International Development — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 21st November 2011.

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Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative 2:52 pm, 21st November 2011

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that funds allocated to international development are spent in accordance with their objectives.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Government are focusing on delivering specific results and better value for money through our programmes. DfID is measuring the results and making them transparent so that the Government can be held to account. The Secretary of State for International Development has also established the Independent Commission for Aid Impact to provide independent assurance that UK aid is being spent properly and is achieving the desired impacts. The commission reports directly to Parliament through the International Development Select Committee.

Photo of Lord Sheikh Lord Sheikh Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. The Public Accounts Committee in another place found recently that DfID had no systematic or comprehensive approach to quantifying the extent of foreign corruption and was unable to provide an estimate of the scale of leakage. Does the Minister agree that this is not acceptable, and what action are the Government taking to put this right to ensure that they secure value for money?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

My Lords, it certainly would be unacceptable if this were the case. The report very much reflects the position of the past and takes little account, it seems to me, of the changes made by the coalition. For example, in 2009-10 about 43 per cent of known losses were recovered, whereas over the past year that has risen to 92 per cent. We have also transformed the way in which the department manages its finances so that spending is attached to tangible results, which are being rigorously scrutinised by the new independent aid watchdog that I referred to just now.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the current position on the budget aid to Malawi? Six months ago the Secretary of State suspended budget support to Malawi but gave us assurances that funds would be redirected by other means to be spent in that country for those in need. Is it possible to give an estimate at this stage of all the money that will be spent in this financial year, and are we now on target to achieve the objectives set out in our own Government's development plan to support Malawi this year?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

I realise that the noble Lord has a great interest in Malawi from his work in the Scottish Parliament. I will write to him so that he has the most up-to-date details on that. His question reflects the difficulty, which we all recognise, of working in some of the most complex countries around the world. It is extremely important that we balance the needs of the poorest people in these countries with the difficulty of working through some of their Governments.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, as the press reports, the Secretary of State for International Development has today, or recently, written warning the FAO and UNESCO for the last time that their aid from us may be at risk? Will she say whether the Secretary of State intends, in the light of the 20 per cent or more cut in UNESCO's budget, for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with its efficiency, and for reasons that I imagine the Government do not sympathise with, to take that into account when considering that particular case?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

I hear what the noble Lord says. In the initial part of his question, he is referring to the multilateral aid review that took four organisations out of those that DfID would support and put four into, as it were, special measures, to be reviewed. UNESCO's current problems are very significant. He is referring to UNESCO deciding to recognise the Palestinian Authority and the withdrawal of United States support as a result. I will write to him with the latest information on that.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

My Lords, especially at this time of heavy youth unemployment, could we ask the Government to encourage organisations such as Voluntary Service Overseas to expand their activities and to give jobs to as many as, say, 20,000 young people in developing these projects? It would give work to those who have no work, and it would give hope to those who have little hope.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we are currently piloting the International Citizen Service, which is giving more than 1,000 young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to spend three months doing voluntary work overseas. This will make a real difference to some of the world's poorest people, while developing skills that will be invaluable as they seek employment in the future. Our intention is to scale up this programme so that 7,000 young people will benefit over the next three years.

Photo of Lord Turnberg Lord Turnberg Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in the Palestinian West Bank territories many textbooks contain all sorts of anti-Semitic and anti-Christian remarks and incitements to violence? Is that not something that DfID should pay attention to in its funding arrangements?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

The noble Lord is right that some of these textbooks include things that we would certainly not wish to see within them. There is no doubt about that. With his work in the area, he knows how difficult it is to bring together groups that come from opposing positions. Sometimes it is extremely important to try to take forward the bigger picture and ensure that the Israeli side has security and that the Palestinian side has some kind of hope. That has to be the focus of DfID in supporting those who are in poverty in whatever situation they may be living.

Photo of Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead Labour

Does the Minister share my concern that the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD has reported that international donors have met only one of the 13 targets that they set themselves on aid effectiveness and that, in addition, aid is now fragmented, unpredictable and poorly co-ordinated and lacks transparency? Will she give an assurance that the Government will raise these issues as a major concern at the Busan high-level forum on aid effectiveness later this month?

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Liberal Democrat

The noble Baroness is right that as more organisations and countries have become involved in aid, which itself is welcome, there is a lot of fragmentation. Previous meetings such as those in Paris and Accra have tried to take this forward, and Busan is trying to do that too. She is absolutely right that this is something that DfID will be emphasising, to try to ensure that aid is effective and targeted, and that countries and organisations should work closely together. In this regard, it is extremely important to bring in some of the BRIC countries, which up to now have not played such a large part in this area and may play a major role in the future.