Condition for exercise of power to increase limit: LDCs and LICs

Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 6 December 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

After section 15 of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 1999 (limit on government assistance), insert—

“15A Condition for exercise of power to increase limit: LDCs and LICs

(1) The Secretary of State may only lay a draft of regulations under section 15(4) before the House of Commons if he is satisfied that the condition in subsection (2) is met.

(2) That condition is that any new investment in a country enabled by the proposed increase in the current limit at the time is in a country which is classified as either—

(a) one of the least developed countries, or

(b) one of the other low income countries.

(3) In determining the classification of a country for the purposes of subsection (2), the Secretary of State shall use the latest analytical classification of the world’s economies prepared by the World Bank.

(4) In this section, “the current limit at the time” means—

(a) prior to the making of any regulations under section 15(4), £6,000 million,

(b) thereafter, the limit set in regulations made under section 15(4) then in force.””

This new clause would limit any new investment arising from any increase in the limit on government assistance under regulations under section 15(4) to the least developed countries and other low income countries.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

The new clauses are all probing and designed to get further into this issue of the CDC’s disjoint from DFID’s overall focus, whether that is the disjoint from the Department’s bilateral programme, from its focus on individual countries, or from its focus on income and countries considered to be least developed or low income. Again, I mention the Minister’s interesting comments about India; I would be interested to know if he would consider looking at the broader issue.

The three new clauses look separately at the respective issues. The first one would amend the Bill to require that the CDC’s new money was only invested in countries where DFID has a bilateral programme. New clause 4 would set out a very specific list as to where CDC was able to invest. I know that it already has a list, but I think that it should be shorter and I have suggested some countries that could be removed from it. I am sure we can have a debate about that.

New clause 5 suggests that any new disbursements should be focused on those countries defined as least developed or low income, rather than on middle-income countries where the significant proportion of the CDC spending does appear to be going.

The disjoint is very clear on the bilateral front. DFID currently invests in 35 countries. We are not sure where that is going because we do not have any detail on the bilateral aid review—perhaps the Minister could enlighten us as to whether that list is likely to increase, decrease or change in some way—but the CDC is in 63 countries. When we look at where other aid is being spent through other Government Departments, that number gets even higher. This is a worrying trend.

Library briefings for this Bill go into quite a bit of detail, particularly with regard to new clause 5, on relative investment by income group between 2010 and 2013. I am referring to page 5 of the Commons briefing for those who have it with them. It reflects that there has been an improvement in the situation, and it says that there is

“an increased emphasis on the poorest countries brought about by the new investment policy between 2010 and 2013. The share of new investments in the very poorest least developed countries (LDCs) increased from 4% to 12%, and from less than 1% to 4% in other low income counties (LICs). The share decreased in both lower middle income (LMICs) and upper middle income countries (UMICs).”

I did try to get the data on the two most recent years but I understand that the OECD has not given its full analysis of which countries fall into those categories and, conscious of some of the points made earlier, that information would be very helpful. I hope for, and would expect that there has been, a further trend in the direction highlighted. Again, it would be helpful for the Minister and the Department’s statisticians to set this out for us. However, there is still a huge distortive effect. The share of new investments even just up to 12% in the least developed countries—12% of the CDC’s investments by income group—is not a lot. I am not saying that investments in the middle-income countries are not going to the poorest people, because in some of those cases they clearly are, but when we delve into the detail, as we have done in the case of India, the picture is not clear and the majority of the investments, as of today, still go to the richer states rather than the poorest.

South Africa is another concerning example. The situation with South Africa and whether the CDC is allowed to invest is a complex one, but I asked the Minister in a written question whether or not there was an analysis of investment by state and I was told that the CDC does not assess its South African investments by state. We are not even able to understand whether the CDC’s investments are going into poorer or richer parts of South Africa. We get an answer by portfolios and by sectors, but that is concerning to me.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

It looks as if new clauses 3, 4 and 5 offer three different options on the way in which the CDC could spend money geographically. They do so first by limiting its list of eligible countries to those where bilateral aid is already happening; secondly, by limiting that list to a new schedule to the Bill in new clause 4—schedule 2A—that the hon. Gentleman has tabled, which looks to be of about 43 countries and gives no particular explanation as to how those were chosen or why they differ; and thirdly new clause 5 uses other multilateral definitions. Which option is the hon. Gentleman advocating, because all three contradict each other to some extent?

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

Indeed, but—the hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the flow of debate in Committee—the tabling of probing amendments to discuss and debate different suggestions is very much the way in which we scrutinise, suggest alternatives and allow debate in the House. Personally, I think the latter option in new clause 5—some sort of measure based around ensuring that the CDC more closely focuses on the LDCs and LICs—would allow the CDC to have a little bit more flexibility than by restricting it to the bilateral programme.

That option would recognise some legacy investments—for example, those that have been mentioned in which money being spent in one country might actually benefit another. Perhaps some of the partnerships between India and Africa, which are very interesting, are such examples. I do not want to completely rule those out; there are some legitimate reasons for them. I want to see a much tighter focus on the poorest countries than appears to be the case at the moment. It is difficult to see where things are without the data for the last year, but we can see where they were a couple of years ago.

If we look at the trend in the last few years, in terms of new investments by region, another briefing helpfully provided by the House of Commons Library shows that the share of the total percentage of investments going to Africa has actually declined since 2012, while the share going to south Asia—which I would imagine, were we to delve into the detail, is going to India—has gone up. That concerns me, not least given what Professor Collier said, and what other Members who I know support the CDC getting more money have said. Those are the facts and statistics provided by the neutral House of Commons Library; they are there. It will be much more helpful to see where those trends are going and where the focus is, and then to be assured that Ministers were going to bear down in terms of setting caveats for the CDC—whether those are over specific countries where DFID has synergies with its bilateral programme, or, indeed, an overall focus on poverty eradication.

I am intrigued to hear that the CDC plans to expand its network of offices. At a time when we are talking about one UN and bringing UN agencies together in one office, and about an enhanced in-country co-operation between DFID and the Foreign Office, it seems slightly odd that the CDC could open new offices in locations where we do not maintain a bilateral programme and where there are not necessarily those synergies. I think that Ministers ought to look much more carefully at that, to ensure that there is coherence between what the CDC is doing and what the rest of Government are doing.

I will leave to one side comments on the detail of some of the sectoral arrangements in some of the locations. I conclude by appealing to the Minister to give us a bit more detail and a bit more assurance on what sort of caveats and guidance will be given—not micromanagement but clear guidance about what kind of shift Ministers expect in return for a new investment, particularly if it is a large one. For example, would they expect the CDC to stop investing completely in middle-income countries over the next three or four years? That seems to be incongruous with what the Department itself has said; the Government have made a big deal of ending aid to India, China, South Africa and other locations, yet we see aid to those locations increasing through this CDC route. That seems to be a difficult argument to make.

We all struggle with making the argument for international development to our constituents. At the moment, there is a good degree of cross-party consensus in the House about the importance of international development and aid, but I have difficulty explaining why we should be supporting some of the poorest people in the world to my constituents; I have real difficulty explaining why aid money should be used to fund a private hospital in India. We all need to take care to ensure that we are robustly focusing our aid, our effort and our limited taxpayer funding on the poorest and on the countries that align most closely with our existing development programmes, where we have an added advantage.

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 4:00, 6 December 2016

I have to say that I agree with a considerable number of the hon. Gentleman’s points, although I see some problems with the way in which the new clauses address them. For instance, if we restricted new capital to a certain list of countries, where would that leave the self-generated capital, both from existing investments and from these investments once they are sold? That does not seem to be clear, so in effect we would have to segregate capital raised through the profits or the free cash flow of the sale of existing investments, and capital raised through the sale of new investments that had been restricted to certain countries.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but has that not already happened with regard to legacy investments in Latin America, for example, as a result of the changes in the strategy for CDC in 2012?

Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford

Yes, it has, absolutely, but what I am saying is that the new clauses are not specific enough to achieve what the hon. Gentleman wants.

I must also repeat my earlier point that middle-income countries are a very broad church. I think I mentioned that they cover gross national incomes between £1,000 and £13,000; forgive me, but I meant between just over $1,000 and just over $13,000—dollars, not pounds, although that is less of a difference than it was a year ago. I believe firmly that a country with a gross national income of $2,000 or $3,000 per head per year is absolutely the kind of country that we should be investing in to create the jobs I referred to earlier, but it would be counted as a middle income country.

My final point is that when we invest in multilateral institutions such as the World Bank through IDA, we are investing in low income countries; but when we invest through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is the major part of the World Bank, we are investing indirectly in middle income countries, including India, China, Brazil and all the other countries that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I would not like us to treat the CDC differently from our investments in the World Bank or in other multilateral institutions such as the Global Fund.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (International Development)

Again, I associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth. I have two additional general points. We have to look at the 2011 review. There were clear purposes behind it, one of which was that the CDC had lost its focus. As a result of the review, we saw the new universe of countries and, as I said earlier, have ended up in a better place today than we were in four or five years ago.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must not lose our focus on development impact and where it can be greatest, and nor must CDC. We must continue to focus on the poorest countries, where the impact will be felt the most and where it is most needed. The CDC’s ultimate goal must be to alleviate poverty, and that goal is not best achieved in some of the countries that have been used as examples.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

If I may, I will focus not on particular sectors but on the issues addressed by the new clauses: the type of countries in which CDC should be working.

I wish to make four arguments. First, there are significant technical problems with the amendments, but I do not wish to take up too much of the Committee’s time with them, so I will move on.

Secondly, there is a conceptual difference between DFIs and the bilateral programmes at DFID. It is perfectly reasonable for a Government looking at their overseas development programme not to limit themselves to where they happen to have a bilateral programme. A bilateral programme traditionally means somewhere where we happen to have a DFID office and are running our own bilateral programmes through our own staff. There might be an argument that we do not wish to have a bilateral programme in a country because we already have CDC operations taking place in that country.

The third argument, which I again do not wish to rehearse because it covers a lot of the issues that we have talked about today, is how to get the balance right between Parliament—it is absolutely right that Parliament should have the job of determining the overall financial allocation—and the discretion given to the Secretary of State and the Department to determine country programmes. It would be unfortunate if we ended up specifying in primary legislation a specific list of countries where we would and would not operate, as a result of the judgment calls that a Secretary of State or Department, from any party, has to make—the world changes very quickly.

Right hon. and hon. Members have raised some difficult judgment calls. India has 35% of the world’s population who exist on $1.25 a day, which is more, in absolute numbers, than the number of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa. That is a difficult philosophical discussion, and different people on different sides of the House will have different views on whether we wish to focus on that, but whether we focus on those people or not seems reasonably to be a judgment call for the Department and perfectly in accordance with the International Development Act 2002. It is also true that it may be necessary to make investments in a wealthier state in order to help a poorer state. It may be necessary to use South Africa’s financial institutions in order to support poverty alleviation in other African countries.

Finally, it may be necessary to respond to quickly changing events in the world. For example, nobody predicted the conflagration in Syria. We are suddenly having to put bilateral programmes into middle income countries—Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon—where we never had bilateral programmes four years ago, in order to deal with 3.5 million refugees, horrendous killing, an extreme humanitarian disaster and a UN tier 3 emergency. The International Development Committee has been asking us to get the CDC to invest in exactly those situations. The new clause would prohibit us in primary legislation from doing that. With respect, I believe that these things are best left to the discretion of the Department. We are very happy to share all our thinking on how those decisions are made with Parliament in the normal fashion. With that, I hope that the new clause will be withdrawn.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

I thank the Minister and the hon. Members who have taken part in the debate for their comments. In response to the hon. Member for Stafford, I should point out that the fact that some of the other DFIs are focused in some of those other middle income countries is all the more reason for the CDC to have a different focus. We have less control in those organisations, by being a part-shareholder and part-donor. We have 100% control over what the CDC does. If we are contributing in that way to some particular important niche project that the World Bank is funding, for example, why do we need to add to that with an organisation over which we have a greater degree of strategic control? We are supposed to be leading—that is the mantra—and setting an example. We should perhaps be going to some of those more difficult locations that Professor Collier was talking about and addressing some of the innovative solutions that the hon. Member for Glasgow North was talking about on green energy. We ought to be leading, not just matching what other development finance institutions are doing.

The Minister makes a good point about not limiting the provisions to the bilateral programme in strictly defined terms, as the new clause—a probing amendment—would do. The example that he gave of Syria was a good one. There is also a very good argument to be made about francophone Africa, where CDC and our bilateral programme could play a bigger role and we could perhaps come alongside other investors. The Minister had a fair point on tight definitions and on listing countries.

I would ask the Minister to look again at the issue of the rankings of countries. In terms of CDC’s total disbursements in Africa and south Asia over the past seven years, the lion’s share has gone to India and South Africa, with £760.5 million and £194 million respectively. Money has also been disbursed to some very odd locations —these are not small amounts. Some £27.6 million has gone to Mauritius, £12.6 million to Morocco, £53.6 million to Egypt and £9.8 million to Algeria. That does not seem to fit into the categories that the Minister alluded to.

There is a debate to be had about India. I accept the point that he made, but it is not the argument that has been used in the past by advisers in his Department. In fact, the special adviser to the Department when he was at the TaxPayers’ Alliance resoundingly criticised DFID for continuing aid to India which, he argued, had a space programme and everything else. He said that all aid should be stopped. The Government, including his Government, have made a big fanfare to the public and to this House about aid to India ending, and yet it continues. I think there is an inconsistency there, and it would be useful to know where we stand and where we are heading, because it is not what is being said.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development

Just to clarify the position on the record. The Government intend to stop all conventional bilateral grant aid to India. Support in India will then be targeted through technical assistance and through the CDC instrument of financial investment in private sector companies.

So the distinction that the Government are making is between traditional bilateral grant aid and instruments such as the CDC. Specifically on the question of balance, I absolutely take these points on board—60% of the investments since 2012 have been made in Africa, only 40% in south Asia, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. I absolutely understand the importance of keeping a rigorous development grid and development impact theory to make sure that CDC focuses on the countries that need aid most.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

I thank the Minister for his point. It was not the impression that was given by the Government at the time about aid to India. The clarification is helpful, but again we get into the value and the total amount that is going to India rather than other locations. For me, and for many others who contributed to this debate, it is simply too high. That is why I welcome what the Minister has said about a cap. However, I urge him to look at a cap in some of these other countries. There are some very odd outlier examples here which do not really fit in any way with our wider objectives, our strategic interests, or our poverty reduction objectives. There does not seem to be any clear explanation, and I think we ought to be bearing down more tightly on that.

It would be helpful for the Minister to explain, as we go through the next few days on the Bill, whether he would consider tough stretch targets.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth

Well, we do have another day—the Whip is commenting—which we could get to, depending on where we are. We will certainly have time on Report and Third Reading, but it would be helpful to know by then the sort of stretch targets that the Minister envisages for the CDC, if it were to get extra money, and where it would be forced, perhaps not completely banning it from all investment in middle income countries—I accept some of the points that have been made—to have a much, much more significant focus for where its new investments are going, because it is clearly not meeting that at the current time. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 6