John Battle MP
The Chair, John Battle, opened the hour with a warm welcome to all in attendance, including the MPs and supporters of the bill. He gave the floor to Tom Clarke.
Clarke started by thanking his sponsors for their endorsement of the bill, noting that he was limited to choosing eleven sponsors yet many more were interested. This, in itself, provides a promising outlook for the future of the bill. Copies of the bill were made available for all those in attendance. He made it known that the second reading of the bill would be 20 January and that it will be necessary that 100 MPs are present to speak in favour of the bill so it can move on.
The bill got its origin from the Millennium Development Goals, namely Goal 8 as it gives developed countries the responsibility to ensure the success of the first seven goals. The UK has a responsibility to ensure that those goals are fulfilled. The bill is a more formal way of taking the goals and putting them into a logical framework under which the UK government can work.
The main points of the bill are as follows:
- An annual report to be produced by Parliament
- Progress towards 0.7% ODA
- Development assistance as a proportion of gross national income
- Financial reporting—where the money goes
- Evaluation of effectiveness of aid
- Policy coherence across government
- Greater transparency of international development policy
The aims of the bill are:
- To promote poverty reduction
- To make progress towards and beyond the 0.7%/GNI objective
- To increase UK accountability to Parliament with regards to official development assistance (oda)
- To increase policy transparency
- To increase aid effectiveness and encourage evaluation of policy intent and results of assistance
- To outline Government progress on aid, trade, and debt
Clarke also gave reasons as to why this specific bill is important. These include:
- It promotes both quantity and quality increase in development assistance.
- It increases coherence across the government.
- It makes the UK and developing countries more accountable to how aid money is spent.
- It assesses multilateral aid and promotes the untying of aid.
- It provides coherent information on ODA.
- It makes DFID and other departments directly accountable to Parliament.
He asked for the agreement of everyone that this bill is important and that it deserves time in Parliament.
The Chair thanked Clarke for taking the initiative to put development on the agenda and for offering a clear way for the UK government to make this happen.
Clarke then turned over the floor to two of his sponsors, Angela Brown and John Barrett, for comment.
Angela Brown (MP) said she was delighted to be behind Clarke on this bill. She said it seemed obvious that an annual report was necessary and wonders why no one has come up with it before. An annual report would certainly inform debates in Parliament much more and allow for further debate after the yearly presentation of such a report. A committee she currently sits on, the Public Accounts Committee dips into this debate frequently. The current reports, as given out by the NAO, are rather spasmodic; instead, something with the depth and timeliness that Clarke is proposing is necessary.
She said that transparency is also very important. A huge amount of work is done around the country on development, and it would be tragic to not have that translated into the work of Parliament.
Brown is quite sure that if this bill does make it to the statute book, then it will ensure that the government does get it right.
John Barrett (MP) thanked Clarke for picking the issue of international development as his focus for the bill, as this was the issue that brought 200,000 people to the street in his constituency asking politicians to “Make Poverty History.”
Barrett said it would be too late to wait until 2015 to see if governments were on track with these goals. The annual report provides an indicator of yearly progress.
If we can deliver the assistance necessary on this issue of life or death, then we should. Not every country is using its resources to do its part. In the US a poll was done in street to ask people how much they think their government was giving to overseas aid. Most people responded with 10-15%. When told it was only 0.5%, (NB itself a generous estimate, possibly using Enron accounting) most still responded that it was far too much.
The UK must ensure that it does reach the 0.7% target, especially through transparency. Citizens of the UK want to see the effective of their money. We cannot sit back and believe this bill will simply go through because it is a good one; we need to build a cohesive effort rallying MPs around the bill on 20 January.
The Chair then welcomed four speakers to the floor for brief comment.
Simon Maxwell (ODI) said that for those that do not assume a political role in this debate, Clarke has provided us with a great adventure and thanked him for it.
Maxwell made four points on the bill:
This bill does not cut across the International Development Act, which provides the framework for British Aid and emphasises that poverty is the only objective of that aid.
The bill will also not cost anything, besides the reporting to be done by DFID, which makes the bill doubly attractive.
This is another brick in the apparatus of accountability of international development. It is not the case that DFID does not report to Parliament, but does require two new things to be included: (1) reporting on 0.7% and (2) the commitment to hold MPs to this target. The 0.7% target is a benchmark dreamed up in the 1960s. We know that targets are only that and should not be an end goal. Instead, let this be a stepping stone to the next level.
Coherence is also a reason to support this bill. 2005 has been an impressive year for putting the issue of aid allocation on the agenda. The development agenda is changing with issues like global public goods, managing global conflict, multinationalism, different business partnerships, managing global financial risks.
He thanked Clarke and hoped that other colleagues in Parliament to ensure the future of this bill.
Duncan Green (Oxfam) started by saying he was very excited about the bill. It could become both part of the legacy of 2005 and a bridge to continuing the debate in 2006.
Oxfam particularly welcomes the following:
- The fact that the bill gives developing countries a three year advance warning of aid flow, allowing them to better manage finances.
- Independent monitoring of aid.
- Transparency allowing for public debate.
Oxfam would also like to see the following:
- A further breakdown of how aid is being used as technical assistance and debt relief.
- The conditions attached to aid.
- Coherence between trade and agricultural policy.
Peter Grant (Tear Fund) said that the future of development depends more broadly on public trust and support of development assistance. Transparency and coherence are necessary to the achievement of that goal. This would also ensure that future governments are accountable to these goals and that further debate on development makes it way into government.
Some key issues that the bill raises that are particularly welcomed by Tear Fund are as follow:
- Aid distribution, namely multilateral aid distribution
- Effectiveness of aid
Like Duncan, Grant said there are areas where we can go further. These include:
- How we deliver aid
- The need to hold multilaterals more accountable
- Policy coherence
The new Director of the World Development Movement Benedict Southworth welcomed the bill, because it will do what it says and will raise public discussion. The World Development Movement has long been a proponent of transparency in accountability in the aid budget, and believes this bill complements the International Development Act of 2002.
WDM would like to see even more of a breakdown of the aid, particularly around those receiving contracts from the government. For now, WDM will rally their network for local community groups around the UK behind their MPs to support this bill.
Due to the voting bell that went off in the middle of Peter Grant’s presentation, the acting Chair attempted to stall questions on the bill until the arrival of the MPs once again. Instead, she opened the floor to other NGOs that may have wanted to comment.
The Chair of the International Development Committee intervened saying he was very proud of the bill and found it rather timely, as the budget for DFID will drastically increase with this new standard. He said the bill was a simple one, which he appreciated and thought boded in its favour.
A representative from UNICEF noted that the bill was taking up the work of UNICEF in achieving the 0.7% goal and that they fully supported Clarke in his work.
A representative from CAFOD says they are also behind the bill. If the bill is passed it will help maintain DFID at a high water mark. He also said it would be helpful to see a breakdown of who is getting aid to technical assistance and how money is being spent.
A member from UNDP said the bill is working in time with UN reform and value effectiveness of public money.
Once the MPs had returned, the question session began. One member of the audience questioned the effect on the Treasury. Clarke said the Treasury reacted very positively to the bill and that DFID also reacted favourably. The only issue of principle was coherence.
A representative from Christian Aid asked for a point of clarification of point 5.2. Was the untying of aid in multilateral institutions referring specifically to goods or services or specific policy conditions? Clarke said the bill sought to reflect the views of various departments on untying aid.
A representative from the African Centre referred to paragraph 8 on transparency. He wondered whether or not we should go further than just saying “recipient countries” than to say “recipients” to ensure that the funds trickle down to citizens of these countries. Clarke was grateful for the view and said it would be considered if the bill got to the floor. He hoped that the amendments would be consistent with the goals of the bill, namely sustaining partnerships.
The representative from CAFOD spoke again. He questioned transparency over three years. What about asking the Secretary of State to report on divergence from spending plans? Clarke said this all depends on the department’s response to the bill and thanked him for the recommendation. He also referred the representative to clause 3, parts E and F.
Another representative from World Development came back to the point on multilateral development assistance being untied. He provided the anecdote of Malawi and how the money was untied by Europe, but then retied by the US. How, then, do we deal with tied aid from other countries? Clarke said that this bill was complementing the International Development Act on this issue. There is more progress to be made.
An MP intervened to say that too much attention was being diverted to amendments. At this time, we should all be focusing our efforts on rallying support behind MPs. We can worry about amendments if the bill makes it to the floor. He asked that those groups in attendance use their memberships to ask MPs to be present on 20 January to support the bill.
The Chair drew the session to a close at that point. He showed the support for the bill by noting that despite two divisions during this meeting itself, there were currently 22 MPs and one member of the House of Lords in the room. This display shows the likelihood that this bill should pass in the House of Commons. Development issues are certainly moving up in the agenda, and he is glad Clarke is taking them up.
This event discusses a bill whose origins lie in Goal 8 of the Millennium Development Goals. The Bill gives developed countries the responsibility to ensure the success of the first seven goals. The UK has a responsibility to ensure that those goals are fulfilled. The bill is a more formal way of taking the goals and putting them into a logical framework under which the UK government can work.