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Overseas Aid

Volume 795: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2019

Private Notice Question

Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government in the light of recent press reports what plans they have to meet their statutory obligation to spend 0.7% of the UK’s GDP on overseas aid.

My Lords, the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7 % of GNI on aid is enshrined in law and has been reaffirmed by the Secretary of State for International Development in another place, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his most recent Budget, and the Prime Minister on her recent visit to Africa. The aid budget is fully funded and we have firm plans in place to continue to meet that important commitment.

My Lords, last autumn, the Secretary of State acknowledged that public funds alone would not deliver on the sustainable development goals. Seeing 0.7% as the target rather than the baseline will not deliver either. The key to eradicating poverty globally is building public services that deliver health and education that are accessible to all; that will encourage greater economic activity and greater investment. The Minister has a proud record on overseas development as both a DfID and a Treasury Minister. I hope he will confirm that at next month’s spending review, there will be no attempt to renege on the UK’s commitment—enshrined in law, as he said—to spend 0.7% of the UK’s GDP on overseas aid.

I am very proud to give the noble Lord the commitment and reassurance that he seeks. The commitment to 0.7% was made by the international community way back in 1970; it was not actually introduced—under this Government, with our coalition partners—until 2013. I am immensely proud of that and we remain committed to it. His point about the SDGs is crucial. Achieving them by 2030, to which he and I are committed, will require some $3.9 trillion per year, according to World Bank estimates. Total global flows amount to some $150 billion. The only realistically possible way to bridge that gap in time is through leveraging and capitalising to get greater private flows through trade and development. We are very committed to that, but the commitment to 0.7% stands.

The UK commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on development was made via a Lib Dem Private Member’s Bill, which in this House was in the capable hands of my noble friend Lord Purvis. It passed with all-party support, for which we were very grateful, in the last days of the coalition. The UK has indeed signed up to the sustainable development goals, which aim to eradicate to extreme poverty by 2030. Does the Minister agree that it is it right that the world—and we are part of the world, regardless of what appears to be happening politically at the moment—signed up to these goals, and that they are vital for global stability? Does he also agree that aid helps to pump prime the economic and human development that people in poverty so desperately need?

I absolutely agree with that. The noble Baroness pointed to the proud record of the Liberal Democrats in actually providing the legislation. I remind her that a Conservative Chancellor is currently delivering on that pledge, giving £14 billion a year to the poorest in this world.

My Lords, will the Minister be ardent in his pursuit of match funding, particularly for health projects, which will valuably use up at least 0.7% of the GNI? There are many countries without the basic GP facilities that we all take for granted, let alone equipment for their health services. We could do far more using training and second-hand equipment from this country as part of the 0.7% spending on those who are the poorest.

I pay tribute to the work of my noble friend as Overseas Development Minister some time ago, before that commitment was met. She is right: health is absolutely central. We need to work in partnership, and that is the reason why we work with the World Health Organization, the Gavi alliance and the Global Fund in doing precisely that work.

My Lords, the World Bank estimates that some 800 million people are racked by starvation, despair or living below any rational definition of human decency. The Minister is right to remind us that, as long ago as 1970, in Resolution 2626, the United Nations urged us to find this 0.7% figure. Does he agree that people expect their money to be spent well? I draw his attention to a Question that I asked him on the Order Paper today concerning discrimination and persecution in countries such as Pakistan, which is the biggest recipient of British aid—£383,000 each and every single day. Will he ensure that where British money is being spent, it will tackle the plight of minorities, particularly by preventing people from religious minorities from being subjected to discrimination, persecution and even genocide?

I am delighted to give that reassurance. This Government have been at the fore on this issue. The Prime Minister has made announcements on it and has appointed her first Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, my noble friend Lord Ahmad. We are proud of that, and we have to uphold, keep to and maintain those standards.

My Lords, as a former International Development Minister, I completely respect the Minister’s record. However, Priti Patel has been quoted regularly as wanting to undermine our international development programme; she also has very close links with the newspapers. How did those reports get into the papers today, and will he make it absolutely clear that they are completely wrong and that the Government are sticking to 0.7%?

Of course, Priti Patel, sadly, resigned as Secretary of State for Development a couple of years ago. However, Penny Mordaunt is absolutely committed to the 0.7%—delivered by his kinsmen in Abercrombie House up in Scotland—which is of crucial importance. We remain committed to it.

I was the Member who took the Act through the House, and I was able to do so only because of the wide cross-party consensus in this House—including the Minister’s predecessor, my noble friend Lady Northover, the Labour Front Bench and the Minister himself in another capacity. That consensus had a core, which could be a component of British leadership. We are the only developed country in the world to meet this target and to enshrine in law that we will continue to do so. Therefore, language such as “unsustainable” raises questions as to whether other developed economies should seek to meet their obligations. The Minister and I are wearing our SDG badges close to our hearts. We know that under the current expenditure profile, those targets will not be met. British leadership in this area can be critical. Can the Minister say categorically that language such as “unsustainable to meet our obligations” will not be heard from a British Cabinet Minister?

First, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for taking through that legislation, which I was delighted to support myself from the Back Benches; it was crucially important. We need to keep at the forefront of our minds that there is a huge need out there. We need to build on the commitments we have already given and the pledges we have made, but as he rightly points out, we also need to encourage others to step up to the plate. Increasingly, however, we see that Governments cannot do this alone. We need to leverage in trade and private investment to bridge that gap if we are to lift people out of poverty.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister what proportion of the 0.7% goes via EU projects or other EU conduits?

Doing the maths quickly, I think that DfID spends about 72%, 18% goes through other government departments, and the remaining 10% goes through the EDF, ECHO and heading 4, but a proportion of that needs to be stripped out because it relates to gift aid. If my noble friend can do the calculations, that is the net effect.

My Lords, at the heart of some of the suspicions about the delivery of the commitment lies the spending of ODA through departments other than DfID. Will the Minister take this opportunity to reassure us that in the Government’s Agenda 2030 voluntary national review to the United Nations this summer, they will take the opportunity to explain how overseas development assistance spent by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence or other government departments contributes to the delivery of the sustainable development goals?

I am happy to do that. As the noble Lord knows, having done a lot of work in this area, the majority of the least developed, most fragile countries that we drive our aid spend towards are in that position because of conflict. We need to recognise that although development is one part of this, there is a development, diplomacy and defence nexus. We need to work together, and that is what those cross-Whitehall funds are doing.