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28 Jun 2007 : Column 164WH—continued

The hon. Gentleman also talked about remittances, which are of considerable importance not only to India as a whole, but to the Indian diaspora in the UK community. He is right to challenge the financial
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services industry to consider the commission charges that it levies. We have seen evidence that for £100 sent back home to India, a commission charge of anything from £5 to £35 is levied. Given the impact that remittances make in India, such huge commission charges are inappropriate. I hope that the information leaflets and the website, which we have helped to facilitate, will give information to people of Indian origin living in the UK who want to send money home as cheaply and safely as possible. They have a right to expect us to help with that, and I hope that that information will be helpful.

Jeremy Corbyn: That is an important point. In my constituency experience, one problem is that people who send relatively small amounts of money back home often do not speak much English, if any, and are therefore prey to people who charge incredible rates for sending small sums. It may be quite difficult to police that, but some degree of advice in local languages and, in the long run, some regulation of agencies is important.

Mr. Thomas: We are continuing to work on that. I think that in the end the financial services industry will recognise the increasing sums of money that are being sent home to India and other countries and realise that it is in its own interest to provide remittance products in a way that people of Indian and other origin find useful. Acknowledging translation needs is clearly sensible, and we are beginning to see progress and recognition of that in the financial services industry, although more can be done.

The hon. Members for Boston and Skegness and for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) rightly asked about the monitoring of aid and the efforts to build up good governance. They will be interested to know that with DFID support, the government of Andhra Pradesh has established a centre for good governance to help with the reforms that it wants to make. Such has been its impact in helping to improve the government’s capacity and ability to tackle corruption that it is seen as a model for other, similar schemes across India.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness will remember my having mentioned the poorest areas civil society programme, which supports civil society organisations in the 100 poorest districts of India. It is designed to help the poorest people of India get access to their rights and, by definition, it holds the Government to account and in that way helps to drive better governance. He will not be surprised to learn that we focus our efforts on the governments in those states to build up their ability to put good financial management systems in place. We have seen notable improvements, particularly in Orissa.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge asked how we monitor our aid programmes. Let me briefly talk him through the process. When we design new programmes, we conduct a proper fiduciary risk assessment to analyse the quality of the financial management and, obviously, to look for any potential corruption risks. We decide how to mitigate the risks that we recognise in advance and agree an action plan with the government
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on how to address any corruption concerns that we might have. If alleged corruption is reported, we take swift action to work with the state government concerned to get it to respond and to take necessary actions to investigate such incidents or accusations and, if necessary, to prosecute the relevant individuals. Our own internal audit department systematically investigates each and every allegation as well.

The assistance that we give to governments does not just involve handing over money and that is the end of the story. We also provide substantial technical assistance to ensure that the money can be used effectively, and to help to ensure that the government’s own money, whether the government is state or federal, is used effectively. For example, we have a programme under way at present to help to improve reproductive and child health, and we have consultants from the Crown agents helping the federal Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to set up procurement systems, which, as a result, will help to build strong financial management systems.

As I said, DFID India in particular has an in-house procurement team that oversees all our contracting to ensure that our procedures are complied with, that value for money is secured and that the most efficient outcome is progressed. There is substantial monitoring, design work and investigation of the possibility of corruption before we commit ourselves to programmes, and then considerable monitoring throughout the course of the programmes.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness said that we need to recognise the impact of climate change in India and India’s role in helping the world to tackle the impact of climate change. I suspect that he is aware of the sustainable development dialogues that are joint programmes of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury, and the major emerging powers of China, South Africa and India. In addition, we are designing a £12 million climate change adaptation programme to consider how innovative ideas might be developed to help India address the impact of climate change.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge made an argument for additional resources to tackle climate change outside the 0.7 per cent. target. I accept that argument in part, but not entirely. I accept that we will need to raise substantial additional finance beyond what the European Union and Britain have committed to date, but I think that it is the money that is generated around international carbon finance as a result of emissions trading, for example, that has the potential to provide the resources. Our climate change innovations programme in India is looking at how we can help poor people get access to international carbon finance to reduce greenhouse gases. It is not entirely right to say that no climate change programme should be counted in the 0.7 per cent. target. That misplaced comment has been made by several non-governmental organisations.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness asked about fiscal stability, and what we are doing to support India’s efforts in that area. In my intervention on the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), I mentioned the aid that we are giving through the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
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The initiative involves looking at trade issues and carrying out different pieces of analysis to help the Ministry of Industry and Commerce in India to develop its trade policy. That contributes to the broader work on fiscal stability.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North rightly highlighted the importance of partnership with India. Earlier, I discussed the three Indias that we perceive and that we have to work with. I hope he will recognise that my reference to global India in particular represents the element of partnership most strongly. India has an important role to play globally in terms of climate change, international trade and delivering access to medicines. He rightly said that we must work in partnership with India to make progress on such issues.

In terms of partnership more generally, my hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the inward flow of visitors, and the inward investment that comes into the UK from India and vice versa. Other Departments will take the appropriate responsibilities for that side of the partnership. He is also right to highlight the fact that India’s stability is a force for good in the region.

I say gently to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) that India has a right to self-defence and armed forces. The proportion of gross domestic product that it spends on military expenditure is similar to that of other low-income countries, and we particularly welcome the rising levels of social sector expenditure by the Government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They are spending more on education and health, and we warmly welcome that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North rightly highlighted the considerable contribution that Hindu Aid, and Ramesh Kallidai and Arjan Vekaria—its present leadership, for want of a better phrase—are providing. I commend their work and programmes. My hon. Friend told us about some of the work of Sewa International, in particular its leadership in motivating and galvanising the Indian community in the UK to respond to the Gujarat earthquake. It did a powerful and important job then, and its aid programmes continue to do good.

My hon. Friend asked me in an intervention what we can do to provide support to the poorest people in Jammu and Kashmir. I mentioned that we support federal programmes to provide access to education—primary education in particular—and to better health services. He will be pleased to hear that our support to the World Bank is also leading to work on agricultural livelihoods in Jammu and Kashmir.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North for his work with the International Dalit Solidarity Network, which does important work. We are seeing progress in terms of better services for
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Dalits, but obviously much more work needs to be done. Those are some of the issues that we consider as part of making progress in delivering better access to education.

In the discussion of what constituted socialism or capitalism with the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness, my hon. Friend raised the issue of co-operatives. As the chairman of the Co-operative party, I warmly welcome the increasing role that co-operatives play in the developing world. We work with co-operatives and acknowledge them to be one of the key ways to deliver inclusive economic growth. A series of our programmes involve work on that issue.

In one of his final points, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness highlighted the importance of access to financial services. He also mentioned the lessons learned from Bangladesh, the Grameen bank, and the excellent work and leadership of Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel peace prize winner. He will be pleased to know that we are working with the Small Industries Development Bank of India to develop the capacity of microfinance institutions in India to help a range of individuals or groups. We are also giving support to the credit and saving for household enterprise project, which, again, delivers significant access to microfinance.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge asked how we monitor our programmes. All programmes must have a results framework with a set of indicators, against which we judge progress. For example, in the primary education programme, which has put some extra 15 million children into primary school in the last three years, there are targets for enrolment and for the proportion of girls and those from disadvantaged backgrounds in schools. For those who have enrolled, there are targets for measuring progress in the quality of education. Where programmes are off track to meeting those targets, at the review points that we have throughout each year we and the Government look at what else we need to do to get back on track and to resolve those off-track issues.

At the end of programmes, we look at the lessons that have been learned through an evaluation process that we have in the Department. I do not accept the suggestion made by people that we do not know where our aid money goes, that we do not monitor its effectiveness and that it does not deliver significant results. It does deliver results and the successful aid programmes highlighted in my opening speech give, I hope, confidence to the hon. Member for Teignbridge and other hon. Members that our aid to India programme makes a significant difference.

There is more that we must do, and we will look at the points that hon. Members have made as part of the consultation process. I look forward to debating these issues with hon. Members again in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Five o’clock.

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