HC Deb 10 April 2001 vol 366 cc861-903


'.—The Secretary of State shall make arrangements to ensure that no United Kingdom Government aid for a developing country or countries which is to be disbursed via a third party (including multilateral development banks, United Nations agencies, and institutions of the European Union) is made available to that third party unless he is satisfied that it is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.'.—[Mr. Streeter.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the Minister should be moving the clause.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

May I just say that the Minister would get away that lightly only in his dreams?

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert— 'or the promotion of good governance'. No. 5, in page 1, line 18, leave out from "that" to end of line 20 and insert— 'in the opinion of the Secretary of State, meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'. No. 6, in page 1, line 20, at end insert— ', but does not allow for any dilution of the developmental purpose to reflect commercial, political or other considerations.'. No. 3, in clause 4, page 2, line 10, after "may", insert— 'provided he is satisfied that to do so is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty or the promotion of good governance'. No. 4, in clause 11, page 5, line 17, at end insert— '(3A) No payment may be made under this section unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that to do so is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty or the promotion of good governance.'.

Mr. Streeter

This group of amendments is primarily about two vital issues. We are short of time in this important parliamentary debate so, if the House considers nothing else and if the Minister listens to nothing else this afternoon, may I urge him to listen to our arguments on good governance and all of the aid spending realised by the United Kingdom through third parties, including the European Union, the United Nations and other multilateral organisations? Will he consider extremely carefully the points that we seek to make?

I should like to talk about good governance. Obviously, our amendment addresses the issue of good governance, which we want included in the Bill. There was a long but curtailed discussion about good governance in Committee, and I must tell the Minister that it is fundamental for us. There is nothing new in people in international development talking about the subject. My distinguished predecessor Baroness Chalker—although I do not believe that she ever occupied my position in opposition—talked a lot about good governance and did many good things to establish a proper focus on good governance in British aid policy. I accept that the Minister and his boss, the Secretary of State, often talk about good governance and that it is part of the British aid programme. However, we are arguing that it is not just one factor to be considered in British aid; it is not an optional extra, but the very core of what British aid should be if it is to make a difference to the starving millions around the world.

The Opposition accept and embrace the poverty focus in the Bill but, from our experience and all that we read from commentators and experts, we believe passionately that if we are to deliver a reduction in poverty in the next few years for those living in abject misery and privation, we must put in place in the developing countries that we are seeking to help a much stronger framework for democracy, the rule of law, a strong civil service and burgeoning civil society. That is the essential framework for reducing poverty in those nations.

I have read carefully the Committee proceedings and disagree with the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), whose contributions I usually support, as I did not see any evidence of people being distracted or going off on a frolic of their own, as Lord Denning famously said. There were only two or three sentences suggesting such behaviour, but that happens in any Committee in which Members of opposing parties throw ideas at one another that may not be directly to the point. However, the Committee was focused and there was not enough time to deal with all of our important new clauses and amendments.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) asked why Conservative Members were focusing on good governance, not education, clean water or promoting the position of women. All those issues are important but, as I said, good governance is not just another factor. When building a house, one must have doors, windows and a roof; one cannot get anywhere without a foundation or framework. Good governance is the foundation and framework of any aid policy that this country must operate. It is not an optional extra—the doors and the windows—but the framework, the foundation, the absolute essence. It is because we are so passionately convinced of that that we want it reflected in the Bill.

We want good governance to be the focus for this Government, our next Government—who will come to office on 7 June—and future Governments of whatever political colour. We want it to be the framework of our aid policy for years to come. I hope that the Minister will consider amendment No. 2 carefully and agree that such an important foundation needs to be expressed in the Bill.

I know that the Minister greatly respects the things that I say—he looks bewildered and puzzled by that—but such comments are not just my thoughts and observations. Increasingly, international development experts and commentators around the world are concluding that good governance is an essential ingredient.

The excellent United Nations development programme poverty report 2000 states: Effective governance is often the missing link between anti-poverty efforts and poverty reduction. A missing link between anti-poverty efforts and poverty reduction: governance. Even when a country tries to implement economic policies to foster pro-poor growth and mount targeted poverty programmes, inept or unresponsive governance … can nullify the impact. When Governments are unaccountable or corrupt, poverty reduction programmes have little success in targeting benefits. That emphasises that, if one is not careful to work with a Government of a developing country to build good governance into the system, so many of our aid and development programmes become merely a mechanism of pouring money into a black hole. We have seen that over many years.

The World Bank policy research report, "Assessing Aid", of November 1998, with which the Minister is no doubt familiar, states on page 4: First, financial assistance must be targeted more effectively on low-income countries with sound economic management. In a good policy environment financial assistance is a catalyst for faster growth, more rapid gains in social indicators, and higher private investment. In a poor policy environment, however, aid has much less impact. Clearly, poor countries with good policies should receive more financing than equally poor countries with weak economic management. In order further to back up my arguments, the excellent report, "Aid and Reform in Africa", of 27 March 2001—a very recent report—also by the World Bank, states on page 33: Successful reform is undergirded by a strong commitment to good governance. This is essential for rebuilding business confidence". Good governance is not an optional extra, but the very heart of the matter.

There is a second point that I wish to make to back up our arguments for the expression of good governance in the Bill. It is an important, practical point. All of us in this Chamber want to bear down on global poverty. There is not a single Member of Parliament who is not horrified and repulsed by the poverty that we see when we travel to some of the worst slums in the world. We want to make our own contribution to alleviating that. Most of us are also practical people, however, and we want to know that we are not merely wasting money and coming up with good-sounding language, but focusing on what works.

It is a truism that we have in this country a rich history of good governance. It does not always feel like that; when debating the programme motion, we could have persuaded ourselves that some of our good governance is under threat. However, with our stable democracy, our strong civil service, with which we look forward to working in just a few weeks, and our much respected independent judiciary, we have the history, knowledge and expertise in governance that we can share with developing countries, and which they are hungry to learn from us.

Who in this Chamber can doubt that we know how to collect tax? In many developing countries, they have no such expertise or systems of tax collection. We know all about Customs and Excise, security forces and civil society. I am not saying that we have it all sorted out or that we live in a perfect society—far from it.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the shadows on the picture is the cost of elections? There are many developing countries where the cost of getting elected is so high that it is wholly unrealistic to expect a Member of Parliament not to spend his time in office trying to reimburse himself. That, of course, sharply undermines good governance.

Mr. Streeter

From his vast experience, my hon. Friend makes an important point. That is indeed the case. Some of the work that we have done in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, about which I shall say a few words later, reinforces his point. It is not just the cost of getting elected; sometimes, in developing countries, the salary levels of people in important civil service positions are so low that although one can never condone corruption, there is almost an imperative for them to be open to such inducements in order to feed their families.

We have vast expertise in this country, and many in the developing world are hungry to learn from us about building good governance in their countries. There is a danger that the international development community is trying to do too much—its work is too scatter-gun. It would be far better to focus on a key issue, such as good governance, which will strengthen the framework, and to make sure that we can deliver on it.

From my experience with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which I strongly believe in and support—I am the vice-chairman of that excellent organisation—I know that democracy-building is long term, invisible, intangible and difficult to measure. However, I also know that it is essential for strong frameworks to grow and develop in developing countries, particularly those that have no recent history of democracy. We can be proud of the work of the British Council in supporting good governance abroad, and that work needs to be expanded.

I have set out two reasons why good governance should be written into the Bill, and there is a third reason. Focusing on strengthening the governance of a nation state is dealing with the world as it is. We know that globalisation is going on all around us, and we read books and articles and go to conferences about it. There are people out there protesting and trying to stop globalisation and the march of the multinational corporations. Sometimes they have a point, and sometimes they have a less strong point.

Most of us in the Chamber believe that there is no stopping globalisation: it is happening, and there is nothing much that we can do. In part, it is due to the success of the technological breakthroughs of recent times, increased mobility and the telecommunications revolution. Globalisation is here to stay. There are those who are trying to stop it, but others argue that it contains the answers to every problem faced by humankind. There are globalisation junkies who say that we should be thinking about global governance and allowing multilateral organisations to tackle the issues globally.

That is not yet the real world. Perhaps one day we will move towards global governance, although I have profound doubts about that. It does not seem to strike a chord with the reality of human nature, but there are those who think that that is the way to solve the problems confronting us, and there is an increasing fashion in international development to think along those lines.

However, we are still a world of nation states. The decisions of a national Government are still by far the most important decisions impacting, for example, on a child in Malawi. They are more important than anything that the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund may say or do. In trying to build good governance and working with the Government of Malawi to strengthen democracy, the civil service and civil society in that country will help them to make better decisions on behalf of the children of that country. By promoting good governance, we are cutting with the grain, not against it. We are not floating off into some philosophical nonsense about globalisation solving all our problems.

The world is made up of nation states, and this policy supports that important truth. I hope that the Minister will listen to these arguments.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he accept that the advanced western nations are sometimes good at intervening militarily to prevent or suppress tyranny, but are often not very good at following up to create sustainable democratic civil institutions—in other words, good governance? That is why it is essential that when we give aid to countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina we should try to promote the sustainable civil institutions.

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Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend is right. Such action is hard to take, but it is ultimately the only solution. When we visit Kosovo and the Balkans, as I have done in the past couple of years, we sense that the NGO community has moved in, is reluctant to move out and is making all the decisions. It is far better for us to be strengthening capacity in emerging nations and allowing them to have proper, strong institutions of government. My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. No one is saying that such help is easy to provide, but it should be the focus of our aid. Those are the reasons why I believe that good governance should be included in the Bill and why I urge the Government to accept amendment No. 2.

I want to speak now to new clause 2, which deals with a similar but unrelated point. We accept that UK aid should have a poverty focus, but the stark reality is that 50 per cent. of the Department for International Development's budget is spent not by the British Government, but by other multilateral organisations. Some 30 per cent. is spent through the European Union, and up to 20 per cent. is spent via the United Nations and other multilateral organisations. Thus, 50 per cent. of our aid will not be subject to the poverty focus. The new clause asks the Government, what is the point of introducing an important safeguard and framework for UK aid spend, when half the money that we spend will not be subject to the poverty focus?

I do not want to bore the House with the failings of the EU aid budget. Very few quotations suffice to make the point, which we have debated time and time again. To be fair to the Secretary of State, she has been as critical as anyone of the EU's scandalous and abysmal failure in promoting the interests of the poorest people in the world. On 17 May 2000, she said: Anyone who knows anything about development knows that the EU is the worst agency in the world, the most inefficient, the least poverty-focused, the slowest, flinging money around for political gestures rather than promoting real development. I sometimes wish that she would more often say what she really means. In November 1999, she said: The EU's development efforts are very, very, very ineffective. There is poor management and then they get fraud". In the Financial Times in July 2000, she said: The EU is running out of time to make concrete improvements in quality and effectiveness on the ground. In the same article, the said: If there is no substantial progress in implementation during the next two years, the member states should think seriously about scaling back EU programmes and spending the money better elsewhere. I could not have put it better myself. It is absolutely scandalous that the EU continues to misuse 30 per cent. of British taxpayers' money, because of lack of focus, fraud and misuse, and because it is getting it horribly wrong.

I am afraid that any hon. Members who think that the EU aid programme is getting better after the recent reforms are sadly mistaken. There is no evidence to suggest that that is happening. Two recent reports published by the European Parliament, that much-loved institution, state that the EU aid programme reached rock bottom in 1999. I should like to cite page 12/14—there does not seem to be a page 13—of one of those reports, which is dated 23 March 2001. In parliamentary terms, the report is hot off the press; indeed, in European parliamentary terms, it is extremely hot off the press.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

My hon. Friend makes some effective points about the EU budget. When we take power on 7 June—I sincerely hope that we will do so—and he takes his richly deserved seat in the Secretary of State's chair, what can he do to start the process of withdrawing us from the scandalous waste of money that he describes, so that we can spend taxpayers' money to relieve third-world poverty?

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend makes a telling point. In a moment, I shall spell out yet again our policy on ensuring that the abuse comes to an end and that we can scale back and claw back to member states the ability to spend the money bilaterally. We all know that that would ensure better value for money.

I shall return to that point shortly, but I want first to read my quotation from the important European Parliament report to which I referred. Of course, we enjoy reading these wonderful reports. The committee that produced the report regrets that in 1999 only one of the top 10 recipients of EC overseas development assistance was a least developed country"— only one in 10— and that the percentage of EC ODA going to low income and least developed countries fell below fifty per cent. for the first time ever". It sees that as contradictory to the Community's commitment to poverty reduction re-emphasised in the Council's and the Commission's Policy Statement. The EU's aid programme is getting worse, and 30 per cent. of British taxpayers' aid money is spent via that aid programme.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Is my hon. Friend aware that US$850 million of the European development budget is being spent on Serbia and Kosovo, the same amount that is allocated for the whole of Latin America and Asia, where about 80 per cent. of the poorest people live? Is not that as much a scandal as what my hon. Friend describes?

Mr. Streeter

My hon. Friend sums up the matter nicely, if grotesquely. It is a scandal which must come to an end. How much longer can we wait? The Conservative party is the only political party pressing for concrete action to bring the scandal to an end. The Government had an opportunity at the recent Nice summit to put the matter on the agenda and to start to build a portfolio of support for scaling back the EU aid programme and allowing member states to spend that money bilaterally.

Since I was the Conservative party's spokesman on Europe in 1997–98, I have become convinced that there is an appetite for such an approach. The Nice summit was an opportunity for the Government to put that issue on the agenda. I urged them several times to do so, but they failed to take that opportunity. As a result, the rather feeble agreement that has now been reached is to review the performance of the EU aid programme in 2006—five more years of waste and five more years of the poorest people in the world suffering in the way that we have described. The Government should have started work on that at the Nice summit and it is to be regretted that they did not.

Under the EU aid programme, 30 per cent. of our aid budget is without a poverty focus. Can the Minister honestly say that it is right that the Bill should have no reference to the fact that any money that we spend via multilateral organisations, whether the EU or the UN, should also have a poverty focus? That would place the Government under a legal obligation to ensure that every pound that is spent via the EU comes within the poverty focus and is properly spent, and would place them under a legal requirement not to sit back and allow the current situation to continue, but to sort the matter out. That is why that should be in the Bill.

Mr. Rowe

As one reason the EU budget is so badly spent is that the EU is quite open about the fact that it has political rather than development imperatives, if the Government are prepared to go along with that, would it not be appropriate for the money that is being spent on our behalf by the EU to come from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's budget?

Mr. Streeter

That is an interesting suggestion, which I hope the Minister will take on board. It is wrong for development aid to be spent via the EU, either as a second tier of immigration policy for the southern European states, or as part of the wider Foreign Office or political diplomatic agenda.

New clause 2 and the amendments grouped with it contain two important points. We say that good governance should be the focus of the Bill and included in it, because without it the Bill will be less effective.

Secondly, the Bill should contain a legal obligation to ensure that any money spent by the British Government via the European Union or the United Nations is not be misused. I could have said much about the United Nations' effectiveness in spending our aid money, but I want to give other colleagues time to speak. The Government should be legally obliged by the measure not to sit back and allow such scandalous abuse and misuse to continue, but to build alliances, partnerships and support. I believe that they would be pushing against an open door, certainly with northern European and Scandinavian states, which are as fed up as we are. They should sort out the problem.

I hope that the Minister will take those substantive points into account. I believe that they have been fully argued and I am sure that my hon. Friends will speak in support of new clause 2. I hope that he will accept it and that we will not need to put it to the vote.

Mr. Wells

I want to make three points in support of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) and the new clause and other amendments in the group. I shall speak about good governance and humanitarian aid. However, first, I want to consider whether the money allocated to international bodies such as the World Bank, the European Union, the development banks and other organisations such as the United Nations development programme and UNICEF could be subject to legal challenge under the Bill as currently drafted.

The Department for International Development spends more than 50 per cent. of its budget on multilateral institutions, which do not have a poverty focus as their only and single-minded purpose. The Bill enshrines that purpose. It is therefore clear that a citizen of this country or a non-governmental organisation could take the Department for International Development to court for allocating part of its budget to, for example, the European Union, which does not spend the money on poverty-focused purposes. That is a genuine danger. Those who drafted the Bill have recognised that, and I am sure that they will inform the Minister of the difficulty.

Clause 4 provides for the Secretary of State to support organisational funds that "wholly or partly" exist for the relevant purposes outlined in clause 1, if he is satisfied that to do so is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. Clause 4 could be used as a defence in a court case against the Department for International Development on its use of international development money allocated by Parliament for relieving poverty. Is the Minister satisfied that the Department is adequately protected by the wording of clause 4? That is an important question if a lot of money and time is not to be wasted on court proceedings. I believe that the clause leaves the Department open to serious challenge in the courts. I should regret such a fruitless use of money and time, which could mean a reduction in the amount of money that the Department can spend on relieving abject poverty.

I want to reflect on what we mean by good governance. I presume that we do not mean the sort of time-wasting activity that we discussed when we considered the programme motion. I hope that we do not define good governance as imposing from above a Westminster-style parliamentary system on the people of other countries. However, good governance requires the maintenance of specific principles.

First, the Executive in any country should be accountable to the people through a representational body, however it is formed. I often argue that democracy is the traditional way in which African countries have ruled themselves. The previous Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, His Excellency Emeka Anyaoku, often used to refer in speeches to the way in which his chief ruled his area in south-west Africa. There, a meeting of all the people is held, as in a platonic Greek state. The chief is chief by tradition, not necessarily by inheritance. He is the senior man, but he is expected to listen to, take advice from and find the majority opinion within the meeting. Then, together with his elders, some of whom in some African tribes are and have always been—in living memory—elected, he takes the final executive decisions.

A similar process has been described to many of us on visits to Swaziland, which is a monarchy. That procedure is changing, but it is keeping to the principle that the Executive have to be accountable to their people and rule by consent. In essence, that is what our Parliament tries to achieve. If countries achieve it by a different route, we should not oppose it, but welcome and support it in any way that we can.

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The next thing that is essential is that we have a reliable and objective judiciary. That is not an easy thing to achieve. Even in this country, we are questioning whether we are right to leave the appointment of judges entirely in the hands of the Lord Chancellor, in view of his conduct in recent times in trying to raise money for political purposes from those who might be appointed to judgeships. Even we are not certain that we have got the right mechanism for appointing people to enforce with impartiality the laws passed by Parliament and the Executive.

A reliable and objective judiciary is essential if domestic savings are to be re-invested in a country and even more if we are to achieve the objective set out in the eliminating world poverty White Paper and the globalisation White Paper, both issued by the DFID during this Parliament, of bringing in the private sector to be the engine of growth, employment and opportunity in some of the poorest countries. Without that capacity to rely on an impartial judiciary, which will make objective decisions, the accumulation of domestic and overseas investment will not occur, and the abjectly poor will remain abjectly poor.

A survey entitled "Voices of the People" asked ordinary people in third-world countries what concerned them most about their Government and corruption. Their first concern was corruption in the judiciary and their second was corruption in the police force, to whom they always have to pay fees for one thing or another—to pass a police barrier on the road or to get a licence to do something or other.

Good governance requires a first-class impartial judiciary, an impartial police force and an objective and impartial civil service, which is essential to good administration. Those elements have to exist if we are to bring about development. The concept of good governance has come to the fore in development thinking as a result of failures of the past. Without such a framework in developing countries, it is close to impossible to get development to take place. So it is right to include the question of good governance in the Bill as it is essential to realising its objective, which is of course to eliminate abject poverty throughout the world.

Another thing that worries me about the proposals is whether we should allow regional development banks to invest in humanitarian aid. If we passed the new clause, we would exclude the possibility of regional banks providing such aid.

As I said on Second Reading, humanitarian aid is a problem because it is being thoroughly abused, which is undermining the whole concept of it. Such aid depends on the impartiality of its delivery. It should go to both or all sides of a conflict or violent event: to those who have been killed, maimed or injured who are working for the Government and those who have been killed, maimed or injured who are protesting or conducting a violent campaign against the Government. The Red Cross is trusted to go in on both sides and to provide humanitarian aid to them.

That principle has been established since the mid-19th century. If we throw it away, it will be at great expense: there will be much human suffering in those violent situations. That is why I am concerned that we make certain that humanitarian aid is delivered impartially.

In the post-cold war era, the concept of humanitarianism has been deepened and broadened in principle and in practice.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I echo what a number of people have already said. We shall miss him very much and we admire greatly the tremendous work that he has done on international development.

On the specific point that the hon. Gentleman raises, does he agree that, whoever is responsible for delivering humanitarian aid, it is crucial that they continue to work increasingly with non-governmental organisations, so that the aid is seen to be delivered to the people who should be benefiting?

Mr. Wells

I agree. We must be careful that we work with NGOs that are properly managed, organised and capable of delivering the aid to both sides impartially. If one NGO, for whatever reason, has adopted a particular position on the conflict in which it is working, I suggest that it be thereby excluded from delivering such humanitarian aid so as to maintain the impartial nature of the aid. That is essential if we are to be able to help, for example, in the distribution of food—we all saw the starvation conditions produced by conflict in Ethiopia many years ago.

One of the difficult questions that we face is whether we are feeding the two armies in a conflict as a primary result of the distribution of food, so that the fighting can continue for longer. By all admission, much food aid distributed in those circumstances does support the belligerents. In those circumstances we need to train NGOs to deliver impartially—they are the people to do so—because we cannot employ Government people to distribute the aid if they are in conflict with a large part of the civil population. The NGOs therefore play a crucial role.

As I have said, humanitarian assistance in the post-cold war period has been extended because it has begun to be used as a method by which to influence internal disputes within countries. As we all know, since the fall of the Berlin wall, we have predominantly dealt with conflicts within countries, not between countries. Although the type of conflict in which we were engaged in Kosovo and elsewhere in the Balkans is an example of that change, the examples of Sierra Leone and of Angola also stare us in the face. It is a very difficult issue

I am worried that humanitarian assistance is increasingly associated with politico-military intervention by the west. The obvious example of that is NATO's appointment of a "humanitarian general"—a general in charge of humanitarian assistance provided by NATO. The Select Committee on International Development met the general, the first to be appointed, who was very efficient and had organised most of Albania with the consent of its Government. He was given control of the ports, airports and all the roads leading to the border with Kosovo, all of which he ran with exemplary efficiency and discipline. Nevertheless, he called himself a humanitarian NATO general.

Let us consider that role for a moment. He was a humanitarian general on behalf of one side of a conflict. Was he offering those services to the Serbs in Kosovo? Was he also prepared to run their ports, airports and military logistics to assist them? It does not make any sense at all, but that is what we have started to slip into by using the word "humanitarian" for such purposes.

The relationship between humanitarian and political action has become very complex, and an international consensus is lacking on the political character and legitimacy of humanitarian assistance. I believe that that situation will become more acute if we continue down the same road. I also believe that clause 3 places us in danger of allowing the operation of humanitarian assistance to slip further. As hon. Members will have noticed, clause 3 exempts the Government from a requirement to ensure that money spent on humanitarian assistance is used for poverty reduction programmes. It requires that the money be spent not on pro-poor policies, but simply on humanitarian aid.

In its reply to the sixth report of the International Development Committee, on conflict prevention and reconstruction, which was published in 1999, the Department for International Development defined humanitarian aid as all measures in situations of conflicts, disasters and emergencies, which are intended to save lives, relieve suffering, hasten recovery, protect and rebuild livelihoods and community, and reduce vulnerability to future crises. This includes disaster relief, preparedness, prevention and mitigation, food aid and assistance to refugees and other displaced populations. It also includes essential measures to re-establish structures and systems to govern and administer services where these have broken down due to the crisis or disaster". Currently, there is no statutory basis—the Bill does not provide one—for humanitarian assistance. The definition rests on an analysis of content and not on principle. Furthermore, it does not take into account the political distinction between relief and development assistance. I believe that we have to address ourselves to that issue and that, to protect itself, the Department also has to think about the issue.

I know that the Department does not wish to provide a definition because it is afraid that, if it does so, it will be taken to court in a judicial review. If the Government provided a definition, a decision to spend money on humanitarian assistance could be challenged in court. As we know, in court, definitions are manna for lawyers. I think that the risk of such legal action is a real danger. Conversely, leaving the definition as vague as it is in the Bill runs the equal danger of allowing humanitarian assistance to be used in a manner that is partial and that promotes conflict rather than the reverse.

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We must think about how we can achieve the objectives that we have set in regard to humanitarian assistance. I would define them as follows: to prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health, and to ensure respect for the human being. Arguably, that definition provides for the protection and re-establishment of livelihoods, not just the saving of lives. In other words, unlike development assistance or political intervention, humanitarian assistance is concerned with the preservation and dignity of individuals. It is based on their humanity, not on the development of particular political or economic systems or on political affiliation. That definition—probably refined—might fulfil the purposes that we all want to be maintained and sustained in respect of humanitarian assistance as defined in clause 3.

That is all that I wish to say at this stage, but I believe that there are important issues that should be reflected in the Bill.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

I want to offer a few thoughts on good governance. In a few weeks, we are all likely to be touring the country telling the population that the other side is incapable of delivering good governance; yet here we are, discussing how other countries may deliver it.

1 was relieved to note that Opposition Members are not talking nowadays of trying to impose a west-approved system on other countries, but I feel that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) is expecting a great deal in some instances. While representative democracy and an independent judiciary are ideals that we hope can be aspired to by every country—the sooner the better—in many cases we seem to be a long way from achieving those aims. In far too many countries, for example, women—despite constituting half the population—do not have a say in how their countries are run, let alone play a part in Government or judiciary. If we are calling for good governance, we should ensure that women have an equal right to run their own countries.

What the Secretary of State has done over the past four years is crucial. She has developed literacy and numeracy programmes, and that alone is a key element. Literacy and numeracy present populations with the opportunity to challenge, as they enable them to think for themselves, to argue, to campaign and to get things done. My right hon. Friend's concentration over those four years, and in the Bill, on promoting education—especially women's education—is what is required. We must begin where people are, not where they are likely to be.

Mr. Leigh

I support new clause 2 and the amendments grouped with it.

Good governance is indeed crucial to the debate; we know that from our own experience. When this country suddenly leapt forward, it was because we started to pay High Court and other judges rates that ensured that they were incorruptible. From that moment we gave an enormous boost to good governance. The same applies to the civil service. Why did the country leap forward in the last century, in terms of good governance? Because corruption was cleared out of the civil service; civil servants were paid a decent salary, and were recruited through competitive examinations. The House should pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) for putting good governance on the agenda.

I want to concentrate on new clause 2, and its emphasis on a reduction of poverty. There is no doubt at all that EC assistance is too often influenced by political expediency rather than being concentrated on the reduction of poverty—I think that both sides of the House are convinced of that. As we have heard, that means that EU assistance, in the name of development aid, goes to relatively rich countries which are neighbours of the EU; such aid is thus unavailable for really poor countries.

I join the whole House in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) for his chairmanship of the Select Committee on International Development and for the way in which he has developed the debate in a bipartisan spirit. He has contributed much to a greater understanding of the issues in the House and in the Conservative party. The Committee's ninth report is excellent; I very much hope that all Members will take a few moments to glance through it.

The report is fair. I do not want to be accused of EU bashing. I want to defend the EU—just for a moment—so that no one can say that we are trying to use new clause 2 merely to bash the EU. The report stated that the EU is perfectly entitled to take an interest in what is going on in Poland, in Bosnia or in Serbia. However, that is a political objective; it should not be part of the aid budget. As the report stated on page ix: EC external assistance policies are clearly determined more by political priorities than poverty alleviation. Pre-accession aid and the stability of the regions surrounding the EU are indeed important political objectives. We all accept that. It is vital for all of us in this place that Poland, for instance, is ready to join the EU. However, we are in a ridiculous situation, as Chris Patten outlined in the report. He stated: A consequence of that is that today we spend twice as much in Poland preparing for accession as we spend in Latin America and Asia combined. That cannot be right.

There must be a better way. We look forward to the comments of the Under-Secretary of State for International Development on this point. Can we not convince the Council of Ministers and our friends in the EU that we are entitled to pay our fair share in helping Serbia, Bosnia or Poland or other hot spots close to our borders, but that we need a ring-fenced budget? As the report states: All too often Category 4, initially envisaged as a source of finance for community development programmes, is 'raided' by the Council of Ministers to fund political initiatives that they do not wish to fund bilaterally, amounting to what Clare Short described as 'political gestures'. The Committee asks for a budget for expenditure in all developing countries dedicated to its principles". I agree.

I do not seek here to make a party political point or any point directed against the EU. I fully accept that everyone has their own priorities. However, when we are faced with dire poverty in the world, and when both sides of the House face enormous difficulties in the political debate trying to convince hon. Friends that we should devote more resources to the world's poorest populations, even though that may result in fewer hospitals, schools and roads—all the things that our voters actually want—how can we go to our electorates and argue for that aid when we see such waste, or at least misdirection, of resources? People think that those resources are going to help the world's poorest people, but they are in fact being diverted for political objectives. I hope that the whole House can agree with new clause 2 on that point.

The picture gets worse, however. Whatever one's opinion of the EU, one has to be critical of the way that it spends its money. On 6 August 2000, the Sunday Telegraph reported that nearly two years after Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America, leaving almost 7,000 people dead, the EU has failed to deliver a penny of the £170-million package pledged to help survivors of the disaster. The article accuses the European Commission of 'gesture politics' because they have a history of announcing grand aid packages to the Third World without having a clue how the money should be spent on the ground. The report says, at page xvi: The Committee has heard of a number of examples of delays and inefficiencies in disbursement. Population Concern gave the Committee two examples of such delays: the first was a delay of thirteen months"— 13 months!— in the disbursement of funds for four mini-projects in Bolivia and Peru; in the second instance—a Community-based Distribution Programme in Karachi—The funding situation became so dire that the Director of a local NGO in Pakistan took out a personal loan to pay staff salaries". The picture persists; it is not good enough. After all, we are talking about public money. It may be public money disbursed by an international organisation, a multinational organisation; there may not be very great political pressure—in fact, there is virtually no political pressure—on the way these moneys are disbursed. There may not even be much public interest. However, as a result of the lack of control and lack of concern, some poor person who is trying to do a decent job to help some of the world's poorest people, in some little office in Pakistan, has to pay salaries cut of her own pocket. That is simply not good enough.

Mr. Rowe

My hon. Friend is probably aware that one of the pressures under which the EU operates is that whenever there is evidence of malfeasance there is a huge outburst of scandal and horror, and then, instead of reviewing all its procedures and ensuring that there is one accountable person, the EU simply increases the number of signatures that have to appear on each authorisation. Far from improving accountability, that requirement hugely diminishes it, and colossally increases the time that such an authorisation takes to go through the system.

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend, who speaks with great knowledge on these subjects, makes a perfectly valid point. It is difficult to advise the EU on how to proceed, but I suppose that the problem boils down to a lack of political oversight, of national interest and of national concern—the equivalent of Ministers being brought back to the House to be brought to account. As a result there are scandals and bad publicity, and as my hon. Friend says, it is then necessary to add another layer of bureaucracy because people involved in the process get worried about their career and the way they will be reported in the press.

The Commission, in a statement on development policy, has analysed the problems that it faces in implementing commitments. Fair enough. It listed them as a complex and fragmented aid system: policies guided by instruments rather than by policy objectives; substandard monitoring and evaluation procedures; burdensome ex-ante financial controls; lack of human resources. Let us consider the point about lack of human resources. Is the reason why the EU is unable to devote itself adequately to relieving poverty in the third world the fact that it does not have the right number of staff? The Commission has argued that there is a shortfall of 1,300 staff, and that therefore it simply cannot deliver the programme in the way it should. It says that the shortfall has the obvious effect of leaving a few staff to deal with an enormously increased amount of money to spend and makes it obvious that the efficiency of the programmes will be damaged, and that it will be less likely that they will be followed up and corruption detected.

Is it true that the reason why the EU is performing so badly is that there is a shortfall of 1,300 staff? I suspect not. My viewpoint is shared by the International Development Secretary, who declared her opposition to giving the Commission any more money for staff and has promised to "fight to the death" to prevent it unless the Commission improves the quality of what it is doing already.

The International Development Secretary, to whom I pay tribute, is being absolutely robust in this. She is saying that the problem is not due to lack of staff at all. Fair enough. If we therefore are all agreed—I see Labour Members nodding—why is she willing to continue to use the European Commission to distribute aid despite its being, in her words, the worst development agency in the world', and despite the fact that, in her words. the poor quality and reputation of its aid bring Europe into disrepute"? I have never heard a Minister, whether Conservative or Labour, use such strong language to describe any EU institution. This is not someone who has a reputation as a Eurosceptic trying to score political points, but the International Development Secretary, who describes the Commission as the worst development agency in the world'. That is why the group of amendments before us is so apposite. It does not make sense for the International Development Secretary to continue to use and depend on the EU for aid distribution despite its being truly awful. Surely she and her junior Minister, who is here today, must agree with the Conservative new clause to propose that no aid be allowed to be distributed by a third party unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is likely to result in a reduction of poverty. That is all the new clause is about.

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If we place our hopes in the illusion of the EU's reforming itself and suddenly becoming, contrary to all the expectations of the International Development Secretary, an efficient organisation which works solely for the reduction of poverty in a holistic manner, I believe that we are fooling ourselves. The all-party International Development Committee, in producing the report, has been exasperated with the failure of the Commission to reform its development activity effectively. That all-party Committee says that it would be foolishness to assume that the EU will now reform itself. The EU has far too many problems with its aid programme to reform itself effectively in the foreseeable future.

I believe that it would be better if the United Kingdom took the decision to spend this money itself, controlled by this Parliament, for the reduction in poverty in the world and to help the world's poorest people.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park)

I rise to speak to amendment No. 6, but I hope that the House will allow me to make a few comments first on the other amendments and the new clause before us.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), as usual, said a great deal about good governance, and many people in the House would agree with what he says. It is indeed fundamental. It lies at the core of any development programme in an underdeveloped country. However, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) said, we must question what good governance is. It is sometimes extremely difficult to put a finger on what its ingredients are.

I was about to rise to ask the hon. Gentleman whether Uganda would be an example of good governance. I remember his having great doubts when we were out there, and yet Uganda seems to be doing quite well in development terms, and delivering the goods as far as the Department for International Development is concerned. If we intend to declare that people will get aid only to further good governance, and that that is at the very core of poverty alleviation, it is worth remembering that it is quite difficult to assess what good governance is.

The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford mentioned the police and the judiciary. In doing so, he perfectly illustrated what I am always saying: that poverty can be alleviated only by addressing very many factors. One cannot give one factor a higher priority than another. How can one have a good police force, and above all a good judiciary, without education? Should not education therefore lie at the core of development? One cannot educate people or maintain good governance unless those people are relatively healthy and have a health care system—so should not health care be at the core? One cannot have good health without clean water, so should not clean water be at the very core? So is not clean water just as important as good governance? They all go together; it is thus absolutely right that the core powers are set out in the way that they are, and that they do not give one factor more importance than another. It is important that we go ahead on many fronts.

Certainly, it may sometimes feel, as the hon. Member for South-West Devon said, that this is a bit of a scatter-gun approach, but it has to be that way, because these aspects will improve and the countries involved will improve only if all those factors are addressed at the same time. I cannot therefore support the amendments tabled by the Conservative party.

We all have sympathy with what has been said about the inefficiency of European Union aid. I shall not bore the House again with my story of reading reports from the Court of Auditors. They contain absolutely horrific stories of projects not started, not completed or not reported on, and of money not even wasted but simply not used—just sitting there, not delivering the aid that was intended. Sadly, EU aid gives the Conservative party another opportunity for a bit of Europe bashing, and I wish that the EU would put its house in order because it provides such a wonderful excuse to attack Europe and all things European.

I remind Conservative Members that if they had played a more wholehearted part in setting up all those institutions, and if they had been there enthusiastically insisting that the European aid budgets were managed properly, instead of washing their hands, like Pontius Pilate, of all things European, we would be in a much better state today and they could not criticise what goes on in our name.

Mr. Wells

As the hon. Lady will know, because she was a member of the Select Committee when we drafted the report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred, we recommended not that we should withdraw money from the European aid programme, but that we should make that programme perform better. Does she agree that Mr. Chris Patten and Mr. Nielsen—the two Commissioners principally concerned with European aid—have introduced many new measures which will come into force this year and promise to make European aid much more efficient and to deliver pro-poor policies in the third world?

Dr. Tonge

Yes, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I am hopeful that reform will take place. Conservative Members have quoted the Secretary of State on many occasions this afternoon. She is unhappy about the way things work, and she will ensure that we will not contribute more funds until they improve. I have a lot of faith in my constituent, Commissioner Patten—he is not all the Conservative party's; he is partly mine too. He and his colleague are sincerely trying to improve matters, but I repeat that it is very foolish of the Conservative Opposition continually to carp about the systems that they set up but now want nothing to do with.

I want to make one last point on European aid. It is rather strange that the Conservative party says that good governance and political considerations are of the very essence if we want to relieve poverty, and that good governance must be top of the aid agenda, since that is precisely what many European aid projects do. They are trying to deliver good governance, which will improve the countries where they operate and bring them into the first world and, eventually, the European Union. Conservative Members have been speaking on both sides of the argument.

Mr. Streeter

I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Lady's speech, which I am greatly enjoying, and I am keen to deal with the other groups of amendments, but I must make two points. First, the EU may well be building good governance in certain places, but our argument is that it is doing so in the wrong places; it is not doing it in the poorest countries, which are those most desperate for a measure of good governance.

Secondly, is the hon. Lady aware of a recent report—again, produced by the European Parliament—in which the Parliament expresses massive pessimism about whether the European aid reforms which Commissioner Patten has just introduced will work, because they do not deal with the EU culture, which is so bureaucratic, ineffective and unfocused? Is not that the problem? We all want those reforms to work, but I am afraid that, living in the real world, we profoundly believe they will not.

Dr. Tonge

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. He reinforces what I say: much European aid is being used for the purposes that he suggests it should be used.

Mr. Streeter

But in the wrong places.

Dr. Tonge

Well, who is to say which are the wrong places, when talking about good governance? The Conservative party must sort out its argument; there is an element of confusion among some Opposition Members this afternoon.

I should like to deal with tied aid. In the White Paper on globalisation, we are told: The UK Government is totally committed to the multilateral untying of aid. It also states that the Government will untie all UK development assistance from 1 April 2001. The Government have already untied the knots and aid is now untied, so why have they not mentioned tied aid in the Bill? Would it not have been wonderful for all those of us who criticised the Pergau dam—the most famous example of all—to have seen the words "tied aid" in the Bill? That would have been a recognition, as the White Paper states, that the Government are legislating to stop the practice.

The White Paper states that more than a third of the total amount of aid to developing countries—about £13 billion—is given on the condition that it is tied to the purchase of products and services. According to the White Paper, tied aid reduces the value of that aid by about 25 per cent. It states that "it is grossly inefficient" to supply developing countries with incompatible equipment from different development agencies.

Project objectives are skewed towards commercial considerations, and capital intensive projects are favoured more than smaller, more effective poverty-focused projects. Tied aid also encourages a donor driven approach to development. It signals that development agencies' major concern is not development, but their national contracts. All that is stated in the White Paper.

Mr. Wells

I apologise for intervening on the hon. Lady and thank her for allowing me to do so. Does she not think that clause 1 would prohibit the retying of aid? Apart from being poverty focused, the Bill's objective is, under clause 1, to exclude any possibility of reintroducing tied aid.

Dr. Tonge

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I find it difficult to grapple with that concept. The Department and the Minister have been very kind; they have been patient with me, and they have spent a long time discussing clause 1 with me, but I am still not satisfied that it will stop the reintroduction of tied aid. I am told that it will do so, but I dispute that; it is not clear enough.

Clause 1 states: 'development assistance' means assistance provided for the purpose of … furthering sustainable development in one or more countries outside the United Kingdom, or … improving the welfare of the population of one or more such countries. It also states that 'sustainable development' includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent". What is prudence in the mind of Secretaries of State?

We know that the current Secretary of State is a very prudent person and that, on the whole, we would trust her with international development, but what of future Secretaries of State? Pigs may fly, and someone in the Chamber may become a Secretary of State one day—I do not refer to the hon. Member for South-West Devon. Nevertheless, clause 1 is not clear, because nowhere does it say that it does not allow for any dilution of the developmental purpose to reflect commercial, political or other considerations. That is what I am told that clause 1 is intended to say, which is why I suggest in amendment No. 6 that that phrase should be included. That is what the clause is supposed to say, so why not say it?

2.30 pm
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)

I shall address most of my remarks to amendment No. 5, which stands in my name and those of my colleagues. First, however, I shall comment briefly on the new clause and other amendments.

There is a great deal of virtue in new clause 2 and its purposes, which were set out by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter). There is an obvious failure in the European Union aid policy. The only question that we need answer is whether we should place on the Secretary of State a responsibility that should be fulfilled by the European Parliament and the Commission, which are accountable. There are difficulties with accountability which we need to address at a European level.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that over a long period the European Parliament and the Commission have shown themselves incapable of reforming the aid programme, and that in those circumstances, it is necessary for the House to consider taking action?

Mr. Thomas

I certainly agree that we need to consider taking action, and that is why I think new clause 2 worthy of consideration. However, whether we should put that responsibility on the Secretary of State is a matter of opinion. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that, so far, we have seen little action by the European Parliament. It has new powers in this regard and is supposedly able to call people to account on the budget, but we have yet to see that happen.

I am less clear about the issue of good governance. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) put her finger on it when she said that good governance is a worthy aim of international development, but it is not the sole aim and it should not receive a higher priority than other aims such as education and health services and clean water.

Amendment No. 5 deals with sustainable development, which lies at the heart of the Bill's objectives. To be absolutely clear for the purposes of debate, sustainable development is not an objective like good governance or clean water; it is the whole framework within which we should deliver international aid policies. Agenda 21, agreed in the Rio declaration to which the previous Government wholeheartedly signed up, defines sustainable development as the progressive integration of the economic, social and issues in the pursuit of development that is economically efficient, socially equitable and responsible and environmentally sound". That is a rather cumbersome definition, but it makes it clear that sustainable development is about more than delivering one aid package or achieving one type of improvement.

Some Members may feel that sustainable development is about the environment, and are asking why we should be discussing it in relation to a Bill on international development. They may think that we need first to get the economy going or to address social needs. It must be emphasised that sustainable development is about the environment, social needs and the economy coming together in a package that allows a country to develop in a way that will give its future generations the opportunity to thrive.

The Government have sought to define sustainable development in the Bill in that context. I welcome their attempt to do so, but I do not know who dreamt up the definition because it does not square with those used by the Government in other regards. Recently in his career, the Under-Secretary has used other definitions elsewhere in the Government. I tabled my amendment because the definition in the Bill does not cover all our needs.

As the hon. Member for Richmond Park has pointed out, the Bill says that sustainable development includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State"— I have no objection to its being the Secretary of State's opinion— prudent having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country or countries in relation to which it is provided. I suppose that the definition is okay in itself, but I am not sure what it really means. It does not sufficiently tie the hands of future Secretaries of State as regards the introduction of tied aid, which has already been mentioned, or support for projects that do not meet what we think of as the criteria for sustainability.

Amendment No. 5 would introduce what is generally known as the Brundtland definition of sustainable development, which is now the most widely accepted international definition. I am not the one who says that; it is the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. The DETR's development strategy, "A Better Quality of Life", asks: What is sustainable development? At its heart it is the simple idea of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, now and for generations to come. That is rather worthy, but it does not mean very much. However, the strategy goes on to say: A widely used international definition is 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. I seek to amend the Bill to include that definition, which is accepted by the DETR.

Interestingly, the only other legislation passed by the House which has included a reference to sustainable development is the Government of Wales Act 1998, which placed on the National Assembly for Wales an obligation to introduce sustainable development. It did not include a definition, but in responding to the obligation, the Assembly has come up with one. Lo and behold, it says: A widely used international definition featured in the 1987 United Nations Brundtland report to the World Commission on Environment and Development, is: 'development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. I have given two clear examples of how the Government have rightly sought to establish a definition of sustainable development: one, directly, through the DETR, and the second, indirectly, by placing an obligation on the National Assembly for Wales, which responded by using the Brundtland definition.

There is another recent definition of sustainable development, which is contained in the European Union's 6th environmental action programme, but out of sensitivity to what some hon. Members regard as gobbledegook emerging from Europe, I will not quote it. It is not as acceptable to me as it may be to other hon. Members.

It is important to get that definition right. We know from the debate that we are now having on climate change that the worst effects are being felt in sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries. We will experience the least effects here, and we can cope with storms, floods and extreme summer temperatures using our technology and our economy. However, our Kyoto obligations and the need to develop international development aid in light of those obligations mean that we need a much clearer view of what sustainable development is.

We should have a strong definition so that we can respond to any international feeling, such as that demonstrated by America, which may be expressed about Kyoto and global warming in the near future. Having the right definition is vital, and in providing development aid we must not transfer the burden of meeting our Kyoto targets to the developing countries themselves. First and foremost, they have to bring themselves up to a level at which they can cope with climate change. There are some worrying ideas concerning the clean development mechanism which means that we may place our burdens on those countries through development aid. I do not want that to happen, and a stronger definition of sustainable development may be a way to avoid it.

I concur with the general view that the Secretary of State will not misuse the existing definition in the Bill, but a future Secretary of State may negotiate within the Government or the World Trade Organisation or on the general agreement on tariffs and trade, about which concern was expressed on Second Reading. They will have to report back to the House about how they are fulfilling the obligations placed on them by the Bill. For that reason, we need a firmer definition of sustainable development. If the Under-Secretary is not prepared to accept my definition, will he explain what the definition in the Bill means?

How do the Government intend to report back to the House on how they are achieving their obligations and objectives under that definition? It has been suggested that we need an annual in bi-annual debate on the matter. As a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, which has in the past considered how Departments have set out and followed guidelines on sustainable development, using Green Ministers to do so, I ask how we will show that we are delivering sustainable development if we do not have the right definition. Are the sustainable development aims that the Government want achieved in this country those being achieved through our development aid in other countries?

Mr. Mullin

We have had a good debate about a large group of amendments, and I shall do my best to say something about all of them.

The amendments and the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) all seek to change the aim or purposes for which development assistance can be provided. The Bill sets out a simple aim for British development assistance. With the exception of assistance to the overseas territories and that provided in response to disasters and emergencies, assistance can be provided only if it is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.

New clause 2 provides that no UK development assistance could be disbursed through third parties unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that it is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. I am afraid that the new clause stems from a misreading of the Bill. Most of the assistance listed in it—in particular, assistance to agencies of the United Nations and to the European Development Fund—is provided for under clause 4(2), which allows a Secretary of State to support organisations and contribute to funds, and here I quote from that subsection, if he is satisfied that to do so is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. That is exactly the same as the test proposed in the new clause.

The Opposition may have been confused by clause 8, which provides for a Secretary of State to enter into arrangements to provide development assistance with third parties. I can reassure the House that this clause, too, is subject to the powers set out in clauses 1 to 4. Assistance given via third parties must, to the same extent as assistance given directly by the Secretary of State, be likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.

The new clause also refers to payments via multilateral development banks. I take this to be a reference to payments made under clause 11. I will cover that point when I reach amendment No. 4 shortly. The hon. Member for South-West Devon and some of his colleagues got excited at the mention of the European Union. He is right to draw attention to the poor record of the EU's aid policy, but it might help to put his indignation in context if I say that, at the Edinburgh summit in 1992, a Tory Government signed up to the huge increase in aid to be channelled via the European Community.

Mr. Streeter

I have made this point before, but the Minister will know that it is only since 1997–98 that the true horror of the EU's aid programme has become apparent to us all. If he is right to say that all British Government aid—whether or not it goes through the EU—must reduce poverty, what will he and the Secretary of State do the day after the Bill becomes an Act? He surely cannot pretend that the EU's programme has a poverty focus.

Mr. Mullin

I am about to deal with that point. However, it is slightly odd that the horror, as the hon. Gentleman describes it, of the EU's development budget became apparent only after the change of Government in 1997. That makes one wonder what the previous Government were doing before then. However, I shall not make too much of that point, because we have had a good-natured debate and I acknowledge that there is a serious problem with the EU development budget and the way in which it is spent.

I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands one point, so I should clarify the scope of the Bill. Only expenditure on the European Development Fund is covered by the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 and will be covered by the Bill. Expenditure on all other European Community development programmes, such as Poland and Hungary Aid for Reconstruction of the Economy—PHARE—Which provides financial and technical co-operation to central and eastern European countries, and the MEDA programme, which provides development assistance to 12 middle-income countries in the Mediterranean, are and will continue to be covered by the European Communities Act 1972.

2.45 pm

Over the past five years, programmes covered by the 1972 Act have accounted for more than 70 per cent. of DFID's expenditure in the European Community. Therefore, this Bill deals with the European Development Fund and the 30 per cent. of our contribution to the EC aid programme that is spent through the EDF. The fund provides development assistance to 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and, with one exception, they are all developing countries. The EDF covers 39 of the world's 48 least-developed countries and the central objective of the Cotonou agreement, which governs the EDF, is poverty reduction.

In 1999–2000, DFID contributed £213 million to the EDF and the UK Government argued strongly and successfully that EDF allocations should reflect its poverty focus and 71 per cent. of country allocations now go to the least-developed countries, and a further 18 per cent. to other low-income countries.

We have taken advice and I can confirm that, given the EDF's clear focus on poverty reduction as set out in the Cotonou agreement, the Secretary of State will be able to continue to contribute to it under the Bill. I think that that addresses the point that the hon. Gentleman made a moment ago. The fact that the majority of EC development programmes fall outside the scope of the Bill does not mean that we do not engage with them to improve their efficiency, effectiveness and poverty focus. The scale and scope of the EC's development operations mean that it has the potential to play a major role in reducing poverty but, so far, it has not come close to fulfilling that potential.

Mr. Wells

We should reflect on the ties on the EU aid budget outside the EDF. It is compulsory that every country in the EU contributes and many of them have never spent any money on development at all. To abandon that source of money would lead to a serious reduction in the amount of aid available to poor countries.

Mr. Mullin

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should reflect on that point. He and other hon. Members are right to draw attention to it, but it is not relevant for the purposes of this Bill. Much of the discussion about aid to middle-income countries and the aid that has been misdirected is covered by the European Communities Act 1972 and it will not be affected by the Bill. That is the only point that I wish to make.

Mr. Rowe

I had not until this moment realised the point that the Minister has just made, and I am grateful to him for making it. However, does he not realise that the issue is extraordinarily confusing for the general public? As I understand it, the 0.3 per cent., or whatever it is, that we now spend includes the money covered by the 1972 Act. It is therefore caught up in the rhetoric about whether our money goes to the poorest countries. When ordinary people try to reassure themselves that we are a generous country, they will think that the whole of that 0.3 per cent. goes to the poorest countries, but that is clearly not so.

Mr. Mullin

I say again that hon. Members are right to draw attention to the problems with a large part—if not all—of the EU's development spending. However, many of those points are not relevant to the Bill and the new clause, because they deal with funds that will not be governed by the Bill. The money spent by the EC through the EDF is, by and large, spent in a better way and is more directly targeted at the poorest countries than some of the EC's other expenditure.

Mr. Davidson

Does my hon. Friend accept that EU aid generally is inefficient, slow, disorganised and unaccountable? If so, what action are he and the Government taking to ensure that the 30 per cent. which is covered by the Bill is spent more effectively? If that money is focused on the poorest countries but is not spent well, why should we give the EU aid budget more money?

Mr. Mullin

My point is that the 30 per cent. that is accounted for in the European Development Fund is the better-spent European aid. It is targeted at the poorest countries, which is what my hon. Friend wants. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has put us at the forefront of ensuring that all the EU's budget—not just the 30 per cent.—is spent more efficiently, and we shall continue to lead the way. The relatively new Danish European Commissioner is making a great effort to implement reforms. As he is dealing with a mighty task, we have to give him some leeway to make progress, and there are signs that that is happening.

Many other issues besides the European aspect of our development aid have been raised. Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 attempt to insert a reference to good governance. They are all unnecessary and undesirable, and the Government will resist them.

Amendment No. 2, which relates to clause 1, proposes that good governance should be an aim of development assistance and independent of poverty reduction. I entirely accept that the quality of governance is critical for the eradication of poverty. If Governments are unrepresentative and ineffective, and where corruption is endemic, economic growth and sound development suffer. I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Member for South-West Devon and other hon. Members said about the importance of good governance.

Chapter 1 of our 2001 departmental report, published last month, details the policies and actions that we are pursuing to promote sustainable livelihoods. We are strengthening governance and encouraging economic growth, which benefits the poor and upholds human rights. Let me offer a few brief examples to demonstrate the range of activities and initiatives that we support. In Uganda, we are supporting changes in the banking laws to increase access by the poor to financial services. We are also supporting a five-year commercial justice reform programme that aims to create a sound legal environment in which both foreign and domestic businesses can feel confident, and thereby increase investment levels. In Croatia, the Ukraine, Uganda and Russia, we are working with the Clerk's Department to strengthen the parliamentary system. In Jonestown, Jamaica, we are working with the Government and the local community to reduce violent crime.

The Bill will not prevent the Secretary of State from supporting those interventions because they all contribute to the reduction of poverty, either through furthering sustainable development or through promoting the welfare of the people. So to make good governance an additional aim of development assistance is unnecessary and undesirable. The quality of governance is important, but, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park forcefully made clear, so are health, education, water, enterprise development, trade, investment and so on. All those aspects of development are interdependent. To mention one without the others would give a distorted perspective on development, which could weaken the Secretary of State's other powers.

We are clear in our understanding that support for good governance is possible within the powers set out in the Bill. If we elevate it to the level of a specific free-standing aim, then on the principle that nothing unnecessary is stated in legislation, every additional aim would cast doubt on the core power. If support for good governance is not, as we believe, implicit in action to reduce poverty, what does the core power cover? We are anxious not to dilute that power. That is our key consideration.

Amendment No. 3 provides that the activities authorised in clause 4(1) should be likely to promote the reduction of poverty or good governance. Concern was expressed in Committee that because it was not linked to that requirement, it created a loophole that would allow the Secretary of State to provide development assistance for any reason whatsoever. That concern is misplaced and stems from a misunderstanding of the Bill's structure.

As clause 4(1) makes clear, the Secretary of State may only exercise his or her powers with a view to preparing for or facilitating the exercise of his powers under section 1, 2 or 3". It is wrong to suggest that there is no link between that power and the core power. It does not create a loophole and is entirely consistent with the Bill's poverty focus. The amendment is therefore defective.

Amendment No. 4 relates to clause 11, which provides for payments to multilateral development banks. It is a reworking of the provisions of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 and supports payments by way of subscription and contribution to a number of multilateral financial institutions. The amendment would require that all such payments must be likely to contribute to the reduction of poverty or to promote good governance.

I need to make two points on that. First, those payments fall due because of international agreements entered into by various Governments, including the previous Administration. It would be a very serious matter if Parliament proposed that the Secretary of State be put in a position of having to renege on the United Kingdom's financial commitments. Secondly, any such payments are, in any event, subject to the prior approval of the House, as stated in subsection (5). It follows that if the House is unhappy with the making of a particular payment, it has the power to prevent it. In that respect, the amendment is unnecessary and an undesirable additional constraint.

A common thread runs through the amendments: they all attempt to add good governance to the aims or purposes of the Bill. Let me again make it clear that the Secretary of State will be able to support activities that promote good governance. The quality of governance is vital for the sustainable reduction of poverty. I can further reassure hon. Members that the Secretary of State will be able to continue to support all the activities—including those of good governance—that we are currently backing.

Amendment No. 5, tabled by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), relates to clause 1 and deals with a different issue. It attempts to insert a particular interpretation of sustainable development which would impose an unreasonable constraint on the Secretary of State. The amendment interprets sustainable development as being something that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations". As the hon. Gentleman said, that is taken from the 1987 Brundtland report. We believe that the interpretation is excessively narrow and puts undue emphasis on environmental concerns. We are aiming for a balance between environmental, economic and social concerns. Let us take, for example, the extraction of minerals. If extraction is managed properly and the income generated is used for productive purposes, it can enable a country to lift itself and its people out of poverty; yet such extraction would diminish the resources available for future generations. Would that compromise their ability to meet their own needs?

Mr. Simon Thomas


Mr. Mullin

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to intervene because I am up against the clock.

The Brundtland definition lies at the environmental end of the spectrum of views on sustainable development. At the other end, there are equally sound definitions that favour a fundamentally economic definition. Neither is necessarily nor wholly right. The Government believe that sustainable development must take account of environmental, economic and social considerations.

Finally, we debated the issues relating to amendment No 6, tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, at length in Committee. If I do not get a chance to cover all the arguments in the two minutes that are left to me, a glance at the record will show the Government's case. The amendment relates to clause 1 and would ensure that a Secretary of State cannot take political, commercial or non-developmental considerations into account in exercising the core power. The hon. Lady knows that I have a great deal of sympathy for the intention behind the amendment. One of the Government's reasons for introducing the Bill is to ensure that development assistance can no longer be used for improper commercial or political ends. The amendment seeks to do just that. The question for the House is not whether or not we should use development funds for improper political or commercial ends such as tied aid; there is consensus that we should not do that. The question is how we can prevent such an abuse most securely and effectively. The Bill makes no explicit reference to outlawing improper—

It being Three o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question negatived.

Mr. Streeter

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will know that we have just spent about two hours debating one group of amendments to this important Bill and that there has been no filibustering, time wasting, distraction, deviation or unnecessary repetition. The Minister dealt properly with the amendments and the points made in argument and had to gabble to make his responses in time. In fact, he did not quite make it. There are now three groups of amendments that we shall not be able even to consider before Third Reading, for which an hour has been allocated. Is there any way that the programme motion can give us the flexibility now to continue to discuss those important amendments before we come to Third Reading? If rot, is that not an indictment of the Government, who have been unacceptably heavy-handed in curtailing debate and the proper scrutiny of this important Bill?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal)

I am bound by the order of the House agreed to earlier. I regret that there is no room for flexibility.

Mr. Leigh

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The fact remains that there are three amendments on the vital matters of sector-wide development assistance, the involvement of non-governmental bodies and the renewal of the Bill. I know that you do not have the power to intervene but you listened to the whole debate and I am sure that you appreciate that there has been no time wasting. The Bill is not controversial or party political; no one is going to attack the Government from a party political viewpoint. If Government Members told you now that they would like to allow discussion of further amendments, would that be possible?

Madam Deputy Speaker

As I said earlier, I am bound to follow the order of the House. Consideration has been completed.

Mr. Wells

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not within your power to draw the attention of the business managers of the House to the dissatisfaction of the House with the time allocated to debating the Bill?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I must inform the hon. Gentleman that that is not a point of order, but a point for debate.

Mr. Streeter

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. If I were to move a motion that the House should consider the remaining three groups of amendments and the House divided on that issue, surely, as a sovereign House of Commons, we have the ability to decide to debate those issues for another 45 minutes?

Madam Deputy Speaker

I repeat once again to hon. Members that the House has already made a decision and I must abide by that decision and the order of the House.

Order for Third Reading read.

3.3 pm

Mr. Mullin

I beg to move That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The major reason for introducing the Bill is to ensure that development assistance can no longer be used for improper commercial or political ends. Under the Bill, there will be none of the ambiguity that allowed a previous Secretary of State to support the Pergau dam. There will be no basis for the re-establishment of the aid and trade provision or, indeed, any improper links between aid and trade. The Bill reflects and supports the United Kingdom's development effort. The Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 allows the Secretary of State to provide assistance for the purposes of promoting the development or maintaining the economy of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, or the welfare of its people". Those purposes have not greatly constrained the Government's ability to refocus our country's development effort on the reduction of poverty, but we believe that it is not enough that legislation merely allows us to do most of the things that we need to do.

The Bill will ensure that we make the most effective contribution possible to the reduction of poverty. First, it requires that our development effort, with the exception of assistance to overseas territories and assistance given in response to man-made or natural disasters and emergencies, must be likely to contribute to the reduction of poverty through sustainable development or welfare improvement. Secondly, it provides a wider range of tools for achieving that aim. It provides for the use of a wider range of financial instruments than are available under the 1980 Act, including shares, options and guarantees. Those instruments will allow us to capitalise on the enormous potential contribution of the private sector to poverty reduction, with less risk of distorting markets, creating unfair competition or compromising companies' incentive to operate efficiently and sustainably, while retaining greater control and influence over the long-term use of Government funds.

The Bill will also place on a proper footing the Secretary of State's support for organisations undertaking development awareness and advocacy activities. The Government believe that if we are to succeed in meeting international development targets, we need to build greater awareness and understanding of development issues across the UK and internationally. Such support is currently possible only on the basis of the Appropriation Act 1999.

May I say a word about an issue that was not touched on in our debate a moment ago, but which was mentioned in Committee? I have considerable sympathy with Members who have spoken in favour of an annual debate on development in this House, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development. I hope that the House can find the time to hold such debates in future, but it is inappropriate—as I am sure everyone will realise—to use legislation to determine the allocation of parliamentary time, as some amendments sought to do. Whether we have an annual development debate is a matter for the House authorities.

May I also return briefly to tied aid, since I was cut off in mid-flow a moment ago? As I said, we had a good debate on the issue in Committee, and the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) had a chance to make again on the Floor the powerful arguments that she made in Committee. I shall repeat our position: the clear statement of principles and purposes of development assistance will ensure that any improper use of development assistance is ruled out. As I have said, under the Bill, there will be none of the ambiguity that allowed a previous Secretary of State to support the Pergau dam and there will be no basis for the re-establishment of the aid and trade provision. That position may not be the most publicly attractive, but we have been advised that it is the most effective safeguard against the improper use of aid funds.

I appreciate that the hon. Lady will not agree with me, but I hope that she will at least accept that we took seriously her representations on the subject. We had a long meeting with officials who advised the Government on the matter and, although we may have not succeeded in convincing her, we have considered carefully the points that she and other hon. Members have made. The most effective means of achieving the goal sought by her—and us—is the Bill as worded. It is no failure not to mention tied aid in the Bill. There would be a failure if the Bill allowed aid to be used for improper political or commercial purposes. I can reassure the House that the Bill prevents such misuse, and that therefore we will not fail.

This is a short, straightforward and important Bill. I welcome cross-patty support for its fundamental aim of focusing British development assistance on the reduction of poverty and it is a pleasure to commend it to the House.

3.9 pm

Mr. Streeter

We share with the Government a common objective: we find the abject poverty experienced by 1.3 billion people in the world utterly unacceptable. Most of us in this Chamber will have travelled and seen that with our own eyes and listened to people's stories. Such people have nothing—no proper job, no access to food, clean water, health care or education, and worst of all, often no hope.

It is morally inexcusable and offensive that we should see so much poverty in our world. Increasingly, in this globalised environment, it is a matter for us all. There is now no escape, no "head in the sand" attitude to be taken, no passing by on the other side. We cannot continue to live in an interdependent, multi-media, globalised environment without straining every sinew to do what we can to meet the needs of the world's poorest people. My conviction is that we can do a lot—by Government action, through charities and non-governmental organisations, at multilateral level and through individual effort. We can make a difference and therefore we should make a difference.

Today we are discussing what the British Government should do. This Bill sets out the framework for international development over the next few years, and in that respect we wish it well. Obviously, we do not oppose the measure. Its main provision is a poverty focus, and we support that. We have sought to improve the Bill and we shall continue to support measures to ensure that a focus on good governance is right up there in the Government's considerations.

I want to say a word about the Secretary of State. We have supported much of her effort over the past four years. This is probably our last debate before the general election—it is more or less our first in four years, so it is almost certainly our last—So I pay tribute to her work and to that of her Department over the Parliament. She has worked with great conviction and sincerity, and shines as a beacon in a Government among whom there are perhaps not enough conviction politicians. We support what she has done. Much of her work has been extremely effective.

As we have argued, policy on good governance should be reflected in the Bill. I heard what the Minister said; I hope that his assurances mean that his Department has embraced from the arguments that have come at him across the Chamber a fresh awareness of the importance of good governance not just as an optional extra but as the foundation and framework of ensuring that the living standards of the world's poorest people rise over time. Such a framework can attract direct foreign investment and allow the private sector to do its job in creating employment—allowing entrepreneurs to flourish and investment to be made. That is the only way in which living standards will rise over time for those in the poorest countries. He gave his response to our arguments, and we accept it, but we believe that good governance should be at the centre of British aid policy.

We have argued that the Bill should include a provision that money spent through multilateral organisations, whether the European Union, the United Nations or other agencies, should be focused on poverty as is aid spent directly by the Government. We heard what the Minister said to that. For the first time, we heard his argument about the European Communities Act 1972 and what is covered by the Bill. That is because there was not enough time for that important clause to be considered in Committee. Is not that a stark illustration of the programme motion denying proper debate and scrutiny of legislation? We need not have spent so much time on the issue today, and could have spent more time discussing other issues that we did not reach, had we been able to hear the Minister's response in Committee.

It is important for our Government to be under a legal obligation to stop the scandal of EU aid policy. We all hope that the reforms introduced recently by Commissioner Patten will be effective, but we have little conviction that they will be. He is taking on the overwhelming bureaucratic culture of the EU, which does not deliver. Payments are not made and there is simply no focus. We hope that the reforms work, but believe and fear that they will not. Therefore, we regret that the Government did not take the opportunity at the Nice summit to put the matter on the agenda so that, instead of waiting another five years to review the workings of the reforms, there would already be a mechanism to ensure that more aid is spent bilaterally and more effectively, and that more people are helped.

We wanted a debate today on pitting more resources at the disposal of NGOs and charities because we believe that they are a very effective vehicle for disbursing aid. Of the current Department for International Development budget, 8 per cent. is spent by British NGOs. That is fine, but it should be doubled. We have committed ourselves to doubling the amount over the next Parliament. Pound for pound, that £195 million—the 8 per cent.—provides the best value for Government money. It is a pity that the percentage is so small.

We have expressed concern at the increase of sector-wide funding, which results in lack of control and more scope for abuse, misuse and corruption. We have placed on record several times our deep regret that the Government have failed to introduce an anti-bribery Bill, even though they pledged last year to do so at the earliest opportunity.

We have made such points and argued for improvement of the Bill; our support is not tantamount to a blank cheque. None the less, we shall not oppose Third Reading. We regret the way in which the Bill was railroaded through the House; even by Third Reading, important new clauses and amendments have not been scrutinised. I ask the Government and their business managers how that can be right. We have approached out job as Opposition responsibly. Today, we have made arguments that the Minister has taken seriously, but still there has been no time to discuss the role of British charities in DFID's plans for the future or sector-wick funding. Can that possibly be right? I ask the Government to think again about the way in which they are pushing legislation through the House.

Mr. Davidson

I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we would have had much more time to discuss all those important issues had we not been. subjected to long, rambling, incoherent speeches from Conservative Members in Committee. We could easily have made much more progress had we not gone over points several times.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Before the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) responds to that intervention, I should point out that we have spent enough time on that aspect. May we debate giving the Bill a Third Reading?

Mr. Streeter

That is the complete answer to the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

We support the Bill, although it is not as perfect as it might have been. We accept that poverty deserves to be at the heart of the United Kingdom aid programme and that a focus on reducing it is therefore in its rightful place. We are prepared to work within the confines of the Bill.

In government, we will maintain the aid budget; march towards a figure of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product; focus on good governance; increase the proportion of aid spent via British aid NGOs and charities, doubling it over a Parliament; take steps to end the EU aid scandal to ensure that British taxpayers get value for money and the poorest people of the world receive the help that they so richly deserve; set up Aid Direct, a web-based advice service, which, with the help of the NGO community, will match needs to resources; and crack down on corruption and restore confidence in the British aid programme. We shall support the Government in effectively implementing the measures.

The Conservative party, in opposition or in government, will play its full part in eradicating the unacceptable reality of abject global poverty.

3.18 pm
Mrs. Fyfe

I thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because this is my last opportunity to speak on international development as I plan to leave the House at the general election. I assure my hon. Friends that I shall be brief. Many served in Committee and are anxious to speak.

I want to put on record the fact that I am very proud of the Government's record on international development and in tackling poverty. The fact that we have had two White Papers in four years, whereas there was not one over the previous 18 years, is a short, sharp point that will speak for itself during the election campaign. However, I want to take this opportunity to pose two questions to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

The first question relates to the role of non-governmental organisations. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that some NGOs are more successful than others in focusing on helping people to help themselves, rather than simply doing good unto others. Some NGOs now wish to be involved in a campaigning role. How does he see the way forward for NGOs under the Bill and in the framework of the Department's future work?

Secondly, when we were discussing good governance earlier, I had in mind that sad country, Afghanistan, which is the opposite of an example of good governance. It is so hard to know what to do in such a case. The world's media have focused recently on the vandalism of the destruction of age-old statues, but insufficient attention has been paid to the barbaric cruelty perpetrated upon the local population, especially women. When NGOs have to pull out because they cannot allow their women workers to be put in danger there, it is a sad state of affairs. How do we drive matters forward in countries such as Afghanistan?

I conclude by saying that if anyone can do it, this team will. I look forward to watching the Department's success in future.

3.21 pm
Mr. Wells

I, too, welcome the Bill, which will sharpen the focus of the Department's work on the reduction of poverty. This is the first time that that has been set out in statutory form. The Secretary of State and her Department are to be congratulated on introducing the Bill and getting it on to the statute book this parliamentary Session. I know that there were difficulties in persuading our business managers to allow sufficient time for it to come before us. It is much to the credit of the Department that the Bill will reach the statute book, and I hope that it will have a swift passage through the other place, so that it can inform the Department' s work in the next Parliament and for many Parliaments thereafter.

It is a great credit to the Secretary of State also that during this Parliament she produced two White Papers, whereas none had been produced for more than 20 years. The first White Paper set out the poverty focus, and the latest one dealt with globalisation. In terms of legislation and publications, the Department for International Development has been extremely active and well served by the Secretary of State throughout this Parliament. I congratulate her on her achievements and those of her Department.

There are one or two problems with the Bill, which I pointed out on Second Reading and about which I have been nagging away today. Let me elaborate on the definition of humanitarian aid which is missing from clause 3. That could get the Department into difficulties in the future if it is challenged legally through the judicial review process, which I hope it will not be.

A definition of humanitarian aid should contain various elements. Content is not a primary issue, as it was in the definition given to the Select Committee. The demands of working in diverse conflict situations mean that a single definition of assistance is neither feasible nor desirable. More important are the issues of context, objectives and principles.

As regards context, according to the existing Development Assistance Committee definition, an emergency is a situation where the capacity of Government or other authorities and the community is overwhelmed and the population is unable to meet its basic needs. In conflict situations, an emergency may be created by the magnitude or gravity of the humanitarian needs, or by the fact that the acts that have given rise to the needs are very recent. The situation then requires emergency tools.

The objective of humanitarian assistance should be to prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health, and to ensure respect for the human being. Arguably, such a definition provides for protecting and re-establishing livelihoods, not just saving life. In other words, unlike development assistance or political intervention, humanitarian assistance is concerned with the preservation and dignity of individuals on the basis of their humanity, not on the development of particular political or economic systems, or on the basis of political affiliation. Clause 3 rightly absolves the Secretary of State from adopting pro-poor policies in respect of humanitarian assistance.

The principle of impartiality, which follows from the argument that I have set out, is crucial to humanitarian aid. Humanitarian actors should not discriminate on the basis of nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. Resource allocation should be guided solely by people's needs, with the most urgent cases of distress receiving priority, on whatever side those in distress are fighting.

The ability of humanitarian organisations to operate legally and safely in a conflict situation is determined by their ability to demonstrate their independent character. Actual and perceived involvement of a donor Government in the workings of international humanitarian organisations potentially compromise that independence.

A definition of humanitarian assistance would not provide a quick fix to the complex dilemmas facing humanitarian actors, including donors, but it would reaffirm in law existing policy commitments and provide a benchmark against which policy could be assessed. It would reiterate in UK law the existing DFID policy commitment to uphold international law. It would put in place a central plank in a rights-based approach to development, which I know the Secretary of State supports.

A definition of humanitarian aid would complement an ethical dimension to foreign policy, which I believe the Government still support, and it would cement the independence of the Department for International Development from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. That is an important principle. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) stated, should the Conservative party be elected and he be the Secretary of State, the Conservative Government would maintain those as separate Departments. I welcome that.

A definition of humanitarian assistance would provide a statutory base for policy, in place of the soft policy of internal statements. Finally, it would conform to public expectations and understanding of the purpose of humanitarian aid. Those are forceful and important arguments for making sure that humanitarian aid is used for humanitarian purposes, and that we do not undermine the essence of humanitarian aid, which is given so effectively and generously, notably by the Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations, with Medecins sans Frontieres and others. To undermine that would be a serious mistake.

I shall not take up much more of the House's time on Third Reading, as I know that others want to speak. I congratulate the Department, the Secretary of State and the Minister on the departmental report 2001 which, for the first time, as a result of work between the International Development Committee and the Department, presents in readable form the policies being pursued by the Department. The report makes that available to a much wider audience than ever before.

I take the opportunity to tease the Department a little about a circumlocution in the introduction to the report. The Secretary of State refers proudly to a 13.8 per cent. increase in real terms, about which I am delighted, and claims that the Department's budget is at its highest in real terms. She states: The International Development budget is now at the highest level ever in real terms, and the ratio of Official Development Assistance to Gross National Product is on course to rise from 0.26 per cent. in 1997 to 0.33 per cent. by 2003–2004. However, the Secretary of State does not mention what the aid budget is as a percentage of gross national product this year. I am not good at mathematics and I probably have the wrong start figures, but I believe that it has risen from 0.26 per cent. in 1997 to 0.31 or 0.28 per cent.—I have been given both figures, but I am not certain which it is.

Mr. Mullin

It is 0.31 per cent.

Mr. Wells

Well, I offer many congratulations, but I should like to tease the Government a little.

That figure means that the aid programme has not reached the average that was achieved under 18 years of Conservative Government. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but we achieved an average expenditure of 0.33 per cent. of gross national product. I know that many people find that difficult to believe, bat it is the truth.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

The hon. Gentleman's use of statistics is hilarious. He is saying that it took him 18 years to reduce the level significantly, after which we have taken four years to raise it to its current level. The previous Labour Government achieved a figure of 0.51 per cent., and it took the Conservatives 18 years to get down to 0.26 per cent. We have got it up to 0.31 per cent. in four years, and we will certainly reach a much higher level in future.

Mr. Wells

I wanted merely to bring to the House's attention a little-known figure: during the Conservative Government's years in office, an average of 0.33 per cent. of gross national product was spent on aid. I hope that we shall reach that level within the next year; indeed, I hope that we will exceed it. I know that that is the Government's policy, and I congratulate them on it. I wanted only to point out those figures.

Mr. Mullin

I know that the hon. Gentleman means extremely well, but he is being a little naughty. As he said, he is teasing us. Does he recall the figure when Labour last left office in 1979? I shall help him. It was approaching 0.5 per cent.

Mr. Wells

I remember that level, which was the highest that had been achieved by that time. Of course, the figure to which the Under-Secretary refers was not an average, but spending approached, if not matched, that level in 1979. I wanted to point out that the Conservative party is not completely neglectful of the needs of overseas development, and that we contributed to those needs an average of 0.33 per cent. of gross national product.

The worrying figure, which is not a tease, is the fall in private flows. I think that we will have to examine how we can improve that figure. Private flows form a major part of British assistance to developing countries, and always have done. In 1996, they accounted for £11.3 billion, but they fell to just £3.8 billion in 1999. That is a serious problem for us all. If we have the ambition to improve that figure, we must take measures to encourage private flows. After all, private investment is designated by the White Paper as the engine of development. The departmental report also contains private investment measures that will have to be considered.

Bribery and corruption are another major problem. I commend to the House the report on corruption that was produced by the Select Committee on International Development. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon said, there is a need for the Government to introduce legislation as quickly as possible to ensure compliance with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery of public officials overseas. Indeed, we must also press on with trying to get the private and public sectors to adopt anti-corruption measures both in this country and overseas. Without those efforts, we will not achieve good governance either here or overseas, and we will not get the development that we would like to see as a result of our increased public sector investment in the third world.

3.34 pm
Mr. Worthington

I was sorry that I could not be present earlier, when hon. Members failed to reach amendment No. 1, which I tabled. I was involved in other development work on the Standing Committee that is considering the International Criminal Court Bill.

However, I want to use my amendment as an expression of concern about the way in which the House deals with development issues. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) gave my point away. He spoke about having the first debate in four years at which the Secretary of State was present. I remember years when not even the Under-Secretary attended debates, as he was in another House. There were no debates on development. The Bill is the first such development measure in 20-odd years, and it is possible that no other Bill will be introduced for another 20 years, as international development does not lend itself to domestic legislation. There have been years in which not a single debate on development has occurred in the House, and there may be such years to come.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said some kind words about my amendment. I am not convinced that it is perfect, but I hope that we will find some way of achieving an annual debate on development issues. To my mind, development is becoming increasingly important in the life of this country. It has gone up the agenda, partly because of the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and her team. The Opposition talk constantly about establishing an aid agency and giving aid. Indeed, that is all that they talk about. This Government have established a Department for International Development that is a different sort of creature. It is much more than an aid agency. Under my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Department is concerned with the major issues facing the world today.

I should like to list some of those issues. They include the activities of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and the aim of eliminating world poverty. They also include globalisation, corruption and HIV-AIDS. The Department is about the very sustainability of the planet. It is concerned with the relationship between north and south on trade issues such as the price of drugs. Indeed, it is concerned with every trade issue. Those and many other matters surface in the Department's work, but they are not discussed in the House. When we consider what goes on in the House, we must ask whether it is surprising that many people—especially the young—wonder whether we live in the same world as that which concerns them.

Many hon. Members will know of the success of Jubilee 2000 in tapping into that public concern about development issues. In particular, people are concerned about debt. It is in relation to that concern that the big meetings occur. I was once asked to stand in for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State at a meeting. I went to St. Albans cathedral to be faced with a huge congregation. That is not my usual experience. Hundreds of people attended a meeting on that particular issue. That is what people are concerned about and it is where today's politics lies, but their anxiety is not reflected in this House. We do not talk about it. What does the House say about the incredible pandemic of HIV-AIDS? The International Development Committee produced an excellent report on that issue. It pointed out that three times as many lives are lost through AIDS each year as are lost through war or aggression. What does this place say as a forum for debate? It says nothing.

I tabled a modest amendment to try to ensure that we have at least an annual debate on development. There are precedents for that arrangement. There is a regular debate on Wales, and even the armed services regulations have to be approved annually, but development receives no such consideration. If there is another way of introducing such an arrangement, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will consider it. We must face up to the fact that the way in which the House deals with development issues—and, indeed, some other issues—is not satisfactory. We spend a lot of time on issues that are much less important than those with which the Department for International Development deals. We must address that problem, which is what my amendment sought to do. I hope that my hon. Friend will use his considerable influence to deal with the matter, as he has achieved much more in the past than overcoming opposition to such proposals. I have every confidence that when the Bill returns to this House, it will at least contain provision for an annual debate. My faith is placed in him.

3.39 pm
Dr. Tonge

I wish to add my comments to those of the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) about the Secretary of State who, sadly, has left her place. She has been an excellent Secretary of State, and we have all admired the work that she has done. She is sometimes terrifying, but always inspiring. She has led two Ministers and a Department, all of whom have worked equally hard, and I congratulate them all. The Bill is a suitable finale for their first term of office, and I thank them all for their work.

I welcome the reassurances that I have had from the Minister that there will be no more tied aid and no more aid for trade from the Government. He provided those reassurances many times, which is just what my amendment was intended to make him do, and I am delighted that he did it. My beady eyes will be on the Department to ensure that it sticks to those worthy ideals.

Those ideals will depend a great deal on co-ordination with other Government Departments, which is a theme to which I have returned many times during this Parliament. It is all very well DFID having great purposes and being determined to relieve poverty, but those ideals must be backed by the Foreign Office, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence and No. 10 Downing street. and I hope that they will remember that.

I use as an example the fact that we still await a decision on export credit guarantees for the Ilisu dam. If those are granted to Balfour Beatty for that project, other Departments will be going against DFID's ideals, because we know that that project will create poverty and hardship, which, presumably, DFID will then have to alleviate. Therefore co-ordination between Departments is important.

I have constantly asked for such co-ordination in the area of conflict prevention and arms control, which is another theme to which I have returned over and over again in this Parliament. On that point, I can end on a good note because the draft Bill on the control of arms has been published. I doubt whether I shall understand much of it without many people to help me out, but I shall take it home for Easter, and I thank the Government from the bottom of my heart for publishing it. We have waited for four years to see it and now at last it is here.

Lastly, I return to the theme of the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells). The proportion of GNP that we spend on aid is interesting. Looking at a House of Commons paper on international development I saw, sadly, that in 1999, under this Government, that fell to 0.23 per cent. It is slowly rising and the intention is that it should continue to rise, and I am well aware that it is at the highest level in real terms for many years, but if we are to continue increasing the proportion of GNP that we spend on aid at the same rate as we are doing at the moment, it will take 50 years to achieve the 0.7 per cent. that is recommended by the United Nations, and I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister to reflect on that. I do not want to wait 50 years to equal some Scandinavian countries which are already spending 0.7 per cent. of their GNP.

It is essential that we do that. The relief of poverty is not only the right thing to do, but, for all the reasons that the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) gave, it is in our interests and in the interests of our children and grandchildren that we take a firm stand on development and ensure that poverty is alleviated worldwide. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.44 pm
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton)

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Bill for the simple reason that, as has been said, for 18 years nothing at all was done. It is at the centre of the Government's thinking. The international conference on the abolition of child poverty in February was attended by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as well as many international guests. The Chancellor's presence demonstrated that this is a serious issue, which is at the heart of Government, and that is a consequence of the Bill. I congratulate the Chancellor and the Secretary of State on that.

Much has been made of good government, particularly by the Opposition, but this is a humanitarian issue. There are instances where Governments are disengaged from the community and it is important that we put resources in on the ground. We should never forget that 30,000 children die needlessly every day for lack of access to clean water, proper sanitation and basic medicines. The humanitarian case overrides the consideration of good government.

The other big issue on which the Secretary of State and others should focus now is international trade. Trade barriers cost poorer countries £500 million a year, 14 times more than they receive in overseas aid. The next big battle for the Government will be to ensure that the trade barriers are reduced and that free trade is allowed for third-world countries.

The other important aspect is alternative development strategies. They are complex, but it is important not simply to take the word of third-world Governments and others that something is being done. If we are to ensure that anti-poverty strategies are at the heart of our approach, we need alternative development strategies, which render individuals, campesinos and peasants, the opportunity to forge a living. In the previous debate, drugs from South America and elsewhere were mentioned, but it is no use eliminating drugs if people are not given the encouragement of economic support.

Lastly, perhaps because of my background, I come to education, which is the best anti-poverty strategy that there is. We should not forget that 130 million children in the world, two thirds of whom are girls, do not attend primary school.

Mr. Wells

Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the fact that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) will shortly leave Parliament, and would he care to compliment her on the way in which she has continually brought to the attention of the House the necessity for education, health care and aid in the third world? She has done a wonderful job during her time in this Parliament.

Mr. McFall

The hon. Gentleman takes my breath away because that was my next point. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) has been in the House the same length of time as I have been and has been a good colleague to me and to others. She has pioneered many social justice issues, and, along with the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), and not forgetting the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), has considered international development and other third-world issues. I congratulate my hon. Friend. I am told that when the leaves the House she intends to take up politics seriously.

Mr. Worthington

Is my hon. Friend aware that, as well as all those admirable qualities of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe), she was born on the same day and in the same year as Tina Turner?

Mr. McFall

That certainly takes my breath away. I am told that she does a good impersonation.

Mrs. Fyfe

Would my hon. Friend like me to sing a song?

Mr. McFall

I had better return to my peroration. I mentioned that 130 million children do not have the chance of an education, despite it being a fundamental human right, a social justice right and an economic right. We must ensure that those individuals play their full part in the world and that the consequences of the Bill are felt worldwide.

The Government have made great strides; other Members have mentioned the United Nations contribution target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product. Let us work at it year after year so that we achieve it. All hon. Members, irrespective of party, will applaud that.

3.49 pm
Mr. Rowe

I welcome the Bill and I am sorry that there was no reason to include the importance of development education in it. I support the point that the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) made about instructing everyone in the nation about the importance of the money that we give for international development.

I have suggested to the Minister privately that it would be worth while asking every individual in the nation to consider their expenditure and ask themselves what they can buy with 0.5 of 1 per cent. of their income and whether it is worth more than giving fresh water to someone who is dying for the lack of it, or creating an opportunity for someone in the developing world. I believe that most people's generosity would lead them to conclude that spending 0.5 of 1 per cent. of their income on the developing world was well worth it.

If we cannot appeal to people's sympathy and compassion, we should appeal to their self-interest. If we do not do that in our globalised environment, we shall be overwhelmed by difficulties that originate in the developing nations.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries on earth. Forty-six per cent. of the population is under 15 and 2.5 per cent. is over 65. What on earth will the 46 per cent. do when, next year or the year after, they try to enter a labour market that does not exist? Such instability will rage around the world.

What will happen to the 23 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa if they have nothing to do and nowhere to go? They will not be able to live. They, too, will constitute a huge element of instability. Initially, the developed world will be asked to try to help, but it will ultimately discover that it is being attacked. Similarly, the Victorians decided to construct drains for the whole population when they discovered that the rich would catch cholera if they did not. We should take account of such self-interest in our education programme.

I am delighted that the Department for International Development has published a document on disability. The disabled are always the poorest of the poor; they suffer the greatest disadvantages. Although the document is so general that it does not commit the Department to much, it is at least a beginning for an issue that needs to be taken seriously.

I urge the Department to work with those admirable non-governmental organisations that are beginning to consider their accountability. We should try to ensure that we bring into a net of serious accountability as many NGOs that work in development as possible. Many NGOs currently conduct their development work to their own agenda, which is not always to the benefit of people in the developing world. Such accountability is not good enough. I am delighted that Oxfam, the World Development Movement and others are working together to try to create a better system. I hope that Ministers will take it into account. We did not have the chance to discuss that when we considered the amendments.

I commend the Bill. I believe that the Department is doing a good job on the whole but that it could do better.

3.54 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) and to add to the tributes to him. He has applied himself wonderfully not only to international development, but, as he showed in his speech, to disability, care in the community and other caring issues. I like to believe that his period at the then Scottish Office stood him in good stead.

We do not have enough time to pay tribute to all the achievements of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). For me, she is the personification of the Glasgow logo that shows an enormous, broad smile and carries the slogan, "Glasgow smiles better".

We are considering an excellent Bill from an outstanding Department. The mood of the debate and the atmosphere in the House today is much better than on Second Reading. Development education is therefore making progress, perhaps even on the Opposition Benches. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) in calling for more debates in Government time. However, I say gently to the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) that when I held his job, I persuaded the shadow Cabinet to have a full day's debate in Opposition time.

I welcome the Government's confirmation of their essential strategy of poverty reduction and the fact that they are trying to tackle positively from a base of achievement problems that millions of people face throughout the world. Time does not allow me to deal with many figures, and I shall cite only one. When the Callaghan Government fell and Judith Hart was Minister for Overseas Development, our contribution to the United Nations aid figure was 0.52 per cent. In 1997, we inherited a figure of 0.26 per cent. from the previous Government. I look forward to the achievement of a 45 per cent. increase in real terms by 2004.

I welcome our strategy for health, education and HIV-AIDS. Many of us have witnessed severe problems such as the land mines in Angola, the terrible events in Rwanda, HIV-AIDS in Uganda and the compelling need to tackle debt cancellation and restructuring. The Government have done the latter, to their enormous credit. Whatever happens it the coming weeks, we can look the British people in the face. Their support for the Brandt report led to the biggest ever delegation and lobby to Parliament. They were right, and their priorities were right. The Bill means that we can face the rest of the world, especially the developing countries, which deserve the best. The Government and the excellent Department for International Development have made a great start.

3.58 pm
Mr. Leigh

In a couple of minutes, all hon. Members will support a Bill that states: The Secretary of State may provide any person or body with development assistance if he is satisfied that the provision of the assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. That is clear, but there is no point in giving the Secretary of State the tools if we do not provide her with the means to do the job.

One must put facts on the record. In 1996, under the Conservative Government, the figures for aid were 0.2 per cent. of gross national product for official flows and 1.83 per cent. for total flows. In 1999, under a Labour Government, the figure fell to 0.23 per cent. of GNP for official flows and 0.69 per cent. for total flows. Even taking the Government's spending plans for the next two years into account, they will have given less aid as a percentage of GNP over the Parliament than any previous Conservative Government in more than 30 years. Yet in their manifesto, the Government pledged to increase international development aid to 0.7 per cent. of GNP.

Under the previous Conservative Government, aid spending as a proportion of GNP totalled an average of 0.3 per cent. per year. Under Labour, the figure for the past three years has been only 0.25 per cent. Even if we take account of Department for International Development forecasts for aid spending in the next two years, the figure is only 0.2 per cent. The years 1997 to 2000 show an average of 0.26 per cent. That is not good enough.

It is not good enough that the European Union accounts for a third of the Department's total spending. The Secretary of State described the EU as the worst aid agency in the world. We should we proud of the Bill, but ashamed of the Government's record.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.