Draft International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill - International Development Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 20-25)


24 FEBRUARY 2010

  Q20  Mr Evans: I do not want to be overly cynical but I sat on the National Lottery Bill and all the money that was raised there should have been for additional funding of things and, of course, it was not long before that money was poached for things that would ordinarily have been supported by government departments. If you wanted to be cynical you could say that if they wish to maintain the 0.7% and turn round to all the NGOS and say, "Listen: we are still spending 0.7%", there are ways, clearly, of not doing it and that is nuancing the interpretations; that is number one, on to security and climate change and goodness knows all sorts of other things, and the second one is, "I know. Let us just not reach 0.7% because what is the penalty?" It is a pretty weak penalty if you do not reach 0.7%, is it not? Write a letter about what you are going to do to achieve it next year, just keep on writing those every year.

  Mr Maxwell: That is one reason why I propose that you might at least look at the question of automaticity. I have had a bit of correspondence with the Treasury which I suppose I should not share with you but there are some interesting questions you might ask the Treasury about whether it is a feasible option to make it automatic, which would exactly address that question of the embarrassment factor. My view is that it might with some creative thinking be possible to make the Bill slightly stronger.

  Chairman: Like a Rooker-Wise amendment!

  Q21  Mr Evans: Lawrence, have you got any reservations?

  Professor Haddad: The embarrassment factor has to go up, definitely.

  Q22  Mr Evans: You just think that it is not sufficiently rigorous at the moment to ensure that any government, when they say they are going to reach 0.7%, will deliver that, although, as you say, all the political parties are at one on this? If we want to make sure that is delivered the Bill has to be beefier than it currently is?

  Professor Haddad: As I said in my written testimony, I do not see what the consequence is of not meeting it. I can see the risks but I cannot see the benefits. On the diversion to non-poverty reducing things, I think that temptation is always going to be there because aid is so political domestically and internationally. The question is will a piece of legislation, a Bill, incentivise that kind of diversion away from poverty reduction? On the one hand it could; on the one hand it could make it more transparent what aid is spent on, but Alison is right: this debate is happening right now and I would urge the Committee to encourage the Government to take a position on the definition of aid in relation to this Bill.

  Ms Evans: Just very quickly, I mentioned, and you will probably hear about it from later witnesses, this definition that the OECD DAC use of country programmable aid, which is basically that percentage of total ODA which is regarded as programmable by donors directly with countries, and so it is that share of aid that partner countries have an opportunity to have some influence over, if you like, so it excludes things like debt relief and humanitarian assistance and so forth and other cross-border flows. Currently in the UK CPA (country programmable aid) is about 64% of total ODA. It is quite a high number. For those countries that have already achieved 0.7% the number varies quite a lot, so there is not necessarily any direct link between achieving 0.7% and the share of aid that is directly programmable with countries. It is almost that share that I would be more interested in monitoring at this level than the total ODA level.

  Q23  John Battle: I would, to get it out of my system, resist Simon's idea that if we rush to the courts for every definition it will be progress. I have spent seven years arguing with a judge at tribunal over an immigration case about whether the word "making" a deportation order is the same as "serving" a deportation order. This is taking seven years while a family waits, so I dread the courts being the ultimate dictionary definition, as it were. I still think there are rows about the definition. I would just like to ask you this question. We are going down the road of definitions, particularly in the poverty field. There is another Bill going through the House of Lords which is to commit the Government to targets of tackling poverty in Britain and I am wondering have you done any cross-reading from the purpose, aims and predictability of the ability of that Bill to fulfil its aims and this Bill? Have you cross-referenced them?

  Ms Evans: No.

  Professor Haddad: I am completely illiterate on poverty in the UK, I am afraid.

  Mr Maxwell: I am not illiterate but I am in first grade. There is, of course, a huge difference between the definition of poverty in the UK and internationally. In the UK the definition is relative and internationally it is absolute. I do think we have an issue coming over the horizon in development about whether or not we should start to look much more closely at relative poverty. We have qualified a number of countries as having moved from low-income to middle-income status and therefore we reduce aid. That is a bit like saying that people in the UK who have reached a certain level of income are therefore somehow no longer of interest to us, whereas policy is driven by the definition of Peter Townsend about relative poverty. Why does the same not apply internationally?

  Q24  John Battle: Sure, but even if we had an agreement about the definitions in both contexts you would still have the same problem: what happens if the Government does not meet its poverty targets in Britain? Who do I get my constituents to go and sue, would be the question. In other words, it is the enforceability question, and I just wondered: there are two Bills that seem to me to have the same kind of character that are different from other Bills that would be going through Parliament that set targets but do they mean anything? Do they add up to a row of beans at the end of the day or am I being too sceptical?

  Professor Haddad: That is what I was getting at with my earlier comment and you picked up on the DWP. I would like to talk a little bit, if you do not mind, about public perceptions. What will this Bill do for public perceptions of aid? Will it wake people up to the fact that a lot of money is being spent on international development? Will that be a good thing or a bad thing? Will it be a good thing in the short run or in the long run, or a bad thing in the short run or the long run? These are questions that those of you who are more versed in the ways of Westminster need to ask yourselves and your witnesses. It is not at all clear to me that again it will consolidate support. It might make it more divisive. In any case I think DFID and others need to really strengthen their communication of the benefits and the value and the necessity of aid. We have got the morality question and we have got the self-interest question, but I do not think they are communicated in ways that resonate with ordinary people. We have been doing some research on this at IDS and I would be happy to share some of that with you.

  Q25  Chairman: You mentioned earlier about the need for the Government to define aid more specifically because Mr Evans has already highlighted that if you simply start redefining things as aid in order to meet the target you have exactly that problem of the public becoming cynical. The public mostly think that we are siphoning all this money off to corrupt dictatorships with Swiss bank accounts anyway half the time and we have a difficulty. So are you saying that it might be more important to ring-fence what we define as aid, even more important than saying that we are going to spend 0.7% on it? Indeed, the danger is that if you say 0.7% you dilute the credibility of the aid you give.

  Professor Haddad: I guess what I am saying is that DFID—and I do not think they would disagree—need to get much more sophisticated and creative about communication around the benefits of aid and also the risks of aid.

  Ms Evans: Agreed.

  Professor Haddad: And that is going to be even more important if this Bill goes through, I am certain.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. That has been a very helpful session and we have managed to cram a lot in. Thanks, all three of you, for coming along and sharing your thoughts with us and for the written evidence as well.

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