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International Development Aid

Volume 774: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their priorities for the United Kingdom’s international development aid budget.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a patron of Action on Poverty.

The UK’s aid budget will be delivered according to the objectives in the UK aid strategy—namely, strengthening global peace, security and governance; strengthening resilience and response to crises; promoting global prosperity; and tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable. This approach builds on the strong successes of the last five years and recognises the need to ensure that everything we do contributes to the national interest.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I think that Members on all sides of the House are increasingly concerned about the Government’s dogmatic approach to using the aid budget to promote private healthcare services in developing countries. How much has DfID contributed to private health initiatives such as private fee-paying hospitals, and how does this meet the objective of building sustainable, universal healthcare systems that can deal with humanitarian emergencies such as Ebola?

My Lords, the UK provides technical assistance and financial support focused on helping countries to strengthen their whole health system. This Government remain committed to delivering on our international commitments, including the global goals, and therefore strongly support progress towards global goal 3, which is about good health and well-being. For example, we have supported Sierra Leone over the course of the crisis to establish systems that can rapidly detect and contain outbreaks of Ebola, and so on, before they grow into epidemics. We are working with the Government and the World Health Organization as well as other partners to make those systems resilient and enduring.

My Lords, since the single most important factor in determining the success of development in developing countries is the quality of leadership in those countries, would my noble friend ask her department to consider whether the best use of its burgeoning budget might not be to provide scholarships for the leaders of the future from the developing countries to study at our excellent universities?

Governance aid is a major part of our strategy to provide good governance in countries around the world that we are trying to help. If the noble Lord is alluding to fraud and corruption, I just want to say that the Government do not tolerate corruption or misuse of taxpayers’ funds in any form. When DfID identifies issues relating to fraud, it takes them very seriously and investigates them thoroughly.

My Lords, I take it from the noble Baroness’s reply that the priorities include working towards achieving the sustainable development goals, which, as she knows, include achieving universal health coverage globally. Will she agree with me that universal health coverage will not be achieved without strengthening the role that nurses can play, and would she further agree that the UK, working with the Commonwealth and the World Health Organization, can play a major role in raising the profile of nursing globally and ensuring that the potential of nurses to do even more is understood and acted on?

I thank the noble Lord for his question, and I commend him on his work with the APPG on Global Health. We welcome the overall findings of the Triple Impact report on nursing and are committed not only to training new nurses but to improving the skills of nurses already deployed. We support an array of health professionals, embracing a whole-system approach which is aligned with country priorities. For example, the Health Partnership Scheme supports UK health professionals to volunteer to build health workforce capacity in around 30 developing countries.

My Lords, the Minister will be well aware of the overwhelming consensus in this House in 2015 during passage of the international development Act, on which I had the privilege to be the Member in charge. The House should also be very proud that in the 2016 Aid Transparency Index, the UK was the leading country in the world for aid transparency. Was the Minister therefore not as surprised as I was to read in the Mail on Sunday of 9 October the following words attributed to Priti Patel, the Secretary of State:

“I’ll defy order to blow £12 billion on foreign aid”?

The article continued:

“International Development Secretary told aides she’ll ignore requirement”.

Will this Government act within not only the word but the spirit of the law, and will they not only meet their international obligation year on year but work with our friends and colleagues in countries around the world who do not meet theirs? We should be leading by example, not by such damaging and inconsistent headlines in the Mail on Sunday.

I thank the noble Lord for his question. I think we are leading by example. We are meeting the 0.7% target, which is a manifesto commitment. It is enshrined in law. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been unequivocal that we will continue to honour that promise.

My Lords, will the Government continue to support the OECD definition of what spending constitutes foreign aid?

My Lords, is the Minister aware that DfID’s Secretary of State has advocated the abolition of that very department, given what she calls the waste of development funds, and that by 2020 she will accept a 44% increase in the proportion of development assistance spent by departments other than DfID? Does the Minister think that such a Secretary of State has the personal and political commitment necessary to properly decide development priorities?