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Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for sponsoring the Bill. It is particularly welcome that someone from my neck of the woods should do so. He mentioned the effectiveness of aid. Last year, I visited the Niger delta and saw the stark contrast between abject poverty and an oil-rich country. The governor of the region that I visited had just bought himself a private plane, yet the children there were starving and had no clean water to drink because of the Government's corruption. The effectiveness of the aid in getting through to those people is paramount.
John Barrett: The hon. Lady makes a valid point. The drive towards increasing aid is undermined when people see Californian lifestyles next to mediaeval poverty. This is a problem in India, the Niger delta, Kenya, Malawi and a number of other countries whose rulers can often be seen taking delivery of a brand new Mercedes or a brand new aircraft. This undermines the good work being done by so many Governments, donors and non-governmental organisations.
We can justify the increased level of aid if it is spent effectively. The problem, which was identified on a visit by the Select Committee to the United Nations, is that it has sometimes been Government policy in some countries to put money into the bank accounts of dictators. We would obviously object to that happening, and we must ensure that we are consistent in that regard. We need to see the money going to where it is needed, and to ensure that it is effectively delivered.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the Bill that I am introducing for consideration at a later date. It is called the International Development (Anti-corruption Audit)
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Bill. I trust from what the hon. Gentleman has said that he will support it, and I should be grateful if he would have a good look at it.
John Barrett: I had heard of it, but I shall now look at it in more detail. When people hear about corruption, waste and mismanagement, it undermines the thrust of Bills such as these. Once we have the annual reports proposed in the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, however, it will make the work of the House more straightforward in that regard. It will also assist the Select Committee's work, as the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), who chairs the Committee, has already mentioned.
Other Governments must also play their part. The millennium development goals will not be delivered by any one country on its own, and we are just one small part of a complex multinational picture. The Chancellor said last night that the Bill provides hope, but people cannot live on hope alone. Without it, however, many of them would simply give up. Although, by the end of this debate, people in the Chamber will have played their part, the problems that we have discussed will not be solved. However, there will be a little more hope for a brighter tomorrow for many people who at present have a very bleak future. If anyone does try to talk the Bill out, Bob Geldof will be after them and they will wish that they were in the "Big Brother" house.
Mr. Andrew Smith (Oxford, East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), and I congratulate him on his contribution in sponsoring the Bill. It is nice to hear the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Conservatives, praising the Chancellor, I must say.
I know that time is pressing, so I shall be brief. I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on introducing the Bill. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown) said, its great strength seems to be that it would ensure that an annual progress report to Parliament appeared in a consolidated form, covering the contribution towards the millennium development goals not just from the Department for International Development, but from the Government as a whole. It would maintain the momentum of progress towards the 0.7 per cent. target and fulfil our wider international obligationsnot least because it would commit future Governments to report in a similar way.
It is important that the report the Bill would require should be accessible and readily comprehensible by the general public, because the jargon and complexity of mechanisms and agreements in trade, debt, aid and development can all too easily alienate a concerned public, who cannot always see what is or is not being delivered by international agreements, perhaps especially in relation to multilateral assistance. The aim should be to make this a document that a concerned public want to read because it shows clearly where progress has been made and where there is more to do.
I am pleased to have the new Oxfam headquarters in my constituency, and I know that Oxfam strongly welcomes not only the benefits that the Bill would
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achieve for public accountability and debate in this country, but the notice it would give to developing countries of their aid flows for the forthcoming three years, as well as the independent monitoring arrangements it would put in place.
I draw hon. Members' attention to clause 2, which relates to reporting on the coherence of the United Kingdom's contribution to poverty reduction and sustainable development. It would give the Secretary of State some discretion on further matters to be added to the annual report. I very much hope that, whether under this clause or other clauses on millennium development goal 8 or transparency or effectiveness, some further important issues may be included in the interests of parliamentary and public scrutiny, and of understanding.
For example, Oxfam has pointed to the value of also reporting on the conditions applied by the Government and multilateral agencies through which they contribute. There is certainly scope to do that, and DFID has pledged to provide information on conditions through its website. That could therefore be usefully incorporated in the report.
As we are all aware, aid is not just a question of money. Much of DFID's international support is technical assistance, and there is a strong case for integrating technical assistance, as well as other aid, within the report to give a full picture of what the UK is doing.
Last, and very relevant to integrated and comprehensive reporting, are the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development targets for aligning and harmonising donor countries' aid programmes and practices. Measures of progress towards harmonisation, such as how many missions and how much country-analytic work DFID undertakes jointly with other donors, deserve to be reported. We need international performance indicators for this international issue. I would urge that those points be further considered by the Government as and when the Bill becomes law.
This is a great step forward, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill was characteristically modest about his role and what the Bill would doit is enormously important. We all want the millennium development goals to be achieved, and we all want to help the poorest people in the poorest countries to transform their life chances.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and allowing me the opportunity to put on record my support for the Bill. Britain is now the third-largest contributor to the United Nations. Does he agree that that is an excellent achievement by the Government and that the Bill is crucial to helping and enabling parliamentarians and others fully to understand the good that is being done with that aid, as well as to monitoring progress against targets?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill said, it is not that long ago that international development issues were at the margins of political debate and overseas aid was being cut. We all
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welcome the enormous shift that has come about through the concerns of the public, the faith groups and others who have been out there campaigning, and who have created this new consensus and shifted the centre of political gravity to a point where everyone wants these goals to be achieved.
Doing so depends on policies and actions in practice. It depends on the practical benefits of fair trade, debt relief, effective aid and investment, sound government and respect for human rights. Reporting clearly on the contribution that Britain is making and renewing our commitment would help to keep up the pressure for progress. The Bill would help to make public and parliamentary accountability and, most importantly, public enthusiasm motors for the continued change that is needed to achieve a fair world order. I very much hope that the House gives the Bill a Second Reading today.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) and, in particular, to welcome and pay tribute to the Bill so eloquently introduced by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke).
In May, it will be nine years since I was elected to the House. I can honestly say that, over that period, the 10 months that I was fortunate to spend as shadow Secretary of State for International Development, from November 2003 to September 2004, represent the most harrowing, mind broadening and inspiring of all the parliamentary experiences I have so far had.
In that period, as anybody in my post would, I travelled around Africa. I saw for myself the faces of despair and the wretched conditions in which all too many people, including very young children, were obliged not to live, but to exist. The pervasive sense in parts of Africa was of hopelessness. There was a sense in some quarters that nothing would ever get better. In so far as that attitude has gradually changed and there are in the developing world rays of light that did not previously shine, those Governments, as well as private sector organisations, that have accepted a responsibility to promote development can claim some credit.
Let us be, therefore, absolutely clear in discussing this matter: what is the significance that we attach to it? Fighting global poverty is not an optional extra. It is not a desirable goal. It is not even a necessary policy. It is, in my view, unquestionably the supreme moral responsibility of our times. It is the moral responsibility, very specifically, of the rich world to the poorest and most destitute people on the planet.
My view is that the Bill would considerably improve knowledge of this country's international development effort and the quality of that effort. Reporting of what we do, transparency on development assistance and education as to what is spent, where it goes, who benefits and how effective it is are all invaluable features of the Bill.
I do not want to detain the House at length, because I am very conscious that other hon. and right hon. Members want to speak. I would like, if I may, to focus on clause 1, which is, after all, the kernel of the measure. It talks about that annual report, although it does not explicitly require there to be an annual debate on the
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report in the House. It is, however, my view that there should at the very least be an annual debate on the Floor of the House, not one relegated to Westminster Hall, on the quantity and quality of the British international development effort.
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