International Development Bill

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Mr. Robathan: It will not have escaped anyone's notice that my name is not appended to the amendments. I claim no ownership of them, but I think that they are good amendments which would improve the Bill.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park made an extraordinary speech. Instead of trying to improve the Bill she devoted her speech to attacking the Conservative party. If that is how she feels, perhaps she should be sitting on the other side of the Committee. My question is, where are the Liberal Democrat amendments?

Mr. Tom Clarke: Will the hon. Gentleman answer a simple question? Does he believe that good governance and pluralism go together?

Mr. Robathan: Of course they go together, although the circumstances of each country may vary from time to time. The hon. Member for Richmond Park mentioned Uganda, where there is currently no pluralism. In general, we agree that pluralism is important in politics, as it allows for differences. However, the purpose of the Committee is to examine the Bill, not to say ``Gosh, everything in it is marvellous,'' when it is a mere five and a half days since Second Reading and the Bill was printed only recently. The right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) has a good record on international development. In his heart, he must be slightly embarrassed by the way in which this Bill has been rushed through and by the silence of his fellow Labour Members.

Dr. Tonge: I have tabled some amendments—

Mrs. Gillan: Very late.

Dr. Tonge: Indeed, they were, and I apologise for that. However, it is extraordinary that the official Opposition should expect me always to agree with them, especially when they table amendments that do not add to the Bill. In fact, the amendments would detract from the Bill because they highlight matters that should not be given greater importance than others that cause poverty.

Mr. Robathan: First, the hon. Lady says that she has tabled amendments. However, they were too late, which reinforces my point that the Bill has progressed with unseemly haste. Secondly, she says that our amendments are not perfect, but no Conservative Member would pretend that they are. The purpose of a Committee is to determine how a Bill might be improved. I do not say that the official Opposition are always right; clearly they are not—but nor are the Government.

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East) indicated dissent.

Mr. Robathan: The Government Whip disagrees, but all Committee members, even those who were elected to Parliament at the last general election, are aware that legislation that is not examined closely and is passed in haste tends to be poor legislation. Surely, that is a reason for discussing the amendments.

May I pick up the hon. Member for Richmond Park on an extraordinary thing that she said about Argentina, or rather the Falkland Islands? I feel involved because I once spent four dull months sitting on the Falkland Islands contemplating the snow. To suggest that the last Conservative Government was responsible for the conflict in the south Atlantic is stretching credulity to astonishing lengths, not least because if one speaks to any honest Argentine, one will find that his countrymen greatly appreciate the fact that the British action in the south Atlantic led to the fall of the extremely corrupt and unpleasant dictatorship of President Galtieri. There is now, for good or ill, a democratic Government in Argentina. Indeed, the whole of southern and Latin America appreciates the fact that the British stood up to a dictatorship. Whether the islands should be called the Falklands or Las Malvinas is another matter. Our action reinforced freedom—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is beginning to stray.

Mr. Robathan: My apologies, Mr. Butterfill. I care deeply about the issue, not least because one of my friends was killed out there, but I shall now address the amendments in detail.

In the debate of 6 March, the Secretary of State said:

    ``The flexibility of our current arrangements makes the United Kingdom one of the most effective development organisations in the world.'' —[Official Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 167.]

I agree with her on that, as on many other issues. Her comment begs the question, if flexibility is so effective, why do we need the Bill? However, I shall not stray on to that because we are discussing amendments, and it is flexibility that the amendments are designed to create. I am sure that the Minister will say that the amendments will make the Bill less flexible rather than more so, but it is important to understand that we must not hamstring the Government or the next Conservative Government. It has been said that the Bill is designed to bind the next Administration, whomsoever they may be, but no Parliament may bind its successors, and there may be further legislation.

My first point, which was also made on Second Reading, relates to judicial review. It is not a simple point. The Secretary of State said that she had had advice that there would be no judicial review, but, regrettably, during the past 15 or 20 years, judicial review has really taken off and the Government are perpetually being judicially reviewed—the previous Government and the current ones have both been subjected to that process. That is a serious matter, but the amendments may give the Government greater flexibility. The words ``directly or indirectly'' which amendment No. 1 would add would allow the Government broader scope.

My second point relates to good governance, which has been discussed at some length. It is ridiculous to suggest that good governance should not be a priority; it must be at the heart of development and of a sector-wide approach, as my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) said. I cannot quote the Secretary of State's words on that subject, but I am almost sure that in evidence to the Select Committee she said that good governance is at the heart of good development.

Dr. Tonge: As a member of the Select Committee on International Development, can the hon. Gentleman honestly say that good governance is more important than education? Are they not of equal importance?

Mr. Robathan: My answer is no. To develop that answer slightly, without good governance, the chances of getting good education diminish.

Dr. Tonge: I have to take the point a little further. If we do not have education, we have neither people who are equipped to govern, nor people who are capable of sensibly choosing others to govern them.

Mr. Robathan: As I was trying to explain, the Select Committee is just completing an inquiry into the question of corruption—good governance and corruption are one and the same, to a large extent. We heard evidence on Nigeria, for example. Nigeria, God wot, is a rich country with tremendous resources of oil and the like, but development in Nigeria has gone down the plughole during the past 15 years or thereabouts—I cannot quite remember in which year Abacha came to power—because all the resources of the country, far from being devoted to good education, health, or other worthy ends, went straight into the pockets of the military and Abacha. That is why good governance is so central to good educational and health policy.

When discussing governance, many people have told us that it is the poor who suffer most from corruption: they suffer when they cannot get their child into school, or when they have to buy a place in hospital that should be free; they are the ones who fall into debt, with all the ghastly implications that that has for their families. That is why the Government place such store on public sector reform—a point that the Secretary of State developed at great length when she came before the Select Committee during our inquiry into corruption and gave us some most reassuring evidence. I have to say that I do not have much problem with the Government's international development policy—the Minister and his Parliamentary Private Secretary know that, because we have discussed it.

Public sector reform means that policemen get paid enough, so that they do not put up a road block and fine every poor peasant who goes down the road to market to try to make some money a sum equal to the entire profit that he would have made during the day. That is fundamental and it ties in with security reform, which the Secretary of State mentioned. Security sector reform encompasses police and army and addresses the problem of too many guns on the streets, which my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham mentioned.

Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I remember immediately after the wall came down that western executives in Moscow who were working to bring new companies into Russia would regularly have their cars stopped by the police. Initially one would have to have 10 roubles ready, and later 100 roubles. The problem escalated to the point where two police cars would move up behind any car that carried foreign number plates. Such practices cause great concern to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Committee.

12.45 pm

Mr. Robathan: It is neither here nor there in terms of my long-term life plan if someone comes up to me and suggests that I might like to give him $10, but to someone who earns $20 a month, that suggestion represents half the household's food going down the plughole. The point is that it is the poor who suffer from poor governance.

During its investigations, the International Development Committee met various business people. The Secretary of State spoke on Wednesday, at column 166, of the need to expand economies and attract inward investment. The Select Committee has been told by large companies—some of which, I regret to say, pay so-called facilitating payments, which are small bribes—that the biggest disincentive to inward investment in a developing country is poor rule of law, which is the same as bad governance, because it means paying bribes to get anywhere. Companies do not like paying bribes. Theirs is not merely a moral objection; it is also that the bribes come out of their balance sheets.

I want good governance to be referred to in the Bill because it is at the heart of good development. We hear that message time and again. An organisation called CIET—which seems to change its name depending on where it is operating; some Select Committee colleagues may be able to remind me of its title—is an NGO that asks for the opinion of local people. Instead of asking a country's Government or its so-called opinion formers what they think about an issue, it asks people in villages or the users of services what they think. It is similar to a focus group, which will strike more of a chord with people in this place—a focus group for developing countries, where there are not so many of them. Time and again, CIET finds that when asked what most worries them, local people reply that it is having to pay for services that should be provided free.

 
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Prepared 13 March 2001