Westminster Hall debate on the future of DFID

On Wednesday, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi secured a Westminster Hall debate on the future of DFID.

He said he had secured the debate because of “deep concerns about the future of the Department for International Development and its funding, and threats to our proud tradition as a distributor of aid to the most impoverished places on the planet.”

Here are some of the key quotes from the debate:

“DFID is respected and admired in all the places where it operates. Wherever the UK aid logo appears, it shows the world how much the British public care. Since the passage of the International Development Act 2002, all overseas aid must be spent with the explicit purpose of reducing global poverty. That is an important piece of legislation, because it makes clear the distinction between aid and trade: one is not a quid pro quo for the other.” – Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi

 

“Over the course of this Parliament, aid spent outside DFID has tripled—something the cross-party International Development Committee has criticised. Most of that money is channelled through organisations such as the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund, which is constituted of many dubious programmes by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, often based on training and equipping militaries rather than alleviating poverty or creating long-term peace.” – Lloyd Russell-Moyle

 

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“The previous Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, called the establishment of DFID in 1997 a “colossal mistake”. This month, he endorsed a report by the Henry Jackson Society that calls for a dilution of DFID’s role in alleviating poverty, with a diversion towards broader international policies such as peacekeeping. He told the BBC’s “Today” programme: “We could make sure that 0.7 % is spent more in line with Britain’s political commercial and diplomatic interests.” Commercial interests? What could he possibly mean by that? My hon. Friend Dan Carden has made it clear that he believes this is the opening act in a move to downgrade DFID and to slash overseas aid. It is hard to disagree that that is the Secretary of State’s secret agenda.” – Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi

 

“Things were already bad enough, but they have been made considerably worse by the Secretary of State feathering her leadership ambitions and sending signals to Tory Members rather than focusing on poverty alleviation. We need look no further than her recent speeches; even senior civil servants in her own Department cannot identify any of the changes in policy from those speeches. In recent months, her office has said that our commitment to 0.7% is “unsustainable”, and it would like aid spent on building UK battle ships to “take pressure off a stretched fleet”. That is not part of a rules-based system. We have heard that CDC profits should be counted as aid, which in anyone’s book is double counting and is against the rules-based system. We have even heard threats of leaving the Development Assistance Committee if it does not agreed to all our demands. Finally, there was nothing but silence when another leadership contender, Boris Johnson, backed a plan to decimate DFID and the Department for International Trade—a barmy proposal to reduce the aid budget and to spend the remainder on propping up the BBC. In no terms is that aid spending.” – Lloyd Russell-Moyle

 

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“When my hon. Friend Dan Carden asked the Secretary of State why we should trust her to spend the UK aid budget when she makes those sounds off, even though she is not acting on them, she said: “They should trust me as the Secretary of State and as someone who has been an aid worker.” It is astonishing that the Secretary of State’s defence is not one of policy or action but a personal anecdote that she happened to be a gap year worker for one year, 30 years ago, in Romania. That demonstrates clearly how much we need DFID to be governed by people who understand what aid is about. The joint Ministers of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DFID do, but those at the top do not. We need someone at the top who does not wave red rags at the Conservative party.” – Lloyd Russell-Moyle

 

 

“There are three compelling arguments both for Britain sticking to its 0.7% level of funding for international development assistance, and for retaining the Department for International Development.

First, there is a moral argument. We are one of the richest nations in the world. Surely we have a responsibility to help those in other countries who, through no fault of their own, live in terrible circumstances.

Secondly, it is surely in our country’s interests to try to support countries around the world in becoming stable, so their populations do not have to flee either to our country or to neighbouring countries. We should help them become stable so that their economies can grow, and they can have strong public services of the sort we would recognise. Given that conflict is much more likely to break out in a country where there has recently been conflict, if we continue to want to reduce the amount we spend collectively on peacekeeping, it is surely sensible to put in the hard yards by providing development assistance to help those countries get strong, effective Governments who are respected by people of all opinions.

The third argument is about soft power, which others mentioned. As a result of its huge commitment to international development, Britain is highly regarded at the United Nations. It was always highly regarded in the European Union and in a whole series of other international forums because of the work it did on development assistance, and the knowledge that everyone in the Government was committed to maintaining and enhancing the role of the Department for International Development and the aid budget.” – Gareth Thomas

 

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“Since DFID was established 22 years ago, it has become a global leader in international development. Every year it spends UK aid in ways that make tangible differences to people’s lives the world over. DFID has helped some of the world’s poorest people realise their right to health and education. It has provided emergency life-saving aid for people caught up in major humanitarian crises and has led the way in bringing gender equality into the mainstream through its development work. The UK public should be proud of the development work that their money has supported over recent decades, but all too sadly they do not hear the success stories of UK aid and the work of DFID. Instead, they hear a loud and vocal anti-aid lobby, which does its best to discredit the work, as many Members today have mentioned.

The charge against the country’s aid programme is spearheaded by a small number of major media outlets, who revel in spinning and stirring the few occasions when UK aid programmes might not have worked as we had hoped. They are hell bent on driving a hysterical hatred of the UK’s work to end global poverty. The anti-aid media narrative is a serious problem, but even more worrying are attacks from a number of Tory Members, which have many guises. I will mention three of them.

First, there is the straightforward misspending and diverting of aid away from poverty reduction. Last weekend the Guardian reported a letter sent to the Chancellor from 23 international development agencies, raising their concerns about the way Ministers are spending aid. They warned him that aid is being diverted away from the poorest countries in order to promote commercial and political interests. From using aid to help UK companies expand their businesses overseas, to suggestions that aid be spent on UK naval ships, we are seeing more aid than ever being spent on projects that no one sincerely believes are about reducing global poverty. Those attempts do nothing but feed into the idea that the UK aid programme is a waste of UK taxpayers’ money.

Secondly, there are blatant attempts to dissolve the Department altogether. It is no secret that the former Foreign Secretary wants to see the Department dismantled. Earlier this month, he threw his weight behind a report that said DFID should be folded back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and that the UK’s aid budget should be slashed. Such a move would be a disaster for the country’s aid programme. It is only DFID that has the specific and sole purpose of poverty alleviation and a dedicated staff working to achieve this goal. Merging the Department with the FCO—or any other Department for that matter—would dilute the agenda and see more money diverted away from poverty towards other foreign policy interests.

We can learn from Australia, where the international development department was merged with the foreign office, with a number of negative knock-on effects. The country’s strategic vision for aid was lost, the Government witnessed a brain-drain of development expertise and an estimated 2,000 years of collective experience left the department.

We already know from our own experience, where almost one third of our aid is spent outside DFID, that only DFID meets the highest spending standards. The Aid Transparency Index, the only independent measure of aid transparency among the world’s major development agencies, rated DFID “very good”, while the FCO’s aid spending was rated “poor”, according to the same measure. Likewise, the ONE Campaign recently launched an aid index that rates aid spending by different Departments. It found the FCO to be “weak” on its ability to keep aid focused on poverty, and that no other Department spends aid as well as DFID.

The third threat, which is related, is the worrying challenge to our aid and development work presented by the persistent undermining of the very concept of aid. The Secretary of State has made clear her desire to change the definition of aid. She recently launched a consultation on her plans to reduce the amount of public money that needs to be spent on aid by counting profits from private investments towards the aid budget. There are no two ways about it—aid is either spent to alleviate poverty and the causes of poverty, or it is invested to make a profit. The Labour party rejects any attempts to commercialise the UK aid budget.” – Dan Carden

 

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The full debate can be read here: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2019-02-27a.152.0

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