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Mr. Cash : My hon. Friend and I agree about accountability and the Public Accounts Committee. Does she accept that there is a strong argument, which I have tried to present on previous occasions, that the manner in which the European Union organises the evaluation of its accounts through the Court of Auditors and so on should also be in the Public Accounts Committee's purview, so that the Committee would not merely make the sort of recommendation that she cited, but adjudicate on any EU failures to use the British taxpayers' money appropriately?
On development and HIV, the report provided the sort of analytical information that is needed not only for the Public Accounts Committee but for the Floor of the House. That applies not only to HIV, but to all the important matters that are listed in the millennium goals and in the Bill. The measure provides for holding that sort of debate annually on the Floor of the House with Ministers. I know that we might be considered to be anoraks, but the PAC focuses on public money, the way in which it is spent and its effectiveness. However, as I said earlier, civil servants appear before us, not the people who make the policy.
The Bill is not only about how much money is spent, but about an analysis of the effectiveness of the spending so that we get more value. Value, translated into practical terms, means saving lives, reducing disease, raising standards of living and education. All those matters are not quite within the scope of the Public Accounts Committee.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I welcome the opportunity to put on the record my support for the Bill. Although it is important to assess the development assistance on, for example, tackling HIV and AIDS, is it not also important to ensure progress towards empowering countries to tackle the problem themselves, through reviewing such matters as the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, which act as a barrier to that? Should not that progress be tracked and reported?
Yes; the hon. Lady makes a pertinent point. The scope of the Bill means that the annual report that the Government will have to make
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will allow the House to challenge across the range. Although the Bill requires the Government to report on the way in which United Kingdom Government development money and aid is spent, the measure covers spending across the piece. Analysis of UK spending on a bilateral or multilateral basis is also included.
We are not simply considering the money that the Department for International Development spends in isolation. The Bill provides for examining our work with other countries, NGOs and international bodies to ensure that we have the best value for that money in resolving the problems and helping them to be prioritised in a way that has perhaps not happened previously.
The Public Accounts Committee report that I cited was narrow because it was specific to HIV/AIDS. I do not make my next point in a partisan way, because not only more recent Public Accounts Committee reports but internal reports from the Department have expressed the same view. For example, in November 2003, an internal Department report said that
The measure is one of the most important private Member's Bills to be introduced in recent years. I hope that it gets on to the statute book. Hon. Members keep referring to last night. For those who were not present, a meeting took place with many people, from outside as well as inside the House. It is probably the only occasion on which I will pray in aid the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer[Interruption.] Yes, it is a rare moment. When the Chancellor spoke last night, he said that he wondered why the measure was not already on the statute book. That is exactly right. I wish it a swift and fair passage.
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Angela Browning), and especially to follow soon after her kind words about the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not have the same difficulty in reaching for friendly words about him.
I want to make a brief contribution because I know that it is possible for private Member's Bills to be talked out by their friends as well as their opponents. There is cross-party willingness to put the measure on to the statute book and to give it an easy passage.
Like the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton, I am a sponsor. The measure commands all-party support and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) made a compelling speech. The Bill is well structured. Of course, some of the information that it covers is already available, but it is not drawn together in one place and not supplemented with the sort of detail that we require. The Bill reflects great credit not only on my right hon. Friend and the team that has supported him in preparing it, but on the public servants and outside organisationsthe non-governmental agencieswho have been involved in
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ensuring that we have logically mustered all the objectives so that they can be achieved rationally. This goes to the heart of the core objective of the Bill, namely, the millennium development goals.
The focus of the Bill is the target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income, which is already Government policy. My right hon. Friend's Bill will set out the progress that we are making towards achieving that level of expenditure by 2013. It will enable the House to monitor that steady progress, but if progress is not being made, we shall be able to see that as well, as will the country. All hon. Members have been approached by our constituents on these issues. People of all ages, and of all faiths and none, care deeply about the plight of others, not just about themselves. There is a feeling in the House that we must do something to respond to that.
It is to my right hon. Friend's credit that this private Member's Bill does as much as any private Member's Bill could possibly do in this area. Of course one could say, "Why not draw the 2013 date forward?", but it is not possible for a private Member's Bill to do that. We should not set impossibly high hurdles, then ask why they have not been accomplished. My right hon. Friend has ensured that absolutely everything that a private Member's Bill can do in this area has been included.
The three-year programme set out in the Bill will enable the recipients of aid to see in advance what aid flows will be coming, which will allow them to plan ahead. The Bill places an emphasis on the independent monitoring of the effectiveness of the expenditure, not just the total. There is no point in giving money if it is going to be spent on guns, palaces and other such follies. The money is for a specific purpose: to bear down on poverty. As well as having the generosity and commitment to vote the money, we should also care about how it is spent. My right hon. Friend's Bill will give us, as parliamentarians, rather than the Executive, the opportunity to do that. For that reason, if for no other, I commend it to the House.
John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on the introduction of this excellent Bill. As a co-sponsor of the Bill, I am delighted, along with other hon. Members, to register my support for it.
Several hon. Members have mentioned yesterday evening's event in Portcullis House in support of the Bill, which was excellent for a number of reasons. It involved not only Members of Parliament but volunteers and non-governmental organisations, and it also had a touch of glitz and glamour, which does not happen often here. I thank the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill for arranging it.
The Bill is a good one, but it is only one piece of the jigsaw. It rightly adds force to the drive to achieve our target of 0.7 per cent. of our gross national income, and the call for annual reports on our progress is excellent. The Bill mentions all the right issues: coherence, sustainability and the millennium development goals. The aspect that I want to concentrate on, however, is the effectiveness of aid.
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"Effective aid" and "fair trade" are four words that encapsulate the way forward. This has been a long journey. It has been 35 years since the 0.7 per cent. target was first mentioned at the United Nations General Assembly in 1970. Painfully slow progress has been made to date, but in the past few years there has been a steady increase in the UK's overseas development assistance, and I congratulate the Chancellor and the Government on that. As the sums involved have increased, so has the responsibility to ensure that that aid is effective.
We have a responsibility to several groups. One is the poor in the developing world, whether in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi, the refugee camps in Darfur, or the arid regions of Ethiopia that we often see on our television screens. Those people need every penny to be wisely spent; this can often be a matter of life and death. The victims are often the weakest, the women and the children, and many of them are the victims of man-made disasters as well as natural ones.
Another group consists of our constituents, many of whom have problems of their own, but who understand the desperate need of those who live every day close to the edge, unable to change their own lives without the aid that we know can and must be delivered. We can justify an increased level of aid if it is effective aid. We cannot justify it if it is going into some dictator's bank account.
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