Parliament is often thought of as an antiquated institution, but one of its bodies we engage with most often is even younger than most of our staff and campaigners: 2017 marks the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the International Development Committee (IDC).
While there had been a government minister dedicated to overseas development for a number of years, their status fluctuated between governments of different political persuasions – at times overseeing a Ministry of Overseas Development and at others sitting as a junior minister at the Foreign Office.
1997 marked a significant change when Tony Blair’s Labour Government created the new Department for International Development (DFID) with its own cabinet-level Secretary of State. To ensure that this new Department was held to account, the House of Commons responded by creating a Select Committee to mirror it – and so the IDC was born.
As an investigative Committee, the IDC sets its own programme rather than scrutinising legislation that is going through parliament. While its remit to examine the policy, administration and spending of DFID has remained the same over twenty years, its inquiries have been diverse.
Recent inquiries have covered specific issues such as Ebola: responses to a public health emergency and Crisis in Yemen as well as big broad topics like the Sustainable Development Goals and more thematic areas such as DFID’s work on education: leaving no one behind? and DFID’s work on HIV/AIDS, which RESULTS UK submitted written evidence to.
For each inquiry, the IDC develops terms of reference and invites written submissions before taking oral evidence from a range of invited witnesses – including DFID and its ministers.
The Committee’s clerks (its apolitical permanent staff - not to be confused with the Committee Clerk, who is the most senior of the clerks and effectively the Committee’s CEO) guide Members through each inquiry, providing and compiling briefings, gathering evidence and then drafting a report that contains recommendations for DFID.
Such reports are more than just a formality: they can be used to commend and/or criticise DFID and encourage policy and behaviourial change. For example, in 2014 the IDC held an inquiry into Disability and Development. It was no coincidence that later that year DFID published its first ever Disability Framework.
The clerks are there to support the MPs; the IDC’s 11 cross-party Members agree its inquiries, question witnesses at oral evidence session, partake in overseas delegations and agree its reports. The chairmanship of the Committee currently sits with Labour – all Select Committee chairs are divided up between political parties depending on their size in the Commons, and MPs are then able to vote in a ballot for each. Stephen Twigg, who RESULTS UK campaigners met at our National Conference last year, was elected as Chair in 2015.
Notwithstanding its relative youth, the IDC has certainly found its feet, proving itself to be a proactive and productive Select Committee; last year, for example, Stephen Twigg called on the UK to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia that may be used in Yemen. The changing aid landscape presents challenges, however.
By 2030 around 30% of the UK’s aid budget is due to be spent by departments other than DFID. The IDC recently launched its UK aid: other government departments inquiry with a view to ensuring mechanisms are in place so that spending remains transparent, accountable and committed to poverty reduction.
The specific role of the IDC in this shifting landscape is yet to be determined but its resourcefulness to date suggests it will be integral to holding the government to account on development.