International Development Bill

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Mrs. Gillan: If the Minister thinks that that is a killer fact, he is killing us with kindness. I am well aware of the subscriptions paid by the previous Government. However, now that this legislation is being introduced, subscriptions must be looked at in a different light. We are not criticising the fact that the Government are subscribing to those organisations, but asking whether the Bill's aims will be satisfied. I am surprised that the Minister thinks that our previous subscription to those organisations is a killer fact.

Mr. Mullin: The fact ought, at least, to modify the indignation with which the hon. Lady talks about the organisations. I agree with her that we ought to monitor the activities of organisations to which we pay substantial subscriptions. The previous Government decided to withdraw their subscription to UNESCO because they did not think that it was providing value for money. I do not want to get into the argument about whether that was right or wrong. There were certainly good reasons for their actions at the time. We believe that UNESCO is now making a serious effort to get back on track, and we are taking a close interest in that process.

We have used the phrase ``wholly or partly'' because not all the objectives of such organisations are designed solely to reduce poverty. For example, UNESCO's responsibilities include the identification and maintenance of world heritage sites. If the ``partly'' were removed, we would face unnecessary difficulties.

I will give a couple of examples of the ways in which we monitor the organisations to which we make subscriptions. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham complained the other day about the amount of money that we spend on publications. However, the series of institutional strategy papers that set out our objectives for such organisations, and examine the extent to which those objectives are met, are among our most useful publications. Other countries also find them useful.

We have had some success in persuading the organisations to adopt the poverty-focused objectives that we are anxious to see. In November 1999, for example, the FAO's general conference adopted a strategic framework for the next 15 years. Its three interrelated global goals—food security, the contribution of agriculture to development and the conservation and use of sustainable natural resources—are consistent with international development targets, which is on-message. Institutional strategy papers are the place to look because we ensure that we get value for money from the organisations to which we subscribe and that they meet wholly or partly—but preferably wholly—our poverty-focused objectives.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) asked about the Youth Parliament. I cannot give him an undertaking off the top of my head, but I am prepared to believe that it is a worthwhile organisation and I would be prepared to meet it should I receive an invitation.

The Bill's principle purpose is to prevent future Governments from tying aid. We want no more Pergau dams and no more aid that is related to arms contracts, which is why we are entrenching that principle in law. However, it is also important to leave the Secretary of State with sufficient flexibility to exercise common sense in the way in which we dispose of our aid budget and the organisations to which we subscribe. Were we to pass the amendment we would find ourselves in a situation where common sense and flexibility were wholly circumscribed, which is not something that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham would want us to do.

The hon. Lady said that she was only probing and I hope that I have assured her about the degree to which we monitor the organisations to which we subscribe. That she can find in our annual report details of those organisations illustrates that this is a transparent process where nothing is hidden. Should anyone think that some organisations are providing insufficient value for money we are open to scrutiny both inside and outside Parliament. However, we must retain the ability to contribute to organisations and funds which have mandates or constitutions that are not strictly or exclusively focused on the reduction of poverty, but which can make a valuable contribution to particular areas or issues related to the reduction of poverty. That is why we prefer the definition in clause 4, which I repeat is the same definition that the Committee agreed in clause 1. I must therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Mrs. Gillan: I thank the Minister for going through the motions on the probing amendment, but he has not fully answered my questions. I appreciate that he has laid out in the annual report the funds and organisations to which the beginning of clause 4 relates, but he has not explained how or on what terms a subscription would be cancelled. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) asked me whether our policy towards UNESCO would be to stay in or get out, and I gave him the honest answer that we would evaluate the situation. Nevertheless, I am disappointed that the Minister is unable to set out the details of the criteria that the Government would apply. What would constitute a misdemeanour that would ensure a subscription was withdrawn?

Mr. Mullin: Like the Opposition, were they in government, we shall carefully evaluate the organisations to which we subscribe. We would withdraw an organisation's subscription if we concluded that we were not getting value for money and we could not influence it mainly to focus on poverty. Regardless of how hard the hon. Lady works she cannot create a difference between us.

10.45 am

Mrs. Gillan: I am not trying to create a difference. I merely feel that given that I am in opposition and do not have access to vast resources or departmental advice, the Minister could have given a more detailed explanation of the criteria, evaluation methods, time scale and how often the organisations and subscriptions will be reviewed. I am not saying that there is a difference between us, but expressing regret that the Minister has been unable to do that.

I am also disappointed that the Minister has not dealt with my questions, especially with regard to what could prevent a future Government from setting up a fund to finance development aid and evading the poverty focus. If a fund need be only partly involved in the reduction of poverty, it is within the bounds of possibility that that could be used as a perfectly legal and justifiable device to get around the aims of the Bill. I regret that the Minister did not focus on that.

As we are about to move on to the clause 4 stand part debate, I shall conclude my remarks, but I may return to the matter on Report. Reluctantly, but with a sense of encouragement that the Minister may work a little harder in dealing with the issues that I raised, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Gillan: Clause 4 drives a coach and horses through the Bill. The Minister was disingenuous in his explanations to the Committee. The explanatory notes make it clear that the clause is there to evade the poverty focus. They state:

    ``This clause provides (in subsection (1)) for the Secretary of State to undertake activities or enter into arrangements which, while they might not in themselves meet the tests set out in clauses 1, 2 and 3, are preparatory to, or will facilitate the provision of, assistance under these clauses. An example of such activity is the commissioning of research.''

The Minister did not respond to my point about the commissioning of research. Perhaps he forgot that I had mentioned it, but I hope that he will deal with it later.

Conservative Members believe that clause 4 has the potential for misuse. Subsection (1) states:

    ``The Secretary of State may with a view to preparing for or facilitating the exercise of his powers under section 1, 2 or 3...

    (b) carry on any other activities.''

That is a very broadly drafted provision. It allows the Secretary of State to do anything at all within the meaning of the Bill. If the Minister says that that does not drive a coach and horses through the purpose of the Bill, I beg to differ. In law, the Secretary of State could rely on subsection (1)(b), because who is to know what they could do with the money from the Department under that let-out provision? There is no limit on the proportion of aid that is to be spent through funds and subscriptions.

Mr. Mullin: The hon. Lady said that subsection (1)(b) gives the Secretary of State power to carry on any other activities. However, subsection (1) states that he or she may do so only

    ``with a view to preparing for or facilitating the exercise of his powers under section 1, 2 or 3''.

That is the constraint on the Secretary of State that the hon. Lady appears to have overlooked.

Mrs. Gillan: I have not overlooked it at all—I quoted it. The Secretary of State could do anything in anticipation of exercising the powers under clauses 1, 2 and 3, because he or she could always argue that he or she was moving on to focus on poverty reduction. The provision is broadly drafted and wide open to interpretation. Subsection (1)(b) could even allow a repeat of the Pergau dam affair.

Mr. Rowe: My hon. Friend may recall an unfortunate chapter in the history of the Church of England, when an enthusiastic dean took the mappa mundi to Australia on the basis that our Australian brothers and sisters would flock in such large numbers to see this extraordinary medieval artefact that huge sums would be raised for the purposes of the Church of England. In fact, the operation ran at a considerable loss. It is conceivable that, under the catch-all phrase ``any other activities'', the Secretary of State might, with the best will in the world, commission the use of some building—a dome, for example—and run into extraordinary financial difficulties thereby. She would be able to justify that on the basis that the clause gave her the right so to do.

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