International Development Bill

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Mr. Mullin: We are content, but if we accept the amendment, we could well find ourselves in the position that the hon. Lady describes, which is one reason why I shall argue that we should not accept it.

Mrs. Gillan: If the Minister does not mind me saying so, he is being a little naive about the Committee process. I said that this is a probing amendment. Earlier this week I noticed that he addressed himself strictly to the wording of an amendment, despite the fact that I had said that it was a probing amendment intended to be a vehicle for him to use to give information. He appears to be slightly worried about giving us information, and hides behind the strict wording of amendments, which I said were not perfect vehicles. We may not expect to see our amendments enshrined in the Bill. As I generously said to the Minister, imperfect though they are, they are our offerings, please take them away, work on them and return with something acceptable. That generous offer was utterly rejected by the Minister. Out of character, he threw those amendments back in my face. I do not want the Minister to hide behind the strict wording of the amendments, I want him to tell the Committee how the Government will be protected, if they are content that they will not be acting illegally.

Does clause 4 mean that the aid budget can be used for almost anything? It appears to be so broadly drafted that it could. What real safeguards are in place to ensure that the majority of aid spending is wholly and not just partially concerned with poverty reduction? Why include the first three clauses and then include clause 4, which drives a coach and horses through them?

Lastly, what is to stop the Government setting up a fund and financing development aid from it? Does that mean that future Governments could evade their own poverty focus and the poverty focus enshrined in the Bill?

Mr. Tom Clarke: In the probing spirit that the hon. Lady is encouraging, and in view of her earlier reference to UNESCO, is it now the official policy of the Opposition that we remain in UNESCO?

Mrs. Gillan: The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am not prone to making policy on the hoof nor to knee-jerk reactions. To be fair, that would depend on our evaluation of the role of UNESCO when we entered Government; that is a perfectly reasonable approach. I do not have the knowledge today to say whether we would want to remain in UNESCO. In all probability, we would remain within it until that evaluation was complete. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a pat answer, and I cannot be caught on the hoof on our policy. The rational approach would be to evaluate UNESCO and decide of what benefit it was; indeed, to decide whether it fell within the criteria, parameters and aspirations that are supposedly encompassed in the Bill.

Finally, what is to stop the Government setting up a fund and financing development aid from it, completely evading the Bill's provisions? Much was made on Second Reading of the need to protect development aid money from misuse—from aid and trade provisions; from diversion for political ends—but the clause appears to provide a vehicle whereby that may occur. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give me the reassurances that I seek.

I appeal to the Minister not simply to read the notes prepared by officials or to rely on arguments about the wording of the amendments. Will the Minister please, in the spirit of our discussions, enlighten us about the Department's thinking? We would all be most grateful for that, and it would benefit aid and international development as a whole.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I congratulate the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) on beginning what will clearly be another long day by discussing the words ``wholly'' and ``partly'' for 25 minutes without repetition, hesitation or deviation. That was quite an achievement—I certainly could not have done it—and she should be invited to take part in the radio programme ``Just a Minute''.

I understand the hon. Lady's argument and I have genuinely tried to feel passionately about this matter. However, the work of the Select Committee on International Development and what I have read in the past four years has convinced me that all the organisations to which she referred contribute to poverty reduction in one way or another, so it is right and proper that we pay tribute to them. I accept that some organisations do not function as well as others; indeed, that problem is being dealt with in respect of UNESCO, which has been somewhat inefficient and is trying to be more efficient in future.

The truth is that there is no substance to what the hon. Lady has been saying. Clause 4(4) makes clear the meaning of the phrase ``relevant purpose'' and refers back to clause 1. When we considered clause 1, Conservative Members wittered on at length about wanting to stress certain causes of poverty above others, but they did not challenge those elements that qualify the main concerns about which the hon. Lady is beefing. I therefore fail to understand why she felt it necessary to talk for 25 minutes about absolutely nothing.

I cannot support the amendment, but I should like to point out to the hon. Lady, who clearly suffers from short-sightedness, that one can buy bifocal spectacles to help with reading. Alternatively, she could try contact lenses.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful for the advice, but I believe that the hon. Lady's medical training relates not to eyes, but to a different part of the body.

Dr. Tonge: To that remark, I can add only that HRT is also very useful.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): With reference to that last exchange, perhaps I should find out whether any spectacles that my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham might decide to buy would be more expensive as a result of the Budget.

The central point of my hon. Friend's argument is important. The Secretary of State for International Development is accountable to the House not only in respect of money dispersed directly through DFID, but in terms of subscriptions to international organisations. There is no doubt that it is the House's duty to find out whether subscriptions to multilateral organisations such as the EU, or United Nations organisations such as UNESCO, are being spent properly and appropriately. In some cases, the transparency of such organisations leaves quite a lot to be desired.

My hon. Friend has pointed out that there is a gap of several years in our funding of the African Development bank, but that is undoubtedly because the bank was functioning extremely badly. It would be to the enlightenment of the entire Committee if the Minister could say a little more about the criteria and methods that the Department uses to establish whether organisations to which we subscribe are behaving in ways of which we approve.

10.30 am

My next point is self-serving, but I am not ashamed of that. It relates to the faintly defeatist view that, given the history of votes in the Committee, there is a possibility that the Government will win the vote on the amendment.

Mr. Mullin: Where are the Tories?

Mr. Rowe: The Minister is unfair. My colleagues have a remarkable capacity for picking up the debate quickly—when they appear. That may be something to do with the way in which the arguments unfold, or they may simply be very quick.

There is a new political institution in this country called the UK Youth Parliament. When I put down a parliamentary question to ask the Secretary of State to consider meeting members of the Youth Parliament to discuss how they could help further the objectives of her Department, I received a deeply cautious reply. That is a pity. The 250 young people who gathered in London to create a manifesto for the election were extraordinarily committed, anxious to be inclusive and unprejudiced, and showed a concern for the rest of the world, particularly the developing and poorer countries.

Because the Youth Parliament is supported by a raft of young people who elect its members, and are involved with the work of the committees, it is in a strong position to be a mechanism for informing the rising generation about international development: its goals, objectives and ways of functioning. I urge the Minister—or the Secretary of State—to make time to meet some of those young people. They will raise constructive and interesting points and will not waste time. The Youth Parliament could be a mechanism for improving the education of young people about international development. After all, the younger generation will bear the cost of our subscriptions to international organisations in years to come.

Even if the amendment is not accepted, I hope that it is recognised that we have drawn attention to organisations that are ``wholly or partly'' dedicated to the objectives of the Department. As the Youth Parliament beds down, will the Minister consider the long term, and the possibility of giving subsidy to international development education? That is not a foolish thought. The UN Environment Programme has already said that to follow up to the Rio summit nine years ago it is duty bound to create a representative group of young people in the UK. It has decided not to create its own group, but to use the UK Youth Parliament. If an international organisation can take such an enlightened view, so can our Department.

I am happy to support the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. It is key that effective mechanisms are in place for assessing whether our subscriptions to international and other organisations coincide with the Department's priorities. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Mr. Mullin: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Benton. The Committee is generally good natured. Although one or two of the contributions have been a mite long-winded, those delivered from the Government Benches have been models of conciseness.

I deal first with some of the wilder assertions of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. She claimed that clause 4 drives a coach and horses through the rest of the Bill because it allows us to contribute to organisations and funds that do not focus on poverty. It does nothing of the sort. It makes it clear that the Secretary of State will have to be satisfied that any organisation to which we subscribe contributes to a reduction in poverty. As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, the test is the same as that which is found in clause 1(1), to which the Committee has already agreed.

That is my first killer fact. My second is that the previous Government subscribed to all the organisations to which the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham referred, except UNESCO and, later on, UNIDO.

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