International Development Bill

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Mr. Mullin: The hon. Lady has complained at some length that, uncontroversial though the Bill is, the time that we have to deal with it has been insufficient for the 20 clauses that it contains. If we were to add to it a further great tranche of legislation, it would become a considerable piece of legislation that would require careful scrutiny. She would then no doubt have even more cause to complain about the lack of time. She is arguing for more legislation while at the same time saying that there is not enough time to deal with what there is. That does not add up.

Mrs. Gillan: That is one of the most pathetic interventions that I have ever heard from a Minister. Given the Government's record—especially this week—under such circumstances, they would probably have deemed the Bill to have passed through all its stages, and the Committee stage would have lasted just one day.

Mr. Robathan: Some of us have been speculating further on the Bill, and we have been wondering whether there is much likelihood of it, valuable as it is, and supported as it is by all parties, completing its passage through both Houses during this Parliament.

The Chairman: Order. We are now getting into a debate on timetabling. We have drifted a long way from the question of whether clause 7 should stand part of the Bill. May we please return to that debate?

Mrs. Gillan: I spring to my feet, Mr. Butterfill, to follow your edicts. I have only two more points, which I was about to make before the Minister took us into a discussion of timetabling and the length of time available to scrutinise the Bill. The slow progress on reform is beginning to attract comment from outside the House, which is a shame. Transparency International, for example, has stated that it could cause concern among other OECD members that have already updated their domestic legislation.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Lady is doing precisely what I suggested she should not do. She must return to the clause stand part debate, which relates to the terms on which assistance is provided.

Mrs. Gillan: Yes, Mr. Butterfill. I was merely saying, in response to the Minister's point that such a measure was too substantial for inclusion in the Bill, that outside commentators have said that there is a danger that, if we proceed too slowly on the matter, we will look shabby. I have raised that important matter, and I am not satisfied with the Government's response. Now is the time to think about what may be proposed on Report and Third Reading. In the light of the Minister's unsatisfactory response, I may return to the matter at a later stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Powers of statutory bodies

Mrs. Gillan: I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 4, line 2, at end insert—

    `(c) where the statutory body concerned is a Northern Ireland body, only with the approval of the Northern Ireland Assembly.'.

I have had words with the Clerk, and I understand that, in the absence of the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), it is in order for me to move the amendment.

The Chairman: It is indeed.

Mrs. Gillan: I will attract the hon. Gentleman's approbation, because he would not table an amendment to a Bill and fail to be here to move it after it has been selected by the Chairman unless something untoward had happened to him. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is in good health, and that nothing has happened to prevent him from coming here to move the amendment.

Having taken advice from the clerk, I shall speak briefly. I had not prepared to speak on the matter. I was interested in the debate, but the amendment raises the—[Interruption.] Did the Minister wish to say something?

Mr. Mullin: Yes. I said—through chuckles from the usual channels—that the fact that the hon. Lady had not prepared to speak on the matter would not prevent her from doing so.

4 pm

Mrs. Gillan: Praise where praise is due. That is admirable.

Amendment No. 18 opens a can of worms in respect of devolution, as it relates to the differences between the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. The amendment is about Northern Ireland.

Coupled with the clause is schedule 2, which details the statutory bodies to which the clause applies. If the amendment were deemed necessary and accepted by the Minister, an alteration to schedule 2 would result, however, in the light of the clause as drafted, I must ask whether schedule 2 contains a full and exhaustive list of statutory bodies to which the clause applies. Bodies such as the Scottish tourist board are not included.

I suppose that the basic questions raised by the amendment relate to what the Secretary of State is and is not in charge of and why there is no reference to Northern Ireland if the provisions apply to Wales and Scotland. I did not table the amendment and I was not prepared to speak to it, I but felt that it was only courteous to move it for the Government. Labour Back Benchers have been so well controlled by their Whip—they have not participated in our discussions—that I assumed that the amendment must have been Government-inspired. I hope that I was not wrong to assume that the Minister would therefore not object to it on the grounds that there was some inadvertent drafting error. I look forward to what he has to say.

Mr. Mullin: The Government will resist the amendment, as it goes against the wishes of the Northern Ireland Assembly. We recognise that the Assembly should be consulted if and when we want to enter into arrangements with statutory bodies for which it is responsible. The Assembly will want to ensure that its statutory bodies do not divert resources towards international development work when they might more properly be used for domestic purposes.

We closely consulted the Northern Ireland Assembly and all the devolved Administrations when drawing up the Bill, and we consulted the Assembly again about the amendment. It asked that any consultation regarding statutory bodies take place under the memorandum of understanding on devolved Administrations, rather than being prescribed by text in the Bill. The Bill reflects the Assembly's wishes, so I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful for the Minister's brief response, which raises more questions that it answers. If accepting the amendment is against the wishes of the Northern Ireland Assembly, may we have access to the process of consultation and the exchange of information between the Department and the Assembly? As there is now a difference between the Northern Irish Administration and the devolved Administrations of Scotland and Wales, may we have access to the discussions and exchange of papers between the Department, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?

I am willing give way to the Minister, who has championed transparency of Government for a long time, as I am sure that he will want to enlighten the Committee and the House about the discussions that have taken place. The Minister does not rise—that says it all. We have a Minister who is willing to nip off and do dirty deals, but he will not let us know how those decisions were arrived at.

Mr. Tom Clarke: On a point of order, Mr. Butterfill. The hon. Lady accuses by my hon. Friend the Minister of doing dirty deals. Surely that is not in order.

The Chairman: The right hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that although I deplore such accusations, they are not unparliamentary.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston for giving me a rest every now and then. However, I withdraw that remark. I did not mean that the Minister does dirty deals. However, he should not do deals without enabling us to scrutinise them. He may have consulted people, but it was not a transparent process.

Mr. Clarke: If I may say so, the hon. Lady is becoming increasingly gracious. It is wonderful that she has withdrawn her remark.

My hon. Friend the Minister has responded to an amendment that asked us to consult the Northern Ireland Assembly; the Assembly has been consulted and it wishes to be consulted no more. Will the hon. Lady not accept that and allow the Committee to get on with its business?

Mrs. Gillan: The right hon. Gentleman is in danger of becoming my champion.

That is not the point. The point is that before the Bill was drafted, the Minister consulted the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, if the amendment is not accepted, there is nothing in the Bill to permit further consultation. That is the reason for the amendment. I am not speaking for the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie, but such a provision would be an added protection for the future. For the moment, the Bill places the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament in a position over and above that afforded to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Robathan: It is not an issue of great concern to me, but it would be useful if the Minister told us when and by what means the Northern Ireland Assembly was consulted.

Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend makes a valid point.

The Minister said that the Northern Ireland Assembly has agreed that a memorandum of understanding is the vehicle by which it wishes to be consulted. If that is so, why is it not enshrined in the Bill? What is it about Northern Ireland that it does not get a look-in on the territorial responsibilities of the rest of the United Kingdom, whereas the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly do? I am not satisfied by the Minister's answers. I am sad that the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie was not inspired by the Government Front Bench but was a little expedition of his own. He is to be congratulated on the amendment, but would have been more warmly congratulated had he been here to move it.

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