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Orders of the Day

International Development Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 2

Reduction in poverty: aid given through third parties

'.--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.

1.15 pm

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

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

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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.

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The excellent United Nations development programme poverty report 2000 states:

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:

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:

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.

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