International Development Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I am in broad agreement with the amendment and echo the hon. Lady's concerns. Following this morning's debate, it is clear that evidence to support a particular view often does not exist. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for digressing, but for each new piece of legislation in this country, a regulatory impact assessment is required. That assessment details the impact of legislation on business. It is an important document that allows us to assess the impact, and allows those affected by the Bill to understand that we are satisfied that its consequences are neither onerous nor disadvantageous.

We all welcome those methods of scrutiny. Many of us are frustrated when we send reasonable questions to various Departments and receive only the standard answer that information is not available or is too expensive to collate. If one asks for important information, but cannot get it and base an objective opinion on it, a degree of activity is outside our control. I am not happy about that.

For that reason, I sympathise with the hon. Lady's request. Many scandals associated with the United Nations and other third-party agencies have brought those organisations into disrepute, but asking for a report may be optimistic. Several of the organisations that we deal with—and smaller ones delivering aid—find it impossible to provide the information that we require for our auditing gene, simply because they do not have the wherewithal to do so. They do not have auditing procedures or even the equipment to write reports. Many of our relationships with these people must be taken on trust, but that does not preclude us from putting down a marker to receive information that substantiates the uses to which the money is being put. We must have some evidence.

Sooner or later we are accountable to the people who sent us to this place for the way in which these moneys are used; otherwise, when scandals arise, we are not best placed to defend ourselves. That is why the amendment contains some valid observations. I recognise the difficulty of achieving the right sort of report, but it is crucial to challenge the organisations to demonstrate that they understand the requirement and that they will pursue arrangements to secure this information in the fullness of time.

Dr. Tonge: I, too, sympathise with the amendment and I am inclined to support it. If my memory serves me correctly, we did not get as far last time round: our proceedings ended before a proper discussion and vote on the subject.

In my naive fashion, I always assumed that annual reports were a statutory requirement, that they had to be there and that we would always have them, but that is not so. It would be good to build into the Bill a requirement to produce an annual report and we should insist on seeing it. We should also insist on an annual debate on the annual report. I believe that we have not debated development since 1997; someone will correct me if I am wrong. It is important for Members to see the annual report and, as suggested by the hon. Member for Meriden, to discuss targets.

It is so difficult to assess how we are progressing in international development and it is important to keep looking at the 2015 targets to measure progress. We understand the difficulties, but it is a crucial issue, so I back annual reports and I hope that the Leader of the House will allow us to debate them.

Joined-up government is dear to my heart. As a new Member of Parliament, I remember that when the first of the White Papers on eliminating poverty was produced, I asked the Secretary of State whether other Departments agreed with it and whether she was happy that they would implement the same provisions. I was told off in a way that only a Secretary of State can tell off, and was informed that a White Paper would not be published unless all Departments had agreed on it. It was rather amusing.

Mrs. Spelman indicated assent.

Dr. Tonge: The hon. Lady nods. She and I know many cases where it is perfectly obvious that other Departments are not in agreement with the aims of the White Paper on development, which is why it is so important to keep pressing for joined-up government. I suspect that the Chairman will call time before we properly finish our debate, but numerous examples could be mentioned. I remember the fiasco at Montserrat during the early years of the new Government. They inherited a mess, but co-ordination between the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office was poor. The Ilisu dam—thank goodness the contractor has seen the light and pulled out—looked as though it might be another example. The Department of Trade and Industry seemed to be overruling the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office on issues such as the environment, displaced people, water wars and granting export credit guarantees for the dam.

The amendment and the new clause are worth while. I am happy for the Liberal Democrats to support them.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Stringer.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock till Tuesday 27 November at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Benn, Hilary
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs.
Khabra, Mr.
Knight, Jim
Leigh, Mr.
Lewis, Dr. Julian
McKechin, Ann
Rosindell, Mr.
Spelman, Mrs.
Stringer, Mr.
Tonge, Dr.

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