Mr Speaker, before I begin, I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the memory of Jo Cox, who was cruelly murdered four years ago today. Her sister, Kim Leadbeater, spoke for us all when she urged everyone to remember Jo by pulling together with “compassion and kindness”.
I was concerned to learn that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) is now in hospital: we all send her our best wishes.
With permission, I will make a statement about the ambitions of a global Britain and the lessons of the covid-19 pandemic. We are living through a daily demonstration of how events on the far side of the world influence not only British security and prosperity, but something as elemental as the state of our health, and whether we can go to work or go shopping. This crisis offers vivid proof of the seminal importance of international engagement and exactly why our country must perform its global role. I have begun the biggest review of our foreign, defence and development policy since the end of the cold war, designed to maximise our influence and integrate all the strands of our international effort. The overriding aim is to bring this country’s strengths and expertise to bear on the world’s biggest problems, seizing the opportunities of Britain’s presidency of the G7 next year and the UN climate change conference—COP26—which we will host in Glasgow.
The UK possesses the third biggest aid budget and diplomatic network in the world: we owe it to our people to make best use of these assets, which scarcely any of our peers can match. The British taxpayer has a right to expect that we will achieve the maximum value for every pound that we spend. One cardinal lesson of the pandemic is that distinctions between diplomacy and overseas development are artificial and outdated. For instance, to protect ourselves against another calamity, the UK will need to work alongside our friends to strengthen international bodies such as the World Health Organisation, and help vulnerable countries to improve their health systems and achieve greater resilience. It makes no sense to ask whether it amounts to aid or foreign policy: they are one and the same endeavour, designed to achieve the same goals, which are right in themselves and serve our national interest.
On 4 June, I chaired a virtual summit of the global vaccine alliance, which raised enough money to immunise 300 million children. I doubt whether any other occasion will save more lives, avoid more suffering, or produce a better example of the good this country can do by its international engagement, in the true and broad sense, alongside our friends. Yet today, as anybody who has any experience of the matter will know, a dividing line between aid and foreign policy runs through our whole system, with our Department for International Development working independently from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and our aid budget parcelled out between different arms of Whitehall.
DFID outspends the Foreign Office more than four times over, yet no single decision maker in either Department is able to unite our efforts or take a comprehensive overview. We give as much aid to Zambia as we do to Ukraine, although the latter is vital for European security, and we give 10 times as much aid to Tanzania as we do to the six countries of the western Balkans, which are acutely vulnerable to Russian meddling. Regardless of the merits of those decisions, no single Department is currently empowered to judge whether they make sense or not, so we tolerate an inherent risk of our left and right hands working independently.
Faced with the crisis today and the opportunities that lie ahead, we have a responsibility to ask whether our current arrangements, dating back to 1997, still maximise British influence. Those well-intentioned decisions of 23 years ago were right for their time. They paved the way for Britain to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of national income on aid—a goal that was achieved by the coalition Government in 2013, that has been maintained ever since, including this year, and that remains our commitment. Yet those judgments date from a relatively benign era when China’s economy was still much smaller than Italy’s and the west was buoyed by victory in the cold war.
We must now strengthen our position in an intensely competitive world by making sensible changes, so I have decided to merge DFID with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to create a new Department: the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. This will unite our aid with our diplomacy and bring them together in our international effort.
DFID has amassed world-class expertise and all of its people can take pride in how they have helped to transform the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world. To select but a few examples, they have striven to protect millions of children across the world from polio, which is now on the verge of global eradication; they have paved the way for millions of girls to attend school for the first time in countries such as Pakistan, as I have seen for myself; they have done their utmost to ease the suffering in Syria; and in Sierra Leone they were central to the defeat of an outbreak of the Ebola virus. All that amounts to the finest demonstration of British values, following in the great tradition of the country that ended the slave trade and resisted totalitarianism.
It is precisely that ambition, vision and expertise that will now be at the heart of a new Department, taking forward the work of UK aid to reduce poverty, which will remain central to our mission. The Foreign Secretary will be empowered to decide which countries receive or cease to receive British aid, while delivering a single UK strategy for each country, overseen by the National Security Council, which I chair. Those strategies will be implemented on the ground by the relevant UK ambassador, who will lead all the Government’s work in the host country. In that, we are following the examples of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all of which run their development programmes from their Foreign Ministries. We will align other British assets overseas, including our trade commissioners, who will come under the authority of the UK ambassador, bringing more coherence to our international presence.
Amid this pandemic, the House may ask whether this is the right moment to reorganise Whitehall, but I must say that in reality this crisis has already imposed fundamental changes on the way that we operate. If there is one further lesson, it is that a whole-of-Government approach, getting maximum value for the British taxpayer, is just as important abroad as it is at home. This is exactly the moment when we must mobilise every one of our national assets, including our aid budget and expertise, to safeguard British interests and values overseas. The best possible instrument for doing that will be a new Department charged with using all the tools of British influence to seize the opportunities ahead. I therefore commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Prime Minister for early sight of his statement and for the telephone call we had earlier today. As he has noted, today is the fourth anniversary of the tragic murder of our friend and colleague Jo Cox. I do not need to remind the House of Jo’s commitment and dedication to international aid, or how highly she valued DFID as a power for good. I am sure the whole House will want to send best wishes to Jo’s friends and family on this difficult day.
I join the Prime Minister in sending our heartfelt best wishes to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). To her friends, her family and her colleagues here and in Scotland, it must be very distressing.
We should see this statement for what it is: the tactics of pure distraction. Jo Cox would have seen right through this. A few hours ago, the Office for National Statistics figures showed a fall of 600,000 people on the payroll. The economy contracted by 20% in April, and we could be on the verge of a return to mass unemployment—something we have not seen for a generation. We also have one of the highest death tolls from covid-19 in the world, with at least 41,700 deaths, and the number is likely to be far greater than that. In the last hour, the Government have U-turned on free school meals. I put on record my thanks to Marcus Rashford for the part that he has played in this victory for the 1.3 million children affected. This statement is intended to deflect attention from all of that, and I assure the Prime Minister that it will not work.
The Prime Minister spoke about global Britain, and I want to take that head on. I passionately believe in Britain. I am proud of this country. I want to see it playing a leading global role again—a role that we frankly have not played in the past decade. I want to see Britain as a moral force for good in the world and a force for global justice and co-operation, leading the world on global security, leading the global search for a vaccine and leading the global fight against poverty, climate change and gender inequality. We do not achieve that by abolishing one of the best performing and most important Departments—a Department that has done so much to tackle poverty and injustice.
Labour created DFID, and I am proud of that. Until now, there has been cross-party consensus about DFID. As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), the former Secretary of State for International Development, said last year:
“DfID is the most effective and respected engine of development anywhere in the world, and a huge soft power asset for Britain.”
Today, he said that the Prime Minister’s announcement would mean, in his words,
“at a stroke, destroying a key aspect of Global Britain.”
I have worked with both the FCO and DFID across the world on rule of law projects and anti-corruption projects, and I have seen at first hand the value of DFID’s work globally.
The Prime Minister says that the 0.7% will not be eroded, but he will understand our scepticism. Will he confirm that the full DFID budget will be ring-fenced in the new Department? Will there be no loss of DFID staff numbers and expertise? How much will this reorganisation cost in the middle of this crisis?
Abolishing DFID diminishes Britain’s place in the world. There is no rationale for making this statement today. The Prime Minister should stop these distractions and get on with the job of tackling the health and economic crisis we currently face.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want a statement in the House about an important Whitehall reform, then I think he misrepresents the views of the House. It is important that we should make these statements, and I am very proud of what we are doing.
Anybody who has any experience of the matter will know that at the moment, for the UK overseas, we are less than the sum of our parts. If you travel to important foreign capitals, where we need to make our points to our friends and partners, you have UK diplomats saying one thing and then finding that the message from overseas aid—from UK aid and from DFID—is different. That undermines the coherence of our foreign policy, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know that very well. It is absolutely vital that we have a coherent, joined-up message for our international partners, and that we speak with one voice.
At a time when the UK is spending £15 billion on overseas aid—0.7 % of our GDP— I think the British people will want to know what we are doing right now to make that spending more efficient, and they will want to know what we are doing to ensure that the UK is supporting the campaign to develop a vaccine against coronavirus. I am very proud of what the UK is doing. I think it is fantastic that we secured $8.8 billion at the recent summit to develop a vaccine, and I am very proud of the work that DFID is doing. And yes of course we will make sure that we guarantee the DFID budget, but what will now happen within the new Department is that every single person working in that new Whitehall super-Department—the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—will now have all the idealism and sense of mission that comes from DFID, but also the understanding of the need to project UK values, UK policies and UK interests overseas. This is a long overdue reform and the right hon. and learned Gentleman should support it.
I should like to associate myself with the Prime Minister’s comments on Jo Cox and our colleague, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). I very much welcome his statement today. Can he confirm that this is a merger, not a takeover, and that it has the potential to enhance the role of international development in our foreign policy? Will he also confirm that this Government’s commitment to invest in and support the poorest parts of our world remains as strong as ever?
Yes, it certainly does; I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What is actually happening, of course, is that DFID and the FCO are now joining together to become a new Whitehall super-Department for international affairs, which will be of huge benefit to our ability to project Britain’s sense of mission about overseas aid. For too long, frankly, UK overseas aid has been treated as some giant cashpoint in the sky that arrives without any reference to UK interests, to the values that the UK wishes to express or to the diplomatic, political and commercial priorities of the Government of the UK.
I associate myself with the remarks by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party on the murder of Jo Cox four years ago. That was a day that none of us, rightly, will ever forget. I also thank the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party for their comments about my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan). I know that she is grateful for all the support that is being shown towards her.
Prior to the Prime Minister coming to the House today, the contents of his statement were shrouded in secrecy. We now know why. Unfortunately, it is now crystal clear what is happening. The Prime Minister and this UK Government are using the cover of a terrible pandemic to rip apart the UK’s structures for international development and humanitarian aid. At a time when we should be standing with the world’s poorest and acting as a beacon of hope, the Prime Minister is playing politics. Let me be clear: the Government are blatantly using challenging domestic circumstances as an excuse to wind down essential aid for the world’s poorest. This is shameful, and it is not in our name. We are talking about people burdened with suffering every single day, and on top of that, they too are dealing with this terrible pandemic. If these are the values of global Britain, they do not represent the values of the vast majority of people in Scotland, and we want no part in it.
In taking this decision on DFID, this UK Government are once again ignoring expert advice. Last December, more than 100 charities specialising in humanitarian relief, girls’ education, global health, clean water and sanitation strongly warned against today’s announcement. They warned that merging DFID would be
“turning our backs on the world’s poorest people”.
Only last week, an interim report from the International Development Committee said that the merger would erode accountability and shift funds from poverty reduction. Let us start with the most basic question first—and let us not have the usual bluster, Prime Minister: answer the question for once. Will he confirm that he has read the interim report by the International Development Committee on the proposed merger? Will he also confirm which aid charities he consulted before making this statement today?
DFID employs around 600 people in East Kilbride. Will the Prime Minister guarantee that all those jobs are secure and will stay in East Kilbride? On 8 June, my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) wrote to the Secretary of State for International Development asking why the Department was suspending all DFID projects except for a handful of projects that had been identified by the Government as a priority. Will he confirm whether all those suspended projects are now being scrapped?
I must respectfully tell the right hon. Gentleman that the policies that we are enacting, for which he expresses such horror—the creation of this new Whitehall super-Department—reflects what the vast majority of the OECD already does. I think I am right in saying that only one in 29 OECD countries does anything different from what we are proposing.
We are integrating our foreign policy and our massive development throw. We are going to increase it. We are going to make sure that we do even more to tackle poverty and deprivation around the world and to tackle the under-education of women and girls around the world, which is an absolute disgrace. We are going to use this powerful new Whitehall Department to do that—to give the UK extra throw weight and megawattage. That is what we need. At the moment, we are less than the sum of our parts.
As for East Kilbride, that was the height of absurdity. The right hon. Gentleman says he wants to break up the United Kingdom, yet he wants us to keep jobs in East Kilbride. Of course we are going to keep those jobs in East Kilbride. Of course we are going to support the work of those fantastic people in East Kilbride. He, by his policies, would throw that away.
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been listening to a few of the things I have said over the last three years. Bringing strategic alignment to foreign policy is something that many of us have been calling for. I welcome the statement. As he has already said, it brings us into line with CANZUK countries. My Australian opposite number, to whom I spoke only an hour or so ago, praised the decision, as did my Canadian opposite number. It also brings us into line with Norway and Denmark—two countries very well-known for delivering effective aid programmes, not just in their own national interests but in the interests of the people they serve. I welcome the decision.
May I ask, however, that the Prime Minister reinforces the commitment that this is to deliver the technical expertise that DFID has demonstrated over 23 years? Just as we would not ask an ambassador to command a battle group, we would not ask somebody untrained to manage the handling or delivery of the millions of pounds that are so well and so effectively spent by people in East Kilbride and around the world on our behalf.
Absolutely. I am glad that, with his experience of foreign affairs and development, and all that he has seen around the world, my hon. Friend supports this initiative. It is absolutely vital that, in the new Department, people are multiskilled and, as I said just now to the House, that people in the Department for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs understand how development can be a fantastic tool for the promotion not just of human rights and the tackling of poverty around the world but of the values and interests of this country at the same time. That, I think, is what the people of this country want to see.
Prime Minister, I am incredulous that you are going down this path. With a single stroke, you are getting rid of our soft power and our international standing, at a time when the development world needs us to stand together and show real leadership. Let me fact-check the Prime Minister’s statement. Aid and foreign policy are very different; one is humanitarian, one is political. ODA spend is embedded in four Acts of Parliament specifically to alleviate poverty, not to safeguard British interests.
DFID is the Department with oversight. The International Development Committee’s report of last week shows that it is the most effective and transparent at delivering aid, and the FCO has been criticised in that regard. So can the Prime Minister please explain: how will ODA spend now be scrutinised and protected; what is the timetable of this hostile takeover; and can he please detail the costs of this restructure at what must be the most inappropriate time?
Parliament will of course have the ability to scrutinise the new Department, and I imagine that Parliament will wish to set up a new Committee to do so. The timing of the change, as I said, is September, when we expect to have it all complete. I think, frankly, the hon. Lady is being, and I think many Opposition Members have been, far too negative about this. This is an opportunity for us to get value from the huge investments that we make in overseas spending; to make sure that that spending continues to tackle poverty and deprivation around the world; and to put the tackling of poverty and deprivation at the very heart—think of that: at the very heart—of UK foreign policy. That is something that I think Opposition Members should rejoice at.
I have long called for Britain to have a stronger, more authoritarian voice on the international stage as a force for good, but I have also called for a grand strategy, linking not only what the Foreign Office does and DFID does, but also Trade and Defence, to create a grand strategy and international outlook. I have also called for better strategic oversight of DFID’s spending, moving away from the archaic ODA laws, which are now out of date.
I am concerned about the timing of this, because there is an enduring emergency that must be the Government’s priority, and the Prime Minister himself mentioned the defence, security and foreign policy review, which was designed to understand what our Whitehall architecture should be, in understanding what our vision, our outlook, our place in the world should be and aspire to be. Surely, that should come first.
Can the Prime Minister also confirm that, with GDP is expected to fall, and the 2% of GDP target for defence now going to be obsolete, there will be no real-terms cuts in the defence budget?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He and I have discussed these matters many times and I think he is basically right that we do need to have an integrated strategy; we do need to have an integrated approach, and that is why this Government inaugurated the biggest, most fundamental integrated review of our foreign, security and defence policy since the cold war.
We are having this discussion now because we need to get going. Yes, it is absolutely right that we face a crisis now, but we also face a post-covid world, when the UK will need to be able to speak with one, powerful voice on the international stage, in which our idealistic ambitions for development are wholly integrated with our views on foreign policy. The UK will speak therefore all the more powerfully for that. This is the position adopted by the vast majority of countries in the OECD, as I say—I think all but one of 29 pursue this approach. It is the right reform at the right time; I believe the House should support it.
Here in Britain we have companies with great brands and great products, and there has never been a more important time to promote them overseas and in emerging markets. So can the Prime Minister ensure that the new Department will maintain the same level of global political and economic influence that was developed under DFID, while maximising opportunities for UK exporters?
Yes, I will, and I think it is only fair that UK exporters and UK companies should get a proper hearing from this Department. I do not know about hon. Members around the House, but many a time I have been asked why on earth such-and-such a water sanitising product, or whatever it happened to be, did not get a proper hearing—did not get a chance for support from the UK ODA budget. Now, we want to have entirely fair procurement. We do not wish to see taxpayers’ money wasted, but it is also vital that where the UK can do great things around the world, whether in clean technology, zero-carbon energy generation or whatever, the UK producers should get a fair crack of the whip.
I associate myself with the remarks of the Prime Minister on the late Jo Cox and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan).
Britain’s international aid should have one overriding purpose—to help the world’s poorest. Confusing that objective for Britain’s aid budget with other foreign and security policy objectives is a massive step backwards. When the world’s poorest are exposed to the worst pandemic for a century, why has the Prime Minister chosen this moment to step back from Britain’s leadership in the fight against global poverty? Is not the Leader of the Opposition right—this is an appalling version of distraction politics?
Absolutely not, because now is exactly the moment when we need to intensify and magnify Britain’s voice abroad and to make sure that when we make our points in other countries about tackling poverty, Her Majesty’s ambassador in that country is listened to with the attention that is due to the person who commands the whole panoply of our foreign policy. That is vital for our success, and that is what we are going to achieve.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on maintaining his reforming agenda. Can he reassure the House that this is an opportunity to drive the UK’s interests globally and to protect the most vulnerable around the world? He mentioned the UK’s presidency of the G7. Does he agree that this is an opportunity to play a leading role in international organisations such as the OECD, the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation?
Yes. Next year, the UK takes up the chairmanship of the G7, and we have the COP26 climate change summit. Our voice in those proceedings will be greatly magnified by having a single, powerful voice for the projection of the UK view overseas. This is a big step forward for global Britain.
Northern Ireland wants to play its full part with the rest of the United Kingdom in promoting this country overseas, and we are proud of what the United Kingdom has done across the world. As Northern Ireland approaches its centenary next year, will the Prime Minister assure me that whether it is free trade agreements, promoting the United Kingdom as a whole through our diplomatic missions, or drawing on the expertise of people from Northern Ireland in providing UK aid overseas, we will be able to play our full part in these new arrangements?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his commitment to our continued effort in terms of international aid. As he may know, just last week the World Bank reported that some 100 million people could be driven into extreme poverty because of the covid-19 crisis. Many developing countries’ economies are already being hit hard, with falling remittances and falling investment. I know that many are also concerned about increasing talk of protectionism in advanced economies, including by some people in this country. Will he take this opportunity to commit Britain to fighting protectionism in all its forms, because trade is as important as aid?
Absolutely. My right hon. Friend makes a profoundly important point. There is a risk that some countries may seek to return to protectionism—to an autarkic, beggar-my-neighbour approach. That is not the way of the United Kingdom. Of course, we want to build up our own manufacturing capabilities, to make sure that we have the resilience in our economy when crises hit, but we also depend wholly on free and fair trade, and that is what we will fight for.
International aid is about assisting people who are living in unimaginable poverty. The Prime Minister’s answers today have been massively concerning. Will the priority of the new Department be to help the most vulnerable people in the world or to increase the UK’s voice abroad?
It will of course do both. Let me just explain to the hon. Lady: it is no use a British diplomat one day going in to see the leader of a country and urging him not to cut the head off his opponent and to do something for democracy in his country, if the next day another emanation of the British Government is going to arrive with a cheque for £250 million. We have to speak with one voice; we must project the UK overseas in a consistent and powerful way, and that is what we are going to do.
So long as the kingdom and this House resemble a stunt by the “1984” junior anti-sex league, the recovery necessary to sustain the Prime Minister’s global ambition, and indeed the £15 billion of international development aid, will evade us; surely a yard is more than enough?
My right hon. Friend invites me to comment on the social distancing rules, and he is wholly right that we will continue to review those rules. I am determined to make life as easy as possible for our retailers and our hospitality industry, but we must defeat this virus, as I am sure he knows and I am sure the people of this country understand. We are making great progress as a country: the numbers of deaths have massively come down; the number of new hospital admissions has massively come down. We continue to make progress, but we must make sure that we get the virus fully under control before we make the change my right hon. Friend wants.
In his statement, the Prime Minister said that
“a dividing line between aid and foreign policy runs through our whole system,”
but back in 1994, when that dividing line did not exist, we ended up with the Pergau dam scandal, when we poured billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into a scheme to win a foreign trade deal on arms. That led to the introduction of the International Development Act 2002, to outlaw linking aid to foreign policy. Can the Prime Minister give us a guarantee that that is not his objective?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right; there was a scandal involving the Pergau dam, and he and I remember it vividly. It was wrong that huge sums were given in aid for a project that did not have a good business case, but the International Development Act protects us from that kind of mistake and that kind of approach, and we will not take that approach. Let me stress: this is not a return to the idea of tied aid. It is very important that the House understands that. This is about coherence and projecting our mission abroad; it about projecting the UK abroad.
In combining these two Departments, does my right hon. Friend share my ambition that global Britain can be a world leader in new clean technologies such as fusion and quantum and hydrogen technology in the life sciences—and, as today we celebrate Sussex Day, also the export of English sparkling wine, creating thousands of high-quality, well-paid jobs in growth industries?
Yes. My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says about fusion research, where we lead the world at Culham, and he is right in what he says about vaccines and about hydrogen, and indeed we also lead the world in satellite technology, and of course he is completely correct in what he says about Sussex wines, which are the world’s—or among the world’s—finest.
The right hon. Gentleman is the captain of the ship of state as we navigate the perilous waters of Brexit, of covid and of civil unrest, and his priority is to rearrange the deckchairs of Whitehall. If this really is a merger, presumably— [Interruption.] I will allow him to chunter, and then I will ask my question. If this really is a merger, will the Secretary of State for International Development and the Foreign Secretary, both of whom are sitting on his Front Bench now, be applying equally for the new job of Colonial Secretary?
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the post of Colonial Secretary; I do not know quite what planet he is on. We are going forward with a single new Whitehall Department for international affairs, which I believe will add greatly to this country’s global throw-weight. [Interruption.] Opposition Members should applaud this change. It reflects what is done by the overwhelming majority of countries in the OECD—most of our friends and partners; indeed, all our friends and partners I can think of. We should get with the programme and support it.
Order. Hon. Members must not shout at the Prime Minister. We are here to ask questions, not make long preambles to questions. If we do not have shorter questions, I am afraid that not everyone will get the chance to ask their question. And if the questions are shorter, I know the Prime Minister will thus be able to give shorter answers.
I welcome this change. The logic of it is overwhelming and it will be a great day for our diplomatic clout. However, that depends on the values that underpin global Britain. Our ability to exercise leadership in the relief of poverty, justice and the international rule of law will depend on those values. They will get an immediate test. In two weeks’ time, our ally Israel will annex elements of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. That will be a grave breach of international law. Surely we must try to divert Israel from that prospect with real sanctions if it breaches international law?
If the Prime Minister is serious about global Britain, why has he left our world-leading aerospace and defence industry in a downward holding pattern? We have already seen thousands of job losses in communities that can ill afford to lose them. With the right action now, the UK could lead the global race in a green revolution in defence and aerospace. Will he make that his vision of global Britain, rather than another unnecessary Whitehall reorganisation?
That is indeed what we are doing. I have spoken to the head of Rolls-Royce and other companies about exactly the vision for aerospace that the hon. Lady describes. There is a big opportunity for this country to lead the world in low-carbon aerospace technologies and that is what this Government are going to do.
Does the Prime Minister agree that global Britain is not just about pursuing an ambitious independent trade policy, but that at its heart it is about championing values? Does he further agree that to make that a reality we must strengthen our voice on the world stage and be unafraid to call out countries that threaten those values and the rules-based international order?
I believe that this will be a profoundly beneficial change for both the FCO and DFID. It will infuse the whole of our foreign policy with the missionary zeal and sense of idealism that characterises the very best of our aid experts. They are the best in the world, and they will now be at the absolute heart of UK foreign policy. That is the right place for them to be.
All I am hearing from today’s exchanges is that we will only help the poorest in the world if they are buying British goods. Words fail me at the cowardly abdication of Britain’s global responsibility to the poorest in the world. We are shooting ourselves in the foot. The covid crisis can only be resolved if the poorest countries get rid of the virus or control it. Will the Prime Minister reconsider this globally illiterate and morally reprehensible move?
The hon. Lady should look at what this country is actually doing to tackle coronavirus around the world, giving more than any other country to the search for a virus. I do not know if she saw what happened at the recent Gavi summit, but she should be proud of what this country is doing to tackle the virus around the world.
As someone who started their career in emerging markets, may I roundly welcome this move? Does the Prime Minister agree that as the world changes it speaks to how developing countries want to receive aid: not in isolation, but as part of a comprehensive dialogue across trade, investment, technology, diplomacy and defence so that they can achieve their own goals?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The confusion one finds in the capitals of our partners around the world must end. They must understand that the UK Government speak with a single voice and a powerful, clear message from a new international Department that I think will do a power of good around the world. We already punch above our weight; this will help us to punch even harder.
It is hard to see this decision as anything but a populist stunt that flies in the face of what the coronavirus pandemic tells us: that we are all interconnected in this world. What consultation did the Government carry out with humanitarian and development experts, as well as leading aid organisations, before the decision was made?
I can assure the hon. Lady that there has been massive consultation over a long period. It is my own personal and direct experience that the UK, although it does a fantastic job with development aid, could do even better with a powerful, single, integrated voice of the kind I am describing and which we will bring into existence in September.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision. I know from my work with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy when I was the Vice-Chairman (International) of the Conservative Party that often there are tensions between DFID and the Foreign Office over its funding. Furthermore, as he will know, our friends and allies in the Caribbean felt very let down after the hurricanes when they could not get the support they needed. He will also be aware of the money we have put into the refugee camps for the Syria crisis and other things. Can he confirm, therefore, that this decision is not a watering down but will result in a stronger and more efficient approach and that the most vulnerable people in society and the programmes we have to do will get an enhanced service from the UK?
That is right. It was one of the absurdities of the rules of the Disasters Emergency Committee that vulnerable island states in the Caribbean were not eligible for ODA, and we had to fight to get that change. Now with this new super-Department we will be able to argue as one across our friends and partners around the world for new perspectives on those problems, and work together to tackle them.
At this time of national crisis, would it not be better if the Prime Minister used what he described as our megawattage to sort out some of our domestic problems, such as the 20,000 job losses in the caravan industry around Hull, the threat to Hull Trains’ open access service—130 jobs—or getting a grip of the education shambles that his Education Secretary has been leading on so that we can get our kids back to school safely?
I am sure that the hon. Lady would want to join me in encouraging all parents to send their kids back to the schools that are open and waiting to receive them. I am sure that she and the Leader of the Opposition will want to join everybody in saying it is safe to go back to school.
The Prime Minister has done exactly the right thing to ensure there is a Foreign Office with a laser-like focus on aid and diplomacy, but what involvement will trade have in this mix so that compassionate aid and international trade work hand in glove?
We are keeping the Department for International Trade separate, and it is working hard on free trade deals, as it must for the moment, but it is very important that in post—in missions around the world—there will be a single point of reference for Governments who need to understand the UK position. It is a powerful change. The ambassadors around the world will be newly empowered and authorised to project the UK’s point of view.
How is it compatible with global Britain to be the only country in the world at this stage of the covid pandemic, and as the rest of Europe opens up, to be putting up a great, big “closed for business” sign in the form the Prime Minister’s quarantine policy?
It is curious that the right hon. Member says that because, as far as I know, the quarantine policy is actively supported by the shadow Foreign Secretary at the very least, and indeed supported by the Labour party. If he is dissenting from his own party, I perfectly understand that, but the reason for our policy is of course to prevent the reinfection of this country, as we drive the virus down, by people coming back from countries where it is out of control.
Does the Prime Minister agree with me that it is in Britain’s interests to have a poverty reduction programme across the world? Will he guarantee, after this change, that the Government will still continue to concentrate on education and health, particularly the education of girls, across the world and that—not only for the benefit of Britain, but for humanitarian purposes—we carry on the poverty reduction programmes?
We are in the midst of a pandemic crisis, a trade agreement crisis and an economic crisis. While the Prime Minister is struggling to respond to each of these, why has he decided that now is the time to distract his attention with this internal reorganisation to water down aid, as opposed to addressing the crises sitting on his desk?
We are getting on with the business of governing this country, improving our international performance and making sure that the UK is able to speak with a single, powerful voice overseas. That is vital now in this crisis, and it is going to be vital as the crisis comes to an end.
I fully welcome this change. We are reassessing our role in the world, and this is the perfect time for it. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that, as we take this bold step as a new global Britain, we have a lot to learn from our CANZUK—Canada, Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom—partners?
DFID has funded outstanding research projects with partners in the developing world. The Prime Minister has a keen eye for detail, so he will be well aware that all too often the Home Office applies a colonial mindset to prevent these very same partners from travelling to the UK. The Prime Minister talks of coherence and value for money, so will we now see Departments working in collaboration, or will everyone’s work and money still be wasted by the whims of the Home Office?
I wrestled with this issue when I was Foreign Secretary, but I think it is the right thing to do. In Africa today, there is competition—intense competition—between countries such as China that do not promote democracy and human rights as part of their aid agenda, and countries such as Britain that do, and if we are going to support those British values, we need to speak with one voice. Given that one of those values is eradicating extreme poverty, would the Prime Minister consider allowing the junior Minister who will be responsible for DFID to attend Cabinet, so that people can see that the commitment to eradicating poverty is undiminished?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s support. I know that he wrestled with the issue when he was doing the job that I once did as well. I think that he has come to the right conclusion. As for his suggestion on how we will work it in government, I listened carefully to what he had to say.
The world increasingly thinks that this country under this Prime Minister is a basket case—the highest excess death rates in the world, the deepest economic collapse, schools returning in complete and utter chaos, and a quarantine introduced after the horse has bolted. At a moment of international crisis, the biggest idea that the Prime Minister has is that he should change the Foreign Office letterhead. This is a nonsense. Does he not realise that this is not a statement on global Britain; it is a statement from little England?
Prime Minister, whatever you think about the removal of statues and whatever it is that you are trying to signal with what looks like a very regressive move, there is a clear desire among many people, including in Britain, in the context of the Black Lives Matter campaign, to examine the ambiguous legacy of the British empire. Given the vital work of DFID in addressing inequalities and underdevelopment, some of which I must say are a legacy of the British empire, is this not a particularly shameful moment for you to abolish the very Department that is trying to address those inequalities?
We are not abolishing the role of the International Development team; we are exalting them. We are enhancing them and making them part of one of the senior Departments in this country, able to project British views overseas. Yes, of course, we will continue to tackle injustice around the world, but we will be able to do it with a more powerful voice than ever before.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement on global Britain and strongly endorse the merger of DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to put aid, development and diplomacy at the centre of our foreign policy. Does he agree that the Commonwealth is a power for good in the world and that global Britain should embrace and work strategically with Commonwealth countries in leadership, aid and trade issues?
I thank my right hon. Friend very much. He is entirely right. The Commonwealth is a massive and powerful force for good: 53 nations united with a shared tradition and a shared ambition to encourage free trade around the world. We will develop that and many other important causes, which we will address at the Kigali summit when we can hold it next year.
Many of my constituents care passionately about fair trade, because it has the potential to lift millions of people across the world out of poverty. Will the Prime Minister give me a cast-iron guarantee that the plans he has announced today will not result in any diminution of the UK Government’s previous commitment to support fair trade across the world, from Palestine to the Ivory Coast?
Today’s statement is a hugely positive opportunity for the UK to truly lead the world in tackling climate change and decarbonisation and to help some of the poorest in the world to protect and preserve their livelihoods. But will my right hon. Friend reassure us that he will use brilliant UK science and green technology to create and support new jobs here in the UK and to level up right across our country?
I wonder when the Prime Minister will give the votes back to those who cannot attend Parliament. Let me turn, though, to the matter at hand.
The Prime Minister is, of course, famous in his approach to detail. I notice that, in his statement today, he said that the trade commissioner will be under the authority of UK ambassadors. In Latin America, there are 12 ambassadors and one trade commissioner so, Prime Minister, how will that work then?
Thank you. That is the ambassador. That is how it works. It is very important that everybody understands that. I repeat what I said to my friend, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), which is that we will ensure that we keep that investment in East Kilbride and keep supporting East Kilbride, which, of course, the hon. Gentleman, through his desire to break up the United Kingdom, would be throwing away.
I always remember Malcolm Bruce, the former Chair of the International Development Committee, saying, “The thing about DFID is that it’s not as good as it thinks it is, but it’s nowhere near as bad as its critics say.” I am concerned that we should not lose some of the expertise that has accumulated in the Department. One area where there has been big improvements in recent years, which I hope the Prime Minister would agree with and give a commitment to protecting, is the scrutiny and accountability of every single pound of aid money that is spent. Will he give a commitment today that there will be no diminution in the quality of the scrutiny of the money spent in our name?
In a sudden change of plan, I am wondering about the Prime Minister’s thoughts on former Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments that
“the decision to merge the departments is a mistake”
and that the end of DFID
“will mean less expertise, less voice for development at the top table and ultimately less respect for the UK overseas.”
Does the Prime Minister agree with the former Prime Minister?
No, I profoundly disagree with those comments. All my experience is that, alas, there is an incoherence in UK foreign policy. We can now rectify that and have a better, more powerful and more positive voice for this country overseas that puts the idealism of development aid professionals at the heart of our foreign policy, and that is what we are going to do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Having worked at the Foreign Office, at the coalface, I welcome this decision, which will end bureaucratic wrangling, hopefully end the disparity between the treatment of our FCO and DFID staff, and ensure that all overseas postings work as one team because that is how we support allies and those in need. Will he confirm that those raging that this will bring back tied aid and that it is a retreat from the world stage are actually doing a disservice to our FCO and DFID staff, and are wrong?
Of course, they are completely wrong. This is a massive opportunity for this country to project itself more powerfully abroad. What we want to see, and what I know we are going to achieve, is a union of the idealism, passion and commitment of DFID with the diplomatic and political skills of the Foreign Office, to make sure that we intensify our mission as one of the great development powers on the planet. That is what we are going to do.