Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South, Labour)
As I have said, I am happy to have both main parties' records scrutinised. We trebled aid, whereas the previous Conservative Government halved it. My right hon. Friend played an honourable and distinguished role in ensuring that, through the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, there is effective scrutiny by the House of the rising budget line we delivered year on year. [Interruption.] Forgive me, but I will continue to speak through Mr Deputy Speaker.
I can assure hon. Members that I support the legislation that the Labour party proposed and brought to the International Development Committee for scrutiny. I would welcome the opportunity for our legislation to be passed expeditiously.
There is the question of where and how our aid money is allocated across Government, and on what it is spent. We believe that the majority of our overseas development assistance should naturally be programmed and allocated by the Department for International Development. We were joined in that view by the Secretary of State's now Cabinet colleague the Scottish Secretary, who warned during the recent general election campaign of the danger that Conservative plans could mean large sums ending up being diverted from the aid budget-for example, to count as climate finance in due course.
"Dear Andrew...I am flattered by the attention that your researchers are paying to us, but would politely suggest that their efforts would be better spent explaining to voters and the 'development community' how Conservative plans for DfID would work; specifically, the very real danger that under your proposals DfID departmental expenditure would leak to other departments such as the MoD and the FCO, what exactly is meant by 'injecting business DNA into the department' and how exactly your proposed annual monitoring could hope to work for multi annual programmes.
In other words, time better spent answering the very serious points raised by the NGOs and others about your own manifesto.
With kind regards,
Elsewhere in that intriguing exchange of letters, the Secretary of State attacked the now Scottish Secretary and the now Business Secretary for "undermining" the consensus on international development.
However, I am glad to say that it appears that the differences between the Conservatives and the Liberals have been resolved-in the same way that a python resolves its differences with a mouse. In the coalition programme for government, we see no mention of additionality in climate finance, despite the fact that climate finance is such a crucial issue, as has been recognised across the House today. In contrast, we made it clear in government that from 2013 we would ensure that additional sources of climate finance would be provided, with no more than 10% of our aid spending being allocated to that purpose. The Liberal Democrats had also called for additional climate finance, but alas, like their promises on VAT, this now appears to have been another promise that has been conveniently forgotten. Will the Minister of State therefore tell us whether the Government intend to make any form of additional climate finance available, from what point, and from what sources? If he answers that none will be provided, perhaps he can tell us what he feels the prospects are for the climate negotiations in Cancun later this year, in the absence, as yet, of post-2013 commitments from the Government.
I would also appreciate it if the Minister could explain in more detail than we heard from the Secretary of State what is meant by the Government's proposals for a military-led "stabilisation and reconstruction force". We took a pragmatic but appropriate approach to stabilisation in government, recognising the complementary but distinct roles that development, diplomacy and defence should play in places such as Afghanistan. In one of the bloodiest weeks of the conflict, our thoughts must be with the families and loved ones of those British soldiers who have fallen in the service of their country in recent days. The sacrifice of our troops in Afghanistan demands that those charged with the heavy responsibility of overseeing the mission should bring strategic clarity to that onerous and important task.
The Prime Minister confirmed to the House in recent days his commitment to the counter-insurgency campaign in which NATO is engaged. That of course requires military force, but in the words of the US army's counter-insurgency field manual, authored by the new commander, General David Petraeus, action is also required to
"uphold the rule of law, and provide a basic level of essential services and security for the populace."
My personal conversations with General Petraeus confirmed to me the depths of his personal commitment to a comprehensive approach that requires more than just military pressure, yet since coming into government, the Secretary of State's colleague the Defence Secretary has declared:
"We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of education policy in a broken 13th century country".
Such ignorance of the key tenets of strategic doctrine, even from a new Defence Secretary, is as surprising as it is worrying.
For progress to be achieved through a comprehensive approach to counter-insurgency-and so that the war be ended-what is required is both strengthening of the state and its legitimacy, and striving for a political settlement, as surely as also weakening the Taliban militarily. Under such an approach, diplomatic, development and defence efforts will all play a crucial part in bringing about the conditions under which our brave forces can return home. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister explain to us in more detail how the proposed force will be funded, managed and directed?
As I have intervened to suggest, the Secretary of State has also been at pains in recent days to stress the importance of
"redesigning our aid programmes so that they build in rigorous evaluation processes from day one."
Perhaps the Minister of State will take the opportunity-avoided by the Secretary of State-to explain the outputs of the £200 million that has been announced by the Prime Minister, most recently on his welcome trip to Afghanistan.
Let me turn to the crucial issue of basic services such as health, education and clean water. I am concerned by what I know to be the ideological approach taken by many on the Government Benches about the role of the private sector in the provision of basic services. Instead of seeing steps forward such as those that were recently taken in Sierra Leone, where health care was made free for pregnant women and babies, I fear that we could see ill-advised and ideological voucher schemes, or other forms of private subsidy that fail to catalyse wider change and are more likely to exclude the marginalised and the poorest. Does the Minister of State intend to continue promoting the removal of user fees, including through the establishment of a centre for progressive health financing? Can he also assure the House that he will make efforts, as we pledged to do, to raise the crucial issue of water and sanitation further up the international agenda?
Related to that, there is the question of our effort and engagement on those vital issues. As we have already revealed in these exchanges, when it comes to international negotiations and diplomacy, it requires real and sustained effort and personal engagement at the highest levels to make the sort of difference that is demanded by the scale of the challenges that we face. So it was, again, sad but revealing that, when questioned in the House last week, the Prime Minister could not confirm whether he had even spoken to President Zuma, other African leaders or even other donors before the crucial summit on education in South Africa in a few weeks' time. Perhaps the Minister of State could tell us what efforts the DFID ministerial team has been making to ensure that the summit is a success.
The Secretary of State has launched a review of multilateral and bilateral funding from DFID. I do not disagree with that approach-indeed, we regularly undertook similar reviews-but he needs to be clear about whether this is a serious review or whether he is merely creating straw men before destroying them. At the announcement of the bilateral programme review, he simply got it wrong by talking about Russia, when DFID has not had a bilateral programme in Russia since 2007. Clearly he is now belatedly catching up with the facts on China, too, since as recently as
"the China aid programme will end next year."
He also knows full well since coming into office, thanks to the reviews that I and other Ministers regularly undertook, that it was already the case that 90% of our bilateral aid was focused on just 23 countries, and the vast majority of that on the poorest people.
The Secretary of State has spoken of taking the Prime Minister's idea about the big society to the global level, saying that his
"approach will move from doing development to people to doing development with people-and to people doing development for themselves."
Frankly, the idea that DFID or many of Britain's leading charities, to which the Secretary of State has paid generous tribute today, "do" development to poor people bears little relationship to reality and how much has, thankfully, changed in the development community over past years. Country-led development was a principle that a Labour Government established when DFID was created, not to mention ending the Tory policy of tying our aid.
The Secretary of State talked a lot today about change, but I believe that the new Government have found that much of what they see in DFID shows that it is working effectively. Indeed, as he was forced to concede in one of his first speeches:
"I have been struck by how much DFID contributes to Britain's global reputation. How it has broken new ground in international development and often succeeded where others have failed."
We are told that the Minister of State, who is sitting next to him, has also been focused on change in the Department. However, according to the newspapers, that appears to have been more about ministerial accommodation. Out went the pictures of Africa and those whom we were helping and partnering; in came a flagpole, a velvet curtain and a framed photo of the hon. Gentleman beaming his inimitable smile with the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher. That is hardly inspirational to the staff of a Department that, under her Government, watched the percentage of gross national income halve after 18 years in which aid had been trebled. In all seriousness, however, what concerns me is not what is on the Government's walls, but what is not in the statements that they have made so far.
What concerns me most about this Government's approach to global poverty, even in these earliest weeks, are the limitations of the vision, and, indeed, of ambition, that have so far been revealed. With the greatest of respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I was deeply disappointed by his speech to the Carnegie Foundation in Washington last week, despite the fact that it dealt with vital topics such as gender and development. There was nothing particularly wrong with many of the assertions it contained, but it was a series of assertions in search of an argument. Indeed, I cannot recollect someone travelling so far to say so little.
I therefore ask the Secretary of State: what is the clear forward agenda, beyond the re-packaging of existing policies? With just weeks to go, where are the Government's clear and concrete proposals and red lines for the UN millennium development goals summit in September? Where is the detailed vision about how we tackle climate change and promote development, and how those can be effectively aligned? Or, indeed, where are the serious commitments on issues such as climate finance?
The Secretary of State rightly talked about the importance of measures "beyond aid", but where is the crucial strategy on issues such as taxation and development, highlighted, even in recent weeks, by the excellent work of charities such as Christian Aid and ActionAid? For example, how can we take forward steps on multilateral and automatic exchange of tax information or measures on country-by-country reporting?
Leadership in international development involves more than having a bonfire of straw men. It involves serious ideas and serious action. Benedict Brogan, writing in The Daily Telegraph last week, revealed:
"The other department that has got the mandarins talking is DfID, where there is a lot of disobliging muttering about Andrew Mitchell, the new broom. His view of what aid policy should be and how it works is going down badly and officials are muttering about abilities".
So much so, apparently, that he is now being
"monitored closely by No 10."
Surely the true lesson of leadership in international development can be drawn from the experience of Gleneagles five years ago. At that time, there was a dynamic, independent and vibrant global civil society campaign-connected with politics and politicians who instinctively shared the same values and ambitions-that had the ability, the tenacity and the willingness to work for that shared vision so that great things could be achieved. Sadly, at the moment, we see little sign of those dynamics at work in the most recent summit.
For the sake of those with whom we share a common bond of humanity, of those who today continue to be afflicted by needless and avoidable poverty, and of those with whom we share a common interest in a safer, more sustainable and more equal world, we on this side of this House will continue to scrutinise and challenge this Government where required, and, yes, support them, where deserved. The seriousness of the issues we debate today demands nothing less of us.