Clause 5 - Meaning of ``assistance''

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

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Minister (Women), Shadow Secretary of State for International Development 11:15, 27 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.

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

Not for the first time in the Committee, I agree with everything that the hon. Lady has said about the importance of the issues that she raised. Clearly, economic development and technical assistance in an appropriate form is essential to enabling developing countries to prosper and succeed in the future. The Bill in its current form permits all such assistance to be given. My reservation about the amendment relates not to the intention behind it but to its unintended potential consequences, which arise from the way in which it is drafted.

The purpose of the definition in clause 5(2) is simply to describe the form and nature of the technical assistance. It would therefore be undesirable to attempt to use it as a definition that restricts what technical assistance may be provided for. The distinction is important. If one restricts what assistance may be provided for, everything not mentioned in the amendment may be deemed as something for which assistance cannot be given.

Although the definition in the amendment appears inclusive rather than exhaustive, it cuts across the purposes of development assistance set out in clause 1(2). It does not strictly prevent other forms of technical assistance, but the specification of some types and forms of assistance begs the question why others are not mentioned.

As for the proposed list of forms of assistance, the amendment would—I am sure that it is unintentional—remove the power of the Secretary of State to give assistance by way of scholarships under clauses 1 and 2. The way in which the amendment is worded would cut out clause 5(2)(b), which reads:

``is provided in the form of a scholarship''.

That paragraph would be removed if we were to agree to the amendment, although doing so would not affect the separate powers set out in clause 14(5).

The lack of the word ``know-how'', which qualifies the basis on which services, training and the results of research are to be provided, also opens up the meaning of ``technical assistance'' to a substantial and unwarranted degree. I accept the point that the amendment makes, but the supply of material is provided for in clause 5(1)(b), so its repetition in the amendment is unnecessary.

I accept the intent and the spirit in which the amendment was tabled, but it would be undesirable to accept it for those practical reasons.

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

I agree with the Minister. The amendment would unnecessarily restrict what might be possible and desirable in terms of technical assistance, so the Liberal Democrats would oppose it.

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

We are probably splitting hairs over words and their interpretation, as we certainly did not intend to cut out the benefits of scholarship, which we all recognise as an important form of development assistance. I did not see that as incompatible with offering services to any body, person or training facilities.

``Know-how'' is a colloquial word that we all understand, but it is none the less imprecise. I want to bring some precision to the Bill. The fundamental point is that the amendment was not intended to restrict the assistance that could be provided. We have encountered the problem before of making a Bill more precise, so that people would understand what it involved more readily, but in doing so coming across the pitfall of reducing the original scope. That was not my purpose, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.