I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It was my immense good fortune to secure second place in the ballot for private Members’ Bills. Having put my name in the ballot every year that I could over the last 17 years, I am aware of just how lucky I was. It is my privilege to bring forward this measure.
Before I get to the substance, I thank all Members from across the House who have taken the trouble to be here today and to show their support in advance. I thank the campaigning groups, non-governmental organisations and charities across the United Kingdom that have indicated their strong support for the Bill. I also thank the many people behind the scenes, in the House and elsewhere, who have helped me prepare for today. However, the usual caveat applies that I take full responsibility for what now happens.
First, I want to make an important acknowledgement. The subject of international development is hugely important to all of us, but I am conscious that many people across the United Kingdom continue to grapple with serious problems in their own lives. Those issues are the stuff of debate in this place week in, week out throughout the year. Over the past five or six years, through one of the deepest recessions that this country has ever seen, many people have suffered and struggled. We have a duty to each of them, as our constituents, to advocate on their behalf and to argue for what is in the best interests of our country. I hope that as we move into economic recovery, we ensure that we bring everybody with us. We will, of course, return to debates about that.
I wonder whether we need to explain to our constituents a little more about the benefits of spending 0.7% on international development. The products of companies such as JCB and Jaguar Land Rover are flying off the shelves because they are needed in the most important parts of the world where emergencies are happening. Our people are being employed because the money is being spent wisely.
Pursuant to the last intervention, is it not true that, alongside the moral justification for the Bill, when we do more to support countries in the developing world, it has a positive impact on economic migration, because people want to stay in their own countries and develop them? That really knocks down the right-wing argument that the Bill will take money away from local people.
First, I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman was one of the earliest supporters of the Bill and that he has supported it consistently throughout the last few months. He raises an important point, to which I will return in due course. I anticipate that there will be a repost from others in the Chamber, as is the nature of this debate.
Those of us who have concerns about the Bill are, of course, totally committed to humanitarian aid. However, as the right hon. Gentleman said, there are many competing demands on the Government. For instance, does he think that we should enshrine in legislation a commitment to spend 2% of our gross wealth on defence, which is vital to our security?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I would be happy, over time, to hear him advocate the case for enshrining that commitment in law. That would be a healthy debate to have. However, as I hope will become clear as I advance my arguments, there is an important case to be made for this Bill and I hope that it will have the support of the whole House.
I have given way several times, so I will make a little progress before I allow the hon. and learned Gentleman to intervene.
The duty that we have to our constituents sits alongside a basic duty to help the poorest in the world with food, water, shelter and medical assistance. If anybody doubts that, they should see that the statistics that confront us are harrowing. The World Bank estimated that in 2010, 400 million children and 1.2 billion people across the world were living in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day. Others have estimated that between 2008 and 2012, 33 million people were internally displaced within their countries as a result of conflict and 143 million people were internally displaced because of disasters.
The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly obvious in the developing world. We desperately need to help developing countries to make the adaptations that are required to cope with climate change. Over the past 15 years, under the millennium development goals, we have rightly seen a new focus on assistance for women in the areas of education and health. Too many women across the globe do not have access to education or to the basic medical services to which they ought to be entitled. Day in, day out, we see the important work that is done by NGOs, the Department for International Development and others in humanitarian crises around the world, whether in Syria, Gaza, the Philippines following last year’s typhoon or Iraq.
One has only to ask the Christians, Yazidis or the Syrians in Dohuk what aid means to them. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that embedding an expert from the Department for International Development in the Ministry of Interior in that part of the world, where there is a clear and present danger to our security, is equally as important as the hardware we are delivering to the peshmerga?
The hon. Gentleman has spent some time in Iraq in recent weeks, so I value his insight. He makes an important suggestion, and I am sure that colleagues in the Department have discussed the matter with him and will continue to debate it. He also illustrates how widely different levels of support can be given, which is important.
Development assistance makes a difference. The World Bank estimates that there are 700 million fewer people in extreme poverty now than there were three decades ago. Development assistance saves lives; it transforms lives. Used wisely, it creates the right conditions for economic growth, because the most powerful tool to take people out of poverty is to give them the means to look after themselves.
I am very much opposed to the right hon. Gentleman’s Bill, but I am looking forward to campaigning next week not necessarily alongside him, but with him in his constituency in the Scottish borders—where all my family come from—for the retention of this great United Kingdom of ours.
However worthy this Bill, spending priorities go to the heart of the battle at general elections. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why overseas aid should be singled out while spending on the defence of the realm is being cut? Spending on aid has gone up by £4 billion under this Government alone.
I say to my hon. Friend and his colleagues that I appreciate their argument about other spending commitments, and as he said, there is a political argument and debate to be had about that. I will return to the reasons why this Bill is before the House, based on previous political debates. In passing, I look forward to my hon. Friend’s presence in the Scottish borders next week.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the sort of countries on which we spent development aid in past years are now some of our most important trading partners, and countries that are emerging markets for Britain? It is not wasted money. It is obviously right to spend money on aid and development, but it is also in Britain’s interest.
The right hon. Gentleman has made important points about economic development for women. Does he agree that by tackling poverty in that way and supporting women’s progress, we are dealing not just with the needs of those women but with a benefit that translates into generations? Children having positive role models is in the long-term interests of us all.
The hon. Lady makes a different point but it goes to the theme of the previous intervention. This is about legacy. If we get this right now, invest in the right way and support people, they in turn will be able to support themselves, and their children and grandchildren will live very different lives.
No one in this House doubts the value of aid, and the various points we have heard concerning women and poverty. Of course that is right, and the more we can spend on aid overseas—we are a rich country—the better, but that is not what the Bill is about. The Bill is about writing that figure into law. Why should spending on overseas aid be written into law, but not the national health service or domestic spending of any kind? Why should overseas aid be the only thing written into law?
I hope that hon. Members will acknowledge that I have given way fairly generously over the past 10 minutes, which has meant that I have not yet advanced most of my arguments. Even if I slightly despair of persuading the hon. Gentleman in the course of my arguments, I hope he will allow me to make them.
The right hon. Gentleman said that overseas aid works. If it works so well, surely we should be aiming to reduce the amount we spend. We will spend a certain amount of money, and it will work so well that we will no longer need to spend that amount. If the aid has worked, those countries will have been able to sort themselves out and therefore we will be spending less. Why do we need to fix a high amount of money for aid in perpetuity? That in itself proves that such measures do not work.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his speech and on the excellent Bill he is presenting to the House. In response to those who intervened and mentioned defence, is he encouraged to remind them of the words of Nelson Mandela, who said that the greatest threat to peace on this earth is international poverty?
I acknowledge the important role played by the right hon. Gentleman as one of the original Ministers in DFID, and in piloting his own legislation through the House—I will refer to that briefly later in my remarks. I agree that this is a hugely important agenda, not just for now but for what it means for the future of people across the world.
In the United Kingdom, DFID continues to do hugely important work. Its 2013-14 report highlights that, over time, the Department has provided 43 million people with access to clean water, better sanitation or improved hygiene conditions. It has supported 10 million people—nearly 5 million of them girls—to go to primary and secondary school, and 3.6 million births have taken place safely that otherwise might not have done so. It has prevented 19 million children under five and pregnant women from going hungry, and reached 11 million people with emergency food assistance. A long, and I would argue impressive, list of work has been done by DFID in our name, and it is right that we should do that.
For reasons that have been advanced already from both sides of the House, this is not simply about our moral imperative and the importance of delivering for the poorest and most disadvantaged in the world; it is also about our interests in the UK. That is true in terms of jobs, as the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) made clear, but also more generally. The problems of other parts of the world do not stay local for long, and, as we know, issues such as migration, conflicts that draw us in, or whatever it might be, affect us daily. I therefore argue that this is no awkward choice between what is morally right and what is in our self-interest; this is in our interests and it is the right thing to do.
The challenges that I have touched on are not new. We have seen over many decades constant campaigning to tackle the fate and plight of those who are most disadvantaged. Much important work has been done by faith groups: the World Council of Churches stimulated the debate in the 1950s, and other faiths have been very much part of it too.
In 1970, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution that included this goal:
“Each economically advanced country will progressively increase its official development assistance to the developing countries and will exert its best efforts to reach a minimum net amount of 0.7 per cent of its gross national product at market prices by the middle of the Decade.”
That commitment was supported by the Labour Government in 1974 and by successive Governments. In 1997, we saw the creation of the Department for International Development, and the International Development Act 2002 enabled the Secretary of State to provide assistance to countries, territories and organisations if he or she was satisfied that such assistance would be likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. The International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, authored by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr Clarke), placed a requirement on the Secretary of State to report detailed information to Parliament.
The financial commitment more recently has also been critical. It began with a Labour Government. In 2004, a spending review pledge was made to reach the 0.7% target by 2013, and that was reaffirmed in the last Government’s 2009 White Paper. That commitment has gone on: in 2009, we spent £7.2 billion, or 0.5% of gross national income, on development assistance, and in 2013, historically, the coalition Government, supported by the Opposition, reached the target, spending £11.4 billion, or 0.72% of GNI, on development assistance. The 2013 spending review has committed us to that spending going forward:
“The Government remains committed to supporting those people across the world whose economies are most in need of development. This is in the UK’s national interest. Tackling global issues such as economic development, effective governance, climate change, conflict and fragile states provides good value for money.”
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing the Bill before the House, and I support what he is trying to do. Does he agree that this is partly about Parliament showing global leadership to other countries, which must also live up to their international commitments, and that by putting this in legislation we are encouraging those who have made similar commitments and not lived up to them to do so?
I thank the hon. Lady for being here to support my Bill and I welcome her observations. Yes, I absolutely endorse her point. I will be coming to it shortly myself.
We have made a lot of progress in recent times, and the UK can be proud of its leadership in that respect. However, challenges still remain. The millennium development goals, which started 14 years ago, are due for review next year. We have seen targets for reducing extreme poverty by half, achieving universal primary education and improving maternal health, but we have made patchy progress. Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa remains dire. More positively, we have made good progress on access to universal primary education, but there remains work to do.
During the financial downturn, across the world the level of official development assistance declined. In 2005, the UN highlighted that higher ODA spending was required and that the UN target had to be kept in place so that we could meet the millennium development goals. We remain short of achieving those goals, as we approach their temporary end point—the job is not done—and it is important that we commit to continuing our support. We should not give up now, having reached the target. As the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) said, maintaining our commitment will enable the UK to show leadership across the world. More practically, it will also enable our partners in the developing world to plan for the future, conscious that the money will be there year after year. It will also allow us to switch the focus from arguing about how much we should be spending to how we should spend it and ensuring it is spent properly.
My introducing the Bill today reflects the cross-party consensus. As the Liberal Democrat shadow spokesman on international development for three years before the 2010 election, I was part of this debate ahead of the election. All the party manifestos included the commitment. The Labour manifesto read:
“We remain committed to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on aid from 2013, and we will enshrine this commitment in law early in the next Parliament.”
The Liberal Democrat manifesto read:
“Liberal Democrats will increase the UK’s aid budget to reach the UN target of 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2013 and enshrine that target in law.”
The Conservative manifesto read:
“A new Conservative government will be fully committed to achieving, by 2013, the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income as aid. We will stick to the rules laid down by the OECD about what spending counts as aid. We will legislate in the first session of a new Parliament to lock in this level of spending for every year from 2013.”
The Scottish National party and others included similar commitments in their manifestos, and in the coalition agreement in 2010 we said:
“We will honour our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid from 2013, and to enshrine this commitment in law.”
The Bill would ensure we do that. Clause 1 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to meet the UN’s 0.7% target on an ongoing basis; clause 2 talks about the duty to lay a statement before Parliament if the target is not met; clause 3 deals with accountability to this place; clause 4 would repeal section 3 of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act, as the 0.7% target will now have been reached; and clause 5 would set up an independent international development office, which fits with the long title of the Bill:
“to make provision for independent verification that ODA is spent efficiently and effectively”.
It is important that we match the statutory target with some form of statutory oversight. Large sums of public money are being spent, as many have already highlighted, and of course there are well documented examples of abuse, corruption and other issues we have to deal with. It is vital that the public have confidence that we are spending this money wisely and reaching the objectives set.
I have put in the Bill a proposal that builds on previous draft Bills and efforts in this House, but I believe that the principle, rather than the specific measures, is the critical issue. I welcome the constructive engagement of Ministers, and I acknowledge their concerns, but should we secure a Second Reading today, I hope we can revisit the matter in Committee.
Before concluding, I will turn briefly to Scotland, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) mentioned. We are in the midst of an almighty debate about our future. As a result, many Scottish colleagues are understandably absent today, and those here, on both sides of the argument, will, like me, be heading home immediately after this debate. I am particularly grateful to those who have taken the trouble to be here today. I say to my friends all across Scotland that development is a small but really important part of the debate. Reaching the UN’s target was an achievement of the United Kingdom as a whole, with Scotland an important part of it. As part of the UK, Scotland belongs to a family of nations that are the world’s second-largest donors of international aid.
We are not passive in this process either: 40% of DFID staff are based in Abercrombie House in East Kilbride, which I had the privilege to visit twice with the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), when he was Secretary of State. Together with the rest of the United Kingdom, our money goes further and our impact is stronger. Scots who want their country to be a force for compassion and relief should reflect on what we have today and recognise that we can do more as part of the United Kingdom. Why would we walk away from all of that?
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has gone off at this strange tangent. Is he not aware that the Scottish Government have made it particularly clear that we will be bound by the UN target and will write it into the constitution of an independent Scotland? Does he not think it significant that countries that have met the target include Denmark, Norway and even Luxembourg—small, independent north European countries? Scotland has the ability and the will to do this. It is interesting that it has taken the United Kingdom some 30 years to get to this stage, when many of these smaller countries were there in the 1970s.
I hope the tone of the debate will not deteriorate too rapidly. I thought I was making the point in a perfectly reasonable and positive way. The House and those outside it will have noted what the hon. Gentleman had to say. My argument is simple: as part of the United Kingdom, we are the first of the G7 to have reached this target. Yes, small countries have led the way, but here we are as part of a rather big country that has made that commitment. Scotland provides leadership and thinking in terms of policy making and what the Department does, and I think we should celebrate that and look to continue it.
The plight of the world’s poorest people remains a scar on all our consciences and it is something we think deeply about. The injustice suffered by millions is not something we can turn our backs on. We have unfinished business. The United Kingdom has, over decades, demonstrated leadership, providing support for those most in need. Today, with this Bill, I hope we can continue to show it.
Let me first thank the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), for introducing this important Bill. Let me say, too, that all Members deserve thanks for the way this country has met the target of contributing 0.7% of our national income in aid over these last few years. I hope the background to this debate is that we wish to keep the promises we have made for the future.
Anyone who goes to the children’s museum in Rwanda will see a photograph of a young boy called David. Below that photograph, people will see a number of words that summarise the problem that we have and are dealing with. It says only a few things about the life of this young boy: “David, age 10; favourite sport, football; favourite hobby, making people laugh; ambition, to be a doctor.” Then it says: “Death by mutilation; last words, ‘the United Nations are coming to help us’”. That young boy in his innocence and his idealism believed that the international community was coming to his aid. He believed that what we had said about what we would do in a genocide would lead to action. He believed that when we made promises, we in the international community would keep them. It is to our shame that that young boy died, believing that help would come when it never did.
Now it is too late to keep our promises to that young boy David, but what we are talking about today is how we keep the promises we have made as a country and as an international community. What we are talking about is whether the parties that signed pledges during the last few years—the coalition agreement contained those pledges—are prepared to uphold these pledges, which said specifically that the 0.7% target would be legislated for and put on the statute book by this House and by the House of Lords.
We have not even recently kept the promises that we made in another area. “Why have you abandoned us?”—the five words that a young girl from Syria said to me when she was pleading for help for her country and her family, now that she was exiled in Lebanon. That young girl had been forced out of her home in Homs, her family had been forced into exile and her disabled sister had been forced out on to the streets. She was now in a shack in Lebanon. Yes, she wanted food; yes, she wanted shelter; and yes, she wanted medicine for her sister, but she said to me that she also wanted to go to school. She thought she might be able to go to the schools in Lebanon, and she asked us whether we could make international aid available so that she and other exiled refugees could do that.
The Lebanon Government—I appreciate that the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) has just been there—offered to help. They said they would do a double-shift system in the schools by opening up the schools in the evenings so that young people from Syria would have the chance of being educated after the Lebanese children had had their own education earlier in the day. We devised a plan that would cost $200 million and would enable nearly 500,000 children to go to school. That is $4 a week per child—a cost-effective way of getting children back into school.
The British Government have put up money—I thank the Secretary of State for International Development, who is in her place today, for that—as have other Governments, but the brute fact is that 300,000 of these 500,000 children who could go to school are not able to do so because the international aid community has refused to put up enough money to make it possible. While we have achieved $100 million of the $200 million target, we have not been able realise the simple matter of providing $4 a week to get a child into education in Lebanon. It is not because there are no schools for them to go; it is not because we are ignorant of the plight; it is not because there are not enough people willing to help and make it possible: it is because there is a need for international aid, and that aid has not yet been met.
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful emotional argument, which we can all understand and support. He will be aware, however, that serious academic studies, not least by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee and the Centre for Global Development, question the effectiveness of this target. For instance, they say that
“the speed of the planned increase risks reducing the quality, value for money and accountability of the aid programme”,
“the right amount of aid for poor countries should not be based on the size of rich economies but on the needs of a particular poor country itself.”
Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to those serious academic arguments?
First of all, I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that his party made a promise, and it is a duty of a party that makes a promise to try to keep it, to do what the party said and to legislate in law. The problem we face with the general public is that we make promises, but the public still do not trust us to keep them. That is why it is important that this debate leads to action and results. As for the cost-effectiveness of aid, let me provide the hon. Gentleman with another example, and then others might like to enter the debate.
I have recently been to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the newest country in the world, which is trying to move forward. I went to a village school just outside Juba and I asked the women there—young mothers, many of whom had been child brides at the age of 12 or 13—what they wanted most. Of course, as I said about those in Syria and Lebanon, they needed food, protection, shelter and security, as they were in the midst of the threats and violence that come whenever there is a civil war, but they also said that what they wanted was education for their children.
I went to a small village hut school just outside Juba that was serving that village. There were 20 young children in that very small, one-hut school. What I remember seeing was 100 children outside the school looking in through a portal—one small window in this hut of a school—at something that they could not have because there were only 20 places for a village of hundreds of people.
The plan was drawn up for $200 million to be spent on educating the children of South Sudan. Only a third of children are at school and there are only about 60 girls in the final year of secondary education. The plan cost $4 a week—$200 a year—for these children to get education. The problem was not the willingness of the Government to do it or that there were no plans to do it; the problem was that nobody in the international community was able to come up with the extra $100 million—for a cost-effective project that, at $4 a week, nobody could doubt would be worth the money—despite efforts by this Government and others. Nobody in the international community was able to bring together the $200 million that might have brought children to school.
If anybody is in any doubt about other services, let me say this about education. Education unlocks the future. Education unlocks opportunity. The reason why we can cut child mortality and maternal mortality is that the death rate for educated people and educated mothers is half that of others. If anybody is in any doubt about what education has been able to do, there are 400,000 children who have been brought into school as a result of the aid budget of this Government and the previous Governments, in a way that did not happen before 2000.
We are, as the right hon. Gentleman correctly says, spending 0.7% now and not achieving the various things that he has listed. We all support international aid—of course we do; there is no question about that at all. The question is simply whether there is any advantage in writing the figure of 0.7% into the law of the land. If so, why should we do that for children around the world when we do not do it for British children with cancer, for example?
We can talk about other areas of policy, but let me remind the House that every party made a promise. Every party debated and discussed this, and every party decided that they would legislate so that aid was a requirement at 0.7% and that the Government would honour that, so the hon. Gentleman is saying to his own party that it made a mistake in doing so. If that is his view, let him have the debate with his own party.
Let me respond to the point about cost-effective aid. I do not think the hon. Gentleman knows this figure, but the average amount of aid for education—I will come to health in a minute—for a sub-Saharan African child, in all the poorest countries of Africa, from the international aid agencies, Britain and America, put together is $13 a year per child. We spend £5,000 a year on the education of a child in Britain. The average amount of aid for a child in Africa, at $13, is barely enough to pay for a second-hand textbook, and he is somehow suggesting that this is not cost-effective and is too much.
If we take a leadership position on this and enshrine it in law and then other countries follow suit, would that not also give the NGOs working on the ground much more clarity and predictability on spending and planning for smart aid for all the good causes that the right hon. Gentleman talks about?
The hon. Gentleman puts absolutely the right argument, which I will now come to. By legislating in this House, we could be a catalyst for other countries to do more. We would be in a position for the long term to say to countries and Governments who are not spending enough domestically on education, health and anti-poverty programmes that we will match whatever extra money they give over a longer period of time. We would be giving certainty to our aid budget for many years ahead. It seems to me that those who are protesting today also ignore the fact that on average we spend only about £1.50 per child—all aid agencies put together—on the vaccination programme in Africa.
I am grateful; it is good to hear the right hon. Gentleman being so shameless about promises when he broke one on the Lisbon treaty.
On the point that if we spent 0.7% of our GNI on aid, every other country would follow us, how is it that as we have increased our aid budget, other countries have reduced the proportion they spend on aid? Is it not the case that they are using our increased spending as an excuse to reduce theirs? The right hon. Gentleman is giving the CND argument of the 1980s that if we were to get rid of our nuclear weapons, every other country would follow.
We know we are on a filibuster when a Conservative Member starts mentioning the Lisbon treaty and then mentions CND in the 1980s.
Why does the hon. Gentleman not get to the heart of the issue? Let us take one country—Sierra Leone: one health worker for every 5,000 people; the UK: one to 77. Sierra Leone has 100 doctors for a population that is bigger than Scotland’s, and 200 nurses and 100 midwives. Do we say as a result of that that the small amount of aid we give—the $12 per person for education and the $50 per person for health in sub-Saharan Africa—is too much? Do we say that it is too generous or too wasteful?
Let us project into the future. We know that this has been a summer of conflict—six wars around the world—and a summer of carnage for children. When we have 1.5 million child refugees displaced from Syria, with refugees in Iraq, Gaza, the Central African Republic and also South Sudan, how can we possibly justify not making a law that suggests that the small amounts of money that are given by the international community, which can make an absolutely huge difference, should continue? My claim is based not just on the success of what we have done and the enormity of what we still have to do, but on the cost-effectiveness of most of the aid that I see delivered by DFID and many other aid Departments round the world.
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking with great authority. Having been in Jordan just last month and seen the schools operating there, partly funded by us, I do not think anybody can doubt the necessity of what continuity and sustainability of funding brings to education for those displaced people. On health, Ethiopia was the first place I ever visited as a Member of Parliament, where I learnt the shocking statistic that there were more Ethiopian doctors in New York than in the whole of Ethiopia. Do we not need to ensure the continuity and sustainability of aid, so that we build up a force of professionals who can stay in those countries to bring the health, education and business development that they so desperately need and with which this Bill can help?
The hon. Gentleman makes the argument for a long-term commitment to aid—for building up the capacity of health care systems in those countries; for encouraging them to invest for the long term; and for paying the doctors sufficient salaries in those countries so that they stay in them. Does he not also make a point that Government Members who oppose what we are doing should listen to—that if we can be a catalyst for other countries, if we can make a long-term commitment to aid and if we can honour our promises, we have a chance, as a large country, of influencing the rest of the international community?
I am going to move on and finish so that other people can speak.
Is this Parliament really prepared to send the message to the rest of the world that, after 40 years of fighting to reach the 0.7% target—it was 0.27% in 1997; we moved it to 0.3% by 2000, then to 0.4%, to 0.5% by 2006, and to 0.6% by 2010, and then, to the credit of the coalition Government, to 0.7% by 2013—and all this time spent climbing to the top of the mountain and reaching this elevated view, we are going to slide down again by making no commitment in law that in future we will meet the targets we have set?
I just want to reinforce the point about the predictability of funding. In support of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, we are privileged that we can now see the impact of this policy, which proves that this is worthwhile spending and very efficient, not least when we look at malaria, in which I know he has been seriously engaged, and it goes above all politics and across this House. We have managed to reduce the number of deaths in sub-Saharan Africa from malaria over the last 18 months from 2 million down to 672,000. What more proof do we need about the predictability of funding?
I apologise; I should have allowed the former Minister to intervene earlier, and I congratulate him on the work he did. He makes a very big point, which in my view is also an answer to the point made by the Scottish National party. Without bringing politics into this, it is absolutely clear that the only reason we were able to secure debt relief of $200 billion, which meant that about 20 to 30 countries were able to spend money on health, education and anti-poverty programmes, where they were previously spending it on interest, is because we had the power of the large countries coming together in the G7 which were forced to make a decision that other countries were prepared to follow. If Britain had not proposed that at the G7—Scotland could not, as an independent country, have been at the G7—and if the big countries had not got together, we would never have achieved the $200 billion reduction in debt as a result. We have said that aid is cost-effective. I am suggesting that aid can also be thought of as long-term by building the capacity for the future.
I am saying that we can be a catalyst for other countries, but I also want to say one thing in conclusion. It is said that we can survive for 40 days without food, for eight days without water and for eight minutes without air, but we cannot survive for a minute without hope, and this debate is also about hope.
A friend of mine was at an international conference in Africa and she was making the point, which perhaps we would all have been tempted to make, that aid is not about pity; it is about empathy. It is not just about having sympathy for people; it is about helping people, because we think the same way as they do about their responsibilities to each other. She said that people would do everything for their children. But after her talk someone quietly took her aside and said one of the most devastating things I think I have ever heard. He said, “I can’t love my children as much as you love yours in the west. I can’t allow myself to, because then it would destroy me when I lose them.”
How can we continue to live in a world where in a country such as Ethiopia families did not register the births of their children for months because of the fear that they were going to die in their infancy—where a father or a mother can say that they cannot love their child too much because of the fear that they are going to lose them? How can we live, therefore, in a world where there is not hope and expectation that things could get better?
Let our debate today be a message that there can be hope for the future, enshrined in law. Let us ensure that we can say that to millions of people who thought things were hopeless and that we not only kept our promises, but we kept hope alive.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). He speaks with passion—passion that he showed on this subject throughout his years as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister. He speaks with authority, too, as a representative of the international community. I fear I will not be able to match the authority and passion with which he has spoken, but I have seen the photograph of which he spoke in Rwanda, as I have worked there during the summers for a number of years, and yesterday I had the experience of visiting, and speaking to, Syrian refugees as they were registered at the UNHCR registration centre in Beirut. It was a harrowing experience, during which I struggled to maintain my composure, and my thoughts go out to those young people who do back-to-back interviews all day as they register those refugees with the most appalling stories.
So I acknowledge the work the right hon. Gentleman has done, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be going to the United Nations General Assembly on the 24th of this month to make sure we drive forward the agenda that there should be no lost generation in education, and she will be focusing particularly on raising funds for those Syrians to be educated, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon. And Her Majesty’s ambassador, the right hon. Gentleman’s former assistant private secretary, Tom Fletcher, made absolutely clear to me yesterday the importance of the role that the right hon. Gentleman has in this matter.
Some weeks ago earlier this summer, during questions to the Department for International Development an hon. Gentleman, in chiding us for spending so much on international development, told the House that charity should begin at home. Well, it should; it would not be charity if it did not, but I rather suspect that those who coined the phrase had precisely the opposite meaning in mind to the one he attributed to it. For them, charity was indivisible—if you are charitable, you are charitable wherever you are—and it was to be a standing challenge to those who, like the Pharisee, rejoiced over their good works in public while treating their family and their servants with meanness.
That was the true meaning of the term, but that hon. Gentleman’s mistake was even more fundamental, because international development aid is not charity. Charity is what we dip our hand into our own pocket and distribute. Taxpayers’ money is taken from our pocket without our leave, with all the coercive power of the law behind it, so it is essential that it is spent in the national interest.
The Minister and I have stood shoulder to shoulder for the last 25 years in this place arguing as Conservatives that we should be judged not by how much we spend on something, but by the value for money of what we achieve. Is that not a fair Conservative viewpoint? I and those who share my views on this Bill may be in a minority in this Chamber today, but many millions of Conservatives in the country support what we are saying.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and he makes a powerful point.
I have no doubt that this is money well spent and in the taxpayer’s interests. We live in a dangerous and disordered world. We are beset: one need only look at the port of Calais to see how many people come from all sorts of desperate circumstances in desperate countries all over the world, where poverty and injustice and misgovernance have reigned for generations. If we wish to see those movements of population reduced, it is in our interests to invest in good governance and in economic growth in some of those countries.
The Minister is making an extremely passionate speech and I agree with much of what he is saying. Does he agree with me that how we behave in the world in this regard is simply not a zero-sum game for this country? This is about getting it right in our diplomacy, in our defence and in our development assistance, and those three things together can make a huge difference in those countries of conflict and instability that he spoke about and act in our own national interest at the same time.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point, and I believe he is absolutely on the money.
In respect of the growth of international terrorism, we have rightly become concerned in recent weeks over that strange phenomenon of the foreign fighter—the person with prospects, from a good home and with qualifications, who suddenly decides to go abroad and fight for the most extraordinary cause in the most bloodcurdling and violent and disordered way. They follow a long tradition of middle-class terrorists, be it the Baader-Meinhof or the Manson gang or the Red Brigades or the Sendero Luminoso. No doubt they will be the source of many academic treatises and doctoral theses, but undoubtedly the main recruiting ground—the overwhelming recruiting ground for terrorism—is the desperation of poverty, injustice and misgovernance, where young people have no prospect whatsoever but to take up arms and embrace the most desperate ideologies.
The Minister says that if we spend all of this money we will be safer, but as we have spent more on overseas aid our security threat level has actually gone up, not down, so that clearly is not working. We are being painted a picture suggesting that if we spend all of this money,people will stop coming in from Calais and poverty will be alleviated around the world, but we are spending the money, so this clearly is not working. Why is it that we are opposed to welfare dependency at home but we are entrenching it abroad?
We have only just reached the target. This is a sustained process, and we are just at the beginning of it. That is why we have the Bill. It is our hope that, as the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath said, by taking a lead on this, we will encourage others to follow. This is not a crusade. This is a matter of public policy in which we hope the rest of the world will follow us.
I salute my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for standing by his word, but there is no evidence that other countries are following the lead that he has taken. Germany is a wealthier country than ours, and it spends 0.38%. The United States is even wealthier, yet it spends only 0.19%. I salute the passion of my right hon. Friend the Minister, but the logic of his argument seems to be that we should be spending even more than we already are. He is seeking to ring-fence one area of public spending while another vital area—defence—is allowed to go hang.
Does the Minister agree that the argument that the investment of international development money somehow creates a dependency culture is seriously flawed, given that it is being invested to make communities more sustainable and to make people better able to trade their way out of their difficulties, rather than being dependent on aid for the rest of their lives?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. That is the nub of the argument. As the Select Committee in the other place pointed out, international development aid can be misspent, and it can have a perverse effect when that happens. However, this has been one of the most transparent Governments, and we have set up the independent commission to ensure that what we spend is well spent.
I shall digress briefly. There is a minor issue on which I take a different view from that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), the promoter of the Bill. I am confident that the procedures and institutions that we have put in place to hold the Government to account on their commitment—the Select Committee, the independent commission, questions in this House—are adequate. That, however, is a matter that we can return to in Committee, and I was glad that he acknowledged that fact.
On the subject of welfare dependency, is not India a measure of the success of transitioning poor countries into sustainability? It has the largest number of people living in poverty, but DFID now focuses its aid resources on only the two states that are most in need of help. The other states have now succeeded in moving to sustainability; indeed, they are now our trade partners.
Does the Minister agree that saving a child’s life by vaccinating that child is not really about welfare dependency but about saving a life? I personally would not want this country to do any less than it is doing. I think that we are vaccinating a child every two seconds at the moment.
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. I do not believe that any of our expenditure in that line creates dependency; it is designed to reduce dependency.
There are all sorts of arguments to be had about whether the figure should be 0.7%, and a long debate might be had on that basis. Indeed, we might be having one today. All I can say is that, as an elected politician, I feel that I am bound by the commitments I have made. I made a commitment to 0.7% at the last general election, and I intend to stick with it. That is the Government’s policy.
The debate so far has been rather unfortunate. People seem to be saying that if someone supports the Bill, they are compassionate and care about the world, but if they oppose it, they are a heartless rotter. I do not believe that that is the case. I strongly support the figure of 0.7%, and I agree with everything that has been said about supporting poor people around the world. That is not the question. The question is why this needs to be written into the United Kingdom’s statute book. It is not about whether or not we support aid. Why should there be a law?
Because this has been an international aspiration for so long, and because it is an issue on which we wish to take the lead. We are leading in this matter, and that gives our country enormous authority when we speak on these matters. And I am glad to say that the young people of this country are passionate about this, as I see in school after school in my constituency. I hope that their parents will be as proud as they are of our achievements. I hope that those young people will go home and tell them how many children we have vaccinated this year, and how much we have done for those who are less fortunate than they are. In that respect, I urge my hon. Friends and all hon. Members to support the Bill.
It is a delight to follow the Minister of State, Department for International Development, the right hon. Member for New Forest West (Mr Swayne) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). I share their commitment to the Bill, but I cannot share their passion today because I do not have all of my voice. I have been touring around Scotland, and not always finding welcoming or happy audiences. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath will appreciate the irony that this is one of the friendliest audiences I have faced in the past few months.
I want to start by welcoming everyone who is here today, not least the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), the promoter of the Bill, and two former Secretaries of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who have demonstrated that the commitment and passion they brought to the job can continue long after they have left it. For them, international development has become a lifelong passion.
I also want to pay tribute to someone who, unfortunately, cannot be with us today. Last week, I met my friend Jim Dobbin, and we talked about his commitment to the Bill that we are discussing today. He told me how much he was looking forward to being here today. He had made a commitment to be here, and he had issued press releases and photographs and much else besides. He shared with many of us a passion for international development. He was the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on child health and vaccine-preventable diseases. He and I shared a passing interest in a Glasgow football team and a love of Scotland. We also shared a faith, although I always felt that he had the lion’s share of that faith. He was a good friend, and Pat and the family have rightly been in many people’s thoughts over the past few days. He is missed today; he is not in his place and he will not be able to join us in making a speech.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk on his Bill. As I am sure he knows, he has much support from both sides of the House. He has already heard the brilliant speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath. The right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk rightly pointed out that the provisions of the Bill featured in all three party manifestos and in the coalition agreement. Members on both sides of the House passionately support the legislation.
Does the shadow Secretary of State accept that although there is widespread support for the Bill in the House today, there is no guarantee that a future Parliament will be made up of people who are committed to allocating 0.7% of GDP to international aid? That is why it is important to have the Bill. We must ensure that a future Government who may not want to retain that commitment will have to do an awful lot to move away from it.
The hon. Gentleman is right to make that point: this legislation seeks to enshrine in law what we are doing now, together. It is a proposal we all support across this House, and we are enshrining in law a current policy that Labour Members argued for and that the Government have started to implement—we welcome that warmly. Of course a future Government would not just be able to undo, with a stroke of a pen, so much of the good work done, and would have to seek to repeal the legislation if they wished to undermine and renege on this 0.7% figure. This would not just be about a line through an annual budget.
Government is about priorities, and we are already achieving this budget. Is the shadow Minister surprised that in giving his wholehearted support to this Bill and ensuring its passage into Committee, the Minister is ensuring that the EU referendum Bill—the Government claim this is a passionate part of our belief that we are determined to bring forward—will never happen?
I do not have much voice left to talk about referendums, so let us concentrate on one at a time. I thought the Minister made a good, passionate and personal speech. I am more surprised that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) is intending to vote against the manifesto commitment he stood on at the last general election than I am by anything the Minister said.
Labour Members believe that if the Bill becomes law, it will secure a vital marker in a journey that can be traced back through the establishment of the Department for International Development by the incoming Labour Government in 1997 and the adoption of this target by the Government back in 1974. In supporting the Bill, I wish to make four brief arguments: aid is needed; aid, properly targeted, is effective; fixing this target is correct; and investment must come with safeguards.
First, on the case for aid, for all the dry language of spending targets and goals, or statistics and shortfalls, on a scale of millions and billions, it is important not to forget what official development assistance is really about. As the former Prime Minister my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has said, we live in an unequal world: 1 million babies a year die on their first and only day of life; one in eight people go to bed hungry each and every night; 1.5 billion people are trapped in the brutality of conflict-affected and fragile states; 58 million children are unable to go to school; and 20,000 under-fives die every year from easily curable diseases.
Impersonal figures, however, mask the human reality. Let me give just two examples. The 3 million-strong refugee crisis in Syria is impossible to appreciate, and although the scale is terrifying, the tragedy is personal. Like other hon. Members from both sides of the House, I have travelled to the countries that border Syria’s war. In the Beka’a valley I met a mother and father from Aleppo who had fled the fighting with their five children. The father was desperate to work and the mother was trying very hard to keep the household together. The children were grateful for the chance to go to school, but they were unable to do what they really wanted, which was to have the chance not to go to school but to go home. They were trapped in their camp, and despite the tremendous will and resilience of its inhabitants, the overriding feature is immense human misery. That is just one family story among the millions, and I would argue that we can never look the other way. I am pleased that the UK Government are investing on the current scale.
My second example comes from my visit to the Philippines following the destruction wrought by Typhoon Haiyan. During my time on Leyte island with the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, we visited a sports field in Tanauan. The local priest pointed to a patch of disturbed turf no bigger than a penalty box and told us that there was a mass grave, home to 1,000 bodies. It was a vast unmarked grave. As a result of wars, natural disasters and the accidents of geography and parental wealth that leave so many disadvantaged to the point of extreme poverty and the risk of death from the day they are born, there is no question but that there are people all around the world who need our support. On some of the big global challenges, the support of development aid can make a difference.
Mr Speaker, I am advised that if I do not finish my speech by 11 am, I will be interrupted. I am therefore going to curtail my arguments, with your permission, and therefore some of the potential interventions.
My second argument is that British aid works. The support we give saves and changes lives. Today’s debate should be generally free of partisan rancour, and I am sure that all Members in the House will reflect on some of the achievements. In the same way as Labour Members acknowledge the work currently being done by this Government, I hope this Government will acknowledge the achievements of the previous Labour Government in helping to lift 3 million people out of poverty every year, helping some 40 million children into school and helping to fight against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, as well as forging the millennium development goals.
I was privileged, as Chair of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, to visit some work that is being undertaken in Tanzania and is sponsored by DFID and the Gates Foundation. The Liverpool school of tropical medicine is putting a huge amount of work into that. It is clear, as our report spells out, that the result of that work does leave a lasting legacy—it is a legacy of which we should be proud.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct on that. He talks about his experience in Tanzania and the sense of pride in some of the remarkable achievements on international development under the previous Labour Government. Many hundreds of thousands of lives were saved and transformed. It is important that we take that impulse, instinct and record and try to enshrine them in law.
My third point is that promises without action mean nothing, which is why we must lead. Many other rich nations are not pulling their weight: the UN appeal for Syria is almost 60% underfunded; just five richer nations have hit the 0.7% target; and the second most generous G8 member state is France, with a figure of about 0.4%. That is not a reason for us to do less; it is a reason to convince others to do more. After a process begun by Labour and continued under this Government—again, I commend them for it—ours is the only G8 nation to hit the target. Just as we have built international coalitions in the past, we must do so again to urge others to go further.
My final argument is that we are not giving a blank cheque. A fixed commitment from the UK is no blank cheque for wasteful spending. Taxpayers’ money must be guarded in every Department, but in one where a small amount of money can save a life, every pound wasted is a lost opportunity to save a life. That is why we welcome the provisions being introduced by the right hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk in his Bill, and we look forward to discussing the details on the oversight in Committee.
Finally, this Bill honours a commitment our country gave more than four decades ago to the world’s poor. It is a promise we have reaffirmed time and again, and it is a law that each of the main parties promised to legislate for in our manifestos. Passing this Bill is without doubt the right thing to do, and we should go further. British aid should not be treated as some sort of hidden secret. At times it feels that the consensus in this House has never been stronger, but that very sense has contributed to a lack of a heated debate on aid, implying that there is complacency. Often with the British public it feels that we are losing an argument that we are not properly making. Protecting the DFID budget while most other Departments are being cut of course leads to some anxiety, but we have to make an argument. Not only is development investment saving lives abroad, but it is improving the chances of our own nation, and not only in terms of trading with newly prosperous countries: such investment can help make our people and our country safer. The careful investment of world-class diplomacy and world-leading development can sometimes avoid the painful cure of military action, denying the opportunity for inequality to grow where terrorism and those who wish us malevolence exploit the sense of worthlessness and hopelessness that visits far too many families.
We should be proud of what we are seeking to achieve today. A very small Bill, on just a few sheets of paper, will save many hundreds of thousands of lives of people we will never meet and whose names we will never know. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his Bill, and we will, in years to come, look back with a real sense of pride on what we are, together, achieving today.