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Prime Minister ‘relishes’ parliamentary scrutiny of foreign aid and promises a ‘free vote’ on the future of a development committee

17 September 2020

Marking her first appearance quizzing the Prime Minister in front of the Liaison Committee yesterday, International Development Committee Chair, Sarah Champion, gained assurances that the Government is not afraid of parliamentary scrutiny of foreign aid.

Liaison Committee

During her questions in the section of the ‘Integrated Review’, Ms Champion asked three main questions: on an aid project which seems to have been cut in Rwanda on girls education; parliamentary scrutiny and the role of a development committee; and whether the Government is committed to the current legislation and definition of Official Development Assistance (ODA).

On Parliamentary scrutiny, the Prime Minister made it very clear that it is an issue for Parliament to decide the forming – and winding up – of committees. After being quizzed collectively by Ms Champion and Chair of the Liaison Committee, Bernard Jenkin, the Prime Minister promised that any changes to the committee would be subject to a ‘free vote’. A ‘free vote’ ensures MPs are not ‘whipped’ to vote with their party. The International Development Committee is proposing a dedicated ODA Committee with cross-Government remit to scrutinise development spend.

Chair's comments

Speaking after the Committee hearing, Sarah Champion MP said:

“It is incredibly welcome news to hear that the Prime Minister not only supports parliamentary scrutiny of development, but has confirmed any changes to the committee will be subject to a free vote by MPs. This puts us on a strong footing to ensure a committee scrutinising Foreign Aid remains.

“It was also reassuring that the Prime Minister has promised to look at an aid programme in Rwanda which seems to have been cut in the summer as Whitehall scrabbled around to find cost savings. Given his commitment to girls education, I was astounded to find that this is the type of programme being closed down on his watch.

“However, it is absolutely imperative that we receive assurances that there will be no changes to the International Development Act and the DAC definition of ODA, which really cements our role as world-leaders in international development. I look forward to receiving the Prime Minister’s response on this issue as it is of great importance to offer stakeholders, aid workers, and beneficiaries the certainty that we continue to stand by them.”

On the girls’ education programme in Rwanda, Ms Champion had heard through the media that it was one of the first programmes to have a funding cut. Over the summer, Government departments were tasked with finding savings in their ODA budgets to meet the revised down estimate for the 0.7% of GNI spend. At the time, Ms Champion expressed her concern that Parliament was not informed and that too many life-changing projects could be cut leaving the most vulnerable people unsupported.

The Prime Minister was unable to commit, when asked, about keeping the International Development Act and the DAC definition of ODA. Ms Champion and the International Development Committee looks forward to his response in due course.

Procedure Committee

The Chair of the Procedure Committee has also supported the proposal for a cross-cutting ODA Committee from a technical point of view. The Chair has written to the International Development Committee on the implications of the DFID/FCO merger and sets out a range of options for scrutiny following the establishment of the Department for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Image: Parliamentary Copyright