Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the year ending with 31 March 2020, for expenditure by the Department for International Development:
(1) further resources, not exceeding £3,631,122,000 be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 2154 of Session 2017–19,
(2) further resources, not exceeding £1,923,101,000 be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and
(3) a further sum, not exceeding £5,760,680,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.—(Rebecca Harris.)
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for approving this debate today. I would also like to put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for Witham (Priti Patel) and the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), for helping me to prepare for this debate; the experience they have and the work they have done is admirable.
I have long had an interest in international development, and I think probably it comes from the fact that I certainly feel very lucky to have been born in this country. I did nothing to deserve to be born in this country. We have food, we have clean water, we have medical services, and we have education, which very many people across the world do not have; in other words, we have the building blocks to be able to progress in our lives and to normally live beyond childhood, while many in the world do not have that opportunity.
I would go as far as to say that my interest in international development and in trying to help the world’s poorest people was one of my main motivations for wanting to enter the House of Commons in the first place, and I have had the privilege of being able to witness the effects of the aid that the United Kingdom has provided. I am aware it goes across the world, but my particular interest has been in Africa and I have the honour of being chairman of the all-party group on Ethiopia and Djibouti. I have been to some very rural areas in Ethiopia as well as the cities and have seen the benefits our aid brings to so very many people.
We should look at the achievements we have made in this country through our official development assistance fund, which is now, I am very proud to say, 0.7% of our gross national income. We have donated more than £77 billion since 2013, when we set that target.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has introduced the debate in this way. He has mentioned the 0.7%, and if anyone says that we cannot afford 70p out of every £100 of our wealth, they are wrong. We should be able to look after our own people and make this contribution to meet the United Nations target, which we have started to meet rather late but before most other countries.
I wholeheartedly agree with what has just been said. Our aid has made a huge impact. Under both Labour and Conservative Governments, there has been cross-party consensus on this. It is one of the few issues on which we have consensus in this House, and it is a good job we do, because it has made a huge difference. I chair the all-party parliamentary group on HIV/AIDS, and our aid through institutions such as the Global Fund has made a huge difference. I want to commend the Government for their fantastic announcement of £1.4 billion for the Global Fund in recent days. In 2000, when I was starting to work on these issues, there were only 2 million people globally receiving antiretroviral treatment for HIV; today, that figure is 22 million. This is literally life-saving treatment that we have been able to provide through our aid.
The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the cross-party support for this issue in the House. The 0.7% target goes back a very long time, and I am pleased that it was a Conservative-led Government who actually reached it, but it would be churlish not to recognise the work that Tony Blair did, for example, in highlighting the issue, and I am pleased to do so. Many other leading politicians have also done work on this. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, and I will come back to it in just a minute.
I mentioned the fact that we had given that £77 billion in aid since 2013, but what does that actually mean? It means that we have helped more than 1 billion children across the world to get an education, as well as helping more than 37 million children to be immunised and more than 40 million people to have access to clean water. These are things that we in this country take for granted, but our aid has helped people in those ways across the world and I am very proud of that.
Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that a particularly important facet of our investment in children’s education has been the investment in the education of girls? If we invest in girls’ futures, we invest in the future of the whole community and the whole country. Does he agree that the efforts we have made in that regard have been admirable and must be sustained and indeed increased?
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady on that point; I am glad that she has raised it. In rural areas in Ethiopia, I have witnessed situations in which girls have had to walk a number of miles every day to collect water to bring back to their families. That is neither sustainable nor efficient. It keeps the girls away from school, it prevents any progress from being made in the neighbourhood and it is wrong. We have to do a lot more to help in those situations. I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady on that. Of course it is important that boys and girls attend school, and there are distractions to keep boys and girls from attending school in such countries, but we really have to address that and get over it; otherwise, we will not make the kind of progress that we want to make.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech, particularly in his focus on education. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability. Does he agree that in many developing countries, children with disabilities still find it too challenging to get to school and that we must focus on those extremely vulnerable children, who are often kept behind closed doors and never seen? We must ensure that they get every opportunity in life and that, in line with the sustainable development goals, we leave no one behind.
Absolutely. The hon. Lady makes an extremely good and useful intervention. As many hon. Members have done, I have seen the disabilities that some children have that prevent them from attending school or from doing very much in life, really. For example, we see children who cannot stand up because their limbs are damaged, and children with cataracts who are blind because they cannot get a simple operation. That situation really is unacceptable. So, if our aid can help reduce such incidents, it really is worth doing. We have to increase aid, and we have to improve so much.
It is a sad fact that we are one of the only eight countries that actually meet the aid target. Other countries do give a lot of money, but few actually meet the target, and we need to work with and encourage others to do so. The situation is a bit like reducing emissions in this country, because we produce only 2% of the world’s emissions, but if other countries are not going to play their part, we are not going to get the progress that we need. The situation is exactly the same with aid.
It is appropriate to follow up on the contribution from the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), because our international aid and development programmes are largely centred in East Kilbride. That is yet more evidence of the strength and vitality of this Union that we enjoy and the blessing that it is across the face of the earth.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is also in our national interests to keep up our investment in international aid? By making poorer countries more stable, we improve the world’s stability. By tackling diseases, we stop them spreading to our own country. If we are to fight climate change, we need to fight it globally. Aid is not just the right thing to do morally, but it is in our interests to continue it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We could take things even further because, in the commercial sense, if countries across the world are richer, that affords us new markets as well, which is in addition to the humanitarian reasons for aid that she rightly outlines.
DFID’s budget is around the £14 billion mark. While it is certainly a small part of our overall income, as was raised earlier, it is still a considerable amount of money. The aid budget has its critics and criticisms, of course, and I will come on to one or two of them, because some may be valid. Perhaps we can improve matters, and we should certainly never be satisfied with where we are, because we can always do better. We all have constituents who point out that some of our schools and our police are short of money, so if we are going to spend money abroad, helping people who are not from this country, then we must ensure that we spend it wisely and effectively, and this estimates day debate is about addressing the budget in the wider sense.
It is worth touching on exactly how aid works. This may come as a surprise to some, but DFID itself spends around 75% of the aid budget, with the other 25% being spent by other Departments, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Health and Social Care and the Home Office, and other outside organisations. Some of the aid that we provide is bilateral and some is multilateral, and I will come on to the difference in a minute.
The National Audit Office report, which came out just a few days ago, says that most of our aid is going to the right places and having a great effect, but it did point out that there is room for improvement. As I go through one or two areas in which we can improve, the observations that I will make are not in any way a criticism of our approach of our aid policy because, as the House has heard, I am supportive of it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous in giving way. He is making a good point, but does he not agree that part of the reason why DFID is so good at focusing its share of the aid is because it is a discrete Department and not just part of another bigger Department? Does he share my concern that some right hon. and hon. Members have talked about amalgamating DFID into the FCO? Will he perhaps commit on the House’s behalf to talk to the candidates for the leader of the Conservative party to assure the House that DFID will continue no matter who wins the upcoming contest?
The hon. Lady raises a good point. I think it was Tony Blair who set up the separate Department, which provided it with focus. Thinking back before that, however, most right hon. and hon. Members would acknowledge the excellent work carried out by Baroness Chalker, even though the Department was then within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I suppose there are two ways of looking at it. When I travel and meet DFID officials abroad, I often meet officials from the FCO, and maybe also from other Departments linked to it. Overall, I agree with the hon. Lady that this is such an important subject, and it obviously should have close ties to the Foreign Office, and probably to other Departments, too. As I say, 25% of the overseas aid budget is spent by other Departments, so there has to be a close link. I am probably persuaded that that should be the case. I will talk to the successful leadership candidate, whoever they are, about this issue in due course.
I mentioned that other Departments spend about 25% of the aid budget, and that proportion has increased significantly—it was 11.4% in 2013. That spending can be a good thing, because it draws on the expertise of those other Departments. In certain cases, money is provided that might not have been so quickly forthcoming if those Departments had to queue outside the Treasury for it.
However, the spending raises the question of whether these other Departments quite have DFID’s experience and expertise in delivering aid. The Department of Health and Social Care, for example, might be expert in handling health-related issues—I am sure it is—but DFID has that experience of delivering projects abroad. There is a question mark over whether we have got to the right level. Hopefully the Minister will give us some guidance.
The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way again. Does he agree that that underlines the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) on the importance of having DFID leading on this? DFID has that expertise and experience as a separate Department and, actually, some of the criticisms levelled by the National Audit Office and others—I am not an aid purist, and some important aid spending needs to be done in conjunction with other Departments, such as through the Stabilisation Unit, International Climate Finance and other institutions —have been levelled at spending when it has been done well but without the remit of DFID. We need to see DFID in a leading role, using its expertise to ensure our money is spent effectively.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I look forward to hearing whether the Minister thinks that 25% of the budget being spent by other Departments is about right, too high or too low. I have not necessarily come with answers. I am asking as many questions as I am giving answers, but that is the nature of this debate.
This spending also raises the question of transparency, because the other Departments do not have the same legislative requirements. For example, the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006 requires DFID to report to Parliament on where the money is spent, but other Departments are not covered by the Act.
The targeting of aid is something else that concerns some people. In 2017, the last year for which figures are available, DFID spent 66% of its bilateral aid budget on the world’s poorest countries, but the other Departments spent only 25% of their bilateral budgets on the least developed countries. There are always explanations and more details behind these figures but, on the face of it, we need to look at it and ask questions.
Through bilateral aid, we have complete control of the projects we fund; and through multilateral aid, we work with other agencies and do not have the same control, and the priorities of those other agencies might be slightly different from ours. There are different nuances within each of those headings, too. This is never a simple subject.
Before the hon. Gentleman launches into multilateral aid, may I take him back to the point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty)? In my experience, since 2010 it is the Treasury that has been the principal driver of other Departments increasingly being allowed to count some of their spending as international development spend. To what extent has the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) already had conversations with Treasury Ministers about the comprehensive spending review they are preparing for the next Conservative Prime Minister? I suspect the Treasury has already done work to try to identify ways to get that 25% figure even higher.
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. I have not had those discussions with the Treasury, but they are certainly discussions we will need to have. I raise this with the Minister to find out her view, because this is increasing quite a lot—it has more than doubled in the past few years, so the hon. Gentleman is right to raise the point. This is why I make the point about spending in the countries that most need it and targeting it at the poorest people in the world. That is what most people would want us to do. There can be knock-on effects that come to this country, but the primary concern must be about helping the world’s poorest people.
On the comment just made by the former International Development Minister from the Opposition, surely the issue is not just the 0.7% but the rules. Any expenditure undertaken by other Departments must of course be within the rules; otherwise, the Treasury would have a fit, as it would have to find the additional money if spending were undertaken outside those rules. The important thing is that this expenditure should be well spent—a point I hope to make if I catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. It does not matter which Department is spending any expenditure that falls within the rules that Britain has accepted so long as it is spent well.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He has expert knowledge of this issue. We had a meeting before this debate and it could have gone on a lot longer because we discussed so very many things. Where this spending goes does matter, and it does matter that there is accountability and transparency. That is the important point.
What concerns me is the issue of which partners we use to deliver our aid. DFID has great relationships with large trusted partners, but I am always concerned that smaller, more effective organisations operating in the most dangerous places, such as the Hands Up Foundation, do not get the funding and support from DFID that they need. Does my hon. Friend agree on that?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. It is very important to consider the partners we use. Accusations are made that some of the partners—the intermediaries—might take too big a chunk of the money before that money gets to ground level, and there are concerns about that. With multilateral aid, who we deal with is certainly one of the issues. Sometimes these bodies do not have the same priorities as we have.
If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will deal with this immediately. The bilateral aid of DFID was 62.6%, as against multilateral aid of 37.4%, and this has remained steady over the past few years. However, that is still a lot of money going on aid that we do not fully control. There are some good projects out there. The World Food Programme is an excellent example of multilateral aid that saves lives. The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) mentioned the money going to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and today we had the announcement of this being £467 million a year. As I understand it, that is multilateral aid, so there are some excellent projects we are involved in, but there are delays in reporting by the multilateral agencies, which impedes our ability to analyse the work they do.
The hon. Gentleman, an old friend, knows of my passion for cutting road deaths worldwide; this is the biggest killer, especially of children and young people, and mainly of poorer ones. He knows of my role as chair of the World Health Organisation’s Global Network for Road Safety Legislators. Does he agree that bilateral and multilateral approaches are both good in the right contexts and with the right partners? We are doing work in the real target countries, and in some countries this can be bilateral but often we are looking for a number of partners.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, to whom I pay tribute for all his work in that respect. I shall come back to that issue in a moment.
Let me turn to the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield. It has identified some spending by, for example—this is only an example, and it is not the only one—the Newton Fund, which the commission said
“is not promoting the best use of ODA and some projects appear not to be within the ODA definition.”
That is of some concern. The commission lists some of the projects about which it is concerned. Sometimes when one looks into the projects and gets into the details, one finds they actually do help people who need help, but the headlines that they receive do not necessarily suggest that. Nevertheless, we have to be careful, because we all have constituents who want to see that their hard-earned money they pay in taxes goes to the right target.
My hon. Friend has just made an important point. It is absolutely right that we fund multilateral projects, and some of the organisations involved, such as the UN, are huge. In respect of the big multilateral projects it is easy to pick on the tiniest point about where some aid might go and blow that up into a huge headline, and that is what our constituents hear. We are not going to change that in the press—the newspapers will not print a headline that says, “All the planes took off on time yesterday”—but it is the House’s responsibility to emphasise exactly what my hon. Friend is talking about.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, which enables me to move to another point. Contrary to what is sometimes said, we do not actually finance corrupt dictators in other countries. Another point raised—I have taken so many interventions that I cannot remember who made it—was that it can be difficult to get aid to the people who need it most. For example, people who live in war-torn countries are going to be desperate and will need help of one form or another. The people who live in countries with very poor Governments that have dictatorships need help. It is not the dictator who needs it, but the people who live in those countries certainly do need help. The trick is to get under the radar to help those people, but that should not be confused with the financing of wicked dictators. The two situations are different.
Is not another benefit of multilateral aid that it enables a country such as Britain to help by combining with other countries to get significant sums of money to the poorest people, with a minimum impact on that country? I think of a country such as Ghana, which has lots of poor people and a civil service with nothing like the capacity that our great civil service has. Imagine if all 27 EU countries that give money through the European development fund suddenly decided that they wanted not to give money to Ghana through Europe but to do it themselves. The Ghanaian civil service would suddenly have to deal with all those 27-plus reporting lines. Is not one of the benefits of multilateral aid that it minimises the administrative burden of getting aid to the very poorest in the country in question?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Of course, countries working together has to be the way forward, but the system really does have to be accountable, transparent and delivered efficiently and effectively. When it is those things, it is obvious that countries working together is a good thing.
All that takes me to another point: we all want humanitarian assistance to be provided—I certainly do, and we certainly do provide it—and it is easy to justify that, but we also want to see countries being given the building blocks and facilities to develop. The hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) gave the example of the civil servants in Ghana. Tax-raising and collecting authorities in such countries are important. The problem is that it is sometimes difficult to explain to our constituents the difference between development aid as opposed to humanitarian aid. It is not always easily understood. It is important that we help countries to build the capacity to move forward. The old adage about giving a man or woman a fish and feeding them for a day or teaching them how to fish so that they can feed themselves for a lifetime is absolutely right. We have to find ways to do that, or we will never make the progress in the world that we all want to see.
On that important aim, let me say that, like me, the hon. Gentleman probably attended the Fairtrade Fortnight event, which looked at the impact that DFID has when it works with developing countries to ensure that producers receive fair prices for cocoa through the She Deserves campaign. Does he agree that that kind of intervention is vital not just at a governmental level but at an individual level, ensuring that families, and women in particular, are able to support and sustain their families?
I totally agree with the hon. Lady. We have had campaigns in this country to get fair milk prices for our farmers, so it is certainly right that we should ensure that farmers and traders in other countries get fair trade as well as fair prices. It is very, very important indeed.
The hon. Gentleman is being very kind in giving way. He will know the sterling work that my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch) has done in this area. She, like all of us here, absolutely believes not only in tackling world poverty but in the absolute scrutiny and accountability that go with it. For all of us in this field, they are our watchwords, our doctrine. When the newspapers accuse us of being do-gooders who do not care, it is just not true. My hon. Friend is a champion of that sort of scrutiny.
It is right that we do scrutinise things and that we do demand transparency, but it is also right that we put things in perspective as well. I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Huddersfield.
I want to try to draw my remarks to a close, because, presumably, lots of hon. and right hon. Members wish to speak. In summary, I want to see an increase in the amounts going to the least developed countries and an increase in transparency, certainly in non-DFID and multilateral spending. I also want us to have a bit more control over, and understanding of, where the multi- lateral aid actually goes. We need to be aware that when we leave the European Union—and I will say “when”—we will get something like 10% of our budget back. We then have to decide where that goes. I am sure that there is no shortage of places or projects for which we want to provide.
In conclusion, I am very proud of our aid budget and of the fact that we have saved and transformed so many lives. The suggestions that I have made and the queries that I have raised today in no way challenge my commitment to our aid budget, but I want to make sure that we help even more people even more effectively than we already are. Most people want to see the United Kingdom, one of the richest countries in the world, helping the poorest people in the world, but they do have a right to make sure that their hard-earned money—it is not our money, it is theirs—actually goes to the people who need it the most. Much of it already does, but I think that all of it needs to do so. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson). I congratulate him on securing this opportunity to scrutinise in the main Chamber DFID and its work. I agreed with every single word that he said. His speech demonstrated that there is strong cross-party support for this commitment.
It is opportune that we debate the Department’s estimates this year because we are in the 50th anniversary year of the Pearson Commission, which was under- taken by the World Bank and which first suggested a commitment of 0.7% of gross national income for countries to follow. The United Kingdom met that target in 2013. As the hon. Gentleman rightly reminded us, we are alone among the major economies in the world in achieving that target and one of just eight countries to have done so.
The cross-party commitment is incredibly important. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of the 0.7% commitment and the importance of DFID as a stand-alone Department—a voice for development in the British Cabinet, but also a strong British voice in international institutions. DFID has earned, rightly, enormous praise in international institutions as a strong leader on development. I also agree with him that those of us who support the 0.7% target and DFID have an added responsibility to demonstrate value for money, to call to task when there is not value for money, and to ensure that every penny of taxpayers’ money that goes to international development is spent wisely and efficiently.
Another point that we should make, although it is not a focus for today, is that if we are to achieve the sustainable development goals—the ambitious Agenda 2030 programme to which the world is committed—aid alone will not get us there. Aid will be a fraction of the resources required to achieve those goals around the world, but especially in the poorest countries. Mobilising other forms of capital, including private sector investment, will be vital. I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is vital that we assist those countries to develop strong tax collection systems so that they can collect taxes from domestic taxpayers and international companies operating there.
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. Does he agree—this has been brought up by the International Development Committee, which he so ably chairs—that what the UK needs in addition to DFID, or perhaps inside or alongside DFID, is a development bank, which so many other major economies have but we do not?
I am delighted to take that intervention from my friend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), whom we miss on the Committee. He is an extremely eloquent and powerful voice for international development in this House and beyond, not least through his role in the World Bank parliamentary network. I am very sympathetic to his point about having our own development bank. I have just come from an event with the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which performs some of those functions, but I know that he argues for a distinctive UK development bank, and I hope that he will have an opportunity to elaborate on that later in the debate.
I will comment briefly on five areas, all of which were covered by the hon. Member for Tewkesbury: humanitarian versus development; multilateral versus bilateral; localisation and small organisations; scrutiny; and addressing some of the issues with non-DFID official development assistance.
We know that the world is facing some huge crises. Some of them are global, such as climate change, and some are a consequence of natural disasters, but many of them are man-made—person-made—and often a consequence of conflict. We look at Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the crisis affecting the Rohingya people of Burma, most of whom now live in neighbouring Bangladesh. In that context, the distinction between what is a response to a humanitarian situation and what is development is increasingly irrelevant. People are escaping conflict and living as refugees or internally displaced people for large parts of their lives. Children are spending their entire childhoods displaced. They need humanitarian assistance, but they and their communities also need development support.
That is why the International Development Committee has focused so much on the importance of investing in global education. As the Minister well knows, we have consistently called on the Government to devote a larger part of the UK’s development assistance to education. I welcome the commitment that she made recently—at the last but one DFID Question Time—to the UK increasing our commitment to Education Cannot Wait, the multilateral fund aimed at supporting children and young people in emergency situations. I encourage her to put today, or quite soon, a figure on that commitment—and for it to be a high figure—because the earlier we make a pledge on Education Cannot Wait, the more likely other donors are to follow so that we can ensure that that excellent fund can play its part to support education in emergencies.
That brings me on to the broader issues around multilaterals and bilaterals that the hon. Member for Tewkesbury set out fully. First, let me strongly echo my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty): we hugely welcome the commitment that was made on the Global Fund over the weekend. It is really excellent news that the Government have made that commitment to replenishment, and have made it early, which has lessons for replenishments in other areas and again demonstrates strong leadership in this field. The last-but-one Secretary of State—I think we are on the fourth Secretary of State since I took over the Chair of the Committee four years ago—oversaw the multilateral development review. That was a very thorough piece of work by the Department looking at the relative strengths of different multilateral institutions and showing that some of those working in the health field, notably the Global Fund, came out very strongly.
Interestingly, other institutions that came out very strongly—the right hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) oversaw the review—were the European ones, including the European Commission. I have been encouraged by the responses that we have had from Ministers about the issues that we will face in the event of Brexit and about ensuring that the excellent programmes that are provided through European institutions, like the European development fund, do not suffer as a result of Brexit. What we should have uppermost in our minds is the needs of those who are benefiting from those programmes. I urge the Minister, and the Government more generally, in deciding whether to continue to work closely with and fund European development programmes after Brexit, to follow the best evidence as to what is good for the beneficiaries. I hope that whoever the Prime Minister is, the Government will not be guided by an ideology that says, “We can’t work with European institutions.”
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Would he also urge those on the EU side of the debate to leave their ideology aside and, where there are fantastic non-governmental organisations from the UK that could deliver some of these programmes, to ensure that they can continue to do so?
I absolutely agree with the Minister on that. It is very important that, if we are no longer in the European Union, British NGOs are still able to apply for these sorts of programmes. If they are best suited to deliver them, it is absolutely right that they should have that opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Further to the point that the Minister made, are we not in a very strong position, when we leave the European Union, to decide for ourselves—in the same way that the multilateral aid review takes place—which of the programmes that the European Union is delivering are worthy of our support, and support them? Then, where there are programmes that we perhaps do not choose to support, we can use our money in a different way, giving us the flexibility always to go where the money is best spent.
I agree. I am keen to emphasise that the Government’s own reviews suggest that most of these European-run programmes are good, so there is a strong likelihood that we would, if given the opportunity, volunteer to remain part of them, but the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we would have more flexibility in terms of any programme that we might not want to support, and that would free up some money.
I very much hope that, whatever happens on Brexit, we will be contributing to those European programmes that have been so well regarded.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the crucial things about having DFID as a separate Department with a Cabinet-rank Secretary of State has been our ability to influence and shape global institutions? Having a Secretary of State going to World Bank board meetings, attending sessions of the Global Fund and attending crucial UN meetings has given us greater influence, not just through our money but through political investment. That is why we need to ensure that we have a strong, separate Department with a Cabinet-rank Secretary of State.
I absolutely agree. When DFID was created in 1997, the UK governorship of the World Bank shifted from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Secretary of State for International Development. That was absolutely the right thing to do. It has given us a strong voice in these multilateral organisations, including the World Bank.
Let me comment briefly on the three other areas that I identified—first, localisation. The hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) made this point earlier, and it is very important. We frequently take evidence from organisations that say that it can be hard for a smaller company or smaller non-governmental organisation to get access to some of DFID’s contracts and programmes. That applies whether those companies and NGOs are in this country or in other countries. Greater opportunity for those smaller organisations to access programmes is important.
Alongside that, it is important that we see more autonomy for DFID’s country offices. I was interested to listen to the Secretary of State when he came to the Committee last week, because he was proposing something quite radical in terms of greater autonomy for the country offices. He made an important point—it is something we said in one of our reports—about the concern that, in recent years, DFID has lost some of its in-house expertise in certain areas and made itself much more reliant on contracting for that expertise. Indeed, many of the people now getting the contracts used to be the in-house experts. The Secretary of State contrasted how much DFID spends on specialist country advisers on education or climate change with some of the other donors who spend a lot more. I welcomed him saying to us that he would look at that again, and all power to his elbow.
My hon. Friend knows that I have boundless admiration for him as Chair of the Select Committee. He mentioned localism and smaller groups. There are a lot of fashions. Something less fashionable but none the less effective is cutting road deaths. In the developing world, the loss of a breadwinner or the breadwinner becoming injured or an invalid for life is a sure path to poverty. I have lobbied him to look at road deaths and casualties. Rather than the bigger, more glamorous issues, will he look again at something like that, which is very effective?
I thank my hon. Friend. He is tireless. He has lobbied me privately to do that and I do not blame him for lobbying me publicly. There are other members of the Committee here who can bear witness, so we will consider that. We have been looking at the global goals, which make reference to cutting road deaths, and we have the voluntary national review later this month. I can give an undertaking that my good friend, the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) and I will raise that when we are in New York later this month—Whips permitting—to attend the voluntary national review.
As the hon. Member for Tewkesbury said, aid spending is quite widely and deeply scrutinised, and rightly so. It is scrutinised in the media and by the public. Like all other areas of Government spending, it is scrutinised by the National Audit Office. We also have the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, established when the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) was Secretary of State, which is a very powerful lever for improvement in our system.
Alongside that scrutiny—this is something we are focusing on more as a Committee—we need to get better at hearing the voices of those who are beneficiaries of aid and those who are working in the field. That was brought into sharp focus by the issues around sexual exploitation and abuse that arose last year. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire, who has been raising that issue for years, well before The Times coverage began last February. It brought to light the failure of the aid sector, including those of us who scrutinise it, to hear and to create opportunities for those who live in some of the poorest countries in the world to have their voices heard about the impact of aid—hopefully when it is positive, but also, in this extreme case, when it is negative.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way; this is the second speech I have heard by him today, having been at his CDC speech. On that issue, and particularly sexual exploitation, we are clearly out of touch—having served twice on the Committee, I include myself in this—with what is going on on the frontline. I understand that Voluntary Service Overseas, which I associate more with students and what is now called gap years, offers opportunities for more mature people. Instead of going on a typical Committee visit where everyone goes to one place, would it be possible to starburst out and use an organisation such as VSO to be in the ditches, in the huts and at the delivery units and warehouses, keeping our ear to the ground—not with any fixed purpose, but genuinely to listen and engage? As we all know from our constituency visits, that is sometimes when we get the most powerful evidence.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who served with distinction on the Committee until relatively recently. This is always a challenge when we undertake visits, because we are there to scrutinise how the money is being spent, so we are often somewhat in the hands of DFID about where we go, but there is a case to separate ourselves from that sometimes to get to hear those voices and to work with organisations such as VSO, so I thank him for that suggestion.
The final thing I want to address is what the hon. Member for Tewkesbury focused on, which is the fact that roughly 25% of official development assistance now goes not through DFID, but through other Government Departments. He made the case well. He asked whether it is too high or too low. I think the test is not so much whether it is too high or too low. For me, the test is whether it is as effective as the money spent through DFID. The current DFID permanent secretary, Matthew Rycroft, when he was before us a few months ago, said he felt that the DFID share should not go below 75%. That sounds about right to me and I think that is about where it is at the moment.
DFID has an important role to play as a driver of all the spending, and we have said as a Select Committee that DFID should sign off all ODA spending, including what goes through other Government Departments. We were supported in that in a recent report by the TaxPayers Alliance, which recognises that DFID has a stronger record than the other Government Departments. For me, it comes down to this. When we look at the Newton Fund, which the hon. Gentleman referred to; the prosperity fund; the conflict, stabilisation and security fund; or individual programmes by other Government Departments, is it absolutely focused on poverty reduction and, in particular, on creating jobs and livelihoods in the poorest parts of the world? Those programmes are perfectly capable of delivering that, and some of them do, but I do not think that is yet in the DNA of those other Government Departments in the way that it is in the DNA of DFID. By putting DFID in the driving seat, we can ensure that that is the case.
I am really pleased to have had the opportunity to speak in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman again. I finish by mentioning again the sustainable development goals and the voluntary national review that we will undertake this month. There is an opportunity here for us to ensure that we take these important issues out there and engage and re-engage with the great British public. I think there is a huge generosity in the British public—that is seen in the charitable donations when there are appeals during emergencies—but there is a scepticism about whether we are really getting value for money in aid spending. I believe, based on the evidence, that in most cases we are, but we have an opportunity as parliamentarians, on a cross-party basis, to get out there and persuade our constituents and the wider public that some fantastic things really are being done in their name.
I am most grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate, and indeed to follow the Chairman of the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who does the job so very well and in such an open and transparent way. I draw the House’s attention to my interests, which are documented in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
In discussing these estimates, I want to make the point that DFID is one of the most transparent Departments of State. Almost all its expenditure, from a very low level, is in the public domain. When it comes to transparency and the ability really to scrutinise where money is going, DFID is not surpassed by many, if any, Departments in Whitehall. I am particularly pleased about the level of agreement, although we must be wary when the House of Commons appears to agree in almost every corner—we must remember the words of the late Harold Macmillan, who said that when the House of Commons is in complete agreement, there is probably something wrong—so we must maintain self-criticism in spite of such agreement. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on launching this debate, and doing it with his customary efficiency, good sense and judgment.
I am very pleased that the issue of development has not been caught up in the leadership election that my party is going through, and that what I would call the David Cameron development consensus continues to motivate and define British policy in this very important area. With all the Brexit distractions, global Britain is something that, across the House, we are very keen to see driven forward in the post-Brexit era. In many ways, the progress being made at the moment in respect of global Britain is almost entirely in this area, as I will come on, I hope, to demonstrate.
The Department for International Development contains many leading international experts who are respected around the world. It is important to underline just how respected this relatively new Department is. Hon. Members of all parties have emphasised this afternoon the importance of its remaining a separate Department. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that it should not be a separate Department, but let us be clear that it does not need to be part of another Department because of the National Security Council. That is the link between diplomacy, development and defence. The policy is beaten out and agreed there, and that provides the right level of co-ordination and underlines the importance of keeping DFID as its own area of expertise, which makes such a large contribution internationally.
United Kingdom leadership is about not just DFID, good though the Department is, but many of the academic institutions throughout the UK, which, through their academic work and thought leadership, lead on development policies around the world. Development is of huge interest to the younger generation. I am able to do a little bit of work at Cambridge University, Birmingham University and Harvard on the matter, and I am struck by how many of the next generation are united in a determination to tackle the appalling inequalities of wealth and opportunity that disfigure our world, about which our generation and theirs can do so much through technology, globalisation and so on.
For many years, the right hon. Gentleman has made a major contribution to DFID debates and at one stage he had responsibility for the Department. Last week, it was heartening when we had a number of young people down here, talking about not only climate change but concerns about the medical welfare of people in some developing countries. They wanted to maintain the level of financing for tackling, for example, HIV. DFID also plays a major part in developing British markets for the future. That means jobs for British people. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that people tend to forget that when they look at the amount of money we spend overseas?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point.
Most of the problems that the Chair of the International Development Committee mentioned require more work and more international development. I will briefly comment on five of them. The first is migration. British development policy is designed to build safer and more prosperous communities so that people do not feel the need to migrate. The problems of migration, which are well understood and disfigure our world, need a lot more work.
The second problem is pandemics. I think that Ebola has been mentioned, as well as the tremendous announcement that the Prime Minister made in Japan about the replenishment of the Global Fund. As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has clearly demonstrated, pandemics threaten within the next few years.
The third aspect is protectionism. There has been a coming together across the House about the dangers of protectionism and the importance of free trade in lifting the economic wealth of rich and poor societies alike.
Fourthly, let us consider terror. DFID’s work in Somalia and northern Nigeria directly contributes not only to the safety of people who live in jeopardy in those countries, but to safety on our streets in Britain.
Fifthly, on climate change, DFID leadership has made a huge direct contribution to tackling something that affects the poorest people in the world first and hardest. The British taxpayer has made a huge contribution through the international climate change mitigation funds. Britain is leading work on international development around the world, and that has a huge benefit.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we come back to the problem of public perception of international aid? When we tackle climate change, disease and terrorism, that has a direct benefit to this country. Although it may be thought that diseases are thousands of miles away, they are only one plane journey away. Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration that we do not do enough to explain how taking world-leading responsibility directly benefits the UK?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I would argue that all taxpayers’ money spent by DFID—all the overseas development aid budget—is in Britain’s national interest. It helps to make other countries safer and more prosperous, which has a direct effect on making us safer and more prosperous.
What should our priorities be now? I want briefly to mention four. First, we should recognise the importance of tackling conflict. It is conflict above all that mires people in poverty. Britain has been a huge provider of humanitarian relief in Syria—it has provided more humanitarian relief to the poor suffering people of Syria, within its borders and without, than the whole of the rest of the European Union put together, as we try to absorb the humanitarian shock of the massive failure of policy that is the Syria conflict. I am a tremendous critic of the Government’s shameful policy on Yemen. Nevertheless, humanitarian aid to Yemen is helping many tens of thousands of people who, without it, would starve. If we look across sub-Saharan Africa, stretching from northern Nigeria through the Central African Republic to Sudan, where the number of displaced people is so immense, and through to the horn of Africa and up into Yemen, we see a belt of misery that is destabilising for the world. This is where international development and Britain’s commitment can make a real difference.
If the first key task is tackling conflict, the second is building prosperity. That is about building good governance and having a free media. I am very pleased that the Foreign Secretary is holding an international conference to espouse the importance of a free media. We keep politicians and powerful people on the straight and narrow through having a free media and the rule of law. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, the Chairman of the International Development Committee, made the point that the CDC has a huge impact on building prosperity. Its annual report, published today, makes clear two extraordinary statistics. First, in 2018 alone, CDC investments—CDC is the 100% British taxpayer-owned investor of pioneer and patient capital—led directly to the employment of 852,130 people. That is an enormous number of families who have a breadwinner and who are being fed. The investments made by CDC in the poor world have led to tax of $3.2 billion being paid into the Exchequers of those countries over the past year. That is an extraordinary impact. That money may not always be well spent once it arrives in the Exchequers of those countries, but it shows that investment in enterprises in poor countries is not only employing people but yielding tax revenue.
The third priority is the absolutely prime importance of demonstrating to our hard-pressed taxpayers that their money is really well used. We should always strive to get more out of each taxpayer pound that is spent. We owe it to our constituents, who are stumping up the money, to show them that they really are getting in 100 pence of value for every pound we spend. We cannot do too much as politicians and Ministers—the Minister, I know, will agree—to make the case and explain why the money is so well spent.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a fantastic speech, and he has great knowledge and experience in the field of international development. Does he agree that in terms of value for money, one extremely good project is the Small Charities Challenge Fund? Local churches and organisations in our constituencies can raise money and apply for match funding to make a difference across the world both through aid and by connecting our local people with people in developing countries—schoolchildren, churchgoers and so on—which facilitates positivity around the international development budget.
The hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. When I had responsibility for these matters, I set up the impact fund, which was effectively designed to match-fund the donations and support that individual organisations could secure. It was a way for the taxpayer to get two for one as a result. The fund probably starts at too high a level to impact on some of the projects that she talks about, but she is right that this is a very important area of development, and we should do more about it.
I was making the point about demonstrating the effectiveness of spending. I have always thought that one of the most effective ways of doing this—I said it in the last Parliament, and I think it is true in this Parliament—is to look at the way in which Britain supports vaccinations, particularly of those under five years old around the world. The critical importance of that will be clear to all Members. We were able to say in the last Parliament that the British taxpayer was vaccinating a child in the poor world every two seconds and saving the life of a child in the poor world every two minutes. Those children were suffering from diseases that, thank goodness, none of our children in Britain and Europe die from today. That is a very visual, good example of just how important and effective this taxpayer spending is.
Let me turn to my final point. There was a report about money being spent by other Departments, there was the National Audit Office report, and we have the report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which I set up in 2010 and which is the taxpayer’s friend. It is there to act in the interests of the taxpayer to ensure that this money is really well spent. When we set it up, many people in the development world said, “You are handing over the assessment of development to accountants, who may not always understand how long a tail there is and what makes development effective.” The truth is that those of us who are tied up in the development community have to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and always be self-critical. We often take the plaudits when we are successful, but we must also be very self-critical when things go wrong, put up our hands and try to put it right. That is what the ICAI is designed to do.
It is of great importance that the ICAI reports to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby and not to Ministers, who can sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet. It reports to the International Development Committee, which tasks it to look at issues. That gives it independence—it reports to Parliament and the legislature, not the Executive and Ministers—and that is why it is so important and why its reports are, I believe, treated with such credibility by the Committee. The recent report showed that not all Departments spend money to the same very high standards as in DFID. Indeed, we have seen examples of some Foreign Office projects in far-off places—I am thinking of a particular one in Madagascar—on which, when the press found out about and went to the Foreign Office to ask it to justify the spending, it said, “It’s no good talking to us. It is DFID money; go and speak to DFID.” That is completely unacceptable. Other Departments that spend hard-pressed taxpayers’ hard-earned development money must expose themselves to the same level of scrutiny that DFID does and stand up for the money that they are spending. All Departments must take that extremely seriously.
I will draw my remarks to a close, because others want to speak. Our generation has the opportunity to make such a difference to the extraordinary discrepancies in opportunity and wealth that I described earlier, and we are doing it. It is happening under British leadership, and it is currently one of the few examples of global Britain. I think that everyone, whatever their political view and whatever their standing, should take great pride in what Britain is doing. We are driving this agenda forward, admired and respected around the world for Britain’s commitment. It is cross-party; it is a British policy—not Labour, Liberal or Conservative—and we should take pride in doing that and supporting it.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), a former Secretary of State, as he always makes a worthwhile contribution to our deliberations on DFID matters, although the David Cameron development consensus is a relatively new concept that I am not sure will catch on—but good luck! I also congratulate the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on securing the debate.
We wait ages for DFID Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box for debates and then suddenly three debates come along at once. In the whole time I was the SNP’s DFID spokesperson, between 2015 and 2017, it would just be DFID questions every six weeks; we would be lucky to get the odd statement or debate in the Chamber—I know they are kept busy in Westminster Hall. After the SDGs debate two or three weeks ago, we are back again, which is very welcome, not least as Ministers are currently looking to secure legacies for themselves. Perhaps in discussing the Department’s expenditure as part of the estimates process, we can consider how Ministers might achieve that.
There is a clearly demonstrated passion on both sides of the House for the work of DFID and the value it brings around the world. Like other Members, I have had the huge privilege of visiting projects both before my election and since: peace villages in Rwanda, food security and nutrition projects in Uganda, climate change projects in Malawi—all transforming people’s lives on a daily basis thanks to the support of DFID.
That is because aid works. Despite the doubts in some people’s minds and the political expediency of saying otherwise, the reality is, as we have heard from speeches so far and will no doubt continue to hear, aid makes a difference around the world, which is why the 0.7% target came into existence in the first place. It was calculated in the 1970s that if all the wealthy countries contributed that proportion of their national income it would be enough to end poverty and inequality elsewhere.
In the decades since, OECD countries have not reached the target. It is commendable therefore that the UK has achieved a cross-party consensus and that the target was finally legislated for under the coalition, with massive public support and after years of campaigning. I do not have the exact statistic, but we worked out how many billions of pounds had not been spent in all the decades the UK was not meeting the 0.7% target, but it has been since 2013 and that ought to continue.
I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech, but I would like to pick him up on something he said, because it is very important. He said the target was brought in with massive public support, and it was, but only in certain areas. The House has a responsibility always to espouse the virtues of international aid because there are many people—they contact us on email and so on—who want to get rid of it. We have to address those concerns directly and say that it is important. I always say: let’s get people selling it as if it was to be abolished tomorrow. That would soon raise people up again. There is a large body of people who do not support it because they do not understand what it does.
That is fair enough, although the campaigning had gone on for years. I think back to the jubilee debt campaign, the trade justice movement and the Make Poverty History campaign, which mobilised tens of thousands of people on to the streets of towns and cities across the United Kingdom. In many ways, the climate change protest—there was one here last Wednesday—is the successor to those movements. Now is the time to tackle climate change. If we do not, the progress towards the SDGs and MDGs is likely to go backwards, which is not in anybody’s interest. Those movements mobilised churches, trade unions and different parts of civil society. That sentiment still exists, and although it is quiet now, the hon. Gentleman is right that if there was a serious threat, that noise would make itself heard, just as it did in the days of the Gleneagles summit and the years after.
We have discussed how the DFID estimate is not the entirety of the 0.7% target and how we need greater scrutiny of other Departments that spend money that is counted towards it. Incidentally, the UK Government conveniently count towards it the money that the Scottish Government spend on international development, even though it is additional. Taxpayers in Scotland pay for DFID through their taxes and the Scottish Government, with cross-party support dating back to the time of Jack McConnell, choose to use a very small amount of their own budget to provide additional and often very innovative support, particularly through the grassroots links with Malawi, which I will say a bit more about shortly.
Ministers are aware of concerns that I and other Members have about the occasional double counting of money towards two separate targets: the 0.7% target for aid and the 2% for military spending. Some money is counted towards both targets. Ministers stand up and say, “Well, we don’t mark our own homework. It just so happens that the money is counted by the ODA and NATO and there’s not much we can do about it”, but if the money is being used to hit both targets, one of the budgets must be losing out. If they are committed to the targets, the Government should make an effort to meet them both independently. If they happen to spend a bit more, that’s fine, since both targets are minimums, not maximums.
I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to reiterate her and her Department’s support for the aid budget, under the current definition and amount, and for the Department remaining a standalone facility, because, despite what some Government Members have said about how they do not know where the talk is coming from, the talk is real. The outriders for the Tory leadership campaigns, particularly the former Foreign Secretary, have made it clear they think there is political capital to be made from undermining or changing the role of DFID and its budget.
Aid is not a tool of soft power to be used as some political lever. It should be dispensed on the basis of need and in pursuit of internationally agreed objectives, such as the SDGs and the Global Fund—and I join others in welcoming the announcement about the replenishment of that fund. When Government talk of aid working in the national interest, the question I always put back to them is: how is meeting the sustainable development goals not in the national interest? How is the national interest different from tackling global poverty and climate change? Even from a self-interested point of view, if we want to stop the migration of people, we need to give them reasons to stay in their home countries, and access to a good education and nutrition and not having to run away from major climate disasters are very good reasons—if that is the perspective we want to take.
I want to touch briefly on the importance of the Government learning from and engaging with civil society actors. I mentioned the Scotland Malawi Partnership. I declare an interest because it provides secretariat support for the all-party group on Malawi, which I chair, and which has issued an outstanding invitation to the Secretary of State, lasting as long as is left to him, to meet the group and member organisations of the Scotland Malawi Partnership.
The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas), who is not here, at the last DFID questions raised the idea of DFID undertaking an exercise of mapping links between local civil society organisations and counterparts in developing countries to see the added value that civil society groups in the UK bring to development. That would be worth the Department pursuing in the near future. In Scotland, the Scotland-Malawi people-to-people model suggests that more than 208,000 Malawians and 109,000 Scots are actively involved in the links between the two countries, while a 2018 paper from the University of Glasgow reckoned that 45% of people in Scotland could name a friend or family member with a connection to Malawi.
Here is an opportunity for a ministerial legacy. What more could the Government do to connect formal Government efforts with those of civil society—not just the large NGOs we are familiar with, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) suggested, the thousands of churches, schools, hospitals, universities and community and diaspora groups involved in two-way partnerships—and not just engage with them, but fund them and encourage them to think innovatively?
The last piece of DFID legislation was the Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 2017. We recognise the important role that the CDC plays in leveraging private capital into development. I wonder what a “civil society” equivalent might look like.
I know that Mr Speaker has not selected the amendments, but I think that the fact that amendments were tabled to the motions is an interesting indication of the way in which the estimates process is beginning to evolve. We welcome that, because when the “English votes for English laws” system was introduced, SNP Members were told that it would be through estimates that we could continue to scrutinise Government expenditure, particularly when Barnett consequentials were involved. I do not believe that they are involved in DFID funding—as I have said, Scottish Government international development funding is separate—but, nevertheless, this is our opportunity to engage in such scrutiny. Gone are the days when SNP Members were told to sit down because they were talking about estimates during an estimates debate.
The amendment tabled to this motion was intended to put pressure on the Government by asking them to clarify their position in relation to a no-deal Brexit, and to prevent that from happening without the full approval of the House. We know that Departments, including DFID, are being touched by Brexit preparations; we know that dozens of DFID staff are being sent to other Departments to help prepare for no deal. The destabilising effect that we are seeing across Government must be a matter of concern, and it is right for us to use debates such as this to raise it and to keep the Government on their toes.
Today’s debate has enabled us to highlight the importance of DFID, but it has also drawn our attention to the risk that the Department will be downgraded, the risk that Brexit preparations will weaken its capacity, and the risk that policy progress will be stalled because Brexit continues to dominate everything. I welcome our recent opportunities for scrutiny in the Chamber, but I wonder whether those opportunities are likely to continue beyond 24 July.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). I was glad that, towards the end of his speech, he referred to the amendment. I must say that when I saw it I was very disappointed that we would be playing with the question of whether this Department, in particular, was to have the budget that would enable it to proceed. I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said, and I think I understand a bit more clearly why the signatories include a member of his party, the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law). However, I am disappointed that such an amendment should have been tabled, on any of the estimates budgets but especially on this one, because—as many Members have pointed out today—the international aid budget is attacked on a regular basis, especially in the press and especially by those wanting to cause mischief by saying that we could be spending the money elsewhere.
It is dangerous to use the aid budget as a political football in relation to our own needs. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that it must be led by objectives laid down internationally to ensure that we are all pulling in the same direction, but it is also true that this country’s contribution is a real lever of the soft power we have in the world. That is at the heart of international development.
As the international chairman of the Conservative party, I go around the world—for instance, to southern Africa and South America—and see the difference that has been made by work of various kinds, whether it has been done through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy or through direct international development projects. The impact of that work becomes clear when one talks to Governments in other countries, as I know the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) will have done. I have an enormous amount of respect and praise for the hon. Gentleman, who has done fantastic work as Chairman of the International Development Committee, but ours is clearly a strong power, and I was disappointed by the amendment because it seemed to suggest that if we ended up leaving with no deal on 31 October, we would not have an international aid budget. If amended, the motion would effectively say, “If you leave, we will cut that budget and you will not be able to spend it.” I do not want to get into a Brexit argument now—that is not what this debate is about—but I did think it odd that those who are worried about the influence that we may lose during Brexit should also want to end the funding for one of biggest contributors of soft power.
At the heart of international development is the fact that it is morally right. I class myself as a Christian, and the second commandment is “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, and that is how we are in this country. Whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or part of any other religion, most people want to “love thy neighbour as thyself”, and to look after one another. Ours is one of the richest economies in the world, and it is nonsense to suggest that 7p out of every tenner is too much and we cannot afford to spend it. However, we must ensure that it is spent in the right way. This is almost a nationalisation of people’s charity, and we must therefore make certain that every penny is used as efficiently as possible.
I have no problem with the scrutiny that is levelled at the Department, but I do have a problem with how it is abused to try and get cheap headlines and cheap stories. I do not blame constituents who write to me saying that they think we should get rid of international aid, because they are picking that up from certain quarters, but I write back to them and explain the impact that aid has. As I said earlier, it is all very well for a headline to say, “Your international development taxes did this in, for example, the Gaza Strip: we were funding terrorist organisations”. However, that was not a bilateral project. When it comes to multilateral projects, it is right for us to be part of world-governing bodies, because if we were not, what would happen to our soft power? What will happen to our influence in the world if we say, “I was not happy about one particular project, so I am cutting the funding for everything”?
Let me touch on some matters that have been touched on before. In 2016-17, humanitarian aid made up about 15% of the bilateral budget. I believe that an area the size of the United Kingdom was flooded in Pakistan, and millions of people were displaced—some of the poorest people on earth. We should stand up and be proud of the fact that this country was there, along with other countries, giving aid when it mattered. Let us be honest about what will happen if we stop giving that aid. That is how to breed the hatred and discontent that will end up back on our own shores if we walk away from these parts of the world, saying, “Not interested, your problem, don’t care.”
That leads me to the refugee crisis that has resulted directly from the Syrian conflict. I am immensely proud of the amount of money provided by this Government— well, let us say “this country”, because this is not a party political issue, but something of which we in the House should be proud. As was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), this country—from this House—has given more money than the rest of Europe put together. There are 6 million people in refugee camps; imagine what would happen in those countries if we were not able to provide that money.
Back in 2016, I went to Lebanon and saw the real hardship with which it was struggling in trying to absorb people. We are well aware of the millions taken in by Turkey, which is trying to help people on its borders. The Jordanians are doing incredible work, doubling school shifts and class sizes to ensure that a generation of children who have been displaced through a brutal war do not lose their childhoods and therefore their futures. Our aid money is supporting countries which would not be able to do that work without it. I challenge anyone to come up to me and say, “No, I would rather fix the potholes in my road.” There is really no question about it.
One of the most important aspects, which has already been touched on briefly, is the work that we do in connection with government and civic society. We take for granted the way in which our country operates, and the way in which the countries around us operate. We take it for granted that we can go and do business in another country that will have a rule of law and will understand about the civil service, about who can collect the taxes and about how they will be spent, but that does not apply to many of the countries that have emerged from dictatorships and are, in relative terms, young democracies. We lead much of the world in being able to provide the necessary expertise and training.
As a result, countries such as India have developed to an extent that we have massively reduced our aid. In fact, I think we are in the low millions now as we finish off a few international development projects. However, many people say to me “We give all that money to them but they have a space programme.” That is great, however; guess where they are buying the components—guess where the trade areas have developed. We should be proud that we have put a nation of over 1 billion people in a position where it can pursue these programmes. There is still a lot of work to do, and there is a lot of poverty in India, but, again, we have moved these things forward.
Health is a very important issue, but for too many people, especially when we talk about the African continent, it is an issue that seems to be thousands of miles away and is therefore not important. But as I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield earlier, these diseases are but one flight away. Our Scottish colleagues will know of the brave nurse who caught Ebola and is still suffering the consequences to this day. These diseases are but one plane journey away of just a few hours: these are not distant problems that we can just ignore and say, “Nothing to do with me, guv.” These are things that could have a massive impact on our health, and this comes back to the point that this is an investment in our own country as much as anywhere else.
I understand that people get concerned when the money is being spent, and we absolutely must make sure it is spent in the most efficient ways possible, but I would argue that DFID is one of the Government Departments which spends it in the most efficient way possible and has the closest scrutiny of all Departments. Again, I do not mean to be controversial when I say this, because I do not want to demean the debate today, but we all know that there are inefficiencies in the NHS, schools and elsewhere. We may argue about where those inefficiencies lie, but according to one estimate there were £2 billion of unnecessary X-rays in 2016. In Leeds alone, over £30 million is locked up in surpluses in schools through previous management and it is not being let out so we are making cuts. We do not stand up and say, “Get rid of the school budget because millions of pounds in surplus is locked up,” or “Forget about giving any more money to the NHS because it has not worked in the most efficient way.” Of course we do not say that, but international development money seems to be the first target. Critics come straight to it and say, “It wasn’t efficient here; get rid of it, and I would rather spend it on a revenue project outside my backyard.” This just goes to show how much we have to emphasise what this money does and what it moves forward.
I wonder if the Minister can develop the following point in summing up. At the climate change lobby on Wednesday, I was asked a question by some of my constituents and I did some research at the Library. The statement made is not actually correct, but I will come on to that. It was said that 90% of our development projects use fossil fuels. I went to the Library and asked some questions, and I will read out two sections from the reply, which I think the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby) might recognise:
“Research conducted jointly by CAFOD and ODI shows that, between 2010 and 2014, the UK disbursed around £6.13 billion for energy support in developing countries, including £4.201 billion of ODA. Of this ODA support, 22% went to fossil fuels.”
That was over a four-year period. The Library response goes on to say:
“In 2017/18, 96% of UKEF’s energy support to high income countries went to renewables and 4% to fossil fuel projects. By contrast, just 0.6% of UKEF’s energy support to low- and middle- income countries in 2017/18 went to renewables and 99.4% went to fossil fuel projects.”
I ask the Minister to go away and look at where we can perhaps shift the balance in the middle to lower income countries, because clearly we want to make a big impact on climate change. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) said that in trying to make a difference in the world we can reduce our carbon emissions but that that is a small drop in terms of what happens; however we have the ability in the international development budget to have a far greater reach than to just those changes we do here in climate change. The Minister may not be able to answer that point from the Dispatch Box tonight, so I ask her to go away and see whether a balance can be struck to get more renewables into those projects and move away from fossil fuels, because ultimately that will give far more sustainability to the ongoing energy needs of those countries than just bringing in what is rapidly becoming a very old technology.
The one message I would like to send tonight is that this is not just about giving away our money to poor countries; this is an investment in our own country and in the world, and therefore in the futures of our children and ongoing generations, and that it all adds to our bigger security picture, our bigger climate change picture and our bigger moral duty, which allows us to lead this world in a way that not many countries can.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) and to have heard the many excellent speeches and interventions of right hon. and hon. Members. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this issue in the Chamber because it is an issue of immense importance to me and my constituents.
I believe it is incumbent on us as global leaders in this country, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to be seen to be helping other nations where possible, especially those nations with which we have historical colonial links. The hon. Gentleman referred to our duty to set the scene for those who come after, not just in this country but elsewhere in the world where we have influence. It is my belief that there is a duty on us to lead the way, but I am also aware that there is so much need on my own doorstep and subsequently the aid we give to other countries must be limited. We must also therefore be effective with the 0.7% that we give. We must make sure that that money goes where it is needed most.
Probably everyone in this House will be aware of the phrase, “Cut your cloth to suit your clothes.” That is what international aid must be—we must do it, but in a sensible way to make the most of the cloth that we have. We must make sure that the money set aside goes to where it needs to go and is as effective as it can be.
The UK spends 0.7% of its gross national income on aid and, in the 2017 general election, the major parties in this House committed themselves to maintaining spending at that target in their manifestos. I support that. However, it is clear that we need to be cautious about how it is distributed and make sure it is done right.
The Library briefing for today’s debate, supplied by the excellent Library staff, states that the Department for International Development spends a majority of the aid budget, which is provisionally estimated at £14.5 billion for 2018. Some parliamentary Committees and other organisations have raised concerns about how effectively Departments other than DFID can deliver aid. Aid spending can be broken down into a number of functional sectors and, in 2017, the two largest sectors by spending were social services infrastructure, at 42%, and humanitarian aid, at 17%.
Hon. Members have referred to the stories we have heard over the last year and a half of senior staff members of some charities—not all, thank goodness—having been involved in terrible activities that involved sexual abuse and taking advantage of young people, including parents and single women. We need an assurance—which I think we have had from the Minister, to be fair, in statements to the House—that that can never happen again. We want to make sure that that is the case.
On charitable giving, I know very well that my constituents are hearty givers. The 2016 individual giving survey undertaken by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action found that a large proportion of respondents donated money to charity—89% over the last 12 months. This figure is consistently higher than UK-wide levels, which stand at 62% on average. So my constituents, per head of the population, are 27% more generous when it comes to giving. It is always good to know that people are generous and it is good to know that the people of Strangford are especially generous.
We are generous people in this House—all of us—but we are also thrifty and careful in what we do and we like to ensure that money spent is well spent. That is where I question the Department—not on what we give, but on how we give it and making sure that it goes to the right place. DFID money and assistance go to countries that have an appalling record of human rights abuses, and I ask the Minister what has been done to ensure that the money that is given to those countries can focus its way through to ethnic groups and small religious minority groups to ensure that those people actually benefit from it. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief, this is something that is close to my heart, and to the hearts of all those who have spoken and who will speak after me.
Some Members have referred to climate change. Last Wednesday, we had the opportunity to attend a mass rally out on the green, in which Christian Aid was very much involved. It was a pleasure to be there and to meet some of my constituents and other people from Northern Ireland who were there to encourage us as politicians to ensure that action is taken. There is an onus on us to ensure that we do our bit here, so that we can help others elsewhere. The hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell mentioned ideas on renewables for countries where sunshine is plentiful, and that might be an appropriate method in those places. This is now a regular topic of conversation in my office and my advice centre, and I think it is probably the same in everybody else’s as well, because people are genuinely interested in this subject. They want to see the rest of the world address climate issues, including the problems elsewhere that we in the west have perhaps contributed to over the years.
It is my sincerely and deeply held opinion that more money should and must be given to relief projects that enable people to self-sustain. One of the missionary bodies in my constituency that I support is the Elim Mission Church. It not only gives men, women and children a meal but teaches them the skills to enable them to earn money themselves. We were looking at projects that can be of real benefit—those are the projects we should encourage. We need to look at the funding to see whether we are facilitating people’s lives in refugee camps instead of providing them with the things they need to get into a community where they can live, work, raise a family and earn a living, and thereby be self-sustainable. That is all any of us really want to do.
I particularly want to give credit to the important work being done by WaterAid. In Northern Ireland and probably some parts of Scotland, we have some of the highest levels of rainfall in the whole United Kingdom, and we have the luxury of water on tap whenever we want it. In other parts of the world where water is a scarce commodity, WaterAid—and other charities, to be fair—are working hard to ensure that clean water, hygiene and sewage disposal are available. These things that we take for granted are all important issues. They also include job sustainability.
We all have Churches and missions in our constituencies, and we are all pleased to have them. People are compassionate and understanding; they have a conscience and want to help others. The Churches in Ards include the Presbyterian Church, the Church of Ireland, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church and the Roman Catholic Church, and they are all helping with projects across the whole of Africa and the far east. They include projects in Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Those Churches are actively involved with marvellous projects to deliver education, health and water.
Last September, I had an opportunity to be in Pakistan with a delegation from the all-party group to meet some of the leaders in Pakistan and to discuss human rights issues with them. We also discussed some of the projects that we do. We also met representatives from DFID. There is a wonderful opportunity to be involved in education programmes through the different systems that DFID has in place. There are opportunities to work alongside the Churches, the non-governmental organisations and the missionary groups to deliver education. We should use those organisations as a conduit to make that happen, because that has not been done in the way that I would like to see it being done. For instance, the universities and schools in Pakistan want to have projects in which they can work with DFID and with groups in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to look at ways whereby they can develop those projects. That would create an opportunity for those of a minority religion or members of small ethnic groups to be educated so that they, too, can apply for jobs. It is not fair that some of the Christians in the small ethnic groups are given the menial jobs such as sweeping the streets. We need to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity and that is a way of doing that.
When we are funding infrastructure projects, we need to ascertain how much goes to worthwhile projects and how much is taken up in administration. I understand that this is a difficult job, but I believe that our ambassadors in our embassies are best placed to ensure that our funding is being appropriately used. Again, I must say that I support international aid and support the Government’s commitment to it—I would perhaps like to say a bit more on that—totally and fully, but I believe we must make better use of those on the ground, including the local missionaries. How can DFID work better with some of the missionaries, Church groups and people who are well placed in countries across the world to try to ensure that aid gets through to those who do not normally get it? I refer to the embassies, to the NGOs and to those who are at the frontline of need and able to help. Every penny we can give must make a difference; otherwise, it is pointless to continue to give. I look forward to hearing how DFID and the Minister intend to ensure that we are as thrifty as we are generous.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on securing the debate. As many people have said, this is not a party political subject, and I think that is a very important part of it. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who chairs the International Development Committee, on which I sit. It is a very interesting Committee, and many people today have made excellent speeches about the value of international development from this country’s point of view.
I would also like to compliment my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who was a distinguished Secretary of State when we first came into power in 2010. He also championed Project Umubano in Rwanda for many years, and he saw at first hand—as many of us on this side of the House did—exactly what we needed to do and how we were able to contribute to development in Rwanda. That was a valuable lesson for me before I came here, and for many of the Members of Parliament who have supported the project, which has now been completed in Rwanda. It changed the lives of a lot of people there following the terrible genocide, and it was an important lesson for us all to learn.
There have been some really good speeches today, and I do not want to cover the same ground again, so I am going to keep my remarks fairly short. I want to compliment the Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), and the Department for starting the conference last year following the Oxfam scandal and the problems with Save the Children and sexual exploitation and abuse. I think it was well received by the aid industry, which needed shaking up, and the then Secretary of State had some good ideas as to what should happen in future. Sadly, however, the abuse continues, and we have to act firmly to produce an ombudsman that people can go to if they have problems. We also have to support the whistleblowers who feel that nobody will listen to them. They often lose their jobs following their whistleblowing, yet they are the victims.
I have spoken to the Secretary of State about this, and I think we need to have a survey to see exactly how widespread the abuse is, because we do not have a baseline. We know that what we hear is probably just the tip of the iceberg, and we need to find out the actual impact this is having on the aid industry. We do not know how it is affecting the industry, and the perpetrators need to be brought to account. The victims also need to be supported, because there are so many victims out there, and, of course, the vast majority of them are women. We need not only to help those women come to terms with what has happened to them, but to stop people going from one NGO to another without anybody sanctioning them, because they can just leave—often with a reference. I think that the situation is getting better, but it was a big problem.
We should be proud to be a global leader in international development. We were at the forefront of negotiating the sustainable development goals because, of course, David Cameron was on the high-level panel that came up with them, and they followed on from the millennium development goals. Of course, there are far more goals this time, but every single one of them will have an impact on people in the world’s poorest countries, and we need to be aware of how to help them. If we do not tackle climate change soon and at scale, people in developing countries will be forced to migrate, which will be in nobody’s interest if they have to keep moving from country to country. We need to address that problem, and we need to address it now.
Mention has been made of the voluntary national review, which we will be submitting to the United Nations later this month. I am disappointed that ours is one of the later submissions. The 193 member states are expected to review their national progress towards the sustainable development goals at least once, and we have left things late, but it is better late than never. Having read the draft that was published last week, I am rather disappointed that a lot of what we are saying is about international development, because the voluntary national review is supposed to be about what we are doing in this country and how we are leaving nobody behind. I want more focus on what we are doing here. We are doing a good job abroad, we are helping developing countries, and we are helping some of the poorest people in the world, but this voluntary national review is about what we are doing here. There does not seem to be enough a disaggregated data or evidence from civil society groups that cater for women only. We need equality both in this country and around the world, so we need to take more evidence from civil society groups that concentrate on women-only issues.
The UN has set five focus goals for us to report on, and I know that we will be covering them in more depth. They include goals on education, work and economic growth, and reducing inequality. Education is vital for every single person in the world and, as we heard earlier, people will not get out of poverty without work. As for reducing inequality, we still see that women experience more of an impact both in this country and around the world. We need to reduce the gender pay gap. We need to help women be more successful in their careers—if they choose to do that. I have already mentioned climate action, and we need to work really hard on that. Peace and justice is another of the UN’s goals. All those issues have an impact on women, and there needs to be a focus on women when we report to the United Nations. As I said, I am disappointed that we have waited so long, but it is better late than never.
I would like to see much more emphasis on what we are doing in this country. It appears that DFID has been given the lead on this, which is great because it is a fantastic Department, but what about all the other Departments? I do not think that they have taken this as seriously as they should have done from early on. The report seems a little cobbled together, yet DFID will have to lead on it now, because it is too late to do anything else. However, I want to see more emphasis on what we are doing to improve the lives of women in this country, in addition to all the fantastic work that we do in other countries.
I do not believe that this country should allow girls as young as 16 to get married with parental consent, and I am passionate about trying to change the law. Girls under 16 can only get married with parental consent, so they are not adults; they are just girls. I am told that not many people are affected by the issue, but of course there is an impact on people from other ethnic groups who will often take girls out of this country for forced marriages, which are illegal here. However, if they come back when they are 16 and the parents say, “Oh, we agree to it,” there is nothing we can do. Girls Not Brides is keen to raise the age to 18, which is something that we ask other countries to do to stop child marriage, but we allow something different here, so we should be working hard to change that anomaly in the law. I am passionate about giving girls the opportunity to carry on studying and not lose out on joining the workforce and therefore end up in much poorer situations. I want the Government to do something about that as soon possible. It is not an international development issue, because we tell other countries not to allow children to get married, but they can come back and say, “But why should we make girls not get married until they’re 18 when you allow it at 16?”
My three main things to act on are climate change—that is absolutely critical—sexual exploitation and abuse, and the minimum age for marriage. We need to be doing far more to ensure that abuse cannot exist in the aid sector any more, and we need a study to find a baseline of where we are, so that we can make things better for girls. As for marriage, if someone has to be in education or training until they are 18, how on earth can they be married? That seems a nonsense to me, so I shall continue to campaign on that until the law has been changed.
I thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham), who made an impassioned speech. The three points that she mentioned are well received by all of us who understand the importance and gravity that is attached to each of them.
This has been an incredibly interesting debate for me. I stand to speak not because I claim any particular insight, experience or technical knowledge around the subject, but because what we are doing as a country in relation to expenditure around international development —this is an estimates debate after all—is the right thing for us to be doing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) spoke extremely well in introducing the debate. I was educated by the wonderful speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), so I am grateful to him for his contribution. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) once again shared his long-term expertise and experience with the Chamber. I also enjoyed the speech from the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), and I recognise and respect his experience in this area from long before he came to this place. He reminded us of the Pearson commission, which was quoted by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The House of Commons Library briefing states—remember that this was in 1975—that the Pearson commission
“argued that if this target”—
0.7% of gross national income—
“was met by all rich countries and accompanied by appropriate policies, aid would be unnecessary by the end of the 20th Century.”
Oh, if that were only the case. Imagine if we were now celebrating the ending of aid. However, it is needed now as much as it has ever been.
I am grateful to be able to take a few minutes to celebrate the fact that we have had a cross-party debate and that there is uniform support across the House for our commitment, as a United Kingdom, to the 0.7% target. That this target is enshrined in law, and that we have kept the commitment since 2013, is an expression of our national and collective commitment to playing a full part in helping the poorest people on the planet to get out of the extreme poverty that too many of them still experience and on to a path that leads towards a more prosperous future. Ultimately, I believe that will be a path of enterprise and trade.
Like me, the hon. Gentleman took part in the net-zero debate last week, and we need to bring that element to international development. If we utilise our spending on renewables to bring forward new technologies, not the old carbon technologies, surely that will result in a much better outcome for these countries, including in enterprise.
Indeed, and I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s contribution. We have been discussing many aspects of the various goals that, as a Parliament, we are united in supporting, and climate change is part of that mix.
We have been reminded that the delivery of aid is not an end in itself; it is the means by which we commit to working in partnership with global and local organisations to eradicate the conditions that trap millions of people in extreme poverty. Aid should provide a ladder, and it should be the means by which we give our brothers and sisters in less fortunate circumstances a hand up, not just a handout.
Our objective should lead to actions that ultimately lead to a day when there is no requirement for international aid on the scale that is now needed. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), who reminded us that the case for international aid needs to be made over and again. It is an easy headline in certain newspapers to be critical of international development, but to assume that everyone agrees with that would be a grave political mistake. We should be deeply proud that the 0.7% budget speaks loudly to the kind of country we are.
We make and keep our commitments in this country, and we are a dependable partner. If our reputation and influence in the world is based on one thing, it is based on trust. That is why the UK is recognised as a global superpower in soft power. The UK has played a principal role in the post-war era in laying the foundations of the rules-based international order. Whatever disparity there may be between the words and actions of other nations, we in the United Kingdom must be true to our word and stand by the poorest people on the planet.
I do not have the expertise and experience of others who have spoken in this debate, but I am keen to add my voice, and I think the voice of the vast majority of my constituents in Stirling, to those in this place who advocate positively for our international aid budget. It is right that the United Kingdom takes deep pride in its contribution in these areas. UK aid has a momentous global impact, but it is also right that we continue to apply all the necessary scrutiny of how our aid budget is spent and what it is being spent on, because it should be evaluated in the context of the essential work it is charged to deliver. We must measure the aid budget in terms of value for money in reaching its strategic objectives. In other words, although we may talk about how money is spent, it is vital that we measure outcomes.
These activities, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield alluded to, cannot be viewed in isolation. It is a fundamental problem of all Governments that Departments tend to work in silos, and the work of the Department for International Development needs to be seen in conjunction with the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Ministry of Defence has been mentioned, but the Department for International Trade has not. There is a vital interplay between aid and our diplomatic influence, between aid and trade, and between aid and global security issues.
I, for one, welcome the Secretary of State’s introduction to the voluntary national review of the progress we are making towards the global goals, which was mentioned a few minutes ago. In that introduction, he pointed out that the UK played a key role in the creation of the global goals, which are aimed at making the world a fairer, healthier, safer and more prosperous place for everyone, everywhere by 2030, and that the Government are responsible for achieving the goals here in the UK, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire, and for contributing to the goals in developing countries.
In his introduction, the Secretary of State described the goals as neatly fitting into five Ps: people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership. He said those five Ps cover the most pressing issues of our time.
I am privileged to have seen some of the impact of the work being done with the money devoted to international development by this House. During a trip to Kenya last summer with Malaria No More, the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) and for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) and I stood on the frontline in the global fight against malaria. We visited outlying hospitals that lack even what we might consider the most basic essentials, but what they did not lack was love and compassion.
We saw mothers nursing their very poorly small children, including babies. It was a moving scene that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It did not half give us a real-world perspective of the challenges that we face, and that we obsess about in this place. It is not possible to experience what we experienced in Kenya in that one trip without leaving with two overwhelming resolves: first, never to lose sight of our need always to count our blessings; and secondly, strongly linked to that, a firm determination to do everything in our power to make sure the fight against malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis is consistently brought back to the forefront of our collective consciousness whenever and however possible.
A child dies every two minutes from malaria, and the global fight against malaria has stalled. That was part of the case for the sixth replenishment of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, and the case for investment has never been more compelling. It was with no small sense of emotion that I heard the Government’s announcement at the weekend that we have committed £1.4 billion to the Global Fund over the next three years to provide life-saving therapies and treatments to more than 3.3 million people with HIV, to provide TB treatment and care for 2.3 million people, to provide 120,000 people with treatment for multi-drug resistant TB, to distribute 92 million mosquito nets to protect children and families from malaria, and to strengthen health systems and promote global health security.
I feel grateful and proud to say that the UK has answered the call to action, by uplifting our commitment to the Global Fund by the 15% that was asked for. The richest nations on Earth should make the same commitment, and they should keep that commitment. Two million lives will be saved because of the UK Government’s announcement.
Behind these statements and commitments, I can still clearly see the dedicated community health volunteers, doctors, nurses and families we met in Kenya—the real people we need to help. Seeing the impact that the UK has made on this challenge gives me a sense of pride. Not only are the teams of specialist medics, logisticians, geographers, academics and many more mostly comprised of British subjects, but the money committed by the UK is a major contributor to the accomplishment of this work. It is also a field in which innovation is happening because of the work of UK aid and its partners. Since 2002, the Global Fund has helped save more than 27 million lives and reduced deaths from the killer infectious diseases of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by more than a third in the countries in which it invests.
We must not be in any doubt about what other countries are doing in international development. China has its belt and road initiative—BRI—which is about much more than just building roads; it is about building all kinds of infrastructure around the world. China is doing this to gain essential access and influence in some of the countries that most need help. The Chinese model for international aid, the BRI, uses Chinese labour and Chinese finance for these projects, many of which are done on the basis of commercial or sub-commercial loans. UK aid works alongside local communities to develop aid projects and pursues proper development. I would hope that the Minister might add something in her wind-up on what we will do in response to the BRI and explain our strategy for meeting its challenge, particularly in Africa.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about China’s reasons for doing this. Many of us feel that China has an insatiable demand upon the resources of every country it is involved with and that its real reason for doing this is to get its hands on the assets of those countries, particularly the mineral assets, whereas we are not doing that—we are here to help.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that, as he makes the point I was coming to.
I would like to talk briefly about one value we share in this place, a fundamentally British value: religious tolerance. It must become a major goal intertwined with our aid programme. According to DFID’s figures in 2013, 21 out of 35 armed conflicts around the world had a “religious element”. Let us be clear that religion has a hugely positive effect in the world. It guards against extremism, runs schools and hospitals, fights against authoritarianism and gives people a spiritual life. But when faith becomes a tool for division and sectarianism, it becomes a destructive force and, like any other form of division, such as nationalism, racism or tribalism, is simply an expression of human bigotry which lays blame for our problems in the hands of those who are different from ourselves. This is why religious tolerance must be our watchword in this area. Ensuring freedom of religion and belief is our duty as a country under article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights. Therefore, I ask the Minister to take the opportunity to update us on the status of UK aid in relation to guarantees that we should be seeking on this fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief.
In conclusion, sharing our values around the world, whether that be democracy, the role of women, religious tolerance or LGBT rights, we should be proud to use our aid programme to promote those values in every corner of the globe. That means having tough but honest conversations, but by doing this we will help to free the world from ignorance and bigotry, as well as poverty.
Let me start by referring the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. When I heard last week that we were going to be debating the international development budget, I thought this would be the ideal opportunity to quiz the Minister on the Government’s commitment to continuing our funding to the Global Fund. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister must have read my mind, as she beat me to it; as other Members have done, I welcome Saturday’s announcement, which will be putting other countries on the spot to continue their commitment, too.
The Global Fund commitment means there will be an additional £1.4 billion spent over the next three years as the UK’s contribution to this important fund. It has been estimated that this will benefit many millions of people globally. It will provide life-saving antiretroviral therapies for 3.3 million people suffering from HIV; it will provide TB treatment and care for 2.3 million people; and 120,000 people with drug-resistant TB will now get appropriate treatment. When I visited Ethiopia earlier this year, I saw the grassroots work being carried out on multi-drug-resistant TB. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) has already outlined the importance of tackling malaria, and the provision of 92 million mosquito nets is a simple, low-cost solution that provides a huge benefit.
Some of my constituents see 7p in every £10 of the public purse as a lot of money, and, as other Members have indicated, we do receive emails objecting to this amount, but I hope to illustrate that this 7p is leveraged time and time again. I have seen for myself during my visits to Rwanda in 2007 and 2008, and my more recent visit to Ethiopia, just how important the voluntary sector is. It has brought international development to life. Seeing how the 0.7% is spent on the ground has been very valuable, so I wish to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who is no longer in his place, for his vision in setting up Project Umubano. So many of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), know the importance of international aid on the ground. It is about building capacity and providing practical solutions for some of the most vulnerable in a country, and so often it is about giving children and young people a chance in life. I hope that, in a tiny, tiny way, I have played my part in doing just that.
During my first visit to Rwanda in 2007, I learned that when children first started school they needed to take their own pen and the parents sacrificed everything to make that happen. But of course that pen ran out and parents then had a choice: did they fund another a pen or did they put food on the table? So often that second pen was not funded because the food was necessary. I therefore set up a project called Pen4Life, whose goal was to give more children pens, because giving a child a pen means giving the child an education, which provides opportunity and a better chance in life. This caught the imagination of many people—many of whom I have never met—not just locally but across the country. I estimated that in a three-year period I collected about half a million pens, which I managed to get out to Rwanda. Donations came from Rotary groups, roundtables, Soroptimists, churches and schools, and from all across the country. One pensioner who lived locally to me bought a pack of pens every time he went to Asda— people can buy pens from other supermarkets—and brought them to me. Everybody came together to give some of the poorest in society a chance in life, and I am sure some of those pens are still being used today. Voluntary projects such as that add to the DFID spending and make it even more effective.
I have described how I have played a very small part in ensuring that children get an education, but there is more happening and more does need to happen. That is why I was delighted recently to learn more about the “send my friend to school” campaign. It was inspiring to talk to young people about their work on this amazing project, where they were playing their part in creating a positive change globally. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to see how international aid is delivered at the grassroots level in Ethiopia. There were similarities between Ethiopia and Rwanda, but there were also differences. Some of these things are such simple measures, such as the WASH—water, sanitation and hygiene—programme, which is effective in reducing so many transmissible diseases. I also saw solar technology that was developed in Bognor Regis and is now helping to ensure the effective delivery of vats as part of a vaccination programme. In the middle of what seemed like nowhere, I was amazed to see a solar-powered fridge that is being used to keep life-saving vaccines viable. We need to do more to ensure that technology developed in the UK is effectively transferred to the developing world, and we need more cross-departmental work to ensure that that happens.
In conclusion, I feel very positively about the Government’s commitment to continuing the 0.7%—or 7p in every £10—funding target, but it is vital that that spending is transparent, provides value for money, allows measurable outcomes and is open to scrutiny. I commend all those involved, whether from the Government, NGOs or charities, for all the work they carry out on behalf of some of the most vulnerable around the globe.
I thank all those who have made such huge and valuable contributions today.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who is my esteemed colleague on the International Development Committee, from the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), and not least from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), who is not in his place at the moment, back in 1970 the UN General Assembly adopted the 0.7% GNI aid target for donor countries to contribute to overseas development assistance. The original proposal envisaged that the target would be met by 1980 at the latest, and that the need for such aid would no longer be required by the end of the century. Sadly, as we know, that was not to be the case: only a handful of countries have ever met and maintained that level of aid spending. The UK is one of those countries, having first endorsed the target in 1974, having met it for the first time in 2013, and having enshrined it in law in 2015. The UK has taken great strides ever since, as we have heard from many great examples, not least from the hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup).
I reiterate the obvious: the Scottish National party’s support for the 0.7% spending commitment is absolutely resolute and clear. Although a number of questions have been asked today about how the money is spent, what concerns me the most is the legally binding commitment, which seems highly likely to come under threat. All Members present are here for one reason, which is to support 0.7% spending on aid, but that is not the case for every Member in this House, as I shall come to later. It is imperative that we use this opportunity to defend the 0.7% target vigorously; to highlight the need for the spending to be part of a focused strategy, aligned with Departments across Government to achieve the sustainable development goals; and to stress that we cannot allow the commitment to be put in jeopardy by the hard right of the Conservative party and to be compounded by the desire for a disastrous Brexit.
The SNP has always been clear that development spending must be focused on helping the poorest and most vulnerable, and on alleviating global poverty. In addition to maintaining the 0.7% ODA spending commitment, we want the entirety of that amount to be spent by the Department for International Development, not spread among other Departments. The proportion of aid spending in other Departments has been steadily increasing over recent years. Currently, some 27.5% of ODA funds is spent in other Departments, such as the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence—a 9.2% increase since 2016. This is worrying, because other Departments do not report their aid spending with the same level of detail and do not necessarily have poverty reduction as their main focus. A recent National Audit Office report concluded that aid spending outside DFID was not transparent enough.
Let me give just one example of how spending in other Departments brings the system into disrepute. The International Development Committee heard that in 2016 some £46.9 million of UK ODA allocated funds had been spent by the Foreign Office on diplomatic activities in China. That is absurd; such abuse of funds must end. Similarly, the Select Committee’s subsequent report found that aid delivered through the cross-Government prosperity fund was
“insufficiently focused on the poorest”.
This appears to be common in other instances of ODA funds being spread across several Departments. For example, just last month the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s report on the current state of UK aid suggested that the UK needed
“a stronger strategic direction for its conflict-reduction work, and a more integrated approach across humanitarian, peacebuilding, development and international influencing efforts, especially in protracted crises.”
At the same time, the estimates show that DFID’s allocation from the cross-Government conflict stability and security fund will see a reduction of 45% from last year. The current situation is clearly not working. How on earth can we expect to meet the objectives of strengthening peace, responding to crises and helping the world’s most vulnerable when the Department that is meant to be responsible is not taking the lead and being held to account on ODA spending?
DFID’s strategic ability to deliver on its aims is further threatened and undermined by the Brexit shambles that is unfolding. Public money has already been taken away from Departments and public services to prepare the country for the disastrous prospect of leaving the EU, and the Department for International Development has been unable to avoid this. DFID has already sent more than 50 staff to other Government Departments in preparation for a no-deal Brexit, and could deploy another 170, according to a letter to the International Development Committee from the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), in March. It has since been reported that officials at DFID were told that up to 600 of just 3,000—that is, 20% of their numbers—may have to be redeployed to Departments that are suffering from staff shortages because of their Brexit workloads.
It is unacceptable that public money that is committed to vital priorities that the UK has subscribed to under international agreements is already being used to pay DFID staff to manage the chaos of a hard Tory Brexit. Let us not forget that this money saves people’s lives and alleviates the worst aspects of poverty, vulnerability and chaos in some of the most hard-pressed countries in the world.
In two weeks, the UK will present its voluntary national review of the sustainable development goals to the UN at the high-level political forum on sustainable development. At a time when we should be using our aid funding and resources to ensure high-quality education around the world, reduce inequality and tackle the climate emergency, it beggars belief that the UK Government are wasting resources attempting to manage and mitigate the needless damage of Brexit. It is something we simply cannot allow to happen, so I am pleased to have added my name on behalf of the SNP in support of the amendment, tabled by the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett) and the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), that would have stopped the mobilisation of departmental spending to facilitate a no-deal Brexit.
Worryingly, it is not just Brexit that threatens the UK’s international development work. The commitment to 0.7% ODA spending is under threat from the right wing of the Tory party, which believes that aid spending should be slashed, and would heartlessly endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
The hon. Gentleman misjudges the whole debate with the speech he is delivering. How would it help the world’s poorest people to block any further spending on international development, as that amendment would suggest? Both candidates for the leadership of my party are committed to honouring the 0.7% target, so the hon. Gentleman is presenting a wholly spurious argument and ruining the tone of the debate.
As I further develop my argument, the House will find that one of the two Conservative party leadership candidates does not share the view of the hon. Member for Stirling, although he and I do share the same view on the 0.7% target.
Let me put this into perspective: that 0.7% is 7p in every £10, as we have heard several times, or 70p in every £100. That is our commitment. When I visit schools and ask children, who are a great litmus test of where society is, to disagree with that spending, none of them raise their hand; in fact, they often suggest that we should spend more. Why, then, do the leadership candidates for Prime Minister support such brutal and callous action? For example, the one-time leadership candidate the right hon. Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) said that the UK should halve its aid spending, and blamed the Government’s failure to fund the police on their aid commitment.
I would like to press on because I am coming to my key point.
We all know that what the right hon. Member for Tatton said is not the case. Although the right hon. Lady was quickly eliminated from the leadership race, the favourite to be next Prime Minister does not fare any better. The right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) has previously said that aid spending should be used in the UK’s
“political, commercial and diplomatic interests”,
and has called for the Department’s purpose to be changed from poverty reduction to furthering
“the nation’s overall strategic goals”.
It could not be clearer. Those are not my words but those of the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, who is currently leading the race to be Prime Minister. I hope that that answers some questions.
Our future Prime Minister has little clue about either the importance of or the necessity for protecting the most vulnerable in the world and fails to see that it is in our strategic interests to do so. The Tory right can absolutely not be trusted to protect ODA spending, with the likely future Prime Minister calling for DFID to be mothballed and brought back into the Foreign Office. That flies in the face of the advice from a former head of the Foreign Office, Peter Ricketts, who said that DFID
“has established a worldwide reputation which is good for Britain. It was not a happy time when aid was part of the FCO: too easy to have conflicts of interest and aid badly used for political projects”.
Indeed, the 2018 aid transparency index, the only independent measure of aid transparency among the world’s major development agencies, rated DFID as very good, whereas the Foreign Office, which the lead prime ministerial candidate led as Foreign Secretary, was rated as “poor”.
Let us be in no doubt that it is essential that the UK’s ODA spend must contribute in a focused manner to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality internationally. It is vital that it is never allowed to be viewed through the prism of national and commercial interests and as part of pet projects such as Global Britain. The Department for International Development must remain dedicated to its core mission of helping the world’s most vulnerable people. Anything less is not only a complete dereliction of duty, but an absence of humanity.
To conclude, I cast my mind back three weeks to the debate in this House on sustainable development goals, when we were in agreement on the importance of tackling the massive challenges that we as a planet will face in the coming years—whether it be disease, displacement, food security, poverty or climate change. We are already in a position to have a significant impact on tackling these challenges, but only if DFID is adequately resourced and funded. We cannot let other Departments, Brexit or future right-wing Tory Prime Ministers derail that and we must be resolute in our defence of international development and the 0.7% commitment.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the last couple of hours. I think this has been a high-quality debate. Too often, when it comes to DFID, we talk about things in the deficit—whether it is about the 0.7%, the existence of the Department in and of itself, or a particular aid project that has not gone very well—so it is very nice to have had the chance to listen to hon. and right hon. colleagues talk about the positives in DFID and the reasons to be proud of it. I commend the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) for his leadership in that and for the way in which he set the tone. He started by saying that he feels lucky to be born in this country. I know that he, like me, loves his country and that he, like me, is a patriot, but he, like me, looks at the things that we have and wants that for others, too. That was the right tone to set. He talked about not only doing the right things ourselves, but the permission that it gives others when we do so. That was an important point to make.
The hon. Gentleman was followed by two towering figures in this field: my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell). My hon. Friend talked about those of us who are passionate about this having an added responsibility to justify value for money. Interestingly, the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made a similar point, but came at it in a different way. It shows that, across this place, we often start in different places, but arrive at similar conclusions. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made an articulate defence of a separate but co-ordinated DFID, to which I am sure we will refer.
When the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) rose to speak, I hoped that he would reference Malawi and he did not disappoint. When I was in Lilongwe last year, people locally spoke positively about that proud connection that they have with Scotland. My take-away phrase of the debate came in an intervention from the hon. Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke) when he said that we should sell the principle of aid—sell it like it could go tomorrow. That was a call to action, which, again, I will come back to.
My two near neighbours, the hon. Members for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup), made characteristically articulate points. The hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire made some points on whistleblowing and I liked what the hon. Member for Erewash said about the Global Fund. On Wednesday, I was at an event with the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison), whom I shadow, talking about the need to make an early decision on the Global Fund. I have to say that it felt like it was more in hope than expectation, but he had a little twinkle in his eye and now we know why.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned his strongly held view that enterprise and trade are the way forward for development and we agree with that, but what we would say, which is why we are so focused on public services, is that without decent education for boys and girls, without reliable healthcare, and without access to good nutrition, people will not be able to enter those jobs. Nevertheless, that was an important point to make.
We should be proud that the UK is one of the biggest aid donors in the world, and one of only five countries to have met the UN target of 0.7% of national income on overseas aid. In the two decades since the Labour Government established the Department for International Development as a stand-alone independent Government Department, DFID has become a global leader in its field. Every year, it spends UK aid in ways that make life-changing, material differences to people’s lives across the world. DFID has helped some of the world’s poorest people to access health and education services. It has provided humanitarian aid in times of crisis and led the way in putting gender equality at the heart of international development work. We know that spending money in this way is the right thing to do and that, as one of the world’s wealthiest countries, we must play our part in creating a fairer world. We also know that, as a country that has sometimes contributed to some of the inequalities that we see today, that duty is made all the stronger. So it is right that we set aside a fraction of our wealth to help to bring about a world where humans are all granted basic dignities such as health, education and nutrition. The UK public should be proud of the important poverty reduction work that our money has supported in recent decades.
The tone of the debate was so positive that, in trying to measure my remarks, I thought that I had better be careful that I did not push my points too hard. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield was right in saying that it is important to be reflective and to be critical where necessary. So that is the spirit in which I go into the next section of my speech. We should be worried about, and act on the steady decline in the proportion of the ODA budget going to DFID. It is now at one quarter, as we have heard, which weakens the Department and weakens our ability to scrutinise it. We have heard that the front runner to be the next Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), has been on record about dismantling the Department altogether; it is not beyond the pale—far from it. Instead of maintaining an independent DFID, he has suggested repurposing the aid budget so that it would no longer be directed towards poverty reduction; the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) referred to that. Members should not take this just from me. Just last week, the Secretary of State told the Select Committee that there will be, at the very least, a reorganisation in which there would remain a Department and a Secretary of State, but with more influence perhaps exercised by the Foreign Secretary. That is what is to come, but there are challenges now on which we should reflect. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s views on that.
In the past, we have had Members leading the Department who do not actually believe in it themselves. The former Secretary of State for International Development was reported as saying that the aid budget is unsustainable—the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) drove a coach and horses through that idea very effectively indeed. Her predecessor was on record as saying that she did not believe in an independent DFID. It does feel slightly strange sometimes to defend from the Opposition Benches Government Departments from Government Ministers. That seems a little tangled up. There have been lots of ten-minute rule Bills from Opposition Members on the issue of folding the Department or cutting and repurposing the aid budget. Clearly, those are disastrous ideas. Folding DFID into the FCO or any other Department would be catastrophic for our country’s aid programme because it is only DFID that has that explicit sole purpose of achieving poverty reduction overseas. To care about that is to care about an independent DFID. Any such merger would undermine that.
The International Development Committee, under my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby, insisted that all ODA must be directed primarily at reducing poverty, rather than
“being used as a slush fund to pay for developing the UK’s diplomatic, trade or national security interests”.
It goes further, recommending that the Secretary of State should have the ultimate oversight of the UK’s ODA and that the Department should have the final sign-off. Let me take this opportunity to state clearly on the record that Labour will oppose any attempts to merge, shut down or dissolve the Department for International Development. Furthermore, we believe there should be a freeze on the proportion of ODA being spent outside DFID and we of course stand by the commitment to maintain 0.7% of GNI as a minimum spend for our aid programme.
That is not to say that, within that, there is not scope for making changes. Too often, aid is still prioritising helping UK companies to enter overseas markets, or on security projects that have actually endangered people and undermined human rights. There is an increasing and worrying trend of aid being spent in ways that are not about poverty reduction—we heard that from a number of hon. Members. This is a downward spiral—the opposite of a virtuous circle—because these are the discreditable projects on which the media pick up, which further undermines confidence in the budget.
It is clear that anyone who wants this country to play its part in international development must stand ready to defend the Department and the budget, as if they could go tomorrow—that is a good way to think about it—and I am ready to do that. I am proud that Labour is an internationalist party that believes in global solidarity. We must never turn our backs on problems, especially when sometimes we have helped to make them. We must step up and take action to make the world a fairer place. The least we can do is spend a fraction—less than a penny in each pound—of the country’s income on this.
Of course, aid alone will not solve the world’s problems, as many hon. Members have said. There are many other things we can do on the international stage to help to address global poverty fully. The Opposition’s approach is to commit to dealing with the root causes of poverty, and to be prepared to rewrite trade policies, put an end to debt burdens and clamp down on corporate tax avoidance, all of which are vital for creating a more global economy.
I will finish with four questions for the Minister, on which I hope she can give some guarantees. First, does she agree that, now that we are being told by former Foreign Secretaries and Tory leadership contenders that there is £26 billion of so-called headroom, there is no possible excuse for abandoning our commitment to 0.7%? Secondly, will she commit to standing up to any attempt to undermine our country’s commitment to that target, wherever such attacks come from, including her own Benches? Thirdly, does she agree that the best way to manage this spending is through a dedicated Department for International Development standing on an independent footing? Finally, will she commit to ending the misuse of aid as a slush fund for other Departments’ priorities and as a means of expanding commercial interests overseas, and instead commit to focusing all aid spending on its core objective of poverty reduction?
This has been an excellent debate. We should all be very proud of the work that we have talked about. We must now come together to make it even better.
May I start by saying what an absolute privilege it is to respond to the debate, and to have had an extended period of time for scrutinising the Department for International Development’s spending? I therefore sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), my constituency neighbour, on securing the debate. We have heard a range of really excellent contributions. I also salute my hon. Friend for his sterling work—it is not often noticed in this Chamber—as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ethiopia and Djibouti. It is interesting to note how many times Ethiopia has been mentioned in the debate.
While listening to the contributions, I was struck by the consensus that emerged on the importance of the 0.7% commitment, and our pride, as British citizens, that the UK was the first major country to put that into statute, which has gained us remarkable recognition around the world. I am very happy to be part of the Government who put that into statute. I also want to make the point right at the beginning of my speech that at the last general election all major parties made a commitment to that figure in their manifestos.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) suggested that this is no longer a political issue, but I submit that it is, because although all parties elected to this Parliament stood on manifestos that included the 0.7% commitment, the party that has recently been topping the polls has announced that it would halve international development spending. I therefore think that this relates to the important political commitment that we have made democratically to deliver Brexit on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. If we do not, we stand to lose seats to a party that does not believe in the 0.7% commitment. That is where I diverge from the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), who I do not believe has ever seen a referendum result that he wanted to respect. It is really important that we, as democrats, respect referendum outcomes.
I can reassure colleagues that I do not think there are any more than a few voices in my party who believe that 0.7% is an inappropriate target; I do not believe that in this Parliament there is any chance of it being at risk. I also happily support having an independent voice at the Cabinet table for development spending, which has been very important for delivering on the spending commitment.
We have had an excellent debate, with first-class contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who for so long provided the Department with such great leadership, and the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady). My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), in a really excellent speech, brought us back to the powerful moral arguments for development assistance. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke of his exceptionally generous constituents, who also want us to be thrifty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire continued a valuable campaign that she has been involved in for many years, focusing on the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, and the need for the UK to show leadership in combating it. She will be pleased to read in Hansard tomorrow that, following the most recent story about Oxfam in the newspapers over the weekend, we have checked and do not believe that any DFID funding is involved. As the House will know, we hold our suppliers to account.
My hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup) paid tribute, as did other hon. Members, to the important work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We were so proud to announce at the G20 over the weekend that we are increasing our contribution to the Global Fund, because literally millions of lives will be saved by that important contribution.
I want to tackle some of the common themes that emerged during the debate. First, everyone agrees that transparency is a good thing, that there is a lot of transparency in overseas development assistance spending, and that it is important that we focus 50% of our spending, as we do, on the most fragile and conflict-affected states. In the next spending review we aim to keep 75% of overseas development assistance spending within the Department for International Development—I put that down from the Dispatch Box this evening. We can follow that with interest as we go into the spending review.
It is early days for the prosperity fund, but we have seen some very good outcomes in the multilateral agreement that was delivered by the fund to return stolen assets to countries such as Nigeria—$321 million will return to Nigeria through our small amount of spending in the prosperity fund. There have been very good examples of spending from the conflict, stability and security fund. For example, through anti-human trafficking work in Kenya, 90 victims of trafficking and sexual abuse have been rescued. There have been some really good examples from the Newton Fund, which is spent by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on the feasibility of creating a vaccine for the Zika virus. There are some really good examples, and these funds publish their annual reports on spending. I think that we can all agree that transparency is very valuable.
Points were made consistently about the value of small charities and civil society organisations. We have done a lot to try to make it easier—for example, through the small charities fund and Aid Match for specific programmes—to ensure that some of those fantastic smaller charities get the chance to deliver projects with overseas development assistance. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the importance of its work were cited a few times. It has done some very good scrutiny of our multilateral spending, and I think we have all been able, through multilateral initiatives such as the Global Fund, to see the value of spending through such organisations. We try to publish as much as we can on our own website as well, as through those multilateral organisations, to show how that money is spent.
One of the things that many of us spoke about, and which I spoke particularly about, was education. Through DFID we will be able to increase levels of education, achievement and attainment, and thereby opportunity, particularly for young girls and young women.
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of—and, I am sure, champions in Strangford—the opportunities that come through Connecting Classrooms. We will all have been lobbied by the wonderful “send my friend to school” campaign, which my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash mentioned. I love that campaign, and I wish I were in a position to announce more than the fact that we will continue our championing of the important work that is being done on education in difficult areas and refugee camps.
Another theme that came up was the importance of our being able to help with tax revenues. Experts within Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have been able, via spending through another Government Department, to deliver huge increases in tax revenues in some countries. That is proving to be one of the very best ways in which we can spend the overseas development budget. In addition, there is the work that we have done through funding posts within the International Trade Department and the National Crime Agency. We are seeing some real benefits, with money going back to developing countries for them to spend on their priorities. Some really valuable contributions are being made.
A number of Members mentioned the CDC and the amazing number of jobs that it has created. It is important to point out that it has not invested in any new coal projects since 2012, although it does have some investments in fossil fuels. When it is making its policy, it examines whether that is the right thing to do going forward. Obviously, it will make that decision independently. We need to recognise that a lot of the developing world lacks access to energy, which is sometimes an important part of their being able to develop.
We heard about the Scotland Malawi Partnership. I always love paying tribute to that, because it is such a rich partnership. The hon. Member for Glasgow North made a sensible point about trying to map the range of different ways in which civil society links with the developing world.
My hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell made a moral point about development. He mentioned UK Export Finance and some of its support for fossil fuel. He may want to raise that with the Department for International Trade with regard to some projects.
I can tell the House—I do not think this got anywhere near the media coverage that the Global Fund announcement got—that the Prime Minister also announced at the G20 that in future all our overseas development assistance will be deployed in line with our Paris commitments. That is a really big announcement that did not get much coverage, so I am pleased to be able to mention it from the Dispatch Box.
A range of other important points were made today. We heard about malaria and work against AIDS, and the number of people whose lives will be saved. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling mentioned the Chinese belt and road initiative. We do take a different approach to development—there is no question about it—but we find that there are some occasions when our development priorities may overlap, and we are open to looking at those occasions when they arise. We spend a lot of time encouraging the deployment of development assistance from China in the same kind of way that we would deploy it, for example, to multilaterals such as the Global Fund—specifically, at the moment, with the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it would be wonderful to see a bigger contribution to the World Health Organisation from Chinese development assistance.
If I may, I will take just a couple more minutes, Mr Deputy Speaker, but you are giving me that look, so—
Just to help the Minister, we all agreed to 10 minutes each. I have no problem with that, but the list for the education debate has just been added to, and that is what I am bothered about. I am just trying to make sure that we get equal time.
In that case, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will be very brief in summing up.
Our annual report is going to be published next week, on 11 July. That will be a very good way in which we can summarise all the different ways in which the 0.7% commitment is saving lives, making a difference to our world, and giving our children and our grandchildren a brighter future. We do this very proudly as the UK, with deep expertise and a real commitment not only morally but in statute to continue to lead in this important area.
Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54(4)).