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That brings me on to the wider issues of how DFID can deliver effectively the 0.7 per cent., to reach the largest number of poor people in the largest number of countries. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) rightly made much of our collective aspiration to reach that target. As our report stated, however, simply saying that we will spend more money to achieve an aspiration is, as I am sure that the Secretary of State will acknowledge, unique to his Department. If any other Minister were to talk in such terms, he or she would almost certainly have his or her knuckles rapped by both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, saying “What I want to know is not how much money you will spend, but what you are going to achieve—what the outcomes will be.” I am not suggesting that DFID does not concern itself with outcomes, but I think it reasonable to say that in these unique circumstances it is important for us to persuade the British taxpayer not just that we are meeting United Nations aspirations, but that we are determined to ensure that the money is spent as effectively as possible to deliver poverty reduction.

Although the Committee has made it clear that it understands and accepts the staffing constraints, we are concerned about what the implications may be, and there may come a time when we take a different view. Providing budget support, advice and the detailed range of practical measures that is required is people-intensive. In evidence to the Committee, DFID staff have acknowledged that the present constraints may lead to consequences that are not driven by policy: we may be forced to invest more than we would otherwise have invested in multilateral agencies over which we have less direct control, give more to consultants than would otherwise be appropriate, or reduce the number and range of programmes that we commit to and the number of countries in which we operate. If that happened, the Committee would want to think again about whether the Department should be under such constraints.

Mr. Alexander: I am sympathetic to the case that the right hon. Gentleman makes about the need to review staffing levels constantly, but given that—notwithstanding the success that has been enjoyed—DFID accounts for approximately 8 per cent. of global aid flows, is it not reasonable to seek to increase our commitment to the multilateral institutions, not just because they are currently capable of contributing to poverty reduction but because they are the means by which we can secure influence over institutions which themselves have considerable influence over the effectiveness of aid globally?

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Malcolm Bruce: Absolutely. Indeed, the Committee is heading for Washington in two weeks for detailed discussions with, in particular, the World Bank to try to ensure that that happens. However, we want DFID and the United Kingdom to exert their influence, which is substantial in the World Bank, to ensure that there is congruence between our Government’s policy objectives and those of the international agencies. If we are satisfied of that, it is clearly appropriate for more resources to go in their direction.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell rose—

Malcolm Bruce: I will incur a penalty in terms of time, but I will give way.

Mr. Mitchell: I am extremely grateful.

Is it not the case that what the Secretary of State says is absolutely right, as long as he makes the decision because that is the right thing to do rather than because he has not enough staff to do anything else?

Malcolm Bruce: Of course that is true. It is partly why I think we should have a full-time director of the World Bank to ensure that Britain’s influence is given full measure. I believe that we should use consultants and multilateral agencies, but for the right reasons. We should do it because it is the best option, not because we are constrained.

Another important issue that the Committee is about to examine in detail is the role of donor co-ordination, which is becoming increasingly critical. There is a proliferation of agencies, both multinational agencies such as the United Nations and those in individual countries, all trying to do their own thing. If there is no co-ordination, it is impossible for the Government of a developing country to deal with receipts of aid and development on such a scale. At a recent seminar, Louis Michael said that in Tanzania there were more than 600 health projects worth less than €1 million, emanating from a variety of organisations in the European Union. He may have his own empire to build, and when he says that he would prefer a single project worth $600 million he probably intends it to be under his direction, but his point is valid. How on earth can Tanzania deal with 600 agencies rather than one? The same applies even to national donors.

We certainly believe that greater co-ordination is necessary. Afghanistan is a clear case in point. The British Government, including DFID, play a very constructive role in trying to promote that degree of co-ordination, and to encourage the development of a simpler and more transparent route for the delivery of aid. I personally commend the Department for doing that and urge it to do more. It may be that as our aid budget rises and our influence and clout as a development provider increases, we have more success. The Committee will explore the extent to which there are potential partners for that kind of co-operation and co-ordination.

I conclude by saying that it is fair to say that the Department for International Development may well turn out to be the greatest achievement of the Labour Government. The untying of aid began in principle under a Conservative Government, but it was certainly not completed. Even if it was not universally agreed at
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the time, the clear separation into two Departments, with poverty reduction as the overwhelming strategy, is certainly universally accepted now and is the right way forward. It creates tensions and debate as to how we deliver effective aid and whether we can still advise middle-income countries, but it is the right model. It is important to ensure that aid and development are delivered for their own sake, not as an instrument of foreign policy. As long as that is the case, I am sure that it will carry the widespread support of the British people and of their tax budgets.

4.1 pm

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): I want to begin by congratulating the previous and current Secretaries of State for International Development, and indeed the Prime Minister, on the immense progress made on debt relief and poverty eradication through pro-poor policies and increased overseas development assistance.

I especially welcome the additional £100 million for the United Nations Population Fund announced at the recent Women Deliver conference. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on successfully promoting the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, which makes an important requirement: that the Secretary of State report annually on expenditure and on the breakdown of international aid and, in particular, on the progress towards the target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) that that sends a strong message of our commitment, as well as setting a good example.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that among the major causes of poverty in developing countries are poor maternal and child health, the status of women and HIV/AIDS. It is widely recognised that reproductive illness and unintended pregnancies detract from economic development, whether by weakening or killing adults, by disrupting or cutting short the lives of their children or by placing heavy financial burdens on their families.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights also deal with poverty and development in a much wider context. The ability to exercise the rights and freedoms of choice brings self-determination, which in turn has a direct impact on an individual’s ability to emerge from poverty. Poor reproductive health accounts for over 40 per cent of diseases suffered by women. One in 20 women in Africa die from pregnancy-related causes. Unsafe abortion accounts for 13 per cent. of maternal deaths.

Fertility is highest in the poorest countries as well as among the poorest people in the developing world. It should be no surprise that countries with the highest levels of unmet need for family planning and reproductive health services have not only the highest maternal mortality but the highest population growth. According to the environmental sustainability task force, unmet family planning and sexual and reproductive health needs, together with health education and gender equality issues, must be addressed with policies and programmes that slow population growth and realise synergistic improvements.

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At a national level, fertility reduction and improved maternal health may enable accelerated social and economic development. Conversely, the absence of sexual and reproductive health and rights undermines social and economic development. Yet it is well known that if all the available condoms in Africa were evenly distributed, each man in Africa would receive only three or four per year. There is a huge gap between the demand for condoms and other contraceptives and the funding available. The recent report on population growth and its impact on the millennium development goals by the all-party group on population, development and reproductive health concludes that the MDGs are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with current levels of population growth in the least developed countries and regions.

Gender equality is a great catalyst for development. Empowering people to exercise their rights over fertility and to choose the number of, and spacing between, their children is a powerful tool in the fight to reduce poverty. The gender and education taskforce has identified seven priorities for action to achieve gender equality. One of them is ensuring access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

One African in two is under the age of 20. More than 40 million of Africa’s children are not in school, and two thirds of those are girls. Families with fewer children spaced further apart can invest much more in each child’s education. Children in large families are likely to have reduced health care, and unwanted children are much more likely to die than wanted ones. When mothers live, their children are much more likely to live. When mothers are healthy, their children have a much better chance of being, and staying, healthy.

I am sure that all Members would agree that the empowerment of women is a development end in itself. Removing the obstacles to women exercising economic and political power is also one of the most important ways to end poverty. Reproductive health is part of an essential package of health care and education. It is a means of attaining the goal of women’s empowerment, but it is also a basic human right.

Our approach to HIV/AIDS should be based on an integrated model of sexual and reproductive health care to reduce maternal mortality and to combat HIV and AIDS. The millennium project’s HIV taskforce has stated:

It follows that national Governments should incorporate universal access to reproductive and sexual health services and information as an integral part of their AIDS responses.

Last month, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the text of the new millennium development target on universal access to reproductive health and related indicators under MDG 5. That outcome is a huge success for millions of women, men and young people throughout the world, but we must ensure that the new target is fully integrated into the future implementation and monitoring of the MDGs. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the House how DFID will ensure that recipient Governments incorporate the new target and indicators within their national development plans.

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DFID bilateral expenditure on sexual and reproductive health and rights is a little difficult to track. That is, in part, due to budget support and SWAps—sector-wide approaches. In terms of general budget support, DFID estimates that 5 per cent. of the budget will be spent on HIV and AIDS. However, there is no similar sexual and reproductive health estimate. Is DFID planning to make an estimate of what percentage of general budget support will be spent on sexual and reproductive health and rights—and if not, why not?

Details of DFID’s funding to UNFPA and other sexual and reproductive health organisations, such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International and Interact Worldwide, are readily available, and the additional £100 million over five years to UNFPA will help to prevent many unwanted pregnancies and make childbirth much safer. That money will enable UNFPA to provide support to Governments in Africa and south Asia, and to provide more condoms, contraceptive pills and advice on better sexual health to many poor women, girls and men. I understand that the final stages of the five-year agreement between DFID and the IPPF will be completed this week.

DFID is in the process of updating its HIV/AIDS strategy, which I hope will further strengthen the links between sexual and reproductive health and rights and HIV/AIDS. I am looking for reassurances from the Minister that if a new spending target is agreed for HIV/AIDS, a target for sexual and reproductive health and rights will also be agreed. DFID’s 2006-07 direct bilateral expenditure targeting reproductive health—some £24.1 million—is not insignificant, but it is rather discouraging compared with the direct bilateral expenditure targeting HIV/AIDS, which is £104.2 million. Perhaps a spending target on both HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health and rights would ensure equilibrium and increased support for system strengthening.

In finishing, I want to remind the House that the hardest millennium development goal to reach is MDG 5—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady’s time is up.

4.11 pm

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Chris McCafferty), who I am sure would have a lot more to say if time permitted. I was particularly impressed with her comments on millennium development goals 4 and 5, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I am passionate about international development largely through an accident of history. I was appointed to a job in Africa in the early 1990s and stayed in several different African countries for a number of years. I also have the privilege of serving on the International Development Committee. Despite an increase in the number of postcard campaigns, the general public still do not connect with international development. I do not want to appear to be trivialising this debate, but recent programmes such as “Long Way
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Down” with Ewan McGregor present a more human view of Africa. All too often, people think back to the 1980s and to images of a starving, pot-bellied Ethiopian, rather than seeing countries and a continent that are much more entrepreneurial now, and which have a lot stronger future and will develop and grow over time. Aid and the good work that DFID does are really only a precursor to countries standing on their own two feet.

All too often, politicians have to deal with very big numbers and £6 billion is a mind-bogglingly big number, but the figure that focuses my attention is 250,000. This June, I went to Rwanda with Christian Aid and Oxfam. As I looked out across what appeared to be a normal, average African capital city—I do not mean that in a pejorative sense—I was standing on the site of what was a mass grave of 250,000 people. That highlights graphically the need for that £6 billion and for a commitment to the figure of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income, on which there is now a strong cross-party consensus.

Now that we have that consensus, we need to move away from talking about big numbers. As the Select Committee said, we need to go beyond talking about inputs and outputs in the financial sense, and talk about outcomes. I am glad that the Secretary of State talked about inputs in the sense of meeting the Gleneagles targets in Africa, but we need to go beyond that. We need to go beyond visits to other countries by the Select Committee and saying, “Look—this is what DFID money has done; it is has provided this well and this school.” We need to go beyond outputs and to look toward the long-term outcomes for such countries.

I am critical of the fact that DFID and the Foreign Office look at the short and medium term in such countries, rather than at the long term and the generation of growth. I must admit that when Baroness Vadera was appointed to her role, I was a little sceptical, given press reports of her involvement in the transport and rail sectors. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) read out a very interesting quotation that filled me with optimism. If that is the direction that the Government are taking, I have a little more cause for optimism that I did before I entered the Chamber.

I turn to the structure and performance of DFID. The previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), was fabulous in the role, and I also have great respect for the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas). When the new Secretary of State came on board, I was concerned, although I was pleased that he had the Prime Minister’s ear. Now that we have moved beyond the period of a possible general election, DFID is getting the single focus that it needs and deserves from the Secretary of State.

I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State meets his counterparts in the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence, without civil servants, on a regular basis. That is essential for international development. We cannot go back to the bad old days when the Foreign Office was not even talking to DFID at Secretary of State level. The relationship between
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those two Departments is essential, as is the relationship with the Ministry of Defence, which the Select Committee saw in Afghanistan.

On the role of business in development, it is essential that aid is seen only as short term, and we need a greater degree of focus. While DFID as an independent Department is right in giving that greater focus, greater integration with other Departments is needed to encourage business. Despite what Ministers have said, I am disappointed about the international progress on economic partnership agreements and the slow progress on the Doha round. This is not the western world saying that it believes in free trade; all too often it is the Americans who do not deliver and who are incredibly protectionist. In fact, some sources indicate that subsidies provided to western farmers cancel out entirely the aid budget from elsewhere around the world. That is a truly shocking comparison. While we say that we care and that we are giving money, we are effectively taking it away with the other hand.

I commend the work of a number of non-governmental organisations, particularly management accounting for non-governmental organisations—MANGO. All too often, we look at NGOs that provide direct support, but sometimes the nitty-gritty of supply-chain management is much more important. It is slightly less sexy than putting a doctor in-country, and does not provide as good a photograph as a retired bank manager or retired accountant working in Malawi or Ethiopia, but it can be incredibly effective.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con) rose—

James Duddridge: I shall give way to my hon. Friend, who has had great experience in Rwanda.

Mr. Newmark: I appreciate that comment. Does my hon. Friend recognise the good works of groups such as the Portland Trust, which supports small businesses through microfinance? Does he acknowledge the important role that the voluntary sector plays in such provision to support developing communities?

James Duddridge: I fully support that. Indeed, I would extend such an approach and encourage the Secretary of State to examine ways of providing assistance and tax arrangements that make it easier for business people and civil servants to take a career break and spend a year, or slightly longer, volunteering. I am talking not just about the typical periods of volunteering at the beginning and end of people’s careers, but about people sharing their unique experiences in the middle of their careers.

Aid is a widely abused term. It covers the short-term and humanitarian aid, which addresses basic survival, and the medium-term aid of building basic infrastructure and institutions. One area where DFID does not perform well is long-term aid—the hand-holding for democracies and for basic institutions. All too often we say to countries, “Tick your boxes. You have got your elections, and some form of democracy and constitution. You can get on with it now that you have the basic infrastructure to continue developing and growing.” All too often, it is not that simple.

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