THE WORK OF THE INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
RELATIONS WITH THE DEPARTMENT
18. Relations with the Department have been good.
The Secretary of State has been willing to provide oral evidence
on a regular basis and has also found time to discuss matters
informally and privately with the Committee when that has been
considered necessary. DFID officials have been similarly helpful
in the provision of evidence, of supplementary information and
of background briefing to Committee staff. There has also been
regular information via letters to the Chairman of such developments
as the outcome of EU Development Council meetings (provided at
the request of the Committee). The Department has also been invaluable
in the organisation of Committee visits these often take
place in constrained or difficult circumstances. There is a high
degree of cooperation between DFID officials and Committee staff
in advance of the visit. This involves planning the programme,
detailed briefing in advance of the visit and continued briefing
by DFID officials who accompany the Committee during the programme.
Appreciation should also be expressed for the work of FCO officials,
who again have been repeatedly helpful before and during Committee
19. There was one occasion the Committee's
visit to Albania and FYR Macedonia during the Kosovo crisis
when it was clear that the Department for International Development
did not wish the Committee to go, fearing the Committee's presence
would impede humanitarian efforts. The Committee considered it
important to see at first hand a relief operation which was being
heavily criticised. The visit was planned so as to ensure that
the Committee at no stage interfered with or hampered the relief
effort. This was acknowledged by the Department after the conclusion
of the inquiry.
20. Our experience has on the whole been similarly
positive in relation to other government departments. One less
satisfactory exchange, however, has recently occurred with the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We were told by the Minister
for Trade and the Chief Executive of ECGD in our inquiry into
ECGD, Developmental Issues and the Ilisu Dam that DTI and
ECGD had not received any advice from the FCO on the impact of
the Dam on human rights in the region.
On publication of our Report, where the lack of such advice was
criticised, the Chairman received a discourteous letter from Keith
Vaz MP, Minister for Europe, disputing our conclusions.
This is not the place to go in detail into the ensuing argument.
We were, in summary, faced with a contradiction between the evidence
of the DTI and ECGD on the one hand, and that of the FCO on the
other, which in our view could only be satisfactorily resolved
by access to the original advice. This was refused and our offer
to examine the documents on a confidential basis ignored. We have
therefore complained to the Parliamentary Ombudsman under the
Code of Practice on Access to Official Information. The Ombudsman
has yet to produce his report but we will inform the Liaison Committee
of its contents when it is received.
21. This disagreement raises a couple of points of
principle for relations between the Government and select committees.
The ill-advised response of Keith Vaz on publication of our Report
points to the dangers of the "rapid rebuttal" of committee
reports. A more considered and polite response, joined with an
offer to provide further evidence, would quite probably have resolved
matters. Secondly, this is the first time a select committee has
complained to the Parliamentary Ombudsman about the lack of access
to government papers. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 introduces
a new and statutory right of access to information and a different
complaints system. It may well be that future select committee
work is affected by such new rights of access and complaint in
relation to government information.
8 Sixth Report from the International Development
Committee, Session 1999-2000, ECGD, Developmental Issues and the
Ilisu Dam, HC 211, Q.10 and Q.19 Back
Published as a Special Report: Fourth Special Report from the
International Development Committee, Session 1999-2000, Exchange
of Letters Concerning the Ilisu Dam, HC 813 Back