International Development Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Mullin: The Government's policy on overseas territories is clearly set out in our White Paper ``Eliminating World Poverty—A Challenge for the 21st Century'' and in the White Paper on overseas territories ``Partnership for Progress and Prosperity'', both of which confirm that the reasonable assistance needs of the overseas territories are the first call on our development programme. The amendment would impose the affirmative procedure on orders updating the list of UK overseas territories in schedule 1.

The Government must resist the amendment. We do not believe that Parliament would want to concern itself with that issue. Schedule 1 provides a complete list of the UK overseas territories, and clause 2(3) provides the power to update the list to reflect changes in name or status: for example, if a territory became independent, the appropriate changes would be made. Such changes would be technical and uncontroversial, so the affirmative procedure is not necessary. The hon. Lady asked about removal from list. The only condition that would give rise to that possibility is independence, and a country in such a position would be closely involved in such discussions.

The order to update schedule 1 is not an executive order that receives parliamentary scrutiny. It must be laid before the Parliament and is subject to annulment. That should answer the hon. Lady's point.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, which shows how good the process of scrutiny of a Bill can be. He has given me information that I did not have before. He has assured me that the overseas territories list will remain intact and that no country will be removed from it unless it becomes thoroughly independent, after which time it would receive aid from the United Kingdom subject to the poverty focus, which is presumably covered under clause 1. Having been enlightened by the Minister for a change, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 3

Humanitarian Assistance

Mrs. Gillan: I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 9, at end insert—

    `(2) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements to ensure that humanitarian assistance provided under subsection (1) which is provided via other agencies or bodies shall comply with the same standards as to effectiveness and probity as apply to assistance disbursed directly.'.

It does not take a great brain to work out what lies behind the amendment, which would ensure that all humanitarian assistance provided by the United Kingdom to outside agencies such as the EU and the UN conforms to the same standards as bilateral humanitarian assistance. Aid distributed through multilateral agencies should be of the same standard as aid delivered bilaterally. We are worried that humanitarian assistance delivered by multilateral aid agencies is often unco-ordinated, of poor quality and slow.

The Minister will be familiar with all our specific criticisms of the aid that is delivered through the EU and the UN, and it would be curmudgeonly of me and unhelpful to the Committee to itemise them. They are well-rehearsed and the views they represent are shared throughout the House. We are always seeking ways in which we can improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance, particularly through the EU, which has a catalogue of fraud. However, at this stage of the Bill's passage, the amendment might be of benefit to the Government. I should like to hear the Minister's reaction to the amendment before I speak further.

Mr. Mullin: Clause 3 enables the Secretary of State to provide humanitarian assistance in response to disaster or other emergencies. Assistance under the clause is not limited to development assistance as defined under clause 1, nor is there any requirement for the assistance to be likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. The clause does not use the term ``humanitarian assistance'', which consequently is not defined in the Bill. Instead, the clause refers to natural or man-made disaster or other emergency and limits the purpose of assistance to alleviating their effects on the population of a country outside the United Kingdom.

The amendment would place the Secretary of State under a duty to apply standards of effectiveness and probity to any organisation or person who acts on her behalf in the provision of humanitarian assistance. It is unnecessary because it is already open to the Secretary of State to impose standards on those who carry out activities on her behalf. The Department already devotes significant resources to ensuring that our partners, systems and procedures meet the requirements of effectiveness and probity that are set out in the Department's humanitarian guidelines. Indirect assistance is also subject to the same scrutiny as direct assistance by our internal audit department at the National Audit Office and by Parliament through the International Development Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. The International Development Committee's recent assessment of our response to the Kosovo crisis is an example of the thorough scrutiny given to both indirect and direct help.

The amendment is undesirable because it would place statutory constraints on the Secretary of State's response to a crisis, which could prevent her from taking quick and effective action. It might also require a layer of bureaucracy that would add no value but would delay DFID approval of proposals. I must therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Mrs. Gillan: I have listened carefully to the Minister's comments. The debate will probably continue into the middle distance on many other occasions, but for the efficacy of the study of the Bill in Committee, I shall not press the amendment to a Division and will let the Minister's comments stand on the record alone.

Only two more Committee sittings are timetabled. The Minister is well aware of the feeling on the Opposition Benches and he has perhaps responded not in the spirit of the amendment, but strictly according to its wording. However, at this stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. McNulty.]

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 15 March at five minutes to Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Butterfill, Mr. John (Chairman)
Browne, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Tom
Davidson, Mr.
Gillan, Mrs.
Hall, Mr. Patrick
King, Ms Oona
McFall, Mr.
McNulty, Mr.
Mullin, Mr.
Naysmith, Dr.
Oaten, Mr.
Robathan, Mr.
Rowe, Mr.
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Tonge, Dr.
Turner, Mr. Dennis
Worthington, Mr.

Previous Contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 13 March 2001