Clause 2 - Coherence of United Kingdom contribution to poverty reduction and sustainable development

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

Alert me about debates like this

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: clause 4 stand part.

New clause 6—Policy coherence and Millennium Development Goal 8

’(1) The Secretary of State shall include in each annual report such general or specific observations as he thinks appropriate on the effects of policies and programmes pursued by Government departments on—

(a) the promotion of sustainable development in countries outside the United Kingdom,

(b) the reduction of poverty in such countries.

(2) Such observations are to include observations on the pursuit of Millennium Development Goal 8, including in particular progress towards—

(a) the development of an open trading system that is rule-based and non-discriminatory and expands trading opportunities for low income countries,

(b) the development of an open financial system that is rule-based and non-discriminatory,

(c) the enhancement of debt relief for low income countries.

(3) In this section, ”Millennium Development Goal 8” means Goal 8 set out in the Annex to the document mentioned in section (Aid effectiveness and Millennium Development Goals 1 to 7)(2)(a), as that goal may be amended or modified from time to time.’.

And the following amendment thereto: (a), , leave out

“such general or specific observations as he thinks appropriate” and insert ‘general or specific observations’.

At the end of the clause 2 stand part debate there will be a vote. The questions on clause 4 stand part and new clause 6 will be put without debate at the appropriate times. If Mr. Simmonds wishes to press his amendment to new clause 6, he can do so when the question is put on that new clause. I hope that that explains the procedure on this and subsequent clause stand part debates.

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

I am sure that the Committee understands with enormous clarity exactly what you have outlined, Mr. Hood. If we get anything wrong, I am sure that you will correct us.

I rise to speak to new clause 6, in which I have taken into account what my hon. Friend the Minister said on Second Reading. He was concerned about a possible overlap in the original draft of the Bill, and on reflection I decided to invite the Committee to replace clauses 2 and 4 with new clause 6, which is on policy coherence and millennium development goal 8.

The Committee is aware that on Second Reading I gave considerable prominence to policy coherence, which has been a Government objective for some time, and towards which we are making progress. Policy coherence is practised widely in Scandinavia and, as I saw for myself recently, it works in Sweden. It should of course be the subject of the annual report, and that is one of the purposes of the new clause.

It is important to include a clear and proactive endorsement of millennium development goal 8. The new clause would be a considerable improvement. How often have some of us attended marches and demonstrations on fair trade? We would therefore be right to make that an issue, which we would if the new clause were agreed to. It is important that the annual report should refer particularly to progress towards

“an open trading system that is rule-based and non-discriminatory and expands trading opportunities for low income countries”.

It is right, too, that we should ask for progress on

“an open financial system that is rule-based and non-discriminatory”.

I sense that the House is keen to monitor debt relief. The new clause would give this and future Governments the opportunity to do precisely that.

Such policies must be seen to be consistent with sustainable development, and I believe that the proposals will improve the focus of the annual report. New clause 6(1)(a) emphasises the importance of sustainable development even more strongly than the original Bill. I therefore commend new clause 6 to the Committee.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Baldry. I have a room next door to you, Mr. Hood. I shall drop in more often to remind you who I am.

The promoter of the Bill recognises, as we all do, that to get a private Member’s Bill through the House one must negotiate with the Government to ensure that they are content. The right hon. Gentleman has negotiated ably with the Government’s business managers, and we have a much respected former Chief Whip with us. Negotiating a private Member’s Bill through the Government’s legislation committee and so on, as the promoter has done, requires some skill. The quid pro quo, however, is that the Bill now effectively becomes a Government Bill. Hopefully the Government will therefore give it full endorsement by producing the annual report.

I say to the Minister that it is pretty scandalous that DFID gets only half an hour once a month for oral questions, whereas the Foreign Office gets a whole hour. When one thinks of the huge number of issues such as Darfur and Afghanistan that straddle Foreign Office and DFID policy, and the fact that DFID questions come on a Wednesday and the last 10 minutes are usually impossible to hear as the House does not have its full attention on the matters in hand, requesting an annual debate on DFID and its annual report is not unreasonable. After all, I think that the Wales Office still has a debate on St. David’s day, even though there is now a Welsh Assembly. The House would think it bizarre if there were not an annual debate on defence, and there are frequently two—one on defence and one on defence procurement.

The Minister is right that in the recent past we have had a number of debates on DFID matters in Government time, but that is because in the previous Parliament big United Nations conferences such as Johannesburg, Cancun and so on provided a peg on which Government business managers found it convenient to hang DFID debates. There is a danger that, if the Minister does not take back to his private office and ministerial colleagues the message from the Committee that there will be a riot if we do not get an annual debate on the report, DFID will be shuffled off into cosy little debates in Westminster Hall. It would be a bit like Sunday afternoon discussions with Christian Aid in the back room of the Methodist church hall in Bicester—although I know that those meetings are important, and I would not wish to underestimate them.

The point of the Bill is to have a report and a decent annual debate. The Minister should respond to the accommodating and constructive way in which the promoter and sponsors of the Bill have approached the matter. He should also make it clear that DFID will do its utmost to ensure, with the business managers, that we get an annual debate on the report provided for in the Bill and on DFID’s departmental report.

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

I very much agree with the two general points that my hon. Friend made: the necessity for an annual debate on the report on the Floor of the House, and for an improved and extended opportunity for DFID questions. Bearing in mind the size of the budget for which DFID is responsible, I do not think that half an hour is long enough. My hon. Friend makes a good point that in the last five or 10 minutes of questions the House’s attention is sadly not necessarily on the important issues being discussed. In half an hour, and with five questions at the most, it is difficult to get into the level of detail required to hold Ministers to account on the way in which they control and allocate British taxpayers’ money.

Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Labour, Normanton

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, while Treasury questions can play a positive role in allowing questions on the financial aspects of the Treasury’s role in development, that can only go part of the way to meeting his needs? That supports the idea of expanding International Development questions.

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

Order. Before Mr. Simmonds is tempted any further, I should point out that we are moving away from the Bill. I advise him to come back to the substance of the Bill a bit more.

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

Thank you, Mr. Hood. The issue is whether one gets answers to the questions in any Question Time. At Treasury questions that is not necessarily the case. Clause 2 sets out requirements for Departments other than DFID in their contributions to the reduction in poverty. New clause 6 makes provision for the Secretary of State to make observations about the effect of policies and programmes on the promotion of sustainable development and the reduction in poverty particularly with regard to MDG 8.

The right hon. Gentleman quite rightly highlighted some of the key elements of MDG 8, but there are other important areas that I hope the report will specifically address, such as the special needs of landlocked states and small island developing states. There are issues relating to the development of youth policies, and to pharmaceutical companies providing access to affordable drugs in developing countries, in which the Minister is particularly interested. There is also the issue of information and communication technologies, which enable economies to grow in developing nations and thereby alleviate poverty.

In general, we agree with the merging of clauses 2 and 4; it creates clarity and simplicity. My amendment (a) relates to the wording of new clause 6. New clause 6 would ask the Secretary of State to include observations on policy and coherence and transparency “as he thinks appropriate”. We are concerned that that means that the Secretary of State would not have to report on these vital issues if he saw fit. The wording makes it optional: it is at the Secretary of State’s total discretion. We believe that it should be at Parliament’s discretion whether he reports on these issues.

The other point about new clause 6 is that clause 2 relates to the work by Departments other than DFID to alleviate poverty, thereby meeting millennium development goal 8. Trade is a very good example. The DTI will have a major impact on that. We are obviously all disappointed with the results of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong. The Minister made it clear that the money resolution we debated on Monday does not cover the work that will be done by other Departments; it covers only the work done by DFID. If that is the case, new clause 6 would not allow other Departments to participate in the very important work that the joined-up government would have to do to meet MDG 8. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response to those specific points.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

I endorse what my hon. Friend said about the focus that is required in new clause 6. When we try to help countries in Africa and around the world to move forward and get off their knees from their debt and other problems it can be almost like dealing with a gambler. We can give them money, but we cannot cure them of the problems that cause their poverty. Many   of the countries in Africa that I have visited are in that state not only because of droughts and other factors that are perhaps out of their control, but because of corruption in their Governments. The focus that new clause 6 brings to MDG 8 is critical. It represents an opening of trading and financial systems including a commitment to good governance. That is fundamental as otherwise we are simply pouring good money after bad. I reiterate my endorsement for amendment (a), which specifically requires a consideration of this matter to be reported back for us to debate in the Chamber.

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

I join in encouraging the Committee to support my right hon. Friend’s new clause and to resist clauses 2 and 4 standing part of the Bill. As my right hon. Friend said, and as I made clear on Second Reading, the Government support the intention behind clauses 2 and 4. New clause 6, to which my right hon. Friend spoke, helps to resolve any duplication in those clauses.

I should point out that one or two changes that are not included in new clause 6 are dealt with elsewhere in the Bill for the sake of clarity.

Clause 4 deals with untied aid. I would argue that that is a matter of aid-effectiveness rather than of policy coherence, and new clause 5, which I hope the Committee will support, contains references to untied aid so that the Department can continue to report on it. Clause 4 also seeks a report on progress in fulfilling millennium development goal 8 in respect of various issues specified in clause 7(2). As millennium development goal 8 is specifically mentioned in the clause, a further list of issues to be included would be confusing and unnecessary, which is why they are not in my right hon. Friend’s new clause. The requirements to provide some sectoral breakdown of bilateral aid in clause 4 would be better sited in the proposed new schedule that deals with financial reporting, which we will consider shortly.

The hon. Members for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and for Boston and Skegness made the case for more time for DFID questions, as did other hon. Members on Second Reading. As the hon. Member for Banbury knows, I cannot give him the assurance that he craves now, but I will further consider his additional point. I confess that I was slightly shocked that he thinks Members are not listening in the last 10 minutes of DFID questions. I had assumed that the rising noise was acclamation for what Ministers were saying.

My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Ed Balls) rightly drew attention to the many other Departments that have an impact on international development, and in the spirit of a clause about policy coherence it is right to draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that there are opportunities to explore issues relating to millennium development goal 8 across a wide range of Departments.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness referred to the money resolution. I reassure him that simply because the Bill will not require substantial amounts of money to be spent by other Departments does not mean that we will not be reporting on other Departments’ contributions to the cause of international development. He rightly made the case for other requirements in millennium development goal 8, beyond what is in the new clause, to be reported on. For example, in target 14 on small islands we have a series of responsibilities in respect of overseas territories on which we will continue to report. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that we are working on issues relating to unemployment rates and how to encourage private sector growth to facilitate more employment. As he said, I have an interest in the issue of access to essential drugs and we want to report progress on that matter. I reassure the Committee that the other elements of millennium development goal 8 will be reported on as appropriate.

I heard loud and clear the requests for more time for debates on development and I will draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the issue. We have not been shy of having debates and I look forward to more to come; that is an inevitability. I urge the Committee to support new clause 6 and to oppose clauses 2 and 4.

I am genuinely not persuaded that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness is necessary. The Secretary of State will have to judge which general or specific observations to include in the annual report. It seems sensible to acknowledge that, as we propose to do in the Bill.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 2 disagreed to.