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I beg to move,
That this House
has considered e-petition 125692 relating to foreign aid spending.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. I am pleased to see so many colleagues here to debate this important issue. We find ourselves here today in response to an e-petition started by John Wellington from The Mail on Sunday. I am bound to say that after the events of the past week, The Mail on Sunday is my favourite national newspaper. The e-petition calls for the spending of a fixed 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income on foreign aid to be stopped and instead for money only to be given to
“truly deserving causes, on a case-by-case basis.”
I am delighted to have the opportunity to open this debate as a member of the Petitions Committee, because it is the perfect opportunity to set out the arguments clearly. We know that the UK is a world leader on international development.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the UK is a world leader because we deliver spending of 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid?
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I will come on to make that point very soon.
We know that in 2013, we were the only United Nations country to achieve our target on aid spending. We know that our 0.7% spending commitment is enshrined in law. Furthermore, let us not forget that our commitment to overseas aid was a clear part of the 2015 manifesto on which a majority Conservative Government was elected. There are people who feel strongly about this issue and that we should not be spending this amount of money on international aid. People are perfectly entitled to hold those views, and that is the beauty and very purpose of the Petitions Committee—it gives the opportunity to debate in the House issues that the public raise.
I know that there are concerns about this issue—in particular when we see cuts to local services in our local areas, such as to social care—but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the choice between spending on foreign aid and investing in our communities at home is false? We have a duty to do both.
I would like to make a little more progress, and then I will accept further interventions.
The issue can be emotive and controversial for some. It is far too easy to get caught up in the attention-grabbing headlines or misled by the wildly exaggerated information out there in the public domain. People want to know how the money is spent and whether it is being spent in our interest, and rightly so. That was clearly demonstrated in the Twitter discussion held this afternoon, in which the Chair of the Select Committee on International Development, Stephen Twigg, and I participated. We had about 3,000 contributions in just an hour. In fact, it was impossible to keep up with the number of people posting, let alone respond to them all, but it was clear from that discussion that there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate.
I am sure my hon. Friend will accept that there are concerns. My right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell set up the traffic light system that shows how our aid budget is being spent. There are far too many red and amber warnings about how well the money is being spent, and that is what the public are concerned about.
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is absolutely essential that we ensure our aid budget is being spent well and wisely and is delivering value for money for the British taxpayer. I am sure that the Department for International Development is committed to achieving that.
While we all want to monitor aid spending, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the money has transformational potential, not least for the 11 million children who have gone to school for the first time as a consequence of that spending?
I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I will come on to that point in a minute. The money is transforming lives around the world, and we should be very proud of that fact.
I have previously had the good fortune of sitting on the International Development Committee, and I have visited countries where I have seen housing, governance and health programmes working. My hon. Friend talks about leadership. Can he also explain how our leadership in this country encourages other countries to support international development?
I suspect that is a matter for the Minister far more than it is one for me, but I wholeheartedly agree that this country is providing the leadership and setting the trend on international development. We should be incredibly proud of that and hope other countries follow our lead.
Does my hon. Friend, who we congratulate on launching this debate, appreciate that the debate is about the 0.7% and that it would be a tragedy—indeed, it would be repulsive—if it was hijacked by those who want to use it to demonise Palestine and Palestinians? The debate should concentrate on the 0.7% and only that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention, and I agree with his point, but I accept that the debate is wide-ranging and we need to discuss how the money is spent and not just the amount. I believe that the UK can be very proud of how the money is spent.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. That is the very point I want to make: continuing the spending is not just the right thing to do; it is also in our national interest. The truth is that this country gets great value for money from the aid. Funds are subject to rigorous internal and external checks, and we are helping to create a more stable world.
There are many myths out there relating to foreign aid spending. One example is that aid money from British and European taxpayers has gone to Palestinian prisoners, including terrorists. That is simply not true. Another is that UK aid to the Palestinian Authority funded an £8 million presidential palace. Again, that is simply not true. The myths go on and on, and they are based on out-of-date information or inaccurate reporting. The Government have been very clear on that.
Has my hon. Friend seen the report from the Overseas Development Institute, which found that some of the funding that has gone to the Palestinian territories has resulted in an increase in violence? That is why the Department are re-looking at it.
I have read those reports, but I am assured by the discussions I have had with the Department that that is simply not the truth and is not taking place.
It is right that people have their views heard, and today we will debate the merits and issues surrounding the UK’s foreign aid spending. That is what the e-petition is all about. I am proud that this great country has a strong record of helping those most in need. Helping to save and improve millions of lives is no small task and is something to be incredibly proud of. I believe that as a human race, helping others is something we are designed and created to do. UK aid reaches millions of people across the world.
Let us consider some of the examples of what has been achieved. Some 11 million children have been supported through school. Some 47 million bed nets have been distributed, which has helped lead to malaria deaths falling by 60% in the past 15 years. Sixty million people have been given access to things that are so simple, yet so vital, and that I am sure each of us takes for granted: clean water, better sanitation and improved hygiene conditions.
I will just make some more progress. From scientific research, health and climate change to economic growth, education, governance and security, there are few aspects of life that our aid does not touch in many of the poorest nations of the world.
I am extremely grateful. What my hon. Friend is saying is absolutely right and reassuring. If we do not recognise that there are issues out there—that is why we are debating this matter—then we need to address areas where the money has been misspent. Does he agree that when we give money to a charity in America that then spends millions on new headquarters as opposed to ensuring that that money gets through to the poorest people, we do an injustice to the poorest people throughout the world and are probably putting the 0.7% in jeopardy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We have to ensure that whatever money we have is wisely spent and delivered to the front line. When that is not the case, it needs to be addressed.
The hon. Gentleman is right about the good work that DFID does, but he is completely wrong to say it is a myth that the Palestinian Authority fund terrorists. The fact is that nearly all of DFID’s funding in the region goes directly to the Palestinian Authority. That is a matter of concern because of the allegation that the Palestinian Authority continue to fund payments to convicted terrorists and their families, which is in direct contradiction to the demands of the international community.
Of course we fund the Palestinian Authority. Our funds are paid to named civil servants and pensioners from an audited and scrutinised list for the delivery of public services. British taxpayers’ money does not fund terrorism.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention.
Between 2010 and 2015, more than 28 million children under five and pregnant women were helped through the Government’s nutrition programmes, more than 5 million births took place safely with the help of nurses, midwives and doctors, and more than 13 million people were given emergency food assistance—and the list goes on. These are not just facts. These are real people living in the same world as us who deserve to have their basic human needs met. What kind of world would we be living in if we reduced or stopped this spending and did nothing or little, or if we idly sat by and watched while the most vulnerable in our world suffered? I put it to this House that the majority of British people wish not to turn a blind eye and see innocent people suffer, but instead stand tall in this world, side by side with those who most need our help.
Comparisons are casually and carelessly tossed about regarding how much is spent abroad and how that money could be spent here at home on nurses, schools and more bobbies on the beat, but it is not that simple. It is not that black and white. It is not about being solely reactive as and when disasters, crises and epidemics happen; it is about being constantly active in this world. This money goes a long way and we should judge our commitment to the rest of the world not solely by figures, but by the effectiveness of it, too.
On that point, does my hon. Friend not think that one of the problems is that the public have difficulty conceiving what 0.7% of GNI really means? It is a fact that the value of the food we throw away is more than 0.7% of GNI. The amount we spend on takeaways every year in this country is more than we spend on overseas aid. A few of those comparisons can be quite illuminating.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his presentation of the debate. My fundamental concern is that we have a twin deficit in this country: a current account deficit that is exacerbated by international aid spending and a public expenditure deficit. Although aid is incredibly worthy—no one would argue with that—can we truly afford to sustain such levels, given the public finances?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, but I believe we cannot afford not to spend money on aid. In the world as it is today, with the many crises and the needs that we meet around the world, it is in the interest of the UK to continue spending on international aid.
I want to make a little more progress, and then I will. The Government have been very clear and consistent in their principles on this issue: our development spending will meet our moral obligation to the world’s poorest, as well as supporting our national interest, a point I will come on to later. Let us not forget the history of how Britain made its wealth. We took resources from countries across the world, especially those in the empire, and then left them as independent nations, giving very little back. Some of the issues that those countries face today have been compounded by the historical actions of this nation, so I feel strongly that we have a moral obligation to help these countries now, in their time of need.
The Government have also been very clear that we will keep our promises and put international development at the heart of our national security and foreign policy, but how we do that is changing. Our official development assistance spending is now shaped by four strategic principles: first, strengthening global peace, security and governance; secondly, strengthening resilience and the response to crises; thirdly, promoting global prosperity; and fourthly, tackling extreme poverty and helping the world’s most vulnerable. Through this, it has been made clear that the Government are committed to ensuring that every last penny spent on ODA is spent well and offers good value for money.
It is true that in the past there have been cases where the way in which our money has been spent could have been brought into question, but it has been made clear that funds are now subject to greater transparency. In fact, DFID has been congratulated for being the most transparent aid donor in the world.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate; my hon. Friend is setting out the issues very carefully. Does he agree that it is important for the Government to focus on specific, not open-ended support? In other words, we should focus on results-based projects, rather than general budgetary support.
Absolutely. I agree that we have to ensure that the money is spent as effectively as possible and delivers measurable, tangible outcomes that we can assess. We must accept that there may be times when we do not achieve what we set out to do, and we should be honest with ourselves and admit when that is the case.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We know that when there is a crisis in the world, the British people are quick to dig into their pockets to give money. Does he agree that international aid is a tool that can be used to promote human rights in countries where the rights of minority groups and vulnerable people are often not upheld? Does he agree that international aid helps to transform the wellbeing of many people?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Our foreign aid funding and budget can achieve many things. Addressing the issues of equality and human rights around the world is one of the positive things that we can do.
I have set out the strategic aims of our foreign aid budget, and the UK’s aid will be used to meet those objectives, all of which support poverty reduction and are aligned with the UK’s national interest. Money is now going straight to the frontline—to non-governmental organisations around the world, where it is needed most. More emphasis than ever is being put on reforming the way in which aid is spent, and on ensuring that DFID is a world leader in aid transparency. It is clear that how aid is allocated, used and spent has changed for the better. The calls that the petition makes are impractical and could prove counterproductive. Rather than simply responding to crises and requests for help, our aid spending needs to be strategic and to take a long-term view to be most effective.
Three years ago, the UK became the only G20 country to achieve the UN target of spending 0.7% of its gross national income as official development assistance. This is a massive commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, and it is disappointing that other countries are not doing the same. I had the pleasure and humbling opportunity to travel to Nairobi with Christian Aid last year to see our aid in action. I went specifically because I wanted to see for myself how our overseas aid money was being spent.
Kenya has a population of 43 million people and is the biggest economy in eastern Africa, yet around 25% of Kenyans do not have enough income to meet their basic food needs. A massive three quarters of the population are dependent on agriculture. This proves troublesome when their weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic. That beautiful country and those wonderful people face a number of issues, including the unequal distribution of political, social and economic power; tax and governance issues; high maternal and child mortality rates; and—the main focus of my trip—climate change.
Droughts and intermittent flooding are becoming increasingly frequent, each time growing more severe. With each devastating blow that a drought brings, farmers lose a significant percentage of their assets. When that is combined with snowballing vulnerability to disasters that result in severe displacement and human suffering, and an increasing lack of resources such as food and water, it is easy to see how, without any assistance from countries such as the UK, Kenya could find itself stuck in a never-ending cycle of suffering and hampered long-term development.
I agree with the tone that my hon. Friend is taking on this issue. Just a few days ago I was in Ethiopia. I saw the effects of the drought in that country, where more than 16 million people are dependent on food aid to survive. I am proud that this country is stepping up to the mark, because nobody in this country did anything to deserve being born in the relative luxury that we live in. It is pure luck, and the least we can do is help those people.
Does the hon. Gentleman also recognise another grave threat in Kenya: that of young men, in particular, being seduced by extremism? We saw that extremism again yesterday in Orlando. International development and the 0.7% commitment assist in the battle against that terrible, terrible seduction.
I am very proud of the contribution that this country makes to international development, but in my constituency, and I am sure constituencies up and down the country, we have a plethora of food banks. Some of my constituents are not able to feed their families. Until those problems are addressed, the same question will keep arising; my constituents will continue to ask me, “Why are we spending this money on foreign aid, when our children are hungry here?”
I understand the hon. Lady’s point, but my point is that it cannot be a simple either/or. We need to fulfil our responsibility in the world and address some of the challenges facing it; that is in our national interests. If we do not, those issues will come closer to us. It is still the right thing to do, although I understand the concerns of her constituents and, indeed, many of mine.
Although I had visited Kenya a number of times before in my previous charity work, my most recent visit was a chance to see Kenya with a different focus. I spent three jam-packed days in the country, meeting members of the Kenyan Government, UK representatives, campaigners and charity workers. On one occasion, I visited an extremely rural area, where the impact of climate change is felt most acutely, and met a local farming community. Rainfall is now much less frequent but heavier, which creates significant challenges of soil erosion and flash flooding. I visited a farm where a partnership of the UK and Kenyan local government has helped to fund the construction of water-capture pits for the farmer. When it rains, the pits enable him to store water, which can last for several months during a drought. This means that farmers can expand their farms and provide employment for more local people—so simple, yet so effective.
Having met these people and heard their stories, which begin with anguish but have a positive and hopeful outcome, I understand much more clearly why this spending is so necessary. My trip made it very clear that climate change, as well as every other single issue facing those who receive aid, is being felt in the poorer countries of the world, where people are less resilient and less able to adapt.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point about the environment and natural disasters. Does he agree that in a country such as Bangladesh, which has been ravaged by floods year after year, a strong reason for keeping the 0.7% commitment is that it has particularly helped women? He has given many reasons, but he has not mentioned women yet. Women have been lifted out of poverty. That has been particularly apparent in Bangladesh, where Muhammad Yunus has helped to provide microfinance for women’s start-up businesses.
Just to be equal, I have not mentioned men either, but I totally agree with the hon. Lady’s point. I shall press on and finish my contribution, rather than taking any more interventions.
The next reason why overseas aid spending is so important is to protect our national interests. Whatever we may feel about the moral responsibility we have to other countries, it is in our own interest to continue this spending. One of the biggest ongoing challenges facing the world is the migration crisis. People are fleeing not only war and conflict, but poverty. If people find, as a result of our changing climate, that life is not sustainable, especially in rural areas that are totally dependent on farming, the likelihood of them migrating to western Europe will only increase, putting more and more pressure on our country. Granting aid that can help communities to adapt and enable people to live sustainable lives in rural areas is not just the right thing to do, but the sensible thing to do.
The choice is simple: we tackle the issues at their roots or we wait for them to arrive on our doorstep. As a result of global communications, people in poorer nations are far more aware than ever of the huge gaps between the quality of life in different countries. Young people growing up in places such as Africa are bombarded with visions of the affluence of life in the west. On a global scale, there are very few poor people in the UK. I strongly believe that those of us who have had the luck to be born British have already won life’s lottery. Nearly half the world’s population—2.8 billion people—survive on less than $2 a day.
The generosity of the British people never ceases to amaze me. Reacting to major incidents around the world, we step up and help those who have fallen to get back on their feet, instead of just peering down on them from our platform of relative comfort and safety. A phenomenal £372 million was raised by the UK public in response to the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, and £107 million was raised in response to the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Our foreign aid spending is no different. It follows the same principle of us, as human beings, wanting to help others; it just comes in the form of Government budget. The Government are committed to ensuring greater transparency and even better value for money.
I hope that I have made my point clearly. I believe it is both the right and the practical thing for the UK to maintain its commitment to international aid. Although I acknowledge the right of those who have signed the petition to do so, and I understand the strong feelings that many people hold on this issue, I respectfully disagree with them. The UK has a proud history of playing a leading part on the global stage in assisting countries that are desperately in need. That is something we should continue to do. It is part of what makes us who we are; it is part of the values of our country; it is part of what makes Britain great.
Three weeks after Labour won the 1997 general election, we pledged that Britain would meet the UN target to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on international development. That is one of the acts of which I am most proud from our time in office. I do not deny the important role that the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have played in ensuring that it has become a cross-party national commitment—one that only a handful of countries in the world have met.
However, none of us who support international aid believes we are writing the Department for International Development a blank cheque. We must always ensure that aid meets three tests: it must be effective and transparent, and it must reflect our country’s values. In the case of the aid we give to the Palestinian Authority, we are failing those three tests. Let me give one example: the issue of the PA’s payments to convicted Palestinian terrorists, including, we must assume, Taleb Mehamara, the uncle of the Sarona market murderers, a member of a terror cell that in 2002 targeted Israelis, killing four in a shooting attack. We are not talking about, as one DFID Minister claimed in 2012,
“social assistance programmes to provide welfare payments”.
Instead, by operating a perverse sliding scale where people receive more money the longer their sentence—in some cases as much as five times the average monthly wage in Ramallah—the payments actually incentivise people to commit the most terrible acts of violence. I simply do not see how that advances the cause of a two-state solution. What are the Government doing about it?
Last month, Palestinian Media Watch showed how the PA sought to deceive international donors by shutting the Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs and claiming that the Palestine Liberation Organisation would assume responsibility for those payments, but that was merely financial sleight of hand.
I have had discussions with the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister of the Palestinian Authority and other officials, and I continually make the point that the right hon. Lady rightly makes: if these are welfare payments, they must be made like welfare payments. The reality is that we do not pay them. Our taxpayers’ money goes to build the Palestinian Authority so it is able to morph into the Government of a Palestinian state when that opportunity arises. We pay named civil servants to provide public services.
In 2015, the PA raised its annual transfer to the PLO via the Palestinian National Fund to 481 million shekels—the amount it needed to fund the newly created PLO Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs. That amount was virtually identical to the budget of the old PA Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs—the point I am making to the Minister. I wrote to Ministers last month demanding that direct aid to the PA be suspended while these serious allegations are investigated. In response, I was told by Ministers that the Palestinian Ministry of Finance has confirmed to DFID—we have heard this again today—that
“prisoner payments are fully administered” by the PLO. With respect, I urge Ministers to dig a little deeper. They should be asking questions about the source of the money, not who is doling it out.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend two questions. First, is she saying that aid to the Palestinian Authority should be suspended? How does she respond to the passage in the report that was referred to earlier, which says:
“To the extent that collapse of the PA or the Palestinian economy would massively increase unemployment, this would raise the chances of a violent escalation”?
Secondly, is she saying that every Palestinian prisoner in Israeli custody is a terrorist?
On my hon. Friend’s second point, I have not said that. He just said that, not me. On his first point, I think, as we have said, that tests for aid are very important if there is to be public confidence in where aid goes to. It is important that the aid is suspended subject to an inquiry, which could happen very quickly. I am not in any way against giving aid to Palestinians, as long as it is spent in the right way.
I absolutely agree. I am not going to take any more interventions, as I want to finish my remarks. My hon. Friend makes a very valuable point.
Repeated warnings have been ignored. Nearly two years ago, for instance, the International Development Committee suggested that there is a real risk that the payment of UK aid to the PA in this fashion simply enables it
“to release alternative funds which allow these payments” to convicted terrorists “to continue”. That is the very point I am making.
While our aid potentially helps to line the pockets of the men of violence, we are providing pitiable support to the co-existence projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians together, as my hon. Friend has said. I have written to the Secretary of State listing a number of co-existence projects that enable Palestinians and Israelis to work together, demonstrating what they have in common, not what divides them. I have calculated that less than 13% of the £1.14 million from the Government’s conflict, stability and security fund spent in Israel and the Palestinian territories funds co-existence projects. That represents a mere 0.2% of the roughly £72 million that DFID spends in the Palestinian territories.
Britain can and must help to work towards an independent, democratic Palestinian state living alongside an Israel that is safe and secure within recognised borders. At the moment, I fear that our aid to the Palestinian Authority might be taking us further away from that goal, which is why, as I have previously argued, we urgently need an independent inquiry and a radical rethink.
I rise to support the 0.7% target, in particular with reference to the impact that DFID has made to reaching more than 62 million people with clean water, sanitation and hygiene—WASH—support. Behind that statistic, the lives of so many individuals have been transformed. I saw that when I went to Nepal as a member of the International Development Committee last year. We saw a scheme that had recently provided piped water to a remote village of 600 people, including to two elderly former Gurkha soldiers. One of them proudly showed me the water tap to his home and his vegetable garden, which he was able to tend lovingly as a result of having a water supply. He told me that the children of the village are now able to spend more time in school because they do not have to spend hours every day carrying water for the villagers.
That scheme was led by a young engineer from the current Gurkha regiment. It was administered by the Gurkha Welfare Trust and funded by DFID. What was truly remarkable was not only that the scheme engaged villagers from the whole village in implementing it, but that it cost just £18,000 in UK aid. Some 600 lives have been transformed—there have been improvements in health, hygiene, nutrition, education and life chances for all of those people and their families—for just £18,000. Those who criticise UK aid’s value for money will, I hope, think again on hearing of that scheme.
We can be very proud that DFID’s WASH investments have led to improved health and life chances outcomes across the globe, just as in that Nepalese village. As WaterAid’s report “Water: At What Cost? The State of the World’s Water 2016” states:
“The lack of access to an affordable, convenient, improved water source is one of the biggest barriers to escaping a life of poverty and disease.”
As evidence from another DFID-funded scheme in Bangladesh shows, DFID’s WASH programmes have a wide impact on development. There have been reductions in infant diarrhoea—a major cause of infant sickness and death in developing countries—in child stunting, and in the effect of parasitic worms and other infectious diseases, including water-borne diseases. There have been improvements in school enrolment and attendance, and a reduction in school drop-out rates, particularly for girls. There is evidence of reduced gender inequality, as it is often not just children but women who spend time fetching water.
UK aid helps with WASH programmes not just in remote rural areas. DFID’s WASH programmes are increasingly exploring the challenges of providing water and sanitation improvements in urban slums. About 80% of the estimated 1.7 million inhabitants of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, live in barrios, often in shacks partly built with corrugated iron. Just 9% of homes are connected to the sewerage system, and half of all Maputo’s faecal matter is buried in people’s backyards, which contaminates the water system. A WASH scheme has been helping by providing investment and equipment, building skills and helping the Government to create appropriate regulations to enable the cost-effective collection and disposal of sewage by small local contractors. DFID is funding a not-for-profit company called Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, which is helping to develop cost-effective models for providing WASH in urban settings. For the detractors of UK aid expenditure’s value for money, I repeat that it is a not-for-profit company.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech. On the detractors of the UK aid spend, I wish she could print that list of those great projects in a national newspaper. We need to advertise the great work DFID is doing around the world. We all know about it, but I do not think that the public appreciate it, and nor do they know the details she has highlighted.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the huge public response to the Nepal earthquake, which she mentioned, shows that British people care about the plight of the poorest?
I absolutely agree. The wonderful thing is that DFID’s funds often lever in other, additional moneys through the schemes that the Department so intelligently implements.
DFID set itself ambitious results targets for WASH. Its initial commitment, only six years ago, in 2010, was to provide 15 million people with first-time access to it. That figure was doubled, and then redoubled, to a target of reaching 60 million people during 2011 to 2015. In 2015, after investing almost £700 million over the previous five years on WASH programmes in 27 countries, DFID announced that it had exceeded its target by reaching 62.9 million people. That is the number of people that DFID states have gained access to clean water, toilets or hand-washing facilities, or have been reached through programmes to encourage better hygiene practices. Following that, DFID has committed itself to reach a further 60 million people with sustainable access to safe drinking water or sanitation by 2020.
Levels of disease from living in insanitary conditions that families across the globe still suffer in the 21st century were last seen in this country in the Victorian era. Those families have children for whom they have the same hopes and dreams as we do for ours. Is it too much to ask that we commit only 0.7% of our gross national income—out of all our abundance—to help combat that?
I first visited Bangladesh 20 years ago. On that occasion, at a charitable health facility that someone had taken me too, I met a lad probably aged nine or 10, literally dressed in rags. It was explained to me that he was not able to go to school because he had to earn a living and worked at the local hotel. At the time, I think only about one half of primary-age schoolchildren in Bangladesh were in school; today, the equivalent figure is more than 90%. A remarkable transformation has been achieved over the past 20 years. It reflects great credit on Bangladesh, with enrolment among girls at a much-increased level, as well as among boys, but British aid has made an important contribution to that change.
In February—I am sure other hon. Members have had similar experiences—in Dhaka, I visited a little, one-room school run by that remarkable organisation BRAC, which receives a great deal of support from DFID. I met hopeful, eager and enthusiastic primary schoolchildren, optimistically looking forward to their future, which underlined for me just how important the transformation that British aid has contributed to over the past 20 years is. I have no idea what happened to the boy whom I met 20 years ago—rightly, he might have his own children now, but, if he has, they can expect a much better start in life than he had. Our aid has made an important contribution to bringing that about.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the problems he has seen in Bangladesh are unlikely all to be resolved by 2020? Does he hope, as I do, that all parties in the House will want, in their 2020 manifestos, to maintain the commitment to 0.7% of GNI?
I would welcome that, as I welcome the broad support across the Chamber for that commitment. It is interesting to reflect on the reasons for that cross-party support for the 0.7% target, which I think go back to the Jubilee 2000 campaign in the run-up to the millennium, and the tremendous public support for Britain being more generous to the poorest countries in the world. That was then renewed and strengthened by the Make Poverty History campaign in 2005—the great rally in Edinburgh addressed by Nelson Mandela, with the summit at Gleneagles, chaired by Tony Blair, whose decisions made an important contribution.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a lot of respect has to be paid to the role of the Churches in driving Jubilee 2000? The role of the Churches demonstrates that this matter is not party political, but something that speaks to the good instincts of the British people.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. During those campaigns, I remember that a Treasury Minister turned up to work one morning to find the Treasury surrounded by campaigners, arm in arm all the way around the building. They inundated the Treasury with postcards with £1 coins sellotaped to the back of them, one of which we worked out had been sent in by Gordon Brown’s mother. The organisers of the two campaigns—Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History—estimated that about 80% of the people who supported the campaigns and did those things were from the Churches. That is the reason for this cross-party consensus. It is a remarkable example. People sometimes say that the Churches never achieve much anymore; in this instance, the Churches achieved a huge amount, and it is important to recognise the source and strength of the existing consensus.
My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that in the same way as Make Poverty History was a huge issue then, climate change is a huge issue now? Value-for-money programmes in Bangladesh, such as those to do with flooding, have an enormous impact. They can prevent not only flooding, but famine, helping with unwanted migration and so on—issues we need to look at. Even terrorism can be linked to the failure to address climate change.
My hon. Friend is completely right. I welcome the progress, but a huge amount more remains to be done on that, as well as on education. More than 120 million primary-age children around the world are still not in school, with more girls out of school than boys. A great deal more is still to be done.
Finally, although I welcome today’s cross-party support for the 0.7% aid commitment, I hope that there will also be support throughout the House for the amendment tabled to the Finance Bill by my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint that would effect country-by-country reporting—the arrangement under which each year international companies would publish the profits made and the tax paid in each country. Years ago, I worked on that idea at the Treasury, and I welcome the growing momentum behind it now. I hope that the support rightly and encouragingly expressed in the debate will enable the House to agree my right hon. Friend’s proposal.
I am a member of the International Development Committee and co-chair of the all-party group for sustainable development goals, so it is a pleasure to support colleagues on both sides of the Chamber who are speaking in favour of the 0.7%. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on foreign aid spending and, to be precise, the 0.7%. Given the backdrop of the need to secure the UK’s economic recovery, it is right to consider the spending of all Departments, not only DFID’s. We need to ensure that we deliver value for taxpayers’ money and that we understand what does and does not work.
Before I was elected to this place, I had the opportunity through Project Umubano, which was set up by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour Mr Mitchell, to spend time in Rwanda, Burundi and Sierra Leone, so that I could learn about international development by seeing it for myself. I took that opportunity because I wanted and felt that I needed to gain a more detailed understanding of international development. I visited schools in rural Rwanda, a health clinic in Kirambi and NGO projects where they were showing people how to build livelihoods and encourage enterprise. I have too many stories. I would love to share them all with Members this afternoon, but I will move on because time is pressing. UK aid has contributed to many of those successes and many others around the world. In the last 40 years, extreme poverty has halved. Since 2000, deaths from malaria have decreased by 60%, saving more than 6 million lives. There are many other examples.
UK investment in immunisation saves a child’s life somewhere in the world every two minutes. Does the hon. Lady agree that such immunisation programmes not only enable better health in poorer countries but provide an important roadblock to more widespread epidemics?
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point, and I agree. A lot of work is done by DFID and in the charitable sector by organisations such as Rotary to help to eradicate disease. The UK continues to lead the way. It is working to help women and girls by tackling female genital mutilation and preventing sexual violence against women. The breadth of the work that DFID is involved in is exemplary. I believe that we have a moral duty to do such work, but also that it is firmly in our national interest. It can help to strengthen our long-term security and is a vital part of protecting our prosperity as well as helping to foster peaceful diplomacy. As we have seen in recent years with the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone and the ongoing crisis with the Syrian refugees, the UK is at the forefront of international development work.
I got the chance to visit Ethiopia and see the structures that came about because of polio eradication. It was exactly these structures that were able to detect that the Ebola crisis was developing, so we protect ourselves as well as protecting others.
The hon. Lady makes a very valuable point. The benefit of such debates is that they enable us to share many examples of projects and the experiences that we have all had. We face a choice: either seek to tackle the root causes of poverty and therefore many of the great global challenges we face, or wait for the problem—be that the threat of mass migration, terrorism, disease, corruption or global climate change—to arrive here on our doorstep, by which point it is often too late.
We have already heard that the 0.7% target is not new. To be honest, I was surprised to find while doing my research that it was actually first accepted in principle back in 1974 by the then Labour Government. Subsequent Conservative Governments also accepted it in principle, and it was finally enshrined in law by the coalition Government. It is important to remember that the 0.7% aid target that we are discussing is 0.7% of gross national income. Let us be clear: that is not “wealth”, as indicated in the title of the petition. That means that aid spending could in theory come down: if GNI comes down, that 0.7% as an amount will also come down.
Critics will say that we should spend only what we need to spend. I get that. I understand that we have to deliver value for taxpayers’ money, but that has to be balanced and put in context. We are often faced with very complex situations. For example, with Ebola, I fear that if we had waited for too long, the situation that we faced would have been much larger and we would yet again have faced the charge of having done too little, too late.
There is growing global inequality in terms of peace. The most peaceful states are more peaceful than ever, but some of the most fragile states are more fragile than ever. That is why I welcome the shift in the Government’s aid strategy to place a greater focus on supporting such fragile states. That often requires a much longer-term approach, which can often bring challenges, and it is certainly not without risks, but without security and stability, development is not possible and it is not possible to move beyond dependency upon humanitarian aid.
I will turn briefly to governance, accountability and transparency. The e-petition states that our aid is leading to “waste and corruption”. I believe it is for DFID to always answer and make its case for the work it does. I am a member of the International Development Committee, which holds inquiries into the Department’s work, and it is also scrutinised by the Public Accounts Committee, which recently published a report, the National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which I believe was set up while my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield was Secretary of State. The purpose of that organisation is to scrutinise DFID’s work and ODA spending. I would like to see more scrutiny. We have yet to fully make the case for aid to the British public. We all have a part to play in doing that. I would like to see more cross-Department inquiries to better reflect the way that the 0.7% cuts across Departments. The case for 0.7% is an important one. It is worthy of scrutiny and debate, but in my view it is worthy of our support.
It is a pleasure to follow Wendy Morton, a fellow member of the International Development Committee, and I agree with many of her points. It is important for Members to understand the reason why we are here today, which is not only the petition but the fact that it was started by The Mail on Sunday, which said when talking about our aid budget:
“Rather than helping people who desperately need it, much of this money is wasted and…fuels corruption, funds despots and corrodes democracy in developing nations.”
Quite frankly, that is lazy and wrong, and it is irresponsible for anyone who cares about our national security and global security—
I will give way in a moment, but let me make a few points. It is important that there is both a moral argument and a practical and national security argument for why we should spend 0.7% on aid. The moral argument should shame us all. As a Christian, I think it is appalling that 800 women die every day in childbirth and 20,000 children die every day due to preventable diseases. We can list the statistics, which should shame us all. It is irresponsible for us to ignore those in a world where poverty, insecurity and instability have consequences for our streets and our cities.
Gross poverty has fuelled instability in Yemen. There are ungoverned spaces there where militants can train and extremism can flourish. The Mail on Sunday is quite happy to tell us about the immigrants flooding towards us—it was happy to put that on its front page today instead of the massacre in Orlando—but what it does not tell us is that many of those people trying to find a better future are fleeing because of the very poverty and insecurity that our aid aims to tackle. Do we seriously think that diseases such as Ebola and other pandemics, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, resist borders? Of course they do not. Our aid plays a crucial role in tackling such diseases.
I will come on to that point directly. It is absolutely right that any allegations of corruption or aid money being used by terrorist organisations, or any other allegations of that nature, are robustly and efficiently investigated. I have every confidence that DFID will do that. Indeed, we have the Independent Committee for Aid Impact, which the hon. Lady mentioned, which is investigating those very issues. I am convinced that we have one of the most robust regimes in the world, and it has been regarded as such by many other Governments.
The fact is that there is a paradox. If we operate in risky environments, some things will not work out. We would not say to a small business, “Don’t use your capital, because something might go wrong and you might lose some of it.” We would not say to our troops, “Don’t go in and fight that battle, because something might go wrong.” We should not say, “Let’s not give aid into risky environments, because something might go wrong with it.” On balance, we are far better off being in there trying to deal with the root problems and consequences than not engaging at all and pulling up the boundaries and saying, “None of this matters and none of it affects us.”
The fact is that corruption thrives in poverty and insecurity. We have withdrawn our aid from countries where there has been absolutely categorical evidence of it being used inappropriately. When I worked in Government at the Department for International Development, we removed aid from the Malawian Government when they said that they were going to spend it on a jet. We have never given money directly to many aspects of the Government of Zimbabwe because of concerns about that—we give aid through charities instead. To say the aid is all going to despots is completely wrong.
I agree with much of what my hon. Friend is saying, but I just want him to understand that those of us who are concerned about the Palestinian Authority’s support for terrorists are not saying that we should withdraw, walk away and leave them to it—not at all. We are saying that perhaps some of that money would be better spent supporting projects that work across both communities, with Palestinians and Israelis, building dialogue and putting in place the building blocks of the peace process that we all want to see.
The point I am making is a wide one. It is right to look carefully into any allegations of such a serious nature—and several have been raised today. I listened to what the Minister said about specific cases, but that is not the point I am making. I am speaking generally, with reference to the impression created by The Mail on Sunday petition. The fact is that the countries that our aid supports have been regularly reviewed. The coalition Government made different choices about which countries to support from the Labour Government that I was part of; but that was right—we should review those things. We have stopped giving aid to India, and places such as China—it was a difficult decision but I think it was the right one—yet a myth is perpetuated that we are still giving them money.
As has been said, there is increased independent oversight from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which, incidentally, reports to the International Development Committee, not the Government. That means there can be independent scrutiny of what our aid is being spent on . Things have also moved on in the sense that cross-Government co-operation has increased. I welcome the steps that have been taken to increase co-operation between defence, diplomatic and development activities, through the National Security Council. It is the right decision, and it ensures that we are co-ordinated across our international sphere. It is not a zero-sum game. I firmly support the 2% spending target for defence, but I also support the 0.7% aid target. I am in favour of supporting charities and those tackling poverty in my constituency, such as food banks, but I also support providing life-saving drugs to people dying from Ebola or HIV across the world. That is not a zero-sum game—we can do both. Indeed, if I want to ask why people in my constituency are living in poverty, I will have far more questions for the Government about some of their other policies than about what the international aid budget is being spent on.
I think there is a danger of things sometimes being blurred, but there are activities that can legitimately be described as measures contributing to security and to development. It is not a zero-sum game. I saw that in Afghanistan. I saw the close working between our development staff, armed forces and Foreign Office staff—there is overlap, but we need to be cautious about completely skewing things in one or the other. As to proportions, the fact is that in 2014-15 defence spending was 75% of our total international spending. Aid, diplomacy and intelligence made up just 25%. That is a perfectly reasonable balance, and the co-operation that is going on is absolutely right.
The growing chaos in Yemen, parts of the horn of Africa, and north and central Africa, shows exactly the consequences of ignoring gross poverty and instability. Our aid is a tiny investment—less than a penny in the pound. It helps us to tackle threats. It is morally right and it shows us to be a compassionate and progressive global power. In my view it is madness to slash the budget that is focused on tackling those threats to our national and global security that drive people to flee their countries and drown, and that, most importantly, degrade us all.
As the chair of Conservative Friends of International Development I felt compelled to speak in the debate. Yesterday we celebrated Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. As always, watching and joining in with the celebrations, I felt incredibly proud to be British. To me, a part of being British is having compassion and helping those who are less fortunate than we are. I am fully supportive of the fact that our country supports those overseas who are less fortunate by giving 0.7% of our GDP in aid. I have always believed that this country should be nothing but proud of its work to support developing countries and those who are less fortunate than us, and proud of what it does in worldwide emergencies. Last year, when Ebola broke out in Africa, we gave support to treat and contain the disease. As the scale of the Syria crisis has continued to grow, we have given continuous support, and taken steps to react and to help the most vulnerable at the heart of the situation.
I have visited Rwanda with Project Umubano and seen first-hand how the country has managed to start rebuilding itself after such horrors, and I have never had any doubt that we should help those who are less fortunate than we are. I have also visited Jordan and seen refugees, in the camps and in the host communities, and have spoken to them about their aspirations to return home to the country they love. I have no doubt that we should be giving hope to those who have so little hope. We are often blind to the daily challenges so that many people face around the world—the humanitarian crisis that might not be reported in the news, and the underlying problems at the root of things in some nations that make a quick fix an impossible task.
I wholeheartedly agree that we must have a rigorous process in place to ensure that the right money gets to the right places, and I believe the Government should ensure that there is the right level of scrutiny. I believe that that does happen. It is, after all, the public’s money that is being spent. We must be able to demonstrate that it is being done effectively.
Britain is of course a humanitarian nation, and it is right that we do our duty by the world’s most vulnerable, but there are legitimate concerns that the requirement to meet the target of 0.7% each year creates a risk that poor-value projects will be approved, and that money will be shovelled out of the door as the financial year end approaches. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if that target were to apply over a longer period, but allowing for annual variations to reflect need, that would give taxpayers greater comfort that British money was being spent properly?
One thing we must do is protect the 0.7%. I am fully committed to the idea that we need to do that annually, because so many projects are needed each year. All aspects of the spending of the 0.7% are rigorously scrutinised. That is in addition to internal monitoring and evaluation to ensure that projects stay on track and deliver value for taxpayers’ money. We must also remember that the UK’s aid budget is without doubt one of the most transparent in the world. We have taken steps to ensure that taxpayers know exactly how their money is spent. Mrs Hodgson, who has left the Chamber, spoke about making the way DFID money is spent more public, and I think we should do that.
Economic growth is undoubtedly the best way of driving people’s incomes and reducing poverty in the developing world. The private sector has a vital part to play in generating and sustaining economic growth, as it creates jobs and opportunities for men and women to support their families and build more stable futures. It is fast becoming a key priority of our international development programme and in the long term could result in less investment being required in many nations.
As a nation we have never shied away from helping those who need it most. Every day we do so much fantastic work. I said earlier that I am proud to be British, and I am. I am proud that we lead the way in providing aid to those who need it most, and proud that we enrich people’s lives and save people’s lives. I cannot support anything that detracts from that. A life is to be valued wherever we live in the world and I fully support the fact that we help and develop those who are unable to do that for themselves.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Wilson. I draw the House’s attention to my relevant entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I visited Jordan last autumn with Oxfam to meet Syrian refugees. I worked with the Aegis Trust charity, which does important work preventing genocide, including in Rwanda.
As Chair of the Select Committee on International Development, I welcome today’s debate and the high attendance and public interest in it. As Wendy Morton said, this is not a new issue. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the 0.7% target in 1970, and, as she said, Governments of all parties have committed themselves to it ever since.
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, about the number of people here today, will he join me in urging the usual channels to go back to the principle that used to exist of having an annual full-day debate on the Floor of the House on international development? Today’s attendance shows that we are missing that and need to have it restored.
I will certainly do that.
The 0.7% target was first achieved by the UK in 2013. Just five other countries achieved it as well: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates. We need to recognise that there is genuine public concern—Steve Double spoke about the Twitter debate earlier this afternoon—with some saying we should simply not be spending that amount of money and some raising issues about what the aid is spent on. It is important that we engage seriously with those concerns that our constituents are raising. That is why the International Development Committee takes our scrutiny role very seriously. As others have said, we have unique support in doing that. Not only do we have the work of the National Audit Office; thanks to Mr Mitchell, we also have the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. The onus is in particular on those of us who support the 0.7% target to ensure that the money is spent properly and that we deliver value for money. I pledge today as Chair of the Committee—I know other members of the Committee, from all parties, agree with me—that we will seek to ensure that that is delivered.
There are many practical examples of the real difference that this investment makes; I want to refer to a small number of them. One is Ebola, which has been referred to by a number of Members. Our report on the Government’s response to the Ebola outbreak praised DFID for playing a strong, leading role in co-ordinating the response in Sierra Leone, which made a real, practical difference and saved lives. DFID set up Ebola treatment facilities in Sierra Leone to improve the response, providing additional beds and greatly improving the country’s capacity to fight Ebola. On polio, the United Kingdom is supporting the programme for polio eradication, with the aim of ensuring the full vaccination of 360 million children by 2019. Those are real examples where we can make a difference to people’s lives.
Africa is now clear of polio, which is still present in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. If we take our foot off the gas, we will slide back. We will see outbreaks. It is not “job done” yet.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. In my experience, when we make these arguments and talk about challenges such as polio and Ebola, our constituents see the real, positive benefits of investment by DFID.
I will say something about the Syria crisis, because I think that as a country we can be proud of our Government’s response to the Syria crisis, both in Syria, with support for those who are internally displaced, but also, crucially, through the work being done in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. I saw that for myself when I went with Oxfam to Zaatari last year, and also when I visited families living in host communities. The practical differences to things like education, health, and jobs and livelihoods ensure that those Syrian refugee families are able to live the best life they possibly can in the most appalling of circumstances.
That is not just the right thing to do morally; it is actually in our interests to ensure that those people thrive. There is an economic case for that, but, bluntly, there is a security case for it as well. If we are supporting those families to stay in the region, they are less likely to risk their lives and try to come to Europe. I think we should be proud of that work. My Committee has decided that we will be conducting an inquiry into DFID’s work on education. Education is a crucial part of both humanitarian relief and development assistance in the long term.
I will finish by talking of the need to look beyond aid. We are not going to achieve a more equal world, or a world in which economies in Africa thrive as much as they do in other parts of the world, solely with aid. I want other wealthy countries to match our 0.7% achievement, but I also want us to recognise the role of remittances and the brilliant work that the diaspora communities do on that, and the importance of genuinely free and fair trade. My right hon. Friend Stephen Timms reminded us about the key issue of taxation and country-by-country reporting, and also ensuring that countries can collect their own taxes. In the end, aid is important, but it is not sufficient if we are to address those issues. As a House, let us engage more with the public on a cross-party basis about UK aid and development and call on other countries to do more so that they reach the 0.7% target, but also remind ourselves that aid on its own is not going to deliver the end of poverty and a more equal world.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. For the most part, DFID delivers global goods, lifts people out of extreme poverty, champions the rights of women and girls, and delivers humanitarian relief when disaster strikes. However, support for helping the poorest people on our planet is harmed, and DFID suffers reputational damage, when behaviour that contravenes aid agreements is unchallenged and when, despite being presented with evidence, DFID takes no remedial action. There is no greater example of that behaviour than the support DFID provides to the Palestinian Authority. However, I do not wish to dwell upon that as my views on the subject are well known. Where I seek to take this debate is to how DFID spending can assist in the quest for a two-state solution—something that all of us believe in.
I had the great pleasure last year of visiting Israel and Save a Child’s Heart, a wonderful charity that has helped about 4,000 children, half of whom are from the west bank and Gaza. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the kind of co-existence project that DFID funding should be supporting?
I absolutely agree, and I, too, have had the pleasure of visiting that hospital. I am very proud of my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, who makes a monthly donation to that hospital out of his own pocket, which is something he should be commended for.
However, I do not wish to dwell on the Palestinian Authority and where they spend money. There is a need for greater support for individual projects actively promoting peaceful co-existence in the region, as Save a Child’s Heart does. That would support the UK Government’s own stated goal of securing a lasting and peaceful two-state solution, which, once again, is something that all of us in this room want.
Does my hon. Friend understand the foundations from which he wishes to build that co-existence that we would all like to see? Will he unequivocally confirm that he endorses the Government policy that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are wholly illegal?
I can confirm that I think that. Indeed, the Israeli Supreme Court says that as well, so there is no misunderstanding about that.
“open to considering further support” through the conflict, security and stability fund
“for strong co-existence projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians together”.
I agree with my hon. Friend on the thrust of his remarks on peaceful projects. Does he agree with me that this is an example of how we should be looking to move away from general budgetary support and to specific project support, which I believe has already been done in countries such as Rwanda and Malawi?
I certainly agree with that sentiment, and the examples I wish to raise are of ongoing projects that do not achieve the aims that are sought.
Less than 13% of DFID’s £1.17 million funding of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs goes towards projects that bring the two peoples together. That represents around 0.2% of the £72 million that DFID spends in the Palestinian Territories. A number of NGO projects currently sponsored by DFID in Israel and the Palestinian Territories carry out laudable activities, yet have a questionable outlook of endorsing violence. Some of those NGOs engage in activities that undermine peace efforts and increase tensions, and a number are heavily involved in “lawfare” and the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
UK-funded NGOs have their own NGO, through something called NGO Monitor, that looks at how some of the funding is spent through the conflict, stability and security fund. NGO Monitor seeks to hold NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian territories to account, and regards UK funding to a number of those NGOs as
“a manipulation of the democratic process, an attempt to change ‘Israeli civil and military judicial practice and decisions’ and government policy” and notes that some of those groups are
“engaged in anti-Israel efforts.”
NGO Monitor has also said that
“a significant proportion of the NGOs receiving British funds promote the Palestinian political narrative, focusing only on allegations of Israeli human rights violations.”
The UK Government currently funds 10 NGO projects in Israel through the conflict, stability and security fund: the Peres Centre for Peace, INJAZ, Kids Creating Peace, Yesh Din, Gisha, Peace Now, Terrestrial Jerusalem, the International Peace and Co-operation Centre, and Rabbis for Human Rights. Because of the limited amount of time, I will look at just one of those. Yesh Din describes its mission as working
“to oppose the continuing violation of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory... documenting and disseminating accurate and up-to-date information about the systematic violation of human rights in the OPT, by raising public awareness”.
In October 2013, members of Yesh Din took part in an Arab celebration on the ruins of a Jewish community in Homesh, with attendees desecrating Jewish symbols and waving anti-Semitic posters, including one depicting a Jew with a spear through his head. That is where our money is going.
I would like the Minister to hear our concerns today and not to continually view this problem through a prism of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Our money is going to some causes that I am sure he would be ashamed of. I hope that we can take that message to the Government today and make sure that we actually look at our spending.
I welcome the commitment to 0.7%—a cross-party commitment, as has been said—and, in particular, the fact that the previous coalition Government and the current Government have enacted it. I have supported it for some time and have worked on it with others. I am also a member of the International Development Committee and have seen many of the projects that have been undertaken. We have a good record of scrutinising the Government on this issue.
Like my hon. Friend Stephen Doughty, who is not in his seat, I believe that our commitment of 2% to defence is important as well. Strong defence and security go hand in hand with development. The UK stands tall with five other countries in the world—Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden and the Netherlands. I understand the concerns of those who have signed the petition. Many of the points have been dealt with today, but perhaps not sufficiently for many.
Like everybody else, I want to see good housekeeping from DFID on ODA—that 0.7% of our GNI—just as I want to see good housekeeping on the 99.3% that the Government spend on other issues. We need to get our finances well and get value for money. Having listened to the previous speaker, Dr Offord, I certainly do not want to see ODA going on terrorism, whether that be state terrorism, organisational terrorism or individuals and groups that conduct it. Nobody wants to see that, but we do have a good record in this country and we must be proud of it.
Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay to hear the Minister winding up, but I know that when we scrutinise him and his Department and raise issues, they come back with answers. It is very important that our job as a Select Committee to scrutinise gets taken seriously by this Government—that work is open and transparent to the public: it is on transcript—and that we work together with civil society. The churches have been mentioned, and credit needs to be given to them. It is also important that we as parliamentarians raise the issues that our constituents raise with us. I recall that during previous campaigns—the millennium goals, Make Poverty History and many others—the hundreds and hundreds of people wrote to us. Many of them asked us to have 0.7% in statute. We have delivered that; now we expect the Government to deliver value for money on that 0.7%.
The supporters of this petition need to understand that what we are doing abroad is good for this country, and I will finish on this point. We took evidence on the Ebola inquiry from British doctors and nurses who put their lives at risk in those countries, not just to stop the disease in west Africa, but to stop it from crossing the globe to Britain. It is in Britain’s interest that the money is well spent. It is in the world’s interest and, as a communitarian, I support my local community, the national community and the international community. As proud British, that is in our DNA. We must ensure that the Government give value for money, but we must be proud of 0.7% on ODA.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Wilson. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Double on introducing this debate and on his excellent speech. There have been many excellent speeches; in fact, I am honoured to follow a very good one.
Across the House the word “pride” is mentioned constantly. Of course it is a source of huge pride that our country delivers this spending target, and that is absolutely right. I have not visited many of the international development projects that other Members have referred to, but I trust what they say entirely. Turning to my experience, my wife and I were in the Sri Lankan tsunami. It was Boxing day and I was standing on a beach when it came in. The very next day, someone with whom I had been swimming in the sea the day before—who confessed he was a Chelsea headhunter—got a box, put it in the middle of the restaurant area and said to every western tourist, “Put every penny you have got into there.” He was British. The British are good at this: we raise money, we are passionate about charitable giving, and I agree with that.
I accept that there is an overwhelming governmental mandate for this policy and I welcome the consensus across the House, but my concern is that there is a danger of complacency. We have a very large current account deficit in this country and a persisting public expenditure deficit in terms of public borrowing. Of course I have immense trust in the predictions of our Chancellor, not least in terms of the outcome of certain decisions we might be making shortly—unlike some—and I am sure we will go back into the black soon, but what if we do not and these issues persist? My personal view is that I would like there to be some consideration, when we protect Government budgets, that we do so on the understanding that some of it comes from a surplus. In other words, that it is clear we can afford it and that we are not borrowing the money and putting charitable spending on a credit card, which worries me.
I do not want to turn this into a political debate because it has been remarkably consensual, but let me tell the hon. Gentleman that I and many of my colleagues could give him a whole list of alternative things that we think the Government could make different decisions about rather than aid spending. He can wait for the Government to be at a point where they can say, “These are now lavish times: these are times when we are actually going to afford for children not to die of diarrhoea or afford for them to go to school,” but we will never reach that moment. He is arguing for the end of aid spending, not something else.
It is a political debate, and we have to debate this issue. Of course I am not arguing for the end of aid spending; that is a ludicrous thing to say. Japan, the United States, Italy, Portugal and Spain are not international pariahs and they spend 0.2% of their GDP. That is disappointing, but that is a £8.5 billion difference. When we make a choice in this country to protect that Department when there is a deficit, it is a statement of fact that we will inevitably impose tougher reductions on other Departments. That means things like social care and long-term care of the elderly; we have to be open and honest about that.
That is my concern, especially in this political climate. Liz McInnes, who is not in the Chamber any more, made the point that she had constituents who were concerned because we have food banks. Many years ago Charles Dickens wrote about telescopic philanthropy: the idea that there can be the perception in humanitarian spending that we are prioritising the problems abroad rather than those at home. In those areas where there is an anger at politics and a feeling of disengagement—I fear I know how some of those people will be expressing that shortly—and in this climate we have to be very open and transparent. We have to show the public that we are debating these things and are prudent in our use of public finances.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that charity begins at home, but it does not end at home. We as internationalists have an obligation and people understand that in this country.
That is a very fair point. We are in the era of Donald Trump—let us be clear that there is clearly anger out there at politics. We all know that and we therefore have a duty, even if we continue at this level—there is massive support for that and the Prime Minister has an incredibly strong mandate for it—to be seen to be debating it, to be very clear about every aspect of the expenditure that we go through, and to hold it all to account. That message must go out strongly and we should not just blithely accept this.
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that we also have a duty to explain what our aid does and achieves? It is not just that it is audited in a technical way; we do not actually talk about the fact that polio was nearly eradicated or about peace building in Rwanda. Future wars will be about water, not oil, so we need to include climate change and do the job of explaining to the public what our aid is trying to achieve.
I agree, and some other hon. Members will shortly have a chance to do that. I am aware that time is ticking by, so I will simply conclude: I support this, and the passion of our Government and of MPs across the House is very clear. The public must perceive that every aspect of it is prudently held to account and budgeted for. If we saw a deterioration in our public finances or any events coming up that might affect them, it has to be obvious that we would be prepared to examine every item of expenditure and not protect every Department in the way we are at the moment. We can afford to do that now, but we may not always be able to.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson, and to take part in this debate as a member of the Select Committee on International Development and because the Department for International Development in Scotland is based in my constituency.
[Mike Gapes in the Chair]
It is estimated that UK aid helps to save a life every two minutes. It has provided 13.2 million people with access to essential TB treatment. Since 2011, it has reached 62.9 million people with water, sanitation and hygiene interventions and has ensured the safe birth of 5.1 million children by making appropriate medical assistance available. However, aid from the UK does not just save lives. It helps to tackle social inequalities and to encourage prosperity. It supports those suffering from poverty to overcome hardships and helps to provide education opportunities to children, including girls, across the world. It increases people’s abilities and skills to earn a living, and generates employment, fosters trade and develops markets. It helps to address climate change, to reduce conflict and to increase stability across our world. All that is in the interests of developing countries and the developed world.
Evidence indicates that our aid is effective. Thanks to significant progress in international development, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty declined by 60% between 1990 and 2011. This means almost 1 billion people have been lifted from poverty. To meet the valuable aspirations of the sustainable development goals, it is vital that the UK continues to meet our strong aid commitment of 0.7% and encourages other countries to follow suit.
My hon. Friend is setting out the compelling case for continuing overseas funding at this level. Does she agree that there is real concern that the same section of the right-wing press is whipping up public concern based on misinformation to undermine the whole notion of foreign aid spending altogether?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. She made her point very well.
Long-term planning realises sustainability and provides leverage to transform millions into trillions, which is required to achieve our sustainable development goals.
In the run-up to this debate, I was contacted by a constituent and former Minister, the right hon. Adam Ingram, who expressed concern about the spending of international aid via the Palestinian Authority. He requires further reassurance from the Minister on transparency and whether the payments are needs-based and affordable, alongside independent vetting.
I was contacted by another constituent who was keen for me to support foreign aid spending in this debate. In her email, she advised me that she cares about people living in poverty around the world and loves helping them with the UK’s aid budget. Importantly, she said it is good when politicians keep promises. I very much hope that we will continue to keep this one.
The Scottish Government’s international development policy and £9 million aid fund convey our party’s vision of Scotland fulfilling its place in the world as a good global citizen, committed to playing its part in addressing the challenges facing the world. It focuses on seven countries around the world and links with our world-leading climate justice fund.
As a country, we cannot act with credibility overseas if we are blind to inequality at home, but our ambitions for a fairer Scotland are undermined without global action to tackle poverty, to promote prosperity and to tackle climate change. As a Christian, I believe we have a moral duty to fulfil our commitment to achieving the sustainable development goals around the world. As humans, we share one planet and we must contribute to making it fair, healthy and safe for all.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. This has been an interesting debate and rather than being sniffy or patronising about The Mail on Sunday, we should thank it for raising the issue and giving a voice to the concerns felt by many people. I do not share those concerns. I have always robustly defended the 0.7% and will continue to do so, but in this age of Trump politics, or whatever they are, when many of the public are disenchanted with politicians, it is not for us here to be patronising and sniffy about those who have a different view. Instead of being rude about people with such views, we must go out and win the debate.
I have always been robust with my constituents. When one points out to them the spending on HIV/AIDS and fighting polio and TB, people say of course they want that to continue, but not the other bits—the bad bits and the cover-up bits. None of us wants that, but we must be honest about the fact there is some corruption and some misuse of our aid budget, and we must do something about that. I think the Minister and his Department have done a good job in trying to tackle much of that, but obviously there is still work to do.
Another point that we must make to constituents is that if we as a nation do not project through foreign aid our own values and those of western democracies, it will be left to others who perhaps do not share our values in spending money in poorer countries to project values that we would not wish to see projected further. Again, that is a point that constituents are responsive to. We should accept the genuine concerns in this area and we must be prepared at all times to justify our spending and to improve it where we can.
There may be some groans, but I will say something about funding to the Palestinian territories. I heard the Minister’s intervention and I think he is right in much of what he said in that the Department has tried to get a grip on this and is keen to do more, but concerns continue that while we might be able to say that British money is not directly funding individual terrorists in prison, it is perhaps displacing other funding in the Palestinian Authority general fund or elsewhere that is being used to fund terrorists. We should be concerned about that. I welcomed the article in the Jewish Chronicle last week saying that the Secretary of State and the Department are reviewing that.
As Joan Ryan said, there are people engaging in terrorist activities, including Hamed Abu Aadi who last year confessed—
If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, having been corrected by the Minister that UK Government funding is not, for example, paying salaries to Palestinians prisoners, he is now conjecturing something else. On reflection, would he and others not think that hijacking this important debate effectively to give cover to the Netanyahu-Lieberman regime is a gross abuse of an important subject?
I mentioned patronising and sniffy, and the hon. Gentleman’s intervention is a prime example. It was so patronising it is not worthy of a response. Members are allowed to come to this Chamber and speak as they wish on a matter of international aid, and this about international aid from British taxpayers’ money. The hon. Gentleman can patronise all he wants, but I won’t be silenced from saying what I think I am entitled to say in this Chamber on this issue.
It is not just supporters of the Netanyahu Government who are concerned about this. The central point is that the Palestinian Authority receives our aid money because it has signed a memorandum of understanding with DFID which is underpinned by renunciation of violence and a commitment to peace. That is directly contradicted by funding terrorists, whether or not the money comes directly from the UK, and is directly contradicted by the Palestinian Authority’s routine incitement of violence. On both grounds, the Minister should be examining the matter in greater detail.
I am conscious of time, and I will perhaps give way to the Minister in a moment. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right in a lot of what he says. The Overseas Development Institute stated that our aid money to the Palestinian Authority had failed to promote peace and a peaceful attitude. There is more to be done.
I mentioned a terrorist who confessed that he had engaged in his behaviour to obtain payments. I also want to mention NGO funding, particularly the Ibda’a cultural centre, which will receive £5,602 from DFID this year. Last year, it hosted an exhibition to honour martyrs, including Mohanad Al Halabi, who killed one and injured 11. We must be careful about where our money is going and always be prepared to review.
Let me say that we take the issue of incitement very seriously indeed. With respect to the hon. Gentleman’s point about The Jewish Chronicle, I assure him that both I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State keep that matter under review continually, precisely because it is so controversial. With respect to the matters raised in relation to integration and so on, I understand that I am receiving a delegation from Ian Austin to discuss that on Wednesday.
I thank the Minister and I hope that he will look at the Ibda’a cultural centre grant that I mentioned.
In my last minute or so, I want to talk about some of the co-existence projects. We had a wonderful meeting last year in Jerusalem with a group of Palestinian and Jewish young people from MEET—the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow. It was a really inspiring meeting. Those Palestinian youth and Jewish youth were being educated together. Both were very open about what they thought about each other beforehand and how that project had helped to bring them together. We should be supporting projects such as that, as we should—in these last 46 and a half seconds—be supporting Save a Child’s Heart, which I am proud to serve as a UK patron of. It is a wonderful charity. I was very moved when we visited it last year, particularly when we were meeting and talking with the young Gazan children who receive treatment through it. That organisation supports heart surgery not just for Palestinian children—it is mainly Palestinian children, with Israeli doctors—but for Tanzanian children and Iraqi children. It trains doctors and nurses and is a project that has a reach beyond just Israel and the Palestinian territories. I hope that that is one of the projects we can look at funding in the future.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. First, I declare an interest as a former trustee of ActionAid and an ambassador for that fantastic non-governmental organisation, and also as president of the British and Foreign School Society, a grant-making trust that gives grants to developing countries across the world.
It is vital to say at the start of this important debate that I do not believe that aid is a panacea. I lament some of the adverts that we see on television every week showing emaciated black and brown children with bloated bellies, and, frankly, the poverty porn behind too many of our great NGOs. I am also concerned that, whether we are talking about Comic Relief or Sport Relief, there is an armchair approach to aid, whereby people just sit back, give money and do not ask hard questions about countries’ governance, transparency and trade—and in the end, it is trade that we want to see across the developing world.
That said, this debate goes to the heart of the poverty that still exists in our world. Across the world, 124 million young people are not in school and not being educated. This country has a proud tradition, but it also has a colonial past inextricably linked to that of many of the countries mentioned in this debate. As a descendant of people from one of those countries—my parents are from Guyana—I think it is important to put that on the table. As we move from empire to Commonwealth, we remain interconnected.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an exceptionally important point: aid alone is not enough. One particularly clamant example that I can offer him of that is this country’s tax treaty with Malawi, which was entered into before Malawi was given its independence. The partnership needs to be recast as one of equals, rather than us having the relationship of exploitation that we had in the past.
I am grateful for that intervention. The right hon. Gentleman will also recall Jubilee 2000, the campaign to write off debt, and our deep history with many of the countries where there is that debt and that environment. Yes, there must be aid, but there must also be very important discussions—discussions that we are failing to have as a society about how these countries move into economically stronger positions.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says about aid not being a panacea, and not being enough, but does he agree that legislation is quite useful because it provides certainty and predictability, and therefore allows smarter long-term investment, and so increased aid impact?
I do agree with that point, and that is why I stand by the 0.7%. That target was first established in 1970 by Jan Tinbergen, a Nobel prize-winning economist, and he came to that figure because he believed it was the amount that would allow developing countries to get into growth. That is why Britain should stand firmly in a leadership role. I represent a north London constituency that has seen two riots in a generation and that has deep pockets of poverty. Many of us in this House have talked richly today of travelling to developing countries; it is important that we understand that that is a privilege that many of our constituents do not have, and for that reason we play a leadership role in this debate. We lead and explain; we do not simply follow those who act understandably, given that they face poverty. However, we should always remember that constituents such as mine give far more in remittances to the developing world than is given in aid by the British taxpayer. The money is from people from all corners of the world who are working hard and paying their taxes, but also from those sending small amounts of money—indeed, I am one of those people—to relatives who barely have shoes on their feet. It is important to put that firmly on the table.
I remind the House that one of the biggest aid programmes was the Marshall plan. That was, in a sense, the birth of aid. It came at a time when this country was in rubble. We got $3 billion from the United States of America. That plan involved wheat, raw materials and industrialisation that was needed across Europe, and that money came through aid from the United States and birthed much of the current aid debate. It is important to preserve the 0.7%, which we put in statute, but also to have deep discussions about and scrutiny of where those funds go. Let us remember that this debate is not isolated. A long history ties us to these countries, which we now stand beside. We must remember our position in the Commonwealth, but also a history that carved up Africa with arbitrary borders and created lots of strife because of different tribal wars. For that reason, this is not the time to walk away from the important aid discussion.
Order. As there is so much interest in the debate, I will have to reduce the time limit on speeches to three minutes, and I will call the Scottish National party spokesperson, the Opposition spokesperson and the Minister from 7 o’clock, so I would be grateful if hon. Members could restrain themselves from intervening; then more of them may be able to speak.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Double on starting the debate off. We have heard many interesting speeches and lots of facts and figures from various hon. Members. I would like to bring this down to just one example, and if anybody feels, after they have heard this example, that we should not be spending 0.7% on aid, they must be pretty hard-hearted.
I have been a member of the International Development Committee for six years, and we visited Burundi—a country that is in a much worse situation than it was. Some members of the Committee were embedded with various families overnight. Everybody else in the group had a very happy family, with a mum, a dad and some very smiley children, but I was put with two girls, one of 22 and one of 14. The mother had died, as well as the five-year-old son, I suspect of HIV/AIDS. The girls could not afford to go to the funeral and did not know where their mother was buried. The father wanted to kill the children because they were living in their grandmother’s house and not with him. The villagers hated them.
We went to Burundi with the charity ActionAid UK, which was helpful in putting us with the families. The people had nothing. I asked the girls how often they were able to wash their clothes and they said, “Not very often. Probably about twice a year because we can’t afford soap.” Now, how many people in this country cannot afford soap? The only meal that they had was beans, rice, sweetcorn, and a bit of onion and tomato. They only ate that one meal a day, and they had only one bowl, which they shared with a neighbour’s child. The three of them sat around the bowl eating. They had three chairs, three forks, three spoons, three knives and a platform for a bed. The only other possessions they had were three guinea pigs. Unfortunately, I am not very keen on guinea pigs, so although I was quite happy to sleep on the floor, I had to ask to sleep on the platform because I could not bear the guinea pigs running around me throughout the night. Those guinea pigs were not for eating. They were there because the girls needed something to love, and something for affection. The guinea pigs did not run away. There was no door on the hut, as it was a mud hut. Those people lived, in my view, in absolute poverty. I saw nothing in that hut except those things. I saw no more clothes. Anyone who is not in favour of 0.7% should be ashamed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I, too, am a strong supporter of the 0.7% commitment, but that is not to say that there are not legitimate concerns with which we must engage. The petition refers to painful spending cuts at home. At a time when food banks have become a normal part of British life and public services are facing drastic cuts, it is easy to see cutting the international aid budget as a simple solution, but it is not the right solution. Indeed, it is no real solution at all.
When people really see the benefits that the international aid budget delivers, they tend to come around to the same way of thinking. People see that cutting the funding that saves children from malaria, supports millions of children to go to school and provides access to clean water for tens of millions is not the right way to solve the problems that they face at home. Ultimately, we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and there is no excuse for us MPs not to deliver on international aid and end the need for food banks here in the UK.
There is some merit in the petition supporters’ argument that the focus should be on outcomes, and not just on spending targets. It is true that we should not just spend money for the sake of reaching a target. Each and every project should be carefully vetted and monitored, which is precisely why we have systems in place. Between the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the Select Committee on International Development, the Public Accounts Committee, the National Audit Office and the eagle-eyed MPs in this room, the Secretary of State and her Ministers can hardly move for monitoring, but that does not mean that things do not go wrong.
MPs and newspapers are very good at highlighting when things do indeed go wrong. However, when things go wrong in the national health service, we fix it. We do not use it as a reason for cutting the NHS budget or shutting down the NHS. In the same way, when things go wrong with the international aid budget, we should fix it. We should not stop all the other fantastic work that is going on, and we have heard lots of speeches highlighting all that good work today. I agree with other hon. Members that being a leader on international aid is in our interests. Without international aid, problems and crises would become more significant, immediate and dangerous.
My hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin was due to speak today, but unfortunately cannot due to family circumstances. She wanted to deliver a message from the children of Wallacewell Primary School in her constituency, who have designed paper school satchels that my hon. Friend will deliver to the Prime Minister. Their simple message is that regardless of where children come from and how much money they have, they should all be entitled to an education. It is pleasing that the Chair of the International Development Committee agrees with those children and will be holding an inquiry on the subject. I give the target my full support, and I am pleased that so many other hon. Members do as well.
It is a long few years since I was at anything that you chaired, Mr Gapes. I think that last happened during our days at the British Youth Council about 45 years ago. I congratulate the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne on his knighthood, which was announced over the weekend.
I, too, am very proud of the 0.7% spend on international development, but it is not unreasonable, during times of stringency, to address the quality as well as the quantity of that aid. The impact of our funding, especially on conflict-struck regions, is of the utmost importance, and I particularly want to talk about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. DFID’s stated goal in aiding the Palestinians is to help to secure a lasting and peaceful two-state solution. That is very sensible, but I regret that the funding does not follow that laudable ideal. As Joan Ryan and my hon. Friend Dr Offord pointed out, we are talking about 0.2%, and that does not seem to be a point at which we can readily move on.
I must say to my right hon. Friend the Minister, with great affection and respect, that it is no good just saying, “We don’t fund terrorism.” There is a kind of knock-on effect. If my right hon. Friend is saying, determinedly, that not a single one of the civil servants whom we fund has committed a criminal act, and that their job has not been left open for them, that is a wonderful thing, but the report from the Overseas Development Institute says:
“For public sector employees the opportunity cost of conflict is lowered as their employment will be kept open when they return from detention, and their family will continue to be paid their salary”.
That needs to be addressed.
Has the right hon. Gentleman read the ODI report entitled, “Does the wage bill affect conflict? Evidence from Palestine”, from February 2015? It states that
“some of the factors linked to the development of grievances at least in the West Bank, including the construction of the West Bank Wall and the Palestinian prisoners, are associated with increases in conflict intensity. Removing these factors may well be a more effective strategy in reducing the conflict in the long-run than any employment opportunities provided by the public or private sector.”
Does he agree with that as well?
I want a two-state solution. I want young Palestinians and Israelis to work together. I do not want to change Government policy; I merely want to see the actuality on the ground reflect it.
My hon. Friends have spoken with great powers of persuasion about the various groups that we have seen on visits to Israel and Palestine, particularly the Middle East Entrepreneurs for Tomorrow. There was one thing that really struck me about that. When I was talking to a young Palestinian, I said, “What’s the big difference?”, and he said, “I’ve never met an Israeli before. The only Israeli I’ve ever met is a soldier with a rifle and body armour. This gave me an opportunity to actually meet an Israeli.”
The organisation Save a Child’s Heart provides an opportunity for parents to talk about the future of their children, and about working side by side with Israelis. That must be for the better, but worrying reports have emerged that some NGOs that support the Palestinian territories have been promoting violence on social media pages. Surely it is not unreasonable for us to ask the Minister and his officials to check what is going on on those pages. Surely it is not unreasonable to say that if people are to receive money from the British Government, they should unequivocally renounce violence in all its forms and work for a two-state solution.
I apologise for missing the opening contribution of Steve Double due to a flight delay.
Like others, I am here because I have been contacted by a number of constituents, most of whom support the 0.7% commitment for many of the reasons that hon. Members have given. Indeed, Foyle is the constituency where the sixth fewest people have signed the petition. In fact, of the constituencies with MPs who take their seats here, only the two small island constituencies represented by Mr Carmichael and Mr MacNeil have had fewer signatories to the petition. That is because the city of Derry has always had an outward-looking approach, and the diocese of Derry has always made the highest per capita contribution to the annual Lenten collections for Trócaire, the Irish equivalent of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. People support the 0.7% contribution not just because, after many years, it is about time that we finally stepped up to meet that long-standing commitment, but because they know that such a commitment will, of itself, be transformative. Aid should not just be transactional; it should be transformational.
The petition talks about instead taking action on a case-by-case basis. If we were to reduce aid by doing that, the situation would be impossible; the problems would far outstrip the solutions. There is a gear change that results from the sort of commitment that the UK has made—we would see that if we could get more Governments to follow the UK’s excellent example—as we have seen in recent years with the commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has made a big difference.
Big differences have also been made on education; 20 years ago, one in 10 children died before they reached the age of five, and now that is down to one in 20. Of course, not only are more children reaching the age of five and going to school, but there are more schools for them. We need to do more. We should not be content to get more children, particularly girls, into education; we should move on to guaranteeing them 12 years of education. In responding to humanitarian crises, we should think about education, which is often one of the last things to be thought about because of all the other pressures and crises. Front-loaded commitments to a healthy level of predictable and sustainable aid can ensure that we make our commitment to the sustainable development goals meaningful. We cannot meet our goals through intermittent top-ups. The sustainable development goals need sustained aid at 0.7%.
At the risk of sounding like Mark Antony at the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar, I genuinely come here to praise international aid, but I come as a critical friend, in the knowledge that several hundred of my constituents signed The Mail on Sunday’s petition. As a general rule in politics, if we brush aside the fears of our constituents, it only damages the goals that some of us wish to further. I do believe in international aid. Today’s debate has been extremely good, but relatively few of us have acknowledged the views, if we are honest with ourselves, of millions of citizens of this country. If we believe in international aid and a 0.7% commitment, as I do, it is absolutely right that we try to acknowledge and address some of those concerns, so that the commitment remains for future generations to benefit from.
The concerns that I hear from my constituents fall into a couple of categories; we have discussed many of those concerns today. First, of course, are the concerns, some legitimate and some not, about waste, and the lack of scrutiny of some of the poorer decisions that DFID has made over the years, as well as the many good ones. There are also concerns about politicisation, as we have heard in relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict. We have already heard a lot of that debate, and time is pressing.
The other point I would make on behalf of some of those who are concerned about the 0.7% commitment is that the commitment may not be the best way to do government. Those of us who have pressed the Government to spend on particular projects know that, because of the 0.7% commitment, there is often a lower bar for getting a project approved in DFID than in any other Department; we all have to address that if we care about the maintenance of this public commitment. We have to be able to say to our constituents that this money is being spent as well by DFID as if it were being spent on the NHS, on education or by any other Department. One way of doing that is by measuring the 0.7% commitment not in one year, but over two or five years, or even over an entire economic cycle, so that we could be sure that projects were not being pushed through at the last minute, as we all know they frequently are, and that the quality of projects was sufficiently high to allow us all to stand tall at hustings and in conversations with our constituents, and to defend them, in the knowledge that they were furthering the cause of poverty alleviation across the world.
Mr Gapes, I think this is the second time that you have been back in the Chair in Westminster Hall. It is good to see you.
International development aid is no different from spending in any other Department: Departments are accountable to their Ministers; Ministers are accountable to this House; and Select Committees scrutinise the work of Departments. I support the target of 0.7% of gross national income, but as Dr Offord and Joan Ryan have said, accountability is needed within that process. The Public Accounts Committee recently said:
“The value for money for the UK taxpayer of the Department’s funding of UN agencies is undermined by the overlapping remits of the agencies and inflexibility in their systems.”
The Committee noted that there is something wrong, and there clearly is.
I have a couple of quick examples from Palestine. Two Palestinian terrorists who repeatedly stabbed two women, killing an American lady and leaving a British woman with life-threatening injuries, are receiving a salary from the Palestinian Authority. A convicted double killer—he was interviewed by a newspaper and confirmed that he murdered two people—receives a monthly salary. My constituents are appalled by the examples of DFID’s spend, which is why they support the Israel-Britain Alliance’s campaign to stop such abuses. My constituents are even more incandescent when they receive responses from British Government Ministers in both DFID and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office restating the collective denial that such payments are made.
Let us make this very clear to the Minister: we know that the Palestine Liberation Organisation pays the prisoners, and we know that the Palestinian Authority pays the PLO. We further know that the World Bank pays aid money to the Palestinian Authority. Finally, we know that British aid money is sent to the World Bank, which is clearly where the issues are. Will the Minister ensure that British aid money does not support Palestinian Authority incitement to commit violence? All he has to do is turn on his computer and visit www.palwatch.org to see for himself that the Palestinian Authority is misusing the funds given to it by Britain.
In Northern Ireland, parties to peace had to sign up to the Mitchell principles. They had to sign up to using democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues. In 2011, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the UN assessed that the PA’s governance functions were sufficient for a functioning state, but that it had to renounce violence, and it is clear that the PA has not done that to the extent it should have. I therefore call on the Minister to commit to implementing the recommendation of the 2014 International Development Committee report that set out how the payments-to-prisoners issue can be resolved.
I further ask the Minister to commit DFID to tackling the PA on the evidence of its incitement to and support for violence. If the PA does not end its support for the men and women of violence, our support for the PA must be reviewed. A demand without an incentive is worthless. Middle east peace will be achieved only if both sides participate in the process, yet DFID’s support for co-existence programmes between the Israelis and the Palestinians is pitiful. I ask the Minister to use some of DFID’s mammoth budget to help make those things happen.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Double on moving the motion and on doing the House a favour by encapsulating most of the key arguments. I look forward to seeing his words repeated faithfully in The Mail on Sunday next weekend.
Nothing antagonises our constituents more than the stories of hard-pressed taxpayers hearing that their hard-earned money has been spent corruptly. DFID is one of the most transparent, if not the most transparent, Departments in Whitehall, and it is precisely to promote the necessary openness that in 2010 we set up the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which has been much mentioned this afternoon. The commission was not entirely welcomed by the development community because it is independent and because it reports not to Ministers, who can sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet, but to Parliament—it reports not to DFID but to the International Development Committee. That Committee is not appointed by Whips; it is elected by its peers and encompasses a large number of independent-minded Members. The Committee is led, of course, by Stephen Twigg who, though burdened by being a member of the Labour party, is nevertheless a fearless, independent operator. I say to the House and to The Mail on Sunday that the ICAI is their friend. If there are allegations or suggestions of improper use of aid, it is to the ICAI that they should be referred.
Of course, the independent commission covers the whole budget, not just the money spent by DFID. Nearly 25% of money now goes through other Departments. I stopped aid to China and to Russia, which inexplicably was still receiving aid in 2010, and negotiated the winding down of the programme in India, which since the second world war had always been our biggest programme. If the Foreign Office chooses to spend money in China, or indeed south America, where DFID no longer has any programme, it is no good for the Foreign Office or other Departments to try to hide behind DFID’s skirts and coattails. They need to explain to the public why they are spending money. If they cannot do so, they should not be spending it.
I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend Andrew Percy said. This is an important debate, and the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday have done a service by emphasising it. As a Ugandan Foreign Minister once said to me, Ministers in this country and in his go straight not because they see the light but because they feel the heat. The campaign led by the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday puts the heat on Ministers, who must respond to these matters. Although I do not have time to discuss it, I hope that The Mail on Sunday will allow a rebuttal of the wholly inaccurate points that it has made about the Centre for Global Development and the airport at St Helena.
Like so many other people who have spoken, I welcome and support the commitment of 0.7% of national income to foreign aid, but to depart from some of the comments that have just been made, understanding some of the comments made earlier in the debate, I recognise that some of our constituents have concerns. However, I urge every Member of this House not to underestimate the power and the effect of the hysterical right-wing tabloid press, which has aggressively campaigned to discredit not just the 0.7% commitment but the idea of foreign aid altogether. That is not being snippy or sniffy, or whatever word was used; it is simply asking for more responsible journalism.
The commitment is the right thing to do. The UK has a good story to tell, and it is about time that we were on the front foot in telling that story, although of course we must ensure that what is spent goes where it is supposed to go. How much support we offer those much less fortunate than ourselves is a measure of who we are. As was said much earlier in this debate, the choice between austerity at home and aid abroad is a false one, and we should have no truck with it. We can gradually turn our backs and come around to the view that the people we are discussing live far away from us, and that it is not our problem, or we can continue to open our hands and hearts and recognise that such suffering in the world diminishes us all. It diminishes us even further if it is within our power to do more to prevent or mitigate it, and we do less.
I do not think that that is who we are. That is not who the people of Scotland are, and it is not who the people of the UK are. It is about time that we were prouder of and more vocal about the support that we give.
There is a difference between being concerned about individual aspects of DFID spending and being opposed to international aid completely. The idea that the British people who have signed this petition are so stupid that they have been taken in by right-wing propaganda, and that we should dismiss their concerns out of hand instead of considering them and trying to address them with fair and reasonable answers, is completely wrong.
No, but there are some sections of the right-wing media where, if I read the football scores there, I would need to check them. I would not believe everything that I read in certain sections of the right-wing media.
I am confining my remarks here to the misinformation perpetrated about foreign aid with the sole agenda of undermining that 0.7% commitment. That is despicable. In effect, it is waging a press war against the most vulnerable people on our planet, which is wholly outrageous, and we should be willing to say so.
As far as I can see, nobody in this room who has put questions about aid, particularly to the Palestinian Authority, and about the desire for transparency, is saying that the 0.7% is wrong. In fact, everyone who has made that point has expressed a firm commitment to the 0.7% and the desire for transparency.
Absolutely. I have not suggested that we should not scrutinise the budget, and I apologise if I have come across as doing so. I am saying that the agenda of certain sections of the press is to undermine the entire ethos of the 0.7% commitment, and of foreign aid altogether. I recognise what the right hon. Lady says about nobody questioning the 0.7%, but we must be careful where that agenda takes us.
Aid at its current level must continue. To reduce it is to say that we have no particular commitment or humanitarian responsibility to those born into the very worst poverty. Although foreign visits might give an insight into such poverty, people in this room probably cannot comprehend it. We are talking about some of the least well-off people on our planet. I do not think we want to say that we do not have a particular responsibility to them. We must be very careful and mindful where the right-wing agenda in certain sections of the tabloid press takes us.
I refer to my entries in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Almost all the work that I have seen carried out with the support of DFID tackles individual poverty. It also supports global public goods, which is in the interests of us all. As Dr Whitford mentioned earlier, if we take our foot off the gas with diseases such as polio, malaria or neglected tropical diseases, the tremendous work done over the last 15 or 20 years will be undone. We must continue it.
The same is true of the work on water and sanitation referred to by my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce. DFID’s work has reached 60 million people over the past four years—vulnerable people in remote rural areas and the most difficult of circumstances. We have heard about the work with Syrian refugees who can have an education as a result of the work funded by DFID. Just two or three months ago, the International Development Committee saw the tremendous work being done with children in the north of Nigeria to ensure that they have an education fit for the 20th century, and last year we saw forestry work done over more than 20 years in Nepal, increasing forestation there by around 15%. That is important in tackling climate change.
I want to mention five ways in which DFID could look for improvement. The first is always, where possible, to consider the use of returnable capital instead of grants. In many cases, grants are most appropriate, but in many other cases, particularly involving work with the private sector, it would be better to use concessional lending or returnable capital, which can then be recycled.
The second is maximum leverage. We find, for instance on health, that many of the countries where we work committed in Abuja in 2001 to spend 15% of their budgets on health, but are nowhere near that at the moment. If we can connect the work that we do with them with reaching the target that they themselves set, we will get tremendous leverage from our spending.
The third, mentioned by Stephen Timms, is effective partners such as BRAC. If we can use effective, low-cost partners that are prepared to work in difficult circumstances, we will find that our aid goes much further.
The fourth is to encourage the backing of small grants. Often, as hon. Members have mentioned, grants aimed at organisations working from our own constituencies can do a tremendous amount of good, perhaps matching the money that we raise locally. DFID says that that is sometimes too difficult for it to do.
Finally, DFID needs to be more rigorous in planning and more efficient in spending. There is much more work to be done on that.
It is a pleasure to follow Jeremy Lefroy.
Like my hon. Friend Mark Durkan, I have received many letters and emails from constituents about this debate, most of them agreeing that the 0.7% commitment to foreign aid should remain legislatively binding, which is a view I concur with.
Development aid is not the only answer but it is a major part of the answer. The UK is one of six countries now meeting the UN target of overseas aid and leading the way for other countries to follow suit. This commitment has helped to ensure that national contributions to foreign aid are a race to the top and not a race to the bottom. The Overseas Development Institute estimated that, in 2015, the funding gap for humanitarian crises was some £10 billion. Our support keeps the pressure on other countries to follow our lead and to close that funding gap.
Oxfam has told us that our development aid has helped it to deal with the Ebola crisis, and with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal. Therefore it is vital that the commitment to foreign aid spending remains enshrined in law, rather than being demoted to a policy commitment. Legislation provides a greater level of stability and reliability, allowing developing countries to budget for the long term rather than operating on a volatile year-to-year basis. It would be helpful if the Minister outlined in his response to this debate how that 0.7% has been spent and how having the commitment to that spend deals with development aid in a much better way than giving money on a one-off or yearly basis.
Foreign aid plays a dual role in meeting humanitarian crises and in funding long-term development in state-building. It also strengthens democracy and governance. It has been vital in helping some of the world’s poorest people, by funding education, healthcare and sanitation, and by enabling tens of millions of people to engage as citizens in the political process and to scrutinise their Governments, which is another benefit of aid. Having talked to Oxfam last week, I know that it estimates that, in 2014-15, the UK’s aid facilitated the holding of more transparent, free and fair elections in 13 countries.
According to opponents of foreign aid, it is the source of all economic ills, and this 0.7% of GDP could fund our NHS, build all the homes we need and end relative poverty. Although those issues are very important in their own context and in the UK generally, it is also important that we fund work in other countries.
Our commitment to overseas aid was a manifesto commitment that I supported wholeheartedly, having been brought up in developing countries for the first 20 years of my life. It is our responsibility as one of the world’s largest and most prosperous economies to help those in need and those in danger of exploitation. We should feel a sense of pride and involvement in the amount of aid that we deliver and the benefits it brings, but obviously we need to do more at home to explain exactly how our aid is delivered, because sadly now it has become a target for the press. However, it is also important that we debate these issues, because we must always ensure that public money is well spent and directed to the right ends.
In fact, 86% of people believe in the importance of overseas aid. We are debating this petition because it has crossed the threshold of support, but I personally receive far more correspondence supporting the work of the Department for International Development than correspondence attempting to undermine it.
The work that we have done with Rwanda shows that even the most chaotic states can get on the road to recovery with the right intervention, and Britain has been the birthplace of many of the world’s most important charitable and voluntary organisations. Those organisations are key partners of DFID in delivering aid, as well as raising funds themselves.
However, this issue is never just about spending money; it is also about deploying British expertise that has been built up over decades. We are a trading nation. We must always be on the look-out for new markets and new partners to deal with. The investment in developing countries brings them into our markets, as we can see now across Asia. It is also vital that we get the world’s young into work, for their own dignity and personal development as well as for their economic future.
With the rise of the internet, people in poorer counties can see the lifestyle that we enjoy here in the developed world and it is no surprise that they want to migrate here. By developing other countries, we also help to prevent the large amount of migration that is denuding countries of their most valuable resource—their informed and educated population. Our foreign aid must be directed towards building the economies of developing countries and it must continue to do so until it is no longer needed.
Nearly all the direct UK grant to the Palestinian Authority is provided through the Department for International Development’s “Statebuilding and Service Delivery Grant”, and the Minister must do much more to assure us that it is not simply being paid—untied and un-earmarked—into the central treasury account of the Palestinian Authority, and that the verification of the funds is more than simply a notional accounting exercise. The Overseas Development Institute concluded that it is of “questionable robustness” and “provides few fiduciary assurances”.
By contrast, as we have heard, just 0.2% of 0.2% of the money that DFID spends in the Palestinian territories goes to projects bringing Palestinians and Israelis together. I have visited the group that was mentioned earlier and that brings Israeli and Palestinian students together to break down barriers and acquire new skills. Actually, it would be quite useful if the Minister noted some of this down, so that he can answer the specific questions that he has been asked when he sums up at the end of the debate.
For example, can the Minister consider funding the Cherish Project and the One to One Children’s Fund, which tackle the mental health problems suffered by children affected on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Would he consider funding OneVoice, which gives mainstream Israelis and Palestinians a voice, helping them to campaign for a peaceful two-state solution? The Aviv Peace Impact fund creates jobs and boosts prosperity by investing in growing businesses that employ Palestinians and Israelis side by side. Also, will he go to Rawabi, a new city that I have visited, which has new homes for 40,000 people in the west bank, a hospital, sports and community facilities, a shopping mall, offices and a business park that will provide jobs and prosperity for thousands of Palestinians, but which needs support and investment? He ought to look at funding Rawabi.
I have some specific questions for the Minister. Will he publish the memorandum of understanding with the Palestinian Authority? Will he commit to DFID implementing the 2014 recommendations on prisoners?
I agree with my right hon. Friend entirely and I am grateful for the extra minute that she has given me to speak.
I also want to ask the Minister whether he will tackle the Palestinian Authority on the evidence of incitement. We should use Britain’s aid spending to bring people together by promoting peace and co-existence, tackling poverty, and creating jobs for Palestinians by promoting trade and economic development in the west bank and Gaza. The British people would be proud to support projects such as the ones I have mentioned, instead of being so concerned about support for terrorists that they back the Daily Mail campaigns against international aid.
The truth is that British aid feeds 25 million under-fives, educates 11 million children, has helped 4.3 million babies to be born safely, has helped to tackle Ebola in Africa, feeds the starving, helps refugees and builds stronger economies around the world. It does all that and so much more, but I am afraid that it also funds the Palestinian Authority, which in turn funds terrorists, and that undermines much of the good work that it does.
Thank you very much, Mr Gapes, for calling me to speak. I will keep my contribution very short, very brief and to the point.
First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend Steve Double on securing this debate, which is a really good idea? Secondly, I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am the chairman of the all-party group on Zambia and Malawi as well. Indeed, I was in Zambia with Dr Cameron last summer, where we learned quite a bit about how it is that places such as Zambia are being affected very badly by tuberculosis and HIV. As hon. Members know, HIV ends up cutting down the immune system and makes a sufferer much more likely to get TB. During the course of this year, we have seen a lot of people coming into this country by ship and we do not know whether they are coming in with TB. That is one very good reason why we should most certainly remain committed to spending the 0.7%.
The other issue that I will talk about very briefly is the whole business of what is happening down in southern Africa, especially in Zimbabwe. I am the vice-chair of the all-party group on Zimbabwe—indeed, I will be going to Zambia and Zimbabwe, and hopefully Malawi too, during the course of the summer, including for the Zambian presidential election. There is a very bad problem developing with El Niño, which is badly affecting people. It looks as if 2.8 million households will face real difficulty, including difficulty in just getting food.
This issue is incredibly important and we need to take it seriously, and if I am honest I am rather surprised that we spend much more time talking about the middle east than we do talking about a really important part of Africa, which, frankly, is part of our home, because we have a responsibility there. Actually, my great-uncles were both deputy governors down in Malawi and I know the place very well indeed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes. I pay tribute to you and to the previous occupant of the Chair for having been able to call so many Members—admittedly, though, not everyone who wanted to get in has been called. I am aware that a number of Members came along to show solidarity with the debate without any intention to speak or expectation of being able to do so, but that emphasises the point rightly made by Mr Mitchell that this is the kind of issue that thoroughly deserves a full day’s debate on the Floor of the House. I am happy to back that call.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Before the election, I worked for the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and was the vice-chair of the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland.
One message that comes through loud and clear from the debate is that aid works. No one is disputing that aid from the United Kingdom Government, and indeed from the Scottish Government, has saved and changed millions of lives around the world over the years. There is a consensus about that and there does not, fortunately, seem to be any suggestion that aid should stop altogether. The substance of the debate seems to have been the effectiveness of aid and the appropriate amounts of spending and, to a certain extent, questions of public support for aid. I think that there is public support.
The debate was triggered by a petition—these Monday debates are becoming something of a highlight of the parliamentary week, which is to be welcomed—but there is a difference between a petition that people voluntarily sign and broader indications of public support. Repeated opinion polls show that a majority of people in the United Kingdom, and indeed across OECD countries, support the principle of aid. The point about public understanding was made relatively early in the debate. Interestingly, in 2011 a Chatham House-YouGov survey showed that the average estimate of UK aid spending was £79 billion, when in that year the actual spend was £8.5 billion. Polling across OECD countries consistently shows that people believe their Governments spend between 10% and 20% of their gross national income on aid and think it should be between 1% and 5%. In fact, the public think that more should be spent than is.
In my own constituency, the sum total of 95 people signed the petition, and only 5% of the signatories came from Scotland, which is far less than Scotland’s proportionate share. Mention was made by my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald of how our hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin had primary schoolchildren who signed up to the Send my Friend to School campaign, and I have met primary schoolchildren from the Glasgow Academy who want to send the message to the Prime Minister loud and clear that children’s education must be an important aspect of our international development spend.
Three key points have been touched on in the debate, the first of which is the principle of aid itself and the importance of the target. The second is the impact aid makes and why it is in our enlightened self-interest to spend money on it, and the third is how we go beyond aid and the role of the sustainable development goals. I will try to touch on all three points and still leave plenty of time for other Front-Bench colleagues.
As I have said, there is a consensus that there is a need for aid. I join other Members in giving credit to Labour for the creation of the Department for International Development as a stand-alone Department, and to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, first for maintaining DFID and secondly for passing the legislation that was in all the party manifestos. I hope that the commitment remains in those manifestos, for which people voted and which they, and Members in this Chamber, have endorsed.
The need for aid is clear, as we have heard in the many statistics, stories and anecdotes we have heard. As Mr Lammy said, 124 million children are out of school—63 million of them girls—and some 650 million people are living without clean water. That is why continuing to provide aid is incredibly important, and it is something to which the Scottish National party has given its long-standing support. Indeed, the White Paper on independence for Scotland suggested that an independent Scotland would want to go beyond the 0.7% target to about 1%.
If the principle is established that there should be aid, the question is how much and why. The 0.7% target was agreed 40 years ago. It is not just a target for the United Kingdom, as many Members have recognised; it is the target for developed countries around the world. It was calculated that it represented the amount of money that would need to be generated to end poverty and bring people up to an equitable standard of living comparative to that which we enjoy. If the UK had been meeting the 0.7% target ever since it was agreed in 1970, an additional £87.5 billion would have been made available for aid spending and perhaps some of that would have lessened the need for aid today.
Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the fact that, if all the rich countries of the world had met that commitment when they made it, we might be dealing with very different problems now?
That is exactly my point. I did not necessarily mean what I said to be a criticism; I am trying to offer a bit of context about why the target is so important.
As Wendy Morton said, it is a proportionate target, so it will go up, or indeed down, depending on the strength of the economy. Mark Durkan made an important point about how the target, and that predictability, allow people to plan and provide the step change—the gear shift—that is needed to really make an impact. Speaking of the need for and the importance of impact, Oliver Colvile was absolutely right to address the hunger crisis in southern Africa. Predictable aid flows allow agencies to put measures in place that mean that when disasters strike, the resources are there to be mobilised immediately, rather than our sitting back, as the petition seems to suggest, and waiting for something to happen before scrabbling around and figuring out how much aid we can spend.
Aid does work. We have heard the statistics. My hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier said that every two minutes immunisation sponsored by a United Kingdom aid programme saves a child’s life. At the same time, no one is disputing that everything is not perfect, but my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East made the valid point that not everything is perfect in the NUS, or rather the NHS. Not everything is perfect in the National Union of Students either—[Laughter.] I do not see many petitions calling for the national health service to be shut down, although there probably are elements of the right-wing press that would support doing that.
It is right that questions have been raised about the use of funding in Palestine, and it is also right that the Minister has had the opportunity to respond. That is why we have structures of scrutiny in this Parliament. DFID is one of the most highly scrutinised Departments of Government but it is important to recognise the work that is done. Of course, DFID funds organisations by funding specific projects. It does not fund global headquarters for organisations. If an organisation wants to build a global headquarters, it has to get the funding from somewhere else and justify the spend to those funding sources. DFID gives money for specific projects that are fully accountable back here, and that is why we have this kind of debate.
A point that has so explicitly been made by many today is that this is not just a moral argument. Aid is in our enlightened self-interest. Some members clearly want to prevent migrant flows, displacement and the spread of tropical diseases, and investment through our international development funding is absolutely crucial to that. However, as has also been said, not least by the chair of the International Development Committee, Stephen Twigg, aid is only one part of the development process. We have to look at how we go beyond aid, and ultimately get to the stage at which it is not as necessary because countries are able to stand on their own two feet. There is a need for fair trade arrangements, support for civil society and good governance, the development of national infrastructure, fairer tax treaties—mentioned by Mr Carmichael —and fair and effective implementation of the sustainable development goals. A coherent policy approach across the whole of Government is something that the Scottish Government are keen to take forward, and I hope that the UK Government will do so too.
It would be useful to hear from the Minister when DFID expects to publish its bilateral and multilateral aid reviews. It would be interesting to hear any further reflection he can offer on double-counting towards the NATO and Overseas Development Institute targets, and to know how DFID plans to drive forward the sustainable development goals across Government.
I am a big fan of my tartan ties, and the one I am wearing is the Zambia-Scotland tie. As with many tartans, it is an expression of solidarity, and solidarity ought to be, as I said in my maiden speech, the basis of human relationships.
Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.
I congratulate Steve Double on introducing this important debate.
I emphasise that it is possible passionately to support our commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid and yet feel very strongly about accountability and transparency, as I do. It is not only a question of the accountability and transparency of the Department for International Development, although I appreciate that it is doing a lot of work on that. It is about accountability and transparency in the big non-governmental organisations, which do excellent work but have more to do on transparency, and it is about the accountability and transparency of the UN institutions, which are often the least transparent actors in development.
I feel strongly about accountability and transparency not just on behalf of the Daily Mail readers in Hackney North but because my family and those of many of my constituents come from the global south. I assure Members that people who live in the global south feel as strongly about accountability, transparency, good governance and minimising corruption as any Daily Mail reader. That is the context in which I wish to make my remarks.
We have spoken a lot about aid, but development is not only about aid. It is worth reminding the House that Africa loses $58 billion more in flows out of Africa than it receives in aid. Aid spending is dwarfed by the financial flows out of countries in Africa. Every year, the continent receives around $30 billion in aid, but it loses $192 billion—more than six times as much as it receives in aid—in debt repayments, lost tax revenue, tax transfers, multinational profits and other financial flows.
When we discuss this subject, we should not think that aid is the only instrument of development. Aid is important, and I defend the 0.7% contribution, but there are other important issues for the developing world. As my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy pointed out, the value of remittances to some countries of the global south are even more important than aid. The value of those remittances is that they go directly to communities, with no top- slicing through bureaucracy. In the event of humanitarian disaster, it is often remittances that get to the affected communities faster than any aid.
As the Labour party spokesperson on international development, I have been privileged to have been able to make a number of visits to all parts of the world in the past few months and see for myself how DFID money is spent. I went to Uganda with the International HIV/AIDS Alliance to see some really impressive projects focused on women and young people with HIV. I went to Ghana with ActionAid, where I saw how important women’s health projects were funded. I have also been to Somaliland, where I saw evidence of the drought that is sweeping across eastern and southern Africa. Anyone who says our money is being thrown away should see, as I saw, the starving peoples who have lost their livelihoods because their livestock has perished. They are dependent on the aid funds that come from overseas.
Is not Somaliland a perfect example, because our aid, security support and diplomatic support are working, together with the Government there, to bring peace and stability in a region that is not known for its peace and stability? It is a perfect example of how we are doing things right.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Somaliland is an example of how we are doing things right, although we would not see that on the pages of The Mail on Sunday.
Is the hon. Lady aware that Somaliland absolutely makes her point? It has a budget of around £50 million, of which Britain provides something like £10 million, while the remittance value is more than £400 million. That shows that we must all look at more creative ways of ensuring that remittances are well used.
I agree. I come from a community that sends remittances. Not only are they very important and the diaspora communities that provide them true partners in development, but it is important that they are used creatively. I have been to the camps in Lebanon with Human Appeal and I visited Syrian refugees in Turkey, so I have seen for myself how well our aid can be used and how important it is.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear he does not wish for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority”.
He pointed out that, without the Palestinian Authority, Israel would have to
“shoulder the responsibility for providing basic services in the West Bank”.
The ODI report on the matter clearly said that the UK support on the ground helped to prevent economic collapse and an escalation in violence.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend shares my dismay that there has been a concerted campaign today to demonise the Government’s funding of the Palestinian Authority, which the Minister has rightly resisted. Does she agree that, if there is concern about UK and EU money going into Palestine, we should be most concerned about the demolition of Palestinian homes and villages funded by the UK to make way for illegal Israeli settlements?
My hon. Friend puts it very well. It is of no help to people in the region, particularly ordinary Palestinians on the west bank, to demonise the Palestinian Authority. I am confident that DFID is exercising scrutiny and is not giving money directly to so-called terrorists.
I said at the beginning that being committed to 0.7% is not the same as saying that we should not have more accountability and more transparency with all the key actors. I listened with interest to the testimony of Ian Birrell of The Mail on Sunday on
“excessive profiteering off the back of British taxpayers on the one hand and off the backs of the poor” on the other. Those issues are worth looking at. I know that the Chair of the International Development Committee, my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg, thinks that, too.
I am also concerned about DFID’s use of the big four accountants, which I believe to be contrary to sustainable development. PricewaterhouseCoopers, for example, is involved in industrial-scale marketing of tax avoidance schemes for corporations in the global south. I have other concerns about how the Government are spending aid to subsidise the fossil fuel industry and on deportation deals and building prisons. However, having expressed my concerns, overall I think that every single speaker in this debate has spelled out how British aid has helped strengthen health and education systems across the global south and contributed to cutting extreme poverty between 1990 and 2011 by 60%. Our contributions to the global health fund and the Ross Fund have played an enormous role in the battle against the killers malaria, HIV/Aids and TB.
As it is, the UK spends less on aid as a proportion of gross national income than Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and Holland, but we are the first country to commit to the fixed 0.7% provision. When aid is spent efficiently—that will often mean locally or through small grants, as has been said this afternoon—it builds capacity in local institutions and reduces poverty and inequality. When Labour formed DFID, we did not do so to set up an aid industry; we did so with the aim of ending aid dependency.
Supporting 0.7% does not mean that we can suspend our critical faculties in regards to how efficiently and well some of the money is spent, but we should be proud of committing to spending 0.7% of GDP on aid. The money we spend through aid often gives us more influence and moral suasion than some of the money spent on military adventures. I am glad that almost every Member who has taken part in the debate has supported 0.7%. Certainly on this side of the House we stand not just for a commitment to 0.7%, but for a continuing commitment to scrutiny and accountability. That is not just for our voters, but because the people of the global south deserve no less.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Lady. She is very well informed, and she speaks on the subject with passion. If I may, I would like to take the speech of Patrick Grady as my own; it was excellent.
A number of my constituents have been driven into a state of apoplexy by stories of how their hard-earned tax money is shovelled out the door without scrutiny of any kind, particularly towards the year end. I am glad that I have been able to refer them to the dfid.gov.uk website, where they can find a point-by-point rebuttal of all the accusations.
I respect the petitioners, however, and I thank them for the opportunity that they have afforded us of debating this important issue. I am glad that a number of Members have used the opportunity to evangelise about international development aid, and I want the debate to go well beyond this Chamber. My ambition is to ensure that by the end of the Parliament, more people write to thank us for what we as a kingdom are doing on international aid than to complain about the level of it.
I have a duty to represent all my constituents—not only those who have written to me complaining about the level of international aid, but those who have been tweeting all day about how proud they are of our international aid. Equally, I must represent the views of the 99.99% of my constituents who have expressed no opinion whatever. I am glad that Mr Lammy reminded us that we have a leadership role as Members of Parliament; our job is to bring our constituents information, to persuade them and, dare I say it, to bring enlightenment.
The UK aid strategy sits firmly in our security and defence strategy. The 0.7% spent on international aid and the 2% commitment to NATO are the 2.7% that we spend, in our international interests, on securing a safer, more stable and more prosperous world.
I know what the hon. Gentleman will say, because we have had the argument before. We may secure our national interest through the ability to deploy lethal force, but I put it to the House that often, the deployment of soft power is a much more effective tool of policy. There is no doubt among any of us that it was in our national interest to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on securing an end to the Ebola epidemic. Without doubt, had it been allowed to spread, it would have come to us and caused terror and economic dislocation. Equally, our main effort has to be on economic development in the poorer parts of the world.
The reality is that in the end, everything is about jobs. In the next 10 years, the world needs 600 million new jobs if we are to avoid an army of underemployed young people who are frustrated and increasingly angry. We have to make investments. I am alive to the concerned expressed by my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy about development capital. We have to tackle the causes of poverty and injustice, because if we do not deal with those problems at source, we know where they are going: to our doorsteps and our shores. Aid is undoubtedly in our national interest.
Overseas aid is also undoubtedly controversial; it has to be. If I am spending British taxpayers’ money on helping the people of Bangladesh who live on the chars to deal with climate change and flooding, it is clearly not available to deal with flood defences in Durham, York or elsewhere. However, I put it this way: we have pledged to spend 0.7% of our national income on international development, which means that we have 99.3% to spend on ourselves. I do not know anyone who spends 99.3% of their income on themselves; I am not sure I want to know such a person, and I am not so sure that they would have any friends. That is equally true of a nation. What influence would we have in the world, and how could we carry our heads high, if that were the case, and we were to abandon this important pledge? It is important to focus what we spend, rigorously demanding value for money, and ensuring that we have the systems to secure that and to drive down costs, so that we get proper value.
I am sorry to see that my hon. Friend Robert Jenrick is not in his place, because he referred to a low bar. I invite him to see me in DFID to explain to me and my officials what this low bar is, because I am the “low bar”. I am the one who has to be persuaded that the projects are value for money, so I shall be very interested to hear his explanation.
The reality is that over the past five years, we have delivered education for 11 million schoolchildren; 69 million people have received financial assistance and services to trade their way out of poverty; 29 million people have benefited from our nutrition programmes; 5 million people, as my hon. Friend Steve Double said, have benefited from having healthcare professionals attend at birth; 63 million people have had access to clean water; 15 million people have been able to cope with climate change; 44 million children have been immunised; and we have delivered emergency care to 13 million people in the wake of 33 disasters. That is a measure of the importance of what we are doing.
The bit of the development picture that people get is humanitarian relief. They put their hand in their pocket to the tune of over £100 million after the Nepal earthquake. What we need to get over to them is that the people who appear suddenly to provide that relief and do the search and rescue have to have their core funds covered throughout the year when there is not an earthquake. The success of our intervention in the Nepal earthquake was built on years of investment in resilience beforehand; there was a blood bank in place and a logistics centre for the distribution of emergency aid, which saved seven weeks cumulatively. People rehearsed and rehearsed how to deal with the aftermath. This is what we spend the money on. I believe passionately that we have to get the democratic legitimacy from our people by persuading them. The moment we explain this to them, they get it. We need to hold their attention and get the opportunity to do that, and this debate gives us that opportunity, so let us build on it.
I thank everyone who has participated in this debate. I am sure that we all agree that it has been an excellent debate with many passionate contributions. I also thank all the petitioners and the Mail for enabling us to have this debate; it has been absolutely right to hold it. We have had clear cross-party support for spending 0.7% of GDP on international development. It is absolutely right for genuine concerns to be raised. Those concerns must be addressed, and I am sure that the Minister has listened.
As the Minister has said, we should welcome the opportunity for this debate, because it allows us to celebrate all the good things that our nation achieves around the world using our overseas aid budget. Millions of people have been helped in so many ways, and the debate gives us the opportunity to spread the word. If there is one thing I will take from this debate, it is the need for us to communicate far better exactly how the money is spent and what it achieves on a global scale, as millions of people are helped. The point has been made many times that the more we can communicate that, the more the public will understand how important the funds are, and the more support there will be.
The debate has been great. I thank everyone who has taken part. There is a very clear message that I want to take away: we should not be talking about cutting the UK’s aid budget; we need to put more pressure on other nations around the world to increase theirs.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered e-petition 125692 relating to foreign aid spending.