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

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.