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Aid Reviews

Volume 617: debated on Friday 2 December 2016

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for International Development if she will make a statement on the aid reviews published by her Department yesterday.

The House will be aware that the Government published yesterday, “Raising the standard: The Multilateral Development Review 2016” and, “Rising to the challenge of ending poverty: The Bilateral Development Review 2016”. These reviews set out how the UK will address the global response to problems that threaten us here at home, such as the migration crisis, cross-border conflict, climate change and disease pandemics.

In the reviews, the International Development Secretary makes it clear that Britain’s aid contribution is an investment in our future security and national interest. As the reviews describe, the UK will champion an open, modern and innovative approach to development that will effectively tackle the global challenges of the 21st century while delivering the best results for the world’s poorest. This is clearly in our national interest.

The reviews are an extensive and detailed look at the UK bilateral and multilateral development systems. They confirm the geographic regions of focus for the UK, which multilateral organisations the Department for International Development will work with and the tools that will be used to maximise our impact as we tackle poverty across the globe. They also highlight best practice in the global development system, as well as examples of poor performance that will face urgent action.

The Government are clear that the global approach to development needs to adapt and reform to keep pace with our rapidly changing world. As a world leader, the UK will be at the forefront of these efforts, promoting pioneering investment in the most challenging and fragile countries, making greater use of cutting-edge technology, and sharing skills from the best of British institutions, from the NHS to our great universities. Improving the way the UK delivers aid along with our multilateral partners is vital to delivering the best results in fighting poverty and value for taxpayers’ money. Global Britain is outward looking, and we will use our aid budget to help build a more stable, more secure, and more prosperous world for us all.

I thank the Minister for his answer, although I am disappointed, given the importance of these matters, that it took an urgent question rather than an oral statement to raise them in the Chamber. Perhaps the Secretary of State did not want to draw too much attention to the fact that, despite her previous statements about abolishing her Department and claiming that our aid was being stolen and squandered, she will now, as the Minister has confirmed, continue with many of the policies of the previous Labour and Conservative Administrations, not least with the preservation of a separate Department for International Development and, on the face of it, meeting the 0.7% aid target. As the Minister said, these issues enjoy cross-party support, they are a moral duty and are firmly in Britain’s national interest.

The reviews raise many important issues—the work that the Government are doing to bear down on multilateral institutions to ensure they spend our aid well; the work in fragile and conflict-afflicted countries; our support for the global fund for HIV AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; the emphasis on disability; and the work on women and girls—but there remain many unanswered questions. First, no data or spending plans are attached to the reviews, so will the Minister explain whether any DFID bilateral programmes will close or be drawn down over the next few years of the spending review? Will he publish data and put them in the House of Commons Library? Secondly, EU agencies, such as the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations—ECHO—and the European Development Fund, are rated among the highest-performing international agencies. Will we continue funding them, regardless of the Brexit process?

Thirdly, we see in the reviews a shift to spending aid not through DFID but through institutions such as the Commonwealth Development Corporation and a new fund called the prosperity fund, which has been given £1.3 billion of aid money that is being spent in China, Malaysia, Mexico, India and other higher-income countries, not the poorest in the world. Will the Minister explain why that is happening? Are we keeping the poverty focus? Is it even legal and in line with international development legislation? In the last few days, Lord Bates, in answer to a written question, claimed that aid was being given to China to “maximise UK-China trade”. Where are sustainability and climate change in the economic development plan?

It is good to see the commitments to humanitarian aid, but, finally and on a separate issue, will the Minister reconsider the issue of humanitarian airdrops in Aleppo?

I am conscious of the time limit and the fact that hon. Members will want to avail themselves of the opportunity to ask questions, so I shall be brief.

I welcome what was, begrudgingly and hidden beneath the veneer of criticism in the hon. Gentleman’s comments, an acceptance that in this area there is much cross-party support that cuts across the political divide sometimes separating us in this place. We are all determined to see the maximum value delivered for the taxpayer, in our national interest and that of those helped by our international aid spend. Will bilateral aid programmes close? Well, some will, I am sure, but that will be done on an ongoing basis. All programmes are always kept under review. New programmes come into existence and some programmes, when they do not deliver to the expected standard, are of course closed down, so I could not stand here and promise that no bilateral programmes will close in the years ahead. That said, there remain clear commitments to the 0.7% spend, to having a separate Department and to doing aid in the right way to deliver real change and improvement in people’s lives—as has been encapsulated in comments by the Secretary of State and in some of the findings in the reviews.

The hon. Gentleman asked about EU agencies and whether Brexit might divert funding from them. I do not want to pre-empt the process of Brexit, but I would suspect that where it could deliver value for money we would look to work with international institutions, of whatever type, in order to secure the outcomes we want—because it is on outcomes that we are focused. We want to ensure maximum value for money, help the most people and drive development in the most effective way. He also asked about climate change. International climate finance is a large part of what DFID does, and we have significant commitments in that area that we will continue to meet. The CDC and the prosperity fund each can be powerful tools in driving aid and development and have enjoyed, I think, more than a modicum of cross-party support, which I hope will continue into the future.

I welcome the reviews, but will my hon. Friend assure me that nothing in them should dissuade people from continuing to donate to excellent overseas aid charities, such as World Vision, based in my home area of Milton Keynes, for which I believe the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) once worked?

I would go further: not only should people not be dissuaded from the generosity that the British public so often show to the charities and non-governmental organisations that work in overseas development, but they should be encouraged to continue it. It is so important. It makes a real difference on the ground. My hon. Friend cited one example in his constituency, but there are many organisations that do great work, many in partnership with DFID and the Government and other international partners and actors, and many of them are making a real difference to people’s lives.

I thank the Department for finally releasing the multilateral and bilateral aid reviews. The House, the NGO community and civil society have had to wait a long time to finally read the reviews. Why did it take so long? The reviews show that DFID is working in challenging environments and delivering aid transparently—no wastages, no reason for alarm—so why has the Secretary of State continued to show little support for DFID? I hope she will now show it some support. In 2011, the development reviews included specific country-by-country data, including indicative spending levels per country. Why do the current reviews not include these important data?

The shadow Secretary of State asks why it has taken so long to publish the reviews. We live, of course, in a new global environment. We have seen many events this year—in this changing world of politics—including the vote to leave the EU, and the Secretary of State rightly wanted to ensure that the reviews, when they were published, fully took account of the new opportunities presented to us, including the chance to be truly global in our outlook and to deliver a global Britain, and of the contribution that DFID can make to that. It was absolutely right, therefore, that we took our time to ensure that the reviews took account of the changing environment and global circumstances.

I take exception, however, to the shadow Secretary of State’s characterisation of the Secretary of State as in any way needing to show more support for the Department. I have had the great pleasure to work with her in DFID since the summer, and I have seen somebody who is driving real reform and change and taking with her a Department that is buying into a vision and a strategy that will deliver more and better for some of the world’s poorest people.

I am absolutely committed to the great work that my Department does, and I have absolutely no doubt that the Secretary of State is, too. I have equally no doubt that she is the right person to drive an agenda that will push forward a Department and an area of work of which this country should be proud to partake, taking us into a new world and a new space to deliver more and to deliver better for the people who most need it—the poorest people who will receive support from the work that we do. I am proud to be in my Department; I am proud of the Ministers in my team—and that includes the Secretary of State, who is doing an excellent job.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) on tabling this urgent question. My Kettering constituents appreciate that the United Kingdom is among the most generous nations in the world when it comes to international aid. I think, however, that they would also ask the Minister to attach more conditions to the aid that we give. For example, a large number of countries have a large number of their nationals in prison in this country and they refuse to take them back to put them in prison in their own country. There are also countries to which we give aid in which persecution of Christians is rife and the Governments of those countries seem to do very little about it. Top of the list on both categories would be Pakistan. Will the Minister respond to that?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Aid helps some of the world’s poorest and it helps to make a real difference to the development of those countries and the individuals who live in them. At the same time, we must use every opportunity to impress on those countries the values that we want to see adopted and to impress on them the things about which we care. I certainly do that, and I know my colleagues in the Foreign Office do the same. We are always careful to ensure that we do no harm where we spend money and deliver programmes. That remains a key tenet of what we do. My hon. Friend is quite right to raise the issue he did, but he can be assured that what he said is very high on our agenda.

These are less multilateral and bilateral reviews than a sort of unilateral declaration of the Secretary of State’s personal and political agenda on this issue. If the multilateral system is broken, as claimed in the review, where is the determination to work with other Governments to fix the problem? Surely holding agencies to a unique set of DFID measurements will increase the bureaucratic demands and inefficiencies. In the bilateral review, there is an apparent shift from a partnership approach, working towards shared goals, to a contractual approach in which stakeholders are merely service providers meeting DFID’s own determined goals. Where is the evidence that this will be more effective and have a greater impact? Finally, I have asked this question several times: if meeting the sustainable development goals and ending poverty are not in the national interest, what is? What are the other national interests beyond building a more peaceful, secure and stable world?

There was broad range of questions there—I could spend far longer than the time I have available to answer them. It is commendable that the Secretary of State, this Department, this Government, we in this place and British taxpayers are driving performance agreements for multilateral organisations which will improve the work they do and the efficiency with which they use the funding. That will allow them to help more people over the longer term and in a more sustainable way. I think that is exactly the right approach. We should put the requirements of efficiency and transparency on organisations that receive funding from the UK taxpayer. It is commendable that that is the direction in which we have been moving.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the sustainable development goals and whether meeting them is in the national interest. I believe that they are absolutely in the national and, indeed, the global interest. We all want to see serious progress made towards addressing some of the global challenges that will affect not just us but generations to come right across the world. DFID is making a significant contribution, of which I am proud.

I congratulate the Government on their ongoing commitment to aid and to ensuring that taxpayers’ money invested in aid is well spent. Does this review not provide another example of how the UK is leading the world—not only in the amount we spend on aid, but in ensuring that it is well spent through transparency and accountability?

It is absolutely the case that the reviews provide a great example of the UK in its global leadership role, setting the pace not only on how development aid should be done, but on how to ensure transparency, accountability and value for money, so that every pound and every penny we spend makes the maximum possible impact. That is a moral imperative, because if we do not succeed in those respects, the people who could be helped will have to go without that support. I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She is absolutely right, and it is the direction towards which we intend to continue to push.

The aid review showed that EU institutions were some of the best-performing global agencies. Will the Minister join me in praising them?

We work with a wide range of global agencies, many of which deliver effective programmes that make a real difference to people’s lives. As I said in my earlier comments, where we can efficiently do so, we will always look to work with multilateral organisations that can deliver change—whatever the political origination of those organisations might be.

Will my hon. Friend reassure my hard-working constituents whose taxes, of course, provide the money that enables international aid to be provided that there will be a laser-like focus on ensuring value for money? Does he agree that, in the long term, the best way to help the poorest countries in the world is for them to develop their economy, so that there is more trade and less aid?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Department remains entirely focused on driving value for money. These reviews underline that commitment, and my hon. Friend is, of course, right that we want to help nations and people lift themselves out of poverty by supporting the structures of their society and the pillars of their economy by ensuring that they can trade and generate income, so that they become less dependent on international aid. Indeed, the prosperity fund is a very good example of this Government’s commitment to that course.

Will the Minister tell us how moving to payment by results for global agencies can help them plan for long-term development budgets with any certainty or confidence at all?

If we have a payment-by-results system, in some appropriate circumstances, the certainty that those organisations will get will come from the performance that they can deliver, because they will be sure that the donors can continue to have confidence in them and the work that they do. It is absolutely right to deliver value for the taxpayer, not just because it is good and right for the taxpayer in this country, but because for every pound we derive value from we can help some of the poorest people in the world.

For young women around the world, inequality often starts with the inhumanity of a lack of sanitation, making additional privacy more difficult. Will my hon. Friend welcome the words of the chief executive of WaterAid, a charity that is doing fantastic work around the world, in welcoming DFID’s decision this morning?

I will indeed. A range of widely respected organisations have made clear their support for what is contained in these reports and the approach that the Secretary of State and DFID are following. The support coming from a range of organisations, including non-governmental organisations, and from individuals across the political divide is significant and important. I think that makes a statement in and of itself about the work we are undertaking.

The aid review rightly says that more aid should be directed to conflict-affected areas. With that in mind, will the Government consider humanitarian air drops to Aleppo—a measure that would have cross-party support?

I believe this issue has been extensively covered in the House recently. There are practical limitations on what can be done because of the circumstances in Aleppo and the very tragic events unfolding there even as we speak. The Government continue to be committed to supporting in every way that they should and can those people who are affected by the terrible events that are happening. At this time, however, I am not sure that the hon. Lady’s suggestion is practicable or deliverable.

I stand here as an advocate and supporter of this Government’s policy of spending 0.7% of our national income on international aid, and I am proud that it was under a Conservative-led Government during the last Parliament that the former Member for Witney, David Cameron, drove this policy through. Will the Minister confirm that this is still the policy that the Government will pursue? However, my constituents also want to see value for taxpayers’ money, so will he confirm that that is at the forefront of his mind as well?

I am happy to confirm that on both fronts. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to our former Prime Minister, David Cameron, who was a leader—not just in this country, but globally—on this agenda. He made commitments during his time in office that will ensure that this country is at the forefront of the debate and the forefront of delivery in the international development space. My hon. Friend’s constituents can rest assured that we are doing good things and ensuring value for money as we do so.

Where is the voice of civil society—particularly the voice of civil society in developing countries—in these reviews? Does the Minister recognise that well-supported and active civil societies are crucial in building peaceful and stable democracies that can allow economies to grow and poverty to be overcome?

That is a very important point. Civil society can be vital to holding those in power to account and ensuring that democratic systems function properly. It is an area of work in which DFID is very much engaged, and I have seen some of those projects myself when I have travelled in Africa and in other countries for which I have responsibility. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: civil society is a key driver for development and stability, and we will continue to invest in it.

I welcome the publication of the two reviews. Reading the “Multilateral Development Review”, I was interested to note how working with UNICEF on bulk orders of medicines via the Gavi programme had not only saved, potentially, the lives of 4 million to 5 million children, but saved £900 million that could be used for other purposes. Does the Minister agree, though, that one of the biggest impacts on people’s lives occurs when countries emerge from dictatorship and try to move towards a more inclusive society, and various tensions are then unleashed? Does he agree that we need to ensure that international aid remains focused on helping countries to make what can be difficult transitions to functioning democracy without ending up in the sort of collapse we have seen elsewhere?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a broad strategy across the Government, and one to which we are committed. I was pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned Gavi, which does such great work. Indeed, Seth Berkley, chief executive of Gavi, said of the reviews:

“The UK Department for International Development’s multilateral reviews have become an internationally-recognised benchmark, casting expert eyes onto our results and processes and, importantly, letting us know when we’re veering off course.”

We remain world leaders in driving value for money and holding to account organisations that do so much good, and we will continue to do so.

May I be the first Member of Parliament to congratulate Sarah Olney on her fantastic election yesterday, when she overturned a majority of 23,000? I am sure that the residents of Richmond Park are very interested in what we are discussing today.

Will the Minister confirm that the Government’s desire to boost trade following the EU referendum will not be at the expense of the poorest countries in the world and that they remain a priority? Will he also confirm that if the most effective way of distributing aid in the future is through the European Union, the Government will not hesitate to do that?

I will, if I may, pass over the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and focus on the latter two questions that he asked.

Trade is vital to lifting people out of poverty. If we can improve economies and their functioning in some of the world’s poorest nations, that is often the best way to ensure long-term and sustainable development. As I have said a number of times today and previously, we will always look to our international partners to ensure that when we spend UK taxpayers’ money, it is spent efficiently. That will mean considering partners that can deliver the outcomes that we want to secure, regardless of whether they happen to be founded in, based on or run through the European Union.

Does the Minister agree that when, for the price of a cup of coffee, we can vaccinate a child against the five most deadly diseases, which might otherwise very well kill them, the money is not only necessary but well spent?

Absolutely. It is one of the great tragedies that so much preventable disease none the less causes such suffering and loss of life across the world, but we are in a position to make a difference to that. Indeed, we are one of the leading nations in the fight. I have already spoken about our work with Gavi and about its opinion of the reviews. My hon. and learned Friend highlights one of the moral imperatives that underpin the commitment that we have made to continue to be proactive and, indeed, world-leading in this regard.

Can the Minister confirm that he is talking to the Department for Exiting the European Union about continued finance for projects through the European development fund, even in the event of Brexit?

I am happy to confirm that all Departments are talking to each other and working seamlessly to deliver policy and the UK national interest. That includes, of course, the new Department for Exiting the European Union.

Less money, less aid and less influence is the reality of Brexit internationally. Given the projected reductions in growth as a result of Brexit, does the Minister not recognise that it will have a profound impact on the UK Government’s ability to meet their 0.7% commitment?

I think that Brexit presents the United Kingdom with an almost unique opportunity to be a world leader, to look outwards rather than inwards, to re-establish some of its historic ties, friendships and relationships, and to drive forward its agenda and values throughout the globe. The Department has a contribution to make to that, and the Government are getting on with the work. I welcome it, but, more importantly, the British people voted for it.

The Minister has referred to Brexit a number of times, but he said at the beginning that the reviews had fully taken account of what I think he called a change of circumstance, so he is surely able to clarify the position of finance for projects through the European development fund. Will he do that?

The question has come up many times, and I have responded to it as clearly as I can. The Government will always seek to deliver the best possible value for money for the British taxpayer and secure the outputs that we want to secure. If European Union institutions were able to deliver programmes through which we could work, we would not rule out working with them in the future—nor should we—but they would be assessed along with all the others. I do not think that I could be any clearer or more straightforward in my answer to that question. The review does not ascribe too much significance to the issue, because the truth is that we will always work with the most efficient partners to deliver the best results.

The biggest threat to global development is surely climate change. What steps is the Department taking, and what discussions is it having with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the adoption of a co-ordinated approach to that global threat?

DFID works closely with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and that includes work relating to climate change. We have many world-leading projects, such as Energy Africa, which delivers renewable energy to countless thousands of homes to help people in a number of countries on the African continent. DFID is a significant contributor to the Government’s commitments on our green agenda, and we will continue to contribute through, for example, international climate finance, in which the Department plays a leading role. We are committed to that agenda, and we will continue to drive it in a development context.

What assistance will DFID give multilateral and bilateral organisations to support data collection and aggregation, and, particularly on age and gender grounds, to monitor impact and effectiveness?

The hon. Gentleman has asked an important question. If we are to understand how best to target the resources that we deploy, we need to have the data that underpin those decisions. If we are to identify the challenges that will arise in some of the poorest parts of the world before they are necessarily apparent and before it is too late to respond, we need those data and an understanding of how to analyse them. DFID is a significant investor in that context, and we will continue to be so, because we recognise the difference that our investment makes not only to the people who benefit from the results that it helps to drive and the decisions that it helps to make, but to the value for money that is secured by what we do.