Orders of the Day — International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 9:35 am on 20th January 2006.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 9:49 am, 20th January 2006

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Last year was rightly dominated by the Make Poverty History campaign, which provided a welcome focus on issues such as aid, debt and trade. That focus simply must continue. Laudable progress was made at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, where commitments were made to double aid by 2010 and to cancel debt for up to 38 heavily indebted poor countries. A quarter of a million people marched in Edinburgh, demonstrating an unmistakable public commitment to making poverty history. Internationally, there were Live 8 concerts, including at Hyde park—appropriately during our EU presidency. The successful trade justice lobby of Parliament was followed by progress made at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, which agreed an end date for export subsidies.

I congratulate the Government, especially the Department for International Development, on their work and on the progress that they have achieved. I also congratulate the Prime Minister, particularly on his African initiatives, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his achievements on aid, debt and trade. However, the whole House will, I think, agree that much more remains to be done to turn that progress on aid, trade and debt relief into results on the ground, embedding prosperity, entrenching opportunity and, ultimately, eradicating poverty. The Bill unashamedly asserts the role of Parliament in holding the Executive to account in helping to meet that aim.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals and believe that the Government have done a very good job in relation to Africa. Does he agree that it is essential to deal with corruption in Africa and to introduce a proper technical means of audit—external audit in particular, if necessary—to make sure that it is stopped?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I agree, and that is reflected in the Bill's requirement that there should be reports relating to proper accountancy and accountability, as well as transparency. That, I think, is consistent with the hon. Gentleman's view.

At the heart of my Bill is an annual report to Parliament on progress made by the United Kingdom on international development. Eveline Herfkens, co-ordinator for the United Nations millennium campaign, said:

"Parliamentarians need to scrutinise their governments' Millennium Development Goal 8 positions on an on-going basis to ensure that they are in line with what their governments signed in the Millennium Declaration and Goals."

People such as Eveline Herfkens have consistently argued that it is critical that Parliaments and parliamentarians monitor their countries' commitments to increase aid, and important for Parliaments to achieve cross-party agreement on that vital issue.

That is one of the reasons why I welcome the fact that sponsors and supporters of the Bill are drawn from all parts of the House, reflecting a progressive consensus on the need to prioritise international development. I am particularly grateful to Mr. Mitchell, who has intimated to me that he supports the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he personally has done to build, deepen and widen that consensus, which, as he says, is so important. Will he share with the House further information on the extent, breadth and depth of support that this important Bill enjoys?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He will know that there is a great deal of support from his constituency in Oxford, not least from Oxfam and a huge number of non-governmental organisations. I am also delighted that the Churches support the Bill. If I may say so, the Church of Scotland has been particularly active. I welcome, too, the contribution of the justice and peace committee of the Catholic Church, and many other Churches all over the United Kingdom that have written to me.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

May I add to that? We now know, thanks to the Division that we have just had, that the Bill would appear to have the support of 80 out of 650 Members of Parliament. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind as well.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

The right hon. Gentleman is, we accept, regarded as an expert, not least by himself, on parliamentary procedure. He will know that that vote was on a procedural matter unrelated to my Bill. The Clerk had not even read the name of my Bill. I hope I have helped the right hon. Gentleman's education on these parliamentary matters.

As the International Development Committee has pointed out repeatedly, parliamentary scrutiny and a coherent policy across Government are of the utmost importance. An annual report to Parliament carries more status than a departmental report or information posted online, and invites debate on the Floor of the House. I strongly believe that such a report is in the interest of Parliament and of achieving progress on international development. That, essentially, is what my Bill is about—progress in international development, accountability in terms of both bilateral and multilateral commitments, and transparency, which gives the people of this country—they watch what Parliament does, too—the confidence to support Government and Parliament in the objectives that we set.

My Bill is set to balance what I am convinced is the moral requirement and the necessity of eradicating poverty, while addressing the scepticism that undoubtedly exists and in some quarters is even encouraged in the absence of transparency. The Bill will ensure that clear, detailed, coherent information is available on development assistance. It will allow added scrutiny of Government policy and provide for the monitoring and evaluation of exactly what aid accomplishes.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

I very much support the Bill, but could it not be improved by removing the cap on scrutinising only the 10 largest recipients of British aid? Should we not examine most, if not all, of the British aid projects around the world?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

There have been extensive consultations on the Bill. I want Parliament to get as much information as possible, but I do not want to impose bureaucracy where it is not required. With great respect, that would be the result of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am pleased to be in the Chamber to support my right hon. Friend's Bill—in fact, I am so pleased to be here to support it that I shall not be speaking on it, which I am sure hon. Members will welcome. Will the report deal with the effectiveness of aid to the developing world? In the past, particularly under previous Governments, some of that aid has been dissipated, has not been effective and has not helped the very poorest of the people whom we want to help.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am sure that there is widespread disappointment in the House that my hon. Friend will not seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The issue that he raises is one of the most important aspects of the Bill, and I hope to deal with it later.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

I echo the comments that have been made about the 10 countries on which the Bill focuses. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider expanding that number? An awful lot more countries require attention and observation, particularly with regard to corruption, which has already been referred to. To limit that to just 10 countries would not do justice to an excellent Bill.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Nothing in the Bill prevents continued assistance to countries that are not specifically outlined in it. That is what the Department for International Development continues to do, and information will continue to be in the public domain. If the House agrees that there should be an annual report to Parliament, as I believe it will, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to put precisely that point.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

As Chair of the International Development Committee I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I am pleased that the Bill's sponsors include members of the Committee from all three parties, which demonstrates the Committee's commitment to the Bill's objectives.

Will the right hon. Gentleman reiterate and reaffirm that it is important annually to evaluate how we are doing in achieving targets that go beyond this Parliament and the next one? Otherwise, not only accountability to the House but by Governments is too far distant to be effective?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think that the whole House appreciates the excellent work that he is doing as Chair of the International Development Committee, and I take on board the important point he made.

To return briefly to the issue of what aid accomplishes, the Bill's focus is on results, above all else. The millennium development goals, including the international commitment to halve poverty by 2015, represent clear benchmarks for us all, but the Chancellor has repeatedly made it clear that, on present progress, our goals remain too elusive. He has reminded us that primary education for all will be delivered not by 2015 but by 2130; the halving of poverty not by 2015 but by 2150, 135 years late; and the elimination of avoidable infant deaths not by 2015 but by 2165, 150 years late.

Andy Atkins of Tearfund has said:

"Shamefacedly the world is currently well off track to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. What is needed to put them back on track is a genuine partnership between North and South to overcome a number of chronic, interlinked problems that lead to more than 30,000 children dying every day from preventable diseases".

He said:

"Our job as citizens of one of the richest countries in the world is to hold our leaders to account."

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development, whom I am delighted to see with us today, has given a tremendous lead. Few in the House who heard his speech on Africa in the Chamber on 30 June 2005, just ahead of the Make Poverty History week, will doubt his commitment. His desire to see developed nations accept their moral responsibilities, as well as truly to empower poor countries to reach the millennium development goals, was greatly encouraging. How could it be otherwise, when he reminded us that some 315 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly half the population, live on less than $1 a day; some 40 million of its children are not where they should be—in schools; some 250 million Africans do not have safe water to drink or proper sanitation; and 6 million men, women and children died of AIDS in 2004 and of entirely preventable diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria? He was clear about the need to stamp out corruption, and gave examples of effective action to that end in Zambia, South Africa and Nigeria. Like my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, he saw the need for partnership—a concept that is embraced by my Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was specific when he said:

"We are also trying to improve predictability of aid—for example, by the 10-year agreements that we have reached with Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. In every case, we assess the risk and put in appropriate safeguards against corruption. We are also working with countries to strengthen and improve their public financial management, because we have to be sure that we can demonstrate that the money reaches the poor."—[Hansard, 30 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 1468.]

I welcome those assurances and the admirable commitment to ensuring that aid money is used predictably, safely and effectively.

This year's United Nations Development Programme human development report underlines the need to eradicate poverty in the developing world, where more than 1 billion people are living in extreme poverty, and the same number do not have access to clean water. We have rightly recognised the injustices, but it is crucial that we continue to work to resolve them.

My Bill seeks to ensure that aid is delivered effectively and increasingly. It enshrines the target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on overseas development assistance agreed at the millennium summit in 2000.

Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster Conservative, North East Milton Keynes

I support the Bill and acknowledge the good work of World Vision, which is based in my constituency, but does the right hon. Gentleman not think that, despite the Minister's good work, there should be some penalty if we fail to meet the 0.7 per cent. target?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

The great value of the annual report that will be required if the Bill is approved is that it would give the House the opportunity to ask that sort of question, to seek effectiveness and to hold the Executive to account, and I trust that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that opportunity.

My comments on our agreement at the millennium summit in 2000 underlines the UK's commitment to that target, which will double our current spending on aid.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour, Edmonton

I, along with others, welcome my right hon. Friend's Bill and his particular commitment to the issue. He has rightly said that the millennium development goals are at the centre of the Bill. Has he considered whether there should be a wider commentary on the achievement of the millennium development goals within the report for which he asks?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I welcome my hon. Friend's contribution and his long-standing interest in these issues. He is a very experienced parliamentarian, and I am sure that he would find no difficulty in pursuing that line if we get our annual report.

On that point, the Bill is about putting power in the hands of parliamentarians. It is about providing the House with the information to assess, analyse and scrutinise the Government's admirable commitments. It is about ensuring that all those people who marched to Edinburgh in the summer, who supported and watched Live 8, have before them the information to track the Government's progress.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Bill. He has discussed the support of the people who marched in Edinburgh, but young children in our schools support the millennium goal of getting children into education around the world. In my constituency, for example, children have collected Christmas boxes for AIDS orphans in Africa. Will he say how his Bill can help us to harness the enthusiasm and commitment of the younger generation, who will be the flag bearers for our policy into the future?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's contribution. I am sure that she agrees with me that education is at the heart of what we want to achieve for children. I hope to discuss that objective later, which is embraced by the millennium development goals.

I shall briefly explain each clause in the Bill, which aims to promote transparency to forge and cement the confidence to sustain support for even greater progress. Clause 1 calls for an annual report to Parliament.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Labour, Dundee West

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on not only his success in the ballot but introducing this excellent Bill, which I wholeheartedly support. Given the massive success of Make Poverty History, does he agree that the report should be published in a smaller, easy-to-use guide, which—this relates to the previous intervention by my hon. Friend Judy Mallaber—would help schoolchildren to understand exactly what we are trying to achieve?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I thank my hon. Friend for his suggestion. I have not included it in my Bill yet, but I am sure that discussions can take place. People outside the House do not always want to read lengthy legislation, and they may appreciate a plain person's guide to what we are seeking to achieve.

Clause 2 deals with the coherence of the UK contribution to poverty reduction and sustainable development, ensuring that Government policy is unified, holistic and joined-up in its objectives to further international development, which is consistent with the view expressed in the joint publication in March by the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury.

Clause 3 sets out the financial reporting requirements, which embrace bilateral and multilateral development assistance and take into account information on low-income countries.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing this enormously important Bill, which I intend to support. Does he agree that when he refers to parliamentarians and the accountability of Governments to Parliaments, his Bill may set an example to aid recipients? We are committed to good governance in African countries, which want to join us in that, so it is important that African parliamentarians have the opportunity to understand what their Governments are doing with aid.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I agree with my hon. Friend, who also made that point at a recent meeting in London with the United Nations millennium development goals co-ordinator. If the Bill is enacted, I hope that it inspires developing countries and their Parliaments to follow us on accountability and transparency.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I enthusiastically support the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. Does he agree that in some quarters, sometimes as a result of ignorance rather than of malign intent, there is a supposition that there is on the one hand aid and on the other hand good governance, as though they should be juxtaposed against each other? Will he take this opportunity to underline the importance of good governance and the fact that it is not achieved on the cheap? Good governance requires a strong and continuing commitment by this country and others to international development assistance.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am grateful to John Bercow, who has made an extremely important point underlining the emphasis on getting the results right. As my hon. Friend Joan Ruddock has said, developing countries think that it is their responsibility to make an appraisal. When I was in Sweden last week, I was very impressed by the agreements and compacts, which are far removed from the terrible conditionality of the past.

Clause 4 seeks an assessment of progress towards fulfilling millennium development goal 8, including progress on aid, debt relief and, crucially, achieving objectives on the effectiveness of aid.

Clause 5 addresses multilateral development assistance and millennium development goals 1 to 7.

Photo of Jim Devine Jim Devine Labour, Livingston

It is a pleasure to be here to support my right hon. Friend. Last night, Bob Geldof said that if anyone tries to talk out the Bill, they will be vilified throughout the country. Does he agree that that is the case?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Given the commitment of every political party in this House to the objective, I doubt whether any hon. Member would be so foolish. If such a thing were to happen, I would await the results, but I regard it as unlikely.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Deputy Chairman (Organising and Campaigning), Conservative Party, Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

The right hon. Gentleman has just made a slip of the tongue: he said, "unlikely", but given the reaction, I think that the word he was looking for is "unwise".

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Angela Browning is not only a sponsor of the Bill, but an extremely wise person. Who am I to disagree with the wisdom that she shares with the House?

Clause 5 addresses millennium development goals 1 to 7, which largely concern developing countries, and seeks to establish, for example, how much multilateral assistance is untied. Importantly, it makes it clear that we should know what assistance is being given to developing countries as they address environmental concerns, which are clearly of the utmost importance.

Clause 6 deals with the UK's expenditure targets and monitors progress towards the objective of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on development assistance. That will include an annual revised assessment of when the 0.7 per cent. target is expected to be reached, as well as of the current percentage of GNI being spent. I am proud to say that if the Bill is enacted, it will be the first time that that figure has been enshrined in legislation.

Photo of Colin Challen Colin Challen Labour, Morley and Rothwell

The transparency that would be introduced by my right hon. Friend's Bill, which I welcome, would help to remove the barrier to our understanding of how we achieve the United Nations target. Does he agree that that target is not a speed limit, so that once we achieve that speed we can go no faster, but something that we must achieve at some point in the future?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When we have, as I hope we will, annual reports to Parliament, as in at least five other countries that have reached or exceeded the target, there is no reason in the world why we should not continue to monitor the situation.

Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Labour, Warrington North

We have heard much about good governance overseas. Does my right hon. Friend agree that his Bill would also promote good governance in this country, because the reporting that he is asking for would make parliamentarians focus on achieving what we have said so often that we wish to achieve, thereby translating our words into deeds?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. In terms of coherence, particularly across Government Departments, the Bill would help us to get much nearer to what she is seeking to achieve.

Clause 7 deals with the effectiveness of bilateral aid and total overseas development assistance. It sets out benchmarks against which the effectiveness of aid can be measured, including the impact on HIV/AIDS, child mortality, trading opportunities and, crucially, good governance.

Photo of Anne Snelgrove Anne Snelgrove PPS (Lord Warner, Minister of State), Department of Health

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on introducing this excellent Bill. Has he considered adding education to his very good list for assessing the effectiveness of assistance? One of the ways in which we can effectively eradicate poverty is through the education of girls and young women, in particular. It would be interesting and appropriate to hear about what the Government have done in that respect.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I thank my hon. Friend and remind her, if I may, that development goals 1 to 7 include education of girls in developing countries, particularly in relation to investment. There are some good examples of best practice even today, but we want to build on those. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that that is the right thing to do.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the work of Professor Calestous Juma from Kenya, who works at Harvard and who said that we must turn development aid away from a rescue operation for Africa into a learning process for Africa? Would my right hon. Friend like such an approach to be used to measure what is happening to our aid overseas?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

The answer to my hon. Friend's question is absolutely yes. We are seeking to encourage developing countries to do exactly as he suggests. I shall turn to the issue of empowerment in a few moments.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

Clause 7(2), which would oblige the Secretary of State to provide an assessment of the effectiveness of spending, gives a comprehensive list of objectives. May I suggest that it should include humanitarian assistance? I am worried that in focusing on a limited number of countries, if we exclude humanitarian assistance, which is a large proportion of the budget, we will exclude countries such as Iraq and Sudan, where there is a huge amount of interest in how the money that we are putting in that direction is being spent.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Nothing in the Bill or in the millennium development goals prevents that discussion. Humanitarian aid is clearly of the utmost importance. Indeed, we carefully noted the statement that my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary made yesterday about Kenya. We seek to encourage humanitarian aid, and if there is an annual report to the House, as proposed in the Bill, that, too, can be monitored by the House.

Clause 8 sets out requirements for an assessment of transparency in aid spending, including specified objectives on the evaluation of aid and progress on publishing mutually devised agreements with developing countries in receipt of assistance.

Clauses 9 to 13 deal with the technical elements of the Bill.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I will, but I think that the House will recognise that I have been pretty generous with interventions, so I hope that this might be the last one.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Conservative, Rochford and Southend East

I fully support the Bill. Clause 12 mentions the expenses involved. Given that much of the information that would be provided is duplicated elsewhere, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the expenses incurred in producing the annual report will be minimal, so that Members on both sides of the House need not be too concerned about additional costs?

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Having managed to persuade both Houses to enact my Disabled Persons Bill, I can assure him with some confidence that the expenditure mentioned in clause 12 would be very limited. I know that none of us would seek to exaggerate the extent of that necessary expenditure.

I would not wish to make greater claims for the impact of the Bill, were it to be enacted, than its contents justify. However, apart from bilateral contributions to tackling problems faced in developing countries, its main thrust is to achieve two aims that are, in my view, profoundly relevant. First, we need to work within multilateral institutions, including the European Union, to address the challenges of poverty and deprivation that have existed for far too long.

Photo of Chris McCafferty Chris McCafferty Labour, Calder Valley

Last night, I told my right hon. Friend that I could think of no more appropriate person to promote this Bill, although I confess that I wish it was me. I congratulate him.

My right hon. Friend acknowledged the immense progress that has been made on debt relief and poverty eradication through the pro-poor policies of the International Development Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He also reminded us that the Chancellor's assessments of our current targets are way out of line with what we want them to be. We will not achieve the millennium development goals until the middle of the 22nd century unless we put more money into achieving them. Is my right hon. Friend aware—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Lady is in danger of making a speech.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend, who was beginning to make an interesting speech. If she catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall listen with even more interest to what she has to say.

The second crucial aspect of the Bill concerns assisting developing countries in whatever way we can in their approach towards empowerment. Our role should be to provide generous and predictable assistance and to work in co-operation with country-owned development goals, with the leadership coming from developing countries themselves. That is why the Bill is specific in referring to assistance in implementing development goals 1 to 7, which are largely the responsibility of developing countries. This assistance can be both visionary and practical, and some interventions have demonstrated that very point.

If the Bill can assist by way of an annual report to the House in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child and maternal mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability, it will be worthwhile legislation.

When I first entered the House, third world development was a political backwater. It was in the margins of politics. I am pleased that now it is mainstream. Once, debates about absolute poverty were for the committed few. Today, they have a resonance with every Member in every constituency.

My Bill would put the Executive and their practical commitment to making poverty history under more formal scrutiny. It would also sharpen the responsibility of all Members to track the progress that is being made towards the millennium development goals and to push for action when that progress is not sufficient.

In this Parliament, lifting the weight of poverty that is crushing so many lives in the poorest countries has to be a task that is shared by Minister and Members alike. The Bill is conceived in that spirit.

What could be more terrible, after all the summits and songs, all the consultations and commitments of 2005, then to see a veil of tired indifference once again fall over the daily torment that is absolute poverty? Parliament must not be seen to be caring only when the ghostly images of hollowed-out children fill our television screens, or when Bob Geldof rightly raises the flag. We must be working all the time, especially when the gaze of the media goes elsewhere, to turn history's ratchet in favour of all those who are crying out for schools, medicines, freedoms and opportunities that will make their children's lives unrecognisably better than their own.

I hope that I have made it clear that the Bill, in some senses, has a technical purpose. I ask all Members on both sides of the House to see its value in the greater scheme of things. What scheme could be more admirable than ensuring that every one of the millennium development goals is, with each year that passes, more of a living reality in scores of countries and for millions of families throughout this potentially beautiful world?

The Bill is about the future, and what an immemorial achievement that would be. I commend the measure to the House.

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Deputy Chairman (Organising and Campaigning), Conservative Party, Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 10:34 am, 20th January 2006

I am genuinely grateful to Mr. Clarke for inviting me to sponsor the Bill. It seems a long time ago when he telephoned me and outlined what he had in mind in framing the Bill. I was only too willing to say yes. As the right hon. Gentleman has so eloquently explained, the Bill will genuinely make a difference. I hope that it will make a great difference to people in developing countries. On a more practical front, I hope also that it will make a big difference to the way in which the House conducts its debate. Furthermore, I hope that the Government of the day will take decisions about how we spend money that is allocated for development purposes.

When we have debates on these matters, they tend to be ministerial statements about what the Government will spend and how they intend to spend the moneys; or rather worthy but lengthy debates, often a whole day debate on the Adjournment of the House, during which we take the subject matter around the course—indeed, around the world—in identifying the areas of need, the countries and the particular challenges and problems that they are facing. We never quite get to the intention that lies behind the Bill, and that is to have detailed accounting and reporting to the House so that factual information can inform not only our debate, but the way in which decisions are made about how the moneys are spent to best effect.

We see reports in the House, in newspapers or elsewhere—international reports—that sometimes raise doubt about whether money that is spent for aid is being spent properly or to best effect. When these discussions take place and when articles appear in newspapers, they do not have an impact only on how the Government spend money. There is a huge read-across into how the public decide to contribute, especially to charities and non-governmental organisations. If there is a feeling that somehow there is not a grip on this spending, that tends to make people very cautious.

We all receive applications from many charities across the spectrum of issues, and we decide which ones we shall prioritise. The decision on where we put money is influenced by whether we think that the money will be spent well and whether there is proper prudence in the way in which the money is managed. This is bringing together the money that the Government spend and allocate on behalf of taxpayers, but there is a huge read-across into the voluntary sector. The aid and development money that goes to developing countries—this is set out at the beginning of the Bill—is not only a matter of what the UK Government do, as money spent through the European Union and the policies and the spending of international development organisations and United Nations agencies are also involved. There is also the vast range of NGOs and charitable bodies that do so much good work in this area. The Bill would require, quite properly, that when we debate these matters annually and hold the Executive to account—which is our proper function, whether we are in Government or in Opposition—the debate is informed by an annual report to which Ministers will answer.

I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee; indeed, I greatly enjoy being a member. Last April, we took evidence and brought forward a report on a National Audit Office report on HIV/AIDS in developing countries. The permanent secretary from the Department for International Development and others were scrutinised in the robust way for which the PAC has a reputation. We produced a report that made specific recommendations about what Government Departments should do in future. The problem of doing things only through the PAC is that we hold only permanent secretaries to account. The PAC cannot call Ministers to account. They may be relieved about that. However, the Bill would ensure that the House has an opportunity to hold a similarly robust and informed scrutiny debate.

It does not matter whether one belongs to one political party or another, or whether one is a member of the party that happens to be in government in a specific year. The cross-party support and the overwhelming support of many outside the House for the Bill show that we are dealing with the biggest issue that cuts across party politics. At last there is a recognition nationally and internationally that unless Governments and non-governmental organisations can work collectively on the matter, we shall not make the progress that we would like. I believe that the Bill means not only that the Government will be in a position to inform the House, but that the House can use the information to assist the Government—I genuinely mean assist—to set priorities or to make changes in the way in which money is spent.

One of the recommendations in the PAC report of 6 April states:

"Only an estimated £19 million of the almost £1 billion the Department provides to the European Union annually is spent on HIV/AIDS."

It goes on to make clear and specific recommendations about what the PAC believes the Government should do about the money that goes through the EU for HIV/AIDS spending.

The final recommendation in the paragraph states:

"The Department should be prepared to reduce or withdraw support to the European Development Fund where it has evidence that funding would be used ineffectively."

That is one of many specific recommendations from a report and evidence that were based on the specifics. The report is an analytical examination of how HIV/AIDS money is spent.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

My hon. Friend and I agree about accountability and the Public Accounts Committee. Does she accept that there is a strong argument, which I have tried to present on previous occasions, that the manner in which the European Union organises the evaluation of its accounts through the Court of Auditors and so on should also be in the Public Accounts Committee's purview, so that the Committee would not merely make the sort of recommendation that she cited, but adjudicate on any EU failures to use the British taxpayers' money appropriately?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Deputy Chairman (Organising and Campaigning), Conservative Party, Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Public Accounts Committee does exactly that. We have been to see the Court of Auditors in the past six months.

On development and HIV, the report provided the sort of analytical information that is needed not only for the Public Accounts Committee but for the Floor of the House. That applies not only to HIV, but to all the important matters that are listed in the millennium goals and in the Bill. The measure provides for holding that sort of debate annually on the Floor of the House with Ministers. I know that we might be considered to be anoraks, but the PAC focuses on public money, the way in which it is spent and its effectiveness. However, as I said earlier, civil servants appear before us, not the people who make the policy.

The Bill is not only about how much money is spent, but about an analysis of the effectiveness of the spending so that we get more value. Value, translated into practical terms, means saving lives, reducing disease, raising standards of living and education. All those matters are not quite within the scope of the Public Accounts Committee.

Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Whip

I welcome the opportunity to put on the record my support for the Bill. Although it is important to assess the development assistance on, for example, tackling HIV and AIDS, is it not also important to ensure progress towards empowering countries to tackle the problem themselves, through reviewing such matters as the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, which act as a barrier to that? Should not that progress be tracked and reported?

Photo of Angela Browning Angela Browning Deputy Chairman (Organising and Campaigning), Conservative Party, Deputy Chair, Conservative Party

Yes; the hon. Lady makes a pertinent point. The scope of the Bill means that the annual report that the Government will have to make will allow the House to challenge across the range. Although the Bill requires the Government to report on the way in which United Kingdom Government development money and aid is spent, the measure covers spending across the piece. Analysis of UK spending on a bilateral or multilateral basis is also included.

We are not simply considering the money that the Department for International Development spends in isolation. The Bill provides for examining our work with other countries, NGOs and international bodies to ensure that we have the best value for that money in resolving the problems and helping them to be prioritised in a way that has perhaps not happened previously.

The Public Accounts Committee report that I cited was narrow because it was specific to HIV/AIDS. I do not make my next point in a partisan way, because not only more recent Public Accounts Committee reports but internal reports from the Department have expressed the same view. For example, in November 2003, an internal Department report said that

"there is generally insufficient information on the links between DfID's inputs and interventions on the one hand, and the positive outcomes observed on the other".

The Department has picked up on the need for change in the way in which such matters are analysed. The Bill provides that they would be reported to the House, thus informing the wider debate.

The measure is one of the most important private Member's Bills to be introduced in recent years. I hope that it gets on to the statute book. Hon. Members keep referring to last night. For those who were not present, a meeting took place with many people, from outside as well as inside the House. It is probably the only occasion on which I will pray in aid the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer[Interruption.] Yes, it is a rare moment. When the Chancellor spoke last night, he said that he wondered why the measure was not already on the statute book. That is exactly right. I wish it a swift and fair passage.

Photo of Nick Brown Nick Brown Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend 10:49 am, 20th January 2006

It is a pleasure to follow Angela Browning, and especially to follow soon after her kind words about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not have the same difficulty in reaching for friendly words about him.

I want to make a brief contribution because I know that it is possible for private Member's Bills to be talked out by their friends as well as their opponents. There is cross-party willingness to put the measure on to the statute book and to give it an easy passage.

Like the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, I am a sponsor. The measure commands all-party support and my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke made a compelling speech. The Bill is well structured. Of course, some of the information that it covers is already available, but it is not drawn together in one place and not supplemented with the sort of detail that we require. The Bill reflects great credit not only on my right hon. Friend and the team that has supported him in preparing it, but on the public servants and outside organisations—the non-governmental agencies—who have been involved in ensuring that we have logically mustered all the objectives so that they can be achieved rationally. This goes to the heart of the core objective of the Bill, namely, the millennium development goals.

The focus of the Bill is the target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income, which is already Government policy. My right hon. Friend's Bill will set out the progress that we are making towards achieving that level of expenditure by 2013. It will enable the House to monitor that steady progress, but if progress is not being made, we shall be able to see that as well, as will the country. All hon. Members have been approached by our constituents on these issues. People of all ages, and of all faiths and none, care deeply about the plight of others, not just about themselves. There is a feeling in the House that we must do something to respond to that.

It is to my right hon. Friend's credit that this private Member's Bill does as much as any private Member's Bill could possibly do in this area. Of course one could say, "Why not draw the 2013 date forward?", but it is not possible for a private Member's Bill to do that. We should not set impossibly high hurdles, then ask why they have not been accomplished. My right hon. Friend has ensured that absolutely everything that a private Member's Bill can do in this area has been included.

The three-year programme set out in the Bill will enable the recipients of aid to see in advance what aid flows will be coming, which will allow them to plan ahead. The Bill places an emphasis on the independent monitoring of the effectiveness of the expenditure, not just the total. There is no point in giving money if it is going to be spent on guns, palaces and other such follies. The money is for a specific purpose: to bear down on poverty. As well as having the generosity and commitment to vote the money, we should also care about how it is spent. My right hon. Friend's Bill will give us, as parliamentarians, rather than the Executive, the opportunity to do that. For that reason, if for no other, I commend it to the House.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, Scotland 10:53 am, 20th January 2006

I congratulate Mr. Clarke on the introduction of this excellent Bill. As a co-sponsor of the Bill, I am delighted, along with other hon. Members, to register my support for it.

Several hon. Members have mentioned yesterday evening's event in Portcullis House in support of the Bill, which was excellent for a number of reasons. It involved not only Members of Parliament but volunteers and non-governmental organisations, and it also had a touch of glitz and glamour, which does not happen often here. I thank the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill for arranging it.

The Bill is a good one, but it is only one piece of the jigsaw. It rightly adds force to the drive to achieve our target of 0.7 per cent. of our gross national income, and the call for annual reports on our progress is excellent. The Bill mentions all the right issues: coherence, sustainability and the millennium development goals. The aspect that I want to concentrate on, however, is the effectiveness of aid.

"Effective aid" and "fair trade" are four words that encapsulate the way forward. This has been a long journey. It has been 35 years since the 0.7 per cent. target was first mentioned at the United Nations General Assembly in 1970. Painfully slow progress has been made to date, but in the past few years there has been a steady increase in the UK's overseas development assistance, and I congratulate the Chancellor and the Government on that. As the sums involved have increased, so has the responsibility to ensure that that aid is effective.

We have a responsibility to several groups. One is the poor in the developing world, whether in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi, the refugee camps in Darfur, or the arid regions of Ethiopia that we often see on our television screens. Those people need every penny to be wisely spent; this can often be a matter of life and death. The victims are often the weakest, the women and the children, and many of them are the victims of man-made disasters as well as natural ones.

Another group consists of our constituents, many of whom have problems of their own, but who understand the desperate need of those who live every day close to the edge, unable to change their own lives without the aid that we know can and must be delivered. We can justify an increased level of aid if it is effective aid. We cannot justify it if it is going into some dictator's bank account.

Photo of Anne Moffat Anne Moffat Labour, East Lothian

I thank the hon. Gentleman for sponsoring the Bill. It is particularly welcome that someone from my neck of the woods should do so. He mentioned the effectiveness of aid. Last year, I visited the Niger delta and saw the stark contrast between abject poverty and an oil-rich country. The governor of the region that I visited had just bought himself a private plane, yet the children there were starving and had no clean water to drink because of the Government's corruption. The effectiveness of the aid in getting through to those people is paramount.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, Scotland

The hon. Lady makes a valid point. The drive towards increasing aid is undermined when people see Californian lifestyles next to mediaeval poverty. This is a problem in India, the Niger delta, Kenya, Malawi and a number of other countries whose rulers can often be seen taking delivery of a brand new Mercedes or a brand new aircraft. This undermines the good work being done by so many Governments, donors and non-governmental organisations.

We can justify the increased level of aid if it is spent effectively. The problem, which was identified on a visit by the Select Committee to the United Nations, is that it has sometimes been Government policy in some countries to put money into the bank accounts of dictators. We would obviously object to that happening, and we must ensure that we are consistent in that regard. We need to see the money going to where it is needed, and to ensure that it is effectively delivered.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the Bill that I am introducing for consideration at a later date. It is called the International Development (Anti-corruption Audit) Bill. I trust from what the hon. Gentleman has said that he will support it, and I should be grateful if he would have a good look at it.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Shadow Minister, Scotland

I had heard of it, but I shall now look at it in more detail. When people hear about corruption, waste and mismanagement, it undermines the thrust of Bills such as these. Once we have the annual reports proposed in the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, however, it will make the work of the House more straightforward in that regard. It will also assist the Select Committee's work, as Malcolm Bruce, who chairs the Committee, has already mentioned.

Other Governments must also play their part. The millennium development goals will not be delivered by any one country on its own, and we are just one small part of a complex multinational picture. The Chancellor said last night that the Bill provides hope, but people cannot live on hope alone. Without it, however, many of them would simply give up. Although, by the end of this debate, people in the Chamber will have played their part, the problems that we have discussed will not be solved. However, there will be a little more hope for a brighter tomorrow for many people who at present have a very bleak future. If anyone does try to talk the Bill out, Bob Geldof will be after them and they will wish that they were in the "Big Brother" house.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East 10:59 am, 20th January 2006

It is a pleasure to follow John Barrett, and I congratulate him on his contribution in sponsoring the Bill. It is nice to hear the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Conservatives, praising the Chancellor, I must say.

I know that time is pressing, so I shall be brief. I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke on introducing the Bill. As my right hon. Friend Mr. Brown said, its great strength seems to be that it would ensure that an annual progress report to Parliament appeared in a consolidated form, covering the contribution towards the millennium development goals not just from the Department for International Development, but from the Government as a whole. It would maintain the momentum of progress towards the 0.7 per cent. target and fulfil our wider international obligations—not least because it would commit future Governments to report in a similar way.

It is important that the report the Bill would require should be accessible and readily comprehensible by the general public, because the jargon and complexity of mechanisms and agreements in trade, debt, aid and development can all too easily alienate a concerned public, who cannot always see what is or is not being delivered by international agreements, perhaps especially in relation to multilateral assistance. The aim should be to make this a document that a concerned public want to read because it shows clearly where progress has been made and where there is more to do.

I am pleased to have the new Oxfam headquarters in my constituency, and I know that Oxfam strongly welcomes not only the benefits that the Bill would achieve for public accountability and debate in this country, but the notice it would give to developing countries of their aid flows for the forthcoming three years, as well as the independent monitoring arrangements it would put in place.

I draw hon. Members' attention to clause 2, which relates to reporting on the coherence of the United Kingdom's contribution to poverty reduction and sustainable development. It would give the Secretary of State some discretion on further matters to be added to the annual report. I very much hope that, whether under this clause or other clauses on millennium development goal 8 or transparency or effectiveness, some further important issues may be included in the interests of parliamentary and public scrutiny, and of understanding.

For example, Oxfam has pointed to the value of also reporting on the conditions applied by the Government and multilateral agencies through which they contribute. There is certainly scope to do that, and DFID has pledged to provide information on conditions through its website. That could therefore be usefully incorporated in the report.

As we are all aware, aid is not just a question of money. Much of DFID's international support is technical assistance, and there is a strong case for integrating technical assistance, as well as other aid, within the report to give a full picture of what the UK is doing.

Last, and very relevant to integrated and comprehensive reporting, are the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development targets for aligning and harmonising donor countries' aid programmes and practices. Measures of progress towards harmonisation, such as how many missions and how much country-analytic work DFID undertakes jointly with other donors, deserve to be reported. We need international performance indicators for this international issue. I would urge that those points be further considered by the Government as and when the Bill becomes law.

This is a great step forward, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill was characteristically modest about his role and what the Bill would do—it is enormously important. We all want the millennium development goals to be achieved, and we all want to help the poorest people in the poorest countries to transform their life chances.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and allowing me the opportunity to put on record my support for the Bill. Britain is now the third-largest contributor to the United Nations. Does he agree that that is an excellent achievement by the Government and that the Bill is crucial to helping and enabling parliamentarians and others fully to understand the good that is being done with that aid, as well as to monitoring progress against targets?

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Labour, Oxford East

My hon. Friend makes a good point. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said, it is not that long ago that international development issues were at the margins of political debate and overseas aid was being cut. We all welcome the enormous shift that has come about through the concerns of the public, the faith groups and others who have been out there campaigning, and who have created this new consensus and shifted the centre of political gravity to a point where everyone wants these goals to be achieved.

Doing so depends on policies and actions in practice. It depends on the practical benefits of fair trade, debt relief, effective aid and investment, sound government and respect for human rights. Reporting clearly on the contribution that Britain is making and renewing our commitment would help to keep up the pressure for progress. The Bill would help to make public and parliamentary accountability and, most importantly, public enthusiasm motors for the continued change that is needed to achieve a fair world order. I very much hope that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading today.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham 11:06 am, 20th January 2006

It is a privilege to follow Mr. Smith and, in particular, to welcome and pay tribute to the Bill so eloquently introduced by Mr. Clarke.

In May, it will be nine years since I was elected to the House. I can honestly say that, over that period, the 10 months that I was fortunate to spend as shadow Secretary of State for International Development, from November 2003 to September 2004, represent the most harrowing, mind broadening and inspiring of all the parliamentary experiences I have so far had.

In that period, as anybody in my post would, I travelled around Africa. I saw for myself the faces of despair and the wretched conditions in which all too many people, including very young children, were obliged not to live, but to exist. The pervasive sense in parts of Africa was of hopelessness. There was a sense in some quarters that nothing would ever get better. In so far as that attitude has gradually changed and there are in the developing world rays of light that did not previously shine, those Governments, as well as private sector organisations, that have accepted a responsibility to promote development can claim some credit.

Let us be, therefore, absolutely clear in discussing this matter: what is the significance that we attach to it? Fighting global poverty is not an optional extra. It is not a desirable goal. It is not even a necessary policy. It is, in my view, unquestionably the supreme moral responsibility of our times. It is the moral responsibility, very specifically, of the rich world to the poorest and most destitute people on the planet.

My view is that the Bill would considerably improve knowledge of this country's international development effort and the quality of that effort. Reporting of what we do, transparency on development assistance and education as to what is spent, where it goes, who benefits and how effective it is are all invaluable features of the Bill.

I do not want to detain the House at length, because I am very conscious that other hon. and right hon. Members want to speak. I would like, if I may, to focus on clause 1, which is, after all, the kernel of the measure. It talks about that annual report, although it does not explicitly require there to be an annual debate on the report in the House. It is, however, my view that there should at the very least be an annual debate on the Floor of the House, not one relegated to Westminster Hall, on the quantity and quality of the British international development effort.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is also a need for an annual discussion in the main Chamber on the progress of the world trade talks, particularly as we face a crucial stage in negotiations and the subject is so relevant and pertinent to development? That is an issue that the House should be debating, fully, in this Chamber.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention, because it underlines the range of matters relating to international development which we in this House have a responsibility regularly, as a matter of course and of pride, to debate. It is no secret from some of my colleagues any more than it is from the Leader of the House that I have been arguing for some time that we ought to have more debates in this Chamber on international development matters. I know that I risk offending some of my right hon. and hon. Friends in saying what I am about to say, but it is my strong view that we are too tied to ancient practices in the selection of issues for consideration in the Chamber.

For historical reasons, which I do not think are particularly compelling or valid today, every year we have a welter of debates on the European Union—I am sure that those are very worth while and important—on defence in the UK and on defence in the world. Ordinarily, those are debates on a motion for the Adjournment. No doubt a case can be made for them. There can certainly be an extremely powerful argument for having, on the Floor of the House, regular debates on development assistance and progress on trade.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that there should be more debates on international development. Does he agree that half an hour of International Development questions is insufficient for such an important issue? Surely there is a case for having a full hour for those questions.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I agree. Harmony is breaking out across the Chamber. It is a relatively uncommon phenomenon, but in this case it is a very healthy state of affairs because it reflects the fact that people from different parties, united in good will, persuaded by the evidence and conscious of the moral imperative to help the developing world, are prepared to put aside their differences, in the way that the electorate would expect, to try to make lives better. We should be conscious of the pervasive cynicism in the country at large about politics and politicians. We have a responsibility—we often touch on it—to try to counter that phenomenon. The electorate today, in so far as they see, hear and take note of our proceedings, will regard this as an example of the House of Commons at its best, not at its worst.

I want to add a further point; it is quite a big ambition for the Bill. I hope that as a result of the Bill and the greatly increased focus on international development matters that can be a by-product of it, we will educate much more widely the public at large about the importance of these matters. Yes, there is a great constituency out there who think that the issues are important, but let us be clear that there are also many people who have not the foggiest idea what this country spends on international development. In America, polling suggests that a lot of people think that their Government spend anything from 5 to 20 per cent. of gross domestic product on international development, whereas we know that it is, as a share of GDP, substantially less than we in this country spend. I would wager that not one person in 100 among the electorate would know what this country currently spends on international development.

If we can achieve that greater intensity of focus on the issue, give it that political priority and begin that dialogue between ourselves and the electorate, it will serve to show how serious we are and encourage people in our constituencies to press us and the Government of the day, irrespective of their political pedigree, to step up to the challenge and to do more.

Judy Mallaber referred earlier to her participation in the project to send boxes of educational materials to Africa. I was fortunate to participate in that project, diligently instigated and pursued by Ms Keeble. I am delighted that it made a difference in some of those recipient African countries, and I can tell the House how gratified the children in schools in Buckingham are that what they have done has made a difference to children of a similar age in the poorest parts of the world.

If we can ensure that there is awareness of the Bill in every school in this country, we will be doing a signal service to the education system, to the importance of international development and to the cause of increased pressure from the electorate on the Government of the day to do more, to do better and to accept the responsibility to report on both.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North 11:16 am, 20th January 2006

It is a pleasure to follow John Bercow, who is always very eloquent in his passion for development issues.

I, too, am pleased to speak as one of the supporters of the Bill and to congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke on introducing this important and timely measure. My right hon. Friend is of course an expert in private Members' Bills; in fact he is the only Member of Parliament for whom my mother put pen to paper—she wrote to congratulate him on his Bill on disability. He has a strong track record of interest in both these matters in the House.

The Bill not only bolsters the Government's commitment to eliminate poverty around the globe, but creates a new window of opportunity for the increased transparency and accountability of international development assistance and policy and, as many Members have mentioned this morning, for Parliament to engage thoroughly in detailed debate on these issues in the House.

As a member of the International Development Committee and chair of the all-party group on debt, aid and trade, I have been inspired and humbled by the idealism and commitment demonstrated by literally hundreds of thousands of members of the public—our constituents—particularly over the last 12 months, in the Make Poverty History campaign. It has been a long, long journey, and it is how I became involved and engaged in political discussion when, over 20 years ago, I became a voluntary campaigner for Oxfam. The issues of debt and aid, far less trade, were pursued only by a very small minority. The degree to which that has changed in Government and in Whitehall is like the difference between night and day.

I remember taking part in an Oxfam campaign to secure aid, any aid at all, for Cambodia after the expulsion of the Khmer Rouge. I remember visiting and lobbying a Foreign Office official about the Government's policy on Cambodia; he told us with great pleasure that Cambodians really were not that important in the grand scheme of things because they had no natural resources, the country was landlocked and it held no political power: why should the UK have any interest in their plight? It has taken many years and hundreds of thousands of ordinary people, working together in faith movements, through NGOs, through trade unions and taking a strong moral interest in these issues, to keep going with a consistent campaign to urge us, as their political representatives, to take note of what they want this country to represent and to be.

I had the greatest pleasure, before I came into the House, of taking part as a volunteer in many of those activities. I took part in the march in Birmingham for the G8 summit in 1998 when 70,000 people turned up from all over the United Kingdom. I went there and back in a day in a bus from Glasgow. Many people attended a major public demonstration on something that had no direct influence on their personal lives. I thought that 70,000 was the maximum we could get, but of course we had 250,000 people in Edinburgh last year in the largest public demonstration in Scotland's history. Ordinary people from all walks of life came out, people of all ages and all creeds and colours, to say that they wanted this country to continue to take a lead role in eliminating poverty in the world.

I am pleased that all the main political parties have indicated their support for the campaign and accepted the case for substantial increases in development aid. The Bill will help to ensure that the UK Government, of whatever political flavour, can be held accountable on those people's hopes and demands.

Although 2005 was a fantastic year for international development, with unprecedented public mobilisation and significant steps taken by the international community on aid and debt relief, we all know that there is still very much that we need to do. As a member of the International Development Committee, I am well aware that we need to ensure that substantial increases in aid over the next few years are spent wisely. The rise in DFID funding will be approximately 20 per cent. per annum for each of the next four to five years. That is unprecedented for any Department in our history. It will undoubtedly present the Government with a major challenge.

Multilaterally, either at the European Union or in international finance institutions, there will also be significant increases in aid. There have been increases by other EU members, by Japan, and, to be fair, although it is from a very low base, by the United States of America. We will need to ask hard questions about how that money will be spent. We need vigorously to examine how we ensure that the outputs—Angela Browning correctly said that this is about outputs and how they affect the millennium develop goals—are going to be achieved. That is why the Bill is important in ensuring that part of the process comes within the House.

I wholeheartedly support the Bill's focus on the millennium development goals, which have been the internationally recognised targets over the past six years. They provide a focus for development work and a means to harmonise the provision of aid throughout the world. Increasingly, there are issues about donor harmonisation. Someone in Tanzania facing up to 80 different donors has different standards of how the aid is applied, different accountancy dates and different audit procedures, which is a recipe for inefficiency. We need to try as far as possible to act internationally and cohesively to achieve the best aid efficiency.

We must also remember, as John Bercow correctly said, that we are discussing basic rights that every human being should have—to food, sanitation, shelter and education. They are the core of human rights.

The Bill's endorsement of the millennium development goals comes at a crucial time. Unfortunately, although the G8 summit led to substantial progress and a real shift forward, the subsequent UN world summit in September witnessed a worrying lack of commitment and urgency from some world leaders. More importantly, a third of the way towards the 2015 target date, many of the millennium development goals and the nations involved in them are worryingly off track. Fifty countries are going backwards on at least one millennium development goal. As a region, sub-Saharan Africa is failing on every one of them.

That does not simply mean that world leaders will have to lament missing yet another target. It actually translates into death and suffering for millions of people across our globe. Reaffirming the UK Government's commitment to those goals will reinvigorate global debate on the urgent action needed to turn those promises into reality.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Labour, Normanton

As a fellow co-sponsor of the Bill, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. On her present point, and in the light of the comments of John Bercow, what are her views on transparency of reporting and on the role it can play in pursuing the Bill's objectives and the millennium development goals? The Bill's emphasis on transparency of reporting is important for reasons that go beyond simply making sure that people are aware of the scale of the challenge, or holding people in the House to account for the actions that need to be taken.

Cannot the very process of transparency and reporting play an important role in building the consensus required to take the necessary actions to meet the goals? Does she agree—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has perhaps given the hon. Lady enough to agree with.

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North

I agree with my hon. Friend, who, before he came to the House, played an important part in directing Government policy in the areas we are discussing. If we are to instil the principles of good governance throughout the world, we need to be able to show that our own standards are fully transparent and as accountable as possible. The report will be read not only by people in the House or by our constituents: it will be read by parliamentarians in many of the developing nations that we seek to help and will assist them in holding their own Governments to account. They will know how much money has been received.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

The hon. Lady will have to blame Ed Balls for prompting this intervention, but he made a very important point. Does she agree that in making people aware in our constituencies of the scale of what is being done, we are also reminding them of the importance of their ratcheting up their contributions? Would not it be helpful if, in as many cases as possible, voluntary giving could be devoted to specific and identifiable projects, in which one could be sure that the intended beneficiaries are the beneficiaries and that money is not lost unnecessarily?

Photo of Ann McKechin Ann McKechin Labour, Glasgow North

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. It is important that it is not just our Government but NGOs and other donors who, when they receive money from the general public, are directly accountable to the public for how they spend the money. In return, if they advise how much they are spending, and what they are spending it on, not just the donor but the donee nation will know how the money is spent. That is just as important a side of the equation. Parliamentarians from developing nations frequently tell me that their major problem is the lack of information by which they can hold people to account, whether it be their own Governments or NGOs operating within their borders.

In reaching the millennium goals and increasing aid we have to have a sense of great urgency. I commend the UK Government's efforts to increase and front-load aid. The Bill attributes importance to the 0.7 per cent. target.

I welcome the holistic approach found in clause 2, which requires the report not only to review DFID's progress towards eradicating poverty, but all other Departments. That is a crucial point. DFID's work will only ever have limited success, unless the Government as a whole incorporate poverty reduction policies into their agenda. The report should not only be about the presentation of statistics. It should allow us to ask fundamental questions about how cohesive our own Government's policies are in fostering sustainable development. I should like to give one example. The Tax Justice Network estimates that $385 billion is lost in the developing world every year through a combination of tax evasion, tax avoidance and money laundering. The organisation argues that the British Government are in a unique position to tackle the problem, given the UK's known strength in the international financial markets and the fact that a large number of tax havens—about 35 of the 72 in the world—either have close links with or are dependencies of the United Kingdom.

Sub-Saharan Africa will be the major beneficiary of last year's G8 agreement, which delivers about $1 billion a year in debt cancellation and about $25 billion in aid. Capital flight in that part of the world is estimated to be $50 billion, and the figure continues to rise in real terms, so any increase in aid to the area threatens to be eroded by money flowing out of the region.

It is estimated that more than 55 per cent. of international trade passes through offshore tax havens. The biggest cause of the so-called leaked income is the widespread practice of mispricing exports and imports to shift profits out of a country. For example, African diamonds have been exported by businesses at a book price that is only a fraction of their true value, so that the real profit shows up only in the offshore location. Private firms, including many multinational corporations, use a sophisticated and wholly illegal network of notional companies to remove millions of dollars of profit from the taxman. Other leaks, including criminal proceeds and corrupt funds, are important, albeit much smaller in volume, but they piggyback on the sophisticated money-moving apparatus set up by western banks and financial institutions. Every nation loses to that type of system. The loss to the UK is estimated to be £100 billion per annum, so putting in place effective anti-avoidance legislation and working to achieve much greater international co-operation would benefit not only the developing world, but all of us.

Good governance must include the ability to administer and collect taxes efficiently, but if increasing amounts of untaxed income and profits are taken out of countries, both legitimately and through corruption, that will severely undermine developing nations' ability to increase their own revenue streams, which would in turn allow them to provide essential public services to their citizens and become less aid dependent. Our objective in working towards the millennium development goals is not just to increase aid but to allow countries to become less aid dependent and able to provide basic public services and meet the needs of their own citizens, which in turn increases accountability, helps the establishment of democracy, and encourages good governance.

We all have a duty to consider every aspect of the way in which we try to achieve that. If we are serious about meeting the millennium development goals, we need to examine our own legislation to rectify and control the problems that I have outlined. It is not simply a matter of increasing funding through a single Government Department. Only by tackling all the issues in a cohesive manner with a unified goal of poverty reduction—from the less obvious issues such as tax havens to central ones such as international trade and the role of the World Trade Organisation—can the UK Government take significant steps towards achieving the millennium development goals and eliminating poverty.

Debt relief is dear to me as chair of the all-party group on debt, aid and trade. The Bill rightly highlights how crucial debt relief is to international development. The UK Government have an outstanding record of making debt relief central to international political priorities, and the G8 deal, combined with the Paris Club deal on Nigerian debt, will make a huge difference by lifting part of the unsustainable debt burden. We need clear and comprehensive reporting, however, because debt relief is an extremely complex matter. One hundred per cent. debt relief must mean 100 per cent. relief, but there are questions about whether it refers to debt stock or to interest payments.

Crucially, the Bill includes the reporting of an area known in debt relief circles as export credit debt. That is important because it accounts for 34 per cent. of global debt and about 20 per cent. of heavily indebted poor countries' debt. When private companies export goods abroad, they obtain an export credit from their own country—say, a rich western nation. The export credit is a guarantee that they will receive payment. If the contract goes sour, they reclaim the money from their own country, which in turn seeks to recover the money from the country in which the contract was carried out under its export credit system; and that country is left with the often hopeless task of trying to recover the money from a domestic private firm. As a result of that system, substantial debt is placed on developing nations.

To be fair, the UK Government have a good record in this respect: they have a policy of writing off the export credit debt of HIPC nations. However, it is important that that element of the debt burden is reported correctly and transparently. I hope that the example provided by the Bill will be followed by other donor nations, so that we can see the full extent of how they are tackling the burden placed on developing nations. By increasing the visibility and scrutiny of such matters, the Bill will highlight the fact that debt relief is not yet a done deal and thus help to maintain the effort to achieve increased debt relief. The Government have recently made announcements on ensuring that other nations support their aim, which I fully support, of extending the HIPC initiative to a further 30 or 40 nations, but the Bill will allow us to track our record and compare it with that of other creditor nations.

Not only will the Bill increase accountability in respect of the Government's international development policy within Westminster, but through the provisions of clause 8 it calls for agreements between the UK Government and its developing nations partners to increase accountability between the parties. Local ownership and a dialogue between donors and recipients is crucial for successful development programmes that meet the needs of local populations. The provision of a forecast of aid three years in advance will put recipient countries in a better position to plan and implement their development programmes. For too long, aid has been provided from year to year on a rather ad hoc basis, which makes it impossible to plan for long-term investment and infrastructure projects such as hospitals, schools and roads. If we provide clear information on how much we are to spend in the next three years, developing nations can make their own plans on how they hope to invest the funds.

The Bill will increase accountability to international partners, as I have said, and it will serve as an example for international financial institutions, and perhaps persuade them to apply similar transparency and accountability measures. Last year, the international parliamentarians' petition for democratic oversight of the IMF and the World Bank attracted the signatures of more than 1,000 parliamentarians across the globe, including 250 from the UK. Parliamentarians and civic society groups in the least developed countries often have the least access to comprehensive and reliable information on the source of Government funding. The Bill will assist their efforts to hold their own Governments to account.

Transparency and accountability are at the heart of the Bill, and I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill for raising those issues. Critically, the Bill relates not only to the amount of aid being spent but to the efficiency with which it is spent: it sets out basic standards to measure efficiency and creates the opportunity for that to be scrutinised and debated in the public realm. The Bill has the potential to contribute to much better public understanding of aid and its complexities, while encouraging new debate, thinking and learning on aid efficiency in the next few years within Westminster and Government Departments, as well as in the broader development community.

That transparency, by breaking down aid country by country, allows scrutiny of the interests and agenda driving aid allocation, and allows parliamentarians to ensure that the needs of the poor rather than political interests determine that. I commend the Bill for introducing some important practical measures to promote the Government's poverty reduction policy. I hope that it will be followed by an annual debate on the Floor of the House, in which the general public could participate by increasing their representations to parliamentarians throughout the year. I am sure that Members are more than willing to take up that challenge and to represent their constituents in making poverty history.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone 11:40 am, 20th January 2006

I am glad to follow Ann McKechin. I am also glad to have been able to speak from the platform at the Birmingham meeting in 1999 in respect of debt relief, which was my privilege as chairman of the all-party group on the Jubilee campaign for debt relief.

It is often thought that commitment to the alleviation of poverty and AIDS in the third world is somehow the prerogative of those from one end of the political spectrum. I would disabuse the House of that notion. The involvement of John Bercow and a whole list of Conservative Members shows that it is genuinely an all-party concern, and there are those among us who are deeply and passionately concerned to ensure that the moral dimension associated with international poverty, and particularly the difficulties in Africa, is properly appreciated.

I want to refer briefly to the Prime Minister's statement to the House on the G8, in which he rightly said:

"So Africa is an immediate moral cause that commands our attention."

I also want to pay tribute, as I have done previously, to the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, the Secretary of State for International Development, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and former Conservative Ministers who have taken an active part in promoting such important issues. I want to refer particularly to the acceleration of concern in recent years, which included the cancellation of 100 per cent. of heavily indebted poor countries' multilateral debts through the efforts of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development.

Some people were cynical about the Chancellor's trip to Africa, but I am not. It is vital that senior Ministers are seen to be taking an active interest and that they do so. I also commend Mr. Clarke for promoting the Bill with all-party support, because it is important to provide such information as a step towards improvement of the situation. I also endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Buckingham, the hon. Member for Glasgow, North, my hon. Friend Angela Browning and others with respect to the need for a debate and for tackling such matters in a nuts-and-bolts fashion.

The Prime Minister, in his statement to the G8, said:

"It was the most detailed and ambitious package for Africa ever agreed by the G8. However, none of it can be implemented or improve the lives of African citizens without significant improvements in standards of governance, transparency and accountability. It is a partnership, not an act of charity. In the end, only Africans can lead and shape Africa. We can help, but every Government in Africa who betrays the principles of good governance betrays Africa."—[Hansard, 11 July 2005; Vol. 436, c. 580–81.]

Those were important words. As chairman of the all-party Uganda group, and as vice-chairman of the Tanzania and Kenya groups, I believe strongly that it is in Africa's interests that we speak plainly about those questions. Furthermore, we should do so with the object of improving the lot of those who are governed in those countries, for the moral reasons that the Prime Minister set out, to which many Members of the House are dedicated.

Having said that, I am also bound to say that, on examining the Bill, I feel that however worthy and valuable its objective in terms of the presentation of information, there is a difficult nuts-and-bolts question that we must confront. Where the Bill refers repeatedly to the Secretary of State's assessment of this, that and the other, the real question will be whether that assessment will necessarily lead to sorting out the problems evident not only in Africa but in other countries where questions of aid and international development apply.

I refer, for example, to clause 5, which states:

"The annual report shall include the Secretary of State's assessment of the United Kingdom's contribution both financially and in other ways . . . given through"— for example—

"the European Union".

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton made that point with respect to her Bill on the Public Accounts Committee. We all know, if we are straight and honest, that a vast amount of money is maladministered through the European Union, and my good friend Sir Bob Geldof, with whom I have discussed the matter on many occasions, has strong views on it, as I do. Those views are justified. One only needs to read the Court of Auditors' report to realise that I do not need to elaborate. It is there for anyone to see. But what is done about it? Very little. Therefore, while a lot of money goes to people whom everyone in the House believes passionately should be helped, the amounts are not what they should be.

That raises the question not only of corruption but of maladministration. That problem must be addressed, and my belief is that it could be addressed through rearrangement of the way in which British taxpayers' money, for which Members of the House have an interest and responsibility, is paid over to the European Union and directed to those countries that require aid or help. Our Public Accounts Committee should be able to exercise a more direct control over the way in which it is either maladministered through the EU or ends up in the wrong bank accounts.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

I believe that the hon. Gentleman, like me, wants an increase globally in the amount of aid given to poor countries. This country is moving in the right direction, but not every country is doing so. If aid currently administered by the European Union were repatriated to member states, we in this country might well use it better, but other countries might not spend it on aid at all, and overall there might be a reduction in aid. Does he therefore agree that the sensible thing is to tackle inefficiencies in the European Union rather than to repatriate the money to member countries?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

It would take quite a lot to get me to agree to the latter, but I passionately agree that it is important that procedures are deployed properly at any given time for the right purposes. So it may surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that at the moment, given present arrangements, I would prefer an improvement in the way in which the EU operates in this respect, without prejudice to my general concern that it might be better done by us. However, that is a separate issue.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I realise that one cannot extend the parameters of the Bill without limit. Its purpose of course is to record the help that we are giving, but does my hon. Friend agree that we ought in all honesty to record also the damage that we are doing? Given that currently the European Union is spending €64 billion a year on domestic agricultural support, a very significant proportion of which is the cause of dumping on African countries and damage to them, should not we own up to what is morally wrong, economically counter-productive and politically indefensible?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Indeed; I absolutely endorse what my hon. Friend has said. It is very important that such comments should not be seen as some illustration of a Europhobic outburst, which some like to make them out to be. I wish people would grow up for a bit on these matters. We are talking about practical questions and realities. Keith Vaz and Mr. MacShane gave evidence to the European Reform Forum, as did Will Hutton and Charles Grant and many others from the other side, as it were, of the European debate, and Oxfam has agreed to give evidence on behalf of those such as itself who are deeply concerned about these matters on the implications for international development issues, in order to ensure proper analysis of what is going on. That evidence is periodically published. Above all else, we need to get away from the idea, which is quite often suggested, that the remarks of those of us who have reservations about the way in which the European Union functions are driven by irrational, Europhobic views. In fact, they are based on evidence that needs to be properly evaluated.

That brings me to my point about transparency. I have heard much today about the question of accountability. In fact, I think that I have heard accountability mentioned about 30 times. It is a matter of what one means by accountability. It can mean in a rather loose sense that information is provided, which is what the Bill provides for. It can mean that there is a debate. However, there might be a vote at the end of that debate and—surprise, surprise—if that debate is in the Government's name or it is an Adjournment debate, we know what to expect in any vote, particularly if the Government have a majority. So, that does not prove anything. If we want to solve the problems that are inherent in the question of where the money goes in respect of vital matters such as people dying of AIDS, malaria or starvation, let us be grown up about it. It is not enough just to talk about such things or even to be informed about them, important as that is. We need to establish the evidential basis for putting things right. That is what accountability means.

As has been mentioned, the Public Accounts Committee meets only permanent secretaries and officials. It does not meet the Minister and ask him the questions. Let us face it, in International Development questions we do not always get the answers that we would like. We may get the best answer that Ministers are prepared to give, but that might not solve the problem. Clause 8 deals with the issue of transparency, and I would very much like to be added to it provision for an internationally supervised audit, which is the bones of the Bill that I have already proposed. I consulted extensively on my International Development (Anti-corruption) Audit Bill, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for writing to me about it on 23 July. The Under-Secretary replied in an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall on the subject. Unfortunately, however, clause 8 of the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill does not address the questions that need to be addressed. I am not suggesting that we should impose our will without being sensitive to the necessity for other Governments to run their own affairs. However, when we provide substantial sums of money to assist those countries, whether that money comes from international organisations or the United Kingdom, whether it is passed through the channels or conduits of the European Union or otherwise, it is essential that it is properly audited.

That raises the important question of the nature of the public accounts committees of the countries in question. It is no secret that, over the years, substantial sums of money that have been made available through the agencies, Governments and Parliaments of the nations that I have mentioned have gone to countries where the money ends up in the bank accounts of leaders and other people. The report by the Commission for Africa entitled "Our Common Interest" faces up to that problem. I need not go into it in detail, as the issue is set out in chapter 4. The report addresses the need to do the job properly, along the lines that I propose in my Bill. I am not criticising the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, as his Bill is a first-class measure, which I support. However, it needs some hard nuts and bolts, such as the external audit that I propose in my Bill.

Such a measure would be required if analysis showed that other countries' public accounts committees and their internally supervised domestic audits simply are not working. There are means to introduce such provisions, and I believe that we should do so. We should impose conditions on assistance provided under the International Development Act 2002 and encourage other countries and the relevant international financial institutions to do likewise. The kernel of my Bill is the requirement to hold an audit of any public expenditure within the country in question arising from assistance under international development arrangements. That audit should be carried out

"by or under the supervision of suitably qualified persons authorised by relevant international financial institutions, undertaken, so far as the Secretary of State deems practicable, in conjunction with those appointed for the purpose of such audit within that country".

Clause 8 of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill states that the annual report should provide an "assessment of transparency". Subsection (2) states:

"The Secretary of State's assessment of transparency shall take account of whether it is possible to . . . make provision for the independent monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of policy and expenditure in achieving its stated objectives".

It is not enough merely to require the assessment to take account of whether it is "possible" to secure independent monitoring and evaluation. It is a wish list—a hope. I invite the Minister to address the matter when he replies.

The clause goes on to state that the assessment shall take account of whether it is possible to

"secure and publish an agreement with recipient countries which will contribute towards the achievement of the objectives listed".

There is a serious practical question which requires a hard, nuts-and-bolts evaluation. That does not detract from the Bill, which takes matters well forward in a constructive manner. I pay tribute to the promoter for that, but I am not satisfied that it does the job of dealing with an independent evaluation, not simply because of its academic approach to the need for better accounting procedures, but because if an evaluation is not carried out properly, as I described, the people who ought to receive the money will not get it and nobody will know why not. There must be a proper Public Accounts Committee that delivers, and a proper auditing arrangement.

There are countries that do undertake proper accounting and there are countries that will want to improve their procedures, so I make this constructive suggestion. For countries that have not complied and will not comply, it is essential that we move from encouraging them to the next stage, which is to make that a condition of our providing assistance. That is in line with the Prime Minister's comments in the G8 statement about the need for Africans to help themselves, and in line with good governance and with the thrust of the report , "Our Common Interest". It is imperative that we get to grips with the issue and do not just talk around the subject.

Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton 12:01 pm, 20th January 2006

I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke on the characteristic clarity and compassion with which he introduced the Bill to the House. Several Members mentioned the reception that was held last night, when our right hon. Friend the Chancellor reminded us of something that Gandhi had said—that when we face decision or action to eradicate poverty, we should remember the last face we saw that was suffering the devastating effects of poverty.

That brought to mind a number of things, including a delegation of which I was a member, as was Mr. Cash, in 1998. That was my first visit to Tanzania. Nothing can ever prepare one for a first visit to Africa. We see it; it comes into our living rooms every day, but somehow the television screen manages to diminish the extent of the poverty. It is only when one travels hundreds of miles by road, as we did on that occasion, that one sees the face of poverty in all its devastation for the millions of people who, sadly, are still at the sharp end of that.

I listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Stone said about his Bill. On that visit to Africa, we were studying the rule of law and democracy, and examining issues of governance, which are extremely important. It is essential that they are covered by the reporting system that my right hon. Friend seeks to introduce through his Bill. I will look with interest at the proposals of the hon. Member for Stone, although I would be cautious about the costs and bureaucracy that they would entail, which could get in the way. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman has aroused our interest in his Bill.

I visited Africa again four or five years later, after travelling to Nigeria with a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation. I cannot forget the mile after mile of poverty. That, together with the urging of our constituents to do something about it, engages us all in measures to bring about international development and tackle poverty.

Some hon. Members will associate me with championing Fairtrade chocolate here in the House of Commons—on one occasion I even brought chocolate on to the Floor of the House without anyone noticing. I do not think that we are supposed to bring food into the Chamber, but I did on that occasion. I followed my visit to Nigeria with a personal visit to Ghana, which I asked the Divine chocolate company to assist me in bringing about. I asked if I could meet a cocoa grower and I was taken into the Ashanti country to a village called Fenaso Domeabra, which means "If you love me, you will come to me", a delightful name for a village, and I was introduced to a village of cocoa growers. That brought home to me the positive side, but also the reality for people whose lives are blighted by poverty. Hon. Members have heard me speak of that visit before, so I shall just take a couple of points arising from it that are important to the issue of transparency with which the Bill deals.

Fair trade had allowed that village to invest in a water well, and I saw for myself how that transformed the lives of the women and children in particular. Previously, they had had to walk for four hours every day to get the water that the village required, and that meant that there was no time for school, and at that time they probably did not have the money either. The well had transformed their lives. It made it possible for children to spend time in school, and it allowed the women of the village to use the time that that made available to develop a second cash crop, crushing palm fruit and extracting oil for sale, thereby helping, however modestly, to raise their standard of living, and that was very necessary.

The village had a school when I visited, but it was a salutary lesson to be faced with the raw facts. The villagers' income at that time was about $1 a day, and out of that they paid for the schoolteacher. That village had education, but it paid for it out of very low incomes. The whole question of sustainability, which my right hon. Friend, through transparency, seeks to develop, particularly in clause 7, will allow us to focus on how we can make the money work much more effectively. During that visit, some farmers and their wives walked for two hours from a neighbouring village to ask me how they, too, could obtain a water well, because they could see how such a simple measure, even at that very basic level, could transform their lives.

My right hon. Friend reminded us of the distance that we have to travel in order to meet the millennium development goals to bring water, education and health to many more villages in Africa and elsewhere, and the Bill will help us to focus on what we can do. Ghana is one of the 10 countries that we would be reporting on in greater detail, and clause 7(2)(d) and (e) deal with furthering sustainable development, including the protection of the environment, and with expanding trading opportunities for low income groups. The Kuapa Kokoo company, which is a co-operative with 750 cocoa growing villages, is exactly the sort of the project that we should highlight in the annual report and the regular debate.

Yesterday, I was working with people to develop our economic vision for Plymouth. It was an exciting day that involved an ambitious yet realistic agenda to tackle the poverty that we inherited in our city, which was one of two in our country to host an Oxfam project in 1997. I am pleased to say that we have made so much progress in Plymouth since then, but my constituents have also found time to urge me to support initiatives on debt reduction, trade and international development.

After yesterday's Plymouth economic development strategy meeting, I went to the annual event hosted by Hamoaze House, an imaginative project that seeks to assist substance abusers. It presents its annual report imaginatively, using drama, poetry and film. The second contribution—sadly, I could not stay for the whole presentation—was from a woman who has managed to restore her self-belief and deal with her substance abuse issue. She recited a poem that she had written as a seven-year-old about how important it is that all the children of the world receive education. People in this country whose lives are blighted by poverty understand the importance of the millennium development goals on a worldwide scale.

John Bercow has suggested that the annual reporting associated with the Bill could help us to educate our constituents. He hazarded a guess that perhaps as few as one in 100 of our constituents understand the issue, but I am not sure whether that is correct because several hundred of my constituents write to me regularly. For example, Carrie Flint of Connaught avenue, Plymouth, states that only five of the richest countries are fulfilling the promise to provide 0.7 per cent. of gross national income in overseas aid, and that six countries, including the UK, have set a clear target to reach that objective soon. She has a clear understanding of the Bill and why I should support it.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I do not want to quibble with the hon. Lady about the matter and my point was not a criticism. I put it to her that although there is a significant body of people who are passionate about the issues, who constantly urge us to do better and who write regularly, they form a small proportion of the electorate as a whole. It concerns me that there are a lot of people out there who are of good will and who want us to do the right thing, but who are not aware of the scale of what we are doing and, by implication, of what we are not doing.

Photo of Linda Gilroy Linda Gilroy Labour, Plymouth, Sutton

I accept that people are not aware of the scale of what is being done, but, as we have seen at demonstrations, a substantial number of people know a good deal about the matter, and I have received many letters urging me to support my right hon. Friend's Bill. My right hon. Friend has reminded us that those issues were once a backwater, whereas now they resonate in all our constituencies, and I hope that he and I are here to experience not only the day when the Bill is enacted, but the day when we pass the Finance Bill to provide the resources to meet the 0.7 per cent. target.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 12:14 pm, 20th January 2006

I will be brief to allow other hon. Members to speak.

I join the chorus of congratulations to Mr. Clarke on introducing this fine Bill. I commend the assiduous way in which he has gone about garnering support, not only from Members of Parliament, but from aid agencies and the whole non-governmental organisation community. Three Scottish National party Members are here today—half our parliamentary group—to support him in his endeavours. We are here not just out of affection for the right hon. Gentleman, although he can take that for granted, but because we believe that this is a very important Bill.

The key words that keep ringing around this Chamber today are "accountability" and "transparency". Those words are particularly important in relation to international development, and we should air them as often as possible.As I have said before, the Department for International Development should be as spin-free as possible in discussing its international aid strategies. On occasion, this Government, particularly the Chancellor, come pretty close to spinning such issues. That is utterly counterproductive: first, because it heightens expectations among African and developing nations, which can only end in disappointment; and secondly, it does not allow us, as Members of Parliament, to get a full picture of what is happening and what more needs to be done. The Bill would ensure that we got the raw data, spin-free. All that it asks is that an annual report be presented to Parliament, which, as we have heard, would be more or less cost-free. One would think that a parliamentary report would be of interest only to us as parliamentarians, but I think that it would serve the many members of the public who take an interest in these affairs and could be informed about what we are doing.

As we have heard, 2005 was a momentous year for international development. We had the G8 summit, with the Government placing Africa on the agenda, and the Live 8 concerts. I was fortunate enough to see the concert at Murrayfield, which was a fantastic evening out.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development)

Unfortunately not. I was awaiting my invitation, but it did not arrive.

I was also at the fantastic demonstration in Edinburgh, when that massive white band of hope encircled the city.

As for what we achieved in the course of 2005, I have to say that I do not know, although I speak on international development issues for my party. I am sure that if other hon. Members were honest, they would say the same. After G8, I listened carefully to what was said. Bob Geldof told us, "Job done—10 out of 10 for this, that and the other", and the Government suggested that it was a momentous and historic step forward in securing a great deal for Africa. Then the aid agencies and the NGOs quietly went about their business, dissecting what had happened, and came to the clear conclusion that in no way did the reality meet the rhetoric. The Bill would allow us to match the gap between reality and rhetoric, which can only be a good thing.

I particularly welcome the commitment to working towards giving 0.7 per cent. of gross national income for overseas aid. I am delighted that that is in the long title of the Bill. That figure is the totem in international development—the crucial litmus test of whether Governments are meeting their overseas development obligations. There is a lot of confusion about what it represents. People seem to think that it is charity—a gift from the developed world to the developing world. It is nothing of the sort. As Kumi Naidoo continually reminds us, it is about justice, reparation, and recognising and acknowledging the disaster that we made in the developing world through colonisation, subjugation and brutal extraction. It is about playing a part in ensuring that we redress our historic duty. I am delighted that it is at the heart of the Bill.

I think that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill would acknowledge that the Bill would not deal with all those issues. However, it would allow us to see clearly the efforts that the Government are making in honouring their international obligations and commitments. We have to come to the depressing conclusion that they, and the international community in general, have been pretty poor at doing that. Anything that allows us to debate what the Government are doing is to be welcomed. I assure the right hon. Gentleman of the support of the SNP and Plaid Cymru group for his Bill.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation 12:19 pm, 20th January 2006

I remind the House that my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke has campaigned long and hard in the House for the poor of the world. I congratulate him on that and on bringing forward the Bill, which I support.

John Bercow told us that his time as the shadow Secretary of State for International Development was a life-changing and attitude-changing period. Anyone who has travelled to a developing country and left the down-town malls to move into the countryside and seen the lives of a quarter or maybe a half of the world's population cannot help but be moved. The hon. Gentleman was right to start by focusing on the lives and livelihoods of the people that my right hon. Friend is trying to help through the Bill.

I have travelled with the hon. Gentleman to displaced persons' camps—refugee camps—in Darfur. When we look into the eyes of frightened children and frightened parents we cannot return to the UK, forget about it and shrug it off. We have to do something about it, which is what my right hon. Friend seeks to do through his Bill. The measure needs to be supported. All hon. Members on both sides of the House need to talk to colleagues who may have doubts to impress upon them the importance of burying those doubts so as to help the people we intend to help.

I am sometimes humbled by the reaction that we get from the poorest of the poor when we arrive, as far as they are concerned, like spacemen from a different planet. In one of the refugee camps in Darfur I started a conversation with a family—husband, wife and child—who had just arrived at the camp the night before. Their shelter had not yet been built. They had bent a few sticks in arches and later they hoped to gather some cardboard, polythene sheet or something to cover the structure so that they and their child could shelter not from the rain but from the sun. Their possessions were what they had carried with them as they had fled from persecution, from their own Government's jets bombing their village, and from Arab militias who, after the bombing, were chasing them away from their land, their livestock and their child's future.

Those people had next to nothing, but they asked me to sit and drink a cup of karkadee, a sort of herbal tea that people in the area drink. What they gave to me was probably a greater proportion of their entire family wealth at the time than I shall give in development assistance throughout my life, despite being a regular donor to a number of development charities. We stop and think, and realise that we must do more.

When I went to Kenya with the Select Committee on International Development, I saw in the slums of Nairobi the work that a women's voluntary body, Kenwa, was doing in campaigning for the rights of women who are themselves and their families affected by AIDS. I went to the organisation's community centre and was met—those who have been to Africa know that this happens fairly often—by teams of children dancing to celebrate the visit. Their faces were even more shocking than the frightened eyes of those people who had just arrived at the refugee camp . That was because the eyes of the children were dead. The faces of those children were empty. Their parents had died from AIDS and, if it were not for the voluntary body, they, too, would be dead from neglect and starvation. They were exhausted and empty. They needed support, which has to come largely from the rich world. If it does not, we doom them to an existence that, as the hon. Member for Buckingham said, most people in this country cannot even imagine.

I was pleased to bring the leader of Kenwa to London to testify before the all-party Africa group, which I chair, when we were preparing a report on AIDS. I felt that it was important for people in this country to know what Kenwa was doing. The leader is a remarkable woman. She has been HIV positive for 10 years. In the middle of the Select Committee's visit to her project, someone told her that a woman was dying, so she cancelled everything and asked me, "Please go and see her and reassure her that someone will bury her." I accompanied her to meet the woman. When one sees what those people are doing, one knows that a little money, help and support will increase their impact enormously. We must ensure that that support is available.

Last year was designated as a year for Africa. The previous year, the Government set up the Commission for Africa, which responded to a development strategy for the continent that Africans had written, the New Partnership for Africa's Development. The Commission for Africa's report and the NEPAD strategy are widely highly regarded. The commission's influence led last year to commitments from the rich nations to double their aid to Africa and to increase by almost double aid to other countries. It led to decisions to write off 100 per cent. of the debt of the poorest indebted countries. Unfortunately, it failed to lead to the progress that all hon. Members wanted on trade.

To try to drive forward the agenda for Africa in our country, other donor countries and in Africa—without reciprocal policy change in Africa, our aid will not achieve the desired results—I chaired the preparatory committee for a conference funded by the British Council, the UK branches of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Department for International Development. It brought together 119 parliamentarians from G8, EU and African countries to discuss what we needed to do as parliamentarians to ensure that the agreements on aid and debt to secure a better future for Africa materialise and achieve the results that we want.

At the end of the conference, which was held in the British museum, we passed a declaration. Among other things, it stated:

"We undertake to hold our government to account and to exercise oversight . . . by requiring our Executives to make annual reports to parliament about the official development assistance and other development resources which they have received or distributed and how it has been spent."

We sought to impose that obligation on every Government in Africa, the G8 countries and in the European Union. That is precisely what the Bill would do. It would ensure that we, as a Parliament, impose on our Government the obligation to report annually on whether they are meeting the important agreements that were made last year as part of the year for Africa.

If we pass the Bill, we can hold our heads high when we talk to parliamentarians from other donor countries and say, "We have done what we all agreed that we needed to do. When will you ensure that there is a similar report to the Assemblée Nationale, the Bundestag, Congress, the Japanese Diet?" and so on. We need to change the way in which we examine the effectiveness of the aid that we provide, but if we are going to change the lives of the people in the poorest countries of the world, it will not be enough for Britain alone to do that. The whole donor community needs to do it.

Clause 2 of the Bill puts an obligation on our Government to provide a report that covers the full range of the Government's work, not just the work of the Department for International Development. Last year, as part of its policy contribution to the year for Africa, the all-party group on Africa published a report, "The UK Government and Africa in 2005: How Joined Up is Whitehall?" Our conclusion was that, in many areas, there was good policy co-ordination between Government Departments. In the case of debt write-off, for example, there was good co-ordination between the Department for International Development and the Treasury. However, that was not always the case. On trade reform, better co-ordination is needed between agriculture policy, trade policy and international development policy. We still have an over-reliance in the NHS and our private health services on skilled health workers from the poorest countries in the world. We also need better co-ordination in fighting corruption, as Mr. Cash mentioned.

Clause 6 deals with the 0.7 per cent. of gross national income target. I congratulate the Secretary of State for International Development and our Government on setting a timetable for the UK to meet that target. However, we need an annual report to check on our progress. We need to be aware of what is happening, because there could be a change of Government policy in the future. Worse still, there could be a change of Government. We have heard support from both sides of the House for the Government's international development policies, and implicit support for the 0.7 per cent. target. That is a good thing, but I hope that the pressure to meet that target will continue to be voiced from both sides of the House.

It is worth looking back in history to see how policies can change when a party moves from Opposition into Government, in order to realise just how important it is for Parliament to require the Executive to produce the annual report proposed in the Bill. Thirty years ago, in 1975, the then Labour Government published a White Paper on what was then called overseas development, "More Help for the Poorest". That was the first British Government document to propose that aid be refocused on the poorest countries and on the poorest groups of people in those countries. The White Paper was strongly supported by the then Conservative spokesman on overseas development, Christopher Tugendhat, who said in a debate in the House on 7 November 1975:

"I welcome the distinction drawn by the White Paper and its emphasis on directing United Kingdom bilateral aid as far as possible to the poorest countries".

On the volume of aid, he said:

"The Minister"— that is, the Labour Minister—

"said that he did not wish to argue the case for more aid in the House. I do not think that he needs to do so, as much of what he would say would be generally accepted."—[Hansard, 7 November 1975; Vol. 899, cc. 790, 792.]

Mr. Tugendhat also made it clear later in the debate that he was speaking for his party as a whole. When challenged by a sceptical Labour MP about whether the then Leader of the Opposition supported the policy, he said that

"my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has this subject quite as much at heart as anyone else on our side of the House and that her sympathies are very much with the poor and the needy."—[Hansard, 7 November 1975; Vol. 899, c. 862.]

I remind the House that few things changed more quickly in 1979, after the change of Government, than the commitment to overseas aid. In 1979, the UK spent 0.51 per cent. of gross national income on development assistance. By the following year, that had dropped to 0.35 per cent. The purpose of aid had changed too. In February 1980, Neil Marten, the Minister for Overseas Development, announced that the Government would

"give greater weight in the allocation of our aid to political, industrial and commercial considerations".—[Hansard, 20 February 1980; Vol. 979, c. 464.]

What happened? The aid-and-trade provision was substantially expanded. Aid was used to support British companies, such as Leyland buses, Hawker Siddeley aircraft and Westland Helicopters. Of course, we remember the case of the Pergau dam, which prompted me to bring before the House, when my party was in opposition, a ten-minute Bill to require aid to be used, as is now the policy, for the purpose of poverty alleviation, rather than export promotion.

I appreciate that there is a vigorous debate going on in the Conservative party about its future policy direction. We have heard a lot of progressive policy from Conservative Members in today's debate, and I know from speaking to those Members over many years that these are deeply held convictions. They feel passionately about the issue, and I hope passionately that they win the policy debate in their party.

I hope, too, that we and our party retain the commitment, which we have at the highest levels of government, to development assistance. However, we cannot know for sure that the progressives, if I may call them that, on the Opposition Benches—the Conservative modernisers—will win the debate, and I cannot be absolutely sure that the pro-development caucus in my party will continue always to gain the support from the highest levels of government that we gain now. I want both to happen. If we had an annual report to the House on what was happening—in terms of volume and of quality—with our development assistance, we would be better able, as pro-development Members of Parliament on both sides of the House, to ensure that our respective parties backed what we were doing.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill changed for the better the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people in this country with his Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. Two decades later, he is still held in high regard by development organisations and campaigners in this country. He made his name with that legislation. If this Bill gets on to the statute book, with the help of hon. Members on both sides of the House, it will change for the better the lives of hundreds of millions of the poorest and most needy people in the world. Let us all ensure that that happens.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (International Development) 12:38 pm, 20th January 2006

Due to the length of the contributions from some hon. Members, I was beginning to wonder whether their attention to detail and enthusiasm would lead not only to me not being called, but perhaps to them inadvertently talking the Bill out. I am glad that that has not happened.

I am pleased to be able to speak in support of the Bill and, indeed, to show my solidarity with the community that we have here in the House involving those of us on both sides who are passionately committed to development issues. More importantly, I am happy to stand in solidarity with the global community, which is the community that is particularly involved with the Bill. However, I am disappointed that doing so means that today I am unable to serve the community that I represent—my constituency. I am having to miss surgeries to be here. I hope that the Government consider that issue in terms of the scheduling of private Members' Bills.

As has been said, 2005 was a year that began with huge hope, energy and enthusiasm by what I call the coalition of hope—the global community mobilising to try to do something about the scandal of global poverty. Unfortunately, in the end it was a year of limited promises and huge disappointment. The Bill, which I support in its entirety, is about openness and honesty. We therefore have to start by being honest about what was achieved last year at the G8 summit and the WTO. Behind the back-slapping of the pop stars and politicians, the reality of what emerged from the global commitments made last year has been exaggerated; it was disappointing and substantially inadequate.

Of the $48 billion of aid that was promised, only $20 billion is new money, and of that some may come from future aid budgets. It is five years too late. Although some of the debt settlement is of course very welcome, it will in reality be about $1 billion a year, whereas the UN has said that $10 billion a year in debt relief is needed to make any difference, and that is without its being conditional.

I am glad to say, however, that the Bill marks a positive start to 2006, and all those of us who are involved in campaigning for international development must retain our sense of optimism, or the cause will be lost. I therefore welcome the Bill; it is a small but significant step in bringing more openness and honesty into both Government and global policy on international development.

The Bill is important for two reasons connected with the general public, as well as being important to Members, as has been stressed. There are really two sorts of people in this country: the first group is made up of those who are, frankly, largely ignorant about international development issues and those who not only are ignorant but question the effectiveness of the UK's aid programmes. How many times have we heard people ask, "How do I know that the money will get to those who need it?"? We need to engender confidence in those people that aid is indeed being directed where it should be spent and to those who need it. The Bill, I believe, would do that.

The second group of people are those of us who are genuinely committed to challenging the global apartheid of injustice and poverty. The Bill would allow us to see whether the rhetoric is matched by reality. It would give all of us in the House and outside the chance to see whether the promises are being kept and whether the millennium development goals have a chance of being achieved, not in 150 years, which is the current position in one case, but in 10 years. We know that it will not be the latter.

The Bill is about openness and accountability. There is will on both sides of the House and outside, and in the NGOs. The Bill is very simple in its aim: it will see that the promises of this Government and of world leaders are kept and that they lead to the progress that will lift millions out of poverty. I welcome it.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran 12:43 pm, 20th January 2006

I am grateful for the opportunity to put on the record my support for this valuable initiative by my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke. I welcome the cross-party support for the Bill. It shows how far we have come that all political parties are setting targets for when we are to meet the target, set so many years ago, for the amount of aid that we should provide to developing countries, which, as we are all so well aware, are suffering from such extreme poverty and inequality.

When I first came to this place in May after the general election, I experienced a short two months when the issues in the Bill were very much at the top of the political agenda. That, of course, was because of the Labour Government's inspired decision to put debt, aid and, in particular, Africa at the top of the agenda for the G8 summit in Glenrothes. That period showed how important it is that politicians put the issue at the top of the agenda. We are all aware of powerful political lobbies in all our constituencies who put articulate cases on why the issue has to be tackled. It is, however, only when politicians and our political leaders recognise the importance of the issues that we are able to galvanise the kind of demonstration that we saw in Edinburgh last July when 250,000 people marched through the city in what was probably the biggest political demonstration ever seen in Scotland.

Like many in the House, I was one of the many on that march. It was a moving occasion, but one of the more significant issues arising for me was the number of young people there. They were engaging perhaps for the first time on a political issue. They went on that demonstration in the genuine belief that the Government would do something to change things and take the issues forward. I believe that we did achieve many things last year in Glenrothes, but of course we have a long, long way to go.

The Bill provides an important way to try structurally to make sure that the issues become far more central to debates in the House. For that reason, it is an important initiative.

John Bercow talked about the strong moral case for making sure that we tackle the issues. Of course, it is an outrage that 50,000 people die every day as a result of poverty. That is one third of the deaths in the world every day. There is a huge moral case for tackling the issues. More than that, though, there is a strong political case for taking the issues on, full frontal. It is in none of our interests to have such inequality and extreme poverty in the world. If we allow it to continue, and if in an age of high-level communication and television we do not make sure that the western world takes the issues on and finds the political solutions, the political problems that they create will come back to haunt us.

The types of inequality and the extremes of poverty even within countries in the developing world—never mind the differences between the UK and many of the poorer countries—create a political inequality and injustice that will lead to political problems for us all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is making a proposal that would enable us to make sure that our moral outrage at the injustice that we see and the political and economic injustice are addressed.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

The hon. Lady is making an eloquent speech. I agree with her; she is absolutely right. Does she agree with me in turn that the peoples of the developing world who are suffering so much will have reason over a period to be ever more resentful of us in the rich part of the world on the ground of neglect, in terms of the inadequacy of development assistance, but perhaps even more on the ground of exacerbation of their problems through trade policy? That is not an accident; it is deliberate.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

The hon. Gentleman brings me on to my next point, which is that I believe it is very much in our economic interest to address the issues we are debating. When countries exist with which we cannot trade in any normal or meaningful way, and when huge parts of the world live in such poverty, we all suffer economically. It is in all our interests to do all we can to encourage those countries' economies.

I hope that today's debate results not only in a decision to produce a structured report each year as a mechanism to enable the House genuinely to debate the issues but in the emergence of political consensus. The question is not whether we dedicate funds and resources to aid; that should be a given on both sides of the House. However, it is reasonable to discuss how we spend that money and use those resources. I hope that the significant political moves that we have seen recently have increased the degree of political consensus on the need to deal with international development issues, and that the debate will now move away from quibbling on whether we spend money to deciding how much money to spend and ensuring that we provide money for projects that will help to prevent problems in future.

I am pleased to be able to participate in this debate. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill for giving us the opportunity to do so. The Bill provides a way for all of us to ensure that international development issues move far higher up the political agenda.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:51 pm, 20th January 2006

You may not be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the debate is reaching a wider audience than we might have imagined. As we speak, a whale is making its way up the Thames—I understand that it has just passed the Palace of Westminster. Whales have excellent hearing, and I am sure that he has come to hear what we have to say about the United Nations millennium development goals, particularly the seventh, which is about ensuring environmental sustainability. That shows what a fragile world we live in and how topical today's debate is.

I congratulate Mr. Clarke on his Bill and I am pleased to join the cross-party support for such an important measure. Focus on the millennium development goals is crucial. The UN Secretary-General has said that he is worried that we may not meet the 2015 targets. I hope that we will do all we can to encourage the United States to participate to a greater extent in efforts to reach the goals, as we do other countries.

The millennium development goals are crucial and hon. Members have spoken passionately about international development issues today. My grandparents' generation talked about the wars that affected them—the great war and the second world war. The concern of my parents' generation was the cold war, which overshadowed their lives. My generation has focused on the future of our fragile planet and questions of where we are, who we are and what we are doing to our planet. I am pleased that trade justice, debt relief and Bob Geldof's call to make poverty history are the cries that we hear today—they have become part of our everyday vocabulary—whereas I grew up with calls for an end to the nuclear arms race and John Lennon's call to give peace a chance. Events have moved on and it is important that MPs participate in the debate and ensure that the issues remain high on the agenda.

I am pleased that the Bill deals with the monitoring and scrutiny of how we spend 0.7 per cent. of our gross national income. I agree with my hon. Friend John Bercow—I am sure that other hon. Members made the point—that although the focus outside Parliament is on international development issues, we in Parliament spend only half an hour every four weeks on international development questions. I hope that the Minister will speak with the Leader of the House to see whether that can be increased.

I intervened on the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill a couple of times during his speech. There are concerns about the fact that there are no penalties or comebacks if we do not meet the targets to which his Bill refers, such as giving 0.7 per cent. of GNI to development assistance. There is also concern about the report being limited to 10 countries. Clause 1 lists the regions on which the Bill is focused; they include Asia, Africa, central and south America, so we are talking about only one or two countries per region. If the Bill reaches Committee, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will consider expanding it to cover more than 10 countries.

There is also concern about good governance and anti-corruption measures. It is all very well pouring money into African countries, but it can be like removing the debts of or giving more money to an unreformed gambler—it will not solve the problem. I therefore hope that the Bill will examine in detail how the money is spent to make sure that it is spent wisely.

A couple of hon. Members have touched on the connections between international development and the European Union. Three months ago, I visited Afghanistan. My visit was in a military context, but I also learned about the €1 billion being spent there on behalf of all European Union countries. I was concerned about the breakdown in communication—I use those words carefully—between the EU special representative in Afghanistan, which is responsible for analysing where the money should be spent, and the EU delegation, which holds the money. The two were not talking to each other properly, and money was being wasted. One aspect of the Bill is scrutinising whether our money, either spent directly by us or channelled through the EU, is spent wisely.

I very much support the Bill. An annual report on how we are spending money and on the progress towards achieving our millennium development goals is crucial. Concern has been expressed about the inherent delay in such large projects, which incorporate many countries across the world, between formulating the concept and putting it into practice. The Kyoto accord is the great example—it was written in 1997 and did not even come into effect until last year.

I hope that this Bill will help us to make progress, keep our eye on the ball, make sure that we are able to meet the millennium development goals, make the Department for International Development more accountable and make sure that Britain meets its moral duties to help countries that are less fortunate than us.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 12:57 pm, 20th January 2006

You will see from the notes in my hand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I propose to speak for only a few minutes on the Bill.

I want to start with something that I have sometimes said in the House in this context. It is one of my favourite quotes, and it is something that Sir Winston Churchill said in 1931:

"I am not very anxious to help private Member's Bills. I have seen a great many of them brought forward, and in most cases it was a very good thing that they did not pass. I think there ought to be a very effective procedure for making it difficult for all sorts of happy thoughts to be carried on to the Statute Book."

That is a sentiment with which I thoroughly agree, as you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I attend the House assiduously on Fridays.

Interestingly, this Bill is a paradox. At one and the same time, it contains too much and too little. The "too much", which has been touched on a number of times in the debate, is that in many ways it is otiose and redundant, as it seeks to repeat much information that is already in the public domain, although I concede that it seeks to bring it together. It is also wrongly targeted in the sense that at several points, bizarrely, it seeks to make the Secretary of State assess his own work. I should have thought that that does not take the subject much further forward: it is like asking a pupil to assess his or her own examination papers. That part of the Bill is almost certainly misdirected.

I have been pleased, however, by a number of contributions during the debate that have pointed out weaknesses in the Bill or areas where it could be strengthened. I have such thoughts—I will only touch on one or two of them at this stage, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, as you will know, we will have ample opportunity subsequently to amend the Bill in different ways.

I should like the Bill to be strengthened by it having to give more details on what recipient countries spend, for example, on military and defence or bureaucratic and diplomatic matters. I am rather uneasy, on behalf of my taxpayers, that money of ours should go to countries that have spending priorities that would not bear any scrutiny in our community or political context. In the cause of transparency I would like a lot more information to be produced about how recipient countries spend their money, before we give them even more. That would strengthen the case that Mr. Clarke and his friends seek to make.

Similarly, we need to know a lot more about what non-governmental and charitable organisations are giving to various countries in order to set in context the amount that the taxpayer is expected to give through the various vehicles that we have in this country, either directly or through multilateral and European Union sources.

I recognise the aims of the Bill—as with most Bills on Fridays, the aims are very laudable—but surely we are here on behalf of our voters and taxpayers to satisfy ourselves that it is not just a good thought, heart-warming and makes us feel better about ourselves, but achieves most or all or something of what it seeks to achieve. This Bill is too general, it is insufficiently focused and in some respects it requires strengthening. I hope that we will be able to do that subsequently.

I am very keen for the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend Mr. Vara to get an airing in the Chamber today. I hope that the Bill promoted by the right hon. Gentleman will, on receiving its Second Reading, as it undoubtedly will in a short time, go into Committee and come back on Report in order that those of us who seek to amend it have a jolly good opportunity to do so.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 1:01 pm, 20th January 2006

I, too, congratulate Mr. Clarke not only on his good fortune in securing a high place in the list of private Members' Bills, but on making such good and effective use of that opportunity. I congratulate those who have spoken: Angela Browning, Mr. Brown, my hon. Friend John Barrett, Mr. Smith, the hon. Members for Buckingham (John Bercow), for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin), for Stone (Mr. Cash), for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and for City of York (Hugh Bayley), my hon. Friend Greg Mulholland, the hon. Members for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and Mr. Forth.

I am pleased to have the indication, particularly from the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, that the Bill will succeed in getting into Committee. I agree with him that at that point it will require further amplification, clarification and strengthening in order that it achieves the objectives that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill intends.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst is right that private Members' Bills should not merely be warm-hearted. We must discharge our responsibilities to look hard-headedly at these issues and ensure that private Members' Bills are fit for purpose. We need to ask not only whether the Bill has a beneficial purpose but what is the problem for which it is intended to be the solution. Is it sufficient to justify the effort and parliamentary time put into bringing it into law? I believe that it is justified and I shall give a couple of primary reasons for supporting it.

There is a need for clarification of the effectiveness of UK aid in poverty reduction, which to an extent the DFID report attempts to cover. The report does not however address properly the kind of issues that the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill intends to include in an annual report. When I asked the Secretary of State for clarification of the effectiveness of aid, I found that such information was not available. In a written question answered on 9 January, I asked:

"what assessment he has made of the number of people lifted out of extreme poverty as a result of pro-poor funding by his Department to developing countries", and the answer came back:

"DFID has not produced such an assessment."—[Hansard, 9 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 207W.]

That answer exposes the need for further work. One of the Bill's intentions, although it is hidden in clause 2, is to achieve clarification of the interdepartmental nature of Government aid to developing countries and the effectiveness of joined-up government. That intention needs to be amplified, as it is implied, but not made clear, in clause 2, and I welcome the opportunity to do so through the legislative process.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in the meantime serious consideration should be given to the Bill's centre of gravity? The fulcrum is the Secretary of State's assessment, but that is not necessarily the only way to proceed.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I have a number of concerns about the Bill, including the need to clarify and strengthen the role of the report, which should represent the views of the Government as a whole, not just the Department. I hope that such concerns can be probed in Committee, particularly the Secretary of State's ability in clauses 9 and 10 quietly to negate the Bill in its entirety. Clause 10, for example, confers power on him to make an order or regulations, including the power

"to make provision subject to such exemptions and exceptions as the Secretary of State thinks fit."

That could be almost anything, and it could wipe out the Bill itself. I hope that I can bank some credit by acknowledging that the political climate is relatively benign, but we cannot be sure that that will always be the case. The Bill does not provide the country and Parliament with reassurance that, in a less benign climate, the measure itself could not be negated.

In conclusion, the popular concern about development issues and the need to make poverty history, which was expressed last year and which will no doubt be expressed again in future, are not a passing fad or fashion. We should embrace that popular concern and use it to leave a legacy to future Parliaments that will enable us properly to scrutinise the role of Government in poverty eradication around the world in the years and decades to come. The Bill can achieve that aim. We need to find mechanisms and tools to improve the ability of the developed world to turn around our shared failure to achieve meaningful progress in making poverty history and meeting the millennium development goals. That is why the Bill is a helpful tool and mechanism, so it has the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development) 1:08 pm, 20th January 2006

I, too, congratulate Mr. Clarke, both on his success in the ballot and on his excellent choice of subject. I congratulate him on his detailed, articulate and generous introduction to the Bill, as well as on the marvellous way in which he has corralled a diverse and disparate group of people both inside and outside the House to support its general principles. The Opposition, particularly the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell, and I, support those general principles. Sadly, my hon. Friend cannot be in the Chamber today as he is leaving for Rwanda to study conflict prevention, which is a fundamental foundation and building block in the alleviation of poverty through economic regeneration in much of the developing word.

As I said, the Opposition support the Bill's general principles, and I hope that in his reply to the debate the Minister will support those principles as well as many of the details and proposed amendments and improvements suggested by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Indeed, I shall make some suggestions myself.

Before I do that, may I put the mind of Hugh Bayley at rest? The Conservative party, like the Labour party, is a broad church. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, like the Government, we are committed to working towards the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent. of our national income on aid by 2013. We recognise and support the provision in the Bill for monitoring progress towards this commitment. We also support the ambitious targets of the millennium development goals and are deeply concerned that sub-Saharan Africa will not meet any of these targets, as was highlighted by Ann McKechin, whose contribution was excellent if, sadly, a little lengthy.

We agree with the Government on the HIPC initiative, which has the potential to relieve the burden of debt on many countries. We support the international finance facility on immunisation, to which I shall return. We support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Conservative party shares the aspirations of the Government, as set out at the G8 summit, and we want the Gleaneagles commitments to be implemented expeditiously. Finally, we recognise that reform of the world trade rules is essential if the poorest nations are to be able to trade themselves out of poverty. We, like all hon. Members, are disappointed at the outcome of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong, particularly as one of the original key commitments of the millennium development goals was to create an open and non-discriminatory multilateral trading system. Sadly, we are still a long way from that target.

We welcome and support the principles of the Bill. Above all, we welcome the provision that would require the Department for International Development to report annually on the effectiveness of its aid programmes in reducing poverty. DFID is a well regarded organisation, which is internationally recognised as a leading aid agency. We can and should all be proud of it, but it could be doing more.

The public support aid because of outputs—lives saved, children educated and HIV deaths and infections prevented. But DFID is still too focused on money spent, rather than its effectiveness. DFID's systems for evaluating and assessing its projects are weak and urgently need to be improved. As was highlighted by my hon. Friend Angela Browning, an internal DFID report found:

"While there are many examples of positive contribution to development progress, there is generally insufficient information on the links between DfID's inputs and interventions on the one hand, and the positive outcomes observed on the other".

The report also found that

"there is no single, overall strategic plan which guides the allocation and deployment of DfID resources".

It is therefore clear that DFID should strengthen and develop its systems to measure the effectiveness of aid in reducing poverty. Robust systems for evaluating the effectiveness of DFID's budget must be implemented, and we support the Bill as making a significant contribution to resolving those issues.

We acknowledge that there is some question whether the Bill duplicates the statistical reports produced annually by DFID. However, the Bill is necessary, as has been pointed out, to formalise that procedure and extend it. I agree with the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill that formalising it as the Bill sets out will upgrade the effectiveness and significance of the reporting structure and allow for re-allocating funds away from the least effective projects. I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman that a single annual report could stimulate comprehensive debate and facilitate year-on-year comparisons, hopefully on the Floor of the House.

We agree with specific provisions in the Bill, and I shall put those on the record. We agree with the overarching architecture and objectives of the Bill—to bring transparency and accountability to international development spending. DFID's systems for evaluating the effectiveness of its budget allocation are weak and need to be strengthened. True accountability can be achieved only through robust assessment of aid effectiveness, and we support the Bill's aims in this direction. Furthermore, we support the Bill's aim to focus spending on low-income countries.

We also support the measures outlined in clause 2, which would improve policy coherence across Departments, assessing the actions of all Departments towards the aim of alleviating poverty.

Clause 3(1)(e) and (f) provides for debt relief figures to be published, and we are strongly in favour of such a commitment as debt relief accounts for about 7 per cent. of expenditure on development in 2004–05. As has rightly been highlighted today, there has been some obfuscation and confusion in this area, and significant questions over delivery of commitments are being asked and need to be clarified.

This is an opportunity to talk in general about the Bill, but some aspects can be improved and I want to put those before the House. Our greatest concern is the lack of detail in clause 7 on how the effectiveness of aid will be monitored. We recognise that measuring aid is difficult and challenging, but it is essential that every effort is made so as to ensure best value for taxpayers' money and the greatest possible reduction in poverty.

The Secretary of State should be required to attempt to obtain the greatest possible reduction in poverty with the resources available, to him in this instance, or to her maybe in the future, each year. To that end we would like to see clear, rigorous and independent evaluation and measurement of the effectiveness of aid spending in reducing poverty, and an explicit comparison of aid effectiveness across different projects and different forms of aid spending. That should be accompanied by systematic measures to reassess spending allocations and priorities so as to ensure the greatest possible reduction in poverty with the limited funds that are available.

Specifically, in clause 7(2), assistance effectiveness monitoring is restricted to the 10 largest recipients of British bilateral aid, a point rightly highlighted by my hon. Friends the Members for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood). The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said that that was limited because of bureaucratic considerations. I hope very much that in Committee and on Report we can overcome those bureaucratic considerations that I am sure have been put before the right hon. Gentleman by the respective Ministers and officials in the Department.

Aid effectiveness should be as rigorous as possible, and if the 10 largest recipient countries were to change regularly, as would be quite possible, it would hinder the year-on-year comparisons that are an essential part of the reporting structure. Additionally, in the financial year 2004–05, £948 million of the total £2,145 million spent on bilateral aid, or just 44.2 per cent., went to the 10 largest recipient countries. So if the Bill remains unamended, with just 10 countries accounting for their bilateral aid, well over half of British bilateral aid would not be subject to the Bill. Accounting for the top 10 countries also does not take into consideration significant contributions from the British taxpayer, such as £48 million to Mozambique and £47 million to Kenya in the financial year 2004–05. Nor would it take into account money that could not be allocated to a specific country.

Furthermore, there is a lack of clarity in clause 7(2) regarding the areas of focus. There appear to be a number of oversights that should be discussed, such as the addition of education and diseases other than HIV/AIDS. I would argue that if the millennium development goals are to form the basis for this list, it should be done explicitly in the Bill. In addition, I would like to see the wording of the clause tightened to provide for a detailed report on how and to what extent the aid spent directly contributes to the goals set out.

We also think that clause 4 on millennium goal 8 should be clarified. Goal 8 does not lend itself to quantitive measurement. However, we recognise that there must be assessment of progress towards its completion. Further consideration must be given as to how goal 8 can be accurately monitored. There is clarity in the Bill regarding untied aid. Clause 4(3)(b) requires the reporting of the proportion of multilateral assistance that is untied. The Government have stated unequivocally that all British bilateral aid is untied, a policy with which we are in agreement. However, some confusion appears to remain, and it would help if the Minister, when he replies, would make a clear distinction between aid conditionality, which has been dropped, and aid criteria, which continue.

We would also like to see clause 8(2) strengthened, a point made by my right hon. Friend Mr. Forth. The Bill asks the Secretary of State only to

"take account of whether it is possible"— that is, to consider independent monitoring.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has said, we also want to strengthen clause 8(2). The Bill currently asks the Secretary of State only to

"take account of whether it is possible"— in other words, to consider—

"to . . . make provision for . . . independent monitoring".

We want to strengthen and improve the wording to ensure that the assessment of transparency is independent. We want to see more detail on who will conduct the monitoring, whether that person will be independent and what the relationship will be between the independent monitoring body and democratically accountable Ministers who come to this House to explain the expenditure of British taxpayers' money.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

I have made a speech addressing some of the issues raised by clause 8, and I have also made those points to the Secretary of State, who has replied to them, so I am interested to hear the view of my hon. Friend on the Front Bench.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

As my hon. Friend knows, I was present when he raised those matters in Westminster Hall. I sympathise with his argument, to which I shall specifically refer later in my speech.

We will support the Bill, but the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill knows that it is unlikely to proceed on to the statute book without Government support and co-operation. We want to see the Bill on the statute book, which is why it would be helpful if the Minister were to clarify in his winding-up speech how clause 8(2)(a), which provides for the Secretary of State to commit to aid spending three years in advance, fits with the Department's intention not to provide a proportion of financial support to, for example, Uganda, if certain criteria are not met.

We want to discuss various omissions, which the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, DFID officials and the relevant Ministers need to consider, in Committee and on Report. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East has raised one of those omissions: there is a case for including a provision to assess humanitarian aid, if only so that lessons can be learned to improve effectiveness in subsequent emergencies.

The Bill does not refer to the international finance facility for immunisation or future international finance facilities, and it fails to mention global aid to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, which will use up significant sums of money from British taxpayers and elsewhere. It also does not refer to harmonisation, which is an important point raised by Mr. Smith. If the Minister cannot explain those omissions today, I would be grateful if he were subsequently to explain how those policy areas fit into the context of the Bill, whether Ministers and the Department believe that the House would benefit from analysis of the outcomes in those particular policy areas and whether the Government intend to assist the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill in widening the scope of his Bill to cover those important areas.

The Bill does not appear suitably to address the effectiveness of direct budgetary support, which goes to the heart of the comments made by my hon. Friend Mr. Cash. The Government's own figures state that Britain has given nearly £1.5 billion in direct budgetary support to 20 countries since 2000. In the financial year 2004–05, for example, Uganda received £61 million in bilateral aid, of which £35 million was direct budgetary support. If the Bill were implemented unamended, just 42.6 per cent. of total bilateral aid going to Uganda would be transparent, while the rest would be outside the Bill. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant percentage of direct budgetary support money is unaccounted for and does not end up where it was intended to go. The Bill is an opportunity for the Government to improve accountability and transparency on money allocated by DFID in direct budgetary support and thereby improve the lives of millions of people in developing and poorer nations.

The Bill clearly covers both bilateral and multilateral support, although the wording is confused in places. How does DFID propose to measure and analyse outputs from multilateral assistance, when it has limited control—and sometimes limited knowledge—over how and where the money is spent? Will the Minister explain how the Bill accords with specific countries' poverty reduction strategy papers? Does the Bill cover both international development assistance and official development assistance? Are countries not classified as developing by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, such as eastern European countries, covered by the Bill? How will EU multilateral aid be monitored and become transparent? That point was rightly highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone, who has been a passionate and consistent advocate for, and believer in, resolving these issues.

Our long-term goal must be to facilitate the developing world in graduating from aid dependency to pluralistic societies with strong economies, thereby creating wealth and more and better jobs. That can be achieved only through alleviating global poverty, creating freer and fairer trade, making wider and deeper debt reductions, enhancing civil society and democracy, and assisting developing countries to build their export capacity and to develop their infrastructure.

We welcome and support the Bill's principal objective, as it would implement robust accountability systems so that development assistance is more effective for developing nations and their citizens. I hope that we shall be able to work across political parties to improve it and to facilitate its expeditious passage to enactment.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 1:25 pm, 20th January 2006

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke on securing this debate, and commend the passion and skill with which he made his case to the House. No Labour Member will be surprised by that, as he has long been a campaigner on these issues. He consistently championed the needs of those in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America long before such causes became fashionable. I agree with Mark Simmonds that my right hon. Friend has performed a remarkable feat in assembling such a coalition of support inside and outside the House, but nobody who knows him will be remotely surprised by that.

This has been an excellent debate. I pay tribute to Angela Browning for her comments, particularly about the considerable opportunities for scrutiny that already take place in the House in relation to international development and the way in which the Bill will further help such scrutiny. The hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) made similar points later in the debate.

My right hon. Friend Mr. Brown and John Barrett rightly congratulated my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, and the Government more generally, on the commitment to the 0.7 per cent. target. My right hon. Friend Mr. Smith, in confirming his support for the Bill, referred to the excellence of Oxfam, which is based in his constituency and which also supports the Bill.

John Bercow and my hon. Friends the Members for City of York (Hugh Bayley) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) eloquently echoed the moral case for development assistance that my right hon. Friend made in his introduction to the Bill. My hon. Friend Ann McKechin referred to the huge appetite among the British people for more progress in the fight against poverty.

Mr. Cash reminded the House that development must be a partnership and that developing countries have a responsibility further to strengthen good governance. My hon. Friend Linda Gilroy paid tribute to the huge contribution that co-operatives make in tacking poverty in the developing world.

Mr. Ellwood rightly mentioned the importance of humanitarian assistance. We will reflect further on that. Mr. Forth and the hon. Members for St. Ives (Andrew George) and for Boston and Skegness raised, in their very different ways, a challenging series of questions for the House to reflect on if the Bill progresses, as the Government hope that it will.

Aid well spent can make a huge difference. In Burundi this year, a newly-elected Government scrapped primary school fees, and our £2 million of assistance is helping UNICEF to refurbish 500 schools and train 4,000 teachers, bringing hope to many young people in that country who are being given the chance to learn to read and write and to have better lives as a result. In Pakistan, as we speak, our £58 million of humanitarian assistance is helping to shelter and to feed the people of Kashmir—victims of the terrible earthquake in December.

It has been rightly highlighted that while much has been done, much more still needs to be done. That is why the Government have recognised the need to commit more development assistance. We have trebled our aid budget since 1997. By the end of the current spending round, we will have reached 0.47 per cent. We are committed, as hon. Members know, to reaching the UN's 0.7 per cent. goal by 2013, and earlier if we can launch the excellent idea of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, namely, the international finance facility.

We recognise the need to be accountable for that progress from 0.2 per cent. to 0.7 per cent., and more generally how aid is used and how other Government policies impact on poor countries. The Bill helpfully codifies the way that Government report on development and how they account for the resources that are spent, and it will place the need for such a report on a formal legislative basis. Helpfully, the Bill seeks to promote the transparency with which assistance is provided.

We take seriously our responsibility for ensuring that the money entrusted to us by Parliament for development is used for the purposes intended, and is managed through systems that ensure high levels of accountability to the UK public. We continue to invest in similar systems of accountability in our partner Governments and partner organisations to ensure that money is well spent and is used for what it was intended. In managing public funds we are, for example, required to comply fully with the range of requirements under Government accounting rules, and our use of those resources is subject to an annual financial audit by the National Audit Office. That audit covers our procedures for managing all types of expenditure, including support given to multinational organisations, to non-governmental organisations, to the private sector and that given directly to partner Governments through budget support or other financial instruments.

The Auditor General provides his formal opinion on our financial statements to Parliament, and his opinion has always been positive. In addition, the NAO carries out a rolling programme of studies on how well the Department manages its use of public funds. As the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton said, the Public Accounts Committee can hold public hearings, and does, that are based on the reports to which I have referred. There is also the International Development Committee, which challenges the way in which we use our funds.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Conservative, Stone

The Minister may well know from the letter dated 23 July that I received from the Secretary of State for International Development—for whom I have a very high regard—that he said that, in respect of the poverty reduction budget support, he regarded this as being the most effective use of aid. He wrote:

"Where this is the case, we rely on partner governments' own systems, rather than our procedures to control the funds."

I am sure that the Minister understands that that is a matter that requires some further appreciation and understanding.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I was going on to say—this is to help the hon. Gentleman—that budget support must be provided in the right circumstances. We analyse these matters extremely carefully and take a considerable time to ensure that the circumstances are right before we go down the route of budget support. As the hon. Gentleman knows, it would be entirely inappropriate—this has not crossed the minds of Ministers—that we should use budget support in countries such as Zimbabwe. That would be in entirely inappropriate circumstances.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for generously giving way. Does he agree that, given the purpose of the Bill, there should be an annual debate on the Floor of the House on the contents of the annual report?

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The hon. Gentleman will know that that is not an issue on which I can give him satisfaction today. Those who can do so will have heard his comment. If there is any doubt that they have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has said, I will ensure that they are aware of his question and aware also of the comments of other hon. Members who have made similar points during the debate.

Perhaps it would be helpful to the hon. Member for Stone and others if I set out briefly some of the processes that we go through before we take decisions on budget support to provide further reassurance that his suggestion that there should be an amendment to clause 8 is not required. We undertake a comprehensive fiduciary risk assessment that is based on an evaluation of the partner Governments' public financial management systems. That includes a specific evaluation of the risk of corruption. Our approach to those assessments has been agreed with the NAO. The hon. Gentleman may know that several internationally recognised assessments are carried out in partner countries to help provide that evaluation of the quality of public financial management systems. For example, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund provide assessments.

We have recently strengthened the evaluation of public financial management in the countries where we work by developing a comprehensive assessment framework in partnership with the World Bank, the IMF and several other countries. Such a framework includes a specific assessment of audit processes and arrangements for the scrutiny of public finances.

Several hon. Members, for example, the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East, referred to the need for much more information in the annual report. The intervention of James Duddridge and his exchange with my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill should strike a cautionary note about the need for even further information. There is a balance to be struck between the understandable appetite for as much information as possible and the need to recognise its impact on the Department's resources. The presence of my right hon. Friend the Paymaster General earlier means that hon. Members will recognise the need to be prudent and minimise the impact in bureaucracy. However, we shall reflect further on hon. Members comments.

The Government welcome the Bill. There are some problems with drafting that we want to tackle in Committee. For example, there is some overlap between clause 2 and clause 4 and some duplication between clause 5 and clause 7. Clause 3 deals with the bulk of financial reporting, to which clauses 9 and 10 are relevant. The Committee therefore needs to deal with a series of technical but important issues. Not least, it will be important to ensure that the definitions of aid are aligned with internationally agreed definitions, including the time periods for reporting that are already in common use.

The Government agree with the thrust of clause 8, but believe that it is over-prescriptive. For example, the proposal to specify planned levels of assistance to be provided to each country for the current year and at least three future years is beyond what is permissible under the current spending review.

As many hon. Members have said, last year's commitments need to be delivered. The Bill will help to do that. Subject to the minor drafting changes that I mentioned, the Government support the Bill and I warmly commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Bills">Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).