That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, this is a simple Bill that I can simply precis. In the last Parliament, legislation was passed committing Britain to spending at least 0.7% of GNI on official development assistance. Ministers are to report to Parliament if they miss this target. However, by making the target an annual one, the Government run the risk of having to rush through expenditure at the end of each financial year to meet their target. The National Audit Office has pointed out examples where precisely this may have happened. This Bill, therefore, intends to make the target one that applies over a five-year period, not one year, which would allow much greater flexibility.
Looking around the Chamber, I see very good representation of what I might call “the aid crew”—people who know a great deal more about aid than I do. My knowledge of aid is confined to a short period on the Economic Affairs Committee, during which time we wrote a report on the subject, to which I will return. However, I do claim perhaps a little knowledge of another subject, and that is how best to manage the public finances. I wrote a book, The Secret Treasury—there were not many secrets, but that is what it was called—and it was mostly about how you sensibly control public expenditure under our system. That is the main motivation behind my Bill today.
I should say straight away that it is not in any way an anti-aid Bill. You could substitute defence, education or health for aid throughout the Bill. If an annual target had been set in those areas, I would have said that that also should be changed to a five-year target—it is mere good sense.
It will be apparent to most noble Lords that this is a re-run of a debate that we had in the last Parliament. I, along with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, moved amendments to the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, which would have had the effect of bringing in this five-year target. Noble Lords will have their own opinions as to who won the argument, but no amendment was made. Yes, this is a replay, but it is a replay under very different circumstances. To stretch the football analogy, we are now on a pitch that slopes the opposite way to the one on which we played last time.
Then, David Cameron was the Prime Minister in No. 10, in coalition with the Lib Dems. Mr Cameron was—how shall I put this in “lordly” language?—not known for his strong beliefs. But one belief that he did adhere to was giving a higher priority to aid. Some will think that this was for high moral reasons and others that it was to appease liberal voters so that they would not go back to thinking that the Conservative Party was the nasty party. As is often the case with politicians, I should think it was a bit of both. However, he was adamantly in favour of spending on aid. Today, Theresa May is the Prime Minister. It may be my failing, but I cannot find in her reported words any reference whatsoever to aid. But sometimes actions speak louder than words, and her appointment to DfID of Priti Patel, who has previous as a critic of aid, perhaps says more about where this Prime Minister stands than any words she might have uttered.
The Lib Dems, and I pay tribute to them, supported the Bill, partly for moral reasons and partly no doubt to show their supporters that they were having some influence on the Tory Government. However, that argument was dissolved with the election and the Lib Dems reduced to a rump in the Commons, although it is delightful to see them in such hefty numbers here. There is a new Prime Minister, a new Government and a new Commons with a new mandate. If this Bill has its way, there will be a new, less harmful way of putting in place the 0.7% target for aid.
The Economic Affairs Committee that reported in March 2012 was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and included two ex-Chancellors and a bevy of heavy hitters, not including me. We were against having targets. The arguments that persuaded us are set out clearly in paragraph 15 of the summary and conclusions of that report, and I will save the House’s time by not reading them out now. I do not really want to go over water that has flowed under the bridge. We have a target of 0.7% a year and it would be way beyond a modest Private Member’s Bill to get rid of that. My Bill would simply change a series of one-year targets to a five-year target, again, of 0.7%. Incidentally, there has been some speculation because the Bill sometimes changes a single calendar year to multiple years. That was a mistake in my drafting. It could easily be amended on Report so that it referred only to calendar years.
This change will be relevant quite soon. Over the past couple of years, Britain has been meeting the Purvis target. However, under the new methodology for calculating gross national income about to be introduced, we would have fallen short. The excellent briefing prepared by our Library suggests that over the last few years we have not been spending what we should have been spending. We do not yet know what the outcome will be for 2016, but with a further shortfall looming, we can guess at the temptation of DfID to shove the money out of the door as fast as possible to meet the target. However, I am not confident that all that money will be well used and my confidence has been further eroded by the Government’s shifting of money from the DfID budget to the Foreign Office budget to make it look as though they are making their target whereas in fact aid money is being used for wholly different purposes.
But it is not my judgment that matters, but the judgment of more objective and more informed observers. Therefore, we have very seriously to consider the report, which was available even last time we debated this subject, from the National Audit Office. It said—not I said—that, when it was unlikely that the ODA target would be met, DfID increased its spending and quickly added activities to its plans, which made it,
“difficult to achieve value for money”.
Achieving value for money is the sole aim of my Bill. The report cited the way that the department had brought forward £300 million of activity planned for 2015 to 2014 to meet the target and then the department asked the Treasury for extra cash to meet the target in the following year. That is the kind of inflation that occurs.
“Never mind”, the defenders of the 0.7% aid target might say, “as this will mean more money for aid, which is what we want”. That is a judgment. My judgment is different. This kind of fiddling the figures is bad for aid and bad for the level of aid. The British public are not, for better or worse, supporters of aid spending. A poll in 2015 showed that 67% of the public made aid their number one target for public expenditure cuts—way out at the top of the list of potential public expenditure cuts. The British public, rightly or wrongly—and, in my view, sadly—are not aid fans.
I am sure that a great deal of shaping the opinion of the public is reflective of a kind of reporting in the press. I do not mean reporting in any pejorative sense because there was an excellent series last year by Dominic Kennedy, the investigations editor at the Times. It revealed examples of where we were using aid to prop up corrupt police forces or for cultural projects of one kind or another. That is not the kind of thing that aid fans like me want to see—projects that alleviate poverty on the ground. The new development secretary has inveighed eloquently about the abuse of multilateral aid programmes, but before she goes on too long about that she would be well advised to get the beam out of her own eye.
Aid will never be a vote winner, but if we continue with a set of rules that make waste all but inevitable, we may face a backlash from taxpayers that renders the whole programme vulnerable. Anyone who thinks that that is fantasy should look at what happened in Ireland. In Ireland they legislated for precisely this target. The Irish people got crosser and crosser and step by step they backed away from it so that they do not have such a target today.
Let me be clear with the House one final time. I am a passionate supporter of development aid. I know that there are great projects going ahead with Britain’s support. By most standards, I would call DfID a competent department. I am proud of that and I am even willing to pay my share of taxes to support that. But I am not happy to pay those taxes—and here I exaggerate to make my point—to go down various toilets of DfID’s devising as the Government try desperately to fulfil the daft mandate given to them by Parliament. I do not actually favour a five-year target, but I prefer it to the one-year aid target that the last Parliament, mistakenly in my view, legislated for. I beg to move.
My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for raising the issue of international development in his Private Member’s Bill today.
This Second Reading comes at a pertinent time following the announcement yesterday that the target spend on official development assistance of 0.7% of GNI was achieved precisely in 2015. The UK Government have led the world with their commitment to deliver 0.7% annually—a target set by the UN—and we are the first G8 country to do so. This target was first achieved here in 2013, two years ahead of the EU target, and the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act enshrined this commitment into UK law in March last year. That legislative commitment was not easy to attain and had to be hard fought for. We should be proud of our Government for this achievement and for setting an example that other nations should follow. As we have heard, the Bill before us seeks to amend the legislation from having an annual target of 0.7% to making it apply over five years, and that causes me some concern. I know that many question our commitment to overseas aid, but tackling poverty and thus tackling the root causes of many of today’s challenges in developing countries is not only the right thing to do, it is also in the interests of the UK.
I do not propose to reiterate all the arguments that were put forward when the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015 was debated, but I think that we have all been shocked by the sheer numbers of refugees trying to get to Europe this summer. The majority of them come from countries where there is either extreme poverty or conflict, and the simple fact is that unless we help these countries, more will follow. I have seen myself when visiting countries the enormous difference that aid can make. Giving children an education in today’s world is critical for economic empowerment, and between 2010 and 2015 the UK has supported 11.3 million children in primary and secondary education. Over the four years to 2015 the UK had helped 64.5 million people to gain access to clean water and better sanitation, which impacts positively on health and livelihoods. I have seen women in Africa who expend all their energy every day walking miles to bring water home. Also, through working in fragile and post-conflict states, UK aid is protecting the national security of this country. The Syria crisis, one of the worst disasters of our time, has caused millions to flee their homes. It is to be applauded that the UK has committed £2.3 billion in humanitarian assistance from 2012 to 2020. When one visits the refugees in camps, as I and I am sure many other Members of this House have done, one can see what vital support we give. I remember a woman in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon trying to look after seven children in a tent. The water standpipe nearby was life-saving for her. I saw how traumatised women in a camp in Kurdistan who had fled from Daesh now had a safe haven where support was being given and some education provided for their children. This is all vital work which is the difference between life and death for so many.
I welcome the fact that we have a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State who are prepared to stand behind the annual commitment to 0.7% of GNI. Having made this commitment, we have to demonstrate to the British taxpayer that the money is spent wisely and efficiently and that we obtain maximum value for every pound spent. I welcome in particular the fact that DfID has put women and girls at the heart of development because it is the women of the developing world who are always the poorest of the poor. How will my noble friend the Minister ensure that some of our aid reaches the smaller organisations working at the grass roots, because it is there, working in communities, that meaningful change can be made?
What are my concerns about the Bill? I am worried that this change may undermine the overall goal of the international development Act and that it could be seen as the thin end of the wedge. While I recognise that it is not easy to ensure that the 0.7% GNI target is hit every year, changing it to every five years would mean that there can be annual slippage. I suppose I worry that in tight financial circumstances there might be a temptation at the end of five years perhaps not to make every year a good one.
As I have said, we fought hard to get the overall annual commitment to 0.7% and if we lose it now we will never get it back. At the moment this is a closed issue with 0.7% locked down. That gives the UK the moral authority to encourage other countries to do likewise. That is because the UK cannot do it alone. To lift countries out of poverty it needs other countries to come alongside and commit their resources too. This Bill will damage the UK’s standing in this regard and contribute to lessening the moral impetus on other countries to meet the target.
In conclusion, much as I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the issue of international development, I am unable to support the Bill.
My Lords, first I thank my noble friend most warmly for introducing this Bill. It is on an important subject and it is good that we are going to consider it in the House. It will need very careful attention in Committee. Perhaps I may also say that having known my noble friend for many years, his faith and commitment to our aid and development responsibilities are very real and he has evidenced them consistently.
What the noble Baroness has just said about the danger of slippage must be in the mind of anyone who has held ministerial responsibility. Slippage can begin to accumulate like a snowball. This is a difficult issue that I have never totally resolved intellectually. Having been a defence Minister and a development Minister, I do not think it is altogether satisfactory to have a defence policy or an aid policy that relies heavily on its percentage of the GNP. What you must have is an effective defence policy and an effective development policy. It is the quality and quantity of what is being done that is really important, and that ultimately is how an aid programme will be judged.
But the world is not quite like that. Why I supported without qualification all the energy that went into ensuring that the 0.7% commitment is enshrined in our legislation is because I know, from having held ministerial office in that area, that what the noble Baroness has just said is terribly important: the pressures coming from all sorts of different quarters might mean that in the end, while you might have an impressive aid programme to address the challenges of world poverty, suffering and injustice that gives you a lovely shining halo because you have a perfect project, it would not realistically add up to much of a contribution to world justice, peace and stability. From that standpoint, therefore, the target is important.
On annual or five-yearly reporting, there are issues that would need to be examined. A general election would almost certainly ensue within a five-year period, so would the outgoing Government really be held to account in the general election as fully as they should be? The other issue is how to ensure that results are being produced, and therefore some discipline about annual performance is important. However, there is a complication. I have no hesitation in saying, having been a development Minister, that I was subsequently director of Oxfam. During my time with Oxfam I learned an important lesson: the pressure to produce tangible results within short timescales can actually be distorting in terms of genuine and lasting development. Long-term development extends over a number of years, and there is an argument that in some situations you can judge what has been contributed only many years later, when you can see what has happened in that society. It may not always be exactly what you had hoped for, predicted would happen or stated as your objective, but it might be very interesting. Development is about not just producing results, but contributing to a process that belongs to the people of the country concerned and the communities with which you are working. It is about what they can gain in self-confidence, skills and abilities, and building them up over a lasting and sustained period. A lot of details will need to be looked at in Committee.
I hope I will not be accused of being sentimental—this House is very harsh on sentimentality, and rightly so— but I have a mind jammed full of vivid, real anecdotes I have encountered at first hand that have regenerated my commitment to this very important issue. I will share with the House just one. It was during that awful, bitter, cruel civil war in Mozambique. I could get to my destination only by hitching a lift on a relief plane. My heart was in my mouth during that flight. A merrier band of cowboys flying a plane I had never encountered. Furthermore, the state of the plane needed some attention, but it was carrying relief supplies and it got there.
What struck me when we arrived—I am sure many of us saw the situation on television and elsewhere—was this quiet murmuring from the huge crowd that had assembled. There were thousands of people. Some had lost absolutely everything. I was introduced to a family who, just a few days ago, had watched their village and home burn to the ground, and their seven year-old child be chopped to death and burned in the house. Here were these people. I was glad that I could come home and say to Oxfam supporters, the wider public and my colleagues, “It is worth it. We aren’t getting it all through because it’s a war situation”—one must be realistic; not all does get through—“but a very substantial amount is getting through and it makes the operation worth while”.
But that was not the main message that came home to me. This is the point at which the House may feel I am testing credibility, but it is true. What I experienced then had a great deal to do with my decision, when asked, to join this House, which is an experience I have always valued. Yes, the blankets, the soap, the salt, the food was getting through, but within days of those people getting into that camp, they were asking for spades, for shovels, to start growing their own food again. I thought of my home community in Oxford and of my own family. If we had been through a fraction of this experience, we would be totally broken. Yet here were these people, already physically and committedly rebuilding their lives.
I came home saying that I really had to do something about getting this message across. It is not these people’s privilege to be helped by us. That is a moral responsibility that we cannot escape. It is our privilege to work with people of so much dignity, courage and drive. Therefore, I hope that in the deliberations on the Bill, as in every debate we have on this subject, we remember that we are not generous, wealthy people saying, “We must give some of our wealth to the poor”. There may be people who say that, but that does not switch me on. Rather, we should say, “How exciting, how challenging to have the opportunity to work with people in these desperate conditions, in desperate plight, to build a more secure, just future”. Have no fear: we will not have a secure, peaceful world unless there is effectively growing social justice in the world.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I think I speak for the whole House in saying that we recognise his commitment to, and knowledge of, this area, and his contribution in this morning’s debate proves that even more.
A considerable coalition of support led to the international development Act reaching the statute book in 2015. That included: the previous Labour Governments from 1997, in particular when Gordon Brown was in the Treasury; the Conservative Party, in particular under David Cameron, with its strong stance on this position; and, in government and in this House, the great forbearance and patience of the Government Chief Whip in the Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who worked with me and supported me at sometimes tense moments. His commitment and that of others, especially from those such as the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, led to a great deal of consensus in this House.
I particularly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bates, to his position. He is extremely highly regarded in this House, and I know he will be a great addition to the department. I look forward to him summing up the debate today.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, I have been in the Bekaa Valley this year and seen those fleeing the terrible crisis in Syria. I have been in northern Iraq a number of times and seen internally displaced people fleeing Daesh, all supported by DfID programmes. UK aid is literally saving lives today as we debate the Bill. That needs to be recognised.
The coalition of support also included NGOs, which were unanimous in their view. For my own party’s worth, I said in the Second Reading debate that we were delivering a manifesto commitment. That manifesto was the 1970 general election manifesto, where my party had our commitment before the UN adopted it. The former MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, the right honourable Michael Moore, who piloted that Bill through the House of Commons, and my colleague my noble friend Lady Northover, who was at the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government, together with other parties and NGOs, all had a desire to move away from what the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, described movingly in her Second Reading speech as the struggle that she had as a Minister, who could start a year not knowing what level of aid she could commit to programmes at the end of the year. Her challenge as a Minister had lived with her over the following years. I was struck by her commitment to this area.
I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for allowing us to continue to scrutinise, to challenge and to question our development budget, not least because it is the public’s money, after all, and it is of a very large scale and a very large amount. Proper scrutiny and continuing questioning of it is valid. It is the role of parliamentarians to do that. I also commend him for his consistency, given his contributions to the Act, but while I commend him for his consistency, I do not think he will be surprised to learn that I think he is consistent, but not correct.
In some respects, I could understand if the Bill argued against meeting the target altogether. Some are making that argument in the rather reactionary right-wing press. We can see that their argument is that the aid budget should be slashed entirely. Thankfully, the vast majority of people are not calling for that. I remain slightly confused that the Bill seeks to amend the existing law in a way that would make the noble Lord’s complaints about the legislation on the statute book even more egregious. It is a perplexing paradox that legislation designed to improve an Act would actually make it worse.
In most respects, this Bill is a version of the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, tabled to the international development assistance Bill in February last year. In presenting his arguments then, he said:
“It is intended to avoid waste, to provide ministerial flexibility and to help in the management of our national budgets”.—[Official Report, 27/2/15; col. 1854.]
These are all very laudable aims, but I fear that the position has not really changed between then and now: his amendments would actually make the situation worse.
The Permanent Secretary of DfID told the International Development Committee in the Commons on 4 February last year, when asked about moving from an annualised budget to a rolling three-year programme:
“If you take a rolling three-year programme, what that means is for years one and two you have a lot of flexibility. In the third year, by definition, you have to hit a precise number, because it is the end of the rolling three-year period. In the fourth year, you also have to hit a precise number, because you are dealing with what you had in years two and three. In the fifth year, you are dealing with years three and four. In a rolling programme, you get the benefit in the first year and possibly the second year, but not at any point thereafter. You are locked in after that”.
In many regards, over the five-year period that the noble Lord asks for, we would lock it in even more. Add to that the greater uncertainty that comes from saying that it is simply an average over the period—we do not know whether he is arguing for an average or just a combination of each year—and we would really gain nothing from flexibility towards the end of the rolling period anyway. This is harder from year four of the first period. Locking in greater uncertainty is no way to bring about the aims that the noble Lord is asking for, and which the Act actually delivers. Far from offering greater ministerial flexibility, it would fundamentally defeat the entire purpose of trying to put stability and certainty into development programmes.
As the ONS statistics said yesterday, we are, in effect, in year three of meeting the UK target under a consistent statistical reporting mechanism that the ONS has recognised in its own papers. The 2015 Act now establishes this as the norm going forward, and that is very helpful, especially in the context that we still have to operate under DAC reporting rules, and DfID operates under its own relationship with the multilateral bodies on an annualised basis anyway. In effect, this Bill, unfortunately, cuts the ground from under the 0.7% commitment in its entirety.
For those who continue to argue that we should withdraw our legislative certainty and dilute our aid commitment, the two words “Aid works” are the simple repost. I spoke, as many noble Lords will have done last Sunday, to many young people who were taking part in Remembrance Sunday, about development assistance. It made me reflect back to when I was their age—to when I was 16. The combination of growing aid and concerted effort means that only 14% of people living in developing countries live on less than $1.25 a day. In 1990, it was 47%. We have made very significant progress.
Some 59 million deaths from malaria, measles and tuberculosis have been averted since 2000. There has been a threefold increase in the economies of the least developed countries between 1990 and 2014. Green energy investments in new renewables in many developing countries has gone from $45 billion in 2004 to $270 billion, leading to renewables such as wind, solar and biomass generating an estimated 9.1% of the world’s electricity. Most importantly, I think, 137 million more children worldwide were enrolled in primary school in 2013 than when I was 16 in 1990. Just imagine the benefit for the world’s future. The number of countries where an equal number of boys and girls attend school has increased by nearly 75% since 2000.
I use all these statistics to show that aid works. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, said, UK leadership in aid is now working, recognised by the Global Fund replenishment conference, by the Canadian Government and by the funding for development conference in Addis Ababa—the list is long of where the world is recognising the UK commitment.
Finally, when introducing the 2015 Bill in this House I asked: if the UK was a global citizen, what kind of citizen would it want to be? I confess that I did not expect then that the world would see the UK leave the European Union and the USA elect a racist, nativist, narcissist, bigoted billionaire as its head of state. In an uneasy world, our citizenship in the world must surely be seen as forward-looking, stable, open, tolerant and giving, where we grieve here when there is conflict elsewhere, where we are ashamed when children are born malnourished and continue into adolescence with poor health, and are angry when girls are prohibited from reaching their full potential. The UK is a leader in global goals and in financing for development. We know that the development pressures in the world are unprecedented, but we also know that we can eliminate absolute poverty and end chronic disease that affects those least developed in our lifetime.
I commend the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for his consistency, but he will not be surprised that I humbly submit to your Lordships that we reject the Bill he is arguing for this morning.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for the opportunity to have this debate. I will not detain the House long.
During my time living and working in east Africa, I became acutely aware of the importance of international development, and in attempting to raise funds for educational development I experienced the challenges of having to think in the long term and strategically while being accountable in the short term on financial matters. I suggest to your Lordships’ House that, in framing international development, we need to have a medium or long-term perspective on outcomes but a short-term perspective on requirements for financial accountability. Overemphasising either leads to short-termism or to the dangers of misallocation of funding and lack of appropriate accountability. In the Bill, I therefore suggest that these two dimensions be kept together, rather than split apart and put in opposition to one another.
As with all things, there are both positive and negative points to draw on, some of which have already been helpfully identified, but one further area I want to explore is our use of the words “outputs” and “outcomes” in this context. In proposing this, I am advocating a well-known approach to development: “outputs” are those things that can be counted and recorded, such as buildings put up and people taught, whereas “outcomes” are changes which will need to be measured over time, such as those now engaged in new vocations making a difference. In proposing this approach to development, I am suggesting a short-term approach to outputs and financial reporting, but a medium and longer-term approach to outcomes in relation to strategic development and financial planning.
With those short remarks, I wish the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, well with his Bill, with the proviso that we do not change our overall commitment to the 0.7% annual figure, representing our serious commitment to development.
My Lords, I warmly support this Bill, because I think it is sensible and right. I believe that the current law is an ass and is typical of the bad law we get when we go in for tokenistic measures—things such as the Dangerous Dogs Act. Leaving aside my personal view that spending 0.7% of our GDP on overseas aid is a waste of money which could be better spent elsewhere, I accept that if the country and the Government are determined to spend 0.7% then none of it should be wasted, and I believe that a large part of it is being wasted.
One of the most telling speeches I heard in this House on this matter came from a former Permanent Secretary on the Cross Benches when the last Bill was being passed. It may have been the noble Lord, Lord Butler, but I am not sure. Whoever it was, he said that he strongly supported the 0.7% target but that it was sheer folly to lay down a legal requirement that the department had to spend every penny of it in each year and was not permitted any carry-over. He said that, inevitably, in January, February and March, as the financial year ended, the Government would throw money at any old rubbish just so that they did not break the law by underspending. I paraphrase slightly—the noble Lord would not have used the phrase “any old rubbish”, but I think that that is what he intended.
As a matter of general principle, is there anything more insane or wicked for the taxpayer than that the Government would break the law if they did not waste enough taxpayers’ money by a certain date? This Bill is the law we should have had if we want to implement a compulsory 0.7% target, or any target. We have all seen it in local government, where there is a silly, wasteful spending spree in March because the Government —all Governments—will not let councils carry over unspent money into the next financial year. Therefore, setting a five-year window to complete the expenditure is infinitely preferable to a 12-month window. I would have preferred something like a permitted 5% carry-over each year so that projects with, say, a three to five-year lifespan would have flexibility as to when they spend the cash. I sincerely hope my noble friend the Minister will state today that this Bill will become government policy and the Government will implement it in due course. I often live in hope.
Turning to other related matters of overseas aid—I am afraid your Lordships will find even less favour with these remarks—as I said earlier, I accept that we may need to spend 0.7% on aid but that means that not one penny should be wasted on undeserving countries or projects. I greatly admire my right honourable friend Priti Patel for the stance she is taking on waste in overseas aid projects. However, I suspect that she is up against a huge, elitist development cabal of all the NGOs and those who make millions from managing projects, which will seek to defeat her.
When one looks at some of the outrageous things that have been funded, it is easy to pick out examples of appalling waste. But in my view there is an even bigger racket: the multimillion-pound organisations which bid for contracts to manage the disbursement of aid projects. They are brilliant operators. They tick all the boxes in the DflD forms—they are non-misogynist, transgender, equal-opportunities, anti-smoking, huggy, squeezy feminist liberals—and then go on to rip off the department in the way they manage the projects. I hope that in due course my right honourable friend may be able to purge these companies from the aid disbursement list.
Despite criticism of some of the waste, I accept that DfID has a far better track record of spending money on the most deserving poor than any other organisation on earth, particularly the EU. I hope that on Brexit day plus one the British Government will devote all the money they are giving to the EU to British-run overseas aid projects.
Now we come to what I consider some thoroughly undeserving countries. This House has rightly condemned FGM. I dislike that term since I consider it a bit of a euphemism. It is the brutal torture of young girls. It is vile and it is evil. Nevertheless, in February 2016 I asked DfID,
“which countries where female genital mutilation is known or suspected to be practised widely receive UK overseas aid”.
The Government responded a week later by saying:
“Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is one of the most extreme manifestations of gender inequality. It is a form of violence against women and girls and can result in a lifetime of physical, psychological and emotional suffering. It is a global problem—over 200 million women and girls across at least 30 countries, including the UK, have been cut. The UK Government remains firmly committed to bringing about an end of FGM. Our Flagship FGM programme supports efforts to end the practice in 17 of the highest burden of these countries. With the support from UK aid over 13,500 communities across these countries have publically declared the abandonment of FGM since 2008”.
So I then asked,
“which 17 countries their Flagship female genital mutilation (FGM) programme supports, how much aid each of those countries receives annually from the UK, and how much aid from the UK is spent annually on programmes to end female genital mutilation in those countries”.
DfID’s Answer was:
“DFID’s regional FGM programme is providing up to £35 million in funding to end FGM in 17 high prevalence countries: Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Mauritania, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Yemen. This funding is apportioned over a five year period from 2013-2018 and the breakdown by country is not readily available. Six of these countries (Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Uganda) have DFID country programmes”.
I looked to see what the funding for those six countries was. Last year, according to the DflD report, we gave Ethiopia almost £400 million, Nigeria £263 million, Sudan £208 million, Kenya £156 million and Uganda £123 million. These five countries alone got £1.15 billion in aid and they are among the worst offenders perpetrating the evil of FGM. As a sop, we have offered up to £35 million if they would please, please not do quite so much FGM in future. I am sorry but if I was a politician in one of those countries why on earth would I bother bidding for a bit of that £35 million when the British Government will continue to throw £300 million at me even if I do not bother doing a thing? If we mean to stamp out FGM in those countries, we must make it clear to all aid-taking countries: stop the torture of girls or no more money, or considerably less money.
Then there is another gross iniquity: giving money to wealthy countries and those that have space and nuclear programmes. I would like my noble friend the Minister to explain the articles in this week’s press that we are still giving money to India and China. There was some suggestion that that was not correct and that it was some sort of fancy trade and development deal, with which I might be slightly happier, but I thought that we were not allowed to link trade to aid. I am sure that my noble friend has a brief on this and I look forward to hearing the explanation.
I am relaxed about aid to India because it is not hostile to this country but the same cannot be said of Pakistan. It is a nuclear power, it has a massive army and—I say this very carefully—it is a potential force for evil in the world. Let me justify that: we have been engaged in war in Afghanistan and Iraq but we have never had a single terrorist from those countries. Over 90% of our terrorists have come from Pakistan or from Pakistani heritage. They have been indoctrinated in madrassahs, largely funded by Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan is the breeding ground for most Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in the world.
In the past few years I have had the privilege of meeting two US generals who commanded in Afghanistan and they both said—in a guarded, political way—that Pakistan was the real enemy supporting the Taliban, aided and abetted by the Pakistani Government’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the ISI. They regarded Pakistan as a failed, pariah state. Our Government say that they are targeting aid to the poorest countries and there is no doubt that millions in Pakistan are in poverty. But much of that poverty is because of corruption and expenditure of almost $3 billion on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme. Is it our moral duty to feed Pakistan’s poor when their own Government starve them by not spending that $3 billion on them?
I ask my noble friend the Minister—but I know that he dare not answer if he wishes to remain in post—why do we give every year the massive sum of £400 million to a country that is a major nuclear power, practises FGM, murders its own politicians who defend other religions, persecutes Christians, is corrupt and is the breeding ground for terrorism in the UK? Those are a few simple questions but I know that my noble friend dare not comment.
Finally—your Lordships will be relieved to hear—if we are going to spend that money, whether over one year or five, let us have a slightly wider definition of what constitutes overseas aid. If the Royal Navy is engaged in picking up migrants in the Mediterranean and rescuing them, that should come out of the overseas aid budget because that is what it is. If we have to build a wall in Calais and provide for other camps, the cost of bringing in the migrants should also be paid out of the aid budget. If we are going to bring in the refugees and economic migrants, the cost to British local authorities should also be paid out of the overseas aid budget. Of course, these issues are not germane to this Bill but this is the only vehicle I have seen in the past few months where I could make these comments, which I know are not acceptable to the majority.
Going back to the core point, I hope I have not severely damaged the noble Lord’s Bill—I probably have—by commenting on it favourably; in fact, I know I have. It was not my intention to wreck this Bill with my comments. It is a sensible Bill, which allows us to spend the money more wisely, whether it is 0.7% or even 1%. The Bill deserves to pass and I wish it well.
My Lords, I do not wish to respond to a speech with which I disagree entirely and which I believe is not backed up by evidence. However, I am very pleased to be able to speak on this topic in this House. I draw attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests.
The UK’s commitment to and delivery of 0.7% has hugely enhanced our country’s standing in the world. Having had the privilege of chairing the International Development Committee for 10 years, I continue to be connected with the development sector and, having travelled extensively all across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, I have met the recipients of UK and international aid and can say that it is well received. In many areas, it is game-changing in very positive ways; it cannot be done by blackmail or bullying but it can by engagement. Our standing among developed countries as the first and only G20 country to have delivered 0.7% has also given us considerable moral authority and leadership, not least because it is about not just the commitment to 0.7% but the quality of what we do across the piece with our aid budget.
Regarding the commitment to 0.7% causing waste, or uncontrolled or not well-monitored spending, there is not a great deal of evidence to support that. There was a problem—I say this with no degree of negativity—about the Labour Party’s commitment in government to deliver 0.7%, which I absolutely accept was genuine. The cross-party consensus was crucial. Nevertheless, it was done on a sort of hockey-stick approach: it was deferred and deferred so that once we got to the point of committing to 0.7%, a very substantial increase was required in one year. It would have been better phased in over several years and, yes, it did lead in that year to some difficulties. But none of those difficulties led to any evidence that the money was not spent effectively in delivering aid and development assistance.
We have of course now achieved the 0.7% and therefore that problem no longer arises to anything like that degree because the budget is much more predictable and the variation is much more manageable. The department is well capable of managing those fluctuations. There is of course a slight problem in the fact that government operates on a financial year and the 0.7% target is based on the calendar year, which is why there may be some variations. I do not think that anybody is concerned about a shortfall or a slight overshoot in any given year, which would require a report to Parliament, but it would be quite a different proposition if that was allowed to slip over five years.
In fact, with all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, who argued his case very cogently and consistently —I understand that—I would nevertheless regard his Bill as a Trojan horse for those who wish to see the aid programme substantially cut back and dismantled. This is not least because it is a well-known fact of our constitution that Parliaments cannot bind their successors. It would therefore be perfectly possible for a Government to slash the aid programme on the grounds that it would be the responsibility of the next Parliament in some four or five years’ time to make up the difference and do it within a legal framework. That was surely why we introduced the legislation in the first place: to ensure that the commitment was maintained, and maintained on an annual basis.
There is also an absolute right to ensure that we get value for money and that we attack corruption and waste wherever it occurs. I acknowledge the right reverend Prelate’s contention that we need to differentiate between measured outputs and long-term outcomes, which are about changing societies and creating sustainable long-term capacity and development.
The Secretary of State, who has made some quite strong pronouncements, will however need to recognise that she is constrained in what she can do—I am glad to say that she is—by both British law and international law. For example, to suggest that we can use our aid and development budget to promote trade and investment as we negotiate our way out of the European Union would simply be illegal. It would not qualify as aid and would therefore not enable us to achieve our 0.7%. Parliament has rightly imposed that constraint on successive Governments to ensure that our aid is untied, is pro-poverty reduction and is not about furthering the commercial or political interests of this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, it is about delivering real benefits to the poorest people on the planet.
I make just one comment on the suggestion that we disengage with countries which have practices we do not like. That would be pretty well all of our aid programme going out the window. We are not a colonial power; we do not have the right to go in and say, “Our aid is conditional on you doing these things”. What we do is, first, to work with the people—all right, with the agreement of a Government—to address problems which they have and which we can assist with. In the process, we also engage in discussions about child marriage, which we have had a fantastic impact on in Ethiopia—I have seen that programme in action myself—and on FGM in many countries, where we are beginning to get traction and support those campaigning within those organisations which need the support of outside agencies to enable them to deliver real support.
Another thing is that the aid budget is already under pressure. The idea that we cannot spend this money and that there is not enough need is really not supported by any evidence whatever. There has been a massive increase in the requirement for humanitarian assistance, to which the UK has responded extremely generously, but in the process of doing that DfID has acknowledged that on occasions it has had to cut development programmes in order to support the humanitarian programme. This immediately demonstrates that there is constraint within the existing budget, which was a problem before the consequences of the referendum diminished the spending or purchasing power of our aid budget by the fall in the value of sterling. This has effectively cut the purchasing power by around 10% and in some countries by significantly more. The idea that the department somehow or other has difficulty spending money is belied by the fact that it is under pressure to ensure that it can cover all its commitments in these changing circumstances.
To those who are at all minded to support the Bill, I suggest that the idea that we should commit to 0.7% and maintain that commitment year-on-year is crucial to ensuring that the department, and those other government departments which spend ODA, have a clear framework and a budget for what they are doing. The UK should not find itself in the situation any time soon where, having achieved the 0.7% and shone out as a beacon to other countries for what we can do, we find ourselves slipping away and having to explain why our aid commitment has fallen back from 0.7%. It is interesting to note—I think I am right in this—that all those countries that have delivered the 0.7%, of which there are too few, have worked really hard to ensure that they maintain it. Some have even tried to exceed it and, in some cases, set higher targets.
Nothing should give the impression that the UK is turning its back on its commitment to be the second-largest aid donor in the world—in my view, the best in terms of what we deliver—and implying that somehow or other we were looking to our own domestic circumstances as a priority over the needs of the poorest people in the world. To quote Andrew Mitchell when he was the Secretary of State:
“We will not balance the books on the backs of the world’s poorest”.
I cannot think of anything that would compound the damage we have already done ourselves by disengaging from the European Union than suggesting that we were going to disengage from the poor people of the rest of the world. I am sorry to say to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, that although it is not his intention, I believe that both the implication of the Bill and its practical output would have exactly that impact.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for giving us this wonderful opportunity in your Lordships’ House to have such a full and important debate today. I have to admit that I am very attracted and drawn to the idea of giving the Department for International Development a bit more time to manage its expenditure. However, I am not a budget person—indeed, I do not think this is a suitable House of Lords topic—so I stand to be corrected either way. None the less, this opportunity is too good to miss and I thank the noble Lord immensely.
I congratulate my noble friend Lord Bates on his appointment as Minister. This is my first opportunity to do so, and to say what full support I am sure he has from the whole House in this important task. As many Members have already said, Britain is just about the largest aid donor in the globe. The poverty is acute and the difficulties are enormous; our aid is therefore utterly vital.
I think I am correct in saying that the bulk of our aid is, and has been for some time, used for soft power. My comments will therefore look at that soft power and I may make one or two suggestions which I will be glad if the Minister will take away, think about and comment on another time. Soft power is vital at the top. It has enabled the United Kingdom to sit at the topmost table when discussing conflict resolution, peacebuilding, the rights of women and girls, which my noble friend Lady Hodgson focuses on, and other aspects that noble Lords have touched on. There is also an opportunity for soft power at the other end of the scale, and I have one or two thoughts on how we might increase our influence at the far end of the line where aid is being delivered.
When we look at the top of the soft power possibilities for the United Kingdom, are the Minister, the Secretary of State and the department as a whole able to report the ways in which that soft power is exercised? I regularly visit places where people are in great difficulty in conflict zones. I came back from Iraq on Tuesday. There are one or two rather important things that have not been brought to the Minister’s attention with sufficient strength. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most powerful of all conventions, was drafted in this Chamber and in the other place and put forward by the United Kingdom. It was pushed very hard and worked on by the United Kingdom, and as a consequence it was adopted, signed and ratified by almost every nation on the globe. Somalia is a little difficult, and the United States has signed it but has not yet ratified it. None the less, if you look at that convention, you will see that it covers the entirety of what a child needs. In that context, a child is someone up to the age of 18 and, if the person is in particular difficulty, up to 20 years of age. Given the low life expectancy in some of the nations which need overseas aid, such as Yemen, where life expectancy is 47, we are talking about nearly half of a person’s life.
I see a point here which the Minister might wish to address long term. As he and his department are aware, internally displaced people have no rights at all. They have no United Nations convention protecting them in any shape or form. Those nations that never signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees also fall down a gap in terms of UN protection because it is extremely difficult to claim that anyone on their territory qualifies under UN rules as a refugee, but I return to IDPs. With probably about 40% of any refugee population or IDP population being under the age of 18 and therefore qualifying as children, those children have no protection of any sort. They are not given any special attention, there may be no registration system and they may not be reunited with their families. If you look at the figures, you will see that those children are the most vulnerable for human trafficking, sexual slavery and all sorts of awful futures. For example—I cannot check these figures, but they seem correct in terms of those who are quoting them—after the earthquake in Nepal 20,000 children disappeared. Indeed, this week on my return to the UK I saw in the papers that we have lost several thousand children. Children are very difficult to track unless you have a proper identification system and absolute clarity about who is responsible for what in terms of protecting them.
The point I wish to put in front of the Minister is that internally displaced children have no rights of any sort. When they are in camps, they are the most vulnerable to being trafficked, forcibly married and otherwise abused. They may have no opportunity to see their parents or any remaining members of their family again. Perhaps the Minister will consider using our soft power by demanding that the United Nations adopts an optional protocol on internally displaced children, thus allowing them the same level of protection accorded to refugees under international law. He might also consider pushing the United Nations to create a mechanism so that as soon as internally displaced children reach camps, whether run by the local Government or the UN, their identity is preserved to prevent their further abuse through rape, trafficking and forced marriage, and to reunite them with their family, which forms the heart of child protection mechanisms through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Those recommendations are part of the set of recommendations that have come from a big conference I chaired in September at St George’s, Windsor, under the AMAR Foundation, LDS Charities and Cumberland Lodge. There are a number of recommendations, which I will leave with the Minister. On the soft power point, I particularly raise internally displaced children and their complete lack of protection. That is one way in which I would like to see the United Kingdom use a portion of its soft power at the top.
Another possible scenario the Minister might consider is that here in the UK we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about a very small fraction of global refugees and internally displaced people and whether we will grant them a safe haven in the United Kingdom. When you look at the figures, you will see that nearly every displaced person or refugee wants to go back home. They just want a safer home. They do not want to be assaulted again. I am talking mainly about conflict countries, of which there are all too many. Yet the United Nations, which is a principal conduit of British overseas aid expenditure, understandably focuses on giving support to camps. I believe that once a person arrives in a camp, every possible effort should be made to help them get back home as soon as possible, if only because life in camps is terrible. There is almost nothing there. Very often, they do not even have the basics of life. I have recently visited camps which do not even have human sewage disposal and therefore people are sick all the time. Apart from that, the average length of stay in a camp is nine years, or 11 years, in some cases, and 24 years for squatters. Yet the UN, the World Food Programme and all other organisations focus on people in camps. Would it not be possible to think a little differently and push the UN to think about getting people back home again, which is what about 98% of people want to do? Of course this means rebuilding the health centre, the school, the roads and everything that has been destroyed, but all that is feasible. Speaking for half a moment as trade envoy for Iraq, I would like to see British companies being invited to do that because we are among the best in the globe and can do the work best, quickest and most efficiently.
In my capacity as chairman of the AMAR Foundation, I have just visited a number of camps and hospitals right on the front line very near to Mosul. I had the opportunity to give a whole load of medical equipment; it was very satisfying. It was a wonderful opportunity paid for by the Hunt Oil Company. I had another opportunity in a nearby new camp which was waiting to receive the refugees from the liberation of Mosul, just as the hospital was. I had the opportunity to open a health centre for the AMAR Foundation funded entirely by the Vitol Foundation—another very happy moment. None the less, when I looked around, I was gravely concerned at the level of implementation of British expenditure on the ground by, say, UNICEF, UNHCR or UNDP. I wonder whether some monitoring could be brought in. It is not very good for me to say something, as I am merely a stray visitor, but there should be some monitoring of the way in which the UN, in particular, uses British aid.
More than that, the final thought to leave with the Minister is about how British soft power could become visible on the ground. Everyone—by which I mean the various mayors and governors who I met and so on—said to me, “Where is British aid?”. I would say, “We have given this, this and this. We have just dedicated that, that and that. I have the correct figures in my head, which are enormous; we are far and away the largest donor”. But this is invisible aid. It comes through the UN and of course comes down through various subcontracts, which at the end of the day very probably mean that the funding spent is relatively small.
But irrespective of the size of the funding, my point is that I want Britain to shine. I want our aid to be known about, not just at the top table in Geneva or in New York, but so that the people on the ground understand that Britain cares for them. I want the local Governments to know that Britain is strong and powerful and is doing everything we can to fight the enemy, not just by supporting military efforts but by our huge amount of overseas aid. I have taken up too much time. I thank the Minister for listening, and I leave those thoughts with him, as I again thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for giving us this opportunity.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Lipsey for his great perseverance and for giving us the opportunity today to consider and discuss how effectively our development aid programme is being delivered, and what improvements might be made.
My noble friend Lord Lipsey and I were both members of the Economic Affairs Committee, which in 2012 published the report he referred to, entitled The Economic Impact and Effectiveness of Development Aid. The report was enthusiastic about the positive role of development aid. We concluded that aid should be increasingly targeted towards building stronger and sustainable economies if it is to help reduce poverty and improve the quality of life in developing countries. We recognised that development aid is of course a fraction of the private capital now flowing into developing countries, but that it can play a vital catalytic and enabling role in promoting prosperity.
Our report expressed concern that a sudden increase in funds available to DfID, and the requirement to spend those funds in one particular financial year, would place great pressure on DfID’s resources and might lead to unwise decisions being made about the deployment of those funds. Noble Lords will be aware that in any walk of life the requirement to spend funds within a short period of time and by a certain deadline can promote a very perverse and dangerous set of incentives. It can elevate the need to spend above the full and proper—and sometimes lengthy—consideration of how best to spend that money. It is a case of invest in haste and repent at leisure. This is not an approach well suited to deliver the wise investment of considerable sums of public money. Good opportunities for grant aid or investment do not march to the drumbeat of Her Majesty’s Government’s financial year. That is why the Bill’s modest proposition that replacing the rigid annual spending window with a cumulative five-year window is common sense and can help to promote better outcomes and better value for money.
Since the report was published, I have had the opportunity to see DfID’s work at close quarters and to better understand the process of designing and delivering development projects, large and small. In 2014, I was appointed, like the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, by the Prime Minister as a trade and investment envoy, to Kenya and Tanzania. I now work closely with DfID, the Department for International Trade and the Foreign Office to help to promote trade and investment into both countries. In a way, Dr Fox is my boss—and he is not unaware, I hope, that I like playing golf on Friday afternoons.
I have been very impressed by the range and quality of DfID’s work and by its deep knowledge of different sectors of the east African economy. It has wholeheartedly embraced the prosperity agenda and is becoming the partner of choice for government, civil society, local business, and international funders and investors. Its business model has evolved from the traditional donor model of cash grants, often made to host Governments and international intermediaries, to direct investment in partnerships with specialist venture investors to help fund early-stage business and co-operatives, or to fund the expansion of small social enterprises. Direct loans are made to support projects which improve the infrastructure, the skill base and the regulatory environment, all of which help the economy to flourish—and in some of the smallest and most remote communities in east Africa.
A not-for-profit venture which is successfully implementing this model is TradeMark East Africa. It was set up in 2010 and has already invested $550 million over the last five years. Its success has attracted funds from 10 other nations, and TradeMark will now invest $700 million over the next five years, with 60% of funding coming from DfID—or “UK Aid” as it is now rather more snappily branded. TradeMark is funding investments to improve infrastructure, to ease the crossing of land borders by introducing digital cargo tracking, to improve skills and to simplify taxation—something we might perhaps try to do here.
TradeMark used to receive an annual disbursement from DfID, but now capital is released by DfID only when investments and projects are fully evaluated and approved. This funding method concedes the principle underlying my noble friend Lord Lipsey’s Bill: namely, that funding and cash transfers should follow approved investments and not precede them. We need look only to DfID’s practices to understand the importance of the principle that lies behind the Bill.
This funding model mirrors the hard reality of project funding and investment: the funding arrives only if the project is viable and the sums add up. Large or small projects take time to design, test and gain approval, and the level of funding required is often lumpy and does not fit into the neat world of government’s annual cash accounting. It is a world where funding flows to rigorously reviewed projects, not one where there is a guaranteed level of funds available to invest by a deadline unrelated to the readiness of the project.
My noble friend Lord Lipsey’s Bill reflects the tried and proven structure of the commercial investment fund world. Investors place their money in a fund, either in one payment or in a number of them over several years, and then allow the fund to make the investment when the opportunities have been extensively evaluated and approved. In the private sector, the fund’s five-year investment period can be extended if not enough suitable investments have been identified. This type of patient capital investment has proved time and again to generate better outcomes than investments made in haste under the threat of arbitrary deadlines.
Although the Government may be reluctant—perhaps the Minister may surprise us—to align the legislation to the way the project-funding and investment world works on the ground, there is a ready-made administrative solution. They can establish a fund, centrally, which is funded annually in line with government accounting rules. That would address the concern raised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that underspending one year might somehow disappear in subsequent years. The holding fund can then disburse funds to the country or to regional funds—just in the way it is doing with TradeMark at the moment—when the investments have been approved. This approach could, and indeed should, become the funding model for the newly established and rather clumsily named Cross-Government Global Prosperity Fund, which will disburse £1.3 billion of ODA money over the next five years to promote economic growth.
As DfID’s prosperity agenda matures and develops, it is likely to fund an increasing number of projects with debt or equity. This is to be welcomed, for debt repaid and equity sold for value will replenish the funds and allow them to become more self-sustaining and evergreen. Annual ODA targets can then be met, supported with the benefit of the proceeds and repayments from successful investments made in prior years. For instance, if DfID had adopted that approach when it originally funded M-Pesa in Kenya and made it an equity investment rather than a grant, it would now be the proud part-owner of the world’s leading mobile banking and payment system, worth well over £1 billion.
My Lords, the Bill is about reporting. As the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, you can on occasion get involved in disbursing rather more rapidly than you first intended. You can also be caught by delays created by circumstances and not be able to disburse. It is the unexpected effects on DfID’s cash flow and its accountability with which the Bill seeks to deal.
It is a pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hollick. The Commonwealth Development Corporation has of course behaved in entirely the way he was describing and has been doing so for nearly 70 years, having been formed in 1948 as the Colonial Development Corporation, subsequently becoming the Commonwealth Development Corporation and finally, in order to be modern, CDC Group—like “UK Aid” rather than DfID. It has been 100% owned by the British taxpayer throughout its life. It was a public corporation and technically still is. It is doing well, and I commend it to your Lordships as being an interesting institution to study when one is thinking about international development and aid.
International development and aid is a very complex subject. We have heard about some of that complexity this morning in some passionately delivered speeches. Measuring outcomes is very difficult. I was in a sense a colleague of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for many years; he was at an NGO and I was at CDC as an economic development operator. I entirely agree with his conclusion that the whole business of knowing whether or not you are achieving a good outcome is very humbling. You cannot be at all certain that you know what you have actually achieved, and you might have to wait for your grandchildren to tell you.
International development and aid is also very controversial, which has also been illustrated this morning. I commend to your Lordships the great days of Lord Bauer and Lord Balogh debating the subject of aid in the 1960s as an interesting study. The literature that has followed over the years is very controversial, different in its views and passionately expressed. This is therefore a very difficult subject. When we consider it, it is probably as well to remember that we did not achieve our own development with anyone providing an aid programme, unless you include the Marshall Plan. There was no equivalent in the days when we were becoming developed.
The history, and what is being done, makes DfID’s task highly complex and difficult to evaluate as a whole. I come back to thinking in some detail about part of what DfID is doing, and trying to evaluate the whole. The reporting is also very complicated. The question then arises: is the system of accountability satisfactory? That is what I would like to spend the rest of my time on. The 2006 Act is pretty complete, setting out as it does accountability very well and in great detail. My question is: do the amendments to that accountability chain created by the 2015 Act actually stand up? Were they needed and, if so, why?
We should also remember that in 2011 the independent evaluator of DfID’s programme, ICAI, was also created. It is very busy looking in depth and detail at what DfID does and reporting to the Select Committee down the corridor. My argument is that, before deciding on the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and what he is attempting to do, we should consider the accountability chain that affects DfID.
DfID’s latest report, published in July, is 156 pages long. It does not have a single photograph; it is absolutely not a glossy. Well done DfID. I challenge your Lordships to find any other report that has more words on a page than that DfID report; it is very dense. I draw the House’s attention to an interesting paragraph about the remaining need to deal with matters that arose in the recapitalisation of my old employer, CDC, in 2004; Private Eye spent quite a lot of time in 2004 addressing some of the issues contained in it. It would make the most amazing subject for a PhD, and it would probably engage the Select Committee down the corridor for a full day, if it wanted to spend that time. That is only one paragraph; there are dozens of similar ones in the report. I draw attention to a particular line in it that says the Asian Development Bank supported 166,000 households to get water. I thought, “166,000 households in a world population of however many billion? It doesn’t sound like very much to me”. It would be very interesting to have another day just quizzing DfID on how it accounts for the money it disburses to this multilateral called the Asian Development Bank, and whether it thinks it is getting value for money. There is a legion of questions that we could ask arising from the DfID report. We should be very careful before we say that the burden we put on the department with the 2015 Act is okay.
Reporting to the OECD has been mentioned. The Development Assistance Committee has 35 members. It lists countries in four categories up to incomes of $13,000 a year. The money going has to be 25% concessional, using a 10% discount rate. Those reports, which are not easy to make, have to be in by 31 December. The recipe from the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, does not actually simplify DfID’s job because there is no way we can escape the 31 December date for the OECD, nor would we want to. We will always have two year-ends, one on 31 December and the other on 31 March. That is the way it is and it would be a mistake to try to change it.
It is also true that DfID has so far achieved the 0.7%—and well done DfID—but the risks are still great. Suppose a delay is caused by an unexpected war or the shutting of a border. It only has to miss the target by £250 million, which is not a big sum in its life, to be on 0.69% or thereabouts, not 0.7%, and trigger the statutory requirement under the 2015 Act, if I read it correctly.
We should consider briefly the obligation under the 2015 Act. The Secretary of State’s statement is required to cover the economic and fiscal circumstances here and,
“circumstances arising outside the United Kingdom”.
That could lead to another 156-page report. It is an open door to a huge system of reporting. Do we really need it? Surely the present system of accountability under the 2006 Act means that Section 2 of the 2015 Act is not needed. My noble friends on the Front Bench are very good at explaining to the House when they consider something to be unnecessary, and that is my argument. We should not change the reality of what is being reported or what is being done, but we should look at whether we are putting an additional contingent liability on DfID with Section 2 of the 2015 Act. I think we are, and I look forward to further stages of the Bill in order to return to this subject.
My Lords, I start by adding my warm words of welcome to the Minister in taking up his new post. Before I turn to what I had planned say, I shall address some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in his very wide-ranging speech, almost every word of which I did not agree with—in particular, his condemnation of giving aid to countries still practising FGM. His recommendation would condemn girls in those countries to the continuing practice; whereas engaging with the countries to change their practice would, in time, bring about the change that he says he would like to see. At this point, I pay tribute to the huge amount of work that my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who is no longer in her place, has put into alleviating this dreadful practice for the millions of girls who are subjected to it.
I also want to address the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, about Pakistanis. As a British Pakistani, I draw his attention to the fact that on the planes that flew into the World Trade towers on 9/11, there was not a single terrorist on board of Pakistani descent; rather, the vast majority were Saudi Arabians. Saudi Arabia is a country with which we do a great deal of trade in arms, yet we fail to condemn it for exporting its particularly vicious, mediaeval brand of Islam to countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, which are trying their utmost to deal with it.
I turn to my prepared remarks. There are people in the Middle East and parts of Africa who are on the move. They are on the move because they want the right to live in peace, freedom and human dignity. Decades of abject poverty has devastated families and communities, leading to the political unrest we have seen in recent years.
Until recently, it really was not our problem. We could tinker with the odd issue as it arose, respond to the various media frenzies and retire back into our comfortable lives until the next disaster struck. Today, it is different. Today, we have to confront these issues more directly, because they have arrived on our doorstep. A mass of people—indeed, the biggest mass movement of people in Europe since the Second World War—are desperate enough to cross a continent on foot and risk their most precious possessions to chance the Mediterranean because what they are fleeing is more terrible than what lies ahead.
This debate, brought to us by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, is timely because it presents an opportunity to stress again the importance of developed Western nations working to alleviate poverty, and to assert again that, although it is the moral thing to do, this is not just about charity and justice, it is patently in our own interest—a point made most ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson of Abinger. The problems posed by the issue of people on the move is overturning political norms at home, and we are seeing a rapidly changing political landscape, with all its inherent dangers. Surely it is cheaper and smarter to do what we can to help people where they live, so that they continue to live in their homeland—which is the option that the vast majority prefer.
In the fourth century BC, Aristotle said,
“poverty is the parent of revolution and crime”,
and it is incontrovertible that an important lever for sustained action in tackling poverty and reducing hunger is money. I am proud that it was a Liberal Democrat in the coalition Government, Michael Moore, whose Private Member’s Bill saw one of the finest moments in British history when we enshrined in law our pledge to fulfil the 1970 UN resolution to spend 0.7% of our GNI on international development. I should not forget the part played in its success by my noble friend Lord Purvis. Not only did they enable Britain to fulfil the UN resolution, but a Liberal Party manifesto pledge dating back as far as 1970 was also fulfilled.
What gives the legislation teeth is annual accountability. DfID is exemplary in the way it reports its activities openly and transparently—a lesson that other departments would do well to learn. The department’s work is widely respected across the world, so much so that international development is one of the few areas where the UK is still a global leader and reaps the huge soft power benefits that come from that.
DfID recently published its 2015-16 annual report, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. He took different things away from it than I did. It gives me an opportunity to cite examples of what the department has achieved on Britain’s behalf, particularly with respect to giving us value for money. Here are some examples.
On wealth creation, it supported 69.5 million people, including 36.4 million women, to gain access to financial services to help them work their way out of poverty, exceeding the target of 50 million by some margin. On poverty, vulnerability, nutrition and hunger, it reached 30 million children under five and pregnant women, of whom 12.1 million were women or girls—again, exceeding their own target of 20 million by a considerable margin. On health, DfID supported 5.6 million births with skilled birth attendants, exceeding their commitment of 2 million. On education, water sanitation and hygiene, governance and security, humanitarian assistance and supporting people to deal with the effects of climate change, DfID can be proud of its work, and I congratulate the department. It has given us real value for money.
DfID also delivers results through the multilateral organisations that it supports, such as GAVI, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which immunised 56 million children in 2014. Then there is the Global Partnership for Education, which trained 98,000 teachers in one year, and UNICEF, which helped 10.4 million children in humanitarian situations to access basic education in 2014. I for one welcome the fact that DfID’s achievements are presented to us on an annual basis, so not only can we see for ourselves the good work that the department is doing but we can use it to persuade others to follow our lead.
There is one other point worth making—that it is important to maintain quality as well as quantity of aid. We must bear in mind that other departments will now spend an increasing proportion of the official development assistance budget, increasing by more than 25% by 2020. There are obvious risks that this presents, such as diluting the quality and potential impact of aid. However, it also represents an opportunity to get cross-Whitehall buy-in for supporting progress towards sustainable development goals and policy coherence for sustainable development. It is clear to me that, to have peace on our planet, we must eradicate poverty—and peace must be translated into food, shelter, health and education. Money well spent and annually accounted for allows us to do just that.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Lipsey for putting forward today’s Bill. He has initiated an incredibly positive debate on the importance of development and aid. I respect my noble friend’s principled position; he is in favour of aid, but he is concerned that the rigidity of the target will lead to wasteful spending and therefore bring the budget into disrepute with an already sceptical public. It is right that we address those issues. We have to make the case—we cannot take anything for granted, particularly given some of the things that are happening in our world. Value for money is a vital ingredient of this debate, and we should not forget that.
My noble friend acknowledges that this is indeed a rerun of part of the debate on the 0.7% Bill, which is now of course an Act. His amendments then would have had the same effect as this Bill but, he argues, this replay is under very different conditions. He focused on changes to political leadership in the expectation that it could lead to a weakening of the 0.7% commitment. Yet, following the much-reported speech at the Conservative Party conference, the new Secretary of State Priti Patel said:
“Meeting the 0.7 per cent target for overseas aid is a manifesto commitment. It is enshrined in law and the Government has been unequivocal that we will continue to honour that promise”.
Good—we need to repeat that. We also need to remember that legislating for the 0.7% target featured in all three manifestos at the 2010 election, so we have a very broad political consensus for the principle.
As my noble friend Lord Judd said, development is about tackling the imbalance of power, politically, economically and socially. Value for money means measuring success by the change we make, not simply the cash we put in. My two noble friends mentioned the March 2012 report from your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee, which questioned the effectiveness of the targets, saying that,
“the speed of the planned increase risks reducing the quality, value for money and accountability of the aid programme”.
I agree that we need to understand that risk; as the aid budget increases, so must our ability to control it. That is why we strongly support, as I know all noble Lords do, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. Value for money should mean maximising the impact we make; when a budget as important as this is ring-fenced, there is a fiscal responsibility and a moral duty to deliver as much change as possible for the money we invest. That sort of value for money is crucial.
As we have heard in this debate, development is also in Britain’s interests. Britain invests in development to prevent extreme poverty, climate change and conflict. Retreating from that responsibility one way or another will still carry a cost; the way to eliminate that cost is to tackle it at source. The UK would be much better off growing and trading with a strong global economy, with a sustainable climate, supportive Governments and secure borders. That is what British development helps to achieve; tackling those big global issues can save us billions in future.
The world that we live in is a rapidly changing one. Defence, diplomacy and development are the combined necessary ingredients of securing the peaceful world we all desire. In promoting the Bill, my noble friend repeats the argument that increased flexibility in respect of the one-year programme will avert the danger that the money will be rushed out to hit the target in one year, and there will not be enough to hit the target so easily the following year. As noble Lords have said, the target has now been met for the third year—and I hope that, when we reach Committee, we can address the issue of evidence. Where is the evidence of this rush? Where is the evidence of waste, bearing in mind the elements of scrutiny that we now have, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, rightly drew our attention?
I agreed strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, when she repeated her commitment to the 0.7% target and said that she feared that any loosening of that commitment could be the thin end of the wedge. I agree with her; we have to see this commitment as a political one that binds us to the future, that is about changing the world as it is. Turning to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, it is an international target, not something in isolation. We participate in it because we want to show the world what we are doing. We want to lead the world and set an example that we want others to follow. That is why I am extremely concerned that any weakening of this principle could weaken our ability to argue for others to do more.
In this debate, many noble Lords drew attention to DfID’s latest annual report. I too was going to quote a number of examples, but that has been done for me already. The key element—it is a principle we have heard in relation to the sustainable development goals—is our commitment to leave no one behind. That means we seek to alleviate poverty and address those fundamental issues in every country in the world. Every item of the programmes we have heard described addresses the needs of millions of people. We are making a difference.
When he introduced the original Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, made a comment which is worth repeating, as it addresses some of the issues raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. With the 2006 and 2015 Acts, we now have an annual target and a very strong framework of accountability, involving both the ICAI and Parliament. We should be properly assessing that framework and whether it is delivering the scrutiny we require to ensure value for money. I welcome the Bill proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, in the sense that it has given us the opportunity to debate this issue, and look forward to Committee stage, when we can go into these issues in a bit more detail. At the end of the day, we want public policy based on evidence. We have very strong evidence that what this country does today is helping to change the world.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for this timely debate on international development. It does not often happen in your Lordships’ House, but last business yesterday was the debate on international development in Africa in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and this is first business today. It is a welcome opportunity to flesh out, look again at and rigorously test the Government’s policies on international development.
It is absolutely right to place this in context. This is not a new debate; it goes back some time. My noble friend Lord Eccles referred to the history of the CDC going back 70 years. This particular pledge goes back to the UN General Assembly in 1970 and remained a commitment. I had not appreciated the point about the Liberal manifesto, but I do know that the 1974 Labour Government were the first to adopt it as an aspiration that they were seeking to achieve. However, it was not until the UN conference on financing for international development in Monterrey that serious impetus began to be given to that target. It was not until 2013, under the coalition Government led by David Cameron, that the pledge was met.
It is in the nature of good-quality debate that there will always be contributions that make one feel less comfortable and that nudge and challenge. I may be a member of the “aid crew”, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, put it, but it is there because of the conviction that the best route out of poverty is economic development and education. It does not matter whether you are from Gateshead in Tyne and Wear or growing up in Tanzania, Kenya or any other part of the world, the facts are the same: economic development is based on education and that leads to less conflict. The more trade there is in the world the less conflict there will be. That is what we are focused on.
If I may say so, the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, was a little uncharitable towards the role played by David Cameron. As a former Treasury Minister, the noble Lord may have a great deal of knowledge of the Treasury and he has written about those times. I will look up his book and take a closer interest in it. However, I was around the table when these policies were being developed when David Cameron first took over as leader of the Conservative Party and I can tell noble Lords that they were heartfelt. He initiated Project Umubano, a social action project in Rwanda, which many candidates from the Conservative Party went on. My noble friends Lady Hodgson and Lady Jenkin, who are in their seats, were part of it. Hundreds of people went on that project and saw at first hand what was being delivered there and it had a transformational effect. Led by the work of Andrew Mitchell, it resulted in a policy document called One World Conservatism. Whether you like the title or not, this was a genuine, deep and heartfelt recognition of the work which needed to be done by Government to fulfil our responsibility—in our enlightened self-interest—to the world’s poor. I have immense pride that it was David Cameron, supported by George Osborne, Andrew Mitchell and William Hague—now the noble Lord, Lord Hague—who delivered on that pledge as part of the coalition. It continues to be a Conservative Party manifesto pledge and we do not want to consider the notion that we might not be living up to that.
Additional legal rigour was given to this by the tremendous initiative undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, in this House and Michael Moore in the other place. This brought forward the extra bit of steel needed to ensure that we live up to the obligations which were, as my noble friend Lady Hodgson outlined, “hard fought for”. Having been involved in some of those fights, I believe we are in a better place now. Having established and settled the argument over funding levels, we can now move our attention and gaze to the effectiveness with which those resources are being deployed and we welcome that.
I will set out our position on the Bill and then address some of the points raised in the debate. The UK’s Official Development Assistance investment is creating a safer, healthier and more prosperous world and is something Britain can be proud of. It is not in Britain’s interests to allow states to become ungovernable or unstable, nor allow their paths to development to be blocked. The noble Lord, Lord Hollick, referred to it having a “catalytic” and “enabling” impact. We believe that, at its best, that is exactly what it should be. It should also apply to all other programmes.
With more fragile states across the Middle East and Africa vulnerable to insecurity and terrorism and protracted crises, driving people from their homes in search of a better life—as the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, mentioned—the world is rapidly changing. The notion that this is the time to withdraw or back off, whether diplomatically, militarily or through our development programme, is flying in the face of reality. This is a time when this country needs to be more outward-looking and globally engaged than ever before. In many ways that is the argument I use to my noble friend Lord Blencathra. Britain’s strategic leadership on the global stage is more important. We cannot sit back and wait for international problems to arrive on our doorsteps. An outward-looking and globally engaged nation must take action to tackle these issues at source. The UK’s leadership in responding to global challenges is critical for eliminating extreme poverty and firmly in the UK’s national interest.
Delivering 0.7%, alongside our world-class Diplomatic Service, is a very important commitment. Sometimes there is argument and contention around the 0.7% figure. However, the Government also have a 2% commitment on defence expenditure. I do not hear many noble Lords, including on the Benches behind me, questioning that commitment. They think it is absolutely right in a world that is less safe that the safety of this country and of other people around the world is a priority, so we make that commitment of 2%, and 0.7% is part of our aid policy on that. We have, of course, our permanent seat at the UN Security Council and our historic relations with the Commonwealth. It has enhanced Britain’s role in the world as a global leader on development, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said. We have a hugely influential voice in this field. I was particularly interested in her suggestion that we ought to look at ways of giving our aid greater visibility.
Many noble Lords spoke of their visits to different countries. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about his experiences in Mozambique and the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, talked about the Bekaa valley. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, spoke of his experiences and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, talked about his extensive work and travelling during his time as the distinguished chairman of the International Development Committee in the other place. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester talked about east Africa. When we visit these places, we may ask why there is not greater visibility for the UK taxpayers’ contribution in these areas. Of course, sometimes that is due to safety concerns for the staff working in an area delivering the aid. However, in certain cases I think we could do better in projecting our soft power in the way the noble Baroness suggested. I undertake to look at that.
Aid had a significant impact in transforming the lives of the world’s poorest people between 1990 and 2010. In the world today, 88% of people have enough food to eat and lead healthy lives—up from 76% in 1970. Fifty-four million more children started going to school in sub-Saharan Africa between 1999 and 2011. Millions more women now have access to family planning, and the number of women dying due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth fell by 47% between 1990 and 2010. Britain’s own aid programmes have already delivered education for 11 million schoolchildren and provided 69 million people with crucial financial services to work and trade their way out of poverty. On that point I again come back to my noble friend Lady Hodgson, who asked about some of the microfinancing initiatives, which those of us who have looked at this area consider are often the most effective, yet sometimes it seems as if the funding is biased towards the huge organisations with great delivery capacity. While that may of necessity be the case, a lot of those large organisations are working with small communities in small villages, and with individuals within those villages, particularly with women, to bring about transformational change.
Meeting the internationally recognised—OECD-wide—approach to calculating 0.7% gives us the moral authority to hold others to account for failing to meet their own promises. This is critical in convincing others to step up and contribute more to often underfunded humanitarian crises. I was particularly struck by references to this moral authority and how it is developed. It was most visibly in evidence at the regional conference in London to secure support for Syria held in February 2016, which secured pledges of more than $12 billion, the largest amount raised in one day for a humanitarian crisis. At the conference, the then Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the UK would double its own pledge to the Syrian crisis from £1.2 billion to £2.3 billion. The best kind of leadership you can ever have on the world stage is leadership by example. I believe that that is what happened there.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for recognising the unequivocal commitment of the Secretary of State, Priti Patel, to overseas aid and to the 0.7% target, which she reiterated as a manifesto pledge. I know from the visits that she has made in recent weeks to Kenya, and last week to Sierra Leone, what a profound impact those countries have had on her as she has seen the effectiveness of DfID’s work around the world, as the noble Lord Hollick, mentioned. If the Bill were to be passed it could be perceived that, if we are to hit an average figure rather than an annual figure, certain years will be under the average. Therefore in those years we would fail to meet the obligation which has resulted in our having such a great effect on the world stage. That point was excellently underscored by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who said that there was a considerable downside to the proposals in the sense that we would lose the authority conferred by being a 0.7% committed donor. He also said that there is no visible upside, certainly in years three, four and five, as he rightly described the effect that procedure would have. As I have already noted, the five-year average target implies that in some years we will not meet that 0.7% figure. However, we are committed to ensuring that that happens.
In terms of annual reporting, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said that living with two different year ends is something that has to be done in meeting an OECD DAC commitment. I was particularly interested in that not least because of my noble friend’s great experience in this area, having previously been for many years the general manager—as I think it was called then —of the CDC, or chief executive, as we would now term it. I was particularly interested when he asked whether we were doing too much reporting, overdelivering and duplicating. I am happy to look at that again. We will be able to examine the reporting requirements in the CDC Bill, which is now going through the other place, and debate whether they are too onerous.
DfID is one of the most effective aid delivery organisations in the world. It is widely respected. It spends around 1% of its budget on administration. It is rigorous in the way that it delivers its work. There are welcome elements to this Bill, which, if it is your Lordships’ will that it proceeds to Committee, we could explore further. For example, we could explore the right reverend Prelate’s comments on outputs and outcomes. We could also look at the work done by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and its reports in this area and the work and scrutiny of the Select Committee. We believe that the work achieved through having this 0.7% target, and the impact that enables us to have on the world stage, are something we ought to cling on to and build on. I undertake to write to noble Lords and consult officials to see whether there are any issues I have not dealt with. I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving us the opportunity to talk about this issue and the reasons why we have got to where we are. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, we should not for one minute be complacent. We need to recognise that we are dealing with UK taxpayers’ money and we need to make the case for what we are doing, as so many have done this morning and will continue to do. We are grateful to them.
Would it be possible to have an arrangement whereby, if the budget is not completely spent in one year, it could be carried over to the next year for agreed, acceptable projects? The reason I suggest this is because when the consultants took over the running of Guy’s Hospital some years ago, we had a legal agreement that any money not spent could be carried over but only for agreed, acceptable projects.
That is an interesting point. In reality, when the allocation is made a lot of the funding goes to multiyear projects, because these are often more effective than one-off events. They are multiyear, which is important—so in a sense, as part of the overall commitment, there is a carrying-over of programmes. We believe that the 0.7% commitment needs to be met. To do that, we need to stand by the OECD DAC rules, and we committed to doing that both in legislation and in our manifesto.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I should correct one misunderstanding, which is probably my fault. I did not mean to say that Cameron was doing this for wicked motives; in fact, I said that he might be doing it for high moral motives. However, my more than 40 years in politics, including working for a Prime Minister and a Foreign Secretary, have persuaded me that it is not a good idea to think that you can tell exactly what motive lies behind politicians’ utterances. They nearly always have mixed motives, and we should consider their pronouncements on their merits rather than think that they are doing something for this or that reason. On that basis I do not think that I would make a very good popular journalist, but that is my view.
I also thank all those who have spoken in this debate and, because this has been a remarkably full House for a Friday morning, all those noble Lords who have sat through the speeches, listening carefully and grappling with a real, if limited, issue. I will not use the phrase “House of Lords at its best” because that comes out three or four times a day, but I think we have a good claim to that this morning.
At the same time, there were moments when I felt that we were ships passing in the night and that, in particular, some noble Lords felt that in some way I was up to something, which I was not. I heard the phrase “slippery slope”, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, referred to a “Trojan horse”. My noble friend on the Front Bench spoke of the “thin end of the wedge”. I shall therefore use a cliché of my own: “give them an inch and they’ll take a mile”. I may be wrong about this but I believe that, if the Bill were to become law, the aid programme would be more soundly planned, more soundly based and more likely to survive the vicissitudes of public debate. So whether it turns out to be a Trojan horse or a galloping thoroughbred that carries us through to an even better system of aid in the future, only time will tell—but I do refute the proposition that I am in any way aiming to cut the level of aid.
The other thing that strikes me very much is how we would benefit from a Committee stage, where we could narrow things down a bit more. Some very intelligent suggestions were made for better ways of achieving the same objectives that I have. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, suggested 5% flexibility either way, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, had some very good ideas on this, too. With a further stage of the Bill we might be able to progress the debate until we reached a consensus on both sides, provided that the bottom line is observed, which is that whatever emerges does not result in a penny less than 0.7% of GNI being spent on aid—not a penny, because I would not countenance that.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.