Last year was rightly dominated by the Make Poverty History campaign, which provided a welcome focus on issues such as aid, debt and trade. That focus simply must continue. Laudable progress was made at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, where commitments were made to double aid by 2010 and to cancel debt for up to 38 heavily indebted poor countries. A quarter of a million people marched in Edinburgh, demonstrating an unmistakable public commitment to making poverty history. Internationally, there were Live 8 concerts, including at Hyde parkappropriately during our EU presidency. The successful trade justice lobby of Parliament was followed by progress made at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, which agreed an end date for export subsidies.
I congratulate the Government, especially the Department for International Development, on their work and on the progress that they have achieved. I also congratulate the Prime Minister, particularly on his African initiatives, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his achievements on aid, debt and trade. However, the whole House will, I think, agree that much more remains to be done to turn that progress on aid, trade and debt relief into results on the ground, embedding prosperity, entrenching opportunity and, ultimately, eradicating poverty. The Bill unashamedly asserts the role of Parliament in holding the Executive to account in helping to meet that aim.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am an enthusiastic supporter of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals and believe that the Government have done a very good job in relation to Africa. Does he agree that it is essential to deal with corruption in Africa and to introduce a proper technical means of auditexternal audit in particular, if necessaryto make sure that it is stopped?
Mr. Clarke: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I agree, and that is reflected in the Bill's requirement that there should be reports relating to proper accountancy and accountability, as well as transparency. That, I think, is consistent with the hon. Gentleman's view.
At the heart of my Bill is an annual report to Parliament on progress made by the United Kingdom on international development. Eveline Herfkens, co-ordinator for the United Nations millennium campaign, said:
"Parliamentarians need to scrutinise their governments' Millennium Development Goal 8 positions on an on-going basis to ensure that they are in line with what their governments signed in the Millennium Declaration and Goals."
People such as Eveline Herfkens have consistently argued that it is critical that Parliaments and parliamentarians monitor their countries' commitments to increase aid, and important for Parliaments to achieve cross-party agreement on that vital issue.
That is one of the reasons why I welcome the fact that sponsors and supporters of the Bill are drawn from all parts of the House, reflecting a progressive consensus on the need to prioritise international development. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), who has intimated to me that he supports the Bill.
Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on what he personally has done to build, deepen and widen that consensus, which, as he says, is so important. Will he share with the House further information on the extent, breadth and depth of support that this important Bill enjoys?
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. He will know that there is a great deal of support from his constituency in Oxford, not least from Oxfam and a huge number of non-governmental organisations. I am also delighted that the Churches support the Bill. If I may say so, the Church of Scotland has been particularly active. I welcome, too, the contribution of the justice and peace committee of the Catholic Church, and many other Churches all over the United Kingdom that have written to me.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): May I add to that? We now know, thanks to the Division that we have just had, that the Bill would appear to have the support of 80 out of 650 Members of Parliament. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind as well.
Mr. Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman is, we accept, regarded as an expert, not least by himself, on parliamentary procedure. He will know that that vote was on a procedural matter unrelated to my Bill. The Clerk had not even read the name of my Bill. I hope I have helped the right hon. Gentleman's education on these parliamentary matters.
As the International Development Committee has pointed out repeatedly, parliamentary scrutiny and a coherent policy across Government are of the utmost importance. An annual report to Parliament carries more status than a departmental report or information posted online, and invites debate on the Floor of the House. I strongly believe that such a report is in the interest of Parliament and of achieving progress on international development. That, essentially, is what my Bill is aboutprogress in international development, accountability in terms of both bilateral and multilateral commitments, and transparency, which gives the people of this countrythey watch what Parliament does, toothe confidence to support Government and Parliament in the objectives that we set.
My Bill is set to balance what I am convinced is the moral requirement and the necessity of eradicating poverty, while addressing the scepticism that undoubtedly exists and in some quarters is even
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encouraged in the absence of transparency. The Bill will ensure that clear, detailed, coherent information is available on development assistance. It will allow added scrutiny of Government policy and provide for the monitoring and evaluation of exactly what aid accomplishes.
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