International Development Bill [Lords]

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Hilary Benn: I believe that the hon. Gentleman is confusing two separate things. The Bill provides an updated legal framework to govern the work that we do. The important thing about the issue of Sierra Leone is the type of assistance that we give. I cannot answer the questions that he raises about that type of support, but I am happy to look into the matter and to reply to him. As he knows from his visit, the country has suffered grievously, but it is at last making difficult, slow and uncertain progress, due to the nature of the intervention that the United Kingdom has made, partly for historical reasons that derive from our past relationship with that country.

I hope that by addressing the case of Sierra Leone, I am addressing the points that the hon. Member for Meriden raised at the start of the debate. That case provides a good example, because it involves all the policies that are undoubtedly permissible under the Bill and which we would continue to want to pursue, because they help to establish the preconditions—peace, security and stability—that will allow that country to prosper in the future.

I want to address a point made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, having already drawn his attention to the fact that the clause does not require the Secretary of State to give aid—it is a matter for the Secretary of State to exercise her judgment in doing so. If she chooses to give aid, she can set conditions, which are dealt with under clause 7. Those conditions must respect the objectives in clause 1, and the aims and purposes; they are not to be used as a backdoor way of reintroducing tied aid, as the hon. Gentleman put it. They do not exercise undue political leverage but provide a mechanism for promoting welfare reform.

Mr. Leigh: What does ``undue political leverage'' mean, as opposed to ``political leverage''?

Hilary Benn: What I mean is having regard to considerations that would be improper for the purposes of the Bill, especially of clause 1. As I said to the hon. Gentleman, a Secretary of State must eventually make judgments about whether to give aid, to which countries it should be given and then, in relation to the Bill, in what circumstances and form we want to give it. That practice is right and proper, has been followed in the past and will be followed in future, and allows us to exercise judgment in the difficult areas of influence and engagement to achieve the purposes to which we all subscribe.

The establishment of specific additional purposes, as the amendments suggest, would be a statement that they do not have to comply with the requirement to further sustainable development or improve the welfare of the people. In other words, it would imply that they could be done for their own sake. If we were to admit that, we run the risk of undermining the legislation and our policy on development assistance.

We should follow the principle that nothing in legislation is said unless it is necessary to say it, although Parliament has not always been good at adhering to that stricture. On that principle, if we elevate such areas for support to the level of specific free-standing purposes, every additional purpose would run the risk of casting doubt on the breadth of the two core purposes. To be precise, if support for good governance is not, as we believe, implicit in action to further sustainable development and improve welfare, what do those two core purposes cover?

On amendment No. 3, which deals with the reduction of conflict and of the potential for conflict, my hon. Friend the Member for Workington made a succinct point about the devastating impact that conflict has on communities and the hon. Member for Meriden referred to Saferworld. I met people from that organisation a couple of months ago to discuss their good work in relation to arms, and small arms in particular. However, inserting the reduction of conflict as a purpose of development assistance would allow the Secretary of State to support such activities without consideration for the welfare of the population of the country. That would open up the possibility of development assistance being used to shore up undemocratic regimes and the possible suppression of human rights, whereas the provision as drafted allows assistance to promote the welfare of the population, which encompasses conflict resolution, but with proper regard for the interests of the people. There is no need or place for a power of assistance that does not recognise those interests. I am sure that that rather strange effect of the amendments is not intentional, but I hope that I have reassured the Committee that it demonstrates the dangers involved in setting up specific additional purposes in clause 1 that do not have to comply with the requirement either to further sustainable development or to improve the welfare of the people.

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I should like to speak about the difficulties that we would face in trying to define terms such as ``good governance''. That is a genuine practical difficulty, which was mentioned in debate on the Bill's previous incarnation. The Government do not take the view that the term has an easy or natural meaning. It would therefore have to be defined in the Bill. Any errors in our definition might mean that interventions that we wanted to support would fall outside the definition, leaving us unable to support them. Those are genuine risks, which we do not wish to take. I hope that the Committee will accept my reassurance that, under the Bill, we can support good governance activities, pursue conflict resolution as we are doing in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, and promote private sector investment.

I should like to discuss the two amendments that deal with awareness. The hon. Member for Meriden raised the matter and—the hon. Member for Gainsborough again took the words out of my mouth—we are extremely well disposed towards the intention of the amendments, which is why clause 4(2)(c) includes a provision allowing the Secretary of State to

    ``promote, or assist any person or body to promote, awareness of global poverty and of the means of reducing such poverty''.

The hon. Lady drew the Committee's attention to the example of the starfish initiative. That is an imaginative way of trying to raise the issue. I was in Malawi recently, where we are supporting a safe motherhood project. Part of that project is about raising awareness of the need to ensure, as I said on Second Reading, that women in labour at risk of complications get to skilled help as quickly as possible. That raising of awareness has included poster campaigns.

The amendment adds nothing to the power in clause 4(2)(c). On the contrary, it creates a free-standing purpose for the spending of money. Because of the nature of the amendment, it would not be constrained by the poverty criterion or the two purposes of clause 1. It would serve only to make possible spending on awareness on a broader basis than that on which the Secretary of State could provide development assistance. That might be regarded as a rather odd result, at the same time casting doubt on the meaning and extent of the power in clause 4(2)(c), which we included because of our agreement with the hon. Lady's points.

Finally, Amendment No. 12, dealing with the awareness of good governance, is unnecessary because, as the hon. Member for Meriden said, that good governance is a means of reducing poverty.

Mrs. Spelman: For the sake of clarity, amendment No. 6 refers to

    ``public awareness campaigns in developing countries for purposes consistent with this section.''

``This section'' means clause 1. The commitment to awareness campaigns was not completely open-ended. It extended to awareness campaigns that are consistent with furthering sustainable development, the welfare of the population and poverty reduction.

Hilary Benn: I am grateful for that clarification, but I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that clause 4(2)(c) provides the means and the powers that she and I are looking for to ensure that development awareness can be properly funded under the Bill.

Mr. Amess, I would like to say in conclusion that I apologise for the length of my response, but a number of points were raised in the discussion, which has been very useful. I hope that I have been able to offer members of the Committee the reassurance that they seek. The debate has been important because it has gone to the heart of the Bill's purpose. I hope that it has given hon. Members the opportunity to reflect on the fact that the Bill, as currently drafted, would permit this and future Governments to do the things that all Committee members agree that we should be seeking to do.

Mrs. Spelman: I have listened carefully to the Minister. He has done a better job than did his colleague in another place. I have carefully read the House of Lords Hansard on this point because, as far as possible, we should not duplicate what has been done in another place. Rather, we should probe deeper and further and use the opportunity to build on some of the arguments that have already taken place.

I was struck that, in another place, my colleagues were expected to be satisfied with an assurance that the Government had taken the advice of Parliamentary Counsel on the merits and demerits of trying to introduce amendments such as those that I have attempted to propose today, and had been told that they were unnecessary. The Minister has done a better job by giving specific examples to show us how the Bill might work.

Several hon. Members have given practical examples in terms of the durability of the Bill. The intervention by the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall came perilously close to pressing the Government into an area that was becoming greyer by the moment in seeking decisions to give development assistance to countries that promised to make steps in future in terms of good governance. I accept that that is a difficult area. No one would deny that the President of Pakistan has made significant steps in terms of good governance, in relation to freeing the press and—I am sure that this was not lost on the hon. Member for Richmond Park—ensuring that a third of the representatives in the Pakistani Parliament were female.

I accept completely that it is a difficult matter of judgment for any Secretary of State to disentangle the appropriateness of giving British taxpayers' money—in the form of development assistance—to countries that anticipate their governance improving all the while. The examples that have been given today have enabled us to think about how the Bill would work in relation to future decisions of that kind.

I thank the Minister for clarifying the Scylla and Charybdis of our arguments, in that the Bill seems both too narrowly and too widely defined. He has reassured me on the point that it is necessary to strike a balance between those two.

I should like to place it on the record that there is no way in which, through our amendments, we wish to reopen the question of tied aid. If that would be a real danger through the incorporation of amendment No. 2, it should be avoided at all costs.

We should continue, as an Opposition, to test what is in the Bill against practical examples that we know. I was interested in what the Minister said about awareness campaigns. It is significant that, in a written answer to me about awareness campaigns on the Ivory Coast, the Secretary of State confirmed that the NGOs that we support in Ivory Coast are primarily environment focused. I found that difficult to square with the needs of addressing child trafficking from that country, as I did not see how NGOs primarily there to serve environmental improvements would be brought into the picture of awareness campaigns relating to the criminal trafficking of children. That kind of practical example—between us we probably know many—leads us sometimes to question what is stated here. For example, the Minister said to me that my amendment on the promotion of awareness would be made unnecessary by the fact that clause 4(2)(c) specifically states that the Secretary of State may

    ``promote, or assist . . . awareness of global poverty and of the means of reducing such poverty''.

However, someone might not spot at first reading that the interpretation of that could be wide enough to encompass a public awareness campaign on something as specific as child trafficking.

The purpose of tabling a set of probing amendments is to thrash out the meaning of the clause and to record the discussion. We have heard about the potential dangers that would result if our amendments were accepted, and we wish to avoid the dangers of reopening tied aid that would result from too wide an interpretation of the Bill. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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