Today was the first International Development Questions since I’ve taken over as the Liberal Democrats’ Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. The ways the questions work is that there is a list of questions that will be orally asked of the International Development Secretary of State or his Ministers and they are published on what is called the Order Paper. We precede Prime Ministers’ Questions and have half an hour for questions and answers.
Each question on the Order Paper is answered by the Minister or Secretary – and then the author of the oral question can ask one supplementary, and also other people can join in. As Shadow Secretary of State – I get called by Mr Speaker to chip in on any question on the Order Paper that I choose – but with such a time limit it would be risky not to go on one of the first three questions as it can be quite a long time on one question if there are a lot of people standing to catch Mr Speaker’s eye.
I decided to come in on Question 3 on the Doha Trade talks:
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green, Liberal Democrat)
There have recently been warm words from Europe and America about reinvigorating the Doha talks, but I am not convinced that there is any real political will behind that. It was certainly not at the top of the agenda of the President’s “State of the Union” speech last night. What new and different steps has the Secretary of State taken recently to break the inertia and take advantage of the different political landscape that now exists in the American Congress?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on her appointment as shadow Secretary of State for International Development. Let me repeat what I have said in response to earlier questions. The EC representative, Peter Mandelson, has taken part in constructive discussions, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on his visit to the United States just before Christmas. My right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry held useful and productive discussions with their Indian counterparts last week, and we continue to talk to our allies in Europe with the aim of advancing the EC’s position further.
There are signs of progress, but we still have some way to go. Obviously we need to do more to lock down the deal which, as I think is recognised by Members in all parts of the House, is fundamental if developing countries are to make the progress that we all want in order to achieve the millennium development goals.
We are also after the Government over the BAe scandal (dropping of corruption inquiry by Labour). Hilary Benn is the ministerial champion for combatting international corruption. So we asked him whether he had been consulted by the Government over their decision to drop the prosecution. No – said Hilary – they hadn’t consulted him and that was OK because they did not need to. Now if I were Hilary I would be livid to not be consulted. We (my colleague Martin Horwood more accurately) were then hoping to get called in PMQs that followed so that he could then ask Tony Blair why he hadn’t consulted his champion for combatting corruption – but sadly – Mr Speaker again failed to call a single LibDem on a supplementary. He hasn’t called one this year!