By Tim Montgomerie
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Justine Greening is getting a lot of public advice at the moment. After seven years in which Tory aid policy has been shaped by Andrew Mitchell - five years in opposition, two years in government - there's a sense that the new Development Secretary might embark upon a new direction. Lord Ashcroft certainly hopes so. In an open letter published on these pages on Monday he argued that aid wasn't just expensive at a time of austerity but often counter-productive.
A second open letter arrives on Miss Greening's doormat today. This time from Sir Tony Baldry MP.
Sir Tony argues that Britain can be very proud of its world leading status in hitting the UN's target of giving 0.7% of GDP to the poorest people in the world. "It," Mr Baldry writes, "has helped reduce the number of children who die before their fifth birthday by 4 million since 1990 and the number of people receiving HIV medication has also increased tenfold as a result of aid assistance."
By Tim Montgomerie
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Later this month I'll be interviewing Michael Howard at an event for Conservatives for International Development. Lord Howard has been a prominent supporter of the Conservative commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on international development. It was under his leadership that the party first made a commitment to hit the UN aid target by 2013.
I want to put the toughest questions to him and I know many ConHome readers are sceptical about the aid budget. Please help me, therefore, pose the most searching questions and if you cannot attend the central London event yourself I promise to report back with his answers...
By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday on ConservativeHome Ruth Lea questioned the continuation of UK aid to India. Her sceptical position is shared by most Britons. By 60% to 14% voters told YouGov that aid spending should be switched to countries with greater needs.
In a letter to The Telegraph Tory MPs Bob Blackman, William Cash, Stephen Hammond, Richard Harrington, Pauline Latham and Jeremy Lefroy have come to its defence (my emphasis):
"SIR – In the debate about British aid to India, we believe our programme in India is helping to rebuild lives and is also in Britain’s long-term interest. While it is true that India is a growing economic force, it is also home to a third of the world’s very poorest people. It is right for Britain to work with the Indian government to help tackle this dire poverty.
It is also right to ensure that our aid is targeted effectively. We welcome the Coalition Government’s radical overhaul of the Department for International Development’s aid programme to India: freezing the amount spent and targeting it at three of the poorest states. India is a vital strategic ally with whom we share extensive connections; more than 1.6 million British Indians live here. With India we share democracy, the English language and trade links that amount to billions of pounds. India will be an essential partner if we are to rebalance our economy and improve human rights around the globe.
Providing short-term support to ensure people in India can eat and live should not be contentious. We do not believe our aid programme should continue indefinitely, but now isn’t the time to turn our backs."
I certainly agree. DFID notes that "a third of the world's poorest people (living on less than 80p a day) live in India – more than in sub-Saharan Africa". Just because the Indian government has the wrong spending priorities, the poor citizens of its country should not suffer.
Other signatories include a number of business people plus Lord Popat of Conservative Friends of India and Baroness Jenkin of Conservative Friends of International Development.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Richard Ottoway, opened a very interesting debate about the future of the BBC World Service yesterday. He was speaking after his Committee had issued a report, complaining about World Service cuts of 16%.
The motion was also supported by the Chairs of the Defence, International Development, Treasury, Home Affairs, Culture, Media and Sport and Environmental Audit Select Committees:
“That this House notes the Sixth Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, The Implications of Cuts to the BBC World Service, HC 849; endorses the Committee’s support for the World Service’s invaluable work in providing a widely respected and trusted news service in combination with high-quality journalism to many countries; considers that the unfolding events in North Africa and the Middle East demonstrate the continuing importance of the ‘soft power’ wielded through the World Service; believes that the value of the World Service far outweighs its relatively small cost; and invites the Government to review its decision to cut spending on the World Service by 16 per cent.”
The importance of soft power in international relations: "It might seem odd to quote no less a person than Osama bin Laden on the importance of soft power, but, talking about jihad, he said: “The media war in this century is one of the strongest methods. It’s…90% of the total preparation for battles”. He was talking about the power and influence of media communications—soft power. Soft power is a rapidly growing way of achieving desired outcomes. In the cold war era, power was expressed in terms of nuclear missiles, industrial capacity, numbers of men under arms, and tanks lined up across the central plains of eastern Europe. Today, none of those factors confers power in quite the same way. The old structures are moving on. Cyber-attacks and the more subtle methods of the information age are the norm. Soft power—the power of Governments to influence behaviour through attraction rather than coercion—dominates. That point is not lost on the Foreign Office, high up on whose list of structural reform priorities—the reforms that it believes should have priority—is the “use of ‘soft power’ to promote British values, advance development and prevent conflict”.
The World Service is soft power at its best: "I can think of no better definition or illustration of the need for the World Service, and it is the opinion of our Committee that the cuts to its output are a false economy. If anything, it should be expanded to address the concerns of a changing world, just as the security services and the number of diplomats to key sensitive postings have been expanded."
Cuts in the World Service are steeper than in the Foreign Office as a whole: "Since its inauguration, the World Service has been funded by the Foreign Office. This will end in 2014 when responsibility will be transferred to the BBC. During the intervening four years, the budget is to be reduced from £241 million to £212 million a year. Taking into account inflation, that is a 16% real- terms cut. Last autumn’s spending review announced that the overall FCO budget would fall by 24%. However, a closer look shows that, once the World Service and the British Council are taken out of the equation, the actual cut in the Foreign Office budget is a shade under 10%. In my judgement and in the opinion of the Select Committee, a 16% cut in the World Service budget, compared with 10% in the Foreign Office budget, is disproportionate. I sympathise with the director of the World Service who argued that the service had to some extent been singled out."
In his reply David Lidington MP, Foreign Office Minister, noted the declining Hindi Service reach and the possibility of use of DfID funds to ensure some continuation of service beyond the planned reprieve:
More in Hansard.
“The floods in Pakistan are extraordinary; and demand an extraordinary response. I am proud that the UK has been at the forefront of the international community’s response to the disaster and was the first major country to come to Pakistan’s support in significant scale in its hour of need. In addition to the UK taxpayer’s contribution, the British people have once again demonstrated their compassion and generosity.
I am sure the House will wish to join me in commending the magnificent response from the British public who have committed more than £47 million to the Disaster Emergency Committee Appeal. We continue to urge people to give, and to give generously, to that appeal.
The UK and Pakistan are bound together by bonds of history and family which underline our support for Pakistan in good times and bad. This bond will remain strong over the coming months and years, as we work together to help Pakistan recover from this unprecedented catastrophe.”
Former Shadow Cabinet member Nigel Evans (right) posed a question on AIDS in Africa. This issue has been given prominence recently following the Pope's assertion that condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.
Mr Evans asked:
"Antiretroviral drugs are rightly being made more affordable and generally more available, thanks to the support of the United Kingdom, the United States of America and organisations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Education is vital important, and we should be focusing some of our attention on prevention. What discussions has the Minister held with his opposite numbers about ensuring that education is made available so that the message about how people can avoid getting HIV in the first place can be communicated, and particularly about trucking routes in some countries, such as India, and in Africa?
Mr. Lewis: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The new American Administration’s recent announcement about removing some of the ideological and philosophical barriers that prevented us from engaging internationally on prevention and education presents an opportunity for the world community to come together and make a greater impact. We have announced an unprecedented commitment of £1 billion for the global fund and £6 billion to strengthen health systems, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that we must look innovatively and imaginatively—perhaps through community leaders, faith group networks, informal networks and peer influence—at educating populations in every country. We have to use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that we get across the strongest conceivable message about HIV/AIDS. I also believe that the South Africans’ change in policy will significantly help us in Africa."
Gary Streeter has held the International Development brief in the past. He asked a bold question on the same subject:
"The Minister, to his credit, is known for his outspokenness. Will he make sure that his international counterparts recognise that confronting the dreadful disease that is HIV/AIDS is not just about access to drugs and condoms, important though those things are? If we are to tackle this disease, we must confront, head-on, the true cause: men behaving in a sexually promiscuous manner in too many countries throughout Africa and elsewhere. Will he impress upon his counterparts the fact that issues of public awareness and education are vital if we are to get under the skin of this disease?
The hon. Gentleman rightly raises the important issue of the role of women in society, and highlights the fact that the way in which men in many developing countries see relationships is a major part of the problem. In that sense, we need strong political leadership to make clear the appropriate role of women in society and to empower women in local communities. We must make it clear that we give them the opportunity to fight for their rights. We also need a very clear zero-tolerance approach to violence against women to be enshrined in developing countries’ legislation."
The EDM (which is not yet online) reads as follows:
"That this House is deeply disappointed and frustrated by the lack of reference to Britain, and in particular our country’s flag, in the branding used by the Department of International Development when working on development projects abroad; believes the current ‘DFID’ branding is meaningless and does not effectively convey the origins of the funding provided by British tax payers to those people that it is helping; considers the stripping of the British brand by DFID in order to stop the Department from being subsumed into foreign policy has gone too far; that Britain should instead follow the lead of other agencies across the world such as the United Nations, the European Union and United States Agency for International Development in clearly stating the origins of its aid; and calls on the Government to introduce a small Union Jack on all DFID branding overseas, sending a clear the message that our country is proud of those representing our nation and what they are doing."
This is an excellent idea. When countries like America and Great Britain are condemned as evil by rabble rousers, it is vital that people should see for themselves when we are making the effort to help them.
James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire and Dylan Moran lookalike, has had a written answer about HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa and Asia:
"To ask the Secretary of State for International Development what assistance his Department is giving to programmes to combat HIV/AIDS in (a) Africa and (b) Asia; and if he will make a statement. 
£ million 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08
To strengthen and deliver a wide range of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care services in the period 2005-06 to 2007-08, total bilateral expenditure on HIV and AIDS programmes in Africa was £576 million and in Asia £343 million.
DFID also provides multilateral assistance to a range of organisations, a significant proportion of which is used to tackle HIV and AIDS in Africa and Asia. For example, DFID has provided over £250 million in core support to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria over the period 2005-06 to 2007-08."
These are fairly large sums of money. Doubtless some people will feel that we can no longer afford them. But we shouldn't give up on the rest of the world through panic or indifference. What we should focus on is ensuring that our money is as well spent as possible.
International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander introduced a debate in the House of Commons yesterday about the importance of transparency in international aid.
Monmouth MP David Davies caused quite a stir with his intervention. It certainly upset Ivan Lewis, a DFID minister. Malcolm Bruce, a Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the International Development Committee, dismissed what follows as a "pub rant".
Sometimes as an editor you really don't know what to cut out. It's normally possible just to pick out a few key points. Mr Davies's offering was not short of those (his principal point was that DFID has too many offices worldwide and spends too much on them), but highlighting these arguments alone would not do full justice to the tidal waves of rhetoric that poured forth. ConservativeHome readers deserve to see the speech and his exchanges with the minister in their full glory.
Lichfield MP and Opposition Whip Michael Fabricant is good fun. But he has a keen interest in a wide variety of issues. Yesterday in the Commons he asked a very pertinent question about global education of International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander:
"Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Secretary of State rightly identified the need for equality of opportunity for both sexes in education, and he will know of the tremendous improvements that there have been in Afghanistan. However, such opportunities are not available in other fundamentalist Muslim states. What is the Department doing to encourage those states to provide equal opportunity in respect of education for girls and young women?
Mr. Alexander: The focus of our work at the Department for International Development is not dictated by the majority religious views of any one country but the requirements of the country for support in tackling poverty. We are working with Governments in a number of different countries; the hon. Gentleman mentioned Afghanistan, and we have contributed about £60 million to the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund specifically for education. Where we are working we are in regular dialogue with Governments about improving the lot and opportunity of young girls in particular. To take one example, today about one in six of young girls around the world not in education are in northern Nigeria. That is why we are engaged in dialogue with the Nigerian authorities to see how we can extend opportunities to young girls and the disabled; it is necessary to get them into education if we are to see the progress that we want on the millennium development goals."
Conservative MPs should keep these kind of questions coming.