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Amendment No. 3 would leave out subsection (5) of clause 1. The annual report is an important document and I agree with the promoter and supporters of the Bill that we need more transparency and accountability, so surely the best way to bring that about is to make sure that the annual report, with its specific requirements, stands alone. Why should not that happen? From what the Minister said in Committee, it seems that the Government have it in mind to combine the report required under the Bill with the annual report of the
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Department for International Development. However, DFID’s 2006 report, which has been published since Second Reading, is well over 300 pages, so the very specific requirements for the annual report for which the Bill provides would be lost in that great big departmental report. Surely, there should be a specific annual report, in readable form and accessible to as many people as possible. It would be much better if it were not combined with any other report, as subsection (5) would provide.

Philip Davies: Given the Government’s track record on burying bad news, is not the danger of including subsection (5), and thus the strength of my hon. Friend’s amendment, that it would prevent the Government from possibly burying bad news in an important field where we are all committed to bringing transparency?

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right. One problem is that the more information is available, the more difficult it is for people to focus on what is important. It has been said that with open government and freedom of information, more information is being put in the public domain in the knowledge that the public will not be able to get access to it—there is so much information that they will not be able to find it. We should focus on the important requirements to be brought before Parliament and debated each year.

Amendment No. 4 would omit the word “must” from clause 2 and insert the more reasonable requirement that the Secretary of State shall

include particular matters in the annual report. The amendment demonstrates the reasonableness of our position. It would also make it easier to add to the provisions of the schedule. One can anticipate arguments such as, “We can’t add these provisions to the schedule because we won’t be able to guarantee the production of the information.” However, if we qualify the requirement to produce such information in the schedule by specifying that it should be produced only so far as is reasonably practicable, the list of things included in the schedule could be more extensive than it is at present.

Amendment No. 8 would require a specific report on the effectiveness of European Community aid to which the United Kingdom contributes. I know that that is a concern not just of my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), but of many other Members. We put vast sums of taxpayers’ money into the European Community, but it difficult to get good information about whether we are getting value for money.

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Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend will remember that the report of the European Court of Auditors comes out periodically. It has not been possible to sign off the accounts of the European Union for 12 years. I concur with his views on that subject, because if we do not sort that out, we will not be able to help the people who need help.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right. The failure of the European Court of Auditors to sign off the accounts means that there is growing public scepticism
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about the whole European Community project. Many people feel that, rather than giving taxpayers’ money to the European Community to spend on overseas aid, it would be much better if our Government spent that money directly and were accountable to the House for the way in which it was spent. That would be preferable to the indirect processes that operate at the moment. However, recognising the realities of things as they are now, the amendment would at least create a requirement for a specific report on the effectiveness of our contribution to European Community aid. I hope that, for that reason, it will commend itself to other right hon. and hon. Members.

Amendment No. 11 is important, as well. It deals with effectiveness. Surely we should be concerned about the effectiveness of all bilateral aid in excess of £10 million per year. Why not require the Government to report on that? We are talking about taxpayers’ money. If bilateral aid in excess of £10 million a year is going to individual countries, why should we not have a report on it? Why should there not be proper accountability? The Bill as currently drafted glosses over the need for that. Although pressure was put on the Government in Committee by my hon. Friends the Members for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), we did not really get a satisfactory answer out of them.

Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is incredibly important that that aspect be included in the Bill? Some of the greatest white elephants in many countries in the third world are projects that were funded by the European Union, which a considerable amount of our taxpayers’ money has been involved in generating. It is therefore incredibly important that those white elephants are highlighted to make sure that the problem does not recur.

Mr. Chope: Again, my hon. Friend is right. Information is power. If the information is available, it will ensure that political pressure can be put on to achieve more effective spending.

Amendment No. 16 is expressed in an alternative form to amendment No. 11. It is less far-reaching, but goes further than the existing wording of the Bill. It would require the Government to identify 20 countries that are recipients of the greatest amount of United Kingdom bilateral aid and then report on the effectiveness of that aid. The same principle applies to that as to amendment No. 11: if the Government do not have that information available already, surely they should have. We are talking about taxpayers’ money going in large tranches to foreign countries. Surely we should require the Government to report to us on the effectiveness or otherwise of that public expenditure. We know that the Government talk a lot about delivery in public services and not just inputs. The Bill is an opportunity for the Government to impose requirements on themselves to deliver and to show the outputs from the investment, or expenditure, of taxpayers’ money.

Amendment No. 9 is an alternative to amendment No. 16, which in turn is an alternative to amendment No. 11. It is a weaker alternative because it accepts the existing wording but increases the number of countries in respect of which the reports would have to be produced from 20 to 30. In Committee, the Minister
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undertook to increase the number to 25, but the Government’s approach in that respect is, in my submission, self-serving, because it is linked to the public service agreement targets—and who decides what those public service agreement targets are going to be, but the Government? Particular countries have been selected so that the Department can assess the effectiveness of expenditure, but, surprisingly, those targets are not concentrated on the countries where we have the largest expenditure of taxpayers’ money but chosen according to some other set of criteria. The Bill gives us the chance to increase public accountability. We should require the Government to increase the number significantly from what is already contained in the Bill. I do not support amendment No. 9, because my earlier amendment is better. Amendment No. 10 is even weaker, but yet again, it is stronger than the provisions in the Bill.

On amendment No. 13, why should not the Secretary of State include everything in his assessment, rather than just what he thinks is appropriate? Why should it just be left to the Secretary of State to decide what he thinks is appropriate? Why should not some more objective standard apply?

Amendments Nos. 17 and 19 extend the requirements imposed on the Secretary of State to report on the programmes being pursued by Government agencies, as well as Departments and non-departmental public bodies. I will wait to hear what the Minister says in responding to those two amendments. However, the original clause 2 as it was passed on Second Reading contained the expression “across all departments”. Many of us thought that that added to the coherence of what the provisions sought to achieve. The Minister has not really given a satisfactory explanation of why the expression “across all departments” has been dropped from the revised version of the Bill as it has emerged from Committee. I wonder whether “Government departments” is meant to include Government agencies and non-departmental public bodies. If it already includes them, I would welcome that assurance from the Minister. If it does not, surely it should.

Amendment No. 15 relates to the issue that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone is interested in: corruption. It would require corruption to be addressed specifically in the annual report. It is worth referring to the text of the amendment, if I can find the right page of my notes. My pages have turned over; obviously it is getting windy in this part of the Chamber.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend accept that including the notion of corruption as part of the observations to be made in the Secretary of State’s report would take us forward very little and not do the job properly? The African Union itself estimates that $148 billion a year leaves the continent because of corruption. That amount of course dwarfs the aid and debt relief that Africa receives—a subject on which I have been campaigning for many years. Does he agree that it is pointless merely to report on something that the African Union has already condemned?

Mr. Chope: Absolutely, but my amendment would require the Secretary of State to make observations about progress on

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Corruption is a really big problem. The fact that it is rife deters many individuals from making private contributions to overseas projects because they are worried about what will happen to their money. In my experience, the most effective help for overseas countries is often given through such means as direct involvement by individuals on the ground in villages in Africa. Those people thus know that the work that they do, or the money that they give, is going directly to the people who need it, rather than being siphoned off in large part through corrupt practices.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend also accept that the $148 billion a year that leaves Africa because of corruption represents a quarter of the continent’s gross domestic product? I take those figures from the excellent report “The Other Side of the Coin”, which was prepared under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley). Transparency International, which has campaigned vigorously for many years on corruption in Africa and elsewhere, gave significant help with the report.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is a recognised expert in the field. He feels strongly about the matter, as do many hon. Members. I thus hope that we will be able to achieve a consensus that amendment No. 15 would address in some part concerns about the lack of progress on reducing corruption. There is a need to ensure that corruption is reduced and that money goes to the people for whom it was originally intended.

Amendment No. 22 would have a similar effect to amendments Nos. 17 and 19 because it addresses the question of whether the phrase “Government departments” in clause 7 includes Government agencies and non-departmental public bodies.

Amendments Nos. 23 to 25 would add to the specific terms that will require definition or explanation in the annual report. The Bill sets out a series of such terms: “bilateral aid”; “gross national income”; “humanitarian assistance”; “low income countries”; “multilateral aid”; “official development assistance”; and the word “sector”. However, it would be in the public interest if the annual report included an explanation of what was meant by corruption, poverty and sustainable development. People bandy those phrases about, but it should be possible to define them precisely. The requirements of the Bill would be strengthened if each annual report had to include such specific definitions and explanations.

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Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the Commission for Africa’s report entitled, “Our Common Interest”. The report gives a detailed analysis of the problem of corruption. Of course, the report was promoted when the Prime Minister was taking an intense interest in the subject. As my hon. Friend says, there is no point in talking about a subject such as corruption—the same is true of the European Union—if it is not properly defined.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right. Let me expand on what he says with a specific example. It is suggested
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that the son of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, no less, was able to obtain a car on behalf of his father, thereby avoiding tax in Nigeria. Tax revenue was thus denied to a country to which our taxpayers contribute large sums in aid. I do not know whether that would come under the definition of corruption, but it would certainly help us if we knew whether that was the case. That would be achieved if there was a proper definition in each annual report of what was meant by corruption.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) talked about corruption, but will my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) comment more specifically on poverty and sustainable development? Does he agree that poverty—including absolute poverty and relative poverty—means different things to different people? It is thus crucial that the word is properly defined. Does he further agree that “sustainable development” is one of those warm phrases that are much loved by politicians because they use them so that they can make the right noises when speaking to certain people? However, few who use the phrase actually seem to make clear what they mean by it. People have learned to use the phrase when they want to say the right things to certain people, so it is essential that it is properly defined.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is difficult to find anyone who is against reducing poverty, or, for that matter, who does not think that sustainable development is a good thing. However, such vague, ill-defined words cannot be a substitute for bringing intellectual rigour to bear on the situation, which is preferable to encouraging woolly thinking.

Mr. Cash: Would my hon. Friend care to note that the Corruption Bill, which is a private Member’s Bill before the House, includes a definition of the meaning of corrupt conduct? Furthermore, the Bill’s promoter is none other than the hon. Member for City of York, and its sponsors include my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who intervened earlier, and the promoter of this Bill, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). I thus say with regret that, although there is an appreciation that the arguments that I want to advance could be advanced, the Bill that we are considering unfortunately does not do so.

Mr. Chope: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to the provision in the Corruption Bill. In due course, I hope that he will be able to share with the House the definition of corruption and tell us whether he thinks that that would be a suitable definition to include in the annual report, if amendment No. 23 were agreed to.

Amendment No. 5 is consequential on amendment No. 4. Both amendments would replace “must” with

They would give the Government more flexibility in relation to the provisions of the report and provide scope to include more provisions, such as those set out in amendments Nos. 29, 30 and 31 to the schedule, which would require specific extra information to be included in the annual report.

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In amendment No. 29 we are not asking for a definitive answer on how much bilateral aid has been misused, because the Government might not be able to provide such an answer, any more than they can tell us how many illegal immigrants are in the country—but surely we can ask for their best estimate. If the Government are not making estimates of how much taxpayers’ money is going into fraudulent schemes, they should be. I hope that the Under-Secretary is happy to include that provision in the schedule. Amendments No. 30 and 31, by requiring the report to contain information on the individuals and organisations to which bilateral aid is paid, would be useful and significant improvements to the reporting requirements set out in the schedule. The information should already be available to the relevant Department, so I hope that the Under-Secretary is willing to accept the amendments.

Mr. Cash: I hope that my hon. Friend will address the question of why there appears to be a commitment to no more than a reporting and observation exercise, when in fact what we are dealing with is governance, both within the United Kingdom in respect of our taxpayers’ money, and in continents such as Africa. As the report of the Prime Minister’s own commission noted:

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is right to be concerned about governance and what happens to taxpayers’ money when it goes to other countries, but I depart slightly from his position because I do not think that it is reasonable of us to impose on third-world countries higher standards of governance than we exercise in this country. In recent months it has become apparent that our own Government, in our sophisticated country with its developed economy, do not know what is going on in various areas of public life and policy, so it is not unreasonable that the Governments of some third-world countries do not know what is going on there.

Mr. Cash: I see that there is a serious divergence between us. We have a Public Accounts Committee and a National Audit Office that examine all those questions properly. It is inconceivable that corruption on the scale that we witness in other countries could be carried on in this country. I believe that our taxpayers are entitled to know that when the money arrives in other countries, it is properly disbursed according to proper principles of governance, public accountability and transparency.

Mr. Chope: I take my hon. Friend’s point, which he makes well.

Amendment No. 26 would omit paragraph 7 to the schedule, which would be replaced by the tighter requirement in amendment No. 28. As drafted, the Bill does not require information for any relevant period to be included in the annual report

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In my view, if we—Parliament—require that the Government provide information, that information should be made available, and if it cannot be made available for some reason, the annual report should set out the reasons why it is unavailable and, by implication, when it will become available. In effect, the clever, subtle drafting of paragraph 7 negates the requirement in paragraph 1 that the annual report “must” contain various pieces of information by allowing the publication of the information to be deferred or delayed.

Philip Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that paragraph 7 would also allow some important information that the Bill is designed to make transparent not to come to light for 11 months or so after it becomes available? Surely that is unacceptable if our aim is transparency and accountability.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I might sometimes be regarded as being somewhat sceptical about the Government’s motives. When I see provisions such as paragraph 7, I wonder why they want excuses for not doing what Parliament requires to be set out in legislation. Have the Government been dragged, kicking and screaming, into accepting the Bill, or are they enthusiastic promoters of improved transparency and accountability for the way in which we spend our money on overseas aid?

Mr. Cash: On that point, my hon. Friend may have gathered—I am sure that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary have done so—that I believe that the Government would rather have the Bill than have to deal with the real problems that arise from corruption. I await the Under-Secretary’s comments with interest. Changing the long title in order to exclude my new clause and related matters was not a constructive way to go about things.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend has been thwarted on this occasion, but I am sure that he will come back on another and get his measure on to the statute book.

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