Select Committee on Liaison First Report



Memorandum to the Liaison Committee

Work of the previous Committee

1.  In the Session 2000-2001 the Committee produced six reports;

  • ·  In the First Report the Committee welcomed the White Paper "Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor" and the renewed policy emphasis on international development. The Committee recommended an annual debate on international development which the Government, in its response, said it would consider.

  • ·  The Third Report was on the socio-economic impact of HIV/AIDS and concluded that while HIV/AIDS had a disproportionate effect on the poor, the impact of HIV/AIDS was massively exacerbated by poverty. The Report called for wider availability of condoms, and greater resources for the development of microbicides and a vaccine. The Committee was sceptical about the practicality of using anti-retroviral drugs but concluded that prices of drugs to treat opportunistic infections could be reduced. The Report also stressed the importance of national political leadership and examined countries where effective prevention campaigns had stabilised and reduced infection rates. In examining the response of donors, the Committee noted that expenditure had failed to keep pace with the spread of the disease, noting that support for HIV/AIDS accounted for less than 1 per cent of total ODA.

  • ·  The Fourth Report dealt with corruption and its impact on development and developing countries. It found that corruption undermined development and growth, posing a serious threat to efforts to eliminate poverty. It found that developed countries need to limit their contribution to corruption and corrupt practice and called for appropriate funding and better co-ordination of the numerous agencies charged with tackling corruption and money laundering.

  • ·  The Fifth Report arose out of a complaint the Committee had made to the Parliamentary Ombudsman in an attempt to resolve a discrepancy between the evidence given in a previous inquiry by the DTI and ECGD on the one hand and the Foreign Office on the other. The Ombudsman produced his report on 27 March 2001 and the Committee produced a brief Report to accompany it.

  • ·  The Second and Sixth Reports were published jointly with the other 'Quadripartite' Committees examining the 1999 Annual Report on Strategic Export Controls and the Draft Export Control and Non-Proliferation Bill.

Current Work

2.  Soon after the Committee was re-established, it met to choose a Chairman and to discuss plans for inquiries. We decided to begin with a short inquiry into the reform of EC development assistance. Thirty percent of DFID's spending is channelled through the EU but there has been concern for some time that the priority for the EU lies in is its foreign policy objectives for the "near abroad", rather than in DFID's focus on poverty reduction. The inquiry began by taking evidence from DFID officials and after a visit to the European Commission in January and evidence from Clare Short, we plan to produce a report in March.

3.  Before the Committee started its planned workload, the events of September11 switched our attention to Afghanistan. We immediately started an inquiry into the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the surrounding region. It was intended that the inquiry would track the humanitarian crisis and leave issues of longer-term development and reconstruction until stability returns to the region. We completed the inquiry with four evidence sessions at Westminster and a visit to Pakistan arranged at very short notice. Our report was published before Christmas and we are awaiting a response from the Government.

4.  Complex emergencies have been and are likely to remain a feature of the Committee's work. Some require an immediate response and cannot simply take wait their turn in the Committee's in-tray. The Afghanistan inquiry was a reminder of the need for the Committee to have sufficient flexibility in its programme to cater for the unexpected.

5.  The Committee has chosen Global Climate Change and Sustainable Development as its next thematic inquiry. The inquiry will focus on:

  • ·  the potential impact of global climate change on development and developing countries;

  • ·  progress in developing countries with implementing international development targets on environmental sustainability and regeneration;

  • ·  the potential offered by donor programmes and international mechanisms for achieving sustainable development, mitigating environmental degradation and lowering greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries;

  • ·  the need for private investment that is both environmentally sustainable and links with the wider aim of poverty elimination; and

  • ·  DFID's policies, strategies and programmes on environmental sustainability and especially global climate change.

6.  We plan to publish the report before the summer adjournment in time for it to inform the DFID position at the Rio plus 10 summit which is to be held in Johannesburg in September 2002.

7.  In March we plan to visit West Africa to look at issues connected to our climate change inquiry. But as with all the Committee's major visits to developing countries we plan to use the opportunity to see DFID projects on the ground and to talk to local agencies about the impact of DFID's activities. Scrutinising the work of a government department where most of the activity is carried out abroad will always be a challenge. Overseas visits were an important part of the previous Committee's programme and we expect that will continue. Visits are always highly informative, focussing on a specific topic but also taking the opportunity to examine the whole range of DFID's activities. They contribute not only to current inquiries but also provide information that assists with or results in future inquiries; over a number of visits the previous Committee noted that corruption was a major barrier to development, leading them eventually to conduct a detailed inquiry into the subject. The use of overseas visits to scrutinize DFID's progress in tackling poverty will remain an important part of our programme.

Future Plans

8.  In-keeping with our scrutiny role, we plan to continue holding an inquiry each session on the DFID annual report. The pattern for this inquiry has been the submission to DFID of a detailed series of written questions followed by an oral evidence session with the Permanent Secretary. At the end of the process a report is produced which, while picking up on areas of concern in the Annual Report, will focus on one or two specific areas of DFID's administration. Around half of DFID's budget is spent by the multilateral development agencies to which DFID contributes. If the Committee is to perform its scrutiny functions it must also look at the performance of agencies which do not see themselves as accountable to national parliaments. We have already commented on our plans to examine the EU's aid programme. The other task for the Committee is to keep a watching brief on a range of UN bodies and international financial institutions.

9.  Scrutiny is not our only function; we share DFID's objective of increasing the awareness of development issues both generally and within Parliament and Government, in particular. Development needs to be seen as part of the political mainstream. The previous Committee took evidence from the Chancellor of the Exchequer along with the Clare Short on debt relief; we intend to do the same with a short inquiry on financing for development to follow the Monterrey conference in March 2002. This inquiry will be part of a pattern of interspersing our lengthy thematic inquiries with either evidence sessions or short inquiries designed to feed the policy processes which are linked to major global development initiatives. In addition, and as part of the scrutiny function, we will continue to take evidence from Ministers on the positions they have taken at such international meetings as those of the World Bank and IMF.

10.  The previous Committee was successful in securing a number of debates in Westminster Hall. There are few opportunities to debate international development in the House and we will continue to press for an annual debate on international development while continuing to make use of the opportunities offered by Westminster Hall debates.

11.  The United States, despite being the world's only super-power, plays only a small role in international development. We intend to forge links with our counterparts in Congress and encourage them to help the United States play a fuller role in development. We also intend to strengthen our links with the European Parliament's Development Committee.

12.  The Chairman of the Committee intends to take an active part in the regular meetings of Development Chairs from European Union member states and the Committee will continue to engage with the World Bank's conference for parliamentarians.

Programme Summary
Dec 2001Publication of First Report 'The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the surrounding region'.
Dec 2001 to March 2002Inquiry into 'The effectiveness of the reforms of European Development Assistance'
Jan 2002Visit to Brussels in connection with inquiry into 'The effectiveness of the reforms of European Development Assistance'
Dec 2001 to June 2002Inquiry into 'Global Climate Change and Sustainable Development'
March 2002Visit to West Africa in connection with inquiry into 'Global Climate Change and Sustainable Development'
March/April 2002Inquiry into 'Financing for Development'
May 2002Inquiry into DFID's Annual Report

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Prepared 7 February 2002