International Development Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, after `contribute', insert `directly, or indirectly'.

The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 12, at end insert


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

No. 3, in page 1, line 12, at end insert


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

No. 4, in page 1, line 12, at end insert


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

No. 6, in page 1, line 16, at end addó

    `(5) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Secretary of State may fund public awareness campaigns in developing countries for purposes consistent with this section.'.

No. 12, in clause 4, page 2, line 24, at end insertó

    `(d) promote, or assist any person or body to promote, the awareness of good governance and of the means of achieving good governance,'.

No. 13, in page 2, line 28, after `(b)', insert `(c) or (d) or (e)'.

Mrs. Spelman: I can reassure the Minister if he is getting worried about how long we are spending debating some of the issues. The selection of amendments means, inevitably, that we will have a substantial discussion in this clause about the objective and focus of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will bear with us; we shall have to take our time over this part of the Bill because of the grouping of amendments. However, that may enable us to proceed more swiftly in relation to other clauses.

The group of amendments is pulled together by our concern that, because of the Bill's laudable purpose and focus on poverty reduction, other important aspects of international development work might suffer from too much focus on a single aspect. As international development legislation does not come along often, we must take the opportunity to ensure that the Government get the balance right.

I shall speak to the amendments in order. When we come to the stand part discussion, we may discuss the clause in more general terms. Amendment No. 1, an overarching amendment for those that follow, seeks to allow the Secretary of State to provide development assistance to a country or countries, provided she is satisfied that the action will lead, directly or indirectly, to a reduction in poverty. It seeks to allow her the ability to provide assistance to organisations or projects that work to lay foundations for poverty reduction but that cannot be described as directly contributing to a reduction in poverty.

There is a danger that the term ``poverty reduction'' could be used to mean a small number of policies that alleviate poverty in the short term rather than the broad, multi-sectoral approach needed to change systems of government and establish political stability. I am sure that we are all thinking about the Bill's workability in respect of a country such as Afghanistan. Poverty reduction is a key focus there, but many aspects of development work are needed if that country's population are to know relief from the deprivation, poverty, starvation, war and civil unrest from which they have suffered for so long.

The United Nations Development Programme has highlighted the fact that some agencies have used a narrow definition of poverty in their programmes. The UNDP's poverty report for last year stated:

    ``Some anti-poverty plans continue to treat poverty as though it were a sectoral issue''.

We should take note of other organisations' experiences with an overfocus on poverty reduction, to the exclusion of other beneficial activities.

We are concerned that, if there is no formal recognition in clause 1 of indirect ways to reduce poverty, the Government could be restricted to a narrow set of policies that treat the effects of poverty rather than its causes. The UNDP explained in its report that

    ``poverty is a multidimensional problem requiring comprehensive, multisectoral programmes linked to national policy-making.''

The Department's work is multi-sectoral, and we want it to continue that way. That is one of the reasons for debating direct and indirect relief of poverty and why we are calling for recognition in the Bill of the many policies required to combat global poverty.

Jim Knight: The hon. Lady spoke about the work of the Department and the multifaceted nature of tackling poverty. Does she not think that attempting to define the work in a series of amendments, as she has done, carries a risk that we miss some facets and, thus, limit the Department's room to manoeuvre?

Mrs. Spelman: When I provide the hon. Gentleman with examples of what we should like the Bill to tackle, he may understand my perspective. I am anxious that no important aspects are in any way relegated. Let us imagine a different time: economically, times are harder and it is more difficult for the Government to fulfil its spending programme commitments. I want to ensure that, when the spotlight falls on the Department and difficult choices have to be made, the good work of the Department does not suffer.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The intervention by the hon. Member for South Dorset went in the opposite direction to our amendments. We are examining a clause that focuses solely on a reduction in poverty and, by moving amendments that would draw attention to the need for good governance and the prevention of conflict, for example, we are widening, not narrowing, the potential for help.

Mrs. Spelman: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I am sure that he agrees that poverty reduction should be the implicit objective of all the Department's work. It should be a given. In tabling our amendments, we do not wish to convey the impression that we do not believe that poverty reduction should be the objective of development assistance work. I do not want that misunderstanding to creep into this exchange.

When the Bill becomes law, Government programmes will have to demonstrate that they can satisfy the demand for the necessities of life of the poor in developing countries and make those people wealthier. It is difficult to imagine that all Government aid programmes, particularly governance and more technical training programmes, will be able to demonstrate that beyond all shadow of doubt. That is why we want recognition that some Government work to reduce poverty may be done far away from the lives of the poor. It is vital that all programmes that help to lay the foundation for a reduction in poverty are fully recognised in the Bill. They include all governance programmes that work on the principle that strengthening government institutions and the rule of law leads indirectly to better government and policies, more participation in the democratic process and, consequently, political stability and economic growth. Nowhere is that truer today than in Afghanistan.

Amendment No. 2 is one of a series that highlights matters that we believe are important. It would place in the Bill the promotion of good governance in developing countries and stress its importance as the key to poverty reduction. It would allow the Secretary of State to provide assistance to projects or programmes that focus on good governance or lay the foundations for good governance, if the programmes cannot be described as contributing directly to a reduction in poverty.

Encouraging good governance is an indispensable part of the British aid programme. Several agencies have stressed the major impact that good governance has had on poverty reduction. The United Nations Development Programme report said:

    ``A missing link between anti-poverty efforts and poverty reduction is governance''.

That highlights not only that governance is the missing link in the development chain, but that anti-poverty efforts are useless without responsible and effective Governments. The report continues to say that

    ``for many countries it is in improving governance that external assistance is needed.''

That is why good governance needs to be at the heart of the Government's aid and development policy.

The World Bank world development report of 2000 said:

    ``Poorly functioning public sector institutions and weak governance are major constraints to growth and equitable development in many developing countries''.

It sets out also the importance of good governance for poverty reduction. The World Bank has said that it

    ``needs to focus even more than it has in the past on helping governments develop the process and incentives to design and implement good policies themselves. Only through such institution building will countries achieve the ultimate goals of poverty reduction''.

The fact that there are no financial or banking institutions in Afghanistan, for example, is a major difficulty for the agencies that are working and have worked there.

In the Government's 1997 White Paper ``Eliminating Poverty'', they said:

    ``Some countries will make more rapid progress towards the international poverty targets than others. The most likely to succeed will have effective Government, enlightened legislation, prudent budgeting and an efficient administration.''

The Secretary of State has said:

    ``World Bank research shows that if aid is focused where the poor are and where the national Governments are committed to reform, the effectiveness of the US $50 billion or so in the international development system is increased by 50 per cent.''ó[Official Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 159.]

That effectiveness is well worth having. If the Government truly believe that good governance is key in the battle against poverty, the Bill should state that.

It is worth linking that amendment with amendment No. 12, which is probing and also deals with good governance and the need to raise public awareness of it. In choosing to focus on poverty reduction, we should not shy away from the need to raise public awareness of what changes are needed indirectly to bring that about. It is crucial to raise awareness of good governance in a country such as Afghanistan at this time.

11.15 am

Amendment No. 3 relates to another important aspect of development work: the reduction of conflict, or the potential for conflict, in developing countries. We are anxious not to see a reduction in the importance that is attached to the reduction of conflict as part of the Department's work. The amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to provide assistance, whether financial or technical, to reduce the potential for conflict in developing countries.

The amendment would also provide help to countries such as those in central and eastern Europe to assist with the control of the supply of small arms from those areas to countries of conflict, as many small arms that fuel conflict come from central and eastern Europe. It would also allow the Secretary of State to provide assistance to hold a consultation exercise with a view to setting up a register to monitor the activities of UK arms brokers, or to take any other action to reduce the potential for conflict. I give those examples, as they are indirect to poverty reduction, but none the less are practical and effective suggestions for ways to try to reduce conflict, which is one of the causes of misery and poverty in large parts of the developing world.

It is vital that the narrow terms of the Bill and its focus on poverty reduction do not make illegal any measures to prevent the potential for violent conflict in developing countries. Explicit reference must be made to conflict, as it is often the root cause of poverty and political instability. The Government agree with that. The globalisation White Paper stated:

    ``The promotion of peace and stability is indispensable if countries are to attract investment and trade, and promote pro-poor development. Violent conflict is one of the biggest barriers to development in many of the world's poorest countries.''

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that countries will struggle to make the necessary commitment to poverty reduction and economic growth if they are affected by conflict. Action to prevent the proliferation of small arms in developing countries could legitimately mean that British aid money is used to help strengthen customs and excise or economic diversification in countries from which those arms originate. Those tend to be countries of central and eastern Europe. We are concerned that the poverty focus of the Bill may render such assistance illegal.

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