Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill

Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

I note the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and, yes, if she took a massive reduction in salary that is clearly welcome, and the overall salaries have reduced, which sets a marker for the future if Diana Noble chooses to move on. At least there is a lower salary peg, and she has led the way with that. I accept that, but we need to recognise that it is a substantial salary. That cannot be forgotten.

The NAO report also states that there is now a greater focus on investing in poorer countries rather than markets that already attract foreign investors. That is welcome, but according to a Library paper investment in the poorest countries has increased from 4% to only 12%, with 4% of investment in the next income tier countries. Investment in the upper middle income countries exceeds the combined total of 16% in the lower two tiers. More work needs to be done and a measurable target should be put in place to encourage investment in the lowest income countries.

The NAO report also confirms that, as regards its financial performance, the CDC’s annual return on its portfolio ranges from 4% to 18% against a target of 3.5%. Normally, when a target is massively exceeded that suggests that it is too low or, as seems to be the case here, the returns are too high. If the returns are too high, either more money is being returned from the countries that have been invested in than is necessary or not enough marginal projects are being invested in. That needs to be considered. I accept that some of the historical returns are due to legacy projects that were invested in and had much higher returns because of the hedge fund system, so I hope that that will continue to be addressed and that we will see lower returns and the right investment in projects.

Although the NAO report says that there is a robust cost basis and that the CDC is in a good place to go forward, as has been mentioned by some hon. Members, what stands out is the need for better assessment and reporting of outcomes and the planned impact of investment. A more accurate assessment of the jobs created is required, as well as

“a clearer picture of actual development impact”.

That is crucial. To this end, it is clear that the NAO recommendations on performance targets and an evaluation contract must be implemented as soon as possible.

The NAO believes that the absence of a measure of additionality is a flaw, as additionality is a core principle of the investment strategy. That needs to be remedied. The Department should consider making it mandatory for the CDC to report on the four indicators outlined in paragraph 2.23 of the NAO report, which correlate to the CDC business case.

As has been mentioned, several organisations have expressed concern about the CDC’s tax transparency. “Transparency” is a buzzword that has been used by both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State. If the CDC does not lead by example, it does not encourage other investors to avoid the use of tax havens. Worse still, the use of tax havens reduces the tax take of developing countries, preventing their Governments from generating additional revenue that they could invest in capital schemes, services or revenue support schemes. As long as the CDC has a model whereby it re-invests profit, it cannot adopt the “profit at any cost” ethos of the worst of the private sector. That becomes self-defeating, and smaller returns resulting from paying its full tax dues should not be a matter for debate.

It is clear that the use of tax havens takes away from the sustainability of developing countries. It is some five years on since the International Development Committee advised that transparency is essential for the public to hold the CDC to account. At present the CDC is still some way off best practice and the transparency that the Government aspire to. The CDC scored “poor” in the 2012 aid transparency index, so for the Government to commit huge amounts of extra funding before improvements are made is not consistent with the Secretary of State’s stated aim of improving transparency across the aid budget. Aid cannot work in the national interest if three quarters of the CDC’s investments are routed through jurisdictions that feature in the top 20 of the Tax Justice Network’s financial secrecy index. That cannot be in the long-term national interest.

Oxfam has highlighted this issue, as well as other concerns about transparency, suitable investment and the use of tax havens. In addition, Christian Aid, which is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 Churches and organisations engaged in humanitarian assistance, has called for an end to the use of tax havens. It is clear that the practice must be ended.

The founding principles of the CDC are good. Some of its working needs to be fine-tuned, and it is important that this happens before any more Government money is funnelled in. It needs to be explained what share of the overall aid budget this increase constitutes and what other types of aid might be reduced to make way for this investment. As others have asked, why have the Government introduced this Bill before publication of the CDC’s investment strategy for 2017-21? I note that the autumn statement last week shows a net decrease in overseas development assistance of some £80 million next year and a further £210 million the following year. It is crucial, therefore, that an arm’s-length company is not funded at the expense of other required aid. As the NAO report states:

“It remains a significant challenge for CDC to demonstrate its ultimate objective of creating jobs and making a lasting difference to people’s lives in some of the world’s poorest places.”

We must not forget that. We need put in place everything that is necessary to allow that to happen.