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3.9 pm

Mr. Streeter: We share with the Government a common objective: we find the abject poverty experienced by 1.3 billion people in the world utterly unacceptable. Most of us in this Chamber will have travelled and seen that with our own eyes and listened to people's stories. Such people have nothing--no proper job, no access to food, clean water, health care or education, and worst of all, often no hope.

It is morally inexcusable and offensive that we should see so much poverty in our world. Increasingly, in this globalised environment, it is a matter for us all. There is now no escape, no "head in the sand" attitude to be taken, no passing by on the other side. We cannot continue to live in an interdependent, multi-media, globalised environment without straining every sinew to do what we can to meet the needs of the world's poorest people. My conviction is that we can do a lot--by Government action, through charities and non-governmental organisations, at multilateral level and through individual effort. We can make a difference and therefore we should make a difference.

Today we are discussing what the British Government should do. This Bill sets out the framework for international development over the next few years, and in that respect we wish it well. Obviously, we do not oppose the measure. Its main provision is a poverty focus, and we support that. We have sought to improve the Bill and we shall continue to support measures to ensure that a focus on good governance is right up there in the Government's considerations.

I want to say a word about the Secretary of State. We have supported much of her effort over the past four years. This is probably our last debate before the general election--it is more or less our first in four years, so it is almost certainly our last--so I pay tribute to her work and to that of her Department over the Parliament. She has worked with great conviction and sincerity, and shines as a beacon in a Government among whom there are perhaps not enough conviction politicians. We support what she has done. Much of her work has been extremely effective.

As we have argued, policy on good governance should be reflected in the Bill. I heard what the Minister said; I hope that his assurances mean that his Department has embraced from the arguments that have come at him across the Chamber a fresh awareness of the importance of good governance not just as an optional extra but as the foundation and framework of ensuring that the living standards of the world's poorest people rise over time. Such a framework can attract direct foreign investment and allow the private sector to do its job in creating employment--allowing entrepreneurs to flourish and investment to be made. That is the only way in which living standards will rise over time for those in the poorest countries. He gave his response to our arguments, and we accept it, but we believe that good governance should be at the centre of British aid policy.

We have argued that the Bill should include a provision that money spent through multilateral organisations, whether the European Union, the United Nations or other

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agencies, should be focused on poverty as is aid spent directly by the Government. We heard what the Minister said to that. For the first time, we heard his argument about the European Communities Act 1972 and what is covered by the Bill. That is because there was not enough time for that important clause to be considered in Committee. Is not that a stark illustration of the programme motion denying proper debate and scrutiny of legislation? We need not have spent so much time on the issue today, and could have spent more time discussing other issues that we did not reach, had we been able to hear the Minister's response in Committee.

It is important for our Government to be under a legal obligation to stop the scandal of EU aid policy. We all hope that the reforms introduced recently by Commissioner Patten will be effective, but we have little conviction that they will be. He is taking on the overwhelming bureaucratic culture of the EU, which does not deliver. Payments are not made and there is simply no focus. We hope that the reforms work, but believe and fear that they will not. Therefore, we regret that the Government did not take the opportunity at the Nice summit to put the matter on the agenda so that, instead of waiting another five years to review the workings of the reforms, there would already be a mechanism to ensure that more aid is spent bilaterally and more effectively, and that more people are helped.

We wanted a debate today on putting more resources at the disposal of NGOs and charities because we believe that they are a very effective vehicle for disbursing aid. Of the current Department for International Development budget, 8 per cent. is spent by British NGOs. That is fine, but it should be doubled. We have committed ourselves to doubling the amount over the next Parliament. Pound for pound, that £195 million--the 8 per cent.--provides the best value for Government money. It is a pity that the percentage is so small.

We have expressed concern at the increase of sector-wide funding, which results in lack of control and more scope for abuse, misuse and corruption. We have placed on record several times our deep regret that the Government have failed to introduce an anti-bribery Bill, even though they pledged last year to do so at the earliest opportunity.

We have made such points and argued for improvement of the Bill; our support is not tantamount to a blank cheque. None the less, we shall not oppose Third Reading. We regret the way in which the Bill was railroaded through the House; even by Third Reading, important new clauses and amendments have not been scrutinised. I ask the Government and their business managers how that can be right. We have approached our job as Opposition responsibly. Today, we have made arguments that the Minister has taken seriously, but still there has been no time to discuss the role of British charities in DFID's plans for the future or sector-wide funding. Can that possibly be right? I ask the Government to think again about the way in which they are pushing legislation through the House.

Mr. Davidson: I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that we would have had much more time to discuss all those important issues had we not been subjected to

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long, rambling, incoherent speeches from Conservative Members in Committee. We could easily have made much more progress had we not gone over points several times.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. Before the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter) responds to that intervention, I should point out that we have spent enough time on that aspect. May we debate giving the Bill a Third Reading?

Mr. Streeter: That is the complete answer to the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

We support the Bill, although it is not as perfect as it might have been. We accept that poverty deserves to be at the heart of the United Kingdom aid programme and that a focus on reducing it is therefore in its rightful place. We are prepared to work within the confines of the Bill.

In government, we will maintain the aid budget; march towards a figure of 0.7 per cent. of gross national product; focus on good governance; increase the proportion of aid spent via British aid NGOs and charities, doubling it over a Parliament; take steps to end the EU aid scandal to ensure that British taxpayers get value for money and the poorest people of the world receive the help that they so richly deserve; set up Aid Direct, a web-based advice service, which, with the help of the NGO community, will match needs to resources; and crack down on corruption and restore confidence in the British aid programme. We shall support the Government in effectively implementing the measures.

The Conservative party, in opposition or in government, will play its full part in eradicating the unacceptable reality of abject global poverty.

3.18 pm

Mrs. Fyfe: I thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because this is my last opportunity to speak on international development as I plan to leave the House at the general election. I assure my hon. Friends that I shall be brief. Many served in Committee and are anxious to speak.

I want to put on record the fact that I am very proud of the Government's record on international development and in tackling poverty. The fact that we have had two White Papers in four years, whereas there was not one over the previous 18 years, is a short, sharp point that will speak for itself during the election campaign. However, I want to take this opportunity to pose two questions to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

The first question relates to the role of non-governmental organisations. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that some NGOs are more successful than others in focusing on helping people to help themselves, rather than simply doing good unto others. Some NGOs now wish to be involved in a campaigning role. How does he see the way forward for NGOs under the Bill and in the framework of the Department's future work?

Secondly, when we were discussing good governance earlier, I had in mind that sad country, Afghanistan, which is the opposite of an example of good governance. It is so hard to know what to do in such a case. The world's media have focused recently on the vandalism of the destruction of age-old statues, but insufficient attention

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has been paid to the barbaric cruelty perpetrated upon the local population, especially women. When NGOs have to pull out because they cannot allow their women workers to be put in danger there, it is a sad state of affairs. How do we drive matters forward in countries such as Afghanistan?

I conclude by saying that if anyone can do it, this team will. I look forward to watching the Department's success in future.

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