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International Development: Aid Spending

Volume 713: debated on Wednesday 21 October 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they plan to publish on the internet details of all their aid spending.

My Lords, the short answer is that the summary details of all DfID projects were published on the internet in August. The longer answer is that that was to meet the commitments laid out in our White Paper published earlier this year, and it reaffirms the Government’s commitment to keep all their promises on aid, and ensure continued progress toward the millennium development goals. We will reach the 0.7 per cent target of gross national income for official development assistance by 2013, and honour our Gleneagles commitments, and those through the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, including those on transparency.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. The whole House will welcome the limited move toward greater transparency that the Government have made, following pressure from leading NGOs and from our party.

Can the Minister tell the House when full information about all British aid, including project documents, log frames and evaluation reports, will be published online?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question, although I am not sure about the party-political advertisement. I heard the speech; I recognised two or three facts in it, but not much more. However, I recognise that we have a commitment, which I hope is bipartisan. We are seeking to put online all the required information. At the moment, we are looking at a timetable for doing that in relation to the sensitivity of commercial information, the protection of our staff working overseas on DfID projects and our need and desire to include transparency, as the noble Baroness said. We hope to do this as early as possible.

My Lords, the Prime Minister made a very welcome commitment to put into legislation that 0.7 per cent of GDP would go to aid by 2013. Can the Minister confirm that this commitment will be in the Queen’s Speech, that he will do his best to ensure that it is there, and that time will be made afterwards to ensure that this is put into law? Does he see dangers if that does not happen?

My Lords, I fear that this is a little like Groundhog Day. The first questioner asked me to respond on something that we did two months ago. The second questioner asks me to respond on something that we did in the 2006 international development Act.

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it would have been very useful to have had this degree of transparency during the previous, Conservative, Government, when £700 million of taxpayers’ money from the international development budget was spent on building the Pergau dam, which was subsequently seen to be of no development value whatever?

My Lords, I recall that in the relevant speech that featured in the Conservative Party conference, which I watched with great interest, there was a lot of praise for the Administration that preceded this one. Strangely, in that praise, there was no mention whatever of the reduction in ODA which was consistently applied between 1979 and 1997.

My Lords, can Her Majesty’s Government assure us that the UK will contribute its fair share of the at least €35 billion that Christian Aid and other NGOs have established the EU must contribute per year for mitigation in developing countries, if poor communities are to respond to climate change impacts and catastrophic climate change is to be avoided?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point. The Government’s commitment to working with the civil organisations that work with the European Union in this area is undiminished and will continue.

My Lords, I support my noble friend very strongly in her Question, but I will go in a slightly different direction. Will the Minister consider, as suggested in the recent report of our Information Committee, that the Government should publish all draft Bills on the internet and invite comment on them from the public? If that happens, will it not encourage people outside Westminster to feel much more involved in, and much more understanding of, the work of Parliament than they do at present?

My Lords, the first part of the question—that about all Bills being put on the internet—is probably beyond my pay grade. The second part of the question, in relation to overseas development, seems to be something that I very much support. We can be very proud of DfID and what the British Government have done in the last decade. If you look at our achievements, 5 million children, globally, have been educated; there are 100,000 new teachers; and 12.5 million people have better sanitation. In India alone, 500,000 TB patients have been treated and 1 million poor people—mainly women—gained access to credit. We have a very proud record. I am very proud of the British Government; I am very proud of the British taxpayer for paying for it; and I am very proud that it happened under a British Labour Government. I do not think that it would happen under anyone else.

My Lords, given all the public interest in Afghanistan at the moment, does the Minister agree that all the information concerns the defence side and we are getting nothing about our international development assistance, which is substantial?

My Lords, the noble Earl’s question is answered in part by my previous reply. Sometimes we are not good enough at telling people about the good things we do. Our newspapers are very good at telling them about the bad things they think we do. The noble Earl makes the valid point that we have to get across not only our military perspectives and achievements in Afghanistan but what we are doing to support the poor people there. Our ODA core commitment is to eradicate poverty before all other things.

My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Earl, will the Minister confirm that DfID has a deliberate policy of keeping anonymous the projects it supports in Afghanistan rather than advertising them as being supported by DfID? If that is the case—I know that it is—the point the Minister makes about not advertising what we achieve is rather hollow.

This seems to me a very strange Question Time. We now have a very distinguished member of the Opposition asking a question to which he knows the answer. If he knows the answer, why ask the question?

My Lords, while we all welcome greater transparency, which is what this Question is about, does my noble friend none the less share my interest in ensuring that the costs involved in this are not too great? We are all well aware of the numerous government publications, many of which are not read, published often as a result of a statutory requirement and I am sure at considerable cost. If there were a choice between having greater transparency in respect of the internet and putting more money into the aid budget—those may be difficult choices—would we not all prefer more money to be put directly into the aid budget?

I am sure that I agree with my noble friend but my answer will also bring comfort to other Members, particularly in the Opposition. In what we are doing to eradicate poverty, we seek value for money. We have put 5 million children through primary education globally at about 2 per cent of what it could have otherwise cost. We are on track to achieve savings of £647 million by 2011 by vigorously applying value-for-money measures. In 2008-09 those savings will amount to a figure of £168 million: £74 million by improving how we allocate aid, £53 million through efficiency gains on the allocation of multilateral institutions, and £31 million by improving performance— something which I am sure all Members of this House will welcome, without wishing in any way to diminish the amount of money we put into ODA.