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Clause 5 - Meaning of ``assistance''

Part of International Development Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 27th November 2001.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 11:15 am, 27th November 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 36, leave out from first `assistance' to end of line 39 and insert

`means assistance in the fields of economic development, administration and social services, consisting in the making available of the services of any body or person, training facilities, the supply of material, or the results of research undertaken in any such fields.'.

The amendment would classify economic development as an important element of technical assistance. The description of technical assistance in the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980 sets out the definition of technical assistance to include assistance with economic development. The Bill makes no reference to economic development.

Technical assistance is part of British development assistance. Our capacity to help in this area is also the part in which British people have most confidence. Valuable technical assistance has been provided to developing countries, including know-how and skills that they would not otherwise have had. We also believe that, as one of the world's premier financial centres, the UK has a unique role to play in assisting developing countries with their economic development as well as their social development. For example, Afghanistan has no financial institutions, which will make it difficult for it to secure the necessary assistance for its reconstruction. That is a good example of a situation in which our help will be very much needed.

A survey of opinion for the Department for International Development, involving 1,800 people chosen at random, shows that just 18 per cent. thought that providing financial assistance was the most important way of reducing poverty. In a survey of children, the Department found that the majority of support for development was for technical assistance, such as the training of nurses, doctors and engineers, rather than for financial aid. One of the reservations that the public have about the provision of financial assistance is whether it reaches the intended recipient, which takes us back to the delicate question referred to by the Minister earlier, of auditing what happens to assistance. I entirely accept the Minister's point that the process should not be so onerous for the developing country that it becomes burdensome, but there is no doubt that the public are anxious about money not getting to the desired recipient, especially when it is subsequently proved to have been used in an abusive way or to have been dispatched to the overseas bank account of someone for whom it was not intended.

Economic development is also crucial to the future of the environment. The globalisation White Paper states that

``Poverty and environmental degradation are often linked. Economic development gives countries improved access to new, less resource-intensive and less polluting technologies. Over the last fifty years, it has been more closed economies—such as the former Communist countries—that have had the worst record of industrial pollution and urban environmental degradation''.

If the Government feel strongly about the global environment, they must put economic development back into the meaning of ``technical assistance''. If the developed world seeks to take the lead on tackling some of the fundamental problems of global warming, we must give assistance to developing countries to help all of us to tackle that kind of global, environmental problem.

The globalisation White Paper also highlighted the importance of multinationals in economic development. They can contribute significantly to economic development in host countries through their technology, specialised skills and ability to organise and integrate production across countries, establishing marketing networks and accessing finance and equipment on favourable terms. If the Government support the role of the multinationals in contributing to economic development, they should also include economic development in the meaning of ``technical assistance'' in the Bill, so that Government, too, can support developing countries through technical assistance in technology and specialised skills.

The Bill comes at an important conjuncture in business terms, since many multinationals are increasingly aware of their need to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and responsibility towards developing countries. Many of them have appointed a corporate social responsibility director. When multinationals are becoming more conscious of their need to demonstrate, in practical terms, their assistance to the developing world, it is all the more important to include a statement of economic development in Bill for the purposes of encouragement.