International Development Bill [Lords]

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Dr. Lewis: While I accept the thrust of what the hon. Gentleman says, does he really think that the education of girls would itself end or reduce conflict? It is true that there is conflict between the sexes and the insertion of more women into public life might be beneficial in that respect. However, most of the conflicts that have disfigured so much of the developing world in recent years would surely not have been more than marginally affected by such a welcome step forward.

Tony Cunningham: I disagree with that most strongly. I mentioned this morning one of the most recent conflicts in the Horn of Africa, the conflict between Ethiopa and Eritrea, during which I had the dubious honour of talking to the leaders of both countries. All of them were men; those were the people taking the decisions. I believed at the time that if those Governments had contained men and women, they might not have been so eager to go to war. Balancing the genders in Governments, Parliaments, the medical profession and so on would go a long way to improve the chances of developing countries of becoming developed.

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): The difficulty with the high principles of good government, democracy, human rights and the prevention of corruption about which we talk is that while Britain has given aid to many countries, no progress has been made in them, as I know from my membership of the Select Committee on International Development.

3.30 pm

Let me take the example of the recent conflict in Afghanistan, with which we are involved. The Government had laid down principles for Pakistan: it is a dictatorship, and there are no human rights. Ethnic minority communities have no rights at all. Suddenly, the international situation and our foreign policy and other commitments changed. We made a commitment to help America in the process of ensuring that terrorism was removed from the face of the earth. As a result, we lifted all the restrictions that we had placed on aid to Pakistan. We are giving more and more aid, but where are those principles? They have all gone overboard.

It is not as simple to have good government, democracy and human rights and to remove poverty as people have tried to convince us that it is. We do not live in an ideal world, and this Committee cannot really make a judgment on that situation today.

Mrs. Spelman rose—

The Chairman: Has the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) finished his speech or is he giving way?

Mr. Khabra: I have finished.

Mrs. Claire Curtis-Thomas (Crosby): I am forced to get to my feet following the comments by the hon. Member for New Forest, East relating to the role that women play in democratising and managing nations. Even with limited observation, we can see that there is a direct correlation between the extent of conflict and the lack of women's involvement in the political and bureaucratic structures of a nation. Those statements stand on their own, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to support them with statistics, I shall be pleased to do so. However, I think that this is an opportunity to enlighten him about the role that half the population play and, moreover, could play, if only they had the opportunity and the education to do so.

Dr. Lewis: On those occasions when women have risen to the top of the Governments of their countries, they have not necessarily been any less warlike than their male predecessors.

Mr. Leigh: He is thinking of Boadicea.

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but I maintain my position that, generally, when more than one woman has reached a particular position through enlightened democracy, there is a benefit that we all enjoy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn): May I join other hon. Members in welcoming you to your first stint in the Chair, Mr. Amess? We look forward to working with you as the Bill makes its way through Committee.

I feel that I should begin by saying that the hon. Member for Gainsborough has given the Committee a precis of the remarks that I was about to make. I know that you will not rule me out of order, Mr. Amess, if I say that I first met the hon. Gentleman almost 20 years ago, when we debated together at the Durham union. I particularly remember the occasion because during his speech he produced a shoe from somewhere and put it on the dispatch box, for reasons that I am afraid are now lost in the mists of time. The hon. Gentleman made an impression on me at the time and continues to do so.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Meriden for her comments about the amendments. We have been able to have an interesting debate on a range of issues that, in the words of several hon. Members, go to the heart of the Bill. I hope to offer reassurance on the points that she raised.

I shall pick up on a phrase that she used at the beginning of her remarks. She spoke about the narrow focus of the Bill. I would prefer to describe it as a clear focus. The clear purpose of the Bill is poverty reduction, which is to be achieved through sustainable development and improvements in welfare. A clear focus enables a wide range of activities to be undertaken to achieve the objectives.

I also wish to respond to her point about thinking ahead and what might happen if a different Secretary of State were to occupy the office. The hon. Lady referred to the choices that would be open to the Secretary of State. However, clause 1 is a permissive power. The hon. Lady's amendments would not require a future Secretary of State to do certain things in respect of good governance, for example. The Bill says that

    ``The Secretary of State may provide'',

as opposed to ``shall provide.''

That brings me to the heart of the hon. Lady's amendments. I agree with every point that she made. Her excellent speech made my job easier, because she made my points for me. The examples that she chose, and the way in which she presented them, succinctly made the case for the Bill and described the nature of the work that the Department for International Development undertakes and will, I hope, continue to undertake.

We heard two contrasting arguments. The contributions of the hon. Member for Meriden can be characterised by the question, ``Can the Minister assure us that the purposes set down in the Bill are not too narrow?'' whereas the hon. Member for Gainsborough asked, ``Can the Minister assure us that the purposes set down in the Bill are not so wide as to render any activity possible?'' These are the two Goldilocks arguments. I shall attempt to reassure the Committee that the Bill is just right—neither too narrow nor too wide.

The hon. Lady asked whether the Government had a multidimensional view of poverty, and she sought reassurance that the term ``poverty'' was used in a multidimensional way. I am happy to give that reassurance. I refer her in particular to paragraphs 1.10 and 1.11 of the excellent publication by the Department for International Development, ``Halving World Poverty by 2015'', which clearly demonstrates the multidimensional nature of both poverty and the Government's response in seeking to overcome it.

I shall now discuss the amendments. Amendment No. 1 deals with the issue of direct or indirect contributions. It is unnecessary, and I am concerned that it would create difficulties, as outlined by the hon. Member for Richmond Park. As the clause is drafted, the Secretary of State can provide development assistance if it is likely to contribute to the reduction of poverty. The Bill does not say whether the contribution must be direct or indirect, but it is clear that there must be a demonstrable link between giving assistance and a reduction in poverty.

If the Bill were to say that the contribution may be indirect, as the amendment proposes, the Secretary of State could be satisfied even if the extent of the contribution to the reduction of poverty were accidental—a mere knock-on effect. That would dilute the overarching requirement of poverty reduction. In particular, there is a risk that inserting the word ``indirectly'' would open up the possibility that schemes such as tied aid would again become lawful. I am quite sure that that is not the Opposition's intention, but I take this opportunity to welcome the commitment given by the hon. Member for Meriden on Second Reading that a future Conservative Government would not seek to reintroduce tied aid.

That gives me the opportunity to answer the hon. Member for Gainsborough, who asked to be reassured that that was not the case. Having taken a policy decision to get rid of tied aid—it was implemented in April—the Government believe that the most effect way to ensure that aid cannot be used for improper political and commercial purposes is to rely on the clear statement of the principles and purposes of development assistance set out in clause 1.

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the Secretary of State may provide development assistance only if she is satisfied that such assistance is

    ``likely to contribute to a reduction of poverty''

through sustainable development promoting the welfare of people. Any use of aid that does not respect the primacy of the poverty requirement, when it applies, and the two development purposes would fall outside the provisions of the Bill, and any such use would therefore be challengeable in court.

Tied aid is the best-known example of the improper use of development funds. Hon. Members have referred to the Pergau dam, which is very much in our minds. I am pleased that we were eventually able to offer sufficient reassurance to the hon. Member for Richmond Park that she was able to say on Second Reading that she was now satisfied that the Bill would no longer permit tied aid. However, to avoid doubt, a policy of tying aid would not be allowed under the Bill and any Government wishing to re-establish the link between aid and trade or political influence would need to return to Parliament to argue their case.

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