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Session 1999-2000
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Scottish Grand Committee

Monday 10 July 2000

(Glasgow)

[Mr. Jimmy Hood in the Chair]

International Development (Scottish Contribution)

10.30 am

The Chairman: The first subject is a statement on the Scottish contribution to international development. There is no time limit on the statement or subsequent questions, but my decision on when to conclude the debate will have regard to the fact that the ensuing debate on employment and fairness at work in Scotland must end at 1 o'clock.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. George Foulkes): With permission, I should like to make a statement on the Government's work to eliminate world poverty and Scotland's extremely valuable contribution to that work.

All Britain's development resources are focused on the elimination of poverty. One in five people live in abject poverty, and we all have a moral duty to ensure that they have the opportunity to improve their lives. The Government's first White Paper on international development ``Eliminating World Poverty: A Challenge for the 21st Century'' puts the international development targets agreed at the great United Nations conferences of the 1990s at the heart of our work.

The key target is to halve by 2015 the proportion of the world's population who live in abject poverty. That means lifting 1 billion people out of poverty within 15 years. The targets also require that by 2015 there should be universal access to primary education and reproductive health care, and that infant mortality should be halved. The targets are ambitious but not unrealistic. They are serious projections of what can be achieved if the best practice in development is implemented more widely.

Our commitment is backed by a significant rise in my Department's budget which will increase by 12 per cent. in the current financial year. That is equivalent to £365 million—£1 million extra for each day this year—and is the largest increase in the development budget in a single year. The Government have provided an extra £1.6 billion for development over the three-year period of the comprehensive spending review. That fulfils our manifesto commitment to reverse the long-term decline in aid spending under the previousAlthough international development is a reserved power, my Department works closely with the Scottish Administration and with Scottish institutions and civil society to achieve the United Kingdom Government's objectives. I want to report on our engagement with Scottish civil society, our innovative collaboration with the university of Dundee on water law, our work with Scottish institutions to increase public awareness of development issues and the development of the Scottish Office at Abercrombie house.

Scotland has an active and varied voluntary sector involved in development work. Civil society organisations and networks play a vital role in empowering poor people overseas not just to tackle their immediate situations but to confront the forces that keep them poor. They also help to build global alliances in support of eliminating world poverty. The joint funding scheme was the main mechanism by which the Department for International Development engaged with civil society organisations in the United Kingdom. It is now the civil society challenge fund. In the past two financial years, the Department contributed nearly £750,000 to Scottish civil society organisations as part of the joint funding scheme.

The challenge fund has £5 million available this year. Some 230 applications have been received from the United Kingdom as a whole, although only seven are from Scottish civil society organisations. I use the word ``only'' because I believe and hope that the Department for International Development can and should significantly increase its engagement with civil society in Scotland. We are strengthening our ties with organisations already involved in international development work and are engaging with organisations not previously involved in development which share our commitment to eliminating world poverty and have the experience and skills to help us achieve that objective. We want to involve faith groups, including those that represent minority faiths in Scotland, as well as trade unions and community organisations. I urge hon. Members from all parties to use their contacts and influence to spread the word.

I turn now to our innovative work on water law. Life cannot exist without water, and the social and economic development of too many people is constrained by lack of access to it. Following consultation, my Department is finalising a strategy paper entitled ``Addressing the water crisis —healthier and more productive lives for poor people'', central to which is our work with Governments to ensure that poor peoples' interests are reflected in legal and regulatory frameworks. Many countries desperately need clearer legal frameworks for efficient and equitable allocation and for effective use of water and to ensure sustainable management of the water resource base for future generations.

I am proud and pleased to say that the university of Dundee is playing a pivotal role in realising those aims. The centre for energy, petroleum and mineral law has established a fine reputation for international water law and policy. In Dundee, Scotland has the only academic institution in the world that offers postgraduate training in water law and policy. Last year, I had the honour of opening an international water seminar at the university on securing rights to water. In recent years, more than 500 international delegates have participated in such activities and have returned from Scotland with knowledge and experiences that they have used to influence the drafting of new national water laws and regulations. University staff have directly provided professional training in Namibia, Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and China. That is just one example of the many partnerships with Scottish universities and colleges that are helping towards our goal of poverty eradication.

The Government appreciate that international development targets will not be met without the full support of the British and international communities. We are therefore committed to increasing public understanding of global interdependence and of the need for international development. My Department's development education work focuses on four key target groups: the media, businesses and trade unions, faith groups and the formal education sector, which is our top priority. In January, I met my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), the Scottish Minister for Children and Education, to discuss taking this work further. Our officials are now collaborating on a number of initiatives in curriculum development and teacher training. I welcome the establishment of the Scottish Parliament's cross-party international development group, the inaugural meeting of which I attended. We are keen to establish close working relationships with the group to promote our agenda on devolved matters such as education.

Of course, development awareness work has long been carried out by civil society. In Scotland alone there are now four development education centres, as well as a number of civil society organisations that have development awareness programmes. Through our development awareness fund, we are supporting projects managed by the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund and by the Glasgow Media Group, based at Glasgow university. We also have a mini-grant programme managed by IDEAS, the International Development Education Association for Scotland.

Our dialogue with civil society in Scotland is reflected in the continuing transfer of responsibilities and senior policy jobs from London to Abercrombie house in East Kilbride, the Department's Scottish headquarters. Abercrombie house was planned by Judith Hart, Secretary of State for Overseas Development in the previous Labour Government, whom we fondly remember for her excellent work. It opened in 1981, when part of what was the Overseas Development Administration was transferred from London. At that time, Abercrombie house oversaw colonial pensions, accounts, the engagement of consultants and the recruitment of technical co-operation officers to work overseas. Later, parts of our information systems and statistics operations were transferred.

When we came into office in 1997, one of the first things that we did was to establish a ministerial office in Abercrombie house. We also realised the potential for expansion, both in the scope of the work and in the numbers of DFID staff located in Abercrombie house. We have an excellent catchment area to provide and to sustain a well-qualified and diverse work force. Following an initial review, we arranged to transfer an additional 40 jobs from our London headquarters. Those included key jobs in our evaluation department and the important new work on development education. The staffing level in Abercrombie house is expected to reach 500 by the end of this year. We are planning a major refurbishment, which will enable us to realise a further increase in capacity.

When we came into office, there was one senior civil service job in Abercrombie house. Today, there are five. The number of higher-grade middle management posts has risen from 17 to 24 and we have increased the number of professionals in post from one to four. The great majority of recruitment and personnel work for the whole of the DFID staff, both at home and overseas, is now administered from East Kilbride. This year, we transferred top management responsibility for our entire human resources division to Abercrombie house. The office is now headed by DFID's director of human resources. That is the first time that anyone of that grade has been located in our Scottish office.

We have been helped in our work to increase the responsibility and to raise the profile of our Scottish operation by the interest shown in our work by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), by Andy Kerr MSP, and also by the provost and members of South Lanarkshire council.

Hon. Members will recognise from just the few examples that I have given that Scotland and the Scots have made and are continuing to make a great contribution to the United Kingdom's international development effort and we look forward to that contribution increasing over the coming years. I commend the statement to the Committee.

 
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