Queen’s Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:14 pm on 15th May 2013.

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Photo of Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick Crossbench 9:14 pm, 15th May 2013

My Lords, in the seven years that I have been in your Lordships’ House I have missed a gracious Speech on only two occasions, one of which was last week while I was attending the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town. I was attending there with two roles in mind: one as the vice chairman of the Global Agenda Council on the Future of Civil Society—I was delighted to hear the two references to civil society in Cyprus by the noble Lords, Lord Northbrook and Lord Sharkey—and the other as a director of KPMG, in which I declare an interest and to which I shall refer later.

One thing that was abundantly apparent at the WEF on Africa was that among the thousand leaders who had gathered from politics, business and civil society there was a profound enthusiasm and great new optimism about the state of their countries and their continent. Enormous wealth was on display, not only from political leaders but from business executives who now see much of Africa’s wealth being realised. During the course of the week, Realizing Africa’s Wealth, a new report by the UNDP, was published about building inclusive businesses for shared prosperity. Poverty is being replaced with the language of prosperity. As the report indicates, some of the good news is that remittances at $50 billion a year and foreign direct investment of $58 billion a year is roughly, in total, four times that of foreign aid engagements within the continent. So there is good news to be had despite the continuing gloom of those remaining still desperately poor.

I was fascinated to note that the Prime Minister has broken away from his frustrations over Europe and Bills in the other place while in New York to spend a little time today at the UN, where he is discussing what will be the next sustainable development goals. On the sustainable development goals, which should replace the millennium development goals from 2015, the Prime Minister said, according to the Guardian, which is the only serious newspaper to carry a major report on this today, that there will be 10 new objectives, which are all believable, necessary, realisable, we hope, and intellectually defensible. They are obvious issues such as ending extreme poverty, ending hunger, ensuring the provision of safe and sustainable water, school development, empowering girls and women and so on. There is nothing that we would dispute.

However, the Guardian reports that the Prime Minister is busy disputing with the President of Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world which probably will not achieve any one of the major millennium development goals, whether there should be a provision in the new sustainable development goals on removing income inequality. I find that odd. No. 10 says, according to the Guardian, that the Prime Minister wants to keep the focus on measurable concrete actions that are going to help to alleviate poverty and keep the focus on being something that people could judge whether we are delivering. If one thing is abundantly apparent in the new optimism in Africa it is that income disparity is becoming an ugly reality. There are booming numbers of new billionaires and multi-millionaires in Africa’s new wealthy cities who are becoming gated and divided from the poor that they once lived alongside. Those poor remain without water, electricity, social supplies, good hospitalisation, healthcare and adequate work. It is an absolute necessity to close the gap in that income disparity and I am somewhat despaired, if not shocked, at David Cameron’s approach. I hope the Minister will consider taking this aspect back to No 10. It is rather odd to dispute with the president of one of the poorest, most conflict-ridden zones in the world a fundamental principle point on removing income disparity.

Perhaps I may move on to a second area in the few minutes left to me—I declare a specific interest as a director of KPMG International—which is the work that my firm does on behalf of DfID in leading and supporting the work of the Independent Commission on Aid Impact. When the previous Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, took up office in 2010, he had established by 2011 the Independent Commission on Aid Impact, which reports to the Select Committee in another place. In the course of the exactly two years that ICAI has been in existence, it has published 21 reports of great significance. In fact, at this moment an ICAI commissioner, Mark Foster, formerly head of Accenture, and a group of assessors are in Jordan and the Lebanon looking at the refugee crisis for a report for DfID.

Some of ICAI’s reports have looked at DfID’s approach to anti-corruption, oversight of EU aid to low-income countries, electoral support through the UNDP, engagement with the World Bank, climate change, impacts in Bangladesh, the health sector in Zimbabwe, education programmes in Nigeria and so on. In total, ICAI has made 85 independent recommendations to DfID, of which the department has accepted 70 in full, 11 in part and has rejected only four. In other words, the case is proven that there is a need for an independent body that looks hard at £11.8 billion of public expenditure and comes to a sensible, independent adjudication on value for money and takes an adequate approach to ensure that the public get a sound investment. Indeed, ICAI has just published its latest report on the work of UNICEF, in which I am delighted to declare an interest as a vice-president and to mention the UK president, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, who is in his place.

However, it is interesting to discover that ICAI is being reviewed by the Cabinet Office, which it has asked DfID to undertake, so the very body to which the recommendations of ICAI are meant to go is assessing whether it would like the commission to continue. That seems to me to be a significant potential conflict of interest. It is obvious that if ICAI can make 85 independent recommendations which had not previously been seen and have 70 of them accepted, there is a real and genuine need to maintain the independence of the independent commission and strengthen its role, not just for the remaining two years of its life, but beyond.

For my last point I want to declare another interest as a member of Trade Out of Poverty, a group chaired by Peter Lilley from another place. As we all know, there is continuing pressure on trade negotiations to be completed by the end of this year. Should trade opportunity be better liberalised as markets would require, it would release new energy into the market system, boosting the potential of poor communities, particularly agricultural communities, by an estimated further trillion dollars of income that would go to the poorest people. Solving trade issues will be up to the big decision-makers and the G8 must play its part. The group firmly believes that it is necessary to open up rich country markets unconditionally to the poorest countries of all, and that it is time to end the ridiculous subsidies, such as $2 per cow per day in the EU and $3 billion spent in the US to subsidise cotton and then dump it, which undermines the jobs of 25,000 cotton growers in the poor world, particularly in Africa. It is time to stop protecting our own agricultural base through subsidy and let the rest of the world have access to markets and thus generate jobs. It is time to let trade be what delivers the economic future necessary for the world’s poorest.