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Afghanistan

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 28 July 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to use the aid budget for Ministry of Defence purposes in Afghanistan.

My Lords, all UK aid spending is official development assistance as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This means that its main objective is to promote welfare and economic development. The Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence work closely together to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan, including through the Helmand provincial reconstruction team.

My Lords, I understand that there is a need for security and stability in provinces such as Helmand and Kandahar, but is not the department responsible to the taxpayer for what it does, and has not the pendulum swung a little too far towards the Ministry of Defence in those provinces? In a country with such high infant and maternal mortality, surely the department’s priorities must be poverty reduction and the millennium development goals. That is why the aid budget was ring-fenced in the first place by all political parties. Why is it now being militarised?

My Lords, it is not. Afghanistan is the second-lowest country on the Human Development Index, and, as noble Lords know, everything that DfID does focuses on the elimination of poverty. That remains our core objective. Progress is being made, but this is a trilateral effort between the MoD, the FCO and DfID. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has much expertise in this region, and I share with him the desire to see the elimination of poverty. However, we also need the country’s capacity to be built in order to do that.

Can my noble friend the Minister please elaborate on where the proposed 40 per cent increase in DfID aid to Afghanistan is to be utilised? Does she agree that without a strategic plan across all the government departments involved, the extra funding could well be wasted, not assisting our troops or the people of Afghanistan? How will development progress be monitored? How will outcomes be measured? Most of all, who will be mutually accountable for the results?

My Lords, using the UK aid budget to secure progress in Afghanistan is the number one priority for the Secretary of State. The additional £200 million will be focused on creating jobs, providing vocational training, improving policing and strengthening the capacity of the Afghan Government. As with all funds to Afghanistan, these extra funds will go through the World Bank, where we reimburse after we have received receipts.

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to £200 million. Which of the items listed for additional funding by the Secretary of State were budgeted for previously by other departments, and to which departmental budgets was that money previously allocated? The fear is that rather than putting the money solely into aid and development, the budgets are being transferred.

My Lords, I refer back to my original Answer. The aid money used will go through the stringent, rigorous regulations of the OECD, and it is there to be used for the development of Afghanistan and the elimination of poverty.

My Lords, following our debate last week, can my noble friend tell us what the Government are doing to ensure that women and girls are benefiting from the education aid to Afghanistan?

My noble friend raises some very important issues. As I am also a lead spokesman for women and equalities in this House, I should like to say that 20 per cent of DfID support for vocational training is set aside for women. We also support a gender adviser in the Afghan independent electoral commission to strengthen the participation of women in elections as candidates and as voters. Some 28 per cent of teachers in Afghanistan to date are women; 26 per cent of all Afghan civil servants are women.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is not being precisely clear. Although the overseas aid budget is ring-fenced, will the money going to Afghanistan be over and above that, or is there to be redistribution within the ring-fencing? Given the very hard choices the coalition has made so far in cutting grants, how can that be justified?

My Lords, I return to my original Answer. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development puts down very strict regulations on how aid is spent. We will ensure that all the aid money spent is for development and the elimination of poverty.

Does my noble friend agree that if we are to get some benefit for the people of Afghanistan from the considerable sums put into trying to help them in various ways, we ought to concentrate on a few key issues which were suggested in this House very recently—the provision of electricity, clean water and safe transport between different cities on the main roads? Is not the tragic news today confirmation that ensuring secure transport, so that people can get their goods to market and travel freely without risk, is one of the most important things that we can do?

I agree with everything that my noble friend has said, and of course part of our programme is designed to ensure that Afghanistan has this road-building capacity. We are also determined to ensure that the MDGs are reached. We have therefore increased the extension for Afghanistan to 2020, because it has started from an incredibly low base.

The noble Baroness has not answered the question put by my noble friend Lord Hughes, and she does not answer it merely by reiterating the first Answer that she gave—which, again, does not answer it. Is the £200 million fresh money? Is it new money or is it a reallocation of existing funds? It is a simple question.

My Lords, the £200 million is being allocated to Afghanistan alongside the budget. We are determined to ensure that we are there to eliminate poverty.

My Lords, I declare an interest as I have a son-in-law who is about to go to Afghanistan as a manager of aid for DfID. This is an intractable situation; the history of Afghanistan is uniquely difficult. Is it not about time—to get anywhere on hearts and minds, which is at the heart of aid—that one had dialogue with the Taliban?

My Lords, first of all, I wish my noble friend’s son-in-law well. We are trying our level best to support the Afghan Government to increase their capacity to be able to engage with all people in Afghanistan.