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6.50 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I, too, warmly welcome the Bill, as I have welcomed the two White Papers on international development that have been published in the past four years. The House should congratulate the Government and the Secretary of State on a very proud record. As has been said, it is more than 20 years since a Bill on international development was introduced. This is an almost unprecedented happening.

I agree with the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) that it is very sad that we have not had any lengthy debate on development issues, but, as spokesperson for the alternative Opposition, that is almost all on which I agree with him. In an hour-long speech, he spent at least 15 minutes discussing the fact that he did not have enough time for debate. Such comments always seem to be a total waste of time, but Conservative Members will, no doubt, spend another three quarters of an hour later this evening discussing why they do not have enough time for debate.

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So devoid of ideas is the Conservative party that the hon. Gentleman could manage to spend only 10 minutes on Tory policy. He simply spent the rest of the time in a slanging match which had nothing whatever to do with the Bill. It was a pretty poor performance, and I am delighted that he is now back in his place to hear me say that.

I understand that this is a procedural Bill, and, in that sense, it is a bit grey. I was excited when I heard that it had been published because I thought that it would deal with matters such as bribery, as the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) suggested, and with tied aid and AIDS. I thought that it would be colourful, but, as I said, it is a bit grey and procedural. Nevertheless, it is still very interesting, and with the indulgence of the House, I should like to address the issues that it raises. I shall spend 10 minutes or so going through it, picking up some of the points about which I feel strongly and getting a few things off my chest.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill was necessary to ensure that aid would not be given at the whim of a future Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said that that was the case and that the Secretary of State was devolving responsibility. We have heard about the awful things that have happened when Secretaries of State have taken too wide a brief on aid in the past, and there have been disasters such as the Pergau dam, but why then does clause 1(3) state:

The first amendment tabled must deal with that phrase. If we are to free ourselves from the Secretary of State's whims, we must not allow the phrase,

to be used, and I should like that matter to be clarified, but perhaps we can explore it in Committee. The inclusion of that phrase is dangerous because--although I suspect that it will be a long time before there is a change of flavour--how can we stop future Secretaries of State doing all sorts of terrible things in the name of development if it remains on the statute book?

I immediately spotted the fact that the declaration on the front of the Bill states that all its provisions are compatible with the European convention on human rights. Therefore, I have a difficulty with clause 2 on aid for overseas territories. First, on a side issue, if the overseas territories are part of the United Kingdom, I cannot understand why the aid that they need from this country has to come from the Department for International Development. If they have opted to stay part of this country, surely the aid should come from the education or health budgets, or wherever, not from DFID. However, if the Department is to give them aid and they call themselves overseas territories, we must insist that, as a condition of that aid, they uphold the international agreements that we uphold, such as the European convention on human rights.

There has been an enormous spat in the press and other media during the past few months about the refusal of some overseas territories to accept homosexual rights, with which I have been very much involved. Those territories simply must understand that they cannot have it both ways--either they are part of this country and comply with our international agreements, and we will help them, or they become independent. We should make that clear, and the Bill should do so, too.

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On the thorny subject of humanitarian assistance, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford called for a definition of such assistance. We must consider the need for humanitarian aid, but I should prefer to consider who causes the need for such aid. We should separate natural disasters from those that are caused, with whatever justification, by the Ministry of Defence or NATO. Should the Department for International Development pick up those bills either in full or in part? If humanitarian aid is needed as a result of military action to which this country has partly or wholly contributed, and if we are to stick to the poverty focus, the humanitarian aid should come from and be paid for by a Department other than DFID. I emphasise that the poverty focus is all-important.

A difficult issue is raised in clause 5, which I believe is intended to deal with what could be termed "tied aid". Clarification is needed because clause 5(1) refers to

If that is linked with know-how, such as personal training or the provision of the results of research and so on, is that not tied aid?

Clare Short: No.

Dr. Tonge: It is not. Well, I need clarification on the issue, and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will provide it.

I want to refer to indirect offset schemes--mysterious things that I heard of only a few weeks ago at a meeting in Portcullis House. The Secretary of State kindly wrote to me on the subject, but I still do not understand under which category they come. I should like an assurance that the Government would never become involved with such schemes, because they tie the supplying country to the requesting country in an odd way. We need clarification on that issue.

I shall move on, under my agenda, to clause 13. I welcome the support for commonwealth scholarships--a wonderful scheme. About 95 per cent. of the participants in those scholarships return to their country of origin to work. They are currently nominated only by their Governments, however, so people who are part of significant dissident opposition in their country have a serious problem. For example, how will people who oppose the Zimbabwean Government ever have access to Commonwealth scholarships? When I was in southern Sudan, I was repeatedly told that people wanted Commonwealth scholarships, but could not obtain them because the Government of Sudan would not nominate them. Can we have an assurance that that will change?

Clare Short: Because the hon. Lady has asked parliamentary questions, she will know that we asked the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission to carry out a review so that the focus on development and poverty was central to its efforts. Members of elites often apply for scholarships, but they can obtain other forms of education if they are not nominated for one of those scholarships. The commission has done an extremely good job and we are in the process of implementing many of its recommendations. For the very reason that the hon. Lady has given, it recommended that nomination through

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Governments should not be the only means of gaining such scholarships. I intend to implement that recommendation.

Dr. Tonge: I thank the Secretary of State for clarifying that point. I know that it is important to many members of the Select Committee.

I will not go into detail on the subject of our contribution to European Union aid. We have heard a lot about that and the Liberal Democrats agree with what has been said. I shall never forget the day when I sat down with a glass of wine and looked at the Court of Auditors report on the delivery of aid. I expected to go to sleep very rapidly, but I got through half a bottle of wine and got more and more angry. I could not sleep because the report outlined the appalling delays that had occurred in the delivery of European Union aid. I am delighted by the changes that have taken place. However, as members of the Select Committee have said, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this time next year. Will the Commissioners have taken the recommendations on board and implemented the changes? I hope that they do, because it is important that we maintain the poverty focus.

I appreciate that there are very poor people in middle-income countries, and we want to help them. That is only right and proper. However, we must not use aid for political purposes as the European Union has done.

Co-ordination between Departments is very close to my heart. I remember early in this Parliament when I was a new Member asking the Secretary of State whether the aims of her wonderful White Paper on development were supported by other Departments. I received a blistering response. It would have reduced me to jelly if I were not such a tough old bird. The reply was as good as anything that the hon. Member for South-West Devon gets.

I have wondered over the past four years, however, just how much Departments support the aims of other Departments' White Papers. For example, if, as is stated in the White Paper, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office supports poverty reduction and conflict prevention, why have we had no arms control Bill or a register of--or control over--arms brokers? They contribute so much to poverty in this world.

If the Department of Trade and Industry wants poverty reduction, which it supported in the White Paper on development, why is it still considering export credit guarantees for the Ilisu dam, which will throw 78,000 people into poverty?

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