International Development Bill [HL]

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 25th October 2001.

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Clause 1 [Development assistance]:

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative 3:31 pm, 25th October 2001

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert "Subject to section (Restriction on the provision of assistance),"

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, the difference between this House and a harbour is that, in a harbour, anyone sailing a ship has to wait for the tide to come in before the ship can be brought over the bar. In this House, one has to wait for the tide to go out to the Bar before one can put any business before the House. I am moved to entertain noble Lords in a similar fashion for a moment or two longer in order that the substance of what I have to say should not be lost in the movement of those not concerned with its content.

In moving Amendment No. 1, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 2, which is grouped with it. I am deeply obliged to the Chief Whip for his guidance in this matter, which should not have been necessary. Amendment No. 2 is the substantive amendment, the effects of which I shall remind your Lordships in a moment. Before I do so, I should tell the House that my noble friend Lady Cox, in whose name Amendment No. 2 is tabled, has to be away from Westminster at a time which may fall before the House decides what should be done with the amendment. Because only the mover of an amendment has a right to reply to the debate, my noble friend has asked me to move the amendment and it is my privilege so to do. I cannot pretend to speak with anything like the authority of my noble friend on this or any other humanitarian matter, but I shall attempt clearly to put the issues before noble Lords. Before my noble friend leaves the Chamber, she will tell noble Lords whether I have got them right.

The situation is this. The Bill before the House seeks to confer on the Secretary of State the power to give development assistance to institutions and governments outside this country. In the past that assistance has consisted, and will in the future consist, of very substantial amounts of money, as well as other forms of aid. Therefore it is a matter on which both Parliament as a whole and the taxpayers of this country have a legitimate interest. The effect of Amendment No. 2 would be to deprive the Secretary of State of the power to give aid to certain organisations; namely, those which use coercive methods to achieve policies of population limitation.

In the past and, under the Bill as drafted, in the future, money and aid could be given to a large number of bodies. Among those are the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population Fund. The amount which in recent years has been given fairly regularly to the Planned Parenthood Association is £5 million per year. In the calendar year 1999, that aid amounted to £5,883,000. When she joins the debate, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, will be able to confirm that in her reply.

Before I continue, I take it that the noble Baroness will be replying to our debates.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I think that I can help the House at this point. In moving the Motion for Third Reading on behalf of my noble friend Lady Amos, I should tell the House that she is unable to attend the House today because she is presently in Zimbabwe, along with other Commonwealth representatives. I am sure that the House will approve of her visit to Zimbabwe, since noble Lords have always demonstrated their keen interest in matters associated with that country.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for explaining that he is to reply to our debates. In this case, I think that the word "she" should embrace the word "he".

In his response the Minister will be able to confirm, first, whether that sum was the correct amount and, secondly, what restrictions were placed on a proportion of it. I should like to know what proportion of the funds was unrestricted and what proportion was restricted. That answer will be important because the association's published accounts show clearly that last year it, in its turn, provided funds to a body called the China Family Planning Association, an organisation run by officials of the Chinese state. The association placed no constraints whatever on how the money should be used. In a moment I shall tell noble Lords how that money was used.

The Minister can also tell the House on what terms we paid our rather larger subscription, if I may call it that, of about £15 million to the other organisation, the United Nations Population Fund, which confusingly uses an acronym which derives from an earlier title, UNFPA. On what proportion of that money did the Government place restrictions, and with what result? The UN Population Fund also publishes annual accounts. Those accounts show that it, in turn, provided funding to the State Family Planning Commission of China, which is a part of the Chinese Government. How did the commission use that money?

Both the China Family Planning Association and the State Family Planning Commission of China are agents for the implementation--or rather, I should say the enforcement--of a stated policy of the Chinese Government, which is to stabilise the population of China at its present level. The achievement of that goal, allowing for existing natural mortality rates, would require an average birth rate of 2.1 live births per couple. However, enforcement is not equally successful everywhere and the result is that where officials do have control they opt for far more stringent targets to make up for those areas where they do not have control. In large areas of China, and I believe also in Tibet, officials enforce what we have come to call a one-child policy, and pursue it with a savage ferocity.

The UNFPA claims that it neither uses nor condones coercion. During the debate on Report last week, the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, appeared to have accepted the association's protestations. She stated that:

"The areas where UNFPA works have seen the abolition of birth quotas, evidence of a shift from administratively-oriented family planning services to client-oriented services, and ... a decrease in induced abortion rates".--[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 730.]

I find it rather hideous to have to welcome a decrease in the rate of compulsorily induced abortion, but there it is. That comment was made for our comfort.

We are not the only legislature to be deeply concerned about what is going on in China. In the United States, in spite of the disruption caused by anthrax attacks, a Congressional hearing has been receiving evidence which squarely rebuts the UNFPA's claims not to be complicit in coercion, and its claim of reforming China's population control programme.

An investigation conducted last month in areas where UNFPA is currently active in China found that:

"UNFPA's claims are false ... Within counties where the UNFPA is active ... contrary to UNFPA claims, the one-child policy, with its attendant targets and quotas, is still in place ... there is no real distinction between the one-child policy as carried out in the 32 counties where the UNFPA is active and the one-child policy found throughout China as a whole. The UNFPA, contrary to its own statements, is participating in the management and support of a program of forced abortion and forced sterilization in China".

That confirms earlier US State Department findings. I wonder whether the Minister, on behalf of the Government, still feels able to dispute them. Zhang Weiging, the Minister of China's State Family Planning Commission, was reported in the IPPF News on 3rd November last as saying that China intends to continue to control the growth of population.

It is clear, is it not, that, despite 20 years of UNFPA involvement in China, nothing has changed. May one ask why? It is an immensely well-funded organisation. Last year alone, our Government, acting on behalf of us, gave it £47 million of our money. The UNFPA spends millions annually in China. So it is certainly not for lack of experience or money that it has not eliminated coercion from the Chinese policy. Whatever its words, its deeds are in support of China's coercive one-child policy.

Amnesty International reported as recently as 1999 that,

"women must sign personal birth limitation contracts...The contracts indicate that contraception is compulsory and that abortion is the only remedy in the case of unauthorised pregnancies".

The second body I mentioned, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, IPPF, has also been closely involved in the one-child policy for almost as long as the policy has existed. This has been through its member organisation, the Chinese Family Planning Association, China FPA. There is very little difference between IPPF and China FPA. IPPF is a federation of member organisations and China FPA has been an IPPF member for 18 years. Only a political philosopher could make a distinction between China FPA and the Chinese Government as regards policy. It has been run by Chinese Government officials since its creation in 1980.

When China FPA was created, the official communique announcing its creation stated clearly:

"The association will implement government population control policies".

In a 1993 report, China FPA admitted that it had,

"participated and supervised that the awarding and punishing policies relating to family planning were properly executed".

IPPF itself has admitted that China FPA,

"volunteers sometimes collect the occasional fine when a couple break the birth plan rules".

An astonishing understatement.

What does enforcement involve? I quote Dr John Aird, the former senior research specialist on China of the United States Bureau of the Census, who calculates that between 1971 and 1985 alone there were roughly 100 million coercive birth control "operations", including forced sterilisation and forced abortions. Neither the UNFPA nor China FPA, supported as they were by British money, is moderating this policy.

On the contrary, on 25th September last, the BBC reported an editorial in the People's Daily, the Communist Party's official paper, which said:

"We cannot just be content with current success, we must make population control a permanent policy".

In March this year, Amnesty International reported that in China even children are not safe from state violence and that family planning officials get away with torturing parents who flout the policy. Yesterday, I read of one case where a mother, who had committed the dreadful crime of becoming pregnant for a second time, sought to escape compulsory abortion by running away from home and not telling a single soul where she had gone. Unfortunately, the officials in charge of the policy did not believe that she had not told a single soul where she had gone and they arrested her husband and tortured him. He was eventually released. Being under a cloud of terror, he went to the authorities again to swear his ignorance of her whereabouts. He was re-arrested and tortured, and as a result he died.

On 25th February 2000, another branch of the United States Government, the Department of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, published a report on human rights practices in China which concluded, among other things:

"According to the latest figures...the number of children abandoned each year is approximately 1.7 million".

It referred to a particular orphanage, with well-paid staff and a brand-new facility, where it was reported that,

"the mortality for children under 2 approached 100%, even for those infants who entered in fair health".

These are horrifying facts.

Noble Lords who saw the television programme The Dying Room will know why I cannot bring before the House the true facts of how some of those orphanages are conducted. They are not fit for repetition in this Chamber. It is for your Lordships to decide whether this kind of practice--that we, through our Government, have been supporting--should be countenanced, let alone paid for.

I understand that it is possible for a Minister to put his hand on his heart and say, "This is something we shall never do again", but the fact is that these organisations have been supported by governments of both colours over a number of years. Therefore this is not a party issue. The Government have, after all, set their hand to the task of defending human rights throughout the world. It is difficult to say whether they were led or followed in the matter by the Liberal Democrat Party when they espoused that policy. My own party undertook in its latest manifesto that, while supporting education and access to family planning practices, we would in no way countenance compulsion to do so. I intended to have the manifesto in my hand, but I am certain that that is an accurate paraphrase. I have it here. It is an accurate paraphrase.

I should say in conclusion that the initiative for this substantive amendment sprang from my noble friend Lady Young before she fell ill. Noble Lords will know from a letter which she sent to many Members of the House that she is warmly in support of the substantive amendment. I hope that your Lordships will also support the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Carter Lord Carter Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Lords Chief Whip (HM Household) 3:45 pm, 25th October 2001

My Lords, before we proceed with the debate and in order to avoid confusion, the noble Lord said that he was moving Amendment No. 1 and speaking to Amendment No. 2. He then said that he would be moving Amendment No. 2. There is, of course, no need for that because the amendments are in a single group. The decision on Amendment No. 1, which is a paving amendment, will cover Amendment No. 2. So there is only one debate to be held.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, that is a great relief. I thought it was understood. I am rather alarmed to discover that I have managed to put confusion in the noble Lord's mind on such a simple matter. The main matter is complex. I beg your Lordships, if you are in doubt, to ask questions. I do have a right to reply.

Photo of Baroness Cox Baroness Cox Conservative

My Lords, I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing these amendments so effectively, helpfully and comprehensively. In speaking to them, I shall not repeat the arguments made by my noble friend, nor those that I made at Report stage, which all demonstrate that these amendments are designed simply to prevent government funds and taxpayers' money from being used to finance coercive policies of forced abortion and sterilisation. My noble friend Lord Elton has given an indication of exactly what such policies mean in terms of human suffering.

I should like, first, to make a general point. Attention has focused on China and it may be a matter of some concern to noble Lords whether or not these amendments would affect trade or diplomatic relations with China. The categorical answer is that they would not; they are very specific amendments.

In replying for the Government last week, the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, were less than convincing. For example, the noble Baroness claimed that the organisations receiving British money were "forces for positive change". But there is much evidence to challenge that interpretation. For example, the United States Congress International Relations Committee is conducting hearings into,

"Coercive Population Control in China: New Evidence of Forced Abortion & Forced Sterilisation".

The evidence indicates that organisations receiving United Kingdom funding remain heavily implicated in coercive population control.

The divergence in approach between the United States and United Kingdom administrations is very notable. Whereas the United States conclusions are based upon testimony and evidence submitted to various committees of Congress over a number of years--and, indeed, very recently--neither House in this country, to my knowledge, has seen fit to investigate the extent of our Government's involvement in supporting persons or bodies engaged in coercive population control.

The question must therefore arise as to what evidence leads the Government to their conclusion that,

"United Kingdom assistance for sexual and reproductive health anywhere in the world is provided in support of the principles of free and informed choice", and that they are,

"totally opposed to any kind of coercion in matters relating to childbearing".

Where is the evidence underpinning such assertions?

It is essential to highlight once again the issues that are at stake. My noble friend indicated them, but they bear repetition. Programmes of coercive population control, supported by HMG funding, are not only associated with forced abortions and sterilisations. They have other side-effects, including: the placing of thousands of children in the kinds of orphanages and institutions described by my noble friend leading to their premature death; infanticide of baby girls; a distorted demographic structure; and psychological ill-effects on over-protected single male children--well documented in research on what is termed "young emperor syndrome". These are the very serious results of the policy supported by the Government.

The second argument behind the Government's unwillingness to support the amendments appeared to arise from a concern that they would impede the Government's efforts to eradicate poverty. The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, said during the Report stage last Thursday:

"embedding current policies and priorities in legislation could restrict our ability to make the most effective contribution possible to the elimination of poverty and to the welfare of people".--[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 730.]

I hope that I am as deeply committed as the Government are to the elimination of poverty and to welfare, but that is a non sequitur in this debate. The argument is misleading. As the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, admitted last Thursday, the amendments are designed solely to prohibit assistance to those organisations or individuals that promote or practise "coercive" population control policies. The amendments in no way hinder those organisations or individuals involved in the fight against poverty. They would not prevent funding for abortion or family planning services; nor would they prevent the Government from giving funding to providers of those services so long as they are not complicit in coercion.

Sadly, it is demonstrably clear that organisations funded by Her Majesty's Government remain complicit in promoting and practising coercive population control policies. The amendments seek to end such funding--and only such funding. They enshrine respect for human rights and provide the Chinese Government with an opportunity to improve their family planning programme to meet internationally agreed standards. They also provide our own Government with an opportunity to demonstrate their self-avowed commitment to an ethical foreign policy.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who have spoken to the amendment so eloquently and effectively.

As the noble Lord reminded us, the amendment has its genesis in an amendment tabled at Committee stage by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. I supported the amendment then and am happy to do so again today. Perhaps I may associate myself with remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in connection with the health of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Many Members from other parts of the House will join with friends of the noble Baroness in wishing her a swift recovery to full health. We want to see her back in her place taking part in our debates very soon.

In Committee I suggested a simple test for the amendment. Would we permit such policies or practices to take place here, and, if not, what on earth were we doing funding them in other parts of the world? Following that debate and my Unstarred Question on the issue in July, I was grateful to the BBC for transmitting a report from Beijing highlighting the way in which the "one child policy", as it was described by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, targets little girls. I am grateful to the corporation for the moving footage that it showed of the brave Chinese woman who had rescued five new-born baby girls who had been dumped on the local garbage heap because their parents were in breach of the "one child" quota. Sadly, that same woman said that she had to leave behind many others.

We understand the good reasons why the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, cannot be present today, and acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will be most effective in dealing with the Government's arguments in her place. At earlier stages of the Bill, the noble Baroness set out five arguments in total as to why the amendment should be resisted. Perhaps I may summarise them.

The first concerned free choice. The noble Baroness said that the Government are totally opposed to any kind of coercion in matters relating to childbearing. I doubt whether anyone in this House would disagree. The second and third arguments suggested that, by working from within, we should somehow be changing policies with which we disagreed. The noble Baroness specifically said that the IPPF and UNFPA could act as forces for positive change. The fourth argument was that, because some good is being done, we could be relaxed about policies of which we disapprove, with particular regard to China. The final argument was that if we accepted the proposed amendments,

"embedding current policies and priorities in legislation [we] could restrict our ability to make the most effective contribution possible to the elimination of poverty and to the welfare of people".--[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 730.]

It is proper to address those arguments, which have run through all stages of the Bill.

In the United States, the same arguments have been put. But our American allies have reached conclusions that are diametrically opposed to those of Her Majesty's Government. Their decision to end all funding of what they describe as brutal and inhumane policies of coercion is one that we have a chance to emulate today. It is my belief that we should redeploy the resources that are currently used for such policies into the humanitarian relief programmes that are so desperately needed in places such as Afghanistan. Although my remarks are made with regard to the continuing human rights abuses in China, the amendment applies more widely, wherever UK government funding is complicit in coercive population control.

As I said, the Government place great stock on bilateral human rights dialogue with China and on the role of the UNFPA and the IPPF as positive forces for change. During the debate on my Unstarred Question on 18th July, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, illustrated the problem. The noble Lord asked:

"Has China been persuaded to live up to the standards of the UN covenants it has signed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights? Has China been persuaded to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama? Has it given Tibet real control over its own affairs? Has China's persecution of Tibetans and the suppression of their traditional culture and religion ended? Has the boy designated as the Panchen Lama been produced? ... The answer on all counts is a resounding 'No'".--[Official Report, 18/7/01; col. 1559.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, admitted on behalf of the Government that the human rights situation in China "remains bleak" and the process of dialogue,

"has achieved little in terms of promoting positive change in Tibet and on the freedom of religion and the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners".--[Official Report, 18/7/01; col. 1575.]

So, by the Government's own admission, the bilateral human rights dialogue with China is failing to curb widespread and appalling human rights abuses.

Looking more specifically at population control in China, up-to-date evidence suggests that the UNFPA and the IPPF, which together receive about £20 million in unrestricted government grants each year, are not only failing to prevent coercive population control but are implicated in the coercive practices of the Chinese state family planning organisations.

Only last week, the United States Congress International Relations Committee held a hearing into,

"Coercive Population Control in China: New Evidence of Forced Abortion and Forced Sterilisation".

Perhaps I may say in parenthesis that I have been disappointed that the International Development Select Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in another place have never examined these policies in the detail with which they have been examined in Congress. Nor has any Select Committee in this place. If nothing else comes out of our debates during the course of the Bill, we fervently hope that one of those committees will do as the United States has done and call evidence on these questions.

The US committee heard last week that in January 1998 the UNFPA signed a four-year agreement with Beijing. Under it, the UNFPA would operate in 32 counties throughout China. In each of those counties the central local authorities agreed that there would be no coercion and no birth quotas and that abortion would not be promoted as a method of family planning. Indeed, when I spoke to the Secretary of State, Ms Clare Short, about this issue some three years ago, she pointed to that project and said that we must wait and see what happened there. She said that it might well denote a change in the attitude of the Chinese administration.

Yet after hearing last week first-hand testimony from one of those counties, Henry Hyde, the chairman of the House of Congress International Relations Committee, concluded,

"that, after three years, the new arrangement is not working".

That directly contradicts the Government's arguments that we must give the UNFPA and the IPPF more time and that somehow they might then be able to act as positive forces for change and that assistance given is based upon principles of free and informed choice. None of those arguments stands up to scrutiny; they simply are not true.

First-hand testimony of the persistence of coercive population control in areas in China where the UNFPA operates, and, indeed, the collusion of the UNFPA in such coercion, was provided to the committee on international relations by Josephine Guy, the director of governmental affairs of America 21. Her investigation in China began as recently as 27th September of this year. The evidence she uncovered cannot therefore be dismissed as out-of-date, rather it demonstrates the continuing horrors of coercive population control which we aid and abet through continued funding of the UNFPA and the IPPF. I shall provide your Lordships with some examples.

On 27th September, Guy's team interviewed women in a family planning clinic about a mile from the county office of the UNFPA. They interviewed a 19 year-old who told them that she was too young to be pregnant according to the unbending family planning policy. While she was receiving a non-voluntary abortion in an adjacent room, her friends pleaded that she be allowed to keep the baby. However, they were told that there was no choice as the law forbade that. At another location a woman testified to that same group--this evidence was also presented to the committee last week--that she became pregnant despite an earlier attempt by family planning officials forcibly to sterilise her. That attempt failed. She became pregnant again and was forcibly sterilised a second time. She told Guy's team that had she refused, family planning crews would have torn her house down. The House will recall that in Committee I provided evidence of that happening on a regular and systematic basis in many parts of China.

Josephine Guy was also told of the non-voluntary use of IUDs and mandatory examination so that family planning officials could ensure that women had not removed IUDs in violation of policy. Fines and imprisonment for contravening family planning policy are commonplace and, according to Harry Wu, the executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, who also gave evidence to the committee, local officials acting upon government orders still strictly enforce quotas.

We should be absolutely clear that the Chinese Government remain firmly committed to the need for coercion in family planning. The Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji, said on 13th October 1999 that,

"China will continue to enforce its effective family planning policy in the new century in order to create a favourable environment for further development".

In its White Paper on population, released on 19th December 2000, the People's Republic of China avowed to continue the one-child policy for another 50 years. The CFPA, which is run by government officials with the declared aim to "implement government population polices", is, of course, a full member of the IPPF whom we fund.

The UNFPA is highly implicated in the Chinese Government's coercive programme and yet continues to receive millions of pounds of UK taxpayers' money. Josephine Guy's team graphically illustrate the extent of collusion between the UNFPA and Chinese family planning officials. Following last month's investigations they concluded that,

"Through discrete contact made with local officials, we located the County Government Building. Within this building, we located the Office of Family Planning. And within the Office of Family Planning, we located the UNFPA office. Through local officials, we learned the UNFPA works in and through this Office of Family Planning. We photographed the UNFPA office desk, which faces--in fact touches--a desk of the Chinese Office of Family Planning".

The US based Population Research Institute (PRI) has stated:

"UNFPA's claims are false ... Within counties where the UNFPA is active ... contrary to UNFPA claims, the one-child policy, with its attendant targets and quotas, is still in place ... there is no real distinction between the one-child policy as carried out in the 32 counties where the UNFPA is active and the one-child policy found throughout China as a whole. The UNFPA, contrary to its own statements, is participating in the management and support of a program of forced abortion and forced sterilisation in China".

That PRI investigation took place in September of this year.

Furthermore, these claims are not unsubstantiated. The US State Department has reported that three years of UNFPA's programme has met only with what is called "mixed" success, with some counties having made "relatively little" progress while others have not begun to eliminate strict birth control quotas.

The amendments before the House today would not stop funding for abortion or family planning services. Many noble Lords will be aware of my personal views on some of these questions and they will have their own views. I should make it abundantly clear that those are not the issue before the House today. The amendment would stop government funding only where there is evidence of coercion. In addition, the amendments are not anti-China but would assist China as it strives to meet its international obligations. If UNFPA funding was stopped, the Chinese would be given a clear signal that if it is to resume coercion must cease.

I fail to see how the amendments would prejudice the Government's fight to eliminate or to eradicate poverty. There are plenty of organisations in the world involved in the fight against poverty that are not complicit in coercion and there is no reason why funding for those should cease. It is simply scaremongering to suggest otherwise. It is complacent to say, "We do not approve of coercion but there is nothing we can realistically do about it", or, "We are in sympathy with your views but this is not the way to do it". If it is not the way to do it, the House is entitled to be told what is the way to do it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Amos, conceded the purpose behind the amendments on Report last week when she said that they,

"would require the Secretary of State not to provide assistance to any organisations or individuals who were involved in promoting or practising coercive population policies".--[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 729.]

She was right. That is all that these amendments seek to do. That is their straightforward intent. A coercive policy is in direct contradiction of the Government's stated aim that assistance should be provided based upon principles of free and informed choice. The Government's "softly, softly" approach to the Chinese is not working; rather it allows a conspiracy of silence to persist where, as Henry Hyde said in Congress last week,

"coercion is cloaked behind the rhetoric of voluntarism, shielded from criticism by yet another international seal of approval".

China is the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. The draconian way in which this policy is enforced is an affront to civilised values. It is a disgrace that we continue to aid and abet those policies. I urge your Lordships to support these amendments and help to end the brutal violation of women's rights.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative 4:00 pm, 25th October 2001

My Lords, I wish briefly to support these amendments. I do so in spite of the fact that for many years I regarded excessive population as one of the principal causes of poverty, as impeding human progress and sometimes even as being a cause of war. Indeed, in the 1970s I tabled a Motion in the other House, supported by Members of all parties and carried by more than half the Members of the other House, calling upon the Government to control the population of the United Kingdom.

So far as China is concerned, I have a grandson who up to last July had spent 10 months at Beijing University and thought that China was a wonderful place and the Chinese civilised and delightful people. He learned Mandarin Chinese. But their policy for controlling population seems to me not only inhuman and uncivilised, but also probably unnecessary. There are various ways in which people can be dissuaded from having excessive families. Some married couples fail to have any family at all, and that is tragic for them. It so happens, for reasons that I need not go into, that I was an only child and very happy, and my parents were very happy. But we really cannot persuade the people of the United Kingdom, our taxpayers, to support the coercive policy that is being carried out in such an inhuman way in China. Therefore I think that these amendments are important.

I wish to join with the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, in the tribute that he paid to my noble friend Lady Young. I join with him in expressing the hope that she will recover.

Photo of Lord Monson Lord Monson Crossbench

My Lords, I am broadly sympathetic to the arguments advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and my noble friend Lord Alton in particular in relation to China and, above all, in relation to Tibet. It seems to me that the Tibetans are in serious danger of seeing their culture and their race gradually exterminated over the years as a result of these policies. It is slow genocide.

However, I am worried by the inclusion of the word "financial" in paragraph (2) of Amendment No. 2. If a country, for example India, promises substantial financial grants or tax rebates to couples who practise strict birth control but denies such financial assistance to impoverished peasants who refuse to limit the size of their families, could not that be construed as intimidation of a financial kind? It is the one matter which worries me about the amendment. I hope that the sponsors of the amendment will be able to answer it satisfactorily.

Photo of Lord Hayhoe Lord Hayhoe Conservative

My Lords, having listened to the five speeches supportive of the amendment, I wish to add my small contribution.

Surely it is wholly repugnant to all noble Lords that British taxpayers' money should be used to support coercive population control policies of either forced abortion or forced sterilisation. It is a simple, straightforward, clear proposition. That is what the amendment is about. It seems to me that those who oppose the amendment for one reason or another will lay themselves open at least to the charge that they are implicitly supporting such repugnant policies. Therefore it is important that the House should express its view clearly on this matter. Politicians are criticised continually for weasel words, clever drafting and fudged activity. We are in a position to be quite clear and unfudged by supporting the amendments. I trust that the House will do so.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, when the Minister replies, will he be kind enough to tell the House whether coercive population control would be legal in this country? If it would not be legal, why should our taxpayers' money be used to fund it elsewhere in the world?

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 25th October 2001

My Lords, on these Benches we support the sentiments expressed in the amendments. It would be strange not to find coercive abortion an abhorrent practice. I speak as someone who is awaiting the birth of a second child in February.

However, I cannot support the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hayhoe, that those who question the amendments support coercive abortion. I do not believe that it is DfID's policy to support coercive abortion. The UNFPA and the IPPF work in 150 countries. They do extremely worthwhile work. Their work is welcomed and is valuable for people in developing countries who wish to plan their own families. It is often forgotten that in developing countries--for example, Malawi and Mozambique--women have too many children far too quickly because they do not have the ability and understanding to limit their families.

I do not support paragraph (2) of Amendment No. 2. Although I understand why the amendments were drafted in that way, in particular in the context of China, the justifications could be used by those in many countries who oppose family planning--a large lobby does so on moral and conscientious grounds--to bring about a possible judicial review of DfID's action and support of family planning. This is the danger area that we on these Benches are considering. It is not that we support the policy within China. The most important way of bringing about population control is through education and especially through literacy among women.

Therefore, although we find shocking the stories raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and support the sentiments underlying the amendment, we do not support the amendments. However, I support wholeheartedly the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that this issue should be discussed by the Select Committee on International Development in another place. I very much hope that in giving his reply the Minister can reiterate most strongly that coercive abortion has no place within DfID's policy.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative

My Lords, I fully support the remarks of my noble friends Lord Renton, Lord Hayhoe and Lord Swinfen. I also add our good wishes to my noble friend Lady Young and regret that she is not with us today. We wish her a speedy recovery.

I should like to reiterate the last paragraph that I stated in Committee.

"We want women in developing countries to have the best possible access to birth control and family planning. We also believe that all people should be free to decide the size of their own family. However, we will not support any policies or agencies that practise coercive abortion".--[Official Report, 16/7/01; col. 1328.]

I support the amendment.

Photo of Lord Stallard Lord Stallard Labour

My Lords, I add my support for the amendment. The speeches have covered all the issues.

I am concerned, as are many ordinary folk, that the Government claim to have a policy opposing compulsory abortion and sterilisation; and yet the Government continue to make funds available to organisations which hand over a proportion of the funds to the Chinese Government to continue the policy that has been outlined today.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, noble Lords have referred to the contribution made to these debates in the past by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I very much wish to be associated with wishing her a speedy recovery.

There is a surprising amount of agreement to be found among those who support the amendments and those who, like myself, will ask the House to resist the amendments. I shall try to explain some of those points. However, I need to explain the consequences of the amendments if passed.

The concerns expressed by noble Lords are well known. They are expressed with great sincerity and passion as indeed they were at earlier stages of the Bill. We have had a long, detailed analysis of the Bill. The various clauses have been rigorously tested. This issue has been dealt with at all stages--in Committee, on Report and now at Third Reading. I am slowly becoming used to the procedures of your Lordships' House and no one can say that the procedures are not rigorous. We have considered these issues on three occasions; it is right that we should because they are very important. However, the amendment would make it impossible for the Secretary of State to provide assistance to bodies that were working with countries to try to reform their coercive population policies.

China was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the noble Lords, Lord Elton, Lord Alton and others. The net cast by the amendment would be so wide that the Department for International Development would be unable to provide support in any country in the world through a body that had anything to do with improving reproductive health care in China. We could not support the UNFPA or the IPPF in any way.

That matter has been aired during the passage of this Bill. I need hardly repeat the words of my noble friend Lady Amos in Committee when she said:

"UK assistance for all family planning is provided in line with the principles of free and informed choice upheld at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. The Government are totally opposed to any kind of coercion in matters related to childbearing."

She went on to emphasise:

"The Government disagree with China's one child policy".

I am sure that all noble Lords expect me to say that, so I am doing so slowly and deliberately. Those who have contributed to the debate have spelt out some of the dreadful practices. There is no disagreement about our concern about those policies. My noble friend said:

"The Government disagree with China's one child policy and do not support it. Coercion should have no place in family planning.".--[Official Report, 16/7/01; col. 1341.]

We stand firmly by our view that the work of UNFPA has had a clearly beneficial effect in China. In areas in which UNFPA works, birth quotas have been abolished and there has been evidence of a movement away from a preoccupation with meeting targets and towards improving the quality of information and services, and choice of family planning methods that are available to people. There has also been a decrease in induced abortion rates. We do not believe that these changes would have taken place without the engagement in China of the UNFPA.

Birth quotas and targets have been abolished in 47 counties in China as a result of UNFPA involvement.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but may I ask when that happened? That fact has been denied by a number of organisations.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I can only refer to the number of counties. I would list them if I could pronounce them, but the evidence is there.

I should say, too, that in June this year a review of the UNFPA's programme in China--this is important in view of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale--by UNFPA's executive board, including those from the United Kingdom, other EU countries, the USA and developing countries, concluded that the UNFPA is playing an important role in fostering change in China.

The latest human rights report on China, which was issued by the United States State Department, notes progress in this area and shows higher public awareness of UNFPA's programme and the elimination of birth quotas in the counties in which UNFPA is working.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative

My Lords, with regard to the 47 counties, what percentage of China is that? Are we talking about, say, half the parish council of Scunthorpe or the whole of China?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, my pronunciation is not too good and neither is my maths, so I cannot give the noble Lord an immediate answer. It is clearly a substantial number. The crucial point is not so much the number but the fact that UNFPA's involvement produces significant improvements in all the areas that have been raised in the debate.

We stand by our support for those bodies. Indeed, we are convinced that it is essential to maintain the ability of bodies such as UNFPA to engage in policy dialogue with countries where reform is so much needed, as in China. No one denies that coercion takes place in China. The point is that reform and change will take time. UNFPA's engagement in the process is an important force in promoting that change.

To undermine UNFPA's work would be to seriously damage the ability of the international community to protect the reproductive rights of women around the world. UNFPA's work means that many millions of women are able to choose when to have children and to deliver them more safely. The fund also supports a wide programme of activities to tackle maternal mortality through the training of midwives. It supports female education and equips health facilities with drugs and essential supplies.

Another aspect to which I should refer briefly is that the amendment would also damage the vital global effort against the spread of HIV and AIDS. UNFPA works at present on HIV and AIDS in about 140 countries world wide, and spends about a quarter of its budget on HIV prevention activities. The United Kingdom's support for all those activities would come to a halt if the amendment were accepted.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, as one of the proposers of the amendment, I ask him to look at Amendment No. 2, which refers to

"any form of coercion in relation to those said activities".

If the Government were to accept the principle of the amendment and perhaps add a codicil stating that it related only to abortion and the forced sterilisation of women, that would be a great advance. It would also address the point that he has just made about HIV, which is not covered by the amendment.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, the amendment needs to be dealt with as it stands. Its effect would be as I have described, which I have done as accurately as possible. In the light of my remarks, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elton will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he be kind enough to answer my question? Is coercive population control legal in this country? If not, why should taxpayers' money be spent on that practice overseas?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, that is precisely my point. Of course it is illegal in this country. We are totally opposed to it wherever it occurs. The effect of the amendment would be to make it more difficult to assist in those countries where this form of coercion takes place.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 4:30 pm, 25th October 2001

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, does he accept that his advice to the House on this occasion has been based on rather general evidence? It contrasts quite strongly with the evidence given by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has made a powerful case based on experience in the United States. Is it possible for the department to present a detailed reply, whatever the outcome of the vote?

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, the information provided by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, was powerful--but it was powerful in spelling out the consequences of a coercive policy, to which the Government, like everyone else, are totally opposed. The position of the United States is not that different in crucial respects. The United States still funds the UNFPA. This year it increased its funding from 25 million dollars to 39 million dollars. Again, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, before the Minister turns into a yo-yo, I congratulate him on my first encounter with him at the Dispatch Box and thank him for doing an honest job of trying to make a circle into a square.

The Minister has told us that 47 counties have done away with birth quotas, although neither he nor we know what small percentage of the surface of Chinese soil that represents. The continued failure of the UNFPA to moderate China's coercive policy was exposed only last month, when the US-based Population Research Institute sent a team to observe China's so-called voluntary programme and interview women and officials in the counties where the UNFPA is active. The institute found the statements to be misleading, because, although the quotas were said to be removed, the policy persisted.

In March this year, a report entitled Torture in China--a growing scourge in China: Time for action said:

"Numerous public reports from China indicate that local annual birth quotas still play a prominent part in the policy, upheld by stiff penalties as well as rewards. Whilst exceptions have recently been made in some municipalities,"--

I take it that that means counties--

"pregnancy without permission and so 'outside the plan' may still be punished by heavy fines and dismissal. Officials may also be demoted, fired or fined for failing to uphold the plan and quotas".

I must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, that a fine is economic coercion, but a grant is an economic inducement. The amendment is aimed at coercion and fines. The policy ought to be aimed at grants and inducements. The report goes on:

"With pressure to perform, and popular opposition to enforcement, officials continue to resort to violence, torture and ill-treatment including physically coerced abortions and sterilisations. In recently publicised cases, some officials who have engaged in extreme violence have received only suspended sentences".

I must give your Lordships one more example to bring into the focus of actuality what we are talking about. We are not talking about mere statistics. Hearing of 1 million children being abandoned is so horrific that one cannot take it into cognisance. Let us look at a report about one child:

"Public outrage and reports to local newspapers disclosed the brutal battering and killing of a new born 'out of plan' baby by birth control officials in Caidian village, Hubei Province"-- how nice it would have been to know if it was in one of the counties referred to by the Minister--

"on 15th August 2000.

Liu Juyu, a former medical practitioner, reportedly rescued the baby boy from the cess pit of a men's public toilet behind the village government offices. Liu took the baby to the local clinic to remove his umbilical cord and administer vaccination. Liu was reportedly feeding the baby on her doorstep when 5 birth control officials approached, grabbed the baby and threw him on the ground. In front of several witnesses, they reportedly kicked the baby repeatedly as he convulsed on the ground, then took him away to a paddy field where they drowned him, witnessed by other villagers".

That is not fantasy; it is the Amnesty International report of March this year. It fills us with outrage and compassion. This is what the Government's money is being directed to support, whatever the Minister says.

Noble Lords:

Nonsense.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, it is no good saying "nonsense". The annual reports and accounts of these organisations show that the money goes to those two bodies, which are the effective arms for enforcement of that policy. It is there for Deloitte and Touche or anyone else to go and illuminate. Our simple request is that there should be in statute a disincentive for the Government to subscribe to that. The Minister has said that the amendment would prevent good bodies from doing good work elsewhere in the world. They can remove that disability themselves by ceasing to support the policy in China.

It is not a small thing that I am asking your Lordships to do. If there is any defect in the drafting of the amendment, your Lordships should remember that we are the first House to scrutinise the Bill. I am minded to divide the House and I hope that the Government will be forced to accept the amendment. When they bring the Bill to the other place in its new form, the representatives of the taxpayers who are paying the money that the Government are giving away will have their say and I very much hope that they support your Lordships.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not-Contents, 149.

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — International Development Bill [HL]

Aye: 65 Members of the House of Lords

No: 147 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Clause 20 [Short title, commencement and extent]:

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 4:47 pm, 25th October 2001

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 9, line 2, at end insert--

"( ) The Secretary of State may not appoint a date under subsection (2) until a bill to give effect to the Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions is introduced into either House of Parliament."

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 3 tabled in my name. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, to the Dispatch Box today for, I believe, the first time on a Bill. Your Lordships will be aware that we discussed this issue in Committee and then again on Report. Therefore, I do not intend to keep the House long on this matter. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for his kind words, if not support, during the Report stage. I also thank my noble friend the Duke of Montrose for his support.

This is an important and serious matter, and the Government have failed to act as swiftly as we and others would wish in implementing the agreement that they made on the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. The amendment tabled today varies from those which I tabled in Committee and on Report in a significant way which I hope will help the Minister to concede and agree to my amendment.

As I said previously, the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials has been ratified by the UK Government but has yet to pass into UK law. The Minister said:

"We are committed to introducing legislation that will give effect to that convention".

However, she went on to say:

"I am unable at this stage to say when that legislation will be introduced".--[Official Report, 18/10/01; col. 740.]

I press this matter because in Committee the Minister was quite emphatic that a Bill would be introduced in this Session of Parliament. She said:

"I am therefore pleased that the Government have confirmed that a criminal justice Bill containing provisions that demonstrate our compliance with the OECD convention will be introduced into Parliament in the current Session".--[Official Report, 16/7/01; col. 1349.]

I have only one question for the Minister. Is he able to tell us now whether his Government will introduce a criminal justice Bill which will breathe life into the dead words of our commitment to the convention?

On page 198 of its report, Global Corruption Report 2001, Transparency International said:

"In the UK, the government will soon submit to parliament new legislation that will specifically apply to bribery of foreign public officials".

How much longer will it have to wait?

We support the Bill. We believe that the Government are moving in the right direction. Nevertheless, we believe that the war on corruption is equally important. Although our amendment seeks to delay the Bill, the means, in this case, justify the end. Our amendment would halt implementation of the Bill unless or until a Bill to give effect to the Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions is introduced. My previous amendment referred to enactment of legislation. The amendment before us today will shorten any delay to implementation of the Bill, and I hope that that will gain the support of the Minister.

Corruption is hindering British business and the environment, and it is hurting those whom we seek to protect--the poor and the disadvantaged. In its conclusion, Transparency International's global report states:

"Overall, the results of the two years of monitoring are very encouraging. To ensure a level playing field for companies from all states that are party to the Convention, it is important that the remaining countries ratify and adopt implementing legislation as soon as possible".

Our amendment would enable that to happen with greater urgency. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Thomson of Monifieth Lord Thomson of Monifieth Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Transparency International. I have been pressing this matter on the Government for some years. I very much welcome the noble Baroness's approach to the Bill and the way in which she has presented her case and I wholly support the thrust of her remarks. I am not sure, I am bound to tell her, that I approve of the amendment's text. It is not a wise course to seek to delay this very important Bill over this matter. Nevertheless, this matter is of great importance. The delays from the government side have done the Government unnecessary discredit for quite a long time now. When the Minister responds, I hope that he will give a positive reply.

Photo of Lord Redesdale Lord Redesdale Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we support the amendment's aims. My one reservation was expressed by my noble friend. My problem with the amendment is that it uses the word "introduced", which implies not that the legislation should be enacted but that during this Session it should be introduced. I have been put in the enviable position of directing whether we support the amendment or the Government, depending on the Minister's response. I very much hope that the Minister, who is on his first outing on this Bill, will give a sufficiently strong reply to sway these Benches.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, it is wrong to make such a big fuss about what I call "big corruption". Big corruption is a division of surplus among the elite--how much ministers get from multinational corporations. It is very bad and rightly should be abolished but, so far as the poor are concerned, it happens at the top, not at the bottom. To stop the Bill for that purpose is frivolous.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, for being generous to me on my debut at the Third Reading of a Bill in this House. The procedures are a lot simpler in the other place--a debate on general principles is much more straightforward than dealing with detailed amendments, as we are doing this afternoon.

As the noble Baroness said, this issue has been raised on previous occasions. I appreciate the fact that the revised wording softens the amendment and makes it rather more flexible. However, as was made clear by my noble friend Lady Amos on Report, our view very much remains that the ability of the Secretary of State to provide effective assistance under the Bill should not be dependent on the passage of other legislation.

We strongly support the views of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on the importance of legislation to deal with corruption. I have been asked by the Liberal Democrat Benches to do something that I am sure they know in their hearts would be extraordinarily difficult for me to do. I have been around in politics long enough to know that the progress of government legislation is dependent on figures such as the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip both in this House and in the other place. I know my place, and it is not for me to spell out precisely the way in which the legislative programme will run.

In response to the points that were made by the noble Baroness, there was a crucial difference between our debate in Committee and on Report because, as we all recall, the debate in Committee occurred before the Summer Recess and what happened between the Committee stage and the Report stage were the horrendous events in the United States on 11th September. Pressure on the legislative programme has increased significantly as a result of the urgent need to introduce emergency anti-terrorism legislation. The proposal to introduce such legislation--but not, of course, its detail--has been broadly supported in both Houses and by both Opposition parties in both Houses. The Bill will enable us to continue our efforts to fight corruption in all its forms in developing countries. On Report, my noble friend Lady Amos made clear the Government's commitment to fighting bribery and corruption in developing countries and she provided examples of the work that had been done by the Department for International Development.

In our White Paper, Making Globalisation Work for the Poor, we made clear our commitment to tackling corruption. Corruption hurts the poorest people most severely. It diverts public services from those who need them and it strangles private sector investment and growth. World Bank analysis shows that a corrupt country is likely to lose about half a percentage point of gross domestic product per year compared with a relatively uncorrupt country.

DfID supports those countries that are determined to tackle corruption seriously through a wide range of governance reform programmes, which often include specific anti-corruption measures. DfID's country strategy papers assess the extent of corruption in the country concerned, its government's commitment to tackling the problem and DfID's potential role in supporting anti-corruption programmes.

I want very briefly to mention two or three examples. We are supporting national anti-corruption strategies, which often include the establishment of anti-corruption agencies, in Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and a number of other countries. We are strengthening public sector capacity for budget and financial management in countries such as Bangladesh, Ghana and Nepal. We are helping governments in Uganda, Jamaica, Malawi and South Africa, among other countries, to improve their procurement, accounting and audit functions and to reform their civil service management. We are also giving support to strengthen the legal sector, including the judiciary, in India, Malawi and Uganda. The total committed by DfID to bilateral projects that contribute towards governmental reform is running at about £350 million annually.

Now that this Bill is nearing its conclusion, I repeat that there has been tremendous, reassuring support from all sections of the House for the Bill. The Government greatly appreciate the support that they have received. It has been scrutinised properly and neither the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, nor the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, have let us off the hook. In view of the widespread support within the House for the implementation of this Bill at the earliest opportunity, and reinforcing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that we need to have it on the statute book and to deal with the other problem as well, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, for his partial support. Perhaps I was not clear enough for the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. This convention has been passed and ratified; but it has not been incorporated into UK legislation, and that is what worries us.

On these Benches, we have pressed for this point at all stages of the Bill. We feel that the UK should implement the OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials, which has been ratified. As the Government feel unable to accept the amendment, or to give us a date for the criminal justice Bill, I shall have to seek the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 55; Not-Contents, 107.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — International Development Bill [HL]

Aye: 53 Members of the House of Lords

No: 105 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip) 5:11 pm, 25th October 2001

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Grocott)

Photo of Lord Howe of Aberavon Lord Howe of Aberavon Conservative

My Lords, I begin by saying, for the reassurance of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, as much as for the reassurance of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that my unaccustomed appearance at this unusual point in the proceedings is not intended to pose any serious threat to the Bill's passage.

I want to add my expressions of sympathy and encouragement to my noble friend Lady Young, whose birthday it was yesterday and to whom we all wish a swift recovery hereafter.

I intervene because this is an opportunity to re-express, and indeed to reaffirm, an anxiety that I share with others about what may be one of the unintended consequences of the shift in posture, implied in the Bill's passage, towards the priorities for the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I say "reaffirm" because our anxieties have already been expressed in representations to Ministers, by myself in writing on more than one occasion, and by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, who is unable to be here now, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth.

If I may be allowed to do so, on behalf of all three of us, I declare a common interest because we are all trustees of the Thomson Foundation, which exists to promote instruction and understanding of the principles of journalism and the free press around the world. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is the acting chairman of that trust. I declare an additional interest as president of the Great Britain China Centre.

The point arises from the continuance or non-continuance of a programme of instruction in the principles of journalism which the Thomson Foundation has been running, in concert with some help from Her Majesty's Government, for a number of years. Indeed, it started during my time as Secretary of State in the Foreign Office. I was encouraged then to give it help by my noble friend Lord Campbell, who came with the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, to make representations to me. It is a programme whose very existence at one time would have seemed very remarkable--that, over the years, we should be giving help, in concert with Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, in instruction in the principles of objective journalism. The programme looked in danger of foundering, as colleagues will understand, at the time of Tiananmen square. None the less, it has continued.

The anxieties arose at the beginning of this year when, in a letter written on 26th January from DfID to the Thomson Foundation, it was said, by way of warning about the prospect of continuing the programme:

"It is not clear that further support to this programme will have the desired poverty focus".

My anxiety is that undue concentration on that particular focus could lead to the reduction or elimination of programmes that are otherwise extremely desirable. The very same letter said that DfID was expressing that view,

"although we are pleased with the project's outcomes to date".

Here we have a good project of long standing, which nevertheless has not yet secured assurance of continuing support after many years of pursuing it.

Since then, my noble friend Lord Campbell and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, who is here to speak for himself, have made representations about this point. I received a long letter from the Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, reaffirming the Department's negative posture. We have continued to pursue the point basically because it seems to us that although the relief of poverty must, of course, be an aspect of the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards a country such as China, as are the matters that we were discussing in relation to the previous amendment to the Bill, so also is what we can do to help to promote good governance. Colleagues will know that we have been running a number of programmes, in which the Prime Minister himself has taken part, promoting an understanding of the rule of law in China. Those are being financed by another part of the Government's programme.

Our anxiety is that the unduly strict application by DfID of the poverty focus, which is understandable, is jeopardising programmes that have other justifications in the promotion of good governance, which is equally important for the promotion of sustainable development in these countries. That anxiety spills over into other areas, because there seems to be a lack of consistency in what is happening on this front. Some cases of exactly this kind have received help in a new form from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights fund; for example, in Namibia and Belarus, Thomson Foundation programmes are still running, with money coming from a different pocket. In another case, programmes have been run in Georgia for some time, but diminuendo, largely because our ambassador in Georgia was himself in charge of the Know-How Fund, and knew how to have access to those funds to sustain the programmes.

Finally, the Department itself is financing programmes of that kind in some places. In Sierra Leone, for understandable reasons, the Thomson Foundation has its largest DfID contract. It is required to carry out the promotion of media integrity in that country, as part of what is known as the reconstruction of civil society. For another example of the links between press freedom and good governance, one has only to look at Zimbabwe, where it is so manifest that economic stability is linked to good governance and that one aspect of good, or bad, governance is the intolerance of press freedom.

There is no argument in principle between any of us. In principle, we all want those programmes to be maintained. My anxiety, and this is not a political point, is the division between the Overseas Development Administration, as it used to be, and the FCO. In my days in that office, the two were part of one all-embracing organisation, and joined-up government was quite easy. I had only to chat to my noble friend Lady Chalker, my last colleague in that post, to resolve a problem under one umbrella, as it were. The departments have since been divided and there may be a lack of integration between the two.

None of this angst is intended and I should like to refer to an observation made by the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, in the Second Reading debate in this House. She said:

"[The Bill] does not place any constraint on the types of activities or on the particular organisations or funds that a Secretary of State can support ... Nor does the Bill constrain the Secretary of State to support only activities and organisations that tackle poverty directly".--[Official Report, 2/7/01; col. 703.]

Most recently when I raised the issue with the Foreign Secretary in a letter of 10th July, I secured the following response in a letter from him of 24th July:

"Encouraging the process of positive change in China, including better human rights, is a central element in the Government's overall strategy towards China. I regret, however, that I cannot yet give you a specific answer on the future funding of the Thompson Foundation programme. My officials are meeting with their DfID counterparts shortly to discuss this".

That is the unresolved question about which we have anxieties not just in this case but because it may reveal an inadvertent shortcoming in the way in which things are being managed.

Perhaps I may sum up my concern in a couple of sentences. A programme for the funding of journalism training in China, which has been running for many years, may now be discontinued. I believe that such an outcome would send a profoundly wrong signal to the Chinese at a time when signs of increasing liberalisation, of course within relatively narrow limits, of their press and media are moving forward hopefully, albeit slowly.

The link between that kind of progress and other economic and social changes which are calculated not only to alleviate poverty but to promote an improvement in human rights is surely hard to dispute. And both those propositions are important aspects of British foreign policy towards China. One would like to be reassured that discontinuity will not arise because of some interdepartmental glitch, or whatever. All the objectives are good and we want to see them being maintained.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, I believe that all noble Lords will want to thank Ministers for the understanding way in which they responded to the points put to them during earlier deliberations on the Bill. It is particularly good today to see my noble friend Lord Grocott at the Dispatch Box. He and I have known each other for many years and I hope he will not be embarrassed if I say that it is another example of the right person in the right place. I know that his commitment to these issues has been strong throughout his political career.

I shall not surprise the Front Bench if I say that I remain a little agnostic about the Bill. I am not altogether convinced about what it has added to the scope, power and effectiveness of a department which I greatly admire. In fact, because I admire the department so much and because I admire the political leadership of all the ministerial team at the department, I find the Bill a little disappointing in that it has missed an opportunity to include so many key commitments which I know the Ministers and the department take seriously.

It has been strong on legalistic pre-occupations and inhibitions but short on specifics. As we move forward to vote on the question that the Bill do now pass, there must still be an anxiety--the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, referred to it from another angle--about the definition of poverty. There must also be some anxiety about the absence of a clear definition of what humanitarian aid is and should be. The present situation surrounding Afghanistan is a good illustration of why it is so important to be clear on this matter.

I have listened to Ministers closely and conclude by saying that if I am reassured at all, it is by the unequivocal language used by my noble friend Lady Amos from the Dispatch Box. With all her commitment and understanding she said without hesitation that if people such as me are worried that the Bill mentions only the reduction of world poverty, whereas White Papers had mentioned elimination, the Government are determined that the reduction must always be a tangible and measurable move towards its elimination. The Government are totally committed to the elimination of poverty, which is some reassurance.

Secondly, if some of us were worried that it was a strangely permissive Bill in the sense that it gave the department the right to use funds where it was going to move towards a reduction in and elimination of world poverty but did not not do so if it was not, we had the words of the Minister not once but repeatedly, saying that it would be only where it was demonstrated that money going towards proposed action would be justifiable in terms of the elimination of world poverty that it would be approved.

Furthermore, we received specific reassurance on the Government's commitment to multilateralism and on the Government's determination to see everything they are doing on development related to their commitments on environmental policy. Less clear is the Government's reassurance on what happens when they are properly and understandably--and in many ways I would applaud their doing this--co-operating with the private sector or other institutions. The Government's statement did not make it absolutely clear that the overriding consideration would be that anything done in this respect must be towards the elimination of world poverty.

However, whatever disappointments, candidly, there may be on my part and perhaps on the part of others about missed opportunities, we nevertheless have nothing but admiration for the department and its work and for its Ministers. We find the reassurances that Ministers have given from the Front Bench a little encouraging in those respects and we wish them well.

Photo of Lord Thomson of Monifieth Lord Thomson of Monifieth Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I want to follow the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, about the work of the Thomson Foundation in China. However, I want briefly to put it in a wider context against the background of the Government's overall aid strategy, the path of which is expressed in the Bill. In doing that at this late stage on the question that the Bill do now pass, I am conscious that like the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I appear in the discussions on the Bill for the first time. I apologise for that discourtesy. He is appearing for the first time with the best excuse of all; that he is a new Minister, whom we welcome to his responsibilities.

I congratulate the Government and the formidable Secretary of State of the DfID on the fresh drive and impetus that has been given to the Government's overall aid strategy over recent years. I do not dispute that the ultimate correct priority is to tackle world poverty. However, I agree with the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, during Second Reading of the Bill. He said:

"The poverty focus must be capable of wider interpretation than just direct aid to the poor".--[Official Report, 2/7/01; col. 715.]

Here I declare a number of interests; the interest in the Thomson Foundation which was revealed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe; as patron and founder of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth; trustee of the John Smith Trust; and trustee of various similar worthy bodies. All of those concentrate on the contribution which education and training can make to the development of good governance. We believe that good governance helps to lay the foundations on which developing countries can tackle their own problems of poverty more successfully as well as building decent and tolerant pluralist societies.

The Government promote good work in this field in various ways, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, mentioned. They do so through their Chevening scholarships, through the Know-How Fund, through the Westminster Foundation and through the grant to the Thomson Foundation, which is under so much, in our belief unjustified, threat. I hope that the grant which is now threatened can be reconsidered.

The attitude of the Government to this matter reflects far too narrow a test for an aid policy. There are other issues apart from the particular matter which concerns us about the grant to the Thomson Foundation. There are similar issues about educational aid. I believe that that is far too narrowly focused on primary education, important though that is. Developing countries need highly trained educational administrators if they are to tackle the poverty of their own school systems. I believe that that underlines the importance of the Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships scheme and similar aid policies in the field of higher education.

I recognise the reluctance of DfID and its formidable Secretary of State to have their poverty policy as they see it diluted by all the various claims that inevitably emerge in any parliamentary system. But even the policy in this Bill has been compelled to make exceptions to the basic poverty test, for example in relation to Overseas Dependent Territories, the policy on humanitarian aid, which is now urgent and very much in our minds, and the multilateral aid that is provided through the European Union. I am glad that the EU, with which I had an involvement, has a rather wider vision of the overall purposes of aid policy than the very narrow focus which I believe to be the core of this Bill.

I wish the Government and Secretary of State well in their aim to eliminate poverty, but I plead for the widest possible vision of how it can be achieved. I make a particular plea for recognition of how education, training and good governance can make an essential contribution to a wise aid policy.

Photo of Lord Grocott Lord Grocott Government Whip, Lord in Waiting (Whip)

My Lords, in broad terms I certainly give the assurances that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, seek. Good governance is a very important contributor to the reduction of poverty and is entirely consistent with the fundamental principle which underlies this Bill. I refer to a free press, an opposition, debate in the media and all the matters associated with it. Perhaps I should declare an interest as a long-standing member of the National Union of Journalists. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, that I have a long-standing interest in television. Those matters are quite consistent with the objectives of the Bill. At this stage of the Bill it would not be right to comment on decisions in respect of individual pieces of funding, but I hope that I can provide reassurance on that front.

Although it is customary to do so, I express my sincere thanks to all those who have taken part in the Bill. I thank them for their efforts over long debates. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, and various contributors on this side of the House, not least my very good, honourable and noble friend Lord Judd. Throughout much of our two careers the positions have been reversed; I have sat where he is, criticising the person who stands here. I know that his support for the Bill is warm and strong and that he brings great expertise to it. My noble friend Lord Desai, with his cryptic interventions, and others have also contributed. The hour is late. I am pleased that the Bill has reached this stage.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.