8 Jun 1998 : Column 683

House of Lords

Monday, 8th June 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

Multilateral Organisations: Parliamentary Scrutiny

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will consider publishing the voting positions of United Kingdom executive directors at the board meetings of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and similar multilateral organisations in order to facilitate parliamentary scrutiny; and whether they will advocate that such a policy be adopted by all member countries.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, decisions in the IMF and World Bank executive boards are usually taken by consensus rather than by formal vote, so a voting record, as such, does not really exist for most matters. Other institutions such as the regional development banks, the EBRD and the World Trade Organisation follow similar procedures.

Lord Judd: My Lords, but does not my noble friend agree that, at a time when the Government are very committed to the regeneration of democracy, a significant issue is developing in the multilateral institutions where decisions are made with far reaching implications not only for this country but for the rest of the world? If we in Parliament are properly to scrutinise what happens in those institutions, is it not essential that we have fuller information about what is being said in our name within them, what others are saying and how decisions are reached?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend raises two very important issues with his further question. He rightly draws attention to the issue of transparency in the international organisations. The British Government have been pressing heavily for greater transparency. In a recent speech to the interim committee of the G7 the Chancellor of the Exchequer demanded that we should publish press information notices quickly, that we should publish the conclusions of Article 4 missions, and that we should improve the accountability of the IMF.

My noble friend also raised the issue of parliamentary accountability. The executive director is a British civil servant accountable to Ministers in the Government and therefore accountable, through them, to Parliament in

8 Jun 1998 : Column 684

House Questions, debates and Select Committees. Speeches and communiques are also placed in the Library.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, how does the noble Lord propose to deal with the European Central Bank within the context of the Question?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the European Central Bank does not come within the scope of the Question which I am answering today. However, my noble friend will have a full opportunity to debate the matter when we discuss the report of the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Barnett.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what action have the Government taken to establish a separate post of executive director for the World Bank and to make that position an appointment of the Department for International Development in consultation with the Treasury?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Mr. Gus O'Donnell is executive director for both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. That joint appointment will be continued by his replacement, Mr. Stephen Pickford. However, the noble Baroness is right because in one case he reports to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and in the other to the Secretary of State for International Development.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, although the British Government wish to make maximum transparency available, even though reporting to Parliament through a civil servant is not the most obvious and clear-cut way of doing so, what is the position of other member states? Is the Government's view on transparency shared by others? If so, can we look forward to better informed debates?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, with respect, I do not agree with my noble friend that the appointment of a civil servant as executive director is anything other than the obvious way of assuring parliamentary accountability. British civil servants are responsible to Ministers who, in turn, are responsible to Parliament.

As to whether other members of these international organisations are as keen on transparency as we are, my noble friend should draw his conclusion from the fact that we are taking the lead in promoting transparency. If we are taking the lead others are somewhat behind.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, how is any member of the public able to discover the British Government's position at a plenary meeting of the International Criminal Court, which is about to take place in Rome, on matters as important as the independence of the prosecutor, retrospection and so forth? How can any member of the public discover the Government's attitude?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have not taken the International Criminal Court to be a multilateral organisation similar to the IMF or the World Bank and

8 Jun 1998 : Column 685

therefore I do not know the answer to the noble Lord's question. However, I shall write to him on the issue that he raises.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, what sort of parliamentary scrutiny is envisaged by this Question and what effect is it supposed to have?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, one way in which the noble Lord could find out would be by asking a Question. As I have explained in relation to the parliamentary scrutiny, there is the availability of questioning Ministers in the House; the fact that legislation, when it affects those issues, comes before Parliament; the fact that it is possible to have debates in this House and in the other place on those matters; and that Select Committees can summon Ministers and the executive director directly to be questioned about those activities in international organisations. Similarly, the speeches and communiques which are the communication of this Government to international organisations are available in the Library and on the Internet.

Lord Judd: My Lords, will my noble friend accept that many of us find it extremely encouraging to hear it stated so firmly that the Government are leading on the issue of transparency? In particular, we are encouraged by what my noble friend said about the need to look at key civil servants who participate in those institutions themselves giving evidence when Parliament is, through its procedures, scrutinising those affairs.

Does my noble friend agree that if we could achieve more openness within those institutions, we could, for example, have a much healthier perspective on the issue of international debt? Our Chancellor has been trying to lead the world on the alleviation of debt in the poor world, which is of immense significance, but he has been blocked consistently by certain other member countries of those institutions which have hidden behind a tradition of not disclosing what goes on within them.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for recognising the efforts that we made at the G8 summit in Birmingham to promote the forgiveness of aid-related bilateral debt. In the absence of--shall we say?--universal agreement on all those points, we can ensure greater transparency in the international financial systems and international financial data. Indeed, that is what the Prime Minister reported back to Parliament after the Birmingham summit.

Association of Chief Police Officers

2.44 p.m.

The Earl of Lytton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the purposes of a Home Office donation to the Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) of £458,000 in 1996-97, and a contribution from the

8 Jun 1998 : Column 686

    police authorities of £330,000 for the relevant part of ACPO's 1996-97 accounting period; and what services are provided by ACPO to these donors.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, the Home Office provides a contribution to the running costs of the Association of Chief Police Officers' Secretariat in respect of salaries and administrative expenses. Police authorities contribute to the association in recognition of its role in providing professional policing policy advice to police authorities, government and others. The provision of professional policing policy advice is carried out by the association in support of local policing, rather than as a specific service to a particular organisation.

The Earl of Lytton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and I am mindful of the fact that I have a former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers sitting next to me. Will the Minister explain to the House what principles of accountability apply to those sums which come from both the police committees and the Home Office direct? What accountability is there in respect of those sums? More particularly, what scrutiny is available in relation to those in the normal way in which such sums are scrutinised?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Government's contribution to ACPO is managed by the Home Office. It pays invoices for approved expenditure incurred by ACPO. Therefore, before any payment is made, scrutiny is directed to every request made by way of invoice.

Furthermore, the copy of ACPO's accounts for 1996-97 has been placed in the Library and the accounts for 1997-98, which are currently being prepared, will also be placed in the Library. In future, the accounts will be published in Companies House format and will include various references to the Government's contribution.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page