International Aid Transparency

Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 2:52 pm on 13 November 2008.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development 2:52, 13 November 2008

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of promoting International Aid Transparency.

Some argue that in this time of financial turbulence we should put on hold our ambition to achieve the millennium development goals and turn back from the promises we have made to tackle poverty in developing countries, but as the Prime Minister argued at the United Nations in September, now would be the worst time to turn back. For, as he has stated many times, the global problems we face require global solutions. We cannot tackle dangerous climate change without involving Africa and developing countries. We cannot address pressure on resources and energy without involving Africa and developing countries. We cannot hope to feed the world without involving Africa and developing countries.

Economic history has shown us that, given the reliance that many such countries have on exports, remittances and aid flows, global downturns can have a devastating and potentially long-term impact on the world's poorest countries. Caribbean and central American countries are already seeing a decline in remittances because of a fall in employment in the United States of America. As such sources of financing begin to decline, spending on essential services such as health, education and water supply can suffer quickly.

For that reason, the international community must keep its promises to help deliver the millennium development goals. We must keep our pledges on the quantity and quality of aid we provide to the developing world and we must ensure that policies to stabilise the global economy are effective in helping developing countries both to tackle short-term crises and to meet long-term development needs.

To those ends, I wish to update the House on the United Kingdom's role in launching a new international aid transparency initiative that aims substantially to increase the transparency of information on global aid flows; in securing an ambitious outcome at the recent high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Accra; and in securing global commitments to reinvigorate efforts to meet the millennium development goals at the recent United Nations high-level event in New York. I also wish to inform the House of this Government's ambitions for the financing for development conference, which will take place later this month in Doha.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

My constituents are very supportive of international aid, because there is a real need for it, but they are hugely concerned that this country is giving hundred of millions of pounds-worth of aid to countries that have nuclear weapons programmes and international space programmes—in particular, India and China. Why is the UK giving £72 million this year to China and £370 million to India, given that those countries spend billions of pounds on nuclear weapons and international space research?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

Let me deal with each of those points in turn. We have set criteria in respect of looking to support countries. We consider their commitment to reducing poverty in their own country, and we examine their systems of public financial management when we consider whether budgetary support should be provided. We also examine the issue of human rights, which is why, for example, the UK is involved in the EU dialogue on human rights in China.

The health indicators for China—in particular, western China—show significantly high continuing levels of tuberculosis, as a consequence of the significant number of people who continue to be afflicted by poverty in that country, and India still has more poor people than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. In that sense, we face a real choice. If, as I have stated, we are serious about meeting the challenge of the MDGs, we are required to work in India, which has a significant number of poor people.

It is worth bringing another dimension of this matter to the House's attention. The global rebalancing of economic power that will take place in the years ahead means that it is strongly in this country's national interest to maintain strong partnerships with both India and China. This is not simply about development, where it is unquestionably the case that a country such as China will have a long and continuing engagement with Africa—we have real opportunities to influence how China seeks to exert its influence in that continent—but about the British national interest. It would be precisely the wrong time to communicate a message, whether advertently or inadvertently, to either India or China that somehow we did not recognise the fact that there is a continuing partnership between the United Kingdom and those countries.

Of course, we will be closing our programme in China in the years to come, but there is a continuing challenge to be met in India, given the high levels of poverty of which I have spoken. We have an obligation to continue to work on the programmes that are in place to ensure, for example, that we help to secure the eradication of as basic a disease as TB and that we combat infant and child mortality in India, the effects of which I shall see for myself when I travel there next week—we have a continuing obligation to work in that country too.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

That was an extensive reply to my hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone on the subject of India and China. Will the Secretary of State explain why, in these difficult economic times, we continue to give aid to Russia, a country that has more than $500 billion in reserves and sits on some of the world's largest oil supplies?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

Programmes were put in place in Russia at the time of the change following the fall of the Berlin wall and the change to the Commonwealth of Independent States, as was. [Interruption.] I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I finish the point. The reason I answered the question on India and China was because it was what I was asked. That may be an unconventional approach for some, but I endeavour to answer the question that is put to me.

We do not see ourselves having a long-standing development relationship with Russia, but, once again, it is a country that we want to continue to influence within the international environment. If Russia is looking, as it certainly is, on the basis of the progress that it has made economically in recent years—notwithstanding the recent fall in the stock market and the difficulties that it will face with a falling oil price—to exert its influence internationally, there is a case for having a dialogue with Russia about how it will engage in development issues. In the same way, it is important that we engage with Russia on nuclear proliferation issues and on a wide range of strategic concerns.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

In the Secretary of State's response to the question about aid to India, China and Russia, is he not falling into the trap of blurring the distinction between international development policy and foreign policy? Money spent by his Department is not supposed to be used to support the latter.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I am always happy to be challenged on whether our aid is tied, but it is interesting to receive such questions from members of the Conservative party, which is well remembered for having tied British aid, for having halved British aid, and for being upbraided by no less an institution than the High Court for not having upheld development principles, for example in relation to the Pergau dam. If the hon. Gentleman is asserting that the Conservative party is a repentant sinner and recognises that it was wrong to tie British aid and to halve it—we have doubled it—in the past, I welcome his support today.

There is no contradiction between a clear focus on poverty reduction—writing that into law and ensuring transparency in the provision of that aid—and recognising that that relationship allows us an opportunity to engage in dialogue with countries with which we are working. In that sense, it is not an especially difficult point to grasp to say that if one is in dialogue with developing countries, we should seek to influence them benignly in terms of the international environment. That is fundamentally different from an approach that seeks to use British aid money to support British commercial concerns, as was the case under the previous Conservative Government, and that led inexorably to the embarrassment and shame of projects such as the Pergau dam.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Secretary of State may have misunderstood the question asked by my hon. Friend Mr. Crabb, who was making the point that a decision radically to change the nature of our aid programme to India would be a matter not just for the Secretary of State's Department, but for the Foreign Office as well.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are in close dialogue with our colleagues in the Foreign Office. I last saw the Foreign Secretary about two hours ago, and I will see him again later this afternoon. There is a close working relationship between my Department and the Foreign Office, and I will work closely with our high commissioner in India next week as surely as I will work closely with the head of my Department's programme there.

The fundamental point is whether the centrality of the need to untie aid is recognised on both sides of the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity today to confirm that that is the policy. I am also sure he will confirm that there is no contradiction between seeking to maintain a policy dialogue with the countries in which we work while also seeking to maintain the clear poverty reduction focus for British aid.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend Mr. Cameron, has made it clear that we support the decision to untie aid, and that remains the settled position of our party.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I am glad to receive that assurance. If we are in the business of offering assurances this afternoon, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will reiterate the commitment to budget support, given the press coverage in The Daily Telegraph today. At least one of his colleagues, when introducing the debate on global poverty in this House on 24 July, was only too happy to do so. It would be regrettable if the development community in the UK were left with the mistaken perception—as a result of a search for headlines—that the Conservative party had changed its approach to budget support.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I can reassure the Secretary of State that he can look forward to my contribution to this debate with enthusiasm.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I think I will make up my own mind on that point.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove Labour, South Swindon

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that 90 per cent. of DFID's aid is targeted on low-income countries? I have read the article in The Daily Telegraph and I wonder whether he shares my concern that some of the information in it—and some of the questions from Conservative Members—may be leading to a change in Tory policy that would mean a cut in the Department's budget?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I listened with care—whether I listened with enthusiasm is another matter—to the speech by Mr. Mitchell at the Conservative party conference this year, and I did hear him make a commitment to 0.7 per cent. of gross national income. However, I noted that he did not give a timetable for meeting that target. Perhaps he will take this opportunity to confirm that to the House today.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to receive that assurance.

My hon. Friend Anne Snelgrove is right to recognise that, perhaps understandably given the tenor of some of the observations that have been made by Conservative Members, there are still concerns about whether, in these challenging economic times, the commitment that was made previously to seek to match the global leadership that the Labour Government have offered in recent years will be delivered in terms of continuing policy commitments by the Conservative party.

From our point of view, I can assure the House that the global leadership that we have taken in recent years—I will say some more about that this afternoon—reflects a genuine and deeply held conviction on the part of this party that we have obligations as well as shared interest and enlightened self-interest in having a more prosperous, peaceful and sustainable world. That is why it is a matter of consistency that the Government have prioritised international development, not a matter of electoral tactics or a desire to catch up with others. In that sense, I sincerely hope that the work we have undertaken to ensure that every section of British society recognises the importance of development expenditure truly extends to both sides of this House.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

Will the Secretary of State not accept that in these difficult times, it is crucial that there is strong cross-party support for the objectives that the Government have set out? It will be difficult to keep the British people with us, but they have shown that they strongly support international aid and development. Now is not the time for parties to break away from the fundamental commitment to delivering what we have collectively promised.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I find myself in complete agreement with the right hon. Gentleman, who brings great authority and experience to the debate. That is why it was a matter of such regret to me to read the comments ascribed to the Conservative party this morning in The Daily Telegraph. To bandy about suggestions that there are somehow no strings attached to hundreds of millions of pounds worth of British aid does a disservice to the quality of debate that we have reasonably come to expect from all parties. We have a responsibility to ensure the highest levels of propriety in how British aid money is spent—I will be happy to speak about that in the course of my remarks—and, at the same time, to ensure that the search for headlines does not get in the way of the truth. We are recognisable as a Department that has shown real leadership in ensuring that British aid money is spent effectively and wisely.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

Can we get back to the core of this debate, which is transparency? Nobody is saying that we should cut aid, but this year we are going to borrow more than £40 billion for the deficit that the socialists have got us into— [ Interruption. ] We are more than £800 billion in debt already, excluding the private finance initiatives— [ Interruption. ] The Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Lewis, laughs as he always does in such debates, but when we are talking about our country borrowing huge amounts it is important that members of the public should receive an explanation of why we should continue to give aid to countries such as Russia and China.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

Let me endeavour to answer the question, in as much as I am able to understand it. If the hon. Gentleman is genuinely saying that the socialists in Lehman Brothers [ Interruption. ]—in the Mississippi mortgage markets and in the White House are responsible for the global financial crisis, which, of course, afflicts not just this country— [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Could we conduct the debate in the usual manner?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to continue where I left off. If the hon. Gentleman is genuinely suggesting that the socialists in the White House, in the form of Henry Paulson and President Bush, the socialists in the Federal Reserve, including Ben Bernanke and others, the socialists who were responsible for Lehman Brothers and the socialists in the New York stock exchange and the American mortgage markets are responsible for the global financial crisis, I fear that he might not carry his Beck-Bench and Front-Bench colleagues along with him in that analysis, never mind the Government.

It does a disservice to the seriousness of the global financial crisis to offer such a superficial critique of what has actually happened. That causes me concern. When one gets to the core of Conservative party thinking, one sees that as the intellectual tide has turned against Conservatives they have been left defenceless and uncomprehending about the true nature of the problem. That is why, at a domestic level, they have opposed the steps we have taken on short selling and to protect mortgage holders, and why they did not initially support the significant steps that our Chancellor and Prime Minister have taken. I understand that this is a moment of acute intellectual peril for the right, given that we cannot nudge, privatise or deregulate our way out of the international financial crisis. However, I still thought that we could do better than the quality of debate that we have enjoyed from the Opposition today.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I had not expected to intervene in my right hon. Friend's speech at all, far less on what seems to be a partisan point. However, given that some people here today are new to debates on international development and that there appears to be a gap between those on the Opposition Front Bench and some of their Back Benchers, will he assure the House that he will continue his support for development education? Will he therefore keep in touch with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and the various devolved Administrations on that matter?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to give exactly the assurance that my right hon. Friend seeks. In many ways, he is the embodiment of the constancy, consistency and passion with which many Labour Members have fought, argued and campaigned for development over so many years, in good times and bad. I assure him that we on the Front Bench remain as committed as he is to ensuring a commitment to development education and the cause of international development more broadly.

We have a duty, especially in these straitened economic times of which I have just been speaking, to show British taxpayers where their aid money is invested, and the results being achieved by our international development assistance. This House therefore has a pivotal role in holding this Government to account for the effectiveness of the aid that we provide. In that regard, I should like to pay tribute to the work of the International Development Committee, and to acknowledge that its report on aid effectiveness, which was published earlier this Session, was a genuinely valuable contribution to such scrutiny.

I was pleased that the report recognised that the UK has performed well against the targets in the Paris declaration on aid effectiveness, and that the development assistance committee of the OECD has acknowledged the UK's leadership in aid effectiveness. I also find myself in complete agreement with the Select Committee's assertion that

"where DFID is a leader, it is right that it promotes its achievements."

The impact of aid in relieving poverty can be greatly increased if everyone can see where aid funding comes from, who is spending it, and what it should be achieving. That is an issue well understood by Members of this House and particularly, as I have just had the opportunity to acknowledge, by my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke. His International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006 obliges me to report annually to this House on the UK's provision of aid. It is an obligation that I am happy to fulfil, for we know that transparency improves the effectiveness of aid.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Defence)

I am sure we all agree that transparency in aid is extremely important. In that regard, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he plans to examine the amount of aid given by the British military? We are more heavily committed to Afghanistan and Iraq than any of our European neighbours, yet the aid that we provide in kind for things such as protecting and building dams and bridges does not appear to feature at all in his plans for transparency. Does he not think that that is an omission?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

Of course, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence—with whom I met President Karzai only this morning—is accountable to this House, which has plenty of opportunity to question him about the conduct of his Department. As I recollect, he appeared only recently in a joint session with the Foreign Secretary—it was before either the Defence Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee—to answer exactly that sort of question in respect of Afghanistan. The House has significant opportunities to hold the Defence Secretary and his ministerial colleagues to account over their conduct of the Department in Afghanistan, other theatres, and elsewhere.

Transparency helps developing country Governments to plan and manage their budgets. In Rwanda last year, just half of all estimated aid flows to that country were recorded in the national budget, which made it difficult for the Rwandan Government to channel resources to the areas of greatest need.

In addition, transparency enables citizens to hold their Governments to account. In Uganda, a campaign to give information concerning education funding to the citizens of that country helped to increase the share of funds reaching schools from just 20 per cent. in 1995 to more than 80 per cent. by 2001. Transparency limits the scope for corruption in developing countries. The extractive industries transparency initiative, launched by the Government in 2002, requires Governments, as well as oil and mining companies, publicly to declare the value of contracts. That initiative has helped Nigeria to increase revenue collection by $1 billion—money that is now available to spend on meeting the needs of the Nigerian people. In recognition of the power of such transparency to increase the impact of aid, the Government launched a new international initiative in September. The initiative was intended to make information on aid flows more easily available and accessible, so that citizens of both donor and recipient countries could see where and how aid was invested.

The United Kingdom launched the international aid transparency initiative at the high-level forum on aid effectiveness in Accra in September this year. We did so, I am glad to say, with the support of 13 major donors, including the United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, the European Commission and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The initiative commits donors to publishing more detailed and up-to-date information about aid flows, to giving details and costs of individual projects and their aims, to providing more reliable information about intended future aid, and to agreeing common standards for publishing that information so that it is accessible to everyone.

The initiative is an important first step towards increasing certainty for both donors and the countries receiving aid, and has been warmly welcomed as such by developing countries and civil society, including by Transparency International and the Publish What You Fund campaign—a coalition including ActionAid and the UK Aid Network. I expect the initiative to be joined by growing numbers of international donors during its design phase, which is under way, and I expect it to be in place by the end of next year.

In addition to launching the international aid transparency initiative, the United Kingdom played a leading role at the Accra meetings to secure an international agenda for action to improve the quality of global aid. Supported by the outstanding team of civil servants from DFID, I was able to work with my counterparts from across the European Union frankly to raise the level of ambition for the meeting, and to persuade all donors and developing countries to sign up to concrete, time-bound, ambitious agreements to improve the way aid is provided. I would like to inform the House of some of the successes of the meeting, including agreements on mutual accountability, donor co-ordination and predictability of financing.

The first area of agreement regards mutual accountability between donors and recipient countries. Donors have a legitimate right to monitor the performance of developing country Governments to ensure that aid is well spent—a responsibility that this Government take seriously. We know that aid is more effective when recipient countries in turn monitor donor performance. In Mozambique, for example, independent reviews of both donor and Government performance have helped to improve the predictability of aid and reduce the costs for all parties involved. The House may be interested to learn that such rankings have rated DFID as the most effective donor for the past three years. In Accra, both donors and recipient Governments agreed to develop stronger mechanisms to hold each other accountable for meeting commitments, so that the good practice that I described in Mozambique is in future the rule, not the exception, in international aid.

The donors gathered in Accra made a commitment to improving the co-ordination of aid. Developing country Governments spend far too much time managing donors, and are left with too little time to conduct the proper business of government as they take their countries forward on their development paths. Over the past four years, Government staff in Uganda have dealt with more than 1,000 donor-led projects. In one year alone, the Government of Vietnam played host to 791 donor missions—more than three for every working day. Government staff in Mozambique have to maintain 1,000 different bank accounts simply to meet differing donor requirements. It was because of such concerns that this Government last year launched the international health partnership to improve donor co-ordination in the health sector. The agreements made in Accra take that approach beyond the health sector. Developing countries committed to taking the lead in co-ordinating and agreeing an effective division of labour between donors. In turn, donors agreed to respect those priorities and work together to put better co-ordination into practice.

In developing countries where aid funding can be equivalent to as much as 75 per cent. of the national budget, it is vital that donors provide as much clarity as possible regarding intended future aid flows. Our Government are taking part in 10-year agreements in the education sector; as part of that, developing countries provide robust, costed 10-year plans. We have already made such agreements in a number of countries, including Ghana, Mozambique and Rwanda. By doing so, we are giving those countries the confidence that they need to build a school; they know that the money will be there to maintain it, and can train teachers knowing that they can afford to pay a salary at the end of that training.

In Accra, donors agreed to provide regular and timely information on the aid that they expect to provide in the next three to five years. Donors also agreed to increase the share of aid channelled through to partner country budgets. Those measures will help developing countries to plan and manage their budgets better, to use resources more effectively and to provide the services that their citizens need.

The successful conclusion to the meeting of donors and developing countries in Accra provided a positive precursor to the high-level event on the millennium development goals held later in September at the United Nations in New York. That meeting brought together literally the broadest alliance ever assembled to fight for a common goal to tackle global poverty. The UN Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly were joined by 140 countries, alongside dozens of multinational chief executives, faith leaders and non-governmental organisations. The commitments made included a malaria action plan, launched to point the way towards universal coverage of insecticide-treated bed nets by 2010, and achieving near-zero malaria deaths by 2015. Those gathered made commitments to provide emergency food aid in the horn of Africa, and the rapid distribution of support, including seeds and fertilisers for 30 priority countries in time for the next planting season. A major new financing force was launched with the aim of raising funds to help recruit 1 million health workers and save 10 million lives. To get 25 million more children into school by 2010, as a milestone to universal primary education by 2015, international partners launched a "Class of 2015" partnership. Those and other commitments combined to form $16 billion-worth of pledges to tackle poverty. In response, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the meeting

"an inspiring day at the United Nations".

As I said at the outset, the coming weeks will, however, be crucial in determining the global response to the slowdown in the world economy. The G20 leaders meeting in Washington this weekend should send a clear and unequivocal signal to the international community of their continued commitment to international development. At the financing for development conference in Doha at the end of this month, donors should agree that changes to international financial regulations will not harm the interests of the poorest countries. All parties should reaffirm the commitments on aid effectiveness made in Accra. Donors should agree to keep promises on aid, as the UK, I am glad to say, is doing, and they should reaffirm their commitment to maintaining open markets and resist the threat of protectionism.

I hope that I have given the House an assurance that the Government are committed to tackling global poverty at a time of global uncertainty. It is not only our moral duty to help our fellow men, women and children to lift themselves out of poverty but it is in our interest as a nation to do so. Government Members, at least, are united in that conviction.

The financial crisis and its effects have underscored the interdependence of nations at the beginning of the 21st century, and while recent events have shown every family across Britain to be connected to some of the richest people in the world so, too, are we connected to the world's poorest people. In our response to dangerous climate change, the depletion of natural resources, the threat of global disease, and indeed the threats to our global security, there is quite simply no more "over there" and "over here". Tackling those great problems requires a truly global mindset, and calls for global solutions, which means bringing the fifth of the global population who live in extreme poverty into our global community. The United Kingdom will therefore keep working to tackle disease, illiteracy and hunger. As I have set out, we will continue to lead international efforts to ensure that any aid delivered provides the benefits that the world's poorest need, and that British taxpayers rightly demand.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office) 3:23, 13 November 2008

The year 2008 has been a distinctly mixed one for international development. We remain stubbornly off-track to meet the millennium development goals, and fuel prices and food shortages have left millions at risk. Natural disasters have hit, leaving destruction in their wake—floods in India, a cyclone in Burma, and an earthquake in Pakistan. Man-made emergencies in Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan have brought insecurity and misery to many. Amid all that, the global financial crisis has thrown the whole developing world and the international aid industry into turmoil.

At the outset, I echo the Secretary of State's opening words about now being a time of hardship when the poor suffer most, and his closing words about the importance, particularly now, of the rich world standing by its commitments. There is, however, some cause for hope. DFID's reputation as an outstanding development agency continues, and we are all rightly proud of it. The Department has continued to fight poverty in some of the world's poorest countries; it has accepted that poor sanitation is one of the leading causes of preventable deaths and launched a new policy for that sector; and, as the Secretary of State outlined, it has led international efforts to improve aid co-ordination, championing in Accra an agreement that serves as a booster to the three-year-old Paris declaration.

I should like to reassert a point that I have made numerous times in the House and elsewhere, and which the Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, Malcolm Bruce, made: most people want international development to be removed from the realm of party politics all together. International development policy is not Tory, or Labour, or Liberal, but British. But, of course, we on the Opposition Benches have a role to play in holding the Government to account on their international development work and policies, so we will support and encourage DFID when we believe that it is doing the right thing, but probe and ask questions of it when we think that there is room for improvement. We will also press the Government to do more in areas that we consider to be important. That should be the nature of a responsible Opposition's approach to development, and it is certainly our approach on the Conservative Benches.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

In the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, may I ask him to confirm that he therefore accepts that DFID, as a leading development agency, does not give any money with no strings attached? I am sure that he will be happy to offer that assurance to the House on the basis of his scrutiny of the Department's annual report.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his intervention, and in my speech I will come precisely to the point to which he alludes. [ Interruption.] As I said, I shall answer the point in my own way, and he can wait, I hope, with patience.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove Labour, South Swindon

The problem that Government Members have with the hon. Gentleman's point about removing party politics from the international development debate is that during the Conservative party's term in office, the money that was spent on aid halved as a proportion of GDP, and, if it had not been for the political and non-governmental organisations' pressure on his party, it would have gone down even further. What is his comment on that?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My comment is that, first, the hon. Lady has seen and knows the Opposition's commitments, and, secondly, she makes my point for me: people hearing that sort of intervention, having heard what I said about the importance of taking the issue out of party politics, will find it rather tiresome.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. Mr. Kawczynski.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Secretary of State did not mention once in his speech the European Union or the funding that it gives to international aid. Of course, our taxpayers' money is increasingly spent by the European Union, and I had been hoping to hear from the Secretary of State a bit more about the transparency of EU spending in the third world. Does my hon. Friend share my concerns that the Secretary of State did not either do that or share with the House any further information about the transparency governing the EU's spending of our money?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend will have noticed that the debate refers specifically to transparency. A transparent international aid policy is one that is accountable to its—

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

It is just that in the spirit of co-operation of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken today, I had hoped that I might be able to assist him in answering the question from his own Back-Bencher, Daniel Kawczynski. When I mentioned "European partners", that was a reference to the European Union. I know that that is an alien concept to some on the Opposition Benches, but we believe that the members of the European Union—the other 26—are our partners. So, when I spoke of the partners, I was speaking about the European Union.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I do not wish to be unfair to the Secretary of State, but before he jumped in, I was just about to answer my hon. Friend by saying that a transparent international aid policy is one that is accountable to its investors, the British taxpayer, as well as to its end-users, the local people in developing countries. The policy must be efficient and effective, or face a critical response from those who have a stake in it. Most importantly, it must deliver.

We welcome the launch of the international aid transparency initiative. We Conservatives have repeatedly championed greater transparency in aid. We have consistently argued—not least as I did in my speech at the Conservative party conference the year before; as the Secretary of State is an enthusiast of my speeches, he will have noticed—that as well as championing effectiveness in aid spending, we must stand up for transparency. We will watch closely to ensure that the new international aid transparency initiative is fully implemented by the Department for International Development and the other agencies that have signed up to it.

The Secretary of State has no room for complacency on this issue. One of the initiative's commitments is to

"share more detailed and more up-to-date information about aid in a form that makes information more accessible to all relevant stakeholders."

There is a great deal to be done to put flesh on the bones of that promise. The DFID website is a most important tool, but it is woefully light on information about DFID spending on development. When country profiles exist, they often lack up-to-date, systematic detail on what DFID money has been spent on and how. Many recipients of our aid do not even have a country profile on the website, and in many country programmes there is no obvious way for a member of the public in a developing country to find out in detail how DFID aid money is being spent there.

For example, the DFID website offers just a few paragraphs about how our £3 million aid budget is spent in The Gambia and contains no easily accessible detail about the six major sectors in which many millions of British pounds will be spent in that country in the next few years. I am not talking about complicated information, and it should not effectively be classified information.

There are good precedents for greater transparency. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria publishes on its website all its budgets and spending decisions in each of the countries where it works. Like its websites for other countries, its website for The Gambia clearly explains who the local fund agent is, the exact amount of the approved grants down to the last dollar, the name of the principal recipient, the amount actually disbursed, a disbursement rating, and the dates on which the programme started and the money was disbursed. It also gives details of unsuccessful proposals.

Let no one be in any doubt about the importance of the DFID website. It is not only the vital means through which British people can find out how their money is being spent, but an essential reference point for journalists, civil society and ordinary citizens in developing countries. I welcome the Secretary of State's commitment to redesigning the DFID website, but will he reassure me that its content—and not only its appearance—will be comprehensively overhauled? Will he learn lessons from sites such as that of the global health fund and publish a detailed breakdown of spending to which everyone can have access?

I also have a query about changes in the figures published from one year to the next. The casual observer in London, Nairobi or Freetown would not necessarily spot them straight away, but the Conservative international development team is nothing if not sharp-eyed. In the Department's report, the statistics show that no money was spent in Djibouti in 2006-07. When the new international development statistics were published in October, the figure was mysteriously changed to £4 million, apparently all for other bilateral aid. Similarly, the Madagascan bilateral programme rose by £14 million and the Ghanaian programme by £13 million; there are numerous other examples. In the winding up, will the Minister explain the reasons for those discrepancies and will a system for explaining them as they arise be established? A revamped website with comprehensive information will be seriously hindered if the statistics in it can be changed year on year without explanation.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove Labour, South Swindon

Would the hon. Gentleman not be better advised to ensure that his sharp-eyed researchers are put to work on his party's international development policy? I do not know whether he is embarrassed by the comments of the Overseas Development Institute's Alan Hudson, who described the hon. Gentleman's proposals on the ODI blog as "derivative" and just a rehash of the Government's.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

We can always swap these things across the Floor of the House. The hon. Lady will have seen that The Guardian, which is not always a supporter of the Conservative party, spoke in glowing terms of our policies on international development in a recent article.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party, in pursuing this initiative over the past two years—for example in Rwanda, where 120 MPs and volunteers went this year—is leading from the front in terms of showing people what we can do to help those in developing countries?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend is right. There are many policy areas where Conservative Members have been leading, coaxing and encouraging the Government, with modest success in some cases.

It is vital that DFID can keep demonstrating value for money for the British taxpayer. Until recently, work towards reaching the aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product, to which we are all signed up, operated in a benign atmosphere, but that is no longer the case. Throughout the country, people are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. If we are to uphold the case for international aid, we must be able to show that every pound spent returns 100p of value.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the need to be able to maintain public support for international development. I am sure that he would not wish to be accused of trying to have his cake and eat it. Will he therefore return to the question that I asked him earlier? In the light of the praise that he, as a Front Bencher, is willing to offer DFID as a leading development agency, and in the light of the remarks about DFID from the Conservative party reported in The Daily Telegraph, will he now assert, as I requested, that not a single penny of British development money is spent with no strings attached?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I have been generous in giving way to the Secretary of State again, but he must wait until I come to that passage in my speech.

The Secretary of State seems to view transparency in terms of processes and inputs—being open about what we are spending and where. That is a good start, but it is only half of the story. We also need transparency about outcomes and outputs—what our aid is actively achieving on the ground. Once again, I urge him to consider carefully our proposal for a fully independent aid evaluation watchdog to be set up to report to Parliament, not to the Secretary of State.

The Government have enthusiastically promoted a policy of direct budget support—here I come to the point about which the Secretary of State has intervened twice—whereby Britain hands money directly to Governments in developing countries to spend according to their own expenditure and audit systems in support of their national poverty reduction plans. In 2007-08, £366 million of British aid was spent in that way. According to the respected non-governmental organisation, Transparency International, the UK gives some of its largest donations to Governments who have real problems with governance and corruption. For example, Tanzania ranks 102nd on the corruption index, yet it received £105 million as direct budget support last year. In February this year, President Kikwete of Tanzania dissolved his entire cabinet following a financial scandal, and in January he fired the head of the central bank after international auditors found that more than $120 million was missing.

Uganda ranks 126th on the Transparency International index, down from 111th in 2007, yet it received £35 million in direct budget support from Britain. President Museveni is planning to buy a new £24 million G5 Gulfstream jet plane. In 2006, massive corruption in the Ugandan health ministry was exposed. In June this year, an important report by the Public Accounts Committee warned the Government about direct budget support.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman cites the example of Tanzania. Does he accept my undertaking that I spoke at length to President Kikwete and was able effectively to communicate to him the importance that we attach to his cleaning up the difficulties that arose at the Bank of Tanzania? Does he further accept that we gave very clear directions to the president on what we required in terms of tackling corruption, even if it took the investigation to the heart of his cabinet and Government? That is surely an example of where it is possible to achieve the development outcomes that we are seeking—whereby in Tanzania more than 4 million children are in schools and there are 40 per cent. more primary school teachers—at the same time as ensuring the dialogue to achieve the genuine policy changes that we want to see?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I have no doubt of the Secretary of State's bona fides on what he said to the President of Tanzania. I went there myself last year because I wanted to find out the extent to which we were monitoring the large amount of taxpayers' money going into the Tanzanian budget. I must tell the Secretary of State that I am not satisfied from that visit, or from the discussions that I had with Tanzanian Ministers and also with his officials, that the money in question is properly accounted for, which is why I am making this point.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods PPS (Rt Hon David Lammy, Minister of State), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills

The longer I listen to the hon. Gentleman's arguments, the more concerned I am, especially when he suggests that DFID money is somehow being frittered away and not being properly accounted for. I visited Uganda quite recently. He is missing the point that a lot of DFID money goes towards parliamentary strengthening so that the countries to which we award money can account much better for the money that they spend. He is quite wrong to suggest that the money is not accounted for properly.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The hon. Lady must join me in studying the important report by the Public Accounts Committee that warned the Government about direct budget support. The report bears careful study with regard to getting budget support right. I highlight the following extracts. On page 6, the report states:

"Estimates of leakage and corruption in the use of developing nations' budgets are many times higher than would be acceptable in UK domestic expenditure."

Page 12 states:

"DFID has not estimated how much funding through developing governments is wasted or used for corrupt purposes, but the estimates of others are worrying. For example, in Tanzania and Uganda other bodies have estimated that 20% of procurement expenditure is lost through corruption."

The report, which is by a highly respected Committee of the House, says on page 6:

"DFID provides budget support expenditure in countries where expenditure and output data are so weak that it cannot monitor progress effectively."

Perhaps the Secretary of State or the Minister making the winding-up speech can tell the House what their Department has done to address the serious questions raised by the Public Accounts Committee in its report.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

Of course we look with great care at all the points made by the Public Accounts Committee, but I return to the central point. Beyond the headlines and the allegations, what specific steps is the hon. Gentleman seeking for DFID to take on budget support? He has already asserted that he recognises the case for budget support in principle; he recognises that it is central in being able to provide services such as health and education, and he is united in that view with non-governmental organisations and respected voices in the development community across the spectrum. I would be grateful if he assisted the House in detailing the specific steps that he requires from DFID and from the developing country Governments with whom we work.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I will come directly to the Secretary of State's point.

The fact that we give money to Governments who are not trusted by their own citizens is, I submit to the House, a serious concern. The Secretary of State should review urgently whether it is right that hard-working British families are contributing directly to the Governments of those countries. It might also be appropriate for the Select Committee on International Development to investigate the issue further, and I hope that the Chairman of that Committee will reflect on that.

I accept that giving aid directly to Governments through budget support can be the right way forward in some circumstances, but we need to apply stringent tests and to ensure that the money is used properly. Where there is doubt, the money should be given to specific sectors such as health or education, and overseen more carefully. Whenever Britain gives budget support, up to 5 per cent. of the total amount should be earmarked to help local Parliaments, civil society and audit institutes to track where the money is going and to hold their Governments to account. During a recent visit to Ghana, which rightly receives budget support, I was most impressed to witness on television Members of Parliament being held to account by parliamentarians in forthright terms for their spending of public funds. We should actively encourage that.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman has brought his characteristic rhetorical authority to a point in claiming that we should not give budget support in all circumstances—we do not. He suggested that where there is evidence of corruption, we should take action—we do. He suggests that we should not provide budget support uniformly—we provide it to fewer than half the countries in which DFID has programmes of £10 million or more. I would be interested to hear the specific examples that he wishes to bring to the Department's attention. Otherwise, it would seem, as my hon. Friend Anne Snelgrove suggested earlier, that he is making simply a rhetorical, derivative statement of what is already Government policy.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I clearly set out that the Secretary of State should acknowledge the approach that the Conservative party would take, were we to form a Government after the next election. I specifically raised with him—privately, but I know that he will not mind my mentioning the matter in the Chamber—budget support to Cambodia, which he has now brought to a conclusion, at least temporarily. However, he must accept my point that budget support has raised serious questions in the minds of taxpayers. In particular, he and the Department should examine carefully the report of the Public Accounts Committee. Transparency means being open and honest when we get things wrong.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the Tory "Globalisation and Global Poverty" policy commission report? It states:

"That's why the report favours direct budgetary support rather than highly prescriptive aid on one side."

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I do not wish to repeat myself, but the Under-Secretary has heard me say that we believe that, in some circumstances, budget support is the best way in which to give aid and development support in countries. However, I have also drawn his attention to its shortcomings. As for the Conservative party's excellent report on globalisation and poverty, which I commend to him, I sleep with it under my pillow.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman has been gracious and generous in giving way. Given his forthright assertion that budget support can, in some circumstances, be the best way in which to give aid, will he clarify the point that I have raised twice? If budget support per se is not "no strings attached aid", will he cite a single example of the Department's giving aid with no strings attached?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I have already made it clear to the Secretary of State that putting budget support into a general budget exercises little control on the taxpayer's behalf in monitoring its effectiveness and value for money. He does not have to take my word for it—he can take that of the authoritative Public Accounts Committee, which made that very point.

Last month, the National Audit Office report on the Department's performance in insecure environments revealed evidence of serious corruption in DFID projects in Iraq and poor project design and performance in Afghanistan. It found that only half the DFID projects in the most insecure countries achieve their aims and that almost a quarter suffer from fraud and financial problems.

As I witnessed in Afghanistan recently, brave DFID staff work hard in dangerous environments to improve people's lives, but their individual courage must be supported by radical policy and management improvements. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the Department learns the lessons and implements the recommendations of that important NAO report? I hope that the Under-Secretary will comment on that in his winding-up speech.

The most important driver of international development is clearly economic growth, which lifts people out of poverty and gets developing countries on their feet. One has only to consider China, India and Brazil to realise the truth of that. However, the Doha round of trade talks has ground to a halt and shown no sign of life for many months. Now that one of the big obstacles to an agreement—the elections in the United States—is out of the way, what is the Secretary of State doing to kick-start the talks? Will he make a point of going around the capital cities of Europe, banging the drum for an agreement on a pro-poor trade deal that developed and developing countries alike can accept?

Now that the former Trade Commissioner has returned once again to a seat at the Cabinet table, and bearing in mind that he won the occasional admirer, not least from the Conservative Benches, for his efforts to free up the international trading system, will the Secretary of State consult his good friend, the noble Lord, about the steps that the Government should take to reinvigorate the Doha process?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for International Development

The temptation was too great. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will speak to the noble Lord Mandelson later this afternoon. Even before the US election, we spoke to the Obama and McCain campaigning teams about the urgency of the US recognising the need for a global trade deal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it remains high on the Government's agenda to work with all parties to find a way forward for Doha and, more broadly, global trade.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The Secretary of State is to be commended for his conversations with the noble Lord.

In stark contrast to the positive potential of economic changes, the most malignant factor among many that stop development working is conflict, along with bad governance, corruption and instability. These are what keep people mired in poverty and condemn them to a life of misery and fear.

In Burma, we have just witnessed the disgusting spectacle of 14 brave pro-democracy protestors being handed jail terms of up to 65 years for their part in last year's protests. I am sure that the whole House will want to express its solidarity with the people of Burma in their struggle for freedom and democracy. Last year, the Government agreed to increase British aid to Burma, after sustained pressure from leading NGOs and Opposition Members. Perhaps the Minister could update the House on how that aid is being spent and what it is achieving.

In Zimbabwe, millions of people are suffering at the hands of Mugabe and his henchmen. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, many across the Limpopo river into South Africa, and the economy is in ruins. It is clearly right that we should stand by the people of Zimbabwe, because otherwise they will lose out twice over: first, from having selfish and tyrannical leaders, and secondly, from a lack of much-needed support. What is DFID doing to support the people of Zimbabwe through the brave and determined NGOs on the ground, and what precautionary steps is it taking in the face of the looming food crisis there?

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a humanitarian crisis has seen many thousands of people driven from their homes in only the clothes that they were standing in.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Opposition Whip (Commons)

On the subject of that conflict, does my hon. Friend think it helpful that Mrs. Rose Kabuye, the President of Rwanda's chief of protocol, was arrested just four days ago during an official visit to Germany, as a result of a highly dubious decision by a French provincial judge?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Considerable concern has been expressed about the improbability of the charge that Mrs. Kabuye faces and about the process being conducted. Perhaps my hon. Friend has heard what Louis Michel, the European Commissioner, said yesterday. He doubts the validity of the French report that led to Mrs. Kabuye's arrest and has called on the French judiciary to establish the truth. My hon. Friend will also have noted the concern expressed by the African Union that the decision amounts to pursuing a French Rwandan agenda, which is most unhelpful at this time. I very much agree.

There are occasional confusions in the Congo between the symptoms and the causes of the appalling situation there. The true cause lies with the failure to disarm and repatriate the rump of the Hutu genocidal regime, which fled to Kivu from Rwanda in 1994 and has never left. That is the crux of the matter. It is the presence of those forces that allows General Nkunda to claim the spurious pretext of protecting the Tutsi population.

The conflict has deep-seated roots and as the days go by, the crisis gets worse, not better. I hope to be in Goma this weekend to see the humanitarian situation for myself. It is not correct that fundamentally new political agreements are needed. They are already there in United Nations resolution 1804 of March this year, in the Goma agreement of January, which was signed by 22 armed groups, and in the Nairobi communiqué of last November between the Governments of Rwanda and the DRC, which was reaffirmed last weekend. Nor is it true that MONUC—the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—lacks the mandate to provide threatened communities with the necessary defence. We are talking about a chapter VII assignment, which enables such power as the UN can deploy to be used to protect civilian populations. The issue, therefore, is not the mandate; it is the effectiveness and capacity of the force.

We on the Conservative Benches accept that European Union troops might need to be deployed. I would make two points about that, however. First, such deployments would give an opportunity to European countries whose armed forces are not so overstretched to play a meaningful role, if at some point it is decided to send European Union troops. Secondly, the UN force on the ground in the DRC now is already the largest in the world, with no fewer than 18 countries providing troops and direct support, and is already deployed in Goma. That force is the first and best way for the international community to exercise its responsibility to protect. We welcome today's announcement by the UN that the force is to be reinforced. If the force is deemed insufficient and if, God forbid, its members are hurt defending civilians from attack, the international community must immediately stand by and reinforce them. Otherwise, the responsibility to protect will be seen as a piece of international grandstanding by the world's leaders—a sham, with neither credibility nor bite.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Defence)

It is clearly a matter for those countries involved in what we might call the coalition of the unwilling to determine whether they want to commit the EU battle group—the one not provided by the United Kingdom. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to make it clear to those countries, particularly France and Germany, that any deployment of EU troops does not absolve them from their responsibility to take a full and proper role in Afghanistan, to which they are committed?

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind Members that the points made in that intervention are rather wide of the mark of today's debate?

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for keeping me on the straight and narrow.

The international community, through the UN, must not simply will the end through its resolutions; it must also provide the means. It is the UN that is there already, and to the UN that those caught in this dreadful crisis are looking. Any attack on those UN soldiers who are today in harm's way in Goma and the Congo, from whatever source, is a direct attack on the international community and on all of us. The House would be failing in its duty if it did not recognise that.

Today's debate gives us the chance to salute and thank all those who are involved in the battle against global poverty, to recognise the causes of that poverty and the many different ways of tackling it, and to spur the Government on, to ensure that Britain continues to play the extremely important role that the House has consistently supported and endorsed.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 3:56, 13 November 2008

It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Mitchell. He said many interesting things, and I particularly welcome what he had to say on the importance of reaching an agreement and of trying to remove conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I hope to return to that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a quite excellent speech, as one would expect. Based on the policies that his Department is pursuing, transparency was very much apparent. We have made considerable progress, even in the past couple of years but, of course, we all accept that a challenge remains.

Before I turn to the substantial points that I intend to make, I must say that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield has a tough job in trying to persuade his colleagues on the Back Benches to share the positive approach that he is now adopting. I wish him well in that pursuit. I hope that that does not sound as if I am chastising Dr. Murrison.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am happy to reassure the right hon. Gentleman, and to lift from his shoulders that unhappy concern by saying that the policy that I have enunciated and set out today has the full and total support of the shadow Cabinet and the parliamentary party.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Nobody in the House who welcomes the consensus that we thought was being developed would do anything other than welcome that. However, we cannot ignore the interventions that were made. They were almost entirely negative, which does not help the hon. Gentleman in his task.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I will give way once more. I know that others want to speak, so I shall respond to the intervention, then carry on with the points that I want to make.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

The questions from some of my hon. Friends during the Secretary of State's opening speech to which I believe the right hon. Gentleman was referring were reasonable and current. They were about middle-income countries and countries that, through their economic growth rates, are approaching that status, and how compatible that is with current levels of aid to those countries. They were entirely reasonable questions to ask. The right hon. Gentleman should not infer that Conservative Back Benchers are somehow not in favour of meeting the 0.7 per cent. of gross national income target, or wider international development policies.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Even that intervention, when combined with what was said earlier, leads me to make a couple of points that, frankly, I had not intended to make— [ Interruption. ] I did not interrupt any Opposition Members. This is a democracy, but it is also an elected Parliament in which some of us are entitled to express our opinions.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Indeed. I agree that we are all entitled to express our opinions, and I am about to express mine.

We were asked, for example, about India. What are we to assume from these interventions? Members of all parties visited India a year or two ago to examine the very serious issue of tuberculosis, yet 1,000 people still die there every day. Quite frankly, the people we met there in the saddest of circumstances were not asking questions about their Government's foreign policy or about nuclear weapons. The same applied when, as I vividly recall, we visited Uganda. Lord Steel was with us on that visit. We sat outside a mud hut where a young man, surrounded by his family, friends and other villagers, was within just a few hours of dying of HIV/AIDS. Again, frankly, most of those people did not ask about the policies of their Government. I am not saying that we should not ask about them, but what I am saying very strongly is that I have never believed that individual human beings, wherever they live, from Delhi to Darfur, should be punished because of the policies of their Governments.

Let me continue with the points that I had intended to make. Given the global crisis, I welcome the commitment given by Opposition Front Benchers as well as by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to foreign aid at 0.7 per cent. of gross national income by 2013 or, indeed, earlier. When I last raised this matter on 16 July, my right hon. Friend gave me an assurance that the Government were still on course to achieve that target. I believe that the House has reached a consensus on the matter over the years, notwithstanding what might have been said today, and I also know that hon. Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about it. If individual Members put it on the record that they believe in this agreement and if all the political parties adhere to it in their manifestos, I will certainly leave the House a much happier person.

I welcome this debate. As has been said, it is consistent with the aims of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, which I had the privilege of piloting through the House with a great deal of support. The Act will mainly be remembered because it has led this Government—and it will be compelling for future Governments—to present an annual report to the House. Principal among the issues that we expect to be covered is how well we are doing on the 0.7 per cent. GNI target and, I hope, by how much we have advanced on it. The Act embraces our commitment to the millennium development goals. Given that its title includes the very word "transparency", transparency is clearly of the essence—and I am very pleased that the Government have taken it on board.

In the same spirit, I welcome DFID's recent annual report to Parliament, which we have not had a chance to debate until today. I genuinely believe that this report is excellent. It is an informative tome for scholars and members of the public alike, presenting helpful information in a clear and transparent way about what is being done and what needs to be done. Indeed, armed with that information, our debate helps to underline how important transparency is and how the report takes us forward.

I do not want to get into further exchanges with Conservative Members, but I gently point out to them the European Union issues covered in the latest annual report. Page 115 presents a comprehensive and transparent account of our relationship with the EU. It even gives the Government's interpretation of the Lisbon treaty. I do not think for a second that my right hon. Friend can reasonably be criticised on that score.

There must be transparency at every level: in the Department itself, in terms of coherence between Departments, and in the holding to account of the European Union as well as the other international bodies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I welcome DFID's commitment to the international aid transparency initiative, but the truth is that it works both ways. The developed countries must know where the money is supposed to go, and the developing countries must know when it will arrive and how much there will be. The absence of that knowledge has been cited as one of the main reasons for the lack of aid effectiveness. Most important of all, the people who are meant to be helped by the aid must know when it is coming and how it should be spent. That enables us to judge whether it is being spent as effectively as we all want it to be.

There are a variety of ways in which the Governments of developed and developing countries can help. In Uganda, for example, an information campaign helped to increase the share of funds reaching schools from 20 per cent. in 1995 to 80 per cent. in 2001. We can only imagine the positive impact that that is having on people's lives.

I want to talk about some current issues, in each of which transparency is of the essence. I followed last week's debate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but it is appropriate to return to that important subject. I say that especially in view of the announcement by the United Nations earlier today that 3,000 more troops were to be sent to the eastern DRC. That is a positive action which I broadly welcome, but I feel that there are other countries, particularly in that region, with a wider role to play. I am thinking particularly of Rwanda. As this is a debate about aid and transparency, I think it appropriate to point out that we give the Rwandan Government £46 million in aid every year. I think that I am as familiar as anyone can be with the circumstances in Rwanda and the DRC, both of which I visited recently. On those visits, along with colleagues, I had the opportunity to meet Presidents Kabila and Kagame.

As was mentioned in last Thursday's debate, our programme of aid for Rwanda comes with a 10-year memorandum of understanding that expressly states that the Rwandan Government must be committed to regional stability. It was therefore a great shock to me to read the following comments of a spokesperson from the Rwandan Foreign Ministry:

"The prevailing assumption that the crisis is a matter between Rwanda and the DRC is wrong, contrary to what some in the international community continue to say. This misconception leads some parties seeking to intervene to demand a meeting between the heads of state of Rwanda and the DRC as a solution to the internal crisis in the DRC."

That strikes me as somewhat naive. The DRC crisis is a problem on Rwanda's doorstep, and President Kagame's unique status gives him the opportunity to exert a positive influence on an outcome that could lead to the kind of reconciliation that Rwanda itself has experienced.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I, too, noticed that comment, and I was surprised as well, but I think there is a clear explanation. The conflict is not between the Congo and Rwanda, which is why, as I understand it, the President was unwilling to attend a bilateral meeting with President Kabila. He did, however, attend a meeting in Nairobi last weekend with a number of Heads of State of countries affected in the region.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that helpful intervention. We all support the UN's efforts to try to get a solution to this dreadful problem.

In that situation as elsewhere, mineral extraction has once again formed the backdrop to tragic events. At this juncture, I would like to touch on the comments made in last week's debate by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. He spoke about the extractive industries directive, an initiative that I wholeheartedly support. In the same debate the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend Mr. Lewis, who I very much welcome to his post and who is to wind up the debate, undertook to look into transparency in mineral extraction. I was wondering whether he would take the opportunity to inform us further of the Government's thinking.

There are challenges of poverty eradication, providing clean water, reducing the rates of infant mortality, substantially improving health care, investing more in education for girls and boys and dealing with conflict and its effect on developing countries. They are ongoing, as is the importance of climate change and the environment—all of them encapsulated in the millennium development goals. It is in that spirit, too, that I welcome not only DFID's annual report to this House, but the UN's 2008 millennium development goals report, which offers insight that can lead to real optimism. Those objectives and much more can be achieved only on the basis of the transparency to which we are absolutely committed.

The existence of corruption, the absence of accountability and the need for good governance are compelling reasons for all the actions that the Government have taken and which my right hon. Friend explained in his opening speech. A debate of this kind would be incomplete were we not to take on board the impact of the global economic crisis on the poorest countries in the world today. The truth is that whatever anxieties we in the western world are experiencing, they cannot be compared with the devastation on top of existing poverty that those who live in developing countries find are heaped on their misfortunes. There is no prospect of a level playing field and it would be idle to pretend that it is within our reach. What we can do is acknowledge that declining commodity prices, disappearing markets, unfair trade practices and even the fear that we in developed countries feel about our own situation as we struggle with current reality is adding to the poverty of ambition of millions of people in Africa, Asia, south America and elsewhere.

That is why I would like to ask the Minister today to explain DFID's thinking on some of these matters. What special consideration has been given to the global economic crisis and its effect on developing countries' economies? Is a specific plan being formulated to offer both fiscal and technical guidance in respect of the problems those in the developing world now face? Surely those fellow citizens will feel the brunt of the storm.

It is fashionable to quote President-elect Obama and equally so to scorn those who do so, but I will end by quoting Obama—

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

If the hon. Gentleman would not mind, I am almost ready to wind up.

I will end by quoting Obama quoting President Kennedy:

"To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required... not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 4:14, 13 November 2008

I hope that Mr. Clarke will not take offence if I say that this debate has had a surreal quality to it, because that is in no way a reflection on his contribution. Again, I pay tribute to the sterling, unrivalled work that he has done in this Chamber over many years on international development and to his groundbreaking legislation, which is at the centre of today's debate. My observation about the surreal nature of the debate is based on the complexities of what we try to resolve on occasions such as this. Perhaps only in this arena could we be talking with such passion about untied aid that definitely has strings attached. Those who are new to the debate will not fully comprehend that.

What such people will understand, and what they will have seen, are the stark television images of the past week—the contrasting images from Africa. On the one hand, we saw the despair in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, on the other hand we saw the elation in the village of Kogelo in western Kenya at the election of Senator Obama to the presidency of the United States of America. One image was a bleak reminder of the cycle of conflict and crisis that have typified much of the development debate over generations, and the other was a celebration of the close human links between the developing world and the rich west. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we must hope that under a new American Administration those will be strengthened considerably.

Different contributors this afternoon have made reference to the tragedy of what is going on in the DRC—up to 1.6 million people have been displaced, and there are real concerns about the 100,000 or so north of Goma who are beyond the reach of aid agencies. The situation is desperate, and I join others from across the House in hoping that the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo receives the reinforcements that have been announced today, which it urgently requires to deal with the situation, and that the diplomatic efforts are successful in restoring peace and implementing the Goma agreement.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those forces will need clear rules of engagement that will allow them to shoot people who are walking around with guns? Without such rules, there will be no progress.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I understand from his colleague on the Front Bench, Mr. Mitchell, that that has been clearly set out.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the problems that we face, particularly in Africa, is that, in a sense, out of sight means out of mind? What is happening in the DRC, a country I visited some years ago, is terrible, but the situation in Darfur is as bad as it ever was and it has fallen off the front pages because of events in the DRC. The west, in particular, is very bad in this regard, because it loses interest. As a result, I fear that momentum will be lost and some of the changes that were taking place in Sudan will not now happen; and next year is a particularly important one, given that elections are to take place. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman shares my misgivings.

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman's valid point puts an extra onus on all in this House who have an interest in these matters and care all the time about them to ensure that we bring them back to the forefront of the agenda. Although Darfur has not been mentioned other than in his intervention, I hope that we might have the chance in the near future to debate the humanitarian situation there and the efforts that are being made by the Department for International Development to support the communities affected.

The scale of what is going on in the DRC, which is fresh in our minds, is staggering. For example, 100,000 people constitute the population of the entire region of which my constituency forms a part, and to imagine every last person there being beyond help, as so many are north of Goma at the moment, is striking and worrying. I hope that as the Secretary of State did not get the opportunity to focus on that situation in his speech, the Minister who winds up the debate will be able to talk about the aid package for the DRC. We hope to see it successfully delivered on the ground in the next few weeks as the situation unfolds.

The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill touched on the global financial crisis, and this debate takes place at a defining moment for development, with the developing world facing fundamental challenges in this fragile financial situation. The international focus has so far been on creating stability and injecting vast capital sums to secure domestic financial systems. That is the correct thing to do, but the danger is that the impact of the crisis is so great that we will overlook what is happening in developing countries.

This weekend, leaders of the G20 will gather to tackle some of the pressing issues. The reform agenda of the Bretton Woods institutions will be central to those discussions—and not before time—although we must hope that that is not where the discussions end. Already, countries around the world are resiling from their aid commitments. The UK must help to stop that trend in its tracks. It has been made explicit this afternoon that all hon. Members on both sides of the House support the UN target of 0.7 per cent. of GNI in overseas development assistance. We have to push everyone else to continue in that direction and not to move backwards.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that Italy is likely to take over the leadership of the G8 at a time when it has effectively dismantled its aid programme and abandoned its commitment to aspire to even half of the GDP target that others are working towards? Should the European Union take that up with Italy if it is to have the responsibility of leading the world on the issue?

Photo of Michael Moore Michael Moore Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I agree. This country works in close partnership with Italy, and it is a great shame that it has taken those backward steps, especially as it is to take that key leadership position. It is important that we do not allow that to distract us from our global efforts towards what is, frankly speaking, only a modest target. It is only a very small amount of money.

Anyone who doubts the scale of the challenges that we face need only cast their minds back to the debate in New York at the summit on the millennium development goals. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill was right to celebrate the optimistic elements of that summit, and I do not wish to be a naysayer. However, the MDG report by the United Nations highlighted the fact that the proportion of people living on less than $1 a day in sub-Saharan Africa is unlikely to be reduced by the target of 50 per cent. A quarter of all children in developing countries are considered to be underweight and at risk of their future being blighted by the long-term effects of under-nourishment.

This debate is not primarily about the MDGs. The global meltdown in the financial markets almost completely overshadowed the summit at the time, but we need to bring back the issues considered to the forefront of public debate. Renewed efforts must be made to try to ensure that we regain some of the momentum that we had towards reaching those targets and our broader development goals.

As both Front Benchers have so far indicated, there is a strong appetite among the public to try to understand our development objectives. High standards are always demanded when we spend taxpayers' money. Some people are even questioning our commitment to the level of support we give. Some do so directly, because they think we should spend the money here at home, and some do so indirectly, because they do not support the specific goals being funded. On the first point, as I said a moment ago, at the moment we offer a tiny proportion of our wealth as a country. On the second, I do not believe that anybody should tolerate corruption and we must be rigorous in tackling it.

Like Mr. Mitchell, I hope that at some point we can have some clear answers from the Government about the two different reports this year that have set out some criticisms of the Department. I hope that the Department will take them as challenges to improve. On balance, I think we would all accept that DFID always seeks to tackle overseas development and to eradicate corruption, but it would be presenting a false picture if we were to suggest that there was not still a major problem.

In our debates, we often focus on how much assistance we give. Equally, we know the costs of delivering development assistance in an inefficient or ineffective way. There are real perils if we turn a blind eye to corruption. Progress might indeed be grindingly slow, but the debate about the "How?" rather than just the "How much?" of international development is not new. The Paris declaration, followed up in Accra a few months ago, put the spotlight on that. The subheading of the declaration in 2005 illustrated the size of the challenge facing donors and recipients. Seeking to increase the effectiveness of our aid, the signatories highlighted their commitment to promoting ownership, harmonisation, alignment, results and mutual accountability. Transparency is the theme that runs through each of those ideas.

At Paris, both donors and recipients committed to a range of improvements to the respective aid management and disbursement systems, which ranged from increased use of local procurement systems by donors to broad overhauls of budgetary and public financial management systems on the part of recipient states.

The Accra conference this year offered the international community a second opportunity to iterate its commitment to positive action on improving the effectiveness of aid and assessing progress towards a series of medium-term goals outlined in Paris that are due to be achieved in less than two years' time. What emerged from Accra was a picture of partial successes and piecemeal progress towards the 2010 goals. Although the Accra agenda for action welcomed the improvements that we have seen in areas such as the co-ordination of donor funding, it outlined the need for urgent action on country ownership, increased efforts to build more inclusive partnerships for development and a more results-oriented and accountable approach to aid, all to help to ensure that we meet our commitments on aid effectiveness within the agreed time frame.

The Secretary of State spent some time talking about the international aid transparency initiative, as we would expect. The benefits of transparency within the development process are hardly controversial. However, I would like to understand the extent to which the new initiative offers something different and adds value to what already exists. Some measures repeat commitments that have already been made by the signatories of the high-level conference in Accra.

For instance, the commitment of the signatories to the new initiative to provide more reliable and detailed information about intended future aid does not appear to differ from the commitment set out in the agenda for action to provide full and timely information on aid commitments and actual disbursements. The initiative's commitment to be transparent about the conditions attached to aid similarly differs little from the Accra commitment regularly to make public all conditions attached to aid disbursements. Any new initiative is welcome, and I appreciate that that initiative was as much as anything probably born out of frustration at the pace at which change happened, but the Government will have to make a much stronger case about what it is adding that is different.

In previous exchanges, we have also explored the extractive industries transparency initiative. Hon Members have rightly mentioned the many different economic factors that contribute to conflicts in places such as the DRC. In particular, they have pointed to the impact that the extractive industries and the illicit trade in such commodities have in generating revenue for militias and others.

We strongly support the aims of the EITI, which has been endorsed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but its impact has been too limited so far. As Global Witness has said:

"The EITI is a groundbreaking effort to remedy the lack of transparency and enable better public oversight of these industries. But six years after its launch the EITI remains a promising but highly fragile initiative."

We have yet to see any country complete the implementation process officially, so the greater transparency that has been promised is nowhere near as full as we would hope.

A recent report from the Bank Information Centre has shown how the World Bank and the IMF are falling short in promoting and implementing the EITI. If even those bodies, which are supposed to protect the interests of vulnerable countries, are failing on this issue, it is hard to see why the industries themselves should be performing any better.

The initiative is approaching a "crunch" moment between now and March 2010, when candidate countries must complete the process to become EITI compliant. That process will need enormous support and encouragement from Britain, which is the initiative's founder and oldest supporter. I hope that the Minister will set out the steps that the Government are taking to ensure that candidate countries receive all the support that they need to make progress towards EITI compliance on time. In addition, what steps are the Government taking to support civil society groups in those countries, so that they can participate freely and actively in the moves towards compliance?

Critical producers and importers such as India, China and Russia are not involved with the EITI, and other countries think it is some kind of developed-world plot to undermine their industry. Surely that is where a lot more of our efforts need to be focused, at the same time as we ensure that our own house is in order.

We in this country must lead by example if we are to reach the objectives that we have set for the development assistance that we give, and for the countries that we support. One area where we have yet to show that lead is that of tax transparency. The international community will gather in Doha later this month, as the Secretary of State noted, to take the next steps towards financing the gaps in international development. We support the Government's agenda in that respect, but The Observer reported recently that the UK seems to be lobbying to remove paragraph 10 from the draft Doha outcome document.

The offending paragraph states:

"We will strengthen efforts to increase tax revenues through more effective tax collection and modernisation of tax legislation including through simplification of the tax system, broadening of the tax base and strongly combating tax evasion. To support individual country efforts in these areas, it will be important to enhance international cooperation in tax matters and broaden participation in the development of international tax norms and rules. We will consider strengthening the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation on Tax Matters by upgrading it to an intergovernmental body."

According to The Observer, the Treasury is blocking the whole paragraph and a spokesman was quoted as saying:

"The UK makes an active contribution to the existing UN tax committee. It is not clear that an upgrade to the existing committee...would deliver any additional benefit."

I want to know whether the newspaper is correct. If it is, how on earth have we found ourselves in the position of lobbying against something that looks pretty inoffensive and is perhaps just basic common sense? Indeed, should we not be actively lobbying for the inclusion of that paragraph? I hope we can get reassurance on that, because if we do not show a lead on the issue, how can we expect to be followed on much of our agenda?

All of us in the House support wealth creation as a crucial element of long-term sustainable development. Private companies have an absolutely fundamental role to play in that, but it would undermine support for a fundamental tool of international development if we sent out any signals that we were less than wholly committed to appropriate tax behaviour.

The Government have taken a welcome lead on many aspects of transparency. They are open about their own expenditure, in large part as a result of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, introduced by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, which has been referred to a few times. However, there is one area where I remain perplexed about the apparent reluctance of DFID to ensure the transparency of its activities.

CDC is a significant player in the world of development investment. It invests public money in companies in the developing world. Indeed, its spending contributes directly towards the UK's development spending figures, and forms part of our progress towards the UN 0.7 per cent. official development assistance commitment. The Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Lewis, will be aware that I have raised various issues relating to the accounts of CDC's subsidiary companies and its investment funds in recent months. There is a real issue there to do with tax transparency. Why is CDC using tax structures to shelter its investment?

Christian Aid recently produced an important report entitled "Death and taxes: the true toll of tax dodging". It quoted a senior adviser to the Tax Justice Network, who said that the tax rates enjoyed by CDC

"are just about the lowest I have ever seen. They make the most advanced tax planners look like amateurs.

They are the result of statutory tax exemption for CDC in the UK and negotiated exemptions overseas. It sets the most appalling precedent that companies investing in developing countries should not expect to pay tax."

I understand the exemption from UK tax, as it allows the re-investment of profits earned on investments overseas; what I do not get is the avoidance of tax elsewhere. A cynic might wonder whether a public body should strictly follow the best practice of the private equity world. Someone even more cynical might wonder whether the agenda is to position CDC in a way that makes future privatisation look as attractive as possible. The Department has to rethink the guidance that it gives to CDC. There was very little about that in the new investment guide, policy and code published just last week. The issue is undermining Britain's position as a leader on such issues. I hope that we will see a change of policy.

Amid all the current world crises we must not forget the developing world. We must not lose sight of the broader battles to achieve the millennium development goals. Transparency is a fundamental issue at the heart of every aspect of our debates. If we are to take a lead, we must also set an example. Although the Government have much to take credit for, they still have a great deal of scope for improvement.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth 4:38, 13 November 2008

Like some of the previous speakers, I have visited Uganda with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on a cross-party visit. Like others speakers, I came back with vivid memories of the country. Yes, there was an enormous amount of poverty there, which I will come to in a moment, but surprisingly, in parts of Kampala, and on the road between the airport and the capital city, there were obvious examples of large amounts of wealth. One day, a number of us flew to a refugee camp in the Gulu province. As has been mentioned, we sat around a mud hut where there were people suffering the effects of malnutrition. There was very little food, and people were getting what they could from the UN agencies. People faced the constant threat of being robbed or raped at gunpoint by the Lord's Resistance Army and other terrorist organisations. There was something particularly surprising about that scene because when one sees such images on the television, one naturally assumes that they are of refugee camps out in the middle of nowhere, but just a few miles down the road, we were able to drive into a fully functioning town with paved roads, its own radio station, and a bustling market. We were treated to a banquet, which all the local dignitaries attended, at which we discussed the fact that not enough aid was getting through and that there was not enough transparency.

Another day, back in Kampala, we were treated to an official dinner by the Ugandan Government—another great big banquet, with course after course in the Sheraton or perhaps the Hilton. Once again, we nodded over coffee and ice cream, and agreed that there was not enough aid coming through to African countries, and that there was not enough transparency. Afterwards, I wandered outside for some reason, and I saw a long line of sleek, black Mercedes-Benz with chauffeurs. Doubtless, if I had been able to go over and talk to them—they were there to collect Members of Parliament and Ministers who attended the dinner—and if they were minded to exchange small-talk, they, too, would have agreed that there was not enough aid coming through to central Africa and that there was not enough transparency.

I wanted to discuss those issues with DFID in Uganda, and I was looking forward to meeting its officials when we visited the British embassy, but there was no sign of DFID there. The British embassy has been heavily upgraded in Uganda, as I am sure many other embassies in that part of Africa have been. Millions of pounds have been spent on it, because it is a huge security risk and terrorist target. It is quite right that the money has been spent, but there was no sign of DFID in the embassy. It did not like being there, and wanted to be elsewhere, so it had rooms on the other side of Kampala in a luxury suite of offices—a first-world building in a third-world country for which, I am sure, the British taxpayer paid first-world prices. I looked forward to speaking to the head of DFID in Uganda and asking him about transparency and why we were not saving money by locating the Department in the British embassy. However, I could not do so, because he was busy doing something else. He was doing important things—too important to speak to a cross-party group of Members of Parliament representing the taxpayers who paid his salary. We were not told what he was doing, but it was made quite clear to us by his deputy that our appearance in Kampala was somewhat inconvenient. Perhaps the Minister will pass on our apologies for troubling them when he next visits the place. However, I never found out much when I was in Uganda.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

Does the hon. Gentleman realise the offence he has caused to the remarkable men and women who work in incredibly difficult circumstances, not usually motivated by financial or material gain, often risking their lives on behalf of this country? Will he apologise for giving a misleading, out-of-context impression about the contribution of our amazing staff on the ground in many of the most challenging countries of the world?

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

No. If the Minister cares to look at what I just said, I made a factual comment. [ Interruption. ] Hang on, will the Minister listen to me for a moment? I made a factual comment about the head of DFID in Uganda who was not able to see us on a cross-party visit with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 2006. If he wants to check his facts, I am more than happy for him to do so. What I am giving is a factual statement, and I am not making any comment about DFID members of staff in other parts of the world. The Minister had better check the record, and perhaps he will apologise to me when he has done so and realises that his comments were a complete misrepresentation of what I said. I do not believe, however, that members of DFID are risking their lives in Kampala. They would do so if they went to northern Uganda and Gulu province, but they are based in a first-world office block in Kampala. No doubt, they go to that province on occasion, but it is not where they are based, and Kampala is not a particularly dangerous place. If it was, I was risking my life, along with other Members of Parliament, many of them in the Chamber today, who have been there.

My experience of DFID led me to table a few parliamentary questions. One of the first was about the number of offices that it had. Now, I shall give the Minister credit for one thing, which is that DFID's mission statement, when compared with most Departments', is—surprisingly—absolutely clear and, I might add, a refreshing change. Its website states that DFID is all about handling Britain's aid to the world's poorest countries, so I looked through the list of places where DFID has offices, and I was surprised to find that among the places that are presumably considered poor are Paris, Vienna, Geneva and Brussels. The United States of America obviously suffers from a great deal of poverty, because it has two DFID offices, one in Washington and one in New York.

I should like to know from the Minister why we have a base in sunny Barbados, where the average GDP is $19,000 per head. It also benefits from the munificence of the British taxpayers and the presence of a DFID office, which, the website states, is there to draw up regional development plans. No doubt if any staff take offence at my speech, they will demand that I come over and see how hard they are working. I might be available around about Christmas time, if the Minister wants to sanction that one.

There are other offices about which I have questions, and other Members have already mentioned some. Those offices are located in cities in Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and Russia. Poverty exists in all those countries; there is no doubt about it, but those countries also have huge amounts of wealth. They are not really the poorest of the poor, but countries where, if there were a will, something could be done about the existing poverty. In the case of Russia in particular, I find it extraordinary that, on the one hand, we make bellicose statements to its Government about what they have done in South Ossetia, even though it now appears that the whole thing was started by another country, while, on the other, we hand out aid to them. It seems to be a remarkable contradiction. Yes, people are dying of tuberculosis in India, and that is an absolute tragedy, but there are people dying of starvation in British hospitals, and that is also an absolute tragedy.

The fact is that we should send our aid to countries where we can make a difference. Why on earth, therefore, do we bother to send millions of pounds in aid to China, for heaven's sake? China is likely to overtake America as one of the world's great superpowers over the next few decades; it is spending millions of pounds on its space programme and on its nuclear weapons; it has just announced that it is going to try to build a bigger navy than America's; and, irony of ironies, we saw plenty of evidence of China's own aid programme in Uganda, where it is building Government offices. We give money to the Chinese, and the Chinese give their money to African nations, securing all sorts of concessions in return. The idea that in 20 or 30 years' time, the Chinese, as one of the world's pre-eminent superpowers, will look back and think, "Oh, we'll treat the British slightly differently because they gave us what in relative terms was a small amount of money," just shows the left-wing, colonial and patronising attitude that is all too prevalent in some parts of the Government and, dare I say it, in Departments. They think that because we give out relatively small amounts of money, somebody is going to care or remember in a few decades' time. It is complete and utter naiveté, and as someone who has a Chinese family, I can assure the House that the Chinese must be laughing up their sleeves at it.

One of my basic concerns is that we are spending a vast amount of money paying first-world salaries and first-world rents for offices in countries throughout the world. The parliamentary answer that I have before me is about two years old, but it is simply a list of all our DFID offices. I totted them up, and there were about 80.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I am more than happy to give way to the Minister. Perhaps he could try to be more polite when he makes his point this time.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that even his own party's Front-Bench spokesman refers constantly to DFID being a world leader in development? For all the legitimate questions that David T.C. Davies raises about the direction of policy, that is a point that his own Front-Bench spokesperson—from the shadow Cabinet—makes time and again. Will the hon. Gentleman apologise for being so offensive about the role of DFID front-line staff? I do not mind what he says about me.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I point out to the Minister that this is an opportunity for me to put questions to him through the Chair; if I want to raise issues with a Front-Bench spokesman, I can do that in a different way. I do not mind how offensive the Minister is to me. I meet people far more offensive than him every Friday night when I work as a special constable, although he is coming close in some respects. However, as a Minister of the Government, he might care to reflect on the fact that we are allowed to express ourselves and raise criticisms in this place. I am surprised that he finds that so offensive.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I make an appeal for the debate to return to a more even tenor. The personal aspects on both sides are jarring to the general theme of the afternoon.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

I am more than happy to return to the subject of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point that I was trying to make—I am sorry if the Minister finds it offensive—is that DFID has a large number of offices and staff, and a limited budget. We can argue all day about whether that budget should increase, but we should all agree that it should be spent as wisely as possible. I am suggesting that rather than having 80 offices all around the world in places such as Paris, Geneva and Brussels, we concentrate on a dozen or two dozen of the very poorest countries in the world, perhaps those with previous links to Britain. We should concentrate as many of our efforts as possible on reducing the overheads and spending the money—whatever the budget—on those who need it.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in this context the most important thing that this country can do, apart from being a donor country, is to influence international institutions and other donors so that they step up to the mark and make the right decisions on international development? That is why we need offices where the international institutions are located. It is important and in our national interest that we should lead on influencing development policy across the developing world.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Conservative, Monmouth

The Minister overlooks the fact that that is the role of embassies and the Foreign Office. Earlier, he made it clear that he condemned the idea of giving out foreign aid with strings attached about how Governments should run themselves. He needs to make up his mind about his own policy; he has contradicted himself throughout this debate. If we give out money with no strings attached, we should not concentrate on foreign policy at all but simply make sure that the money goes to those who need it most.

I put it to the Minister, with respect and courtesy, that we would do far more if we concentrated on 12 or 20 of the poorest countries in the world, rather than trying to spread ourselves thinly throughout the world and making what in many cases will be a very small difference. The Minister gets angry when anyone criticises his Department, but I tell him that the role of a Member of Parliament, who is elected by taxpayers, is to ask difficult questions about how Government money is spent. I have a concern about the attitude of some DFID members of staff—not least because of my own experiences, but also because of the experiences of constituents.

I recently met a retired eye surgeon from Abergavenny. Over the years, he had done some work in Ethiopia. Having retired, he wanted to work for free. This was not some naive 21-year-old just out of university knocking on the door and asking to work on an aid programme, but a retired eye surgeon who wanted to give up his time for free and start a project training people to undertake basic surgery to enable people with certain eye diseases to see again. He told me that he got no help whatever from DFID and was treated as something of an inconvenience. The very idea that Government money could be given to an individual, even one with enormous skills and expertise, to do what the mission statement says the Department is all about, was simply incomprehensible to the officials involved. I believe the gentleman concerned because he is highly respected and because he went out and set up the charity himself. He is now training people in Ethiopia to go out and give people their sight back. In other words, he is exactly the sort of person whom we should be supporting but were not able to—presumably because people were busy drawing up action plans instead of giving practical help.

My points are that we are spread too thinly across the world and that we are in many of the wrong places. Many of the countries in which we are present are perfectly able to help themselves if they wish to and our presence will not make any difference to their foreign policy over the next few decades. If we concentrated our efforts on 12 or 20 of the poorest of the poor countries of the world, we could make a significant difference to people's lives.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee 4:54, 13 November 2008

I certainly do not intend to try to follow that pub rant from David T.C. Davies, which seems to be considerably at odds with the views of Mr. Mitchell and gives a degree of discomfort to the idea that we have a modern, reformed, liberal-minded Conservative party that wants to engage in these issues. Of course, there is an entirely reasonable debate to be had about how DFID should deploy its staff and its resources and in how many countries, and what its priorities are. My Committee, the International Development Committee, regards its prime function as to call the Department to account, challenge it on its policies and make constructive recommendations, which I hope that we do.

Transparency is one of those issues that is very easy to talk about and a lot more difficult to deliver. It is not always possible to turn every expenditure of cash into a measurable result, but we must try to do it, as far as possible, for exactly the reasons that have been stated—to reassure taxpayers at home that the money is being spent effectively to achieve the objectives and to reassure people in the countries on the receiving end that their Governments are using the money to good effect.

As I understand it, a significant aspect of providing direct budget support is to try to enable the developing country to build up the capacity to control its own budget and expenditure and to deliver services, ultimately to the point at which the revenues that are generated allow the development support to be phased out and withdrawn. Whenever my Committee and I visit DFID offices in various countries, we always ask the staff to what extent their budget is being distributed under direct budget support, and what engagement they have with the people with whom they are working in government to ensure that as far as possible—allowing for the fact that it is their choice, not ours, what the money is delivered for—it is being spent properly. That is a difficult ask, and the situation needs to be consistently and constantly monitored and improved. Several of the Government's initiatives represent at least an attempt to put in place processes and procedures that will improve the quality of that process. I do not think that they will be offended if I say that we have some way to go, but that is not necessarily to suggest that we are doing the wrong things.

The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield expressed concern about some of the countries that are receiving direct budget support and suggested that our Committee might investigate that, and we are happy to discuss whether and how we might do so in future. I assure him that we continually discuss and ask about direct budget support. We are going to visit Kenya and Tanzania in pursuit of our inquiry into sustainable development in a changing climate, but also with an awareness that Tanzania is the largest recipient of direct budget support in Africa. The Committee will want to ask about that and try to provide reassurance, which I hope might be helpful to the Department as well.

The new Administration in the United States should not be lost sight of in this context. The US Congress and the present Administration have argued that they do not approve of direct budget support and will not give it. It is sometimes argued that they are hiding behind the idea that congressional rules will not allow it, but Congress has the capacity to change its rules. It has been suggested that under the new Administration the United States might be willing to move, albeit gently, towards giving direct budget support in partnership and co-ordination with other donors, and we must not say anything that deters them from doing that. We should not say that it is fundamentally wrong, only that it is challenging and that we must ensure that it is effectively delivered.

Indeed, it is in that context that co-ordination among donors is important. If we can get all the European donors, the United States, Canada and perhaps even Japan to agree to a set of rules, or even to channel aid through the same vehicles, as we are trying to do in Afghanistan, there will be a much greater chance of delivering better accountability, better transparency and better quality aid, and we will do so in such a way that the country on the receiving end will have the capacity to absorb aid more effectively.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

Will the Chairman of the Select Committee make two particular inquiries about direct budgetary support transparency? First, my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell mentioned substitution, whereby giving aid to a country allows their leaders to spend money on jets, for example, which is undesirable. Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman examine how much money is getting to the projects it is supposed to support on the ground, rather than being creamed off in corruption at the centre?

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I am perfectly happy to do that, but I can also assure the hon. Gentleman that those are the sort of questions that we have asked. On Uganda, about which questions have been raised, it is interesting that the Ugandan Government had an agreement with the community about money being spent on education in which they undertook to nail on the school door a breakdown of the budget allocated, where it was coming from and how it would be spent so that the community could monitor the situation.

That brings me to my second point: we have to develop countries' capacity to monitor their own expenditure effectively. That means working with Parliaments and with civic society. When we have a debate about ownership of aid and development by developing countries, we have to understand clearly that we are talking about ownership not only by the Government, but as far as possible, by the people. We need to give Parliaments information that allows them to call their Governments to account, and work with civic society to challenge MPs and inform the public. That is probably the best defence against money being misappropriated, although we have to accept that in many cases it will take many years for a strong and sophisticated capacity of that sort to develop.

It has sometimes been argued that there is a sort of perverse, inverse relationship between aid and development. Professor Collier calls it the Dutch disease; he asserts that in some cases, the more aid a country is given, the less responsive it is—the poorer it gets, in other words. His argument is that the purchase of local currency creates a drain, which cannot be offset if there is no strong economy. To counter that, I would say that his is an argument for ensuring that the aid is of high quality and is well targeted, not an argument for not giving the aid.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

The right hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech. On Uganda, I remind him that during the visit I mentioned earlier, we had the opportunity to meet the Minister of Finance. He opened the books, and one of the most glaring aspects of what he told us was debt repayment. It was absolutely astonishing. We found that developed countries were already benefiting a great deal from the poorest countries in the world, and given the right hon. Gentleman's experience, I am sure that he would want to acknowledge the progress that we have made in that field.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I do. It is always difficult when one gets drawn into a detailed debate about an individual country, because of the complexity within. It is absolutely true that debt repayment, and in some cases the liquidation of that debt, has been a key part of the process. At the end of the day, it is important that future arrangements do not sink into that sort of relationship. Countries should be able to borrow, but on their own terms, not unfair terms, and with debts that can be properly serviced, not what might be called odious debt. We must avoid returning to that situation.

Two or three topical concerns have already been raised, but one has not been, and it is one on which I suspect the Minister cannot make any immediate comment. I was somewhat horrified, just before I came into the Chamber, to see John Ging being interviewed live from Gaza on BBC News 24, saying that 750,000 people there are desperately in need of food aid from the United Nations Works and Relief Agency, and that they have had no supplies delivered since yesterday. He says that the food is on the Israeli side of the border and that the Israelis are refusing to allow it to pass, which is contrary to their international obligations and the law, which permits humanitarian relief.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will at least use his good offices to ensure that the UK applies appropriate pressure so that the food gets through. Those who need it are mostly destitute women and children and unemployed men, who have no other form of income in a small territory where there is no other food to be had. That is not usually the case—even in the poorest countries, it is amazing how food can sometimes be obtained. However, given that Gaza is shut in, the problem is serious.

Yesterday, members of the Committee had the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We did not get a clear answer—he undertook to write to us—about the reason for the extent of the delay in reaching some people, or even identifying them. It was disturbing to read about and see television pictures of people who had had no food for two or three days, and sometimes up to six days. Clearly, the consequences do not require stressing in the Chamber.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The problem is that people are not fleeing to semi-established or established camps. They are fleeing, in the clothes that they stand up in, into a most inhospitable jungle territory. That is why it is taking so long to get desperately needed support to those who are suffering.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I understand, and I am grateful for that intervention. I am simply trying to say that we can imagine the consequences if we cannot reach those people soon.

Several of us attended the round-table briefing at the Foreign Office this morning about Afghanistan, which brought us up to date. The results of a BBC poll, based on a stark and rather silly question, were published yesterday and showed that 68 per cent. of the British people wanted our troops to be withdrawn within a year. The question did not provide any context, but revealed a problem. Liberal Democrat Members—and, I believe, most Members—believe that engagement with Afghanistan is necessary. It is in the interests of British security and right for the people of Afghanistan, even if it is a difficult and challenging place to be. There are concerns about the way in which we communicate that.

It is understandable, given that the United Kingdom's military commitment is in Helmand and that significant numbers of men and women in our armed forces are dying in that engagement, that the British people question the reason for putting our troops in harm's way to that extent in such a far-away place. That tends to lead to an exclusive focus on what happens in Helmand, and does not take into account the fact that Afghanistan is a substantial country, and that not everywhere is in the same position as Helmand. Indeed, approximately 75 to 80 per cent. of British aid and development expenditure happens in other parts of the country through the national Government to help achieve important development objectives, such as getting children, including more than 2 million girls, back into school, and impressively providing at least basic health care throughout the country. Other objectives include improving communications and roads and are mostly financed by the United States. In other words, the picture is not all negative and bad.

The nature of society in Afghanistan means that it has never had a unified Government and bureaucracy running the entire country. It has always been run through some form of agency—local leaders, warlords, tribal chiefs and so on. It is therefore not surprising that that continues to happen to some extent. It does not mean that the country is not being governed, that state money is not being properly spent or that services are not reaching the people. However, as our Committee found when we visited, the people of Afghanistan are all too often unaware of what is happening. It is simple for a local governor to pretend that all the largesse—it is not much largesse; we are considering a very poor country—is somehow his creation rather than something that has come from the central Government. Similarly, central Government want to claim the credit, rather than admit that the help comes from the international community.

That is a dilemma. It is a problem if we cannot win the Afghan people's hearts and minds and show them that we are in a genuine partnership—a partnership between the international community and the people, to try to achieve the stability and ability to develop that they want, and between the people of our country and Afghanistan to enable it to build up a viable state.

That is a challenge for us, but we all have a responsibility to fulfil it, at least so that the great sacrifices of our forces will have been made not in vain or for a failed project, but for one that, however difficult, might ultimately be achieved. I suggest—I say this with the Secretary of State in his place once more—that there is scope for more explanation of the interaction between the military and DFID in Afghanistan and of how things work. Those of us who are engaged in the debate understand that, but even in the House and certainly among the wider public, there is a lack of understanding about how those aspects interact. There is a form of transparency that is not about just money, but about understanding aims and objectives and what is happening.

The Secretary of State quite understandably mentioned the undertakings that were made in Accra and has probably read, as I have, Simon Maxwell's blog. Having honestly said that he was not sure what Accra was all about when he went, Simon Maxwell paid tribute to the Secretary of State for the energy that he had expended in trying to secure an agreement that contained real commitments, rather than just platitudinous statements, which is what people told the Committee they feared it would contain when we visited earlier in the year. I am happy to share that acknowledgment. As Simon Maxwell also said, it is fine to get a lot of countries signing up to a big commitment, but people will want to see what that means in terms of ownership and buy-in.

That leads me back—I am happy to conclude on this point—to the relationship between the donors and the developing countries and the people living there. The reason why DFID was created as a distinct Department was to separate foreign policy from development and to focus on poverty reduction, so that development policy would not be compromised by being an instrument of foreign policy or by commercial interests. That has been a success, both in persuading the British people that our aid programme is worthy of support and in determining our approach, which has helped DFID to achieve a position of leadership throughout the world.

I must also echo what the Under-Secretary said. The entire staff of DFID comprise about 2,500 people, which includes foreign nationals employed in overseas offices. That core—the UK part of it, at least—is under the same strictures of staff reduction as staff in other Departments are. That is a challenge for the Department and there is no doubt a shortage of expertise. There are ways around the problem, ingenious or not, that need to be pursued. There are also questions about how one might prioritise—in terms not only of money, but of staff—what we do and do not do, both sectorally and in individual countries.

Although I did not take too much to the style of the speech that the hon. Member for Monmouth made, it is always perfectly possible to conduct a proper review of the number of countries we engage in and how effectively we do so, although I understand that a significant number of offices have been closed this year.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point about the constraints on numbers that operate across Whitehall, including DFID. Let me reiterate that we think it is absolutely absurd that DFID staffing figures are being restricted at a time when the budget is rising significantly. The staffing level should be set to meet that rising budget, not the reverse.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The Committee has not completed its report this year, but we certainly acknowledge the pressures and have expressed our concerns. The permanent secretary is obviously constrained by the rules across Government, but she conceded that the Department was struggling. That is something that we should take to heart.

I want to pick up the point made by the hon. Gentleman about the website, which I believe has some merit, and to ask the Department to consider it. Perhaps the Secretary of State could give some thought to the exact purpose of the website. Whenever our Committee visits countries in which we have an engaged programme, we visit DFID. I am sure that other Committees visit their relevant Departments. We usually get an extremely thorough, detailed briefing from the DFID office, showing what is being spent, what the priorities are, the breakdown, and an honest question-and-answer session. A lot of that information could be in the public domain. It would help if we could go to the website and find out exactly what the budget is and what the priorities are in more detail and in a more up-to-date way. That would make the website more interactively beneficial and the Department more transparent. It could address some of the concerns: it is not that people are against what is being done; they just do not know what is being done, which makes them either suspicious or inclined to ask questions. Will the Secretary of State consider whether more could be done to make the information more accessible and transparent?

The Committee's report looked at how we as a country and the international donor community could work more effectively together. It became clear in that process that how effectively we can work depends on whom we are working with. The Committee, in choosing which of our European partners to have a dialogue with, made a journey from Rome to Berlin to Copenhagen and then, via video link, to Stockholm. Not to put too fine a point on it, I am glad that we did it in that order, because the reverse process would have been deeply depressing.

The reality, as far as I can see, is that the Italians have pretty well opted out of supporting the commitment to international aid and development. The previous Italian Government were in the process of setting up their own development agency; the present Italian Government have abandoned it. I am grateful that they are continuing to support the multi-national organisations, but that is probably about saving face among their peers. They support the Rome-based institutions but, beyond that, there is very little commitment.

I do not want to do a qualitative analysis, but there is a group of countries that we, the Foreign Office and DFID call the northern liberals, and which the Scandinavian countries refer to as the Nordic-plus countries—basically, the Scandinavian countries, plus the Netherlands, the UK and Ireland. We are definitely like-minded and work together. Doing so can have a huge impact in driving the right kind of development. By that, I mean development that is designed to reduce poverty, to give poor people in developing countries a degree of ownership and control over the quality of aid and development, and to help them to call their Governments to account. In that way, they can be part of the process of lifting themselves out of poverty and achieving the success and development that they have been denied for so long, but that they richly deserve.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire 5:18, 13 November 2008

This is an important debate and there is not much time left, so I shall try not to go over the ground that other hon. Members have covered.

It was slightly regrettable that the Secretary of State injected a rather partisan tone into his contribution. Under his predecessor, Hilary Benn, we had some really good international development debates in the Chamber. There was space for disagreement about how to achieve objectives, but there was a large measure of cross-party agreement on the commitment to reducing poverty. We lost a lot of time earlier in the debate with a rather artificial quarrel that was picked by Labour Members about our commitment—or our alleged lack of commitment—to tackling poverty in the world's poorest countries.

There are two backdrops to the debate, the first of which is the ongoing effort to achieve greater transparency on international aid. Tribute has been paid to Mr. Clarke, who introduced a private Member's Bill on the matter that made strides in that direction. However, the agenda clearly has a long way to run to establish good linkage between, on the one hand, the high-level rhetoric that we use in the Chamber about development, the commitment to tackling poverty around the world, and the nature of our interventions and assistance, and, on the other hand, the hard outcomes such as the lives saved, the children educated, and all the things that members of the public would understand.

The second backdrop is the current economic crisis, which is not just a crisis for the developed world, but very much for the developing world, too. Other Members may not share my experience, but I am no longer receiving letters or e-mails from constituents urging me to do more to tackle global poverty. When I was elected three and a half years ago, I was flooded with postcards, campaign letters and e-mails as part of the "Make Poverty History" campaign. The agenda has moved on, so where we agree on the promise to give 0.7 per cent. of our gross national income in overseas assistance and to do more to tackle global poverty, it is now incumbent on us to remake the case for more and better aid.

There is still a cross-party consensus on this issue, but the mood of the public has changed discernibly and understandably, at a time when many of my constituents are fearful of losing their jobs, when many jobs are being lost up and down the country and when people are having their homes repossessed. Quite rightly, their first thoughts and concerns are about their immediate livelihoods. There remains a huge amount of public good will and residual support for doing more to tackle global poverty, but it is understandable that people's immediate concerns have moved on. We have to remake the case, as I said, for this rather large and quick ramping up of overseas aid spending that the Secretary of State has announced.

Let me deal briefly with a couple of other points. On aid to China and India, if hon. Members of any party choose to question whether continuing our overseas aid programmes to those countries is the best use of our resources, particularly given that they are both making big strides towards reaching middle-income status, that does not necessarily imply that they are any less committed to tackling global poverty. It is arrogant, however, to believe that the £40 million or £50 million of overseas aid that we give to China each year makes a jot of difference to the country's progress towards reducing poverty. Its success in doing so is almost all down to the remarkable economic growth rates that the country has achieved.

I do not agree that we should cut our aid programme to India, on the other hand, because the country still has the world's largest concentration of poor people, and a third of the poorest. We will need a substantial programme in India for some time to come. We can still ask about the nature of our programme and whether enough goes to support judicial or police effectiveness, for example, which might do more to reduce the propensity towards communal violence that we saw this summer when the Christian community was attacked in Orissa state. Those sort of measures might help to further India's trajectory of growth and rising prosperity, but I do not think that large-scale poverty reduction programmes funded by ourselves will be what does it for a country the size of India.

I want to conclude with some points about Zimbabwe. In last week's International Development questions, my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton asked about aid to Zimbabwe, and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Mr. Lewis replied:

"The aid that we give to Zimbabwe goes directly to the United Nations and does not go through any governmental organisations within Zimbabwe."—[ Hansard, 5 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 238.]

He and Ministers before him have gone to great lengths to demonstrate to the House and the public that we have not supported Mugabe's regime with overseas aid. However, the answer he provided to my hon. Friend did not paint quite the whole picture. He tried to maintain that our aid does not go through any of the Zimbabwe governmental organisations, but the global fund—a multilateral initiative to which we are a major donor; we have some leverage over its policy—is about to make a very substantial contribution to Zimbabwe. It is going to be deposited directly in the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, which is controlled by one of Mugabe's henchmen. It is entirely legitimate to raise that issue in the context of wanting greater transparency about the aid we give to that country. I hope that when the Minister concludes the debate he will return to this point and clarify whether he is satisfied that an adequate assessment has been made of the risk attached to this considerable sum of money, which the Government of Zimbabwe will shortly receive.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham 5:24, 13 November 2008

Holding the Government to account is the job and the responsibility of us Opposition Members. It is also our duty. Scrutinising overseas aid effectiveness today, given the economic crisis that we are experiencing in our own country, is therefore of paramount importance.

I am helping many of my constituents whose homes are being repossessed or who are losing their jobs. I am fighting to save rural primary schools, and, on a regular basis, fighting to obtain life-saving drugs for many of my constituents. We all support international aid for the poorest countries, but, given the constraints that our country faces, it is important for us to scrutinise the Government on how the money is spent and to whom it goes.

What I have seen today has shocked me and caused me genuine concern. I refer to the arrogance of the Government. After 10 years in power, they have become truly arrogant. That could be seen in the way in which they have behaved during the debate. My hon. Friends and I have tried to raise a number of important issues, but in my three and a half years as a Member of Parliament I have never seen a Minister behave as Mr. Lewis has behaved today. The constant laughter sounds like someone strangling a cat; it is a very strange laugh. I have never seen any behaviour like that. I feel like showing it on my website so that people can see the reaction of this Minister when we are raising very, very important issues. I worry about the credibility of the Chamber when Ministers of the Crown behave in such an appalling, shocking way. He demeans not only himself but the entire Chamber and our parliamentary process.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

Silly it may be, but we live in a democracy, and I am entitled to my views.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

I will not give way. I have very little time left because of the amount of time taken by the Secretary of State and other Members.

The Secretary of State implied—he almost agreed—that we were giving aid to China to try to influence that country. That is simply wrong. Whatever happened to Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy? China has the fastest-growing economy in the world. Its expenditure on arms is the second largest in the world. It has a major space project and a huge, thriving economy. Why we are giving money to China at a time when our own constituents are suffering—at a time when our own constituents are not receiving life-saving medical treatment and operations—is simply beyond me.

India has the largest number of billionaires in the world. It has nuclear weapons, and is experiencing huge economic expansion. Moreover, many Indian companies are currently buying up United Kingdom companies.

Finally, as I mentioned in an intervention, there is Russia, a country which has recently invaded Georgia—a helpless, defenceless country—which has $500 billion in reserves, and which is building up one of the world's great military powers. The fact that we are giving aid to Russia is simply unacceptable. When I tell my constituents that we are still giving aid to Russia, they look at me in bewilderment. They simply do not understand how we as a country can afford to do that. As I have said before, our country is borrowing £40 billion this year alone just to keep our budget afloat.

In a very long speech, the Secretary of State did not refer to the European Union once. A huge amount of British taxpayers' money is channelled through the EU. How do we scrutinise that aid and its effectiveness? The EU is notorious for mishandling grants and aid: its accounts have not been signed off for 13 years.

Photo of Daniel Kawczynski Daniel Kawczynski Conservative, Shrewsbury and Atcham

My hon. Friend has rightly corrected me: it is 14 years.

What is the Minister going to do? How does he propose to explain to our citizens how this money is spent? Surely our citizens deserve to be briefed in a far better way about the transparency of the EU, and about how it spends British taxpayers' money abroad. I have no doubt that some of the work that the EU does is important and vital, but I shall be asking the Chairman of the Select Committee to invite the relevant Commissioner from Brussels to come before our Committee to explain to us how the EU budget is spent. We also need an independent aid watchdog, as my hon. Friends have said, to provide impartial and objective analysis—a watchdog that will report to the Select Committee, on which I sit, and to Parliament, rather than, as at present, organisations reporting directly to the Minister.

What tangible progress has the governance and transparency fund made to allow citizens to make their voices heard? Conservatives are committed to publishing full details of all British aid spending on the DFID website. Why will not the Government follow suit?

Many articles have appeared in our national newspapers about corruption, which has been referred to. One which took me aback was that the President of Congo-Brazzaville has many luxury apartments in Paris and Monte Carlo. Why do The Daily Telegraph and other media cover this? It is simply because it sells newspapers. Why does it sell newspapers? Because it is a travesty; it is strange for the President of Congo-Brazzaville to have yachts in Monte Carlo and luxury flats in some of the best residential parts of Paris while aid is going to that country. Is the Secretary of State raising the issues directly with the President of Congo-Brazzaville?

The King of Swaziland has bought a huge luxury jet. What amazed me is that he spent more on his birthday party celebrations than the entire amount of UK aid to that country. He spent the equivalent of all our aid that we gave to Swaziland on his 36th birthday party. I find that simply unacceptable when I am fighting tooth and nail for life-saving drugs for my constituents. That is why it is so important to hold the Government to account on these matters.

I have been extremely upset—I have never been so emotional—by the Government's arrogance in dismissing our genuine concerns. The conduct of the Under-Secretary towards my hon. Friend David T.C. Davies was breathtaking to say the least. We need to challenge corrupt leaders and make them realise that we will continue to give aid only if they clean up their act and are not prepared to be corrupt any more.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 5:32, 13 November 2008

I am delighted to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in a debate that takes place in a climate of world economic turmoil and that is therefore even more important. My hon. Friend Mr. Crabb was exactly right and said probably the most true thing in the entire debate: our constituents, faced with difficult economic circumstances, will be looking at how our Government spend our money including our international development budget, and saying "Yes, but we want to make sure the Government spend it properly."

That is why I want to pay tribute to Mr. Clarke, whom I have known for a long time. He makes a valuable contribution to this House on international development matters and has done so for a long time and from a genuine perspective. However, I have to say to him that he was joining the Secretary of State in a little bit of political banter in trying to cast doubt on our very strong commitment—repeated by my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell on many occasions—to the international target of 0.7 per cent. of GNI by 2013. I want to make that absolutely clear.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I tried to intervene on the right hon. Gentleman earlier but he quite reasonably said that he was reaching his peroration. Perhaps he will answer the following point when I give way to him in a moment. I was interested in his motive for promoting his Bill. What did he think DFID was not doing that it should do? Was it just merely presentation or were there things in the Department that he thought it could do better?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, as I wanted to do, for not giving way. Daniel Kawczynski made the point that a lot of people were making speeches and others wanted to get into the debate, and it was for that reason alone that I did not give way.

I find it very flattering that Mr. Clifton-Brown puts that question to me. When a Back Bencher is given the opportunity to introduce a Bill, he does so hoping that he will get the support of this House and the other place. So the hon. Gentleman's question is really to Parliament: why did it feel the need, as it did unanimously and rightly, to pass that Act? I hope that the legislation is helping us to make the progress that Members on both sides of the House have identified is needed.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his reasonable explanation, as always, and for his apology.

There was a certain amount of scoffing during the debate that the Opposition international development team were not robust or inquiring. Anne Snelgrove cited a blog that said that the policies of Her Majesty's Opposition were merely a "derivative" of the Government's policies, but she failed to read out the entire quotation. During the course of the debate, our excellent research team have been able to find the full quote, which goes on to state that the Opposition's policies contain

"a number of sensible proposals" and that there are

"plenty of good things to be said about them".

If we are to get the quotes right in this debate, we must cite them in their entirety and not just partially.

The international transparency commitment largely stemmed from what happened in Accra, as the Secretary of State made clear. We wholly concur with the view that there should be better aid co-ordination, publication and effectiveness, and he cited the example of Mozambique in support of that. It must be right that both donors and recipients have their performances well and truly scrutinised, but I make no apology for any criticism that I make in summing up in this debate, because any Department can always do a little better.

A number of good speeches have been made this afternoon, but the one by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield was important in one respect: he has had a long-standing commitment to ensuring that our aid is properly scrutinised and audited, and that there should be a proper, independent audit watchdog. That is paramount to Conservative party policy.

A number of things have been said about how and where our aid is spent, and which countries receive it. My hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski mentioned Russia and the fact that it has built up a sovereign wealth fund of $500 billion. I think that the British Government have now stopped all aid to Russia, but I ask the Minister to confirm that. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome it, if it is true. Of course, the Conservatives also wish to curtail UK aid to China. In no way do we wish to resile from our 0.7 per cent. target, but we simply feel that a country such as China, which has a GNI that works out at more than $2,500 a head, should be coping with its own problems from its own huge surplus. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire that the UK should continue to give aid to India, because it has the greatest concentration of poor people on earth; it will shortly have more poor people than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa put together. It must be right that we continue to give aid to that country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield also mentioned the responsibility to protect. In the short time available to me, I wish to raise a few issues with the Minister. If we cannot encourage the international community to come up with a solution to dreadful problems such as the vast suffering in the Congo, in Darfur, which was mentioned by my neighbour, Mr. Drew, in Zimbabwe, which has been mentioned by other speakers, and in Burma, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield mentioned, by intervening at an earlier stage on the basis of the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, which was introduced by the United Nations in 2005, that doctrine will shortly mean very little. All in the civilised world need to pay close attention to that.

Mr. Moore, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, was right to mention President-elect Obama. We were delighted by that outcome and, like the Secretary of State and the Government, we look forward to a positive agenda and relationship with the incoming Administration. In that connection, two important multilateral discussions are going on. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one—the trade round in Doha. The third world—the poorest people on earth—has more to gain from a successful Doha round than do richer nations. Therefore, it is important that we breathe new life into those negotiations. To all those countries and areas—India, the US, the EU and Argentina, for example—that have, at some point in the negotiations, put up blocks that have meant that the negotiations have not so far succeeded, we say that they need to be prepared to compromise so that we can have a successful round.

The Government could give those talks much more impetus. The international trade round is so important because it means, among other things, that a small country can take one of the largest countries on earth to the world trade court and, through a relatively informal process, obtain a judgment against it.

The second round of multilateral talks is on climate change, with the summit in Potsdam next month, culminating in the summit in Copenhagen neat year. It is important to try to reach agreement on those, because if we do not manage to agree on carbon emissions—and limit the increase in external world temperature to just 2 per cent. in the next 50 years—world temperatures may spiral much higher. To put that threat in context, I would point out that the last ice age was only 5° below the present temperature. Again, it will be some of the poorest countries on earth that will suffer, and we have begun to see that in famine, flood, tsunamis and other events attached to climate change.

My hon. Friend David T.C. Davies raised the problem of DFID not being prepared to meet his delegation from the CPA. The Opposition's policies would prevent that situation from happening, because officials in DFID would have to be fully immersed in the communities to which aid was being given, instead of sitting in the capitals.

Malcolm Bruce, the Chairman of the Select Committee, made several important points. I cannot go over them all, but one of his themes, which has been echoed throughout the debate, was about direct budgetary support. As the Secretary of State said, aid funding is up to 75 per cent. of the national budget in some countries. Indeed, in Rwanda, which several of us visited in the summer, total development aid is about 50 per cent. That is undesirable. We should give these countries a hand-up so that they can start to wean themselves off international help.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Afghanistan, a country that needs more of a hand-up than most. This morning, he and I attended a round-table conference at the Foreign Office on Afghanistan, and one theme that emerged was that the international effort there is not being disseminated to the public very well. If our constituents only see the worst coming out of Afghanistan, they will be very sceptical about our efforts. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that what the public do see is very Helmand-centric. However, there are many things happening, not least of which is the number of girls going back to school, which is wholly to be welcomed. Other positives include the number of roads and hospitals being built, which are very welcome indeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire made some important points, not least about the world economic situation. At a time when we are all running into deeper and deeper economic problems, even recession, it is regrettable that several countries are thinking about reducing their international aid efforts. The Chairman of the Select Committee mentioned the possibility that Italy will do so. That is highly regrettable. If we are to make proper progress with some of the world's worst problems, we have to bear that in mind. We all want to meet the millennium development goals that were mentioned by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, but we are a long way off meeting some of them—most notably the goals on universal education and climate change. That is highly regrettable. We should breathe more life into that.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, if the doctrine of responsibility to protect is to be worth anything, we have to find solutions to the dreadful problems in such places as the DRC, Zimbabwe and Darfur. It should not be beyond the wit of the civilised western world in the 21st century to find solutions to those problems and to intervene at an earlier stage, so that hundreds of thousands of people are not displaced from their homes and killed needlessly. There is a lot to be done, and I look forward with interest to hearing what the Minister has to say about what he is doing.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 5:45, 13 November 2008

On the whole, this has been a high-quality debate. I want to reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the importance of maintaining global support for development despite the economic downturn. Now is not the time for either the United Kingdom or our international partners to turn our backs on the world's poorest people. As developing countries are hit by the global economic downturn, they need our support more than ever, and we need theirs. If we are to tackle global challenges such as climate change, resource shortages and growing demands for energy, we will not be able to do it alone.

Now is not the time to undermine confidence and support among the British people in investment in development, either in pursuit of a cheap headline or as a manifestation of a future hidden agenda. It is essential that we work together with developing countries and that we keep our promises to deliver more and better aid and to meet the millennium development goals by 2015. In order to do that, donors need to make sure that every penny we spend is put to the best possible use. As my right hon. Friend said when he opened the debate, DFID is playing a key role in improving the effectiveness of our aid and ensuring that other donors provide aid as effectively as we do.

Our leadership at Accra meant that developing countries can now expect to receive longer-term support from donors that is better co-ordinated and makes better use of their budget systems. We secured agreements that donors and developing countries would hold each other more accountable for the use of aid and we pushed hard to improve the global transparency of aid through the international aid transparency initiative.

We are leading by example. We have already met seven of the 10 Paris declaration targets on aid effectiveness and are on track to meet the remaining three. We have developed an independent advisory committee on development impact to provide a serious challenge function to DFID's work, with independent membership and National Audit Office observation. We have strong systems in place to control and monitor the expenditure of UK aid and are supporting developing countries in their efforts to fight corruption. By putting such measures in place, we can be confident that UK aid is having the greatest possible impact. Later this month, we will once again be at the forefront of the fight against poverty at the financing for development conference in Doha.

Let me turn to the contributions that have been made in the debate. First, Mr. Mitchell took the opportunity, once again, to describe DFID as a world leader in the field of development. I thank him for recognising that on behalf of all those who work incredibly hard on the front line in some of the poorest countries in the world. His comments were in stark contrast to some of the contributions made by Back-Bench Members of his party. He said that we should remove this subject from the realm of party politics. As a new member of this team, I am delighted to see that we appear to have political consensus on the importance of this country's leadership in international development.

Equally, I would say that the Conservative party has a record and form from the time it was in government. It is also true—let us make it clear—that this Government and, more specifically, this Prime Minister have led the world in demanding that the richest countries fulfil their responsibility to the poor. That is not party politics, but a statement of fact in a world where people ask every day, "Does politics make a difference? Are politicians all the same?" Well, this is one area where we have not been all the same: we would not be leading the world in international development if we had not had a Labour Government in power for 11 years and a Labour Prime Minister who has this matter at the heart of his moral compass.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

May I gently say to the Minister that people watching him make these remarks will regard them as disgraceful? We are talking about some of the poorest people and most difficult issues on the planet and he is playing party politics. I have made very clear the Conservative party's stance on the matter, as well as our commitment to the aid budget.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

I very much welcomed the contribution made by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, who speaks on these matters for the Opposition, and the fair way that he paid tribute to DFID's work. That was my starting point, but I am proud of the fact that international development demonstrates most clearly the virtues of having a Government who have at heart a commitment to social justice, both in this country and around the world. I do not apologise for that.

The term "no strings attached" was used in the debate, but the string between the Opposition Front and Back Benches is so thin that it causes me serious concern. I shall say for one last time that David T.C. Davies has every right to raise concerns about getting access to DFID staff in a particular country. If he felt slighted that a member of staff was not available at the time, I apologise—although I do not know the details, and there may well have been good reasons for that. However, I have to say from this Dispatch Box that I will not tolerate his using that incident to cast aspersions on the commitment of our staff, who are often working in the most difficult circumstances in the world.

Mr. Clifton-Brown talked about DFID staff sitting in offices in capital cities, but what impression is that designed to give of the contribution that our staff make? I have worked in a number of Departments, and I have never seen a group of people so mission-driven. I am proud to work with them, but that does not mean that we cannot do better. Although we are the world leaders in this area, we can still ensure that every day we improve what we do. That is the basis for any organisation that seeks to do its best—a recognition of the need to improve continually. However, I will not have the organisation that is DFID, or its staff who work so hard, demeaned and undermined in the way that has happened in this debate.

May I also say to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield that I welcome his support for the overhaul of the DFID website? He asked some valid questions about how it should operate in future, and I hope that he will give us full support in that respect.

The hon. Gentleman talked about independent scrutiny, but I refer him to the work of the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the International Development Committee. Also, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, he is required to make an annual report to Parliament—in terms of independent scrutiny, that is a pretty high level of transparency in how we account for the resources that we spend in the name of the UK taxpayer.

I remind the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield that his party is on the record as saying that it supports budget support, and that we should go even further in future. However, he cannot give the impression that sustaining budget support will not mean that tough judgments will always have to be made, on a country-by-country basis, in very difficult circumstances and about very difficult political and security matters.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

I am most grateful to the junior Minister for giving way. I have set out very clearly my party's attitude to budget support, and explained that, in principle, it is the best form of aid. However, I made it very clear why it has to be made more accountable— [ Interruption .] For the second time, the Secretary of State has muttered from a sedentary position "Daily Telegraph"—referring, I think, to an article written by the Whitehall editor in today's edition of that newspaper. Although we support the thrust of what DFID is doing, the Under-Secretary must not expect us not to investigate, debate and discuss these issues. In the context of supporting the general thrust of British development policy, it is possible to argue across the House about how best to deliver it.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that there are no circumstances in which we give aid with no strings attached; there are minimum standards that every Member of this House is fully aware of and signs up to, so he should not have used the term "no strings attached". Even a junior Opposition Member would never have used such a misleading term in an interview with a national newspaper.

I now turn to the contribution of my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke. I pay tribute to him for the leadership he displayed on the issue long before the mainstream majority believed that it should be a priority for the Government. I echo his point that we must maintain our commitment despite the global economic turmoil, as our Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have made clear.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the DRC. Of course it is right that every Government in that situation uses their power and influence to do the right thing and to try to get an immediate cessation of the violence. I must correct some of the misleading impressions given in the House today. The UN Security Council has not yet agreed to the deployment of an additional 3,000 troops. It is still actively considering the offer. We believe that the priority is redeploying the 17,000 troops. We are very sympathetic to making more financial assistance available, if that is required to enable more troops to be deployed, but my information is that the UN Security Council, having met on Tuesday, has not made a final decision. I also point out that this country has not expressed a view as regards the European Union. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield referred to the issue, but there has been no request for additional troops from a European Union member state.

Mr. Moore talked about humanitarian aid. I assure him that progress is being made on that. Food deliveries continue to arrive in Goma daily. There are 20 trucks a day from Uganda, Tanzania or Rwanda. Aid agencies continue to contain cholera outbreaks across a number of towns. Emergency non-food items supplied by DFID to UNICEF will be packaged to get to those with the greatest need, and two of our humanitarian advisers have now arrived on the ground to enhance the humanitarian support available. On a daily basis, we are getting the necessary humanitarian aid to those countries.

We have closely considered the issues to do with CDC, and we believe that it is abiding by the highest possible standards, as is expected, in its approach to taxation. I also say to the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk that the recent report in The Observer on our position on international agreements was inaccurate. It is our policy to strengthen the Committee of Experts on International Co-operation in Tax Matters, although we are not convinced that it should become an intergovernmental body. We want to strengthen it, but we are not convinced about its future status.

Malcolm Bruce, the Chairman of the International Development Committee, made a measured contribution. He said it was very important that we did not give a false impression that budget support was not the right direction to take, particularly as we want the United States to support that direction of travel. He was right to say that it is vital that we improve co-ordination for donors. He was also right to say that the issue is not just accountability to donor countries; we have a responsibility to make sure that Governments in the countries that receive our aid are far more accountable to their local population. Better information is an important part of that.

Mr. Crabb said that we needed to remake the case to our constituents for the importance of aid, both because it is the right thing to do, from a social justice point of view, and because it is in our national interest. I agree entirely with that.

Daniel Kawczynski felt that I was laughing at his contribution; the only point in it when I laughed was when he said that socialists were responsible for the current global economic turmoil. It is socialists, apparently, who controlled Barings bank and other financial institutions around the world, and who occupy the White House. I note that he opposed supporting a DFID aid programme to India, whereas the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire, who spoke before him, said that he fully supported the need to continue aid to India—a case of Back Benchers in slight disarray.

May I assure the hon. Member for Cotswold—

It being Six o'clock, the motion lapsed without Question put.