Draft International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Bill - International Development Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Number 61-79)


24 FEBRUARY 2010

  Q61 Chairman: Good afternoon again, Minister, it is good to see you here. Could you introduce your team for the record.

  Mr Thomas: On my right is Sam Sharpe, who is the Director of Finance from the Department, and on my left is Lizzie Rattee, who is a Treasury solicitor.

  Q62  Chairman: A Treasury solicitor might well have been relevant to some of the discussions we have already had! As you know, we took evidence this morning from a number of different panels, including, you might say, think-tank commentators, NGOs and also OECD-DAC on the ODA criteria, but we would ask you the same question that we were testing on them, which is: what is the purpose behind this Bill? What is the point of bringing forward a Bill in draft form at this stage of Parliament, and it might be otherwise, but when it would appear to have no chance of becoming law this side of a General Election?

  Mr Thomas: Well, the intention of the Bill is to put beyond doubt the UK's determination to deliver on the 0.7% commitment that we have made. We would be the first G8 country to not only deliver on that 0.7% commitment when we achieve it in 2013, but we will also be the first G8 country to have put a commitment in legislative form on the statute book. I think there are two other points in terms of the significance of the Bill. Firstly, it builds on two previous Acts of Parliament in relation to international development, the 2002 Act and Tom Clarke's private Member's Bill in 2006 and, perhaps most importantly of all, there will be a review conference on progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals in September at the United Nations. If this Bill could reach the statute book by the summer recess, and I recognise there is an `if' to this, I think it would send a huge signal to the rest of the international community about following through on the promises that were made at Gleneagles.

  Q63  Chairman: So why not, given it is a very simple measure to say that we are committed to 0.7%, simply introduce the Bill and have a day in Parliament next week?

  Mr Thomas: Well, I recognise that there is a whole series of other legislative commitments that we have pledged in the Queen's Speech. We did not know, and we still do not know, when the General Election is going to be held.

  Q64  Chairman: But we know by which date it has got to be held though.

  Mr Thomas: Well, we do know that. I think even the fact that we were able to secure a draft Bill is important, and I hope that the scrutiny session that we are having today and the other sessions that you have had on this would enable a Bill to get safe passage through both the Commons and the Lords early in the first session of a new Government and a new Parliament. Clearly, I cannot give a cast-iron guarantee that that would happen in a new Parliament, but I hope that the scrutiny sessions we are having would make it easier to do that, and the fact that we have published the draft Bill will also make it easier to do that.

  Q65  Chairman: The Prime Minister made great play at the Party Conference of the fact that this Bill was going to be introduced and it was not at that time implied that it was going to be a draft Bill, and indeed the NGOs this morning expressed disappointment that that was the case. They were supportive of the Bill and they were hopeful, as you are, that it would actually become law, but they expressed some disappointment that you were not actually legislating before the end of this Parliament. Is there anything you wish to add to what you have said on that basis?

  Mr Thomas: I would be very surprised if they were not always pushing us to do more; I think that is their role and it is entirely proper that they should be pushing parliamentarians, all of us in that sense, to get the draft legislation on to the statute book, but I think the reason why it is a draft Bill is as I have already set out.

  Chairman: Okay. Well, let us move on to the Bill itself.

  Q66  Mr Evans: You clearly think, Minister, that it is an important Bill to have as a piece of legislation and, as the Chairman said, the NGOs this morning said that they were disappointed that it was draft legislation, and I am sure you were there at the Party Conference when the Prime Minister announced that this was going to be legislation and promised that it would be on the statute book. When did you first know that it was not going to be legislation, but draft legislation?

  Mr Thomas: To be honest with you, I would have to check back the notes of discussions that we had at the time, and I am happy to do that, but what I would say to you, Mr Evans, is that I think the key thing here is the fact that it does build on two previous Acts of Parliament and it does build on substantial progress towards 0.7%. If all political parties want to give this Bill a fair wind in the first session of a new Parliament, then I see no reason why it could not be on the statute book, and that is a challenge to my Party as much as it is a challenge to your Party.

  Q67  Mr Evans: Well, I will come to that in a second, but I just want to know who told you that it was going to be draft legislation, not legislation?

  Mr Thomas: It is not a question of being told. There would have been a series of discussions, as I say, the exact details of which I cannot recollect, and you discuss whether or not you can get legislation into the Queen's Speech, be it as draft legislation or as full-on legislation. You will recollect that over recent years there has been a series of important Bills that have started out as draft Bills with pre-legislative scrutiny like this, which is deliberately designed obviously to help speed the passage of Bills when they come before the House.

  Q68  Mr Evans: But you did not lobby for draft legislation, did you? You lobbied for legislation on this, and that is important.

  Mr Thomas: I lobbied for legislation on this, which is important, but I accept that you can have legislation in a number of ways and over a number of timescales. The fact that we have done it as a draft Bill I do not think detracts at all from the commitment that we made.

  Q69  Mr Evans: So, when you were told that it was a draft Bill, not a Bill, you did not lobby to change that at all? You said, "Okay, we'll have a draft Bill then"?

  Mr Thomas: There is a series of discussions which take place within the Cabinet across Government about the priorities that the Government has and what it is to put on the statute book. My Department was party to those discussions. As I say, given that we did not know the date of the election, frankly, I think it is a credit to this Government that we have brought forward a draft Bill at this stage and I hope that we would get the full Bill through Parliament very soon after the election.

  Q70  Mr Evans: So you are just telling us that you cannot remember whether you lobbied for a Bill or not?

  Mr Thomas: We lobbied for legislation and we have got legislation.

  Q71  Mr Evans: Well, no, you have not, you have got a draft Bill.

  Mr Thomas: Well, we have got draft legislation.

  Q72  Mr Evans: Can you remember whether you did say, "This isn't good enough, Prime Minister. You promised this as legislation and now it's draft legislation"? You cannot remember whether you did or did not?

  Mr Thomas: There is a whole series of conversations that ministers and MPs have with Government about legislation. We have got a whole series of priorities and we want to get as many of them through as we can do. The view that we took collectively was that it was appropriate to bring this Bill forward in draft form first.

  Q73  Mr Evans: But you are going to look at your papers and perhaps send the Chairman a letter?

  Mr Thomas: Perhaps I will check.

  Q74  Mr Evans: You say you do not know when the General Election is and no, we do not, but I do know that this piece of legislation actually has the support of all the parties, we all want to see the 0.7% and, if you were to bring it forward, you could get this legislation through in one day. I will give you an example: last Friday 5 February, there were two Bills that went through, private Member's Bills, that actually went through in one day, so why, with all this goodwill that you have got here, do we not just do it in one day?

  Mr Thomas: Well, when we committed to bring forward legislation, there certainly was not clarity with respect to your Party's intentions in terms of the legislation and there has not been until very recently. By that time, we had decided to move forward on a draft Bill and to bring the legislation forward, and I think it is appropriate that we have continued in the way that we have done.

  Q75  Mr Evans: Why do you not have a word with the Prime Minister and say, "There is now sufficient goodwill that we can actually get this as a piece of legislation prior to the General Election"?

  Mr Thomas: Well, with respect, I think you should talk to your party leadership and get your party leadership to make that offer to my party leadership or get the usual channels to talk.

  Mr Evans: All right. Well, I think that is something solid that we can get on the table, and I will tell you why: the NGOs we had this morning said that they did not want this to be a short-term thing as that would create a political dividing line between all the political parties at the General Election. We now have an opportunity to actually get this as an Act prior to the General Election in one day.

  John Battle: No, Nigel, that is not true.

  Q76  Mr Evans: Could you come to the point then that the NGOs made this morning that they think that this might be a ruse to divide the political parties prior to the General Election?

  Mr Thomas: I do not think it is a ruse. We have brought forward draft legislation and, as I say, it builds on two previous Acts of Parliament. There is certainly absolutely no doubt that there is a difference in history in terms of commitment to international development and, I suspect, a difference in substance in terms of the attitude of those who are going to stand at the General Election. Surveys of Conservative candidates have suggested a very different approach to international development from people in my particular political Party, but in terms of this particular Bill, no, it is not a ruse and it builds on previous legislation and previous commitments that we have made.

  Q77  Mr Evans: Can you think of another instance whereby the Prime Minister announces legislation, it then goes from legislation into draft legislation and then a campaign is built around it to get the draft legislation made into legislation?

  Mr Thomas: Well, there has been a series of Bills that have been published in draft form where there has been strong support for them to be turned into legislation. I am happy to provide you with a list, though I suspect members of the Committee could do their own research quite easily and discover how many Bills have been done as drafts first and gone through pre-legislative scrutiny. This is not a new process, with respect.

  Chairman: In the spirit of this being a cross-party Bill, I think the point has been made, although I will allow John Battle to speak.

  Q78  John Battle: I put it in a question because I think we should try and keep together on this. I have been on Bills that have been a draft, the Climate Change Bill was one, and in all of these matters, and I am thinking particularly of Tom Clarke's Bill, we had to build a consensus around it and, with no disrespect, Minister, I think we had consensus on the figure of 0.7% because I campaigned on that, but I do not think there was consensus where all parties agreed that we should actually put a Bill before Parliament to build it into law, but we are still, I think, working on building the consensus around that which is why I welcome this approach. However, I just put it to you that, if there were more work quicker to build that consensus, then maybe there is a real chance that this could be on the statute book very quickly, so you could make representation to the usual channels and the Whips to make sure that it happens because, if we could get it as far through this Committee and if we move quickly as a Committee and held the consensus together, could we get a Bill through the House and get it done?

  Mr Thomas: Well, it would be fantastic if we could. It does not just depend on our Party, Mr Battle, as you quite rightly alluded to, but it depends on other political parties making the offer and being serious.

  Chairman: I think we accept that it cannot be determined by this Committee, although we can make a contribution towards it, but I think, to be honest, it would better if we moved on to the other questions.

  Q79  Mr Hendrick: Can I sort of be the devil's advocate in the sense that this focus on the 0.7%, a number of countries, admittedly not in the G8, have managed to meet the 0.7% without legislation. Does focusing the debate on the actual quantity, this magic figure of 0.7%, detract from the aim which should be to ensure that the aid is quality? We have heard stories in the past that millions have been thrown at the World Food Programme so that we meet targets and we meet budgetary allocations for international development, but should it be about quality and not just about the 0.7%?

  Mr Thomas: Well, I think it is right that we put the commitment to 0.7% on the statute book. I think the concerns about the quality of aid which have been discussed in many fora over many years, we have robust procedures in place to ensure that the aid is well-spent and delivers good results, and we will continue to have those processes in place and are always looking to learn lessons, be it from other countries or be it from our own programmes, to ensure that the quality of our aid continues to rise in its effectiveness.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 23 March 2010