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Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): May I, too, thank the Secretary of State for an advance copy of the statement and the White Paper? However, I echo the shadow International
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Development Secretary’s plea for a full debate on this substantive issue as soon as possible. In a world of enormous disparities of wealth and life experience, we clearly have huge moral responsibilities to provide official development assistance, as the White Paper recognises. However, in a world that is increasingly globalised and interdependent, and where the consequences of poverty, conflict and climate change affect all of us, there is also a clear national interest in supporting developing countries as they tackle challenges of an unprecedented nature and scale.

We on the Liberal Democrat Benches will study the White Paper carefully, but we certainly support the identification of conflict and climate change as key priorities, alongside the still-important focus on poverty, hunger and disease. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the White Paper does not signal a departure from the primary pro-poor focus of his Department? The resources required to deliver on the priorities are underscored by the welcome continued commitment to the 0.7 per cent. target, but we still have no indication of how that spending level will be reached.

In the absence of a comprehensive spending review, will the Secretary of State publish his Department’s detailed planning assumptions, showing how it wants the resources to be allocated in the run-up to 2013? In the absence of a strategic defence review, will he tell us how other Departments will be reconfigured to make effective use of the welcome extra resources planned for conflict issues? On interdepartmental working, will he confirm that as he allocates funding to deal with climate change and conflict to other Departments, his Department’s increased resources will not simply be laundered to the Ministry of Defence and others to bail them out of the Government’s overall Budget crisis?

The Secretary of State’s ambitious agenda is being set out at a time when his Department continues to reduce its staffing complement. Surely that means that ever-larger cheques will be written to international organisations, so how will he ensure that he achieves his avowed intent to improve accountability and transparency in the provision of development assistance? Finally, he pledges the rapid delivery of the recent G20 commitments, but how can anyone take that seriously when a key part of it, the G8 countries, have failed miserably to deliver on the Gleneagles promises of four years ago?

Mr. Alexander: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome endorsement of the themes of conflict and climate change in the White Paper, and indeed for his broad agreement, if that is not to prejudge the debate that I hope we can have in the months ahead on the themes that the White Paper sets out. I am happy to give the confirmation that he seeks that the focus of the Department will remain poverty reduction—the pro-poor focus, as he describes it. The themes that emerged in the White Paper reflected the insights that we have garnered in recent years, which showed us that to deliver fully on the millennium development goals and that pro-poor agenda, we needed better to incorporate climate change, and the challenge of working in fragile and conflict-affected states—and indeed with the whole multilateral system—than we have perhaps done in the past.

As for the Government’s position on forward public expenditure, it is of course the Government’s long-standing position that we will meet the target of 0.7 per cent. by
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2013. The credibility of that claim rests not simply on its recent reiteration by our Prime Minister, but on the fact that as recently as the previous spending review, we were clearly on track to meet that commitment, and that continues to be the case.

On the hon. Gentleman’s rather inelegant but challenging phrase about interdepartmental working and the laundering of the DFID budget, I simply ask him to reflect on the fact that it is not a former Prime Minister of the Labour party and a former Foreign Secretary of the Labour party who have, in recent days, argued for the reincorporation of the Department for International Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; that proposal came from Members on the Conservative Benches. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are sincere in our commitment that DFID should remain a separate and distinctive Cabinet-rank Department that is determined to work effectively with our colleagues in the Foreign Office and in the Ministry of Defence.

In relation to the issue of accountability and transparency that the hon. Gentleman raises, we have listened carefully to recommendations from the International Development Committee on how we could improve our website to make sure that there is a searchable facility whereby we will be able to provide better and more accessible information, not just here in the United Kingdom, but internationally.

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I can assure him that, in the days between now and L’Aquila and in the preceding weeks, the British Government will be and have been arguing with our G8 colleagues that now is the time to publish what could be called a Gleneagles framework whereby the whole world will be able to judge by the time of the L’Aquila summit which countries have met their Gleneagles commitments and which countries have fallen behind. I welcome the fact that as recently as last month one stated categorically that the British Government were meeting their Gleneagles commitments. I hope that in the days between now and L’Aquila, other countries will reflect on their responsibilities and set out credible recovery paths.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Eighteen Members are seeking to catch my eye. I am naturally keen to accommodate as many of them as possible. I therefore look to each Member to ask one brief supplementary question and, of course, to the Secretary of State to offer us a characteristically succinct reply.

Hilary Armstrong (North-West Durham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this important White Paper. Will he and his fellow Ministers back up the very welcome commitment to seek a single UN agency for women by working with other countries to make sure that they give that commitment and the financial support to such an agency? That will make a tremendous difference in developing countries, where women do most of the work.

Mr. Alexander: Let me begin by succinctly paying tribute to my right hon. Friend’s long-standing concern and campaigning on development issues. I am able to give her the assurance that she seeks. As recently as last week, when Helen Clark, the administrator of the United
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Nations Development Programme, was in the Department, I was able to discuss with her the importance of the coherence of the UN’s effort, and nowhere is that effort more needed than in relation to a single agency dealing with the gender question.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for the White Paper, and for taking account of many of the recommendations of the International Development Committee. He is right to say that in the present climate aid, is needed more, not less, and we need public understanding and backing for that. On the conflict country support, will he clarify how many fewer countries the Department will operate in? If 50 per cent. of the bilateral money is going into conflict, what will that mean in a situation where multilateral donations are rising? Can he put a figure on the sum we are talking about?

Mr. Alexander: I fear that I will have the opportunity to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s questions in a great deal more detail shortly, when I appear before his Committee. Let me record my gratitude for the work of the Committee; it has been invaluable in framing our analysis and our prescription in the latest White Paper.

On the specific point that the right hon. Gentleman raises, this is not a sudden handbrake turn for the Department. He is as aware as I am that over recent years we have reduced the number of countries in which we have been working—my recollection is that we have done so by about 10 in recent years. We plan to continue that progress on the basis of the best principles of aid effectiveness, rather than a sudden move towards working in conflict and fragile affected states. However, we also want to see an improvement in the effectiveness of the multilateral system so that some countries can take more of the burden than they have done in recent years.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): When donor countries pool their resources in multilateral institutions, they raise substantially more people out of poverty per pound spent than when countries go it alone with their own bilateral programmes. I am pleased to see the Government’s commitment to multilateral aid in the White Paper, but what will they do to persuade other countries to do the same?

Mr. Alexander: As in so many areas, I hope the Department has the opportunity to lead by example. I do not see a choice between increasing the resources to the multilateral system and improving our policy influence over those multilateral institutions. I believe we can demonstrate to other donors a continuing—indeed, increasing—commitment to those institutions, at the same time as convincing them that they can have real influence to ensure a progressive outcome to the policy agenda.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on growth as the only sustainable route out of poverty, and I am delighted that he has decided to reverse the mistaken and long-standing decline in the share of aid going to agriculture and infrastructure, but does he agree that the countries that have been most successful in growing out of poverty are those that have traded out of poverty?
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Will he therefore put more emphasis on extending duty-free, quota-free access to all low-income countries, not just less-developed countries, and on making more generous and simple the rules of origin, which at present inhibit many countries in taking advantage of duty-free access?

Mr. Alexander: I know that the right hon. Gentleman has prior knowledge of many of those issues from the globalisation report that he published some time ago, but, as the Minister of State, Department for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) suggests from the Front Bench, in relation to economic partnership agreements, some progress has been made on one of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman addressed.

On duty-free and quota-free access, however, there is a judgment to be made about whether we should push the development part of a multilateral deal, or whether we best serve the interests of developing countries by going for a comprehensive conclusion to the Doha round. It would be a great risk at this stage, with the election of a new Congress party Government in India and a more realistic prospect than there has been recently of a breakthrough on Doha in the months ahead, if we averted our gaze from the prize of a Doha deal and looked at what would, none the less, be an important part of a deal for developing countries.

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that no Government have been stronger in their resolve to try to conclude the Doha round than the British Government. Our Prime Minister continues to take a very active role, discussing with Pascal Lamy and others what progress can be made, and, as I have said, on the basis of certain changes among key players, I feel a cautious optimism that we may see real progress in the months ahead.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the US Government tie US aid very tightly, in some respects, to US foreign policy objectives. Can he confirm that he has no plans to do the same in the UK when it comes to UK aid by, for example, reintegrating DFID with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?

Mr. Alexander: Yes, I am very happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. Distinguished members of the Labour party do not propose that approach; it is, however, the approach of the former Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary from the Conservative party.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell: But not that of Conservative Front Benchers.

Mr. Alexander: I hear that it is not the position of Conservative Front Benchers. They do not seem to command the support of the former Prime Minister, the former Foreign Secretary or the prospective candidates of the Conservative party: quite whom they speak for is really for them to answer.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The Minister has made a big virtue of spending an increasing proportion of our aid through international bodies, but does he consider it wise to spend ever-increasing amounts of money through the European Union? It is widely regarded
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as being pretty poor when it comes to spending money efficiently, and it has been widely criticised for spending money on populations that cannot be described as among the world’s poorest.

Mr. Alexander: Once again, Conservative Back Benchers seem to be rather at odds with Conservative Front Benchers, because, if I recollect properly, the leader of the Conservative party recently made a speech in which he said that the European Union had a key role to play in climate change and in tackling global poverty. However, I do not want to intrude on private grief.

On the hon. Gentleman’s substantive point, I agree that the European Union has a central role to play in tackling global poverty, and I welcome the real strides that have been made in reforming the EU’s development budget in recent years. The case that we will make towards the end of the year for a powerful single EU development commissioner will strengthen the arm of those who want further reform in the EU. However, this issue exposes a fundamental difference between the parties: some on the Opposition Front Bench argue for multilateralism but do not command the support of all their party; on the Government Benches, there is a universal consensus that there should be excellence in our bilateral programme and that we should work multilaterally to tackle global poverty.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): In congratulating my right hon. Friend on the extremely effective and compassionate work carried out by his Department, whose role before its existence was one responsibility of a junior Minister in the Tory Foreign Office, may I ask what success he is having in getting aid into Gaza, which I know he has visited, but off which in international waters last week the Israeli navy committed an act of piracy against an aid ship and kidnapped its crew?

Mr. Alexander: I am grateful for the words offered by my right hon. Friend, who has a long-standing commitment not just to the concerns and suffering of the people of Gaza, but to people throughout the developing world. He knows, as I do, that the Government have been pressing hard on the Israeli Government to allow not simply access for the aid we have provided, but for aid workers from a range of British NGOs to undertake their vital humanitarian work. We have not seen the progress that all of us, from all parts of the House, would have liked from the Israeli Government, but we continue to press the case for humanitarian supplies to be allowed free and unfettered access to Gaza. Ships should not need to travel to the coast of Gaza, because there should be free and unfettered access in Rafah and at the other land-based crossings, and I assure my right hon. Friend that we will continue to press that case to Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Ministers.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I have learned from my discussions with Commonwealth Members of Parliament that the thing that upsets them more than almost anything else about international aid is how much of it is spent on consultants’ reports, which are fairly widespread when aid is given, not only by the UK but by countries throughout the world. Will the Secretary of State assure us that he will look critically at how much of his departmental money goes on consultants’
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reports? Will he ensure that the money spent on them is minimised as much as possible so that more money gets through to the front line?

Mr. Alexander: I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on that matter. I shall set out the details in the letter, but my recollection is that there has been such a reduction recently. However, I come back to the latest independent review of DFID’s work; it said that DFID was a world leader in aid effectiveness. That did not happen by chance, but by choice. We are continually looking at how we can deliver aid most effectively. Obviously, that varies from country to country, but I am glad to say that we have made progress that has established DFID as a global leader in recent years. However, we are never complacent.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that poverty reduction requires us to focus on climate change; that was a welcome part of his statement. Will he go slightly further and recognise that in tackling climate change as part of the anti-poverty strategy, we must focus on land-use change and ecosystem services, which are a part of the parcel?

Mr. Alexander: I recognise the centrality of both those issues to the challenges described in the White Paper and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the service and work that he has undertaken, particularly on forestry.

In 2005, I was privileged in taking seven busloads of my constituents to the streets of Edinburgh in our shared plea to make poverty history. Unless we now engage in the policy consequences and challenges of climate change, poverty will become the future for billions of our fellow citizens. That insight underpins the policy prescriptions of the White Paper.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the non-governmental aid organisations about prioritising some of the budgets on security and justice? Given their aims and campaigns, does he enjoy their full and unqualified support for that prioritisation?

Mr. Alexander: Anybody with even a fleeting acquaintance with development NGOs in the United Kingdom knows that they never agree with each other, never mind with every paragraph of a White Paper—even one from the Department for International Development. In recent weeks, we have been unstinting in our efforts to try to ensure a genuine consultation and dialogue with the NGOs; if I remember rightly, we have had eight or nine regional consultation events around the country to make sure that not only London-based NGOs, but those right across the United Kingdom, can contribute.

We have received about 2,500 responses to the White Paper from a range of institutions, individuals and organisations. Some of the concerns that they might have had about our full commitment to NGOs have been answered by the doubling of our funding to civil society organisations. Whatever issues they might have about the focus on conflict in fragile affected states, they are issues on which we can work with NGOs in the years ahead.

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