Skip to main content

Aid Impact

Volume 805: debated on Thursday 3 September 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the quality of the work carried out by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact in the scrutiny of (1) the effectiveness, and (2) the value for money, of United Kingdom aid.

My Lords, the Government highly value the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s scrutiny of UK aid and have assessed its quality in two reviews since its establishment in 2011. The last tailored review in 2017 found that ICAI’s work continued to be both necessary and important. Since its inception, the commission has contributed to improving the impact and value for money of UK aid.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. The retention of ICAI, at least in the short term, is welcome. Inevitably, however, the merger of two departments will see much jockeying for ideas. Therefore, first, does the Minister accept that it is important that ICAI’s remit is not curtailed but, instead, bolstered to ensure that transparent scrutiny is maintained and that effective and accountable aid will be the hallmark of the new FCDO? Secondly, can she tell us to whom ICAI will report?

My Lords, we are committed to more effective and accountable aid spending under the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and of course that includes transparency and external scrutiny. We will reinforce that external scrutiny by not just maintaining ICAI but strengthening its focus on the impact of our aid and the value that it adds to our policy agenda.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is very disappointing that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact rated the UK’s progress on international climate finance as inadequate? How do the Government intend to rectify this, given the urgency of much more progress before the UK hosts COP 26 next year?

My Lords, we are committed to increasing and improving our work on climate. We are doubling our funding to the International Climate Fund and, as the noble Baroness says, we are hosting COP. We are also absolutely committed to making sure that that funding is spent effectively.

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s decision on ICAI. I worked with Andrew Mitchell on its establishment and the set-up agreed then has proved successful. ICAI is subject to confirmatory hearings by the International Development Committee and, through the committee, reports its programme and findings. This needs to be maintained if the UK’s global reputation is not to be risked. Therefore, I urge the Government to support a dedicated Commons Select Committee to monitor ICAI and UK aid, and to maintain the credibility of the great work that has been done to date.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for welcoming the commitment to keep ICAI. On the Select Committee point, the Government agree that Parliament has an important role in scrutinising UK aid spending, and Select Committees are of course fundamental in scrutinising the Government’s spending and policies. We acknowledge that, as a consequence of the merger, the House of Commons might have to reconfigure the Select Committee structure, but the Government’s view is that normally the committee structure mirrors the departmental structure.

My Lords, the independent commission clearly does a good and much-needed job in evaluating aid flows, but does my noble friend agree that it has been particularly useful in bringing home the fact that aid alone is not an effective driver of development or indeed of poverty reduction, and that issues such as counterterrorism, security, human rights breaches, private investment conditions and, obviously, good governance under the law are just as much part of the modern development package? Does she further agree that the proposed merger between our aid and foreign policy departments, about which I think we are going to hear a Statement later today, offers a highly effective and rational way of bringing these essential modern-day strands of development closer together?

My noble friend is right that my noble friend Lord Ahmad will be repeating a Statement later today. The advantages that my noble friend highlights are exactly the reason why the Prime Minister has merged DfID and the FCO to become the new FCDO. My noble friend is right that aid alone is not going to resolve many of the world’s problems. We need to make sure that we are taking a joined-up approach and bringing the strands of foreign policy, development and trade together in order to tackle these huge global challenges.

My Lords, the Government have confirmed that the Independent Commission for Aid Impact will continue to scrutinise all aid spending across all government departments. However, I am concerned that with the forthcoming review of its remit, and in the light of reports that the aid budget will be reduced, how will the commission ensure its independence and maintain its primary purpose?

My Lords, the review will consider how ICAI can improve the impact of aid spending across government and challenge the big decisions around aid spending so that it can provide robust and evidence-based recommendations. It will continue to follow overseas development assistance across all departments. I take this opportunity to reiterate the point that I made yesterday: the Government are committed to spending 0.7% of our gross national income on international development.

My Lords, the Minister rightly argues that transparency and accountability are vital. The Government have said that it will be up to the Commons to decide whether there is an International Development Select Committee, which precedes the creation of a separate department. If a Motion is tabled to abolish that, will the Government be giving those on the government payroll and on the Back Benches a free vote, or will they be advised which way to vote?

My Lords, we will reflect carefully on the recommendations of the IDC and the Liaison Committee before bringing forward Motions to change existing the committee structures for the House to agree later this year.

Is the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, in a position to participate? If not, we will move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine.

My Lords, I welcome the review. It is extremely timely, given the merger of the two departments. However, can the Minister confirm that the resources of ICAI will be strengthened? Surely three commissioners and a very small secretariat are not sufficient to provide the resources that the budget demands to provide assurance to Parliament and the public.

My Lords, that is certainly one of the issues that the review will look at. The terms of reference will be published on GOV.UK in due course. We are keeping ICAI because we welcome independent scrutiny, and we are committed to ensuring that it continues to give us robust and constructive criticism.

My Lords, I welcome the review. I very much hope that as part of it, unlike what has happened previously, the gender and disability lenses are looked at along with culture, and that there is respect for all countries in the projects that we are working on. I feel that this is very important. Further, I know this is not quite right, but there is spending in Scotland and Wales on development, and maybe we could include this in some way as an exception.

My Lords, ICAI’s reports have led to much substantive action in key areas, including the use of data and the preparation of results, as well as helping us to mainstream our policies on gender, making sure that all our policies are inclusive and that we reach the poorest and leave no one behind. We will encourage ICAI to continue to assist us on those measures. I also take the opportunity to reiterate the point that advancing gender equality and women’s rights are of course a core part of the new Government’s mission.

Is the Minister aware that the recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, which I co-chair, highlights urgent concerns about British aid to Nigeria, especially the refusal of aid to the Middle Belt states, which are among the areas worst affected by Islamist killings, abductions, atrocities and the displacement of thousands of civilians? Will the Minister ensure a more rigorous and effective use of British aid, including food, medical care and shelter, for Nigeria’s Middle Belt states?

My Lords, I am of course aware of the report that the noble Baroness refers to, and we are looking at it very carefully. We all want to ensure that our aid is spent effectively and in a way that gives value for money but that it also really helps the people that it is designed to help. That is something that ICAI helps the department to do.

I make one last call for the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury. If he is not responding, all supplementary questions have been asked and we will move to the next Question.