International Development Bill [Lords]

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Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 8, line 21, at end insert

    ` ``sustainable development'' has the meaning given in section 1.'.

The Opposition are trying to be helpful to the Government, as a definition is provided of ``sustainable development'' in clause 1(3). For a long time, much debate has taken place about the definition of sustainable development and it would certainly be helpful in relation to the interpretation of the Bill, and the work that it aims to do, to have that definition. I thought that it would be useful to include that in the list of interpretations in clause 17.

I have heard many debates on the Floor of the House in which an imprecision seemed to exist about the definition of sustainable development. Now that we have a definition, I thought that we should use it.

Hilary Benn: I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me for deploying what might seem an arcane argument in resisting what is clearly intended as a helpful amendment. In fact, the Bill does not seek to define ``sustainable development''. That is an important starting point for the argument.

Clause 1(3) states:

    ``For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) `sustainable development' includes''—

as the word ``includes'' suggests, that is not a definition. The clause is worded in that way for precisely the reason to which the hon. Lady referred in her brief opening remarks. There continues to be a wide debate about what sustainable development means and, in drafting the Bill, the Government were anxious to ensure that they did not allow that question of definition to be seized by those who took a particular environmental or economic perspective.

We have taken this approach because we recognise that it is a controversial term that gives rise to a lot of debate. We believe that poverty can be eliminated only through sustainable development, which clearly involves a range of economic, social and other environmental factors. The balance of those factors, however, must be determined in the context of the needs of the poor people that the assistance in question aims at meeting. It would not be appropriate for the clause to imply that the Bill defines sustainable development, because it does not seek to do so.

Norman Lamb: The lawyer in me—that was my role until 7 June—raises the same objection as the Minister has given. A meaning to the phrase is not given in clause 1, so it seems inappropriate to refer to one in this clause.

Mrs. Spelman: That is a shame. I thought that we were making some progress in defining the term. I thought that it was a good definition in that, if we were struggling to make the balance between the environmental and economic cases, it was a helpful approach to ask whether assistance would generate

    ``lasting benefits for the population''.

That is surely the acid test and something that most people, on whichever side of the argument they stand, can understand.

It is a shame that we have backed away from what I thought would be a defining moment in the development of the policy. If no one agrees completely on the meaning of the phrase, it is harder to have the debate. The phrase is bandied about a great deal in debate and conversation and people sound as if they know what they mean by it, but we are clearly not at the point when we can define it. I regret that, because the movement towards an interpretation of sustainable development would be practical in the context of the Bill. However, as it is not a definition in the eyes of the lawyers present, I understand that we cannot restate it in clause 17. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 and 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20

Short title, commencement and extent

Hilary Benn: I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 9, line 8, leave out subsection (6).

The amendment will remove the subsection on Lords privilege. I hope that it will give the Committee some satisfaction to know that we shall all have agreed to one amendment, albeit that it is a Government amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 20, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 5 agreed to.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Hilary Benn: I rise to thank you, Mr. Griffiths, for the way in which you and your co-Chairman, Mr. Amess, have chaired our deliberations. I am glad that it has been the kind of marathon that I can cope with and not the sort that you have obviously experienced. Indeed, following my remarks on the programme motion, I discovered that you once ran two marathons back to back on two consecutive days. That shows a commitment that I could not possibly match. We are very grateful for your guidance and support.

I take the opportunity to thank all members of the Committee for their contributions to our deliberations, for the manner in which the amendments were moved and for the nature of the discussions that we have had. I, for one, look forward to returning to some of them on Report.

Mrs. Spelman: I add my thanks to you, Mr. Griffiths, for your chairmanship, and I hope that you will extend my thanks to your co-Chairman, Mr. Amess, who was subjected to one of our protracted, albeit important, debates on clause 1, when we focused on the aims and objectives of the Bill.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park, who is not present, gave me cause for concern at the outset; to my astonishment, she described us as chums. However, the Committee has been conducted in a good spirit of co-operation, which proves that she was right and that it is possible to scrutinise legislation without unnecessary acrimony or point scoring. There was little of that, and our exchanges, including many contributions by Labour Back Benchers—I hope that they found them satisfying—allowed good discussion of all the issues.

Norman Lamb: This has been my first experience of a Standing Committee, and I can almost say that it has been a pleasurable experience. I add my thanks to you, Mr. Griffiths, for your chairmanship.

The Chairman: May I say, on running two marathons back to back, that the second one was much slower—unlike the Committee, which has consistently worked better and quicker as we moved through the Bill, such is its expertise.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to One o'clock. {**vert_rule**}

The following Members attended the Committee:
Griffiths, Mr. Win (Chairman)
Benn, Hilary
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs.
Knight, Mr. Jim
Lamb, Norman
Leigh, Mr.
Lewis, Dr. Julian
McKechin, Ann
Rosindell, Mr.
Ruane, Chris
Spelman, Mrs.
Stringer, Mr.
Tonge, Dr.
Turner, Mr. Dennis

 
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