International Development Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Rowe: There is an interesting comment to be made on the obverse. When in Vietnam, we asked about the biggest difference that clean irrigation water had made to a village. The unexpected response was that people paid their water dues, which they had not done before. That shows another aspect of good governance: once the way in which things work is transparent and people see a clear benefit, they do not mind paying.

Mr. Robathan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, because it reminds me of what we have seen around the world. The hon. Member for Richmond Park did not come with the Select Committee to Pakistan. While we were there, the electricity system did not work, because no one pays electricity bills. It is cheaper to bribe the electricity company's man so as not to have to pay the bill, than to pay it.

As for grand larceny or grand corruption, I take issue with some of what has been said. Of course it is not for us to dictate a country's Government, or method or structures of government, provided that the people there have the freedom to choose those things. However, if a country wants its development to be supported by us, it is up to us to ensure that that development is transparent, honest and to the good of the poor.

Dr. Tonge: In speaking about corruption, the hon. Gentleman puts tremendous emphasis on good governance. That is extremely important, but other factors are equally important. Does he believe that we and the international community could take action to prevent corruption? It is not necessarily a matter of the bad governance of the countries concerned, but of our banks' money-laundering and bribery, with laws not being enforced and so on.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Lady and I have agreed about so many things in the past so I am glad to say that I agree with her now about money laundering and the behaviour of the banks, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent also referred. Homing in on grand corruption—perhaps a corrupt Government taking money from the inward investment made by an oil company—I recall a meeting that the Select Committee had in 1998, which my hon. Friend and I attended, with the Finance Minister of Kenya. That country has serious problems regarding good governance, if I can put it that way.

Mr. Rowe: That is a very reasonable way to put it.

Mr. Robathan: I thought so. The Finance Minister was outspoken, not being an ally of the President. I cannot remember his name, but as he has probably been dismissed, he probably will not mind me quoting him. We were breakfasting with him—in fact, we did not have breakfast, but it was breakfast time. The Finance Minister—Kenya's equivalent to our Chancellor—said, ``Don't give us more money. Ask us what we have done with the money that you have already given us.'' He was an honest and decent politician.

Dr. Tonge: The hon. Gentleman must agree that the problems were as much the fault of the International Monetary Fund as of the Kenyan Government.

Mr. Robathan: No, I do not agree that the misspending or pocketing of the money that had been given to that Government was the fault of an international organisation. I accept that the controls might have been lax, but someone was putting the money in his pocket and we should all deprecate that. The cold war provided encouragement to poor governance because both sides in the cold war supported regimes that we would not support now for reasons of geopolitics or realpolitik. I shall not continue in that vein, however; we have been rather distracted by interventions.

Amendment No. 3 deals with conflict, another issue on which the Select Committee has published a report. If one were to name a country of grinding poverty, one would almost be able to point to a war, because where there is conflict, there is grinding poverty. When money is spent on arms, people are killed or dispersed. It has happened in southern Sudan, in which the hon. Member for Richmond Park takes an interest; it has happened in the Congo, in which the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow takes an interest; it has happened in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and many other places, including Cambodia, which the Select Committee has just visited. Conflict causes enormous problems and grinding poverty follows in its wake. Conflict creates orphans and disabled people; it destroys infrastructure, which leads to an absence of economic growth. We must concentrate on conflict, and I look forward to the Minister's response on whether it should be included in the Bill. I am not the author of the amendments, but it is a fundamental point.

I am a member of the HALO Trust, not because I get paid, but because it is an interest of mine. The Department for International Development, and the Overseas Development Agency before it, have been immensely helpful to the trust in its work of landmine clearance. The landmines that remain have a fundamental effect on the poor people who have to live with them—those who have lost their legs, or the family breadwinners who cannot till their land because they do not want their legs blown off. Conflict has caused that problem, which is why I want the Minister to say what the Bill can do, if anything, to tackle conflict. The Government have an honourable record on the matter and I want to see it continue.

Mrs. Gillan: Is it not also important that the Minister reassures us that nothing in the Bill will prevent the Secretary of State or her successor from continuing with programmes that are a vital part of our aid but do not fall directly within the definition of efforts to reduce poverty? That is why we have tabled the amendments, which I hope are helpful: they might protect the Secretary of State from challenges to her authority to continue expenditure on those vital programmes.

Mr. Robathan: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is exactly what I was about to say. Does one define the clearance of anti-personnel mines as poverty reduction? It is difficult to say that one can in the baldest terms, although it is possible in the broadest terms. I do not think that anyone is especially likely to make the Government subject to judicial review on that issue, but it could happen. The strangest things happen, as we have seen in the courts recently and in the more distant past. I want a Bill that prevents restrictions being placed on the good work of the Department for International Development.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok): Speaking of the reduction of conflict and the potential for conflict, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the amendment, if accepted, could easily be used to justify arms sales? It could be argued that the potential for conflict is often owed to an imbalance in armaments between two sides. To help the side that was less well armed would reduce the potential for conflict, which could result in an escalating arms race. Some countries with which we co-operate, including those in the European Union, are less scrupulous than we are about arms sales to the third world. They could use the provision to justify their actions and argue that some of our money should be used for that purpose as well.

Mr. Robathan: I do not accept that point, although it is serious and needs to be hoist aboard. I do not think that the amendment is perfect, but it raises an important issue. I generally applaud the decision to untie aid from trade, but some of our European partners are less scrupulous than us in that respect. The arms for Iraq scandal sprung up because a company was shipping out the supergun; it was not meant to be done with the then Government's connivance—the whole incident was extremely confused and came to nothing in the end. I agree in part with the hon. Gentleman, as it is important that we do not supply arms in a bid to reduce conflict. I do not think that we can reduce it by doing so, although there is sometimes a good diplomatic reason to assist one side in a struggle, as two sides are not always equal.

In connection with amendment No. 4, I shall again quote the Secretary of State. She said:

    ``When we say that poverty reduction is our main objective, it should be borne in mind that that means helping countries to create modern and efficient states that will enable their economies to grow and ensure that good-quality services can be provided to all their people.''—[Official Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 162.]

The right hon. Lady also spoke of the need for inward investment. I am not sure that provisions in that respect should be in the Bill, but she mentioned the fact that overseas development aid can do only so much. Economic growth will do more for the poor and ODA can help. If we want it to do so, we should say so more explicitly—

It being One o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Butterfill, Mr. John (Chairman)
Browne, Mr.
Clarke, Mr. Tom
Davidson, Mr.
Gillan, Mrs.
Goggins, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Patrick
King, Ms Oona
McFall, Mr.
McNulty, Mr.
Mullin, Mr.
Naysmith, Dr.
Robathan, Mr.
Rowe, Mr.
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Tonge, Dr.
Turner, Mr. Dennis
Worthington, Mr.

Previous Contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 13 March 2001