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That is precisely what we are doing now. That is part and parcel of the information that is to be made available in the annual report, and with which my hon. Friend’s amendment on corruption deals specifically. The amendment is specifically about providing information on corruption in order to assist the Government and the promoter of the Bill to achieve the objectives of transparency that are clearly set out in clause 6. I wait with interest—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but he cannot go on repeating himself. When he reads the Official Report tomorrow, he will be horrified to see how much he has done so. I have been very tolerant with him, but he should now make his remarks more concise. The particular point that he is trying to address has now been very adequately dealt with.

Mr. Cash: I am grateful to you for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As the report clearly states, corruption is a by-product of weak governance, and that is something that we would all want to resolve. The issue also arises in the context of procurement—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must understand that this is not a debate about corruption, but about whether the report at the heart of the Bill should cover corruption. We cannot have a separate debate about the degree of corruption that may or may not exist.

Mr. Cash: I understand that full well, and my point is that it is not possible to deal with my hon. Friend’s amendment about including corruption as a part of the information without explaining what that corruption is and its extent—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Accepting what the hon. Gentleman says, I am perhaps a better judge of that point than him. He has explained to the House more fully than is necessary, within the terms of the amendments, what corruption is.

11.30 am

Mr. Cash: I am grateful for that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have more than adequately prescribed how I believe that the Bill could deal with the serious questions that will arise from the public information that it would provide and the consequent action that would be necessary. No doubt there will be ample opportunity in future to discuss those matters in more detail.

In conclusion, I have made substantial and important observations about what is not in the Bill and how it could be improved. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister explain why the Bill is deficient in respect of the matters that I have addressed, which are of fundamental importance to the people of this
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country in understanding the nature of world poverty and the extent to which the amount of corruption dwarfs aid and debt relief?

Mr. Chope: Does my hon. Friend accept that it cannot be that difficult to get hard data on the extent of corruption when Franklin Cudjoe, the Ghanaian director of the Imani think tank, has asserted that £4,700 is stolen by African Governments from their people every second?

Mr. Cash: That is an astonishing statistic on which to finish my speech. That is the kind of thing that really concerns people. They are more interested in what is really going on than they are in the reporting process or the procedures, which would prevent us from having a proper discussion of the real issues.

Philip Davies: I support the Bill and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on getting it so far. I am here not to delay or wreck the process but to support and strengthen the Bill, which has an awful lot of merit. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) urged us not to delay the Bill’s passage unnecessarily, and I intend to take his advice. I am sure that he would also agree that it is crucial that all legislation is scrutinised properly in the House. On such an important issue, on which many of my constituents feel incredibly strongly, it is essential that we try to strengthen the Bill in every way possible, which the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) go a long way towards doing.

When I talk about the importance of scrutinising legislation, I do so in the full knowledge that this is the first day of debate on private Members’ Bills since the tragic death of our former right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, who always made it clear to me how important proper scrutiny of legislation was. I am sure that everyone in the House feels that these debates on a Friday will be the weaker for not having Eric Forth’s forthright, witty and important contributions.

Amendment No. 2, which deals with annual reports being able to revise anything contained in a previous annual report, is particularly important. As I said earlier, an annual report talks about what has happened in the previous year, and if something has happened that revises something in a previous annual report, surely it would be contained anyway. The subsection concerned is unnecessary.

The other main concern about an annual report revising anything contained in a previous annual report is that we may have to wait for up to 11 months for revisions to appear so that people are aware of them. Surely if anything needs revising, it should be done immediately and openly, not buried away in a later annual report under some obscure heading or subsection so that people do not realise that there has been a revision. The whole Bill is about reporting and transparency and my hon. Friend’s amendment improves both the reporting and transparency of information. Should the amendment not be passed, will the Minister consider ensuring that any revisions
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are made in an appendix to a future annual report, so that they are perfectly clear, not buried away and difficult to find?

Amendment No. 3 deals with the subsection that states:

I understand the many advantages of combining annual reports with other reports laid before Parliament. Obviously, the first advantage is the simple one that it might save considerable time and money, as printing is expensive. The reason why Opposition as well as Government Members feel that the Bill is important is that it is about transparency and proper reporting, which we want. My fear is that if the annual report is combined with other reports, it might get buried and undermined and not receive the focus that it deserves. As we have a Government who think that it is important to bury bad news, I would not like to think that bad news on this subject was being buried deliberately in other reports.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend agree that if the report does not include the right material in the first place, including matters such as corruption, it will not attract a great deal of attention anyway? Does he have any idea of the track record of reports that have emerged along the lines that he has described? How often do they get completely overlooked, gather dust and achieve next to nothing?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I mentioned, an awful lot of what goes on in this place does not get properly scrutinised. The bigger and bulkier a report, the less chance it has of being properly scrutinised. It is therefore vital that the annual report stands alone so that it does not get buried in others that will not get scrutinised.

Mr. Cash: If the report focused specifically on the fact that corruption dwarfed aid and debt reduction, I suspect that that really would get a headline. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Philip Davies: I certainly agree. It is crucial for the right information, and clear information, to be provided. My hon. Friend’s amendments go a long way towards ensuring that the information is clearer, and that people understand what is behind it.

It is also crucial for the reports to stand alone and to be given the scrutiny that they deserve and that the public demand. The reports will not be scrutinised just by Members of both Houses; many of my constituents will want to find out what is happening to international development aid. Many of them feel passionately about the subject and I would not want them to experience difficulties in finding the relevant part of a report because it was buried under something else.

The Secretary of State must be held accountable, and anything that makes the information clearer for that purpose must be welcome.

Mr. Greg Knight: The duty to report does not cover reporting on technical assistance, although significant
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aid is often provided by way of assistance rather than cash. There is also no duty to report on projects carried out jointly with other donor Governments. Are those not further weaknesses in the Bill?

Philip Davies: My right hon. Friend is right. I shall deal later with why the report should include reference to taxpayers’ money spent in different ways from the one covered by the Bill.

Mr. Cash: Will my hon. Friend consider the wording of the critical clauses, clauses 5 and 6? Clause 6 says

and the wording in clause 5 is similar. The words “as he thinks appropriate” are surely a let-out in law to enable the Secretary of State not to include observations that he does not want to include. That is a major defect in the Bill, because it prevents the Secretary of State from having to include material that we would regard as important.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right. That point is made in one of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, and I shall say more about it later.

It seems to me that the main purpose of allowing the Secretary of State to include the annual report with other reports is to save printing costs and to save time for those who prepare the reports and those who examine what has been produced. Surely the money that would be saved is a fraction of the amount that is spent on aid for developing countries. Given that so much taxpayers’ money is rightly being spent on aid, it is far more important for the report to stand on its own so that we can see exactly how that money is being spent than for relatively small amounts to be saved on stationery and printing for the convenience of Departments. I hope very much that my hon. Friend’s amendment is accepted.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s skilful explanation of amendments Nos. 4 and 5. There was a great deal in what he said, but on reflection I feel that those amendments may not be the strongest that have been tabled. Although I understand my hon. Friend’s reasons for wishing to replace “must” with

it may cause more problems than it solves by allowing the Secretary of State to avoid publishing some information that we would like to see. With respect, I hope that my hon. Friend decides not to press those amendments. In fact, they were probably intended to be probing amendments.

11.45 am

Amendment No. 8 is particularly important. It would insert the words

My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) referred to that earlier. It is an essential part of what should be in the Bill, because it concerns taxpayers’ money. It should be relatively immaterial whether that money is given directly or indirectly, or
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through one body or another. What is important is that the public can see how wisely it is being spent, in whatever guise it is spent.

Mr. Greg Knight: Would not the inclusion of those words also make the Government look better? The Government are obsessed with spin. If the report included reference to money given by Britain through its contributions to the EU budget, there would be a higher aid figure, on which the press would rightly focus.

Philip Davies: That is true. I too would have thought that it was in the Government’s best interests to make the information available.

The money spent by British taxpayers through the EU is often spent on white elephant projects that are never completed. There are many examples of such projects throughout the world, and the Government themselves have been concerned about that. It is crucial for the public to have a fair idea of how all that taxpayers’ money has been spent, not just a narrow proportion of it. A considerable amount of money is now spent on European Union and other multilateral aid. I hope that my hon. Friend will press amendment No. 8, because many members of the public would be very interested to know how the money is spent and where it is being wasted. They might also realise what a washed-up organisation the European Union is, and recognise that we should be spending much less on it generally, not just for international aid purposes.

Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 are some of the weaker amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch has tabled, and to which I have added my name. I think that they too are probing amendments, intended to establish the extent to which we should report what is going on. Perhaps we should concentrate on the priorities. Increasing the number of countries covered might not be of great advantage, but at least it would produce more transparency. After all, the Bill is all about reporting and transparency, and extending the number of countries included in the report would provide the transparency that I am sure we all want. My hon. Friend made some important points in the amendments, but I am not sure that they are the most important amendments that he has tabled.

Mr. Cash: I am not sure how much further my hon. Friend intends to develop that point, but if he is going to discuss amendments Nos. 15 and 23, he may agree that they are important as well.

Philip Davies: Indeed, and I am about to come to those points. I listened with interest to the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) made about corruption, and I will deal with that issue, if he will allow me to make a little more progress first.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch will not press all these amendments to a Division, because some are not as important as others. We need to concentrate on the most important amendments that have been explored in this debate—those that would strengthen the Bill and deliver not only what we in this House want, but what members of the public in my constituency, and in many others, want.

I turn to amendment No. 15 and corruption, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stone mentioned. The link between corruption and how aid is spent, and
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achieving a reduction in corruption, are crucial to the whole nature of this Bill. The amendment would provide a valuable mechanism to enable the public properly to judge how effective such aid is. Using aid as a tool to reduce corruption is a vital step for long-term aid development and surely has to be a top priority for the Government. I do not see how an annual report on international aid, which is trying to encourage transparency, can stand without promoting a link between the commitment of aid and the reduction of corruption in recipient countries.

Mr. Cash: Given the significance of what my hon. Friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and I have said, would my hon. Friend be as astonished as I would be to discover that the Bill’s promoter and sponsors would not support that amendment in a vote? To fail to do so would undermine the whole information and transparency system.

Philip Davies: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. This issue is so fundamental to what the Bill seeks to achieve that I cannot see how we can allow it to progress if it does not contain that important amendment. This issue goes to the heart of what the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is rightly trying to achieve through his Bill. I commend it in many respects, but I hope that he will acknowledge that this amendment would strengthen his excellent Bill and provide much-needed information. To reduce corruption must surely be a top Government priority, but in the public’s mind and in our minds, lots of aid gets wasted, in that what it is spent on proves to be corrupt. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone made it clear how much corruption actually exists.

In producing an annual report, it is crucial that the Secretary of State be held accountable for the money that is spent and where it goes, and that he ensures that it gets into the right hands. As the Government themselves have acknowledged, on too many occasions, far too much aid does not get through to the people who need it. In certain countries, much direct budgetary support for Governments is spent on palaces and building up arms, rather than on the purpose for which it was intended. I know that the Government are concerned about that, and it is surely a crucial part of the report; we cannot allow such issues to be overlooked. The purpose of the Bill is transparency. It would be perverse to allow such important information to be buried away somewhere—in other reports, for example—or not to be reported at all, given that these issues are of concern to many members of the public.

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