International Development Bill

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Mr. Mullin: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, which stands on its own. It is not often that we employ too many British citizens, who are actually rather expensive to employ and maintain in foreign climes, when there are perfectly capable local people available. One finds that time after time. Our Department increasingly makes a practice of employing well qualified local people. I have been in both Albania and Kyrgyzstan in the past few weeks, where extremely bright local people are working for us. We have taken that point on board.

Mrs. Gillan: Will the Minister clarify whether, as he implied, Pepper v. Hart would apply to any future interpretation of the Bill?

Mr. Mullin: I will not give an answer off the top of my head. If news reaches me in the next few minutes, I will give a definitive reply, otherwise the hon. Lady will have to wait until later.

We have given careful thought to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park, and are sympathetic to it. If she is willing to withdraw it, we may think about the matter further, although I cannot commit to any undertaking. I have told her of our legal advice. I would be grateful if she would give me the opportunity to take the matter away and think about it further.

Dr. Tonge: I apologise for all my comings and goings but I did want advice on that point because I was not sure what would happen if I pressed the amendment to a vote. I thank the hon. Member for Blaby for his support; he was very gallant. I also thank the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, although it was curious that she was supporting the amendment in one respect, but not in another because it does not go far enough. For all the fluff and flummery that we have had during Committee, that important issue was not picked up by the Conservatives and tabled as a better, padded-out amendment. Never mind.

Mr. Robathan: It would appear that that was not picked up by Labour Members either. I congratulate the hon. Lady on picking it up.

Dr. Tonge: Perhaps it is more difficult to pick things up if you are in Government.

Mr. Robathan: Why?

Dr. Tonge: I do not know; I am not part of the Government.

It was also interesting that the Minister said that no reasonable person would tie aid to the future. In politics, we must assume that there will always be an unreasonable person. Even in the Government there may be such a person who wants to pursue tied aid. That is why the amendment should be included in the Bill.

With regard to the difficulty of drafting definitions, I must apologise to the Minister because I did not understand his explanation. It sounded like something Sir Humphrey might say—trying to ensure that there would be a loophole in future, so he could put his own pet project through. The Minister's reply was comically drafted and I commend the civil servant who wrote it.

I will take the advice of the Clerk and the Minister and withdraw the amendment, but I will return to the matter on Report unless I hear more from the Government. The words ``tied aid'' should appear in the Bill; the Government must make it clear where they stand on the issue.

Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Lady is on the verge of withdrawing the amendment, but she has not yet done so. I rise briefly because she said that I did not table an amendment along the lines she described.

Mr. Tom Clarke: On a point of order, Mr. Butterfill. I understood that the hon. Member for Richmond Park had withdrawn the amendment.

The Chairman: I had not yet put the question that asks leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment. When I do so, and if the Committee decides that it will accept the request for withdrawal, the amendment will be withdrawn; until that point, it is still open to debate.

Mrs. Gillan: Thank you, Mr. Butterfill. I want to respond to the question from the hon. Member for Richmond Park about why we had not tabled an amendment along the lines she suggests, and made a better fist of it. That was the spirit of what she had to say. Once we had seen that there was an amendment that would give us an opportunity to raise the matter, there was no need to do anything else. The hon. Member for Richmond Park has not had the advantage of hearing what I have to say on any other part of the Bill.

Dr. Tonge: I remind the hon. Lady that I was chastised on Tuesday for tabling my amendment so late, so how could her party have seen it before tabling its own amendment?

3.30 pm

Mrs. Gillan: If the hon. Lady thinks about the time scale, she will realise that I had plenty of time, after her starred amendment appeared on the amendment paper, to table an amendment for today's proceedings. However, I chose not to.

I am pleased that the Minister will re-examine the issue. It is important, but I do not want to rehearse points that have been made many times before, and which his predecessor, especially, has heard in numerous small debates and exchanges. I look forward to hearing what the Minister will say on Report. I should be grateful if he would guarantee that there will be sufficient time between the end of Committee proceedings and Report and Third Reading, for us to have dialogue. The Bill has been introduced with undue haste, but if time is now made available, we would be happy to examine any Government amendments on the matter that might be brought forward at the next stage. I say that in a genuine spirit of co-operation.

Mr. Mullin: Word has now reached me regarding the relevance of Pepper v. Hart. The records of debates in both Houses, including those in their Committees, can be taken into account in an interpretation.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the Minister for seeking inspiration. I was not trying to catch him out. As he had referred to the proceedings being taken into account in an interpretation, I thought that he was familiar with Pepper v. Hart.

Mr. Mullin: I am afraid that I am just a simple country boy.

Mrs. Gillan: There is nothing simple about any country boy that I know.

I thank the Minister for that information, and look forward to hearing what he will introduce before Report and Third Reading.

Dr. Tonge: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

Terms on which assistance is provided

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

Mrs. Gillan: Clause 7 sets out the terms on which the Secretary of State may provide assistance, and states that Treasury consent is required for all kinds of financial assistance other than a grant. As it is the main financial clause of the Bill, it is apposite to raise issues concerning bribery and to interrogate the Minister.

Mr. Mullin: That has been ruled out of order.

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister, from a sedentary position, mumbles that such a discussion has at some point been ruled out of order. I do not understand how it can be out of order for me to seek clarifications from the Minister in the clause 7 stand part debate—it is a financial clause. I will just keep going.

Mr. Mullin: On a point of order, Mr. Butterfill. I think that the hon. Lady is now approaching amendment No. 16, which has not been selected. That is the amendment that deals with bribery.

The Chairman: Amendment No. 16 relates to clause 20. The fact that it has not been selected does not prevent a stand part debate on clause 7.

Mrs. Gillan: That was extraordinary. This is the main financial clause of the Bill and I considered it apposite to raise the issue of bribery so that the Minister could turn his mind to the matter. I had no intention of moving amendment No. 16.

Mr. Mullin: So the hon. Lady will move the arguments instead.

Mrs. Gillan: We are allowed to move arguments when we scrutinise legislation and this is the relevant clause. The Minister is anticipating the points that I want to make before I have made them.

I want to raise the issue of bribery because both Government and Opposition Members are concerned that the Bill does not address bribery and corruption. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mr. Fraser) raised the matter on Wednesday at International Development questions, when the Secretary of State said:

    ``We are committed to introducing such legislation on corruption, but it will be a large Bill and would not fit into the slim International Development Bill. If it had been combined with the Bill we should not have been able to introduce the Bill in this Parliament. The legislation to which the hon. Gentleman referred is important and it will be introduced as soon as possible.''—[Official Report, 14 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 1004.]

I should have thought that the position on bribery and corruption could have been included in the clause because we want appropriate action to enforce the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery as the International Development Bill enters the statute book. The financial terms in the clause do not refer to that, but we know that corruption hurts the poor and is a serious barrier to economic development in developing countries.

The OECD convention on bribery came into effect on 15 February 1999 and was signed by the 29 OECD member countries and five non-member countries. It states that

    ``it is a criminal offence...for any person intentionally to offer, promise or pay''—

a bribe—

    ``to a foreign public order to obtain or retain business or other improper advantage in the conduct of international business.''

As the Minister knows, the convention was signed in Paris on 17 December 1997.

We do not have the advantage of having an amendment to the clause, which relates to the financial terms on which assistance is provided. However, I shall make the Minister a generous offer. The Secretary of State expressed her wish to bring forward legislation on bribery as soon as possible, but that would add to the size of the Bill. Will he consider the clause to see whether the spirit of that convention can be encompassed in the legislation on Report and Third Reading? Indeed, had the Bill not been introduced with such indecent haste the clause could have been expanded to include many other provisions.

I shall not make a big issue out of amendment No. 16, but I shall ask the Minister why he will not grasp the opportunity. Opposition Members are not consistently voting against contentious legislation in this Committee because we have given the Bill our blessing. Why does he not relax and take the time to bring forward legislation that has consistently been called for by both Government and Opposition Members? Perhaps the clause is an apposite position to allow the Minister the opportunity to respond.

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