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Official Development Assistance

Volume 793: debated on Tuesday 16 October 2018

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to their response to the report by the House of Commons International Development Committee, Definition and Administration of the ODA, (HC 1556) published on 13 September, what steps the departments which administer official development assistance will take to address the concerns raised by the committee.

My Lords, the Government welcome the committee’s report. We agree and partially agree with many of its recommendations and are committed to maximising impact from the aid budget. External scrutiny helps improve how we spend aid. Several across-government oversight mechanisms exist, and departments are committed to improving transparency and raising the quality and coherence of UK aid.

I thank the Minister for his response, and if he were the Secretary of State, I would have great confidence in what he said, but he is not. What we have—I make no apology for raising this again—is a Secretary of State who does not appear to be so committed. Of course, the committee recommended that we continue with the internationally accepted definition of ODA through the DAC mechanism. In their response to the committee, the Government say, “Yes, we agree. We will continue to work on a consensus basis”—yet they add a “but”—“but only if the DAC agrees with our modernisation of ODA”. Surely that sends the wrong message. Does the noble Lord agree that we should be sticking with what the IDC says, and to the definition of ODA which is internationally accepted?

We of course achieved the 0.7% commitment, which was reiterated by the Secretary of State. As a former aid worker herself, she is absolutely committed to this, but absolutely committed to ensuring that we also get value for money. There is so much need in our world that we cannot afford to waste one penny of the amount available. It is also true to say that the rules which govern what is scored as development assistance are set by the OECD committee, which works on a consensus basis. Consistently, many members raise issues about what they would like improved in terms of the definition. We raised vigorously last year the response to the hurricanes in the Caribbean, and we continue to do that. We will continue to work for reform, but we are absolutely committed to improving value for money, and to the 0.7%, which is a matter of law. It was mentioned in the manifesto; the Prime Minister signed up to it; and the Secretary of State signed up to it.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the committee’s recommendation on the middle-income countries, and whether they should be eligible for ODA? Are the Government reconsidering those middle-income countries—in particular, India, which has a substantial minority of poor?

It does indeed. Of the 750 million people in extreme poverty today in the world, 215 million —the greatest proportion—are found in India as a middle-income country. It is right that we work with countries across a range of issues to ensure that we tackle poverty. Of course, one of the DAC elements that we commit to and achieve—as well as being one of the few to achieve the 0.7% target—is the target to spend 0.15% to 0.2% in least developed countries. Again, that is a record of which we should all be proud.

My Lords, the Department for International Development is, quite rightly, respected and admired for its work throughout the world—both developing and developed—and most especially for its humanitarian work. Will my noble friend update the House on what is happening to the Rohingya refugees, many of whom have had to leave their homes and are currently ending up in Bangladesh?

I am grateful for the opportunity to do that. My noble friend Lord Ahmad and I had the opportunity to brief interested Peers on the situation there. How we operate there demonstrates what is great about this country. Not only are we at the forefront in delivering aid in cash terms—at £129 million, one of the largest commitments of any country—but we are also leading the charge with our diplomatic and security efforts at the UN Security Council and the UN Human Rights Commission. It is that spectrum of reach which makes our aid so effective.

My Lords, is it not the case that we need to do far more on population control? We are giving aid to many places where women have no access to birth control. We need to do far more if we are going to deal with this major world problem.

That is very true. Because of population growth, Africa needs an extra 18 million jobs a year just to stand still. We have been at the forefront of the work of the UN Population Fund to ensure that women have access to safe methods of family planning and contraception. This work is much respected and will continue to play a major part in our aid programme.

My Lords, financial flows to developing countries, other than ODA, have increased over the last few decades. Does the Minister agree that, while these very welcome developments improve the financial landscape in which ODA operates, they make it even more important that ODA, which focuses resources relentlessly on the poorest in the world, is not undermined or redefined unilaterally by the Secretary of State for International Development?

I think I covered that. It is not undermined in any way. This Government’s record has shown the importance which we place on it. Looking at just one critical statistic, the cost of filling the gap to achieve the sustainable development goals—which the noble Baroness and I have often debated and totally support— is $2.4 trillion per year. Total global aid flows are $150 billion. We have to find ways for the money which we give through development assistance to be increasingly catalytic of further private sector investment which can help us bridge that gap and fulfil our commitment to the world’s poor.