New Clause 2

Part of Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 9th March 2010.

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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.