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Overseas Development Assistance

Volume 746: debated on Thursday 27 June 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will review the decisions taken on overseas development assistance in 2011.

My Lords, the department keeps its strategy under review. Indeed, since 2011 it has announced a new development relationship with India and South Africa. In addition, the multilateral aid review is being updated, with full publication planned for the end of 2013. That, of course, relates to the international organisations with which we work. Our policies continue to evolve with the progress that countries make on issues of governance, economic development and, of course, the ability to self-finance themselves out of poverty.

Between 1993 and 2005, Burundi lost almost one in 20 of its population during the civil war, and today it is still the 10th poorest country in the world. Despite that, and despite the fact that it is increasingly stable, the UK withdrew all overseas development assistance to Burundi two years ago. Given that the Government have been willing to review the decisions on India and South Africa in one direction, would they be willing to reallocate some of that money to Burundi and reinstate a programme?

The issue of Burundi is an important one, and I acknowledge the efforts that the Burundi Government have made. The review that was done on the allocation of bilateral aid resulted in the decision to which the noble Lord just referred. Nevertheless, I assure him that DfID continues to support Burundi through a range of other channels. For example, DfID contributes to multilateral efforts in Burundi by providing 15% of EU funding and more than 14% of World Bank funding. DfID is committed to development in Burundi and will continue to support it through efforts with international organisations.

My Lords, can my noble friend say what DfID is doing to support developing countries in improving their capacity to collect taxes?

My noble friend raises a very important point. In all DfID funding, this concern has been expressed across the board, by both the previous Government and the current Government. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has taken up this issue personally. Indeed, in his golden thread, he sees the rule of law and good governance within countries as essential features of continuing support. Indeed, we are looking at countries such as Pakistan, where tax collection is very low, to ensure that tax levels and collection rates are improved domestically.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say something about the relationship that the Government seem to be proposing between Ministry of Defence expenditure and DfID expenditure? What sort of expenditure is meant to be covered, what sort of events are now meant to be part of the DfID budget as opposed to the MoD budget, what proportion of the DfID budget is covered by this, and how does it affect the overall commitment to funding of 0.7% of GDP?

I am delighted to say that, as no doubt the noble Lord heard, my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced yesterday that DfID funding will continue to be at 0.7%. Indeed, we are the only country to do so and we are leading on this, which is something to be proud of. On the issue that he raises of the Ministry of Defence and the FCO, we continue to work across government with DfID to ensure initiatives that can be run and where there are economies. The Building Stability Overseas initiative is a great example of how DfID, the MoD and the FCO work together. However, DfID funding is for DfID purposes and, as my right honourable friend announced yesterday, is being protected at 0.7%.

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned Pakistan in an earlier answer. I believe that the Government plan to more than double aid to Pakistan to more than £350 million per year, making it the largest recipient of UK aid, dependent on progress with reforms at federal and provincial level. I think my noble friend will be concerned by reports from global aid agencies of a failure to deliver effective provincial health organisations, while at the same time dismantling the national federal systems, which is compromising the country’s vaccination programmes. Are the Government now reviewing Pakistan’s aid package in the light of what appears to be a failure to achieve the reforms required?

First, I say to my noble friend that we should be encouraging countries such as Pakistan. For the first time, we have seen a successive Government take over and democracy and corporate governance in the country are being strengthened. We should welcome that. Certainly, as a key partner in various initiatives, Pakistan is very important to the future of our relationship. The noble Lord raises an important point about the work done with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation. I pay tribute to the work it does, particularly in countries such as Pakistan; indeed, it is about to announce a new initiative to tackle the measles epidemic that is sweeping Pakistan. However, my noble friend the Minister for Pakistan, who happens to be sitting right next to me, has several times raised the importance of ensuring that aid at local and regional levels reaches the people we intend it to assist.

My Lords, to be a little more probing on an earlier Question, will the Minister tell us which departments have been allocated ODA budget in 2015-16?

I think I have made my position clear. We as a Government have ensured that DfID funding at 0.7% will be protected. That is unequivocal; it was made clear by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State, and we should welcome this. As for international development, we are not only playing our part but leading the way on the world scene. We can be very proud of that.

Would my noble friend give a warm welcome to DfID’s proposals to reactivate and reinvigorate the Commonwealth Development Corporation? It was originally a superb instrument for promoting entrepreneurship, small business and farm development throughout the developing world, particularly the Commonwealth. It rather lost its way, but now, with DfID’s help, it is getting back on stream again; it is a very good instrument. Does the Minister recognise that we have strong support for what DfID is doing?

I thank my noble friend, who of course comes to this with great knowledge, for enlightening the whole House on that initiative. Of course the Government welcome this—it is important that DfID plays its part. The family of Commonwealth nations is an important part of Britain’s development programme across the world. The more we can work in collaboration with institutions such as the Commonwealth in demonstrating development and progress in the developing world, the better.

My Lords, everything that has been said shows how important aid is in terms of our position and status in the world and what one might loosely call impacts on soft power, although I hate that term. Does the Minister agree that perhaps we should relook at whether DfID should be back within the Foreign Office? Even though there might be a loss of some ministerial jobs, the whole thing might be approached with a closer focus.

I assure the noble Lord that DfID and the FCO work in close collaboration, perhaps best demonstrated by the two of us sitting on the Front Bench together. Collaboration across departments is very important. I take the noble Lord’s view on board, but it is important to sustain DfID’s work on the world scene, and its independence and autonomy is an important part of that.