International Development Bill

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Mr. Robathan: It would be helpful if the Minister would explain when and by what means the Northern Ireland Assembly was consulted.

Mr. Mullin: Oh, Mr. Butterfill; what can I say? We consulted closely with the Assembly. I do not know on what day we did so.

Mr. Robathan: And how?

Mr. Mullin: We consulted all the devolved Administrations, as is our habit when drawing up such legislation. I cannot usefully assist the Committee any more. I shall therefore sit down.

Mrs. Gillan: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clauses 10 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 14

Functions of the commission etc.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Rowe: Given that the Secretary of State for the Department to which the Bill relates has always shown a degree of scepticism about the value of putting development funds into higher education, I want to know that there is a serious intention to ensure that suitable candidates are supported in adequate numbers in achieving the training or post-qualification opportunities that they need. I understand full well that the Secretary of State is concerned that in many countries the higher education system has tended to fall into the hands of a self-perpetuating elite. It is therefore difficult to pretend that in such countries a direct grant to the higher education system is a grant for the relief of poverty, especially if many who receive such grants or scholarships do not return to their own land.

However, I also understand full well that in many countries in which DFID is active there is an unmet need among people who work with the disabled and the very poor, or who develop agricultural and other expertise, for the sort of opportunities that are currently—and, I suspect, will be for some time to come—provided only by higher education institutions in this country. I am anxious that we are making matters difficult for too many people, and I speak from considerable personal experience.

Every year for many years, my wife and I have entertained in our house students from the Centre for International Child Health, which is one of many centres of excellence in this country which provide training and postgraduate qualifications for people working overseas. I have been greatly impressed by the variety of people who come here for a year, who have included nuns who work in very difficult conditions in refugee camps in Goma and are funded, with difficulty, by their NGO. They return home with considerably more skill with which to develop the services that are so desperately needed.

4.15 pm

One of my wife's current students is a man from Sierra Leone whose family must be traumatised since to take up his place on the course, he had to come here with an inappropriate visa, and his wife and child—when she first heard fireworks, she thought that she was being shot at—are now in a dispersal asylum centre somewhere in the north of England while he continues to study in London. That is one example of the difficulties encountered by people for whom we show too little sympathy and provide too few resources.

I am taking the opportunity presented by the clause to make the case to the Minister that we must be more generous and find better ways of ensuring that the people who win the scholarships are the right ones. One problem is that some are chosen by their superiors for a year of rest and recreation, either as a result of a bribe or because they think it would be nice, when people who need the course and could achieve much more as a result of it do not get a look in.

There are twin elements to be considered: first, we must ensure that the right people are selected and, secondly, we must increase the opportunities for people who, in the most difficult conditions, return to do the sort of work that DFID is supposed to be making a priority.

Dr. Tonge: I want more reassurance. Let me expand on the remarks of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent. I want to ensure that students who have not been nominated by their Governments can come here on scholarships—that NGOs, for example, may nominate them. We have had a sort of assurance, but I am particularly concerned about people in southern Sudan who cannot come here on scholarships because their Government will not nominate them.

Mr. Mullin: Clause 14 has been transferred from the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980.

In reply to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is not sceptical about the value of higher education. The Department's recent launch of the skills for development programme recognises the importance of developing key skills in any economy. However, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, development of a skills base is often best achieved by strengthening institutions in the country concerned, rather than by sending people to Britain on scholarships. That is my right hon. Friend's position and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that it is sensible.

Clauses 13 and 14 allow the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission to function. The scheme has been reviewed recently and my right hon. Friend has taken a close interest in the review, which concluded that the commission is generally doing a good job. However, in future, more will be done under the programme to promote education and training in developing countries as well as over here—for all the reasons to which the hon. Gentleman referred, poor people in the countries of the students concerned are not helped if students remain here after completing their studies. That will be the future trend. The clauses are taken from the 1980 Act, and we intend that the scheme will continue.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park asked about specific provision for people not nominated by Governments. We have made provisions to allow individuals who might oppose their Government or who are exiles to benefit from the programme. I believe that the Secretary of State gave the hon. Lady an assurance to that effect on Second Reading, which is in column 203 of Hansard.

Dr. Tonge: I thank the Minister. I just wanted to hear that again.

Mr. Mullin: I am just here to spread happiness.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 and 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Dr. Tonge: Would the Minister explain exactly what clause 17(2) means? I presume that it refers to refugees coming to and going from their country of origin.

Mr. Mullin: I am looking desperately for reassurance—and it is forthcoming. The answer is yes.

Mrs. Gillan: It would have been helpful if there had been some clarification about the clause in the explanatory notes, but I cannot find any.

Mr. Mullin: Clause 17 is fairly self-evident. It provides a general interpretation of some of the terms used in the Bill. I could go into more detail on subsections(1) and (2), but I believe that they speak for themselves.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 and 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 4 and 5 agreed to.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

New Clause 1

Reduction in proverty: co-ordination within government

    ``.—(1) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements to promote a focus on reduction in poverty throughout all Government departments and agencies in their relations with developing countries.

    (2) The Secretary of State for International Development shall, jointly with Ministers representing the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, prepare and lay before Parliament an annual report on the work done in pursuance of the arrangements made under subsection (1).''.—[Mrs. Gillan.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Gillan: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This is where we start the real debate on the Bill. [Interruption.] If members of the Committee will settle down, I will be able to advance my arguments in respect of the new clauses.

Mr. Rowe: I am looking carefully at the amendment paper. The title of new clause 1 reads:

    ``Reduction in proverty: co-ordination within Government ''.

Is ``proverty'' a misprint for ``probity''?

Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend's eagle eye strikes again. He has raised a serious point. I should like to think that the new clause is about reducing poverty, not probity, but I do not want to stray on to ground that would oblige the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston to get to his feet to criticise me.

The Chairman: Order. As the hon. Lady tabled the new clause, she can easily clarify the matter by confirming to the Committee that its subject is the reduction of poverty and that the amendment paper contains a misprint.

Mrs. Gillan: Having taken advice from the Clerk, I understand that that is correct.

New clause 1 would provide great help and assistance to the Department for International Development by ensuring that all Departments that are in some way responsible for overseas activities focus on DFID's primary aim of poverty reduction. It would also provide for a report to be laid before Parliament every year to chart the progress that has been made towards poverty reduction. We have covered aspects of that issue in previous debates, but not in quite the same fashion.

DFID is a new Department that the Government created when they came to power by splitting it off from the Foreign Office. If the Department is to be effective and if it is committed to the elimination of global poverty, it is essential that it is backed up by similar commitments from other Departments. That does not always happen: we do not see as much so-called joined-up government—I hate that phrase—as we should like. The Minister, who recently moved into his post at the Department, will learn from its history that similar commitments have not been made by other Departments, which consistently let down the Secretary of State and the Minister's predecessor. I therefore want to enshrine in legislation a vehicle that will offer the Department protection from colleagues in other parts of Government.

The Department has been given no debates on the Floor of the House since 1997—not even the usual channels and those members of the Government who arrange the business of the House have seen fit to grant it an annual vehicle wherein it can set out its stall and sing its own praises. Indeed, to give praise where it is due, the Minister's team has done some very good things. However, they are not protected from the vagaries of the remainder of the Government.

The Government and DFID have accepted that they must take a cross-departmental approach to poverty reduction. In the preface to the White Paper ``Eliminating World Poverty: Making Globalisation Work for the Poor'', which was published in December 2000, no less a person than the Prime Minister states:

    ``This White Paper sets out the UK Government's policies in all these areas. It reflects our commitment to work across all parts of Government in order to help eliminate world poverty, and to cooperate with other governments and international institutions as part of a broader international effort.''

In other words, the Prime Minister himself seeks to realise the very aim that I have tried to enshrine in the new clause.

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If my suggestion has something in common with the Prime Minister's comments, it cannot be too bad, and the Minister had better take it very seriously—indeed, I pray in aid the Prime Minister as the very reason for accepting the new clause. It is extremely important that matters are got right, but, as my hon. Friends will agree, they have not been got right in the past four years. My tabling the new clause was prompted by fears arising from instances of lack of co-ordination during that time.

I cite the example of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's involvement in the Ilisu dam affair, which is illustrated in the International Development Committee's sixth report, ``ECGD Developmental Issues and the Ilisu Dam.'' It became obvious to the Committee that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had not promoted human rights issues in Turkey, even though, according to the Government's White Paper on globalisation, that was DFID's intention. The White Paper states:

    ``Making political institutions work for poor people means helping to strengthen the voices of the poor and helping them to realise their human rights.''

The Ilisu dam affair, however, shows that the FCO made no attempt to raise human rights issues with the Department of Trade and Industry in particular. In response to the International Development Committee, the Minister for Trade, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central, Richard Caborn, said:

    ``The DTI is not responsible for human rights. It will take the advice of other government departments.''

However, to the best of my knowledge that point was not made in respect of DFID, the FCO and other Departments.

DFID has a clear aim and objective, which is stressed in the globalisation White Paper. The practical issues associated with the Ilisu dam were examined by the International Development Committee, which found that there was no co-ordination in terms of responsibility for the human rights of the individuals concerned, which is a core aspect of DFID's work. Those rights were completely ignored by the FCO and the DTI. Indeed, it is clear that DFID did not appreciate the DTI's approach to the project. The report concludes:

    ``We have no sense that ECGD and the United Kingdom Government have at any point seriously considered what repercussions the construction of the Dam will have on the prospects for peace (and thus genuine sustainable development)''—

another phrase with which we have become familiar—

    ``and the rights of the marginalised in this region of Turkey''.

Here we have my first practical example of a lack of co-ordination. It is imperative that there is co-ordination between those three Government departments.

Practical examples are important. Let us consider what happened in the case of Hurricane Mitch. There was some difference between the reports from the Treasury and the Department for International Development. As we know, hurricane Mitch was a terrible hurricane that swept Central America—a dreadful natural disaster. It was reported in the press that it turned British aid policy upside down as the Government found themselves at the head of international help to countries stricken by disasters. The Chancellor seized the chance to demand a global moratorium on debt repayments by afflicted economies within 48 hours of a completely different announcement made by Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, who, two days earlier, had said that that would be an irrelevant issue.

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