International Development Spending

1st July 2019

Andrew Mitchell welcomes the UK's leadership in international development.

I am most grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to this debate, and indeed to follow the Chairman of the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who does the job so very well and in such an open and transparent way. I draw the House’s attention to my interests, which are documented in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

In discussing these estimates, I want to make the point that DFID is one of the most transparent Departments of State. Almost all its expenditure, from a very low level, is in the public domain. When it comes to transparency and the ability really to scrutinise where money is going, DFID is not surpassed by many, if any, Departments in Whitehall. I am particularly pleased about the level of agreement, although we must be wary when the House of Commons appears to agree in almost every corner—we must remember the words of the late Harold Macmillan, who said that when the House of Commons is in complete agreement, there is probably something wrong—so we must maintain self-criticism in spite of such agreement. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson) on launching this debate, and doing it with his customary efficiency, good sense and judgment.

I am very pleased that the issue of development has not been caught up in the leadership election that my party is going through, and that what I would call the David Cameron development consensus continues to motivate and define British policy in this very important area. With all the Brexit distractions, global Britain is something that, across the House, we are very keen to see driven forward in the post-Brexit era. In many ways, the progress being made at the moment in respect of global Britain is almost entirely in this area, as I will come on, I hope, to demonstrate.

The Department for International Development contains many leading international experts who are respected around the world. It is important to underline just how respected this relatively new Department is. Hon. Members of all parties have emphasised this afternoon the importance of its remaining a separate Department. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that it should not be a separate Department, but let us be clear that it does not need to be part of another Department because of the National Security Council. That is the link between diplomacy, development and defence. The policy is beaten out and agreed there, and that provides the right level of co-ordination and underlines the importance of keeping DFID as its own area of expertise, which makes such a large contribution internationally.

United Kingdom leadership is about not just DFID, good though the Department is, but many of the academic institutions throughout the UK, which, through their academic work and thought leadership, lead on development policies around the world. Development is of huge interest to the younger generation. I am able to do a little bit of work at Cambridge University, Birmingham University and Harvard on the matter, and I am struck by how many of the next generation are united in a determination to tackle the appalling inequalities of wealth and opportunity that disfigure our world, about which our generation and theirs can do so much through technology, globalisation and so on.

For many years, the right hon. Gentleman has made a major contribution to DFID debates and at one stage he had responsibility for the Department. Last week, it was heartening when we had a number of young people down here, talking about not only climate change but concerns about the medical welfare of people in some developing countries. They wanted to maintain the level of financing for tackling, for example, HIV. DFID also plays a major part in developing British markets for the future. That means jobs for British people. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that people tend to forget that when they look at the amount of money we spend overseas?

The hon. Gentleman makes his point.

Most of the problems that the Chair of the International Development Committee mentioned require more work and more international development. I will briefly comment on five of them. The first is migration. British development policy is designed to build safer and more prosperous communities so that people do not feel the need to migrate. The problems of migration, which are well understood and disfigure our world, need a lot more work.

The second problem is pandemics. I think that Ebola has been mentioned, as well as the tremendous announcement that the Prime Minister made in Japan about the replenishment of the Global Fund. As the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has clearly demonstrated, pandemics threaten within the next few years.

The third aspect is protectionism. There has been a coming together across the House about the dangers of protectionism and the importance of free trade in lifting the economic wealth of rich and poor societies alike.

Fourthly, let us consider terror. DFID’s work in Somalia and northern Nigeria directly contributes not only to the safety of people who live in jeopardy in those countries, but to safety on our streets in Britain.

Fifthly, on climate change, DFID leadership has made a huge direct contribution to tackling something that affects the poorest people in the world first and hardest. The British taxpayer has made a huge contribution through the international climate change mitigation funds. Britain is leading work on international development around the world, and that has a huge benefit.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we come back to the problem of public perception of international aid? When we tackle climate change, disease and terrorism, that has a direct benefit to this country. Although it may be thought that diseases are thousands of miles away, they are only one plane journey away. Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration that we do not do enough to explain how taking world-leading responsibility directly benefits the UK?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. I would argue that all taxpayers’ money spent by DFID—all the overseas development aid budget—is in Britain’s national interest. It helps to make other countries safer and more prosperous, which has a direct effect on making us safer and more prosperous.

What should our priorities be now? I want briefly to mention four. First, we should recognise the importance of tackling conflict. It is conflict above all that mires people in poverty. Britain has been a huge provider of humanitarian relief in Syria—it has provided more humanitarian relief to the poor suffering people of Syria, within its borders and without, than the whole of the rest of the European Union put together, as we try to absorb the humanitarian shock of the massive failure of policy that is the Syria conflict. I am a tremendous critic of the Government’s shameful policy on Yemen. Nevertheless, humanitarian aid to Yemen is helping many tens of thousands of people who, without it, would starve. If we look across sub-Saharan Africa, stretching from northern Nigeria through the Central African Republic to Sudan, where the number of displaced people is so immense, and through to the horn of Africa and up into Yemen, we see a belt of misery that is destabilising for the world. This is where international development and Britain’s commitment can make a real difference.

If the first key task is tackling conflict, the second is building prosperity. That is about building good governance and having a free media. I am very pleased that the Foreign Secretary is holding an international conference to espouse the importance of a free media. We keep politicians and powerful people on the straight and narrow through having a free media and the rule of law. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, the Chairman of the International Development Committee, made the point that the CDC has a huge impact on building prosperity. Its annual report, published today, makes clear two extraordinary statistics. First, in 2018 alone, CDC investments—CDC is the 100% British taxpayer-owned investor of pioneer and patient capital—led directly to the employment of 852,130 people. That is an enormous number of families who have a breadwinner and who are being fed. The investments made by CDC in the poor world have led to tax of $3.2 billion being paid into the Exchequers of those countries over the past year. That is an extraordinary impact. That money may not always be well spent once it arrives in the Exchequers of those countries, but it shows that investment in enterprises in poor countries is not only employing people but yielding tax revenue.

The third priority is the absolutely prime importance of demonstrating to our hard-pressed taxpayers that their money is really well used. We should always strive to get more out of each taxpayer pound that is spent. We owe it to our constituents, who are stumping up the money, to show them that they really are getting in 100 pence of value for every pound we spend. We cannot do too much as politicians and Ministers—the Minister, I know, will agree—to make the case and explain why the money is so well spent.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a fantastic speech, and he has great knowledge and experience in the field of international development. Does he agree that in terms of value for money, one extremely good project is the Small Charities Challenge Fund? Local churches and organisations in our constituencies can raise money and apply for match funding to make a difference across the world both through aid and by connecting our local people with people in developing countries—schoolchildren, churchgoers and so on—which facilitates positivity around the international development budget.

The hon. Lady makes an extremely good point. When I had responsibility for these matters, I set up the impact fund, which was effectively designed to match-fund the donations and support that individual organisations could secure. It was a way for the taxpayer to get two for one as a result. The fund probably starts at too high a level to impact on some of the projects that she talks about, but she is right that this is a very important area of development, and we should do more about it.

I was making the point about demonstrating the effectiveness of spending. I have always thought that one of the most effective ways of doing this—I said it in the last Parliament, and I think it is true in this Parliament—is to look at the way in which Britain supports vaccinations, particularly of those under five years old around the world. The critical importance of that will be clear to all Members. We were able to say in the last Parliament that the British taxpayer was vaccinating a child in the poor world every two seconds and saving the life of a child in the poor world every two minutes. Those children were suffering from diseases that, thank goodness, none of our children in Britain and Europe die from today. That is a very visual, good example of just how important and effective this taxpayer spending is.

Let me turn to my final point. There was a report about money being spent by other Departments, there was the National Audit Office report, and we have the report from the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which I set up in 2010 and which is the taxpayer’s friend. It is there to act in the interests of the taxpayer to ensure that this money is really well spent. When we set it up, many people in the development world said, “You are handing over the assessment of development to accountants, who may not always understand how long a tail there is and what makes development effective.” The truth is that those of us who are tied up in the development community have to hold ourselves to the highest possible standards and always be self-critical. We often take the plaudits when we are successful, but we must also be very self-critical when things go wrong, put up our hands and try to put it right. That is what the ICAI is designed to do.

It is of great importance that the ICAI reports to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby and not to Ministers, who can sweep inconvenient truths under the carpet. It reports to the International Development Committee, which tasks it to look at issues. That gives it independence—it reports to Parliament and the legislature, not the Executive and Ministers—and that is why it is so important and why its reports are, I believe, treated with such credibility by the Committee. The recent report showed that not all Departments spend money to the same very high standards as in DFID. Indeed, we have seen examples of some Foreign Office projects in far-off places—I am thinking of a particular one in Madagascar—on which, when the press found out about and went to the Foreign Office to ask it to justify the spending, it said, “It’s no good talking to us. It is DFID money; go and speak to DFID.” That is completely unacceptable. Other Departments that spend hard-pressed taxpayers’ hard-earned development money must expose themselves to the same level of scrutiny that DFID does and stand up for the money that they are spending. All Departments must take that extremely seriously.

I will draw my remarks to a close, because others want to speak. Our generation has the opportunity to make such a difference to the extraordinary discrepancies in opportunity and wealth that I described earlier, and we are doing it. It is happening under British leadership, and it is currently one of the few examples of global Britain. I think that everyone, whatever their political view and whatever their standing, should take great pride in what Britain is doing. We are driving this agenda forward, admired and respected around the world for Britain’s commitment. It is cross-party; it is a British policy—not Labour, Liberal or Conservative—and we should take pride in doing that and supporting it.



Andrew Mitchell speaking in the House of Commons, July 2019, International Development spending