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House of Lords

Wednesday, 21 October 2009.

3 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

International Development: Aid Spending


3.06 pm

Asked By Baroness Rawlings

Lord Brett: My Lords, the short answer is that the summary details of all DfID projects were published on the internet in August. The longer answer is that that was to meet the commitments laid out in our White Paper published earlier this year, and it reaffirms the Government's commitment to keep all their promises on aid, and ensure continued progress toward the millennium development goals. We will reach the 0.7 per cent target of gross national income for official development assistance by 2013, and honour our Gleneagles commitments, and those through the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, including those on transparency.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. The whole House will welcome the limited move toward greater transparency that the Government have made, following pressure from leading NGOs and from our party.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Rawlings: Can the Minister tell the House when full information about all British aid, including project documents, log frames and evaluation reports, will be published online?

Lord Brett: I thank the noble Baroness for her question, although I am not sure about the party-political advertisement. I heard the speech; I recognised two or three facts in it, but not much more. However, I recognise that we have a commitment, which I hope is bipartisan. We are seeking to put online all the required information. At the moment, we are looking at a timetable for doing that in relation to the sensitivity of commercial information, the protection of our staff working overseas on DfID projects and our need and desire to include transparency, as the noble Baroness said. We hope to do this as early as possible.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, the Prime Minister made a very welcome commitment to put into legislation that 0.7 per cent of GDP would go to aid by 2013. Can the Minister confirm that this commitment will be in the Queen's Speech, that he will do his best to ensure that it is there, and that time will be made afterwards to ensure that this is put into law? Does he see dangers if that does not happen?

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Lord Brett: My Lords, I fear that this is a little like Groundhog Day. The first questioner asked me to respond on something that we did two months ago. The second questioner asks me to respond on something that we did in the 2006 international development Act.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that it would have been very useful to have had this degree of transparency during the previous, Conservative, Government, when £700 million of taxpayers' money from the international development budget was spent on building the Pergau dam, which was subsequently seen to be of no development value whatever?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I recall that in the relevant speech that featured in the Conservative Party conference, which I watched with great interest, there was a lot of praise for the Administration that preceded this one. Strangely, in that praise, there was no mention whatever of the reduction in ODA which was consistently applied between 1979 and 1997.

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, can Her Majesty's Government assure us that the UK will contribute its fair share of the at least €35 billion that Christian Aid and other NGOs have established the EU must contribute per year for mitigation in developing countries, if poor communities are to respond to climate change impacts and catastrophic climate change is to be avoided?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point. The Government's commitment to working with the civil organisations that work with the European Union in this area is undiminished and will continue.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I support my noble friend very strongly in her Question, but I will go in a slightly different direction. Will the Minister consider, as suggested in the recent report of our Information Committee, that the Government should publish all draft Bills on the internet and invite comment on them from the public? If that happens, will it not encourage people outside Westminster to feel much more involved in, and much more understanding of, the work of Parliament than they do at present?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the first part of the question-that about all Bills being put on the internet-is probably beyond my pay grade. The second part of the question, in relation to overseas development, seems to be something that I very much support. We can be very proud of DfID and what the British Government have done in the last decade. If you look at our achievements, 5 million children, globally, have been educated; there are 100,000 new teachers; and 12.5 million people have better sanitation. In India alone, 500,000 TB patients have been treated and 1 million poor people-mainly women-gained access to credit. We have a very proud record. I am very proud of the British Government; I am very proud of the British taxpayer for paying for it; and I am very proud that it happened under a British Labour Government. I do not think that it would happen under anyone else.

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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, given all the public interest in Afghanistan at the moment, does the Minister agree that all the information concerns the defence side and we are getting nothing about our international development assistance, which is substantial?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the noble Earl's question is answered in part by my previous reply. Sometimes we are not good enough at telling people about the good things we do. Our newspapers are very good at telling them about the bad things they think we do. The noble Earl makes the valid point that we have to get across not only our military perspectives and achievements in Afghanistan but what we are doing to support the poor people there. Our ODA core commitment is to eradicate poverty before all other things.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, on the point raised by the noble Earl, will the Minister confirm that DfID has a deliberate policy of keeping anonymous the projects it supports in Afghanistan rather than advertising them as being supported by DfID? If that is the case-I know that it is-the point the Minister makes about not advertising what we achieve is rather hollow.

Lord Brett: This seems to me a very strange Question Time. We now have a very distinguished member of the Opposition asking a question to which he knows the answer. If he knows the answer, why ask the question?

Lord Grocott: My Lords-

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is there any truth in the dictum that foreign aid is-

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the government Benches.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, while we all welcome greater transparency, which is what this Question is about, does my noble friend none the less share my interest in ensuring that the costs involved in this are not too great? We are all well aware of the numerous government publications, many of which are not read, published often as a result of a statutory requirement and I am sure at considerable cost. If there were a choice between having greater transparency in respect of the internet and putting more money into the aid budget-those may be difficult choices-would we not all prefer more money to be put directly into the aid budget?

Lord Brett: I am sure that I agree with my noble friend but my answer will also bring comfort to other Members, particularly in the Opposition. In what we are doing to eradicate poverty, we seek value for money. We have put 5 million children through primary education globally at about 2 per cent of what it could have otherwise cost. We are on track to achieve savings of £647 million by 2011 by vigorously applying value-for-money measures. In 2008-09 those savings will amount to a figure of £168 million: £74 million by improving how we allocate aid, £53 million through efficiency gains on the allocation of multilateral institutions, and £31 million by improving performance-

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something which I am sure all Members of this House will welcome, without wishing in any way to diminish the amount of money we put into ODA.

Families: Marriage


3.15 pm

Asked By Lord Northbourne

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, we support marriage as evidence points to loving and resilient relationships having the most positive impact on a child's life. Such relationships, though, are not exclusive to marriage. It is how the family functions, not its structure, which matters most. We therefore continue to encourage parents to develop and sustain long and stable relationships rather than to commit to marriageitself.

Lord Northbourne: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Is she aware that the partnership breakdown rate for couples who are not married is more than double that for couples who are married? From 2002-04 this Government made available a grant of £5 million a year predicated to be used for support for marriage and relationships. It might be appropriate, as he is in his place, for me to quote the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, or am I going on too long?

Noble Lords: Yes!

Lord Northbourne: All right, I will shut up. Today there is no grant predicated specifically to marriage.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Question and for the enormous wisdom that he brings to this House with regard to these matters. We do support relationships-for example, we made £7 million of grants available in 2009-11 to a range of voluntary and community organisations, and to family organisations specifically, including Relate and Marriage Care. Also, because of the tough economic climate that we find ourselves in, we have made available an additional £3.1 million to support families through the recession. It is extremely important that we support marriage and other relationships that sustain a positive childhood for our young people.

Lord Elton: Has the noble Baroness come across a report by Marriage Care which found that a sample of married couples in 2008-09 would have been £58 a week better off living apart than together, and that that figure, had they separated the previous year, would have been only £48? Does that not suggest that our fiscal arrangements are out of kilter?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: I apologise to the noble Lord; I have not read that report. I will go and look at it of course. As a result of tax and benefit changes that this Government have introduced since

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1997, four out of 10 families now pay no tax at all, and we make no apology for our policies that have lifted more than 600,000 children out of poverty and greatly reduced the tax burden on working families.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am sure we all welcome what the Government have done to help and support parents, but if I were to tell the Minister that one large London borough had only one parent support class on one occasion last year, would she consider that to be enough?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: Of course I would not consider that to be enough, my Lords. I am particularly concerned that we should ensure a far greater take-up of parenting support classes around the country. This Government are considering new ways of targeting family support so that we can get it to the places where parents and families need it most.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, will the Minister try again to answer the question asked by my noble friend Lord Elton? Why is Britain's tax and benefits system discriminating against those who are married?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I disagree entirely with the noble Baroness's analysis because the party opposite would like to discriminate against children of lone parent families of the kind of non-traditional family types; in the past I have strong evidence of the party opposite wishing to discriminate against them. This Government are about promoting a child-centred approach and about creating a system that targeted at support for children and families who need it most.

The Earl of Listowel: Is the Minister aware of the strong evidence that good-quality sex and relationship education has an important role in reducing teenage pregnancy and thereby encouraging more stable long-term relationships and adults making a commitment when they are mature enough to do so effectively?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am very much aware of the evidence that shows that good, strong education and advice on relationships, particularly for children and young people, can make a huge difference. This Government have responded to a great deal of good argument from this House about the proposal that PSHE should become statutory in the school curriculum. An important part of that is about making sure that children and young people learn about the roles and responsibilities of being a parent, the qualities of making good parenting decisions, the value of family life and, within that, the value of marriage.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, may I ask-

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, time is up.

21 Oct 2009 : Column 704

Transport: Buses


3.22 pm

Asked By Lord Rosser

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the Local Transport Act 2008 provides significant new opportunities for local authorities to improve the quality of bus services in their areas. Authorities can already take advantage of the provisions about voluntary partnership agreements and quality partnership schemes, which are fully in force. The new statutory arrangements for quality contract schemes should be finalised by the end of the year.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, following the unexplained delay until July of this year in publishing for consultation the draft regulations and guidance for the excellent bus quality contract schemes. Is he aware that transport authorities cannot meaningfully consider such schemes until there is a clear timescale for making available the final guidance on quality contract schemes? This is simply delaying improvements for passengers, as the Office of Fair Trading's recent report considered that a remedy for the lack of competition in the bus sector would be to encourage the use of quality contract schemes to develop competition for the bus market. When does my noble friend now expect the first quality contract schemes outside London to be in place?

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's support for the principle of quality contracts, but I very much take exception to the suggestion that they have been unduly delayed. There has been no delay in setting up the arrangements. The consultation ended on 7 October and, as I said in my Answer, the guidance and necessary regulations will be published by the end of the year. The reason why it has taken some while to move from the enactment of the 2008 Act to the publishing of the guidance and the regulations is that the Government have been working at the same pace as the local authorities, as they were asked to. The legislation is about local empowerment. There are a number of measures in the Local Transport Act to which the local authorities attach particular importance and it is those that have received the priority. However, it is now up to the local authorities whether they wish to proceed with quality contracts. Naturally, we hope that they will do so.

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