International Development Bill

– in a Public Bill Committee am ar 13 Mawrth 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Mr. John Butterfill in the Chair]

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development 10:30, 13 Mawrth 2001

I beg to move,

That—

(1) during proceedings on the International Development Bill the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at five minutes to Ten o'clock and between half-past Two o'clock and Five o'clock.

(2) 4 sittings in all shall be allotted to the consideration of the Bill by the Committee;

(3) the proceedings on the Bill shall be taken in the following order, namely Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clauses 3 to 9, Schedule 2, Clauses 10 to 13, Schedule 3, Clauses 14 to 19, Schedules 4 and 5, Clause 20, Schedule 6, new Clauses, new Schedules.

(4) the proceedings on the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion at the 4th sitting at Five o'clock.

I look forward, Mr. Butterfill, to serving under your wise stewardship. I am a veteran in Committee, but this is the first time that I have had sole responsibility for steering a Bill through Committee. Last year, from mid-January until the end of June, I was continuously in Committee; at one point I was on three Committees simultaneously, each of them dealing with a major Bill. I could have walked down the Committee Corridor, and been made welcome in almost any Room. I thought that those days were past when I came to the Department for International Development, but again I find myself introducing a Bill in Committee.

This is a small but important Bill that entrenches in law the principles that underlie the Government's development programme. Its main purpose, set out in clause 1, is to provide a new core power to ensure that all future United Kingdom development assistance is used to reduce poverty and to enable sustainable development. We believe that the Bill will prevent a future Administration using development funds to serve short-term political or commercial ends, and, in particular, that it will prevent the tying of aid.

I am glad to say that the Bill appears to be uncontroversial, and I am grateful for the support that was expressed by both sides on Second Reading. It is also widely welcomed by those outside Parliament who take an interest in development issues. I therefore believe that the four sittings that were agreed upon after discussion through the usual channels will be more than adequate. I look forward to a constructive, civilised debate.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, Blaby

The Minister said how busy he was in his former life, and spoke about the importance of the Bill. I am not sure that we particularly need the Bill, but I agree that it deals with an important issue. The Department has been extremely supportive about another important issue—that of HIV-AIDS.

Four members of the Select Committee on International Development are also members of this Committee. The Select Committee is no longer able to clear its report for publication because it is now inquorate; the four members here today are unable to attend the Select Committee. Is it helpful to rush the Bill through when other important matters need to be discussed?

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

That is a matter for the usual channels. They have discussed the matter. We are here today as a result of that discussion. I cannot assist the Committee further on that point.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

I associate myself with the Minister's remarks, Mr. Butterfill. I am sure that it will be a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and I shall try not to give you and your co-Chairman too much trouble.

The Minister rightly said that the Opposition support the general thrust of the Bill. It is surprising, therefore, that the Government should have chosen to act as they did over the Bill's progress. The Bill was not included in the Queen's Speech; it was not considered sufficiently important. I am bitterly disappointed about that. The Bill is very much an afterthought because it was printed, a few months after the Queen's Speech, on 15 February 2001, and it received its Second Reading on Tuesday 6 March. That is indecent haste by any standards. I hope that the Minister will enlighten us about why it was left out of the Queen's Speech, why it was printed in such indecent haste and introduced so quickly.

In the good old days, even when there was an enormous Conservative majority in the House, there was a convention that two weekends would pass between Second Reading and Committee stage. I believe that all members of the Committee would recognise the advantages in that, except perhaps those who became Members of Parliament at the last general election. The pattern of scrutiny has changed dramatically under this Government. Those two weekends gave both Government and Opposition the opportunity to muster their forces and do their homework, something which is even more essential when a Bill is printed so late. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) pointed out that the International Development Committee is currently sitting but has become inquorate because some of its members are required to serve on this Standing Committee. That is alarming because I believe that the Select Committee was supposed to be scrutinising its major report on AIDS, which I mentioned in the House on Second Reading.

Photo of Ms Oona King Ms Oona King Llafur, Bethnal Green and Bow

It is only fair to point out that the International Development Committee requires only three members to be quorate, yet it has 11 members, so if it is inquorate, we have only ourselves to blame.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

That makes it even more dreadful because it means that the Labour Members of the Select Committee have not turned up.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, Blaby

As my colleague on the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Ms King), said, the Select Committee has 11 members. However, two Conservative Members of that Committee are here and the other Conservative Member chairs the Select Committee. There are two Labour Members of the Select Committee here and one other Labour Member there. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrat Member and four Labour Members seem to be absent at the moment.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for enlightening the Cttee on that. My point is made—more in sorrow than in anger, because I am not trying to be acrimonious.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Richmond Park

On a point of order, Mr. Butterfill. Is it really necessary for us to discuss the workings of the International Development Committee? I suggest that those are matters for the Select Committee, not for us. Hon. Members who are present in this Committee are anxious to get on and discuss the Bill.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill Ceidwadwyr, Bournemouth West

That is a matter for my discretion, in so far as it might be relevant to the motion before the Committee. My patience was being tried severely, and I hope that we will now return to the programming resolution.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

I would not want to raise your temperature so early in our proceedings, Mr. Butterfill. I had intended to make less of the point until I was courteous enough to give way to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow. The point was taken further in that intervention than I would have gone in making my argument. As I have said, I did not raise the point in a spirit of acrimony, but it is as well to put on record what has happened. I believe that the legislation will suffer as a result of the undue haste with which we have been catapulted into Standing Committee.

As will be seen from the pattern of voting throughout our proceedings, I do not intend to press Divisions on the main substance of the Bill. However, we have tabled amendments in a spirit of co-operation either to improve the legislation or to ensure that certain subjects are aired and put on the record. After all, we have not had a debate on international development since 1997. That is regretted by the Secretary of State, as well as by me and by Labour Members. I do not doubt that the Minister, although new to his post—where I am sure that he will do an admirable job—also regrets the absence of an opportunity to air matters where there is a spirit of commonality across the House. The House operates at its best when there is such agreement.

The amendments have, therefore, been prepared in haste—with great help from the Clerk of the Committee, whose role in framing them I should like to acknowledge—to get discussion going on important issues and to see whether the legislation can be improved. However arrogant the Government become—they have become particularly arrogant in the past 24 hours; I do not know why we are here as, under the motion that was passed last night, we could be deemed to have scrutinised this Bill, and it would not be necessary for us to be here at all—we genuinely hope that our suggestions will improve the legislation.

There is a further aspect to the legislation that the Minister may not fully appreciate, as he is new to the post. In the area of development there is a tradition of consultation, particularly with non-governmental organisations. The speed with which the Bill is being rushed through—especially the speed with which it has come to Standing Committee—has prevented many organisations from scrutinising what is, albeit small, an important piece of legislation. Size is not everything. When something is small, the devil is likely to be in the detail and in its interpretation.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Ceidwadwyr, Faversham and Mid Kent

My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Bill is intended to be important; it is the first such Bill for more than 20 years and it is intended, as the Minister has said, to tie the hands of succeeding Governments. It seems extraordinary that the huge group of NGOs on which so much of the delivery of our overseas development aid depends have had no time in which to comment upon a Bill that might restrict or constrain their behaviour during the next 20 years.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

I could not have put it better. My hon. Friend makes my point for me, and I hope that the Minister will respond in kind. He might have had the opportunity to consult, as might his colleagues, his predecessor, or the Secretary of State. However, it was a great surprise to us when the Bill was printed in February, having not been in the Queen's Speech. Whenever anyone gets hot under the collar in Westminster Hall, I am reminded that that is meant to be a venue where there is agreement across the Benches. If, as they often claim, the Government seek co-operation and agreement to parts of their programme, they could have handled this matter better.

To make matters worse, there is a David and Goliath situation in this Committee. There are serried ranks on the Government Benches, whereas on the Opposition Benches there are four redoubtable Conservatives and a Liberal Democrat. I think that there is a Liberal Democrat absentee, but that does not surprise me.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill Ceidwadwyr, Bournemouth West

Order. The hon. Lady is straying rather wide of the matter.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

I am sure that there is a lesson there for us all.

The Bill has been introduced as a fig leaf to cover the Government's embarrassment because there has not even been a debate on international development since 1997. They want to be able to say that, for the first time for 20 years, they have proposed legislation, which will cover a catalogue of examples of the Secretary of State being ignored by Cabinet colleagues. She has not had a look in; she has been brushed aside. She tried really hard to get an annual debate, but failed. The two White Papers have been a sop to the Secretary of State; we have not debated them on the Floor of the House. She can publish, publish, publish; she can publish and be damned; she will not get time on the Floor of the House.

The Programming Sub-Committee for the Bill, which was my first experience of such a Committee, can only be described as a constitutional farce. We turned up in a Room, without the advantage of our extremely valiant Hansard reporters who report the proceedings of Committees; we were kept waiting by the Minister, who was late; I believe that I am right in saying that the Chairman had not even received a copy of the Government programming motion; and we sat down and rubber-stamped what the Government wanted. That is not right, and, in his previous incarnations, the Minister would not have thought that that was right either. He was always a great champion of freedom in his days on the Opposition Benches and Government Back Benches, and I look to him for slightly better behaviour than that.

I shall not move an amendment to the motion, because I am using the time allotted for this debate to put our perspective on the record, but I want the Minister to think hard about what he is participating in. Given the Government's majority and the Opposition's attitude to the Bill, the Government have a prime opportunity to behave in a grown up and mature fashion in relation to an important piece of legislation, which, after all, is about people's lives. The Minister has missed that opportunity, and the whole process of scrutiny of the Bill will be much poorer as a result. My hon. Friends may want to add to what I have said, but at least I have had the opportunity to put on the record my disappointment in the Government's behaviour.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Richmond Park

I apologise, Mr. Butterfill, for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), but because of the vagaries of the electoral system, unlike the other two parties, we have only 47 Members of Parliament to cover the work of the House.

It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham talk about not having had an opportunity to debate the Bill. As usual, the official Opposition have wasted time complaining about not having time properly to debate a Bill. I appeal to them. This is an important issue and we are anxious to do something about development. We want to help; we do not want to waste time continually listening to such idiotic filibustering from the official Opposition. That has made me feel a lot better.

The Bill is excellent. One remarkable thing about it is that we have not had the usual paper storm from the NGOs suggesting various amendments from all directions. They are pretty good at scrutinising legislation, so it is a tribute to the Bill that we have not received such a storm of paper from them. I have little to add. I still feel strongly about some issues. I feel strongly about the position of the overseas territories, and question whether it is appropriate for the Department for International Development to deal with them, because in my understanding, they are part of the United Kingdom and should be dealt with by the appropriate UK Department. We shall come to that matter later.

We must consider how much the Treasury contributes to humanitarian aid. It is a sore point with me and, I suspect, DFID, that sometimes disasters created by NATO or the Ministry of Defence have to be mopped up by DFID. That deprives the third world and poor people of valuable resources. I hope that we shall debate that.

There are worries about tied aid, which is a mysterious subject that always seems to be avoided. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the Bill is intended to eliminate tied aid for ever. I doubt that it will, but we must try.

I welcome the Bill. I hope that it has the co-operation of all Departments. I shall stress the importance of such co-operation as long as I am in the House, because other Departments have so often undermined the work of DFID. I hope that we can now move the debate on in a spirit of co-operation. The issue is huge and emotive. Whenever we think that we are coming to grips with development and poverty, something, such as the AIDS epidemic, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Blaby, throws all the predictions awry. I hope that the official Opposition will take our debate completely seriously.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, Blaby

I shall be brief, because we should move on to the substance of the Bill. I am glad that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) now feels better.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, Blaby

The hon. Lady accuses people of idiotic filibustering, but I am sure that you would not allow that, Mr. Butterfill.

The Bill is small but important, which makes it all the more curious that the Government should wish to programme and restrict the time given to discussing it. Most hon. Members in the Committee spoke on Second Reading, which is not always the case. Committee members, especially Back Benchers, are often—[Interruption.] I could comment on what the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) should do about his gut, but never mind.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill Ceidwadwyr, Bournemouth West

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be provoked into comments of that nature.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, Blaby

My apologies, Mr. Butterfill, but I do not feel that I need any lessons in sartorial elegance from the hon. Member for Harrow, East.

Hon. Members on the Committee are generally those who take an interest in international development. We all want the Bill to be enacted as a good piece of legislation, which makes it all the more surprising that the Government should want to restrict debate and inflame passions by rushing the Bill through. The Minister has probably made speeches against programme motions—

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, Blaby

The Minister says not, but many of his colleagues have done. If we want the Bill to be enacted as good legislation, hon. Members from all parties should have the opportunity to scrutinise it carefully.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Ceidwadwyr, Faversham and Mid Kent

One of the features of the debate on Second Reading was that hon. Members from all parties raised serious issues on matters such as definitions and the sense of the sector-wide approach. The Bill is essentially non-controversial, as it is not a party matter, but a range of issues of extraordinary importance to international development was raised during that debate.

Photo of Andrew Robathan Andrew Robathan Ceidwadwyr, Blaby

Indeed. Hon. Members sometimes make cheap party political points on such matters, but our point is not party political. On Second Reading, there was general agreement, but some different and important points were raised, yet five and a half days afterwards, we have entered upon a rushed Committee stage. That is not the way to achieve good legislation. I shall not oppose the programme resolution, but the Minister should say why it has been necessary to deal with the Bill at such speed.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I think that I can assist with inquiries. Hon. Members should regard the Bill as a bonus. It is true that it was not in the Queen's Speech, but we seized an unexpected window of opportunity. I expect most people who take a serious interest in such matters to welcome that decision.

There is no need for people to be surprised by the Bill. It had a lengthy gestation. The 1997 White Paper committed the Government to consider the case for a new development Bill. The issue was debated in regional policy forums over two years and there was strong support for a Bill to place poverty reduction at the heart of United Kingdom development assistance. Extensive consultation has taken place with civil society and the development community. Officials have met representatives of the major NGOs to discuss the Bill and its implications for our development effort.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park, for whose contribution I am grateful, was right. We have not encountered a storm of paper from NGOs, demanding all sorts of changes, because all those with a serious interest have known for a long time what would happen. They knew that the Bill was on the cards and have been pressing for such a measure. They are happy that it has come to pass.

The reason we have not received many suggestions is probably general happiness about, and good will towards, the Bill, which I hope the official Opposition will share.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe Ceidwadwyr, Faversham and Mid Kent

I hope that the Minister will not become a tad complacent about the general welcome for the Bill. Several small organisations and consultancies, and some university departments, are deeply exercised about the effect of a move to a sector-wide approach on the operation of forward-looking or innovative small projects. That is just one aspect of the matter about which there is unease.

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development

I look forward to discussing that issue at the appropriate point in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is right; there are serious issues to discuss. However, the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham underestimates her ability, and that of her colleagues, if she thinks that the time available is not enough for proper scrutiny of the Bill. I repeat that it was agreed through the usual channels.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

The Minister seems to want to have his cake and eat it. It has been four years since the Government promised legislation. They could have presented the Bill at any time in those four years and at a much more suitable point in the legislative programme, when it would not have been rushed through with indecent haste.

The Minister has given himself away by saying that the Government grabbed a window of opportunity.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

They seized a window of opportunity. They plucked it out of the ether. What he said meant that, finally, the Secretary of State's Cabinet colleagues and the Government Whips woke up to the fact that little besides a publishing exercise had been accomplished with respect to international development, and the Bill is the result. At the 11th hour an important Bill is being presented, and its scrutiny is being rushed through in three days. That is regrettable. It is a great shame that something as significant as the Bill should have been introduced in the dying embers of a Parliament.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Llafur, Coatbridge and Chryston

The hon. Lady spoke very well on Second Reading, but I hope that she will forgive me for saying that, like many others who have been involved for a long time in international development, I have never heard such appalling sourness in a debate as I have this morning. I ask the hon. Lady in all candour whether she is preparing the Committee for the kind of undignified ambush that happened last week, which the House had to rectify this morning.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development)

I shall not dignify that intervention with a response. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. He has much more experience than I do of the subject. I hope very much to hear from Labour Members in Committee. They include people who have done work that I admire, with respect to international development. The Labour Benches will, sadly, probably remain silent, or make transitory comments, but, of course the Whip—

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill Ceidwadwyr, Bournemouth West

Order. The time for discussion of the programming resolution has now expired.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill Ceidwadwyr, Bournemouth West 11:00, 13 Mawrth 2001

I remind the Committee that there is a financial resolution connected to the Bill, copies of which are available in the Room. I should also remind the Committee that I and my co-Chairman will not normally accept starred amendments. Clause 1 Development Assistance