Official Development Assistance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:59 pm on 9th July 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire 1:59 pm, 9th July 2020

May I start by very much welcoming this merger and the announcement of 16 June? I also welcome the Prime Minister’s recommitment to 0.7%. We are the only G7 country to so commit, and that has been the case since 2013. We need to be very proud of that. It was in the manifesto on which I stood and it is contained within statute, and I am very pleased that it will continue, but it has to be said that aid is not necessarily the best sell on the doorstep, as we found in December last year. The merger will make sense to many of our constituents, who are generous people but who also want a sense that there is something in it for them—that aid will indeed be in pursuit of the national interest, and the merger surely makes sense in that context.

I am also impressed by the OECD’s 2009 report “Managing Aid”, which laid out the bare facts that Britain is unique in how we have approached international development. Either we are right, or everybody else is right. We cannot all be right, and I have been impressed by the work of, for example, Norway, when I have been doing international development. Despite the fact it is a small country, it punches well above its weight in terms of the effect it manages to bring to bear, and that goes for other countries—often small countries—such as Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

My hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat, the Chair of the Select Committee, made reference to Australia. Others have pointed out that there was something of an exodus when Australia merged its Foreign Office-equivalent and international development. I am concerned about the difference in terms and conditions between the civil servants in both Departments, who I know quite well and who I respect and admire enormously. Will the Minister say whether there will be a levelling up or levelling down of those terms and conditions of service in the new Department?

DFID spends its money extremely well, and that is recognised. Other Government Departments, sadly, do not do that. It is true that the Foreign Office tends to spend at the riskier end of the spectrum. It is true that DFID tends to spend its money through large NGOs. That is therefore safer, but nevertheless we need to ensure that the merger inculcates DFID good practice into our aid spending across Government. The test of the success of this evolution will be whether we are able to spend our money better, particularly for Departments other than DFID whose records are not brilliant.

Finally, I make mention of the Gavi replenishment, which the Prime Minister hosted on 4 June. It was a great success. I slightly regret the fact that we did not manage to have in person the Liverpool iteration and the iteration in London that I was planning when I was at DFID. It is an irony, is it not, that it took an infectious disease to throw that off track, but it was a huge success, with $8.8 billion committed for the world’s most vulnerable, potentially vaccinating 300 million children. That is an extraordinary achievement in diplomatic terms—a triumph—and I am enormously proud of that.

Covid will hit the bottom billion hardest. We need to ensure we look again at our aid budget to ensure that we use a large part of it to strengthen healthcare systems across the world, so that when we have an effective treatment for this awful condition and its probable successors and a vaccine that works, we are able to roll that out for those people. As covid has shown, we are all in it together. We are in a global village, and the new Department will be well-fitted to take up the challenges of the future.