What's Happening in Parliament

On Tuesday the 29th of November 2016, Chairman of APPG Yemen Keith Vaz MP raised issues regarding Yemen during a Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill.

The question can be found bellow:

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab)
I warmly congratulate the Secretary of State on her appointment to the Cabinet in this very important job—I know that she has been doing it for a while, but this is my first opportunity to do so. Later, she will meet the officers of the all-party group on Yemen. Will she confirm that the refocusing of funds in support of the CDC will not affect the Government’s commitment to the provision of emergency and humanitarian aid that she and her Minister of State have spoken of and given to Yemen over the past few years, as did her predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who is also in the Chamber?

Priti Patel
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that welcome and for his remarks. He is right: successive British Governments have been very clear not just about ​their commitment to the CDC but about our collective focus on humanitarian need at times of crisis. I look forward to seeing the delegation from the all-party group later today, when I will of course speak more about the work that the Government are doing in Yemen, where we are seeing the most awful and horrendous catastrophe. I will speak to the right hon. Gentleman later in more detail about the type of interventions and the support we are providing to those trapped in that dreadful conflict.

By 2020, we will save 1.4 million children’s lives by immunising 76 million children against killer diseases. We will help at least 11 million children in the poorest countries to gain a decent education, improve nutrition for at least 50 million people who would otherwise go hungry, and help at least 60 million people get access to clean water and sanitation. We will lead the response to humanitarian emergencies. We will lead a major new global programme to accelerate the development of vaccines and drugs to eliminate the world’s deadliest infectious diseases while investing to save lives from malaria and working to end preventable child and maternal deaths. We will also continue the inspirational leadership of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), on women and girls.

Those commitments stand, along with our commitment to human development and directly meeting the needs of the world’s poorest, which is absolute and unwavering. Indeed, the first major decision I took in my role as Secretary of State for International Development was to increase the UK’s contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria from £800 million to £1.1 billion. That will help to save millions of lives in the years ahead.

Once again,concerns regarding Yemens humanitarian and financial situation were addressed by Keith Vaz:

Keith Vaz
My hon. Friend was in the House when the Secretary of State gave me a very welcome assurance concerning Yemen, which we appreciate. Does my hon. ​Friend agree that it is so important that emergency and humanitarian aid should be ring-fenced, and that any resources to the CDC—whatever they may be, after the business case has been prepared—should not take money away from that emergency and humanitarian aid, which is important in Yemen and in other parts of the world?

Kate Osamor
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. Yes, humanitarian aid is paramount. In times of crisis, we need to know that that money will be ring-fenced to ensure that those who need it most will be able to get it.

During proceedings on the Bill, we will be setting the Government six questions, which we hope they will be able to address and gain our support. I began my response to the Secretary of State’s opening speech on Second Reading today by setting out the key principle that should guide us on international development funding—transparency. Indeed, the lack of transparency over the CDC’s work has created considerable scepticism about its activities and some of its investments. When spending taxpayers’ money on international development in an age of austerity, the Government are beholden to do all in their power to reassure everyone that their money is being spent properly and effectively. The Secretary of State would alleviate some of the concerns felt by Opposition Members—and, I am sure, in the country at large—if she were to insert a transparency clause into the Bill, which would meet the Government’s stated aim and their commitment to transparency, value for money and tracking development results.

That is particularly important when it comes to the issue of the CDC’s use of tax havens for its investments. It is extraordinary that the CDC has routed its investments through tax havens. The CDC and DFID have a moral duty to adopt the highest ethical standards if they are to have moral authority as the UK’s leading development actors. We should not be rewarding tax havens with UK taxpayers’ money, and the Government could and should lever the CDC away from the use of tax havens. That means that not a penny of the proposed £6 billion should find its way to a tax haven, and the Bill should be explicit in enshrining that principle.

Providing any organisation with £6 billion—and potentially £12 billon—is a significant step, and that is particularly true of an organisation with such a chequered recent past. The House would welcome a clear sense from the Secretary of State of how her Department has evaluated the costs and benefits of providing the CDC with such a significant sum of public money. There is a clear need for the Minister to set out how DFID’s investment plans for CDC have been informed. Has that been achieved by assessing other options for investing these resources. Has it been achieved by comparing their value for money and the potential for development impact?

There are two issues that the Secretary of State should address to demonstrate the Government’s commitment to transparency. At present the CDC is not subject to the scrutiny of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact. That is an anomaly, and it should be rectified immediately. Will the Secretary of State insert into the Bill a provision to enable ICAI to scrutinise and audit the effectiveness of the CDC, particularly given the significant increase in the CDC’s funding proposed in this Bill? Secondly, I would like an assurance ​from the Government that the CDC will not be sold off or privatised during this Parliament. It would, surely, be wrong for this House to provide billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money, only for the CDC to be handed over to a private equity firm or suchlike company.

When the Colonial Development Corporation was established in 1948, it had bold ambitions. For much of its life, the CDC has achieved those ambitions, first as the Colonial Development Corporation and then as the Commonwealth Development Corporation. Lives have been saved and lives have been improved as a direct result of the CDC. Sadly, the CDC has lost its way in recent years. The ethos and values that drove its inception six decades ago have been lost, sacrificed on the altar of fast-buck economics. We are beginning to see some welcome reforms to the CDC, but history has taught us that we must remain vigilant.

As I set out at the beginning of my speech, the Opposition firmly believe in the principle of aid as a vehicle for improving the life chances of millions of people. The question the Government must answer before they gain our full support for the Bill is: will they provide the assurance and the guarantee to deliver what we all seek, which is a CDC that truly lives up to its mission
“to support the building of businesses throughout Africa and South Asia, to create jobs and make a lasting difference to people’s lives in some of the world’s poorest places”?
To achieve this, the Government must place the right safeguards in the Bill in Committee. If they do, and the Bill achieves the twin objectives of supporting the people who need it the most and of making the funding fully transparent, the Government will have our support.