International Development Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Spelman: We have no desire to make life any more difficult for British overseas territories than it already is. That would have been an unforeseen disadvantage of my attempt to simplify the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 17, in page 4, line 8, leave out subsection (4).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 18, in page 4, line 16, leave out subsection (6).

Mrs. Spelman: This is something that we are concerned about. International development is not a devolved responsibility, and we were a little surprised to find that the Bill required the Secretary of State to give consent to Scottish statutory bodies only with the approval of Scottish Ministers and to Welsh statutory bodies only with the approval of the National Assembly for Wales. We do not see the need for such a provision. It is not that we are opposed to devolution; it is here, and it is working for those areas for which devolved responsibility is agreed, but international development is not one of them. It seems to us to be devolution by stealth. It also, surely, increases the bureaucracy of providing assistance. I fail to see why a simple conversation cannot take place between the Secretary of State and the equivalent person in Wales or Scotland to clarify the benefit or otherwise of granting decisions on statutory bodies in those countries.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill): DFID has correctly identified development education as an essential part of its work. Development education affects the school curriculum, which affects the work of the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly. The Department carries out a great deal of development work. It is in active contact with schools and civic communities and forums. It holds forums, as the hon. Lady may be aware, throughout the country. As a result, it is involved with the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly. That is why the provisions were included.

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Mrs. Spelman: I am a bit surprised to hear that that is the purpose behind the provisions. I do not think that people reading them would immediately spot that. The provisions would create a wider power, under which a huge amount of approval seeking would have to go on. The purpose behind our amendment is to reduce rather than increase the amount of bureaucracy that surrounds the involvement of other statutory bodies in the provision of development assistance. We have spent a lot of time discussing how we want to make assistance more effective, ensure that it gets there quickly and is successful when it gets there.

We want to ensure that not too much time is spent pushing papers around before such assistance is given. For that reason, I remain rather unconvinced that subsection (4) should remain in the Bill. The education-related matters, such as what is expected under the national curriculum and how that is interpreted in Scotland, could be dealt with through the Department for Education and Skills. The provisions will open the floodgates to a huge amount of additional bureaucracy. The questions could be resolved by conversations that must in any case take place among the relevant Ministers in Wales and Scotland and the Secretary of State in England.

Hilary Benn: The hon. Lady is right that international relations and development assistance are, in general, reserved matters for the UK Government, but the issue, as the amendment demonstrates, is slightly more complicated than that. Schedule 5(7) of the Scotland Act 1998, which none of us have before us—so no one can gainsay what I am about to tell the Committee—clearly places competence with Scottish Ministers on matters relating to the provision of such assistance by Scottish bodies. That is because Scottish Ministers are responsible for ensuring that the bodies listed in schedule 1 of the Bill carry out their domestic duties effectively. How could they assure that when the bodies could, in an extreme case, have their attention diverted abroad at the behest of the Secretary of State for International Development?

By the same token, although there is no similar statutory provision in the Government of Wales Act 1998, the National Assembly has to be able to account for the activities of Welsh bodies. That is why clause 9 includes provisions safeguarding the interests of Scottish Ministers and of the National Assembly. As the hon. Lady acknowledges, the amendment would have the effect of removing the need for the Secretary of State to consult Scottish Ministers—or, as the case may be, the National Assembly—about activities undertaken under the Bill that relate to statutory bodies that fall within their jurisdiction. It would also remove the need for the devolved Administrations to determine whether the statutory bodies under their jurisdiction should be empowered to act under clause 9.

The amendment would therefore run counter to the spirit and the letter of the devolution settlements reflected in the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998. The affected provisions have been drafted to respect the settlements, because the Bill will provide for consultation and consent. Knowing what I do about devolution and the passion of many hon. Members for the subject, far be it from me to suggest that we interfere in the settlement by agreeing to the amendment.

Mr. Tom Clarke: That was a wonderful peroration, which almost persuaded me not to bother speaking at all. I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Minister said. This part of the Bill seeks to recognise the decentralisation that already takes place, of which I understand that we are all in favour. Were we not to recognise that, we would not accept that the Scotland Act 1998 ever happened.

The hon. Member for Meriden suggested that the Department for Education and Skills should have some say in how development education was conducted in Scotland.

Mrs. Spelman indicated dissent.

Mr. Clarke: That was my interpretation of what the hon. Lady said. If she did not mean that, what is the point of the amendment? The Bill is designed to confirm what already takes place under the 1998 Act.

Dr. Julian Lewis: If international development and the assistance given under the Bill is a reserved matter, it is a reserved matter—full stop; end of argument. If a Government tried to channel some international development assistance through bodies subservient to the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly, surely it would be for the Parliament and Assembly to decide whether they wanted those bodies to play a role in international development? Having decided that, they should not then be allowed to second-guess every time that the Government, with the reserved power in the Bill, wanted to channel some assistance through those bodies.

Mr. Clarke: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I find that argument disingenuous. It has been argued that charities and NGOs should have responsibilities, an argument that I have accepted, but we are not prepared to confirm—I emphasise that word—the responsibilities that the House has devolved to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. As we decided to devolve such matters, we have the right to take them back. That is not what is proposed in the Bill, which recognises the reality of the 1998 Acts on Scotland and Wales.

To say that we should simply confine all such matters to DFID was never the intention even of those who warmly support the Bill. No Department is more concerned about decentralisation than DFID. The existence of the Department's offices in East Kilbride are a wonderful example of job dispersal in the civil service, with wonderful work done there for the whole United Kingdom. The Department has warmly embraced decentralisation. To go back on that via the amendment would send the wrong message. It would be most unwelcome not only to Scotland but to the UK, which believes in decentralisation, believes that it is compatible with internationalism and believes that we should honour what was said when Parliament passed the Scotland Act 1998.

Norman Lamb: I must confess that I am not intimately acquainted with the statutory provisions to which the Minister referred a moment ago.

Hilary Benn: I am just acquainting myself with them.

Norman Lamb: It seems eminently sensible and appropriate that consent should be sought and given before such expenditure is undertaken, so I oppose the amendment.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Do Scottish and Welsh Conservatives support the proposals of the hon. Member for Meriden?

Mrs. Spelman: Of course I have spoken to both, but through the shadow Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales in conversations around the shadow Cabinet table.

To satisfy the concern of the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), there is no question but that we accept devolution. However, we see limits to it, and foreign affairs and international development are reserved matters. Our concern is that the clause departs from that principle, and the issue of development education in schools seems to be a tangential reason for opening that whole debate.

Hilary Benn: It might be helpful if I tell the Committee that schedule 5(7) to the Scotland Act 1998 is an exception to the general reservation of international development to the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Spelman: It is interesting that the Minister did not use the example of education in his defence for treating the Bill in this way. Someone mentioned realism, but the reality is that the majority of non-governmental organisations and charities operate on a UK-wide basis.

Mr. Tom Clarke: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Spelman: No. We have discussed the point at some length, but we shall just have to accept that we do not agree. For that reason, I shall press the amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 3, Noes 10.

Division No. 2]

AYES
Leigh, Mr. Edward Lewis, Dr. Julian
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline

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

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 10 to 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 17

Interpretation

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