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How long have we waited for the achievement of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income? The answer is 36 years. It is reasonable, given movements up and down over those years, that as part of the annual report
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the Government of the day should tell the House and Parliament what progress is being made. That is an extremely important first.

There is something else that is important as a first. We have discussed the millennium development goals, but if the Bill is given a Third Reading we will be endorsing those goals from 1 to 8, and particularly goal 8, for the first time in legislation. That should surely be welcome. It is a goal that says to those millions of people who are suffering from poverty and deprivation in Africa, Asia, the Americas and elsewhere, “Yes, we see your need for improved education. We endorse that goal that says that we should take on board the challenges of aid, trade and debt. Despite all of our efforts, these challenges have not been settled to the satisfaction of those who are so very much in need.” Health care is extremely important. Infant mortality and maternal mortality must be addressed. That must be recognised in the need for progress on millennium development goals. We welcome the fact that those goals are at the heart of the Bill.

The Bill does something else that is crucial to everything that we have debated, and is common to everything that we debated in Committee and on Second Reading. Committed as we are to development assistance, we all passionately believe in aid effectiveness. The schedule is full of opportunities for reports to the House so that the House will know, Parliament will know and the British people will know of the commitment of this Government, and one hopes of future Governments, to aid and international development, which is one that we continue to endorse. That is based on accountability and transparency, which I hope will be seen as profound, given the outlook of this important Bill.

If the Bill is passed, as I hope it will be, and if another place decides to endorse it, I believe that Parliament will be supporting progressive legislation. I believe also in something else. Across many areas over the years, we in Britain have given a lead in challenging poverty and in seeing the need to focus on poverty reduction. That is much reflected in the policies of the Department for International Development. We want to do more. We want to ensure that there is participation at every level in every nation.

I heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State say in answer to a question at one of the fringe meetings at our last party conference that it was not our Government’s policy to export colonialism to developing countries. I thought that that was a wonderful thing to say. The Bill goes along those lines in encouraging, inspiring and helping developing countries. That is something that the Brandt report made clear all those years ago, which led to the biggest lobby of the House and remains true today.

For those reasons, I invite the House to give the Bill a Third Reading. That is right for Britain, right for our Government and right for Parliament. I passionately believe that, whatever progress we might have made this afternoon, many people will welcome a further step forward—one that will give inspiration in a practical sense to an increasingly disenchanted world.

1.35 pm

Mark Simmonds: May I begin by putting on record our congratulations to the right hon. Member for
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Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) on introducing this important Bill, and on the way in which he has held together a multifarious group of individuals who support, in different ways, what he is attempting to achieve? Once the Bill is enacted, it will make a significant contribution by improving the transparency of the reporting structures of the Department for International Development to the House, thus maximising the effectiveness of British taxpayers’ money in alleviating poverty. Inevitably, such resources are limited, even though we have accepted the need to increase them.

As we have said, the Opposition support the Bill, which demonstrates greater clarity and simplicity than it did when it was introduced, particularly as it includes a commitment to meet the millennium development goals. Opposition Members genuinely wished to make constructive suggestions to improve the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman, Ministers and DFID officials deserve to be congratulated on listening and including some of those suggestions in the legislation. The right hon. Gentleman’s most significant achievement is ensuring that, as he rightly pointed out, the United Nations target of spending 0.7 per cent. of gross national income on international development appears in statute for the first time. That aspiration, as he said, was first expressed by the UN 36 years ago, and it is supported by the Opposition and Members from all parts of the House. The right hon. Gentleman deserves to be congratulated on that major achievement.

The right hon. Gentleman highlighted millennium development goal 8, which is difficult to measure. I draw the attention of the House to the first part of that goal, which aims to

Sadly, it appears that the latest World Trade Organisation round will not meet that requirement, so we must all be vigilant in ensuring that the WTO makes progress in improving trading rules to benefit developing nations. We must ensure, too, that regional trading agreements are made to help developing nations improve their economies, as well as bilateral trading agreements and pan-African trading agreements. To improve trade within specific countries, we must focus on infrastructure as well as the larger WTO discussions.

As I have said, the Opposition agree with the Bill’s overarching objective of bringing accountability and transparency to international development spending. It rightly encourages DFID to report on the effectiveness of its aid spending to meet the millennium development goals and to alleviate poverty. Opposition Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), have expressed concerns about the Bill, and we are pleased that the right hon. Gentleman was happy to include in the Bill a requirement for DFID to report every year on humanitarian assistance, as significant sums are involved. In 2004-05, DFID spent £437 million on humanitarian assistance, £344 million of which was spent on bilateral aid and £93 million on multilateral aid. The amendment to monitor the spending of that money is therefore a welcome addition to the Bill.

I am encouraged that the link between the millennium development goals and the monitoring of
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aid has been strengthened. The annual report that will be produced as a result of the Bill will have an explicit function in monitoring progress towards those strategic goals and should contribute significantly to ensuring that development assistance is used specifically to alleviate poverty.

The redrafting of the Bill increased the number of countries that will be assessed for aid effectiveness to “no fewer than 20”. We agree with that change, and I accept that the Minister said in Committee that for the duration of this Parliament the figure would be no fewer than 25. The change was the result of an informed discussion on Second Reading, and I am pleased to acknowledge that in Committee the Minister gave the assurance that for the lifetime of this Parliament aid effectiveness will be monitored in 25 countries. Hopefully, that will continue beyond this Parliament, whichever political party is in power after the next election. I certainly hope it will be my party.

We remain concerned, and we have pointed out at every stage of the discussion, that the Bill is still too focused on inputs rather than outputs. That was acknowledged by the Minister in Committee. We recognise that much of the information in the proposed annual report will already be in the public domain as a matter of course. As acknowledged by DFID in its own report entitled “How effective is DFID?” and by an increasing number of outside organisations, the Department is struggling to deliver a regular, systematic and comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of British aid spending. The Bill, which we hope will be enacted expeditiously, should be the foundation for a major shift towards the assessment of the outputs of aid, so that British taxpayers can transparently evaluate and assess whether their money is being spent effectively to alleviate poverty.

I draw the attention of the House to what I consider to be an oversight in the Bill. It does not allow for easy comparison between the effectiveness of different funding streams. We support a policy in which there are several different appropriate aid streams—bilateral, multilateral via NGOs, regional development banks, the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions—so that the most effective method can be used. However, the Bill makes no provision for comparison between the effectiveness of different funding streams, so as to establish which are the most effective and, more importantly, the least effective. On implementation of the Bill, DFID needs to give that aspect further consideration.

In conclusion, DFID is still too focused on inputs, not outputs—on money spent rather than its effectiveness. Our long-term goal must be to assist the developing world in graduating from dependence on aid to strong democracies with vibrant economies that can create jobs and alleviate poverty, generating revenues to invest in their public services while maintaining environmental sustainability. That can be achieved only by reducing global poverty, creating freer and fairer trade, making wider and deeper debt reduction, enhancing civil society, implementing the rule of law, strengthening private property rights and assisting developing nations to build their capacity and trading infrastructure internally, regionally and internationally.

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We therefore welcome the Bill, as it will introduce monitoring and reporting structures to ensure that development aid is as effective as possible for recipient nations and provides the greatest possible value for money for British taxpayers. The Bill is not the whole answer, but it is a positive step and builds on the work of the Department, just as the Government have built on the work of previous Conservative Administrations, and just as we will build on the Government’s work when we are returned to power.

1.43 pm

Mr. Thomas: I join the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) for the way in which he has articulated the case for the Bill. It is admirably crafted and has been skilfully steered through all its stages thus far in the House as a result of the remarkable coalition of support that he has established. Aid agencies, celebrities, and Members on both sides of the House back his Bill. Not every hon. Member has the opportunity to introduce a private Member’s Bill, and not every hon. Member who does so is lucky enough to steer it through all its stages in the House. My right hon. Friend has already succeeded in that once, and I hope that the way in which he has made his case to the House, not only today but in Committee and on Second Reading, will serve to encourage the other place to allow him a second great success.

As my right hon. Friend made clear, the Bill will enhance parliamentary and, importantly, public scrutiny of how aid is spent. In particular, it provides scrutiny of whether the UK is playing its part in increasing our aid in line with the commitments that were made last year. Labour Members, and the Government in particular, welcome the additional scrutiny required by the Bill of progress towards achieving the 0.7 per cent. goal. That is particularly important when one bears in mind the record of Governments in the past on aid as a proportion of national income.

The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness drew the House’s attention to a number of changes that have been made as a result of our discussions in Committee and the representations that were made on Second Reading. We have rectified the absence of any reference to humanitarian assistance. We have added the need to make progress on the millennium development goals. We have increased the number of countries on which we will specifically report. As the hon. Gentleman said, I gave an additional commitment that for the life of this Parliament we will go even further, reporting on 25 countries in particular.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has been particularly assiduous—on Second Reading, through his 10-minute Bill, and on Report—in raising the need to do more to tackle corruption. As I said in response to the first group of amendments, the Government have strongly picked up the message that the public and aid agencies want even more work to be done alongside the considerable work that we are already doing. The forthcoming White Paper will signal our intent to do even more. I do not accept the view expressed throughout the debate that further amendments are necessary. Clause
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6(2)(c) specifically alludes to the Government reporting on our progress in tackling corruption.

We know that aid works. Over the past three years, I have had the privilege of seeing in action a variety of the methods that we are using to provide aid, including the support that we are giving to non-governmental organisations. One particularly powerful example is Christian Aid, which, through our funding, is able to provide support to those who, sadly, are dying of AIDS, orphaned by AIDS or at risk of becoming HIV-infected, in a township just outside Johannesburg. The work that it is doing using our resources is remarkable.

However, we have to recognise that support for NGOs does not always enable us to do as much as we would like in a country. In such circumstances, and where the conditions are right, budget and sector support has an important role to play in increasing access to education and improving health outcomes. Last year, when I visited Malawi and Zambia with the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), I was able to see the benefits of budget and sector support through the extra nurses who are being recruited, and the effectiveness of our financial support in that regard. I also had the chance to visit Sri Lanka and Indonesia to see the effectiveness of our spending through multilateral organisations such as the United Nations in helping those two countries deal with the terrible devastation that the tsunami brought in its wake.

I have also had the privilege of witnessing the increasing effectiveness of European Community aid. I reject some of the wilder comments that we heard in the debate about its effectiveness. I draw hon. Members’ attention to a report that the House of Lords European Union Committee published in April 2004. It specifically stated that there had been

by the European Union. It went on to make the case for further reforms, which we accept. However, European Community aid is making a huge difference throughout the developing world. For example, in Afghanistan and India, EC aid contributes to more children being in school and to building more roads. The old adage, to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred, about the EC being the worst aid agency in the world, no longer applies. The EC is getting better, but it needs to go further.

We must examine the circumstances in each country before we determine the funding mechanism that has to be used. It would be inappropriate to use budget and sector support in countries such as Zimbabwe, and we do not do that. We work through the United Nations and NGOs. Budget and sector support is more appropriate in countries that are committed to reform, tackling corruption and good financial management. We need to consider the circumstances in each country.

The debate has been excellent and I pay tribute to the spirit in which it has been approached. In moving Third Reading, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill demonstrated the Bill’s importance not only in allowing the British public to be aware of how British money is spent and whether we are fulfilling the commitments that we made last year, but in serving as a template for other countries in
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the developing world and throughout the developed world to ensure that others follow up on the commitments that have been made.

I have been advised that, in summing up on the first group of amendments, I may have inadvertently suggested that non-departmental public bodies are covered by the existing text of the Bill. As hon. Members know, that is not the case, but the Secretary of State can already report on such bodies. Given the interest that hon. Members clearly have in them, I am sure that my right hon. Friend will do so.

Again, I pay tribute to the superb way in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill introduced the Bill and the way in which he kept the coalition of support together. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.52 pm

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): I place on record my support and that of my Liberal Democrat colleagues for the Bill. It feels like the end of a long journey and, as the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) said, it started in Edinburgh during the Make Poverty History march. I was delighted to have met the late Robin Cook, who was then Member of Parliament for Livingston, at that march. We chatted about the way in which the Make Poverty History event had captured the imagination of the people. Several hon. Members mentioned the late right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, Eric Forth, and I wanted to place Robin Cook’s name on record. He was a great supporter and, had he been here today, he would have been delighted to lend his weight to the Bill.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the campaigning work of not only NGOs but Church groups throughout the country has led to pressure to get the Bill through, and that tribute should also be paid to individuals who work tirelessly to promote third-world issues?

John Barrett: I could not agree more. I hope to mention some of those people and groups in my speech. However, I shall not manage to mention them all. Their omission is not by design but because there are so many, whether they are NGOs such as Oxfam and Save the Children, Church groups or individuals.

Back at the start of this journey, an awful lot of people were asking where the political parties stood on the Bill, and on the entire issue. However, many of the most inspiring people have not been aligned to any party or group; they have been individuals. As Midge Ure said at the reception last night, according to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, this is about a lot of ordinary people out there with their kids supporting the Bill. I want to pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for gathering an interesting group of supporters. In my five years in the House, I cannot remember having encountered such people as Midge Ure, Bob Geldof, Jemima Khan and many others, all of whom have encouraged people to get behind the Bill and to push in the same direction.

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