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Written Statements

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 9 May 2007


Op Banner Commemoration

I am pleased to announce plans to arrange a service of remembrance in 2008 to pay tribute to the members of the armed forces who lost their lives as a result of the violence in Northern Ireland. The current peace would not exist without their sacrifice and the efforts of over 300,000 military personnel who served in the Province as well as the dedicated MOD civilians and contractors who supported them there.  The service will commemorate all military and defence personnel killed or injured as a result of the situation in Northern Ireland.  The Ministry of Defence will be working with veterans’ organisations and other interested parties in the coming months to help us plan the event.  Further details will be announced before the end of the year.

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Agriculture and Fisheries Council

I will be representing the United Kingdom at this month's Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels.

The Presidency will seek political agreements on measures to ensure the recovery of the European eel stock to previous historic levels and on a recovery plan for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean.

There will be a policy debate based on a Presidency questionnaire on the Commission's report on cross-compliance. The report forms the first stage of the Commission's review of cross compliance due for completion by the end of 2007, and deals with administrative issues such as inspection and enforcement arrangements.

The Agriculture Commissioner will then update Council on the negotiations of the two proposals on the common organisation of the market in cereals, in response to a large increase in intervention purchasing of maize: one proposal will deliver extra financial support to compensate for high interest charges; the other will seek to overcome the problem by allowing the market to operate freely and abolish the intervention for maize.

The Agriculture Commissioner will also present proposals to revise the sugar restructuring scheme. Following the Presentation Ministers will hold an exchange of views on proposals.

The Presidency will seek political agreement on a proposal laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production.

The Council will hold a policy debate and adopt Conclusions on the outcome of a recent conference on “Animal welfare - Improving by labelling”.

The Council will adopt Conclusions on the better regulation in the plant varieties and seeds sectors.

A number of issues, as follows, will be raised under any other business:

There will be updates from the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner on Avian Influenza and the EC-Russian Federation veterinary and phytosanitary agreement negotiations.

The Agriculture Commissioner will give an update on the WTO agricultural negotiations.

International Development

Independent Advisory Committee on Development Impact (IACDI)

The Government are committed to ensuring that the UK’s aid budget is used effectively to make a difference to the lives of the world’s poorest people and that it represents value for money.

As our spending on international development increases, we want to continue to ensure that resources for development are used well and as intended; that mechanisms are in place for learning lessons and monitoring effectiveness; and that aid has a real impact on helping to reduce poverty and change the lives of poor people.

Our international development assistance is currently subject to external scrutiny in the UK by Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee, the International Development Select Committee and the National Audit Office. The international mechanisms include monitoring of aid effectiveness under the Paris declaration, and peer review of donors within the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). DFID has its own evaluation, audit, and reporting under the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act. DFID also talks to civil society about new policy and lessons arising from our operational experience.

Having reviewed these arrangements, and how we might strengthen the independence of our evaluation, I have decided to set up a new Independent Advisory Committee for Development Impact (IACDI).

The Committee, which will be independent of DFID, will have four main functions:

First it will determine which programmes and areas of UK development assistance will be evaluated, and when, by approving the evaluation programme and priorities currently identified by DFID’s Evaluation Department.

Secondly it will identify any gaps in the planned programme of evaluations and make proposals for new areas or other priorities as required.

Thirdly it will assess the amount of effort and level of resources being devoted to different types of evaluation by DFID, other parts of the UK Government and, if appropriate, by NGOs using DFID resources.

Fourthly it will determine whether relevant standards (for example, of the OECD/DAC) are being applied, and comment on the overall quality of the programme evaluation carried out against these.

For major evaluations, members of the independent Committee will chair the relevant steering group and will have full responsibility for approving and releasing final reports for publication. This will provide a built-in challenge function and an assurance that evaluation standards have been met.

The Chair of IACDI will write annually, through a published letter to me, providing an overview of lessons learned and advice on how evaluation can be further improved. I will then set out the action that we propose to take in response.

To ensure full independence and transparency, the Chair and the six members of the Committee will be appointed under Nolan procedures. The selection process will look for respected experts on international development and evaluation, both from the UK and developing countries. Members will be chosen by the Chair of IACDI to avoid any conflicts of interest. The minutes of all IACDI meeting will be published.

I have discussed with the National Audit Office how it can assist, given its role in providing an independent assurance of our work. I am pleased to say that it has agreed to carry out a review of DFID’s performance on evaluation and to repeat this every three to four years.

The NAO review will complement the work of the IACDI and will focus more broadly on performance management systems across DFID. IACDI on the other hand, will get directly involved in the strategy and work plans for evaluation and in ensuring that the recommendations from evaluation work are followed up. I will also invite the National Audit Office to participate in the work of IACDI so that it can draw on this in its own auditing programme.

The creation of IACDI will be an important step forward in assuring all of us that UK development assistance is making a difference. But I also intend to continue to seek improvements in the accountability and scrutiny of development assistance internationally. DFID is actively exploring opportunities for international collaboration with partner Governments and other donors and, in the longer term, I hope we can work towards an international approach that can enhance the evaluation of development assistance. I will report further to the House in due course.

Taken together, I believe that these proposals will assist in ensuring independent, open, and transparent scrutiny of our development assistance.

Northern Ireland

Intergovernmental Agreement with Ireland

Following the successful restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, I am pleased to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Ireland.

This treaty reaffirms both Governments’ commitment to protect, support and where appropriate implement the provisions of the Belfast agreement, subject to the alterations to the operation of the institutions agreed at St. Andrews. The conditions laid out in legislation for the restoration of the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland have now been met. In this historic context, it is fitting that these commitments are formalised promptly with the Irish Government and the Government welcome this opportunity to provide a shared understanding of these arrangements across these islands.

This agreement was laid before Parliament as a Command Paper (Cm 7078) on Wednesday 18 April. The tenets of this agreement have been considered by Parliament during the passage of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 and, following the successful restoration of devolution to Northern Ireland on 8 May, the Government consider it appropriate to truncate the standard 21-day laying period under the Ponsonby rule to ensure the agreement can be brought into force as soon as possible. This will provide swift formal clarity to the agreed alterations to the arrangements and institutions established by the Belfast agreement of 1998.

Copies of the agreement and its associated explanatory memorandum have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and distributed to Members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.