New Clause 2

Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 9th March 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Duration of Act

‘(1) This Act expires at the end of the period of one year begining with commencement; but this is subject to subsections (2) and (3).

(2) The Treasury may by order provide that this Act (instead of expiring at the time it would otherwise expire) expires at the end of the period of one year from that time.

(3) The Treasury may by order provide that this Act has permanent effect.

(4) An order under this section is to be made by statutory instrument.

(5) An order under this section may be made only if a draft of the statutory instrument containing it has been laid before, and appoved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(6) If this Act expires by virtue of this section—

(a) the Act is to be treated as never having been in force, and

(b) accordingly, where—

(i) a judgement was given, or order or arbitration award made, on a relevant claim (as defined by sectio 5(2)) while the Act was in force, and

(ii) the amount of the judgement, order or award is, as a result of section 3, less than it would be if that section had not applied in relation to the claim, the amount of the judgement, order or award is to be treated as equal to the amount it would be if the section had not applied in relation to the claim.’.—(Mr. Gauke.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury) 11:15 am, 9th March 2010

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I do not need to run through the various arguments about the current uncertainty again, but my view is that it would be helpful to revisit the matter. It is worth quoting the Treasury’s response to the consultation. Paragraph 2.30 notes that

“Predicting the scale of any negative spillovers from legislation is very difficult in advance of legislation.”

New clause 2 is essentially a sunset clause. It means that we could proceed with the Bill as drafted, and then assess what happens over the next 12 months—whether there has been a risk premium, and what the benefit to developing countries has been. At the very least, the new clause would stop the pursuit of outstanding debts under the HIPC regime over the course of those 12 months, and would provide immediate relief for developing countries that are in the scheme.

After 12 months we would make another assessment—I propose doing so through secondary legislation to ensure that we do not have huge difficulties with parliamentary time—and take a view on whether the concerns raised have proved immaterial or not. We could then proceed to place the Bill on the statute book on a permanent basis. Alternatively, we could say, “So far, so good, but we don’t have all the evidence,” and we could extend the measures by a further year. There is also a risk—I do not think that this is likely—that the Bill will have an impact on the risk premium. If that happened, we would not proceed with it any further, and it would lapse.

The underlying point is that it is vital that we tread carefully in this area. In that interim 12 months, I hope that we would have a proper opportunity to scrutinise the provisions further. It is not for this Committee to direct the International Development Committee, but this would be a useful area for it to examine. It could dig into the evidence on the basis that the Bill was on the statute book. We could then see what the Bill’s impact was, and would have the opportunity to return to the issue.

The legislation is somewhat rushed, and we are doing what we can to provide a fair wind. I thank the Treasury Ministers, and the parliamentary draftsmen who assisted with the drafting of the new clause. There has been cross-party co-operation, and I take responsibility for the spelling mistake in the first line. The new clause would be a good way of ensuring that we can proceed with the Bill while addressing existing concerns, so that we can ensure that the legislation actually helps developing countries. We would then be able to legislate from a position of understanding, and with knowledge of the Bill’s implications, rather than having to rely too much on guesswork, as I suspect is currently the case in some respects.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Digital Britain) (also HM Treasury), Financial Secretary (HM Treasury) (also in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills)

I shall listen with great interest to what my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, has to say on the new clause. I have some reservations about it, but I should say on behalf of the Government that, in the interests of ensuring that the Bill is passed smoothly, I am happy to accept the new clause. It would leave the Bill intact and logical. There is also an advantage in ensuring that the effect on new lending is assessed before making the Bill permanent.

Photo of Sally Keeble Sally Keeble Labour, Northampton North

Obviously, everyone wants the legislation passed and progress to be made in dealing with developing country debt. It is right that progress should be made in an orderly and proper way that serves the interests of developing countries, so that they do not find themselves damaged by a risk premium. Everything in the proposed legislation is carefully targeted and structured and will not produce a risk premium. I will not go into the reasons for that, but basically creditors have their own ways of judging when a country is a bad risk, as the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire knows.

However, at the end of a Parliament there may be a suspicion that legislation is hurried, and it is particularly important to give real assurances about that. That is why I say to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, that although we would prefer not to have to accept a sunset clause, in the interests of ensuring that we can make orderly progress, the new clause should be agreed. We should, therefore, accept the principle of a sunset clause. If we agree that that is a way forward, I am sure that secondary legislation can be made in the next Parliament. That will mean that there is not a huge problem with parliamentary timetabling; that can be done in an orderly way, so that we can retain the cross-party consensus that has been so important in making progress with the Bill.

In conclusion, I repeat the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton, about our great regret that my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish could not be here to take the Bill through Committee himself, as I am sure he would have wanted. I hope that we will be able to proceed to Report and Third Reading, so that we can get his legislation moving. The Bill will be a world first, and I am sure that it will be greatly appreciated by other jurisdictions around the world and by developing countries.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 2 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.