LONDON — The United Kingdom government will no longer seek to close the International Development Committee, according to an announcement Thursday, saving the watchdog from an uncertain fate.
The cross-party committee of politicians is responsible for scrutinizing U.K. development spending and policy on behalf of Parliament but was threatened with closure shortly after the government announced the merger between the Department for International Development and Foreign & Commonwealth Office in June, with its work to be subsumed under the Foreign Affairs Committee.
However, in a letter dated Dec. 2 and published Thursday, House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said, “I am writing to confirm that I do not intend to bring forward a motion to alter the current committee structure and, therefore, the Foreign Affairs Committee and International Development Committee will be retained in their current form.”
“With a diminishing aid budget and a concerning lack of transparency around existing and proposed cuts, the role of the IDC in holding the government to account will be more important than ever.”— Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy, and research, Bond
He added that “While the Government's preferred position is that select committees in the Commons should generally mirror Government departments, it is clear that there is strong support to maintain the dedicated scrutiny of UK aid spending by Parliament and I believe that this option provides the best balance for Parliament and Government.”
Sarah Champion, IDC chair, said in a statement that the news was a “huge relief” and thanked members of Parliament for the support her committee had received. She also thanked NGOs and activists for their “great campaigning.”
She added: “The International Development Committee has a unique role in scrutinising the Government on its Foreign Aid programme. This role is vital for aid beneficiaries around the world and also the UK public as both want the money well spent.”
After the announcement of the DFID-FCO merger, the government initially told IDC it would be closed down. After some politicians noted that the government does not have the power to dissolve committees, it subsequently said there would be a vote on the matter. Rees-Mogg’s letter indicates that has now been dropped, too.
It is a rare moment of good news for the U.K. development sector at a very uncertain time. The government recently announced it would not spend the legal target of 0.7% of gross national income on aid next year and is preparing new legislation on development spending, to be voted on next year. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact, another key pillar of aid scrutiny, is also undergoing a government review, which IDC has raised concerns about.
“Now more than ever parliamentary scrutiny is needed. As the UK looks to reposition itself globally, at the same time as Government [is] announcing a decreasing pot of development money, we need to make sure the right support is going to the right people and that there is accountability for those decisions,” Champion said.
In a joint letter to Rees-Mogg, Champion and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat said they would “work together to ensure that our activities are complementary.”
The committees will focus on the areas covered by the former departments, meaning IDC will continue to be responsible for monitoring official development assistance. The letter noted it is “inevitable” that there will be areas where IDC and FAC have a shared interest, adding that “We believe it is perfectly possible to interpret our current remits to conduct effective and meaningful scrutiny of the expenditure, administration and policy of the FCDO [Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office] between our Committees.”
Champion and Tugendhat said they intend to propose changes to parliamentary rules “in due course” to reflect the departmental changes.
The decision was greeted with relief by civil society. Simon Starling, director of policy, advocacy, and research at the Bond NGO network, said: “The IDC is essential to ensure the accountability of U.K. aid to both the people who need it most and the British taxpayer. With a diminishing aid budget and a concerning lack of transparency around existing and proposed cuts, the role of the IDC in holding the government to account will be more important than ever.”