Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Streeter: I was going to welcome the hon. Lady back after her recent illness, but now I am not so sure. To be serious, I am afraid that I do not know how many White Papers were published in that time. However, had the previous Government produced one, a statement would certainly have been made about it, as that Government did not bypass the House of Commons. I hope that the hon. Lady finds that answer--never mind the quality, feel the width--satisfactory.

We have heard a lot in the past four years about the Government's contempt for Parliament. Nowhere has that contempt been more clearly demonstrated than in their handling of the vital subject of international development. I do not like the Secretary of State's expression "charity box", as I think that it demeans the vital role that charities play in development, but I agree with her that the world is waking up to globalisation and to interdependence.

In every country in the developed world, our responsibility to the developing world is becoming more and more politically mainstream. That is in part because of the impact of our globalised and interdependent world, and in part because more and more people are taking an interest in this vital subject. To that extent, therefore, I agree with the Secretary of State that international development is becoming a centre-stage concern, and that the system may sometimes lag behind the new realities.

British aid and development enjoy a high reputation all over the world. British aid charities often lead the way, and the newly branded Department for International Development has built on the impressive achievements of the previous Administration. I am able to pay a genuine tribute to the work done by the Secretary of State's officials in many different countries.

In the space of just a few moments, I have praised the Department for International Development several times. That clears the way for a damning attack on the Secretary of State later in my speech.

The Secretary of State told the House in November 1997:

The OECD said in 1997:

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who was involved in that predecessor agency and who helped to secure that impressive report.

However, Labour Members sometimes give the impression that history began on 1 May 1997, and that they invented overseas aid on the same date. Britain has

6 Mar 2001 : Column 172

always had a strong record on aid and development. For many years, under the previous Conservative Government and under this Government, Britain has also led the world in debt relief. Part of our historic and strategic role in the world is to play our full part in relieving global poverty and working for global stability.

Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the shift in policy to untie aid from trade was correct? Will he make statements in support of the change, especially given that British companies and businesses sometimes raise the matter?

Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me the first of what I hope will be many opportunities this afternoon to plug the Opposition's policy paper on this subject. It clearly sets out that a Conservative Government coming to power on 4 May would not reconnect aid and trade.

The next Conservative Government will build upon the fine tradition that I have just outlined. Against that background, I turn to the Bill. I have already said that we stand ready to support policies that are effective in reducing global poverty. I listened very carefully to the Secretary of State's address; none the less, my first question is whether the Bill is necessary at all.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to focus development policy on poverty reduction, but she already has that power. If she does not have it, much of her activity over the past four years has been illegal. The Bill gives the Government power to carry out humanitarian assistance, but they already have that power. It gives the Government the power to promote development awareness, but they are already doing that.

What is the point of the Bill? Why introduce it just before the election? What difference will it make to the way in which the Department for International Development goes about its work? How will it improve the British aid effort? Once the Bill becomes law, what difference will it make to the way in which the Secretary of State does her job? I suspect that it will make no difference, so why introduce it? I would like the Under-Secretary of State for International Development--whom I welcome to his newish position--to deal with these questions in detail in his winding-up speech. I have a feeling that he may have plenty of time in which to do so.

Mr. Bercow: In recognising the wisdom of the Secretary of State's point that poor people should not be obliged to pay for the misdeeds of their tyrannical Governments, and acknowledging in the process that Governments often face appalling dilemmas as to whether and when to turn the tap of Government assistance on or off, will my hon. Friend press the Under-Secretary to explain how, in allocating aid, we can give more effective teeth to the criterion of good governance?

Mr. Streeter: Not for the first time, my hon. Friend has gone straight to the heart of the matter. I wish to talk quite a lot about good governance. He is right to want the Minister to say more about what will be done to bring good governance centre stage.

I have some specific concerns about the Bill. It seeks to set a new focus on poverty reduction. In one sense, who on earth could disagree with that? However, are there

6 Mar 2001 : Column 173

not hidden dangers in setting such a narrow legal framework? What does that mean for work and funding linked specifically to democracy building, support for good governance and the rule of law? Everyone in this Chamber knows that these are fundamental to strengthening the framework in developing countries if global poverty is to be reduced. Indeed, the next Conservative Government will bring them centre stage. Is the right hon. Lady certain that a court would construe these activities as being within the definition of poverty reduction, if challenged by judicial review? Has she taken expert legal advice on that matter?

Clare Short: Yes.

Mr. Streeter: I am glad that the right hon. Lady trusts her lawyers. That is good.

What about action to deter the topical and very evil trade in trafficking human beings? Is that within the poverty focus? What about support for a clamp-down on the illicit drugs that destroy so many lives? How about action on the flow of small arms to regions engulfed in conflict? The right hon. Lady will no doubt have read my policy paper and seen our new commitment to introducing a scheme to crack down on the flow of small arms in regions of conflict. If the Bill makes progress between now and 3 May, will I be able to introduce that scheme on 4 May?

Clare Short: In the areas of good governance or dealing with the harm that drugs do, many interventions can be made. In all government systems, people regard the development budget as a residual to fund their particular concerns. Those may be completely proper and honourable matters, but they are not always to do with the reduction of poverty.

When people grow drugs because they have no other livelihood, supporting them so that they can have other livelihoods and a better, legitimate life is a proper part of development assistance spending. However, the large amounts of money that could be spent on preventing drugs from flowing across the world--desirable as that is--would not come within development budget funding.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is: yes, in all regards, if the point of the reform is to create conditions under which poor people will have the chance of a better life and poverty will be reduced. The answer is no if the objective is desirable but it has nothing to do with improving the lives of the poor of the world. That is the legal advice that has been received, and that is the intention of the Bill.

Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to the Secretary of State for making matters clearer, but she has, in one sense, given weight to my concern. Aspects of support will be defined as poverty reduction, according to her opinion, and other aspects will fall outside that definition. The Bill rightly gives her that discretion, but she will be giving a subjective opinion, and one can anticipate a challenge to future DFID funding and support by well intentioned, well motivated people concerned that the Department is funding one aspect rather than another about which they feel passionate. I simply ask the Secretary of State to

6 Mar 2001 : Column 174

make sure that the Bill is robust enough to withstand judicial review. We shall wish to go into that point in detail in Committee.

Dr. Tonge: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that poverty reduction measures can be achieved by the Department for International Development only if other measures, such as arms control, are introduced by other Departments? That is what we lack.

Next Section

IndexHome Page