I welcome the opportunity to speak in this timely and important debate. I pay tribute to the thousands of DFID staff in my constituency of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow, those here in London and those who are based around the world in the various DFID country offices. We should never underestimate the work that they do, and we must ensure that they keep on doing that work to support people in poverty worldwide. We often hear, in the House and outside it, that DFID is a powerhouse in development and one of the premier aid agencies in the world. It is because of those people, with their passion, their dedication and their commitment to their work, that that reputation exists.
I cannot begin to imagine how those staff are feeling right now, during what must be a challenging time. I am aware that the Prime Minister has reassured them that there will be no compulsory redundancies. However, in answer to my recent written questions, I was informed that jobs will change at DFID in East Kilbride, and that voluntary redundancies have not been ruled out. I would welcome urgent reassurance from the Minister on this issue. In such an unsettling time for workers across the United Kingdom, the Government must do everything possible to support staff at DFID and secure all jobs.
I am perplexed by the timing of the Prime Minister’s decision to merge DFID with the Foreign Office. In the midst of a global pandemic, it does not make any sense. The integrated review was meant to ask the experts, “How do we get this right? How do we make this work?” But with the stroke of a pen, the Prime Minister has done away with the review—another example of a Government who have had enough of experts.
Speaking of experts, I would be extremely interested to hear just who the Government consulted before making the decision to merge the Departments. According to the Prime Minister, there were a whole host of consultations before the announcement, but that does not seem to have been the case. It seems that no civil society organisations—often the experts working on the ground, on the frontline, delivering aid programmes—were consulted. Even Bond, the umbrella network for NGOs and charities working in international development, was in the dark about the decision, just like the rest of us.
Who did the Government speak to, and who actually thinks that this merger is a good idea? What plans do the Government have to consult civil society organisations, such as SCIAF? That organisation has been doing excellent work on women’s empowerment projects in 25 villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi and Rwanda; building the resilience of 23,143 agropastoralists in Ethiopia; and integrating community development in Cambodia, supporting 11,095 people to gain food security, water and sanitation facilities.
We have heard from the Government that development will be a core focus of the new Department, but they must understand that there are big concerns that the merger is nothing more than an opportunity to use the DFID aid budget to prop up FCO diplomatic activity. If we lose the International Development Committee—a robust and dynamic Committee on which I have had the pleasure of serving; I think it would be a dreadful idea to lose it—there must be a new cross-departmental ODA Committee in its place. It is for the birds to think that anyone in the Foreign Affairs Committee has time to focus on such a huge programme of aid and development on top of their already valuable work.
I am aware of the time, and I must conclude.
This ill-timed merger cannot happen at the expense of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, particularly those with disabilities. We must ensure that we support them—anything less will be letting down the poorest and most vulnerable across the world.