Official Development Assistance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:49 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee 1:49 pm, 9th July 2020

That is only true because of the assiduous nature with which my right hon. Friend and others have supervised the spending. There are other organisations that spend in other ways where I would argue that that is not the case. However, the way the DFID budget has been managed by my right hon. Friend—and, indeed, by Ministers such as the one sitting before us today—has absolutely prioritised British national interest through the alleviation of poverty and focusing on different areas, such as defensive and educational elements of our national interest, and has absolutely delivered. I think that is fundamentally in the British national interest, and that is why I am very keen to defend the 0.7% target and the amazing work of the people in East Kilbride, demonstrating that the UK working together abroad really does promote the interests of all of us.

It is essential that we remember that, when we look around the world, we see countries and people with whom we have different relationships. From the Scottish National party Front Bench, Patrick Grady will talk passionately about Malawi and the deep links between the people of Scotland and Malawi. He is absolutely right. I could talk passionately about Afghanistan or Iraq, two countries I have been involved in. The Minister could talk about Sierra Leone. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield could speak about that depth of relationship with any number of other countries. This is essential. What we are talking about is harnessing the combined interests of the peoples of these islands—our pasts, our histories, our interests and the living bridges that tie us around the world—and making sure that we build on them. That is why this union, the link between Foreign Office and aid, is fundamentally one that can work.

But—there is always a but, isn’t there?—it depends on culture. It depends on making sure that we do not make the mistake that Australia made in losing amazing people. It means we must remember that when we bring DFID and the Foreign Office together it is a merger of equals and not a takeover. It means we must remember that when Lord Hague, when he was Foreign Secretary, spoke about preventing sexual violence in conflict, that was about both aid and foreign policy. We can see that the Departments are already working together. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield will say there is no such thing as a merger of equals. In that case, perhaps this is a DFID takeover of King Charles Street.

There is a real opportunity here. So long as we get the right person as permanent under-secretary—somebody who can work in a multinational environment, who can run a budget that is about a dozen times that of the Foreign Office, and who can hold accountability for British taxpayers’ money and ensure that it is spent in the national interest—I think we can get the effect that the Government seek. If we do, we will supercharge foreign policy from these islands, double down on our soft power and turn it to real strategic effect. I hope that we will do so not just for these islands; not just in defence of the international rules-based system that has allowed us all to prosper, broadly speaking, for about seven decades, mostly in peace and harmony; but for countries around the world, so that more and more can share the opportunities. That has never been more important, and it has never mattered more. The Minister’s hands are heavy with the burden that he carries.