International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill — Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 am on 27th February 2015.

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Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 10:30 am, 27th February 2015

My Lords, I have no interest to declare save that some of my best friends are in the Treasury. The argument has been made about a signal. I think that it is an important signal to the developing world and to other countries, which are manifestly failing in respect of the moneys that they spend. It would certainly give us a greater lever to use with regard to that, although I am not so convinced by that argument.

However, I notice—and I will be very brief—that the argument used, very powerfully, by those who have spoken in favour of the amendment is rigour and accountability. They speak as if no accountability is likely. There are a number of accountability mechanisms, one of which is of course the Select Committee. The Select Committee is able to throw a searchlight on mistakes that are made by any government department so that any middle-ranking civil servant or higher civil servant who made the decision knows that at any stage they may be hauled before the committee and asked to justify their action or lack of action, which can be extremely embarrassing. Of course, the proposal then is retrospective, but it has relevance for any future decisions. It is also certainly a corrective for anyone particularly in a ministry such as this, which is more than most subject to pressure groups and non-governmental organisations from outside, and it gives them a degree of rigour.

Equally, of course, one has the NAO. That very powerful report—and I have not heard DfID give a very convincing reply to this—showed the extent to which there was a readiness to spend almost for the sake of spending. All of us, and perhaps most of us, have been in such positions. I recall once having an entertainment allowance; as I had only spent 50% of it by the end of the year, I ensured that I used up the rest of the money very quickly in the last few weeks—so there is that temptation.

Those noble Lords who have spoken thus far seem to ignore the relevant clause, Clause 5, where again there is a mechanism for accountability. There is accountability, and the danger is that if we were to accept this amendment, it would be rather like the French “en principe”. Yes, of course we are all in favour of aid and of 0.7% of GNI in principle, but if this amendment were to be accepted it would effectively drive a coach and horses through the Bill.