International Development Bill

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Dr. Tonge: Will the hon. Lady be content if progress towards the poverty targets were addressed within the existing annual report, or does she require a separate document?

Mrs. Gillan: Having heard the Minister's response, I shall develop my argument and pick up on the hon. Lady's point later.

When I went through the manifesto document ``A Fresh Start for Britain: Labour's Strategy for Britain in the Modern World'', which the Labour party produced before the last general election, I came across a specific promise:

    ``In Government Labour will audit all aid programmes for their impact on the poor...as well as on women, children and the environment.''

The Minister has used the argument that he is on the case already as his prime fly swat to squash the amendment, but if that is the case why do we need the Bill? According to outside observers, the Department is on the case already. If the amendment is otiose, the Bill is otiose.

I am alarmed that the Minister should use such a simple argument to remove a tool that could benefit him, the Secretary of State and the Department. I appreciate that there is an annual report; I have no problem with that. However, putting the report on the face of the Bill would provide assistance similar to that provided by including the focuses of poverty and sustainable development.

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I do not accept the Minister's arguments. He wants to have his cake and eat it. He is happy to deploy one argument on one point and another argument on another point, but that is not satisfactory. I reiterate that I would like more information about the publishing of detailed performance indicators on sector-wide programmes so that we can have confidence in spending on AIDS, for example. The Minister has not replied to that point other than to say that he hopes that a new report will be laid before Parliament on 26 March. I welcome that new, but would it not have been better to make that report available to Members of Parliament before the Bill was scrutinised? Had it been available to us, we might not have found it necessary to table the amendment, but how can we judge? Do we have to trust what the Minister says, or will he provide proofs of the annual report?

Mr. Mullin: Although the hon. Lady will probably deny it, I strongly suspect that when she tabled the amendment, she was unaware that the Department publishes an annual report containing much of the information that she has requested. I certainly heard nothing in the lengthy contribution that she made at the beginning of our debate to suggest that she was aware of that fact. One or two other Committee members made it clear in their speeches that they were aware of it, including my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie and the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent.

Mrs. Gillan: I have a copy of it here.

Mr. Mullin: Why, then, did the hon. Lady not refer to it?

Mrs. Gillan: I was trying to save time. I have watched the faces of Labour Members who are sitting firmly on their backsides making no contribution to the debate. At least Conservative Members are trying, in a spirit of co-operation, to improve the legislation. To refer to the report is otiose when we all have a copy of it—I see the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie holding up his copy. Not only do I have the report in my possession, but I was able to quote the costings to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston when he challenged me on how much the Department had spent on publications, including promotional publications.

Instead of the Minister telling us that the new report is expected on 26 March—long after the guillotine on scrutiny of the Bill—it would have been preferable to have had that report before us now, as that would have enabled us to judge the quality and see what improvements the Minister has made.

I asked the Minister what recognition of aid quality there is in the Bill but, again, he chose to ignore my question. I will give way to the Minister if he would like to tell us the answer now. No, it appears that the Minister cannot answer that question, which is a shame.

Mr. Mullin: The Minister is getting very weary of this.

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister has not been up all night, as I have, so he will just have to stay awake a little longer.

Dr. Tonge: The support that I felt for the amendment is draining out through my feet by the minute. It might not concern the hon. Lady, but if she goes on for much longer, it will have drained away altogether.

Mrs. Gillan: Good things never last for long. I did not expect that support from the Liberal Democrats would last even until the end of the debate on an amendment. [Interruption.] Despite the mockery from Labour Members and the lack of patience exhibited by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, the amendment was intended to strengthen the Bill. It was an attempt to move the Department into a more pivotal position and help the Government to fulfil their manifesto promises.

In their election manifesto, the Government said that they would bring development issues back into the mainstream of Government decision making. I believe that failing to have a debate and failing to have the annual report laid before Parliament and fully debated is a big gap both in the promises that the Government made to the electorate and in their good intentions for the Department. I emphasise that we wholly support the Minister's intentions; obviously, he will not accept our honest offer.

In conclusion, I am sad to say that I cannot let the matter drop. We feel strongly about it, so I am unable to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 9.

Division No. 5]

AYES
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Rowe, Mr. Andrew
Tonge, Dr. Jenny

NOES
Browne, Mr. Desmond
Clarke, Mr. Tom
Hall, Mr. Patrick
King, Ms Oona
McFall, Mr. John
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Turner, Mr. Dennis
Worthington, Mr. Tony

Question accordingly negatived.

Mrs. Gillan: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 20, at end insert—

    `(5) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Secretary of State may fund public awareness campaigns in developing countries with the aim of reducing economic migration.'.

It is with great trepidation that I rise to speak to amendment No. 6, as I appear to be hogging the limelight on the Committee. It is such a shame that so many Labour Members who have valuable contributions to make to our debate and who should not be afraid of making them just because the Committee must end at 5 o'clock on Thursday evening have felt constrained to sit on their hands. That will not go unnoticed.

The Minister will be pleased to know that amendment No. 6 is merely a probing amendment. It has been tabled to reflect some of the concerns expressed on Second Reading and would allow the Secretary of State to fund public information campaigns in developing countries to reduce economic migration. The Bill will allow such programmes to be funded from the aid budget, which is an important issue that needs discussing within the context of the clause.

I was going to make a comment for the sake of all members of the Committee, including the Minister and the usual channel, but I see that the Government Whip is not in his place—he is in and out of the Room like a yo-yo. I shall keep my remark to myself until he returns.

We tabled the probing amendment in part to reflect the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells), who is the Chairman of the International Development Committee. I am sad to say that he was not able to serve on this Committee, because it was set against an extremely important meeting of the International Development Committee on a major report on HIV-AIDS.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend pointed out that we could not turn a blind eye to people who come to Britain for economic reasons. He talked about the moral duty and practical and common-sense reasons to help people. He said that something was badly wrong when tens of thousands of people crossed the length of the continent of Europe, travelling through safe countries, to reach Britain. Trafficking in such people concerns us all.

Part of the Second Reading debate focused on the role of aid in helping to stem the tide of migration. We believe that public information campaigns in developing countries have a key role to play in deterring those who might be tricked into agreeing to be trafficked. That does not fall strictly into the definition of a reduction of poverty, but we must remember that 700,000 women and children are trafficked across borders every year and that the European Union estimates that 500,000 illegal immigrants arrived last year alone, up from an estimated 40,000 as recently as 1993.

Recently, several high-profile incidents involving the trafficking of people have appalled everyone in this country, no matter what their political persuasion. Migrant trafficking and smuggling has become a global business that generates huge profits for traffickers and organised crime syndicates. A recent study by the institute of migration shows that at any time there are an estimated 15 million to 30 million irregular migrants worldwide.

We saw the results of the pernicious trade in July 2000 when the bodies of 58 Chinese immigrants were found inside a tomato truck in Dover. What a waste of lives. As recently as January, a Georgian cargo ship carrying on board an estimated 80 illegal immigrants split in two off the Mediterranean coast of Turkey; about 50 people are believed to have died. In May 2000, a rubber dinghy containing 29 illegal immigrants from north Africa sank close to Spain; six were drowned. I could go on, but it is not my intention to list such disastrous events. I cite them merely to discover the Minister's and the Government's attitude, in the context of the Bill, to the sort of public awareness campaigns that I believe are needed in developing countries to reduce economic migration and trafficking in human misery.

The institute of migration claims that although reliable statistics are kept on apprehensions of unauthorised migrants at borders and on arrests of traffickers, those figures account for only a small fraction of the overall problem. Criminal gangs are often responsible for migrant trafficking, and migrants often travel without full knowledge of the potential risks. Once they have arrived at their destination, trafficked migrants are almost entirely dependent on those criminal gangs and are vulnerable to serious human rights abuses. One way in which we might deter potential victims would be to mount sustained education programmes in their home countries. Many people who pay to be trafficked do so in ignorance of the risks of extortion, human rights abuses and, ultimately, death.

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