Clause 8 - Transparency

Part of International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 15th February 2006.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party 10:15 am, 15th February 2006

Perhaps it would be helpful if I set out our concerns about clause 8 and explain why I am urging the Committee to decide that it should not stand part of the Bill and why I am proposing the new clause. The concerns relate to subsection (2)(a) and (b) in particular. The substance of subsection (1) is included in the new clause.

I outlined on Second Reading our concerns about subsection (2)(a)(i). One of the great innovations of this Government, and in particular of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, has been to initiate comprehensive spending reviews to give Departments some clarity about their level of funding over a three-year period, as opposed to the one-year annual budgeting cycle that existed prior to that. However, the subsection goes beyond what we could reasonably expect to provide detailed information on. I recognise the desire for Members to have some sense of future commitments to developing countries, which is why the wording in the new clause is intended to commit the Government to giving additional information, where possible, on future spending plans, in so far as they have been agreed, in developing countries.

We are doing that not only for the benefit of hon. Members, but because we want to see donors moving towards giving predictable aid to developing countries over the long term. I will give an example of the merit of that. Finance and Health Ministers in a developing country might want to recruit additional nurses and doctors to help meet the desire to get universal access to antiretroviral drugs, but might be worried about whether donors will continue to provide the additional resources necessary to pay the salaries of those doctors and nurses. They might be worried that the developing country would be left with a huge financial requirement that it does not have either the domestic tax revenues or the donor assistance to meet. We want to move to a situation in which there is some sense of predictable aid flows to developing countries—subject, of course, to their continuing good performance. However, as I said, subsection (2)(a)(i) goes beyond what we can currently do.

I recognise the appetite, too, in subsection (2)(a)(ii) to

“specify the development objectives in that country”.

However, what we seek to do with our development assistance is to come in behind the developing country’s own development priorities, as set out in its poverty reduction strategy. The current wording of subsection (2)(a)(ii) goes beyond that sense of country ownership that we seek to promote in spending our development assistance.

Lastly, perhaps it would help if I explained our particular concern about subsections (2)(b) and (2)(a)(iii). They would require us to secure and publish agreements with recipient countries for aid. Given that we give aid to some 130 countries—albeit much of it   involving relatively small sums of money—that could require us to try to negotiate separate agreements with each of those countries. I put it to members of the Committee that that would involve a disproportionate cost and would require a disproportionate effort on the part of staff. I hope that the requirement to report on a minimum of 20 countries—and, indeed, my commitment to go beyond that for the duration of the current Parliament—will provide a useful hook in an annual report for Members to debate the achievement of our development objectives as a result of our development assistance in certain countries.

I recognise the concerns that all Members have that money given by British taxpayers for development assistance must not be lost as a result of corruption. Therefore, it is appropriate that we take the opportunity provided by our new clause to ensure that the Government have a specific commitment to continuing to report on the fight against corruption in developing countries.