Overseas Development - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:06 pm on 1 November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 3:06, 1 November 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Lord Bates on 3 July (HL Deb, col 670), whether they have concluded their consultation on changing the rules relating to overseas development assistance; and if so, what conclusions they have reached.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My Lords, we have engaged widely with NGOs across government and with international partners on how to improve ODA rules. Based on that, the International Development Secretary set out a vision for ODA reform at the DAC high-level meeting on Monday and Tuesday of this week. This vision is based on four key principles: first, to improve the responses to natural disasters and support vulnerable countries; secondly, to build peace and security; thirdly, to review multilateral organisations; and, fourthly, to make aid more effective.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I welcome the noble Lord’s comments. However, the problem I have is that the Conservative Party manifesto demanded change but did not set out what that change should be. The 2016 changes took on board most of those comments but representatives at the DAC meeting this week did not agree with the Government and asked for a proper assessment of the changes that had already been made. Will the Minister and the Government work with our partners at DAC to build a consensus rather than working unilaterally, as was threatened in their manifesto?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

If we had worked unilaterally, we would not have achieved the advances that we did yesterday. I should make clear what those advances were. By working together we managed to increase the coefficient for peacekeeping forces from 7% to 15%. The noble Lord asked about the difference between the position that pertained earlier in the year and now. The difference is that category five hurricanes have hit the Caribbean and caused extensive, catastrophic loss to some small island communities that lack the capacity to rebuild. We consider it important that the rules must be fit for purpose, and that they were lacking in that regard. That is the reason why the Secretary of State secured an important advance so that when an island falls back under the threshold for overseas development assistance as a result of a catastrophic loss, they can be readmitted to the list. That is a major advance. Small countries and small islands welcome it and I hope the noble Lord will too.

Photo of Baroness Sheehan Baroness Sheehan Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development)

My Lords, as the Minister has already said, the government press release yesterday said that DAC has agreed to work to create a new mechanism to readmit countries previously eligible for ODA back on to the list of ODA-eligible countries if their income per capita falls low enough. I know that the Secretary of State is touting this as a great victory but does the Minister really believe that the income per capita of people in the British Virgin Islands, which is currently greater than in the UK, will drop to a level which will allow it to qualify for ODA any time soon? After all, the hurricanes destroyed shoddily built houses that poor people lived in, not the digitally insulated, prosperous world that those who live in the tax haven enjoy?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

It may not be the case in the BVI, but it certainly may well be in countries such as Anguilla which have only recently graduated from the list of least developed countries. We are talking about losses that would be equivalent to the entire GDP of the country, so it is important that we offer assistance to them. After all, the primary purpose of aid is to help people in need—people in poverty—and for the purpose of economic development. In my view, and in the view of the Secretary of State and the DAC earlier this week, all those criteria apply in this case.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

Does my noble friend not think that the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on ensuring that money is directed where help is needed and on not being intimidated by bureaucratic rules which have resulted in people in need not being helped?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

My noble friend is absolutely right. This country has a proud record of providing leadership in the international community in the area of aid and assistance. It is important to put on record in the case of the Caribbean that the total assistance we provided immediately was some £62 million, of which only £5 million was ODA eligible. So the fact that it was not ODA eligible did not stop us from helping those in need, but because its purpose was obviously humanitarian and obviously going to people in need and distress, it should count.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, I commend the Minister on the work that he is doing in DfID—he is an excellent Minister. As he goes around the world, he will have seen the excellent work being done by the European Union in its assistance programme, particularly in countries where DfID does not operate. Is not that assistance in grave danger of being undermined if we withdraw from the European Union?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

It is not a question of if we withdraw: we are withdrawing from the European Union. The point is that our contribution to European Union development funds across all headings is £1.2 billion or £1.3 billion and that, if that money comes back to the UK, it will be used for the poorest people in the world. The only difference is that we will choose where it goes. We may well choose to continue to work with our partners in the European Development Fund, for example, which sets a terrific example of assisting in development around the world and is quite effective. However, that will happen if we choose to do so, as it will be our choice.

Photo of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Labour

My Lords, on that point, can the Minister confirm that the Government’s plans for a transition period immediately following the date of Brexit would include our contributions to those European development funds that are so vital in so many parts of the world?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

As the noble Lord knows, those contributions are germane because they are very much part of the exit negotiations. We make a substantial contribution and our European colleagues are keen to retain a close relationship with the UK in respect of these things. We therefore want to work closely with them on these matters to see whether that is possible. At the moment, the EDF, to which I referred, is available only to member states, so there would also have to be changes on their side for us to continue.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, is not the unfortunate logic of the noble Baroness who spoke from the Liberal Benches that in your anxiety to deprive the rich, you are prepared to further impoverish the poor?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

You could construe it in that way, but another, perhaps a little more generous interpretation, would be to look at the case of the BVI. Its population is about 28,000. We follow GNI limits, which are $12,754 for graduating. One billionaire can make a profound distortion to the noted wealth of that country. In the BVI there are some very poor and needy people who lack the resources to rebuild their communities. We are committed to them not only because they are overseas territories but because of our humanitarian commitment.

Photo of Lord West of Spithead Lord West of Spithead Labour

My Lords, our Armed Forces have a great tradition of helping around the world when there are catastrophes. We used to be able to do this easily because we had decent-sized Armed Forces. Now they are very small, does the Minister not believe that the defence budget should get recompensed when we give this aid in all parts of the world?

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development

That was very much one of the points that we made—we said that we wanted to see that coefficient increase. The military response in the Caribbean was absolutely essential and critical. HMS “Ocean” was there and 2,000 troops helped with the rebuilding process and the reconnection of power lines. They were a great tribute to, and played a great part in, the Government’s humanitarian effort.