Department for International Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:32 pm on 1st July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 5:32 pm, 1st July 2019

The hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. When I had responsibility for these matters, I set up the impact fund, which was effectively designed to match-fund the donations and support that individual organisations could secure. It was a way for the taxpayer to get two for one as a result. The fund probably starts at too high a level to impact on some of the projects that she talks about, but she is right that this is a very important area of development, and we should do more about it.

I was making the point about demonstrating the effectiveness of spending. I have always thought that one of the most effective ways of doing this—I said it in the last Parliament, and I think it is true in this Parliament—is to look at the way in which Britain supports vaccinations, particularly of those under five years old around the world. The critical importance of that will be clear to all Members. We were able to say in the last Parliament that the British taxpayer was vaccinating a child in the poor world every two seconds and saving the life of a child in the poor world every two minutes. Those children were suffering from diseases that, thank goodness, none of our children in Britain and Europe die from today. That is a very visual, good example of just how important and effective this taxpayer spending is.

Let me turn to my final point. There was a report about money being spent by other Departments, there was the National Audit Office report, and we have the report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which I set up in 2010 and which is the taxpayer’s friend. It is there to act in the interests of the taxpayer to ensure that this money is really well spent. When we set it up, many people in the development world said, “You are handing over the assessment of development to accountants, who may not always understand how long a tail there is and what makes development effective.” The truth is that those of us who are tied up in the development community have to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and always be self-critical. We often take the plaudits when we are successful, but we must also be very self-critical when things go wrong, put up our hands and try to put it right. That is what the ICAI is designed to do.

It is of great importance that the ICAI reports to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby and not to Ministers, who can sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet. It reports to the International Development Committee, which tasks it to look at issues. That gives it independence—it reports to Parliament and the legislature, not the Executive and Ministers—and that is why it is so important and why its reports are, I believe, treated with such credibility by the Committee. The recent report showed that not all Departments spend money to the same very high standards as in DFID. Indeed, we have seen examples of some Foreign Office projects in far-off places—I am thinking of a particular one in Madagascar—on which, when the press found out about and went to the Foreign Office to ask it to justify the spending, it said, “It’s no good talking to us. It is DFID money; go and speak to DFID.” That is completely unacceptable. Other Departments that spend hard-pressed taxpayers’ hard-earned development money must expose themselves to the same level of scrutiny that DFID does and stand up for the money that they are spending. All Departments must take that extremely seriously.

I will draw my remarks to a close, because others want to speak. Our generation has the opportunity to make such a difference to the extraordinary discrepancies in opportunity and wealth that I described earlier, and we are doing it. It is happening under British leadership, and it is currently one of the few examples of global Britain. I think that everyone, whatever their political view and whatever their standing, should take great pride in what Britain is doing. We are driving this agenda forward, admired and respected around the world for Britain’s commitment. It is cross-party; it is a British policy—not Labour, Liberal or Conservative—and we should take pride in doing that and supporting it.