International Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:48 pm on 1st July 1997.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury 7:48 pm, 1st July 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bethnal Green anti Bow (Ms King) on a truly first-class maiden speech. It was pertinent and relevant and everyone who heard it will remember it for a long time. It says much for the thriving abilities of the House of Commons that Members such as her come to us. Among hon. Members' greatest concerns as we go around our constituencies is the feeling that too many people have become disillusioned with contemporary politics. Her presence, and that of many other new Members, can only augur well for the well-being of Westminster as a whole.

The whole House will want to thank the Secretary of State and the business managers for giving us the opportunity to debate international development policies. All too often, we have a debate once a White Paper has been published, not before. I appreciate the Secretary of State's difficulties. I am sure that she arrived in her Department and was confronted with a budget of which—for perfectly good reasons which we all understand—more and more is taken each year for multilateral projects and aid. There is nothing wrong with multilateral aid. There is much that is good about it, but it requires some fairly strong scrutiny and means that the scope for United Kingdom bilateral aid is more limited. One appreciates the tension created by that scope being shrunk.

As the Under—Secretary of State for International Development said yesterday, the first calls on the bilateral aid programme are the dependent territories. We are seeing that clearly in what is having to happen in Montserrat. There cannot be a scintilla of criticism for what the Department of International Development or the West Indian and Atlantic department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is doing in Montserrat. I am sure that everyone is doing all that can be done. Some of the comments in the press today were less than fair.

Anyone who has been fortunate enough to visit Montserrat, as I did when I was a Minister, recognises that the logistics of that island are difficult. One has a great understanding of the difficulties that the Government face in this predicament. It must be difficult to decide whether to rebuild Montserrat or to relocate people. I have no doubt that, in due course, those on the Treasury Bench will explain to the House, having consulted the people and the Government of Montserrat, what they intend to do. One appreciates that countries such as Montserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands and others take up a substantial part of the bilateral aid budget.

I understand why the Government want to have a look at how international development money is spent, but I am concerned that in the process we may not include the private sector sufficiently. Around the world there is much that United Kingdom industry, technology and science can, and do, offer to the developing world. It was impressive to see the Cairo waste water project undertaken by Thames Water and others, with some help from the Overseas Development Administration. Many such first-class projects around the world have brought water, electricity and power to thousand of millions of people who would not have had them without the contribution of United Kingdom know-how and technology.

As Oxfam says in the briefing paper that it has sent to all Members of Parliament: In the modern globalised economy, the economic success of any country depends heavily on trade and on the investment it can attract. We have to involve the private sector. I noticed that Magnus Linklater, in his article in The Times a few days ago, said:

The future of development depends on investment from the private sector as much as it dots on Government aid. The Third World needs British goods, technology, experience, management techniques and long-term assistance. It is more efficient and effective than anything a non-governmental organisation can provide. I do not want to get hung up on whether we should have the aid and trade provision in its existing form. It is included in forward public spending plans for the next three years. I hope that the Government's White Paper will make clear the role that they see for the United Kingdom private sector in our development projects and ensure that it has a role to play.

As other hon. Members have said, there has been a fundamental review of ODA expenditure. The main report was published as recently as July 1995. It concluded that ATP had a useful purpose and said:

Given the signs that the Helsinki disciplines are reducing demand, and that the quality of ATP projects since the 1993 reforms is no different from that of bilateral country programmes as a whole, there is little case for winding up the scheme. I was slightly surprised, therefore, by the Secretary of State's recent comments to the House in oral questions and I hope that she can explain them to the House. She said: we are reviewing the aid and trade provision. There is much evidence that it is neither developmentally nor commercially beneficial. I am not sure what that evidence is or where it comes from. She went on to say: I am sure that Conservative Members would not want to featherbed the inefficiency of British companies by a sort of backward-looking tying of minor parts of the aid programme when all the evidence and research undertaken by my Department and the OECD shows that it encourages inefficiency and damages the developmental quality of aid projects."—[Officicial Report, 25 June 1997; Vol. 296, c. 830–31.] But many, if not all—so far as I know—such projects have been first-class examples of United Kingdom industry and technology. It would help the House if we had some understanding of the way in which the Secretary of State felt that such projects had failed. Certainly no one wishes to featherbed inefficient United Kingdom industry—far from it—but I hope that we can find a mechanism in the development programme for involving the best of British industry and technology.

I understand that the Secretary of State is due to make a speech next week on the aid and trade provision. I hope that the potential of British industry can be widely promulgated. Some superb parts of the United Kingdom industry are apprehensive and feel that it is being signalled that their contribution to the developing world is suspect.

The aid and trade provision is overshadowed by the long debate over Pergau. Pergau was an exceptional circumstance and has proved to be very much a one-off. No other project has attracted that sort of criticism. Many other projects to which the private sector has contributed in recent decades have made a long and enduring contribution in the countries in which the investment was made. It would be a tragedy if we minimalised the contribution that United Kingdom industry, technology and exporters can make, in partnership with the Department of International Development and others, to helping the economies of developing countries. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Government will make it clear that there are ways in which the best of British industry, technology and science can continue to make an enduring contribution to development aid and that they do not intend to squeeze out the private sector or marginalise it. It would be a great pity if that happened.