|International Development Bill
Mr. Tom Clarke: I am sorry if I anticipate the hon. Lady, but the amendment proposes the publication of a report. No doubt she has costed the printing and publication of it, and perhaps she will tell us what costs will be involved.
Mrs. Gillan: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for attributing to me the ability to cost the incredible work that would be necessary to prepare, design, cost and print the report. To be fair, that is not a problem, as we are debating the principle of the matter. That is especially so as the Department has spent more than £2 million of taxpayers' money since 1997 on its own publications; indeed, this year it will spend £55,000 on direct mail promotion of its publications. I feel sure that the cost of the sort of report that would result from the amendment being accepted would pale into obscurity compared with the vast amount of publishing that the Department has already carried outI believe to little avail.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his inquiry. It is rather pleasing to find that Labour Members are awake. It is sad that, during debates on such an important Bill, Labour Members should remain silent except for the occasional intervention. As we have so few opportunities to debate the international development during the past four years, I should have expected hon. Members to take this opportunity to do so.
Mr. Clarke: Not only am I fully awake, I do not even take exception to the nomenclature that hon. Lady attributes to me, which occasionally gives me the impression that the hon. Lady herself is asleep. Would she not agree that the answer is simply that she does not know?
Mrs. Gillan: I am quite willing to admit to the right hon. Gentleman that I do not know. I used to be a marketing director and I was good at costing the distribution and design of publications and coming up with the various items to promote organisations. With a little time, I could probably make some costings.
I apologise for not according the right hon. Gentleman his Privy Council status. I know that he has achieved those giddy heights. No discourtesy was intended, and I hope that he will forgive me. I shall try to correct myself; it was an inadvertent mistake. Of course, some of us were up into the small hours of the morning defending democracy. Unlike the Minister, who went home to bed and whose vote is not recorded, I voted last night with my party
Mr. Clarke: As did I.
Mrs. Gillan: As did the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will forgive me for my slight error in nomenclature.
Mr. Robathan: Unless I have been asleep for the past four years, it seems that the Department already produces a departmental report. It would therefore cost little to add such a provision. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who as a Privy Councillor is the most senior member of the Committee, labours the point on extra costs. It cannot be beyond the wit of the Department's excellent civil servants to add a few paragraphs.
Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. At least the right hon. Gentleman has given me the opportunity as a politician to admit that there is something that I do not know.
Mr. Rowe: My hon. Friend will, of course, be able to confirm that the Minister knows exactly how much his Department's annual report costs.
Mr. Mullin: I have a killer fact that will floor you all in a moment.
Mrs. Gillan: The Minister says that he has a killer fact. I am delighted. I stand by to be assassinated. I am not a difficult target.
I return to amendment No. 5. The Opposition believe that Government targets should be achievable and measurable. Sector-wide programmes cannot fully account for the impact of British aid money. The Department's researchers said that, when using sector-wide aid programmes, individual donor programmes are difficult to disaggregate from other donor programmes. I hope that the Minister will smile on me benevolently and give me hope that he will accept the amendment in some way, shape or form. Certainly, we need to know at what point the Bill recognises aid quality. Perhaps such a reference is included and I simply cannot find it; if so, I look to the Minister for guidance.
Do the Government intend to publish detailed performance indicators for the sector-wide programmes, so that the public and the House can have confidence in the way in which aid is spent? What scope is there for measuring projects' contribution to sustainable development several times and several years after completion? Those are reasonable questions to ask of the Minister at this stage in our proceedings.
I reiterate that I am looking for fulfilment of the promise, which was made in a manifesto document before the last general election, of a regular debate on reports in Parliament. People expect such commitments to be met. Indeed, I hope that more power will be given to the Secretary of State, who assured the Chamber on Second Reading that she wanted an annual debate. However, it is clear either that the usual channels have not been fighting on her behalf, or that she has failed to convince her colleagues that parliamentary time should be given to the matter. We can give time to issues such as foxhunting, but it seems that we cannot spend a day debating the lives of the poorest people in the world, to which we hope to make a difference by distributing money through aid programmes.
I have probably gone on for long enough about the amendment, but this is a matter about which I feel strongly, and the Minister should note that the amendment could be used to the Department's own advantage, even if it were accepted in a different form. I know that my hon. Friends also want to speak to the amendment, but they will agree that we are willing to withdraw it if the Minister is prepared to come up with a similar provision that he finds acceptable.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I hope that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) is sitting comfortably and has some cold water to hand in case she feels faint, because I must say that I am minded to support the amendment. Indeed, she makes a very good case. In the past, the Select Committee on International Development and the Government have castigated the European Union for failing to give sufficient feedback on the progress of projects and the difference that aid is making in developing countries. If we are to place such requirements on other agencies, we should also place them on ourselves. We need greater feedback on our aid's effectiveness and the way in which it is dispersed.
I commend DFID on its literature, which is not a waste of money. Indeed, it is very good, and through it DFID has done a tremendous job in promoting the cause of development. I accept that it is difficult to find in the report what we really want to know: whether we are making a big difference and whether maternal mortality is declining significantly. The problem is probably one of presentation, in that it is rather difficult to get at the facts that we need. A simple appendix would sufficethere is no need for an entirely different publication. Alternatively, a section could be included explaining how the poverty targets are progressing.
I told the hon. Lady that I am minded to support the amendment, but before I decide I shall listen to what the Minister has to say.
Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I hope that the Minister will not accept the amendment, because if he does I will feel fairly stupid. I think that it was wrongly worded by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amershamit says that she wants a report, but what she really wants is debate and accountability, which it would not provide.
Mrs. Gillan: I have stressed that the wording of the amendment may be imperfect owing to the limited time available to us, and the difficulties that there may have been in explaining our intentions to the Clerk who assisted us. If so, we are willing for the Government to redraft it, but I hope that I have explained its spirit in terms of the way in which it is currently expressed.
Mr. Worthington: I accept that. However, the Department already produces an annual report, which includes a statement by the Secretary of State along the lines that the amendment suggests, a statement of purpose and a statement of the public service agreements. What is missing is the opportunity to examine those statements.
I have some sympathy for the amendment. I tabled an amendment calling for an annual debatewhich you, in your wisdom, Mr. Butterfill, did not select because it was based on the wrong part of the Bill and was incorrectly worded for this purpose. An annual debate may not be exactly what we are looking for, but we must have something that raises the profile of the Department. It is unsatisfactory for the House to have a general debate on international development only every four years. Departments that do not regularly produce legislation get a raw deal in this place; their work is important, but it is not examined by the House. The continuing work of the Department is more important than its unusual work. For example, every now and then when there is a disaster, such as that which occurred in Mozambique, there will be a statement and a chance to consider the Government's responsebut that is not the Department's central purpose.
It is odd that the House can debate certain statutory instruments, which we usually think of as minor pieces of legislation, but is not given the chance to have an annual debate on the work of an increasingly significant Department. The Ministry of Defencerightlyhas the privilege of an annual debate on the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, and there are annual debates on Wales and on estimates, but there is no such debate on the work of DFID. If there was, it might help to raise the profile of the Secretary of State. It might even help to end the stock question that they ask in quiz shows when they are trying to stop the contestant getting the money and to which nobody ever knows the answer``Who is the Secretary of State for International Development?''
It would be churlish not to acknowledge that there have been some steps forward, the biggest of which is Westminster Hall, where hon. Members can initiate Adjournment debates on reports by the International Development Committee. The existence of the Committee itself is a major step forwards, although it is inadequate in that it has places for only 11 members.
I sense that the Secretary of State and the Minister have some sympathy for what we seek to achieve, and I am sure that we can collectively consider the exact form in which to do so. We need to lift the profile of the Department and allow what it does to be scrutinised. The amendment would not achieve that; it merely asks for a report. It is what one does with the report that matters, not the fact that it exists.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 13 March 2001|