Clause 3 - Humanitarian Assistance

International Development Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:45 pm on 13 March 2001.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Minister (International Development) 6:45, 13 March 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 2, line 9, at end insert—

`(2) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements to ensure that humanitarian assistance provided under subsection (1) which is provided via other agencies or bodies shall comply with the same standards as to effectiveness and probity as apply to assistance disbursed directly.'.

It does not take a great brain to work out what lies behind the amendment, which would ensure that all humanitarian assistance provided by the United Kingdom to outside agencies such as the EU and the UN conforms to the same standards as bilateral humanitarian assistance. Aid distributed through multilateral agencies should be of the same standard as aid delivered bilaterally. We are worried that humanitarian assistance delivered by multilateral aid agencies is often unco-ordinated, of poor quality and slow.

The Minister will be familiar with all our specific criticisms of the aid that is delivered through the EU and the UN, and it would be curmudgeonly of me and unhelpful to the Committee to itemise them. They are well-rehearsed and the views they represent are shared throughout the House. We are always seeking ways in which we can improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance, particularly through the EU, which has a catalogue of fraud. However, at this stage of the Bill's passage, the amendment might be of benefit to the Government. I should like to hear the Minister's reaction to the amendment before I speak further.

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

Clause 3 enables the Secretary of State to provide humanitarian assistance in response to disaster or other emergencies. Assistance under the clause is not limited to development assistance as defined under clause 1, nor is there any requirement for the assistance to be likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty. The clause does not use the term ``humanitarian assistance'', which consequently is not defined in the Bill. Instead, the clause refers to natural or man-made disaster or other emergency and limits the purpose of assistance to alleviating their effects on the population of a country outside the United Kingdom.

The amendment would place the Secretary of State under a duty to apply standards of effectiveness and probity to any organisation or person who acts on her behalf in the provision of humanitarian assistance. It is unnecessary because it is already open to the Secretary of State to impose standards on those who carry out activities on her behalf. The Department already devotes significant resources to ensuring that our partners, systems and procedures meet the requirements of effectiveness and probity that are set out in the Department's humanitarian guidelines. Indirect assistance is also subject to the same scrutiny as direct assistance by our internal audit department at the National Audit Office and by Parliament through the International Development Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. The International Development Committee's recent assessment of our response to the Kosovo crisis is an example of the thorough scrutiny given to both indirect and direct help.

The amendment is undesirable because it would place statutory constraints on the Secretary of State's response to a crisis, which could prevent her from taking quick and effective action. It might also require a layer of bureaucracy that would add no value but would delay DFID approval of proposals. I must therefore ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

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

I have listened carefully to the Minister's comments. The debate will probably continue into the middle distance on many other occasions, but for the efficacy of the study of the Bill in Committee, I shall not press the amendment to a Division and will let the Minister's comments stand on the record alone.

Only two more Committee sittings are timetabled. The Minister is well aware of the feeling on the Opposition Benches and he has perhaps responded not in the spirit of the amendment, but strictly according to its wording. However, at this stage, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. McNulty.]

Adjourned accordingly at four minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 15 March at five minutes to Ten o'clock.