Thursday, 11 March 2010

Arguments about international aid have little logic

Imagine if a couple of doctors and a senior nurse were dicussing the case of a seriously ill person. Would they proclaim triumphantly: we have had to give him twice as much blood today than yesterday and we are continuting intravenous feeding for much longer than expected, isn't it wonderful? Of course not. The well-being of a patient is not counted in the amount of medication, blood-transfusion and intravenous feeding there has to be but in the speed with which he or she discards the need for all of that.

Not so when it comes to international aid when the amount of money that is pumped into countries or, to be quite precise, their governments that are often the main problem is a matter for self-congratulation. The fact that these countries do not seem to get any richer or more advanced either politically or economically is ignored.

This was the tone of the discussion in the House of Lords when Lord Judd asked
Her Majesty's Government what are their priorities for the future of European Union international development co-operation.
The purpose of the question became clear in his supplementary: it was another attempt to prove that the EU was absolutely essential to the well-being of the world.
I thank my noble friend for that very encouraging reply. Does he agree that the issues of world poverty, together with those of climate change, trade and international security, are so complex that they simply cannot be solved on a basis of national programmes, and that international co-ordination is absolutely indispensible? Does he therefore accept that the EU has a key role to play in this, and that our commitment to its institutions is essential in ensuring that it happens properly?
There followed discussion of the need to send more and more money and aid to developing countries without anyone bothering to enquire why those countries are still in such a bad position and might not aid coupled with protectionist policy have something to do with that.

Incidentally, there were still numerous references to climate change being one of the greatest problems facing the world, as if there have been no developments on that score and no admissions of falsified records and inaccurate analysis.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch introduced a different perspective:
My Lords, further to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, what proportion of our foreign aid is filtered through the European Union and how much of it goes astray? Would it not better to cut such aid and replace it with investment in agriculture and with free trade, which is often denied to the countries in question?
It was not terribly well received as the Minister, Lord Brett, had to admit that not everything in the garden was rosy.
My Lords, we spend money both bilaterally and multilaterally through the EU because the European Union makes policy on climate change, trade, agriculture and fisheries and is therefore in a unique position in terms of aid, trade and foreign policy. I can give a breakdown on the proportions of the money spent. I know that the noble Lord's enthusiasm for Europe is less than total, but international development is one area in which even he could not find much to criticise Europe. He makes the point about fraud, but the truth is that the amount of fraud is very small. The auditors have made a point about inadequate reporting by member states, and in 2009 they named Spain, Italy and Portugal as responsible for 80 per cent of the financial errors. However, actual fraud was found in only two cases among all the irregularities considered in 2008. Methinks that the noble Lord doth protest too much.
Noticeably, the noble Minister did not reply to the second part of the question about free trade and investment. It would appear that those simple remedies are not part of the government's or the EU' purview.


  1. They would be better asking why the E.U, and the U.K in particular give billions in aid to a country that can afford to tinker around with it's own space programme, India.

  2. Aid has been going out for years & years, yet appears to have little effect, it could only be considered as being effective if we could see a reducing amount being needed, but it is a bottomless pit, and frankly, they will sit back & let us give till we run out, thats if we have not already done so, we are giving away money we have had to borrow, madness in my accounts book. Certainly I would cut aid o any country who can field an armmed forces larger than our own, or who can afford nuc weapons or research into making them. Why are we aiding China, an enemy in all but name,and many areas who receive aid are not really our friends in the true sense of the word.

  3. If only half of the electorate knew what was going on without their consent and on their behalf never mind tolerant British, there would be a revolution.
    Good job that one half is semi iliterate and the other half are too busy surviving to be interested