Official Development Assistance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:03 pm on 9th July 2020.

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Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham 2:03 pm, 9th July 2020

When the Prime Minister announced his decision to scrap the Department for International Development, he explicitly told me from the Dispatch Box that

“there has been a massive consultation over a long period.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2020;
Vol. 677, c. 678.]

Since then, more than 200 leading aid organisations have disputed that statement. That is summed up by the CEO of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development stating clearly:

“This proposal did not come as a result of a consultation with those who want to focus on the poorest.”

That is a damning indictment of this decision.

I realise that this is embarrassing for the Prime Minister, but his own Secretary of State for International Development said that the announcement was first made to Parliament, making it clear that there was no consultation, despite what the Prime Minister said to this House. The only conclusion we can draw is that the Prime Minister has misled the House, and not for the first time. That is more than disappointing. It is shameful that we cannot trust what the Prime Minister says from the Dispatch Box.

At a time of global crisis, the public must be able to trust what is being said in this House, especially by senior Government Ministers. The Prime Minister’s sloppy attention to detail and his disregard for accountability makes a bit of a mockery of Parliament. If the Prime Minister expects the public to trust what he says, as a minimum, he must come before this House at the earliest opportunity and clarify what he said. If there was no consultation, let him say so. The demise of the Department for International Development will have a massive impact, not just in Westminster but across the world. It cannot just be dismissed as if the Prime Minister’s words were a slip of the tongue.

It is not just the way the decision was announced that is the problem. As an internationalist and a passionate campaigner for equality, I am appalled by the Government’s decision to dissolve DFID, one of the most important Departments in the Government. It is accountable in its spending and uses its resources to help those most in need. Although Government Members might not like to admit it, I think every Member of the House can see that the decision to merge DFID with the Foreign Office was nakedly political. The Government have rejected the idea of foreign aid as a humanitarian endeavour and turned it into a branch of foreign policy.

Put bluntly, at a time of global crisis, this Government have abandoned support for the world’s most vulnerable communities. The Secretary of State for International Development has said that the coronavirus pandemic could undo decades of international development work, while the International Development Committee has been clear that stability in UK aid is needed now, at this time. This merger does exactly the opposite.

Under DFID, official development assistance goes to eradicating poverty and improving conditions for the most vulnerable people in our world. In 2018, the three aid sectors that DFID spent most of its budget on were humanitarian aid, health and economic infrastructure. For the Foreign Office, it was administrative costs. The Prime Minister says he wants to refocus the aid budget to “safeguard British interests.” For me, eradicating world poverty is a British interest.

International development was one of the few areas where the Government could claim that they were world-leading. Had the Prime Minister bothered to conduct the consultation he claims to have, he would have been informed of the damage that this decision would cause. In the aid and development sector, the decision has been greeted with dismay. Bond, a UK network for organisations working in international development, published a letter signed by almost 200 UK aid and development leaders, calling the decision an “unnecessary and expensive distraction”—