Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Rawlings moved Amendment No. 11:

"( ) The Secretary of State shall publish an annual report on the performance of the development assistance programme against stated poverty reduction targets, and shall lay a copy of the report before both Houses of Parliament."

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to link more closely the activities of government with clearly defined and measurable targets. Currently, the Government publish their Annual Report and Public Service Agreement and progress towards achievement, but that is often too vague with not enough evidence to back up the claims. Sometimes the projections have been lacking in accuracy.

Some of these agreements have already been discussed in the other place, but we believe that they are so important that they need to be aired once again. Unfortunately, as the guillotine seems more and more prevalent in the other place, debate is stifled and your Lordships' House is the only place left for proper scrutiny.

The background to the amendment is that the World Bank stated in its publication, Understanding Poverty:

    "To know what helps alleviate poverty, what works and does not, what changes over time, poverty has to be defined, measured and studied".

There is nothing in the Bill that defines poverty or demonstrates how progress will be reported or measured. The UN said of western donors (UNDP Poverty Report 2000) that,

    "the great majority of the agencies lack monitoring systems to hold themselves accountable to their declared poverty objectives. They can present no convincing evidence on how their interventions have benefited the poor".

We are concerned that there is nothing in the Bill to set down how the Government's progress towards these targets will be met or how progress will be effectively measured. If there is very little evidence and accountability concerning the use of aid money and no effective measure of its success, the "poverty reduction" focus of the Bill could prove to be little more than a paper tiger. For example, the Public Service Agreement 1999 to 2002 targets set down by the Government in the Annual Report 2000, appeared to be a way of holding the Department for International Development accountable through some clearly defined and measurable targets. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Data on

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1301

primary school enrolment could not be found, while targets for reducing maternal mortality had not been met.

The Government's Annual Report was supposed to be the basis for an annual debate. Section 4.5 of the 1997 White Paper stated:

    "We envisage that publication of the Annual Report could be an occasion for a Parliamentary debate on international development".

However, there has been no such annual debate. There has been only one debate on international development since 1997 and that was in the final week before the election. We need more debates on international development, especially if targets are being missed.

The globalisation White Paper showed that insufficient progress was being made on any of the key 2015 international development targets. According to DfID, primary school enrolment figures have not risen fast enough. As regards eliminating gender disparity by 2005, DfID stated that,

    "girls' enrolments remain persistently behind those of boys".

As regards reducing infant mortality, DfID stated:

    "The fall is not enough to meet the target"

and that progress towards reducing maternal mortality was well off course.

That is very different to DfID's description of its PSA targets, which was: for primary enrolment, "no comprehensive new data"; eliminating gender disparity, "on course"; reducing infant mortality, "on course"; and reducing maternal mortality, "only modest progress". There is a lack of honesty about aid targets and a lack of fair and accurate measures of results. We call for an annual report to measure progress towards these aims.

With regard to poor targeting, there is often also not enough evidence of achievement. Although DfID has set the target that 70 per cent of projects should meet its objectives, the small print reads:

    "Very few of these projects have been completed as yet".

Current targets do not take into account sustainable development. Projects rated as officially successful by DfID can turn out to be unsuccessful. In a response to a Question for Written Answer the Secretary of State said that,

    "A formal review of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Organisational Development Project in October 1999 showed that it was successful in contributing to DfID's objectives as set out in the Public Service Agreement. The review concluded that the project was enabling organisational change to take place in ZRP to the benefit of the people of Zimbabwe, including the poorest.

    However, since February the ZRP has not enforced the law or upheld their own charter in relation to the attacks on the opposition and the land invasions".--[Official Report, Commons, 20/6/00; col. 123W.]

This Bill calls for sustainable development to be one of the major focuses of the aid budget, but the only way one can tell whether a project or programme has been sustainable is to measure it a number of times and several years after completion. Surely, that is the only true measure of sustainability.

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1302

Government targets need to be both achievable and measurable. Sector-wide programmes cannot fully account for the impact of British aid money. As DfID's own research has shown, when using sector-wide aid programmes individual donor programmes are difficult to disaggregate from other donor programmes. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: I warmly support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Rawlings. In the vast range of legislative responsibilities which any government must now shoulder I cannot recall any matter in respect of which they are not obliged to report to Parliament. Here the taxpayer must potentially shoulder, justifiably, a very large burden of various humanitarian aid throughout the world and outside the British Commonwealth. I believe that if ever there was a case in which the Government should be required to produce an annual report to Parliament, this is it.

The Earl of Sandwich: The noble Lord, Lord Desai, has already said that there is a good deal of material for a Second Reading debate. Although I do not want to prolong debate on this immensely important subject, the noble Baroness has a point. Government departments report annually in the normal way, but I am not certain that there is a timetable for regular reporting on international development targets. I should be grateful to hear an answer to that from the noble Baroness.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Amos: Amendment No. 11 would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the performance of the development assistance programme and to lay it before both Houses of Parliament. The Secretary of State already produces such a report. DfID's departmental report provides a comprehensive account of the department's operations and future plans. It includes an assessment of progress against the department's agreed public service agreement targets. The departmental report is a public document.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, referred to the lack of honesty in measuring performance against targets. Perhaps it is helpful if I say a little more about the accountability of the Secretary of State under the Bill and the transparency of DfID's decision-making procedures and policy development processes. The Secretary of State is accountable first and foremost to Parliament. She is also required to make an annual report to Parliament on the policies and operation of her department. The Select Committee on International Development reports on that report and can call in the Secretary of State to explain and discuss any part of it. It can also request amendments to the format and content of the report. The Secretary of State is also accountable for the use of her powers to the courts and to the general public.

I also remind the Committee of the transparency of DfID's policy-making and decision-making procedures. Our country strategy papers,

16 Jul 2001 : Column 1303

institutional strategy papers and target strategy papers are all developed in full consultation with our partners and are publicly available. They consider in a frank and comprehensive way the opportunities and challenges for development and the resources available from DfID to address them.

The annual departmental report also includes reporting against each international development target. We also report quarterly to the Treasury on each TFA target. The existing mechanisms for reporting on DfID's policies and operations include the publication and presentation to Parliament of an annual departmental report. In view of that, I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Rawlings: I thank other Members of the Committee for their support for this probing amendment. I am grateful to the Minister for her comprehensive explanation and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Humanitarian assistance]:

Baroness Rawlings moved Amendment No. 13:

    Page 2, line 11, at end insert--

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page