As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.
New Clause 5
Suitability of millennium development goals
‘Each annual report must include the Secretary of State's assessment of the suitability of the Millennium Development Goals and the indicators in respect of each in achieving an improvement in the quality of life of citizens of the recipient countries and whether goals, targets or indicators need to be amended.'. —[Mr. Chope.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 7—Alternative measures—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall include in each annual report observations on the overall appropriateness and value of aid to developing countries, and set out such barriers to development as appear to him to be relevant in the countries to which bilateral aid is provided, for which action might be taken or recommended.
(2) Such observations shall include the effects of third party regulations and controls, including those promulgated by the European Community, the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, which have the effect, whether unintentionally or not, of distorting or hampering development, or of slowing it down.
(3) They shall also include observations on the civil and judicial structures in each country provided with bilateral aid, which either assist or hamper the development and enforcement of property rights and the resolution of disputes.'.
Amendment No. 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, leave out subsection (4).
Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (5).
Amendment No. 4, in clause 2, page 2, line 5, leave out ‘must' and insert
‘shall so far as reasonably practicable'.
Amendment No. 8, in clause 4, page 2, leave out line 18 and insert—
‘(i) European Community aid to which the UK contributes, and
(ii) other multilateral aid to which the UK contributes,'.
Amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 19, leave out from ‘effectiveness' to end of line 22 and insert
‘of bilateral aid in respect of each country where such aid provided by the UK was in excess of £10 million during the period covered by the report,'.
Amendment No. 16, in page 2, line 20, leave out from ‘than' to end of line 22 and insert
‘those 20 countries which are the recipients of the greatest amount of United Kingdom bilateral aid'.
Amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 20, leave out ‘20' and insert ‘30'.
Amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 21, leave out from ‘20' to end of line 22 and insert
‘of the largest recipients of the said bilateral aid'.
Amendment No. 13, in clause 5, page 3, line 2, leave out from ‘report' to ‘on' in line 3 and insert ‘general or specific observations'.
Amendment No. 17, in page 3, line 4, after ‘departments', insert
‘, Government agencies and non departmental public bodies.'.
Amendment No. 19, in clause 6, page 3, line 21, after ‘departments', insert
‘Government agencies and non departmental public bodies.'.
Amendment No. 15, in page 3, line 32, at end insert—
‘(e) promoting the establishment of a link between the commitment of aid and the reduction of corruption in recipient countries.'.
Amendment No. 22, in clause 7, page 3, line 36, after ‘departments', insert
‘Government agencies and non departmental public bodies'.
Amendment No. 23, in page 3, line 41, at end insert ‘corruption,'.
Amendment No. 24, in page 4, line 3, at end insert ‘poverty'.
Amendment No. 25, in page 4, line 4, at end insert ‘sustainable development'.
Amendment No. 5, in the schedule, page 5, line 3, leave out ‘must' and insert
‘shall so far as reasonably practicable'.
Amendment No. 29, in page 5, line 24, at end insert—
‘(j) the best estimate of the amount of bilateral aid which has been misused, stolen or otherwise been diverted into fraudulent schemes,'.
Amendment No. 30, in page 5, line 24, at end insert—
‘(k) the amount of bilateral aid which has been paid, directly or indirectly to nationals of any country, either directly or indirectly through their employment, who are not citizens of the countries to which the aid is nominally addressed,'.
Amendment No. 31, in page 5, line 24, at end insert—
‘(l) the amount of bilateral aid which has been paid to companies, organisations or other enterprises which are not registered in the countries to which the aid is nominally addressed,'.
Amendment No. 26, in page 6, line 14, leave out paragraph 7.
Amendment No. 27, in page 6, line 20, at end insert—
‘(9) If any of the information required to be included in the annual report is not available at the time the report is prepared, an explanation as to the reason for such information not being available shall be included in the report.'.
Since Second Reading on 20 January, the Bill has been considered in Committee for less than two hours, during the course of which it was substantially rewritten. Today, the House has its first opportunity to consider the effect of that rewriting and the extent to which it meets concerns expressed on Second Reading and elsewhere. The late and much lamented Eric Forth, whose death has left such a gap in our lives and in this House, raised such concerns in one of his shortest Friday speeches, which lasted only four minutes. He said that
“it is insufficiently focused and in some respects requires strengthening.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 1115.]
Can my hon. Friend help me with a dilemma? Is it safe for people such as myself, who wish to remember Eric Forth, to go canvassing in Bromley this morning or—if they support the Bill, as I do—will they need to stay here for closure motions? I would be grateful for some advice.
My hon. Friend will need to decide that for himself. My own assessment is that the Bill will receive a Third Reading today, but after full consideration. Given that so many hon. Members are in their places, I hope that we will have a cross-party Back Benchers’ rebellion that will strengthen the provisions of the Bill, perhaps against the wishes of the Executive. The Prime Minister’s payroll is in a minority today, with the majority being on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s payroll. If the latter comes into the Lobby in support of some of the amendments, I hope that my hon. Friend will join them. I cannot predict what will happen. Indeed, it is the whole essence of proceedings on a Friday that there is an element of unpredictability about them.
Does my hon. Friend accept that there are those of us who support improvements in transparency on international development issues, but are appalled by the failure to deal with the fundamental question that faces the international development community—that of corruption? I shall listen to him with great interest in the hope that I may get an opportunity to get a word in edgeways at some point. I do not really care which party deals with the matter, because corruption is a serious matter. I look straight at the Secretary of State for International Development, who is in his place. He knows where I am coming from and he also knows what my new clause would have amounted to. I simply say—
Order. I will say something simply to the hon. Gentleman. First, he must not verge on discussion of an amendment that has not been selected and, secondly, if he hopes to make a contribution to the debate it would be a great pity if the length of his interventions caused that not to happen.
I hope that my hon. Friend will have a chance to participate in the debate. As he knows, the word “corruption” is included in at least one of the amendments in the group.
In Committee, the promoter of the Bill, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), was chided for allowing the Bill to become a Government Bill. Of course, until it left Committee, the measure was vulnerable to Government dirty tricks, but now, collectively, we have the opportunity to strengthen it and I hope that nothing will stand in the way of our achieving that objective today. Why do not we have a collective Back-Bench rebellion against the Government, who have been reluctant to make the Bill as strong as it could and should be?
The promoter of the Bill is to be congratulated on having rescheduled Report from its original date of 12 May so that we have a full day for discussion. The essence of the Bill is to achieve public accountability and to encourage public discussion of important issues. Over the next few hours we have the chance to do just that and to demonstrate how concerned we are and how much importance we attach to greater transparency and accountability in the spending of taxpayers’ money on overseas aid.
This group of amendments is, in effect, a shopping list. We shall not be able to vote on all of them, but I hope that in the course of our discussion we shall be able to agree collectively that some of them are worthy of support and inclusion in the Bill, which can then in that amended form achieve Third Reading. Before I discuss new clauses 5 and 7 in detail it may be more convenient for the House if I go through some of the more technical amendments seriatim, so that Members can begin to assess which ones should have the greatest priority for inclusion.
Amendment No. 2 would leave out subsection (4) of clause 1. Why should an annual report be able to revise
“anything contained in a previous annual report”?
That smacks of rewriting history, and for the Bill to include a provision to facilitate and achieve such an objective demonstrates just how unusual it is in legislative terms. Are we suggesting that companies should be able to rewrite their annual reports, or that all annual reports may be changed willy-nilly? If there is an error in an annual report, especially a report to Parliament, why cannot we have a system whereby it is corrected immediately and brought to the attention of the House rather than being held over until the next annual report? The current provision refers not even to correcting a report but to revising it, which is much wider; it provides for the revision of anything contained in a previous annual report.
Does my hon. Friend agree that an annual report is just that—annual? If circumstances have changed from the previous year, the facts would inevitably be included in the next annual report so there would be no need for revision of the earlier report.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Most Members would assume that an annual report is just that. I certainly cannot understand why subsection (4) is necessary.
Amendment No. 3 would leave out subsection (5) of clause 1. The annual report is an important document and I agree with the promoter and supporters of the Bill that we need more transparency and accountability, so surely the best way to bring that about is to make sure that the annual report, with its specific requirements, stands alone. Why should not that happen? From what the Minister said in Committee, it seems that the Government have it in mind to combine the report required under the Bill with the annual report of the Department for International Development. However, DFID’s 2006 report, which has been published since Second Reading, is well over 300 pages, so the very specific requirements for the annual report for which the Bill provides would be lost in that great big departmental report. Surely, there should be a specific annual report, in readable form and accessible to as many people as possible. It would be much better if it were not combined with any other report, as subsection (5) would provide.
Given the Government’s track record on burying bad news, is not the danger of including subsection (5), and thus the strength of my hon. Friend’s amendment, that it would prevent the Government from possibly burying bad news in an important field where we are all committed to bringing transparency?
My hon. Friend is right. One problem is that the more information is available, the more difficult it is for people to focus on what is important. It has been said that with open government and freedom of information, more information is being put in the public domain in the knowledge that the public will not be able to get access to it—there is so much information that they will not be able to find it. We should focus on the important requirements to be brought before Parliament and debated each year.
Amendment No. 4 would omit the word “must” from clause 2 and insert the more reasonable requirement that the Secretary of State shall
“so far as reasonably practicable”
include particular matters in the annual report. The amendment demonstrates the reasonableness of our position. It would also make it easier to add to the provisions of the schedule. One can anticipate arguments such as, “We can’t add these provisions to the schedule because we won’t be able to guarantee the production of the information.” However, if we qualify the requirement to produce such information in the schedule by specifying that it should be produced only so far as is reasonably practicable, the list of things included in the schedule could be more extensive than it is at present.
Amendment No. 8 would require a specific report on the effectiveness of European Community aid to which the United Kingdom contributes. I know that that is a concern not just of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but of many other Members. We put vast sums of taxpayers’ money into the European Community, but it difficult to get good information about whether we are getting value for money.
My hon. Friend will remember that the report of the European Court of Auditors comes out periodically. It has not been possible to sign off the accounts of the European Union for 12 years. I concur with his views on that subject, because if we do not sort that out, we will not be able to help the people who need help.
My hon. Friend is right. The failure of the European Court of Auditors to sign off the accounts means that there is growing public scepticism about the whole European Community project. Many people feel that, rather than giving taxpayers’ money to the European Community to spend on overseas aid, it would be much better if our Government spent that money directly and were accountable to the House for the way in which it was spent. That would be preferable to the indirect processes that operate at the moment. However, recognising the realities of things as they are now, the amendment would at least create a requirement for a specific report on the effectiveness of our contribution to European Community aid. I hope that, for that reason, it will commend itself to other right hon. and hon. Members.
Amendment No. 11 is important, as well. It deals with effectiveness. Surely we should be concerned about the effectiveness of all bilateral aid in excess of £10 million per year. Why not require the Government to report on that? We are talking about taxpayers’ money. If bilateral aid in excess of £10 million a year is going to individual countries, why should we not have a report on it? Why should there not be proper accountability? The Bill as currently drafted glosses over the need for that. Although pressure was put on the Government in Committee by my hon. Friends the Members for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), we did not really get a satisfactory answer out of them.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is incredibly important that that aspect be included in the Bill? Some of the greatest white elephants in many countries in the third world are projects that were funded by the European Union, which a considerable amount of our taxpayers’ money has been involved in generating. It is therefore incredibly important that those white elephants are highlighted to make sure that the problem does not recur.
Again, my hon. Friend is right. Information is power. If the information is available, it will ensure that political pressure can be put on to achieve more effective spending.
Amendment No. 16 is expressed in an alternative form to amendment No. 11. It is less far-reaching, but goes further than the existing wording of the Bill. It would require the Government to identify 20 countries that are recipients of the greatest amount of United Kingdom bilateral aid and then report on the effectiveness of that aid. The same principle applies to that as to amendment No. 11: if the Government do not have that information available already, surely they should have. We are talking about taxpayers’ money going in large tranches to foreign countries. Surely we should require the Government to report to us on the effectiveness or otherwise of that public expenditure. We know that the Government talk a lot about delivery in public services and not just inputs. The Bill is an opportunity for the Government to impose requirements on themselves to deliver and to show the outputs from the investment, or expenditure, of taxpayers’ money.
Amendment No. 9 is an alternative to amendment No. 16, which in turn is an alternative to amendment No. 11. It is a weaker alternative because it accepts the existing wording but increases the number of countries in respect of which the reports would have to be produced from 20 to 30. In Committee, the Minister undertook to increase the number to 25, but the Government’s approach in that respect is, in my submission, self-serving, because it is linked to the public service agreement targets—and who decides what those public service agreement targets are going to be, but the Government? Particular countries have been selected so that the Department can assess the effectiveness of expenditure, but, surprisingly, those targets are not concentrated on the countries where we have the largest expenditure of taxpayers’ money but chosen according to some other set of criteria. The Bill gives us the chance to increase public accountability. We should require the Government to increase the number significantly from what is already contained in the Bill. I do not support amendment No. 9, because my earlier amendment is better. Amendment No. 10 is even weaker, but yet again, it is stronger than the provisions in the Bill.
On amendment No. 13, why should not the Secretary of State include everything in his assessment, rather than just what he thinks is appropriate? Why should it just be left to the Secretary of State to decide what he thinks is appropriate? Why should not some more objective standard apply?
Amendments Nos. 17 and 19 extend the requirements imposed on the Secretary of State to report on the programmes being pursued by Government agencies, as well as Departments and non-departmental public bodies. I will wait to hear what the Minister says in responding to those two amendments. However, the original clause 2 as it was passed on Second Reading contained the expression “across all departments”. Many of us thought that that added to the coherence of what the provisions sought to achieve. The Minister has not really given a satisfactory explanation of why the expression “across all departments” has been dropped from the revised version of the Bill as it has emerged from Committee. I wonder whether “Government departments” is meant to include Government agencies and non-departmental public bodies. If it already includes them, I would welcome that assurance from the Minister. If it does not, surely it should.
Amendment No. 15 relates to the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is interested in: corruption. It would require corruption to be addressed specifically in the annual report. It is worth referring to the text of the amendment, if I can find the right page of my notes. My pages have turned over; obviously it is getting windy in this part of the Chamber.
Does my hon. Friend accept that including the notion of corruption as part of the observations to be made in the Secretary of State’s report would take us forward very little and not do the job properly? The African Union itself estimates that $148 billion a year leaves the continent because of corruption. That amount of course dwarfs the aid and debt relief that Africa receives—a subject on which I have been campaigning for many years. Does he agree that it is pointless merely to report on something that the African Union has already condemned?
Absolutely, but my amendment would require the Secretary of State to make observations about progress on
“promoting the establishment of a link between the commitment of aid and the reduction of corruption in recipient countries.”
Corruption is a really big problem. The fact that it is rife deters many individuals from making private contributions to overseas projects because they are worried about what will happen to their money. In my experience, the most effective help for overseas countries is often given through such means as direct involvement by individuals on the ground in villages in Africa. Those people thus know that the work that they do, or the money that they give, is going directly to the people who need it, rather than being siphoned off in large part through corrupt practices.
Does my hon. Friend also accept that the $148 billion a year that leaves Africa because of corruption represents a quarter of the continent’s gross domestic product? I take those figures from the excellent report “The Other Side of the Coin”, which was prepared under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). Transparency International, which has campaigned vigorously for many years on corruption in Africa and elsewhere, gave significant help with the report.
My hon. Friend is a recognised expert in the field. He feels strongly about the matter, as do many hon. Members. I thus hope that we will be able to achieve a consensus that amendment No. 15 would address in some part concerns about the lack of progress on reducing corruption. There is a need to ensure that corruption is reduced and that money goes to the people for whom it was originally intended.
Amendment No. 22 would have a similar effect to amendments Nos. 17 and 19 because it addresses the question of whether the phrase “Government departments” in clause 7 includes Government agencies and non-departmental public bodies.
Amendments Nos. 23 to 25 would add to the specific terms that will require definition or explanation in the annual report. The Bill sets out a series of such terms: “bilateral aid”; “gross national income”; “humanitarian assistance”; “low income countries”; “multilateral aid”; “official development assistance”; and the word “sector”. However, it would be in the public interest if the annual report included an explanation of what was meant by corruption, poverty and sustainable development. People bandy those phrases about, but it should be possible to define them precisely. The requirements of the Bill would be strengthened if each annual report had to include such specific definitions and explanations.
My hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the Commission for Africa’s report entitled, “Our Common Interest”. The report gives a detailed analysis of the problem of corruption. Of course, the report was promoted when the Prime Minister was taking an intense interest in the subject. As my hon. Friend says, there is no point in talking about a subject such as corruption—the same is true of the European Union—if it is not properly defined.
My hon. Friend is right. Let me expand on what he says with a specific example. It is suggested that the son of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, no less, was able to obtain a car on behalf of his father, thereby avoiding tax in Nigeria. Tax revenue was thus denied to a country to which our taxpayers contribute large sums in aid. I do not know whether that would come under the definition of corruption, but it would certainly help us if we knew whether that was the case. That would be achieved if there was a proper definition in each annual report of what was meant by corruption.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) talked about corruption, but will my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) comment more specifically on poverty and sustainable development? Does he agree that poverty—including absolute poverty and relative poverty—means different things to different people? It is thus crucial that the word is properly defined. Does he further agree that “sustainable development” is one of those warm phrases that are much loved by politicians because they use them so that they can make the right noises when speaking to certain people? However, few who use the phrase actually seem to make clear what they mean by it. People have learned to use the phrase when they want to say the right things to certain people, so it is essential that it is properly defined.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is difficult to find anyone who is against reducing poverty, or, for that matter, who does not think that sustainable development is a good thing. However, such vague, ill-defined words cannot be a substitute for bringing intellectual rigour to bear on the situation, which is preferable to encouraging woolly thinking.
Would my hon. Friend care to note that the Corruption Bill, which is a private Member’s Bill before the House, includes a definition of the meaning of corrupt conduct? Furthermore, the Bill’s promoter is none other than the hon. Member for City of York, and its sponsors include my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who intervened earlier, and the promoter of this Bill, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). I thus say with regret that, although there is an appreciation that the arguments that I want to advance could be advanced, the Bill that we are considering unfortunately does not do so.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the provision in the Corruption Bill. In due course, I hope that he will be able to share with the House the definition of corruption and tell us whether he thinks that that would be a suitable definition to include in the annual report, if amendment No. 23 were agreed to.
Amendment No. 5 is consequential on amendment No. 4. Both amendments would replace “must” with
“shall so far as reasonably practicable”.
They would give the Government more flexibility in relation to the provisions of the report and provide scope to include more provisions, such as those set out in amendments Nos. 29, 30 and 31 to the schedule, which would require specific extra information to be included in the annual report.
In amendment No. 29 we are not asking for a definitive answer on how much bilateral aid has been misused, because the Government might not be able to provide such an answer, any more than they can tell us how many illegal immigrants are in the country—but surely we can ask for their best estimate. If the Government are not making estimates of how much taxpayers’ money is going into fraudulent schemes, they should be. I hope that the Under-Secretary is happy to include that provision in the schedule. Amendments No. 30 and 31, by requiring the report to contain information on the individuals and organisations to which bilateral aid is paid, would be useful and significant improvements to the reporting requirements set out in the schedule. The information should already be available to the relevant Department, so I hope that the Under-Secretary is willing to accept the amendments.
I hope that my hon. Friend will address the question of why there appears to be a commitment to no more than a reporting and observation exercise, when in fact what we are dealing with is governance, both within the United Kingdom in respect of our taxpayers’ money, and in continents such as Africa. As the report of the Prime Minister’s own commission noted:
“Without progress in governance, all other reforms will have limited impact.”
My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about governance and what happens to taxpayers’ money when it goes to other countries, but I depart slightly from his position because I do not think that it is reasonable of us to impose on third-world countries higher standards of governance than we exercise in this country. In recent months it has become apparent that our own Government, in our sophisticated country with its developed economy, do not know what is going on in various areas of public life and policy, so it is not unreasonable that the Governments of some third-world countries do not know what is going on there.
I see that there is a serious divergence between us. We have a Public Accounts Committee and a National Audit Office that examine all those questions properly. It is inconceivable that corruption on the scale that we witness in other countries could be carried on in this country. I believe that our taxpayers are entitled to know that when the money arrives in other countries, it is properly disbursed according to proper principles of governance, public accountability and transparency.
I take my hon. Friend’s point, which he makes well.
Amendment No. 26 would omit paragraph 7 to the schedule, which would be replaced by the tighter requirement in amendment No. 28. As drafted, the Bill does not require information for any relevant period to be included in the annual report
“if the figures for that period are not (or not yet) available when the report is prepared; but if they become available later they must be included in the first annual report which is prepared after they become available”.
In my view, if we—Parliament—require that the Government provide information, that information should be made available, and if it cannot be made available for some reason, the annual report should set out the reasons why it is unavailable and, by implication, when it will become available. In effect, the clever, subtle drafting of paragraph 7 negates the requirement in paragraph 1 that the annual report “must” contain various pieces of information by allowing the publication of the information to be deferred or delayed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that paragraph 7 would also allow some important information that the Bill is designed to make transparent not to come to light for 11 months or so after it becomes available? Surely that is unacceptable if our aim is transparency and accountability.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I might sometimes be regarded as being somewhat sceptical about the Government’s motives. When I see provisions such as paragraph 7, I wonder why they want excuses for not doing what Parliament requires to be set out in legislation. Have the Government been dragged, kicking and screaming, into accepting the Bill, or are they enthusiastic promoters of improved transparency and accountability for the way in which we spend our money on overseas aid?
On that point, my hon. Friend may have gathered—I am sure that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary have done so—that I believe that the Government would rather have the Bill than have to deal with the real problems that arise from corruption. I await the Under-Secretary’s comments with interest. Changing the long title in order to exclude my new clause and related matters was not a constructive way to go about things.
My hon. Friend has been thwarted on this occasion, but I am sure that he will come back on another and get his measure on to the statute book.
Having dealt with the amendments, I come to the new clauses in the group. New clause 5—the key provision, which leads the group—goes to the heart of the Bill. It is all about the millennium development goals and requires that each annual report should include the Secretary of State’s assessment of the millennium development goals and the indicators used to measure achievement, and whether they need to be amended. The millennium development goals are, in some respects, already looking rather sick. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has said that, far from the goal of primary education for all being delivered by 2015, it will not be delivered until 2130. That is so far into the future. How meaningful is it to have a directive that must be achieved by the year 2030? Is this not bringing into ridicule the process of having millennium development goals? Is this not encouraging a lack of focus on our priorities for the third world?
Does my hon. Friend accept that there is something rather insidious, which is characteristic of the Government, in piling in a vast amount of time and attention to targets—for example, public services and so on—and yet to leave the issue on which the focus should be addressed in disarray? We end up by having an enormous amount of spin, huge reports, commissions and everything else. At the same time, there are people in Africa and other countries who are starving to death because the relevant issues are not being dealt with, and the money that is given by charitable organisations, for example, is being diverted.
I revert to the issue of millennium goals and poverty, Mr. Deputy Speaker. One of the goals was to halve poverty by 2015. Who would disagree with that as an objective? Some may say that halving it would not be good enough and that it should be eliminated. It is impossible to eliminate poverty if it is defined in terms of relativities. However rich other people become, there will always be some people who are not as rich as others. If we accept that there is such a thing as absolute poverty, halving it by 2015 is fine. That is a reasonable objective. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that poverty will not be halved until the year 2150. That will be 135 years too late for those who might be hoping that they will be removed from poverty. Again, we are presented with a meaningless concept. What is the point of having goals that are so far in the distance? It is rather like the football match last night, when people wondered when the goals were coming. At least they came in the end. However, we have millennium development goals that are unlikely to be met—in this case, of halving poverty—until 135 years have passed.
Even more distressing is that the goal of eliminating avoidable infant deaths—not unavoidable infant deaths—is 2015. When is it likely to be achieved? In the year 2165—in other words, 150 years later than the original target. It is only seven years since the millennium. In another six years, perhaps the target will be extended 150 years further into the distance, beyond the horizon. In this context, I think that new clause 5 would improve the Bill enormously. It would force the Government to address the millennium goals and lead to an open discussion on whether they are worth while, whether they should be amended and whether there should be a focus on fewer of them, and on achieving the most important ones.
My new clause also includes the indicators of the goals. Some of the indicators of whether the goals are being achieved, or are likely to be achieved, are unnecessarily controversial and undermine the main objectives of the goals. If goal 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, why do we not concentrate on that goal and on goal 2, which relates to universal primary education, and on reducing child mortality, which is goal 4, rather than getting diverted into the issue of the 12th indicator in goal 3, which is the proportion of seats held by women in national Parliaments?
Surely there is no comparison between the gravity of the earlier issues to which I referred and increasing the proportion of seats held by women in national Parliaments. It is grossly distorting to think that seats held by women should even be considered in the same context as other, much more important, millennium goals. The new clause would give the Government the opportunity to engage the public in a debate about where the millennium goals are and where they are going.
At present, 50 countries are going backwards on at least one of the millennium goals. In sub-Saharan Africa, some countries are failing in every one of those goals. There should be much more focus on them and we should think about modifying them so that they are more realistic and attainable. Even if we increase the proportion of public expenditure in this country and of our GDP that goes in public contributions to the developing world, that will go nowhere near solving the problems that have been identified in the millennium development goals.
There are many who find it rather depressing and debilitating to think that things are getting worse rather than better. The facts give credence to those commentators who argue that the effect of aid is often to increase the poverty and the problems in other parts of the world, rather than to deal with them, and that too much of the discussion and posturing about third-world aid is to make us feel better, although we are not achieving very much on the ground in the countries to which we say we are directing our resources and help.
That brings me on to new clause 7, which is an important alternative proposal. It would provide that:
“The Secretary of State shall include in each annual report observations on the overall appropriateness and value of aid to developing countries, and set out such barriers to development as appear to him to be relevant in the countries to which bilateral aid is provided, for which action might be taken or recommended…Such observations shall include the effects of third party regulations and controls, including those promulgated by the European Community, the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations, which have the effect, whether unintentionally or not, of distorting or hampering development, or of slowing it down…They shall also include observations on the civil and judicial structures in each country provided with bilateral aid, which either assist or hamper the development and enforcement of property rights and the resolution of disputes.”
Having spoken at some length, I shall not go into great detail about what might be the effect or the impact of being able to include new clause 7 within the Bill. The value of aid and the barriers to development are important issues. There are some who might argue that 40 years of aid have not helped to reduce the dependence of African countries on aid, but instead have made them more dependent on it.
I hope that my hon. Friend and I will not disagree over the necessity for countries to receive aid, but also to have debt reduction. I campaigned as chairman of the Jubilee campaign—with more than 300 Members of this place supporting me—on the subject of the reduction of third-world aid. If a reduction in debt relief results in an increase in the amount of money made available to other countries, they can help themselves, which is one of my main objectives.
I agree wholeheartedly, which is why aid should go to individual people, rather than to Governments. On 23 July 2005, The Business magazine said:
“A 1 per cent. increase in aid to Africa produces a 3.5 per cent. drop in real per capita growth.”
That is a result of the way in which the money is made available, and it demonstrates the ineffectiveness of such aid. Under new clause 7, the Government are required to include in the report observations about the value of aid and about the effect of third-party regulation and controls. Bob Geldof said:
“The EU is the greatest protection racket ever invented. Al Capone would be desperately proud of the EU—we’ve just extended our fences to the east.”
He declared, too, that Africa needed entrepreneurial spirit. Such observations capture the public’s imagination, and it would be interesting to see whether the Government’s observations in the annual report can do the same.
My hon. Friend may not know that Bob Geldof is a long-standing friend of mine. He deserves strong support because his status and his directness enable him to draw attention to things that those of us who are not always listened to in the House of Commons as carefully as we would like sometimes fail to convey to the public at large.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that we are both delighted that Bob Geldof is playing a key role in Conservative policy development with a view to bringing about the early return of a Conservative Government.
We must consider, too, civil and judicial structures when addressing the lack of property rights, the need for a trusted judiciary, law enforcement and the rule of law. On 3 July 2005, The Business said that developing countries are
“usually locked out of the formal, legal economy”.
People have houses, but not the titles to them crops but not deeds; businesses, but not statutes of incorporation. Too often, what passes for ownership is a system of informally evolved and acknowledged property rights. It would be useful to include Government observations on such issues in the annual report.
It has taken me longer than I hoped to develop my arguments, but I have provided a shopping list of requirements to improve the Bill. The Government must account to taxpayers for the large sums of money that have already been spent in the third world and the ever larger sums that the Chancellor has promised to spend on their behalf in future.
I am delighted to participate in our debate, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), whose constituency I find it difficult to pronounce, on his Bill. I attended the reception last night with Midge Ure, who, with Bob Geldof, supports the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, like others, has spoken eloquently about the measure, and urged us to keep our contributions short so that we can make progress.
I had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee, and I am pleased that some of my proposals, particularly on humanitarian accountability, have been included in the Bill. It is the first time that that has happened to me, and it may be a while before it happens again.
I am grateful for your assistance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and for allowing me to press on. However, I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations.
The introduction of the Bill was prompted by the millennium development goals of 2001, which called on Governments to increase the proportion of gross national income spent on aid to 0.7 per cent. In considering the annual report, I should like to focus on the requirement for all Governments to participate in that initiative. High profile areas that have received money include Sudan, and Phuket in Thailand, with which I was involved in the aftermath of the tsunami, and regions affected by the Indonesian earthquake. As a nation, we are very generous in providing money and resources, which combine with the generosity of other countries—some offer more, some less—as the millennium development goals are designed to involve everyone. Money and resources, however, must be used wisely in the country that receives them. We must be sure that our money is spent correctly, and to prevent overlaps and clashes in the deployment of funds, co-ordination is required.
Yesterday morning I returned from Afghanistan, where I spent a few days meeting military organisations and civilian ministries. I met President Karzai, whom I asked about security and international development, General Jones, the head of NATO, and General Richards, the head of the international security assistance force. All of them agreed that the security umbrella provided by NATO and ISAF could be improved, as more troops were needed. In general, the provision is working, but the level of security provided by NATO cannot last for ever, as funds will eventually run out. International development and reconstruction organisations must take advantage of a small window of opportunity to build the necessary infrastructure, win the trust of the local people and develop local economies to provide jobs and livelihoods that are not connected to the poppy trade.
I visited Helmand province, where I met a representative from the Department for International Development and the provincial reconstruction team. They are doing fantastic work—which, however, is taking place in isolation from work in neighbouring provinces and other parts of Afghanistan. It is a silo project, and there is no overall co-ordinator in Kabul to make sure that those vast sums are spent correctly. When visiting Kabul and Kandahar I was deluged with details of international organisations and operations spending. All of them spend vast sums but, I am afraid, they work separately and follow their own agenda. Myriad organisations and ministries are active in Afghanistan, including UN missions and departments across Kabul, EU missions and delegations, and embassies, which provide cash, but also issue caveats about the way in which that money is spent. DFID is present, as is the United States Agency for International Development, ISAF, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging and the Afghan Counter Narcotics Trust Fund.
I am grateful for your direction, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am speaking to amendments Nos. 4 and 8. It is the focus of the report that interests me.
We are in urgent need of a Paddy Ashdown-type character to co-ordinate operations in Afghanistan, because money is being wasted. The Bill deals with accountability for the 0.7 per cent. that we are spending. I am saddened to say that unless the annual report focuses not just on what Britain is spending, but on how that money is linked to international efforts, money will be wasted and unaccounted for, as other hon. Members have pointed out.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution. He mentions amendments Nos. 4 and 8, but may I suggest that new clause 7 would also be an appropriate focus for his remarks, as it states that the report should
“set out such barriers to development as appear”—
to the Secretary of State—
“to be relevant in the countries to which bilateral aid is provided”?
In that context, the security issues that my hon. Friend is rightly highlighting would fit neatly.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. He raises an important point about bilateral aid, and we must consider how our money fits into that. I am pleased that the Secretary of State has joined us. I hope that the annual report for which the Bill provides will contain an analysis of how our money, and other money, is being spent.
I shall cite two examples to show how money is being spent and, unfortunately, wasted. The first relates to a school that was built by a non-governmental organisation to the north of Kandahar—a commendable project to provide education in a small town where there has been no form of education for a couple of decades, because of the various wars. Unfortunately, once the school was built the poppy fields to the north of the town were scorched, taking away the livelihoods—illegal though they were—of all the people who lived in that town. They have abandoned the town, leaving behind a brand-new school building. That is a good example of lack of co-ordination between the various international operations in Afghanistan.
The second example relates to bilateral aid, which was mentioned earlier. An embassy offered to build so many miles of road in Afghanistan. There are already many contractors building roads there and much work has been done in that respect. The condition that the donor country placed on the project required that that country provide the contractors. Limited funds were made available for the road building, and by the time the firm of contractors had flown out all its equipment, the time, and the funding, had almost run out. Had that money been allocated to a senior organisation in Afghanistan, it could have paid local contractors to continue the road building, rather than wasting time getting another company to come out and do the same work.
As the Secretary of State is in the Chamber, may I ask whether my hon. Friend is conscious, in the context of what should be included in the annual report under clause 2, that the Bill does not provide for it to include figures on corruption? There is a reference in the Bill to progress in
“the better management of aid, including the prevention of corruption”,
but no figures that would enable us to identify where the problem lies.
As my hon. Friend observes, the Secretary of State is present and heard his comments. The schedule provides a framework for the annual report, but the content of the report is for the Department. I hope that the comments on corruption have been heard. Corruption is widespread in Afghanistan. People there are not used to democracy, and tribal loyalties are strong. That is how a great deal of money is lost. If the Secretary of State can include such an analysis, it would put in perspective the challenges posed by the country to which the aid is going.
We are straying a little, but that is an important point. Unfortunately, last year’s poppy crops were the largest ever recorded. About 4,000 tonnes of opium is being produced each year. We have spent £400 million on the poppy trade, and because last year’s crop was the largest ever—that is an estimate, of course, because the trade is conducted on the black market—questions must be asked about how that money was spent. That is why I argue that there should be one person or one organisation in charge, with the authority to make decisions, co-ordinate and use the finances and resources that donor countries provide. At present, so many conditions are attached to such aid that progress is being held back and movement away from reliance on the poppy trade is being hindered. That is crucial for the success of Afghanistan and for determining whether the money spent there by DFID, the Foreign Office and NATO is well spent.
Once again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am grateful for your direction. I shall be delighted to reminisce about my visit to Afghanistan on another occasion. It was an eye-opening experience, and I look forward to taking up those points with the Secretary of State on a future occasion.
In conclusion, I strongly support the Bill, and congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill on bringing it this far. I hope that it does not encounter any further hurdles as we approach Third Reading. I strongly emphasise the need for co-ordination and accountability for British money spent on international aid.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I regard the Bill as significant. In the light of my earlier comments, I hope that the Secretary of State, who is still in his place, will recall that on a number of occasions I have paid particular tribute to him and also to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for their efforts, which I believe to be genuine, to deal with the problem of world poverty and the difficulties that arise in Africa, as well as in other countries in the developing world. It is often pointed out that international development is focused on only one continent. There are, of course, many difficulties elsewhere in the world.
However, the problem of corruption, the issue with which I am primarily concerned, will not be dealt with by the Bill. The Bill provides for an undeniably useful exercise—the production of an annual report and statistics showing progress towards the United Nations 0.7 per cent. expenditure target, aid effectiveness and millennium development goals 1 to 7, policy coherence and millennium development goal 8 and transparency. At that point, I would have to pause to ask myself whether the observations that the Secretary of State thinks it appropriate to make about
“the contribution by Government departments to the promotion of transparency in…the provision of aid, and…the use made of aid provided”
would be meaningful without dealing with the problem of corruption.
I recently spoke informally to a Minister in this Government; I will not disclose which one, or their sexual orientation—I am sorry, I mean that I will not disclose their sex. When I asked that person what they thought about what was going on in terms of corruption in such countries, they gave a clear indication that they were worried about it. I therefore assume that the Secretary of State himself is deeply worried about it. The observations that he thinks appropriate about the contribution made by Government Departments to the promotion of transparency should include observations about the lack of sufficient control inherent in the procedures that are made available to deal with this problem.
Clause 6 says that there should be observations about
“progress in relation to…the prevention of corruption”.
I would have expected that as part of those observations, recommendations would be made by the Secretary of State. The existing legislation on dealing with corruption and the audit arrangements that go with it is inadequate, and he could explain to the House exactly what could be done to improve the situation.
I take the good will of the Ministers concerned for granted, but what distinguishes good will from action is whether there is the political will to deal with the problem, the scale of which is clear from the African Union report showing that as much as $148 billion a year is going in the wrong direction. That represents a quarter of the gross domestic product of the continent of Africa. The schedule to the Bill should contain specific information on that subject. It states:
“An annual report must include the following information for the most recent relevant period”.
It goes on to list bilateral aid, multilateral aid, the amount of multilateral official assistance and various other complicated formulae almost entirely dealing with aid.
That is all very useful. However, we should bear in mind the amount of aid cited in the report by the African Union, assisted by that renowned organisation, Transparency International, of which I am sure the Secretary of State is well aware. In March, the distinguished all-party group on Africa, which is chaired by the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley)—who I am afraid cannot be with us today for some reason—produced a report saying that the amount of money lost through corruption “dwarfs” the amount of money that goes into aid and debt reduction. We are talking about monumental sums. I have even seen a report suggesting that $220 billion has been wrongfully diverted in relation to Nigeria alone.
As for the observations of the Secretary of State on what a Government Department may think or do in relation to the systems in place to guarantee that the money is going to the right place, one would expect as a minimum that some reference to the statistics and figures relating to corruption should be included under the schedule. Without that information, it will be very difficult to calculate the balance of proportionality between aid on the one hand and debt reduction on the other, both of which are dwarfed by the amount of money lost through corruption.
There is a great need for that to be provided, as we are told that it is extremely important that we should relate what goes on in this House to what goes on in the minds of the public. We have often found that the best way to keep a secret is to make a speech in the House of Commons. I would be very surprised if anything that we say in this debate gets on to the BBC tomorrow morning, although there may be one or two references. The newspapers and the media in general pay little attention to parliamentary proceedings. That is deeply regrettable, undemocratic and counter-productive. The media give a great deal of attention to the question of world poverty, and there is a great deal of concern among the public at large, at whom the information in the annual report is intended to be directed. They should therefore have the information provided to Parliament about the extent of corruption, as analysed by the Government, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other organisations.
Despite my enthusiasm for the Bill’s general objectives, it will fall short if that information is not included in the annual report. I dare say that the people who are giving their £5, their 50p or their substantial charitable donations to emergency relief operations led by the likes of Bob Geldof and Bono, and others not of celebrity status in the Churches and non-governmental organisations, would be pretty horrified to discover that the accumulated money that they make available through their generous donations and their emotional commitment, which I share, to alleviating poverty in the rest of the world—
Is not it the case that we do not need to go as far as the schedule to tackle corruption? The long title refers to reporting
“about the proportion of expenditure in low income countries and about the effectiveness of aid expenditure”.
Surely the phrase,
“the effectiveness of aid expenditure”
could and should cover corruption.
My right hon. Friend makes a fair point, but I revert to my primary question about whether providing information will solve the problem. In respect of your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I simply mention that paragraph (3) of the schedule specifically mentions, for understandable reasons to do with calculating the amount of money that goes to the right place—the people for whom we should have passionate concern—“multilateral organisations” and humanitarian assistance. Government money is inextricably bound up with money that is made available through charitable organisations, which often act as agencies for the Government in delivering public aid. Money is delivered, with some criticism, by some non-governmental organisations and charitable organisations. I therefore understand your concern but I should also like to make the point—
I accept that. I simply make the point that there is interweaving between the money made available by charitable organisations and Government money, simply because those organisations, through their administration, receive public funds from the Department.
I should like to consider corruption, with which amendment No. 23 deals, and its definition. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) proposed the inclusion of “corruption” and its definition in the Bill. The Prime Minister’s initiative, the Commission for Africa, reported in detail on corruption in “Our Common Interest”. The matter was to be considered at the Gleneagles summit on that tragic day when the bombing in London happened. The Prime Minister had to come back at short notice to attend to his duties in Westminster and at No. 10. Governance and corruption were on the agenda for that day but were sidelined by other events.
What corruption would be reported under the Bill if the amendment were accepted? If corruption is covered by the annual report, it is clearly important, as my hon. Friend said, that we know exactly what it is. “Corruption” appears in some emanations from the European Union—for example, in relation to the European arrest warrant—but without a definition. There is a way in which to define corruption. Another private Member’s Bill, which is about corruption, contains such a definition. I am glad that the promoter of the Bill that we are discussing is a signatory to the other measure, although it is a pity that he did not include more effective provisions for dealing with corruption in his Bill.
I wait with interest to hear from the Under-Secretary why the Government are so anxious to avoid my proposals for dealing with corruption. As amended, with the inclusion of “corruption”, properly defined, the Bill would enable us at least to get information, thus allowing us to ascertain the relevance of corruption to dwarfing aid and debt-reduction moneys. The fact that the Bill does not deal with corruption, even in the schedule, raises serious concern. If the measure proceeds to the House of Lords, will the Government be prepared not only to tackle the definition of corruption but to include in the schedule arrangements to ensure that statistics on corruption are made available as a contribution to the transparency arrangements, for which clause 6 provides, and to do something about it?
It is not credible for the Government, who are doubtless grappling with corruption behind the scenes, to eliminate from discussion provisions for external audit, for which new clause 1 would have provided, when corruption is the kernel of the problems of people in developing countries, especially in Africa. It is therefore a moral question. However, there is also a practical question of why we are left with only information and reporting. Even that is insufficient on corruption. That would be true even if amendment No. 23 were accepted.
I have been a Member of Parliament long enough to understand that Bills are not perfect, and I do not suggest that we should expect them to be perfect. However, the object of our debates is to improve the quality of Bills and the intent, purpose and effect of our legislation. People would become disillusioned if they supposed that there was a deliberate attempt to exclude proposals to deal genuinely with corruption in such an important Bill. It is inconceivable that the Secretary of State, the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, all of whom I have commended, would be party to excluding corruption from the Bill by rejecting amendment No. 23. If the Secretary of State intervened now to answer that point, I would be glad.
We all know that corruption exists, and we all know that the Bill does not address it. We know that my hon. Friend’s amendment would provide some measure of improvement in terms of providing information. We also know that people outside the House are deeply concerned to know why all this poverty still exists despite the fact that huge sums of money—including their own—are being provided to the countries. If the amount of corruption dwarfs the amount of aid and debt reduction, that should be the No. 1 question that a Bill of this importance should answer for people.
Fortunately, it so happens that we have a House of Lords. However, I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to give me an assurance, either himself or through his Minister, that they will deal with this question. It is as big a question as any that faces the world today. We need to solve the problems that are reported on our television screens and our radios. Given the number of times that the Secretary of State appears to talk about such matter, it seems that it is not just information in an annual report that he will have to deal with. There is also the question of what he is going to do about it.
I do not say that in a critical fashion, although I am somewhat suspicious, given the time that I have devoted to trying to get the issue across, as to why it has been sidestepped. I am not suggesting that it has been sidestepped by the selection of amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand the reasons; it was because the scope of the Bill was changed in Committee. However, that does not alter the fundamental question. We must not get hung up on the procedural questions when the real question is whether, in substance, the Bill deals with corruption. The amendment that my hon. Friend has tabled would certainly improve matters, but the Bill should deal with the issue in a more substantial manner.
The report of the Commission for Africa contains a number of important statements that should be part of the information on corruption and which would be included in the annual report under my hon. Friend’s amendment. For example, page 14 of the Commission for Africa’s report states:
“Improving accountability is the job of African leaders. They can do that by broadening the participation of ordinary people...They can also help build accountable budgetary processes”.
In that way, the people of Africa could see how money was being raised and where it was going. How are people to see how the money is raised and where it is going if they are not able to get to the bottom of the matter through the provisions in the Bill or through the amendments and new clauses?
My proposals are that there should be an external audit of the public accounts committees in each of the countries involved, and an assessment made by the Secretary of State of whether those countries are doing the job properly. That is not a form of colonialisation of their public accounts committees. Our taxpayers have a direct interest in the issue, as do all those who make contributions. The world at large also has an interest in ensuring that those countries are governed in what the Commission for Africa and the African Union insist is the right way.
The Commission for Africa report goes on to state:
“That kind of transparency can help combat corruption, which African governments must root out. Developed nations can help in this too. Money and state assets stolen from the people of Africa by corrupt leaders must be repatriated. Foreign banks must be obliged by law to inform on suspicious accounts.”
How will they be able to inform on suspicious accounts if the information is not made available in the annual report? The Bill’s very title specifies a requirement for reporting and transparency. In other words, it cries out for further information and action.
The report goes on:
“Without progress in governance, all other reforms will have limited impact.”
Chapter 4 of the report deals with the kind of information one would expect to find in the annual report under my hon. Friend’s amendment. Its summary includes the question of
“Increasing transparency of revenues and budgets, especially in countries rich in natural resources; this also makes a powerful contribution to conflict prevention”.
It goes on to refer to tackling corruption as a main item, including the repatriation of stolen assets. Accountability is part of the transparency referred to in clause 6, of the new clause that my hon. Friend has so ably described, and of his amendment on corruption.
I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to measure the effectiveness of aid. Does he agree, however, that one of the least satisfactory ways of doing that would be to allow the Department to measure the success of its own gifts overseas? Would not it be better if another, independent body were to deal with that—perhaps the Public Accounts Committee?
I have discussed that very matter with the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The PAC has responsibility for ensuring that money spent by the Department for International Development—which falls squarely into the transparency provisions in clause 6—is properly spent. I have also had discussions with the National Audit Office on the matters about which I am specifically concerned, and about the mechanics of dealing with corruption in the context of the Public Accounts Committee. This is directly related to clause 6—
The accountability that derives from the information made available in the annual report is part of the accountability process that the Bill purports to put forward. In relation to certain comments that have been made, the Secretary of State was himself a major participant in the Commission for Africa. I see from its report that it was chaired by the Prime Minister, and that the Secretary of State for International Development—who is here today—and the Chancellor of the Exchequer also participated, as did Sir Bob Geldof and many other distinguished people. The report states:
“In this section we discuss participation, then consider key mechanisms of accountability: constitutional structures, parliaments and political processes”.
That is precisely what we are doing now. That is part and parcel of the information that is to be made available in the annual report, and with which my hon. Friend’s amendment on corruption deals specifically. The amendment is specifically about providing information on corruption in order to assist the Government and the promoter of the Bill to achieve the objectives of transparency that are clearly set out in clause 6. I wait with interest—
Order. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but he cannot go on repeating himself. When he reads the Official Report tomorrow, he will be horrified to see how much he has done so. I have been very tolerant with him, but he should now make his remarks more concise. The particular point that he is trying to address has now been very adequately dealt with.
Order. The hon. Gentleman must understand that this is not a debate about corruption, but about whether the report at the heart of the Bill should cover corruption. We cannot have a separate debate about the degree of corruption that may or may not exist.
I am grateful for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have more than adequately prescribed how I believe that the Bill could deal with the serious questions that will arise from the public information that it would provide and the consequent action that would be necessary. No doubt there will be ample opportunity in future to discuss those matters in more detail.
In conclusion, I have made substantial and important observations about what is not in the Bill and how it could be improved. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister explain why the Bill is deficient in respect of the matters that I have addressed, which are of fundamental importance to the people of this country in understanding the nature of world poverty and the extent to which the amount of corruption dwarfs aid and debt relief?
Does my hon. Friend accept that it cannot be that difficult to get hard data on the extent of corruption when Franklin Cudjoe, the Ghanaian director of the Imani think tank, has asserted that £4,700 is stolen by African Governments from their people every second?
That is an astonishing statistic on which to finish my speech. That is the kind of thing that really concerns people. They are more interested in what is really going on than they are in the reporting process or the procedures, which would prevent us from having a proper discussion of the real issues.
I support the Bill and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on getting it so far. I am here not to delay or wreck the process but to support and strengthen the Bill, which has an awful lot of merit. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) urged us not to delay the Bill’s passage unnecessarily, and I intend to take his advice. I am sure that he would also agree that it is crucial that all legislation is scrutinised properly in the House. On such an important issue, on which many of my constituents feel incredibly strongly, it is essential that we try to strengthen the Bill in every way possible, which the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) go a long way towards doing.
When I talk about the importance of scrutinising legislation, I do so in the full knowledge that this is the first day of debate on private Members’ Bills since the tragic death of our former right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who always made it clear to me how important proper scrutiny of legislation was. I am sure that everyone in the House feels that these debates on a Friday will be the weaker for not having Eric Forth’s forthright, witty and important contributions.
Amendment No. 2, which deals with annual reports being able to revise anything contained in a previous annual report, is particularly important. As I said earlier, an annual report talks about what has happened in the previous year, and if something has happened that revises something in a previous annual report, surely it would be contained anyway. The subsection concerned is unnecessary.
The other main concern about an annual report revising anything contained in a previous annual report is that we may have to wait for up to 11 months for revisions to appear so that people are aware of them. Surely if anything needs revising, it should be done immediately and openly, not buried away in a later annual report under some obscure heading or subsection so that people do not realise that there has been a revision. The whole Bill is about reporting and transparency and my hon. Friend’s amendment improves both the reporting and transparency of information. Should the amendment not be passed, will the Minister consider ensuring that any revisions are made in an appendix to a future annual report, so that they are perfectly clear, not buried away and difficult to find?
Amendment No. 3 deals with the subsection that states:
“Nothing in this Act shall be read as preventing an annual report being combined with any other report which the Secretary of State lays before either House of Parliament.”
I understand the many advantages of combining annual reports with other reports laid before Parliament. Obviously, the first advantage is the simple one that it might save considerable time and money, as printing is expensive. The reason why Opposition as well as Government Members feel that the Bill is important is that it is about transparency and proper reporting, which we want. My fear is that if the annual report is combined with other reports, it might get buried and undermined and not receive the focus that it deserves. As we have a Government who think that it is important to bury bad news, I would not like to think that bad news on this subject was being buried deliberately in other reports.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if the report does not include the right material in the first place, including matters such as corruption, it will not attract a great deal of attention anyway? Does he have any idea of the track record of reports that have emerged along the lines that he has described? How often do they get completely overlooked, gather dust and achieve next to nothing?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I mentioned, an awful lot of what goes on in this place does not get properly scrutinised. The bigger and bulkier a report, the less chance it has of being properly scrutinised. It is therefore vital that the annual report stands alone so that it does not get buried in others that will not get scrutinised.
I certainly agree. It is crucial for the right information, and clear information, to be provided. My hon. Friend’s amendments go a long way towards ensuring that the information is clearer, and that people understand what is behind it.
It is also crucial for the reports to stand alone and to be given the scrutiny that they deserve and that the public demand. The reports will not be scrutinised just by Members of both Houses; many of my constituents will want to find out what is happening to international development aid. Many of them feel passionately about the subject and I would not want them to experience difficulties in finding the relevant part of a report because it was buried under something else.
The Secretary of State must be held accountable, and anything that makes the information clearer for that purpose must be welcome.
The duty to report does not cover reporting on technical assistance, although significant aid is often provided by way of assistance rather than cash. There is also no duty to report on projects carried out jointly with other donor Governments. Are those not further weaknesses in the Bill?
Will my hon. Friend consider the wording of the critical clauses, clauses 5 and 6? Clause 6 says
“The Secretary of State shall include in each annual report such observations as he thinks appropriate”,
and the wording in clause 5 is similar. The words “as he thinks appropriate” are surely a let-out in law to enable the Secretary of State not to include observations that he does not want to include. That is a major defect in the Bill, because it prevents the Secretary of State from having to include material that we would regard as important.
My hon. Friend is right. That point is made in one of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and I shall say more about it later.
It seems to me that the main purpose of allowing the Secretary of State to include the annual report with other reports is to save printing costs and to save time for those who prepare the reports and those who examine what has been produced. Surely the money that would be saved is a fraction of the amount that is spent on aid for developing countries. Given that so much taxpayers’ money is rightly being spent on aid, it is far more important for the report to stand on its own so that we can see exactly how that money is being spent than for relatively small amounts to be saved on stationery and printing for the convenience of Departments. I hope very much that my hon. Friend’s amendment is accepted.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s skilful explanation of amendments Nos. 4 and 5. There was a great deal in what he said, but on reflection I feel that those amendments may not be the strongest that have been tabled. Although I understand my hon. Friend’s reasons for wishing to replace “must” with
“shall so far as reasonably practicable”,
it may cause more problems than it solves by allowing the Secretary of State to avoid publishing some information that we would like to see. With respect, I hope that my hon. Friend decides not to press those amendments. In fact, they were probably intended to be probing amendments.
Amendment No. 8 is particularly important. It would insert the words
“European Community aid to which the UK contributes, and…other multilateral aid to which the UK contributes”.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) referred to that earlier. It is an essential part of what should be in the Bill, because it concerns taxpayers’ money. It should be relatively immaterial whether that money is given directly or indirectly, or through one body or another. What is important is that the public can see how wisely it is being spent, in whatever guise it is spent.
Would not the inclusion of those words also make the Government look better? The Government are obsessed with spin. If the report included reference to money given by Britain through its contributions to the EU budget, there would be a higher aid figure, on which the press would rightly focus.
That is true. I too would have thought that it was in the Government’s best interests to make the information available.
The money spent by British taxpayers through the EU is often spent on white elephant projects that are never completed. There are many examples of such projects throughout the world, and the Government themselves have been concerned about that. It is crucial for the public to have a fair idea of how all that taxpayers’ money has been spent, not just a narrow proportion of it. A considerable amount of money is now spent on European Union and other multilateral aid. I hope that my hon. Friend will press amendment No. 8, because many members of the public would be very interested to know how the money is spent and where it is being wasted. They might also realise what a washed-up organisation the European Union is, and recognise that we should be spending much less on it generally, not just for international aid purposes.
Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 are some of the weaker amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has tabled, and to which I have added my name. I think that they too are probing amendments, intended to establish the extent to which we should report what is going on. Perhaps we should concentrate on the priorities. Increasing the number of countries covered might not be of great advantage, but at least it would produce more transparency. After all, the Bill is all about reporting and transparency, and extending the number of countries included in the report would provide the transparency that I am sure we all want. My hon. Friend made some important points in the amendments, but I am not sure that they are the most important amendments that he has tabled.
Indeed, and I am about to come to those points. I listened with interest to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made about corruption, and I will deal with that issue, if he will allow me to make a little more progress first.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will not press all these amendments to a Division, because some are not as important as others. We need to concentrate on the most important amendments that have been explored in this debate—those that would strengthen the Bill and deliver not only what we in this House want, but what members of the public in my constituency, and in many others, want.
I turn to amendment No. 15 and corruption, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone mentioned. The link between corruption and how aid is spent, and achieving a reduction in corruption, are crucial to the whole nature of this Bill. The amendment would provide a valuable mechanism to enable the public properly to judge how effective such aid is. Using aid as a tool to reduce corruption is a vital step for long-term aid development and surely has to be a top priority for the Government. I do not see how an annual report on international aid, which is trying to encourage transparency, can stand without promoting a link between the commitment of aid and the reduction of corruption in recipient countries.
Given the significance of what my hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and I have said, would my hon. Friend be as astonished as I would be to discover that the Bill’s promoter and sponsors would not support that amendment in a vote? To fail to do so would undermine the whole information and transparency system.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. This issue is so fundamental to what the Bill seeks to achieve that I cannot see how we can allow it to progress if it does not contain that important amendment. This issue goes to the heart of what the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is rightly trying to achieve through his Bill. I commend it in many respects, but I hope that he will acknowledge that this amendment would strengthen his excellent Bill and provide much-needed information. To reduce corruption must surely be a top Government priority, but in the public’s mind and in our minds, lots of aid gets wasted, in that what it is spent on proves to be corrupt. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone made it clear how much corruption actually exists.
In producing an annual report, it is crucial that the Secretary of State be held accountable for the money that is spent and where it goes, and that he ensures that it gets into the right hands. As the Government themselves have acknowledged, on too many occasions, far too much aid does not get through to the people who need it. In certain countries, much direct budgetary support for Governments is spent on palaces and building up arms, rather than on the purpose for which it was intended. I know that the Government are concerned about that, and it is surely a crucial part of the report; we cannot allow such issues to be overlooked. The purpose of the Bill is transparency. It would be perverse to allow such important information to be buried away somewhere—in other reports, for example—or not to be reported at all, given that these issues are of concern to many members of the public.
Amendment No. 22 is similar to amendments Nos. 17 and 19. The important point is that we are talking about taxpayers’ money. If the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch were agreed to, the report would detail how all taxpayers’ money is spent, not only the money that happens to be channelled directly through the Department. I hope that the House will agree that what is important here is that all taxpayers’ money be properly accounted for; which agency such money goes through should be irrelevant. I therefore urge Members to support amendment No. 22, so that there is greater transparency in respect of how taxpayers’ money is spent.
Will my hon. Friend also note that the distinguished Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has just come into the House? He is doubtless taking a very close interest in this Bill because, after all, the Department for International Development has to account to him for these matters.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend—that is indeed why my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) is taking such a close interest in this Bill. He, too, doubtless supports a Bill allowing for greater transparency of Government spending; indeed, his excellent Committee spends all its time ensuring that Government money is spent effectively. Making sure that this Government do that is a difficult challenge, but his Committee certainly plays a great role in ensuring that any instances when money is not spent properly are highlighted. He will be particularly interested in amendment No. 22, which would allow all taxpayers’ money to be properly accounted for in these annual reports, rather than just that spent directly by the Department.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made a great job of explaining why amendments Nos. 23 to 25, which seek to define the terms “corruption”, “poverty” and “sustainable development”, are so important, and why those terms should be defined. It is clear that they all mean very different things to different people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone made it clear how “corruption” is defined in the Corruption Bill. I hope that Members will look at that definition closely and perhaps seek to include it in the Bill before us.
As I said, “poverty” and “sustainable development” mean very different things to different people. Poverty can be judged in absolute or relative terms. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made clear, if we always refer to poverty in relative terms, we will never eradicate it. We should focus on ensuring that everyone gets wealthier and absolute poverty is eliminated. That should be our top priority and this report should make it clear what we are trying to achieve. Sustainable development is one of those warm phrases that politicians love to use in front of voters. It sounds very nice and as if we care about the same things as they do, but it is used without anyone having a particular idea what they mean by it. Surely in a Bill that focuses on transparency we should make it clear what we mean by words such as poverty, corruption and sustainable development, so that we can see whether the Government are achieving their goal of eliminating them.
I agree. One does not need the wisdom of Solomon to come up with an adequate definition of those terms. I am sure that my hon. Friend would offer his services to ensure that they were properly defined, should the Government and the House accept the amendments, as I hope they will.
Amendment No. 5 is similar to amendment No. 4, and—as I said earlier—on reflection I am not sure that it is one of the stronger amendments. Amendments Nos. 29 to 31 address the waste of money. My hon. Friend pointed out the amount of bilateral aid that has been misused, stolen or diverted into fraudulent schemes, and surely any report on international aid has to focus on how much of that aid has been diverted into fraudulent schemes or, as in amendment No. 30,
“has been paid, directly or indirectly to nationals of any country, either directly or indirectly through their employment, who are not citizens of the countries to which the aid is…addressed”.
I do not understand why hon. Members do not want such information to be clearly stated in the report. Surely we all want to ensure that taxpayers’ money is not wasted. The amendments would ensure that taxpayers’ money was spent properly.
If amendments Nos. 26 and 27 are not accepted, we may have to wait 11 months or so for information. We want information to be collected and made available straight away. It is pointless to have a Bill that requires information on certain subjects if a provision is included that says that information does not have to be included in the report if it cannot be obtained in time, and paragraph 7 of schedule 2 would undermine everything that the Bill seeks to achieve. It would strengthen the Bill to remove that paragraph so that DFID would have to find the relevant information.
I was fascinated by what my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch said about new clause 5 and the millennium development goals, some of which were so far in the future that they were essentially meaningless. Goals such as halving poverty by 2015 are important, and we may want to reassess whether the goals are still suitable. He mentioned the goal of increasing the number of women in parliament, and surely that cannot go hand in hand with the goal of halving poverty. Everybody can see that some of the goals are more important than others. The benefit of the Bill is that it would stimulate a public debate on how the Government are spending the money. Many of my constituents feel passionately about that. The Bill gives us the potential to stimulate public debate about how money is spent. After the public have made their views clear, we may want to reflect on amending some of the millennium development goals, such as the number of women in Parliaments, and focus on some of the more important aspects of international development.
My hon. Friend is right. My question was about how effectively direct Government grants are spent. We did not reach it at DFID questions but I would have liked to press the Secretary of State about the measures being taken to reduce corruption and the waste of money given directly to Governments. The beauty of the Bill is that such things will be made more transparent; it might mean that such questions would not need to be asked in Parliament because the information would be provided in the reports, which is why it is so important we ensure that they contain the correct information.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made the good point that many people may want to debate whether aid is working. So much aid has been poured into countries, yet they still rely on aid—in many cases, they rely even more on aid than they did in the past. New clause 7 touches on the fact that in many countries the promotion of trade may be more important than aid. The provision would require the Secretary of State to include in the report observations on things that affect the spending of the money and its impact on development in the country. That is crucial. It is no good the Government doing a cracking job making sure that their money is spent effectively if things such as the common agricultural policy and the dumping of products in third-world countries undermine everything that they are trying to achieve. New clause 7 is crucial not only to ensure that Government aid is spent effectively but also to monitor the effect that other people may have on the spending of that money. The European Union is a great menace to ensuring that aid and development contribute to progress in third-world countries.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be extremely useful if bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund accepted the criteria that we are promoting in our arguments today? It is not just a question of what goes on in Government; it also involves the EU, the World Bank, the IMF and so on.
My hon. Friend is right. All those institutions spend British taxpayers’ money, which is why it is so crucial that any report contains information about how all that money is spent, not just a narrow part of it.
In relation to new clauses 5 and 7, I highlight the fact that many people in this country see the limitations of aid in helping third-world countries and realise that in many respects trade will bring wealth to those countries. India and China are prime examples; they have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty through trade, not through aid. It is essential that we explore how trade, not just aid, can help countries. With its protection rackets and tariffs, the European Union does an awful lot of harm to third-world countries’ ability to trade their way out of poverty.
In conclusion, I urge the House to consider many of the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. They will strengthen the excellent Bill promoted by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, as I hope he agrees. I hope that he acknowledges that they will increase the transparency that he wants to add to the reporting of international development aid.
I intend to be brief. The House will understand that private Members’ Bills can be talked out by their friends and supporters as well, so I hope that I am giving a lead to the many who I believe support the Bill when I stick to the brevity to which I have committed myself. I do so with perhaps more confidence than might have been the case earlier today when I recall the intervention from the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), which I welcomed. I related that to what he said at the end of the Committee sitting. That sitting was comprehensive and did not involve a single Division. It has led to the Bill being presented to the House in the shape that it is today. He said then:
“We have had, on Second Reading and today, a most comprehensive debate. We have pretty well rewritten the Bill. There can be no excuse…for any hon. Member from any party to try further to amend this Bill, which has been examined exhaustively.”
That remark comes from a former Chair of the International Development Committee. He went on to say:
“I hope that Opposition and Government Members and the Whips will make it clear to everyone that there will be no patience with any Member of Parliament who seeks to filibuster on Report and Third Reading.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 15 February 2006; c. 33.]
I intend to take the hon. Gentleman’s advice. I will, however, respond briefly to the debate that we have had so far. You very rightly pointed out that there was more than a degree of repetition in at least one of speeches, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What worried me a little more was the repetition of point after point that was made on Second Reading and dealt with in detail in Committee. In response to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), who talked about this being a Government Bill, I have to say that, whereas I welcome the clarification and the assistance that my hon. Friend the Minister offered comprehensively in Committee, in my view it would be the most dreadful slur on the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) to imply that he was not acting as the principal spokesman for the Opposition and doing his job in scrutinising the Bill. I believe that he did his job very well.
No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman had plenty of time. I will come to the main points that he made.
I can give examples not just of repetition, but of points that are being made in support of amendments and new clauses that do nothing whatsoever to strengthen the Bill. Indeed, they weaken it. For example, amendment No. 3 to clause 1—I will go through this quickly—seeks to prevent combination with other reports. We were told on Second Reading that we were seeking to do too much, and now when we recommend that, for example, the departmental report should become part of the report to Parliament, somehow or other that is seen as unacceptable. What we seek to do avoids duplication, saves money and leaves scope for more detailed reporting if necessary. In joining in the tributes to the late Eric Forth, may I say that on Second Reading, he expressed the strong view that he found repetition unacceptable, as well? He did not oppose the Bill.
I turn briefly to country numbers and criteria. I welcomed the excellent speech from the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), which was made all the more relevant by the fact that he sat through the whole of the Second Reading debate and the Committee sitting. Many of his proposals were taken on board—not least in terms of the countries that will be covered. The number was 10 on Second Reading. It is 20 now. The Minister told the Committee that the Government would report on 25. That is appropriate, given that that is based on public service agreements, which have the importance of providing a specific focus on pursuing the millennium development goals, which, incidentally, were not even mentioned in amendment No. 11. We have made considerable progress in that respect and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that.
I now come to the contribution of the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash). Although it would not be expected that the Bill would deal exclusively with corruption—nor should it—it simply is not true that we have not taken that matter seriously. Clause 6(2)(c) reflects many of the points that he made. The hon. Gentleman has made many relevant points about corruption both today and on other occasions. However, the Department is pursuing corruption; there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that it takes corruption lightly. When we have the opportunity to debate the hon. Gentleman’s International Development (Anti-corruption Audit) Bill, as I hope we will, many will say that it is the correct vehicle to deal with his arguments. However, given what clause 6 will do on corruption, the British people would be absolutely astounded by any attempt to delay my Bill with such arguments, and I am sure that that would not be the wish of the House.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on not only introducing the Bill, but piloting it successfully through the Second Reading debate and Committee. His passionate and articulate speech on Report means that his fundamental belief in the right of the Bill comes over strongly. I hope that he will acknowledge the support that he has received from me, Her Majesty’s Opposition and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who sadly cannot be with us today because he is in New York at the United Nations. We have supported the objectives of the Bill, and I thank the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill for his comments about the process of scrutiny both on Second Reading and in Committee.
It is fair to say that the right hon. Gentleman, Ministers and the Department should be congratulated on the way in which they listened to constructive contributions that hon. Members on both sides of the House made about possible ways of improving the Bill. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that the Bill that we considered on Second Reading has been totally reconstructed and redrafted to become the Bill before us today. The amended Bill is significantly better because it will create greater simplicity and clarity than the original Bill would have done.
Having said all that, I do not necessarily share the right hon. Gentleman’s implied criticism of my hon. Friends. They raised significant issues in their contributions on the new clauses and amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) was absolutely right to highlight the problems of meeting the millennium development goals—problems that are becoming clear, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. However, I must correct my hon. Friend because I do not think that the Chancellor has pushed out one of the goals—the aim of all children being in primary education by 2130. That was a prediction of what would happen if we continued at the present rate. We need greater focus and we must all work together to ensure that we achieve the target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national income by 2030, and thus get as close as possible to meeting the millennium development goals by their target dates. When considering new clause 5, which deals with the millennium development goals, it needs to be said that those goals were set up by the United Nations, not the British Government, even though, quite correctly, the Government were a signatory to them.
The House will be delighted to hear that I will not talk about every new clause and amendment, but I want to speak to several key measures. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch was absolutely right to highlight in new clause 7(3) the importance of enforcing property rights. I would go further and suggest that the relevant point in many countries is not just the enforcement of property rights, but the setting up of property rights. That is a fundamental necessity if we are to have not just property rights, but the rule of law, which helps to generate the inward investment and the creation of capital that we have seen in Asia. Such mechanisms lead to economic growth and the creation of jobs, and thus the alleviation of poverty, as has happened in south-east Asia. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) made exactly that point in his speech.
Amendment No. 4 takes us back to our debate in Committee about the phraseology of clause 2, although I will not repeat the points that were made at that time. What the Opposition want is to see quality statistics that facilitate an informed and enlightened debate on the way in which DFID and other Departments spend British taxpayers’ money. We want statistics that measure both outputs and inputs—a theme to which I shall return on other amendments.
We are concerned that the changes to the Bill have removed the provision of the independent monitoring and evaluation of the effectiveness of policy and expenditure, which appeared in clause 8(2)(a)(iii) of the Bill as originally published. The removal of that provision weakens the Bill somewhat. Independent assessment of the aid budget could well be beneficial; it can be done and it has been done. For example, DFID’s 2004 to 2007 Latin America regional assistance plan states that there will be
“an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of DFiD work in the region.”
The International Development Association, which is a branch of the World Bank, has also committed to monitoring outputs through
“a results based management system”
and it has full disclosure of countries’ performance ratings. If that monitoring is possible for one part of DFID’s work in one part of its departmental structure, why can it not be done across the Department? DFID has stated that the IDA is an effective instrument with a 25 per cent. efficiency gain, so clearly detailed analysis of performance is taking place within the Department in relation to some areas and a conclusion has been reached, so comparisons must have been made with other funding channels. The Bill would be more comprehensive if that detailed analysis were included so that both outputs and inputs could be effectively monitored and measured.
There are other important issues, which I shall not explore in detail, but I shall give an example. DFID does not keep sufficient records of how and where money that goes through other bilateral channels, such as USAID, is spent. In our view, that should be addressed.
Clause 4 and amendment No. 8 deal with which multilateral institutions should come within the Bill. The amendment proposes that the European Community should do so, and my hon. Friends have rightly spoken about that. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary know—I am sure that, privately, they agree—that many people think that the British taxpayers’ money that goes to the European Union is not necessarily spent as effectively as we would like, or in the places that we want it to be spent. I know that Members are lobbying European Ministers hard to persuade them to our way of thinking. The Opposition want the most detailed possible assessment of aid spending, so we welcome the division of a general clause into its constituent parts, which is an improvement on the original drafting. However, if multilateral aid is to be broken down into separate funding streams, the Bill should make provision to examine and compare aid given by the EU, the UN, the Bretton Woods institutions and the development banks, as well as bilateral aid, in order to determine which aid channels are the most effective.
Amendments Nos. 11, 16, 9 and 10 relate to the effectiveness of aid. The amendments are designed to include more countries in the Bill, for example, by proposing that those in receipt of UK bilateral aid exceeding £10 million be included. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill rightly made the point that the original Bill covered 10 countries, whereas the amended Bill covers 20, and the Minister said in Committee that for the duration of this Parliament a minimum of 25 countries would be considered. In Committee, I expressed concern about how the countries would be selected—the Minister obfuscated, so I shall return now to the point on which I did not get an answer then. The 25 DFID PSA—public service agreement—countries on which the Minister proposes to carry out analysis and report are the same 25 countries that receive the maximum amount of British bilateral aid, with one exception.
I wonder whether any hon. Member on either side of the House can guess what the exception is? It is, of course, Iraq. In 2003-04, Iraq was the greatest recipient of British bilateral aid. During the past financial year, it has been the 10th biggest recipient of UK bilateral aid. It is my understanding of the Bill that there is no necessity for bilateral aid—that is British taxpayers’ money going to Iraq—to be reported on. There are two pages of text in DFID’s annual report summarising the contribution to Iraq. It is not clear from those two pages how much money is going to Iraq and what it is being used for. When the Minister replies, I would like him to assure the House that the continuing contribution that the British taxpayer is making through DFID and other Departments will be reported upon in the annual report, and will therefore be debated and scrutinised by the House.
Amendment No. 17 relates to the work of other Departments and how they will fit in with the DFID annual report. It is essential—especially with regard to the Foreign Office, the Department of Trade and Industry and, we hope, with the progress that will be made with the World Trade Organisation reorganisations and the economic partnership arrangements that the Minister and I were discussing at the back end of last week—to facilitate enhanced trading to generate economic growth and, therefore, job formation and the alleviation of poverty. There must be important co-ordination between Departments. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was right to highlight the importance of trade.
The other issue of Government co-ordination that needs to be highlighted is the well-known problem and tension between DFID, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. We need to ensure that where British taxpayers’ money is used, particularly when military action has taken place, everyone is working in harmony for the benefit of people on the ground.
I do not want to delay the House. I hope that the Minister has many constructive comments to make when he replies. However, I would not be doing my job properly if I did not address the correct and powerful points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made about corruption. It is right to highlight the necessity for the international community as well as the British Government, irrespective of the colour of that Government, to tackle corruption throughout the world. It has a severely negative impact in hindering aid distribution, economic growth and the alleviation of poverty.
There are various ways in which the problem needs to be tackled, not just by creating conditions and criteria for any aid that is given through DFID and with British taxpayers’ money, but by building transparent and honest police and judicial systems and by strengthening auditor-general powers within specific countries rather than having external auditors.
Corruption is not just about people taking funds for personal gain; it can be the misallocation of funds, which means that money does not end up with the social projects for which it was originally intended, such as health and education. Sometimes, the recipient Government move money from the health and education budgets to the defence budget or other budgets about which we would not necessarily feel comfortable.
Amendment No. 15 relates to direct budgetary support. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that there is growing concern about such support, not only from within his Department but from within the international development community, whether it be the global fund or the various United Nations organisations. I do not know whether Members are aware that since 2000, £1.5 billion of British taxpayers’ money has gone into direct budgetary support for 20 countries.
We support the Bill, the principles behind it and the overarching architecture, but as the Bill stands, just 42.6 per cent.—or £35 million—of the total bilateral aid going to Uganda will be covered by the measure. It is also a fact that 67 per cent—or £66 million—of the aid going to Tanzania will not be covered by the Bill. Indeed, 73 per cent. of the aid going to Mozambique will not be covered by the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to say that the appropriate use of taxpayers’ money is being provided through direct budgetary reform, and that that will form a fundamental part of the annual review. That provision is not set out in the Bill, nor is the way in which the selection of the 20 to 25 countries will be reported upon.
I have set out the general problems with specific regard to the amendments. I welcome the fact that the Bill has been brought to the House and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill on bringing it. He will find us extremely supportive during the rest of its passage through the House. We wish there to be an expeditious enactment.
First, I join the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and other hon. Members in paying tribute to the late Eric Forth. When we last discussed the Bill and the money resolution on the Floor of the House, he made clear his intention to continue to scrutinise the Bill. I am sure that I speak for the whole House in saying that his absence makes the House feel emptier today.
Once again, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), who rightly drew the attention of the House to the fact that while the Bill has been significantly amended, its substance remains the same. As he said, the Government have sought to take on board concerns expressed on Second Reading, including anxiety about the absence of the millennium development goals from the Bill. I encourage hon. Members to resist new clause 5, because those internationally agreed goals, which chart the steps that must be taken to combat poverty, deserve to be included in the Bill and provide a rallying point for all donors, including the Government.
New clause 7 deals with aid effectiveness and policy coherence. It is right that they should be included in the annual report, but the need for such measures has already been addressed by the Bill. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), reflecting on his visit to Afghanistan, usefully pointed out the need for much better co-ordination of work by non-governmental organisations and others throughout the international community. He will be reassured to learn that the Government accept that argument, and we have sought to implement the international agreement that was reached in Paris in March 2005 on the better harmonisation of aid. We wish to make progress in harmonising and aligning our aid with aid from other international donors, and we shall encourage them to do the same.
Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 26 and 27 deal with the way in which the annual report is produced, the information that it includes and the question of further information on development assistance that may become available after it is published. It is sensible to include a review provision in the Bill to enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to update the House if further information becomes available, so I urge hon. Members to resist amendment No. 2. It is clearly sensible on the grounds of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, which all hon. Members wish to encourage, to allow the Secretary of State flexibility in the way in which he seeks to align the Bill’s requirement for an annual report with other information published by the Department. I encourage the House to resist amendments Nos. 4 and 5, as paragraph 7 of the schedule makes provision for occasions when figures are not available for an annual report, specifying that they must be included in a subsequent report.
A number of hon. Members dwelt on amendment No. 8, which deals with European Community aid to which the UK contributes. I accept that we should report on such aid, and I am surprised that hon. Members did not acknowledge the fact that a provision requiring such a report is included in the Bill. I draw hon. Members’ attention to paragraph 3 (a) and (d) of the schedule, which refer to the need to report on European Community and other multilateral aid.
Amendments Nos. 11, 16, 9 and 10 relate to the number of countries on which we report and how the choice of those countries is made. We had a long discussion on that in Committee. As hon. Members have acknowledged, I made it clear that it is our intention to report for the duration of this Parliament on 25 countries currently covered by our public service agreement with the Treasury. I did, however, accept the representations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill and other hon. Members on Second Reading that we should increase in the Bill the number of countries on which all future Governments will be required to report. That figure increased from 10 to 20.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) asked me whether we would continue to report on our work in Iraq. I assure him that we will continue to do so in the reports that are published as a result of the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 17, 19 and 22 are similar in purpose and relate to whether Government agencies and non-departmental public bodies are covered by the Bill. I can assure hon. Members that under the terms of the existing text, Government agencies and non-departmental public bodies are potentially covered. If they provide aid, we will report in the way set out.
On amendment No. 13, the clause as it stands sets out much more clearly the requirements on the Secretary of State. Again, I urge hon. Members to desist from pressing the amendment.
The amendments that were subjected to particular scrutiny were those dealing with corruption, especially amendment No. 15. I assure the hon. Members for Stone (Mr. Cash), for Christchurch and for Shipley (Philip Davies) that the Government take extremely seriously the need to deal with corruption. The hon. Member for Stone paid tribute to the work of Transparency International. I am sure it will not have escaped his attention that the Department funds much of that work. He rightly paid tribute to the work of the all-party group chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). We welcome that report on corruption and the Government will respond to it in due course.
The need for more work by the Department to address the issues of governance and corruption surfaced a number of times in the consultation on the White Paper. I hope that the forthcoming White Paper will give the hon. Member for Stone further confidence that we continue to address those issues. If he wants even more detail about the considerable amount of work that we are doing to fight corruption, I would be more than happy to meet him to get through that at greater length.
Amendments Nos. 23, 24 and 25 relate to the need for definitions of “poverty”, “sustainable development” and “corruption”. Those terms are in common parlance and we do not need to write definitions into the Bill. Lastly, on amendment No. 29, which related to the loss of moneys through fraud, let me reassure the House that we already have robust approval, procurement, risk management and reporting arrangements to ensure that aid is spent for the purposes intended. All our aid is subject to independent audit and the National Audit Office has consistently given an unqualified opinion on DFID’s accounts. We have recently gone further by establishing a fraud response unit so that we can drill down even further on the matter.
I hope that with those remarks I have addressed the concerns of Opposition Members and that they will refrain from pressing any of their amendments to a Division.
I am grateful to the Minister for that full response. I am grateful to the promoter of the Bill for his contribution, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) for his remarks. Eric Forth would indeed be proud of the detailed scrutiny that we have given to the amendments today.
Amendment No. 15 was the principal subject of discussion. I said earlier that the amendments and new clauses were effectively a shopping list and that at the end of the discussion we would choose which to put to the vote. In responding to amendment No. 15, the Minister said that the Government take the issues of corruption seriously. If so, why cannot they accept the amendment? It would merely require, in the interests of transparency, that the Government should produce and include in the annual report observations about progress in relation to
“promoting the establishment of a link between the commitment of aid and the reduction of corruption in recipient countries.”
I think that it is a no-brainer that that should be included in the Bill, and I propose that amendment No. 15 should be put to the vote.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 6
Annual reports: parliamentary approval
‘(1) It shall be a duty of the Secretary of State to make a motion for a resolution approving each annual report in the House of Commons, within three months of the report being laid.
(2) It shall be a duty of a Minister of the Crown to make a motion for a resolution approving each annual report in the House of Lords, within three months of the report being laid.'. —[Mr. Leigh.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
It gives me great pleasure to move new clause 6 in this important debate. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will give me a chance to say a few words, because it is the first time that I have spoken on a Friday since the death of my dear friend, the late Eric Forth. I hope that you will forgive me if I join hon. Friends and other hon. Members who have paid tribute to him. They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, but I am conscious that I could never imitate the way in which my late right hon. Friend scrutinised Bills so effectively on a Friday.
Hon. Members will be relieved to hear that I do not intend to speak at length, because we have already had a very useful debate. I will not repeat what my late friend used to do so superbly, speaking for about an hour and then saying, “And I now come to the end of my preliminary remarks.” I thought that as he was such a dear friend, I would do this almost as an Eric Forth memorial day, and wondered what sort of amendment I could table that would pay tribute to his memory—a sensible amendment that could possibly be accepted by the promoter of the Bill.
That is why I came up with new clause 6, which is supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends. It says:
“It shall be a duty of the Secretary of State to make a motion for a resolution approving each annual report in the House of Commons, within three months of the report being laid.”
That would merely ensure that when the Bill is passed, as I am sure it will be, and we have the annual report, it is debated on the Floor of the House. If the sponsors of the Bill feel able to accept the new clause, what greater tribute could there be to my late right hon. Friend than that we have not only achieved an annual report on a very important subject, but achieved more debate and greater scrutiny on the Floor of the House, which is what his whole life was dedicated to?
I hope that I am pushing on an open door, because the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) himself said on Second Reading:
“As the International Development Committee has pointed out repeatedly, parliamentary scrutiny and a coherent policy across Government are of the utmost importance. An annual report to Parliament carries more status than a departmental report or information posted online, and invites debate on the Floor of the House.”
If my amendment were passed, that is, presumably, precisely what would happen. It would not simply invite debate, it would ensure debate. Later in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning) said that
“the Bill would ensure that the House has an opportunity to hold a similarly robust and informed scrutiny debate.”—[Official Report, 20 January 2006; Vol. 441, c. 1072, 1082.]
I am not sure that the Bill as presently drafted does necessarily ensure that there will be an informed debate, but my new clause, which is tabled in a very positive spirit, would achieve that. I very much hope that the Bill will be passed with the new clause as part of it.
The right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said in Committee:
“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.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 15 February 2006; c. 5.]
What would a debate achieve? It would allow better scrutiny of the report and the progress that had been made in the past year in international development. That is a vital issue, yet we devote far less time to it in Select Committees, Standing Committees and debates and Question Time on the Floor of the House than to discussing, for example, the Foreign Office. In its public expenditure and its importance to the national interest, international development is, arguably, as important as the Foreign Office. Some of us often wonder what the Foreign Office does, but we all know what international development achieves. Why does our parliamentary system ensure that the Department for International Development gets so much less scrutiny than the affairs of the Foreign Office?
Many of my constituents make the same point. They would like many more opportunities to debate international development, which is increasingly important to the public. Does my hon. Friend get the same feedback from his constituents, and does he agree that the new clause would guarantee much more regular debate of international development issues, which the public would love to happen?
Like my colleagues, I get as many letters and cards about international development as on any other issue. That is good. There is a well-organised lobby, and I sometimes believe that, in our work in Parliament and in the prominence that we give different matters, issues such as international development do not receive as much scrutiny as they should.
The Secretary of State, a gentleman for whom I have the greatest respect, is in his place. I also have the greatest respect for his permanent secretary, who has appeared before the Public Accounts Committee on two or three occasions. The Department is one of the few that has a good record of public scrutiny before the PAC, and of ensuring that money is well spent. The accounts are not qualified. Again, the PAC has few sittings on international development, partly because the Department is so effective in bilateral aid. We have not held hearings in which enormous criticism has been made of lack of value for money, waste and so on. However, if we have less scrutiny by the National Audit Office, which reports to Parliament, and less scrutiny by the PAC, it is all the more important to accept an amendment such as the new clause, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, reflects the public interest in such issues.
If the new clause were accepted we could debate the finer points, which one can never get from an annual report. Many organisations produce annual reports. The promoter does not believe the Bill to be part of gesture politics. He believes that it will make a difference; he wants to make a difference and have a real debate. He does not simply want another annual report, to be put in a pigeonhole. How many annual reports do we receive every day in our post—from great British public companies and this and that agency? How many hon. Members can put their hands on their hearts and say that they read them?
However, debates here make a difference. Members of Parliament are present for this debate, which is well attended. How many people are watching it, not only in the Public Gallery but on television? I doubt whether there will be great reportage about it in the papers tomorrow, but it is our opportunity to put the Secretary of State on the spot, which we cannot do with an annual report alone. However, we can do that if he is brought to the House on the back of a detailed annual report, and made to answer for what he has achieved.
An annual debate would raise awareness of the extreme poverty in many countries. I hope that it would promote greater interest and perhaps encourage the public to make greater donations. It would also lead to more detailed and better understanding of the report. It is necessary.
Let us be honest: there is a tendency in annual reports to gloss over things and do the bare minimum. The Bill is specific about what it wants in the annual report, but we all know about statistics, lies and damned lies. When writing something that is not scrutinised publicly, it is easy to gloss over embarrassing things. So this is our opportunity to hold the Department to account. That is what Parliament is about.
Parliament is very weak in its scrutiny role, although it is good as a kind of general debating society for issues of massive public importance. It is also very weak in scrutinising the estimates of Government Departments and what they actually spend. I recently visited the United States Congress, whose role is far more developed in relation to line-by-line scrutiny of Government Departments. We might not achieve that in this debate, but at least we will start to make progress towards what we want, which is that a Department should be able to be specifically ordered by Parliament to set out its goals, priorities and targets, and to reveal whether it has achieved them. That should be written down in an annual report, and the Secretary of State should be brought back to Parliament and held to account.
In his excellent remarks, my hon. Friend might care to note that the report by the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), “The Other Side of the Coin”, deals specifically with the role of DFID in this context. Under my hon. Friend’s proposal, a resolution could be approved by Parliament; it could also be disapproved. That is where the problem lies. The report states:
“DFID must not turn a blind eye to corruption”.
I have no doubt that we shall continue this discussion, but that is what is stated in this report, which was produced by a Labour Member of Parliament, the Chairman of a very distinguished group whose importance the Minister has acknowledged.
I was going to deal with corruption, but I do not think that I need to do so now, because it is a matter that we want to bring out in the debates that we are proposing.
I want to ask why, despite increases in the overall amount of aid and debt relief given by the international community, aid is allocated inconsistently and not always to the countries most in need. For example, in 2002, less than half the EU’s aid budget was directed towards low-income countries, according to the House of Commons Select Committee. We also know that, for political reasons—and for reasons of promoting commerce rather than eradicating poverty—too much aid, particularly from the EU, goes to middle-income countries that should have a lower priority than the least developed ones.
The former Secretary of State for International Development, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short), once said:
“Anyone who knows anything about development knows that the EU is the worst agency in the world, the most inefficient, the least poverty-focused, the slowest, flinging money around for political gestures rather than promoting real development.”
So, as part of the debate that takes place on the back of the annual report, let us have more discussion about the effectiveness of UK bilateral aid, compared with the ineffectiveness of so much multilateral aid.
Let us also have a discussion about how aid is used. For instance, Zimbabwe receives food parcels from the United Nations, yet Mugabe has repeatedly used food aid as a weapon by withholding it from those who do not support his Government. Let us also have a debate on the fact that India, Russia and China all get UK bilateral aid for “assistance in developing infrastructure”. Those countries might be developing, but they are hardly suffering extreme hardship. All those issues could be debated under the provisions in new clause 6, and the Secretary of State could be held to account on the Floor of the House.
Let us also consider sanctions, and what should happen after the report has been published. If we had a debate on the report, and we determined that mistakes had been made—as undoubtedly they would have been; this happens even in the best-run Departments—what sanctions should be imposed on the Department? That is what this House is all about: scrutiny and criticism. For instance, we could scrutinise in detail all the methods used by the Department and discuss what new methods or actions could be introduced to improve the situation. All those things could form part of the annual debate.
We could also discuss which countries receive the most aid, and why. After all, the annual report will deal with only 20 countries. Are they the right countries? Should we be focusing our attention on them? We could discuss how, and in what form, aid is given, and whether it is used effectively by the country receiving it. We could also ask whether a particular millennium goal should be prioritised, and, if so, why, and what might be the best way to tackle corruption—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).
The other reason why we need an annual debate is that things change and are driven by events—tsunamis, hurricanes and so on. We need to examine how the Department responded in terms not just of a dry academic exercise or of meeting bureaucratic targets, but of what it did on the ground. One of the Public Accounts Committee’s most interesting recent reports was on the effectiveness of DFID and the Foreign Office in dealing with the after-effects of the Asian tsunami.
Let us also debate, on the back of the report, how the Department has performed in the past year. Such a debate would allow us to examine how the Secretary of State and Ministers have performed. Have they performed badly? Have they made errors? Should they be held to account, and how? How Ministers perform in the House is a key element. Ministers rise and fall not just according to how they pass pieces of paper around their Department or how efficiently they run their Department—the permanent secretary can do that—but according to how they perform in this House. As part of our scrutiny, we want to know how our Ministers, on whose work we place great importance, respond to criticism on the Floor of the House, in an annual debate on their annual report.
Such a debate would allow the Chamber to assess whether the original key goals concerning international development and eradicating extreme poverty are being met. If they are not, a change of approach might be needed. We could examine whether progress has been poor in certain areas. Surely such a debate would be an opportunity not just to scrutinise a Secretary of State but for us to put forward our views, which might be different from his, about our priorities and how his Department could perform better.
I think that I have summarised the key points. For the life of me, I cannot see why anyone who loves Parliament should want to oppose the new clause. I am proud to put it forward, and I say sincerely to the promoter of the Bill that were he able to accept the new clause, it would be a fitting memorial to a much-loved former colleague.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) who is a fellow Lincolnshire Member of Parliament and a highly distinguished Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
This matter was debated in Committee, and the additional point was made that because of the—correctly—increasing budget of DFID, half an hour was perhaps not long enough for DFID questions, especially given that Foreign Office questions are allocated one hour. I also note that there has been a subtle change in the Bill since the Committee stage—initially, it stated that the report would go to “either House”, which was questioned, but it has now been changed to “each House”. That is welcome.
The point also needs to be made that debates in Westminster Hall on Select Committee reports seem to be subject to significant delay, and we need to ensure that when this report comes to the House, that is not the case.
My final point is that other Departments have annual debates. A Welsh debate takes place, on St. David’s day, I think—perhaps the Minister will clarify that—and there are also annual fisheries and defence debates. In relation to this important report, the Opposition see no reason why there should not be an annual DFID debate on the Floor of the House.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for his work on the Public Accounts Committee. I therefore hesitate to tell him that I will urge the House to reject new clause 6. He was generous about the officials who work in the Department. I thank him for that; I agree that our staff do an excellent job.
Having given the hon. Gentleman the news—not, I suspect, unexpected—that the Government will not support new clause 6, let me make it clear to him that that is not because we fear scrutiny. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I welcome the considerable scrutiny of the Department’s work that already exists. A number of Select Committees as well as the departmental Committee and the hon. Gentleman’s Committee have been scrutinising other aspects of our work. Many other Departments contribute to the international development effectiveness effort, and they are all open to scrutiny through questions sessions.
The hon. Gentleman’s purpose was clearly to secure some form of annual debate. He will understand that I am not in a position to comment on that request, but the many representations made on Second Reading and subsequently, repeated today by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), will have been heard by other Members, who reflect on these matters.
Let me gently say to the hon. Member for Gainsborough that no other departmental annual reports are required to undergo the process suggested in new clause 6. On that basis, and given the considerable scrutiny that already takes place, I urge the House to resist the new clause.
I am very disappointed by what the Minister has said, but it is not entirely unexpected. I hesitate to say this, but I think that unless the report is dealt with on the Floor of the House it could prove to be an empty vessel. I am surprised that those who support the Bill—and apparently everyone in the House does—are not more enthusiastic about what I have suggested.
I worded the new clause carefully. The debate would have to be held here, rather than in Westminster Hall or a Committee, which is another tribute to my late right hon. Friend Eric Forth. This is where the people hold the Government to account. The Minister says that all Departments produce annual reports, but I suspect that the real reason for his opposition to my new clause is his belief that it would open the floodgates to others who want debates on annual reports. Presumably there were discussions through the usual channels. There was probably a degree of nervousness about the possibility of more scrutiny and more debate on the Floor of the House.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Given that we are dealing with the question of helping people in the third world, about which many of us are passionately concerned, the apparent reluctance to be put to the test strikes me as extraordinary. Perhaps, if the Government are determined not to support the new clause, we shall end up using an Opposition day to ensure that the annual report is debated.
I am sure that we could do that, but how much better it would be if the debate took place automatically. Of course I appreciate that other Departments produce annual reports, but this is a specific annual report. The Bill specifies key goals and targets. Let us not just have the Government’s version; let us bring the Minister to the Dispatch Box and hold him to account. I am very disappointed by the Minister’s response, and I am afraid that I will press the new clause to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
Amendment proposed: No. 15, in page 3, line 32, at end insert—
‘(e) promoting the establishment of a link between the commitment of aid and the reduction of corruption in recipient countries.'.—[Mr. Chope.]
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am delighted to be able to propose the Third Reading of this important Bill. I begin by thanking so many people who have done so much in order that the Bill could get this far and, we hope, further. I thank right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, spokespersons for all the political parties, and many others. We have been encouraged by the public support shown by, for example, the aid agencies—there was an excellent letter in The Guardian yesterday, accompanied by a welcome leader—and the Churches, including the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. This week, Edinburgh’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien paid a visit to Westminster; I welcome his support, also.
Perhaps it is appropriate that someone from Edinburgh should have made that appeal, because in many ways the idea of the Bill originated at the time of that great march in Edinburgh last year ahead of the G8 summit . We were responding to public support and to people who have been mentioned in our debate—Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and many others. Above all, we were responding to those ordinary people—my constituents and people from all over the United Kingdom—who wrote to me offering their support for the Bill and pleading that other hon. Members would do as I think they will and ensure that the Bill goes to the other place and is there approved.
I also thank the Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, whose contributions have been outstanding—typical of an outstanding Department. That is what the Bill will allow the House to discuss, year by year.
To me, the principal message, which the House will endorse today if it gives the Bill a Third Reading, is that Parliament has the right to hold the Executive to account and, likewise, people have the right to hold parliamentarians to account. The Bill deals with many issues, which, if I may say so, are being splendidly addressed by DFID and other Departments, but there are many more issues that have led millions of people in Britain and throughout the rest of the world for a long time to ask the question: when? I believe that when we have an annual report and the present Government and future Governments are accountable, not only will we in the United Kingdom have made great progress, but we may hope that, as the UN co-ordinator on the millennium development goals has recommended, other Parliaments in developing and developed countries will follow the lead that we offer.
How long have we waited for the achievement of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income? The answer is 36 years. It is reasonable, given movements up and down over those years, that as part of the annual report the Government of the day should tell the House and Parliament what progress is being made. That is an extremely important first.
There is something else that is important as a first. We have discussed the millennium development goals, but if the Bill is given a Third Reading we will be endorsing those goals from 1 to 8, and particularly goal 8, for the first time in legislation. That should surely be welcome. It is a goal that says to those millions of people who are suffering from poverty and deprivation in Africa, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere, “Yes, we see your need for improved education. We endorse that goal that says that we should take on board the challenges of aid, trade and debt. Despite all of our efforts, these challenges have not been settled to the satisfaction of those who are so very much in need.” Health care is extremely important. Infant mortality and maternal mortality must be addressed. That must be recognised in the need for progress on millennium development goals. We welcome the fact that those goals are at the heart of the Bill.
The Bill does something else that is crucial to everything that we have debated, and is common to everything that we debated in Committee and on Second Reading. Committed as we are to development assistance, we all passionately believe in aid effectiveness. The schedule is full of opportunities for reports to the House so that the House will know, Parliament will know and the British people will know of the commitment of this Government, and one hopes of future Governments, to aid and international development, which is one that we continue to endorse. That is based on accountability and transparency, which I hope will be seen as profound, given the outlook of this important Bill.
If the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be, and if another place decides to endorse it, I believe that Parliament will be supporting progressive legislation. I believe also in something else. Across many areas over the years, we in Britain have given a lead in challenging poverty and in seeing the need to focus on poverty reduction. That is much reflected in the policies of the Department for International Development. We want to do more. We want to ensure that there is participation at every level in every nation.
I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say in answer to a question at one of the fringe meetings at our last party conference that it was not our Government’s policy to export colonialism to developing countries. I thought that that was a wonderful thing to say. The Bill goes along those lines in encouraging, inspiring and helping developing countries. That is something that the Brandt report made clear all those years ago, which led to the biggest lobby of the House and remains true today.
For those reasons, I invite the House to give the Bill a Third Reading. That is right for Britain, right for our Government and right for Parliament. I passionately believe that, whatever progress we might have made this afternoon, many people will welcome a further step forward—one that will give inspiration in a practical sense to an increasingly disenchanted world.
May I begin by putting on record our congratulations to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on introducing this important Bill, and on the way in which he has held together a multifarious group of individuals who support, in different ways, what he is attempting to achieve? Once the Bill is enacted, it will make a significant contribution by improving the transparency of the reporting structures of the Department for International Development to the House, thus maximising the effectiveness of British taxpayers’ money in alleviating poverty. Inevitably, such resources are limited, even though we have accepted the need to increase them.
As we have said, the Opposition support the Bill, which demonstrates greater clarity and simplicity than it did when it was introduced, particularly as it includes a commitment to meet the millennium development goals. Opposition Members genuinely wished to make constructive suggestions to improve the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman, Ministers and DFID officials deserve to be congratulated on listening and including some of those suggestions in the legislation. The right hon. Gentleman’s most significant achievement is ensuring that, as he rightly pointed out, the United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on international development appears in statute for the first time. That aspiration, as he said, was first expressed by the UN 36 years ago, and it is supported by the Opposition and Members from all parts of the House. The right hon. Gentleman deserves to be congratulated on that major achievement.
The right hon. Gentleman highlighted millennium development goal 8, which is difficult to measure. I draw the attention of the House to the first part of that goal, which aims to
“develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory, includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction—nationally and internationally.”
Sadly, it appears that the latest World Trade Organisation round will not meet that requirement, so we must all be vigilant in ensuring that the WTO makes progress in improving trading rules to benefit developing nations. We must ensure, too, that regional trading agreements are made to help developing nations improve their economies, as well as bilateral trading agreements and pan-African trading agreements. To improve trade within specific countries, we must focus on infrastructure as well as the larger WTO discussions.
As I have said, the Opposition agree with the Bill’s overarching objective of bringing accountability and transparency to international development spending. It rightly encourages DFID to report on the effectiveness of its aid spending to meet the millennium development goals and to alleviate poverty. Opposition Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), have expressed concerns about the Bill, and we are pleased that the right hon. Gentleman was happy to include in the Bill a requirement for DFID to report every year on humanitarian assistance, as significant sums are involved. In 2004-05, DFID spent £437 million on humanitarian assistance, £344 million of which was spent on bilateral aid and £93 million on multilateral aid. The amendment to monitor the spending of that money is therefore a welcome addition to the Bill.
I am encouraged that the link between the millennium development goals and the monitoring of aid has been strengthened. The annual report that will be produced as a result of the Bill will have an explicit function in monitoring progress towards those strategic goals and should contribute significantly to ensuring that development assistance is used specifically to alleviate poverty.
The redrafting of the Bill increased the number of countries that will be assessed for aid effectiveness to “no fewer than 20”. We agree with that change, and I accept that the Minister said in Committee that for the duration of this Parliament the figure would be no fewer than 25. The change was the result of an informed discussion on Second Reading, and I am pleased to acknowledge that in Committee the Minister gave the assurance that for the lifetime of this Parliament aid effectiveness will be monitored in 25 countries. Hopefully, that will continue beyond this Parliament, whichever political party is in power after the next election. I certainly hope it will be my party.
We remain concerned, and we have pointed out at every stage of the discussion, that the Bill is still too focused on inputs rather than outputs. That was acknowledged by the Minister in Committee. We recognise that much of the information in the proposed annual report will already be in the public domain as a matter of course. As acknowledged by DFID in its own report entitled “How effective is DFID?” and by an increasing number of outside organisations, the Department is struggling to deliver a regular, systematic and comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of British aid spending. The Bill, which we hope will be enacted expeditiously, should be the foundation for a major shift towards the assessment of the outputs of aid, so that British taxpayers can transparently evaluate and assess whether their money is being spent effectively to alleviate poverty.
I draw the attention of the House to what I consider to be an oversight in the Bill. It does not allow for easy comparison between the effectiveness of different funding streams. We support a policy in which there are several different appropriate aid streams—bilateral, multilateral via NGOs, regional development banks, the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions—so that the most effective method can be used. However, the Bill makes no provision for comparison between the effectiveness of different funding streams, so as to establish which are the most effective and, more importantly, the least effective. On implementation of the Bill, DFID needs to give that aspect further consideration.
In conclusion, DFID is still too focused on inputs, not outputs—on money spent rather than its effectiveness. Our long-term goal must be to assist the developing world in graduating from dependence on aid to strong democracies with vibrant economies that can create jobs and alleviate poverty, generating revenues to invest in their public services while maintaining environmental sustainability. That can be achieved only by reducing global poverty, creating freer and fairer trade, making wider and deeper debt reduction, enhancing civil society, implementing the rule of law, strengthening private property rights and assisting developing nations to build their capacity and trading infrastructure internally, regionally and internationally.
We therefore welcome the Bill, as it will introduce monitoring and reporting structures to ensure that development aid is as effective as possible for recipient nations and provides the greatest possible value for money for British taxpayers. The Bill is not the whole answer, but it is a positive step and builds on the work of the Department, just as the Government have built on the work of previous Conservative Administrations, and just as we will build on the Government’s work when we are returned to power.
I join the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) for the way in which he has articulated the case for the Bill. It is admirably crafted and has been skilfully steered through all its stages thus far in the House as a result of the remarkable coalition of support that he has established. Aid agencies, celebrities, and Members on both sides of the House back his Bill. Not every hon. Member has the opportunity to introduce a private Member’s Bill, and not every hon. Member who does so is lucky enough to steer it through all its stages in the House. My right hon. Friend has already succeeded in that once, and I hope that the way in which he has made his case to the House, not only today but in Committee and on Second Reading, will serve to encourage the other place to allow him a second great success.
As my right hon. Friend made clear, the Bill will enhance parliamentary and, importantly, public scrutiny of how aid is spent. In particular, it provides scrutiny of whether the UK is playing its part in increasing our aid in line with the commitments that were made last year. Labour Members, and the Government in particular, welcome the additional scrutiny required by the Bill of progress towards achieving the 0.7 per cent. goal. That is particularly important when one bears in mind the record of Governments in the past on aid as a proportion of national income.
The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness drew the House’s attention to a number of changes that have been made as a result of our discussions in Committee and the representations that were made on Second Reading. We have rectified the absence of any reference to humanitarian assistance. We have added the need to make progress on the millennium development goals. We have increased the number of countries on which we will specifically report. As the hon. Gentleman said, I gave an additional commitment that for the life of this Parliament we will go even further, reporting on 25 countries in particular.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has been particularly assiduous—on Second Reading, through his 10-minute Bill, and on Report—in raising the need to do more to tackle corruption. As I said in response to the first group of amendments, the Government have strongly picked up the message that the public and aid agencies want even more work to be done alongside the considerable work that we are already doing. The forthcoming White Paper will signal our intent to do even more. I do not accept the view expressed throughout the debate that further amendments are necessary. Clause 6(2)(c) specifically alludes to the Government reporting on our progress in tackling corruption.
We know that aid works. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of seeing in action a variety of the methods that we are using to provide aid, including the support that we are giving to non-governmental organisations. One particularly powerful example is Christian Aid, which, through our funding, is able to provide support to those who, sadly, are dying of AIDS, orphaned by AIDS or at risk of becoming HIV-infected, in a township just outside Johannesburg. The work that it is doing using our resources is remarkable.
However, we have to recognise that support for NGOs does not always enable us to do as much as we would like in a country. In such circumstances, and where the conditions are right, budget and sector support has an important role to play in increasing access to education and improving health outcomes. Last year, when I visited Malawi and Zambia with the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), I was able to see the benefits of budget and sector support through the extra nurses who are being recruited, and the effectiveness of our financial support in that regard. I also had the chance to visit Sri Lanka and Indonesia to see the effectiveness of our spending through multilateral organisations such as the United Nations in helping those two countries deal with the terrible devastation that the tsunami brought in its wake.
I have also had the privilege of witnessing the increasing effectiveness of European Community aid. I reject some of the wilder comments that we heard in the debate about its effectiveness. I draw hon. Members’ attention to a report that the House of Lords European Union Committee published in April 2004. It specifically stated that there had been
“significant improvements in aid management and organisational effectiveness”
by the European Union. It went on to make the case for further reforms, which we accept. However, European Community aid is making a huge difference throughout the developing world. For example, in Afghanistan and India, EC aid contributes to more children being in school and to building more roads. The old adage, to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred, about the EC being the worst aid agency in the world, no longer applies. The EC is getting better, but it needs to go further.
We must examine the circumstances in each country before we determine the funding mechanism that has to be used. It would be inappropriate to use budget and sector support in countries such as Zimbabwe, and we do not do that. We work through the United Nations and NGOs. Budget and sector support is more appropriate in countries that are committed to reform, tackling corruption and good financial management. We need to consider the circumstances in each country.
The debate has been excellent and I pay tribute to the spirit in which it has been approached. In moving Third Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill demonstrated the Bill’s importance not only in allowing the British public to be aware of how British money is spent and whether we are fulfilling the commitments that we made last year, but in serving as a template for other countries in the developing world and throughout the developed world to ensure that others follow up on the commitments that have been made.
I have been advised that, in summing up on the first group of amendments, I may have inadvertently suggested that non-departmental public bodies are covered by the existing text of the Bill. As hon. Members know, that is not the case, but the Secretary of State can already report on such bodies. Given the interest that hon. Members clearly have in them, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do so.
Again, I pay tribute to the superb way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill introduced the Bill and the way in which he kept the coalition of support together. I commend the Bill to the House.
I place on record my support and that of my Liberal Democrat colleagues for the Bill. It feels like the end of a long journey and, as the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) said, it started in Edinburgh during the Make Poverty History march. I was delighted to have met the late Robin Cook, who was then Member of Parliament for Livingston, at that march. We chatted about the way in which the Make Poverty History event had captured the imagination of the people. Several hon. Members mentioned the late right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, Eric Forth, and I wanted to place Robin Cook’s name on record. He was a great supporter and, had he been here today, he would have been delighted to lend his weight to the Bill.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the campaigning work of not only NGOs but Church groups throughout the country has led to pressure to get the Bill through, and that tribute should also be paid to individuals who work tirelessly to promote third-world issues?
I could not agree more. I hope to mention some of those people and groups in my speech. However, I shall not manage to mention them all. Their omission is not by design but because there are so many, whether they are NGOs such as Oxfam and Save the Children, Church groups or individuals.
Back at the start of this journey, an awful lot of people were asking where the political parties stood on the Bill, and on the entire issue. However, many of the most inspiring people have not been aligned to any party or group; they have been individuals. As Midge Ure said at the reception last night, according to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, this is about a lot of ordinary people out there with their kids supporting the Bill. I want to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for gathering an interesting group of supporters. In my five years in the House, I cannot remember having encountered such people as Midge Ure, Bob Geldof, Jemima Khan and many others, all of whom have encouraged people to get behind the Bill and to push in the same direction.
I have been equally delighted to see support for the Bill from both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) and a number of his colleagues, as well as other hon. Members from all parties, have been happy to support it. The Bill might not be perfect—it has received some criticism—but this is not a perfect world, and the people whom the Bill hopes to support do not live in a perfect world. However, we have heard support today from members of all political parties. When people from outside the House consider this debate, they will see that there is all-party support for what is basically a good idea.
Members have asked why people do not follow our debates in Parliament more. I have to say that we did not see the best example of our debates today. We heard a lot of repetition, and that is not the best aspect of this House. However, the spirit of the Bill is crucial because it captures the imagination of the people. It has cross-party support and the support of those who belong to no party. Ordinary members of the public are behind what we are doing, and we have an opportunity today to see the Bill through its present stage and send it on to the Lords, where I hope it will have a successful passage as well.
Some people have said that the Bill is not perfect, and Members asked this morning why the Government responded to the amendment on corruption in the way that they did. However, I am perfectly aware that the Department for International Development is not only funding good work in the fight against corruption but taking action in a number of other areas to deal with the problem. Other issues were raised, but the Bill is not necessarily the best way to deal with them.
The provision in the Bill for reaching our long-overdue aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product is the jewel in its crown. However, this is not the end of our journey; it is a stop along the route. Hon. Members were talking about corruption earlier. They said that enormous sums were being spent on the eradication of poverty and asked why we had not dealt with the problem. The answer is simple. Enormous sums of money are spent on the problem because it is an enormous problem. The number of people throughout the world who live on less than a dollar a day, who are being treated for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or polio, or who are suffering on the bare minimum, trying to get by and get enough food for themselves and their children is just staggering.
At the risk of contributing to the end of party political divisions as we know them, may I tell the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) that their demeanour throughout the debate today and on earlier occasions has been not only exemplary but admirable? I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman’s last words will bring together everyone in the House on a subject on which we can surely all agree.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks.
People often say that politicians live in a bubble and that we are out of touch with the real world. I have now been in this place for five years, which is admittedly a lot less time than many others. During that time, however, I have served on the International Development Committee, and I have seen at first hand the work of the Secretary of State and his predecessor, and of the Minister and the Department. I have also seen at first hand what is happening in countries as diverse as Ethiopia, India, Malawi and Mozambique, among others. I spent 20 years working in industry before I came here, and I do not live in a bubble. I have seen the extremes that people have to live through, and I know what kind of legislation we need to pass to make an difference to people. No matter how many problems we might have here, we are the lucky ones. We can pass this legislation and make an impact on hundreds of millions of people in developing countries who are in need. Although they will not know our names, we can be sure that when the Bill is passed it will make a difference to them.
I was glad to hear the Minister’s comments about the White Paper. I am grateful to him for offering a meeting to talk about corruption. It was a pity that the Government and the promoter of the Bill, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), could not agree to the amendment that established the link between aid and corruption. I understand that he was getting edgy at one point in the debate. I think that he thought that the Bill would run out of steam. I happened to know otherwise, and I support the Bill. I pay tribute to him for his work on the Bill. It is a step forward.
I am passionate about the third world. Some people think that those from my end of the political spectrum are somehow to be categorised as right-wing and anti-development in the third world and all that goes with it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that I can say, without undue self-aggrandisement, that I took an active part in the Jubilee campaign. Some 320 MPs backed my motion to support that campaign. Those of my Conservative colleagues who have taken a strong position on these matters include my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), Baroness Chalker and Lord Patten. There are many others. I do not want anyone to take away the impression that such concern is somehow exclusive to any one side of the House.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, however, and I was not averse to his getting edgy earlier about my references to corruption, which is an issue that needs to be addressed more specifically in the Bill and otherwise. I also understand the sensitivities that it raises in the international development context. There is that sneaking feeling that those who go on about corruption might somehow be trying to colonialise the public accounts of other nations. That is not the objective, but there is a serious problem, which is recognised, for example, by the all-party Africa group in its report, “The Other Side of the Coin”, which I have mentioned, by Transparency International and by Front-Bench spokesmen on both sides of the House. I am certain that the Secretary of State and the Minister are well aware that it is an issue. The figures that I gave show the dwarfing of aid and debt reduction in that context. I have fought as hard as anyone in the House to have that debt cancelled completely, because that could release resources to help people who live on a pittance every day, which is a disgrace and a moral outrage.
In the idea that the problem of corruption will somehow be dealt with by the Secretary of State including in the annual report
“such observations as he thinks appropriate”,
the Bill does not go far enough. I acknowledge that the words are there to promote better management of aid, including the prevention of corruption in relation to it, but I do not think that that in itself will solve the problem.
If we are talking about proportionality—not about the mechanics of the House, about procedures or about who scores off whom, but about the intrinsic question of how we help people in the third world—there needs to be an even greater determination to deal with the problem. It is not easy, but as is noted on pages 59, 60 and 61 of the report of the all-party group on Africa, there are ways in which the Department could improve its internal arrangements. The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has a special role in that. It is true that the Department’s accounts have not been qualified, which is a great thing in itself, but that does not mean that there have not been omissions which could be corrected.
The report of the all-party group on Africa states:
“Despite the interest in increasing the amount of aid delivered by budget support and its apparent progressive advantages DFID must not turn a blind eye to corruption, major governance, electoral, constitutional and human rights abuses.”
That speaks for itself, and I think it is recognised throughout the House that the question of corruption is important. As the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is aware, my Bill will not be able to make progress because of the time constraints, but I congratulate him on his Bill and continue to support its main objectives.
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I agree with much of what he said. Along with the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), he acknowledged the input of various all-party parliamentary groups such as the Africa and the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention groups, and the group that deals with important issues of debt. It was right to acknowledge their helpful contribution to the development of policies and to the Bill.
I want to return briefly to corruption. Let me gently remind the hon. Member for Stone, in the spirit of peace that appears to have broken out, that this is not the only legislation that deals with corruption. I served on the Standing Committee of what was intended to be the International Development Act 2001, but was delayed by an election and became the International Development Act 2002. One of its main sections deals with corruption, and the issue continues to be addressed In terms of the report to Parliament, which is what my Bill is about, I think that the House has sensed that the important issue of corruption has not been ignored.
That is a wonderful theme, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to pursue it, along with the other points that he made, when we have the annual report.
I am particularly grateful to people outside the House who have been supportive. Children are very much in our minds when we deal with the issues in the Bill, and Jemima Khan, speaking for UNICEF, was extremely supportive.
Many issues will be dealt with if we have an annual report. By developing the focus on, for example, the millennium development goals, the Bill gives the House the opportunity to deal with an issue that has often been the subject of debates, if not in this Chamber, then certainly in Westminster Hall: HIV/AIDS. It is relevant to the MDGs, affects millions of people—men and women, and their families—and I know that the House wants very much to address it.
I also welcome the fact that, as was rightly made clear by my hon. Friend the Minister, the Bill moved along, in that changes were made and it was improved. The number of countries involved has been increased, and humanitarian aid has been included. The Bill has also been tightened, as many asked for on Second Reading. I trust that the House agrees that that has served to underline something. I accept that it is not enough merely to have a parliamentary report every year; I of course invite—we all invite, I think—Parliament to act on that report. If the information that we seek through the Bill is provided, the House will be much better informed when it seeks to pursue some of the issues that have been raised today, along with others that are perhaps on some Members’ minds.
The right hon. Gentleman will understand that I was concerned because the tightening of the Bill’s scope cut out my new clause. He mentioned the 2002 Act earlier. My new clause related to that Act, so it has been cut out. However, I am not complaining at this stage, because I want the right hon. Gentleman to be able to complete his speech.
I am delighted that my friend, the hon. Member for Stone, wants us to end on a note of agreement; that is very good advice indeed. The point that he makes will be pursued.
As I was saying, it is important not only that Parliament be informed, but that Parliament listen. The better the information that we get, and the more that we listen, the better will be our legislation and the policies of the Departments that serve Government. For that reason, another clause that I greatly welcome, and which adds to the Bill’s content, is that dealing with coherence across Departments—an idea that I know appeals to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I again congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on introducing this Bill and on steering it through the House; he will be commended by many people in the country for doing so. I agree with him that the report should not be an end in itself but a means to the further end of greater understanding. Can he therefore explain why he and his right hon. and hon. Friends voted against the new clause proposed my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), which would have guaranteed a debate on the report that he has done so much to bring about?
With great respect to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), the House was more convinced by the response of my hon. Friend the Minister and therefore voted accordingly. In a democratic Parliament, who am I to question that?
The House itself, given that we have endorsed the need for an annual report, will decide on the issues that it wishes to pursue. It of course has a right to alter, through future legislation, what this legislation says. It also has the right to alter the 2002 Act—if that is the will of the House. I merely urge parliamentarians—frankly, in the light of today’s debate, I doubt whether such urging is necessary—to do the job that I know we all want to do: to serve our people, to question, to probe, and to deliver the best policies as effectively as we can within each of the Government Departments.
I had the great pleasure of serving in Committee on this Bill. International aid comes from not only this country, but many countries. Is there not a wider dimension to the right hon. Gentleman’s efforts in encouraging other legislatures around the world to hold their Executives to account through similar annual reports?
The hon. Gentleman is right. I visited Sweden in January and saw the impact there and Eveline Herfkens from the UN, whom I have mentioned several times, would certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point.
In conclusion, I thank the House sincerely. It is poignant that we take our final decision on the Bill 30 years after the dreadful riots in Soweto. I say with some modesty that, among many others who have supported the Bill, Nelson Mandela has made it clear that he welcomes it and would also welcome the same procedure being introduced in other Parliaments. I again thank everybody responsible for bringing the Bill to this point and I hope that when it reaches the other place we will have influenced them to move quickly towards the enactment of a very desirable piece of legislation.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—
Bill read the Third time, and passed.