International Development Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): It is a pleasure to welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Amess. As you know, we came to Parliament together. It is humbling to see you rise to such important heights in parliamentary affairs, and I congratulate you on your appointment as Committee Chairman. I am sure that you will have a distinguished career in that capacity.

Dr. Lewis: My hon. Friend puts me to shame. I, too, should have congratulated you, Mr. Amess, but I felt that if I did so, it would inevitably remind you of our first meeting in the late 1970s. To your credit, you were a Conservative in Newham, North-West, and I was an active member of the Labour party in the next-door constituency.

The Chairman: Order. This has gone far enough.

Mr. Leigh: Very interesting, Mr. Amess, but we must now return to international development.

We are discussing the essential core of the Bill and, through the amendments, trying to tease out exactly what the Government intend by it and the central clause, clause 1. The amendments allow an important opportunity for a vital debate on definitions. Lawyers will read the Bill and will take into account what is said, particularly by the Minister, when they interpret it, so we must find out exactly what the Bill is designed to do.

When I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden this morning, we saw nods and shakes of the ministerial head. I hope that we shall do much better this afternoon and have words from the ministerial mouth that will finally resolve the question whether the amendments are necessary. The point that I raised with my hon. Friend is that, surely, the Bill covers the many valuable initiatives that she suggested. For instance, the Bill could allow the Government to provide aid that promotes, in the words of amendment No. 2,

    ``good governance in one or more such countries'.''

Nothing in the Bill—leaving aside the amendments for the moment—prevents the Government providing aid with the intention of

    ``reducing conflict or the potential for conflict in one or more such countries'.'',

in the words of amendment No. 3. Nothing in the Bill would stop the Minister from

    ``putting into place the framework necessary to attract private and foreign direct investment'',

in the words of amendment No. 4. Nothing in the Bill indicates that the Minister cannot

    ``promote, or assist any person or body to promote, the awareness of good governance'',

in the words of amendment No. 12.

I have some experience of how Ministers reply to debates and, if I understand the ministerial shake of the head, I suspect that he will say that the intentions underlying the amendments are worth while and that he has no argument with any of their laudable aims, but that he must tell the Opposition that they are not necessary. He may also say that they are incorrectly drafted or that they are not necessary because the Bill already covers those points.

3.15 pm

I do not know what the Minister will tell us, but I have been in that position so I know how these matters are dealt with. That is fair enough, if he is trying to tell us that nothing in the Bill will prevent the Secretary of State from doing what my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden wants him to do. That leads me directly to my next point. If there is nothing in the Bill that will prevent the Secretary of State from doing all the excellent things that my hon. Friend wants him to do, what is the Bill's purpose? It is so widely drafted and so open to any interpretation, that I am not sure what it will achieve.

Will the Minister assure us that the Bill is not so widely drafted that, in the words of the hon. Member for Richmond Park, an unscrupulous Minister could use the present wording to bring back tied aid? I presume that the Minister will say that the wording does not permit that. I am not a parliamentary draftsman, and the Minister has much better advice than I have, so I presume that he can convince us that, although the Bill is sufficiently widely drafted to cover the laudable aims enunciated by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, it is not so widely drafted that an unscrupulous Secretary of State could use it for his own ends to bring back tied aid.

I do not know how the Minister will square that circle. If he cannot do so, what new dynamic does the Bill introduce? How will it significantly change the culture in his Department? It is no bad thing for the Committee to study the wording closely. The Bill is so widely drafted that the Secretary of State can provide assistance

    ``if he is satisfied that the provision of the assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.''

That could mean anything. Can that include all the things that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden has mentioned? We need more help, which is the value of these proceedings, because during the proceedings Members can pin down Ministers in the Committee Corridor and ensure that they come up with satisfactory answers about the meaning of the wording.

What exactly does ``sustainable development'' mean? How would the courts interpret those words? What does the phrase

    ``improving the welfare of the population''


The exercise should be valuable, and that is why the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend are important. One cannot argue with any of them although, in her inimitable way, the hon. Member for Richmond Park did start to argue with them. I do not know why the hon. Lady has such an objection to our proposal to allow the provision of assistance that is likely to contribute directly or indirectly to a reduction in poverty. I do not claim to have the hon. Lady's experience or expertise in international development, but surely a lot of useful work can be done both directly and indirectly.

On amendment No. 2, we would surely all be convinced that the promotion of good governance in developing countries is vital and central. We are not just picking out one subject from a long list. The purport of the hon. Lady's speech seems to be that there is no point in having a list of good things that one wants to do because one is bound to leave out one or two things and it is better to have an all-embracing definition. I pointed out why such a definition might be dangerous. We are not debating a narrow little list that can be added to or subtracted from; good governance is central to the debate. Poverty exists in much of the third world because government is corrupt.

Dr. Tonge: I repeat that good governance is not possible unless educated people can govern, which is why education is the most important factor in development. I am glad that the Government regard education as a top priority. Good governance is essential. We know that countries fail because of bad governance, but that is largely because they do not have enough educated people.

Mr. Leigh: I agree. The hon. Lady may be satisfied that the clause allows the Minister to promote education. The wording is so wide that I am sure that it will, but it does not mention education. The clause mentions ``reduction in poverty'', ``furthering sustainable development'' and

    ``improving the welfare of the population''.

The hon. Lady might respond that education and good governance are included because they contribute to the welfare of the population. However, the clause does not preclude the Minister from undertaking any activity by the clause. The wording is so broad that the Minister can do whatever he pleases. I am not sure of the point of these proceedings or the Bill. I may have misunderstood the Bill's purpose, but that is my personal view. The Minister's response will be useful.

The other matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden mentioned need to be flagged up. Apart from telling us that good governance is important, it would be useful if the Minister said that he would use the Bill to promote awareness, and attract direct foreign investment in such countries. I hope that he will explain how, without our helpful amendments, the Bill will create a framework to attract direct foreign investment.

However, if that is the purport of his argument, is it a loophole through which a Pergau dam type investment might creep in the future? Will the Minister assure us that that will not happen? Has he drafted the Bill tightly enough to ensure that he has not only tied his own hands—he personally has no intention of repeating the Pergau dam experience—but those of a Minister with different priorities in the future? Such a Minister might think that it is vital to get British investment into a certain country that is resistant to it. That Minister may not be promoting investment to help the country, but he may think that it is vital and start to apply pressure on that country. He might then say that poverty exists in a region because of a lack of investment, and it so happens that X company plc in Britain is capable of providing such investment and that Mr. Minister, in the developing country, should therefore give careful consideration to providing contracts or opportunities to this British company. However, I believe that that investment would reduce poverty. So we return to where we were. Surely those who criticise what happened in the Pergau dam disaster do not argue that everyone involved was corrupt or did not have people's best interests at heart. Some people presumably felt that it would lead to a reduction in poverty.

I think that I have made the point. We need reassurance from the Minister. I hope that he will not just dismiss the amendments and say that they are unnecessary because he will do all the good things that they propose; we want to tie him down to saying precisely what the Bill will achieve and how it will promote good governance, a reduction in poverty, education programmes, awareness programmes and so on while ensuring that we do not repeat the tied aid of the past.

Tony Cunningham: I spoke earlier about the importance of using the Governments, non-governmental organisations and other executive bodies of developing countries. That brings me to the argument made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park that we could learn something from Uganda and so on. I was not suggesting that we should tell such countries how to run their public awareness campaigns, but we can facilitate such campaigns by providing support and funding. That happens with conflict prevention and in many other areas. What we are doing in terms of conflict prevention in Sierra Leone, for example, is extremely laudable.

We have talked about the amendments, about what is and is not included and about whether sustainable development covers our objectives and so on. If I were asked what single factor would help bring developing countries into the developed world, I would say the education of girls and women. That would deal with good governance, conflict prevention and everything else. However, no amendment includes that. I support what the Government say. A catch-all is provided that includes many of the factors that we have spoken about. I am happy with that.

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