Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Clarke: The answer to my hon. Friend's question is absolutely yes. We are seeking to encourage developing countries to do exactly as he suggests. I shall turn to the issue of empowerment in a few moments.

Mr. Ellwood: Clause 7(2), which would oblige the Secretary of State to provide an assessment of the
20 Jan 2006 : Column 1079
effectiveness of spending, gives a comprehensive list of objectives. May I suggest that it should include humanitarian assistance? I am worried that in focusing on a limited number of countries, if we exclude humanitarian assistance, which is a large proportion of the budget, we will exclude countries such as Iraq and Sudan, where there is a huge amount of interest in how the money that we are putting in that direction is being spent.

Mr. Clarke: Nothing in the Bill or in the millennium development goals prevents that discussion. Humanitarian aid is clearly of the utmost importance. Indeed, we carefully noted the statement that my right hon. Friend the International Development Secretary made yesterday about Kenya. We seek to encourage humanitarian aid, and if there is an annual report to the House, as proposed in the Bill, that, too, can be monitored by the House.

Clause 8 sets out requirements for an assessment of transparency in aid spending, including specified objectives on the evaluation of aid and progress on publishing mutually devised agreements with developing countries in receipt of assistance.

Clauses 9 to 13 deal with the technical elements of the Bill.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke: I will, but I think that the House will recognise that I have been pretty generous with interventions, so I hope that this might be the last one.

James Duddridge: I fully support the Bill. Clause 12 mentions the expenses involved. Given that much of the information that would be provided is duplicated elsewhere, can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the expenses incurred in producing the annual report will be minimal, so that Members on both sides of the House need not be too concerned about additional costs?

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Having managed to persuade both Houses to enact my Disabled Persons Bill, I can assure him with some confidence that the expenditure mentioned in clause 12 would be very limited. I know that none of us would seek to exaggerate the extent of that necessary expenditure.

I would not wish to make greater claims for the impact of the Bill, were it to be enacted, than its contents justify. However, apart from bilateral contributions to tackling problems faced in developing countries, its main thrust is to achieve two aims that are, in my view, profoundly relevant. First, we need to work within
20 Jan 2006 : Column 1080
multilateral institutions, including the European Union, to address the challenges of poverty and deprivation that have existed for far too long.

Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke: I will make this the last intervention, if I may.

Chris McCafferty: Last night, I told my right hon. Friend that I could think of no more appropriate person to promote this Bill, although I confess that I wish it was me. I congratulate him.

My right hon. Friend acknowledged the immense progress that has been made on debt relief and poverty eradication through the pro-poor policies of the International Development Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He also reminded us that the Chancellor's assessments of our current targets are way out of line with what we want them to be. We will not achieve the millennium development goals until the middle of the 22nd century unless we put more money into achieving them. Is my right hon. Friend aware—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Lady is in danger of making a speech.

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend, who was beginning to make an interesting speech. If she catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall listen with even more interest to what she has to say.

The second crucial aspect of the Bill concerns assisting developing countries in whatever way we can in their approach towards empowerment. Our role should be to provide generous and predictable assistance and to work in co-operation with country-owned development goals, with the leadership coming from developing countries themselves. That is why the Bill is specific in referring to assistance in implementing development goals 1 to 7, which are largely the responsibility of developing countries. This assistance can be both visionary and practical, and some interventions have demonstrated that very point.

If the Bill can assist by way of an annual report to the House in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child and maternal mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and ensuring environmental sustainability, it will be worthwhile legislation.

When I first entered the House, third world development was a political backwater. It was in the margins of politics. I am pleased that now it is mainstream. Once, debates about absolute poverty were for the committed few. Today, they have a resonance with every Member in every constituency.

My Bill would put the Executive and their practical commitment to making poverty history under more formal scrutiny. It would also sharpen the responsibility of all Members to track the progress that is being made towards the millennium development goals and to push for action when that progress is not sufficient.
20 Jan 2006 : Column 1081

In this Parliament, lifting the weight of poverty that is crushing so many lives in the poorest countries has to be a task that is shared by Minister and Members alike. The Bill is conceived in that spirit.

What could be more terrible, after all the summits and songs, all the consultations and commitments of 2005, then to see a veil of tired indifference once again fall over the daily torment that is absolute poverty? Parliament must not be seen to be caring only when the ghostly images of hollowed-out children fill our television screens, or when Bob Geldof rightly raises the flag. We must be working all the time, especially when the gaze of the media goes elsewhere, to turn history's ratchet in favour of all those who are crying out for schools, medicines, freedoms and opportunities that will make their children's lives unrecognisably better than their own.

I hope that I have made it clear that the Bill, in some senses, has a technical purpose. I ask all Members on both sides of the House to see its value in the greater scheme of things. What scheme could be more admirable than ensuring that every one of the millennium development goals is, with each year that passes, more of a living reality in scores of countries and for millions of families throughout this potentially beautiful world?

The Bill is about the future, and what an immemorial achievement that would be. I commend the measure to the House.

10.34 am

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I am genuinely grateful to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) for inviting me to sponsor the Bill. It seems a long time ago when he telephoned me and outlined what he had in mind in framing the Bill. I was only too willing to say yes. As the right hon. Gentleman has so eloquently explained, the Bill will genuinely make a difference. I hope that it will make a great difference to people in developing countries. On a more practical front, I hope also that it will make a big difference to the way in which the House conducts its debate. Furthermore, I hope that the Government of the day will take decisions about how we spend money that is allocated for development purposes.

When we have debates on these matters, they tend to be ministerial statements about what the Government will spend and how they intend to spend the moneys; or rather worthy but lengthy debates, often a whole day debate on the Adjournment of the House, during which we take the subject matter around the course—indeed, around the world—in identifying the areas of need, the countries and the particular challenges and problems that they are facing. We never quite get to the intention that lies behind the Bill, and that is to have detailed accounting and reporting to the House so that factual information can inform not only our debate, but the way in which decisions are made about how the moneys are spent to best effect.

We see reports in the House, in newspapers or elsewhere—international reports—that sometimes raise doubt about whether money that is spent for aid is being spent properly or to best effect. When these discussions take place and when articles appear in newspapers, they
20 Jan 2006 : Column 1082
do not have an impact only on how the Government spend money. There is a huge read-across into how the public decide to contribute, especially to charities and non-governmental organisations. If there is a feeling that somehow there is not a grip on this spending, that tends to make people very cautious.

We all receive applications from many charities across the spectrum of issues, and we decide which ones we shall prioritise. The decision on where we put money is influenced by whether we think that the money will be spent well and whether there is proper prudence in the way in which the money is managed. This is bringing together the money that the Government spend and allocate on behalf of taxpayers, but there is a huge read-across into the voluntary sector. The aid and development money that goes to developing countries—this is set out at the beginning of the Bill—is not only a matter of what the UK Government do, as money spent through the European Union and the policies and the spending of international development organisations and United Nations agencies are also involved. There is also the vast range of NGOs and charitable bodies that do so much good work in this area. The Bill would require, quite properly, that when we debate these matters annually and hold the Executive to account—which is our proper function, whether we are in Government or in Opposition—the debate is informed by an annual report to which Ministers will answer.

I am a member of the Public Accounts Committee; indeed, I greatly enjoy being a member. Last April, we took evidence and brought forward a report on a National Audit Office report on HIV/AIDS in developing countries. The permanent secretary from the Department for International Development and others were scrutinised in the robust way for which the PAC has a reputation. We produced a report that made specific recommendations about what Government Departments should do in future. The problem of doing things only through the PAC is that we hold only permanent secretaries to account. The PAC cannot call Ministers to account. They may be relieved about that. However, the Bill would ensure that the House has an opportunity to hold a similarly robust and informed scrutiny debate.

It does not matter whether one belongs to one political party or another, or whether one is a member of the party that happens to be in government in a specific year. The cross-party support and the overwhelming support of many outside the House for the Bill show that we are dealing with the biggest issue that cuts across party politics. At last there is a recognition nationally and internationally that unless Governments and non-governmental organisations can work collectively on the matter, we shall not make the progress that we would like. I believe that the Bill means not only that the Government will be in a position to inform the House, but that the House can use the information to assist the Government—I genuinely mean assist—to set priorities or to make changes in the way in which money is spent.

One of the recommendations in the PAC report of 6 April states:

20 Jan 2006 : Column 1083

It goes on to make clear and specific recommendations about what the PAC believes the Government should do about the money that goes through the EU for HIV/AIDS spending.

The final recommendation in the paragraph states:

That is one of many specific recommendations from a report and evidence that were based on the specifics. The report is an analytical examination of how HIV/AIDS money is spent.

Next Section IndexHome Page