International Development Bill

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Mr. Rowe: Is my hon. Friend aware that there would be widespread support—especially, as I understand it, from certain elements in the Foreign Office—for the export of Elizabeth Filkin to provide advice overseas?

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that ingenious intervention; he will forgive me if I choose not to comment on it, but we all know what he meant. [Interruption.] If you do not know what he meant, you do not deserve to be in the Whips' Office.

The Chairman: Order. I am not in the Whips' Office.

Mrs. Gillan: I apologise, Mr. Butterfill, no disrespect was intended.

I think that it is now clear to all members of the Committee—it is certainly our firm belief—that when developing countries make a commitment to good governance, aid money is better spent and foreign direct investment is encouraged. Foreign aid alone will never be sufficient to lift a country out of poverty; it is by encouraging the private sector and foreign investment that economies will grow and living standards will increase. Our development policy would help to lay the foundations of stability on which developing nations can build.

We want to empower developing countries that are committed to change to be able to govern responsibly for all their citizens. If I thought for one moment that the Minister did not think the same, I would not be labouring that point with amendment No. 2, but I know that there is a glimmer of hope. I know that he is surrounded by an able team of officials and I appeal through him to those responsible for drafting the Bill that if any amendment to the Bill is to be accepted, it should be amendment No. 2.

Including that provision in the Bill would mean that we had contributed to improving the Secretary of State's position, manoeuvrability and the way in which her actions on aid would be viewed. When my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon becomes the new Secretary of State following the election, he will be most happy that the provision has been included in the Bill to frame his actions.

I shall not move on from amendment No. 2 without saying a word about the British Council—as the Minister knows, I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the British Council—because, especially in the context of good governance, the British Council's contribution to stability in countries around the world has been invaluable. The Labour party manifesto ``A Fresh Start for Britain: Labour's Strategy for Britain in the Modern World'' stated that, in the global context outlined, the BBC World Service and the British Council would not be marginal instruments but the spearhead of Labour's policy. The document stated that, in office, Labour would work to maintain and build up the success of the front-line services of those organisations. That has not happened, but I am not sure that that is the Minister's fault, as he is new to the Department.

One factor contributing to the decline of the British Council is the shift in DFID's use of it to deliver contracts, on which I have still not received satisfactory replies. At the same time as the British Council is forced to close offices, the Department is increasing its stand in some areas, especially Africa, and also its staffing and presence.

11.30 am

The Chairman: Order. We all share the hon. Lady's enthusiasm for the work of the British Council, but she is going wide of the amendment.

Mrs. Gillan: I am so sorry. I shall drag my speech back to the amendment. It is in the promotion of good governance in other countries that the work of the British Council has been so exemplary on the world stage, so far as development practice and procedure is concerned. If use the of the British Council as a delivery mechanism for aid contracts has been dramatically withdrawn—indeed, slashed—that will have a knock-on effect on its other programmes, such as the delivery of good governance.

The Chairman: Order. The amendment clearly relates to the promotion of good governance, but we cannot use it to debate the work of the British Council.

Mrs. Gillan: I hear what you say, Mr. Butterfill. Please accept my unreserved apologies, but I could never forgive myself if I did not mention the British Council in this context.

The Chairman: The hon. Lady has made her point.

Mrs. Gillan: Amendment No. 3 seeks to put into the Bill a provision on which there will not be a cigarette paper between members of the Committee, and my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby will want to speak to it as he has special expertise on the matter. The amendment seeks to give the Secretary of State the power to provide financial or technical assistance in an attempt to reduce ``the potential for conflict'' in developing countries. That could include the provision of assistance to countries in central and eastern Europe, to assist with controlling the supply of small arms from them to areas of conflict. We are all concerned about that, on which action has not been taken in the lifetime of this Government.

The amendment would also bolster the Secretary of State's position, and allow her to provide assistance for holding a consultation exercise for setting up, for example, a register to monitor the activities of UK arms brokers, or to take any other action to reduce the potential for conflict. We are trying to strengthen the Secretary of State's arm, so I hope that the Minister will not dismiss the amendment out of hand.

It is vital that no measure to prevent the potential for violent conflict in developing countries is made illegal by the narrow terms of poverty reduction in the Bill. We believe that the Bill should make explicit reference to conflict, as it is often the root cause of poverty and political instability. I know that the Government agree with that. Indeed, in the globalisation White Paper, they said that the promotion of peace and stability is indispensable if countries are to attract investment and trade and promote ``pro-poor'' development. Violent conflict is one of the biggest barriers to development in many of the world's poorest countries. We have it from the horse's mouth—the Government wrote it into the White Paper—but the amendment would give a little more power to their elbow by putting it in the Bill.

On that matter, the Secretary of State has an ally. She does not have many in the Cabinet; she is a valiant and doughty fighter—I take my hat off to her—but she is sometimes very isolated and out on her own. I see the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner) nodding, so he does not think that she is a doughty fighter.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East): Oh no, we are all great supporters of her.

Mrs. Gillan: So the right hon. Lady's parliamentary private secretary and I agree; we could not fit a cigarette paper between us. She is a doughty fighter, but she needs allies in the Cabinet—as we all do.

I pray in aid the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was quoted in the Glasgow Herald last year as saying that countries will struggle to make the necessary commitments to poverty reduction and economic growth if they are affected by conflict. There we have it: Gordon Brown agrees with the Secretary of State. That another senior and powerful member of the Cabinet agrees is an even more powerful reason to include the amendment in the Bill.

It is important also to recognise that action taken to prevent the proliferation of small arms in developing countries could legitimately mean British aid money being used to strengthen Customs and Excise or to help economic diversification in the countries from which those arms originate. As the Minister knows, such arms often come from the countries of central and eastern Europe. We are worried that the Bill's poverty focus may render such assistance illegal. If the Minister will not accept the amendment, will he at least reassure us that such a poverty focus would not render such assistance beyond the pale and outwith the scope of the Secretary of State?

The nature of conflict in the 21st century has changed dramatically. Conflict is now largely within states rather than between them. That presents unique difficulties when trying to broker international peace settlements. We in the United Kingdom always play our part in preventing and resolving violent conflict. The amendment would help by giving a voice to those policies. The Opposition are keen to initiate concerted international action to crack down on the proliferation of small arms, which undoubtedly perpetuates conflict in developing countries.

The matter is routinely a subject of debate in our Back-Bench committees when considering such conflicts. Indeed, some Committee members have been present at meetings where it has been acknowledged that the inflow of small arms has been directly responsible for some of the worst conflicts, especially in Africa. Most light arms used in such conflicts originate from eastern Europe. They are trafficked via arms brokers operating from western countries. Conservative Members believe, and I am sure that the Minister would agree, that we should consult widely and introduce a new scheme to control the activities of British arms brokers overseas. That may fall within the scope of the legislation if the amendment were accepted.

I am asking for some comfort from the Minister because, in the absence of such a provision, we need to know what will happen to other programmes. For example, what will happen to funding for something like Patrol Task (North), the West Indies guard ship in the Caribbean, which is fighting the drugs trade that, in turn, is helping the violent conflict in Colombia? Would funding of such an operation be deemed to be poverty reduction within the terms of the Bill or would it fall outwith the legislation and therefore not be allowed?

What about sending in military trainers or observers for elections? What about education programmes on building democracy? What about peace projects such as the one in Zimbabwe? What will happen if no Government Department is willing or able to spend on such projects? I am especially exercised about what will happen to organisations such as the HALO Trust and to action on land mines. There is no doubt that there has been an increase in spending on de-mining. I was reading in the report ``Turning words into action'' by the UK working group on land mines that, between 1991 and 1998, we spent about £35 million on humanitarian de-mining. We are now spending as much as £10 million a year. What is the position regarding de-mining?

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Prepared 13 March 2001