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We understand that one of the main causes of sustained poverty is conflict-that it is conflict that so often condemns women and children to grievous suffering. If someone is living in one of those dreadful camps, which hon. Members may have visited, around the world-the Prime Minister and I visited some in Darfur-it does not matter how much access to money, aid, trade or different articles of development they may have, because for as long as the conflict continues, they will remain poor, frightened, dispossessed and angry. Just as conflict condemns people to remain in poverty, so it is wealth creation-jobs, enterprise, trade and engagement with the private sector-that enables people to lift themselves out of poverty. All that underlines, again and again, as the Prime Minister did at the G20 last weekend, the importance of not giving up on the Doha round and, notwithstanding how difficult it is, remaining absolutely committed to it.
Making progress in the fight against international poverty and achieving the goals set down by the whole international community and enshrined in the eight millennium development goals cannot be done without meeting the financial commitments set out so clearly at Gleneagles in 2005-commitments that were underlined and strongly endorsed by the Prime Minister in Canada at the weekend. Although the British Government focused particularly at the G8 summit on MDG 5 on maternal mortality, the most off-track of all the MDGs, we are also leading the argument for real progress to be made on all the goals.
When the UN summit meets in September in New York, there will be just five years left for those goals to be achieved. We want to see measurable outcomes and a clear agenda for action agreed for the whole international community to ensure that the goals are now reached. In essence, we are trying to ensure that good, basic health care, education, clean water and sanitation reach the people at the end of the track, who today in all too many places in the world have none of those things.
Well spent aid has achieved miracles around the world. That is not of course to argue that aid is not sometimes stolen, embezzled or badly used. We will confront all three of those things head-on, but thanks to aid we have eradicated smallpox; we have reduced polio from 350,000 cases a year in 1998 to under 2,000 today; while the number of people on life-saving treatments for AIDS has increased from 400,000 in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. In Afghanistan, there are today 2 million girls in school thanks to the international aid effort.
Chris Kelly (Dudley South) (Con): In a recent article in a major newspaper the Secretary of State was singled out for particular praise by Bill Gates. Can my right hon. Friend inform the House how he plans to work closely with Mr Gates's foundation in the coming years?
Mr Mitchell: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. The Gates Foundation has had a profound effect on the way we see and act in international development. Our contacts with the foundation, already significant, are certainly set to intensify.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab):
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post. He has said a lot about aid, and clearly the role of his Department is hugely important in these matters. Does he accept,
however, that in relation to developing countries, what goes on across Whitehall is hugely important? I hope he will also talk about his relationships with the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and those Departments responsible for matters that have an impact on poor people.
Mr Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend in his role and ask him a question about civil justice? In many areas the problem of policing and ensuring that people can obtain justice is one of the most difficult and intractable. Is he bearing that in mind in his duties, particularly in the context of Afghanistan?
Mr Mitchell: I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. Yes, the issue of grievance procedures-how one resolves grievances-is of particular concern in Afghanistan, and we are looking precisely at that in conjunction with other important matters in the run-up to the Kabul conference.
Our determination and commitment to tackling these problems ever more effectively is both a moral matter and one that is very much in our national self-interest. I believe that in a hundred years' time generations that follow will look back on us in very much the same way that today we look back on the slave trade. They will marvel that our generations acquiesced in a world where each and every day almost 25,000 children under five die needlessly from diseases and conditions that we absolutely have the power to prevent. For the first time, not least through the benefits of globalisation, our generations have the power and ability to make huge progress in tackling these colossal discrepancies in opportunity and wealth around the world.
Many Members will have their own direct experience of what I am describing. In my case, I think of a visit to a remote corner of Uganda with the Medical Missionaries of Mary, who work with families of AIDS orphans. I remind the House that there are more AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa than there are children in the whole of the United Kingdom. I think of the family of six orphaned children I met, of whom the eldest, at 14-the same age as my own daughter at the time-battled each and every day to get her siblings dressed and to school. I remind the House that today Britain is educating 4.8 million primary schoolchildren in Britain, while at the same time in the poor world we are educating 5 million children at a fraction of the cost; in fact, 2.5% of the UK cost.
It is those harsh realities of life in large parts of the world-grinding poverty, hopelessness and destitution-that have galvanised the commitment and passion of so many in our country today to ensure that, in our time, through our generations, we will make a difference. It is true that charity begins at home, but it does not end there.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab):
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to their places and wish them well during their tenure. In respect of personal experience, my wife and I were
able to benefit from a VSO placement in Bangladesh. The VSO placement scheme for parliamentary colleagues has been running for a couple of years, but will his Department continue to support it? It offers parliamentary colleagues an opportunity for short placements of two to four weeks during the summer recess in order to visit some of the countries that DFID supports, and to learn much more about its work.
Mr Mitchell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I cannot give him that guarantee today, but I am familiar with the scheme he describes. It is an excellent scheme, and we have no plans to alter it at this time, but I shall write to him, giving him specific details, when we have made a decision.
What is less easily articulated is that tackling poverty throughout the world is also very much in our national interest. Whether the issue is drug-resistant diseases, economic stability, conflict and insecurity, climate change or migration, it is far more effective to tackle the root cause now than to treat the symptoms later. The weight of migration to Europe from Africa is often caused by conflict, poverty, disease and dysfunctional government. We see people putting themselves into the hands of the modern equivalent of the slave trader and crossing hundreds of miles of ocean in leaky boats in the hope of tipping up on a wealthy European shore. Often, they are not people seeking a free ride, but the brightest and the best from conflict countries, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. It is much better to help them to tackle the causes of their leaving the country that they have come from. Our prosperity depends on development and growth in Africa and Asia.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, and I know that he understands the close relationship between development and the environment. Will he add to the list of the issues that he has just mentioned the importance of ensuring that environmental issues are taken into account as part of the development process? Will he also commit to ensuring that, on the climate change promise that the previous Government made, there will be no more than a 10% overlap between environmental projects to combat climate change and development aid-that his Government, too, are willing to continue with that commitment?
Mr Mitchell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. On his general point, he is absolutely right about the importance of including in all our aid and development activity a climate-smart approach-one that, as he says, reflects the importance of the environment. In opposition I had an opportunity to see the direct correlation between those issues in many different parts of the world, and, although I shall not speak extensively today about climate change, I very much hope that there will be another opportunity to do so, and I take his point on board.
In respect of the figure of 10%, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the result of the spending review, but as he will know, the "fast start" money, which the previous Government announced and we support, will all come out of that 10% and out of the official development assistance budget. We have confirmed that that will happen under our Government, too.
I deal now with the changes that we are making in my Department, and the plans that we set out in the coalition agreement. A protected budget, at a time when expenditure
elsewhere is being reduced, imposes a double duty to eliminate waste and unnecessary expenditure and to demonstrate at every turn that we are achieving value for money.
Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position; I am very pleased to see him and his team in place. One dilemma under the previous Government was that, although money was poured into various countries, whether it should have gone there was questionable. India, for example, has a space programme, and China hosted one of the most elaborate and expensive Olympic games ever. In South Africa, I recently visited the Khayelitsha townships, which were horrifying to see, but at the same time there are rich parts of that country. One must ask whether we might put more pressure on those countries to help themselves, rather than just passing on money-I hear, in China-to the tune of £30 million. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to consider those issues?
I was making the point that a ring-fenced budget imposes a double duty on my Department to eliminate waste and unnecessary expenditure, and to ensure that we achieve value for money. Within a few days of taking office, I cancelled funding for five awareness-raising projects, including a Brazilian-style dance group specialising in percussion in Hackney, securing savings in excess of £500,000. In addition, I am cancelling the global development engagement fund, which would have funded further awareness-raising activity in the UK, and creating savings of £6.5 million. I shall make further announcements on prudent and sensible savings over the coming weeks.
I expect shortly to be able to announce that more than £100 million will be saved from projects that are a low priority or not performing. That money will be reallocated to programmes that are more effective in helping the world's poorest people. Last but by no means least, I am letting out another floor of my Department. That better use of space in DFID will earn revenue of almost £1 million a year, once let.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): DFID has cancelled grant support for a project run by Scotdec, the Scottish development education centre, which has offices in my constituency. It was given no reason for the withdrawal, other than the new policy that the Government announced, and it was just about to submit the one-year evaluation of its project. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is not the way to act if he is to encourage projects to respond to Government concerns? Surely Scotdec should have been given an opportunity to respond to any Government concerns about its project, and should not the Government reconsider the funding withdrawal that he announced a few weeks ago?
I have had a letter from the hon. Gentleman on that point, and I wrote to him late last night. I apologise for the fact that he did not receive it in time
for this debate. I should make it clear to him that several projects to which I put a stop will now proceed, and officials are in touch with those responsible for them, making clear our value-for-money requirements. However, I have cancelled five, including the one to which he refers, after looking very carefully at them and following advice from officials.
Let me list those five projects. I hope that the House will consider whether they should be funded from Britain's development project. First, there was £146,000 for a Brazilian-style dance troupe with percussion expertise in Hackney. Secondly, there was £55,000 to run stalls at summer music festivals. Thirdly, there was £120,000 to train nursery school teachers in global issues. Fourthly, there was £130,000 for a global gardens schools' network. And finally, there was £140,000 to train outdoor education tutors in Britain in development.
Spending money on international development in the UK rather than on poor people overseas seems highly questionable. We need to ensure that any expenditure has demonstrable outcomes in developing countries, and that is why I took the action that I did. However, I have written to the hon. Gentleman, and he will have a chance to see in some detail why we took those decisions.
Mr Lammy: Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the Greenbelt festival, from which it was proposed that money be withdrawn? I make that point in the hope that he will appreciate that faith communities-particularly, the Christian community, as represented in that festival-have done a considerable amount over a considerable time to raise the prominence of development issues. We would not have had Jubilee 2000 and, then, Make Poverty History without that movement.
May I also say gently to the right hon. Gentleman that the projects that he outlined largely touch on young people-it is hugely important that they continue to lobby Governments to make more progress-and on ethnic minorities, in which regard we should recognise that when we talk about development, it includes those who have come to this country and look overseas to see what we are doing?
Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes an interesting and not unreasonable point. However, the balance of judgment that has to be made is whether this money should come out of the ring-fenced development budget. As I said, we intend, in very difficult economic circumstances, to seek to carry the country with us as regards the validity of this budget. I have explained in some detail why that is so important on moral grounds, as well as on national self-interest grounds. I feared that the budget was in danger of being discredited by some of the existing schemes that I have decided to stop, and that is why I made that decision.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): There is a simple test for all the Department's spending-does it fall within the definition of international development set by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee? Clearly, none of these schemes did. If we are going to have ring-fenced spending, we will need to ensure that it falls within the DAC definition.
I suggest to the House that we will not be able to maintain public support for Britain's vital development budget unless we can demonstrate to the public's satisfaction that this money is really well spent. The lights have been burning late in DFID as we embark on our ambitious programme of reform. In the seven weeks since the election, we have wasted no time in laying the foundations for a fundamentally new approach to development-an approach rooted in rigorous, independent evaluation, full transparency, value for money, and an unremitting focus on results. Our Government will place the same premium on the quality of aid that the previous Government placed on the quantity of aid. We will judge performance against outputs and outcomes rather than inputs.
Hard-pressed taxpayers need to know that the expenditure of their money is being scrutinised fully and is really delivering results. We are therefore working to develop an independent aid watchdog, as we consistently promised throughout the past four years, to evaluate the effectiveness of DFID's spending. We will also modify the way that aid programmes are designed so that gathering rigorous evidence of impact is built in from the day they start. This will allow us to take decisions about how we spend and allocate aid on the basis of solid evidence. I expect to report to the House shortly on both of those initiatives.
Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I would be grateful if the Secretary of State could reconcile the statement that he has just made with the written answer that he extended to me when I questioned the £200 million-the largest single cash announcement he has made in the past few weeks-that is now going to Afghanistan. When I urged him to clarify what that £200 million of input would deliver in output, he replied:
"We will make specific decisions on spending and focus areas in time for this event."-[ Official Report, 24 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 349W.]
The event is the conference to be held in July in Afghanistan. Why was such an announcement made if the rigorous focus on outputs that he has upheld to the House as the new approach in the Department has been applied?
Mr Mitchell: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. We are working on the effectiveness of measures that are already being taken in Afghanistan- [ Interruption. ] Well, if he will just bear with me, I will, in the spirit of his question, give him the answer to it. We are looking carefully at a series of inputs in relation to the effectiveness that they will achieve, and we hope to be able to announce some of the findings in the run-up to the Kabul conference. When the Prime Minister gave that figure, he was referring to the amount that we have managed to find for additional expenditure in Afghanistan as a result of closing down or changing other programmes. How that money will be spent will be accounted for by me to the House as soon as those decisions have been made.
Mr Alexander: I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman can do a little better than that. I hear that so far the only output from the £200 million that has been announced is a press release. Can he confirm what the £200 million is actually going to purchase?
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