International Development Bill

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The Chairman: Order. I must remind the hon. Lady of the convention that right hon. and hon. Members are not mentioned by name, but by constituency or title. The hon. Lady has now done that twice. Perhaps she would follow the convention in future.

Mrs. Gillan: I do apologise, Mr Butterfill. It was completely inadvertent. I am seeking to read from documents where the Secretary of State is named in person. No disrespect to her is intended. I offer my unreserved apology.

At a time when an emergency was being dealt with, the Treasury and the Department for International Development issued conflicting statements within a short period of time. That was not joined-up government at its best.

We need to consider what happened in the case of Mozambique. In March 2000, the Ministry of Defence did not exactly demonstrate a commitment to poverty reduction when it charged to DFID some £2.2 million, the full market price for four Puma helicopters to assist in Mozambique.

I have said that I shall give praise where praise is due, and DFID carried out some spectacular work on Mozambique, so I join those who praised the unquestioned rapidity and scope of the response in many areas. However, at the same time there was an unseemly and subsequently public row between the Ministry of Defence and DFID. Some criticism was made that the UK helicopters were not deployed immediately because of the discussions taking place between the Ministry of Defence and DFID. More recently, criticism was made of the apparent cut in the planned expenditure on Mozambique. That did not contribute to the view that could easily be taken, looking objectively at what was going on, that all Government departments were singing from the same hymn sheet. It is a great shame, because in such instances we should not be reduced to petty quarrelling over the cost of helicopters before they are deployed. I am sure that the Minister will agree. Such matters should be discussed afterwards, not while the emergency is in train.

We must also briefly examine what happened with Montserrat. When a volcano devastated that Caribbean island in August 1997, the islanders found themselves in a disastrous position. The photographs that were taken show the devastation on the island.

Dr. Tonge: The record must be put straight. The Soufriere volcano in Montserrat was erupting long before 1997, and that was the problem: it was an unpredictable and on-going event. In 1997, the arrangements for aid were in a mess. I know that because I went out there and saw it for myself.

Mrs. Gillan: I was reading my notes incorrectly. In fact, it was in August 1997 that the Secretary of State accused the islanders of irresponsibility and said that next they would ask for ``golden elephants'' in their pleas for aid and assistance.

Dr. Tonge: The hon. Lady should put that period in context. At the time, 2,000 people were left on the island—mainly the elderly and disabled. More than 100 policemen were there, funded by this country, and the main request from the island was for a new prison. The Secretary of State probably said what she did bearing in mind that a prison was not the most urgent requirement for the island.

The Chairman: Order. We are in danger of being diverted. I have tolerated the last exchange, but we are in danger of moving from a debate about new clause 1 to a general debate about the condition of Montserrat in 1997.

Mrs. Gillan: Of course, Mr. Butterfill.

The crisis in Montserrat serves as an example because splits in the Cabinet were allegedly demonstrated over responsibility for the island. The Foreign Secretary appeared to take over the Government's handling of the Montserrat crisis, after criticising the Secretary of State for International Development. Regardless of whether she was right—the hon. Member for Richmond Park obviously thinks that she was—the Prime Minister's office was quoted as saying that the reason for the Foreign Office taking over the matter was because it wanted to ensure better co-ordination across Departments. That takes us back to the heart of new clause 1, by which I am seeking better co-ordination across Departments, in the interests of DFID.

Mr. Robathan: The International Development Committee carried out an inquiry into the Montserrat situation; in fact, it may have been the first report that we issued in the 1997-98 Session. We found that greater co-ordination between Departments was needed, especially between DFID and the Foreign Office. There was a self-evident—although not malign—split. It was a bad-tempered division between the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development, which was unfortunate for the situation in Montserrat.

4.45 pm

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I come now to the work of the International Development Committee, coupled with that of the Select Committees on Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry for my final example in support of the new clause 1.

There is an on-going and disturbing lack of co-ordination across Government. The Quadripartite Committee report that was published yesterday morning encompasses export licences. Paragraph 61 provides a good example of the failure of Government to co-ordinate. It evaluates the co-ordination between the Department of Trade and Industry and DFID. DFID does not at present sign off the annual reports on licences. At paragraph 61, there is a strong recommendation from the Quadripartite Committee that the concerns that have been raised in the past by the Department should be taken into account. More importantly, it says that the Department should be accountable in any matter in which has been involved. The recommendation is that DFID should have more joined-up government with its fellow Departments by appending its name to reports in which it has a say, however small.

I have more examples to give, but shall hold back. The Government have failed to deliver joined-up decision making. The new clause would ensure that other Government Departments could not ignore the aims and objectives of this Department in their dealings with developing countries. As it is a new clause, I shall be happy if the Minister wishes to alter the wording. However, we tabled it in good faith and I hope that he will accept it.

Mr. Rowe: I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham began by quoting the Prime Minister. I am not one of those who always assume that the Prime Minister sets out with malign intent; I think rather that he becomes carried away by the audience to which he is speaking, and, in his natural enthusiasm, overstates the case to the point at which he finds it difficult to deliver.

In this case, he has underestimated the extraordinary difficulty of ensuring that Departments work together, when the ethos of Departments is often at odds. I was for a time a parliamentary private secretary—the height of my parliamentary career—in the Department of Trade and Industry. I am sure that it has changed since those days, but I have little doubt that it is filled with hard-working and effective civil servants, and former business people, who are on secondment or short-term contracts, whose success is evaluated by how much British produce they sell overseas. The proposition that, in pursuit of the alleviation of poverty, they should give part of British production over to some indigenous enterprise in a poor country does not automatically warm the cockles of their hearts. It is folly to believe that people whose careers depend on an entirely different ethos will find it easy to change.

If that entirely proper objective is to be achieved, there will have to be a considerable appraisal within Government of what the objectives really are. One could make a serious case that, were we able to bring countries—for example, those in sub-Saharan Africa—to a point where they had serious purchasing power and serious prosperity, they would provide a much better long-term market for British goods than they currently possibly can. However, it is asking a great deal of a British company to hold back from selling its goods in the hope that, five or 10 years down the track, the room that it has made for indigenous enterprises will yield it better sales.

What the Prime Minister said—that we should all be equally committed to the alleviation of worldwide poverty—is, in a sense, pie in the sky. I should like to think that it was not, but I am not at all sanguine about the idea. Such commitment would require a much bigger effort than has so far been put in. We are better than we were, and I hope that we will get much better still. We are certainly better in terms of the aid programme. If the Government of a country think that it would be nice to have a magnetic resonance imaging scanning machine in a new hospital in their capital city, we no longer simply allow a British supplier to make a sizeable profit by producing a machine that the people in that country have neither the skill to maintain nor even, sometimes, the skill to use. Those with either skill would only be the richest of the rich rather than the poorest of the poor. We are beginning to get the message across.

However, to get it across to the other Departments will take a great deal of hard work, especially in the case of the Ministry of Defence, the whole ethos of which is to promote sales of British arms overseas. That is a perfectly understandable position. One day—I could not possibly put a date on it—it became apparent to the Ministry of Defence that it could only ever fund the next generation of weapons if it sold a huge proportion of its current stock of weapons to people overseas. That was a black day for the world, but it was also a very important day in the development of the Ministry of Defence. There is a serious problem with the departmental culture. The Departments will, almost instinctively, resist any suggestion that they should hold back in order that the poorest of the poor should benefit instead.

I support the new clause. It embodies a valuable aspiration, which the Prime Minister clearly shares—when he is not talking to an audience from the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry, or the Women's Institute. However, I do not think that it would be easy to implement, and I should be interested to hear the Minister's comments on how we might achieve that valuable objective.

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