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 Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Department for International Development 4:30, 6 December 2016

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.