China: UNFPA: International Development Bill


Baroness Rawlings: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 28. This is a key amendment which seeks to place the UK Government’s relationship with charities and non-governmental aid organisations specialising in development on a more stable financial footing. It would ensure that development assistance provided through charities and NGOs could not fall below 15 per cent of total development assistance; would help to build strong support for development; and would act as a check against an overly centralising government.

The Bill, as Members of the Committee know, gives considerably more power to the Secretary of State. We believe that charities and non-governmental organisations are an asset to the United Kingdom’s attack on global poverty. We believe that charities and NGOs are more than just service providers and, as such, should be formally recognised and supported in the Bill. Aid distributed by UK- based charities and NGOs amounted to £195 million in the financial year 1999-2000. That was roughly 8 per cent of the total DfID budget. We want to see their role in development boosted and their involvement increased. We believe that by increasing government funding for charities more people will become involved either directly or indirectly with the development programmes and projects and that support for development will increase.

The Government pay lip service to charities but fail to harness their energy and enthusiasm. Howard White, an economist with a special interest in issues relating to aid policy, especially the macro-economic and poverty impact of aid, wrote an article about the first four years of the Department for International Development. It was placed in the BOND newsletter, representing 250 international development charities. In his article he criticised DfID, stating:

    “DfID’s relationship with the NGO community has been somewhat chequered. It might be thought that the trends outlined above of a stronger poverty focus and the emphasis on partnership have led to a closer working relationship between DfID and NGOs. In reality the picture is somewhat more mixed. It is true that NGOs welcome the poverty focus, and they find several positive aspects in the changing nature of DfID’s work–the HIV/AIDS programme is often mentioned in this regard. But there is also a feeling that there is not a genuine partnership, since DfID is not really prepared to enter into dialogue. As mentioned above, these criticisms centre in particular in the second White Paper. The consultation process for preparing the document was said by one NGO not to be very consultative. The relationship between DfID and NGOs is also seen to have suffered as a result of Clare Short’s personal antagonism towards the NGO community. Mainstream NGOs believe that genuine debate has been sacrificed by the Secretary of State’s desire to distance herself from the anti-liberalisation stance of more radical members of their community. [BOND Newsletter, DfID, The First Four Years, April 2001]”.

However, the Government claim that:

    “The UK Government work closely and constructively with NGOs and other elements of UK civil society.” [Globalisation White Paper, 199, col. 359].

However, we have seen that this is not the full story. The Government should take on board this criticism and work towards a better relationship with the UK overseas development charities. The Government could do this by providing charities and the British people with more information on development aid and how they can help. They could also increase the amount of DfID funding spent via charities and NGOs.We on these Benches believe that the British people should be encouraged to play a more active role in development. Conservatives see aid not purely as an activity for governments but as an area in which everyone can participate. The Conservative Party believes that the Government should support the British people by setting up agencies dedicated to motivating and encouraging the entire UK aid effort.

Baroness Amos: I shall begin by addressing the points raised by my noble friend in relation to Clause 6 and then move to discuss Amendments Nos. 23, 24, 26, 26A and 27 to 33. Clause 6 sets out the kinds of financial assistance which can be provided under the Bill. The Bill provides for the use of a wider range of financial instruments than are available under the 1980 Act by enabling the Secretary of State to provide guarantees and to purchase securities in a company as well as providing grants and loans.

The ability of the Secretary of State to use these new financial instruments has generated some interest. Let me therefore offer an example of how the Secretary of State might come to use development funds in this way.

DfID is currently working with a number of micro-finance institutions (MFIs) to extend the provision of financial services to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. For DfID to make a grant to such institutions carries several risks. An MFI, for example, might pay insufficient attention to innovation or cost control. Those risks would not apply to MFIs which were able to obtain capital on commercial terms. But banks are risk averse and often poorly informed about micro-finance institutions. The provision of a guarantee by DfID would enable banks to learn about the nature of the micro-finance market, and the Bill would enable the Secretary of State to do so. I am happy to write further to my noble friend Lord Judd on these matters.

Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 would require the Secretary of State not to provide assistance to any organisation or individuals involved in promoting or practising coercive population policies. Before I comment on the amendments, I should take this opportunity to clarify the Government’s policy on this important issue. UK assistance for all family planning is provided in line with the principles of free and informed choice upheld at the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo in 1994. The Government are totally opposed to any kind of coercion in matters related to childbearing. The issue is usually raised in connection with the policies of the Chinese Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, did this evening. The Government disagree with China’s one child policy and do not support it. Coercion should have no place in family planning.

DfID makes annual contributions towards the work of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Planned Parenthood Federation in over 150 countries, including China. We support their programmes in China because they work to secure greater respect for reproductive rights. UNFPA makes a full range of reproductive health services available in 32 Chinese counties on a voluntary basis in adherence to the standards agreed at the conference in 1994. Birth quotas have been abolished in the areas where UNFPA works. The programme shows encouraging achievements; for example, it has witnessed a decrease in the induced abortion rates in those counties. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that our work has made a difference.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Is the noble Baroness able to confirm that her department’s publication China: Population Issues states:

    “Critics of this position argue that several years of UNFPA and IPPF involvement in China has not led the Chinese to moderate their policies or stop abuses in the implementation of policy. This is true”?

Baroness Amos: As I have said, we have evidence that the work of UNFPA in the 32 Chinese counties has led to a decrease in the induced abortion rate. That is the aim of the work within the context of the principles agreed in Cairo. Therefore, the Government’s policy is in line with the sentiment behind these amendments.I should also explain why we believe that it is unwise to accept the amendments. To specify individual policies or priorities in the Bill would give rise to doubt about the scope of the powers in the Bill and throw into question the ability of the Secretary of State to support policies and priorities that are not mentioned. This arises because of the legal convention that nothing is said in law that is not necessary. If we set down in the Bill individual policies and priorities which the Secretary of State is in any case able to pursue, or in this case not to pursue, we would allow the inference that the powers in the Bill would not otherwise cover such activities. That might lead a court to conclude that the powers in the Bill should be interpreted narrowly, excluding policies and priorities that were not mentioned on the face of the Bill.

Amendment No. 26 would require the Secretary of State to consider using country-based non-governmental channels for the provision of development assistance where she had evidence that the government of the country were using assistance inefficiently or condoning corruption and bribery in its distribution.

The noble Lord, Lord Freeman, implied that DfID assistance to smaller UK NGOs is now channelled only through developing country governments. I can reassure the noble Lord that that is not so. Centrally run programmes, such as the Civil Society Challenge Fund, continue to provide direct DfID funding to civil society organisations. In addition, our regional programme managers continue to use what the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, referred to as the ancien regime. The latest departmental report gives a number of examples, including support to CAFOD to develop a peace-building programme in DRC and to Oxfam to improve the livelihoods of pastoralists in Kenya.

Subsection (1) of Clause 7 allows the Secretary of State to impose terms and conditions on the provision of development assistance. Further, Clause 7 is subject to the core power set down in Clause 1. I can, therefore, reassure the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that the Bill already reflects the exact sense of his amendment.

Amendment No. 26A to Clause 7 seeks to require that special consideration be given to the needs of children. I am sure that all Members of the Committee agree that the welfare of children is of paramount importance to the reduction of poverty in developing countries, but it is difficult to isolate their needs from other ways of contributing to sustainable development or enhancing welfare. Children need parents who can access livelihood opportunities and protection from lawlessness, and they and their parents benefit from improved government resource mobilisation that finances better services. All assistance provided under the powers in Clause 1 directly or indirectly reduces the effects of poverty on children.

Preparation of development assistance proposals under successive governments has required an assessment of the likely impact on those most affected.

Similarly, it has long been standard practice for recipients to report on the implementation and impact of the assistance. Paragraphs (a)and (b) of the proposed subsection (5) are, therefore, unnecessary. The proposed subsection (6) would require that assistance affecting children should be provided only to a country which has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This, too, is unnecessary as assistance to any country, whether or not it has ratified the convention, will be provided only where the circumstances justify it. I hope that that reassures my noble friend Lord Brennan.

Amendment No. 27, tabled by my noble friend Lord Hunt, would require the Secretary of State to ensure that in funding third parties the effectiveness of their contribution towards poverty reduction is regularly monitored and made public. I can offer two points of reassurance to my noble friend. First, Clause 4(2), under which the majority of such expenditure will be given, requires that assistance can be given only if the Secretary of State believes that it is likely to contribute to the reduction of poverty. Secondly, DfID has a comprehensive and transparent procedure for assessing the contribution that multilateral institutions, such as the European Union and the United Nations, can make to international development targets and for determining the nature and scale our contributions to them. DfID’s institutional strategy papers also set clear targets for its engagement with those institutions.

Amendment No. 28 would have the effect of imposing a limit on the value of development assistance that could be provided directly as opposed to being provided by arrangement with charities and NGOs. The amendment relates to Clause 8 which allows the Secretary of State to act through other persons or bodies as well as directly. This amendment runs up against the same arguments of principle and practicality that I outlined earlier. I do not believe that we should set out in the Bill limits on the amount or nature of the assistance that the Secretary of State can provide.

The amendment is also undesirable on practical grounds. There may be circumstances when it will be appropriate to provide less than a certain percentage of assistance to a country through NGOs. I do not believe that we should use the Bill to constrain the Secretary of State’s ability to act in the most effective way possible.

Amendment No. 29 seeks to require the Secretary of State to preserve, respect and encourage the independence and impartiality of NGOs involved in the provision of humanitarian aid. The Government value the independence and impartially of all non-governmental organisations. I hope that there is no doubt about that.

 

The amendment imposes an uncertain and potentially onerous duty on the Secretary of State. If a duty is to be imposed in law, it should be cast in sufficiently precise terms so that a Secretary of State can be held to account on whether or not the duty is being met. If we accepted the amendment, or one similar to it, we would need to specify exactly how the Secretary of State was to preserve, respect and encourage the impartially of NGOs. We would then need to specify the extent to which the duties should be met. I hope that noble Lords will agree that this is a difficult area. If we were capable of formulating such directions, the risk is that they would be so prescriptive in terms of the relationship that the Secretary of State would have with such NGOs, and so onerous in terms of the work required by both parties to manage and monitor the arrangement, that the work of responding effectively and efficiently to disasters and emergencies would be compromised.

Amendment No.30 would require parliamentary approval of each and every sector-wide programme commitment. It is already a requirement set out in DfID’s procedures that any significant expenditure commitment, such as that in a sector-wide programme, be made only after a report has been completed on a proposal. The report must include target outputs and monitoring arrangements. Where the programme envisages channelling resources directly through a partner Government’s financial management and control systems, these systems are assessed for their adequacy. I do not believe that it would be appropriate to impose prior parliamentary scrutiny on routine decisions relating to the bilateral programme. Prior parliamentary scrutiny would add a potentially cumbersome procedure to a process which often requires considerable speed and flexibility.

Perhaps I may touch on the point made by the noble Baroness in relation to staffing overseas. The increase in staffing overseas is not directly related to the use of sector-wide approaches, rather it reflects the increasing dialogue between DfID and developing country governments on the key macro-economics and sector policy issues that determine the effectiveness of all forms of assistance.

I have already spoken in some detail about the accountability of the Secretary of State to Parliament and to the courts and also about the transparency of DfID’s decision-making procedures and policy development.

Amendment No. 31 would require the Secretary of State to set up and maintain a website for the purpose of helping to co-ordinate and facilitate the development activities of charities and those who give to such causes. If the Secretary of State considered that establishing such a website was an effective way to contribute to the reduction of poverty, then she could support it without recourse to a statutory power.