International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill — Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:00 am on 27th February 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Butler of Brockwell Lord Butler of Brockwell Crossbench 11:00 am, 27th February 2015

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his reference to the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. As he said, the noble Lord is a strong advocate of overseas development aid and wanted me to express his regret that he could not be here today.

I hope that the House will agree that some very powerful arguments have been made in favour of the amendment. I am very glad that they were not all Treasury arguments. There are wider arguments for it. I have listened carefully for what reasons there might be to treat this programme uniquely. Some of the arguments have been answered. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, argued that the purpose of the legislation is to send a message. Frankly, I am always a bit allergic to the idea that the purpose of legislation ought to be to send a message. It is really not the purpose of legislation. What matters are not the words or any law we pass but what we do. The UK’s record in that respect is, and I hope will continue to be, very good.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, said that one of the values of the Bill would be that it would allow the debate to move on from the input to the output. I agree that what we should concentrate on is the output, but we cannot ignore the input. The purpose of looking at the input is precisely to be able to challenge it, look at what the programme is achieving and ensure that it goes on achieving it. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to Select Committees being an alternative machinery for doing that, and now, as a parliamentarian, I am wholly in favour of Parliament being effective in this way and of the work of Select Committees. However, that is after the event. What we are talking about here is the processes in government before the event, and planning programmes properly.

Finally, I come to the argument made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I say with great respect to her that it is, I am afraid, a misunderstanding of the process of government to say that the consequence of the amendment would move responsibility from a Secretary of State to the Treasury. The Treasury is not being given unique control by this amendment. The Treasury is part of the Government. Of course, if the Government and Secretary of State reach the conclusion that 0.7% or a higher figure should be spent on overseas aid, the Treasury has no independent right or way in which to countermand that. What we are talking about here is a collective process in which Treasury scrutiny performs a vital role.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said that the Treasury will continue to do that within government. I say to them, with great respect, that if that is what they are saying, surely this is a reason why they can accept the amendment. I notice that she nods her head—actually she shakes her head—but surely those two points follow from each another.

With gratitude to those who have taken part in the debate on both sides, I am afraid that I cannot find myself persuaded that there are reasons to treat this programme uniquely. I am realistic enough to know, with the Opposition and the Government seeking to get the Bill through in this pre-election period without further amendment, that the prospects of this amendment succeeding are not great. However, I ask those who share my view that the amendment would be in the interests of good government, proper process and achieving the best value for money for the programme, to support it and express their opposition to rushing through a Bill in this way, which does not promote its objectives but in many ways undermines them. With that, I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.