Good Governance

Oral Answers to Questions — International Development – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 29th June 2005.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 11:30 am, 29th June 2005

What steps he is taking to ensure that UK aid rewards good governance in the developing world.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Deputy Chairman (Candidates), Conservative Party

What steps he is taking to ensure that UK aid rewards good governance in the developing world.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

Good governance is essential to reducing poverty, and we take account of governance in allocating UK aid. DFID is supporting action against corruption, the reform of public financial management and improved accountability and transparency, through, for example, the extractive industries transparency initiative. We are also assisting the African peer review mechanism.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State's suspension of the increase in aid to Ethiopia is a mark of his concern about governance there. It contrasts markedly with the Home Secretary's failure to make a similar gesture in response to concern about Zimbabwe. But in the event of a major humanitarian crisis involving famine and homelessness in Zimbabwe, how will the Secretary of State achieve the difficult balance of supporting those in need while not indirectly rewarding the perpetrator of the original injustice?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

We do that in Zimbabwe. In the past we have supported a programme of food aid, along with others in the international community. Following the disgraceful demolition of homes, which has cast people out on to the street in the cold, we have so far given $570,000 to the International Organisation for Migration and, most recently, to UNICEF, to provide practical assistance for those who have lost their homes. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we also have an HIV/AIDS programme in Zimbabwe, which we operate through non-governmental organisations and others. As he will also know, we do not give any financial assistance directly to the Zimbabwe Government.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay Deputy Chairman (Candidates), Conservative Party

May we have an absolute guarantee that in the case of a barbarous regime like Mugabe's in Zimbabwe, which is doing horrendous things to its people—as we see with the demolition of all those homes—all our financial aid goes only to NGOs, and nothing whatever is allowed to go to a Government who would politically manipulate aid to their own ends?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I am happy to give that assurance. We work through others. The case of Zimbabwe demonstrates that our concern for good governance is reflected in the decisions that we make through our aid programme about the way in which we give our support, but ultimately the fact that the people of a country have a rotten Government should not prevent them from receiving appropriate financial assistance, and we will continue to provide it.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill

Has my right hon. Friend had more time to consider last year's report from the International Development Committee, which referred to the Africa Commission's work on good government? In particular, has he noted the Committee's views on the Swedish model and its recommendation on systematic reporting to Parliament on these issues?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

My right hon. Friend has raised an important point. This is one step that we are taking: our agreements with aid partners, in which each side undertakes to make commitments, will now be displayed on the DFID website. That is our own act of transparency, showing people the basis on which we make decisions about aid.

The report adopted by the Swedish Government also reflects the importance of ensuring that all the steps that we are taking, involving aid, debt relief and trade, are consistent so that we can support development, including good governance.

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

Whilst it is enormously important to support good governance in developing countries, along with the building of integrity structures, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is time that the rich countries in the developed world stopped poaching medial staff from the developing world? Does he further agree with the chairman of the British Medical Association that the G8 ought to support a commitment to ensuring that the developing world is self-sufficient in medical staff?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

This is a very important issue, and my hon. Friend will be aware of the code of practice that the Department of Health has adopted, which has recently been extended, by agreement, to the private recruitment agencies. It is leading the world in saying that we will not recruit directly from developing countries, but we must recognise that the second step that we can take is to support developing countries in trying to address the causes of doctors, nurses and others leaving those countries and taking their skills elsewhere. As the House will know, those causes are principally poor pay, poor working conditions, and lack of opportunity for career and professional development. So what will really make a difference in the long term is the aid that we give to support developing countries in building their health services, paying their doctors and nurses more, and providing better working conditions, housing and the drugs with which to work.

Photo of Jeffrey M. Donaldson Jeffrey M. Donaldson Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

I recently attended a presentation in Northern Ireland on the report of the Commission for Africa. Some of the non-governmental organisations represented at that meeting expressed concern about the failure of international Governments to address the issue of education, even though targets have been set. Last year, I, like many other Members, visited schools to promote the objectives that the international community has set to improve education in developing countries. Can the Minister give us an update on what our Government are doing to ensure that education is a priority in the effort to improve governance in the continent of Africa, and in other developing parts of the world?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

The first thing that we are doing over the next three years is investing, bilaterally and through our contributions to multilateral development agencies, £1.4 billion in education. We are seeing some progress, including in Kenya, which has abolished school fees in the past couple of years. Kenya now has a million more children in school, and we helped to pay for that through our increased aid, with the support of other donors. That shows that such countries do want to make progress in tackling the obstacles that prevent children from attending school. But in Africa, more than 40 million children are not where they ought to be today—in a school classroom with a teacher and a desk. That makes the discussion in the run-up to the G8 and the increased aid to which Europe is now committed so important. It is a way in which—along with debt relief—we can provide very practical assistance, so that finance and education Ministers can be confident that they have the money they need to employ the teachers, build the classrooms and buy the textbooks, thereby getting those remaining children into school.

Photo of Piara S Khabra Piara S Khabra Labour, Ealing, Southall

Can the Secretary of State explain a little more about the criteria for good governance, and can he name a few of the countries to which he will apply those criteria?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

The criteria are first, that the money that we give in aid should go towards poverty reduction; secondly, that human rights and international obligations are upheld; and thirdly, that there is strong financial management and action on corruption. We write such conditions into our aid agreements. We have already discussed Ethiopia, and I have decided to hold back some of the budget support in respect of Uganda and Sierra Leone, because progress there has not been sufficiently great. We are also working in countries such as Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Zambia to provide practical support for the anti-corruption commissions, because tacking corruption is fundamental to good governance.

H

"We are also working in countries such as Nigeria, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Zambia to provide practical support for the anti-corruption commissions" - how very interesting.
Dynamics of colonialism, 'aid' being an aspect of it, cultivate corruption by using the colonial power to recognise those who collude and penalise those who oppose. Corruption in political and economic context spread out to engulf the whole system.

Submitted by Harrow Council for Justice (HCJ)

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

Does the Secretary of State accept that while everyone at Live8 in Edinburgh on Saturday and around the country will be wishing the British agenda every success at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, hard-working British taxpayers will insist that extra money for aid be spent precisely in the way intended, rather than being siphoned off—as has happened all too often in the past—into the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt African leaders?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I do indeed accept that British taxpayers and those attending the concert will want to be reassured on that issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Britain has, in truth, a pretty good record in this regard. We take decisions on the way in which we give our aid according to our assessment of the circumstances, and we are very vigorous in monitoring how that money is used. The hon. Gentleman will also recognise that there has to be a strong lead from the developing countries themselves. That is why I welcome the steps that Nigeria, for example—a country that has suffered grievously from corruption in the past—is now taking to bring those who are acting corruptly to book, and to reform the running of public finances.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Shadow Secretary of State (Home Office)

We all strongly agree with that. If we are to build on the good governance provisions first set up under the last Conservative Government by Chris Patten and Lynda Chalker, will the Secretary of State consider additional structural ways of promoting the audit, accountability and, above all, the transparency of aid spending so that taxpayers around the world, as well as poor people in Africa, can be reassured that aid funds are being well spent?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I agree: there is an obligation on all of us to be able to demonstrate to our constituencies and our own Parliaments, as we do in the UK, how our aid money is used. I am committed to transparency, but I am also committed to it on the part of our partners. That is why the UK launched the extractive industries transparency initiative, which is all about encouraging oil and mineral extracting companies to be open about the payments they make to developing country Governments, and encouraging those Governments subsequently to be open about the money that they receive. With that openness comes a better functioning democracy, because it means that people in developing countries can ask their Governments what they have done with the money.

Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we followed the advice of Conservative Members, we could end up removing aid from some of the most vulnerable people in the third world? If they really believe what they are telling us, perhaps they should appear in front of the conference centre housing the G8 conference with placards saying, "Make Poverty Permanent"!

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

I would say to my hon. Friend that we all want to make poverty reduction permanent. I believe that good governance is fundamental to making progress in reducing poverty. There is no question about that whatever, and we should all be in favour of transparency and openness about the way in which aid money is used. We are giving increased development assistance because we want to help developing countries, but progress will sometimes be fitful. In the end, we have to make a judgment about whether a country is moving in the right direction. That, in the end, should be the fundamental judgment that determines the aid that we give, and I hope that the Opposition will support that approach.

Photo of Andrew George Andrew George Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

While hectoring others on governance, will the Secretary of State reassure the House that Britain will itself sign up, and will encourage other G8 nations to sign up, to the United Nations convention against corruption? Will he also assure us that the Government's practices on arms sales will ensure that—in future, unlike at present—we do not provide arms to regimes in developing countries that are persistently abusing human rights?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

On arms sales, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Export Control Act 2002 provides a very strong framework, under which we take decisions based on the purpose for which the weapons will be used. If they are to be used for conflict or internal repression, we refuse licences. On the UN convention, we are committed to ratifying it, we have tightened up our money laundering legislation and we have given the UK courts jurisdiction over UK nationals who engage in bribery overseas. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 will allow for the speedier freezing of assets and we are now putting in place better arrangements to help developing countries to repatriate money that has been stolen from them. All those are indications of our commitment to act to tackle corruption.

Photo of Nick Palmer Nick Palmer Labour, Broxtowe

Does my right hon. Friend accept, as I think he will, that the issue is extremely complex? To anticipate today's Question 6, tabled by my hon. Friend David Taylor, does the Secretary of State agree that we also have to avoid imposing unreasonable restrictions on how the Governments of developing countries perform? What we are trying to do is to make them honest while respecting their right to independence. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for International Development

Yes, I do. When it comes to economic policy conditionality, the new policy document which I published in March makes it very clear that it is inappropriate for us to enforce particular policy choices. However, when it comes to human rights and good governance, I believe that it is right and proper—to ensure that our money is used for the proper purposes—to attach appropriate conditions. In the end, it is about getting the balance right and finding the right type of conditionality.