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It is vital that DFID can keep demonstrating value for money for the British taxpayer. Until recently, work towards reaching the aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product, to which we are all signed up, operated in a benign atmosphere, but that is no longer the case.
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Throughout the country, people are feeling the effects of the economic downturn. If we are to uphold the case for international aid, we must be able to show that every pound spent returns 100p of value.

Mr. Alexander: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the need to be able to maintain public support for international development. I am sure that he would not wish to be accused of trying to have his cake and eat it. Will he therefore return to the question that I asked him earlier? In the light of the praise that he, as a Front Bencher, is willing to offer DFID as a leading development agency, and in the light of the remarks about DFID from the Conservative party reported in The Daily Telegraph, will he now assert, as I requested, that not a single penny of British development money is spent with no strings attached?

Mr. Mitchell: I have been generous in giving way to the Secretary of State again, but he must wait until I come to that passage in my speech.

The Secretary of State seems to view transparency in terms of processes and inputs—being open about what we are spending and where. That is a good start, but it is only half of the story. We also need transparency about outcomes and outputs—what our aid is actively achieving on the ground. Once again, I urge him to consider carefully our proposal for a fully independent aid evaluation watchdog to be set up to report to Parliament, not to the Secretary of State.

The Government have enthusiastically promoted a policy of direct budget support—here I come to the point about which the Secretary of State has intervened twice—whereby Britain hands money directly to Governments in developing countries to spend according to their own expenditure and audit systems in support of their national poverty reduction plans. In 2007-08, £366 million of British aid was spent in that way. According to the respected non-governmental organisation, Transparency International, the UK gives some of its largest donations to Governments who have real problems with governance and corruption. For example, Tanzania ranks 102nd on the corruption index, yet it received £105 million as direct budget support last year. In February this year, President Kikwete of Tanzania dissolved his entire cabinet following a financial scandal, and in January he fired the head of the central bank after international auditors found that more than $120 million was missing.

Uganda ranks 126th on the Transparency International index, down from 111th in 2007, yet it received £35 million in direct budget support from Britain. President Museveni is planning to buy a new £24 million G5 Gulfstream jet plane. In 2006, massive corruption in the Ugandan health ministry was exposed. In June this year, an important report by the Public Accounts Committee warned the Government about direct budget support.

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman cites the example of Tanzania. Does he accept my undertaking that I spoke at length to President Kikwete and was able effectively to communicate to him the importance that we attach to his cleaning up the difficulties that arose at the Bank of Tanzania? Does he further accept that we gave very clear directions to the president on what we
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required in terms of tackling corruption, even if it took the investigation to the heart of his cabinet and Government? That is surely an example of where it is possible to achieve the development outcomes that we are seeking—whereby in Tanzania more than 4 million children are in schools and there are 40 per cent. more primary school teachers—at the same time as ensuring the dialogue to achieve the genuine policy changes that we want to see?

Mr. Mitchell: I have no doubt of the Secretary of State’s bona fides on what he said to the President of Tanzania. I went there myself last year because I wanted to find out the extent to which we were monitoring the large amount of taxpayers’ money going into the Tanzanian budget. I must tell the Secretary of State that I am not satisfied from that visit, or from the discussions that I had with Tanzanian Ministers and also with his officials, that the money in question is properly accounted for, which is why I am making this point.

Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): The longer I listen to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments, the more concerned I am, especially when he suggests that DFID money is somehow being frittered away and not being properly accounted for. I visited Uganda quite recently. He is missing the point that a lot of DFID money goes towards parliamentary strengthening so that the countries to which we award money can account much better for the money that they spend. He is quite wrong to suggest that the money is not accounted for properly.

Mr. Mitchell: The hon. Lady must join me in studying the important report by the Public Accounts Committee that warned the Government about direct budget support. The report bears careful study with regard to getting budget support right. I highlight the following extracts. On page 6, the report states:

Page 12 states:

The report, which is by a highly respected Committee of the House, says on page 6:

Perhaps the Secretary of State or the Minister making the winding-up speech can tell the House what their Department has done to address the serious questions raised by the Public Accounts Committee in its report.

Mr. Alexander: Of course we look with great care at all the points made by the Public Accounts Committee, but I return to the central point. Beyond the headlines and the allegations, what specific steps is the hon. Gentleman seeking for DFID to take on budget support? He has already asserted that he recognises the case for budget support in principle; he recognises that it is central in being able to provide services such as health and education, and he is united in that view with non-governmental organisations and respected voices in the development community across the spectrum. I would be grateful if he assisted the House in detailing
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the specific steps that he requires from DFID and from the developing country Governments with whom we work.

Mr. Mitchell: I will come directly to the Secretary of State’s point.

The fact that we give money to Governments who are not trusted by their own citizens is, I submit to the House, a serious concern. The Secretary of State should review urgently whether it is right that hard-working British families are contributing directly to the Governments of those countries. It might also be appropriate for the Select Committee on International Development to investigate the issue further, and I hope that the Chairman of that Committee will reflect on that.

I accept that giving aid directly to Governments through budget support can be the right way forward in some circumstances, but we need to apply stringent tests and to ensure that the money is used properly. Where there is doubt, the money should be given to specific sectors such as health or education, and overseen more carefully. Whenever Britain gives budget support, up to 5 per cent. of the total amount should be earmarked to help local Parliaments, civil society and audit institutes to track where the money is going and to hold their Governments to account. During a recent visit to Ghana, which rightly receives budget support, I was most impressed to witness on television Members of Parliament being held to account by parliamentarians in forthright terms for their spending of public funds. We should actively encourage that.

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman has brought his characteristic rhetorical authority to a point in claiming that we should not give budget support in all circumstances—we do not. He suggested that where there is evidence of corruption, we should take action—we do. He suggests that we should not provide budget support uniformly—we provide it to fewer than half the countries in which DFID has programmes of £10 million or more. I would be interested to hear the specific examples that he wishes to bring to the Department’s attention. Otherwise, it would seem, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) suggested earlier, that he is making simply a rhetorical, derivative statement of what is already Government policy.

Mr. Mitchell: I clearly set out that the Secretary of State should acknowledge the approach that the Conservative party would take, were we to form a Government after the next election. I specifically raised with him—privately, but I know that he will not mind my mentioning the matter in the Chamber—budget support to Cambodia, which he has now brought to a conclusion, at least temporarily. However, he must accept my point that budget support has raised serious questions in the minds of taxpayers. In particular, he and the Department should examine carefully the report of the Public Accounts Committee. Transparency means being open and honest when we get things wrong.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Ivan Lewis): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the Tory “Globalisation and Global Poverty” policy commission report? It states:

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Mr. Mitchell: I do not wish to repeat myself, but the Under-Secretary has heard me say that we believe that, in some circumstances, budget support is the best way in which to give aid and development support in countries. However, I have also drawn his attention to its shortcomings. As for the Conservative party’s excellent report on globalisation and poverty, which I commend to him, I sleep with it under my pillow.

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman has been gracious and generous in giving way. Given his forthright assertion that budget support can, in some circumstances, be the best way in which to give aid, will he clarify the point that I have raised twice? If budget support per se is not “no strings attached aid”, will he cite a single example of the Department’s giving aid with no strings attached?

Mr. Mitchell: I have already made it clear to the Secretary of State that putting budget support into a general budget exercises little control on the taxpayer’s behalf in monitoring its effectiveness and value for money. He does not have to take my word for it—he can take that of the authoritative Public Accounts Committee, which made that very point.

Last month, the National Audit Office report on the Department’s performance in insecure environments revealed evidence of serious corruption in DFID projects in Iraq and poor project design and performance in Afghanistan. It found that only half the DFID projects in the most insecure countries achieve their aims and that almost a quarter suffer from fraud and financial problems.

As I witnessed in Afghanistan recently, brave DFID staff work hard in dangerous environments to improve people’s lives, but their individual courage must be supported by radical policy and management improvements. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the Department learns the lessons and implements the recommendations of that important NAO report? I hope that the Under-Secretary will comment on that in his winding-up speech.

The most important driver of international development is clearly economic growth, which lifts people out of poverty and gets developing countries on their feet. One has only to consider China, India and Brazil to realise the truth of that. However, the Doha round of trade talks has ground to a halt and shown no sign of life for many months. Now that one of the big obstacles to an agreement—the elections in the United States—is out of the way, what is the Secretary of State doing to kick-start the talks? Will he make a point of going around the capital cities of Europe, banging the drum for an agreement on a pro-poor trade deal that developed and developing countries alike can accept?

Now that the former Trade Commissioner has returned once again to a seat at the Cabinet table, and bearing in mind that he won the occasional admirer, not least from the Conservative Benches, for his efforts to free up the international trading system, will the Secretary of State consult his good friend, the noble Lord, about the steps that the Government should take to reinvigorate the Doha process?

Mr. Alexander: The temptation was too great. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will speak to the noble Lord Mandelson later this afternoon. Even before the US
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election, we spoke to the Obama and McCain campaigning teams about the urgency of the US recognising the need for a global trade deal. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it remains high on the Government’s agenda to work with all parties to find a way forward for Doha and, more broadly, global trade.

Mr. Mitchell: The Secretary of State is to be commended for his conversations with the noble Lord.

In stark contrast to the positive potential of economic changes, the most malignant factor among many that stop development working is conflict, along with bad governance, corruption and instability. These are what keep people mired in poverty and condemn them to a life of misery and fear.

In Burma, we have just witnessed the disgusting spectacle of 14 brave pro-democracy protestors being handed jail terms of up to 65 years for their part in last year’s protests. I am sure that the whole House will want to express its solidarity with the people of Burma in their struggle for freedom and democracy. Last year, the Government agreed to increase British aid to Burma, after sustained pressure from leading NGOs and Opposition Members. Perhaps the Minister could update the House on how that aid is being spent and what it is achieving.

In Zimbabwe, millions of people are suffering at the hands of Mugabe and his henchmen. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, many across the Limpopo river into South Africa, and the economy is in ruins. It is clearly right that we should stand by the people of Zimbabwe, because otherwise they will lose out twice over: first, from having selfish and tyrannical leaders, and secondly, from a lack of much-needed support. What is DFID doing to support the people of Zimbabwe through the brave and determined NGOs on the ground, and what precautionary steps is it taking in the face of the looming food crisis there?

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a humanitarian crisis has seen many thousands of people driven from their homes in only the clothes that they were standing in.

Mr. Newmark: On the subject of that conflict, does my hon. Friend think it helpful that Mrs. Rose Kabuye, the President of Rwanda’s chief of protocol, was arrested just four days ago during an official visit to Germany, as a result of a highly dubious decision by a French provincial judge?

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Considerable concern has been expressed about the improbability of the charge that Mrs. Kabuye faces and about the process being conducted. Perhaps my hon. Friend has heard what Louis Michel, the European Commissioner, said yesterday. He doubts the validity of the French report that led to Mrs. Kabuye’s arrest and has called on the French judiciary to establish the truth. My hon. Friend will also have noted the concern expressed by the African Union that the decision amounts to pursuing a French Rwandan agenda, which is most unhelpful at this time. I very much agree.

There are occasional confusions in the Congo between the symptoms and the causes of the appalling situation there. The true cause lies with the failure to disarm
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and repatriate the rump of the Hutu genocidal regime, which fled to Kivu from Rwanda in 1994 and has never left. That is the crux of the matter. It is the presence of those forces that allows General Nkunda to claim the spurious pretext of protecting the Tutsi population.

The conflict has deep-seated roots and as the days go by, the crisis gets worse, not better. I hope to be in Goma this weekend to see the humanitarian situation for myself. It is not correct that fundamentally new political agreements are needed. They are already there in United Nations resolution 1804 of March this year, in the Goma agreement of January, which was signed by 22 armed groups, and in the Nairobi communiqué of last November between the Governments of Rwanda and the DRC, which was reaffirmed last weekend. Nor is it true that MONUC—the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—lacks the mandate to provide threatened communities with the necessary defence. We are talking about a chapter VII assignment, which enables such power as the UN can deploy to be used to protect civilian populations. The issue, therefore, is not the mandate; it is the effectiveness and capacity of the force.

We on the Conservative Benches accept that European Union troops might need to be deployed. I would make two points about that, however. First, such deployments would give an opportunity to European countries whose armed forces are not so overstretched to play a meaningful role, if at some point it is decided to send European Union troops. Secondly, the UN force on the ground in the DRC now is already the largest in the world, with no fewer than 18 countries providing troops and direct support, and is already deployed in Goma. That force is the first and best way for the international community to exercise its responsibility to protect. We welcome today’s announcement by the UN that the force is to be reinforced. If the force is deemed insufficient and if, God forbid, its members are hurt defending civilians from attack, the international community must immediately stand by and reinforce them. Otherwise, the responsibility to protect will be seen as a piece of international grandstanding by the world’s leaders—a sham, with neither credibility nor bite.

Dr. Murrison: It is clearly a matter for those countries involved in what we might call the coalition of the unwilling to determine whether they want to commit the EU battle group—the one not provided by the United Kingdom. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to make it clear to those countries, particularly France and Germany, that any deployment of EU troops does not absolve them from their responsibility to take a full and proper role in Afghanistan, to which they are committed?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind Members that the points made in that intervention are rather wide of the mark of today’s debate?

Mr. Mitchell: I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for keeping me on the straight and narrow.

The international community, through the UN, must not simply will the end through its resolutions; it must also provide the means. It is the UN that is there already, and to the UN that those caught in this dreadful
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crisis are looking. Any attack on those UN soldiers who are today in harm’s way in Goma and the Congo, from whatever source, is a direct attack on the international community and on all of us. The House would be failing in its duty if it did not recognise that.

Today’s debate gives us the chance to salute and thank all those who are involved in the battle against global poverty, to recognise the causes of that poverty and the many different ways of tackling it, and to spur the Government on, to ensure that Britain continues to play the extremely important role that the House has consistently supported and endorsed.

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