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Overseas Development Assistance

Volume 783: debated on Monday 3 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to consult non-governmental organisations and development aid charities regarding the commitment in their manifesto to work with like-minded countries to change the rules relating to overseas development assistance.

My Lords, we are consulting with civil society organisations to hear what rule changes they believe would be beneficial in helping us deliver the sustainable development goals. NGOs have been invited to share with us their thoughts and indications as to what changes might be envisaged as part of a wide consultation process.

I thank the noble Lord for that response but the question was about what the Government are thinking. In 2016, Justine Greening sought from the DAC changes to accommodate the SDGs. What more changes do this Government want? They should come clean about that and then consult properly. Does the Minister not accept that if the United Kingdom went alone on these changes it would break the international rules-based agreements we have, which would have severe consequences for international development?

Of course we are not talking about going it alone. The OECD and DAC process is made up of 30 countries. It is a consensus operation and we have to work with colleagues to bring about the changes that we seek. The Secretary of State convened a meeting of 18 NGO leaders in the department last Wednesday, which I attended. It was a very productive session. The first thing it recognised was that the existing rules were not perfect. The second thing, which we are absolutely sure about, was that it was essential to preserve the primary purpose of aid; namely, economic development. That will remain our focus as we consult colleagues on the DAC, NGOs and other parties here.

My Lords, it is often the small organisations working at grass-roots level that can really make a change and a difference to the poorest communities around the world, but they find it very hard to apply for these grants; there are often very complicated procedures to get the money. Will my noble friend please tell me what is being done to help these small organisations access funds?

My noble friend is absolutely right. Small organisations often bring innovation to the process, passion and low overheads, which are deeply needed in the way that we develop aid. As part of that process, the Secretary of State has announced that we are going to launch a small charities challenge fund aimed particularly at small organisations with a turnover between £25,000 and £250,000 for accountable grants of £50,000 each. We will be making an announcement about that next week but I will certainly make sure that all Members of your Lordships’ House, who I know follow these matters closely and have good links to many small charities doing amazing work around the world, have details of that fund.

My Lords, as part of this consultation will the Government publish an assessment of the impact of the changes that were made in 2016—they were indeed made to accommodate the sustainable development goals, as well as the UK priority of investment in conflict-affected and fragile states—before then asking for more?

That is certainly something that we will look at once we figure out the exact routes that we are going down. We have identified a number of areas. For example, development assistance is available post-conflict to rebuild countries but when it comes to peacekeeping, only a small percentage of that budget is attributable to development assistance. When we want to help with training militaries in how to prevent sexual violence in conflict, we find difficulties in getting that element there. When we want to look at refugees providing vocational assistance here in the UK, that is deemed to be a benefit to the national economy and therefore is not allowed. So there are a few things here but the essential point, which the noble Lord is absolutely right about, is that we have to work together on this to resolve those differences with the primary purpose in mind.

My Lords, I would like to press further the point that the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, made. Will the Minister share with your Lordships’ House a definition of ODA that the Secretary of State will be content with, bearing in mind that she is on record as saying that she would like to see the department that she now leads abolished?

She is also on record as a passionate defender of the 0.7% target. That was in the Conservative manifesto; it was secured under a coalition Government and maintained under a Conservative Government, and it is something that we are extremely proud of. The fact that we have a 0.7% commitment does not mean that everything to do with reform should stop there. We want to make sure that every single penny and pound of that is directed to the people who are in the greatest need because we cannot afford to leave them behind when there is so much need visible around the world.

My Lords, the Minister referred to the prime aim of aid as economic development. We have discussed before in this House how economic development cannot take place without investment in health and in the empowerment and education of women. The UK is a respected global leader in many of these areas: malaria, neglected tropical diseases, maternal and child health, and the education of women and girls. Can the Minister assure the House that any changes that are made will not be to the detriment of continuing investment in the areas in which we have proved to be effective and successful?

I can certainly give that assurance. In fact, health is one of the key areas in which we have been investing heavily. I know that the noble Baroness has taken a great interest in neglected tropical diseases. We announced a further £200 million for that cause, which is saving hundreds of thousands of lives, just a few months ago.