International Development Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 16, at end add—

    `(4) 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 Parliament.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take new clause 1—Reduction in poverty: co-ordination within government—

    `(1) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements to promote a focus on reduction in poverty throughout all government departments and agencies in their relations with developing countries.

    (2) The Secretary of State for International Development shall, jointly with ministers responsible for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, prepare and lay before Parliament an annual report on the work done in pursuance of the arrangements made under subsection (1).'.

Mrs. Spelman: We now move to a new group of amendments on the publication of information on which we can judge the success of the Bill and more readily understand the work of the Department for International Development. We call on the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the performance of the development assistance programme against stated poverty reduction targets and to lay the report before Parliament.

The amendment would link more closely the activities of the Government with clearly defined and measurable targets. The Government publish a public service agreement and progress towards achievement, but that is often too vague for the Opposition to assess whether there is enough evidence to back up the claims. The projections have sometimes lacked accuracy.

The World Bank said:

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

The Bill does not define poverty or demonstrate how progress will be reported or measured. Although I can see out of the corner of my eye that the Minister is going to produce a departmental report, without a clear statement in the Bill that such a report is produced and that it contains specific targets for measurement, a lack of will may ensue at some point and such a report may not be forthcoming.

The United Nations has said of western donors 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 the Bill does not set down how the Government's progress towards those targets will be met, or how progress could effectively be measured. If there is little evidence and accountability concerning the use of aid money and no effective measure of its success, the poverty reduction focus of the Bill, with which we sympathise, could prove to be little more than a paper tiger.

The public service agreement that existed before the targets that were set down by the Government for 2002 in their annual report of 2000 appeared to be a way of holding DFID to account through clearly defined and measurable targets. Unfortunately, that has not proved to be the case. Data on primary school enrolment could not be found, whereas targets for reducing maternal mortality have not been met.

The globalisation White Paper shows that not enough progress has been made on any of the key international development targets for 2015. The Department simply states that primary school enrolment figures

    ``have not risen fast enough''.

The Opposition would like to know more precisely what that means. On eliminating gender disparity by 2005, the Department states that

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

It would be interesting to know how far behind that enrolment is. On reducing infant mortality, the Department states that

    ``the fall is not enough to meet the target''.

Progress towards reducing maternal mortality is also well off course. Those are vague terms, and we should like future reporting to be more specifically measured.

Those statements bear little relationship to the Department's description of its public service agreement targets. It gave a worded response to each: primary enrolment—``no comprehensive new data''; eliminating judge disparity—``on course''; reducing infant mortality—``on course''; and reducing maternal mortality—``only modest progress''. Those are all descriptive words and, although I am no great mathematician, I would like to see those targets expressed in a more concrete way so that we can understand where ground must be made up.

4.15 pm

The Department has set a target of 70 per cent. of projects meeting its objectives. However, the small print states that few projects have been completed yet. It is difficult for us as an Opposition to discern from that how effective the Department is being. The Bill calls for sustainable development to be a major focus of the aid budget, but the only way to tell whether a project has been sustainable is to measure it several times, several years after completion. That is the only true measure of sustainability, and it might not appear in a short-term report. Retrospective reporting will be important if we want to judge the effectiveness of the Bill in one of its primary objectives.

Government targets must be both achievable and measurable. We all know what happens with public support for targets if they are set at an unrealistic level. The annual report for which we are calling should contain such realistic targets and ensure that they are measurable so that ordinary members of the public can understand them. Sector-wide programmes cannot fully account for the impact of British aid money. As the Department's research said, when using sector-wide aid programmes, individual donor programmes are difficult to disaggregate from others. The Department should find a way to resolve that problem.

Amendment No. 5, which proposes the publication of an annual report, has been grouped with new clause 1. Subsection (1) of the new clause would force the Secretary of State to

    ``make arrangements to promote a focus on reduction in poverty throughout all government departments and agencies in their relations with developing countries.''

Subsection (2) would make the Secretary of State for International Development,

    ``jointly with ministers responsible for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, prepare and lay before Parliament an annual report on the work done in pursuance of the arrangements made under subsection (1).''

Therefore, new clause 1 would ensure that all Departments that were responsible for overseas activities were focused on poverty reduction. The report would chart the progress made towards poverty reduction and give some practical meaning to the phrase ``joined-up government''. That is a popular phrase, but too often we find that it is difficult to put it into practice. The concept behind such a joint report is to focus departmental minds on working together to show that they share the all-important focus of international development work in poverty reduction.

If the Department for International Development is committed to the elimination of global poverty, it must be backed up by a similar commitment from other Departments. The Government have accepted that they must take a cross-departmental approach to poverty reduction, and in a preface to the 2000 White Paper, the Prime Minister said:

    ``This White Paper sets out the UK Government's policies in all these areas. It reflects our commitment to work across all parts of Government in order to help eliminate world poverty, and to cooperate with other governments and international institutions as part of a broader international effort.''

It is vital that that works in practice, but over the past four years we have seen examples of where the joining-up process has failed. Controversially, the Foreign Office did not appear to promote human rights in Turkey in the Ilisu dam case. Events have moved on, and Balfour Beatty has pulled out. Ultimately, the human rights aspects of that project may prevail by default. The Government's globalisation White Paper stressed that we must strengthen the voice of the poor and help them realise their human rights in order to make political institutions work for them.

The Foreign Office did not raise the issue of human rights with the Department of Trade and Industry during the Ilisu dam affair. On 1 February 2000, the DTI Minister responsible, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), told the Select Committee on International Development:

    ``The DTI is not responsible for human rights. It will take the advice of other Government Departments. I would say, to the best of my knowledge, that this was not a question which was raised when we circulated to other departments. That is DFID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and indeed others. It was not raised to the best of my knowledge.''

That gives us cause for concern, which is why we seek to make joined-up thinking work more effectively via our new clause.

The Ministry of Defence did not demonstrate a commitment to poverty reduction in March 2000 when it charged the Department for International Development the full market price for four Puma helicopters to assist in the Mozambique floods. The selling of spare parts to Zimbabwe also showed the failure of Government Departments to commit themselves to poverty reduction—further examples that provoke our concern. My amendment is intended to strengthen joined-up government and to make the poverty reduction focus of the Bill more effective. The Government, led by the Prime Minister, are committed to that. We hope that the Minister will welcome a joint annual report that would remind Government Departments of the poverty reduction focus.

 
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Prepared 22 November 2001