International Development Bill

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Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend is right. That is one of the potential interpretations of the clause. One of the great arguments for the dome—with which we are all familiar—was that it would create jobs and reduce poverty in an area of London. The provision gives the Secretary of State carte blanche to carry out any activities. I presume that if, for example, the Department wished to continue to fund small arms sales to the Caribbean, which it has done in the past, that would be deemed to fall within the ambit of the Bill and the Department could rely on the supplementary powers granted by the clause.

Mr. Mullin: Did I hear the hon. Lady correctly? Did she say that DFID has funded small arms sales to the Caribbean? If so, could she expand on that?

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister may correct me, but I believe that, in the past three years, international development funds have been spent on small arms to be used by police in the Caribbean and on training projects. Does the Minister think that the clause would allow such projects to go ahead? I am not criticising such projects, I am simply asking whether the clause would allow for them. The Minister can ask his officials, and if I am incorrect I will withdraw my remarks. However, I understand that funding was provided for a police project and that the Department gave financial support to the purchase of small arms—for the prevention of drug running and crime, and in the interests of good government.

Mr. Mullin: That perspective differs slightly from that implied by the hon. Lady's original remark. It is true that the training of police and, occasionally, the military, in the interests of good governance, is permitted under the Bill, and we have dealt with that. However, it is not sensible to suggest that our Department funds the trafficking of small arms to the Caribbean. While the hon. Lady obviously did not mean to imply that, it could have been inferred from her remarks.

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister doth protest too much. My remarks are not designed to be pejorative; they are designed to probe and to find out what is and what is not possible within the supplementary powers granted by the clause. In all our discussions, I am trying to find out what will change, what will stay the same and what we can look forward to in future. I certainly do not want to give the impression that the Department is trafficking in small arms—quite the reverse. If that was the case, it would be the biggest scandal in memory.

The Minister must not be bashful. We would support the use of small arms in a police project to stop drug smuggling, but I want to know whether such projects will be able to continue within the parameters of the supplementary powers envisaged under the clause.

There are no limits on the proportion of aid spent through funds and subscriptions, which worries me. When I spoke to the amendments, I did not mention the biggest contribution to the biggest fund of all, the European Development Fund. The contribution is £197 million in this financial year, and will rise to £219 million under the plans for 2001-02. Coupled with the money spent through other funds and on other subscriptions, a vast proportion of our aid budget seems to go in that direction. Although the supplementary powers may be slipped in under the clause, they cover the bulk of the Department's expenditure. However, the Budget does not limit the proportion of aid that goes in that direction.

It is not outwith the realms of possibility that the Department could pass over its entire vote to other organisations to spend. No part of the legislation—certainly not the supplementary powers—would prevent 99.9 per cent. of the aid from being spent in that way by a future Government. We heard that the legislation was directed at the behaviour of future Governments.

There is no guarantee of quality, especially for the funds and subscriptions. Again, it is not outwith the realms of possibility that the money could be handed over in funds and subscriptions and not used at all. If there is no guarantee of quality and no restriction on the proportion of the sum spent on such agencies, scrutiny and audit, and the capability for them, are even more important. To be frank, such scrutiny would be slightly more thorough than considering the institutional strategy papers of which the hon. Gentleman made so much.

Why was the clause drafted so broadly, and with the lack of transparency that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) referred to when he spoke to the amendments? The clause could have been improved. It is contradictory to the spirit of the Bill. I will listen carefully to what the Minister says but, if we are not satisfied, we will return to the matter, if we are given enough time on Report and Third Reading. In the meantime, I hope that he will enlighten us on the true reasons behind the clause.

The Minister can be honest. He does not need to make excuses. If he wants the additional powers in the clause so that he has the freedom to act, let him tell us frankly. Otherwise, he could tell us what restrictions he feels are placed on the Secretary of State and himself by the clause. I do not expect him to be bashful or to hide his light under a bushel. We must ensure that we know exactly why the Department has put the clause into the legislation.

11 am

Mr. Mullin: The hon. Lady's remarks are based on a massive misreading of the clause. It is nonsense to suggest that it drives a coach and horses through the Bill; it merely enables the Government to carry on with activities that the previous Government took for granted and that, no doubt, any future Conservative Government will take for granted.

Clause 4(1) does not allow the Secretary of State to do anything she wants. Its purpose is to allow support for activities such as the commissioning of research and the recruitment of personnel, which in themselves may not contribute to the reduction of poverty, but are clearly and causally related to it. The hon. Lady is not even listening. I have already pointed out that clause 4(1)(b) should not be read in isolation, as the hon. Lady chose to do. Clause 4(1) makes absolutely clear that clauses 1, 2 and 3 provide a constraint on the Secretary of State.

The hon. Lady is also wrong to suggest—or at least she massively overstates the case—that spending on funds and subscriptions could be unlimited. The power for most expenditure on multilateral programmes stems not from clause 4 but from clause 11, which relates to the multilateral development banks, from the European Communities Act 1972 or from clause 1. Clause 4 deals only with supplementary powers. I rest my case.

Mrs. Gillan: The derisory way in which the Minister has replied to the debate on the clause makes me even more determined to return to the matter on the Floor of the House on Report and Third Reading. For the moment, I rest my case.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Meaning of ``assistance''

Mrs. Gillan: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 32, leave out from `assistance''' to end of line 35 and insert

    `means assistance in the fields of economic development, administration and social services, consisting in the making available of the services of any body or person, training facilities, the supply of material, or the results of research undertaken in any such fields.'.

Despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Richmond Park, I am still sufficiently useful to be able to rise to move the amendment.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I merely wanted to inform the hon. Lady who is leading so tediously for the Opposition that she was offered a medical diagnosis.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but the hon. Member for Richmond Park's suggestion that I should take HRT is not gratefully received. I am still young—indeed, I was the youngest woman on the Tory Benches during the previous Parliament. The hon. Gentleman might he be falling asleep and not listening to what I have to say, but I am scrutinising the Bill with the vigour of a young woman.

Dr. Tonge: I withdraw my allegation.

Mrs. Gillan: I certainly do not take medical advice from the Liberal Democrats.

Anybody who is as familiar as the Minister must by now be with the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 will recognise the form of words used in the amendment. In a pattern that is becoming familiar to the Committee, we seek to probe the thinking behind the formulation of the Bill. We are trying to use the amendment to classify economic development as an important objective of technical assistance. Indeed, that description of technical assistance is taken from the 1980 Act, which sets out a definition of technical assistance that includes assistance in economic development.

The Bill makes no reference to economic development. What is wrong with the old definition? Why is it not included in the Bill? If it was an omission and if the Minister wishes to pop it back into the Bill, we would be terribly accommodating. The Minister is welcome to re-examine the provisions of clause 5, and do whatever is necessary to improve the Bill. I hope that the Government are not so arrogant as to think that the Bill is perfect. It is remarkable that no Government amendments have been tabled. It must be the only Bill in this Parliament not to have been amended by the Government. If the Minister wishes to take our advice, we will be happy to facilitate such an improvement.

Mr. Rowe: I hesitate to suggest that my hon. Friend is in danger of being intemperate, but has she any grounds for assuming that the Government are ever arrogant?

Mrs. Gillan: I am being tempted by my hon. Friend. A certain amount of arrogance is attached to the fact that, even though the Opposition have agreed to facilitate the Bill, its Committee stage has been programmed and confined to four sittings in the dying embers of a Government. That is fairly arrogant. If the Government showed any surefootedness or pride—

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