We continue to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on aid, and that is enshrined in law. We will continue to be guided by the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015, including a commitment to spending on reducing poverty, and we believe we will be stronger in that aim as one Department.
The Secretary of State will soon be responsible for a sizeable amount of official development aid, so can the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for the future FCDO will be bound by the same rules for aid spending as the current International Development Secretary, including the four key Acts of Parliament that currently govern international development?
Those with long memories will remember the Pergau dam scandal of the 1990s, where the High Court found that the Government had unlawfully provided aid in exchange for a lucrative arms contract. That was one reason why the Labour Government made the Department for International Development a separate and independent Department from the Foreign Office. What steps will the Government be taking to ensure that we do not see a repeat of the Pergau dam scandal in the future?
We do not need a separate Department to learn lessons from the past, but that type of transaction would be wholly inappropriate and would not happen under this ministerial team.
The UK is rightly proud of its commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on international aid. The decision by the Government to merge these Departments has been met with criticism by some world-leading international development charities. Former Prime Ministers have also criticised the decision, with David Cameron describing it as a “mistake”. Our international aid commitment can and does save lives, so will the Minister confirm that the budget for international aid will be ring-fenced within a future Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office?
We are bound by law to spend 0.7%, so it is not a choice; it is in the law, and we will obey the law. I was one of David Cameron’s Ministers in the Foreign Office in that period, and I found a lack of joined-up thinking. I worked well with DFID, but I think this will work better as one Department and it has already worked better with a Joint Minister.