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I have been equally delighted to see support for the Bill from both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds) and a number of his colleagues, as well as other hon. Members from
all parties, have been happy to support it. The Bill might not be perfectit has received some criticismbut this is not a perfect world, and the people whom the Bill hopes to support do not live in a perfect world. However, we have heard support today from members of all political parties. When people from outside the House consider this debate, they will see that there is all-party support for what is basically a good idea.
Members have asked why people do not follow our debates in Parliament more. I have to say that we did not see the best example of our debates today. We heard a lot of repetition, and that is not the best aspect of this House. However, the spirit of the Bill is crucial because it captures the imagination of the people. It has cross-party support and the support of those who belong to no party. Ordinary members of the public are behind what we are doing, and we have an opportunity today to see the Bill through its present stage and send it on to the Lords, where I hope it will have a successful passage as well.
Some people have said that the Bill is not perfect, and Members asked this morning why the Government responded to the amendment on corruption in the way that they did. However, I am perfectly aware that the Department for International Development is not only funding good work in the fight against corruption but taking action in a number of other areas to deal with the problem. Other issues were raised, but the Bill is not necessarily the best way to deal with them.
The provision in the Bill for reaching our long-overdue aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product is the jewel in its crown. However, this is not the end of our journey; it is a stop along the route. Hon. Members were talking about corruption earlier. They said that enormous sums were being spent on the eradication of poverty and asked why we had not dealt with the problem. The answer is simple. Enormous sums of money are spent on the problem because it is an enormous problem. The number of people throughout the world who live on less than a dollar a day, who are being treated for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or polio, or who are suffering on the bare minimum, trying to get by and get enough food for themselves and their children is just staggering.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): At the risk of contributing to the end of party political divisions as we know them, may I tell the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) that their demeanour throughout the debate today and on earlier occasions has been not only exemplary but admirable? I very much hope that the hon. Gentlemans last words will bring together everyone in the House on a subject on which we can surely all agree.
People often say that politicians live in a bubble and that we are out of touch with the real world. I have now been in this place for five years, which is admittedly a lot less time than many others. During that time, however, I have served on the International Development Committee, and I have seen at first hand the work of the Secretary of State and his predecessor, and of the Minister and the Department. I have also seen at first hand what is happening in countries as diverse as Ethiopia, India, Malawi and Mozambique,
among others. I spent 20 years working in industry before I came here, and I do not live in a bubble. I have seen the extremes that people have to live through, and I know what kind of legislation we need to pass to make an difference to people. No matter how many problems we might have here, we are the lucky ones. We can pass this legislation and make an impact on hundreds of millions of people in developing countries who are in need. Although they will not know our names, we can be sure that when the Bill is passed it will make a difference to them.
Mr. Cash: I was glad to hear the Ministers comments about the White Paper. I am grateful to him for offering a meeting to talk about corruption. It was a pity that the Government and the promoter of the Bill, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), could not agree to the amendment that established the link between aid and corruption. I understand that he was getting edgy at one point in the debate. I think that he thought that the Bill would run out of steam. I happened to know otherwise, and I support the Bill. I pay tribute to him for his work on the Bill. It is a step forward.
I am passionate about the third world. Some people think that those from my end of the political spectrum are somehow to be categorised as right-wing and anti-development in the third world and all that goes with it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think that I can say, without undue self-aggrandisement, that I took an active part in the Jubilee campaign. Some 320 MPs backed my motion to support that campaign. Those of my Conservative colleagues who have taken a strong position on these matters include my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), Baroness Chalker and Lord Patten. There are many others. I do not want anyone to take away the impression that such concern is somehow exclusive to any one side of the House.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, however, and I was not averse to his getting edgy earlier about my references to corruption, which is an issue that needs to be addressed more specifically in the Bill and otherwise. I also understand the sensitivities that it raises in the international development context. There is that sneaking feeling that those who go on about corruption might somehow be trying to colonialise the public accounts of other nations. That is not the objective, but there is a serious problem, which is recognised, for example, by the all-party Africa group in its report, The Other Side of the Coin, which I have mentioned, by Transparency International and by Front-Bench spokesmen on both sides of the House. I am certain that the Secretary of State and the Minister are well aware that it is an issue. The figures that I gave show the dwarfing of aid and debt reduction in that context. I have fought as hard as anyone in the House to have that debt cancelled completely, because that could release resources to help people who live on a pittance every day, which is a disgrace and a moral outrage.
such observations as he thinks appropriate,
the Bill does not go far enough. I acknowledge that the words are there to promote better management of aid, including the prevention of corruption in relation to it, but I do not think that that in itself will solve the problem.
If we are talking about proportionalitynot about the mechanics of the House, about procedures or about who scores off whom, but about the intrinsic question of how we help people in the third worldthere needs to be an even greater determination to deal with the problem. It is not easy, but as is noted on pages 59, 60 and 61 of the report of the all-party group on Africa, there are ways in which the Department could improve its internal arrangements. The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has a special role in that. It is true that the Departments accounts have not been qualified, which is a great thing in itself, but that does not mean that there have not been omissions which could be corrected.
Despite the interest in increasing the amount of aid delivered by budget support and its apparent progressive advantages DFID must not turn a blind eye to corruption, major governance, electoral, constitutional and human rights abuses.
That speaks for itself, and I think it is recognised throughout the House that the question of corruption is important. As the right hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill is aware, my Bill will not be able to make progress because of the time constraints, but I congratulate him on his Bill and continue to support its main objectives.
I am very pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), and I agree with much of what he said. Along with the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mark Simmonds), my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett), he acknowledged the input of various all-party parliamentary groups such as the Africa and the Great Lakes Region and Genocide Prevention groups, and the group that deals with important issues of debt. It was right to acknowledge their helpful contribution to the development of policies and to the Bill.
I want to return briefly to corruption. Let me gently remind the hon. Member for Stone, in the spirit of peace that appears to have broken out, that this is not the only legislation that deals with corruption. I served on the Standing Committee of what was intended to be the International Development Act 2001, but was delayed by an election and became the International Development Act 2002. One of its main sections deals with corruption, and the issue continues to be addressed In terms of the report to Parliament, which is what my Bill is about, I think that the House has sensed that the important issue of corruption has not been ignored.
Mr. Chope: On the subject of corruption, has the right hon. Gentleman any figures that might enlighten us on the exact amount of taxpayers money for overseas development aid that ends up being wasted through corruption?
I am particularly grateful to people outside the House who have been supportive. Children are very much in our minds when we deal with the issues in the Bill, and Jemima Khan, speaking for UNICEF, was extremely supportive.
Many issues will be dealt with if we have an annual report. By developing the focus on, for example, the millennium development goals, the Bill gives the House the opportunity to deal with an issue that has often been the subject of debates, if not in this Chamber, then certainly in Westminster Hall: HIV/AIDS. It is relevant to the MDGs, affects millions of peoplemen and women, and their familiesand I know that the House wants very much to address it.
I also welcome the fact that, as was rightly made clear by my hon. Friend the Minister, the Bill moved along, in that changes were made and it was improved. The number of countries involved has been increased, and humanitarian aid has been included. The Bill has also been tightened, as many asked for on Second Reading. I trust that the House agrees that that has served to underline something. I accept that it is not enough merely to have a parliamentary report every year; I of course invitewe all invite, I thinkParliament to act on that report. If the information that we seek through the Bill is provided, the House will be much better informed when it seeks to pursue some of the issues that have been raised today, along with others that are perhaps on some Members minds.
Mr. Cash: The right hon. Gentleman will understand that I was concerned because the tightening of the Bills scope cut out my new clause. He mentioned the 2002 Act earlier. My new clause related to that Act, so it has been cut out. However, I am not complaining at this stage, because I want the right hon. Gentleman to be able to complete his speech.
As I was saying, it is important not only that Parliament be informed, but that Parliament listen. The better the information that we get, and the more that we listen, the better will be our legislation and the policies of the Departments that serve Government. For that reason, another clause that I greatly welcome, and which adds to the Bills content, is that dealing with coherence across Departmentsan idea that I know appeals to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
I again congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on introducing this Bill and on steering it through the House; he will be commended by many people in the country for doing so. I agree with him that
the report should not be an end in itself but a means to the further end of greater understanding. Can he therefore explain why he and his right hon. and hon. Friends voted against the new clause proposed my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), which would have guaranteed a debate on the report that he has done so much to bring about?
Mr. Clarke: With great respect to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), the House was more convinced by the response of my hon. Friend the Minister and therefore voted accordingly. In a democratic Parliament, who am I to question that?
The House itself, given that we have endorsed the need for an annual report, will decide on the issues that it wishes to pursue. It of course has a right to alter, through future legislation, what this legislation says. It also has the right to alter the 2002 Actif that is the will of the House. I merely urge parliamentariansfrankly, in the light of todays debate, I doubt whether such urging is necessaryto do the job that I know we all want to do: to serve our people, to question, to probe, and to deliver the best policies as effectively as we can within each of the Government Departments.
Mr. Hollobone: I had the great pleasure of serving in Committee on this Bill. International aid comes from not only this country, but many countries. Is there not a wider dimension to the right hon. Gentlemans efforts in encouraging other legislatures around the world to hold their Executives to account through similar annual reports?
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman is right. I visited Sweden in January and saw the impact there and Eveline Herfkens from the UN, whom I have mentioned several times, would certainly agree with the hon. Gentlemans point.
In conclusion, I thank the House sincerely. It is poignant that we take our final decision on the Bill 30 years after the dreadful riots in Soweto. I say with some modesty that, among many others who have supported the Bill, Nelson Mandela has made it clear that he welcomes it and would also welcome the same procedure being introduced in other Parliaments. I again thank everybody responsible for bringing the Bill to this point and I hope that when it reaches the other place we will have influenced them to move quickly towards the enactment of a very desirable piece of legislation.
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