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Overseas Development Assistance

Volume 783: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how much United Kingdom Overseas Development Assistance is currently spent in co-operation with, or through, the European Union.

My Lords, the UK contributed £935 million in overseas development assistance to the EU budget in 2015 through core funding. In addition, DfID contributed £392 million to the European Development Fund. Overall, these contributions to the EU made up 10.9% of the UK’s overseas development assistance.

My Lords, that is a significant contribution. The Government’s own analysis indicates that European Union development funds are among the most effective from any multilateral organisation. In the current atmosphere, perhaps there will be some let us say knee-jerk reactions from time to time about the way in which Brexit happens in relation to specific powers. Can we get a guarantee that on these programmes, which are ultimately about saving lives and about people who are in very vulnerable positions, the Government will seek a proper transition period to ensure that these programmes are not left on the edge of a cliff?

I am certainly happy to give that assurance. Of course, it was the multilateral development review that we undertook last year that the EDF scored so well in. Around the world we work in partnership with the EU and through its funds, and I cannot envisage a situation where we could do that effectively in the future without working very closely with the European Union. With regard to the fund itself, decisions on whether we want to contribute or stay out will be made as part of the process of exiting the European Union. Now at least we have a choice.

Will my noble friend the Minister tell me how much it is going to cost to disentangle ourselves from these arrangements in the European Union? Can I have his undertaking that none of that money will come from our overseas aid budget? If he does not have a figure, perhaps I might point out that it is the habit of this House to want to know the cost before we agree to action.

A number of organisations oversee that important element of the budget. There are the Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the National Audit Office—all these organisations will be scrutinising the amounts of money that go out. In relation to the European Development Fund in particular, which is the focus of the Question, that amount is an annual supplement and therefore it should not be that difficult to make a decision on an annual basis, along with other multilateral partners, about how much we put in.

My Lords, the Government’s new approach to trade policy towards developing countries has just been released by DfID. The proposals are welcome, but they are not as generous as they may appear. The strategy addresses the EU’s “Everything But Arms” agreement, which allows for the UK to negotiate agreements unilaterally, but does not address the economic partnership agreements, which are vital to many developing countries in terms of trade going into the UK and the EU. How are the Government going to address this issue in negotiations for Brexit?

The partnership agreements to which we are party will continue until we exit the European Union. The Secretary of State for International Trade and the Department for International Development announced an indication to say that with 48 countries in particular we wanted to ensure that that duty-free, tariff-free access to our markets—which is so crucial for them, as well as beneficial for us—continues. The details with regard to the other countries, again—I am sorry to keep repeating this—will be handled as part of the exiting the European Union strategy.

My Lords, the problem is that we are having to think the unthinkable. It is unthinkable, for example, that we will not be beside the EU in rescuing refugees from the Mediterranean and putting them into Italian ports. Has the department made any plans for the biggest humanitarian programme, which is ECHO, and how we are going to relate to that?

I share the noble Earl’s view that it is inconceivable. Wherever I travel around the world, the EU is there, represented in force. We have to remember that wherever we operate, particularly in development, we are always working in partnership. We are working in partnership with the G20—for example, at the Hamburg summit this weekend. We are working in partnership with the African Union and the UN agencies; the whole thing is about partnership. That is one of the reasons it is so effective.

My Lords, the Asia-Latin America programme is funded from the European budget. Therefore, the UK would no longer make direct contributions. However, the programme, particularly in Latin America, is a major source of influence in a region where we do not have a major bilateral presence, and there may be advantages in remaining part of the programme. Will the Minister assure us that some thought has been given to maintaining arrangements for the UK to remain associated with the programme?

We continue to work to the UK’s strategy, which is a cross-government, cross-Whitehall approach about where our priorities should be, in consultation with our international partners. In relation to Asia, we have some bilateral programmes. One of the areas where we work quite closely is with the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which has been established. We were a founder investor in that. We will continue to keep all these things open and will continue to work in partnership.

My Lords, in a debate this morning in Westminster Hall, a number of MPs highlighted the correlation between the fragile states in which DfID spends much of its money and high levels of persecution of people on the grounds of faith or belief. I would be grateful if the Minister could assemble a meeting of interested MPs and Peers, particularly with his counterpart the right honourable Alistair Burt, the DfID and FCO Minister for the Middle East and North Africa region, so that we could discuss in detail how DfID’s priorities and programming could support increasing religious tolerance in these fragile countries.

I am very happy to do that and also to invite along my noble friend Lord Ahmad, who leads on religious freedom in these areas at the Foreign Office. Human rights are a fundamental building block of human development. We all appreciate that. Therefore, Article 18 of the universal declaration is a key element. I was looking at the Prime Minister’s words on 28 February when she spoke at a reception in Downing Street. She said:

“It is hard to comprehend that today people are still being attacked and murdered because of their Christianity. We must reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practice their beliefs in peace and safety”.

We stand by that.

Together the member states and the EU collectively deliver more than half the world’s official development assistance. This will not be the case when Britain leaves the European Union, yet we rate the EU as one of our best partners. It is not just about transition. Is it not about having a long-term commitment to work with allies across Europe who share the same values, including the only countries that have actually delivered 0.7%?

I agree that there has got to be that essential partnership. There has got to be an essential partnership with the US as a major deliverer of international aid. We have to work with the Commonwealth, which is a major recipient and also an important partner in resolving a lot of the conflicts. We work with the Nordic Plus states in the development arena. We have to work in partnership. We have an overarching aim, whether we are in the EU or not, and that is the sustainable development goals. That is our target: the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030. We are all working towards that wherever we are.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, unlike some noble Lords who have spoken on this Question, I have at least as much confidence in our very good Secretary of State, Priti Patel, as I have in the bureaucrats of the European empire?

I share my noble friend’s absolute confidence in our Secretary of State on these matters because she has been strong in emphasising that it is not just the amount that we contribute to overseas development that determines its effectiveness but how it is spent and focused. That is a key target and a key aim of reform, which she has avowed, not only in our department but in the UN institutions.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that his view on the Secretary of State is a view on her present pronouncements about development, not on her former pronouncement that the department ought to be abolished?

I think it is always best to judge politicians by their actions. When you look at what the Secretary of State is doing, what she has announced, the places she has been and the focus she has given to economic development, disability rights and family planning, in all these areas she has been at the forefront of humanitarian aid. The fact that she does so with an edge of demanding realism rather than sentimentality in approaching these things strengthens the delivery of the product.