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Clare Short: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because she keeps returning to the issue of the British Council. There is a muddle over its role. The British Council, which is a fine body, is the cultural arm of British diplomacy. It was funded by the two Departments, but we transferred our funding to the Foreign Office because it is inefficient to have accountability to two organisations, as I assume she knows.

The British Council also manages a lot of activity for us. That activity varies and does not relate to its core budget. It depends on the effectiveness of the management of a particular project. There has been no diminution of

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the British Council. The hon. Lady is obsessed with the issue, but she does not seem to understand that the British Council is not a development agency. It is the cultural arm of British foreign policy and it performs that function extremely well.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West): It is an aid organisation.

Clare Short: No, it is not.

Mrs. Gillan: I wish the Secretary of State would let me develop my point, because British Council operations are being slashed--in Namibia by 37 per cent., in Zambia by 33 per cent. and in Malawi by 45 per cent. The country directorates in Belarus, Ecuador, Lesotho and Swaziland are closing. Three offices in Nigeria will shut and £18.6 million is being spent on redundancy and ancillary payments to make redundant 800 locally appointed staff and 100 staff in the UK.

All that is happening to a "key partner", but what is happening to the Department in some of those locations? Is it scaling down its operations? Is it redirecting aid elsewhere? No. British Council operations face reduction, but the Department is increasing its presence. It appears that the Department is trying to ensure that it replaces the British Council and substitutes for it in certain areas. Indeed, under the Secretary of State's stewardship, the Department has grown by 323 staff since 1996-97, which is a considerable increase. The administrative budget will have grown by £9 million, to £74 million--a sum greater than the aid given to any country in 1999-2000 apart from the top three recipients of bilateral aid, and greater than the money given to Bangladesh, Mozambique, Sierra Leone or even South Africa.

I asked the Minister a question about the British Council and he had the decency to write to me after he had inadvertently misled the House in an answer. Perhaps he will take time to examine the British Council's case carefully and give the reassurance that we seek that the Department is not empire-building at the council's expense.

I must refer briefly to the overseas territories, and in particular, to the implications of the poverty focus for aid to some of the islands. Although many overseas territories are economically self-sustaining, certain issues still concern them. I hope that the Minister will clarify the Department's attitudes to the overseas territories and give us the reassurances that we seek. Despite the wording of the White Paper, they do not know where they stand in terms of priority for aid from the Government; and their fears were epitomised by the reaction in the early days to the volcanic eruptions in Montserrat. Questions still remain over long-term development aid and there is particular concern over the lack of such aid for housing. Perhaps we can consider that in Committee.

St. Helena is another example. For many years, it has been agreed that further economic development will be difficult to achieve unless access is dramatically improved either by an airfield or by a wharf development project. That contention has been supported by every business plan undertaken for the island. Considerable funding would be involved in such a project, but it would provide for the significant economic development that would allow St. Helena to become economically independent.

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I hope that the Minister will say in Committee whether such a project would stand or fall under clause 1. Will help be forthcoming to the island, and when can the islanders expect a decision?

I hope that the Minister will still confirm that there will be no cuts in the Department's overall budget. I hope--especially on a day when the Prime Minister is making such a fuss about his environmental credentials--that there is no truth in the rumour that cuts may be made in the global environment facility fund for the overseas territories, because that fund makes available money for environmental conservation. Given that Britain's overseas territories protect some of the most important wildlife sites in the world, any reduction or elimination of that fund would be nothing short of a disaster. I hope the Minister will confirm that there will be no change, and indeed that the possibility of supporting wildlife and environmental projects will remain after the passage of the Bill.

It is almost the end of term, and we are now writing the Department's report. There have been many plaudits for the Secretary of State and her Ministers, and rightly so but it is a little sad that, despite all their good intentions, there have been so many failures. There has been the failure to be tough on corruption, and to introduce the promised legislation; there has been the failure to tackle waste and mismanagement in the European Union. The Government's own debt-relief targets have not been reached. Members have referred to the absorption of teachers and nurses from developing countries, and to the fall in the percentage of gross national product that is spent on aid.

It seems remarkable that, three years after the publication of the White Paper, there is finally a Bill before us. It is hardly a magnum opus, but I believe that it could make a difference to many people's lives, and it surely deserves better than being sneaked into the parliamentary schedule in the dying days of a Labour Government.

We will not vote against Second Reading; we will not seek to oppose the Bill. We will, however, seek to improve it in Committee.

9.47 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Chris Mullin): We have had a good debate. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) started well. Like others, he paid tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and that of the Department, and I am grateful for that. He said that we had a common goal, and that we were singing from the same hymn sheet. I am grateful for that as well, although I confess that the longer he went on, the more I began to wonder. He gave an undertaking that a future Conservative Government would not re-link aid and trade. I am grateful for that too, especially in the light of the last Government's shocking record in that regard, of which the Pergau dam affair is only the most glaring example. From that point onwards, however, the hon. Gentleman's performance became increasingly shameless.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) observed, the hon. Gentleman's critique of Government policy came ill from one who had supported a Government who abused just about every aspect of overseas aid, and took so little interest in the subject over nearly 20 years that they

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published no White Paper on it. I am sure we all welcome the rather slim document recently published by his party that the hon. Gentleman brandished, but I put it to him that it is just about all that that party has had to offer by way of strategic thinking on development during the past 20 years. At least he had the good grace to blush when, as he was telling us off for not presenting a statement as well as a White Paper, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) asked him how many White Papers had been published during 18 years of Conservative government.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of points. I shall deal with the main ones; others may have to wait until the Committee stage. Like others, he asked why we needed the Bill. The short answer is that the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 is outdated and open to misinterpretation; it provides for the use of only a limited range of financial instruments; and, most importantly, it no longer reflects the Government's focus on the elimination of poverty. Above all, the Bill will prevent future Governments from misusing aid budgets, as has sometimes happened.

The hon. Member for South-West Devon stressed the Conservative party's commitment to promoting good governance. I welcome that. However, when one sees senior members of his party--Lady Thatcher and Lord Lamont come to mind, cheered on by The Daily Telegraph--fawning over the odious General Pinochet, there is bound to be some scepticism about how deep that commitment to good governance actually is among everyone in his party. I do not question his motives or those of most Opposition Members who referred to the issue--[Interruption.] However, there is bound to be that scepticism. [Interruption.] They do not like it, do they? Have you noticed that, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Robathan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin: Not for the moment, because several minutes of my time were taken up by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan).

The hon. Member for South-West Devon very reasonably raised the issue of the scandalously inefficient European Community development programme. However, his protestation that Conservative Members can be relied upon to sort out those problems have to be matched against the inconvenient fact that it was a Conservative Government who, at the Edinburgh summit, agreed that the EC's share of our development budget should rise massively to 30 per cent.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development--who is not backward about coming forward--has been in the forefront of trying to reform the EC's development programme. I am glad to report that some progress has been made, although there is still a considerable way to go. [Interruption.] I do not think that we disagree about that, despite the heckling from those on the Opposition Front Bench. I can assure the House that we shall not relax our vigilance.

Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman and other Conservative Members may take comfort from the fact that one of those charged with reforming the EC is their former right hon. Friend Chris Patten, who I know is much admired on the Opposition Benches.

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I have one other point on the hon. Gentleman's speech. He raised, unwisely one might think, the current percentage of gross national product that is spent on aid. As we have already announced, we expect the figure for the calendar year 2000 to be about 0.29 per cent. We are on target to achieve our aim of 0.33 per cent. in the financial year 2003-04.

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