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Clause 17 - Interpretation

International Development Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 27th November 2001.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 12:30 pm, 27th November 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 8, line 21, at end insert

` ``sustainable development'' has the meaning given in section 1.'.

The Opposition are trying to be helpful to the Government, as a definition is provided of ``sustainable development'' in clause 1(3). For a long time, much debate has taken place about the definition of sustainable development and it would certainly be helpful in relation to the interpretation of the Bill, and the work that it aims to do, to have that definition. I thought that it would be useful to include that in the list of interpretations in clause 17.

I have heard many debates on the Floor of the House in which an imprecision seemed to exist about the definition of sustainable development. Now that we have a definition, I thought that we should use it.

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

I hope that the hon. Lady will forgive me for deploying what might seem an arcane argument in resisting what is clearly intended as a helpful amendment. In fact, the Bill does not seek to define ``sustainable development''. That is an important starting point for the argument.

Clause 1(3) states:

``For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) `sustainable development' includes''—

as the word ``includes'' suggests, that is not a definition. The clause is worded in that way for precisely the reason to which the hon. Lady referred in her brief opening remarks. There continues to be a wide debate about what sustainable development means and, in drafting the Bill, the Government were anxious to ensure that they did not allow that question of definition to be seized by those who took a particular environmental or economic perspective.

We have taken this approach because we recognise that it is a controversial term that gives rise to a lot of debate. We believe that poverty can be eliminated only through sustainable development, which clearly involves a range of economic, social and other environmental factors. The balance of those factors, however, must be determined in the context of the needs of the poor people that the assistance in question aims at meeting. It would not be appropriate for the clause to imply that the Bill defines sustainable development, because it does not seek to do so.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development)

The lawyer in me—that was my role until 7 June—raises the same objection as the Minister has given. A meaning to the phrase is not given in clause 1, so it seems inappropriate to refer to one in this clause.

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

That is a shame. I thought that we were making some progress in defining the term. I thought that it was a good definition in that, if we were struggling to make the balance between the environmental and economic cases, it was a helpful approach to ask whether assistance would generate

``lasting benefits for the population''.

That is surely the acid test and something that most people, on whichever side of the argument they stand, can understand.

It is a shame that we have backed away from what I thought would be a defining moment in the development of the policy. If no one agrees completely on the meaning of the phrase, it is harder to have the debate. The phrase is bandied about a great deal in debate and conversation and people sound as if they know what they mean by it, but we are clearly not at the point when we can define it. I regret that, because the movement towards an interpretation of sustainable development would be practical in the context of the Bill. However, as it is not a definition in the eyes of the lawyers present, I understand that we cannot restate it in clause 17. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 18 and 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.