Clause 8 - Transparency

Part of International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 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 10:30 am, 15th February 2006

Let me deal, if I may, with the hon. Gentleman’s last point first. The issue is how we use our resources to strengthen the quality of Government systems in general in a developing country, particularly where we are giving budget support. That must be about how we strengthen the capacity of the Government to deliver assistance to developing countries in respect of education and health care, and how we help deliver better rule of law, effective police, good courts and so forth. It is also surely about how we help the citizens in that developing country to have confidence that their Government are spending properly the money that has been donated by countries such as ours and the money that has been collected from them in the form of taxation. We should therefore strengthen the quality of financial systems in the developing country and its independent audit arrangements as part of that process.

We have a responsibility not only to the individual poor people in the developing countries to which we provide assistance, but to the British taxpayer. We have to ensure that the auditing systems in those countries are robust and that we have further processes in place to check on the efficacy of our own spending there. As I indicated on Second Reading, our procedures for disbursing budget support or support to UN organisations, or indeed for disbursing financial support to NGOs, have been agreed with the National Audit Office.

We have to provide reports to the Comptroller and Auditor General. We have been given a clean bill of health every year to date for the effectiveness of our spend and the safeguards that we have in place. In addition, in developing countries we use a range of other audit arrangements such as the requirements of the World Bank and the IMF to give us confidence in the way those resources are being spent. Where we do not have confidence that our auditing arrangements are as robust as we would like, we have the opportunity to bring in independent auditors to monitor our current spend.

The hon. Gentleman’s concerns are misplaced. There are already robust systems in place to monitor the effectiveness of UK development assistance. In any case, we shall seek to strengthen still further the auditing arrangements in developing countries so that not only is our aid money well spent, but so are other moneys given to that developing country’s Government. Alongside our financial support, we also give considerable technical assistance to Governments to help them to continue to strengthen their financial systems, as well as individual assistance on occasion to anticorruption commissions or programmes of   support. Although the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are perfectly understandable, on this occasion they are misplaced.

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is seeking to do with amendment (a) to new clause 2, but again I am not persuaded of the need for it. I do not think it would achieve what he thinks it would. The Secretary of State will by definition have to continue to provide and include observations in the annual report. He or she will have to use their judgment as to what needs to be reported to Parliament. It is sensible to recognise that in the Bill. There are already and, if hon. Members have their way, there will be still more opportunities to question what is in the annual report and what progress the Government are making in helping to tackle corruption. Furthermore, various systems are already in place to report on the effectiveness of aid.

As for amendment (b), we are aware that important changes have been made relating to the issues set out in the new clause on aid effectiveness and the millennium development goals 1 to 7. Of course we will report on those developments because it would be a new, substantial issue. We would want to ensure that the House was aware of the progress in that area.

There is a danger that the provision that the hon. Gentleman wants to place in the Bill would require us to come up with parallel reporting. When there are substantial developments, I have given a commitment to report on them in the way we have already committed ourselves to doing in respect of an increased number of countries from 10 to 20—and to 25—during this Parliament.