Clause 3

Part of Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 9th March 2010.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke Shadow Minister (Treasury) 10:15 am, 9th March 2010

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, partly because he did not call me a Treasury nerd on this occasion—perhaps I am an aspirant Treasury nerd.

I am not necessarily endorsing that interpretation but, given the narrow definitions in the Bill, for reasons recognised in all parts of the Committee, given that liability to pay for goods and services is not dealt with, given that the Bill applies only to those debts that can be enforced in the English courts and given that it is retrospective, as well as the various other points we have debated, some criticism of the Treasury’s original assessment of the numbers involved is noticeable. Those numbers were reduced from some £250 million to £145 million.

One concern is that we cannot simply look at all the various claims, because by definition they tend to be higher than the claimants and creditors would ever achieve. The Committee might be a useful opportunity to flag up the issue of the likely benefits of the Bill for developing countries, so that we can state with confidence the obvious and compelling public interest in such retrospective legislation. I wish to stress that I am not arguing that there is no such interest, but that the Committee is the right opportunity to address that concern. When the Minister responds, would he set out the Treasury’s thinking?

The Treasury acknowledges that quantifying the benefit in such an area is difficult. What about the particular claim that the Bill would address the Liberia matter alone and that nothing much else would apply? That is an interesting point: if it can be refuted, great, but if particular examples of debts that would fall within the regime can be provided, so be it. Such examples would be helpful in answering any arguments made against the Bill under article 1—that there is not the obvious and compelling public interest that the European Court of Human Rights would seek in order to justify retrospective legislation. Subject to those points, we have no particular difficulties with clause 3.