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It is a bit rich for Opposition Front Benchers, who left this Government with absolutely no money at all and in a situation where this country is the most indebted in the world, to have one chorus, which is "more money". It does not lie in the hon. Gentleman's mouth to give the impression that DFID and every other Department should receive further funding from the Treasury. The reality is that most ministerial colleagues face substantial cuts in their departmental budgets and spending lines. DFID is fortunate, because its spending is protected, but it must be clear to everyone, including Opposition Front Benchers, that, if they call for extra
spending from the DFID budget in one policy area, they are beholden to explain- [ Interruption. ] I am answering the hon. Gentleman. They are beholden to explain where DFID spending will be reduced. They and some NGOs cannot just come along and suggest that somehow DFID has a blank cheque, and that, if it does not increase spending on their policy area, it is failing. That is intellectually dishonest.
Thirdly, we all agree that between now and 2015 it is important that we meet, in so far as it is humanly possible, the millennium development goals. I hope that as many Members as possible will read the accountability report that was published following the G8 summit, because NGOs such as Oxfam, which the shadow Secretary of State prayed in aid, would do well to start working out how they engage with other G8 countries to ensure that they meet the obligations that the UK has already met. Some of the amounts that are being spent are pitiful. Russia spends just 0.07% of GNI on overseas development, the United States spends 0.19% and even Japan spends only 0.18%. If the other G8 member states spent anything like as much as we in the United Kingdom spend on official development assistance, as agreed by the Development Assistance Committee, the volume of money going into international development would increase substantially.
The Prime Minister reported to the House on Monday, and I hope that the NGO community joins him in making it clear that we need not just accountability and transparency at DFID, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has guaranteed, but to ensure that all G8 member states live up to the commitments that they made at Gleneagles. Otherwise, come 2015, we will all be frustrated by the lack of progress. It cannot be made by the United Kingdom on its own, and if people think that it can they will be disappointed. The United Kingdom is effectively at its 0.7% target, and there will be a finite amount of money available to DFID, however committed we all are to international development.
I hope that the NGO community, including organisations such as Bond, and all the various NGOs that subscribe to and are members of Bond, will see that there is a need for them to start focusing outwards and engaging other countries in meeting their 0.7% target. The same could apply equally to climate change. Copenhagen did not fail because of what the UK Government did or did not do; it was a disappointment largely because the international community had not engaged sufficiently with China on that country's aspirations and concerns.
If we are going to meet the millennium development goals, we will have to ensure that the other countries which promised so much at Gleneagles and have so far delivered so little live up to and deliver on their promises. In that way, I hope that by the time we get to 2015 we will see that as many of the millennium development goals as possible have been met.
Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I, too, welcome the Secretary of State and his team to their posts and wish them well. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate on an issue that, perhaps more than any other, defines how the UK is seen in the wider international community, and matters to people in constituencies across these islands.
Five years ago today, in 2005, I was in The Meadows in Edinburgh making final preparations for the Make Poverty History march and demonstration that took place ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles. I was privileged to play a role in organising that event and in the movement that grew up around the Make Poverty History campaign. The Gleneagles summit was very much a defining moment for the anti-poverty movement, not only because of the international commitments that were made there but because civil society made itself heard on that occasion. Some 250,000 people marched through Edinburgh that day. For a city of half a million people, that was a phenomenal outpouring of civic statement about what was really important to those people, and indeed to those from all over the UK and further afield who joined the demonstration.
Citizens demanded that the G8-the richest countries of the world-take action. As the right hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) said, the £50 billion in commitments that was made at Gleneagles is currently about £20 billion behind. For example, in real terms, the £25 billion pledged for Africa has translated into only £11 billion. That is a shameful shortfall. Frankly, last week's manipulation of the statistics that came out of Gleneagles, whereby people used the fluctuation in the value of the dollar to make it look as though they were giving a lot more than they are, was a real disgrace. In that context, I welcome the commitment by the new Government that they will honour the 0.7% aid target and focus efforts on achieving the millennium development goals. I am very pleased that DFID's budget is being protected in the current spending round. I am also glad about the non-partisan approach that the new Government are taking, which is a reassurance to Members across the House.
I welcome the emphasis that is being placed on transparency in how aid money is going to be spent. Much has already been said about transparency and accountability. Increasing transparency has obvious potential to improve accountability in aid delivery. It is important to say, however, that a great deal of work is already going on to make aid spending accountable and transparent. Many NGOs are already highly innovative in how they monitor the effectiveness of aid. At an international level, organisations such as CIVICUS are improving the practice of aid delivery and ensuring that there is a highly regulated and well-monitored and evaluated sector. I urge the Government not to reinvent the wheel when they consider their own moves forward.
It is also important to recognise the potential of increased transparency in raising public awareness of the fantastic work that is being done by DFID and the organisations that it funds, and in making visible the positive impact of development aid. We always hear about the downsides of aid-the mistakes, the failures, the things that go wrong-but we do not hear nearly enough about the success stories. It would, however, be unfortunate if increased transparency were to result in a proliferation of more abstract data and increased monitoring and evaluation at the expense of an enhanced profile for the life-changing impacts of aid. In that respect, I am concerned that the new independent quango charged with impact assessment that the Government are proposing will add little to the existing accountability mechanisms. It is somewhat ironic that they are keen to encourage civil society in developing countries as a
means of holding their Governments to account, while they are slashing funding to the excellent civil society and educational organisations here in the UK that are equipping our own young citizens to hold the Government to account. That is deeply regrettable.
It is important to emphasise that aid really does work. Since 2005 and the Gleneagles summit, 4 million extra people have received life-saving antiretroviral HIV and AIDS treatment, 4 million more children have survived beyond the age of five and 33 million children are in school who would not otherwise have been. However, let us acknowledge both the scale of the problems and the impact of the shortfall in the aid commitments. As others have mentioned, 350,000 women are still dying in pregnancy and childbirth every year, and almost all those deaths are preventable. Some 9 million children under five are still dying every year, also almost all from preventable causes. On current projections, millennium development goal 4 on child mortality will not be met until 2045, which is an unacceptable abdication of responsibility by the international community.
I should like to outline some of the challenges in improving accountability and transparency in aid. One of the key questions that we need to ask is: transparent and accountable to whom? Clearly, citizens here and in the countries that receive aid need to be involved in the process. One of the practical challenges that we face is that developing countries receive support from a range of governmental and non-governmental sources, which all have different reporting requirements, some of which are highly bureaucratic.
Mr Andrew Mitchell: The hon. Lady, whose constituency I visited during the general election campaign, is making an excellent speech. She asks to whom the accountability should be extended, and she is absolutely right to do so. The answer is, first, to our own taxpayers, who need confidence that their hard-earned money is being spent well, but secondly to the people in poor countries whom we are trying to help and support. If we place in their hands the ability to see what is happening to the money, we help them to make their own civic leaders and politicians accountable for how it is spent.
Dr Whiteford: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I reiterate that the way to do that is not to slash funding to the very organisations in this country that will make the work that is going on far more transparent to taxpayers and put it in a format penetrable to people other than policy wonks and statisticians. I urge him to think again and go back to the drawing board on that point before we see a lot of very good work undermined and destroyed.
There has been some progress in recent years on streamlining and co-ordinating reporting mechanisms for NGOs and developing country Governments, and I stress the value of doing that. The resources that are spent on servicing bureaucracies could be better utilised elsewhere. Another concern about the accountability of development spending is that a lot of it tends to be project-based, short-term and unco-ordinated and to duplicate existing structures. Consequently, it is often monitored in technocratic ways and measures inputs rather than impacts.
There is a dreadful monitoring and evaluation culture in the development sector, which has grown up around very short-term interventions. I would welcome assurances that the Government's plans will not add to the pick-and-mix plethora of short-term, fashionable projects that fail to have any sustained, long-term impact and that just create a full employment scheme for highly paid, and often highly qualified, consultants based in northern countries. I would rather make a plea for monitoring that is commensurate and proportionate and does not place an undue bureaucratic burden on developing countries, and for impact assessment that is qualitative and longitudinal, not just quantitative, and helps people to improve how they work rather than simply tick boxes.
Let us face it-most people working in development already have an ultimate accountability mechanism in the aid sector. If they do not deliver within a year or two, their funding is cut. It is as simple as that. That contrasts rather markedly with how Government Departments operate in many parts of the developed world and even more sharply with the UK, where bankers in failed businesses seem still to be receiving bonuses.
Much has been said this afternoon about the importance of economic development and questions have been asked about how DFID will take forward its engagement with the business community. No one would deny that foreign direct investment has an important and invaluable role to play, especially in middle income countries. However, I wish to stress to the Secretary of State and others that it cannot be a substitute for aid in meeting the millennium development goals. There are few examples of places where foreign direct investments generate enough economic growth to finance essential services such as health, education and access to water. Those are the services that underpin poverty reduction everywhere it has been achieved.
It is fascinating to note that regardless of the political ideology and economic philosophies underpinning the success of countries in poverty reduction, they have all ensured that their citizens have access to basic health care, education and clean water. We are talking about countries as disparate as Cuba and the so-called tiger economies of south-east Asia. They could not be more distinct in their philosophy and ideological approach, but they have all had essential public services at their heart. They have also had strategic economic investment and planning, as well as proper investment in infrastructure. Those are the things that will create the necessary pre-conditions in which businesses can thrive, but one cannot be done without the other.
One of the key economic challenges in the efforts to address global poverty is that women are significantly over-represented among those living in extreme poverty, those missing out on school and those unable to read and write. They are also grossly under-represented in political forums, corporate boardrooms and decision-making bodies around the world. We will not be successful in addressing global poverty unless we tackle the economic, political and social exclusion of women. There is no doubt that economic investment and growth have the potential to lift people out of poverty, but women need to be part of that and they need education to be able to be part of that.
Increasingly, people connect to global markets for labour, goods and services, but a lot of evidence suggests that the benefits of economic development bypass the
poorest, most of whom are women. In and of themselves, the markets will not address poverty and, in particular, will not address the inequality between women and men-indeed, they can compound existing gender inequalities. I hope that the Government will look closely at that issue and consider how the support that the UK offers in business development overseas benefits both women and men.
Part of the answer lies in improving the accountability of business and corporations operating in developing countries. I warmly welcome the fact that the Government are committed to establishing a grocery ombudsman, as that has the potential to improve significantly the welfare and working conditions of the predominantly women workers in the global food supply chains that supply our supermarkets. Numerous constituents have written to me on this issue, and I hope that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will work closely with DFID to bring forward concrete proposals in this area. Incidentally, the ombudsman will also have the potential to deliver benefits to agricultural producers in the UK, including thousands of people in my constituency who work in farming, fishing and food production.
My final point on accountability is about our own accountability to the global community with regard to climate change. Developing countries are already experiencing the adverse effects of increased flooding, droughts and extreme weather events associated with man-made climate change. Few poor countries have the resources to invest in mitigation measures. Nor do they have the resources to rebuild infrastructure and houses that are damaged or destroyed. Climate change is destroying habitats, reducing food security, fuelling conflict and creating refugees. I hope that the Secretary of State can assure me that he intends that, distinct from the aid budget, we should meet our obligations to those countries that have not caused climate change but have to cope with the consequences. I echo the questions posed earlier about climate financing and ensuring that aid money is not vired over to deal with the effects of climate change.
Poverty reduction is fundamentally a matter of political will and priorities. That will does exist in our civil society, and the challenge for Members of Parliament will be to rise to the expectations of our own citizens and keep the aid promises that we made five years ago.
Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), who spoke warmly and eloquently about her constituency, and the issue being debated. I also thank the people of Stevenage for placing their trust in me. I will endeavour to repay that trust by working hard to represent their interests in the House. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Barbara Follett, who is well known within the House and the constituency. I hope that she will be remembered for her many impassioned speeches against apartheid. She followed Tim Wood, who is still remembered fondly in the constituency as a man dedicated to helping local people.
The constituency of Stevenage is centred predominantly on the town of Stevenage and the surrounding villages of Knebworth, Datchworth, Codicote and Aston. The
town of Stevenage grew out of a small Saxon settlement in the early 700s, but began to expand massively when, in 1946, it was designated as the first new town and the building of large-scale housing estates began. The town continues to expand to this day. However, it is a very green area, with more than a third of the space being parklands and green spaces. It has few traffic lights, for which we are grateful, and an integrated cycle network. Furthermore, Stevenage football club won promotion to the football league this year, and we are very proud to be hosting league football for the first time ever. The town is also home to many high-technology major employers, such as MBDA, which builds complex weapons systems, Fujitsu and GlaxoSmithKline, which has one of the largest research and development facilities in the area. Arguably, it could even be called the space capital of the UK, as Astrium builds its satellites there and the Mars Rover is under development in Stevenage.
Coming back down to earth, on the edge of the town is the village of Aston, which has a long history and was the home of Aston house, where the Special Operations Executive designed, tested and produced secret weapons. Near this is the village of Datchworth, which is a typical English village with an enormous village fête that attracts people from many miles around and illustrates the sense of community present in the area. Then we have Knebworth, which is a much larger village with an interesting history. It is one of the largest open air concert venues in the UK and has seen numerous acts play, from Led Zeppelin to Robbie Williams. The latter drew a crowd of more than 300,000 people, while 3.5 million watched on television. The southern most point of the constituency is Codicote, where there are dynamic plans to improve sports facilities for the whole community for many generations to come.
The fantastic history, transport links, high-tech industries and sense of community show why so many people choose to come to my constituency from all over the UK to set up home and make a better life for themselves and their families. It really is a microcosm of British society today, which brings me to the issue that I would like to tackle. We must move away from a culture where spending money is seen to be the answer to all the problems in our society. We have to target our resources both at home and abroad to focus on activities that deliver results and will make a real impact on the lives of millions of people.
I will take two examples of where significant progress can be made quickly. The first is the millennium development goal to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under the age of five. There is concern that this, like many of the other goals, will not be achieved by 2015, but if we take targeted action we can make real progress. At the moment, around the world, one child dies every 15 seconds from pneumonia, which is the leading killer of children under the age of five. The majority of those deaths are preventable because there are effective vaccines that can protect against the majority of strains of the disease and effective treatments such as antibiotics.
Increasing evidence shows that pneumonia is linked to global poverty, and 98% of these deaths occur in the developing world, mostly in marginalised communities. Yet pneumonia is a disease that can be managed relatively simply if the resources are available. I am proud of the leading role that GlaxoSmithKline, a major employer in
my constituency, has taken to try to save the lives of millions of children in the world's poorest countries. GSK is one of the first manufacturers to sign an advanced market commitment, which, by guaranteeing an affordable long-term price, will support the sustained use of vaccines. GSK has worked closely with GAVI and IVAC-the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, and the International Vaccine Access Centre-the leading NGOs in trying to sort the problem out, and whose work I commend.
Turning closer to home, we know that here in the UK, it is possible to help a child out of poverty and improve their chances in life if they receive a good education. However, we are not doing enough; we are not lifting enough people out of poverty. In my constituency, like in so many others across the UK, there are children who have tried so hard in school. There is a cadre of dedicated and professional staff who have helped them along the way and invested so much of themselves in helping those children try to improve their life chances, but the system does not seem to work. Those children are being forced through an education system that pushes them out the other end with little chance of getting a job, as they do not have the skills that local employers want.
We need to encourage employers to work with local schools and colleges, to get fully involved in education, to highlight the skills that are missing and even perhaps to take preventive action, possibly by designing some of the more vocational courses. Perhaps the prize at the end of the course should be a job or an apprenticeship with the employer. We need to be innovative and flexible, so that courses can reflect the skills gap locally and more local people can get local jobs. Only by focusing on results here and abroad will we be able to help people lift themselves out of poverty.
Finally, I would like to finish by urging us all to remember that it is very easy to discuss statistics in these debates in the House, but we must never forget that behind the figures are real people-real families and real lives-who have to live day to day with the decisions that we take.
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