International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill — Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:45 pm on 27th February 2015.

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Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 1:45 pm, 27th February 2015

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Lawson has said, these are two amendments aimed at the same target. This issue of accountability and evaluation of the aid programme is very important for several reasons: first, because of the big increase in the amount of aid; and secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, said, echoing what was said in the House of Commons, in order to reassure the public that value for money is being preserved.

As the Bill stands, there seems to be a lack of accountability. This is in essence a public relations Bill. It is gesture politics. We all know that the target of 0.7% can be met anyway. The Government have met it. They do not need the Bill. The Bill does not add anything. What the Bill does is send a signal, which some noble Lords have supported; others are more sceptical about the value of the signal. But the Bill by itself does not authorise the expenditure. We still have to have estimates from the House of Commons. They still have to be voted on. The Bill has no sanction. It is an expression of good will, but that is not what Acts of Parliament are for. Of course, the Bill is not legally enforceable either.

We have two ways in which we move on to address the issue of accountability. My noble friend Lord Lawson has resurrected the independent international development office, which was in the original Bill and then removed. It is a bit of a mystery why it was removed but, in consequence, the Government are in a position where they can mark their own homework. They can write a report saying how marvellously they have done.

What I do not understand is why the ICAI is not mentioned in the Bill under the clause on evaluation. When Mr Desmond Swayne was speaking in the House of Commons on 5 December, he referred to the ICAI as,

“this independent mechanism that measures our aid, scrutinises it and ensures that it is of the highest standard. That will also be the body that will establish the independently verified figures”.—[ Official Report , Commons, 5/12/14; col. 590.]

He seemed to be implying that the ICAI would do the job of evaluation. If so, why is it not mentioned in the Bill? Of course, it is a very small body. I think it has four commissioners and a small secretariat, so I do not know whether it really is up to the job, although it has a high reputation.

When addressing these sorts of questions in Committee, my noble friend the Minister—slightly in conflict, I think, with what Mr Swayne said—said that she did not feel that,

“tying that function to one particular agency is the answer”,—[Hansard, 6/2/15; col. 995.]

the function being accountability. But surely if you are looking for accountability and whether a programme is effective, it is much better to have one body to have a clear line of demarcation, and it is one body that should be responsible for saying whether there has been any distortion of or alteration in the effectiveness of aid by the great increase in the target. This is a very important amendment indeed.

I hope we might hear from the Labour Front Bench. I know that the Opposition support the Bill, but I am sure that they also support principles of accountability and transparency. It would be very useful to know the view of the Opposition on this amendment.