International Development Bill

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Mr. Rowe: I should like to raise a different point. Assistance other than financial assistance relates to an issue that is of considerable concern to the whole of the development community. What is DFID's policy on the pilfering and misdirection of assistance in kind in poor countries by, for example, guerrilla forces?

I have heard it suggested, for instance, that to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches people who are being ruined by civil or even foreign war, it is acceptable that the warring factions should take 40 per cent. of what is delivered, so that 60 per cent. may reach the poorest of the poor. The counter-argument is that such condoning of the misappropriation of food aid serves simply to prolong the conflict. If the warring factions get their hands on large supplies of food and clothing, they will stay in the field longer than they would otherwise do. I am aware that the issue is a difficult one, but it would be inappropriate to allow the clause, which refers to assistance ``other than financial assistance'', to pass without giving the Minister a chance to share the Department's view on such a vexed issue.

Mr. Robathan: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. I do not think that he intended to provide examples, but I have two. Under the previous Government, during the Bosnia campaign, a great deal of aid from Britain was sent by truck to Bosnia. It was well known that all sides would take 10 per cent., 50 per cent., or sometimes even 100 per cent., of that aid. They would let the next convoy go through if they took 100 per cent.

In Sudan—and I know that the hon. Member for Richmond Park has been to southern Sudan—both sides in the conflict profit from the aid flights. Yet the aid agencies cannot prevent it. They must give something. It is tacitly accepted.

Mr. Rowe: I am grateful for those two illustrations of my point. They throw into relief the contrast between individual compassion and Government humanitarian assistance. Individual compassion suggests that someone who has food will give it to a starving person, but when Governments try to act on that admirable principle, it is easy for a difficult equation to develop.

Is it right to continue to fly large amounts of supplies into a country, thus prolonging a war, so that the misery of the non-combatant population lasts for two years longer than it would otherwise have done—or in Sudan's case, for 20 years longer? At least some of those living in misery will still be alive at the end of the operation. Alternatively, is it preferable to take a hard-hearted view and announce that no more aid will be given, in the hope that the warring factions will run out of supplies and be forced to the negotiating table, but in the knowledge, too, that the decision will lead to a considerable number of those living in misery dying? That is a serious issue and it will be a great help to hear the Minister's views on it, especially as he is relatively new to the Department.

Mr. Mullin: The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) is quite right. The pilfering of aid, not only by warring parties but sometimes also by Governments, is serious, and we take it seriously. We evaluate every programme that we are engaged in to ensure that the aid goes where it is intended to and, if that is not happening, to make the necessary changes. In extreme cases, such as those that the hon. Gentleman was outlining a moment ago—life and death matters that are probably more relevant to emergency aid than to wider programmes—we must make up our mind on a case-by-case basis. The balance must always be the extent to which we can achieve what everyone wants us to achieve—helping people who desperately need help. I do not pretend that the judgment is ever likely to be easy. It is much easier to make judgments about aid to corrupt Governments or about diverting aid because, without their co-operation, it is impossible to carry on. We increasingly target our aid on those Governments who are willing to demonstrate, in practice as well as by rhetoric, that they are willing to devote their own resources as well as ours to the welfare of their people. That is why we have recently favoured Governments, such as those of Uganda or Mozambique, who, although they are starting from a desperate situation, have made considerable progress in improving the welfare of their people. Those decisions will always be difficult, and I do not pretend that the answers will always be perfect.

3.45 pm

Mr. Rowe: I am grateful to the Minister for taking the question so seriously. He is being a little over-optimistic in what he said about short-term humanitarian aid. The country that springs most readily to mind in that context, partly because the Select Committee took evidence on it, is Sudan. The conflict there has been going on for so long that one wonders whether the international community is taking it seriously and whether it should take a new look at the situation there.

Mr. Mullin: The same difficulty arises in Afghanistan, where the Government have little interest, if any, in the welfare of the people. We are looking for ways to get emergency aid to those who are now starving and dying of cold. No one would dispute the need to do that, even if some of the aid ends up where it ought not to be. However, we would not provide such Governments with capacity-building aid—such aid is given increasingly often—because we would not want to legitimise those regimes.

Mr. Robathan: That is an important point, yet it is extraordinarily difficult. Yesterday, I met some representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change, the Opposition party in Zimbabwe, and they said that people there are starving. However, they also specially said that aid is used by the Zimbabwe Government as a tool, and that they deliver aid to their own supporters but not to those whom they deem to support the Opposition. I know that it is extraordinarily difficult, especially because of the HIV-AIDS programme, but we can see that the money and aid given to Governments such as that in Zimbabwe is often completely misused.

Mr. Mullin: Yes, Zimbabwe is a case in point. We regularly review the aid that we provide to Zimbabwe, and we have withdrawn or phased out some existing programmes precisely for the reasons mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. Of course, some aid is people-to-people, in which we can bypass the Government. Aid is given also if it can be demonstrated that part of the Government is still functioning. I suspect that that is true of the HIV programmes, and we must carry on doing our best for that programme for as long as possible in order to make a difference. However, when aid ceases to make a difference, or if it is keeping in power a regime that ought not to be in power, we must make a judgment about withdrawing it.

Mr. Robathan: We were told yesterday by the MDC that the Minister in charge of the AIDS programme has sacked the entire team. I do not know where that leaves the Government.

Mr. Mullin: I cannot comment on what the hon. Gentleman was told yesterday. If he wants to draw the details to my attention, I will gladly check them out. As I said, we regularly review aid to countries, such as Zimbabwe, where the situation is changing—for the worse, I am afraid to say. We have reduced some of our aid programmes there and may have to make further reductions. The principle is that where we feel that we are still making a difference for the citizens—who, let us face it, are more the victims of the Zimbabwe Government than are any of us—we ought to continue to do our best until it can be demonstrated that our action is ineffective and pointless.

To return to the points made by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, I was just about right—I do not know whether you noticed, Mr. Butterfill—when I predicted that they would be those made on amendment No. 16 under another guise.

The Chairman: Order. I noted that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham dealt with the question of bribery, which she is entitled to do under clause 7; I did not note her trying to move amendment No. 16.

Mr. Mullin: Thank you, Mr. Butterfill; my observation was the same as yours.

The points about the bribery convention were dealt with yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that we are committed to introducing a Bill, but that that is not possible between now and the end of this Parliament. However, she also made it clear that we have greatly increased the Department's anti-corruption work. She said:

    ``We are increasingly helping Governments to strengthen their financial management systems, anti-corruption authorities, customs and tax authorities, and civil service and legal systems ... We are also working with the World Bank Institute and with Germany, Norway and the Netherlands to help to extend anti-corruption work across the developing world. The Proceeds of Crime Bill will strengthen the United Kingdom's capacity to seize and return assets plundered by corrupt Governments. We are helping the Governments of Pakistan and Nigeria to make use of existing legal systems to seek the return of such assets.'' —[Official Report, 14 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 1004.]

My right hon. Friend repeated our commitment to legislating to strengthen United Kingdom law against bribery and corruption abroad in line with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention. I have nothing to add to that.

Mrs. Gillan: I am delighted that the Minister has finally acknowledged that I was not trying to move amendment No. 16, because that was not my intention. I sought a suitable vehicle to raise the important issue of bribery and corruption. Although I have no intention of asking my colleagues to vote against the clause, because I gave an undertaking to the Minister that we would not oppose the principle of the Bill, it is right that we have the opportunity to raise points about it.

Back in April 2000, the Government promised to pass legislation as soon as possible. Considering how much time the Government have had, and especially because the 1997 development White Paper, which is the anchor of the Bill, stated:

    ``As part of our commitment to combat corruption, we support OECD initiatives to criminalise the bribery of foreign public officials in international business transactions'',

I should have expected the relevant measures to have been included in the Bill. It is a great shame that they are not, because the Secretary of State, the Department's team and, indeed, the Minister, although he has only recently joined the Dept, are all committed to the issue, as was the Minister's predecessor. It is such a shame that no time has been found. Comment outside the House is beginning to reflect badly on the Minister and the Department.

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