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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): It says here.

Mr. Mullin: It says that here because I wrote it.

Let me be the first to admit that that is a long way from the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent., but the essential fact is that we inherited a budget that was declining year on year, but it is now increasing year on year. If we are re-elected, it will continue to increase year on year. I thought that it was just a little cheeky of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham to demand a guarantee from us that there will be no cuts. She represents a party that is committed to £16 billion worth of cuts. Goodness knows where they will come from, but it would not surprise me if one or two of them came from the aid budget.

Mrs. Gillan: No.

Mr. Mullin: We shall see--or perhaps we will not.

I regret that it is not possible for me to respond to all the points that have been made in the debate--although I suspect that many of us are destined to meet again in Committee, where we shall have a chance to explore some of the more detailed points.

The contribution of the hon. Member for South-West Devon aside, we had a number of very thoughtful speeches. I join the tributes that have been paid to the speech by the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who I know has taken a long and consistent interest in development matters. He will be missed when he leaves the House. He asked whether the Bill should define humanitarian assistance. I think that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) made a similar point.

We believe that to embed any definition of humanitarian assistance in the Bill would unnecessarily constrain our ability to react quickly, to learn from existing programmes and to reflect those lessons in future ones. By doing so we would run the risk of making unlawful certain interventions that would contribute to reducing suffering. For the same reason, we think that it would be wrong to try to define poverty--but these matters can be discussed in more detail later. All we would be doing is attempting to make absolute concepts that are relative, as the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford recognised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington)--[Interruption.]--I am sorry that I mispronounced his constituency; it is the place where they have civic balls. My hon. Friend asked whether assistance should be limited to the poorest people in the poorest countries. The effect of that would be to constrain our ability to support good governance or the strengthening of financial systems, which are often among the most useful assistance that we can offer the Government of a poor country. We also recognise that pockets of severe poverty exist in the so-called middle-income and transitional countries.

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My hon. Friend also asked whether DFID expenditure in eastern Europe would be subject to the same tests as other expenditure. I can assure him that it will. He asked why Northern Ireland is not mentioned in the Bill. I should clarify that the Bill does extend to Northern Ireland, although the Northern Ireland Administration recognise that they have no competence in international development matters. No statutory bodies for which the Northern Ireland Administration is accountable are currently listed in schedule 2 to the Bill. However, we recognise that such bodies could be added to the schedule in future. The Northern Ireland Assembly has asked that any consultation with the Secretary of State which might arise from the addition of such statutory bodies to schedule 2 and their subsequent activities should be handled under the memorandum of understanding in respect of devolved Administrations rather than requiring consultation under the Bill. The Bill reflects that position.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park was concerned about why clause 1(3) allows the Secretary of State to decide whether development is sustainable in her opinion. The hon. Lady missed out the qualification that follows immediately afterwards:

That opinion must be reasonably held. If it is not, it may be challenged. If the Bill did not provide for the Secretary of State to exercise her judgment, the matter would have to be settled solely in the courts. I should add that the Secretary of State is answerable not only to the courts but, of course, to the House.

The hon. Lady also asked about the defence offset schemes. They could not be financed under the Bill as their prime purpose is to sell military hardware, and not to reduce poverty. She asked whether clause 5 paved the way for tied aid. It does not; its purpose is simply to set down the forms of assistance that can be provided. There is no requirement or implication that such assistance must be sourced from the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham asked about assistance to overseas territories. The Bill explicitly recognises the special relationship that Britain has with the overseas territories. It will allow the Secretary of State to continue to provide all types of support--including budgetary support--for the overseas territories. The Bill does not require any reduction in the level of resources available to the overseas territories and I hope that the hon. Lady will not stir up any mischief on that point.

In conclusion, we have a good story to tell. Under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the British development assistance programme has been transformed. We inherited a budget that was declining year by year; it is now increasing year by year. Our development programme is no longer a tool of foreign policy, still less a tool of trade policy. DFID is an independent Government Department with its own seat in the Cabinet. Our assistance is now firmly targeted at the poorest people in the poorest countries, and the Bill will ensure that it remains that way.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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International Development Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

10 pm

Mr. Streeter: I am staggered and disappointed that the Minister should have moved this important programme motion formally. It is an affront to democracy. The Bill has been presented under Standing Order No. 50. If we are to debate the motion properly, I hope that the Minister will explain how Standing Order No. 50 interacts with the programme motion. Will he say what the implications are of that for the programme motion? I should be happy to give way to him. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) is speaking.

Mr. Streeter: Does not it beggar belief that a Bill can be presented under Standing Order No. 50 without the Minister explaining its import, and its impact on the programme motion? Is not that another example of the contempt with which the Government treat the House of Commons?

The Government's action is an affront to democracy because the Bill is about international development and supporting democracy around the world. This country invented democracy, and exported it around the world. Over many years, we have taken steps to underpin democracy throughout the rest of the world. The House has been discussing all day ways in which to support

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democracy elsewhere in the world. Is not it ironic that democracy is coming under threat in this country? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to a hearing.

Mr. Streeter: Shouting down Members in the House of Commons is another affront to democracy. In the two years that I have been in my post, I have visited some central and eastern European countries that used to be crushed by communism. I have visited many African states where there has been no history of democracy. People in those countries know that their new-found democracy is a fragile, precious creature. Many of those countries hold their democracy very lightly and very preciously, because they know that it is easy for it to be snatched away.

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