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However, debates here make a difference. Members of Parliament are present for this debate, which is well
attended. How many people are watching it, not only in the Public Gallery but on television? I doubt whether there will be great reportage about it in the papers tomorrow, but it is our opportunity to put the Secretary of State on the spot, which we cannot do with an annual report alone. However, we can do that if he is brought to the House on the back of a detailed annual report, and made to answer for what he has achieved.
An annual debate would raise awareness of the extreme poverty in many countries. I hope that it would promote greater interest and perhaps encourage the public to make greater donations. It would also lead to more detailed and better understanding of the report. It is necessary.
Let us be honest: there is a tendency in annual reports to gloss over things and do the bare minimum. The Bill is specific about what it wants in the annual report, but we all know about statistics, lies and damned lies. When writing something that is not scrutinised publicly, it is easy to gloss over embarrassing things. So this is our opportunity to hold the Department to account. That is what Parliament is about.
Parliament is very weak in its scrutiny role, although it is good as a kind of general debating society for issues of massive public importance. It is also very weak in scrutinising the estimates of Government Departments and what they actually spend. I recently visited the United States Congress, whose role is far more developed in relation to line-by-line scrutiny of Government Departments. We might not achieve that in this debate, but at least we will start to make progress towards what we want, which is that a Department should be able to be specifically ordered by Parliament to set out its goals, priorities and targets, and to reveal whether it has achieved them. That should be written down in an annual report, and the Secretary of State should be brought back to Parliament and held to account.
Mr. Cash: In his excellent remarks, my hon. Friend might care to note that the report by the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley), The Other Side of the Coin, deals specifically with the role of DFID in this context. Under my hon. Friends proposal, a resolution could be approved by Parliament; it could also be disapproved. That is where the problem lies. The report states:
DFID must not turn a blind eye to corruption.
I have no doubt that we shall continue this discussion, but that is what is stated in this report, which was produced by a Labour Member of Parliament, the Chairman of a very distinguished group whose importance the Minister has acknowledged.
I want to ask why, despite increases in the overall amount of aid and debt relief given by the international community, aid is allocated inconsistently and not always to the countries most in need. For example, in 2002, less than half the EUs aid budget was directed towards low-income countries, according
to the House of Commons Select Committee. We also know that, for political reasonsand for reasons of promoting commerce rather than eradicating povertytoo much aid, particularly from the EU, goes to middle-income countries that should have a lower priority than the least developed ones.
Anyone who knows anything about development knows that the EU is the worst agency in the world, the most inefficient, the least poverty-focused, the slowest, flinging money around for political gestures rather than promoting real development.
So, as part of the debate that takes place on the back of the annual report, let us have more discussion about the effectiveness of UK bilateral aid, compared with the ineffectiveness of so much multilateral aid.
Let us also have a discussion about how aid is used. For instance, Zimbabwe receives food parcels from the United Nations, yet Mugabe has repeatedly used food aid as a weapon by withholding it from those who do not support his Government. Let us also have a debate on the fact that India, Russia and China all get UK bilateral aid for assistance in developing infrastructure. Those countries might be developing, but they are hardly suffering extreme hardship. All those issues could be debated under the provisions in new clause 6, and the Secretary of State could be held to account on the Floor of the House.
Let us also consider sanctions, and what should happen after the report has been published. If we had a debate on the report, and we determined that mistakes had been madeas undoubtedly they would have been; this happens even in the best-run Departmentswhat sanctions should be imposed on the Department? That is what this House is all about: scrutiny and criticism. For instance, we could scrutinise in detail all the methods used by the Department and discuss what new methods or actions could be introduced to improve the situation. All those things could form part of the annual debate.
We could also discuss which countries receive the most aid, and why. After all, the annual report will deal with only 20 countries. Are they the right countries? Should we be focusing our attention on them? We could discuss how, and in what form, aid is given, and whether it is used effectively by the country receiving it. We could also ask whether a particular millennium goal should be prioritised, and, if so, why, and what might be the best way to tackle corruptiona point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr. Cash).
The other reason why we need an annual debate is that things change and are driven by eventstsunamis, hurricanes and so on. We need to examine how the Department responded in terms not just of a dry academic exercise or of meeting bureaucratic targets, but of what it did on the ground. One of the Public Accounts Committees most interesting recent reports was on the effectiveness of DFID and the Foreign Office in dealing with the after-effects of the Asian tsunami.
Let us also debate, on the back of the report, how the Department has performed in the past year. Such a debate would allow us to examine how the Secretary of State and Ministers have performed. Have they performed badly? Have they made errors? Should they be held to account, and how? How Ministers perform
in the House is a key element. Ministers rise and fall not just according to how they pass pieces of paper around their Department or how efficiently they run their Departmentthe permanent secretary can do thatbut according to how they perform in this House. As part of our scrutiny, we want to know how our Ministers, on whose work we place great importance, respond to criticism on the Floor of the House, in an annual debate on their annual report.
Such a debate would allow the Chamber to assess whether the original key goals concerning international development and eradicating extreme poverty are being met. If they are not, a change of approach might be needed. We could examine whether progress has been poor in certain areas. Surely such a debate would be an opportunity not just to scrutinise a Secretary of State but for us to put forward our views, which might be different from his, about our priorities and how his Department could perform better.
I think that I have summarised the key points. For the life of me, I cannot see why anyone who loves Parliament should want to oppose the new clause. I am proud to put it forward, and I say sincerely to the promoter of the Bill that were he able to accept the new clause, it would be a fitting memorial to a much-loved former colleague.
Mark Simmonds: It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) who is a fellow Lincolnshire Member of Parliament and a highly distinguished Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
This matter was debated in Committee, and the additional point was made that because of thecorrectlyincreasing budget of DFID, half an hour was perhaps not long enough for DFID questions, especially given that Foreign Office questions are allocated one hour. I also note that there has been a subtle change in the Bill since the Committee stageinitially, it stated that the report would go to either House, which was questioned, but it has now been changed to each House. That is welcome.
The point also needs to be made that debates in Westminster Hall on Select Committee reports seem to be subject to significant delay, and we need to ensure that when this report comes to the House, that is not the case.
My final point is that other Departments have annual debates. A Welsh debate takes place, on St. Davids day, I thinkperhaps the Minister will clarify thatand there are also annual fisheries and defence debates. In relation to this important report, the Opposition see no reason why there should not be an annual DFID debate on the Floor of the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Gareth Thomas): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) for his work on the Public Accounts Committee. I therefore hesitate to tell him that I will urge the House to reject new clause 6. He was generous about the officials who work in the Department. I thank him for that; I agree that our staff do an excellent job.
Having given the hon. Gentleman the newsnot, I suspect, unexpectedthat the Government will not support new clause 6, let me make it clear to him that that is not because we fear scrutiny. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I welcome the considerable scrutiny of the Departments work that already exists. A number of Select Committees as well as the departmental Committee and the hon. Gentlemans Committee have been scrutinising other aspects of our work. Many other Departments contribute to the international development effectiveness effort, and they are all open to scrutiny through questions sessions.
The hon. Gentlemans purpose was clearly to secure some form of annual debate. He will understand that I am not in a position to comment on that request, but the many representations made on Second Reading and subsequently, repeated today by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), will have been heard by other Members, who reflect on these matters.
Let me gently say to the hon. Member for Gainsborough that no other departmental annual reports are required to undergo the process suggested in new clause 6. On that basis, and given the considerable scrutiny that already takes place, I urge the House to resist the new clause.
Mr. Leigh: I am very disappointed by what the Minister has said, but it is not entirely unexpected. I hesitate to say this, but I think that unless the report is dealt with on the Floor of the House it could prove to be an empty vessel. I am surprised that those who support the Billand apparently everyone in the House doesare not more enthusiastic about what I have suggested.
I worded the new clause carefully. The debate would have to be held here, rather than in Westminster Hall or a Committee, which is another tribute to my late right hon. Friend Eric Forth. This is where the people hold the Government to account. The Minister says that all Departments produce annual reports, but I suspect that the real reason for his opposition to my new clause is his belief that it would open the floodgates to others who want debates on annual reports. Presumably there were discussions through the usual channels. There was probably a degree of nervousness about the possibility of more scrutiny and more debate on the Floor of the House.
Mr. Cash: I agree with my hon. Friend. Given that we are dealing with the question of helping people in the third world, about which many of us are passionately concerned, the apparent reluctance to be put to the test strikes me as extraordinary. Perhaps, if the Government are determined not to support the new clause, we shall end up using an Opposition day to ensure that the annual report is debated.
I am sure that we could do that, but how much better it would be if the debate took place automatically. Of course I appreciate that other Departments produce annual reports, but this is a specific annual report. The Bill specifies key goals and targets.
Let us not just have the Governments version; let us bring the Minister to the Dispatch Box and hold him to account. I am very disappointed by the Ministers response, and I am afraid that I will press the new clause to a vote.
(e) promoting the establishment of a link between the commitment of aid and the reduction of corruption in recipient countries.'. [Mr. Chope.]
I am delighted to be able to propose the Third Reading of this important Bill. I begin by thanking so many people who have done so much in order that the Bill could get this far and, we hope, further. I thank right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, spokespersons for all the political parties, and many others. We have been encouraged by the public support shown by, for example, the aid agenciesthere was an excellent letter in The Guardian yesterday, accompanied by a welcome leaderand the Churches, including the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. This week, Edinburghs Cardinal Keith OBrien paid a visit to Westminster; I welcome his support, also.
Perhaps it is appropriate that someone from Edinburgh should have made that appeal, because in many ways the idea of the Bill originated at the time of that great march in Edinburgh last year ahead of the G8 summit . We were responding to public support and to people who have been mentioned in our debateBob Geldof, Midge Ure and many others. Above all, we were responding to those ordinary peoplemy constituents and people from all over the United Kingdomwho wrote to me offering their support for the Bill and pleading that other hon. Members would do as I think they will and ensure that the Bill goes to the other place and is there approved.
I also thank the Department for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, whose contributions have been outstandingtypical of an outstanding Department. That is what the Bill will allow the House to discuss, year by year.
To me, the principal message, which the House will endorse today if it gives the Bill a Third Reading, is that Parliament has the right to hold the Executive to account and, likewise, people have the right to hold parliamentarians to account. The Bill deals with many issues, which, if I may say so, are being splendidly addressed by DFID and other Departments, but there are many more issues that have led millions of people in Britain and throughout the rest of the world for a long time to ask the question: when? I believe that when we have an annual report and the present Government and future Governments are accountable, not only will we in the United Kingdom have made great progress, but we may hope that, as the UN co-ordinator on the millennium development goals has recommended, other Parliaments in developing and developed countries will follow the lead that we offer.
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