Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD):
My Lords, I similarly acknowledge the wide experience of those who have put their names to the amendment. I acknowledge that one of the signatories, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, is a distinguished ODI fellow, and I do not question the commitment that noble Lords have to international development aspects. However, I do not accept the amendment and I hope to explain why. I will avoid some of the wider aspects that are more relevant to further groupings that we will be debating.
First, as a practical step of good legislation, the reference to a “spending round” is deficient because it has no definition in statute or standing in law. The House of Lords Library conducted a search of the legal database of all primary and secondary legislation for me, and there is no reference in statute to what a spending review may well be. Spending reviews or spending rounds, as the Treasury itself says, are interchangeable terms, and the only reference there has been came in Explanatory Notes referring to statements by Ministers. The amendment would therefore open up a high degree of potential confusion in primary legislation, without a definition or legal clarification of what a spending round may be, of what period is involved or of who conducts it.
However, that is not the essence of the amendment, which is whether, once a Government have announced their intention to meet our long-standing 0.7% commitment—it is not a new commitment—there would be a secondary power for the Treasury alone to authorise exactly the same thing but post hoc, and on an annual basis. This would be after the departmental round of discussions to which the noble Lord, Lord Reid, referred. There would therefore be a secondary process—the first part of the discussions would be on how the departments responsible for delivering ODA were conducting their business, and the second would be on whether the Government would actually meet the 0.7% target. Both are not compatible processes of discussion with the Treasury.
The argument about lack of control is not therefore valid, because the processes that DfID has to carry out, including the annual estimates that are then brought to Parliament, will continue on an annual basis. Indeed, on coming to the House this morning, I went through the main estimates for 2014-15. If the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and my noble friend Lord Marlesford wish to refer to the main estimates, they will see clearly that the Department for International Development estimates include those for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Defence, component parts of the ODA and also the FCO. It takes a wider consideration, and these estimates are part of the discussions about delivering best value for the aid programme that we wish to carry out.
The Bill already therefore creates the duty for the Secretary of State to demonstrate value for money in other parts of the Bill, as has been mentioned—including by the Minister and noble Lords opposite. There is therefore a very high level of accountability to Parliament. The question is: is this level of accountability unique, as well as maintaining the existing processes and the level of scrutiny by the Treasury? The level of accountability is unique. This Bill is unique and the Department for International Development is an unusual department. That is why there are frameworks with independent verification not only through ICAI, the National Audit Office and, indeed, our international partners in the OECD Development Assistance Committee—which carries out both peer review and annual reviews that we report to—but also in Parliament by the International Development Committee. That framework, far from exempting proper scrutiny, provides arguably a much higher level of scrutiny of delivery than other departments.
I wish to address the trade union of former Permanent Secretaries with a quote from the director-general of finance at DfID, Richard Calvert, who gave evidence to the International Development Committee in the Commons. He was asked about almost exactly this point regarding good budget management in the department. He said that,
“now we have reached 0.7% and we are into delivery of 0.7% at a broadly consistent level, there is a lot to be said, from a departmental management point of view, for keeping a steady budget. It comes back to the point about living within annual control totals anyway. We are going to have to live within an annual financial-year control total. From my perspective, having that broadly steady and then just managing 0.7% within that is more straightforward than having that zig-zagging up and down, particularly having late adjustments because maybe you have undershot or overshot in a previous year”.
That is rather compelling.
Finally, most of us who were here at Second Reading were taken with the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey. She said that,
“it is critical that people know from year to year how they are going to be able to finance projects. One of our great nightmares was that we never knew how much we were going to have”.—[Official Report, 23/1/15; col. 1523.]
This Bill is one part of correcting that, and in addition to the level—in fact, the increased level—of proper scrutiny for value for money, I hope that that will persuade the noble Lord not to press his amendment but to withdraw it. If he is minded to test the opinion of the House, I respectfully invite it not to accept the amendment.