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

Part of Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 6 December 2016.

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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?