Clause 1 - Annual reports: general

International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 15th February 2006.

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Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill 9:00 am, 15th February 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 1, line 4, leave out from ‘Parliament’ to end of line 5 and insert

‘each year a report about international aid pursuant to the provisions of this Act (an “annual report”).’.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 15, in page 1, line 6, leave out from beginning to end of line 16 on page 2 and insert—

‘()In this Act, “relevant period” means—

(a)a period of 12 months ending with 31st December, in the case of information which is normally produced by reference to calendar years,

(b)in any other case, a period of 12 months ending with 31st March.’.

No. 16, in page 2, line 18, leave out

‘the end of the relevant period’ and insert ‘31st March each year’.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

It is an enormous pleasure, Mr. Hood, to sit under your chairmanship. I welcome you to the Chair, and I am sure we all look forward to working under your distinguished chairmanship.

The Committee will be aware that on Second Reading I was asked to tighten up the Bill’s provisions. On reflection, the changes outlined in the amendments seem not only sensible and practical but necessary. To that end I have endeavoured to take such advice on board. Above all, these amendments and others to which I intend to speak later this morning are based on numerous discussions with the Department for International Development, with sponsors and supporters of the Bill and with the Clerks, and I am grateful to them for all their advice and support. I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister. Throughout those discussions, I have genuinely attempted, in the spirit of the United Nations   millennium development co-ordinator, to make it a cross-party Bill, and to take on board as far as possible the points made on Second Reading by Members of all parties.

I believe that considerable progress and improvements will be made as a result of the amendments, largely because I have had access to such a wide cross-section of suggestions. In amendment No. 14 and the others in this group, I seek to outline the importance of the annual report and to spell out, in the detail that I believe is required, the technical nature of the reports. To that end, the amendments are for the purposes of simplification; they will shorten the clause to a summary clause, and the detailed provisions will be set out in subsequent clauses.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

I join the right hon. Gentleman in saying how pleased I am, Mr. Hood, to serve under your watchful eye. I and my hon. Friends congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the enormous effort that he has put into his Bill, the excellent way in which he has held a disparate and diverse group of people together in order to progress it, and the excellent way in which he genuinely listened to the suggestions made by Member of all parties on Second Reading. Indeed, in consultation with the Minister, he has taken on board several of those suggestions, which we see in many of the new clauses.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, the amendments to clause 1 give us clarity and simplification, and we agree with them. However, I wish to raise two specific points about the wording. First, will the Minister say why the report will be laid before “either House” rather than both? I wonder why that wording was chosen. Secondly, it is important that the report does not stay in a dusty corner—if, indeed, there is one in the House of Commons Library. The Bill should make it clear that the report must be debated in the Chamber.

Generally, we support the simplification and clarity of the amendments as we do the changes that have been made by the right hon. Gentleman and the new clauses that will be proposed by the Minister.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I join others who have welcomed the chance to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr. Hood, as I do the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) in paying tribute to the way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) has conducted his efforts to take on board the wishes of the House on Second Reading. We have had extensive discussions in which he pressed forcefully and robustly the various points to strengthen the Bill that were made by many hon. Members on Second Reading. I hope that the amendments that have been tabled in my name and that of my right hon. Friend will be recognised as a way in which to strengthen the Bill.

The Government support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend. By way of clarification, I wish to say that the breakdown of bilateral aid by region   that was sought originally under subsection (2)(a) will now be covered under paragraph 2(1)(a) of new schedule 1, should the Committee accept it. We will report on the distribution of aid not only to Africa and Asia, but to Europe, the Americas and the Pacific. Similarly, the other requirements that my right hon. Friend listed originally under clause 1 will be covered elsewhere in the new schedule if the Committee is so minded to accept it.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness asked first about possible debates of the annual report. He will know that I cannot give him a guarantee in Committee that it will be debated annually. However, I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who will have read what hon. Members said about that on Second Reading. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have been shy about debating international development during our ministerial discussions.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister clarify whether he will support an annual debate on the report? If he could put his thoughts about that on the record today, it would be helpful.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not for Ministers to give such assurances at this stage. Nevertheless, I welcome every opportunity, not only annually, to debate international development in its widest sense. I welcome the chance to hold regular debates in Westminster Hall or at the end of business on the Floor of the House. The more the merrier is my approach.

The second point made by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness concerned the specific language that has been used. The reference to “either House” was made to combine the annual report that is required under the Bill with any other departmental report that is published.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

The Minister’s views reflect my own. He has said as much as we would expect him to say in the debate. However, it might be helpful if I say that I would certainly look forward to the report being debated annually in both Houses.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 15, in page 1, line 6, leave out from beginning to end of line 16 on page 2 and insert—

‘()In this Act, “relevant period” means—

(a)a period of 12 months ending with 31st December, in the case of information which is normally produced by reference to calendar years,

(b)in any other case, a period of 12 months ending with 31st March.’.

No. 16, in page 2, line 18, leave out

‘the end of the relevant period’

and insert ‘31st March each year’.—[Mr. Tom Clarke.]

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 18, at end insert—

‘()An annual report may revise anything contained in a previous annual report.’.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 18, in page 2, line 20, leave out from ‘State’ to end of line 24 and insert

‘lays before either House of Parliament.’.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

As we have re-established this morning, the annual report is a major step forward, confirming Parliament’s role in making the Executive accountable. Amendment No. 17 would allow information to be updated if it was not available or if errors had been made; in moving it, I am trying to protect Parliament’s right to information.

Amendment No. 18 emphasises the point already made about the importance of both Houses of Parliament. As I have said, I hope that such an annual report will lead to debates in both Houses, hold the Executive to account and lead to an increased focus on these matters, in accordance with the desires of Parliament. I hope that I have been able to explain why the amendments are important, and I commend them to the Committee.

Photo of Mark Simmonds Mark Simmonds Shadow Minister (International Development)

I wish to make a very brief point. We have already strayed into the content of amendment No. 18, but I should like to ask the Minister about amendment No. 17. What thought has been given in DFID to ensuring that there is no unnecessary duplication between the DFID reports already in the public domain and the additional reporting that will rightly have to be done to meet the requirements of this legislation? That issue was rightly raised on Second Reading.

Will the Minister assure us that everything will be done to ensure that there will be no unnecessary work to meet the requirements of this legislation? Will he also ensure that DFID’s primary focus in reporting will be that it is for the purposes of parliamentary scrutiny? I am talking about the reporting structures proposed in the Bill, rather than those that already exist.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development, Party Chair, Co-operative Party

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurances he wants. We are certainly not in the business of doing unnecessary work. If, as we hope, the Bill is passed, it will standardise and put on a formal statutory basis the various requirements to report on international development to the House. The hon. Gentleman knows that we publish an annual report for Parliament. We shall have to change the nature of that report in a number of ways, and we shall do that to reflect the wishes of the House if the Bill is passed.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty Labour, Linlithgow and East Falkirk

I want to say a brief word in support of the amendment, which has been welcomed by the Bill’s promoter, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill.

I have known my right hon. Friend since I joined the Labour party in Coatbridge aged 16; he was a Labour party youth officer and a young councillor. He has accepted this amendment very much in the spirit of the   person I know him to be. As long as there are people such as my right hon. Friend in the House, they will make it their duty and concern to ensure debate on such a report, no matter to which House the report is made.

I support my right hon. Friend’s acceptance of the amendment, and should like to pay him a compliment. I have known him for a long time—I will not say how long—and he has always been the kind of person who would use such a report to the best effect, regardless of which House it is placed before.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 18, in page 2, line 20, leave out from ‘State’ to end of line 24 and insert

‘lays before either House of Parliament.’.—[Mr. Tom Clarke.]

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.