International Development Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 20 November 2001.

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[Mr. Win Griffiths in the Chair]

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development 10:30, 20 November 2001

I beg to move,

That during proceedings on the International Development Bill [Lords], the Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock and on Thursdays at half-past Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. I know that I speak on behalf of all members of the Committee when I say that we look forward to working under your guidance and direction, and perhaps only occasional stricture, as we take the Bill through its Committee stage.

I was interested to see in that wonderful publication ``Dod's Parliamentary Companion'' that among your hobbies is the cultivation of pot plants.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development

I shall not stray down that particular path, as it may get me into difficulty. I would describe the Bill not as a pot plant but as a sturdy sapling, which we hope will grow. I was also interested to see that you describe yourself as an erstwhile marathon runner. I hope that your marathon days are over, certainly as far as the Bill is concerned. A wide consensus was evident on Second Reading on 7 November, and I hope that the spirit and quality of the debate on that occasion, in which all the parties represented in the Room this morning took part, will be carried through to our discussions as we give careful scrutiny to the Bill in Committee.

The Bill is modest in size, but not unimportant. It will entrench in legislation the key principles to which the Government have been working in their approach to international development. As hon. Members will know, it puts at the heart of future United Kingdom development assistance the principle of the reduction of poverty. I am sure that all members of the Committee will happily sign up to and support that principle.

I trust that the sittings motion meets with general consent. I understand that it has been the subject of discussion through the usual channels. I, for one, look forward to the constructive and useful debates that I know are yet to come.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development

I, too, welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths. This is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, and I look forward to that. I concur with the view that there is a broad measure of consensus on the Bill, which is likely to be conducive to the good working of the Committee, but obviously this is the opportunity for the Opposition to probe the Government on aspects of the Bill. It is not the first time that the matter has been subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as the previous Bill went through all its Commons stages in the previous Parliament, and this Bill has already received the attentions of those in another place. Therefore, there is already quite a body of information for the Committee to refer to, but there are fresh aspects that we should like to bring to the attention of the Government.

The conflict in Afghanistan has served as a litmus test of the workability of legislation on international development, especially in relation to humanitarian assistance. That sharpens all our minds in determining how effective the Bill will be and how it will cope with similar situations in future.

I should like to place one important point on the record this morning. In the previous Parliament the Conservative Opposition in another place strove hard to have the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development convention on bribery and corruption incorporated into the international development legislation. We were pleased to learn at the end of last week that the Home Secretary had seen fit to incorporate that convention into the emergency legislation on international terrorism, the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill, which had its Second Reading last night. We appreciate the fact that the Home Secretary publicly stated that that was done in response to a Conservative request to enact that convention. That was welcome, and it demonstrates the spirit of bipartisanship that has been an integral part of the role of Opposition and Government throughout the crisis.

We are keen for the work to proceed, but we are happy that this morning's debate should be restricted to a debate on the sittings motion. I shall briefly explain why, for the benefit of the record and for members of the public who may have joined us this morning. We have the bounty of the opportunity to go and hear the Secretary of State address the Select Committee, which is meeting simultaneously with this sitting of the Standing Committee. As many members of the Standing Committee have an interest in hearing what the Secretary of State says to the Select Committee, we hope that it will be possible to facilitate that this morning.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park

I welcome what I can only describe as a getting together of chums. One of the chums has changed, so I give a big welcome to our new chum, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). As she says, we have been through all this before; but as we have a new chum, it will be slightly different this time, which will make the proceedings even more interesting.

We do not propose at this stage—although we may change our mind on Report—to table amendments to the Bill, because we tabled amendments to the previous International Development Bill in the last Parliament and, as I said on Second Reading, most of my questions were answered satisfactorily. I took my own independent legal advice on those that were not—on tied aid—and was satisfied. I have gone to great lengths to satisfy myself about the Bill. I welcome the Committee stage, and hope that we can get through it as amicably as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

Copies of the financial resolution relating to the Bill are available in the Room. I remind members of the Committee that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Stringer.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes to Eleven o'clock till Thursday 22 November at half-past Nine o'clock.