Mr. Browne: When he asked whether the Bill's terms were robust enough to allow the Secretary of State to do what she wanted in relation to good governance, the hon. Gentleman referred to his own policy paper. I confess that I have not read it, but I shall correct that omission as soon as possible. He suggested that if the Conservatives came to power, good governance would be a stated objective of development assistance. Presumably, they would support good governance only for the purposes of development. Would they support development for any purpose other than poverty reduction?
Mr. Streeter: Good governance would certainly be the focal point of the next Conservative Government's development policy. There is no question but that we shall support countries in their march towards good governance, without which there would be no framework to sustain the investment and entrepreneurial activity that cause living standards to improve. That will take centre stage in our policy.
The Secretary of State has answered the questions that I have put so far. Would the Bill permit steps to facilitate private investment, which can work faster than anything else to reduce poverty? Will she give her definition of poverty--perhaps in Committee? What are the benefits of imposing the narrow approach in the Bill? How would it make us better off?
We shall wish to explore those questions at length in Committee, and I hope that the programme motion will allow enough time, which the motion on the Order Paper certainly does not. Given that we have had few opportunities to hear from the Secretary of State in the House--though it is always an illuminating experience--will she confirm whether she will serve on the Standing Committee?
Clare Short: I do not intend to serve on the Committee. I have an incredibly able deputy to do that job for me, and we can expand the activities and achievements of our Department by not wasting our resources on performing the same task.
The Government's poverty focus is inextricably linked to international targets on poverty reduction, which the Secretary of State mentioned in her speech. We all support those targets. The Government subscribe to the 2015 target of halving global poverty. Who would not? But are there not real dangers in hiding behind remote long-term
Even when those targets are broken down, there are problems. For example, under the DFID public service agreement for 1999-2002, the allocation of aid to the poorest countries was supposed to be 80 per cent. last year; instead, it was 69 per cent. That is lower than in the previous year. Little progress has been made on maternal mortality, which led to the target being scrapped altogether this year. DFID could not obtain sufficient data on the target for enrolment in primary schools. If the Government cannot achieve even their smaller targets, what realistic hope is there for their global targets?
What a new Labour approach it is to set a target, announce it with fanfares in the press and include it in all the glossy brochures but, when it becomes clear that the target will not be reached, quietly to forget about it. Targets are worth while only when they are consistently applied so that progress can realistically be measured. They do not work if one keeps moving the goalposts.
For example, last October the Secretary of State said that 35 countries were eligible for debt relief and that it would be a disaster if we did not get three quarters of them on track by 2000. Three quarters of 35 is 26, but only 22 countries have qualified--four fewer than the right hon. Lady's target--so presumably that is a disaster. No, apparently it is not; instead of admitting that the target had been missed, she simply downgraded it. In a written answer, she said:
The Bill gives the Secretary of State wide discretion as to how to apply the objective, supported on all sides, of reducing global poverty--rightly so. We support that wide discretion. However, when considering how the Secretary of State is likely to exercise her powers, if the Bill becomes law and in the unlikely event of the Government's re-election, we are entitled to examine the policies that she has pursued to date.
The Government have begun to establish a clear pattern in their approach to international development. Increasingly, they are moving to a sector-funded approach and adopting a Government-to-Government approach--turning their back on some excellent work done by charities. This afternoon, the Secretary of State confirmed--more or less--that that is her approach.
Clare Short: As ever, the hon. Gentleman shows that he does not understand these matters. One cannot create effective modern governance--good governance--without engaging with Governments. It is the role of charities to bolster civil society, or to run pilot projects that show what is doable. As a Government, we are providing £195 million a year to UK non-governmental organisations
Mr. Streeter: I am sorry to say that it is the Secretary of State who does not understand. The whole point of engaging with Governments should be to improve their governance, but her engagement with Governments all over the world does not have the specific focus of improving the quality of their governance; it is to deliver projects in those countries that are more often run by her officials than by their Ministers.
The right hon. Lady referred to the allocation of £195 million to charities and NGOs. That sum constitutes 8 per cent. of the DFID budget--no wonder the Conservatives have pledged that in our first Parliament we will double the proportion of DFID money to be spent through NGOs and charities. We believe in the quality of their work and in the excellent outcome of all their efforts. The Government have begun to establish a clear pattern of sector funding, Government-to-Government aid, and talking tough but acting soft in their attempts to improve the failing European Union aid programme, which wastes 30 per cent. of British aid money. I should like to examine each of those issues in turn.
We have serious reservations about the sector-wide approach to aid. It is dangerous to pour money into a developing-government programme with no clear knowledge of or control over how it is used, and the Department has highlighted those concerns. A research paper that it produced in 1998--entitled, "Social Development Issues in Sector Wide Approaches"--states that
The confidence of the British people in Government- to-Government aid is very low. We know that from the survey of opinion that appears on the Department's own website. The survey clearly shows that the majority of British people believe that Britain is a soft touch when it comes to aid. Although the British people have, time and
Let us consider Malawi. Far more than half the population over which the Malawi Government preside live in absolute poverty and more than 40 per cent. cannot read and write--so how could the Government of Malawi afford to buy a fleet of luxury Mercedes cars for Ministers? The British high commissioner knew that that would be unacceptable to British taxpayers, who have stumped up £46 million for that country this year alone. When I raised the issue in the House with the Secretary of State, she denied that there was a problem. However, there was a problem and the cars had to be sold, but the damage was done. How can the British people have confidence that their money, pumped directly into the Government of Malawi, is not simply freeing up resources that enrich the elite?