Luke Humphrey blogs about the 'International Development in Parliament' workshop which took place at the University of Leeds earlier this month.
Development has always sat uncomfortably in the foreground of parliament and government budgeting. Does it deserve its own department and budget? Or does it fit into other departments like foreign affairs which has been done recently in Canada? What difference does are spending make? How can we make a difference ourselves? And of course there is always the age old question of how much we should be putting into our aid budget. Is it enough, is it too much? Is it being spent effectively? I hoped these questions would be answered on the 2nd March at the ‘International Development in Parliament’ workshop at Leeds University hosted by Lynn Hobson – Regional Outreach Officer for Parliament in Yorkshire & Humber.
The talk was incredibly helpful and insightful, providing information on how parliament works and how to influence debates and raise awareness of campaigns and issues through various parliamentary systems. However the workshop left me with a bittersweet taste, we now know how to influence parliamentary procedure… but does it really make a difference. I have always firmly believed that if I could influence change for the better in governments whether it being one of many signatures on a petition or a face amongst thousands in protests then it was my duty to do so. But the disheartening fact is that parliament almost always replies to these outcries with the same unwavering conviction that outraged people enough to march and voice their opinions. It’s a worryingly similar story in parliamentary questions, public bill committees and in pressure groups across parliament. It’s this cynicism that worries me the most, because frankly the reality is you could spend decades petitioning, protesting, sitting in committees, sending emails and supporting fringe groups just to have your voice heard enough to amend a sliver of a government bill. So how does this translate into International Development?
Well there is of course the International Development Committee, consisting of six Conservative, four Labour MPs and a singular SNP MP. They debate and monitor the actions and progress of DFID including its spending and administration. This is perhaps the most encouraging way to have your voice heard and taken on board in terms of International Development in parliament. The committee accepts evidence on any issue from anybody. For example if you wanted to voice your opinion on DFID’s work in Nigeria which is currently under inquiry, all you have to do is go to the International Development Committee page on the Parliament website, go into ‘Inquires’, find one you are passionate about and go on their ‘terms of reference’ to be able to send any evidence you feel will support your view on their work. Submissions of course have to be concise and to the point, but many NGOs and IGOs such as Tear Fund and the British Council often give evidence for these inquiries. A refreshing and exciting prospect which development students like me dribble over.
So whilst the crushing lack of recognition of petitions and protests continues, there is at least a ray of hope that someone outside of the parliamentary system can make a change. But in many other aspects of parliament, there is little more than petitions, protests and piling on emails to local MPs. I would urge everyone to check out the various committee’s however. If you feel, like me, your voice goes unheard, submitting evidence on issues that the government actually does have its eye on really could make the difference you want to see in the world.