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Transparency

Volume 516: debated on Wednesday 13 October 2010

The new UK aid transparency guarantee will deliver a step change in the transparency of British aid. Under the guarantee, we will publish full and detailed information on our projects and policies, strengthen accessibility and feedback, and press international partners to follow our lead.

Hard-pressed British taxpayers will be pleased to have heard what my right hon. Friend has said, but could he tell us how transparency will be assured for the fairly large part of the British aid budget that is spent through the United Nations, the World Bank and international development charities?

My hon. Friend is right about this, because there are some 44 international and multilateral aid agencies through which we spend British taxpayers’ money. All of them are being looked at under the multilateral aid review, which we set up immediately after this Government took office. The review will report by the end of January next year and we will decide upon our spending allocations in accordance with the results that we are achieving, which will be examined by that review.

Given the positive response to the annual report arising from the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, will the right hon. Gentleman use his influence to ensure that the report goes directly to Parliament and that we have an annual debate on the Floor of this House?

The right hon. Gentleman has some credit for having masterminded and pioneered the Bill that became that Act through the House of Commons. He is right to underline the importance of the transparency that the Act ushered in and the importance of the House of Commons being able to discuss it, with Ministers being accountable to this House for that. So I can assure him that, through the usual channels, I will underline the point that he has made.

The Select Committee on International Development warmly welcomes the Secretary of State’s initiatives to make aid more transparent, and will co-operate with him and with Parliament to ensure that we give effective voice to that. Does he acknowledge that there are some concerns that ensuring that everything is transparent means that we might sacrifice longer-term, less measurable outcomes for shorter-term ones? Can he assure me and the Committee that that compromise will not undermine the effectiveness of British aid?

As the Chairman of the Select Committee rightly says, transparency is about accountability not only to our own taxpayers in Britain, but for the people whom we are trying to help in the poor world; it is about enabling them to hold their own leaders to account. On the nature of evaluation, to which his question also referred, it is important that this should be about not only value for money and the accountancy-driven approach to that, but development expertise. As he says, a lot of development is very long-tailed, so we need to meld both those two streams of expertise together to achieve the right results.

I thank the Secretary of State for yesterday’s written statement on the UN millennium development goals summit, which highlighted the decision to record all the commitments made. Making sure that everyone can see and track the progress towards the MDGs is vital, because international effort is simply not enough right now. Those goals can be met, with the international will to do so. Following the summit, can he tell the House what further steps he and his Government colleagues will be taking to increase momentum?

May I welcome the right hon. and learned Lady to her new position? I think I hold the record for having shadowed this portfolio for the longest time—five years—and I wish her every success in beating my record. The whole House knows of her passion for gender equality and I am sure that we will work well together on that. We put girls and women at the heart of development, and I look forward to progressing that policy with her. Frankly, we are delighted that someone so senior on the Labour Benches is now shadowing this portfolio.

As she said, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has set in train work to bring together all the commitments that were made by different countries at the summit. ECOSOC—the Economic and Social Council—which is the relevant body of the UN, will be monitoring this on an annual basis and we will ensure that other countries that have made commitments stand up for those commitments and fulfil them, just as Britain must fulfil its commitments.