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How DFID began

When the Department for International Development (DFID) was set up in 1997, it made fighting world poverty its top priority. This marked a turning point for Britain’s aid programme, which until then had mainly involved economic development.

In its manifesto the government elected in May 1997 pledged to create a new department for international development headed by a cabinet minister. Previously the aid programme was managed by the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), a wing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Among its key objectives, DFID set out to make global development a national priority and promote it to audiences in the UK and overseas, while fostering a new ‘aid relationship’ with governments of developing countries.

In the autumn of 1997, DFID published its first white paper with the focus on eliminating world poverty. Three other white papers, issued in 2000, 2006 and 2009 reinforced the first white paper’s message.

Two acts of parliament have since helped to put development higher on the national agenda.  The International Development Act 2002 clarified the purpose of aid spending as poverty reduction; while International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006 defined DFID’s annual reporting to Parliament through its Annual Report.

Timeline to May 1997

The 1960 white paper recognises the best way to lift poorer nations out of poverty is through economic development.

Department of Technical Cooperation set up in 1961 to deal with the technical side of the aid programme. It brings together the expertise on colonial development previously spread across several government departments.

Ministry of Overseas Development (ODM) created in 1964, and headed by Minister of Overseas Development.
The 1965 white paper states the UK has moral duty for development and development is in the nation’s long-term interest.

In 1970 ODM is dissolved. Its work is carried out by the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), a functional wing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In 1974 the government announces that the ODA is once again to be a separate ministry, as the Ministry of Overseas Development, under its own minister.

In November 1979 the ministry again becomes the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), a functional wing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Department for International Development (DFID) is created in May 1997 as a separate government department led by a cabinet minister.


Department of Technical Co-operation

Secretary (ranks as Minister of State): Rt Hon Dennis Vosper (June 1961-May 1963); Rt Hon Robert Carr (May 1963-Oct 1964)

Ministry of Overseas Development

Minister of Overseas Development: Rt Hon Barbara Castle (Oct 1964-Dec 1965); Rt Hon Anthony Greenwood (Dec 1965-Aug 1966); Rt Hon Arthur Bottomley (Aug 1966-Aug 1967); Rt Hon Reg Prentice (Aug 1967-Oct 1969); Rt Hon Judith Hart (Oct 1969-June 1970); Rt Hon Richard Wood (June-Nov 1970)

[From 1964-67, the Minister sat in the Cabinet (Barbara Castle (1964-65); Anthony Greenwood (1965-66); Arthur Bottomley (1966-67).]

Overseas Development Administration

Minister for Overseas Development: Rt Hon Richard Wood (Nov 1970-Mar 1974)

Ministry of Overseas Development

Minister of Overseas Development: Rt Hon Judith Hart (March 1974-June 1975)

Minister for Overseas Development: Rt Hon Reg Prentice (June 1975-Dec 1976); Frank Judd (Dec 1976-Feb 1977); Rt Hon Judith Hart (Feb 1977-May 1979)

Overseas Development Administration

Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Minister for Overseas Development: Rt Hon Neil Marten (May 1979-Jan 1983); Rt Hon Timothy Raison (Jan 1983-Sept 1986); Rt Hon Christopher Patten (Sept 1986-July 1989); Rt Hon Lynda Chalker (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey from April 1992) (July 1989-May 1997)

Department for International Development

Secretary of State for International Development (Cabinet rank):

  • Rt Hon Clare Short (May 1997-May 2003)
  • Baroness Amos (May 2003-October 2003)
  • Hilary Benn (October 2003-June 2007)
  • Douglas Alexander (June 2007-May 2010)
  • Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell (May 2010 - present).

Minister of State for International Development:

  • Hilary Benn (May 2003 - October 2003)
  • Gareth R Thomas (October 2008 – May 2010)
  • Alan Duncan (May 2010 - present)

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development:

  • George Foulkes (May 1997-Jan 2001)
  • Chris Mullin (Jan-June 2001)
  • Hilary Benn (June 2001-May 2002)
  • Sally Keeble (May 2002-June 2003)
  • Baroness Vadera (June 2007- January 2008)  
  • Gareth R Thomas (June 2003-October 2008)
  • Shahid Malik (June 2007-October 2008)
  • Gillian Merron (January 2008-October 2008)
  • Ivan Lewis (October 2008-June 2009)
  • Mike Foster (October 2008-May 2010)
  • Stephen O'Brien (May 2010 - present).
Last updated: 11 May 2010