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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot see any relevance

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whatever either to the Bill or to the programme motion--which is the subject of this debate--in the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Speaker: That is the first proper point of order that I have heard for some time. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. We should not be talking about the Maastricht treaty in this debate on a programme motion.

Mr. Rogers: I accept what you say, Mr. Speaker. I would never want to dispute your ruling. Of course it was a proper point of order, but its substance was wrong.

As I understand it, as a result of the Bill, an obligation will be placed on the British Government to channel some aid through Europe. The obligation has arisen out of various treaties that the British Government signed with the Europeans. One was the Maastricht treaty, which was shoved through the House. All we are doing is fulfilling our treaty obligations. I am sure of one thing: my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development will not sell us down the river as Secretaries of State in the Conservative Government did on issues such as the common agricultural policy in all the years that they were in power. My right hon. Friend will defend our interests.

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must talk about the programme motion.

Mr. Rogers: The hon. Member for South-West Devon gave such examples to support the Conservative party's opposition to the programme motion. However, because you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled that I am out of order by repeating his points, I shall not proceed any further.

10.29 pm

Mr. Gummer: A real issue is at stake, and I hope that the Secretary of State for International Development will accept that I am being serious about it. This is an important Bill and I support almost every part of it. The right hon. Lady has had an exemplary period as Secretary of State and I want to help her on a couple of issues.

Conservative Members support much of what the right hon. Lady has done and we want to help her with other matters. However, there is little discussion in this country about the issues with which she is concerned. [Interruption.] The Minister of State, Scotland Office, has commented from a sedentary position throughout this short debate. He must accept that overseas development and its relationship with the environment and so on have occupied my mind for a long time. They should be discussed more widely.

The right hon. Lady should think about whether it would have been better to give us longer to discuss those issues. The Opposition would not try to stop the Bill, because much of it is good, but this country needs to have a more serious debate about the nature of overseas aid and the way in which we redevelop and recreate the economies of countries that are in great poverty.

I agree with the need to concentrate on the eradication of poverty. Anyone who lives in a rich country must be worried about that fundamental issue. It is important to engage the Government and the Opposition on those issues on which we can work together, such as the

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environment. Overseas aid is another part of what should be a common agenda among rich countries that deal with those for whom justice cries out to be done.

Some of us had hoped that the right hon. Lady would tell her Government that we do not need a timetable motion on the Bill because the whole House can genuinely engage on it. The issue is important. Some of my hon. Friends go on about the European Union, but I believe that with proper leadership from this country, we can much improve EU aid. A great deal of what we are able to do through that organisation we could not do individually. However, I am not happy with the procedure. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) has made a criticism, but we do not have time to discuss the issue that concerns him. I suspect that the right hon. Lady and I might agree on that aspect of the Bill, but it is difficult to understand why our time for debate needs to be restricted.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Opposition did not vote against this Bill or the Criminal Justice and Police Bill on Second Reading. However, I have just come from the Committee on that Bill, and 24 clauses, one new clause, two schedules and 44 amendments received no attention at all.

Mr. Gummer: I share my hon. Friend's concern, but this Bill involves a stronger issue, which I hope the right hon. Lady will take seriously. It is important to discuss such issues even if we agree with the principles, because they are not widely discussed in this nation. If I go banging on doors in my constituency and elsewhere, overseas aid is not often raised in a friendly and proper way. Unattractive comments are sometimes made, and the subject is not usually discussed in the way in which we in the House would want to debate it. I do not know whether the right hon. Lady finds that.

Clare Short: I find that traditional political meetings are crumbling across the country and that development meetings are growing and flourishing and are widely attended. I respect the right hon. Gentleman's interest in the environment, but he was not present for the Second Reading debate. However, he is always here to oppose programme motions. I do not think that it is development that concerns him tonight.

Mr. Gummer: I know that the right hon. Lady is present in Chamber a great deal. I am not always present to oppose timetable motions, although I disagree with them in principle. On no occasion have I discussed a Bill in the terms in which I am discussing this one, and I do so because the Department for International Development is crucial and says something about this country's moral attitude to the rest of the world. If I have a criticism of the Governments in which I served--and I say this clearly--it concerns their behaviour towards the rest of the world. I have a similar criticism of this Government. However, this is an issue on which we ought to try to engage the whole House.

If I may say so, the right hon. Lady is a woman of great strength and is perfectly able to stand her corner. I want to take this opportunity to tell her that this could have been an occasion on which she told the rest of the Government, "I can manage without a timetable motion.

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I can have the debate and, what is more, I know that we will get this through in time and we will have engaged the whole House of Commons."

I shall conclude by referring to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers). I have close connections with Wales.

Mr. Rogers: The right hon. Gentleman used to call himself John Selwyn Gummer.

Mr. Gummer: Exactly. May I tell the hon. Gentleman that Members from Wales have always been entirely in favour of free speech and the involvement of the whole House? Frankly, although some Members laughed at his speech, I was saddened by it because, to be direct, he betrayed his predecessors, none of whom would have spoken in that way about free speech in the House. I can think of several of my relations who would turn in their graves if they heard his words on that subject in the House. Together, those two things are not worthy of him, and I am sorry that he spoke like that.

10.37 pm

Mr. Wells: It makes me sad to take part in this debate on the programme motion, because I am sure that the Government and Opposition could easily have agreed how much time we needed in Committee.

The issues that we must discuss in Committee are of great importance and need proper exploration. Clause 1, which is the essence of the Bill, enshrines the principle of applying all international development aid to the reduction of poverty. The definition of the reduction of poverty needs exploration through the normal means of amendment and discussion, so that we are entirely clear what it means and what the Secretary of State's intention is.

That definition is not easy, and it is not intended to be, because the Secretary of State needs flexibility to administer her budget, which cannot be examined in a court of law. We accept that. On the other hand, does poverty reduction mean that, for example, we concentrate only on the poorest of the poor? Or do we mean to look at comparative poverty within certain countries? What is the upper limit of that kind of flexibility? That kind of thing should be discussed and needs to be discussed, which may take some time.

Mr. Hogg: My hon. Friend clearly makes an important point. Would he care to remind the House that in Committee, there will be only a small number of Opposition Members? The Report stage is the only occasion on which the House as a whole has an opportunity to address those important questions. Consequently, is it not extremely undesirable that debate should be truncated in the way the Government propose?

Mr. Wells: The motion is entirely unnecessary, and it is detrimental to the reputation of the House that we should push it through. I shall not go through all the clauses, as that would be wasting time, but in the debate I raised the question of whether humanitarian aid should be closely defined, so that it will be clear that such aid will not be used for spurious political purposes. There

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needs to be a debate on that, and an amendment. The matter requires thorough exploration. That would not be wasting time; it is what we should do.

We must examine how a poverty-focused Bill will work in relation to the overseas territories. As I understand it, the Bill exempts the overseas territories from the poverty reduction focus, but why should the overseas territories be in that position? They have traditionally had first call on the overseas development budget, but that is not reflected in the wording of the Bill.


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