Clause 1 - Development assistance

International Development Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 22nd November 2001.

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Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee 9:30 am, 22nd November 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 1, line 5, at beginning insert:

`Subject to subsection (1A) below.'.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 15, in page 1, line 7, at end insert—

`(1A) Assistance under this section in relation to matters of population control, family planning, or sexual and reproductive health care, may not be provided to any programme of a person or body that assists, finances, practices or promotes (either directly or indirectly) forced abortion or forced sterilisation or forced contraception or which facilitates (either directly or indirectly) any form of coercion in relation to those said activities, in any country where evidence exists of coercion.

(1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A) above, coercion includes intimidation of a physical, psychological, financial, penal or other kind.

(1C) Subsection (1A) above is without prejudice to the exercise of the Secretary of State's discretion to provide assistance to any person or body not specified therein.'.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I repeat the welcome that has already been given to you, Mr. Griffiths. I hope that our debate on the policy of forced abortions in China will be positive. I certainly intend to pursue it in a non-partisan way to avoid any direct criticism of the Government. I say straight away, so that everyone may relax, that I do not intend to force a vote on these matters. This is a useful opportunity to have a real debate on a controversial subject that has exercised the minds of many who care about international development and comment on it.

One cannot equate our proceedings with a Select Committee inquiry, which my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) has called for and which I feel would be the best way of dealing with these matters, as we could summon witnesses and get to the truth. However, that may also be possible in the more relaxed atmosphere of a Standing Committee, where hon. Members may speak more than once, if they catch your eye, Mr. Griffiths, or make interventions.

This is a complicated matter but I want to narrow down the debate. I take it as read that every hon. Member is against any policy based on forced abortions, forced sterilisation, forced contraception or forced anything. It is the ultimate denial of a woman's right to choose. That is not a phrase that has often leapt from my lips, but I acknowledge that the Government are as opposed to the policy of forced abortions as I am.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I have not really got going yet.

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

I know that, but it is important to establish that everyone would agree that there should be no coercion for a woman to have an abortion. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that it is every woman's right to choose whether she has an unwanted child?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

Let me say straight away, before I am ruled out of order, that this is not a debate about abortion. Everyone knows my views, just as everyone knows the hon. Lady's views. I shall not get involved in discussion of whether women want to have abortions. We should simply take it as read that we have different views on abortion and on what the legislation in this country should be. That is irrelevant. What is relevant is the subject of the forced abortions that are taking place in China. I put it that way to try to narrow the debate and shed some light on the matter. We do not need to be too controversial or to have two sides facing each other. This is not the anti-abortion lobby in England trying to make a great statement against abortion; it is my attempt to persuade the Committee and the Government to look at what is going in the context of aid to agencies that might be complicit in a forced abortion policy. That is what we must decide today. We must sift through the evidence.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that no UK development assistance—hence the relevance to today's debate—goes to programmes that involve coercive population control practices such as forced abortion, forced sterilisation or infanticide. I am concerned that £20 million of unrestricted UK grants, given every year to the United Nations Population Fund—henceforth referred to as UNFPA—and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, is helping to perpetuate such practices in China. Our debate this morning centres on that narrow issue, which has already been debated in another place. The Minister will reply shortly.

We all accept that China has one of the worst, if not the worst, human rights records in the world and no one denies that these practices go on. We all know that the UK provides aid to the bodies, so the debate is simple: is the aid given to these bodies by the British taxpayer effectively financing activities that are contrary to every notion of what the House would recognise as human rights and civilised behaviour?

It is indisputable that the population control process occurs, so how is it enforced? It is enforced by a nationwide apparatus of so-called family planning officials, part of whose motivation is the penalising, imprisoning, torturing and even executing—there have been well attested cases—of anyone who opposes any detail of the Chinese Government's inhumane population control policy. These are facts, not mere allegations, as respected bodies such as Amnesty International, the United States State Department, the BBC and other international media, dissidents and refugees—and testimony given to Select Committees and to the United States Congress—all confirm.

However, the amendment is not designed to condemn China, or to affect the Government's attempts to develop good relations with China. I do not want to engage in Committee this morning with the general strategy that the west should adopt to improve human rights in China. That would be out of order.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

I accept some of what the hon. Gentleman says and we all acknowledge that much that happens in China is appalling. However, it is disingenuous of him to say that he does not want to impinge on human rights. It is always easy to say what one does not like; it is more challenging to say what one intends to do about it. If we are not to engage in funding and co-operation, what does the hon. Gentleman believe that this country and the world should be doing to influence family planning policies in China?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

That is a fair point and I shall come to it. The hon. Gentleman is expressing the central contention of the Government and those who advocate funding of these agencies. They believe that it is possible to wash one's hands of these appalling practices. They claim that aid sometimes trickles down, in a way that cannot be controlled, to areas that we do not like, but that involvement is the only way to influence the debate. That is a perfectly fair argument, as attested to by the hon. Gentleman, and I shall deal with it later. I hope that I can convince the Committee that we are having precious little influence—some, but not enough to make a serious or effective impact on the Chinese Government in respect of these appalling practices. However, the hon. Gentleman's intervention was very fair; this is an important part of the debate. Such comments are constantly made when issues relating to international development are discussed. There are many nasty regimes around the world; do we have nothing to do with them or do we hope that by giving them aid we exert influence? It is a grey area and there is no black or white, which is why these debates are so important.

The one-child policy has been in operation for more than 20 years and—this is where we get down to the nuts and bolts—UNFPA and IPPF have been partners, or been complicit, in the one-child policy since its beginning. We help to fund those bodies; hence my amendments. The year before the one-child policy was introduced, UNFPA signed a ``memorandum of understanding'' with the Chinese Government; in 1980, IPPF also began involvement in the Chinese programme. In 1983, as the one-child programme became increasingly coercive, the China Family Planning Association, a Chinese body and an organ of the state Government that was running the programme, became an IPPF affiliate, so the body in China running the operation became an affiliate of a body that we are funding. The Minister probably does not have many good things to say about the CFPA; I shall be interested to hear his comments but I accept that he is not responsible for that body or for what it is doing. The CFPA, although ostensibly a non-governmental organisation, is run by Chinese state officials; the nature of the society and the Government is such that there is no effective non-governmental organisation in the field.

The CFPA admitted that its role was to

``supervise that the awarding and punishing policies relating to family planning [are] properly executed''.

It admitted, too, that the CPFA

``volunteers sometimes collect the occasional fine when a couple breaks the birthplan rules''.

The Secretary of State has said that IPPF and UNFPA can monitor the worst excesses of the Chinese regime and expose it to international condemnation, which was precisely the point made in an intervention by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). However, DFID admitted in 1995:

``Critics of this position argue that several years of UNFPA and IPPF involvement in China has not led the Chinese to moderate their policies or stop abuses in the implementation of policy. This is true.''

That was said some years ago so we shall look for examples to bear out the Secretary of State's contention that her involvement in the bodies is resulting in real influence for the better. We shall examine the evidence as the debate progresses. If the Minister can convince us, that will colour our conclusion.

On Second Reading, the Secretary of State claimed:

``Birth quotas have been dropped in all of the counties where UNFPA is working.''—[Official Report, 7 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 285.]

That was the central contention; the right hon. Lady was saying, in brief, ``All right, we are giving aid. Where UNFPA, a body that we are supporting, operates we are having real influence in the counties in dealing with these matters.'' However, as recently as September, a team of investigators from the US-based Population Research Institute travelled to China to interview women and officials in those counties where UNFPA is active. Interviews were recorded in notebooks and on audio and video tape, and additional photographic evidence was gathered. The investigation concluded that

``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''.

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park 9:45 am, 22nd November 2001

For information, would the hon. Gentleman tell us about the United States-based organisation that did the investigation? I should be interested to see its evidence.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I certainly can provide the evidence. I understand that the hon. Lady is saying that it is parti pris or, perhaps, that it holds a particular view about abortion. I do not have the evidence with me but, if I can find it before the debate adjourns, I shall bring it for the hon. Lady. The organisation's contention should be listened to, at least. I realise that we should not listen to the views of only one organisation; thus, I shall discuss in more detail other evidence of what is happening on the ground. It is complicated—I do not want to take too much of the Committee's time—but these are precisely the facts that we must consider in this important debate.

In 2000–01, the Department for International Development gave £50 million to UNFPA and £5.5 million to IPPF. Those two organisations gave money to two agencies in China: the State Family Planning Commission and the China Family Planning Association. The CFPA is a full member of IPPF. It is run by Government officials and has the declared aim of implementing Government population policies. The Chinese Government remain firmly committed to the need for coercion in family planning. On 13 October 1999, Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji—I apologise if my pronunciation of Chinese names is not up to scratch, but I do not suppose that anyone in the Room will draw me up on it—said:

``China will continue to enforce its effective''

—I emphasise that—

``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 19 December 2000, the People's Republic of China avowed to continue the one-child policy for another 50 years. Oh that British policy making could be so determined that we would be able to base our policies on the next 50 years. I am sure that the Minister thinks that this Government will ensure their will for the next 50 years—perhaps not.

International human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture have consistently highlighted the appalling human rights programme. On-the-ground evidence demonstrates that UNFPA and IPPF are complicit in it.

We now consider a crucial aspect of the debate: the agreement that UNFPA signed with Beijing, under which it would operate in 32 counties throughout China. In each of those counties, the central local authorities agreed that there would be no coercion or birth quotas and that abortion would not be promoted as a method of family planning. Naturally, our Government place great faith in that agreement. According to an answer given by Baroness Amos in the other place:

``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.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 July 2001; Vol. 626, c. 1341.]

Indeed, the Government consider that UNFPA is a positive force for change in the counties in China in which it operates. The Secretary of State said:

``UNFPA's programme in China is designed to demonstrate that people can be provided with modern services and make their own choices about family size without coercion . . . the work of UNFPA and the IPPF has led to real advances.''—[Official Report, 7 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 285.]

I do not blame the Secretary of State in any way. I know that she tries to do her best in a difficult situation, but it is my contention that her faith in the UNFPA is misplaced. The evidence from China directly contradicts the Government's assertions.

We are trying to build up the evidence from reliable sources, and are not just relying on evidence from one set of people who may have a particular view. On 17 October 2001, the US Congress Committee on International Relations held a hearing into

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

After hearing testimony and reviewing evidence that was collected in September 2001—so it is up to date—the Committee Chairman concluded that

``after three years, the new arrangement is not working''.

Whatever one might think of the United States Congress, it is a serious body that is well resourced and bipartisan. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge) is smiling, but US Congress Committees deserve to be heard. Forced abortion, forced sterilisation, the rigid enforcement of quotas and the widespread use of fines and imprisonment to punish those ``in breach'' of Government programmes are still commonplace.

Reinforcing that conclusion, the US State Department—a serious body with reasonably good access to information—reported that UNFPA involvement in China had met with ``mixed success''. It may have had some success, but it is only mixed. Some counties have made ``relatively little'' progress, whereas others have not begun to eliminate strict birth quotas. The Secretary of State said:

``Birth quotas have been dropped in all of the counties where UNFPA is working.''— [Official Report, 7 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 285.]

The evidence that has been provided to congressional Committees does not support her answer. It is a pity that we do not have a similar procedure in the House to sift through the evidence. I contend that the Government remain unclear about the number of counties in which UNFPA operates.

Lord Grocott said in the House of Lords on 25 October 2001 that UNFPA operated in 47 counties, but the Secretary of State in the House of Commons on 7 November 2001 spoke of a service being developed in 860 counties. There appears to be some confusion. It may be that more detailed proceedings are possible in the House of Commons but, whichever figure is correct, given that there are 2,500 counties in China, it is clear that even if some progress is being made in some counties, it is just a pinprick. The policy is continuing throughout those 2,500 counties.

We contend that UNFPA is complicit in that policy. Lord Grocott said that

``the work of UNFPA has had a clearly beneficial effect in China . . . 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.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 25 October 2001; Vol. 627, c. 1119-1120.]

That is the Government's contention, but we believe that UNFPA simply does not know what is going on in any detail. It has been said that the point of UNFPA's involvement and our aid is that they should influence what is happening. However, UNFPA now claims, incredibly, to have no representatives in its programme counties, perhaps out of embarrassment in the light of evidence that is coming out of China. What is going on? Is UNFPA in there, keeping an eye on what is happening and stopping what we all condemn? If so, why does it have no representatives in its programme counties?

If the hon. Member for Richmond Park will forgive me, I shall refer again to Stephen Mosher of the Population Research Institute. He contends that the UNFPA feigns ignorance of the real state of affairs and is sending a delegation to find out. Mr. Mosher claims also that Rob Gustafson, a UNFPA representative, acknowledged that UNFPA was unable to locate its office in Sihui county, one of the counties that both it and our Government insist is free from all involuntary population control policies. Sihui county is one of 2,500, and given that the Government claim that, because they provide money, they have influence and knowledge, it would be interesting to find out what is going on there. I cannot believe this information, but I have been given it so I must pass it on: some reports suggest that UNFPA has only three workers in China, all of whom are now in Beijing. What is happening?

UNFPA was invited to attend the aforementioned congressional Committees in the United States. It declined the invitation, but has now approached the PRI and others for the names and addresses of the Chinese women who testified about coercive population control. I am glad of that, but, unsurprisingly, its approach was rejected as it would have violated the women's right to privacy and put them at grave risk from the Chinese Government, to whom UNFPA appears to have delegated all its authority. UNFPA was not at the congressional hearings and did not have any dealings with women who testified. I am not saying that there are bad people in UNFPA or that they want anything to do with coerced population control. For the sake of argument, I will accept that they do not want to get involved in the matter in any shape or form. The Government do not seem to know what is happening, and the contention that, by giving considerable aid, we can affect what happens on the ground is misplaced.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the report of the international review team, which is an independent team put together by UNFPA, following the presentation to Congress on 17 October? The team, which seems respectable and independent, was led by a former Netherlands ambassador to the United Nations and went out on a week's notice. UNFPA has listened to the concerns of the organisation mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The team reported, and to a certain extent it seems to have been obstructed by that organisation. I have looked at that review, but has the hon. Gentleman? A considerable amount of satisfaction would be gained from it.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee 10:00 am, 22nd November 2001

One advantage of the Committee is that we can have genuine debate. The hon. Gentleman will be able to share that report with us so that we may sift through the evidence. I hope that I am a reasonable person. If I am wrong and it can be established that UNFPA is having an impact on the ground, I will accept that. However, the evidence is conflicting, and I doubt whether we should be providing aid to a body when, at best, its activities are controversial and the evidence of its influence for the good is conflicting. That raises serious questions about what is going on and what we should do.

There is enough evidence to suggest that there is at least a real possibility that bodies to which we, British taxpayers, give money are in some way complicit in, or have an influence on, a barbaric programme of coercive population control. However, we continue to fund them. My amendment is simply designed to stop that funding.

Let me say what the US Government have done.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I believe that I share some of Committee members' concerns about the nature and integrity of statistics and reports that we are asked to consider. The hon. Gentleman clearly said that a number of substantial reports had been produced on the so-called activities that are on-going in some counties. However, I have a great deal of sympathy for the idea of establishing a proper review, conducted in the United Kingdom, about what is going on in China regarding the money that we provide for programmes.

Political involvement and, indeed, the involvement of organisations that receive funds in a report's development is inappropriate. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree—I believe that he alluded to this but did not deal with it specifically—that a Select Committee inquiry in the UK would be advantageous? A considered, reflective period and expert evidence would allow us to form a more coherent view, which would, I hope, influence future discussions.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am very grateful for the hon. Lady's intervention; I cannot see how anyone could disagree with it. I would gladly give way to the hon. Member for Richmond Park if she wishes to intervene. I accept that we probably have different views on these matters, but I am sure that even she, who comes from the other side of the argument, would accept the sheer reasonableness of what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) has said.

We can spend a great deal of time debating such issues back and forth. For the life of me, I cannot understand why we cannot operate more like the US Congress and why we always have to pursue matters in a confrontational manner. There is no confrontation this morning, because I am deliberately trying not to be confrontational. I do not know why the House cannot say, ``This is a real issue and there are obviously strong views either way. Let's set up a Select Committee and listen to all the evidence. Let's get an all-party group of the House of Commons sitting to find out what's going on.''

My amendment is slightly different from the one that Baroness Cox and Lord Alton promoted in the other place. My amendment would not entirely cut off funding for organisations complicit in coercive population control, such as UNFPA and IPPF; it would merely cut off funding for programmes that involved coercion. What could be more moderate than that?

We advanced our arguments in the other place, and I am making them again in this House. We no longer seek to cut off all funding for UN bodies that are presumably doing a good job throughout the world. What could be fairer than cutting off funding for programmes that involve coercion?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does not my hon. Friend feel that that last concession would drive a coach and horses through the principle that he is advocating? If we cut off funding only for particular programmes to which we object, so that funding is used for programmes to which we do not object, we are freeing up other resources in the organisation that can then be used for programmes to which we do object. Does he not see a problem with the concession that he has so generously made?

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am having some difficulty in following my hon. Friend's reasoning.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

My hon. Friend is highly intelligent and has been a personal friend for the past 25 years, but I simply do not accept his reasoning. If one has a moral and ethical foreign or international development policy, one does not try to second-guess those organisations. One simply says that we will do what is right. Is not that the sole point of the Bill? We will not give aid on the basis that we shall acquire influence or help British companies to operate here and there. We give aid on the basis that we shall relieve poverty. It is perfectly ethical, sensible and reasonable to say that the British taxpayer will not give aid to any programme that can trickle down to coercive population control programmes.

What has been happening in the US? It has been paying attention to the matter for a long time. For the past 25 years both United States administrative directives and congressional actions have severely restricted US population assistance in various ways. More recent executive regulations and appropriation orders have prohibited indirect support for coercive family planning. Let us look at the history. People will immediately suppose that it is the Bush regime and a Republican Congress and a Republican President who are influenced by their own political imperatives. In fact it is far more complicated. I shall go through the evidence as quickly as I can. What I propose is similar to what President Clinton proposed, and he was not an anti-abortion fanatic: I am not coming at this from a mid-west, right-wing point of view.

At the 1994 Mexico City conference, the then US Administration—dare I say it, the Reagan Administration; I hope that that will not upset hon. Members too much—established the requirement that UNFPA provide

``concrete assurances that [it] is not engaged in, or does not provide funding for, abortion or coercive family programmes.''

Concern then was highest over UNFPA's activities in China's coercive family planning practices. At the time the Reagan Administration reportedly held up $19 million allocated for UNFPA until the organisation could provide the necessary assurances.

Subsequently, Congress legislated a more restrictive UNFPA policy, aimed at coercive Chinese family planning programmes and UNFPA's continuing operations in the country, by enacting the Kemp-Kasten amendment. Its language prohibited the use of appropriated funds for any organisation or programme supporting or participating ``in the management'' of a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilisation. Accordingly, in September 1985, $10 million of the $46 million that had been earmarked for UNFPA was redirected to other programmes. That partly answers my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). Obviously the US Congress was trying to find a way through these difficult matters and to help UNFPA in other ways.

Between 1986 and 1993, no US funding for UNFPA was granted. Following the election of President Clinton, US funding for UNFPA was resumed. However, even under President Clinton, Congress reduced the US contribution by the amount that UNFPA spent in China. When UNFPA started its current so-called voluntary programme in China, Congress prohibited American support for the financial year 1999. Congress resumed UNFPA funding in 2000–01 but under the condition that the $25 million earmarked would be reduced by whatever amount UNFPA programmes for China cost.

That is the decision of the US Congress, a body that has huge amounts of research material available to it. My amendment would effect an arrangement similar to that of the Clinton Administration. The Minister will be pleased to hear that I am approaching the end of my remarks—[Hon. Members: ``Hear, hear.''] I am sorry to take the Committee's time but I have tried to consider the evidence reasonably.

The Minister must ensure that United Kingdom grants do not fund programmes involving coercive population control, such as those in China. Currently, all DFID's funding is unrestricted for UNFPA and IPPF. It comprises one big cheque with no strings attached. My amendment would insist that the Secretary of State specify programmes for which UNFPA and IPPF could spend DIFD grants, thus excluding any use of money in China. That is a sensible policy, which would not prevent the Secretary of State from funding population programmes. I have views on such programmes, but my views are irrelevant. The Secretary of State should not provide a big cheque without knowing what it is for. I want to attach strings to that cheque.

The Government claim to have an ethical foreign policy. The House has a duty to scrutinise that policy and to insist that not one penny of UK taxpayers' money funds appalling practices.

This is not just a dry debate in a Committee Room in the House of Commons. The director of the Channel 4 programme ``The Dying Rooms'' described an orphanage in China:

``Every single baby in this orphanage was a girl . . . the only boys were mentally or physically disabled. 95 per cent. of the babies we saw were able-bodied girls. The most shocking orphanage we visited lay, ironically, just 20 minutes from one of the five star international hotels that herald China's emergence from economic isolation.''

That is just one example. A newspaper article based on evidence from the respected organisation Amnesty International reported:

``A retired doctor had rescued the newborn child from the cesspit of a men's lavatory, where he had been tossed to die. Liu Juyu took the baby to a clinic where she was confronted by five birth control officials. Amnesty says they snatched the baby, threw him to the ground, kicked him and took him away to be drowned in a paddy field.''

The debate is not dry, intellectual or academic; it is about real people and suffering. British taxpayers' money should not fund such abominable practices.

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

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on one thing: he has advanced a reasoned argument. However, I will try to demolish it.

I understand his point, but he initially questioned the subject of the debate. He said that it was not about a woman's right to choose. The debate is about non-governmental organisations throughout the world that help to secure that right to choose for women. That is so vital to everyone, not just women. Women having fewer babies means better education, growth in the economy and developing countries doing much better in the long term, so the proposals have vast implications throughout the world. The debate is about a woman's right to choose and about those organisations that are trying so hard to give her that choice.

The hon. Gentleman has tabled an amendment that, on the grounds of malpractice in China alone—we have all heard stories about those malpractices—would disadvantage women all over the world. I was listening carefully and I do not think that he mentioned any country other than China. As someone who has worked in this field for many years, I assure the hon. Gentleman that it would be almost impossible to guarantee that every single doctor, counsellor, nurse and worker in a particular project would obey the rules all the time. I could bore the hon. Gentleman with countless examples of well qualified and well trained doctors and nurses in the United Kingdom who do not always obey the rules and who allow their own feelings to creep into their judgments on patients. That happens all over the world, so it would be impossible to determine what programmes were pure in the hon. Gentleman's sense.

The debate is about a woman's right to choose and, to some extent, about how we view abortion and family planning. We all know that there are huge religious objections in some quarters to those practices. It is legitimate for people to hold those views, and I do not object to their doing so, but they should not impose their views on others. Doctors in the United Kingdom and all over the world often dictate to people, on the grounds of their religious belief, what patients should do with their life. That is totally wrong. I shall probably not return to practice now, after my sojourn in this place, but I hope—touch wood—that I would never allow, and have never allowed my personal views to affect how I treat my patients.

I, personally, find abortion very difficult to stomach. The hon. Gentleman might find that surprising, but I have strong moral views too, and I had a religious upbringing. However, I have never had to make that choice for myself. I was well educated and well trained and have worked in reproductive health all my professional life, so I never became pregnant when I could not have a baby. Therefore, how can I possibly judge what a woman wants to do in those circumstances, given that I have never experienced that dilemma?

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby 10:15 am, 22nd November 2001

I am benefiting from the hon. Lady's comments, but she is confusing religious matters with bureaucratic matters. Does she not agree that China has an overt and blatant position on coercive abortion? Would she care to comment on the choice that that position offers women? Will she also comment on the role that UNFPA plays in providing a choice to women who have no choice?

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

I shall come to that, but I wanted to clarify a few issues to begin with. It is important that we are clear in our head about where the proposers of the amendment, both here and in the other place, are coming from. It is important to understand the different views that people hold on the subject.

If one visits many developing countries, one finds that for social, cultural and religious reasons, women are condemned to a life of childbirth. They do nothing else but give birth and then give birth again, until they eventually die. I remember hearing, in a village in Bangladesh, the famous quotation that goes all around that country, that

``lucky is the man in Bangladesh who loses his wife and not his land.''

The reason for that attitude is that he can always replace his wife, but not his land. That is how women are regarded. Bangladesh has the highest maternal death rate in the world. If they give birth and they lose their life, well, that is too bad.

It is important to examine the work of the NGOs. They are doing family planning work, of course. They are giving women the right to choose whether they get pregnant or not, which can be very difficult in developing countries. It is a delicate business, which crosses many cultural boundaries. The organisations are trying to improve maternal health and improve child mortality, which is so terrible in developing countries. They are trying to improve the genital health of many women who on many occasions contract HIV/AIDS because they have other infections that make them more prone to catching the disease.

The organisations are battling against HIV/AIDS. They are battling, in many countries against the aversion to men using condoms because they are banned by the Roman Catholic Church. There are many worries in that area that we must take into account, and the NGOs are doing fantastic and stalwart work in the field. They are tackling education, maternal health, reproductive health and family planning, which are so important to the future of those countries. I have seen the projects of organisations such as UNFPA, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and Marie Stopes International all over the world and I salute them for their work.

Some NGOs do menstrual extraction, which is a form of very early abortion. Many people would object to that, but the alternative in those countries is to have an unwanted pregnancy terminated illegally in the villages using bits of twigs and branches, rubbish and chemicals and other practices. That is to return to a far worse situation than that which existed in this country before the Abortion Act 1967, because women's health in the developing countries is poorer to begin with. I was a medical student and a junior hospital doctor in the days before that Act. I had to look after women who had come in after illegal abortion and I had to watch them die of septicaemia or a ruptured uterus. There was sheer desperation in those women, because they could not contemplate a pregnancy.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Opposition Whip (Commons)

With the best will in the world, I cannot see what that has to do with the amendment. The hon. Lady is talking about women who are desperate to have abortions. The amendment concerns women who do not want to have abortions being forced to do so.

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

Indeed. I am, just as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) did, giving you a lot of background to put the matter into context. I do not apologise for that, because it is very important for you to understand what the organisations are battling against and the work that they are doing. You are asking for funding to these organisations to be stopped—

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

The hon. Member for New Forest, East is asking for funding to these organisations to be stopped on the grounds that in some areas of China, coercion may be occurring with respect to abortion and sterilisation.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I specifically said that I was not trying to cut off funding for those organisations. The amendment does not cut off funding for the organisations but for programmes that involve coercive population control programmes.

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

But does not the hon. Gentleman understand that an organisation practising in China will not only be doing abortion or coercive abortion? It will be involved in a range of activities in a particular area. That is why I went into the background of reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health and family planning. If funding for an organisation is cut off on the grounds that some little corner of it is engaged in coercive practices—I have evidence, as does the hon. Gentleman, that that is decreasing and is now almost non-existent—all the other work will be stopped. The organisation will not be allowed to operate. That disadvantages the vast majority of women for the sake of the examples that the hon. Gentleman has given us.

I also want to refer to the research. An independent internal review team from the United Nations, not a United States review team, visited in 1997, August and November 1999 and between May and June 2001. Its report is available from the all-party group's adviser, and the hon. Member for Gainsborough could e-mail her today to ask for it. It clearly states that reforms have begun in China since 1994, where there has been a big change in thinking and methodology, and a transition from a bureaucratic, coercive approach.

UNFPA continues its good reproductive health projects in China, and the indicators show that birth rates have decreased since 1998 from 11.44 to 10.62 per thousand. The hon. Gentleman may not like that fact. The abortion ratio has decreased from 0.18 to 0.11. The maternal mortality rate has decreased from 62.9 in 100,000 to 52.2 in 100,000. The female sterilisation rate has decreased from 35.8 to 25.5. I do not know whether that last decrease is because women prefer other methods of family planning, or because coercive sterilisation has stopped. The UNFPA projects appear to have influenced senior and mid-level Government officials significantly, especially as a vehicle to introduce strategic thinking and sexual reproductive policy changes.

It is important to try to solve the dilemma that faces NGOs in such matters, which is whether they stay in a country where there is abuse of human rights. They may not like everything that goes on there, but they either stay and try to bring about change and make lives different, or they withdraw completely and allow the relevant Government to carry on as they will. The first option seems by far preferable. It is important to support the work of such organisations in a way in which the US has not. We can emphasise the priorities that we want them to have, but we should support their work on changing attitudes, as education is the only factor that will make change happen. People will have to work as medical missionaries in reproductive health to change the attitudes of Governments and patients if we are ever to have change.

I am convinced that education to free women from the burden of continual childbirth would be good not only for individual women, but for the economic growth of a country. Ultimately, it would be good for us, as we would not have the problems associated with poverty in the third world.

UNFPA, Marie Stopes International, the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the Family Planning Association are doing some of the most essential work for humankind. We should support them rather than condemning them on the grounds that abuse may go on in some corners of China.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington

I shall be brief, and shall not repeat arguments that have been made. I agree with the opening remarks made by the hon. Member for Gainsborough. Coerced abortion and sterilisation has taken place for many years and continues in large parts of China. It has nothing to do with religious belief. No one of any religious persuasion is in favour of it.

Some information gives the impression that UNFPA has little or no influence in China, but the hon. Member for Richmond Park gives us plenty of evidence that it has a tremendous positive influence, and is a force for change and for good. There is some evidence to suggest that the abortion rate is lower in areas where UNFPA is working. Can the Minister give us information to persuade us that the UNFPA programme is a force for good and a force for change in China?

Photo of Dr Jenny Tonge Dr Jenny Tonge Liberal Democrat, Richmond Park 10:30 am, 22nd November 2001

We all agree that we do not want anyone to be coerced into abortion or sterilisation. I hope that we also agree that women should not be coerced into keeping an unwanted pregnancy and men should not be coerced into not using condoms that would prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and further pregnancies. We must remember the other side of the coin. I have seen many examples of coercion the other way.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington

There will be all sorts of arguments in that respect, from various sources, but I want to focus on the amendment, which is about coerced abortion and sterilisation. Can the Minister assure us that the UNFPA programme is a force for good and for change, and can he give us an assurance that no money from British taxpayers will be used to fund coerced abortion or sterilisation now or in the future?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, whom I have known and admired for 20 years—25 is a slight exaggeration—does not intend to press the amendment to a vote, because if he did so, I should be very torn. Despite the apparent obscurity of my first intervention, somewhere in my comments is a germ of common sense; I fear that if we do not like one of the practices of an organisation that is engaged in multifarious practices, we shall fail in our aim of stopping the practice that we do not like unless we cut off all funding from that organisation. If we cut off funding only from the activity of which we disapprove, the organisation will shuffle its finances, and use its untied contributions to make up for the reduced contribution from the international development budget.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough must face up to the fact that if the amendment became law and Britain withheld funding for programmes of which we disapproved, organisations would simply use the money that we gave them for programmes of which we did approve to release money from countries that did not restrict its use and use that money to fund the programmes of which we disapproved. I say that from an agnostic position; I am purely looking at the matter analytically.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I do not think that my hon. Friend is helping UNFPA. If it were represented here—as it could be at a Select Committee inquiry—it would make it clear that it was opposed to coercive population control programmes, and would probably tell us that it was not involved with such programmes. I am not saying that it is a bad organisation. My hon. Friend is wrong; I do not suggest that if we stop providing money for any one programme, UNFPA will secretly use the general pot to finance it. We are trying to make a moral point, as is the United States Congress. I am suggesting that we do the same as the US, which is putting moral pressure on bodies such as UNFPA to make certain that none of their work involves coercive population programmes. Is that clear?

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Opposition Whip (Commons)

That is clear, but it still leaves the practical snag, from my hon. Friend's point of view, that if the amendment were passed, the Department for International Development would have to distinguish between programmes proposed by an organisation that

``assists, finances, practices or promotes (either directly or indirectly) forced abortion''

and other non-objectionable programmes practised by the same organisation. Therefore, if he is saying that the organisation does not approve of forced abortion, he will not be able to identify any such programmes from which money will need to be withheld.

I stand by my central point. I understand the moral force behind the proposal, but the practical applicability of the remedy that he suggests leaves a lot to be desired.

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

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Member for Gainsborough for raising the issue and for the manner in which he did so, which will unite the Committee. He spoke with genuine passion and sincerity, which all hon. Members will acknowledge, and so did the hon. Member for Richmond Park and my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham).

I am also grateful that the hon. Member for Gainsborough has given me the opportunity to offer reassurances. I take the opportunity to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who is unable to attend this morning as he is attending a funeral in his constituency, has also raised the matter with me. I believe that he was reassured by the explanation that I gave him, which I will now give the Committee.

I should begin by clarifying the issue of the practices mentioned by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, to which all of us are resolutely opposed. Hon. Members will recall that on Second Reading, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear the Government's views on coercive population policies such as those pursued in China. We condemn coercive fertility control unequivocally; we do not support it, we do not and will not fund it, and I can conceive of no circumstances in which a Government of the United Kingdom would do so. I am sure that we all agree on that point. I hope that that answers directly the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington. It is precisely because we oppose such practices that we support and will continue to support the work of UNFPA and IPPF.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough referred to funding. In 2000–01, the total United Kingdom funding to UNFPA was £40 million, with £15 million of core funding for its worldwide activities and £25 million to help to prevent a global shortage of contraceptives.

UNFPA is the largest United Nations provider of sexual and reproductive health assistance to developing countries, and works in poor countries throughout the world. The work of the fund enables millions of women to go through pregnancy and childbirth more safely. The hon. Member for Richmond Park made that point. As the Committee will be only too well aware, reducing maternal mortality is one of the millennium development goals to which we are all committed. UNFPA and IPPF are also playing leading roles in helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. IPPF, in particular, provides much-needed family planning and reproductive health services through its family planning associations in many poor countries. Without those associations, women would not have any choice in matters relating to their sexual and reproductive health.

It is because of their track records that we believe that it is important to support those organisations. They are working to reform practices that we all find abhorrent, such as those that still occur in parts of China, even though the central Government forbids enforced abortion or sterilisation. The state family planning commission has issued national guidance prohibiting family planning officials from coercing women into having an abortion or being sterilised against their will. However, the state authorities in China, among others, recognise that those abuses have occurred.

Promoting reform in China is precisely what UNFPA and IPPF are attempting. The hon. Member for Gainsborough was kind enough to acknowledge that that is the nub of the argument: do we do more good than harm by engaging in the task of promoting reform?

The UNFPA programme in China is designed to demonstrate that people can make their own choices about family size without coercion. As hon. Members may know, the UNFPA programme in China took almost two years to negotiate. UNFPA insisted that the programme had to be consistent with the fundamental principles of voluntarism and non-coercion affirmed by 179 countries at the 1994 international conference on population and development. It was a precondition of UNFPA's involvement in the 47 counties where it is working in China that targets and quotas for births, which are the drivers of coercive fertility control, should be done away with. It reports that that has happened in those counties.

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

Has my hon. Friend received any independent verification of the statistics and comments in the UNFPA report?

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

If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I shall come on to that very point. Before I do so, I want to mention the allegations made by the Population Research Institute, to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough referred. It is important that members of the Committee should know that it is not the first time that the PRI has made allegations about UNFPA's work. For example, in August 1999 the Population Research Institute accused UNFPA of launching stealth ethnic cleansing campaigns in Kosovo. In fact, it was providing emergency reproductive health supplies to Kosovan refugees.

It is important that every complaint should be investigated, but I have provided an example in which the allegation was without foundation. The accusations to which the hon. Member for Gainsborough referred have not been substantiated. UNFPA does not support coercive family planning. I think that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that point. When the allegations were made, UNFPA, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset mentioned, sent a high-level team, headed by Dr. Nicolas Biegman, a former Dutch ambassador to the United Nations, to investigate. It did so precisely because it took the matter so seriously.

The team members found no evidence to support the allegations of abuse, although they acknowledged in their report that they had some difficulty in investigating because, despite requests, they were not given information that would have allowed them to question the people who were questioned by those who made the allegations. It may help the Committee if I say that I have arranged for a copy of the report to be put in the Library so that hon. Members can examine in detail what the UNFPA investigation team found.

To reinforce the point, I should say that UNFPA has made it clear to Chinese officials that it will not operate unless allegations of coercive abortion and sterilisation are investigated and those responsible are punished.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough mentioned the monitoring of the UNFPA's programme in China. It is probably one of the most scrutinised among its family planning and reproductive health support programmes. UNFPA staff monitor every programme county at least once a year. UNFPA executive board members—including the UK, the US, the EU and developing countries—have visited programme counties in China at least twice in the past two years. There has been a US congressional staff visit, and US embassy staff monitor the programme frequently. UNFPA and the Chinese authorities have said on several occasions that they would welcome visits to monitor the programme's progress. That invitation stands for any member of the Committee who is interested, and my Department will be happy to do what it can to facilitate such a visit.

I now turn to the evidence that suggests that progress has been made in influencing what happens in China. The hon. Member for Richmond Park referred to the reduction in abortion rates. It is reported that the abortion ratio in the Sihui municipality—the focus of Ambassador Biegman's investigations—declined from 0.46 in 1998 to 0.21 in 2000. By comparison, the abortion ratio is about 0.48 in Europe and 0.26 in the United States. Therefore, the abortion ratio in 2000 in the county to which the allegations relate was lower than that in Europe or the United States.

Family planning clinics in the programme area have expanded the range of contraceptive methods to include not only IUDs and sterilisation but oral contraceptives, condoms, foam and injectable contraceptives.

Recent information shows that the infant mortality rate has decreased, which I am sure all hon. Members welcome. That is a millennium development goal to which we are all committed. Evidence also shows that the rate for the in-hospital delivery of babies has increased significantly in some programme counties. Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park said, maternal mortality and the female sterilisation rate have declined in Qianjiang.

Those tangible improvements are beginning to have an impact in parts of China outside the 47 counties where UNFPA runs its programme. A question arose about whether 47 counties, 860 counties or 2,250 counties were involved, and the figure is roughly 2,250. In referring to 860 counties, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was talking about the development of services outside the UNFPA programme area to give men and women information and choice in their sexual and reproductive health care. By comparison, only five counties were piloting that approach in 1995.

For the reasons that I have given, it is unlikely—I put it no higher than that—that such progress would have been made without UNFPA's influence. We must be honest about the fact that difficult judgments have to be made. The hon. Member for Gainsborough highlighted one, and we must tackle many others through our overseas aid programme. We must decide when the situation in a country gets so difficult that we must disengage from directly operating with the Government and work through NGOs, or, in the worst circumstances, offer only humanitarian aid because we do not wish to be complicit in practices or policies of which we disapprove.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee 10:45 am, 22nd November 2001

I am grateful for the Minister's serious and careful response. Is he saying that in these counties UNFPA is using our money to campaign against the coercive programme and is exerting a real influence? Is it going out and campaigning against the programme rather than ignoring it?

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

I have already referred to UNFPA's negotiation of an arrangement to start work in the 47 counties, to the attached conditions, and to the clear statement that, if the people responsible for these practices are not called to account and punished, it will not operate, so I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman's question. UNFPA has set itself a clear objective of seeking to engage in order to change practices that we all find deeply objectionable. If I recall correctly, even the hon. Gentleman acknowledged at the start of his speech that we might have had some influence. The Government believe that the programme has had an effect. The hon. Gentleman also quoted the US State Department as saying that success had been mixed, so there must have been positives as well as negatives. It is worth quoting the independent review committee on the fact that progress had been made. It said:

``This view was reinforced by officials at the US Embassy in Beijing, who noted that UNFPA was definitely a positive force in moving China away from precisely the kinds of practices and abuses alleged by PRI. By this measure, they said, the UNFPA programme has been extremely successful.''

Photo of Claire Curtis-Thomas Claire Curtis-Thomas Labour, Crosby

I must return to my earlier point. The Minister referred extensively to the report in the Library and I am grateful to my colleagues for furnishing me with a copy. The independent report commissioned by UNFPA was funded by UNFPA, yet it takes a dismal view of organisations that seek to justify their actions by commissioning and paying for reports on those actions. As I said earlier, independent scrutiny of UNFPA would make me feel far more comfortable about its activities. A self-confessed report about its activities is tainted by its involvement in them.

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

None could disagree with my hon. Friend on the principle of independent scrutiny. However, UNFPA would have been open to understandable criticism if, having received the allegations, it did not, as a responsible body, immediately take steps to investigate. If I understand correctly, the allegations were made in October and, judging by the dates on the cover of the report, UNFPA sent a team to investigate at the end of October. The report stands or falls by what it says. UNFPA encourages scrutiny; the Chinese authorities encourage scrutiny. Anyone can take up the offer to look at what is happening and form an independent view. I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby. Nobody underestimates the difficulty of bringing about change. Change and reform take time, but there is evidence of progress.

The amendment could be interpreted in different ways. An exchange between the hon. Member for Gainsborough and the hon. Member for New Forest, East teased out some of the difficulties. If it were accepted, the amendment would undermine our perfectly proper support for the work of UNFPA and IPPF to promote reform in China. Under one interpretation of the amendment, their work elsewhere in the world would be at continual risk of being ruled unlawful. The Committee is being asked to prohibit concepts as broad as directly or indirectly assisting or directly or indirectly facilitating certain activities; that would make it all too easy for a legal case to be made against any form of engagement. The Bill must not lay the Secretary of State open to challenge. The Government and the bodies that we are discussing engage with those countries and pursue our policies precisely because we wish to persuade them of the need for reform.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee

This is where we get to the part of the Minister's speech, which is drafted by the civil servants, that rubbishes the wording of the amendment. I know that that is what Ministers have to do. I knew that Ministers would not accept the amendment, which was drafted by amateurs. We cannot get it right. However, there is a serious point behind the amendment. Can the Minister assure me that he will continue to take the matters seriously? Although the amendment will not end up as legislation, will he use the power of his office and the work of his officials to monitor UNFPA closely and put pressure on it? Will he seek independent scrutiny and really find out what is going on? He has the resources to do so; we do not.

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

The Minister may be expected to rubbish amendments, but that is not the spirit in which I approach the task—I did not take the hon. Gentleman to mean that it was. However, since we can consider only the wording before us, it is worth briefly going through some of the difficulties that it would create. It is hard on the one hand to engage genuinely in encouraging reform and on the other to have legislation on the statute book that would impede reform. That is in the context of the Government having, as I set out at the beginning of my speech, made it crystal clear that we unequivocally condemn coercive fertility control and that we do not and will not fund it. It is inconceivable to think of circumstances in which a future Secretary of State would do so. If that happened—as it could only under the most extreme interpretation of the powers available in the Bill—it would be susceptible to challenge in the courts, which might be expected to take account not only of the wording in the Bill but of the UK's commitments as signatories to the European convention on human rights.

I hope that the hon. Member for Gainsborough recognises from the content and spirit of my remarks that we take seriously the opposition that we have expressed to coercive practices. We wish to continue to work with UNFPA in promoting reform and in doing what it has explicitly said that it seeks to do. It, too, resolutely opposes coercive practices; the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that he was not accusing it of doing otherwise.

I hope that members of the Committee agree that the best way of reducing and then eliminating such practices in the long term is to continue to engage with reform in China, with all the difficulties and problems that that brings. It is right and proper that we continue to support the work undertaken by the UNFPA and the IPPF.

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

I chose to wait to hear what the Minister had to say before speaking. I believe that it is important for me to do so because the discussions have demonstrated that there are different views on all sides. I consider this very much free vote territory. I hope that the Minister feels that it was a good decision to encourage my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough to voice his concerns in the Committee. He feels deeply on the matter and his concerns are to some extent shared by some Labour Members.

We thought long and hard about how to facilitate the airing of such important views. As I am sure the Minister recalls, I asked on Second Reading for a Special Standing Committee in which we could hear the evidence. The hon. Member for Crosby underlined how special such a committee would be. Without it, any discussion at this stage in the Bill is a compromise. I hope that the Minister will understand that and try to facilitate the hearing of evidence.

I strongly urge the Minister to consider how proper hearings can be undertaken in the House. Hon. Members of all parties believe that it is important to investigate the matter properly, as acceptance or rejection of the points made often hinge on second-hand evidence. The truth is more likely to come out in an extended inquiry into the matter.

Last month, the US-based Population Research Institute sent a team to China to observe the so-called voluntary programme and interviewed women and officials in the very counties where UNFPA is active. The institute found the statements to be misleading, because although the quotas were said to have been removed, the policy persisted. That is one illustration of the confusion that surrounds the issue and the need for genuine investigation that would inform Parliament. The US Congress has held its own hearings, but because British taxpayers' money is involved, it would be right for Parliament to hold a similar in-depth inquiry. I reiterate that request to the Minister, whom I thank for the spirit in which he replied. The tone on both sides of the House reveals how keenly we know that the issue touches on free vote territory.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee 11:00 am, 22nd November 2001

I am grateful to hon. Members for taking part in the debate. It is important that the House has the chance to discuss the matter in detail. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden, and especially grateful to the Minister for the seriousness with which he has approached the task. He is a good and skilful Minister who has made an effort to respond to some of my concerns. We cannot now, with the resources available to the Committee, take the process much further. We have given it an airing, but there is a dispute about what is going on in Sihui county. One research institute, whose findings have been criticised, is critical of the United Nations programmes in the county. It says that it has evidence to show that little or no progress is being made; however, the Minister advanced evidence that suggests the opposite. The hon. Member for Crosby made a powerful point: what is needed is independent evidence from an organisation that is not involved in the process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden is right; we shall have to return to the issue, which I suspect will be raised again on Report. If it is—I apologise to the Minister for saying that it might be—we may have a clear idea of the evidence. We have had a useful debate. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, after `contribute', insert `directly, or indirectly'.

Photo of Mr Win Griffiths Mr Win Griffiths Labour, Bridgend

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 12, at end insert

`or—

(c) promoting good governance in one or more such countries'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 12, at end insert

`or—

(d) reducing conflict or the potential for conflict in one or more such countries'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 12, at end insert

`or—

(e) putting into place the framework necessary to attract private and foreign direct investment in one or more such countries.'.

No. 6, in page 1, line 16, at end add—

`(5) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the Secretary of State may fund public awareness campaigns in developing countries for purposes consistent with this section.'.

No. 12, in clause 4, page 2, line 24, at end insert—

`(d) promote, or assist any person or body to promote, the awareness of good governance and of the means of achieving good governance,'.

No. 13, in page 2, line 28, after `(b)', insert `(c) or (d) or (e)'.

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

I can reassure the Minister if he is getting worried about how long we are spending debating some of the issues. The selection of amendments means, inevitably, that we will have a substantial discussion in this clause about the objective and focus of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will bear with us; we shall have to take our time over this part of the Bill because of the grouping of amendments. However, that may enable us to proceed more swiftly in relation to other clauses.

The group of amendments is pulled together by our concern that, because of the Bill's laudable purpose and focus on poverty reduction, other important aspects of international development work might suffer from too much focus on a single aspect. As international development legislation does not come along often, we must take the opportunity to ensure that the Government get the balance right.

I shall speak to the amendments in order. When we come to the stand part discussion, we may discuss the clause in more general terms. Amendment No. 1, an overarching amendment for those that follow, seeks to allow the Secretary of State to provide development assistance to a country or countries, provided she is satisfied that the action will lead, directly or indirectly, to a reduction in poverty. It seeks to allow her the ability to provide assistance to organisations or projects that work to lay foundations for poverty reduction but that cannot be described as directly contributing to a reduction in poverty.

There is a danger that the term ``poverty reduction'' could be used to mean a small number of policies that alleviate poverty in the short term rather than the broad, multi-sectoral approach needed to change systems of government and establish political stability. I am sure that we are all thinking about the Bill's workability in respect of a country such as Afghanistan. Poverty reduction is a key focus there, but many aspects of development work are needed if that country's population are to know relief from the deprivation, poverty, starvation, war and civil unrest from which they have suffered for so long.

The United Nations Development Programme has highlighted the fact that some agencies have used a narrow definition of poverty in their programmes. The UNDP's poverty report for last year stated:

``Some anti-poverty plans continue to treat poverty as though it were a sectoral issue''.

We should take note of other organisations' experiences with an overfocus on poverty reduction, to the exclusion of other beneficial activities.

We are concerned that, if there is no formal recognition in clause 1 of indirect ways to reduce poverty, the Government could be restricted to a narrow set of policies that treat the effects of poverty rather than its causes. The UNDP explained in its report that

``poverty is a multidimensional problem requiring comprehensive, multisectoral programmes linked to national policy-making.''

The Department's work is multi-sectoral, and we want it to continue that way. That is one of the reasons for debating direct and indirect relief of poverty and why we are calling for recognition in the Bill of the many policies required to combat global poverty.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Labour, South Dorset

The hon. Lady spoke about the work of the Department and the multifaceted nature of tackling poverty. Does she not think that attempting to define the work in a series of amendments, as she has done, carries a risk that we miss some facets and, thus, limit the Department's room to manoeuvre?

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

When I provide the hon. Gentleman with examples of what we should like the Bill to tackle, he may understand my perspective. I am anxious that no important aspects are in any way relegated. Let us imagine a different time: economically, times are harder and it is more difficult for the Government to fulfil its spending programme commitments. I want to ensure that, when the spotlight falls on the Department and difficult choices have to be made, the good work of the Department does not suffer.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Opposition Whip (Commons)

The intervention by the hon. Member for South Dorset went in the opposite direction to our amendments. We are examining a clause that focuses solely on a reduction in poverty and, by moving amendments that would draw attention to the need for good governance and the prevention of conflict, for example, we are widening, not narrowing, the potential for help.

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

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I am sure that he agrees that poverty reduction should be the implicit objective of all the Department's work. It should be a given. In tabling our amendments, we do not wish to convey the impression that we do not believe that poverty reduction should be the objective of development assistance work. I do not want that misunderstanding to creep into this exchange.

When the Bill becomes law, Government programmes will have to demonstrate that they can satisfy the demand for the necessities of life of the poor in developing countries and make those people wealthier. It is difficult to imagine that all Government aid programmes, particularly governance and more technical training programmes, will be able to demonstrate that beyond all shadow of doubt. That is why we want recognition that some Government work to reduce poverty may be done far away from the lives of the poor. It is vital that all programmes that help to lay the foundation for a reduction in poverty are fully recognised in the Bill. They include all governance programmes that work on the principle that strengthening government institutions and the rule of law leads indirectly to better government and policies, more participation in the democratic process and, consequently, political stability and economic growth. Nowhere is that truer today than in Afghanistan.

Amendment No. 2 is one of a series that highlights matters that we believe are important. It would place in the Bill the promotion of good governance in developing countries and stress its importance as the key to poverty reduction. It would allow the Secretary of State to provide assistance to projects or programmes that focus on good governance or lay the foundations for good governance, if the programmes cannot be described as contributing directly to a reduction in poverty.

Encouraging good governance is an indispensable part of the British aid programme. Several agencies have stressed the major impact that good governance has had on poverty reduction. The United Nations Development Programme report said:

``A missing link between anti-poverty efforts and poverty reduction is governance''.

That highlights not only that governance is the missing link in the development chain, but that anti-poverty efforts are useless without responsible and effective Governments. The report continues to say that

``for many countries it is in improving governance that external assistance is needed.''

That is why good governance needs to be at the heart of the Government's aid and development policy.

The World Bank world development report of 2000 said:

``Poorly functioning public sector institutions and weak governance are major constraints to growth and equitable development in many developing countries''.

It sets out also the importance of good governance for poverty reduction. The World Bank has said that it

``needs to focus even more than it has in the past on helping governments develop the process and incentives to design and implement good policies themselves. Only through such institution building will countries achieve the ultimate goals of poverty reduction''.

The fact that there are no financial or banking institutions in Afghanistan, for example, is a major difficulty for the agencies that are working and have worked there.

In the Government's 1997 White Paper ``Eliminating Poverty'', they said:

``Some countries will make more rapid progress towards the international poverty targets than others. The most likely to succeed will have effective Government, enlightened legislation, prudent budgeting and an efficient administration.''

The Secretary of State has said:

``World Bank research shows that if aid is focused where the poor are and where the national Governments are committed to reform, the effectiveness of the US $50 billion or so in the international development system is increased by 50 per cent.''—[Official Report, 6 March 2001; Vol. 364, c. 159.]

That effectiveness is well worth having. If the Government truly believe that good governance is key in the battle against poverty, the Bill should state that.

It is worth linking that amendment with amendment No. 12, which is probing and also deals with good governance and the need to raise public awareness of it. In choosing to focus on poverty reduction, we should not shy away from the need to raise public awareness of what changes are needed indirectly to bring that about. It is crucial to raise awareness of good governance in a country such as Afghanistan at this time.

Amendment No. 3 relates to another important aspect of development work: the reduction of conflict, or the potential for conflict, in developing countries. We are anxious not to see a reduction in the importance that is attached to the reduction of conflict as part of the Department's work. The amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to provide assistance, whether financial or technical, to reduce the potential for conflict in developing countries.

The amendment would also provide help to countries such as those in central and eastern Europe to assist with the control of the supply of small arms from those areas to countries of conflict, as many small arms that fuel conflict come from central and eastern Europe. It would also allow the Secretary of State to provide assistance to hold a consultation exercise with a view to setting up a register to monitor the activities of UK arms brokers, or to take any other action to reduce the potential for conflict. I give those examples, as they are indirect to poverty reduction, but none the less are practical and effective suggestions for ways to try to reduce conflict, which is one of the causes of misery and poverty in large parts of the developing world.

It is vital that the narrow terms of the Bill and its focus on poverty reduction do not make illegal any measures to prevent the potential for violent conflict in developing countries. Explicit reference must be made to conflict, as it is often the root cause of poverty and political instability. The Government agree with that. The globalisation White Paper stated:

``The promotion of peace and stability is indispensable if countries are to attract investment and trade, and promote pro-poor development. Violent conflict is one of the biggest barriers to development in many of the world's poorest countries.''

The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that countries will struggle to make the necessary commitment to poverty reduction and economic growth if they are affected by conflict. Action to prevent the proliferation of small arms in developing countries could legitimately mean that British aid money is used to help strengthen customs and excise or economic diversification in countries from which those arms originate. Those tend to be countries of central and eastern Europe. We are concerned that the poverty focus of the Bill may render such assistance illegal.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee 11:15 am, 22nd November 2001

My hon. Friend has made an important point, and it would be interesting to hear the Minister's early response. If the Bill's whole emphasis is on reducing poverty, it might be illegal if the Department for International Development had a programme to strengthen customs and excise. We must bring out that important point in today's proceedings.

Hilary Benn indicated dissent—

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

The Minister's shake of the head will be confirmed in the record and no doubt he will return to the matter, but I thank my hon. Friend for underlining its importance.

I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the work of Saferworld, which is a foreign affairs think tank that works to identify, develop and publicise more effectively ways of tackling and preventing armed conflict. Its key programmes include those to reduce proliferation and illicit trafficking of arms and to tackle conflict prevention. That organisation beat a path to my door, because it was concerned about the issue. It feels that conflict prevention work should not be relegated as part of an over-focus on poverty reduction. In its view, there is no doubt that poverty and inequality are inextricably linked with conflict, as a consultation document entitled ``Department for International Development: The Causes of Conflict in Africa'', which was published in March this year, said.

Prioritising poverty reduction and the reduction of group inequalities within development assistance programmes is a primary concern for reducing conflict and addressing potential conflict. However, development assistance can be targeted at a number of other spheres to address the root causes of conflict. That would not necessarily be classified as poverty reduction.

For example, the security sector's role is an essential element to consider when addressing the root causes of violent conflict, which the Government openly recognise. Part IV of the DFID paper to which I referred states a commitment to

``continue to identify countries where British involvement in security sector reform and increased accountability of the security forces to democratic authority will enhance peace and security and help to reduce conflict.''

We in no way wish to see that work undermined.

Photo of Tony Cunningham Tony Cunningham Labour, Workington

I cannot stress enough the importance of conflict prevention. I remember being in Ethiopia and Eritrea three or four years ago. It was fairly clear that there was about to be a war, but very little was done. In one battle, 80,000 people were killed. Those are two of the poorest countries in the world—they are in the bottom six—and that conflict has probably put back their development by 20 years.

When we talk about good Governments and conflict prevention, we are often talking about what the UK and the north can do as regards the south. Would not the hon. Lady agree that it is just as important to enable good Governments in African countries to help to support good Governments in another African country? We could enable the Organisation of African Unity or another body to help in preventing conflict on the African continent, as opposed to considering only how the UK can deal with such issues.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a wise point. When asked, many poor nations say that they always feel that we try to ``do to'' them rather than to ``do with'' them. We must pay more attention to that fundamental point. The hon. Gentleman made the point about Africa, which leads conveniently to some examples from DFID's work that I wanted to highlight. I am referring to the support that the Department has given to the reform of the army in Sierra Leone and the police in Malawi. I particularly wish to commend the Department on its initiatives in those countries.

I am conscious that we are approaching 11.25 am, when hon. Members will wish to repair to the Chamber to pose their questions, and that we are only halfway through our examination of a series of amendments that are about ensuring, and reassuring ourselves about, the Bill's focus. We are seeking throughout to ensure that the focus on poverty reduction does not indirectly exclude other good work. I have come to the end of my speech on amendment No. 3, which is about conflict reduction. Given the time, it may be better if I do not deal with the amendments on a different subject in this group.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Stringer.]

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Eleven o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock. {**vert_rule**}