International Development

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 1st March 2007.

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Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 12:00 pm, 1st March 2007

To ask the First Minister what recent representations the Scottish Executive has received about its contribution to international development. (S2F-2754)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We regularly receive representations in respect of international development, the majority of which seek advice on how to become involved in our work with Malawi or ask for funding for project ideas.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

I urge the First Minister to expand and improve the Executive's programme for helping the people of Malawi. That said, will he respond to the recent BBC report that claimed that more than 30 per cent of the money for Malawi has gone on administration rather than on helping the poorest people in one of the poorest countries in the world?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Dennis Canavan will be aware that I remain committed to the idea that the Parliament's approach should be to support the United Kingdom Government's international aid and development efforts and ensure that Scotland makes a contribution to the lives of those with significant needs elsewhere in the world—in many cases, the needs of people elsewhere in the world are far more significant than ours. We have a duty and a responsibility to take such an approach, and the Parliament should be proud that it shows an interest in such matters. It should not flinch from continuing to be committed to supporting international development.

Dennis Canavan asked about a recent BBC report. Those who are responsible for that report should be ashamed of its scandalous misrepresentation of the facts about the work of the international development fund. I give members an absolute guarantee that what was said about funding for the administration of organisations in Scotland is untrue. The reality is that people in Scotland receive support for innovative projects that help people in Malawi to stand on their own two feet, develop education and training services, support Malawi's economy in a sustainable way and improve governance there, which will help it to attract more aid and develop the economy in the longer term. Those projects are the right projects for people in Scotland to undertake and we will continue to help them to achieve their aims.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

Yes, but will the First Minister provide a detailed numerical critique of the 31 per cent figure that the BBC produced? Will he also respond to the claim that international development is not the responsibility of the Executive and the Scottish Parliament, and is therefore none of our business? Does he recall that Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, said in this chamber that he welcomed the involvement of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive in adding value to his department's work? Does the First Minister agree that world poverty should be the business of every member of this Parliament and every person in Scotland? After all, as members of the human race, we all have a responsibility to our fellow human beings, whether they be in Scotland, Malawi or anywhere else in the world.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Absolutely. If it were possible to understand where misrepresentations come from, it would be easier to respond to them. If there were a detailed breakdown of this fanciful claim, we—and, I am sure, all the organisations involved—would happily respond to it. I understand that the claim might include the travel costs of people from local organisations in the health, education and other sectors in Scotland going to Malawi to deliver support or to learn more about the support that they can provide. That seems to me to be a funny description of administration. However, we would welcome more detailed information from those responsible for the programme to ensure that people in Scotland receive clarification that will reassure them.

On the member's second question, I make it very clear that the Scotland Act 1998 empowers the Scottish ministers to act in assistance to the responsibilities of ministers of the Crown in the United Kingdom. Although international aid and development are clearly a responsibility of the UK Government, we in Scotland have a clear legislative opportunity to support such actions. We do so in Malawi and elsewhere in a reasonable and considered way that is not out of proportion to the rest of our activities and responsibilities. Indeed, we do it because we believe in it, and because we believe that the Parliament has a bigger role to play than simply carrying out its immediate legislative responsibilities. That approach makes Scotland a better place and I am sure that the vast majority of people in Scotland are very proud of that action and that commitment.

Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat

I watched—and was horrified by—the programme in question. For example, it did not highlight a particular project in Malawi with which I have been involved, which has received Scottish Executive funding and is doing extremely well in training people to be trainers.

Has the First Minister any idea of the percentage that is being spent on administration? Of course, any such activities undertaken in the Scottish Parliament are bound to incur more costs in the early stages. What checks and balances are being put in place to ensure that as much of the money as possible is going to the front line?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Ultimately, this issue comes down to people's commitment, will and desire to assist and to make the most of the investment. I suppose that many different definitions of administration exist. My best estimate is that those responsible for this particular misrepresentation took the widest possible definition, which is way beyond the expectations of any reasonable person. However, I would welcome clarification from them and will be happy to deal with that information if it comes forward.

The people to whom Mike Pringle has referred and the many such projects across Scotland will have had to meet set-up costs. In some cases, they will have raised money in previous years to help them in that respect; in other cases, they might have needed a bit of assistance to get going. However, in each and every case, the teachers, doctors and nurses, the people in businesses, churches, rotary clubs, sports clubs and other organisations and the other people all over Scotland who are helping with the efforts in Malawi, Uganda, Zambia, Rwanda and other countries do so because they believe in what they are doing. They get up in the morning, caring about what they are doing, not because they want to spend money on administration but because they want to change the world. That is the right attitude for Scots, and Scots everywhere should support those people in their efforts.