Department for International Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:49 pm on 1st July 2019.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 5:49 pm, 1st July 2019

That is fair enough, although the campaigning had gone on for years. I think back to the jubilee debt campaign, the trade justice movement and the Make Poverty History campaign, which mobilised tens of thousands of people on to the streets of towns and cities across the United Kingdom. In many ways, the climate change protest—there was one here last Wednesday—is the successor to those movements. Now is the time to tackle climate change. If we do not, the progress towards the SDGs and MDGs is likely to go backwards, which is not in anybody’s interest. Those movements mobilised churches, trade unions and different parts of civil society. That sentiment still exists, and although it is quiet now, the hon. Gentleman is right that if there was a serious threat, that noise would make itself heard, just as it did in the days of the Gleneagles summit and the years after.

We have discussed how the DFID estimate is not the entirety of the 0.7% target and how we need greater scrutiny of other Departments that spend money that is counted towards it. Incidentally, the UK Government conveniently count towards it the money that the Scottish Government spend on international development, even though it is additional. Taxpayers in Scotland pay for DFID through their taxes and the Scottish Government, with cross-party support dating back to the time of Jack McConnell, choose to use a very small amount of their own budget to provide additional and often very innovative support, particularly through the grassroots links with Malawi, which I will say a bit more about shortly.

Ministers are aware of concerns that I and other Members have about the occasional double counting of money towards two separate targets: the 0.7% target for aid and the 2% for military spending. Some money is counted towards both targets. Ministers stand up and say, “Well, we don’t mark our own homework. It just so happens that the money is counted by the ODA and NATO and there’s not much we can do about it”, but if the money is being used to hit both targets, one of the budgets must be losing out. If they are committed to the targets, the Government should make an effort to meet them both independently. If they happen to spend a bit more, that’s fine, since both targets are minimums, not maximums.

I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to reiterate her and her Department’s support for the aid budget, under the current definition and amount, and for the Department remaining a standalone facility, because, despite what some Government Members have said about how they do not know where the talk is coming from, the talk is real. The outriders for the Tory leadership campaigns, particularly the former Foreign Secretary, have made it clear they think there is political capital to be made from undermining or changing the role of DFID and its budget.

Aid is not a tool of soft power to be used as some political lever. It should be dispensed on the basis of need and in pursuit of internationally agreed objectives, such as the SDGs and the Global Fund—and I join others in welcoming the announcement about the replenishment of that fund. When Government talk of aid working in the national interest, the question I always put back to them is: how is meeting the sustainable development goals not in the national interest? How is the national interest different from tackling global poverty and climate change? Even from a self-interested point of view, if we want to stop the migration of people, we need to give them reasons to stay in their home countries, and access to a good education and nutrition and not having to run away from major climate disasters are very good reasons—if that is the perspective we want to take.

I want to touch briefly on the importance of the Government learning from and engaging with civil society actors. I mentioned the Scotland Malawi Partnership. I declare an interest because it provides secretariat support for the all-party group on Malawi, which I chair, and which has issued an outstanding invitation to the Secretary of State, lasting as long as is left to him, to meet the group and member organisations of the Scotland Malawi Partnership.

Ian C. Lucas, who is not here, at the last DFID questions raised the idea of DFID undertaking an exercise of mapping links between local civil society organisations and counterparts in developing countries to see the added value that civil society groups in the UK bring to development. That would be worth the Department pursuing in the near future. In Scotland, the Scotland-Malawi people-to-people model suggests that more than 208,000 Malawians and 109,000 Scots are actively involved in the links between the two countries, while a 2018 paper from the University of Glasgow reckoned that 45% of people in Scotland could name a friend or family member with a connection to Malawi.

Here is an opportunity for a ministerial legacy. What more could the Government do to connect formal Government efforts with those of civil society—not just the large NGOs we are familiar with, but, as my hon. Friend Dr Cameron suggested, the thousands of churches, schools, hospitals, universities and community and diaspora groups involved in two-way partnerships—and not just engage with them, but fund them and encourage them to think innovatively?

The last piece of DFID legislation was the Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 2017. We recognise the important role that the CDC plays in leveraging private capital into development. I wonder what a “civil society” equivalent might look like.

I know that Mr Speaker has not selected the amendments, but I think that the fact that amendments were tabled to the motions is an interesting indication of the way in which the estimates process is beginning to evolve. We welcome that, because when the “English votes for English laws” system was introduced, SNP Members were told that it would be through estimates that we could continue to scrutinise Government expenditure, particularly when Barnett consequentials were involved. I do not believe that they are involved in DFID funding—as I have said, Scottish Government international development funding is separate—but, nevertheless, this is our opportunity to engage in such scrutiny. Gone are the days when SNP Members were told to sit down because they were talking about estimates during an estimates debate.

The amendment tabled to this motion was intended to put pressure on the Government by asking them to clarify their position in relation to a no-deal Brexit, and to prevent that from happening without the full approval of the House. We know that Departments, including DFID, are being touched by Brexit preparations; we know that dozens of DFID staff are being sent to other Departments to help prepare for no deal. The destabilising effect that we are seeing across Government must be a matter of concern, and it is right for us to use debates such as this to raise it and to keep the Government on their toes.

Today’s debate has enabled us to highlight the importance of DFID, but it has also drawn our attention to the risk that the Department will be downgraded, the risk that Brexit preparations will weaken its capacity, and the risk that policy progress will be stalled because Brexit continues to dominate everything. I welcome our recent opportunities for scrutiny in the Chamber, but I wonder whether those opportunities are likely to continue beyond 24 July.