our country safer. The careful investment of world-class diplomacy and world-leading development can sometimes avoid the painful cure of military action, denying the opportunity for inequality to grow where terrorism and those who wish us malevolence exploit the sense of worthlessness and hopelessness that visits far too many families.
We should be proud of what we are seeking to achieve today. A very small Bill, on just a few sheets of paper, will save many hundreds of thousands of lives of people we will never meet and whose names we will never know. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his Bill, and we will, in years to come, look back with a real sense of pride on what we are, together, achieving today.
Government Strategy Against IS
The Government believe that ISIL needs to be confronted in both Iraq and Syria. The creation of an extremist so-called caliphate represents a direct threat to the national security of the United Kingdom. In seeking to establish its extremist state, ISIL is already seeking to use the territory it controls to launch attacks against the west, including this country.
As my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have outlined to the House this week, the Government are committed to tackling the threat of ISIL using the full range of instruments at our disposal—humanitarian, diplomatic and military.
So far as humanitarian efforts are concerned, in addition to air drops carried out by UK forces, we have committed £23 million in new assistance in northern Iraq, and £12.5 million has been delivered to the International Committee of the Red Cross and £5 million to UN partners to provide life-saving assistance to 150,000 people. We have also provided more than £600 million in Syria since the crisis began.
Secondly, we are working with our American, European, Arab and other partners to ensure a united front to stem the expansion and activities of this exceptionally dangerous movement.
In Syria, we continue to support a negotiated political transition to end Assad’s brutal rule and to pave the way for a political solution to this appalling conflict. In Iraq, we are supporting the new Government and welcome Prime Minister al-Abadi’s commitment to reform and to an inclusive approach that meets the needs of all of Iraq’s diverse communities.
Thirdly, the political and humanitarian response in Iraq must be backed up by a security response that will defeat ISIL on the ground. We are delivering military equipment to Kurdish forces, providing surveillance and, as the Prime Minister set out on Monday, looking at training Kurdish battalions.
We welcomed President Obama’s statement on Wednesday. As the global resolve to tackle ISIL strengthens, we will consider carefully what role the United Kingdom should play in the international coalition.
The Government have outlined a broad and comprehensive approach to responding to ISIL, which should command the support of the entire House.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for responding as he has. Many colleagues welcome Government assurances that there will be no intervention in Iraq or Syria without Parliament first debating and voting on the issue. Many colleagues also have questions about the feasibility and the policy of conducting air strikes in Iraq. We have questions about the fact that IS cannot be defeated by air strikes alone. We urge that regional powers and allies play their full role in this. The symbolism of the west defeating this caliphate would be too profound. We also believe that questions should be asked about the elephant in the room—the Iraqi army—and about how durable defeating IS in Iraq would be if the politics are not in place.
Many other colleagues have even graver doubts and questions about air strikes into Syria itself. It is not just the legality of the issue and the fact that Syria has robust air defence systems supplied by the Russians, but the fact that we have not yet had an answer to the question: who would take IS’s place? The morphing of one extremist group into another has been a notable feature of this civil war in Syria and many extremist groups lurk in the shadows.
The Foreign Secretary, in his address to the House on Wednesday, expressed that caution. He made it clear, in answer to me and to others, that striking into Syria would be a much higher risk strategy. President Obama’s address to the American people yesterday morning—under Greenwich mean time—seemed to go much further than the Government had hitherto been comfortable with. He talked about destroying IS, air strikes into Syria and supporting rebels, even in Syria, against IS. I ask the Minister for some clarity on the Government strategy on IS? It appears that there has been an element of discrepancy between the Foreign Secretary and No. 10. On Wednesday in this place, the Foreign Secretary expressed caution both in his address and in direct answers to questions; I do not think that anybody could go away with a message other than that. Yesterday in Berlin, he seemed to rule out British involvement in air strikes in Syria altogether, yet No. 10 seemed to row back almost immediately and said that no options must be removed from the table and that everything must remain in play. I ask my right hon. Friend where exactly Government policy is on this issue. In answering, may I remind him that this House passed resolutions last year, making it clear that there could be no lethal support for any Syrian rebels without Parliament’s express say so? Again, President Obama’s address seemed to lay open that possibility. What is the Government’s position on that?
I make no apologies for tabling this urgent question on a Friday, and I apologise to those who want to get through their business, but given our errors in our interventions in the past—whether it is going to war in Iraq on a false premise, the disastrous morphing of the Afghanistan mission into one of nation-building or even our intervention in Libya—it is right that Parliament asks these questions, particularly as we are about to enter the conference recess. We must not allow events to get ahead of Parliament or Parliament to be presented with a fait accompli upon our return.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) said, this is a subject that quite rightly arouses great interest, concern and debate in all parts of the House. The Prime Minister’s statement and subsequent answers to questions on Monday, the Foreign Secretary’s extensive evidence session with the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which my hon. Friend is a distinguished member, on Tuesday and then the Foreign Secretary’s speech and subsequent debate in this House on Wednesday has shown that we take very seriously our responsibility both to keep Parliament informed of the Government’s developing policy and to allow ample opportunity for Members of Parliament, both in the Chamber and in Committee, to question those Ministers responsible and to express their own opinions.
On that particular question about the role of Parliament in respect of any—at the moment hypothetical—military action by British forces, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out the position in detail on Monday in answers to questions following his statement. I draw the House’s attention to his words in Hansard, column 663.
We want to see the broadest possible international coalition involving regional partners as well as European and American partners in combating ISIL, which is a threat to all of us, and not just to the United Kingdom and European countries.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made it clear in answer to questions in Berlin that we are not yet at the stage in which decisions about any putative British military action have to be taken. His precise words were:
“We have ruled nothing out. We will look carefully at our options and decide how we will make a contribution but we are clear that we will make a contribution.”
Effective political, humanitarian and possibly military action by a broad-based international coalition will be necessary to meet the very grave threat that is posed to us all by ISIL.
We welcome this opportunity, given that in recent days questions have been raised about how the Government have gone about setting out their approach to tackling ISIL. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) highlighted yesterday’s comments by the Foreign Secretary in which he ruled out British military action in Syria and the subsequent statement from the Prime Minister’s spokesman that all options remain on the table, so I am sure that the Minister will understand the House’s desire for clarification.
As President Obama continues to set out further detail about his strategy for combating ISIL, it is crucial that the British Government also recognise the need to provide reassurance to the British public about their approach. The Opposition have made it clear that we support the targeted air strikes authorised by President Obama in Iraq and we strongly support the UK Government’s provision of arms and assistance to the Kurdish peshmerga forces that are the effective front line against ISIL. Of course, as the situation develops and the international community agrees its common approach to the threat, we will continue to seek assurances from the Government that if there is any change in their approach to Iraq, Syria or the wider region they will seek the appropriate endorsement of this House.
We welcome the lead taken by French President Hollande in setting up an international conference in Paris on Monday. Will the Minister confirm which regional partners will be attending and will he also set out whether Iran has been invited and what the UK’s position is on that? Given that the United Kingdom currently holds the chair of the United Nations Security Council, what more does the Minister believe that the UK can do to help co-ordinate these efforts?
What assurances can the Minister give that Iraq’s new Government recognise the need for a truly inclusive approach that addresses the needs of all of Iraq’s diverse communities? In addition, what can the Minister tell us about the support that will be provided by the countries in the region, not just the Arab League but Turkey and Iran, and what steps are now being taken to ensure that any international efforts to tackle ISIL are co-ordinated by the international community and that there is a clear regionally led approach to such a strategy? Furthermore, can the Minister now give any further detail about whether there are any discussions about how to restart the Geneva II process, which surely still offers the best hopes of long-term stability in Syria?
President Obama has rightly said that left unchecked ISIL extremists pose a threat not only to security inside Iraq but to countries outside the region, so will the Minister provide the Government’s latest assessment of the number of UK nationals who they believe are currently actively part of ISIL’s campaign?
Finally, will the Minister confirm the commitments made by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary about the need for ongoing debate to ensure that this House is kept fully up to date?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his broad support for the Government’s approach to dealing with ISIL. I shall try to respond to the detailed points that he made. The estimate—one can never be absolutely certain about these things—is that a few hundred have travelled out to the region and my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have explained at length to the House the measures that the Government are taking to deal with the potential threat those people pose. I would add that this is not a challenge that is in any way unique to the United Kingdom. When I attended a meeting of European Foreign Affairs Ministers two weekends ago, this was a theme coming from Ministers representing many Governments within the European Union. This is a challenge that almost every European country faces.
The question of attendance at the Paris meeting is, for self-evident reasons, primarily a matter for the French Government rather than for us. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that 10 Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, have now publicly announced their support for the United States and international efforts so this is by no means an enterprise confined to what one might regard as traditional western allies. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear in his evidence to the Select Committee on Tuesday, we hope that the Government of Iran will choose to play a constructive role, but I believe that the House will understand why, in the light of Iran's nuclear programme and its history of very active support for the Assad regime and for Hezbollah, we are proceeding cautiously in our relations with Tehran while hoping that we will see the kind of improvement that both the right hon. Gentleman and I would wish to see.
As for the United Nations, I gently correct the right hon. Gentleman: we do not hold the chair of the Security Council at the moment. We had the chair last month and it is held by the United States this month. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has spoken personally to Ban Ki-moon about how the United Nations could be used to shape an effective international response to the challenge posed by ISIL and when the Prime Minister goes to the United Nations General Assembly later this month, he intends to use that opportunity to try to build and widen this international coalition.
If the so-called Islamic State is confronted seriously in Iraq, it will inevitably drift over the border into Syria, particularly if it believes in any way that Syria should be a safe haven. It will then continue to collude with the Assad regime in committing acts of terrorism against the Syrian people. There is already a force in Syria fighting both the Assad regime and the extremists, the Free Syrian Army, supported in theory by a large number of the international coalition. Will my right hon. Friend say that we are not ruling out supporting those who are taking on both ISIL and Assad in Syria and, more importantly, does he agree that if strong resolution is shown on confronting ISIL in Syria it might be possible to use that to change the terms of political debate so that serious negotiation could take place in Paris? With resolution and determination against both the extremists and the Assad regime, we could perhaps get the negotiated settlement we need and the appalling brutality of death and injury to the people of Syria that has somehow been airbrushed from the front pages for far too long could finally be confronted.
As I said in my initial answer to the urgent question, we are not yet in a position where the Government are being asked to take decisions about any possible military action. Obviously, we would come to the House as soon as possible to tell Members if and when such decisions were taken. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the fact that we need a political process in Syria that provides for a transition of power away from the Assad regime, which, given the slaughter that has taken place in that country, cannot possibly become the focus of any kind of national unity in the future. A political process in Syria will also be essential in the long run to create peace in the region and to defeat ISIL comprehensively. There will be a series of discussions in New York during the General Assembly week later this month and I think that following those discussions about Syria we will be in a better position to determine how best to take forward that political process.
Order. I appeal to hon. and right hon. Members to put pithy questions and I know that the Minister, subject to the detail and complexity of these matters, will seek to follow suit. Several people want to get in and I must have regard to that and to the priority of the continuation of the main debate.
The Minister said that the Government welcome the statement made by President Obama. President Obama is very clear that the United States will engage in air strikes not just in Iraq but in Syria. It has been suggested that the reticence of and division between the Foreign Secretary and No. 10 relate to legal advice that military action and air strikes in Syria would be illegal. Can the Minister clarify? Is it the view that the military action proposed by the Obama Administration in Syria would be legal under international law? If that is the case, why should there not be any UK involvement in similar legal action against Isis in Syria and in Iraq?
The basic fact is that no decisions about UK military action have been taken or are being asked of us at the moment, so much of the hon. Gentleman’s line of questioning is somewhat academic. As both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said in the House, there are differences—not least important logistical differences—between the situations in Iraq and Syria. The immediate challenge from ISIS to a legitimate democratically elected Government comes in Iraq. That is why, at the invitation of that Government, we and other allies are giving priority to that particular case.
Does the Minister agree that whenever and whatever British military intervention takes place, it will need four things? They are a good legal and humanitarian case, a long-term plan, strong regional and international support, and a vote in this House—only one of which was in place the last time we launched the military intervention in Iraq.
The short answer to my hon. Friend is yes to all four of his points. I simply add a rider in respect of his final one: as the Prime Minister said on Monday in the House, the Government, while wanting to put such a matter to Parliament, including for a vote, as rapidly as possible, will need the freedom to act in the case of an urgent threat to the security of the United Kingdom or of an impending humanitarian disaster, and to come to the House as soon as possible after such action.
It is clear to the whole House that ISIL must be defeated. I understand that it is premature to take decisions about the involvement of the UK in military action, but I want to ask something further to the question put by the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), the former Minister. I wonder whether the Minister agrees that, were the House to decide that military action should be taken, including in Syria, there would be no question of the Government’s asking the permission of the horrible despot Assad.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that on both sides of the House and in all parts of the country there is a sense of shock at the behaviour of the Islamic State—the brutality it shows and its contempt for the normal laws of human behaviour? I certainly support the broad range of the Government’s activities, but it helps to make the case if the Government can at particular moments explain their legal thinking as well.
My hon. and learned Friend knows better than most that, as with any client in receipt of legal advice, it is important for the Government to preserve the confidentiality of advice from legal advisers. However, when this Government have taken action previously during their time in office, we have set out the legal grounds for that action and why we think a particular course of action—a recent example is Libya—was justified in international law.
My hon. and learned Friend is right, too, to point to the shock felt throughout the country at ISIL’s action, and I ought to say that I strongly welcome the unreserved condemnation from so many British Muslims and mosque leaderships throughout the United Kingdom.
Odious as ISIL is, it did not come from nowhere. Is it not a product of our past policies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and of the vast number of arms that we have supplied to Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region? That gives it highly sophisticated weaponry. Do we not need a slightly more nuanced view of the world that does not automatically lead to intervention everywhere and create the problems of tomorrow?
I think the answer is considerably more complex than the hon. Gentleman allows. This kind of perverted Islamist ideology has been around for a considerable time and is found not just in Iraq but in parts of the world where there has not been the kind of intervention that the previous Government undertook in 2003. It is also the case that in Iraq ISIL seized the opportunity presented by the loss of support for the Baghdad Government among the Sunni population in central Iraq. One of the key tasks for the new Government in Baghdad will be to win back mainstream Sunnis to support the democratic Government.
Is it the assessment of Her Majesty’s Government that the 10 Arab countries that have signed up to the coalition so far are unable to co-ordinate effective air strikes between them without the assistance of the United States and the United Kingdom?
The first step has been to rally as many countries as possible to form a broad-based coalition. What is now happening and will continue at the Paris meeting is detailed consideration of the part that each country can play. We saw in Libya that a number of allies from the Arab world were prepared to play a very active role indeed.
Despite what the Minister has said about not recognising the Assad regime, does he not accept that any intervention in Syria will require the tacit, if not overt, consent of the Syrian armed forces? Can he not think in advance of such matters and of the matters of illegality raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), the former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as of the high risk of civilian casualties, before taking any precipitate action? Otherwise, we will be in the same position as we were last summer.
All these questions to do with the efficacy, the logistical and military challenges and the legal position with regard to any particular military intervention in any part of the world will be considered very carefully. If the Government decide to undertake such military action—I repeat that we are not at that point at the moment and nor have we been asked to make a particular military contribution—they would at that point come and explain their case in full to the House.
Having done work related to the Iraq war in 2003, I know how light the planning was for after the intervention. I urge that we have a clear strategy for the first 100 days and would like to understand much more that that is the case. We will be creating power vacuums and great alienation among the Sunni community. Can we please know that we have such a strategy?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The key role has to be played by the newly formed Government in Iraq, who have the prime responsibility to bring together the leaders of the diverse communities within Iraq to work for the common purpose of defeating ISIL conclusively. We are playing an active role in encouraging Iraqi leaders from all communities to play a constructive role in that effort. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development was in Iraq in August this year, she talked to Mr al-Abadi and the president of the Kurdish Regional Government about precisely that issue.
Last Sunday afternoon, I was privileged to be part of a large demonstration made up predominantly of Iraqi Christians but also including Yazidi and other minority communities. They handed in a petition to Downing street. Their cry from the heart was for United Kingdom support for a safe haven. What is the Minister’s response to that cry?
The Government are committed to doing everything that we can to safeguard the position of Christian and other minorities in Iraq. The best and most rapid way to do that will be to re-establish the authority of the legitimate Iraqi authorities over the area now being terrorised by ISIL. I can say to the House that, as well as the political work on reconciliation being carried out in Baghdad, the Iraqi army, after initial reverses, are now taking ground back from ISIL. We want to make sure that we continue to provide support to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces to enable them to continue doing that.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the facts on the ground. The Kurds have a 600-mile border with ISIL. Working with the Iraqi army and the Sunni tribes, they have to be front and centre of the fight against ISIL. In Syria, the Free Syrian Army is working to squeeze ISIL. It is important that we keep all those options open. It is only sensible policy for us to discount nothing in terms of our support in either country.
I have spoken to many young people across Cardiff South and Penarth who are deeply concerned by videos, images and extremist propaganda from ISIL, and those who have gone to fight for it, being distributed on platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Ask FM, BBM and WhatsApp. What discussions have the Government had with those platforms about disrupting those activities, and what methods are they using to rebut many of the extremist arguments being put forward?
I certainly share the hon. Gentleman’s horror at the ready accessibility of those images. He will understand that there are practical challenges in any Government anywhere in the world trying to control the internet. I will write to him about the specifics.
As I found in my briefings in Jordan a few weeks ago, the border between Iraq and Syria has disintegrated. I saw freely moved weapons captured from the Iraqi army going straight into Syria. Last year, I did not support intervention in Syria. The challenge now is very different, with a clear enemy and clarity as to who our allies are. May I implore the Minister to ensure that for as long as we have clear achievable objectives, we keep all options open, because Syria and Iraq cannot be dealt with in isolation, just as ISIL cannot?
At the moment, no decision on British military intervention has been taken. All options remain open and nothing has yet been definitively ruled out. We do indeed need to see a process that eradicates the threat from ISIL across the region, not just within the recognised borders of Iraq. I say again that this could never be a matter simply of military action achieving miracles on its own. There has to be an inclusive political process within the region and there needs to be humanitarian assistance for the people who are in such desperate need.
What conversations are the Government having with community leaders in this country? The Minister mentioned the revulsion felt by Muslims here in the UK, but it will be important that ongoing conversations are maintained to preserve understanding within the community of the UK Government’s stance. How are those conversations at the most senior level being carried out?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has the lead on this issue. I am happy for me or someone from that Department to write to the hon. Lady with details of what is being done. Members of this House also have a role to play in working with their own communities in the way she has described.
Going back to the point about a safe haven for the Yazidis, minorities are second-class citizens under the Iraqi constitution. Will the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee that whatever force we use, our aid will be used proportionately to look after these peaceful peoples?
We have given aid to the Yazidi community, in particular, who are in dire distress at the moment. In talking to the Baghdad Government, we always emphasise the need for them to achieve national unity through fairness and equal rights for all communities within their country. Ultimately, of course, these are matters for the elected authorities in Iraq.
Further to my hon. Friends’ questions, will the Minister explain how Government programmes such as Prevent are being altered in the light of the immediate threat that IS poses as regards the risk of losing British nationals overseas, as opposed to the response of the Government, which is often about preventing those extremists from returning to this country?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in her statement last week and to what the Prime Minister said in his statement to the House on Monday. Clearly, in the light of recent events and the threat from ISIL, we work very hard on ensuring that Prevent is kept up to date and that we are doing the right work with those communities.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. The Government are accountable to this House. The Prime Minister said very plainly on Monday that he wants to give the maximum information to the House, and that he is not afraid of Parliament debating and voting on any Government decision about military action. However, the Government cannot delay reaction in an emergency when British lives might be at risk in order to wait for the House to assemble first.
British Kurds, including those in Leeds, are desperately concerned about what is happening. Kurdish fighters are fighting courageously with inadequate international support. What are the Government doing to support the Kurds and to seek greater recognition for a stable Kurdish land that would be part of stabilising the entire region?
As I said, we have given a considerable amount of assistance to the Kurdish Regional Government, and we continue to do so. We will also continue to work with it bilaterally and through the European Union and various international bodies to try to make sure that there is good governance within the Kurdish region.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hesitate to interrupt the debate on overseas aid, but a matter has arisen in my constituency relating to the Ministry of Defence. I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who is responsible for defence equipment and support, is on the Front Bench.
The Ministry of Defence is intending to dispose of Minley manor—a historic house in my constituency. The timetable for that disposal is that it announced on 22 May that it intended to sell, bidders had to submit bids by 2 September, and a decision is to be announced on Monday, with completion on 9 October, before the House returns. This is a very hurried process. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence on 2 September but have had no reply. The House is about to rise. As the local Member of Parliament, I have expressed a long-standing interest in this historic building, which used to be in the ownership of the Currie family, whose descendant was Andrew Hargreaves, our former colleague in this place. Can you give me any guidance, Mr Speaker, as to how I might I deal with this matter when the House is about to rise and the Ministry of Defence is about to present a fait accompli without any consultation with me as the local Member of Parliament?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. My immediate response is to say that I think he knows the Secretary of State for Defence very well, and has done for some decades. My assessment of the situation is that if the hon. Gentleman, in pursuit of his constituency responsibilities, asks to speak to—or, indeed, to see face to face—his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, the latter would be either brave or reckless in the extreme to decline the request; I would not reckon much to his chances on that score. If the hon. Gentleman needs to revert to me at some point, I feel sure he will. I understand the circumstances that cause him to raise the matter today. He is justifiably concerned about a matter that impacts on his constituency, but let us leave it there for the time being.
I thank the Minister of State and colleagues who participated in the urgent question. We must now return to the Bill.
International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill
I am a co-sponsor of the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore). With the exception of one very minor tweak, it encapsulates the wishes of all three major political parties in the commitments we made at the last election.
At this very dangerous time in international affairs, I want to start by expressing heartfelt gratitude for the bravery and selflessness of those who work in the humanitarian and development world, increasingly placing themselves in personal danger and jeopardy to help those less fortunate than themselves. In this House we often pay tribute to the extraordinary bravery of our armed forces, and rightly so, but I wish today to salute this vital and selfless work, and the bravery and commitment that is being shown by British members of the humanitarian and development community around the world in some desperate and difficult places. Over the past few years, large numbers of them have been harmed, kidnapped, brutalised and killed as they seek to help those caught up in conflict, violence, deep insecurity and poverty. They are heroes of our time.
Over some seven and a half years in government and in opposition, as the shadow Development Secretary and then Development Secretary, I have had the privilege of working with some of Britain’s leading non-governmental organisations. They are world leaders, and this House should never forget the brilliant work that they are doing, day in and day out, in very insecure places.
The commitment to 0.7% is an all-party commitment. I remind my Conservative colleagues that page 117 of our 2010 manifesto said:
“We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.”
We all understand the reasons why that was not possible in the first Session, but we have a chance to do it now.
I will in a moment, but I want to make some progress first.
On page 116 of the manifesto there is a very fetching picture of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) teaching in Rwanda on Project Umubano. I was teaching in the classroom next door and my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) were also teaching. The Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne), was not far away in Butare at the time.
The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), made a powerful speech today. He talked about David in the genocide memorial in Kigali, which has been visited by hundreds of Conservatives on Project Umubano who were as moved as the right hon. Gentleman was to see it. That is part of the way in which the commitment to international development has grown across the House, which is very welcome indeed.
I do not like declaratory legislation and fully understand why many Members believe that it is insulting and that it diminishes the House of Commons, because it implies that we cannot be trusted to do what we say we will do and that we therefore have to satisfy the public by enshrining it in law. Of course, former Prime Minister Tony Blair passed declaratory legislation to abolish child poverty, but child poverty then immediately went up. I therefore understand why declaratory legislation is frowned upon in this House, but this is different: we have reached 0.7%. As the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, said, we have ascended the mountain and reached the top. We should all be incredibly proud, particularly on the Conservative Benches, that it was a Conservative-led Government who introduced and honoured this commitment to the poorest in the world at an extremely difficult time in our own economic affairs.
The great and important point about the 0.7% is that it gives certainty to budgetary methods and budgets in the Department for International Development. That matters a lot: it means we can plan for the long term, for reasons I will come on to. It also reflects the state of the economy, because it is predicated on the gross national income, and it gives certainty to planning.
A report on international development by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee—a most senior Committee in Parliament—praised almost everything this Government are doing, but complained about the 0.7% because it is an input. It is right that we should be obsessed with outputs—the results and what this money is achieving. Nevertheless, this particular input is the exception, because it enables us to plan future international development spend with certainty.
I feel it is important at this moment to put on the record the work of my right hon. Friend. The growth in consensus across the House, particularly on the Conservative Benches, is undoubtedly a result of the work he did in opposition with respect to Project Umubano and the work he did as Secretary of State.
My right hon. Friend is extremely generous.
In return for this extraordinarily favourable arrangement for British development policy, we have to honour the electorate by ensuring that we demonstrate that we really do secure the results that we promise—that for every pound of their hard-earned money, we really do secure 100p of development on the ground. That is why this Government have conducted multilateral and bilateral aid reviews, to ensure that we can demonstrate to the public that this money is really well spent.
My right hon. Friend keeps talking about how we should spend our money, but he might have noticed that we have not got any money. What he is actually asking us to do is borrow billions of pounds to pass on to other countries. The actual cost to the taxpayer is even more than 0.7% because we have to pay interest—
Order. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want time to speak as well. May I just remind everybody that there are 16 speakers to come? I know, Mr Davies, that you will wish to contribute and I want you to save that part of your speech for later. I am not knocking it, but there are 16 Members who want to speak. I just want to try to help to make sure that you get in as well.
I will come in a moment to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).
I want to briefly mention three particularly important points. First, on vaccinations, which have been mentioned, Britain has taken a leadership role. Throughout its course, this Parliament will vaccinate a child in the poorest parts of the world every two seconds and save the life of a child every two minutes by protecting them against diseases that none of our children, thank goodness, die from.
Secondly, on family planning, which is also championed by Britain, as a result of the initiative to crowd in other countries with their support and taxpayers’ funds, we will, over the next six years, be able to reduce by half the number of poor women in the world who want access to contraception and family planning but are not able to get it.
Thirdly—this was also mentioned by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath—it is absolutely critical to get girls into school. It is the opinion of many of us that that is the way to change the world for the better. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Sudan. Today a girl born in Sudan is more likely to die in childbirth than to complete her primary school education. This Government, with all-party support, have introduced the girls’ education challenge fund, designed to ensure that 1 million girls in the most difficult parts of the world get an education.
Those are world-changing actions which have been championed by Britain through a policy that is not the property of any one political party. It is not a Conservative, Labour or Liberal policy—it is a British policy and I believe that increasingly, our constituents champion that.
I, too, pay tribute to the role my right hon. Friend played when he was an International Development Secretary of whom I think we were all very proud. Does he agree that, despite some of the dissenting, rather depressing voices suggesting that this is some form of charity, this is actually about investment in a safer, fairer, more stable world, which is clearly in this country’s interest?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct: this is an investment in tackling conflict, building prosperity, promoting good governance and tackling poverty. That is what the development budget does. In that respect, the UK is a world leader. Our security and stability in this country are assured not only by our brilliant armed forces, but by training the police in Afghanistan, building up governance structures in the middle east and getting girls in the horn of Africa into school. All those things make us safer and more secure in this country. It is hugely in our national interest and that is what the development budget is spent on.
One example that is worth mentioning is Somalia. Britain intervened to try to do something about the appalling famine that took place there in 2011. By crowding in the regional powers, the different parties in Somalia and the great powers at the United Nations to a conference in London, we tried to ensure that that benighted country—some of the most ungoverned space in the world—could develop some sort of order. Whisper it not too loudly, but after so many failed international attempts during the past 20 years, progress is being made in Somalia. It is another example of development policy that is helping people in one of the most benighted countries in the world, and also helping our security and stability in Britain.
In looking at the problems in northern Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, we can all accept that although there may be a need for smart weapons delivered from 12,000 feet, people are responsive to the smart policies of tackling corruption and of building accountability and good governance, and UK development spending contributes to all those things.
When it comes to building prosperity, at one level our work has helped the poorest in the world through microfinance and, at the top level, the important reforms of the CDC have made it far more accountable and far better at delivering development objectives through the deployment of patient capital and pioneer capital. The significance of that very important reform will increasingly be seen. Under its new chairman, Graham Wrigley, and its outstanding chief executive, Diana Noble, the CDC is once again giving a lead around the world in tackling poverty.
One area where I agree with the Minister—I know that the Bill’s promoter is absolutely receptive to this point—is that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact is the right mechanism to ensure accountability. Under its chairman, Graham Ward, it has done an excellent job. It is a vital addition to the development architecture. ICAI is not a comfortable organisation for Ministers, as I fully recall. It reports not to Ministers, who are able to sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet, but to the International Development Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce) and his Committee colleagues have shown themselves to be fearless in pursuing the Government when alerted to difficulties by the independent commission. ICAI can deliver precisely what my right hon. Friend wants to see in the Bill, and what the House wishes to endorse.
I confess that I cannot see why the Independent Commission for Aid Impact should not be given statutory backing. I therefore hope that when the Bill is further considered, it might be possible, in clause 5, simply to give statutory backing to what has been created as ICAI.
My right hon. Friend makes an interesting point. Of course, ICAI was created through an Order in Council. There have been discussions about placing it on a statutory basis, and I think that it should be, because it has earned such a position. He may want to speak to our right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, whom I am sure he will find receptive.
Let us pass the Bill and take development spending out of party politics. The Bill reflects our values as a country and our desire to help the least well-off. It is also hugely in our national interest, which is the answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and my other hon. Friends on the dissident Bench. The Bill is hugely in our national interest, and it is an investment in greater security and prosperity for us all and in the future of our children and of generations to come.
The Chair will always look after the Chamber first. Rest assured that whoever is in the Chair will make sure that as many voices as possible are heard before any closure. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to influence the Chair in any way whatsoever, as a senior member of the Panel of Chairs.
I am delighted that the Bill has been introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), and I am pleased to follow the former Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell).
During my nine and a bit years in the House, I have had the huge privilege of visiting overseas projects to see at first hand the excellent work done by DFID, along with NGOs such as Results UK, Oxfam, World Vision, Farm Africa and so on. The visits have ranged from looking at health projects in Malawi, where they are tackling TB and HIV through vaccination programmes and advice on family planning, to going to the camps for internally displaced people in northern Uganda, which was the first time I had been overseas as an MP—I was with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), who I hope will speak in a moment—and sparked in me a realisation that we can do so much for people. Those in the camps, who had been displaced from their homes for the best part of two decades, were living on one meal and their clothes were charity handouts from the UK, but we could see the work that DFID was doing. Since then, I have had the privilege of seeing many other projects on the ground.
Today I will focus on an issue that was touched on briefly by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk—that of climate change and the need for overseas development assistance to be directed towards the countries that are most at risk to help with adaptation and mitigation. As the shadow Secretary of State for International Development said on another occasion:
“The climate is the central development issue of the next century. If we fail to tackle the changes in our environment, all the gains we make elsewhere—from health and poverty to food and sanitation—will be reversed.”
I have just returned from three days in El Salvador with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton South (Gavin Shuker), the shadow Minister for International Development, and Christian Aid. That country is the fourth most at risk from climate change. El Salvador is not currently in receipt of DFID funding, but much of what I have to say is relevant to countries that are.
As a former trustee of Christian Aid and television foreign correspondent, I agree that we must support the poorest people in the world, but does the hon. Lady not agree that it is completely crazy for a deeply indebted nation to ring-fence any spending, especially when we are failing in our first duty by cutting defence spending?
No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. That point has been more than adequately answered by other Members in this debate.
As I said, El Salvador is not in receipt of DFID funding, but some countries that do receive it are also at risk from climate change. In Kashmir, 460 people have died in monsoon floods and 1 million people have been displaced from their homes. Countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines, Malawi, Kenya and many small island states are also extremely vulnerable. Of the £12 billion the UK spends on ODA each year, about £500 million is officially classified as climate finance. I will make the case for continuing to fund those projects and, indeed, for strengthening them.
Changing weather patterns and extreme climatic events have left El Salvador suffering both droughts and flooding. We saw on our visit how this year’s maize harvest has suffered because of the drought. As most of the farming is subsistence farming, people are going hungry as a result. There is a growing food security crisis in El Salvador and a food aid programme has been rolled out across parts of the country.
We also saw efforts to combat flooding by building levees, replanting mangroves and undertaking reforestation programmes. As in the UK, changes in agricultural land use, deforestation, and soil erosion and degradation have exacerbated the impact of the floods and increased the likelihood of landslides.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. She has made an important point about forests and replanting. Is there enough international support for reforestation, not just in El Salvador but throughout the river system of central America? The way in which the boundaries are drawn means that it has to be an international effort.
I know that my hon. Friend takes an interest in Mexico and Latin America as a whole. This issue affects the whole continent. Reforestation would help not only to prevent the risks that I am describing by acting as a natural barrier to flooding but to reduce carbon emissions because the forests are the lungs of the continent. I agree that more could be done not only to increase reforestation, but to halt the process of deforestation, which I will come to in a moment.
In countries such as El Salvador, which are already vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods and landslides, such natural threats turn into full-blown disasters because of the high levels of poverty and vulnerability, and the lack of infrastructure. We spoke to local farmers and environmental activists about the impact of the significant number of climatic events over the past decade, including Hurricane Mitch, Hurricane Stan and, most recently, tropical depression 12-E, when 1.5 metres of rain fell in 10 days, destroying crops, killing livestock and displacing people from their homes and land.
The region’s climate vulnerability is worsening. The UN report on climate change identified three challenges for central America: to resolve high levels of socio-economic and environmental vulnerability; to promote climate change adaptation; and to move towards sustainable, low carbon economics based on renewable sources.
Now is a critical time in addressing this problem. The world is looking to secure a new climate deal in Paris in December 2015. A new framework of post-2015 sustainable development goals will be agreed next year by the UN to replace the millennium development goals. It is important that climate resilience and disaster risk reduction are included in those goals. Thirdly, the Hyogo framework for action, which is the globally agreed approach to managing disaster risk reduction, will be replaced after 2015 with a new resilience framework which needs to address the challenges posed by disasters, climate change, natural resources management, conflict and poverty in an integrated way. It is not just about mitigation and adaptation—introducing climate-resilient crops, early warning systems, protection from flooding and the other things I have mentioned—but about developing a rights-based approach and about climate justice.
The countries most at risk from man-made climate change are not those responsible for causing it. They have much smaller carbon footprints than developed industrialised countries—countries in which multinational companies, particularly in the extractive and farming industries, exacerbate the problem by displacing people from their land, replacing sustainable agriculture with monocrops, deforestation on a massive scale, and the use of pesticides that infect the water supply and much more.
The UN committee on loss and damage, which is the closest thing to climate justice, will report in 2016. In El Salvador, environmental tribunals have been introduced. Judges are charged with assessing expert scientific evidence, and the burden of proof rests on the polluter to prove their innocence, thereby confronting economic powers that until now have too often had impunity on environmental violations.
Much more is to be done across the world to protect, strengthen and enforce climate rights. We heard disturbing accounts of how the central America free trade agreement has made it difficult for El Salvador to promote native seeds, which is part of the effort to reinstate organic farming, and to ban the import of pesticides. That is surely wrong. As part of the fight against climate change, we must also consider broader issues such as how we can encourage a different, more sustainable model of development in countries benefiting from ODA.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech about the way the world’s poorest people are those most likely to be affected by climate change. I am sure she is aware that 75% of the population of Bangladesh is at risk from rising sea levels. Does she agree that one way we can help a country such as Bangladesh become more sustainable is through development assistance to build resilience in those communities, with early flood warning systems and adaptations to the way people live, so that lives can be saved?
The right hon. Lady is entirely correct and I am pleased she is speaking in this debate. Bangladesh is the country most vulnerable to climate change in the world, and adaptation is an important part of the issue, particularly with things such as early flood warning systems. We saw those in practice in El Salvador—perhaps we need to look more at that for certain parts of the UK as well. Adaptation with, for example, drought resilient crops and changing agricultural methods so that people can cope with extreme weather conditions—whether that be drought or huge rainfalls—is important, and DFID has a major role to play in supporting that through some of our agricultural expertise.
I went to Kenya with the all-party group on agriculture and food for development, and we looked at some of the work that Farm Africa is doing, on a very small scale, to help farmers adapt to changing conditions. Tiny measures with little financial output can result in much more sustainable and profitable farming. Good work is being done, but although DFID has done brilliant work on issues such as education, health and microfinance, to an extent agricultural development has been neglected. That is what feeds people. We cannot just rely on food aid programmes and handing out food to people who cannot afford to feed themselves; we must find ways to make their livelihoods sustainable.
The hon. Lady is making an important point, and although today’s debate is about enshrining spending on overseas aid in legislation, for agricultural prioritisation in DFID we need a unity of approach that recognises that not only protecting small holders but increasing farming is the way forward. Until there is more unity of approach, it will be difficult to get settled views on what projects to select.
I agree that a united approach would be good, and I am sure there are many issues we can discuss across the House. We must consider how we can encourage a different, more sustainable model of development in countries that benefit from our aid, and think carefully about how we can protect and preserve the world’s resources, rather than assuming that they are always there to be plundered.
To conclude, the fight to tackle climate change, increase climate resilience and protect vulnerable communities from climate risk must be a central part of DFID’s work, and the importance of that work is one reason why I speak today in support of enshrining the 0.7% target in law. As a first step, we need to make progress on climate finance, on the commitments made by Heads of State at Copenhagen and the creation of the Green Climate Fund, and on mobilising $100 billion a year of climate finance by 2020. UK NGOs, led by Oxfam, are asking that the UK Government pledge $1 billion as a “fair” contribution to the Green Climate Fund, spread over three years. That should be possible because the UK has about £1.8 billion left to play with in the international climate fund, which is where the contribution would come from.
As we approach Ban Ki-moon’s summit in New York in September, it is up to the UK to show international leadership, as we have done on international development issues across the board, by being one of the first countries to state how much it is pledging to the green climate fund. We should show leadership on this issue; it is too important to leave to others.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and recall the visit that she and I made to Uganda. I welcome the positive news now that most of those people have been able to return to their homes, after an appalling period as refugees. I also follow the shadow Secretary of State, who is not in his place, in his tribute to Jim Dobbin, with whom I visited Bangladesh a couple of years ago when he was looking at the cold chain for a vaccination against pneumonia. He was dedicated to his work and a thoroughly decent man, and I think the House will miss the further contributions he could have made.
I am pleased to support the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore). I am glad he has been able to bring it forward, generate support across the House and fulfil the promises that all three main parties and the coalition agreement made. I think the Bill is timely. Some might say, “If you’ve already met the 0.7% target, why bother to put it in law”. It is precisely because we have achieved it that people need to know that the commitment will continue, not least because, contrary to what people might think, there is a rising need for development assistance.
The crisis in the middle east has led to a substantial demand for humanitarian relief, of which the UK has been one of the most important sponsors: £600 million of our funding has gone to support refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, and of course continues to go to Israel and Palestine. It is unfortunate that other countries with a similar interest to ours in that region—France, in particular—have come nowhere near our level of commitment. It is important that we continue to pressurise these countries to accept their share of the responsibility. Being the first G7 country to deliver 0.7% and then enshrine it in law would be a clear statement to our allies that we expect more of them. We should continue to pressure them to rise to the challenge. Unfortunately, however, as the humanitarian demand increases so some of our bilateral programmes are having to be cut. If we can maintain a rising aid budget, we should be able to maintain the bilateral programmes and deliver the humanitarian relief, and not have to choose between the two, as is currently the case—a concern expressed by the International Development Committee, which I chair.
As the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) said, our commitment helps to draw out further commitments from our development partners. My Committee today published a report on health systems strengthening, which DFID does well within our bilateral programmes, but which others are not so good at. The problem is that many of the countries in which we are operating with bilateral development programmes are not matching their own commitments on health. Under an international agreement, they are supposed to be spending 15% of their Government budgets on health, but only about two countries in sub-Saharan Africa are doing that. We can use our leverage to say, “We will put money in, provided you match it, and between us we can help to deliver sustainable health systems.” DFID has not done that everywhere, I am afraid, but it has the power to do it where nobody else can, and this kind of commitment will enable us to do so.
That brings me to another point. Our meeting the 0.7% target is not just about showing the country’s macho commitment to compassion; it enables us to deliver real leadership in the world. I have had the privilege of being Chair of the International Development Committee for more than nine years, and I have made nearly 30 visits to developing countries. I know what the UK looks like from the other end of the telescope. It is treated with much greater respect and regard than we often recognise ourselves, and that is because—I give credit to Labour, actually—our aid is untied and focused on poverty, which gives it a much cleaner edge: people see that it is not about the UK’s short-term commercial interests, but about a genuine desire to eradicate poverty, improve living standards and deal with humanitarian crises. Yes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) said, it is in our national interest to do this in the long run, but it is a long-term objective, not one we measure in the short term. It is based on recognising that the development of these poorer countries helps our development, which helps their development—and so the cycle continues.
I have no compunction whatever about defending our commitment. I have been challenged on it on many occasions. People frequently say how much they would like the money to be spent on something else. During the floods in Somerset, for example, people were saying we should divert the aid budget to deal with that. On a live programme when I was standing next to a woman standing up to her thighs in water in her home, a politician—of a party not represented by any currently elected Member—said, “We should take the aid money and give it to this lady”. I said, “I would rather take this lady to some place in sub-Saharan Africa to meet a woman who has had three children who did not live to their fifth birthday and invite her to tell me that she would rather have the money than let that family have it.” I am glad to say that the woman said, “Of course I wouldn’t”. We know where the difference is. Poverty in these countries does not compare to poverty here; we should make no such comparison.
In passing, it is worth saying that DFID delivers what it does with a remarkably small staff and low administrative costs from offices around the world and its shared headquarters in London and East Kilbride. I have visited both centres on a number of occasions. I think the system works extremely well. It is sad that many people in Scotland do not realise how much activity on the development front is delivered by 600 people in East Kilbride, or appreciate its quality.
If Scotland were to vote to leave the UK next week—I hope it will not, and I do not believe it will—it would have an immediate disruptive effect on DFID. For a start, DFID would lose £1 billion of its budget—the Scottish share, effectively—and would have to redesign its programmes, readjust and, over time, relocate its headquarters. That would be a distraction from delivering poverty reduction where it is most needed. Much more to the point, it would weaken what I think is the transformational capacity that the UK has in development, of which Scotland is an integral part. I would personally hate to see Scotland breaking away and setting up another agency, which would take years and would weaken the one we have got, by no means delivering one as comparably good in any short order. People need to understand what would be lost if we did that. It is just one other aspect of what breaking up the UK would do, which, to my mind, it is not in the interests of the people of Scotland or of the people in the rest of world that we are seeking to help.
I am sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman going down this road, as I agreed with him up to that point. Does he not understand and accept that the Scottish Government are committed to writing in the 0.7% figure and that Scotland’s international development would add to overall international development? There is absolutely no reason why this should lead to a reduction; it would lead to an increase. Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept my earlier point that small, north European, independent countries have always been in the lead with this?
I am sorry I gave way, because the hon. Gentleman had already made that point. I thought I had made the point that we would be breaking up a world-class organisation, damaging and distracting it. I do not think Scotland will be able to come up with anything comparable any time soon.
I think that the House should calm down and examine exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is saying; it is factual. Judith Hart believed in the dispersal of civil service jobs. She headed what was then the Department for Overseas Development. East Kilbride became the headquarters for the United Kingdom, working in tandem with Victoria. It stands to reason that if Scotland is foolish enough—I do not believe it will be—to vote for independence, those jobs will simply be lost because they are serving a much bigger united—
All I will say is that a Scottish agency of similar efficiency would require only a fifth of the jobs that are currently based in East Kilbride.
I want to conclude by saying two things. The first is about the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which reports to the Select Committee that I have the honour to chair. I believe that ICAI has become an established and useful body that holds DFID to account—I know that Ministers find it uncomfortable. Although it is appointed by Ministers, it is accountable through the Select Committee to Parliament. I believe that that arrangement could usefully be enshrined in law. I say in passing that there are some concerns that, as ICAI moves to its second phase and has been reassessed, there may be some compromise of its independence, albeit not intentionally.
Putting ICAI’s independence in statute and ensuring that it operated as an independent body, reporting through Parliament to DFID, would be an essential component of ensuring not only that we delivered the 0.7% and that justifications for any variations could be independently examined, but also—to make the former Secretary of State’s point—that the quality of what we delivered was continually assessed, so that we did what was best and made it work better. That would be beneficial to all of us. I hope the Government will consider that proposal—maybe my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk can come to an arrangement about it—because it would be valuable.
One privilege of being the Chair of a Committee such as mine is that I have had many opportunities to visit other countries. I think I have made more than 30 such visits to sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and other parts of the world to see the work we do, on our own and in partnership with other international organisations, bilateral donors and NGOs. It is transformational and world-class work and something of which this country can be proud. We lead the world in what we do and the effectiveness with which we do it, and that is understood and appreciated wherever we go. We have fantastic, dedicated staff working in those places, sometimes in extremely difficult and challenging conditions. As a country, we have every reason to be proud of what they do. This Bill stands up, as people have said, as a great British totem of a country that has engaged in what poverty reduction really means, is committed to it and is absolutely clear that we will go on delivering on our obligations in future, regardless of what anybody else does, but also as a beacon to others, so that they are a little ashamed of what they have done and perhaps respond to our challenge.
It is a privilege to speak in the debate, following so many distinguished and committed speakers. I add my tributes to the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), not only for introducing the Bill, but because he has long been a passionate campaigner committed to these issues, as I have seen over many years, both when I worked as a campaigner and in this House.
As many Members will be aware, I have had the privilege of working on these issues for many years with agencies that are in receipt of our aid and support, whether it was Oxfam or World Vision. I also had the deep privilege to work at the Department for International Development. As many Members have said, including the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), DFID—the staff and all who work there, and indeed Ministers from all parties who have served there—is an absolute credit to the country.
I also pay tribute to the last Labour Government. I was lucky to work in a team that drafted an earlier version of this Bill and started some of this debate. That is why it is great to see the consensus in much of the House today that we should put this matter to bed—that we should put this commitment down in law and that it should ultimately be a matter that goes beyond party politics, to show what Britain is about in the world and what we intend to do. I also add my tribute to all the campaigners who have spoken with so many of us, not only in the last weeks but over so many years, making clear the passion for this issue across the country, and to all those who save lives today. I pay tribute to their campaigning work, their influence and their effort.
I want to go back almost a decade, to 2005, to two instances in my experience of campaigning and working on these issues. The first was from a visit I paid to Malawi with World Vision, which I was working with at the time. If anything has stuck with me over these years, it is the experiences I had on that visit, which show why what we do on this issue is so crucial. I travelled to areas that were suffering the worst effects of a serious drought and water shortage, with food shortages apparent in the south of the country. I saw the contrast between the leafy plantations producing tobacco, tea and other products, and the people living in absolute squalor and poverty a few miles down the road, queuing for sacks of rice and grain from World Food Programme feeding stations, which were working with World Vision, with support from the UK Government. That contrast—between the absolute rich at the one end and the privileges we enjoy in this country, and the people, many of them suffering diseases, including HIV/AIDS, queuing up for food in the hot sun—has stuck with me for the rest of my life.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the significance of the UK aid programme to Malawi is demonstrated by the fact that there has not been another famine there since it began? Sacks of grain were given, particularly to women in the community, in return for the construction of roads, so that lives could be saved by shorter journey times to hospitals. That is a prime example of making that country more sustainable through aid.
I wholeheartedly agree. As many Members will be aware, Malawi has gone through many challenges since then, but that is a story of success and, indeed, there are many other success stories as a result of the support from aid.
Also that summer I spent a number of days and months in the fine city of Edinburgh in advance of the Gleneagles summit, and I was privileged to march with, and stand alongside, 250,000 people from all over this country—including many from across Scotland—who took advantage of that unique opportunity and our role in the G8 and on the world stage to put the pressure on to do the things that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) talked about, and to cancel that debt, to treble the aid, and to argue for fairer trade rules. That shows how passionate people up and down this country are about this issue, despite the siren voices we hear from the other end of the spectrum of opinion. There were people from churches, from mosques, from all faiths and none, and from communities up and down this country. The rich and the poor and young families marched alongside each other, making clear that no matter what challenges we face in this country—and we face many—they want to stand alongside those who live in abject poverty and injustice in this world. I shall return to that point.
There are two fundamental arguments, and many Members have touched on them. The first is our moral duty. I have always fervently believed this, influenced by my own faith and upbringing, and I know many Members share that view. It is based on the idea that the character of poverty is similar wherever we see it, whether in this country or abroad. Obviously, it is experienced in extreme forms in a number of the countries we have been talking about, and there is the same lack of hope, of aspiration and of opportunity. Ultimately, we are all born equal, but unfortunately some of us do not have the opportunities that others have, and I believe we fundamentally have a duty to serve those who have less than we do.
The other argument that has always been absolutely clear to me is that this is in our common interest. It is clearly in our national interest, but it is in our common interest, too, to care about these matters. I spoke in my very first speech in this House about the impact of conflict, instability and poverty on communities in my own constituency—the links of many people from places such as Somalia, Somaliland, Yemen, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the concern they have for their fellow brothers and sisters in the countries from where their families originally came—but also the impact that poverty and instability in a number of those countries is having on our own streets. Poverty, injustice and oppression go hand in hand with conflict and instability, and we must act. We must give a solid commitment in this House and stop this zero-sum game of trying to separate off defence, diplomacy and development and what we do in our own country. We try to separate them all off from each other, rather than look at them as a holistic whole, and in doing so we are making a huge mistake.
If the economy grows, it will do, of course. The crucial thing is that we are tying this to the state of our overall economy, but it is also setting a worldwide standard, and it is meeting a promise we made in the 1970s, and which, indeed, all parties in this House committed to.
We could give many examples. The right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) mentioned one from Malawi, and I have seen for myself the impact of effective aid led by the expertise in DFID, whether in Sierra Leone in tackling maternal mortality and the deaths of young children, and the impact we were able to make with a very small contribution and removing user fees for basic health care services; in our action to tackle malaria, on which the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien) did excellent work in his time as Minister in the Department; or through the education programmes we have funded, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the former Prime Minister, spoke about. There is also our work on HIV and AIDS, which I know many Members are very passionate about, and, indeed, our humanitarian work.
It was also a privilege to be able to serve alongside people from DFID, the Ministry of Defence, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service and the Foreign Office, who worked on our response to the terrible Haiti earthquake many years ago. Disasters such as Haiti demonstrate exactly what is at stake. In addition to providing the immediate humanitarian response, we also need to address the underlying causes of vulnerability in those situations. That requires long-term, predictable and assured assistance from countries such as ours.
The argument about predictability has been put forward a number of times. Members have asked why we need the Bill, and why we need to firm up this commitment and put it into law. The reason is that the predictable assurance of effective aid in the long term creates an ability to move away from aid. If we can support countries in building up strong health and education systems and good governance, we will ultimately be able to move them away from needing development assistance.
This activity also helps to create a social contract in countries where people should be able to expect services such as health and education to be provided by their Government. Our assistance can get them over that hump. That is what happened in this country. Let us not forget that, many years ago, health care and education services were provided voluntarily, as charity, here before we moved to nationally funded systems. We can have a debate about how those systems should be handled in the future, but we have moved to those national systems with national standards and predictable, secure funding. That creates an expectation among the population and helps to further democracy and the overall quality of life in a country. We should never forget that. This is a fundamental point to be made to those who ask why we need this commitment.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that another important consequence of predictable funding is that, through DFID, we are able to support long-term programmes of research, particularly agricultural research and health research into much needed vaccines and medicines? Does he agree that those are global public goods?
I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have seen many of those programmes at work, and we should pay tribute to those in DFID who work on them. DFID is a world leader in research on many of these issues, and we need to see long-term funding going into those programmes to enable us to come up with solutions for agriculture, for vaccinations and for other crucial areas. In the end, such solutions will remove the need for further support. We need the assurance for that funding, however, because if it is simply left to the whims and the day-to-day politics of this place and of other countries around the world, it could easily fall victim to the siren voices, which would ultimately do long-term damage as we would not be able to achieve the scale and effectiveness that we require.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned the importance of Scotland. It is exemplified by the fact that the Bill is being promoted by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and by the presence today of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Gordon. We must remember the impact that Scotland has had on these debates, not only here in the House but globally. I mentioned the impact of the Make Poverty History march in Scotland before the Gleneagles summit. That summit would not have taken place there if Scotland had not been part of the United Kingdom. The people of Scotland who feel passionately about these issues would not have been able to have that impact on cancelling debt, trebling aid and arguing for fairer trade rules had that summit not taken place in Scotland and had we not had leaders including our Prime Minister and Chancellor who were willing to stand up for those issues and respond to those campaigners.
Some of the most excellent DFID staff are to be found in Scotland, in East Kilbride. I have had the pleasure of visiting their offices. The right hon. Member for Gordon and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke) have rightly said that it would be a huge tragedy to lose them. In response to the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir), I would say that, yes, Scotland could have an aid programme—it already gives support to Malawi and other countries, and that is fantastic—but effective aid depends on scale. It depends on doing things together and working with institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations and with successful, long-established development agencies such as DFID. Breaking that up in order to set up a separate scheme and badge it in a different way would be foolish. It would be a sad ending for the hundreds of thousands of people who stood on the streets of Edinburgh in 2005.
The Bill is about investing in the future of some of the world’s poorest people. It is also about investing in our own common future. This is the right thing to do. It is about justice, not charity. It is about putting Britain on the world stage and doing the right thing.
I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests relating to some of the subjects covered in the Bill.
I warmly welcome the Bill and congratulate its promoter and sponsors on bringing it forward. Having introduced a couple of private Members’ Bills in the past, I know how much work has preceded my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) bringing it to the Chamber today.
I also congratulate all the previous speakers, because their contributions highlighted, in their various ways, what this subject is really about; they showed that it goes across the House and it is above party politics. We have a deep commitment, as part of our values as a nation in the relatively richer part of the planet, and we are able to find what our role is as global citizens in an increasingly globalised world. Therefore, I also welcome the appropriate scrutiny and challenge provided by those who are focused on the essence of what we are dealing with today, which is not so much whether or not we should have good international development and a humanitarian capacity but, above all, whether it is appropriate to enshrine it in law as a matter of our politics, our choice and our accountability to the people we represent.
The Bill is notably well drafted, although I take the same issue as others have with one aspect. I had some share of the responsibility for introducing the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, and we have seen how it works as an accountable mechanism to the Select Committee, not to Ministers, and has caused some discomfort to Ministers, both past, such as me, and current. When this Bill progresses into Committee, as I hope it does, It will be interesting to see whether clause 5 can be amended to bring this mechanism in line with what is already established, and without duplication.
Equally, it will be important to understand what we mean by introducing declaratory legislation. I share the grave discomfiture of other Members about this House passing such legislation, so I have had to ask myself about this today and when I was defending this policy as a Minister. The policy was promoted in all three main parties’ manifestos and survived the coalition agreement in explicit terms, which means that we are all here in this Session of Parliament standing on that promise. None the less it is declaratory legislation, so what is the true meaning of why we do it? It is not as though this is about a criminal sanction, an offence or a civil requirement to make up money if it is not spent; it is about this House having the chance to receive, at an authoritative level, a statement from the Secretary of State and if we have failed to live up to the promises we have all made, we will see the ultimate expression of political embarrassment. So we are talking about one of our greatest abilities to put the feet of Ministers and any Government, of any stripe, to the fire.
I find it ironic that in so far as there is opposition to this target being put into legislation, it often comes from those who, in other circumstances, are most zealous in saying that Parliament is separate from Government and that it is the job of Parliament to say what its view is, as distinct from relying on the Government to deliver things. Does my right hon. Friend share that feeling? In truth, as we know, if Parliament wishes something to happen and wishes to require the Government to do it, it has to set it in statute. This Bill allows Parliament to do exactly that, in a relationship with the Government; the relationship is not with the courts, but just between Parliament and the Government.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that, and for his expertise in understanding the procedures of this House and its relationship with the representational accountability we have as constituency Members. He is right to say that the pressure involved here is on not allowing the courts to intervene on targets—we have seen that going wrong in other circumstances. Having too many targets encompassed by these methods would devalue them. But isolating and choosing particular key targets on which there is accountability to this House, where we have the political power to hold people to account on them, is precisely what underpins the Bill, and that is why this proposed statute is absolutely the right way to go.
I do not wish to detain the House longer than is necessary, because we have heard a lot of powerful contributions on the true justification for the Bill. I believe we all feel passionately that we have an obligation to find a way to support the most vulnerable on our planet, and most see things in terms of a combination. Some may see this just as a moral imperative, and that is great, but in a way that view is not shared. This is a fundamental, hard-nosed, pragmatic expression of our British self-interest: not only is this approach better for the potential trade we can have with more stable countries whose economic growth and human development indices can be improved, but we cannot have security in this ever more doubtful and very frightening world unless we first tackle the nursery bed upon which insecurity breeds, which is poverty, particularly in places where there are avoidable deaths. That is why, for one reason or another, I have devoted at least 30 years to trying to tackle tropical diseases.
I do not wish to be accused of being a soft touch on these matters; I am someone who believes passionately in the defence of the realm. Although it is best to leave things when they are seen as personal issues, I take a particularly keen interest in the matter, not because I enjoyed my service in the armed forces parliamentary scheme and am about to join the Royal College of Defence Studies course, but because I have a son who is an officer cadet at Sandhurst. These things are interrelated with security, governance and democratic accountability. The former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), whose work in this area has been well acknowledged and rightly so, said that the greatest undermining issue for all of us involved in this world is the sense that this issue is either wasted or corrupted. The best antiseptic or antidote to that is transparency, and enormous progress is being made in that area, not least by the ICAI, which reports not to Ministers but to the objective Select Committee.
This debate is not about the merits of international development, modalities or even re-emphasising why performing such work is as much in our British interest as it is in our rightful role as global citizens. We should not necessarily be focused only on impacts and the potential for graduation from aid and economic development to trade. South Korea, Vietnam and Angola have made such a graduation; how many more such examples can we look forward to in the coming years? This is not about defining the post-2015 goals, but about fulfilling our promises. That is fundamental for all of us who are committed to democracy. When we stand on platforms and make promises, we need to have the means by which we can deliver on those promises.
Questions remain. In addition to the scale of our work, we need to look at the technical excellence of DFID. The Department has become a world leader in its delivery capability, research capacity and ability to forge partnerships. Our current Secretary of State and the ministerial team show leadership and ensure that there is integration in their work. It is a Department of State delivering on broad Government objectives and policies and not some semi-detached part of Government working on a separate agenda. It is integral to our desire for a secure world, which can deliver the best benefits for all citizens.
Above all, we are talking about the capacity of DFID to build sustainable partnerships, increase the domestic mobilisation of resources as economies develop, work with non-governmental organisations, philanthropists, companies and businesses, and be explicit that this is not a public versus private sector battle. This is a joint enterprise in which we are all trying to reach the same objective, which is to prevent avoidable deaths and improve the conditions, lives and opportunities of those who, with a bit of help, can certainly have that chance.
Why are we talking about declaratory legislation? It would be interesting to introduce a Bill in which we promise never to spend less than 2% of our gross national income on defence. Instinctively, I am sympathetic to that idea. This is different, important and has to happen. It is not like defence, which is of course a proper choice of this Parliament and of Governments. It is right that they should decide how much to put into defence and where they sit in the world. This has to happen because we made a promise that was measured by the Development Assistance Committee and the OECD against a completely objective international set of criteria. That means that in order to enshrine our assistance as a percentage—therefore fluctuating with our own GNI and prosperity—we have an objective test to meet. For the Secretary of State to come to this House to report that we have fulfilled that objective promise is important not only as a useful encouragement to others to step up to the plate as well, but because it gives us a sense that we can look our constituents in the eye and say that when we made that promise we meant it. On their behalf, we have used taxpayers’ money. It is not just money from their pockets, which would be better described as charity rather than assistance for development purposes. That gives us the chance to make the scale differences.
I support this Bill. The 0.7% of GNI measured by an international test needs that objective reporting accountability within the best political sphere we can find, which is this Parliament under the tests imposed by clause 3. I hope that although there will always be examples that can easily be produced to try to undermine the whole agenda, such as a bit of waste or a bit of corruption here and there, that will not take away from our commitment—a commitment made by us, who have the privilege of access to greater funds than many countries whose people’s lives we wish to improve, and a commitment that will outlast most of us in this Chamber—to help the stability of the world and to reduce the opportunities for opportunist insecurity enacted by people who do not share our values and do not want chances for their own people. The Bill is the best way of enshrining the feet-to-the-fire approach that will give us greater impetus and, above all, confidence and predictability as it would make it very difficult for any future Government or set of politicians to undermine it. That will give us all confidence that we have an opportunity to build a better future.
When someone comes second in the ballot for private Members’ Bills they are inundated with requests for different types of Bills, so I heartily congratulate the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) on choosing this particular topic, which is vital. I must express my disappointment that although this was a commitment from all the major parties for the 2010 election, in four and a half years we have not had a Government Bill on the subject. I was pleased to hear the Minister’s speech today and I hope he will do everything he can to facilitate the Bill’s passage before the next general election.
I want also to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) for the immense amount of work he did as Chancellor and as Prime Minister, from the setting up of DFID to his work on the home front and in the international sphere. In our time in government we increased our spending on overseas aid from 0.26% of GDP to 0.56% and made a commitment to bring that up to 0.7% by 2013. I also pay tribute to his excellent work on the international stage, such as his work with G7 nations to convince them to cancel the debts of some of the poorest countries.
Of course we have serious problems of inequality in our own country and we must continue to tackle them, but they are problems of inequality and redistribution and we remain a very rich country—the 20th wealthiest in the world and the sixth biggest economy. We are not only a wealthy country; we are still a very influential country. That is why this Bill is important. In the same way as we had a world first with our Climate Change Act 2008, this is an opportunity to make a public commitment and to use the fact that we have made that commitment to give reassurance to those to whom we are giving aid and set an example to the many other countries that we would like to follow suit.
The Bill enjoys enormous public support and I pay tribute to the many people up and down the country, both young and old, who are very generous with their own money and are involved in a great deal of work fundraising or campaigning to raise the profile of overseas development. The point about the commitment, however, is the stability it offers. Our commitment will enable people to invest in longer-term projects as they will know that the funding will not suddenly be cut from year to year, so that will help significantly in many instances.
Other Members have mentioned the benefits to us of overseas aid, as it increases the trading ability of poorer nations so that they become good trading partners and can lead to money from that budget being spent on equipment manufactured in the UK, but those are not the most important considerations. The most important considerations for most of us are the moral considerations, which mean that this is the right thing to do. That is the will of the British people. The British people want to see this done.
Of course we are right to be concerned about waste and corruption and it is very important that we continue to scrutinise and evaluate how money is spent to ensure that we are spending it in the most effective ways. I know that this is an area that DFID has been working on and I know that we, as Members of Parliament, will continue to keep it under scrutiny.
I pay tribute to the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), for his work on population and family planning. We know how important that is in poorer countries and we would like every family to have the confidence that their children will grow up and survive until adulthood, as that can be powerful in their choosing to have smaller families.
I turn briefly to climate change, which is absolutely crucial, without wanting to open up a whole debate on who is to blame. We have to take responsibility; we are the people who have benefited through our industrial heritage. Given our current consumption patterns, we produce many carbon emissions so have responsibility for climate change. Yet, of course, some of the very poorest countries are most badly affected—whether we think of the floods in Bangladesh or the fact that some sub-Saharan countries are increasingly prone to drought. We need to make every effort to take our responsibilities seriously and help such countries to build resilience with the adaptation and mitigation measures that they need.
Stability was mentioned by several hon. Members. This week I was with the European Scrutiny Committee in Italy, speaking to the Ministers and teams who will be prominent in the Italian presidency of the EU. The Italian Ministers who deal with migrants who come across the Mediterranean were telling us that, in recent years, 80% of them have come from countries with very difficult political and war-torn situations. Our work in stabilising those countries and helping those refugees nearer to their countries of origin is absolutely vital in preventing lives being lost as people struggle to cross the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Italy and the European Union. That forms an important part of the work resulting from overseas development aid.
I want to make a brief reference to the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, in the hope that other Members will realise its importance and take up the debate at a more appropriate moment. I am very concerned that the treaty leaves the door open for large corporations to sue Governments for introducing measures to protect their citizens, such as when Philip Morris sued the Australian Government on the plain packaging of cigarettes. Such moves could have a significant impact on poor Governments who struggle to introduce health measures in their countries. We need to be aware of that and take the issue up at a more opportune moment.
I look forward to the Bill’s successful passage through all its stages and to seeing it on the statute book before next May.
I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) on bringing forward this Bill. He and I served in the Cabinet that made the unanimous decision to protect spending not only on overseas aid but on health. I am proud of the fact that, when we came into government in 2010—a very difficult time for this country, when significant savings had to be made in public expenditure—there was a unanimous Cabinet decision to protect expenditure on the world’s poorest people.
I want to draw on that experience to underline the importance of the Bill. The UK is the first ever G8 country to reach the 0.7% target, joining other, smaller countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates. It is significant that we are providing that leadership among the G8 countries.
I want to help some hon. Members understand the long history behind the figure of 0.7%. I have had one or two conversations this week in which hon. Members seemed to think that the 0.7% figure was plucked out of thin air; some have asked why it should not be 0.8%. Interestingly, the United Kingdom played a significant role in selecting the target. As long ago as 1958, the Churches in the United Kingdom first made the recommendation for the 0.7% target. It took until 1970 for the United Nations General Assembly to embrace the target unanimously. As a former Secretary of State who tried, successfully, to secure two United Nations agreements, which not every Member of this House has the opportunity to do, I would like to explain how difficult it is to get 193 nations to agree to do something unanimously. After all, how diverse is our world? It is significant that this unanimity exists on the development assistance agenda.
So it was that a resolution was passed that each economically advanced country would work towards 0.7% of its gross national income. It might sound like an arbitrary figure, but it is not, and it is agreed to by the United Nations. The target has seen some minor changes since it was first established, but the basic principle and the global commitment to it has remained consistent. As a 2010 OECD article states, it
“has been repeatedly re-endorsed at international conferences on aid and development down to the present day”.
It is also significant that development assistance is seen globally as something really special. There is not, for example, a United Nations agreement on what the target for expenditure on defence should be, and it is difficult to imagine that that could be achieved. There was a recent attempt to secure United Nations agreement on what percentage of GNI should be spent on health, but it has not proved possible to secure a unanimous agreement on that expenditure. I invite hon. Members to consider this: development assistance remains quite exceptional as the subject of a unanimous view of all nations on what we should seek to spend to help the world’s poorest people.
The idea that this is not an arbitrary figure is just a load of old drivel. It started off as 0.7% of GDP and now it is 0.7% of GNI, which is completely different. In fact, the definition of GNI is going to be revised in autumn 2014, which will produce a completely new calculation altogether. Which does my right hon. Friend think it should be—current GNI, future GNI, or the original GDP?
I do not believe that the figure is arbitrary. I am not a qualified statistician, but I know that gross national income is an accepted, more accurate measure of how much money a country has coming in. That is internationally accepted as well.
As we have seen, the UK is leading the way by reaching this target. That is a cause to be celebrated, which this Bill does in practical terms by enshrining it in statute. Although we have already reached the target this year, there remain strong arguments for enshrining these principles in law. First, the Bill recognises the significance of the achievements that have been made while simultaneously protecting the principles that underpin it.
Secondly, having the target in law limits the scope for political wrangling over the aid budget in future. That has a number of benefits. As Concern Worldwide has said,
“we won’t have to waste time quibbling over precisely how much to spend any more, and can instead focus on what’s really important: doing the most good with the money.”
Making a similar argument, the coalition of campaigners in the Turn Up Save Lives campaign, which focuses specifically on this Bill, has noted that
“putting our promises to the poorest beyond the day to day debates of party politics means policy-makers can focus on how we continue to improve the quality of aid, instead of having an annual debate on whether or not we intend to stick to our commitments.”
Opponents of aid targets in general sometimes argue that they are problematic because they encourage a focus on the level of aid rather than its effectiveness. That is a very important point, but focusing on the effectiveness of aid rather than its level is precisely what this Bill seeks to enable future Governments to be free to do. With the level of aid safeguarded in law, future Governments would be in a position to focus on getting value for money and using the aid in the most effective way possible. A further benefit of an aid target is that it gives a degree of predictability to the recipient countries. That enables them to plan more effectively for the long term, which, in turn, is likely to increase the effectiveness of any assistance. It encourages aid recipients to plan ahead far more effectively, which has led the poverty charity Results to comment:
“Having 0.7% fixed in legislation…means increasing the predictability of UK aid…bringing forward the day when those countries will become self-reliant”,
which is what we all want to see. The benefit is not restrictive, meaning that the aid budget is still responsive to our domestic fortunes. That is a really important point. The aid budget would be fixed at a percentage, but not at an absolute amount, allowing for adjustments in accordance with how the British economy is doing.
As the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) asserted, there is significant public support for this Bill and that must be taken into account.
I hear a challenge from beside me about where that is substantiated. For the record, according to the 2012 ComRes survey, 61% of adults supported the increases in overseas development assistance spending that enabled the Government to meet their 0.7%. Indeed, a third of those thought that 0.7% was too low. It is clear that the Bill has widespread support among the public and the third sector. The Turn Up Save Lives campaign is backed by 40 groups, including Oxfam, UNICEF, Tearfund, Christian Aid and Islamic Relief, to name but a few. I join the former Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), in applauding the work of those aid agencies working in some of the most difficult circumstances, particularly where their own lives are threatened, as we have seen this summer with hostage taking in centres of conflict.
Some would ask: why should we give aid at all? Some Members will undoubtedly question giving 0.7% of our GNI, but DFID’s budget for this financial year is about £13 billion, which equates to about 1.6p in every pound in the United Kingdom. According to Tearfund, of which I remind the House I am a vice-president, that figure is also less than the amount we spend on takeaway food in this country every year. It sometimes helps to bring percentages of GNI down to an incredibly practical level, so next time hon. Members order a takeaway, I ask them please to remember that our average spend on takeaways is more than we spend on overseas aid.
There is also an absolute moral argument that I do not think we can get away from. Given the recovery of our economy, there is some dispute about whether we are the world’s seventh richest nation or whether we are rising up to be the sixth richest nation. Sixth or seventh, we are among the richest nations in the world and I believe that means there is an absolute moral requirement on us to help the world’s poorest. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, critics of aid all too frequently
“ignore the transformative impact that aid can and does have in fragile countries struggling to meet basic human needs”.
The Turn Up Save Lives campaign points to the recent example of the civil war in Syria, where the combination of Government aid and contributions from the British public have enabled more than 1 million children to be reached with blankets and other supplies. Such figures provide a mere insight into some of the ways in which aid is having a transformative effect on people’s lives.
On a visit to Bangladesh earlier this year, I saw flood resilience that had been built through the capacity building of an aid agency, which gave me the idea that some of our own flood-affected communities at home could have done with such simple capacity building. I shall never forget visiting the huts of women in rural Bangladesh who were not able to read or write, but who, as a result of capacity building, had been taught how to generate an income for their village. As a result, they had built latrines in the village and had enough money to put solar panels on the roofs of the huts to provide internal lighting. As those women told me, with a real sense of empowerment in their eyes, “Maybe we can’t read and write, but some of our daughters are now able to go to university because they are able to study, even in the hours of darkness.”
If anybody in the House is still in doubt about the transformative nature of development assistance and about the way in which it creates not dependency but sustainability, I for one would be somewhat surprised. In the words of the former managing director of the World Bank, the current Finance Minister of Nigeria:
“Aid can be a facilitator. That is all aid can be. Aid cannot solve our problems. I’m firmly convinced about that. But it can be catalytic.”
I agree that the Bill will be a catalyst.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I ask whether it is appropriate for the House to reflect on the sad news of the death of Lord Bannside, who served in this House for so many years, with such character and colour, as the Rev. Ian Paisley? Hon. Members will know that, belonging to a different party, I had many differences over the years with Ian Paisley and with his views and stances. However, in all the dealings I and everybody else had with him, he was a man of considerable personal grace. He was also someone who, in spite of the fact that he opposed agreements and institutions, actually came to a position where he helped to ensure that we have a settled process, and even more agreement on those arrangements and institutions. I know that the members of his own party—the party he founded—are, unfortunately, not able to be here today. I want to express my condolences to them. Because the House is going into recess, we will not have the normal opportunity that may have arisen for hon. Members to pay their respects. I do not wish to interrupt or impede the important debate on the Bill of the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), and if there is one thing I know about Ian Paisley, in terms of his sympathetic world view, it is that he would not wish the Bill to be impeded by how the House responds to this sad news.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the point of order and for bringing this very sad news to the House. The death of Lord Bannside—known in this House for many years as the hon. Member for North Antrim, the Rev. Ian Paisley—will be a great loss to Parliament and to the political body as a whole. He was a man of great principle: a big parliamentary personality in every way. He was always kind, and always ready with a witty and amusing word to lighten a dark hour. He will be greatly missed in this House, in the other place and generally. I am sure that the House will wish to give its sympathy and thoughts to his son, the current hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), and the rest of the Paisley family.
Further to that point of order. May I briefly put on the record Her Majesty’s Government’s tribute to the reverend doctor? He was absolutely critical to the peace process in Northern Ireland, and the House and the nation will be grateful to him for the role that he played in it. Our thoughts will undoubtedly be with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) on the loss that his family have suffered. The doctor was a big personality, with a formidable public persona, but as you have said, Madam Deputy Speaker, those who knew him in the House, will have known a very different man, who was kind and gentle. I am confident that there will be many in the House who will kneel down this evening and will say, “Lord Jesus Christ, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom, remember Thy servant Ian. Amen.”
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Opposition are saddened by the loss of Lord Bannside, the former Member of Parliament for North Antrim. My colleagues and I support most deeply the words of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and the Minister. Our thoughts are with Lord Bannside’s family. We send them our deepest sympathies, most particularly his son, the current hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley).
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I join in the tributes and recognition? Ian Paisley was one of those larger-than-life characters that this House has been proud to embrace. He never had any difficulty making his voice heard. Before the microphones came in, he showed that he did not even need one. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) is right that he will be remembered as a different man in private from the one he appeared in public. He was a man with a great sense of humour and great charm, which I think will surprise many people. He also had his principles. In the end, he was able to stand his ground and yet to reach across and help deliver a peace settlement in Ireland, which many thought he would not do. I think that that is the finest tribute to him.
If I may, I would like to start by paying my tribute to Ian Paisley. It was a great privilege that when I made my maiden speech in Parliament, it came after a speech by the great man himself. I have always thought that that was a great honour. I was also very honoured to be invited to Speaker’s House for his 80th birthday celebration. I will always be grateful to him for inviting me. One of my favourite moments was going to his church in Ulster to listen to him giving a sermon. The verve with which he gave a sermon was even greater than that with which he made speeches in this House, if that is possible. I am extremely sorry to hear the news. In the short time that we were both in Parliament, he became a very good friend, along with many of his party colleagues. I send my sympathies to people in Northern Ireland and, in particular, to the current hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and his family. When we say that people will be very deeply missed, it is sometimes an exaggeration, but it certainly is not when we talk about Ian Paisley. As far as I am concerned, he was one of the finest parliamentarians this House has ever seen.
To return to the Bill—thank you for indulging me, Madam Deputy Speaker—this debate has been going for roughly three hours and there has been what might be called one-way traffic, with speeches on the merits of the Bill and the merits of aid more generally. It is only right, given that we are supposed to debate things in this House, that we spend some time listening to the other side of the argument. I hope that those who claim to believe in Parliament and parliamentary debate will not rush to vote for a closure motion to stop the other side of the argument being heard. That would rather demean them and their view of democracy and debate. I just say that in passing.
The Bill raises a number of questions. Does aid actually work? That is a legitimate area for debate. Should we spend 0.7% of gross national income on aid? That is another area of debate. Finally, should that spending be put into law? This Bill is gesture politics of the worst kind. Everybody here is saying why it is so important to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid, although they do not seem to care which definition of GNI is used. We are spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid. In fact, we are spending 0.72% of GNI on it. We therefore do not need to put it into law. Even the people who are saying that it is such a wonderful thing must recognise, by the fact that it is already happening, that we do not need a law in order to do it. If Parliament wants to do it, it can quite easily do so, as we have proved in this Parliament.
We heard that in an intervention from one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues, who said that his whole intention in supporting the Bill was to ensure that future Parliaments did not change the law. The cat has already been let out of the bag.
It was rather galling to see the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) lecture the House on how we should not be breaking our promises. The man who promised a referendum on the Lisbon treaty and who shamefully and shamelessly avoided that promise has absolutely no right to come here and lecture the rest of us. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) says from a sedentary position, the right hon. Gentleman promised us that he had ended boom and bust. He made that solemn promise on many occasions to the House.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is the custom of this House when a Member intends to mention another Member that they give notice. May I ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether the hon. Gentleman has given such notice to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)?
What I will make clear is that unlike the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, who started the debate and then cleared off, I have been sitting here for the whole debate, so I am not sure how on earth you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), would expect me to have given him notice.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, I understand that the purpose of that rule is to deal with a premeditated intention to embarrass a Member, not if the point under consideration is something that has arisen in the course of the debate.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pre-empting what I was about to say. I am sure that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will apologise if he has inadvertently made a mistake, or if he wishes to explain why he has made those points.
Order. If I suggest that it might be in order for the hon. Gentleman to apologise, that is to keep good order in this place and to observe courtesies between Members. There should never be a situation where Members feel that a discourtesy has been made. I am certain that the hon. Gentleman meant no discourtesy, and I am sure he will say so.
I confirm that I certainly meant no discourtesy, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I stand by everything I said. I think I agreed with about 0.7% of what the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said in his speech.
At some point, when you allow, Madam Deputy Speaker, Members on the Government Benches will no doubt be invited to support the closure of this debate. I want them to know exactly what they will be doing. Ultimately, they will be answerable to voters in their constituencies in the not-too-distant future. By allowing this Bill to go into Committee and to make progress, Members are basically signalling the death knell of the EU (Referendum) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). At some point, all my hon. Friends will have to explain to their electorate, and to other candidates in that election, why they feel that this Bill is more important than that Bill. I do not believe it is, particularly given that the spending on aid is being achieved at the moment anyway. They will have to explain that, and I hope they feel relaxed about doing so. Many of my hon. Friends present—virtually all of them—are in safe seats, which seems to me probably no coincidence. However, I hope they will explain their actions to colleagues in less favourable circumstances, and I hope they know that that is what they will be doing when they go into the Lobby later today.
I am not surprised that the Liberal Democrats or the Labour party support the Bill. They are perfectly entitled to do so as it matches their philosophy. In a socialist philosophy, which Labour and the Liberal Democrats share, what is important is not outputs, but inputs.
I will not give way. We have heard so much drivel from people with a different opinion from me. I am trying to get some balance into the debate.
When Labour Members argue that we should be judged only on how much money we spend, it does not come as a great surprise, because that is what Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians have always argued for. I remember in the last Parliament asking why truancy under the then Labour Government was so terrible, and the Minister’s answer was: “We’ve spent £1 billion extra tackling truancy”, as if that was fine. Truancy had got worse, but that did not matter because they had spent £1 billion extra on tackling it. It struck me then as even more criminal than ever. They had spent £1 billion and truancy had still got worse. If they had said, “We’ve saved a bit of money and it’s got a bit worse”, that might have been some justification, but for it to get worse and to proudly boast, “That’s all right because we spent £1 billion extra”, is complete nonsense. So of course Labour and the Liberal Democrats believe in the Bill.
What I cannot understand in my heart is how any self-respecting person who wants to call themselves a Conservative can possibly subscribe to the view that we should be judged simply on a piece of legislation that sets out only how much we are to spend, and that it is irrelevant what we do with the money or whether we can afford it. Those should be the things a Conservative thinks about, but many of my colleagues seem to want to abandon their Conservative principles. I should perhaps be reassured that had the Government taken my view, most of my hon. Friends would be arguing the opposite of what they have been arguing today. They might be supporting this policy not through sincere belief but because of their desire for advancement. I do not know whether they believe in the Bill. In many respects, I hope they support it because they think it will help their advancement, because if they genuinely believe in it, I do not see how they can call themselves Conservatives in any shape or form.
There seems to be a view—a politically correct attack to close down debate—that runs simply: either a person is for international aid and therefore in favour of the Bill, or they are against international aid and therefore oppose the Bill. It is an all-or-nothing argument. If someone criticises Britain’s huge, often mismanaged aid budget, they are accused of not wanting to help the neediest in the world. It is designed to cover up mistakes in the overseas aid budget and ignore shortfalls. This politically correct campaign has allowed international aid to linger as such an inefficient part of Government spending, without sufficient checks or proper rigour.
I believe that humanitarian aid is very important. It provides relief for people who suffer from acute distress following conflict, famine, natural disasters and other emergencies. That work is vital. This country has always stepped up to its responsibilities, and I have no doubt it will always do so, when it sees images around the world of tragedies taking place. However, I am sceptical about the aid that dominates more than nine tenths of official aid spending—development aid. It is the predominance of this aid spending that we are mainly focusing on here. This aid offers continuous support to recipient countries in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation, government and civil society, economic infrastructure, economic production, debt relief and other things across many different Departments.
We have to consider the country’s financial position. Thanks to considerable overspends over many years by the Labour party, we have a huge debt mountain, and scandalously our debt payments are still as big as the budget of one of the biggest Departments. I hope that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill will allow me to say that, because of the disastrous way in which the former Chancellor and previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, ran this country, it seems that he was determined to make us a recipient of international aid rather than a contributor to it.
At a time of national austerity, it seems to me sensible that we would want to reduce the aid spending given to other countries. It would not have been a bad thing even to have frozen aid spending to other countries, but to increase it massively, as we have done, at the same time as we are making the case that we have no money and have to cut spending everywhere and cut our cloth accordingly, is completely and utterly ridiculous.
Would our constituents be right in asking this pertinent question: why is it appropriate for the Government to seek to hypothecate into the future for future Parliaments on this area of expenditure when in every other domestic area, including important areas such as literacy, social care and cancer, they set their face against such hypothecation? Is that not a reasonable question?