Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
Duration of Act
I beg to move amendment 2, page 6, line 32, leave out subsection (3).
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 3, page 6, line 37, leave out subsection (6).
These are simple probing amendments. This Bill is clearly important, and it will have to be considered by the other place before it becomes law. In one sense clause 9 is clear, because it says:
“This Act expires at the end of the period of one year beginning with commencement”.
At first sight, that would appear a perfectly sensible provision, because one presumes it would give time for the House and the Government to consider whether a more permanent Government Act should be placed on the statute book. I think that sunset clauses, as they are described, might often perform a perfectly useful purpose, especially when we are dealing in areas such as this, which have not been tested sufficiently by the Government and by courts in the past.
Subsection (1) is quite clear. My amendment is purely a probing amendment, which will give the Minister an opportunity to explain what is going on. It states that we should leave out subsection (3). Subsection (1) states:
“This Act expires at the end of the period of one year beginning with commencement”,
which is fair enough. However, subsection (3) states that
“The Treasury may by order provide that this Act has permanent effect.”
That is what I am slightly worried about. If this Act is to have permanent effect—after all, we are talking in terms of the wash-up of Parliament, and this is a private Member’s Bill involving the Government in difficult areas—I would prefer to have more protection for Parliament. Why can the Government just decide that the Act should have permanent effect? If this Act is to have permanent effect under subsection (3), why does subsection (1) state that
“This Act expires at the end of the period of one year”?
This is purely an opportunity for the Minister to explain his thinking. Presumably, he can come to the Dispatch Box and give all sorts of reassurances to Parliament. He can say that there will be a proper debate and proper evaluation. I have been doing interviews today in the context of my role as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee about there always being proper evaluation of value for money. I am sure that the Minister can reassure us on this point.
My second amendment, which also relates to clause 9, would leave out subsection (6). Again, I hope that the Minister can help me on this. I have no particular axe to grind one way or another. I am neither in favour of the Bill nor against it but I presume that the Minister can explain to me in simple language what on earth subsection (6) means—I have tried to understand it, but I am totally confused. It states:
“If this Act expires by virtue of this section…the Act is to be treated as never having been in force, and…accordingly, where…a judgment was given, or order or arbitration award made, on a relevant claim (as defined by section 5(2)) while the Act was in force, and…the amount of the judgment, order or award is, as a result of section 3, less than it would be if that section had not applied in relation to the claim, the amount of the judgment, order or award is to be treated as equal to the amount it would be if the section had not applied in relation to the claim.”
You are a much cleverer man than me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if you understand that I pay tribute to you—I have always paid tribute to you for your high intelligence. I simply do not understand what that means and I hope that this most excellent and skilful Minister will be able to explain and justify subsection (6) to the House, so that we can proceed without further ado.
I am pleased that this Bill has made it into the wash-up. It is a tribute to the business managers all round that that has happened. There is cross-party support for this important Bill. I am very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) is ill again, and I am therefore standing in for him.
It is a great shame that the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) did not talk to those on his Front Bench about the sunset clause. The arrangement for the sunset clause was agreed with his party. Given that he is a senior member of that party, I would have hoped that the terms of the clause would have been discussed very carefully, and if issues were unclear they could have been clarified in the meantime. I will go through some of the political points about his amendments and then some of the technical points and explain why, as the person who has been taking the Bill through the House, I do not support them.
I am sure that the hon. Lady knows that I am extremely keen on all help that can give a reasonable footing to third-world and developing countries. However, I am a little puzzled about the reference to a sunset clause, because the Bill clearly states that the Act “expires at the end” of a period “beginning with commencement”, but it is also subject to two other subsections that would mean that the sunset would be
“at the end of the period of one year”
or that the Act would, by order, have permanent effect. I am not quibbling about the content of the Bill.
I am going to be quite honest about this. Opposition Members have to make up their minds about which side they are on. On Second Reading, another Member said:
“My heart goes out to the people of heavily indebted poor countries.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2010; Vol. 506, c. 580.]
He then proceeded to block the entire Bill from going through, to the outrage of many members of the public. There is no point in saying that one is really upset about the position of third-world and developing countries and then raising all kinds of objections.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman’s colleagues on the Front Bench, who have behaved entirely properly throughout this process, have described the measure as a sunset clause, and so it is. It was their measure, and they also got in the measure for making the Bill permanent. If the clause were taken out, the effect would be that the Bill would continue for more than one year. There has to be an annual vote on it, because there is no provision for anything else. I asked in the Library and, in the short time available, the only Acts that we could think of that are so demanding of parliamentary time and attention that they have to be renewed annually are terrorism legislation and the Finance Acts. I am sure that the hon. Member for Gainsborough, who is the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and is therefore very concerned about efficiency and proper functioning, would think that, important though the Bill is, it is not on the same level as terrorism legislation or the Finance Acts, but that would be one effect of his amendment.
If we were to pass the Bill into statute and then, a year later, effectively let it wither on the vine, what message would we be sending to the developing countries that are looking for our support in this area? Surely that is the point.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The other side of the argument is that it was important to ensure that we had cross-party consensus, given that the legislation was complex and that we were coming to the end of the Parliament. It was also thought important to ensure that there was a proper way forward and that there was provision for a new Parliament to take a further look at the matter. My hon. Friend is right and I am sure that these issues will be debated again.
Amendment 2 would remove subsection (3), which means that the Bill would require annual renewal. It would be damaging and unsatisfactory for heavily indebted poor countries to have unresolved commercial debt claims hanging over them, particularly when there remains a possibility of those being aggressively enforced for their full value in spite of the debt relief provided by others. HIPC Governments have made clear the real economic costs resulting from the deterrent to trade and investment that such unresolved claims could create. If the Act remained temporary, with the possibility of expiring within a year, a commercial creditor who might consider seeking full repayment would have a disincentive to settle their claim, because if they held on to it and the Act expired, they would be able to pursue 100 per cent. repayment. The Bill, as introduced, did not create that incentive for creditors to hold on to their debts in the hope that the Act would expire, as it would have taken permanent effect immediately.
That is fine, but then why did the hon. Lady put subsection (1) in her Bill?
I shall come to that. First, I am going to go through the hon. Gentleman’s comments on his amendments, because there were some contradictions in relation to amendment 3.
Originally, the Bill did not create an incentive for creditors to hold on to their debts in the hope that the Act would expire, as it would have taken permanent effect immediately. That risk was one reason for the caution about including the sunset clause. However, the problem would be considerably worse if the Bill provided no option, short of new primary legislation, for the Act to take permanent effect.
If Parliament is satisfied at some future point that the Act has caused, and is causing, no significant damage to the operation of financial markets, then it should be able to approve, by affirmative resolution, its taking permanent effect. That is a proper way to provide for the orderly management of these very difficult debts in heavily indebted poor countries. There has been extensive discussion of this Bill, but part of the purpose throughout has been to make sure that we use the existing procedures of the HIPC programme to provide stability and security to the countries involved.
I turn now to amendment 3. The hon. Member for Gainsborough has said that he cannot understand clause 9(6), but it makes arrangements for handling the debt if the Bill is not confirmed. The result of that would be two classes of creditors: the first would be made up people who had taken action after the Bill fell and who would therefore be able to sue for the full amount, and the second would consist of people who took action for the one year that the legislation was in force. The second group would find that the value of their claims would be knocked back, because the legislation would allow them to pursue only that certain percentage of their debts that was approved by the HIPC procedure. The purpose of clause 9(6) is therefore to restore equity between the different classes of creditors.
As I have said, although the Bill looks quite complex, the principles behind it are simple. One of those principles is that there should be equity between different classes of creditors. If the amendment were accepted, a mechanism for restoring that equity would disappear, with the result that creditors would have no incentive to pursue their debts in the interim period when the legislation is in force. They will think, “Perhaps it won’t be renewed, so we’d better not go to the courts now and just hang on instead.” That would mean that the HIPC countries would still have their debts hanging over them, and also that creditors would receive less justice in the end. That would be the impact of amendment 3, and I do not think that that is what the hon. Gentleman intends. If the legislation were to fall for some reason in the next Parliament, I think that he would probably prefer to see justice restored for those creditors who had taken action while it was in force.
Amendment 2 would give the Act that this Bill will become equal status, in terms of parliamentary time, attention and renewal, with much more substantial pieces of legislation. It would have to keep being renewed every year, and there would be no provision to make it permanent. However, I think that the Opposition’s intention was to ensure that a new Parliament could scrutinise the legislation and decide whether it was what was needed. If it was, and if it was working properly, that new Parliament could make it permanent.
The impact of amendment 6 would also not be what the hon. Member for Gainsborough intends, as it would delete the mechanism for providing justice and equity to all classes of creditors, if a new Parliament decided not renew the legislation.
May I ask one other question? Can the hon. Lady assure me that there will not be very expensive lawsuits as a result of this Bill? Will it be sufficiently clear, so that we can avoid this becoming a matter of just lawyers, lawyers, lawyers?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. One problem has been the cost of lawsuits, which is in part why the Government and other donors have set up a fund to enable developing countries to deal with some of the lawsuits that have arisen as a result of the vulture funds. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary will want to say more about that.
Furthermore, there is a real perception that there is no system—that it is all down to the courts and that there is no mechanism—whereas in fact although the measure is a Treasury Bill, it draws on existing international development procedures for the management of developing country debt. In previous discussions, we described the amount of public sector debt and noted that much of it has been written off. A total of about £4.5 billion was private sector debt. A lot of the debt has already been managed. The legislation would deal with the completely unreasonable creditors—the vulture funds, which involve people who operate outside the rules.
There are already internationally recognised mechanisms to determine the value of debt. If the hon. Gentleman had been in the Chamber on Second Reading, he would have heard the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke) claim from the Front Bench credit for his party for taking the lead on the management of developing country debt. On the Government Benches, we tried not to heckle or intervene when the hon. Gentleman took the credit, but there is no dispute about the fact that there are proper mechanisms. The only issue is to make sure that they apply to vulture funds, whose activities rightly outrage so many people not only in the UK but across the world.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough asked about the provision on the duration of the Act. The amendment was included at the behest of Conservative Front Benchers. It was a sunset clause for a year to give a new Parliament an opportunity to look again at the legislation, to make sure that we were not in Dangerous Dogs Act territory, where legislation was passed without scrutiny. There will be a chance to look at the detail and the working of the measure, so that it can pass into legislation.
I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.
We are pleased that the Government have found time to bring the Bill back to the House on Report and that we have an opportunity to complete its remaining stages. I thank the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) for her remarks about the cross-party co-operation on the Bill. I hope we can maintain that spirit for the rest of the afternoon.
In addressing the amendments, it may help my hon. Friends if I explain the thinking behind clause 9, which, as the hon. Lady pointed out, was an amendment we proposed in Committee. It was drawn up in conjunction with the parliamentary draftsman and there was cross-party co-operation. The thinking behind the provision is as follows. We all want to help developing countries. We are all concerned about the activities of vulture funds, but it is recognised by the hon. Lady—the Bill’s sponsor—the Government and the Opposition that we need to get the measure right. It is important that its provisions are carefully calibrated, because if we prevent creditors from enforcing debts against developing countries, there is a risk that they will not lend to developing countries in future. The law of unintended consequences could apply and we could make things worse for developing countries. Nobody wants to do that, which is why the Bill is carefully calibrated to apply only to heavily indebted poor countries. It relates only to past debt and not to future contracts. Future lending agreements can be enforced unaffected by the Bill.
Concern was frequently expressed by industry bodies during the Treasury consultation that the Bill might send the message that creditors in the UK could not enforce debts against developing countries and that that could be applied more broadly. As part of the consultation, it was pointed out that those possible spill-over costs would be difficult to assess. For example, would a risk premium be applied to developing countries that would make it harder for them to obtain credit?
The solution to the problem that we proposed, which the Government and the hon. Member for Northampton, North accepted in Committee, was clause 9, which is essentially a sunset clause. The thinking behind the clause is that we should accept the Bill. However, although it has been given sufficient time to proceed in this House, it will not get the full scrutiny in the other place that such a Bill might otherwise receive. Even if it did receive such scrutiny, however, some things would not become clear until it came into force, so we proposed a mechanism that would make it possible in the 12 months following enactment to assess the Act’s effect on the risk premium paid by developing countries and the number of debts—again, there is uncertainty and disagreement on this point—that could not be enforced at their full amount.
My question is really only about the accuracy of language. When we use the expression “sunset clause”, we usually mean that as a result of various procedures, and after a period of time, a provision will cease to have effect. However, there is some confusion, as exactly the opposite seems to be provided for by clause 9 because it can give the Bill permanent effect, rather than causing it to cease. To make things clearer, may we use an expression other than “sunset clause”—perhaps by referring to a “sunlight clause”?
Order. Interventions should be brief at the best of times—they should not be mini-speeches—but there is a premium on such brevity now because we have a very real time constraint and other hon. and right hon. Members might wish to speak.
I would always take guidance on terminology from my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but clause 9 does contain a sunset provision because subsection (1) provides that the legislation shall expire after 12 months. However, the clause includes additional provisions that allow the Treasury, by order, to renew the Act for a further 12 months or to give it permanent effect. The advantage of including both approaches—this deals specifically with amendment 2—is that it gives the Treasury the flexibility to assess the effect of the Bill. It is quite possible that a Select Committee will want to investigate the effect of the legislation in the early months of the next Parliament. We could then be in a position to make an informed judgment about the Act. We might be unsure about some concerns, in which case we could give the Act another 12 months and look again, but if the concerns can be dismissed after we have seen the way in which the Act has worked for 12 months, we can accept that it should have permanent effect.
I am pleased that I tabled amendment 2 because we have had a debate about the law of unintended consequences. That is a serious point because the Bill could militate against developing countries. My hon. Friend might be fortunate enough to become the Treasury Minister with responsibility for the legislation, but does he think that 12 months is sufficient time in which to assess this complex area? What sort of plans does he have? I assume that he will not give a commitment either way now, but he might say later that we should have a further year of consideration.
That is possible under the clause as it stands: it gives Ministers in the next Government, whoever they are, an opportunity to assess what is happening to the risk premium, the levels of debt affected, and the implications of the legislation. If it turns out that 12 months is insufficient, there is the possibility of extension for a further 12 months. I think that the provision adds to the Bill.
Let me say why I think this debate is helpful. Parliament is dealing with the matter sensibly, recognising the potential dangers and treading carefully. That is a good message to send out. The concern about the risk premium centres not on the Bill itself, but on the possibility that it will become a precedent for a future Bill that prevents the enforcement of future debts. No doubt some in this House would argue that that would be a great thing to do, but it would pose significant dangers for developing countries. The element of caution provided by the sunset clause is sensible, and subsection (3) is an important part of that.
The hon. Member for Northampton, North spoke about subsection (6) and how it would be wrong to allow a situation to arise in which those debts enforced during the period in which the measure is in force were treated differently from those that were pursued subsequently. That would have an impact on which debts were enforced and, in some respects, damage the credibility of the legislation. Subsection (6) is therefore helpful.
I shall bear in mind your strictures, Mr. Speaker, as I realise that many hon. Members wish to speak, whether on the amendments or Third Reading. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for raising his queries, but I believe that clause 9 as it stands is beneficial. It strengthens both the Bill and the next Parliament’s ability to deal with these matters in greater detail, when the opportunity arises.
I appreciate the probing spirit in which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) tabled the amendments. I do not feel the need to add to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke). Given your strictures, Mr. Speaker, it would not be right to explain for the third time why the clause is structured as it is and why the amendments are unnecessary—
Will the Minister give way?
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I assume that he listened to the arguments made by my hon. Friend and his.
I have listened to the whole debate, but I want to know what the nature of the assessment will be. We are dealing with a highly complex matter relating to developing countries. What assessment will be made and how will the Treasury conduct that assessment over the next 12 months?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Treasury will look at all the available evidence on the potential market impact of the measure before seeking an affirmative resolution to give it permanent effect, or to extend it for a further year. Clearly, our aim during the Committee stage was to respond to the concerns expressed by those who argued that the legislation could have an impact on future lending decisions that would be to the disadvantage of developing countries. No one wants that to happen.
We think that the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who sadly cannot be with us today—we wish him a speedy recovery—is carefully calibrated, as the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire says. We are confident that, when the assessment is conducted, there will be no evidence of any significant market impact. None the less, it is right that we take a belt-and-braces approach, which is why we were happy to accede as we have to the arguments of those who expressed doubt. With that in mind, I urge the hon. Member for Gainsborough to withdraw the amendment.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) on his Bill, which is likely to be very effective in providing relief to developing countries and in ensuring that they are not exposed in future to what is frequently called vulture fund activity.
I pay great tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who is a long-standing champion of the world’s poorest countries. She is a strong and very effective campaigning voice when it comes to helping the world’s poorest, and indeed standing up for the rights of her constituents. I am glad that she has been able to take the measure forward.
It is important to recognise the wider context relating to heavily indebted poor countries and the initiatives that the Government have taken. Since 2000, the UK has committed $9.7 billion to debt relief, according to OECD figures. We have always gone beyond the requirements of the HIPC initiative, and have provided 100 per cent. debt cancellation when countries complete the initiative. As a result of the actions that we have taken, there have been major benefits to various countries. Under the HIPC initiative, Tanzania has been helped to increase the number of its children in primary schools by more than 50 per cent., built almost 2,500 new primary schools, and recruited 28,000 extra teachers. Mozambique has similarly made significant strides. It has more than tripled its poverty-reducing expenditure as a result of the HIPC initiative.
However, although the Government have taken a number of non-legislative steps through a range of initiatives, we have always believed that there remains a problem. The problem of vulture funds can be fully tackled only through legislation that restricts commercial creditors from recovering more than a fair amount of the debts of the world’s poorest.
I welcome the cross-party consensus on the Bill. The hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire has been a strong supporter of it, but has rightly raised some concerns, as one would expect. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who also speaks for the Opposition, and who made clear his support for the Bill. I know that he is a long-standing supporter of the issues, too.
We recognise that the issue is complex, but the economic logic for legislating is strong and received wide agreement during the Bill’s earlier stages. The targeted nature of the Bill provides an incentive for debtors to settle claims on terms compatible with debt relief. The measure introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, and so ably supported and taken forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North, will prevent a minority of creditors from litigating to extract payment in excess of that provided for under the HIPC initiative using the UK’s laws and courts. The Bill will protect creditors’ rights to recover the proportion of their debt that is consistent with the HIPC initiative, so the vast majority of commercial creditors, who already comply with HIPC terms, will not be affected.
We built safeguards into the legislation in Committee, and as I have said, we were happy to co-operate in doing so. The Bill is in good shape—it is excellent—and I hope that the House will agree to it this afternoon.
I shall be brief, as I know that others also wish to comment. I am proud to have taken responsibility for the Bill. I am only sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) was unable to do so, although I suspect that he is watching our proceedings on television, as he has before. The Bill has cross-party consensus, but coming at the end of the Session it has had quite a difficult passage through Parliament. I hope that when it reaches the other place it will have a fair wind and that there will not be extraneous, last-minute objections to it.
The political and moral arguments for the Bill were won a long time ago. The only issue that has remained is whether there is the political will to put it on the statute book before the end of this Session. The fact that we have taken it so far, with the support of the business managers, and the fact that it is on the cusp of becoming law, shows that this Parliament can respond to the concerns of the general public and the great upsurge of support that there was for this legislation, and the revulsion, indeed the moral repugnance of which my hon. Friend the Minister has previously spoken, against the activities of the vulture funds, which cream off the money that is intended to help the poorest people in the world, and instead deposit it in bank accounts in offshore tax havens.
This is a landmark Bill. It is the first of its kind. The US Congress has introduced similar legislation, but it has not got through there yet. This country is a hub for financial services and a world leader in international development and debt relief, and there has been enormous cross-party and public support for the stance that the Government have taken. We have also shown that we can clamp down on the abuses.
The Bill will make a difference to UK taxpayers because it will stop their money that has gone into debt relief being creamed off into vulture funds, and it will make a big difference to the lives of some of the poorest people in the world. One hundred and forty-five million pounds might not sound much when it is compared with the bankers’ bonus pool, but it is about 40 per cent. or more of the entire budget of some the poorest of the developing countries.
I hope that the Bill passes quickly through the other place and ends up on the statute book, where it will stand as a real reminder of the outstanding work in this Parliament to respond to the priorities of the public and to protect some of the poorest people in the world.
As I said earlier, we welcome the fact that the Bill has returned to the House and that time has been found for it. The Opposition supported the Bill on Second Reading, we co-operated in ensuring that there was an early Committee stage, and we tabled an amendment that we discussed a moment ago, which was accepted by the Government and the Bill’s proposer. It is unfortunate that there was some controversy, which the Government were guilty of whipping up, when the Bill did not reach Report stage or Third Reading. As the Government are well aware, we did not object to the Bill progressing. We did not collude in its being objected to, although it would be fair to say that it is usual that private Members’ Bills that have not been debated on Report or Third Reading do not progress. Our argument has always been that it is a question of the Government giving time for this Bill. We are delighted that, after some initial reluctance, the Government have brought the Bill back. It was always in the Government’s hands to do that. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) mentioned the support of the business managers, and I would make particular mention of my hon. Friend the shadow International Development Secretary, who has been supportive of the Bill and has taken a close interest in it both in front of and behind the scenes. It is good that the Bill has returned to us, and once again, as it completes its Third Reading, the Conservatives will not oppose it.
There are matters of legitimate debate, such as ensuring that the law of unintended consequences does not apply, and that we do not inadvertently make life more difficult for developing countries. However, the point that I made at earlier stages is that, to some extent, the Bill provides an insolvency procedure for developing countries that find themselves in great difficulty, because they will be able to reduce their debts equitably and share them out among creditors, whereas without such a mechanism no creditor would receive anything, or such payments would be made inequitably. For those reasons, we are very happy for the Bill to proceed, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Northampton, North on the way in which she has progressed the matter.
Finally, I think that this will be my last opportunity to debate with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson). It has been a great pleasure to shadow him—in part, along with my hon. Friends—over the past couple of years or so. He has always been a great pleasure to work with; he is a man of great integrity and hard work; and I think that I speak on behalf of all my colleagues in wishing him well for the future.
Order. Three right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. We have only 17 minutes remaining, and I should like to accommodate all three, so Members can do the arithmetic for themselves.
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I can speed things up by putting on the record the genuine cross-party support that there is for the Bill. The Liberal Democrats are certainly delighted to see it go forward at such a pace. Many of us who have attended Inter-Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences throughout the world have visited countries, spoken to some of the political leaders of debt-ridden countries and shared their frustration not only at the difficulties that they have had in dealing with debt, but the legal difficulties that they have faced due to the private acquisitions that have been attempted against them. So, those countries will welcome what has happened today in Parliament.
I, too, congratulate the Members behind the Bill, and in particular the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who has spoken so eloquently to it. However, the House should also congratulate those campaigning organisations outside Westminster, such as Jubilee 2000 and many others, which have kept on and on at Governments of all parties. Those groups should share our congratulations on the work that has been done.
The Liberal Democrats are certainly very pleased that the Bill has made such progress, and I am sure that we will do all that we can in another place to ensure that it progresses to a conclusion.
If this is the final speech that I make in this Parliament, I cannot think of a more worthy piece of legislation on which to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble), who pioneered the original Bill and, when my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) fell ill, took the legislation back over and has steered it with immense knowledge and aplomb. I am sure that the whole House would like to send my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish its best wishes for a speedy and full recovery.
The Bill has reached this stage not only because of the co-operation of Government and Opposition Front Benchers and the work of my two hon. Friends, but because of the great pressure outside the House from people who care. I pay tribute to many of my constituents who have rightly put pressure on me and other Members to get the Bill this far. In particular, I thank the congregation of Holy Innocents’ church, Fallowfield, for its work on development and aid, and Mr. Stephen Pennells, who is its spokesman, although by no means, as he will acknowledge, the only activist on these matters. The House is passing a Bill this afternoon that will benefit a very large number of people who may not even learn that it exists. It is a worthy little coda at the end of this Parliament, and I thank everybody involved for their work.
Having served for the past 10 years on the Select Committee on International Development, it is a proud moment for me to say a few words in support of the Bill, which has all-party support. I know that we are at the end of the Parliament and there is a rush to get things through, and I listened carefully to the probing amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), but for us to have got to this stage on a Bill that will do a little more on effective debt relief for the poorest in the world is an impressionistic moment. It sends a signal that I hope will mean our country provides some international leadership, even in the heat of an election that may focus particularly on local concerns.
Debt relief counts for far more than our aid contribution, as does fair trade. Tackling debt and the undermining of the highly indebted poor countries initiative by predator-creditor litigations is crucial. The HIPC initiative has had some great successes—my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary mentioned Mozambique, and the abolition of primary school fees in Uganda has doubled the number of enrolments and decreased inequality. In Bolivia, the cancellation of debts has improved health care massively. Tackling debt is crucial, and getting a grip on the so-called vulture funds that undermine the ability to manage it is a good move and should send a clear international signal. The Bill will prevent creditors from recovering an amount in excess of what is consistent with the HIPC initiative.
I have often been reminded of a cartoon that was once produced in Mexico. A teaspoon of aid was being put on the tongue of a poor peasant, but in the meantime the grip of debt was around their windpipe. A theologian in Mexico wrote that
“the life of the poor is accumulated by the rich. The latter live the life of the rich in virtue of the death of the poor.”
That was Enrique Dussel, who suggested that the poor do not live in one cycle going round one way and the rich in another, but that they are interconnected and interlinked.
We need a much better relationship between the north and the south. I have consistently argued for that. There should be a mutual relationship between the rich and the poor rather than the north patronisingly helping the south, and the debt question is central to that mutuality. It is an issue north and south, as we all now know. If I dare be so bold as to suggest it, the parallel between the activities of hedge funds and vulture funds and the sub-prime, loan-shark doorstep lenders in poorer parts of my constituency suggests that a debt relief Bill is needed here in Britain, which could include the capping of interest rates. I simply wish to put that marker down, because those who make excessive profits from low-income borrowers, including the countries and people who are least able to pay, end up buying and selling debts, recycling them, overcharging massively and making the situation even more intolerable.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who cannot be here, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and Ministers. With the co-operation of the Opposition parties, they have got the Bill to this stage, and I hope that it will make a continuing contribution to the alleviation of poverty and set an international trend that can be sustained in the decades to come.
Finally, I thank the people of west Leeds for their support and for the privilege of representing them for the past 23 years. Some of the actions that our Government have taken on health care and education—primary issues in the two-thirds world as well—have made a difference in my constituency, and I am proud of that fact. I leave the House with a slight spring in my step, believing that it can pass good legislation. Yes, that legislation must be presented and examined carefully and re-examined in future, but this House can make a difference and do a good job, not only here in Britain but internationally.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
The question is that leave be given—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. I hope that the point of order relates to the Bill.
It relates to the motion, Mr. Speaker. To be clear about what the motion is asking us to do, may I ask a question about—
Order. I apologise for having to interrupt the hon. Gentleman—it is always a pleasure to hear his points of order—but I am afraid that the short answer to his question is no. The reason is that the motion needs to be put forthwith, so the question of the pursuit of explanations sadly does not arise.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Order, this day),
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to appropriate the supply authorised in this Session of Parliament for the service of the year ending with 31 March 2011.—(Mr. Timms.)
Question agreed to.
That the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liam Byrne, Stephen Timms, Sarah McCarthy-Fry and Ian Pearson prepare and bring in the Bill.
Presentation and First Reading, and remaining stages.
Mr. Stephen Timms accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the service of the year ending with 31 March 2011.
Bill read the First time; to be printed (Bill 86).
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Order, this day, and Standing Order No. 56), That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second Time.
Question put forthwith, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.
I say to the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) that, as I am sure he appreciates, I intended no discourtesy to him. I am simply sticking to the very formal procedure that applies in this admittedly unusual situation.