Department for International Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:21 pm on 1st July 2019.

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Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 7:21 pm, 1st July 2019

May I start by saying what an absolute privilege it is to respond to the debate, and to have had an extended period of time for scrutinising the Department for International Development’s spending? I therefore sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Robertson, my constituency neighbour, on securing the debate. We have heard a range of really excellent contributions. I also salute my hon. Friend for his sterling work—it is not often noticed in this Chamber—as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Ethiopia and Djibouti. It is interesting to note how many times Ethiopia has been mentioned in the debate.

While listening to the contributions, I was struck by the consensus that emerged on the importance of the 0.7% commitment, and our pride, as British citizens, that the UK was the first major country to put that into statute, which has gained us remarkable recognition around the world. I am very happy to be part of the Government who put that into statute. I also want to make the point right at the beginning of my speech that at the last general election all major parties made a commitment to that figure in their manifestos.

My hon. Friend Mrs Latham suggested that this is no longer a political issue, but I submit that it is, because although all parties elected to this Parliament stood on manifestos that included the 0.7% commitment, the party that has recently been topping the polls has announced that it would halve international development spending. I therefore think that this relates to the important political commitment that we have made democratically to deliver Brexit on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom. If we do not, we stand to lose seats to a party that does not believe in the 0.7% commitment. That is where I diverge from Chris Law, who I do not believe has ever seen a referendum result that he wanted to respect. It is really important that we, as democrats, respect referendum outcomes.

I can reassure colleagues that I do not think there are any more than a few voices in my party who believe that 0.7% is an inappropriate target; I do not believe that in this Parliament there is any chance of it being at risk. I also happily support having an independent voice at the Cabinet table for development spending, which has been very important for delivering on the spending commitment.

We have had an excellent debate, with first-class contributions from my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, who for so long provided the Department with such great leadership, and Patrick Grady. My hon. Friend Alec Shelbrooke, in a really excellent speech, brought us back to the powerful moral arguments for development assistance. Jim Shannon spoke of his exceptionally generous constituents, who also want us to be thrifty.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire continued a valuable campaign that she has been involved in for many years, focusing on the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse, and the need for the UK to show leadership in combating it. She will be pleased to read in Hansard tomorrow that, following the most recent story about Oxfam in the newspapers over the weekend, we have checked and do not believe that any DFID funding is involved. As the House will know, we hold our suppliers to account.

My hon. Friends the Members for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup) paid tribute, as did other hon. Members, to the important work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We were so proud to announce at the G20 over the weekend that we are increasing our contribution to the Global Fund, because literally millions of lives will be saved by that important contribution.

I want to tackle some of the common themes that emerged during the debate. First, everyone agrees that transparency is a good thing, that there is a lot of transparency in overseas development assistance spending, and that it is important that we focus 50% of our spending, as we do, on the most fragile and conflict-affected states. In the next spending review we aim to keep 75% of overseas development assistance spending within the Department for International Development—I put that down from the Dispatch Box this evening. We can follow that with interest as we go into the spending review.

It is early days for the prosperity fund, but we have seen some very good outcomes in the multilateral agreement that was delivered by the fund to return stolen assets to countries such as Nigeria—$321 million will return to Nigeria through our small amount of spending in the prosperity fund. There have been very good examples of spending from the conflict, stability and security fund. For example, through anti-human trafficking work in Kenya, 90 victims of trafficking and sexual abuse have been rescued. There have been some really good examples from the Newton Fund, which is spent by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on the feasibility of creating a vaccine for the Zika virus. There are some really good examples, and these funds publish their annual reports on spending. I think that we can all agree that transparency is very valuable.

Points were made consistently about the value of small charities and civil society organisations. We have done a lot to try to make it easier—for example, through the small charities fund and Aid Match for specific programmes—to ensure that some of those fantastic smaller charities get the chance to deliver projects with overseas development assistance. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact and the importance of its work were cited a few times. It has done some very good scrutiny of our multilateral spending, and I think we have all been able, through multilateral initiatives such as the Global Fund, to see the value of spending through such organisations. We try to publish as much as we can on our own website as well, as through those multilateral organisations, to show how that money is spent.