|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I echo what a number of people have already said. We shall miss him very much and we admire greatly the tremendous work that he has done on international development.
On the specific point that the hon. Gentleman raises, does he agree that, whoever is responsible for delivering humanitarian aid, it is crucial that they continue to work increasingly with non-governmental organisations, so that the aid is seen to be delivered to the people who should be benefiting?
Mr. Wells: I agree. We must be careful that we work with NGOs that are properly managed, organised and capable of delivering the aid to both sides impartially. If one NGO, for whatever reason, has adopted a particular position on the conflict in which it is working, I suggest that it be thereby excluded from delivering such humanitarian aid so as to maintain the impartial nature of the aid. That is essential if we are to be able to help, for example, in the distribution of food--we all saw the starvation conditions produced by conflict in Ethiopia many years ago.
One of the difficult questions that we face is whether we are feeding the two armies in a conflict as a primary result of the distribution of food, so that the fighting can continue for longer. By all admission, much food aid distributed in those circumstances does support the belligerents. In those circumstances we need to train NGOs to deliver impartially--they are the people to do so--because we cannot employ Government people to distribute the aid if they are in conflict with a large part of the civil population. The NGOs therefore play a crucial role.
As I have said, humanitarian assistance in the post-cold war period has been extended because it has begun to be used as a method by which to influence internal disputes within countries. As we all know, since the fall of the Berlin wall, we have predominantly dealt with conflicts within countries, not between countries. Although the type
I am worried that humanitarian assistance is increasingly associated with politico-military intervention by the west. The obvious example of that is NATO's appointment of a "humanitarian general"--a general in charge of humanitarian assistance provided by NATO. The Select Committee on International Development met the general, the first to be appointed, who was very efficient and had organised most of Albania with the consent of its Government. He was given control of the ports, airports and all the roads leading to the border with Kosovo, all of which he ran with exemplary efficiency and discipline. Nevertheless, he called himself a humanitarian NATO general.
Let us consider that role for a moment. He was a humanitarian general on behalf of one side of a conflict. Was he offering those services to the Serbs in Kosovo? Was he also prepared to run their ports, airports and military logistics to assist them? It does not make any sense at all, but that is what we have started to slip into by using the word "humanitarian" for such purposes.
The relationship between humanitarian and political action has become very complex, and an international consensus is lacking on the political character and legitimacy of humanitarian assistance. I believe that that situation will become more acute if we continue down the same road. I also believe that clause 3 places us in danger of allowing the operation of humanitarian assistance to slip further. As hon. Members will have noticed, clause 3 exempts the Government from a requirement to ensure that money spent on humanitarian assistance is used for poverty reduction programmes. It requires that the money be spent not on pro-poor policies, but simply on humanitarian aid.
In its reply to the sixth report of the International Development Committee, on conflict prevention and reconstruction, which was published in 1999, the Department for International Development defined humanitarian aid as
I know that the Department does not wish to provide a definition because it is afraid that, if it does so, it will be taken to court in a judicial review. If the Government provided a definition, a decision to spend money on humanitarian assistance could be challenged in court. As we know, in court, definitions are manna for lawyers. I think that the risk of such legal action is a real danger.
We must think about how we can achieve the objectives that we have set in regard to humanitarian assistance. I would define them as follows: to prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health, and to ensure respect for the human being. Arguably, that definition provides for the protection and re-establishment of livelihoods, not just the saving of lives. In other words, unlike development assistance or political intervention, humanitarian assistance is concerned with the preservation and dignity of individuals. It is based on their humanity, not on the development of particular political or economic systems or on political affiliation. That definition--probably refined--might fulfil the purposes that we all want to be maintained and sustained in respect of humanitarian assistance as defined in clause 3.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill): I want to offer a few thoughts on good governance. In a few weeks, we are all likely to be touring the country telling the population that the other side is incapable of delivering good governance; yet here we are, discussing how other countries may deliver it.
I was relieved to note that Opposition Members are not talking nowadays of trying to impose a west-approved system on other countries, but I feel that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) is expecting a great deal in some instances. While representative democracy and an independent judiciary are ideals that we hope can be aspired to by every country--the sooner the better--in many cases we seem to be a long way from achieving those aims. In far too many countries, for example, women--despite constituting half the population--do not have a say in how their countries are run, let alone play a part in Government or judiciary. If we are calling for good governance, we should ensure that women have an equal right to run their own countries.
What the Secretary of State has done over the past four years is crucial. She has developed literacy and numeracy programmes, and that alone is a key element. Literacy and numeracy present populations with the opportunity to challenge, as they enable them to think for themselves, to argue, to campaign and to get things done. My right hon. Friend's concentration over those four years, and in the Bill, on promoting education--especially women's education--is what is required. We must begin where people are, not where they are likely to be.
Good governance is indeed crucial to the debate; we know that from our own experience. When this country suddenly leapt forward, it was because we started to pay High Court and other judges rates that ensured that they were incorruptible. From that moment we gave an enormous boost to good governance. The same applies to the civil service. Why did the country leap forward in
I want to concentrate on new clause 2, and its emphasis on a reduction of poverty. There is no doubt at all that EC assistance is too often influenced by political expediency rather than being concentrated on the reduction of poverty--I think that both sides of the House are convinced of that. As we have heard, that means that EU assistance, in the name of development aid, goes to relatively rich countries which are neighbours of the EU; such aid is thus unavailable for really poor countries.
I join the whole House in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) for his chairmanship of the Select Committee on International Development and for the way in which he has developed the debate in a bipartisan spirit. He has contributed much to a greater understanding of the issues in the House and in the Conservative party. The Committee's ninth report is excellent; I very much hope that all Members will take a few moments to glance through it.
The report is fair. I do not want to be accused of EU bashing. I want to defend the EU--just for a moment--so that no one can say that we are trying to use new clause 2 merely to bash the EU. The report stated that the EU is perfectly entitled to take an interest in what is going on in Poland, in Bosnia or in Serbia. However, that is a political objective; it should not be part of the aid budget. As the report stated on page ix:
There must be a better way. We look forward to the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for International Development on this point. Can we not convince the Council of Ministers and our friends in the EU that we are entitled to pay our fair share in helping Serbia, Bosnia or Poland or other hot spots close to our borders, but that we need a ring-fenced budget? As the report states:
I do not seek here to make a party political point or any point directed against the EU. I fully accept that everyone has their own priorities. However, when we are faced with dire poverty in the world, and when both sides of the House face enormous difficulties in the political debate trying to convince hon. Friends that we should devote more resources to the world's poorest populations, even though that may result in fewer hospitals, schools and roads--all the things that our voters actually want--how can we go to our electorates and argue for that aid when we see such waste, or at least misdirection, of resources? People think that those resources are going to help the world's poorest people, but they are in fact being diverted for political objectives. I hope that the whole House can agree with new clause 2 on that point.