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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
International Development Bill

International Development Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 13 March 2001


[Mr. John Butterfill in the Chair]

International Development Bill

Clause 1

Development Assistance

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 1, in page 1, line 10, after `contribute', insert `directly or indirectly'.—[Mrs. Gillan.]

4.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 16, at end insert


    (c) promoting good governance in one or more such countries'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 16, at end insert


    (d) reducing conflict or the potential for conflict in one or more such countries'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 16, at end insert


    (e) putting in place the framework necessary to attract private and foreign direct investment in one or more such countries'.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): When we broke for lunch, I was about to conclude my introductory remarks. I had yet to deal with the substance of the amendments, but I shall not speak for much longer.

The amendments are designed with the genuine aim of ensuring that the Department for International Development is able to continue to do the things that it wants to do. This morning, I pointed out that the Secretary of State has said that she has the flexibility to do what she wants to do. My concern is that the Bill might change the rules in such a way as to remove that flexibility. In my view, clause 1 is restrictive. I hope that the Minister will answer the points that I have made.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin): Clause 1 sets out the Bill's core provisions, which enable the Secretary of State to give aid if she is satisfied that it is likely to lead to a reduction in poverty. The Government have deliberately left the Secretary of State's discretion as wide as possible, provided that it meets certain purposes.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) asked why the Bill is necessary—a point that was answered by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge), as well as on Second Reading. The Bill is necessary to prevent a future Government from tying aid without justifying such a change to Parliament. In future, there will be no more Pergau dams, no aid linked to arms sales, no connection between aid and trade. Our aid programme is no longer a tool of foreign policy, still less of trade policy and, in a nutshell, that is how we want matters to remain. Any future Government who want to change that policy will have to justify themselves to Parliament.

Subsection (1) requires that the Secretary of State be satisfied that

    ``the provision of assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.''

Amendment No. 1 is designed to ensure that any such contribution, whether direct or indirect, is capable of satisfying the Secretary of State. That is unnecessary and undesirable. Under the clause as drafted, the Secretary of State can provide development assistance if it is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. We do not specify whether that contribution must be direct or indirect, but it is clear that there must be a demonstrable link between the giving of assistance and a contribution to a reduction in poverty. To make a point of saying that a contribution can be indirect would enable the Secretary of State to be satisfied even where the extent of the contribution is accidental or a mere knock-on effect. That would introduce a loophole, and I am sure that that is not the intention of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) assured the House that a Conservative Government would not reintroduce the aid for trade scheme, but I am advised that accepting amendment No. 1 would make such schemes lawful. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham will correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think that that is her intention. If we are all agreed—as I believed we were—that poverty reduction must be the focus of all future assistance, it makes no sense whatever to compromise a statutory provision that guarantees that focus. I therefore ask that amendment No. 1 be withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 2 to 4 would add three purposes to development assistance: good governance, conflict reduction and the promotion of private and foreign direct investment. As many hon. Members have noted, those areas are vital to development. Sustainable reduction in poverty requires good government, a lack of corruption, the absence of conflict, private sector growth and foreign direct investment. The Department is heavily engaged in all those areas. The amendments are simply not necessary.

The Bill is drafted to ensure that the Secretary of State can support activities that strengthen governance, reduce corruption, tackle the causes and consequences of conflict and promote private sector growth and foreign investment in developing countries. We are clear that that support is possible within the context of the two purposes of sustainable development and welfare under the overarching poverty reduction requirement.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I am not sure at what stage in the Minister's speech he will reach my point, but I am keen that he addresses it. It is important that aid should not be withdrawn from a country that is no longer a client simply on the basis that it is no longer among the poorest of the poor. I hope that his remarks about the scope of the clause mean that if a serious international effort has been made to assist a country and it is close to taking off on its own, aid will not be withdrawn.

Mr. Mullin: If the state of a country is improving and poverty is decreasing, it is likely that aid to that country will be withdrawn gradually. I am sure that that is what happens at the moment and that it will continue. There is no question of building a country up and suddenly pulling the plug.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): The Minister says that aid will be withdrawn gradually. However, as soon as the Bill is enacted, certain projects that are currently supported by the Department will fall outside its provisions. Can he give us an assurance that every funded project will fall within the parameters of the Bill?

Mr. Mullin: I assure the hon. Lady that and the Bill is entirely consistent with the Department's philosophy and its work. I cannot speak for every project because to do so would be foolish.

The intention of the Bill is to entrench the change in philosophy that has occurred over the past three or four years, to which we believe that all parties and many non-governmental organisations and others are signed up. The support offered by Opposition Members can continue in harmony with the wording of the Bill as it stands. Further specific purposes are unnecessary and could create confusion when we are aiming for clarity.

Mrs. Gillan: What the Minister has just told me worries me greatly. It is entirely in conflict with what the Secretary of State said on 6 March. When asked by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon about drugs and drug trafficking, she replied that

    ``the large amount of money that could be spent on preventing drugs from flowing across the world—desirable as that is—would not come within development budget funding.''—[Official Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 173.]

I am worried because there must be projects currently funded by DFID—for example, some Customs and Excise projects—that aim to prevent drugs from flowing across the world. The Secretary of State has distinctly said that those projects will no longer fall within the parameters of her Department when the Bill is enacted. Does not that completely contradict what the Minister just told the Committee?

Mr. Mullin: With respect, no it does not. The hon. Lady quoted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State out of context. The whole paragraph reads:

    ``When people grow drugs because they have no other livelihood, supporting them so that they can have other livelihoods and a better, legitimate life is a proper part of development assistance spending. However, the large amounts of money that could be spent on preventing drugs from flowing across the world—desirable as that is—would not come within development budget funding.''—[Official Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 173.]

My right hon. Friend was saying that if spending is linked to the reduction of poverty and the aims set out at the beginning of the Bill, that is fine, but the Department does not exist to deal with drugs alone—it does so only where doing so meets the wider purposes of reducing poverty and creating sustainable development. I assure the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that all current DFID-supported drugs projects will be consistent with the Bill. In the extract that she quoted, the Secretary of State was not referring to DFID projects, but to projects that are not funded by DFID. The hon. Lady therefore has no cause to worry. The short answer to her question about whether all the projects will continue after the Bill is enacted is yes.

On Second Reading, several hon. Members made the point that we should not define the boundary between what the Secretary of State can and cannot support. The Bill imposes no constraints on the types of activities that the Secretary of State can support—indeed, it increases the range of instruments that are available to her. Rather, it imposes a constraint on the purposes for which the assistance can be provided. With the exception of assistance to the overseas territories and in cases of disaster or other emergency, assistance can be provided only if it is likely to contribute to the reduction of poverty by furthering sustainable development or promoting the welfare of the people. In other words, the Bill will enable a wider range of activities in pursuit of a more focused purpose. That distinction between activities and purpose is crucial.

Let me offer one example of how the boundaries of the Bill will be defined. After 10 years of civil conflict, Sierra Leone is by some definitions the poorest country in the world. We are all aware of the horrendous situation there. Poverty breeds the discontent that perpetuates the violence. Our current strategy is to end that vicious circle by promoting security, giving substantial support to the police, helping to civilianise and make accountable the country's ministry of defence and helping to reintegrate ex-combatants from all sides who wish to return to civilian life. We provide budgetary support to help to meet the direct costs of running the country and delivering Government services. We also seek to strengthen governance by supporting the newly-created anti-corruption commission, reforming the judiciary and helping the Government to prepare for the elections that are due next year. Under the Bill, the Secretary of State will be able to continue to support all those interventions because they are all aimed at reducing poverty, either by furthering sustainable development, or by promoting the welfare of the people.

The amendments are not only unnecessary, but potentially damaging. On the principle that nothing in legislation should be said if it is unnecessary to say it, every additional purpose stated in the clause would cast doubt on the breadth of the two core purposes. If support for good governance is not, as we believe it is, implicit in action to further sustainable development and to improve welfare, what do the two core purposes cover? As the hon. Member for Richmond Park rightly asked, why stop at good governance?

DIFD is in the process of producing a series of strategy papers identifying action that developing countries and international communities need to take in nine areas to help to achieve development targets. These papers include not only good governance, but the empowerment of women, human rights and the environment. Why should governance be elevated rather than those other issues?

4.45 pm


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