International Development Bill [Lords]

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Dr. Tonge: I am sorry, but this is beginning to sound like an episode of ``Yes Minister''. The Minister is using a very circumlocutory way of saying, ``We do not want the measure in the Bill because it will restrict us too much.'' If he cannot accept the wording, will he give us an assurance that a suitable phrase will be inserted on Report?

Hilary Benn: I do not think that I can. For the reasons that I am trying to give, it is hard to impose an obligation of joined-upness on the Government in legislation. I say that with all sincerity, and I understand the argument. Representatives of two of the other major parties are in the Committee, and I hope that a joined-up approach would be the policy of any future Government. As I am trying to explain, we shall not advance the cause that we all support by using a form of words that creates more difficulties than it solves.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Instead of the words ``promote a focus'', the Minister might accept the word ``emphasise''.

Hilary Benn: I am sure that that is a helpful suggestion, but, again, I foresee difficulties of interpretation. [Interruption.] Indeed, but the two interventions that I have just taken illustrate the difficulty of finding a legislative form of words that encapsulates our objective sufficiently succinctly and accurately, as I am trying to explain. On that basis, it is probably better not to write into the Bill provisions that will get us into difficulties further down the road. The Committee should accept the assurance that I hope I gave the hon. Member for Meriden that a joined-up approach is indeed Government policy and that we want it to be carried forward.

Mrs. Spelman: As the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, the problem with the Minister's reply is that it is based on current practice and the disposition of the present incumbents in post. For that reason I am not convinced about the annual report issue. There could be a difficult year in which it would not be so attractive to the Department to publish details of how it was faring against stated poverty reduction targets. We want to press the amendment to a Division.

10.45 am

I am prepared to accept that there may be a weakness in my drafting of new clause 1. I am sure that the Minister will accept that the task is difficult without the resources at the Government's disposal. While I shall not press the new clause, I am disappointed. The Minister has given examples of recent, better practice with respect to joined-up government. We have all been working in the spirit that has prevailed since 11 September, with everyone minded to co-operate. I have seen evidence of Government Departments working together as never before with respect to the war and the Afghan crisis, but we all know what human nature is like. Before we know it we may have slipped back into our old ways. Perhaps the good will that leads us to work together, in a more joined-up way, will not be so strong further down the road.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Division No. 1]

AYES
Leigh, Mr. Edward Lewis, Dr. Julian Rosindell, Mr. Andrew
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline Tonge, Dr. Jenny

NOES
Benn, Hilary Clarke, Mr. Tom Cunningham, Tony Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire Knight, Jim
McKechin, Ann Ruane, Chris Stringer, Mr. Graham Turner, Mr. Dennis

Question accordingly negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Development assistance for

British overseas territories

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

Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford): I apologise that I shall have to leave the Committee in a few moments. I have secured an Adjournment debate in Westminster Hall about Zimbabwe.

I want to make some brief remarks about clause 2, particularly about the overseas territories. I find it strange that we continue to treat the people of British overseas territories differently from those in the mainland of the United Kingdom. I do not believe that any hon. Members would want their constituencies to be treated differently from others, but we do that to the overseas territories. That is wrong, and the issue needs to be addressed, not only in the Bill but in Government policy in general. To suggest that overseas territories should be part of international development and that overseas aid should be given to, say, the Falkland Islands or Montserrat in the same way that we give aid to foreign countries, is wrong. It is wrong to lump them all together.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rosindell: Not at the moment.

I ask the Minister and the Government to reconsider their approach to dealing with people who are as British as all of us here today.

Jim Knight: I was not planning to say anything on the clause, but I am moved to speak in response to the hon. Gentleman's last few words. The clause clearly treats British overseas territories differently from other developing nations and makes an exception of them. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the British Overseas Territories Bill is currently going through Parliament. The hon. Gentleman can use the opportunity afforded to him by debates on that Bill to address whatever issues he wants relating to British overseas territories. That seems straightforward to me.

Hilary Benn: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) for raising the issue. As he will be aware, there are historical reasons for the nature of our relationship with the British overseas territories. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) has just pointed out, another piece of legislation is before Parliament which aims to change the position on UK citizenship for citizens of the British overseas territories.

The overseas territories are a disparate group of countries. They range from those with a very high per capita GDP to those that are developing countries—or, to be more accurate, developing overseas territories—in every sense. I accept, and it is reflected in the Department for International Development's policy, that the overseas territories wish to take greater responsibility for their own affairs. When I recently attended the annual meeting of the overseas territories consultative council, that was a clear feature of the remarks made by the territories' representatives. They want to have greater responsibility for governing themselves and to take decisions about their own future.

We wish to support that, but in the context of our continuing assistance, which has to take account of the varying circumstances among the territories. Some have every possibility of economic development and self-sustaining success, while others have very little possibility of that. The Bill will allow the British Government to have regard to particular circumstances in making decisions on assistance. I hope that that is helpful.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Humanitarian assistance

Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 8, after `assistance', insert—

    `and, where necessary the means for reconstruction,'.

We will try to be helpful this morning in moving quite quickly through the clauses. We are conscious that the debate on clause 1 was extensive and covered a wide range of issues. It is my intention to focus on our amendments.

The amendment is important and topical. It aims to allow the Secretary of State to provide the means for reconstruction following natural or man-made disasters or other emergencies in addition to providing general assistance immediately following such an emergency. Reconstruction is becoming an increasingly common need following disasters and conflicts. We want to make the ability to provide for such reconstruction explicit in the Bill. Countries that have recently required reconstruction include East Timor, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Following the conflict in Afghanistan, there is a clear need for reconstruction, which will require assistance and resources from the outside world. It is now estimated that that reconstruction may cost up to $30 billion. I am concerned about how that money will be provided. We should not get into a position in which the new Afghan Government have to borrow so much money from the World Bank for reconstruction that they end up with unpayable debts. Many aspects are in need of urgent attention, including the rebuilding of the infrastructure—or, indeed, the provision of infrastructure. We are becoming aware that Afghanistan has little infrastructure in place. An integral part of that will be the establishment of a broad-based Government, on which subject we hope for some success in Bonn today.

We are concerned that without explicit mention of reconstruction in the Bill, provision for the means of reconstruction may be neglected. Reconstruction obviously takes a long time—probably beyond the short-term memory of the disaster. The amendment would ensure that the fine words spoken and the promises made to countries that face man-made or natural disasters are borne out in practice, especially as reconstruction may take a long time.

Dr. Tonge: When I first read the amendment, I was struck with shock and horror. There is no question that reconstruction is needed after natural and man-made disasters, but man-made disasters are usually the result of war. The Balkans, East Timor and Afghanistan are good examples of that. I agree that huge reconstruction is usually needed; and I wonder where is the Marshall plan for the Balkans that we heard so much about during the Kosovo war.

During the Kosovo war, I constantly questioned which budget would be used to pay for reconstruction. If a country is damaged as a result of military action, is it right to expect the Department for International Development, which should be focusing on the relief of poverty and on sustainable development, to offer assistance with reconstruction after something that it could be argued was the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office?

I have great reservations about the amendment. I cannot support it because reconstruction costs should clearly be paid from another budget than that of DFID, which should have as its emphasis the relief of poverty.

 
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