Future of DFID — [Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 11:23 am on 27th February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

[Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough 2:30 pm, 27th February 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the future of the Department for International Development.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Dorries. I have secured this debate because of deep concerns about the future of the Department for International Developments and its funding, and threats to our proud tradition as a distributor of aid to the most impoverished places on the planet.

Today, I seek cast-iron guarantees from the Minister that my fears are misplaced, that we will continue to make our full contribution of 0.7% of our national income to the world’s poorest communities, and that we will continue to address the deep scars of poverty and inequality that disfigure our world—the legacy of centuries of colonialism, wars, and unequal and unjust distribution of the world’s resources. We must continue to consider ourselves internationalists—brothers and sisters with the peoples of the world—not narrow isolationists, cowering behind our drawbridge.

The Department for International Development has a proud history. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, it began as a separate Ministry under Harold Wilson’s Labour Government in 1964. Wilson appointed Barbara Castle as the first ever Minister in charge of overseas aid—a reflection of his own internationalism and humanitarian beliefs—which then moved in and out of the control of the Foreign Office, depending on who was in Government.

Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath put overseas aid under the control of Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1970, before Wilson once again returned its independence in 1974. Margaret Thatcher downgraded it to an agency again in 1979 until finally, under Tony Blair in 1997, it became a full Department with a Cabinet-level Minister. It is to the credit of the coalition Government elected in 2010 that that cycle of upgrading and downgrading was halted, with DFID remaining part of the machinery of government, and that its budget was maintained despite deep cuts to the rest of Whitehall. Perhaps that shows how effective the work of DFID is, and how established and respected it has become, in Britain and around the world.

Some notable politicians have been at its helm. I mentioned the formidable Barbara Castle, but no less formidable were Clare Short, Judith Hart, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, and on the Conservative side, I should mention Chris Patten and Baroness Chalker. The first ever black woman to serve in a British Cabinet was Baroness Amos, who was appointed Secretary of State for International Development in 2003.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

I am sure the hon. Gentleman did not omit him deliberately, but another great Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, is taking part in the debate. In fact, it was he and former Prime Minister David Cameron who ensured that DFID stayed under a Conservative-led Government. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, DFID had been downgraded under previous Conservative Governments, but that time, it was not.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I had only reached 2003, and was coming gradually to Mr Mitchell, but he makes a valid point. That is why I congratulate the coalition Government on their tremendous decision to keep DFID as a separate Department.

DFID works in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Iraq, Malawi, Nepal, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Sierra Leone, Syria, Tanzania, Yemen and Zimbabwe, to name but a handful. It tackles gender inequality, helps to build health and education systems, and works with communities shattered by war, genocide or famine. It is respected and admired in all the places that it operates, some of which are the hardest places to reach for other organisations.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He has quite rightly drawn attention to the good work that has been done, with our 0.7% commitment, in the countries that he listed. Does he agree that we must continue to be extremely vigilant? In a small number of those countries—particularly on the continent of Africa—corruption is rife, and many people in the United Kingdom have concerns that some of that money is not going to those who would benefit most from it.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. We must ensure that aid reaches those who need it most and that it is not siphoned away by corrupt individuals in Governments, whether in Africa or in other parts of the world.

DFID is respected and admired in all the places where it operates. Wherever the UK aid logo appears, it shows the world how much the British public care. Since the passage of the International Development Act 2002, all overseas aid must be spent with the explicit purpose of reducing global poverty. That is an important piece of legislation, because it makes clear the distinction between aid and trade: one is not a quid pro quo for the other. The Pergau dam scandal showed that some aid in the 1980s and 1990s was being linked to trade deals. In that instance, despite clear objections from civil servants, there was a link between British aid for building the dam and British arms sales to Malaysia.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham North

My hon. Friend mentions a very troubling incident and he will notice echoes of that today, with renewed calls for our aid budget to mirror trade interests. Does he agree that common global interests are what matter, rather than narrow self-interest?

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Indeed, he may be telepathic, because I was just about to mention that, but I concur fully with his view.

The Pergau dam affair was declared unlawful in a landmark court case in 1994. More recently, as my hon. Friend says, fears have been raised that our aid budget has not focused solely on poverty reduction. An article in The Guardian revealed that charities such as Oxfam, Save the Children and ActionAid were deeply concerned that some of the funds were used by

“classing politically convenient projects as aid,” rather than exclusively helping the most vulnerable. We must of course contribute vital overseas aid owing to our obligations as one the wealthiest nations in the world. I am sure that the Minister will offer warm and emollient words. She will no doubt tell us of the commitment to DFID as a Department and that the 0.7% target remains in place.

At this point, it is pertinent to pay tribute to both the former Liberal Democrat MP Michael Moore, for introducing a private Member’s Bill to enshrine the 0.7% target in law, and the then Government for allowing it to become law. We should welcome the commitment in the 2017 Conservative manifesto to maintaining that 0.7% commitment, which I am sure the Minister will mention in her speech.

Why exactly should we be concerned about DFID’s future? The tectonic plates of politics have shifted in recent months and the voices that considered overseas aid a waste of money have become louder and more mainstream within the governing party—the critics are moving from the fringe to centre stage. The former Secretary of State, Priti Patel, seemed more aligned with the TaxPayers Alliance than with the global anti-poverty movement. She resigned after running errands for the FCO in Israel rather than running her own Department.

The previous Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, called the establishment of DFID in 1997 a “colossal mistake”.

This month, he endorsed a report by the Henry Jackson Society that calls for a dilution of DFID’s role in alleviating poverty, with a diversion towards broader international policies such as peacekeeping. He told the BBC’s “Today” programme:

“We could make sure that 0.7 % is spent more in line with Britain’s political commercial and diplomatic interests.”

Commercial interests? What could he possibly mean by that?

My hon. Friend Dan Carden has made it clear that he believes this is the opening act in a move to downgrade DFID and to slash overseas aid. It is hard to disagree that that is the Secretary of State’s secret agenda.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

On that “Today” programme, it was telling that no Minister was put up to defend the Department or to shoot down such ideas. To me, that suggests complicity with the idea itself.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

That is precisely why I and others of like mind applied for and secured this debate. We are concerned about the lack of leadership in the Government, or of Government members saying “We do not agree with that.” I will elaborate on that shortly.

We are rightly concerned that UK aid and the Department with the primary responsibility for spending it are under threat, or will be diverted from the alleviation of poverty and into being linked to trade. Today, will the Minister go beyond the same old stock phrases committing the Government to the continued existence of DFID and the 0.7% target, and instead give us some cast-iron guarantees?

First, will she Minister distance herself absolutely from the comments made by the former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, about the future of DFID? Secondly, will she guarantee that any review of DFID’s departmental policy post Brexit will in no way undermine, downgrade, obfuscate or dilute the commitments enshrined in the International Development Act 2002 and the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015? Thirdly, will she guarantee that her party will enter the next election with a manifesto commitment to maintain, as a minimum, the existing levels of expenditure on overseas aid, with the aim of eradicating poverty and tackling gender inequality? The Minister has an open goal; will she settle the issue once and for all?

Finally, I am sure that we all stand united in our gratitude to the staff of DFID, whether they are freezing in the mountains of Tajikistan or sweltering in the heat of Mozambique, or are in the offices at Abercrombie House or just up the road at 22 Whitehall. We offer them our thanks—they are truly the best of British.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield 2:42 pm, 27th February 2019

I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing this debate and on his very good speech.

No Department should feel that it is there in perpetuity—Departments have to justify their existence, and changes come from time to time. I therefore make no criticism of those who argue that such matters should be reviewed, but I am in the Chamber today to make it clear that the existence and role of DFID have been settled, and should remain settled. Mercifully, I think DFID’s role was settled in the time of Michael Howard, when he was leader of the Conservative party, and by David Cameron, both in Opposition and in Government. We made it clear that we strongly supported the decision of the then Labour Government to set up the Department for International Development. Since then, everything that DFID has done has justified those decisions.

Development is very long-tail; it is different from the disciplines of foreign policy. Tony Blair, I think, used to say that just as the Foreign Office was extremely good at prose and not at numbers, DFID was very good at numbers, but not necessarily at prose. Development is long-tail and different from Foreign Office disciplines, and I used to tease diplomats when I had some responsibility for such matters by saying that they thought that development was the favourite charity of the ambassador’s spouse. That, however, is not development; development is not building schools, but ensuring that when a teacher retires there is someone to replace that teacher in his or her role.

DFID had teething problems as a new Department. From time to time, it stuck out in the Whitehall archipelago as a bit of a sore thumb; sometimes, it looked like a well-upholstered charity moored off the coast of Whitehall. Those difficulties, however, were dealt with and addressed by the time the Department came of age under the coalition Government. The National Security Council, which wired together development, defence and development, clearly brought DFID into the Whitehall constellation—it has never looked back.

Sometimes, we can become inward-facing, focusing our own problems, so we should be clear that DFID is respected around the world as the most effective organ of development policy. It is a world leader and, as I used to say, just as America is a military superpower, so Britain is a development superpower. British academia, ideas and development policy, and Britain’s brilliant international charities and non-governmental organisations, show real world leadership. Today, many people talk about global Britain and Britain post-Brexit. I would argue that Britain’s exercise of soft power—the Government’s work in development led by DFID—is a compelling part of what global Britain means: some might say it was the only aspect of global Britain.

To focus directly on DFID, it is no surprise to find that the Department has attracted to leadership roles some of the most effective civil servants and public servants Britain can boast. There have, I think, been four permanent secretaries: Suma Chakrabarti, who is now head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and highly respected; Minouche Shafik, who became deputy head of the International Monetary Fund and deputy governor of the Bank of England, and is today director of the London School of Economics; Sir Mark Lowcock, with unrivalled experience and now Britain’s lead official at the United Nations, in charge of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and, today, Matthew Rycroft, formerly the UK’s permanent representative at the UN.

When I left university, people who wanted to go into public service went first and foremost to the Treasury and the Foreign Office; my equivalents today want to go to DFID or the Treasury. The Department exercises a powerful appeal. I am always keen to say that this is not an area of policy that is Labour or Conservative; it is an area that is British. We should all, whatever party we are from, be very proud of the work that Britain does in development. In that spirit, it would be wrong not to mention Clare Short who, in my opinion, although she and I are polar opposites politically, did an absolutely outstanding job in setting up DFID. Hilary Benn and Valerie Amos, Baroness Amos, were both outstanding Secretaries of State who drove forward that British agenda with such effectiveness.

I will make a final point. I am incredibly proud to have served in a Government that, notwithstanding the austerity then in place in Britain, declined to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world or in Britain, and stood by the commitment to the 0.7%. Although Labour Governments had talked about the 0.7% for many years, it was a Conservative-led coalition Government who introduced it. The hon. Member for Slough, who led the debate, was good enough to make that point clear.

Our commitment is not only to the 0.7%, however, but to the rules. That is the point that came out in the “Today” interview that has been mentioned, in which I had a walk-on part. If we lose the rules, we can forget about the 0.7% because it will be plundered by stronger Departments such as the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. We must not forget that a large part of the Foreign Office budget is paid for from the official development assistance DFID budget, because much of what it does is eligible under the rules—but the rules have to be kept. My comment on that “Today” programme, which I repeat, is about my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson. We all know his views, but on DFID he is in the role of a medieval pirate whose eye has alighted on a plump Spanish galleon, laden with the gold and silver of the development budget. He wants to board it and plunder it. I understand that but, nevertheless, it is wrong.

The rules are therefore probably more important than the 0.7% figure, although both go together. They are hugely to the credit of Britain and of our generations. We should be immensely proud, and we should use this debate to celebrate the effectiveness and brilliant world leadership of this great Department.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown 2:49 pm, 27th February 2019

I am grateful for the contributions from the Members who spoke before me—generally, I agreed with what they said.

In my role on the International Development Committee I get to see some of the fantastic projects we are doing around the world, whether supporting M-KOPA, which is a solar power scheme in Uganda, Kenya and the wider region, investments via DFID alone and working with CDC Group, or garment workers providing safety and education in Bangladesh after that awful tragedy only a few years ago. DFID and British aid lead the world not only in transforming lives but in ensuring that the goods we receive in Britain are safe and help people around the world. It is right to say this is the best of British.

I begin by discussing why we have a moral responsibility to show leadership in development. Three months after becoming Britain’s first Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short said:

“Out of our complex history—all the bad and good of it, and the role it leaves us with on the international stage—I want us to do all we can to mobilise the political will for poverty elimination.”—[Official Report, 1 July 1997;
Vol. 297, c. 126.]

Of course, “ our complex history” is a reference to hundreds of years in which UK foreign policy was literally designed to extract the wealth of poor countries, although not so poor at the time, around the world under our Empire or under other spheres of British influence. It is therefore a reference to our duty to pay some of that back and to the post-colonial days of tied aid; we have already heard about the Pergau dam scandal where €200 million of UK aid went to Malaysia to buy billions of pounds of weapons. That complex history is why Labour untied aid by scrapping the aid and trade provision, why we passed the International Development Act 2002 and why Labour established the stand-alone Department.

The Cameron Government must be applauded for continuing the Department and breaking the previous tit for tat. But I am afraid that this Government are wilfully unlearning past lessons, to ally not the majority of the Conservative party but a lunatic fringe of their own party—including a “pirate”, according to Mr Mitchell. That fringe is against the 0.7% and the rules-based system. It is undoing the good that the coalition and Cameron Governments did following the good that the Labour Government did.

Over the course of this Parliament, aid spent outside DFID has tripled—something the cross-party International Development Committee has criticised. Most of that money is channelled through organisations such as the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which is constituted of many dubious programmes by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, often based on training and equipping militaries rather than alleviating poverty or creating long-term peace.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

Surely, it does not matter who spends the money, but that it is spent in accordance with the rules as well as it can be. If it appears that it is not spent as well as it could be, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact is the right vehicle to find that out. It does not matter who spends it; what matters is that it is spent well and within the rules of ODA.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

I agree that ICAI has a key responsibility. Last year, ICAI—the Government watchdog—said that aid spent through the CSSF could not be proved not to be making the problem worse. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we need scrutiny, but if the money is spent by many Departments, there is not one head to be held politically accountable. The Government can spend it where they want, but the political responsibility must be with the Department, otherwise the expertise and the political responsibility are gutted from the Department. That was the case with CSSF, which cannot prove that it is not making the situation worse.

Things were already bad enough, but they have been made considerably worse by the Secretary of State feathering her leadership ambitions and sending signals to Tory Members rather than focusing on poverty alleviation. We need look no further than her recent speeches; even senior civil servants in her own Department cannot identify any of the changes in policy from those speeches. In recent months, her office has said that our commitment to 0.7% is “unsustainable”, and it would like aid spent on building UK battle ships to

“take pressure off a stretched fleet”.

That is not part of a rules-based system.

We have heard that CDC profits should be counted as aid, which in anyone’s book is double counting and is against the rules-based system. We have even heard threats of leaving the Development Assistance Committee if it does not agreed to all our demands. Finally, there was nothing but silence when another leadership contender, Boris Johnson, backed a plan to decimate DFID and the Department for International Trade—a barmy proposal to reduce the aid budget and to spend the remainder on propping up the BBC. In no terms is that aid spending.

When my hon. Friend Dan Carden asked the Secretary of State why we should trust her to spend the UK aid budget when she makes those sounds off, even though she is not acting on them, she said:

“They should trust me as the Secretary of State and as someone who has been an aid worker.”

It is astonishing that the Secretary of State’s defence is not one of policy or action but a personal anecdote that she happened to be a gap year worker for one year, 30 years ago, in Romania. That demonstrates clearly how much we need DFID to be governed by people who understand what aid is about. The joint Ministers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID do, but those at the top do not. We need someone at the top who does not wave red rags at the Conservative party.

Last year, the International Development Committee published the report “Definition and administration of ODA”, for which I acted as rapporteur. Almost all its recommendations were dismissed out of hand by the Government, although I understand many civil servants in the Department were friendly to the ideas. The report offers a very good basis for rebuilding the Department. Why can the Minister here not commit to our request that

“The Secretary of State for International Development should have ultimate responsibility for oversight of the UK’s ODA and the Department should have the final sign off of all ODA”?

That sounds pretty reasonable to me, but it was rejected. Perhaps the Minister could reconsider.

We put heavy emphasis on our concerns that the prosperity fund promoted UK trade above poverty reduction. Could the Minister allay our concerns? Finally, will the Minister reconsider the rejection of our request that

“The Government should make systematic improvements to coherence, transparency and—most crucially—the poverty focus of cross-government fund projects before increasing their share of UK ODA any further, and ensure that DFID”— and ICAI—

“has oversight of all ODA spending”?

In some cases with the CSSF, ICAI has had restricted access to investigate spending, on national security grounds. That is no basis for finding out whether funds have been spent effectively—I grant that it could have been done in camera.

In total, the Committee made 34 recommendations, which were generally dismissed by the Government. I believe that implementing those recommendations would have strengthened the hand of the world’s best deliverer of aid projects, which we can be genuinely proud of and, as we have already heard, has fantastic staff. However, those recommendations were not accepted. Instead, we hear hyperbole about getting out of the DAC, double counting and other dodgy deals with aid. I am afraid that is the wrong tone to strike about our great Department.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

Order. I have to impose a five-minute limit on speeches. Anybody who goes over that limit will, unfortunately, take time away from the people who come after them, so please stick to it if possible.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 3:00 pm, 27th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I very much welcome this debate, and I thank Mr Dhesi for his excellent remarks. Like Lloyd Russell-Moyle, I had the pleasure of serving on the International Development Committee. In my seven years on the Committee, I saw the great work that is being done in so many countries by DFID staff and by organisations that are financed by the Department. I pay tribute to them, because they put themselves on the line, sometimes at great risk. They sometimes even pay the ultimate price for their work in development.

I am a great supporter of the Department for International Development, for the reasons that my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell outlined. It gives aid and development a real independent voice in the Cabinet, and it allows a long-term view to be taken of development. I fear that if international development were put in another Department, that Department’s priorities would take precedence, whereas the Department for International Development can take that long-term view. I will say more about that in a moment.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on malaria and neglected tropical diseases, I have seen the tremendous progress that has been made against those infectious diseases and others, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, as a result of the investment by the Labour Government from the early 2000s through the global fund and bilateral aid, and by subsequent Governments. That investment has resulted in many millions of people being alive today who otherwise would not have been. DFID and the United Kingdom have played a huge role in that, through universities in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales—right across the United Kingdom—and the work that people have done on the ground.

DFID has also played a major role in humanitarian responses. I remember someone in Sierra Leone telling me that the Royal Navy ship—I think it was HMS Bulwark—sitting in Freetown harbour that was used to support the Sierra Leonean Government to tackle Ebola gave them confidence that the world cared about bringing that appalling epidemic to an end. That was an example of joint working between UK Departments.

I stress the importance of long-term projects. I was honoured to see the community forestry project in Nepal. That joint piece of work by the Government of Nepal and DFID has run for more than 30 years and has led to a huge amount of afforestation. I ask the Minister to ensure that we look at projects in the longer term rather than on four-year cycles.

On funding, I am a firm believer in the 0.7% target. I was a sponsor of Michael Moore’s Bill, which became the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015. There are opportunities to look at the OECD/DAC rules—sometimes they are a bit out of step—but, ultimately, they have to be concentrated on the alleviation of poverty. I point to peacekeeping: without peace, we can have no development, so it does not seem right that only a small part of peacekeeping in countries in conflict is attributable to ODA. That is just one example, but we have to be very clear and to abide by the rules that are in place.

On gaps, I believe we need a development bank in the United Kingdom. That would give us much greater opportunities to fund long-term projects that cannot be funded through short-term grants. Every other major development actor—the Germans, the French, the Japanese, the Brazilians and the European Union, of which we will no longer be a member—has a development bank, so it is important that we look at establishing one. I am delighted by the establishment of the small grants fund. That needs to be expanded, because it brings our constituents right into play with what is happening on the ground and enables them to see that their work in support of local charities is supported by the UK Government. Finally, DFID is very good at data, but it needs to do an awful lot more. We need to ensure that all action is data driven.

There is so much more I want to say but not enough time to say it, so let me say in conclusion that DFID is an excellent Department. Of course there is much more that can be done, including more scrutiny, and there are times when the work is not good enough, but the answer is not to abolish the Department. The answer is to strengthen it, to scrutinise it and to ensure it does the job it was set up to do—to relieve poverty.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party 3:05 pm, 27th February 2019

I rise to support my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi, whom I commend for securing this debate. He and my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle rightly criticised the Secretary of State’s effort to get the rules on development assistance changed. She seeks to undermine rules that have rightly forced Governments around the world, including ours, to be held to account for the amount of development assistance they give the world’s poorest people. It was good to hear Mr Mitchell make a similar point. I take credit for much of his success as Secretary of State, because I schooled him while he was in training as the shadow Secretary of State.

There are three compelling arguments both for Britain sticking to its 0.7% level of funding for international development assistance, and for retaining the Department for International Development. First, there is a moral argument. We are one of the richest nations in the world. Surely we have a responsibility to help those in other countries who, through no fault of their own, live in terrible circumstances.

Secondly, it is surely in our country’s interests to try to support countries around the world in becoming stable, so their populations do not have to flee either to our country or to neighbouring countries. We should help them become stable so that their economies can grow, and they can have strong public services of the sort we would recognise. Given that conflict is much more likely to break out in a country where there has recently been conflict, if we continue to want to reduce the amount we spend collectively on peacekeeping, it is surely sensible to put in the hard yards by providing development assistance to help those countries get strong, effective Governments who are respected by people of all opinions.

The third argument is about soft power, which others mentioned. As a result of its huge commitment to international development, Britain is highly regarded at the United Nations. It was always highly regarded in the European Union and in a whole series of other international forums because of the work it did on development assistance, and the knowledge that everyone in the Government was committed to maintaining and enhancing the role of the Department for International Development and the aid budget.

Arguments against spending 0.7% are being made again, predominantly by people from the right of political discourse. It is argued that charities know best. I have a lot of respect for charities, particularly Britain’s charities. They make a considerable difference in the areas in which they are able to operate. However, no global player other than the Department for International Development can operate at the level that is needed to transform the poorest countries by providing aid that helps to build up the effectiveness of their Governments. Charity has a role to play, a demonstrative role in particular, and it certainly plays a useful role when a tsunami or other humanitarian crises occur, but we need to build up Governments in other countries.

Corruption is a risk, but if we use our aid money effectively, we help to strengthen the systems that stop corruption continuing to be a problem. As for the idea that charity should begin at home, every Member of the House can give examples of further Government funding being required in their constituency, and I hope we will see a change in direction when a new Government are in place, so that more resources can be made available for all of us, but I again make the point that we are one of the richest nations in the world, and we should be able to provide further development assistance.

I simply do not buy the idea that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is somehow diminished by the effectiveness of the Department for International Development. They have different roles, and they complement each other. We want a strong Foreign Office, but its strength will not be ended by an effective Department for International Development. I hope that the Secretary of State changes the language that she deploys, and that the Department’s future can be guaranteed.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham 3:11 pm, 27th February 2019

Britain is an instinctively compassionate, outward-looking and humane nation, and we rightly expect our country to lend a hand in the struggle against poverty, misery and injustice; long may that continue. However, our country also has a keen sense of fairness. The British people want and expect taxpayers’ money to be used with integrity, and allocated sensibly and in accordance with their international priorities. Before I look at the central tenet of the speech made by Lloyd Russell-Moyle, it is worth considering the sums of money we are talking about; that has not yet been discussed.

The 0.7% translates to approximately £14 billion. To put that into context, I was at a meeting this morning looking at legal aid in the criminal justice system—indeed, in the overall justice system—and we spend about £1.6 billion a year on legal aid. Or what about the schools high needs block, which funds such things as special educational needs, a big issue in my constituency? Its budget is about £6 billion. Our entire prisons budget is about £4 billion. Although the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown, is right and is entitled to criticise, let us not forget the very significant sums of money allocated by this country. We can hold our heads high because we meet the commitment. The United States, France, Germany, Italy and Spain do not. This House must not fall into the trap of thinking that we are somehow skimping on our international obligations. Far from it. We stand comparison with any nation on earth. The former Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, who spoke with his customary passion and eloquence, made that point crystal clear.

If we are to ensure that the British people retain their enthusiasm for meeting international commitments, it is critical that the rules be modernised and the money allocated in a way that meets priorities. Lest we forget, priorities change all the time; we must not be tone deaf to those changes. Although it is appropriate to keep a separate Department, there is a case to broaden its scope. I am delighted that the Government have acted with a great sense of purpose. I note, for example, that where the Development Assistance Committee’s rules are outdated, the Government have led the way in pushing for reform, so in October 2017 the UK secured an increase in the proportion of aid spending that can be contributed to peacekeeping missions. That is perfectly understandable and reasonable, but there is one central point that we also ought to consider in this House: the Department for International Development. Is it the exclusive purview of the £14 billion budget, or are there other broad areas that we ought to consider?

When I go to schools in Cheltenham—we ought to consider the next generation—one of the key concerns about Britain’s role in the world and how we want to express ourselves internationally is not so much to do with development but with conservation. The people in Charlton Kings Junior School that I spoke to are deeply concerned about plastic pollution, flora and fauna, biodiversity, habitat protection and climate change. The point that I want to make gently is that of course we must be internationalist and globalist, and we must continue to have a role in the world that shows that Britain is on the right side on the great moral issues facing our planet, but should that exclusively be about development? I think we need to have a debate in this House about whether there are other global priorities that we ought to consider.

When I see the tide of plastic in the Pacific ocean, I want us to do more. When I see species losing their habitats in sub-Saharan Africa and the hideous effects of climate change, I want to do more.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

My hon. Friend rightly talks about conservation, but that comes under the 0.7%, and the three things he has just mentioned are within the official development assistance rules and also come under the 0.7%, so I think I can lift his spirits a little.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

To some extent it does, but cosmetic changes could be made. Why can the Department for International Development not be the Department for International Development and Conservation? That would send an important message. Also, we ought to be far clearer about the amounts that we can allocate to such causes. There is a huge amount of pushback, inevitably, from the likes of Oxfam. I understand why they would want to protect their realm, so to speak, but we could lean into these areas far more effectively; that would be more consistent with the instincts of the British people, and would gain further support.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:16 pm, 27th February 2019

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing this debate, and thank him for giving us a chance to participate. Like other Members, I add my thanks to the Department and the Minister for what they do. Mr Mitchell referred earlier to the soft power that DFID generates across the world.

I got a very helpful parliamentary briefing from Christian Aid, which is very active in Newtownards in my constituency. I want to pass on some of its comments, which I wholeheartedly support. Clearly, DFID is able to address many things, including the root causes of poverty: discrimination, tax avoidance, climate change, unsustainable debt and unfair trade rules. However, it cannot be forgotten or overstated that aid is vital for saving lives—DFID aid has saved lives; I reiterate that—as well as making sustainable investments for a fairer and brighter future.

It is estimated that UK aid saves a life every two minutes, for less than a penny in every pound. Between January 2015 and December 2017 alone, UK aid supported the immunisation of approximately 37.4 million children, saving 610,000 lives. If we ever needed a reason for DFID, the best reason I can think of is that it saves lives. Over the past 30 years, we have seen impressive progress on global poverty. Our Minister, her Department and our Government can take some credit for that, and I support what they do. It is nice to see the Minister back in her place. She seems to be as regular in Westminster Hall, as am I—and, indeed, the rest of us.

The UK has led many of the international responses to humanitarian crises across the world, providing life-saving health services, food, clean water and sanitation to those in need. The UK—with the support of all parties, rightly—has been first to help those affected by earthquakes and tsunamis. Christian Aid believes that Britain’s commitment to providing effective aid is a badge of honour worthy of pride and fierce defence, and I agree; long may it continue. There has been some negative publicity about the 0.7% of GDP, but there is still strong public support for international development. I see that every year in my constituency when Christian Aid engages with the general public to ensure that money is raised. The people of Newtownards and Strangford are very generous every year.

As to possible changes, such as the merging of DFID with the FCO, I must express concern. In 2017, the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded that poverty reduction in the world’s poorest countries is at risk of being diluted by the Government’s increasing tendency to prioritise UK national interest in aid spending. I want the present arrangement to be retained, because it works. If it works, why change it?

Many people say that aid should be given primarily to fight poverty. I am quite happy with where it is going, as long as it goes to the right place, and there is not the corruption referred to by other Members, including my hon. Friend Mr Campbell, who is not in his place.

UK overseas assistance is one of the most heavily scrutinised areas of Government spending, with oversight from the Select Committee on International Development, the National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. There is international recognition that the UK leads in the shaping of the global development agenda, and the Department for International Development scores highly on the international aid transparency index. I see many reasons to continue to support DFID as it is. I would consider a decision to take money away from a Department that meets the gold standard to be wrong, and I urge the Minister and the Government to stand firm to ensure that it continues to do what it does—saving lives, addressing global poverty, ensuring that immunisation programmes can continue, and helping with sanitation and water quality. Many Members have spoken in the debate, and those still to speak will cover similar issues. Those things are important; my constituents want them to be dealt with, and the House should support that.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle 3:21 pm, 27th February 2019

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and to go where Mr Dhesi has taken us in this debate. I am thrilled to be sitting next to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, who has done so much work in the field of international development.

The key statistic for me is that it is estimated that for less than a penny in every pound, UK aid saves a life every two minutes. When it comes to value for money, the DFID budget is more important than many others, because it has such an impact. That is what brings me here, to stand up for DFID. I take the point made that it feels as if there has been a change of tone in the past couple of years. There has always been negativity and criticism about aid being sent abroad. We should make the case for what it does for the people of this planet, and what it does for our country. It is essential to stand up for a Department that spends money well. Interestingly, in the recent transparency index, out of almost 50 countries—and, in our case, two Departments—DFID scored third for value for money, which is “very good”. The Foreign Office’s score level was “poor”; it was pretty much towards the end of the list. As a Conservative who values the concept of getting good value for money, why would I want money to be taken from a Department that spends it well and to go to a Department that has been spending it poorly?

I had a meeting at the FCO to discuss attempts to have one Minister across both Departments, and questions were asked about why the Foreign Office had got things wrong. DFID has often been beaten for mistakes, and in some of the stories that the Daily Mail has been so fond of, when the projects in question were not DFID’s, but the Foreign Office’s. The answer to the question was that whereas DFID has a ministerial requirement to go through every spend above £250, in the Foreign Office, officials have that remit. There is not same ministerial oversight, so I can see why issues may arise. However, I believe that almost a third of the UK overseas aid budget will be spent outside DFID by 2020, and it is that creep that causes me concern, because I want our money to be spent well, and to save the 610,000 lives that Jim Shannon mentioned in connection with immunisation. That is what DFID does, whereas the Foreign Office has to focus its attempts on diplomacy and other key areas. When it comes to spending aid money, I believe that DFID is the Department that should do it.

I have travelled with DFID officials and charity aid partners to see how the money is spent, and have been very impressed. When I first went to Jordan and the Syrian border to see whether our money was spent well, and to see different approaches, it was with an open mind. I was incredibly impressed by DFID’s work with international partners that deal with distribution on the ground, and with partners within Government. The Jordanian Government are a classic example: they are hosting 600,000 refugees in a relatively peaceful country, propped up by a lot of aid from this country. Other countries in Europe took the view that they would take migration, but the people we met did not want to come to Europe. They wanted to stay in their country—or, I should say, go back to Syria when it is safe to do so. It is UK aid that is keeping them well. The sanitation I saw was heart-warming compared with what I thought it would be. When I compare what I saw at Sangatte in France with what we are helping countries such as Jordan to deliver, it fills me with pride at being British.

I recently went to Africa. In response to the point made by Lloyd Russell-Moyle about our colonial past, I would issue a warning that it is the Chinese who are now doing what he described happening in Africa. Perhaps that is where the Foreign Office could intervene—by putting more pressure on China not to take from countries, treating them almost as a back office to China, but to put something into them. The corruption that is going on in Africa is a disgrace. However, I was heartened by the fact that in Djibouti, where 40% of the population are children, the mortality rate has halved as a result of UK aid helping our partners on the ground. There is much that we do, and we do it well. In April, I am going to Iraq to see what is being done.

I absolutely support the Minister in her post. I look forward to DFID continuing in its role, and to all of us standing up to champion what it can do, and pushing back on those voices that, I am afraid to say, do not always have its best interests at heart.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire 3:26 pm, 27th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing the debate. The topic is incredibly important. A challenge for MPs is the fact that it is sometimes a hard sell with our constituents. Often they do not see the results of what is done; they just hear about the money going in at the front end. They do not see what good comes of it.

I must admit that I was slightly sceptical when I was elected in 2015, but subsequently I was appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary in DFID—on two occasions. First I assisted the ministerial team—or un-assisted them, depending on how you looked at it. Afterwards, I worked with the Secretary of State. I saw at first hand the complete and utter dedication of the Secretary of State, the ministerial team and the civil servants who helped to pull the whole thing together. Those people have great pride in what they do and the way they deliver it. They are delivering life-saving changes around the world.

I disagree with some comments by Opposition Members that the Secretary of State does not care as much as previous Secretaries of State. I have seen at first hand that she absolutely does. I was struck in my first meetings in the Department by her insistence that it was important to prove not only that money was being spent well, but that it could not be spent better. That is a critical point that we should always have at the forefront of our mind. In January 2018, she set out five pledges, which included a proposal for boosting trade and investment with developing countries, helping developing countries to stand on their own feet with sustainable health and education systems in which they invest, and finding ways to help other Departments make their spend more effective. There is a commitment to deliver on those things.

I want to make two quick points, relating to my earlier comment about our constituents not always necessarily understanding the importance of the Department. We are talking about huge sums of money—billions. It is worth reminding the House and our constituents of some of the things that DFID helps to deliver. Between April 2015 and March 2018 it reached 26.8 million people with humanitarian assistance and supported 11.4 million children in getting a decent education. It also supported 40.3 million people in accessing clean water and better sanitation. Since 2015, UK aid paid for more than 37 million children to be immunised, saving more than 600,000 lives across the world—Jim Shannon raised that point.

As I said earlier this week during Second Reading of the Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill, DFID has supported programmes to help more than 8,000 communities—representing more than 24.5 million people—who pledged to abandon FGM and let more than 3 million women and girls get FGM protection and care services. Those things are being delivered around the world as we speak.

We should not underestimate the benefits of soft power because, as colleagues have said, that is why we are respected around the world. That is not because of our football teams—certainly not my football team, Newcastle—our pop music industry or our cars, but because we are known to be a reliable partner that is there to help less fortunate countries when they need that support. As the world’s fifth largest economy, we have a responsibility to help those countries, but that help also benefits Britain. By investing at source, problems are less likely to escalate and become more difficult, or perhaps to end up on our shores, meaning that we have to deal with those issues here, thereby putting pressure on other services. Work to prevent conflict, disease and disasters helps make this country more secure, and for those reasons I am very proud of DFID’s work. It is important that DFID remains a standalone Department, not only so that can it continue to deliver services, but so that the quality and oversight of what is being delivered receives the best possible scrutiny.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

Order. We have gone slightly over time so I would be grateful if Front-Bench speakers kept their speeches to nine minutes.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 3:31 pm, 27th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. It is a rare experience for me to be in Westminster Hall these days, but I am delighted to speak about the Department for International Development. Once upon a time I was the SNP spokesperson for international development, and our current spokesperson, my hon. Friend Chris Law, is currently attending the International Development Committee—this debate has slightly unfortunate timing because I know the Committee is hearing important evidence, but it is good that some of its members have made it here today.

I warmly congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing this important and timely debate, and I agreed with practically every word he said, just as I agreed with other Labour Members and more broadly across the Chamber—there has been a fair degree of consensus today, which is positive. Jim Shannon defended the Department for International Development and the 0.7% target, and if the Government’s confidence and supply partners are keen on DFID, I think its safety is secured for the foreseeable future. We look forward to hearing from the Minister—she will also bring a bit of gender balance to the debate, as there has not been much of that. By way of an informal declaration of interest, I serve on the board of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy on behalf of the SNP, and I chair the all-party group on Malawi.

In the short time available—we want to hear from the Minister—I wish to reflect on some of the things we have heard and offer some perspectives from Scotland. In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Slough gave a good overview of DFID’s history, particularly of its achievements in its current incarnation. DFID was one achievement of the new Labour Government, and for all the faults that some of us might have seen during those years, the establishment of the Department and its continuation has been a significant achievement. The United Kingdom played a huge role in the establishment and delivery of the millennium development goals, and it has gone on to do the same with the sustainable development goals. Again, we should give credit where it is due and to the role of the coalition Government in drafting the SDGs, under the leadership of the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. However, writing down goals on a piece of paper is one thing, but ensuring they are delivered is another, and that responsibility must be maintained by the Department.

DFID is one of the most scrutinised Departments, and as the former SNP spokesperson on international development I regularly took part on debates on aid spending—I know such debate continue to occur. We have the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the International Development Committee, and there are all kinds of mandatory reporting mechanisms. It is perhaps no wonder that, as Huw Merriman said, stories end up in the Daily Mail, precisely because there is so much scrutiny—far more than for some other Departments.

Such scrutiny leads to a mismatch in public perception. According to opinion polls, analysis and focus groups, the public seem to think that not 0.7%, but closer to 7% or even 10% of national income is spent on aid. The perception is different from the reality, and when people see first-hand and understand the impact that aid is making, attitudes change—that point was emphasised very personally by Craig Tracey. As Jeremy Lefroy said, the small grants scheme is an important and welcome innovation, and for many years the Scottish Government have used their budget to allow that localised connection.

The amount of money spent on aid is about one tenth of spending on the health service. We spent £2 billion a year on Trident, and multiples of that on arms sales—that issue was raised by Alex Chalk. If money was diverted from that sort of spending, it could well complement the relatively small amounts that still go on aid. Importantly—this theme has come out of today’s debate—DFID must maintain its role as the lead Department, and we must recognise the importance of investing in the long term.

There is a proper debate to be had about quality versus quantity, and although it can be difficult to measure the long-term impact of aid programmes, that does not mean they do not have an impact, or that years down the line it will not be clear that the investments have paid off in the long term because cultures, habits and attitudes have changed. That is why investing in monitoring and evaluation is important—it is part of delivery, and part of what the spending is for. Recent Secretaries of State have attempted to cut bureaucracy or reduce some of DFID’s spending, and that is when we end up with money that has to be shovelled out the door and it is perhaps not monitored as effectively as possible. We must get right the balance between quality and quantity.

Since 2005, the Scottish Government—again on a cross-party basis—have run a small international development programme, and they continue to prioritise human rights, sustainable development goals, global citizenship, and a concept of ultimately moving beyond aid. There will always be a need for aid in some shape or form, but ultimately we need an holistic approach across the Government. Part of the point of the sustainable development goals is that global vision of how to achieve a better, more sustainable planet for everybody. We must implement those goals here in the United Kingdom, as well as ensuring that they are implemented effectively in developing countries.

In Scotland we sometimes hear that DFID is one of the United Kingdom’s great assets, and a reason why Scotland should not consider embarking on its own constitutional independence. If DFID is to be undermined, and if we are to be told that the aid budget needs to be scrapped and is not effective—perhaps people should be a little careful about the logic of that argument if we in Scotland want to maintain our role as global citizens. That is why the rhetoric that we hear from Ministers about aid working in the national interest must be questioned.

I have never understood—no Minister has ever been able to tell me—how achieving the sustainable development goals, eradicating poverty, and ending the impact of climate change is not in the national interest. It is in our collective interest as human beings to meet those development goals, and we should not need to try to make some sort of distinction. It is correct to have these debates and for DFID to be properly scrutinised, but the immediate context of this debate is worrying. As the hon. Member for Slough said, the Government must immediately distance themselves from the report by the Henry Jackson Society, and say that that is not their direction of travel.

The metaphor of pirates cruising around looking for galleons filled with gold is slightly unhelpful, because the amounts of money we are talking about are not vast, and the returns that we get from them vastly outstrip that investment. Finally, I say to people who think they can undermine the aid budget that there is a majority in this House and in this country who support the work of DFID. The people who campaigned, marched and lobbied for the Jubilee Campaign, the Trade Justice Movement and Make Poverty History have not gone away. They will use their voices and votes to stand up for the poorest and most marginalised around the country and the world. They can be assured of the SNP’s support and, I believe, the support of the majority of Members in the House.

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 3:40 pm, 27th February 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi for securing this important debate. It is a shame that Members feel that they have to bring such debates to the House, when we thought we had settled the matter of the Department for International Development, as has been said over and over again today.

It is a pleasure to follow so many assured and supportive speeches, the majority of which gave total support for the future work of the Department for International Development, and to follow the former Secretary of State, Mr Mitchell. Jeremy Lefroy gave an excellent speech; he does a lot of important work with the World Bank on behalf of this House. Huw Merriman gave an outstanding speech that showed that if we look at this matter independently and objectively there is no question about the need for the independence of the Department, the 0.7% and all the arguments that he went through. On my own side, I follow the former Minister, my hon. Friend Gareth Thomas, and my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who is a member of the International Development Committee.

In 1997, when Labour established the Department for International Development, Clare Short, the first Secretary of State for International Development, told the House of Commons that her Department had

“been given the most noble and honourable work that anyone could be asked to do.”

She said that eliminating global poverty, while

“both…affordable and…achievable”,

was also

“the single greatest challenge the world faces.”—[Official Report, 1 July 1997;
Vol. 297, c. 116.]

In the two decades since then, politicians from across the political spectrum have ensured that this country steps up to that challenge.

The International Development Act 2002 ensures that all aid spending remains tightly focused on poverty reduction overseas and is not diverted to other ends. In 2014 Parliament improved on that and passed the International Development (Gender Equality) Act, to ensure aid spending strives to tackle the associated challenge of discrimination against, and oppression of, women and girls. In 2015 Parliament enshrined in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, making us one of only five donor countries to meet the internationally agreed commitment.

Since DFID was established 22 years ago, it has become a global leader in international development. Every year it spends UK aid in ways that make tangible differences to people’s lives the world over. DFID has helped some of the world’s poorest people realise their right to health and education. It has provided emergency life-saving aid for people caught up in major humanitarian crises and has led the way in bringing gender equality into the mainstream through its development work. The UK public should be proud of the development work that their money has supported over recent decades, but all too sadly they do not hear the success stories of UK aid and the work of DFID. Instead, they hear a loud and vocal anti-aid lobby, which does its best to discredit the work, as many Members today have mentioned.

The charge against the country’s aid programme is spearheaded by a small number of major media outlets, who revel in spinning and stirring the few occasions when UK aid programmes might not have worked as we had hoped. They are hell bent on driving a hysterical hatred of the UK’s work to end global poverty. The anti-aid media narrative is a serious problem, but even more worrying are attacks from a number of Tory Members, which have many guises. I will mention three of them.

First, there is the straightforward misspending and diverting of aid away from poverty reduction. Last weekend the Guardian reported a letter sent to the Chancellor from 23 international development agencies, raising their concerns about the way Ministers are spending aid. They warned him that aid is being diverted away from the poorest countries in order to promote commercial and political interests. From using aid to help UK companies expand their businesses overseas, to suggestions that aid be spent on UK naval ships, we are seeing more aid than ever being spent on projects that no one sincerely believes are about reducing global poverty. Those attempts do nothing but feed into the idea that the UK aid programme is a waste of UK taxpayers’ money.

Secondly, there are blatant attempts to dissolve the Department altogether. It is no secret that the former Foreign Secretary wants to see the Department dismantled. Earlier this month, he threw his weight behind a report that said DFID should be folded back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and that the UK’s aid budget should be slashed. Such a move would be a disaster for the country’s aid programme. It is only DFID that has the specific and sole purpose of poverty alleviation and a dedicated staff working to achieve this goal. Merging the Department with the FCO—or any other Department for that matter—would dilute the agenda and see more money diverted away from poverty towards other foreign policy interests.

We can learn from Australia, where the international development department was merged with the foreign office, with a number of negative knock-on effects. The country’s strategic vision for aid was lost, the Government witnessed a brain-drain of development expertise and an estimated 2,000 years of collective experience left the department.

We already know from our own experience, where almost one third of our aid is spent outside DFID, that only DFID meets the highest spending standards. The Aid Transparency Index, the only independent measure of aid transparency among the world’s major development agencies, rated DFID “very good”, while the FCO’s aid spending was rated “poor”, according to the same measure. Likewise, the ONE Campaign recently launched an aid index that rates aid spending by different Departments. It found the FCO to be “weak” on its ability to keep aid focused on poverty, and that no other Department spends aid as well as DFID.

The third threat, which is related, is the worrying challenge to our aid and development work presented by the persistent undermining of the very concept of aid. The Secretary of State has made clear her desire to change the definition of aid. She recently launched a consultation on her plans to reduce the amount of public money that needs to be spent on aid by counting profits from private investments towards the aid budget. There are no two ways about it—aid is either spent to alleviate poverty and the causes of poverty, or it is invested to make a profit. The Labour party rejects any attempts to commercialise the UK aid budget.

The Secretary of State has said that she thinks the 0.7% of aid spending is unsustainable. Will the Minister expand on that comment, which was reported to have been made in a Cabinet meeting? We know that the Secretary of State wants to rewrite the international rules set by the OECD that govern aid spending. In the context of the sustained threat that is faced by DFID and ODA, I am delighted this debate has been called.

Anyone who believes that this country has a role to play in international development must be ready to defend the Department and the budget. I cannot fathom why some people are so obsessed with eroding and ending aid.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it was right for the British Government to seek to rewrite the rules to allow aid spending to be used to deal with some of the appalling consequences of the dreadful storm in British Overseas Territories? Does he agree that it was appropriate that British aid should go towards that deserving cause?

Photo of Dan Carden Dan Carden Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

As we heard from the hon. Gentleman’s earlier contributions, maintaining the focus of the 0.7% is the most important issue. If we keep trying to erode and change the definition of aid, we are not backing that concept.

It disgusts me that people put so much energy into blocking support for the world’s poorest people, when a fraction less than 1% of our country’s income is spent on aid. I am a proud internationalist and I am proud that my party was responsible for setting up the Department for International Development. I believe the country’s aid programme is about morality, justice and pragmatism.

It is shame that we are debating whether we should continue with our UK aid commitments and whether our world renowned Department for International Development can survive many more years of Tory in-fighting, or be saved from being turned into a political football in any future leadership contest. I hope the Minister can give some guarantees on behalf of the Government.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 3:49 pm, 27th February 2019

I congratulate Mr Dhesi on securing today’s debate. It is worth highlighting that we have had a range of excellent speeches, eight of which were from Conservative and Democratic Unionist party colleagues, while there are five Labour Members here. The way in which the issues were raised in the debate, and the endorsement that the Conservative manifesto at the last election gave to the 0.7%, sets our record straight right off the bat, in terms of our commitment and our pride in being part of the movement that put 0.7% in statute—we are the only country in the world to have done that so far—and to the Government’s policy to retain the Department for International Development as a stand-alone Department. The reasons for that were well articulated by a range of Members.

I am a Minister in both the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That makes a great deal of sense because, to highlight just one, South Sudan, of the worst humanitarian crises—where some of our biggest DFID budgets are—we can see that it is entirely a man-made conflict, and we need to work not only through providing humanitarian assistance, but by doing what we can on the political track to try to bring that conflict to a resolution. That is why it makes sense for me and the Minister for the Middle East to be in both Departments.

We have heard a range of excellent speeches, many of them focused on history and some of the lessons we have learned through history on how to do what we do more effectively. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, who spoke eloquently about the role of the Department, many of the people who have served in the Department over the years, and the role of overseas development assistance in soft power and Global Britain. His characteristic modesty did not allow him to mention that he, I think, came up with “UK aid—from the British people”. That is now widely used in our projects—I saw it on an Ethiopian water tank only last week. We should pay tribute to him for that; I know Ministers would like to see more of it.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle spoke about M-KOPA and CDC. I was glad to hear that, because I have not always heard a consistent message of support from Labour Members on CDC, the private sector development arm. It brings a great deal of private sector capital into development issues and M-KOPA, which he highlighted, is a particularly good example.

The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund plays an important role. I reassure colleagues that 100% of our 0.7% spending comes in a form that is approved by the Development Assistance Committee. We have pushed to change some of the rules over the years and have been successful in doing that, and my hon. Friend Alex Chalk highlighted one of those successes. We have also been able to get the allocation for peacekeeping up from 7% to 15%. The role of the UN peacekeepers is important and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund providing the foundation of peace and security for development is vital.

My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy rightly highlighted the important work that has been done through the aid budget to tackle a wide range of diseases, not just malaria and neglected tropical diseases but diseases such as polio. He spoke of the need for long-term development funding, which we do primarily through the World Bank now. He is making a powerful case for the UK to have its own bank. He rightly highlighted the importance of the Small Charities Challenge Fund and the aid match projects that allow us to match one-to-one the wishes of the British public with spending.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The Minister will be aware of the SheDecides global movement, which supports the right of every girl and woman to make the decisions that only they should make. SheDecides Day is coming up fast. Will the Minister tell the House why the Secretary of State has not agreed to be an ambassador for the movement?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I cannot, because I was not aware of it, but I know that there is no one who women and girls around the world can count on more than our Secretary of State for her championing of the need to put women and girls first. It is putting women and girls first, and creating an environment where they do well, that enables the rest of the country to do well. That is vital and is incorporated in all of our programming.

Gareth Thomas also raised the issue of corruption, which is an example of where cross-Government working is so important, so that we can work with the National Crime Agency to tackle some of the financial flows and corruption that flow from some developing countries where we are spending overseas development assistance, through the UK courts and UK financial system. It is a good example of where we need to work across government.

Members discussed the fact that some other Departments spend overseas development assistance. Of course they do, for a range of things, whether that is trade, development, the work of the National Crime Agency, the work on the environment and plastics through the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or the work that we do on tackling climate change, which needs to be joined-up across government. There was a wide outbreak of consensus on that.

Jim Shannon raised an important, underlying function: for us to save lives through what we do with aid. He was absolutely right to highlight that. My hon. Friend Huw Merriman highlighted the importance of value for money and being able to tell the British taxpayer that we are getting it. The debate has allowed us to highlight some excellent examples of value for money.

My hon. Friend Craig Tracey, who I thank for the excellent work he did as my previous Private Parliamentary Secretary—he would be welcome back any time; he just needs to support the withdrawal agreement—highlighted that it is not just that the money should be spent well, but that it could not be spent better. The hon. Members for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) also made supportive comments.

I am glad to be able to reassure hon. Members that it is indeed Government policy to continue with the excellent stand-alone work of the Department for International Development. We can point to a strong track record of delivering results. We will continue to work across Government in a joined-up way in trying to achieve the sustainable development goals by 2030. We have heard a lot about the past of the Department. The future of the Department must surely be about focusing on achieving the sustainable development goals and on spending more of our money in areas of extreme poverty.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough

Will the Minister categorically say that she is against the former Foreign Secretary’s comments? Some of us are looking for the reassurance that post Brexit there will be no downgrading of our legal commitments.

Photo of Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi Labour, Slough 3:58 pm, 27th February 2019

I am very much heartened by the comments from the Minister, and her commitment. I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the Chamber for their invaluable contributions to this very important debate and for the cross-party consensus that we have managed to maintain throughout.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the future of the Department for International Development.