Condition for exercise of power to increase limit: prohibition on investment in certain sectors

Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 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: prohibition on investment in certain sectors

(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 enabled by the proposed increase in the current limit at the time is not in any of the following sectors—

(a) the for profit education sector,

(b) the for profit health sector,

(c) the real estate sector,

(d) mineral extraction.

(3) 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 prohibit any new investment arising from any increase in the limit on government assistance under regulations under section 15(4) from being in the for profit education sector, the for profit health sector, real estate or mineral extraction.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause regards prohibitions on the sectors in which the CDC can invest. I have chosen four issues about which I think there are questions—and questions have been asked. We could equally add the issue of fossil fuels, which has already been discussed. I have specified the for-profit education sector, the for-profit health sector, the real estate sector and mineral extraction. [Interruption.] I notice the Minister disappearing for a moment; I will allow him a moment to use the bathroom.

Moving swiftly on.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth 4:30, 6 December 2016

Moving swiftly on. I hope that the Whip can report my comments to him.

My concern—obviously I have been through some of the examples before—is the percentage investment in different sectors. We have heard the presentations, whether from the Secretary of State, or the chief executive and chair today, about how wonderful the CDC is, and all the wonderful work that it does; but they tend to draw on specific projects, which I do not doubt do excellent work on poverty eradication, and make a difference. However, those reflect only part of the picture.

From an overview of the CDC’s portfolio, 40% is invested in what, I think, according to the House of Commons Library, is designated as “other”; 16% is in the financial sector; 8% is in power; 9% is in industry and manufacturing; 12% is in other infrastructure; 6% is in agribusiness; and 9% is in services. When we look at new CDC investments by sector from 2012 to 2015, according to the Library the share of new investment seems heavily focused on the financial services industry.

I know that the CDC makes many important investments that the Government promote, including access to microfinance, technological solutions or enhancing banking services for the poor. I have nothing against the financial services industry. Indeed, I have many financial services industries in my constituency. I am well aware of the important work that has been done under many Governments on investing in mobile phone banking technology, for example; again, that work began under a Labour Government but has continued to a great fruition in recent years.

There seems, however, to have been a very heavy focus on the financial services sector and very little on anything else, whether industry, healthcare, education or other sectors. Of the investment in education and healthcare, for example, as we saw from the example of India, a significant proportion seems to be going to the for-profit sector. I do not want to reiterate statistics that we heard earlier, but that seems to me to be of great concern. It does not seem to be in line with DFID’s previous objectives of expanding free healthcare and investing in health systems.

I worry—and this is where we come to the issue of opportunity costs of investment in the CDC versus other potential routes—that the Department has started to skew significantly away from some of the work that was done to support the development of strong, national, public, free-at-point-of-use healthcare and education systems. We know how much of a deterrent user fees are to the poorest and to other excluded groups in accessing healthcare.

We also know from DFID’s past how strategic catalytic investment in those sectors has resulted in massive uptake. Importantly, there is also a secondary effect—citizens demanding from their Governments that public health and education services should be provided. That creates the virtuous circle, the social contract, and has much wider benefits for governance, relationships between citizens and the state, and the promotion of democracy and stability. I am therefore concerned that CDC is investing in private solutions, that money still appears to be going into things such as real estate, and that there are questionable investments in such things as palm oil.

I mentioned South Africa earlier, but did not talk about specific sectors. We can see that the bulk of investments in South Africa went into the financial sector, and then agribusiness and food. That is surprising. I have visited South Africa many times and, if we are investing in some of the poorest people there, the issues are often food security and access to HIV treatments, among others. Yes, financial services are important, but the skewing that appears to be happening in the projects seems odd. Again, without being able to access detailed information on the nature of individual investments, we cannot necessarily create aggregates for whether the investments in healthcare or education, for example, are to help more vulnerable and more excluded people to get services, albeit at a low cost, or whether we just see a generalised investment, as in the Rainbow Hospitals in India.

Can the Minister explain the plans the Department has for pushing the CDC and why he thinks the split is so geared towards financial services as opposed to other sectors? Can he also specifically comment on the investments in the for-profit education and health sectors and the other ones I mentioned in this new clause?

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

These are a very good set of questions. Indeed, we are concerned—as is the hon. Gentleman—about the issue of which sectors we invest in. To reveal a little of the thinking in the forthcoming strategy, we are likely to put more of an emphasis on agriculture. The biggest element for investment is infrastructure and energy and I spoke at length on Second Reading about why we take electricity generation so seriously. I am not going to rehearse those arguments now. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of why that is an important sector for Africa.

Financial services is also a vital sector, for the reasons laid out by Sir Paul Collier in the evidence session, which we all had the privilege to hear today. Poverty alleviation in Africa will have to be driven by much more productive, specialised businesses. In addition to energy, the fundamental constraint to the development of those business at the moment is the availability of capital. Foreign direct investment levels in Africa are at an all-time low. We see this in livelihoods and supporting these lower income groups, through the support we provide through microfinance. Indeed, microfinance and all that kind of activity is included within financial services.

Large sums of capital available for medium and larger-sized enterprise, however, are going to be central. To pin down what we mean by this with an example, in Sierra Leone after the Ebola crisis, a number of serious investments were possible but were stopped because of people’s fear about the Ebola crisis. It was our ability to take a more patient, long-term view as a public investor that allowed us to provide the capital investment that generates those jobs. A lot of these economic development opportunities and jobs we are talking about are driven by financial services.

To return to the shadow Minister’s challenge, this is assessed by us in the individual development impact theory attached to each case. With regards to the new clause under consideration, we would oppose the idea of limiting in the Bill the sectors in which someone could invest, because sectors are very country-specific. To take an example from Afghanistan, I can completely understand why the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth wishes to say there should be no investment in the mineral sector. However, in a country such as Afghanistan, the mineral sector is almost the only credible possibility for macroeconomic growth and therefore for the country as a whole. Supporting marble, jewellery extraction and other exploitation of natural resources in Afghanistan is a lifeline for that country in a place where they are struggling to generate private-sector investment and have a huge effect on revenue.

We will not get drawn into a difficult discussion about the position of private health and education, except to say again, from an Afghan context, I have seen directly how some of the poorest people who have been unable to access healthcare manage to access it through affordable, low-cost health clinics. This is in Kabul, where wealthier people are giving about $1 or $1.50 a day to be able to go to a health clinic. That money is then often recycled to allow a proportion of people to access the clinic at a more affordable rate.

Even without that cross-subsidy, in many countries, the only way we can get health and education to people in the short term, unfortunately, is by supporting these structures. There is a disagreement that we are not going to be able to resolve today, where we believe the private provision of education and healthcare can be a good way of delivering those kinds of service. With that, I ask that the new clause be withdrawn.

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

I thank the Minister for his comments. I was pleased to hear that he thinks there might be more of a focus on agriculture and a strategy for it. That is an important step forward. As I made clear, I think that financial services are important, and I agree with many of the points he made. My question is, is there too much going into them to the exclusion of other sectors? I and other Members want there to be a clearer rationale for why that is happening at the expense of other things.

I do not think there is much disagreement about the importance of investing in infrastructure and energy, with the exception of the point about fossil fuels, which we discussed earlier. I wish we had done more of that in this country—that is what the previous Labour shadow team argued for, and we continue to do so. However, there remains an outstanding question about why so much of the new investment is going into just that one sector and why small amounts are going into others.

The point that the Minister made about the mineral sector in Afghanistan is fair, but I am sure he understands why there is a lot of scepticism, given the history of exploitation and poverty creation through the extractive industries, particularly in Africa and elsewhere. The UK led on the extractive industries transparency initiative, the Kimberley process and other measures for bearing down on the negative side effects. I hope that, if CDC invests in those potentially highly controversial sectors in the future, it will have a very clear public rationale for why it is doing so and will set out what the benefits are and what safeguards have been put in place; otherwise, there is the risk of creating a different impression.

The Minister is right that we do not agree on the issue of health and education. I do not think that the UK Government should be investing in private healthcare and education in developing countries. There is a role for the private health and education sectors in those countries—I am not opposed to the existence of a private health and education sector in this country, although I would not choose to use it myself—but should we be helping to expand them? Should we be bankrolling them by investing taxpayers’ capital into, for example, private hospitals, when it is not clear how those services will be made more accessible to the poorest? I urge the Minister to look more closely at that issue.

I came across the example—perhaps the Minister can write to me about it—of an investment we are making in an education programme called GEMS Africa, which appears to be running a series of private schools in what it describes as leafy residential suburbs in Nairobi and charging up to £10,000 a year. That does not sound like low-cost education—it is certainly not no-cost. It would be good to have some clarity about the type and nature of some of these investments, because that does not seem to be right. I think the Department should focus its resources on supporting the development of strong public health and education systems that are free at the point of use. We did excellent work on that previously, and it is a shame that we have moved away from that. I hope the Department will rethink that. I am sure we will debate this issue further, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 8