2 Jun 2010 : Column 417

2 Jun 2010 : Column 417

House of Commons

Wednesday 2 June 2010

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Member Sworn

The following Member took and subscribed the Oath required by law:

Anne Caroline Ballingall McIntosh for Thirsk and Malton

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked-

Departmental Expenditure

1. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What mechanism he plans to use to review the value for money of his Department's expenditure. [000441]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): We will fundamentally change the way in which we look at the value for money of aid, moving from a focus on inputs to what our money achieves-the outputs and outcomes we secure. We will gain maximum value for money for every pound through greater transparency, rigorous independent evaluation and an unremitting focus on results.

Stephen Metcalfe: May I take this opportunity to welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and to congratulate him on his new and important role? I am sure that Members on both sides of the House recognise the important work he has done and will wish him well in these very difficult economic times. Will he reassure the House and my constituents that value for money will be at the heart of his Department's vital work in tackling poverty in the poorest countries in the world?

Mr Mitchell: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. As I look around the House, I see Members on both sides who are passionate and knowledgeable about international development. I look forward to building on the progress made by the previous Government on this important agenda and I pay tribute to my predecessor, the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander), for his work in particular on international aid effectiveness and co-ordination.

2 Jun 2010 : Column 418

In respect of my hon. Friend's question, value for money will be at the heart of everything we do. We are examining all expenditure in every single country, starting with our country review shortly.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): With your permission, Mr Speaker, let me return the compliment offered to me by the Secretary of State by extending my congratulations to him and his team of Ministers. The Department for International Development is one of Labour's proudest achievements and I wish him well in his stewardship of that important Ministry. I welcome the answer that he just gave emphasising value for money. May I ask whether he regards educating young girls in Afghanistan as a valuable part of that comprehensive approach or whether he agrees with the Defence Secretary that it is simply

Mr Mitchell: I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his kind remarks. It is a tremendous advantage in the House and outside it that international development is regarded as a British policy and not a policy of any one of the three main political parties. On his point about education in Afghanistan, education is vital to the future of Afghanistan and to building the capacity of that state. He will know that we now have more than 2 million girls in education in Afghanistan.

Mr Alexander: I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State may have achieved the forced re-education of the Defence Secretary on the issue of value for money in DFID expenditure. Has he also secured the re-education of the new Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore), who, according to correspondence that has now come into my possession, described as recently as 20 April "the very real danger" of Conservative proposals to divert aid to military control? Who has got it wrong-the Secretary of State for International Development or the Scottish Secretary?

Mr Mitchell: I am afraid that I cannot comment on leaked documents that the shadow Secretary of State has got. On his first point about the Secretary of State for Defence, perhaps I could draw his attention to the press conference that was given in Kabul by me and my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Defence and the Foreign Secretary. If the right hon. Gentleman looks carefully at the text of that press conference, he will see that one could not get a cigarette paper between my views and those of the Secretary of State for Defence.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May I just say how delighted we all are to see my right hon. Friend and his colleagues on the Treasury Bench? They are a fantastic team: he did brilliant work in opposition, and I am sure that he will do brilliant work in government.

However much value for money my right hon. Friend manages to get out of his Department, our colleagues in the G8 must also do their bit. The UK has met the targets that we set ourselves at Gleneagles, but does he not find it a matter of concern that France, Germany and Italy are so substantially lagging behind what they promised at Gleneagles that they would do to meet those targets?

2 Jun 2010 : Column 419

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is right that everyone who signed up to those commitments at Gleneagles in 2005, in front of the international cameras of the world, must honour them. We will be at pains to make it clear that the vital development budget, which is so important, should be supported by all the G8 countries. It is difficult to probe and indeed question countries in the developing world that do not live up to their commitments to their people if countries of the G8 do not live up to the solemn commitments that they too have made in front of the world.


2. Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian situation in Sudan; and if he will make a statement. [000442]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): The British Government are deeply concerned by the humanitarian emergency in Sudan. Recent fighting, particularly in Darfur and southern Sudan, is causing further suffering and displacement. In 2010, we will provide emergency food, medicine, shelter, water and sanitation for up to 5 million people. We continue to urge the Government of Sudan and rebel movements to improve access and security for humanitarian workers.

Mr Clarke: In congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment, may I ask that he assures the House that, as a priority, this Government will continue to focus on Sudan? Will he bring the House up to date by giving us his assessment of the current situation in east Sudan?

Mr Mitchell: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, and I pay tribute to his consistent work on Sudan over recent years. He will be aware that nearly 300,000 people have died in Darfur as a result of this emergency: 2 million people are displaced, 2.4 million are on food aid, and fighting is still going on in Jebel Mara and Jebel Moon. He will also be aware that this conflict has internationalised itself across the border into Chad, where there are already 250,000 Sudanese refugees, as well as into the Central African Republic.

Tomorrow, the UN emergency relief co-ordinator will brief the UN Security Council on his recent visit. The British Government will look carefully at what he says about the humanitarian situation in Sudan, and consider whether further action is necessary.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to the Cabinet. What is Her Majesty's Government's view on next year's national referendum? He will no doubt have taken soundings from Ministers throughout Europe. It is absolutely vital that the referendum is undertaken in the correct way, in order to bring stable Government so that we can see that humanitarian relief and aid are put in the right place.

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the critical importance of the referendum on the border between southern and northern Sudan, and we are watching the position extremely carefully. He will be
2 Jun 2010 : Column 420
aware that the situation in Darfur that I have described is in many ways mirrored by what is going on in the south, where he will know that there has been an acute rise in food shortage and where more than £70 million of British humanitarian relief is going in this year. I can give him the undertaking that we will continue to work hard to ensure that the referendum is conducted freely, fairly and successfully, and that we are prepared for the results.

Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): I add my own congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman, and send best wishes to him and his team-for now. Given that we are still a long way from meeting the millennium development goals, particularly in Sudan, how will he and his colleagues use the remaining four months before the UN's poverty summit to help rebuild the international momentum needed to achieve the goals? Will not one telling signal of the new Government's willingness to show leadership on this issue be whether they bring forward legislation to put the UN's aid target of 0.7% on the statute book before that September summit?

Mr Mitchell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm wishes for now. On the second part of his question, he will have seen in the coalition document that we are committed to enshrining in legislation our commitment to an aid target of 0.7 % of gross national income by 2013. If he will bide his time in patience, he will see that that is precisely what we will do. On his first point about the critical importance of taking forward the agenda on the MDGs, which is so off-track at present, he will be interested to hear that the Prime Minister will meet the Prime Minister of Canada tomorrow to discuss the approach of the G8 to the MDGs. In particular, in respect of MDG 5 concerning maternal mortality, which is so off-track, we have specific plans to try and give that a boost.

Russian Federation

3. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What his Department's policy is on the provision of aid to the Russian Federation; and if he will make a statement. [000443]

10. Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): What his policy is on the provision of aid to the Russian Federation. [000450]

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Alan Duncan): DFID's bilateral project work in Russia totalled £1.5 million in 2009-10 and is estimated to be some £1.4 million in 2010-11. The new Government will wind down bilateral spending in Russia as soon as is practical and responsible.

John Howell: I thank the Minister for his response and offer my congratulations to him on his position. Those of us who have been involved in our commercial careers in Russia would certainly agree that giving aid to such a prominent G8 country could risk confidence in the aid programme as a whole, but Russia still has a long way to go in developing a full civil society. Will the Minister look at how non-governmental organisations in Russia working towards civil society might be encouraged to do their job?

2 Jun 2010 : Column 421

Alan Duncan: I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I am well aware of his work in the past on the know how fund and I appreciate his continuing interest in the matter. As I said, we intend to wind down bilateral aid to Russia in an orderly way. Ministers and officials regularly discuss with Russia both bilaterally and as part of the EU a range of issues, including human rights and freedom of expression. We remain committed to maintaining our dialogue with Russia as a donor colleague in the global effort to provide good quality aid.

Greg Hands: Further to that answer, will my hon. Friend also consider moving the aid that has been going to Russia to Russia's former satellites in central Asia? For example, in Tajikistan more than 1 million people are living on less than $1 a day, and five years on from the Andijan massacre, Uzbekistan is desperately in need of help for rebuilding civil society and democratisation.

Alan Duncan: As I said, we intend to wind down bilateral aid to Russia in an orderly way, and we are carrying out a review of all bilateral programmes so that we can better prioritise the United Kingdom's development assistance. At this stage in the review, I cannot make commitments to increase aid in the areas that my hon. Friend proposes, but I am happy to take his comments on board.

David Cairns (Inverclyde) (Lab): I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post. A moment ago he mentioned raising the issue of human rights with the Russians. He will be aware of the disgraceful and homophobic comments of the mayor of Moscow in his various attempts to ban gay rights marches in Moscow. What message can the Minister take to the Russians and to all the recipients of UK aid money that such disgraceful homophobic attacks and oppression will not be tolerated?

Alan Duncan: The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to know that that is the one homophobic comment of which I had not been fully aware. I am usually well on top of these matters. We take human rights issues in Russia very seriously and they will continue to be an important part of the dialogue between our diplomats and members of the Foreign Office and our Russian counterparts.

Departmental Aid Programmes

4. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure maximum transparency in the distribution of aid under his Department's programmes. [000444]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr Andrew Mitchell): The public in the UK and in the countries where we work have a right to access information about the aid that we provide. We will introduce full transparency in aid and publish details of all UK aid spending online, increasing the range and extent of the information published.

Pauline Latham: I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on the jobs that they are to do, because I know that they are all passionate about the subject. Will the Secretary of State please let the House know that
2 Jun 2010 : Column 422
the benefits of the increased transparency will extend not just to UK taxpayers, but to the poor of the countries that the aid is intended to help?

Mr Mitchell: My hon. Friend knows a great deal about these issues from her experience, not least in Uganda, and I thank her for her question. She is quite right about the importance of transparency, enabling people in poor countries to hold their own politicians to account, and it is a very important aspect of both transparency and our development budget that we help build up the capacity of civil society in countries that we are assisting so that they can do just that.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): Given the increasing importance of the European Union in aid funding, does the Secretary of State agree that there needs to be greater harmonisation of aid priorities within the EU?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Lady makes an important point about the EU aid programme, which, as she knows, is conducted in two different ways-through own resources and through the European development fund. I had the opportunity of speaking to the commissioner who is responsible for these matters last week about the importance of aid effectiveness and transparency in the EU. There may be a case in some aspects of the programme for greater harmonisation, and we will always look at that through the prism of greater effectiveness.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend for the proactive approach that he is taking in ensuring that the UK takes the lead in providing greater transparency, but does he agree that it is equally important that our international partners follow suit, and, if so, could he share with the House how he intends to encourage them to do so?

Mr Mitchell: As my hon. Friend will be aware, this is an important aspect of the work that we intend our newly established, or to be established, independent evaluation programme to champion. An independent evaluation is not only about looking at the money that we spend from DFID, it is also about looking at how British taxpayers' money is spent through the multilaterals and some of the brilliant non-governmental organisations that we are funding. All of them need to be subject to the same independent audit so that we ensure that we get value for money for the hard-pressed taxpayers who are providing it.

Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): The Minister may be aware of the incredibly good work that many charities and church-based groups are carrying out in east Africa, particularly in regard to transparency and combating corruption there. Will he try to understand and take information from those charitable groups and ensure that that is replicated in the aid that goes to that region?

Mr Mitchell: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in the importance that he attaches to the work of some of these brilliant NGOs, not only in the part of Africa that he mentioned, but all around the world, which during the last four years I have had the privilege of seeing in action. We have every intention of introducing a poverty impact fund targeted precisely at enabling
2 Jun 2010 : Column 423
such charities to double the output of what they are producing, and I will be able to give the House further details of that in due course.

Next Section Index Home Page