Skip to main content

Aid Reviews

Volume 777: debated on Friday 2 December 2016


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question given earlier today in the other place by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, James Wharton. The Statement is as follows:

“The House will be aware that the Government published yesterday, Raising the Standard: the Multilateral Development Review 2016, and Rising to the Challenge of Ending Poverty: the Bilateral Development Review 2016. These reviews set out how the UK will address the global response to problems that threaten us here at home, such as the migration crisis, cross-border conflict, climate change and disease pandemics. In the reviews, the International Development Secretary makes it clear that Britain’s aid contribution is an investment in our future security and national interest. As the reviews describe, the UK will champion an open, modern and innovative approach to development that will effectively tackle the global challenges of the 21st century, while delivering the best results for the world’s poorest. This is clearly in our national interest.

The reviews are an extensive and detailed look at the UK bilateral and multilateral development systems. They confirm the geographic regions of focus for the UK, which multilateral organisations the Department for International Development will work with, and the tools that will be used to maximise our impact as we tackle poverty across the globe. The reviews highlight best practice in the global development system, as well as examples of poor performance that will face urgent action.

The Government are clear that the global approach to development needs to adapt and reform to keep pace with our rapidly changing world. As a world leader, the UK will be at the forefront of these changes, promoting pioneering investment in the most challenging and fragile of countries, making greater use of cutting-edge technology and sharing skills from the best British institutions—from our NHS to our great universities. Improving the way the UK delivers aid along with our multilateral partners is vital to delivering the best results in fighting poverty and getting value for taxpayers’ money. Global Britain is outward looking and we will use our aid budget to build a more stable, secure and prosperous world for us all. This is not only the right thing to do, it is firmly in our interest”.

I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in response to the Urgent Question. I very much hope, however, that proper time will be given to a fuller debate of these very important reviews. There are many issues that need to be covered. The good news from the reviews is that despite the Secretary of State’s expressed opinions about DfID prior to her taking up office, they confirm the overwhelming good that our aid does in saving lives and tackling poverty, but crucially, that this is in our national interest. I welcome that continued commitment.

The continued focus on fragile and conflict-affected states and on international agencies such as the Global Fund for HIV, TB and malaria, which are saving millions of lives, is welcome. However, there is a lack of detail in the reviews. In particular, are there any planned country programme closures? Are there any changes to some of our bilateral programmes, particularly on HIV, which we discussed earlier this week?

The emphasis on value for money is important, but we must ensure that success is measured not simply by the cash we put in but by the change we effect. I have no doubt we will return to the issue of investment when the CDC Bill comes to this House. There are big issues in that Bill that we need to discuss in detail.

What consideration has been given in the Government’s plans for exiting the EU to the reports’ conclusion that funding via EU institutions is some of the most effective of all global agencies? Is the Minister’s department being fully consulted on alternative delivery mechanisms and all the options? Is the Minister being fully consulted on the Government’s development objectives in a post-Brexit era?

I thank the noble Lord for his welcome for the Statement and for the commitment the Secretary of State and the department have to continuing the fight against extreme poverty around the world. He asked a number of questions and I will try to address them.

The funding for bilateral country programmes is set out in the annual report, but for only two years. Obviously, the situations in question are fast moving and dynamic, such as what is currently happening in Syria and the Middle East. Therefore, resources have to be targeted where they are needed most. We will make clear our funding for future programmes when the annual report is published next year.

As to whether programmes will change or close, again, that will be driven by the priorities we face and the targets we have. We are rightly constrained by delivering on certain targets, not only by our manifesto commitments on education but by the sustainable development goals to be achieved by 2030, which will be a focus for us.

The noble Lord mentioned getting time for a debate. I personally support that but I am aware that I have by my side the distinguished figure of the Deputy Chief Whip. I am sure that, through the usual channels, time for these matters can be arranged.

On the point about exiting the European Union, we have, of course, a department for that. It is good to put on record and show up—it is a benefit of this process of bilateral and multilateral development reviews—who are the high performers and who are not. The noble Lord is absolutely right that among the high performers is the European Development Fund. Given that we have a global commitment to target disease, look at the humanitarian effort and reduce conflict, we will continue to work with our European colleagues in pursuit of that. The question whether that happens through that fund or through supranational institutional funds such as the UN’s, which also got a number of high ratings, will be dealt with in the course of that review process.

My Lords, the challenges facing the world are no respecters of national boundaries. Will the Minister commit the Government to standing up against the retreat from multilateralism that can be seen both in our country and across the world and to defending global institutions such as the UN against the rise of isolationism?

I do not recognise the retreat from multilateralism. We are gearing up on that—we are talking about the Global Fund and GAVI. In many of the areas we need to reach, we cannot work nationally or regionally, so it is essential that we work globally. We are absolutely committed to that effort.

Will the Minister please tell me what the role of family planning is in these reviews? I have no idea what is in the reviews, but family planning was quite a high priority in DfID before the new Secretary of State arrived. I would be grateful if I had some assurance that it still is.

I can certainly give that assurance and will write to the noble Baroness with the details. I already have a letter for her in my in-tray on the CDC, so I will add a paragraph to that, if I may.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund. Does the Minister agree with me that the surest route out of poverty is jobs, that the surest defence of peace is jobs and that the surest guard against forced migration is jobs? Will he therefore give the House the reassurance that bilateral programmes, like the one that used to exist in Burundi and others in fragile areas such as the Great Lakes, Somalia, Somaliland and South Sudan, will continue to be supported under this review, because they are making a huge difference?

I pay tribute to the work the noble Lord has done for the organisations he is involved with in promoting that. Economic development is at the heart of eradicating extreme poverty. We cannot do it through aid flows alone: there has to be the wider context.

The lifting of people out of poverty, including the 50% reduction in the number in extreme poverty, has come largely through major economies such as those of India, China, and Brazil increasing trade and economic development. The same applies to sub-Saharan Africa.

My Lords, Andrew Mitchell changed DfID for the better with the original multilateral and bilateral aid reviews. DfID follows the money. It is very good value for money. My concerns are less about the outcome of the current aid reviews and more about the use of the ODA by departments other than DfID across government. Will there be a review of the use of ODA by other departments?

That is a very good point. Of course, the noble Baroness was a distinguished Minister in the department working in that area. As we move to more cross-government funding through the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund and the prosperity fund, it is important that the same rigour be applied. I am sure the International Development Committee will look closely at that. If not, the Public Accounts Committee awaits.

Can the Minister give us any assurance about flexibility in spending the target of 0.7% of GDP to spread it over a period of years?

I understand that that is the subject of the Bill before the House in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. We have great reservations about that because we fought very hard to get where we are with 0.7% and we will not give it up, not least because it was a government manifesto commitment.

My Lords, I welcome this review and the general direction it takes, including that it is in Britain’s interest to have an effective development programme. I note that the Statement mentions,

“sharing skills from the best of British institutions”,

including the NHS, as part of this development programme. What is meant by that? More generally, we should recognise that in this process of development and indeed codevelopment, it is in our mutual interest to see that there is a lot we can gain from our partners in developing countries, as well as a lot we can give.

That is why the review process has been so widely welcomed by so many agencies, not least Gavi and Oxfam, which have put on record their support. This needs to be seen in the context of the multilateral and bilateral development reviews. Reviews of our civil society relationships and of the research are currently under way. We have added a commitment to spend 3% of our budget on research. Much of that will be spent in British universities to help us get better at tackling the issues around the world that are the cause of extreme poverty.