Joseph Johnson (Orpington) (Con): I congratulate all those who made their maiden speeches today. They have made the afternoon fly by, such has been their quality.
I wish to express my wholehearted support for the vision for UK aid outlined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, especially in so far as it is driven by a desire to focus the UK programme on outcomes and value for money rather than on inputs and on what quantities of money are shovelled overseas. I particularly welcome his comment that he intends to review the UK's aid relationship with India. As he said, there is now a double duty to demonstrate not only that aid money is well spent but that it is spent where most needed so that the Government can carry the country with them at a time of intense budgetary squeeze and retrenchment.
Under the coalition Government, the Department for International Development is already curtailing aid to China and Russia and promising much greater value for money. I believe that it is time to scale back DFID's substantial India programme. I say that in response to the question asked of the Opposition by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who asked them to show where money could be saved in the DFID budget.
When we look at DFID's expenditure, we see that the India programme is the single largest country programme by quite some distance-it is worth £825 million over the three years to 2011. By my calculations, that means that the flow of grant aid from the UK to India is greater now than at any point for at least the past 20 years and, although I cannot trace the figures, perhaps more than at any time since independence in 1947.
Defenders of the aid programme to India can legitimately argue that progress towards meeting the millennium development goals by 2015 hinges on India-that is quite right. However, nuclear-powered India can now fund its own development needs, considerable though they are in a country that is home to 450 million poor people and a third of the world's malnourished children.
Those who follow Indian affairs will know that it has a defence budget of $31.5 billion and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) mentioned, it has a very ambitious space programme, including plans for an unmanned moon shot. It also has a substantial aid programme of its own. It is obviously not yet at China's stage of development-India is not China-but it is a claimant to a permanent Security Council seat and to a place at the top table of world affairs. As such, it is hardly a natural aid recipient.
Of course, the moral arguments are very finely balanced-a poor person is a poor person wherever he or she is in the world-but to my mind, common sense suggests that it is a better idea for the UK to prioritise aid to countries that cannot afford to fund their development over those that take the money just because it is going free. Many other donor countries in recent years have been kicked out of India for being too small-managing their donations was simply too bureaucratic and cumbersome a process to be worth the Indian Government's while. The aid flows of others such as the US peaked 50 years ago in 1960. The US has stated that it is "walking the last mile" in India. The result is that the UK, perhaps inappropriately, now accounts for as much as 30% of all foreign aid to India. That is arguably money that New Delhi could allocate to its own development if it chose to do so. My view is that we must, as the coalition programme states, work towards a new partnership with India for the 21st century -a "new special relationship", as the Conservative manifesto originally put it. It must be based on strong bonds of trade, not anachronistic ones of aid that hark back to a previous relationship between our two countries.
Click here to read the debate in full